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Pulling Strings

By Marian Mendez
Page 3 of 3

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.

      "Gan?"

      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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