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A Scale of Violence

By Judith Proctor
"Where is Orac?"

      Soolin must have been asked that question a hundred times now. "I don't know. Avon hid it."

      The interrogator smiled, a serene dreamy smile, but she knew what to expect now and ducked backwards. Too slow. Her torturer was a giant of a man, but he moved fast. The blow caught her hard on the cheek, spinning her head, adding to the dizziness from the drugs. She wanted to talk; her body demanded that she talk; all that she could do was to exert some degree of control over what actually came out. "I didn't see him hide it. Vila might know where it is; why don't you ask him?"

      "Avon wouldn't show Vila something as important as that. You're lying." That smile again.

      She'd learnt to dread that smile. It meant there was worse coming.

      "I could break your arm."

      It wasn't what he said, it was the way he said it, so careless and casual, yet so certain in meaning. She had no doubt at all that he meant what he said. She felt sick. Why was she holding back anyway? What was the point?

      He took hold of her right wrist, almost gently, gripping her elbow with the other hand.

      "It's no good to you!" she all but screamed. "It'll only work for Avon."

      "Wrong." The bone broke with a dull snap. "Orac cannot be commanded, only cajoled."

      The scream broke free and she didn't care. Her gun hand - if she couldn't fire a gun, she was helpless, she was nobody. Her skill was the very core of all she had spent her life to be. If she was screaming she wasn't talking, but it was hard, so very hard now, not to say it. She could see the exact panel behind which Avon had hidden Orac and could not understand why, why, why they had not found it long ago. Any halfway decent search should have found something as large and obvious as Orac long ago. "Behind-" Oh God, it had been a mistake to think of it, "- behind maintenance-" she fought it, but the pain and the dizziness won over, "-maintenance panel 7b."

      "You're lying. All the maintenance panels were checked."

      The hand holding her wrist twisted and Soolin passed out.

      

      

      Soolin came round to the sound of voices. The floor was hard and cold against her cheek, but at least it was clean. Everything here was clean and clinical. Prisoners might be hurt, but they only died with the permission of the Federation - no infection or disease came to the rescue here.

      She opened her eyes to a cautious slit. A doctor in a neat white tabard, tapping his palm irritably with a stylus, was addressing the interrogator.

      "I told you not to damage her."

      "You can fix it," her nemesis replied.

      "That's not the point. We can't afford to take unnecessary risks. She's the only one left and we have to have that information."

      "Vila's dead?" It was said slowly and with an undertone she couldn't quite determine.

      "Nothing we did," the other man said quickly. "It was all her fault. She and Avon led Vila into the trap." He gave the top of his stylus a sharp twist. "It was her fault and she's hiding information from you."

      The interrogator gave a low growl; sweat started on his forehead, sticking his short curly hair to the skin.

      Vila, she thought frantically, her brain going into overdrive. He'd known Vila? The man was a homicidal maniac. Vila would never have had so dangerous a friend. Unless. Unless... It was impossible. But if it was possible, she had just one chance and she had to take it now.

      She sprang to her feet, ignoring the pain that stabbed from her broken arm. Reflexes honed by years of constant practice did not betray her now. Her left hand flashed out and grabbed the stylus as she rolled to the floor to give herself an extra few moments. She twisted the top at random, heard an agonised roar behind her and turned it as far as it would go. The roar became the bellow of an enraged bull.

      Keep out of sight! She went limp, faking dead, hoping desperately that the act would not become reality moments later.

      The bull charged. The doctor made the mistake of moving. The enraged bull grabbed him, shook him, threw him against the wall where he slumped, broken-necked, and slid slowly down to the floor. Shaking its head, the bull turned, seeking fresh bodies to gore.

      Fascination held Soolin frozen for an instant, but she was a killer too - not prey. She twisted the stylus in the opposite direction as far as it would go. The bull slowed, looked around as if puzzled, stopped, and became, ludicrously, a cow chewing the cud. Soolin ignored him, focusing her attention instead on the doctor. There - on his belt, a bunch of keys. Unthinking, she used her broken arm to push herself off the floor and gasped with the pain.

      "You're hurt." The bully sounded surprised.

      She moved carefully along the floor, keeping her distance, trying not to look like a possible threat.

      "I'm fine."

      "No, you're not. Let me take a look at it."

      He bent towards her and Soolin flinched backwards. Her brain might suggest that he was no threat now, but her body told her otherwise.

      "I won't hurt you. Who did this?"

      She wanted to cry and vomit all at the same time. He didn't remember. He didn't remember! Halfway to hysteria, she choked out, "The Federation."

      He looked confused. "Blake said... But they're not all bad... I don't know - sometimes I can't think straight any more."

      "Gan. There's no time to waste. I have to get out of here." She mustered her resolution, got to her feet and started for the door.

      He didn't move. "You know me?"

      "Vila described you often enough, especially when he was drunk."

      "You know Vila?"

      "Listen." She waved an impatient finger at him. " I can stay and chat about the old days and get caught again, or I can get the Hell out of here. Which do you think it's going to be?"

      He took a step towards her, then stopped as he saw the body on the floor. "Doctor Pirelli!"

      "He's dead." She reached out a hand for the keys, struggling to open the snap fastening left-handed.

      Gan unclipped the keys for her and tried them in the lock one at a time. The third one lit up a sequence of coloured lights and the door slid open. Soolin took a cautious glance down the corridor before stepping out. The odds of getting out of here alive had to be close to zero, but she was certainly going to try. If she could only get clear of this complex, she had a fighting chance. Gauda Prime was her world; she could survive here if she had to.

      "There's a guard just around the next corner," Gan said quietly. "I can go ahead and take him out."

      "Since when did you become involved in this escape?"

      He looked at her solemnly, brown eyes shadowed. "Since you couldn't manage it without me."

      Logic took over. There wasn't time to argue the rhyme or reason of it or to try and determine Gan's motives or sanity. Both were highly dubious, but he was a killing machine, and she had the control. He was potentially useful.

      "Take him out," she ordered, "and get me his gun."

      She waited as Gan vanished around the corner, trying to control the sudden fit of trembling that seized every limb. Logic be damned! This man had hurt her. So what if he now resembled the gentle giant that Vila had described? Vila had also described a man who had gone totally berserk, attacked his friends and tried to kill them. That was the Gan she recognised. Sweat pooled between her shoulders and trickled down to the small of her back. Maybe he was just telling the guard to come and get her. If he was unable to kill in this state, then maybe he had to get someone else to attack her.

      She could hear voices: Gan and another man, the words indistinct. She looked frantically around for a hiding place, but there was nothing except bare walls and locked doors. How had she been so stupid as to let Gan take the keys! Trapped in a dead end, all that was left for her was more questions and more pain until execution came as a final mercy.

      When the sound of returning footsteps headed her way, she swallowed and held her head high. If she had nothing left except pride, then even that was better than nothing.

      Gan was alone.

      It took a moment for the reality of that to sink in. Then she noticed his face, pale and distressed.

      He held out his hands in supplication; they were shaking slightly. "I tried, truly I did. I couldn't even raise a hand to him. You know about my limiter?" He rubbed his forehead wearily. "I told him I had a headache, that I was looking for Pirelli. I think he believed me."

      Soolin felt the smooth touch of the stylus in her pocket. Just how much adjustment did it have? How far was it safe to adjust whatever the Federation had done to Gan's limiter? The madman who had broken her arm was only a twist of the control away from her. What would he do if he realised that she controlled him? The pain in her arm was fuzzing her thinking. He was the last person whose help she wanted - and she had no choice but to accept it. She twisted the join, trying to guess a small increase, and tried her best to fake supportive sympathy: "You can do it, Gan. You have to." She cradled her broken arm. "I can't fight like this."

      Gan swallowed, drew himself up to his full height, and looked back down the corridor. "Maybe it's just because it's so long since I tried to fight against it. I feel stronger now." He smiled down at her, a friendly smile that was a world removed from the calm abstracted smile of the torturer. "It's easier when I have somebody else to fight for." He flexed his fingers, leaving Soolin with the distinct impression that he was looking forward to the fight.

      The wait was even worse than it had been the first time. If she'd adjusted the limiter enough to allow Gan to attack the guard, then by definition, he was capable of attacking her. How much of his personality was innate and how much was controlled by the limiter? Vila had always reckoned that it was the limiter malfunction that had driven Gan to a murderous state, but suppose it was the other way around? Suppose that Gan was naturally a psychopathic murderer and the personality he showed now was artificially created and maintained only by the electronics embedded in his brain?

      A thud distracted her momentarily. Gan came back around the corner, another smile broadening his face. The paragun in his hand came up to point at her and her nerves almost snapped. Only the self discipline that had kept her going for so long prevented her from flinching. The key to being in control of any situation was to act as though you were in control. People always reacted to appearances. She reached out, took hold of the gun by its muzzle and fitted it into position on her left arm. Adjusting the stabiliser to fit her arm length was the work of a moment and increased the weapon's stability greatly. She sighted a couple of experimental shots before she was satisfied that she could use the weapon effectively left-handed, then gestured to Gan to move ahead.

      As they passed the guard on the floor, she glanced down, unsure whether to be relieved or not at the fact that he was still breathing.

      "How many more guards between us and the exit?"

      "Two, I think."

      "Don't you know."

      "I'm sorry; I've only been here a week. Doctor Pirelli thought an agricultural world might be good for me - I came from Zephron originally."

      A farmer? Plausible perhaps. The Zephroni did tend to run to heavily built types, possibly due to the higher gravity.

      She caught sight of a camera on the wall ahead and froze, gesturing to Gan with her gun. He nodded and fell back.

      Silence.

      Soolin realised that he was waiting for her to suggest something. In a whisper, she asked: "Are the cameras continually monitored?"

      Gan spread his out hands, palms upwards.

      Okay, the choice was to disable it, destroy it, or bluff it. She hadn't got the skills to disable it, destroying it would probably set off an alarm. That left bluff.

      "Gan, take the gun."

      He nodded, then added quietly. "It may not work. I don't hold any official position here. I came with Pirelli because I'm his patient."

      Soolin bit her lip to stop herself saying the unsayable. They'd believe it all right. Anyone who'd seen the torturer's victims would be incapable of believing that he could aid an escapee. She almost didn't believe it herself.

      "It'll work if I look scared enough."

      They processed down the corridor in single file, Soolin willing herself not to look up at the camera. Each step on the hard flooring was another step towards possible discovery. She was aware of the gun behind her, knew without looking the exact part of her spine that would be burnt away if the trigger were pressed. Time seemed to draw itself out into a long strand that became thinner and more brittle with each step she took. As they passed the camera, the strand snapped and she whirled around to snatch the gun, almost shuddering with relief as she felt it fit snug along the length of her forearm.

      "It's natural to you, isn't it?" Gan said, almost wistfully.

      "Huh?" The pain from her arm was fuzzing her thinking.

      "The gun. You can kill. I envy that."

      "You want to be able to kill." She said it flatly, hating him for the urge, hating him on behalf of all men and especially on behalf of those who had killed her family.

      Brown eyes regarded her evenly. "I'd like to have the choice." He shrugged off his jacket and before she'd had time to work out why, he removed his shirt and ripped off a voluminous sleeve. "I've nothing to use for a splint, but it'll help a little if I set it and make a sling. You can't afford to be distracted by the pain."

      He reached out for her broken arm. Soolin braced herself for the touch, allowing gentle fingers to probe for the break that they themselves had caused.

      "I'm going to try and re-align the bone," he warned. "Don't cry out or they'll hear you."

      Hear her! Didn't he know that the whole complex ought to be familiar with the sound of her screams by now! She gritted her teeth as he pulled at each side of the break, then almost collapsed in relief as the pain shifted from agonising to merely dreadful. Gan tore down the side seam of the sleeve, opened it out and fastened it carefully around her arm and neck. It allowed him to come too close. She could feel the heat of his body, smell his sweat. Her throat knotted; her whole body tensed, demanding fight or flight. The gun in her hand was her only link to control. As long as she had that, she was complete, she was safe, she could kill...

      Gan completed the knot behind her neck and stepped away again, catching the look on her face as relief slumped her muscles.

      "You don't like to be touched?" he asked gently.

      "No, not after..."

      He nodded in understanding. "I've heard stories of what goes on in these places."

      Another corridor, this one wider with decorative geometric patterns on the wall. They emerged into a gallery and Soolin stopped in horror. She knew this room. The blood has been cleaned away, but that changed nothing. This was a place of death. Pirelli's words echoed in her head: "She's the only one left." Had the others died here: Dayna trying to snatch a gun from the floor; Vila, shot in the back; Avon standing by the body of his erstwhile leader? Or had they survived their injuries only to die in the slow horror of Federation torture? Her eyes flicked sideways in helpless speculation. Had Gan killed them? Pray God that it hadn't been so. Especially for Vila. Terrified of pain, Vila nonetheless had his own kind of bravery, but an attack from an old friend would have snapped him like a dry twig, a piece of kindling to be used and burnt in a brief flare of light.

      She knew the way out now; knew the way they'd come in, every hopeless step burned into her memory, sealed there forever by the shock of what had followed. On automatic pilot, she walked out of the tracking gallery, neither knowing nor caring if Gan followed her. The guards would be in the hanger - she could deal with them alone. Footsteps retracing that fatal path, she came to the point she'd known she must reach: a plain panel set in the wall, just like so many others she'd already passed, a number stencilled onto it - 7b.

      It made no sense to look. Gan had said they'd searched behind every panel. But then why hadn't they found Orac?

      She was aware of Gan behind her. It had to be a trap, but for the life of her, she couldn't figure out what kind of a trap it was. She would never come this way again; if she didn't look now, she would never know. Her hands pressed slowly against the panel and slid it aside.

      "What are you doing?" Gan demanded.

      "Looking for Orac."

      "He's not there."

      "Quite the contrary," came an irate voice from the back of the compartment. "Kindly remove me from here immediately. The dust level is proving most deleterious to my circuits." Tiny lights flickered in the darkness.

      Soolin laughed abruptly, put down her gun and reached out to take a small clear plastic box that nestled easily into the palm of her hand.

      "That's Orac?" Gan asked.

      Soolin nodded. "I'd forgotten he could do that, although I shouldn't think he can maintain that size for long.

      "Four minutes, twenty-three seconds," Orac replied smugly.

      Which didn't give them long. Not trusting Gan, she slipped Orac into a pocket and picked up her gun. Taking point position once more, she led the way rapidly towards the hanger. Anticipation licked through her veins; with Orac she finally stood a real chance of escape.

      Then she realised what she'd done - broken the first rule that had ever been drummed into her. She'd let an enemy get behind her. Abruptly, she spun hard on a heel to stare at Gan. "Isn't this the point where you're supposed to knock me out and take Orac to your masters?"

      His expression was perfect hangdog bewilderment. He was either very very good, or else he was genuine. Did it even matter which? Yes, because now she had the gun and Orac, she didn't need him any more. Revenge was the code she had lived her life by, and revenge was what she owed this man here.

      Gan looked out for me on the London. Without him, I might not have made it to Cygnus Alpha.

      Well, that was the first time the dead had ever called on her to spare someone. Vila might have been a little rat, but he'd been quite likeable in his own way. Did she owe him this much? She tried to visualise his face and all she could see was his look of horror as Dayna was shot - he'd done what the cowardly Vila never did: he'd turned and attacked Arlen. For Dayna. Maybe she did owe Vila after all.

      There wasn't time to work it all out now. The hanger beckoned. Two corners more, and she flattened herself against a wall.

      She waved Gan forward. "Distract them."

      He hesitated on the verge of saying something, then moved forward and started talking to someone just out of her line of sight. Something about a power failure in D section.

      She moved, aimed and fired in one smooth motion, following through to her right where a second man was raising his weapon. She fired, missed, faced death and saw sparks fly from the floor as Gan chopped the paragun out of the soldier's hand. Soolin fired again, taking extra time to compensate for her left-handed grip. This time she didn't miss.

      "You didn't have to kill him," Gan said. "I'd have knocked him out for you."

      "He was a soldier. This is war." She strode towards the closest flyer. "Orac, open hanger doors."

      A grating sound above accompanied the appearance of a jagged line of sky. She climbed into the flyer, checked the pre-flight sequence, ignited the boosters, and waited. As Gan finished strapping himself into the seat beside her, Orac announced that the doors were fully open.

      Pressure forced them down into the seats as she lifted off at maximum vertical boost.

      "Orac, close hanger doors and jam them."

      "Confirmed."

      "Program the auto-pilot to take us to Garratt's Pass, and introduce some random factors to keep them guessing."

      Orac's lights flickered in mute protest as she took him out of her pocket, but the flyer took a sharp-angled turn without her touching a single control. She leaned back in her seat and sighed with relief. They'd made it. Provided there wasn't another Federation base within twenty kilometers, they should be able to make it to safety before pursuit reached them. There were people in Garratt's Pass who owed her favours. As Orac suddenly surged back to full size on her lap, Gan's voice interrupted her thoughts.

      "You'd better let me splint that arm now."

      "With what?"

      He reached between the seats and seized the strut that supported the back seat. One strong wrench and the plasteel support snapped free. That was disconcerting, but what Soolin found even more disconcerting was the fact that Gan then located the flyer's emergency first aid kit and applied a topical pain-killer before checking the bone was still set properly and bandaging the splint in position.

      "Where did you learn first aid?" she asked.

      "On Liberator. I wasn't much good for anything else." There was no annoyance in his voice, just a calm acceptance of fact.

      Soolin wondered about that. A man who couldn't kill, caught up in the middle of a revolution. An heretical thought crossed her mind: had Gan been deliberately abandoned?

      "Orac?"

      "I'm busy."

      "Well you can still answer something for me. Vila told me that Gan died at Central Control. How come he is here, now, and alive?"

      "I should have thought the answer to that was self evident." It was staggering how prissy Orac could sound at times. "Blake was evidently mistaken in his belief that Gan was dead."

      "No." Gan spoke with sudden passion. "They knew. Servalan sent Blake a message."

      Expediency? She might have believed it of Avon, but it didn't match the portrait Vila had painted of Blake. Put a friend or relative in danger and he had apparently been totally reckless in his attempts to rescue them.

      "They undoubtedly told Gan that in an attempt to make him work for them," Orac said. "An effort that obviously succeeded."

      Gan's fists clenched. "They sent it. Blake abandoned me."

      "And so you worked for the Federation," Orac said primly.

      "I helped them occasionally. I interviewed people." He looked at Soolin defiantly. "It was better than letting them get hurt. Sometimes they'd tell things to a sympathetic ear. Maybe I shouldn't have, but there were the headaches. My limiter was malfunctioning again, and Doctor Pirelli was the only person who could stop the pain." He bowed his head, resting it in his hands on his lap. "Do you know what it's like when you can't control your own actions? I can't kill others, but I couldn't kill myself either. The pain wouldn't go away until I helped him."

      Soolin felt his distress, it would have been almost impossible not to. Surely, Blake would not have been unmoved either? It should have been the perfect bait for a trap. Why hadn't it been set? Or if it had been set, why hadn't it been sprung?

      "You know," she said aloud, "I would have been seriously upset if my friends had abandoned me like that."

      The flyer made a sharp turn, dipped to move into a valley that would give partial radar cover and headed uphill. She knew this area. If they landed here, and sent the flyer on, they could continue to Garratt's Pass on foot and be there within the hour. She flipped the auto-pilot off.

      "I'll land her," Gan offered. At her sceptical glance, he added, "Jenna taught us all the basics. I can do it better than you can with your arm like that."

      Facts were facts. Orac's reflexes were too slow to make a good landing. Soolin switched control to the co-pilot's position and held tight to her seat. Trees shivered beneath them in the downdraught, then Gan swerved into a clearing, boosting at just the right moment to smooth the impact.

      He grinned. "Lucky. There were days when I killed the entire crew in simulations."

      She relieved her nerves by shouting. "Get out! I went this thing back in the air and as far away from here as possible."

      As the flyer rose under another of Orac's programs, Soolin took stock of her surroundings. Tall trees dappled shade on the ground. They were out of the plantations here; native species ruled, easily identified by the the bluish tinge to their leaves. Some of the native plants were even edible, but the lack of a key amino acid would kill you if you tried to live on them permanently. Standing on the ground, feet slightly apart, Gan lifted his head slightly as though sniffing the air and for the first time, Soolin felt she was seeing him in his natural element. While she watched, he walked over to a massive senoba tree and ran his hand up the rough texture of the bark. She dumped Orac's weight on the ground and sat down beside it, keenly aware that she was more tired than she'd thought.

      "Now, Soolin," Orac said in a low voice. "Now you must take your opportunity. Kill him."

      "Give me one good reason why." She'd had a good reason, but it was fading. This Gan was a world removed from the torturer. Could she hold any man responsible for something done under the influence of a machine embedded in his brain?

      "Because he is dangerous, Soolin. This is not his natural state. At the age of 22, Olag Gan fell victim to an hereditary mental illness. Before he was diagnosed, he killed his wife."

      "I thought he was deported for killing a trooper?"

      "The court records do not agree with that. I have however traced the records of a noted criminotherapist who was assigned to Gan's case. She records that he was fitted with a limiter that controlled his condition. It is likely that he does not recall any of his actions while in the psychotic state."

      "Did Blake know this?"

      "I judged it a waste of time to inform him. The human crew of Liberator were already bonded before my arrival. They would have refused to act." Orac's voice rose in pitch. "Gan's presence on board Liberator endangered me. He is extremely dangerous now. The limiter is a fallible device, as has already been proven. You must kill him before he becomes a threat to us both."

      "Do you know what I think, Orac? I think you've already tried to kill him."

      "Preposterous!"

      "Really? A message sent from Servalan to Liberator would have been read and acted upon by Blake, unless you ordered Zen to suppress it."

      "The risk was unaccep-" Orac's voice whined abruptly to a halt as Soolin yanked out its key.

      "I don't choose to accept your definition of unacceptable," she informed the silent box.

      Long grass twined around her feet as she leaned back to consider what Orac had said. Why should it bother her that the computer wanted Gan dead? If Orac was telling the truth, and there seemed no obvious reason for it to lie, then Vila's 'gentle giant' was a murderer. Her hand slid into her pocket and adjusted the stylus to its lowest possible setting. As though sensing the change, Gan abandoned his exploration of the local flora and returned to her side.

      "It's thermo-sensitive," he said with the air of a child who has found a new toy.

      "What?"

      "The grass, it's thermo-sensitive. If you hold out your hand, it comes to it." He held out a hand to demonstrate and the grass obligingly wrapped itself around the source of heat.

      Could she kill this man? Yes - if she had to. Could she judge him? That was harder. She had never known him before the illness struck. It seemed to her that everyone from the criminotherapist, through Orac, to the late Doctor Pirelli, had all made decisions on Gan's behalf, manipulated his life. Had anyone ever asked Gan for his opinion? Had he the strength to judge himself? Had she the courage to allow him to do so?

      "Gan." She touched her arm lightly where he had bandaged it. "What would you do if you met the man who had done this?"

      "What do you want me to do to him?"

      "If you were in my position, could you forgive him?"

      Gan stared at the ground between his feet. "I killed the man who killed my woman, but that was in the heat of the moment. Blake didn't believe in revenge - he never could kill Travis. Maybe he was right."

      "You agree with Blake, in spite of the fact that he dumped you? Don't you want revenge on him?"

      Long strands of grass snapped as Gan pulled them taut. Anger mixed with resignation in his voice. "What would be the point? I was a liability to them. If he'd come back, he'd only have walked into a trap."

      "It wasn't Blake," Soolin found herself saying. "Orac never let him see the message. Blake genuinely believed you to be dead."

      "Orac?"

      "Do you want to know why?"

      "Meaning I'm not going to like it? You'd better tell me the worst."

      Soolin took a quick breath. "Orac looked up your records. You killed your wife."

      "That's impossible! I'd remember."

      "You don't remember breaking my arm," she said quietly.

      Gan stared at her, read truth in her eyes, and turned away. His fists clenched and unclenched, clutching at something invisible, as though trying to seize the fragments of an escaping life. In sudden fury, he turned his face upwards to the uncaring heavens.

      "Why?"

      The heavens gave him no answer, only the brief shadow of a wisp of cloud crossing the sun. Forced into the role of substitute deity, Soolin answered instead.

      "It's an illness, something beyond your conscious control. The limiter compensates for what your brain can no longer do."

      It was as though Gan didn't heard a word she said. He wrapped his arms tightly around his knees and rocked back and forth. "I didn't kill her. I couldn't have killed her. I loved her."

      She believed him, or at least believed that he believed it.

      "You don't remember anything you do when in that state. When your limiter failed on board Liberator, do you remember what you did then?"

      He shook his head in sharp denial.

      "What am I?" he demanded. "What else have I done that I don't know? They used me didn't they?" His eyes searched hers, demanding an answer. "They used me to hurt people."

      "They did." She wouldn't keep the memory of her pain and terror from him. He deserved that knowledge. Reaction showed in his expression as he studied her bruises and the drawn shadows on her face. "If I thought it was by your choice, I'd kill you here and now. They found a way to adjust your limiter."

      Gan pounded a fist into the ground. "I'll never be free! If I'm not who I think I am-" he fought to find the words, "-I'm a danger to anyone with me. If the limiter functions then I'm useless. If it goes wrong or they catch up with me, I become a murderer." He buried his head in his hands, fingers pressed hard to the temples. "All I ever wanted was to be a farmer. Now, I'm better off dead.

      "Give me the gun." He held out a hand in silent plea.

      "No." She knew what he was asking, but could not, would not, take the risk. "You said you couldn't kill yourself anyway."

      "Then do it for me. You have a right to revenge. Take it, and release me."

      It was the naked honesty of that appeal that struck home. Killing came easily to her. Death was sought for revenge or payment, and after a time she'd ceased to look too closely at her own motives. Self-examination was not an occupation that brought great rewards. Gan's fear of his own violence held up a mirror to herself and she wasn't quite sure if she liked the reflection that she saw. The limiter might prevent his ability to kill, or drive him into a berserk rage on a high setting, but she didn't think that any brain implant could give a man a sense of morality. Inability to kill was not the same thing as a repugnance of murder.

      "No." Maybe because it would be murder, or maybe because she owed it to Vila, or perhaps even because she wanted to force Gan to live with the knowledge of what he'd done to her, but mainly because he hadn't chosen to be what he was. She could appreciate the irony though. If she chose not to kill him, she was forced to become his guardian. Guardian and warder both. Gan could be useful though. There was a wonderful sense of power in knowing that his violence was totally under her control. And what did that make her? Another Pirelli, manipulating Gan for her own ends?

      Freedom wasn't enough. If her freedom was to have any meaning at all, then she had to allow it to Gan also. Gan accepted his guilt; could she accept his humanity?

      Slowly, she drew the stylus out of her pocket and handed it to Gan.

      "I stole this. It's the controller for the limiter."

      He turned it over in his hands. Large, strong hands. Hands that could easily maim or strangle. She counterbalanced that fear by concentrating on the smoothness of the butt of the paragun as it rested in her palm.

      "Twist it," she ordered. "Twist it until you feel normal."

      "I probably thought I was normal when I did that." He gestured at her arm, and held out the stylus. "Destroy it."

      She took the device back from his open palm and gave it the slightest of twists. Gan flinched, panic clearly visible in his wide brown eyes.

      "Don't."

      Soolin adjusted it again.

      "Please, I'd rather be safe."

      At the third adjustment, she saw the change. There was a subtle change in his posture. He smiled and stretched.

      "That's all right. I feel fine now."

      Back again - fast.

      "What did you feel then?" she demanded.

      His voice shook. "For a moment, I saw... I don't want to talk about it."

      Soolin placed the stylus on the ground between then, weighing up her future. If she did this, there was no going back. If she did this, they became a team: Beauty and the Beast; brain and brawn. She looked again at Gan and saw the man that Vila had called his friend.

      She pulled the trigger and blasted the stylus into smithereens.

      


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Judith Proctor

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