Something GoodBy Victoria Martin
Page 3 of 3
Somewhat ruffled, Blake and Avon returned to the rest of the crew.
"Your cheeks are red," said Cally snidely, and Blake stuck mental fingers into his mental ears in a vain effort to block out the less than subtle telepathic comment that followed. "Are they?" he said, "It must be all that dancing. It is rather warm out here." To cover his embarrassment, he pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his brow vigorously. Something else came out of his pocket along with the handkerchief and dropped to the floor.
"What's this?" asked Avon, gallantly stooping to retrieve the piece of paper. "Oh."
It was the programme for the All-Sector Ships" Crews Song Contest. Avon skimmed it briefly, then with menacing precision smoothed the paper with his gloved fingers, folded it neatly, and tucked it into Blake's breast pocket.
"You appear to have misunderstood my reaction to that little exhibition of yours the other day, Blake," he said between clenched teeth. "My - crew - do - not - sing - in - public. Have I made myself clear?"
"And what exactly has this got to do with you?" said Blake with rising anger, "Nobody's asking you to sing. If the rest of them want to, that's their affair"
"I was under the impression that I hired you to impose discipline on my crew, not foment revolution!"
Filled with righteous, insubordinate anger, Blake seized the front of Avon's tailcoat and pulled his face up to his own, but before he could say anything, the various loudspeakers and vidscreens around the Embassy suddenly crackled into life.
"Ladies and gentlemen, citizens of Sector Six," rang out Baroness Servalan's voice, "Let me be the first to welcome you to the Federation!"
In mid-waltz, the musicians stopped playing, the dancers froze and a crashing silence descended on the ballroom. Outside on the terrace, the crew of the Liberator exchanged uncomprehending glances, and Blake loosed his hold on Avon, who strode towards the french windows to get a view of the vidscreens. Vast close-ups of Servalan loomed from every wall.
"In the last half hour, the President of Sector Six has signed a treaty incorporating this sector into the Federation, and I am pleased to inform you that I have been appointed Commissioner."
The vidscreens shut down as the lights faded, and into a spotlight stepped the real Servalan, smiling and bowing to the assembled crowd who, after a moment's confusion began to cheer loudly and applaud their new Commissioner.
"But this is terrible!" said Blake. "The Federation are evil oppressors, life under their rule will be no better than slavery! How can we have knuckled under to them like this, without even fighting back? We wouldn't give in without a struggle!"
"Oh, you'd be surprised," said Avon drily. Turning away from the entrance, he raised his teleport bracelet and began "Orac -", but got no further than that, for out of the shadows stepped Travis, his arm outstretched and finger pointing straight at Avon.
"You're not going anywhere," he said, and as if to prove it, a laser bolt seared past Avon's head and demolished a potted olive tree on the terrace behind him. "I wouldn't try anything just because I haven't got a gun," he added.
"Rolf!" said Jenna, "How could you betray us like this? How could you betray me?"
Just for a moment, Travis hesitated and Avon took a meaningful step towards him, but already Servalan was gliding through the french windows, accompanied by an unecessarily large number of troopers. There was no trace of her former enchanting smile as she said "Now that this sector has been voluntarily incorporated into the Federation, I must insist that Captain Avon return with me to earth tonight. We shall need his expertise in the restructuring of Central Control."
Avon frowned. "Tonight?" he said slowly. "I'm afraid that won't be possible. You see, tomorrow we're singing in the Sector Six Song Contest."
"That's right!" Blake dug out the programme. "Look, that's us."
Travis snatched the paper, glared at it and then passed it on to Servalan. "I don't see your name here, Captain" she said suspiciously.
Avon smiled, a brilliant, icy smile. "It says "The Crew of the Liberator" he said, "and I am the head of the Liberator's crew, am I not?"
For a long moment, Servalan hesitated, then she produced a smile that was equally brilliant, equally icy. "Well then, you shall sing," she said, "you will all sing. But only because I want you to. It will demonstrate that nothing in this sector has changed. But you must allow Space Commander Travis to escort you there in person. We wouldn't want anything to happen to you on the way, would we? And you can all give Travis your teleport bracelets, just in case anyone has any clever ideas. I'm sure we can find room for you all in the Embassy tonight, it has some very special accommodation."
Travis sat in the front seat next to the pilot, jangling the teleport bracelets in a casually malicious fashion. As they were all under restraint, nobody could do anything about it, though Jenna looked as if she was wishing Travis would lean his head far enough back for her to bite his ear off. Blake hoped Travis would take the bracelets into the stadium with him, and spent most of the journey dreaming up implausible strategies for wrestling them off him, but when they got out of the flyer, Travis left the bracelets in the glove compartment.
The Aldus Stadium was a vast outdoor arena, carved into a cliff face, with a raised platform at one end. It was all rather impressive, if distinctly primitive-looking. Blake supposed that all that granite must enhance the acoustics, like a sort of gigantic bathroom. In spite of the ostensibly peaceful nature of Sector Six's incorporation into the Federation, he couldn't help noticing that there were an awful lot of black-clad troopers stationed at the various exits, including the ends of the tunnels that led off from the stage. A couple of the troopers came over and saluted Travis.
"This is Captain Avon," said Travis, "You'll be escorting him to earth tonight, when he's finished his choir boy act - yes, what is it Vila?"
Vila, who had been tugging at Travis's sleeve, looked sheepish. "We've forgotten Blake's guitar," he said, "it's still in the flyer. We can't sing without a musical accompaniment, can we?"
"Oh for heaven's sake, Vila, go and get it, but be quick about it." He turned back to his army chums and was soon immersed in chit-chat about the takeover and the low standards of Aldus nightlife. Vila raced off and returned sooner than Blake would have thought possible, looking puffed but pleased with himself. Travis gave him a glare, just for the sake of it, and then shepherded them off to their dressing room. From all the other rooms resounded the noise of choirs practising. "Gosh," said Dayna, "the halls are alive with the sound of music! I've never heard so much noise in my life!"
"They all sound much better than us," said Soolin nervously.
"Never mind," said Blake soothingly, "the great thing is to do our best. It doesn't matter who wins or loses, it's the taking part."
"That's not quite my attitude to winning," said Avon. "However."
Blake suggested that they all have a good practice, but somehow nobody was in the mood, so he sat in the corner and brooded over the Federation conquest of Sector Six. For some reason he was distinctly annoyed with Avon for not doing anything about it, though quite what he should have done he was unable to explain, even to himself. Travis sat with them the entire time, glowering suspiciously out of his good eye and making sneering remarks about Sector Six cowardice. "I hope they're better singers than they are fighters. Do you know they didn't fire a single shot when we took over?" It made Blake both furiously angry and desperately sad - why had there been no resistance? Perhaps what was needed was a leader, someone to inspire the ordinary people to take up arms in their own defence. Suddenly a voice interrupted his reverie, not an audible voice but Cally's telepathic one, and for once it wasn't conveying salacious propositions. Vila has managed to recover the teleport bracelets, she sent excitedly, he told the flyer's pilot they were part of our costumes! And I've got a plan! When we sing our song, instead of each of us just going out of the spotlight, we should go right into the wings. If Vila leaves first, he can hand us the bracelets as we exit, and we should each teleport up immediately, that way at least some of us will make it to the Liberator even if we don't all manage it. Cough if you've got the message. There was an outbreak of coughing and Travis eyed them nastily. "Sounds like you're all getting colds. Maybe you won't be able to sing," he said hopefully.
They had been scheduled to perform last, so the wait seemed endless until they could put Cally's plan into action, but at last they stumbled into the auditorium. The stadium was in darkness, apart from a single large spotlight in the centre of the vast stage. They lined up in a row, all ready to give Roll Me Over In The Clover their very best shot, when Blake surprised everyone by stepping forward to the front of the spotlight, still clutching his guitar.
"My fellow citizens of Sector Six," he said, "This is the last chance the crew of the Liberator will have to sing together for a very long time; but before they do, I would like to sing you a love song - a love song to this Sector." He picked up the guitar, plucked the first few notes and began, a little shakily at first, but then more and more confidently, to sing the Sector Anthem.
"Sector Six, Sector Six, ev'ry morning I greet thee..."
Line by line, verse by verse the familiar words rang out and he felt the tears well up in his eyes and his throat begin to constrict until at last the notes wouldn't come any more. There was a terrible, expectant silence as he fought to get the sound out, but his throat ached so badly nothing would come. Losing interest, the audience began to rustle and whisper, and Blake bowed his head in defeat. He had failed, failed to get his message across, failed to show the people of Aldus that the spirit of resistance lived on. Failed at the one thing that really mattered. And then suddenly, wonderfully, Avon's voice behind him took up the tune.
"May thy strong arm keep us safe from harm, safe from harm forever..."
For about a line he continued on his own, in a surprisingly pleasant tenor, and then gradually the rest of the crew joined in and Blake, recovering his voice, stepped forward and signalled to the audience, who responded with such enthusiasm that the stadium seemed barely able to contain the swell of voices, building up in crescendo to the final line: "Bless my homeworld foooreeeeever!" Through the music he heard Avon mutter in his ear "Sentiment is a weakness," and in the front row, Baroness Servalan's face was like thunder, but Blake didn't care. At last he had found his vocation.
"Um," said the compère, "er, that was a slightly impromptu contribution by the crew of the Liberator, who will now sing," - he glanced down at his listings - "Roll Me Over In The Clover."
Hearts beating, the crew lined up in order, Vila at the front of the row, Avon at the back. Cally's plan worked like a dream. One by one they were kicked off the stage and vanished into the wings. Blake and Avon lingered longest, trying to show a convincing reluctance to step out of the limelight, but at last they too came crashing off stage, and much to Vila's relief Orac whisked all three of them away well before the troopers noticed anything amiss.
"And now," announced the compère, "I shall read the results in reverse order."
In the front row, the former Federation Ambassador, now Commissioner for Sector Six, stood up. "Oh, I don't think we need bother with all that," she said, her voice like silk shot with steel thread. "Just tell us who won." Her beautiful eyes were gazing thoughtfully not at the compère but at the tunnel in the wings.
"Oh, er, all right," said the compère. "The winner of the All Sector Ships" Crews Song Contest is - bloody hell, this has to have been a political decision - the crew of the Liberator."
The stadium broke into thunderous applause, the music played and the spotlight swung round to show the victors entering from the wings, with predictable results. Rallying with true professionalism, the compère repeated the announcement, the music played once more and the spotlight swung round again, just in time to illuminate Travis, who came running onto the stage shouting "They've gone!"
Up on the Liberator, the crew hit the flight deck running. "Zen, get us out of here," shouted Jenna, "Standard by ten!" As the mighty engines leapt into life under his feet, Blake realised he had forgotten something.
"Oh no," he cried, "I left my guitar on Aldus."
"Well," said Avon, giving his hand a consoling squeeze, "at least something good has come out of it all."
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