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By Judith Proctor
Page 2 of 3

The final scramble down into the cavern was a relief. Avon worked his way down the wall and collapsed at the bottom, abused muscles screaming out for relief. Gan sat beside him for a minute or so, the silence around them absolute. In the quiet, Avon was conscious of the sound of his on breathing, and the almost imperceptible sound of the water flowing in its course.

      "Water?" Gan asked.

      Avon nodded and got to his feet. He could use a drink. Squatting down by the water's edge, toes almost in the water, he scooped up a handful of water. It was cold, but the flavour was clear and refreshing.

      Gan drank beside him. "It's flowing faster than before."

      Was it? The stream did seem a little wider than he recalled. Avon came abruptly to his feet. "We'd better get moving. If there's been heavy rain, these caverns could flood."

      The thought was not a pleasant one. It hadn't rained recently near the base, but the stream's catchment area and the nature of the local geology was largely unknown. Rain seeping through the rocks from weeks ago, or falling on a distant tributary, might cause the stream to suddenly become a river. Flowing underground, its width constrained by the caves, it would get deeper. How deep, Avon didn't like to guess. He started walking without waiting to see if Gan was following him. Usually in a dangerous situation, there was something he could do about it - fight, argue, attempt to repair what was broken. Here, there was just the implacable force of nature, and all he could do was flee and hope that that would be enough.

      The route seemed even longer and more tortuous than it had when they came in. Crawls through narrow abandoned watercourses, climbs up slippery rock faces, and the relentlessly increasing depth of the water when they were forced to wade through it. There was no doubt now that the water level was rising. Places where the water had barely come over his boot tops, now soaked Avon well up his legs.

      He tried his bracelet again, more from discipline than optimism. The lack of any response came as no surprise. If Liberator had been able to make contact, they would have been trying to call him by now. He half turned as he heard Gan behind him trying his own bracelet. A pointless exercise really, but there was always the chance that Avon's own bracelet was faulty. Gan shook his head. No luck there either.

      Avon turned back again, and slipped. A wet stone skidded from under his foot in the dim light, and he fell awkwardly. Pain shot through his leg as a rock caught him under the shin. His torch smashed onto the ground and promptly went out.

      "Avon! Are you all right?"

      He tried to sit up, and his leg screamed agony. He felt slightly sick, his original sharp retort dying unspoken.

      "I think I've broken my leg."

      "Let me look at it." Gan ran his hands carefully along the offending limb, pausing at Avon's sudden sharp intake of breath.

      "Since when did you become a medical expert?"

      There was reproach on Gan's face. "I've been trying to study. I can't kill, I have have to find some way to be of use."

      Another convert to Blake's cause.

      "And just how far have your studies taken you?" Avon asked suspiciously.

      "Not very far yet, but," he added, sounding surprisingly firm, "I do know a broken bone, and I do know what to do about it."

      "And if there's nothing to use as a splint, what does your medical genius say then?" Avon answered caustically. He almost regretted saying that. Gan was trying to help him after all.

      "We wait," Gan said as though it was totally obvious.

      Wait. Something inside Avon panicked at the thought. He was sitting in a shallow pool of water now. If the water rose any further, they would be completely trapped. "We can't wait," he insisted. "It's too dangerous."

      "We don't have any choice. I could carry you through the larger caverns, but you'd never make it through the crawlways. Some of the lower sections will be totally underwater by now. Don't worry, Blake will come for us."

      Blake will come for us, Avon though sourly. That was terrific. Always assuming that Liberator was still in one piece, always assuming that Blake could make it through the caves, always assuming that they didn't drown first. But Gan had faith in Blake, and Gan would do exactly what Blake would have have done in similar circumstances: stay in spite of the risk to himself. Avon found that attitude irritating - he disliked being obliged to anyone.

      Gan fumbled through voluminous pockets, before finally coming up with one of the Liberator's healing pads. "Here, let me try this. It won't fix the bone, but it should take some of the pain away."

      Avon refrained from protest as Gan ripped the leg of his trousers and rocked the pad over the injury. At least the break was above the top of his boot. The idea of having to remove the boot without anything to cut the leather was not one he liked to contemplate. As the pad took effect, the pain subsided to a dull ache. Water swirled blackly around him, odd bits of debris floating on the surface. Small whorls and eddies formed around his feet and where he sat. The cold and wet seeped into his clothing. Avon shivered.

      Gan was immediately concerned. "You can't afford to get too wet - you'll lose body heat, and that's dangerous."

      "I can't stand," Avon said through gritted teeth.

      "I'll hold you. Just lean on me and keep your weight on your good leg."

      Without waiting for a reply, Gan leaned down and lifted Avon up as though he were nothing more than a small child.

      Reluctantly, Avon draped one arm around Gan's neck and allowed the giant to support him around the waist. Gan was warm, and that, surprisingly was a comfort in itself. Maybe it was the pain from his leg, or perhaps it was a side effect of the drug in the pad, whatever it was, Avon felt oddly light headed. His mind was drifting to other times and other arms around him. Warm, gentle, loving.

      He really ought to get up and go to work, but she was there beside him, holding him close, the look on her face one of teasing affection. She traced a finger gently down the line of his cheek bone and smiled.

      "Anna." He wasn't even aware that he had spoken her name out loud.


      Avon awake from his reverie with a start. The water had risen several centimetres without him even noticing.

      "No one, just someone I knew a long time ago."

      Blake would have pointed out the inconsistency of that statement, but Gan seemed to accept it. "I knew someone once," he offered. "She was a little bit like you in some ways."

      Really? Didn't Gan realise that comparing Avon to his ex-girlfriend wasn't exactly the most generous of comparisons.

      "I'm flattered," he said insincerely, and wondered if Gan would notice the irony.

      "Marie was a beta, far brighter than me."

      "That's not difficult."

      Gan was silent. Avon sighed inwardly. He'd done it again. Blake or Vila would have bounced right back with an insult in response, but Gan tended to soak it all up without retaliating. Actually, thinking about it, Gan did manage a suitable riposte on occasion - it was just that the occasions tended to be few and far between. Well, if he tried to be sympathetic for once, nobody was going to know except for himself and Gan.

      "What was she like?"

      He could hear the enthusiasm in Gan's voice as he answered.

      "She was bright, enthusiastic, loved talking and playing games. I never knew what she saw in me."

      So what had she seen in slow, methodical, plodding Gan? Gan who was still supporting him without complaint, in spite of the burden that Avon's weight must have become. Avon surprised himself by replying, "Kindness. Understanding. Loyalty?"

      The water wasn't quite up to the top of his boots, but they had water inside them already, so that was almost academic. His feet were cold and almost numb. "What was that?" Gan had said something, but he'd missed it.

      "Anna? What kind of a woman was she?"

      So, if they were going to drown here underground they were going to do it while swooping details of their lost loves. Why not?

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Judith Proctor

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