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Blood and Shadows

By Salome
Page 1 of 17

"Where's Tarrant?" said Dayna.

"Where's Avon?" said Soolin. "And where have you been? What's going on, Vila?"

"=She= has them, what do you think?" Vila's voice over the comm link sounded both angry and frightened. "That bastard Zukan sold us, that's what. Grabbed them and came after me, too. Orac's had =Scorpio= on an evasion course for days now, but he says he's shaken them and it's safe to come back. I'll be on Xenon in-- how long, Slave?-- four hours. Orac says we shouldn't talk too much, in case they pick something up."

"All right, Vila," said Soolin. "Come on in. We'll see you in four hours, and we'll decide what to do then."

"On my way," said Vila. "I knew this warlord alliance thing was a bad idea. I'll have Orac relay the Betafarl newscast. You can see it for yourself."

His voice vanished in a crackle of static, which gave way in turn to the deliberate enunciation of a newscaster. The vis-screen in the console of Xenon's control room lit up, and Soolin and Dayna leaned forward at the sight of two familiar male faces, both looking rather scruffy and sullen. Tarrant was sporting a nasty bruise on one temple, and Avon appeared to have a split lip.

"Betafarl Internal Security forces have reported the capture of the two notorious desperadoes, Kerr Avon and Del Tarrant. Reputed to be the leaders of the infamous =Scorpio= gang, the pair are wanted by the Terran Federation in connection with numerous acts of piracy and terrorism, including the recent Zerok gold robbery. Their extradition to the Federation will be the first official act of interstellar cooperation between our governments since the conclusion of the Mutual Non-Aggression Pact so brilliantly negotiated by our diplomatic team under the inspiration of our glorious leader Zukan, may he rule for ten thousand years."

Dayna snorted in disgust. The camera panned back from the grim visage of Zukan to take in an elegant female form beside him. "Federation Commissioner Sleer arrived on Betafarl this morning to take custody of the prisoners." Servalan smiled ingratiatingly at Zukan as the screen went dark.

Soolin cut off the link with a quick, hard gesture, the only outward sign of emotion she had shown.

"He ran!" said Dayna indignantly. "Vila ran! He didn't even try to save them!"

"If he hadn't run, he would probably have been captured himself, and we'd be stranded," Soolin pointed out reasonably. "At least this way we have =Scorpio= and Orac. But you realize what we'll have to do."

"We have to rescue them ourselves," said Dayna. "But how?"

"Well, yes," said Soolin, "but I meant before that. As soon as Vila gets here, in fact."

"What do you mean?"

"We'll have to abandon Xenon base, as quickly as possible. She must know about it by now."

"But Zukan didn't know. We agreed that he wasn't to be given the coordinates unless and until there was a good chance that he'd join us."

"No, but Avon and Tarrant know, and how long has she had them? They left for Betafarl over a week ago. You know as well as I do--" (<<better,>> thought Soolin, but she wasn't cruel enough to say it) "--how easy it is for those scum to wring information out of people. For all we know, they may not even still be alive."

"She wouldn't just kill them, would she?" Dayna looked anxious now, as well as angry.

"She's certainly tried often enough. But it's true, there'd be a lot of technical information she'd want from Avon, and probably from Tarrant too. It'll take time to dig it out of them. But something as simple as the location of Xenon base will be one of the first bits they get at. And even if she doesn't care about us, she still wants Orac."

"Avon held out for five days, back on Earth," said Dayna.

"So you've told me. But they didn't know who he was, you said. In fact, it was only after five days that they got serious enough to bring in a real professional. This time they'll be using their very best, from the start."

Dayna stared at Soolin in horror. "But don't you think she might have a soft spot for Tarrant, after Virn? Maybe even for Avon? You saw how they were grinning at each other when we went down to do the gold exchange."

"I think we can't take chances," said Soolin. "We should get out of here as fast as possible, and we shouldn't leave anything behind for her. What we can't take with us, we'll destroy. Dayna, start setting the charges. I'll get our supplies together so we can leave right away when Vila gets here. We don't dare waste any time."

"You're starting to sound like Avon," said Dayna, but she turned toward the door. On her way out she paused. "I wonder what she's doing with them?"

"Don't think about it," advised Soolin. "There's no time now for anything but work. We'll worry about them again once we're on =Scorpio=."

* * *

"You've been brought here from Earth at considerable expense," said Commissioner Sleer to the psychostrategist. "I trust that you appreciate the vital importance of the information held by these two-- subjects. This base has state-of-the-art equipment and a highly trained interrogation team; but under the circumstances I thought it would be wise to bring in a recognized expert to supervise the project. Unfortunately, given the urgent and essential nature of their information, it was necessary to begin without you. I have not been altogether happy with the results so far. Tell me, are my interrogators fully competent?"

"Commissioner, in my judgement they are doing as well as can be expected. There are unusual difficulties both with the subjects and with the nature of the information to be obtained from them. In fact, it is impressive that so much has been learned in barely a week. Both are stubborn by nature, but the younger man responds well to psychoactive drugs. With skillful psychological manipulation-- and your team are really very good, Madam-- he can be convinced that he is among friends and may safely talk. As you know, the location of the rebel base has been obtained from him, as well as a substantial amount of technical data that is now being studied by the scientists of the teleport project, the photonic drive development group, and the tarriel cell research unit.

"The older of the two subjects presents more complicated problems, as he has an unfortunate biochemical immunity to the most effective of our drugs. It is extremely difficult to induce a cooperative mood in him."

<<I know that, you fool, thought Servalan. Why else did I go to the trouble of concocting that elaborate charade on Terminal. It would have been so much easier and more pleasant if I could simply have conditioned him to fall in love with me and offer me the =Liberator= as a love gift.>> But none of these thoughts showed on the exquisite face of Commissioner Sleer.

"Really?" she said, giving disinterested consideration to a purely intellectual problem. "What else can be done?"

"Other drugs were tried. He can be confused and made to babble, but coherent, organized conversation has not yet been achieved. When I arrived, I authorized the use of physical pain as well. Your team had wisely avoided that option earlier. It is my professional opinion, Commissioner, that the effectiveness of torture as an interrogation tool is greatly overestimated. Drugs and electronic manipulation of the brain are generally far more efficient. But in this case, extreme measures were needed. We used the standard neural induction machines. However, he has proven to have an unusually high pain threshold. A setting high enough to make him talk also makes him incoherent. We get the same sort of babbling as with the drugs."

"Surely some useful information can be extracted even from this babbling, as you call it," said the Commissioner.

"Fragments only. You understand, Madam, that scientific information is fundamentally different in quality from the personal and political information that is the usual goal of this type of interrogation. Precise details are needed, and they must be logically organized in the proper context."

"Perhaps it would help to have scientists from the various research groups on hand to direct the questioning."

"It has been tried, Commissioner. Unfortunately, these engineering specialists cannot seem to master the attitude of scientific detachment that we in the psychological sciences have cultivated. The teleport designer who was brought into the interrogation room fainted. The tarriel cell expert who was asked to listen to tapes claimed that she was too distracted by the screaming to make sense of the words."

"For that she'll be screaming herself," said the Commissioner grimly. "Keep trying; find some who aren't so squeamish. But you said they were studying Tarrant's information. No problems there?"

"No, Madam. But what they hear on those tapes sounds like nothing more alarming than a slightly intoxicated young man having a drunken conversation with his friends. No screaming."

"Can we do without Avon's knowledge? How much have we actually gotten from Tarrant?"

"A great deal, Madam, but his knowledge is of a more concrete, practical nature. He has done repair work on both the teleport system and the photonic drive, but always under the supervision of the other man, who appears to be the only one other than the deceased inventors who understands the theoretical background of these innovations."

"And you have only fragments of this theoretical background?"

"That is correct. It would help enormously, Madam, if the actual machinery were available for study. The prisoners' statements would be far easier to understand if we could see the objects that they were talking about."

"Ah." The Commissioner steepled her hands. "There I believe I can help you. Pursuit ships have been dispatched to the rebel base to capture the =Scorpio=, with its stardrive and teleport, and the computer Orac. They are expected back in approximately six days. We may also find useful information on Caspar, where the unfortunate Dr. Plaxton was doing the research that led to the stardrive stolen by the =Scorpio= gang when they kidnapped and murdered her.

"But while we wait, I have something else in mind. You say that Tarrant is easily persuaded."

"Not easily, Madam; it requires great skill, but yes, it can be done."

"And in the case of Avon-- so far you have used the neural induction machines, which cause no lasting physical damage, is that correct?"

"Yes, Commissioner."

"Tell me: would a relatively small amount of actual physical damage have any adverse effect on the likelihood of extracting more information from him in the future?"

"Little or none, I should say. It would do no harm, and it might be marginally helpful. In fact, it is what I would recommend as the next step. Subjects who can tolerate a great deal of pure pain are sometimes surprisingly distressed when they see the marks of torture on their bodies."

"Very good. Very good indeed. I have a plan that will call for your utmost professional skill. It will be your most challenging assignment. But in return for giving you this opportunity, I must require the highest possible degree of confidentiality. You understand my meaning, do you not?"

"We psychostrategists are always discreet, Commissioner."

* * *

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