Actions

Work Header

Autopilot

Chapter Text

Abort program code omega.

Abort program code alpha.

Abort program code beta.

Abort program code gamma.

Abort program code delta.

Abort program code epsilon.

 

Rows and rows of bracelets. Nowhere to go, of course. Nothing out there.

I flick a switch anyway, press a few buttons. Listen to the silence.

I don't remember the teleport up to the Liberator. Only the breath-taking punch of pain as for once in your life you managed to do something properly. Almost properly. A gut-shot, which I'd like to think was because you wanted me to suffer, but I doubt it.

Of course, I have no room to talk about competence. I let you fire first.

Everything could have gone so right at that moment if I'd been quicker. Your corpses would have been a propaganda triumph for the new civilian Administration's regime: we succeeded in bringing Blake's rebels to justice where Servalan and Space Command so signally failed. A wonderful symbol.

No more working through others, no more Chesku. Once the dear, naive People's Council had enjoyed their fifteen minutes of glory and gone on to the political rehabilitation centres, I could've held Central Security's seat on the new High Council. We would have brought peace, order and unity to the broken Federation.

Do I need to point out to you the irony of you, of all people, ending our coup and thereby keeping Servalan in power?

I can see a worn red label which someone must have stuck on the teleport console while they were first working out the proper operation sequence.

Was that you? Yes, I'm sure it was. You would.

It takes a long time to remove it without tearing it: carefully peeling the little paper circle away with my fingernail, lifting the adhesive with it, leaving the console spotless. Then I stick it back, exactly as it was.

I'm done here, for today.

 

Abort program code red.

Abort program code orange.

Abort program code yellow.

Abort program code green.

Abort program code blue.

Abort program code indigo.

Abort program code violet.

~~~

Come to think of it, the pain isn't the last thing I remember. If I close my eyes, I can feel your arms around me, as I talked for my life. When I woke up in here you were gone, but I was grateful to wake up at all. Grateful and surprised—I wouldn't have let Anna live. I knew then that you'd believed me at least enough to take me with you.

'I was only ever Anna Grant with you'.

Ha. I haven't been 'only' anyone for so long. It feels strange now, not having to lie. Not having anyone to lie to. Some days, for a little while, the silence is peaceful, not oppressive.

I pick up the vials and read the labels. Some I know—familiar from interrogation rooms or a dozen other scenarios from my eclectic training. Some are unfamiliar. These I return to the rack—no point in risking the unknown. I've spent a happy few hours—a happy day, now and then—with the contents of some of the vials. Not often. Coming down afterwards, coming back to reality, hurts too much.

I have a few collected, on a special tray with the injector ready beside them. Quick, painless.

Not yet. Perhaps I'm more of a coward that I thought I was. I prefer to say that I'm stubborn.

That was my bed, over there, while I healed.

Why they let Vila take care of me, even occasionally, I don't know. The rest of them were busy somewhere else, I expect.

He was the one who told me that Cally and Tarrant had insisted you stay away from me. To help my recovery—we both know the real reason. Vila also said that you accepted the suggestion without argument, and I remember how much that worried me.

Vila didn't know the truth about the cellar, of course—only what they others had told him. Or at least he wasn't sure he knew. He certainly didn't trust Tarrant to tell him the whole truth about that, or anything else.

I asked him about himself—something else that the rest of you never bothered to do as far as I could tell. He told me about his genetic recidivism, about the things the Federation had done to him to try to correct it and turn him into a useful, productive citizen. He told me about you, about Blake—plenty about Blake—about Travis and Servalan, about the Andromedans. About Kerril. And Auron—impressively deranged, even for Servalan. Then, finally, about your ridiculous plan to avenge Anna.

Five days of torture to pay off your guilt for failing her. Flattering, I admit. Was I really that good?

I told Vila my life story in return. Not all of it, of course. Not about some of the things I've done, some of the things that were necessary for the Federation. I didn't want to risk upsetting the only one of you willing to do me the favour of conversation instead of coming in, cleaning me, feeding me, treating me, and leaving again. Besides, I needed his help.

Even so, it felt odd to use my own life as a cover for once. I've never talked to anyone about Bartolomew before. I told Vila how I was selected as a child, taken from my parents and brought up by Central Security—easy to put a sentimental spin on that part. About the training. About my dozens of different lives, families created and destroyed as my covers. It turned out that you'd met Del Grant, of all people. The one that got away. I'm glad to hear that he still believes he's my brother—the implanted memories are holding strong. I always was proud of Del. One of my best creations. One of my only failure, too. A brain-wiped puppet of the Federation who snapped his strings and ran away. Ah, well. What's one more rebel between friends? The Federation never learned how to stop creating more of them, anyway.

And in the end, I told Vila much I loved you. How much I wanted to see you. How much it would mean if he'd take you a message from me. Poor Vila, so sentimental. He said yes, of course.

All those hours grooming him, preparing him to present my plea as sincerely as he could, weren't wasted.

You had a gun—that was the first thing I noticed, but that didn't worry me. No. It didn't worry me much. After all, I told myself, I was still alive.

If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can hear it all over again. That's what it's done to me, living with nothing but the low hum of the ship. White noise for the brain to tune into words.

I waited you out, until you spoke first. "Vila said that you wanted to see me."

I nod—Anna nods. I feel different when you're there, a stranger in my own skin, under-rehearsed for such an important performance. I wish I had her file, so I could review her, get her right.

Your next words surprise me. "Once your treatment is complete, we'll set you down."

"Where?"

Watching me like a cat watches a mouse, wondering if I'll jump entertainingly when the paw comes down. "I thought...Earth."

"Earth?" Anna is horrified, and even I feel cold. That's a threat you might carry out. "I won't be welcome on Earth, not now."

A smile as I state the obvious, and not a pleasant one. "I think you'll get exactly the welcome you deserve."

In an interrogation chamber. "Probably." Does that cause a flicker of surprise? "Vila told me what you did for me—for Anna. I can't tell you how sorry I am."

"It's not something I wish to discuss." Curl of your lip. "With you."

Silence—not like the silence now, but crackling with danger and opportunities. I try to think of an opening; you stand over me, arms folded, enjoying your power.

"May I ask you a question?" Soft, the way Anna would have said it—acknowledge her unreality, but use her language, her body. "About Earth?"

"Go ahead. I can't promise to answer."

"Did the People's Council succeed? Is there a civilian Administration?" I might be able to make something of either of those.

"If there is, then Servalan is still President. I wonder if there's a price on your head?"

"So you do believe I was with the rebels?"

You can hardly deny it now, can you? "I'm sure you can change sides with a speed that would make Shrinker dizzy."

Vila mentioned him, although I don't know if I ever met the man. "I 'changed sides', if you want to call it that, just once."

"Forgive me if I have a little difficulty believing you."

"That's hardly fair, when you're the one responsible for it all. Do you think I made a habit of falling in love with my targets?"

That stops you, for a moment. Anna always knew how to appeal to your vanity. What could be more proof of your irresistibility than turning the head of Central Security's best?

"You don't have to pretend," you say eventually. "Not this time."

"It was never a pretense. Not after the first hour." Anna believes that, so absolutely that for those few moments, I believe it too. "I hated every lie I told, every second I couldn't forget them and just be with you, and it destroyed my faith in the Federation. How could I keep believing in the thing that created creatures like Bartolomew?"

You walk away from her, half-way to the door, trying to reinforce the psychological distance with a physical one. "Suppose—just for a moment—that I might believe you. There does remain the small matter of my arrest, trial and exile."

"What else could I do? I gave you the only thing I had left—a chance to run. And when—" You screwed it up with your usual mix of bad judgement and worse luck, "—that didn't work, I tried again."

"That's what you call a second chance? Cyngus Alpha?"

"And yet here you are. Alive and free." Anna gestures round, indicting the Liberator. "I knew you'd find a way out. I never doubted you could beat them."

She smiles at you and I think I catch the ghost of a smile in response—the first clear crack in the facade.

"Perhaps you could tell that to the others. I'm afraid you'll find confidence in my judgement is very far from unanimous on this ship." Your gaze drops for the first time, down to my stomach. "Zen says you're healing well."

"I'm fine," Anna says with a brave little smile, hand touching the injury then jerking away very slightly.

"Are you in pain?"

"A little."

"I'll speak to Cally about it."

Then you look up. Your eyes always did give you away. Do you know what I read in them before you turned away and strode out?

Guilt.

I bet you still don't know what I felt. My mentor always said I should've been in vis-shows.

That was when I knew I'd won. Visits turning into longer visits, into escorted trips outside the medical unit. All inevitable, after that moment, until I had the run of the ship.

Lucky me.

I open my eyes and the first thing I see is the rows of vials, tempting me. Labels catching the light, promising an end. I think I should go now, before I forget my training and who I really am.

 

Abort program code black.

Abort program code white.

Abort program code truth.

Abort program code lies.

Abort program code Federation.

Abort program code freedom.

~~~

I don't sleep in your room, now. I made a mess of the place during the first few days. I tore it apart, ripped up your clothes, smashed your precious toys, your circuits and tools.

You had pictures of Blake in here. At least you had the good taste to be ashamed of them—hidden at the bottom of a drawer along with the reports of sighting, rumours of his presence at this revolt or that terrorist attack. Pathetic.

I tore the pictures up and stamped on them, because it would hurt you.

Also, I admit, pathetic. I was so angry—furious, livid, hating you.

I didn't always hate you. When we first met, it was only contempt. You were weak, selfish, greedy and so sure of yourself that the only problem you posed me was how to stop myself laughing as you talked endlessly about your wonderful Plan. You never could keep secrets from me. Not until now—you've picked a hell of a time to start.

I recommended execution in the case report. Politics, as usual, dictated the eventual course of action. But by then I'd closed the file and moved on. Oh, I heard your name, but you were no longer assigned to me, so what should I care if the Penal Service couldn't keep track of their prisoners?

I don't hate you now. It's impossible to stay that angry in this unrelenting silence.

Anyway, I'll be damned if I'll clear the place up for you. Do it yourself, if you want the room back.

I know. I know you can't. I do know, really. I did. I do.

Maybe I'll sleep here tonight anyway. If I can sleep. I'm never really tired, because I never do anything. Only talk, until my voice gives out again.

I'll sweep the mess away from the bed onto the floor and straighten the sheets and try to sleep.

How odd—the bed still smells of you. I suppose it would; you've spent years in it. When you showed me into this cabin for the first time, that scent brought the memories back in a flood. No need to check your file to know what you liked, what you needed, what would help tie you to me.

Lesson one—never fall in love with your target. No danger of that with you.

Physically, you weren't the worst assignment I've had. But you were terrible in bed, even though you claimed I meant so much to you. Too tired, too stressed, too involved in your endless love affair with your own cleverness. Or perhaps I just have high standards. I know how to make love—I learned from the best.

Seducing for the Federation. Would you believe Central Security run courses in that? I've taken all of them, taught a few.

Our second first time, in this bed. You were so tentative—wondering if I'd lash out, use the scars to punish you. So I stripped, and your gaze slid away, wouldn't come to rest until I took you hand, put it on my stomach and whispered, "I'm sorry, love."

"Can you ever forgive me, Anna?"

Tears, for both of you.

Even then, you couldn't say it until almost the end. Breathless and moaning and sufficiently out of control to allow yourself the lapse.

"Anna, I you mean so much—can't tell you..."

God, I despised you then.

 

Abort program code I love you.

Abort program code shh, I know.

Abort program code hold me, please.

Abort program code sleep, my love.

~~~

The flight deck looks so empty. All the chairs, all the consoles. Zen, lights flashing, but silent.

Silence.

I remember a noisier time here. You last real chance to turn back. Would it have been better for both of us if you had? I'm not sure any more. The others might have killed me. Would that have been good or bad? Better or worse?

Tarrant, loud and angry, the voice that drew me there to listen. "She's got you twisted around her little finger."

"Despite your delusions of competence, Liberator is still mine, and I say who is permitted on board."

"We aren't even saying you have to throw her off the ship. Why are you being so damned irrational about it? She's a Federation agent, Avon."

"That's true. But she claims to have been working with the rebels." Cally, reasonable as ever. I know it's silly, but I like to remember her voice. "There was a rebellion in progress when we arrived, and Servalan was imprisoned."

"So you agree with me?" you ask her.

"No. I think that it would be wise to wait. To see that her intentions are as she says they are. Then, if she proves trustworthy, we can all consider together whether—"

Tarrant interrupts. "Avon, if you give Zen that woman's voice print, I'm leaving. Commit suicide if you like, but I'm not waiting around just to say 'I told you so' as the Federation ships close in."

"I wish I could say that I will miss you." You sound as you always do with them. Implacable. You make an even worse leader than you do a lover. "Goodbye, Tarrant."

"And I'm going with him," Dayna tells you. "She's Federation, Avon—we can't trust her."

I'd always hoped Tarrant would leave, if I stayed for long enough, but Dayna's support is a surprise bonus. It makes you pause, doesn't it? Not for long.

"A pity. Will Lindor be adequate, or would you prefer to be dropped off on another planet?"

I creep away. No. I crept away. That was then. Now, I'm still here, with you.

Why won't you say anything?

No. I know why, of course I do. What I don't know is why I'm talking to you at all. Maybe I am going mad.

Right. Time for another walk. It's not healthy for me to spend too much time on the flight deck.

 

Abort program code Vila.

Abort program code Cally.

Abort program code Tarrant.

Abort program code Dayna.

Abort program code Blake.

Abort program code Jenna.

Abort program code Gan.

~~~

So many corridors, so many doors. So few of them will open to me now.

There's the treasure room, where you showed me that we'd be safe forever. And I was tempted. I knew where my loyalty lay, though. Unfortunately. Did you leave this one unlocked deliberately, to taunt me with what I could have, if not for...

There's the costume room, where I tried on a dozen, dozen different things. I could've found something there to suit everyone I've ever been. Even something for myself. But I still had to please you—not so bad because I knew it wouldn't be for long.

There's the communications sub-room where I sent a message to Servalan, setting up a time and a location for an ambush. The Liberator was to be my peace-offering. Deranged, narcissistic and vindictive as she is, she'll still forgive in return for success.

Well, look at that.

I'd forgotten about Orac. I abandoned it here in this corridor. The key lies beside it. Blackened, melted by one of the shots. Useless.

Orac won't talk to me either.

 

Abort program code Orac.

Abort program code tarial.

Abort program code Aquitar.

Abort program code Zen. No, you'd hardly use anything so obvious.

Abort program code what was I doing? Going to the mess, I think.

 

I'll never forget our last meal together. How romantic? No. I remember it because it's what I'm eating now. The food unit won't produce anything else.

Supper for Cally, Vila and myself, going to our cabins for the arbitrarily designated night. Breakfast for you, going onto the flight deck to keep watch.

Vegetable protein broth. A meat stew with root vegetables I still can't identify as I push them round my plate. Bread with that particular tang that comes from cramming in too many vitamin and mineral supplements.

And blackberry ice-cream.

You programmed the ice-cream especially for me. No—for Anna. Because it was her favourite.

Not mine. I prefer cheese and biscuits. At least, I think I do. I've been so many people, with so many favourites, that sometimes it's hard to find me beneath the weight of memories.

It's a part of the identity construction process. Each cover is provided with individualized favourite foods, drinks, colours, music, books, vids. Everything prescribed in detail. There must be no carry-over, no patterns that could be tracked from identity to identity, nothing that could give the agent away.

I always enjoyed building personae—creative, absorbing, an office-based break from the hard work of living someone else's life. Maybe I should try it now. Maybe if I were someone different I could guess the damn code and have something new to eat. Would Anna Grant be able to guess? Probably not, and I wouldn't want to be her again anyway. All that fluffy hair and femininity. And those awful silver sheets. And blackberry bloody ice cream.

No, I never much liked Anna, and now I'm stuck with her dessert for the rest of my life.

Perhaps I'll bring some up to the flight deck for you.

 

Abort program code blackberry.

Abort program code ice-cream.

Abort program code sundae.

Abort program code Saturday.

Abort program code Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, spring, summer, autumn, winter, year after year, decades and centuries, forever and ever. Amen.

~~~

It's the blackness that frightens me. So odd, because Federation Central Security Officers shouldn't be frightened by darkness. It's where we live. Coming in the night to carry off our prey. Slipping between lives, one identity to the next. More names than I can remember.

Galaxies don't care about names.

Does Earth's galaxy have a name? I'm sure it does but I don't recall it. Sciences were never my strongest subjects. Not that it matters, not normally. Not here either, but it would be nice to know the name of what I'm leaving behind. What I can see on the view screen. In the silence, it sometimes feels like my only companion. My home.

I spent this morning with my hands pressed to the screen, framing it. Crying. I'm sure you enjoyed watching that.

I remember the day the edges became clear—when the whole galaxy fitted onto the screen and it became somewhere else. Somewhere I was outside, beyond. I begged Zen to change the magnification, to put us back inside even if it was only an illusion. Of course, it didn't work.

It's smaller every day. Every hour. Every time I look. Stars smearing into one bright smudge on the screen, and the blackness engulfing it.

One day I'll wake up in whichever cabin I fell asleep in, and when I return to the flight deck, the galaxy—my galaxy—will be gone. Then I'll finally be alone.

Then will you talk to me again?

 

Abort program code Earth.

Abort program code Moon.

Abort program code Sun.

Abort program code Mars.

Abort program code Venus.

Abort program code Milky Way. Now I remember. That's it—that's my home.

But it's not the code.

 

Shall I sit with you for a while?

Why did you organise a watch? I never understood that. Zen was perfectly capable of alerting you to danger. You didn't trust him, I suppose. Or was it a hang-over from the Blake days that you never even considered abandoning?

Perfect timing for the ambush. Vila and Cally sleeping in their cabins, you awake on the fight deck.

The standing orders about the Liberator were always clear. The crew to be taken alive if possible, but capture of the undamaged ship was the highest priority. You were only valuable if Liberator had previously been destroyed. But I tried to arrange it so that no one would be damaged. Hurt, I mean. I promise, that's what I tried to do.

Not quite perfect timing, in the end. I underestimated the scanners—I knew that as soon as I saw the other two on the flight deck with you. As I came down the steps, you spoke.

"Zen, why the hell didn't you report those ships?"

Direct instructions to ignore the approaching Federation fleet were given by Anna Grant

Vila and Cally were fresh from their cabins, unarmed, but they were the ones looking towards the steps. At me, with my gun in my hands. If Cally hadn't started for the guns at the front of the flight deck, I would've been happy to hand them over to Servalan alive.

Two shots, one for each of them, before you could react. I don't miss.

An amateur would have waited until you turned, to enjoy the realization of betrayal, the moment when you finally understood the extent of your gullibility.

I shot you in the back.

I don't miss. The first shot hit you high in the spine. The rest were simply insurance.

Blood—black now—smeared across the white seats as you turned and fell and slipped down onto the floor.

"Zen—execute escape program omega."

Then you were dead. It took seconds. Too many damn seconds.

I didn't understand then what you'd done. How could I? I felt the ship turn, of course, and the engines powering up.

At first I thought we must be heading for a neutral planet. Or a bolt-hole. Somewhere the Liberator could wait in safety until the emergency was over. That meant a change in the plan, nothing more—I could contact the Federation again from there.

I didn't understand. If I had, I would've used an escape capsule and taken my chances with Servalan.

Zen cuts out the engines every few days to allow the power cells to recharge. Then the acceleration continues and our speed increases and the galaxy dwindles ever faster behind us. Was it meant to buy you time, an all-purpose escape plan to be aborted once the emergency was under control? Or was it really meant as a last play, a way to take Liberator out of the Federation's reach forever? A final act of defiance and rebellion. That doesn't seem like you.

There must be an override. You wouldn't program something like this one without an override. If I wasn't so sure of that, I wouldn't still be here. The guns don't work, and the airlocks are sealed, but the medical bay is still open. I have a way out.

But there'll be a code. I've tried so many, talking until I'm hoarse. One day, perhaps, I'll hit on the right one.

Or if I hold you close and pretend to love you again, will you whisper your last secret to me?

 

Abort program.

~~~