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Pattern of Infinity - Part V - THE LIFE OF HIS EPOCH

By J. Kel
Page 2 of 18

Good Lord, Avon! A prisoner again. Never innocent of the state of incarceration (never innocent period), yet he found it this time to be particularly jarring. For one of the few times of his life, words like "unfair" and "embarrassing" occurred to him. The guards who roughly escorted him with measured stomps and the medical personnel who examined him coldly seemed to have not the slightest idea who he might be, or if they did, were utterly indifferent. They scarcely seemed to be able to stifle their contempt.

In this neck of the galactic woods, "dead" Avon was stale news indeed. Small compensation that such might favor his survival! Here, amidst the wholesome odor of rubbing alcohol and the cheerful glare of cold chrome, he was reduced to being but another derelict. Just another stellar hobo who had caught the night flight to Lindor eager for a handout and a taste of that bizarre notion called freedom, at least a struggling democracy's convoluted version of it. He might as well be dead if this was to be his fate.

So as we now rejoin our hero (he has been missed), flanked between two heavily armed guards and in his new more restrained "apparel" (take a whiff Avon, it's sarcasm), we observe him as he is marched before the commander of the base (the base is one of Lindor's advanced defense outposts on the outer perimeters of the system, say a billion or so kilometers from the home world). In mood, Avon is struggling to become more analytical than resentful: the pose assumed is that of a distant, if sullen, observer. Sadly, he is not yet his chipper self. The man before him, he surmises (Avon guesses him to be an officer high enough in rank to act on his own and to relish the opportunity to do so) could be more bad news. Was life with her so bad?

He examines his surroundings. This room is almost barren, the most conspicuous features being a huge picture of President Sarkoff behind the officer, a monitor now blank, that dominates the white wall to his interrogator's right, and a desk with a monitor directly before said interrogator.

Avon tried to be big about it.

The officer looks at him with disgust as if to suggest to his captive that he dare not attempt to hide anything here. Well, such is the military! For a man supposedly in service of the only democracy in the Galaxy, his manner hardly seemed different from any Federation minion, but Avon tactfully kept that observation to himself: he hadn't really expected to be made welcome.

"Hand any better?"

"Your doctors have not succeeded in rendering it inoperable, if that is what you mean."

"Glad to hear that. The Lindor Defense Forces treat captives well - whatever mission they may be on." He straightened in his chair. "Name!"

Avon's frame was congealed in the rumbled and oversize outfit. As so many times since his rescue, he said, "Kerr Avon," adding tonelessly, "late of the Terran Federation." He gestured to the monitor, "Trust it."

The voice activator on the monitor spelled out the name. A scowl spreading across the officer's face as if someone had spilled a bottle of deep irritation. He had not expected the prisoner to continue to insist on that absurdity. Yet no alarm sounded . . .

"'Lord Kerr Avon . . . ," he growled, "and I am Blake's clone. Let me put it this way," he leaned slightly forward, "I grant you do bear a passing resemblance to the late Lord Protector-bet it's effective with the ladies-but like faith and fidelity, it just isn't so. So would you care to just once, for my benefit - ignore the gentlemen beside you - tell the truth? It can't hurt."

"That is my name and identity. I regret I do not have any identification with me to serve as proof. My departure was rather abrupt," he added.

The officer laughed. "I do believe that! Never mind, our medical people have gotten enough samples from you to enable the computers to track you down. If you can be tracked down. If you are a Federation agent, you or your superiors or both are not very bright. Care to try again? From where did you 'depart' so abruptly?"

Avon eyes roamed the room. "The Black Shield." Even he was starting to question it.

The officer's voice was strained as he glowered at Avon. "Consistency. Why did anyone ever think it was a virtue? Friend, let me explain something. The Black Shield is by the reckoning of rational people thousands of light years from here. There is no conceivable way you or anyone could have traversed that distance in the time allotted in of all things, a lifecraft." The man stood and roared, "Everything about you is a lie!. Lord Avon is dead, dead! We keep up with the news! This is the Lindor Confederacy." He snapped on the monitor and a black void appeared. There were a few moments of awkward silence.

He adjusted the screen to show the planetary landscape, then made a gesture as if shooing away a fly. He smiled mirthlessly and slowly returned to his chair. "The only reason I asked for this post was that when I retire, not too many years distant, I will receive a somewhat more generous pension. My pension means a great deal to me. By nature I am a patient man, but war jitters are high these days. I would hate to have to bend the rules to get the truth."

Tact now failed Avon. "The name is Kerr Avon. Do you require assistance in spelling it?"

The officer said nothing. The men holding Avon's arms tightened their grip. "The computers will inform you that I am speaking the truth," Avon added.

The officer glanced over to the monitor. Lindor's far off sun, just above the horizon of a bleak white and rocky landscape was little brighter than the surrounding stars. In the black of space, the occasional flare of a photon rocket could be seen. After a while, he turned to Avon and landed both elbows with a thud on his desk. "It's a cold day - weather forecasting is so easy here," he mused. "Return him to his cell. Computers also are known to lie, or breakdown. Is that what you are counting on?"

Avon was silent as the guards returned him to his cell. "I will not see you again until I know who you are," the officer said, his eyes empty as gun barrels, "And I don't want to see you even then. Dismissed!"

Whatever the failings of bureaucracies (the "vast mass of routine" in the words of one philosopher), and many they are, they still can possess strength in their individual employees. As noted, the Lindor Defense Forces (LDF for short-bureaucracies love acronyms) had reacted after a fashion to the intrusion of an unknown individual into their jurisdiction. Without proper, indeed, any identification on him, (also noted) suspicions were raised. But strangers wandering in from the absolute cold of space were hardly news. This particular instance would have escaped official consciousness like a deeply buried stone had not the curiosity of one employee been roused to pursue the matter. Something was odd about the story, beyond its sheer implausibility.

Ignoring the strictures of bureaucratic protocol, passing uncaring superiors and indifferent peers, cajoling anyone who would listen, this individual ultimately got access to the "Link" files. These were files captured from the Federation some years before by an act of breathtaking electronic chicanery. What had happened was that the security of Federation personnel files had been breached - temporarily - by Lindor electronic surveillance. What came out was a grab bag of medical detail that no one knew what to make of. In the bag was data on one Kerr Avon (though not Servalan-her files, if they existed at all, were utterly inaccessible). [Editor's note: Nor Blake's-his had long since been destroyed-V.R.] The information was cataloged, stored, and almost forgotten.

But this employee remembered. The transmitted tests from the distant station where the captive resided were compared with the file. More hours followed as the employee tried to convince anyone in hearing what he had discovered-the undeniable truth that the captive was indeed the Kerr Avon.

Finally (it's well into the second day now), someone high up grudgingly assented to look into the matter. Maybe it was a slow day. We'll never know.

A few hours later, much faster, the wheels began to turn. Actions were forthcoming. A certain officer, late of a remote outpost in the backwaters of the Lindor system and a relative to that high official was given a stunning promotion for brilliant detective work. A cruiser on routine patrol suddenly found itself racing to that moonlet with similar promotions for its officers. Things moved faster still. Sarkoff himself was informed by anxious aides. And Avon, late Minister of Science and Defense of the Terran Federation found himself once again elevated to that state where his clothes were improved, if no more attractive.

Shaking the hand of the base commander as both prepared for their departures, he was informed he was being summoned before President Sarkoff himself. At this stage, Avon hardly cared.

As for the employee, nobody remembered him at all.


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