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A Bout of Insanity

By Marian de Haan
Page 3 of 8

For the fifth time in half an hour Blake consulted his watch. "Twenty minutes."

Cally nodded. With her goggles and protective mask she was as anonymous as everyone else in the complex. "Liberator will come."

"Yes." Blake resumed his pacing. After planting the last bomb they'd settled into this small, unoccupied laboratory. Blake had no idea what kind of research was done with the instruments on the workbench but pretended to be studiously working on them the few times someone had entered the room.

Cally was idly playing with the computer that stood in a corner on a small desk. A password prevented access to the research data, but general information, newsreels and games were available.

Blake sighed; she seemed to be coping better with the waiting than he was. Hearing footsteps in the corridor, he hurried to the workbench. When the door was opened he was bending over the instruments.

"What are you doing in my office?"

Blake turned. A man dressed in the standard white stepped into the lab.

Behind him, Cally quietly closed the door.

"What are you doing here?" the man repeated. His features were hidden by his mask and glasses but he was short, portly and exuded an air of belligerence. Eyes roaming over the workbench, he exclaimed: "You're spying. Trying to steal my work. I'll-"

Cally's hand came down on his neck. Blake saw the man topple over almost in slow motion.

"That's all we need," he commented. "Where are we going to hide a corpse in here?"

//You'd rather I'd waited for him to raise the alarm?//

"No, Cally. I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"

He was interrupted by the chiming of his bracelet.

"We'll be in teleport range in seven minutes," Jenna announced when he'd replied.

"And not too soon." Blake saw his own relief mirrored in Cally's eyes. "Bring us up the moment you can."

"Gan is standing by."

"Thank you, Jenna. Out."

"She's early," Cally said.

Blake nodded. "Avon must have needed less time than he'd-"

The door burst open. A young man strode in. "Professor Kayman." He halted at the sight of the corpse on the floor. "What...?"

"He's collapsed." Cally bent down and began to remove the corpse's mask. "Help me."

The man kneeled beside her. "I'll do that. You warn the medics."

Coming silently from behind, Blake grabbed him by the neck. Knowledge of forgotten fighting techniques flooded back into his memory. With cold precision he snapped the man's neck.

"What are you doing?" someone shouted from the corridor.

Blake saw more people approach.

Blasts from Cally's gun flashed past him. Two persons fell down. The others scattered.

An alarm started blaring.

Blake slammed the door shut. "Help me shove that desk against it."

"That won't hold them long!"

"It doesn't need to."

//Down!//

Blake flattened himself on the floor beside Cally while the door was blasted. Hot pieces of metal flew into the room, but the desk protected them.

"Come out with your hands up!" someone shouted.

"You come and get us!" Cally invited.

Blake looked at his watch. Surely the seven minutes must be up...

"All right, you asked for it. Heave, men!"

Blake saw the desk begin to topple towards them just when they were snatched away by the teleport effect.

"You're all right?" he asked Cally on materialising in Liberator's teleport bay. Seeing her nod, he ran to the flight deck, aware of Gan and Cally following him.

"Get her out of here fast, Jenna! Vila, activate the detonator control."

"Wait a minute, Blake," Gan said from the doorway. "It's afternoon down there. You'll kill everyone inside."

"I know," Blake snapped.

"It is necessary," Cally said, entering the flight deck. "Otherwise they will simply pick up their research again."

Blake glared at Gan. He didn't like this decision. But the alternative was worse. "Those scientists are developing pathogens able to wipe out entire populations. We have to destroy the brains with the files. Vila, detonate!"

Blake was relieved to see that Vila's squeamishness only applied to face-to-face killings; he pressed the button with relish.

"Right ho!" Vila said.

"Zen," Blake asked, "are we still within sensor range of the complex?"

"Affirmative. Sensors register tremors indicating a massive detonation of explosives inside the complex."

"Good." As relief took hold of Blake he realised how tired he was. "Set in a course out of this sector."

"No," Gan said. "We've got to go back for Avon first."

"What?" It now dawned on Blake that Avon's position was conspicuously empty. "You mean he's still on Terril?"

Vila made a vague gesture. "Lost a bracelet."

Blake thought of their confrontation, Avon's 'It is a stupid risk!' and his own 'I'm the one who's taking it.'

Now the risk had become Avon's. "We'll have to go back for him. Zen, set course for Terril."

"Confirmed."

Blake turned to Jenna. "Why didn't you send someone down with a spare bracelet?"

"There wasn't time," she said.

"We had pursuit ships coming our way," Gan explained.

"We only just managed to evade them," Jenna added.

Vila leaned back in his seat. "Avon will be all right."

"He'll have found a safe hideout," Gan said.

Yes, Blake thought. Avon would manage to keep himself out of danger. There was no need to worry.

* * * * * * *

Avon was woken by the sound of a panel sliding shut. A bit surprised about having slept so well, he stretched his stiff limbs. Falling automatically back into prison routine, he rose to collect the carton that had been shoved through the sliding panel in the door. It contained a kind of drinkable porridge with a balanced mixture of fibres, nutrients and vitamins - and a liberal dose of suppressants to keep the prisoners docile.

Better keep his wits about him! Avon emptied the carton in the hole. He wasn't particularly hungry anyway. Lying down on his bunk again, he closed his eyes, reflecting that Liberator must have reached Aubrius by now. Terril's day cycle was nearly three hours longer than Standard Earth Time. They kept to the twenty-four hour clock, making each hour last longer to conform to the planet's time. Prison governors didn't believe in making the inmates sleep late. It would be no later than seven o' clock local time. If Liberator had not run into trouble, she must be picking up Blake and Cally about now.

What if Blake decided not to come back for him? No, he was too useful. With Zen prone to shut down at times of crisis, Blake needed the services of a top-line computer technician. And he wouldn't be able to find anyone else of Avon's calibre willing to join him. Even Blake must be pragmatic enough to realise that.

Avon heard his cell door slide open. Opening his eyes, he saw the Section Leader enter, followed by a man with a hard face who, despite the lack of insignia, was immediately recognisable as a Federation Security Officer.

The newcomer strode to the bunk. Before Avon had time to sit up, he was kicked savagely in the ribs.

"I'm Captain Karpal. Stand when I'm talking to you!"

Avon obeyed, holding a hand to his side and groaning involuntarily at the pain the movement brought. At least one rib felt cracked.

Karpal turned to the cowed looking Section Leader. "Well, Tef?"

Tef's eyes went down to the dossier in his hand. "Brown eyes. Brown hair..."

Karpal pointed a finger at the dossier. "His hair is somewhat darker than that, wouldn't you say?"

"If you say so, sir."

From where he stood Avon was unable to see the front of the dossier. Must be the 'wanted' list, and with better quality photos than usual, by the sound of it, he thought with a sinking feeling.

"Look, man!" Karpal told the Section Leader. "Do you see ANY resemblance?"

Tef cast Avon a furious glance. "No, Sir."

"So," Karpal concluded, rubbing it in with glee. "This man is not Vila Restal."

"He is not Blake, Sir."

"Correct. Which gives you two other possibilities, unless you want to include the women."

Tef turned a page of his dossier. "He's not Olag Gan..."

"Which leaves?" Karpal asked in a tone as if addressing a backward child.

Tef turned another page. "Kerr Avon, the embezzler, Sir."

Karpal turned his attention to Avon. He was almost purring. "Kerr Avon, the frustration of the Fraud Squad. I recognised your voice at once." Frowning at his lack of reaction, he added: "You don't seem to remember me."

Avon reverted to his customary disdain: "Should I?"

"I was present at your arrest, that time when you were suspected in connection with that worm Keiller."

Just his luck! Avon produced a cold smile. "In that case, I can't say you've made a lasting impression."

Karpal glared at him before smiling icily back. "Your capture will bring me promotion. A position with Central Security on Earth."

"The right place for you..." Avon knew he should keep his mouth shut but some inner demon made him add: "...among the other bloodthirsty maniacs."

He managed to duck out of the way of Karpal's fist. But he was not fast enough to evade the simultaneous kick to his shin. Overwhelmed by pain he fell down.

With an evil smile Karpal brought his boot forcefully down on Avon's wrist.

Bones snapped. Avon screamed.

Karpal removed his foot. "Now we've established credentials, it's time to get down to business."

Heading for the door, he instructed Tef: "Get your men to bring him to the interrogation room. I'll have to try to limit the damage you've done by not informing me immediately of the capture of the galaxy's most wanted criminal."

Avon managed to raise an eyebrow. "Most wanted after Blake, surely?"

Karpal halted in the doorway. "Blake's a figurehead, feared by the politicians because of his propaganda value. We at Central Security know that your knowledge and intelligence makes you the greater threat."

Avon tried to smile; it turned into a grimace. "Now you've made my day."

"Enjoy it!" Karpal left the cell, adding over his shoulder: "While you can."

Tef barked an order that brought in the tall guard. Reeling from pain, Avon was pulled to his feet and frog-marched through a bleak corridor to the interrogation room. The chamber was instantly recognisable, being furnished exactly the same as the ones Avon had come to know on Earth. Uniformity was the hallmark of the Terran Federation.

His captors deposited him on the metal bench in the centre.

Dizzy from the pain, Avon closed his eyes, grateful to be lying down.

"No need to secure him," he heard Tef say.

"We can't have him walking away, Sir," the guard protested.

"He won't."

The hint of malicious anticipation made Avon open his eyes. He saw Tef rummaging in a cabinet in the corner.

"What are you looking for, Sir?" the guard asked.

"This," Tef said, closing the cabinet. "It's one of the toys of that para-investigator they brought over from Earth last year to deal with the uprising. Forgot to take it with him when he went home."

He held up a sleek metal rod. "This is a bone crusher." Tef walked back to Avon, continuing in a conspiring tone to the guard: "It can break a bone without damaging the skin. With his leg broken he won't be able to walk away, will he?"

The guard grinned. "No need for Karpal to get all the fun."

Avon's mouth went dry. "This will get you into trouble. You have no authorisation to use that crusher and neither has Karpal."

"So, it will get Karpal into trouble," Tef drawled. "He'll never be able to prove that it wasn't his kick that broke your leg."

"Serves the bastard right," the guard commented.

"Yes," Tef spat. "He'll be sorry for treating me like a half-wit. I'll have him by the balls."

"How, Sir?" the guard asked eagerly.

Tef gestured at Avon. "Karpal's planning to hand him over to his masters at Central Security."

"Someone should warn Space Command," the guard said.

Tef smiled smugly. "Someone already has." He pressed a button on the crusher. It started to buzz softly.

"Pull up his trouser leg," Tef ordered the guard.

Avon gritted his teeth. He felt the cold tip of the crusher against his bruised skin. Then a searing pain. Awareness blacked out.

* * * * * * *


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