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The Price You Pay by Andrew Williams

THE PRICE YOU PAY

by
Andrew Williams


Oracís remark stopped Avon dead in his tracks. "What's that supposed to mean?" he asked.

"Within the last few hours," hummed the little machine, "Zerok has ceded to the Federation."

Dayna voiced the conclusion they had all reached. "So that black gold will be of use to Servalan. The Federation doesn't know how she's got it. She's made herself a good profit."

There were, however, further consequences that it fell to Orac to explain. "It's worse than that, unfortunately."

Tarrant couldn't see how that was possible. "Worse?"

"The Federation banking system will now take over that of Zerok," explained Orac. "All bank notes drawn by the Bank of Zerok will be declared invalid within seven days and all private transactions will be illegal directly. The consequences of this are clear."

"Yes, they're clear all right," the young pilot responded, crossing the flight deck. "Aren't they, Avon? We've just risked our lives - for nothing."

With that remark, he stuffed some of the worthless money into Avon's hand and stalked away.

"Not for nothing, Tarrant," he heard Soolin say bitterly. "We risked our lives to make Servalan rich!"

Soolin scooped up a bundle of cash, hurling it over Avonís head with anger and frustration.

Nervous and uncertain, Vila watched to see what Avon's reaction would be. He was surprised that Avon did nothing as the money fluttered down around him, but he was even more surprised when a smile crept across Avon's face. The smile broke into a grin, and the grin split open allowing a torrent of laughter to escape.

Avon laughed.
And laughed. And laughed.

Vila looked worriedly at Dayna.

*

The darkness of the Scorpio flight deck reflected the lateness of the hour. The ship sat patiently on its launch platform, waiting until it was needed again. Everything was shut down. Slave's lights winked dully as it operated solely on secondary levels, the overhead lights were off and only narrow lighting strips cast a feeble glow around the flight deck. To be on the ship when it was like this was eerie; no lights, no sounds of drives or life support. You knew this wasn't how the ship should be, and even though you knew you were safely grounded, you had the unreasonable apprehension in the back of your mind that it was unsafe in some vague, undefinable way.

A shadow flitted catlike across the walkway, footfalls silent.

"You took your time."

"Avon?" Soolin squinted at the figure reclining in the pilotís chair as her eyes adjusted to the gloom.

The figure sat up straighter, moving out of the shadows - slightly.

"I thought you wanted the money," he said.

Soolin tossed her head. "I'm not that avaricious," she replied archly. "Some of us aren't completely obsessed with such things."

"Well, if you don't want it--" said Avon, sliding something halfway back into his jacket.

"I never said that."

Avon stood, pulling the small rectangle out of his pocket again, and tossed it to her. Soolin caught it one-handed, her eyes fixed on Avon. She could see now that he, like herself, was wearing a gun. It had been hidden while he was sitting in the shadow, so he had lost the advantage of that surprise. Then again, Soolin had never imagined he would come unarmed, and it would be much easier for Avon to draw now he was standing.

"Itís all there," stated Avon, "You can check with Orac if you like."

"I believe you," replied Soolin. "Besides, now I know that you can get Orac to lie, I wouldn't be able to trust anything it said either."

Avon smiled broadly in the dark.

"Neat, isn't it?"

"But why take the others' money?"

"I seem to recall something about selling your skill. You made your terms quite clear - what's the matter? Worried about filthy lucre?"

Soolin slipped the tape into a pouch on her outfit. "Of course not."

"There is also the matter of the ship. As you pointed out, this was Dorianís ship; now it's yours. Even though I saved it from being destroyed, you have first claim on it. Same with the base, just as Orac is mine. So we'll buy it. That's why we pulled the gold heist, and that's why I had Orac tell everyone the Zerok money was worthless. They won't question where it went, and none of them will even think to ask why you let us have the ship. Except maybe Vila."

Soolin couldn't tell if the last sentence carried a hint of annoyance or approval.

"It's not worth ten billion, Avon. Where's the rest of it?"

"That was ten billion in local currency from Zerok. It's not worth nearly so much in Federation credits. The Federation manipulate the exchange rates in rather devious ways to ensure they have the advantage over everyone. There were also the conversion costs. Apart from fees, there is quite a lot to pay out when you are laundering money back through the system. I had to physically transport the money to the banks in order to convert it, and I had to do it in smaller amounts on a number of worlds so the Currency Reserve on Zerok didn't get suspicious. The Federation obviously pays a lot to the Zerok exchequer in order to get the gold, and since Zerok rarely takes foreign currencies, the Federation have to somehow get Zerok currency to buy it. Anyone else moving large sums of Zerok money would certainly be investigated."

Avon grinned again. "Dayna tore up a rather tidy sum, too. Sorry about that."

"It's a wonder no-one saw through the plot. Your acting leaves a lot to be desired too," sniped Soolin. "You don't fool me. There's still a lot left over, I'm sure. Where is it - the Avon Retirement Fund? Planning to move to 61 Cygni and keep bees?"

Avon remained unphased. "Something like that. That's an anonymised identity token; the actual money is in an account Orac set up for you with the Bank of Teal. It's a numbered account - no names. The number is on that encoded tariel wafer; I suggest you memorise it.

"If ever the Federation takes Xenon, head for the Teal systems. Think of it as a rendezvous point, or a... haven."

Soolin arched an eyebrow. "A bolthole?"

Avon looked disgusted with himself. "I seem to have developed the distressing tendency of giving away the locations of my boltholes. I'll have to get Orac to prescribe a cure for these generous impulses I seem to have caught from Blake."

"It doesn't seem that this would be the first time you've set up an account with them," Soolin observed.

"If you're asking if I have an account set up too; yes, I do. For quite some time now."

"Before the Liberator?" inquired Soolin.

"No. I set it up after Vila and I cracked the Big Wheel at Freedom City."

Soolin reacted with surprise. She had, of course, heard of Freedom City; its line about the electric kick they served at the casino, 'It's dangerous to fall asleep at the Wheel', had made it well-known throughout the Federation, even if not well-regarded. "It was you who broke the bank that time at Freedom City? I'd heard the rumour, but I discounted it as a myth; no one knew any names."

"We couldn't afford to let Blake know about it...." Avon responded, drawing off in mid-sentence.

"Too bad; I'm sure it would have increased his popularity with the proles no end. But you make it sound like he was the teacher and you were mischievous schoolboys. I can imagine Vila cowering from authority, but you, Avon?"

"I had my reasons," answered Avon, obviously evading the question. "The accounts have come in all the more handy now we no longer have the Liberator. It was self-sustaining, but Scorpio needs fuel and parts; we need food. Some of it we can take, but some things we have been forced to buy. I had to set up an anonymous line of credit against the main account."

"The main account?" repeated Soolin, mildly surprised. "Who else has got one?"

Avon rounded the flight console, moving out from behind the cover it offered. He leaned up against it, creating a somewhat relaxed appearance, but Soolin noticed how poised he actually was. Still, the deception was quite good.

"Vila has; but he doesn't know about it of course. There is one set up for Dayna, too."

"And Tarrant?"

"Blake never had to be a bookkeeper," muttered Avon. "If you breathe so much a word of this to the others, Soolin, you know what I will do. The money is for emergencies, and transactions can be traced if they aren't handled cautiously. I don't want the Federation beating down our door because Vila decided to go on a soma shopping spree."

Soolin didn't look convinced. "And you don't think the others will ask where all the food and parts are coming from?"

Avon drew himself up to his full height. "They haven't so far," he replied dryly. "What did you think? That Dorian left us a fully provisioned base? That would be stretching credibility too far, would it not?"

Soolin reflected for a moment. "I never really thought about it," she replied.

Avon headed for the airlock off Scorpio. "And neither have the others."

*

Dayna, Tarrant, and Vila sat around a comm speaker in the Xenon Base crewroom, listening to the conversation being transmitted from the audio-pickup hidden in Soolin's pocket.

"They're coming back," said Dayna, switching off the speaker and pocketing it. "Time to disappear."

"I don't understand," complained Tarrant, rising from his seat. "Do I have an account or not?"

Dayna gave a long-suffering glance at the ceiling. "Of course you do! He didn't deny it, did he?"

"Gardenos, here I come!" smiled Vila, heading out the door.


"And in case you hadn't noticed it the lady with the gun is not a particularly cooperative person. I don't think she'd be all that happy about us trying to borrow her boyfriends ship."
- Vila, RESCUE.


***


The Price You Pay was originally published in Enarrarť 9 and Horizon 22 and is reproduced here with permission of the author

All original fan fiction hosted on Horizon is copyright to the individual authors. No attempt is being made to supersede any copyright held by the estate of Terry Nation, the BBC, B7 Media, Big Finish or any other licensees or holders of copyright on Blake's 7 material.

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