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By Judith Proctor
Page 3 of 3

      "Witty, good with people, clever with computers. Anna was special."

      "Were you married?"

      Avon ignored the question and tried to move his foot, to see if he still had any sensation in his toes. Pain lanced up his leg and he gasped in pain.

      Gan's arm tightened around him. "What happened?"

      "I tried to move my foot."

      "That was stupid."

      All right, so it had been stupid, but he was increasingly cold, and the pain in his leg wasn't helping him to think straight.

      "Do you want me to use the pad again?"

      "Yes." It would probably make him even more woozy, but the pain was doing that anyway. There seemed little point in martyrdom. Avon balanced as well as he could on one leg, steadying himself with a hand against Gan, while Gan bent down to apply the pad once more. The water was too deep now for either of them to sit down. A soothing calmness spread out from the pad and Avon relaxed a little.

      "I won't be able to use it again," Gan said.

      "Why not?"

      "That's the maximum dose for someone of your body weight. Besides, the water will be over the break, soon."

      They stood in silence for several minutes, Gan supporting most of Avon's weight once more. Avon wasn't sure if it was his imagination or not, but the water seemed to be rising faster than before.

      "So, did you marry her?" Gan asked.

      "No," Avon said shortly. What right did Gan have to pry into his private life anyway?

      "Marie and I were married. We had some good times to start with."

      "So what went wrong?" It wasn't that he was curious, Avon told himself. It was just that anything was better than concentrating on the rising water level.

      Gan looked at the power indicator on his torch, instead of answering. "I'm going to turn it out for a while. It's got several hours charge left, but we don't know how long it will be before the water level drops."

      The light vanished and Avon felt a moment of real fear. The dome dweller's nightmare. No light meant power failure, and power failure meant loss of life support. He felt Gan shudder slightly. "Have you ever lived through a power failure?" Avon asked.

      "Yes," Gan replied in the darkness. "Back during the food riots of '46." Avon felt him swallow convulsively. "A whole sector went out. They say several people died before the air circulation was restored."

      "I thought they got things under control pretty rapidly."

      Gan sounded angry. "Control! They used suppressent drugs. They killed my Marie."

      "I'm sorry." Avon hesitated a moment. "I thought..."

      "You thought the Federation killed her? They did. Twice. First with their drugs and then with a gun. Do you want to know why you reminded me of her?"

      "All right." Avon had a certain mild curiosity.

      "She never accepted anything at face value. She didn't believe anything just because she was told that it was so. Until the drugs. After then she believed everything. She stopped questioning. She died"'

      A living death, and the full horror was that she would never have known it was happening to her. Would he have preferred that death for Anna? The invisible death of the lower grades, drowned in drugs and oblivion. Would she have preferred that to dying in agony at the hands of the torturers? Which death would he choose for himself if he had the choice? Anything surely rather than this meaningless death underground.

      "Anna died trying to protect me." The words were little more than a whisper. He'd never been able to talk about it to anyone before now. Gan hadn't been able to save his woman either. Somehow, that made it possible to say it to him.

      "She must have loved you very much."

      "I like to think so."

      "What happened?"

      The memories came crowding back. The pain of when he'd been shot; the helplessness he'd felt. It seemed hideously close to his present situation.

      "We were on the run. I'd just pulled a major bank fraud. I'd gone to buy some exit visas; Anna was waiting for me to get back. I was stupid enough to get shot."

      "You too?"

      Avon waited a moment to see if Gan was going to say any more, then he carried on. "It was two days before I was able to look for her. But they'd already caught her. There was a place where we'd arranged to meet up if anything went wrong. She wasn't there, but neither was anyone else - she never told them. They tortured her to death, but she never told them where to find me."

      Cold and blackness. The water numbed all sensation. It would be so easy to let go of Gan, slip into the waist-high water and forget everything. Except that Gan would only pull him out again. Besides, that would be a surrender, and he owed it to Anna to keep fighting against those who had killed her.

      Gan's voice sounded deeper then usual, as though he was trying not to betray his emotion. "Marie betrayed me. I caught her in bed with another man."

      "You should have killed her."

      "No." He could feel the movement as Gan shook his head. "You don't understand - it wasn't her fault, it was the drugs. He told her to do it - and she did. She didn't really want to hurt me."

      How was it, Avon wondered, that a man of Gan's size and bulk had the ability to convey a feeling of utter helplessness?

      "But she did hurt you."

      Gan sighed. "He knew it too. He knew I'd never let it rest. He shot me; then he shot Marie. Even the drugs wouldn't have kept her quiet after my death." He was silent a moment. "And then I killed him. I broke his neck while he looked at her dead body."

      Avon could feel the strength of that silent passion. The struggle of a wounded man to survive, to gain revenge. Someday, somehow, he would too have revenge for Anna. At this moment though, he didn't feel strong enough to think straight, let alone tackle the man who had killed her.

      Something about Gan's story was bothering him. If he could only concentrate for a moment, He'd be able to work it out. If only his head didn't feel so fuzzy, and his body so cold. The water lapped gently around his fingers, leeching the heat from his body and sapping his will. Avon clenched his fists tightly in an effort to regain control, the nails digging into the palms of his hands. The control drugs had never been a problem for a man in his profession, anyone working in a job that required original thinking was bound to have access to undrugged food and water.

      That was what was bothering him. Gan had been sentenced to Cygnus Alpha for murder.

      "So how come you were able to kill him? Weren't you drugged too?"

      "I thought you knew: I'm immune to the drugs. That's why they fitted the limiter."

      No, he hadn't known - he'd never been interested enough to ask. Gan was simply Gan, a gamma ignorant, and a convenient source of heavy muscle. Gan who had had to watch an intelligent woman fade away into nothing as a result of Federation policies, as helpless as Avon had been to help Anna in the Federation prison.

      He squeezed Gan's shoulder for a moment. "It wasn't your fault."

      "It wasn't yours either."

      Maybe neither of them could really accept absolution, they'd both loved too deeply, and lost too much, but it helped a little. The darkness was beckoning again, and this time Avon allowed it to flow over him. Gan would protect him. And believing that, he could allow himself to fade into unconsciousness.



The clay was warm in his hands where he'd been holding it.

      It had only been a couple of weeks since Blake had brought them out of the caves. Avon hadn't fully regained consciousness until they were back on Liberator. He had fuzzy memories of stretchers and ropes, but that was all. He'd forgotten most of the rest until now.

      Gan obviously hadn't forgotten though - he must have had assistance from Orac to get the features correct. But no photograph from the computer files had ever had that tender, loving smile. No DNA profile could ever have predicted the laughter around the eyes. Avon looked at the crude carving that had somehow captured Anna's essence so perfectly, and knew it for what it was: the last gift of a friend he'd never known he had.



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