Well, both Cally and Blake were no more, so it was a moot point anyway.
The bar at a remote corner of the freeport was dark, smoky, noisy, and stank unbearably. It was stifling Avon. He yearned to get up and leave. He hadn't wanted to come in the first place, but Avalon had been tediously insistent in sending messages left and right for Orac's tarial ears, and now she was late. He'd be perfectly justified if he left. However, she would only badger him for another meeting. These rebels never knew how to quit. Or when.
He spotted her as soon as she entered the bar and headed purposefully for the booth. Avon noticed she was limping. As she sat down, he also noticed she was favouring one arm. Typical, that. Their futile fight took away pieces of the rebels until it claimed all of them eventually. Sometimes, the wounds were visible. Sometimes they went deeper than that.
"Thank you for coming," she said.
"You did your best to make it impossible not to," he grumbled. "I don't appreciate my name being broadcast all over creation."
"You're a hard man to find."
"I should sincerely hope so. I'm here; you're here; get on with it."
"I need you," she said simply.
He glared at her. "Unless you can prove why I should need you in return, I don't see this conversation going far."
"Actually, I need something from you. Rather, someone. The Cause needs him."
Avon grimaced at the way the word audibly acquired a capital letter when a member of Blake's rabble used it. "If that's your pitch, I could've saved myself this trip. Just for the sake of clarification, who precisely are we talking about?"
She told him. Avon stared at her for a long minute. At one point, Blake must have told her or how could she know? Avon's immediate reaction was refusal perhaps because, since Terminal, for some aberrant reason, the idea had occurred to him as well. He had refused himself too.
Avalon seemed to notice he wouldn't be forthcoming. "Listen to me, Avon. It's important no, vital. Once the Federation ruled with the power of the mighty. Now it's weak, splintered. The Pacification Program is the only reason it can still control anything. Lately the resistance movement is getting more and more support; we have ships, fighters, resources. We have"
Avon interrupted impatiently. "I know what you have. You have a beast with too many heads, each determined to lead in the direction of its own nose. In short, Avalon, you have a movement that is going precisely nowhere. It's a contradiction in terms and a waste of time. So don't waste mine."
"Exactly. The Federation is fragmented, and so are we. If you know all that, surely you realize why I have to have him. What other name, which other voice, can pull the factions into a comprehensible whole?"
"No," Avon said firmly. "It's a foolhardy notion. Besides, I'm not your errand boy."
"I wouldn't ask you to run my errand if I could run it myself," Avalon snapped. "Would you care to tell me where to find him then?"
So Blake had kept some secrets after all. "I will not. You're going to have to find another figurehead," Avon declared, then found himself adding in almost a sigh,
"Leave him be."
"We're talking of Blake," she insisted. "He'd want this himself."
"We're not talking of Blake merely a construct who happens to wear Blake's face."
He remembered the one time he had heard that man's voice: so familiar, yet with a difference in it, a patient, level tone, heard only in the voices of spirits at peace with themselves. Something Blake's rebellious, restless spirit had always lacked and now, would never know.
"Blake is dead," he finished.
"How do you know?"
"I was told," he answered shortly.
"And you, of course, are given to taking things on faith."
During the days spent among the Liberator's original crew, Avalon obviously had learned a few things about him. Annoyed, Avon shook his head. "That is no way to convince me to go dashing off on your errand. Effective arguments require consistency. If Blake is alive, why should you need his replica?"
"Look at it this way, Avon. If a Blake is evidently heading the resistance, the Federation will have to present irrefutable proof of the real Blake's fate."
Then I'll know one way or another, Avon thought, suddenly finding himself getting ensnared by Avalon's scheme.
"Also," the woman continued, "if Blake is alive and free, the replica will serve as a decoy to throw the Federation off his tracks. We might actually be preserving his life. Maybe he'll be able to reach us then, some way."
Avon couldn't decide if he cared to put one Blake on the firing line to get the other out of it.
Suddenly, his own inconsistency struck him. The clone was not Blake just a construct. With Blake's body and face presumably, since Avon had never seen him. Not cloned from real tissue, merely from a blueprint, he reminded himself, memory supplying Blake interrogating his twin about his existence, looking both fascinated and revolted at the idea.
Some other being had to be living in Blake's body, which was why Avon had always resisted his curiosity. But as each lead, each rumour had turned false or deadly, the curiosity had become temptation? But could a blueprint have possibly resulted in a being to whom Avon could say: take it back, set me free?
Probably not. Still, Avalon had a point. Blake would have used his twin without hesitation if he'd thought it would further his precious cause. If the clone willingly picked up the banner Blake had dropped the banner Avon had neither the inclination nor the capacity to carry it would, in a sense, discharge an obligation and free Avon.
Avalon was watching him patiently, but expectantly. "Two conditions," Avon said. "I will do it my way, and it'll be his choice."
"Of course," Avalon agreed readily.
"Okay, we're out of orbit," Tarrant announced. "Where exactly are we going?"
"You wouldn't know it," Avon answered. "Orac, give Slave the coordinates you have listed under the code 'Coser' just to Slave, Orac, no need to speak up."
"There's a need to speak up," Tarrant objected. "Surely you don't expect me to fly blind."
"I expect you to do precisely nothing but sit there. You're just going along for the ride. Or would you rather take shore leave on AS-612 until I get back would any of you?" He cast a look around the flight deck of the Scorpio. No one looked inclined to take him up on his offer.
Neither, it seemed, was Tarrant, but of course that wouldn't make the young pilot keep his mouth shut. "We're all sick of your high-handed attitude, Avon. I demand to know where you're taking us and why."
Vila spoke up, forestalling the fireworks about to erupt between Avon and Tarrant. "Coser! I remember now come on, Avon, why're we going back there? It did us no good last time, if you'll remember; that weapon's best left buried forever, and there's nothing there anymore that any of us could be interest" Abruptly, he broke off, then continued, "Except... oh, come on, Avon!"
"What are you worried about?" Avon snapped. "You weren't marked. Slave, make certain we're not followed."
"May I humbly point out, Master, that I always do my best to make sure that you are free of pursuit by the Federation."
"It isn't only the Federation I'm worried about at the moment. I don't want to be followed by anybody."
"Yes, Master, I shall be most vigilant."
"Well, Avon," Tarrant piped up again. "Slave is willing to obey your every whim, and Vila seems to know what's going on for a change. I don't fall into either category what exactly are you up to?"
"This concerns none of you. I don't want any of you involved. It is my problem alone."
"That's what you said the last time," Vila grumbled, "and look what happened. That time you were chasing after Blake, too."
"Blake?" Dayna evidently considered it time to join the discussion. "Are we running after ghosts now? What has Blake got to do with anything anymore?"
"Not a damned thing!" Avon snapped, his forbearance never in large supply severely frayed. "If only people could make the simplest distinctions." He glared at Vila, then took in the rest of the crew. "Just for the record, we're going to a certain planet where I will, if he is still there, talk to somebody. You don't know him, you have no reason to know him. Even I don't know him, but I have decided to comply with a request from Avalon, period."
"How forthcoming of you," Tarrant said, while Dayna mumbled simultaneously, "Sound the alarms, someone."
"I know him," Vila added.
"No, you don't!"
The thief argued. "Well, strictly speaking, maybe not, but I know Blake and I'd say he has a lot to do with Blake."
"You're an idiot; you'd say anything," Avon retorted, wondering why Vila had chosen to talk to him at this moment, and over this issue, when for the last couple of weeks Vila had cultivated a policy of icy silence toward him.
"At the risk of being included in the list of idiots," Dayna spoke up, "I'd like to know who has what to do with whom, and why are we going to heaven knows where? Well, Avon?"
If the pushy inquiry had come from Tarrant, it would have been Avon's pleasure to ignore it. Dayna was a different story. To a slight degree. "I can see there'll be no peace until your curiosity is satisfied. Very well. Almost four years ago, while the Clone Masters still existed, they created a clone of Blake for the Federation's purposes. It was not a true clone, merely a replica. Evidently, it had enough of Blake's characteristics to go rogue on them. As far as I know, it's been living like an exile on a deserted world since then, providing it's still alive. Avalon seems to feel it could be useful to the resistance."
"So what's our involvement with it?" Dayna wanted to know.
"None. As I've already told you."
Tarrant picked up what was now approaching interrogation in Avon's opinion. "All right, what's your involvement with it then? Any Blake will do in a pinch?"
"I've said all I care to on the subject."
Tarrant didn't know when to quit. "Well, I haven't. You say we're just along for the ride. Remember that, Avon. If you get yourself into another mess and expect us to get you out of it."
"I never expect anything from you. If only you were capable of comprehending that, all this brow-beating could be avoided. The subject is closed."
"We'll see about that," Tarrant shot back.
Avon spun on his heels. "Slave, keep me informed," he threw over his shoulder, and did something he had never done aboard Scorpio before. He climbed into one of the sleep alcoves, and lowered the opaque, soundproof shielding to shut himself off from the rest of the crew.
Now they would interrogate Vila to their hearts' content. Fine. As long as Avon didn't have to be involved in it. Blake's name had already been bandied about more often than he cared to hear that day, or any other day.
But it took only a few seconds before the relief of being isolated from the claustrophobic presence of the others gave way to a more immediate form of isolation and claustrophobia. Suddenly, it was hard to breathe, and perspiration broke out all over him. This was the reason he never entered the coffin-like alcoves, preferring to forego sleep and merely rest on one of the couches on the flight deck.
Firmly, he reminded himself he could get out any time he wished, concentrated on the clean air being pumped into the chamber, fresh enough to erase any lingering presence of anybody else who had lain there. He forced himself to breathe deeply at a slow, even rate.
Not confinement. Privacy. Peace.
Not isolation. Solitude. Quiet.
There a little rational thought was all it took.
He didn't sleep. It had never come easily. Lately, it simply didn't come. But second thoughts did.
Why had he let Avalon talk him into this bit of nonsense? To call it by its name, Dayna was right, ghost-chase pretty much covered it.
He didn't really give a damn what happened to Blake's banner, did he? So why?
Hope? No. Ridiculous.
Perhaps in order to be simply doing something. Why not? As long as it wasn't something vitally important. Something that didn't have the power to hurt or disappoint. If he didn't find the replica, what did it matter to him? If he did, well, what did that matter? The clone would either accept Avalon's proposal or reject it. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, both adding up to the same zero as far as he was concerned. This Blake, who was no Blake, would have no rights to Orac or anything else that was Avon's. He wouldn't be asking uncomfortable questions.
No, we didn't find Jenna. Frankly, I never looked for her. Not for her.
The Liberator? Well now, that's a long story.
Cally? You won't like that answer either
Oh, no, Vila isn't dead although it wasn't for want of trying on my part.
If you're dead, Blake, kindly have the grace to stay that way. I've grown used to my own disappointments.
No, the clone, if found, would be safe. Even if he were as revolutionary-minded as Blake, what could he want with the Scorpio? It was not a fighting ship. The stardrive, maybe, but who said he had to know about it? Of course, as things stood since Malodar, Vila just might leave with the replica. Fine, he could go and be someone else's parasite.
Avon didn't care.
The forward thrusters of the Scorpio cut off abruptly enough to bring Avon rushing out of the sleep alcove. "Slave, what the hell's going on?"
"I apologize most sincerely, Master," the ship's main computer whined. "But I can approach our target no further. My insignificant capabilities cannot cope with the obstruction in a manner that can assure your safety."
"What obstruction?" Avon demanded.
"It is referring to the minefield," Orac supplied, "which it would have missed until too late if it weren't for me. The space around the planet has been extensively seeded with proximity mines that prohibit approach."
Tarrant was sitting with his long legs propped up, his hands laced over his lap, radiating insolence. "Sounds like you're not wanted, Avon."
"Don't be ridiculous, it can't possibly be personal," Soolin snubbed the pilot. Avon knew the gunfighter wasn't defending him. She just frowned on haphazard shots. She liked precision in an attack.
Tarrant was undaunted. "Well, someone on the planet doesn't like visitors."
"Wrong again," Avon commented, then addressed Orac. "Proximity mines were there before. The Liberator could achieve orbit. Why can't Scorpio?"
"At that time they were not this dense."
Servalan had taken extra precautions. She wouldn't want anybody accidentally stumbling on IMIPAK, or the clone to be able to leave this world with the weapon. It was too much of a personal threat to her.
"Further," Orac continued, "the Liberator had the force wall. The Scorpio may sustain serious damage."
"What do we do now?" Vila asked.
"Tuck tail and run?" Tarrant suggested. "And why not?" he continued when Avon didn't deign to reply. "You've done it often enough lately."
Vila shrugged. "So what's wrong with tucking tail and running away?"
Tarrant smiled at the thief unkindly. "Say something surprising for a change, Vila."
"Well, I don't see anything wrong with it."
"If you will all stop bickering!" Orac interrupted, sounding like a patriarch saddled with a pack of juvenile delinquents. "The minefield does not preclude teleportation and I should have the coordinates soon."
Avon went to stand by his console. "Give me some visuals."
"At this distance, how do you expect me to get ground visuals?"
"Then by what means are you setting the coordinates?"
"I would appreciate closer attention to accuracy. I did not say I was setting the coordinates. I am merely waiting to be informed of them."
Avon whirled on the machine. "Inform...! Orac, have you already established contact?"
Sometimes it was a shame Orac was not vulnerable to a solid thump on its proverbial head.
"So much for surprise visits," Tarrant gleefully put in.
Avon was too busy scowling at the computer. "Since when have you started volunteering information to strangers?" Vila had started laughing, a sound Avon had not heard since Malodaar. He spun to face the thief. "And what do you find so amusing?"
"Don't you see?" Vila sputtered. "He's not a stranger. He's Blake."
"Vila, if you insist on that idiotic" Avon started menacingly.
"But I'm not. Orac is. Your precious, oh-so-perfect collection of circuits couldn't tell the difference. Gods, that's rich."
Avon turned back to the computer, indignant on its behalf. "That can't possibly be true, can it, Orac?"
"Orac, I asked you a question!" There was more silence. Avon sighed. He really wasn't ready to speculate on the embarrassment quotient of a machine. "All right, give me a straightforward report then."
"Thirty-four minutes ago, through subspace contact, we were asked to identify ourselves and state the purpose of our approach. After confirming the caller's identity"
"Through voice pattern match, I take it?"
"Correct. I supplied the requested information, and was in turn told to stand by for the teleport coordinates."
The machine had recited in a dry, mechanical voice it had never used before, probably its way of dealing with its lapse. Vila was still cackling. Avon threw him a dirty look. "And there were no objections to our presence?" he asked Orac.
"None that was expressed to me," came the careful reply
"So you are wanted after all," Tarrant interjected. "I think somebody down there doesn't know you, Avon."
Avon ignored him pointedly. "While you were being so forthcoming, Orac, did you happen to mention me by name?"
"And the response was?"
Orac answered after a pronounced hesitation, perhaps for the first time in its existence. "Blake said he was looking forward to seeing you."
All of a sudden, Avon felt precisely like tucking tail and running away. Instead, he addressed the computer sternly. "Blake said nothing of the sort. How could you be incapable of making that distinction, Orac? Have I been overestimating you all this time?"
An unlikely source, Vila, came to the computer's defence, strolling close. "Oh, give the thing a break, Avon. As you keep reminding us, he's just a machine. The voice pattern matched exactly and the circuits immediately identified it as Blake's."
"It knew about the clone," Avon argued, wondering why he was letting himself get drawn into an argument with, of all people, Vila.
"So? How's he supposed to tell who's which when there's nothing to distinguish one from the other? He did this before, remember? He couldn't tell the difference between the Liberator and its sister ship same configurations and all, I'd suspect until there were two of them side by side. He kept us sweating for days.
Avon glared at him. "What makes you a computer expert all of a sudden?"
"What do you think Federation security locks are made of, dead bolts?" Vila said, in a totally uncharacteristic tone, straightening his back and lifting his chin.
Avon found himself looking, not down at Vila, but almost directly across at him, and realized after five years that the thief was not considerably shorter than himself as he had always assumed.
"Besides," Vila continued in a voice that didn't carry past Avon, "I know there are some judgments no machine can make and so do you. Or you'd have trained Orac years ago to open the locks you keep me around for and cycled me out of an airlock long before Malodaar." With that, he spun around and went to his usual seat.
Avon suddenly felt an overwhelming need to be anywhere but on this ship. "Do you have those damned coordinates yet?" he snapped at Orac.
"Affirmative." Orac was very subdued. "They just came through. Should I confirm?"
It was Tarrant who jumped in. "No," then asked when Avon glared at him, "If you're welcome here, what took thirty-something minutes?"
"Thank you, Tarrant, I'm sure I couldn't have thought of the implications myself. If it is a trap, what do you care?"
"Not a whit. As long as you understand you're alone with it once you leave the ship, which might or might not be here when you feel like returning."
"You're being redundant, Tarrant. Orac, confirm the coordinates."
He selected a weapon from the gun rack. Dayna came over and picked one up for herself. She slipped it into her belt holster and strolled back to her seat. "Tarrant doesn't make the decisions on this ship," she said loudly, patting the gun with a casual gesture.
Avon knew Dayna wasn't exactly taking his side. Since Tarrant had admitted to his activities on Virn, she had been repeatedly opposing the pilot just for the sake of opposing him. That one lapse in judgment, she wouldn't ever forgive.
Avon put on a bracelet and tucked two more into a pocket, then went to Orac. "Can you teleport me half a mile from the coordinates?"
"It would be inadvisable. My only guide from this position is the homing signal of the subspace communicator now transmitting from a new location. I cannot guarantee where you will materialize if I veer from it."
Everything was a gamble lately, why should this be any different? "All right then, stick to the coordinates." He commandeered Orac's key, met Tarrant's glare with one of his own, and took his position inside the teleport chamber. Scorpio was more likely to stick around if Orac's key was on the planet with Avon.
The levers on the teleport control moved as if of their own volition.
Avon whirled around, sweeping a circle with his gun, at the bottom of a dry crater, with the subspace communicator next to his feet. He backed into the closest wall of rock, surveying the mouth of the pit.
Nothing and no one moved.
"Well now, if you were so looking forward to this, where the hell are you?" he mumbled, sliding the gun into its holster. This close to IMIPAK the gun was hardly much use.
He studied the communicator, then picked it up to sling across his shoulder by its strap. It didn't look like it had been dropped into this cavity. So there had to be a path out of here. He found it easily. Halfway up he had already decided that the clone must be a lot more agile than Blake
He was almost at the top when a shadow fell on him. He looked up at the large figure crouching on the edge, one hand extended down to him. For a brief moment, Avon couldn't move, told himself he was only breathless because of the climb. Framed against the blazing sunlight, the clone's features weren't clear, but his solid bulk and shape were unmistakable.
So was the deep voice. "Let me help you up."
"No, thank you," Avon grumbled when he found his own voice. Why had it suddenly felt as if something had touched a scabbed-over place inside, when he hadn't even known he was carrying a scar?
He pulled himself up, climbed to his feet, then promptly started dusting off his clothes, studiously delaying the moment he had to look at the clone, who was now standing right next to him, giving the impression of taking up more space than only one man should. "So you also believe in playing games according to your own rules, no doubt."
"Sorry for the inconvenience," the all-too-familiar voice said, sounding all-too-familiarly unrepentant. "I thought it prudent to have some time to watch you before revealing myself. To make sure you are Avon. I do know what you look like, you realize."
Avon studied his surroundings, directing his eyes anywhere but at the man by his side. He hadn't seen this part of the planet before. It was hilly, densely wooded, probably far from the abandoned industrial complex he had been in previously. "You, of all people, should realize resemblances guarantee nothing."
"True. So are you Avon, the real one?"
It was early afternoon and the height of summer it seemed, as Avon squinted up at the red sun. "Yes, but why should my answer guarantee anything?"
"I'm willing to take your word for it."
"Then you're a fool. You might have a lot in common with Blake after all."
"If you're going to insult someone, Avon, you should at least be able to look him in the face." But he didn't sound insulted, only smug.
How dare he notice exactly what Avon was avoiding, this stranger? Avon whirled on him, with a suitably cutting remark at the tip of his tongue where it stayed.
He couldn't decide what fascinated him more, the similarities or the differences or the differences he could see in the clone which by now must be in fact similarities. This was a man who definitely belonged outdoors, and it was hard to identify his stock as an Alpha from a dome city of Earth. The wild mane of curls, much longer than Blake would have allowed it to grow, had been bleached by the sun until it had acquired copper glints. But the same hair and the full, unruly beard was also liberally sprinkled with gray. That had to be genetic, so Blake's own hair would also look like this now, at the age of not-yet-forty.
The tip-tilted, heavy lidded eyes looked lighter against the dark tan of the broad face, their green flecks more evident, with added lines crinkling their corners. Perhaps ageing, perhaps squinting against uncontrolled light.
The clone was also a harder, firmer man within the same frame, a sign of doing more bodily work in these few years than Blake had done in all his life. Avon noticed he wore loose pants from some rough, thick material, and heavy boots, as had been Blake's preference as well, but all he had on otherwise was a long-furred vest that left his arms and wide chest bare. His attire was totally at odds with the weather, and judging by the moist sheen covering every visible inch of his skin, he couldn't be unaware of it. It dawned on Avon that he probably wasn't used to clothing himself on this empty world, except in cold weather. Or now, for a stranger dropping in out of the sky. He wondered how Blake's sensibilities would handle it, if he were to lay eyes on his uncivilized-looking counterpart.
The question brought Avon's wandering mind to the here and now with an embarrassing jolt as he realized he had been scrutinizing a stranger with unfitting intensity. "Irrelevant. There's no issue that might be satisfactory or unsatisfactory." About to avert his eyes, he was caught by a very familiar, if rare, smile that had always seemed to light those generously-drawn features from within. He sneered in response, because he was not totally immune to it. "Any reason why the occasion requires that supercilious smile?"
The clone's expression turned hesitant, almost childlike, and most of his resemblance to Blake was gone as if swept away by a careless hand. "I... I don't know. I feel I know you, but I don't, do I? I've never even seen you before, so why do I feel like I... missed you... or... should have missed you?"
"I'm sure I don't know," Avon snapped, thoroughly unsettled by the sincerity. "Kindly remember that I'm not accountable for anything they saw fit to program into your brain circuits. Why they should've impressed me upon them, in whatever fictitious form, is beyond me in the first place. You're not a true clone. Why should you have Blake's memories anyway?"
"I didn't, not at first. I think I had a rudimentary background a sense of identity. It's hard to remember now. At least, distinctly. But later..." He frowned, looking as if he was reaching for things he had not thought of for a long while, "...after I was taken from Clonemaster Fen... I was... trained, or so Servalan ordered. That's when the memories came. Because it wasn't going to stop with a single impersonation for Coser. I was to take Blake's place, actually work with the people he knew, who knew him, until I could turn over the whole resistance movement to Servalan, along with the Liberator." He trailed off, dropped onto a nearby boulder as if pushed down by some weight, placed his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands in front of him.
So they had given him Blake's memories, what they knew of them at any rate. The holes had probably been filled with some rather accurate projections by a psychostrategist. Pawn brokers of a most despicable sort, Avon thought, first they rip away Blake s memories, then they loan them out like some recycled, patched-over commodity. But they wouldn't have made those memories a too-integral part of the clone, or they would have been simply creating an identical Blake who would have proved as intractable as the original. Of course, that was pretty much what had happened. Still, the clone seemed perfectly aware that he was only a clone.
"The memories aren't mine though," the seated man said as if in confirmation, then refuted himself, "yet there they are. I don't know how to explain it. Like a biography I have carefully memorized, but it was an autobiography. Like seeing two different images through each eye, but they get interlaced in my head. I know I'm thirty-eight years old, yet I also know I have only been alive for four years. I realize I did not grow up in a family, or ever have any friends, but I feel them all the same, I can name them, describe them, even miss them on some level. I know you're a stranger, but you still feel familiar." The earnest eyes met Avon's. "Is this pathological psychosis?"
Avon had to swallow hard before he could answer. "You don't realize how much you're taking for granted by asking me that."
"I'm sorry." His gaze dropped back to his clasped hands.
Avon had thought the clone's similarities to Blake would be the most uncomfortable part of this meeting. Clearly, he had miscalculated. There was something defenceless about this being, a terrible innocence that was different from Blake's occasional naivety.
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Last updated on 13th of October 1996.