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The medical treatment he had been given was better than any prisoner who was going to be condemned to Cygnus Alpha normally had. He would go to the prison planet with the worst of the damage from the visa seller's shot dealt with. And here he would have a chance to think through how he would extricate himself from this situation.

He had failed at appropriating - that sounded the most appropriate word - five million credits from the Federation banking system, but there had been others, smaller but more successful. He would have to devise ways of getting at the money somehow. It was not being used for the present treatment though - that was being paid for by other means. The guards, on learning he had managed to "get away with it" for those had offered an exchange of medical treatment for sorting ou t their requisitions scam.

Avon had taken up the opportunity for the treatment of course, but also knowing it was probably the last chance he would get to use his computer skills for a profit. There would undoubtedly be an attempt to take over the ship, for which his skills would be required - he would do so for the challenge - but it would merely be a diversion, a hiccup on the route to Cygnus Alpha. Perhaps he could copy the proverbial scientists in exile and invent a computer out of what was to be found there. Or a spaceship out of cutlery and sticky tape.

The door was unlocked and a guard came in. He had already been thanked for how well he had done what he had been asked to, in things as well as words, and he was not leaving yet, so it was not a final payment.

'You're going on the "London" tomorrow - any you'll have to share your room till then. If you don't mind.' Not that Avon would have much choice.

'If I must.' Another prisoner then. Those on the 'London' would be relatively non-violent - those who went in for damage were sent on more secure ships - but it was useful to have someone who was already familiar.

And looking at him this man would be useful to have on his side - powerfully built and possibly taller than Avon, but not, Avon judged, an intellectual. No matter, so long as he had skills which Avon could understand and make use of. Avon might enjoy the finer things in life, but he was no snob: if the job was done well and with enthusiasm, he would acknowledge the worth of the person doing it, whatever their gradingHe got good work as a result, and having his social equals complain about their lack in that respect amused him. . "Distant but decent" someone had called him -but that was before he had been double crossed by his so called friends, and before Anna had died.

'I'm Olag Gan,' the other man said politely.

'Kerr Avon.'

'The bank chappie? Could have done with you to sort out the problems with the tax computer that time.' Gan said with a smile. 'Though you've probably heard that a good few times already.'

'Yes.' Though he appreciated the compliment. And it would be better if Gan was willing to join a mutual protection society. 'Why are you joining me?'

'Here? They thought my limiter might play up. No, don't worry. Preventive measures they said. Didn't work for somebody so they decided to send everybody else off to prison planets just in case.' Avon decided he would have to take care with Gan: getting him sufficiently angry for the limiter to cut in would not be a good move. He would also have to find out what had gone wrong with whoever it was, in case there might be problems with Gan.

'Why did you get a limiter?'

'I tended to get angry. When I had good reason to.' Avon could understand that - the Federation's administrative structure could be mind numbingly frustrating, and Gan, Avon guessed, came from a section of society where disputes were resolved by fisticuffs and then forgotten. 'Then a guard killed my woman, and I killed him. Looking at my record they said the limiter would solve everything. And then they decided to get rid of me anyway.'

The speech brought back memories of Anna, and Avon had to steady himself.

'Yes, I'm OK,' he managed when Gan showed concern. He had decided he would tell nobody what had happened - who would understand?

'They killed your woman too?' Gan asked sympathetically. A pause in which Avon deigned not to reply. 'Well, it hurts, but you can do nothing about it now. We had a few good years together, and some fun, and she knew I cared for her. Can you say the same about your woman?' Avon thought and nodded. He could live with that interpretation of his time with Anna. Would Del Grant ever accept it? Anna had brought them together, and had driven them apart. 'The only thing I regret,' Gan said, breaking Avon's chain of thought, 'is that I never said I loved her.'

Avon had a sudden flashback to the last meeting with Anna, so real he felt he was there. 'I did.'