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Jabberwocky - Part 5 - Decoy

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 18

      "Assuming," persisted Avon, "that it is possible to destroy the key without triggering it. No, thank you, Blake. I have chosen to follow you before, but this time I will have nothing to do with your plan."

      "I thought you wanted everyone here so we could vote," Blake reminded him. "I know it's a big risk, but I think leaving IMIPAK intact in Federation hands is a bigger one. Neither of us could go down to the planet, but keeping the planet's bulk between us, we could risk sending someone else to destroy the weapon. Orac can discover a foolproof means of disarming it."

      "Just a minute," Jenna intervened. "We don't even know if the message is genuine. I think we should find out if the delivery has been made before we get so upset. How long ago did Orac intercept this message?"

      "Yesterday," Blake told her. "I've had him follow it up. A flotilla is en route to Serna now. It consists of twenty pursuit ships. We couldn't challenge that many but once the weapon is there, we could break in and steal it."

      "Break in?" Vila moaned. "I knew it. A top security base, and you want me to break in."

      "You're the only one who can do it, Vila. If you don't, Avon and I will always be at risk. Any change of power on Serna could endanger us. Relk could become ambitious or he could die and his successor could start pushing buttons without even knowing what he held. We have to go. The risk is too great otherwise."

      "I agree," said Jenna. "If we can be sure IMIPAK is there, we must destroy it."

      "Bravely spoken," Avon told her, "From one who is not at risk."

      "I'm at risk from Serna security," Jenna flashed at him. "Besides I might be concerned for your safety."

      "Or Blake's." Avon managed to make it sound suggestive.

      Jenna glared at him.

      "Cally?"

      "Yes, Blake. We must go." She touched Avon's shoulder tentatively. "Avon, I would not have you at risk. There is also Servalan to consider. Though she, too, is in danger from the weapon, she could still use the knowledge to her advantage."

      "Tarrant?"

      The pilot frowned. He didn't like the idea of going to Serna, but neither did he like the idea of a weapon that could kill at leisure in the hands of the Federation. "They might use it against us," he finally said. "We've got to get it."

      "Another blow for common sense," Avon said sarcastically.

      "Dayna?"

      "Let's get it. I might be able to adapt it into something we could use, or even neutralise the key."

      "Hugh?"

      "It sounds like this weapon could do more than I could fix. I don't want to go to Serna either, but we've got the detector shield and Orac and Jabberwocky. I say it's worth the risk."

      Avon shot him an annoyed look. Blake continued patiently. "Soolin?"

      "Yes. We should go. I don't like the idea of IMIPAK. I don't think it should be adapted. I think it should be destroyed."

      "Vila?"

      "I don't want to go," said Vila quickly. Then he looked over at Avon. "But we've got to. I don't want to break into that base. I don't like it one bit. But somebody's got to do it." He turned to Blake. "But only if we destroy it. Maybe we could just set charges and blow up the whole place?"

      Blake turned to Avon. "I'm sorry, Avon. You're outvoted."

      "This is a ship of fools," Avon spat at him. "When you feel your blood boiling from the weapon's key, then perhaps you will realise I was right." He stalked over to his position and sat down, finally adding, "Vila will need backup. The Serna base is entirely computer-run."

      "You can't go down there, Avon," Blake cried in alarm.

      "Whether I am down there or not, I am at risk," Avon reminded him. "I prefer to trust my safety to someone more capable than Vila."

      The thief shot him a nasty look, and Hugh intervened. "What was that quote, Avon? The trigger phrase? It seems I've heard it before, but I can't recall where."

      "It's from The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde - Earth; the Old Calendar," Avon explained. "Singularly appropriate, perhaps: 'And all men kill the thing they love/By all let this be heard./Some do it with a bitter look/Some with a flattering word./The coward does it with a kiss,/The brave man with a sword."' He smiled. "A pity he says nothing of the fool," he concluded and walked off the flight deck without a backward look.

      In the uneasy silence that followed, Blake stared after him in dismay and frustration. He knew they couldn't leave IMIPAK in Federation hands. He hadn't expected Avon to jump at the risk, but Avon had agreed, albeit reluctantly, to go. What concerned Blake was that Avon's resentment of the whole plan might make him decide to leave afterwards. He had threatened that before, and though they had grown closer since coming together on Jabberwocky, that didn't mean Avon wouldn't choose to walk if the situation passed beyond certain parameters he'd set for himself.

      "How did the Federation get IMIPAK?" Jenna's practical question interrupted Blake's dark thoughts. "It should have been safe on that planet. Servalan couldn't be behind this, could she? She wouldn't risk herself. And what about - him?"

      Blake stiffened. The reassurances that they were safe then had come from a very familiar voice, his own, and on questioning, Blake had discovered that Servalan had had him cloned. Though the clone didn't share his memories, it was an uncomfortable feeling to know that he had a duplicate loose in the galaxy, and he had been relieved when the clone declined his offer to relocate him on a more populous planet. Blake had thought of the clone from time to time and had been content with the knowledge that at least he was safe from Servalan. Now it seemed that his safety had been illusory too. If Servalan had not come to the clone's world, someone had, someone who had realised the weapon's implications. His clone was probably dead and the girl as well, and if Servalan knew what was going on, she would be shaking in her elegant shoes. Blake wondered if the new Supreme Commander had any hint of how such news would intimidate Sleer. One person they would not encounter on Serna was the former President and Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation.

      Unless it was a trap.

      "If IMIPAK has surfaced, the clone is probably dead," Blake said in answer to Jenna's question, not really surprised to discover that he minded. Seeing the question on Tarrant's face and Hugh's, he gave a brief description of their experiences with IMIPAK. "Avon, Gan and I were marked," he concluded. "Gan is safe from it now." He was silent a moment, remembering. "Avon and I are still at risk. But more to the point, Servalan is marked as well. She would never have dared go back there."

      "Maybe no one has gone back there," Dayna offered. "This could be another of her tricks. She'd expect you to come running to destroy the weapon, secure in the knowledge that she'd have to keep her distance. It could be a carefully-baited trap, Blake."

      "Yet you voted to go," Tarrant reminded her.

      "Because if it's real, we can't leave a time bomb like that in Federation hands," she reminded him, but Blake saw the fascination she felt for the weapon in her eyes. She knew it was risky, but she wanted to find it anyway. Well, Dayna had developed some sophisticated weapons systems; this might be right up her alley. Blake made a mental note to include her in the landing party.

      "I'd be more inclined to think it a trap," Soolin said, regarding Dayna with narrow eyes. "But with Jabberwocky and Orac, we're more than a match for them. I'm not fond of danger, but I don't avoid it either."

      "Avon is unhappy about it," Cally pointed out. She had not stirred from her position. At times she could give such an impression of serenity that she could remain in the background until she spoke, startling them all. Perhaps because of this, they all turned to stare at her, and Blake voiced his concern. "You don't think he'll run, do you, Cally?"

      "He wouldn't run till afterwards," she mused. "And by then, he could well have changed his mind. Sometimes you push him too hard, Blake."

      "You don't think he pushes me just as hard?"

      "It doesn't matter who pushes hardest," Hugh cut in. "What matters now is IMIPAK. It needs to be neutralised, and that means getting there in time to get it away from them."

      "You're getting gung-ho all of a sudden," Tarrant remarked.

      "Do you want to leave something like that in Federation hands, Del?"


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Sheila Paulson

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