Hombres. Sailors. Comrades.By Ika
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And if this is the work of an angry god|
I want to look into his angry face.
There is no pure land now. No safe place
Come with us into the mountains.
Hombres. Sailors. Comrades.
- Laurie Anderson, Love Among the Sailors
Xenon: a heavy colourless odourless inert gaseous element [Greek, neut. of xenos 'strange', 'unknown', 'a stranger']
Inert: (1) without inherent power of action, motion, or resistance.
Inert gas: See 'noble gas'
Noble gas: any gaseous element of a group that almost never combine with other elements.
(extracted from Concise OED)
TARRANT. SCORPIO: IN-FLIGHT TO XENON BASE
Soolin has been brushing her hair for a long time, and it looked perfectly tidy to me before she started.
Brushing her hair while she sits there beside the medicapsule, beside that body that used to be so warm and joyful against mine at night, until Terminal when everything changed, and still, even after everything changed, it was that body that I always protected, that saved me more times than I can count ...
"Slave. Remaining flight time to Xenon, continuing at maximum speed."
SOOLIN. SCORPIO: IN-FLIGHT TO XENON BASE.
I think Dayna will be all right. It seemed safest to keep her in the medicapsule. We can treat her properly when we get back to base. I think it probably looks worse than it is.
VILA. XENON BASE: CREW ROOM
It used to be Blake and Avon and Cally and Jenna and me and Gan. Then it was Blake and Avon and Cally and Jenna and me. Then it was Avon and Cally and me and Dayna and Tarrant. Now it's Avon and Soolin, and Dayna and Tarrant. And me.
AVON. XENON BASE: AVON'S QUARTERS
If Terminal taught me anything it is that Blake never was real. And that this can be turned to advantage.
**********************PART ONE: SOME DAYS EARLIER**************
ORAC. XENON BASE: AVON'S QUARTERS
[output] You are asking me to trace one line through the pattern of infinity, Avon! The task is not possible. As even you yourself should be able to deduce.
[input Avon] Surely you have sufficient data to reconstruct the... line?
[output] It is insufficient. Further reference points must be in place before the tracing process can begin.
[input Avon] [heavy exhalation/"sigh" cross-ref previous: impatience] Orac, begin checks on rebel activity on the planet Jevron during the period from five Earth years ago to one Earth year ago. Relay all information to my secure data store. Category Q.
SOOLIN. XENON BASE: WORKROOM III
I did cough when I came in, and made as much noise with the door as I felt was necessary; so I assume Avon is continuing to speak to Orac for effect. As in: Do not disturb. But when I put the cup down beside him, he gives a genuine start, turns, gives a genuine snarl. There is the combination of aggression and a certain almost-bewildered absence in his face which means he is near the point where he will sleep. Which I had suspected; hence the drink.
I seem to be less wary of him than the others. After their two years on the Liberator with him. I imagine that, as far as they are concerned, Avon is in as little danger of being interrupted here as in his own quarters. I wonder how much he has changed since then, since before he came to Xenon?
What I heard was: "Then I shall need full records on Stratter. Cross-reference all known associates and locations."
Was it for effect? Was it a test? What does Avon know?
"I thought I had made it clear I was not to be disturbed," he says now.
"Quite clear. I'm sorry, I thought you'd heard me come in." I turn to go out, but Orac's success rate is wildly variable and there's a chance that it will find something. If Avon doesn't know now, he might know soon. Either way, better to tell him myself. Even I am not entirely unwary of Avon.
"On Gauda Prime I worked briefly for the followers of a man called Stratter. Would that be the information you're after? And if so, wouldn't it have been simpler to ask me yourself?"
He is staring at me. Sometimes his face is quite transparent. He didn't know.
"Five years ago now. Why are you looking for him?"
Something in him breaks the rigidity of his back, his neck, into defeat. "Blake," he says softly, as if it was an answer to my question, then: "I am looking for Blake."
SOOLIN. XENON BASE: CREW ROOM
He doesn't look at me. At all. It feels obvious to me, but then I wonder how much eye contact he makes with any of us, ever.
"The information we have on Pylene-50 is extremely limited. As is the usefulness of the antitoxin."
Why does he always start with a lecture? Why doesn't he just give them the mission requirements?
Vila is fidgeting. Tarrant's whole body sprawls, managing to radiate intelligent attention in every confident line. Dayna is so poised, the way she sits, her body balanced so still on the edge of movement. I adjust the angle of my thighs to mirror hers, try and soften the line of my back; my spine is tense. I am very aware of the others, of Avon's eyes which never meet mine. I feel split.
"Unfortunately, we are unable to synthesise a substance which can reverse the effects. And in the long term, we shall need to. Our range of movement outside Federation space has already been severely restricted. Running," and he aims the smile just past Vila's left ear, "is only possible as long as there is somewhere left to run to."
Vila's face is sour.
"Orac has located a Dr Sten, who worked on a research station under Forbus some years ago. He is now working at an institute which receives Federation funding and protection, although it is officially non-aligned. It is possible that he will be able to assist us in developing an effective antidote. You, Soolin, will go to negotiate with him. Dayna, you will go with her as back-up. Tarrant, you will be piloting the ship and operating teleport only. I do not want Scorpio left empty at any time."
"Where is this institute?"
Avon's face shadows through that particular blank, distant look he has into amusement; he is looking past all of us as he answers.
XENON BASE: AVON'S QUARTERS
"You're expecting me to send Dayna in blind."
"It's becoming a habit of yours, Avon. And one I don't particularly like."
"Well, Soolin. We must all do things we don't particularly like."
"In the name of the revolution?"
Smile. "In the name of survival."
DAYNA. SCORPIO: IN-FLIGHT TO JEVRON.
"Did Avon mention why he isn't coming with us?"
Soolin looks towards Tarrant quickly, but his attention's all on flying, of course; I suppose she hasn't known him all that long, really.
"No," she says neutrally.
"I think I know."
"Yes. Jevron is... Jevron is where Blake died." I catch myself lowering my voice guiltily, as if he might be able to overhear from Xenon.
Her face flashes and masks itself in that complicated way it has. "Have you mentioned this to him?"
Oh, I have to laugh at that. "Of course I haven't!"
She relaxes, smiles at me. It's odd, really, how she seems even more sensitive that the rest of us to the great silence around those words: Gan. Blake. Jenna. Cally. Liberator.
Not a good omen, to start off thinking about them. I shiver slightly. Silly of me. It's going to be a perfectly straightforward mission. AVON. XENON BASE: AVON'S QUARTERS
I wonder whether it will be Blake or the clone? I wonder if it would matter?
Even he said this so-called revolution was a dream. It wouldn't matter at all.
SOOLIN. JEVRON: FEDERATION MENTAL INSTITUTE X44/ALPHA-9
The alarm is loud and at a certain pitch that makes me want to scream. The light is bouncing blindingly off these soft white walls. The lock is smoking where I had to shoot it out of the drunken, dangling door. And Stratter is sitting calmly on his bed, looking up at me like a broken android. Drugged. Useless. I should have expected it. I did expect it.
If I want the information I am going to have to go through with the whole plan. Damn it.
"Soolin?" Barely audible. I push the bracelet into my ear as I tug Stratter into a shambling half-run, losing track of where my gun is pointing. Not enough hands. Two more corridors and we'll be out. I just hope his group have the ground car waiting. This is insane.
"Soolin, it's Dayna. Three troopers have just got past me. They're heading for your position."
No, they're not. The corridor she thinks leads to Dr Sten's office is a dead end. It's a fucking dead end.
"Leave them, Dayna. Stay in the entrance. It's the only defendable position. Hold it. I'll be there soon."
I hope. This is insane.
"I'll - " she starts, but I have to take my gun hand away from my ear: guards.
TARRANT. SCORPIO: IN ORBIT, JEVRON SPACE
"Tarrant? It's Dayna. I need two-minute checks from my mark. Mark."
"Marked. Dayna, are you all right?"
"Yes. Two minutes."
I don't like this.
"Soolin? Soolin, are you all right? Do you need teleport?"
"Fine. No teleport. Out."
Oh, I really don't like this. Here I am, waiting by the teleport, and there Dayna is - on Jevron. Of all planets. I think Avon and Soolin might have some explaining to do.
Avon and Soolin.
VILA. XENON BASE: CREW ROOM
Avon and Soolin and Dayna and Tarrant and me.
Oh, and Dorian. And his monster. Something nasty in the cellar. We were all - nah, that's not true, is it? I wasn't there. I got overlooked. So they were all going to be sacrificed to it, sort of fused together into a big mass for the monster to eat, so that someone could stay alive. And turn a blind eye to his own corruption.
Lucky that didn't happen, eh?
Not drunk yet. Not drunk enough.
DAYNA. JEVRON: ENTRANCE TO INSTITUTE
Back against the wall, Dayna. That's twice I've almost forgotten no-one's covering my back. Strange, how used I've got to working with Tarrant.
They keep coming. I can't stop them all getting past.
No answer. I'm going to have to go in after her. I can't - If she gets hurt, I -
I'm going to have to go in.
SOOLIN. JEVRON: GROUND CAR.
I am not impressed.
After the hospital, the smell of dirt and failure in this crowded space is overwhelming. The man who is talking to me seems to think dirt is revolutionary, and he is drinking from a small flask between sentences.
Still, I'm looking for the man who chose Vila. Failure, dirt and cheap booze are probably the appropriate smell. Of course, he chose Avon as well, so perhaps I should expect a whiff of leather and exhaustion coming through somewhere.
"Yes," this man is saying. "He was quite particular that we not keep any information relating to him on the Tarriel cell computers."
"It sounds as though we are talking about the same person. All we need to know is the name he was using while he was on this planet."
He hesitates. I can't believe this.
"It's a small enough payment for a full-scale rescue operation." My hand is on my gun, in case something less subtle is going to be needed. "Of course, if your leader isn't worth it..."
"Sumner," he says.
BRACELET COMMLINK. SCORPIO/JEVRON.
"Dayna? Two-minute check."
SOOLIN. SCORPIO: IN-FLIGHT TO XENON BASE.
Sometimes I get angry with Avon for what he's done to Dayna. I don't think that this is the life she would have chosen, or that it was Avon's right to choose for her. That it's not a healthy life goes without saying. Especially at the moment.
I think it looks worse than it is.
Sometimes I get angry with Avon, but then I think, why not? What would I have chosen for her? A safe place? I'm old enough to know better, and so is she. She's no younger than me, really. Sometimes the world walks right into your home like God and fucks you up and in the end you don't choose, you get chosen. So, why not?
I've picked that up from Avon. I've started picking up his phrases, his habits of mind. I did that with Dorian too, but then when they killed him I didn't turn a hair. Sometimes I feel like ... I follow the sun. Dorian. Avon. AVON. XENON BASE: AVON'S QUARTERS
We need Blake.
Five immunes and a teleport are not enough. If we are to form any alliances whatsoever, we will need leverage. We need money, or a weapon, or an antidote... or a legend.
Certainly our activities lately have not been calculated to improve our own reputation among the rebel forces. Or not until - not until Terminal.
Back to Terminal.
Do we need Blake? Or is it just that I need him? How can I tell?
At least, perhaps, if I begin this I have a chance of finishing it. Then perhaps I have a chance of finding a train of thought or a course of action that does not lead me back to Terminal.
SCORPIO: IN-FLIGHT TO XENON BASE.
"I think you've brushed it enough."
"I said, I think you've brushed it enough, Soolin."
"When did you become an expert on hairdressing, Tarrant?" But she puts down the brush and starts plaiting.
"I'm sorry. I think I'm a little on edge."
"Under the circumstances, yes."
"I'm sure she'll be all right. These shoulder wounds often look worse than they are."
"I've seen a few injuries from Federation weapons myself, Soolin."
"Then you agree with me."
"Probably. I don't know. How can we know until we get her back to base?"
"We can't. So I suggest you stop worrying about it."
Sharp exhalation, almost a laugh. "Oh yes, that's easy enough for you to say. Dayna's important to me, you know. We ..."
"I know how close the two of you are. And were."
"Then you might want to think about how you would feel if it were Avon lying there."
Smile. Under her breath: "I wouldn't turn a hair."
AVON. XENON BASE: AVON'S QUARTERS
When we find him it will be finished. Whichever it is. Whether it is him or the clone, and whether or not it matters, I just want it finished. I just want to be free of him.
I just want to touch him again.
I just want to get some sleep.
SOOLIN. XENON BASE: MED ROOM
Avon's voice. I hadn't heard him come in. He's standing beside me, in front of the dim light. Our shadows falling over her body. Her face is so smooth in sleep.
"She's fine," I say, cold and tired, turning to look into his face. Which is not smooth and which has not slept. On the other hand, neither is it attached to a shoulder which has been smashed into very small pieces.
"I know. I'm glad. I will be thanking her too, when she comes round."
"For what? As far as she knows, she's accomplished nothing. Unless, of course, you've managed to come up with an antidote formula. In your spare time."
His mouth twitches slightly at that, but then it spreads into the smile. He is always amused by his own failures, it seems.
"For her trust," he says deliberately. "And her skill. And her courage. We know what she has risked for us. We need Blake as much as we need that antidote, if we are going to win. So does it matter whether she knows what she was running that risk for?" His eyes and the tension in his hands are like drum rolls on those words: trust. Blake. Need. Win.
"You're not going to tell her," is all I can manage to say. Dry. I'm wrung out, these past few days.
He gets up, walks to the door.
VILA. XENON BASE: VILA'S CABIN
Here we go. We've - this weird new Xenon-we - we've had our first casualty on a straightforward mission.
I remember what comes next: Star One.
There's only me and Avon left to remember that, to know what comes next, and Avon... well, he doesn't learn from Blake's mistakes, he's already proved that to us. In glorious technicolour. Terminal.
Gan. Blake. Jenna. Cally. It'll be me or him next.
The worst of it is, when Blake was here at least we were fighting for something. Maybe none of us believed in it, but Blake did. Avon believes in sod-all. Except Blake. And Blake's dead. One way or another. Even if we did find him it would still be Terminal all over again.
Star fucking Three.
DAYNA. XENON BASE: MED ROOM
"Did you find out? Will Dr Sten be working for us?"
Her rare smile; her hair brushes my shoulder as she leans over to adjust something.
"Isn't 'Where am I' more traditional?"
"I'm in the med room. Aren't I?" I try to sit up to see past her, feeling - testing- the stretch and the heat of the tissue graft on my shoulder. It doesn't hurt much. It can't have been too bad.
I am in the med room. Of course.
"How's the shoulder?"
"It's fine. Why aren't you telling me? Did something go wrong?"
"No," she says. Or really, she says "... No."
"I knew it! Soolin, what's going on?"
"Avon has other priorities," she says, and this time the smile is secret and bitter. I touch her arm and it changes, warming me.
"Orac has intercepted Federation transmissions about something of great value on a planet called Virn. The planet sounds unpleasant and the nature of the mineral is alarmingly vague. But it seems to be taking precedence over further resea rch into a Pylene-50 antidote, for the moment."
Which doesn't quite answer my question.
SOOLIN. XENON BASE: SOOLIN'S QUARTERS
Can I do this? The honesty of our two bodies, the nakedness of them, all the small touches and sounds we share, all the ways we know the other likes to be touched, every touch remembering the first time we touched there and that way, thos e eyes suddenly without secrets looking at me, and me with secrets, me knowing that I lied, this is not honest any more...
Oh, but I'm hungry for it. Simplicity, laughter, touching in a way I can pretend doesn't hurt, couldn't hurt, that honesty reflecting between our eyes, even if it is a pretence. I'm greedy for it.
Can I? Of course I can.
Her mouth on mine; of course I can.
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