The Liberator entered the Sol system from above the ecliptic plane. It dropped out of deep space into the concealing shadow of an agricultural satellite, long-abandoned, drifting: a navigation hazard. The Federation traffic stayed away from the area. Jenna Stannis edged the ship carefully around the hulking derelict, then readied it for a prearranged, fast, and totally unconventional orbital pass around Terra. None of the crew had pleasant memories of their last stop there. Gan's empty position was still a silent reminder.
Alone on the flight deck, Jenna kept the controls firmly in her hands as Zen kept watch on the Federation patrols in the vicinity, and Orac listened along tarial paths for the slightest indication that the Liberator had been spotted. For the second time in the last few days, the detector shield seemed to be serving its purpose. So far. Just a little longer, she prayed, to no one in particular, while the blue and white planet grew larger on the screen.
One more pass, and perhaps their only chance.
Jenna was still astonished that Avon had agreed to take this one chance. Agreed? He had damn near commanded it. And that was too uncharacteristic of him for the pilot's peace of mind, if such a thing could exist with Kerr Avon in residence.
His inexplicable behaviour pattern had started while the Liberator was in orbit around Exbar. Avon, the same Avon who firmly believed that people should be given plenty of rope if they insisted on hanging themselves, had been almost obsessive about safety measures before Blake had teleported down. Even then he had seemed unable to relax, and had suddenly jumped up to announce he was following Blake. Later he had summoned Vila down to the planet as well.
Shortly afterwards, all hell had broken loose when four pursuit ships and one command ship had popped out of time distort, practically on top of the Liberator. Jenna had been too busy trying to stay ahead of disaster, but still close enough to Exbar for the teleport to operate, to find out exactly what had been happening on the planet.
She had later gathered that Cally had retrieved Vila quickly, but Avon had been delayed. There had been no sign of Blake, a situation unchanged since then. After some eavesdropping, Orac had informed them that the command ship had landed on Exbar and left it again, with a prisoner. Another ship ™ Travis', by all indications ™ had taken off from the planet, followed by two pursuit ships. The Liberator had still had to deal with the two remaining Federation vessels, and by the time one was immobilized and the other one destroyed, Avon had been tersely requesting to be teleported back up.
When Avon ™ looking dishevelled, scratched and breathless as if he had been running at a breakneck pace through bushes ™ had barged onto the flight deck, he had informed them that the prisoner taken away by the command ship was Blake. Jenna had wondered how to make him agree to a rescue attempt. But Avon had not waited to be persuaded or forced: he had demanded immediate pursuit of the command ship, only to be told by Zen that the nearly-depleted energy banks had to be recharged first. The pilot had listened, with her mouth hanging open, as he had promptly threatened to reduce Orac to its components if it lost Blake's trail in the meantime.
Orac had finally led them to Earth two days ago, over five days behind the command ship. Anything could have happened to Blake in that time. Jenna spared a hand to open a channel to the teleport section. "Almost there, Cally. Get ready."
It was Vila who answered. "She's been ready. Any more ready and she's likely to freeze there permanently."
"Shut up, Vila." Cally's voice drifted through, a tight edge to its usual softness.
"Ready, Jenna. Just give the word."
"Right. In about three minutes."
Orac was sure Blake had been taken to the Interrogation Section of the Federation Security Complex, a sprawling annex to the largest dome-city in the northern hemisphere. Jenna would have preferred to be the one to infiltrate it, but her piloting skills bound her to the flight console. Cally had volunteered immediately, although she had to know her unfamiliarity with Earth was a major handicap. Even Vila had managed to mutter something that sounded like he might be willing to go along. Avon, already outfitted, had brought all discussion to a halt by striding in, announcing that he'd be the one to go, period, and disappearing into the teleport effect before anybody had a chance to say a word, leaving it up to Orac to direct the crew according to his instructions.
And, coming from Avon, that was simply too unbelievable. The man was nobody's martyr. Although concern and loyalty might not be foreign concepts to him, he chose not to acknowledge his acquaintance with them. Cally seemed to understand what was driving Avon this time, but she wasn't talking beyond the cryptic. She did keep assuring Jenna that once Avon decided to do something he didn't do it by halves, and that was true, but exactly what Avon had decided to do, and why, was still questionable. Jenna couldn't trust the man. It was hard to trust someone who went out of his way to prove he didn't care to be trusted ™ heaven forbid, he might have to live up to it one fine day.
"Now, Cally," Jenna said into the intercom, then held her breath.
Cally punched the buttons and pulled the levers, her motions quick, precise, sure ™ conflicting reactions tumbled in as the teleport functioned. Two forms materialized, one supporting the other, and Cally was relieved. Apprehension followed when one form solidified into Avon; but the other was clad in the black uniform and the masked helmet of a Federation guard. For a split second, she hoped the slumped figure Avon was holding upright was Blake, but his bulk could not have possibly fitted into that uniform. She lost all hope when Avon dumped the man onto the deck with less concern than he would have given to a sack of potatoes.
Only silence was coming through the intercom. Jenna couldn't take it for another second. "Cally! Do we have them? Is Blake back?"
"Uh, no, Avon's here, but... Avon, what happened? Who's that ?"
"Who's who? Avon!" Jenna shouted. "Where's Blake?"
"Not here," Avon's voice issued from the console. "Not yet. Take us out quick. We're going to make another circuit. Cally, help me. Vila, bring Orac to the medical unit. Be careful with the uniform, Cally. I'm going to need it."
Jenna clamped down on her immediate need to know and swung the Liberator around. First she had to get the ship to a safe distance.
Heading into the medical section, Jenna could hear Avon arguing with Orac.
"Don't be difficult, Orac. I need his palm prints. Short of cutting off his hands and carrying them with me, how do I™"
"You can't!" a desperate voice, a stranger's, interrupted hysterically. Then Jenna was in the room and could see its owner: a young man, stripped to basics, under heavy restraint on one of the examination tables. "No, please, no, you can't!"
"Oh, yes, I can," Avon informed him matter-of-factly, without so much as a glance at the terrified man. "Except it'll be damned inconvenient, not to mention conspicuous. So shut up and don't push your luck."
"Who is that?" Jenna asked.
"Someone who can get into places I can't," Avon supplied succintly. "Well, Orac?"
"As I have informed you before, 'well' is not a™"
"Orac, I'm not in a particularly tolerant frame of mind."
Even the machine seemed to know when it was unwise to push one's luck with Avon. "Very well. The surest way to utilize his palm print and avoid detection is, of course, skin grafts and implants."
Jenna saw Avon clench his hands ™ protectively? He sighed. "I was afraid you were going to say that. Won't rejection be a problem? I have to be alert; I don't need suppressants slowing me down."
"Not if your own tissue is used. Sufficient amounts can be grown from a culture in thirty hours."
"I don't have thirty hours," Avon objected.
He did have thirty hours and more, Jenna knew. It was Blake who might not have it. She was finding it very hard to adjust to Avon's new attitude. There had to be a catch to it.
"In that case," Orac continued, "the skin will have to be removed from your body, from the inner thigh, I should think, to afford the right texture and sensitivity, then moulded and imprinted with the 'signature' you require prior to grafting. The tissue regenerator can be programmed to alter tissue patterns as well. Synthetic implants can be used to alter the shape of the palm."
"How long will it take? I'll have to have full use of my hands and we have precious little time."
"Once you have modified the tissue regenerator in the manner I shall specify, the surgery itself should not take longer than an hour. You will have full use of your hands as soon as the local anesthetic wears off in another hour or so. After all, the trauma will be little more than skin deep."
"Avon," Cally asked softly, "are you sure you want to™"
"No, I don't want to, but as I couldn't find any other way to get into the Rehabilitation Center in two days, I will have to try the only option remaining."
"The Rehabilitation Center!?" Jenna burst out. A misnomer if there ever was one. "Is that where Blake is?"
"I'm afraid so."
Something lodged in Jenna's throat. It took a few tries to get her voice past it. "Avon, in that case, there may not be... anyone... left worth going back for." She hated saying it, but she was a very practical woman.
Immediately, predictably, Cally objected. "We don't know that."
It seemed Vila was in agreement with the Auron. "That's right, and anyway, reconditioning didn't take on Blake the last time they tried it, at least not for long, and it never worked on me, and believe me, they tried, so we can't know™"
"We can't know anything if we stand here chattering," Avon cut in. "If you don't mind, I'm not looking forward to this. I'd prefer it to be over and done as soon as possible. Let's get on with it."
Jenna noticed how tired Avon looked. "Why don't you rest a while then, Avon? I'll help Cally set up in here." Why was she sounding concerned for the man? No, she really didn't know how to deal with this Avon, and that annoyed her.
Avon ignored the first part of her suggestion anyway. "Vila, help Jenna. Cally, I need answers from this man. Get them."
Silence followed, but Jenna glanced at the guard and saw his eyes widen, then reflect utter fright. She knew Cally was speaking into his mind, telling him she could rip out the information, but would prefer not to damage him unless he preferred otherwise. She could do nothing of the sort, of course, but the ploy usually worked. Also, Avon would soon introduce him to the lie-detector capabilities of Orac. He'd talk.
On the flight deck, Vila was giving Avon some last-minute instructions on the use of the lock-picking tools that the computer expert was carefully tucking away into parts of his black uniform. Alternating with this, Avon was giving his own last minute instructions to Orac.
"Seven minutes to teleport coordinates," Jenna warned, unsettled by the sight of Avon dressed like a Federation guard. The uniform brought forth the underlying air of menace Avon naturally carried, to an extent that made Jenna glad he was on their side. Theoretically. For the moment.
Cally, on the other hand, seemed all concern for the man. "How do you feel?" she asked. "Any discomfort?"
Avon flexed his fingers, then pulled on the gloves. "No. It feels slightly strange, that's all."
His hands had been reshaped by artificial implants that would be removed once it was all over, but with unexpected insight Jenna suspected that Avon was really talking about a sense of loss of identity. He was too acutely conscious and fiercely jealous of his individuality to ignore the slightest threat to it. That, she could sympathize with.
"Are you sure you won't take Orac with you?" Cally was asking. "It could be immeasurable help down there."
All traces of sympathy in Jenna vanished. Right, Cally. Do you want to offer him our lives' blood as well? Never mind we might have use of it ourselves?
"Positive," Avon answered. "Too bulky. Besides, if something goes wrong, I'd rather it was safely here, coordinating my rescue." He turned to Jenna. "A pass in twenty-four hours initially, then once every twelve hours."
"Right," she confirmed, hoping no more than one would be needed. "What do we do with the guard?"
"Hold on to him. We'll worry about it later."
Avon put on the helmet as he left the flight deck, followed by Cally and Vila. "Good luck," Jenna called out after them.
Avon took his position at the teleport pad as Cally went to the console. //Avon,// her soft tones sounded inside his head, //try not to abandon rational thought.//
"I never do," he snapped, indignant at the suggestion.
//Normally. Don't let guilt lead you into something rash.//
She couldn't know, but he was aware that she had sensed something amiss from the start. Avon noticed Vila looking from one to the other with a curious expression, and refrained from saying any more. He glared at Cally, realized he was wasting it from behind the mask, settled for an imposing stance and waited to be teleported down as soon as Jenna gave the word.
At the Security Complex, Avon found out that people were not inclined to look closely at the forbidding black-clad figures of the Federation guards. The anonymity of the uniform ™ useful but disturbing; he wasn't accustomed to being ignored ™ the palm prints, the guard's ID patch and the detailed information he had supplied all served to put the computer expert into one of the surveillance vaults of the Rehabilitation Center. For the time being, he could only make preparations. Getting Blake out would be best attempted as close to the Liberator's next pass as was safe.
Through the computer, Avon confirmed the rebel's location, checked the routines, noted the blind spots. Then he systematically started altering the programs, using Orac's presupplied instructions and the micro-components he had brought for the task. When he'd completed the initial stage, the surveillance receptors were supplied with a remote override system. At the flip of a switch the monitors would start displaying bogus images until someone noticed prerecorded material was looping on itself. It should take an hour or two at least.
The alarms went off just as he was taking a breath to start the next stage.
He had his gun out and was about to run through the door when he realized the alert did not involve him, but a section of the cell block. He holstered the gun as an urgent call for medical assistance came over the loudspeakers. Then the cell number registered.
He could do nothing except watch on the screen as a medical team quickly responded to the call and disappeared into Blake's cell, followed by guards. He had no visual access to the inside of the cells, but he realized that someone else must. If he went back to the ship without Blake because of it, the young guard was going to live only long enough to regret withholding that information.
Suddenly, there was a commotion at the cell door left open. A guard tumbled backwards out of it, then Avon got his first look at Blake in more than a week. He came through the door with a guard clinging to him, whom he shook off easily, sent a med-tech sprawling, and took off down the corridor.
Trust the man to make a hash of one's impeccably formulated plans! With a heartfelt curse, Avon reached for his gun again, on the point of rushing out to meet him, suspecting it was the most idiotic thing he could possibly do with the Liberator so far out of reach.
Don't let guilt lead you into something rash, Cally's warning echoed, bringing him to his senses. He restrained himself and watched. Blake didn't seem to be in any immediate danger. The guards stalking him were numerous now, but not one had reached for a weapon. They appeared intent on catching the man without causing harm. Blake, on the other hand, acted very indifferent to his own welfare; he was damn near begging to be hurt. Avon saw that Blake's right forearm was covered with blood, dripping profusely down his fingers. It was probably the loss of blood as much as the guards that slowed Blake enough to be overpowered and held down. A doctor rushed in and leaned over him. When Blake became visible again, there was a pressure pack strapped to his wrist. He was carried back into the cell; the furore died away.
Avon considered what he'd seen. Obviously, Blake was not being kept docile by drugs. Just as obviously, he hadn't been subjected to reconditioning again. That was a vast relief. However, there were other considerations. Instead of the usual prison garb, Blake had been wearing paper-analog coveralls, and nothing else, which had been shredded to pieces during the struggle with the guards. That, and the torn wrist which might have been the cause for the medical emergency ™ had the bloody fool been making repeated attempts to kill himself?
And if he was already being protected from his own suicidal intentions, how had he inflicted that wound? If he had managed to get hold of a sharp object, someone as determined as Blake would have gone for the carotid artery in his neck. So what had he used to tear into his wrist ? His teeth?
Avon suppressed a shudder and postponed worrying about Blake's sanity ™ a relative thing anyway, under the best of circumstances. He went to work again. The various surveillance receptors and terminals of the complex were controlled by a central register. It was painstaking work to find inroads to it, but not impossible. He imposed a loop circuit on the cell-interior monitors as well, then installed a time-delay interruption switch on the building's electronic interference shielding. It would briefly interrupt a small portion of the shielding close to the roof. Anything more would set off alarms. He would have to get himself and Blake to the roof on time.
Avon located the remotely-situated maintenance crawl-way leading to the air ducts that would eventually take them up to the roof. He freed the grille, then replaced it so it could be opened easily. When he judged the time to be right, he headed for the morgue to get one of the free-floating anti-grav carriers, euphemistically called 'collection carts'. People didn't look closely at dead bodies manoeuvred through corridors by guards, especially in this place. Passing by a supply cabinet, he secured some large-sized clothes.
It was almost morning and the halls were empty. The loop tapes were already running on the surveillance monitors; Avon only had to worry about the patrols. If the guards stuck to schedule, there should be plenty of time. He knew the palm prints that had got him this far would be useless to gain entrance into an important prisoner's cell. He used Vila's tools to work on the door, the intricacy of the work making him doubly aware of the strangeness of his reshaped hands.
He remembered Blake dealing with the guards earlier and hoped he would have enough time to identify himself. He need not have worried. Blake was on the cot, unmoving even when the door opened. Avon quickly pulled the cart in, pushed the door until it looked closed. then went to shake the man awake, and realized Blake was not asleep, just disassociated.
"Blake?" No response. "Blake, it's me, Avon. Blake!"
The rebel gave a start, blinked, and his eyes tried to focus, looking like he was struggling to bring himself back from some faraway place. "A... Avon?"
He still looked lost, so Avon raised the face plate of his helmet briefly. "Yes, I'm here. The question is, are you?"
For another second Blake looked confused, then his eyes cleared. "Avon."
"We already established that. Now, pull yourself together and move. We have exactly twenty-eight minutes to get to the roof if we're not to miss the Liberator."
One thing about Blake, he acted when action was needed. He bounded off the cot. He appeared well except for the wide bandage on his wrist. "Get on the cart," Avon directed. "Now lie absolutely still until I say otherwise. Breathe as shallowly as you can." He covered the man completely with a sheet, giving thanks to the contraption that brought Blake's considerable weight down to nothing.
After one last look around, Avon freed the grille, yanked the sheet off Blake and motioned him into the crawl-way, passing the man a teleport bracelet at the same time. "Veer to your left. You should come to a junction in about twenty metres. Wait there. I'll join you as soon as I get rid of this cart. Oh, yes." He grabbed the bundle of clothes off the cart to thrust into Blake's arms. "That flimsy thing is not going to survive the climb. Put these on if you don't want to materialize on the ship half-naked."
He parked the cart in an inconspicuous corner and hurried back. He crawled in, and spent some precious minutes tightening the grille from the inside using a magnetic driver, just in case search started prematurely. He followed Blake, only then noticing how narrow the tunnel was. Blake must have had one hell of a time squeezing through it.
The tunnel suddenly opened up to a junction, but the darkness steadily deepened. "We have to get to a parallel shaft," Avon directed, rising to his feet. "Follow the™"
Blake was not there.
Avon heaved an exasperated sigh which threatened to turn into sneezes in the dusty enclosure. Why couldn't the man once, just once, if for nothing but a blessed change, do as he had been told?
And where the hell was he?
There were only sixteen minutes left.
Avon spent one of them calming down and keeping his eyes closed, hoping to improve his vision. He opened his eyes, looking directly at the floor, and detected the disturbances in the layer of dust. Going in the wrong direction. Of course.
The ducts were high enough to stay upright, but not wide enough to dash through. Now there were outlets overhead, allowing some light in along the way; he could follow the trail. He spotted Blake just around an old heating shaft, and lunged to grab the man's shoulder, dragging him back.
"That's the wrong way!" he hissed. "The roof, I said. In case you've never noticed, you usually go up to it." By pressing himself into some pipes he managed to shove Blake ahead of him, noticing the man hadn't bothered changing clothes. Well, that was his problem. "Hurry."
Blake let Avon push him along. His meek attitude was starting to bother Avon, but he couldn't spare it much thought at the moment. 9 minutes, 23 seconds, the luminous face of the chrono on his wrist informed him.
The first two gigantic overhead fans that they came to were in operation. The third was still. Avon clasped his hands in front of him to give Blake a leg up, gritting his teeth when the rebel's weight made him realize Orac had been too optimistic about the healing time of his hands. Blake wedged himself through the opening between two blades, then braced on one to reach for Avon. First he offered his right hand only to pull it back quickly and extend the other one. Avon jumped high enough to let Blake catch and pull him by the wrist. 6 minutes, 18 seconds.
A latticework of struts took them past three more levels. Four more left to the roof. 2 minutes 58 seconds. A horizontal shaft brought the two men directly under the portion of the roof that would be free of shielding in another minute. For no more than two minutes. A minute's grace period on each side of mark-zero before the auto-repair mended the breach.
Rungs were sunk into the walls. They used them to go up two more levels, before Avon reached to tap Blake's ankle. "Stop at the next landing. We're high enough."
When he joined Blake on the metal ledge, his chrono was displaying two-digit numbers. He leaned heavily into the rails lining one side, trying to catch his breath, slow the pace of his heart. In the light of the dawn spilling in from the mesh covering on the roof, he glanced at Blake. His head down, the rebel was still, except for his heaving chest, and he had slid his left hand through a tear in the coveralls to press against his ribs. Not that there was much covering left on his body. Well, Jenna might actually appreciate it, and Vila would be amused, while Cally would run around trying to cover their fearless leader's dignity.
Avon concluded he was lightheaded from the adrenalin drain, or he wouldn't be having such flighty thoughts. "We'll be™" he clamped down on the word 'home'. The dizzying relief wasn't going to make him that whimsical, "™on the ship soon."
Blake raised his head, and looked directly at Avon. "Yes, we will." Then he looked away again.
Something in his eyes, a too-gentle, almost tolerant expression, something Avon wasn't used to seeing ™ at least not directed at himself ™ and a slight ironic tone in the utterance...
Sheer instinct made him grab Blake's hand and yank it out of concealment. The folds of the coverall tore all too easily. Blake's wrist was bare.
"Where's your™" Avon glimpsed the number ™ single number ™ displayed at his own wrist, knew there was no time. 8... 7... "Damn you. Why!" 6... He shoved Blake away, reached for his own bracelet, 5... 4...
Blake came at him, trying to restrain him. 3... Purposefully, Avon chopped down with the side of his hand directly on the bandage. 2... Blake gasped with pain, and jerked back. 1...
Avon yanked off the bracelet. Almost immediately he felt the slight vibration against his fingertips that signalled teleport activation just as the chrono flashed zero. Perfect synchronization. For damn all.
The two men stared at each other, Blake cradling his hand, Avon gripping the rails because he didn't want his hands unrestrained at the moment. "Well, now that you've managed to throw away our best chance," he said, his voice incongruously calm, "would you mind telling me™"
Now Blake sounded frantic. "It's not too late, Avon. They're still in range. Use your communicator. You can be gone before™"
"No, not until I know why." The rebel looked ready to come at him again. "Don't, Blake! Or one of us is going to have a long way to fall."
"Avon, please." And he was actually, sincerely pleading. "Get out while you still can."
"The idea was for both of us to get out."
Eyes locked, they stood still, at an impasse, until their contention became a moot point. Avon took a deep breath, and eased off the railing. "That's settled for the next twelve hours." He added at Blake's look, "The next rendezvous, if Jenna can manage yet one more miracle. We should be safe here for, oh, maybe another hour, but we must start thinking of getting out soon. For now," he pointed across the struts toward another shaft, "that way." The rebel didn't move. "Blake, I'm tired. Unless you want me on your lap ™ and I don't want me on your lap ™ we need more space."
Blake offered no more resistance. They found what seemed to be a unused crane housing, almost directly under the landing pad on the roof. Avon sank down into a corner, pried off the helmet, and leaned back.
"You said something about an hour?" Blake prompted, sitting across from Avon, who tersely gave him a rundown on their situation. "So your cover is secure for now. You can simply walk out of the complex if you leave quickly."
Avon lifted his head. "Where will that leave you?"
"Since when have you started worrying about me? Do us both a favour and go away. I'd appreciate it if you'll leave me the gun, though."
"Are you trying to be funny, Blake? If you actually expect me to consider you and a gun simultaneously, try acting like you're marginally rational first."
"All right, keep the gun. Just go away."
Blake's voice dropped down to that quietly intense level which Avon had come to resent automatically; it made him abandon all sense too often. "It's what you've always wanted. I'm out of your hair, and the Liberator is yours. Nobody can say you didn't try your best, not even the conscience you claim not to have. Don't you see, it's™"
Avon's temper snapped. He interrupted harshly. "What do you know of what I want?"
"You keep telling me."
"Yes, and you keep listening."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing." He pushed off the wall to rise to his knees, which let him look down at the large man. "Listen to this, Blake. You want to commit suicide, be my guest ™ any other time. Once we get out of this, the Federation will still be there. You can stand up, let them hunt you, trap you, torture you, kill you, anything your heart desires. But not this time. Not this time."
"What's so special about this time?"
Avon wasn't ready for a confessional at the moment, but he found he couldn't keep meeting the too-penetrating eyes. He sat back on his heels, looked away. "I didn't go through all this trouble to indulge some self-sacrificial drivel, that's what. Especially when I don't understand why."
"You don't have to understand. Just accept that I won't be going back."
"Why not?" He felt like shaking the man. "I'm risking my life to get you out of this mess. There are three more people on the ship putting theirs on the line. The last person we expected opposition from is you. Come to your senses."
"You were late."
"Well, I'm sure we all humbly apologize, but it wasn't for want of trying, damn you!"
"Avon, you don't understand. That wasn't a reproach. I'm grateful. I'm even more grateful that you came in time to give me a choice, you have no idea how grateful. But now, just leave me. I promise you they won't get their hands on me again."
"Damn it, Blake, what's the matter with you? I was even prepared to find a mindless automaton but you're undamaged™"
Something seemed to snap in Blake. "Undamaged? Undamaged!" He held out his bandaged arm.
"So? Whatever that is, it's obviously not crippling."
Now Blake was on his knees, leaning forward, intruding on the other man's personal space. "Would you like to see what it is, Avon? Would you?" He started tearing at the bandages with a violence that startled Avon.
"Blake, stop, you're going to hurt yourself." He reached a restraining hand only to have it swept away. "Don't. You'll start bleeding. Or get it infected. Blake, stop it!"
"No, you're going to look at it. Then maybe you'll leave me in peace."
"All right, all right, I'll look at it, but take it ea™"
The bandages came away at that moment and Avon's words caught in his throat. He stared at the metal housing and the intracath sunk into Blake's wrist over the major arteries, the sharp point of the spring-action needle glittering like a diamond chip on the edge of it. "Oh, hell," came out with the breath he expelled as if he had been punched in the stomach.
Blake didn't spare him. He touched the spring and the needle shot out to full extension. Instinctively, Avon flinched away. Blake gave a mocking laugh, bitter, then made the needle retreat. "Now you know. Give me the gun and go away."
Incapable of any response, Avon sat frozen, staring at the implant. Only when Blake reached for the gun did he snap out of immobility. He jerked back, remembered to breathe. "No."
Suddenly he knew Blake was going to rip out the intracath to expose the artery and grabbed his hands. "Don't!"
"Avon, can't you understand?"
"No, I don't understand. They couldn't have modified you. You know me, damn it! A mutoid has no memories."
"Oh, that. Just a slight reversal of procedure. You see, they still wanted to know about the Liberator, so they didn't want to blank me yet. They performed the biological modification first."
Avon felt weak with relief, but didn't dare release Blake's hands. "Then it's all right."
"Nothing is all right. Do you seriously propose to take a vampire back to the Liberator?"
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Last updated on 13th of October 1996.