Prime SuspectBy Nova
Page 1 of 4
Blake was lying in the medical unit, staring at the wall. An old wall, built
by the descendants of the original Gauda Prime settlers, back in the days
when the colonists thought a single underground fortress would be enough to
defend them against the crimos and mercenaries flocking to the latest Open
Planet. There were cracks and dents in the grey plascrete, where shadows
collected. With a slight narrowing of the eyes and a strenuous effort of the
imagination, he could make one of the shadows resemble a Roman profile.|
An old wall. It had been waiting there for years. Now he was up against it.
'Why?' he asked the shadow. 'Why? Why? Why?'
Deva had brought the book plaque where Blake stored his personal library but he couldn't focus on the shimmering screen, not after ten hours in a cryogenic chamber and even longer on the base's operating table. His gut ached, inside the medifoam breastplate that held his reconstructed organs in place, and his heart hurt. But unfortunately his brain was already functioning, adequately if not impressively.
_Why why why why why?_
So it was a relief to hear the shuffle of reluctant footsteps. Not Deva, who scampered, or the medical staff, who bustled - just a cautious, barely audible patter, sidling through the door and hesitating perceptibly.
'Hello, Vila,' Blake said, cutting off the possibility of escape.
'You're awake, then,' Vila observed with a tinge of regret. 'That little 2IC of yours thought you could use a visit. How are you feeling? No, scrub that. I can see for myself. You look like death warmed up.' He dragged a chair across to the bedside and sat down, saying casually,'More to the point, how do you feel about your old chum, Avon?'
Blake shifted position and winced. 'How do you think I should be feeling?'
'Livid,' Vila offered. 'Murderous. Itching for revenge. Ordering your rebels to stand him against a wall and make him stare down the barrels of their guns for half an hour, before they shoot him. But you haven't done that, have you? Why not, Blake?'
'I can't judge Avon,' Blake said heavily. 'Not yet. Not till I can make sense of what he did.'
Vila sniggered. 'You'll be waiting a while,' he commented. 'When did Kerr Bloody Avon ever make sense?'
He lolled back in the chair, presenting a passable imitation of humorous resignation, except for the bleakly vigilant eyes that peered through the mask. Blake frowned.
'What did he do to you, Vila?' he asked.
'Only tried to push me out of an airlock, when that rat-in-a-box Orac suggested it,' Vila said bitterly. 'If Avon hadn't tripped on the bit of neutron star that was holding us back, I wouldn't be here now, complaining about him.'
Blake's hand twitched on the bedspread but he couldn't summon the strength to raise it to his mouth, so he gnawed at his lower lip instead. 'That can't have been pleasant,' he said after a while. 'It sounds as though Avon's changed a lot, over the past few years. But - sorry, Vila, I still need to understand his motives, before I can condemn him.'
They sat in silence for a few minutes, Blake staring at the wall, Vila fidgetting restlessly. 'Are you sure that's why you're being soft on him, Blake?' he said abruptly. 'Back on Liberator, I sometimes wondered ... I mean, did you ...? Were you and Avon ...?'
That startled a laugh out of Blake. He clutched his chest and said,'Yes and no. Yes, we did, from time to time - and no, we couldn't have been described as lovers. Avon had an ... unfortunate experience at his Alpha Elite boarding school, so he always vehemently denied there was anything queer about him, even when we were in bed together. I kept hoping he'd come to terms with it but - oh well, I tend to err on the side of optimism.'
Vila's gaze softened. 'You really fancied him, didn't you?' he marvelled. Then he scowled and added,'Wait a bloody minute. In that case, why did you eff off after Star One and leave us all in the lurch?'
'I didn't,' Blake said mildly. 'I got in touch with Zen, while I was en route to Epheron, but after I landed, I was caught up in a minor riot that occupied my attention for a day or two. And next time I tried to contact the Liberator, Zen refused to recognise my voice print.'
He scratched at a fugitive itch under the bodycast, while Vila worked through the implications. 'Nasty,' he said finally. 'It's lucky you weren't stuck in a Chengan organ bank, like me and Cally. Wonder why Zen blocked your voice print but not ours. Maybe Tarrant's Federation thugs messed up the codes or something. Although - hang on, even if Zen bounced you, there was always Orac.'
'Yes, that occurred to me too,' Blake said, ferociously jovial. 'Mind you, I didn't do anything about it. At first I assumed Avon had deleted my voice print, as a nice easy way to be free of me, and after that I had ... other reasons for staying away. Then, later, when I heard your group had been assisting the rebels on Helotrix, I started to wonder whether Avon might've changed his mind about rebels in general. So I sent him a series of messages via Orac. He never answered.'
Vila blinked. 'Now, there's a mystery. I was sure ... just let me think - yes, back when Avon told us you were his new figurehead for the rebellion, he said he'd found you by getting Orac to, um, trace a line through the pattern of infinity. Why would they've bothered to do that, if your messages were getting through? You don't suppose someone on your base might've been blocking the transmission?'
'It's technically possible,' Blake admitted. 'But Deva handles all the base's computer programming and I've got no reason to doubt his loyalty.'
'Perhaps he thought you and Avon weren't good for each other,' Vila said with a sudden grin. 'He wouldn't be the first, by a long road.'
'Perhaps,' Blake agreed. 'Or perhaps Avon ordered Orac to delete any messages from me unread, till he found a use for - what did he call me? A figurehead.'
Vila's grin faded. 'Don't take it so hard, Blake,' he urged. 'Avon likes you - and he doesn't like many people.'
'He has an interesting way of showing it,' Blake said drily. 'You wouldn't happen to have any proof of that statement, would you?'
'It's hard to give an actual example,' Vila temporised. He wriggled uncomfortably, then said in a rush,'Oh, all right. Since you insist, there _was _ this time when we went back to Earth and things got ... difficult and afterwards Avon locked himself in his cabin for twenty four hours. The others started to get a bit anxious, so I, y'know, let myself in. Avon was sound asleep, looking so pale and pretty that I accidentally leaned down and kissed him and - this is the proof you wanted - he grabbed hold of me and said, "Blake." Then he woke up and proceeded to tear strips off me for breaking into his cabin. But everyone knows about my little habits, so I always thought he turned on me because I wasn't you.'
A sudden pang knifed up and under Blake's ribs. He ran a methodical check on his battered body and finally located the pain in his heart, stretched beyond capacity by the memories he'd been trying to suppress. Avon fast asleep. Avon presenting his mouth to be kissed. Avon saying,'Blake.' Avon lifting that ridiculous gun and firing, once, twice, three times ...
By the time he'd wrestled the memories back into place, the chair beside his bed was empty. Blake studied it thoughtfully, replaying the conversation. _Vila was right. It is a mystery. The facts don't add up, which means I need more information._
He decided to send for Vila again, after his daily bath, but the effort required to endure the orderly's careful handling was enough to wipe out all his previous intentions. Instead he slumped back onto the pillows and lay there, muttering,'Why? Why? Why?', until he drifted into an uneasy doze.
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