by David Tulley and Alan Stevens
WARNING: Mature content and disturbing themes.
Avon stood in the underground control room of Xenon Base. The atmosphere was oppressively silent, as all non essential power systems had been switched off.
"You're sure that Blake is still on Gauda Prime?"
"Yes, Avon, that is Blake's present location. There has only been one occasion when he has left the planet and that took place five months ago. Apparently he was investigating the possibility that..."
Avon was not interested in
minutiae, "That's enough
"You're going then?"
The bounty hunter paused in the act of shrugging into the antique body-warmer, "You know I have to."
The nervous ascetic-looking man smoothed back a wing of long red hair. The bounty hunter watched and smiled inwardly at the conceit. It was all part of Deva's rather prissy facade - but he knew that steel lay beneath.
"You're taking a terrible risk. That transmission could have come from anyone. What if it's a trap?"
"A trap? To catch a dead man?" The bounty hunter smiled openly this time, making the long vivid scar that ran down the left side of his face, stretch and glow.
Deva looked away. "He's Central Security."
"Was Deva, was. Now he's on the run." The scarred man held his hand out, "Visa?"
With a sigh of resignation, Deva placed two data sheets on the desk.
The bounty hunter shook his head, "I'm going alone."
"No, you're not. Regulations, I'm afraid. Any bounty hunter who takes an off-world assignment has to be accompanied."
"Who's to go with me?"
"Tando," said Deva and grimaced.
"I trust him. He saved my life."
"So you keep saying."
"When's the transporter due out?"
"You've got four hours before departure."
The bounty hunter got to his feet and was about to leave when Deva called him back. "Blake. Be careful. Don't get careless. Remember Kane."
Blake drew a finger along the edge of his facial scar.
"How could I forget him."
The settlement ship was packed to capacity, not just with humans, but animals too. The thick set, bullet-headed man swore and kicked out in disgust as a pig emptied its bladder over his boot. Blake laughed, "It's supposed to be good luck."
Tando scowled, "What we doin' on this rattletrap anyway?"
There came a sudden roaring as the retros cut in, shaking the bulk transporter to the very last rivet.
"Brace yourself Tando. Touch-downs can be painful."
They cleared immigration without any trouble, then picked up their weapons at the reclaim station before going outside.
"Where we goin' then, eh?"
"We are going nowhere. I'm doing this on my own."
Tando looked puzzled, "I thought I was yer back-up?"
"Only on paper. I'll meet you later for take-off."
"But, I'm s'posed to be lookin' for 'im as well."
"Don't worry Tando, you'll get your share of the bounty. Treat this as a short holiday, but don't forget, keep out of the restricted areas."
For a moment Tando stood
staring at Blake's retreating back,
then headed for the cheapest
Transient Relocation Centre, 2435446 Oblique Omega... and a doss house by any other name. There were barriers and guards, but the bounty hunter pass took care of them. Now he was inside.
Boiling root vegetables, sweat and old socks. The squalor and stench of broken dreams ran down the walls in harmonic patterns of fungal green. It would have failed the most lenient health and safety check. Not that Federation ever came to this part of town. They were probably afraid of catching something, and they were right to carry that fear instead of anything else - because there was a new strain of 'Terran Ague' abroad. But this "three-day-sweat" could last a lifetime. Not that a lifetime was very long down here.
Blake watched as the slight blond man with the limp took his regulation plastic plate from the dispenser. Steaming goo covered it; low protein synthesis, enough to sustain life without making it too pleasant. He eyed it wordlessly, wrinkling his nose. Then he sat down at a battered table and began to shovel it down with a plastic spoon, licking the strays out of a wispy moustache he cultivated. He didn't look up as Blake spoke.
Blake reversed the chair before he sat down. Most of his upper body covered by the chair back. A professional move, the blond man acknowledged it as such. He missed professionalism from the old days.
"Blake," he said, "So nice to bump into you again."
"I wish I could say the same... Tarrant. It's been a long time since my trial."
Dev Tarrant gave a indifferent shrug.
"You don't seem at all surprised."
Tarrant snorted, "I never believed you were dead for one minute, and neither for that matter does Central Security."
"But they gave me quite a send off."
"They didn't have much choice. Thanks to Lafeyette, your death became big news." Tarrant adopted a whining French accent; 'I killed Blake! I killed Blake!' "But in the end they got him back for it. They fixed him good and proper."
Blake showed no emotion. "I need to ask you a few questions. If you co-operate I might let you live," Blake looked round with disgust and sniffed the air ruefully. "I try not to kick a man when he's down - but I'd probably be doing you a favour."
Tarrant shrugged, "I survive."
"Albeit in somewhat reduced circumstances?"
"Being alive is all that counts. What're you doing here anyway Blake - don't you know this is an officially designated plague zone?"
"With you here I can well believe it."
Tarrant smirked. "Touché - but aren't you afraid of all those nasty little alien microbes - or don't you think they'll bite a celebrity? Like the scar by the way, very photogenic - or are you in disguise?"
Blake leaned forward intent. "This is no alien pathogen left over from the war. It's just the Federation neatly tidying up its... surplus population."
"Truth is a flexible commodity, you should know that. What does truth matter when it comes to the greater good?"
Blake's face was set hard, the scar like an acid tear track, "You enjoy the business of murder, don't you?"
"Stick to what you're best at, I say." Tarrant had now finished his meal and appeared to be growing bored with the conversation. "What do you want to ask me?"
Blake's elegant sidearm caught the light and became the one piece of brightness in the room.
Tarrant smiled slowly, "Is that a weapon?"
"Haven't seen one like that before. Where'd you get it?"
Liberator. Now, let's go
The sleeping quarters were a shade less seedy than the chow room. Bunks and lockers on a military line, a cold breeze emanated from a broken window, cracked glass letting in dirty light. Floor thick with small trash.
Tarrant walked over to his bunk and sat down.
"Well? What can I do for you?"
"Information...," Blake's gun was still aimed at Tarrant's head.
"What sort of information?"
"According to your security file you were responsible for the relocation of resistors after my original trial. You were personally responsible for the movement orders on my brother and my sister. Correct?"
Blake backhanded him across the mouth and blood marked the small moustache.
"I won't ask you nicely again."
Tarrant smiled through the blood. "Good to see you've picked up a few bad habits..." he said. "I suppose having to live amongst us poor ordinary mortals has tainted you a bit."
"Just tell me what I want to know."
Tarrant spat on the floor and explored his mouth with one finger. He spoke round it. "I signed the movement orders and relocation documents, yes. Why the sudden interest?"
Blake took on a haunted look. Suddenly the gun in his hand was limp, empty of menace. "There's a rumour that my sister wasn't killed on arrival. That she escaped into the hills. Is that true? I have to know!"
Tarrant sneered. "So that's it, is it? Yet another little scar on your poor bleeding heart!"
"Is it true?" Blake snapped back.
Tarrant didn't reply at once. He merely looked into the shadows at the side of the room. There was a movement there... Blake brought his sidearm up and the figure of a young woman stepped into the light, her head wreathed in sunlight, like a halo. Blake strained to make out her face.
"I knew you'd come..." she said softly, "I've been waiting for you."
Something caught Blake a sickening blow to the back of his head. He tasted blood and sank to his knees. Then something metal flashed across his side, chipping a rib as it cut through the handgun power cable.
As if by sleight of hand, Tarrant was armed and smirking down at him. "You're not the only one with scars Blake..." Tarrant touched his crippled leg. "I got this from your Freedom Party. Passive resistors? They were vicious thugs. Like their founder. But of course you don't remember do you?"
Blake shifted on the floor, looking for the girl. Her face floated into view and he felt a spasm of pain and anger. It wasn't his sister, it wasn't her, but there was... something.
He looked up into her eyes and saw a burning, feral hatred. Another face appeared beside hers, a young man. The eyes were the same, flat blank discs of loathing. The man's face was also familiar. Why?
Tarrant grinned down at him. "These two are my additional security - recognise them? You should. You scarred them for life. Their names are Payter Fen and Carl Deca, and they hate you more than anyone else!"
Blake remembered names and faces on a charge sheet, just before he was deported to Cygnus Alpha. Vile charges against children. Names and faces, names and faces... and disgusting details... they had been so young... He heard Tarrant's voice again. "Remember now? Oh yes, there were three of them originally, but Renor Leesal took his own life - couldn't bear the memories of what you did to him. Very tragic." He grinned again, "You see, I've promised you to them. I was the one who sent the transmission. A bounty hunter working on Gauda Prime called Dev Varon. Your late lamented defence lawyer was called Varon, wasn't he? And Dev? Well, that's my name, you tedious moron! You can't let go of the past can you?"
Tarrant smacked his pistol into the side of Blake's head. "But now the past has caught up with you. These two want to kill you very slowly and very painfully. And I am going to watch."
The knives shone bright in the dim light, the eyes behind were even brighter. A boot struck him low in the stomach and he curled round the pain, coiling into a foetal position. The girl kicked him again, lower and harder. He cried out, but she didn't even laugh...
Tarrant's face was a twisted mask, "And if they don't do the job right, I'm here to finish it for them."
More blows struck and Blake was almost unconscious.
"You can't sleep yet, they've hardly started." He felt Tarrant's free hand slap him, side to side. He felt the scar creak. His head swung loosely, his eyes flickered.
"That's better. I want you to hear this, and it's important that you should hear it."
He leaned closer to the body on the floor, spitting the words into the cruelly marked face. "Your sister didn't die - because she never even existed. Nor your brother, in fact your whole life is a lie. The Federation wound you up like a clock-work toy. And now you're running down. So, I'm really doing you a favour!"
Tarrant kicked him hard, smiled as he moaned. "Wake up. It's time to die."
Tando smashed through the door and scoured the room with plasma fire. Tarrant's bullet torn corpse landed on Blake. He kicked it away and half-rose, as the boy was finished off with a last lingering burst. Sweat and gore marked Tando's face like macabre war-paint. He grinned,
"Can't leave ya alone fer a minute can I?"
From the corner of the room there came a high pitched squealing. The girl was still alive. Blake got to his feet and made his way towards her. He wanted to explain. Tell her what had really happened. It was The Federation that had raped and abused her, not him.
Yet, as he drew closer she began to scream with terror, and he was forced to turn away. Tando put a bullet through her brain. And Blake cursed him for it.