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The End of the Rainbow

By Cami
Page 1 of 12

Prologue:

Tight lipped and pale, Avon hobbled across the width of the small cell, aiming for the sanitation facilities on the far wall. His extremities were still partially numb while the rest of him was racked with cramps, the aftereffects of multiple stun charges. Perversely, he welcomed the pain. If he thought about it, he didn't think about the consummate disaster that had occurred on Gauda Prime. Keeping regret a small part of life wasn't proving easy after that debacle. Behind him Tarrant moaned softly, reminding Avon why he was propped in front of the shallow sink. Tarrant was thirsty. Despite having the release valve set on full open, only a small trickle of brackish water dripped from the single spout. It seemed to take several eternities to dampen the square of cloth that he had placed over the drain. When it was saturated, Avon plucked it out and walked with hesitant, unsure steps to where his shipmate was sprawled on the hard platform that served as the cell's only furniture. Tarrant sensed his presence and opened his eyes. Ignoring the fiery throbbing in his back, Avon crouched beside him. "There is no cup and very little water, but this should help." He twisted the ragged cloth, coaxing precious drops of moisture to fall onto Tarrant's lips. The young man licked them into his mouth. After repeating the tedious procedure two more times, Tarrant indicated that he was satisfied. "Thank you," he whispered. "Tell me where it hurts," Avon instructed as his hands began a gentle examination of the pilot's body. "Worst there," Tarrant said, flinching when fingers probed at his left side. He managed a weak smile. "But not much better anywhere else." "They'll leave you alone now," Avon predicted joylessly. "I've told them that you didn't know Orac's location. They appeared to believe me." "You didn't have to..." Tarrant paused to suck in a shallow breath, "do that." "I found the sight of them beating you senseless for information that you didn't have distasteful." The crude interrogation process had roused Avon from unconsciousness, to a world that he'd hoped never to see again. Tarrant grabbed weakly at Avon's sleeve. "They'll hurt you next. T-tell them where it is. Doesn't matter now. All over." "All over," Avon echoed while his hand subconsciously soothed across Tarrant's curls. "She won." "Servalan?" "She was here, earlier, gloating over her victory. You were so groggy, I'm not surprised that you don't remember. Though she didn't say, I believe they've already found Orac. It wasn't that well hidden." "Did she mention the others?" "No." Tarrant sighed desolately then closed his eyes. Avon backed soundlessly from the bunk, hoping that Tarrant would sleep. There was precious little other comfort that he could offer his injured shipmate.

They'd come for him soon after that, and he'd never seen Del Tarrant again. Until now. The face on the viewscreen was older and had changed more than would seem possible in two years, but it was unmistakably Tarrant. "You are sure this is the man?" Avon asked. Grant's sober voice came from behind him. "I'm sure. I lost two operatives before a third managed to penetrate the Space Systems Development Complex. This information was bought with blood. I'm sure." Grant reached over Avon's shoulder to jab at the picture on the monitor. "The tall man on the right is the Federation's prize scientist, the one who gave them the star drive. The one who is this close," Grant's thumb and index finger moved to within a hair's width of each other, "to gifting them with a teleport." "Has Blake seen this vid-disk?" "He didn't have time." Grant swung around to perch on the desk, facing Avon. "Blake listened to my report and congratulated me on a job well done. Then he loaned me Orac and requested that I work up a plan to stop //that bastard//," he nodded to the screen. "Orac identified Tarrant." "And have you worked up a plan?" "Give me a break, I've only been back for six hours." The blond man shrugged. "I still have an agent inside the facility." "Assassination then?" "Do we have a choice? According to Orac, this man is the singlemost threat to the rebel cause in the Federation. If they get a teleport... Well, you know what a disaster that would be." Avon's focus drifted back to the lanky figure on the screen. "Tarrant saved my life on numerous occasions." Grant nodded, his blue eyes understanding but wary. "Dayna talks about him. That's why I thought you had a right to know." "You'll tell her?" "Not me." A dreamy smile teased across the mercenary's face. "I only have twelve hours before I ship out. I don't intend to spend that time in a futile argument." "She'll be furious." Grant stood, yawning. "I know that, but her temper will have cooled by the time I get back again." He patted Avon's shoulder, "Take care," then started for the door. * * * There was a time when Avon could have walked into Blake's office on a whim, but that was before the rebellion had grown so large that bureaucracy was the order of the day. Now one had to talk their way through three levels of administrative staff, have an appointment a month in advance, or try to catch the rebel commander in a rare moment of off-duty leisure. Avon didn't have the time or patience for any of the acceptable procedures to scale the bureaucratic mountain. Therefore, the mountain would have to come to him. In the cafeteria, he let slip that he had developed schematics for an ultralinear time warp drive. An hour later, he was summoned to Blake's presence. Blake rose to greet him, a smile stretching from ear to ear. "I just heard," he said, reaching out but stopping short of actually touching Avon. "Congratulations. Do you know what this means? With this new capability, we will save..." "An ultralinear time warp drive is an impossibility. It defies the laws of physics. No legitimate scientist would waste time on it. If you had bothered to read my reports, you would know that I've been concentrating on breaking the Federation's Arno-X code." "But...I don't understand." Blake's eyes were puzzled and disappointed. "Deva said that..." "I needed to see you on a matter of some urgency so I started a rumor that was sure to reach your ears and capture your attention." Anger blazed across Blake's face. "Damn you, Avon. To steal your way into my office is bad enough, but did you have to use that particular ploy? For a minute..." "...you saw victory within your grasp," Avon finished wryly. "We all have to live with disappointment." "I should have you thrown out on your ear or locked up in detention." "But then you would have to admit that you were fooled by a story that was so obviously a lie that a student engineer would have seen through it. Wouldn't it be better to hear me out and give credence to this meeting?" Avon tossed a vid-disk case across the desk. "Look at this." "I don't have time," Blake protested, but his fingers obediently freed the disk and inserted it in the appropriate slot on his computer display. "What is it?" "Watch." Blake dimmed the lights and pressed the start button. Though he had the scenario memorized, Avon's eyes gravitated to the monitor. In the opening sequence, the picture was fuzzy and at an odd angle. Gradually, it came into focus and leveled to a horizontal plane. It showed three men in white coveralls working in a laboratory setting. The tallest of the group, whose back was to the camera, was poking at an object that rested on a lab bench, presumably talking to his two silent observers. Since there was no audio, that was a matter of conjecture. The lens zoomed in until the device being examined was shown in full detail. "A teleport interface," Blake said. His eyes shot to Avon. "This is the material that Grant brought back from Galinum." "Watch the monitor," Avon instructed. Abruptly the picture jiggled. Something had prompted the man operating the camera to scan away from the interface. A glare filled the screen as it panned over an expanse of ivory cloth. "This is not very interesting," Blake grumbled, obviously still perturbed by Avon's devious method of gaining his office. Avon didn't reply, allowing the movie to make his point. The camera steadied again, on a field of human flesh that swiftly sharpened to a close-up of a face. "Freeze it there." "The Federation miracle worker," Blake guessed, unimpressed. For a second, Avon was shaken. Blake hadn't recognized...but then his acquaintance with Tarrant had been brief. And the pilot had been bruised and bloody at the time. "You know that man," he pointed out. Blake slowly advanced the picture, frame by frame. "Tarrant," he finally cried. "So he didn't die on Gauda Prime; he sold out. I was right not to trust him." Avon eyed him sharply. "Tarrant wouldn't sell out," he said quietly but firmly. "I'm sure that he is not cooperating voluntarily." "Come now. I told you what Deva discovered in the secured files. Your Tarrant was cousin to the agent who betrayed me. That's why I tested him on Gauda Prime. Treachery runs in the family. According to Orac, this mystery scientist has been providing technical expertise for almost two years. That does not sound like a coerced alliance." "Blake, you of all people should realize what the Federation can do to a man's mind." "Exactly. And I know that the drugs necessary to maintain docility in a rebellious individual would not permit the type of highly sophisticated work that Tarrant is performing. The chemicals dull the brain." "You are thinking of your own case. There are other..." "What does Orac say?" Avon shrugged. He had been afraid--no, he had been sure-- that Blake would ask that question. "Orac can not find data that would support my theory. That does not mean that it doesn't exist. It is only a computer and limited by the knowledge available to it. As we both know, the Federation has developed something that is impervious to Orac's intrusion. That's why the stardrive-powered ships took us by surprise. The only way Orac found out about the teleport project was by analyzing supply requisitions. It is possible that the Federation has tampered with Tarrant without leaving evidence visible to Orac. I've done research on various psychomanipulation techniques and...." "Avon, Avon, Avon," Blake covered his hands before he could reach in his pocket for the second vid-disk. "I know what you're trying to do and I understand, but this debate really has no fruitful purpose. Whether Del Tarrant is doing this voluntarily or not, he must be stopped. Grant will handle it." "Grant will kill him." "Trying to effect change requires difficult choices. Your loyalty to your ex-shipmate is commen..." "I'm quite familiar with loyalty."

//"So get out of here will you," Tarrant ordered, his voice strained from the effort of piloting the dead ship, "there's no sense in both of us dying."//

//"Avon!" Some corner of his mind heard Tarrant call his name and realized that the pilot was risking his own safety to try to help him.//

//"You didn't have to do that," Tarrant said, protesting his telling the Federation interrogator that the young man couldn't possibly know where Orac was. Protesting because, "They'll hurt you next."//

"There were internal injuries from the crash. I thought he was dead." "What are you talking about?" Avon blinked himself back to the present, wondering how long he had been lost in the past. Long enough to draw Blake's attention. The rebel leader was looking at him with concern. "Blake, you owe me," he said, playing on the other man's conscience. "I want a chance to go after Tarrant." "I won't allow it. It could very well be a suicidal mission. Grant already lost two men getting this information." "It is my right to take that risk." "You are too valuable. What if they capture you? Think of what..." "I don't intend this to be a one-way trip." Avon leaned against Blake's desk, holding the other man's eyes until Blake broke the contact. "I'm not going to be able to talk you out of this." "No, you're not. I will go with or without your approval. And I expect Dayna, Soolin, and Vila will insist on accompanying me." "Vila. He's a cripple. He won't be able to help you." Avon smiled. "Vila is still the best lockpick in intergalactic space. He'll do this, for old time's sake." "Your Tarrant better be worth it. If he turns out to be a traitor, I will personally skin him alive." * * *


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