The first time I met Kerr Avon I murdered three men who trusted me in cold blood to save his life.
He never thanked me of course. It wouldn’t have occurred to him to do so. To him everyone except the insane or the weak acted for their own advantage and he thought my advantage lay with him. He could see the logic of self interest in my actions, so what was there to be grateful about?
At the time, though, I had choices. I was in control. I could have forced him to release Zen then had him executed, kept Liberator, found some other way to get the Federation troops off her and a crew more to my liking on. She’d have been mine, then, the greatest prize in the Galaxy, and things would have turned out very different. I could still be on her now, a middle aged mercenary king with a distinguished greying beard and unthinkable quantities of wealth and power, beneficiary of a decades’ long truce with the Federation and used to a prince’s welcome everywhere else. Or I could have been discovered and killed by Clegg and his men and my frozen corpse could have been drifting through space for the last twenty years dressed in a stolen Federation officer’s uniform, still young, still handsome (possibly handsome- at Clegg’s hands it might have been a rather nasty death), still unwise. Maybe that wouldn’t have been the worst outcome after all. But I chose to save Kerr Avon and Dayna Mellanby instead.
I wouldn’t have had Dayna executed anyway, I hasten to add. I’ve always had a soft spot for beautiful women and she wasn’t one of the Liberator rebels, not back then, just another of us looking for refuge or the main chance or both. No-one on board would have been surprised if I’d shot Avon and kept her alive for the company, least of all Dayna, though she would have been extremely annoyed. We were never what you’d call compatible, Dayna and I, and she could kill a man with her bare hands, so mutual respect was all we ever had. Semi-mutual, anyway. I was sure at the time that she admired me, though looking back I can recall a certain amount of evidence suggesting otherwise. I admired her, anyway. Carefully, from a distance.
I wasn’t exactly admirable, back then. I’m a bit better now, I’m pleased to say. A difficult life lay ahead of me as I strutted around Liberator that day but the life already past had been charmed and I gave myself a lot more credit than I deserved for being alive and in that situation. I must have had subconscious doubts even then about the limits of my abilities, even if I was never aware of them, because I chose Avon as an ally. Unless I just didn’t want him to die. I don’t claim to ever have been entirely logical where Kerr Avon was involved. I’m not sure that anyone else I ever met was either.
Of course he betrayed me almost straight away, which, to be honest, I hadn’t expected, but it was one of those ebb and flow of the battle moments, and I don’t recall ever holding it against him. Maybe I learned something from it, but I doubt it. I wasn’t always that quick at learning those sorts of lessons back then.
What was I like before I met him? It’s not embarrassment that makes me pause, it’s just not that easy to remember that Del Tarrant now, looking back through the years of real life to the time before it started. I’d grown up with every possible advantage; wealth, privilege, influential friends and family, good looks, an abundance of wits and a great deal of natural talent at quite a lot of things. As a child and a young man I’d never once known what it was like to really fail. I’d had lovers but no heartache, though I’d cried melodramatically into a pillow or two when I didn’t get my way. And I liked people; maybe that was the greatest of the many differences between Avon and me. I didn’t want to put myself out too much for others admittedly but I liked company and I liked most of the people I met.
Easily led, is I suppose the right term, though I would never have recognised that in myself then. I’d do something because a friend did it, do it far better than them and convince them, myself and everyone else that it had been my idea all along. That was how I and the rest of the world came to believe that I was a natural leader.
That gap between belief and truth must have confused the Federation’s psych tests somehow because the declared me ideal senior military officer material; brave, resourceful, loyal and ambitious. I was brave enough, I suppose, as someone who’d never faced real danger by then might be, and I flatter myself that I have on many occasions turned out to be rather resourceful, my first meeting with Avon being a perfect example. The Federation thought it had my loyalty in exchange for all the good things in life it would let me have and in other circumstances maybe that would have been enough. It was the ambition where the psych tests really screwed up. I’d been brought up in a fiercely ambitious elite Federation family and back then I spoke the haughty language of assertion and aspiration as a native might but for some reason it never really took, not deep down.
I sailed through the Academy without the Federation ever spotting their mistake. As Avon was soon to find out, what I lack in ambition I make up for with a strong competitive streak, then and still. When I fought to be top of my class I had no thought for the momentous effect it would have on the prestigious career supposedly ahead of me. The Academy had rankings so I simply wanted to be first. I felt I was one of a kind. The Academy instructors no doubt thought that I was just one more cocky rich hotshot like last year’s versions and the year before’s, perfect material for the Federation military complex once they’d rubbed the edges off a bit. The truth, as truth tends to, lay somewhere inbetween.
There’s little else worth telling about those years. I could relate a hundred stories like the ones of how I nearly killed myself and several of my classmates after illicitly souping up the fuel in my racer for the year-end piloting competition, or how I won a thousand credit bet by sleeping with my entire unit in a week then lost it on double or quits because the hot flight instructor that we much admired had no interest whatsoever in male cadets but it’s all of one piece. That was the young man that I was; full of life, empty of any serious thought, in all respects except one exactly who and where the Federation wanted me to be. Almost the real thing. Almost.
That’s why a few years later I could play Federation officer well enough to fool not only Clegg and his men but Avon as well. Later I would find out how hard that last was to achieve. Even now that deception is something I take pride in. It was a good beginning.