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The Third Option

By Judith Proctor
Page 1 of 1

The time is two years after Scorpio crashed into a forest on Gauda Prime. All crew members except Avon died in the fight and he was eventually executed.

      

      The intercom chimed on Hammond's desk, "There's a woman wanting to see you sir, an Illona Martin. She won't state her business apart from saying that she has something very important to the project."

      Hammond was irritated, he already had enough getting in the way of his work without having to see people who thought they had something important to tell him. They never did in his experience. He sighed, "Show her in," he reflected a moment, "in another five minutes." It wouldn't hurt the woman to wait a little.

      He sat looking around his office for a moment - the brass name plate with Tor Hammond incised in sharp angular letters set into his desk, the logo of the teleport project on the wall, and felt momentary pride in the vast difference he had made to the project since he had arrived earlier in the year to take charge.

      Idiots, he thought angrily. How could they have made so little progress before then, when they had the wreckage of Scorpio to work with? Certainly most of the teleport components had been damaged, some smashed beyond recognition, but why had it been obvious to none of them that an entire subsystem was simply missing? The morons who had performed the salvage had probably decided it was part of the navigation system and never thought to send it to the teleport project at all. The coordinate fixer would be necessarily be linked into navigation, it would need to access much of the same data.

      They had completely misunderstood the theoretical basis of the wave amplifier too. When he first arrived, they had been trying to use it as a signal bouncer. Ridiculous! There were so many little things like that, obvious to anyone with a grain of common sense, but overlooked by the imbeciles he had working for him now. It would help, he thought, if he had more experienced personnel. With typical bureaucratic inefficiency they had managed to transfer away half a dozen key personnel just before he came. Of the replacements, only two had ever worked on teleport systems at all, and then for short periods.

      Bureaucrats were a pain, but then as his father had been wont to remark, "Even bureaucrats once had mothers who loved them."

      Too much reminiscence was a waste of time, Hammond pulled a circuit diagram off a stack and gave it his full attention. He became so absorbed that he didn't even hear the door open, he was only aware of the woman's presence when she coughed.

      Hammond looked up.

      "Avon!" she said in pleased surprise, then smiled, "Didn't anyone tell you you're supposed to be dead?"

      Hammond looked at the petite face with some annoyance, "You appear to be labouring under the misapprehension that I am somebody else. You asked to see Hammond, I am he. What is this important business that you are supposed to have?"

      The raven haired woman studied him for a moment, then produced something from her tunic pocket and held it up for him to see. It was a bangle of some kind, brown in colour with a raised pink rectangle on it.

      "Well," he said impatiently, "what is it?"

      Consternation passed across Illona's face for a moment, "You really don't know do you?"

      "Are you going to continue to waste my time with idiotic badinage, or are you going to tell me anything useful?"

      "It's a Liberator teleport bracelet."

      "I thought they were all destroyed or lost," Hammond held out his hand in excitement. If what she claimed was true, this could put the project ahead by a month or more. An alternative approach to the key principles was bound to be revealing.

      She snatched it back out of his reach. "Terms first, then you get it. I want fifty thousand credits."

      His reaction was immediate. "My budget won't stretch that far."

      "But," Illona continued, as though he hadn't spoken, "as you haven't got fifty thousand credits, I'll settle for thirty thousand and a guaranteed work contract here for six months as a pilot. Take it or leave it. Accept either offer. Otherwise I go, and I take the bracelet with me."

      She looked him directly in the eyes which made Hammond feel uncomfortable. "I think you need that bracelet..."

      Oh, he wanted it all right. If all the reports were to be believed, the Liberator teleport system, a product of generations of alien engineering, was bound to be superior to that of Scorpio which was the work of just one or two men in a far shorter time period.

      "I'll take it. The cheaper deal I mean, consider yourself hired." He was impatient to get his hands on his new toy.

      "Not so fast, first the credit guarantee slip, then the job contract, then we're in business."

      Hammond had the distinct impression that she though he would try to cheat her, which was all the more irritating because he never cheated anyone. It was against his principles.

      

      Hammond noticed Illona around the project occasionally after that time, but made no attempt to speak with her. He considered fraternising with the staff to be a waste of valuable time. Sometimes he'd see her in the canteen during meals, and have a feeling that at some level she was watching him.

      It was three weeks however, before Hammond needed Illona's services himself. The multi-dimensional mathematics conference was the cause; Hammond wanted to go, security had cleared the trip, but he couldn't fly the shuttle himself.

      Illona took the craft up in silence, it was only when they had broken orbit and the course was firmly set that she switched on the autopilot and swivelled her seat to face his.

      "Hammond," she said with a smile that irritated him. "I want to talk to you."

      "The feeling is not mutual," he replied flatly.

      "I've got a story to tell you and you're going to listen to it." Her manner was excessively familiar for an employee.

      "I have no intention of listening," Hammond retorted and headed towards the rest cabin. Illona's affectation of being his equal was bad enough, but he had work to do and no time to waste in idle gossip.

      "Oh but you are." There was a deadly, mocking quality to her voice and as he turned, he was only partially surprised to see the gun in her hand.

      "Illona, what is the meaning of this outrage? You're fired!"

      "Such cliches Hammond. Shut up and listen, or I shall kill you just to be rid of your incredibly tedious conversation.

      "Are you listening? Good."

      He stood still and tried to appear as if he was paying attention. It would have been hard to ignore her really, under the circumstances.

      "There was once a man called Kerr Avon. Does the name mean anything to you Hammond?"

      Hammond shook his head silently.

      "Somehow I expected that. One of the most notorious outlaws in the galaxy and you've never heard of him. Odd really isn't it? Well, I shall tell you his story.

      "Avon was born on Earth in the normal way of normal Alpha grade parents, but sometimes nature produces a genius, and his case it produced one of exceptional ability. His gifts turned to computers in whatever application they were used, be it as part of the original teleport project before it was abandoned, where I believe you also worked Hammond; or in finance and banking, where you didn't. Are you finding this interesting?"

      "No!" he growled.

      Illona smiled with complete insincerity. "How sad. Avon was very like you in some ways; your skills lay in the same areas. Your work on recreating the Scorpio teleport system from a collection of old junk in just a few short months has apparently achieved more real progress than was made in the entire previous year."

      "I know my field," Hammond retorted with some pride.

      "There are however," Illona carried on, "many ways in which you differ from Avon character-wise. He was, not to put too fine a point on it, an embezzler, a killer, a rebel and a generally dangerous person to know. You on the other hand," her voice sounded sarcastic to his ears," are so honest you wouldn't even fiddle an expense claim, too squeamish to kill a rat, disgustingly loyal to the Federation, especially considering what they pay you, and about as dangerous as a sofa cushion.

      "I despise you Hammond," she said scornfully.

      Indignation filled him, how dare she rate this criminal higher than a loyal Federation citizen! He thought it best not to make the point out loud though. Discretion was after all the better part of valour.

      "Where was I? Ah yes," he was sure she was merely taunting him with her deliberate pauses and interruptions, "an embezzler. Unfortunately, Avon made the classic mistake, he got caught and shipped out to Cygnus Alpha. That would probably have been the end, but he and some of his fellow prisoners managed to gain control of an alien battleship, the Liberator. Inevitably Avon studied its teleport system in depth. When the Liberator was destroyed, he was able to use that knowledge to complete a teleport system on Scorpio. Are you still sure you're never heard of him Hammond?"

      She waited for a reaction, but he was determined to give her none.

      "Most amusing, you are working to replicate the system another man created, and you don't even know his name. But I digress - Avon was captured two years ago and executed five months later, presumably after they had wrung him dry of everything he knew. Who knows what they got from him? He was a very stubborn man, but most men break in the end. However, it is difficult to extract detailed technical information from a man under torture, especially when there is no other man alive fully qualified to understand it."

      Illona steepled her fingers together on her lap. "I don't think they did get that information from him, because it became obvious that the new teleport project was running into problems. The wreckage from Avon's ship was not giving them the instant answers they had hoped for, and they wanted those answers badly. Very badly. The only man who could help them find those answers was a prisoner with an implacable hatred of the Federation. How then could they gain his cooperation?"

      Hammond gave her his best, "I don't know and I don't care either" expression. It didn't disconcert Illona in the least. She came to her feet in a flowing motion and looked confidently at him. "I'll tell you what they did Hammond. They wiped Avon's memory and rebuilt him entirely. They went right back to the beginning; new memories of his childhood friends and family, new schools, new everything, but still trying to retain some areas of similar history so that he would expect himself to have the skills they needed and to access them subconsciously. They left him his time on the teleport project, suitably edited of course, but removed anything that might provide a threat. They gave him no strong likes or dislikes, no old passionate romances to remember, nothing that might disturb the calm even tenor of his life or ever cause him to recall his real past. They made him boring, in fact they made you Hammond."

      Illona jabbed her finger in the air for emphasis. " I want Avon back ! "

      Hammond looked at her in complete and utter disbelief. "That is the most utter load of fanciful nonsense that I have ever heard in my life."

      "Is it?" her smile worried him, it was far too malicious and self assured. "Then you won't mind if I try a little experiment will you?

      "They say," she continued in a conversational tone of voice, "that repeating a stressful situation from the subject's past will cause memories of that event to surface. I think I know the perfect situation to repeat"

      The barrel of the gun rose to point right between Hammond's eyes. "I'm going to give you ten seconds, Avon, to tell me my real name, and if you can't do it in that time I'll kill you without a qualm, because you'll dead beyond recall anyway.

       "Ten."

      "You're mad, your name's Illona Martin!"

      "Nine. Wrong on both counts."

      "You wouldn't kill me in cold blood."

      "Eight. Wrong again. Ask Avon."

      He looked into her eyes and had the sudden gut churning realisation that she meant it.

       "Seven."

      That face behind a gun pointing at him.

       "Six."

      Where had he seen it before?

       "Five."

      Never! He knew he'd never in his life seen her with a gun before.

       "Four."

      The sweat was breaking out on his back, he was beginning to shake.

       "Three."

      That woman with a gun, pointing it at him as she had so many times before.

       "Two."

      That woman...

       "One."

      "Servalan!" he shouted in desperation, neither knowing nor caring where the name came from and waiting for the shot to end his life.

      

      There was silence for a moment, then he dared to examine her face and saw her visibly relax.

      "That's better," she said calmly. "I trust we've established the basic principle now?"

      "No," Hammond was looking for excuses and he knew it. "It was just a wild guess. Perhaps I saw your picture somewhere and remembered you from that."

      "And just why Hammond, might you have seen my picture?"

      "Because," he hated the way the knowledge was there for him, "you were president of the Federation."

      "Excellent, except that as a president with frequent attempts upon my life, I never allowed portraits of myself to be published."

      He had to turn the conversation away from himself, had to have time to decide who and what he was. Attack could sometimes be the best form of defence. "President Servalan died several years ago. How can you possibly be her?"

      "I was on the Liberator when it was destroyed. I escaped with a teleport bracelet to a Federation world, but by the time I was able to re-establish contact, I'd been deposed. I had a back up identity, Commissioner Sleer; I used that for several years, then I was recognised at an unfortunate moment. I had to flee with no time to take anything useful, just a few pieces of jewellery and the bracelet."

      Hammond was puzzled that she had taken time to grab anything so totally irrelevant. "Why did you take the teleport bracelet? It's of no use possible to anyone."

      "Correct. However, there was always the possibility, albeit a low one that you were still alive somehow. If the Federation were going to use you anywhere, they were going to use you here. Living on the run, it was worth trying to find someone to run with. Avon's talents will be incredibly useful."

      In control of himself now, Hammond realised that all he actually knew of her, apart from what she had told him, was her name and the fact that she had tried to kill him several times. Avon's memories, and he was beginning to admit to himself that he might have them, seemed to be under his control. He was safe for the present. If Servalan was fool enough to believe that he would ever aid her in destroying his own identity to replace it with that of a criminal terrorist, then she was mistaken. He was himself.

      "That," Hammond said confidently, "is surely stupid. I know you wanted to kill him, so he certainly wants to kill you. What you are trying is futile. He would never go with you."

      Servalan smiled slowly, a feral, sensuous smile and took a short step towards him, her every movement an open invitation. "Avon, there was another reason I kept the bracelet. Can you remember that too?"

      Hammond cursed himself, he should have known it wasn't so simple. Had they been lovers, or had they simply wanted to be?

      Too late, he realised that he shouldn't have asked the question. Watching her, looking at her, he knew the sudden sharp joy of crossing swords with this woman, knew that he had to kill her, knew also the feel of her in his arms, the scent of her perfume, knew....

      "No!" he shouted out in abrupt denial, "I have never kissed you!"

      She smiled, happy in the knowledge of another victory. "Then why bother to say so?"

      The last straw offtimes breaks the camel's back. Hammond knew with total certainty that he had to kill this woman before she killed him. Whether or not his body lived on was irrelevant to the case. He had to get the gun, and to do that he was going to have to take a risk.

      Instead of shutting out the buried emotions, Hammond deliberately let them rise to the surface. He let himself absorb them, knew the force of his desire for this woman, the challenge that she gave him. Hammond's pulse accelerated, and he relaxed his control further, letting the words find their own pattern.

      "Well now," he said with a lightly mocking smile, "perhaps I exaggerated just a little when I said I'd never kissed you."

      "Avon!" she cried out and all but flung herself into his arms.

      For the next thirty seconds Hammond found himself overwhelmed by sensations and emotions he had never known in his sheltered life. Then he found his way out of the flood and his searching hand found the gun which slid easily from her unsuspecting fingers into his grasp.

      She realised what he'd done and broke away in fury. "Avon, you bastard!"

      Hammond smiled. "Coming from you, that's a compliment. As it happens, I'm still Hammond, and I'm going to remain Hammond."

      He felt relaxed and confident, and wondered why Servalan smiled at his words. He was in control of the situation now, and there was nothing she could do about it. Without the gun she was powerless. None the less, he was going to have to watch her carefully, she was a dangerous woman.

      She didn't seem worried at all. "Hammond, it's too late already. The longer I stay with you, the more you'll remember. It may take days, months or even years, but you'll remember it all in the end."

      "You forget," he casually gestured towards her with the gun, "I can always kill you."

      Servalan looked at him, weighing him up. "Avon could kill me, but you? If you kill me, you become everything that you despise in him. A murderer. Besides, has it ever occurred to you that killing me might bring back some more memories. I was there when Avon shot the woman he loved, do you think can pull that trigger on me without bringing back her memory and the memory of all the other people he's killed? You'll be alone Hammond, alone with all of Avon's worst nightmares and nobody to help you face them or put them in context."

      She laughed. "Kill me Hammond and you'll be in hell before dawn!"

      He kept the gun steadily on her and considered his situation. It looked bleak. Images were hovering on the fringes of his memory, demanding admittance. The ghost of a dead man lay at his feet. The face meant nothing to him, yet he knew the man had been a friend. A voice shouted at him, warning him of something. He rejected the name that it called him, but he could not cut out the sound of gunfire telling of another death. Ruthlessly, he pushed back the memories, knowing that there were more, knowing that he could not face them, these restless spirits of another man's past.

      Servalan was pushing him to make the choice. "You have only two options, Hammond.

      "One - Kill me and suffer more pain and guilt than you've ever known in your life all in one night, and become Avon anyway. You'll never be able to keep him out once he remembers Anna and Blake.

      "Two - Come away with me and find your real self slowly and gently. You already know something of what I can give you. Together we can achieve anything..."

      She was desirable, he acknowledged that, but all her options were death. A slow living death as his mind was destroyed by that of a stranger. Didn't she know that he would never allow his mind to be controlled by another's?

      Tor Hammond drew on an inner strength that he had not known he possessed. He smiled in quiet victory as he found the third option, and the gun took his life.

      


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Judith Proctor

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