At dawn the tanks drove into the city; troops stormed the streets; civilians were executed on the spot in their dozens and hundreds more arrested. The entire affair lasted only a matter of hours. Then order was restored, the parliament reopened; that was the end and beginning of their Cold Revolution.
Five hours later, shortly after breakfast, Avon and I arrived on the shuttlecraft, landing near the spaceport by the Bundestag to meet with the acting-President Enzo Schvadna. It had paid, in the past, to conceal our ability to teleport from those with whom we did not need to share the information, so as was usual in these cases, we referred to the bracelets simply as communicators and parked our shuttlecraft with those of the other visitors.
The effects of democratic upheaval are rarely visible to the uninformed casual visitor; an orderly election amongst a tidy, well-behaved electorate leaves only the odd discarded ballot paper. When that process of democracy has had to resort to force to resist outside elements however, the exchange of power leaves something more tangible. Had Avon and I arrived earlier we might have wondered at the slick patches of a rich, dark substance on the streets outside the parliament, perhaps even have gone on to identify them as the blood of traitors. Or that of patriots; the baroque complexities of another worlds politics can appear deceptively simple.
We were silently divested of our weapons and communicators before a single word was spoken to us, the immediate presence of at least twenty armed and scowling guards inhibiting our instinctive reaction to defend ourselves.
Why is it, Avon, that your friends never seem to care very much for your visits? My question, murmured in a low, faintly bemused tone, elicited little response from Avon, who continued to regard the door before which four of the most heavily armed soldiers stood. Finally, it seemed that someone apart from the guards had noticed us and the door was opened.
President Schvadna will see you now.
Stepping over the threshold, I was somewhat surprised to find a small man, dressed in a rather drab, grey two-piece outfit, standing on his desk to reach a picture on the wall behind his chair. The picture was a portrait of Servalan as President of the Terran Federation.
Close the door, please. For one thing, there are draughts. The man lifted the heavy portrait from its hook and lowered it gently to the ground, stepping down from the desk as he did, finally smiling a thin, pale smile of satisfaction.
President Servalan. Do you know how few of the people who knew her this way are still alive to remember? he asked.
Very few, responded Avon, That would not be Servalans way, to allow her old friends to see her as she is now. Again Schvadna smiled. I am perfectly aware, Avon, of the risk I take in even displaying this portrait. But you see, for us, the separation from the indignities of the past must be a cathartic act. We will burn this painting in a public ceremony tomorrow morning, destroy her image as the icon of all that we have despised for the past fifty-two years.
Avon stepped forward, looked for a long moment at the portrait, his hand making the faintest suggestion of movement towards it... almost as though he wanted to touch it. A rather old-fashioned symbol, wouldnt you say? After all, shes been presumed dead for almost a year now.
Symbols age well. We replace her with one that is even older. Schvadna opened his desk drawer, inside which lay a small painting, very dark, framed in elaborately carved, gold embossed wood. It had the appearance of something quite, quite ancient. Then, to my astonishment, he raised it to his lips, kissed the image once, moved his fingers rapidly across his face and chest and then kissed his own fingers. He glanced up at us quickly.
Another woman, he said quietly, but with pride. From another time. Infinitely more deserving of our contemplation. I glanced at the painting; a woman carrying a child; its meaning entirely indecipherable. And the election, I asked of Schvadna, is presumably your other public demonstration of secession? He nodded. May I take this opportunity to thank you for agreeing to monitor the proceedings? There can be few people whose anti-Federation credentials are more worthy than yours.
And under his breath, I heard Avon mutter, I can think of at least one.
It was strange to think of Avon in the role of, if not a hero of the resistance, then at least a prominent and respected figure within the movement. I imagine that few were more amused by the idea then he himself. It was almost amusing and yet I sensed that, in the framework of events, it was not inconsistent with the metamorphosis we had begun to observe in Avon. I watched him with Schvadna and I had to admit that all that time rubbing elbows with Servalan must have paid off; statesmanship (of a kind) came naturally to him now.
Schvadnas people had laid on everything for us and seemed determined not to let us out of their sight. For secret police, their dress code was absurdly obvious: long leather greatcoats turned up at the collar, one hand permanently hovering by the pocket which housed the gun holster. It was disturbingly reminiscent of being conducted about the city in the presence of the local gangsters; these people were cleaner than their type on GP but anyhow, the similarities were remarkable. I wondered even then whether I shouldnt mention it to Avon but I think in retrospect that I felt more amused than anxious. I thought it plausible. Ive never lived in a democracy; who knows what passes for normal there? The goons told us it was for our own safety and I believed them.
Its Sviad Stefanovich who presents the gravest danger, one of the younger bodyguards informed me confidentially; His people will stop at nothing; they have killed thousands outside the cities; really, one isnt safe on half of the planet.
Which wasnt a great deal, it had to be said. Only about ten thousand square kilometres of the planets surface could be said to be remotely habitable unless you liked living on snow-capped mountains. Sviad Stefanovich Kordski and his followers had something of a terrifying reputation. Kordski himself was an old enemy of Schvadnas; he too had been trained by the Federation, but lacking the smooth diplomatic eloquence of his colleague, he had not thought to negotiate for the colony to secede, instead choosing to speak out openly against the Federation. With one manoeuvre he had acquired immense folk popularity and a death warrant. Now he coordinated, from his hideaway in the hills, a relentless and bloody battle of terror against the supporters of Schvadna. Our informers thought that he sought power at any cost, that he would rule the planet as he ruled the towns and villages into which none of the pro-democracy forces would dare to tread. And yet he is a candidate in the election? I asked, puzzled at how someone could apparently merely respect their democratic system enough to use it, only to dismantle it afterwards. The guard seemed to understand my concern. Historically, he said with a shrug, it is a common enough practice theres such a thing as electing to be dominated.
The tanks were still crawling over the city; some of the remaining Federation troops were still unaccounted for and the Pro-Federation movement vied with the supporters of the warlord Sviad Kordski for all open spaces in which to demonstrate. Such expressions were permitted provided they were small; in the three we saw, the pro-democracy police usually outnumbered the demonstrators.
Avon said very little during our guided tour of the highlights of their city. He never was much of a one for idle conversation and I became almost glad of the bodyguards; at least they served to dilute the unbearable tension that I inevitably experienced upon any lengthy exposure to Avons company. His unapproachability was the largest factor, by a long way. We all felt the same about that, except Vila who alone among us claimed not to mind being alone with Avon on a mission. I suppose hed known Avon that much longer than the rest of them. And of late, even Vila had cooled on Avon. I was well aware of my own ability to seem aloof but then again Ive always prided myself on being able to put a stranger at their ease, if I really wanted to. Avon rarely even bothered trying to be sociable with the rest of us. I dont know if he had always been that way it seemed inconsistent with some of the things Id heard from the others about their past together.
Many things about Avon intrigued me. It took me a while to see beyond the simple fact of his physical attractiveness, which although considerable, soon lost its appeal in the face of trying to live in some semblance of harmony with him. He alternated between the behaviour of an inspired leader, a dictator and a spoilt child; by far the most prevalent were the last two. But he did have his moments and I knew I could kill him if it ever came to that, so I didnt let his problems upset me unduly.
Still, I asked myself questions about him, questions I would never have discussed even with the others, in front of whom I was careful not to show too much interest either way in Avon. I had always sensed that Tarrant and Dayna felt a certain amount of protectiveness towards him and I had to wonder why that was, given his belligerence. Until, that is, I realised that I felt the same way. He was capable of becoming his own worst enemy; he needed us even though to his mind, the mere concept of dependency was akin to a sickness; he had the wit to face and solve problems those crucial seconds before the rest of us and for some reason, he never gave up. Sometimes, even though we would never have dared to admit it, I think we all wanted rid of him. But we dared not leave him for fear of what being abandoned would do to him. He claimed to long for it. Somehow we knew that he wasnt the sort of man to leave too long alone with his own thoughts. So, in a banal manner, we entertained him as well as we could be bothered.
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Last updated on 19th of December 1997.