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Decisions

By Susan
Dayna sat on the flight deck of the small ship, thinking of when she would be back on the Liberator. She was not certain when the spaceship had become "home" - but, apart from Sarran, it was the only place she had links to - and her daughter Xia had no other home. Dayna now felt she had more links with the Free Traders and suchlike than planet dwellers.

The most familiar of the Free Traders, Jenna Stannis, joined Dayna.

"I agree with Avon's idea of associating researchers with the rebellion, I am prepared to give the likes of Justin a miss," Jenna said. Avon wished to involve many of the researchers in his intended explorations - and most of those involved were willing to negotiate mutually profitable marketing arrangements with the Free Traders. "I know he was your tutor, but what he was doing was disgusting."

"I agree, and he wasn't into such animal research when he was my tutor." Dayna replied. "There's genetic modification and then there's what he was doing." She now recognised that what she had felt towards Justin had been little more than a crush, whatever it had felt like at the time. "And it's not just because I'm expecting again."

"You are sure now?"

"Yes." In a discussion Avon had started just before Dayna had left, he had made it clear he was willing "sometime soon." Dayna hadn't planned it to work out this way - not really.

"What do you think Avon'll make of it?" Jenna seemed strangely uncertain.

`He'll argue that now will not be the best time, what with all the negotiations going on."

"I think most men - and women of course - think quite a few things should be assigned to the "vague sometime hence." I never thought he'd be so happy with a family." Jenna was not the only one to be quietly amused at Avon's transformation

****

Avon watched those around him talking while they waited for Blake. Whatever Blake seemed to think it was the discussions, arrangements, and agreements being made now that might make, or break, the rebellion. And, after weeks of seemingly non-stop negotiations, they were approaching victory.

Time to think of what would happen after the rebellion was won. Six months, a year, organising whatever would follow the old regime - one of the things Blake was finally being forced to consider - and the rebels would have to consider returning to their various realities. Avon had already started making plans. Vila would come with him - and had made some suggestions for the Liberator's crew, mostly sensible - such as having a medical person. The Liberator was arranged for a 'standard crew' of some three dozen people, with room for others. Deva, one of Blake's 'acquisitions' and a computer expert would be useful, and could probably be persuaded to work with them. A few more experts in various fields. Where would they go? An image came to Avon - the Liberator circling the galaxy, and something in him answered 'Yes!'

The various conversations taking place all came suddenly to a natural pause.

As if on cue Blake appeared, looking slightly amused. He came to Avon.

"You took your time," Avon said softly. People were glancing in their direction. Blake gestured that he did not wish to start the meeting yet.

There were various murmurs arranging conversations to come.

"Jenna was in touch." Blake almost blushed: he would be prepared to discuss matters with her now. She had been in touch since she had left - she had needed more time to think, and some work had come up. "And I was just seeing whether something was feasible."

"Is it?" Avon sensed it would involve yet more of his time.

"Ignoring Orac's protests at the abuse of its capacities, yes." Blake smiled as he thought of the computer's list of complaints, many of them routine.

"So what is it?" Genuine rather than mock curiosity.

"You know you suggested the other day that you and Deva should hack into the viscast systems and the rebels should announce that they have taken over and carry on from there..."

"Yes." The remark had been slightly sarcastic, though Avon and Deva had started developing the idea.

"I know it was a joke, but Orac seems to think it might be feasible."

"When do you want us to start arranging things?" Avon would get some sleep first - he needed to be more awake for computing than with these discussions. "Half an hour ago?" He suddenly realised how tired he was. He would, like Orac, also protest partially out of form.

"No - an hour ago," Blake said with a smile. "How does the meeting feel?"

"Do something soon - or they'll start getting bored, and making their own arrangements."

"I wouldn't necessarily say no to that." Blake said. "One reason why I want to do the broadcast." He sighed, feeling as weary as Avon looked. "I know this is the part that has got to be done and ... you may be right about my being a romantic idealist rather than a practical realist. And I intend being a transition president - so I can leave with my reputation intact." Making the statement hurt - but Blake felt relief as well.

Avon was not surprised, though he was pleased Blake had come to the decision he had by himself, and admired him for it. "Blake - you are a figurehead of the revolution, and so you have got to be a romantic idealist, but to make that statement you have to be a realist. Get something sorted out here, we will hijack the communications networks then give them a well-prepared speech that achieves whatever you want. Then find your successor, to will take over when you cease being President Hero of the Revolution and the populations of the Federation want somebody new to complain about."

Blake laughed. "That sounds eminently practical. Do what you can," Blake said, and turned to the group. "Shall we start the discussion?"

Everybody was in a good mood - they could see things might improve, for themselves in particular.

Avon left quietly as soon as he could, to rest and then go to his latest projects. Blake could present his speech in a couple of days.

****

Orac had been 'persuaded' to stop protesting about being turned into a simple transmitter and send the take-over broadcast. Now the group gathered together in an office - one wall covered in monitors - to see what would happen. Avon was half watching Blake.

"The message has been transmitted," Orac said using the monitors. Servalan's intention in going to Aristo had been to acquire Orac and make it emulate Central Control-Star One for her own purposes - which would have been a gross misuse of its capacities. There were, however, practical reasons for having a central hub dealing with such things as communications and flight control - and Orac had made all necessary arrangements so it would not be inconvenienced.

A few minutes passed, and there was a certain amount of restlessness.

"A message has been received," Orac said, putting it up on a monitor. Zukan of Betafarl had agreed to provide support. Then other messages started arriving, mostly positive or benignly neutral, with evidence of interactions between groups That all the sentient computers - who kept their own existence quiet so not to be disturbed - had agreed to promote the change of allegiance to those who had access to them had probably had some effect. The rebels, it had been decided, would not make the excessive and irrelevant demands on computer resources that the present regime did.

Blake could not resist shouting out, "We've won!" He then added. "Anybody willing to join me on the long journey to Earth?" It would be as difficult as what they had done, and probably far more boring. "I would like to be there soon." With my wife and child, Blake added mentally. There were various expressions of support and mutual congratulation and people formed into small groups to discuss matters arising.

Blake came to Avon. "Avon." he said quietly, and almost hesitantly. Around them everybody was talking, and starting to disperse to carry out the next stages of the plan.

"What?" Avon was puzzled - Blake should be happy and busy now.

"I wish to thank you for everything - even if I forget to say it when everything is finished, assume I still mean it."

"Thank you," Avon replied, appreciating the gesture.

"I hope to meet up with Jenna soon, and sort everything out."

"I think you will," Avon replied. From the messages Jenna had sent it was obvious this was only a temporary parting. "Blake - whatever you expect, life with Jenna and the child will be different."

"You said you supported the rebellion so Xia could acquire her own price on her head. Do you still feel the same?"

"Yes. And when we took over the London I said I was prepared to let others have the same opportunity as I did." He had not expected then to be in the position he was now - or even when they were first on the Liberator.

"In some ways what I want - and I think we about to achieve it."

"Good." Avon meant it. Time for the next challenge - somewhat daunting.

"You know what the problem really is Avon?" Blake said with sudden awareness.

"Apart from having to find new problems and think of a whole new set of answers?" He felt a sudden regret that the situation he had grown up in was changing - whatever its many faults, it was familiar.

"There is that - but the realisation that others will take over from us."

"Don't get maudlin Blake," Avon replied, though he understood what Blake meant. "We will be remembered, for a while at least. Write down all your dreams and plans - and you might be able to influence people long after the Federation itself has been forgotten."

"And Orac and Zen and the other computers will remember us. I would like to see what there will be..."

"Don't we all. As Vila would say, enjoy what you have, and see if you can arrange something more than what you are given." The sort of thing it was impossible to disagree with.

Blake smiled. "I agree. I once said I had always trusted you - I still do. And you are a friend."

"Most of my friends," Avon decided to admit, "are associated with the Liberator. I know where I stand with you." Which implied trust.

"Thank you."

****

The Liberator led the rebel armada to Earth. They were uncertain what to expect, only that the old regime was going and they were in a position to determine what would happen now.

And Blake knew he would now have to face Jenna. The reasons for his hesitation before had gone - but he was still uncertain precisely what he wanted.

Blake and Avon teleported to an antechamber of the President's office and went into the main room. They found Jenna, now very pregnant, sitting at what could only be the President's desk, Vila, looking smug, and two men arguing furiously about a file. One of them said that it was "an absolute disgrace' that Security only had records of a fraction of what he had done, and then noticed the newcomers.

"One of you Roj Blake?"

"Yes," Blake replied, somewhat uncertain what to expect from someone who complained about the inadequacy of Security's information.

"I am Bayban - you may have heard of me? Bayban the Butcher some call me," a glance at Vila, "among other names."

"I ... have heard of you." Blake considered his words. "Someone not to be annoyed unduly."

Bayban nodded in approval at this assessment of his reputation. "Good. What I like to hear."

"What is the problem?" Blake asked, conscious of Jenna watching him. This was some sort of obscure test.

"You and your claim to fame. I was number one on the Federation's most wanted list - and I worked to get there." It was something to be proud of.

"He did," Vila interposed, slightly nervously. "From what I have heard, he did work very hard to get there."

"Thank you. I could get to like you."

Vila was prepared to forego this pleasure. But - sometimes hinting that he knew #the# Bayban might be useful.

"And?" Blake asked.

"You and your fancy rebel antics took the position from me."

"That was not entirely of my doing - I suggest you complain to the Federation authorities about their lamentably wrong priorities." A slight trace of sarcasm, which Bayban chose to ignore.

"That is what I have been doing - to the likes of him here..." a wave at the other man. "You may go," Bayban added as an afterthought. The man scurried away gratefully.

"As the situation has changed slightly, perhaps we could come to a new arrangement." Blake suggested. "It looks as if I may well not be on a new wanted list. Do I take it you wish to be involved in it - or do you wish to turn your undoubted skills in another direction? Or perhaps both?"

Bayban was obviously uncertain how to respond. "I will consider the matter.' He left.

"I see you can use your charms on anyone," Jenna said.

Blake went to embrace her, slightly awkwardly. She held him.

"While the situation is changing, many things are possible. Jenna - can we talk? I am now ready to do so."

"Yes. And to forestall your asking, Vila and I did get a business proposal from Bayban. Very profitable it may well be too - though not quite in the way we all originally expected." Locating a planet where the crystals that were a necessary component of spaceship design were 'all over the place' was a golden opportunity.

"You are a Free Trader - I expect you to know what you are doing in business matters." A statement of fact - and Blake knew the limits of his knowledge.

"What are your intentions now?" Jenna asked. "Apart from us talking?"

"I am not certain," Blake admitted. "As it is expected, and seems to be the only option available, I will lead the rebel movement to victory - whatever that means," he added, with a smile at Avon, in recognition of the use of the phrase long ago. "And then ... Do you think I could be your business partner Jenna? As we will be together anyway?" He meant the last remark, and knew Jenna understood. "I want it to happen."

"You would step down from the Presidency if I asked?" How committed was Blake?

"I am a rebel, not an administrative leader, Blake admitted. "There are others who seem to be able and willing. I will not stop them. I will take office as it is required of me - but I will make it clear I am a transition President." He felt no regrets. "Apart from that - I will do what you ask."

Jenna looked at him. "I believe you - and better you know what your limits are." And he had said it in front of others.

"And presumably you will want some help so you can become an official rebel, keeping those in office on their toes," Avon remarked. He might enjoy that challenge - when he was not exploring.

"Yes. Jenna - I would like to be your partner - in every sense. If you wish."

"Yes. I do."

"And now I will admit the child is mine."

Jenna decided she would tell him she was having twins later when they could discuss everything in private. "That might be a good idea."

She picked up two files from the desk. "Blake, Avon, these are your Federation records. I expect you will wish to look at them, to see what might be revealed, by opponents and others, by accident and through malice, or even the best of intentions." She smiled. "I have not touched them, but have read mine. There is nothing I am ashamed about - but a few things I would wish to explain, and I expect the same is true for you."

Blake was hesitant.

"I understand the distinction," Avon said. He reached out to take the file. "I wish to read mine elsewhere." At last he might find who had betrayed him - and what had happened to Anna.

"Not possible, they have to remain here for now," Jenna said. She understood enough about both Blake's and Avon's pasts to understand their reactions - and why it might be better for them to have company.

"Did you look at your file Vila?" Blake asked, to cover the awkwardness of the moment.

"Naturally," Vila replied.

"He's pleased because the authorities agree with his assessment of his skills," Jenna said with a laugh.

Blake shrugged and took his file. He would have to read it, for the reasons given, and in case there was still some parts of the past unknown to him.

After a slightly longer hesitation, Avon took his file. He was, though he would not admit it, glad of the company. These three would understand - and then he could go to Dayna, tell her what he had discovered, and, disconcerting thought, ask for comfort if he needed it.

Jenna and Vila quietly watched the other two as they read. At first there was little more than concentration and occasional comments of understanding, such as both Jenna and Vila had had.

"We, I, must do something about those three children..." Blake said, in shock and disgust. Jenna knew what Blake had been accused of to be sent to Cygnus Alpha. He looked at her. "Don't ask me... please. Not yet. What was done to them..."

Jenna went to comfort Blake in his distress. He put his hands on her shoulders, needing the stability. "Sometimes," she said softly, "retribution means righting a wrong. Others were hurt - use your feelings now to urge people to do something positive." Jenna did not protest when Blake held on too tight.

"Yes..." Blake said after a while." Can I come back to the file later... Jenna?' he asked in puzzlement, then turned to see what had made her react.

The colour had drained from Avon's face, his expression was one of horror. The file dropped from Avon's hands, and it seemed as if he was going to faint.

"No!!"

Avon now understood the full import of what Del Grant had said. Not that he could blame the other man for being obscure - at the time he had thought Grant was just speaking as he did out of consideration for Dayna.

"Avon - what is it?" Blake asked. What he had read of his own file had triggered some obscured memories - but he would have to deal with them and anything else later.

Avon decided he would have to give some explanation. "Anna Grant was a spy - the Federation's top agent." Avon took an obscure pleasure in that. Somehow he would have felt worse if it had been anybody lesser. "She was spying on me. They thought that because we both worked on the Aquitar Project, I was politically inspired. By you Blake. Not then I wasn't: only later, when I became truly associated with it. You provided me with a challenge Blake - it was that which I pursued, not your cause." The truth was more complex than that, as they both knew.

"I am glad you enjoyed the challenge, then and on the Liberator," Blake replied, understanding why Avon was changing the subject. "I too was betrayed by some of those I trusted Avon, and it hurts. Not least because you start to doubt your own judgement." That was what hurt the most.

"I more than trusted her," Avon replied. He understood and accepted what Blake was offering. "I never guessed... I trust you, all of you."

"Kerr?..."

They had not noticed Dayna join them.

"Dayna, please..." Avon wanted to protect her, but knew he had to say something, to prevent her from getting the wrong impression. "I was looking at my file... It discusses Anna..." He could not continue.

Dayna looked at the others, puzzled. She went to hold Avon, feeling him take strength from the contact.

Blake decided he would have to answer. "Anna Grant was a spy - and Avon was one of her subjects."

"And I never guessed," Avon whispered.

Dayna felt a sudden new maturity, turned to Avon. "Were you responsible for what you did?"

"Yes - completely." He had been irrational in giving his love - but Anna had been so beautiful, so sweet, he could not resist. And Dayna - well, she had offered her trust completely and freely, and he knew he could trust her implicitly. "

I would probably have arranged the bank job anyway," Avon admitted. He had enjoyed the challenge.

"I chose you because you take responsibility." She was aware of the others keeping out of the discussion. "And I think you would rather know the truth, whatever the cost." That she also admired.

"Shall we have a short break - to regain our composure?" Blake said, speaking for himself as well.

"That might be wise," Avon replied.

An hour or so later they met again.

"Avon, Vila, Dayna," Blake said. "Jenna and I have decided on two things..."

"Congratulations on your forthcoming marriage," Avon replied, judging the atmosphere. He was back in control - Dayna had known what to say, including that Anna would have to be good to fool her subjects.

"Thank you."

"And no, I don't want your son to be named after me." The child would have enough problems having the premier rebel as a father.

Blake laughed, taking the remark in the spirit intended. "That wasn't the other thing. As it will be a transition joint presidency, do you wish to join us?"

****

All the ceremonies were over, everybody had left, and it had been a beautiful day. Blake was now a father, President and married. A Presidential predecessor - who had governed a Federation in a more benign phase - had installed a conservatory on the uppermost level of the palace, which had been maintained by his successors. It was a place for relaxation, from which it was possible to see sunrise and sunset. And, as Vila had said, it provided a suitable framework for some of the Presidential gifts - many of the plants, and some of the statues, were of non-Terrestrial origin. Blake had stated he would continue the tradition - which had been acknowledged.

Dayna and Avon had come to the conservatory to watch the sunset at the end of a long day.

Avon knew that when he looked back on this day his memories would concentrate on this time here. He was happy and relaxed, looking back and to the future.

"You know what," Dayna said eventually, "I feel almost disappointed now. We've won, and we've got the journey to look forward to but..."

Avon understood what she meant. "That was part of the appeal of the rebellion - giving people a cause that was not rational. We'll think of something by the time we come back. We've got our skills, and we can market them."

"Even Vila had the same idea - though he suggested we have a six month holiday to start with." Perhaps they could have a belated honeymoon. "To recover from all the hard work we've been doing."

"Consider what happened the last time he made that suggestion."

"Kerr - I have no regrets about that."

"Nor me." Avon wondered briefly what would have happened if there had been no child. Would he have been driven to find out Anna's fate, regardless of the consequences? They would not have linked up with the Free Traders - so the Liberator might have been destroyed going to Terminal - and then what? Less chance of success for the rebels probably. Impossible to tell if things would have been as good as now, better, or worse - but as events had turned out he would ignore the possibilities.

He looked over at Blake, who had joined them a little while before - and promptly fallen asleep on a neighbouring bench, exhausted. He was already arranging for the post-transition president to take over - having made the idea accepted beforehand. One thing he had decided to do while he was in office was to investigate who had been involved in the battle in which the Liberator and the London had been caught.

"I want to see what the Liberator is capable of - I have since the first time I came on it," Avon said, enjoying the colours of the sunset, and Dayna snuggling up to him.

"Such stuff as dreams are made of," Dayna said, repeating something her father had quoted to her. She was willing to follow Avon's choices here.

"Some dreams are worth having," Blake said - he had drifted awake with the setting sun bright on his face, and heard the last remarks. "I have achieved my ambition after a fashion - and you have the Liberator. What dreams shall we create now, to fill the rest of our lives?" It was the time and place for such speculations.

"You'll think of something. What is it Vila says - solve one problem and six more appear?" Avon had already decided that he would do whatever Blake would suggest - probably.

"Yes ... there is time enough..." Blake got up and went towards Jenna as she approached, his pleasure evident and his plans for the future forgotten.

The conservatory was relatively small - but 'somehow' the two couples managed to lose each other after they said their good nights. The sun had set and the lights had come on, turning the conservatory into a mysterious place, to be enjoyed.

****

"What's the matter Tarrant?" Avon asked. The younger man was thoughtful. "You have everything you want - being on the lead ship on the first expedition to attempt to circumnavigate the galaxy, and someone you care for beside you.' It had taken longer than they expected to get to this stage. He was now a father of two.

"I think you understand well enough Avon. Being on the Liberator, getting involved with the rebellion, and then the Free Traders is one thing - we were in charge of ourselves, even if we co-operated, persuaded others to do what we wanted.

Now, it's different." And it was difficult to explain what precisely he wanted to say, even to himself.

"And the others will still decide whether or not you are behaving like a complete fool, and act accordingly," Avon retorted. He understood what Tarrant was feeling. "The only differences between what you are doing now and what you did before is that there are more ships out there than you've co-ordinated before - and if things go wrong we can't make a dash to the nearest place of safety."

"But that's the whole thing..."

"And the first people to go sailing a ship on the oceans over the horizon of a planet felt the same," Avon said.

"What was it like going to Star One? Must have been lonely out there.' Tarrant said, trying to understand his feelings about the place - there should be stars in the sky.

"Tarrant," Avon said with unexpected gentleness, "if you weren't slightly afraid about what we were doing, and about taking the responsibility, you'd be sent back home."

"I wonder," Tarrant said, "as Orac will be on the first known circumnavigation of the galaxy, whether it will be on the last - when the energy runs out. Quite possibly still on the Liberator." It seemed an impossibly distant time and an alien future.

"No doubt you would wish your piloting skills to be commended to whoever goes on that trip," Orac replied. The idea was intriguing - and worthy of consideration. It would be a long time away - even by a computer's reckoning. How many people would it meet? There was a need for companions who would understand the needs of the long journey... Something to plan for when Orac was not engaged in the other, usually trivial, matters of all its companions down the ages. Suddenly the computer understood what was meant by loneliness - it could outlive even species, given the opportunity for replacement of parts. It would deal with the now, and the future could wait.

"If it is convenient," Tarrant replied. "And remember everybody else here of course." As if Orac could forget in the sense humans understood it.

"Shall we discuss the matter on the journey," Avon said. He turned to Blake, who had just joined them. "What do you think of my Cause?"

"Your dream? If I didn't support it, I wouldn't be here." Why else had Avon been with Blake?

Avon held out his hand and smiled. Blake took the hand and grinned back.

"We've achieved your dream, we are doing mine - what shall we do next?"

"Shall we discuss it on the journey?"

"I hope," Vila said, "they will still remember us when we get back."

"They will," Avon replied. "And if they've forgotten - we have our next goal."


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