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Prime Suspect

By Nova
Page 2 of 4

Blake's eyes opened, instantly scanning the wall for his shadow-companion. But another shadow overlaid it, cast by a tall and tawny young woman.

'Oh good, you've woken up!' she exclaimed, bounding exuberantly across to the chair. 'I'm Dayna Mellanby. Vila said you needed some distraction and I've been longing to meet you. My father was one of your biggest fans.'

'Your father?' Blake said. 'Not Hal Mellanby, the weapons designer, by any chance? How is he?'

'Quite dead,' Dayna said with studied flippancy. 'We had a house guest after the Andromedan invasion - your old friend Servalan - and her idea of good manners doesn't exclude shooting the host.'

'I'm sorry,' he said quietly and watched Dayna's eyes widen.

'You really are, aren't you?' she said in surprise. 'I thought Deva must've been exaggerating but you're as nice as he said you were.' She giggled and added, 'Deva likes you a lot. Did you know he worked out that you'd been sending regular messages to Avon, so he sent one for you, last time you were out on bounty hunter patrol for a month? Apparently, he told Avon to stop dragging his feet and come here straight away, because you missed him.'

Blake winced. While it was reassuring to have his trust in Deva confirmed, it was disconcerting that everyone seemed to know how he felt - _or should that be "used to feel"?_ - about Avon. To cover his embarrassment, he said, resolutely casual,'But Avon didn't come to Gauda Prime straight away. My last extended patrol was two months ago.'

Dayna's smooth forehead wrinkled. 'Two months ago?' she said, looking puzzled. 'That was when Avon decided to recruit Zukan as his figurehead for a rebel alliance - and he admitted afterwards that he knew where you were, by then. But ... if he'd been receiving messages from you, as well as Deva, he should've known your location long before that.'

Blake nodded in agreement. It was beginning to sound as though, while his own messages had been blocked, Deva's message to Avon had got through. Since all transmissions from the base were shielded, Avon couldn't have traced the message back to its source - and Deva would undoubtedly have assumed that Blake had already told Avon where he was, which explained why Avon still needed to follow that pattern through infinity.

He was smiling foolishly, relieved that Avon hadn't delayed for as long as he'd feared, when he realised he had an alert and interested observer. 'I gather you've been spending a lot of time with Deva,' he teased, to distract her.

Dayna beamed. 'He reminds me of one of my tutors on Sarran. I like fussy little men. Unless ...'

Her eyes met Blake's, less innocent and more knowing than he'd expected. 'I have a lot of respect for Deva,' he said, matching her honesty. 'But I like wary, cynical, argumentative men.'

'Yes, everyone fancies Avon,' she said with alarming promptness. 'I kissed him the first time I met him, because he was so beautiful - and because I was so curious. Cally's alien let him kiss her, which presumably says something about Cally as well. Vila admired him from a distance. Servalan flirted with him. Even Orac once told Avon it loved him, although it was under the influence of some green alien sand at the time.'

She burst out laughing and Blake joined in, until an incautious chuckle jarred his rib cage. The pain sobered him, sending him back to his detective work.

'I'm still not entirely clear about the composition of the crew on Liberator and Scorpio,' he said. 'You came on board straight after the Andromedan invasion, didn't you?'

'Yes, and so did Tarrant,' Dayna said obligingly. 'Cally was still there then but - you do know she was killed, just before Soolin joined us? Servalan again. She mined the base on Terminal, after fooling Avon with that computer simulation.'

'That's right, Deva mentioned something about Servalan's scientists recreating me in their computers,' Blake said sceptically. 'Is that really possible?'

'Well, Cally said that Orac's exactly like Ensor,' Dayna pointed out. 'So I don't see why the computer simulation couldn't have been exactly like you.'

Blake sighed and added Servalan to his mental list. She'd clearly had the time and technology to program any number of murderous impulses into Avon's cortex. On the other hand, she couldn't have ordered Zen to strand Blake on Epheron ... unless one of the Liberator crew was a Federation agent: an even more chilling thought.

He shied away from that possibility and went on calculating the odds. Cally and Soolin were the least likely suspects - although, in the _Space Investigator_ vids that the GP rebels watched during the long winter evenings, the least likely suspect inevitably turned out to be the guilty party. Even so, it was difficult to make a case against Soolin. Like Servalan, she had no way of blocking Blake's transmissions from Epheron and unlike Servalan, she could hardly have been working in tandem with one of the Liberator crew.

_But Cally came from Auron and no one knows much about Auronar physiology. What if she managed to survive the explosion and exert some type of remote-control influence on Avon, in the same way as all those passing aliens kept influencing her? Granted, that sounds fairly improbable - but stranger things have happened._

As he squirmed in frustration, Dayna fixed him with a steady stare. 'You think someone's been manipulating all of us, don't you?' she demanded. 'That's why you're asking so many questions.'

'No, no, I'm just curious, the way you were with Avon,' Blake said lightly. He searched for a way to change the subject and added,'It must've been hard, growing up in isolation on Sarran.'

'I wasn't isolated,' Dayna objected. 'I had a series of tutors and a Sarran foster sister. Actually, I would've been perfectly happy with my father and my guns. But I suppose Father was trying to teach me how to get along with people.'

Blake ducked his head, hiding a grin. Dayna's ruthless single-mindedness reminded him of Ensor's son, except that, unlike Hal Mellanby, Ensor had exploited his son's devotion. Fathers had the power to make or break their children. Blake was still convinced that Avon's father, described even by his son as remote and robotic, had left Avon vulnerable to the teacher who'd abused his trust - although Avon had always adamantly rejected that theory.

He flinched suddenly, ambushed by another flashback. When he'd read up on child molestation, morbidly researching the Federation's accusations against him, Blake had discovered that the victims of abuse often went on to abuse others in turn.

_Oh, hell. Could Avon have taken advantage of that girl-child Dayna or boyish Tarrant - in which case, this whole set-up might be some form of revenge?_

_No. No, that's pure speculation. Stick to the facts, Blake._

By the time he looked up again, Dayna had gone. Blake scowled at the wall and continued to sift doggedly through the facts, trying to pin the blame on Servalan or Cally, Vila or Tarrant or Dayna - in short, anybody but Avon. However, logical deduction had never been one of his strengths and the pain in his gut was shortcircuiting his usual intuitive leaps.

_I used to rely on Avon for logic. But I'm on my own now. _

***


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