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Rumours of Life part 2 - Tinker, Tailor, Traitor

By Marian de Haan
Page 3 of 16

- - - 4 - - -

"Well," Blake said, feeling a mixture of relief and frustration, "that's been cleared up."

Avon nodded. "The traitor must have guessed it was a trap. All he had to do was to replace the relevant figure in his copy with a random one before sending out his message. He wouldn't care on whom suspicion would fall, as long as it led away from him."

Blake sighed. "And we're no nearer to catching the traitor."

"Who's warned now, and will be on the alert for further traps," Avon observed.

Blake slapped his fist into his palm. "But who?

"And why?" Avon said. "Even with the battering it got from the Andromedans, our Space fleet is still too strong for any potential enemy to take on." He began to rub his hands in thought. "Maybe someone has the idea to strike while part of the fleet is still away on the Terminal mission."

Blake shrugged, not really concerned about an attack; no known force was strong enough to defeat the Federation Fleet. "Then whoever it is, has left it too late. Word has come through that the Eighth Fleet located Terminal. They put a party down before destroying it. Apparently the planet was teeming with extremely aggressive life forms, so they quickly left and blew it out of existence. They're on their way back now."

"Say goodbye to one failed experiment," Avon commented dryly.

Blake went back to the problem in hand. "It's not an outside attack we have to fear, but the traitor in our midst. I still want him smoked out."

"Does your use of the word 'him' means you rule out the women?" Avon enquired.

"Of course not." Blake began to consider the suspects one for one. "Cally's in the clear..."

"Is she?" Avon asked. "She may be playing a double bluff, knowing you'd never want to believe her capable of treason."

Blake gave that suggestion the ridicule it deserved: "Don't be an idiot!" Not giving Avon the chance to respond, he continued: "We can eliminate Jenna, too. She wasn't present when the variation in the data came to light."

"She may have heard about it later," Avon pointed out. Blake just gave him a withering look. Avon responded with a stare of patient exasperation, then shrugged. "What about Avalon? Is she also on your list of persons above suspicion?"

"No, but she has no reason to turn against me. What about Dayna?" Blake asked. "You've known her longer than I have. Do you consider her capable of treason?"

Avon seemed willing to consider the possibility. "Not as such, but as a move to liven things up a bit...?" Then he shook his head. "No, it's not her kind of action. I wouldn't put it past her to blow up your best bit of furniture, just for the hell of it, but I can't see her sending out treacherous messages for a joke. Her heart's in explosives, not communication. Besides, she has no motive. She revered her father, and you are acting in his spirit, finishing the revolution he began. For that reason alone, you can rely on her loyalty."

That was more or less Blake's own assessment. "And Tarrant? Would he be capable of treason?"

"You certainly provided him with a motive."

"I told you," Blake replied, "the Space Command Officers refused to serve under a deserter. Tarrant accepted this."

"Yes, but you could have compensated him with a more glamorous position. I gather that in civil service circles he is now referred to as Supreme Traffic Warden. I assume you know what a traffic warden is - a relic from the days of privately owned transport. They were responsible for booking people who left their vehicles at unauthorised places."

"His is an important job," Blake said. "With eighty percent of the galaxy's spacecraft destroyed, the infrastructure has to be built up from scratch."

"The Transport Department was part of Jenna's portfolio, wasn't it?" Avon asked. "Yes, she was minister for Trade and Transport. I split the Department to give Tarrant a suitable task." Time to get back to the issue, Blake decided. "So you do think him capable of treason?"

"Difficult to say." Again Avon seemed willing to treat the question with an open mind. "He isn't one for sulking in silence; Tarrant's grievances are uttered loudly and often. For that reason I'd say that secret planning is not his style." He frowned, adding as if speaking to himself: "On the other hand, his power play with Clegg's death squad proves he is capable of subterfuge..." He shook his head. "No, Blake, the one thing you can rely on with Tarrant is his loyalty to his team-mates. He won't hesitate to get them into trouble, but then he'll do all in his power to get them out again. I can see him resigning his post in a huff, but not turning against you in this manner."

That also concurred with Blake's assessment. "So it's down to Bercol or Rontane."

"Or Grant or Jarriere," Avon said.

Blake shook his head. "I can't see any motive for Grant. And Jarriere is too stupid."

"Almost too stupid to be true," Avon remarked. "Frankly, I'm surprised you still retain him."

"Oh, I did consider sacking him. But if I do, Rontane will provide another Private Secretary, one who will be loyal to the civil service and not necessarily to me. Whatever Jarriere's faults, he has no roots in the civil service. Also, Rontane's treatment of him isn't likely to earn him Jarriere's personal loyalty."

"So you hope you can count on Jarriere's loyalty instead," Avon finished his reasoning. "I knew you must have SOME reason for hanging on to him."

"So it has to be," Blake said, returning to their problem, "either Rontane or Bercol."

"Or they could be in it together," Avon suggested.

"Yes, I hadn't thought of that." Blake found himself warming to the idea. "They seem very chummy.

"I can see them entertaining the thought of having Bercol take your place," Avon said pensively. "But I doubt they'd want to enlist the help of a foreign power to achieve it. Remember, the messages must be intended for a foreign agent. Both Rontane and Bercol are intelligent enough to foresee that, once brought in, a foreign power isn't going to leave again after a thank-you and a handshake. The Federation ruled by outsiders must appeal to them a lot less than the Federation ruled by you. After all, you left Rontane in his position and gave Bercol the second most important job in the Federation. A foreign ruler might be far less generous."

Which all made sense. Damn Avon and his cold logic! "So, what do you propose?"

"Doing nothing for the moment. Well, there's nothing much we CAN do, is there? We'll just have to see whether any further developments occur. Perhaps the knowledge we're on to him will deter the traitor, in which case nothing will happen. Or he'll find another way to send his messages."

"All right, we'll keep Orac monitoring," Blake decided.

Avon rose. "Right. I'd better go and extract Vila from the arms of the nearest barmaid."

"Oh, leave him," Blake said, adding quickly in answer to Avon's raised eyebrows: "The man deserves some relaxation!"

This earned him a glare of suspicion.

Blake gave him a broad grin. "It will be nice for you and Cally to have some time together."

He saw the suspicion dissolve, replaced by mild amusement. Good, let Avon regard it as a clumsy coupling attempt. Blake wasn't going to sit quietly waiting for the traitor's next move! He's was going to act - and for that he would need Vila's talents.

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