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By Vanessa Mullen
Page 1 of 3

The bar was quite a high-class place, at least as far as bars on Gauda Prime went. Deva stepped through the door with some distaste. The floor was muddy underfoot: the boot-scrapings of the dozens of miners who passed through here every day. The walls were bare, unpainted wood and the dying light from the fire in the corner cast cast twisted, elongated shadows on the planks. Where the planks warped, the wind came in uninvited. Some day, perhaps, a proper building would be erected, but until then, prefabricated buildings were expensive, and timber was cheap.

      In the far corner, Deva could see the bar's only occupant - resting with his elbows slumped on the table, head between his hands - Blake was obviously drunk.

      Deva wondered briefly whether the journey out here had been worth it. Fifteen kilometers out from the base, and this was the fourth bar he'd had to look in before finally locating his friend. He plumped himself down on the bench across from Blake, and looked across to stare into the empty face. Blake was unshaven, dishevelled; the scar over his eye looked dirty. In fact his whole appearance was that of a man who didn't give a damn how he looked.

      "You can't go on like this forever," Deva said softly.

      Blake raised one eyebrow and stared at him. "Why not?"

      "There's work to be done. There's people depending on you." He tried to convey a sense of urgency. "You've got to come back - you can't dwell in the past forever. She's gone, Blake. You've got to accept it."

      "Maybe I don't want to accept it," Blake said roughly. "Maybe I don't give a damn anymore. Maybe I just want to stay in this bar and rot."

      "Jenna wouldn't have wanted it that way."

      "How the hell can you know what Jenna wanted?"

      "She chose to follow you," Deva replied firmly. "That's all I need to know. She chose the same path I did. And now, you're letting down her and everyone else who followed you. We need you, Blake."

      Had it always been that way? Blake wondered. Had he always had to live for every whim of those who needed him? Had he always organized his life around other people? Had there ever been a time when he'd done something purely and simply because he wanted to do it himself? Yes, perhaps there had been. Or even then, had he only been doing what Jenna wanted?




Being on board Liberator was exhilarating; Blake knew it was going to be a long time before the novelty wore off. At the same time, it was a potentially explosive way of living. Four men and two women. Anyone could do the basic arithmetic. Or perhaps that should have been four men and one woman. Cally had a curious sexless quality to her, as though the idea of being attracted to a man had never even occurred to her. Perhaps it was some trait of the Auronar and he was failing to read her body language accurately, but it seemed more likely that she simply wasn't attracted to non-telepaths. Whatever the reason, apart from Vila, who seemed to be drawn automatically to anything in skirts, the attention of all the men on Liberator was focussed solely on Jenna. Her own preference was obvious. Blake knew, if he asked her, she would sleep with him, but he hesitated. Any relationship that he had with Jenna was bound to cause jealousy in the other men. The situation on Liberator was quite tense enough already, without having any additional reasons for resentment from his ever-reluctant crew. So, he chose celibacy, and believed that he could live with it.

      But Jenna had had other ideas.




Not for the first time, Blake wondered why the Liberator's designers had not had the forethought to put some kind of food dispenser on the flight deck. Dying for a cup of coffee, he left Vila on watch and went down to the crew room. At least the coffee there was drinkable. Well, to call it coffee was probably being generous: it was some kind of alien beverage which had a flavour vaguely reminiscent of coffee. And at that, it was better than most of the other things that the food dispenser had to offer.

      He walked through the door of the crew room, and stopped short - Jenna and Avon were standing close together in the corner, obviously discussing something private. Jenna looked up as he entered, and smiled.

      "Blake, she said, coming to her feet, "I get the impression you've been avoiding me."

      He started slightly. It was true; he had been trying to avoid her during her off-watch periods. The physical attraction he felt for Jenna was growing; it was becoming extremely difficult to to keep his hands off her.

      She came closer, and touched him lightly on the shoulder. "Blake, I really think we need to talk."

      He grasped her hand firmly, and put it back down beside her waist. "Jenna, it won't work." he said determinedly. "If you and I pair off, what's everyone else going to think?"

      "What?" drawled a voice from the corner. "Worried about your reputation, Blake?"

      "No," he said, angry in spite of himself. Avon always had the knack of riling him. "It's not good for the group dynamics of a small number of people, if some of us pair off and the rest are left... Well - you know what I mean."

      Avon grinned. "Oh, yes. I know all too well. Does it worry you that much if the rest of us have to go without. Be careful, Blake - your halo needs polishing."

      Jenna interrupted. "Blake," she said, with conviction, "you may be a saint, but I'm not. You may be capable of remaining celibate for the next two centuries - but not me. Look, we have to resolve this situation one way or the other."

      Her forthrightness surprised him. Although Blake didn't look on himself as a prude, it wasn't a subject he cared to discuss in public. "Jenna," he said, taking a slight step back.

      She followed him. "Blake, if you don't give me what I want, I'll go elsewhere."

      "You wouldn't," he said, automatically.

      "I would."

      "She would," agreed Avon, with a smile. He hadn't even left his seat, but Blake was aware of a sense of lazy expectation about him.

      "Well, Blake?" asked Jenna.

      "I don't believe you," he said hoarsely. "You're not that kind of woman."

      She gave him a half-mocking look and walked over to Avon, who came to his feet to meet her. "How would you know what kind of a woman I am?" she asked Blake.

      Avon placed his arms casually around her shoulders. The two of them embraced, falling into a kiss that seemed easy and natural. Their bodies moved closer together, and Blake couldn't stand it any more.

      "Jenna!" he barked.

      She disengaged herself from the kiss, without any undue haste, and turned to face him.

      "All right," he said furiously, aware he was over-reacting, knowing that he was giving himself away to both of them, and unable to prevent it. "All right! But not now. Later."

      "As long as it's not too much later," said Jenna, and casually left the room, her hips swaying in a motion that screamed at him.

      Blake stared at Avon for a minute. Avon, nonchalant, seemed entirely unperturbed by the entire exchange. Sitting down again, he lifted his feet to cross them on the table, and looked at Blake with some slight amusement.

      "And where does all that leave you?" Blake demanded.

      Avon leaned back and cocked his head slightly to one side. "I can take it or leave it. For the moment, I think she'd rather have you. I'm in no rush." A smile flitted across his face. "She'll get fed up of you eventually."




Blake spent the rest of his watch with a bad case of the fidgets. He was unnaturally aware of Jenna at her console; of her every movement; of the way the light caught her hair; of the way her dress emphasized the movement of her breasts; the shape of her legs; everything about her. Anger also burned at him. He detested the way she'd used him, manipulated him, backed him into a corner. When his watch came to an end, he left for his cabin without even looking at her.

      Half-an-hour later, he was still feeling no better. He flipped from one emotion to another, wanting to make love to her, wanting to strangle her. He tried to concentrate on an engineering text, but got precisely nowhere. After re-reading the same paragraph three times over, he gave up and switched the viewer off in disgust. He paced up and down his cabin, frustration eating at him; should he seek Jenna out - or should he wait for her to come to him? He wasn't even sure what he'd do when he saw her next: kiss her or hit her.

      A knock on the door brought him round abruptly. He slammed at the entry panel. Jenna stood in the doorway, blue dress flowing from bare shoulders to the floor. Her hair, brushed out, shone in a golden halo around her head. Blake hesitated no longer.

      He seized her hungrily, arms pulling her close, lips feeding off hers, an embrace that fed off every frustrated passion he'd felt over the past few months. Jenna's mouth opened under his; her arms pulled him tight. Her tongue forced its way between his lips, and he could feel her accelerated breathing, the gentle moan as she pressed closer to him.

      He broke free abruptly. "Don't you think we ought to close the door?"

      She looked blankly at him for a moment, pupils wide and reflecting his face. Then she laughed slightly, and nodded.

      Blake stepped aside to press the door panel once more, and as he did so, felt her hands running down his back, smoothing their way up his spine, teasing the hair on the back of his neck. He turned around, grabbed her, crushing her close to him, pressing her head against his shoulder. She said something, the words coming out muffled against his tunic.


      "I said," she repeated, her head lifted away from his chest now, "I see you're no longer in a bad temper."

      "No," Blake said seriously. "I don t think I could stay in a bad temper with you for long."

      Her fingers started working at the fastenings of his shirt. Framing her face with his hands, he tilted her head to look up into his eyes. "I'd always thought," he said teasingly, "that one was supposed to start these affairs with a romantic dinner by candlelight."

      "Candlelight be damned," she said. "I've waited months for this, Blake. You can give me the romantic dinner afterwards."

      "Oh," he said, deliberately pretending to misunderstand. "And what is it you've been waiting for all these months?"

      A hand slipped down to feel the bulge between his legs. "This," she said, emphatically.

      "And that's all you want?" he said, somehow vaguely disappointed. "Is that all you want from me? Wouldn't any of them have done for that?"

      "No," she said, serious now. She slid her arms around his waist. "I want it with you, Blake. Not Gan, not Vila. Not even Avon, although I admit he's attractive. With you. That's what makes the difference. You're the one I respect."

      "Just respect, Jenna?" he chided her mildly.

      Her eyes danced. "Ask me that again in an hour. And then maybe I'll say that I love you."




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