Sacrifice and BetrayalBy Jean Graham
Page 2 of 3
|"Come on, come on!" Vila panted his desperate request to the door-lock
inside computer auxiliary 6A. Green wire, blue wire, cross-circuit and
fuse those two... A tiny puff of smoke rose from the open lock box,
and Vila exhaled a relieved breath. "That should discourage visitors for
a few hours, at least," he muttered.
He turned to retrieve a flashing Orac from the floor, then hustled around standing computer banks to the rear of the cramped little room, where he plunked his burden down on a worktable beside a console of monitor screens.
"All right, Orac." He thumped the buzzing computer lightly. "I want to see what's happening on the flight deck. And don't tell me you can't be bothered. This is important -- a matter of life and death, as a matter of fact."
*I would tend to agree,* the fussy voice acknowledged. Without further comment, it activated the central viewscreen to afford Vila a Zen's-eye-view of Liberator's bridge and the people assembled there.
The thief slid into a chair and leaned forward to peer at the screen, breathing a silent prayer of thanks to un-named gods for his escape -- thus far -- from whoever had boarded the ship. He'd had the good fortune, when Avon's call had come through, to be running maintenance checks with Orac in the room beyond the teleport chamber. He did not recognize the petite blonde woman who materialized instead of Avon, and pulled a gun on Dayna. He'd promptly snatched out Orac's key to silence its whine, then peered through the small hexagonal opening in the wall. The deck beneath him surged with the power of sudden acceleration. Tarrant must have heard Avon's urgent call on the flight deck and gone to standard by nine the moment teleport was completed.
The blonde stepped smartly forward to shove the gun into Dayna's face, muttering a demand. Vila heard Dayna press the comm control and say, "Hold it, Tarrant. We've got trouble." Almost at once, the power surge died.
"All right, move," the small woman demanded. She motioned toward the exit with her gun, and sullenly, Dayna complied. Vila had watched them leave, then turned back to slap Orac's key into place.
*I must protest the unexplained interruption of our maintenance-- *
"Listen, Orac, and no arguments." Vila's words rushed as fast as his racing heartbeat. "I want you to take over Zen and all ship's functions, right now! We've been boarded."
He'd slipped through back corridors to the computer room then, and nervously fused the door lock. The view Orac now gave him did little to encourage hun: it showed several Federation troops at Liberator's control stations, Avon sitting statue-like on the flight couch, and though there was no sign of the blonde woman, Vila recognized the female in obvious command only too well.
"Servalan." He uttered the name like a curse. "I knew that whole business was a trap. I told them."
He started at the unexpected intrusion of Cally's telepathic voice. He'd forgotten about Cally. She must have been on the flight deck with Tarrant when the strange woman brought Dayna in at gunpoint...
/Vila, we are locked in cargo hold four. Help us, Vila, but take care. There were five pursuit ships; many of Servalan's troops have docked and boarded./
Hold on, Cally, he thought, although he knew she couldn't hear him. I have to know what's going on, first.
On the screen, one of Servalan's troops urged Avon, with a paragun, to stand and face the president.
"I have to know what's going on," Vila repeated aloud, and settled morosely down to watch.
* * *
Avon obeyed the trooper's demand woodenly, rising to approach Servalan at the front of Zen's amber fascia. He should, he knew, have felt anger, outright rage at the ease with which she'd tricked him. But as it was, he felt nothing at all. Nothing but the emptiness.
"You will order Zen to accept my voice print," she instructed.
The guard raised his gun to emphasize the demand. Avon ignored him. "Zen," he said in a voice as dead as the heart within him. "Record Servalan's voice print. Hence forward, you will accept her commands."
Gold light bars flashed erratically across the computer's round face.
Too fast, Avon realized,
*Confimed,* it said at last, and Avon's eyes widened in silent shock
at the voice, which was
Servalan did not appear to notice, but then, she was familiar with neither
machine. "Zen," she
Again the uncharacteristic delay while the light bars winked and shifted. *Vila Restal is no longer aboard Liberator.*
"What?" The president glared briefly at her troops. "No escape capsules were launched. There wasn't time. Therefore, he is still aboard. You will tell me where."
The huge computer hummed as though contemplating its answer. *Vila Restal's last known location was the planet Keezarn, twenty-one point seven days ago. No communication has been received from him since that time.*
She glanced dubiously at Avon, who deliberately returned nothing but a bored, noncommittal look. "Very well, Zen," she said imperiously. "My troops have also been unable to locate Orac. Tell me where it is, then."
When the silence lengthened, she lost patience and snapped, "You will answer the question, Zen!"
*The one called Orac,* it intoned in a fair imitation of Zen's phraseology, *is also no longer aboard.*
"No longer aboard!" She repeated the words with venomous disbelief. "I suppose Orac is on Keezarn as well?!"
*The one called Orac,* 'Zen' said after a somewhat shorter delay, *was stolen by Vila Restal upon his departure from Liberator twenty-one point seven days ago. Its last known location was also the planet Keezarn.*
Livid, she turned accusing eyes on Avon. "I can't believe you'd allow Orac to escape your clutches. Vila, perhaps -- he's worthless by comparison. But never Orac."
"Believe as you like," he said, nonplused. "Neither is aboard."
She seethed. "Vila stole Orac?"
Hiding the smile that threatened to surface, Avon said simply, "He was a very good thief."
Her angry reply was forestalled by a commotion at the main entry hatch. Several troopers entered from yet another docked pursuit ship -- and with them came Anna Grant.
She'd replaced the prison garb with a clean grey tunic, thoroughly military in design. Avon did not want to look at her, did not want to believe that this treacherous creature could possibly be his Anna -- the Anna who had shared his life, his bed, his love... But he couldn't keep his eyes from her despite the horror gnawing at his soul. His Anna would never have betrayed him. Unless she had never truly been his Anna...
She stopped on the stairs, locked gazes with him for one horrified moment, then headed toward Servalan with fire in her eyes. "Our agreement was that--"
The president cut her off with a perfunctory sweep of her manicured hand. "I have altered the agreement."
Anna bridled. "Kerr Avon was not to be part of the bounty," she persisted.
"Oh?" Servalan scoffed. "Did you honestly think I would release so valuable a prisoner into your care? You're a fool, Anna Grant. And a disgrace, I might add, to Central Security."
Avon, who had begun to feel too much like a bone between two fighting dogs, glanced up sharply at that last remark. Central Security? Anna?
"Don't believe her, Avon." Anna spoke to him for the first time since she had teleported from the prison courtyard. "It's not what you think. Not what it appears--"
"Her code name was Bartolomew," Servalan gloated, pleased at the ire her revelation engendered in Anna. "And she was assigned to 'run' you from the very beginning. Oh, they didn't know about the bank scheme at the start. They had some quaint idea that you were political. Typical Central Security bungling. So she stayed with you, through it all; became besotted with you, in fact. But in the end, she still had a duty to perform. She was, after all, supposedly Central Security's best agent."
His tortured gaze begged Anna to deny it, somehow prove it all a lie. But all she said was, "Avon..." as though the single plea of his name could somehow erase the accusations. "Avon, please!" She was touching him, holding his arms, trying to caress him again. But he responded to the advances not at all.
"Central Security's best agent," he repeated mechanically, painfully aware of their leering audience. "You were never even real..."
"It wasn't all lies. Not all of it! Not the part about loving you!"
He scarcely heard her. "Of all the things I've known myself to be," he said in a bitter monotone,"I never recognized the fool."
Servalan's guard pulled Anna roughly away then, and with an oath, she stalked back to the access way, turning back only long enough to aim a final threat at the Federation president.
"You'll pay for this, Servalan."
Then she was gone. Four of the troopers followed in her wake, their boots clumping away down the access corridor.
Dimly, Avon heard Servalan order Zen to set course for Earth. The victor, smugly triumphant, was returning home with her spoils.
For reasons he had no desire to analyze, Kerr Avon found it difficult to care.
* * *
Back to B7 Top