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Word of Honour

By Michael Miles
Tarrant was in the firing range Dayna had installed, shooting at targets. The targets were coming thick and fast but he was keeping up with them, his score and the time taken for each hit clicking up on the display. Cally sighed he must have been fighting with Avon again.

"There you are I've been looking for you." She said brightly.

"Just keeping my hand in. It doesn't hurt to stay sharp."

"No I suppose not." She paused as Tarrant turned off the targets. "So what was the argument about this time?"

Tarrant opened his mouth to say something and then stopped, giving her his most boyish grin he conceded, " We can't get anything by you can we? It's nothing really. Just Avon being his normal self."

"Have you thought of not acting your normal self? It might make things a bit easier."

"Why would I want to settle for an easy life?" Tarrant asked in that arrogant way of his.

"Well for one thing it would be safer. You shouldn't push Avon to far Tarrant."

"Just who are you afraid for? We all know how you feel about Avon, don't worry if it comes to it I promise to give him an even chance."

"Oh you fool Tarrant." Did he really think Avon would give him an even chance? "Your just a little boy who happens to have grown tall really, aren't you?" With that she walked to the door. Pausing she turned and said. " Avon never practises at all. You might want to think why that is."

"He's that good is he?"

"No, guess again." She called over her shoulder as she left.

Cally found Avon in the teleport section working with Orac. She sat down next to him. "What are you doing?"

"Just a little research. I've got Orac looking for any decent pilots that may be currently unemployed."

"That's not necessary is it?"

"Well we could fly the Liberator with the help of Zen and Orac normally but the sort of situations we find ourselves in it's best to have a good combat pilot on board."

"That's not what I meant. We have a good pilot on board."

"Really? First Tarrant comes up with a scheme to steal a consignment of kairopan, which nearly lost us the Liberator, and then he nearly gets Vila killed by that maniac Bayban. I think it is time to dump Tarrant on the first planet we come to."

"You can't do that"

"You think it would be tidier just to kill him?"

"That's not funny Avon! Tarrant is a good pilot and we need him. Can't you find some way to get along with him?"

"What do you suggest? We get drunk together, do a bit of male bonding."

Cally rolled her eyes in frustration. Honestly men! Sometimes she wanted to knock their heads together. "You wanted to run the Liberator well part of the job is handling the crew, getting the best from them."

"Man management was never one of my strengths." Avon said managing to make the task sound beneath him.

"Blake would have been able to handle Tarrant." She said playing her trump card and was pleased to see the annoyance in Avon's eyes.

"Oh yes I'm sure Blake would only have had to say 'Tarrant I want you to throw your life away on a totally pointless mission that serves no purpose' and Tarrant would fall over himself to do it."

"I know Tarrant can be arrogant and impulsive sometimes but that's not a reason to give up on him." Cally smiled sweetly. "I'm sure you could keep him out of trouble if you wanted to. Your so much cleverer then the rest of us."

Avon sighed and removed Orac's key. When Cally started using sarcasm it was best to give in. "I suppose I'll have to. Since the galactic war there's a galaxy wide shortage of experienced pilots and most of them are employed by Servalan."

Cally tried not to let her relief show. "What are you and Tarrant arguing about this time?"

"An old acquaintance of Tarrant's has made contact with him. He's offering to sell us the transponder codes for all Federation ships. Tarrant, of course, can't wait to do a deal."

"But those codes would be invaluable to us. With them we could locate any federation ship before it got anywhere near us."

"Exactly." Avon said as if his point had been proven beyond argument but seeing the question in Cally's eyes added. " Can you think of any better bait?"

"You think it is a trap? What does Tarrant think?"

"Tarrant thinks, and I quote, 'Tarn knows me, he knows I'd kill him if he tried to double-cross us'. It never occurred to Tarrant that if Tarn succeeds in double-crossing us that wouldn't be a problem."

"But if Tarrant is willing to take the risk..."

"Tarrant is always willing to take the risk. The more stupid, the more dangerous the better. Or haven't you noticed?"

"There must be someway to set this up safely. If we are careful it should be possible to at least see what this Tarn has to offer." Cally began to work trough the possibilities in her head.

"That's what I've been saying all along." Said Tarrant as he entered the teleport section. "We have to make a decision soon, I've just had a message from Tarn he wants to set up a meeting."

Avon got to his feet and started heading for the flight deck. "All right, I think its time I spoke to this Tarn myself."

...............................................

The flyer skimmed across the surface of the hottest, most barren desert on the desert planet of Apacua. Tarrant was piloting, Avon was in the seat next to him checking the non-functional communications set.

In the end the arrangements had been made quite easily, though both sides had warily added more and more conditions, just to show how much they trusted one another. The meeting was agreed but Avon had insisted he would need two days to get to Apacua and then got there in one, to check the place out first. Tarn had refused to let them teleport directly to his location but instead insisted they came down where a land crawler would be waiting for them. The crawler was to scan them and if they had left their teleport bracelets and guns behind it would take them to Tarn's location on auto-guidance. When Avon had insisted on a flyer instead of a crawler, Tarn had claimed he couldn't get one in time but seeing Avon was not going to budge he finally agreed.

Avon closed the panel he had been poking about under. The communicator was useless, half the pieces were missing. He thought about what Cally had said to him just before she teleported them down. They had been alone and she had looked at him as if seeing right into his soul.

"Why are you suddenly so keen on this?" she'd said.

"The codes could be invaluable. You said so yourself." It was true so he didn't know why it felt like a lie.

"Is Tarrant going to meet with an accident down there?"

"If you want a prediction ask Orac."

"I'm not asking for a prediction; I want a promise. I want you to promise me that Tarrant is coming back alive."

A shiver as though someone was walking over his grave brought Avon back to the present and he cursed himself for his lack of concentration; he was going to need his wits about him.

They arrived at the rendezvous point. It was just the same as the surrounding desert, a grid reference, nothing more. Below them they could see a land crawler with a single figure standing near it. Tarrant flew in a wide circle around them.

"It all looks clear, no sign of life for kilometres." Tarrant eased the controls back to begin the decent. " This is why you insisted on the flyer isn't it?"

Avon favoured him with a sour look. " Would you really have just gone in there blind?"

Tarrant laughed. " There's no need to be so nervous. Tarn's not that dangerous, you'll see."

The flyer swooped round in an arc and came to a perfect landing twenty metres from the land crawler. They got out and started walking towards the crawler at the same time Tarn headed for them. They all met halfway beside a large rock that was the only feature in the sea of sand around them.

Tarn was a slight figure with thinning hair, he had a way of never quite looking directly at you that marked him out as a delta. He stopped in front of them, obviously nervous, careful to keep his hands in plain view.

"You've done this like I said, no nasty tricks up your sleeve?" Tarn liked his lips and glanced at the flyer as if he expected someone to jump from it shooting. Seemingly reassured when nothing happened he added. "Have you got the money?"

Tarrant placed a package on the ground between him and Tarn. "Alright now where are the codes?"

"Ah that's the thing." Said Tarn looking up from the package. "I don't have them. Never did as a matter of fact."

Before they could react two Amagons appeared beside Tarn as they turned off their chameleon suits. There was nothing they could do except hold their hands up in surrender. Tarrant glanced across at Avon expecting him to be furious but if anything he was more nonchalant then ever.

Now that they were his prisoners Tarn visibly relaxed. He began giving orders to the two Amagons but they started to argue about something. Eventually Tarrant realised the Amagons wanted to leave in the flyer but Tarn would not let them.

"We stick to the plan." He insisted. " We send the flyer back empty rigged to crash halfway."

When one of the Amagons demanded to know why Avon cut in. "If you are going to argue I might as well sit in the shade." With that he casually dropped down beside the rock that was the only shade for half a kilometre. When Tarn and his Amagons ignored Avon Tarrant decided he might as well join him.

"What if the Liberator detects the flyer and sees it going the wrong way, what do you think they will do then? This way they will detect the crash or find it when they come looking for their friends and think them dead. Even if they look for the bodies by the time they realise they're not there we will be long gone." Tarn said finally ending the argument.

"That's very interesting. Tell me will anyone come looking for your bodies?"

They turned shocked to see Avon levelling a gun at them. There were two ways the Amagons could react, they could open fire or they could turn on their chameleon suits. They both went for their suits. As they disappeared Avon gave them a burst of fire. Tarn, who had been too stunned to react, was hit and fell to the ground dead but there was no way to tell if the Amagons had been hit.

"Run for the flyer!" Avon shouted as he let loose with another burst in the general area the Amagons had vanished.

They were almost in the flyer when shots started going past them. They dived through the hatch and Tarrant jumped into the pilot's seat. Within seconds they were screaming up into the sky.

When they were levelled off and on a heading back to the teleport site Tarrant turned to Avon. "Ok, are you going to tell me where you got the gun?"

Avon smiled, "I teleported to the meeting point yesterday and buried it beside that rock. That was the only place I could be sure of finding it again."

"But how did you know where the meeting was to be?"

"Tarn was only a middle man, he had been getting his instructions from someone else off world. Orac had been monitoring his transmissions."

"So you had a good idea this was a trap right from the start. Very clever Avon, but as you are so clever why didn't you leave a couple of teleport bracelets down there as well?"

"I didn't want to risk them finding them if they scanned the site. That's why I got this chemically powered gun from Dayna, they might have detected a plasma weapon." Avon couldn't quite avoid sounding a little smug as he explained it all to Tarrant.

Suddenly an alarm sounded and the flyer began to vibrate violently. Tarrant fought the controls desperately trying to keep the flyer level.

"A stabilizer just went down. It must have been hit in the shooting." He shouted above the alarm.

"We're still twenty kilometres out. Can you keep it flying that long?"

"Not a chance." Tarrant watched the figures on the readouts spiral crazily as more and more systems went down.

"Get as close to the teleport site as you can."

"Good plan Avon, I'd never have thought of that." Tarrant answered through gritted teeth.

The flyer hit the ground, bounced, hit the ground again and finally came to rest in a cloud of sand. A stunned Avon and Tarrant scrambled free of the wreckage just seconds before it burst into flames. Soon the flyer was an inferno sending black smoke pouring hundreds of metres into the air.

Tarrant turned to Avon. "Do you think the Liberator will pick up the crash?"

"Not a chance. I had them leave orbit, they are not to come back until they hear from us."

"Why the hell did you do that?"

"If your friends have a ship up there the Liberator would be a sitting target in stationary orbit. Sometimes you have to prioritise, the safety of the ship had to be my top priority."

"I thought your own safety was always top. You may have been a bit too clever this time, the Liberator may not have seen the crash but the Amagons must have. They are probably already on their way."

Avon studied the horizon carefully. A notch in the distant mountains gave them a landmark on the right heading and they must be less then twenty kilometres from their teleport bracelets, maybe only fifteen. Of course fifteen kilometres on a map would be a lot further if you are climbing up and down sand dunes, and in this heat they would lose about a litre of water an hour. Without water they would deteriorate fast. Avon doubted they would make it even if the Amagons didn't over take them first.

"Come on lets go." He said getting to his feet.

"Go? Go where?"

"I thought the teleport site a good idea."

"It's no good Avon I'd never make it." Tarrant pulled up his trouser leg to reveal blood seeping over the top of his boot. "You'll have to leave me. You can make it on your own. I'll try and draw the Amagons off, give you as much time as I can."

Avon thought with annoyance, it was typical of Tarrant to want to die a hero's death. The most annoying thing was he was probably right. The sensible thing for him to do was to leave Tarrant behind and try and make it on his own. He bent down and pulled Tarrant to his feet by his shirtfront.

"We are getting out of here together. If I can make it so can you." He almost growled.

Every step was an effort, to stop was worse, and to start again almost impossible but Avon found if he just concentrated on the next footstep he could somehow keep going. The sun was slowly drying him out like a raison he knew, and the first thing to be affected by dehydration was the brain. Somehow he would have to keep thinking clearly, he couldn't afford to make mistakes. Tarrant had dropped behind again, when he looked round he had fallen face down in the sand. It took all the effort Avon could muster to go back and check on him. He had passed out, it was a wonder he had got as far as this really. Avon studied the line of dunes behind them. He had seen a glint of sunlight a little while ago; he didn't need to guess just what it had reflected off of. He looked down at the unconscious Tarrant and sighed. Avon knew there was only one way to get out of this. ............................................................

The Amagons had seen Tarrants unconscious body from a long way off but had approached it slowly. He was lying at the bottom of a sand dune, a line of footprints continued past him, disappearing over the crest. They stopped the land crawler twenty metres short of him and continued cautiously on foot, guns held at the ready.

The first Amagon reached Tarrant and reached out a toe to nudge him when behind them something burst out of the sand. Avon fired at the first Amagon killing him instantly, the second panicked and tried to run but got only a few paces before he too was cut down. Avon collapsed unto his knees the adrenaline that had kept him going now leaving him weak and shaking.

After a while he was able to get up and make it to the crawler. He saw a canteen of water and drank greedily from it. To double back, covering his footprints as he went, had taken every ounce of strength and willpower he possessed, waiting under the burning sand without passing out still more. But now the water had an almost magical effect giving him new strength. Even Tarrant regained consciousness after he managed to get some inside him.

Slowly Tarrant became aware of his surroundings again. He was lying in a land crawler. Avon, or a ghastly apparition of him, was leaning over him trickling water into his mouth. With a choking cough he pushed the canteen away.

"Where did you get that from?" He at last managed to say.

"I inherited it." Avon answered his voice little more then a croak.

"The Amagons?" He asked as Avon's meaning came to him. At Avon's nodded agreement he couldn't help saying. "You did well. I couldn't have done better myself."

"I doubt that. I shot them in the back." The show of Tarrant's old arrogance brought an almost knee jerk reaction from Avon.

By the time they made it back to their teleport bracelets he had become aware of the way he must look and did his best to clean himself up. Tarrant he left as he was, without feeling a trace of guilt. It was only the shocked faces of the others when they teleported them aboard that showed him how unsuccessful his ablutions had been. He made Vila get the ship moving before he would let Tarrant or himself be taken to the medical bay.

Once there he felt suddenly exhausted and suffered Dayna's ministrations without his normal complaints. He let Tarrant field most of the barrage of questions until Cally finally had the sense to push everyone out and give them some peace. After a while he began to feel more like himself again and decided to look in on the flight deck before going to his cabin and getting some sleep.

"Are you going to tell me why?" Tarrant asked as he reached the door.

"Why what?"

"Why you didn't just leave me down there?"

"Oh it was Cally really." Avon told him, in that tone of his. The one that always made Tarrant bristle.

"What do you mean?"

"I promised her I would bring you back alive. When you know me better you'll know I'm a man of my word."

"Well I still owe you anyway. When you know me better you'll know I always pay my debts."

Avon looked across at Tarrant. Oh how it must hurt his pride to be in his debt, to owe him his life. He left the medical bay, a cold smile on his lips. Maybe he could learn to tolerate Tarrant after all.


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