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Bounty - Novelisation

By Murray Smith
Page 1 of 8

To my taste, those men who steal away from common obligations and from that infinity of thorny, many-sided conventions which a punctiliously decent man treats as binding when living in society spare themselves a great deal, no matter what singular penance they inflict upon themselves. That is to die a little so as to flee the pain of a life well lived. They may win some other prize, but never, it seems to me, the prize for difficulty; for where hardship is concerned there is nothing worse than standing upright amid the floods of this pressing world, loyally answering and fulfilling all the duties of one's charge.

Michel de Montaigne, Essays, II, 33: 'The tale of Spurina'.

Cally, gun drawn and crouched down, looked around carefully, then moved a short distance before she crouched down and looked around again. She was in a wooded part of the planet's temperate zone, with plenty of undergrowth. Her breath came out in thin, misty wisps due to the late autumn cold, a contrast to the temperature inside the Liberator; she was glad that she had come warmly dressed.

While Blake's choice of her as his companion for the mission was the logical one, she being the only crew member with experience of fighting in rural areas, she still felt nervous. Not only was the terrain different from Saurian Major's hills and jungles; the Liberator's close environment had, she felt, dulled her reflexes, though she had kept herself physically fit. At least she had arrived at the rendezvous point after successfully avoiding Federation patrols and (she hoped) any surveillance devices.

Her caution was rewarded again; she saw two Federation troopers coming through the undergrowth before they could see her, and quickly hid behind the undergrowth surrounding a large tree, feeling that her reflexes were still too slow. The troopers moved to a nearby dirt road, passing her by.

She heard a twig break, then looked back to see Blake approaching her, his gun also drawn, carrying a toolbox. "Guards!" She used her telepathy to give him a silent warning. "Don't speak or make a sound." Blake got her message, moving to crouch beside her. Both saw the two troopers meet with two more. All four appeared to talk, then left together up the road.

Cally did not praise her abilities. "My reflexes are dull," she told Blake. "They almost fell over me before I heard them." The long dead commander of her unit on Saurian Major would have criticised her quite harshly, she thought

Blake smiled. "I've forgotten how useful telepathy is."

"Oh, I must practice that, too," was Cally's reply.

Blake looked around. "No sign of him." His remark was a question.

"Just patrols, lots of them."

"I think I've found where he's being kept," said Blake.

"Is it as we were told?"

"It's certainly very strange, the weirdest prison I've ever seen." Blake could speak from experience.

"Listen." Cally turned her head. A strange sound was heard.

"Keep down," warned Blake. Both crouched lower. The sound grew louder, and a strange, ancient looking, dark red, four-wheeled vehicle came down the nearby surfaced road, emitting nasty-smelling smoke. In what looked like the driver's seat was a young, blonde-haired woman in a red jacket, perhaps part of some uniform. In the rear seat sat a grey-haired man, wearing a black hat and cloak, beside a Federation trooper, who was sitting on top of the seat.

Cally had seen nothing quite like it. "What was it?"

Blake was equally bewildered, wishing that he had taken that extra history course. "I don't know." But he quickly returned to the mission, asking, "But in the back position, that was President Sarkoff, wasn't it?"

"That was President Sarkoff, yes." Cally confirmed his observation.

That was what they needed to know. "Come on, let's go," ordered Blake, both of them leaving. Unfortunately, their precautions came to nothing as they crossed in front of a Federation sensor hidden among some fallen leaves.

* * * * * * * * *

On a path, a short distance away, was a squad of troopers with their second in command, Sub-Commander Cheney, who had raised his helmet's visor. One of them placed a communicator in his hand. "Yes?" was his brief question.

"I think we've got some intruders," announced the officer in charge of surveillance.

"Are you sure?" Cheney wanted something more reliable.

"Electronic surveillance is usually reliable."

"Very reliable, yes," replied Cheney, in a tone heavy with sarcasm and annoyance. "Last time it turned out to be a local rodent digging a hole under one of your listening devices. We spent two hours chasing our tails on that occasion." He gestured to the trooper carrying the electronic map pad to bring it to him.

"That wasn't our fault." The officer was defensive.

Cheney let the argument go. "All right, give me the co-ordinates," he ordered, looking at the pad's screen held in front of him.

"Five one..." As the co-ordinates were given out, Cheney consoled himself that at least it would give the troopers something to do. While the planet was certainly not the worst posting in the Federation, it and the task of being a VIP's bodyguard were regarded by them as monotonous and boring, with effects felt on efficiency and morale. The fact that the base commander spent all the time he could off-planet did not help the situation.

Cheney resorted to the old but effective commander's strategies of keeping the troopers busy. The fact that he frequently went out on patrol with them, behaviour that was a contrast to his superior's, led them to regard him with a grumbling respect.

He quickly dismissed this scenario after checking the co-ordinates on the screen. "If they are there then they've already penetrated two of our security perimeters."

"Have you got them all?"

"Yes." Cheney then changed to another channel. "Sub-Commander Cheney to all units. This is a red alert. I repeat, this is a red alert. Electronic security reports intruders in Sector Three. All units are now on Red Standby. Out." He then gave orders to the six troopers, who were assembled in formation, two abreast. "At the double, move it." All, led by Cheney, marched away quickly.

* * * * * * * * *

The vehicle reached an area of land that looked maintained and artificial, in the midst of which was a building, composed of a ground floor with a many-floored tower. It appeared to have been built to resemble an ancient fortress; but the design, Blake had quickly realised after first seeing it, was intended to be ornamental rather than to have any actual defensive function. A pointed metal framework topped the tower. Two troopers guarded the ground floor entrance, which was decorated by various arrangements of the Lindorian flag.

The vehicle stopped at the entrance; the trooper jumped out, while Sarkoff made a more dignified exit, the female driver having opened one of the back doors.

"Thank you, Tyce," he said in a pleasant voice. "You may put the automobile under cover now."

"Don't forget the base commander's gift." Tyce took a large, silver, hexagonal box from the seat next to where she had been sitting and handed it to Sarkoff. The latter looked at it, trying, like all gift receivers, to see if he could correctly guess what was inside.

"Ah, yes, it was very courteous of the base commander, don't you think, to spend part of his leave getting this and then to bring it all the way from Earth."

"He values your friendship," replied Tyce, smiling.

"Yes, I think he does."

"And he's a social climber." Her voice grew thick with sarcasm. "Probably works your name into every conversation. 'My friend, ex-President Sarkoff.'" He's also fed up with being posted here, she silently added. She had heard plenty of grumbling from troopers wishing that they could leave as often as he did.

"Tyce, that is a most ill-mannered remark," responded Sarkoff, quietly rebuking her.

"It's the truth," said Tyce categorically, no longer smiling.

Sarkoff implicitly accepted this statement, quietly saying, "Civilization has always depended on courtesy rather than truth. And I need civilization. Now more than ever." He turned and went through the entrance. Tyce climbed back into the driver's seat of the automobile, sorry that she had hurt him, but not sorry that she had spoken the truth.

Blake and Cally had been watching them from some nearby trees. "He looks older," Cally commented.

"He is older," observed Blake, smiling. "It's seven years since he came into exile." He spoke into his teleport bracelet. "Liberator, come in Liberator."

* * * * * * * * *

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Murray Smith

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