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By Ros Williams
Page 1 of 11

"Hell!" Avon swore, as the charges exploded about him. Then he fell to the ground, thrown down by the force of the explosions, and mercifully he knew no more...

He awoke abruptly. I ache! he thought, but the thought was quickly lost in the vital realisation of his mere consciousness. So it had not happened, death, not yet. His mind drifted as in a dream in those early days, vague and passive.

Whenever weariness crept over him, he would wonder if, after sleep took him he would ever wake again. He was past caring now about anything except the mere act of living. To those who took care of him, he was almost a vegetable, unmoving, useless; but he became accustomed to the situation and hardly hoped for recovery, merely to awake after each sleep to the knowledge that others somewhere kept him alive, giving him time for all he had left now, his mind, to think, think, think. His life had been so full; there had been little time to relax, yet now time was almost immaterial. As for death, it intruded often on his consciousness, destroying the barrier he logically tried to build around his fear of it, for death would take away this last little thing he had left of himself.

Later, many weeks later, he noticed again the aching in his limbs. Strange, for his body had become an unknown and sensation something from the past. The aches were cramping and if only he could move, perhaps...but of course he could not move, had not moved for such a long time...yet should he not try? What is life, he asked himself, almost fearing to take that chance and perhaps lose all, without hope, without trying? If he could feel this discomfort, could there not be life still there in his limbs? For a while he was afraid that some change in his state could presage oblivion but at last curiosity and his own fierce, stubborn determination, overcame fear and he risked it: first fingers, then other parts and it seemed to him that his body moved as he directed. He became aware too of sounds about him and an odour, clinical but not unpleasant, in nostrils.

If I am aware of all these things, he thought gradually over many hours, can I see as well? He willed his eyes to open and his gaze displayed to him a hospital room. The effort was supreme, mentally and exhausted him; he sank back into a deep sleep.

When he woke again, there were people about.

"Aha!" said one. "He's awake at last."

"An amazingly quick recovery," said another, "Considering the condition he was in. I am very surprised that he has recovered at all."

"I'm more concerned," said a third, "That we find out what has happened to his mind."

"Yes, indeed," said the first. "You," he said, "Can you speak?" Avon gathered that they were talking to him. Slowly his eyes opened focussing on the nearest speaker, a woman with cold eyes and a forbidding expression. Forcing his vocal chords to work, he croaked.

"A response," the woman said. "Excellent. Try again."

He tried. Talking was no pleasure; his throat ached abominably. "Where am I?" he managed at last.

"Trite," said the woman. "Why can't these accident victims try to be a little more original?" It was clear to Avon that she was in charge of the group. She was also, he understood, dictatorial, unsympathetic and unpleasant. It was not very promising.

"Tell me!" he commanded, as fiercely as his protesting throat would manage.

The woman eyed him without enthusiasm. "You'll perhaps remember," she said, "That you were involved in an explosion?"

He ignored the invitation to comment, pretending that speaking was unbearable.

"You were injured. You are in hospital, recovering. That's all." "What hospital?" he gasped. "Where?"

"Veskill," she said.

Veskill! Avon remembered the name. It was a Federation prison planet, feared and renowned throughout the Federation's empire. Inwardly he groaned.

"You were lucky," the woman said. "Your injuries were hardly superficial."

"I was not injured on Veskill," he said hoarsely, struggling with the words. "Why am I here?"

Another of the group spoke. "We could hardly mistake your identity, Kerr Avon; your face is so well known! A lucky guard brought you in and claimed a huge bounty for you. You are, of curse, here pending recovery, after which you will be imprisoned for your various your very, very various crimes." He smiled lusciously, delighting in the prospect.

Avon's usual impassive countenance masked his dismay and anger. Oh no, he raged, I'll not stay here, I'll not be forced into some tricky trial just to amuse these bastards! One way or another, I'll...

"You're thinking of escape," jeered the man, whose uniform proclaimed that he was a Sub Commandant, Federation Penitentiary Guards. "Forget it!" He laughed viciously. "This place is a fortress, impregnable. No one gets in or out without a very good reason."

The urge to avoid death is a very good reason, Avon thought...

"When will he be well enough to leave the hospital?" the third man enquired. He was middle aged, a heavily built, somewhat florid man, his eyes both mean and watery, his manner languid yet somehow menacing in an oddly violent way. This one, Avon thought, is dangerous.

"Soon," said the woman. "Now that he's awake, it won't take long. Six to eight days, I'd say. Then," she smiled nastily at the florid man, "He'll be all yours. You'll like that - won't you?" She looked at Avon. "Permit me," she said softly, "To introduce you to the Governor of Veskill, Andres Venn. When you leave this hospital, you will become his possession literally."

"I don't...understand what you mean," Avon gasped. "I haven't been...tried yet."

"You don't need to be," said the Sub Commandant, "Your identity is unquestioned and your crimes are well known throughout the galaxy. Your conviction is a foregone conclusion. The only matter in doubt is the severity of the sentence and that will depend a Great deal on the report of Governor Venn."

Venn smiled warmly. "If your demeanour impresses me," he said, "I can ask for clemency."

"And if I offend you...?" Avon forced out the words.

"The death sentence will be inevitable."

"But it's a clean death," murmured the Sub Commandant. "We are not barbarians, you know, not like your vicious friends who go about the galaxy causing untold hardship and slaughtering anyone who gets in their way."

I wonder, thought Avon, if you really believe that? But whether you do or not, nothing I can say will move you. From under his lashes, he gazed calculatingly at the Governor. The need for my obedience, he thought: I wonder if it is a weakness I could turn to my advantage?

Venn caught his glance and smiled again. "Don't think," he said softly, "That you can manipulate me...Kerr Avon."

We shall see, Avon thought grimly. Oh yes, we shall see.

*** *** *** *** ***

"An excellent recovery," said the cold eyed doctor. "You really are most resilient though that is not to be wondered at, I suppose, given your way of life recently. A weak man would never have survived it! I hope you are looking forward to your new home, Avon."

"It hardly matters what I think, one way or the other, does it?" Avon queried sardonically.

"Indeed not. From now on, Venn controls you completely. You would be well advised to pander to his whims."

"And what," Avon murmured, "Are those, Doctor Greer?"

Greer's mouth curled into a harsh sneer. "I'm sure you are sophisticated enough to have guessed," she said.

"Perhaps I would like to be told."

"Oh no... You'll not trap me so easily, Avon. You may reach your own conclusions."

"Those conclusions do not please me."

"That's unfortunate for you, isn't it."

"It's trying. I'd prefer..."

Greer's head jerked up. "What would you prefer, Kerr Avon?"

"You," he said softly. "You know that."

"Keep away from me!" Greer snapped. "The guards..."

"...are behind that door. I know. But you won't call them...will you? Not yet, Doctor Allis Greer? Not until you've discovered what it is that makes Kerr Avon unique. Isn't that so, Doctor Allis Greer...?" He moved close to her and slid his hands up her white clad arm. "It makes no difference," he said, "That I shall leave here in a few short minutes. For the moment, I am still your responsibility isn't that so?"

"Why, yes, of course..."

"I am so glad of that," Avon breathed, lowering his head.

"You are trying to make an ally of me, aren't you?" said Allis Greer later, gazing thoughtfully at the man above her. "Obviously. Do you blame me?"

"No. But you are wasting your time."

"Perhaps. It's a pleasant way to do it, don't you agree?"

She laughed. "Make love to me again," she said. "We've a little time yet... Do you see me as easy pickings, Avon?"

"You did not resist me. What do you think?"

"I've needs, the same as you," she said. "You are attractive and you know it, don't you?"

"It amuses me to seduce you," he said coolly, although the movements of his body were anything but cool.

"Then it amuses me to allow you to do so," she said. "Don't think that I will help you to evade Andres Venn. I won't. When you leave here, you'll be his chattel and it will be all the more interesting for me to consider that, now."

"You will like to think of me as a victim?" Avon suggested.

"That doesn't shock you. Venn doesn't shock you, either."

"He's cornered in his own trap," Avon said.

"Will you seek to spring it?"

"I'm sure," Avon said slyly, "That he'll not give me the chance." He sighed as the climax racked him and waited for her to recover from her own.

"No more," she said, thrusting him away. "Pleasant though it was, Kerr Avon, it's over now... Andres Venn has come to claim you."

"Wish me luck?" he suggested, rising to his feet without enthusiasm.

"Oh no," she said. "You're too dangerous. I wish you the sentence you deserve, Avon." She turned her back on him and opened the door. He saw beyond her the Sub Commandant, Jarrel. "He's ready for you," she said and she watched as he was led down the corridor. Then she closed the door and seated herself. "Nonetheless," she murmured with a touch of regret, "I wish that you had not so completely recovered...yet. I wonder if I could engineer an occasional check up? Why not? After all, you were so badly injured, weren't you?"

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