Of Renegades and KingsBy Jean Graham
Page 2 of 4
|On the heels of that bit of cynicism, Vila bumbled through the door
with Orac filling his arms. "Here you go, Avon. Little bugger wasn't happy
about having his research interrupted, but maybe you can-- Oh, hullo Cally."
The thief dumped his burden on the cluttered panel serving as Avon's work
station. "Joining the ranks of the dissatisfied, are you?"
"Not exactly." She cast a curious look at Avon. "Frankly, Vila, I'd be more surprised to find that you had joined them."
"Well, you know me. I like to stay where it's safe."
Avon's look reflected a bored indulgence for the thiefs incessant chatter, but he said nothing.
"I do not think I understand," the Auron admitted. "Are you leaving Liberator?"
"I never said that." Avon gave the words no emotional inflection. They were a simple, Avonesque statement of fact.
"But that is what you intend?"
Her pressing the point brought a flicker of -- consternation?-- to Avon's demeanor, but as he had done with Blake, he firmly refused to be pinned down. "Does it matter?" He pushed Orac's key into place and the flashing box whined noisily to life.
"Yes" she replied honestly. "It matters to me. I would like you to stay. I believe in what Blake is doing, but I also believe he could do it much more efficiently if you -- both of you -- were to remain with him."
Vila, who had obviously misinterpreted her interest, looked disappointed. "Is that the only reason?"
"You believe in him," Avon echoed. "Blake's mad crusade nearly got you killed on Centero. It did kill Gan. And for what? He cannot win, Cally. No matter how many of the rabble he gathers round him, he cannot win."
"But you have just said that by undermining the computers--"
"And you heard our fearless leader's reaction," Avon interrupted. "He does not intend--"
He was in turn cut short by Orac's strident, waspish voice. *I have detected a signal,* it reported, *transmitted to Federation Space Command Headquarters.*
Avon waited a beat before demanding, "So?"
*The message informs Supreme Commander Servalan that rebel forces will attack the supply depot on Setonus Prime within the week. The signal was transmitted eleven-point-eight minutes ago -- from aboard Liberator.*
"What?" The shocked query issued from three throats simultaneously.
Avon waved a chattering Vila to silence and said, "Who sent the message, Orac?"
*That is not a determinable factor. I can confirm that the signal was beamed from auxiliary communications on level five. The Zen unit has also detected the transmission.*
Cally saw Avon's gaze drilling virtual holes through the bulkhead into the auxiliary communications cabin beyond. He placed both hands on Orac's casing and said carefully, "Scan for life signs in auxiliary communications five."
*I have already done so. There are none.*
"Been and gone," Vila said. "They'd hardly hang about after that, would they?"
Cally shook her head. "They've not been gone long. You saw no one in the corridor, Vila?"
The thief paled. "Er... no. I mean I wasn't looking, exactly, but--"
All three of them started at the intrusion of a new voice. In the doorway, Blake just behind her, stood Jenna, a confiscated Federation blaster tucked under her arm. The weapon pointed unerringly at Avon.
"Stand away from the table," she ordered. "Keep your hands where I can see them."
Disinclined to argue with Federation blasters, the computer tech complied, turning his glare on Blake when the rebel leader strode past Jenna into the room. "What the hell is going on?" Avon demanded.
Cally could hear the brittle shards of hurt and betrayal in Blake's reply. "I was about to ask you that." She had never seen Blake so angry. His usually-gentle face now wore a look of stormy, ill-concealed rage. "Why, Avon?" It was a poignant, rasping plea.
Realization quickly dawned on Avon's coolly composed features. His eyes strayed toward the communications room and slowly tracked back past Jenna's gun to Blake. "Do you really imagine I would be so stupid? So obvious?"
"You can drop the coy act, Avon," Jenna huffed. "It could only be you. Everyone else was accounted for."
"Everyone," Blake emphasized. "Zen confirms that you were the only person on deck five when the message was transmitted. That would seem to leave little doubt."
Cally watched Avon's confidence erode, visibly giving way to confusion and a very tangible apprehension. How, she wondered, could such a message have been sent if not by Avon? She could have sworn that his surprise at Orac's report had been genuine. Yet, if Zen had accounted for everyone else aboard... She could make no sense of it. Surely, as he had just said, Avon would never be so obvious.
"Orac," Blake commanded, "confirm the whereabouts of all crew members at point of message transmission 09.47 ship's time."
*As I am not a monitoring device, I can be no more specific than to say that Blake, Jenna, Seann and Morgen Tolen, Sol, Belus and Rica were located on the flight deck. Cally was on level three en route to level five. Avon was on deck five. Vila was in the process of retrieving me from the teleport room.*
In the midst of the computer's grudging recitation, both Tolens strode through the door, and the little computer room suddenly felt very crowded indeed. Blake and Jenna parted to allow them entrance, but Jenna maintained her threat to Avon with the gun.
"I'm generally not one to say I told you so," Morgen gloated, "but I did try to warn you about this man."
"Don't be an idiot, Blake." Avon's anger returned in force. "I would have nothing to gain by--"
"You have everything to gain," Seann accused, "if you're a Federation spy. We've only one recourse for your sort."
Morgen nodded in terse agreement. "Treason warrants summary execution," he recited, judge and jury passing sentence on the instantly condemned.
Vila dropped something, a loud clatter in the suddenly silent room. "Now wait a minute," he stammered.
"Not," Blake boomed, "aboard my ship. I have no intention of stooping to Federation tactics."
"You have no choice," Seann hissed. "He may have failed to trap you this time, forced you to change your plans, but let him stay and I guarantee you he'll find another way!"
Chaos broke out, several voices trying to talk at once. Only Blake and Avon, their eyes locked, remained silent amidst the din. They stood thus until the babble subsided and a tension-filled silence fell once again. Orac's whine was the only sound.
"Lock him in the hold, Jenna," Blake said at length. "I'll decide what's to be done with him. In due course."
The clamor of voices began anew; Blake quelled it with a sharp gesture of his hand. "Jenna," he repeated, and made another gesture at the door. She in turn swept the muzzle of the gun in that direction.
Avon ignored the unspoken demand, instead faced Blake one last time. "I sent no message," he said. The clipped, no-nonsense tone concealed nothing that Cally could interpret as deception. If anything, those four words had laid Avon's soul bare, spreading the naked, unadorned truth squarely at Blake's feet.
Not surprisingly, the rebel leader would have none of it. He said nothing, but his eyes remained unyielding and coldly accusing.
Stiff shouldered, Avon wheeled and marched out of the room past Morgen's sly smile and Seann's smug expression. Jenna followed with the gun, though for all Avon paid her any heed, she might as well not have been there. Cally wondered whether the blonde freetrader would actually shoot Avon were he to defy Blake's order of confinement in the hold.
She turned her own accusing gaze on Blake then, interrupting a gloating comment from Seann Tolen. "He was telling the truth," she said. "Avon sent no message."
Morgen scoffed at her. "Are the Auronae now mind-readers as well?"
"I can often sense the emotional discomfort of a lie in one I know. Avon was not lying."
Their leader remained unconvinced. "It's second nature to him, Cally. No discomfort need apply."
"I disagree. He may seem to lack any emotion, but he is not..." She had to let the sentence trail away. Blake was no longer listening. He brushed past her and a speechless Vila, then stalked directly between the still-chattering Tolens and out the door. The two revolutionaries went after him, talking all the while. Their magpie voices faded down the outer corridor, leaving the tiny room in sudden, deafening silence.
Vila broke the spell with a frustrated sigh. "Well," he breathed, "I may not be an Auron, but I know my Avons well enough. I believe him."
"So do I, Vila. So do I."
* * *
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