Sail AwayBy Louise Watson-Carver
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"Avon, I think you'd better get down here. There's someone on the line you won't want to miss." Vila's voice, cheery and confiding, echoed through Avon's spartan living space. Irritating as always, it startled Avon out of an uneasy revery not quite sleep. "You'll be glad you came."
Avon pushed himself up out of his chair and strode over to the com-panel. "Ecstatic. I'm always glad to hear what passes for humour from you, Vila," he snapped. "Now what is it?"
There was a pause, then Vila answered seriously, the bantering tone gone from his voice. "We're picking up communications from Taymar, extreme range...."
"I'm on my way."
Avon whirled away from the panel and snatched up his long overtunic from the floor. Settling it over his shoulders, he slapped the door controls and was out into the corridor before the door-panel had finished opening. Avon wasn't quite running when he hit the corridor, but his tunic was billowing out behind him, his sharp face was tight and his jaw set.
Taymar Merric, formerly of the Terran Federation space fleet, formerly of that band of blundering idiots Blake had laughably called a crew, and presently missing. Missing since breaking the Federation blockade at Casilon to let the long-destroyed Liberator's sister-ship Renegade through. They'd left her behind; there'd been no chance for a rendez-vous, not when they were running for their lives... and besides, Avon thought reflexively, no-one is indispensable. Not even our best pilot.
Taymar was an exceptional pilot; that was one of the reasons her continued absence had been a matter of concern. Five days, a week, possibly, to lose the pursuit ships and return to Xanadu Base... but this is our first contact with her in twelve days. And the price on her head is higher than anybody else's--except, of course, mine. Avon grinned mirthlessly. Certainly, if the size of the bounties were anything to judge by, he and his team were causing the Federation a great deal of distress. And intend to cause a great deal more.
The command center was between-shifts quiet; only Vila and Rana, the Team's green-eyed shock trooper, were on station. Vila was hunched protectively over his console when Avon swept in. He stood over Vila, who craned his head back to look up at Avon and grinned tentatively. "Get me a link," Avon said without preamble.
"Ah, that's a no-go, I'm afraid," said Vila apologetically. "It's one-way. We can hear her, but she can't hear us."
"Then let me hear her," Avon snapped, biting the words off even more sharply than usual.
Over by the archive computers, Rana watched Avon narrowly. There was a hint of amusement as she listened to Vila's exchange with Team Xanadu's de facto commander. Rana hid a smile; she always enjoyed seeing Avon frustrated, even when it was only in something small. "This is real-time," Vila was explaining, "and there's a lot of interference. She's using burst-transmission. I've got the earlier stuff on tape if you want it."
"Yes, later. Now shut up." The inset speakers on Vila's console hummed to life and a woman's voice, low and bitterly amused, filled the room.
Not sure if you got that, Xanadu, this neighborhood's pretty damn noisy... has to be, or I wouldn't risk transmitting. The pursuit ships seem to have lost me for now. I'm flattered they were so persistent. But that's Federation military for you, what they lack in class, they make up for in tenacity. Rather like V.D.
"Well, I wouldn't worry about her, Avon; she sounds fine to me." Vila leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. "Just her usual charming self."
"Be quiet, you moron," Avon snapped.
Vila blinked, taken aback. "You know what your problem is, Avon?" he said sagely. "You're too tense, you need to get out more, relax.... Hey!" He broke off with an outraged yell as Avon leaned over and grabbed him by the collar and the belt and tossed him unceremoniously out of the chair. Vila landed on the floor with a grunt and sat up, rubbing his elbow. "I don't know what's wrong with you today, Avon," he said reproachfully. "D'you have extra kitten with breakfast or something?"
"Or something," Avon replied, sliding into Vila's recently-vacated seat.
"I like that," Vila grumbled, climbing slowly to his feet. "Not so much as a 'thank-you, Vila', or 'good job, Vila, here's a bonus'.... Come to think of it, I'm not getting paid for this, am I?" Still muttering, he staggered over to a corner cabinet a poured himself a beaker of something green and effervescent. Avon ignored him, his hands busy on the controls, frowning a little as thoughts of Gan suddenly intruded. The big man had handled communications back on the Liberator, his huge hands always surprisingly deft on the controls. Avon had seen him at work in the background dozens of times. Calm. Imperturbable. Gan. You're dead, you died trying to hold back an avalanche... fool. Why are you here now? Omens are for the credulous and the superstitious, and I am neither.
Another adjustment and Taymar's voice rang out as frequencies abruptly matched again. Damn! How the hell did-- two of those bastard pursuit ships are turning back. No idea how they picked me up through all the stellar squeal. They're closing fast--I couldn't outrun them last time and engine power's down to forty-three percent now....
Avon leaned forward in the chair, shoulders tensed and face set, making a rapid series of minute adjustments to keep the signal from drifting. Rana came up quietly behind him and stood watching for a moment before she spoke.
"There are five pursuit ships. They picked her up about two hours ago," she said laconically. "System's called Leda 1017. It's nowhere near us."
"And?" Avon snapped without looking up.
Rana shook back her hip-length grey hair and rested one hand on the back of Avon's chair. "She'd already taken damage from that thing at Casilon. She's still losing power. Malavocca's an unstable starfield, so Taymar's trying to hide in the hash it puts out. It's not working." From behind him, Rana watched Avon carefully, a half smile on her lips.
"I want Renegade diverted and I want it now. We're going after her." Avon started to rise, his brown eyes dark and angry, but a burst of static from the comm stopped him. *Hzzzzzsssst*...cuddle up to the big boy on the block. Let's see if they can follow me into that. Good luck, you drones; the Long-Awaited Friend's still got maneuverability on you even with her engines slagged. And we can get a lot closer than you can....
"The 'big boy' is the local black hole," Rana informed Avon.. "And even if Renegade was already under way, we couldn't reach her in time. Leda 1017 is on the extreme edge of our range, even at standard by twelve."
Avon spun his chair around, dislodging Rana's hand. "Why don't you go and do something useful, Rana? I can manage without your observations," he snarled.
Rana was a couple of centimetres taller than Avon, but she still took an involuntary step backwards before she caught herself. "What's wrong with you, Avon?" she demanded furiously. "What happened to your oft-repeated assertion that nobody's indispensable?"
"No-one is," Avon said, smiling tightly. "And some of us are becoming less so all the time."
Vila wandered back towards the other two, a drink in his hand. Though he looked worried, he kept his tone light. "Don't worry about it, Rana," Vila said reassuringly. "He's always threatening to kill me, too; hasn't yet."
"There's a first time for everything," Avon muttered, turning back to the console. Rana raised her eyebrows, the same ashy blue-grey as her hair, and gave Vila a smirk.
"Avon's a little anxious. He hates to lose valuable resources," she said.
Vila's eyes widened in alarm and he made frantic hushing motions. Rana stared at Vila, amused and scornful, as he caught her arm and tried desperately to pull her away from Avon. "Rana, please," he hissed. Rana shrugged and let herself be pulled.
"Look, Avon's a bit protective of Taymar. I mean, I am too, not that anyone'd notice," Vila began earnestly. "She and Avon and I--we're the last of the original crew. We've been together a long time."
"How touching," said Rana.
"Yes it is," Vila said emphatically. "I mean, how many people do you know that Avon cares about? Including himself?"
"There's about to one less, anyway."
"Rana, Vila. Come here; you need to hear this." Avon's voice was flat and commanding. Rana and Vila exchanged glances, then Rana shrugged and headed over, Vila close behind her.
--My dear captain, how good to run into you again. Where have you been keeping yourself? The voice was definitely not Taymar's. It was sharp and cultured, with a spiteful edge. Vila's jaw dropped.
"Servalan? She's with the pursuit ships?" he said, stunned.
"Yes. We're getting her communications through Taymar's relay. Now shut up and listen," Avon said distractedly.
I've been keeping myself with good friends and good conscience, aunt; in other words, a long way away from you, Taymar responded pleasantly, even though her voice was strained. How's the tyrant business?
--Oh, I can't complain. We have had some minor setbacks recently, but nothing that can't be corrected. I have always found that, with the proper approach, people are infinitely correctable.
People may be, but you're not, Taymar said sharply. You're not correctable, Servalan. You're beyond that. All that's left for you is sterilisation.
Servalan's laughter chimed in the speakers. --Captain Merric, defiant to the end. Captain Lukas has just informed me that you don't have enough power left to pull free of the black hole. He's amazed that you've been able to hold your position this long. Servalan, former Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation, reborn now as "Commissioner Sleer", sighed. --It was a good attempt, captain, but ultimately doomed to failure. Even you can't manoeuver a ship without power out of a gravity well.
Taymar's answer was short, savage and obscene.
--Very pithy, captain. You're obviously the intellectual leader of that ragtag band of louts... incidentally, how are they? I don't recall having seen them since they abandoned you at Casilon. Servalan's tone became a parody of familial warmth and concern. --My dear niece, has Avon finally tired of you... and your unfortunate antecedents?
You're the most unfortunate of my antecedents, Servalan. My mother and father... pale by comparison. Taymar's voice faltered a little, hesitancy betraying something of the hatred she still felt for her parents.
Servalan laughed again, softly. --Is that so? Actually, my sister Sandahl was my model in a great many things... which is ultimately why she had to die. Taymar, much as I would like to continue this pleasant debate, there are certain things we must resolve first. Servalan's tone suddenly hardened. --Captain Taymar Merric, you will surrender yourself and your ship and stand by to be boarded. If you resist, you and your ship will be destroyed. Co-operate, and you will find me very willing to exonerate my only living relative of past crimes. Your thoughts, Taymar?
There was no response.
--Captain, bring us alongside and prepare to lock on on my mark, Servalan's voice instructed. A long silence followed.
Vila stood staring spellbound at the silent speakers on the console, his usual worried expression deepening into a mask of anxiety. Rana stood silently, betraying nothing, watching with a cold smile as Avon's hands clenched on the console. "Come on, come on dammit," he muttered.
As if the speakers had heard him, they hummed to life again and Servalan's clear, malicious voice rolled through the room. --And so it ends, little niece, in the only way that it could. Give my regards to your mother and father.
A ragged hum began to build in the speakers, the frantic note of engines stressed to the redline. --What-- Servalan began.
Failure depends entirely on how you define winning, Servalan. Believe me, I haven't lost. Taymar's voice was tense. Servalan began shouting orders to her crew to disengage, break off, get away from the Long-Awaited Friend. Too late, Taymar said grimly. Near a black hole, even small objects like this ship acquire a gravitational pull far greater than normal. Given time and full thrust, you might break away... but if I aim us into the hole and mainline the engines, we'll pick up so much acceleration that you'll never pull away in time.
--Taymar, don't be ridiculous! You can't--
Avon lunged forward in his seat. "No, Taymar, no! Damn it, she's not worth it!"
There was an eruption of noise from the speakers; the scream of abused engines, the sundering crash of metal tearing. And after a moment, Taymar's voice, a little breathless. Done, aunt. And you're right; this is the only way it could have ended between us. A loud click followed, abruptly silencing the outraged protests from the other ship. Damn, Taymar remarked more calmly, it's like looking down a black mountainside into a boiling lake of light. It's going to be one hell of a ride.
At least I can tell Blake I finally got her. A pause, and then, I'd have liked to have heard your voices one last time, but it's not going to happen. I know you're all listening, though, because anything else wouldn't be good drama, and drama's been our lifeblood for as long as I can remember. But the odds were bound to get even sooner or later.
Goodbye, Rana... and Avon, Vila; keep our dream alive. Fair winds and smooth sailing... and Avon? Remember me. Captain Taymar Merric out_. Another click, then the silence of a dead relay.
"No," Avon said softly into the quiet room. "No."
While Vila sat stunned, Rana shook her head vigourously and found her voice. "What's wrong, Avon? No-one's indispensable, remember," she said slyly.
"No. No-one was... with one exception," Avon said flatly. He didn't raise his head. "Our worst enemy, the black heart of the Federation itself, is gone. Servalan is dead... and it wasn't worth the price. It wasn't worth it."
And for that, Rana had no reply.
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