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"Blake" novelization

By Ewen Campion-Clarke
Page 1 of 14

The only person in the wrecked base was Avon, dressed in his usual black leather ensemble. It seemed to fit the mood better than his surface suit. He stood in the darkened remnants of the communications room, placing the last in a sequence of charges to the main support strut. Orac sat on the inert console, switched off. Avon had managed to replace some of the wrecked circuitry, so Orac was running normally once again, but there was still damage to his personality protocols. Still, that could be dealt with later.

Avon activated the final charge, rose and crossed to Orac, slapping the Perspex key into the slot on Orac's top face. There was a crackle and then a low whirring noise as the computer activated. 'Orac?' Avon called.

'Well? What is it?' demanded the computer, waspish as ever. Maybe even more so. But it functioned enough for his purposes, and so he did not waste time inquiring about the computer's current state.

'As soon as we're aboard Scorpio,' he ordered, 'program Gauda Prime's co-ordinates into the Slave computer. Do not use verbal commands. I don't want an argument with the rest of the crew about our destination. Not yet anyway.'

'As you wish,' replied Orac. 'I shall use direct sensory link. Is there anything else?'

Avon considered what he would have liked Orac to answer and settled on one question.

'Are you sure that Blake is still on Gauda Prime?'

'I am,' replied the computer primly. 'That is Blake's present location. There has only been one occasion in the last two years when he has left the planet. That was some eight months ago. Apparently, he was investigating the possibility...'

Typically, Orac was giving more information than was requested. 'That's enough information Orac,' growled Avon menacingly, and took hold of the computer, lifting it off the console. Almost out of habit he moved towards the place where the teleport terminal had been, then remembered. Balancing Orac with one hand, he raised his teleport bracelet to his mouth and spoke. 'Dayna, teleport. Now!'

Dayna's voice crackled over the tiny speaker. 'Stand by.'

Suddenly, Avon dissolved into a shimmering green field of static, a bleached-out silhouette that hovered where he had been before breaking up and dissipating altogether. The base was now deserted, and sank into darkness. But this pause was only temporary. The storm was imminent.

#

At that second, the spinning curtain of light retreated into the ceiling of Scorpio's flight deck. The lights returned to their former brightness, leaving Avon and Orac standing in the transmission area. Avon crossed to a podium and placed Orac on it, tying it into place with velcro-straps. There might be a chance to complete his repairs to Orac while in flight, and to do that the computer had to be held in place. 'Slave?' he called over his shoulder.

'Yes, illustrious Master?' whirred the master computer.

'Have all the charges been primed?'

'All the charges have been set and primed with consummate skill master, for which you have my heartiest congratulations. The total destruction of the Xenon Base complex is assured. All that is awaited is your command.'

'Thank you, Slave,' said Avon and passed his crew to sit down beside Dayna and Vila, while Soolin had elected to sit beside Tarrant. The pilot was checking the controls as though there was nothing else in the universe. Perhaps there wasn't, any more. Avon dismissed the matter and looked up at Slave. 'When Scorpio is clear of Xenon's orbit, activate charge sequence,' he ordered.

'Yes, Master,' replied Slave. 'It is always an honor to serve.'

Avon sighed, suddenly feeling very, very old. 'Tarrant,' he said, 'get us out of here.'

Tarrant didn't respond, merely flipped the final controls before him. The low whining of the engines began and grew louder and louder. 'All main drives and boosters running,' he announced coldly.

Looking around, Avon saw they were all weary. The hasty retreat had pushed their endurance to the limits. But there was no choice now. Leaving was the only option, unless they wanted to die. And the future was going to be anything but a relief from their troubles. Time to set new limits.

Avon watched as they obeyed him, no questions, no protests. He repressed a sigh. Being the leader of a rebel group was not how he had envisioned the course of his life. He pushed that thought aside. Time and again, he had reviewed the choices he had made, and, with little exception, he would have done the same.

Taking their flight stations, they went through the process of liftoff with practiced ease. The understanding that this would be the last time hung in the air, unspoken. The craft shook as it left the launch pad, heading for the well concealed crack in the rock face. Xenon base had been expertly camouflaged, a haven for the five rebels. Now they would be out in the open, with no place to run, or hide.

It was time for a change.

#

The massive platform lift, thankfully undamaged from Zukan's sabotage, lifted the freighter up towards the surface. As it steadied by the hangar opening, Scorpio was rising upwards off the platform. It slipped through and out into the canyon, the engines increased their effort and slowly, the ship rose up into the atmosphere.

#

Behind them, the base sat and waited.

It was centuries old, created by the indigenous races of Xenon before a devastating war had reverted them to savagery. It had been painstakingly adapted by an immortal madman for over two hundred years. It had existed through some of the most turbulent times in the galaxy's history.

And now, bit by bit, piece by piece, it was being destroyed.

The outer complex that encircled the landing silo was systematically destroyed by a chain of blinding explosions and deafening roars. The massive platform lift was wrecked, overbalancing as it struggled to retract back into the rock as per normal. It struck the ruins of the base, and a new chain of explosions obliterated them all.

The prolonged storm of explosive chaos finally died away, a funeral pyre to a millennium of history and death. Rubble flowed down, burying the wreckage even as it was destroyed again. The final symptom of this planned catastrophe was as smoke and debris billowed from the cliff-side entry portal, before even that caved in.

Lights flickered and danced in the atmosphere for a while, before fading altogether.

By that time, Scorpio was a very long way away.

#

Slave's mechanical voice spoke from across the room. 'All explosive devices have functioned correctly, Master. The base complex has been totally destroyed.' It somehow managed to sound apologetic.

'Thank you, Slave,' Avon replied, without emotion.

'I never liked that place anyway,' Vila muttered.

Soolin gave him the sidelong look that she was so good at. 'Especially not once the wine ran out,' she added pointedly.

Ignoring the by-play, Dayna looked at Avon, 'You know, I still don't think Zukan told the Federation.'

'About the wine?' Vila sounded confused.

Dayna rolled her eyes. 'About the location of the base.'

Avon opened his mouth to answer, but Tarrant cut him off. 'Why not? Wouldn't you expect someone who'd betray his own daughter to betray everything else?' He didn't try to conceal his bitterness.

Ignoring Tarrant, Avon turned to Dayna, 'And if he didn't, one of the others will, sooner or later.'

'Sooner, definitely,' Soolin agreed, ending that part of the discussion. 'Your anti-Federation alliance wasn't worth spit without Zukan.' Her tone practically accused him of being responsible for Zukan's actions.

Avon knew it wouldn't take too long for the conversation to turn to this. 'A slight exaggeration,' was all he said.

Soolin's eyes met his, challenging. 'You think so?'

A slight, humorless smile crossed his face. 'Nobody is indispensable,' he said softly.

'You needed a figurehead,' Soolin reminded him. 'He was it. Or am I wrong?'

Soolin was bright, probably the smartest one here, save Avon himself. He had to admire her for having understood his underlying reasons for contacting Zukan. 'You are right,' he gave her a favorable look. 'But then figureheads aren't too difficult to come by. Any idiot can be one,' he added.

A smirk crossed Dayna's face. 'Heh,' she half laughed, 'On your feet, Vila. This could be your big moment.'

'Any idiot within reason, that is,' Avon clarified, cutting off Vila's attempt at a witty response.

Not in the mood for humor or subtlety, Tarrant asked what they all wanted to know. 'You going to tell us what we've got planned, Avon?'

'We know what we've got planned.' Vila's voice had an edge of fear in it. 'Running away is what we've got planned.'

Dayna rolled her eyes again 'A strategic withdrawal is what we've got planned,' she corrected him.

'There's a difference?' he asked without humor. He knew they were in real trouble, and never liked to sugar coat danger, especially when he felt personally threatened.

Tarrant wanted an answer from Avon, but couldn't resist making the comment, 'Oh, yes. A strategic withdrawal is running away, but with dignity.'

Vila waved his hands at the panel in from of Tarrant. 'So lay in a course and let's get the dignified hell out of here!'

Tarrant asked the other question on his mind. 'That isn't the plan anymore, though, is it Avon?'

While the conversation had been going on, Avon had stood, silently, thinking. They had spent the better part of the last year and a half keeping low, venturing out only when necessary. It was the discovery of Pylene-50 and its terrifying effects that made Avon realize that the Federation had a weapon which threatened to eliminate all resistance on every world. Soon, far too soon, no place would be safe. He had seen first hand how the drug made passive zombies out of the most zealous of resistors. He had vowed that that would not be his fate.

But the isolation on Xenon base had cost them. They had no real allies, no one to back them. He had conceived of the plan to put Zukan together with the other free world leaders. It was tenuous at best. And their had always been the danger that, once they knew the formula for the vaccine, he would be of little use to them.

Now, with the alliance in ruins, the loss of the base and the Federation knowing they were on the run, they needed allies, quickly. The fact was, they had only one good option open to them. And from what Orac had told him, even that option was risky. He looked at them all. It was time.

'I think we can do better.'

'Does that mean safer?' Vila asked hopefully.

How long had it been since any of them had really been safe? Avon wondered. 'In the end,' he told Vila plainly, 'winning is the only safety.'

Vila's face fell. 'It doesn't mean safer,' he muttered. 'I didn't think it would.'

Tired of Avon's evasiveness, Tarrant looked at him hard. 'So what does it mean?'

'It means I think we can find ourselves another figurehead, someone we can use to unify and expand the Rebel Alliance,' he said.

'Just like that,' Soolin said drolly. She wasn't totally surprised at this course of action - whatever course the conference had taken Avon had planned to abandon Xenon base.

Avon smiled. He appreciated Soolin's attitude, so like his own. 'More or less. He is strongly identified with rebels, you see, and very popular with rabbles.' His tone went from conviction to irony. 'They will follow him, and he will fight to the last drop of their blood.' That is what he hoped, at least. 'Idealism is a wonderful thing,' he mocked. 'All you really need is someone rational to put it to proper use.'

Dayna crossed her arms at this last statement. Avon was insufferable, sometimes. 'Someone like you?' It was a statement, not a question. Avon just kept smiling.

Having finally gotten the answer to his question, Tarrant sighed. 'So where do we find this... useable idealist?'

Looking over at the box on the stand, he told them, 'According to Orac, he is on a frontier planet called Gauda Prime.'

Soolin flinched, which was very unlike her. 'Gauda Prime?'

Her reaction had not gone unnoticed. 'You know it?' Tarrant asked.

Recovering her composure, she nodded. 'Yes, I know it. It's a bad place to be.' She looked at Avon. 'No self-respecting idealist would be found dead there.'

Raising his eyebrows, Avon took a different meaning to her words. 'I imagine that is what he is trying to avoid: being found dead anywhere.'

'Look, are you going to stop playing games and tell us who it is, Avon?' Tarrant snapped, his patience at the limit.

In one of his rare moments, Vila understood clearly what Avon had been leading them up to. With a bit of awe in his voice, Vila answered for Avon. 'It's Blake, isn't it? You think you've found Blake.'

Everyone faced Avon in stunned silence. Avon turned away from them, and smiled. #


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Ewen Campion-Clarke

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