"Blake, do you hear me? We've sent for Servalan. You will be the ransom for our planet's peace."

I had once heard that voice as a dim rumble in the rolling thunder of my pain. There was a time when I might have thought it important, but by then I did not care. It had seemed to me that there might have been other voices, other words that I would rather have heard, but I had pushed away that thought, submerging myself in the pain. I had chosen to be here, alone, and that was worse than any physical agony.

"He can't hear you."

I had heard. It simply had not mattered.

The voice had gone away then, leaving me alone on a hard stone shelf in a damp cell.

Then the silver-blue glow had claimed me - and pain, more pain than I had ever imagined existed...

... the pain is there now... the blue-silver glow engulfs me. Am I still in that cell? The pain rages, beating me with silver staves. That cell? A year ago? A decade? A few seconds? Now?

I'm sorry, I tell all the people I know will never hear me. I should have known that one man cannot stem the tide of history or even turn it. The Federation dies: the scramble for power begins. How could I have ever hoped for anything else? You were right, Avon. I can never tell you that now... or have I already told you?

Never felt pain like this... and yet I can think, floating detached from torment. My body hurts, but does it still exist? How is it that I still live? There is a strange sense of the past repeating... repeating... repeating...

I have been here before, in the blue-silver agony, yet I could not have been. This is the first/only time, the one/only place in now/always.

Dying? Is this what it feels like to die in silver-blue fire?

Forgive me, my friends. Forgive me for destroying/saving/destroying your lives... Forgive me.

Oh Lord, I did not think that it could hurt so much...

The universe tears itself apart, tearing me with it.


"Welcome, Roj Blake."

The voice was not human. It was high and musical, yet with a harsh note in it, a voice never meant to form human words.

The pain was gone. I felt weak but well, well as I had not been since Star One. I was warm and the hard slab under me had been miraculously transformed into a soft bed.

I opened my eyes.

The being standing outlined against the warm cream walls was not human. It was tall and it bent in all the wrong places, its turquoise skin iridescent and full of tiny facets, and above its golden eyes swayed a tall, pale, fragile crest. Yet it was humanoid enough to be reassuring, clothed in a simple tunic that bore a symbol that I knew: a staff twined about with serpents, a caduceus - the human symbol for a healer.

I turned my head. The wall was a curve of window and beyond it lay a garden of cool stone and dark plants and falling water, leading to an ocean beach. Despite the second alien who stood regarding me, shadowed against the dark blue sky, it also was familiar and reassuring.

The sky itself was not, for in it hung the ghostly shapes of moons, worlds, hundreds of them, crowding the sun. I knew at once that I was nowhere in the Known Worlds, for a sky like that would have been renowned throughout the galaxy.

The second alien spoke. "Do you feel well?"

I sat up. There was still no pain. I was naked and unscarred. Even the ragged red tear above the elbow that I had borne from childhood had vanished.

"Well? I seem to be completely well," I replied. "I think, I must thank you... whoever you are."

"I am Silkay and, when you know all, you may not be so grateful. Yet I repeat, `Welcome, Roj Blake', for we have great need of your help."

"My help?" I smiled wryly. My help had been no help at all to everyone who had trusted me. Even so, I knew that I would try to give whatever help Silkay wanted. I needed to have a purpose again, something to drive my loss from my mind.

I said, "You'd better tell me about it."

Chapter 2

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