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By Vanessa Mullen
Page 2 of 7

      "Speed standard by seven."


      Blake paced the flight deck in nervous irritation. Damn Avon and his desire for a safe bolt-hole, but there was no denying that Freedom City was the perfect place for a wanted rebel to drop out of sight - half the scum of the galaxy probably wound up there. He turned sharply, snapped at Jenna and then apologised. What if he was wrong? What if Avon had some other reason for teleporting down? But there was no possible alternative reason. Avon hadn't even visited the planet before - it had been Blake who had obtained the information from Docholli. There was no possible reason for Avon to teleport down unless he'd decided to leave them for good. They were so close to discovering the location of Star One now. Couldn't Avon at least have seen it through to the end?


The room was the stuff of nightmare.

      Avon froze in the doorway and stared. Walker stood motionless behind him and Avon knew that the pause was deliberate, to give him time to realise what was going to happen to him. To give him time to be afraid.

      Everything about the room was black, except where metal gleamed in a mocking, gentle response to the light from the door. The floor was covered in black rubber; the walls led darkly up to a ceiling whose height he could not guess. It might have been no more than a metre above his head, or it might have been twenty - the matt black paint swallowed light and left everything to be judged by guesswork. In the meagre light, Avon could discern racks around the walls, contents neatly sorted in the manner of a workman who likes his tools where he can instantly find them. There were whips, restraints, and other devices whose purpose he could not even begin to guess. Chains depended from the ceiling and wooden devices lurked in unfathomable shadows.

      With cold certainty, Avon knew that if he didn't make a move now, he would never leave this room alive. He cowered back, faking the response. "No," he whimpered. "Please, no." He turned to face Walker, would have held out his hands if they hadn't been restrained. "I'll do whatever you want."

      As Walker relaxed fractionally, Avon lashed out with a high kick. Walker ducked back with surprising speed and fired the disrupter. Fire sparked in agonising bursts along Avon's nerves, muscles spasmed and twitched uncontrollably as he fell to the floor, jerking in random movements. Urine shot down his leg in a hot, humiliating burst. Control was impossible; every instruction sent to a muscle was multiplied a thousandfold, sent down divergent pathways, scrambled, rerouted and finally drowned in the static of a hundred other nerve impulses competing with it for attention.

      "That," Walker remarked conversationally, "was the lowest setting. They say that if you fire at a man's head with a middle setting, he'll be a mental vegetable for the rest of his life. I could kill you with the top setting, but that would be far too easy."

      Reply was impossible. His lips could not form coherent speech. As the epileptic frenzy died away to mere shivers, Avon felt something cold touch against his neck.

      "Feel it?" Walker demanded. "That's my gift to you."

      Avon twisted away from the metal, but too slowly, too clumsily. Walker snapped the collar around his throat. The weight settled like cold lead. Leather lined it on the inside, soft almost warm, but the feel of the bond encircling him, both symbol and essence of slavery, made him choke. Too tight. Snug fitting, touching him at every point, to make him know beyond all doubt that he was held fast.

      Bound hands clenched into futile fists.


      Cally glanced up from her monitoring of Federation communications to where Vila sat on the flight deck couch muttering to Orac. He looked terribly upset about something. It wasn't really ethical to listen, but she was worried. Something was nagging at her and she couldn't work out what it was. She keyed on the intercom by the couch and listened.

      "Five million credits," Vila complained. "Five million. I ask you, is it fair?"

      "Fair?" retorted Orac. "Might I remind you that the money was obtained by illegal means in the first place?"

      "I like that! You were perfectly helpful at the time."

      "Merely a demonstration of my superior abilities." Orac always sounded smug, but on this occasion it sounded more smug than usual.

      Cally walked quietly down from her flight position and came up beside Vila.

      "Five million credits?" she asked softly.

      Vila jumped. "Wozzat! I didn't mention any money, did I, Orac? Don't you dare tell her anything, you useless bag of bolts."

      "Orac," she demanded, "what is Vila talking about?"

      Orac was silent, suspiciously so.


      "I fail to see why my time should be wasted with your petty enquiries."{tab}{tab}{tab}{tab}{tab}{tab}{tab}


      "On your feet."

      The words were spoken in a low caressing tone that deceived Avon not one whit. He sat solidly on the floor, determined not to co-operate in any way. Walker bobbed his head, birdlike, then placed his weapon carefully on a rack and selected a remote control and a small whip. He flicked the whip thoughtfully against his own wrist, then pointed the control at Avon's collar and activated it. Avon felt a jerk as the collar pulled sideways and upwards, the threat of choking suddenly a reality. As the chain was pulled towards the ceiling, it dragged Avon inexorably to his feet. Finally, he acceded to its demands and stood up. It did not matter. He had not chosen to do this. It meant nothing - and yet he was aware that every concession on his part, no matter how small, gave Walker some degree of victory.

      Walker paced slowly around him. He resisted the temptation to turn and keep Walker in sight. A hand caressed his buttock. Avon fought the urge to flinch away from it. He was his own person. He was in control of himself. The hand slid round to his groin, and giving way to the impulse, Avon kicked back at the shin of the man behind him. He regretted the action as soon as soon as he'd done it. It was both childish and futile. Seemingly oblivious to the pain, Walker laughed and caressed Avon harder. "Perfect," he murmured. "Just perfect. But you know I can't let an action like that go unpunished."

      The whip flicked out, catching Avon on the thigh. Not hard, but quick. Twice more, it bit at him, the bite of a sharply stinging insect.

      "There's something wrong, don't you think so?"

      Avon didn't answer. He know what was coming.

      "Come, my pretty one. Don't you want me to see you at your best?"

      There was a limit as to how far he'd co-operate. He would not take off his clothes voluntarily, nor would he acquiesce in having it done to him.

      Walker smiled, a happy confident smile free of all care. There was a spring in his step as he went over to the closest rack, replaced the whip and caught up something in his hand. Easy-handed, he tossed it in the air, light catching it at the top of its arc as the room was suddenly flooded with full illumination. It fell down again, tumbling end over end in flight, to fall smack into Walker's palm. The lights vanished, plunging the room into total darkness except for a bright blue shaft of light emerging from Walker's hand. A laser probe. Avon watched with sick fascination as the light shone and tumbled once more in the blackness: a dizzying array of spins and reverses, any mistake in which would have cost Walker a finger. Closer the pattern wove, and yet closer, until Avon strained at the length of chain to hold himself as far away from that lethal dance as possible. With a sudden swoop, the light dived low and sliced up the length of his right trouser leg to his waist. Even as he froze in panic, the light moved once more, a quick pass to Walker's other hand, and cut up the length of his other leg, the control so accurate that he realised Walker must be utilizing something to enhance his night vision.

      The probe flicked off, leaving Avon nothing to orientate himself by except the sound of Walker's breathing.

      The fabric still clung to his skin, held there by habit and the force of his hands clenched in the small of his back. He felt it peel slowly down and fall away until all that was left was held under his fists. Without comment, he let it fall. He shifted position slightly and felt the pain of a shallow cut on his thigh. So fine was the beam that it had caused no pain as it sliced him, only his movement opened the injury to air and allowed it to sting.

      Walker was behind him.

      He shifted, turning to face the threat that he could not see.

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Vanessa Mullen

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