Another BeginningBy Marian Mendez
Page 1 of 4
Whooping alarms went silent at the same moment the rapidly flashing warning
lights flickered and died, replaced by dim reddish emergency lighting. The
commander of the black armored Federation guards reassured his tense men,
"Second unit's done its job. It's our turn now." He assigned men to guard the
entrances to the command center while the rest of his troops roughly aligned
the limp bodies scattered throughout the room.|
"We have them, Commissioner Sleer," the commander spoke into a hand-held communicator. He took off his helmet and frowned. "Unfortunately, Blake is dead. "
"How did that happen, Commander?" the woman's voice that emerged from the device was chilling . "I distinctly recall ordering stun weapons only."
"He was killed by Avon, Commissioner."
"How very appropriate," the woman sounded amused. "I'll forgive your little error... this time. Just bring me Orac and the rest of the prisoners."
"Orac isn't here, Commissioner."
"I am losing my patience with you, Commander. Obtaining Orac was the primary purpose of this mission. Avon will know the computer's location. Apply pressure... kill his crew one by one until he talks."
"Avon's too heavily stunned to rouse." The commander looked down at his medic, who knelt beside Avon's blood-spattered black and silver clad body. The medic glanced up and shook his head before returning his attention to his erratically breathing patient. "I can interrogate one of the others," the commander offered, hoping to appease Sleer.
"Very well. Try Vila; frighten him enough and he'll tell you everything he knows."
After the medic administered a stimulant to Vila, the commander stood over his prisoner, resting his weapon's muzzle in the hollow of Vila's throat. He booted the thief in the side. "Wake up, you."
"What... who're you?" Vila blinked up at his captor in confusion.
"I'm asking the questions. " The commander ground the gun further into the thief's throat.
"I don't know anything, " Vila protested. "I'm not important; I'm a nobody, really."
"I agree. Tell me where Orac is and you may continue to be a live nobody."
"I don't know." Vila flinched as the trigger finger tightened. "Avon hid Orac before we got here. He didn't say where... Honest!"
The commander looked down at the shivering thief, debating the possibility of obtaining further information against the delay it would necessitate. They were already cutting things rather fine.
A fusillade of energy weapons shrilled so close that the commander whirled, gun at the ready. "We're overrun, Commissioner. Can't hold this position."
Sleer's voice sounded harsh and angry, "Get Avon to the ship. Top priority. If possible, bring the others."
The commander hauled Vila to his feet. He motioned a trooper to take charge of the thief. "If he slows us down, kill him."
Two brawny troopers grabbed Avon roughly and followed Vila's guard out the corridor leading to the landing field. The commander paused in the doorway as his men cleared the room. He aimed his weapon at Tarrant's head, thinking,"One less rebel." Blaster fire struck the commander, hurling him back against the wall. He stared in disbelief at the broad-shouldered man who gazed down at the dying officer. "You're dead, Blake," the man whispered, "Avon killed you."
"No, I'm not. But you are." Blake left the officer and knelt down beside the still form that was so like his own. "I'm sorry," he said, gently closing the eyes. "You wanted to count for something, you said when you joined me. Wanted to be more than a manufactured man, more than a cloned shadow. "
Blake crouched warily at the sounds of heavy booted footsteps, then relaxed when he saw the approaching men wore rebel motley, not Federation black. "See what you can do," Blake ordered a man carrying a medical kit, indicating the remaining members of Scorpio's crew.
The man examined his patients swiftly, then gave each an injection. "Just stunned," he told Blake. "Unexpected mercy from the Federation."
"Not mercy." Blake was grim. "They wanted something. I hope to God they didn't get it."
Tarrant was the last of the three to wake, not surprising considering the battering he'd already had in Scorpio's crash before walking into the ambush. Blake helped the pilot to his feet. Tarrant said, confused, "Blake? You can't be... "
"I am. The original. Where's Orac?"
"He wasn't here."
Dayna had been listening to them. "Avon hid it," she said, then frowned. "Where is Avon? And Vila, he's missing, too."
Soolin stood up, her blue-gray eyes narrowed in pain. "Obvious, isn't it? The Federation has them."
"Damn," Blake said softly, "They'll get Orac through Avon. "
Leaving the still groggy trio behind, Blake led his forces after the fleeing troopers. When his men became pinned down Blake moved on alone, outflanking the enemy. He caught up with his quarry at their ship. The vessel was prepared for flight, engines vibrating so violently that the troopers carrying Avon wobbled on the landing ramp. Close on their heels, Vila's guard dragged his reluctant prisoner.
Blake slid to a halt, gun held high. "Vila," he shouted, "get down!" The thief twisted free, rolling off the ramp to flatten into the dirt of the landing field . Blake fired, taking out the trooper on Avon's right, sending Avon and the other guard down onto the ramp. "Sorry, Avon," Blake muttered. He aimed at Avon, then hesitated. A uniformed arm snaked out of the open hatch, hauling Avon in by his collar. The hatch sealed and the landing ramp retracted, abandoning the unlucky guards to their fate as the ship lifted.
"Help!" Vila cried weakly, caught in the fringes of the hot exhaust blast that cooked the troopers.
Blake holstered his useless weapon and ran to Vila. He had the thief safely leaning against the building before Vila stopped coughing and wiping his streaming eyes long enough to notice his rescuer.
"Blake?" Vila touched Blake's arm tentatively, then pinched himself. "Ouch, so I'm not dreaming. I must be dead. I'm disappointed, though. If this is heaven, where are all the dancing girls?"
Blake sighed and grinned despite himself. "We're alive, Vila. And in trouble."
"What else is new?"
"Servalan has Avon and she means to use him to get Orac."
"I know." Vila shivered, remembering that cold voice coming from the commander's communicator. "Avon won't talk, Blake." The thief's voice trailed off as he contemplated Federation techniques.
"Everyone talks, Vila. Our only hope is to find Orac first."
"Fat chance. Avon put the flier down once Orac had the flight path analyzed and took the ruddy box for a walk. He came back empty-handed, that's all I can tell you. It'd take a hypnoprobe to get me to remember any more than that."
Blake stopped pacing and gazed at Vila.
"No," Vila said with alarm, "I've had a bellyful of machines mucking about in my head. "
"Relax, Vila." Blake put a warm, friendly smile on his face, making the thiefeven more nervous. "Nothing like that. We don't even have a hypnoprobe."
"Hypnotism?" Soolin's openly expressed skepticism matched the looks on her crewmates' faces. "Why not try witchcraft... or Tarot cards? "
"Hypnotism is rather more of an art than a science," a soft voice surprised Soolin, eliciting the blonde's usual reaction to unexpected sounds. A thin woman blinked at the gun, her slightly slanted amber-brown eyes remaining as calm as her voice. "Remarkable reflexes."
"Don't shoot." Blake appeared at the woman's side. "This is Pavra Sabri, the best hypnotist on Gauda Prime. "
"Thank you, that sounds better than the only hypnotist."
"Do you use any special equipment?" Dayna asked, curious about a profession so far removed from the logical sciences her father had taught her.
Pavra retrieved a sparkling piece of jewelry from one of the many pockets in her flowing gown, the metal bright against the mottled rust and fawn fabric. "I use this to focus attention." It certainly worked in Vila's case; the glitter of the obviously expensive antique gold pocket watch inset with a small natural diamond
caught his eye and he wandered closer. Pavra said, "It's an heirloom. I took it back from the man who murdered my family. After I killed him, that is."
Suddenly, Vila lost interest in the bauble. "I need a drink, " he muttered .
Pavra asked, "Are you Vila?"
"Yes, that's me."
"Normally, I wouldn't recommend it, but alcohol does lower inhibitions."
With Blake hovering impatiently in the background, Pavra attempted to entrance the three who had accompanied Avon in the flier. After an hour she dismissed the women and concentrated on Vila.
"Blake," Pavra called the rebel leader. Vila was sprawled across a low couch, smiling foolishly. Blake sniffed and raised an eyebrow at the empty bottle resting beside the thief. Pavra followed his glance. "It was the fastest way to relax him. He's rambling, but he says he can show you where Avon landed the flier."
Suspended motionless in geosynchronous orbit around Gauda Prime, the flagship of the blockading fleet floated, surrounded and guarded by smaller vessels. Aboard the battleship, her commander was pacing, with ill-concealed annoyance. The crew gave a wide berth to the slender woman in the elegant gown. She looked up as a man wearing a medical technician's uniform entered the room. "Well?" She asked harshly.
"Commissioner Sleer, the prisoner's respiratory system was severely depressed. He is still unconscious, too weak for even the first level of persuasion."
"Notify me when he regains consciousness." She smiled wolfishly. "I'd like to speak with my old friend Avon before he dies."
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