A Bout of InsanityBy Marian de Haan
Page 2 of 8
"What did I hear you say?"|
"Wasn't my fault!" Vila tried not to wince under Avon's stare. "You must have triggered something in that computer."
"That seems unlikely."
"Avon," Jenna called. "You've got fifteen seconds!"
Vila felt panic rise. "Let's get out of here!"
Avon switched off the computer. "Right, tell Gan to bring us up."
Relieved, Vila raised his arm. Then his heart seemed to stop. Horror gripped him. "Avon! I've lost my bracelet."
"Idiot! Find it!"
With sickening certainty Vila knew that was useless. "It must have happened outside, when I fell."
"Time's up, Avon," Jenna said.
Vila grabbed Avon's arm. "Don't leave me!"
"Bringing you up in three seconds," Gan announced.
In a daze Vila saw Avon rip off his bracelet.
Vila felt the bracelet being clamped violently round his arm. While the dematerialization gripped him, he heard Avon's harsh voice: "Tell them to get Blake out first..."
The next moment Vila found himself in Liberator's teleport bay. He fell hard against the wall as Liberator shot out of orbit.
"Where's Avon?" Gan asked.
Thoughts raced through Vila's head: the need to find a hiding place for the money, the pursuit ships on their tail, Avon's baffling deed... "He lost his bracelet."
* * * * * * *
Still reeling from the sheer insanity of giving Vila his bracelet, Avon considered his options. Footsteps pounding in the corridor decided him against a dash for freedom. Quickly, he sought cover behind the computer console while the door was kicked in. If they were stupid enough to run straight for the safe he might have a chance to escape behind their backs...
No such luck. Only two of the half dozen guards went on to check the safe door. Two others began to search the computer room while the last two stayed at the door.
"Raise your hands and come forward!" a sharp voice barked.
Obeying resignedly, Avon found four guns aimed at him. One of the guards, taller than the others although equally anonymous in his black helmet, removed Avon's weapon. Holding it out to a man with the insignia of a Section Leader - the only one with his visor up - he said: "Look at this, Sir."
The Section Leader eyed the weapon with interest. "Well, well, well...," he drawled in a voice thick with triumph. "This meets the description of the weapons of those escaped criminals who've got hold of a space ship."
"Didn't they also have some kind of teleport system?" the tall guard asked.
"Indeed - enables them to drop in and out in a flash." The Section Leader's smug gaze came to rest on Avon. "I think we can congratulate ourselves with the capture of a dangerous terrorist."
"You mean that Blake fellow, Sir?" another guard asked.
"This isn't Blake." The Section Leader moved his gun a fraction until it pointed straight at Avon's heart. "Who are you?"
In a flash of inspiration, Avon laid as much fear in his voice as he could: "I'm not a terrorist! A thief, yes, but never a terrorist!"
"A thief? Ah..." The Section Leader's eyes lit up. "There was mention of a thief - a Delta grade recidivist. Now what was his name...?"
"Vila," Avon volunteered. "Vila Restal. And I'm not against the Federation. I never wanted to fight! Blake forced me..."
The Section Leader gave him a disdaining stare. "Yes, Vila Restal. You're a miserable coward, aren't you?" His hand came up for a blow.
Avon flinched away. "Don't hit me!"
The Section Leader's smile was vicious. "Where's Blake?"
Avon shook his head, pretending to be thoroughly frightened. "He'll kill me if I tell you."
"I'll kill you if you don't!" The Section Leader raised his gun to emphasise his words.
"No, please!" Feeling the muzzle against his cheek, Avon added quickly: "He's on Bellasol."
That was a planet in a nearby system, housing a weapons development centre.
"Ah." The Section Leader lowered his gun. "Now that makes sense. He's going to attack the Centre."
Avon nodded, biting his lip. That centre was so obvious a target, even Blake had seen the sense of avoiding it.
"Good." The Section Leader beamed at him. "I'll send them a message at once. Now, what were you doing here?"
Trying to sound resentful, Avon whined: "It's all Avon's fault..."
"Avon? Ah yes, the embezzler. First grade Alpha - you don't see many of them turn to crime."
"Well, they don't have to, do they?" Avon managed the right amount of scorn. "Being the privileged class!"
"Go on," the Section Leader said.
Avon clenched his teeth, pretending to be too frightened to answer. When the other aimed his gun again he blurted out: "Avon was supposed to sabotage the computer. But once we were here, he said: forget about the computer, we're going to empty the safe. He wants to leave Blake, you see, and for that he needs money. So he made me open that door for him. He took out all the money. Then he teleported out when the alarm went off."
The Section Leader smirked. "Not your lucky day, is it? How come he left you behind?"
"I lost my teleport device."
"Definitely not your lucky day! Bring him to a cell," the Section Leader instructed the guards. "I haven't finished with him yet."
Two guards took Avon between them. Two others positioned themselves behind him, guns aimed at his back. The tall guard took the lead.
Halting to let his superior through the doorway first, the guard asked: "Aren't you going to warn the Intelligence Officer, Sir?"
A slight smile did nothing to warm the Section Leader's features. "Not before morning. We don't want to deprive our esteemed Captain Karpal of his beauty sleep, now do we?"
So, Avon thought while they marched him out, the Section Leader was planning to claim the honour of his catch for himself. Not surprising: rivalry was fierce between the Military and the Intelligence Division, better known as the notorious Central Security.
* * * * * * *
"Information," Zen announced. "Pursuit ships are now out of Liberator's scanner range. No probe activity has been detected."
"Good," Jenna said. "Maintain course for Aubrius, Zen."
Gan left the weapon console he'd been manning. (Vila had run from the teleport room and not reacted to Jenna's call for him to come to the flight deck.) "Let's go back for Avon first. That doesn't have to take long. I can teleport down with a spare bracelet."
"No," Jenna said. "We'll keep to the schedule."
"Avon will have a hard time down there, keeping in hiding for fourteen hours," Gan protested.
"Too bad." Jenna felt a perverse satisfaction. Let Avon experience what it felt like to be left behind. His attempt to tempt her into abandoning Blake on Cygnus Alpha still rankled. Seeing Vila enter the flight deck, glass with green liquid in hand, she demanded: "And where have you been?"
Heading for the nearest couch, he held up his glass. "I needed to get something to steady my nerves."
"I still think we should go back for Avon," Gan said.
Vila sat down. "He said to get Blake out first."
"What?" Jenna asked.
"His very words," Vila said. "'Tell them to get Blake out first.'"
Jenna felt an ice-cold suspicion rise in her stomach. "It must be a trap. He's planning to sell us out."
"Hey?" Vila's head came up from his glass.
"Losing his bracelet isn't like Avon. It must be a ploy to give him the chance to stay behind. He's going to save his own skin by delivering us to the Federation." The more Jenna thought about it, the likelier it seemed. "They'll lay a trap for us at Aubrius, hoping to catch Liberator along with Blake."
"No," Vila exclaimed, suddenly looking very uneasy. "Avon really lost his bracelet."
Jenna gave him a disdaining stare. "Anyone can fool you!"
"It's true," Vila maintained. "He didn't see he'd lost it until the very last moment."
Jenna frowned. Something was wrong with that argument, something so obvious it was staring her in the face... "I was in contact with Avon right until the last moment - via his bracelet!" She left her console, advancing upon Vila with menacing steps. "You're lying! You're in league with him!"
Gan came from the other side. "The truth, Vila!"
"All right." The drink spilled over the glass in Vila's trembling hand. "It was me who lost the bracelet. Avon gave me his."
"What?" Gan said, halting.
"He wouldn't!" Jenna spat.
"Why didn't he call for us to bring another?" Gan asked.
Vila seemed to try to melt into the couch. "There wasn't time. I didn't notice until he told me to call you to bring us up. Honestly!"
"I don't believe it!" Jenna stared at the man cowering before her. "Avon wouldn't jeopardise his freedom for you!"
"He probably rates his own chances of staying out of the Federation hands higher than Vila's," Gan said pensively. "We all know Vila will spill the beans the moment he's caught. Avon must have reasoned that hiding out on Terril is less dangerous than being drafted into a mission to get Blake and Cally out of a Federation prison."
Jenna forced herself to consider that argument with an open mind.
"I suppose it's possible."
Gan asked Vila: "How is the situation down there? Will he be able to stay in hiding for that long?"
"Oh, sure." Vila gave them a nervous smile. "Avon has this sense for self-preservation, hasn't he?"
Jenna still didn't feel totally convinced. But she wasn't going to abandon Blake if she could help it. "We're going to stick to the plan. Avon will have to sweat it out until we've retrieved Blake and Cally. Zen, keep all scanners at full alert. Warn us of any approaching craft."
* * * * * * *
Avon's cell was of the standard Federation brand, containing nothing but a bunk, a tap for water and a hole in the floor for sanitation. They'd stripped him of all clothes and possessions and given him a faded green coverall that was two sizes too large. Reflecting that prison procedures were the same all over the Federated worlds, he lay down on his bunk, glad to remove his bare feet from the cold floor.
His anger about having been forced into this act of insanity quickly passed. He'd had no choice - there'd been no time to get the money off Vila. The fact that it would have taken the guards only minutes to get a full confession out of Vila, resulting in the capture of Blake and Cally, had nothing to do with it.
Things weren't as bad as they could have been. With a bit of luck all Federation spacecraft in the sector would be directed to Bellasol. That would give Liberator a clear path to Aubrius. The ship could well be back to pick him up before anyone became aware that Blake wasn't on Bellasol.
As long as he could pass for Vila, considered too cowardly to dare lying, Avon would be relatively safe - and able to feed his captors any amount of misinformation. The game would be over as soon as someone started to compare his palm and voiceprints, but it was just possible that no one would take that trouble.
A quick look at his watch before handing it over had given the time as twelve minutes past midnight, local time. It would take Liberator at least fourteen hours to go to Aubrius and back. Without his watch Avon would have to rely on the prison routine for gauging the time...
The sound of the door sliding back made him sit up. The Section Leader entered, leaving the tall guard at the door.
"I've warned Bellasol," he said. "The centre's gone into alert. They'll catch Blake."
Avon quickly slid back into his role: "Don't let him get near me!"
His interrogator smiled nastily. "He frightens you, doesn't he?"
"Blake's a monster!" Avon was perversely beginning to enjoy himself. "We're all afraid of him. Even Avon."
"I see." The Leader sat down beside him on the bunk, putting a small voice recorder between them. Activating it, he said: "Now you are going to tell me all about your companions and your ship and your plans. Every little detail."
Avon obliged, providing him with a heap of minutiae about life aboard Liberator. Knowing that a bit of honesty makes lies more convincing, he wove as much truth into his tales as he could. Improvising along, he presented a picture of a crew about to break under the strain, making it sound as if none of them could even remotely pose a threat to the Federation. It was a tiring job, for he could not afford to let his attention slip for a single moment.
When he began to repeat himself, the Section Leader switched off his recorder. While he picked it up, Avon managed to steal a glance at his watch. Nearly half past two. Liberator must have shaken off the pursuit ships and be well on her way to Aubrius by now.
When his interrogator had gone, Avon lay down on his bunk, turning onto his side to shield his eyes from the harsh light that would remain switched on during the night. His cell brought painful thoughts of Anna. Avon could almost visualise her: alone, hurt, yet defiant until the end...
Determined, he cast his thoughts away from her. But when he closed his eyes, another woman manifested herself before him: Cally.
He did not want to get involved with her. He'd accepted her death on Centero, putting away the pain as he'd done after Anna's demise. When it became clear that she had survived, and was in the hands of Federation torturers, he'd shut out all feeling. He didn't dare to hope that Blake would succeed in bringing her out and when he did, Avon had been too relieved to say a word.
Cally had taken her place amongst them as if nothing had happened. But that night Avon had been woken by her voice in his head: //Avon, I need you.//
He hadn't want to react. She should call Blake; it was his mission that got her captured. But while he was thinking that, his feet were already bringing him to her cabin.
Cally sat on her bed, eyes large and haunted. Feeling awkward and ill at ease, Avon had sat down beside her. She'd begun to talk, relating and reliving the torture her captors had subjected her to and fretting about what she might have revealed.
Avon had been brusquely reassuring. "Don't be an idiot! You know nothing about the workings of Liberator's systems. And do you really think you can have told them something new about any of us? We're all in their files, remember!"
Seeing his words hit home, he'd stood, eager to leave. She had grabbed his arm. "Stay, Avon."
Taken aback by the urgency in her voice, he had obliged, listening while Cally told him about the loneliness being cut off from her mind-sharing people brought her and how the force of his mental independence was giving her the strength to bear her isolation.
Avon had no time for mystics but Cally's alien talents fascinated him. Her telepathy was real - he DID receive her thoughts. Therefore there must be a scientific explanation for it. Taking the opportunity, he'd asked her about the experiments into the subject done on Auron. Cally had willingly told him all she knew . They'd sat talking companionably until she fell asleep.
That useful conversation had been the reason why he'd stayed with her that night, Avon reminded himself - not some sentimental urge to comfort a rebel who'd been stupid enough to let herself get caught.
Still, the fact that Cally seemed to prefer him to Blake did provide a certain satisfaction. He definitely did not want to get involved with her, but if he played her dependence on him right she could be another ally for when the time of confrontation came. With both her and Vila on his side, the odds were even. Gan was a lost cause, but Jenna seemed both sensible and practical. Once she got over her crush for her noble leader, she might well be prepared to take Avon's side. Then they could dump Blake and Gan on some suitable rebel base and embark on more profitable ventures.
Turning onto his other side, Avon tried to find a more comfortable position on the hard bunk. He needed sleep, to be ready for the next interrogation. Gloves were bound to come off once the Intelligence Officer took over. But investigators of his rank were only allowed a limited amount of violence. Avon knew the Interrogation Rules as well as any Security member. The more sophisticated treatment, the real, irreversible damage, had to be left to a professional torturer. Even the thugs from Central Security had to stick to the rules, which meant he would get out of this with a sore back at the most. Something he knew he could stand.
* * * * * * *
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