Trust is only Dangerous...By Philippa Watts
Page 2 of 4
|Avon, Cally, Tarrant and Maya's first view of the surface of Santer
II was a seedy back alley in the spaceport. Apart from themselves, it contained
large piles of garbage, an unholy smell and a heap of greenish-blue flesh
with numerous tentacles, which stirred and emitted a series of groans and
clicking sounds as they picked their way past it. Avon's normally impassive
face couldn't help register a certain amount of distaste at his surroundings.
They emerged from the alley into the street.
It was indeed, as Vila had described it, a hell-hole. Noisy bars with brightly-lit frontages lined the street to the left and to the right, with any number of weird and wonderful creatures plying their various disreputable trades in doorways and along the sidewalk. Small one- and two-person transits cruised along the street, stopping occasionally to pick up a passenger or a cache of some illegal substance. Fresh from the relative calm of their ship, the three members of Liberator's crew were slightly taken aback at this raucous, aromatic, anarchic scene, and stood around gawping for a moment or two. Avon came to his senses first and spoke in a low voice.
`Right, we all know what we're doing. Cally and I will scout around and see what we can find out.'
`Remember to be discreet,' Maya warned.
`Telepathy's amazingly discreet,' Cally said. `Avon, I think I'm looking forward to this.'
`Come on then. Tarrant, report when you've met up with Maya's contact. And remember - any sign of trouble - get out. No heroics.'
`Oh, you can trust me, Avon.'
`That's what I'm afraid of. Let's go.'
Tarrant watched the two of them stroll innocently down the street for a moment, until Maya's voice cut in.
`Looks like it's just the two of us.'
He turned to her, a delighted smile plastered across his features.
`I think I can handle that. Lead on.'
They started off down the street in the opposite direction to that taken by Avon and Cally, and Tarrant felt an assault on his senses of a kind that he had not experienced for some time. Sights, smells and sounds, together with the flood of memories of his `old' life and the closeness of the woman beside all caught him more off guard than he would have liked to admit. The life of a freedom-fighter was rapidly losing its appeal by the second.
`Why did you leave me, Del?'
If Tarrant's senses were reeling before, they now received a complete body blow with this unexpected question, and he actually stopped in his tracks. Maya caught his arm before he collided headlong with two lowlifes engaged in what looked like a drug deal.
`Your timing leaves a lot to be desired,' he hissed, shaking his arm free and carrying on walking. Maya took two or three quick, long strides to catch him up.
`Sorry. I just couldn't play the ice-queen any longer, being here with you just brought everything back.'
`And I suppose you thought I was impervious to that and needed an emotional battering ram to make me aware of it.'
`Stop saying sorry.'
`Sorry... look, we're here.'
They were outside an especially seedy looking bar, guarded by a doorman whom Tarrant thought was possibly the fiercest looking being he'd ever seen... until they went inside.
It was dimly lit, with loud music throbbing from the walls and crowded with what seemed like a representative from every solar system in the galaxy. Maya fought her way through the crowd to a secluded corner table, Tarrant following close behind, one hand constantly on his gun.
`Maya, darling, how lovely to see you, do sit down.'
The table was occupied by a humanoid, obviously female, with pale flesh, a pointed head dominated by huge silver eyes and topped with swathes of silver hair, and four upper limbs. Tarrant knew that, because he counted them. Twice. Her clothing was minimal but tasteful and she was smoking some sort of tube which ran out of sight under the table.
By this point, Tarrant was somewhat at sixes and sevens. This was all too much for a pilot to take at once. Maya slid into a seat on the bench around the table, and he rather awkwardly sat down in the only other available seat, beside the exotic looking creature, who immediately placed on of her four hands on his leg.
`Aren't you going to introduce me to your pretty friend?' the pale creature asked.
`Tarrant, this is Oolak; Oolak, meet Del Tarrant.'
`Er... pleased to meet you, Oolak.'
Oolak purred and drew deeply on her smoking tube. `Three large adrenaline and somas, if you'd be so kind.' Tarrant thought she was addressing him, until he realised a waiter in the form of a small robot had appeared on his left. `Darling, I haven't got long, I've got an appointment with the second minister for home affairs, and I can't be late again. He's so very stressed, what with the world the way it is at the moment.'
`That's why we're here,' Maya responded. `We need information.'
There was a brief hiatus as the drinks arrived. Oolak managed to pass Maya her drink, hold on to her smoking tube and start a gentle caress of Tarrant's thigh all at the same time. The minute Tarrant's glass was in front of him he took a large gulp, and tried to arrange his features into impassive listening mode.
`What do you need to know, sweetie?' Stroke, stroke, stroke.
`The current location of the Nijo Memorial Stone, what else would it be at this time of year?'
Oolak laughed, a throaty sensual laugh. `Ah well, for that, I'll need to use something to relax my client... Normally if I promise him certain... types of favours, he'll tell me whatever's on his mind.' As she said types, she gave Tarrant's leg an extra squeeze. He swallowed what remained in his glass. `For something as classified as this, it'll need some of the lovely relaxant I use on clients who look like they might be less than cooperative.'
Maya was businesslike. `Use whatever methods you need. It'll be the usual payment, plus something a bit special, since it is, as you said, rather classified information. Tarrant? Tarrant!'
He came to his senses with a start. `Er yes. Hold on...' He struggled with his pocket for a moment, and managed finally to extricate the small bag of gems they'd brought from the Liberator treasure room.
`Be careful, you don't know who's watching!' Maya whispered sharply. Tarrant managed to open the bag enough to show Oolak what was in it.
`Mmm, I like what I see...' she said, pulled the drawstrings of the bag tight, and replaced it delicately in Tarrant's pocket.
`Can you meet us back here afterwards?' Maya asked.
`Of course. If that's what you have to offer, just try and keep me away...' the caressing had resumed. `I'll see you back at this table in one and a half standard hours.' She looked pointedly at Tarrant, and he gazed blankly back at her. `If you wouldn't mind...'
`What? Oh, yes, sorry.' Tarrant struggled to his feet and Oolak glided out from behind the table.
`See you presently.' She floated off and disappeared into the crowd.
Tarrant sat back down and studied his empty glass. He felt very warm.
`So,' Maya said. `We have some time to kill. Do you want another drink?'
`Or they rent rooms upstairs by the hour.'
Tarrant turned his head slowly to look at her. She was grinning slightly licentiously.
`You don't mess around.' A small smile inched its way across his face.
Maya raised an eyebrow. `Well?'
Tarrant, still flustered after Oolak's antics, felt his self-discipline being stretched almost to the limit. It would be nice, but... He sighed with a small amount of regret.
`It's an inviting idea, but I think I should save my strength.'
`You under-estimate yourself.'
`Besides, I can just imagine Avon's voice butting in as it's getting interesting. He has a way of doing that.'
It was Maya's turn to sigh. `You're right. Sorry.'
`I thought I told you to stop saying sorry.'
`You did. Now... where's that servobot?'
They talked, drank, ate some of the inedible snack food that the `waiter' brought them, and generally relived the frantic couple of months they'd spent together. Tarrant gradually felt himself relaxing into the mindset he'd been in when he spent half his time in places like this. It was easy, no-one cared what you said or did; no tetchy, know-it-all supercomputers - or tetchy, know-it-all crewmates, come to think of it. Go where you want, when you want, just keep your head down.
What am I doing on the Liberator?
It wasn't the first time Tarrant had asked himself that question, but it was the first time he actually found himself genuinely puzzled as to the answer.
It's the best ship in the galaxy. You're fighting an honourable fight for justice in the face of totalitarianism.
He laughed at some anecdote Maya was recalling.
No you're not. You just like feeling that ship under your control, being able to tell Vila what to do, and every once in a blue moon actually feeling as though Avon respects you.
It was this thought that made him pull himself up short.
Since when has gaining Avon's respect been important?
He frowned, and shook his head slowly.
`You OK, Del?'
`Sorry. Just remembered something, that's all.'
`Nothing important you've forgotten?'
`No, nothing important...'
He was cut off by his bracelet chirping.
`Tarrant. Come in , Tarrant,'
He sighed. `Go ahead, Avon.'
`Have you found anything?'
`Contact made, we're just waiting for news ourselves.'
`How long? We're hitting dead ends all over the place, Tarrant, this may turn out to be a wild goose chase you've brought us on.'
Tarrant grimaced at Maya. She shook her head firmly.
`Maya's confident it'll work out.'
`Where are they?' she asked.
`Where are you?'
`We went due east from where we left you, we're now at a large building with blue windows. There's some sort of large fenced-off compound a couple of blocks away.'
`Tell them to hang fire and we'll get back to them,' Maya advised.
Tarrant spoke into his bracelet again. `Try and stay put. We'll know more very shortly.'
He could hear Avon and Cally conferring. `Tarrant, I went along with this because I thought it might be profitable, but I'm starting to regret it. You've got an hour, then we're leaving. All of us. Got that?'
`Don't worry, Avon, it won't be long... in fact we're about to hear something now. Will report in a moment. Out.' He cut Avon off before he could respond.
Oolak was strolling gracefully through the melee towards them. Her hips swung gently as she walked, but Tarrant was prepared this time and kept his mind on the task in hand as she sat down rather closer to him than was necessary.
`You'll be glad to know your baby's turned up safe and well,' Oolak said guardedly. `They're holding it in an outbuilding near the main admin centre, so you should be able to retrieve it without too much trouble.'
`There? Really?' Maya sounded unconvinced.
`The news came from where I told you it would,' Oolak retorted pertly. `I also stumbled across...' she leaned forward so as not to be overheard, and whispered `...the location of the Fed operations centre. Give me your location finder.' Maya handed her a small electronic notepad, and after inputting the co-ordinates Oolak handed it back. `Now...' she said, in a much smoother tone, her hand going straight for Tarrant's leg again. `My reward?'
Tarrant stood up quickly, retrieved the bag of gems from his pocket, and sat down, before placing it in Oolak's hand under the table.
`Anything else I can do for you?' she purred.
`No, I think we're done here, thanks babes, you've been a fantastic help,' Maya said, standing up and making as if to leave. Tarrant followed suit, aware that Oolak's eyes never left him for a second.
`Nice to meet you,' he said politely.
`Pleasure all mine, darling. Do come back soon.' Tarrant turned, to find that Maya had already begun to make her way towards the door, and backed away from the table, trying to smile and not appear to be in too much of a rush to get away. After knocking over one of the serving robots, he turned and fought his way through the throng to the exit. Maya was waiting outside.
`Walk with me.' Without waiting for him to either respond or follow, she tucked her arm in his and set off down the street at a gentle `we're-just-out-for-an-evening-stroll' pace.
Tarrant was anxious. `I have to let Avon know what's happening.'
`Looks like he's going to be busy. If they're where they say they are, the large, fenced-off compound he mentioned is the main admin centre, so they can get the stone without too much trouble.' She paused, pulling her notepad out of her pocket, saying thoughtfully, `It just seems too easy.'
`Maybe that's why they're keeping it there. The most obvious place is also the least obvious?'
`Perhaps... Anyway, while they're doing that, we can head here and do a little sabotage.' She waved the notepad under Tarrant's nose and then stuck it back in her pocket. `It'll require some breaking and entering, but that shouldn't be a problem.'
Tarrant arranged his features into an expression of modesty. `Neither breaking and entering nor sabotage feature on my list of skills and talents,' he said.
`Oh, so what does then? Apart from being charming, debonair and exceedingly handsome?'
Tarrant felt something in his gut automatically tighten in response to this. Now I remember why I left. She got... boring. Too available. However, rather than rock the boat at this stage, it seemed easier to go along with her.
`Being possibly the best pilot in the galaxy.'
`Oh sorry, I forgot about that. Your modesty level hasn't improved since I last saw you, then.'
`Despite Avon's best efforts...' He stopped. `We'd better let him know what's happening. Can you give them the instructions they need?'
`And if we're going to be breaking and entering, we're going to need
some help. Give me the co-ordinates and I'll summon Vila out of his bed.'
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