The Bait in the TrapBy Helen Parkinson
Page 1 of 1
Blake stood, silently weighing up the entrance to the underground base. It
was quite badly damaged, clearly in an explosion of some kind and not too
long ago. He looked across to his silent companion. "This is the place?" he
asked her doubtfully.|
Jenna nodded, lifting her eyes from the hand-held sensor. "The readings aren't wonderful," she said. "Deva was right. Something about the ground here distorts sensor traces. But I am still registering life readings."
"Yes. We picked up traces of the animals." She shuddered lightly at that reminder of their brief but lively encounter with this world's native inhabitants. "They were on the surface. These readings are down here."
Blake nodded and started forward. She grabbed his arm. "Are you sure this is a good idea? It could be a trap."
"It is a trap," Blake snapped. "The question is, who set it, and who did they hope to catch?"
"You," she offered. He turned to face her.
"You heard the signals. Supposed to be from me. They fooled the computer, didn't they? If I hadn't known where I was, I could have fallen for it myself. They knew so much." Jenna was watching his eyes and she was again his withdrawal from the here and now. She knew just what he meant. It had been strange listening to that voice, while it claimed to be Blake, offered proof of identity, proof she would have believed if she hadn't been sitting next to the man. Blake closed his eyes. When he opened them they were full of dark shadows.
"They knew far too much," he said. "Enough to be very convincing. I have to know if anyone believed. I have to know if they came here." Blake could not rid himself of the fear that they had come, that Avon had come here looking for him. The evidence of explosions here, the odd energy trace in orbit, the residue of a massive explosion, all these just added to his fear.
"He won't have come," Jenna snapped her reply. "He was probably glad to be rid of the both of us." She regretted the words, as Blake winced and dropped his eyes, but she carried on. "Well, he hadn't exactly moved heaven and earth to find us, has he?"
Blake looked at her then. "Hasn't he?" he asked. "We haven't looked for them, have we? We have no real way of knowing if they looked for us."
"He's no fool," Jenna said more gently. "He would know it wasn't you." She stopped. Blake had heard it all before, he wasn't going to change his mind now. Jenna sighed. "But we may as well look, as we've come this far." She made her way to the hatch, but then had to wait for Blake to catch up. The opening mechanism was damaged and looking at the state of the hatch itself, it appeared brute force was going to be the only thing it would respond to.
Blake forced the hatch open and revealed a dark shaft leading down into the planet, a metal ladder was fastened to one side.
"Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly," Jenna muttered. Blake knew just what she meant. Every sense was telling him to leave, that this was a crazy idea. He could almost hear Avon calling him a fool. And it was that that decided him. He couldn't go, not leave here, until he knew all of it.
"Are you still picking up those life signs?"
"Yes." She held out the sensor out for him to see and he reached to take it from her.
"You stay here, wait for Deva. We won't be able to communicate from down there."
"No!" Jenna held on to the sensor. "I'm coming with you. They were my friends too." There, she'd admitted it at last. Her friends, the crew of the Liberator.
Blake smiled at her and she knew she had done the right thing. He didn't really want to go down there alone. "Thank you," he said and squeezed her arm gently.
When they'd picked up the first messag, weak and intermittent, and supposedly from Blake aimed at Liberator, they had laughed. It had been the second one, the one that included facts only Blake could know that had made them worry. Then they lost the signal only to pick it up again, and this time the message was clearly a response to a question, a question that could only have been put by someone on Liberator. From the answer they intercepted, Blake deduced the question and knew at once who sent it. He also knew that they believed. The question had been sent by Avon, and Avon now believed he was in touch with Blake. Believed that Blake was asking for his help, offering him something in return, their usual face-saving game. Blake tried to warn them, to make his own contact with Liberator, but he could not. Avon was running the ship into a trap and Blake could do nothing to stop him, could only chase along in his wake and pray he would be in time.
Silently, Blake looked down into the darkness of the shaft. He knew Liberator had come here, he knew Avon and the others had been here, and he was more than half certain they were dead.
"Blake, respond please." Deva's voice made them both jump slightly.
"Blake," he replied. "Have you found anything?"
"The wreckage of a ship," Deva said. "It's small, Federation, looks like it blew up some time after landing. They certainly didn't crash down here. Have you seen anything?"
"No. Not yet. We're just about to go into the tunnels. Lock onto these coordinates and get over here."
"All right, Blake," Deva said. "Just..."
"Be careful," Blake interrupted. "You watch yourself, we met a couple of the natives on the way over here. They are not very friendly."
"Take your own advice this time, Blake," Deva answered. "I don't take half the risks you do."
"I'm always careful," Blake said and cut off Deva's squawk of protest. Deva was a good man, but he worried too much. Blake looked at Jenna. "Federation ship," he mused. "Perhaps they came and won." But the words lacked conviction. If Liberator and her crew had been here and succeeded in defeating the Federation, why hadn't they responded to Blake's desperate calls? Why could no trace be found of the beautiful ship?
The descent down the ladder was conducted in darkness, but not in silence. Their footsteps echoed loudly in the confined space and Blake realized that if this was a trap, there was no way to surprise those who set it. Finally, he stepped onto solid ground and switched on the torch at his belt. Dust covered everything, lying thickly over fallen beams and masonry, the result of the explosions. Whatever had called this damage had been fairly devastating, but the tunnel, with care, was still passable.
"Which way?" he asked Jenna as she stepped down to join him, her torch lending its light to his.
"There." She pointed into the gloom and began to move. Blake moved with her. Each step they took kicked up clouds of dust. Thick and cloying, it clung to the hair and skin, coating their lungs with each breath, making their eyes water. The ceiling creaked as they passed and occasional fresh falls of dust caused them to fear further ceiling collapses, but it held. The trip was just passable, although sections involved careful scrambles over fallen beams, and once Blake bumped his head on a low-hanging ceiling strut and swore loudly.
The tunnel was becoming more and more difficult. Blake assumed they were getting closer to the epicenter of the explosions. However, here there was a little light, a little power left in the systems. It cast odd shadows on the floor and walls. Blake felt as if he had walked miles, though he knew it couldn't be so far, when Jenna grabbed his arm. "We're very close," she told him. The reading, when Blake looked, was weak, low level, but human and close. It was the only such signal they had encountered on this benighted mud ball. If this as an example of a man-made planet, he had long since concluded he preferred the more natural kind.
They walked a little further, then Blake pointed, bringing up his torch to see better. "There." A dark shape lay tumbled in the gloom, partially under a roof support, clearly human but still impossible to see properly. Blake took a couple of steps forward and the shape separated itself from the surrounding shadows. His heart seemed to stop as he recognised it. "Cally!" He threw himself forward, heedless now of fallen masonry. Jenna was close behind him as he stumbled to his knees beside the Auron's side.
Cally lay on her back, her eyes partially open. Her face was streaked with blood, her hair filled with dust. A roof support had fallen, then been stopped by a small heap of stone. It was enough to trap her, to pin her to the floor, but it hadn't been enough to kill her. No, that had taken human action. She had been shot at close range. Her clothing was soaked with blood and the dust around her darkened with it. Slowly Blake lowered Cally's arm to the floor. He reached forward and closed her eyes, wiping gently at the dust on her face. "Cally," he whispered, then he looked up at Jenna. "She's dead," he told her unnecessarily. "She was murdered." He looked down at the Auron again. Jenna knelt down and touched Cally's face. It was quite cold.
"She's been dead a while," she told Blake. He nodded. "But we were picking up life signs. We still are. Blake, there is someone else down here, alive."
Blake looked at her as if he didn't understand. "What?"
"There is someone else, Blake, and they are still alive. That way, not far." Blake staggered to his feet, and turned the way she pointed. Jenna rubbed at her face, surprised to find it wet. Almost as surprised as she had been to see tears on Blake's face.
It was Blake who saw it first, a dark shape, barely discernible from the shadows, yet he saw it. Blake moved carefully forward. Jenna, after a glance at the sensor, followed. The figure was clothed in black, face down upon the floor. It could almost have been a part of the shadows. Blake drew his gun slowly as he noted the dark clothes. Cally had been killed by the Federation, this could be her murderer. Jenna shone her torch. It lit tumbled dark hair, and a dusty black jacket. Blake's gun fell from suddenly unresponsive fingers as he recognized the fallen man.
Avon was face down, sprawled on the floor, his hair lying in the dust, but unlike Cally there was little of it on his clothes. He hadn't been here when the explosions occurred. Jenna remained standing while Blake knelt in the dust and reached for Avon's arm. The flesh of the wrist was warm and a pulse beat beneath his fingers.
"Alive, Jenna," he told her, still holding the wrist. "Get back to the access shaft, get Deva and Clift down here." Jenna turned and began a stumbling run. At Cally's side she stopped momentarily. "Now, Jenna," Blake commanded, spurring her on.
Blake hadn't taken his eyes off Avon; didn't dare to for fear the man would get away from him if he did. Now he gently turned him over. The moan that escaped Avon as he was moved made Blake's stomach lurch, but the other showed no further sign of consciousness. Avon had been shot in the chest. Blake's hand came away from a tentative exploration of the wound, covered in blood. He pulled off his own jacket and tore the lining out; with this he attempted to stem the bleeding.
Blake settled on the floor, heedless of the dust, and pulled Avon up to lie against him. For some reason he felt he had to get the unconscious man up off the floor. This also provided reassurance, for now he could feel the other man breathe. The cloth he held to Avon's chest was wet now. Blake knew it wasn't really helping. He twisted slightly to look the way Jenna had gone and his eyes fell on Cally's body. He shivered slightly and pulled Avon closer. He wasn't about to lose another of his friends.
It took him a moment to realize Avon's eyes were open. He smiled down reassuringly, but there was no response. Avon didn't really see him. Then as Blake watched, the man's eyes cleared and focused on his face.
"Blake?" Avon whispered in surprise. He could not believe what he saw, for he knew Blake was dead.
"Shhh, Avon," the ghost that was Blake whispered. "You've been hurt." The ghost that held him shifted slightly and pulled him closer. Avon gasped in pain as fire shot through him and the world faded out into red. When it came back again Blake was still there. The pain proved he wasn't dead, and that this was no ghost.
"Blake," he said the name again. "She said you were dead. Long dead."
"Who said, Avon?" Blake asked.
Blake half-smiled and shook his head. "She lied. She always lied. I'm fine. We're going to get you to my ship, get you some help."
Avon shook his head. Blake could feel his chest shiver as he tried to breathe, a rivulet of dark blood running from the corner of his mouth. Blake felt cold terror growing in his chest. He clutched Avon closer as if he could force some of his own strength into the dying man. Where the hell was Jenna?
"Cally?" Avon asked abruptly. "Is Cally...?"
"She's dead, Avon," Blake said and the light seemed to fade even further from Avon's eyes. "She was shot." Slowly, Avon nodded. He swallowed.
"Vila? Dayna? Tarrant?" he asked, the words choked on blood.
"There is no one else," Blake said. He didn't question the names he didn't know, there would be time later, there had to be time later. "Who shot you, Avon? Who killed Cally?"
"I did," Avon replied. Blake stared at him.
"A doppelganger," Avon continued very softly. "My double. I came back for Cally... he found her... killed her. I didn't see him." Avon was finding it very difficult to speak. "Stupid... wasn't paying... attention, didn't.see.him.until.too.late," he muttered. "Stupid."
"Shh," Blake said. Although he was aware he was losing Avon, he was not prepared to give up. "We'll get help soon." Blake looked off into the darkness.
"Blake." Avon's whisper drew him back. "He replaced me... that's got to... be... it. Vila... he'll know, he's in... danger. Got to stop her." Blake could almost hear the liquid sound of blood in Avon's lungs as he fought to breathe.
"Avon?" he said. Avon opened his eyes and half-smiled.
"Still here," he said. And Blake didn't know if it was meant as reassurance or a question.
"Sorry?" Avon didn't understand. And for Blake it was most important that he did.
"That I didn't come back. That I hid."
"Why?" Avon whispered. "Why hide?"
"I didn't think you wanted me near. I had promised you Liberator."
"Not over your body," Avon gasped. "Gone now... Liberator... Cally... finished." His eyes closed.
"No, Avon." Blake pulled him closer, his fingers digging into Avon's arms. "Avon, please." He felt Avon breathe, a soft movement under his hands, then he was still. "Avon!" He clutched tighter, unmindful of the blood and dust. "Avon." Scalding tears ran down his face as he held the body close, rocking it gently for comfort and finding none. In the distance he heard Jenna call his name.
Jenna stood by Cally's body and stared in horror at the tableau before her. Blake was half-kneeling in the dust weeping, cradling Avon to his chest. Avon was dead, there could be no doubt about that. Behind her, Deva clattered to a halt.
"We're too late." She reached out to stop him.
"Was it them?" Deva asked, eyes on Blake. "Avon? The others?" Jenna nodded slowly. "What do we do?"
"I'm not sure," she considered, the sorrow she felt at Cally and Avon's deaths deepened by the concern she felt at Blake's reaction to those deaths. "Can you get Cally out of here? We'll take them to the ship. Let Blake decide." She looked at Deva, who nodded, then back towards Blake. Jenna well remembered his reaction to Gan's death, his distress that they could not honour Gan in some way. At least with these two he could do that.
Slowly Jenna made her way towards the weeping man. "Blake?" she called, surprised at how steady her voice sounded. "I'm sorry." He didn't acknowledge her verbally, just reached out a bloody hand which she took. "Did he say anything? Tell you what happened?"
Blake looked up at her, resting a cheek on the bowed dark head. "Servalan. She used a double, killed Cally and Avon." His arms tightened convulsively. "He must have taken Avon's place. He didn't know why."
"I do," Jenna said. He looked at her with the uncomprehending eyes of a child. "Let's get them out of here. Put them in stasis; we could bury them in space," she said, suddenly afraid of the blankness in Blake's eyes, afraid she would lose him if he remained here with Avon's body any longer. Deva came up behind her as she spoke.
"I'll take him," he offered and reached for Avon. Jenna held out a hand to help Blake to his feet. He ignored both of them. "I will carry Avon," he said. "Why, Jenna?" he asked. "Why did she kill them?"
"She wants you," Jenna replied. "What better way to get to you than to have someone you trust on her side? She probably expects you to be looking for him, or to leave him some message. Or maybe he is supposed to openly hunt for you."
Blake stood up slowly, Avon's body in his arms.
"Maybe," Deva said slowly, "she knows we heard the messages and will contact Avon. Because of them, you will decide to look for him."
"No. He will come to me," Blake said. He shifted the body of his friend slightly so he could carry him. "We will go to Gauda Prime, set up as planned and wait for him." He looked at Avon's face, pale and still as if it were carved from marble, as it rested against his shoulder. "I'll wait for him, Avon, but the meeting will be on my terms, on my ground." He looked up as if he could see through the rock, through the emptiness of space. "I shall set it up and wait for you," he promised. Blake took a step forward and stumbled, almost dropping his burden. He looked at Jenna. "Bring Cally," he said, then carried on. Jenna nodded.
Blake picked his way carefully out of the underground base. His friends had died here but it wouldn't become their tomb. He knew Avon wouldn't have wanted ceremony, wouldn't have wanted or understood fuss. But Blake wanted it, needed it. Avon would understand. He always had before.
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