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A Bout of Insanity

By Marian de Haan
Page 1 of 8

"This is insane!" Avon folded his arms and leant back at his position on Liberator's flight deck.

Cally, standing at his side, felt the mental force of his independence fiercely whirl round him.

"Avon's right, Blake," Jenna said from the pilot's console. "Without Liberator to pick you up in an emergency you won't have a prayer when something goes wrong."

On the forward couch, Gan stretched his long legs. "Why not wait with the operation on Terril until you've finished on Aubrius?"

Blake stopped his pacing of the flight deck. "Because of the timing. The work on that computer needs to be done at night, when the place is empty. The way I've planned it, Liberator will come in teleport range of Terril just after midnight local time."

"Then wait with going down to Aubrius," Jenna said.

"Why go down there at all?" Vila asked. "Just tell Zen to aim the laser blasters at that lab." He pointed at the trigger button on his console. "One push and WHOOSH..."

Blake shook his head. "We can't risk the pathogens escaping. Those bombs have to be placed very accurately, to ensure the explosions will be contained inside the laboratory complex."

Cally nodded. Blake had discussed his plan with her before informing the others. "Our only option is to go there and plant the bombs by hand."

"And get out before they go off," Avon added. "Something you failed to do last time."

//Don't treat me as a fool!// she telepathed to him.

"We'll use a remote control to set off the bombs," Blake said.

"But surely it can wait," Gan argued.

"No!" Blake was adamant. "You saw that secret file from the Aubrius research laboratory. They're working on viruses more lethal than anything ever developed before. The only way to ensure their research results don't get out is to destroy the laboratory *now*."

"Before they finish the project and hand over the data to Space Command," Cally added.

"The Federation know we took that cipher machine," Avon said. "Which means they can deduce exactly what information we have gathered. They will anticipate your actions and lay a trap for you."

Blake nodded. "That's why we can't afford to wait. We have to strike now, while they're still assessing the facts."

"Then postpone the trip to Terril," Gan said.

"Yeah," Vila commented lazily. "Avon can reprogram that computer any time, there's no hurry."

"There *is* Blake said. "That computer is responsible for the civil administration of this entire sector. The Federation's campaign to clamp down on the rebel activity here has left a large number of dissidents on the run. If Avon can reprogram that computer to give the Terril Resistance access, they'll be able to provide the refugees with new identities and backgrounds."

"A day won't make any difference," Vila said.

"I want to be out of this sector quickly," Blake told him. "That's why I want to combine the missions. We're on our way to Aubrius..."

"A course change you didn't feel in need of informing us about," Avon remarked caustically.

"I'm telling you now," Blake said. "As soon as we're in teleport range, Cally and I will go down. Since all security is concentrated on the fence and gates, we can teleport straight inside the laboratory. We'll have the place to ourselves until morning, all the time we need to plant our bombs."

"And how do you plan to get out before the place opens?" Jenna asked.

"We don't." Cally touched the facemask and goggles hanging round her neck. "With these and our white suits, we'll be indistinguishable from the regular lab personnel."

"As long as we don't trot on anyone's toes," Blake said, "no one will give us a second glance."

Avon snorted. "I admire your optimism."

"Liberator will go on to Terril," Blake continued, "where you and Vila will be teleported outside the administration building."

Vila jumped from his position. "Now wait a minute - Avon doesn't need me."

"We may expect the job to include some breaking and entering." Avon gave him a withering stare. "Your speciality - or so I've heard you claim."

"You can teleport straight into the computer room," Vila said. "Those Federation buildings are all the same in layout. Easy enough to compute the co-ordinates."

Avon shook his head. "That could set off all kinds of alarms before we've got the time to disable them."

"But you know me," Vila persisted. "I'll get in your way. You'll be better off without me."

Blake laid a hand on his shoulder. "You're being too modest, Vila."

"I could teach Avon how to pick the locks," Vila suggested eagerly. "They'll be the standard Federation brand, nothing complicated."

"I'm sure Avon will want to leave an expert job to the expert." His hand still on Vila's shoulder, Blake asked Avon: "How long will you need?"

Avon's gaze turned inward as he contemplated the problem. "I can write the program here and save time. Of course, I still need to bypass the securities..."

Cally smiled to herself , admiring Blake's skill in handling Avon. He now seemed to have succeeded in securing his co-operation seemingly without Avon realising it.

"...but a civil administration computer will have less safeguards than a military one. An hour should do it, probably less."

Yes, Cally thought. Once Avon had committed himself to a task, you could rely on him to put his best efforts to the job.

"Good," Blake said, showing no triumph. "Jenna will keep Liberator in orbit and Gan will stay by the teleport. When you're back on board she'll return to Aubrius to pick us up."

"Blake!" Avon's voice was cutting. Flight time between Aubrius and Terril is seven hours. With the time needed for the Terril job that means the round trip will take at least fifteen hours. Too long for you to roam undetected through a top secret Federation laboratory."

Blake shook his head. "The fact that the place is top secret will work to our advantage - once we're inside no one will think twice about our right to be there. All we need to do is stride through the place as if we belong. Scientists are usually far too occupied with their own research to give much attention to anyone else."

"We're taking our guns with us, just in case," Cally said, tapping the side of her baggy white coverall. "Our pockets are large enough to hide them."

Avon stepped from his position. "If something does go wrong you have no way out. Think of what they'll do to you if they catch you, Blake! Do you want to have your memory wiped again? It is a stupid risk!"

Blake raised his chin, eyes blazing. "I'm the one who's taking it!"

With an air of disgust Avon turned his back on him, his gaze boring into Cally. "And you - weren't Travis's administrations enough? You want to go back for more?"

His words hit her like whiplashes. //Avon, don't!//

For a moment she saw compassion in his eyes.

"It has to be done," she said calmly.

"Then don't do it in this stupid manner! Marooning yourselves in a Federation research centre without means of escape for fifteen hours is sheer lunacy."

"Blake has a point, Avon," Jenna said. "It will take time to plant those bombs. Too long for Liberator to remain in stationary orbit without being detected."

"Better to keep on the move," Gan concurred.

Avon gave them a nasty smile. "So, once more Blake has got you where he wants!" He shrugged. "All right, Blake, if you're set on this insanity, go ahead! Just don't rely on me to get you out of the mess!"

Cally gave him a challenging look. //I know you better than that, Avon.//

His eyes held a mixture of frustration and concern, belying the coldness of his voice: "You don't know me at all!"

* * * * * * *

On materialising on Terril's soil Avon heard Vila scream. Raising his gun, he smiled grimly on seeing Vila tumble down the slope amidst a shower of shingle and sand. Trust Vila to land on loose ground! But he was in no danger as the slope was not steep and ended in grassy soil. Of course that didn't stop him moaning. Avon sighed; Vila never took his misfortunes philosophically.

Idly watching Vila get up, Avon frowned, subconsciously sensing something to be amiss. Irritated he shrugged off the feeling, concentrating on his surroundings. They'd landed on a piece of wasteland just outside the government quarter of Terril's main city. In the light of two huge moons the world had taken on various shades of grey. Avon led the way towards the high, square, uninspiring buildings.

"Shut up!" he told Vila a few minutes later when they were nearing the first buildings.

"But it hurts!" Vila rubbed his elbow.

"Then suffer in silence! Or do you want to draw attention?"

"There's no one here."

"They're bound to have some kind of night watch patrolling. It's standard procedure. So be quiet!" Avon stopped in front of a tall building. "This is it."

"How do you know?"

Avon pointed at the plaque next to the main entrance. Black letters on the illuminated yellow board announced it to be the Sector's Administration building. "They're not exactly keeping it secret, are they?"

"They're closed," Vila said with a vague gesture at the list of opening times. "Maybe we should come back another time."

Avon gave him a cold smile. "We'd better find a back entrance. Come on."

Two minutes later he looked on while Vila set to work on the lock of a door in a small alley at the side of the building.

"Suppose someone's inside?" Vila whispered.

"There won't be. All security is automated. So make sure you don't trigger anything off while you open that door."

"I won't." Vila seemed to gain confidence now his professional skill was challenged. He got the lock open in less than three minutes. Overriding the security system took only slightly longer. Avon let out a silent sigh of relief. Apparently Vila was as good as he claimed.

Inside it was pitch dark. They sought their way with the help of the torches they'd brought with them, Vila disabling security devices as they went. At last they entered the basement room that held the master computer.

The room having no windows, Avon thought it safe to switch on the lights. The sight of a metal door in the side wall made him smile in satisfaction.

"In this part of the galaxy lots of payments are still done in cash," he told Vila. "That looks like the door of a safe. Why don't you tackle it while I work on the computer?"

Vila gave him a look of dawning admiration. "That's why you told me to choose a tunic with large pockets."

Avon activated the computer. "And why I wanted you with me."

Vila gave the lock a critical perusal. "A tough one."

"You mean you can't open it?" Avon challenged him.

"Of course I can. It just needs time."

"You'd better not waste any more on talking, then."

They set to work.

Half an hour later Avon was making the last adjustments to the reprogramming, well ahead of schedule, when he was brought out of his concentration by the chiming of his teleport bracelet. He pressed his communicator button. "Avon."

"Jenna here. The detectors are registering three pursuit ships coming this way. Zen says we'll be in their detector range within six minutes."

Just enough time to complete the task. "Right. I'm nearly finished. Stand by to bring us up." Switching off the communicator, Avon turned to Vila, who was prodding the lock with a small probe. "Did you hear that?"

"Yes." Vila retracted his probe and the lock sprang open. "There." Counting softly, he began to stuff wads of banknotes into his pockets.

Avon turned his attention back to his own task, impatiently waiting for the computer to finish the reprogramming run.

"Ready," Vila said, patting his bulging pockets. "Sixty thousand credits."

Thirty thousand each, not a bad haul, Avon thought. And Vila was now in his debt. Something to remind him of when Avon was in need of support against Blake.

"Ninety seconds, Avon," came Jenna's voice over the communicator. "I can't risk the ship!"

"We'll be ready in a minute." With relief Avon saw the computer announce the completion of the instructions. Taking out the reprogramming disk, he told Vila: "Shut that safe door."

Vila grinned. "You like to leave things tidy, hey?"

Hiding his satisfaction, Avon treated him to a supercilious smile. "Mind you don't set off any alarms."

"Of course not! I know my job." Vila gave the safe door a vigorous push. The lock clicked and sirens started wailing through the building.

* * * * * * *

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