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Who is your Favourite Guest Rebel?

Avalon - (Project Avalon)
Avalon - (Project Avalon)
18% [17 Votes]

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Selma - (Horizon)
5% [5 Votes]

Tyce - (Bounty)
Tyce - (Bounty)
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Norm One - (Redemption)
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19% [18 Votes]

Hal Mellanby - (Aftermath)
Hal Mellanby - (Aftermath)
14% [14 Votes]

Hunda - (Traitor)
Hunda - (Traitor)
5% [5 Votes]

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Deva - (Blake)
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Emarta by Website Mutoid

Emarta
by
Website Mutoid

Prologue

Slowly, very slowly, awareness comes creeping back to Cally. Gradually, she is able to identify an odd, heavy numbness that seems to pervade most of her body. She realises that she is supine, that there is a grey, featureless ceiling somewhere above her. Confused, she attempts to move, but quickly finds that it is impossible. Confused and frightened her mind strikes out, searching for her companionsÖ and finds no trace of familiarity. Instead, she senses an unknown presence somewhere nearby. Unknown, but not, it seems, immediately inimical.

A face moves into her field of vision. A narrow, angular male face characterised by almond-shaped grey, intelligent eyes, and a short, fair, neatly trimmed beard. Cally knows immediately that the man is a stranger, that she does not know him, yet there is nothing about him that feels hostile. Cally tries to speak and finds that she canít make more than a rough croaking noise.

"Easy," the man says. "Youíre in a medi-capsule."

His accent is flat Ė definitely Terran Ė but there is a slight edge beneath it that suggests that the hybrid language long ago adopted as a key galactic standard is not his natural tongue. Mutely, Cally stares up at him.

"My name is Drex," he says. "Youíre on my ship Ė the Shrike. Iím taking you to Emarta Ė a rebel stronghold."

Again, Cally tries to speak, but canít.

"You were badly injured. On Terminal. Do you remember?" Drex asks.

Terminal. Of course. The explosionsÖ Cally manages the slightest of nods.

"Youíve been in stasis for three weeks," Drex informs her. "Your condition stabilised a couple of days ago. Welcome back."

Concentrating hard, Cally seeks the edge of Drexís mind. Smooth, glassy. No rough edges. Summoning the psychic strength required, she projects her thoughts towards him, The othersÖ?

Drex looks faintly bewildered, as if he has never before experienced telepathy, but he rallies with an almost immediate, "They were already gone when I made planetfall. My flight computer detected several latent ion trails. Looks as if they were rescued. There are people on Emarta trying to find out more."

No, Cally sends to him. They would not have abandoned me.

"I think," Drex says quietly, "that they assumed you were dead. You were trapped behind several roof-falls. Shrike carries heavy rescue equipment. Thatís why I was diverted to Terminal Ė to recover you. Dead or alive."

Cally seeks his mind again. Who sent youÖ?

Drex smiles, an expression that seems to light up his grey eyes and angular features. "Blake."


Part One Ė The Ship

"Where are you?" Cally asked the unconscious man softly. There was no response, but she hadnít expected one. For five days, he had been resolutely unresponsive. There was no reason why the sixth day should be any different.

The medical unit was small, designed to accommodate only two serious casualties, but it was well-equipped, and several monitor screens displayed continuously updated information about the manís condition. His heart was beating steadily and he was breathing naturally, but there was a minimum of electrical activity registering in his brain. Wherever he was, he was peaceful.

Behind Cally, the main door to the medical unit opened quietly. She didnít need to look round to know who was there. Aloud, she said, "I told you earlier, thereís no change in his condition."

Blake appeared in her field of vision. He looked tired Ė bone-wearily so Ė but there was a faintly triumphant air about him. He said, "Orac has intercepted a Federation communication from Gauda Prime Ė theyíve found nothing to indicate whatís left of the wreck is the Scorpio. It looks as if theyíre reporting the whole thing as rumour and misinformation. We got away with it, Cally."

"Just," Cally said, a little sharply. She met his gaze steadily. "You were lucky, Blake. Very lucky. Remember that."

Blake didnít comment. Instead, he nodded towards the medi-bed and asked, "No change at all?"

"None."

"I donít understand," Blake said, frowning. "He was heavily stunned, but he wasnít badly injured, so whyÖ?"

"Psychological trauma?" Cally suggested. A hint of reproach in her tone, she added, "After all, he didnít know youíd decided to change the plan at the last minute, did he? I told you adding a fake Federation element to the plan without telling him was unnecessary Ė and highly dangerous."

"Avon will understand," Blake said impatiently. "I need him awake, Cally. Isnít there anything you can give him? A stimulant or something?"

"No," Cally told him shortly. "He needs to recover in his own time."

"And how long is that going to take? Weíll be at Emarta in a few days."

"Leave him alone, Blake," Cally said, injecting a warning note into her tone. "The mind is a complex and delicate thing, and it is best left to deal with trauma in its own way. Forcibly waking him up isnít an option."

Blake held up his hands in a submissive gesture. "All right. Iíll leave it to you to decide whatís best Ė for now. Just remember Ė unconscious, heís no use to me."

-oOo-

"Itís my fault, Vila," Cally said. She stared at the back of her hands for a moment, then looked up to meet his gaze. Seeing the sceptical look on his face, she continued, "If I hadnít told Blake how obsessed Avon was with finding him on Terminal, he wouldnít have lured you all to Gauda Prime. I shouldnít have told him thatÖ Oh, I donít know. I just feel as if Iím to blame."

"Youíre being stupid," Vila said bluntly. He looked, if it were possible, even more tired than Blake. Tired, and so much older than Cally remembered. There was a note of real bitterness in his voice as he added, "Itís always been about Blake. Finding Blake, not finding Blake. Proving to Blake that he didnít need him. Proving to Blake he could be a better rebel leader than Blake ever was, even though he didnít actually give a damn about the rebellion. Itís not your fault Ė itís the two of them. Canít live with each other, canít live without each other. Thatís why Jenna left Blake, if you ask me. She didnít like the competition."

They were seated in the shipís small, cramped crew-room, either side of an unattractive, functional table that desperately needed cleaning. An unpleasant, sticky residue indicated that someone had overturned a drinking vessel fairly recently, and hadnít returned to clear up the mess. The sharp, distinctive chemical smell of warm, cheaply synthesised artificial meat lingered in the room, making Cally feel faintly nauseous.

"Blake thought that joining forces again with Avon would solve all his problems," Cally said.

"Yeah, well. Everyoneís entitled to be wrong occasionally. Catastrophically, in this case."

"I warned him not to change the plan, Vila," Cally said. ďHe wouldnít listen. He wanted to be absolutely sure that Tarrant and the others were completely loyal.Ē

"Great plan," Vila said, heavily sarcastic. "Shame he forgot to tell Avon that heíd changed the entire set-up behind his back. Still, at least it wasnít my hologram that got blasted into oblivion."

"That shocked him," Cally said, looking down at her hands again. "Really shocked him. I honestly donít think he believed Avon was capable of lashing out like that."

"Hm." Vila said, sounding non-committal. When Cally glanced up, he added shrewdly, "You knew, though, didnít you? You knew how Avon would react if he thought Blake had betrayed him."

"I knew," Cally confirmed. "And I tried to warn Blake; you have to believe me."

"Oh, I do. Blake always was too stubborn for his own good."

A silence fell between them, oppressive in the small, enclosed space, deep inside the ship. It was not the first conversation they had shared on the subject since they had been reunited on Gauda Prime, not long after the debacle that had left Avon deeply unconscious and Blake apparently even more obsessed with trying to forge a rebel army from his growing number of followers.

Idly rubbing at a mark on the table between them, Vila said, "Avon wonít stay, will he?"

Cally didnít look up. Wearily, she said, "I donít think so."

"And," Vila added perceptively, "if he goes, youíll go with him."

Cally raised her gaze, but didnít reply.

Vila shrugged slightly. "I was there on Terminal, remember? The night after Liberator was destroyed? Tarrant and Dayna stayed in the main control room all night trying to come up with an escape plan. I didnít."

"You didnít?" Cally said, more than a little surprised. "But you were asleepÖ"

"I was pretending to be asleep. I got bored, decided to see what was lying around in the way of supplies. I saw you, Cally. You and Avon. Cold comfort in the dark. Not that I didnít already know." Vila paused, then continued, "I told you, Avon told us you were dead, and I knew right then that things were going to get a whole lot worse before they got better. And I was right. So I know youíll go with him. Iíll even understand why. But donít expect the others to."

Cally remembered that night on Terminal. Remembered quite clearly Avonís cold rage and bitter self-condemnation, remembered knowing at the time that she was seeing what the others never would. She remembered, too, the consequences of their joint sense of desolation and loss. She wondered exactly what Vila had seen, and whether it mattered. She said, "I canít explain, Vila."

"Donít expect you to," he said shortly. He sighed, and added, "That damned man, somehow he gets under your skin. Love him or hate him, it doesnít matter. In a way, it makes him exactly like Blake."

"Blake believes in freedom," Cally said. "Freedom and justice."

"And Avon believes in security," Vila told her. "Doesnít matter where they come from, because in the end theyíre both going in the same direction, dragging the rest of us along with them, whether we like it or not. You would have been proud of Avon, Cally. Avon trying to be Blake. Except he couldnít quite manage it. If you go with him, heíll destroy you. You know that, donít you?"

"Vila," Cally said quietly, "I canít let him leave alone. Not this time. Not after Terminal."

"Tell me something," Vila said, and his tone was suddenly earnest, not sardonic. "Do you love him? Avon? Do you actually love him?"

Evading the question, Cally said, "Does it matter?"

"No, probably not. But if you do, it makes the whole thing an even greater tragedy waiting to happen."

-oOo-

From the moment sheíd first encountered Avon on Saurian Major, Cally had registered an instant, mutual Ė and initially very unwelcome Ė physical attraction between them. Initially it had unsettled and displeased her, making her wary in his presence, but when it had become evident that Avon, at least, had no intention of acknowledging, much less acting upon the accidental chemistry between them, she had very quickly learned to use it to her advantage. Avon, she had soon discovered, was much more susceptible to gentle persuasion than he cared to admit. Where others failed with him, Cally often succeeded. What had often made the success even sweeter to Cally had been the wry, knowing look on Avonís face that suggested he knew exactly what she was doing, and was prepared, under certain circumstances, to allow it.

By the time the appearance of Tarrant and Dayna on Liberator had changed the dynamic of the crew, Cally had firmly established herself in the role of Avonís unwelcome moral compass. When the last walls between them had fallen, the inevitability of what happened next had been so strong that neither of them had been remotely surprised. From reluctant companionship to grudging friendship, and on into uncharted waters in a smooth, gradual transition that had only occasionally been rocked by external events.

By the dawn of the last morning on Terminal, Avon had been Callyís intermittent, capricious and often highly temperamental lover for several months, and their relationship had evolved so gradually, and so naturally that neither of them had foreseen a time when things would change abruptly. Certainly, neither of them had expected change to be forced upon them in the way it had.

"Do you love me?" Cally had reflectively asked him once, in the calm, dark silence of the night. Suspecting a firestorm in response, she had asked the question idly, curiously and without any particular emotion. She hadnít expected him to roll slowly onto his back to regard her neutrally as he asked the same question she would later pose to Vila: "Does it matter?"

I donít know, Cally thought. Thatís what I said, isnít it, Avon? I donít know. And I still donít.

Avon hadnít said another word, but when morning had come, heíd still been next to her in the narrow bed, deeply asleep and achingly vulnerable.

He looked just as vulnerable lying on the medi-bed, his eyes closed. Several daysí dark growth of beard contrasted starkly with the pallor of his skin. Yet, the monitors nearby were registering greater brain activity than they had for days.

"It looks as if heís finally finding his way back to us," Cally said, glancing at Blake. "I think heís starting to wake up."

"Good," Blake said in a grim tone. "How longÖ?"

"Minutes?" Cally suggested. "Hours? Days? I simply donít know."

"Weíll be at Emarta soon," Blake said. "It would be better for everyoneís morale if he walked off this ship with us."

-oOo-

Eventually, Cally had kissed him. Afterwards, it had become an occasional private joke between them Ė who had dared to step over the unspoken line first. She had often denied it, simply because it had amused her to do so, but it had certainly been Cally who had transgressed first. She had been helping him repair the damage wrought by the ghostly alien being that had exploited her so mercilessly in its attempt to restore its own life. Most of the repairs had been minor and fiddly, and best left to the Liberatorís auto-repair circuits, but Avon had always suffered from a complete inability to stand idle when there was something electronic that could be tinkered with. After many hours of painfully slow progress, he had been notably ill-tempered, and even more given to sharp, sarcastic criticism than usual.

Alone with him on the flight deck, and standing too close to him for comfort, it had been too easy for Cally to accidentally fumble with the tiny, delicate circuit she had been ordered to hold in place, and her shortcomings as an assistant had earned her the kind of stinging, acerbic reprimand for which Avon was rightly infamous amongst the crew. Tired and frustrated, and angered not only by his words, but also by his ingratitude, Callyís own temper had flared. Possibly, if they hadnít been standing in such close proximity, she might have simply snapped back at him and stalked away.

She hadnít. Possessed suddenly by some inexplicable, reckless impulse, she had kissed him. It hadnít been a tender, gentle kiss, but a fierce, angry assault. And the consequences had been shattering. For one instant he had been frozen, as if he couldnít quite process all the information his senses were relaying, and then he had responded with the kind of ferocity that Cally hadnít quite, until that moment, believed him capable of. Later, of course, he had stridently denied the force and passion of his response, but in those first few, surreal seconds, Cally had understood very clearly what sort of creature existed beneath the near-perfect faÁade of Avonís calm, studied control.

It had been the catalyst for everything that had followed, Cally reflected, returning to the present. Sombrely, she studied his face, watching the tiny movements beneath his eyelids that suggested increasing awareness. Again, she reached out gently with her mind, seeking the edges of his consciousness, finding the familiar sharp edges of him. Carefully, she projected the voice of her mind towards him, Avon?

Dramatically, his eyes snapped open, pupils contracting sharply in the bright light of the medical unit. His intake of breath was audible, but Cally suspected it had more to do with a reflex action than with any shock at seeing her. She could immediately feel his wild confusion, could sense, but not quite visualise the jumble of conflicting images in his mind. For a moment she feared his confusion would lead to panic, but almost instantly she felt his instinctive, powerful self-control take hold, forcing a brittle, artificial calm.

As he swallowed convulsively, she said, "Avon, relax, youíre safe."

He tried to say something, and failed. Impulse alone made her grasp his hand, tightening her fingers over his. "Relax. Youíve been unconscious for days, but youíre going to be all right. Youíre safe."

She could sense his total disbelief, his fear, his complete bewilderment. Cautiously, she repeated the words with her mind, pushing them towards him. Telepathy made him uncomfortable, she knew, but it seemed the best way to add some kind of reality to the situation.

For a moment she thought she was succeeding, that he was prepared, at least temporarily, to simply accept rather than to question. The situation might have been brought more quickly under control had Blake not chosen that particular moment to make a reappearance in the medical unit.

-oOo-

"So how is he?" Soolinís voice from behind her, cool and tinged with perfectly-pitched disinterest.

Cally, who had been about to step into her temporarily-assigned sleeping quarters from the shipís main central corridor, turned to face the younger woman, deciding immediately to take the question at face value. Calmly, she said, "Heís very weak and very confused, but heís awake."

"So Vila said. Can we see him?"

"I donít think that would be wise," Cally said. "Not just yet."

Soolin seemed to be surveying her, assessing her. After a moment, she said, "Surely it would be better if one of us helped to explain the situation to him?"

There was something about the woman Cally didnít like. She wasnít sure quite what it was, but there was somethingÖ Carefully, she said, "Blake has asked Vila to go and talk to him."

"Oh, well," Soolin said in a dismissive tone, "thatís bound to help, isnít it?"

Jealousy? Cally wondered. Knowing it was an unworthy thing to do, she reached out cautiously with her mind, seeking Soolin, the essence of Soolin. Perfect curves, glossy and highly-polished, and beneath them something distinctly more chaotic, far more hostile. Something almost, but not quite, as jagged and yet visceral as Avon himself. Avon. Cally could sense him, hidden somewhere much deeper in Soolinís mind. Could almost taste the metallic trace of him. Aware that Soolin was looking at her strangely, she said, "He trusts Vila."

Soolin snorted. "Avon doesnít trust anyone, least of all Vila. Or havenít you heard about what happened between them?"

"Iíve heard," Cally said calmly, pushing back the memories of the painful conversation sheíd had with Vila about the subject of Egrorianís doomed shuttle. "And thatís why Vilaís the best person to talk to him, at the moment. Youíll be able to see him soon enough. Thereís nothing much wrong with him physically that some natural sleep and a few meals wonít put right."

Soolin said nothing. Cally gazed back at her steadily, wondering if Soolin was aware of how easily the shape and form of her mind could be read. Experimentally, she pushed her mind forward a little harder, seeking to catch any stray images that were strong enough to project beyond Soolinís natural defences. There was only one, and it was perfectly clear and perfectly formed. Avon. Of course Avon. Avon stamped across Soolinís subconscious in exaggerated, stylised proportions. Hero-worship? Cally wondered, or something more?

She said, "Was there anything else?"

"For the sake of the others," Soolin said, in a very deliberate manner, "Iím glad youíre alive. But things move on, Cally, with or without you."

Cally raised her eyebrows slightly, "Meaning?"

"Just that," Soolin said. "Things move on." She turned away without another word, and walked off in the direction of the shipís small flight deck, leaving Cally to ponder on the hidden weight of the words.

-oOo-

"Soolin?" Dayna said, a little later, her tone incredulous. She shook her head. "I donít know where you got that idea, Cally, but youíre wrong. Has Vila been gossiping again, or something?"

"No," Cally said honestly. "No, he hasnít. Dayna, youíre quite sure?"

"Absolutely sure," Dayna confirmed. She sat down next to Cally, a troubled look in her dark eyes. "I donít understand why youíd think that Ė or why it would matter."

"She asked to see him," Cally said, knowing she was dissembling. "I told her she couldnít. But afterwards it occurred to me that if there was something between them, perhaps I shouldnít have stopped her."

"I see," Dayna said, sounding doubtful. "Well, you neednít worry. As far as I know, the only nocturnal company Avon had on Xenon was Orac."

"As far as you know?"

"She would have told me, Cally. Trust me, if thereíd been anything going on there, Soolin wouldnít have made a secret of it. Not her style at all." There was a long, loaded pause, then, "Look, Cally, after Terminal, things didnít go well for us. Everything we tried to do seemed to go wrong, one way or another. Avon wasnít the same afterÖ Well, you know. He wasnít the same as he was on Liberator. I donít think any of us were. Sometimes Avon would go for days on end without speaking to anyone. He saw Soolin could be useful to us, thatís all. Beyond that, I donít think he ever gave her Ė or anyone else Ė a second glance."

Deciding it was time to change the subject, Cally said, "Have you and Tarrant talked about Emarta yet?"

"Briefly," Dayna said. "We donít exactly have anywhere else to go, do we? I think Tarrantís rather taken with the idea of being given his own ship."

"The Endeavour," Cally said. "Blakeís flagship. Itís hardly the Liberator, but I think youíll find itís a better ship than Scorpio was. Particularly if itís fitted with a photonic drive and a teleport."

"íIfí?" Dayna said.

"Avon has yet to be in a suitable condition to be asked whether heíll stay or go."

"Well, of course heíll stay," Dayna said, sounding surprised. "Wonít he?"

-oOo-

"Insomnia?" A quiet, cultured voice in the half-light asked, making Cally start.

Abandoning her attempt to creep stealthily into the medical unit, she said, "You should be asleep."

"At three oíclock in the morning," Avon said, sounding so much like his old self that it almost made her wince, "so should you."

He was sitting up, propped slightly awkwardly against unruly, functional pillows that were poorly designed for the purpose. Cally could see immediately that he had fastidiously removed all of the sensors that had been attached to his skin while he was unconscious. The mild act of rebellion heartened her. She said, "How do you feel?"

"How do you think?"

"Like all your synapses have been subjected to several thousand volts?" Cally guessed, halting beside the medi-bed and looking down at him. He looked uncharacteristically dishevelled, but far less pale and shocked than he had when heíd first recovered consciousness. One eye, she noticed, was badly bloodshot. The result, she assumed, of one of the stun charges that had hit him on Gauda Prime.

"I would assume that was a reasonable analogy," he said, sounding dry. "How long was I unconscious?"

"Just over a week," Cally told him. She watched him carefully, not at all surprised by the way he gazed steadily back at her, thoughts and feelings completely masked. It was as well, she felt, that she had never expected a dramatic, sentimental reunion. Needing, suddenly, to busy herself, she moved across to the inert monitor screens and started to unplug the redundant sensors. Without looking at him, she said, "Vila told you how Drex was able to rescue me from Terminal?"

"He did."

The succinct answer made Cally smile slightly to herself. Trying to sound matter-of-fact, she said, "Itís ironic, Blake had a ship close enough to Terminal to report Liberatorís destruction back to him, but youíd all gone before Drex arrived."

"Youíll forgive us for not waiting around," Avon said.

"Iím sorry you thought I was dead," Cally said, her back still turned. She knew as soon as the words left her mouth that he would know she was trying to incite some kind of reaction, and she mentally chastised herself for allowing her weakness to show so clearly.

He said, "It was a logical assumption to make, under the circumstances."

"You went back in. Vila told me."

"I went back in to retrieve Orac."

"Of course you did."

There was a long silence. Eventually, she turned round, unsurprised to find him still watching her. Neither of them spoke for a long, long time, as if challenging each other in a silent duel.

It was Cally who finally said, "It doesnít matter any more. We survived. All of us."

"As improbable as it seems," Avon said dryly. He slowly levered himself into a more upright sitting position, eschewing the supporting pillows. "Whereís Blake?"

"In his cabin asleep, as far as I know. Why, do you want to talk to him?"

"Not if I can possibly avoid it," Avon said, and the edge of bitterness in his voice sounded genuine. He said, "I might find myself having to ask him in no uncertain terms why he felt it necessary to deviate from the agreed plan without informing me, not to mention why he felt it totally unnecessary to tell me about your miraculous survival."

"Ah," Cally said, falling back on experience to attempt to defuse the situation, "Youíre feeling better, I can tell. Good."

"Iím glad to see youíre still so easily pleased," he said.

"And Iím glad to see youíve lost none of your engaging charm," Cally told him promptly. Despite everything, she felt her spirits lift, just a little. For the first time, she allowed herself to hope that the whole sorry situation could be salvaged in some way. Avonís answering glare encouraged her even more. Emboldened, she said, "You should eat. Do you want me to fetch you something?"

"No," he said. "Iím not in the mood for banal domesticity. Tell me about Emarta."

The terse instruction, Cally felt, was a good sign.

-oOo-

The Cerberus was not a particularly large ship, but it generally operated with a crew of nine. With Blakeís assorted waifs and strays from Gauda Prime, and the former crew of Scorpio also aboard, it was en route for Emarta with twenty-three people aboard, most of whom, Cally very soon discovered when she emerged from her temporary cabin after a few all too-brief hours sleep, were talking about the new, ominous presence stalking almost wordlessly amongst them. It didnít surprise her to discover that Avon had absented himself from the medical unit, nor to hear that he had already marched onto the flight deck, chilled the crew with his brooding silence, and disappeared again. It was Blakeís decision, not hers, that it should be Cally who was eventually sent to run their recalcitrant companion to ground.

She found him Ė predictably enough Ė in the shipís central computer room. Dressed in a clean but thoroughly utilitarian grey coverall, he looked rather more like the humble computer technician the Federation had once expected him to be than Cally could ever remember. Before she could speak, he made a great show of casting aside the circuit board he had apparently been examining. In a clearly disgusted tone, he said, "This ship is even more antiquated than Scorpio was."

"Probably," Cally admitted. "But itís Endeavour that heads the fleet, not Cerberus."

"íFleetí?" Avon said pointedly. "Can eight ships really be called a fleet?"

Cally ignored the sardonic question and asked, "Why arenít you in the medical unit?"

Predictably, Avon didnít give her an answer. Instead, he said, "From the state of this shipís systems, Blake appears to think that I am some kind of miracle-worker. He expects me to oversee the construction and installation of a photonic drive and teleport in as many of his ships as possible. Did you know that?"

"It may have been mentioned once or twice," Cally admitted, straight-faced. "Are you telling me you canít do it?"

Avon glared at her, perhaps aware of the trap he was in danger of walking into. "Iím simply pointing out the intrinsic unfeasibility of the task."

"Blake thinks you can do it," Cally said mildly.

"Donít patronise me."

Cally knew why Avon was so angry. He was angry with himself for even considering the possibility of joining the rebels on Emarta. Carefully, she said, "Avon, no-one will blame you if you walk away. Not even Blake. He knows he made a bad mistake on Gauda Prime."

"And you?" Avon said sharply, surprising her.

Holding his gaze, she said again, "No-one will blame you."

Avon regarded her silently for a moment. Eventually, he said, "Blakeís a fool. He always was."

"He needs you."

"Donít be naÔve," he retorted, his tone brusque.

Cally watched him, noting the sudden tension in his stance. Silence seemed to be the most sensible course of action. Carefully, she sat on one of the chairs in front of the main control console, wondering as she did so whether the action was motivated by a subconscious desire to prevent Avon bolting away from her Ė literally or figuratively Ė by appearing as non-threatening as possible. Whether it was her intention, or not, it seemed to work, because he appeared to relax slightly.

Sounding a little less angry, he said, "Defeating the Federation is impossible until the Pacification Programme is halted; until Blake accepts that, everything heís planning is futile."

"He doesnít listen to the people whoíve been telling him that for months," Cally pointed out quietly.

"Which only provides further proof that heís an idiot," Avon told her. "Pylene 50 is more insidious than anything the Federation have used before. Itís the fastest, easiest and least destructive way for them to expand their borders Ė and keep expanding them. Blake can chase and destroy as many cruisers as he likes, but until someone starts to manufacture and distribute the antitoxin, planet after planet will keep falling into Federation hands."

Choosing her words with care, Cally said, "Blakeís vision has always been of a noble, armed struggle. He sees Pylene 50 as an inconvenience, not a priority. He needs an adviser who will force him to listen, someone whoíll tell him in no uncertain terms when heís wrong. Someone who isnít in awe of him."

"I donít like being manipulated, Cally."

Losing patience, she said, "You have a clear choice, Avon. You can accept an alliance with Blake, and give the rebels the chance they need, or you can walk away. Blake will give you a ship. This is your chance to disappear and leave everything Ė and everyone Ė behind."

"Everyone?" Avon said, his tone suddenly deceptively mild.

Cally met his dark gaze squarely. She said, "Itís your decision, Avon. Not mine, or Blakeís. Yours."

He said, "And you, Cally? If you were given a choice, what would you choose? Who would you choose?"

"No-oneís offering me a choice," Cally said simply.

His impatience clearly starting to show, Avon said, "Donít think I would stay with Blake for your sake."

"Have I said anything that implied I might think that?"

"Blakeís a fool."

Quietly, Cally said, "'A fool who listens to a wise man is no longer a fool'. Auron proverb."

Avon glared at her. For a long moment, he remained immobile, and then he turned away and headed towards the door. Cally watched him go, saying nothing.


Part Two Ė The Base

"Emarta," Blake said, in the kind of tone that suggested the unveiling of a great wonder.

Even to Cally, the asteroid centred on the shipís main screen looked bleak, ancient and unprepossessing. Its dark, craggy surface was heavily pock-marked, suggesting many collisions with smaller bodies than itself. Cally couldnít help noting how unimpressed Avon appeared. He was regarding the image in disdainful silence.

"Itís an asteroid," Vila said unnecessarily. There was a clear note of disappointment in his voice.

"What were you expecting?" Dayna asked him, looking round from where she stood, close to the screen. "A sub-tropical paradise?"

"It makes Xenon look like a pleasure planet," Vila grumbled.

Avon seemed to deliberately ignore them. Of no-one in particular he asked, "Everythingís underground?"

"It supported an independent mining operation for several decades," Blake said, folding his arms across his chest. "Once it was stripped of everything it was economically viable to extract, they abandoned it. Most of the complex is still habitable, including the underground landing silos for the freighters and supply ships that were needed to keep the operation going."

"There are more than two hundred people now living permanently on Emarta," Cally added, wanting Avon to understand the scale of what Blake had achieved since leaving Liberator. "All committed rebels, some of them specialists in certain fields."

"Hydroponics?" Avon questioned.

"Yes. Only on a small scale at the moment," Cally confirmed. "But thereís a great deal of room for expansion."

She knew exactly what he was thinking. Given the right infrastructure, manufacture of Pylene 50ís antitoxin could begin on Emarta itself. She had almost forgotten how shrewd Avon was, how quickly and logically he could assess a totally unfamiliar situation. She caught the blank look that passed between Soolin and Tarrant and nearly smiled to herself, wondering how something that seemed so immediately obvious to Avon could escape them so completely.

"Stuff can be made to grow on that rock?" Vila said. "Stuff that can then be processed?"

Inwardly, Cally nearly congratulated him. As ever, Vila was far quicker on the uptake than most people would care to credit him with being.

"Like the antitoxin?" Dayna said. "Avon Ė "

He cut her short with, "Orac has already identified three different plants found on planets close to Emarta that can be grown using hydroponics and harvested to provide the raw material for an antitoxin."

"Then we can Ė " Tarrant started.

It was Blake who interrupted, saying, "Thereís a lot to be discussed before any decision of that nature can be made. Weíre on the final approach to Emarta. I suggest you all go and prepare for disembarkation."

Avon said nothing, but nor did he immediately obey the tacit command to vacate the flight deck, Cally noted. It seemed Blake was right. There was a lot to be discussed.

-oOo-

"Well?" Soolin said, several hours later. Cally and the former crew of the Scorpio were gathered around a small table at one end of what had become the baseís main mess hall. Despite the steady stream of people coming and going, no-one seemed to pay them much attention, for which Cally, at least, was grateful. She and Avon had been the first to settle themselves at the table, well away from anyone else, and one by one the rest of Scorpioís former crew had joined them. She wasnít sure whether to be pleased or irritated.

"Itís a good set-up," Tarrant said, a grudging note in his voice. "Everyone seems to know what theyíre doing and who theyíre answerable to."

"Remind you of the good old days back in the FSA, does it?" Vila asked. From somewhere he appeared to have obtained a bottle of something colourless that gave off a strong, not altogether pleasant, but certainly very alcoholic odour. Cally noticed that although Vila hadnít offered to share the contents of the bottle with his companions, he didnít seem to be consuming it with any particular haste. Either it was very good liquor, she decided, or very bad.

"So," Soolin said, apparently ignoring Vilaís dig at Tarrant. "What are we going to do? Do we stay, or do we go?"

"I think we should stay," Dayna said promptly. "Everything we need to carry on fighting is here. Blakeís got the ships, heís got the manpower, and people listen to him. Heís building the core of an army here. Weíve been given a chance to do the Federation some real damage."

"When did you become a fanatical, card-carrying member of the rebellion?" Vila asked her.

Not looking at Avon, Cally said, "Each of you is completely free to stay Ė or to leave."

"But if we choose to stay," Soolin said, "We agree to stay as part of Blakeís great rebel army. Or have I misunderstood something?"

"Emarta is a rebel base," Cally said. She could feel Avonís gaze on her, intense and brooding. "Not everyone who arrives here chooses to stay. Blake knows that."

Soolin made a disgruntled noise and shrugged slightly. No-one said anything for a long, significant moment. Cally waited, and when no-one seemed willing to break the silence, she said, "Towson is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the base. She oversees accommodation, supplies, work details, everything required to keep Emarta running smoothly. She has assigned all of you temporary quarters on the next level down. Blake has suggested that we all meet tomorrow to discuss your plans."

"Remind me not to miss it," Soolin muttered, exchanging a look with Vila.

Avon, who had been utterly silent for a long, long time, said, "Where is Blake?"

Finally, Cally looked at him, wondering what would happen before the night was done. Quietly, she said, "In the main control room with Towson, Drex and a few of his other seniorÖ staff."

"Whereís the main control room?" Avon asked, standing up. There was something in his taut, closed expression that told Cally that the storm that had been brewing was about to break.

-oOo-

"Heís staying," Blake said, much later, when Cally finally sought him out in the small, untidy room beyond the control room that had become known as Blakeís unofficial private sanctum. He looked at her steadily for a moment, then continued, "Thatís what you came to ask, isnít it?"

"Actually," Cally said, seating herself without invitation, "I came to see how you were."

"Iíve been better," Blake admitted. He sighed and put aside the data-card he had been studying. "Iíd almost forgotten how difficult Avon can be, when it suits him."

"Gauda Prime?" Cally asked.

"Not forgiven, not forgotten. Letís just say that an uneasy truce was eventually negotiated."

Cally decided not to press him on the matter. It didnít escape her notice that several of the small monitor screens on the far wall were displaying local star charts. Something had evidently been planned during the long, private meeting that had gone on late into the night. She said, "And the others?"

"Weíll have to wait and see. Tarrant and Dayna will stay, Iím certain. VilaÖ Well, I canít see Vila striking out on his own, can you? SoolinÖ Well, Avon thinks sheíll go with the majority."

"Soolin will do whatever Avon does," Cally said flatly. Blake shot her a questioning glance. She shrugged, "Just my intuition."

Blake raised his eyebrows a fraction, ďYou think she may have aÖ vested interest?Ē

"I think she may think she does. Soolinís spent her entire adult life as a hired gun, apparently. She sees Avon as the closest thing she currently has to a paymaster. Where he goes, she goes."

"Thatís all it is?"

"Yes," Cally said. Something made her add, "Though I donít think Avon realises just how interested in him she could be. Given any encouragement."

"Avon and Soolin," Blake said in a reflective tone. "A potentially very dangerous combination, I suspect. Well, Avonís going to be thoroughly occupied here in Emarta. Heís agreed to talk to Matya about putting together a technical team to start work on building and installing photonic drives and teleport systems in all our ships. That will give the Federation something to think about."

"And Soolin?"

"And Soolin, if she stays, will find herself on the Endeavour with Tarrant and Dayna."

Cally nodded slightly. Eventually, she said, "Is this really a new beginning for us all, Blake?"

"I believe it could be," he said. He seemed to study her for a long moment before finally saying, "Why are you so on edge, Cally? Weíve achieved everything we planned. Things went wrong on Gauda Prime, but we got what we wanted. We have Avon and his crew, and we have Orac."

"I know," Cally said. She stood up and started to prowl the small room. Over her shoulder, she said, "But we were lucky, Blake, thatís all. You need to be more careful when you deal with Avon."

"I can handle Avon," Blake said, clearly confident in his ability to do so. "His bark has always been far worse than his bite, you know that as well as I do. Perhaps better."

"Things change," Cally said, unconsciously echoing Soolinís words. "Servalan sees him as a genuine threat, and heís had plenty of time to adjust to giving orders, not following them. Donít push him too hard, Blake, thatís all Iím saying. Not if you want to keep him as an ally."

-oOo-

"Itís all very well for the others," Vila said in a plainly disgruntled tone. "Theyíre quite happy to take their place in Blakeís army, but what about me? Cally? Cally, are you even listening to me?"

They were standing on a gantry that overlooked one of Emartaís underground landing silos. Beneath them, standing close to a small, sleek ship Ė the Shrike Ė Blake, Avon and Tarrant appeared to be deep in conversation. Most of Callyís attention was on the three men. She couldnít hear what was being said, but from Blakeís gesticulations, he appeared to be outlining something to the other two. Reluctantly focusing on Vila, she said, "Iím listening, Iím just not sure what youíre saying."

With exaggerated patience, he said, "Iím saying, where do I fit in? Iím a thief, not a pilot or a soldier."

Cally looked at him, realising that he was serious, that the worry reflected in his eyes was real. She said, "Blake hasnít talked to you about Towson?"

"Blake hasnít talked to me about anything," Vila complained. "Heís only interested in Avon and Tarrant. The rest of us are also-rans."

There was probably some truth in Vilaís words, Cally thought. Turning her back on the scene below them, she said, "Towson oversees the daily operation of the whole base. She arranges supply runs, amongst other things. I think you should talk to her, Vila. Sheís been looking for someone with your uniqueÖ talentsÖ for a long time."

Vila brightened perceptibly, "'She'?"

"'She'," Cally confirmed, hiding a smile. Spontaneously, she took Vilaís arm. "Come on. Letís go and see her."

-oOo-

"You know Blakeís heading for disaster, donít you?" Avon said.

Cally, standing at his shoulder as they surveyed a three-dimensional projection of the Feran system, glanced at him curiously. His expression gave nothing away. She said, "Youíve always been a pessimist, Avon."

"A realist," he corrected. "It doesnít matter what games Blake likes to play to test people, sooner or later this base will be discovered and infiltrated. That girl Ė Arlen Ė she may have been simply playing a role Blake rather rashly decided to give her, but one day there will be someone like her who really is a Federation operative. Emarta is not an impregnable fortress."

"Blake knows that."

"All the data Oracís been relaying proves they already suspect the existence of a rebel stronghold."

"Yes," Cally agreed.

"That doesnít worry you?"

"Of course it does," Cally said. "But Blakeís right. The days of hitting and running are over. We canít win this war by mounting random raids against vulnerable targets. We have to fight in earnest."

"Rhetoric," Avon said, a hint of disgust in his voice.

"Yet," Cally said, looking back at the projection, "here you still are."

"Against my better judgement."

"Demonstrably," Cally said. A sharp flash of memory made her look at Avon again. He glanced at her, and she knew, instinctively, that he had remembered the same incident at the same moment. It seemed too long ago to be real. A different lifetime ago. She looked away quickly, not wanting to attempt to hold his gaze. Too much lay unspoken between them.

He said, "You realise how statistically unlikely it is that weíve managed to survive this long?"

"Statistics prove nothing, Avon," Cally told him. "Sometimes luck is the only thing we have to rely on."

"Not an epitaph to be proud of."

"I almost died on Terminal," she pointed out. "You thought I had. Thereís a big difference between the impossibility and improbability of survival."

Avon didnít reply. She wondered what he was thinking, but didnít risk reaching towards his mind. He seemed to be suddenly fascinated by the image of the Feran system, utterly absorbed in it. So many things unspoken, Cally thought, trying to block the memories that threatened her composure. She said, "Youíre angry with me."

"Why would I be angry with you?" Avon asked, but he didnít look at her.

"For staying with Blake instead of trying to find you," Cally said, knowing she was right. "For letting you carry on believing I was dead."

"Iíve become quite used to unexpected resurrections," Avon said, without a trace of discernible emotion. He looked at her sharply, dark eyes suddenly intense. "Donít imagine Iím still on Emarta because of you."

"Oh, I donít," Cally said. "Iím not that stupid. Cold comfort in the dark, Avon. Something Vila said."

Sounding faintly surprised, he said, "Vila?"

"You thought he didnít know? About us? NaÔve of you, Avon."

Silence. Silence tainted with something Cally couldnít quite identify. Anger? Regret? Something else?

Suddenly impatient, she added, "You were right, Avon. You never recognise yourself as a fool, do you? Youíre so busy trying to nurse your wounded pride, you canít see the opportunity Blakeís given you. You can wipe the slate clean, forget all the mistakes youíve made, and start again. Do you have any idea of what weíre trying to do here? This isnít about making Emarta a safe haven for outlaws, this is about a final, decisive war against the Federation. This is about giving everyone Ė all of us Ė a future. So either you stop behaving as if we all owe you some great favour and get on with what Blake wants you to do, or you take one of the ships and leave."

Avon surveyed her with a strange, courteous, and plainly feigned sort of patience. He waited, then, when he had obviously decided she had finished, he said, "You never were afraid to speak your mind, were you, Cally?"

"Donít mock me, Avon," she snapped back at him.

"Oh, I wouldnít dare," he assured her, faintly sardonic. Languidly, he stepped past her, and walked towards the door. Cally didnít say a word, just stood still and watched him leave the room.

-oOo-

"Heís gone?" Tarrant said, sounding startled. "When?"

"Early this morning," Blake said, leaning back in his chair to survey them all. "Took Orac and the Shrike and disappeared. Drex says that the security systems were manually overridden."

Cally didnít look up. Sheíd heard the news long before Tarrant and the others, and the shock had already started to wear off, leaving her feeling simply tired and drained.

"Any indications of where he was going?" Tarrant asked, putting his hands palms down on Blakeís desk and glancing around the room.

"None," Cally said. "The Shrike followed a random course for as far as we were able to track it."

"I told you we couldnít trust him," Vila said. "Didnít I? Keep an eye on him, I said, because given half a chance heíll be off. He doesnít want to be part of your crusade, Blake, havenít you realised that, yet? Avon only ever fought the Federation because they threatened him. Heíll be halfway to some neutral planet by now. Weíll never see him Ė or Orac Ė again."

Cally was aware that Soolin had been studying her closely, and she wasnít surprised when the younger woman said, "Iím quite sure thereís more to it than that, Vila."

"Who was the last person to talk to him?" Dayna asked. "Did he say anything that might have indicated what he was planning to do?"

"Cally spoke to him an hour or so before Shrike left the silo," Blake said.

"AndÖ?" Soolin asked pointedly.

"I didnít know he was going to leave," Cally said, surprised by how defensive she sounded.

"Which meansÖ?"

"Oh, leave it, Soolin," Vila said. He held his hands up and let them drop. "So heís gone. Big surprise. He wasnít going to hang around for long after Gauda Prime, was he? Letís just be grateful."

Cally waited as one by one the Scorpioís former crew left the room. She looked at Blake. "Well?"

"Heíll be back," Blake said.

"How can you possibly know that?"

"I just know he will."

Cally shook her head. Getting reluctantly to her feet, she said, "Iím sorry, Blake. If Iíd thought Ė "

"Cally," he said quietly, interrupting her. "All the schematics of the base and the hydroponics plant were uploaded from the main computer to Shrike. There was no attempt Ė none whatsoever Ė to use Orac to disguise what he was doing, or to hide what information had been passed through the data-stream. Heís coming back."

Cally stared at him, not knowing what to say. Blake shrugged and smiled very slightly, not altogether in amusement. "Heís just letting us know he can do what he wants, whenever he wants, thatís all." He paused, obviously trying to phrase his next words carefully. "Cally, whatever it is thatís causing problems between the two of you, I want it settled. Avon likes to play games. I donít. This time the stakes are too high. You understand?"

"Avon and I Ė "

"I donít want to know," Blake said. "Itís your business, not mine. But everyone on Emarta pulls in the same direction. Clear?"

"Quite clear," Cally said, slightly offended. "But, Blake Ė "

"Go," he said. "By tonight I want to hear that Tarrant and the others are settled and productively occupied."

"And Avon?"

"Iíll deal with Avon," Blake said. He looked up at Cally again, the scarred left side of his face brutally obvious in the harsh artificial light. "This time weíll win, Cally. Even if we have to fight every inch of the way to EarthÖ"



***



EMARTA was first published on the Horizon B7 Website in 2007

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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