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"Blake" novelization

By Ewen Campion-Clarke
Page 3 of 14

'You really do believe it's Blake, don't you?' asked Vila, unwilling to retreat from Avon's fierce gaze but equally unwilling to get too close. 'This Dev Varon character?'

'Yes, I do,' Avon replied.

'He's not likely to be a tame figurehead you know,' said Vila simply. 'Not Blake. And what if Soolin is right about Gauda Prime? What if he's gone bad?'

Avon simply stared at the little thief. 'Blake was never tame,' he conceded. 'But he can be manipulated - just like anyone else.' But that thought made Avon pause. The Federation had controlled Blake's mind before. If he had been captured, conditioned, and released? Released to what purpose? Servalan wanted Avon, himself, of that he had no doubt. Would she risk setting a conditioned Blake on the loose to capture him? No matter. They were going to Gauda Prime and he would locate Blake. Contemplation of what he would find was futile.

'What's he been doing then?' asked Vila.

'If I understand your poorly articulated inquiry correctly,' replied Orac, 'then the answer is that Blake is working as what is colloquially termed a bounty hunter.'

Vila shook his head, confused. 'I can't see Blake doing anything like that.'

'My interpretation of the data leaves little room for error,' retorted the computer haughtily.

'Hunting people for money?' said Vila incredulously. 'Not him!'

Tarrant, who had been watching the exchange, turned to glance at their leader. 'Avon?' he called.

Avon shrugged. 'Why ask me?'

'Because you and Vila know him,' explained Dayna coldly. 'We don't. Could he be a bounty hunter, do you think?' she asked, arching her eyebrow. For all she had heard about the enigmatic Blake, she actually knew very little about him. After the mess up on Xenon, she was in no hurry to put herself in danger once again.

Avon smiled. 'Does it matter?'

'Well, it might,' replied Tarrant sarcastically. 'There's still a price on our heads from the old days!'

'Not on GP, there isn't,' grunted Soolin with what might have been sadness.

'GP?' echoed Vila, confused.

'I imagine that is what the locals call Gauda Prime,' Avon explained, his gaze resting on the blonde gunfighter. 'Your home planet.'

Soolin glared at him. She had not gone out of her way to explain her background, but she shouldn't have been surprised that Avon had studied her life via Orac the moment she had 'joined' their crew. 'I grew up there, yes,' she admitted, choosing her words with care. 'But for a home you need a family - and mine were murdered when the Federation declared Gauda Prime an Open Planet.'

Avon nodded. 'A general suspension of the penal code.'

'That's right,' Soolin agreed, not surprised at Avon's knowledge.

Dayna frowned, trying to keep up with them. 'You mean there's no law at all?'

'It's the fast way to get resources exploited,' Soolin shrugged. 'In this case mineral resources.'

Dayna shook her head, confused. 'I don't understand.'

'Neither do I,' said Vila, irritated. 'How does junking the law speed up mining?'

Soolin perched on the flight console, clearly having to put her thoughts in order. 'GP was an agricultural world,' she explained quietly. 'The settlers were sent there to grow crops, raise timber. They were farmers, my family among them. They were given title to the land.'

'And then somebody discovered there was more profit under the ground than there was on top of it,' Avon said, taking over the story to Soolin's silent relief. 'Only the farmers were in the way, and the law was on their side. Hence the Open Planet designation.'

'What, get rid of the law you get rid of the problem?' Tarrant pondered, turning to Avon. 'You seem to know a lot about it,' he said suspiciously.

'Orac is an excellent research tool,' replied the computer tech. 'Do you imagine I would take us in blind?'

'You've done it before.'

Dayna put a sisterly arm around Soolin's shoulders, ignoring the others. 'What happened to your family?' she asked.

Soolin licked her lips. 'When the mining corporations moved in, the farmers moved out. Those that didn't were murdered,' she said simply.

Vila nodded sadly. 'And it wasn't even a crime.'

Soolin's gaze rested on the little thief. 'Oh yes, it was a crime all right,' she said in a tight voice. 'It just wasn't illegal.'

'That's what I meant,' said Vila gently, genuinely meaning no offence.

'I hope so,' said Soolin, her voice dangerously quiet.

The last thing they needed was a morose Soolin shooting down Vila, so Tarrant hastily interrupted their conversation. 'Planet must have been a draw for every crook and killer in the quadrant,' he observed.

'A lot of people made a lot of money,' Avon agreed.

Soolin smiled bitterly. 'Some even lived to enjoy it.'

Avon nodded. 'I imagine they are the ones who now want the planet returned to normal legal status.'

The gunslinger's eyes widened in surprise. 'You're not serious!' she accused.

Avon turned to the podium opposite him. 'Orac?' he asked, lightly.

'A formal application was laid before the High Council on Earth within the last thirty days,' Orac reported. 'I could get you the exact date -'

In the corner, Slave suddenly whirred into life. 'Uh, I don't wish to interrupt, Master,' it began humbly.

'Then kindly don't,' snapped Orac.

'I wasn't talking to you,' sniffed Slave.

'You,' Orac said, voice seeming to tremble with rage, 'were attempting to override a superior system. Be silent!'

Avon was aware the others were looking at him. Orac, despite his aggravating personality program, was fitted to be user-friendly that meant his ego could suffer being interrupted. It was a testimony to the rushed repair job that Orac's behavior protocols had been ruined. The computer continued, as though nothing had happened: '- the exact date, if you wish. But the importance of the application lies not in its exact date, but in its general requirements.'

'Which are?' prompted Tarrant.

'That the citizens of Gauda Prime put their house in order,' Orac explained. 'Law must be established before the benefits of law can be restored.'

Avon looked into the distance, as though lost in thought. 'It is the day of the bounty hunter. Thieves, killers, mercenaries, psychopaths... are as unwelcome now as the farmers once were.'

His train of thought was interrupted as a loud warbling alarm filled the air. In moments, everyone was at their position as a cover slid over a porthole in the portside wall. 'Slave, what's wrong?' shouted Tarrant as he buckled himself into his chair, Soolin following suit beside him.

'Well, nothing is actually wrong, sir,' said Slave awkwardly. 'Yet.'

'Explain the alarm, Slave,' Avon ordered.

Immediately the klaxon fell silent. 'I had to get your attention, Master, and I was forbidden to speak unless spoken to,' Slave explained sadly.

'All right,' the computer tech sighed, 'you're spoken to. What is it?'

'I beg to advise you, Master, that we're approaching the planet Gauda Prime.'

There was general sigh of relief and Dayna chuckled at Slave's eagerness not to offend.

But when the flight computer spoke again, there was a note of panic in its voice.

'And Scorpio is under attack.'

Before anyone could even begin to reply to this, there was a hollow, crackling noise followed by a massive jolt that shuddered the whole flight deck. At that moment, the rear sensor array exploded in flames and smoke, causing all the lights to flicker and pulsate as the crew were slammed back in their chairs.

Even as the roar filled his ears, Vila glared daggers at Orac's boxlike shape.

#

Arlen gritted her teeth as she was forced to transfer her weight to her injured leg. The bounty hunter had applied a brutal tourniquet that, although stopping her dying from blood loss, had done nothing to diminish the shooting agony from the shattered knee. She had picked up a tall branch to use as a staff and had been herded away from the campfire into the depths of the wood.

Arlen swayed for a moment, turning to face her captor, who was covering her with the Federation side-arm. 'How much further to your flyer?' she groaned, knowing it must have been far away for him to have landed in the last day without her hearing it.

The bounty hunter didn't react to her question, and merely waved the gun at her.

Sighing heavily, Arlen struggled on for a few more paces before she stopped again. 'I can't walk any further,' she protested weakly, sagging from the effort of talking.

'Yes, you can,' was the blunt reply.

'Why don't you just kill me?' Arlen demanded.

'I told you,' replied the man with a shrug. 'You're worth more alive.'

Arlen hung her head and turned to continue. Behind her, she sensed the man take a step forward.

And Arlen sprung.

Swinging around, she threw all her weight onto her improvised cane, intending to knock down her captor and regain control of her weapon and, thus, her life. And it would have worked - if only the bounty hunter hadn't simply sidestepped her attack.

Her momentum dragged her onto the ground, triggering a new and interesting pattern of agony through her injuries, ultimately forcing a scream past her gritted teeth. Above her, the bounty hunter stepped over her, gun aimed at her head once more. If he was angry at her attack, he didn't show it. 'Get up, girl,' he ordered.

Arlen grimaced with pain and managed to roll over. 'Arlen,' she croaked, voice cracking with strain. 'My name is Arlen,' she repeated, glaring up at her tormentor through wet eyes.

The bounty hunter nodded slightly. 'That's the name they're paying for.'

A dangerous gleam had entered Arlen's moistened eyes. 'That's right,' she said with hysterical triumph. 'I made them pay for it. So use it, scum!' she snarled. But the pain was too much for her. Weakly, she gripped her soiled bandages, blood welling between her fingers. With a sob of fear and despair, she sank onto the ground.

The man stared down at her dispassionately.

'Blake,' he said after a pause. 'My name is Roj Blake.'

Perhaps it was pity or self-recrimination that drew this admission from him, an attempt to return himself to humanity, to show Arlen that he too was alive and cared. Perhaps his resolve against her plight had finally failed him.

Actually, it was neither.

#


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Ewen Campion-Clarke

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