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Expendable

By Vanessa Mullen
Page 1 of 7

In the Blake's 7 episode 'Gambit', Blake visits Freedom City while looking for Docholli, who may know the location of the Federation's main computer system - Star One. While Blake, Jenna and Cally hunt for Docholli, Avon and Vila go gambling with the aid of Orac and make a profit of ten million credits. They get back to the ship just in time to conceal the money from Bake when he teleports back to Liberator.

      

      With a fluid, long-armed grab, Avon snatched up the box of credits. "Quick, Vila. Set me down again."

      Vila's jaw dropped. "What?" But he was already responding to Avon's urgency by squeezing round to his position behind the teleport console.

      "Blake's suspicious already; he'll figure it out soon enough. I want our money off the ship and in a nice, safe bank."

      "Finance for a bolt-hole?"

      Avon allowed a smile to flicker across his face. "Precisely. Orac, set co-ordinates for the Grammerian Bank."

      Lights flickered on the console as Orac performed its usual electronic wizardry. Avon could follow the pattern now: co-ordinates on that panel there; range check there; and an entire panel that never lit up at all when Orac was operating the system - that one was dedicated to preset routines that would operate in the absence of exact co-ordinates and place the traveller on the surface directly beneath the ship's orbital position. Reassured that the data had been entered correctly, Avon stepped into the teleport bay and the world changed around him as Vila flipped the lever.

      A woman, dressed in an ostentatious carnival costume with a high, powdered wig and several miles of silk frills, flounced back in astonishment as Avon materialised directly in front of her. He muttered an apology and pushed his way past. Normally, he'd have been more careful to specify a location that was likely to be free of people, but right now, time was of the essence. If Blake had found a clue to Star One's location, Liberator would be breaking orbit in minutes. Underestimating Blake's fanatacism could be a dangerous mistake. On the far side of the broad, flower-bordered street, the portal of the Grammerian Bank loomed in high, ostentatious marble. Avon took a brief moment to admire the portico, a high-arching style based on a two-centuries-old revival of a style that had first been popular three centuries before that. Not that anyone actually went through the entrance, except employees, of course. Even the terminals spaced along the wall were few in number; most visitors to Freedom City undoubtedly preferred to carry out their financial transactions through the terminals in their hotel rooms. Public terminals were for the poor and for those who wished to leave minimal records of their comings and goings. He chose a terminal at random and keyed in a fake ID that he'd set up months ago. The machine played a musical sequence back at him in confirmation of his identity and requested a passcode. He pressed in the first digit, only to fall senseless to the ground as a stun shot took him from behind.

      

      

"Avon," Vila demanded in a frantic whisper. "Where the hell are you? Avon, answer me!"

      "Vila!" Blake's voice over the intercom sounded extremely impatient. It was the third time he'd called. "I need you and Avon on the flight deck now."

      "On my way," Vila muttered in quiet resignation. He killed the intercom and tried one last time to call Avon, but there was no response. He tried the teleport. No luck there either - Avon wasn't wearing his bracelet. Somehow, he'd never thought Avon would do it, not with his money. That hurt. Sure, they were both crooks and he'd always known Avon was a self-centered bastard, but he'd still never expected Avon to dive into his bolt-hole with Vila's share of the loot. Or maybe Krantor had got at him. Maybe Krantor's goons were working him over right now. Vila shuddered and ran for the flight deck, arriving slightly breathless, and skidded into his flight position.

      "Where's Avon?" Blake demanded.

      Vila concentrated hard on his console, checked the scanners in order to look busy, and pretended he hadn't heard.

      "Where's Avon?"

      "He teleported down," Vila blurted out before he could stop himself.

      "What!"

      "I don't know why. He just told me to do it." The words tumbled out fast, almost tripping over one another.

      Blake glared at him. "What the hell is Avon playing at? He knows I need him." He turned sharply, looking at each of them in turn. "If Avon wants to stay here, he can. I've no time to waste pandering to his ego - we've got to get to Goth before Travis does."

      "We don't know that Travis heard what Docholli said," Jenna put in.

      "We don't know that he didn't," Cally retorted.

      "We should have killed him," Jenna said.

      "Maybe you're right," Blake said wearily. "But cold-blooded murder? Does anything ever justify that?"

      Vila kept quiet and let the argument pass over his head. There were days when he could never fathom Blake. Callous indifference one moment, and deep morality the next. This fight had been going on too long, and the strain was telling on them all. Maybe if he kept quiet, the conversation would never get around to what he and Avon had been up to while everyone else was down on Freedom City. Maybe if he was really lucky, Blake wouldn't wonder where Avon had got enough money to allow him to make his break for freedom. Maybe, if he was really, really lucky, they wouldn't all die.

      

Consciousness returned slowly. He was lying on a cold hard surface and he could hear the sound of footsteps passing him by. Where was he, that people ignored an unconscious man? Avon opened his eyes cautiously, focusing instantly and painfully on the gun that pointed directly at him. The gun's owner stood casually, leaning back against a wall. He was clean-shaven and neatly dressed, but for all his departure from the conventional image, there was still something about him that would have screamed out 'bounty hunter' even without the licence displayed prominently on his breast pocket. Avon's eye drifted from the bounty hunter to the gun and teleport bracelet resting on the large box of credits at his feet, then to the bank terminal by his side.

      The hunter smiled, a sardonic expression that twisted his lip on one side. "I though you might come here." He kicked the box lightly. "Krantor doesn't allow hits inside the Big Wheel; it's bad for business."

      "So you've got ten million credits," Avon said sourly. "Can I go now?"

      The smile twisted even further. "I don't think so. The ten million is a bonus. You're what I came after. The reward for you is a million credits, alive or dead. That's makes you especially valuable in my line of business. You're expendable."

      Avon said nothing. The lowliest delta street-cleaner was expendable; he objected on principle to being placed in the same category. He came unsteadily to his feet, leaning against the wall for support.

      "You don't get it, do you? You're an alpha expendable. You have no legal rights whatsoever. Anyone can do anything to you, and provided that your dead body is handed over afterwards, the law will have nothing to say about it. I have a client who will pay highly for a man like you."

      A cold trickle of fear ran down his spine. "As fascinating as I find your theories, I feel I should point out that you can extract far more information from a live man. Besides, Blake and his rabble mean nothing to me; I'll answer anything I'm asked."

      The hunter's laugh was pure amusement. "Who said anything about questions?" His eyes flicked up the street for a brief second, before returning to rest professionally on Avon. "Let me introduce my client."

      Avon followed the direction of the glance and saw a slim, wiry man, dark-haired and dressed in tight leather clothes that fitted him like a second skin. There was a springy grace to his stance, but at the same time, something in the eyes suggested age.

      "You've told him?" the client asked.

      "I have," the hunter replied, "but I don't think he really understood."

      The client stared deep into Avon's eyes. "I'm going to kill you. I'm going to kill you slowly and painfully." He answered Avon's unvoiced 'why?': "Because I enjoy it."

      Avon had thought he was familiar with evil. He rated himself as far from virtuous, and acquaintance with the likes of Servalan and Travis had made it obvious how far the human race was capable of falling, but he suspected that this man left them all in the shade. In his eyes, Avon could see something deep and feral, something crueler than the man who murdered for profit, worse even than the man who carried out a massacre because it was politically convenient - this was a man who drew his pleasure from the suffering of others. He stiffened in automatic defiance, wearing superiority as an outer garment, defying his opponent. He would not give anyone the satisfaction of seeing him broken and humiliated.

      His only reward was the quick touching of tongue to lips. "Alpha." The word was spoken as a caress.

      "He'll do then?" the bounty hunter asked.

      "Definitely."

      He gestured at the terminal and his customer, taking the hint, strolled over and keyed in an ID code. Avon translated the musical pattern automatically. Name: Walker. Grade: Beta. Age: 58. Residence: the coding was unfamiliar, but sounded as though it was somewhere on Earth. Then the passcode. He didn't bother to listen to that; the passcodes were so securely encrypted that even the best computers would have taken weeks to deduce them. The bounty hunter gave his ID code which was entered with a rapid tapping of fingers, and money flowed smoothly from one account to another. Before Avon had even realised what was coming, his hands were twisted up behind his back and secured with a pair of cuffs.

      "He's all yours."

      Walker produced a lethal-looking nerve disrupter which would have been illegal on any other planet in the galaxy and gestured with his free hand to a blacked-out cab that had pulled up alongside. He held the weapon causally in the manner of a man used to handling weapons. Even as Avon debated the merits of making a break for it, he knew that he didn't stand a chance. With no protest other than a haughty stare, he entered the cab.

      


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