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A Scale of Violence

By Judith Proctor
Page 3 of 4

      Soolin laughed abruptly, put down her gun and reached out to take a small clear plastic box that nestled easily into the palm of her hand.

      "That's Orac?" Gan asked.

      Soolin nodded. "I'd forgotten he could do that, although I shouldn't think he can maintain that size for long.

      "Four minutes, twenty-three seconds," Orac replied smugly.

      Which didn't give them long. Not trusting Gan, she slipped Orac into a pocket and picked up her gun. Taking point position once more, she led the way rapidly towards the hanger. Anticipation licked through her veins; with Orac she finally stood a real chance of escape.

      Then she realised what she'd done - broken the first rule that had ever been drummed into her. She'd let an enemy get behind her. Abruptly, she spun hard on a heel to stare at Gan. "Isn't this the point where you're supposed to knock me out and take Orac to your masters?"

      His expression was perfect hangdog bewilderment. He was either very very good, or else he was genuine. Did it even matter which? Yes, because now she had the gun and Orac, she didn't need him any more. Revenge was the code she had lived her life by, and revenge was what she owed this man here.

      Gan looked out for me on the London. Without him, I might not have made it to Cygnus Alpha.

      Well, that was the first time the dead had ever called on her to spare someone. Vila might have been a little rat, but he'd been quite likeable in his own way. Did she owe him this much? She tried to visualise his face and all she could see was his look of horror as Dayna was shot - he'd done what the cowardly Vila never did: he'd turned and attacked Arlen. For Dayna. Maybe she did owe Vila after all.

      There wasn't time to work it all out now. The hanger beckoned. Two corners more, and she flattened herself against a wall.

      She waved Gan forward. "Distract them."

      He hesitated on the verge of saying something, then moved forward and started talking to someone just out of her line of sight. Something about a power failure in D section.

      She moved, aimed and fired in one smooth motion, following through to her right where a second man was raising his weapon. She fired, missed, faced death and saw sparks fly from the floor as Gan chopped the paragun out of the soldier's hand. Soolin fired again, taking extra time to compensate for her left-handed grip. This time she didn't miss.

      "You didn't have to kill him," Gan said. "I'd have knocked him out for you."

      "He was a soldier. This is war." She strode towards the closest flyer. "Orac, open hanger doors."

      A grating sound above accompanied the appearance of a jagged line of sky. She climbed into the flyer, checked the pre-flight sequence, ignited the boosters, and waited. As Gan finished strapping himself into the seat beside her, Orac announced that the doors were fully open.

      Pressure forced them down into the seats as she lifted off at maximum vertical boost.

      "Orac, close hanger doors and jam them."

      "Confirmed."

      "Program the auto-pilot to take us to Garratt's Pass, and introduce some random factors to keep them guessing."

      Orac's lights flickered in mute protest as she took him out of her pocket, but the flyer took a sharp-angled turn without her touching a single control. She leaned back in her seat and sighed with relief. They'd made it. Provided there wasn't another Federation base within twenty kilometers, they should be able to make it to safety before pursuit reached them. There were people in Garratt's Pass who owed her favours. As Orac suddenly surged back to full size on her lap, Gan's voice interrupted her thoughts.

      "You'd better let me splint that arm now."

      "With what?"

      He reached between the seats and seized the strut that supported the back seat. One strong wrench and the plasteel support snapped free. That was disconcerting, but what Soolin found even more disconcerting was the fact that Gan then located the flyer's emergency first aid kit and applied a topical pain-killer before checking the bone was still set properly and bandaging the splint in position.

      "Where did you learn first aid?" she asked.

      "On Liberator. I wasn't much good for anything else." There was no annoyance in his voice, just a calm acceptance of fact.

      Soolin wondered about that. A man who couldn't kill, caught up in the middle of a revolution. An heretical thought crossed her mind: had Gan been deliberately abandoned?

      "Orac?"

      "I'm busy."

      "Well you can still answer something for me. Vila told me that Gan died at Central Control. How come he is here, now, and alive?"

      "I should have thought the answer to that was self evident." It was staggering how prissy Orac could sound at times. "Blake was evidently mistaken in his belief that Gan was dead."

      "No." Gan spoke with sudden passion. "They knew. Servalan sent Blake a message."

      Expediency? She might have believed it of Avon, but it didn't match the portrait Vila had painted of Blake. Put a friend or relative in danger and he had apparently been totally reckless in his attempts to rescue them.

      "They undoubtedly told Gan that in an attempt to make him work for them," Orac said. "An effort that obviously succeeded."

      Gan's fists clenched. "They sent it. Blake abandoned me."

      "And so you worked for the Federation," Orac said primly.

      "I helped them occasionally. I interviewed people." He looked at Soolin defiantly. "It was better than letting them get hurt. Sometimes they'd tell things to a sympathetic ear. Maybe I shouldn't have, but there were the headaches. My limiter was malfunctioning again, and Doctor Pirelli was the only person who could stop the pain." He bowed his head, resting it in his hands on his lap. "Do you know what it's like when you can't control your own actions? I can't kill others, but I couldn't kill myself either. The pain wouldn't go away until I helped him."

      Soolin felt his distress, it would have been almost impossible not to. Surely, Blake would not have been unmoved either? It should have been the perfect bait for a trap. Why hadn't it been set? Or if it had been set, why hadn't it been sprung?

      "You know," she said aloud, "I would have been seriously upset if my friends had abandoned me like that."

      The flyer made a sharp turn, dipped to move into a valley that would give partial radar cover and headed uphill. She knew this area. If they landed here, and sent the flyer on, they could continue to Garratt's Pass on foot and be there within the hour. She flipped the auto-pilot off.

      "I'll land her," Gan offered. At her sceptical glance, he added, "Jenna taught us all the basics. I can do it better than you can with your arm like that."

      Facts were facts. Orac's reflexes were too slow to make a good landing. Soolin switched control to the co-pilot's position and held tight to her seat. Trees shivered beneath them in the downdraught, then Gan swerved into a clearing, boosting at just the right moment to smooth the impact.

      He grinned. "Lucky. There were days when I killed the entire crew in simulations."

      She relieved her nerves by shouting. "Get out! I went this thing back in the air and as far away from here as possible."

      As the flyer rose under another of Orac's programs, Soolin took stock of her surroundings. Tall trees dappled shade on the ground. They were out of the plantations here; native species ruled, easily identified by the the bluish tinge to their leaves. Some of the native plants were even edible, but the lack of a key amino acid would kill you if you tried to live on them permanently. Standing on the ground, feet slightly apart, Gan lifted his head slightly as though sniffing the air and for the first time, Soolin felt she was seeing him in his natural element. While she watched, he walked over to a massive senoba tree and ran his hand up the rough texture of the bark. She dumped Orac's weight on the ground and sat down beside it, keenly aware that she was more tired than she'd thought.

      "Now, Soolin," Orac said in a low voice. "Now you must take your opportunity. Kill him."

      "Give me one good reason why." She'd had a good reason, but it was fading. This Gan was a world removed from the torturer. Could she hold any man responsible for something done under the influence of a machine embedded in his brain?

      "Because he is dangerous, Soolin. This is not his natural state. At the age of 22, Olag Gan fell victim to an hereditary mental illness. Before he was diagnosed, he killed his wife."

      "I thought he was deported for killing a trooper?"


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Judith Proctor

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