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Pulling Strings

By Marian Mendez
Blake had gone. Gan's heart resumed beating. Cautiously, all too aware of the precarious balance of the rubble piled atop his lower body, he began shifting debris. He winced as the main slab creaked and slid sideways several inches. Exploring with his hands, he discovered that the beam pinning him was what had kept him from being crushed. It had saved his life, but now it had him trapped. That was the way life was, a tangled maze of contradictions. Or perhaps, not a maze, but a series of strings, pulling one in different directions, dancing like a puppet to fate's whims.

      No use bewailing his fate. He, more than any other, should bow gracefully to the ultimate puppet-master. He remembered how it had all started...




      He rubbed at his eyes, dispelling sleep yet again. Wading through the entire economic and socio-political situation in the Federation was an enormous undertaking, even for a man with an eidetic memory. It was a pity he couldn't assign the task to his staff. Those bright young Alphas and Betas were capable of compiling the statistics of crop failures and factory recalls of defective goods, but only the peculiar, multi-leveled insight of a psychostrategist of the first rank could link disconnected facts and rumours into a cohesive scenario.

      The Federation was falling victim to its own success. Their leaders had no limits on their power. Ancient laws regarding personal freedom were discarded, while harsh penalties were enacted for dissension. If the future trends he extrapolated from the records were not radically altered, the Federation would fall and humanity with it.

      And everyone was blind to the terror that lay in wait. He had been as placidly smug as any, until his eyes were opened by the merest chance. He had stayed after his normal hours in his office, with the lights off, doing a little soul-searching. In his early years at the Psychostrategists' College he had eagerly embraced the philosophy that understanding others begins with self-knowledge, both physical and mental. He even learned to control his autonomic system. Not that there was a great deal of use in being able to stop one's heart at will.

      While he sat in the dark, contemplating, the Delta cleaners came on shift. He listened to their complaints about the brutality of security and the privations of rationing without undue distress. After all, everyone knew Deltas liked to complain and tell tall tales. Then the light came on and the workers saw him. Their absolute terror and groveling pleas for him not to report them were no stereotyped reaction.

      His curiosity led him to access records. He found horrors he'd thought banished with the Dark Ages - modification into mutoids, memory revision, outright torture. For the most part, the higher classes were restricted subtly, but the pressure on the underclasses was blatant. Protest was dealt with by escalating proportions of drugs in water and food. This kept the workers from outright revolt, but it also made them dull and unproductive. This, combined with their poor education, made many of them resort to crime - which gave the government an excuse to treat them more harshly. This vicious cycle was now beginning to be repeated on the subject worlds. Logically, the eventual result would be a human anthill, with most of humanity unthinking automatons. Then would come the attack.

      History was clear on one point: when an empire rotted, there was always someone waiting to take over. Or something. He was greatly afraid that it would not even be a human enemy and that the death-knell for the human race was already sounding.

      He had always been an optimist. There must be a way to change the pattern, either from within the Federation or without. The rebels were a hopelessly muddled lot, so he pinned his hopes on the High Council. As a psychostrategist he was entitled to a hearing, and he had earnestly petitioned the more moderate members to consider his proposed changes. He'd appealed to their fear and to their greed, attempting to show them that under more lenient laws, the masses had been more cheaply controlled and more productive. They had seemed disturbed by his charts and findings, but demanded more proof.

      So he concentrated on his computer and sighed with weariness.


      The quiet voice behind him startled the man at the computer, but he showed no sign of his surprise. The teacher should never let the student see any weakness.

      "Carnell." Oliver shut down the computer and turned, smiling. His smile faded when he saw the gun in the other man's hand. Carnell was as brightly cheerful as ever, his blue eyes sparkling and his blonde hair impeccably groomed. The boy had a definite future as a consultant. "Come for a talk?"

      Oliver had never possessed that sleek Alpha look, even in his younger days. It was a disadvantage when seeking to impress the powerful. His powerful build and broad features shouted 'peasant' no matter how cultured his words.

      "I am afraid it has gone too far for talk, Oliver." Carnell sounded honestly regretful. But he was a games player, no doubt relishing the opportunity to prove his superiority over his teacher.

      "And so the gun? Really, that's not very subtle." Oliver shook his head. "I had thought better of you. You were such an apt student."

      Carnell's grin widened. "Pity the teacher didn't take his own lessons to heart. You told us often enough, 'When you work with individuals, know their strengths and weaknesses.' Councillor Grimes is addicted to one of those substances which you so nobly asked him to outlaw."

      Oliver shook his head in disgust at himself. "I allowed the urgency of the situation to cloud my judgment. Always a mistake." He eyed the gun, calmly. "A fatal mistake?"

      "Oh, no. I do owe you something for your dedication as a teacher." Carnell lifted the muzzle of the gun slightly. "This is a stun weapon."

      The scenarios Oliver had automatically been running from the instant he heard Carnell's voice were becoming grimmer. "I might prefer to die."

      "Never. You have such big plans. If I thought you had a faint chance of success, I would be on your side, but as it is..." He shrugged, gracefully. "Grimes spoke to the Psychostrategist Academy. They want you to stop meddling. I was able to persuade them to let me handle it - they had something much more permanent in mind."

      "Did they see my data?"

      "Yes. They drew a different conclusion." Carnell let his smile fade. "They're cautious old men, Oliver, unwilling to risk their immediate safety for the benefit of future generations. I rather think you're right, and that's why I'm going to do the best I can for you." He looked regretful again. "Unfortunately, it isn't much."

      Oliver paused to deduce Carnell's options. Familiar with his teacher's habit of unfocussing his outer vision to clarify the inner, Carnell waited to hear what his mentor would say.

      "First, arrest and trial," Oliver began. "Not for treason - too many questions raised - something simple, yet serious enough to call for the ultimate penalty. Murder?" Carnell allowed an eyeflicker of agreement. Oliver continued, "If you aren't going to kill me, that leaves life imprisonment - not on Earth, though. One of the penal planets. A short life among criminals and rebels. You couldn't tell them I was a 'puppeteer' or I wouldn't last a day. So, a false name and identity. Gavin Oliver ceases to exist."

      "And you would be unable to tell anyone the truth."

      Now Oliver was frightened. "Not memory revision. " He'd never forgotten anything in his life. He didn't think anything could make him forget - not without destroying his mind entirely.

      "No, not that. They won't touch your mind, Oliver. But you won't be able to lead a gang of criminals back to Earth as you are so fondly dreaming. You see, no one will follow a man who can't defend himself."

      "A limiter!" Oliver felt the blood drain from his face as the true horror struck. He gathered himself for a suicidal lunge, but Carnell knew his old teacher too well and fired. The last thing Oliver saw was his prize pupil smiling regretfully down at him.

      Oliver woke from the stunning gradually. Never having more than an occasional glass of wine at a gathering, he could only associate his queasiness and headache with illness. After concluding that his stomach contents would remain where they were, he opened his eyes and sat up. He was in a cell, dressed in coarse worker's garb. Strange, how he missed the comforting drape of his loose academic robes. He wrinkled his nose in distaste. Carnell didn't have to be quite so authentic - at least the garments could have been laundered. He stared at his image blurred and distorted in the semi-reflective surface of the translucent panel sealing his cell away from the guard post. Oliver looked like a rustic - perhaps a farmer. To keep up Carnell's cover story, he would have to be sure people didn't look closely at his hands. They were large enough, but soft, uncallused by hard labor.

      The guard seated at a desk in the centre of the outer room looked up and noticed Oliver. He came over to stand in front of his cell. "Awake, are you, scum? That's good. Your trial will be starting any time now, and it would be a shame if you didn't enjoy the whole thing."

      "Trial?" Oliver was still vague, muddled by the stunning. "What trial?"

      "Your trial, you thick bastard. Olag Gan - charged with murder - the murder of a Federation guard! The courts don't like that. No, they don't. You'll be lucky to spend the rest of your life on some rock in space."

      "Yes, I expect so," Oliver replied mildly. The man was looking for an excuse to inflict pain on a helpless prisoner. He didn't see any reason to add to his woes by obliging. "I am sorry. I couldn't help it."

      "That's your story. Try telling the arbiter that you were only protecting your woman. You're all alike, you criminals. You use your women to lure men into your dens to rob them. Only this time you picked the wrong victim. At least, Sason killed her before you got him."

      Oliver shuddered. Could Carnell have killed two people, merely to strengthen the story? He couldn't care less about the guard, but the woman: poor soul.

      Seeing the pain on Oliver's face, the guard was satisfied - for the moment - and returned to his desk.

      Oliver's counsel arrived soon after his awakening. She was a young, earnest woman, who apparently believed the system was fair. He did not disillusion her. Why add her to the list of victims? The trial was brief and the verdict as he had predicted. Carnell had kept his word, and Oliver - no, Olag Gan, he must be only Olag Gan from this moment - was granted a one-way passage to Cygnus Alpha. Sentence to be carried out after the limiter was implanted. His counsel argued that there was no need for the implant, not for a man who would never see civilization again, but was overruled.

      Olag Gan was disturbed by the London's condition. The ship was a far cry from the luxury liner he had taken on his last holiday. He was afraid the ship might not survive the trip. If it didn't fall apart, that fire-eater, Blake, would make a good try at ripping it apart with his bare hands. He'd already approached Gan with his wild ideas. The man had charisma, but he needed stability if he was ever to achieve any of his goals against the Federation. With guidance, perhaps Blake could be the outside force to save humanity.

      Gan could not be Blake's anchor without stepping out of character. In the weeks spent in various holding areas, he had created a gentle, not-too-bright, giant's image for himself. It was what people expected of a man his size, which helped. The rationale appeared to be that nature would not bless the same individual with both brain and brawn.

      It was just as well. Blake would not have responded properly to him in an semi-antagonistic role. It was a side effect of Blake's conditioning- subconsciously, he remembered being tormented while helpless and reacted with instinctual hatred to anything smacking of coercion. Blake's anchor had to be - physically at least - a little smaller to avoid that gut reaction, but he could not be timid, as Vila was, or Blake would be paternalistic. There was a prisoner who suited Gan's specifications as if made for them. He was even gifted with an intellect that Blake respected. If only the man hadn't withdrawn into his own private world.

      Gan had waited with what patience he could muster, studying his quarry. Kerr Avon was fanatically defensive, deliberately rude and totally self-centered. Predictable and therefore controllable.

      At the moment, Gan was alone with the thief, Vila. He'd assessed Vila long before and could relax in his presence, devoting his thoughts to Avon. Gan smiled. Vila was also predictable. His survival strategy was similar to Gan's, in that he made himself harmless, but he went a step further by making himself amusing. He had ingratiated himself with most of the guards and nearly all the prisoners. Avon, of course being the exception. And even Avon tolerated Vila's presence, as he did Gan's.

      "Are you going to bet, or what?" Vila asked, tired of waiting while Gan stared at his cards.

      "What?" Gan folded up his cards and smiled at the thief's confusion. "Why don't we ask Avon to join us? The game would be better with another player, and everyone else is listening to Blake's anti-Federation speech."

      "I don't know why the guards let him get away with that," Vila said nervously.

      "Oh, well, I suppose they don't see any harm in it. After all, we aren't going to go back to Earth and cause trouble, are we?"

      "Not likely." Vila sighed and gathered up the cards, neatly shuffling them together. "Avon wouldn't want to play, Gan. I have never met a more serious man in my life. Talk about your stiff upper lip, why, his is practically rigid."

      "Well, then, he needs to learn to play, doesn't he?" He stood up.

      Vila shrugged. "When he bites your head off don't say I didn't warn you. "

      The psychostrategist laughed. "All right, I won't blame you, Vila. " He walked over to the computer tech's semi-isolated retreat. Avon made no attempt to get along with the others. In fact, his sullen air of superiority practically begged for retaliation from the lower classes. Undoubtedly, he had more personal reasons for his anti-social behaviour than a failed fraud and his exile, but Gan could not waste time analyzing Avon's neuroses. Just getting Avon together with Blake would take enough work.

      "Avon," Gan said gently.

      "What?" Avon didn't look up from the piece of paper he was studying, but wasn't overtly hostile. Probably because life was quieter for him in Gan's proximity. The others enjoyed harrying the mighty brought low. They made an exception in Blake's case, because he convinced them that despite his Alpha status he was one of them.

      "I thought you might like to join us - Vila and me, I mean." Gan was not deterred by Avon's sharp head-jerk, a sub-vocal "no" that was as clear as a shout. "Vila got a deck of cards from somewhere, and he's been trying to teach me how to play poker." The big man sat down next to Avon, meticulously just beyond the man's personal space.

      "Then you don't need me. I am certain Vila is well versed in all forms of dissolute entertainment." Avon folded the paper and pocketed it. He was suspicious, and his suspicions were not entirely unfounded. The computer tech was a good-looking man, a tempting target for a number of the prisoners whose tastes ran that way. Several times, Gan had warned off predators and he'd not been subtle about it. Avon had seen and had to wonder what Gan wanted from him.

      Gan spread his hands. "Oh, it's not Vila, it's me - I'm just no good at it," he said sadly. "The rules don't seem that complicated, but somehow... Well, I just keep losing. I already owe Vila six months worth of whatever sort of wages I'll make once we arrive on Cygnus Alpha."

      "He's probably cheating. "

      "I don't think so." This time, Gan let out a huge sigh. "I never was much good at games." He tapped the side of his head. "Too thick - at least, that's what all my teachers used to say."

      Avon bristled, angered by Gan's calm acceptance of inferiority. "They were undoubtedly very poor teachers." He looked at Gan, mulling things over. "Get Vila's cards. I'll show you how to play poker."

      "Would you?" Gan grinned. "That's great, Avon. I'd really appreciate it." He lumbered off, leaving Avon to think Gan was trying to acquire intelligence by association. He wasn't that far off. What Gan intended was to get Avon's intelligence associating with Blake. Once the ice was broken, the psychostrategist knew he could induce Avon to join Blake. Every human being has a deep desire to belong, and Blake had a positive genius for leading. Why, the man could almost be a natural-born psychostrategist. It would be simple to drop Blake a few hints on handling Avon. Once those two got together, nothing would be impossible.

Gan sat next to Vila in silence. For once, neither of them could manage a smile. Avon, Jenna and Blake - gone; others dead and the remaining convicts drugged and demoralized beyond considering another mutiny attempt. And it was Gan's fault. He'd been so concerned with bolstering Blake's confidence in himself and his followers that he hadn't properly accounted for the effects of the suppressant drugs on the prisoners' mental and physical reactions. The drugs slowed his own wits as well, but he should have been more patient. Now he'd have to rework all his calculations to include an escape from Cygnus Alpha. He sighed. "Vila."

      "Yes, Gan."

      "Tell me again, what the guards said." Vila had remarkably acute hearing and a keen survival sense which impelled him to eavesdrop on the guards whenever possible. Mostly, the information he gathered was useless, but not always.

      Vila patted Gan's shoulder. "Don't get your hopes up. They said that Blake, Avon and Jenna took off in a big ship. They also said that the ship was alien and it killed a couple of their men. It probably ate Blake and the others, too."

      "You don't really believe that, do you, Vila?"

      Vila frowned. "No. It spat Avon out, I'm sure. He'd put a bad taste in anyone's mouth." Vila lay down and yawned. "Wake me when we get to Cygnus Alpha, will you, Gan?"




Gan paced as best he could, trying to ignore the cramps and fever dulling his wits. The cell where the priests had placed him and the other convicts from the London was not really spacious enough for pacing, even if he didn't have to step over the other groaning bodies littering the ground. Cygnus Alpha was closer to Hell than he had imagined. Except for the lovely young lady who'd greeted him with a kiss. He had originally had faint hopes of including the natives in his schemes to reform the Federation, but that was dashed with his first sight of the mutilated body left as a signpost for newcomers. An ossified theocracy heading a world of primitives existing barely above subsistence level was not apt to encourage independent thought and resolute action among its citizens.

      A familiar voice outside in the corridor drew Gan to the bars. If he hadn't been so sick from the 'Curse of Cygnus' he would have laughed aloud. Blake! He'd considered the possibility of Blake surviving and returning to pick up crew from the only people he knew, but assigned it such a low probability as to be virtually impossible. In future, he would have to take Blake's stubbornness - and that indefinable quality, luck - into account.

      After Blake left, Gan roused the others and began encouraging them. Some at least would have the heart to fight their way to Blake's side.


      Liberator was amazing. Even without full knowledge of the capabilities of the ship, he could see that this could be the tool to bring down the Federation. Of course, the chances of any of Blake's Seven being in existence to see that happy day was unlikely in the extreme. Their individual lives were of no importance against Gan's mission.

      Nothing was as important as that. Not the fear of death, not the pain from the limiter whenever he exceeded the allowable margins for anger, not even the fact that he had come to love the others like the family he would never have.

      He had been especially fascinated by Cally, at first by her telepathy, then later by the woman herself. It was very fortunate for him that she couldn't read human minds, or his facade would have been gone in an instant. She was a remarkable contradiction, a gentle soul inhabiting the body of a dedicated revolutionary.

      "I'd like to visit Auron, someday," he told her while he was familiarizing her with the Liberator's medical unit. She knew nothing of Earth classifications and found nothing unusual in his deft expertise with the equipment, while the others assumed that Cally was teaching him.

      "I do not think that is very likely, Gan," Cally said, politely. "They are strict isolationists. They are so terrified of contamination that they probably will not allow me to return."

      "Oh. They're afraid of bringing in new diseases." Gan thought that an incredibly short-sighted policy.

      "Even more afraid of new ideas." Cally turned over a gadget and asked, "What does this do?"

      Gan took the device from her. "It's a cell regenerator. This one's for minor injuries, but there is a much larger one set into the wall here, by this diagnostic bed." He looked around with satisfaction. "It's marvelous, isn't it?"

      Cally smiled at the big man's enthusiasm. "It certainly will be useful. Blake will not be content to fight from the flight deck alone. It is too personal a matter with him."

      "And with you, Cally?"

      "What do you mean?"

      "I just wondered. If your people have so little to do with the rest of the universe, how did you come to be fighting the Federation on Saurian Major?"

      Cally replied, "I had more opportunity than others to see the evil of the Federation. Auron believes its neutrality will be respected. The Federation only respects power. I argued before my people, but they think peace and good will are universal. So they sent me away as a disruptive influence. I sought out the nearest rebel group to offer what assistance I could. Although I am in disgrace on Auron, I will fight for my people." Despite the fiercely spoken words, Cally's eyes were bright with unshed tears. "Even though I may never return home because of it."

      Gan enfolded the slender woman in his arms. "Shh. Little one, you are right. We will fight together." He kissed the top of her head and waited for her to quiet.

      She pushed at him and he released her, stepping back. She wiped her eyes. "I am being foolish, Gan. Thank you."

      Gan put his hand on her shoulder, lightly, offering her his strength through the contact. A telepath must need to belong and be accepted more than the ordinary human. He could not offer her what she had lost, but perhaps faithful companionship would be enough.

Terrorist raids, frantic flights, surreptitious conferences with Orac, all blended together into one never-ending dream. Gan thought they were doing quite well as they were, hitting at the Federation's extremities, shaking up the authorities, giving the average citizens ideas. But Gan had made a monster. Blake no longer could be swayed by logic or sentiment or any other weapon in the psychostrategist's arsenal. Gan had been reduced to arguing in front of the others. Blake no longer needed Gan's unquestioning support to bolster his ego. He now knew how to manipulate Avon into doing as he wanted. Avon's grudging obedience convinced him that he was right, that he knew what was best for everyone.

      "This will be it, Gan," Blake had told him, his eyes burning with fanatical fervor. "Once we've destroyed Central Control, the Federation will collapse."

      "But, Blake, wouldn't it be better to use Central Control to change the Federation?" Gan tried reason one last time.

      "You've been talking to Avon. No, that much power is too much for any man. We simply destroy the computers, and then we will have won. And we'll be able to rest, my friend." Blake's seemingly inexhaustible energy flagged, and for an instant a man sick to death with killing and pain and fighting the demons inside his own skull showed his face.

      Obviously, Gan had underestimated the driving force of Blake's obsession to punish the Federation for the pain it had caused him. He nodded, reluctantly. "If you think it's best, Blake."

      The puppeteer had laid plans for this eventuality, of course. Blake's instability had been apparent from the start. He would quietly accompany Blake on his mission. If they succeeded he would have Avon take charge of Central Control and depose Blake as leader. The others would not be difficult. Blake's obsession had become patently obvious to Cally and Vila, while Jenna would see that Blake needed protecting from himself. In time Blake would accept it also. He did trust Avon, provided he was there to see that Avon didn't turn pirate.

      Avon was not a true leader, but with Gan's backing, he would do well. The computer tech would be easier to handle than Blake, having a much narrower world-view. Blake thought of doing what was morally right for people everywhere, while Avon's moral imperatives were strictly limited to pleasing himself and those he cared about. Despite his belittling attacks on Gan, he was fond of the big man, and would listen to him, given the right circumstances.

      But if they failed ...




Central Control had felt like a trap from the beginning. He'd warned Blake that this verged on the suicidal, but he could not stop him. The moment Blake achieved his goal he would show his instability blatantly. That would allow Gan to take command. Any attempt to do so ahead of time would ruin Gan's chance of obtaining the cooperation of the others, without which the Liberator would be useless to him. He wasn't as surprised to see the empty room as Blake. Other psychostrategists had the ability to forecast, and reason to thwart, Gan's plans to take over the Federation. Then again, maybe Control had never been here at all.

      It didn't matter at the moment. Blake was on his knees, stunned by his failure, and Avon was offering him the spine-stiffening comfort of a sharp tongue and a strong arm about the shoulders. With Avon in his protective mode, there wasn't the faintest chance of persuading him to take over.

      Gan's mind raced, charting probabilities and extrapolating trends. Blake would remain leader, becoming ever more determined on destruction. No one could influence him after this latest defeat. Avon would resent being used without being listened to, promoting internal stresses that would divide the crew. Ultimately, either Avon or Blake would leave. And that would be disaster. Gan had made them dependent on each other. Neither would withstand the pressure of leadership alone. There was nothing Gan could do. Not with Blake or Avon, not when the entire Academy of Psychostrategists was ranged against him. The only way he could be effective would be to leave Blake. As soon as possible.




Gan returned to the present. He hadn't counted on the falling door, but he had taken advantage of that bit of luck. It might still be bad luck, though, if he couldn't get free. He had lain with his eyes open and his heart stopped, playing dead, to convince Blake to leave. It was cruel, and he regretted the pain he caused the other man, but it was necessary. If for no other reason, he had no idea how soon Federation troops would appear to rescue Servalan and Travis. If Blake and the others were captured on Earth, Servalan would have the Liberator. And it did not bear thinking about what that woman would do with such power.

      He had feeling in his legs, and as far as he could tell, wasn't seriously injured. If only he could get out from under the beam, he would be able to escape. Once in the woods, he hoped to locate the remnants of Kasabi's people. Or if they were all dead, there were other rebel groups. The dissident crop never failed in the Federation.

      He grunted with the effort of moving the last of the rubble he could reach. He examined the situation. If he had a counterbalance, he could shift the beam which had him pinned. It wouldn't take much. A child's weight might be enough.


      He turned his head at the tentative, girlish voice behind him. Veron, Kasabi's daughter, stood there. She was grubby in her rebel coverall, with tear-streaks marking clean rivulets down her cheeks. "I thought you had all gotten out. "

      "The others did. They thought I was dead. Why are you still here, little one?"

      "Because." Veron's chin lifted, her tear-bright eyes suddenly cold and stern. She showed him the gun she had slung over her shoulder by its strap. "I intend to stay and kill Servalan. Travis, too, if I can. I owe my mother repayment. Not only for her murder, but because they used her to make me betray you and Blake."

      "Your mother would want you to live, Veron." Gan grimaced. "I know I'd like to live." He pointed at the beam across his legs. "Help me."

      She looked helplessly at the girder, without moving toward him. "How? If you can't move that, I certainly can't."

      "The beam is resting on a slab of ferro-crete acting as a fulcrum. All you have to do is put your weight on the farthest end." He showed her the area he'd cleared, exposing the free end on the beam off to his side.

      Veron put the gun back over her shoulder and climbed onto the rubble. The beam shifted and Gan winced. "Oh, I'm so sorry," she said, hesitating.

      "It's all right, just keep going."

      Veron reached the beam and tugged at it. Nothing happened. Without waiting for further instructions, she clambered atop the slanting beam, sliding her feet sideways to fit on the narrow metal, then she jumped, her gun slapping against her back as she landed. Gan hoped she had the safety catch on.

      The beam creaked and lifted fractionally. Gan moved, only an inch or so, then the beam descended again. Veron jumped again and he was prepared this time, making several more inches progress. Another jump and he was freed to the knees and able to scrabble the rest of the way clear. He crawled out of his death-trap, breathing heavily. His legs were scraped and battered, but after a moment's massage, they were able to support him.

      "Are you all right?" Veron asked. She held her weapon in front of her, uncertain whether or not to offer it to him.

      He waved it aside. "Unless that has a stun setting, I can't use it. Keep it. You'll have to defend us." The girl's stance changed. Now she was the warrior daughter of her mother, protecting her comrade. He stepped forward cautiously. "Nothing seems to be broken." He held out his hand to the girl. "Let's go."

      She looked back uncertainly at the complex where Travis and Servalan were trapped.

      Gan chose that moment to sway, making a small pained sound. When she looked at him, he said, "I can't make it without you."

      Veron flipped her long blonde hair back and shifted her gun into a more comfortable position. "Yes. All right. Mother always said 'Look to the future.' She used to tell me{\152}" Veron stopped to wipe at her eyes. "Let's go." She stepped up to Gan's side and added her meager strength to help him.

      "It will be all right, Veron." Gan shuffled toward the exit, with the girl at his side. "We'll take care of each other, you and I. I just wish Blake{\152}"

      "Don't worry about him. Blake has the Liberator and the others. "

      Gan wondered how long that would be true. He had bound them together, but now they would drift apart. Driven by guilt over Gan's death, Blake would ignore Jenna, who needed him to be a man, not just a rebel leader. Without Gan to keep up Vila's courage, and to keep Cally from feeling isolated, without him to stand as a buffer between Avon and Blake, how long could they continue? Gan sighed. His puppets were on their own, and he greatly feared they would be destroyed, trapped in the tangled strings of his making.

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