Freedom City had a special gimmick to help it compete for the tourist credit against such rivals as Space City--creative anachronism. The décor of each bar, restaurant, club, and casino had to be from some past Terran period before space travel, as did the costumes of the staff--the more flamboyant the better--whether or not they matched their setting. The tourists were expected to enter into the spirit too, either wearing their own costume or hiring one from the extensive selection provided.
Chenie's bar was done out in late 20th century, all 70s chrome and etched aluminium, but the bouncer, stationed at the top of the entrance stairs, preferred the 1930s Chicago gangster look. Armed folded, he watched what looked like trouble: a man in an ill-fitting grey business suit from the same period as the bar but incongruously paired with a shirt and cravat from an earlier time. Dragging his right leg, he limped across the floor to a scruffy older man dressed as an Australian gold prospector, seated alone at a table.
The 'prospector' remained sitting. "Hello, Zee," he said. "So you're getting around. How's the leg?"
"You drunken butcher. Look what you did." Zee put both hands to his thigh and swung his ruined leg forward.
The 'prospector' gave it a glance and grimaced. "You're lucky to have it, my friend."
From a table against the wall, the owner of the bar also watched. Chenie was a middle-aged woman dressed in the style of the 19th century Paris music-halls, complete with black lace, choker, and ostrich feathers in her piled-up hair which was still golden (with some assistance). She had never bothered to change the décor of the bar when she bought it, but she preferred an earlier, more dramatic era.
"Lucky? You crippled me, Kline," Zee said bitterly.
"When they brought you to me after that explosion, you had no leg at all." Kline's voice rose indignantly. "I built that out of pieces!"
"Get up!" Zee said.
Zee took out a gun. "I want to see you fall down." He pointed the weapon at Kline. "All right, I'm gonna count to three. One..."
Kline smiled slightly.
There was a gunshot, and Zee grabbed his hand, crying out in pain.
"Thanks," said Kline. "Next time, don't leave it so late."
Zee turned. A man in a black hat and cloak (the 'Aristide' costume to be exact, but without the red scarf) and wearing an eye-patch walked up to him and looked at him. "Get out," he said softly.
Clutching his wrist, Zee stumbled away.
"Ungrateful scum!" Kline yelled after him. He lifted his glass. "Have a drink, Travis."
"One of us has to see straight. Better be me." With a swirl of his cloak, Travis turned and left the bar.
Chenie toyed with her own glass. "So. You're a surgeon."
"Used to be."
"I heard about that business on the Bari."
"A secondary burner blew out. I did what I could for the survivors."
"And is he one of them?"
"Travis? No. He was a passenger. Now he's my bodyguard."
"I see." Chenie looked amused. "And do all your ex-patients try to kill you?"
"Thirty of them have every right, Chenie." Kline shook his head in remorse. "I should never have done it. Never!" He drained his glass.
Vila sat at the control panel, admiring Cally and Jenna, who were waiting in the teleport bay. Both wore long elegant gowns: Cally in white with her hair up, and Jenna in black with sequins. Blake ran in, dressed in his usual style of dress. Fair enough, Vila thought, he could always say he was Robin Hood.
"This is a picture of Docholli," Blake said, waving a photograph. "He'll have changed his name, of course." He handed the picture to Jenna who glanced at it and passed it to Cally.
Cally looked at it critically. In the usual black and white used by the austere Federation, it showed a man with short grey hair and beard. "Well, he could have had a face job done by now as well."
"Oh, he hasn't had time. Servalan's been on his heels from the moment he escaped with the location of Star One."
"Well, he's out of her reach now," Vila said.
Blake looked at him. "Officially."
"How d'you mean?" Jenna asked.
Blake turned back to her. "Well, Freedom City may be outside the Federation, but that won't stop Servalan. Oh, she'll find some way of getting to him, but if she gets to him before we do..."
"Goodbye, Docholli!" Vila said flippantly.
"And goodbye to any chance of finding the Federation control centre," said Jenna, pulling a face.
"Right," Blake said to Vila. "You know what you have to do, Vila. I want you or Avon on stand-by in the teleport the entire time we're in Freedom City."
"Yes, you said," Vila said dejectedly. It would take him a long time to live down his little escapade at Space City.
Blake turned to the women. "Right, let's go."
Jenna gave Vila a playful wave, just to rub it in. "Bye."
Blake checked his bracelet and gun while Cally matter-of-factly lifted her gown--revealing an enticing length of thigh and a pair of extremely brief shorts--and slipped the photograph into one of her gold lame boots. Vila wouldn't mind betting that Jenna had put her up to it. Trying to ignore it, he teleported them.
The casino was darkened except for a spotlight on a curtain composed of white strips surrounding a small circular dais in the centre of the room. To the accompaniment of an extended drum roll, the curtain rose to reveal a woman in top hat, black bow tie, tails, and pants even briefer than Cally's. The woman's legs were magnificent, but the thick makeup on her ancient, raddled face could not disguise her advanced age.
"Speed chess!" she announced dramatically, raising her baton. "The only game of skill in this establishment." With a flourish, she pointed the baton at a short dark man dressed in a black satin version of an 19th century military uniform. "Ze Klute challenges all comers."
The Klute stood up, bowed to the applause, and smiled faintly.
The croupier pounded her baton several times on the floor for silence. "A win or a draw gets you a million--one million credits, mes amis."
A man in a what appeared to be a white spacesuit trimmed in silver (marginal, but it was based on pre-space fantasy) took his partner's hand and kissed it. The Pierrot and Columbine next to them looked less impressed.
"Win or draw against ze Klute." The croupier continued. Her accent wavered uncertainly between that of Outer Gaul and several other provinces. "The biggest prize in the galaxy. Now come on, all you space trekkers. Put your life on ze line and beat de Klute at speed chess. Win a fortune!" She brought her baton down with a thump on the last syllable.
Toise entered, powdered, bewigged, and resplendent in 18th century finery as only befitted the assistant to the man who ran Freedom City. He passed two oil Arabs drinking Pink Asteroid cocktails, and bent over a woman in red with a gold mask held demurely before her face. "Krantor will see you now."
Servalan lowered her mask and handed it to her companion, then held out her other hand so that he could take her tame dove. "Wait here, Jarriere."
Jarriere, a small man with light-brown curly hair and a wry face dominated by its bulbous nose, nodded and took the bird carefully and gently.
Krantor sat at his mirror, admiring his reflection. The silver face-paint did look well with the white wig, if he said so himself. In fact, he was about to do just that when he saw Servalan and Toise, reflected behind him, enter the room.
"Ah!" He rose and went to them. "Commander Servalan! Welcome, welcome, welcome! This is indeed a pleasure." He waved his hand regally at Toise. "You may go, Toise."
Toise inclined his head and left.
Krantor took Servalan's hand. "We so rarely receive an emissary from the Federation here in Freedom City. I am, Commander...transfixed with delight." He kissed her hand.
"Supreme Commander," Servalan said.
"Ah!" Krantor raised his hands. "My apologies, Supreme Commander. Pray--" he indicated a round bed covered in gold satin and a profusion of cushions, "--be seated."
Servalan regarded it with well-hidden disapproval. Obviously the fellow wanted to put her at a disadvantage. Very well, she would play his game. She slowly approached the bed, then stopped and looked at Krantor enquiringly. He spread his arms. Servalan stepped onto the dais it was on, and reclined on the bed with as much grace as she could. The bed was as tasteless as the rest of the room with its tawdry gold statues, white columns, clumsy bunches of pink flowers, and gaudy knick-knacks. Servalan preferred an austere background against which she could dazzle, but the cushions on the bed--white, gold, and pink--did not complement each other, the bed, nor, regrettably, her scarlet gown.
Krantor let his fur-trimmed cloak fall to the floor, revealing a black and white striped jacket, and joined her on the bed.
"You appear to have misunderstood my message, Krantor," Servalan said. "I am not here officially."
"But of course. I understood...perfectly." Krantor took her hand in his. "Discretion and delicacy are the very watchwords of my organisation. Just tell me your requirements," he lightly ran his silver fingernails, as long as her red ones, down her palm, "and I will see that you are provided with the most sophisticated--and subtle--forms of satisfaction."
"You have misunderstood. I am here unofficially, but on Federation business."
"Oh how sad, try a pataki cake." Krantor offered her a silver tray.
"A what?" Servalan looked at the small cakes with disdain.
The light reflected unflatteringly from the platter onto Krantor's painted face. "They contain the distilled venom of a local reptile, and the effects are--" his tongue appeared briefly to moisten his lips, "--highly stimulating."
"No, thank you," Servalan said crisply. She took the tray and firmly put it on the bed. "There is a man here named Docholli, a cyber-surgeon. I am willing to pay two million credits for him, dead or alive."
"My dear commander, there are many...wanted...men here. They come to Freedom City because we are--" Krantor's voice hardened, "--outside the Federation."
"Not very far outside."
"I do hope that is not as threatening as it sounds. That would be...most unwise. Are you sure I can't tempt you?" Krantor offered the cakes again.
"Ah." Krantor regretfully put the tray down.
"There's a second man here named Travis. He has an artificial arm and an eye-patch. I am interested in finding him also."
Krantor laughed uproariously. "An eye patch! Oh, how quaint." He delicately touched a finger to his nose to check that his makeup had survived.
"Well?" Servalan said flatly.
Krantor sobered. "Placed as we are, we must necessarily maintain a position of strict neutrality."
"And what does that mean, exactly?"
"You will not be impeded in your search for these men." Krantor traced the line of Servalan's jaw with a finger.
Servalan tightened her lips with impatience. "Krantor, I don't have time for that. It is vital I find Docholli before certain...insurrectionist elements contact him."
Krantor's smile disappeared. "Oh, I see." He put his fingers to his lips. "Insurrectionist elements?"
"Mm. A Federation problem which we intend to eliminate."
"Supreme." Servalan interrupted him.
"--Supreme Commander, you make my blood run cold. I wonder if I emphasised sufficiently how highly we value our neutrality. I'm sure I must have done."
"Also, my casino...very profitable..." Krantor held up four fingers. "Four million credits a week."
Servalan smiled knowingly, "You have a suggestion?"
Krantor smiled back at her, held up the fingers of both hands, and whispered, "Ten."
"Eight. For both Travis and Docholli."
"My dear Comma--Supreme Commander, I always say we are sent to help each other. What is this life if we cannot be of some--" Krantor licked his lips, "--service to our fellows?" He looked at her sideways. "Give me two hours."
Servalan kissed her fingers and held them to his lips, and whispered, "Thank you," and rose to leave. She paused on her way out the door. "I have booked room 100 at the terminal."
"I know," Krantor said smugly.
Servalan smiled and left.
When Toise came in shortly afterwards, Krantor stood to face him. "Well?"
"Travis came in on the Bari's last trip. He spends all his time down on the Rink."
Krantor did a double-take. "Toise. Are you sure that head gear is part of the uniform?"
Toise looked nervous. "It is of the period, Krantor," he said defensively.
"It looks a little..." Krantor waved his hands, "...heavy."
Toise hoped he did not recognise the elaborate gilded crown as being one worn by Louis the Sun King. It would never do to outdo Krantor. "May I say that your own costume is...is quite magnificent. It really suits you."
Krantor brightened and preened. He twirled in a circle and struck a pose.. "Yes, it does, doesn't it? My designer tells me that it is patterned upon the attire of someone called the Prince Regent. Oh, what a pity that everyone doesn't enter into the spirit of Carnival--of Mardi Gras--as wholeheartedly as you and I." He suddenly turned serious. "Docholli." he snapped.
"No record under that name, but there is a Kline who carried out emergency surgery on board the Bari after an explosion there. He, too, stays down on the Rink, drinking heavily."
Krantor sat down on his bed and leaned back against the cushions. "The fact that Servalan was so willing to pay so much in order to stop her political opponents from contacting him..." he said thoughtfully, and looked up at Toise. "Very interesting," he whispered.
Toise approached the bed. "It indicates that he possesses some important Federation secret." He reclined beside Krantor.
"Which we can extract before giving her--" Krantor took a pataki cake, "--his body." He offered the cake to Toise, whose mouth opened eagerly like a baby bird's, then withdrew it teasingly. "Krantor wins both ways." He relented and fed the cake to Toise. "Rule of the house," he said, savouring the words, and licked a finger.
Toise closed his eyes and smiled with pleasure as he chewed.
Vila removed a pawn from the small chessboard in front of him on the teleport control panel. "They say it's wide open."
"What is?" Avon asked.
"So I've heard. Wide, wide open." Avon sat on the steps, looking as fed up as Vila.
"Got everything a man ever dreams of, they say," Vila said wistfully.
"Space City pales by comparison. " Avon looked at Vila. "They say."
"You know," said Vila thoughtfully, "if it was a desert down there, so hot your eyeballs frizzle, poisonous snakes under every rock..."
"Blake would have sent us."
"You can bet on it."
"Bet!" Avon looked sharply at Vila. "Why not? It's perfect."
"There is a casino down there. It is called the Big Wheel. No stake limits. Why don't we bust it?"
"Because we're up here and the casino's down there."
"We go down there," Avon said. "We can get Orac to operate the teleport. He can do it just as well from down there as up here."
"You mean take Orac with us?" Vila screwed up his face in puzzlement.
"Of course we take Orac with us." Avon sighed. "You dummy," he said without rancour. "You haven't caught on, have you?"
"What's in your mind?"
Avon stood up, walked over to Orac, and put his hand on it. "The Big Wheel is run by a computer that fixes the odds at five percent in favour of the house, right?"
"Right. Orac reads computers."
Vila's face lit up as he got it. "Ohhhh, that is beautiful! Avon, there are times when I almost get to like you."
"Yes, well, that makes it all worthwhile."
"I mean, you give me a warm feeling right here--" Vila rubbed his waist,"--round the money belt."
"We are going to need some kind of casing for Orac."
Vila raised a finger. "Wait." He got up and went over to Avon. "Suppose Blake wants fetching up while we're on surface?"
"Oh, he'll be several hours looking for Docholli. We can break that casino and be back up here inside of one hour. He need never know that we were gone."
"I just needed convincing." Vila grinned happily. "I'm convinced!"
"I'll get a casing for Orac."
"Just a minute."
"Look at Orac," Vila said. "I mean, look at it. It's a bit on the bulky side for smuggling into a casino, wouldn't you say?"
Avon inserted Orac's key, then crouched beside it, joined by Vila. "Orac, are you familiar with the theory of molecular reduction?"
"Am I to assume that you refer to the stabilised atomic implosion?"
"Yes. Vila and I were just discussing it--"
"We were?" Vila looked surprised.
"-- and I was assuring him that the whole idea is an absurd fantasy."
"On the contrary," Orac said. "It is neither absurd, nor is it a fantasy."
"Are you suggesting that you know more about the subject than I do?"
"It is not a suggestion; it is a statement of fact."
"Do you seriously expect me to believe that you could, for example, reduce your size without affecting your function?"
"For how long?" Vila asked.
"It would depend on the degree of reduction."
Avon put his hands about a foot apart. Vila took them and pushed them closer together.
"Approximately one-eighth of your current size," Avon said.
"Two hours, six minutes."
"Talk's cheap," said Vila.
"Does that mean something?" Orac asked.
"It means he doesn't believe you, and neither, as a matter of fact, do I," said Avon.
"I take it you wish me to prove it."
There was a strange noise, falling in tone, and a miniature Orac sat there, winking smugly. Avon stared at it, then at Vila, who had a delighted grin plastered across his face and his hand extended. Avon slapped his hand to Vila's and shook it.
"Come on, Kline," Travis said resignedly. The old man had passed out yet again, his head cradled on his arm.
"Put him in the back," Chenie said.
Travis and the bouncer lifted Kline to his feet between them. Kline grunted, grinned foolishly, and tried to open his eyes. Chenie showed them to the back room, then went over to Kline's table, collected his glass and carafe, and took them back behind the bar.
She looked over at Travis as he returned. "Why does he do it?" she asked.
"He gets thirsty."
"You want a drink now, Travis?"
"I'll have a vitazade." Travis sat down at the bar.
Chenie made him a drink. "Earlier tonight he said that thirty of his ex-patients tried to kill him. What does that mean?"
"It means he gets drunk."
Chenie leaned back on the counter behind her. "Well, whatever he's got on his mind, it can't be that bad. I hear he was quite a hero on the Bari."
"Perhaps he was trying to pay something back."
"They say he was one of the first in the burner. When the fumes got too much for him, it was you who dragged him out."
"Oh, yes," Travis said sarcastically. "I'm a hero, too."
"So." Chenie raised her eyebrows. "You've saved his life twice. Why?"
"It's my noble nature."
Chenie looked amused. "Ohh, yes, Travis. I can see. It shines from your one yellow eye." She gave him a wry look "Nobility?"
Travis slammed his full glass down. "Thanks for the drink," he said bitterly, and left.
There were two men waiting outside for him, one of them armed.
Travis halted. "What's this about?"
"You're being collected. We're Krantor's rubbish collectors."
"Collected?" Travis echoed indignantly. He rushed at them and was struck down.
The two men stood over him. One made a move, but the other stopped him. "No. Don't kill him. Not yet."
Jarriere was kneeling on the floor after retrieving his earring. "Oh, you don't trust Krantor?" he said. He was from Scotia, and, like most from that province, still retained his accent.
"He is a despicable animal." Servalan twirled her lucky glass flower; it matched her outfit beautifully. "When the Federation finally cleans out this cesspit, I shall have that vulpine degenerate eviscerated, with a small and very blunt knife."
Jarriere crawled forward, and his earring promptly fell off again. "Um, if the Supreme Commander feels like that about him ..."
"For the moment we need Krantor."
"Even if he cannot be trusted?"
"Oh, he can be trusted to do anything for money." Servalan rose and paced. "He'll deliver Travis."
Servalan lay down on the oval purple swing-bed, which, though comfortable and rather amusing, clashed not only with her red gown but also the yellow walls; were these people completely devoid of taste? "I told him Docholli, dead or alive. Already he is wondering why a corpse should be worth so much."
Jarriere abandoned the search for his earring and gripped the bed supports to steady it. "Then, ma'am, we are like to get the corpse?" He began to swing Servalan gently.
"After Krantor has learned the answer to that question?"
Servalan smiled. "Exactly."
The weather on the surface was not pleasant. It was night-time and the wind was cold and biting in the streets and alleys, whipping up the mist and the rubbish around Blake, Jenna, and Cally as they walked.
Blake stopped. "Let's try the dives along there." He pointed across the street.
"Shouldn't we split up?" Jenna said. "We'd cover more ground."
"I think we'd better stick together."
"But he's not likely to be here anyway," Cally said.
Blake looked at her. "Why not?"
"The Federation's top cyber-surgeon? Why should he be?"
"She's right, Blake," Jenna said. "He's led a privileged life. He's got money."
"He's also been on the move for a long time."
"But even so, a man with his skills can always earn."
"Not enough," Blake said. "When you've been on the run for as long as Docholli has, everything costs: false identity papers, phoney visas. I mean, no one's going to stick out their neck helping him unless they stick out their hand first. No, I don't think Docholli's got much now. That is why I think we'll find him somewhere like this."
Krantor looked into his mirror, then slowly raised his arm. The mirror obediently transformed into a comms display, and Servalan's face appeared. If she was impressed by this show of technology superior to that of the Federation, she did not show it.
"Oh, Supreme Commander, how prompt you are. Such an admirable, military virtue. The matter of which we spoke earlier..."
"Get to the point, Krantor."
Krantor's smile switched off. "The first package is already on its way and naturally I do expect payment on delivery."
"Naturally. Travis, I imagine."
"The second will follow in due course. But if you find time is, um, dragging...I can provide some very original forms of diversion which I guarantee will give you immense pleasure."
"Docholli is all I want from you--" Servalan smiled. "--Krantor."
Krantor brought down his hand to end transmission.
"Krantor?" Toise came in.
Krantor whipped around, his face stiff with fury. "One of these days, Toise," he said, getting up, "I am going to have Supreme Commander high-and-mighty Servalan ravaged until she does not know what month she's in. I'll have her screaming for death. I--"
"Krantor!" Toise waited until Krantor had calmed down. "We have a trekker ready to challenge the Klute."
"Oh!" Krantor clapped his hands with delight. "And so early, too. It's usually much later, when they're drunk, or desperate. I say, what a profitable start to the evening." He waited while Toise helped him into his cloak.
"Come on, my friends," the ancient croupier announced to the casino. "Gather round. You are about to witness the most important spectacle in the history of sport."
"Friends and patrons!" Krantor stood with his arm around a man dressed in 17th century costume complete with a long curly dark wig.. "We have here a young trekker as you can see. His name is--" He leaned towards the man, who whispered in his ear, "--Thrylce!" There was a murmur of interest; the fellow's name sounded oddly appropriate. "And he is challenging the mighty Klute at speed chess. Your applause for his courage, please." Krantor guided Thrylce to the speed chess table to the sound of clapping.
"Alors," said the croupier. "The rules of speed chess are trés simple." She paused to translate just in case her accent had been impenetrable, "Simple. Each contestant has five seconds to make his move. If he exceeds that time--ah, tant pis--he loses a pawn."
"If Thrylce wins or forces a draw, then he wins one million credits which I myself will present him." Krantor paused for the applause. "If he loses, he will never need money again, his chair being connected to an electrocution key. And if the Klute wins, he has the right to press that key. That is the Klute's only reward. Ahhh," he said, in mock sympathy, his hand pressed to his chest. "Please stand well back from the chair. Are we ready now?" He turned to Thrylce, who seemed remarkably impassive. " Thrylce. You have the advantage of the white pieces and the first move."
At first, Thrylce was as calm as the Klute, but as he began to lose, he became more nervous, as the Klute became correspondingly more smug. Finally, he lost the game, and the Klute began to giggle, then laugh in pleasurable anticipation. Thrylce struggled in vain to escape from the chair, but the Klute pressed the button and there was a flash of light. The smoke cleared to reveal an empty chair, while the Klute continued to laugh wildly and shrilly, joined by many of the patrons.
Avon and Vila had arrived at the casino in time to see the whole thing.
They had been diverted by the discovery of the rare delights of an ice-cream parlour during their walk along the Rink. Avon had in fact consumed three sundaes--each of a different flavour combination--and would have had more if Vila had not reminded him of why they were there. Even so, he had ordered another one at the Casino, and the empty bowl sat on their table, along with the miniature Orac in a discreet case on which Avon rested his arm protectively.
Vila held a blue cocktail called an Ultra-Violent, temporarily too distracted to drink it. "He must have been crazy, staking his life."
"Just risking money isn't always enough," Avon said.
"If you're a gambler, that's the biggest gamble you can take. That's the real kick."
"Well, he got his kick all right," Vila said. "Straight up the spine."
"Four million credits," said Toise, placing a box full of money on Krantor's desk.
Krantor smiled. "Excellent payment for damaged goods. I take it Travis was damaged?"
Toise gave him a quizzical look. "You know Cevedic."
Krantor chuckled. "And now he is searching for Kline, who is probably...Docholli."
Jarriere bent over the unconscious Travis and prodded experimentally at his forehead. No, there did not appear to be a skull fracture. "He's had a bad beating, Commander. Concussion, I think."
"He'll soon come round." Servalan got up and sauntered over for a closer look, patting Jarriere playfully on the cheek as she passed him. "Travis is very strong."
"Oh, he once worked for you?"
"And now he's an outlaw? Uh--" Jarriere sat down in Servalan's vacated chair, "--what happened?"
"He outlived his value." Servalan slid her hand into Travis's jacket, and pulled out a medallion. Yes, just as she had thought--a bug. She crooked her finger at Jarriere, who joined her and bent over to look. She showed it to him and replaced it, then zipped Travis's jacket up again. "But now," she said out loud, "he can perform one last service for us."
"In what way, Commander?"
"Travis has been here weeks. He will have found out where Docholli is hiding."
"Perhaps not, Commander, if he's no longer interested in the affairs of the Federation."
"I know Travis better than he knows himself. He has one single dominating obsession. And that is to kill Blake."
Jarriere straightened and lifted a finger, delighted that this was something he knew about. "The revolutionary!"
Servalan raised her own finger in admonishment. "The political criminal," she said reprovingly. "And Travis knows that Blake also is hunting Docholli."
"Because he wants the information that only Docholli has?" Jarriere said, eager to understand.
"Exactly. And that is why Travis is here. Shadowing Docholli, waiting for Blake to arrive."
"If you're right, Commander--" Jarriere had a sudden idea, "--when he comes round, we can force him to tell us where to find Docholli."
Servalan pursed her lips in thought. "That might take too long. Travis has a high pain threshold, and we don't have the proper facilities here." She smiled, "No. I have a better idea. Disconnect that artificial arm."
Krantor reclined on his bed, listening avidly, his white Persian cat--an homage to the great villains of the 20th century--nestled contentedly in the crook of his arm.
"What are you going to do?" Jarriere asked.
"Turn Travis into a walking bomb. Uncouple those neural relays, Jarriere." There was a pause while he presumably did. Ah. So the little fellow had a function after all. "Now pass me a nitro grenade."
"You're going to put it in his arm?"
"Just draw the pin first. There. Now we put the arm back again. Careful."
"What about connections?"
"Leave them. When Travis finds his gun arm isn't working, the first thing he'll do is go to Docholli to get it fixed."
"And as soon as he takes the arm off--kkkkkkkk!" Jarriere imitated an explosion.
"Mm." Servalan sounded amused.
"They both die. That's brilliant, Commander."
Krantor lay there and thought about it.
Travis came around slowly to a pounding headache. He slit his one eye open to minimise the pain from the bright light in this room, wherever it was. A familiar and beautiful face smiled down at him. "So you've arrived, Servalan," he said. "Where's Blake? Is he heading here?"
"For once I'm not interested in Blake. I want Docholli."
Travis closed his eyes. "I can't help you there." He moaned softly in pain.
"You have Docholli staked out. You're waiting for Blake."
Travis raised his head experimentally. It did not drop off. "I haven't seen Docholli in two years." Carefully, he started to sit up.
"Just stay where you are." An odd little gnome of a man stood beside Servalan, a drink in one hand and a tiny gun in the other.
"That your new muscle, Servalan? Looks like a powder puff," Travis sneered, pronouncing it 'poof'.
"Yes, well, let's forget the pleasantries." Servalan sat on the bed beside Travis, setting it gently swinging. "Tell me where to find Docholli; I'll let you have Blake."
Travis sneered. "You haven't got Blake."
"Travis," Servalan said soothingly. "We could forget the past. Wipe it out. I'm willing to help you again."
Travis tried to move his cybernetic arm, and realised it was not responding. "My arm!" He gritted his teeth. "What have you done to my arm?"
"Why?" Servalan's eyes widened. "What's the matter with it?"
"Damn you, Servalan!"
"It must have been damaged when you were brought here," the little man said.
"Shut up!" Travis snapped at him. He looked at Servalan. "So," he said slowly. "You're working with Krantor."
"Just bought a little help. Travis, you know why I want Docholli. His mouth has to be sealed. Why don't we trade?"
There was a beep from the comms unit, and Krantor's said, "Good news, Supreme Commander! My men have just collected the second part of your...esteemed order."
"You have Docholli?" Servalan asked.
"We believe so. He will be delivered as soon as we are certain of his identity."
Suspicious, Servalan said, "I can identify him."
"Not necessary, Commander," Krantor said calmly to her image in his comms display. "We have the most advanced forms of questioning." He brought his hand down to switch it off, and saw Toise reflected in what was now just a mirror. He turned to face him. "That may win us a little time. But she's as perfidious and devious as a snake." He stood up and walked towards Toise. "Get word to Cevedic. Forget Docholli for the moment. I want Travis found and killed at once."
"Travis, we no longer need you."
Travis stood with his cloak on and his hat in his hand, facing Servalan and Jarriere. "So?"
"You're afraid I'm going to kill you at last. Probably I shall if our paths cross again. At the moment, you are too small to bother with. Get out," Servalan said contemptuously. "Before I change my mind."
Excellent; her plan was set in motion. Krantor, curious to know why Docholli was so important to her, had to find him before Travis did--or at least he thought he did. Now that should speed up his search a little. And when he found Docholli, that would place him neatly on the death-list for knowing about Star One. Yes, three rather gamey birds with one well-aimed stone.
In his room, Krantor and his cat listened intently.
Chenie wiped the bar down. "You just got in?"
"Yes," Blake said. He sipped his drink, Jenna picked at her ice-cream sundae, and Cally, who would have preferred champagne, added a spoonful of sherbet to her white wine to make it fizz.
"Came by freighter, eh?" Chenie said.
Jenna leaned forward. "Was that a guess?"
"Well there've been no passenger liners here in a month." Chenie put her cloth down. "We're near the docking cradles, you see, so we know everything that comes and goes." She raised her eyebrows and looked at them sideways. "Even the planet hoppers."
"It's an interesting life you lead," Blake said.
All three did their best to look noncommittal: Blake pulled one voluminous sleeve over his teleport bracelet; Jenna played with her spoon; and Cally sipped her wine.
Chenie was not to be put off. "You planning to stay?"
"For a while, maybe," Cally said cautiously.
"Well you'll find no work here," Chenie said with satisfaction.
"Who said that we wanted work?" Jenna asked.
"Well if you had money, you wouldn't have come by freighter." Chenie smiled, pleased with her logic. "So you need work."
Blake said, "Suppose we do?"
"Well you'll do better on the upper level. Try the Big Wheel. The girls have got class." Chenie shrugged and turned away. "Krantor might hire them."
A deceptively mild-looking man in black leather walked up behind the group at the bar. He reached between the women, picked up Jenna's drink, and drained it, then slid his hands around Jenna and Cally's waists. Both women sat still, their expressions frozen.
"Nice trade you're doing these days, Chenie," he said.
"Until a minute ago."
"Stay around--" the man looked from Jenna to Cally, both of whom ignored him, "--girls." He let them go and came round to face Chenie directly over the bar. "Where's Kline?"
"Oh, you know who I'm talking about. The surgeon who came in on the Bari."
Chenie shrugged. "Well how should I know where he--"
"He drinks here, Chenie. Now where is he?"
"I've no idea. He left here an hour ago."
The man put his hand gently on Chenie's cheek. "Now you wouldn't be lying to me, now would you, Chenie?" he said softly.
"No." Chenie kept her smile. "I've no idea where he goes when he leaves here."
He cradled her face with both hands. "Because if you're lying to me, I'll tear your face off."
Chenie slapped his hands away, and went towards the door into the back room.
"What's in there?"
Chenie turned and leaned against the doorframe, her other hand on her hip "This is private, Cevedic."
Cevedic went over to her. "When Krantor wants somebody, nowhere's private. Now out of the way."
"Look, I swear I don't know where Kline is!"
Cevedic lifted his hand to push her aside, but stopped when someone called him. "Chenie," he said, and touched her cheek again; she twisted her head away. "I'll be back." He went up the stairs towards one of Krantor's enforcers, who was waiting there beside Chenie's bouncer (who knew when not to be involved) and they both left.
Chenie went back to the bar and picked up a glass.
"Who's the ape man?" Jenna asked.
"Krantor's professional killer."
"The same Krantor that runs the casino?" Blake gestured with a half-eaten chocolate bar.
"The same Krantor that runs Freedom City." Chenie turned and went into the back room.
"She was lying, Blake," Cally said.
"About Kline. He's in the back."
"And I'll give you any odds that he is Docholli," Jenna said.
In the casino, Avon sat with his teleport bracelet held to Orac, which was on a chair beside him, in a plain grey box with the lid raised.
"Fifteen black," said Orac.
Vila sat at the roulette table with his head resting on his hand, so that his own bracelet was beside his ear. He moved his chips to make the advised bet, adding two more to the piles, and watched anxiously as the croupier spun the wheel. He grinned with delight as he won yet again, and picked up his glass to take a celebratory drink.
The croupier looked at Toise and briefly raised an eyebrow. Toise nodded and left.
Toise burst into Krantor's room. "Krantor! Someone is having a run on the wheel!"
Krantor lifted his cat playfully over his head and looked up at it fondly. "A big win is good for business."
"This fellow's hit seven shots in a row! He's riding half a million credits!"
Krantor turned "You're right, Toise, that's too big." He went to his mirror and raised his hand. "Which is he?"
The mirror showed a close-up of Vila's face.
"Do you understand what I'm saying?" Chenie sat beside Kline with her hand on his shoulder.
"Come on. Drink this." She held a glass to his lips. "You've got to get away from here."
Kline drank. "Augh." He screwed up his face at the taste. "Krantor..." he said thoughtfully. "No reason for him to be after me. There's someone behind him. It could only be Servalan."
"Servalan. She represents some people I once worked for. Augh." Kline said in disgust, and took another drink. "I knew they'd get me in the end."
Chenie took his glass. "You've got to get out of Freedom City. Away from this planet. You can't stay here now!"
She looked so concerned, Kline was touched. "Don't worry, Chenie." Affectionately, he knuckled her chin gently. "I won't involve you."
"If I want to be involved--" Chenie stopped, then went on. "Now listen. There's a Trantinian planet hopper leaving here in a couple of hours. I think I can get you on it."
"The captain's a regular here."
Kline shook his head doubtfully.
"He owes me a favour or two."
"He'd never take me," Kline said. "I'm a Federation citizen; was. Trantinians would never accept me."
Chenie took his hand. "This is a planet hopper, Kline! They'll drop you off on some remote spot. You can completely vanish. No one will ever find you."
Kline threw back his head and laughed in relief. "To be safe! At last!" He put his arm around Chenie and pulled her close. "Ah, Chenie, I could never repay you!" He kissed her on the forehead.
Chenie smiled fondly at him. "You don't have to. I told you, he owes me. Now, listen." She freed herself gently. "You know where the loading bays are. Well there's a ship loading at Bay Ten." She picked up his disreputable sheepskin coat and gave it to him. "You'll have to hide there until the ship's released from the cradles. The captain will collect his clearance card, and then walk through the bay on his way back." She tried to help Kline into the coat, but he seemed incapable of the dexterity required to get his arms into the sleeves. "That's where you can join him. It's only fifty yards to the ship."
Kline gave up trying to get the coat on and put it over his shoulder.
"If anyone sees you," Chenie continued, "the chances are they'll think you're one of the crew. Now, have you got all that?"
Kline nodded. "Yeah." He hesitated. "Suppose he doesn't agree?"
"Leave it to me. Now, come on, you've got to be on your way." Chenie gave him his hat and guided him out the back exit.. "Go this way. It leads down to the Rink. Oh, and good luck, Kline."
They embraced. Kline smiled and left, and Chenie went back to the bar, only to find a fight brewing.
Cally stood a couple of metres back from the counter, a drink clutched in her hand. "What did you call me?"
Jenna sat at the bar, her back to Cally. "A cheap little space tramp." She dug her spoon savagely into her ice-cream.
Jenna turned to glare at her. "A ten-credit touch!" she jeered.
"What!" Cally flung her drink at her.
Jenna leaped to her feet and grappled with Cally "You do that again--"
"Break them up," Chenie said.
With everyone's eyes on the two fighting women, Blake was unnoticed, sitting quietly by the wall. He promptly took the opportunity to sneak into the back room.
It contained a narrow bed and shelves full of files and boxes, but no cyber-surgeons. There was, however, a small grey metal case trimmed in red lying on the floor. Blake picked it up, sat down on the bed, put it on his knees, and opened it. He looked at the instruments in it, closed it, thought for a moment, and put it down beside him on the bed. Whoever Chenie had been concealing in here was a doctor, and there was another door leading out. Blake drew his gun, and left the same way.
"And the same to you!" Jenna yelled back furiously as she and Cally left the bar.
They paused at the bottom of the outside stairs, and Cally shouted, "We've got news for you. We don't want to come back anyway!"
"You can keep it!" Jenna added for good measure. They had been such a good diversion they had got themselves thrown out; she only hoped Blake had been as successful.
The weather was, if anything, worse. The biting wind whipped their thin gowns around their legs and tangled the tawdry decorations on the alley walls--strips of tinsel and dejected bunches of party balloons--and there was a continual clanking from loose signs and dustbin lids.
"Jenna! Cally! Over here."
It was Blake, beckoning them to a more sheltered spot. They ran across and joined him under a sloping wall.
"Did you find him?" Jenna asked.
"I missed him by a couple of minutes. There's a back entrance. Something must have scared him."
Cally said, "Cevedic, presumably."
"Well he could be anywhere by now," Jenna said.
"He's left his surgical kit behind," Blake said. "He may come back for it."
Jenna frowned. "Well, why?"
Blake looked at her in surprise. "It's his living."
"Well, right now I doubt he's thinking about his living. Just keeping alive."
"Well, it's the only lead we've got. Chenie's obviously befriended him. I think he'll be back."
"So what do we do?" Cally asked.
"Wait," said Blake.
Servalan had removed her shoes, and was sitting on the swing bed, her red-stockinged legs crossed, rocking herself gently.
Jarriere sat in the chair, a drink in his hand and his feet on the coffee table. "It's over an hour, Commander. Krantor should have delivered Docholli by now."
"Krantor doesn't have Docholli. He was lying."
"I don't understand."
"Krantor had planted a bug on Travis. He overheard everything that went on in this room."
"Oh, yes, but I--"
"He overheard us planning to use Travis to kill Docholli. That pathetic little ploy was just an attempt to gain time while his men find Docholli."
"Oh." Jarriere smiled. "I see."
"Do you, Jarriere? Do you see at all?"
"Umm...Krantor doesn't want Docholli killed until he's learned what secret he carries."
"It's a risk, Supreme Commander. Suppose Travis doesn't get to Docholli first?"
"He probably won't. Krantor will try to kill him."
"But if that's what you expected--"
"Not just expect, Jarriere. I want Travis killed. Because that will establish, beyond doubt, Krantor's intentions."
"Ah, you mean...uh..." Jarriere shook his head. "I'm not following."
"Krantor has Travis killed to protect Docholli," Servalan said patiently. "Later he will send us Docholli's body. It will be obvious that he has extorted the secret of Star One. Therefore Krantor himself will be placed on the Council's death list. Now do you see?"
Jarriere shook his head again.
"The secret of Star One's location is of no use to a criminal like Krantor. However, that knowledge can bring about his death. Not only that. With any luck the Federation will be finally convinced--as I have argued for years--that we can no longer tolerate this pestilential rat-hole so close to our own territories. Freedom City will be finally burnt out."
Jarriere was impressed. "And this was all in your mind before we came here, Supreme Commander?"
"Eradicating this planet has long been in my mind, Jarriere. Events--and Krantor--have played into my hands."
"Then all that can go wrong, Excellency, is if Travis eludes Krantor's men and reaches Docholli," Jarriere said brightly.
Servalan almost lost her patience. She put her hand to her furrowed brow and rubbed it while she regained control. "Even then, it won't go wrong. You see, I've allowed for that possibility, too, Jarriere."
Jarriere smiled and lifted his glass in salute, then frowned in puzzlement as he drank
Jenna, Blake and Cally withdrew further back into the shadows as a man approached.
"It's Travis!" Jenna said.
"Shhh," Blake put out a arm to restrain her.
Hearing something, Travis halted and looked around suspiciously, his gun ready. The mist swirled about him and signs rattled and clanked up and down the alley. Irritated, he yanked a stray piece of tinsel from his jacket and walked on.
Krantor peered into his mirror comms device at Vila. "I don't know how he's doing it, Toise, but he's taking us."
Toise leaned over beside him, equally intent. "He must be stopped, Krantor!"
"Watch him. Watch him. Carefully. Every time---just before he makes a bet...he moves his left hand up to his ear."
"Or his head." Toise said.
"We must find out how he's doing it!"
Avon spoke quietly into his bracelet. "Vila. Come on, let's quit."
"One last spin," Vila's voice came back. "We're nearly four million up, Avon."
"All right, just once more. But after this, I warn you, I'm walking out--to be sick."
Oh, was he? Nice if it was concern for his safety, but Vila knew better--it was all that ice-cream. Well, speaking for himself, he didn't often have a decent run of luck, and he was going to enjoy it as long as he could, not to mention the acclaim. There was now a small admiring crowd at the roulette table, including a nun. Not something you saw every day, that.
"Red fourteen," Orac said.
"Make your bets," said the croupier, and Vila did so. "Messieurs et dames, faites vos jeux." She spun the wheel. "Rien ne va plus."
The ball stopped on red fourteen, and Vila smiled and drew his growing winnings towards him.
"What do you mean, you can't find Docholli?" Krantor demanded.
"He's gone to ground." Cevedic said. "In that maze by the docking cradles."
"Cevedic, you know I don't tolerate failure. Your orders were to kill Travis."
"As soon as it gets light, Krantor, I promise, he won't survive an hour."
"That may be too late." Krantor gently stroked his cat. "I want him killed. Tonight." He turned away. "We put an audio tab on him, that may tell us something." He switched the listening device on.
Chenie's voice said, "He's not here, Travis."
Travis followed Chenie down the steps to the bar. "So it is true. Krantor has got him."
Chenie went behind the bar. "Krantor?" She looked puzzled. "No. Why do you say that?"
"I heard. So," Travis leaned on the bar, "Krantor was bluffing."
"Things got too hot for him. But he's all right now, I've found him a safe passage out."
"Where is he?"
"In a safe place."
"I must find him. You must tell me where he is."
"He doesn't need your help, Travis."
"All right, all right, Chenie, but I need his! My arm!"
Chenie's eyes flicked briefly to it. "What happened?"
"The neural circuits have gone. He's the only man who can fix it for me."
Chenie was uncertain. "Oh, I don't know."
"I'm crippled, helpless." Travis thumped the bar. "You can't leave me like this!"
"I've never been sure of you, Travis."
"Oh, for--" Travis shook his head in exasperation. "Chenie, do you think I'll give him away? I've saved his life twice!" He thumped the bar again. "The least you can do is tell me where he is!"
"Oh, all right. But if anything goes wrong, I warn you." Chenie pointed her finger sternly at him.
Travis grabbed her wrist. "All I want is my arm fixed!"
Chenie snatched her hand out of his grasp. "He's in Loading Bay Ten." She jerked her head towards the door. "By the docking cradles."
"That's better." Travis turned to go.
"Oh, and Travis."
"If you want your arm fixed, you'd better take his instruments. He left them in here." Chenie went to the back room.
" Loading Bay Ten," Krantor said. "You'd better hurry."
"Yes, Krantor." Cevedic turned to go, but Krantor had not finished.
"And when you have disposed of Travis," Krantor tickled his cat gently, "don't forget to bring me Docholli."
Cevedic went out.
"Now, for our other problem." Krantor returned to his mirror which showed an image of the roulette wheel.. "Tell the croupier to shut the wheel down, Toise." When Toise did not respond, he glared at him. "It has developed a mechanical fault," he explained impatiently.
Travis came down the stairs outside the bar, the medical kit clutched to his chest.
Blake watched him go by. "That's Docholli's case he's carrying."
"Are you sure?" Cally said.
"Let's go." He put an arm out to stop her. "Keep in the shadows."
Cevedic approached Loading Bay Ten with caution, his gun ready. "Docholli's in there somewhere, but he's not a problem," he whispered.
Hearing him, Kline edged back out of sight.
"Now, first we get Travis," Cevedic said.
"Okay." His companion nodded.
"Over here," Cevedic pointed, "behind that machine."
They concealed themselves.
Vila stood, laughing happily, surrounded by an admiring crowd of casino patrons. It wasn't often that he won in the big game of life, or was even noticed. This was a moment he wanted to remember. "Thank you, thank you," he said expansively. "It's a pity the wheel broke down. I was just hitting my stride."
A couple of people patted Vila on the back, either to congratulate him or for luck, the nun amongst them. Now that Vila had got a good look though, 'she' did not seem to be the correct pronoun. Oh well, each to their own.
"For you, my dear." Vila offered the croupier a chip.
She looked at it and contemptuously slapped it out of his hand.
"How much has he won?" Krantor asked.
"Nearly five million, Krantor."
"I want that money back, Toise. Have him picked up the moment he leaves."
"Unfortunately, Krantor, Cevedic took all the men when they went to look for Travis," Toise said apologetically. "They're still combing the city."
"Well just don't stand there! Do something!"
Intoxicated by success, sudden wealth, and the congratulatory drinks a couple of people had pressed on him, Vila flung an arm around Avon's shoulders and leaned on him, smiling beatifically.
Avon looked at him coldly, but left him where he was. "I expect you'll be leaving now."
"I'm just waiting for my winnings, old boy. Can't leave them behind. Even if it is only money."
Krantor approached, with his cat on one arm and a wide smile on his face. "My dear sir, my congratulations!"
Vila turned to look at him. This fellow seemed to be in a better mood than Avon, so he promptly let go and threw his other arm around him, transferring his allegiance and his weight to the new arrival.
Krantor sagged slightly but recovered quickly. "Five million, that is a record! While your money is being, uh...packaged, I wonder if you would do Krantor the honour of joining him for a little celebratory drink..." He lowered his voice confidentially. "In my sanctum."
Vila was flattered. "Well, thank you kindly, Krantor. Thank you kindly."
Annoyed, Avon watched them go off, arms around each other. Well, now. There was probably time for one more small ice-cream sundae.
As Travis entered the loading bay, Kline saw him and whispered a warning from behind a stack of barrels. "Careful, Travis. There's two of them."
Travis carefully placed the instrument case on a barrel, drew his gun, and crept away out of sight.
Blake, Cally, and Jenna looked at each other as they heard the firing of two different types of weapon, and promptly set off in the direction of the sounds.
Cevedic staggered forward, holding his stomach. "Just luck," he gasped. "Ahhhh."
Travis caught him as he fell sideways, and held him upright. "I went to a better school, Cevedic." And so he had, though he didn't just mean the FSA, but war itself.
"You're a fool, Travis," Cevedic gasped. "You're going to die anyway...ahhh..."
"Not as quick as you."
"Soon as they take...that arm off...kaput."
Travis grabbed Cevedic by the front of his tunic. "What do you mean?"
"They leave you like that, you die of gangrene. Take it off...and you die quicker. Oh...Servalan fitted you up well...Travis."
Travis let him fall.
"Docholli," Travis called, "where are you?"
"Over here." Docholli grabbed Travis's arm when he appeared. "Who told you my name was Docholli?"
"First time we met."
"Just drop the gun, Travis." Blake said. His gun was trained on Travis, and Jenna and Cally stood behind him.
Travis whipped around. "Blake," he said softly. "I've been waiting for you. I knew you'd come."
"I'm glad I didn't disappoint you. It's Docholli I want to see."
"What do you want with me?" Docholli asked.
"Roj Blake. You may have heard of me. I have a ship called the Liberator."
"Yes, I've heard of you, Blake. I repeat, what do you want with me?"
"One piece of information. The location of Star One."
Docholli smiled humourlessly. "Then you're going to be disappointed."
With one arm firmly around Vila, Krantor entered the casino. "Friends and patrons!" he called out. "Your attention, please."
Vila's arms hung at his sides, and his glazed and unfocussed eyes almost closed as he swayed slightly against Krantor, who tightened his grip on him.
"I have an important announcement. Vila--" Krantor put a hand to Vila's chest to steady him,"--this gallant sporting gentleman, has agreed to end the evening with one final wager."
Vila did not react to the applause; in fact he did not appear to have even heard it.
"Friends," Krantor said, "he has agreed to challenge the Klute at speed chess!"
There was another burst of applause, and Avon almost choked on a mouthful of his Golden Knickerbocker Glory before spitting it out in horror.
Krantor went on. "The terms of the game are: if Vila loses, he pays the usual penalty, but if he wins or draws, then I have promised to double his winnings."
Vila appeared to be asleep on his feet, his head sagging to one side against Krantor's shoulder.
"Yes, friends, he will leave here with ten million credits!" Krantor took Vila's face in his hand and squeezed it to force a semblance of a smile.
Avon got up and made his way to them, clapping, smiling, and nodding to the applauding patrons. "Are you out of your skull?" he demanded.
Vila, who was now smiling bemusedly at nothing in particular, woke up sufficiently to see him. "Ah, Avon. Good ol' Avon." He flung an affectionate arm around him. "An' good ol' Krantor," he said, putting his other arm around Krantor. "We're gonna have another game." He sounded extremely drunk. Or drugged.
With a flourish, Krantor guided Vila to the contestant's chair at the speed chess table.
Avon leaned over him. "Vila, what happened?" he asked urgently.
Vila suddenly sobered as he realised where he was. "What's going on?" He looked around himself with horror. "What am I doing here?"
"Vila," Krantor said smoothly. "The Klute offers you the white pieces and the advantage of the first move."
"That drink!" Vila stared at Avon, appalled. "I've been tricked."
"Did you say something?" Krantor said dangerously.
"I don't want to play." Vila began to panic.
"My friend, it is too late. The stakes have been laid. If you withdraw now, I shall have no alternative but to declare your five million credits--forfeit."
Avon thought quickly. Orac was surely unbeatable. And even if that proved not to be the case--or Vila made a mistake in a semi-drugged state--Orac could teleport them both out before the Klute even had time to gloat. "Play, Vila," he said quietly.
"Orac will give you the moves."
"But the Klute isn't a computer."
"Stand aside from your friend's chair, sir," Krantor said. "If he loses the game, you might share his...shock."
The croupier smirked. "Les jeux sont faits."
Blake kept his gun on Travis, but his eyes were on Docholli. "I find that hard to believe."
"Why should he lie?" Travis said. "He's out of the Federation now."
"You never knew the location of Star One?" Blake said.
"I was a surgeon, Blake. I thought if I kept out of Federation politics--"
"Docholli!" Travis grabbed at him. "My arm, you've got to fix it."
"The neural circuits. I brought your case."
"A needle will do. Turn round."
"But you operated on the people who built Star One," said Cally accusingly.
"The technicians, yes, thirty of them. I had no choice." Docholli exposed Travis's gleaming metal arm where it was connected to his body at the shoulder.
"Then you must know where Star One is located," Jenna said. "How could you not?"
"I erased their brain prints, their lives. I left them total amnesiacs. It was only towards the end that I ..."
"Go on, Docholli," Blake said.
Docholli looked regretful. "As I came to the end, I realised that Servalan would never believe that I hadn't scanned the brain prints, that I myself would be the last to be treated." He examined the arm's connections.
"Docholli!" Travis snapped. "Get on with it!"
"Somehow, it was only then that I realised the enormity of my crime. Can you believe that?"
"Yes," Blake said. "I can believe that."
"And that's when I decided to run for it. I faked the operation on the last of my victims. Ah!" He succeeded in getting the arm off, and opened it. "What the devil!"
Blake quickly took it from him, and relaxed. "It's all right, it's not primed. Hmm! So Servalan thought we'd all die together." He looked at Travis. "She must have some other plans."
Travis snatched his arm back. "All right, Blake, if you're man enough, kill me now."
"Our quarrel is with the Federation, not with you."
Jenna held her hand out. "Give me the gun, then."
"That would be mercy," Blake said. "Are you feeling particularly merciful?"
Jenna slowly lowered her hand.
Filled with hatred and self-disgust, Travis left for the docking cradles and a ship out. They would pay. All of them.
Avon had set Orac on a nearby table, and stood with his bracelet held to it. Orac said, "Bishop takes pawn. Check."
Vila, his head resting on his hand as at the roulette table, made the move, not with a physical chess piece but by pressing a button. The game display, deliberately retro to match Freedom City's period theme, changed to reflect his move, and the Klute made a counter-move.
As the game continued, the Klute lost his smugness and became more anxious as he realised that this opponent was no pushover. At last Vila smiled in relief.
There was a murmur of surprise from the casino's patrons, and the Klute, who had never failed to win before, put his hands to his temples. His eyes rolled up in his head, and he slumped back unconscious in his chair.
The croupier said, "The Klute offers a draw."
Vila leaped up from the chair, grabbed the money, and ran to Avon.
Avon drew his gun, handed Orac to Vila--piling it on top of the package of cash--and said, "Let's get out of here."
Bemused, Krantor watched them run up the stairs past him. Devastated, he took Toise's hand and pressed it to his breast. "I don't understand, Toise" he whimpered. "What happened?"
Now at last, Toise had his chance after years of subservience. "What happened?" His voice was harsh as he forced Krantor to his knees. "I'll tell you what happened, Krantor. You blew it!"
Chenie entered the loading bay followed by a man wearing a spacesuit minus the helmet. She stopped at the sight of the people with Docholli. "What's going on?"
"It's all right, Chenie," Docholli said. "They're friends, they're friends."
"I didn't know you had any."
"I have some," Docholli said quietly, "these last minutes."
"Well, get moving. Can't you see the man here is getting worried?" She jerked her head at the Trantinian behind her.
"Docholli," Blake said quickly.
"That last operation. You said it was faked. Does that mean he can still remember?"
"As far as I know, Blake. I certainly hope so."
"Who is he?"
"His name was Lurgen. He was a cyber-surgeon like myself. Perhaps that's why I changed my heart. Anyway, we faked the operation between us. We didn't erase the brain print, we took a copy of it, and then we both ran. He took the copy with him. I heard that he'd gone to earth on a planet called Goth. Later I heard that one of their tribal chiefs had his brain print on a thong round his neck. Well, either it was the print, or his head. They're a crude lot on Goth."
"Yes, well," Chenie put her hand on Docholli's shoulder. "Good luck, Kline." She shrugged. "Whatever your name is."
"I'll see you again, Chenie." Docholli kissed her on the cheek.
Chenie smiled cynically. "Maybe."
Avon and Vila materialised in the Liberator's teleport bay, and ran straight to the teleport panel, hoping that Blake had not already called in.
"Quickly, Vila! Hide the money!"
Vila put Orac down on the panel and crouched down behind it, stowing the package of money out of sight there.
Blake's voice came through the communicator. "Liberator, do you hear me?"
"Reading you, Blake," Avon said coolly.
"Bring us up, Avon."
"Bringing you up...now." Avon operated the teleport, turned, and leaned casually against the control panel. He smiled briefly as the others appeared. "Welcome back. How did you get on?"
"We managed to reach Docholli," Cally said.
"Oh, great, wonderful, terrific."
Blake ignored his sarcasm. "We didn't get the location of Star One, though."
Vila came out from behind the controls carrying the small chess set he had been playing with earlier. "I think it's my turn on call, Avon--oh!" He pretended he had just noticed Blake. "You're back!" He smiled guilelessly.
Blake looked at him suspiciously. "Vila, I don't like that innocent look. What have you two been up to whilst we've been away?"
"Me?" Vila stole a quick glance at Avon, who stared expressionlessly back at him; no help there. "Nothing. Had a little sleep."
"And...played a little chess," said Avon, lifting a piece from Vila's chessboard as if to demonstrate.
Vila nodded. "Played a little chess."
"And that's all," Avon said.
They exchanged a sideways glance, then turned to look back at Orac, still in his shrunken state on the control panel. They turned back to Blake and sidled a little closer to each other to block his view. There was an odd noise, rising in tone and they quickly looked back at Orac, now back to full size, then back at Blake.
Vila smiled. "That's right, Blake. We had a real quiet time."