Fishing for FriendsBy Jackie Speel
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It was only a glimpse, and four years since I had last seen him, but I
recognised Kerr Avon. By the same token, I knew I had to speak to him again -
even if it was just to say hello, and pass on the bits of news I had picked
up about the others. And ask why he had never tried to retrieve Orac. I
didn't blame him for not trying to find me or the others - the area of the
galaxy over which the Federation claims nominal control is large enough, and
the last few times he tried to find someone, things went wrong - Anna Grant
and, twice, Blake.|
I think Avon would be impressed by what I, Vila Restal, have achieved since we parted company. I am now virtually respectable, and part owner of a ship - Del Grant insists it was called the Flying Fish when he acquired it. With the help of the third human member of the group, Deva, and Orac, we run a reasonably successful business. And, came the thought as I made my way back to the ship, Avon would fit in to our team.
When I got back to the ship Deva was doing some work with Orac. I had come to like Blake's second computer expert - most people did. One of his more useful traits. 'What is it Vila?' he asked. 'Wait for Grant to come,' I replied and he turned back to his discussion with Orac. The two of them had developed a working relationship - not the same as with Avon, but why should it be? I had not had the heart to ask Orac which of its computer expert companions it preferred. Probably would get the reply that each had different merits, including its creator Ensor, so there was no reason to compare.
Grant duly appeared a few minutes later. 'I'm ready to go when you are. What's up Vila?' 'I saw Avon - I'd know him anywhere.' Matched expressions of surprise: we had come to this planet by chance - but then quite a few things had come our way like that, including Orac. 'It was only a fleeting glimpse though.' I suddenly had a brief doubt who I'd seen. Grant spoke first. 'We met by chance on Albian, so why not him here? Though he's probably on a ship going half-way across the galaxy by now.' He looked at us two, 'So how do we find him?' He knew what our decision would be. Grant now knew, from various sources, enough about what his sister had done to forgive Avon. 'We can't say,' I replied with a smile, 'would Kerr Avon meet Vila Restal and friends on the Flying Fish bay whatever- this-is Spaceport Hanger Three can we?' The rebels were not strong enough, and the Federation not weak enough for that. 'That might be inadvisable,' Orac interposed, stating the obvious as usual, before adding, 'You wish me to locate him? Whatever planet he is on?' I remembered the results of the last search, decided like the others it was worth it. 'If it would not disrupt your studies of the universe,' Grant said with slight sarcasm. 'It is convenient for me to do this now.' Perhaps the rat in a box did miss Avon. 'Orac,' I said, 'to make things clear, say that if he just wants to say hello, give us an update on the past four years, and go his own way, we will understand.' I looked at the other two, who nodded. 'And if it is convenient for you, locate some of the others, same terms.' I suddenly missed them all. My framing of the request would allow us to separate again if it worked out that way. 'A most fascinating problem - how to devise a message that can only be recognised by one person, without arousing the suspicions of anyone else...' Orac had risen to the challenge. 'Opportunist,' Deva said with a smile. 'How long can we stay here before we have to leave for Freedom City?' We did business there - and I was now welcome at the Big Wheel again. Krantor had made all sorts of interesting threats towards Avon and myself - only to send a message later, after the Intergalactic War that we were welcome. Apparently our win had been the best bit of advertising they had had in years, and had been recouped before the evening was out. We were welcome there to draw in the crowds - providing we did not win too much. So the Flying Fish paid flying visits. Grant did a quick calculation. 'Sometime day after tomorrow.' 'Tell Avon - if it is not practical to meet us here, to get a message to Krantor that he is going to pay a visit.' 'And presumably you will nominate other planets thereafter, should the circumstances demand it?' Orac queried. 'Yes - and the same goes for anybody else you trace,' I replied. 'Where's the odd-job list?' Deva asked. 'Even if it is someone else whom you mistook for Avon,' I acknowledged the possibility - but come what may, I wanted to see my friend again, 'he'll have done us a favour.'
The main problem with odd-job lists is that they often lengthen as you attempt to clear them. As do memories when you go over them again.
For some reason all the guns used in the shoot out were set to stun - perhaps the Federation was so short of soldiers they wanted to make bounty hunters an offer they couldn't refuse. Or they wanted to parade a few captured bounty hunters to show why they had gone in. I realised as soon as I recovered that nobody knew that Blake or our group were there, and had a brilliant idea. We had been left with the teleport bracelets - there were only four of us with them, and the Federation forces did not recognise their significance. With the Scorpio damaged and unoccupied their only use was to contact Orac, which I did, telling it to erase or suppress critical information about us all from the Federation records, so we would not be hauled off and damaged too badly. Avon had replied that this was the only sensible example of my cowardice he had come across - more to cover his not thinking of it first. I had also told Orac to extract anything interesting from the base's computers and prevent Federation access to it - one last favour to the rebel movement - and, if we did not retrieve it, to arrange its own escape. Tarrant had asked when Orac had grown legs to run away, but Avon had not mocked - he saw the logic in keeping Orac out of Federation hands and understood what I meant. My second flash of inspiration was to so tie the commanding officer up with my verbal tricks that he agreed to let Tarrant and Blake have basic medical treatment in return for the base. My request that we be sent to Cygnus Alpha so amused him that he arranged it rather than investigate my logic. As he said, we probably would have ended up somewhere similar anyway, and asked for his best wishes to be sent to my "friends" there. I did have a plan of course - inspired by Avon's intermittent search for bolt-holes. I had investigated Cygnus Alpha out of curiosity, and now regaled the others with some of my discoveries.
I had been wrong in saying that nobody ever left the place - nobody ever did so officially. Who would think of looking on a prison planet for those who did not wish to be observed by the Federation? The population of Cygnus Alpha was dispersed and far more numerous than Vargas had claimed. Either he counted only followers of his church, or he was not aware of the others. As with some other prison planets among the scattered settlements were to be found those belonging to rebels, traders and others, creating a marginal economy with the Cygneans, and a population leakage in both directions. Avon, Jenna and I could probably have left Cygnus Alpha fairly quickly had the Liberator not appeared. There was some official awareness of what was going on - and it was ignored, to prevent too many escapes. My intention was that we make use of the system that had arisen.
By the time we reached Cygnus Alpha it was tacitly agreed that we would make our own way off the planet, with the promise - perhaps to be kept - that we would keep in touch. I also arranged with Deva to get Blake and Avon together in a cabin and tell them to come to a settlement while they had the chance - which had happened. Avon afterwards made a comment that was both sarcastic and approving of my new-found leadership capacities. Because of my quick thinking on Gauda Prime, nobody was aware precisely what had happened, or why we had come to Cygnus Alpha - we did nothing to counter the stories that were circulating. We had acquired reputations, so anything which went wrong or disappeared, was blamed upon us - not least because the Federation authorities had demonised us so. Avon remarked that the Federation were doing our job for us, creating a focus for opposition without us getting into any danger. Blake, however, was impatient for action, and was already planning his next moves. He had come to the same conclusion that Avon had - the best way to progress was to organise a linked resistance movement, but his means of doing it were different. He spent much time discussing things with people exiled to Cygnus Alpha for political reasons - Servalan's was not the only coup. Avon had decided that his skills and abilities lay in co-ordinating behind the scenes, which was probably correct. I could see a parting of the ways ahead - somewhat to my regret.
I had made no secret that I had 'rebel connections' and those who were leaving often asked me for advice, despite my occasional obvious use of hyperbole, which I gave. Being Vila Restal could still be costly to me. Of our group Dayna, Soolin and Tarrant were the first to leave: their various skills made them desirable crew. We agreed to get in touch 'as and when appropriate.' And this agreement had held - we knew how to contact each other, and passed business to each other, if meeting rarely. Deva came to me shortly afterwards - Klyn was about to go, and he wished to link up with Avon and myself. I had agreed, but things were not going to develop as planned. Avon had got bored of Cygnus Alpha and felt his skills could best be used elsewhere, and explained his intentions to me one day. He was slightly more open than he had been - perhaps he had finally accepted that we were a team and he appreciated my willingness to listen and ask the "silly" question that exposed the obvious flaw. I had said that I had mostly been glad of our friendship, and hoped it would continue. His reply was that he had found my skills useful on occasion, and that if he did have friends I would be one of them.
Next morning Avon had gone, possibly with Klyn. I was upset, but not surprised, and glad that we had had the conversation. The day after Del Grant turned up on the Flying Fish, with Orac, who, it transpired, had decided that he was the most appropriate means of carrying out my instructions. I introduced Deva, and we left. It was only afterwards that Deva and I realised we had not said farewell to Blake.
Since then we had used our various skills and connections where they would be most appreciated, and with rebels and neutrals at that. My advice to the various leavers from Cygnus Alpha had its due rewards - they mentioned me to those they ended up among and I was wanted. We prospered - enough to hire extra crew if needed, and have money to spare. We knew Dayna, Tarrant and Soolin had linked up for the present, but there was no direct word from Avon, Blake or the others. As Deva said, when they were ready to get in touch, they would.
The Federation did not prosper - perhaps if it had consolidated what it had, rather than drugging those behind the front- line of its re-expansion, it might have done better. They had also exported too many of their surviving senior administrative persons to the prison planets, and there were not enough left to go round. Regional leaders began hoarding the remaining and strengthening local loyalties. The Federation began to rely more heavily on those who resembled Travis in his more brutal aspects, and further alienated the emerging regional leaders. This unstable situation was likely to persist - Orac explained in a way that seemed logical at the time - until some event, however trivial, caused a chain reaction to occur. My wish was that I would not be in the centre of it when it happened.
We finished most of the tasks more quickly than we expected, and had an early meal. 'Orac,' I asked when we had settled, 'have you determined whether it was Avon I saw?' 'I have located someone on this planet who has a connection with this group.' 'Probably my third cousin five times removed,' I muttered, 'by marriage, and who has a project for which they need all my savings.' 'Seeing as you'd try the same on them, it'd only be fair,' Deva teased. 'Or Servalan out to get us with a vengeance,' I added. We had informed the rebels we met, and certain officials, that "Commissioner Sleer" was an "undesirable person" - and she had disappeared. No great loss. There was a sudden demand that we open up. After a brief check that we did not have anything unsuitable on show, and had paid the docking fees, and with a few mixed complaints as to the vagaries of the customs officers, we did so. It was my turn to be the person to greet the incomer - it was a long-standing practice that only one of us meet an unknown in case backup was needed. There were a few Space Rats and others who would not look kindly on me, and Servalan might have discovered us by accident. 'I understand you wanted to see me,' a familiar voice said. 'As my ship is in the next bay, perhaps you should have stuck a message on the door rather than go through such a complicated rigmarole.' 'Blame Orac,' I said, and embraced Avon. He had changed - he accepted the contact. 'How are you?' He looked well, and even prosperous. 'I won't say all the better for seeing you,' but I knew he was, 'as you're probably going to get me into trouble again.' This was the Avon I had enjoyed the most. He tensed, and I did not have to turn around to know why. 'I know about my sister,' Grant said, 'and I know you loved the woman we both thought she was. Shall we discuss it later?' 'If you insist.' 'You've done well to have your own ship,' I said, to ease the tension. 'Hired for convenience - but I have a few credits. As do you by the looks of it.' I recognised the signs that he was willing to be convinced to do something, even if he protested. 'We've earned them, sorting out other people's problems for them.' 'So do I. You, working, Vila?' A friendly smile accompanied this. 'I enjoy what I do, and it pays. Ask Orac.' Deva had just joined us with the computer. 'No doubt it was Orac who enjoyed creating a complicated way of locating me.' 'Do you want to spend a couple of days putting him back in his place? I think he missed you keeping him in control,' I said. Avon was obviously very tempted. 'No strings attached?' 'I was going to Freedom City myself,' Avon said - and we would not question when the decision had been made. We laughed. Orac suddenly piped up. 'Someone else wishes to meet up - do you wish to them to go to the Big Wheel?' 'Yes,' I replied. Avon looked at us. 'Shall we agree to some terms of operating together while we go to Freedom City? 'Yes,' I said, knowing I had the others' agreement. 'To start with, which of us is going to be in charge of leading the rebellion this time?'
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