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Jabberwocky - part 13 - Revenant

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 19

      Arpel had. The enterprising young officer had since been assigned his own ship and flotilla in the outer worlds, away from Arpel's plans, pleased with his promotion and prepared to work hard to back the Supreme Commander to all and sundry. An ambitious lad, he'd bear watching, but Arpel was good at that. Servalan would have had him killed, of course, but Arpel preferred the loyalty of his troops, counting on instinct and a complex network of spies to keep his men honest.

      The prisoner straightened as if coming to attention. "I am to be transported by freighter to the planet Dorsa Prime, where I will secure transport by whatever means available to the planet Ryalon. Once there I will seek out rebel headquarters and ask for Roj Blake. When I see him, I am to respond as programming dictates." He repeated the orders in a monotone voice. Perfect. Arpel shifted position again and rubbed his fingers across the bridge of his nose again. The prisoner's posture shifted subtly, as if he had gone at ease.

      "It will be good to see Blake again," he said. "I hope this plan of yours works."

      "It will work," Arpel said with a smile. "Yes, I know that it will work. Perhaps even better than we both believe."

      "How is Blake?" asked the bigger man. "Have you seen him?"

      Arpel smiled. "A man in my position isn't likely to meet Blake," he replied. "I've exchanged insults with his pilot, Tarrant, over the communicator. But Blake himself? No. I've never seen him. You've heard reports of troubles in the outer worlds. Most of them can be laid at Blake's door. Space Commander Sleer is determined to rid the galaxy of him, of course."

      "There's a rumour in the cells that she's on medical leave?" The big man let a hint of curiosity creep into his voice. He had no cause to love Sleer and would welcome confirmation of that news.

      Arpel didn't give it to him. Though he had a use for this man, he had no reason to confide in him any more than was necessary, and learning that Servalan had been gravely, almost fatally, wounded on an out-of-the-way planet called Murray's World would benefit no one. Knowing Sleer's value to him, Arpel had been as solicitous as possible, as solicitous as she would believe, and had seen to all arrangements necessary for her recovery and rehabilitation. She was not quite ready to return to duty yet, which convinced Arpel that it was time for him to enable this prisoner and run the specified program. It could go wrong, of course, but if it did, he lost nothing and Servalan lost one of her weapons. She had an ample store, of course, but plucking this one away from her amused the Supreme Commander even as it served his own purposes. If it should fail, the blame could easily be placed upon Servalan's earlier programming or even upon the implant. He could understand why Servalan had insisted upon arranging to have it done, but he'd disabled it at a later programming session. The prisoner did not know the device had ceased to function and Arpel saw no reason to inform him of it. It would give the prisoner too much control. Better to let him believe he was restricted by the implant and let him act accordingly. He might discover it on his own, of course, but by then, it would scarcely matter.

      There were other methods to restrain the prisoner, the first of which was the truth of his origin. Though the programmer's initial statement had been met with fervent disbelief, Arpel had insisted upon showing the prisoner all tapes to convince him of the truth. That such tapes could easily have been forged, or that the entire session could have been an electronically induced memory was well known, even by the prisoner, but Arpel kept as many reality checks as possible, knowing the prisoner would function the better when turned loose if he had what he thought was a true grasp of his position, his condition, and his purpose.

      "Rumours are not important," Arpel said flatly. "Sleer lives. That's all you need know. Don't you realize that Blake would be suspicious of any further knowledge? I'd prefer to keep your awareness of current politics at Space Command Headquarters within the realm of prison rumour."

      "But I'm not going to betray Blake," the prisoner exclaimed. "He'll know that."

      "He might know you believe that," Arpel said. "Kerr Avon will be more suspicious, of course but you have been programmed and you know it. Blake would be a fool to trust you. He might trust your intentions, but no more."

      "I know Servalan programmed me to kill Blake," the big man agreed. "Your people disabled that programming."

      "And you are willing to take a chance on that?" Arpel asked, his thin lips quirking with amusement. "Remember, Prisoner, that I am not a rebel. I am not turning you loose to aid Blake's cause."

      "No. What could I do to aid Blake's cause," the prisoner returned. "I'm only one man with no particular skills. I'm not even much use to you. Maybe you did program me to kill Blake. I'm not such a fool that I believe everything you've said to me. But I can't kill him."

      Arpel chose to leave him in his ignorance. "No. Let us hear no more about the Rule of Life. I suspect we are well rid of the Clone Masters. Believe me, you can kill. Blake's clone did, to stay alive, I'm told. You are no different."

      "To stay alive, not in cold blood," the prisoner retaliated. He looked past Arpel at the 'window' in the embrasure. The supreme commander's office overlooked a plaza several levels high, where below, Alpha grade citizens were going about their business. From their perspective, the 'window' was just a wall, but Arpel enjoyed watching the people below who did not know they were under observation, other than by the inevitable cameras that monitored everyone.

      "When do I leave?" the prisoner continued, without waiting for an answer to his remark.

      "Now. Within the hour you will be on the transport. Here are your false papers." He opened his desk and took out a folder that he passed to the prisoner. When the man raised his shackled hands to take it, Arpel leaned over and keyed a button on his desk. A moment later a young officer entered and came to attention.

      Supreme Commander?"

      "You know the plan, Jardeen. Free this man. He is to be sent off Earth. He will not be returning. You know the transport schedule. Escort him to the transport vehicle, see him safely aboard and return here. You are to explain your mission to no one. You are to speak of it to none but myself. If you should be questioned, direct the questioners to me, and show them this." He passed over a docu-cube. "It will clear your way easily."

      "Yes, sir." Jardeen whipped out a magnetic key and triggered open the cuffs. When he removed them, the prisoner rubbed his wrists automatically before taking his papers.

      "Thank you, sir," he said to Arpel. "I am grateful to you for my life." A wry expression flitted across his face at the words, then he allowed the officer to escort him from the office.

      Arpel returned to the window embrasure and stood, tall and spare, looking down at the plaza below, two fingers stroking his moustache. Had he done the right thing? Would his plan work? He would have to wait and see.

      

      "No more diplomatic missions," Vila moaned, shifting closer to the drinks dispenser at the front of the flight deck. "I'm tired of being diplomatic, Blake. This was boring. Can't we take a holiday?"

      "We had a holiday a month ago, Vila," Avon pointed out to him. "I find even Blake's latest schemes for rebellion marginally safer than our attempts at holidays."

      "But look how lucky you were, Avon," Hugh Tiver, the ship's doctor, put in with a cheerful grin. "If you hadn't taken a holiday, you'd never have met our newest crew members."

      "Exactly my point," replied Avon dryly. Although Ven Perren, Roald Edge and Ran Tanz were a useful addition to the crew, Avon was grateful that this latest in a long string of diplomatic missions that Avalon insisted Blake carry out while waiting to see what Space Command chose to do about an all-out attack did not include the three newest members of Jabberwocky's crew.

      An advantage of the new recruits was the possibility of designing and building additional mindships like Jabberwocky. Since the three had been brought back to base at Ryalon, everyone had been working very hard on such a project, including Avon, who enjoyed the computer work immensely. He was using his skills and training and that was always welcome. Avalon had worked with them to assemble a top flight medical team to do the actual transfer when the time came, and Dr. Plaxton, the designer of the photonic drive had been roped in to help.

      When Blake's newest assignment came along, Perren, Edge and Tanz were working quite hard on the new ship and Avalon asked that they sit this mission out since they'd benefit the rebels more here. Dayna and Soolin, who were handling the weapons system for the new ship, had opted to stay as well. Though Kyl's school was in session he'd tried to wangle permission to skip it and come along, but Avon had insisted he stay behind. Kyl had given in rather more gracefully than Avon had expected until Vila had grinned and said, "Your time is past, old man."


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Sheila Paulson

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