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Delayed Reaction

By Rebecca Ann Brothers
Page 4 of 13

So this is the fabled box of delights, Deeta thought--not impressed by either its appearance or personality. "Does it ever just give a straight answer?" he said to Blake, who was trying to get the computer to detail exactly how it had tracked him to Gauda Prime.

Orac answered before Blake could. "I see you share your brother's need for answers consisting of one syllable."

Nonplused for a moment, Deeta muttered, "I'll bet Del loves this thing," and Blake advised him not to take it personally.

"I'm not sure I care for a computer that demands obeisance," said Deva, pushing at his hair again. "It sounds as if Orac can't answer, Blake. Perhaps Avon placed that information under special code?"

Blake nodded, appearing to find that very likely. "Going by the way his crew reacted to me, it looked like they weren't too sure what to expect--and Avon didn't have all the crucial details either." Deactivating Orac, the rebel added, "We'll have to get Avon's help on this."

Deva was watching Blake thoughtfully. "Do you really think it's that important?"

"I think it would be helpful to know if anyone else is likely to pay us a visit."

"Doesn't seem likely," Deeta said. "Not with this Commissioner Sleer scheduled to make this inspection tour."

"I'd feel better if we knew more about Sleer," said Deva, and reached over to tap Orac's casing. "Could this thing be any help there?"

"That's a thought," Blake said, and slipped the key back in place. "Orac, I want you to locate any information available on a Commissioner Sleer, and relay it to--"

Before the rebel could finish, Orac said, "Commissioner Sleer is an alias that was adopted by former President and Supreme Commander Servalan after the coup that--"

"What?" Blake was gawping at the box, and Deeta suspected he looked just as dumbfounded. "But she's dead."

"She is not. The Scorpio crew have had numerous encounters with her."

Looking at Blake, Deeta said, "Avon didn't mention that?"

Blake shook his head, sitting back. "No, we didn't talk that extensively." Sighing, he looked at Deva and Deeta. "This makes a difference."

"I'd say so." Deva pushed back from the table. "I take it she would recognize you on sight, Blake?"

"She would. Avon and his crew as well, it seems."

"And me," Deeta added, and had to wonder something else: if Servalan was operating covertly, could Uncle Dev be far away? "This cocks up everything, doesn't it?"

Gnawing his thumb, Blake had an introspective look as he gazed at Orac's flashing innards. "Maybe not, Deeta, maybe not."

"What's on your mind, Blake?" Deeta wanted to know, and began to smile in appreciation of Blake's devious turn of mind, as the rebel outlined a plan.

#

"Avon." Reluctantly, the tech stirred, blinking up at Blake. Who apologized for waking him, but, "We need to talk about Commissioner Sleer--or should I say Servalan?"

"Oh." Yes, Avon had rather thought they would need to talk about that. Gathering his wits, and annoyed at feeling so sluggish, he said, "What do you need to know?"

"Just how gullible is she?"

#

Tarrant was picking at a dinner tray when Deeta came in, and it was still something of a shock to see him. He'd never really had a chance to mourn his brother's death, to come to any real terms with what had happened--what he believed had happened--but he had been able to get past it. To leave it in the past. Resurrections, he was finding, took some getting used to.

"How are you feeling?" Deeta asked.

"Better."

"That's good."

Watching his brother stand there looking kind of awkward, Tarrant realized that Deeta was also having some trouble with this turn of events. Neither of them knowing quite what to say or do, hampered by being apart for so long, and then not being all that demonstrative in the first place.

Unable to think of anything else, Tarrant voiced a question that had been on his mind for a long time. "When you were getting ready to face Vinni, why didn't you want to see me?" That had stung a little, that Deeta hadn't wanted to spare a few minutes for him.

"Because it would have been a distraction I couldn't afford, Del. When I was getting ready for a duel, all I could think about was the contest. I didn't tend to be very good company, for anyone." Deeta came over now and sat on the edge of the bed, facing his brother. "I heard, much later, that you took Vinni out."

"It was Avon's idea...but I didn't object."

"What was Avon's concern about it?"

"He thought it was a put-up job, some scheme of Servalan's--and he was right. Vinni was an android: there was no way you could have beat him, Deeta, not knowing."

A thoughtful look crossed Deeta's face. "So that's how they did it. I'd wondered why I couldn't get any feel for what he was doing--how he could be so fast." He gave Del a lopsided grin. "Puffs my ego up a bit, Del. I thought I was just getting old and slow."

Tarrant protested, "You're not that much older than me."

Deeta's expression was a little weary and wistful now. "Not in years maybe."

Well, Del knew something about that. There had been times when he'd felt just a little ancient himself. "You never did tell me just what is going on here." If he didn't know better, he'd have sworn this place was a Federation base.

"Officially, this is the Gauda Prime Law Enforcement Center."

"And unofficially?"

Deeta's sudden grin was a match for any of his younger brother's. "We're doing unto the Federation what they would dearly love to do to us."

#

"...But then why didn't you simply get a message to us, after you had recovered from your wound?" Avon was saying, in the council room with Blake now.

"Because I'd had too much time for thinking," Blake said, not missing Avon's temptation to indulge a smart-ass remark; appreciating that he decided to refrain. "Something I'd decided was that you, and the others, would fare a lot better if you were no longer associated with me. And that had seemed to be your particular ambition anyway." Odd, though, how it was looking as though once presented with what he had claimed to want, Avon hadn't known what to do with it. Blake had that filed for future reference.

"So you decided to go underground?"

"It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I still think it had certain advantages."

"It didn't keep the rest of us from still being known as Blake's people."

And why did he have this feeling that had been a mite irksome to Avon? Smiling slightly, Blake said, "No, I see that now. When I found out some of the facts about Terminal, I wondered if the decision to operate covertly might have been the worst choice I ever made."

Avon looked down at his hands. "How much do you know about that?"

"That you were lured into some trap, and Liberator was destroyed."

Nodding, Avon looked up at him, appearing to be on the verge of saying something more about that, but, "And had you established this base at that time?"

"No, that was a little later. Avalon and I had been operating out of a planet called Perigor, getting some real coordination started amongst the different rebel factions, planning and carrying out raids on specific targets. The last one was at Danarad, where we picked up Deeta Tarrant."

"And someone else?"

And someone else... "Jenna," Blake said, the memory still so vivid, still so painful.

#

Diving for cover as another strafing run began, Blake hauled out his communicator and tried to get through to the main base again. Still no answer, and the black column of smoke on the horizon was not reassuring. That would have been where the Federation would concentrate its attack--now the Federation ships were only picking off secondary targets, taking out this village on the chance it harbored rebel sympathizers. As always, it was enough to be guilty by association to warrant a death sentence.

And it shouldn't have happened, there should have been no way for the Federation to find them here.

Dropping down beside him, Jenna said, "We're not safe here, Blake. Let's get back to the ship."

"No. I have to get to the base." He had to find out how bad it was, if anyone had survived. The carnage that surrounded them here was bad enough: everything aflame, people in a panicked scramble for safety--a child running past, screaming; a man sitting on a step, stone-faced as he cradled a woman's burnt and bloody body...

Blake knew he ought to be used to this by now, and yet each new revelation of humanity's capacity for brutality struck him afresh. Sometimes he wished he could harden his heart, look upon this with dispassionate acceptance that it was only the nature of the beast. There would be no way then, no reason, to fight against it, to suppose that anything would ever change.

Blake couldn't have said why he resisted giving in to such cold despair, why even this efficient, cold-blooded destruction left his core of optimism untouched.

Sometimes, however, it could be badly dented, and when he and Jenna finally reached what was left of the base--twisted metal, charred and smoking rubble--it took a severe kick. So many of his people were dead.

Making his way to a makeshift aid station, he found a little bit of relief in discovering Klyn and Deva alive and relatively unharmed. Yet even as he was greeting them, trying to find out what had happened, he saw Docholli pulling up a sheet to cover Avalon's face.

Not even given a chance to absorb that, a sonic boom ripped the deathly silence as another squadron tore through the sky, completing their mission. And even as he felt the piece of shrapnel cut into his face, Blake wondered how this seek-locate-destroy mission could have ever come about.

There hadn't been many of them left to relocate to Gauda Prime, and that whole process owed a great deal to Deva and Klyn, their inside knowledge of how a Federation security complex was supposed to operate. Deva had found out about the plan to clean up GP, and had filed it away for further investigation, given the sorts of people the Federation was apt to classify as being of a criminal or deviant nature.

Setting himself up as titular head of the GP base, Deva had also established a false identity for Blake, as a bounty hunter. Only this particular bounty hunter went after a very select quarry: anyone who had sought refuge on GP because their crime against the Federation had been of a dissident nature. After Blake brought them in, alive, Deva performed further computerized chicanery to have the person listed as dead--while the bounty hunter collected a still-substantial reward.

Blake had enjoyed the irony of the Federation helping to finance the resistance, and when Deva had located information that Avon was still alive, his battered spirit had begun to soar even more.

In retrospect, he would always feel that he ought to have known better.

Disturbed by something, Blake rolled over, looking across at Jenna, tossing fitfully in her bunk. Now that was odd, he was usually the one troubled by upsetting dreams. He wondered if he should wake her, or let it run its course, and had just decided to awaken her when she grew very still, sitting up and getting out of bed, going straight for the door.

Something about her movements bothered him, and he turned the lights up, saying, "Jenna? Are you all right?"

She was looking right at him, yet Blake was certain she had not seen him, hadn't heard a word. Walking past him, Jenna left their room, with Blake following. Not suspicious, exactly, not expecting anything, precisely; just...disturbed.

Jenna's destination proved to be the communications center, where she set about transmitting a coded message to a contact who was only identified as Daedalus. When she'd finished, Jenna left as quietly as she'd arrived, and Blake turned off the recorder that had automatically caught and contained the message, one of the security safeguards he had rigged so there would be no repeat of Perigor; and only he had known about it. He had still been concerned about possible programming done to Deeta...he'd never once thought the danger might come from Jenna instead. He'd wanted to believe, had almost convinced himself, that if there had been a traitor at Perigor, then that person had died there.

Resting his head in his hands now, with incontrovertible proof of Jenna's actions, he felt the closest he'd ever come to that dark and bleak despair.

#


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