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The Haunting of Haderon

By Lillian Sheperd
Page 3 of 20

Avon winced as he straightened and rubbed an aching shoulder muscle. He looked questioningly at Jenna, who was leaning against the side of a dilapidated sub-beam transceiver, and asked, "Finished?"

      Jenna pushed both hands up through her hair, then shook it back into place. "Yes. Yes, I'm through. Do we have anything more to do?"

      "Just the test runs; the installation's complete. We won't both be needed for the tests. I'll run them. You go back to the Liberator."

      Jenna gave him a look in which astonishment and suspicion were equally mingled. "Why?"

      "You're tired enough to start making mistakes. I'm not, and if I can clear the check list quickly we can speed up our departure from this somewhat unattractive planet."

      Jenna straightened at once. "What makes you think I'm tired?" she demanded.

      'The fact that it took you twenty minutes to install the CK relays when it should have taken you five."

      Jenna glared at him. She knew better than to think that he spoke out of concern for her. He was trying to annoy her, knowing how she hated any hint that she might be at a disadvantage to anyone, mentally, emotionally or physically. It was one of the ways in which they were alike. He had succeeded in annoying her, too, mainly by being right. If she let him see that, she knew, he would have won this round in their personal battle, so, with an effort; she transformed the glare into a smile of cloying sweetness, stifled her instinctive angry retort and, though it took all the willpower she had, said gently, "Why, thank you, Avon. I didn't realise that you worried about me. It's nice to know that you care." She began to think that she was overdoing it, and finished quickly, "I'll leave you to it, then. I wanted to talk to Blake, anyway." She backed hurriedly out of the room, not sure that she could keep a straight face for the time it would take to call Liberator for teleport.

      Avon tapped his fingers on the edge of the detector-communicator control panel. He had the feeling that he had come off rather the worse in this particular exchange. Well, at least Jenna had gone. She was a skilled technician and did not often get in his way, but he had always preferred to work alone.

      Now, he had better finish these tests. He and Jenna had checked each section as it was installed, but that was no guarantee that the detcom would function correctly as a unit.

      He knocked on the main switch with the side of his hand, and watched as the indicators began to register. Well, at least power was flowing to all parts of the system. Detectors on... and there was the large, clear contact that was Liberator in orbit above the planet. Good. He widened the scan.

      Nothing at one LY. He'd try two...

      

      

      

Gan found Vila in the middle of a garden, surrounded by trees, flowers, and an unhappy little group of colonists, who looked somewhat the worse for drink. Vila, on the other hand, looked both happy and sober, though there was a half-full glass containing a pale yellow liquid on the tray-arm of his seat. On the table in front of him was a large heap of Federation credits, Pharion dollars, Janatarian menels and a great deal of miscellaneous coinage that Gan did not recognise. Nor did he recognise the card game that Vila and the colonists were playing, though they appeared to be using the ninety-three card Triaton pack and the game involved half a dozen 'spare' hands placed upwards ln the centre of the table, besides those held concealed by the players. What Gan did recognise was the air of gloom that hung, like the scent of flowers, in the air around the colonists. Anyone who played cards for money with Vila developed it.

      Ducking under a tree branch, Gan stood behind Vila and watched the hand played out, becoming no wiser as to the rules. Surprisingly, Vila didn't win the pot, but he didn't lose anything, either.

      Gan had been sure that Vila could not have noticed him but, as the cards were being replaced in the shuffler, Vila said, "I think I'll give the next few hands a miss. I'd like to have a few words with my friend here."

      A couple of the players suddenly developed ugly expressions. "Getting out while you're still ahead, you mean?" questioned one of them, nastily.

      Vila laughed. "I'll leave my winnings at the bar for safe-keeping, if you like, until I get a chance to extract the rest of your cash."

      This seemed to reassure the colonists. One of them yawned and admitted, "It's about time we all went to bed, anyway. You'd better join us, Vila, if you want to be awake this evening. We had thought of holding a special celebration for you people."

      "With a forty-four hour day, I suppose it's best to sleep at the hottest time," said Gan, who was interested.

      "Right. We have work-shifts from eight to fifteen, then from twenty-nine to thirty-seven hours. It's different during the winter, of course. Then we have to use all the daylight we can get."

      While Langar was making his explanation to Gan, Vila had gathered up his loot and sauntered over to the bar. The card school began to break up, and Gan sat down to wait for Vila. The Olive Tree Bar was unlike any he had ever seen before, but he found it pleasant, even if the cool greenery seemed an odd setting for the card players and it was odd to smell the heavy scents of honeysuckle and rasarium in the air, rather than those of alcohol, betenine and other narcotics. Within a few moments Vila came back, his step jaunty and his grin stretching from ear to ear. "Suckers," he told Gan. Then, "Just be around this evening. The sight of you'll make some of 'em think twice about trying to snatch back their losses."

      Gan had never seen Vila display such self-confidence, and it occurred to him that this bar, despite the flowers, was much more Vila's natural environment than the Liberator or most of the planets they had visited. Suddenly, in a situation he understood in a place that posed no threat to him, he was completely assured.

      "What if they find out you're cheating?" Gan asked, amused.

      "Cheating? With this lot, I don't need to cheat. It's as easy as picking a pin lock." He took up his drink, gulped it down, and pulled a face. "Awful stuff. It'll rot my insides. What're you doing down here anyway, Gan? I didn't think that Blake was going to allow more than three people off the ship at any one time."

      "He isn't. Jenna's back on board. Avon's finishing up by himself. Blake and Cally say that they don't want to explore, so I teleported down. Interesting, is it?"

      "A nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here."

      "I doubt that the locals'll let you, after you get through with them."

      Vila chuckled, "If there were any dancing girls they'd be through to your right, but there aren't. In the evening, we've been threatened by amateur turns. Avoidable, I think. Don't let them palm off any mutal on you; it's a local brew that takes a lifetime to get used to, and even then it isn't worth it."

      "I won't. Aren't you staying, Vila?"

      "I've been sitting here for six hours, on and off, and sitting down for too long can be bad for you, you know. Maybe I'll go and have a word with Avon."

      "Torment him, you mean?"

      "Patience is good for the soul," Vila said gleefully. "At least, it's good for Avon's."

      

      

      


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