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Who is your Favourite Guest Rebel?

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Started: 09 July 2016

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The Fine Art of Justification by Andrew Williams

The Fine Art of Justification
by
Andrew Williams


“A tiger! There was a tiger!”

The patient sat up in his bed, his thin examination gown bathed in sweat. His eyes darted nervously about the narrow cabin, as though searching for places where tigers might be hiding.

The doctor put a calming hand on the man’s shoulder. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, close to the patient, blocking his view of the little room. “It was just a bad dream,” he said soothingly. “Nothing to worry about. You‘ve probably never seen a tiger outside of a vis-cast. Where would you have seen a tiger?”

“A dream?” repeated the patient hollowly. “But it seemed so real.”

The doctor looked him in the eyes. “Why don’t you tell me about it,” he suggested gently.

The patient licked his lips nervously, and nodded.

“I was in the jungle, I don’t know where, just some immense jungle. It was thick and dense and tangled. The trees were huge and had broad leaves like oars. The grass was long and pointed and sharp, and there were tangles of giant creepers hanging down everywhere.
“I realised I was wearing this strange armour. It was a bit rusty, but it had all these big sharp spikes sticking out of it everywhere. It was night, the sky was dark, but I could see because of the starlight. It was stark and bright; as if the stars were throwing down spears of light.
“Suddenly I heard a terrifying roar - felt it rumble through me - and then - smack! I was slammed to the ground by an overwhelming blow. I felt it push off me, leaping away, something huge and heavy. I looked up and I saw a tiger! It was enormous, and mean, snarling at me, all teeth, eyes of fury. It had pounced on me, but the armour had spiked it when it landed on me, which made it leap straight off.
“And I was relieved, because the armour had worked and stopped the tiger; but I was afraid too, because the tiger was still around, and I couldn’t move. I tried to get up, but I was pinned to the ground - the spikes on my back were stuck fast in the earth and I couldn’t stand up.
“So I was twisting desperately, trying to free myself. The tiger padded up to me cautiously, then bit my foot. There was no armour there, and no spikes, so it bit my foot and it pulled on my leg, trying to drag me away. But it couldn’t, because I was pinned down, so it - it chewed my foot off!”

The patient dragged a shaky arm across his face, trying to wipe away the tears. “I’m so glad that I could wake up, that it wasn’t real. It seemed so real.”

The doctor stood from the bed. “It wasn’t all a dream,” he said, pulling aside the sheets that covered the patient. “What dread hand? And what dread feet?” he quoted.

The patient looked down slowly, fearing what he was about to discover. His eyes widened in terror as he saw that he had no legs below his kneecaps.

“Then it was real!” he shrieked hysterically, eyes bright with terror. He screamed again as the doctor slapped him hard across the face.

“No. You should only wish that it was,” the doctor replied. The mask of compassion disappeared from his face, and his eyes glittered cold and hard. “The truth is that you are a dirty leech on the body politic. You are a political criminal who won’t tell us what we want to know. So we put you to sleep, amputated your feet, and woke you up again. You still wouldn’t tell us what we needed to know, so we put you out again and amputated your lower limbs. Now, are you going to tell us what we want to know, or will it be your hands next?”

The prisoner stared into the distance, mouth agape, remembering the truth with horror.

The doctor seized the man’s jaw with an iron grip, and wrenched his face around to meet his gaze. “Sutton!” he shouted. “Tell us what we want to know! Where is Blake’s base? What is the call sign for your rendezvous with Firewalker?”

Sutton’s eyes became hard and he jerked his head free with a savage twist. “Go to hell!”

“In that case,” purred a voice from the doorway, “initiate stage three.”

“With pleasure,” hissed the surgeon-interrogator, jabbing a needle into Sutton’s arm. The prisoner slumped down on the bed, unconscious.

The surgeon-interrogator gave Sutton’s face a few slaps. “He’s out cold, Commissioner. Are you sure this will work? So far it doesn’t seem to be having any effect whatsoever.”

“Oh, I have been guaranteed that it will work,” answered Servalan, stepping into the room. “Think of the sheer psychological effect. You awake to find your feet have been amputated. Then you wake again to find your legs have been removed, and so on. And since he is sedated between each stage, the passage of time seems to be only minutes, heightening the effect. His mind is already blanking the true horror of it. No, rest assured, he will give us the information we need.”

The doctor began to reply when another voice interrupted them.

“He’d better,” growled the voice.

“Senior Commissioner Beech,” acknowledged Servalan, turning to the superior officer standing in the corridor behind her. She indicated the prone form with a sweep of her hand. “The experiment is progressing satisfactorily - isn’t it, doctor?”

“Don’t give me that,” Beech snapped, before the surgeon could contradict his previous remark. Glancing scornfully at the man sprawled on the prison cot, Beech turned to Servalan. “I heard what he said. We need results, Sleer, and we need them immediately. Your pacification programme may have impressed the lower-echelon commanders, but it cuts no ice with me. When you asked me to approve holding a prisoner back from Space Command to use for experimental purposes, I thought you'd have more sense than to pick one they wanted so badly. They’re breathing down my neck, and look at the state of him! To say I am not a happy man would be an understatement!"

Beech held up a fist to show her the scrunched-up flimsy clenched in between. “On top of which, I’ve just got the reports of your timeslice allocation on TEG. Completely unacceptable, Commissioner! The only thing stopping me transferring Sutton right now is that I don’t want those jumped-up louts thinking they can tell me what to do! You have one week to get answers from Sutton, or I’m putting him straight onto standard interrogation and shipping him, and that fancy Intelligence attache of yours, back to Space Command. I trust I make myself clear,” he added, stalking off without waiting for a reply.

Servalan stared after him with disdain.

“Perfectly,” she replied.

***

Returning to her office, Servalan settled herself elegantly at her desk. Glancing over the immaculately ordered surface, she spied a small chess piece half-hidden behind the one ornament on the desk, the only decorative frippery she allowed herself. It wasn’t really to her taste, but that was the whole point. Servalan would never have such things about her, and if she did it wouldn’t be something like this. Bowman, the psychostrategist who helped set up her new identity, insisted she create new personality pointers for Sleer. She had wondered why he hadn’t gone the whole way and simply hung that Delta grade classic “Four Wargs Playing Poker” on her wall.

Opening her desk drawer, she pulled out a small black rectangle, switched it on, and placed it on the desk. A red light blinked on to let her know the blanker was working, jamming any surveillance devices that may have been planted in her office. Blankers were of course illegal on the station, but that had never stopped Servalan.

“It’s not working, Bowman,” she told her unseen visitor, rolling the pawn between thumb and forefinger.

Bowman stepped out from behind the decorative screen on the other side of the room and slid into the chair opposite the desk, totally at ease.

“My dear Commissioner,” he said. “We know it’s not working. It’s not meant to work. Both you and I know that the whole point is for it not to work. The more time they lose through that exercise in futility, the more time we have to put everything in place. That’s why I made sure the method constantly involved knocking him unconscious; so that they don‘t find out about Gauda Prime before we are ready.
“Of course, they’ll find out sooner or later. The way Blake conducts his operation, he may as well put up a big sign saying ‘This way to the secret rebel base’. Then even Avon would be able to find it. Eventually.”

Bowman leaned back in his chair, allowing himself the hint of a smile. Sleer did not reciprocate.

“You haven’t even told me how my technique is going with Sutton,” he continued. Reaching across the desk, he extracted a slim folder from the midst of a stack. Servalan showed no sign of surprise as he located it without even the pretext of searching.

“However,” he said, flipping through to the relevant page, “I think the results are not only valid, but impressive. I designed the test to appear, at a superficial level, like a legitimate, experimental method of interrogation, but one that would really produce no results and merely waste time. But these dreams! It seems that my technique is producing a genuine subconscious response. If there was a real Interrogation Team Leader on station they would see that a mile away, but since they’re getting me to interpret the results, I can tell them any old rubbish. Plausible rubbish, of course, but rubbish none the less.
“I see that he’s still wittering on about tigers. I’m sure that’s a clue. I’ll work it out. The armour is obvious - knight symbolism. Everyone imagines they‘re playing the white pieces,” he muttered. “Predictability may be boring, Commissioner, but it does make my job easier.
“Take megalomania for example,” he continued. “A few distinctive flourishes of personality here and there, but otherwise very predictable. Speaking of which, I trust the Zukan plan is unfolding as anticipated?”

Servalan ignored Bowman’s remarks, instead slapping the pawn down on the desk. “Bowman,” she snapped, “that old fool Beech has given me just one week to come up with the information they need, otherwise Sutton will be removed.”

Bowman replaced Sutton's file on the desk, then crossed his legs, unperturbed. “That is extremely good news. It’s becoming terribly tedious pretending I am here as part of the Psychological Warfare - sorry, Psychological Intelligence - unit, but I suppose you have to have a reason for me being around. I think your doctor will be pleased, too - it would be very embarrassing if he ended up with nothing more than a nose to interrogate.”

“It is not good news!” countered Servalan. “If Sutton is transferred to a proper interrogation unit, they’ll put him in one of those machines, fill him with the usual drugs and then they will be assured of getting all the answers. It won’t matter then what kind of opposition Blake can raise, they’ll send in a host of ground attack detachments and overwhelm him. I don’t have the luxury of force! You know I need to get the credit for Blake's death in order to consolidate my prospects for promotion, and I will not be robbed of it! So tell me: have you made sure everything is in place?”

The puppeteer shook his head. “The gun is not ready. Or, more correctly, the software for the gun is not ready.” Wrong answer - but of course, he knew that. Had anticipated that.

“The whole plan hinges on the gun,” snapped Servalan. “I used up far more than my allocation of computing power to compile the research material you needed, so that you could come up with their conversation word for word.”

Approximately word for word,” he corrected. “And that is the problem. If I knew exactly what they would say to each other, I could guarantee the gun would work.”

Servalan snatched another report from the desk. “Blake will say something like: Avon, it’s me,” she read. “Avon says, Don‘t move! Have you sold us? Blake answers along the lines of: You don't understand! to which Avon says, Tell me, Blake!
“Blake then replies, I set all this up! Avon then says Yes! as he suddenly realises this is Blake’s new operation. Sensing this, Blake goes to Avon and says, Avon, I was waiting for you.

Bowman ceased the casual examination of his fingernails and leaned forward. “I know all this, Commissioner. I wrote that report.”

“Yes!” hissed Servalan, slapping it down on her desk. “And you know what course of action you recommended! We plant a big powerful gun where Avon will find it, and knowing Avon as we do, he is bound to pick it up."

“That’s right!” said Bowman, as if it were obvious. “You want not only to get rid of Blake, but to do it in a spectacular manner. A great coup for Commissioner Sleer! Which is why we plant the gun on Gauda Prime, one that is specially modified, that we can link back to you, and that we can be sure Avon will pick up.”

Grabbing the report Servalan had just set down, the puppeteer flicked through to the relevant section, quoting fragments out loud. “Deep in hostile territory - away from his ship - not knowing what to expect - limited ammunition, a tasty weapon like a hand cannon just happening to be available... He’ll pick up the gun alright; his profile says so. It says 'Look Blake, I‘m tough without you, and I‘m in charge'. It‘s a double-bluff and more importantly, a great big psychological shield to hide behind.”

Servalan didn’t need Bowman to tell her why he assumed Avon would be waving his gun about in front of Blake; even she could forecast Avon’s mindset in a strange base - particularly having fallen for the Blake bait on Terminal.

“The only point of divergence in the whole scenario, Commissioner, is when Blake says: Avon, I was waiting for you. At that juncture, we have to make something happen to stop Avon from thinking, otherwise he’ll make it past the ambiguity and then he will be allied with Blake again and you’ll never dig them out of that bunker. Stannis will lift them out in that heavy cruiser of hers and the impact launchers it carries will turn your troopers into toast.” He flicked through to the appendices, locating a set of specs on another page. “Here it is. Firewalker. It’s no match for the Galactic Eighth Fleet, but enough to stop your people and therefore your promotion.”

“That’s right!” screeched Servalan. “Hence the gun that is keyed to that phrase. Once spoken, the gun will automatically fire three times -”

“Sufficient to put Blake out of our misery.”

“- and the shock will also neutralise Avon.”

“Not to mention the propaganda value - anyone watching the footage will think it was Avon who pulled the trigger.” Bowman grinned. “Especially since the conversation is so delightfully ambiguous! Even his associates will assume he did it and react accordingly.

“In fact, this meets another of your objectives - to discredit him among the rebel factions. Avon is becoming too organised, too focussed, and you need him to be stopped. This will make him poison, and it is much more effective than those half-thought-through molestation charges cooked up against Blake. Even if Avon escapes us, everyone will think he shot Blake and he will have nowhere to run to. Even his former allies will be gunning for him.”

“Bowman,” warned Servalan, “what do we do without the gun? Your strategy gives us no other options.”

“That’s because I am a psychostrategist. We present the only viable method. In a scenario this complicated, there are no alternatives. We see how the situations could mesh together, and then sequence them so that action and response form a chain to the result we need. It all relies on there being enough subplots, with enough momentum to push them through to the required conclusion. We can manufacture a tiny percentage of the motivations, the hatreds and passions, but by and large we have to work with what is already in place. You can’t go introducing massive variables into a balancing act as fine as this. The client doesn’t get to pick and choose as though selecting a new outfit!
“Did you know that within the chessboard, that simple, primitive, 64 square simulation of war, we find a representation of the universe and the human condition? There are more possible moves in chess than there are electrons in the universe. In the real world, things have a degree of complexity that is staggering by comparison. But the aims here are the same: you want to depose the leader and capture his men. And that is what I have given you. A single strategy. And you know that the alternative branches of possibility are too wide to allow the computation of any more than a single strategy.”

“So you must make the gun work,” concluded Servalan. “There is no other way.” She picked up the chess piece and squeezed it in her fist, her knuckles blanching with the unvoiced threat. The merest hint of a crease ruffled Bowman's brow and then disappeared.

“As I said, the problem is with the voice recognition software. We don’t know exactly what will be said, so Herder can’t program just one trigger phrase into it. We need to key the software to a range of likely phrases, and synonyms, and permutations thereof, and so on. That takes time, but it is not impossible. The problem is if they say something in a way we haven’t allowed for.”

“And operating the gun by remote control is still out?”

“As my report says, Commissioner, we can’t be sure of triggering the gun remotely. We can’t do it from outside the base as it’s shielded. Smuggling the necessary equipment inside the base is too risky. Having a basic onboard computer housed in the gun is par for the course, but if Avon spots a receiver on the gun he will become extremely suspicious. You can’t do it by timer because you need to do it at precisely the right moment, something we can’t monitor for all the same reasons. On top of which, if Space Command do work it out on their own and send some troopers in, there will be all sorts of communications jamming going on.”

Servalan’s voice was ice. “So tell me, Bowman: if the method can’t be changed, what do we do?”

“The method can’t be changed, but the implementation can.”

“How?”

“Substitution. Getting the gun to go off by itself is the problem. Everything else holds water, so we change the firing method, or at least back it up. Instead of using Galway to infiltrate Blake’s base, we use Arlen. She can work in conjunction with the gun.”

Servalan stopped rolling the chess piece around her palm and set it on the desk. “Arlen?”

“She’s a Federation officer, and, happily, currently attached to this station. I’ve been trying to keep her near, or at least as near as those limited powers you have invested in me will keep her. However, it is her... shall we say, unusual... abilities, which make her ideal.”

Servalan arched an eyebrow. “Which are?”

“She appears to have telekinetic powers. I have been waiting for a chance to use her, ever since I noticed some unusual characteristics flagged in her records. Her listed home world is a patent lie, but from what I can gather she belongs to a race called the Seska. As far as I can make out, they must be an abandoned Auron colony.”

For once, Servalan deigned to appear surprised. All the Auron colonies were known and listed, she knew; after all, she’d been chiefly the one involved with razing them to the ground.

“Located where?” she asked, leaning forward in her seat.

“There is no way to tell. All the Auron records we have ever had the chance to study are couched in semi-mythological mumbo-jumbo. But the fact is that somehow their mind powers have mutated from telepathy to telekinesis, which is to our advantage. If we can place Arlen in the room, then if none of the key phrases are used, she can pull the trigger on Avon’s gun by mind power alone. The conversation will be the same up to that point, and it will still look like deliberate and bloody murder on video.”

“Someone will be bound to notice that Avon didn’t pull the trigger,” she objected.

“People will see what we want them to see! They won’t be watching his hands, there will be too much of a show going on. If necessary, we can always edit the security footage before anyone else gets it, but I doubt there will be any need to. The telekinesis will move the trigger and so long as Avon’s finger is near it, no one will suspect anything.” He grinned. “Except Avon. He’ll be totally shocked when it happens, and I’m sure he will look shocked too. Everyone will interpret his reactions the way we want. What’s he going to do? Say it wasn’t him? No one will dispute what they’ve seen; no one will believe what he says.
“He’s been getting too chummy with revolutionary factions and warlords; we have to destroy his credibility. After this, there is nowhere he can go; they’ll all want to kill him. We’ll be his safest option.”

“What about planting the gun? We can’t be sure of Avon’s route to Blake’s base, so Galway was detailed to place it wherever Avon could find it, depending on his movements at the time. Arlen can’t be inside the base ingratiating herself with Blake and elsewhere positioning the gun! And we can’t pull Galway out now, it will make them suspicious.”

“So we use both Galway and Arlen. Galway can leave the rigged gun anywhere it needs to be, and before that he can help Arlen get into that facility somehow. He’s already posing as a rebel posing as a bounty hunter; Arlen could pose as a captured criminal who has been swayed to the Glorious Cause by Galway.”

“Can you get her ready in time?”

Bowman pursed his lips. “She’s not going to be too forthcoming about her abilities, but I have methods for overcoming her reluctance. And I am sure that once she sees things my way she will take to the role of fugitive criminal with rebel tendencies like an addict to shadow. Not that she‘ll survive, of course. But then you know the rules,” he said, cupping his hand over the chess piece to hide it from view. “Pawns are expendable.”

Ignoring the cheap theatrics, Servalan turned to her display, called up some information, and began keying in a few commands.

“Blake is no pawn.”

Bowman grinned, snatching up the chess piece. “Well, Avon’s certainly no bishop! All that black - perhaps he‘s a rook.”

A tight-lipped smile twitched at Servalan's mouth and then was gone. “Have you ever considered that your fascination with chess may be Oedipal? The removal of the father figure?”

Bowman ran his fingertips over the little white pawn, then tucked it away in his breast pocket. “As Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

“Freud?” queried Servalan.

“The father of psychostrategy,” answered Bowman, patting his pocket.

Clearing her screen, Servalan turned back to the man sitting opposite her. “Get over to interrogation suite one. Arlen is on her way there right now, but she does not know why. She will probably assume she is needed to assist with an uncooperative prisoner. You have two hours to brief her, and Interrogator Fallon to help convince her to make her special skills available to us. As soon as you are done, get her to docking bay five. There’s a command corvette, Fusilier, waiting to take her to Gauda Prime. It’s the fastest ship we have available on this station, and every minute counts.”

Bowman rose and gave a little mock bow. “Certainly, Commissioner. Oh, and Commissioner?”

“Yes?”

“I’d get rid of that oversized chair if I were you,” he answered, heading for the door. “As a personality signature, it is an enormous pointer to your previous identity.”

***

“Gauda Prime!” screamed Sutton, four days later. “GAUDA PRIME! Blake’s on Gauda Prime!”

Sutton slumped against the wall as the needle plunged into what remained of his upper arm. The surgeon-interrogator slapped the call button on the wall-mounted communicator.

“Get me the Senior Commissioner,” he said.

***

“Beech knows it’s Gauda Prime,” Servalan informed Bowman, toying with the calling-card pawn she had once again found on her desk. “He’s contacted Central Security and they’ve just despatched an assassination team to Gauda Prime. A very large team, with two ground attack detachments accompanying them.”

“Well,” admitted Bowman, “If Sutton hadn’t talked soon, he would have been on his way to Space Command and then they’d know anyway. We had almost reached the point of telling them what we knew and pretending it had come from Sutton; pretending that the method had worked.”

Servalan tapped a key and a small window opened up on her screen, a timer ticking down the passing seconds. “They’ll be there in fourteen hours - but you’ll be there with the gun in eleven. The team is so large that they’ve had to ferry them on an old Sarum class troop hopper; it’s the only ship available that can handle that many.”

Bowman gave a little grin. “Sounds like Blake is getting the VIP treatment. Or should I say the RIP treatment?”

Servalan swapped the chess piece to her other hand and began rolling it between her thumb and forefinger. “Is the gun ready?”

“Herder is making a few minor adjustments, but apart from the fine-tuning it’s as ready as it’ll ever be. The trigger phrases are programmed in, and we’ve tested them all. We haven’t been able to test for non-trigger phrases, of course, because if we knew what they might be, they’d be programmed in as trigger phrases. Arlen will cover that eventuality of course.”

“Is Arlen in place?”

“The cover story you planted in their central computer is working. Now that things are moving, you just have to make sure that her name is assigned to Blake as his next authorised capture. She knows to let him capture her quickly.”

Servalan began entering the commands into the system as he spoke. “What about Galway? You’ll have to send him the signal to plant the gun now. He won’t have much time.”

“He doesn’t need much time.”

“The gun will only go off three times. Will three times be enough?”

“Once should be enough, at that range, but they’ve got a heavy duty medical set-up on that base. It doesn’t do much for scar tissue, but Galway’s sent in reports of prisoners who’d been shot in the legs running around a few hours later. In fact, because the facilities are so good, it seems some of the bounty hunters have adopted the leg-shot as standard practice to immobilise their target and be sure of a capture. And, just so you don’t have to ask, the gun will be fully loaded, in case Avon uses it along the way.”

Servalan raised an eyebrow. “And what else don’t I have to ask?” she posed.

Bowman smiled; he enjoyed demonstrating his brilliance. “About the tiger. It’s a mnemonic for their call sign, which is RGECP. It’s a simple alphabetic shift. If you create a grid you will see that the only words made in the sequence are TIGER and PECAN. RGECP is equidistant between both. Again, if we had given Sutton over to Space Command they would have had it out of him within five minutes. It was fascinating how it manifested itself in his subconscious, wasn’t it? Imagine what we’d be thinking if he’d dreamt of having his foot chewed off by giant pecan nuts, eh?”

“What about Orac?” Servalan questioned, uninterested in this level of professional insight.

“We’ll have to leave it up to Galway. We know Avon will take everyone into the base with him. He can’t leave Scorpio in orbit with all those gunships around, therefore he’ll land it somewhere, and therefore he will take Orac with him.”

Servalan sat up straight. “I’m not convinced. They could teleport to the surface and the others could take the ship, with Orac on board, out of orbit. It’s vital that we get Orac.”

“There’s still no risk. Orac is symbolic. Avon can’t show Blake the Liberator, so he will show him that he still has Orac, that he still kept faith with him.”

Bowman shifted in his seat, picking a thread from his trouser leg. “Of course, he won’t bring Orac out until he is sure of his ground. He’ll hide it somewhere on the way, but there is no way to tell where.”

“Why not?” Servalan challenged. “You have detailed plans of the base, maps of the surrounding area, and a full profile on Avon - put together by yourself. Surely you can determine where he will hide Orac?”

“If it was just Avon then I’m sure I could, but since he’s the kind of man who could write a book called Teach Yourself Paranoia, I’m certain he’ll consult Orac about the best way to beat psychostrategic prediction. In fact, he’s probably trying to counter even less likely methods of influence, such as machine-induced neural deviance. And we’re not talking probability squares here; you can be sure that wherever Orac advises Avon to hide itself will be completely unpredictable to me. I even looked into creating some attractive hiding places on the way, but they’d be too much of a giveaway. Nothing would give the Orac computer a bigger clue that we’re involved.”

Servalan leant forward in her new chair. “So why are you so sure that he will be susceptible to this entire plan? How do you know that he is not following countermeasures from Orac now?”

A dangerous look had set on Servalan’s face. It was obvious that she could taste her plans turning to ashes in her mouth, and she was furious. The possibility of Avon taking action like this had never occurred to her, but Bowman was ready with an answer sufficient to eradicate any doubts.

“This is different - this is about Blake. Avon won’t trust the matter to anyone else - not even Orac.”

Servalan leant back in her chair, fully satisfied, a smile gracing her lips.

“It’s a fortunate thing for us,” continued Bowman, “because there is only one area in which I would be confident of outwitting Orac, and that is getting Avon to G.P.”

Bowman pulled a small device from his pocket, and thumbed the control.

“I’ve just invoked a nest of commands which are, even now, dropping a few extra clues to Blake’s whereabouts in various computer files. Now the Federation know Blake is on Gauda Prime, it won't matter if they see them or not, but I‘m sure Avon will know about it in next to no time. In fact, I estimate Avon will arrive on Gauda Prime in approximately thirteen and a half hours.”

Servalan's eyebrows raised. “How can you estimate that when we don’t know where his base is?”

“A few days ago, Federation observers reported warlords from certain border systems leaving their territories, exciting speculation at Space Command,” he explained. “You and I know it was to attend the conference with Avon but they do not, and the telesentry stations are fixed and could not track them the entire way. The location of those particular border systems, and the direction they travelled in, along with the time that elapsed before they returned, allowed me to make some reasonable estimates of their destination down to subsector level. As you recall, that was one of the minor objectives of our Zukan strategy. Finer detail doesn’t matter, thanks to that photon drive system they have fitted on Scorpio.”

Servalan turned back to her screen and began keying in earnest. “Another reason why you have to take the gun, Bowman, and go now. That team is already ahead of us and you will only just beat them to Blake. Even if Arlen kills him as they are swarming into the base, we will still get the credit.
“The Fusilier is back; it’s in docking bay two. It’s fast, and it will give you three hours on that troop hopper. I’ve had it, and you, cleared for immediate departure. I’ve also had the gun loaded on board, along with Herder. Make sure he does his best to get it ready in time. I have also assigned a member of the Interrogation Division to you to help encourage Herder - he‘s merely blind, not useless. You have fifteen minutes to gather whatever you need to take with you.”

Bowman did not hesitate or flap at the sudden turn of events. He simply stood and headed for the door. “I won’t let you down, Commissioner,” he said.

Servalan returned his gaze with eyes of steel. “No, Bowman, you won’t. For your sake, you won’t. After all,” she added, throwing the chess piece into the rubbish disposal slot where it was flash-vaporised before their eyes, “pawns are expendable.”

“Your finger was on the trigger. You killed him.”
- Pella, deflecting responsibility, in ‘Power’.


***


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