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Rumours of Life part 2 - Tinker, Tailor, Traitor

By Marian de Haan
Page 2 of 16

- - - 2 - - -

Avon slipped into Blake's bedroom. Ah, there Orac was, on a side table, its key beside it. For five days he'd been trying to access the machine in private, only to find it constantly being carried after Blake by the long-suffering Jarriere. Now Blake was in session with some Committee or other, which should give him about half an hour. By the look of its tidiness, the room had already been serviced, so no-one was likely to disturb him. Avon locked the bedroom door, just in case, then picked up Orac's key and pushed it in its slot. "Orac, what have you found out about my bank fraud scheme?"

"I have managed to penetrate the Central Security Computers..."

"Well, you've had three months for that."

"It was not easy. They've tried to erase the files; retrieving them took time."

Avon wasn't going to applaud the machine. "So, what did you find?"

"Nothing. I have decoded and studied the relevant files, but there is no mention of a tip-off in the weeks before the warrant for your arrest went out."

Avon frowned. "Then search further back." It might have taken Security some time to react to the information. "There MUST be a reference. Someone, sometime, must have started to suspect me and warned Security. It is the only possible explanation. I want to find out who betrayed me, Orac!"

He smiled grimly, realising he was echoing Blake.

Orac made a sound that could be taken as a deep sigh. "If you insist, I shall do as you say. I must point out, however, that this will slow down and possibly impede my work on other projects."

"Too bad." Avon felt totally unsympathetic. "And don't tell anyone about this, Orac. The information is to be released only to me."

"You have already told me so when you gave me the original instruction."

"True. This is just a reminder."

He was about to extract Orac's key when the machine said: "You may be interested to learn that I am now picking up another OPEN-RELAY message, consisting of the latest Space Command figures update."

"Oh, good." No need to get excited, Avon told himself, but he succumbed to a pleasant anticipation all the same. "What does it say?"

"The variable figure is given as 1806."

"Which we now only have to compare with Blake's list, to nail the traitor. Well done, Orac."

Avon removed the key, unlocked the door, went to Blake's Private Office, and sat down to await his arrival. It wouldn't be long. Blake's idea of a conference was to tell the other participants what to do. The committee members would find themselves dismissed with a list of instructions before they knew what had happened.

Blake had offered him a room in the palace complex, but he preferred to sleep aboard Liberator. Blake having appropriated Orac, Avon had built a remote control for the teleport, enabling him and Vila to leave the ship and return without the need for someone to stay behind to work the controls. Between his bouts of chasing after the good life, Vila too returned to Liberator to sleep off his hangovers. Actually, Avon mused, Vila usually knew his limit, and managed to avoid getting really drunk. Presumably his experience at Space City had taught him a lesson he still vividly remembered.

He was still mulling over this entertaining thought when Blake entered the room. "Avon, what are you doing here?"

"Waiting for you, what else?" He rose. "Orac has intercepted another message."

"THE message?" Blake asked.

Avon nodded. "The number in question being 1806."

"Right." Blake took a paper from his pocket. Let's see, 06, that is..." He lowered his hand. "This must be a mistake."

"Check it with Orac, if you don't believe me," Avon said.

"But..." Blake sank into a chair. "That can't be. 1806, that's Cally's copy."

Avon refused to acknowledge the sudden pain in his chest. "You asked the question. It's no use complaining if you don't like the answer."

Blake doggedly shook his head. "I don't believe it! It must be a misunderstanding."

"I wasn't aware you had a list of members above suspicion."

Blake glared at him. "Cally has no reason for treason."

"No?" Avon challenged him. "What about the massacre of her people?"

"That was Servalan's doing."

"It was the FEDERATION'S doing. You are the Federation now."

"That's ridiculous - she's part of the Government. She initiated it."

A strong argument, but refutable. "The loss of her people may have unhinged her. Remember, Blake, as a telepath she was dependant on their spiritual support. No-one knows what she's going through now that is no longer available."

"But not all her people were wiped out," Blake said. "Some of the Auronar survived, Avon."

"I know, the two we took to Kaarn along with the gene stocks.

"No." Blake's eyes were shining now. "On Auron itself. Many of the elder people have proven to be resistant to Servalan's plague. And Orac's cure you left behind has managed to save most youngsters in the outer regions."

That was good news - if it was true. "Why didn't we hear about this sooner?"

"At first the Auronar didn't dare to make contact with the outside world, for fear Servalan would come back and finish the job. But now they've heard about the change in Government, and Cally's position as Foreign Secretary, and they've decided to restore diplomatic relations. They ask for aid and compensation."

"A reasonable request, albeit impossible to comply with. You know every credit will be needed to restore the economics, ruined by the Andromedan War and Servalan's misrule."

"That's where you come in. As Servalan caused the decimation of the Auronar, it seems apt to use her secret funds to aid them. Cally's set to go to Auron to assess the need. I want you to go with her, Avon. You have a clear insight into Servalan's assets. Make sure Cally doesn't promise her people more Credits than we have available. And we'll have to ensure the undertaking is kept secret, else we'll get compensation claims from every other planet with a grievance against the Federation"

NICE TRY TO DISTRACT ME, BLAKE! "What about the message? You can't ignore it."

"I don't intend to." Blake rose and moved to the intercom on his desk. "We'll have it out with her."

The direct approach, Avon reflected. Yes, that was Blake's way.

Blake pressed the intercom button. "Jarriere. JARRIERE!" He turned away from the desk. "He's supposed to keep his beeper with him at all times." At an acknowledgement from the intercom, he spoke into the machine: "Jarriere, find the Foreign Secretary for me and ask her to come to my private office. Now!"

Releasing the button, Blake turned his attention back to Avon. "The message about Auron's survival came in yesterday morning, before the distribution of the bait. Even if Cally has been harbouring thoughts of revenge, she would have abandoned them after hearing the news."

"Yes, she would realise that the best way to help her people would be to support your Government," Avon had to concede. He gave Blake a penetrating stare. "You do realise that the news about Auron's survival could be a trap?"

"Yes, I did," Blake replied. "I had Orac double check it."

Something the computer might have mentioned. But then, computers were supposed to give only the information requested.

Avon found Blake's hand on his shoulder. "Will you accompany Cally to Auron?"

Damn Blake; he knew the answer! "Yes, if she can give us a satisfactory explanation for the message." He was aware of the other's secret satisfaction. "Don't presume too often on my goodwill, Blake!"

- - - 3 - - -

Surprised about the urgent summons, Cally hurried to the President's Office Room. There must be something he wanted to discuss with her about her imminent trip. She was still dazed about the good news. Her people were too far away to pick up their vibes, otherwise she would have known about their survival sooner.

A bit distracted, she knocked on the door. //Blake, it's me.//

Entering at his reply, she saw Avon seated in a chair at the back of the room.

Blake stepped forward to greet her. "Cally, there's something I have to ask."

"Yes?" His seriousness was unsettling, as was Avon's cold stare.

Blake seemed unsure how to begin. After a silence it was Avon who said: "What can you tell us about yesterday's Space Command update?"

"What?" Then it dawned. They must have heard about the upheaval. "You mean the cock up of the figures? I wouldn't be too hard on Jarriere, Blake, Rontane gave him quite a grilling."

"Tell us about it," Blake said, and she perceived a change in the atmosphere.

A bit bewildered, she complied. "Jarriere distributed the documents yesterday at the end of the Inner Cabinet Meeting, just after you left. You were in a hurry, remember, the Lindorian Ambassador was waiting..."

"I told Jarriere to hand the update privately to each member," Blake said. "He shouldn't have gone against my orders!"

Cally shrugged. "As it turned out, it was fortunate he did, because there was some error made in the figures. Rontane spotted it, he stood talking to Bercol just when the Chancellor opened the envelop and took out the paper. Rontane glanced at it and said that Jarriere must have muddled things up, as one of the figures in Bercol's copy differed from the original he'd handed to Jarriere. We all started comparing notes, and found we each had a different figure for the recruitment data. It wasn't really important but Rontane got very worked up about it, lecturing Jarriere on the necessity for accuracy. I thought he was overreacting."

"You were all there?" Avon asked.

She cast her mind back to the event: "I was standing next to Tarrant - we were the only ones still at our side of the table. The others were all at the other side, ready to leave. Tarrant and I put our papers down on the table to compare them. His said 1809 and mine 1806." She paused, trying to recall the position of the others. "I think Jenna had already left. I'm not sure about Avalon. Dayna was still around. Grant also, I remember him saying that the copier computer must have had a hiccup, spouting out successive figures for each document."

"Typical Grant," Avon mumbled. "The only thing HE knows about computers is how to blow them up!"

Blake smiled. "Of course, you must have got to know Grant quite well, before you fell out with him."

"Not really," Avon said. "We bumped into each other a few times at Anna's place, that's all."

"I gather he and his sister were very close," Cally remarked. In the past months Grant had been talking about Anna to her, and she'd lent him a sympathetic ear. "He's still missing her as much as you do, Avon."

"Oh yes, he worshipped the ground she walked on." Avon produced a cold smile. "He considered me not worthy of her and made no secret of his opinion. Of course, I didn't know about his resistance activities at the time. Anna said he was working as a mining engineer, which accounted for his long periods of absence, when he was supposed to be overseeing work on other planets."

"An excellent cover," Cally said with professional admiration.

"Yes." She found Blake's arm round her shoulders. "Thanks for clearing up the matter of the update figures, Cally. Now you'd better go and get kitted up for the journey. Avon has agreed to take you with Liberator."

"That is good, it will reduce the travelling time." //Thank you, Avon.//

Stretched out in his chair, Avon gave her a curt nod. "Make sure you're ready for teleport in an hour."

She gave him her special smile, the one indicating she could see through him, and was rewarded with a sudden flickering of humour in his dark eye.

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