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Delayed Reaction

By Rebecca Ann Brothers
Page 1 of 13

A mess, Avon thought as he completed his tour of Xenon Base. Everything could be restored, of course, but there didn't really seem to be much point, not when Servalan surely knew its location by now. He was convinced that she had been involved in Zukan's treachery, which meant this was no longer a safe place to be.

Gauda Prime was unlikely to be much of an improvement, but at least Blake would be there. Orac couldn't be wrong about that, however incomplete the rest of its information was. A bounty hunter? No, he'd have to see that one to believe it. Even then, it would have to be some ruse, and given conditions on that planet it might even be the wisest cover for someone like Blake. Might he even be making use of Federation resources to fund his revolution? Avon wondered, and smiled at the thought. It was the sort of devious-minded scheme Blake could come up with when he really put his mind to it.

Yet, suppose...suppose he wasn't reading it correctly. The Federation might have got at Blake again, played more mind games with him, skewed him around to be their puppet. Orac had no information on that, and Avon hadn't liked to ask for a prediction.

What he didn't know wouldn't hurt him? His smile turned bitter at that, but truth did seem to possess rather sadistic qualities where he was concerned. Blake was different, though, he had to be; even a battered cynic needed a lifeline, and Blake was about the only option left him. If Blake wasn't what he was supposed to be, if he turned out to be as big a fraud as everything else, well, at least it would all finally be over.

Cautious pessimism was, as ever, the order of the day. After all, that was how he'd discovered Blake was alive.

#

Deciding to look for Blake again hadn't been easy for Avon, and he'd kept it completely to himself at first. Really, his only idea had been to confirm the details Servalan had given him at Terminal. He hadn't wanted to believe her, although what she had said had made a great deal of sense. There had been no reliable word of Blake in all this time, absolutely nothing had come of the rumors regarding his whereabouts. So the man probably had died on Jevron, but under what circumstances? What had taken him to the planet in the first place, and how had Servalan been involved?

Sitting in Tarrant's quarters, Avon waited on the pilot's answer.

Tarrant looked skeptical, pointing out, "She said she saw his body burned. There's hardly going to be anything for you to find."

"That's my concern, not yours," Avon said, preferring not to dwell on that particular aspect. "All you have to do is pilot the ship."

"But why not tell the others? Vila at least. They won't be pleased to find we've gone off and left them stranded."

"Well, you'll just have to smooth their feathers, won't you?" Tarrant grimaced. "Why do I get all the fun?"

Avon smiled. "It must be your winsome personality," he said, and got a sharp look from the pilot. Head cocked, Tarrant said, "If I say no, will you go ahead and do it anyway?"

"Yes."

Tarrant sighed, shrugged. "All right then, I'll fly Scorpio for you. At least I'll know where she is then."

Avon had expected any number of things once they got to Jevron: a top secret Federation base; a world oppressed and brutalized--either one would have been irresistible to Blake. Or he may have landed there in his life capsule, or gone to ground with other refugees from the war; he could have come to recruit rabble or scout for a base... The tech had come up with plenty of reasons for Blake to have been there, and until a minute ago Tarrant had thought any one of them really could be viable.

"Repeat that, Orac," Tarrant said, not convinced--and not sure if Avon had heard.

"Kindly pay attention," Orac scolded, before going on to report that Jevron was a scorched and barren world, devoid of any life.

"Could there be some kind of underground installation?" Tarrant asked, remembering what he'd been told about the Star One complex.

"No."

"But if it were shielded in some way--"

"No. There is nothing there."

"And never has been!" Avon yanked Orac's key. "She lied."

Tarrant was well able to believe that, but, "What good does this do us?"

Starting to pace as he worked it out, Avon said, "Servalan assumed we would never leave Terminal--"

"That was a safe bet under the circumstances."

"--and so she wasn't concerned with the consequences of anyone ever checking out her story. She was free to tell me--us--anything."

"Why say anything at all? She'd finally got the Liberator, what more did she have to gain?" Tarrant said, and winced as Avon gave him a rare, unguarded look. Stupid question, of course: she had gained the pleasure of seeing Avon hurt and humbled, of giving the knife one last, exquisite twist. "Well, at least she didn't get to enjoy her triumph for long."

"No," Avon said, and Tarrant thought it another safe bet Avon would have preferred witnessing her death up close and personally and Tarrant couldn't say he blamed him. But that didn't seem to be quite so important now. "Blake's...alive," and something in Avon was rekindling, "and he's still a threat to the Federation, and she didn't know where he was. If she'd gotten control of the Liberator though...."

Yes, Tarrant agreed that was a very nasty thought. She could have gotten up to a great deal, using Liberator as the prototype for a new fleet. Tarrant still hadn't entirely come to terms with Avon for risking Liberator, and yet, given the way things had played out, he could almost be grateful that she had blown up in Servalan's face.

"So where do we go from here?" he asked, as if he couldn't take a wild guess.

"There is nowhere Blake can hide from me," Avon said, speaking so softly Tarrant suspected he wasn't meant to hear. "Not from me and Orac."

And pity poor Blake if he'd only decided to crawl in a hole and stay there. Not that that sounded like anything Roj Blake would ever get up to.

Going back to his position, Tarrant said, "Back to Xenon, then."

"Yes. And, Tarrant, keep this to yourself."

"Avon--"

"To yourself, Tarrant."

Oh, what the hell. "All right, Avon, you have my word." He just hoped the icon of the resistance was worth all this.

#

"What on earth happened to you?" Tarrant asked of the scruffy figure before him. This was what they'd chased across a galaxy, what had driven Avon?

"Most of it wasn't on Earth, Tarrant," Blake said, "not what happened to me."

No, probably not, but Tarrant decided he didn't really care to hear the justifications for all this. When a woman came in, distracting Blake for a few crucial seconds, Tarrant seized the chance, jumping Blake and getting the undignified hell out of there. If Avon had just arrived it was vital he get to him before Blake did; Avon had to be warned he was walking into a trap.

Deva was right, Blake knew: he'd better get after Tarrant before this went too much further. He was pleased, though, at the way things had turned out, that Tarrant had shown his loyalties were to Avon. Maybe it had been excessive, but Blake couldn't risk another base being compromised by lax security; too many lives had been lost last time.

"I'm glad you made it," Avon told Tarrant, and meant it. Watching Scorpio go down, knowing the pilot was still on board, had not been one of his best moments. As it was, Tarrant was looking the worse for wear.

"Avon, I think he's here," Tarrant was saying, even as a dark-haired woman was sounding the alarm for security.

"Dayna!" Avon just sent her a look, and Dayna was across to the other woman, hands seeking out pressure points to render her unconscious.

Even as Dayna lowered the woman to the floor, two other people came into the tracking gallery, coming to a stop at the top of the steps. Avon paid scant attention to the woman at...Blake's side--

"Is it him?" Tarrant said.

And Vila answered, "It's him," even as Avon moved forward.

But Tarrant wasn't done. "He's sold us, Avon. All of us. Even you." He sounded like he believed it too. But.... Avon looked at Blake, really looked. "Is it true?"

"Tarrant doesn't understand," Blake said, as though that should explain everything.

"Neither do I, Blake." And he'd been so sure the bounty hunting was some guise.

"I set all this up," Blake said, moving towards Avon. "I was waiting for you."

Feeling himself pulled every which way, Avon brought up the projectile rifle, as if using it to warn Blake to back off. "Stand still," he commanded, needing to think and knowing there might be precious little time for that. Tarrant had to have misunderstood something, and yet...the price on all their heads could be tempting...but to Blake...? "Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?"

"Of course not! How could you even think such a thing?"

"Because it hasn't been an uncommon occurrence."

"It doesn't apply in this case. Tarrant was...precipitous."

Yes, Tarrant could be that, sometimes. Still, "What proof do you have?"

And Blake stood there, looking suddenly tired...and hurt, saying, "If I have to prove it, Avon, then there's not a hell of a lot of point to any of this." Then, moving with the quickness that always came as a surprise from a man his size, Blake crossed to Avon, carelessly pushing the rifle aside and reaching to grasp Avon by the shoulders, shake him gently, affectionately--completely unfazed by the weapons Soolin and Dayna had trained on him. "Damn it, Avon, if you don't know me better than that after all this time...."

If Avon didn't know better he'd have sworn there was a suspicious sparkle of moisture in Blake's eyes; there seemed to be some odd constriction in his own throat. "Tarrant's got it wrong?"

"Very."

"Oh, now look--" Tarrant began.

"I had to make sure who you were loyal to; I've had a rather unpleasant experience with someone else named Tarrant," Blake told the pilot. "If I've injured your feelings, I apologize; it wasn't meant that way."

"Of course that changes everything," Tarrant said, but his tone was a bit subdued now. He looked at Avon. "Do you believe him?"

"I.... Yes," Avon said, and found he meant it. "Yes, I do, Tarrant."

"I hope you're right," Tarrant said, sounding all worn out as everything began to catch up with him. Going pale, he caught at his side, reaching out for support--which Avon provided, getting an arm around his waist while Blake put an arm up around the pilot's shoulders.

"Come on," Blake said, "the medical center's this way. Arlen, see to Klyn, will you." He paused in the doorway, looking back at the other three. "You are all very welcome here. Deva," another man had just scurried up, "will answer all your questions."

#

"Well," Dayna said as the red-haired man came down to face them, "it's nice to be wanted."

"Easy for you to say," said Vila, feeling left out of everything. (You'd think Blake could spare a, "Hi, Vila. Nice to see you.") "I've been a wanted man all my life."

"Yes, Vila, so you're always saying," said Soolin. "Don't be tiresome." She sized up Deva. "So, you'll answer all our questions, will you?"

Deva got the feeling he'd better be very sure of his answers.

#


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