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A Price to Pay

By Julia Stamford
Page 2 of 2

      "My crew are dead. Anna's dead. Blake's dead. And you are not enough." Especially not when she'd brought him to a burial site. "What are we doing here?"

      "What I have to offer you is here. We can talk freely, I've sent the troopers on burial detail for an extended lunch break." She slipped her hand free from his arm. "This is where they're burying the people from the base. Rebel and innocent alike, they're not bothering to distinguish them. They're not even bothering to identify them. Your crew go back to Earth as exhibits, but not these. These were little people. They don't matter."

      He would have strangled her then, but he had given his word, and he needed to know what it was she thought would be a high enough price for him to betray Blake one last time. "Servalan."

      "They don't matter, Avon," and she sounded tired. "No one will rise up to avenge them, no one will use their name as a rallying cry. No one cares that they lived, or how they died. You need to be famous for that. And even then, in a hundred years' time, who will care?"

      He found it horribly depressing, hearing his own cynical creed from Servalan.

      "We lost eighty percent of the fleet at Star One, Avon, and the civilians don't care. My people died to protect them, and they don't care. Damn them. They don't deserve to rule themselves."

      How odd. He agreed with Servalan in a warped sort of way. "The money men don't like having a military dictatorship, something as blatant as that makes it too difficult for the middle classes to ignore what their rulers are doing. That's why they tipped you out at the first opportunity." Not because she was an incompetent dictator, she'd been all too competent until she'd allowed herself to become distracted by his own antics, but because she wasn't their dictator. If she hadn't been willing to act on the message Jenna had sent her, he'd have died uselessly at Star One, trying to hold off an invasion fleet with a single ship. If she hadn't been willing to take responsibility, make a decision, when it mattered.

      "I shall make them regret it. And you are going to help."

      "All very well, but I still haven't heard your offer."

      She stepped away from him, stood by one of the stretchers laid by an open grave. "Oh, you'll find the price I'm offering to pay for your co-operation worth your while."

      The price she offered him would have to be very high indeed, to be able to match the one he would pay for accepting it.

      She bent and flipped the sheet away from the stretcher.

      Blake.

      He sank to his knees, feeling as if he'd been punched in the gut. Or shot in the gut. This was reality, this was Blake, dead, by his hand. He wanted to shut his eyes, block out the sight, he wanted to look as long as he could before the sight was taken away from him forever.

      "I can give you Blake. Not Blake alive, nobody has that to give, not with the Clonemasters dead. It was a clone I saw on Jevron, but the clones are dead now, and those who created them."

      "Then what?" he whispered.

      "Blake's legend." She looked down at Blake's face. "All of his colleagues are dead. The troopers didn't recognise him - he was supposed to be dead, so he was removed from the Wanted list. He would almost certainly have been put back on it in a few months, there have been rumours circulating for some time now that he didn't die on Jevron, verified sightings of him since then. People don't believe he is dead. It was a mistake to burn the body, it couldn't be produced as evidence of his death." Servalan looked around at the open graves, the little group of covered stretchers. "Of course, there are times when it is wise to burn the bodies, so that they cannot be produced as evidence. Apparently, this base was suspected of having been infiltrated by rebels. An undercover officer was supposed to identify those to be taken for questioning, but the troops were somewhat overzealous. I shall mention to the troop commander the difficulty I face in liaising with the local law enforcement officers at this base when they are all dead. The ones carrying unauthorised guns on the base were clearly rebels, but there might be questions asked by what passes for a planetary government about unarmed corpses. Embarrassing questions. We've found that it's so much easier when the embarrassing corpses aren't there to have to explain."

      And Blake, of course, had been unarmed, although he hadn't thought about that at the time.

      Servalan looked back at him. "They are not bothering to formally identify the bodies. You and I are the only ones here who could identify him by sight. If he's cremated here, there will be nothing left to identify by the time the rumours are so widespread that the High Council cannot ignore them. And with the right things said in the right places, he could be put back on the Wanted list now. It hasn't happened yet only because it would have been an admission that he was still alive."

      "And?"

      "Come with me, work with me, and Blake can stay here. We will know that it is a warrior's funeral pyre we watch, even if no one else does. He can rest in peace, and his legend will grow. If we say nothing, he will never die."

      "And if I refuse?"

      "He comes back with us for public display. And I will tell them who killed him."

      He looked at Servalan, and he looked at Blake, and he knew himself trapped. Which was the lesser of two evils? He owed Blake, he owed it to Blake to do whatever would best help Blake's cause, but which choice was that? Refuse to give Servalan what she wanted, deny the Federation ready access to the teleport technology that would give them military superiority, but give them the propaganda coup of Blake's death at his hands? Or play the traitor to the last, give Servalan the products of his mind, and hope that Blake's cause would be better served by the rumours of Blake's ongoing battle? Rumours that the Federation could never completely deny without a corpse as evidence.

      "You will be gambling, of course," Servalan said. "With your help, the Federation might become unstoppable, at least until it goes the way of all empires and collapses in on itself."

      He glanced at her.

      "I did study military history, after all, Avon. All empires end, sooner or later. You can have a direct influence on whether it is sooner, or later, for the Federation. It might become unstoppable, for a while. Or Blake's legend might grow, become a rallying call. People care whether he lived, and how he died. And he is famous. They'll remember him in a hundred years. He does matter. They'll remember you as well, of course. You will be reviled as a traitor, by both sides, but when has public opinion ever bothered you? His ghost will know why you're doing it, and that's the only thing that matters to you."

      Get thee behind me, Satan. So tempting, to give in, to tell himself that he was doing it for Blake's sake, that the potential long-term gain mattered more than the short term losses. She was telling the truth, he might do better for Blake's cause in the long run by betraying it now. And they'd have some of it, at least, out of him whether he was willing or no. Maybe if he was working of his own volition, he'd have the chance for subtle sabotage... and that was yet another excuse.

      He needed to think. And he didn't have time.

      "What about my crew? Are they included?"

      "No. I'm sorry, my dear, they deserve better, but the mob must have their pound of flesh. If I have you, I need to explain where the rest are. I have to have something to satisfy the appetite for dead rebels."

      Logical enough, there would be questions asked, questions that might lead to digging up graves looking for important corpses, if the expected roster of important corpses wasn't present and correct. Even the sort of forensic team who would know how to sift through the ashes. No get-out there.

      So.

      "Why are you doing this, Servalan? Why would you risk bringing down the Federation sooner rather than later?"

      "Even if it is sooner, it is unlikely to be within my lifetime. Why should I care what happens after that? The spineless fools dithered while the Andromedans used our own systems against us, and then when it was safe to come out they betrayed the people who had protected them. They turned against Space Command, they turned against me. Why should I care if the moneymongers lose it all after I am dead?"

      That was vicious enough to be believable. And yet...

      "And giving Blake a peaceful rest? You hate what he stood for."

      "Not his ideals. His methods, but not his ideals." She knelt, and touched Blake's face. "He was wrong to fight the Federation. It offers stability, protection, he offered only anarchy. But when it mattered, he made the right choice. He sent the message from Star One, he held the gap until the fleet could get there. He could have chosen to let the Federation fall, but he put the human race ahead of his own political dreams." She drew the cover back over over Blake. "Why should those cowards have him?"

      Jenna sent the message. I held the gap. Not Blake. But of course it was Blake who'd done those things, for he and Jenna had only done those things because Blake would have wanted them to, Blake would have done those things himself had he been able to. Jenna had made the decision for herself, he had promised Blake. But without Blake, they would have run.

      Blake and Servalan were more alike than either of them would be comfortable with. They both thought they knew what was best for humanity. They were both right, some of the time. It would be up to history to judge whether either of them was right more often than wrong. Let history do the same for him.

      He knelt, and pulled the cover back, just enough to see the face, not the dreadful wound. His enemy, his friend, the man who had tried to make him care, and succeeded all too well. "Goodbye, Blake," he whispered, and replaced the cover. Then he stood up.

      "Deal, Servalan."


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