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No Greater Gift

By Kathy Hintze
Page 1 of 3

"But we can't pass up a chance like this," cried Vila. "It comes once in a lifetime."

"We?" replied Avon. "You mean you can't pass it up."

"It does sound tempting, Avon," acknowledged Cally. "Even to me."

Avon glanced at his companions as he pondered the possibility of such a raid. To rob the main offworld monetary center of the Federation Banking System was, as Cally said, tempting. The establishment supplied the funds for more than half the Federation operations in space. Take it and more than a few worlds would be angry. But, he thought, if I could make it appear that Servalan had stolen the funds? The very idea brought a wicked smile to his face.

"Oh," muttered Vila as he saw the smile. "I don't like the look of that."

"Do we go for it?" asked Tarrant impatiently.

Avon looked up. "Why not? Zen, course change for Mephisto. Speed--Standard by 6. Confirm with arrival time."

+Arrival time 8.5 hours.+

"Mephisto?" asked Dayna. "What kind of name is that?"

Vila smiled. "Mephisto was a marvelous magician some centuries ago. Had all sorts of clever tricks. Illusions of grand stature, they called them. I read a book about him when I was young. Marvelous man."

"We on Auron have heard the name, too, Vila. But we thought of him as a demon," murmured Cally.

Vila paled. "You didn't have to tell me that."

"Legends tend to grow with each telling, Cally. We require facts." Avon walked over to Orac and inserted the key. "Orac?"

"Must you constantly interrupt my studies with your pointless questions?" snapped the computer.

"Gracious as ever," remarked Avon. "Mephisto. What do you know about it?"

"The planet was explored by the Federation some forty years ago; however, the idea of colonization was discarded."

"Discarded?" asked Cally. "Why?"

"Because the life forms on the planet are carnivorous, including the local fauna," explained the computer. "Of the original explorers, a scant handful were able to escape."

"Sounds like a perfect place to avoid," muttered Dayna.

"Exactly," agreed Orac. "That is why the Federation Banking complex is located in the most heavily wooded area of the planet. At the time of its construction, a 3-mile area of the forest was leveled in what was considered to be a very costly venture. The structure was put up in a week's time at the cost of 10 lives. And since the system is entirely computerized...."

"There is no need to station troops there to protect the complex. The place itself takes care of trespassers," finished Avon, removing the key. "Thank you, Orac." Looking at the others, he added, "I suggest we get some rest. Particularly you, Vila. I want you awake for this job."

"I know my trade, Avon," snapped Vila. "This is one job I've dreamed about for as long as I remember. Just make sure you do yours." With that, he walked off the flight deck to prepare.

"I do believe you have just been insulted, Avon," laughed Dayna.

Avon smiled. "One must humor the illiterate at times, Dayna."

"Well, at least you won't have to drag him this time," remarked Tarrant, grinning.

#

Exactly 8.5 hours later, Zen's voice boomed, +Destination achieved. Further instructions are now required.+

"Maintain stationary orbit within teleport range, Zen," ordered Avon.

+Confirmed.+

"Tarrant, I want you, Dayna and Cally to remain on board. As soon as Vila and I have teleported down, get the ship out of orbit. I can't believe the Federation would allow the complex to be left unprotected even if the planet has its own defenses."

"Understood. How much time will you need?"

"Give us an hour. Then pick us up." Avon paused. "Whether we've finished or not."

"We'll be done easily in that time," replied Vila with confidence as he checked his equipment.

Avon glanced at him and said, "We shall see. Cally, operate the teleport for us."

Vila gathered up his kit, following Avon and Cally to the station. Grabbing a bracelet, he snapped it on and stepped without hesitation onto the grid.

Even Avon was amazed at his companion's eagerness. Turning to Cally, he said, "Remember, Cally, one hour."

"I will not forget, Avon. I wish I were coming with you."

He smiled. "Someone has to make sure Tarrant keeps his mind on the business at hand."

She nodded. "Be careful."

Avon picked up a bracelet and walked onto the skid, drawing his weapon. "Put us down."

The pair disappeared from the ship and Cally had a sudden unpleasant sensation. A cold chill of foreboding ran through her. She could put no name on it much as she tried. Pushing it aside for the time being, she called the flight deck. "Tarrant, they are down. We can go now."

"All right, Cally," he replied. "Zen, take us out of orbit."

+Confirmed.+

#

The teleport coordinates were set to deliver Avon and Vila outside the complex, and the pair materialized in the shadow of a large triangular shaped building. With Avon keeping watch, Vila ran his fingers along the edge of the doorway, then opened his kit and removed a thin tubular instrument.

A growl from the direction of the trees drew Avon's attention. A large striped animal was moving slowly towards the complex. "Vila, we have company," he warned.

Vila paused, staring in the direction of the noise, then quickened his work. The security system was childishly simple, he thought to himself. But then again, with all those horrible things just waiting their chance to get you, the Federation probably didn't think they would need anything stronger.

The striped shape had left the cover of the trees and was heading straight for their position. Avon turned around for a moment and saw that Vila was still working on the door. "Vila!"

"Keep your shirt on, Avon," retorted Vila. "All this moisture had jammed the impulse release and...." A solid click interrupted his explanation and the door slid open.

Vila picked up his kit and flew inside. Avon followed, closing the door behind them. "How far is the vault from here?" inquired Vila as they moved down the corridor, his eyes searching the walls for monitoring devices.

A scant five meters from the entrance, the men arrived at a crossroads where the hall split into two separate corridors, one leading to the left and the other to the right. "According to Orac," replied Avon in a soft voice. "There are only two passageways in this structure. The vault should be a the end of the left passage."

Long before they reached the door, Vila's nerves were threatening revolt. At last, the massive vault stood before them, its outer casing covered with a strange combination of beauty and the macabre. Graceful nymphs and dragons, winged creatures and bizarre beings decorated the structure.

Vila looked at it curiously. "Strange way to decorate a vault."

"Get on with it," said Avon, looking around. There was a definite aura to the place, something which made even Avon uneasy.

Vila walked to the door and probed the controls. Opening his kit, he removed a small, slender instrument and held it against the door. A soft whine emanated from the instrument, drawing a smile from him. "Beautiful."

"Well?" Avon's patience was wearing thin.

"Have it in a minute," exclaimed Vila in an annoyed tone.

The crystal lights above them pulsed as a hidden monitoring device passed a coded signal. There was a soft whirl and the door swung slowly open. "Not bad, eh?" whispered Vila.

Avon nodded and started forward. He'd taken no more than three steps when Vila grabbed at him.

"Avon, look out."

#

The next few minutes were blank to Avon as he found himself lying outside the vault. "Vila?" he called. No response. Getting to his feet, he peered inside. Vila lay pinned to the floor by a metal lance extending from the ceiling, either unconscious or dead. "Vila!"

Vila stirred as Avon started towards him and opened his eyes. "Don't move," he cried. Avon froze in his tracks. "There's a trip beam across the threshold. Anything breaking the beam sets off the trap." Vila drew a painful breath, then went on. "There should be a bypass neutralizer in my kit."

Avon retreated to the small box, removed the oblong device, and returned to the doorway. "I have it, Vila."

"Line it up with...with the center of the sensor square near the base of the inward panel. There should be a color variation...from green to red." Vila grimaced and closed his eyes.

Avon followed his directions in silence, aware of the precious seconds slipping by. Sliding the instrument carefully into place, he watched as the light slipped to red, then dashed to Vila's side. The lance had passed right through Vila's right shoulder, embedding itself in the floor. With great care, Avon checked the injury. Vila groaned and opened his eyes.

"Don't try to move," Avon told him.

"Stupid," muttered Vila. "Really stupid. Something a rank amateur wouldn't have done."

"As I recall, it was not done intentionally," remarked Avon. "How do you feel?"

Vila wasn't listening. "I should have known. An old style vault like this, Avon. I should have known." His eyes blurred and darkness descended.

#


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