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Motivation

By Susan
Vila's suggestion that the Liberator crew had a brief "holiday" from the usual routines had been readily accepted, somewhat to his surprise. He had wanted something more lively than Dayna's wish for somewhere with a beach but had been overridden - and decided that he would rather take what was on offer than face the consequences of a refusal. Orac had improved the situation by helping him find some minerals though the category "interesting" was more easily understood than the subcategory "saleable." Now, Vila was having a picnic looking at the ocean. This was the life - for a couple of hours and a few daydreams.

Even Avon had decided to spend some time on the planet, glad to leave the Liberator, and to have a brief escape from reality. He felt content, would agree to more trips like this - occasionally.

He now walked along the shore with Dayna. They had exchanged pleasantries, discussed the tide, and they now walked in companionable silence.

Dayna had picked up a few decorative shells, a childhood habit, amused that Avon had relaxed enough to help her a couple of times. She half expected to see a shell or two in his room the next time she took something there, even though his hands would be empty when they teleported up.

'Want to swim then?' Dayna asked as she caught Avon looking out to sea. She had learnt to do so as a child.

'There is no boundary, and there are visible currents.'. He had been attracted by the limitless horizon and what might lie beyond, like the explorers of old.

'You are prepared to fly across the galaxy and out of it, but show caution here?' Dayna asked, and Avon accepted the teasing. 'But it is best to know one's limits,' she acknowledged.

'Try telling Tarrant that.' Amused tolerance and a hint of jealousy. Avon occasionally wished to be impetuous, do more things like going to the Big Wheel...

'Look, Avon, a cave,' Dayna said, pointing at the cliff face.

'Probably wet and full of seaweed,' Avon replied, but willing to be persuaded.

'Come on Avon - we'll probably be out in five seconds.'

The cave was large enough for them to stand in, and was fairly shallow - it was not the entrance to a series of caves full of wonders as in the book Avon had read as a child, and he felt slightly disappointed. It was sandy based and dry, although it bore evidence of occasional seawater.

'This is like my cave on Sarran,' Dayna said. Remembering their first encounter she put her shells down and, reaching up, kissed Avon.

'What do you want Dayna?' Avon whispered. He would give her every chance to step back now, let it remain an erotic daydream, an enjoyable fantasy. Her hands were removed, and he felt a ridiculous twinge of disappointment.

Then she was undoing his jacket... and he was willing to let her explore. Hal Mellanby had been prepared to let Avon take his daughter on an exploration of the galaxy, and would have wanted Avon to look after her. What would Mellanby have thought of this? He should be careful...

'I want this - even though it remains a memory in this place, not something for the Liberator.' Dayna said, and hoped Avon knew what she meant. He was relaxing as she undressed him.

'As you wish ... I hope it is a happy one.' He cared for Dayna, would not let her come to harm. He could ... think of ways to justify it, but perhaps the simplest one was best - they were both curious. Perhaps it would ease his own ghosts - though he would forget them for the moment, and would see that Dayna had no regrets.

'Help me see that it is.' She had kissed him on impulse as she had on Sarran, was uncertain why she was going further - it was nothing to do with Avon not protesting.

'Do you expect something like this every time we go to a cave?' Amusement, a vague daydream of ... possibilities. Why did he have that idea?

'I don't know yet.'

Dayna undressed and Avon looked at her with undisguised appreciation.

She returned the look, curious and suddenly wary. Dayna was no longer certain what she wanted. Even now he would respect what she wished. Her father had trusted Avon - and she did too. But, now that she had gone this far...

She reached out, and began to explore tentatively, hands moving downwards. Avon's smile reassured her, his obvious uncertainty adding to her desire. So *that* was what they were talking about.

'Touch me,' she whispered. So he did - and it was ... pleasant. His enjoyment was evident.

Then he pulled her close, kissed her, showed her what he wanted, and she responded in kind.

The feel of their naked bodies together, his arousal, was exciting - there was no other word for it. She wanted this to happen, trusted Avon to...

Then they were lying on the floor of the cave, the sand cool and almost damp against their skin, the stone of the cavewall, when she reached out to touch it cold, and Avon was warm and ... she explored with her fingers while she tried to think of an adjective. He was exploring her, breathing speeding with desire, and she found herself caught up in the rhythm of it, hands going ever closer to the centre of desire. His hand was moving downwards, paused as if waiting for her invitation, and she took it, held it where she wished to be touched.

'Shall I?' Avon murmured. He wanted this as much as she did - and it would be a happy memory for him as well. This was not just lust...

'Yes!'

Then he was inside her and she was arching against him, wanting as much contact as she could. Whatever she had imagined, it was different and ... 'Yes!'

'Avon,' she said, stroking him, brushing off some sand.

'Yes...' he replied, only half able to concentrate.

'You wanted me to enjoy this. Well,' she pulled Avon close for a kiss, 'I did.'

That had been more than evident, and Avon took pleasure in the statement. 'Thank you. I enjoyed it, because you did.' It was the truth. Anna had been distant at times, not concentrating on the moment as they had now. There had been more to what had just happened than merely trying to prove he could still give and enjoy such pleasure.

'I have no regrets.' Dayna knew it was important to make that clear. And, if the situation arose again, she would be willing to see what it would be like now she knew what to expect.

'Nor do I,' Avon replied truthfully.

Dayna suddenly laughed. Seeing Avon's puzzled expression she decided to explain. 'I was wondering how we would explain to the others if we were suddenly teleported back to the Liberator as we are now.' She put her arms round him.

Avon surprised her by laughing.

****

Dayna came to Avon's cabin. He sensed she was uncertain, afraid.

'What is it?' he asked. He felt suddenly, strangely protective towards her. He was in ways he did not care to fully explain to himself, responsible for her.

'Avon... you remember when we were on the beach...'

He did, with pleasure, allowed himself a smile. He ... would not be averse to repeating it if she asked. It would not be a betrayal of the responsibility he owed her and her father. What would Tarrant say?

'Yes?'

She did not know how to lead up to what she had to say.

'Avon - I'm pregnant.' Then she was holding on to him for support.

He felt shock, dismay - it would not be fair to bring a child up on the Liberator. But, now that it had happened... How could she have allowed this to happen - but he was also responsible. He had always accepted his responsibilities. And sometimes such things happened by chance. What did he want? What would she want?

'You are sure?' It was comfortable holding her.

'I double checked with the computers in the med unit. Nobody else knows yet.'

'Good.' He hadn't meant it to sound that way. She was so young, and she was afraid. He could understand that.

She understood what he meant, that he too was confused. 'I thought we better discuss what I, we, should do first. It is not something I could hide, or walk away from. I need you to help me decide.'

Avon considered some of the possibilities. 'What do you want? I will listen to you,' he managed eventually. She trusted him - and he would not betray that trust. It was right that she had come to him to discuss the matter - she did not have the strength or maturity, yet, to handle it on her own. And to deal with the situation without reference to him would have been a betrayal neither of them could accept.

Dayna nodded. She was glad he was taking it so calmly, at least outwardly. Whatever they now decided upon... she would accept... probably.

'The Liberator is my home,' Dayna said. 'With the Federation chasing us, is it fair to have a child here? I don't know whether I would wish to spend the rest of my life stuck on a planet.'

'Even if Servalan wasn't keeping an eye out for you.' Avon was glad that Dayna was showing some understanding of the practicalities.

'I want... What we had then was too good...' She suddenly started crying.

Avon held her, not knowing how to comfort her. He understood her, did not wish to spoil the memory either.

He put a hand on her stomach, trying to imagine the new life within. He was responsible for this, both then and now, and what would happen to ... them in the future.

'Do we have to decide yet? I would not wish to lose you ... we work as a team.' That was as open an admission of what he felt for the others as he could manage for now.

'No.' A memory of something that had been said to her. 'Your pilot before Tarrant. The Free Trader.'

'Jenna Stannis.' Avon clarified. She had returned to her former line of work, helping the rebels when she could, and was in occasional contact with the Liberator. She had not heard anything of Blake either.

'Could we get in touch with her, the Free Traders?' Dayna did not know what they could offer, but there might be something. 'Would she help us do you think?'

'Would you have strangers adopt your child?' At this stage, when they were discussing something that could not be visualised, the possibility had its attractions. And Jenna might be able to suggest something appropriate. He realised that he might want the child, which was... frightening. Perhaps they could link up with the Free Traders, some sort of compromise.

'Ask me again when I hold the child in my arms, but as an idea now, I am prepared to consider it.' It was a practical solution, for now.

'And what would you have it know of its inheritance?' They would have to consider that.

'Enough for it to decide its own future, but not to be under immediate threat if the Federation is strong enough to provide one. I haven't thought it through.'

'I think we need time to consider the matter,' Avon said gently. 'Thank you for telling me.' He should feel angry, he knew, but somehow he could not. Perhaps because Dayna had given him the opportunity to think it over.

Dayna turned to go - it had been less painful than she expected. 'Avon,' she said as an afterthought. 'It was not my intention for this to happen. I just wanted to indulge the moment, you understand?'

'I do.' Avon went and kissed her - in friendship and comfort. He cared for her, what would happen to her. Not that he could admit it openly to anyone.

For now they were content to be together.

****

'Kerr,' Dayna said softly. Here, in the privacy of his room, she could use his given name.

'Yes?' Avon sleepily put an arm around her. It was pleasant to have a companion in his bed.

'We have to tell the others soon. It will be difficult to ignore for much longer.'

Avon put a hand contemplatively on her waist, exploring the new curves. Dayna responded, touching him where she knew there would be an effect.

Without realising it Avon murmured 'Anna,' then stopped in obvious and acute embarrassment.

'They told me Anna was someone you cared for deeply who died,' Dayna said and kissed him. She had been almost expecting an incident like this. Vila had explained once, so she would not accidentally speak out of turn, and had said he would tell Tarrant.

'I ... loved her,' Avon admitted. 'And it was because of me she died.'

He stopped, upset, almost losing control, and Dayna held him close, trying to offer comfort. She was conscious of Avon's silent tears.

'Tell me what you need me to know,' she said when he was calm again.

'And you won't ask me again?' Avon asked, glad that Dayna was ... being tolerant.

'I can't promise you that. If it weren't for the child...'

'If it weren't for the child we wouldn't be having this conversation,' Avon pointed out.

He would have to tell Dayna something about Anna, so he did. Knowing that Dayna had had losses of her own helped.

As he talked he let go of Anna. She was in the past: nothing he could do or think or say would bring her back. Sentimentality was foolish: he had to consider the present reality. And there was some happiness now.

'You cared for her - and she was part of your life... I think I can understand the hurt.' They both knew she was talking about her father.

'Yes.' There was nothing more to be said. 'So what shall we say about this?' he asked, stroking her belly. 'Shall we go through with linking with the Free Traders, with the possibility of adoption?' He had made inquiries about the matter.

He was willing to trust Dayna with that decision. Not an abdication, but a sharing, of responsibility.

'What I would like is for us to have safety, the Liberator and the child,' Dayna said with a faint smile. Avon reacted enough for her to see this was what he wanted too. 'But as we can't, I think the best thing is to leave the child in a safe place - and if that means without us, so be it.' It hurt to make that decision, but it was the only one that made sense. Her father would have understood. 'Avon - when you came to Sarran, my father trusted you enough on meeting you to consider letting me go with you.' Her father had said as much to her, wishing to know her opinion before making the request to Avon. Avon nodded in reply. 'Well - I think ... my father would have not been too upset by this.' If her father had been still alive he would have found a solution. Now it was up to the two of them.

'Thank you.'

'I know whatever we do will hurt - and I hope that the child would understand why we made this decision.' She embraced Avon, conscious of her changing shape. 'Kerr - what will we leave in the message for the child?'

Avon wanted her, desire threatening to overcome other considerations.

'It might be better that, safer if, the child does not know of its inheritance,' he managed, though he knew he would bitterly resent it if done to him. 'But - we will think of something. The Federation might yet change, or have forgotten about Kerr Avon, and be concerned about others.'

'Or you could overthrow the Federation and not have to worry about the problem,' Dayna said half mischievously.

'You would have this,' the child, 'do what Blake could not, make me overthrow the Federation?' he said, allowing himself with a smile. The suggestion, however, carried more resonance than he would care to admit.

But other things were competing for his attention, and he wished to satisfy them.

Dayna responded willingly.

****

Vila approached Dayna a few days later.

'Dayna - if you'd want an Uncle Vila to be with you...'

It took her a few moments to work out what he meant. She understood that the offer was made in friendship, rather than the usual teasing banter.

'Thank you... I haven't decided yet what I will do...' she said, slightly flustered.

'You don't know what life was like where I grew up.' Vila explained. 'Half or more of the kids had "uncles" and "aunts" rather than parents. If I'd stayed there... I like kids.' That Dayna could accept. 'Imagine a child taught your skills and mine.' He was making an offer she could almost accept, if necessary. 'Think about it - the offer's there if you need it.'

'I appreciate it,' Dayna said, and meant it, though Avon's communications with the Free Traders were going well.

'And I know - keep my mouth shut about the whole thing.' He was good at keeping secrets when it was truly important. 'Satisfy my curiosity on one thing before we finish this conversation - when are you going to tell Tarrant, and what do you think he will he think about it?' It was obvious that the pilot did not yet know, and Vila wanted to know when he would have an excuse to get Tarrant blind drunk, or whether to keep out of his way. Seeing Dayna's expression he realised the mistake in his assumption. 'You mean Avon?' Well, wonders would never cease. And it explained some things about Avon's behaviour recently. 'I hope he appreciates it.'

'He does.'

'Good. And if you ever need my help...'

Cally was curious. Avon was willing to indulge her request to return to Auron and make certain arrangements there which she chose not to explain. He was able to persuade the local leadership that their policy of isolationism might be helped with the information on diseases provided long before by Bellfriar - accidental travellers might unintentionally bring some infection. He also arranged for them to be given information about other planetary systems, so they could withdraw from the Federation's awareness, should they wish to do so.

By the time the Liberator left Cally had reached a compromise with her people, for which Avon was grateful.

Tarrant was the last to realise.

'Dayna,' he said one day, when the two of them were on the flight deck, with Orac monitoring the viscasts.

'What?'

'Are you, are you?' He was looking at her waist, and blushing.

'What?' She was amused that he had only just realised.

'Are you pregnant?' Dayna smiled at him. 'How?'

'Do you need an explanation?' Orac asked suddenly. 'If so, it can be provided at whatever level of detail you require.' Dayna managed not to laugh.

'I...' Tarrant realised he was being teased. 'Of course I know the mechanics.' Dayna almost regretted the answer. 'Go back to studying the galaxy Orac.' Tarrant said to cover his embarrassment.

'If you insist.'

Tarrant turned back to Dayna. 'When, where, who?'

'Some time ago and does it matter?' She was curious to see his reaction.

'You can't have a child on the Liberator. Too dangerous.'

'In my experience,' Orac said, 'children ask far more sensible questions and show a far greater interest in important things than the present inhabitants of the Liberator.'

'Repeat that when you are asked to analyse the orange juice poured into you,' Tarrant retorted. 'Or have chocolate smeared all over your exterior.'

Orac flickered, considering the matter. The children it had encountered so far had been sensible. This one would have to be trained.

Avon came onto the flight deck. He guessed the subject of discussion immediately, had been expecting it conversation - far more difficult than the one with Vila, with his offer that he would be prepared to look after Dayna's child *somewhere.* There was more to it than an excuse to leave - an acknowledgement of their unstated friendship.

'Avon,' Tarrant began, 'Dayna...' He was flummoxed again.

'What about Dayna?'

'She's, she's ...'

'Going to have a baby?' Avon completed, and went to stand by Dayna's chair.

'You know?' Tarrant was amazed, not least at Avon's calm acceptance of the situation.

'Of course.' Avon decided to spin things out for a little longer.

'Who is the father?' Tarrant asked.

Avon put a hand on Dayna's shoulder.

'You?' Tarrant asked. 'But you... you...'

'Why are you so surprised? You thought I was ... too old for such things? Or are you jealous?' Avon was amused, glad he had riled the younger man.

Tarrant spluttered for a few minutes.

'What will you do with it?'

'What do you suggest?' Avon asked, conveying quiet menace. 'We are making arrangements, but are open to suggestions.' Suddenly he wished to leave all this behind, and go somewhere safe with Dayna.

'I'll go and think of something,' Tarrant said and stalked off.

'You enjoyed that didn't you?'

'I enjoy...' Avon began.

'Teasing people?' Dayna knew well enough what Avon took pleasure in.

****

Jenna looked at Avon and the young woman who was part of his crew. Dayna was fairly young, visibly pregnant, and slightly nervous.

'So you want to link up at least until the child is born, and then have the child placed?'

Avon nodded. He had presented the situation plainly.

Jenna had taken their appearance in her stride, pleased to discuss the "good old days" for a while. And Free Traders occasionally did have to deal with unexpected children.

She turned to Dayna.

'What do you want?'

'It was my decision. Even asking you if you could help.' Dayna had not meant to say it like that, but perhaps honesty was best.

'The arrangements will be made.' Jenna was prepared to do that for the two years she had worked with Avon. And it was not an excessive request.

'Thank you. It will be provided for as agreed.' Avon said. This included payment into a suitably secure bank account. Some part of the winnings from the Big Wheel would see to that. He smiled. 'What favour do you want in return? Anything ... practical.' The two of them understood each other on that level, both appreciating the other's skill.

'I am sure we can find a few computers to rearrange - and you will mention any opportunities you come across,' Jenna replied. She could sense Avon was strangely nervous, but decided she would not probe ... yet.

'So - we pool our resources and skills, except when it is in our interests to work separately. Agreed?'

'Yes,' Jenna replied. Better a vague agreement honoured than a formal agreement abandoned as soon as possible. 'And we renegotiate as and when appropriate, including the care of the child.'

'Have you heard anything lately about Blake? Orac says there is insufficient evidence to indicate that Blake is dead.' Avon asked. 'We tried to find him - all rumours and no substance. Or we'd missed him and nobody knew where he'd gone.'

'Same here,' Jenna admitted. 'In fact, I've come across more evidence of you on the Liberator looking for him than of Blake himself.' Perhaps Avon had done as much for the rebellion through his searching as Blake had done directly - some of the contacts between various groups of rebels could be directly traced to the search. 'The way things have been since the invasion, I'm surprised he's vanished. But, it might be one of those situations - to get wherever you don't start from here.' She was amused at how transparent Avon could be - and he would deny furiously any feelings of friendship towards Blake or sympathy for the rebellion. 'He'll turn up when we have come to a satisfactory arrangement and disrupt everything.'

'Knowing him, yes.' Avon said and laughed.

'And you'll still be curious enough to see what he wants,' Jenna teased.

'There are worse sins than curiosity,' Avon replied. 'So we are agreed about Dayna?' He glanced at the young woman in a way that surprised Jenna.

'Avon,' Jenna said, and he looked at her. 'I do not wish to misunderstand the situation...' To her surprise - and, she suspected, Dayna's - Avon went and put an arm round Dayna.

No wonder he had been so concerned about the child - though Jenna would have expected Avon to help his colleagues regardless, more willingly than his protests would indicate.

'Yes Jenna,' Avon replied. 'The child is mine.'

'Accept whatever congratulations you feel appropriate.'

Again Avon smiled.

Jenna decided she could get to like Avon now.

Dayna watched Avon and Jenna banter, trying to understand their relationship, the same easy camaraderie as between Avon and Vila. There was no reason for her to feel jealous - but why should she have that thought? Besides, Jenna was before her time on the Liberator, and Dayna believed Avon when he said there had never been more than friendship between them.

And if it came to it she trusted Jenna to bring up the child so it would be as independent as she was herself. The future for the child seemed to open up.

****

Dayna, approaching her time, was impatient, uncomfortable and bored. Not that things weren't working out.

Linking up with the Free Traders had had worked better than might have been expected. The Liberator was now part of the loose alliance that included both traders and rebels, the skills of its crew utilised by both groups, with some practical rewards. The Auronar had made use of what the Liberator had given them, and left their planet when a mysterious disease had struck.

Avon had relaxed, using his terms of reference. He had long ago decided that he was no leader of people. When Dayna had teased him that the reason why he became involved in his scam had been to avoid becoming a manager, the denial had been less than full. He was far better, and happier in the role of adviser, as he was now.

Now though, he was becoming distracted again - and Dayna knew better than to press. It was only partially to do with the child, about which he was more enthusiastic than he pretended to be.

He joined her as she experimented with her latest device. An embrace, and a quick brush of the hand over her waist, as if he could still not quite believe what was happening. Dayna always found the gesture touching.

Avon was almost nervous.

'What is it Kerr?'

'I... I...' he began.

'I promise I won't bite.'

A fleeting grin. 'I want, I have, to leave.' He was torn between his discovery and his responsibility towards Dayna.

'If it is a short trip, we can discuss it,' Dayna replied. 'If there was some way I could speed this up, I'd do it too.' She was tolerant of Avon's feelings about her pregnancy.

'It's not quite like that...' Where was his usual control? 'I'll come back, don't worry...' And what had made him say *that*?

'I will worry. What is it? You want to go to Freedom City again and win us enough to retire on?'

Avon was glad of the joke.

'No ... not quite like that. I received a message from Blake.' He had not meant to say it like that.

'I would like to meet the person who can have such a hold over you,' Dayna said, curious. 'Your heart's really in it - but you want to stay with me?' There was almost nothing she could do to stop Avon in this matter - and she did not want to.

'I don't think you should travel.'

'I don't feel like it,' Dayna replied. She understood the practicalities of the situation - and she enjoyed being among the Free Traders as much as they enjoyed telling her their tales. 'What's the but - you think it's a trap?'

'Yes - the messages don't mention the attempted coup on Earth.' Led by one Sula Chesku, and suppressed. Avon had been briefly tempted to go to Earth to find the killers of his Anna, but had decided not to. She was dead, and nothing he could do would bring her back.

'But there may be good reason.'

'We once faced a similar trap in the old days - the Amagons, pirates,' Avon explained, 'used someone's voice to trick us into letting them aboard the Liberator.' He had forgotten the story till now - Vila could tell Dayna.

'And Blake appears suddenly out of the blue after over a year. Well - can't you create your own counter-trap? Not just things only you and he'd know. The sopron you found, whatever. And have backup - Jenna'd be pleased to help.' Dayna had sensed that Jenna was fond of Blake.

'I know all that.' Avon had not thought of the sopron.

'You have done enough lately to be proud of,' Dayna said. 'When you meet Blake you need have no fear.'

'And there is this as well.' A gentle touch.

'Oh, Kerr, I love you.' She felt Avon start.

Avon took a deep breath. 'Dayna - always remember I love you.' He had wanted to say that for a long time, but this was the first time it had seemed right.

Dayna kissed him. 'Just one thing - I will let you go if you are here when I need you.'

'Yes...'

****

Avon was returning to the Liberator. For some reason there was a delay in the final approach, which he used to consider what he would say to Dayna.

The mission to Terminal had proved ... interesting.

The makeshift teleport Avon had rigged up on the small spaceship, had worked, as had the artificial sopron brain. And the backup ship - which had gone round the particle cloud close to Terminal - had been most useful.

The supposed messages from Blake were an illusion, created by Servalan. She claimed to have seen the rebel dead - but surely the information would have been circulated throughout the Federation, even if it had been presented as occurring

on Cygnus Alpha? Or was that a cunning plan: let the disaffection with the Federation coalesce around someone who did not exist, thus preventing others from taking that role and acting on it?

Vila had given the performance of his life, and distracted Servalan's group when they were on board the fake-Liberator - which was being destroyed by some by product of the particle field - long enough for them not to realise what was going on until it was too late. And he managed to take the substitute Orac and sopron construct with him. Perhaps the child could have the device until old enough to manage a proper computer. Why were they still delayed?

Now Servalan was dead and Avon wondered how long it would take for the Federation leadership to realise she had disappeared. Dayna would have to accept that she had no part in Servalan's death. Perhaps he could find a way of utilising the situation. There were many local leaders now, taking advantage of the collapse of the Federation's authority after the Intergalactic War before it could regain control. They might be drawn into what he was going to arrange. Why were they still stalling?

There had also been a strange encounter with a so-called salvage operator, Dorian, who, it appeared, had a "tripwire system" on Terminal: making use of any ships that crashed on the bizarre planet. The Free Traders had started to investigate Dorian, to see what could be arranged with him. It also seemed that they had some obscure claim to Terminal.

First Avon would enjoy his homecoming, and did not make any comments on Jenna's further excuse for the delay in reaching the Liberator. He could finalise a few ideas in his latest plans. That neither Jenna nor Vila had teased him about chasing after Blake the illusion was something to be grateful for.

Once back on the Liberator he looked round the teleport area.

'Where's Dayna - you said she was alright.' Avon could barely disguise his alarm.

'She's in the med unit...' Tarrant began, but Avon was gone before the sentence was completed. 'Half an hour ago,' Tarrant said to Vila.

'Tarrant - whatever we disagree about, we do the same for each other.'

'Yes - and where do you keep your glasses?' This was one justification for a drink even Tarrant could not refuse.

Avon felt mixed fear and anticipation as he almost ran the short distance. Dayna had sounded fine when she had last spoken, but, but... that had been before the delay. Had they ... been trying to protect him from the worst?

He got to the med unit, was unprepared for what he felt when he went in

Dayna was sitting on a bed holding a very small, very new baby.

Cally, standing by the bed, noticed Avon and moved back as he approached.

'We have a daughter,' Dayna said.

Avon sat down on a convenient chair, and tentatively reached to touch the infant.

'She's real,' he managed, knowing how ridiculous the remark sounded.

'Yes, Kerr,' Dayna said, as Cally had left. She knew what Avon meant. 'Take her.' And then he was holding the creature awkwardly, her eyes flickering open briefly. He would renegotiate the arrangements with Jenna.

'I failed.'

'What?' Dayna said, disconcerted, and taking the baby back. 'I need you now, not a few hours ago,' she added. Cally had asked her when she wanted Avon with her, and had telepathically told Jenna to delay.

Avon smiled wanly. He had wanted to arrive now, with all the hassle was over: not cowardice, but some things were ... best kept at arm's length.

Cally and Jenna looked at the couple talking quietly.

'Did he complain about the delays?' Cally asked.

'I can use enough pilot baffle talk to confuse even the likes of him,' Jenna replied. She had understood Dayna's request for the delay. 'And if I could have kept him away until the child's ready to use a computer, he might have appreciated it as well,' she added, grinning.

'Imagine his reaction when she uses her ingenuity to rearrange his programmes...'

'And he then can't undo them.'

They both laughed.

' I was chasing a dream rather than Blake himself,' Avon explained.

'Some dreams are worth having.'

'Perhaps,' Avon replied, and for a brief moment believed it.

'Tell me what happened.'

Doing so made the events seem less painful. When he had finished he looked at Dayna.

'Things will be different now,' Dayna said.

'Yes.' Avon spoke softly. 'Dayna - what do you want to do now? I will follow whatever decision you make.'

Dayna understood what Avon was offering.

'Thank you Kerr. I think...' She saw the mixture of hope and despair on his face. 'I think if we can keep what we have now, working with the rebels and the Free Traders, I would like it.'

Avon did not disguise his pleasure.

Vila came into the med unit carrying Orac. Avon had fallen asleep on one of the beds, needing to be close.

'Someone wants to see what all the fuss is about.'

'What does she do?'

'Not a lot yet Orac,' Dayna replied. What had Orac been like when it had been newly active?

They talked for a while, and Vila got up when he saw Dayna was tired. He took the bottles away - Avon had had more "token drinks" than he had intended.

'Leave Orac here.'

'Good night Dayna.'

'Do you have a question to ask me? I have many things to consider,' Orac asked a few moments later. The infant seemed neither likely to attack nor to do anything interesting.

'I am trying to clarify what precisely I wish to ask first.'

'That is the best way to get a sensible answer.'

Dayna considered recent events.

'What shall we do now? What will happen to the Federation, to the rebellion? Is Blake alive?'

'I was given to understand you are happy as you are now, and have plans which you as a group are perfectly capable of managing without excessive use of my resources. The Federation will change, partially because of the rebels, the destruction of Star One, and Servalan's death. I cannot at present determine the fate of Roj Blake.'

'A challenge for you then. Find Blake.' Perhaps she would understand Avon better then.

'As you wish.'

'One thing,' Dayna added as an afterthought. 'Don't tell Avon yet that you are looking for Blake. Or anyone else for that matter.'

'You are not the only person to have made those requests,' Orac admitted. One of the reasons it had ensured it would be acquired by the Liberator crew was to analyse the phenomenon of Blake.

'And you will not tell me who else has done so?'

'No.'

****

'Blake is on the planet Gauda Prime,' Orac announced, having summoned all those connected with the Liberator.

>From the expressions Dayna judged that everybody had asked the computer to make that search.

'Are you sure?' Avon asked. He felt a mixture of elation and fear. 'Tell us what Blake is doing there.'

'He is acting as a bounty hunter.'

Various expressions of surprise and disbelief.

'Orac,' Dayna asked, 'what sort of a planet is Gauda Prime?'

'Are you familiar with the status of an Open Planet?'

'Feel free to explain,' Dayna replied 'As you can thus demonstrate your superior knowledge.' Orac was susceptible to such flattery.

'Gauda Prime was an agricultural planet. Then it was discovered to have mineral resources and it was declared an Open Planet, so the farmers could be eliminated. Now it has been decided to make use of the resources, and it will be returned to its original law-abiding status.' A suitable simplification for now.

'Could Blake be doing some sort of double bluff?' Tarrant asked. 'From what I've heard of Open Planets - do you know much about them Jenna? - he'd have to have a good cover to survive.'

'Was that a question for me?' Orac asked. It was proving very difficult to train the humans to frame their questions so that it was clear what and who was being asked. Orac already had plans for the infant.

'I would treat an Open Planet with extreme caution - but they can be profitable. And, at least you know everybody's out to get you,' Jenna said. She would find out what Tarrant knew on the subject later. He had proved adaptable in working for the Free Traders. And everybody was exploiting the uncertainty caused by Servalan's disappearance, rebels included.

'Orac - can you get a message through to Blake - with all due precautions. Just get him to explain himself for once,' Avon said, and paused for a moment. 'And we will follow it through after this conference with the local leaders.' Zukan and the others might be able to provide the basis of an effective opposition to the Federation establishment. They were seeking their own ends, but could be useful allies.

The conference - for which Avon was given all due credit, proved most satisfactory in its conclusions, despite the tensions around Zukan's activities. It also appeared to be the real Blake on Gauda Prime, with an explanation only he could give.

Avon decided he could be happy with the situation - not least because he could present Blake with his achievements.

****

The other ship on approaching the Liberator gave the correct identification signals.

Vila teleported over with some bracelets, and returned within moments with Blake.

Avon felt strangely pleased to see the rebel again wondered when they would start working together again. The idea startled him - he was no rebel. But - he was already arranging the next meeting of opponents of the Federation

He only protested mildly when Blake embraced him in friendship.

'Vila tells me you have a surprise Avon.'

One of these days Vila was going to talk himself into considerable trouble: but at least he had kept quiet about the nature of the "surprise."

'Apart from managing to run things without you?'

'I heard about the conference you arranged, and that it went well,' Blake admitted, and Avon felt happy with the praise. 'Your Del Tarrant is almost as good a pilot as he thinks he is.'

Tarrant kept his temper. Working for the Free Traders had encouraged him to engage his brains before opening his mouth.

'Perhaps you could explain your secret to Blake,' Tarrant managed, glad of the subtle revenge.

'Surprise, secret: what are you hiding Avon?'

Avon felt suddenly nervous.

Blake looked at the rest of the group. 'I apologise for not getting in touch before - but there were good reasons. Not least it is very difficult to find the Liberator once you have left it.' He smiled at Avon. 'I know you spent some time looking for me Avon, but you stopped.'

'There seemed no point in chasing something that never came to anything.'

'I came to the same decision,' Blake replied. 'One more thing - who and where is Dayna?'

'Come,' Avon said, and gestured for Blake to join him. The others chose not to join them.

When they were out of earshot Blake indicated to Avon to stop.

'I know we are going to have a blazing row about what we should do and didn't do and whatever,' Blake said, 'but can we do it in private? And I think we both looked as much as we could for each other.'

'The galaxy is a big place,' Avon admitted, glad that Blake had made the first move. He was almost looking forward to the projected quarrel - and he suspected Blake was too 'And afterwards will we shake hands?' He should not be so ridiculously tolerant about the matter.

'If you wish. You've changed Avon - but it's been a long time.' Blake gave one of his smiles that always managed to ... reaffirm Avon's friendship.

They came to Avon's room.

Dayna came out, carrying the child, and it was hard to determine who was the most surprised.

Blake turned to Avon. 'You?'

Avon felt himself blushing.

'Dayna, this is Blake,' he said, want of anything better. He was suddenly glad that they had decided to keep the child.

The child decided she wished to investigate Blake's curly hair. Blake flinched visibly at the tug.

'Somebody's not impressed by your charm,' Avon said, disentangling Blake from the curious infant.

'What have you been teaching it?' Blake asked, amused by the affectionate glance Avon threw Dayna. He would wait to be told what had happened.

'Not to take everything on trust, but to assess what she encounters.'

'And the sooner she is old enough to start helping you with your computer work the better,' Blake said with a grin. 'Or have you already devised something?'

'More practical than teaching her to be a rebel,' Avon replied. He agreed with Blake's assessment - though children could be more amusing than he expected, especially when Orac complained about the child's lack of interest in "sensible" things.

'Ow!' Blake said suddenly, having not realised he was close to the child.

'Orac's actually afraid of this one,' Dayna said with a smile, moving a couple of paces away from Blake's hair.

'Mainly because Tarrant and Vila keep on making dire threats about crumbs, orange juice and sticky fingers,' Avon explained. Dayna had suggested Avon make a computer for their daughter - a proposal vigorously supported by Orac. The Orac-substitute-and-Sopron unit seemed a reasonable compromise - and was fascinating with it.

'Able to do what you never did and make the computer submissive?' Blake asked. 'Or does the two prong approach work - Orac agrees to do what you wish, to avoid having anything unpleasant happen?'

'It seems to work. So what do you intend doing now you're back with us?' Avon asked.

'Talking with everybody ... I'll think of a few things. Perhaps we can come to an agreement - you arrange or organise everything, and I do the talking. We might even get something sensible arranged for after the Federation is dealt with. If that had been done before we might have achieved something after Star One.'

'There was an alien invasion as well,' Avon felt obliged to point out, accepting Blake's obvious simplification.

'Even so ... that is the way forward...'

'And I see you are about to take my work over,' Avon said. He was more than willing to let Blake do so - with suitable guidance of course. That was his strength rather than leadership. The present arrangement - the Liberator co-operating with the Free Traders and the rebels, with options to pursue private interests, was entirely satisfactory. What more could he want?

'Didn't take us long to return to the old arrangements.'

Blake looked at Avon and Dayna and the child. Avon was clearly at ease with the situation, and, Blake sensed, was happier than he had been before. Not that Blake would mention it or...

'The only reason I am giving your cause any support whatsoever is so that my daughter acquires a price on her head only through her own doing.'

Blake did not conceal a smile. That was as good a reason as any for getting rid of the Federation. 'Whatever reasons you have will do. And I might take advantage of your opinions.'

'When you didn't before?' Avon gibed. They might get back to the better bits of the old days.

'Well, my attempts at trying to lead the rebellion single-handedly did not work, so I should try something else. And your latest idea seems to be working.'

'As usual, wait until you see which way things are going....'

'Children, children.' Dayna said.

'I'll get my things ready, and we can discuss everything later.' Blake went off, to see Jenna and find out where her hints would take him.

Avon took his daughter, and went into his cabin.

'You know something,' Avon said to the child as he sat down, 'things are going to go back to the way they used to be - but we might get somewhere this time.' He was looking forward to that.

'Dada.'


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