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Rumours of Life part 2 - Tinker, Tailor, Traitor

By Marian de Haan
Page 1 of 16

- - - 1 - - - "Orac will bring you down now." The familiar teleport sound and white shimmering started even before Blake had finished speaking. Two figures quickly solidified and Avon and Vila stood before him in the President's Office Room. Both were dressed in clothing from the more flamboyant range of Liberator's wardrobe room's contents, Avon in a shiny blue, silver striped tunic and tight black trousers, and Vila in a wide yellow shirt over red trousers. Avon was still wearing his eye patch, he noticed with dismay. Although different from Travis's glued-on contraption, it kept bringing up unwelcome associations.

"I'd have thought you would have had that eye fixed by now." Even if the sight in the eye was lost, a good plastic surgeon should be able to make it presentable.

"Why don't you mind your own business?"

Blake shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of appeasement. "Fair enough."

"Seriously, Blake, " Avon continued in his sharp, aggressive voice, "I hope you didn't make me travel all this way to Earth, calling me away from a very promising line of investigation, just to enquire after my health."

"Yeah," Vila said. "We've found some more secret funds. You've no idea how many different accounts Servalan has used to hide her money."

Their criminal records ruling them out for a place in his government, Blake had appointed them as his Special Advisors. Not intending to let them fly away in Liberator and waste their talents on crime, he had proposed they take up the task of retrieving the money Servalan had stashed away into a number of secret bank accounts all over the galaxy. As expected, Avon had risen to the challenge - demanding half the money they would be able to retrieve as his fee. Blake had managed to bring down that amount to fifteen percent, ten for Avon and five for Vila.

"I'm not surprised, Vila," he replied. "Servalan has been bleeding the Federation dry since her accession to the Presidency."

"Oh, she was already at it when Supreme Commander," Avon said. "She used some of the best financial brains in the Federation to set up her schemes."

"And then made sure they wouldn't be able to talk," Vila added. "That's how we started, by compiling a list of financial geniuses who died under suspicious circumstances. Then we looked where they'd been working last, and that gave us a lead to where to start digging."

"Thank you, Vila," Avon said. "I'm sure Blake is thrilled to learn about our methods of deduction."

"Right, I'll leave you to chat about the good old times, then." Vila began to move to the exit. "Now I'm here, I want to visit some old friends." He opened the door and slid out.

"Of the bottled kind, no doubt," Avon remarked. Although undoubtedly irritated, he seemed more relaxed than Blake could remember from their time together on the London and Liberator.

Avon moved to stand in front of him, his platform boots bringing him up to Blake's height. "Now, what is it you want of me?"

Blake took a folded paper from his pocket and handed it over. "This is a transcription of a message Orac has picked up. It was sent via OPEN RELAY, so no point of origin can be determined, nor its destination."

Avon studied the paper. "A monthly update of Space Command's strength."

"This information is top secret," Blake said, anger rising in him again. "It is only circulated to members of the Inner Cabinet. It means there must be a traitor amongst them."

"Unless this was sent by the compilers."

"No, Avon! It's done by one of my government members. I'm sure of it!"

He braced himself for a cutting remark about the folly of trusting one's instincts, but Avon merely shrugged, folding the paper again.

"This kind of information isn't too hard to compile, Blake. Any intelligent person with a half-decent computer can do it. He might not get the exact figures, but he can make an educated guess that comes close enough to be reliable." He waved the piece of paper. "Whatever Intelligence Agency this is intended for, these figures will only confirm what they must know already."

"That's not the point!" Blake snatched the paper from his hand. "Someone is BETRAYING me, someone on the Cabinet. I appointed them, trusted them, and now someone is betraying that trust. I want to know who it is, Avon." Blake grabbed him by the tunic, the thick silver dye of the diagonal stripes feeling cold to the touch. "Find me the traitor!"

He found the other's calm gaze on him. "All right."

Blake let go of the tunic.

"Who exactly is eligible to receive this information?" Avon asked.

"As I said, the Inner Cabinet members, and the Permanent and Private Secretaries." Blake began to tick off the names on his fingers. "Cally, the Foreign Secretary. Avalon, the Home Secretary. Jenna, the Minister for Trade. Tarrant, the Minister for Transport. Dayna, the Minister for Science and Education. Bercol, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Rontane, the Permanent Secretary. Jarriere, my Private Secretary. And of course Del Grant, as Supreme Commander. Nine people in all."

"You replaced Tarrant as Supreme Commander," Avon observed. "Why?"

"Space Command wouldn't accept a deserter as Supreme Commander."

"A rather sudden change of heart. I can't remember them objecting to Tarrant when he took up the post."

"They must have had time to think it over. Or maybe they weren't aware of his desertion at the time. Anyway, I couldn't afford to alienate them." Blake dismissed the matter with an impatient wave of his hand. "Now, about the traitor. How are we going to find him?"

"Simple." Avon gazed at Orac, who stood on a side table, deactivated. "When is the new Space Command update due?"

"In four days, at the end of the month."

"How is it distributed?"

"Secretary Rontane gets the data from the compilers. He shows it to me, I then hand it to Jarriere for copying and distribution."

"Excellent." For a moment Avon's face lit up in a smug smile. "We can assume that the traitor, thinking his ploy to have gone unnoticed, will want to send out the new update to his chums. What you must do, when Rontane has given you the list, is to copy it yourself, changing a figure in each copy. Choose some unimportant figure, for example the number of new recruits, that could be 1731, 1732, 1733 et cetera - something like that. Make a list of which version is addressed to which member. Oh, and don't forget to designate the original list to Rontane, he's bound to have looked at the figures when he got them. Then have Jarriere distribute the copies. If the new update gets transmitted, Orac can pick up the message again and the version used will tell us who the sender is."

Some of the heaviness lifted from Blake's shoulders. "Simple indeed."

"Yes, you should have thought of it yourself."

Blake gave him a mischievous grin. "Then why employ a Special Advisor? Will you stay to await the outcome?"

"I might as well. Servalan's accounts will keep. I must confess, Blake, I AM curious to see which of your worthy Inner Cabinet members is intent on stabbing you in the back."

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