At Three O'Clock After the WarBy Sally M
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leaders, who had all been involved in freeing the planet during the war, were
nervous. None more so than Audris, the erstwhile Councillor whose connection
with the famous rebel Shivan and reputed liaisons with at least two members of
the even more famous crew of the Liberator (though not, it was believed, the
most-famous-of-all, Blake) did not compensate for her vanity, her capacity for
meddling and her utter inability to put anyone and anything - even her people -
before her own ends. |
Bram Ballaraeke had found her grimly amusing.
"She reminds me of someone," he had said.
"Oh?" This was interesting, since Deva hadn't thought Ballaraeke remembered anyone enough to be reminded. "Who?"
"I don't know."
Well, at least Ballaraeke could joke about it. Even if the joke hurt both speaker and listeners alike.
And at least Audris would stay. The stories about what the President-and-Supreme-Commander had done on Jevron - looking for something, or someone, no one quite knew - were still flying six months after the event. Those about what she had done to Auron were even murkier, even bloodier. Maybe she wasn't coming for Disentastra - maybe there was something else in the empty waste spaces of sector 6 - but few wanted to take the chance.
"Be honest, Deva. I'll be of little use there as here. Flotsam..." A silence, then as soft as a breath. "War wreckage."
"It doesn't matter, Ballaraeke -" Wrong thing to say, he knew that as soon as the words left his mouth.
"Like hell it doesn't!" The words were like a whiplash - startled, Deva stared into a gaze as dark and as cold as hell. Slowly, Ballaraeke relaxed. "The hell it doesn't," he repeated more softly.
"Your friends here see your worth - your worth, for who you are not who you might have been. Even if you don't." Deva spoke with an over-obvious show of patience. "You - the man you are now - could be a leader, Ballaraeke . Not a name, not a figurehead. People trust you, they follow you. I've already told you, I'll follow you, Klyn would, most of the people here would - hell, Frater would -!"
"No, Frater is staying here."
"Yes, he's just as stubborn -"
"He's still waiting for his legend," Ballaraeke paused, "Blake, to reappear."
There was a silence. "Perhaps." Deva sighed. "Unless he is dead, as they say. Dead legends won't build armies any more."
"And you think we can?"
"Probably not, but we could fake it for a while."
"Well, they say Blake's army started on Cygnus Alpha. Not," Deva said with a faint, worried frown, "that I'm suggesting there"
"People can't follow a man who is himself lost, Deva."
"Some people can. I can. Though," he added with semi-apologetic honesty, "I'll be kicking myself at least half the way. And complaining for the other half."
Ballaraeke shrugged again, watching the battlesquirts fighting among themselves. Deva had once theorised that a clump of battlesquirts was a metaphor for the galactic rebellion - lots of 'legs' going in all directions, lots of mindless little heads pushing and fighting, and all a complete tangle of aims, ambitions, expectations and ideas.
A mass, or a mess, and going nowhere.
He had to admit he was not inspired with metaphors.
He sat on the edge of the universe again, and watched the crowd. The bloody pools were drying up, mixing with the mud and the dirt.
One of the shadows detached, floating away, still just in the edge of his mind's eye - slight, unnaturally slender, a woman with what might have been dark curly hair and great hollow eyes - and skimmed towards the place where the blackness began. Swept down and was gone...
That night, the scream came from nowhere and everywhere at once.
Deva shot upright in his chair, throwing off the fragments of a nightmare - darkness, suffocating cold, and a crumbling underground bunker that shuddered and imploded into itself, crashing with a roar that swallowed up the woman's - woman's? - scream...
Now that voice he knew, and it came from outside.
He went to the window. Ballaraeke was outside, staring up at the harsh, black night sky, face twisted and terrifying in its pain. Without a word he turned and half-ran, half-stumbled away into the shadows, towards the relative safety behind the building, ignoring the others.
People were milling around both inside and out, confused, frightened - mostly half-awake, to Deva's slightly more than half-awake mind - and none of them making sense.
"Deva?" Someone called to him. It was one of the other technicians, a toad-faced little person who was even less suited to a war than Deva. "Did you hear that voice?"
"Some screamed for Bram, didn't they? We all heard -"
Deva stared after Ballaraeke, ignoring the others. "No," he said faintly. "I didn't hear anyone call Bram."
He saw Frater at the doorway, staring out. Not wanting to talk to the leader, rather afraid of the questions he might ask and the answers he might find, Deva shut the window, and the world out, and went back to his desk.
It was three in the morning, he noticed blearily. Hell of a time to be chasing new nightmares.
He wondered how Klyn was going on Gauda Prime.
Was gone. And he knew he couldn't stay on the edge of the galaxy. There had to be somewhere he could hide from the crowds wading in blood... and find out who he had been.
In the canal, the battlesquirts were also gone - a few trailing tentacles, losing their colour and drifting in the water. It happened every time.
A small ginger glimmerbird sat on the window and chittered at him, faking hunger and friendliness and total innocence; like him it lied. Further back, he could see an injured blackraptor watching it with flat black eyes. The raptor reminded him in some ways of Ballaraeke, and that made him uneasy.
Not uneasy enough, however. The latest reports had lost sight of the President's ship, but that didn't mean it wasn't there, and wouldn't come back.
"Cally." Standing on the edge of the canal again, Deva said it cautiously, as if it were a lump of meat for the raptor's claws, or the glimmerbird's better-hidden ones.
"Unusual name, these days."
"In fact," even more cautiously, "I can only think of two or three times I've heard the name. And they were aliens," a pause, "like the woman on the Liberator."
"The legend Frater didn't meet." The sour savagery in the voice was new, and it worried him. "The Auronar."
"The one who - is dead."
"Are you sure?"
"I heard her."
"So did I - and Frater - and half the people here. You want to stay and answer questions?"
"I can't. I don't have any answers. Except that she's dead." He bent his head. "They're all dead."
"They wouldn't have left her to die."
"Who wouldn't have?"
"The others. I - don't know."
"I have to leave." Ballaraeke got to his feet, staring down at the water with eyes more haunted than before. "Before Frater - and Commissioner Audris - and others - start adding up as you have, and getting it wrong."
"As I have?"
"Perhaps. I still don't recall, you know. I know she's dead, and I can't stay here, I have to get away from where I felt her die." His voice dropped to a thin, despairing whisper. "They're all dead, they must be. There's nothing left. But who she is and they are -"
"I meant it when I said I'd follow you. So did the others." A silence. "So did Klyn, even though she left."
"I know." It was said quietly, but without question. For someone who didn't know his own name, Ballaraeke could be an arrogant bastard.
"And the rebellion can still use our people, you know. Somewhere else."
"To the mudhole? Or to Gauda Prime?"
Deva sighed. "Well, between Klyn and myself, we should be able to come up with a cover on Gauda Prime. We'll need to be careful, take things slowly, build roles we can play." He sighed again, more theatrically. "I just hope my less than stellar skills at conning are up to it."
"Gauda Prime... why not." Ballaraeke said finally, and shook his head, and smiled slightly, the smile twisting ferally with the scar. "Why not. It's somewhere else to chase."
"The dead man I once was," he stopped, the silence touched with despair, "who might have been Blake."
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