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The Thousandth Man

By Helen Parkinson
Page 4 of 15

Servalan listened with interest to Shrinker's report as it was relayed to her personal shuttle en route to Residence One.  She bitterly regretted missing the interrogation, but the meeting with the heads of the Federation policy committee could not be put off, and it most certainly could not be allowed to take place in her absence.  She consoled herself with thoughts of what she could do with Avon and Blake when she returned to the capitol.  Explaining to Avon that it was Blake's fault he had been hurt would be a real joy and would, she had no doubt, go a long way towards bringing him round to her point of view.  If it didn't, however, she had a second plan of attack - introducing Avon to Sula Chesku.  Perhaps if he proved really recalcitrant, Servalan thought, he would have Sula replace Shrinker as interrogator.  Now that would really be interesting.  Servalan smiled and drew a blood red fingertip across her lips.  She was very much looking forward to seeing Kerr Avon broken and was certain she had the means to do it.

***

Blake tried banging on his door, demanding to se Avon, but the guard who eventually turned up simply shook his head.  Unless, of course, Blake wanted to talk first.  Dispirited, Blake turned back to his bunk and sat down.  Worry and anger gnawed at him mercilessly and every time he closed his eyes he could see the blood and burn on Avon's face.

He was still slumped on the cot, head in hands, when he heard the door click open.  He groaned quietly.  It couldn't be time already.  He didn't move as a single guard walked into the cell and stopped, staring down at him.

"Blake," the guard hissed.  "Damn you, man, will you get up?  The tape will only cover us for another ten minutes."

As the sound of his voice registered, Blake looked up.  "Grant?" he asked, disbelieving.  The guard moved closer.

"Who the hell were you expecting?" Grant asked.  "What have they done to you?"  Blake got to his feet and the look on his face made Grant regret asking the question. "OK, forget I said that.  We have to move."

"Only you?" Blake asked as he took the gun Grant offered him.

"Only me," Del Grant confirmed.  He pushed the helmet off slightly to show his face.  "Satisfied?"  Blake nodded.  "Good.  Can we go now?  The surveillance loop won't last much longer."  Grant pushed Blake out the door, pulled the face plate of his helmet back down, and locked the door.  The closer things looked to normal when the cameras came back on, the better.  He sighed heavily as Blake turned the wrong way.  "It's the other way out," he told the other man.  Blake shook off the restraining hand, only stopping when he reached the door of another cell.  "Can you open it?" he asked Grant.

"We haven't time to free all the prisoners," he protested,  "I'm sorry, I feel for them too, but I..."

"Grant, open the door," Blake demanded.

for getting mixed up with this crazy man.  He opened the door easily with his stolen key, only to be pushed roughly aside as Blake entered the cell. Grant followed more slowly.  There was a lump on the cot.  A man, dressed in local costume, dirty prison overall.  He had his back to the door and didn't react as Blake barged his way over.

"We can't carry anyone," Grant protested.    Blake ignored him.  Reaching out, he grasped the prisoner's shoulder and rolled him over.  "Avon!"  Grant exclaimed, shocked.  He recognised the other despite the blood,  He moved to join Blake, allowing the door to close behind him. 

"Makes a difference, doesn't it?" Blake asked.  He shook Avon lightly, trying to wake him. 

"Just enough of a difference to get us killed." Grant muttered.  But he had no intention of leaving Avon behind, even if Blake had given him that option. 

Avon stirred lightly under Blake's shaking, lifting an arm to ward off the expected blow.

"Avon, it's all right," Blake reassured him, taking the raised hand in his own.  "We're here to help you."

"Blake?" Avon asked as he tried to open his eyes.  The right one was swollen shut and it hurt.  He moved a hand as if to touch it and the hand was held by another.  Disoriented, he looked up.  Blake felt sick.  Close up and in the light, the injury looked dreadful.  Avon's face was swollen and burned.

"We have to move, now," Grant said.  "You'll have to carry him.  Can you do that?" he asked Blake.

"The alternative is leaving him here," Blake replied.  "What the hell do you think?"

"No," Avon protested.  He was afraid, in pain and in darkness.  He could hear voices, voices of people he knew, but they couldn't be here.  He forced himself to sit up and almost fell again as the pain in his head increased.  Strong arms held him, freely offering support.  "Can't see," he told the owner of those arms, and lifted a hand to explore his face.  Someone caught hold of that hand.

"You've been hurt, Avon," Blake's voice told him.  "We haven't time for explanations; we have to get out of here now."

"No," Avon protested.  "Must wait for Shrinker."  The words came out slurred, as if he had been drinking.

"What the hell!  Wait for Shrinker?  What does he mean?" Grant asked.  Blake shrugged. 

"Must wait for Shrinker," Avon insisted.  "He's hurting her."

"Her?" Blake demanded urgently.  "Who's 'her', Avon?  Cally?"

Avon shook his head.  "Anna," he said very softly.

Blake looked at Grant, who had paled noticeably.   "Anna's dead, Avon," he said gently, and moved closer.

"Yes," Avon hissed.  He reached out one hand.  Peering lopsidedly at Del Grant, he grabbed the other's shoulder and pulled him down closer.  "He did it," he told Grant.  "Shrinker.  Got to stop him."

"Oh hell, Avon," Grant whispered.  He closed his own hand over the one that clutched his shoulder, ignoring the bloody marks it left.

Blake sat on the bunk and put a gentle hand around Avon's shoulder, half afraid to touch lest he hurt the other man further.  The sight of the burn and bruises across Avon's chest and shoulder were still bright in Blake's memory.  He looked up at Del Grant and saw compassion for Avon in his eyes - as well as anger. "We have to go now, Del," he reminded him.

Grant nodded and pulled away, taking his eyes from Avon's ruined face with difficulty.  "Yes," he agreed, but before he could do more, there was a soft sound at the cell door.  The sound of the lock clicking open in response to the insertion of the real key.  Grant waved Blake over to the door and moved to cover the other side.  Avon didn't seem to react at all.

Avon remained on the bed.  Blind and confused, he didn't wonder at the sudden departure of Blake and Grant.  He'd been seeing things for some time now.  He did, however, offer brief thanks that it had been a benevolent vision this time.  Not like the times he had seen Anna, body broken and twisted, eyes filled with fear and hate - and pain.  Vaguely, he registered a sound that might have been gunshots, but they didn't begin to intrude on his dark, private domain.

Blake and Grant waited, one either side of the door as it slid open and a guard walked in, followed by a single member of the interrogation team. 

"Ready for another session, are you?" the interrogator said before he realised that Avon was not alone.  The guard went for his gun but he was too slow.  Blake shot him and the interrogator made a dive out the door.  Grant followed, killing him.  Out in the corridor were two more guards and another interrogator.  Del Grant killed both guards and aimed his gun at the unarmed man.  The interrogator raised his hands in surrender.  It was Shrinker.  Avon's words ran through his mind.  This was the man who had killed Anna.  Avon never got his facts wrong.  Grant lifted his gun.

Blake appeared at the doorway, Avon hanging onto his shoulder, as Grant pulled the trigger.

"Grant," he protested.  "He wasn't armed."

"That," Grant told him, "was Shrinker."

"Shrinker?"  Avon's head came up, blindly seeking the man he had come to kill.

"He's dead," Grant told him.  Blake moved closer to the corpse, pulling Avon with him, and now he could see it was the man who had blinded Avon.

"Who?" Avon asked, attempting to focus on Grant.  "I want to..."

"I did," Grant told him.  "Anna was my sister."  Avon seemed to accept that and allowed Blake to pull him away from a corpse he couldn't even see.

"Where?" Blake asked Grant.

"The waste disposal."  At Blake's look of fastidious horror, Grant couldn't help but grin.  "Beggars can't be choosers," he said, shrugging, and Blake could hear the grin in his voice even if he couldn't see it through the helmet.

"Tell him that," he said, indicating Avon.  Grant didn't reply.

"I have an old plan of this place.  It should be possible to use the old cellars to get out of here.  If we use the right disposal chute, anyway."

"And if we don't?" Blake asked.  Grant's reply, whatever it might have been, was drowned as the security alarms went off.  Avon jumped.

"Easy," Blake calmed him.

"My tape just ran out,"  Grant said unnecessarily.  "We have to move, this way, now."  He grabbed Avon's other arm, making the man moan in pain.  Grant's expression was apologetic, but they didn't have time for refinements.  The lock he had placed on the outer doors wouldn't hold long, then the place would be crawling with guards.

Even with Grant's help, moving Avon wasn't easy.  The man was confused and hurt and not at all cooperative.  Blake was himself bruised and sore.  He was fairly certain one of the early sessions had broken a rib, and that was making itself felt now in no uncertain terms.  They stumbled a few steps when Grant had an idea.  The plan of the prison had included quite a lot of information about the type of people held in this particular set of cells.

"Keep going that way," he told Blake, pushing a small plastic sheet into his hand.  "The plan's on that."

"What are you going to do?"

"Create a diversion," Grant told him.

"Grant..."

"I'll catch up with you," Grant promised, and he meant it.  Heroic suicidal gestures were no more his forte than they were Avon's.  "Just get him out of here."

As soon as Blake was moving, Grant went to the first cell door and opened it.  Pushing it wide, he didn't even bother to look inside.

"You're free," he shouted as he moved on to the next door.  "Now get out."  He had opened about eight doors, paying no more attention to the cells' occupants than he had to the first, when the outer door crashed open and the guards appeared.  Grant pressed back against the wall as the troopers took in the scene.

Grant's actions had freed about twelve prisoners.  They were very confused, in various states of undress and of health.  They filled a narrow corridor with a noisy, dirty tide of abused humanity.  They had been concentrating their attentions on the bodies. One, a young woman, was repeatedly kicking Shrinker's corpse while tears rained unchecked down her face.  Blood now spattered her feet and legs, which were bare.  No one had made any attempt to talk to Grant or to escape.  Abruptly, a man near the door spotted the stunned guards, and with a cry, he threw himself at the first.  He actually managed to knock the guard down before anyone else could react.  The guard disappeared under stamping feet as his companions came to life, shooting his attacker.  Grant smiled grimly.  The noise and general chaos should keep the guards busy for a while.  It might even hide the fact someone had actually escaped, at least briefly.  How he had to find Blake and Avon.

***


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