Love's IllusionsBy Willa Shakespeare
Page 2 of 10
Blake confessed to a few misgivings himself. The free-trader station
looked, more than anything else, like a slightly larger version of Space
Command's headquarters. Granted the toroid portion was fatter, and dotted
with far more viewports, indicating an emphasis on living areas - still,
what could be so exciting about the inside of yet another metal box? Besides
the availability of warm, willing human beings. Yes, there was that. Only
Blake didn't think it would be too good for his image to indulge himself.
Sooner or later, it would leak out, and the rebellion needed to see him as
something above the common man, without weaknesses such as lust, or desire,
or even... love. Oh, yes, he needed love, despite his crew's opinion to the
contrary . He simply didn't dare let it happen, not with the fate of billions
resting on his shoulders. He sighed. When he started sounding like a cheap
romance novel, it was time he did something to ease the stress.
Perhaps he could simply get totally blitzed. There were dangers in that, too.
But that was an allowable vice, and if he wound up having a mean drunk at
least that would let off steam. With Liberator's treasure room
backing him, he could afford to pay for any amount of wreckage. |
"Give it a chance, Vila," Gan rumbled. He was smiling, and put one hand on Vila's shoulder. "Jenna says they have the latest role-playing games."
"Games." Vila was not impressed. "What about sensory ecstasy hours? That's my kind of game. That and a warm and friendly cuddle."
"Ah, but there are role-playing games, and there are role-playing games," Gan said, nudging Vila in the ribs.
After Vila got his breath back, he said, "Well, maybe, but I'd rather have the real thing."
"They have that too."
Vila brightened. "And for once I'll have credits to burn. Twins, I think. Blondes. Or maybe redheads, with lots of freckles."
"Why freckles?" Gan asked, mildly.
Vila gave a wide grin. "Ever play 'connect-the-dots' ?"
Blake couldn't help chuckling. Vila was irrepressible. Presumably the Federation had found him so, too. "Jenna's made all the arrangements," he said.
Jenna grinned back at Blake. "Found a few friends in port, too." She winked at Cally. "One of them knows a pilot from Auron who wangled a stayover. He calls himself 'pilot four - zero ' which I think is taking security a bit far. "
Cally's smile bloomed. "He has a name." Her eyes twinkled. "Where did your friends say he was staying?"
"They didn't, but we can find out when we go down." Jenna put in the final lock on the navigation console and nodded. "As soon as Blake gives the go-ahead."
Both women and Gan and Vila gazed at Blake expectantly. He paused for effect, then spread his arms wide. "All right. But," he yelled as they turned to run for the teleport chamber, "be careful!"
"Yeah, right, we will, of course, Blake," filtered back with varying degrees of sincerity, amid the pounding of four sets of boots.
Blake looked at his one remaining crew man. "Avon?"
Avon settled firmly into the flight deck couch, crossing his arms. "I am not going."
"Yes, you are." Blake was serious.
Avon gave Blake a cold look. "You've disrupted my life enough. I am an Alpha. In case you have forgotten what that means, I do not stoop to tawdry, bought and sold, gratification. You are not going to interfere in my sex life."
"I'm not interfering in your bloody sex life, man. We all need this holiday, you included." Blake was getting annoyed all over again. Why did Avon always blame Blake for everything? Avon had gotten himself a life-sentence to Cygnus Alpha entirely without Blake's help. And why the hell should he resent fighting the Federation? From what little he'd said, he'd no more love for the system than Blake. He could be frightened, yes, that would be understandable. But no, Avon definitely was a spoiled, resentful brat who wanted the Liberator for his own private yacht.
"Then why not leave me to my own devices?" Avon chose that moment to rub his hand over the couch in a possessive fashion.
"It isn't your device," Blake said, low and threatening.
Avon looked up, and the mildly irritated expression on his face hardened. "I see. So much for trust."
Blake shook his head. He hadn't meant to put it that plainly. Although Avon was a bastard, there were times he was as easily hurt as anyone else. "I do trust you," he said. He sat on the couch, but not too close. He stretched and put his arms out over the sides of the couch.
"With reservations, " Avon noted. "I take it that if I do not go down, you will not go down?"
Blake rolled his head, easing the tension in his neck. "I'd like to go," he admitted, "but wouldn't you be the first to call me a fool, under the circumstances?"
Avon showed his teeth. No one who knew anything about predators would have called it a smile. "I call you a fool under a great many circumstances." Abruptly, Avon stood. "But I can see I will never hear the end of this from the others if you give up your holiday because of me." He started toward the teleport.
"You'll go?" Blake wasn't certain Avon had actually agreed.
"I'll go," Avon said, "I won't enjoy myself, but I'll go."
Blake grinned at Avon's stiff, leather-clad back. Avon's pettish 'I won't have fun, and you can't make me,' was so in character. Oh, how he'd love to teach Avon a lesson, take a little of the starch out of that stuffed shirt. No, that wouldn't be very politic. But it was amusing to think about it.
Blake was still thinking about it, and about Avon's precisely worded sense of honor when they arrived at the courtesy centre where visitors checked in, verified their credit accounts, and decided on their entertainment. Avon had said he would come down. He hadn't said he'd stay.
Avon was glancing at vid-brochures with heavy-lidded disinterest. He was attracting some attention, Blake noted with no surprise. Avon in full pout, with dark eyes smouldering, and spine ram-rod straight under the tight, silver-studded black leather, was a carnal invitation. A pretty girl who was also wearing black leather came over to Avon, and ran the tips of her long-taloned fingernails down his back. "Wouldn't you like to come to my dungeon?" she said in a rich, smoky voice.
"Sorry, no." Avon noticed Blake noticing the two of them and a wicked smile spread across his face. "Perhaps you'd like to ask my 'friend'," Avon suggested, pointing Blake out to her.
She gazed at Blake doubtfully. "I don't think so. Robin Hood's not my type."
"Nor mine," Avon said, smiling at her. He kissed her briefly, patted her on the rump, and said, "Now, run along and play."
She shrugged, good-natured, and continued prowling.
Blake came over and stood beside Avon.
"What do you want now?" Avon said. He was running the vid-snaps so fast that Blake found it hard to believe he was absorbing the information. But then, you never knew with Avon. Maybe he had decided to unbend and join the party. No. Not likely.
"I just thought I'd watch your back." Blake indicated a couple of huge, blonde men who were staring at Avon with marked interest, now that the girl had been refused.
"I can handle myself," Avon snapped. "Why don't you go amuse yourself."
"And where will you be?" Blake couldn't help asking.
Avon's lips curled. "If you want to know the truth, I'll probably be back on the ship. Do you want me to promise I won't run off with it?"
"Would it do any good?" Blake knew the instant he said it, that it was the worst possible thing he could have done.
Avon's eyes went dead black. "Obviously not." His lips moved soundlessly for a moment as he stared blankly past Blake. "All a man has is his word, Blake. When that is worthless..."
Blake grabbed Avon by the shoulders and shook him. "No, Avon. I didn't mean it that way."
"Oh?" Avon said quietly, without resisting. "Then how precisely did you mean it?"
"I just meant..." Blake gazed into the cynical eyes, and thought he saw pain behind them. He swallowed hard. "I can't help it, Avon. That ship is everything to me; to my cause. I want to trust you, but you don't make it easy. Do you have any idea how many times you've said you'll take it?"
"Never." Avon shook his head. "I merely said it would be mine one day."
Blake considered the difference. "And how will you get it if you don't take it?"
"There will come a time when you will need me , something that only I can do for your 'cause'," Avon snapped the word out with obvious distaste. "And you will want it so badly you would give me anything, and everything for it."
"You think I would just hand over the ship, Jenna, Cally, Vila and Gan along with it?"
Avon nodded. "That's the difference between you and me, Blake. You use people, you don't really give a damn about any of us. You'd gladly see all of us flayed on the altar of freedom, just so long as you win."
That tore through Blake. Probably because of the core of truth. He had no life except for the cause. The Federation had seen to that. They'd destroyed him and they were destroying others. Every day millions of people suffered because he hadn't been clever enough, strong enough, ruthless enough back when he had his movement on Earth. If he hadn't been a woolly-headed idealist then, maybe it would all be over. His rage broke free and he began shouting at Avon, and shaking him so hard the other man could barely keep his footing. "NO! NO!"
Avon struggled, but Blake was stronger. He was unaware of anything except Avon's face, snarling back at him, until he felt himself pulled away. He looked at his captors, the enormous blondes he'd seen earlier and realized he could never defeat them. He fought anyway. People were gathering, staring and pointing. Avon was struggling with several people clinging to him, trying to get back at Blake.
"What is the meaning of this?"
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