An Oath of FealtyBy Jean Graham
Page 2 of 4
|Gan and Cally were both in the teleport room with Blake: Vila could
hear their voices over the rattle of his toolkit as he hurried down
the corridor. Avon wasn't there yet. More than a little odd; Vila
was usually the last one to arrive.
"...of such anger is no help to you," he heard Cally say as he came in. "Nor to Avon."
Blake spared Vila a brief glance before turning back to draw his teleport bracelet from the rack. "He still has a decision to make. And I still need to know which it's to be." The bracelet snapped resoundingly into place: in the same moment, the object of Blake's ire, armed and clad entirely in black, appeared in the entryway. Neither spoke. Vila snatched his own bracelet and promptly shuttled himself out of the way to give Avon free access to the rack. Blake moved aside as well, to take his position beside Vila in the bay.
"You keep an eye on the two of them, Vila," Gan said from behind the console. If he'd meant it as a joke, no one would have known it from the sincerity of his tone. "Keep your head down."
"You three do the same," Blake cautioned while Avon moved wordlessly into place on the other side of Vila. "We'll call in on the hour. And Gan..."
"Stay off the watch rota. Jenna and Cally can handle things until we're back aboard. Understood?"
Gan's shy grin crept slowly into play. "I'll be all right," he said.
Cally nodded. "Just see that you three are."
Vila didn't miss the look she gave Avon, to which he responded (an accident of timing?) by drawing his gun. Maybe it meant nothing. Avon almost always drew his gun before a teleport landing...
"Put us down," Blake ordered, and the white field of the teleport took them.
* * *
Strategic negotiations bored Vila. Kearnea proved no exception to the rule. It was a soggy planet without much to recommend it as a vacation spot -- just the sort of place where a rebel stronghold would set itself up. Now this Arman fellow had ushered Blake off to some resistance-planning enclave; Avon was already ensconced in the computer center programming a perimeter security system for the rebel complex, and Vila was left, as Vila often was, to twiddle his thumbs in the B-level common room until someone -- anyone -- remembered that he existed. He'd spent most of the time wondering what he was doing down here in the first place. Blake hadn't needed any locks opened, the complex had no pubs or bars, and there was absolutely nothing to do.
Not that it was such a bad set-up they had here. Large base, out-of-the-way (if somewhat soggy) planet, high-grade technology and computer systems. Even Avon seemed impressed by it -- and it took a lot to impress Avon. Maybe as an added favor, when he'd done with redesigning Arman's security system, Avon could also show him how to program his common room food and drinks dispensers not to surrender all their wares free-of-charge to indelibly bored thieves.
Three drink cups toppled noisily off the table. Vila barely saved a fourth from going over as Blake came charging on into the room.
"I wish you wouldn't do that..."
"Do what?" An oblivious Blake gave the room a rapid scan, hands planted on the rim of his broad belt. "Where's Avon?"
"I'm supposed to know?" Now they really were going too far.
"He was to meet us here ten minutes ago."
"Well he didn't. For that matter, neither did you. Are we going back to Liberator now?"
Blake slapped the comm switch on his bracelet and raised it to his mouth. "Avon... Avon, respond please."
No one did. Vila couldn't quite read the expression on the bigger man's face, though disgust was clearly part of it.
"I'll just go on ahead up then, shall I?" Vila tried. "You can find Avon and--"
"We'll go together." Blake scowled, heading back for the door. "You wait here."
Oh no he didn't. Not again! Vila started after him. "I've been waiting here all day. There's nothing to do!"
Blake cast a jaundiced eye at the table littered with the remains of Vila's pilfered feast, and a wry smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "All right, come along then."
No need to be asked twice, Vila trotted into the corridor, complaining the while. "I dunno why I should be stuck here in the first place -- I mean there aren't any safes to crack or locks to open, so why choose me to--"
"Arman's message asked for help with a security system," Blake replied from ahead of him. "It didn't mention what kind."
Oh, so that was it. No one had bothered to ask, of course, whether Vila's talents ran to computer security systems as well as conventional locks, and maybe, just maybe, he'd prefer to let them keep their ignorance in the matter. You never did know when an ace in the hole might come in handy.
They found three engrossed technicians in the main computer lab. No Avon.
The auxiliary section was unoccupied, save for an array of tools laid out on the workbench in meticulous Avon fashion -- with a teleport bracelet at the end of the row. Vila didn't like the look of that. Avon never removed his bracelet...
"...certain we can come to an equable arrangement."
The voice preceding Avon through the door belonged to the resistance leader, Arman, a balding, reedy sort whom Vila recognized only by virtue of having been told the man's name. No one had seen fit to introduce them. The pair hesitated briefly on sight of Blake and Vila, then Arman strode forward with what looked, to the thief's practiced eye, very much like manufactured confidence. It made Vila wonder what he might have to hide.
"Ah, Blake," the man effused, "we have been mapping out the most incredible security system. Do you know with enough time and funding we could conceivably shield the entire planet. It's really most impressive; I do hope you'll stay awhile and watch it go together?"
Vila met Avon's impassive gaze with one that openly wondered just what bill-of-goods he'd sold this fellow. Did Avon plan to give these rebels a crash course in how to fund a project by bankrupting the Federation treasury? Maybe he'd worked out, in the meanwhile, just how to get it right this time.
"I'm afraid not," Blake was answering. "But if you need more time to program the system, I'm sure we can arrange for Avon to stay on a few more hours."
Arman looked confused for a moment, then shot a nervous glance Avon's way before he said, "Oh I see. Yes, well, I'll just let you work that out amongst yourselves, shall I?" He gave Blake's hand an ardent shake. "You have my thanks. If ever there's anything I can do for you..."
"I'll keep that in mind." The cautionary tone in Blake's reply escaped Arman entirely. He was too preoccupied with getting out of the room. Vila recognized the need. Apparently Arman was storm-sensitive, too.
"Will six more hours be long enough, do you think?" Blake's soft query evinced a condescending glare.
Clouds before the storm, Vila thought dismally. Oh, for a way out of here...
"Six days would not be long enough," Avon said. "There is considerable potential to the system -- an admirably well-equipped facility overall, but it will require the long-term ministrations of an experienced professional."
"Yes, well, we don't have six days. If you've given them enough to get them started, then surely their own techs can take over from there. We need to be getting back."
Vila felt a distinct sense of relief when Avon turned to pluck the teleport bracelet from the workbench -- until he thrust it into Blake's hand with a vehemence equally imparted to his words. "Don't be deliberately obtuse. You made your preferences more than clear aboard Liberator; now I am doing the same. In case it has genuinely failed to penetrate that imperfect vacuum you utilize for a brain, I am not going back. It's finished, Blake, and so am I. Now get out of here."
Vila needed no diagrams to tell him this was not the option Blake had wanted the computer tech to exercise. As ever, Blake's idea of a choice was either to do things his way, or do things his way. And whether Alpha pride would let him say it or not, what he really wanted was for Avon to stay aboard the Liberator. Of course, it was more than that, too. He wanted Avon to be part of a team, and that, Vila knew, was one thing Avon would never be.
"You could be making a mistake," Blake cautioned. "Arman is--"
Avon would have none of it. He'd turned to go before Blake had got the first word out, prompting the rebel leader to make a rapid change of tactics. "Avon--"
The computer tech paused in the doorway, but did not turn around.
"Avon, I never meant--"
But Avon was gone -- for good probably, Vila thought dismally, and was surprised at just how mixed his own feelings about it were.
Blake's hurt look said more than his abbreviated words had done. But the anger, Vila noted, remained, evident in the heaviness of his stride as he headed for the opposite door, the one that led into a short access corridor and ultimately out into Kearnea's humid afternoon.
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