"I don't see how stupidity on Blake's part constitutes an emergency on mine," said Avon acidly, his head poking into an open computer panel on the flight deck.
"Jenna said he's been captured," said Vila, his anxious face twitching like a nervous rat.
"How very inconvenient for him," Avon remarked without the slightest bit of interest or sympathy.
"Don't you care?"
"He's your leader."
"We all agreed that he'd lead, even you," Vila pointed out.
"Blake forfeited that agreement the moment he reneged on it, which was precisely two minutes after he made it. I imagine it was a personal best for him." He tapped a circuit loose and rubbed it between his fingers. It's texture was unusual, rubbery, almost alive.
"You're a cold-hearted bastard."
"I don't find betrayal particularly inspiring, do you?"
"Yeah well, he had a good reason. He has to do it or no one would fight the Federation."
"I'm sure the other rebel leaders would be thrilled to hear that revelation." He stuffed the wire back inside and traced a red one. "I don't see you volunteering."
"I have a-achoo cold." Vila remembered to cough piteously. He sounded like a drowning duck. "It would have given our position away."
"Well, you should be gratified to know that Blake was able to get himself captured without your help." Avon ticked off another mark in his head. It amused him to keep track of Blake's failures. He wondered how many more before the crew realized the man was a fool.
"Are you going to help or not?"
Avon finally emerged from inside the panel. "Is Jenna still down there?"
"She and Cally are going after Blake."
There was a blank stare on Avon's face. "Loyal, but not very bright." He pulled himself up, rubbing his palms together as he headed for the exit.
"I knew you wouldn't leave Blake down there."
Avon pivoted to face him. "On the contrary, I couldn't care less if Blake was thrown in a dungeon and they threw away the key. However, our only two pilots are risking their lives to save him. That does concern me. As it should you." He walked out and Vila ran after him.
Avon put on his cold weather parka and strapped on the bulky Liberator gun and joined Cally in the teleport room. She was buckling on her holster when he entered and paused for a silent stare before positioning himself on the pad.
"I can't believe it," said Gan. "You're going down to help Blake?"
"Don't strain yourself. I'm only going down to help Jenna."
"Whatever you say, Avon."
"And what if Jenna wants to help Blake?" Cally spoke into his mind. He stared at her impassively, drawn by the captivating lines of her face. He must stop doing that.
"Then she doesn't have much taste. Gan, send us down."
"I saw them take him into the main building," whispered Jenna as they stayed low on the hill above the compound.
Avon peered through the distance viewer, flipping on the infrared. "Patrols?"
"There was one an hour ago."
"The one that captured Blake?" He didn't need a sarcastic tone, the insulting, single curl to his lip was loud enough.
Jenna's voice rose in whispered defensiveness. "How were we supposed to know they were coming?"
"Magic presumably," said Avon, his lips dripping sarcasm. "Well, since there was one an hour ago, there will be less chance for one now."
"Assuming there's only one patrol," said Cally.
He stared at her again, this time just briefly. Intelligence was...alluring. "Yes," he dragged out the response as he composed himself. "You're determined to do this?"
"It's Blake," Cally said simply.
The answer touched a speck of jealousy in him. Only one person cared whether he lived or died and she was dead. He had no hopes any member of this crew would do the same for him. With Blake as leader, he was lucky not to be stabbed in the back. "That's a reason not to do this," he told her.
"You would let him die?" she asked, prodding him gently.
Avon scowled. The thought had crossed his mind.
"You're not that kind of man, Avon. You may fool the others but not me," she projected to him.
His scowl deepened. "Cally will stay here and warn us of patrols. You and I will breach the energy screen."
"Don't try to sound too enthusiastic," said Jenna snidely.
"I'm coming with you," said Cally. "We don't need to watch for patrols. We can teleport out once we rescue Blake."
He said flatly, "This entire compound is shielded."
"What?" Jenna's eyes widened in surprise.
"Convenient Blake omitted that detail."
"I don't think he knew. He said we'd be able to teleport out at the first sign of danger. Why would he say that if he knew?"
"Because he knew you would object if you had the facts." There was acid in his voice.
"You're wrong. Blake would never lie to us."
"How quickly you forget," he said snidely.
Jenna glared at him. "You've never liked Blake. You wanted to see him gone right from the beginning."
"We both agree on that." He lifted his head and looked down into the compound. "The fact remains that Blake had notes in his cabin."
"You broke into his room?"
"I was not about to enter a level five facility without all available facts and I suspect he's been hiding information from us. Did you know Avalon is here? She is also being interrogated. It was in Blake's notes."
"We must be here to rescue her too," said Cally.
"Are you a betting woman?" asked Avon.
Jenna shook her head. "You must be thinking of yourself. Blake would never leave Avalon here."
A cynical smile curled his lips. "Do not mention Avalon to Blake."
"What will that achieve?" asked Cally.
Jenna's eyes bore into Avon. "He thinks Blake won't rescue Avalon unless we mention it."
"Why would that make a difference?"
"Avon thinks the only reason why Blake does anything is to build his image. If we know, he will have to rescue Avalon."
Avon's eyes flashed. "Or be exposed as a fraud."
"Blake isn't like that," said Cally.
"We shall see."
"I will stay here and keep watch," said Cally.
Guards dragged the unconscious Blake to an empty cell and dumped him on the ground. One kicked him in the side for good measure before leaving.
"Bastards," Jenna whispered fiercely, leaning back from the corner. They waited until the footsteps died. She turned to look at Avon, who had his head angled, listening intently. "Where is Avalon being kept?"
"One level up. You aren't thinking of rescuing her?"
"I know you aren't."
He gave her a wolfish grin. "Blake first."
"I didn't know you cared," she snapped.
"I need Blake to prove my point." He drew his gun out. "Let's go. They won't give him long."
"How do you know?" she challenged.
A shadow crossed his face but was gone quickly. He went ahead, treading softly and looked through the bars in the door. Blake was sitting up, rubbing his bruises.
Blake looked up, immediately coming over. "You took your time. Get me out of here," he demanded.
Avon already had his tool kit out and popped the panel beside the door.
Jenna watched both ends of the corridor as he worked. She whispered to Blake. "Are you alright?"
He rubbed his neck. "I'll live."
"Cally is watching outside."
"We needed her in here," said Blake. "The Federation has another IMIPAK weapon. The vault is guarded by a team of eight men."
"Blake, the mission is compromised. We have to abort," said Jenna.
"Not until I get what we came here for!" It was amazing how he was able to scream at them in a whisper. "I've come too far to give up now."
"I can see how landing in a jail cell would be considered coming too far," said Avon.
Blake glared darkly at him. "We're going."
"Really." The door slid open.
Blake pushed past him without a word and rushed off. "This way."
Avon looked at Jenna. "One guess why he is not calling Cally on the comm to join us."
"He knows it won't get past the energy barrier." There was a troubled look on her face. "He did know."
"I won't say I told you so."
"Thanks. But you can't be right about Avalon."
She pressed on his arm. "Avon. If you're right..."
"You will support me as leader."
"I don't know..."
Blake came back when he realized they weren't following. "Are you hard of hearing?" he snarled. "I said this way."
Jenna nodded to Avon. Blake did not look pleased.
The vault was in the sub-basement level, behind three different colored energy screens. At the end , heavily armed troopers stood alert.
Blake said, "Avon, can you disarm the shields?"
"Technically, yes, but not from here," said Avon. "The controls are at the other end."
"What are you planning?" asked Jenna their fearless leader.
Like a nervous child, Blake chewed on his thumb. "I'm thinking."
"You should have planned this back on the ship," snarked Avon. "Instead of waiting until the last second."
"I did plan," Blake barked at him. "We're here, aren't we?"
"After we broke you out of prison, hardly a great success so far on your part. Any other brilliant ideas?"
"We don't have time." Avon took a step towards him, standing toe-to-toe.
Blake straightened, his dark eyes hard and unyielding, intent on staring Avon down as he always had. "Back in your place, Avon."
There was no fear in Avon's eyes, only disinterest and a touch of irritation. These bullying displays were happening far too frequently and one of these days he would no longer allow himself to be humiliated by this fool, the day when the crew finally answered to him.
"I can start a circuit fire and simulate an imminent system explosion." He pointed to the sliding panel concealing the control junction. "They will have to come out, and with the weapon unless they want it destroyed."
"Do it," ordered Blake, trying to sound less of an ass than he was.
Avon squeezed into the space next to him because Blake was not about to move out of the way to make it easier for him.
Avon's swift fingers flew over the wires and circuits and he circumvented the emergency protocols. It only took two minutes. "Ready."
"Right. When Avon sets off the alarm and the energy shield goes down, shoot the guards," directed Blake.
"After they open the vault," said Avon.
"Of course," yapped Blake. "That's obvious."
"Just making sure." Avon highly doubted the correct sequence of events entered Blake's mind.
They glared at each other, their hands itching to be at each other's throats.
"Now!" whispered Blake.
Avon cut the final wire and the panel blew, sending sparks flying. The alarm blared and a warning shouted over the speakers calling for the evacuation of the building. The guards stirred, muttering amongst themselves. One entered the sequence for the vault while two others began disabling the energy screens.
"Get ready," said Blake, holding his gun up.
Avon stuffed the tool back in his pocket and drew his weapon in a smooth motion. His heart pounded but there was no expression on his face, only a deadly seriousness. Jenna stood to his side, angling herself for a quick step.
The heavy vault door swung open slowly and a guard went inside. He came out shortly with a silver-colored briefcase and a chain snapped around his wrist. A second screen winked off as the guards arranged themselves protectively around the one holding the case.
"If all three of us fire at the same time, they won't be able to get a shot off," said Blake.
The final screen blinked off.
They thrust forwards, firing their guns in a hail of energy flares. The guards never had a chance as some of them reached for their guns, but too late. Blake ran over and yanked the case free, firing at the chain. "Let's get out of here."
"Wait, Blake. Check the case," said Avon, who remembered the disaster of the Ortega. He learned from their mistakes even if Blake didn't.
"We don't have time!" He kept running.
"A fool can never afford to think," Avon said under his breath. He and Jenna ran after him.
Amidst the chaos of evacuees, they made it to the exit without being stopped and stood to the side, looking outside into the compound.
Jenna pulled on his sleeve. "Blake, what about Avalon?"
"Once we get outside the barrier, I'll contact Cally," said Blake.
Thinking he didn't hear her over the raucous, she coned her hands and said into his ear, "Blake, what about Avalon? We can't leave her here."
"Then we can teleport out."
She tugged on his sleeve. "Blake! Did you hear me?"
"Get ready to go."
"You're going to leave Avalon here?" she asked incredulously. "They're torturing her. They'll probably kill her when they're done."
"Don't you think I know that?" he flashed angrily, yanking his arm away. "They already have what they need from her. The resistance is over if if we don't get this weapon. It's the only chance we have! I'm not about to give it up."
"You'd rather give Avalon up," she said in accusation.
She remembered the first time they rescued Avalon several months ago. Blake had insisted on it and had rattled off a list of reasons, the primary one being the information Avalon had on the resistance. They had to get to her before the Federation got that information. He was adamant about that.
Now she knew, he never cared about Avalon, only about the information she carried in her head. And now that she had given it up, she was of no further value to him. She was expendable.
For the first time, she got a clearer picture of Blake. He was a ruthless warrior, willing to do anything in order to win, even if it came to sacrificing his comrades-in-arms.
Avon looked at her, holding her eyes and she could hear the silent 'I told you so.' He was right, but she wasn't sure about displacing Blake as leader. She wasn't ready to do that. Not for Avon at any rate. She didn't trust him.
Back on the Liberator, they gathered around the couches on the flight deck. The case lay across Blake's lap. He said proudly, "I had Avon start a circuit fire, and set off the alarms. That forced the guards to remove the IMIPAK themselves." He smiled at his own cleverness. "Right into our hands."
Jenna noticed Blake taking credit for Avon's idea. She realized that it wasn't the first time he did that. She glanced quickly at Avon's wooden face, wondering why he never corrected the misdirection.
Blake flipped open the lid with a smile and a theatrical flourish. "And now we have IMIPAK!"
They stared, frozen in shock. The case was empty and Jenna had a feeling of déjà vu.