|megpie71 (megpie71) wrote,|
@ 2007-12-03 02:00:00
Fic: VanDerDecken, Chapter 1, Part 3 of 3
Avon looked around the cell he'd been shoved into with a certain amount of world-weary disdain. It was a standard pattern for a cell – rectangular, one bunk, one bucket for facilities, one door, one window, one lock which was well within his capabilities. It would be easy enough for him to get out, but what could he do then? The only place to run was back to the VanDerDecken, and he had no idea what his reception would be should he return.
They'd brought him in, booked him with loitering, and taken the datapad, at which point they'd added a few more charges to the list. The men had the look of private troopers, rather than any civic guard, and the manner in which he'd been taken implied this was a regular sweep of the area instead of a targetted raid. Not that this made him any the less captured.
The only minor mercy he appeared to have on his side was he hadn't yet been recognised.
The address of Teani's lockup wasn't far from where the Dutchman was docked. I had my suspicions as to who she might have picked up; Deschya port appeared to be even less of a place to drop the unwary than it had been before. While I waited on the cargo movers to come and clean out the holds of the VanDerDecken, I grabbed out the datapad I'd picked up from a vacker about three systems over as part-payment for transit the hell out of a messy situation. It was something I tended to keep concealed, since it had a few bits of software which were highly illegal just about everywhere – backdoors into various different monitoring systems, taps into information databases all over the place, and enough tools to be able to break down the majority of the systems in civilised space, if I just knew how to use 'em. My skill with software was limited to the extent that I was able to use them to make a few “listening” taps on a couple of known circuits.
Of course, I'd been smart enough to drop a small bug in Broch's office (I did it every time I was in there; information is valuable enough to be a trade good all on its own, and I trusted Broch only if I could see where both of his hands were) and I'd also stuck one into the recog-chip I'd handed Teani. I tend not to trust the kinds of buyers I can find out on the fringes of respectability like this. I was well aware of the bounty on my head, and I'd a couple of buyers in the past who'd tried to make a bit on the side by selling me to the Feds. Broch hadn't tried it before; that didn't mean he wouldn't.
I linked the listeners into the private comms circuit in my cabin (hey, being captain has some privileges – and ownership of the one cabin in the ship is one of them), and pulled the stored data from the bugs onto the pad. I scanned what had happened since I'd stopped talking to each of my tags. Broch had ordered the techs to come and start working on the drive of the Dutchman, and Teani was setting things in place to get the radwaste picked up from the holding bay, the hold decontam done, and the refuel going.
There was a buzz from the external comm. “VanDerDecken. Captain speaking,” I responded.
“Deschya Port Services. We're here to pick up the cargo for Broch,” came the voice over the speaker.
“ID?” I asked. I didn't think they'd be lying, but Broch was just as likely to decide if I lost the cargo, he wasn't going to pay – even though he'd recover the cargo soon enough, as well as a bit of extra decoration for his compound. The ID scanner at the hold entrance was one of the innovations of a previous owner of the Dutchman, but I kept it well maintained.
The ID of the port service people checked out, and I opened the external locks on hold two. I'd done my best with the scrap, spending as much time as possible getting as much of it as I could into the standard cargo carrier pods. However, there was still a lot of it scattered about, mainly the bigger bits which needed specialist tools to be manouvered – tools I didn't have handy. I'd warned Broch, though, and he'd sent the tools over. I'd been down and locked the inner doors on both holds – humans are curious creatures, as I knew from personal experience, and I didn't want to have the port service staff rifling through my gear or commenting on the abysmal state of repair of the Dutchman.
When the woman had come in and looked at him, Avon had thought he was going to be released.
“Wass yer name?” she asked. Her accent was almost impossible for him to understand.
“I beg your pardon?” Avon said.
“Yer name,” she repeated.
“Oh. Keir Chevron,” he answered. It seemed sensible enough to retain a single alias. He gave one of his more appealing smiles, trying to charm his way out of the cell. “Might I know why I am confined?”
The woman's only answer to his question was a laugh. “'E'll do,” she said to one of her flunkies. “Don't 'urt th' merchandise.” She stomped off. The flunky opened the gate of his cell.
“Merchandise?” Avon asked, suddenly uneasy.
“You're for the open market,” the flunky said. “Nice lookin', nice speakin'. Teani's gonna auction you off.” The flunky gave him a slightly apologetic look. “Highest bidder gets you, for whatever they wanna do.”
“Whatever?” Avon didn't like the way the conversation was going.
“Looker like you, there's gonna be some of the mine bosses in there to get a boy for 'emselves, or for their wives. Pray it's themselves – if yer bought as a handbag, y' get cut.” The flunky pointed to the corridor. “C'mon, let's get you sorted.”
I stifled a yawn. I'd been running low on sleep for at least a week, and I couldn't get any until I'd lifted from NovyLen II. I don't sleep when I'm in a hostile port, and when you're on the hop from Federation forces, you're always in a hostile port. You never know who's going to try to sell your head to the authorities. I wandered over to the dispenser to get yet another cup of coffee.
There was a blip from the datapad in my cabin. I'd set things up so it was listening to the taps, with a few flag words to alert me to anything suspicious. Looks like one of the flags had been hit.
I took my coffee and myself into the cabin, and had a look at the alert warning. Two flags – one for the two parties communicating with each other. The other was for the word 'Federation' showing up anywhere in the communication. I flipped the pickup to give me the straight dope.
“... I thought you'd be interested, Broch,” came Teani's voice.
“I am interested,” Broch said. “Are you certain he's the one wanted by the Federation?”
“Positive,” Teani replied. “'E's Blake's alright. Comptech one – what was 'is name? - Avon.” There was a distorted chuckle. “Free million credits on 'is 'ead. 'E's yours for one mill.”
“You overstep yourself, Teani.” Broch's voice had an edge to it. “Half a million would be sufficient.”
“One mill, or I sell 'im to the Feds meself,” Teani countered. “Free million Fed cred will get me a stake in them mines of yours, an' I got most of th' boys in town workin' for me now.”
I started thinking fast. Teani's comment about being careful not to wind up in her lockup suddenly took on a whole new level of significance.
“Three quarters, and you can use his services when I have finished with them,” Broch countered.
“I c'n get more 'n that for 'im on th' open market,” Teani replied. “'E'd go fer at least a mil an' a narf. Or I c'd put 'im up fer auction.”
Okay, so Teani was in the slave trade as much as anything else. I was starting to dislike the woman with a certain amount of emphasis. If there was one thing that really got on my wick, it was slave traders.
“Eighty-five thousand,” Broch said.
“One mil,” Teani countered. “Or frow in that bitch wiv the ship. She's on the Fed lists 'erself. She'll fetch a pretty penny.”
The silence from Broch's end of the line didn't sound reassuring. Looked like my amnesty on Deschya was nearing its end. Time to cut my losses and run. I headed out to the flight deck, and checked the external scans and the drive monitors. At least the refuel had been done, which was a small mercy. I still had the radwaste, which meant I had to drop the bloody stuff somewhere, but that was a minor problem.
A view of the scans showed the cargo Broch was giving me was waiting to be loaded into hold two. None of the techs had shown (and I had a strong suspicion they'd be taking their time). I cursed to myself. The drive repairs could wait, but I really needed to get Della fixed up, which meant I needed a comptech.
When the idea occurred to me, it was almost blinding in its simplicity. I knew where there was a comptech, and Broch hadn't let me know my amnesty was over. I grinned, and got onto the Port Services people. They had me patched through to Broch's office in no time flat.
“Broch,” came his voice through the relays.
“Dina here,” I said. “I'm missing a crewman I hired on at the last hop. Can't get through to him on the comm. I'm wondering whether he might have been picked up by Teani's crew.”
There was a sigh from the other end. “I shall contact Teani and let her know you will be visiting,” Broch said.
“Can you get her to waive whatever fees she charges?” I asked.
There was a silence from the other end of the line.
“After all, he is my crew, which means he's covered under the amnesty,” I said, reminding Broch of his bargain.
“If you haven't warned your crewman, I don't see why I should have to cover the cost. I'll take it out of the price of the repairs.” Broch sounded grumpy.
I chose my next few words with care. If I just agreed to Broch's terms, it would look suspicious. “Come off it, Broch. That's a permanent amnesty we're talking about here, not a bloody three day pass. Even if it was a bloody three day pass, I've only been in town about twelve hours standard. No deduction.”
“You should consider your position, Dina. I don't offer a permanent amnesty to every spacehound who brings me a load of metal.”
“I don't have to bring the metal here, Broch, and you know it. I do it because I like you. Would you rather I went to Samenow instead?” Samenow was Broch's biggest rival; the main reason I didn't trade with him was that I didn't trust him as far as I could spit a dead rat, but Broch didn't need to know that. Besides, the way things were turning out, I wasn't going to be trading with either of them. I could afford to threaten him.
“All right,” Broch said. “No charge. I'll be in touch with Teani.”
“Thanks,” I said, cutting the connection. Time to move. I grabbed a spare blaster I kept hidden in the flight deck (for those little emergencies), and stowed it in a pocket of the jacket. Then I nudged Della awake.
“Della, code green,” I told her.
/Acknowledged. Code green defences activated./
Avon found himself being scrubbed to within an inch of his life, and while the circumstances were less than ideal, the experience of cleanliness once more was worth the price. The burns on his hands were treated, and the bruises he'd picked up from the rather irregular flight of the VanDerDecken were soothed away. If he'd been Vila, he might have relaxed under the whole regime. However, as he wasn't, he didn't. Instead, he tried to watch for an opportunity to escape.
One wasn't provided. They did provide everything else, however. Food, drink, clothing...
“No, no, that's entirely ridiculous,” said the stylist. She discarded a number of rather elegant shirts. “Not you at all,” she said. “This is much more you.”
'This' turned out to be a pair of thigh-high boots, chap-style trousers, a sheer black body-stocking, and a loose tunic-style top. Rather like one of his favourite outfits from Liberator, he thought. No underwear, however, and his had been removed when he was sent to the bathhouse.
“Well, put it on,” the stylist said. She watched while he shed the robe he'd been wearing, and started to don the clothes. “Hmm... yes, that's good. But it needs a little something.” She watched a while longer, then perked up remarkably when Avon looked straight at her. “Ah, I know.” She input a quick request to her datapad.
Avon had just finished putting on the boots when another woman put her head around the door.
“Did you want me, Shimere?” she asked the stylist.
“Ah, Magra. Just who I was looking for. He needs some eyeliner and mascara.”
I'm not a fool. I knew if I could place a tag on other people, they could place a tag on me. That's why Della's defence codes are slightly different to the standard. Code green means the inner hold doors are electrified, and once the cargo had been put into the hold, she'd be starting the internal systems and getting them ready for an immediate exit. Her guns were being warmed up too, so I could blast my way out if necessary, and stealth mode was being prepped.
My part in the whole business was heading down to Teani's lockup. I was expecting her to try and take me – it seemed her style – so I was on full combat readiness myself. One of the things I'd learned in years of slavery, as well as almost as many years as a spacehound was how to fight nasty. The blaster was ready, and I had the defence systems in the jacket on the hop too.
Teani's lockup was a rather scrappy place on the outside, but I didn't let myself be fooled by this. I was on alert the whole time. I showed up at the front counter, to be faced by a bloke who looked as though he were carved out of granite.
“I'm looking for a crewman,” I said.
“Y' come to the right place,” the man said, giving me a smile which showed the aftermath of years of poor nutrition and not a few bar fights. At least his remaining teeth interlocked with each other. “We got all sorts here. Take yer pick.”
I gave him a smile of my own. “I don't think you understand. My name's Dina. I have an amnesty for myself and any of my crew from Broch. Your people picked up my crewman. I want him back.”
Avon was no stranger to makeup, although he didn't wear it all the time. For one thing, it was irritating when it got in his eyes, and for a second, he wasn't fond of the taste of lipstick. However, the makeup artist hadn't given him a choice in the matter. She was very skillful, he had to admit. His eyes looked darker and more shadowed, his skin looked paler, his nose (never his favourite feature) looked somehow less prominent, and he didn't look as though he was wearing any makeup at all. She'd also buffed and polished his nails.
It would have been wonderful, had it not been for the problem of the intention of all these attentions. No matter how pleasant the whole experience, he was still destined for the slaver's block, and from the looks of things, he'd be sold off as a pleasure slave.
The thought wasn't a comforting one. What was even less comforting was that he had no idea whatsoever of how he was going to get out of this situation, and where he would run to if he did. He hadn't felt this helpless since he'd heard about Anna's death. Being captured by the Federation had been almost empowering by comparison, for there he could at least pretend to himself that he was resisting their tortures, even when he was so far gone he couldn't even scream. Here, he had nowhere to go, no way to get there, and no place to hide from the knowledge.
I'd been escorted down to the general holding cells. A quick scan showed only the standard range of boozed-up bozos in need of a couple of good kicks. No sign of Avon.
“Any others?” I asked my escort.
“Not in the general cells,” he said. “Got a few in the special pool. But they're not for hire.”
“I don't think you understood me, chum,” I told him. “Like I said, I have an amnesty from Broch himself, and it covers myself, my ship, and anyone who happens to be on my crew. I'm thinking you picked up a crewman of mine – bloke by the name of Chevron – and I want him back.” Under cover of the pocket of my jacket, I slipped on the knuckleduster.
The man looked at me, suddenly wary. “I'll have to speak to the boss,” he said.
“You do that,” I answered. “But take me down to the special pool first.”
“Them's the ones as have been here three days or longer,” the man said. “You been here that long?”
“Nope,” I said. “But you'll take me anyway, or I'll be having words to Broch about this.” I looked the man in the eyes. “You don't want me to be having words with Broch, now do you?”
He shook his head, and led me on. I had my own suspicions about this. I'd noticed that as I went further into Teani's warren of buildings, I was heading further underground, which implied the woman had far more money than she was letting Broch know about. I was also being led further in with relatively few protests. I was getting closer to whatever inner sanctum she had set up, and in all likelihood closer to Avon, but I was also getting further from the entrance, and it was very probable I'd have to fight my way out.
When we reached the special pool, I got a number of confirmations, none of them welcome. I got confirmation that Teani was playing the slave market; confirmation she had access to the Fed most wanted list (I could recognise at least one of the “special” types from the list – a minor league gangster who'd tried to sell me once; couldn't think of a nicer person for him to happen to); and confirmation she was going to make it hard for me to get out. This last would be why she had six blokes fall in around me as escort through the pool. I didn't let it bother me. I had one priority: retrieving that computer tech.
Mind you, I damn near didn't recognise him when I finally saw him. Tarted up like a very expensive rent boy, he was. Pity he didn't look young enough. Outfit was nice, but really, the makeup was a bit much. If they were trying to disguise the man, though, they'd need the services of a good surgeon – it was the nose as gave him away.
“That's the one,” I said, pointing to him. “Keir Chevron.”
Dina's arrival had been unexpected to say the least. When she'd stopped in front of his cell and mentioned his assumed alias, Avon had blinked. Hearing her request his release was another surprise.
“Come on,” she said to the nearest handler. “I told you, I have an amnesty with Broch.”
“Gotta check with the boss,” the handler muttered.
Dina gave him a look which Avon wouldn't have been ashamed to own, and replied, “Well, let me bloody well speak with him, at least. He's my bloody crew, you great nong!”
“He didn't say so,” the handler replied.
“Oh for sod's sake,” Dina swore, waving her hands in the air. “Do I have to do everything my bloody self?” She turned to face Avon. “Chevron, you great nit, why didn't you bloody well tell them yourself? I told you what this place was like!”
Avon was taken aback by the comment, but realised that here lay his best chance of escape. “I have to admit, Captain, I wasn't expecting to be picked up by the hurry-up squad one hour into my shore leave,” he said, glaring at the handlers.
“Got yourself drunk again, didn't you? I'm gonna have to stop paying you your wages when we first land. Bloody cargo doesn't sell itself.” Between her harangues, Dina was looking at him in a way which said 'play along'.
“I wasn't drinking,” he answered. “I was in a hotel, minding my own business, when these men came and removed me from the room.”
“Yeah, you right. Pull the other one, it's got bells on,” Dina said. “Well, if you're gonna be picked up by the rozzers soon's you hit town, you may's well stay in the bloody ship.” She gave him a wink. “At least that way, I'll know where the hells you are when I need to leave.”
Avon realised she was offering him a way out, and a way out which didn't appear to involve being sold as a slave. He lowered his eyes, then looked up again, hoping she'd understand his agreement.
It was hard to get the message across with the six heavies behind me. I had to hint at things and hope Avon understood. Mind you, the Fed's mentions of his intelligence weren't wrong. He could take a hint when it was flung at him. He was also capable of being subtle, as well – I'd caught the flicker of his eyes, a sort of micro-nod, but I doubted the thugs had. His next words were a good indication he intended to play along with my story.
“It was just the once, Captain. I assure you it shan't happen again.” His tone was pure old-school Alpha arrogance. Reminded me of my last owner but two.
“Just the once my arse,” I answered. “Or do you mean 'just the once' at this particular port?” I turned back to the escort team. “Get him out of there, damnit. I'll make sure he stays in the ship for the rest of the time we're in port.”
“No ya won't,” came the answer from the other end of the corridor. I had to admit, I'd been half-expecting Teani not to show. Nice to know she was legit about running the bouncer side of the business as well. “Y're not goin' anywheres. Nor's 'e.”
I looked over at her. She was carrying a small blaster openly, and the half-dozen goons around her were also armed. She wasn't going to be letting me out without a fight. Good thing I was ready for one.
The corridor we were in stood between two rows of cells, six to a side. Avon had been shoved in the second from my end on the right, and all the others were inhabited. This was good news for me, and bad news for Teani, since any unintentional deaths would come off her balance sheet, not mine. Given my balance sheet started with a thirteen-person deficit, any alterations to that were all to the good.
Teani gestured at the goons around me. “Get 'er,” she said.
Two men closed in around Dina, reaching for her shoulders. She gave a sort of shrug, and hunched further into the large leather jacket she was wearing. There was a brief, confused instant of action, then the two men were on the floor groaning and twitching, Dina was aiming a punch at a third, and one of the men at the far end of the corridor had fallen to a blaster bolt.
Avon watched as the punch connected, then grabbed at the gun that a kick had sent skittering inside his cell. A standard blaster, minimal kick, charge was on the low side, he thought, as he gave the weapon a quick look-over. He moved toward the cell doors, preparing to pick off the men attacking Dina.
“Aim for the ones at the other end,” she yelled as a cable of some kind tangled around another of her assailants. Avon nodded, noticing out of the corner of his eye the man was convulsing. He took aim, and got one of the bodyguards of the woman who'd examined him earlier.
A blaster bolt came back the other way, aimed at Dina, who was still in motion. It missed, hitting the man she'd been threatening with a knife. Another came straight for Avon, who ducked behind the shelter of the cell wall. There was a curse from the far end of the corridor, and the sound of a heavy thump.
“Not th' fuckin' merchandise, y' fuckwit,” the boss yelled. Avon ducked out from behind the wall and squeezed another shot off. It missed the bodyguards, going into the cell to the side. There was a scream from whoever had been in there. Avon didn't allow himself to be distracted by it. Just another body, he thought.
Dina, meanwhile, had dealt with the other two men who were trying to capture her. Or at least, one of them was on the ground, groaning, and the other was out cold. Now she had her blaster in her hand, and was aiming at someone or something at the other end of the corridor. There was the sound of a blaster bolt, then a sudden clunk from the cell door.
“Got it!” I said. It had been a tricky shot, and ordinarily I wouldn't bother, but in this particular case, it was worth the risk. I'd just taken out the door controls on all the doors in this section. So there were now about a dozen potentials on my side of the argument, if any of them fancied joining the rush for freedom. Of course, I only really needed one of them – the rest could take their chances.
There was a tug on my arm, and I almost fell into the cell Avon had been stowed in. As I did, a blaster bolt whizzed through the space I'd been in. Hmmm... nice reflexes. Very useful.
“How many left?” he asked me, ducking out just long enough to fire a single shot.
“Two dead up that end, six wounded down this. Door's that way,” I said, pointing at the way I came in. “Up four levels, and about six checkpoints. We're going to have to fight our way out.'
He nodded. “Right. Count three, we're out, and I'll cover your back while you get the door open.”
I gave a grin. “You've done this before,” I said.
The smile he gave was both sardonic and genuine, and it really changed his face. “If you say so,” he replied.
The escape from the lockup was something Avon would remember for a long time. It had been a frantic scramble all the way, with shooting battles at every checkpoint and fist fights in between. He'd gained a new respect for Dina's ability to survive in a fight, as well as some new tips for dirty fighting. The punch which had felled the bodyguard was explained by the brass knuckles she was wearing, while the body armour she had on under the jacket seemed to absorb a lot of the punishment they were handing out. He still hadn't figured out how the first pair had been downed. All they'd done was touch her shoulders.
She was a good shot with a blaster, too. She shot to wound, rather than to kill, and left a trail of men groaning on the ground, clutching at shattered joints. Avon's main task was covering the rear, and he shot to kill, aiming to prevent any pursuit.
Took a while for us to get out of there, but by the time we'd kicked the front door down, there was a trail of escapees after us. Broch would probably have my head if I showed up in Deschya again after this little riot. Good thing I wasn't planning on it.
“Go to the Dutchman,” I yelled to Avon, “but don't touch her.”
He nodded, and ran. I'll say this much for the man – when he's in the right mood, he can put on a fair turn of speed. I stopped behind for a bit, looking for a good target to keep things bouncing out here, and prevent the port services from trying to take a shot at us as we left. I spotted the ideal one, and grinned, dialling the power on the blaster up to maximum.
Teani's fuel store went up with quite a loud explosion. As people scattered in every direction to try and avoid the whole business, I made a beeline for my ship. As I'd expected, the chaos covered my escape beautifully.
“Home run!” I yelled to Della as I came into shouting distance of the Dutchman, praying she'd be able to carry out the command. I wasn't sure whether her restricted resources at the moment would let her comply.
It appeared my luck was in. The hatch opened, and I rushed inside. I heard footsteps behind me, and guessed Avon had followed me. If he hadn't, that was his problem at this point, since I couldn't do anything about it until I'd cancelled the code Green. The metres to the flight deck seemed endless, as they always did when I used this manouvre.
Ah, there was the arch, and I was through, and yelling to Della. “Bug out,” I said, and threw myself into the pilot's seat. There was a roar from the engines, a feeling of gravity pushing me down all the harder, and I was watching the scans with all the concentration I could muster while I ran through the unlocking procedure for the pilot's yoke. I still spotted Avon throwing himself into the copilot's chair, and bringing up the scanners there while I was in the middle of things.
“All systems appear to be functioning adequately,” he said, speaking fast. “Core power at sixty percent, main engine taking all power from the core.”
“Hold on tight, Avon,” I told him. “It's going to be a bumpy ride.” I flicked the last of the switches I needed to gain full manual, and started pointing the Dutchman in the direction of the hells out of here. I had my ship, and the computer tech I'd been looking for all this time.
Hell, maybe things were starting to look up at long last.
Kerr Avon, the Liberator, the Federation, Orac, Vila, Cally, and the general environs of the Blake's 7 universe were all created by Terry Nation.
Jayne, Mal Reynolds, Kaylee, River Tam, Dr Simon Tam, Serenity and the Alliance were all created by Joss Wheedon.
In each case, I'm using these without permission.
Shimere appears in cameo by her own consent. Thanks, Shimere, for so much absolutely gorgeous fic about Avon.
Everything else, I made up myself, out of the proceeds of several decades of reading science fiction and fantasy, as well as watching a lot of television. If you recognise anything as belonging to a particular show, or a particular book, let me know so I can give proper acknowledgment to it.
Thanks to all the people who voted for this story in the Finish-a-thon voting in 2006. My apologies to all those who voted for the first choice. Due to circumstances beyond my control (namely the location of my copy of the Lord of the Rings still being undetermined) I was unable to work on that story. I offer this one as an alternative.
As I said at the beginning of this, I wanted to see how Avon coped with a computer which wasn't as advanced as either Zen or Orac. However, it seems that in the throes of writing it, Avon and Della didn't get much of a chance to get to know one another. Oh damn... I'll have to keep writing.
This is, in effect, an alpha draft. Mine are the only eyes which have been over it. Feel free to suggest beta corrections for redrafting, and I'll see what I can do.