He slammed his fist hard on a console. Lies. All damned lies. Everything that he thought he knew about the place was a lie. The sister and brother who had sent him tapes of their life there were dead ™ had never even lived there. His only other brother worked for security, and hadn't spoken to Blake since he'd founded the Freedom Party. He had no family now, and half of what he remembered about them was probably false anyway. Marianne hugging him as she left for the colony ship and inviting him to visit someday ™ was that real, or just a created memory? Steven, and his five year plan for grain exports from the new colony ™ no, that had to be wrong. Steven had been as committed to the rebellion as Roj had been. He wouldn't have wanted to prop up the government with cheap food supplies.
What was real? His head ached. Blake pressed hands to his temples in an intense effort to remember. He had to know, or else everyone he had known was dead twice over.
"Blake? You look like a man with a problem." Avon's comment was flippant in tone, but Blake sensed a thread of genuine concern.
"I'll manage," he said brusquely.
Avon moved closer, in a way that always seemed slightly intimidating. "Will you indeed? And what about the rest of us who are dependent on you managing?"
"I ™" Blake bit back his automatic reply. He needed the reassurance of genuine human contact, even if it had to be Avon. He sagged, closing his eyes for an instant, in an effort to will the pain away.
Avon's hand rested lightly on his shoulder. "They're dead. You have to accept that."
Sympathy disconcerted him. "How did you know?"
"You're not the only one who can ask Orac questions." Brown eyes read more from him than they should have been able to. "It still bothers you doesn't it?"
And there was a missed opportunity. Avon not pulling him to shreds for his guilt, not intimating that Blake would be the cause of his own death, not reminding him of Gan. Sometimes Avon gave you of his best, just when you expected the worst. But then of course, Avon knew what it was like. Del Grant's sister ™ Avon undoubtedly felt some responsibility for her death.
"Thanks," he said quietly.
Avon nodded slightly, with understanding in his eyes, and moved to investigate something on his console, visibly present, but not intruding. Blake found himself grateful for that. It was officially his watch, but he had the comfortable feeling that Avon would stay around. In an odd way, it was like being home again.
Blake moved his bishop to take Jenna's knight, and turned to face the computer. "What is it, Zen?"
+A message has been received for Roj Blake.+
"Put it on visual."
A man's face came sharply into focus on the screen.
"Blake, my name is Harriman. Contact code aleph zero, seven four zero. There is an abandoned research station on Christiana, an asteroid in the Epsilon Eridani system. I will be there for the next three months. Meet me there as soon as possible."
"Zen, lay in a course for Epsilon Eridani, standard by eight."
"Here we go again," muttered a quiet voice behind him. It might have been Vila, but Blake didn't think so. He waited expectantly. Sure enough, Avon appeared in front of him a few seconds later, glare set firmly in place. "Just like that?" Avon demanded. "No discussion?"
"Just like that," Blake said softly. "Exactly like that, Avon."
He tipped over his king, tacitly awarding the game to Jenna, and moved to leave the flight deck, but Avon blocked his exit.
"That message was on an open channel: anyone could have heard it."
Blake conceded the point. "Zen, bring the long range detectors on line." Without waiting for Zen's confirmation, he looked Avon directly in the eye. "Satisfied?"
Avon stared right back at him. "For now."
Which simply meant that the argument would be resumed later. Well, if he could get away from Avon for a while, at least he'd have time to get his thoughts together, perhaps he'd even be able to come up with a convincing reason. The code was a priority: only himself and a few other members of the Freedom Party had ever known it. Three of whom who were still alive, and any one of them might need his help. Explaining the importance of the code wasn't the difficult part; Avon would accept that, albeit reluctantly. No, the difficulty arose from the fact that the code dated back to before his original arrest and interrogation five years ago. He'd given the Federation so much then, told them almost everything he knew. So, why should this piece of information be any different? And Blake had no answer for that, except that he knew. He knew he'd never told them.
It was his own particular curse, to remember the beatings, the interrogations and murders in vivid detail, but to have lost the good times and the memories of those that he'd loved.
He gave a brief, uncharacteristic smile, and walked off the flight deck doing his best to show no more apparent concern than if they had been discussing the weather on Cygnus Alpha.
Temper barely in check, Avon stalked over to Orac to begin a search for data. When Blake was secretive, it made sense to get as much information in advance as possible. Half an hour later, he gave up in disgust. The medical research station on Christiana had been abandoned for decades, there were no reports of recent visits, no discoverable rebel connections, in short, no obvious reason at all for Blake to go there. It appeared to be simply a location for a rendezvous and nothing more.
Avon buckled the gunbelt around his waist as he walked into the teleport bay. Blake looked at him. "Ready?"
"Of course. I would prefer it, though, if you were to give me some idea of what to expect down there."
"There's no danger."
"So you say."
Blake shrugged. "You don't have to come."
Avon smiled a fleeting smile. "And miss finding out what you're up to? I don't think so."
Apart from saying that he had to meet someone, Blake had been no more forthcoming about his plans than he had been at the start. Avon didn't trust the situation. In his opinion, Blake was too trusting by far. He held his gun at the ready and waited.
Blake nodded to Vila at the teleport controls, and Liberator vanished to be replaced by a room full of complex equipment. Avon recognised various types of diagnostic tools, some looking in remarkably good condition for their supposed age. Still, it was possible that the station had been mothballed rather than simply abandoned ™ an inert atmosphere would have preserved the contents without any decay. Which simply begged the question of why anyone had taken the effort to come here, replace the atmosphere and start up the artificial gravity once more.
"Across and safe," Blake reported.
Avon's attention was distracted by a man entering though a door; he swung his gun around automatically to cover him. The stranger held up his hands, showing them to be free of weapons and Avon allowed himself to relax a little.
"Harriman?" Blake queried.
Avon didn't allow his surprise to show. He'd assumed Blake could at least recognise the man. It would seem that Blake had come here simply on the strength of a code number ™ that was disquieting.
"Yes." Harriman nodded at Blake, pointedly ignoring Avon's gun. "I'm glad to see you could make it. You teleported?"
Blake nodded and then got to the point. "What was so important that you used an emergency contact code, and who gave it to you?"
"I believe I can be of great assistance to you."
Harriman smiled slightly. "I can give you back your memory."
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