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Slings and Eros

By Riley Cannon
Page 2 of 4

There was always a pleasing sense of satisfaction in being proved right, especially as other people generally regarded you as a poor judge of human nature. Of course when one of these natures was as pitifully predictable as Roj Blake, it could be reckoned the challenge was negligible.

The idiot would actually have sat there and let Travis blow his head off--blithely certain Avon would follow his example. And what really annoyed Avon was the realization that Blake would probably have been right. So if he was back in the cell having some bad moments right now, it served him right for being so damned presumptuous.

Now Avon watched as Travis moved around the room like a stalking cat, coming to a stop at the desk where he deliberately took up a casual pose, clearly meaning to enjoy every moment of this. "Well, Avon, shall I send for the crimos, or are you really going to cooperate?"

"What's in it for me?"

"Your life."

"And?"

"Not the Liberator.'

"Well, of course. But--half the contents of the treasure room?"

"Only half?"

Avon's smile was blinding. "I prefer to travel light."

Opening a desk drawer, Travis withdrew a teleport bracelet, activating it and holding it before Avon. "Prove it--call the Liberator."

Here goes..."Avon to Liberator, come in." No reply came back, however, nor after he'd tried several times more. "They must be out of range of the bracelets," he told Travis. "I'll need something with more power." And he looked over at the commboard on the desk.

Suspicion flared in Travis' eye. "If this is a trick--"

"You've got the gun. I may be a lot of things, Travis, but stupid isn't one of them. Do you honestly think I'd risk my life for Blake?"

There was an instant when Travis considered the idea, but it was too alien a concept for him to entertain for very long. Dismissing the incomprehensible, Travis released Avon from the chair, keeping the lazeron aimed at him as Avon crossed to the desk and seated himself there, reaching to the commboard, fussing with the switches.

"What are you doing?" Travis demanded, impatient and wary.

"It's an old system. I don't know if it's--" Avon ducked away as sparks exploded over the board, tumbling to the floor as though he'd received a massive electric shock.

Travis started forward, dodging another shower of sparks, reaching for Avon--who greeted Travis with a kick to the chest that sent Travis crashing back into the wall. Not giving the other man a chance to recover, Avon sprang up and stomped mercilessly on the bionic hand before Travis could bring it up and blast him. Howling, Travis came up on his knees, his right hand snagging Avon's legs and toppling him to the floor, pinning him there with a knee to the chest, groping a gun from a pocket of his battle suit. But Avon knocked it away, skittering across the floor. Travis lunged after it--Avon beat him to it, grabbed it up, aimed, and fired. A look of utter astonishment flashed over Travis' face, just before he crashed, falling half across Avon.

A little amazed himself, Avon waited a moment, then shoved Travis aside, sitting up and getting his breath back.

#

Hearing gunfire, Blake rushed to the cell door, gripping the bars so hard his knuckles whitened. "Avon!" How many shots had there been, five, six? "Travis!" He yanked at the bars as though he could physically wrench them apart--and then go and do the same to Travis.

When Avon came around the corner, out of breath and loaded with bracelets, guns, and the key to the cell, Blake could scarcely believe it for a moment. "You're alive!"

Avon threw him an impatient look. "Of course I'm alive," he said, as though there could have been no doubt as to the outcome of what he'd tried to pull. "Hurry up," he added, opening the door and shoving a bracelet and gunbelt at Blake.

Wasting no time in kitting up, Blake followed Avon back up the hall, full of questions about what had happened, although one answer became immediately clear as they rounded the corner and he spotted the mutoids crumpled in a heap. Any further details would have to wait, however, because even as he started to the door of the interrogation room, to see what had become of Travis, the three crimos came down the steps, immediately assessing the situation, and popping off shots at Blake and Avon in the same instant. Barely missing a beat, Blake and Avon executed a quick reverse, running down the hall, past the cell, dodging down another narrow corridor--Avon stumbling, almost falling as a shot from the crimos found its mark. Catching him, Blake felt a sticky warmth spreading along Avon's back. Keeping Avon sheltered, he got off a flurry of shots at the crimos, but didn't stop to see if he'd hit any of them. Without pausing, Blake shoved a door open and hauled Avon inside, leaving him for a moment, shoving a desk in front of the door as a barricade.

Even as Blake knelt beside Avon, trying to see how bad it was, footsteps pounded by in the hall, and he could hear one crimo at least beginning to open doors, pounding at those that wouldn't yield. It was only a matter of time before they came to this one and he doubted the old wood would put up much resistance.

"How bad is it?" he asked Avon, worried at his lack of color, but somewhat reassured that he seemed alert, looking back at him.

"I don't know," Avon admitted.

"Can you walk?"

Avon looked around the room. "To where?"

Good question, Blake thought, trying to ignore the pounding that had started at the door, searching for some way out of here. There wasn't much light and it was hard to make out any details, so Blake got up to pace around the room, running his hands along the walls, feeling cold stone and grime. Looking back at the door, he saw it was starting to splinter--and at the same moment he felt a section of the wall give a little. Pushing aside a tattered wall hanging, he found it concealed a door, and, shoving harder, he was able to wedge it open, then hurried over to scoop Avon up and bundle him through, flicking the wall hanging back in place before closing the door. Leaning back, he could hear the crimos bursting into the room, crashing around. Another flight of steps was there in front of them, and getting a better hold on Avon, Blake started down.

#

Too tired to go any further, Avon pulled free of Blake and sank down on the steps. He felt like he'd been descending the rough-hewn staircase forever, going ever deeper into some black abyss. He could hear Blake urging him to remain conscious, could feel the other man tugging at him, insisting he get to his feet, but Avon simply couldn't do it. Not right now. He thought he told Blake that he just needed to rest for a couple of minutes, just let him close his eyes for a second and then he could carry on. All he was really sure of though was that the beckoning darkness offered ease and comfort, and it was remarkably simple to surrender to it.

#

"Avon?" Blake felt for a pulse, taking some little reassurance at finding one. Holding the tech's unconscious body to him, he looked back at the way they had come, thinking they must have lost the crimos a long time ago. Probably the crimos hadn't even figured out where he and Avon had gone, certainly there been no signs of pursuit; no sounds but for their own breathing, the drip of water, the fail of a pebble.

Did these steps lead anywhere? he wondered. Who had made this, and why? Not that it mattered, probably, but it gave him something else to think about; better than wondering how badly Avon was hurt, or whether the crimos were lurking back there somewhere just waiting for him and Avon to come back. And where was the Liberator? Without much hope of success, he raised his teleport bracelet, trying to make contact with the ship--not really surprised when nothing but static came back to him. Even if Liberator was out there, waiting, he and Avon were probably too far underground. They would have to get back to the surface...but it was hard to contemplate climbing those steps; he really didn't think Avon could make it.

Sighing, Blake shifted around, resting his back against the stony wall and gathering Avon closer, letting his head rest against Avon's, his eyelids drooping as exhaustion stole over him.

#

"Shh, be careful, Leesah," the old man cautioned.

Leesah paid him no heed, however. Her curiosity drew her towards the men sprawled there on the steps, tangled together. "They need help, Zeda."

"They look dead."

But Leesah had reached out to touch them, and shook her head. "They're warm." In fact the dark-haired one was hot. She smoothed a hand over his hair, thinking he was quite beautiful. Now the curly-haired one...yes, there was beauty there as well. And his eyes were open, gazing back at her with faint surprise.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I'm called Leesah; that's Zeda," she pointed at her companion. "And you?"

"Blake." He looked at the man in his arms, laced the fingers of one large hand through the silky hair, cradling the head to him as though he could clasp the man a little closer. "This is Avon. He's hurt, he needs help."

"He has it," Leesah said, looking back at Zeda, and telling him, "You know it's right; come here."

The old man wasn't happy about it, but he came forward, helping Blake to his feet, steadying him as Leesah examined Avon again. "Yes," she said, "this one will need Kestel's help--and we'd better be quick about it." Between them, she and Zeda lifted Avon, carrying him down the last few steps and turning down a passage, Blake keeping very close, never letting Avon out of his sight.

Leesah had a feeling these two were going to be very interesting additions to the community.

#


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