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By Frances Teagle
Page 1 of 12

[Gauda Prime + 6 days]
        The man on the bunk graduated to awareness slowly, reluctantly. Too debilitated to groan, he let out a sigh. The light, when he unglued his eyelids, was blessedly dim. He could identify sounds of air conditioning - and something else, distant but distinct, a ship's drive - he was in space.
        Other discomforts announced themselves. A desert-dry mouth, a sour taste, a prison smell. An experimental movement of the head returned a throb of pain, flashes of light behind the eyes and nausea. After an unmeasurable interval he moved a hand. Eventually he managed to propel it upwards to his face, where the fingers encountered stubble. Days had passed, then.
        Oh... He had hoped they had killed him, that he was done with this life. A fearful disappointment washed through him. No release yet - no peace for the wicked. And he was sure he had been wicked.
        He was so weak. Had they already interrogated him and then wiped the memory? He had to reject that notion, recollections he would rather not entertain were crowding into his brain. He was, oh yes, he feared he was indeed Kerr Avon.

Someone entered and turned up the lights, causing him to screw up his eyes. An arm was slipped under his shoulders, raising him slightly, a proffered cup nudged his lips and he drank gratefully. That overriding need satisfied he took no further interest as the man stripped him, washed him and put clean clothes on him, then departed as silently as he had come.
        Time drifted on. Thirst quenched, he became distantly aware of hunger. Resolutely he set himself to ignore it. Eventually they were coming to talk to him. Get used to deprivation now, plenty more would be coming his way.

This time it was a trace of perfume that roused him. Oh God, was it Servalan? Commissioner Sleer come to gloat over the success of yet another trap? It had all her hallmarks, all the rats in one cage. And yet, how could she have known he would come after Blake then? Oh, she could work it out - after she had engineered the collapse of the alliance, who else would he turn to but Blake? Her words echoed in his head, "I knew you'd never let Blake die." How she must be enjoying this moment.
        Finally he forced his eyes open. And received the shock of his life. Jenna Stannis stood beside the bed.
        In a way it was almost worse than Servalan's presence. His racking guilt rose up to choke him. What could he say to the woman who had loved Blake? There was no defence. Her face was set hard as adamant. He had seen that look before. Eventually she looked into his eyes.
        "Well, what have you got to say for yourself?" she said.
        Now he made the effort to roll over and sit up to face her. The voice he finally produced was unsteady but audible.
        "If I am still alive, what of the others?"
        "Vila is here."
        "Only Vila?"
        "Only Vila. Now explain why you killed Blake. Let me have one good reason why I shouldn't add your corpse to the pile on Gauda Prime."
        "Insanity perhaps? Did I imagine Tarrant saying that Blake had sold out? Why didn't Blake deny it?" Even to his own ears his voice sounded fatally detached and dreamlike. "What possessed you to salvage the remains?"
        "I arrived to find Federation guards loading you two into a flyer - for interrogation, doubtless. Do you think I should have left them to it?"
        He had no answer for that. Presently he asked, "How is Vila?"
        "Physically well. Mentally - mourning his losses, I suppose."
        Avon winced. He had not yet begun to face his losses, let alone mourn them. "And now you are thinking about avenging your losses. Go right ahead, do you really think I care?"
        But she was not be provoked. "You won't get off that easily. I have a use for you." With that, she turned on her heel and left.
        So - Vila at least had side-stepped the grim reaper. Someone should drop him off at some unsuspecting neutral planet where he could thieve to his heart's content. He had grown somewhat bolder over the years and expanded his talents. If ever he could get away from the revolutionaries, Vila might live a full and happy life. He had once planned a similar life for himself and Anna... No, don't think about Anna.
        Blake too, he dare not think of. Tarrant - ah well, that reckless young man had run his course, ending as he was always likely to. His loss could be endured. But the women, they were infinitely to be regretted.
        Dayna - so young, trailing the breezes of her seaside home in her wake. Those eyes, that smile, above all that voice - that must echo in his head forever.
        Soolin - cynical sharp-tongued Soolin. Almost a sister, so similar to his own were her thought processes. Say goodbye to that stinging repartee, refreshing as a glass of ice-cold citrus.
        Cally - the midwinter of her loss crept back into his soul, what was left of it. He privately saw her as the embodiment of his anima, that feminine, feeling part of himself that he tried to shield from the eyes of the world.
        At last his thoughts brought him to Orac. Ah yes, Jenna would have secured Orac. She had plans. She must have kept him sedated while she considered her course of action. Jenna would have a course of action all right, and it would include Orac. For the first time he felt a flicker of interest in the future.

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