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By Jackie
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Tarrant awoke, in pain and in darkness. So he had been left in the base on Gauda Prime, presumed dead. So much for all his ambitions and dreams - to think he had left the FSA hoping to be an Admiral at the very least. Then he had deserted - and it was nothing to do with thwarted ambition. Perhaps if there had been more like Samor and his kind, not the vicious types he had met again and again, brutality against civilians - and their own - a way of life.

Well, with what he'd been through, it was lucky he was still alive. He could not hear anyone else breathing - but his own was so loud in his ears it made judging that difficult.

So - what should he do now?

If he could think of that question, he could not be dying. Or so he tried to convince himself.

Well, the first thing would be to escape from this place, and then surviving long enough to "go somewhere else" - he would think about what that meant later.

First he would remove the piece of equipment half constraining him.

That was odd - there should be no equipment. Nor, if he was trapped in an underground base, should he feel a breeze, scented with trees. One of the things he had come to enjoy on Xenon - the minor pleasures of being on a planet for more than a few days at a time.

He became aware of dim light, realised he was still trapped in the Scorpio, a console across his lap. So it had been a very unpleasant dream. He felt unexpectedly happy - things might come out right after all. At the very least he would not jump to conclusions. Which, Avon and Vila had repeatedly and variously told him, was one of his faults - and, Tarrant admitted to himself, they were occasionally right. Hadn't that been one aspect of the dream?

At least he now had a chance to survive, to avoid making a ghastly mistake.

If things turned out as in his dream that was.

There were sounds of someone approaching, and a torch flickered. Tarrant picked up his weapon.

'Is anybody there?' asked an unfamiliar male voice. The "someone" then picked his way through the wreckage.

Tarrant recognised the man from his description when he appeared. This was Blake, but different to the one who had appeared in the dream, unscarred.

'Who are you?' Tarrant asked. 'What do you intend doing?'

Blake held his hands to show he held no weapon.

'Someone who is willing to rescue you. I promise I will not harm you...'

'Until you know who I am?' Tarrant said with a smile.

'Perhaps not even then. One can agree to disagree... Though others on this planet would treat the situation differently.' Blake came closer. 'What do you feel is damaged?' Sensible - no point in causing more damage than already existed.

'I was thrown back into the seat when the ship crashed, and this is on top of me... I don't feel as if I've broken anything.' Tarrant decided he would accept any reasonable offer and discuss payment later. Avon, the realist, would understand. After all, it was not as if Tarrant had ever denied being a mercenary after he left the FSA, and this was no different. Sufficient work to pay for his treatment and a trip to the nearest spaceport. Then he could try and link up with the others.

What was he thinking about? They had come here to link up with the man he was now facing.

'We'll get you back to my base and decide what to do next.' Blake smiled at Tarrant, who suddenly understood some of the things Cally and Vila had said, and why Avon had been so irritated at times with Blake. Not, of course, that the stranger realised that Tarrant knew who he was. 'I gave you my word that I would not harm you.' Tarrant could not suppress a smile. 'Something amuse you?' Blake asked, as he started moving the crushed console.

'You're not the first person to use that phrase, of giving their word. Thanks,' Tarrant said as he was freed from the equipment. He sat up, and Blake let him recover his breath.

'And who might that be?' Evident curiosity - and Tarrant could understand why Blake would wish to test a stranger. During his mercenary days he had done the same thing. And he had been testing Blake.

'Someone whom I have been given reason to trust.' Tarrant would admit that to anyone, now.

'I am pleased to hear it,' said another voice. Tarrant turned to look - Avon and the others, Vila carrying Orac.

'Isn't that why you came to rescue me - for an unsolicited testimonial?' Tarrant said, knowing Vila would be amused, but watching Blake. He saw curiosity and wariness - and a glance at Avon showed the same.

'Yes, it is I,' Avon said to Blake, answering an unspoken question. 'I have been waiting to meet you and Vila again - I spent too long chasing stories and near misses, and decided to wait in one place for you.' Well, that might well be true -they had spent long enough trying to find Blake himself.

'Not a very salubrious place,' Avon replied, indicating the planet in general. 'No wonder we could not find you if you were skulking around this planet.'

At least they were talking. Tarrant just watched. If things got out of hand he would ... do something. But - the ruined Scorpio was not a place where either of the two speakers could impose tests such as had led to tragedy in the dream.

'I can explain...' Blake began. Avon kept one hand to his gun.

Tarrant began to hope things would turn out well. He stood up, despite the pain, and indicated that Dayna, who had moved to help him, stay where she was. In the dream he had misinterpreted things, not least because of his injuries: perhaps here they could be used to distract anger if necessary.

'I would be pleased to hear your explanation.' Avon said, and, Tarrant realised, wanted his support of Blake and his cause to be justified after all this time. That Tarrant could understand. After all Avon had been through, one last betrayal might well push him over the edge. And with the Federation running around the base in the dream, the situation would easily have been capable of misinterpretation. Tarrant could think of one occasion before joining the Liberator where a similar situation had arisen...

Orac spoke suddenly. 'The one called Deva on your base, Blake, seems to have developed some interesting techniques.' Orac, Tarrant now remembered, had managed to identify some of Blake's present colleagues.

'You wish to meet him Orac?' Blake asked. 'And you Avon?'

Avon could not hide his sudden flash of curiosity.

Tarrant could have laughed, if it hadn't been too painful.

'Some of his Deva's methods could be improved, even by persons with the limited skills of Avon.' Tarrant managed a grin at Vila, who smirked at Avon.

'Different people have different techniques,' Avon replied. 'They ... can create something together that is more than the sum of their individual talents.' Avon looked round at the others, wanting to see if this would be regarded as a sign of weakness. What had Dorian said about the gestalt? Though Tarrant knew what Avon meant.

'Something must have gone wrong - we are in agreement,' Blake said with a smile. Or, Tarrant thought, perhaps things were going right.

'Are you a bounty hunter Blake?' Avon asked suddenly, obviously and understandably wanting an answer from Blake.

'I was taking a leaf out of your book in confusing the authorities,' Blake replied with a grin that diffused the evident tension. 'Who are your ... colleagues?' A suitably neutral term to satisfy Avon's preferences.

'Del Tarrant - a pilot who is almost as good as he thinks he is.' Tarrant decided to hold his tongue - Avon obviously meant it as praise. 'Dayna Mellanby - skilled at inventing weapons. And Soolin - good with weapons.' It would be up to her to state that she was a native of this planet.

'Useful - and I think you will say the same about several at least of my current group. For some reason they are curious to meet you. Must be all the tales I've told.'

Avon laughed, slightly unevenly: he abruptly seemed close to the edge. Blake looked at him, obviously puzzled for a few moments, and then Tarrant saw a sudden understanding.

'Oh, Avon,' Blake said, and crossed the irregular floor. Avon's hand wavered from the gun as he displayed his uncertainty. Blake reached out and Tarrant thought of the image in his dream - what could he do? 'Just try trusting me for once.

' Blake said. Avon looked totally bewildered, and then almost staggered as Blake gave him a bear hug.

'I trust you to get yourself into trouble from which I will have to rescue you.' Avon said as he extracted himself, his face emotionless once more.

'You look as if you need a bit of rescuing yourself.' Blake indicated the ship.

'... Federation troopers...' Slave said, reviving momentarily.

'Perhaps we should do something...,' Tarrant said, before deciding that fainting might be the best option.

The base was vaguely as his dream had made it - and he woke to Avon and Blake having a furious row about who should have looked more. It was noisier but less dangerous than the events of his dream, and ended with Avon storming off to find Deva, 'who might have more sense.'

'When you were on the Liberator, was it often like that?' Tarrant asked. He had been patched up somewhat - and he'd felt worse.

'After half an hour we met again and agreed on a compromise... till the next time,' Blake complained. That sounded familiar.

'What about the Federation troops?'

'Went to a different part of the planet - and lost an argument with a group of real bounty hunters there,' Blake said with some relief. 'While we have some time - is there anything about the past two years that I should know about?'

'If you tell me what you have been doing in return.'

It transpired that Blake had decided to create what could be described as a linked opposition to the Federation - not dissimilar to what Avon had been trying to do with Zukan and the others. Several other rebel figures had been coming to the same conclusion as well.

As Tarrant recovered from his injuries he helped put the restored Scorpio through its paces. He was then put in charge of Blake's group's ships - which were all being fitted with the teleport and stardrive, while the antidote for Pylene 50 was passed onto others who could develop it properly. With the commissioner who had been sent to Gauda Prime having been summarily killed, the planet's readmission to the Federation was put on hold and it returned to frontier justice until the negotiations could begin again.

Gauda Prime was not as lawless and backward as Federation reports suggested: there were cities and other aspects of civilisation, spaceports and all.

It seemed strange to be going round the nearest spaceport - no different from others that Tarrant had known - that he was there not to hire himself out as he had so often, but to buy another ship for the base.

He decided he could feel pleased with the situation. The base was about as comfortable as that on Xenon had been, everybody seemed to be getting on most of the time, and they were holding their own. Of Servalan there was no trace - the message that Orac had sent, under protest, that Commissioner Sleer was involved in "irregularities" and connected to the now reviled ex-President seemed to be effective in keeping her out of the limelight. The various groups and individuals that Blake, Avon and the others were interested in increasing links.

Tarrant spotted yet another planet hopper that might be worth investigating.

Now how may ships would the group need before he could call himself an Admiral?

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