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Justice

By Judith Proctor
Page 3 of 5

      Shona wrinkled her nose. "He smells."

      "So would you," Blake retorted in irritation. "I've been in Federation prisons, I know what they're like." He opened a couple of drawers in the desk, trying to recall where he had put his spare shirt. Clean clothes were a luxury - all laundry here had to be done by hand.

      "Is this what you're looking for?" Shona tossed him a pair of olive green trousers that for some unaccountable reason had been on top of a filing cabinet.

      Blake caught them in one hand, and yanked open another drawer. His shirt nestled on top of a coil of rope, a pile of maps and a small collection of fossils. Tucked into the back of the drawer was a padded waistcoat. He grabbed both items of clothing and threw them in Avon's general direction along with the trousers. "Put these on."

      As he'd half expected, Avon's eyes promptly opened.

      "Any chance of a wash first?" Avon inquired, with an icy look at Shona.

      "You were listening!" she accused. Then she flushed as both men gave her the kind of look reserved for delta grade idiots. She gave Blake the coldest look she could manage under the circumstances and offered to get some water. Blake merely nodded. Taking that as acceptance, Shona left for the lavatory and filled a bucket with hot water. Blake would have to use his own flannel, because she was damned if she was going to lend out hers.

      When she got back, nothing seemed to have changed, apart from the fact that Avon was now sitting instead of lying down. The two men were glaring at one another; she gained the distinct impression that they hadn't spoken a word since she'd left. She plonked the bucked down on the floor without comment, and made to leave.

      Blake raised his hand to stop her. "I'm appointing you counsel for the defence. You've got two hours to put a case together."

      "What!"

      "Somebody's got to do it," Blake said. "I trust you to do the best job that you can."

      "And you're the prosecution?" Avon snarled caustically at Blake.

      "However did you guess?" Blake replied sarcastically. "And if they find you guilty, I'll take great pleasure in executing you myself."

      Avon glared at him. "Do you think you can shoot an unarmed man?"

      Blake paused in the doorway. "I had an excellent teacher." He slammed the door hard shut behind him.

      The bitterness of that exchange left Shona feeling tense and edgy. "Well?" she asked.

      Avon didn't answer for moment. He sat looking at the floor, the argument apparently having drained what little energy he had left. He reached out slowly for Blake's shirt, gripping it tightly in his hand as though it were a touchstone to reality. "Give me ten minutes. I presume you can wait outside the door?" His lips twitched slightly, a smile devoid of all humour. "I don't think you need worry about me escaping through a hole in the woodwork."

      He was certainly right there. None of the offices had more than one way in. Shona took up a position outside the door and waited. After her watch said fifteen minutes had passed, Shona opened the door and looked in. Avon had changed his clothes. His hair was wet, so he'd obviously had a wash; but the man himself was fast asleep, stretched out on top of Blake's sleeping bag.

      Shona felt understandably irritated. She didn't want the job of defence, she hadn't asked for it; but seeing as she was stuck with it, the bastard could at least help. She kicked Avon roughly in the side. He groaned, but didn't get up.

      "Leave me alone," he complained.

      Shona wasn't impressed. This was the man Blake had rated so highly? She said, "You don't seem to realise that your life is on the line. Blake ordered me to help you, so I'm helping. You could at least co-operate."

      Avon sat up slowly, resting his head in his hands for a moment before looking up at her. "As the entire exercise is futile, I see little point in wasting my time with it."

      Shona took a chair from in front of the desk and sat on it, resting her gun on her knee. "Blake always told me that you were smart, and that you never gave up."

      "If you're trying to manipulate me, it's a waste of time. Blake was far better at it than you'll ever be."

      "So you killed him because he tried to manipulate you?"

      "No!" The sudden emotion in Avon's voice caught Shona by surprise.

      "So," she retorted, "you do have some feelings about the issue."

      "Oh, I have feelings," Avon said in a low voice. He changed the subject abruptly. "If you insist in providing a defence for my 'crime', don't you think it would be a good idea to tell me what the evidence is?"

      "The vid tape from the security camera. The Federation broadcast it over half the galaxy." Shona gestured at the monitor on the desk. "Do you want to watch it?"

      Avon said nothing. Choosing to take that as assent, she switched on the monitor and called up the relevant file. Avon's eyes flicked unwillingly to the screen as the short sequence played itself soundlessly through. Watched as he fired three times at an unarmed man, then caught the dying man in his arms. Watched as the scene cut to another camera scanning over the dead bodies, pausing over the faces of each of his friends.

      "Did it ever occur to you," he asked roughly, "that the whole thing could be a fake, a computer simulation?"

      "It's too good," Shona protested. "It's obviously you, and I'd know Roj anywhere." Actually, that wasn't quite true. The man sitting on the sleeping bag at her feet bore little resemblance to the man she had seen on the screen, yet it was him in ways that were hard to define.

      Avon was silent for a moment. Then he made a sound that was almost a laugh. "They can make simulations that are almost perfect. I should know."

      "Are you claiming that this is a simulation?" Shona demanded.

      "No. It matches what I remember."

      "Why do you think your memory is genuine?" she asked out of curiosity. "They tampered with Blake's memory. Why not yours?"

      There was hope in Avon's eyes for a moment, a wild hope that flickered and then died. "There wouldn't be any point. What would they gain from it? They were never going to release me."

      "As you wish." Shona was getting fed up of the entire situation. "Just for the record, would you mind telling me why you did kill him?"

      "Certainly - if just for the record, you'll tell me who he really was."

      "All right," Shona said. "Roj was a clone. He was made by the clonemasters before the Andromedan War. That's all I know about his origins." She looked defensively at Avon. "Don't think any the less for him for that. He was a good man."

      "A clone?" Avon queried. "As if one Blake wasn't bad enough."

      "That's what I said. A clone. So," Shona demanded, "tell me why you shot him."

      Avon was completely in control of himself now, an urbane facade that told her nothing. "Isn't it obvious?" he asked her blandly. "He was a bounty hunter and I was a man with a one million credit bounty on my head. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to go back to sleep."

      

      

The trial was in the power hall. The impressive banks of controls along the walls reflected the level in the reservoir, and showed the amount of power generated as the water flowed down its man-made tunnel. A facility existed to pump water from a lower level back up to the reservoir, but the rebels had never had occasion to use it. Blake's small band filled the room, thirty men and women there for the sake of curiosity and vengeance.

      Blake sat silent behind a table, watching as Avon was brought in. His own feelings were chaotic and uncertain, and that angered him. He'd trusted Avon back on the Liberator, first out of necessity, and later out of a genuine belief in the man. Now that faith lay in small shattered pieces. He could think of no reason why Avon would try to kill him unless Avon had sold out the entire rebellion. Avon had always claimed cynicism and survival as his personal beliefs. What right, Blake asked himself, did he have to feel betrayed, if all Avon had done was to live up to the philosophy he had always claimed for himself?

      Shona took up a position behind a table opposite to Blake's. Without being told, Avon took the empty chair placed between them. There being a general shortage of chairs, everyone else sat down on the floor, using whatever they had available as cushions. Blake waited until they were all settled, before raising a hand for silence. Then he began:


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Judith Proctor

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