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Investments

By Frances Teagle
Page 2 of 12

[GP + 7 days]
Vila was tired, but relieved. It had been a considerable comfort to spill all his memories into Jenna's lap. She had nodded sympathetically, occasionally prompting him with a question, over a period of four days. Even when he confided to her his private worry that he had himself precipitated the final shootout by distracting the Federation agent for long enough to encourage Dayna to pick up her gun, Jenna had merely remarked that it was just bad luck, it might have worked, he should not upset himself. Sometimes he sought her out to retail another piece of the patchwork. She had not objected to the randomness of his recollections, probably she was cross-checking them with Orac to assemble an ordered history of their travels.
It felt good to have the pilot back again. Maybe she would know where to go next and he could leave it in her hands. She looked well, trim and fit, as flamboyantly dressed as he always remembered her. The face was a little older perhaps, nothing surprising about that, but his overall impression was of strength and resilience. She was not making any show of devastation at Blake's death, yet he knew she had loved him in the early days. Had the ardour cooled? Perhaps not. After all, she had rejoined his resistance movement and Vila had never rated her as an idealist, so love was the most likely motive.
Knowing that Avon was finally back in the land of the living, he wondered whether to make the effort to see him. It would be an effort. While he did not entirely blame Avon for his hair-trigger finger, he rather dreaded seeing him in his present disintegrated state. The taciturn Brig, who had taken him his food, answered Vila's questions with, "I don't know. He says nothing and looks right through you." It sounded as though cumulative stress had pushed him into total withdrawal. Vila's heart was still bruised from the realisation that Avon could contemplate killing him to save his own skin, yet somehow the urge to speak to him grew stronger, he could not stay away indefinitely.
He had settled into a not unpleasant melancholy, particularly when he was on his own. His memory was often haunted by Soolin and Dayna. He did not particularly mind this, he had always enjoyed their company and was far from wishing to forget them. Even recollections of Tarrant were not unwelcome. Cally, he still felt a tinge of guilt about. Common sense told him it would have been suicide to re-enter that bunker on Terminal, but still it clouded his mood.
He shook himself. Time to pick up the pieces. He would go and see Avon.


Avon was sitting on the edge of his bunk, fully dressed when Vila went in. He had lost weight and the anonymous overalls he wore seemed so far from his normal attire that he looked unfamiliar.
"Hello," Vila began tentatively. He was rewarded with Avon's attention. "I expect you'd like to know what's happening. I can't see that Brig telling you much."
"No, I think you could classify him as naturally uncommunicative," agreed Avon, "and I didn't waste time pumping him. Anyway, someone was bound to fill me in, whether I wanted to know, or not."
Vila settled himself on the opposite bunk. He was not discouraged by apparent lack of interest.
"Well, they know what happened, they've got it on tape. It seems that there were concealed security cameras all over the place. Blake apparently called Jenna to come back to base and said to watch her screen as he had a surprise for her. She got her surprise all right, just as she was on final approach to the silo, so she switched to an emergency pad and she and Brig sneaked into Blake's concealed armory and loaded up with gas grenades which they dropped into the air conditioning and turned it up high - some sort of supergas those face-masks can't filter out, Blake had it developed by somebody.
"I must say, you put quite a few troopers out of action with your final burst, there were only three or four still on their feet. By the time Jenna got to the base, that Federation woman I socked had come round and she and the survivors were sorting over the corpses and dragging us off to their flyer. Well, you know Jenna, not exactly the most merciful lady you ever met - she and Brig shot the lot. No prisoners. They wore full respirators of course, you can see them on the tape, coming in and checking the bodies..."
He trailed off as the images rose before him again... Dayna's and Soolin's bodies, turned over and examined, Tarrant's too. The negative gesture from the masked figure as it moved on. For some minutes his gaze fixed on the bulkhead. Eventually, he looked at Avon again. However much he might try to hide his feelings, the intense suffering in his face moved Vila uncomfortably and he looked away.
"Yes, well - they put us on a trolley and wheeled us out and Jenna had a good look round the whole base and found friend Orac where you put him. When I came round some hours later we were in some other place on Gauda Prime. They were evacuating everybody and stripping all the equipment. I reckon Jenna's got some plan for a rendezvous. She seems to be giving the orders and they seem to be jumping to it."
He stole another look at Avon. "Anyway, there was a medic there who checked me over and she gave Brig some stuff to keep you under for a few days with written instructions on how to use it, because Jenna was mad with you and she said she was going to put you into storage while she got everybody away.
"We've been in space about five days and I've been telling her all about us. You may not like it, but I've told her everything I could think of: people, names, places, the lot."
Avon gave a slight shrug. "What else could you do? She needs all the facts she can get if she's to decide on her best course. You would be a fool to lie or keep things from her." He gave a bitter smile. "Let her know every last folly and failure," he said.
"What about Orac?" he asked after a pause.
"She spends a good deal of time with him." Orac was still "him" to Vila. "They talk about systems and things. I think," he said, as the thought suddenly struck him, "she wants him to design another Zen."
Avon's shoulders straightened and his head came up. "Does she indeed? I wonder how she intends to finance such a project?" Their eyes met.
"We could give her pointers about raising the cash," Vila ventured. "Funny thing, she's ended up with the thieves again."
On the whole, Vila felt reassured about Avon. His mind was still capable of interest. He probably needed work to focus his energies on and it looked as if Jenna meant to provide it. Work - the word which had always made him shudder - he invariably associated it with service grade drudgery, but now he could appreciate its therapeutic side. Perhaps "occupation" was a better term. They needed an occupation, both of them.


[GP + 12 days]
Jenna leant back in her chair and surveyed Avon critically across the table. She noted that he had not reclaimed his own clothes but still wore the nondescript overalls Brig had provided - camouflage? There were more lines in his face now, relics of harsh experience and disappointments. The sleek good looks she remembered from Liberator days had hardened into a drawn mask.
Her fury had ebbed with repeated viewings of Deva's tape. She knew that Blake's misguided testing of Tarrant and failure to explain himself speedily to Avon had touched off a keg of powder that had been accumulating for months. Vila's rambling account had provided a background that she could comprehend, but she felt her knowledge of psychology was far too rudimentary to speculate profitably about Avon's behaviour patterns. She could only move pragmatically in cautious stages if she was to restore him to usefulness. She had never known much about him, his secrecy about his earlier life left her little more than her own observations to draw on. Even Vila's story about Anna Grant was not much of a clue to what he might do now. Then, he'd had the empathic Cally and a reasonably sympathetic crew to support him. Things were different now.
"Vila tells me that Servalan is not dead," she began. "Have you any reason to believe that she, Commissioner Sleer, was behind the ambush at Gauda Prime?"
"I have considered that possibility, but it could just as easily be a regular Federation operation." He paused. "We - you could set Orac to tracking her movements and contacts. Also we might identify the woman you call Arlen and trace her back to her commander. It depends on how much priority you want to give it, could take a lot of time and effort."
"I should like to know who we're up against. I want to know if they are convinced," she said.
"Convinced?"
Jenna made an abrupt gesture. "I blew Deva's base," she said, "vapourized it. They might believe we all died if they find no trace of survivors."
"Servalan won't," Avon said with certainty, "she'll never stop looking. The Federation might turn its attention elsewhere but we shall have to deal with Madam Commissioner."
"Assassination perhaps," said Jenna with a gleam in her eye. "You may want to do the deed yourself in `honourable' combat, but I would set the exterminators on her track, to use any methods they see fit."
He let that pass without comment. "And then what? Where have any of Blake's revolutions got anybody, apart from a hole in the ground? Without him you don't even have a figurehead anymore. Who could possibly take his place? If you ask me, the resistance is dead."
Eyes cast down, she concentrated on the table top. "It is," she said, "quite dead. What did we ever achieve with it? Let us bury it and fade into obscurity." She raised her eyes to look at Avon. He in turn was staring downwards. He moved his head, not quite a nod of agreement, nor a protest either. The silence lengthened into minutes as he contemplated the future. Eventually he looked up at her and she anticipated his question.
"And from that obscurity we shall begin a campaign that will achieve something. A campaign that the Federation will not even be aware of until it is too late."
"What with?"
"Orac."


[GP + 40 days]
It took several weeks for intelligence of the happenings on Gauda Prime to arrive at Commissioner Sleer's desk. The planet was remote from her sphere of influence, the operation had been initiated by Councillor Joban under conditions of great secrecy, and she had not been able to establish an informant close to his department. The report she so tardily received was cautiously optimistic that Blake and his organisation had been wiped out. Furthermore, a brief signal from Arlen's people had indicated that Avon was expected to walk into the trap also. The total destruction of the base and the Federation personnel inside, made it difficult to assess the degree of success, but the discovery of the wreckage of a cargo ship, tentatively identified as Scorpio, seemed to confirm matters. However, the wreck had been tampered with, items had been removed, including something from the engine room. That looters had been at work was hardly surprising on a lawless world like Gauda Prime, but damage to the ship's computer might have been sabotage.
Servalan swung away from her console with a feeling akin to dismay. No bodies, no base, a gutted wreck - and they called that success! More likely Avon, wary as a wild animal, had scented the hunters and arranged this charade with Blake to fake their deaths. They were scarcely likely to leave useful equipment like the teleport on Scorpio. No doubt it was all removed before they crashed it under remote control, probably using Orac as auto-pilot. And the fools on the Council were cautiously optimistic!
Well she was not. She would only be sure when she had seen the bodies or heard convincing testimony from those who had, backed up by holograms and other evidence. The only body she had ever seen was that of Olag Gan. Cally had not been sighted for two years - hopefully dead - and the woman Stannis had blown herself to glory when cornered last year, but the rest of them were alive, she would stake her head on that.


"How did we get off Gauda Prime without being spotted?" Vila asked Brig when they were alone in the galley.
"Detector shield."
"I didn't know anyone else had one, besides the Liberator."
"Federation's got them now."
"Did you steal it?" said Vila with a grin.
"Jenna got it somewhere, an old acquaintance, I dare say." There was almost a smile on Brig's face. "We followed a scheduled flight out. Real bunch of amateurs, their surveillance."
"There isn't much you can teach Jenna about blockade running," said Vila with satisfaction. "I wonder how big the price on her head is."
"Zero. It's already been paid." Brig's turn to look grimly satisfied.
"Huh?"
"She faked it months ago, drew a Fed squadron into a trap they thought they'd laid and detonated the decoy and destroyed half of them. We're dead."
"Very liberating," Vila smiled admiringly. "I wonder if we are too? Nah - Servalan won't buy that. Pity. Have a sandwich."


"Orac," said Avon, "where are we? What course are we on?" Until now he had never been left alone with Orac, but Jenna was on the flight deck, while Brig was in the galley with Vila.
"We are at grid reference 49.83.32 in the Ninth Sector, Avon. Our present course will take us to the planet Silmarino, code-named Horizon."
"Well, at least she hasn't prohibited you from talking to me. Can I give you instructions?"
"Yes. However, Jenna has added a radio-controlled trigger to the explosive device you implanted to prevent psionic tampering. She states that she will detonate it if you use me to interfere with her activities or disobey a direct order."
"Hmm," he smiled wryly, "I shall have to be careful then." He could not help admiring her thoroughness.
"Are you a prisoner, Avon?" Orac's tone was, as ever, mildly interested.
"Probably. Right now I don't mean to sabotage her plans, but I want information. What of Horizon? Has the Federation left it alone?
"Yes. Their pacification force has been proceeding in another direction. No further attention has been paid to Horizon."
"The drug, Pylene-50, what happened to all the antidote material that was in Scorpio?" He was not unduly worried that it had been destroyed. In the wake of Zukan's treachery, he had disseminated all his information to the other allies and urged them to spread it far and wide for their own protection.
"Jenna and Vila retrieved it from Scorpio shortly after Deva's base was destroyed."
"Vila never mentioned that." Resentment over Blake's death? Or maybe Jenna had ordered silence. "What else did they...ah...retrieve?
"The photon drive mechanism of course, most of the teleport controls and several portions of Slave's data banks, as I advised them to." Orac sounded quite jaunty.
She would. Left in command of the field, Jenna was proving as formidable as Servalan. In a way, Blake's death freed her from allegiance to him and his methods. She was her own woman now. In the midst of her sorrow, did she also feel release?
Well, on to Horizon. Was this the rendezvous?


Vila too, was feeling the need for information. Brig had somewhat unbent, especially when Vila sang Jenna's praises and told him stories about the Liberator. He appeared to be devoted to her and Vila had a notion that their acquaintance went back a long way. A family retainer? Not quite; their manner proclaimed them as near equals, the pilot/commander and the engineer.
"When did you first meet Jenna?" he asked as casually as he could. They were facing each other across the breakfast table in the cramped dining alcove adjacent to the galley.
"Hmm..." Brig considered, "going on forty years ago, I should say."
"Huh?"
Brig smiled slightly at Vila's surprise. "She will have been, oh, two weeks old at the time and I was about fifteen. My name is Brig Stannis, I am the first cousin of her father, Lukas Stannis."
"Oh..." Vila had never connected the black-avised Brig with Jenna's lineage. He wondered how far he could pry into their past. "Were there...?"
Brig read the questions in Vila's eyes. "Yes, there are more of us, mostly in exile, those who escaped the Feds." His face became dark.
"I don't want to pry," said Vila hesitantly, "it's just that she never said, and we, Gan and I, reckoned she had no family. On the Liberator, you didn't ask people where they came from. All our pasts were pretty murky, except Cally. I mean, take Avon, I know nothing about his family background, and he's not going to tell me at this late date, is he?
"I don't see any harm in giving you some details," said Brig after an inward-looking pause.
"The Stannis family were a powerful mercantile concern; shipping, trading, luxury end of the market mostly. Severus Major was our main base, but headquarters were still on Earth. Well, the Feds wanted more control over the independents like us and Lukas got furious and swore he would move the whole business out of their jurisdiction. So the family started transferring operations to neutral territory on the quiet, but the Feds got wind of it and arrested Lukas and his brothers and my brother Rod on charges of treason or tax evasion, or whatever. Anyway, they were never seen again. And they took my sister and Jenna's mother too. That's the really bad bit, they wrung some sort of confession out of Lukas by torturing Meriam. My sister told me about it. She got away from them, did Margit, jumped out of a prison vehicle and ran for it. It makes me sick to think about it. She was a lovely woman, Meriam. Jenna's very like her.
"The Feds confiscated everything. The rest of us ran, taking our ships and families and we became freetraders, those who didn't disappear under a false name."
"What about Jenna? Where was she, while this was going on?" asked Vila.
"Just out of the Academy, away in her first ship. We got a message to her and she managed to desert and join us. Clever kid, great blockade runner." Brig shrugged. "There you have it. Fall of the House of Stannis."
"Did your sister make it?" enquired Vila.
"Oh yes." Brig's face brightened. "Nothing gets the better of Margit. A born troublemaker, you'd like her. In fact, you'll probably meet her before long."
Well, that's something to look forward to, thought Vila.

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Copyright Vega (Frances Teagle), 1999.
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