Tales from Space City Six

Tales from Space City 6 HEX

The Gauda Prime 20th Anniversary Wake

The HEX sequels

Tales from Space City 6 front cover illo

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.

The contents are all sequels to stories in issue 5.


Contents

All stories in this issue are happy ending sequels by Willa Shakespeare, written with the permission of the original authors. The original stories can be found in issue 5.

Can You Hear A Pin Drop? 1
Sequel to Silence, by Zenia
Reception 5
‘Til Death (aka Not Exactly The Wedding Episode), by Belatrix Carter
Cleaning Up 9
Swept And Garnished, by Jenner
Living Beyond Your Means 14
A New Life, by Susannah Shepherd
Consequences 21
Decision, by Jenner
Sorry Doesn’t Cut It 29
Love Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry, by Nova

Editorial

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. Some of the resulting fiction was published in issue 5 of Tales from Space City.

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 of the stories for those who’d used up their entire supply of tissues. This issue contains the HEXes written for stories published in issue 5. There’s the odd bit of angst on the way, but you’re guaranteed a happy ending in each and every story.

Normal service will be resumed next issue <evil grin>.

Helen Patrick, January 2003

This amateur fanzine is copyright January 2003 to the author and Helen Patrick. It may not be reproduced in any form, including electronically, without the explicit written permission of the author and editor. 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.

Technical details:
Over 15,000 words of non-editorial text
The layout was done in Word Pro 2000.
Main text: 10 point Times New Roman.
Other text: Arial, Times New Roman, Papyrus.
Printed as a folded letter booklet.
Corrections and comments are welcomed at helen.patrick@waveney.org


Can You Hear A Pin Drop?

Willa Shakespeare


“You did the right thing, Blake,” Vila said, sitting down with a bottle of something that didn’t belong on Blake’s base.

“Did I?” Blake asked, idly. It was quiet, he thought. Oh, there were people all around him, but somehow, there was a silence. A gap, where there should have been one particular voice. Sharp, and clean, like the scent of mint. Precise as a laser scalpel. And just as painful.

“Yes.” Vila nodded vehemently. “He tried to kill me. He kept setting us up to save his own skin. We’re better off without him.”

“Probably.” Blake rose to his feet, pushing his chair back with a loud scrape. “I’m sure he’s better off without us.”

“Dunno. Have you heard anything from Sarkoff?” Vila asked, not quite casually enough.

Blake leaned down and splayed his hands on the table before Vila. “Don’t tell me you still care.”

“I don’t, really. I’m just curious.”

“That can be dangerous, Vila.” Blake left the recreation room. He hadn’t been enjoying himself, but it was necessary to put on a show. He went back to his room, and lay in the dark, listening to the nothingness that was his life.

*****

“And here,” Blake said, pointing it out on the chart, “is where the first wave of the attack will be concentrated.”

Tarrant nodded. Everyone else agreed in various ways that Blake’s plan was wonderful. Blake listened for the voice that would point out the flaws, that would harass and nag until Blake perfected it, and even then, would most likely make his own unauthorised additions. But there was only silence. Blake rolled up the plan with a snap, and dismissed his followers.

*****

The plan worked well enough. Oh, perhaps a few things were overlooked, but the battle was won.

There was another plan after that, and another. Some worked. Some didn’t. But by and large, Blake was successful. It was easy to think in the silence. Easy to weigh the pros and cons of his actions.

It was not so easy to sleep.

*****

The first rebel alliance conference wasn’t going too badly. The few quarrels over precedence had been settled without bloodshed. Somehow, all Blake had to do was walk into a room for quiet to descend. No one wanted to shout in his presence.

“Sarkoff is here,” Tarrant said.

Blake glanced at Tarrant, reading the message beneath the words. “Yes. The President of Lindor is an invaluable ally.”

“He’s not alone.”

“Naturally. He has an entourage.” Blake forced a smile. “Even I do.”

“Avon is with him.”

Blake raised an eyebrow. “In what capacity?”

Tarrant blushed. “It seemed unofficial.”

Blake nodded, while his stomach clenched and went cold. “An advisor.”

“Yes,” Tarrant agreed quickly. “Will you see him?”

“He’s not my advisor.” Blake turned and smiled at Ro’s representative. Horizon was a valuable asset, not to be alienated by any lack of courtesy. Blake nodded, and smiled, and remembered all the names of the representatives, and their spouses and offspring. Fortunately there was a separate compartment in his mind for Roj Blake, the rebel, as Roj Blake, the man was totally uninterested in this game.

Even before he saw him, Blake knew. His stomach flipped once more before he could convince it to behave itself. “President Sarkoff,” Blake murmured, holding out his hand in greeting.

“Blake.” Sarkoff took Blake’s hand in both of his, and held it while he looked deeply into Blake’s eyes. “I had hoped to say how well you look, but you don’t.”

Blake smiled. “Is it diplomatic to say so?”

Sarkoff laughed. “No. I’m afraid I’ve been listening to my advisor. He’s quite a breath of fresh air after all those years of listening to Federation propaganda.”

“Certainly different,” Blake murmured politely. He hadn’t looked at the silent shadow at Sarkoff’s side. Hadn’t noticed that Avon was thinner, and had grey starting at the temples. No, Blake hadn’t seen any of the care-lines in the creases beside Avon’s eyes, and the weary way his mouth—that mouth—turned down.

Being an advisor must be more difficult than it looked.

“And of course you know…” Sarkoff pulled Blake with him, with a grip that could not be refused short of main force, “my advisor.”

“Kerr Avon,” Blake said, nodding that precise inclined inch that one uses with a passing acquaintance.

“Blake,” Avon said, and the depth and hollowness of his voice struck an inner chord in Blake. “Roj,” Avon whispered. His eyes were suddenly the only things Blake could see in the crowded room. They were speaking to Blake, and the one word they said was a lie.

Blake was furious. “No.”

“I need to speak to you, Blake. In private.”

Tarrant was behind Blake now. Blake ordered, “Get him out of here.”

Tarrant replied, “It wouldn’t look good to drag him out kicking and screaming.”

“He’ll go quietly,” Blake said.

Avon shook his head slowly. “No, I won’t. I made that mistake once and have lived to regret it this past year, three months and sixteen days—that’s Lindorian time. It wasn’t as long for you, perhaps.”

Blake whirled. “There is a private room this way. I can let you have five minutes to say whatever you have in mind.” He strode off without looking to see if Avon followed.

He had never had to look to see if Avon followed.

The door shut and Blake turned and froze. Avon was holding a small, transparent object. It wasn’t a laser probe.

“How did you get that weapon past security?” Blake asked, as he tried to decide whether it would be better to charge now, or to distract.

“I built it to pass security.” Avon gave Blake a small smile. “It’s not exactly my field, but I had time to learn. It holds three shots.” He reversed his grip on the gun and held it out to Blake.

“What are you playing at?”

“No game. Take it. Shoot me three times.”

Blake took the gun and examined it. It seemed functional. He aimed at Avon’s head. “I won’t need more than one.”

Avon smiled. “That would be a kindness. Thank you.”

Blake held the gun until his arm trembled. Avon never flinched or blinked. Blake lowered it slowly, until he was pointing at Avon’s belly. “Perhaps here. It hurts worse, there.”

“I know,” Avon said quietly.

“Or.” Blake moved close to Avon, so close he could see tiny sparkling gold specks within the brown of Avon’s eyes. He pressed the gun against Avon’s groin. “I could make certain you’d never want anyone again.”

Avon’s head moved slowly in a negative shake. “No. I’d still want you. So long as I lived, I’d want you.”

“I could kill you,” Blake said softly.

“If it would not distress you too much,” Avon replied, “then do it.”

“And ruin my alliance? Oh, no, Avon, I won’t destroy myself for you.”

“There is a note in my luggage. It will explain my reasons for wishing to commit suicide in front of you. I admit it will be somewhat embarrassing for you, but I’ve made it quite clear that you are in no way at fault.” Avon swallowed. “I almost did it myself, but I wanted to see you one last time.”

“You bastard. I hate you.” Blake’s voice was shaking.

“Yes,” Avon said, hopelessly.

“I hate you so much, it would almost be worth it to kill myself, and have them blame you.”

Avon’s eyes went wide. “No,” he said softly. “Not that. I’ve lived with your death too long.”

“You didn’t kill me.”

“Yes, I did. I killed the human Roj Blake, the one who cared too much and loved too much. I’ve… had reports.”

Blake’s eyes narrowed. “Your crew.”

“Vila. He said… he said…” Avon abruptly ran out of words, but the look on his face spoke for him.

Blake gripped Avon’s chin and pulled his head back. “And in your arrogance, you assumed that offering yourself to me would make all the difference? Do you think it would make me happy to have you serving penance?”

“I didn’t know what else to offer.”

Blake released Avon, spinning him away with a shove to fall on his side. Blake threw the gun to the floor. “You are a pathetic, shallow imitation of a man.”

“Yes.” Avon was making no move to get up, but simply staring at Blake. “If I could, if I knew how, I would cry. Would that help?”

Blake groaned, and fell to his knees. “No. I know how to do that well enough for the both of us.”

Tentatively, Avon sat up, reached out and gathered Blake into his arms. Blake moaned and pressed his head against Avon’s chest. After a long moment he said, “I can hear your heart beating.”

Avon kissed the top of Blake’s head. “No, you don’t. I lost mine years ago. What you hear belongs to you.”

And Blake smiled as he listened to the sound of new life.


Reception

Willa Shakespeare


The trigger clicked. Empty. The gun was empty. Disbelieving, Avon pulled the trigger again. He would have tried a third time, but the weapon was yanked out of his hand.

“He’s alive! Medic!” A rebel in a filthy uniform knelt down beside Avon and began pulling him away from Blake. “It’s all right, you’re safe. We’re not Feds,” the man said, misinterpreting Avon’s desperate grab at the rebel’s gun. “Oh, no… Blake?” Avon was wrestled roughly to one side, and everything became very dim and foggy, as frantic voices receded into the distance.

Let me die with Blake! Avon screamed silently, but no one heard.

*****

Avon woke in a dimly-lit, deathly quiet medical unit, knowing before he awoke that his luck was still against him. He was alive, to what end? The rebels couldn’t be so foolish as to forgive the death of their leader. They must be keeping him alive for trial. No! He couldn’t bear that, not listening as his stupid, senseless act was repeated before Blake’s followers, not sitting there in a mocked-up courtroom pretending that he wanted to live, despite Blake’s death. But he couldn’t, wouldn’t, tell them the truth. They must never know that Avon had killed—murdered—his love and wanted nothing more than his own death.

He was alone in a small room, securely strapped to a bed, with a line dripping something into his vein. Blood-plasma, the writing on the bag said when he craned his neck in hope it was something lethal. They wouldn’t let him die. They’d give him the best of care, all so they could rip his heart out in public.

And he was still wearing Blake’s ring.

He had to get out of this bed, this soft cocoon of a prison. There must be something, a gun, poison, a knife, a length of wire… but he was too weak to struggle against the restraints. He tried and black and red sparks flew before his eyes. He was on the verge of fainting when he gave up the attempt.

The door opened.

Avon braced himself to snarl at whoever it was, to try to find the weakness that would make the rebel lose his or her temper and kill Avon. Then he turned his head, and his mouth dropped open. His heart raced and thundered in his ears. “No,” Avon muttered. And then he really did faint.

When he woke again, he was resting against something warm, his aching back soothed by the press of flesh against him. The restraints were gone, but one well-muscled hand kept Avon’s arm still where the line entered. It was a familiar hand. He’d memorised every one of those digits and envied them as they were sucked and nibbled upon.

“It’s finally happened. I’m mad,” he said in relief. He looked up into Blake’s face and smiled. “Either that, or it’s a great pity that religion was outlawed.”

Blake smiled down at Avon, and shook his head. “You just have to do everything the hard way, don’t you?” He picked up Avon’s hand and his grin grew. He kissed the finger that held the wedding band. “I’d planned a full ceremony. Klyn—that’s the woman you shot, but she’ll recover—lucky you’ve such poor aim—made up a list of Gauda Prime’s notables. It was going to be the event of the season.”

“You’re quite as mad as I am,” Avon replied. He didn’t really care what Blake said, as he was fully involved in watching Blake’s lips moving, in scenting the piney, earthy smell of Blake, in seeing the pulse in Blake’s throat… “You’re dead. At least your heart wasn’t beating,” Avon said, doubtfully. “I would have heard it. I was…” Avon stopped, not wanting to describe what he had been doing at the time.

Blake shook his head again. “I’ve been a bounty hunter on a open planet for over a year but I’m not suicidal. I always wear protection.” Blake opened the shirt under his vest to reveal the glowing nimbus of a personal force-shield. “You can’t hear anything through it. It was expensive, but then, it was a going-away present from Jenna, once I’d confessed about you.”

Avon reached out, hesitated, and touched the side of Blake’s face. Warm, soft under his fingers, with a rasp of beard-stubble. His hand went down to the tingle of the force-field. “But. The blood. And you… fell…”

“Sound-activated blood-packs. Playing dead has kept me alive more than once. I really shouldn’t have got quite that close. There was an energy overload.” He rubbed his chest. “A painful one. It knocked me out finally. I did try to keep on my feet to stop you buggering up the whole set-up.

“Now that I’ve explained all that, would you like to tell me why you shot me?”

“No.” Avon looked at Blake. “I’d rather kiss you.”

Blake put a finger in his mouth and gnawed on it. Normally, this was mildly distracting to Avon, but since Blake had chosen to use one of Avon’s fingers, the effect was something on the order of a neutron bomb going off in his groin. He groaned and his whole body quivered in reaction. “Blake!” he demanded.

Blake removed the finger and smiled. “No, we’ll just have to wait until the honeymoon. After you get a clean bill of health.” Blake eased out from under Avon, and got out of the bed. “Now sit up, and make yourself presentable.”

Avon let Blake straighten the plain white hospital smock he was wearing, and then he fumbled with the comb Blake provided, too bemused to complain about taking orders.

“Good enough,” Blake decided, taking back the comb, and handing Avon something small, round and hard.

Avon turned the ring over in his hand. It was a perfect mate for the one he was wearing, but it had no inscription. He raised his eyebrows.

“I didn’t know what you’d want on it,” Blake said.

“I’ll think of something,” Avon replied after a long moment of staring at the band. “Your hand.” Avon took Blake’s hand and placed the ring on his finger. “There.”

“How romantic,” Blake said, teasing.

“If you want romance, you ought to have married Jenna.”

Blake laughed. “You’re probably right. You’re going to be the same sullen, argumentative, obstructionist you ever were, aren’t you?”

“I haven’t any choice in the matter.”

“Neither have I. I do love you, you know.”

“Yes.” Avon looked into Blake’s eyes, and smiled. “I hadn’t realised that you knew I… well, reciprocate.”

“Love,” Blake said in a deep-toned growl, and his eyes lit up with a gold fire that made Avon’s heart race again. “It’s a short word. You’ll learn how to pronounce it, one of these days.”

“But not today.”

“No, I don’t want to wear you out.” Blake turned and Avon cried out, an inarticulate protest on seeing Blake about to leave. Blake turned back, and the huge grin on his face made up for Avon’s embarrassment about his lapse of self-control. “I’m not leaving you. Never again. Just be patient a moment.” Blake went to the door and opened it. “He’s ready,” he called out in a loud, clear voice.

And Avon’s crew entered, all beaming smiles, all freshly scrubbed and wearing bright new clothes. There were unobtrusive bandages on Soolin and Tarrant, barely noticeable as bulges under their clothes. Tarrant also had a black cane that he leaned on as he went. Vila was suspiciously unmarked—but then, Vila was very good at ducking. Dayna and Soolin were carrying baskets full of flower petals, which they scattered as they walked to Avon’s bed. Dayna was giggling.

“I’m too old and tired for all this,” Avon muttered as Blake returned to his bed and picked up Avon’s good hand.

Deva followed them into the room, carrying a large, old-looking, leather bound book.

Avon looked at the semicircle of people gathered around his bed and frowned. Blake said, “The troopers aimed to wound. Bigger reward for us alive, you know. And Deva and Dayna were stunned. I only give Fed spies stun-guns.”

Avon decided not to protest any further, for fear Blake would run out of answers.

Deva opened the book and cleared his throat. Tarrant nudged Dayna in the ribs, and she stopped giggling. Deva began, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here…”

Blake moved even closer to Avon.

“I may never forgive you for this,” Avon whispered, in a half-hearted attempt to maintain his image. “You are making me look like a fool.”

“On the contrary. You look beautiful in white,” Blake said softly to Avon.


Cleaning Up

Willa Shakespeare

(who isn’t good at vectors)

There is more noise outside the white room. I note it in passing. Blaster shots and screams, I think. But it is quiet in here, with Blake.

I am occupied, trying to reach a stubborn fleck on the ceiling. I could stand on the bucket, but the rim isn’t strong enough to take my weight. Turning it over would work, but then I would lose all that I have already collected.

Perhaps I could ask Blake to give me a leg up?

No, that wouldn’t be right. I made the mess, so it’s my responsibility to clean it. Perhaps if I jump, while holding the mop over my head? It’s an oddly shaped ceiling, though, starting out low on one side and rising quite high at the wall where the door is set, and naturally, the fleck is at the highest point.

The door opens. I hope they are not coming to take away the mop and bucket. They did that once, and it slowed the work greatly. Hands do not absorb blood very well, even when you tear the skin from them with your teeth to increase the surface area.

I have given up on the ceiling fleck, for the moment, and am kneeling beside a shallow pool of Blake’s blood. It is so still, I can see myself reflected in it.

The person who has entered the room is talking. I don’t understand him, but he is more determined than the others, and gets down on the floor beside me. He puts his hands on my shoulders, and turns me around, so fast that I lose my balance, and must grip at his arms.

His arms. They are very strong, very muscular beneath my hands. He is wearing something dull-coloured and loose. He shakes me, and my head flies back, and my eyes open wide, without my intervention.

He is a tall man. Broad-shouldered. He is wearing a hood, but it slips back as he shakes me. His eye, his poor scarred eye…

“Blake!” I cry out and grip the arms tightly. I am smiling, I can feel the unaccustomed stretch of my lips. It hurts, and the pounding of my heart in my chest hurts, but that is all right. It should hurt. Loving Blake always hurt.

Blake looks startled, and then his features tighten in determination. “Yes. Come with me now, Avon.”

“Of course,” I say and rise to my feet. It is difficult after so long on my knees, but I try very hard. I do not wish to disappoint Blake. He might leave.

Blake supports me to the door, and guides me around several bodies. They are no one I know, but then, everyone I know is dead, so perhaps I do know them. It doesn’t matter.

We run, and Blake shoots a great many people. He does not offer me a gun. I suppose I could understand that. I was never very good with guns.

I am trying to see where we are going. It looks as if we are on a large ship, which is something I do not recall. But then, I had more important matters on my mind. Blake has a ship docked to the large one, and he takes it away from the large one which fires on us, and then explodes.

This seems unusual, but Blake laughs and says, “Servalan forgot I knew the self-destruct codes. Pity she wasn’t aboard.” He gives orders to his pilot, and I notice the pilot is a mutoid. This also seems odd, but then Jenna is dead, isn’t she? I seem to recall someone telling Tarrant that. But when did Tarrant tell me? Before he died there wasn’t time, and afterward, I was too busy with Blake. It’s too confusing and I let it go. Blake is here. Nothing else matters.

I try to kiss him, but he is reluctant. Well, we are on the flight deck. I suppose it’s bad for morale. He runs his hand down my back, and gives my buttocks a hard squeeze. He smiles. “Later. Business before pleasure.”

He locks me into a cabin. I don’t quite understand why. Surely Blake knows I would never do anything against him? Perhaps he is concerned for my safety. The mutoid appeared unstable. I would not want Blake to have to clean up my blood. It’s an unpleasant job. So I strip and use the attached facilities, meagre as they are, and prepare myself.

Blake comes to me after a while, and takes me. He isn’t particularly gentle, but then, I suppose he has a right to be angry with me still. I did spoil his plans for our reunion. Afterward, he lies on me for a time, then leaves. I wish he would stay and talk, but he says he is very busy.

He will be back, though. He touches my face, and smiles. He tells me that I was very good. I am pleased by his praise. “Servalan did quite a job on you,” he mutters, shaking his head. “Still, I can’t complain. It makes it easier for me.”

I do not know what Servalan has to do with anything, but perhaps she has been harassing Blake. I promise myself to kill her at the next opportunity.

We are on Blake’s ship for what seems like weeks. I’m not certain, though, because there is no timekeeping mechanism in the cabin, and Blake does not let me leave it. He visits me often, though, and makes love to me, so I don’t complain.

One day, or night, whichever it is, the cabin door opens, and Blake is there. He gestures for me to come out. I hesitate, and he looks angry. Blake has quite a temper when balked, and I don’t wish to argue with him, so I leave the safety of the cabin and accompany him to the flight deck.

He snatches up my right arm and twists it high behind my back just before we enter the compartment. I cry out as this is even more painful than some of the things he does to me in bed, when he is angry. Blake is often angry, and I don’t quite understand why. He pushes me forward, and I stumble onto the flight deck.

The mutoid is at the controls, looking even more unstable than I recall. Blake barks a command and she reaches out with a hand that trembles, and a large vid-screen comes on. I wonder why Blake is showing an old recorded image of himself on the vid-screen. Perhaps because he doesn’t like his scars and this image has none. And of course, the old Blake is on the Liberator’s flight deck instead of that of a poorly maintained Pursuit Ship.

“Travis!” The old Blake cries. Behind him there are other people, who also make noises of surprise. Jenna is there, and Vila, and Cally, of course. Gan isn’t there, so that gives me a slightly better idea of the time this recording was done. I’m not on the scene, though. Perhaps I was busy in the workroom. Or off-watch, sleeping. Trying to sleep. Even then I was obsessed with Blake to quite an inconvenient degree.

Then Blake, the old Blake, says, “Avon, are you all right? What has Travis done to you?”

I don’t see why Blake would ever have said that, much less made a recording of it.

I think about it, while Blake holds my arm in a very discomforting grip, and talks to Blake. They are arguing, and the others in the background are shouting, too. They seem particularly upset when Blake mentions how many times he has had sex with me. I don’t know why this bothers the old Blake so.

Then Blake says he will kill me, if Blake doesn’t give himself up to Blake. I am trying very hard to make sense of this.

And then Tarrant comes onto the flight deck.

Tarrant.

It can’t be.

Dayna and Soolin follow him.

They add to the confusion swirling in my mind. I wish my Blake would explain, and I ask him to, but he laughs, and twists my arm so far up that I feel something tear, and I scream.

I hadn’t meant to, but there wasn’t time to set myself to ignore it. The old Blake goes white, and shouts, “Stop it! All right, Travis, you’ve won.”

Everyone on the Liberator is now shouting at Blake. Blake. No. My Blake. No. The Blake who is hurting me. He is laughing. And it isn’t a nice laugh.

And my arm hurts.

Badly.

I have bitten my lip, trying to keep quiet, and I feel the blood dripping warm down onto my chin.

This can’t be Blake.

And if it is, then I am wrong about Blake. This Blake, at least. I do not want him hurting the other Blake, the old, unscarred Blake, the way he is hurting me.

But how can I stop him? I have no weapons, and he is much stronger than I am.

I look, really look, around the flight deck, for the first time. And the mutoid looks back. She is staring at me. At my lip. At my blood.

I look back at her. Vectors. Flying blood.

I bite down hard, cutting clear through my lip. Then I throw my head up sharply and to one side. I can’t see it, but I know. I have computed the angle and the velocity. My blood strikes the mutoid on the face, going into her mouth.

She has been starved and this breaks the last remnant of her control. She lunges forward, going for my throat.

Blake yells an order, but she is mad. She pulls me out of his grip, and throws me to one side. And then she attacks him.

There is a great deal of noise, but it doesn’t last long. I raise myself, awkwardly, on the good arm, trying not the jar the other too much, as I fear I am likely to faint, and I must remain conscious long enough to see what has happened.

I manage to get to my knees. My name is being called, loudly, but it is the old Blake calling me, and I must see to the new Blake.

He is on his back, and the mutoid is on top of him. Neither of them are moving. The mutoid’s back is… exploded, flesh and greenish fluids everywhere. I will not clean it, though.

I pull, and the mutoid’s body slides off Blake, part way, and then it stops. I see that its draw needle is embedded in Blake’s body. In Blake’s heart.

I think I will die, myself, but first I will look at Blake’s face once more. I do. But it is blurry. I blink. Slowly the blur resolves.

It isn’t Blake.

It’s not.

Travis.

Travis. Servalan… Terminal… machines… voices in my head….

It’s not real. I laugh, and the laugh does not sound right, even to me. Then I faint.

I wake up on the Liberator with everyone I lo… well, everyone I am in close association with, around my bedside in the medical unit.

Orac explains it all to me, but I can’t fully believe it until Blake agrees to dual mode therapy to wipe out the programming that Servalan installed on me at Terminal, before the Liberator executed my contingency plan and fled. They were unable to return immediately because it took some time to decontaminate the ship and then locate Blake. It seems that Vila had argued that Blake would find me. Something about fate.

Vila does have some appalling Delta superstitions.

The interesting thing about dual mode therapy is that both parties experience things from the other’s point of view.

Blake was…

Well…

He wasn’t entirely averse to a more congenial relationship. Fortunately Jenna and Soolin had taken an immediate liking to each other, so there was no real argument when I moved into Blake’s quarters, displacing Jenna.

Vila’s bold stand against Tarrant when they were discussing whether or not to ask Blake to take over command of the Liberator had impressed Dayna, so the two of them are now happily settled.

And Cally and Tarrant have merged curls. It looks insufferably cute when they kiss.

Blake and I, of course, look very dignified together. We have a lot in common, actually. He’s not as harebrained as I thought. Some of his ideas are quite practical.

We might even get back to rebellion some day.

But there’s no hurry.



*****

There are several physicists on the list, which led to this sort of commentary on the original story, Swept and Garnished

Belatrix Carter: Oh, god, now I feel like I’ve been gut-shot. What an incredible set of images. And, you know, I’ve seen a zillion “Avon goes some variety of crazy after shooting Blake” stories, but I think this one has the most believable Avon. It’s probably the vector calculations that do It.

Helen Patrick: Isn’t it nice to be both a physicist and a RA/BSH?

Belatrix Carter: It is awfully cool to realize that a technical background isn’t just handy for coming up with technobabble, it’s actually useful for characterization as well…


Living Beyond Your Means

Willa Shakespeare


The school calls, and I nearly panic. I grab Kerr and Benn and hustle them off to the neighbour’s flat so quickly the boys are bewildered and start to cry. Lani was good with kids, though and she’d have them clapping hands and laughing before I made it to the transport stop.

Shena was out of town, on a field trip with her classmates to one of the few real museums we’ve got. Well, maybe museum is an exaggeration, but they’ve got sculpture and paintings, and Shena is really keen on all that now that she’s found out she’s really an artist.

I always thought she was, and I told her so, when she got the results from the multi-occupational scan. And I wasn’t joking. Anyone who can see beauty down in the slums has to be an artist, or a dreamer, or else they take a lot of high-quality pharmaceuticals.

The scan isn’t cheap, but Shena felt uncomfortable once I was making enough from security consulting that she didn’t need to keep on with the punters. Not that she wanted to, but she’d paid her own way her whole life.

So we decided she’d find out what else she’d be good at, and art was it. One thing, she didn’t have any problems with the male model classes. I did, a bit, just a little bit, at first. ‘S funny, I wasn’t ever jealous of her work, because, well, she didn’t care about any of them. But when I’d see her sketchbook, and the lovely sketches she’d done of all these nude men, I could see the affection in it. And that bothered me, until Shena told me she imagined each of them was me.

And maybe she did.

But… two more stops to go. I wish this transport was faster. Still, the school’s good. They won’t let Elli go until I can be there.

I wish Shena was here. Elli has warmed up to me, but something like this… well, a girl needs her mother. But Elli’s all right. They said so.

One stop.

We’re there. I can see the school from the transport’s window and Elli’s teacher is there, outside, waiting for me.

“Where’s Elli? How is she? Is she all right?” I’m asking questions before the transport door shuts behind me.

“In the office. Elli is fine, Rastrick. She’s just a bit upset. Nothing happened, really.”

But I have to see for myself. I run ahead to the office, and there’s Elli, sitting very stiff and still in a chair without any of her usual giggling or fidgeting. I drop to my knees and hold out my arms and for once she comes to me gladly, without holding back. I stroke her hair and hug her, and I feel her tremble. “It’s all right, all right, Elli. We’ll go home now.”

Elli is quiet all the way home, but she brightens when we pick up the boys. After they’ve been put down for a nap, she opens her notebook and fiddles with it for a while, drawing ponies and daisies in the margins.

“I’ve been scared, Elli. Sometimes it helps to talk about it.” And sometimes it doesn’t, but there’s no sense telling her that. She already knows. Elli is a lot tougher than I was at her age.

She puts down her pen and straightens. “There was this man. I’ve seen him before. He watches me from the windows of the building across the street when I’m out on the playground.”

“What did he do?” My voice rises, and Elli flinches.

“He watches me. He’s there, all the time, every day this week. At first I thought he was watching all of us, but today I knew it was me. It was creepy, and I screamed.” She shrugged. “But teacher says I imagined it. I didn’t, though.”

“What did he look like?”

Elli looks relieved. “You believe me?”

“Of course, I do.” I’m indignant that the school hadn’t done anything. Of course, if the man wasn’t on their property I suppose they couldn’t do anything. But I could, and I would if I had to, to protect my children. “Tell me.”

Elli concentrates. “He had dark hair, and really white skin. And sometimes he’d smile at me. It was a really spooky smile. I didn’t like it.”

My stomach goes cold. “I don’t like it, either.” Him. I’d searched and searched for him, worried about him, been sick with fear for him, and he was playing with me, stalking my children. Shena said she thought he was crazy. And he must be. He must have blamed me for everything. Or at least for escaping without him. Or for escaping from him.

I get up and tell Elli, “I’m going to ask Lani to come over until I can get back.” I can tell how upset Elli still is, because she doesn’t protest that she doesn’t need a baby-sitter.

I get the gun that I keep locked away, safe from the kids. I hadn’t thought to need one ever again, but after living with Avon that long, last terrible year, I didn’t want not to have one, just in case. I check the charge and slip it into my trouser pocket. This isn’t the sort of neighbourhood where you can wave guns around without people complaining.

*****

Elli has her mother’s artistic eye for details, and she’d told me which window of which building she’d seen him. Of course, he’d probably run when she raised the alarm. But he might not have if he’d planned it this way, making me come for him on his own territory. He always used to know what I’d do. But not this time. I’d still be the coward, Vila the drunk, the useless except when you wanted something opened, to him.

Only I wasn’t that anymore, if I ever had been. I was Villim Rastrick, husband and father, businessman and respectable citizen. Maybe he’d given me the name, but I’d made the person behind it.

It’s not too hard to figure out which flat belongs to the window and no one notices me going into the building and up to the proper floor, and then to the door. The floors are lettered instead of numbered, and the flats count in a clockwise circle around the central lift. His is the seventh one on the first stop on the lift. He’s in B-7, which is a sick joke, but knowing Avon, he probably has a reason for it beyond laughing at poor, dead Blake. I suppose he thinks it will give him a psychological advantage.

He’s wrong about that, too. Somehow it steadies me, thinking of Blake. Blake was never frightened of Avon. Not even when Avon killed him.

But then, Blake loved Avon. And Avon had loved Blake. I would have sworn it. Avon hadn’t loved me. Not much. Just sometimes, when he and Blake quarrelled. And me, well, I take what’s offered, don’t I? If there’s a bit of sweet after all the sour, you’d be a fool not to.

And Avon could be sweet, when he’d a mind to… but I wasn’t going to let pictures of Avon in bed, smiling that cat-lazy grin of his after we’d done everything he wanted, and a few of the things I liked, well, I wasn’t going to let thinking about that stop me from doing what I had to, to protect my family.

The gun is heavy in my pocket. There’s no one in the corridor at the moment, and I hear quiet noises in Avon’s flat, like someone moving around. They’re not very big flats, and I can tell the walls are thin. And the floors creak, but not when you know how to walk along the edges, where there’s more support. Which is what I did, of course. I don’t want Avon to see it coming.

Even if we weren’t really lovers, we’d been friends once. Maybe it wasn’t his fault he’d gone crazy. So I’d just slip into his flat, and use my little, silent gun on him without frightening him. Let him die easy, not the way Blake did, betrayed by… well, a friend, at least.

The door lock is a joke. It’s open and I’m in the room beyond, with the door shut again behind me, in less than three seconds. It’s not quiet, though. The hinges screeched like the damned.

And the damned heard, and turned to face me. I hadn’t wanted it this way, but maybe it was better. Although I couldn’t see how. I had the gun out before I closed the door, aimed at his back, and when he turned, it was his heart I was imagining blasted by the energy-pulse of my weapon.

If he still had a heart, after what he’d done to Blake.

“Vila?” Avon starts forward, as if he hasn’t a thing to fear from me.

“No. Stay back.” And I swallow, because even though the words aren’t the same, I hear Avon warning Blake.

Avon staggers to a halt, and goes even whiter. Elli is right, he is white, paler than I’ve ever seen him. His hands tremble, too. I wonder if he is sick. And then I wonder why it matters. I’m going to cure all his ills. “You frightened my daughter,” I say, feeling the need to explain to him. It’s not just me. I can put up with almost anything, but not my kids.

Avon shakes his head, but it’s not a no, more of a twitch, like an animal that’s been bitten by a bug and knows it hurts, but doesn’t know what to do about it. “You don’t understand.”

This is bad. Now I’m replaying that whole horror. “I can’t let you hurt my kids, Avon.” I lift the gun a bit, trying to remember which is the spot Soolin once told me about, where you can kill a man before he feels any pain.

I have to kill him, but I still don’t want to hurt him.

Avon says quickly, “I didn’t. I was just watching her.”

My finger tightens.

Avon adds. “I needed to know…” Then he closes his mouth and he smiles. “Yes, I see. You are a good father, Vila. I suspected you would be.”

“Praise from the great Kerr Avon.” I try to make it a sneer, but I’m too busy not being sick.

“The gun is silent?” Avon nods as if I’d answered him. “Good, good. After… well, after, look in the other room.”

“Why? Booby-trapped, is it?” I ask suspiciously, although it doesn’t feel like the right answer.

“No. I swear, on my word, what’s in that room is harmless. And quite possibly as valuable to you as to me.”

“Orac? Who’d want that scabby little box,” I say and this time I nearly do make it a sneer.

“Just promise you’ll look.”

It doesn’t make sense, but I figure a dying man’s entitled to one request, and even crazy, I don’t think Avon would break his word. Besides, I could always turn Orac into a drinks dispenser. Or a box to hold used nappies. “I promise,” I say, and I steady the gun.

Avon looks at me, and his eyes clear, and for a moment something in the curve of his mouth… well, I couldn’t do it. I lower the gun, and shake my head. “I can’t. Avon, just make it quick, and leave my kids alone. They never did anything to you.” I shut my eyes and wait. Avon wouldn’t hurt the kids, would he? Everybody has a line they won’t cross, and I was sure that was Avon’s. Not that we’d seen too many kids, but I’d seen him with Meegat and Veron. He couldn’t fight innocence, couldn’t hurt the helpless, couldn’t even seem to understand it, but then I guess he’d been one of those odd children who aren’t ever quite like the others. Never invited to play with them, or to learn how to fight without meaning to kill. I suppose he’d never properly been a child.

I hear the floor creak, and my shoulders tense so hard it hurts. Then I feel warmth, and I’m surprised because you never do think of Avon and warmth together. And this is Avon. His hand closes around mine and he takes the gun.

I’m about to wet my pants, and I hope he’ll just get it over with quickly.

Then warm lips press on mine. My eyes fly open. Avon looks at me from two inches away, and he gives me one of his wry smiles. “I can’t count on you for anything. I’ll have to do it myself.” And he turns the gun on himself.

I’m not thinking about anything except that Avon has just confused the hell out of me and I want answers to questions that I haven’t even thought up yet. I knock the gun out of his hand.

And Avon gets mad. Really, seriously, furiously mad, screaming profanities I didn’t think he knew, mad. He looks like he’s actually having some sort of seizure. I slap him across the face, which somehow feels even braver than giving him my gun.

I hear a creak, and I fling myself sideways towards the gun, all my old reflexes coming back from the bad old days. I almost have it when Avon lands on me. He looked like he’d lost weight, but he certainly didn’t feel like it.

By the time he peels off me, he’s got the gun, and I’ve got a stomach-ache from his elbow landing in my gut with all his weight behind it. I’m staring at Avon, too mad to feel frightened, and then something touches me from behind, and I do the two-meter sitting high jump.

When I land on my feet, I see what touched me. Who. It wasn’t Avon. This person is midway in age between Benn and Elli. I think it’s a boy, but I’m not certain, because of the dark blonde curls that cascade down his or her shoulders. The eyes… oh gods… huge dark hazel eyes that have no expression I’ve ever seen on a child. I look up from the child, and Avon is smiling at me, grimly.

“Yes. I found him. Orac did, actually.” Avon gives a humourless laugh. “I’d forgotten to cancel the instruction to find Roj Blake.”

The child is unnaturally silent and far too thin. I look at Avon, then back at the boy. I can see both his parents now, but it’s not as if he’s a copy. He’s a person in his own right. And someone, somewhere, has not treated him well. He’s thin, and there is a scar across his cheek. He’s clean, though, almost painfully so, and his clothes are a better quality than the common jumpsuit Avon is wearing.

“Jenna was with Blake. Orac found out that she’d faked her death, and then he found out why. She apparently did not wish the child to be endangered by association with Blake. Orac didn’t tell me until asked directly, of course.”

I look at the silent boy, and then at Avon, who still seems more than a bit mad. The child isn’t frightened of him, though, and goes to Avon, and tugs on his trouser leg. Avon sighs, and leads the boy to a table. “Unfortunately, not long after she placed the child in a care facility while she worked, she was killed. Some sort of pointless shipboard accident.” Avon opens packets and prepares a meal for the child, who seems totally unmoved by Avon’s story, and keeps his eyes on the food as if he is afraid it might not be given to him if he relaxes his vigilance for an instant.

“Um. Avon, you could tell me later.” I look at the boy, at Roj.

Avon follows my gaze. “He never knew her, so why should it bother him to hear of her death? With no money left for his care, he was placed in a facility which served more as a warehouse than anything else. I found him and I bought him.”

“Bought?” The implications are sickening.

Avon nods. “Fortunately, no one had wanted a child so unsocialised he could neither walk or talk.”

“He can walk.”

“That much I was able to teach him.” Avon shrugs. “I believe, in time, with a sufficiently supportive and nurturing environment, he might achieve normal development. But I…” Avon looks helpless. “I can not provide it.” Avon looks down at his hands, which are shaking. “And I do not wish to risk him being left alone again. Please, Vila. Take him. I can have Orac supplement your income to pay for his keep. No,” he lifts his hand as I am about to protest, “I know you don’t need paying, but I should like to be certain that he would not lack anything he might need. I’ll go now.”

I shake my head, but Avon is right. The child needs help and Avon can barely help himself.

Avon goes into the other room, returning with a small cloth bag, and Orac. He places the bag at my feet. “His belongings, and what little medical records and history he has, are in there.” Avon hoists Orac to a more comfortable position and heads for the door.

I watch, and try not to cry. I shouldn’t cry for Kerr Avon, after all he’s done. But then, maybe it’s people like him you should cry for the most, because they’ll never do it for themselves.

There is a clatter. I hadn’t noticed but the spoon-scraping noises had stopped a few minutes ago. I look at Roj. He’s almost as white as Avon, and his eyes are even bigger than they were before, which I would have sworn was impossible. His lower lip trembles.

“You could say goodbye to him, Avon,” I say, just as Avon is at the door.

Avon stops. His back is still towards me. “Why should I?”

“Well…” And I can’t really think of a reason that would make sense to Avon.

But Roj can. The child scrambles down from his adult-size chair, and runs to Avon. He puts his arms around Avon’s leg, and begins making this truly unbelievable sound.

Avon doesn’t flinch or blink, but acts as if this is all quite normal. He braces himself, and puts Orac down, then he turns to the child. “Vila will take care of you. He is a good man, one of the best I’ve ever known.” Avon’s eyes go distant. “I’m no good for you. I… I shout at you, and lose my patience. You’ll like Vila. He can play games.” Avon was speaking quite loudly and bit by bit, Roj stopped his wailing. “You’ll never be lonely again. He has three children.”

Avon did smile then and I wondered if he knew about Kerr. Stupid of me, really. He had my name, and he had Orac. Kerr had his baby shots which went into the public health files—on computer. Avon knew.

“Goodbye, Roj.” Avon peeled the child off, and picked up Orac.

Roj stood there, silent again, not trying to hold Avon, but the tears were streaming down his face. His mouth worked and he sobbed, half-choking on the tears.

I went to him, but he turned away from me. He reached his arms out to Avon, who shook his head. “No.”

And Roj opened his mouth, and screamed, “NO!”

Avon dropped Orac, which I hope hurt the little plastic bastard, and gathered Roj into his arms.

*****

It’s a good thing Avon didn’t damage Orac.

After all, how else would we have been able to pay for a house big enough for all of us?

And it’s not so bad being married to both Shena and Avon.

But I still get embarrassed when she shows her statues of us in the public gallery.

At least she could put on a fig leaf or two. Mine would be bigger, of course.



Consequences

Willa Shakespeare


“Blake! Did you hear? Avon and Tarrant are leaving!”

I look up. For a change Vila hasn’t got a bottle with him. Pity. I could use a drink. I get up and walk past Vila to the cabinet which holds my diminishing supply of liquor. I pour two drinks, but Vila shakes his head. “Yes, I heard,” I say after swallowing the first drink. It provides at least an illusion of warmth inside me. I cradle the second drink and go to my bunk.

Vila stares at me. “You knew.”

“I told Avon to go, and to take his… pilot, with him.” The second drink doesn’t warm as well as the first. I am still half-frozen.

Vila argues, but half-heartedly. He knows how much it hurts me to see Avon, and to know that no matter how much Avon has hurt me, he remains untouched. Avon feels nothing. I am too unimportant even for his hate. If he stays I know I will find a way to make myself important to him, even if it is by killing his lover.

It frightens me, how tempting that is.

*****

They should leave today—within the next eight hours at the latest, to meet my deadline, and I do trust Avon to be punctual.

I hadn’t meant to be here, but somehow I am at the entrance to slipway 3. Avon’s ship is within. I asked for the best ship that wasn’t committed elsewhere, but the rebellion’s limited resources mean ‘best’ is relative. I toy with the idea of offering my services as engineer to refine the engine calibrations. For a few hours, I could pretend to recapture the Liberator days, working beside Avon. It is a bittersweet thought, but still tempting.

There is a voice ahead of me—two voices. I stop, still out of sight around the corner from the speakers. Tarrant is with Avon. And they are arguing.

My head comes up so sharply that my neck aches, and I concentrate. Yes. I cannot distinguish the words, but they are angry ones. Avon is sharp and Tarrant is snapping back.

I hesitate. I should leave them to their lover’s tiff, but what if… I hesitate too long. There is a final exclamation from Avon, loud and clear, “Tarrant!”

There is the sound of rapidly striding military-issue boots, and abruptly, I am face to face with my rival as he barely avoids colliding with me. Instinctively I reach out to catch him, to prevent either of us from falling. He is taller and slimmer than I am, his curls are undoubtedly more buoyant, and there is no match for the blue crystal of his eyes in the earth-brown of my own. The peaches and cream of his complexion is highlighted by a vivid flush. He is beautiful. There is no denying it.

And then I turn my head as the second pair of boots approach. Avon, head down and half-running, in that awkward way he has when he has been upset enough to forget to be graceful. His hair is tousled enough to show that it’s not as thick as it once was, and there are lines settling into the corners of his eyes and his mouth. He’s not as slim as he used to be, either. But the fire in the pit of my stomach burns at the sight of him, at his lips half-parted either in sudden exertion or in mid-exhortation. My heart races, and my mouth grows dry as his eyes widen on seeing me.

“Avon,” Tarrant says over his shoulder as he wrestles free of me—a single word, but with an air of command. Tarrant looks at Avon and I am surprised to read something like affectionate exasperation in his expression.

Avon twitches his head sideways. “No.”

“If you don’t, I will.”

Avon’s fists clench so hard I can see the knuckles turn white. “No.”

“You can’t have it both ways. If you intend to dismiss me, you can’t command me.”

“Dismiss?” This doesn’t make sense. I look back and forth between the lovers. Avon’s face is terribly blank and still while Tarrant’s is relaxed, amused, even.

Tarrant opens his mouth and Avon shouts, “No!” but Tarrant says, “Avon plans to fly to the nearest of his bolt-holes. I’m not invited to stay.” He shakes his head. “We have sex, Blake. That’s it. Sex. He doesn’t want emotional commitment and neither do I. Not after my Zeeona and his Anna and then, Termi…”

Avon interrupts, “Tarrant!” And this time the protest in Avon’s voice sounds like panic, rather than anger.

Tarrant looks at him for a moment, then says, “I like your base, Blake. It’s a pleasant change having reliable back-up, and ships to fight alongside me. You have good people here, and the beginnings of something that might actually work. I’m not giving that up simply because both of you are too pigheaded to talk things out. I’m going to the main recreation room, where I will proceed to get far too drunk to fly. If by the time I’m sober neither of you has had the courage to discuss your problems, then I’ll take Avon wherever he wants to go, and I’ll return with the ship. It may bother you to see me around your base, Blake, but I’m too damned good a pilot for your rebellion to lose my services.” He nods sharply once, and leaves.

I stare at Avon, who has got himself under control again. “You don’t love him?” I ask, needing confirmation. Perhaps Tarrant was just being kind, or perhaps it was just that he didn’t love Avon. That wouldn’t prevent Avon from loving him. I should know. And then I remember what Avon said about his feelings for Tarrant not being more than what he always felt for me—was that a hint that his feelings for me were stronger?

“Does it matter?” Avon says, looking very tired. “I can fly well enough to get to my destination. I regret to say that Tarrant is right—in so far as his value to your rebellion, that is. You should keep him. In time you may even grow accustomed to him, as I did.”

“Do you love him? Yes or no?”

Avon shrugs. “Does it matter?” he repeats. “I have had sex with him. Frequently. He’s very good in bed. I enjoyed it. Does it please you to hear that?”

I want to reach out and shake the truth out of Avon, but I’ve always known that would be a mistake. Offend his dignity, and… and what? He’ll leave? I’ve already ordered him to do that. I take a long stride forward, and grab Avon by the shoulders. Avon starts to struggle, and his arm collides with an unfortunately still tender reminder of our reunion.

My hands open of their own accord, and I fall to one knee, gasping at the unexpectedness of the pain.

“Are you all right?” Avon sounds uncharacteristically emotional, voice pitched a little too high, words not quite enunciated clearly. His diction teacher would disapprove.

I refuse to answer, or to look up. I am waiting, you see. Waiting for Avon to make the first move. Waiting to see whether Avon cares. If he cares, even if he prefers Tarrant’s factory-fresh charms over my faded glories, then perhaps I can bear to have him stay. Perhaps. I will still want to kill Tarrant, but if the boy was right about their relationship, then Avon would simply acquire another lover, and I can’t kill everyone who might find Avon attractive. I’d have no time for anything else.

“Blake?” Avon is on his knees now. He’s clumsy at it, but he puts an arm around my shoulder. “It is true that I never meant to hurt you,” he says so softly that I would not have heard, except that somehow his mouth is at my ear.

“But you did.”

Avon lets out a long sigh, a warm puff of breath that stirs my hair and my heart. “It seemed the only proper response at the time. And I have tried to atone.”

“Your apology was a model for the etiquette books and you’ve done a marvellous job on the base electronics. If you were an enemy, I would have quite forgiven you.”

“And isn’t that just what we were—enemies? I recall endless arguments.” His voice is still silken in my ear, still meant for me alone.

“It was the only intimacy I dared allow myself with you. I couldn’t risk what you might have said if I asked you to sleep with me.”

“Ah.” Avon sucks in a long breath, and then he says, “I hadn’t the courage, either.”

I turn then and look at Avon. His eyes meet mine for a moment, then he studies my shoulder, or perhaps the wall beyond me. “You wanted me,” I say.

Avon nods. He is still leaning against me, and it is a simple matter to shift my weight and catch him as he tumbles off-balance. I hold him tight, tighter than I held him when I thought I was dying. “You still do,” I say, and he does not correct me.

He isn’t fighting me, but neither is he exactly melting in my arms. “No. It’s too dangerous. For both of us.”

I think about it for a moment. What assurance can I offer Avon? “What’s your definition of safe?”

“Dead,” Avon replied promptly, in a voice so bleak and cold that I shiver. “The only true safety is in the grave.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic,” I say, heartily, covering my reaction. There must be some way of convincing Avon to risk commitment. Wait, what was it Tarrant had been about to say… he mentioned two names, one of them Anna, presumably Anna Grant. Her death may have been a tragedy, but Avon hadn’t interrupted him then. “Avon, what was Tarrant about to say when you interrupted him?”

“Probably nothing of consequence.”

“Avon,” I scold him and he accepts it, the way he used to, before we were always at each other’s throats. “Term… who or what is Term?”

Avon’s breath is so ragged, for a moment I am concerned he is about to pass out. “Avon!

Avon shakes his head. “Terminal was a mistake. That’s all you need to know.” Abruptly he pulls away from me, and rises to his feet, all smooth control and cold grace once more. He nods to me, politely. “You may sit in the dust of your base all day if you wish, but I have a schedule. Goodbye, Blake.” And Avon turns and strides off towards his ship, almost running.

I scramble to my feet. “Avon! Stop, I forgive you!” But it’s too little and too late. Forgiveness would have kept him here before, but it’s more complicated now. I know too much for his comfort, and too little for mine.

I take two steps after him before I change my mind. He’s given me enough information to start. A word, possibly a name. I had no more when we began the search for Star One. But I had better hurry. When Avon’s frightened, he moves quickly.

*****

Vila would know, but would he tell me? As much as he talks about Avon when he drinks with me, somehow it's never specifics, just that Avon betrayed him in some way. He might tell me this Terminal story skewed sufficiently that I would not be able to use it.

The others of Avon’s crew might know, but I am reluctant to ask the women, and I do not wish to hear it from Tarrant.

Which leaves one disinterested observer, who is fortunately in my quarters at the moment.

“Orac,” I say almost before the computer’s key has slid into place, “Tell me about Terminal.”

“You will have to be more specific,” Orac tells me. “The word ‘terminal’ can have many meanings.”

I have neither the time nor the patience to amuse Orac. I grip his case until I hear the plastic joins squeak. “Orac, Avon is about to leave this base. The only way I might prevent that is if I understand the significance Terminal holds for him. If I lose…” I choke momentarily, “If I lose Avon because of your obstinance… no. I won’t threaten you, Orac. Just tell me, what does Terminal mean to Avon?”

Orac lets out an electronic sigh-equivalent and says, “Terminal is an artificial planetoid on which Servalan laid a trap which resulted in the loss of the Liberator and in Cally’s death. I was also damaged at the time, which I am certain was a source of emotional distress for Avon.”

I won’t argue with a computer’s ego. I’m too busy thinking. “A trap, Orac? A trap needs bait. What did Servalan dangle in front of Avon’s nose?”

Orac’s ‘sigh’ is louder this time. “I am reluctant to admit it was a very clever plan, indeed. I had not realised just how easily manipulated Avon was. He had always seemed admirably pragmatic.”

“ORAC!”

“You,” Orac replied, testily. He hated being hurried. “Messages were sent purporting to be from you, offering a rich reward and the opportunity to work together if he helped you. Interestingly,” Orac mused, “Avon did not question the amount of the reward. It was as if it was unimportant.”

“Me.” I swallow, thinking how Avon must have felt. The one time he gave in to sentiment, he lost so very much. He’d been more than fond of Cally in an almost sibling relationship, and Liberator—he had once told me that Liberator was the only safety. To have lost both family and home while trying to help me—that had to have hammered the final nails in the coffin where he stored his emotions. “What happened? In detail, but quickly, Orac, quickly.”

Orac ‘cleared his throat’ and said, “As I was not present for all the events, and was incapacitated for part of the time, my report must necessarily be collated from various sources, primarily Federation electronic surveillance on Terminal, and later verbal reminiscences of the crew, generally accompanied by copious intake of intoxicants. I can not, therefore, assign it the highest degree of reliability.”

“Just do your best. And remember, make it short, but don’t leave out anything significant to Avon.”

“Very well. Avon refused to deviate from the assigned course, threatening Tarrant’s life when he attempted to intervene. The Liberator was thus contaminated with fluid particles of an unknown nature, which ultimately destroyed the ship. On arrival on the planet Terminal, he was drugged and electronically convinced that you were there, injured. Servalan offered you in exchange for the ship. Avon refused, even at threat to his life, but as Liberator was already beyond salvage, Tarrant agreed. Servalan told Avon you were dead.”

Orac paused. “I mention the last only because the general consensus of the crew was that it had affected Avon deeply, which I assume falls under your designation of ‘significant’.”

“Yes, you assume correctly. Go on.”

“Servalan had booby-trapped the base. Cally was killed in the same explosions which damaged me. The then current owner of Scorpio arrived with the intent of killing the crew for his own purposes, but was ultimately unsuccessful in his endeavour. Is that sufficient detail?”

“Yes, that’s quite enough,” I said as I pulled the key and Orac grumbled his way back to ‘sleep’.

*****

“Avon?”

“Go away, Blake.”

“I thought you were the one who was leaving, even though I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want you to go.”

“I am trying to do what’s best for both of us,” Avon said. He pulled back from the console he was adjusting. The flight deck of the two-man craft was so small that he couldn’t really get away from me, but then Avon had always been able to retreat inside himself whenever I got too close.

I put a hand inside the collar of my shirt, and rub my neck, while I try to think what to say. Avon’s eyes follow every movement, but he is unhelpfully silent. “I love you. You love me.”

Avon blinks. “And your point is…?” He twirls a probe in his hands, sees me watching, and puts it down with exaggerated precision on top of the console. He folds his arms across his chest.

“We should be together. We’re safer that way.”

Avon blinks again, more rapidly. It’s almost like watching a computer process data. “I can’t follow the logic.”

“All anyone has to do is threaten you, and I’ll be there, Avon. Even if I know it’s a trap.”

Avon stopped blinking. “You spoke to Orac.”

“I spoke to Orac.”

“Well, you needn’t worry about it. I intend to vanish completely. It’s not that difficult to insert a new identity into a computer. I doubt you’ll ever hear of me again.”

“But will you hear about me?”

Avon swung away from me, put his hands on the console, and rested his weight on them. It was a peculiar pose. He looked like a man awaiting either the lash across his back or his lover.

Of course, in Avon’s case, he probably associated the two. “Avon?”

“No. No, I won’t hear, because I won’t be listening. There are places in the universe where you and your Cause aren’t even mentioned in the evening news report.”

I rub my chin, which is noisier than usual, as I’ve forgotten to shave the last few days. Avon trembles. I see his arms shake. I affect him that much, and he thinks he can run away to some bucolic frontier and forget all about me? “There won’t be much call for computers on those places.”

“I have other skills.”

I try to imagine Avon working as an appliance repair man, or a maintenance engineer. It isn’t him. He likes things that can argue back at him. Probably the main reason he’s stopped to listen to me now. “All right. I’ll just pack my bag.” I turn but before I’ve made two steps, Avon laughs.

“Oh, no, you don’t.”

“I don’t what?” I look back.

“You offer me this tremendous sacrifice. I realise how much I must mean to you, break down, and promise to remain at your side, as your lover and loyal assistant in your insane Cause.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you agreed to that, but I can see it’s out of the question. Just give me a few minutes to gather some belongings and ratify the change in command.”

“You’re mad.” I have finally captured Avon’s attention fully.

“No. I’m one man. The rebellion won’t be destroyed by the loss of one man. There’s only one thing…”

“What?”

“I’ll have to leave Orac here. We won’t need it where we’re going, and Deva will.”

Deva?” Avon strides forward, and reaches out to me. I hadn’t really noticed it, but for such a reserved individual, Avon used to manage some fairly close contact with me on a regular basis. I’m almost nostalgic for being battered around Liberator’s flight deck, with Avon’s arms around me. But I should be paying attention to his words, and not his body language, at the moment. “The man is a capable tech, but he doesn’t know the first thing about handling Orac!”

I shrug, feeling Avon’s hands rise and fall with my shoulders. “He’ll manage.”

Avon is chewing his lip now in a gesture of indecision which is as rare for him as it is charming. I’ve been very good, very calm, and reserved, carefully carrying out my plan… but Avon’s white teeth worrying at his lip… I shift inside Avon’s grip, and I put my mouth down on his. Hard. He gasps, and I take advantage of the opening, thrusting my tongue inside. My hands are at his hips holding him in place for an instant, then I am ripping at the clasps of his trousers and forcing them down over his hips.

He squirms against me, and I start to come back to my senses, worrying that I have ruined everything with my loss of self-control, but as soon as I shift away, he has his hands between us, undoing my buckle and zip with frantic haste and reaching in to capture my cock.

He’s greedy for it, and so am I. His buttocks fit nicely into the palms of my hands and I pull him against me, bared cock to bared cock and dig my hands into his cheeks even as he clutches at me. I slam him against the console, and thrust so hard that my ears ring. He’s screaming and so am I.

It doesn’t last long enough, though we did try to slow down. I think he came first, but I’m not sure. It’s not the sort of thing I care to compete with him about, anyway. My ears are still ringing, and my legs are molten metal, bending bonelessly. I’m leaning on Avon who is rammed up against the console gasping for breath and staring up at me with hugely luminous eyes, frightened still, but with a sort of awe in them that pleases my ego.

A hand reaches past me. “Excuse me, Blake,” a voice says politely. Tarrant. Tarrant!

I jump, fall clear of the console, and reach out to Avon, so that the two of us wind up on the deck, tangled in our lowered trousers.

Tarrant flicks a switch on the console and the ringing in my ears ceases. He shakes his head. “Not on the flight deck, boys. It plays havoc with the instruments.” He makes shooing motions at us. “Go on, try it in a regular bed. I’ll clean up here.”

I would like to strangle the insolent pup, and I see from Avon’s face that I would have help. But then, again… I grin at Avon. “Come on.”

*****

It doesn’t take too long to convince Avon that my bed is much more comfortable than the narrow bunks on the two-man ship. Perhaps we’ll leave when we can find a bigger ship, but in the meantime, we’ve got a revolution to run.

But we do take time off for bad behaviour at fairly frequent intervals.

After all, we’re only human.


Sorry Doesn’t Cut It

Willa Shakespeare


The natives would have told Vila, but most of them had been chased off, killed, or retreated with the rebels to Cymri III.

‘We don’t bury the dead on Gauda Prime.’

But how was Vila to know? It was the decent thing to do, and Vila was always too sentimental for his own good.

*****

The creature walked out of the forest after Vila left Avon’s grave. It went naturally on two feet, but was covered in dull, yellowish-white fur, except for its face and belly which were bare, pink and wet-looking, like a peeled fruit. The belly was a thing of loose folds and flaps, grotesque, as were the almost human features. It had large cat-slitted eyes, a moist black nose with ever-quivering nostrils, and when it opened its mouth, three rows of teeth, ranging from shark-serrated to massive molars that looked capable of crushing rock, were exposed. The creature was nearly three meters tall.

And it stank, an indescribable musky odour.

It snuffled the air, then went to the disturbed earth and began digging. Its ‘hands’ were broad and tipped with thick claws, well suited to the task.

Vila hadn’t dug very deep.

Avon’s corpse was dragged out of the hole. The creature used its dirty talons to remove the clothing from the body and then it ate him.

It took its time, chewing deliberately, grinding away at bone and tendon, licking and sucking to capture leaking fluids. The belly expanded, and the creature groaned as if in pain. The cat-slitted eyes wept pale green tears, but it continued, until the last scrap of Kerr Avon, computer genius, arrogant sod, sweet lover, madman—all those things and more—disappeared.

Then the creature lay down, cradling its horribly distended stomach in both hands. It lay on the ground, moaning, all through the night.

In the morning, the huge thing stared sightlessly at the sky, cat-pupils glazed over, tongue bitten in two during its agonised death-throes.

The body began to move. Not as a living thing moves—this was internal motion. Something inside was pressing against the skin.

The struggle was brief, for the skin had dried and cracked open, splitting neatly down the middle, releasing the new-born, gasping, wild-eyed creature to fall, flailing, to the ripped up ground beside Kerr Avon’s grave.

It was much smaller than the original creature, and pink, and completely hairless. It lay panting for several minutes before staggering to its feet.

It looked around, staring with equal astonishment at the disintegrating creature, the sunlight flickering through the trees, and its own nude form.

It.

He.

Kerr Avon, back from the dead.

“No,” Avon said quietly. “It’s impossible.” He looked down at the smooth, sleek skin covering his belly and shuddered. “Did I dream it?” He pressed his hands over his eyes. “Have I gone mad?”

No.

Avon whirled. “Cally? No, you’re dead, too. I must be insane.”

No.

The ‘mind-voice’ was not Cally’s. It was deeper. Male. In fact… it sounded a lot like Kerr Avon.

“Now I know I am mad.” Avon shook his head, dismissing it as unimportant. “I could climb one of those trees, and jump,” he said, considering the height of the forest giants surrounding him.

Did we not suffer enough when we died before?

“We?” Avon debated for a moment the wisdom of talking to himself, then mentally shrugged and began comparing trees. It was difficult to tell from the ground which ones were high enough to do the job. Perhaps if he climbed one part way, he could find the tallest nearby one. Definitely nearby, he had no desire to wait for death again.

We are two, and we are one.

Avon frowned. “Bad enough to be mad, without going mystical.” He started to climb the nearest tree and discovered it was not an easy task, naked. He kept slipping down, with nothing more to show for it than abrasions against his unreasonably delicate skin. He gave up and began walking. There would be a cliff or a pond, or a co-operative bounty hunter. Something had been trying to kill him every day for years. It had been the one incontrovertible fact in his recent existence.

That, and your love for Blake.

Avon stopped. Tree-sap seemed to have got into his eyes, and they were watering in reaction. He wished he had a sleeve to wipe them on. “Stop it,” he muttered, and began walking faster. Where were the carnivorous plants and starving mutoids when you needed them?

You are not mad. You are strong. You are clever.

Avon grinned humourlessly. “Fine, just what I need, a pep-talk to myself. What next?”

Next, we make a bargain. I can give you what you want most if you will help me to free my planet from your people. They kill the trees, they rip the heart from the earth. We will all die if they do not leave. For that, I will see that you are happy for the rest of your life.

“Wonderful.” Avon pushed aside a branch that was aiming at his crotch. “Now, I’m trying to bribe myself. With what, I ask, seeing that I am a naked lunatic.” He glanced down at himself, and then lifted one hand and ran it over the smoothness of his skull. “A naked lunatic who has apparently fallen into a vat of depilatory.” Avon was annoyed. He didn’t need to look ridiculous on top of everything else.

Blake.

“No.” Avon shook his head again. “Stop it. He’s dead. I killed him. I saw him dead. I waited until he had his burial among his beloved rebels to end myself, but I won’t be mad enough to live with a phantom of Blake.”

A Blake as real as you are. You were dead. You know you were dead. I am in your mind, and I remember every moment of the dying.

“No. If I was dead, I would still be dead. I’m simply insane. I wonder when it happened.” Avon smiled. “I would like to imagine it was before I shot Blake, but it’s more logical that was the event that broke my mind. I suppose this could be dying delirium,” he said hopefully.

You are alive.

“And why should I believe you—me? I lied to myself quite frequently, when I was sane.” It was often the only way to keep going and he should keep moving. There was nothing with reasonable suicide potential in the vicinity.

I am not you. I am the being who died to give you birth.

Avon paused. “Biologically speaking, that would seem an unsound practice. Not to mention, overly generous of you.”

You will save my people. Many of us have died as I did, trying to create one who can help us.

“And you think you’ve succeeded?” Avon laughed. “I’m no hero. You ought to have ‘created’ Blake.”

That is what I offer you.

Avon’s knees refused to lock, and he fell to the pine-needle strewn ground, clutching handfuls of resinous spears as he fought to deny the hope that sprang up at those words. “He’s dead.”

You were dead.

Avon clenched his eyes shut so hard that the black behind them turned blood-red and replayed the scenes in the tracking gallery and the long agony of his suicide among the trees of Gauda Prime.. The first was worse. When Avon… when Avon did the only thing he could do, he had been glad, because he wouldn’t have to exist without Blake any longer. He hadn’t expected anything more than pain, and nothingness, and that he had embraced wholeheartedly with the honesty he had denied Blake. All their encounters had been ‘simply relieving sexual tension’. And Blake had smiled, and nodded, and refrained from kissing him, because that would speak too clearly of love, and he would not hurt Avon so.

But Avon would hurt him, would distrust him, and would finally blast him out of the universe he tried so hard to save.

There was no punishment great enough for that crime, and Avon had recognised that the debt would go unpaid, but he had wanted to share how Blake had felt, physically. And he did. He knew, vividly, what it was like to die gut-shot. He had lasted longer than Blake, and been conscious for most of it. If he had imagined all that, he had a more graphic imagination than he’d ever credited himself with.

“Even if I believe every word, you’re saying I’m a copy, no more human than a clone.”

And no less.

“And Avon and Blake are dead. Why bother bringing either of them back?” He grabbed a thorny bramble and held on as the blood welled up between his fingers. “And why have you cursed me with all of his memories?”

You are what you remember. We need Kerr Avon. We need Roj Blake. Go back for him.

Avon asked, “How? How is it done?” without admitting, even to himself, that he had begun to believe simply because he wanted to believe against all logic.

I could share the memory with you. The mind-voice sounded tentative. But it could destroy you. Others have not been able to live with the memory.

“If you can convince me that there is a way of bringing even a reasonable facsimile of Blake back from the grave, I will do whatever you require of me, or die trying.” He laughed. “Which, under the circumstances, needn’t release me from my obligations.”

I will share.

The memories came. Seeing Vila and following. Opening the grave. Removing what lay within. And…

Avon was sick for quite a long time, considering that this body had never eaten. Then he got up and let the thing within his mind guide him to water, and from there to a deserted farm, where he found dust-covered food packets and clothing that had been put away clean, with herbs scattered in the folds to preserve them. In repayment, Avon burned the remnants of the farm’s owners.

For Blake, Avon ‘stood aside’ and let the thing within call to its fellows and tell them what was planned, in a guttural language that hurt his throat and his ears.

For Blake, Avon watched as Soolin and Tarrant were retrieved from the earth in the hastily made mass grave where Blake’s rebels had committed the bodies, not daring to use their customary fire, for fear of registering on heat-sensors. He watched as they were devoured and reborn. He was mildly surprised that they believed him and were willing to follow him.

He was less surprised to discover how annoyed they both were at the loss of their hair.

*****

It took over a month to return to Cymri III in the small, beaten-up gunrunner that had been the first ship they were able to steal. Long enough to become numb to the smell of the creature who accompanied them and patiently sat in the cargo hold. Long enough to plan what they would do in all the possible circumstances Avon could devise.

Well, no. It was long enough they could argue about plans, but ultimately it came down to playing whatever cards they were dealt.

*****

Graveyards are not popular places at night. Avon dug down to the box while Tarrant and Soolin stood watch. He was not the Avon who had killed this Blake, but he would not have this body clawed from the earth by a beast, however intelligent and nobly self-sacrificing, or even by someone who had never lov… never known Blake. He was forced to let Tarrant help him carry it, though.

They found an even more remote place to commit the unspeakable deed. Avon had ordered Tarrant and Soolin to leave before the coffin was opened. He hoped they obeyed out of respect, but pity seemed more likely.

It was worse, much worse, than watching Tarrant and Soolin being eaten. It was even worse than remembering having eaten himself. The passage of time had been cruel to Blake, even before the creature began dismembering him.

Avon watched all the way through and was there in the morning to help split the chrysalis and pull Blake out into the dawn.

Blake half lay against Avon, shivering as his wet body dried in a gentle breeze. Avon held him and tried to explain logically the illogical method of his resurrection. He had his ‘voice’ speak to the other creature, asking it to be silent until Avon had explained. At least Blake should not think himself mad at hearing ‘voices’. Blake finally turned his head and looked at Avon. He smiled.

“What amuses you?” Avon asked, tentatively. If Blake had emerged insane, what would Avon do?

“You.” Blake reached out and cupped the back of Avon’s skull in his hand, stroking the half-inch of hair, newly sprouted and even as a well-kept lawn. “Like velvet,” he mused. “Perhaps you should keep it short.”

Avon tried to look affronted, but found himself answering the smile. He leaned in close to Blake, letting the hand pull him until he was breathing against Blake’s lips. “You oughtn’t to throw stones.” Avon put up both his hands and ran them over Blake’s head. “Suede, perhaps. Ave, Caesar, shall I weave you a laurel wreath?”

“Have I won a victory, then?” Blake’s eyes were solemn now. Without his customary leonine mane to soften it, the sorrow was too much for Avon, who pulled out of Blake’s grip.

“Yes, well, you could call it that.” Avon paced away, hands behind his back, while Blake watched. “We have clothing for you, but I am afraid that returning to the rebellion as yourself is out of the question. Too many people know…” He looked at Blake and his voice dropped to a whisper. “Too many people know that I murdered you.”

Blake frowned. “Yes, I was meaning to discuss that with you. ‘Friendly fire’ incidents don’t usually occur at arm’s length. That is what it was, isn’t it?”

Avon’s eyes couldn’t meet Blake’s. “You know what it was. An act of sheer, unmitigated stupidity. I am… I deeply regret what happened.”

“What you did.”

“Yes. What I did.”

Blake bit at a knuckle. “And you think that bringing me back from the dead will make up for killing me?”

Avon shook his head, slowly. “No.”

“What then?”

“I… I thought that perhaps… perhaps you would set the price for me.” He looked into Blake’s eyes now.

“What if I said I despised you and I wanted you to go away forever?”

Avon flinched, minutely, just a flicker of his eyelids. “Do you?”

“No. Why haven’t you said you’re sorry?”

“I thought I did.”

“Not in so many words.”

Avon took a deep breath, but Blake said, “No. I won’t have it pulled out of you.” Blake sighed. “After all, it’s not as if we were lovers.”

Avon turned and went to the small pile of clothes he’d set aside for Blake. “No, it’s not as if we were lovers.” He held up a large shirt for Blake to see the loose, pirate-styling of the sleeves, and he tried to smile.

Blake got to his feet and pulled the shirt out of Avon’s hands. “I was your lover, though,” Blake said. “I wanted you to know that.” He began putting on the shirt, carelessly. He sounded very tired. “I suppose I could have my features rearranged as well as acquiring a new name.” He touched his face, unblemished as a new-born’s. “For a start, I’ve lost all my old scars.” He laughed, and Avon flinched again. It was a bitter, cold, and despairing laugh. “I’ll collect new ones, no doubt. You’ll be leaving soon, I take it, now that you have repaid your debt?” He reached out, and Avon stared blindly, uncomprehendingly. “My trousers,” Blake said, patiently.

“No.”

“No, what?” Blake asked.

“No. I am not leaving you. Ever. No. I am not giving you your trousers. Not now.” Avon unzipped the black coverall he was wearing, taking the single zipper all the way down to his crotch.

Blake looked at Avon’s erection, and then up at the desperation in his eyes. “I’m not into mercy fucks, Avon. Not for either of us.”

“I’m sorry.”

Blake tilted his head. “Sorry doesn’t cut it.”

“It was what you asked.”

“I was wrong. It’s not enough. I won’t turn down your assistance with the rebellion, but I can’t go back to the way we were.”

“I… I wish I could say what you need. But I can be what you need.” Avon fell to his knees in front of Blake, hands out in appeal.

Blake looked behind Avon, in the distance. “Avon, your people are watching you make a fool of yourself.”

“They’ve seen it before.”

Blake sighed and bent down to take Avon by the arms, and lift him to his feet. “Have they seen this?” And he clamped his mouth down on Avon’s, kissing him so fiercely that Avon’s whole body trembled.

Avon surged against Blake, and orgasmed. Shakily, he said, “No, they haven’t seen that.” He reached out to Blake, to that perfect silken chest, and touched the sticky evidence of his own loss of self-control. “I’m sorry.”

“Why do you keep saying that?” Blake fastened up his shirt and reached past Avon for the trousers. He put them on, stuffing his own swollen cock in and sealing up the flies. “I don’t want that from you. I want…” And Blake stood still, and his eyes went round with shock. “Avon,” he whispered. “I hear it.”

“Damn you, you promised,” Avon protested to his ‘voice’.

But you did not make Blake promise to save my world. You should have done that.

“I needed more time!” Avon turned back to Blake.

Blake was staring at Avon. “You killed yourself.” Tears welled in Blake’s eyes. “How could you do that to me?”

“To you?” Avon was confused.

“I thought the Federation had killed you, or perhaps my own people had done it. How could you do that to me? How could you put your death on my head?”

“You’re not making any sense. I couldn’t live once you were dead.”

“Why not? Because you would be hunted by rebel and Federation alike? I’d expect you to take it as a challenge.”

“No! I couldn’t live without you because I love you!” Avon stopped, appalled, and turned his back on Blake.

“Do you really?”

“I’m not in the habit of lying to you.”

Blake chuckled and came up close to nibble on Avon’s neck. “Thank you. I had to hear it once. I suspected it all along, but just once I needed confirmation. All right then, let’s go.”

Avon sighed and leaned into Blake’s embrace. “Oh, joy, back to the bombs, bullets, and bloodshed.”

“And beds, Avon, don’t forget beds.”

“Yes, there is that.” Avon turned and gave Blake a fleeting kiss, a mere brush of lips. “I’ll never forget that.”

*****

When Vila came back from his drunken ramble in the woods, not even Deva would believe he’d seen ghosts.

Not, that is, until five years later, when the vid-proclamation returning Gauda Prime to its native inhabitants came through two days after the Federation fell, and he saw the bonded co-leaders of the Union of Independent and Dependant Planets of the Human and Allied Species League reading the document. Well, Avon read it, while Blake held his hand, and beamed. Tarrant and Soolin were beside them on the podium, also holding hands.

Vila stared at his ‘ghosts’ for all of half a minute, and then he shook his head and told Deva, “I told you, there’s one thing I know, and that’s spirits.”

Deva didn’t talk to Vila for a whole day.

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