Author's Note:I wrote this story quite some time ago when I was trying out a more minimalist style of writing and it was published in one of Judith Proctor's print zines. As it's been about 6 years, I think it's safe to publish online without affecting her zine sales. I've fallen out of the Blake's 7 fandom but recently received a review that encouraged me to post some of my old fic. Hope it finds some new life online. The pen name that I have used in B7 fandom is Morrigan.
Liberator Flight Deck 14:53
Patience is an admirable quality, particularly in others. Normally Vila found any display of patience from Avon an unexpected gift, the pleasure of the gift increased by the surprise. Today it was both unexpected and unwanted. Vila was about to jump out of his own skin and Avon's patience was only an irritant.
"They've missed two check-ins."
Avon's gaze never rose from the circuit pack he studied.
"Are you just going to sit there? We should do something!"
"Presumably you thinkI should do something."
"How can you just sit there?"
"Neither pacing nor panicking will change the situation, Vila."
Vila looked to Jenna for moral support, receiving only a worried scowl.
Liberator Flight Deck 17:08
"When did the message come in?"
"16:45, right after you left. Do you want me to play it again?"
Avon rubbed strained eyes. Detailed circuitry repair takes a toll: brown irises floated in a sea of red lines.
"No, once was enough. So it was a trap."
Jenna reluctantly acknowledged the accuracy of his prediction.
"Yes, just not a Federation trap."
"This bounty hunter, what name did he use?"
"Simon. Just Simon, but I imagine there's a group. One man couldn't have taken both Blake and Cally."
Avon moved to the couches, lowering himself gracefully, sinking in with a sigh.
"And out of the goodness of his heart, he's offering us the opportunity to redeem them before he sells them to the Federation?"
"We have the money!"
"Yes, Vila. I know we have the money. That's not the issue."
"You think everything's a trap, Avon."
"And I'm usually right."
"If you had done something earlier…"
"Simon would have more of us than he now has. How and when do we respond?"
"He'll contact us at 20:00 hours."
Liberator Flight Deck 19:47
"Orac hasn't found any reference of a bounty hunter using the name of Simon which creates a number of possibilities."
"It is a Federation trap."
Avon's smile came and went as quickly as a paycheck.
"Yes, that's one. Another is that he's not using a real name for fear of alienating the resistance."
"Hardly likely. I don't know a single bounty hunter that gives a fiddler's fart about the resistance. If he's hiding his name, it's to guard against research. He doesn't want us to know what he's done in the past. We might use past tactics against him."
"Good point. There are a number of other possibilities: a new player in the field, a group of experienced bounty hunters coming under one name."
"Meaning we don't know who we're dealing with and should assume it's a trap, of course."
"That goes without saying. Yes, yes, I know. You only wish that it did."
"Obviously we need some proof that they're alive and well and that he actually has them. It's likely that he's selling them to us and the Federation at the same time."
"Don't you think he'll wait to see if he can get the rest of us and Liberator before he contacts the Federation?"
"Yes, but I don't want to act on that assumption. Too risky."
"Avon. Jenna. Simon's looking for you."
Jenna beat Avon to the com-link button by less than a millimeter, shooting a slight smile at him in victory.
"This is Liberator. Go ahead Simon."
"Who am I speaking to?"
Avon rolled his eyes and Jenna shrugged.
"This is Jenna Stannis, Simon."
"Where are the other two?"
Silent conference, concluded with a shrug.
"They are here with me."
"Good. I have Blake and Cally, and really don't care who pays their price. You're prepared to pay?"
Avon moved to Cally's station, rapidly tapping in commands while he listened.
"Yes, assuming that we have proof that you actually have them, and that they are alive and well."
"I have them all right. What type of proof do you require?"
Jenna glanced at Avon and Vila in query. Avon mouthed 'talk to them now.'
"We want to talk to both of them now."
"Not possible. They're not with me at this location."
"Then contact us when they are. We don't deal without proof."
"23:00 hours. Simon out."
"You were awfully silent," Jenna complained.
"Made sense to have one spokesperson. Why not you? Besides, I was tracing the call, or I should say, trying to trace it."
"No, that's not it. It came through a number of relay stations, so even if it originated down there," Avon snapped his head at the visual display of the planet Algonia, "I can't determine exactly where."
Liberator Treasure Room 22:13
Vila's dream and fantasies of all of the acts he would perform among the coin and jewels of this room did not include counting out over three million credits in ransom. The last he had heard, Blake's price was 2.5 million, grossly inflated really; there was no one worth that much. On the other hand, Cally was a relative steal at 750,000 credits.
He wondered exactly how the Federation assigned specific values to each of them. Was there a department in charge of evaluating how much damage could be ascribed to Blake versus Avon? He supposed it was necessary to factor in public relations as well, but remained annoyed that Blake and Avon still fetched a higher price than he. Truth be told, neither one of the two could get into half the trouble they caused without him. It would be nice to have his value reflect his true worth.
Liberator Flight Deck 22:49
"I brought you tea. You looked as if you might need it."
Jenna contained her instinctive double-take. Yes, it was Avon and yes, he was holding two mugs of steaming tea. She liked hers with milk; both had milk.
"Thank you. That was kind."
A sardonic grin.
"Well, we don't want our spokesperson getting dry, do we."
"You seem to have something specific in mind."
Avon sipped at his tea before replying.
"It's unrealistic to hope that Simon doesn't know anything about us, but I think it's best to limit his contact to only one of us."
"Is this a matter of control?"
"Yes, but all of negotiation is." He frowned pensively. "I'd like to think this will be a quick deal, but it's possible we'll need to negotiate."
"Then we should start lining up our chips, shouldn't we?"
"Place? I doubt he'll let us pick, and I don't know much about this planet. Obviously we send two down: one to do the swap and one for back-up. We use code words for teleporting. The handover will be tricky; that's where we'll have to negotiate."
"Perhaps you should be the spokesperson then."
"Is that a suggestion or request?"
"If you're planning to take charge, then do so openly."
"Is this a matter of control?"
Liberator Flight Deck 23:06
"Let us speak with Cally as well."
Avon dug blunt fingertips into the muscles that ran the back of his neck. All of the tension and fatigue had concentrated in that one location and despite his best efforts he was unable to unknot the muscles.
"Avon, it's Cally."
"It is good to hear your voice, Cally. Are you all right?"
He tried to remain open for non-verbal contact, for telepathic instructions but none came.
"Yes, we're both all right. Avon, I…"
"That's enough. You've had your proof. No need to make this a reunion."
Avon watched Jenna's face darken in anger and gave her a half-smile as he replied coolly.
"Fine, then get on with the details."
"Four million credits in a tote bag. You deliver the bag with the credits to Malo public park, at the statue of Aron Lewis, and then back off. When we recover the bag, we'll give your friends their teleport bracelets and they'll contact you."
Even Vila rolled his eyes.
"No deal, Simon. We'll do it the same way the Federation would. We swap the credits for Blake and Cally, delivered unharmed at an arranged location. Except, of course, we won't arrest you afterwards."
"Right, you'll shoot me instead. Try again."
"No drop-off Simon. You're a professional. So are we. Drop-offs are for amateurs."
Jenna gave Avon her best wry questioning glare.
"Fine. You come alone, with the money to the statue. I'll send a man. When he verifies that it's not a trap, I'll bring your friends and we'll swap."
Avon sighed loudly and obviously, settling into his chair as if preparing for a long night. Jenna chewed her lip as she watched him and gave Vila an amused smile.
"Sorry, that won't work either, but I understand the temptation to bump the ransom up to include another bounty. I'll go to the statue with the money, which by the way we need to discuss, and leave my back-up at a distance. You bring our friends and send an unarmed man to verify that I have the money. If I don't see them, I'll leave. When he gives you the signal, he retreats, you come forward with our friends and we do the swap."
"Discuss the money now."
"The bounty is 3.25 million, not four. I understand rounding errors but this is a little inflated."
Vila smacked Avon's arm.
The glare he received in return would have melted herculaneum. Jenna drew Vila away, whispering fiercely.
"Consider it a finder's fee. Not everyone would offer you the opportunity to buy them back, you know."
"Yes, well we've pulled them away from the Federation before. We can do it again. I actually enjoy the idea of Servalan spending the money and then having her purchases stolen from her."
"All right, then we've nothing further to discuss."
"You're right. I wish you luck getting more than 3.25 million from Servalan."
Jenna covered the microphone, and Avon met her inquiring gaze with a glare of his own.
"Jenna, you're the smuggler. If you want to do this differently, you should have stayed our spokesperson," he hissed in a barely audible voice.
"Three seven five."
Avon's face was triumphant.
"Three five. A quarter of a million credits is a robust finder's fee, Simon."
"Do you have hard currency, readily available?"
"Let's review the swap then. You bring the money; I'll bring your friends. You're unarmed and you're not wearing your teleport bracelet. When I see you at the statue with the tote bag, I'll send a man forward. As soon as I get the okay from him, I'll approach with your friends. Good so far?"
"No. Unarmed I'll agree to, but I'm wearing my teleport bracelet, as are Blake and Cally."
"You must think I'm a fool. Your backup can hold yours. I'll hold Blake and Cally's."
"No deal, Simon. I won't meet you without an escape route."
"Fine, you're unarmed and you're wearing one teleport bracelet. My man will check both of those and the money. When he signals, I'll approach with your friends, and I'll hold their bracelets. When we make the swap, I'll hand them to you."
"I want their bracelets back but you do understand that I'll bring tested teleport bracelets for Blake and Cally."
"Your backup can hold them. There's no way I'm allowing you to take off with the two of them and the money. Keep their escape route and the money separate."
"Your man doesn't stay with me. I'm not fond of being outnumbered when I'm carrying that amount of money."
"All right. You give me the money and you walk away with your friends."
"How far would I get, Simon?"
"I don't expect you to trust me completely, but we both have to allow for some."
"Try this. I'll leave two teleport bracelets in an obvious place, but not at the statue. Once your man signals, you start toward me and you send my friends towards the bracelets. If you time it right, they reach the teleport bracelets just as I hand you the money."
"As soon as they put them on, all of you vanish with the money."
"Simon, I'll put the money down when they reach the right location. They don't put on the bracelets until I do."
"You'll put the money down and take your bracelet off until I pick up the bag. Then all three of you can put the bracelets on."
"Christ, we'll need a choreographer for this ballet!"
"As soon as they wear those bracelets, they're gone."
Not if Vila's at the controls, thought Avon irritably.
"They put on the bracelets when I put down the bag," he insisted.
"What about yours?"
Sigh. "I'll take it off until you pick up the bag."
Jenna's eyes snapped towards Avon. She shook her head violently. He held up a hand: wait.
"Deal. Let's go over it again. You come with 3.5 million credits to Malo public park, at the statue of Aron Lewis. You bring one backup who waits at the perimeter of the statue area. I send a man to meet you. He'll search you and make sure you're only wearing one teleport bracelet, that you're unarmed, and that you have the money."
"Yes, go on."
"When he gives me the signal, he walks back to the perimeter. I begin walking toward you and I send your friends towards the bracelets. There's a small water fountain. Leave the bracelets there."
"I reach you and you put down the bag of money and take off your teleport bracelet."
"No, I do that when they reach the water fountain. Until then, I hold the money and I wear the bracelet."
"All right. They reach the fountain, you drop the money and your bracelet."
"I'll hold the bracelet in one hand. It doesn't work unless I'm actually wearing it."
"I don't particularly care how it works. If you're touching that bracelet, the swap doesn't happen."
"Simon, if you have any thoughts of trying for another bounty, my backup will kill you."
"And mine will be instructed to shoot Blake and Cally first. Now that we've gotten the threats out of the way, let's get back to your teleport bracelet. It's on the ground."
"Yes, all right," Avon conceded reluctantly.
"I pick up the bag of money, you pick up your bracelet. Everybody's happy."
"I come with one backup, you come with one backup?"
"Then what are we waiting for?"
"You have the money?"
"Yes, we're ready to go now."
Jenna and Vila looked at Avon as if he had lost his mind. He waved at them irritably.
"Midnight at the statue."
Liberator teleport room 23:51
"Vila, if we say 'teleport' it's a trap. Have Zen break orbit, the coordinates are already plotted." Jenna checked her kit, ensuring she had a fully charged blaster and the extra teleport bracelets.
"Yes, yes, I know," Vila's hands roamed over the teleport console anxiously. "I teleport when you say 'Home James.' Very amusing, who came up with that, you or Avon?"
Avon entered the teleport room briskly, uncomfortably unarmed.
"What's that Vila?"
"There's the money, Avon. Are you ready?" Jenna gave him a quick once-over. He looked tense, but not obviously nervous.
"Yes. You have the coordinates Vila?"
"Yes, of course."
"I'll leave the comm channel open so that you can monitor what's going on, but you'll watch the console, right? As soon as you seen Blake and Cally's bracelets activated, you teleport them, without waiting for any request. Right?"
"Yes, we've been through this already."
"All right. One last thing: search me."
Vila and Jenna blinked at him skeptically.
"I mean it. I'm wearing a spare teleport bracelet. I want to know if it can be discovered."
Algonia Malo Memorial Park, Statue of Aron Lewis 23:59
The statue of Aron Lewis, whomever he was, was more likely symbolic that an actual representation, Jenna decided. The twisting forms of metal resembled the double-helix of DNA more than a human, or any alien form she had even seen. DNA? Hmm, maybe he's the father of Algonia, she snickered as she carefully scanned the area around the statue.
Avon stood at the base of the statue, aligned with the water fountain. The statue stood in a small clearing, circled by a line of trees three deep. Jenna interpreted this to be the perimeter. Zen's scans had shown only the two of them within 2 kilometers when they teleported down at 23:55 and her nervous survey of the surrounding area showed little difference.
Moving silently, she changed her position regularly. The statue blocked her view and the trap, if there was a trap, would likely come from that direction. The statue itself was only twenty yards from the perimeter, the water fountain about half that. Her head snapped up at the same time as Avon's.
"Stand by Vila, I hear a flyer. If it's a trap, we'll pull out immediately."
Her heart pounded, nearly as loud as the flyer's strained engines. That flyer is overdue for an engine overhaul, she decided. How professional is Simon if he uses unreliable equipment? Damn, I prefer the professionals. They're more predictable. They're in for money, and as long as they get it, they're usually happy.
The flyer landed somewhere on the far side of the statue, beyond the treed perimeter. Waving at Avon to stay where he was, Jenna moved quickly to monitor the new arrivals, comm-link on her bracelet open to record her comments.
"I see four people."
She pulled the night-viewer from her kit.
"Blake, Cally, two men, both armed."
Avon's voice was quiet, but reflected all of the anxiety of being completely exposed and unarmed.
"Avon, sit tight, he may drop the gun before coming towards you. All right, conceptualize this park as an analog clock. You're at 3, they're moving towards 12. Watch for them on your left."
Avon turned to face the correct direction, but began moving backwards, slowly, so that he could take cover behind the statue, at the 6:00 position if required.
Jenna smiled. Avon's self-preservation instincts were alive and kicking.
"All right, they're in position and they see you. Move forward just a little, Avon. Don't want them to think you're nervous, do you?"
"I can see them! Stop watching them and start watching our backs!"
Shifting position again, as noiselessly as possible, Jenna moved to a position, call it 5:00.
"Vila, have Zen run another sensor sweep on the area. Have him do it every 30 seconds. If there are more than 6 carbon-based life forms, I want to know immediately."
Jenna read Blake's expression as trying to look relaxed and confident when he was experiencing such a large amount of pumping adrenaline that he'd jump if casually touched. Cally's expression was tight and her eyes swept the area around the park regularly. Both looked well: no obvious bruises or cuts.
The larger of the two men accompanying Blake and Cally stepped forward and deliberately and obviously removed his gun-belt, placing it on the ground. He then began walking slowly toward Avon.
Jenna fought against the temptation to watch him as he approached Avon. Danger would come from another direction, and Avon was still wearing his teleport bracelet. Both of them, she remembered with amusement.
She kept her gaze moving constantly, each sweep centered on the big man and Avon. Avon stepped forward, his arms away from his sides, holding the bag in his right hand. Jenna held her breath as Avon was searched quickly and fairly thoroughly. Avon stepped back and opened the bag. The bag never left his hand as the other man quickly evaluated its contents.
Nodding, the big man raised his hand and waved on the others. Jenna left out the breath she had been holding as Blake and Cally started walking toward the small water fountain. She noted unhappily that the other man – Simon? – remained armed, though that wasn't explicitly negotiated for or against. Simon's pace intentionally matched the progress Blake and Cally made towards the water fountain. As Simon reached Avon, the big man reached the perimeter and rearmed himself.
Damn! Two armed men! Jenna's gaze and gun swept back and forth between the two, waiting for a wrong move. Blake and Cally reached the water fountain and halted. Avon very purposely placed the bag halfway between where he stood and where Simon stood. He slowly removed his teleport bracelet and placed it on the ground, near his right foot, eyes never leaving Simon's face.
Jenna watched Blake and Cally reach for the bracelets that she had placed at the fountain. At the same instant, Simon held up the two bracelets he had taken from them and tossed them to rest at Avon's feet. Blake and Cally quickly donned the bracelets and were teleported within two heartbeats. Good job, Vila! We won't complain of you at the teleport again, she thought brightly.
Then all hell broke loose.
She heard Simon's shouts, saw him draw his gun…
Avon darted towards Simon…
"Jenna, Zen's scans show…"
She began firing just as she heard the shots behind her.
Liberator Flight Deck 15:00
"Our lives were on the line and you argued about money? It's not even your money, Avon."
Blake stretched slowly, immeasurably content to be exactly where he was.
"It should be now. I got it back, didn't I?"
Avon shifted position on the couch, unable to find a comfortable way of sitting that didn't irritate his bandaged shoulder.
"You need a pillow behind you. Here, no, let me get it settled. Three point five million credits would buy a lot of guns for the resistance."
"Thank you. You're a bit single-minded about how to spend my money, Blake."
Much better actually, Avon admitted, and he stretched his legs out in front of him, idly kicking Blake's boots out of his way.
"I think we differ on the correct pronoun associated with the money. I suppose it's not coincidental that you left the three teleport bracelets and went for the bag?"
"We have more bracelets," Avon's voice dripped irritation at having to explain the obvious. "Besides, Vila went back at daybreak to fetch them. They were broken of course. Simon was a little less than pleased."
"Yes, that reminds me. Where was that other bracelet?"
"Hello, Cally, how's Jenna feeling?"
Cally smiled somewhat wearily and flopped on the couch next to Avon.
"She'll be fine. Her injury's no worse than yours, I've just managed to keep her in the medical unit."
"I'm fine, just a graze really."
"I was just asking Avon to solve the mystery of the other teleport bracelet."
Cally smiled, more wickedly than wearily.
"Yes, do tell, Avon. I've a small wager on it."
"You're betting?" He was confounded. Embarrassed. Appalled. All at once. "I suppose Vila's opened his bookie business again, hasn't he?"
"No," sighed Cally. "Not enough variety in the wagers."
She leaned over and whispered to Avon.
"No, just the bracelet. You might as well drop the subject. I shan't say another word."
"Just another mystery in the Avon mystique then?"
Avon stood, stepped carefully over Cally's outstretched legs and moved from the couches.
"The lot of you lack imagination. I think I'll get some rest, and leave you to your speculations."
"You can keep the money, Avon…"
Avon halted, obviously tempted.
"All three point five million, you mean?"
Blake sat up, gleefully.
"It's worth that much to you, is it?"
Avon laughed and left the flight deck.
"Talk to Jenna. She's watched me negotiate. Let me know when you've a better offer."