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Town Mouse / Country Mouse

By Nova
1. It's true that, after Vila unlocked the vault in the Cybersurgeons' Association just as two armed guards came thundering along the corridor, I said, 'Well done, Vila. Name your reward.' It's also true that he replied, 'A week on Del-10' with split-second timing that kept me chuckling for the entire ten minutes that it took to scan the Association's records. And it's true that I didn't orally, electronically, on paper or otherwise indicate my intention to rescind the verbal contract within three Federation standard days.

Then again, I'm merely a political criminal, not a veteran recidivist, which means I can't match Vila's intimate understanding of the finer points of Federation law. So, when I announced four days later that we were heading for Freedom City, I was more than a little surprised to hear him say, 'No, we're not, Blake. We're going to Del-10 for a week.'

Even more surprisingly, in a rare moment of unanimity, the others all backed him up. Jenna turned out to be an equally accomplished cell block lawyer, with a free trader's creative interpretation of contract law. When I reminded Vila that I'd laughed at his suggestion, proving that I'd regarded it as a joke, Cally launched into an impassioned disquisition on the oppressive nature of cross-class and interspecies humour, illustrated with disturbingly personal examples drawn from the last eighteen months on Liberator. Avon, naturally, then chose to make one of his random declarations of faith in democratic decision-making processes and Orac clinched the deal by locating so many precedents that, in the end, it seemed quicker to go to Del-10 than to read the transcripts.

The art of leadership includes knowing when to yield gracefully, so I volunteered for teleport duty, intending to retreat to my cabin and study ex-cybersurgeon Docholli's dossier, as soon as I'd dispatched my crew. Vila arrived first, wearing his coat of many pockets: I checked that he was carrying enough money for bail and set him down in the tourist area of the capital city, Tenton. Jenna prowled in soon after, toting the **Sex and Shopping Guide to the Galaxy**, and gave me the coordinates for the Club Zed Mall. Cally appeared in Auronar hiking gear, which has even more pockets than a thief's coat and a rather abrasive camouflage pattern that caused Avon to wince visibly as he came strolling down the corridor, dressed in skintight black leather. He perched on a corner of the teleport desk and leafed idly through my papers, while I sent Cally off to one of Del-10's mountain resorts.

'All work and no play?' he murmured, pushing the dossier aside. 'Surely the revolution can spare you for one evening, Blake. Allow me to show you the sights of Tenton, such as they are.'

While I was still determined to learn everything about Docholli, Avon's offer was oddly tempting. I grew up on Woodstock, where all men are considered brothers - unless they're women and sisters, that is - and I'd spent the past year and a half trying to identify signs of brotherliness in Avon, without any apparent success. If I rejected this invitation, I'd probably never get another one, which in itself was enough to make me accept on the spot.

I helped Avon link Orac to the controls and we teleported down into a narrow street, garish with neon light and shadowed by ramshackle buildings that leaned together so conspiratorially that they blocked out the sky.

'Are you sure we're in the right place?' I asked uneasily. 'It doesn't look like the images of Tenton that Zen showed us.'

'Every city has its underside,' Avon informed me. 'This is the Salemite quarter, Blake.'

Oh, hell. I'd forgotten that Avon came from Salem-6. I've never been there myself but it's impossible to avoid hearing about the planet. Salemites fascinate the rest of us, because they're walking contradictions. The most ferociously moral society in the galaxy ... famous for its bizarre sex scandals, inventively twisted pornography and a general reputation for sexual perversity. If there's a galactic opposite to Woodstock, Salem-6 would be it. I had a disconcerting premonition that Avon's idea of evening entertainment wasn't going to coincide with mine.

Sure enough, an hour later I was seated in a crowded cafe, watching androgynous black-clad Salemites flourish thin cigarettes, trade sexual innuendos in rapid-fire Salem argot, blow smoke and kisses across the table and twine together on the dance floor with a calculated effrontery that only just fell short of fucking. I have nothing against androgyny but on Woodstock we consider it a challenge to socially imposed sex roles, whereas I got the distinct impression that the Salemites did it to annoy. Refusing to take their bait, I fixed my eyes firmly on the only unequivocally gendered person at our table. Within seconds she was fixing her eyes equally firmly on me and running the tip of a studded tongue across scarlet lips, flagrantly enough to captured Avon's roving attention.

'Lucen admires you, Blake,' he said, without troubling to lower his voice. 'I won't be offended if you choose to leave at this point.'

'No, thanks,' I said, a little too hastily. 'I'd rather stay with you.'

'Very well,' Avon said equably. 'We shall have to find something better suited to your tastes.'

He rose to his feet, nodded dismissively to the group and led me out of the cafe. We walked the streets of the Salemite quarter, steering round the men and women who lurked in shadowy doorways. Then we headed down a flight of stairs, apparently at random, and plunged into a narrow bar, where Avon greeted the Salemite behind the counter like - no, not like a brother, more like a favoured pimp. He ushered us to a table beside the stage and we sat and watched the show.

Women alone. Men alone. Women with men. Women with women. Men with men. Stripping. Dancing. On chairs. Off chairs. Ugly. Pretty. Plain.

They all looked miserable to me.

'What do you think of her?' Avon asked, time after time, in the detached tones of an academic examiner. 'What do you think of him?'

'Very nice,' I answered, time after time.

I was trying to be polite but my underlying lack of enthusiasm must have shown through, because after a while Avon said, 'Yes, perhaps this is too blatant. Let's see how you react to something a little subtler.'

More streets, more stairs, leading down to a dark room lined with transparent columns, inside which bodies twirled lethargically like pallid tropical fish. Avon scanned the line-up, nodded and tossed a handful of coins at the doorkeeper, who dragged two chairs across to the column that Avon had indicated. I stared blankly, feeling separated from the boy inside the tube by more than a sheet of plass. He was spreading his legs wide, spinning slowly on the floor. I could see everything, including the rash on his thighs, the bruises on his shins, the shadow at his groin where the shaven pubic hair was growing back. It wasn't in the slightest degree sexy. In fact, it struck me as nightmarish.

Half a metre away, a match rasped and a small flame flared, pushing back the darkness. I turned to say: can we go? and froze in mid-movement, rendered absolutely still by what I saw. At first I thought it was a trick of the light and then I thought Avon was pulling my leg.

But no, that wasn't what he was pulling.

The fishtank glow from the column illuminated a triangle of pale skin. Avon's trousers were open, his cock was in his hand and he was jerkng off. His back arched slightly, thrusting out his pelvis, and his fist moved in small rapid movements. He had a cigarette in his mouth, tilted at the angle of his erection. Eyelashes blinking lazily to keep out the sting of smoke. Eyes fixed on the boy in the tube, calmly assessing the performance.

Where everything else had failed, that did it. I slumped forward until my forehead pressed against the plass and gazed blindly at the boy, seeing nothing, completely absorbed by the rustle of skin on skin. It was over in a minute. I heard Avon yank up his trousers, the credits in his pockets bouncing and settling with an innocent ching.

'Come on, Blake,' he said, tossing the cigarette aside. 'You're a difficult man to please.'

I stalled, hoping that Avon would go past, so I could follow behind him. But when I turned, I realised my stir of lust had already been discovered. I could see Avon's surprise, revealed by the bar of light that fell across us both. I could see the curl of comprehension on Avon's lips.

Outside, we didn't speak.

Outside, I was chilled to the bone.

I thought he would send me back to the Liberator after that but there was one more stop. An underground toilet this time.

'I'll wait out here,' I protested.

Avon said nothing. He just pushed the door, then pushed me and we walked into the dimness of a room where all but one of the lights had been shattered. There were other men inside. There were smells. There were noises. There was a murmur, a fleeting meeting of eyes. A few seconds later I was trapped in a cubicle, with Avon at my side.

'What's going on?' I demanded, not really wanting to know.

'Shut up,' he said. 'Turn around.'

I didn't want to obey his orders but I did it, anyway. I had a sudden clear vision of myself doing everything I thought I didn't want to do. I knew that, right then, after the evening's preparation, I would do anything Avon asked: anything at all: and the realisation overwhelmed me, even more powerfully than the darkness and the stench and the secrecy.

'Avon ...' I pleaded, in a last ditch attempt to salvage the situation.

'Shut up,' he said again.

Avon was undoing my fly. I was letting him. Avon was wrenching down my trousers with a tug that brought my cock surging back to full-blooded attention. My forehead lolled weakly against the cold tiles of the wall. I was afraid I was going to throw up. As it turned out, that might have been a better option but at the time I was relieved when Avon focused me with a sardonic whisper.

'In there.'

He was right behind me - almost on my back, but not quite. I heard his words, perfectly clearly, but I didn't understand. He shifted me sideways, letting the light fall on a hole in the wall, and pointed.

'There, Blake,' he said.

I understood then, although it was nothing I'd ever envisaged myself doing. Still, I'd already gone too far to back out now. Shaking uncontrollably, I manoeuvred my shaft into the hole. Straight away a mouth closed round my cockhead and sucked me down the warm, wet slide of someone's throat. (Whose? No, don't ask. Don't even imagine.)

Behind me, Avon was so very close. I could feel his hands through the fabric of my trousers, pushing them away, baring my arse. I could feel Avon kneading my buttocks and gathering up my balls with eloquent familiarity. I only lasted for thirty seconds before I groaned and spurted my sperm into the mouth next door. With exquisite understanding, the mouth kept on sucking just long enough to make it utterly



I don't remember how I got back to the Liberator. But I remember, all too vividly, the way I spent the next forty eight hours. One minute, making speeches to an invisible audience, denouncing Avon's Salemite decadence. Next minute, accusing myself of sinking even lower than him. Feeling corrupted, feeling naive, feeling as though I'd give five years of my life to live those last five minutes over again. Analysing every second of the evening and inventing a dozen different endings. Dozing fitfully, then waking with an urgent erection and the imprint of Avon's hand on my balls. Leafing through Docholli's dossier, realising that I hadn't taken in a single word and hurling the papers onto the floor. Finally admitting that, for the first time in years, I couldn't think about revenge or justice or freedom, fighting the Federation or planning the revolution or, indeed, about anything but Avon.

And then, having accepted the truth, I stretched out on the bed and applied my undivided mind to the task of working out precisely what I wanted from him.

2. I should know better than to attempt altruism. Since I lack practice, the results are less than satisfactory. One might think that Blake would be grateful for the chance to relieve his palpable sexual tension. But no, he retires to his cabin in a huff.

Undeterred, I return to the Salemite quarter and enjoy myself. Next night, I enjoy myself again. By the third day of our impromptu holiday, I decide I'd rather stay on Liberator and read a good book plaque. I have just managed to settle myself comfortably on one of the recreation room's Procrustean couches when Blake barges in and looms over me.

'You're blocking my light,' I point out.

'Yes, it's intentional,' he explains. 'I'm trying to get your attention.'

I switch off the book plaque. 'Very well, you have it,' I tell him. 'For precisely one minute.'

'Oh, I won't take that long,' Blake says. 'It turns out that there are some rebels from Woodstock on Del-10 as well. One of them has lent me his holiday house for the rest of the week. I want to invite you there, as return hospitality.'

It's hardly an attractive proposition. Woodstockers are famous - or infamous - for their dedication to the simple life. Their cuisine is best described as organic, their notion of fashion revolves around comfort and natural fibres and their seduction techniques bypass finesse and titillation, to focus on the kind of openness and honesty that prompts statements like, 'If you want to fuck, that's fine by me. If not, that's fine too.' I suspect that the Woodstock version of a holiday house will resemble a Federation youth league camp. (Not that I know anything about Federation youth league camps, of course, apart from what I've seen in Salemite pornovids.)

On the other hand, an ironic glint in Blake's eyes is daring me to accept. I never refuse a dare and besides, an afternoon of rest and recuperation should prepare me for some more Salemite nightlife. Accordingly, we repair to the teleport bay - Blake lugging a large wicker hamper, me pocketing my book plaque. Orac enters Blake's coordinates and next minute I am blinking at a concentrated assault of impossibly bright light.

As I squeeze my eyes shut, Blake says, openly and honestly, 'You've probably guessed that I have another motive for inviting you here. We might as well get it over with straight away.'

Oh, hell. Our evening in Tenton has obviously given Blake the wrong idea. Now he is going to say, 'If you want to fuck, that's fine by me. If not, that's fine too,' after which we will have to endure an interval of acute social embarrassment, until such time as I am able to make my excuses and leave.

But in fact, this prediction is inaccurate. Blake doesn't say anything. Instead, he drops the hamper and wraps an arm round my shoulders, bringing his hand up to cup the back of my head, bringing his mouth down on mine. The touch is light and cool and delicate. I gasp in surprise and feel his tonguetip dart between my parted lips, gently saluting my tonguetip before he withdraws.

'That's better,' he says. 'I don't usually have orgasms in company, without some sort of physical affection. We're even now. Enjoy the sunshine, Avon, while I go inside and unpack our lunch.'

His footsteps retreat, echoing across wooden boards. I open my eyes and gasp again. I am **not** agoraphobic: although I grew up in one of Salem-6's dome cities, I have no difficulty in dealing with open spaces. However, when I find myself in a sloping green meadow balanced precariously on a mountain crag, overlooking tiers of precipes that drop down sharply to the valley below, I feel, inaccurately but inescapably, as though I am about to fall off the edge of the world.

While I have been surveying the valley, my knees appear to have folded beneath me. I am digging my heels into the earth and clutching handfuls of grass, as if that could stop me from slipping over the cliff. Annoyed by this lapse of self-control, I turn my head away. Behind me, a tall tree covered with tiny blue flowers blocks out the vastness of the sky, which is an improvement. Unfortunately, as soon as I look back at the valley, my vertigo increases, forcing me to close my eyes again.

'You're sweating, Avon,' Blake says at my side. 'You ought to take that jacket off. Here, let me help.'

He leans closer and levers at a row of studs. When I open my eyes, he is frowning down at the hectic rise and fall of my chest. To prevent him from drawing the correct conclusion, I unknot my hands from the grass and clasp them round his neck, pulling him onto me. For a moment he lies completely still, immobilised by surprise, but then his hands lift and spread, galvanised into action. He is prising me out of skintight leather. I am stripping away layers of natural fibres. Democratically naked, we continue to roll and tumble across the grass, until I manage to get a grip on Blake's erection. He struggles briefly, determined to reciprocate.

'Relax, Blake,' I say. 'After all, the art of leadership includes knowing when to yield gracefully.'

Blake cites this axiom on an average of once a week, generally as a preliminary to getting his own way. This time, however, he chooses to yield gracefully. I straddle his thighs and clasp his cock, smiling when I find that my thumb and forefinger are barely able to make contact. Over the last few days I have handled at least half a dozen cocks but this is a particularly impressive example. I draw my hand up its shaft, alternating palm pressure with fingertip pressure, manipulating the foreskin, running a nail along a vein.

Well-tested techniques, guaranteed to elicit a response from most men, although before long I realise that, despite my innate distrust of altruism, I am responding just as fervently as Blake. I try to convince myself that my fervour is in direct proportion to the size of the cock filling my hand. As rationalisations go, this fails miserably. I am forced to confess that I derive a special satisfaction from the knowledge that the shaft currently working my fist like a piston is Blake's and no one else's - that the gasps echoing off the rockface are ripped from Blake's lungs - that the gush of sperm anointing my fingers is Blake's essence.

He groans and bucks, arched so high that he slams against my chest, hooping his arms around me and bearing me to the ground. Mission accomplished. Pinned by Blake's weight, I am in no danger of falling off the edge of the world. I shift lazily and reach for my cock, intending to exorcise my unSalemite enthusiasm by the most logical method available. But Blake shifts with me. Seconds later I am braced on my elbows, legs splayed, head tipped back helplessly, while Blake gulps my cock down his throat. He is good at this - something I might have guessed in advance, given his established penchant for oral gratification.

Seduced by his concentrated attention, I forget to shield my eyes against the sky's immensity and the gulf below. Brightness assails me twice over, blazing through the air and then blazing through my entire body as I come in Blake's mouth, with an intensity that is only enhanced by terror. I fall back on the grass, flinching at the touch of the flowers that rain down from the tree, flinching again when Blake releases me and rises.

'You don't really like open spaces, do you, Avon?' he says, more perceptive than I would have anticipated. 'Let's go inside.'

He bends down and hauls me to my feet. Standing, I experience another rush of vertigo but luckily I am distracted by the sight of Blake, magnificently naked, plastered with small blue flowers. Normally, this image would strike me as ridiculously wholesome but right now, I find it rather charming. Blake stares back at me, similarly charmed.

'You look like some sort of pagan wood god,' he says, unselfconsciously poetic. 'Does that mean you're about to disappear, any minute now?'

'That depends on what you have provided for lunch,' I tell him.

Blake laughs. 'Sarranese brandade, Gallican bread, a selection of Del-10 cheeses, rose petal jam and potato pie. Will that do?'

It is an unexpectedly accurate reflection of my tastes. 'So you have been paying some attention to me over the past eighteen months,' I say. 'You are eighty per cent right, Blake, although the pie is a mistake.'

'A hundred per cent right,' he says smugly. 'The pie is for me. Come on, Avon, I'm starving.'

I follow him into the house, where he collects a tray and carries it into the bedroom. Apparently, Woodstockers have, at least, identified the connection between food and eroticism: by the end of our lunch, Blake is licking brandade from my navel and soon after that I suck rose petal jam from his cock. This leads to a reprise of our previous activities, with some interesting variations, after which we lie tangled together and watch the movement of sunlight and shadow across rocky slopes. Secure behind a window, I even find the view attractive, especially when it is framed by Blake's profile, angled casually towards me.

'What next, Avon?' he says.

For a Woodstocker, this is almost tactful. Clearly, Blake wants to know whether I am merely indulging some Salemite perversity or whether I share his simpler sentiments. Equally clearly, he is prepared to let me set my own terms. As a reward for his forbearance, I decide to meet him halfway.

'This place is less excruciatingly rustic than I anticipated,' I murmur. 'I would be happy to remain here for the rest of the week.'

I must have said more than I intended, because Blake's face changes. 'Would that really make you happy, Avon?' he asks.

Happiness is not a concept often invoked on Salem-6. It more properly belongs with woolly-minded Woodstock notions like peace and love. However, just as Blake is beginning to approximate Salemite indirection, I seem to have been corrupted by Woodstocker simplicities.

At any rate, I find myself saying, 'Yes.'

That single word changes Blake's face even more drastically. His eyes darken and the tension in his muscles slackens, relaxing his mouth into a melancholy pout.

'Oh god, I've missed this,' he breathes. 'Although I didn't realise what I was missing, until now. Avon, sweetheart, I can't keep on risking our lives, not any more. Forget about Central Control. Just find us a bolthole, somewhere out of the Federation's reach.'

His eyes gaze into mine, urgent and shadowed. I discover that, while I enjoy driving Blake to distraction, I don't like to see him sad. Consequently, I resort to the best method I know for invigorating him: by talking politics.

'You'd be bored within a week,' I say briskly. 'We can do better than that. If we locate Docholli, as you planned, we will then be in a position to collect a detachment of Avalon's troops, take over Central Control and gradually restore the Federation's subject planets to full autonomy.'

Blake chews thoughtfully at a knuckle. 'That idea **had** occurred to me but I wasn't sure whether it would work,' he admits. 'Still, I suppose that, if a Woodstocker and a Salemite can cooperate, anybody can. Will you stay and help me, Avon?'

'Why not?' I say.


For once, everything goes as we have planned. Better, in fact. Avalon's troopers spot Travis outside Central Control and gun him down. On entering, we are attacked by a bunch of white-coated scientists, who mysteriously dissolve into puddles of alien slime after being shot. I suspect we may have inadvertently forestalled Travis's attempt to revenge himself by facilitating an Andromedan invasion, although we will never know for sure.

At any rate, I have no time to come up with alternative theories. Even by Blakean standards, the next year is exceptionally busy. I acquire an even more eclectic range of skills, along with an inside knowledge of the most interesting and lucrative ways to deploy those skills in a remodelled galaxy. However, much to my chagrin, once order has been established, I don't immediately set off to make myself rich and safe. Instead, I corner Blake and ask, 'What next?'

Blake says, 'If you want us to stay together, that's fine by me. If not, that's fine too.'

It irritates me less than one might expect.

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