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Pressured

By Sally M
"In three hours we'll be in teleport range of Earth," Avon says.

Now where have I heard that before, Blake?  Better not ask Avon, though, even as a joke... not since we blew up Control and started winning the war.

So now things are great, wonderful, marvellous... maybe.  Now Travis is dead - killed  while on trial for letting us blow up Control.  And the President's dead - deposed and killed by Servalan before she could be executed for letting us blow up Control.  And the Supreme Commander and would-be President is probably dead - deposed and killed for killing the old President so she wouldn't get executed for letting us blow up Control. 

The fleets are mostly dea- destroyed by computer mayhem or military blunder, and what's left are fighting between themselves as to which dead President to turn on.  The Eighth Fleet, old Starfarter Samor's pride and joy, self-destructed; the Fifth Fleet attacked Asa Gacrux (Gas'n'Guts, they call him) of the First, who had declared for Servalan; the Sixth seem to have vanished, maybe their computers went tarrielcell-up when we blew up Control.  The Third was last heard of floating, crippled and unable to power up, somewhere outside the Devil's Head Nebula. 

And the Security forces on Earth and the Inner Planets have their hands well and truly full with both your rabble-rebels and all the undrugged Dome dwellers. You can almost feel sorry for them all, can't you..?

No, me neither.  It's all going great.  Wonderful.  Or we thought it was.

Except you're still on Earth, away from us and the Liberator.  And you could be dying.

**********

There have been potholes on the interstellar pathway to Wonderful, of course.  Just a few.  You know that as well as anyone. 

Gan nearly got killed when we blew up Control.  What we'd've done if he had been, I don't know, god knows Cally and Jenna and I were mad enough at you even though we did succeed in destroying the place.  Avon just gave that godawful superior what-makes-you-think-I-give-a-damn-about-your-rabble-anyway smile, and Gan just shrugged and said he wasn't dead, and wouldn't have been worth dying for, so what was the problem?

Then there was that business on Fosferon.  Avon and Jenna (who still hadn't made her mind up if she could put up with Avon even to stay with the Liberator) and I (who hadn't made up my mind whether I could put up with Avon even to stay out of the fighting) went looking for one of Avon's old friends and a crystal.  And found Avon's old friend dead on a base full of dead people.  Made it easier to get the crystal, I guess...

And then your little cousin Inga, who got herself kidnapped by god-knows-who. Avon swears that the only reason he went to rescue her was to keep you from reclaiming 'his' ship to go yourself.  Avon also swears that if I ever tell you he got kidnapped himself - with a net, Blake, a net! - and had to be rescued by your Uncle Ushton, he'll kill me, so don't tell him that you know, okay?  Although if little Inga's last message about wanting to join you on Earth...

**********

It's late morning, by the ship's clock.  I wander on to the flight deck to hear the morning's war news from Zen, and to see if I can cadge a chocklit and adrenalin for breakfast before we reach Earth and contact Cally and Gan.  Zen takes after Cally, y'know, even when she's not here - no soma before noon, and no arguments about it being noon somewhere in the galaxy.  You'd think as one of the two original crew still here I'd have some say, at least over drinks.

Not likely.

Anyway, when I reach the flight deck, Avon's already there, as tense as trapped lightning, snapping orders at Zen in a voice drenched in ice, pacing like a firewyrm in a rage. 

Not surprising, really.  For all he says he doesn't give a damn about you now - and Cally, who went with you - and Gan, who went with both of you - he's there every morning waiting, and none of our 'guests' are allowed on the deck until he's heard that you and Cally and Gan are all right, that the 'strategic victories' announced by the Federation were actually withdrawals, that you and Cally and Gan are all right, that your rebels are three inches closer to victory, that another section of the fleet's has surrendered or been defeated or had crippled itself, and more deserters have left one or the other Presidential Forces, that you and Cally and Gan are all right, that his payment for the latest 'rebel services' he's undertaken with his - your - someone's Liberator is still safe, that 'his' Orac (on loan to you, he likes to think) is still undamaged, still worth ten million and still able to pass on the morning news - oh, and that you and Cally and Gan are all right. 

Sometimes we even hear about Jenna, after she left you because she didn't want to leave the Liberator to Avon, and then left us because she couldn't share the Liberator with Avon. Or little Veron Kasabi, working with you and getting older and harder by the day, from what I hear.  Or the other rebels who welcomed you in, still just names though I've probably met them once or twice, when we ferry rebels and rebel leaders from Earth to somewhere or from somewhere to Earth, or bring supplies, or take away the wounded and deserters.

Sorry.  Defectors, I mean, defectors, that's what you and Cally say we now call them.  Like the defector Space Captain we recently left with Avalon - what's his name Tarrant - kept arguing to stay and be the pilot of our dreams now that Jenna's gone.  Like the slimy little Personal Secretary to the old dead President who is all for helping the rebels as long as it saves his neck and stretches President Servalan's, and he can do it from the safety of a neutral planet. Like your new friend and advisor on Earth, Ven Glynd. 

**********

"Arbiter General during Blake's arrest and trial."  Avon's mouth had twisted as he said it, like the actual words were sour to the taste.  This was just after Zen had given us one of Orac's longer, more judgmental  reports, probably one you never knew of, well-laced with Cally's surprisingly venomous comments and Gan's restrained but audibly unhappy asides.  I couldn't help feeling glad I'd changed my mind about going with you and the others, and come back to the Liberator and Avon's sarcastic but safer company.

"And our trials, don't forget," I found myself adding.  "So why's Blake suddenly such great friends with him?"

"Apparently, he has been working against the government, within the government, for at least two years, along with at least one of the Outer World Governors, maybe more.  Blake was," he said, and that bitter twist deepened, "collateral damage, regrettable but necessary at the time."

"And Blake and Cally accept that?"  I couldn't believe it.

"Blake, yes.  Cally is disturbed, but has little say in the matter."

"Why not?"

"Because Blake accepts it."

I could see it was a touchy subject with Avon.  He doesn't like other people trying to tell you what to do, Blake, not even Cally, and the fact that you're on Earth and we're always in the outer reaches of Sector Somewhere - and that Avon would rather be thrown head-first into Zen's core drive than admit that he liked being there for you or any of us - doesn't make much difference.  But I was still confused.  "So Cally doesn't like him?"

"There is, it seems, nothing to like.  According to Cally," he went on, and I could almost imagine a laugh in his eyes as he did, "he makes Secretary Rontane look honest and trustworthy, and the average Auron pop-eyed slimesucker slug is enchanting by comparison."

"Sounds charming."

"And that was the polite version of her words.  In any case," he went on coldly, "she believes he has far too much influence over Blake's actions and decisions lately, and Orac concurs.  After all, Blake is not the most - suggestible of men at any time."

Far be it from me to have suggested, or even thought, that Avon might have been jealous of someone who could influence his Fearless Leader.  I like living, thank you.

"He is however politically astute for a dissident, more so than Blake."  Avon's expression clearly said that that wouldn't be hard.  "And Blake," he hesitates, as if afraid of the next words, "has been ill."

"Just headaches and bad dreams, Zen said."

"Bad headaches, with no discernable cause, and dreams about his - indoctrination.  Which," he conceded, "is enough to give anyone nightmares."

"You're not worried about him, aren't you?"

Avon's eyes iced over, as if I'd insulted him, and he snarled at me, "Of course not."

"Then -"

"If Blake chooses to trust such a - man - as this ex-Arbiter General, that is his decision, his gamble.  And," he went on with that evil, evil, utterly humourless smile that I hate so much, "his funeral."

**********

Which turned out to be the sort of prophecy we didn't need, because two days later, along with news of the disappearance of the Federation High Council and surrender of four more planets came a short, blisteringly urgent, and, for Orac, frantic summons. 

Get back to Earth, get back at once or faster, screw the war, the Rebellion or the rabble, or the whole Galaxy (well, Orac didn't use those exact words, he repeated the jist of them from Cally).  You'd collapsed, screaming of renouncement, of dead friends, of guilt and illusions, and they needed us to get you out of the rebel base and away from Earth before you went mad, or catatonic, or whatever... or even died.

**********

Now we've made it.  Two days flat it took, and I don't think Avon slept the whole way.  Gan's signal comes in - and by the way, I do wish they hadn't chosen the same signal you and Kasabi used before Control, but Gan thinks it's lucky.  Avon hits the reply and teleport before it even finishes, and four figures shimmer into view.  There's Cally, thinner and more severe than our last visit, Gan who's trying to carry our plastic-box-with-brains Orac and half-carry you at the same time, and you... looking like this. 

You look older, do you know that?  You did last time too, older and thinner and - drained, somehow, as if the war and your loyal followers are wearing you out, draining you dry.   Even your eyes looked tired and dull, but they still looked alive compared to this.  Your body's alive, but your mind - isn't there.

"Well?"  Avon doesn't speak until we're in the medical unit.  He's helping Gan lie you on a gurney; his hands are clumsy, slightly awkward, which isn't like him, is it?  But his voice is still cold and there's nothing on his face at all. 

I hate seeing you like this, Blake, I really do.  Especially after all this time.  I keep waiting for you to open your eyes and snap at Avon, or throw that half-amused, half-impatient look at me, the one that made me realise you were at least half-listening when I was talking.  Instead you just lie there, eyes closed, mouth slack and face - empty.  Horribly, frighteningly empty.

Cally hands him a small black box, or the twisted remains of one.  "Memory control device," she spits.  "Ven Glynd's doing, I believe, but we have no proof.  It seems to have suddenly malfunctioned, and Gan...  stopped it."

"Sorry."  Gan shrugs, not looking at all sorry as he settles Orac on a table next to the gurney.

"Is Ven Glynd still alive?"  Avon's voice would freeze a lava flow in its path, "And if he is, why is he still alive?"

"Because they - we - the rebels need him.  Avon, the war is going well," she says, carefully not looking at him, "but we can hardly afford to lose Blake at this point, let alone a high-profile recruit with such him."

"Spare me the rhetoric," Avon snaps.  "He is useful. Therefore the idealists will swallow their principles."

"Avon!"

"Did I say I disapprove, Cally?"  He turns that look on her, raising an eyebrow.  "If he is useful, they can use him.  I would not have thought, though, that he was more useful than Blake."

"Blake held the factions together," Gan sits heavily.  "Even I could see that."

"And if even he could see that..."

Gan merely frowns at him, mildly annoyed but no more.  "And yes, many of the factions follow his lead.  But if Orac is right -"

"Right -?"

"About the memory control.  If the factions found out the man they've been following, obeying - hell, fighting for -"

"Is being whistled up like a service robot -" Avon adds.

"By one of our enemies who betrayed his own side -"

"After betraying Blake in the first place, at that farce of a trial.  Oh yes, it would do nothing to reaffirm faith in their Beloved Leader."  That nasty baring of teeth that he probably thinks is a smile appears, for the first time since we got rid of Presidential Secretary Rodent, or Rontane, or whoever he was.

"That is unfair," Cally interrupts.  She always did lean towards being fairer than at all necessary.  "Ven Glynd has been secretly gathering information and contacts for years, he explained that."

"Of course." 

"Avon, he gave us proof of all he's done."

"Of course."

"Had he moved to save Blake, he would merely have gone down with -"

"Of course."  Avon picked up the shattered black box.  "And that - justifies - this."

She pauses, wilts a little.  "No.  No it doesn't."

"Ven Glynd can wait," he says, and I can tell that Cally and Gan like the sound of that as much as I do, "tell me about Blake."  He looks down at the rat-in-a-box.  "What has Orac found?"

"Orac did a test,"  Cally says quickly. 

"Correct.  It appears to be a remnant of the original conditioning Blake was subjected to; a hypnotic state originally created by drugs and triggers.  Ven Glynd obviously obtained, or always possessed, the original triggering processes and has been using them to, as Avon rightly says, whistle Blake up, thus controlling the defacto leader of the Earth factions.  Because this was not discovered and halted at the correct time -"

"Immediately," Avon grates.

"Exactly, the damage done, and the danger of permanent incapacitation is far greater."  You know, Orac ought to learn not to sound so pleased when giving us bad news. 

"And you suggest?"

Gan and Cally look at each other, and I can tell that what Orac suggested is something they don't like.  But Cally gets in first, ahead of our electronic know-it-all.  "He suggests eradication therapy."

Avon frowns, whether because she interrupted or because he doesn't like the sound of that.  "Orac?"

"Do you doubt my decision?"

"Orac..." There's a warning in Avon's low growl, and with all its electronic brains, Orac ought to know when not to push.  But it doesn't - well, that hasn't changed, at least.

"I have already outlined to Cally the steps needed for..."

"Orac!"

"Oh very well.  If Blake is to have any chance of recovery, he will need two hours minimum of eradication therapy, in five minute treatment periods interspersed by one hour rest periods.  A total of twenty-six hours.  It will," the junkheap adds placidly, "be extremely unpleasant for all concerned."

Oh great.  Sorry Blake, but I don't like the sound of this, I don't like it at all.  I think I'd better find a reason to be somewhere else.

"The alternatives are simple," it goes on placidly.  "Insanity, or death."

We're all staring down at you, and I can't help wondering if you're still even in there, if you know we're here.  You don't look it.  You don't even look like you're dreaming, though from what Cally  and Gan told us, that may be a relief.  The dreams, Blake - they've been bad, haven't they?

"No alternatives at all, then," Avon says.  "Any further - advice, Orac?"

"Of course," Orac chirps.  "It will be dual therapy - with another human remain conscious so as to monitor approximation to stress threshold."

"You, Cally," Avon says, and I breathe a little easier.

She shrugs.  "Very well."  That's our Cally, always ready to rush in where no sane angel would dream of treading.

"Suggest another human," Orac says.

"Why?"

"Closer origins."

Cally frowns, a little put out.  "I'm not that alien."

"Me?"  And that's our Gan, always ready to - well, lumber in.

"No.  You are still implanted with a limiter, and that could be adversely affected."  Damn.  Oh damn.  That leaves the two anything-but-angels on board, and I can't see Avon rushing in anywhere, not even for Blake.  He's not about to volunteer for anything Orac so cheerfully calls "unpleasant".

"Suggest -" Orac seems to pause, and I can see Avon's mouth tighten as he turns to look at - no, past me.

He and Orac speak together - creepy, I call it.  "Ven Glynd."

**********

So Avon and Gan teleport back down to - persuade the ex-Arbiter General to come and do the right thing by Blake.  I'm trying not to think about exactly how Avon is going to persuade him, I'm just glad Avon isn't planning to persuade me.

Better him than one of us, that's what I keep thinking.  Even if he's coerced and we - might not have been.

Cally is still sitting next to Blake - who's still unconscious - and gazing around with mildly wistful eyes.

"D'you miss it?"  I ask.  What I want to ask is, does she miss us.

"Sometimes.  Gan does, even more than I do, I think."

"And Blake?  I mean, before this happened."

She shrugs.  "I don't know.  He never seemed to... but then he wouldn't."

That doesn't make sense.  "Why not?"

"I think, because he believed he'd never come back."  She reaches out and touches his forehead.  "At least not alive, and not like this.  Never, never like this."

                                                                      **********

Avon strides back into the medical centre, holding a gun on a plumpish, smugly legal type with a small pursey mouth and small crafty eyes.  He's the sort who always screamed both 'lawyer' and 'crooked' when all I ever knew were crooked lawyers - well, and crooks.  "Vila, get to the flight deck and help Gan take us out of orbit."

"You have no right, you know."  Ven Glynd, to give him credit, doesn't seem that scared, even with Avon's best air of menace trailing all over the medical unit.  "Blake will not approve -"

Avon turns, and does that baring his teeth thing again.  "Blake is in no position to argue."  And steps around the gurney Blake is still lying on. 

"What -?" Well, that shakes some of the smugness out of him - he goes white as his own little beard, and his fussy little mouth falls open.

"After all," Avon says with silky malice, "this is your doing, good intentions or not.  You can help to undo it."

"That is impossible, it cannot be undone at this stage.  You could hurt him."

Cally speaks in a voice as cold as space.  "You have hurt him.  We seek to undo the hurt."

"What I did was necessary," Ven Glynd draws himself up a little, "for the greater good.  Sacrifices must be made, sometimes ugly actions are needed to achieve them.  You should know that, you were prepared to kill or destroy when he ordered." 

Yeah, but...

But I don't know the answer to that one, Blake.  Remind me to ask you, if you don't die.

Luckily Avon doesn't care whether there's an answer or not, he never did.  "Orac, prepare for the therapy.  Cally, get the restraints - for both of them.  Vila -"

"I'm going, I'm going!"  Oh yes, I'm going all right.

"The rebel alliance will not agree to this, Cally, they will support me if Blake's mental stability is in question.  You know that."  Give him his due, he only sounds slightly terrified, when I'd be more-than-slightly gibbering with panic.  Cally says nothing, and I realise that she probably does; that's why she called for Avon.  "You have no right - I cannot be coerced like this."

"Oh, you can," Avon interrupts.  "And you will. And if you die," he goes on in what he probably thinks is the voice of sweet reason, "you'll be remembered as a martyr who gave his all to the cause.  What better epitaph?"

"And if I refuse?"

"Then you will die."  

"Cally," Ven Glynd is still trying, I can't help pausing to hear what he tries next.  "You can't let him.  You know what I'm doing for the war effort, more even than Blake could do alone.  What I can do, what could be lost to the cause -"

As the door slides shut, Avon speaks with thin, icy precision.  "Fuck the cause of freedom."  Well, icy something, at any rate.  Avon never did care for causes, except his own.

As I run for the flight deck, I don't hear anyone scream, or plead, or argue.  I don't hear anything at all. 

Sorry Blake, maybe I should want to be with you when you need us.  But I don't.

**********

I hate myself, Blake.  Really.  Just a little, but I really do hate myself.  And Ven Glynd.  And the war, and your rabble that let this happen.  And Avon, for coming back.  And maybe even you.

I'm sorry.

Apparently, it's going badly.  Gan turned the intercom on, once, twice - we heard you, sounded like you were whispering, muttering things I don't want to think about, and Ven Glynd making a noise like an animal in pain.  Horrible, even if he did do this to you.  And Cally trying to speak calmly, soothingly, and Orac droning out the deprogramming in a tinny, detached voice as if it doesn't matter.  And nothing from Avon.

The third time, you screamed. 

And I don't even know what they're doing.  I know what they're doing, but not what they're doing to do it, if you know what I mean.  I don't know what they're doing to Ven Glynd to make him do what he has to do to try and save Blake.  And somehow, not knowing isn't helping.

The fourth time we listen in, there's nothing from you or Avon, and I asked Gan to make it the last.  If you're dying, Blake, I don't want to know.

**********

It's another day, and even earlier in the morning.  I'm wandering on to the flight deck as usual to hear the news from Zen about the war - apparently some of the strategic withdrawals on the Inner Worlds were strategic, which is worrying everyone - and the latest from the medical unit about Blake from Gan.  It's been twenty-three hours since I ran, and there's no way I'm going back till it's finished.

Gan is at the pilot's console, probably trying to remember everything he's probably forgotten about it, and fielding messages from the rebels on Earth who want to know where their Leader and his three 'best and closest' friends are. 

Gan asked me about Jenna last night: hell, he asked me about everyone who we've ferried around the galaxy, just to fill in time.  A pity about Jenna, really.  I've missed her at times, mostly when the news about the war - or about you and Cally and Gan - was bad, and Avon turned acid and vicious.  You know he nearly shot Space Captain I'm-the-Pilot-You've-Been-Waiting-For Tarrant one particularly bad day, which wouldn't have gone down too well with the rebels who were actually waiting for him.  And Jenna could have helped with this awful deprogramming of yours, maybe have done it so we didn't have to 'borrow' Ven Glynd and give him back rather worse for wear.

Well, worse according to Gan and Cally.  I'm not going near until it's -

"Ven Glynd's finished," Gan says before I can open my mouth to ask what he wants with his morning adrenalin.

"Wh-whaat?  But it isn't time -"

"No.  It isn't."  He looks at me with those small brown rabbity eyes.  "But he's burned out, and the last three hours will be the worst."

Oh.  Oh hell.  "Can we get someone else?"  The thought of your little cousin comes to mind; come on Blake, you know she'd be willing, but she's so far away...

The answer comes from behind me.  "No."

It's Avon and he looks awful.  His normal 'healthy' pallor's gone six shades whiter and two shades greyer, and the shadows under his eyes look like he's been punched by an Tarzian warg-strangler with toothache. He's holding a glass of what looks like soma mixed with my second-best moonshine, but he hasn't been drinking it - if he had, he wouldn't look like six lightyears of starkill.  But never mind how he is..

"How's Blake?"

Avon simply glares at me.  Not good, I take it.

"What do we do now, then?" Gan, ever practical, asks. Have I mentioned that I missed him as well as Jenna?

Avon switches the glare to him; when it doesn't work, he sighs and turns it on Zen.  "Are we safe from all Federation fleets or pursuit ships?"

Zen confirms.

"And also no rebels - no, no one at all - is likely to disturb us?"

Again, Zen confirms.

"Then we should have time to complete the deprogramming."

Zen decides that's not a question, and doesn't confirm or deny.

Avon stares down at his drink, then up at Zen's fascia, and turns to leave.

"Avon?  Avon, someone's got to do it, and Cally can't and Gan can't and I -"

"Won't," he snaps.

"Can't.  I can't.  Honestly.  So who -?"

Oh.

Oh, damn.

Blake, it's a good thing you can't see his eyes right now.  He doesn't want to do this, and he doesn't want anyone to know that he's going to whether he wants to or not.  Avon's mind is as scary sometimes as yours, and with less excuse.

Blake, please wake up before he has to... "Gan, you'd better come and help.  Vila, stay and keep watch."

"But -"

"Just. Do. It."

"But Avon, we -" And then I realise what I'm arguing about, and shut up before I say something stupid.

Gan opens his mouth, probably to say something sensible, looks at Avon, and closes it.

"Vila, keep the intercom open."  And he leaves before I can mention that I don't want to hear it - which is probably a good thing, he'd only suggest that he can hear it and I can do it.

I lean over and flick a switch.

**********

I still hate myself, Blake.  And I'm never going to talk about what I hear you call out in broken half-understood words, or what Avon's thin, splintered screams are like, or the sound of you crying.  Not to Gan, not to Cally, not to you.

Not even to myself.

**********

They call me down when it's over.  Cally's pulling sensors from Blake's temples: sensors attached to Orac, and to another set that Avon's holding in one hand.  There's round bruises on his temples, spotted with blood.

I still don't know what they did, and I don't want to.  But there's this odd, nasty little voice inside me that says it was all too easy (well, from where I was, which was as far away as I could get) and maybe we only think it's finished.  We thought you were finished with it before, Blake, remember?

But I'm going to forget I thought that.  No use borrowing trouble, we get quite enough for free, I think.

Three hours it took, that last bit, and Avon looks like he's been through a pitched battle, sick and sweaty and shattered - and he's never ever going to forgive us for seeing him like this - but oddly, vaguely triumphant as well.  And you - there's life in your face, your eyes are half-open and more confused than anything.  well, anything except hurting, that is.  Hurting a lot.

"No more nightmares," Cally whispers, and I can't help thinking that, good line as it is, it isn't exactly going to help your confusion.

"A-avon -?"  As thin as a drift of breeze and shaking, but it's you.  It is you. 

"How do you feel?"  Cally asks, but you're looking past her, at Avon, whose face is blank and now overly impassive.

"More importantly," Avon says all too politely, as if he's speaking to a distant relative he doesn't much like, "are you yourself again?"

"What - what do you mean?  Avon, where are we?  Where - what are you d-doing - on Earth?"

Earth?

In spite of everything, I can see Avon's lips twitch to suppress a smile.  "Not much, I would imagine."

"But -"

"Say thank you nicely, Blake, and then try to sleep."

"But -" 

"I think you should do as he says, Blake."  Gan grins, solid and comfortable and damn it Blake, I am glad he's back.  I'm glad Cally's back. 

"Thank you... I think," you say with a touch of humour under the exhaustion.  And yes, I'm glad you're back too.  And as you fall asleep, we all pretend we don't see Avon's hand still on your arm.  Just like old times, it feels.

Well, a little like old times.

**********

Damn it, Blake, you don't need to go back to Earth yet, do you?  We know there's a war on - since you turned Zen's morning news bulletin into two-hourly indepth reports. it's hard to forget - but it's only been two days since we got you back, although I know Avon would question what 'we' rather than 'he' did to get you back.  Gan and Cally are going to have to go back to Earth soon, as soon as Orac says you're well enough.

Ven Glynd is lucky.  While Blake's been recovering, Avon wanted to drop him on the nearest airless asteroid, and it took Cally, Gan and Orac's arguments to dissuade him: he may be a crook, but he still could be useful.  Sometime in the future.  Maybe.

So no airless asteroid.  The nearest prison planet instead, and Orac's going to get every scrap of information that we can use out of him first, and anyone who still wants him in their rebellion can damn well go and collect him themselves.

**********

It's evening, by the clock.  I join Avon and Cally on to the flight deck to hear the news, and to show Cally I'm drinking healthy drinks since she's been gone, with ersatz wheat-germ in my adrenalin.  Somehow, I don't think she's fooled, and anyway, she and Avon are having chocklit. I think I've been fooled, Blake.

On the other hand, they're both still exhausted and ready for a week's - two weeks' - hell, a good long - holiday, far away from the war, and the rebellion, and the good news and bad, and anyone who wants to take you back to Earth just yet.  And far away from anyone you can talk into taking you back just yet.

There's this place called Del 10 I've been meaning to mention to Avon.  just the thing for over-mindwiped rebel leaders like you and their loyal rescuers like us.  An ultra planet, fantastic mountain scenery, and the gravity's so low you can practically fly.  And the galaxy's richest known source of atmospheric -

Oh hang on, there's a message coming in.  Not the news, something else.

From somewhere out in the outer reaches of the spiral arm, apparently.  Somewhere to the left of nowhere.  Who'd want to go there, Blake?  Even you never got crazy enough to want to go out there -

It's Travis.  What the hell is he doing that far out on the left of nowhere?

"What the hell is he doing alive?"  I hear Avon hiss.  Well, that too.

Travis turns and seems to look straight into the camera, and gives a smile like a satisfied cadaver.  His voice is scratchy and as thin as outer space over the millions of lightyears.  "The final -"

He jerks, as if shot from behind, and falls.  Who shot him, we'll never know I guess, or care, but...

Oh god.

Oh god.

He's melting, he's melting... he's turning into green goo.

He's an alien.

I don't like the looks of this; I mean it, I mean it Blake, I really don't like the looks of this...


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