Previous Chapter: http://www.livejournal.com/users/kerrav
Tarrant listened to Avon's warning without any obvious concern. When Avon had finished talking, Tarrant turned to the computer, "Computer, is there any communication from the surface of the planet?"
"Affirmative. Translation of the coded message is not available."
Dayna said, "I hardly think we need a translation. We know what they are saying, 'Here are the rebels, come and get them!' I think we've got it wrong again, haven't you Tarrant?"
Tarrant gave the necessary order, "Computer, we require an evasive course, maximum speed. Keep it as random as possible and steer us away from known Federation areas. After that, reduce to half speed."
"Confirmed." the computer replied.
Avon nodded, "Now we will see how good the alterations are. It is time we tested them to the limits."
Soolin studied her screen and said, "Yes, why not? You are testing us to the limits."
Vila approached Avon, "That's right. I know you and Tarrant have made a deal, but that deal only applies to you and Tarrant. I want answers Avon. I don't care about your value to us, and I don't care about the alterations, I want to know why you betrayed us. I want to know now."
Dayna came over, "I'm a little anxious to hear about that, too. When did you sell us, and what was the price? Freedom? Wealth beyond your wildest dreams? Or did you just want to prove that you were without any kind of loyalty or honour? Maybe you just wanted to kill Blake, and you were willing to sacrifice us to do it... willing to help Servalan to do it."
Soolin left her position and joined the growing mob, "Was it for Servalan? Did you want to prove yourself equal to her? Well if that is what you wanted, you succeeded."
Avon answered, "If you were a man, Soolin, that might provoke me to violence."
"If you were a man, Avon, that kind of threat might worry me."
Avon nodded, "I can see that any kind of intelligent conversation is out of the question. You all think that you know what happened, so why don't you act on that knowledge? Anything I might say is largely redundant, wouldn't you say? If you examine the facts... get Orac to explain that word to you Vila... you will see just how ludicrous your accusations are. Soolin, am I to take it that you have found me guilty too? How about you, Dayna?" He paused, they were both looking uncomfortable, "You make the Federation's system of justice seem positively enlightened. I have had enough of this! When you have chosen the means of my execution, I will be working on the teleport. Why don't you destroy Orac too? Perhaps it is part of the conspiracy." He stormed out.
Later Soolin was in the sickbay. She told Trilby what had happened. Then she consulted a small medical scanner and nodded to Trilby, "You are fine. You can go back to the work if you like." She smiled and added, "On the other hand, if you want a rest, the others don't have to know that you're alright. You know, Avon would work you to death to get that Teleport finished."
Trilby asked, "Why does he want it finished? He knows that Tarrant will decide about him then."
Soolin shrugged, "I'm not sure I understand that myself. When Avon starts something, he finishes it. Anyway, he's no coward, I think he wants to see all this settled. Don't expect him to submit meekly to whatever Tarrant decides though."
"Meekly or otherwise, he'll never willingly submit to anyone." Trilby looked thoughtful, "Soolin," she said tentatively, "Will you teach me to use a gun?"
"Avon's electronics, Vila's tricks, my guns, is there anything you don't want to know?"
Trilby shook her head, "I've led a sheltered life, it's time I grew up. I want to learn all I can, my family treated me like an idiot."
Soolin's smile this time was a kindly one, "How old are you?"
"Twenty-one, nearly twenty-two."
"Too old to be as bad with a gun as you are. You hold weapons badly for a start. I'll teach you, but not yet. Finish the teleport first. Avon needs you."
Trilby nodded, "Alright."
When Trilby reached the cargo bay, Avon was bent over a group of circuits. He looked up as she entered, then smiled, "I take it that you are a don't know." he said.
"Actually, I'm more a don't care. I didn't know Blake, for all I know, he was asking to be killed. I don't think you're the type to betray your friends, and they are your friends. You've been on the receiving end of that sort of thing. You know what it feels like. If you do feel." She was trying to get some kind of reaction, but she could not tell whether she was succeeding.
He pointed to a pile of components, "Get me two Danner boards, size two. Then come and help me connect them."
She sorted through the components until she found two Danner boards. She sat beside him and put them on the floor. He picked them up with a sigh, "These are delicate, Trilby. Try not to cover them with dust."
She folded her arms and sighed. "It would have to be brave dust, to come near you when you are in this kind of mood. Don't take it out on me, I'm offering you friendship. Don't you want a friend?"
"Well, you'll have to get much nastier, if you want to get rid of me."
He seemed to consider that. He pushed the Danner boards into her hand, "Connect these, then put them between the other two sets. When you have done that, find two more and make a back-up circuit."
"Are you sure I'm that good? You're asking alot!"
"I'm a demanding man. If you are not up to it, perhaps you are not the assistant I need. Perhaps I do not need an assistant. Perhaps I do not need anybody at all."
"I'm not going to give up, I'll try."
"I'm glad to hear it." he said with the shadow of a smile.
Avon watched Trilby struggling to connect the two boards correctly. She obviously understood the basics, but she was having trouble converting her theoretical knowledge to action. He let her try for quite a while, it kept her quiet, and showed her that she was still very much an assistant. He waited for her to admit defeat, when it became clear that she would not he spoke, "Let me do that."
"Not if I become obsolete by doing it. You need me Avon."
"What for?" There was a clear challenge in his voice.
There was an awkward silence while she framed an answer, finally she picked up a small magnetic probe, "The great Kerr Avon picking up his own tools?"
For a moment it seemed that he might actually laugh. He struggled with a smile and finally conquered it, but Trilby had seen it. To her it was a small but promising crack in the ice, maybe even the start of a thaw.
"Alright, you have a point. Stay here, pass me the tools, but I'll connect the Danner boards."
She passed him the boards with a relieved smile.
Avon connected the boards quickly, but with care. He was aware of Trilby's eyes following his hands. A mistake on the teleport now would not only be dangerous, but embarrassing. He was not sure which worried him more.
Eventually Trilby said, "Soolin has said that she will teach me to use a gun."
Avon wondered what to make of this unsolicited information, was she stating a fact or asking for his approval? From her tone it sounded like the latter. He answered accordingly, "Good, you should be able to defend yourself." A thought struck him, "You enjoy learning things, don't you?"
"Of course, knowledge is power."
He smiled, she had finally started to make some kind of sense, "So that is what you want, power!"
"I'm not sure what I want."
"That is a mistake, you should always define your objectives."
"Define yours then." She folded her arms.
He turned to face her, she was watching him too closely, and he could tell that she was waiting for him to try to evade the question. He surprised her, and perhaps himself, with an immediate straight answer, "Survival, freedom, power and wealth, in roughly that order."
"That's a little too intangible for me."
Her look of enquiry was replaced by a sad smile, "Yes, I suppose it would be." Her voice became almost angry, "Is numbed indifference the only emotional state to which you aspire?"
He was surprised by the force of her reaction, he sighed, "Emotion achieves nothing. It is useful only to those who remain free of it."
"As Anna did?"
He refused to admit that he had heard that. He had no wish to discuss Anna with this young, foolish, emotional girl. He knew that if he became defensive, he would be playing into her hands, so he turned to attack, "Who are you working for Trilby?"
"You, in a way. Did you love Anna?"
There was no way he was going to answer that. He said, "Tell me about yourself Trilby."
She shook her head, "There's nothing to interest you. I'd rather talk about you."
"No doubt, but I have answered some of your questions, now it is your turn."
"What do you want to know?"
"Oh, I want to know everything. Let's start at the beginning. Where were you born?"
Avon stared at her, wondering whether to complain or applaud, "Oh come on, that's not fair. If I gave you an answer like that..."
"You do, all the time. I've told you, my father is a complete mystery to me. We have barely spoken to each other since I was seven. That was when he started to tell me I was stupid. I envy you, at least you'll never hear your father say that. There can't be a worse thing to say to a child."
Avon had to agree with that, she was not stupid. He could imagine the crushing effect such words would have had on her at an age when parents seem infallible. He looked at her, for some reason his hand was on her shoulder. He pulled it back. She went on speaking.
"My mother died when I was young, I think that she was beautiful."
He managed a kindly smile, just about, "Well, I can see plenty of evidence to support that. What about Davor, why did he hate you?"
"It was my fault, I called him a Federation thug. He is one, and always has been. He wants power, and he'll do anything to get it. He and my father indoctrinated Deron, and that indoctrination got him killed."
Avon watched her face change as she slipped into sorrow. He asked, "Wasn't Deron a Federation Thug too?"
He was relieved to see anger light her eyes, removing any immediate danger of tears.
"No. Deron believed in the Federation. He thought he was serving an enlightened government, protecting the common man."
"Blake in uniform! So he was stupid."
"No, but it seems that you are! He was a child, Avon. A child is like a computer, it reacts to the information it receives. Deron believed his father and his brother, so did I, until Deron died. They programmed him, the question is, who programmed you?"
"No Trilby, what I want to know is, who programmed you and what exactly did they program you to do?"
"Did you love Anna?"
"We both know I'm not going to answer that. Anyway, I still want to know what you are doing here. You were found on a ship with concealed weapons, you decided to join us before you had any clear idea of who or what we were. I don't share your father's conviction that you are stupid, so what are you? And don't say 'a friend' your loyalties must be very shallow if they are given so quickly to a total stranger. Why did you decide to join us so soon?"
"You didn't give me much time to think. You were going to put me off the ship at the first opportunity. You seemed like reasonable people, even you, with your dark eyes and your frozen heart. I liked you all, and my first opinions are usually correct."
"Intuition? That's a shaky basis for any decision."
"And instant suspicion is better? You made a fairly quick decision about me. I am an obstacle!"
"Was I wrong about that?" He was just trying to out-manoeuvre her, he was usually good at winning arguments, but victory somehow stayed beyond his reach for now.
"Do you think I would work for the Federation?"
"It had occurred to me."
"Deron died because of the Federation! I hate them. That is one reason why I decided to join you, anything would have been better than running home to Davor and my father. I don't believe that you are working for Sleer, why won't you believe me?"
"The difference between intuition and reasoning perhaps? I want to believe you..."
She shouted, "No you don't, because if you believe me, you can't dismiss me as untrustworthy anymore. When it comes to cutting people out of your life, untrustworthy is almost as good as dead, isn't it?"
"Aren't you over-reacting Trilby?" He spoke in a quiet, measured tone, a deliberate contrast to her emotional outburst.
"Yes. I think one of us should react. You won't, will you? Do you ever blink without considering the consequences?"
"I fascinated you before, has your opinion of me changed so quickly?"
She spoke quietly again, "Sometimes you seem warmer, just for a moment, and I feel as if I'm beginning to understand you."
"That's an illusion. You will never understand me, because you are looking for the better side of my nature and I don't have one. I am as Vila described me. Perhaps he is right to hate me."
"And to fear you?"
"Do you fear me?"
"Perhaps, sometimes. Are you familiar with electrical storms?"
"I've always been fascinated by them. On Earth, my family were very privileged, and I was able to go outside. I loved stormy weather. There is a huge build-up and the whole world seems to be waiting for an explosion. When the storm comes it is powerful and terrifying. All the destructive power of nature seems to be released. I used to watch it, frightened, but hypnotised by it all. I knew the danger, but I loved to go out in the storm."
"Very nice, but it has nothing to do with me." He was lying, he knew what she was trying to say.
"You are like that, Avon. You are something terrible and destructive waiting to be unleashed. You never lose your temper," She revised that, remembering their meeting in his cabin, "Well, not often, and not completely. You don't laugh or cry, or tell people what you are thinking. You don't forget either, you store up every betrayal, every cause for pain. What would happen to Earth if there were no storms?"
"I don't know, I'm not a meteorologist."
She tried a different tack, "Alright, what happens if you overload a system? What happens if you keep feeding power in, and the system can't take it?"
"A good system has overflow circuits, you know that."
"So where are yours? You can't keep pretending that you don't feel. You are tired now, and your reserve is slipping. Sometimes you even let a glimmer of emotion show. The question is, how much emotion have you pushed under the surface, and what will happen when you can't hold it back." She paused, "Or has that already happened? Is that what happened on Gauda Prime?"
He sighed. She was right about one thing, he was tired. He considered his answer before he spoke, "Perhaps you should be more careful Trilby. If what you say is true, it may be unwise to make me angry."
"You haven't answered my question."
He offered a faint smile, "I'm not that tired."
Trilby sat back, deciding to leave it at that, for now. He was beginning to get tired, and that made him unpredictable. He was already becoming erratic, sometimes almost emotional. She was intrigued by him, but further questioning would have to wait. Whether he realised it or not, he was answering more and more of her questions.
Dayna was sitting at the work-bench in the armoury, following Avon's instructions carefully. Most of it was simple, a basic communicator, and a casing similar in principal to many other devices she had worked on. The actual teleport technology was outside her field, but the work was not as difficult as Avon had implied. Soolin entered and stood to watch, leaning against the wall. After a while she said, "What do you think of Trilby?"
Dayna smirked, "I think she has appalling taste in men."
"You would prefer one of the others?"
"Well, I wouldn't bother with Avon."
Soolin shook her head, "Maybe she likes the strong, silent type."
Dayna laughed, "It would be nice if he was silent, wouldn't it? Anyway, I think I like Trilby. She seems to be everything she claims to be. If she isn't, then she's a very good actress."
"And her interest in Avon?"
"Just that, interest, a youthful infatuation. I don't think it's anything sinister. The only one who might be hurt by it is Trilby."
Soolin sat on the edge of the work-bench, "She's not a child. She says she's twenty-one."
"She seems much younger. Has she told you anything else?"
"She has asked me to teach her to use a gun, I agreed. Do you think I did the right thing?"
Dayna nodded, "You certainly did. Did you see how she was holding the gun on the flightdeck? I'm not surprised Tepler beat her, she'd lose a fight with her conscience." She grinned, "And if she should prove to be an enemy, there are two people on this ship who won't be swayed by a pretty face."
"Three," said Soolin, "You forgot Orac."
"Yes. It's nice to have him back. Do you feel like helping me with this?"
Soolin looked at the circuitry, "Do you think I can do it?"
Dayna handed her a tool, "Just follow the instructions, Avon's made them quite simple. I think you're up to it."
"We're becoming just a little too dependant on Avon. I'd feel better if we could be certain of his sanity. I hope it was just a private grudge between him and Blake, then the rest of us could stop worrying."
Dayna shook her head, "If he risked all our lives to kill Blake, I'd say that proves a degree of mental instability. On the other hand, if he just sold us to Servalan, I want to kill him. It's a pity I promised not to."
"Do you think he sold us?"
"I'm beginning to think so. He has never treated her as a real enemy. We have had her cornered, and he has let her go. Why? He's even stopped me from killing her. She killed my father, Soolin! If anybody has a right to kill her, it's me! I don't want to believe it, but it seems likely."
"I still don't see why he would do it. It makes no sense at all. He hates her, or he's always seemed to."
"Maybe he loves money more."
"He knows he could never trust her, after Keiller, there can be no doubt about that. Anyway, I think that it would have to have been more than money. We have to get to the bottom of this."
Dayna nodded as she picked up a laser welder, "Yes. Perhaps Trilby has her uses. He may tell her what happened."
Soolin looked perturbed, "Now you sound like him. I'm not sure I like the idea of classifying people by their usefulness."
"I'm sorry, I only meant... "
"Yes, I know what you meant. What really worries me is, how long will the rest of us survive if Avon is working for them?" Soolin started to assemble a casing. She had steady hands and sharp eyes. She looked at Dayna and smiled, at least she could be sure of Dayna's loyalties. Soolin and Dayna had a lot in common, and they had become good friends.
Trilby waited until Avon had finished connecting the boards, then she said, "What do you think they will decide?"
He did not ask what she was talking about, "They will decide that I handed them over to Servalan, and shot Blake as part of the deal."
"And is that what happened?"
"It makes no difference, that is what they believe. The only thing they have not yet decided is what they will do with me now. Have they said anything to you?"
"Tarrant is talking about leaving you on a habitable planet."
"Why? If he had any sense, he would kill me. Does he seriously think that I will allow him to maroon me?"
She said, "You sound as if you want him to kill you."
"No, of course I don't! It is just that I would never let my enemies survive if I had a choice."
"Are you his enemy?"
"That is for them to decide, I was speaking hypothetically."
Trilby could hardly believe her ears, "How can you be so detached? They are talking about dumping you on an uncivilised rock! Don't you care?"
"One prison is much like another, wouldn't you say?"
"Alright Avon, why don't you tell me? You had a reason to kill Blake, what was it? I've already guessed some of it."
"Well then, you tell me."
Trilby nodded, "You kept chasing rumours of Blake, but all you ever found were traps. Tarrant told me about Terminal. Then you arrived on Gauda Prime, and this time you knew that Blake was there. You also knew that he was a bounty hunter. You came under attack. Blake was the bait, so you credited him with a larger part in the trap."
"Instinct has never been very reliable."
"So you know that you were wrong?"
"No Trilby, I don't know...anything."
"All you have to do is tell them what really happened, tell them that you were wrong. They would accept that. Admit that you made a mistake. Is that too high a price for freedom?"
"You don't trust instinct. This time you acted on your instincts, and you were wrong, which proves you right, doesn't it?"
"If I had relied solely on instinct, that would be true. I did not. Logically, it would have been difficult for the trap to be set without Blake's knowledge, and assistance."
"Difficult yes, but not impossible."
"No, not impossible." Just for a moment he stared intently at her, there was something like hope in his eyes.
"Why don't you tell them? Just tell them everything, and..."
He waved a hand, "And throw myself on the mercy of the court? No, I don't want to do that. Not yet, anyway. There are other options open to me."
"Like what?" She was suddenly suspicious.
He grinned, "Like making this teleport work and earning their undying gratitude of course. What did you think I meant?"
She pointed to the teleport, "Will it work then?"
"They will probably make you test it."
"I will volunteer."
She looked at the pile of components which were only just beginning to look like a system, "You're very confident. What does it feel like?"
He thought before answering, "During the actual journey, you feel nothing. Your nervous system and brain are taken apart with the rest of you. When you reach your destination, it takes a few seconds for your brain to make sense of where you are. It can be unsettling at first, but you soon get used to it."
"Can I go with you, when you test it?"
"Why not? Does that mean you believe it will work?"
"I don't think you'd risk your life if there was any doubt."
This time he did laugh.
Tarrant looked at the screen in front of him. There was no sign of approaching ships. "Computer," he said, "Are we clear of Federation space?"
"Negative. Your orders have been carried out."
Tarrant went to sit at Vila's "card table". "Tell me at once if any vessel approaches the ship."
"Now I want you to set a course for..."
"Another full discussion Tarrant?" asked Vila as he entered the flightdeck.
"Nobody else has mentioned a preference, I just thought we should go somewhere. If you have something in mind, be my guest."
The computer said, "Please specify course."
Vila sat down opposite Tarrant, "Somewhere safe." he said.
"Please define 'safe'."
Vila sighed, "Somewhere with no Federation, no bounty hunters, no trouble."
Tarrant nodded, "Just leisure facilities and loose women."
Dayna's voice, cold and disapproving preceded her into the flightdeck, "They mean Earth-like and uninhabited, computer."
"That is what you meant, isn't it?" She looked at Tarrant.
Vila stood up, "You're no fun!"
Tarrant smiled, "She's probably right, that kind of woman is nothing but trouble."
Vila looked crestfallen, "That kind of trouble I wouldn't mind. Computer, when will we reach Boredom-World?"
"No place of that name is stored in my charts. It is possible that it is known by another name."
"He means, when will we reach our current destination?" said Tarrant.
"The nearest planet which matches your requirements is within seven days' journey at present speed."
"Seven days? Alright, Dayna, you'd better tell Avon, Soolin and Trilby."
"Yes sir!" She saluted.
"Alright, I'll tell them, you can crawl around in the drive room, looking for signs of trouble. Enjoy yourself."
Dayna said, "Sorry, I can't do that, I have to look for the others." She left the flightdeck. Vila started shuffling his cards. He looked hopefully at Tarrant.
Tarrant smiled, "Sorry, I really do have to check the drives. Perhaps we can play later, you might win then."
Vila shrugged, "It's not winning that matters, who cares about winning? I just like to play. I don't get upset, just because I occassionally happen to lose. Everybody loses sometimes, even me. It's not important, winning isn't everything. It's not some test of intelligence or anything. I mean, win or lose, it doesn't really change anything, does it? It's just the way the cards are dealt. There can only be one winner. Last time it was you, and the time before. It's just a fluke. It doesn't mean I'm no good at the game, or that you're an expert, it just means that..." He looked up, the flightdeck was empty, "Well I'll see you later then Tarrant." He smiled as he added quietly, "And I'll take you for every credit you've got. Nobody beats Killer Restal twice!"
Vila smiled as he imagined defeating Tarrant. He could see that smug grin fading as Tarrant realised that two exalted pairs could not beat aces cloned. He would be magnanimous, he would probably tell Tarrant to forget the huge debt he was certain to end up with. He would be so nice about it that Tarrant would lose his temper completely, and Dayna would accuse him of being a poor loser. Vila closed his eyes and lost himself in thoughts of victory, and revenge.