Tales from Space City 5
The Gauda Prime 20th Anniversary Wake
This zine contains explicit sexual material, and is not for sale to anyone under the age of 18. Please do not buy the zine if such material offends you.
Some of the contents of this zine are available on the Web
|While My Insides Gently Bleed||Harriet Monkhouse||6|
|‘Til Death||Belatrix Carter||7|
|Swept And Garnished||Jenner||8|
|Move Along There||Predatrix||28|
|Face In The Crowd||AnnaS||29|
|A New Life||Susannah Shepherd||31|
|Among the Dead||Executrix||39|
|Once More, With Feeling||Zenia||45|
|Love Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry||Nova||47|
Art: Helen Patrick and Photoshop
The Citizens, like Vila, never turn down a good excuse for a party. And so it came to pass that on the 21st of December 2001 we held a wake for the 20th anniversary of the massacre on Gauda Prime. Much fiction was posted, both on the day itself and in the month leading up to it. I’m very pleased to present some of it in this zine.
Of course, this being a wake for GP, quite a lot of the fiction was a trifle angst-inducing. So much so that Willa Shakespeare, President of the Happy Ending eXpediters, provided HEX sequels of some stories for those who’d used up their entire supply of tissues. You’ll find Willa’s HEXes of some of the stories from this volume in issue 6.
Helen Patrick, January 2003
Over 31,000 words of non-editorial text
The layout was done in Word Pro 2000.
Main text: 10 point Times New Roman (original layout 2003), 10.3 point Garamond (revised layout 2005).
Other text: Arial, Times New Roman, Garamond, Papyrus.
Printed as a folded letter booklet.
Corrections and comments are welcomed at email@example.com
This amateur fanzine is copyright January 2003 to the writers and Helen Patrick. It may not be reproduced in any form, including electronically, without the explicit written permission of the authors and editor. It is understood that only original material is covered by this copyright and no attempt is made to supersede any copyright held by Terry Nation’s estate, the BBC or any other holder of copyright on Blake’s 7 material.
Blake understood silence. He understood that it could destroy the strongest of bonds, tearing through it as if it were filigree. Silence was absence of breath, movement, and living (blood pumping, heart thumping). Yet he said nothing as Avon stood at his bedside, rubbing his palms together slowly.
“I’m leaving soon. The others have decided to stay.”
Death was silence. It could be as agonising as a blaster shot, or three. He did not close his eyes against the silence in Avon’s eyes.
“I trust my work on the computers was sufficient.”
“If it wasn’t?” Had he grown so cruel in these past months?
“I never leave anything half done. If it’s not to your liking—”
“It’s fine. You’ll receive payment for your services, then you can be on your way.”
Memories were no more in silence. Forget the taste of skin, the feel of tongue brushing against tongue, and the way he gasped as they made love.
Avon licked his lips and let out a deep breath. “Blake, I…” The words faded into nothingness and he looked uncomfortable.
“Sarkoff is looking forward to having your expertise.” He bit back the words he wanted to say.
Avon nodded. Then he moved toward the bed, and leaning down, kissed him gently.
Blake said nothing, then, “I’m really not in any condition for a goodbye fuck.”
Avon straightened and looked at the far wall. “Blake—”
“No. You’ve never before, so why start now.” He wished Avon would just go. Then he could close his eyes and the death that he saw around him would be held at bay.
“You don’t know what I was going to say.”
“I’m sorry, I love you, goodbye? Can I take my pick?” He sat up, ignoring the pain that stabbed through him.
“You shouldn’t.” Avon reached out to stop him.
“Because… Blake,” he pleaded. “I…”
For a moment the silence deepened and the shattered remains of all they had been to one another dissipated and were forgotten.
Eventually, Avon’s expression hardened. “I would like to leave in the morning.” With that, he spun on his heel and walked away. He paused once, at the door, but Blake did not call him back. The door slid shut.
Blake closed his eyes and listened to the silence.
Avon stormed down the hall into his room. He wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of this place. Sarkoff would appreciate his abilities without forcing him into the rebellion. There he would work in peace, surrounded not by people, but by computers.
He pulled out a knapsack and shoved his clothes into it. Payment, Blake offered payment. As if he were some whore.
‘I’m really not in any condition for a goodbye fuck.’
Avon sat down quite heavily on the bed and clenched his hands into fists to keep from trembling. He closed his eyes. Blake could go to hell.
Blake could—he almost choked at the vision of Blake lying bloody on the ground as a red light bathed the room.
He pressed the palms of his hands to his eyes. The scene was much like another one, a basement, dark and oppressive.
He remembered holding Anna in his arms as she looked out into space. I let you go, she said. But she hadn’t, no she hadn’t. Not until… until Servalan and, ‘Blake is dead. He died from his wounds on the planet Jevron more than a year ago. I saw his body. I saw it cremated. Blake is dead.’
Then the dreams of Anna ended and new ones began. Blake, wounded and so very, very sincere, saying the words he always wanted to hear. The ones he dreaded hearing. ‘I have always trusted you, from the very beginning.’ Shouldn’t it go then, that Blake should trust him to the very end?
Avon stood up. He had killed Anna but he had held her as she died, comforting her. He was not the type to surrender to anyone. He would not start now.
With a quick tug of his tunic he strode back to Medical. A nurse was there, talking and smiling with Blake.
He looked at her. “Get out, I want to talk with Blake alone.”
She opened her mouth, but before she could reply, Blake overrode her. “It’s all right, Karissa. I’ll be fine.”
“If you say so.” She glared at Avon then left.
“What do you want now, Avon?” He sounded tired.
“I… I’ve decided not to go to Lindor.”
“Where do you want to go then? You have another bolt hole in mind?”
“I’m not leaving.”
Blake laughed. “You don’t have a choice.”
Avon crossed his arms over his chest. “Freedom for all men, Blake? Or was that a lie? I am not leaving.”
“You really are insane if you think I’m going to let you stay here. Everything you touch has a tendency of turning into a failure.” He raised and eyebrow. “I refuse to be another Anna.”
Before Avon knew it, he was at Blake’s side, hand raised. Slowly he dropped his hand. “Damn you, Blake, damn you! You made me love you. You made me need you! And now you’re sending me away. I won’t let you. I won’t.”
Blake sat up and sneered. “You shot me, three times you shot me. Did you think that wouldn’t have consequences? I don’t want you here. Your betrayal hurts too much.”
“What do you want me to say?” Avon swallowed. “I’m sorry. There’s no excuse and I’m sorry.”
“It’s not enough.”
“Then what is,” he asked, softly.
Avon sat down on the bed. “That’s not true. Blake, you’re the only one who ever—who ever believed in me. You believed. Only Anna… and she, she was a lie. That belief was a lie. Don’t. Please don’t make your belief a lie too.”
Blake shook his head.
“I’m sorry. If I could, I’d change it all.”
He reached out and took Blake’s hand. He would not surrender. Not to Blake, not even to himself. “Forgive me.”
Blake looked at him, long and hard. “Damn you!” He grabbed Avon by the shoulders and pulled him forward. “Damn you.”
“Yes,” Avon whispered. “Damn me, Blake, please.”
“We damn each other.” Blake clenched his fingers into Avon’s flesh.
He gasped in pain.
Then Blake kissed him, shoving his tongue in his mouth.
While My Insides Gently Bleed
with apologies, as well as much gratitude, to George
I was vaguely thinking I could do one of my GP filks for today, but over the past year or so it seemed to have become traditional for me to borrow from a recently deceased star, and nobody whose work I knew well enough to filk had died. Then George Harrison went, and I thought, “Blimey, George, I didn’t mean it!” But it seemed a bit rude not to take him up on the offer.
Some of these rhymes may appear somewhat forced, but I gave up trying to bludgeon the English language into supplying verbs ending in “ert” and meaning exactly what I wanted. And I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to think of something better than “my insides”, but time’s up, if you can manage it rewrite the song for yourselves.
I look at you all where your bodies are lying,
I look at you all where your bodies are lying,
While my insides gently bleed.
I look at the floor and I see Avon dying,
Still my insides gently bleed.
If only I could have controlled him,
Made him withhold his fire;
If only I—but Tarrant told him
You’d bought and sold him.
I look at Soolin and her golden hair spilling,
While my insides gently bleed,
And Dayna, too lovely a girl for this killing;
Still my insides gently bleed.
I don’t know why your hope was dirtied,
Your luck deserted you.
When all our lives had been subverted,
You were our certitude.
I look at you all where your bodies are lying,
While my insides gently bleed.
Look at you all…
Still my insides gently bleed.
He had intended to die on his feet, at least. But in the end he failed at even that, and when the first shot took him in the arm, he fell. Somewhere, through the haze of pain, the part of him that believed in not giving up was urging him to stand and face his death as he had faced his life, with a snarl of defiance. But getting up would have meant moving, and the rest of him knew that he was exactly where he wanted to be, where he had waited so very long to be.
Blake’s heart lay beneath his cheek. Still and quiet, now and forever, but in his memory he could still hear it beating, still feel Blake’s life pulsing under his fingers, under his lips. He could still feel Blake, warm and strong and burning with too much passion for one man to contain.
This was the only place he had truly lived, and this was where he would die. He closed his eyes and waited.
Gunfire sounded around him, above him, everywhere but where he needed it to be.
It stopped. He was still alive.
He slitted open his eyes, and saw nothing but death around him. Dead troopers, dead not-troopers. No. He would not be cheated like this! No last minute heroic rebel sacrifice was going to stop him from paying his final debt. That would be more irony than even he could bear.
He realised suddenly that his arm was bleeding. Heavily. Relief rolled sweetly through him as he repositioned the limb, allowing his blood to flow and mingle indivisibly into Blake’s. Yes, this was more appropriate, anyway, to bleed his life away in his lover’s arms, payment in kind for what he had taken.
He lay there for a long time, listening to the phantom beating of Blake’s heart, and the slowly faltering beats of his own, and eventually he became aware of something else, a hard, round something digging into his cheek where it pressed against Blake’s chest. How foolish, how ridiculous, how obscene, to allow himself to become distracted by mere discomfort now. But the longer he lay there, the more it grew in his consciousness, until there was room for almost nothing else left in his mind: not his pain, not even the awareness of Blake lying dead below him. Intolerable.
He must know what it was that had so intruded on what should have been the one, single, perfect moment in his life, needed to hurl it violently from him, whatever this thing was that had dared to come between him and Blake at the last. With his good hand, he probed beneath his cheek, found the secret inner pocket in the padded vest, pulled out the object that Blake had carried next to his heart, and held it before his eyes.
It was a ring. A wedding ring. And on the inside, etched in ornate lettering, an inscription: “I have always trusted you.”
Avon, Blake’s heartbeat echoed in his mind, I was waiting for you.
The spasm in his chest far outweighed any merely fatal pain in his arm.
Far, far away, he could hear voices coming towards him. He fumbled the ring onto a numb and nerveless finger of his wounded hand and groped blindly for the gun as the footsteps grew closer. Pressing his face once more to Blake’s body, he laid the barrel to his temple.
“I do,” he said, and pulled the trigger.
Swept And Garnished
with apologies to Kipling
At first he simply lay there, his eyes fixed upon me.
It was difficult to clean up the blood with him in the way but I did my best.
Now that they have moved me to the white room it is easier. He sits in the corner, knees drawn up. I am no longer distracted by the holes in his guts and can get on with my work. He will approve of me when every speck is gone.
Of course I was at somewhat less than my best to begin with, using my clothes and my hands to soak up the larger pools. Now that they have provided me with mop and buckets I go much faster. So many particles to find. If I had Orac I would not have to plan vectors and trajectories in my head. A gushing flood from the first shot, less from the second, a slowing trickle from the third. Remember to think in three dimensions. The blood flew up and out. Check the walls and ceiling. Look for flesh and keep it separate.
When I am done I will take the blood to him and put it back. My hands will fit the jigsaw of his torn flesh together, piece by piece. What I have always dreamed of will be mine. My palms sliding down his chest, making a pathway for my lips. I will tongue him to completion, body and soul. I will close his eyes with kisses.
The others come and go, talking, always talking. I do not know them. The sounds are garbled, incomprehensible. I ignore them. There is only one voice I shall ever hear again, one light in my darkness.
I am very tired.
with acknowledgements to Thomas Otway’s “Venice Preserv’d”
The program I am working on has some kind of glitch in it; I am preoccupied, but I hear his distinctive tread when he comes in behind me. I always do.
“Avon, you should have been off shift hours ago. Leave that now and get some sleep.”
I flinch from the kind words, the hand on my shoulder. I open my mouth to say “I wish I’d never hurt you”, and say, “I’m all right. Don’t fuss.”
His tone hardens a little. “You’re no use to me exhausted. Do as I ask for once, can’t you?” I can hear the other words, the unspoken “you owe me that much at least”. And I do, of course. So I go, in silence. He calls after me, “And get some food down you. You look as if you haven’t eaten in a week.”
In my room, I try to comply, nibble a piece of fruit and am sick almost at once. My body seems not to want to obey me these days; I can’t keep anything down. Or the other things inside me leave no room for food. All the things I must keep down, keep back.
I wasn’t going to do this again, but I need it. I push the sleeve of my shirt up above the elbow. Most of the scars are healing; I have managed not to succumb to temptation for a few days. I find unbroken skin, lay the cold edge of the fruit knife against it and pull sharply. The dark blood wells out, and with it a great sense of release. True, it only lasts a moment, but it’s better than nothing.
Someone opens the door, without knocking. I panic momentarily, turning half away to hide my arm, seeing out of the corner of my eye that it is Soolin. “What do you want?”
She throws something down on the table. “If you can’t use your own words to him, for fuck’s sake use someone else’s. Dorian used to read this a lot, when he was feeling guilty about his partner.”
It is indeed a book, an ancient thing and small enough to fit in a pocket. She slams out, leaving me to digest the fact that all this time, she has kept a memento of the man who tried to kill her. If I weren’t preoccupied with my own feelings, that might interest me. I pick it up and open it at random.
It seems to be about a revolution, which is almost enough to make me put it down again. I only persevere because a couple of the characters arouse my involuntary interest. Pierre is your typical revolutionary, hotheaded, idealistic, full of indignation at the sufferings of the people and never considering how much a civil war is liable to add to them. I could kick him. His friend Jaffeir is far more intriguing; divided motives always are. He doesn’t really want to overthrow the state; when he’s alone, common sense repeatedly intervenes to point out that he would be far better keeping his head down. But there’s Pierre, who only need turn up for Jaffeir to forget he has a mind of his own… I have a lot of sympathy for Jaffeir and I need to know what happens to him.
The cut is still bleeding. I went deeper than I meant to. I wrap some cloth around it and read on. Jaffeir has seen sense and is going to tip off the senate about the plot. And then my stomach clenches and goes cold, because he’s got them to promise immunity for the conspirators. “You fool,” I want to scream at him, “can’t you see they’ll renege on it?” But he can’t, doesn’t, not until he sees Pierre in chains…
I don’t want to read any more, and I can’t stop. The words sear into me, sharp as any blade, but they bring no release. I read them over and over; I don’t think I will ever forget them.
What feels like hours later, I decide I can’t sleep and might as well go back to the faulty program. Vila is on shift and gives me a quizzical look. “What’ve you got there?” He nods at my shirt and I realise I have the book in my breast pocket. I fancy I can still feel the words pulsing through it, and am annoyed at my own sentimentality.
“Nothing.” But his eyes have shifted to my arm, and he’s looking alarmed. I know at once what it is. I haven’t put anything on over the shirt, and the blood has soaked through the bandage. How could I have been so stupid? I mutter something about having an accident.
“Yeah,” he murmurs and pushes the sleeve up before I can stop him. “Several, by the look of it. How long’ve you been doing this?”
“He wouldn’t want you to, you know. If he wants you to suffer, he hides it very well.” I still can’t speak, and Vila laughs softly. “That’s the trouble, isn’t it? He won’t do it, so you have to?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yes you do. It’d be easier on you if he’d done what I did a few months back, wouldn’t it? Screamed abuse, called you every kind of bastard in the universe, hit you? I wondered at the time why you just stood there and took it, but I can see now. But him, he just forgives you… and as long as he does, you can’t forgive yourself. I swear it’d be a great revenge, if that was what he’d meant it for.”
“Spare me the amateur psychoanalysis.” The comlink crackles into life and I hear his deep rumble. “Vila, did I leave a list in there, on Avon’s desk?”
“Dunno. Can you see it, Avon?”
“Avon?” The voice on the link sounds exasperated. “Avon, are you still there? I thought I told you to rest. I want to see you, now. You can bring that list if it’s there.” The link cuts before I can reply.
I look helplessly at my arm. At all costs, I do not want him to see that. Vila sighs, takes off his jacket and puts it on me. It fits.
“Funny,” he murmurs, “I always thought you were taller than me.” His hand rests on my shoulder a bit longer than necessary. “Poor Avon, eh,” he says softly as I go.
I have become an object of pity to Vila. I wonder if that would once have bothered me.
At his door, I knock and wait until told to come in. I hand him the list.
“Thanks.” He smiles warmly. I open my mouth and whisper, “Why was I sent for, to be used thus kindly?”
“Eh? What are you on about?” But I can’t tell him; I can’t do anything but echo the words that have been swirling around my head for hours, that are still burning in my breast pocket. “Call, call me villain as I am; describe the foul complexion of my hateful deeds…”
I am feeling dizzy and I think I sway a little, because he catches hold of me, keeping me upright. I break free and collapse at his feet. He kneels and tries to tilt my chin up, but I shake my head. “How shall I look up to thy injured face That always used to smile with friendship on me? It darts an air of so much manly virtue That I, methinks, look little in thy sight, And stripes are fitter for me than embraces.”
“Manly virtue?” He almost laughs. “God, you are in a state.” He is holding my arms and I see the concern in his face before the pain makes me pass out.
When I come to, I am in a bed. There is a clean bandage on the arm, and some sort of drip attached to the other one. And him, sitting on the bed holding Dorian’s—Soolin’s—my book. I make some sort of sound and he hears. He lays down the book and says softly, “Dear to my arms, though thou’st undone my fame, I cannot forget to love thee….”
He lifts me, very gently, in his arms and kisses me. I do not know if I can live with forgiveness, but if it is what he wants me to do, I suppose I owe it to him to try. I whisper, “Then by that hell I merit, I will not leave thee.” I pick up the book and lay it next to my heart, where I can feel it burn. For as long as I live, I will need that pain.
Tarrant didn’t like having to share a cell with a psychopath. Especially one who—sort of—ranked above him. He wouldn’t have liked it if it was Travis. He didn’t like it being Avon. Travis would probably have talked more.
The cell wasn’t pleasant, but it was bearable. He’d survived FSA training. He’d survived conditions on Scorpio, which were frequently depressing. You just waited it out.
It was Avon who got him down. Avon who refused to talk. Avon who was out of his strange and irritating mind enough to not even seem bothered. He’d just murdered someone who he might not have liked, but whose life he’d saved more than once or twice. He’d nearly got all of them killed, although the fact that Servalan didn’t know where Orac was had kept them alive. He was infuriatingly calm. He didn’t even behave properly. No apparent guilt, psychosis, depression. Or was he the sort of killer who might kill anybody without the least remorse? He’d have thought not. He’d have sworn not. Avon hadn’t even slept badly: he’d got out of his bunk looking completely refreshed this morning, which was more than Tarrant had.
“Are you going to tell me why you killed him? Are you going to tell me where Orac is? Are you going to tell me any bloody thing, Avon?”
Avon laid an elegant fingertip to his lips. “Maybe later,” he said. “There is absolutely no need for concern.”
Tarrant came to sit beside him on the lower bunk, where the audio bug wouldn’t pick up a low murmur. “And I suppose you spent the day with her?”
“Jealous, Tarrant? Of which of us?”
“I was drugged, Avon. What’s your excuse? Low boredom threshold? High sex drive?”
He felt Avon shudder next to him. “Not high enough to insert myself into anyone that venomous, thank you, Tarrant,” he said dryly.
Tarrant chuckled. That was the real Avon. Odd how attractive he still seemed.
Tarrant didn’t have the sort of “coward’s telepathy” that Vila seemed to have, but once his instructor had said: “You have to feel the air around the danger, you have to know it’s there before your reason knows, and you have to know when to get away.” He’d have said that everyone in his year had learned enough of that survival instinct to use, including him. Worrying: what he felt from Avon was the man he knew—almost-friend, sparring partner, casual sexual partner. The man who had been more-or-less submerged beneath more stress than any single human being should have to bear. Nothing else at all: no malice, no mania, no murderousness. It was as if some burden Avon had borne had slipped away.
Maybe it was to test his intuitions he did what he did next. Or maybe it was the conversation about sex and death. Maybe it was as simple as wanting this Avon back rather than wondering who the new Avon was. In any case, he leant over and gave Avon’s neck a soft prolonged kiss. A shudder-and-blush as of unexpected arousal, familiar and delightful. A faint scent of carbolic soap: not enough to do away with the delicious, delicate scent of essential Avon. Then lick-breathe-kiss-nibble, to a very particular spot on Avon’s neck. Just as it had been before, him always making the first move. Not that he ever had been exactly in command with Avon.
This—what?—not-quite-affair had been going on for months. It had always been casual on both sides. It hadn’t been intentional, when it started, although he’d always admitted Avon was attractive—and been a little piqued that Avon mocked his own attractiveness.
It hadn’t been his idea the first time. Nor had it been Avon’s. It had just happened. They’d been alone on Scorpio, Tarrant had been keeping himself fit, because leaving the military was no reason to let standards drop, and Avon was watching, making an endless succession of sniping remarks. Tarrant had just about challenged him to a wrestling match. He’d expected Avon to look down his nose at him, but Avon had nodded and stripped down to his underclothes. It hadn’t been a very serious fight, although the relief of aggression was fun; they’d stopped to insult each other every so often, and after a while the insults had actually become funny. Laughter, relaxation and a warm, slightly-sweaty, near-naked body in his arms—it had all made Avon seem unusually human. He’d treated Avon as he might have treated a slightly older (and devastatingly attractive) officer off-duty and possibly available: made a briskly friendly physical pass, and waited to see how he took it. The enigma that was Avon hadn’t exactly been thrown open to him (although Avon had had the grace to take the rest of his clothes off, and Tarrant had stripped as well). Avon had remained ferociously controlled and hadn’t even made a sound. He’d just locked his legs tight around Tarrant and worked his cock against him, rubbing and rubbing until his mouth opened as if he was crying out and he went quite still for a few seconds, then collapsed. After catching his breath for a bit, Avon had simply moved into a comfortable position for Tarrant to rub against him. As soon as they’d both finished, he’d cleaned up. Avon never said anything, although they’d done it again next time the others had been out of the way for a while.
They’d only talked about it a month later, when they’d chanced to be on-planet together and Avon was enjoying more comfort than they had on Scorpio. Slightly drunk, Tarrant had suggested, “We could do it in bed. Like civilised people.” They had. It had been fun, although Tarrant’s quick temper had flared up when Avon had just turned his back afterwards, and he’d suggested that civilised people could sometimes hold each other or even talk afterwards. It had been better since then, both knowing that it was casual but being friendly about it.
By now, they knew each other’s ways. By now Avon had his hands deep in Tarrant’s curls, softly stroking and tumbling them. He always seemed to like that.
“I wonder who she was?” Tarrant said.
“Your last one? The one with curls? And how do I compare?” he asked, on impulse.
Avon snorted with laughter. “You’re younger. And prettier.”
That incited him to a mock wrestling match. He was attractive, knew he was, and Avon had this way of admitting it without taking it quite seriously. After a while they were both panting.
He sucked a finger. What with the way Avon was sweating, he managed to insert it into Avon.
“Would you like to…?” he asked, as usual.
“Just fingers, please,” Avon replied, as usual.
“If I do it slowly…?”
“No, Tarrant.” Unyielding as ever.
He’d have liked to fuck Avon. He’d have liked Avon to fuck him, as well. But it would have to be both ways: he had too much pride to accept being Avon’s catamite. He sighed, twisted the finger the way Avon seemed to like, and settled down to suck him. At least Avon didn’t have any inhibitions about that. Although he’d have liked a little noise, nothing extreme, just to reassure himself he was doing it well. He was making more noise sucking than Avon was being sucked. Slowly at first: Avon had said, once, he liked watching Tarrant at work on him, and Tarrant made a show of it, slowly backward and forward, imagining heavy-lidded eyes watching him. After a while, Avon’s hands gripped him, and he moved in for the finish, hardly moving his mouth for a while, until he felt Avon’s cock get tight and heavy in his mouth, and then he sucked hard, had the strong salt taste in his mouth and the tight muscles around his finger.
Avon pulled him up and embraced him, kissing him deeply. Then he wriggled into place, letting Tarrant’s cock drop between his thighs. Avon just lay there, still kissing, and Tarrant enjoyed the taste of Avon on their twined tongues as he thrust vigorously towards climax. Avon didn’t bestir himself. Didn’t have to. Tarrant was feeling it build, and build, and forgot everything, just let it come. Let himself come. Then Avon held him, as he gasped and trembled. And he’d not had the slightest fear, feeling that he was dealing with a dangerous criminal, not the slightest discomfort. Either his cock was stupid or untrustworthy, or his brains couldn’t get very far, figuring out Avon. Take the sex, for example. Tarrant had always guessed that Avon fought shy of being buggered because he wouldn’t like Tarrant to be dominant, in or out of bed. Yet he’d let Tarrant lie on him, take him, just now, without being in the least troubled. Tarrant would have sworn, also, that Avon was too bright to attach that sort of over-significance to anal sex.
He had no idea why he felt better, but he did. The orgasm had taken his mind off the danger and the dismal surroundings, but it wasn’t that. It was more that he felt he knew this Avon again, felt comfortable with him. He looked. Avon was just a man, just a tired man, not some sort of monster. If he was a monster, Tarrant couldn’t feel anything of that.
“I’d rather die with you than with her,” he suggested, with a touch of black whimsy. “At least you won’t do experiments on me.”
“Shh,” Avon breathed, almost tenderly, and then, “Do not be concerned, Tarrant.”
“As Vila would say, we’re about to die horribly, we’d better be concerned.”
“No I wouldn’t!” said Vila indignantly.
“How did you get past the guards?” Avon enquired calmly, as Tarrant tried to recover from his shock.
“Handed a drink round, didn’t I? Carefully didn’t drink from the bottle. Should last about half an hour,” Vila said.
“Rather quiet, for him,” Avon said.
Him? Who’s ‘him’? thought Tarrant.
A distant explosion sounded.
“No. That was him.” Vila grinned. “We’d better get going now.”
A somewhat nearer explosion.
Tarrant scrambled up, pulling the sheet around him.
Vila turned his attention to him for the first time. “I already knew he was knocking you off, Tarrant. The important thing is getting out of here, isn’t it?”
I don’t entirely like his tone, but he is right. Pulling his clothes on with less than the usual attention to detail, Tarrant watched Avon put his on as carefully as ever.
“How did you come in so quietly, Vila?” Tarrant asked.
“Didn’t. You were busy. Waited for you to finish.”
“Which is presumably what passes for manners in whatever rat-hole you were brought up in, Vila.”
“What do you Alphas do, then—ask to join in?”
Avon was looking at one of the walls by now. “Rather wasteful use of explosive,” he said, sniffing.
“When we get Dayna out, she can sort out what he should have used,” Vila replied.
Tarrant was still wondering who ‘he’ was, although it didn’t seem quite the right time to ask. “I just hope one of the walls fell on Servalan,” he said.
They didn’t see anybody, at least not anybody able to walk, as they rushed without hesitation down a complicated series of tunnels, which were a pilot’s idea of hell. Eventually they reacquired the rest of the crew, animate and inanimate. Orac had a few choice things to say about reckless foolhardiness and keeping it in the dark. At last, to Tarrant’s relief, they came to dark open sky and the blessed stars.
Tarrant hardly noticed the transport, starting with a rather battered planet-hopper and ending up with a real spacegoing craft.
Actually, that was when he started noticing again: thinking like a pilot was a good distraction. Although he didn’t know this part of space particularly well, and certainly couldn’t have retraced his course afterwards, he could see the journey had given them a chance to keep out of sight.
They finished up at a vast semi-underground base, although it was reassuringly different from anywhere Servalan had a hand in.
“Avon!” a voice said. “Good to see you!” A hauntingly familiar, but different, voice. The man’s face was in shadow. Avon went up to him, and exchanged a few words in a low voice.
Vila came up to him. “All right?” he asked.
“Yes, all right,” Avon answered.
Then the man turned round, the man with him turned round, and Tarrant’s world shifted into pure nightmare. It wasn’t just that the men had the same—unmarred—face, it was whose face. The man—men?—was Blake. He fainted dead away.
“I should have explained to you. My fault, of course,” Avon said. “Now we’re safe, now it’s all worked out, I can tell you.” He looked almost sheepish. “I found out, via Orac,” he continued, “that a rogue clone had been retrained by Servalan. The Blake I knew wouldn’t have made a good bounty hunter: he didn’t have the right unemotional qualities. Before Star One he’d been half-mad, but nothing like the right type for that. A bounty hunter has to kill when it’s convenient. Servalan certainly had the chance to come up with something suitably dangerous. In fact I’d tried to get rid of the rogue some time ago, but only succeeded in damaging it in the eye.” He sighed. “Then I got two messages from two ‘Blakes’, both on the same planet. I managed to get Orac to get something through to the one I trusted—he mentioned something the false Blake wouldn’t have known about—telling him I’d take care of the fake if he’d pull us out afterwards.”
“What would you have done if you found yourself raising your gun to the real one, Avon?” Tarrant asked curiously.
Avon looked slightly surprised. “Not have shot him, of course.”
But Tarrant had a far more important question. “Why didn’t you tell me, Avon?”
Avon looked slightly uncomfortable. “It wasn’t any of your business.”
And you wanted to be sure, and you thought it was your responsibility, thought Tarrant. “I suppose that explains why you were so calm after shooting him.”
Avon nodded slightly. “I’d done my best, I was as sure as I could be that it wasn’t the real one, and I didn’t have… That… hanging over me any more. It wasn’t pleasant.” He seemed to shiver.
“No, I don’t suppose it was. Even though you didn’t like Blake…”
He almost missed it, the flicker of expression in Avon’s eyes. What did that mean? He’d heard enough from what Avon had said about Blake to discover that Avon thought Blake was a confounded nuisance, but maybe he’d been wrong.
A few weeks later, Tarrant was immensely confused about why they were still there. Being Tarrant, he said so.
“Avon, when are we going to move on from here?”
“What?” said Avon, absent-mindedly stirring his coffee with a component.
“Look, you always gave me the impression that the sooner you could dump the idea of being a rebel right back in Blake’s lap and go and do something safe, the better you’d be pleased,” Tarrant said.
Avon appeared to notice his coffee, swore mildly, and went to get a fresh cup.
He appeared surprised to see Tarrant still waiting when he came back. Tarrant did his best “I’m-difficult-to-dissuade” grin, and said, “Well, when are we leaving?”
Avon just gave him an unnervingly sweet smile, and sipped his coffee. Then he said, “Shouldn’t you be asking the others what they think? I don’t dart off without telling or consulting anyone, I’ve always left that to Blake,” he added rather snidely, as if the thought still rankled.
Tarrant shrugged and wandered off.
The first crewmember he happened to meet was Vila, sprawled comfortably in a rest area with a bottle in his hand.
Vila, disconcertingly, went into howls of laughter. “You mean you actually believed all that crap about a bolthole? He’s been trying to fob us off with that for years!”
“Bolthole?” said Tarrant, too confused to resent Vila’s attitude properly.
“Oh, when we were with Blake, he kept saying this was a strictly temporary arrangement, and as soon as he could find a comfortable bolthole, he’d give up being shot at and go back to having a normal life. Never happened, somehow. Have a drink.”
Tarrant, failing any other sensible ideas for things to do, had a drink.
Sometime in the next few hours, Vila was boasting to him about something he’d stolen and complaining he’d never have the nerve to use it.
“What is it then?”
“It’s a data-fly. You know: really, really mini vid-camera, the one that’s designed like a robot fly with wings. I’ve always fancied using it to see the girls undressing, but what if they caught me? Can you imagine what Dayna would do to me if she found out? Or Soolin?” Soolin occasionally showed evidence of a truly nasty, rather Avon-ish, sense of humour. Tarrant could well imagine Vila didn’t want it aimed at him.
He had a less libidinous idea. What if he could spy on one of Avon’s regular secret confabs with Blake? It wasn’t very honest, but on the other hand it might be the quickest way of finding out what Avon’s plans actually were. Oh, and Blake’s. What conceivable reason could Blake have for keeping a clone of himself about? To find out any of this, he needed the data-fly.
“Vila, I don’t suppose you’d consider lending it to me for an evening?” He smiled winningly.
“Depends,” said Vila, taking another gulp of his drink. Oh no, he’s going to ask me what I want it for, Tarrant thought.
“What’s in it for me?” asked Vila.
Tarrant sighed, and settled down to haggle.
Eventually, with a lot of swearing and one broken fingernail, Tarrant managed to release the tiny chip from the data-fly. He’d really admired the beauty and skill of the technology until he’d had to fiddle with it, and he hoped he hadn’t broken it. It slotted into the viewer with no sign of damage, though.
Thirty minutes of fairly cheerful but no-quarter-given political argument later, and he was none the wiser. Why the hell did Blake keep his clone around? Invited to too many rebel meetings for one man to cope with? It hardly seemed likely. At first he’d thought that Blake had some cold-blooded plan to let the clone die for him, but Blake actually seemed to like the clone, and the longer he kept him there, the less likely such an idea seemed.
About the fifteenth time one or other of the Blakes accused the other of a lack of political reality (and they’re both dressed alike today, Tarrant thought. It really does make it extremely difficult) Avon slapped the conference table and got up. “Neither of you have any sense of political reality,” he suggested, “and I’m tired of this conversation. Shall we relax?”
The other end of the massive conference chamber had a very large sofa in front of a small fire, and three small drinks poured out.
Maybe I should stop watching, Tarrant thought, but decided he could probably find out a bit more about the Blakes by listening to them talking when they were relaxing.
They sipped for a while, all three looking more relaxed, and at last Avon sat back with a sigh.
“What was it that made you two so friendly?” Avon asked, as if idly curious. Tarrant remembered that Avon’s curiosity was rarely particularly idle. He sat up, though: this was something that he too wanted to know.
“We weren’t at first,” admitted a Blake, chewing his finger.
“He sulked every time I came near him,” said the other.
“I’m his conscience,” explained Blake Two.
“As I have frequently told you,” Blake One replied hotly, “you have no sense of political reality and the necessity of dirtying one’s hands even in a just cause.”
“Don’t start all that again,” Avon said.
“So if it wasn’t politics that changed your mind?” he asked Blake One, “what was it?”
Blake One sighed. “He got me drunk late at night and I liked talking to him. I always missed my brothers,” he said.
“I tell him not to, if he’s planning something cruel,” Blake Two said.
“Conscience,” Avon nodded. “Like Gan. He’ll be good for you.”
“I persuade him fighting the Federation is worth it,” said Blake One.
“Two of you,” sighed Avon, “both with bad cases of ethics. The universe will never be the same.” Despite himself, Tarrant smiled. He recognised the world-weary tone rather well.
“Anyway, I didn’t come here just to chat about politics, fascinating as it is,” said Avon.
“No,” said Blake.
“No,” said other-Blake.
“Shall we?” Avon said, smiling.
Shall we? Shall we what? thought Tarrant, who had been sure the meeting was winding to a close.
One Blake went to a door in a small recess, and as it shut, the other Blake, and Avon, began to strip each other, quite quickly, or it would have been quick if they hadn’t stopped to kiss each other greedily every so often.
The Deltas had a word for it, what was it? Gobsmacked, that was it. He blessed Vila for teaching him a word that sounded a good deal more expressive than “astonished” or “amazed”, because ordinary language sometimes wasn’t expressive enough to be up to the job.
He should have turned the viewer off instantly, but the remote control had slipped down the side of the sofa again, and he was still too stunned to move, anyway.
When his mind started functioning again, the Blake, whichever he was, was completely naked, although Tarrant couldn’t see much of him because Avon, naked and very aroused, was in front of him. He’d missed getting a good look at Avon like that, it must have been weeks since… they hadn’t since they’d come here, in fact. He’d just assumed that Avon was too busy to think about sex.
Avon was not too busy to think about sex. Very much not.
Blushing, Tarrant realised he had slipped his hand into his trousers. He was about to snatch it out again, when he thought… why the hell not? After all, he was going to have to get used to an awful lot of solitary masturbation in future, and the view was good, and this was probably the last time he was likely to see it. He watched as they turned the sofa into a bed. Avon got onto the bed and Blake got onto Avon, and they settled down to a spot of kissing and foreplay. He began to stroke himself, half-closing his eyes, when the sound of a door opening nearly lost him his erection. He gasped, before realising the sound came from the tape.
The other Blake stood there. Magnificently arrogant and quite quite naked. He had a lot to be arrogant about. Clearly, the door led to a bathroom instead of somewhere else. Neither of the Blakes looked particularly surprised. Blake climbed onto the bed, gave Blake a friendly slap on the back, and said, “Move over. I like kissing him as well, you know!”
The Blake on the bed slid accommodatingly to one side, slinging a companionable arm round his quasi-brother, who grunted in response and began to kiss Avon. He kissed far more aggressively than the other one, and Avon didn’t seem to mind a bit. He had an arm round each of them, and looked as though he were enjoying himself.
With a small gasp, Tarrant noticed Avon’s hands moving slowly through Blake’s hair, stroking his curls. This—these—were who he’d been thinking of. And two at once, which was disgusting, perverted—although he couldn’t quite help finding it sort of arousing: the idea that the reserved, grudging Kerr Avon was this wild, wanton creature.
“Move over while I get started, Roj, would you?” Avon said.
Roj? Probably the clone. He certainly seemed the peaceful, biddable one of the two of them, and moved aside.
Avon turned on his side. Blake shifted position, settling into place behind Avon. “Avon?” he asked, “did you miss me, while I was… away?”
Avon wriggled, apparently trying to get comfortable. Not much room in Blake’s lap for much extra, Tarrant supposed.
“Well, I certainly missed being fucked,” Avon admitted calmly.
“Oh?” said Blake, “I wouldn’t have expected you to stay celibate.”
“Oh, I wasn’t celibate,” Avon said, stretching. “Not in front, at least.”
“You’ve been saving it for me?” Blake asked. Tarrant thought he sounded rather flattered.
Avon must have reached the same conclusion. “I didn’t find anyone big enough to do it properly,” he said.
Tarrant bristled. He himself had a cock long enough to satisfy any reasonable lover.
“What was your last lover like?” Blake asked.
Dropping a kiss on Roj’s nose—apparently to assure him he wasn’t being left out—Avon said, “Younger. More handsome.”
“I’m glad you had somebody to have fun with before we arrived,” said Roj. He clearly meant it. Clones probably didn’t have many taboos about sex.
Blake said, “Why’re you keeping us around, then?”
Avon’s expression was slightly mischievous. “This, I think,” he said, reaching back to stroke Blake’s cock. “It’s not much longer than his, but it is thicker.
Tarrant snorted. He was a little offended, of course, and also he was quite sure there was more to it than that. Oh, the clone, yes… Avon probably just thought the clone was fun to play with, as well, but Tarrant was beginning to see there was a lot of background.
“May I take it that that means you want fucking, Avon?” Blake said. The focus on the camera was good enough to see what Blake’s finger was doing, rubbing in circles around Avon’s arse, and even to see wetness catch the light as Blake spread Avon’s buttocks. Avon had evidently prepared for this.
Fascinated despite himself, Tarrant let his own fingers explore his own cock, imagining what it would be like to have Avon willing and open like that.
They’d obviously done it before, as well: Blake moved smoothly into position as if he knew how Avon liked it, by now.
As for Avon, he gave a soft purring grunt. But Avon never made noises, even that discreetly!
At this inopportune moment, Tarrant heard the door open.
This time the sound was not on the tape.
Tarrant froze. He had time to curse himself, and to try to work out whether the most important thing would be to do up his flies or to find the remote control to shut off the incriminating film. That was it.
“Tarrant, have you got the—” Vila said. Then his mouth dropped open. He came in, shut the door and said: “If I’d known what you were recording, I’d have asked to watch it with you,” he said. “I rather fancy being a data-fly on the wall for that pair.”
“Threesome,” Tarrant whispered.
Vila took a closer look. “My God, so it is!” he agreed.
“You’re not shocked!” said Tarrant, rather accusingly.
“Well, I knew about him and Blake, although the two-at-once bit is new to me. Surprised, not shocked.”
Blake slid his finger in, and Avon, on the screen, nearly whimpered, pushing back against Blake.
“Well, you’re ready, Avon. Are you ready for him, Roj?”
Blake sighed. “Put some lubricant on him, Avon. He never remembers.”
“Feels so much nicer when you do it, Avon,” Roj put in, licking his lips and turning away from Avon.
Without answering, Avon reached for a small pot of something, and began to apply it to Roj, gently but surely.
Roj was obviously thrilled, squirming and crying out. None of the nervousness an Earth-Alpha upbringing might give, he noticed, slightly enviously.
Avon laughed, a little. “Not yet, Roj,” he said. “You know Blake always wants to get started first.”
Roj sighed. “Come on, Blake,” he suggested. “The sooner you get started, the sooner he can start on me.”
Blake slapped Roj on the shoulder for his cheek, muttering about how some people had no idea about finesse or upbringing, but readied his massive cock to its task, and spread Avon open.
Vila whistled. “Looks as though all that’ll never fit, but it always did before.”
“I wish I’d been big enough for him,” Tarrant said wistfully.
Vila glanced at his lap. “You look big enough for anyone normal.”
“He said to Blake I hadn’t been big enough to fuck him,” Tarrant said in a shy whisper.
Vila wrinkled his nose. “I think that’s more to do with how he feels about Blake than anything else. Anyway, he’s not normal, considering he likes to be internally bludgeoned with a thing the size of that. You’re fine, Tarrant. I wouldn’t kick you out of bed, anyway. Avon just thinks a lot of Blake, and you know what he’s like, he finds it convenient to pretend it’s just his cock he likes, not the rest of him.”
“Anyway, how do you know so much about what they get up to, Vila?” Tarrant asked, beginning to have very highly-coloured imaginings.
Vila found that amusing. “Not what you’re thinking, Tarrant! I don’t think he goes for threesomes unless they’re both Blake. I’ve had Avon occasionally, just for fun on both sides. When he got lonely, not that he’d admit it.”
“Did he let you fuck him?”
“No. Saves his arse for Blake, I think. Was he obnoxious about it or something?” Vila said, sounding rather protective.
Tarrant found that a novelty. “Not really. Just heard him on the tape telling Blake that his previous one was younger, and handsomer—but not big enough to fuck him.”
“You poor sod, he really can be a bastard, often without trying,” remarked Vila. He slipped an arm round Tarrant, who for once found the comfort welcome. “No, it’s just that he’s obsessed with Blake, in bed and out of it. You’re big enough. I’d let you do me,” he said, grinning.
“That’s the best offer I’ve had for weeks,” said Tarrant. He found it odd, to be thinking that way about Vila, but actually—there was more distance in the leap he’d already made, from thinking of Vila as a complete waste of space to thinking of him as a friend, than there was in suddenly thinking of him as a sexual partner. And Vila’s unfeigned admiration was balm to his wounded self-esteem. And Vila wasn’t unattractive, just not showy.
“Really?” said Vila. He sounded as if he hadn’t been expecting the offer, but certainly wasn’t going to refuse it. “Come on, let’s get you sat down and comfortable.” In a few minutes they were wearing much less, and cuddled up on the sofa.
“Anyway, how do you know about them?” Tarrant asked. “I don’t imagine he’d be the sort to talk about it.”
“Maybe not, but I found out,” said Vila.
“Must have been the first time: happened to see him staggering to medical, he could hardly walk.”
“So you cleaned him up and made sure he wasn’t bleeding?”
“Mmm. I didn’t ask him who it had been, I could guess that, but I asked him if Blake had done anything wrong. His head shot up, and he glared at me, but he only muttered something about ‘over-enthusiasm on both sides’.”
“He looks quite enthusiastic now,” Tarrant said, returning his attention to the screen. He felt enthusiastic himself, partly because Vila was stroking him, and he was feeling relaxed and randy and altogether more admired than he tended to be sure of with Avon.
“Quite a beauty you’ve got there,” Vila remarked. “Needs his eyes tested if you ask me.”
Tarrant groped him back: he certainly wasn’t lying about enjoying this.
“Keep still and let me!” muttered Blake.
“You could always hold me down,” Avon suggested.
Blake snorted. “Should have remembered you had a bit of a fantasy about that. All right,” he added, reaching for Avon’s arms.
Avon immediately went still. Not out of fear. He was trying to look round at Blake, with huge dark eyes, dilated pupils, and his tongue just flicked out for a moment, licking his lips.
Blake began to ease himself in, going slowly.
Tarrant felt a bit strange about Vila calling him by his name. Part of him thought how dare he, a common Delta!”
As Vila clasped him in his arms, he remembered that Vila was a very uncommon Delta indeed, and there was none of the prejudice endemic on ships in the Service to worry about, not since he’d left, so no need to take it with him.
Vila made him feel at ease in a friendly sort of way, and as if what they were doing was an easy natural thing to do. Avon certainly hadn’t been a brute in bed, hadn’t even said cruel things, but there was a difference. There was no iota of the fight for dominance that was one of Avon’s particular talents, although (Tarrant checked the screen) the ability to dominate and submit at the same time seemed to please him.
He closed his eyes for a few moments. The complete sequence of events had escaped him a bit, but Vila had managed the trick of converting the sofa into a bed (which had taken him a while to master. Vila was good with his hands. In fact, very good) and they were lying down, naked. Vila began to nuzzle him and kiss his neck, whispering sweet adoring nothings that gave a lot of much-needed comfort to a man who’d had the sort of insult to his virility that Tarrant was now rapidly forgetting… He went to the bathroom for a necessary adjunct to the situation.
Now, how was Avon doing on the screen, he wondered, unscrewing the lubricant as he went.
In fact, Avon looked as if he liked it. Looked as if he loved it. He was making continuous and incoherent noises as Blake began to work himself in, going deeper at every stroke.
That was a good idea, he thought, as he began to lubricate Vila. “Can I make you make any noises?” he whispered, as Vila lay accommodatingly down and lifted his legs.
Vila chuckled and drew him close. “I think you can, Del. He must be blind if he didn’t notice you’re gorgeous. And fuckable,” he added. “Damn. There isn’t a word for it this way round.”
Tarrant slid in, slowly. Vila did indeed start making noises. He hadn’t realised how much he’d missed that, with Avon, just the simple uncomplicated communication that this was fun, and his partner didn’t mind showing it.
Blake let go of Avon’s hands, and Avon instantly began to masturbate.
Blake slapped him on the wrist. “Not going to deprive poor Roj of his turn, are you?” he said.
“Can’t help wanting to!” Avon panted, dragging Blake’s hand up and biting it.
“Contrary little nuisance, aren’t you, Kerr?” Blake purred at him in a deep whisper which apparently did nothing to calm Avon’s desires.
“You know,” said Vila, “this is like being at an orgy without having any complicated bits. We can just watch and enjoy ourselves.”
Tarrant checked the screen again. Roj was writhing into position, letting Avon penetrate him with no apparent pain or difficulty.
Avon said, “Oh, that’s it, that’s it, Roj, keep still,” and the words trailed into a groan of pleasure.
“I think he’s enjoying himself,” Vila said.
Tarrant looked at Avon’s face. He did indeed look as though he was enjoying himself. His eyes were shut. With a little effort, all three seemed to move in rhythm, Avon taking every thrust Blake gave him and passing it on to Roj. All three of them were quite noisy.
Blake was choreographing the act, evidently: Avon was letting Blake’s thrusts carry him forward into Roj, and Roj apparently felt no need to do anything but enjoy himself.
Vila grinned. “Looks like too much hard work for me,” he said.
“I’ll be happy to leave him to Blake. At least you’re normal!” Tarrant said.
“You’re not too bad, for an Alpha,” Vila said.
About to bristle, Tarrant realised in time that it was gentle teasing. “You’re not too bad, for a Delta,” he said. “I was expecting to have to teach you how to use a knife and fork, let alone how to have sex.”
“Yeah, but Deltas are good in bed. There was one Alpha I knew in prison, he just lay there.”
“Just lay there?” gasped Tarrant. The man must have been made of stone not to react if Vila had nuzzled his neck like that.
“Yep. S’pose he thought it was enough of an honour and a privilege for a Delta to touch his noble bollocks—prob’ly thought I’d die of shock if he actually moved!”
Tarrant chuckled. There had been a few men at the Academy that he could imagine behaving in just that way.
“Avon’s not that bad,” Vila continued, “and nor are you. You’re gorgeous and not half as starchy as I thought when I first met you, and I bet you’d even kiss back.”
“I could probably manage kissing, Vila,” Tarrant agreed. He did so, noting that Vila was actually very good at it.
“Come on,” said Blake, “Roj is getting all the kissing.”
“No he isn’t,” Vila said, with a wicked smile.
“Mmm,” said Tarrant, when he could speak again. “Poor Avon,” he said, looking at the unnatural position Blake’s desire for a kiss had put Avon in.
“Having to twist his head round a bit for a snog? Shouldn’t think he minds—look at how he’s moving.”
Tarrant looked, and without his attention holding him back, his body thrust harder and faster, harder and faster. He stopped looking, and simply kissed Vila. Then he raised his head to breathe.
“Let’s try for it all at once,” said Vila.
“What, at the same time as—?” said Tarrant, incredulously.
“Why not? Just to see if it can be done?”
“All right,” said Tarrant doubtfully. The other three seemed to be fairly close to orgasm, so he merely manipulated Vila’s cock, and on his own account went on thrusting, which was quite good enough to—
“Now!” shouted Vila, shoving his backside up a little to encourage Tarrant.
The sound of five men coming in enthusiastic unison filled the room.
Tarrant realised he was still moaning a little with the aftershocks. It had been very good, and so much better than the solitary misery he’d been anticipating. Vila was still holding him close, as well.
“All right, Vila?” he asked, tenderly.
“Better than that,” Vila said, with a crooked grin. “Now, have I made you feel a bit more attractive?”
“Mmm. A bit. Maybe I’ll need more flattery and charm over the next however-long, if you’ll stay around. Just to make sure the lesson takes.”
Vila intimated, with words and kisses and cuddles, that this wasn’t going to be a problem. Then a sudden idea seemed to strike him.
“As for Avon, look at it this way, Tarrant: you’re good enough that he needs two to fill in after you,” he suggested.
Tarrant fell asleep still laughing.
>Has anyone got a spare Plot lying about? That they’re
So Helen Patrick said:
But I offered you some…
>That can end up with A & B at it like knives? That sort
Ah yes, that was why you didn’t want them—at each other with knives wasn’t quite what you wanted…
I turn back at the door. “What now?”
“One more story?”
I sigh. But he sounds very sleepy. It shouldn’t take long. “Oh, all right. But just one. Which one do you want?”
“Happy one.” Not the easiest request… I sit down on the bed again. “How about the one where Blake found the king’s magic garden and killed all the spell-plants?”
“Except the one…” He always knows if I leave something out.
“Oh yes, except the one that was a good plant really and Cally kept it as a pet. That one?”
He thinks about it, snuggling further into the covers. “No. ‘Cos Hanna died of the spells.”
“So she did… Well, how about the one where Gan made the wall come down on the witch… no, Gan dies too, doesn’t he? It isn’t easy to find a happy one.”
“Happy ending one.”
“Oh, that one… Well, Blake was in his castle on Gauda Prime, getting the people together, and they came from all over the galaxy to join him. But one was a traitor, Arlen.”
“The witch’s daughter,” he murmurs into my shoulder.
“Yes, though Blake didn’t know that. He’d saved her life, but she opened the secret door and let the witch’s soldiers in. They were going to kill everyone except Blake, and she’d told them to bring him to her as a prisoner, to practice spells on.”
“But then Avon came.”
“That’s right, Avon and the others had been looking all over for Blake and they found him just when the soldiers got there. Avon came in, and Blake went to greet him and Vila and the rest, and they saw the soldiers crowding in behind, where he couldn’t see them. And Avon shot him…”
“…because he’d promised…”
“…never to let them take Blake alive. Blake knew they would cast spells on him again, like before, and he’d made Avon promise never to let it happen. So Avon shot him, and Blake smiled, because he knew why. Then all the rest got shot, but Avon was standing over Blake’s body so the soldiers wouldn’t get it, and he fell dead across it.”
“And afterwards…” It’s more a yawn than speech, but he won’t have a word left out.
“And afterwards, when they moved Avon’s body, Blake’s had gone. They’d wanted it to send to the witch, but it had vanished out of the world, because he would need it again some day. That’s how we know he’ll come back.”
“When things are at their worst; when it’s time to fight back. He is the one who will always come when the people need him.”
“Why can’t he come now? Then Daddy and the others could stop fighting and come home.”
Trust a child to ask an awkward question. “Maybe things aren’t bad enough yet. Anyhow he is here, in a way. That’s what gives them the heart to fight, knowing there was someone like him, and will be again.”
I settle him in. “Time to sleep now. Goodnight.”
“‘Night. Oh, Mum—”
“It is all true, isn’t it? About Blake? Even if they say it isn’t?”
“Oh, yes. Every word.”
Move Along There
Predatrix discusses writing techniques:
If you’re talking about the smaller detail of how to physically move them, don’t spend many words on that. People (especially stroppy people like A & B) are capable of arguing while walking down a corridor, having lunch, doing engineering or hacking work, or for all I know, shooting troopers (although one might think it might fuck up their aim). If the physical task is minor or routine, they’d be likely to only devote about 5% of their attention to it, short brusque words whenever anything needed to be done. Avon and Blake carrying a double bed upstairs, for example, might be carrying on a ferocious piece of no-holds-barred dialectic interspersed with practical matters. Sort of: “left a bit—and what do you mean by freedom anyway?—pick up your end—look, you can’t lead this bed into the bedroom, what makes you think you can sort out galactic liberty?—that nearly fell on me, and I assume you want us to use this bed once we’ve landed it, Blake, which will not be possible if you’ve broken my foot—I said left, Blake, which considering your politics isn’t a word I’d assume you’d have a problem with…” and so on. Dear me: I thought that was going to be a perfectly clean exemplary sentence. Sorry.
Face In The Crowd
Of course, you know they never had a chance. That’s what everybody’s saying. The Federation has survived revolution, civil war, the collapse of Central Control, alien invasion, and more resisters than anybody will even try to remember. What hope could one man offer?
You should have come earlier. Or you should’ve stayed at home—you’d see it all much better on the viscast. Here, in the only space you could find with any sort of view, the platform is too far away to make out anything clearly. So are the giant screens—side on, or blocked by other structures, their pictures are distorted or incomplete.
Never mind. There’ll be repeats.
Six figures. Pale faces. Tiny blobs in the distance, inhuman smears on the vast screens.
Even the noises from the platform are indistinct. You hear an echo of angry voices, but no words reach you. One of them is crying. From this distance they sound like a child.
The Dome PA system, broadcasting the live commentary over badly maintained speakers, says that almost four hundred thousand citizens have come to see this. Why did you come? Was it fear? Fear of not being seen to be loyal? If so, you aren’t alone. The crowd around you has an undercurrent of fear, and of other things. Troopers wait around the edges, much nearer to you than the platform is, ready for trouble.
No need for you to worry, though. Pylene-50, an open, terrifying secret, has never been used on any of the Inner Worlds. Not yet.
Movement on the platform—troopers and officials, as far as you can tell. If you’d stayed at home, watched the viscast, you’d know what was happening. Did you come because you wanted to see something with your own eyes, this once? To be a part of history? To be able to say that you were here, at the execution of Roj Blake, Kerr Avon, Vila—
No. Perhaps you shouldn’t say that. You know the names now, as familiar as your own family, but it will be wiser to forget them. You can tell your grandchildren you were there when Blake the Traitor and his Criminal Gang were finally brought to justice. That will be safe enough.
But really, why should you need a reason to be here? You’re only one face in the crowd, and the six on the platform travelled much further. All the way here, to Earth, from a Glorious Federation Victory on a frontier planet you’d never heard of before. Can you imagine that distance? You, who thought it was a long walk in to work yesterday morning when the transporters were cancelled? Who has never even been Outside?
You thought about it once—not about Outside, but about joining the resisters. Even about trying to find Blake himself. Who hasn’t, when they cut the rations, again? Or a riot was bloodily suppressed, or the Service recruiters took yet another round of conscripts to die pacifying yet another planet? Or when they arrested your friend’s sister for subversion and, hating yourself, you never spoke to him again because it was safer that way?
You thought about going then. You might have done it, if you’d had any idea how to get illegal passage off Earth. Someone approached you once, suggested something, but you thought he could be an agent from Central Security and so you reported him.
You might have gone, but…
What if you were caught? What about the Interrogation Division? What about the things they’d do to those you’d leave behind? What if you braved the dangers and made it and all the propaganda about him was true?
Terrorist, butcher and worse. Hundreds dead in an attack on Space Command. A neutral medical base destroyed. A civilian research facility wiped out on Fosforon—that was on the viscast. A woman in your division lost her Service husband on Saurian Major. You’ve never met her, but there was a sympathy card and a collection, so you know it’s true. Two fatherless children—what did that achieve?
The Children, the other children, were on a viscast last night. They always are, whenever Blake’s name crops up. If you asked anyone, and they thought they could trust you, they’d say Blake was innocent. Framed. But still, you can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t a grain of truth in it. No smoke without fire.
One of them—Carl Deca—died years ago. Couldn’t handle it, started having delusions about Blake. The doctors tried to help him, of course. Killed himself, in the end. Sad.
There’s a Foundation named after Carl. They had a spokesman from there on the viscast, and the rest of the Children and their families. Older now, but still as angry. Blake Destroyed My Life, as the title of the viscast put it. “We’ll never forgive him. If the Federation doesn’t kill him and his friends, we will.”
Not that there was ever any doubt that the Federation would kill them in the end. They never had a chance. Not with so many against them.
The distant voices from the platform are silenced, one by one. From here, you can’t even see how they die.
Never mind. There’ll be repeats.
Would it have done any good if you’d risked your dreams and damned your family and gone to find him? Would it have mattered? Would it have made a difference to how things ended here, today?
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Now you’ll never know.
A New Life
I was only half asleep when she got home and climbed into bed next to me with a weary sigh. I never sleep well when she’s this late. There’s so much that can go wrong in her line of work.
I roll over and wrap her up in my arms, moulding her curves to mine. She’s just the perfect height for me, and she fits as though we were designed to meld together like this. It’s a freezing night outside and her skin is chilled, but I don’t mind her cold bum sticking into me. She’ll warm up quickly enough, and I need to hold her close. I don’t like being on my own at night.
“Did the kids behave?” she asks in a quiet voice, knowing I’m awake.
“Of course,” I say, “they always do. They’re good kids.” And they are, too. She’s done a good job with them. It can’t have been easy. I love looking after them, it’s like having a real family. Well, it’s not like they’ve ever had a dad of their own, is it? I get the feeling I treat them better than some of Shena’s other men have done. Elli was so suspicious of me when I first moved in, not that I can blame her. She’s lived in this hell-hole long enough to know that girls of her age need to be careful of Mum’s boyfriend. She never left me alone with little Benn for a start, either. Sad, that a kid of her age has to know these things.
Nasty thoughts. They won’t help me sleep, and I often need help to do that. I was lucky to find Shena when I did, or the booze would probably have got me. You can’t do my line of work drunk, too much chance of making a mistake, and I’d got to the point where I was drinking to get through the day as well as to blot out the nights. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t have met Shena if I hadn’t tried to do a job half-cut. I literally landed almost right on top of her when I had to climb out the air vents into the alley when the alarms went off.
Tarrant told me once that I was far luckier than I had any right to be. I can’t remember what led him to say it, but I do remember Avon snorting and making some snide comment about the devil looking after his own. Not that he believed in luck or the devil, of course, he’d then added, a bit too late to be convincing. I suppose Tarrant was right. After all, I’m still alive, and they’re dead. And I’ve got someone who cares about me and isn’t afraid to show it.
I shouldn’t think about them, either, not if I want to sleep. Too many bittersweet memories, too likely to end up dreaming about their deaths. I still keep seeing Avon’s face in my nightmares, that awful expression as he realised he’d got it wrong and that Blake was collapsing into his arms, dying. And then the next round of shots started and I went down as though I’d been hit, hamming it up for all I was worth.
Once upon a time Avon would have done the same. Looking back, I can’t really remember when he started to fight back rather than to look for safety. When we first arrived on the Liberator he was just as battle-shy as I was. I suppose he was a lot braver than me. He learnt to do it. Towards the end, he learnt to like it, and that’s when we started to drift apart, even before we went to Malodar.
The way I fell meant I couldn’t see what happened to the others—I was watching through slitted eyes—but I heard them all die. There’s a distinctive noise, a death rattle, which I’ve heard far too often. I heard it three times, just after I heard Tarrant call Avon’s name. How must it have felt, knowing as he died that he’d got it all wrong, just like Blake had said, and that he’d unwittingly unleashed that disaster on us all? I hope Avon heard him and understood, I really do, but somehow I doubt it. I don’t think Avon registered anything at all after he shot Blake.
I could see Avon, though, straddling Blake’s body with that heartbreaking look on his face. I forgave him at that moment for what he’d tried to do to me in the shuttle. How could I not? We should have seen it coming, I suppose. I should have, I knew him best, knew how paranoid he’d got, knew how his judgement was slipping with the exhaustion and stress, should have known that he’d be fearing betrayal above all else. I don’t know what I could have done, but I could have done something, I could have tried. Cally would have tried. I didn’t, because I was tired, because I’d stopped caring what happened to me or anyone else, and because I still hated him for what he’d done and, even more, for what he’d said over Malodar. I stopped hating him too late.
When the troopers surrounded him, and he raised the gun with that parody of his beautiful smile, I closed my eyes. I couldn’t bear to actually see him die, to see the life ebb out of him as it had ebbed out of Blake. But I wanted them to kill him, God help me. I didn’t want him to have to live with what he’d just done. He was tough, our Avon, but no-one’s that tough. He’d barely coped after Anna died, and she’d betrayed him; then with Cally on top of that… I didn’t doubt he loved Blake just as much as he’d loved Anna—not the way you love a woman, but it was love all right. You could see that in the way he guarded Blake’s body, protected him even in death. And Blake hadn’t betrayed him, it hadn’t all been a lie, but he’d killed him anyway. No, I’m glad Avon’s dead, and I hope he’s found peace. But I miss him, I miss him so much.
I pull Shena tighter and she draws in a sharp breath. It brings me back to the present, where I’m just Villim Rastrick, petty thief extraordinaire, lying in bed with his woman in a poky two-bedroom apartment in the seediest part of town. I suppose that’s something I have to thank Avon for, the untraceable fake identity and modest bank account he set up for me when we first got Orac, in case I ever needed it in the future. It made starting a new life so much easier. Even if I get arrested and they test me, I won’t be linked back to Vila Restal.
I’ve never told Shena who I really am, and I doubt I ever will. It’s not a question of trust. Vila’s dead, as far as I’m concerned. He died on Gauda Prime with his friends.
“You all right?” I ask her, because she’s wincing in my arms, and I let her go.
“Bit sore,” she admits. “Rough punter and rougher wall.” I reach out to turn on the light, then pull back the covers. I wish I didn’t have such a good sense of smell. It’s funny, I don’t really mind what she does (who am I to complain, I thieve for a living), but I don’t like this particular reminder of it. I can smell it, another man’s—other men’s—semen on her skin, on the knickers she’s dropped on the floor. We haven’t got a shower in the apartment, just a loo and a tiny sink, and if she uses the communal shower down the hall at this hour of night the mad old bastard next door to it comes down here the next day and hammers on the door, screaming that she’s a whore. Shena can cope, she’s heard it all before, but it upsets the kids. Benn asked me the other day what a whore was. I didn’t know how to explain. He’s only four.
She rolls over for me so that I can see her naked back, see the grazes and the welts that will have turned into bruises by the morning. It’s not too bad, but I bet it hurts. I get out of bed, pull on a filthy dressing gown, and pad out to the loo and the excuse for a medicine cabinet. Not for the first time, I really wish that just one of the regenerators from the Liberator had survived. This healing cream just isn’t the same. I think this is the worst part for me: not the thought of another man screwing her, but seeing her come home hurt sometimes. But we have to eat. At least she doesn’t have to pull as many punters now I’m here to help.
I squirt some of the cream out on to my palm and warm it up a bit before I start to rub it gently into her damaged skin. She gasps a bit for a start, but she soon relaxes and my little first aid job quickly turns into a back massage. She’s making murmuring noises of pleasure now, and squirming under my touch, and you can imagine the effect the sight of her wriggling bottom is having on me. She giggles, and I know she’s doing it on purpose, so I smack her, not hard, just enough to let her know that I know what she’s up to. She laughs and wiggles again, ever defiant. She knows how to distract me when my memory won’t leave me alone, and she always seems to know, even when I don’t say anything.
Shena rolls over and pushes me down on to the bed on my back and teases me, starting with my nipples and working downwards. When she gets to my groin, she reaches across me for the healing cream and takes out a big dollop. She slaps it straight on my cock, cold from the tube, and as I yelp and swear she laughs again. She swings herself across me and takes me inside without any preliminaries, yelping herself as the slightly less cold cream comes into contact with the hot velvety skin inside her. We’re both warm again within seconds.
She rides me slowly at first, letting the soothing ointment do its work on her, but then she starts to bounce much harder and faster. I’m content to let her set the pace, I know she’ll come hard in this position if I let her lead, and that’s important to me. Well, it would be, wouldn’t it? And I’m right, she does come, quickly, her head thrown back and her hand stuffed in her mouth to quieten her cries, so she won’t wake the kids. I hold her by the hips and start driving into her quicker, enhancing the pleasure she’s already given me, until I feel her tighten around me again and we share our ecstasy.
She forgets her knocks and scrapes as she sags against my chest, then rolls free and snuggles back into the shelter of my arms. Her lovely bottom’s hot now, and she pushes it back into my satisfied flesh. I love this woman, and I’m immensely grateful for that. It’s not so long since I found myself wondering whether I was still capable of love.
She likes to talk afterwards, sometimes, and I like to listen to her until I fall asleep. Such a simple pleasure, and such a precious one. She’s talking now, but I’m not really listening to her words, just the lilt of her voice.
“…really strange, the look in his eyes. I thought he might be a bit mad.” She often talks about her punters, but never the actual sex. “They were striking, too, his eyes, quite dark brown but he was pale-skinned, a real contrast.”
That gets my attention, and I can’t suppress a painful memory of a particularly unforgettable pair of eyes meeting that description.
“He reminded me of you, love. He looked like you did when we first met, when you were still all sad.” I’d told her an edited version of the truth, that I’d been on a dangerous job and my partner had been killed. I had to tell her something to explain the melancholy I so often felt and showed.
“What did he look like?” I ask. I can feel my mouth going dry. Stupid, I know, there must be millions of dark-eyed, fair-skinned, and slightly insane men out there. Hundreds, even, in this city alone.
She’s surprised at the question and she twists around in my arms to look at me with a puzzled frown on her pretty face, but she answers.
“Oh, about the same height and build as you, just a little bit taller, maybe. About forty, I reckon. Pale, like I said, but with short dark hair, dark eyes. Quite good looking, really,” she adds with a little giggle, but I’m not in the mood to respond to that. “And he had this sexy, posh voice, a bit husky. He should be on the viscasts with a voice and a face like that. I asked him where he came from—not round here, that’s for sure—but he wouldn’t say.”
There’s something going on inside my chest, a feeling of tightness. I’m finding it hard to breathe, and Shena’s still talking.
“I didn’t like his smile, though. That’s what made me think he might be insane. It just didn’t look right.”
“A dangerous smile, like he’s about to hurt you and enjoy it?” I ask, and my voice really is shaky now. At least my heart’s started beating again. It’s trying to hammer its way out through my ribs.
“Yes,” she says, sounding surprised. “Villim, are you all right? You look awful.”
I didn’t see him die, did I, I just heard the shots. And now I come to think of it, I heard three last exhalations, not four. When I opened my eyes again, when all the footsteps and voices had receded, Blake and Avon were gone, but the other bodies were still there. I just assumed they’d taken those two because they were worth the biggest bounty. I didn’t hang around to find out what they did with the others.
And where would a sensible man go if he was fleeing from Gauda Prime? Where I’d gone, here. You could get a passage here easily enough from GP or any of the other planets in the area, and the city had a reputation for being under only the loosest Federation control. You could lose yourself into anonymity here. I had.
The last bit of evidence was the bit I didn’t want to think too hard about.
“Did you do him?” I ask.
I knew he had used prostitutes when he got the chance, when we had the Liberator and the treasure room and he could afford the best. He liked sex, he told me once when I caught him sneaking off. He said paying a professional was a damned sight easier and safer than trying to pick someone up in a bar, and a lot less trouble than getting into a relationship. Ever the pragmatist, he was, and he never gave a toss what other people might think of his morals. And a whore couldn’t break your heart, could she?
“Of course,” Shena answers, “that’s what they pay me for.” She pauses, and reaches out to stroke my cheek. “I know I said he was cute, but I was only joking. You know you’re the only one who matters, the others are just punters.”
“I know,” I whisper, turning my head to kiss the inside of her wrist, and I do know it. But if it’s him, he’s not just another punter, is he? God knows, if he is still alive he’ll be needing some sort of comfort, even if it is the sort you have to pay for.
I throw back the blankets and get out of bed, and when I pull my clothes on I’m shaking so much that I almost trip over my trousers.
“Villim!” she cries out, “what’s wrong with you!?”
“I have to find him, Shena. I think I know who he is. I thought he was dead. Where did you do him?” I’m praying that he took her back to his place, that he’ll still be there when I get there.
“The alley behind the power station.” Damn, damn, damn. “I picked him up outside the bar around the corner, the Aftarian one. But that was this afternoon.” She gets out of bed too, starts getting dressed. “Let me help you find him,” she says.
“No,” I say, “stay with the kids. I’d recognise him anywhere.” I’ve got no way of knowing what sort of state he’ll be in, if it is him—not a stable one, probably. Safer for us all if I go alone, no strangers looking for him, no nasty surprises. He doesn’t react well to nasty surprises. I hope he won’t see me as one.
I spend four days and nights walking the streets, starting by the power station and slowly working outwards, then working my way back again. I hadn’t realised until now just how average he is in so many ways. He’d always seemed so different, but now every second man looks like him at first glance. Do you know how many men there are out there of his height with straight brown hair?
I barely rest, and I keep walking until my feet are raw and Shena’s begging me to stop. I look at myself in the mirror and see why. He’s haunting me, I can see it in my eyes. Weird, isn’t it? He’s haunting me ‘cos I think he’s still alive.
Is that just wishful thinking? Maybe. I’m not sure what I want to believe.
It must have been about six or seven weeks later that Shena came to me, all nervous. She’d got something to tell me, she said. She’s expecting a baby.
I don’t know why she was so worried. I was delighted. She told me she didn’t know whether it was mine or not, but I didn’t care. In fact, I knew right from the start it probably wasn’t my kid. I’d been exposed to a big dose of radiation once too often in the Liberator days, according to Orac, nasty-minded machine that it was. I’d never bothered to find out the truth—well, it’s a bit embarrassing, isn’t it, providing a sample, and I certainly wasn’t going to get Cally to check.
But, when I added up the dates, I realised it could be my child. Or it could be his. Or any one of a load of other men, I know, I know. But I didn’t care who’d provided the sperm, this was my child and I was going to be a dad. And, funnily enough, the idea that the baby might be his made it easier for me to cope with that nagging feeling that I’d just missed him, that he was out there somewhere alone and hurting, thinking me dead along with all the others. Though I doubted whether he’d be grieving too much for me, not with Blake to think about.
Other things started looking up about then, too. My name had been getting around, and a couple of heavies came looking for me one day. Their boss wanted a word, they said. I was scared shitless, but it turned out he wanted his house rigged up so the likes of me—or his rivals—couldn’t get into it.
That was the start of a whole new career. Petty thieving had hardly extended me, but I hadn’t dared try anything too ambitious in case I got caught and left Shena in the lurch, and I’d been getting bored. Keeping me out of a place was a whole new challenge, and I loved it. Now I’m Villim Rastrick, security consultant, and a respectable one too.
We moved out of the slums and I leased a shop, with a flat over the top for the four-and-a-half of us, as we were then. We’re hardly rich, but it’s a nice enough area and, hey, the place has two showers. We got Elli into a good school and she’s thriving, really learning. She’s clever, she’ll go far now that she’s got choices. Benn’s brightened up too, he loves his new friends. I bought him his first scooter for his birthday.
I sit here in the evenings, with my baby son in my arms, and think how lucky I’ve been, really. By rights, I should be dead or rotting on Cygnus Alpha. But here I am, happy and contented. My son feels it too, he looks up at me with those expressive brown eyes of his and smiles. He’s just learned to smile, and it’s the best feeling in the world, watching him do it, realising he’s smiling at me, his dad.
A new life. So much hope, so much potential, so much love.
I named him Kerr, just in case.
Mushy card….3 credits
-—Zenia re: Blake and Avon’s relationship
Stages of grief. Denial, anger, acceptance. I’m not there yet. He shot me. Three times. He was always a thorough bastard.
Why can’t I forgive him? He says he’s sorry and I believe him. Sorry he made a fool of himself, sorry he was wrong. It isn’t enough. I want him to feel this tearing agony that consumes me and he doesn’t, he can’t. Because of Tarrant.
Once I got back on my feet I tried to go about the new base as often as I could. It was important to be seen, to stop the rumours and raise morale. I lunched with Avon’s crew, congratulated them publicly on the work that they were doing for me, did everything I could to integrate them with my people. And waited for Avon to come to me.
I was on my way to Engineering when it happened. Still easily tired, I had stopped to rest outside the room. They were leaning over a console, talking in low tones. I saw, unbelieving, Tarrant’s hand slip caressingly round Avon’s waist and down to squeeze his arse, saw Avon lean into him and snatch a fleeting kiss. I heard myself groan. It is hard for the dying to be silent. Unbearably, there was pity on Tarrant’s face as they watched me leave.
Most nights now I get drunk with Vila. For both of us Avon is a wound that will not heal. We pick compulsively at the scab. We damn him together. For being happy when we are not.
I asked him to see me today. He knocked politely, watched me politely from the other side of the abyss. I wasted no time.
“There is a ship provisioned and ready to go on slipway 3. Talk to Deva if there is anything else you need. Orac stays with me as payment. I expect you and Tarrant to be gone from here in two days.”
He was quiet for a moment. “I had thought the work we were doing here was satisfactory.”
“You know that it is. Any rebel group will welcome you with open arms. Or you can finally find your bolthole. It seems that it no longer matters to me.”
There was a familiar line between his brows. “Odd. It never occurred to me that you would put your personal feelings before your precious cause. Which weighs most heavily upon you, Blake? That I tried to kill you or that I’m having sex with Tarrant?”
I kept my voice steady with an effort. “I can’t tell any longer, Avon. I only know that I dream of hurting you, making you scream my name in the dark as I scream yours. And that I can’t bear it. Maybe when you’re gone I can stop hating you, stop loving you. Please, Avon.”
I watched his eyes darken. He said, “We’ll leave tomorrow,” and, after a pause I was unable to measure, “Blake. To say that I never meant to hurt you would be redundant.”
“And untrue,” I whispered.
“Yes. But for what it is worth, I’d like you to know. What I feel for Tarrant, it isn’t more than what I have always felt for you. It’s only different. If that is ever enough, if ever you find that you can forgive me, Orac will find a way to contact me. Goodbye, Blake.”
It is tomorrow. What am I going to do?
Among The Dead
Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” is a depressing little tale about fog, mistaken identity, romantic obsession, and manipulation. It’s just… so them. —Executrix
His equilibrium was never the same, after he saw Blake fall and couldn’t save him. Fall to the floor of Star One, fall through one too many stars in the life capsule’s electronic tomb. He clung to the gutter. And in the wake of that loss, he couldn’t really work any more. He’d lost his edge. He tried, and sensible sweet Cally tried to cheer him up, with sayings, with kisses, with pictures. It didn’t work.
Unbalanced with loss, he stumbled around. Perhaps with a figurehead, he could pull himself up. He went to a place where there were ancient forests, trees that accidentally recorded many deaths.
And in one of the bars in that place, one place on an open planet, he saw someone who sketched a caricature of Blake—not rumpled but dirty, not myopic but one-eyed, not ample but bloated. Blake had always been a hunter, and so was this man. Raw material to be moulded, to be carved, to be quarried.
Preparing, he taught the man Blakeness—to be solid, to be certain, to have only one point of focus, to have only one message. And when he had emptied out everything he knew on the subject, he thought they were both ready.
Avon went to the man’s flat. He thought for a long time about what he should ask the tailor to supply. He settled on the soft tan boots, the white breeches and open white shirt suitable for a warm climate much earlier.
White muslin curtains blew outward, past the open french doors, out to the balcony. Avon wanted to close the doors, but he couldn’t make himself go to the edge.
The man unzipped the tailor’s bag, unshrouded the outfit. “No,” he said. “No.”
“What can it matter to you?” Avon asked. The man shrugged, went to change. And that gave Avon time to look around. He was used to environments where one thing was cherished—one thing that could be loved but couldn’t talk back. Cally’s moondisk there; here, a potted plant, The plant, a stunted tree, grew through a hoop of metal.
“Blake…” he said. “Blake, I loved you so. You shouldn’t have kept the bracelet. You shouldn’t have been so… sentimental.”
Blake, dressed in clean new white, backed away from what he saw on Avon’s face. Avon kept on going forward, though Blake told him to stand still. Blake backed past the threshold, felt the pain as the balcony railing struck his back, as he began to pitch backwards.
“Take my hand,” Avon said. Blake did, and then they were falling, falling together, like Lucifer or comets, what have you.
On the pavement below, or rather across the street, Servalan was waiting, wearing the black and white of half-mourning, pleased with the result of her efforts.
Federation children don’t have Mother Goose…instead, they get Poppa Ganda.
Met a really cute guy named Blake today. Much nicer than I expected, promised to free the galaxy. Told him that I preferred flowers.
-—Zenia’s sig file
Let’s be honest, Psicon II is not a good place to live, visit or even be aware of. Sure, it has its OK spots and it’s not the worst place in the Federation, though it likes to think that it’s in the premier division of the shit-holes league. A shame really, because parts of the planet are quite nice, but they are the parts the average tourist never wanders anywhere near. Most visitors are drawn to the cities, the big cities, and the biggest of them all is Yordon, which is definitely the meanest, baddest city on this rock, which probably ranks it not just in the premier division, but in the higher echelons of the premier division when it comes to worst cities.
Sure, it has its good side. There are museums and theatres and cinemas; there’s a theme park for the kids. There are trendy bars and cafes over on the west side, and there are areas where it is almost safe to walk home alone at night. Almost. The problem is that west side doesn’t take up all of the west side. The rest of it, along with the north, east and south side, is the sort of place where walking with half a dozen of the meanest, toughest motherfuckers you’ve ever met doesn’t guarantee you a safe passage. Yordon is dangerous, even to read about in an over-hyped tourist brochure.
I suppose that’s why I like it.
You see, I am one of the meanest, toughest motherfuckers in this world, but I have an advantage over all the other mean, tough motherfuckers. I have religion.
Now I’m not sure if I found religion or if it found me, but we make good, if sometimes strange, bedfellows.
Before I go any further, let’s set the record straight. I don’t believe in god, any god. I don’t believe in first, second, third or n to the power of infinity comings, unless it’s the thick white stuff spurting from my prick during a self inflicted hand massage or, on a rare occasion when I have a few spare credits, at one of the city’s cheaper establishments.
Strange, some people think a whore is a whore, and in one sense they are right. But there are whores and there are whores. There are the classy ones, who’ll stay the night after they’ve been out for a meal with you, or to the theatre, and act like they are your girlfriend, and make all the other men jealous that they can’t pull a stunner like that. I can’t. I can’t even afford to shake their hands. Then there are the medium ones. A bit pricey, but they’ll give you a good time and you’ll know you’ve had a shag. And then there are the rest, the ones you only go to because that’s all you can afford and your balls are fit for bursting, and you go and you pay your money and you come and you walk away feeling dirty and unsatisfied, but you always go back. They are like an addiction, they draw you in and there’s nothing you can do about it. They are the ones I know best.
There are others. There are places where you can get anything in Yordon. I’m a local and I know about things like that. I know the men who will find you what you want for a price and will pay a fair commission for the right introduction.
Now let’s be clear. Children do not turn me on. I’d rather spend two hours listening to an alternative politically correct poet than spend more than ten minutes in the company of a child. But I know there are men who do get off on that sort of thing and are willing to pay, so if I can scrape a little off the top by making the introduction, what’s the harm in that? This is why I was quite excited when I heard Blake was in town.
You know Blake, you’ve heard of Blake. He’s that rebel guy who got sent down for molesting kids and is now gallivanting across the galaxy preaching revolution and equality. Just because he’s got a big ship, he thinks he’s god. But he’s not. I told you, I don’t believe in god and therefore Blake’s not him. He’s just another pervy hypocrite who’s got a bit of power and a bit of a following and was therefore going to be a nice touch for a few credits when I met him. That was the plan anyway. I thought if I was lucky and very convincing, or a bit of both, I might even have earned enough for a medium shag before the week was out; now there’s motivation for you.
Anyway, I was going to tell you about religion. Now, as you know, the Federation has banned all religion, which was a stupid move on their part if you ask me, not that anyone ever has. You see, when you have a regime as oppressive as theirs, religion can help you. You teach the people to behave themselves in this life, know their station, rich man in his castle, poor man at the gate, all that kind of stuff, then they will have a lovely life when they die; what better way to keep them down? They’ll spend all their time being nice and not revolting because they believe that’s the way to heaven, and the rulers can do whatever they damn well like. Missed opportunity methinks by the Federation, but that wasn’t the first or the only mistake the Federation has made and I’m sure it’s got a few more waiting in the wings yet.
However, with the Federation banning religion, it has created a bit of an opening for the likes of me, a con man by trade. You see, if you pretend not only to follow religion, but to preach it and spread the word, it gives you a certain amount of kudos among those who hate the Federation, which is just about everybody that isn’t a trooper or one of those godforsaken mutoids. The rest tend to trust you. They think if a guy is honest enough and brave enough to follow a banned religion in these times, then he must be honest in anything he does. And there’s the sting. The art of the con man is to get people to trust you. Many spend days and weeks building up the kind of trust I get in a day, because I’ve got religion on my side. The scams I use have to be tweaked a little to make them believable coming from a man from the cloth, but that’s not hard. Once I hit a guy for a good bag of credits investing in a new print run of the Bible with a promise of a ten per cent share of sales. Ripped him off good and proper and then got out of town. Course it means I can’t go back there again, but every action has consequences and it wasn’t particularly a place I’d want to go back to; there are plenty of other places on Psicon II and plenty of opportunities for a man who has got religion. It certainly gave me an in with Blake.
He’d come here to meet some of the union leaders, don’t know why, the union’s just as corrupt as the Federation, only on a smaller scale. Wouldn’t be surprised if they were in cahoots with the Federation. All they seem to do is absorb the anger of the workers, gear them up for a strike or whatever and then sell them out. Maybe that’s the religion of today. Let the workers think they have some power and just use that delusion to quash protest. Seems to work like that anyway.
Well, I knew which bar they’d be meeting in, or at least I’d narrowed it down to a handful on the edge of the west side, so it didn’t take long to find them. God, it was sickening. There they were, these so-called leaders of men swooning round Blake as if he were a pop star or something. He seemed to be enjoying it too.
So, anyway, I bided my time, sipping at a beer in the corner of the bar watching all this. And, as I knew it would be, my patience was rewarded. After a few of the union people had gone, and there was only one or two left, it was fairly easy to sneak up and get a word in Blake’s ear. Still, had to be careful though; can’t be too open in a public place. So I told him I was from the Church of Yordon and gave him the spiel I knew off by heart and could say with an amazing amount of sincerity given I didn’t believe a word of it. I surprise myself sometimes. Anyway, Blake swallowed it hook, line and sinker; men like him are so gullible, it’s unbelievable.
I told him we had set up an orphanage and we had lots of kids there—did his eyes light up when I said that? Maybe. I told him that we were short of money and could he help? I said more than that of course, really laid it on thick, and he agreed to come along to the orphanage and make a donation, as I knew he would. I gave him a bit of an ego boost by telling him some of the kids and staff would really love to meet him, that sealed it and, to cut the story short, I give him a time and the co-ordinates of where to meet me, with the donation naturally, and he agreed.
A few hours later, after dark now, in a secluded alley Blake materialised. He looked around, surprised, and then saw me.
“What’s going on?” he asked. “Where’s this orphanage of yours?”
He was suspicious now, so time to tell the truth. So I told him I knew what he was into and that I could fix him up with a child, any age, any sex, just give me the money he’d brought and he’d be having a bit of paedosex before the night was over. I meant it too. I’d already talked to my contact and he was up for it. I planned to take a commission from Blake for fixing it and a commission from my contact for the introduction. I’m not a greedy man. If I was, I could have handed him over for the reward money, but then my life expectancy would be pretty low. You can con someone and that’s fine, but if word gets out round here that you’re a grass, well you can guess what would happen.
Either way, things went wrong. Perhaps what they said about Blake wasn’t true. If it was true, he’s a better actor than me, and that is saying something. Fury doesn’t cover the reaction I got from him. And as to some of the names he called me, I’ll leave that to your imagination. Anyway, I decided on a change of plan, so I pulled my weapon and told him to hand over the money. More direct action than usual for me, more serious consequences as a result.
He was just too quick. He’d drawn and fired before I’d hardly finished the sentence, which is how I ended up here, in a hospital bed with a gaping hole, surrounded by charred flesh, in the side of my stomach, not sure if I’ll live or die.
Might stand a chance if I was in a decent hospital, but haven’t the money or the contacts for that. Nevertheless, being on the religious side of the fence helped get me passage into this charity place. Told them I was shot by a Federation guard for preaching on a street corner. Had to do that; don’t want them calling the Federation about me. Trouble is, these places might be comfortable but they don’t have the top surgeons. You’re lucky if you get treated by a vet—at least they have some qualifications. Anyway, it’s my own fault. I was careless, and that is one thing you can’t afford in this game. My only companion is my daughter, and I’ve already told her this story, in the hope that she’ll learn from it. She’s almost as good a con artist as me; well she should be, I’ve taught her all she knows.
She’s looking at me now, softly, tears in her eyes. But she’s not weak, oh no. She’s a hard one. I look at her, maybe she sees death in my eyes, maybe she sees sadness. Either way, she knows what I want.
“Don’t worry dad,” she said. “I’ll get revenge for you.” I believe her. She’s a good kid is my Arlen.
Big thank you to Harriet for beta reading this for me.
Once More, With Feeling
He searched for me, that’s something, I suppose. But it’s still not enough, not enough to heal the wounds.
Deva tells me to take it slowly. “You felt something for him, once. That sort of feeling doesn’t just go away.”
No, but it can die. It can bleed away. It can be chipped at, one betrayal at a time. I trusted him and he shot me. Insanity isn’t an excuse, nor is too much feeling. That’s the excuse Dayna gives, “he has too much feeling.” But then the girl is rather trigger-happy herself.
My favourite: Don’t fault Avon, he wasn’t himself.
Poor, bloody Avon.
Everyone thinks I should forgive him, to forget that he shot an unarmed man. Forgive him! He hasn’t even apologised. It’s my fault, of course it’s my fault. I just gave him everything he ever wanted: his freedom, the contents of the treasure room, the Liberator. He didn’t really want all that, didn’t I know? Couldn’t I read his mind?
Maybe I should tell them all to fuck off.
No, no I could never say that. Not dignified, too coarse, not… Blakian. Being the hero of the masses means I can never say what I want.
He broke my heart. I don’t suppose I could say that either.
What about, it hurt me? When he said that he wanted to be free of me, it hurt. I wanted to grab him and shake him. “Damn you, damn you, don’t you know how I feel about you? Avon…”
But I didn’t. Instead it was, “I have always trusted you, from the very beginning.” Anything more and… well I carry enough scars, why add to them?
That was the problem, I kept adding to them. Every time Jenna didn’t trust me or Vila whined that he didn’t want to go or Cally questioned my plans, a little more of my soul fractured and blackened.
Why couldn’t they believe in me?
Avon wanted it finished. So did I. I’m not a masochist; I know when to give up. I need to touch and they couldn’t abide it. Sometimes fighting is just not worth it, not if it’s going to leave you bleeding.
So now I have to forgive Avon because he feels, because he hurts.
I hurt. I hurt so much that I can’t sleep at night. The screaming keeps me awake. Oh, I know it’s all in my head, or is it my heart, but it never ends.
Avon hurts and no matter how many times I wash my hands, the blood is never completely gone.
Does he wake up screaming? Does he wake up not wanting to wake up? Does he have blood on his hands?
Does he—does he feel sorry about shooting me?
He shot me and I bled. I’m still bleeding and I don’t think that it’ll stop until I’m dead and buried. I’ll forgive him tomorrow, the way I always do, with a hand on his shoulder and a question about what he’s working on. And when I have the taste of ashes in my mouth, I’ll swallow it down without choking.
I’m tired, and that emotion that I never name, it hurts too much not to let it go.
Love Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry
My first time in Resoc was the hardest. For some reason, the headshrinkers’ usual methods didn’t work on me, which annoyed them no end. That left me feeling pretty bloody cocky, so I couldn’t resist cheeking the screws whenever I got the chance. It wasn’t a bright idea. In less time than it takes to say “Juvenile Resocialisation Unit”, I was hauled into the governor’s office. He made me stand there for fifteen minutes, while he shuffled case files round his big shiny desk—prolonging the suspense, I suppose, although even a first-timer like me knew a visit to the governor always ended with a stint in solitary.
So I nicked his desk calendar, from right under his nose. Getting my revenge in advance, you might say.
As it happened, I could’ve done a lot worse. I’m the sociable type and solitary confinement didn’t agree with me, so it was nice to have something to pass the time. I smashed the calendar’s base into tiny pieces and flushed them down the loo, then hid the metal hoops in a crack between the bricks and stowed the plass pages in the hems of my uniform. By the time the governor noticed his calendar was missing, they couldn’t prove a thing.
For the next I-don’t-know-how-long, I worked on hammering the metal into a lockpick. Whenever my hands got too sore, I lolled back on my bunk and read the calendar. There was a motto for every day. I had hours of fun, arguing with them. “Honesty is the best policy”—not for the likes of me, it isn’t. “Silence is golden”—if that was true, I could’ve bribed my way out of solitary. “What’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose”—the person who came up with that one can’t have been bisexual. And then there was my special favourite, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
I hadn’t ever been in love at that point but I’d seen people who were. It always looked like a pretty sorry sort of business to me. My mum, apologising to my dad for falling pregnant again. My oldest sister, apologising to her bloke for not turning enough tricks. My little brother, apologising to his bloke for catting around and bringing home a dose of the latest dick disease.
Love means never having to say you’re sorry? In a perfect world, maybe. Not in this one.
I came out of solitary relatively sane but I was stuck with that bloody motto for life. No matter where I went, I couldn’t help keeping an eye out for people who thought they were in love. I watched them lie to each other and let each other down and betray each other—and try to fix it all by saying they were sorry. In nearly twenty years, I never came across a single person who fitted the motto.
Roj Blake broke all the rules. The rule is: you grumble about the Feds, then go along with them, but Blake fought back. The rule is: revolutionaries waste all their energy arguing with one another, but Blake made us buckle down and get things done. The rule is: queers are supposed to feel ashamed of themselves, but Blake shone like a supernova when he and Avon got together.
And the rule is: if you walk out on your boyfriend and disappear for two years, your first words, when he finally tracks you down, ought to be, “Sorry about that.” Not Blake, though. He just stood there, saying, “Avon, it’s me, Blake” and, “I set all this up” and, “Avon, I was waiting for you.” He didn’t seem to notice that Avon was going to pieces, clutching that hefty great gun and whispering, “Have you betrayed me?”
He loved Avon, see. He thought that was enough. He didn’t think he needed to say he was sorry.
Well, he was wrong, wasn’t he? Avon had been betrayed before, by the Grant bitch, and being a logical sort of person, he must’ve assumed it had happened again. So, when Blake took a step forward, Avon shot him in the gut. And shot him in the gut. And then shot him in the gut again, which struck me as a bit excessive, considering that Blake wasn’t even armed.
After that, all hell broke loose. A little ginger-haired bloke rushed in and did a double-take at the sight of Blake, stretched out on the floor at Avon’s feet. He didn’t get time to introduce himself, because this skinny kid who’d been standing quietly next to Blake pulled out a stun gun and shot him, then announced that she was a Federation agent. I don’t like surprises, so, the minute I got a chance, I turned heroic, for a change, and thumped her. Unfortunately, it was wasted on the others. Dayna had already been stunned by the kid and Soolin and Tarrant were busy being heroic too. And Avon? Avon was off with the pixies, staring down at Blake as if there was no one else in the room. He kept that up, even when a bunch of Feds appeared from the middle of nowhere and used the rest of us for target practice. Fair enough, Avon couldn’t have saved us single-handed but—oh well, he might’ve tried. He didn’t, though. He just stood and stared, till the Feds closed in on him. Then he swung his foot across Blake’s body, straddling it and protecting it.
And I don’t know what happened next, because by that time I was so bloody annoyed with him that I stopped fighting the stun and went off with the pixies myself.
When I opened my eyes, the little ginger bloke was bending over me. He smelt nice—a mixture of salt and vanilla. I’ve always thought you can tell a lot about people by the way they smell.
“Are we dead?” I asked, wondering if he was my reward for being agood thief. “Where are the others?”
The little bloke smiled at me and then blinked, as though the smile had hurt. “We’re alive,” he said. “And your friend Dayna’s off helping to evacuate the base. But the tall boy and the blonde woman and—Blake, they’re all dead.”
I closed my eyes and said a quick goodbye to that gung-ho flyboy Tarrant and cool, calculating Soolin. Then I remembered how we’d got into this mess.
“What about Avon?” I demanded, keeping my eyes shut, because I felt safer that way. “Is he still alive? And if so, for how long?”
The salty-vanilla smell came closer and a hand patted my shoulder. “Don’t worry,” the little bloke said. “We’re rebels, not Federation. We don’t execute people without a trial. Although it’s not likely to come to a trial—we all knew Blake would take one risk too many, some day soon.” He laughed wryly and added, “Besides, we can’t afford to lose a topflight computer expert.”
Amazing, isn’t it, the way some people always land on their feet? I could swear Avon had nine lives, like a cat. It looked as if I wasn’t going to see him get his comeuppance, not this time, so I let the little bloke—Deva—haul me to my feet and steer me down to the launching pad, where everyone was filing onto a clapped-out old spaceship. I must’ve been out of it for quite a while, because the ship took off ten minutes later.
That was fine by me. I was glad to see the back of Gauda Prime.
As soon as the ship was airborne, I joined the queue shuffling out of the launch-seat section, on the off chance that there might be a spare bottle of soma and adrenalin lying round somewhere. I was still a bit woozy from the stun, so it took me a while to notice that I was being watched. By Avon, as it happened, standing over to one side, with his mouth pulled down and his shoulder hitched up, as if he was warding off the world. There was something different about him. I couldn’t place it at first but then the ship lurched sideways, which reminded me of the London.
Oh yes, of course. Avon used to look like that, way back then. All tense and wary, instead of arrogant and pleased with himself, like he was later on. It made me mad—or sad—or something along those lines. As if the last four years had never happened.
As if Blake had never happened.
When the queue shuffled forward again, I let it shunt me in Avon’s direction. “You stupid bastard,” I hissed. “He loved you, Avon. But it’s wasted on you, isn’t it?”
The Avon I knew on the Liberator or Xenon Base would’ve said something really cutting and I would’ve answered him back and we would’ve gone on from there. This new—or old—Avon just looked down his nose at me, as if I wasn’t even worth the effort. Then Deva came running over, to say the navigation computers were playing up, and basically that was the last I saw of Avon, till we landed near Avalon’s base on Cymry III.
By that time, Avon had saved the ship from spinning out of control more often than anyone could count, so he’d become part of the team—in fact, he was a bloody hero. Even Dayna seemed to have forgiven him and she liked Tarrant and Soolin. I suppose I might’ve forgiven him too, if I’d had the time. But first we were all busy settling in and after that Deva roped me into organising the funeral.
It turned out that we’d brought Blake with us, in a wooden box tucked away at the back of the hold. I actually sat on the box at one point, while we were unloading the ship, which gave me a nasty turn when I found out. We got a couple of Avalon’s musclemen to dig a box-sized hole at the top of a nearby hill and next morning everyone stopped what they were doing and came along to see Blake off. Deva wanted me to give the speech, because I’d known Blake the longest, but I told him it wasn’t my style, so he did it himself. Bloody well, too—some of the old stories, a few jokes and a bit of politics, right at the end, to send the rabble away happy.
We were all hanging round afterwards, blowing our noses and swapping Blake memories, when I heard it. A strange sort of noise, like a rusty gate opening or someone tearing their shirt in half. Strange noises make me nervous—it’s an occupational hazard for a thief—so I ran a quick scan and noticed a couple of rebels shuffling their feet and looking as nervous as I felt. Then they backed off, in opposite directions, and I found myself looking straight at Avon.
He was on the far side of the grave, with his hands covering his face. While I watched, he clenched all his muscles and forced his hands down to his sides. His face was wet, his mouth was twisted out of shape and those terrible sobs kept ripping up through his chest. He stood there, giving us all a good view, stiff and straight as a soldier on punishment detail. A rum idea of punishment, letting other people see how you feel, but that’s Avon for you.
There’d been a bit of a party atmosphere, up until then, but within seconds everyone started edging away, checking their chronos and remembering they had to be somewhere else. In the end, Avon was standing all by himself, staring at the hole in the ground. I thought about going over to him but—oh well, I didn’t know what to say, any more than the rest of them.
Besides, funerals always make me randy. Frankly, right at that moment, I was more interested in getting Deva back to our room and shagging him senseless.
It wasn’t till I was sucking my little bloke’s big cock for the second time that I remembered about Avon. Even then, it didn’t seem polite to leap out of bed straight away, so I had to wait for Deva to doze off afterwards, before I went to have a look around. Avon wasn’t in the room he shared with Avalon’s other computer buffs, which didn’t really surprise me. He wasn’t in the computer room either but I spotted a message-flash on one of the cubes. A message for me, actually. It said:
Vila—Don’t try to follow me. You wouldn’t like it. Goodbye. Avon.
I suppose he was trying to be cryptic but it wasn’t up to his usual standards. I mightn’t have spoken to Avon for a week or so but I still knew how his mind worked. What’s more, I’ve always been allergic to the idea of doing what I’m told. I went straight to Avalon’s office, opened the safe and lifted five hundred credits. Then I packed my bag, left a note on the pillow for Deva and hitched a ride to the space port.
It would’ve been nice if I’d found Avon there but I didn’t. To make matters worse, none of the ships in dock were heading exactly where I needed to go. I couldn’t hang around, in case Avalon sent someone after me and the money, which meant I had to detour to Space City, then wait five hours for a connection. So, by the time I was hiking through the forest round Blake’s Gauda Prime base, I had a pretty fair idea of what I was going to find.
The Feds had blown up the entrance to the base but they can’t have known about the silo at the back, because it was still in one piece. I switched on the torch I’d bought at the GP space port and stepped into the dark. After a few false starts, I found my way to the tracking gallery. I watched the torch beam skitter round the walls and settle on a gun in the middle of the floor, with somebody lying nearby. Face down, arms flung out, still and silent.
I don’t like looking at dead people, especially people I know. So the next part was an effort but—oh well, that’s what I was there for. I heaved Avon onto his back and ran the torch down his body, avoiding the face. He’d shot himself in the gut, of course. Three times, which must’ve taken some doing. From the marks across the floor, it looked as though he’d died hard.
I switched the torch off and sat there, thinking about nothing in particular. After a while, I reached out and held Avon’s hand, cold in the darkness.
As if that did anybody any good.
Then I switched the torch on again and poked around till I found a stretcher and a spade. It was hard work, hauling Avon out of the base, and even harder work, digging a long deep hole in the hillside. When I’d finished, I eased the stretcher into the hole and started shovelling the dirt back. I tried not to watch what I was doing—it’s marvellous how little you see, if you keep your eyes crossed—but when it came to the point, I had to take one last look at Avon’s face.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. His eyes were shut, which was a mercy, and the smile-creases at the corners were deeper than usual, as if he’d been pleased he was dying at last. He looked very beautiful: and very dead, even though the bloody mess of his stomach was hidden under a blanket of earth.
One more spadeful and he’d be gone for good.
I stood there, holding the spade in mid-air, and stared at the Gauda Prime hills till my arms started shaking. Then I tilted the spade, very gently, and felt the earth fall. After that, I tamped the dirt into place, wiped my sweaty forehead and sat down next to the grave, hugging my knees to my chest. Thinking about Blake and Avon. Wondering how it’d feel to love someone so much that you’d die for it.
I had the chance once myself, in a shuttle over the planet Malodar. We were trapped in orbit, stripping the shuttle like madmen, with seventy kilos to go before we could make escape velocity. As I headed out to dump the next load, I heard Avon say, “Damn it, what weighs seventy kilos?”
Orac said, “Vila weighs seventy-three kilos.”
I swung down the ladder, faster than a frightened monkey, and paused for a split second at the bottom. Two choices. If I turned right, towards the airlock, I could space myself and save the shuttle: and Avon. If I turned left, away from the airlock, I could hide in one of the bulkheads and hope Avon would come up with another plan.
There was no choice, really. I’ve been a survivor all my life. I couldn’t change that, right at the last minute. So I crouched in the bulkhead and listened to Avon calling, “Vila, I know you’re here. I need your help. Please help me,” in that sad, gentle voice I’d only ever heard when we were in bed together. Tears streaking down my face. Hugging myself tightly, the way Avon hugged me that first time when I got him drunk after Domo, because I wanted to make him say, “My hero,” again. Longing to stand up and walk out and let Avon shove me into the airlock.
But staying where I was.
That was the end of anything between us, because I didn’t feel safe with Avon after that. I couldn’t stop caring about him, though. So, as I sit here on the Gauda Prime hillside, part of me wants to howl at the sky, then curl up on the end of the grave like a faithful dog and lie there till I starve to death.
Except that another part of me’s enjoying the wind against my face, drying the sweat—and checking the angle of the sun, to see if I can make it to the space port before dark—and wondering whether I’d prefer stew or barbecue for my dinner.
And before I know it, I’m standing and stretching, filling my lungs with a long deep breath and striding down the hill, without looking back.
The room was white.
It was easy at first. Avon told them all he knew. It didn’t matter. The others were dead. Blake was dead and he didn’t give a damn about anyone else. He gave it all to them: the hyperdrive, the teleport, even an Orac Mark II. When they had emptied him of knowledge he expected to die. He wanted to die. But it wasn’t allowed.
The first few months he fought them: gave bruises, drew blood. The day that he lay there and let them, he knew he was lost. Dusk: it was a non-lethal derivative of shadow. It could be injected, inhaled, or ingested. He preferred the injection. It took effect much more quickly.
Avon closed his eyes and clenched his hands until his nails cut his palms. Red. He would smear the blood on his clothes, which were also white. He missed colour.
He would not need it. They could not make him need it.
The door opened and Ean came in. He wore white too.
“You’ve hurt yourself.”
Avon blinked and looked up.
“I told you I wasn’t going to bandage you up again.” When he didn’t answer Ean sighed. “All right then, let’s see your arm.”
He licked his lips.
“Come on now, you’re not going to try to be difficult? I’m helping you, aren’t I? I’m not making you wait so that you have to beg for it.”
Avon closed his eyes and stretched out his arm.
He made a tsking sound. “Veins are collapsing again. I think we’re going to have to start using the ones in your legs.”
The needle sliding into his flesh didn’t hurt. Not anymore. The reaction was almost immediate. He gasped as a rush of cool flashed through his body. Then warmth, starting at the pit of his stomach, weaved its way through his extremities. He slid down the wall, onto his back. Avon opened his eyes to the now hazy overhead lights. He could hear the sound of his breathing, harsh to his ears. He felt heavy, as if he were several times his normal mass.
Soon he would be floating and the lights would dance around him.
Ean patted his head. “Pleasant dreams.”
Blake was in hell.
It wasn’t fire and brimstone as described in those proscribed theology books he once read. No, it was a padded cell that came equipped with its own straitjacket. It was the machine they hooked him to and the nightmares that followed.
None of it was real. He knew that none of it was real. But one could kill one’s friends only so many times before it became too much. He couldn’t Not Play The Game. He tried once, but the screams kept up, so did the begging.
And the smell. The sweet smell of decaying bodies that came from them, even as they lived. Even as they—
“Please, please Blake. It hurts, make it stop hurting!’ Hands gripping him, tearing into his flesh. “Do something, you have to do something.’
Helpless to heal them, unable to do anything, he fired his gun. Blood and gore on his hands, splattered on his clothes and face… wading in blood up to his armpits.
Never clean and never quiet because of the screams. Dear God, the screams!
But as long as there was light, the screams didn’t follow him into his cell. Light kept them away. He always had light unless he misbehaved and he hardly ever misbehaved anymore. Last time they left him hooked to the machine for several thousand deaths, then, when they sent him back to his cell, they turned off the lights.
He’d screamed and screamed until his throat was raw and he could taste blood in his mouth. Until the straitjacket came on and he was given a sedative.
“You’ll be a good boy now, won’t you Roj?” Then a hand slipped into his trousers. That old game.
He wasn’t a boy, but Blake didn’t even bother correcting them anymore.
If only they would leave him alone. He had enough ghosts, enough nightmares, without adding to them.
Blake fought a wave of panic as the door opened.
He swallowed a sob and struggled to his feet.
They did not allow him anything sharp. He ate his meals with his hands, sitting alone in another white room. She often visited him here.
He looked up from the grey protein cubes. “Servalan,” he said, in a rusty voice.
“That looks unappetising.”
Avon waited patiently.
She smiled and ran her fingernails lightly over his cheek. “We destroy more rebel cells every day. I suppose I should thank you.”
“Don’t bother.” He turned his attention back to his dinner
“Oh Avon, we could have been wonderful together. Instead, you’re reduced to this.” She sighed. “You should thank me, really. You’d be dead now, if it weren’t for me. Once word got out that you killed Blake—”
Avon laughed, a short painful bark.
“They want to destroy you.”
“And what do you want?”
She grasped his hair and yanked it back. “To help you, Avon. The dusk, the suppressants, they’re to help you become a better Federation citizen.”
“How kind of you.”
“Yes, isn’t it?” Servalan smoothed his hair back into place and kissed him, once, on the mouth.
Avon watched as she left, then he wiped his mouth with a napkin. Suddenly, he wasn’t hungry anymore.
There was nothing he could do to get away from the smell. The body lay only a few feet away, eyes empty. It wasn’t anyone he knew, so it had to be real.
Blake closed his eyes and pressed his hand against his chest. He could feel his own heart thumping in a slow, steady beat.
One, two, three, four; he was afraid that it would stop. He was afraid that he would end up like the ones in his dreams. They were cold and they screamed.
He didn’t want to die that way, always in pain.
Blake opened his eyes and crawled over to the corpse. “Be glad I don’t know you. They can’t make me kill you. They won’t hurt you.”
He pressed his fingers against the body’s ice-cold cheek, then the soft hair.
“You were young. But then, we were all young once. I hadn’t even turned thirty, the first time they killed me. They realised, though, that I couldn’t die. Now they kill my friends, or make me do it.”
No, no, he shouldn’t be speaking to him as if he were alive. Blake took a deep breath. No speaking to corpses if they don’t speak to you first.
He huddled back to his corner, pressing his fists to his eyes.
This was real, this was real, please, he couldn’t forget what was real.
It was as if ice flowed through his veins, burning him, scraping him raw. He couldn’t think for want of it. This was need in its most brutal form, running through him like a snowstorm.
“Please,” he whispered, wrapping his arms about himself to keep from shaking.
“Please, what?” The voice came from an audio speaker that was placed on the ceiling.
“It hurts.” He doubled over and fell to his knees. It felt like death.
“What would you do for it?”
Nothing, he would do nothing. He didn’t need. “Anything.”
“Anything?” The voice chuckled.
“Yes, damn you,” he screamed.
Several heartbeats later, the door opened.
Cruelty came in many forms, left evidence: bruised lips, scratches, a bitter taste in his mouth. What were worse were the occasions he couldn’t remember. How many times had he woken, trousers stripped away, semen drying on his thighs, his anus raw and painful?
They liked to make him remember. Strapped to a chair, they would force him to watch the vid-casts. In plain view he could not ignore his submission, the way his legs wrapped around one, the way he sucked another, how he groaned, how he enjoyed their touch.
So much worse than the reality of rape, the drug stripped away all reluctance. It refused him his defiance.
His own sex-blurred voice moaned, “Harder, oh harder.”
Not broken, but twisted into something unrecognisable. He was forced to become a slave to desire… no, not desire, need, which was worse. Desire could be denied but need, it became one with you, it could not be escaped.
There was no escape.
An intelligent man can adapt.
Avon wiped the blood from his mouth and pulled up his trousers. He was still shaking.
Ean stroked his cheek. “You’re very good.”
“The dusk?” He tried to keep the need from his voice.
“When?” He looked up quickly.
“Kiss me.” Ean traced his mouth with a finger.
“No.” Avon jerked away from the touch.
“Then no drug.”
“No.” There were certain things he would not give.
“I could force you.”
“No.” He’d bite his tongue off if he tried.
Ean sighed and said into the air, “Bring it in.”
If he hid, they might not find him. Blake huddled into one of the service tunnels, a Liberator gun pressed to his chest. It was dark and he could hear them breathing harshly, more like moans than anything else. He knew they were coming, didn’t know when, it was too dark to tell, but he could feel it.
“Don’t find me, don’t find me, don’t find me.”
He waited for the inevitable.
Avon woke up in his own filth.
It happened sometimes, whether it was on purpose or by accident, he did not know. He cleaned himself with his garments. He was dirty and the room smelled terrible. He knew that it could be days before they would hose him off. Like some damned animal. He pressed his hands together, trying to contain the fury that rushed through him.
When Ean came to clean him up, Avon was sick all over him.
Blake repeatedly pulled the trigger until there was only the whine of an empty discharge. Then he dropped the blaster and fell onto his knees. What used to be Jenna soaked into his trousers and made them stick to his skin.
He wiped his mouth with a bloody hand and prayed they would let him wake up.
The world rocked. Avon turned onto his stomach and concentrated on the way his breath felt against the skin of his wrist.
On the way back to his room, it happened.
The floor rolled and pitched Blake against the hallway wall. Then the walls began to shake, the lights to sway. He held his hands over his ears to muffle the sound of metal twisting, of the sharp whine of alarms. There was another violent wrenching of the floor and he fell onto his knees. His guard looked at him for a moment before the ground swallowed him up. Just like on Zil’s planet. He almost laughed. He almost cried.
People ran screaming around him. Not the first time.
The world was collapsing around him. He kept low to the ground, dodging feet and debris. He had never been in an earthquake before, but it felt like the Liberator did when under attack.
Someone kicked him, hard in the ribs. He stopped, breathless for a moment. There had to be a way out. Blake got to his feet.
There was a gaping hole in his cell wall. Avon laughed. He’d never seen that before. He inched forward on his hands and knees to touch it. Perhaps it would be solid or it would waver, like a hallucination.
As he came closer, he could see the confusion: lights flashing, people running, a fine, glowing dust drifting. He stopped, transfixed, and wondered if he would glow if he breathed it.
He did not like that thought. He did not—
Avon gasped, then let out a cry. Blake, Blake! He reached out a hand.
He turned at the sound of his name.
No, no! Blake shook his head. No, he was so sure that it was real. But it couldn’t be, not if Avon made an appearance. And such an appearance, different from all the other visions of Avon.
This one wore all white and he had a hand outstretched, imploring. Only, this one did not seem to do it out of fear, but out of wonder.
Blake took a hesitating step. He shouldn’t, he shouldn’t play their game. Avon was not real. He’d start dying soon and then he’d force Blake to kill him. Blake didn’t want to kill him anymore.
Someone shoved him from behind.
“Blake?” Avon smiled.
Dammit, he was a fool. They were manipulating him and he was letting them.
He strode into the room and pulled Avon up by his arms. Another wave hit and Avon clutched him, laying his cheek against Blake’s shoulder.
“Blake,” Avon whispered.
“Yes.” He swallowed down the lump in his throat and blinked the tears from his eyes. “I’ll get you out of here, Avon. I’ll take you somewhere you can die in peace.”
Blake tossed Avon over his shoulder and headed out.
A woman passed him in the hallway.
He grabbed her and shoved her against the wall. “Where are the emergency flyers? Where!”
“Section Four, down the corridor. But you can’t—you…” She opened her mouth to scream.
Blake grabbed her by the throat and snapped her neck. As she slowly made her way down the wall, he took the blaster from her side.
He left a trail of bodies on the way to the hanger. It didn’t matter, they weren’t real and it was more expedient. He wanted this nightmare to finish as quickly as possible.
Avon let out a groan and rubbed his eyes. He always hated coming down from the drug, the way his body would protest against the emptiness of reality. The way it yearned for more dusk.
He opened his eyes.
What—where the hell was he? He was in what looked like a cold, dark basement. He looked around. There was a table with a dimly lit torch and the cot he was lying on. Wonderful. He—
A movement in the shadows caught his eye. “Blake,” he said, before he could stop himself.
“You said that already.” Blake stood at the far wall, glaring at him.
“Did I?” He forced his voice to be steady. “What happened?”
“Earthquake. I got us to a flyer. The onboard computer had this bunker on file. Convenient.”
“You were always lucky.” He sat up.
“If you say so.” Blake’s voice was curiously flat and he didn’t like it.
“I thought you were dead.”
“And I know you are.”
“What?” He blinked.
Blake walked over and sat down. He looked as if he were waiting for Avon to shoot him… again. He reached out and ran his knuckles along Avon’s jaw. “I wish you wouldn’t torture me. I won’t do it anymore. You can scream all you want but I won’t kill you.”
Avon stared into Blake’s eyes. “You’re insane.”
“Oh no, I know the difference between dreams and reality. You’re here, so it’s a dream. It’s only real when I’m alone.” Blake ran a thumb over Avon’s lips. “Why haven’t you started to rot yet? Why are you still warm?”
Avon felt his throat tighten. “Tell me about your dreams.”
“They make me kill you. You and Jenna and Cally and Vila. Sometimes Gan too.” Blake frowned. “That’s when I first realised it wasn’t real. I couldn’t kill Gan, he died on Earth. Because of me, but not by me.” His fingers traced the curve of Avon’s ear.
“This isn’t a dream.”
“Oh, but it is. You’re warm now, but not for long.” Blake’s fingers hovered over the skin at the pulse in his throat. “If I touch you there, I won’t feel anything.”
“Yes you will.”
“No.” He snatched his hand away. “I won’t.”
“What have they done to you?”
“‘And I had done a hellish thing, and it would work ’em woe: For all averred, I had killed the bird that made the breeze to blow. Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay, that made the breeze to blow!'”
Avon shook his head.
“‘The Night-mare Life-in-death was he, who thicks man’s blood with cold.'” Blake pressed his mouth savagely to Avon’s.
He froze for a second, allowing Blake to shove him back and straddle him. Before he could struggle Blake ripped open his shirt and shoved it down his arms. An effective, if crude, way to pin his arms. He struggled.
Blake bit his lip, drawing blood. He ran his hands over Avon’s chest and he ground their hips together. “Turn into a corpse, damn you!”
“Is that what you want, Blake? A corpse?”
Blake’s hands slipped over his shoulders, then down his arms. His fingers lingered on the insides of his elbows. He pulled back.
“Don’t,” Avon said, but did not move away. He turned his head, his face burning.
Blake traced the skin there. “I don’t think I like this version of you, Avon.”
“You’re not exactly roses either.”
His fingers moved towards the wrist, pressed at the veins. Then as if burned, he snatched his hand back and scrambled away. He fell to the ground.
Avon looked at him, at the stunned look in his eyes. The fear.
“No, you’re not supposed to have a pulse.”
“This isn’t a nightmare.”
“Avon would never let them…”
Suddenly tired, he sighed. “Do you think I was given a choice?”
“You’re dead,” Blake sobbed, tears streaming down his face. “I saw you die the first time. I won’t let you trick me. I won’t!”
Avon felt anger and disgust well up inside him. He turned his back to Blake and closed his eyes. Blake could cry as much as he’d like, Avon was tired.
They tried to trick him, but he was cleverer than that. Loneliness meant reality. He didn’t have to wait long for Avon to start dying. In less than a day, he was shivering and complaining of the heat. He watched Avon curl up in agony, his body soaked in sweat.
It confused him. This Avon did not ask for death. Even his smell was different. He smelled not of the sickly sweet smell of death, but the sharp and metallic tang of sweat.
He got up from the floor and went to the other room. He filled a metal cup from the sink and took it back. Then he sat on the cot, placing his hand against the back of Avon’s neck. “Drink this.”
“Go ‘way.” Avon’s teeth were chattering.
“You should drink.” Ah, would he never stop playing the game?
“I don’t need water. I need… dusk. Blake, I need dusk.”
Blake stroked the hair from his forehead. “There are no drugs here.”
“You could go back to the base.” Avon looked at him with reddened eyes.
He swallowed hard and ignored the comment. Dream or not, he would never go back. “Are you cold?”
“Yes.” Avon pressed his face to the pillow.
“There are extra blankets in some of the other rooms. When it gets light, I’ll go get them.”
“I’m cold now.” Avon sat up and took the cup. He spilt most of the water on his clothes.
When he was finished drinking, Blake took the cup. “It’s dark.”
Avon collapsed back on the bed. “Take the torch.”
“No, you need it here.” Blake shook his head and covered Avon with the blanket. “There are things in the dark. Dead things.”
“Blake.” Avon sighed.
“Here.” He crawled into bed and pulled Avon close.
“Don’t you mind, holding a dead man?” Avon’s voice was muffled against his neck.
Blake rubbed his back in slow circles and whispered. “I can feel your heart this way. I don’t want to kill you, please don’t make me kill you.”
“You’re the last person I’d ask to kill me.”
“You say that now. Oh god, please don’t die Avon. Please.” He pressed his lips to Avon’s forehead.
“I’m not going to die, Blake.”
“You promise?” Hope, ridiculously, flared inside him.
“Yes, I promise.”
Blake moaned and squeezed him.
“Please, Blake, I need it. Just a little. All it takes is a quick trip to the base.” He panted and clutched the pillow to his stomach. It hurt, it hurt so much. If Blake wouldn’t get it for him, he would have to find another way.
Blake held him in his lap, and stroked his hair. “Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon.”
“Damn it, I don’t need platitudes.” He shoved away Blake’s hand and crouched at the foot of the bed. “I need dusk. Please, Blake, I’m begging you.” Sweat stung his eyes.
Blake reached out and took him by the shoulders. He stroked Avon, gently.
Avon collapsed against him. “I’m going to be sick.”
He didn’t flinch when Avon vomited on him. He brushed the hair from Avon’s face and rubbed the back of his neck, murmuring reassuringly. When he finished, Blake placed a kiss on his hair and cleaned up.
Naked and clean, he held Avon in his arms. His skin was clammy to the touch, but Blake forced himself not to pull away.
Avon clung to him, whimpering softly.
“Did you know that I lost both my parents by the time I was twenty-one?”
“My dad died in a transporter accident. My mum, she was from the outer worlds.” Blake swallowed hard and closed his eyes against the insistent burning of tears. “They changed the type of suppressants in the water. She was poisoned, slowly. I watched her fade away. The med-techs couldn’t do anything for her, or so they said.”
“I’m sorry.” Avon’s breath was light against the skin of his throat.
“I took care of my brother and sister after she died. I’ll take care of you too.”
“I’m not a child.”
“If you were, I’d sing to you like I sang to Aerin. She used to love singing.”
One of Avon’s hands tangled into Blake’s hair. “Everything hurts.”
“I know. But there’s nothing I can do to stop the pain.”
“You’re killing me.”
The hand in his hair clutched painfully and he winced. “Yes.”
“I hate you,” Avon sobbed.
“I know. Oh, Avon, I know.”
He ached. His whole body yearned for the euphoria of dusk. It made him shiver with need. He was going to be sick again. He was going to start begging again.
He clutched Blake, burying his face into the warmth of his chest, and hated himself for it.
Blake murmured in his sleep, pressing his hand more firmly to Avon’s back. It was important to him to feel Avon’s heartbeat. The night before Avon had moved from his grasp and Blake had panicked. His jaw still hurt.
Avon closed his eyes and let Blake’s breath lull him to sleep.
He woke to the soft whispering of Blake’s voice in his ear. “Please don’t die. I’ll do anything you want if you don’t die. I love you and I don’t think I could take it if I had to kill you again.”
Avon moved against him and tilted his head up.
“I want to believe you. I want to believe that you’re real but I’m not sure I know anymore. I thought I did. I—”
He pressed his mouth to Blake’s, tasting salt. Then he broke the kiss and pressed their foreheads together. “You said you always trusted me. Was that a lie?”
“No, only it’s more complicated now. They shattered me, and I don’t think I can put myself back together.”
“You can, you will. We both will.”
Blake laughed. “What did they do to you, that you’re so optimistic?”
“You insult me.” He smiled. “This isn’t optimism. They drugged me into passivity… until I was addicted. Servalan drugged me. I burn, Blake. Every cell in my body burns for dusk. And I want her to burn too. I want to destroy everything she’s built up, to disassemble, piece by piece, all she’s created. I want to watch the arrogance fade from her eyes as I strip away all she’s prided herself in: her beauty, her independence, her power.”
Avon shook his head. “Justice.”
He laughed. “Justice, revenge, what’s the difference?”
“Once, you might have said there was a considerable difference. What do you want, Blake?”
“I want to sleep without dreaming of death. I want the stain of blood to wash off my hands. I want to live.” Blake stroked his temple. “I’m old, Avon. I tried rebellion, and I failed. Let someone else try now.”
“You’re giving up.” He pushed himself away.
“I’m accepting the situation.” Blake caught his hand. “When I touch you, I don’t know that I’m feeling you. Dreams and reality, they’re one for me now.”
“They always were.”
Blake shook his head. “I understood the possibilities. There’s a difference. There are no more possibilities. There is only life and death.”
“And you choose life.” He curled himself into a ball.
“You’re shivering.” Blake hauled him to his feet and dragged him to the shower. He stripped Avon down and pulled him under the warm water.
Avon lifted his head, let the water into his mouth, and drip down his neck. Blake held him from behind.
“Are you all right?”
Avon didn’t reply. He didn’t know how to tell Blake that he felt empty without it. Of course, Blake already knew. Of course he knew.
Blake kissed the side of his neck. “It’ll be all right for you.”
He leaned back into the embrace. “But not for you?”
Instead of replying, Blake turned off the water. Then he dried Avon slowly, gently. “Will you be all right while I change the sheets?”
Avon nodded and leaned up against the sink. He contemplated his image in the mirror. When had he become so old? He touched the grey at his temples.
He looked at Blake’s reflection. “And you’re an idiot.”
Blake held out his hand.
Avon turned and took it. He let himself be led back to the main room.
“No.” Blake turned his back to Avon. “I like it here. We can be safe here.”
“I’m not staying. I told you, I’m going to destroy Servalan.”
He squeezed his eyes shut. Avon was leaving, leaving him alone. He couldn’t go, he just couldn’t. “I wish you luck.”
“Do you still see death when you look at me?”
“No, I see life. That’s why I can’t go with you.” Blake opened his eyes. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue. He imagined that if he looked hard enough, he could see stars. “I won’t see you die.”
“Can you live with the nightmares?” Avon touched his shoulder.
“Can you live with your addiction?”
“I’ll be leaving then.”
“All right.” Blake licked his lips and sighed. “Avon?”
“I carry your heartbeat in my memory.”
“Your memory has always been unreliable.”
“It’s all I have left to offer.” He watched a cloud float across the sky.
“Come with me.” Avon sounded strained.
“Don’t go.” He smiled and enjoyed the breeze that tousled his hair.
“I can’t let you stay.”
Blake wasn’t startled when he felt the blaster press against his spine. “You’ll have to kill me. I don’t mind, I’ve killed you many times.”
There was a long pause, then Avon let out a frustrated groan.
The blaster made a muted thump as it fell to the ground. Avon’s arms wrapped around him, and he could feel hot breath and tears on the back of his neck. “Please come with me. I need you. I need you more than I ever needed dusk. If you stay, I really will die.”
Blake gasped and pulled from Avon’s embrace. “That’s unfair. Damn you, that’s unfair.”
“It’s true. I love you.”
He grabbed Avon by the shoulders and looked into his eyes. “You’re a fool. You’ll never get your justice.”
“I have to try.”
“And I suppose I have to help you, don’t I?”
“It’s only fair.” Avon reached up and stroked the hair from his face. “I can keep us safe.”
Blake knew that was untrue, but that was all right. He couldn’t choose life for himself, but he could keep death away from Avon.
In the cabin of their new spaceship Avon made sure there was a window looking out into space. That way, no matter how dark the room was, there was always a little starlight for Blake.
This isn’t the first version posted to the list. The original version incited the following reaction from me:
Waahhh!!! She writes one of my favourite kinks, Avon topping Blake, and then has SMUT-EATING ASTERISKS!
So Willa very kindly wrote a thrust-by-thrust sex scene to replace the row of asterisks. 🙂
Blake was still several metres away from the tracking gallery, wearily trudging along after what had turned out to be a wild-rebel chase of two weeks duration, when he began to sense something was terribly wrong.
Horrible noise, rhythmic and jarring, set his teeth on edge. Under the mechanical sounds he heard voices raised to a pitch that was painful to hear, let alone to force out of one’s throat. The light that reflected along the corridor was wrong, too. Blood-red flashes fought with sickly green. Emergency alarms? No, not again. He groaned silently to himself. They were just recovering from his disastrous reunion with Avon. It wouldn’t be easy to evacuate the new base either, not in full winter, with snow impeding the ground transport, and the fliers showing up all too well on heat-sensors.
He hurried, but did not quite run. He’d stumbled across enough massacres in his life to have learned that much. He slowed and finally crept the last few inches and…
“Blake!” Vila yelled, “Help!” while struggling with his bonds.
“Blake!” Tarrant cried from behind him, looking enormously relieved. Please? he mouthed, even his distress not quite enough to overcome the Alpha inhibitions against showing weakness.
“No, don’t,” Dayna cried out as Blake stepped forward, determined to save them. “It’s a trap!”
But it was too late. Blake glanced up just in time to see a flash of green above his head, and then he was captured.
“A…” he protested as deceptively strong arms wrapped around him from the side, and he was whirled off balance. A hand reached up into his curls and pulled his head down. “Mmmmpphhhh!” Blake garbled as he was half-suffocated by a warm, wet tongue being forced down his throat. Just as abruptly he was released and staggered back to fall against the nearest wall, gasping. “Avon! What…!” He paused to wipe his mouth, which now tasted strongly of peppermint. “What are you…” He paused to take in the whole room. “What are you all doing?!”
“Merry Christmas, Blake,” Avon said cheerfully.
Blake gave Avon a full look for the first time. And blinked. Avon was still wearing leather with metal decorations, but… well, the tunic and trousers were a matching, eye-watering shade of green, trimmed with wide red cuffs, and his boots, also green, had acquired long, upcurved toes with silvery jingle-bells tied at the tips. A row of similar bells went across the chest of Avon’s tunic, and danced brightly along the indented hem of the tunic. Blake shook his head in disbelief, and turned to the relative sanity of the others who at least were in their normal clothing.
“Vila. Explain,” Blake said, carefully sidling away from the mistletoe, as Avon had begun eyeing his proximity to the dangling greenery.
“Um. Well, you know that Doctor Dimsdall that you got to look at Avon?” Vila was almost invisible under a coiled-up garland of spiky-looking holly, which was being spiralled up the support pillars by Deva.
“Yes.” Blake was still keeping a corner of his eye on Avon, but it seemed Avon had lost interest in him and was now supervising the stringing of coloured lights on a pine tree that was filling the centre of the room. He could hear Avon describing a complicated formula relating the height, trunk circumference at the base, and number of radial branches of the tree to the desired number of lights. Tarrant had the hardest job of the team surrounding the tree, as he was attempting to fasten some small figurine to the topmost branch without knocking off any of the lights that were already strung.
Everywhere Blake looked, rebels were scurrying, carrying gaudy, useless items which were being draped, nailed, tacked or tied to every available surface.
Vila stood still as Deva uncoiled holly and walked around the nearest pillar. Besides Blake, Vila seemed to be the only person standing in one spot. “You know he found that Servalan had put Avon under one of those machines to change your mind, and made him depressed and obsessed with failure, and forced him to foul up everything, so he’d finally try to kill you just so you wouldn’t be more successful than him?”
“Yes.” Blake nodded absently as a fair proportion of his mind was seriously considering shooting the loudhailer that was playing something semi-musical with the repeated refrain of ‘jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock’.
“So Dimsdall’s been working with Avon, trying to counteract it. Only it’s not that easy.” Vila winced as a holly leaf scraped his ear.
Blake nodded again, remembering a few of the failures with Avon either homicidal and raging, or apologetic and weeping, neither of which he could stomach for very long so he’d been looking for any excuse to leave the base for a while. That was why Blake had been willing to go after that Kris Kringle fellow even though the only charges against him were non-violent home invasions and disturbing the peace. Only the old man’s draft animals were a lot faster than Blake had expected, and he was forced to give up thehunt. He’d thought Avon would be cured by now, and they could return, warily, to their previous not-quite-antagonistic relationship.
“So he, well, he, um, asked Orac for advice.”
“He didn’t.” Blake looked at Vila in horror. Ever since Orac had been rescued from the squirrel that was using it to store nuts, the computer had been vindictive, blaming them all, and particularly Avon, for some unknown reason, for its humiliation and giving them the worst possible answers to the simplest questions. “And this is what Orac suggested?”
“Oh, no, Dimsdall’s no dummy. This is the opposite of Orac’s suggestion.”
Blake relaxed. “I see. And is it working?”
“Well.” Vila glanced at Avon, who had just finished industriously stirring a bowl of some thick-yellowish-white fluid, and pressing a cup of it into Soolin’s hands. Soolin put down the pine wreath she was weaving, and accepted the cup. Avon smiled, patted her on the shoulder, and began circulating among the workers, offering cups of the drink on one tray and brightly coloured, oddly-shaped food-stuffs on another. “He’s happy, anyway. But I don’t think he’s slept more than a few hours in the last week. he keeps saying we’re running out of time. He’s busy, baking sweet biscuits—those things on the trays—” Vila grinned. “The little white balls are really nice, too.” He went on when Blake gave him a stern look. “Well, he’s been all over the base, nagging everyone into making these decorations and putting them up, and we’re all supposed to be nice to each other, even me and Tarrant.” Vila looked very puzzled at that. “And play parlour games, and sing odd songs, and make presents…” Vila shook his head.
“And this is supposed to cure Avon?” A less Alpha environment, Blake would be hard pressed to imagine. Although, now that he relaxed a bit, it wasn’t all that bad. Tasteless, overdone and outrageously self-indulgent, yes, but harmless.
Deva took the last coil of holly from Vila, who sighed, stretched and rubbed at his arms. “Um. Well, half-cure him. This is supposed to take care of the depression and the sense of failure by letting him lead a whole group of people and have it all come out right.” Vila eyed Blake. “Only…”
“What?” Blake was now beginning to be amused. Avon was ridiculous in that outfit, and he obviously knew it, judging by the way he laughed when the bells chimed in time with the loudhailer’s current song, something to do with ‘sleigh bells ringing’. He was enjoying it. Blake would give a lot to feel that free and not have to stand on his dignity every single moment.
“Only it seems he’s still got to deal with you.”
Blake rubbed his chin. “I suppose so.” He was not looking forward to it. “Where’s Dimsdall? I’ll ask what I should do.”
“Sorry. He was the first to taste Avon’s punch.”
“Avon hit him?”
“No, it was meant to be eggnog, but Avon put in too much nog andnot enough egg. Anyway, Dimsdall is in his quarters, sleeping it off.”
Blake frowned. “So. Do you have any idea what I’m supposed to do?”
“Just go along with Avon, I guess. That’s what we’ve all been doing.” Vila rolled his eyes. “But no matter what, don’t taste the fruitcake.”
Deva returned with another coil of greenery. Vila sighed and moved to the next pillar.
“Blake?” Avon was standing in front of Blake, smiling, having disposed of the trays at some point. It looked like a normal smile, unless Blake was greatly mistaken. “Are you ready?”
“Why, distributing the presents, of course.” He pointed to an enormous brown cloth sack, tied shut with a red cord. It was beside an ornately decorated chair set up on a raised platform. It looked like a throne.
“All right,” Blake agreed, relieved at the relative ease of his task. He started towards the ‘throne’. Avon stopped him, tugging at Blake’s sleeve.
“Not like that.” Avon wrinkled his nose.
Blake had been two weeks on the trail. He sighed. “All right, I’ll bathe.”
Avon nodded, still smiling.
Blake felt better under the warm water of his shower, as if he was scrubbing away all his frustrations—not just the last two weeks of fruitless hunting—but the years he’d stayed away from Avon, allowing the other man to decide to come to him.
That could have worked out better, but at least they’d all survived. It was obvious something was wrong with Avon, but he’d not guessed the true extent of the programming until Avon tried to commit suicide. Servalan was one sadistic creature that Blake would be glad to kill with his own hands. Not in a spirit of revenge, you understand—more a sanitary measure, to prevent the spread of her disease.
“In here, Avon,” Blake called out. He’d been daydreaming, but his hands had continued soaping and shampooing, so all he had to do was rinse, and he’d be… his musings were cut off by the sound of applause. He turned. Avon was standing at the door to the hygiene unit, a bulky red and white costume flung over one arm, and he was clapping.
Blake considered being annoyed, for about half a second, until he looked at Avon’s face. Avon wasn’t laughing at him.
Blake decided he was rinsed enough, turned off the shower and stepped out. “May I have a towel?”
“For you, of course.” Avon half-turned to pull a towel from the rack, his eyes still on Blake.
Blake took the towel and began rubbing himself, briskly drying his hair, and then more slowly absorbing the water on his body, as Avon’s eyes followed every movement. It felt good, and basking in Avon’s admiration felt good, too. He was remembering times on the Liberator in between being at each other’s throats, when they’d been at everything else. “Is that what I’m supposed to wear?” Blake asked, nodding toward the red and white bundle.
“Yes. You come—in at midnight.”
Blake resisted the urge to suggest that he wait until midnight to put it on. Avon was still not himself, and it wasn’t fair to take advantage—although something about the distorted shape of Avon’s tunic indicated that his bells were jingling, too. Blake carefully wrapped the towel around his waist and walked out of the hygiene unit.
“Blake! Stand still!” Avon shouted, almost hissing.
Alarmed, Blake froze in position. “Avon, it’s all right,” he said, soothingly, thinking about flash-backs, and whether or not Avon had managed to get a gun. Abruptly, there was a great deal of jingling, and Blake started to snap his head around to see what Avon was doing.
Blake froze again and waited, wondering.
Avon came around in front of Blake. Silently. Which shouldn’t have been a surprise, as he was no longer wearing bells, or any of the things the bells had been fastened onto. “Look up.”
After a moment Blake obeyed, although he would rather continue looking at Avon’s body, glimmering white, with highlights of flushed pink skin and dark curls clustered at strategic locations. Directly above Blake’s bed the ceiling was filled with small, irregularly shaped green balls dotted by pearly white.
“The practice, I’m told, is traditionally to exchange a kiss for each berry,” Avon was at Blake’s ear, warm voice and warm hands, and… ah… very warm cock lifting to push against Blake. “But I thought perhaps enough of them could be redeemed for something more satisfying.”
Blake thought about it as Avon pushed him back onto the bed, tugged off Blake’s towel, and then produced a tube of cinnamon-scented lube. Avon wasn’t quite himself, but on the other hand, Blake could hardly be accused of rape from below. He lifted his legs over Avon’s shoulders and wriggled his bottom until Avon got the message and began loading Blake with cinnamon. It tingled, just enough to be interesting as Avon’s fingers stroked and smoothed and stretched.
Blake sighed. It had been a long time since he’d met a man who hadn’t expected him to be the dominant. He liked that too, but this was a rarer pleasure and Avon was the only man he could remember who’d dared to ask it. It was lovely to be on the bottom with no performance demands, with all the responsibility for their pleasure in Avon’s hands. Oh, Blake fully intended to participate, but for once he could follow instead of leading.
Avon grinned down at him. “Now, for my Christmas present, Blake,” he murmured and began pushing. “It is useless to resist,” he whispered, his grin becoming even more wicked as he pressed forward.
Blake laughed and then settled down to co-operating. “Come on then. I’m ready to take anything you’ve got.”
“You’re not supposed to be…” Avon caught his breath as he thrust, half-sheathing himself, “ah, to be taking. You’re Santa Claus.”
“Never… oh, yes, that’s good, Avon, do that again,” Blake said greedily, his hands sliding down to Avon’s buttocks, urging him to move faster and deeper.
“What, never?” Avon asked, putting his head down and arching his back as he picked up momentum, sliding in farther with each jerk of his hips.
“Not often enough, at least.” Blake squirmed and reached for his cock. Considerately, Avon handed him the lube, and Blake cinnamon-spiced himself. Something in the lube stimulated the nerve endings, first a tingling, then a sensation that mingled burning with frostbite, but not in a painful way. It felt good up his arse and even better on his cock. Blake rocked back, meeting Avon’s increasingly rough motions with equal force.
Avon stopped—in mid-thrust—panting and looking down at Blake, with his hair hanging sweaty into his eyes.
“Avon!” Blake’s protest was heartfelt. He was filled, but without the added stimulus of Avon’s steady pounding against his prostate, he could feel the edge of excitement receding. Blake’s balls ached with need, and he wanted Avon to satisfy him, now.
“You were… saying something… about Santa…”
“Are you mad?” Blake shouted, and then he flinched, remembering that, yes, Avon was currently ‘not right in the head’, as Vila put it and Blake really shouldn’t have allowed his cock to put him in this position. With Avon’s cock in that position.
Avon tilted his head slightly and gave Blake one of his sweet smiles, the ones he usually reserved for Blake alone. “Mad about you, Blake.”
Avon’s cock twitched inside him and Blake moaned.
Avon grinned. “You’ve never heard about Santa Claus?” Unfairly, Blake was forced to wriggle, which seemed to be quite pleasant for Avon, but was nowhere near enough for Blake.
“No! And I don’t care, just fuck me, will you?”
“Santa,” Avon said, returning to his task with such good will that Blake was willing to forgive Avon’s ability to lecture while screwing like a rabbit. “Santa has a list… of all the good boys… and girls… and…” Avon held still for a second, eyes shut and head flung back while he shook all over, then he drew a deep breath and continued thrusting. “If you are good… very, very good… Santa gives you…. your heart’s desire…”
Blake was shoving his arse onto Avon’s cock with bruising force, and clawing at Avon’s back hard enough to break the skin. By then Avon had finally stopped lecturing and was biting at Blake’s throat, and grabbing at Blake’s cock and balls while he rammed himself up Blake so hard that the bed shook.
Blake got two fistfuls of Avon’s hair and pulled him up for a savage kiss, just as orgasm struck Avon, who screamed into Blake’s mouth, all hot peppermint-spice, and then collapsed on top of Blake.
Blake grunted and lurched up, forcing Avon to one side. He humped quickly against Avon’s heaving belly, desperate to finish before Avon slackened inside him. “YES!” Blake shouted, as he completed his mission just in time, spurting white over the dark curls in the centre of Avon’s chest.
He gazed at the decoration in satisfaction before untangling his legs from Avon’s shoulders. By the time he’d got his legs down to Avon’s waist, he’d decided to try to keep Avon with him as long as possible. Should have done that in the first place, instead of letting him go wandering off with the Liberator. He couldn’t find an entirely comfortable position, but he was so tired, it didn’t matter. He kissed Avon on the forehead.
He wasn’t quite sure this was what the good doctor had prescribed for Avon, but bed-rest was always a sensible treatment.
Avon was muzzily pleased with himself. He wasn’t quite sure why, because he also felt quite sore in numerous places, almost as if he’d been under interrogat… his eyes flew open and his heart raced as he prepared to fight for his life, his sanity, his dignity, whatever he could salvage.
“Oh, no,” he said softly as he realised it was worse than interrogation. Lying next to him, legs and arms tightly wrapped around him, was his biggest mistake. He tried to extricate himself without waking Blake, carefully unclasping fingers and loosening ankles. He pulled his not quite entirely limp cock out of Blake’s arse, and slithered off the bed. Where were his clothes… Oh… Avon picked up the red and green garments, and winced again. Behind him, he heard the bed creak.
“Blake.” Avon did not want to turn around. He was unaccountably embarrassed. Why should it be worse to have committed sodomy on the man than attempted murder? What was truly annoying was that he remembered the events with perfect clarity, unlike the fuzziness surrounding his other… assault… on Blake.
“Are you all right?” Blake had left the bed, and come around to face Avon.
“Fine. Wonderful,” Avon bit out. Blake was standing there, perfectly unconcerned, not even attempting to hide the love-bites on his neck and shoulders. “Thank you for humouring me. It appears Doctor Dimsdall’s therapy was a success. Now, if you don’t mind…” Avon started for the hygiene unit, intending to wash, dress, and be out of Blake’s quarters within the next five minutes, if not sooner. Blake caught at Avon’s arm and held him in place.
“Avon! That wasn’t therapy!”
“A mercy fuck then, for old time’s sake.” That was a bit more palatable to Avon’s pride. But not much. He tried to retrieve his arm, but Blake refused to let him go.
Blake let out a huge sigh. “Avon, I swear you are almost more trouble than you’re worth. Almost.” He grabbed Avon’s other arm as well, and gave him a brief shake. “I like you, despite yourself, and you are damn good in bed. That’s why I slept with you. I wish you would stop analysing every word and action of mine, looking for the knife in the back. It isn’t there.”
Avon contemplated Blake’s words. Some sort of reply was necessary. “It’s difficult to break old habits.” He looked up into Blake’s eyes. The scarred one was still disconcerting. “Particularly when they have been responsible for preserving my life. Such as it is.”
“I find it tiring, suspecting the universe.”
“It simplifies matters.” Avon looked away from Blake, but he didn’t resist as Blake pulled him close for a cuddle. “But it does get… lonely,” he finally admitted.
“For me, too.” Blake rested his chin on Avon’s shoulder. “I wish… I really wish that we could… well, continue.”
“I am now committed to your Cause,” Avon said, with only a slight sourness.
“That isn’t what I meant.”
“You’re a sentimentalist.”
“All right, forget sentiment. How about we simply share quarters and fuck every night?”
It was tempting, but how long could Blake keep it up? Avon stifled an involuntary giggle. He meant, how long would it be before Blake was bandying the word ‘love’? Then again… Blake was very good at keeping secrets, even from himself when necessary. Perhaps… “If it is clearly understood that this is a temporary arrangement…” Blake nodded, and Avon said, “Well, then, I agree.”
And then Blake kissed him, and Avon could see why Blake didn’t need to say the words. Avon’s head was whirling by the time Blake released him. He half-staggered to the bed and sat down. Blake followed and started to take the clothes from Avon’s hand to toss them aside.
“No,” Avon said sharply, as the movement reminded him. “We’ve got to get back to the party.” He struggled out of Blake’s clutch. “You’re Santa, remember? We’ve got…” He looked at the wall chron, and frowned. “We’ve got fifteen minutes to shower and get back there.”
“What happens if we’re late?” Blake asked from his sprawl across the bed.
Avon picked up the red and white costume and flung it at Blake. “You get coal in your stocking, while I…” He looked at Blake’s crotch for one long, lingering moment, and then he grinned, “wouldn’t deserve a present from Santa’s sack.”
“Tease,” Blake muttered to himself as Avon disappeared into the shower. Then he brightened. The shower was big enough for two, if they were friendly, and it should be a time-saver to share it.>
“Ow.” Blake grumbled and shifted as his ‘elf’ handed him another package topped by a bow-wrapped candy cane, and yet another laughing rebel came up to sit on Blake’s lap for a moment to receive a present.
“No,” Avon said out of the corner of his mouth, while arranging candy cane bouquets in tubs. “Santa says ‘ho, ho, ho’.”
Blake shifted again as the rebel got up after a playful tug on Blake’s white whiskers. Blake had got the hang of talking without making the beard move in the first hour of playing Santa, and so he was able, without spoiling the scene, to tell Avon, “Not when he’s had a cinnamon stick stuffed up him, he doesn’t.”
“Tell you what, Santa,” Avon muttered, “I’ll sit on your lap last tonight.”
“HO, HO, HO!” Blake roared, “MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT!”
*(And in case you were wondering: P.G.P. stands for Pretty Good Party)
Of all the things I could be known for as a writer, why does it have to be stories where the hero talks to his bits?
As noted in the editorial, the number of five-hankie weepies posted during the wake prompted Willa Shakespeare to provide a few sequels with happy endings (with the prior permission of the original authors, of course). Here’s the list of HEXed stories in this volume and the titles of the corresponding HEXes in issue 6.
|Can You Hear A Pin Drop?|
|‘Til Death(aka Not Exactly The Wedding Episode)||Belatrix Carter|
|Swept And Garnished||Jenner|
|A New Life||Susannah Shepherd|
|Living Beyond Your Means|
|Love Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry||Nova|
|Sorry Doesn’t Cut It|