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By Judith Proctor
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Day One

Jenna woke me up early. "Blake," she said, "the Tiranans have arrested Avon. I think you should come and see the viscast." So here I am, still doing up the fasteners on my shirt, standing in front of the main screen and trying to work out what has happened to you.

      There's an enormous crowd on that screen. Where did they all come from so quickly? How is it that people always know instinctively when something is going on?

      Avon, you're not as well known here as I am, but they've still flocked out to see you taken. The camera is moving over the heads of the spectators now and I can see you clearly. The vid audiences will be loving this. You won't give them a show though, will you? No expression on your face, no protestations of innocence, no flamboyant gestures, no protests against the handcuffs holding you to the policeman by your side.

      Handcuffed, like a common criminal! When did I stop thinking of you as a criminal, and start thinking of you as a trusted friend? I don't really know.

      How did they take you? It must have been by surprise or you would have teleported back to Liberator. What false charges will they bring against you? It isn't you they want, Avon - it's me. They need to discredit me before the referendum.

      Two weeks I've been here now, making endless vid appearances arguing against Tirana joining the Federation. Endless talk shows. How odd it seems to be sharing the stage with Federation representatives. Yet this is still a neutral world, and here for a while I rub shoulders with them in safety. Now I know why they changed their pattern yesterday. Instead of the usual discussions of trade benefits, cultural freedom, the pros and cons of mutual defence and so forth, they moved to attack us personally. Wasn't it true, asked Holroyd, with a smile, that all my crew were criminals, that they included a murderer, a thief, a smuggler and an embezzler? Even if I denied the charges laid at my own door, did I deny that they were guilty? What could I say? He'd done his homework well, he knew all the details of your crimes.

      Much though I like and value all of you, there are times when I wish fate had landed me with a crew of honest men. Of all of us, only Cally is free of the taint of crime.

      Why do you follow me Avon? If follow is indeed the word to use? Do you share my desire to destroy the Federation, or is it simply that you have no safe place to run to? That's something I can't make up my mind about. In some ways I know you better than you know yourself, and in others not at all. I'd trust you with my life, and I like to think you'd trust me with yours; but I don't always know what motivates you.

      They will seek to destroy the work I have done over the last fortnight by pinning some crime on you. It hardly matters what, although I imagine it will be something appropriate. Will you understand when I don't rescue you? To teleport in and seize you from their grasp would merely confirm to them that you are guilty. The referendum is only a few days away - for the Federation to profit most by your capture, they need you to be brought to trial and proved guilty before then. Publicity is what they seek, to sway the electorate, to convince them that those who oppose the Federation are simply a load of thieves out for whatever they can get. The only way for this battle to be won, is for you to prove yourself innocent in court. You're an innocent man, Avon, and you're smart, surely you can win the fight some way.

      I promise you Avon, if they find you guilty, I'll come and get you out of there. I won't leave you to rot in one of their jails, no matter how well they guard you.



Day 2

That's a very good case they are making against you, Avon. Very good. In fact I'm almost beginning to believe it myself. These witnesses are local people, not Federation, and they paint a pretty damning picture. Do you know, that if I was asked, I couldn't give you an alibi for one single moment of the time that they claim you were breaking into their computer system.

      I've been so busy that last two weeks that I hadn't really thought about what you were doing. Jenna and Cally were helping me with the vid appearances. I couldn't imagine you standing on a soap box to preach about the evils of the Federation, and I was right about that. The only time they approached you for a comment, you referred them to me, saying that I was the political one. What have you been doing with your time, Avon?

      What have you been doing?

      Were you breaking into their banking system? The experts called say it is very like that of the Federation. All these major systems have to be able to interface with each other to make inter-planetary money transfers possible.

      I know how much you value money. It's your security and your freedom. Did you want a fortune so that you could leave me? I don't think you'd take the money on the Liberator if you left. You have your own sense of honour, even if it isn't the same as anyone else's.

      Why aren't you defending yourself? They are producing endless witnesses and items of proof. You haven't denied any of it! You appear to have left a trail through their systems that a school child couldn't have missed. Actually, that's the only thing that still makes me doubt. You're good - very good. Would you really have left that much evidence behind you?

      Then, on the other hand, it was a strange system and you only had a couple of weeks to plan and execute the entire crime.

      Your accomplice: the man who gained you access to the financial computers. His evidence is the worst of all. He's convincing, Avon, extremely convincing. They don't work on people's minds here the way that the Federation do. Either he's telling the truth or he's a very good liar. Why don't you deny him?

      Guilty! You pleaded guilty? I don't understand it. Avon, how can you do this to me! I believed in you. I'd really come to believe in you. Does crime still draw you so strongly? Doesn't your life with us give you enough challenge? Is money really so important that you'd let me down like this.

      Damn you, Avon!

      I don't know what to do now. The defence gets to speak tomorrow - your plea has saved the prosecution days of work. All the defence can do now is to try and find reasons to plead for a minimum sentence. What do I do then?

      You deserve to be left here! Certainly I need you - your skills are invaluable; but can I trust you again? Did you plan your crime in the safety of the knowledge that I'd rescue you because I couldn't manage without you? Don't bank too much on it, Avon. I might just leave you here. Your greed got you into this mess, maybe I should let you get yourself out of it.

      I need your abilities. But even more than that, I need people who care for something beyond themselves, and you demonstrably don't.

      Avon, I thought you were my friend.



Day 3 They're all here, like vultures hovering around a corpse. I managed to get a seat in the court room today. I really don't know why I bothered. It's terribly hot in here and the vid crews will have a field day with me afterwards. I could have seen the whole thing in far more comfort watching Zen's relay of the broadcast with the others.

      I suppose I couldn't leave you to face the verdict alone. Whatever you've done here, I still owe you my life several times over. Do you realise that I may not be able to help you, even if I want to? They must know the limits of our capabilities from the Federation. I tried to teleport into the prison area last night to see if they would let me speak to you. It's shielded.

      I know you've seen me, I saw you glance my way just now. You're as impassive as always, but I know you better than the others here do. You're too confident. What have you got up your sleeve, Avon?

      So that's what you were waiting for - the defendant's right of statement.

      When did you take time to study the local law? The Federation has no equivalent of that particular right. Still, I guess if you're planning a crime, it makes sense to know what to do if you're caught.

      You want to cross link the legal computers to the financial ones? I expect half the people here didn't even know that was possible. They're arguing as to whether to allow that. I think they're afraid you'll find some way to steal money out from under their noses. You've got that glint in your eye. Are you so sure that you're going to get your own way, or have you got a back up plan if they don't agree?

      They've decided to allow the link up, albeit on the proviso that an expert vets the program first. What it is to have a reputation.

      Well, at least they're efficient. It only took the court clerk ten minutes to locate an expert on the legal computer system. She probably works in the same building. The woman is obviously known to the judge. He gives her a nod as she goes over to talk to you. The two of you converse rapidly for a while, then she goes over to the terminal and starts inputting a long list of instructions that you're giving her. I don't think the judge has the faintest idea what is being done. I'm not getting much of it either, although there's obviously some file retrievals in there somewhere.

      Ah! There's the data on the overhead viewer now. What has this to do with you stealing money from their bank? This is a set of extracts from individual bank accounts. Hang on, I recognise some of those names...

      Avon! You schemer! Now I know why you're grinning all over your face.

      Whether you get convicted or not, you're going to take half the government of this world with you. Some of those payments are massive, and it is pretty obvious where they came from. The Federation didn't cover its tracks very well when making those bribes. All the payments come from companies within Federation boundaries.

      Is the data genuine? Probably. I don't think you'd dare to fake something that couldn't survive careful investigation, and this is going to be investigated by just about everyone on Tirana.

      Now you're telling them that you were approached with a scheme for a swindle by a man who knew your expertise with financial systems. You accepted although you suspected a trap, because it gave you full access to the banking computers which would allow you to check on some points you wanted to investigate. You made some obvious moves towards a fraud that could be easily spotted so that your accomplice would not suspect what you were really doing. You suspect your "accomplice" is in the pay of the Federation. You suggest that it might be rewarding to see if there are any recent payments to his account.

      The woman at the terminal glances your way. You pass her a note. She checks it briefly, enters something into the machine, and a new set of data appears on the big viewer.

      Surprise, surprise, the man won a major prize yesterday on the national lottery. That seems to be the clincher. Everyone is behind you now.

      You've moved from villain to hero in less than twenty minutes and probably scuppered the Federation takeover of this world to boot. Needless to say the jury are going to vote for your immediate release.



Day 4

The referendum failed. Tirana will remain an independent world. Not really a surprise.

      Nice to have you back on board, Avon, but there's just one little thing that bothers me. That lottery prize. The Federation were very prompt about keeping their end of the deal - they didn't even wait until you were convicted. That's not like them. I query you about the prize, asking if you think you'd have got off so easily without that evidence that you were being framed all along. You smile, the skin around your eyes crinkling as it does on those rare occasions when you feel really pleased about something.

      "There was never any doubt that he'd get paid," you say, and I watch you return to your investigations of a fault in the rear detectors.

      You set him up didn't you, Avon? You arranged for your accomplice to win the lottery prize. Your insurance in case the Federation double crossed him.

      What I want to know is who won the main prize in that lottery? A prize that coincidentally would have been been worthless to an outlaw, had Tirana voted to join the Federation...

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Judith Proctor

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