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A Price to Pay

By Julia Stamford
Page 1 of 2

He hurt, and the cell was cold, and the bench was hard, but it didn't really matter. Very little mattered any more, and certainly not a few hours of minor discomfort before he was either taken back to Earth for trial, or executed here and now. Not that he'd be left on Gauda Prime, either way. Too valuable a showpiece, dead or alive. Too bad Servalan wasn't here. At least she had an incentive to kill him, unlike this motley gang of troopers who couldn't believe their luck.

      There was a sound at the door, and then it slid open, revealing a small, delicate figure in clothes quite out of keeping with the battlefield. "Avon. How nice to see you again."

      He should have known. No possible reason for Servalan to know he would be here, so here she was. "Hello, Sleer. News travels fast, I see."

      Servalan smiled, perhaps in acknowledgement at his use of her pseudonym, and gestured dismissively at the guards. "You may go." She waited until they had stepped back, and then returned her attention to him. "Not quite. I was on my way here to report on the policing structures that will need to be put in place if the Federation is to accede to this planet's request to rejoin civilised society. They are very eager to rejoin, and have been quite... co-operative. You can imagine my surprise when I was informed that my first duty would be to deal with the dregs of a group of terrorists who had infiltrated the local law enforcement agency."

      "Your surprise at who the terrorists were must have been even more enchanting."

      "Oh, indeed. I am quite delighted. A large problem has been... eliminated." She walked a little closer to the bench where he sat, out of the line of sight of the guards. "However, it leaves me with a small problem. What to do with you. There are a number of options, and it is my decision. It will be some days before any other judicial authority could get here."

      Another step closer. Not quite close enough for a lunge, but he tensed slightly in anticipation. Another step, Servalan, just one more, and I will have my escape.

      She smiled again. "The guards have instructions not to kill you if you kill me." And as he sank back to the bench, she said, "I know you very well, Avon. Even better than Blake did."

      He couldn't help flinching at that. The pain was too new, too raw. She was right, she did know him, she'd proven that more than once.

      And he knew her. That had not been hurt inflicted simply for its own sake. She was after something. "What do you want from me? A live trophy to present to the President?"

      "Perhaps. I have an offer to discuss, one that you might listen to now that your crew are all dead. Yes, they are, and yes, I will show you the bodies. After we have discussed my offer."

      All dead? Unlikely, not when he was still alive. "Now. Or I will assume that you had them killed." And if they were all dead, then all claims on him were gone. No obligation to remain alive, to do anything anyone else wanted. No last doubts to hold him back if he did get a chance...

      Servalan sighed. "Oh, very well. But I want your word that you will then at least listen to me before doing anything else. It's a simple enough request."

      Puzzled, he said, "Very well, I will listen to you. After I see them. Why tell me about them now, instead of waiting?"

      "It got your attention, and your co-operation, at least temporarily. You won't be quite certain they're dead until you have seen them, and you need to be certain, don't you, Avon? Would you simply accept my word for it?"

      "I was stupid enough to accept your word for it once before." He'd believed her, when she'd told him she'd seen Blake's body burn. She had been so convincing, for all that he knew her to lie as readily as any other politician.

      Her expression clouded. "It wasn't a lie. I believed it to be the truth, and I thought you had the right to know." Then she was the cynical, lying, arrogant politician again. "Someone lied to me. The body looked like Blake, and I believed it. They paid for it."

      "When have you had the time?"

      "Oh, quite recently. He was quite surprised."

      I'm sure he was. Madam President's survival must have surprised a good few by now. Fatally, no doubt. "Very well. Let's get it over with." He stood up, found a small flicker of malicious amusement in the way she hurriedly stepped back. Didn't quite trust her control of him, then. "Oh, don't worry, Commissioner, I usually keep my word. And it's difficult to listen to a corpse." Or for them to listen to you. I'm sorry, Blake.

      

      They were indeed all dead, and the evidence suggested that they'd died in the firefight. Dayna had been shot by a different weapon, but Servalan had an explanation for that, and he was too tired to worry about whether she was telling the truth. It seemed plausible enough, and his own memories were of no use whatsoever. Tarrant had died as much from the wounds inflicted in the crash as from gunshots; neither would have been fatal alone, but together, with no medical treatment... Soolin and Vila had the typical gunshot to the head used by troopers quelling a riot and not looking for live prisoners. Possible, since they were apparently dealing with a rebel base.

      The one body he desperately wanted to see wasn't there.

      "Where is he?"

      "Come with me." Servalan led the way from the makeshift mortuary, through another room with bodies laid out.

      Looking at the clothing, he guessed that these were the people from the base. Perhaps they'd put Blake with these, instead of with the Scorpio crew. Logical, he'd never been part of the Scorpio crew, but it still hurt, another small drop to add to the flood.

      Servalan kept going, through to a corridor. He followed, bewildered. Blake was dead, had to be dead with those wounds, so if he wasn't in the mortuary where was he? Certainly not outside, which was where Servalan was now standing, waiting impatiently for him.

      She motioned away the guards. "He's not dangerous, and you don't have the security classification to listen to my conversations."

      "But ma'am, he's a notorious criminal..." one of the guards started to protest.

      She turned to smile sweetly at the guard, who looked frightened. Very sensible of the man. "This man is of personal interest to the President. He is indeed a notorious criminal. A notorious criminal genius, who has developed technology that would be of enormous benefit to Space Command. Such benefit that even the reports on what he is suspected to have achieved are rated triple A. Are you quite sure you wish to listen to what he has to say by way of plea-bargaining?"

      Unsurprisingly, the man backed away. Avon had encountered the upper levels of the security rating system while working on the Aquitar Project, and could well imagine what obtaining that sort of clearance retroactively might be like for someone who was of no value in themselves. At best it would involve a twenty year posting to somewhere where nobody else ever went.

      Servalan watched until the man had moved well out of earshot, then linked her arm through Avon's. "A short walk, and you will listen. And then I will answer your questions."

      "Blake."

      "In a few minutes. Please try not to look dangerous, dear, you're upsetting the guards. It would be a waste to have to kill them if they tried to interfere."

      He looked at her. She was quite serious. What was going on? "All right, I'll listen."

      Servalan started walking, and he let her lead. "You are too useful an asset to kill, Avon. Oh, a public appearance will be arranged, the people must have their bread and circuses..."

      "...and be shown what happens to those who do not obey."

      "Quite. But you will be working in a research facility, willingly or not. Keep walking."

      His steps had faltered, as he'd realised what they intended. No, the guards wouldn't be allowed to kill him just because he'd killed the Commissioner. He picked up the pace again. "It won't work. The sort of reprogramming that turns someone into a puppet - turns them into a puppet. No original thought. No original work." He thought of Blake, and shivered inside. The firebrand he'd known was nothing like the docile reformed rebel that had once urged everyone to support the administration. Blake had found his mind again, but not everyone was that lucky.

      "It doesn't have to be original. Simply... persuading... you to reproduce what you have already achieved would be of great value to us."

      "And to yourself, as the one with the credit for capturing me."

      "Of course. But it would be an even greater credit to persuade you to return to us voluntarily."

      "Do you really think I'd walk into a jail cell voluntarily, no matter how comfortable it was?" He glanced at her. "You know me better than that, Servalan."

      "You've done it before, for the sake of someone you love."

      God, but she knew how to twist the knife. "And you saw what it got me."

      "Yes." Her hand squeezed his elbow. Sympathy? From Servalan? Wonders would never cease. "But I do have something to offer you."


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