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And besides the man is dead

By Helen Patrick
Page 2 of 3

The young man would have made a good lecturer. He'd spent the best part of the morning putting esoteric physics into a form that could be understood by a scientist from a completely unrelated field, and he wasn't a physicist himself. It was enough to at least demonstrate where to start on the problems of ensuring that no uninvited guests hitched a ride on the teleport. "Thank you, Blake. I think that's given me a basic grasp of the problems. I'll need to think about it now, but I'll discuss it further with you later."

Blake glanced at the clock. "It's lunch time, anyway. Would you care to have lunch here? Our canteen isn't particularly fancy, but the food's hot and it tastes good."

And it would give him a chance to talk to Blake, find out a little more about him. "Yes, thank you. And perhaps you could show me your facilities afterwards."

Blake smiled a most charming smile. "Of course, I'm sorry. I meant to give you the guided tour this morning, but I got rather carried away. Speaking of facilities..."

Oh yes. "Yes, before lunch would probably be a good idea."

Blake stood and walked to the door, waited for him to follow. "This way."

The gents were clean, well-lit, and that was all he had the chance to notice. Blake was still talking. The man could talk the hind leg off a donkey, once he got onto a subject he was interested in. Now it was a rant about security, and the bugging of toilets.

"Do they really?" He was used to the notion of security, but that was still something of a surprise. Disconcerting, too. He wasn't sure he cared for the idea of bored troopers making bets on his anatomy and prowess. "In that case, should you be using that sort of language about them?" He felt somewhat self-conscious as he zipped up his fly, and not just because any trooper betting on him would have lost the current round.

Blake grinned. "They're used to me. One of them complained to me last week -- apparently I had spoilt his chances on the betting pool by not swearing at them for over a week."

He couldn't help laughing at that, even knowing that they were being watched. Blake's cheerful acceptance of the conditions he worked under was rather infectious. "Did you offer to reimburse him?"

"Of course not. It's against regulations for the troopers to bet. I couldn't possibly lead the poor man into error."

"That must have been most distressing for him. No doubt you enliven their day -- bug monitoring must be a deeply boring job."

"Oh, you'd be surprised," Blake said smugly. He addressed the mirror over the sink. "It's amazing what you lads see, isn't it? And some of you thought that the boffins didn't understand the concept 'sex'."

He glanced at the mirror. No sign of a bug, but then there wouldn't be. "Do they really think that?"

Blake chuckled. "Not any more. Although they don't get as many free shows since one of them said in the canteen that he hadn't believed that it was physically possible to do some of the things the Computing Section get up to, let alone that the Computing Section knew how." He led the way out. "Not that Computing took offence; they have no respect for other people's privacy themselves, so they assumed they were being watched and didn't care. But it hadn't occurred to some of the people around here that everything is watched, not just the areas with visible cameras."

"How very foolish of them, if this is a high-security establishment." They had reached the canteen -- fortunately the queue was short. "I don't think that I should care to provide evidence that I know what sex is."

Blake looked him up and down, before taking a tray and collecting an assortment of plates. "Oh, you don't need to convince me."

This was quite the most entertaining morning he had had all week. "My dear boy, are you trying to flirt with me?" He did hope so. It would be nice to have a young man try to pull him, rather than a better exam mark or personnel report. And this one showed definite promise in the post-coital conversation department.

Blake grinned at him unashamedly. "I like older men."

"I'll take that as a compliment." He gestured with his tray. "Shall we sit down and eat?"

"This way." Blake led him through to the dining area. It was separated from the serving area by a screen, but the noise level wasn't any lower -- clattering of knifes and forks rather than serving implements, and loud conversation. They found an empty table and sat down, and ate a lunch that lived up to Blake's promise; nothing fancy, but hot and tasting good. No more glimpses of the man behind the engineer, though. Back to business. Blake was still chattering incessantly about the project and its engineering problems, with the occasional foray into complaints about security making his job more difficult, when they left their trays in the disposal area and left the canteen. More on the gossip than the hard science level now, but it was still useful data. Designing an idiot-proof quarantine routine would mean knowing how idiots were likely to behave when confronted with a teleport system.

Then they toured the facilities, without an improper word spoken. Finally Blake took him to reception to sign out, and insisted on escorting him to the exit. "Thank you for coming, Dr Bellfriar. I'd like to speak to you this evening, when you've had a chance to think over your initial impressions. We should be able to draft some suggestions for the meeting tomorrow."

Oh, very neat. It had the advantage of being perfectly true, since it would be useful to go over his thoughts with the engineer before writing a draft proposal. "My apartment, please. I will need access to my references to make my notes." And my apartment is, so far as I am aware, not bugged. Yet. He pulled out his notepad, scribbled his address, and tore off the sheet and handed it to Blake.

"Thanks," Blake said, tucking the paper away. "I'll bring dinner with me. I can put it on expenses, you probably can't until you're formally signed up as a consultant."

Better and better. This evening should be most entertaining.


###


Dinner looked suspiciously as if it had come from the same source as lunch, but it was once again perfectly adequate. They discussed isolation procedures over the meal, and he started to wonder if he had misread Blake, if this evening was nothing more than work.

Blake waited until the dishes had been cleared away before making his move. "It appears that we'll be working together for several weeks, Dr Bellfriar. I think we should get to know one another a little better."

"And just how much better do you think we should get to know each other?"

"Oh, intimately," Blake said, and put an arm around his waist.

"Do you recognise any authority at all?"

"Only when I think the authority is earned." Blake's eyes were twinkling. "I certainly recognise you as an authority on virology."

"I do have some knowledge of other aspects of biology."

"I'm pleased to hear it," Blake said, and kissed him.

Very nice technique, forceful without being overpowering. Taking control initially, but willing to cede it. He broke the kiss off. "I think that matters would proceed much more smoothly in the bedroom."

"This once I'll bow to your authority."


###


And Blake had, not just once, but twice. All in all, it had been a very satisfactory evening. It had been followed by several more very satisfying evenings. There would have been more, but a few weeks later he'd been temporarily pulled off the project to do some urgent fieldwork. By the time he'd isolated the culprit and been able to lift the quarantine he'd imposed, the Aquitar Project was having some sort of unspecified difficulty, and had no current need for a virologist. He'd never been called back, and had assumed that the project was dead.

He might have contacted Blake to ask about that, and other matters, if it had not transpired that in the months he'd been away, Blake had turned from theory to practice in the field of revolution.

It was a shock. Their letters to each other had been brief and infrequent, engineer and consultant. Nothing personal, not when he was working under a news blackout and Blake was working on a high-security project, and any communication would be read by security people at each end. Then Blake's weekly project summaries had stopped, and knowing what a pain in the arse security could be, he hadn't probed. 

He'd seen the broadcast on the ship back to Earth. He'd watched the screen with a sinking heart, knowing that something was wrong, but not what. When he'd made discreet enquiries, found out that Blake had supposedly agreed to submit to memory erasure to protect the classified material Blake had worked with, he'd accepted the next job offer that took him off Earth. Earth had nothing to offer any more, not when academic freedom had died.

And now he had a totally unexpected opportunity to ask Blake about teleport, although not quite the way he'd intended. The Liberator was reported to have a functioning system. "So you really do teleport, do you?"

"Over short distances, yes."

"Well of course, the theory's as old as physics, but I didn't know it had been cracked yet." Did Blake even remember working on the teleport project? Anything of high security had been blocked, as a supposedly humane alternative to imprisonment when he'd recanted his revolutionary beliefs. Couldn't have a security risk like that walking around, could one? But just how far had they gone? Blake hadn't recognised him, he was certain of that.

"Liberator's a very advanced ship," Blake said. "Of course, you have to know the surface conditions, otherwise teleporting's a bit like a jump in the dark. You're quite liable to surface in a fission reactor."

"Not a mistake you could learn by, really." He might have said more, tried to steer the conversation onto the Federation's efforts in teleport research, but they were interrupted by Wiler.

"All ready, Dr. Bellfriar."

"Thank you, Dr. Wiler, go ahead." It would have to wait. This autopsy took precedence over trying to resuscitate the past.


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Helen Patrick

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