PressuredBy Sally M
Page 1 of 3
"In three hours we'll be in teleport range of Earth," Avon
Now where have I heard that before, Blake? Better not ask Avon, though, even as a joke... not since we blew up Control and started winning the war.
So now things are great, wonderful, marvellous... maybe. Now Travis is dead - killed while on trial for letting us blow up Control. And the President's dead - deposed and killed by Servalan before she could be executed for letting us blow up Control. And the Supreme Commander and would-be President is probably dead - deposed and killed for killing the old President so she wouldn't get executed for letting us blow up Control.
The fleets are mostly dea- destroyed by computer mayhem or military blunder, and what's left are fighting between themselves as to which dead President to turn on. The Eighth Fleet, old Starfarter Samor's pride and joy, self-destructed; the Fifth Fleet attacked Asa Gacrux (Gas'n'Guts, they call him) of the First, who had declared for Servalan; the Sixth seem to have vanished, maybe their computers went tarrielcell-up when we blew up Control. The Third was last heard of floating, crippled and unable to power up, somewhere outside the Devil's Head Nebula.
And the Security forces on Earth and the Inner Planets have their hands well and truly full with both your rabble-rebels and all the undrugged Dome dwellers. You can almost feel sorry for them all, can't you..?
No, me neither. It's all going great. Wonderful. Or we thought it was.
Except you're still on Earth, away from us and the Liberator. And you could be dying.
There have been potholes on the interstellar pathway to Wonderful, of course. Just a few. You know that as well as anyone.
Gan nearly got killed when we blew up Control. What we'd've done if he had been, I don't know, god knows Cally and Jenna and I were mad enough at you even though we did succeed in destroying the place. Avon just gave that godawful superior what-makes-you-think-I-give-a-damn-about-your-rabble-anyway smile, and Gan just shrugged and said he wasn't dead, and wouldn't have been worth dying for, so what was the problem?
Then there was that business on Fosferon. Avon and Jenna (who still hadn't made her mind up if she could put up with Avon even to stay with the Liberator) and I (who hadn't made up my mind whether I could put up with Avon even to stay out of the fighting) went looking for one of Avon's old friends and a crystal. And found Avon's old friend dead on a base full of dead people. Made it easier to get the crystal, I guess...
And then your little cousin Inga, who got herself kidnapped by god-knows-who. Avon swears that the only reason he went to rescue her was to keep you from reclaiming 'his' ship to go yourself. Avon also swears that if I ever tell you he got kidnapped himself - with a net, Blake, a net! - and had to be rescued by your Uncle Ushton, he'll kill me, so don't tell him that you know, okay? Although if little Inga's last message about wanting to join you on Earth...
It's late morning, by the ship's clock. I wander on to the flight deck to hear the morning's war news from Zen, and to see if I can cadge a chocklit and adrenalin for breakfast before we reach Earth and contact Cally and Gan. Zen takes after Cally, y'know, even when she's not here - no soma before noon, and no arguments about it being noon somewhere in the galaxy. You'd think as one of the two original crew still here I'd have some say, at least over drinks.
Anyway, when I reach the flight deck, Avon's already there, as tense as trapped lightning, snapping orders at Zen in a voice drenched in ice, pacing like a firewyrm in a rage.
Not surprising, really. For all he says he doesn't give a damn about you now - and Cally, who went with you - and Gan, who went with both of you - he's there every morning waiting, and none of our 'guests' are allowed on the deck until he's heard that you and Cally and Gan are all right, that the 'strategic victories' announced by the Federation were actually withdrawals, that you and Cally and Gan are all right, that your rebels are three inches closer to victory, that another section of the fleet's has surrendered or been defeated or had crippled itself, and more deserters have left one or the other Presidential Forces, that you and Cally and Gan are all right, that his payment for the latest 'rebel services' he's undertaken with his - your - someone's Liberator is still safe, that 'his' Orac (on loan to you, he likes to think) is still undamaged, still worth ten million and still able to pass on the morning news - oh, and that you and Cally and Gan are all right.
Sometimes we even hear about Jenna, after she left you because she didn't want to leave the Liberator to Avon, and then left us because she couldn't share the Liberator with Avon. Or little Veron Kasabi, working with you and getting older and harder by the day, from what I hear. Or the other rebels who welcomed you in, still just names though I've probably met them once or twice, when we ferry rebels and rebel leaders from Earth to somewhere or from somewhere to Earth, or bring supplies, or take away the wounded and deserters.
Sorry. Defectors, I mean, defectors, that's what you and Cally say we now call them. Like the defector Space Captain we recently left with Avalon - what's his name Tarrant - kept arguing to stay and be the pilot of our dreams now that Jenna's gone. Like the slimy little Personal Secretary to the old dead President who is all for helping the rebels as long as it saves his neck and stretches President Servalan's, and he can do it from the safety of a neutral planet. Like your new friend and advisor on Earth, Ven Glynd.
"Arbiter General during Blake's arrest and trial." Avon's mouth had twisted as he said it, like the actual words were sour to the taste. This was just after Zen had given us one of Orac's longer, more judgmental reports, probably one you never knew of, well-laced with Cally's surprisingly venomous comments and Gan's restrained but audibly unhappy asides. I couldn't help feeling glad I'd changed my mind about going with you and the others, and come back to the Liberator and Avon's sarcastic but safer company.
"And our trials, don't forget," I found myself adding. "So why's Blake suddenly such great friends with him?"
"Apparently, he has been working against the government, within the government, for at least two years, along with at least one of the Outer World Governors, maybe more. Blake was," he said, and that bitter twist deepened, "collateral damage, regrettable but necessary at the time."
"And Blake and Cally accept that?" I couldn't believe it.
"Blake, yes. Cally is disturbed, but has little say in the matter."
"Because Blake accepts it."
I could see it was a touchy subject with Avon. He doesn't like other people trying to tell you what to do, Blake, not even Cally, and the fact that you're on Earth and we're always in the outer reaches of Sector Somewhere - and that Avon would rather be thrown head-first into Zen's core drive than admit that he liked being there for you or any of us - doesn't make much difference. But I was still confused. "So Cally doesn't like him?"
"There is, it seems, nothing to like. According to Cally," he went on, and I could almost imagine a laugh in his eyes as he did, "he makes Secretary Rontane look honest and trustworthy, and the average Auron pop-eyed slimesucker slug is enchanting by comparison."
"And that was the polite version of her words. In any case," he went on coldly, "she believes he has far too much influence over Blake's actions and decisions lately, and Orac concurs. After all, Blake is not the most - suggestible of men at any time."
Far be it from me to have suggested, or even thought, that Avon might have been jealous of someone who could influence his Fearless Leader. I like living, thank you.
"He is however politically astute for a dissident, more so than Blake." Avon's expression clearly said that that wouldn't be hard. "And Blake," he hesitates, as if afraid of the next words, "has been ill."
"Just headaches and bad dreams, Zen said."
"Bad headaches, with no discernable cause, and dreams about his - indoctrination. Which," he conceded, "is enough to give anyone nightmares."
"You're not worried about him, aren't you?"
Avon's eyes iced over, as if I'd insulted him, and he snarled at me, "Of course not."
"If Blake chooses to trust such a - man - as this ex-Arbiter General, that is his decision, his gamble. And," he went on with that evil, evil, utterly humourless smile that I hate so much, "his funeral."
Which turned out to be the sort of prophecy we didn't need, because two days later, along with news of the disappearance of the Federation High Council and surrender of four more planets came a short, blisteringly urgent, and, for Orac, frantic summons.
Get back to Earth, get back at once or faster, screw the war, the Rebellion or the rabble, or the whole Galaxy (well, Orac didn't use those exact words, he repeated the jist of them from Cally). You'd collapsed, screaming of renouncement, of dead friends, of guilt and illusions, and they needed us to get you out of the rebel base and away from Earth before you went mad, or catatonic, or whatever... or even died.
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