Previous chapter: http://www.livejournal.com/community/b7f
As he started work again, Avon wondered how much of his opinion of Trilby was his imagination. She seemed to have something in common with all the women that had mattered to him. She smiled at him, just as Anna had smiled, and asked questions in a similar way, Anna had lied to him. Anna had betrayed him. She was like Servalan, ceaselessly probing for weaknesses, but she seemed to lack Servalan's cruelty. She was like Cally, sympathetic and apparently wanting to understand. Cally was dead, and it was partly his fault. For once he forced his mind to dwell on the pain. If he remembered each of those women and reminded himself of what each had done to him, he would not let this wolf in kitten's clothing convince him. He reminded himself that he was in control of the situation. For now it suited him to answer some of her questions, but he did not have to, and he would stop if they became too personal, or if he had reason to suspect her motives. The drive room was dark. His tools and his torch offered the only real light. He had switched off the main lights so that he could concentrate on the work. One small disadvantage was that he could not see her face.
He looked at the drive unit, and then at her, "If I tell you what to do, can you get it right?"
"Yes, but concentrate, I don't want to die yet. There's a lot of power running through these things, even when they're not running."
"I know. If you don't want to do it, I can. You said that you trust me." He waited for her answer.
"I do, but even you are not immune from human error."
He was glad of the dark now, his face was not as unreadable as it usually was. "I know that, too." he said.
"Avon, you'll hear this from the others anyway, but I don't want you to think that I was trying to hide it." she said nervously.
"Go on." He spent the few seconds before she answered trying to anticipate what she might be about to say.
"My father is fairly important in the Federation."
He noticed that she was holding her breath, "Is that all?" he asked, he was quite relieved.
Trilby followed his instructions to the letter. She was fast, competent and reliable. She paused only once to ask whether he was certain about a connection, he assured her that he was. He watched her nimble fingers working in the circle of torchlight. For a time her mind was entirely concentrated on the job she was doing. Her questions were on technical matters, and revealed an active, analytical mind. On the next panel, she needed little instruction, her memory for procedures was excellent. He watched the quick, slender hands until he fell asleep.
Avon was woken by a gentle, but insistant nudge, "Avon, that's it, we've finished."
He opened his eyes and got up to run a repair scanner over each panel, checking for faults. Trilby watched him as casually as she could, but he was aware that she was anxious. He rubbed the back of his neck, "Yes, you have. That's good. What do you know about computers?"
She replied enthusiastically, "A little, I'd like to know more."
He nodded, "We'll have to arrange that. You learn quickly." She said nothing, but as they walked into the brightly lit corridor, he thought for a second that she was blushing.
Avon allowed himself a few hours to rest and think before he looked for Tarrant. They needed to get the parts for the drives as soon as possible. He found Tarrant in the corridor outside the sickbay. "Paying homage to Blake again, Tarrant?"
Tarrant looked condescendingly at him, "What is it, Avon? Or have you just come to have a look at your handiwork again?"
"Come to the dining area, I want to discuss something important, and it is difficult to discuss anything out here. Vila is around here somewhere."
Tarrant laughed, "I'll protect you from Vila."
"Tarrant, until now, I have made allowances for you. You are not very intelligent and not very sensible, but I would not like you to think that that gives you the right to do as you like."
"Are you a captain now? I can do exactly as I like Avon, because I did not help Servalan, I did not kill Blake, I am still a member of this crew. You are not. I hope you understand that."
Avon nodded, "I think, Tarrant, that my understanding is superior to yours in every field. Dining area, five minutes. Can you understand that?"
Tarrant started to walk away, "Ten minutes, I do have important things to do."
Avon went into the sickbay. Blake's canister was in a corner. Avon barely glanced at it as he inspected the medical facilities. He was satisfied with what he found, but he still missed the sickbay on the Liberator. It was a long time ago, but he had not forgiven Servalan for the loss of the ship. He was not too troubled by Tarrant's behaviour, they had never been close friends.
Tarrant was in the dining area when Avon arrived. The room was well lit, and the shelves were decorated with transparent ornaments of various colours. Such elegant embellishments were wasted on both men. Their surroundings did not matter, for now wherever they met became an arena. Avon sat down opposite the chair that Tarrant had chosen. It was not clear which end was intended to be the head of the table, but both decided that they were at the head. Avon spoke first, "We need some parts, some of them may be on the ship, but I doubt it. Few ships carry the parts necessary to modify the drives."
"I thought you had already done that." said Tarrant.
"Yes, to some extent, but those were minor improvements. I have simply disposed of some design flaws. The drives are more efficient. With the correct parts, I could increase our maximum speed by at least twenty percent."
Tarrant liked the sound of that. "Fine, where do you suggest we look for these parts? I assume that you have somewhere in mind."
"Naturally." Avon replied, "Tarisen Station. It is a maintenance station, so the parts should be available, nominally neutral, and not too far away."
Tarrant frowned, "Nominally?"
"They do cooperate with the Federation more than I would like. However, any degree of neutrality is better than nothing."
There was a pause, "I suppose so." said Tarrant, "Look, Avon, if Vila is wrong, say so. Tell us your side of what happened. We will listen. I don't know whether you were working with them or not. Don't you think you owe us an explanation?"
Avon stood, "Understand this, Tarrant, I don't owe you anything. Either you believe Vila, or you don't. Do you think that I would give Servalan exactly what she wants?"
"Perhaps, if she offered you enough."
Avon turned his back on Tarrant, "Well then, I don't think that there is anything else to be said on the matter. Shall we discuss this with Dayna and Soolin?"
"And Trilby and Vila." said Tarrant.
"As you wish."
They found Dayna on the flightdeck and Tarrant briefly explained Avon's proposal to her. She looked at Avon suspiciously, but raised no objection to the idea. "I assume that you'll be going?" she said.
"Yes." said Avon, in a voice which implied that the matter had never been in doubt.
"No." said Trilby, standing up. Neither Avon nor Tarrant had been aware of her presence until then. "Give me a list of the parts you need, and I'll go. Tarisen is a dangerous place for wanted criminals."
Dayna agreed, she too had disliked the word "nominally". Avon was ruffled, "I can manage." he said.
"No, you can't, " said Tarrant, "We won't let you. Trilby is right. We can't afford to be recognised now. Hopefully they are convinced that we were on Servalan's ship when it was destroyed, in which case, we are officially dead. When a man matching the description of Kerr Avon arrives to buy parts for a spaceship, questions will be asked. Trilby should go."
Dayna spoke, "She can't go alone." She walked towards Trilby, "I'll go with you. It's not that we don't trust you, it's just that... "
"I know, Dayna. I'll be much happier about it if I know that I have protection." said Trilby.
Avon spoke slowly, as if dealing with a particularly stupid child, "That would rather defeat the object, wouldn't it? I admire your unconventional approach, one of us would be recognised, so you think that we should send two. I am impressed!"
"Dayna could stay out of Trilby's way, a face in the crowd will be overlooked. Dayna is not so well known as you are." said Tarrant, "Now there is the question of how, or whether, we are going to pay."
Trilby gave him a wicked grin, "Don't worry, I'll deal with that."
Avon asked, "Don't I get any choice in this?"
Tarrant was blunt, "No. Until we have made a decision about you, you are here on sufferance."
"Of course." said Avon, looking coldly at Trilby before walking out.
Seeing her miserable expression, Tarrant put a hand on her shoulder, "Don't let him upset you Trilby, you are right about this. I think it is us that he hates, not you."
She smiled and left the flight deck. Tarrant turned to Dayna, "Poor Trilby, why does she hang around Avon all the time, he can't be very good company. Why doesn't she stay with Vila? At least he cares about her."
Soolin came in and answered him, "She spends plenty of time with Vila. I think she has the right idea. One day Avon will say something about Gauda Prime, and he might say it to her. You haven't found any answers yet."
Tarrant sat down, "I wish he would just explain. If he didn't set us up, then he should say so."
"And you would believe him?" said Soolin.
"Maybe not, but at least we would have something to consider. All we can do now is assume that he is guilty." Soolin sat beside him and he went on, "I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I'm not even certain that there is any."
Avon was angry, but not with Trilby. He was furious with himself. He had allowed them to confine him to the ship, but worse, he had allowed Trilby's actions to affect him. He had believed that she was on his side, and on what evidence? Her word! He was a fool. He had known the risks, he had known that she was no more trustworthy than the others, and he had still believed her. He walked quickly to his quarters. His hand stayed near his gun. He knew that Vila was still around, possibly drunk. It seemed wise to remain alert.
Once Avon reached his quarters he went over to his bed. He slid his right hand under the pillow and his fingers found, and retrieved a small piece of rag. He held it for a short time and then unwrapped it. The ring inside was gold, set with a dark green stone, it was so dark that it had often appeared black. Avon touched it cautiously, as if half expecting it to bite. He lifted it from the rag and ran a finger lightly over it. A jeweler would probably have offered a good price for it, if he had ever wished to sell it. So far, he had not really considered that. His reasons for keeping the ring were not the kind he would admit to. He sat on a chair, rested his feet on the bed, right leg over left, and gazed into the green.
After about a quarter of an hour, he wrapped the ring back in the cloth. He was careful to wrap it securely. Finally he slipped it back into its hiding place under the pillow. Then he began, slowly and methodically, to compile a list of parts for Trilby to obtain. He knew that she was capable of finding the right parts, but what else might she do? It would only take one careless remark to bring the whole Federation down on them. Of course, if she was not as innocent as she seemed, she could make a report while she was out of their sight. Perhaps I am seeing Servalan's hand even where it is not involved, he thought, but it is better to be paranoid, than to be blinkered.
At that moment, Vila was staring at Trilby, "Are you sure?" he asked, "If he catches you, he could do anything. He's not a very forgiving person you know."
"I have to get in that room, Vila."
He shook his head, "No you don't. You could just walk away. You don't have to do anything. Curiosity is not a good reason to cut short a young and brilliant life."
"Thankyou Vila, but I wouldn't describe myself as brilliant."
He was beginning to panic and his voice increased in speed, "I was talking about me! When he finds out, he'll kill me, slowly. He's the shy, retiring type, and if you invade his privacy..." He drew his finger across his throat. He spoke again, trying to sound reasonable, "There won't be anything in there anyway. We all came on board with very little."
She replied calmly, "I don't know exactly what I'm looking for, maybe just the way he has arranged the things in the cabin, I just know that I have to get inside." Trilby put a hand on his arm, "For me, Vila?"
"I can't. I'm sorry Tril, I can't."
"I would be very grateful, it would mean so much to me."
It was not fair! She was smiling at him so sweetly. It was not Soolin's half-smile or Avon's sinister grin, but a charming, little-girl smile that silently threatened to turn into tears if he denied her her heart's desire. No, he thought, I will not be manipulated. I will not allow her to persuade me. No girl, however pretty, is worth that kind of risk. I can't deny it, she is pretty. However, I am not stupid and I will not be pushed around just because Trilby is smiling at me. The time has come to be firm, to resist, to be resolute. Am I a man or a jellyfish? He considered that carefully, well, I'll be the most stubborn jellyfish Trilby Ardath has ever encountered.
He looked as stern and resolute as he could, took a very deep breath, and gave up, "I'll see what I can do, but it won't be easy. I'll need my tools, and time to work."
She kissed him on the cheek, "Thankyou, I will never forget this."
"And that, of course, " he said, "Will make all the difference, I'll hardly feel him tearing my arms and legs off."
Footsteps a little way down the corridor brought their conversation to an end. Trilby whispered, "After Tarisen, when he's busy with the alterations." Moments later, Soolin walked down the suddenly empty corridor on her way to the flightdeck.
Some hours later they were approaching Tarisen Station. Tarrant and Soolin were alone on the flightdeck. The communication came through clearly, "Tarisen Station Space Traffic Control, please identify."
Soolin answered in a cool, calm voice, "This is civilian freighter Freedom."
"Please state your business on Tarisen Station."
Soolin replied, "We need to buy some parts for our ship."
The other woman spoke again, "Please transfer piloting systems to central control."
Soolin looked at Tarrant. He answered her unspoken question, "Standard procedure on stations of this kind."
She complied with the request. Then she sat back, "It sounds as if we are safe, at least for now. They haven't launched any ships to arrest us."
"Do they need to?" asked Tarrant, "They have us in a very vulnerable position, but it sounds promising. They've given no sign that we are in trouble." He made an effort to sound more cheerful, "I'm sorry, Soolin, I seem to be seeing traps everywhere."
"That's not surprising, in the circumstances." Her eyes glittered, "If they do try anything, I'm in no mood to be polite."
Tarrant looked vaguely disturbed, "Remind me never to offend you Soolin."
She turned and faced him with an expression that would have made anyone uneasy, "Do you think you will ever need to be reminded?"
"Well, if you put it like that, no."
Soon, they were docked at Tarisen Station. Tarrant used the intercom to inform Dayna and Trilby. Trilby was in her quarters. She had chosen her clothes carefully, they would not attract too much attention. She wore dark brown trousers, a black polo-necked top and a brown jacket. She used a black scarf to tie her hair back. She was a technician, she did not care how it looked, it just had to be out of the way. She looked at the electronic notepad that contained Avon's list. The order was logical, he had made it as easy as he could for her. She was grateful. Whatever Avon thought of her as a person, he remained professional when it came to their work. She liked that. She went to join Dayna at the airlock.
"Are you ready?" asked Tarrant.
He handed Trilby a gun, and she and Dayna nodded. Trilby checked the pockets of her jacket, the list was there. Tarrant noticed her uncertainty, "Have you got everything?"
"Yes. Relax Tarrant, we won't be long."
"I wish you would tell me how you intend to pay for all this."
She hesitated, "My father will pay for it."
Dayna asked, "What do you mean?"
"I have codes, I found them in my father's jacket."
"Which you just happened to be going through at the time." said Dayna.
Trilby was suddenly defensive, "Wouldn't you be curious if your father refused to tell you what he did all day? Anyway, I found out that he has several anonymous accounts containing large sums of money. We only need the codes to use that money."
Tarrant looked concerned, "Have you done it before?"
"Yes, for little things. Nothing like this."
"He will probably notice. This kind of purchase is going to get his attention."
She looked savage for a moment, "Oh, I hope so. I think this will get his attention in a way that nothing else ever has. Please Tarrant, let me do it. He owes me more than money."
Tarrant sighed, "Just don't do anything to draw attention to us."
"You can trust me Tarrant!"
He smiled gently, "I do. Perhaps you've spent too long with Avon. Good luck you two."
Dayna spoke to Trilby as the airlock opened, "If I get it right, you may not always be able to see me, but I'll be just behind you. If you have any trouble, raise your arm."
Trilby nodded and grinned, "Right."
Dayna set off behind Trilby at a safe distance. Trilby passed through the crowd without notice. It came as a surprise to Dayna that Trilby could make herself so inconspicuous despite her stunning looks. She suddenly had a different walk, a different manner. She walked as if she did not expect to be noticed. Dayna was forced to change her opinion of the girl somewhat. She wondered briefly whether Trilby's usual appearance and attitudes were for their benefit or whether her current behaviour was an act. It was hard to tell, but she liked to think the best of people, so she assumed the latter. Dayna herself quelled the curious glances of a few leering technicians with an imperious stare. Her self-assurance could be intimidating. When Trilby entered a grey building, Dayna pretended to be watching a screen advertising work on various docked ships. In reality, her eyes remained fixed on the door of the building. Until she was distracted by a voice.
"Looking for a job?"
Dayna turned quickly to face a middle-aged man. His appearance at this moment was an annoyance to say the least. She could not risk attracting suspicion. "I'm not sure." she said, "I'm just looking. I'm not very happy with my captain."
"Pushy type is he?"
She laughed, "Oh yes, a real tyrant!"
He looked thoughtful, "Well, what can you do? I might be able to offer you something."
Trilby was leaving the building. Not before time, thought Dayna. She watched as Trilby caught sight of her. She saw the momentary confusion as Trilby assessed the situation, then held her breath as the girl ran across. "Come on," said Trilby, "We have to go!"
Dayna looked helplessly at the man, "I'm sorry, I have to go. If I'm late he'll make me run a systems check to component level."
"Well, next time you're in port, look for the Grey Wolf. Ask for Captain Baylock."
Dayna said, "Thanks." and they hurried away.
Trilby whispered, "I did do the right thing, didn't I?"
"Yes, we make a good team. Did you get everything?"
Trilby actually glowed, "Everything, it will be delivered some time in the next six hours. We've done our bit, Vila and Tarrant can load it."
"Oh what a good idea!" said Dayna happily.
On the ship, Tarrant was standing outside Avon's quarters, "Avon." he said into the intercom next to the door.
Avon sounded quite irritated, "What do you want, Tarrant?"
It sounded pretty lame even in his own ears, but the door opened. Avon was sitting in one of the two chairs, her gestured to the other one. Tarrant sat down, "Thankyou, why are you still sulking?"
"Don't beat around the bush, will you Tarrant." he said sarcastically, " I am not sulking." He spoke the last word with contempt.
"Oh come on, Avon! What else could you be doing in here?"
Avon handed him a minicomputer. Tarrant studied it with a puzzled expression. Finally he asked, "What is all this?"
"Design notes for a teleport." said Avon.
Tarrant was excited, "Can you do it? I mean, don't you need Orac?"
Avon looked up, "Apparently, I do." he admitted., "I have made an error somewhere in those figures."
"A serious one?"
Avon spoke in a voice which suggested that Tarrant was the most ignorant person he had ever met, "This is not a course through a system, Tarrant, you cannot just say, 'Well, we didn't hit anything, so that's alright.' This is particle physics. There are no minor errors. Either the system will fail completely, or the error will prove fatal. Is that serious enough? I will have to begin again. With Orac, that would not be necessary. Orac could find and correct the error in microseconds." Avon took the minicomputer back, "Of course, there is not really much point in continuing with it. You have made it clear that my future is in doubt. Have you come to a decision yet?"
"No, and we won't until we have had a full discussion, and that will include you. I don't believe in shooting a man in the back."
Avon said quietly, "I trust that you are speaking metaphorically."
"Avon, give us one reason to trust you, and everything can return to normal."
"Why do you think that I would want things back to normal?"
Tarrant was beginning to get annoyed, "Be reasonable, if you didn't betray us, give us some kind of evidence. We all want to believe you."
"Do you, Tarrant?"
Tarrant stood up, "We don't always see eye to eye, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I don't want to have to maroon you somewhere."
For a moment Avon gave Tarrant the impression that he was going to attempt a defence., Tarrant began to think that he was getting somewhere. Avon disappointed him, "Goodbye Tarrant, I think that I should start checking these calculations." Tarrant left reluctantly.
Vila crouched inside the open airlock. He held his gun, and his eyes darted at every sound. He did not like being in the airlock, if anyone came to attack them, he would be first, but he wanted to know if anyone did come. He smiled in relief when he saw the girls returning. He tried to appear casual, "Everything alright?"
"Yes, " said Dayna, "You can stop shaking now. Nobody recognised me."
"I wasn't even nervous." he lied.
Trilby took his arm, "Come with me, Vila, we have things to discuss. Dayna, can you tell the others about the parts?"
Dayna said, "Of course."
Within a few minutes Trilby and Vila were lurking in the corridor outside Avon's room. Avon stepped out and walked past them. He seemed preoccupied. When he was out of sight they went to work. Vila took out a small tool, "This should do it." he said, "It would help if we knew the code."
Trilby said, "Well, we don't. Can you do it?"
Vila frowned, "Patience, patience. This is skilled work. Avon couldn't do this, you know. You keep watch." Trilby sighed and began to pace the corridor impatiently.
After what seemed like a very long time, the door opened. Trilby stepped lightly in. Vila put his head through the doorway, "I'll watch for Avon coming back."
"No, you go. Let's not both get in trouble. Go on, I'll be fine."
He was unconvinced, finally he turned to go, "If you're sure, but if he hurts you Tril, I'll kill him."
She was touched, he really seemed to mean it. She watched him go, then she began a rapid inspection of the room. The first thing that she noticed was the neatness, the previous occupant had been tidy, but not like this. Everything seemed so ordered. The data on the minicomputer was meaningless to her. It seemed to consist of long mathematical formulae and technical information. She could make sense of some of the latter, but her understanding of it was patchy to say the least. Whatever he was working on, it was beyond stardrive technology. She looked at the bed, a tidy man like him would hardly hide anything there. Nevertheless she lifted the pillow. The bundle she found contained a ring. She lifted it, watching the light play across the dark green stone. It was not something she would have associated with Avon, this was unmistakeably a woman's ring. She wondered who had given it to Avon, and why he had kept it. For a heartless man, it was a strange thing to do. She liked the ring and could not resist slipping it onto her finger. She resumed her search. Finally, having found nothing else of interest, she began to tidy the things she had moved. She regretted sending Vila away, she had no way of knowing where Avon was. She looked at the beautiful ring again, it was a hopeful sign. At some time, in some way, somebody had mattered to Avon.
The door started to open and she looked in vain for an escape. Avon glared at her in something close to hatred, "What the..."
"I'm sorry, Avon." She resisted the urge to stand up, he did not seem likely to hit a woman unless she challenged him.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
There was something dark about him now. This could not be the same man who had worked beside her in the drive room. She answered quietly, "Looking for you."
He looked as if he was about to kill her, "No! You knew that I was loading the parts. Tell me the truth, can't you manage that just once?"
"I've seen that Avon, I was looking for this one." She held up the ring, it was a risk, it could change things either way, but she could not think of anything else.
"Give me that! Now!" Now she was afraid, he was dangerously quiet. Perhaps she had pushed him too far.
She gave him the ring, "Whose is it?"
There was a strange sound in his voice as he answered, "Cally's."
She spoke gently, trying to calm him a little, "Did she give it to you?"
He sat in the chair, "No, she didn't. She died on Terminal, in a trap set by Servalan. I went back for Orac, I found her. It was a stupid thing to do, taking the ring, it was inevitable that someone would find it. I didn't want the others to know."
"They won't, I'm not your enemy, Avon."
He waved a hand, indicating the room. "This, " he said, "Is hardly the work of a friend." His voice was flat and lifeless, and he suddenly seemed defenceless. Here, on his own ground he had not expected an attack. He seemed tired and angry, but the worst thing Trilby saw was the betrayed look in his eyes. She had made a serious error, she would probably never gain his trust now. It crossed her mind that she might have wanted him to find her here. It seemed that she had subconsciously set this meeting up. Had she ever made a bigger mistake?
"I am sorry, I was wrong to come in here. I wanted to know the real Avon, is this ring all that's left of him?"
"Get out, please Trilby. I don't want to hurt you. Go."
She rose slowly and nodded to him as she left, "I'm sorry."
She met Vila in the corridor, "Are you hurt Tril? I tried to stop him. Have you ever tried distracting him? Tril, are you alright?"
She nodded, aware that she was shaking, "I'm fine Vila, I'm alright."
"Please stay away from him, Tril."
She smiled sadly and looked back at Avon's door, "I can't, I think people have stayed away from him for too long already. Tell me about Cally."
Vila began to tell her. The woman he described sounded exceptional. Trilby found herself asking dozens of questions which Vila answered without equivocation. There was evident fondness in his voice when he spoke of the telepath from Auron. Vila seemed to be a very kind-hearted person. As they walked and talked she found out as much about him as about Cally. She found him charmingly unguarded in his affections, unable to cut people off in his mind like Avon did. The others regarded him as a coward, but she found him braver than all the rest, at least in the depth and honesty of his friendships.