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Bounty - Novelisation

By Murray Smith
Page 3 of 8

Vila, alone on the flight deck, muttered to himself, "Come on, Gan. What's taking so long?"

The communicator chimed. "His time's nearly up," announced Avon's voice, which ordered, "Stand by to fire on that ship, Vila."

Vila's finger moved to hover over the fire button. "I still don't think this is such a good idea," he pleaded, remembering the nice things about Gan, particularly the willingness to sacrifice himself for everyone else.

"I didn't ask for your opinion," said Avon impatiently. "Are you standing by to fire?"

"We don't want to do anything hasty." Vila was still reluctant.

"Vila!" It was a one word order.

"Yes, I'm standing by," was the gloomy response. I'm sorry, Gan, he said to himself. You wanted to go.

Avon and Jenna were in the teleport section, the former seated at the console, the latter pacing around. The communicator chimed, and a welcome voice was heard. "This is Gan. It's all right. You can bring me back across now. There's no danger to us, but they need our help all right. I've got all the details. Bring me back." Vila began to leave the flight deck, when he was stopped by an announcement from Zen.

+Information. Analysis of voice print confirms that was not Olag Gan speaking.+

Vila ran back to his control station, and pressed the communicator button. "Avon! Avon!" he desperately called. He was too late; in the teleport section, Jenna ordered Avon, "All right, bring him up." Avon obeyed and activated the teleport controls; and as the teleport operated, and Jenna turned around, opening her mouth in surprise as she saw what had been teleported over, Vila's voice came through. "Avon! Avon! Avon! Answer me!"

There was no reply. Vila persisted. "Avon! It's not Gan!...Avon? Jenna?" He grew frightened. "Now don't let's be silly. Answer me, one of you." He then spoke quietly to himself. "I shall come out in a rash." He turned to the computer for help. "Zen, has something happened to them?"

The computer was of no help, announcing, +Data is not available.+

"I don't want data; I want to know what's happening," was the scared reply

Again, Zen did not assist him, simply stating, +It will be necessary for you to make a personal investigation.+

"Oh, you're a big help," was Vila's muttered reply, as he left his station and went over to the gun rack, muttering, "'Personal investigation.'" He put on a gun belt, his anger at Zen temporarily beginning to overcome his fear. "'Personal investigation,'" he nearly spat out in a more determined tone that began to grow louder. "The next time Avon wants to make a personal investigation on how you work I shall make a personal point of handing him the instruments," he shot a look at Zen's screen, "personally." Gun drawn, he left the flight deck by the starboard corridor.

* * * * * * * * *

Down below, in Sarkoff's residence, Blake, after exploring the first floor, went down the spiral staircase to the ground floor, gun at the ready; and he found himself in what looked like another exhibition room, with a raised entrance to yet another. As before, the floor was composed of black and white squares, and the walls were of a silver colour. Again as before, he quickly marvelled at the artefacts, some displayed on shelves, others on stands of various kinds.

Some he was able to recognise; regarding others, he had to confess his ignorance. It had been the same on the first floor. He had been able, for example, to recall who Elvis and Britney Spears were, after looking at copies of their Greatest Hits; but he did not know the significance of the political slogan I SHOT J.R., although he liked the poster entitled THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE; and why was that girl called Buffy so important? This was due to the sparse numbers of labels for the items; but then Sarkoff's collection was not open to the public; and he probably knew everything about the artefacts.

Blake picked up a small, unknown (to him) artefact, blew the dust off it, and placed it back. Seeing and hearing no one around, he holstered his gun. Another artefact caught his eye: a box with a clear top, itself on a clear-topped table. The box contained a number of winged insects, their wings showing a multitude of beautiful colours.

Blake, taken with the colours, bent over the box to read the labels, letting his hand stroke the surface. This resulted in him being taken completely by surprise by the question, "Beautiful, aren't they?"

He turned around, his hand instinctively moving to draw his gun, before relaxing on recognising the man who had uttered the question: Sarkoff. He had come from the other exhibition room and seen Blake's back. He wore a white, open collared shirt with ruffled cuffs and a black neck cloth, as well as black trousers and a black jacket with gold edges.

Sarkoff showed no fear, moving towards the table, describing the contents of the box. "Earth insects of the order Lepidoptera."

Blake was able to translate. "Butterflies," he said, looking at Sarkoff with a slight smile of triumph.

The latter was interested. "Ah, so you're an historian, are you?" he asked, behaving as if armed strangers barging into his exhibition were normal to him. Of course, thought Blake, the Federation would have given him plenty of practice in that area.

He was quite taken aback by Sarkoff's seeming calmness. He decided that it was best to play along with him for the moment. "No," he answered, "but I did study some natural history."

Sarkoff proceeded to earnestly explain the term, raising his voice in the last sentence. "It's interesting, isn't it, that when the term 'natural history' was originated, it referred to the study of living things. It was much later that it came to mean the study of things long since past and dead. History in its more conventional sense." He looked directly at Blake, having wandered around him towards another large artefact: a wooden box, with a large golden and green funnel at its side, and a reddish disc on the top. He had not bothered to look much at Blake while giving the explanation, behaving like a guide in a museum.

While inwardly fascinated by Sarkoff's explanation, as well as by the artefacts, Blake remembered his mission. "You don't seem surprised to see me," he said, in an amused tone that was almost a question.

"I've been expecting you," was Sarkoff's matter-of-fact reply. He then qualified that sentence, turning his back. "Oh, not you specifically, but someone." He picked up a flat black disc with a circular label at its centre. "Do you know, uh, what this is?"

Blake tried to keep to the previous subject, with the puzzled query of, "Why are you expecting someone?"

"Assassination has always been a legitimate took of statecraft." Sarkoff gave Blake a look and sounded a little more serious. He then turned his attention to the large artefact. "Its respectability and public acceptance has varied from civilization to civilization; but its practical application has remained remarkably consistent." He moved what looked like a needle on a metal arm over the black disc, which he had placed on the artefact's red disc, and caused both discs to rotate.

Music came from the funnel: ancient, with a male voice and a lot of whistling, of bad quality, but still distinct, bringing the minds of the listeners back to a time when mankind had only begun to leave the confines of his home planet. Obviously, the ancient artefact was an audio player of some kind, Blake concluded. He also tentatively remembered that the black disc was called a...record.

"I--." Blake began to speak, but was stopped by Sarkoff's raised hand and his comment that the record contained "Echoes of a more civilized age." His smile indicated that his mind was contemplating such a period.

Blake closed his mouth, pursing his lips, brought his hand to his forehead, then opened his mouth to speak, inwardly cursing his approach so far. "I didn't come here to murder you," he said incredulously, hoping that he sounded convincing because he spoke the truth. But I can understand why you could have thought that, he said to himself.

Sarkoff held the fingers of his right hand to his mouth in a gesture of silence. "You know," he said, stopping the audio player and removing the record, "this is the finest collection of twentieth century Earth objects anywhere in the galaxy." He raised his voice, and indicated some of the objects with his arms while moving around the room a little. "Even on Earth itself you would find no collection like it! This building is a replica of a typical residence of that period, set in an authentic Earth garden." His love for the building and the objects it contained was evident.

"I said, I'm not a murderer," insisted Blake, following Sarkoff, a little fearful that exile with the objects had made him a little insane, rendering him politically useless.

Sarkoff's reply, however, dispelled such thoughts, being able to return to the original subject. "I'm grateful for your semantic precision," he said evenly. "Political assassination I can...live with." He picked up a dark, metallic object from an ancient desk. "To be murdered would be the final, sordid indignity." He displayed the object. "Now, my educated friend, do you know what this is?"

Blake did. "Uh, it's a projectile weapon."

Sarkoff accepted his answer, holding the weapon in his right hand, indicating its functions with his left, while adding his description to Blake's brief definition. "It's called a revolver. Explosive charge here, projectile emerges with great force and considerable accuracy, over short distances anyway. Primitive," he paused, cocking the revolver's hammer before pointing it at Blake's head, "but efficient enough for my purposes."

Blake was frightened. He's insane! he silently thought. He tried to plead with Sarkoff, speaking quickly and loudly, not bothering to hide the rising panic in his voice. "President Sarkoff, I must speak with you. Will you listen to what I have to--."

His sentence was left unfinished by Sarkoff pulling the revolver's trigger. The hammer clicked on an empty chamber. Blake had closed his eyes, fearing the worst. His life did not flash in front of him; all that did was the irony of being shot by someone he had come to help.

"Ex-President," said Sarkoff firmly, lowering the revolver.

Blake opened his eyes, then took a deep breath and touched his forehead, as if seeking inspiration, in fact to cover up the anger he now felt. "I haven't got time for the niceties of this game that you're playing," he said to Sarkoff in exasperation.

"Just time for a hasty rationalization," countered the latter quickly, as if he was back in Lindor's Planetary Assembly, putting down a stupid speaker.

"I just want you to listen."

Sarkoff already had his counter argument prepared. "I've wasted my life listening," he explained, turning his back to Blake, moving back to the desk to put the revolver down, "listening to people who are arrogant, or vacuous, or just plain vicious." He then moved back to the audio player. "I smiled and acquiesced in the face of prejudice and stupidity. I've tolerated mediocrity and accepted the tyranny of second-class minds." He grew quieter. "But now all that is over." He turned to face Blake. "I am ready to die, here among the things I value," he told the latter, whose right hand was pressed to his face in frustration at the present turn of events. "I am ready to let you kill me but I am not ready to listen to you justify the act."

Blake then felt the muzzle of a gun pressed against the back of his neck.

"Quite still," said a quiet female voice. Tyce disconnected Blake's gun fron its power pack and removed it from its holster, placing it down, then picked up a second gun similar to her first, also pressing it against his neck.

Blake licked his upper lip and signed with resignation. "Very good," he said to Sarkoff while nodding.

"I meant what I said," was the reply. "Put those down, Tyce," he ordered the woman with the two guns. Tyce moved back a little; and Sarkoff moved towards Blake, who whirled around and recognised her as the driver of the vehicle, as well as the companion of Sarkoff's exile.

The two guns he also recognised as projectile weapons, but less advanced than Sarkoff's revolver. The latter seemed to understand what Blake was thinking, pointing out, "I'm afraid they do work'" He then repeated his order to Tyce. "I said, put them down."

"I heard what you said; I heard every feeble, self-pitying word," was Tyce's scornful, emphatic denunciation. "Why should they send assassins for you? You're already dead, Sarkoff." She then turned her attention to Blake. "Before I kill you, who are you and what do you want?"

Blake - glad that the two questions he had expected to be asked first had finally been asked - drew breath before giving his two answers. "I came here to take President Sarkoff back to his people." He then turned to face Sarkoff. "My name is Blake."

* * * * * * * * *


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