|megpie71 (megpie71) wrote,|
@ 2007-12-03 01:49:00
Fic: Van der Decken, Chapter 1, Part 1 of 3
Fandom: Blake's 7
Warnings: AU, some language, some dialect.
Rating: Australian PG, like the show.
Notes: This one was sparked by the question “What would have happened if it had been Avon rather than Blake who got 'lost' at the beginning of 'Aftermath'?” Well, from there, things just snowballed. Besides, I wanted to see how Avon would cope with a computer which really wasn't up to the standards of either Zen or Orac.
Final word count: 14,800.
I'd been heading about my own business on the outer galactic rim when there was a hail on the main frequencies for the Federation. I keep a scanner hooked to them – it lets me know what they're up to, and lets me keep out of sight. I'm a free trader, smuggler, call me what you will; whichever name you use, I'm not a favourite of the Federation trade and excise types. Van der Decken isn't the fastest ship around, so I need to know where their pursuit ships are before they get there.
Anyway, I kept an ear open at the message, and heard a general hail for all ships in the area to make their way into a bit of open, uncharted space, out in the middle of nowhere. From what they were saying, there was a space battle of some kind happening with an invading fleet, and they were offering general amnesty for all participants, regardless of status. Given this was coming from the Federation, I didn't believe a word of it – they've never been more than indifferent honest.
So, I'd instructed Della (my ship's computer) to ignore it, and was just making myself a cup of coffee when there's another hail. This one was over a set of frequencies which are for shielded traffic, and the location of these frequencies and the codes you need to run them are a closely guarded secret. If you know them, it's forbidden to put the information on a computer or to write it down. It was also running on the Federation frequencies, as well as any other open channels available. Odd enough. The content, though; that was an eye opener.
“This is battle cruiser Liberator calling all in hail. Liberator to all in hail. Assistance required. We are under attack by hostile alien fleet. Assistance required. Coordinates follow.”
I made a quick check on the coordinates supplied. It appeared the Federation message wasn't a ruse – or if it was, it was a very well planned one, and the Federation had managed to penetrate to the heart of the Free Trading community without being detected. If such was the case, my days were numbered anyway. Better to go out in a blaze of glory, and at least destroy the evidence. I changed course.
“Della, get working on detecting that battle fleet, set scan to maximum, and prepare stealth mode.”
Stealth mode is what makes the Van der Decken special. It's something I worked out myself. See, back before I escaped my final owner, I was trained as an electronics technician. I'd had to work on systems to disguise various installations, including some Federation ones, and I'd learned the basic principles of it early on. So, once I'd escaped, I tried to figure out a way of getting the same sort of shielding to work around a ship. Took quite a few tries before it was accurate, and I stumbled onto the secret by accident. It's a side effect of all the installations I've worked on being ground-based, but stealth mode only works if we're moving slowly – sub-light speed at most. But as soon as we slow down, we disappear from their scans, and stay missing from the scans. I've built something of a reputation on this – I may be slower getting the cargo to you, but I will get it there.
In this case, I decided to risk a higher speed – about time distort three. That's the most the old girl can handle at present. I was counting on getting this cargo delivered in order to be able to afford a bit of a break. Just long enough to be able to fix a few tricky bits in the drive units, and maybe give Della a bit of reprogramming. She was starting to get a bit unreliable. At least she ought to be able to hold a straight line long enough for me to be able to swallow some coffee.
She wasn't. I felt the course change as I poured out the coffee, spilling most of it onto the drainage unit for the dispenser.
“Della, what in the names of the nine hells of Zagravaar are you playing at?” I swore. Good coffee is expensive. Far too expensive to be wasting on the recycling units of Van der Decken, which don't appreciate it anyway.
/Life rocket capsule detected within range. Prime directive mandates collection./
I don't know who it was programmed Della, but they'd managed to make her vocoder capable of expressing emotion. This time she sounded smug, which was a common enough situation when she wound up being the one who'd won the argument. Lately if she didn't win arguments, she sulked, which was part of the reason I wanted to stop for a bit and get her worked on. A sulky computer is not something you want to share time with during a long space voyage. Her last trick had involved the shower supplying cold water for a week before I agreed to whatever it was she wanted. I didn't want her to start thinking up tricks regarding the air supply.
“All right. But can you warn me before you do those sorts of things in future, Della?” I got to work mopping up the coffee. “Where were you planning to put it?”
/Retrieval process defaults to hold one./
“No you don't! That's where the cargo is. Put it in hold two.” This was the other thing about Della. She didn't consider things like whether I happened to have cargo in the hold she was going to open for pickup. If I hadn't checked where the defaults were, I'd've lost my entire cargo, and my entire livelihood. “Do you have a visual contact?” I asked.
/Visual on screen one./
I took a look at my soon-to-be-guest. The capsule was a strange design – more like a triangular prism than the traditional lozenge-shape. It didn't look to be of Federation manufacture, which was reassuring. Or maybe not. Given I was flying into the middle of a space battle, I could have used a high-ranking Federation officer to ensure I got the amnesty they were promising. Anything above Captain would be a good start. The alien nature of the capsule, however, wasn't promising. “Della, run scan. Determine the nature of the lifeform within the capsule. If the scan doesn't check out as humanoid, I don't want it aboard.”
/Prime directive mandates pickup./
“Your prime directive can go snuggle up to a Targian warg strangler if you think I'm going to let you bring a non-humanoid alien on board.”
/Scans indicate single humanoid lifeform within capsule./
“Thank you, Della.” I took another look at the scan results. “Continue with retrieval, place it in hold two, but seal hold two for vacuum. If we've picked up something from the wrong side, I don't want it to be getting out of there.”
While Della did all the business with collecting the pod, I considered my options. I wasn't too keen on picking up passengers, but it appeared I didn't have a choice in the matter. Of course, there were always salvage rights. Whoever or whatever was in that capsule, they had to have a ship somewhere out there, even if it was just floating around as wreckage. There were enough metal-poor worlds around which would pay well for an anonymous pile of scrap and not ask questions about where I got it from. At the speeds Van der Decken travelled, I could probably perform a better salvage job than any other ship in the vicinity. The notion was a cheering one – perhaps I'd come out of this with some profit after all.
I pulled out the schematics for the magno-'tractor I'd been working on. It was a bit crude at the moment, but it was my best bet for getting a large enough cargo of scrap and salvage together to be able to afford a competent computer tech for Della. The boards were in one of the lockers; installing it would be a decent distraction from the mystery of who or what I'd picked up.
I was about three-quarters of the way through the process of installing it (and I'd gone six times through my vocabulary of expletives: in order to get it working, I'd need to disable power to something else; I was looking at losing either food or refresher facilities) when Della let me know there was movement from hold two.
Discarding my work, I switched the visuals to see what I'd collected.
Kerr Avon awoke in the life capsule, took a look around himself, and swore in several dialects. He was sure he could remember bringing Orac down to the capsule bays, but the computer wasn't in the capsule with him. He tried to remember back – yes, he'd brought Orac down in its carry case, then Vila and Cally had been gabbling at him, and there was... a blank. He couldn't remember getting into the capsule, so he must have been put in there by one of the other two. But why wouldn't they put Orac in with him?
He considered various types of treacherous motive, before reluctantly disposing of them. Vila knew of Orac's value, but didn't get along with the cantankerous computer. He'd often threatened to take to it with a laser probe after it had shocked him. So it was unlikely Vila would have taken Orac. Therefore Orac was either with Cally, who would attempt to retrieve all of Blake's crew out of a sense of loyalty; or Orac was on the Liberator. In either case, there was nothing he could do about it now.
He was better off trying to figure out where he was, and whether he was safe to exit the life capsule. He leaned forward to check the few readouts provided. Oxygen atmosphere. Temperature on the low side of Liberator normal, but otherwise reasonable. Gravity just a trifle under Earth normal. There was a sensation of movement, and a noise which was probably engines operating, so he'd been picked up by a ship. Either it was Federation, in which case he hoped they hadn't forgotten their amnesty, or it was alien. While Jenna had told Cally to put out a hail on a Free Trader frequency, he didn't hold out much hope of that having been answered.
Cautiously, he cracked the seal on the capsule door, sliding it aside.
The cameras in hold two were rather dodgy, just like everything else in the Dutchman. So I couldn't get a clear picture of my new passenger. Just dark hair, and what looked like what was known as a “spacer's tan” - very pale skin, as you get from spending months on end cooped up in a ship with heavy radiation shielding. While his clothing was rather dark, it didn't seem to have the same cut as a Federation uniform.
“Della, any chance of a zoom on the humanoid in hold two?” I asked. I didn't expect Della to be able to comply – she's never been her best when coping with more than three tasks at once. But somehow she dug out some extra capacity, and we got a closer look at him.
Yup, male human by the look of things. He didn't know where he was, I guessed, because he was moving carefully, trying not to set off any alarms. He had some sort of gun on his belt, which he was carrying now. Oh wonderful.
“Della, double seal hold two. I want to be able to dump atmo in it at any stage.”
I grabbed my own blaster and holster, and made my way down to the outer door of hold two. Van der Decken's electrolocks tend to be a bit on the easy side. Throwing the main bolt on the outer doors should hold him for a bit. Just my bloody luck, I thought. All the folks out there, and I pick up a pirate.
Avon looked around himself. He appeared to have arrived in some sort of hold. A cargo hold, he decided, from the shape of it. It appeared to be able to open to atmosphere, which was the most logical explanation for how he'd been picked up. Cally's hail to the Free Traders had worked after all, it seemed.
Still, it always paid to be cautious. He drew his gun, comforted by the feel of it in his hand, and started to explore the space. He'd almost reached what he believed was the internal door when there was a loud 'clunk' from the other side of it.
I threw the bolts, sealing the doors. It had been a worthwhile bit of tinkering, installing those. Certainly they'd saved me from burglaries, attempted piracy, and the occasional Federation taxman in the past. Didn't matter what kind of gear they'd brought with 'em, most people tended to find themselves stymied by a double-bolted lockwheel. To get through those, the stranger would need at least an arc welder. Laser cannon might work, but I was capable of getting the Dutchman the hell out of Dodge (and the hell into stealth mode) before anyone could get them targeted.
Then I thumbed up the intercom I'd installed to hold two. Like I said, this setup has kept out a few unwelcome visitors, but I found having a way of negotiating was useful, too.
“Attention,” I said. “You are in the hold of the private cargo carrier Van der Decken. Please state your name, and a reason why the current atmospheric conditions in that hold should continue.”
The voice came over an intercom. Avon looked about, trying to find the source of the transmission.
“My name is Kier Chevron. Who are you?”
“I'm the person who's opening that hold to vaccuum if you don't give me a reason why I shouldn't,” came the reply. Avon grinned. A sensible attitude, he thought, even if it was directed at him. Now all he had to do was figure out what they wanted, and whether he could bluff his way out of the situation.
“Thank you for saving my life,” he said, changing the subject.
“Cut the chatter, chum. Why should I keep it saved? What can you offer?”
Ah, that was where the speaker was located – the inner right top corner of the hold. So if he could get to the speaker, he'd be able to start tracing power lines, if not data. “What could I offer that would be of value?” he returned, playing for time.
“The location of your ship,” came the prompt reply.
Avon startled. What could this person want with the Liberator? Had he fallen into Federation hands after all? An unpleasant thought occurred: the aliens had looked human back on Star One. They'd sounded human as well. Maybe this was another alien.
“Why do you want that?” Playing for time still seemed the safest course.
A sigh from the other end of the intercom. “Look. Saving your hide has cost me a good forty-five minutes of time and a fifty seven spacial course deviation I'm still making up. That means fuel, which means money. Now, you lucked out – I'm heading in the direction of the nearest trading hub to this particular corner of the arse-end of nowhere. However, picking you up changes the trim of the ship, which means more fuel, which means more money. So to afford the extra fuel you'll cost, I need salvage. Salvage like your ship, whatever it was.”
“I don't know where my ship is. I suspect I was knocked unconscious after entering the capsule.”
He was playing for time. I knew it. I'd heard of this trick before – send out one bloke in a life rocket with a homing beacon running subsonic below the distress call, and track them when the nearest humanitarian picks them up. They act all distressed and silly, then while the nice crew of whatever is distracted helping out their new passenger, along comes the rest of the gang and attacks.
Problem was, that trick was best played along major shipping lines, and there was no conceivable way this place could be described as one of those. He'd be floating about for centuries if he tried it out here. Still, best to play safe. I switched off the intercom, and flipped the internal coms switch.
“Della, switch to stealth mode. Full scan of the surrounding area. I want to know if anything larger than a robodrone comes into range.”
That'd at least give me a couple of minutes grace – even if this bloke had a beacon which was broadcasting on every frequency from gamma right through straight radio, it'd take a while for his mates to find the Dutchman while she was in stealth mode. Helped that I'd spent a lot of time, effort and money on a rather unique little disguise job on the old girl, too. From the outside, she looked a lot like a bit of space junk. Of course, over the years, it was less and less of a disguise, and more and more of a reality. The Dutchman needed some time and money spent on a lot of things, and if I could only get a bit of decent salvage going, I'd be able to tackle the next repair on what was becoming a long list.
“Right,” I said to my erstwhile passenger. “Let's get a couple of things straight here. I can't afford deadweight, and at the moment, chum, that's all you are. So you think hard: what the hells can you offer me that equals the value of the oxygen you're sucking in?”
Avon grinned to himself. For all the threats, it appeared his captor wasn't as hard-hearted as they seemed. Had the situations been reversed, he would have had a person in a similar situation tumbling into space soon after the first exchange. He had an edge.
“I'm afraid I really don't know,” he said. He looked around the interior of the hold. As his eyes adjusted to the lighting levels, he'd noticed the shabbiness of the place. There appeared to be any number of repairs which needed to be performed. “I suppose I could offer to work my passage.”
“Doing what?” The response was swift.
“I know a little about spaceships.”
I pulled a face. He knew a little about spaceships. Yeah, right. And with the accent he was pulling, he sounded like a bloody Earther. Very few of them knew anything about spaceships, and the few who did were Feds. So chances were I'd inheirited either a useless lump of crap who'd bitch for days running about the way that the Dutchman was set up and falling to pieces around me, or a Fed plant. I didn't think I'd have any chance of getting someone who knew the business end of a laser probe from the part you weren't supposed to point at the remaining eye.
But what choice did I have? I knew I couldn't space this man. Not now I'd talked to him. If I was going to do it, it either had to have been before speaking with him, or it would happen if the momzer turned out to be a useless sack of crud after all. I unlocked the door.
Well, I was right on both counts. On the one hand, I got someone who bitched non-bloody-stop about the way the Dutchman was configured. On the other, he did know which end of a laser probe was which, and he'd managed to figure out a way of rigging the power system to be able to power the magno-'tractor and the refresher systems. He also wasn't a Fed plant.
I'd recognised him as soon as he stepped through the doors, of course. I keep an eye on the Feds wanted list – I need to know when my bounty is worth more than my cargo is, and on which worlds. If I don't have that kind of information, I'll wind up deader than an asteroid. So I recognised the number two man on the list, one Kerr Avon. But if he wanted to pretend he was Kier Chevron, that was fine by me. I didn't think the Feds would be hunting down their own man with quite the degree of vindictiveness involved.
I didn't take my eyes off him, except when he slept. He only did that for a small amount of time at a stretch, so I was still in my normal habit of running on coffee and stimtabs to keep things going. It was only while he was sleeping I could afford to leave Della in charge, and get a bit of shuteye myself. He'd surrendered his gun, or whatever it was, but I kept mine close, and I slept with one eye open. Kerr Avon might be wanted for all kinds of political muckety-muck. But Kier Chevron gave off good familiar vibes.
He was a criminal, born and bred. In it for the money.
It almost made me like him. Almost.