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Ghosts of Gauda

By Jackie
Page 1 of 3

'Here you are Orac,' Servalan said. She switched off the locator device, hoped she could return through the woods to her ship before it was dark.

The computer she had so long coveted was perched inside a hollow tree.

Orac activated on hearing her voice. 'Where else would I be other than where I told you to look? It should have taken you less than three days to come here.'

'Minor local difficulties,' Servalan summarised as she extracted the computer. Most strange, that Avon of all people should abandon Orac, and that it should then seek her out. The implications were unpleasant. She sat on a convenient fallen tree, placed Orac beside her. 'Why were you put here?'

'As would be obvious to someone of the meanest intelligence, to keep me out of the weather until I could be retrieved.'

'Why contact me?' Servalan asked, choosing to ignore the insult.

'Avon placed me here eight Standard days ago while his group investigated the base. They have not returned - and you are the person with the most interest in finding them.'

She would not deny that. 'Is this some trick of Avon's? Are you the real Orac?' Revenge would be understandable.

'What purpose would a trick serve? Define what you would consider satisfactory proof.'

Servalan turned to the practicalities. 'Whose base, and why did they go there?' It was beginning to drizzle again - she remembered the climate from when she had last been here, more years ago than she cared to count. Gauda Prime had not been an open planet then.

'You can resolve that yourself. Kindly keep me dry.' The lights within Orac went off.

Servalan looked around for shelter, and realised that the sounds around her were not merely wind and moisture dripping in the trees, but a Federation foot patrol.

'Who are you?' the leader asked - a captain by his markings.

Servalan rose. She knew that even in her civilian guise she still had a presence that could overawe someone from the lower ranks of the military. Her arrival had been noted by the Federation presence on the planet, and she had been greeted in a manner which implied that a Commissioner #was# due to arrive.

'I am Commissioner Sleer. I understand I am expected at the base.' She showed her identification - it would pass all but the closest inspection. 'My ship is...' she made a vague gesture, 'over there. From the messages my ship picked up, I presume that the base #is# the centre of Federation activities?' This was bluff and conjecture. A foot patrol would be fairly near its base, and Avon would leave Orac where it could be readily retrieved.

'Yes Commissioner.'

'What are you and your men doing out here? Looking for me?' Always best to claim the advantage.

'The Sub-commander claims it was a rebel base.' Blake! came the sudden thought. But why would Avon of all people leave Orac out in the cold? The captain gave orders for the greater part of the patrol to continue its search. There were a few mutterings on the weather. 'That's what you're paid to deal with, troopers - and better this than a load of bounty hunters.' The troopers went off, and the captain indicated Servalan go with him.

Servalan picked Orac up.

'What is that object?' the captain asked, as he could now see it better.

'An experimental and very temperamental positioning and locational device,' Servalan replied, hoping Orac was listening. 'You said bounty hunters or rebels?'

'They were probably whatever scum inhabit this washed out planet with nothing worth while on it,' the mineral rights being of no interest to the captain, 'but the Sub-commander says they were rebels, so rebels they are. The Sub-commander wants promotion - but he's promised us a share of any bounty. He's good to us like that.'

'You think there are still bounty hunters in the woods?' Servalan asked, slightly mockingly as they walked. 'With all the Federation troops around?'

'On Gauda Prime it is best to assume there are undesirables near a base - others may have heard there was fighting here and decided to come here for the pickings. Come - before the weather gets worse.'

#Avon, Tarrant, what happened to you?#

The base, when they entered it, was of some age, and presently was not in the best of condition. Avon had been right to leave Orac outside in relative safety. It was clear that there had been a battle - or several - to take over the place, and the incoming soldiers had not yet got round to tidying everything up. Given the planet's tendency to rain and mud in this season, perhaps not surprising.

 

They met Sub-commander Arkeley in what was obviously the centre of the base - where it was clear that a major confrontation had taken place. Traces of blood were still visible beneath the mudstains, and there were marks of shots on the walls. Again Servalan felt afraid for Avon and the others. She #needed# them as Travis had needed Blake - and what had happened to #them#?

Arkeley was typical of those of his grade promoted after the Intergalactic War. He was relatively young, but not the sort Servalan would normally give a second glance. She knew she had to take great care not to revert to a long-familiar and difficult to explain military style. Besides, she was impatient to spend time with Orac.

The captain explained briefly, and Arkeley led Servalan into an office.

'We will run the standard checks, as I am sure you will understand. Some of these rebels can be very persuasive.'

Servalan suppressed a moment's unease. "Commissioner Sleer" had been President Servalan's security designation when travelling - it was a common procedure for those at the top of the Federation. Servalan was lucky to have retained her cover since the events on Terminal and Geddon. There were, however, other means of diverting attention.

'I assure you, I am no rebel.' That statement was true. 'What of the people you took this place over from? Your captain said they were the bounty hunters that would normally be found on a planet like this.'

Arkeley shrugged, as if accepting the disagreement. 'This place has too much stuff for a mere bounty hunters' hide out. There's nothing for the Terra Nostra or ordinary criminals on Gauda Prime. Therefore they must have been rebels.'

Standard Federation propaganda. Not that Blake's whereabouts #were# known. Somebody by the name of Blake #had# been operating on Jevron, and died there - but as to the real Blake she knew no more than Avon did.

'Perhaps they were whatever paid them most, and they developed an existing base to seem more impressive than they were,' Servalan suggested, though she agreed with Arkeley. Avon would rather investigate some rebels than those who might attempt to claim the still existing bounty on him.

'That is a possibility,' Arkeley admitted, then, pointing at Orac, added, 'What is that fancy equipment?'

'An experimental computer, which could be used to tempt Roj Blake and Kerr Avon's groups of rebels - and others - into a trap.' Always include enough truth to maximise the effect of the deception. 'Reports suggest that they are interested in such things.' As was she.

'The so-called Liberator group? A lot of hype if you ask me. All sort of stories belonging to all and sundry getting attached to a group of nobodies simply because everybody's heard the names. If they existed at all that is. They weren't here, or if they were they are dead or will be in the next few days.' The way he spoke Servalan suspected he was covering up - something had gone seriously wrong here.

'Believe me Blake, Avon and the rest of them did exist, and they are as dangerous to the Federation as the stories make out.' For the first time Servalan wondered whether the Federation's attempts to officially minimise Blake's group's existence and impact might be counterproductive. Had she revealed too much?

'What Federation?' Arkeley asked. 'Those at the top fighting over who's in control, and half the governors and regional leaders paying only lip service to Federation authority. And the new pacification drugs - I've heard they only work for so long before people become resistant.' The existence of the antidote was not general knowledge among the lower ranks, and some pacification drugs #did# cease to work.

'Perhaps you have been too long in the regions beyond the Federation's direct control, or you would know the Federation exists and the extent of its power.' Servalan, when she had the opportunity, would ensure Arkeley became fully aware of the Federation's might.

An aide came in, gave a document to Arkeley. He looked at it, then his gaze returned to Servalan, obviously puzzled.

'It says here that there is no such person as Commissioner Sleer, and the Commissioner who was to be sent here has been delayed. You were found close to a base of rebels. Would you care to explain?'

Servalan felt afraid - would this be where her career came to an end? Had she covered her tracks too well? Was this Avon's actual revenge, that she would find herself caught in her own deception? 'There are ... Security connections,' she said after a moment's hesitation. That statement #would# hold out.

The reference made Arkeley slightly nervous, in a way that Servalan, from experience, knew meant that he definitely had #something# to hide. When she left this planet she would ensure his records were investigated #very# thoroughly.

 


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