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Shadow - Novelisation

By Murray Smith
Page 3 of 8

On the Liberator's flight deck, Cally was doing some calculations on a computer pad, when Vila observed, "Blake's wrong."

Cally looked up at him. "I know how you feel, Vila."

Sensing, incorrectly, that she was sympathetic, Vila went on. "I don't mean about leaving me behind. I've wanted to visit Space City ever since I was old enough to read the graffiti in the Juvenile Detention Wards. But I'm not talking about that; I don't care about that." His voice had become emphatic.

Cally suppressed her hidden amusement at Vila's rather blatant ploy, but decided to allow him to continue; it would at least help to pass the time. "No, of course not," she agreed.

"I don't!" Vila was still more emphatic.

"Am I arguing?" Cally tried to be soothing, opening her hands in a placatory gesture.

"I'm talking about his great plan to enlist the help of the Terra Nostra."

"He plans to buy their help," Cally explained, turning her back to him, and her attention back to her calculations.

"All right, buy their help. It still won't work." Vila was talking in her ear.

Cally turned to look at him. "Well, you should have spoken before."

"Who listens to me, ever? Does anyone ever listen to me? I'm telling you, it'll be a disaster." He sat down in the central seating area.

"Relax." Cally was still busy with her calculations, checking them against readings from that area's console.

"You don't know them."

"Well, I know Blake."

"Thinks of himself as a hard man. Hard? He's strictly a fluffy-cheeked amateur compared to those boys."

"I think Blake can look after himself." Cally felt that Vila was now being melodramatic, but still decided to humour him.

"He's led a very sheltered life."

Cally did not expect that last comment. "What, Blake has led a sheltered life?" she asked, not bothering to conceal her surprise.

Vila exploited this surprise, standing up and speaking persuasively. "Look, he was an Alpha grade on Earth. A highly privileged group, the Alphas. Wouldn't last five minutes among the Delta service grades where I grew up. And it's the service grades where the Terra Nostra really operates. Without anaesthetic, usually."

He's right, realised Cally, who had by this stage moved to check the readings of the navigation station's consoles. She now felt apprehensive for the others, wondering if Blake had underestimated the Organisation. But she was still not going to help Vila.

"No, Vila," she said adamantly.

"No what?"

"No, I am not going to operate the teleport for you."

"I don't understand."

"I do. You're about to suggest that it would be a sensible idea if you went across and gave the others the benefit of your experience."

Vila smiled. "I hadn't thought of that. What a very good idea, Cally."

"No." This time her refusal was final. She left the position, and began to leave the flight deck.

"Cally?" Vila called after her.

"I'm going to get myself something to drink. Call me if anything happens." She left the flight deck, putting an intentional end to their conversation, marvelling at Vila's inability to lie properly, but also apprehensive about the others.

"Miserable alien," commented Vila, sitting down. "I just want to see what it's like."

Information. Main visual is available. Zen showed a close up view of Space City on the main screen.

"So?"

You expressed a desire to see what it is like.

"Very funny, Zen. Chuckle chuckle." Vila was in no mood to make jokes about literal minded computers. "If you were a decent computer you'd be able to operate the teleport system like Orac can." The solution to his dilemma became evident in that instant. "Like Orac can!" he repeated, getting up and moving over to Orac, looking for the key. "Key, key, ah key." He found and inserted it. The welcome whine of Orac's circuits was heard.

"Orac, Orac? Are you in there, Orac?"

In response, Vila heard the less welcome sound of Orac's fussy, precise voice. "Am I in where? What precisely do you imagine I am? Some sort of tame rodent in a cage?"

That image lodged in Vila's mind, and he responded before he had time to think. "That's precisely what I imagine you are. A rat in a box."

"I see no point in continuing this conversation." Orac sounded surly.

"Now, don't start sulking, or I shall switch you off and throw away the key."

Orac made an unexpected announcement. "Soon, that will be no longer a problem."

"Eh?"

"Well? What do you want?"

Vila smiled. "Orac, I've got a little job for you."


In the same passageway, at the same window where Bek and Hanna had previously met, Gan stood looking out, his gun cradled in the crook of his right arm, the hand keeping open the channel of the teleport bracelet on the wrist of his left, allowing him to listen to the conversation in Largo's quarters.

"I don't think that at this stage you really need to know specific details of our plans, do you?" asked Avon.

After the meeting with Largo had been arranged, Blake had ordered Avon to do most of the negotiations, as Jenna would be biased; and he wanted to give the impression of a leader with the confidence and resources to negotiate through subordinates. Avon had smiled at this, but agreed, though he still believed that it was a waste of time.

Largo urbanely replied, "As you say." He was lying down on the top platform, looking relaxed, a person who had some strange but interesting visitors to deal with.

Avon continued. "In effect, we want to buy co-operation and expertise from the Earth-based network."

"Oh," commented Largo, before asking, "Why are you telling me all this?"

Jenna then intervened, trying to keep her voice neutral, wondering if Gan was right all along. "We don't know who rules the Terra Nostra. Possibly you don't either. But you do know how to get our proposition to them." Her finger was on the button of her bracelet, keeping the channel to Gan open.

"A go-between." Largo understood the request.

Blake handed Avon a bag, the latter saying, "Naturally, we would be prepared to pay for your services."

Largo chuckled with amusement. "Forgive me, Blake, but one of the reasons I made my home in a free city like this is because I adore eccentrics."

Blake's face was expressionless. Jenna spoke for him. "Do we take it that you're not interested?"

"Oh, I'm fascinated. But I'm just an independent businessman." This refusal caused Avon to extract two large, white stones from the bag and place them on the platform just in front of Largo. "Are you sure?" the former asked.

Largo picked up one, but did not appear to respond to its allure. "Look, the Terra Nostra doesn't exist. Believe me, it's a...a...phantom."

"A shadow?" Jenna could not resist using such a provocative word, particularly as it was well known that those most closely connected with the Terra Nostra were the most frequent deniers of its existence.

"A myth, a legend." After replying to Jenna, Largo turned his gaze to Avon, and through him Blake, whose face was still expressionless.

"It's a legend a lot of people believe in," Jenna replied. Including me, she silently added.

Avon expressed his curiosity. "And yet you know it doesn't exist? Why are you so certain?"

"I've got a contact in Federation Security," was the explanation. "If the Syndicate existed, then he'd know about it, wouldn't he?" Largo still appeared amiable.

"This contact, he wouldn't be the one who arrested me after I refused your cargo, would he?" Jenna was determined to annoy Largo.

"Oh, that was a mistake, Jenna." Largo was apologetic. "I was only doing a favour for a friend. If I'd known what the cargo was I wouldn't have touched it myself."

The three were fully aware of the insincerity of his apology. The atmosphere in the room appeared to have grown colder. Avon spoke for them. "You didn't answer the question."

Largo looked at both him and Jenna, sensing the coldness. "Why do I feel as if I'm on trial here, hmm?"

"Why do I feel as if you should be?" Avon picked up the gems.

"They're beautiful stones." Largo pretended some interest in the gems. "I'm a bit of a collector, in a modest way. I could make you an offer."

"They have a sentimental value for me," Avon explained.

"Oh, family heirlooms, eh?" Largo tried to smile.

Avon did not attempt to be polite. "No, I'm just sentimental about money." He then coldly turned around and spoke to Blake in a tone of impatience, treating Largo as if he was in another room. "We're wasting our time with him." Even if Largo was connected to the Terra Nostra, either he was playing with them or was genuinely indifferent to Blake's proposal.

"Yes, I think so," agreed Blake, getting up. He clicked his fingers, and Avon reluctantly handed the bag of gems back to him. "Shall we go?" (This question was addressed to the others.) Before all left the room, Blake apologised. "I'm sorry we couldn't do business."

Largo tried to be the gracious host. "Let me at least offer you some refreshment." He sat up and pressed a button on the raised control panel at the edge of the platform.

"We didn't come for refreshment, Largo." Jenna was fed up with the whole affair, wanting to leave; it had brought back bad memories.

"Oh, but I insist." The doors opened, and the enforcer entered, gun at the ready. "He insists," said the enforcer, backing up his boss.

"Maybe we should have listened to Gan," admitted Blake. "It looks as though he was right after all."

Gan, while he had heard all this, had no chance to intervene; he found another enforcer pointing a gun at his head. That enforcer would later, when socialising with his colleagues and when giving training, use Gan as an example of how not to look inconspicuous. "He wasn't even keeping a proper look out! He had a big, unconcealed weapon, pointed at the ceiling! And don't get me started on his clothes!"

Largo began to give orders, in the urbane tone that now convinced no one. "Communicators please," he said, taking Blake and Avon's teleport bracelets. "And those." He took the bag of gems. "Thank you."

Jenna tried to keep her bracelet and keep the channel open, in case Gan would intervene; but Largo swiftly struck her on the shoulder, grabbed the arm, and deftly removed the bracelet. "Amateur!" That word, issued in a dry tone, was more insulting than any abusive language Jenna had ever heard.

Gan, his hands up, was shoved through the doorway. Largo looked disapprovingly at the other three for the additional failure. "A pro keeps it simple," he explained.



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