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Rumours of Life part 1 - A Corpse Too Few

By Marian de Haan
Page 3 of 13

- - - 3 - - -

Tarrant lowered the dying major. Damn Dayna, why couldn't she wait just for once? Rising, he scanned the room. If this was the surveillance room, there should be a map of the building somewhere. There was, pinned on the far wall. A glance at it told Tarrant the stairs to the cellar must be behind the next door. He hurried from the room.

Descending the stairs, he heard Dayna's taunting voice: "On your knees, as my father was! Keep your eyes closed! Now, can you imagine how he felt? Oh, I'll make you pay, Servalan."

Tarrant took the last steps. At the bottom lay a body of a woman dressed in an ugly grey suit. Her eyes stared into eternity while her face held a faint trace of surprise. Probably one of Servalan's retinue - he'd heard her female attendants were supposed to dress plainly in order not to outshine her.

He stepped into the room. Dayna stood before Servalan, who was on her knees, eyes closed.

"Dayna," he called. "What are you..."

Servalan's eyes shot open. Her arm lashed out. The chain hit Dayna's gun hand. The gun fell from her grip, dangling on its cord.

Tarrant let off a shot. Servalan's body convulsed, then collapsed and lay still.

Dayna cursed, rubbing her hand. "She was mine!"

"You should have taken your chance." He wasn't in the mood for a lengthily argument. "Let's get out of here."

"Wait." She moved to Servalan's body. "I want to make sure she isn't shamming."

"I hit her straight in the chest," he said. "With that charge, she must have died instantly."

"Unless her dress is armoured. Look at those ugly pearls!" Dayna gave the body a vicious kick. "Even the Sarrans have more dress sense."

Tarrant holstered his gun. "Yes, well, you can philosophise about that later." About to activate his bracelet communicator, he turned. Hurried footsteps were coming down the stairs.

"Sula," a man called. "The place is surrounded. We're trapped. What do we--"

Coming into sight, he stopped on the last step. He stared at the body at his feet. "What happened."

This must be one of the rebels, Tarrant thought. His hand went to his gun but he refrained from drawing it. "Servalan is dead."

"Stuff Servalan!" The man, a young readhead, stared at them in horror. "What about Sula?"

"Her?" Tarrant asked, indicating the grey-clad woman.

"Yes. She is - was our leader."

"She tried to stop me killing Servalan," Dayna said. "Servalan killed my father, Hal Mellanby. I had to--"

"Mellanby?" the man exclaimed. "My father fought at Hal Mellanby's side during the Uprising. Del Hob - he was killed. We heard Mellanby escaped."

"My mother died," Dayna told him.

"So many good people perished," Hob junior said. "And now it will happen all over again. Without Sula we're lost."

"How many of you are there?" Tarrant asked.

"Nearly forty in the house. Twice that number in the grounds."

Tarrant grimaced; too many to teleport to safety in a hurry.

"The troopers will crush us all," Hob shouted, his voice betraying rising panic. "We're lost!"

"Not yet!." Tarrant felt a flash of inspiration. "Come with me, to the surveillance room." He took the steps three at a time. Rushing into the room, he went straight to the communication set.

"Attention, Field Commander. This is Del Tarrant speaking, your new Supreme Commander. Withdraw from your positions. Do not attack the house. Repeat, the attack is cancelled. Leave a small party to collect the corpses, the rest of your forces will escort me and my party to Supreme Command Headquarters."

"You've gone mad," Dayna whispered.

"It won't work," Hob said.

"Oh yes, it will." Tarrant grinned. "When she took power as President, Servalan moved Supreme Command Headquarters to the Presidential Palace in the Dome - the centre of government. From SCHQ we're going to march straight into the Palace and take over the government. Possession is nine-tenths of the law. If we can establish ourselves in the seat of power with the backing of Space Command, no force in the world will be able to remove us."

Remembering Cally's remark, not long ago, about heroic rescues being embarrassing when unnecessary, he told Dayna: "Better take off our bracelets. We don't want someone panicking and bringing us up at the wrong moment."

Catching Hob's sceptical look, Tarrant clapped him heartily on the shoulder. "We'll make this revolt of yours succeed!"

- - - 4 - - -

In Liberator's sickbay Cally sat staring sombrely at the sleeping Avon. A regeneration pad, tied over his wounded eye, was doing its job. There were limits even to Liberator's advanced facilities, though - the pad would heal the burns but could not restore the destroyed optic nerves, nor provide the plastic surgery needed to make the eye presentable again. Avon would be blind in one eye, and scarred.

All for a stupid, futile revenge! Shrinker's death would not bring his victims back to life, any more than an act of retribution against Servalan would be able to revive her people.

Sighing, Cally rose. There was nothing more she could do for Avon. Sleep was the best medicine.

"Vila," she said into the wall communicator. "I want you here to keep an eye on Avon."

"I'm on watch," came the reply.

"Then get Tarrant or Dayna to take your place." THEY had agreed to Avon's crazy plan, THEY could deal with the consequences! She was going to her cabin for a long rest.

Impatiently she waited. Why did Vila always have to take so long?

"Cally?" Even the metallic distortion of the communicator couldn't hide the apprehension in Vila's voice.

"What is it?" She made no attempt to hide her annoyance.

"Tarrant and Dayna - they're not aboard."

"WHAT?"

"I think you'd better hear this from Orac. He's in the teleport room."

She strode to the room. Vila retreated to the far wall while she approached Orac.

Cally had no patience to spare. The machine seemed to grasp that, for it was more co-operative than usual. With rising fury she listened to the report.

"How long ago did you put them down, Orac?" she asked.

"One hour and twenty-one minutes ago."

"Long enough for them to get themselves into trouble," Vila said.

Cally reached for the communicator, then thought better of it. "Bring them up, Orac. Now!"

The teleport bay remained empty.

"Teleport attempt has failed," Orac announced after a pause.

"Tell us something useful!" Vila mumbled.

"Why, Orac?" Cally asked.

"They aren't wearing the bracelets?" Vila suggested.

"That seems to be the case," the machine said.

"Marvellous!" Vila commented. "They must have been taken prisoner."

"Can you get a fix on the bracelets, Orac?" Cally asked.

"They are currently in the Cabinet Room of the Presidential Palace in the Dome."

"What?" Cally began to feel very worried.

"That's where they must have brought Tarrant and Dayna," Vila said. "Right in the middle of Servalan's web."

Cally came to a decision. "Fetch me a gun, Vila."

"What? You're not going after them?"

"We have no time for discussion, Vila. Hurry!"

While he went on his errand, she moved to the bracelet rack. "Orac, is there a suitable place nearby you can put me down.?"

"The antechamber to the Cabinet Room is empty of life forms at the moment."

"Good." Cally snapped a bracelet around her wrist.

For once quick, Vila returned. "Do you think this is a good idea?"

"You go and keep an eye on Avon," Cally said, taking the gun he held out reluctantly to her. Ignoring his further protests, she fastened the gun-belt and went to stand in the teleport bay. "Ready, Orac."

The bay dissolved and she found herself in a small room, elegantly furnished but empty of people. It had two doors, one closed, the other ajar. Through the gap she could hear voices; male, suave, cultured, authoritative:

"Just because the military are prepared to accept you as Supreme Commander--"

"For which we have only your word." The voice interrupting the first held a distinct drawl.

"--does not mean, Del Tarrant," the first voice continued, "that we can accept this girl, however pretty she may be, as President."

"She's Hal Mellanby's daughter." This voice lacked the veneer of the ruling class. "We, the People's Council, accept her."

Taken aback, Cally tiptoed to the door; this sounded as if Tarrant and Dayna were engaged in a coup.

"Ah, yes, but you see -- Hob, isn't it?" the drawling voice said, "your People's Council has no legal backing. If, indeed, Servalan is dead, then her powers will convert to the High Council, of which Senator Bercol here is its most senior member."

"Secretary Rontane is right," the first voice (Bercol, Cally guessed) stated. "The fact that the late lamented Servalan appropriated the Presidency in an unlawful manner, should not be regarded as a precedent."

"Indeed not," the drawler (who had to be Rontane) agreed. "It is the High Council's prerogative to elect a new President."

"Right," Tarrant said. "You have thirty minutes to call your members together and convince them to vote for Dayna."

"I insist on unanimity."

Cally smiled to herself; Dayna's voice was full of malicious sweetness.

"This is ridiculous!" Bercol said. "Preposterous! Unprecedented!"

"My dear girl," Rontane drawled. "You have no backing, except for some Delta rabble. On whose authority do you propose to act?"

"On Blake's." Cally pushed wide the door and stepped into the room. Automatically she took in the large table with a dozen chairs round it. The five people standing in a corner turned their attention to her. Tarrant and Dayna looked pleased to see her. The other three merely looked stunned. The red-haired young man in simple grey clothes must be Hob. The others, one dark-haired and lean and the other plump and balding, had the groomed suavity of the ruling class.

"Dayna is acting on Blake's orders." Cally was never averse to adapting the truth when it served her. "She's here as his deputy, to act as Interim-President until he can take on the task himself. In the meantime he expects you to co-operate with Dayna and with Supreme Commander Tarrant."

"This is quite irregular," the lean man (the drawler, ergo Rontane) protested.

"Quite, QUITE irregular," the other (who by elimination must be Bercol) echoed.

"You'd rather be placed against a wall and used for firing practice by my RABBLE?" Hob enquired.

"Blake has both the authority and the backing," Cally said. "At this moment he is concluding his affairs on the Outer Planets..."

Seeing Tarrant open his mouth, she quickly telepathed: //Tarrant, Dayna, do not tell them Blake is missing! We must take this chance to overthrow the Federation! We'll find Blake. In the meantime pretend he's on his way.//

"He'll be here as soon as he can," Cally went on aloud. "I'm to stay here to assist Dayna. Avon and Vila are waiting aboard Liberator to fetch Blake now Phase One has been completed. I'd better tell them that things here are under control." She raised her arm, activating her bracelet communicator. "Vila, wake Avon. This is important."


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