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Frozen In Hell

By Julia Stamford
Page 2 of 4

      Blake grinned to himself, then inquired politely, "And what about sharing body heat?"

      Avon ignored the provocation, just clucked disapprovingly at him. "You'd either get cramps or the fidgets. You wouldn't enjoy the former, I wouldn't enjoy the latter."

      Fine, he didn't give a damn one way or the other. Well, if he was honest, he did. He'd rather avoid temptation. He grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around himself, then sat down on one of the mattresses. Avon followed suit, and they opened one of the food packs each.

      "If you're that serious about making money, you should invent a way of making these taste like something other than warm cardboard," Blake declared after the first couple of mouthfuls. He speared another chunk of the offending foodstuff and examined it mournfully.

      "I think the idea is that you need to be hungry enough to want to eat them. That way you can make them last." Avon pulled a face as he took another bite. " At least, I can't believe they could be this tasteless by accident."

      "Well, you're the one who appreciates fine food. Is that why you tried to steal five million, so that you could afford the best?"

      "No."

      It was clear from Avon's tone that he had no intention of expanding on that. Blake was tempted to push for more details, but decided that this wasn't the time to provoke one of Avon's sulking fits. He already knew why the five million - Avon's idea of freedom.

      "Never mind, we'll have something decent to eat when we get back to the Liberator."

      "Ah yes, home sweet home, with its attendant collection of heroic freedom fighters. Who shall we succour next, I wonder?"

      The bitterness was more than Avon's usual cynicism. Blake ignored it, and they fell silent as they finished their meal. By then, it was clear that Liberator had either fought and lost, or was running far. Avon said as much, adding, "We are unlikely to be picked up for several hours at least. We will need to sleep, but in shifts. It's dangerous to sleep in this cold. You might not wake up again."

      Blake quirked an eyebrow at him. "Time to share the body heat?" This time he was quite serious. It no longer seemed a joke, with the temperature plummeting.

      Avon murmured an agreement, and started shuffling the mattresses around. "Help me with this. We need it propped up against the wall."

      Going to help him, Blake asked why.

      "Because one of us at least will have to stay sitting up to avoid falling asleep, and it will be more comfortable leaning against the wall. The mattress will be more effective insulation than a blanket." It didn't have Avon's usual biting sarcasm, a worrying sign.

      "What's wrong?" Blake asked.

      "The temperature's dropping faster than I expected. We will have to be very careful about conserving heat. Or we will freeze to death."

      Avon's grimness finally made Blake realise that they could be facing serious danger, not just a period of severe discomfort. He hastened to help Avon in creating a shelter from the cold. In the end, they settled on propping mattresses against both walls of a corner and a mattress on the floor, and draping a couple of blankets over to form a makeshift tent. Crude, but at least it would help provide a small pocket of relatively warm air to breathe. Then they settled themselves into a pile of the remaining blankets.

      "So who takes first watch? I don't mind either way," Blake asked.

      "I will." No surprise there, Avon tended to insomnia anyway.

      Blake curled up on the floor, glad of the thick mattress beneath him and a warm leg against his back. Avon leaned over him to tuck a blanket securely around his head, saying "Keep your head covered, or you'll lose a lot of heat."

      Blake fell asleep surprisingly quickly, and resented being shaken awake some time later. It made him realise what Avon had meant about sleeping being dangerous. It was colder, even within the stuffy tent. He sat up, mumbling, "My watch?", and was startled when Avon grabbed his hand and pinched the skin on the back, then let go.

      "What was that about?" he demanded.

      "Checking to see if you have hypothermia," Avon replied, attention still focused on the patch of abused skin. "You appear to be all right. For now, at least. If you do that, and the colour doesn't come back immediately, you have problems."

      He continued, "Unfortunately, I am not all right. I am smaller than you, so I am losing heat faster. I need you to keep me warm."

      Shorter, slighter build, and no tendency to fat. Avon would indeed lose heat faster. Trying to lighten the tone a little, fighting off fear, Blake said, "I don't see the problem in that. I get to cuddle you."

      Avon grinned slightly. "You are about to find out just how uncomfortable it can be to share body heat. I intend to have as much surface area in contact with you as possible." And before a startled Blake could form a reply, Avon slid on to his lap and leaned back against his chest.

      Avon was lightly built, but not that light, and Blake hastily rearranged himself so that Avon was sitting on the mattress rather than on his legs. Then he lightly grasped Avon's shoulders to ease him into a more comfortable position. As he did so, he brushed against the hand Avon was using to tuck a blanket more securely. It was ice-cold.

      "Avon, you should have done this sooner. You're frozen. Why didn't you wake me?"

      "Because I think that you may need all the strength you have, and I didn't want to disturb your rest before it was necessary." His voice was matter-of-fact, but Avon was clearly very worried.

      Blake wondered what their chances were.

      "You really think we could die, don't you? How can you face it so calmly? I know we've faced risks before, but just sitting waiting for death isn't the same thing."

      There was a harsh chuckle that vibrated against his chest, then the reply, "It isn't the first time I've had to sit waiting. At least this time I'm not waiting in eager anticipation."

      He noticed that Avon was making some sort of odd motion under the enveloping blankets, and briefly wondered was he was doing, before abruptly realising. He'd seen Avon massaging one hand with the other often enough, it had simply never occurred to him why Avon might do it.

      "You were physically tortured under interrogation, weren't you?"

      "Isn't everyone?" came the half-mocking reply.

      "Not to the extent of breaking your hands. That isn't standard procedure." Blake couldn't remember much about his own interrogation, but he did remember that much.

      He couldn't see Avon's face clearly, but the soft voice in reply suggested that Avon was lost in memory. "Ah, well, if you have a prisoner who's resistant to the standard techniques, and who insists his motives weren't political when they couldn't have been anything else..."

      Remembering what Vila had said to him when they'd first met, Blake wondered how many of his crew had made it to Liberator because they were resistant to brain-washing techniques. It could be useful. He commented, "So you're naturally resistant to the interrogation machines?" And was shaken by the answer.

      "Oh, not naturally. It took a great deal of training."

      The implications were astounding.

      "And who trained you?"

      But Avon had evidently decided he'd revealed enough. "Eventually they decided I was telling the truth. They were kind enough to provide me with medical treatment before depositing me in a holding cell. Presumably to ensure I was in a fit state to continue if there was any reason to drag me back in before I was deported. Fortunately there wasn't."

      Blake considered what he'd heard, then put his arms around Avon and hugged him. "Fortunately for me, and the rest of Liberator's crew. I don't think we'd have done it without you."

      Then he took one of Avon's hands in his, saying, "Don't do that. You'll only damage the tissues if you warm them too quickly," and held it until some of the chill had receded. When it had warmed a little and could be flexed without risk, he started to massage it gently. There was a sharp intake of breath as Avon stiffened, and Blake hastily stopped and asked, "Am I hurting you?"

      "It's just the feeling returning. It will pass."


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