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Serpents in Paradise

By Willa Shakespeare
Page 1 of 6

Blake clutched his elbows tighter into his gut, trying to still their trembling. Only a little farther. He kept telling himself that he'd reach the outlet of this ventilation duct at any moment. He'd gotten quite good at lying to himself and others. But even he had eventually reached his limit. He didn't believe in anything any more- except, of course, pain, and betrayal, and despair. Those were the eternal verities, just as Avon had always said. Blake stopped, and leaned his forehead against the dusty, grease-slimed metal floor of the duct. He wished he hadn't thought about Avon. It hurt too much on top of everything else, to know that Avon had died believing Blake had betrayed him. He slumped uncaring in the filth, too tired even to weep. His surrender to grief was cut short, as he stiffened, hearing voices. There was an opening to one of the rooms beside him. Blake turned as best he could to look into the room, counting on the unlit shaft to hide him. The commander of the base- oh, Blake knew that soft, nervous voice from interminable interrogations- was giving orders to one of his lieutenants.

"We've got to find him! They're here. I hate to think what will happen if they find Blake before we can get to them." The commander ran his hand through his over-long reddish hair.

"We've got the pilot," the other man said. "They're bringing him in now."

"Oh, yes, the pilot. What good is that? Blake never met him. We have to get Avon."

Blake missed the man's reply as his mind whirled, locked into incredulous delight at the thought of Avon, Avon alive and coming here, coming to him! Blake had been so sure Avon was dead. He remembered the guns blasting, over and over and over and finally the limp weight of Avon's corpse knocking the breath out of Blake's paralyzed body . He shook his head, dismissing the memories. Maybe it had been another Federation trick to break his spirit, maybe it had been an imposter made up to look like Avon. Come to that, 'Avon' hadn't looked much like the sleek, spoiled Alpha tech he remembered from the Liberator. For the first time in ages, Blake smiled. Avon, alive!

He forced his attention back to the conversation taking place below his vantage point.

"There's another flier following ours. It's on a straight line course now, right for us."

"What? Orac. It must be Orac. How else could you analyze a random flight path?" The commander was excited. "Pull everyone back from the entrance and the tracking gallery. Avon's following his man. Let him and his crew in without any resistance."

"Shouldn't someone meet them?"

The commander shook his head. "They've just been shot down out of the sky and we've captured their friend. No, a direct confrontation is out of the question."

Blake waited impatiently for the men to leave. He had to get to Avon. Avon would know what to do. This was a godsend, a chance to make everything right. This time, he wouldn't make any mistakes.

Avon stepped into the tracking gallery, gun held high. No guards, no workers, not so much as a locked door. This must be a trap, but what kind? He was tempted to simply pass on the game, but he hated to leave Tarrant behind. After all, Avon's resources were limited. It would be stupid not to attempt to retrieve a skilled pilot. However annoying the fellow was.

"Avon." Tarrant staggered out of a corridor toward them. Avon watched, expecting hostile personnel to come galloping after. Dayna and Vila greeted the wounded man and eased him down against the wall. Avon glanced at Soolin, giving an unspoken order to guard. She nodded and continued scanning the room for any suspicious activity.

Avon knelt beside Tarrant. "I'm glad you made it."

"So am I. Listen Avon, this base..."

"Federation?" Avon asked sharply.

"No. It's Blake's. His people picked me up. I asked them to help find you, but they didn't trust me."

"Sensible." Avon relaxed slightly and grinned. "Does this mean Blake has finally learned his lesson?"

"Avon." Tarrant swallowed. His face went even paler. He hated having to say this. "Avon, Blake... isn't right." "What do you mean, not right?" Now Avon's voice was soft and dangerous, his eyes gone cold in an instant, all banter lost.

"He's sick, Avon. Mentally ill. He can't even tell his friends from his enemies."

"That's not so, Tarrant."

Avon whirled, hearing the deep velvet burr he remembered so well. "Blake." Blake was haggard, filthy and scarred, his body slack and heavier than Avon had ever seen him. "Blake?"

"It's me, Avon," Blake said desperately, walking to Avon with arms outstretched, ignoring the others. He didn't notice Dayna and Soolin training weapons on him or Vila's gaping stare. "Don't listen to him, Avon. Please, for god's sake, don't believe that traitor. He betrayed me on Earth, Avon. Let me kill him now, for both of us." Blake reached his hands to Tarrant's throat. Wisely, the pilot lay still. Those big hands could easily snap his neck, despite their shaking.

"No!" Dayna shouted. "Avon, stop him. Or I will." She aimed her gun at Blake's broad back.

"Blake!" Avon recovered from his paralysis and dropped his own gun, holding his empty hands out to Blake. "Tarrant's not your enemy. Even if he were, you can't kill an injured man in cold blood. Trust me."

Blake's face crumpled. "Oh, Avon, I always have." He stumbled forward into Avon's arms.

Avon returned the embrace, holding on after Blake passed out without warning.

"Er, Avon?" Vila said hesitantly. "What do we do now?" His gesture took in the unconscious Blake, the wounded Tarrant and the silent tracking gallery.

"I don't know." Avon carefully lowered Blake to the floor, staring down at him blankly. A mad Blake had not figured into any of Avon's plans.

"Perhaps I can help." Considering the current mood, it was wise of the speaker to have made his remark from the corridor, while waving a white cloth on a stick in front of him. "I'm Deva. I was Blake's second in command." He looked sadly at the large man lying beside Tarrant. "Until the Federation captured him."

"He needs professional help," Avon said shortly.

"He was examined by the best I could trust."

Avon said, "Not the best, then."

Deva shrugged. "No. But the best all work for the Federation, or its puppet 'allies'. The doctors who looked at Blake recommended shock therapy."

"You won't let them do it, will you, Avon?" Vila asked, horrified. "That's torture, that's all it is."

"Barbaric," Avon agreed. "Electro-convulsive therapy is rarely effective and frequently harmful."

"No, not that kind of shock." Deva said carefully, seeing Avon's hostility. "Emotional shock. Like the ancient snake pit treatment, where a patient was placed in a chamber filled with harmless snakes. It sometimes brought them back to reality long enough for more conventional treatment to begin."

Avon gave Deva a disbelieving stare. "He looks as though you've already tried that. At least you could keep him clean."

"It hasn't been easy. He's stubborn. He won't exercise and he'll only eat what he prepares himself and he keeps getting away from me. I can't handle him."

"Obviously." Avon glanced down at the tattered rebel leader. When he looked up again, he glared at Deva. "You sent for me, didn't you? To take him off your hands."

"Not like that!" Deva protested. "Yes, I did leak Blake's location to Orac. Since I'm his computer tech, Blake had given me Orac's codes and frequencies. He used to talk about you all the time, Avon. He'd say there wasn't anything you couldn't do, once you set your mind to it. He's very fond of you, you know."

"Fond? I don't think that describes our relationship very well."

"Jenna thought it did."

Avon went silent.

Vila asked, "Is Jenna here?" At Deva's nod, Vila wondered, "Why isn't she taking care of Blake? She'd never let him get in this state."

"Because he won't let her near him. He thinks she's Servalan." Deva sighed. "He keeps calling me Travis. It's very discouraging. Even Jenna's about given up."

Avon frowned. "If Jenna cannot help, then I fail to understand what you expect of me. I have no training in this field."

"Blake recognized you. He saw you. You're the only one who has any hope of getting through to him," Deva pleaded.

Avon bowed to the inevitable. Even his own crew was now staring at him, waiting for his answer. "If we stay, you will provide facilities for us. And handle your rebel business entirely without me. The others may participate if they wish, but I'll have no more part in it."

"Thank you, Avon. Thank you." Deva's puppyish bounce was most annoying.

"This isn't such a bad place, is it, Avon?" Vila peered cautiously into Blake's quarters. Deva had supervised the transfer of the unconscious man to the bed, but then been unceremoniously kicked out by Avon, who wanted no witnesses when Blake awoke. The computer tech was in a foul mood, not improved by Vila's prattling. "Tarrant's in their med center with Dayna and Soolin scaring off the nurses. Lots of pretty ladies here. The one who works the tracking gallery likes you. Poor girl, needs to have her eyesight checked. And the kitchen's stocked up with real food, not all those rotten concentrates. Nice to have something fresh for a change."

Vila was squirming, apparently he had something to say which Avon wouldn't like. "What do you want, Vila?" Avon was definitely not up to playing games. He glanced over at Blake. At his insistence, the man had not been drugged and might wake at any moment.

"Well, er, um..." Avon glared and Vila spat out the rest in one breath, "Deva wants me to get your gun so Blake can't get it and shoot us all in our sleep. It wasn't my idea," he added, hands held out in innocence.

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