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"Blake" novelization

By Ewen Campion-Clarke
Page 2 of 14

He had always found it amazing that a simple chemical reaction could swallow up a man's mind for hours on end. A small fire could draw attention quicker and with more subtlety than the Federation's 'political rehabilitation' techniques. The thought was an unpleasant one, and, ironically enough, prompted him to tear his mind from the dancing, flickering flames that made up his campfire.

Light was fading between the mighty trees as the sun set. The crackle and spark of the fire was the only noise he could hear over the strong, howling breeze. The eerie moan seemed almost supernatural - a permanent background to the marshy forest plantations. Then, another noise penetrated the damp air.

His head snapped up, looking across the clearing. Beyond the long reeds of grass, there were just more tree trunks and the misty horizon. No sign of any movement at all. The noise could have simply been natural, one of the native animals foraging for food in the undergrowth - like the animal on his homemade spit, for instance...

The thought drew him back to his meal. Reaching out, he picked up the roasting animal and adjusted the angle to cook better. He inhaled deeply, enjoying the natural smells of the cooking fat. Odd to think that, to his peers, he must have sunk pretty low to manually create food, let alone master the art and enjoy it.

Of course, none of his peers would have survived this long on the planet he now lived on.

That noise again.

Checking his meal one last time, the burly man eased himself upright and moved towards the tree trunk directly behind him. He leant against and turned his head of unruly curls to face the western side of the clearing where most of the diminishing sunlight originated. He spoke loudly and clearly over the moan of the wind.

'Whoever you are, I'll share the food,' he offered, 'so long as you stop skulking about out there.'

He heard the noise - twigs breaking under careless footsteps, he now knew - and smirked slightly. 'You're not exactly stealthy, are you?' he chuckled. 'I've heard quieter troop transporters.'

Then, an emotionless female voice was carried over the wind, surprisingly close to him. 'You're looking in the wrong direction,' it told him.

'I know,' he agreed, watching the sunset. 'But at least you're out in the open now, aren't you?' he concluded with a knowing smile, turning his head to watch as the owner of the calm voice bounded out of the shadows and into the clearing towards him.

She was in her early twenties with close-cropped dark hair and sullen features. While not really ugly, it was as though she had sneered one day and never really recovered from it. She wore a brown and cream tunic and grubby combat boots, her appearance having suffered from living rough for at least a week.

However, his attention was understandably drawn to the Federation side-arm gripped in her hands.

'If this is a trap,' she was saying, 'you won't live to see it sprung!'

His focus remained on her weapon. 'Where did you get that gun?' he asked, ignoring her threat.

'I won it in a lottery,' snarled the woman sarcastically. Her features softened slightly in curiosity. 'What do you care?'

'I don't,' he replied quietly. 'So long as it wasn't issued to you.'

The woman was staring him right in the face, refusing to let her guard down. 'It's Federation,' she agreed.

'That's what I mean.'

They both understood what he meant. While the woods were populated with criminals of all-sorts, many more were bounty hunters - some pretending to be criminals themselves in order to get better catches. His concern meant that he was wary of such people, and, thus, was as much a fugitive as the woman. She frowned, as though insulted by the suggestion. 'Do I look like one of theirs?' she demanded.

He sighed, hauling himself upright and moving himself over to the campfire. 'I can't really tell anymore,' he murmured, as much to himself as the woman. He crouched down beside the spit and examined the roasted animal, before glancing back up at the woman, who had continued to aim her side-arm at him all the time.

'You hungry?' he asked idly.

'Yes,' the woman replied quietly, as though ashamed.

'So am I,' the man announced and, with a flick of his wrist, was suddenly holding a small but very sharp knife. The woman tensed and gripped her gun tighter, knowing that with his reflexes, the man could had incapacitated her easily. Instead, he held out the knife, his cruel, scarred face expressionless - almost demonic, lit by the flickering glow of the campfire. Then, he suddenly relented and, removing the spit, began to carve away the outer flesh.

As night drew in, the odd duo began their meal.

#

Everyone faced Avon in stunned silence. Dayna was the first one to find her voice. 'But Servalan told us he was dead!'

'And you believed her?' Avon replied, turned away from her.

'Well, she had no reason to lie,' Dayna pointed.

But she did have reason, Avon thought. She had wanted to hurt him, to destroy what little he had left on Terminal. But he didn't tell that to Dayna, she wouldn't have understood. 'She doesn't need one,' he said out loud. 'It comes quite naturally to her, like breathing.'

'The last time you went after Blake,' Tarrant lashed out in the same sarcastic tone Avon had used, 'it was a trap. We were lucky to get out.'

'Cally didn't get out,' Vila reminded them, a hint of sadness in his voice.

'And Blake wasn't even there,' Dayna continued, her chin raised.

'Never had been,' Vila concluded flatly.

Avon rounded on them all. 'Do you take me for a fool?'

Cutting off the argument, Soolin interjected, 'Only a fool would go to Gauda Prime without a very good reason.'

With his right hand, their leader slipped the control key into place. 'Orac,' he rapped out, 'what proof do we have that Blake is on Gauda Prime?'

'That is where his trail ends,' replied the computer, authoritatively.

The little machine had everyone's attention. 'What trail?' Tarrant demanded. 'Explain!'

'The chain of cause and effect amounts to a trail, if you can follow it,' Orac answered enigmatically.

Vila frowned. 'I can't even follow you,' he complained.

Orac ignored Vila, just like everyone else. 'Everything has an effect on everything else around it. It is not easy to trace one line through the pattern of infinity, but in this case, I have. Blake is on Gauda Prime!'

Tarrant narrowed his eyes. 'How long have you known?' he asked.

Avon smiled. 'Long enough.'

Dayna's eyes grew wide at the implication. 'Before Zukan?'

He looked her in the eye. 'Oh, yes. And the answer to your next question is 'yes'. I would have left Blake where he was and said nothing - if things had gone according to plan.' And he would have. If things had gone as planned, Blake would have come to him. That was always part of the original alliance, to draw Blake out. The vaccine against Pylene-50 would have assured it.

'Oh, I must try and work that into the conversation when we meet him,' Tarrant said with mock casualness.

'If we meet him,' Vila grunted, skeptical as ever.

Soolin gave him a look. 'Still not convinced?' she asked.

'You tell me what a line through the pattern of infinity is,' the little thief retorted, 'and I'll tell you whether I'm convinced or not.'

#

The cold, damp woodlands were not the most comfortable of environments, and the warmth from the fire and the delicious - if unhygienic - meal had relaxed the two fugitives as much as could be expected. As a matter of policy, they gave little details of each other's identities or crimes, forcing them to resort to discussions of the weather and such mundane niceties in order to have a conversation.

However, partially in return for his help, the woman had explained she was, in fact, Ex-Federation - a former trooper who had fled the service due to 'a difference of opinion' and had fled to Gauda Prime in the vain hope of going to ground long enough to get past the rimworld frontier. Instead, she had found the place swarming with bounty hunters and she was certain that she was being followed by a couple of men from the ugly steel shack of a tavern on the other side of the plantation.

The man - who, she had discovered, had a similar story but had been lucky enough to cover his tracks before the purges had begun - chewed on some gristle thoughtfully, considering her story. 'You sure they were bounty hunters?'

The woman snorted at the question, fingering the limb bones of the animal they had eaten. 'Well, it's not my irresistible charm that keeps them coming,' she joked weakly, the gallows humor being the closest thing to cheer she had experienced for weeks.

'How long have they been tracking you?' the scarred man asked idly.

The woman's expression darkened. 'Long enough,' she said cautiously. 'You ask a lot of questions,' she observed.

The man shrugged through his filthy, sleeveless leather coat. 'Try answering one occasionally,' he suggested through a mouthful of food, 'maybe I'll stop.'

His companion shook her head slightly. 'I've got a better idea,' she muttered, rising to her feet. As she did so, she pulled the small but deadly energy pistol from her dusty boot. 'Thanks for the food,' she said coolly, and nudged her other weapon, which lay beside the campfire. 'You can keep the Federation gun as payment,' she continued.

The man didn't seem surprised or even interested at her action. 'There's no charge,' he grunted.

The woman's eyes narrowed. 'Arlen pays her debts!' she snapped, as though reciting a credo. Immediately, her face coloured - she had unintentionally revealed who she was. However, on the positive note, the couple were unlikely to meet each other again.

The man looked up at her. His left eyelid drooped, ruining any expression he might try to make. When he spoke, his voice was similarly devoid of emotion. 'I'll keep the gun,' he said bluntly.

Arlen nodded and slowly backed away from the campfire, her pistol aimed the relaxed fugitive. She soon reached the edge of the clearing, and the man had made no move, as though he had turned to stone.

And it was probably his inaction that saved her life.

Her senses, straining to detect the slightest act of treachery, instantly detected the creaking of branches from above her.

She whirled around, gun raised as something - or rather, someone - dropped from the canopy overhead to land on their feet in front of her. Arlen caught a glimpse of a tanned, grubby youth in white furs, clutching a wicked knife. He grinned a deranged smile and lunged at her.

Narrowing her eyes, Arlen pulled the trigger. The barrel exploded in a vomit of sparks and the roar of the gunshot rolled and echoed in the clearing as the insane-looking hunter dropped onto the bracken, quite dead.

However, two shapes were already racing through misty marsh towards her. She recognized the silhouettes as the figures who had followed her from the tavern - a grey-haired, gangly man in monochrome clothing and a short, squat character with piggy little eyes and a razor-cut head. Both carried long plasma rifles and weren't afraid to use them.

Arlen raised her gun and pulled the trigger. Struck in the chest, the first bounty hunter convulsed and fell, firing his rifle into the treetops as he crashed into the undergrowth, as dead as his fellow.

However, the impact disturbed the foggy air and, for a moment, the third bounty hunter was lost from sight. The pudgy killer had fallen to one knee and was training his rifle through the misty breeze at the murderer of his companions.

Grinning happily, the bounty hunter fired.

Arlen's knee vanished in a soggy red explosion, and she let out a strangled howl as the pain overloaded her mind for a split-second and, flickering in and out of consciousness, she spun and crashed into the damp soil. Gasping in agony, she realized she had dropped her pistol - it was five centimetres from her outstretched hand.

Just...

...out...

...of...

...reach...

She grimaced and reached out, her fingers just brushing the handgrip.

Already she could hear the unhurried, relaxed footsteps approaching her as the third, triumphant bounty hunter moved in to gloat on his prize. Craning her head with difficulty, she turned her gaze to see the bloated form of her pursuer as he aimed his rifle at her prone form, giggling all the while.

Instinctively, Arlen screwed her eyes shut.

The gunshot that followed was the loudest thing Arlen had ever heard...

...followed by a dull thud of a body hitting the ground beside her. Shaken, she cracked open her eyes to see that the bounty hunter was sprawled in front of her, a telltale wisp of smoke rising from his chest. A shadow fell over both their supine forms and Arlen looked up to see the scarred man holding her former side-arm.

The barrel was smoking.

Arlen felt a wave of relief flow over her as the man stared expressionlessly down at the human being he had just slaughtered. He probably needed to snap out of his daze before he too joined the ranks of the dead. 'Give me my gun,' Arlen hissed, 'and get down, quick.'

The man turned to look down at her, one eyebrow arched slightly.

Arlen cursed, annoyed at his lack of concern. 'I think there were four of them tracking me!'

'There were,' the man agreed. 'And then there was one.'

Arlen realized the side-arm was now aimed at her head.

'You scum!' she snarled, shocked and disgusted. The man had been a traitor all along - acting as a fugitive to lull her into a false sense of security until the other three caught her unawares. Worse, when it seemed the prize could be split between the two hunters, he had ruthlessly murdered his fellow.

'Don't bother calling me names, girl,' grunted the man, though he didn't seem bothered by her opinion. 'Not after the killing you've done.' He turned and surveyed the three corpses thoughtfully.

Taking her chance, Arlen reached out and all but grabbed her pistol when the man's boot landed beside the barrel. Arlen glared at the cold, impassive face and looked down at her gun. The boot casually knocked the gun and the pistol somersaulted across the clearing into the gathering gloom.

'There's a premium for bringing you back alive, but I'll kill you if I have to,' explained the man conversationally. 'The price for you dead isn't bad, but I'm not a greedy man.'

The man's gaze turned to the bounty hunter he'd just shot and he frowned slightly, as though considering his options.

Arlen stared at the gun which might end her life at any moment, and shivered.

#


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Ewen Campion-Clarke

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