Abandoned on a heavily forested planet, its total population comprised of Federation soldiers living in a heavily defended military base. Avon smiled; yet another one of Blake's wonderful plans reaching its full potential. He held the teleport bracelet to his lips again.
“Jenna, Blake, do you read me? Cally has been taken prisoner. She needs an immediate teleport out.” No answer. He hadn't expected there to be. He had lost contact with the Liberator well over an hour ago.
Red flashed through the trees like a flag of warning and Avon tensed before he registered the dissonance of the image. Federation soldiers do not wear red. He narrowed his eyes and crept forward as he went through all the possible permutations. The first image that flitted through his mind was Servalan but, although she was fond of the colour, Avon doubted that the Supreme Commander of the Federation had taken to running though the woods.
The archaic tale of Red Riding Hood flitted through his mind and he felt a moment of amusement. Servalan seemed best suited to the character of the wolf rather than the innocent granddaughter.
He moved slowly, eventually catching sight of the red again. It was a woman wearing a red coat and what looked like jodhpurs and riding boots. She had her back to him as she peeked around a tree trunk and across the small clearing. Avon shrank back into the undergrowth as he realised she was spying on a small search party who were very definitely dressed as Federation soldiers.
“Spread out, we need to find her before dark,” said one of the soldiers.
“Right, because we have nothing better to do than running after a scared girl in the woods,” another soldier grumbled.
“The Lieutenant wants her, so we're going to get her for him,” said the first soldier, lifting his visor. “You think it's a coincidence she and her friend arrived on the planet at the same time as one of Blake's crew? Get cracking!”
They split up and moved on, and the girl rose from her crouch. Avon made his move and leapt forward.
“Hands up,” he said.
Slowly, she put up her hands. “I'm not who you think I am, you know,” she said. “I have never even heard of this Blake person; I'm not a member of his crew.”
“What a coincidence. I'm not who you think I am either, and I am a member of Blake's crew...albeit, against my better judgement. Turn around.”
She eyed him caustically as she slowly turned on her feet. “Well, you don't look like a killer.”
Avon smiled humourlessly. “I really hope you don't consider yourself a good judge of character. What's your name?”
“Romana,” she said. “Yours?”
“Avon,” he said. “Take off your coat.”
“It's what drew me to your hiding spot. Scarlet is not a good colour for subterfuge and camouflage.”
“And if I take off my coat, you can see if I'm carrying a weapon,” she said, as she shrugged out of it and let it drop to the ground.
“That too,” he said dryly. “The soldiers said you were with someone?”
“A friend,” Romana said. “He has a habit of stumbling into difficult situations.”
“Difficult and dangerous,” Avon said. “Especially if they're under the impression you're with Blake.”
“And who is this Blake?” she asked. “Some sort of robber bandit?”
“Oh, something infinitely worse,” Avon said. “An idealist.”
“Oh, politics,” she sighed.
“They're going to kill him, aren't they?”
“Not if we find them first.”
“They've taken a friend of mine,” he said.
“And you're thinking that together we might succeed in freeing them,” Romana said.
“Something like that.”
She gave him a long look. “So which one of us is going to be the prisoner?”
“Well, I am the one with the gun.”
“And I'm the one with her hands in the air,” she sighed.
Avon felt a flicker of amusement. “You're quite bright, aren't you?”
“Is that a rhetorical question?”
“I'm beginning to think it is, yes.” He came to a decision. “You have a craft?” he asked, as he holstered his weapon.
She lowered her hands. “Yes,” she said. “Although it might not be what you're used to.”
“Is that so, and why is that?” Avon asked.
“We're not from around here,' she said.
“I already deduced that from the fact you didn't recognise Blake's name,” he said.
“Where's your craft?” she returned, in a not very subtle change of subject.
“Missing,” Avon said flatly.
“Ah, hence your need for my help.”
“Are you up for it?”
She beamed. “Oh yes,” she said. “I think you'll find that I'm always up for it.”
“Hmm,” Avon said. “First we'll need a uniform.”
Romana picked up her jacket. “That part shouldn't be too difficult,” she said. “Separating it from its owner might be an issue, however.”
“Leave that part to me,” Avon said.
It was almost pathetically easy.
“Oh, I say,” Romana said, as she jumped out of the brush into the soldier's path. “Where did you come from.”
“Hands in the air!” the soldier barked.
“Well, that's me caught, good and proper,” Romana said breezily as she held up her hands. “Whatever will I do?”
Avon rolled his eyes as he leapt out behind the soldier. “Drop your weapon,” he said. The blaster fell into the brush, and Romana quickly retrieved it.
“This weapon is a lot more primitive than yours,” she said. “There is only one setting.”
“I guess I'm just lucky that way,” Avon said, filing away the fact she was a lot more observant than he'd given her credit for. “You, soldier, take off your uniform.”
“What are you going to do?” the soldier asked.
Avon decided they'd had enough chit chat and knocked him over the head. He crumpled to the ground.
“Was that really necessary?” Romana asked.
“If we want to find our friends alive then yes,” Avon said. “Federation interrogators are not exactly known for their patience or light touch.”
“I see,” Romana said quietly. “Well then, I guess we'd better hurry up.”
In the end, getting in the front door wasn't the problem. Neither was finding the cells. There was no lack of soldiers willing to 'help' Avon secure the prisoner – no doubt hoping for a share of the glory.
“Romana!” said the strange man with the big teeth and long scarf as he jumped to his feet. “Well, this is unfortunate.”
Cally slowly got to her feet, eyeing Avon and the two soldiers in his tow. He tilted his head to the left, hoping she got the message.
Cally leaped forward, grabbing at the gun of the soldier on the left, while Avon grappled with the other one and managed to get his arm around his neck, cutting off his air supply. He slowly slumped forward.
“Oh dear,” said Romana's companion. “Do you need a hand?”
Cally stamped on the other soldier's foot and filled the air with sound of crunching bone. With a cry of pain, he released his hold on his gun and Cally pointed it at him.
“No thanks,” she said, “I think we've got this in hand.”
“You knew all along I was behind you, didn't you?” Avon asked, once they were safely hidden in the treeline.
“I may have had an inkling,” Romana said, with a smile.
“And yet you let me sneak up on you – why?”
“Because something told me that you were not the type of person who would fall into an alliance without thinking he had the upper hand,” she said.
“Clever,” he said. “Too clever.”
“Yes,” she said. “I get that a lot. Do you still need a lift?”
He turned to Cally, who slowly shook her head.
“Thanks, but no,” he said, “We're going to wait for our ship.”
She grinned. “Good luck. Something tells me you're going to need it.” And with that, she slipped into the trees, her friend by her side.
“You realise they're not quite human,” Cally murmured.
He smiled. “Some would say that of me.”