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The Bishop

By Alicia Ann Fox
Page 1 of 1

The sudden spattering of plasmabolt fire took us all by surprise. Well, Avon didn't look surprised but then he hardly ever does. And Cally and Dayna didn't look surprised either, just took up stances on each side of the door and started firing back. So I suppose I was the only one who was really surprised, but then I was busy trying to open that door I mentioned earlier.

To get back to the plasmabolts: we were trying to steal yet another code crystal, this one on the planet Keros. Since we had gotten Orac, we had needed fewer of these, because almost all messages that were sent by the Federation used a computer with tarial cells somewhere along the line, but there were a few that did not. For example, things the Federation thought we might be interested in usually went by straight beam, which we could pick up, but couldn't decode without the proper unique crystal. So, Avon decided that we needed this particular one, and made plans accordingly. He asked us first, I'll give him that, and everyone else agreed so I went along since there was no way they could get at the crystal without me anyway.

We left Tarrant on board the Liberator ready for our getaway and Orac on the teleport. The rest of us had drilled on a map of the complex, so with me to get things open and Avon to disguise our presence from the security computers we got in quickly and quietly. We were two doors away from the control center when they found us. I may argue a lot with Avon but he knows his stuff and I know that I hadn't made a mistake, either. The obvious solution was to get teleported up right then and there but we needed that crystal and Avon can be really stubborn. We stayed.

A few seconds later I had the door open and we all dove through, ending up in a sort of heap except for Dayna who somehow jumped over everyone else. She's the athletic type. I went for the corridor that led to the last door at once, the rest on my heels. I wanted out and quickly. For some reason, there were fewer people here than there had been in the outer, unshielded areas of the complex. Mostly they were scientific types, and we stayed out of their sight; when those troopers got through the door or hit an alert we would be in trouble, but it hadn't happened yet and we weren't going to take any chances. The last door took all of four minutes--a tough one. I backed away as soon as I had finished to let Dayna go first, then Avon. Cally was rear guard. The console room was a lot like the one on Centero, that we had hit with Blake, only smaller. The technicians were no problem, and soon Avon had done some of his special magic to get the crystal disconnected without damaging it. When the troopers burst in the door we only had to hold them off for a few seconds until I could call Orac to bring us up.

A lot happened in that few seconds. The troopers couldn't fire in the console room because of all the equipment, and so there was no firefight, only a lot of scuffling. I was out of the main action so I managed to pick one off but the others couldn't get a clear shot. I wasn't going to get any more clear shots, either; a couple of them saw the flash from my gun and jumped me. I fell, I think, and tripped over a body; I tried to catch myself and roll but landed on one hand instead. Backwards. I felt it snap and tried to scream but the teleport snatched us and I lost it somewhere; when we materialized I could only gasp for breath until Avon turned around from yelling at Orac and I felt my knees going. I remember when he caught me my wrist got trapped against his chest; I think I did scream then and luckily passed out.

#

When I woke up I couldn't quite remember where I was. I'd had a really strange dream, something about being stuck somewhere and not being able to get the door open, but this place was different and after a minute I remembered the Liberator. And what had happened. My forearm was all strapped up, my right one, but it still hurt. I wanted a drink. Alcohol, preferably. I looked to see if anyone was there and saw Dayna asleep on a nearby couch. I wondered how long it had been since we had left Keros.

"Dayna," I said, or tried to. I swallowed. "Dayna. Wake up."

She was on her feet in an instant, looking concerned. "How do you feel?" she asked.

"Thirsty. Brandy would be nice." There was a burning in my throat that felt like the result of some sort of painkiller, and I knew she wouldn't let me have any, but I asked anyway.

"Vila," she said in a sort of teasing way. "Same as always. No, you can't have brandy but I can get you something else."

"My arm's broken, isn't it?" I asked. After hearing that dreadful snap I knew it was, but it can never hurt to make sure. "How bad?"

She looked at me, obviously trying to be cheerful, but you can't fool me. "You'll be fine. The med computer said it would be completely healed in about three weeks if we used the tissue regenerator."

Three weeks! Avon would be furious. Without two hands I wouldn't be able to exercise my particular expertise, and with a sinking feeling I remembered the plans we had been making in case we were successful in getting the crystal. None of them could be implemented without me. And what if I didn't recover all the way? What if I could never get my touch back?

Dayna must have seen the fear on my face; I generally try to keep it there to be safer but this time I didn't want it to show. Anyway, she came and took my other hand and looked sympathetic. "You'll be fine," she repeated.

"And--" I began. "And what if I can't open locks any more after this?"

"Don't worry. Cally asked it about that, and Orac, too." She must have realized what I was thinking, because she quickly added, "We wouldn't abandon you, don't be silly."

I knew that she was right, but the fear remained. Thieving wasn't my profession, it was me. If I couldn't do that anymore...I didn't want to think about it, so I didn't resist when Dayna gave me another shot. Besides, my arm hurt. By the time I fell asleep I wasn't able to think much of anything.

#

After a week had passed I was feeling much better. It was kind of nice to have a little time off from routine maintenance, which was necessary because the med computer insisted that I wear a cast until the bones had been fully regenerated. I hated the cast, though. Almost all of the magic tricks I know require two hands and I got awful bored on watch. I couldn't shuffle cards either and was forced to play chess instead. In fact, that was what I was doing when I got the inspiration. I was playing chess with Avon; his watch comes after mine so he used the excuse of being early to explain why he wanted a game. I didn't mind the excuse, I was used to him pretending he could do without our company, and it made him feel better if he thought we believed it. Anyway, it was his move and he took my bishop, and when he picked it up I had the idea.

"Hey, Avon," I said. "Do you still want to hit the computer complex on Reegal?"

He looked at me noncommittally. "We will have to wait until you have recovered. None of us has the ability to break the Kramer Mark 10 Security System except you."

I was pleased. It was nice to know I was appreciated. "I have an idea."

"Incredible," he said, but I knew he didn't really mean it. "What is this inspiration?"

"I don't have to open it. I could teach you to do it. Orac and I could make diagrams and I could teach you the steps. The Kramer doesn't need nearly as much instinct as most systems; all you need is the method and a few tricks."

Avon looked thoughtful. "How long do you think this would take?"

"Not long, I should think. Next to me, you have the most dexterity of any of us. And I know the memory work is no problem. I could watch over your shoulder in case anything went wrong."

He looked at me thoughtfully again. "Orac," he said.

*What is it now?*

"Have Zen print out the schematic of the Kramer Mark 10 Security System."

*If you insist, but I will remind you that I have other--*

"I insist." A few moments later Avon picked up the hard copy and handed it to me. "See if it's correct." It was, and much more neatly done than any drawing of mine could have been. He took it back. "Your move, Vila."

I eventually won, which I did about forty percent of the time. I decided to wait until morning to start teaching Avon, he needed to learn the schematic first anyway. As I left he said, "Good night, Vila." I could see that he was already immersed in the Kramer System, so maybe he didn't notice that I left rather a long time before my watch was over. Or maybe he didn't care; intellectual puzzles are more fun to Avon than talking to people. I left him to it and went to dig out the tools he would need the next day.

#

The next morning we met in what Blake had always called the dining room, but to me looked just like all of the other cabins except larger. We made it the dining room by eating there. We waited until Cally had gone on watch, and everyone else had disappeared to various places about the ship; I suppose Avon didn't want them to know what we were doing unless we succeeded. It turned out that he had memorized the schematic the night before, and when I drilled him on it verbally he didn't make a single mistake. The access procedures went fast, too; they must have been similar to many of the computer systems he was familiar with. By mid-morning he was ready to begin the hard part, but I decided to stop and have a break first, so he wouldn't have to learn too much at one time.

After lunch I went and got my tools and a few unmounted locking mechanisms that I kept to practice on when there wasn't anything more interesting available. I set one on the table, handed him a scanner and told him to open it. It took several tries before he realized that he would have to think with his fingers instead of his brain, and by then he had grown accustomed to the tool as well. When the little light flashed to green he smiled and picked up the next. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I could do in two seconds what had taken him nearly three minutes, but he probably knew that anyway.

On my watch we moved to the flight deck. Avon had advanced to using a laser probe, a more delicate tool than the scanner, and was growing steadily more confident. Then I pulled out the mock-up Zen had constructed of the Kramer system.

"We'll have to do this by rote learning," I said. "Once you put in the access codes you have less than two minutes to work before the alarm is triggered."

"How much less than two minutes?"

"One minute and forty-seven seconds. You need to be able to do it in one minute forty, so you'll have a safety margin."

He nodded and looked at me expectantly. So much for being dramatic, I thought. "There are sixteen steps, but if you can bypass this circuit--" I pointed at it "--you can do it in twelve. The bypass is the most difficult, and the point where most failures happen. I think you can do it, though."

"Is it possible to break the system without that step?"

"Not unless you're very, very fast and experienced."

"Like you."

"Like me."

It took almost four days before I was satisfied with Avon's performance. It felt strange, having him listen to me for once, but nice, too. He had learned the bypass trick and perfected it, and I realized that there was nothing more that I could do; from this point it was up to him.

Avon told Tarrant and Dayna and Cally of our plan that night. The looks of shock on their faces were really very funny; I guess our skulking around had been worth it, after all. But there were no protests, probably because Avon had all the hard parts. Tarrant just had to fly the ship, and Cally and Dayna just had to guard Avon's back. I wasn't to go down, because I couldn't shoot very well left-handed. I hate shooting anyway. I would operate the teleport and keep communications contact in case Avon needed any help.

By the time we arrived at Reegal you could feel the anticipation in the air. I wished them luck and Avon and I shook hands (left) just like that time we had gone to Freedom City to the casino. We make a good team when it comes to crime.

The hit went off perfectly, and they came back with some valuable information. And it seems that there was something else in the batch of stuff we got; Avon disappeared with Orac as soon as he got on board but Cally and Dayna didn't know why. I think I do, though. I saw the look on Avon's face and I knew he wouldn't have reacted like that unless one of those coded messages was from Blake. It's been a couple of weeks since Reegal, and Avon's been acting stranger and stranger. Right now he won't let anyone on the flight deck and I think we might be headed for a rendezvous. I hope Blake is really there. We need him.

the end


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