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Celebrity

By Rowena Tucker
Zakiid couldn't believe his luck.

He'd spent the morning in Myenna's Palace, gaining a little new perspective in life with the help of several of Myenna's potent concoctions, and then as he was coming out, he spotted them. He wasn't sure at first; after all, the central market place of Derondar's main domed city was fairly crowded, so he'd followed them. He wasn't quite close enough to hear what they were saying but there was no mistaking them. He and his group had seen the official vidcasts about them so often, they could practically recite them. Suramma was the worst for that; her life practically revolved around obsessively following this group and their exploits. And now here they were! Well, two of them. He studied the back of the heads of his targets, walking a little ahead of him through the busy market streets. Yes, it was definitely them: the dark haired man was Avon and the woman Cally. Two of the infamous "Blake's Seven" right here on his planet, right in front of him!

He could barely contain his excitement when he thought about how he would be able to tell the others about this. Suramma would just die of jealousy when she heard about this, especially when he told her which two. She had always claimed to be madly in love with Avon, plastering the walls of her room with pictures of him and her collection of articles that appeared about him in any publication she could get her hands on. She was always going on and on endlessly about how if she ever met him she would tempt him away from a life of rebellion and they would then run off together to a new life on one of the Outer Worlds. She saw no reason why this couldn't happen, despite the rest of them all pointing out the million and one flaws in her plan - mainly that he was a dangerous wanted criminal and she was a seventeen year old girl - but she refused to listen to any of them. He wondered what the two of them were doing here. As Derondar was a virtually independent world, it was unlikely that they were planning to attack anything here. There wasn't anything to attack at any rate; no matter how rich and prosperous it was, Derondar was a dull planet. Hence the number of places like Myenna's Palace to be found there. Zakiid dared himself to creep closer, straining to hear what they were saying in the hope that this would tell him what they were up to. He was careful not to get too close though; he wasn't sure if what they said about the Auron woman was true or not. He remembered how that had come up at the party last night, the one he'd held at his apartments while his parents were away. Jiralya, a pale, plumpish girl who took everything far too seriously, was recounting what she'd been reading about Aurons and how some of them were such powerful telepaths they could suck all the thoughts out of your head and leave you a drooling idiot. "Well if that's true," Dalian had drawled. "It wouldn't take them long to finish you off. And I don't think anyone would notice if they did."

The rest of the group had all shrieked with laughter, hurling handfuls of popped isha kernels at each other as Jiralya flushed bright red, trying to shrink away into the cushions she was sitting on. None of them could stand Jiralya really, she was such a cretin; they only let her hang around with them because her father was one of the richest and most powerful men on the planet. Why he'd never used some of that money and power to sort out his only daughter, they could never understand. It wouldn't take much to make her tolerable. Just a couple of operations, some hair augmentation, a few years of intensive psycho-therapy to make her lighten up a bit...

Suddenly aware that his mind was wandering, Zakiid pulled his attention back to the present. He didn't really believe half of what he'd heard about Aurons, but he didn't want to take a chance of being caught out if Cally really could read his mind. Idly, he contemplated what it would be like to have sex with a telepath, then he found himself wondering if he'd be able to find out, if he pulled this off right.

He was a little scared, if he was honest with himself, at what he was planning, but he knew he couldn't let this opportunity pass him by. Besides, the others would never believe him when he told them if he didn't have proof. Taking advantage of the fact that his two targets had stopped in front of a market stall and were examining the merchandise, he half-hid himself behind an ornate pillar and, raising his new portable all-in-one surreptitiously, he recorded a few pictures, being careful not to let them see him. The woman's head tilted slightly, as if listening for something, and she grasped her companion's arm. He saw the man's lips move briefly, but neither of them turned his way, so Zakiid assumed he was safe. It made sense to assume that these people would always be on edge. Even on a planet like Derondar, there could be people who would turn them in. Idiots. How could anyone not realise that these people were heroes? They fought against the Federation! Even here, on a planet virtually ignored by the Federation since time began, Zakiid could see that their cause was a fantastic one. How exciting it must be; to be outlaws, hunted, immersed in a noble struggle against oppression.

The two started up again, moving away from the market place and heading towards the shuttle bays. Zakiid started up in a panic, worried that he might be losing his targets before he'd even be able to talk to them. He knew that they were supposed to have some kind of miraculous teleportation device that they used for transport rather than shuttles, but he didn't want to run the risk that this time they were using more conventional methods and he wouldn't be able to follow them. Away from the crowds now, he could see them clearly as they turned a corner, and he hurried to catch up with them, his mind rapidly turning over what would be the coolest opening line to approach them with. All coherent thought however, was immediately driven straight out of his head once he rounded the corner and found himself slammed up against a wall with an arm against his throat and a gun held to his head.

"Who are you and why are you following us?" asked the owner of the gun. Avon.

Too startled to take it in - although now only too aware that it was Cally who was pressing him up against the wall, something he had not imagined in any of his projections - he could only gurgle in reply.

The arm restricting his airway slackened off a little, allowing him to gasp in a deep breath, but he could still make no words. The gun was pushed closer to his face and Zakiid realised with a sudden surge of panic that they really thought he was somebody dangerous and could conceivably shoot him.

"Hey, I just - I'm not, I mean..." he managed to stutter. Cally released him, stepping back but drawing her own weapon.

"He's just a boy," she remarked to her companion, taking in his peacock overcoat, chosen specially to match his eyes, his elaborately embroidered trousers with matching shoes and the spiky, multi- coloured hairstyle that took an age to perfect every morning.

"Why were you following us?" she demanded.

Zakiid swallowed nervously, his heart racing. This wasn't how it was supposed to go! He was supposed to stroll up to them nonchalantly, make some stunningly clever remark that would bowl them over with his obvious coolness and intellect. Suddenly he wished he hadn't consumed quite so many of Myenna's concoctions earlier.

"I - I recognised you. From the vidcasts. I wanted to make sure it was you."

"You recognised us? Who is it you think we are?" Avon demanded coldly, the guns still held unwaveringly on Zakiid.

"You're, wow, I mean you're Avon and Cally! You're two of Blake's Seven! You're famous, man!"

"Blake's Seven?" Cally reiterated, a note of incredulity in her voice. "Is that what they're calling us?"

"Yeah! Although, I always wanted to know, why is it Blake's Seven when there's only ever been six of you? And does Blake count as one of the seven, or-"

"Shut up," Avon snarled, pushing his gun right up into the boy's face.

"We should kill him," he said to Cally. "Make sure he doesn't cause us any trouble."

"Kill me?!" Zakiid repeated, horrified. "You can't kill me! You're my heroes, man!"

The two rebels exchanged glances, then turned their attention back to Zakiid.

"What did you say?" Cally asked, sounding more surprised than threatened.

"I said you're my heroes! My whole group worships you guys! We know everything about you!"

On seeing the reaction the two holding guns on him gave to his words, he amended hastily: "I mean, we support you."

"Support us?" Cally queried. "But this planet is independent. Why would you need to oppose the Federation?"

Completely missing that she was testing him, Zakiid saw a way out and leapt for it.

"Because of what you guys do! It's on all the vidcasts and we think it's so cool!" Avon raised his eyebrows.

"Cool?" he repeated, as if the word tasted bad in his mouth, something else that Zakiid totally misinterpreted.

"Yeah! Fighting against the Feds! It's the best thing in the galaxy!"

By now both of them were staring at him in utter disbelief.

"We're wasting our time," Avon snapped in irritation. "He's a bigger fool than Vila."

He cast a disapproving eye of Zakiid's clothing. "Not to mention wearing an outfit that would make those on Freedom City look underdressed."

Cally shot him a suspicious look.

"How would you know? You didn't go down to Freedom City. You and Vila stayed on the ship. Didn't you?"

Avon ignored her question.

"Check him for weapons," he told her. Cally holstered her gun and began frisking Zakiid, who was too worried by the gun in his face to enjoy her attention properly.

"Weapons? I can't carry weapons, I'm a non-majority."

"A what?" Avon demanded.

"A non-majority. It means I'm not old enough to achieve full adult status. We can't vote, bear arms or own property. Or leave the planet."

"So instead you spend your time following strangers around?" Avon asked.

"Strangers? You're not strangers, you're celebrities!"

"So you said. But we don't know you," Cally pointed out.

"I'm Zakiid," he told her, offering a handshake, which was ignored. "That's about it. Like I said, non-majorities can't really do anything. And we're stuck on this boring little planet."

"I can think of much worse places to be," Cally remarked. "So that's why you follow what we're doing? Because you have nothing else to do?"

Zakiid looked insulted.

"Of course not! We watch the vidcasts because they're so exciting, because we all think what you're doing is so great!"

"I've had enough of this," Avon snapped impatiently. "Let's just kill him and get on with what we came for."

Startled, Zakiid began to protest, but Cally spoke over him.

"We don't need to kill him Avon."

"You really believe all that nonsense?"

"Hey man, I'd never sell you out," Zakiid insisted. "You can trust me."

Avon gave him a cold look.

"What about this?" Avon asked, holding up the portable all-in-one Cally had found in Zakiid's coat.

"That's just my all-in-one. Like a sort of pocket computer."

"I know what it is. Were you taking pictures of us on it?"

Zakiid hesitated.

"Yeah, a few. But just for my group! We'd never let anyone else see them! We know how important it is to keep stuff about you guys quiet."

Zakiid attempted a conspiratorial wink.

"Come on, let me keep them, please. The rest of the gang will never believe I saw you without some kind of proof. Suramma'll want to see them especially; she thinks she's in love with you." Cally made a noise like a sort of suppressed laugh turned into a cough. Avon gave both of them an icy look.

"Look, come and meet them," Zakiid found himself asking in desperation. "To prove we're no danger. You'll be safe at mine; my folks are still away."

"I don't think so," Cally replied, still trying to keep a straight face.

"It's cool, it's totally cool! I mean, some of us have parents on the Board and stuff, but that won't make a difference; they all feel like I do."

"The Board? Is that your government?" Cally queried.

"Yeah. Totally boring. They're the ones that won't let us do anything until we reach majority." "But they don't mind you supporting anti-Federation groups?" Avon asked suspiciously.

Zakiid shrugged.

"They think it's just another fad, something we'll grow out of. But it's not, it really isn't! We mean it, just like you!"

Avon finally lost all patience with the boy - in all honesty, Cally was surprised it had lasted this long, secretly suspecting that Avon was in fact slightly flattered by the concept of being seen as a celebrity, although he would never admit it.

"You are nothing like us," he said threateningly, grabbing a handful of the boy's too-flashy coat and raising his gun once more. "You don't know anything about us. You will either forget you have ever seen us, or we will kill you here and now. Your choice."

Cally almost laughed again at the hurt on the boy's face; he was clearly more upset at the thought of never being able to tell anyone of his great encounter than at Avon's threat to shoot him.

"OK," the boy said finally. "OK, OK. I won't tell anyone. Just let me keep the pictures, please?"

"Leave it Avon," Cally cut in. "What harm can it do? We're on a virtually neutral planet, and we'll be gone in a matter of hours. He's just a boy. And we do have more important things to be doing."

As if on cue, her bracelet chimed, and she stepped away a little to answer it.

Avon released Zakiid but he didn't lower his gun.

"Alright," he relented. "But stay out of our way. I do not want to find you following us again, or you will not be so lucky."

"You got it," Zakiid told him, still eying the gun nervously.

Cally returned, putting her hand on Avon's shoulder to get his attention.

"That was Blake. We have to return to the ship soon, so we should be moving on now." In reply, Avon holstered his weapon then, almost as an afterthought, his hand flashed out and chopped viciously at Zakiid's neck. The boy's eyes rolled up into the back of his head and he slumped into unconsciousness.

"Was that really necessary?" Cally asked in exasperation. "He was no real threat to us."

"He was an idiot," Avon replied harshly.

"True," Cally agreed, "But he said his parents were important. There may be trouble if anyone finds him here."

"Only if they find us here as well," Avon snapped, turning on his heel and walking off. Cally sighed and followed him away.

When Zakiid regained consciousness later on, he was still in the place where he had fallen. The two rebels had obviously chosen a good spot to confront him if no-one else had passed this way since. Carefully, Zakiid got to his feet, rubbing his aching head and noting with distress the damage that his fall had caused to his expensive clothing. Regretfully, he headed home to clean up. After much deliberation - and figuring that, by now, the Liberator was bound to be far away - he called the rest of his group round and told them what had happened. Well, a version of it.

"No, really!" he insisted, facing sceptical faces. "I fought with Avon! I really did! Look-" he pulled down the neck of his shirt to show the purpling bruise where Avon had hit him. "He said he was going to kill me, but I managed to overpower him."

"Bollocks," said Suramma flatly. "No way could you beat Avon. He's the best fighter in the universe."

"Well, maybe I'm better than he is," Zakiid boasted. "I'm still alive, aren't I? If he wanted to kill me, and he's the best fighter, then wouldn't he have killed me?"

"We've only got your word that any of this happened," Jiralya pointed out. "All you've shown us are a few pictures of them in the market place. And most of those are of the backs of their heads."

"Hey, come on! Why don't you believe me?"

"Because you're a bullshitter," Dalian called out mockingly, downing a beaker of colourful liquid.

"And if it really was them," Jiralya continued. "How come no-one else spotted them? Like Security?

And what were they doing here anyway?"

"I don't know," Zakiid replied irritably. "I didn't have time to ask them. I was too busy fighting for my life."

A groan of general disbelief rolled around the room.

"Come on," Dalian said, getting to his feet. "Why would a pair of international criminals be hanging out here on Derondar? It's possibly the dullest planet in the entire system."

"We could look at the newsfeed," Suramma suggested. "See if anyone else did see them?"

"Yeah, alright," Dalian said, going over to the vidscreen and switching it on. "Let bullshitter Zakiid prove it that way."

"That's hardly fair!" Zakiid protested, but he was ignored, the attention of the room on the vidscreen.

Dalian scanned through the channels until he reached the latest output of the local newsfeed, the screen splitting into a hundred and forty-four tiny squares, each one a moving image according to the story it reported.

"See? Nothing," the boy announced. "You're such a liar, Zakiid."

"Wait, wait! There, look there!" Zakiid shouted out as his eye caught a familiar sight at the bottom of the screen. "Image four twelve, look!"

Sceptically, Dalian dialled up the image from the other constantly-evolving icons, expanding it to full screen. Report four twelve consisted of a series of multi-perspective shots from the various security cameras in the market place and, to Zakiid's relief, it showed two people who were quite clearly recognisable as Avon and Cally walking across the central square.

INFAMOUS CRIMINALS ON DERONDAR? The caption read, although the report scrolling across the bottom of the picture implied that the two had only been identified after they had left and therefore gave the impression that there was little of interest in the story. Zakiid dialled in for a close up, his own image appeared in the corner, clearly noticeable in his peacock coat as he shadowed the pair.

"There you are, see?" Zakiid told the others smugly. "There they are, there I am. Just as I told you."

"And is your mythical battle with my future husband going to be on here as well?" asked Suramma sarcastically.

"Well of course not. We'd left the market place by then. You know they don't put cameras everywhere."

"How very convenient. Look all this proves it that they were here and that you followed them across the market place a bit," Suramma pointed out.

"What about my pictures? They prove I got up close," Zakiid insisted.

"Oh yeah, really close. And what about Cally feeling you up? Can you prove that?"

"She wasn't feeling me up, she was frisking me for weapons."

"Now that we really believe. Who doesn't know that non-majorities aren't allowed to carry arms?" Dalian asked cynically.

"Clearly they didn't," Zakiid retorted crossly. "They are off-worlders, remember? And wanted criminals, so of course they thought I was a threat to them."

The room exploded in derisory laughter.

"You? A threat? To them? Now that is priceless," Dalian hooted, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. "I mean, you were wearing the peacock coat as well, weren't you?"

"What of it?" Zakiid asked in a hurt tone.

"Well you hardly look like a killing machine in that, do you? You look bloody ridiculous, truth be told."

Before he even realised what he was doing, Zakiid had crossed the room and punched Dalian square on the jaw, a blow that knocked the other boy clear off his feet.

The group fell silent.

Dalian looked up at Zakiid, a bewildered expression on his face.

"What did you do that for?" he asked, rubbing his jaw.

"I faced death today!" Zakiid yelled at his fallen opponent. "You guys, you just sit there and laugh and call me a liar, but I had two guns pointed in my face a few hours ago! I don't care if you don't believe me, you have no idea about anything!"

"Chill out mate. Take a breath or something. What's the matter, you overdose on xanthia juice today?" Dalian tried to win Zakiid over with his famed grin but Zakiid was having none of it. "Oh forget it!" Zakiid shouted, turning and storming out of the room. It may have been his house (well, it belonged to his parents but what did that matter?), but he didn't want to be around any of them any more.

"Oh ignore him Dalian," he heard Suramma call out as he slammed out. "Let's see if we can see any more of Avon on the newsfeed."

His blood pounding in his ears, rage fuelling him, Zakiid stormed out of the apartment complex, heading wherever his feet seemed to take him. Idiots, all of them, complete cretins. Why wouldn't they believe him? He had proof and everything! Jealousy, that was it, they were just jealous. Although, maybe he shouldn't have tried to convince them he'd taken on Kerr Avon in unarmed combat and bested him. Or that Cally had tried to rip every thought out of his mind but he'd fought her off with the sheer power of his intellect. The walk calming him a little, he turned everything over in his mind once more.

The words he'd thrown at Dalian came back to him. Facing death... well, he had, hadn't he? He really had faced death. Avon had said more than once that he'd wanted to kill Zakiid, and if the vidcasts were anything like true, then the man had killed a great number of people and that made Zakiid lucky to be alive. All of his preconceptions of how such a meeting would have played out came back to him, and to be brutally honest, he was a little embarrassed. He'd really thought that two of the most famous, wanted people in the galaxy would have been impressed by him; an underage nobody from a dull little planet in the far reaches of the galaxy. What had he thought would impress them? His money? His hairstyle? His witty repartee? The more he thought about it, the more stupid he realised he'd been, and how incredibly fortunate he'd been that they hadn't killed him. And why was he idolising a bunch of terrorist killers anyway? Their noble cause, true, but all they'd really done was kill a bunch of people and call it liberation.

No, that wasn't fair. Living on Derondar, he had no real idea of the outside worlds and couldn't really make judgements on anyone else. Then he realised what he was thinking and was astounded. If somebody had told him earlier that day that he'd be thinking in this way, he'd have laughed in their face. Just goes to show what a run-in with two dangerous criminals, a near-death experience and a fight with your closest friends could do for someone. Before, he'd been content to just hang around, complaining about how intolerable life was on a planet as dull as Derondar, but never actually doing anything. Now - well, he didn't know. Zakiid turned his path around and headed back towards Myenna's Palace for a few drinks. Maybe with a little new perspective, he'd realise just what course his life should take. He wanted to get out, that was for sure. To see new people, new sights and find out what the rest of the galaxy was really like. Who knows, maybe he'd meet up with Blake's Seven one day, and they'd see how changed he was, how grown up. Maybe they'd even ask him to join them, to fight alongside them in their noble cause... That would show all his so-called friends, wouldn't it? Zakiid the revolutionary, the hero of freedom. And when they won, when the universe was free, there would be statues of him put up back on Derondar. That would shake things up a bit here, wouldn't it? And then, when he was rich and famous, he could come back and make some changes here; let non-majorities do some proper stuff. His dreams already running away with him, Zakiid wandered into the bar of the Palace and ordered a drink. One day, he thought. One day...


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