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Remember Me

By Helen Parkinson
Blake stared morosely into the almost empty coffee cup. He could not face what he had done and he now regretted asking Jenna for the full story. He wished he had settled for Avon's terse 'He is back to normal' or Cally's gentle reassurance. Jenna's version of the events at, and just prior to, the Atlay conference had been brief but provided him with more than enough of the details. To be totally honest, he remembered most of it now anyway, although it still had that air of unreality of a dream. He looked up at last, his eyes bleak, and met Jenna's concerned face. He tried a smile for her.

      "I'm sorry," he said.

      "What for?" she asked. "That wasn't you, it was that machine of Ven Glynd's."

      "No, it wasn't," Blake corrected her. "The words, ideas, manipulations, they were all mine. I just knew I had to get the ship to that particular mining satellite." He paused. "It is just possible I would have killed you, any one of you, to do that."

      "Oh," Jenna said softly. She hadn't known.

      "I owe all of you an apology," Blake continued. "Especially Avon and Cally." He took a deep breath. "We have to continue the deconditioning." Jenna went white and pulled away from him.

      "No!" she protested, half out of concern for Blake and half out of terror for herself. She didn't think she could face Blake's nightmares with him again.

      "Yes," Blake repeated, a touch of finality in his voice.

      "I agree." Avon's voice came suddenly. Blake looked up. As Jenna turned, she cursed softly; she hadn't heard Avon approach. The time was when she had prided herself on the fact no one could take her by surprise. Avon and Cally were standing at the top on the flight deck steps. Cally looked concerned, Avon pale but determined. Orac rested in his arms.

      "Why?" Jenna asked him. "Revenge?"

      "Do not be foolish," Cally admonished the other woman. "Blake, you must finish this." Blake nodded. Avon walked slowly down the steps to place Orac on the table. As he did so, Jenna got to her feet and moved up close behind him. She knew how much Avon hated others invading his personal space but just at the moment she didn't care.

      "Whose idea was this?" she asked. "Your's, Avon? Forgive me if I doubt your motives."

      Avon turned to face her. Smiling slightly, he tapped the fingers of one hand against Orac's key. "I forgive you, Jenna," he said blandly, then turned to fit the key in place. Orac whined into life.

      "Why you..."

      "Leave it," Blake commanded, moving to stand beside Avon. Jenna shut up but stayed where she was as Cally walked across to listen to the computer. Avon looked at Blake, his gaze steady - almost, Blake thought, reassuring. "I'm sorry Avon, Cally..." Blake began. Avon raised an elegant eyebrow slightly and half turned to look at Cally.

      "It was not your fault, Blake," Cally told him. "But we must prevent it from happening again."

      "The machine's destroyed..." Jenna protested. Blake glared at her and Avon turned a stare that could have been amused on her. She subsided.

      "Agreed," Blake told Cally. "How?"

      Avon turned his attention from Jenna; very briefly he focussed on Blake, then he placed his hands on Orac's casing. Just for a moment, Blake thought they were shaking.

      "Orac," Avon began, his voice steady, hard, "tell Blake, and Jenna, your suggestions regarding the Federation conditioning." He turned to face Blake as the machine replied.

      "Blake, it is essential that you complete the deconditioning treatment. The use of the control device has made it almost 90% certain that further treatments will enable you to remember all your past. And remove the danger of the same method being successful in controlling you in the future."

      "You can remove the trigger signal?"

      "Yes."

      "Then we must."

      "But you said your memories were coming back anyway..." Jenna protested.

      "Yes, Jenna," Avon said, still watching Blake. "At any time, under any circumstances, but especially under stress conditions, Blake could experience flashbacks like those you witnessed via Orac."

      "Oh." Jenna paled. She didn't want that for Blake. Bad enough to see it all second-hand, but she didn't want to share his dreams with him again.

      As if he had heard the thought, Avon smiled. "Don't worry Jenna," he reassured, turning to look at her at last. "Orac suggests that rather than you, I should share the experience with Blake."

      The surge of relief Jenna felt made her quite guilty. "You," she said, more harshly perhaps than she had intended. "Why?"

      "Natural affinity," Orac replied.

      "You said I was the best suited last time."

      "Jealous, Jenna?" Avon taunted softly.

      "Why, Avon?" Blake asked. Avon turned to look at him then, his face cold and angry, but Blake thought he saw hurt in his eyes.

      "If you don't trust me, Blake, find someone else. I'm sure one of your followers would love the job. I have no real desire to share in your nightmares."

      "This is my mind, Avon," Blake replied. "I'm sure you, of all people, must understand, I have a right to know what has changed." Avon held his gaze for a moment, then nodded, dropping his eyes, conceding the point.

      "You're going ahead with it?" Jenna asked.

      "Yes. Well, Orac?"

      "The use of the Auron device and recent details of your conditioning have made it necessary to alter the parameters of the deconditioning."

      "You have new information! What?"

      "It would be ill-advised to disclose details until completion of the treatment," the computer replied.

      "Very well," Blake accepted. "When do we start?"

      "Treatment should begin at once. The use of the medical unit will be necessary to enable Cally to keep a close check on the subjects' vital signs."

      "Subjects, Orac?" Cally said. The computer made no reply.

      "Why didn't you specify that before?" Blake asked

      "The work Jenna commenced reached the deeper levels of the conditioning. We must now remove these. It is possible that the Federation psychomanipulators included a self destruct program."

      "You mean I might kill myself if we attempt to remove all their meddling?" Blake asked, his voice strangely devoid of life.

      "It is more probable that such a command, should it exist, would work on a subconscious level probably inducing cardiac arrest."

      "That's nice to know," Avon muttered.

      "How would Avon be affected if that is the case?" Blake demanded. Avon looked across Orac at Blake, apparently surprised by the other's expression of concern for him.

      "Provided that both subjects are monitored, I will be able to ascertain should such a point be reached or such programming exist. Both subjects could be awakened. There is no danger."

      "Easy for you to say," Jenna said. "I don't think it's a good idea."

      "I have to do this, Jenna," Blake said. "Even if there was no danger for the rest of you in my past returning piecemeal, I have to remember. Don't you see, this is my past - I have to know who I was. I want my life back." There was pain in his voice to which Jenna couldn't help but react.

      "All right. When?"

      "At once," Orac replied.

      "How long will it take?"

      "Few sessions will be required. However it would be ill-advised to speculate until at least one has been completed."

      "One session, of how long?" Avon asked.

      "Five minutes."

      "Avon?" Blake asked. Avon nodded. "Jenna, will you stay here on watch?"

      "But I was going to monitor this."

      "Orac and Cally are capable," Avon told her. "Unless of course you don't trust them."

      "Oh, I trust them, Avon," she replied sharply. Avon smiled slightly.

      "Jenna!" Blake cut across the beginnings of the fight. "I'll be fine. Avon and Cally will keep an eye on me, and with Orac in control, what can happen? You watch out for pursuit ships; we're not exactly out of Federation space yet."

      "I will send Vila up to join you," Cally assured the other woman.

      "If you can find him," Avon said. He picked Orac up. "I will go and set everything up."

      "Thank you," Blake said. Avon shrugged slightly and left. Cally cast one last glance at Jenna, then followed him.

      "I don't think it's a good idea," Jenna said again.

      "I want my memories back."

      "I understand that, but trusting Avon..."

      "Jenna, leave it," Blake snapped. "I trust Avon. That's what counts in this. Just as I trust you, I trust Avon with this."

      "Trust Avon?" Vila appeared at the top of the steps. "With anything except my wallet and my life." It was meant as a joke but Vila could have bitten his tongue when he saw Blake's face. "What's wrong?"

      "Orac wants to complete Blake's 'treatment.'"

      "Well, that's good. Isn't it?"

      "He wants Avon to monitor it."

      "The way you were before." Vila studied the woman closely. "And you want it to be you again."

      "I don't trust him."

      "Enough," Blake almost shouted.

      "But you don't have to," Vila told Jenna. "Blake's the one who has to."

      "And I do."

      "Avon's agreed?" Vila asked him.

      "Yes," Blake said. "He's setting Orac up now."

      "That's what they were up to," Vila muttered. "Shutting me out indeed." Blake heard the undertone and felt a pang of guilt. "Well that's all right then." Vila smiled. "He may not have the nicest personality around, our Avon, but if he's said he'll do it, he'll do it."

      "I know." Blake grinned. "Thank you, Vila." He placed a gentle hand on the thief's arm. "You and Jenna can share the watch, at least until we are out of Federation controlled space." Vila nodded. Blake offered one more conciliatory smile to Jenna and then left. As he did so, he heard the woman giving Zen new instructions.

      Blake was afraid, but he knew he had to go through with this. He needed to have his memory back, needed to be whole again and he couldn't just let it happen as it had been. It was bad enough when at any time he might experience a flashback as vivid and as real as if it were actually happening, but he couldn't run the risk of it endangering one of the others. Luckily, so far nothing had happened in a situation where others were dependent on him, but he couldn't run that risk. If Orac could give his past back he wanted it and he wanted it now. That Avon rather than Jenna would share with him was oddly reassuring. He trusted Avon to help. Not just that he would but that he could. The man's mind would provide the balance this experience so badly needed. He had been aware of Jenna for a little of the time the last time Orac had tried this and much as he trusted her, he did not rely on her abilities as he did Avon's. Jenna's voice in his dream offered comfort but not safety, not the anchorage he needed to face the truth. Blake wondered if perhaps Orac was aware of this and that was the reason for the change. If this was the case he was glad the computer had not elaborated in front of Avon or Jenna: the tension between the pair of them was bad enough as it was anyway.

      

      

      

Avon and Cally were talking quietly when Blake walked in. They had pulled two couches together and now Orac rested on a table between then. Leads ran from the computer to the couches, and Avon was occupied moving others from the nearby medical monitors.

      "You're ready," Blake said unnecessarily. Cally looked up, smiled, and walked towards him. Avon didn't acknowledge Blake's arrival at all. Blake moved over to the couches. "Thank you, Avon," he said. Avon's head snapped up, a question in his eyes. "For agreeing to this," Blake explained.

      "It's for my safety too," Avon replied. "The last thing I need is for you to become 'distracted' on one of your suicide missions, especially if I'm down there with you."

      "Avon," Cally admonished. He stopped and looked at her. "You cannot help Blake with that attitude."

      "On the contrary," Avon replied. "What Blake needs is familiarity to balance the dreams. Isn't that true, Orac?"

      "As I said."

      "Yes, Cally," Blake cut in. "If Avon were to suddenly be all sweetness and light, I think I'd die with the shock."

      "You should have told me sooner," Avon said, and smiled sweetly. Blake laughed out loud.

      "I am ready to begin," Orac announced.

      "Bully for you." Blake sobered up at once. "Avon?" Avon nodded and sat on one of the bunks. "Am I to be sedated again?" Blake asked.

      "It is the quickest way to achieve the correct mental state," Orac told him. "Cally, connect the sensors and we shall begin." Cally worked quickly and efficiently, checking the readings were normal as she connected the sensors. Both men's heart rates were up, but that wasn't surprising; she made no comment. Then she turned to Blake. Smiling slightly, she applied a sedative pad to his wrist.

      "Don't worry, Cally," Blake muttered as his eyes drifted shut.

      Avon watched as Cally sedated Blake, then settled back on the couch. He took a couple of deep breaths to settle the nerves he would never admit to, and was about to shut his eyes when the door burst open and Jenna marched in.

      "What are you doing here?" Avon demanded.

      "Vila can watch the flight deck," she snapped. "I wanted to keep an eye on you."

      "Jenna!" Cally was shocked and dismayed. Jenna's attitude was not helping at all.

      "You've stated often enough that you want this ship, Avon. I'm going to make sure you don't get it this way."

      Cally waited for Avon to explode, but the man simply smiled at Jenna.

      "Stay if it makes you feel better," he said amicably.

      "Avon intends Blake no harm," Cally said.

      "And if I do, how will you know?" Avon asked Jenna softly as he settled back once again. "Unless of course you're in here with us? Orac, begin." Avon closed his eyes.

      

      

      

For a long time, or so it seemed, there was nothing but blackness, then Avon heard Orac's voice. It was a long way off and he couldn't make out the words. Then there was light. Avon knew where he was at once: a corridor in the lower levels of one of the domed cities of the Earth. He wasn't sure which, they all looked the same, but it felt familiar, almost like home. He shook himself to clear the impression and looked round. He had the strangest feeling that the city existed only directly in front of him: that if he were to turn his head fast enough he would see a grey mist. He could almost see it now, just at the edges of his vision, a faint wavering in the corner of his eyes. Almost like the onset of a migraine. He wondered for a moment where that analogy had come from.

      There were people about, as always, in the overcrowded cities, but they paid him no heed. That was to be expected, he knew, for he wasn't really there - or maybe they weren't. Avon smiled to himself, then sobered, remembering why he was there trapped in Blake's nightmares of home.

      Reminded of the man, Avon began looking, searching the passing faces. He wasn't sure if he should stay where he was, or move around. Orac had supplied no clues, had given no hint of what the dreams might entail, and he hadn't been prepared to ask Jenna.

      "Avon!" The voice came from directly behind him and made Avon jump even as he realised it was Blake. "Avon, thank God. We thought you'd been arrested." Hands grabbed his elbows and he was spun round to find himself face to face with a very happy Roj Blake.

      Blake was delighted, aware he was grinning, and his face reflected everything he felt: pleasure, surprise and not a little relief. He searched Avon's face intently, waiting for the other's response, too pleased to have found him to worry about the consequences of daring to manhandle the man.

      Even as he recognised Blake's voice and was turned, the rational part of Avon's mind was screaming in protest. This was not possible. Blake shouldn't see him and even if by some fluke he did, in his dream state he couldn't know him.

      Seeming to realise what he was doing, Blake let Avon go. Almost automatically, Avon noted with pleasure, he had the grace to look at least embarrassed by his behaviour.

      "Sorry," Blake told him. "But it's such a relief, we were so worried. Turner said you'd been arrested. Hell." He grabbed Avon's elbows again and shook him gently. "It's been four days." He let go to pull back slightly and look properly at Avon. "You look terrible."

      Avon felt the blood drain from his face and he had no doubt that at the moment what Blake said was true. Blake, however, gave him no chance to reply. Becoming concerned by his colour and lack of reaction, he began to push Avon along the corridor.

      "Come on," he encouraged. "Let's get somewhere a little more private." He pushed Avon through a door marked 'Storage,' following him quickly into the empty room, and shut the door behind them.

      Avon stood against the far wall, his mind racing, his heart pounding, almost in panic. It didn't make sense. This was Blake's dream. He shouldn't register as a visible presence: he was just supposed to be monitoring the nightmare, not getting involved. Even if, by some freak of Blake's naturally perverse nature, or a result of what the Federation had done to him, Blake should see him, he could not know Avon. For Blake 'now' was four years in his past. He couldn't know Avon.

      Avon realised Blake was staring at him, searching his face, looking for something. Avon had no idea what, but the fact that Blake didn't find it was obviously worrying the other man.

      Avon?" Blake asked again, becoming more concerned by the moment. "Are you all right?" Avon didn't appear to be injured, but he seemed to be in shock, confused, and he was obviously hurting. Blake knew Avon well enough to read that in his eyes. Avon thought to hide behind his eyes and his habitual stone face, but Blake had learned long ago how to read him. It was knowledge hard won and he refused to let it go to waste.

      Avon realised that Blake's concern was genuine and he was disconcerted to find he felt a need to respond. He squashed it down. "You recognise me?" he asked. Blake took a shocked step backwards, the colour draining from his face until his pallor matched Avon's.

      "Of course I do," Blake said gently. "Do you know me?"

      "Yes," Avon replied, lifting a hand towards his face as if to cover his eyes. "But not yet." He dropped the hand, closing his eyes and resting the back of his head against the wall.

      "What did they do to you, Avon?" Blake asked, taking a concerned step closer. The horror in his voice was unmistakable.

      "They?" Avon opened his eyes to find Blake's concerned face inches from his own and it was as if he had been punched. Just for a second the pain was incredible in his head and stomach. He felt sick, shaky, and his heart began to race.

      "The authorities. Tanner said you were arrested. I didn't believe him at first but when you didn't turn in for work, then you missed the meeting..."

      "Meeting?" Avon heard a voice ask. It had to be his own but he would never have recognised it.

      "The Freedom Party, Avon," Blake told him.

      Strong hands grabbed Avon's arms, holding him up as his knees buckled beneath him. Avon remembered. In a rush of pain and horror he knew at last why Blake had known him.

      "Avon!" Blake shouted his name as the other man slumped forwards. Then louder, more urgently, more afraid, "Avon!"

      

      

      

Avon's eyes snapped open as he jerked awkwardly up to a sitting position. He was in the medical unit on the Liberator. Cally was bending over him, clearly distressed. It had been her voice calling his name, he realised. Distantly he was aware of Jenna calling Blake's name. It didn't really register.

      Cally pulled back sharply as Avon sat up. His eyes were wide and black; he looked almost panic stricken.

      "Avon?" she asked again, and it seemed to Avon she had been calling his name for some time. He ignored her, however, turning to swing his legs off the couch, his back turned quite pointedly. Cally watched him closely. He'd been pale and clearly shaking only moments before; while trapped in Blake's nightmare his heart rate had been too fast and erratic, his breathing rapid and shallow. Now he was awake, but the monitors showed little change.

      Avon pulled at the sensor pads on his chest and temples as if he resented the invasion of his privacy, wincing as they came away from his flesh. Cally noted the tremor of his hands but had no chance to speak as he rounded on the Orac computer.

      "Orac." His voice was angry.

      "The deconditioning is complete," the computer replied. Avon reached forward to grasp the casing.

      "That is not what I meant," he spat. Cally placed a hand on his arm and she could feel the tension, the fury in his tightly bunched muscles. Avon shifted slightly, moving away from her. "You knew that would happen," he accused. He still had not focussed on Blake, who had remained unconscious but seemed to realise he was the centre of attention for both women.

      "It was a calculated risk, the benefits making it acceptable," Orac opined.

      "To whom?" Avon demanded.

      "It was necessary that you remember," Orac told him.

      "That Avon remember?" Jenna cut off Avon's reply. "I thought Blake was the one we were trying to help?"

      "The recovery of Avon's memory and the removal of his conditioning..."

      "Shut up, Orac," Avon commanded.

      "Conditioning." Jenna stared first at Orac, then Avon. "Avon was conditioned? When?"

      "The conditioning was..." Orac's voice died in a mechanical whine when Avon snatched at the key. Jenna grabbed for it and Avon lifted it out of her way. Just for a moment Cally had the impression that Jenna was going to hit him.

      "I want to know what Orac means, Avon," Jenna said.

      "Don't you think you should be more concerned about your beloved leader?" Avon taunted. He focussed on Blake then and just for a second, his glare softened almost to concern.

      "Avon?" Cally asked. He glanced her way, then picked Orac up.

      "Orac and I have something to discuss." He moved towards the door. Abruptly Jenna was in his way.

      "If you've been conditioned by the Federation, we have the right to know. It's our lives on the line too," she told him. She almost backed down at the grim expression on his face, compounded as it was of fury, pain and something else that might have been fear. However, the need to know, to protect Blake and the others with whom she had thrown in her lot, made her hold her ground.

      "Avon?" Blake's voice was weak and confused, but it broke the deadlock. Cally moved swiftly to his side. Jenna took a single step, then stopped, but the movement was enough. It gave Avon the room to pass her.

      "Avon." She moved after him but he ignored her.

      "Jenna," Cally called her name when she would have followed Avon. "Help me with Blake." Cally didn't really need help, at least she didn't think she did, but she wanted to distract Jenna before the woman did something that would make matters worse.

      Blake opened his eyes and sat up with the same desperate, confused movement and expression Avon had shown. Cally caught his shoulders, daring to touch him where with Avon she had not. He looked her way but not really at her. The medical sensors showed his heart rate was still too fast but it was coming back to normal.

      "Blake," she reassured gently as his hands came up to grip her shoulders. The hold was strong and she winced slightly. Jenna was standing behind Cally and Blake seemed at last to focus on the two. As soon as she was sure he was back with them, Cally gently closed her hands over his and lifted them from her shoulders. His expression was at once apologetic and confused. Then he looked round the room, clearly looking for Avon.

      "How do you feel?" Jenna asked.

      "Me?" He winced as Cally pulled the sensors from his forehead. "A bit shaky, confused. How's Avon?"

      "Avon!" Jenna almost spat the name. "He stormed out of here with Orac before you came to." She paused. "What happened?"

      Blake looked at her. "He didn't say?"

      "No, just shouted at Orac," Cally replied. "Something is wrong?"

      "I don't know." Blake shook his head. "I need to talk to Avon." He sounded worried and confused, however, Cally couldn't help but notice a certain light in his eyes that hadn't been there before.

      "What did he do?" Jenna demanded, convinced now that Avon had hurt Blake in some way. "Orac was talking about conditioning."

      "Is it gone then, all of it?" Blake asked.

      "Apparently," Jenna replied. "But that wasn't what I meant."

      "No ?"

      "Avon has been conditioned," Jenna told him.

      "We think," Cally added.

      "It's the only thing that makes sense of Avon's reaction and what Orac said," Jenna told her. She turned back to Blake, who seemed to have tuned out much of their conversation. "Avon has been conditioned," she said again.

      "Avon? Oh yes. That would make sense," Blake replied.

      "Well it doesn't to me."

      "Nor to me," Cally added. Blake did not seem to hear them as he got to his feet.

      "I have to talk to Avon," he repeated.

      "What did he do in there, Blake?" Jenna asked. "The sensors went crazy. What did he do in your dream?"

      "The dream," Blake repeated, still not quite with it. "This isn't about the dream. This is about something else entirely. I need to speak to Avon."

      "We'll go and find him then," Jenna said. If she would get no sense from Blake, she decided, then she would go and see the man who had to be the architect of it all.

      "Alone." Jenna looked hurt, almost as if he had slapped her. "Please, Jenna." Blake asked for her understanding. He knew he had hurt her, but he was also aware of someone else who was hurting far more, someone he knew he had to talk to. "I'll try to explain later." Blake turned for the door. Jenna moved round with him.

      "He's dangerous, Blake," she stated. "And if he's been conditioned..."

      "I will be fine." Blake rested a gentle hand on her shoulder and smiled. "I promise, Jenna, we are not in any danger from Avon."

      "But he..."

      "Leave it, Jenna. Please, for now at least, let it rest."

      Jenna held his gaze for a long moment, then she nodded.

      "For now," she advised.

      "Blake," Cally said. He turned, slightly surprised.

      "Not you too?" he asked. "Avon isn't a danger."

      "No, Blake. I do not believe he is. However he left here before I could check he had recovered. See if you can persuade him to come back."

      "Why, what's wrong with him?"

      "With both of you. Your heart rate was far too fast, blood pressure too high. If Avon had not come out of it on his own when he did, we would have had to waken you. It was becoming dangerous."

      "I'm fine," Blake assured her. "So Avon..."

      "Probably," Cally said. "However his reaction was more violent than yours, even though you took longer to come out of the sleep. That was what was so strange. It was your nightmare, yet Avon reacted more rapidly and extremely than you."

      Blake's eyes drifted away from Cally's face as he recalled the dream. "Oh no, Cally," he said very softly. "It wasn't my nightmare at all."

      "I don't understand."

      "No." He looked first at her, then Jenna. "I don't suppose you do, and I can't explain, not until I have spoken to Avon. Maybe not even then. But I promise he is no danger to the ship." He looked at Jenna. "Or to any of her crew." Except perhaps himself, he added silently.

      Blake remembered his past as well as any other man, now, possibly better, as it was filled with so many things - most of them unpleasant - that it was impossible to forget no matter how much you might wish to. He knew Avon remembered too; knew Avon had abruptly regained memories he hadn't even realised were missing. A past he hadn't even known was lost had been returned to him in one huge unpalatable lump. Blake's own memories were horrific and frightening, but he had known they would be, had braced himself as best he could for them. How much worse must it be, he thought, for Avon to suddenly be presented with a catalogue of horror he had never even suspected existed. How much was Avon hurting and where had he gone to lick his wounds? Blake needed to see him, needed to talk to him. He knew now that they shared a past. He needed to know that Avon understood this too.

      "You're sure?" Jenna's question interrupted his musings.

      "Trust me," he told her. "I have to find him." He looked at both women and smiled. "Keep the course for Del 10 Jenna, we need a rest. By the time we get there, I will have an explanation."

      "You'd better," Jenna warned his departing back.

      

      

      

Blake checked the flight deck first. It was unlikely but possible that Avon had gone there in order to avoid a confrontation such as the one Blake intended, probably hoping the presence of Vila would stop Blake in his tracks. It wouldn't have worked, Blake decided, but he was saved from putting his resolve to the test. Vila was alone. Avon hadn't been near and Blake's enquiry just made the thief curious. Blake fobbed him off and continued his search.

      Blake tried Avon's cabin next. Although it was an obvious place, and therefore unlikely if Avon was hiding, he had a feeling this was where the other man would be. It was one place on the ship where Avon would feel most at 'home' and at the moment Blake knew Avon needed every familiar thing he could find. He sounded the door chime.

      "What?" Avon's response was not encouraging. Still, he had never let the man's attitude problems phase him before. Well, hardly ever.

      "Avon, it's me, Blake," he called. "We need to talk."

      "We do," Avon replied, and Blake didn't know if it was a question or agreement. Then the door opened.

      Avon hesitated a moment. Suddenly, now he was face to face with Blake, he found himself confronted by a range of new memories and his mind filled with conflicting, half-understood emotions. Then he stepped back into the room, going to sit as he had been, on the edge of his bunk. Orac sat silently on the table in front of him.

      Blake waited a moment, half hoping he would be invited in, or that Avon would say something. Suddenly confronted by the other, he found that so much of what he'd planned to say he couldn't. Slowly he walked into the room, allowing the door to slide silently shut behind him. He stumbled slightly on something on the floor. Bending, he picked up Orac's key, ran a finger over the edges as he put it into his pocket.

      Avon stared at Blake but said nothing. His posture and expression radiated anger barely controlled, but his eyes were tormented. Blake reacted to that.

      "Are you all right?" he asked, knowing it was a stupid question even before he had finished it.

      "What do you think?" Avon snapped, turning away, leaving Blake feeling as if he had disappointed him in some way.

      "Neither am I," he agreed, sitting in the chair which he had moved so he was directly in front of Avon. "We need to talk."

      "About what?"

      "Our past," Blake said, surprised. "Now that we remember." He paused. "You do remember?"

      "Oh yes, I remember," Avon replied. "I remember all of it."

      "Then we need to talk."

      "Why?" Avon faced Blake again. "What purpose will be served? You remember, I remember. There, it's finished." He got abruptly to his feet.

      "We share a past," Blake said softly. Avon froze, reacting to the naked pain in Blake's voice. "A history and we never knew. We need to talk." Avon could feel Blake's pain but he couldn't allow himself to give in.

      "And do what? Exchange anecdotes about the good old days? Compare interrogators' techniques?" He paused. "Or do you simply want to know why I betrayed you?" His voice almost broke on the word betrayed, and he slumped back onto the bunk as if his legs could no longer support him.

      Blake shifted uncomfortably backward on his chair. "I never..."

      "What, Blake?" Avon asked bleakly. "Isn't that why you're here? To find out why I betrayed you, told them all about that final raid?"

      "That wouldn't have been a betrayal, Avon," Blake told him. Avon lowered his head into his hands.

      "No?"

      "We don't even know that you did."

      "I do," Avon corrected, his head coming back up, his eyes burning with something Blake couldn't quite understand. "I was there, you see, and thanks to Orac, I now remember all of it. They arrested me at home seven days before your raid, that final raid. The one where Travis was waiting for you." He swallowed hard and looked away. "The one where everyone else died." Avon remembered it all so clearly. Blake's group, all of those people who had died, were real to him. People he had known, their faces and names stolen from him... Well, now he had them back; now he could mourn for them. Mourn for them and know he was at least in part responsible for their deaths.

      "So?"

      "What do you want, Blake, all the gory details?" Avon asked him. "How often did they hit me? What did they use? How often did a guard knock me down just for the hell of it? Gamma grade guards don't like Alphas, you know. Oh, but of course you do know that, don't you." His tone was very bitter and mocking. "If you want to know which drugs they used, ask Orac. But that takes away from the fun, doesn't it? You have to ask me. Did they hurt me, use drugs or sheer blind terror? Maybe I told them everything right away to stop them hurting me. Was I left alone or did I have company in my cell? I mean, you hear such funny stories about 'prison romances,' don't you?" Avon's voice rose in pitch until it seemed he was nearing hysteria. "What do you want, Blake, diagrams? Orac can probably produce those for you, detailed transcripts too if you ask nicely." He wound down abruptly, shifting his attention to his hands. "I've put it under voice lock, yours or mine. l don't want the others to know." He looked up and sighed. "Can't you just accept the fact I betrayed you and leave it there? I told them when and where you were meeting." Avon stopped, aware at last that his hands were shaking as he clasped them together. Blake noticed this and barely resisted the urge to reach out to comfort the other man, his old friend. Avon took a deep breath and looked at Blake. "I told them where to find you, and Travis waited for you, and he killed them all, all except you." He almost grinned. "You they had something else planned for." Suddenly Blake's expression was too much for Avon. He turned his head away.

      "Yes, Avon," Blake agreed. "And I betrayed the rest of the Freedom party, all those who hadn't been there that night. And worse still, I stood up in the court and denounced all of you."

      Avon turned to look at him. "That wasn't betrayal. You were conditioned, programmed to say what you did."

      "Then neither was what you did betrayal."

      "I told them," Avon repeated. He was quite clear in his mind about that. He knew that after a period of time he couldn't quite define, a time of pain and fear worse than any he had known before or since, he had given his interrogators all the information they wanted about the Freedom Party, about their plans and about Blake. "And I was in my right mind at the time."

      "Your right mind, Avon!" Blake exclaimed. "After days of the Federation's 'questioning?' I doubt very much you were in your right mind." Avon shook his head. "And even if you did, it wasn't a betrayal. A betrayal comes of a choice. I doubt very much they gave you one."

      "I could have chosen to die."

      "I doubt it," Blake said. "They're rather too good at their job for that.

      Avon looked at his hands. "I betrayed you. I never even stood trial."

      "You think you sold out?" Blake said. "Turned state's evidence on us? That wasn't you. That was a man suffering under the extremes of torture. Any man would have broken. I would have broken. The Kerr Avon I know...

      "A lie"' Avon interrupted. "I've lived a lie since then. I don't know who I was... am."

      "The Kerr Avon I know now and the man I knew then would not have sold his friends for his life."

      "Then why was I never tried?"

      "They needed you, Avon," Blake began. "Not for the information," he added when the other opened his mouth. "Think about it for a minute. You're a genius, you tell us so at least as often as Vila tells us he is, if not in quite so many words. Well, it's true. They needed you alive so they couldn't let you be imprisoned. They needed your mind, your skills; they needed you working for them. So they wiped out piece of your past and programmed you. It must have been decided at the highest level. You have friends in high places, Avon," he continued ironically. Avon opened his mouth to deny it all. "Think about it," Blake insisted. "You had no idea that memories were hidden, not even after you became involved with me, with us all. You never suspected anything, did you?" Avon shook his head. "They needed you loyal, Avon, so there was no trial, no possibility of contact with me or other known rebels. They probably watched you carefully, had you in for reconditioning."

      Avon shook his head. "I don't..." He stopped. "Perhaps I do," he said softly, mostly to himself, Blake thought. "I have migraines, very severe sometimes. I always have done, or so I thought." He looked up at Blake. "But I'm not so certain now. I used, every couple of months, to go for a check up. Occasionally, they gave me courses of drugs to keep them at bay. It didn't always work."

      "I haven't noticed any," Blake said.

      "I haven't had one for a long time."

      "Since you were arrested?"

      "No. They still happened. Since we acquired Liberator, they have been fewer. I could cover them." He stared at Blake. "Since Gan died, though, they stopped." He considered a moment. "I was conditioned," he said as if at last accepting it.

      "Yes," Blake replied. "But you've beaten it. You're free."

      "Free?" Avon gave a bitter laugh. "I don't know what I am anymore," he told Blake. "You knew you had memories missing, and altered. You lived accordingly." Blake nodded.

      "I had no choice, Avon," he said. "After Bran Foster talked to me, after the massacre, I knew things had been taken away or hidden. I could almost feel them, but I couldn't bring them back - just sometimes little pieces or the feeling that something was familiar. It nearly drove me insane." Avon rose and walked to the other side of the room. He stood quite still for a long time, staring at the wall. "Avon?"

      Avon replied without turning round. "I never knew," he whispered. "Never even suspected." He turned to face Blake, clasping his hands behind his back. "The Avon you have known all this time, that's not me, is it? That was what the Federation created, someone else's fantasy... He dropped his hands to his side.

      "What?"

      "I don't know who I am, what I am. Orac gave you back your past, and took my present away from me."

      "I don't understand?" Blake asked.

      "Who am I? How did Avon - how do I - think and feel and behave? What have I been for the last six years?" He looked down at his hands. "They could probably predict everything I did before I did it." He stopped, and his voice dropped to a horrified whisper that Blake felt rather than heard. "They knew about the bank. Anna..." The whisper died away in horror.

      Blake leapt to his feet and walked to stand directly in front of Avon. Gently he laid his hands on the other man's shoulders. Avon looked up.

      "They didn't change your personality, Avon," Blake told him. "The man I knew on Earth and the man I have known on Liberator are one and the same. Never doubt that."

      "Oh, but I have to. Don't you understand, Blake? I feel like two men fighting for the possession of one body, one life. I remember it all, but it's almost like remembering the plot of a book or a play. I know I did certain things, but I don't know why I did them. Then suddenly I do understand and the things I have done since drift out of focus."

      "But we all suffer from that. The good ideas of yesterday can seem like the actions of a total fool today. No one is always completely certain that what they do is right. We all stand there every now and then and say 'why the hell did I do that?'"

      Avon looked at him for a long time. "You remember the Freedom Party?" he asked at last.

      "Yes. And how you got me involved in politics in the first place."

      "No." Avon raised both hands. "You can't lay the blame for that on me."

      "No blame."

      "No?"

      "Never, for that at least. And you can't hide behind that 'I don't care about anyone except myself' anymore. Not to me, anyway."

      "I wasn't hiding," Avon responded stiffly.

      "I know better," Blake told him. "Hell, even Vila knows better. If you really meant that, you wouldn't still be here. Or rather the rest of us wouldn't. You would have gone at Cygnus Alpha, or Horizon. Or any one of a hundred places. You've had your chances."

      "I almost did," Avon told him.

      "Leave me on Cygnus Alpha? Yes I know, Jenna told me." Blake grinned.

      "She would."

      "What stopped you?"

      "I needed a pilot. Jenna wasn't interested." It wasn't exactly true: Jenna had been almost interested enough, but it was an old story now, no point in mentioning it.

      "Rubbish. I've seen you on the flight deck. You didn't need Jenna. Even she knows that now. She trusts you flying this ship more than she trusts the rest of us put together. And you're not going to tell me she overpowered you." It was Avon's turn to smile now. "You stayed because you wanted to. Not for the rebels or for 'my cause,' as you put it."

      "For what, then?" And he sounded almost interested.

      "For me, for Vila and the others. You felt you owed us something, so you stayed." Avon shrugged slightly. "It's true, and that is the man I remember from Earth. You were quick tempered, a devil to persuade to do anything and you had a nasty way with words, but if I got your word, you kept it. No matter what it cost. That is the man I know and trust on the Liberator." Blake paused. "You haven't lost anything today, least of all yourself. But you have gained something. We both have."

      "We have our memories back."

      "More than that. We have our pasts back." Blake grinned, and Avon recognised the expression from a hundred other occasions. From times on Earth after raids that had gone well, or at the end of fruitful meetings with other rebel groups, even from work when a crazy short cut with a system worked. He braced himself. "We got each other back." Blake pulled Avon into an affectionate hug. Avon put up with it for a moment, then pulled away. Blake let him go; it was always thus. Avon prepared to offer physical comfort and protection in time of danger or hurt, totally unable to do so when the occasion was happy. This was the man Blake had known on Earth, the man he had called his friend. He found any expression of affection difficult and always had. Blake didn't understand why, suspected that Avon didn't either. Normally he would never have stepped so far over the boundary between them, but he couldn't help it today. He understood Avon's confusion and hoped he would find a way through it. For himself he could only feel joy. What Orac and Avon had given him today he could never repay. He had his life back. There were no longer huge aching empty spaces in his head. There were people and places, events and ideas, even dreams, and best of all there was a friend. He couldn't help it; he was grinning like an idiot and he didn't care.

      Avon watched Blake's face. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?" he asked. And although there was still some doubt in his voice, the raw edge of pain was gone. Blake grinned harder.

      "Probably," he replied, echoing Avon's frequent response to such questions. Avon weighed him up a moment longer, then he laughed, and there wasn't a trace of bitterness in the sound.

      Blake's heart sang. Maybe he couldn't win his war - Avon regularly told him so - but today he had succeeded in freeing one man from the chains of the Federation, and just for the moment, he found that would do very nicely.

      

      

      

      

      {"Sub-Heading" on}Sanity Slain{"Sub-Heading" off}

      {"Sub-Heading" on}Melissa Mastoris{"Sub-Heading" off}

      

      {"1in indent" on}He stands before me:

      The last ounce

      Of my sanity,

      The last shred of hope

      For a better tomorrow.

      

      His light is

      The only thing

      That stands between

      Darkness

      And myself,

      The only thing

      That could truly save me.

      

      Only he

      Could pull me through.

      Only he

      Could make me

      What I once was.

      Only he

      Can drive the darkness away.

      

      But I see in him

      The same darkness

      Shrouded in the light,

      The same madness

      His precious Cause

      Has given to me.

      

      The same madness

      I have learned

      To trust in myself

      I can't trust in him.

      Three shots fired

      And he falls

      To the floor.

      

      And now

      The last of my sanity

      Is gone,

      Lying in

      A pool of blood

      At my feet.

      

      And I can enter madness

      Whole and complete

      At last.

      {"1in indent" off}

      


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