PressuredBy Sally M
Page 2 of 3
Now we've made it. Two days flat it took, and I don't think Avon
slept the whole way. Gan's signal comes in - and by the way, I do wish they
hadn't chosen the same signal you and Kasabi used before Control, but Gan
thinks it's lucky. Avon hits the reply and teleport before it even finishes,
and four figures shimmer into view. There's Cally, thinner and more severe
than our last visit, Gan who's trying to carry our plastic-box-with-brains Orac
and half-carry you at the same time, and you... looking like this. |
You look older, do you know that? You did last time too, older and thinner and - drained, somehow, as if the war and your loyal followers are wearing you out, draining you dry. Even your eyes looked tired and dull, but they still looked alive compared to this. Your body's alive, but your mind - isn't there.
"Well?" Avon doesn't speak until we're in the medical unit. He's helping Gan lie you on a gurney; his hands are clumsy, slightly awkward, which isn't like him, is it? But his voice is still cold and there's nothing on his face at all.
I hate seeing you like this, Blake, I really do. Especially after all this time. I keep waiting for you to open your eyes and snap at Avon, or throw that half-amused, half-impatient look at me, the one that made me realise you were at least half-listening when I was talking. Instead you just lie there, eyes closed, mouth slack and face - empty. Horribly, frighteningly empty.
Cally hands him a small black box, or the twisted remains of one. "Memory control device," she spits. "Ven Glynd's doing, I believe, but we have no proof. It seems to have suddenly malfunctioned, and Gan... stopped it."
"Sorry." Gan shrugs, not looking at all sorry as he settles Orac on a table next to the gurney.
"Is Ven Glynd still alive?" Avon's voice would freeze a lava flow in its path, "And if he is, why is he still alive?"
"Because they - we - the rebels need him. Avon, the war is going well," she says, carefully not looking at him, "but we can hardly afford to lose Blake at this point, let alone a high-profile recruit with such him."
"Spare me the rhetoric," Avon snaps. "He is useful. Therefore the idealists will swallow their principles."
"Did I say I disapprove, Cally?" He turns that look on her, raising an eyebrow. "If he is useful, they can use him. I would not have thought, though, that he was more useful than Blake."
"Blake held the factions together," Gan sits heavily. "Even I could see that."
"And if even he could see that..."
Gan merely frowns at him, mildly annoyed but no more. "And yes, many of the factions follow his lead. But if Orac is right -"
"About the memory control. If the factions found out the man they've been following, obeying - hell, fighting for -"
"Is being whistled up like a service robot -" Avon adds.
"By one of our enemies who betrayed his own side -"
"After betraying Blake in the first place, at that farce of a trial. Oh yes, it would do nothing to reaffirm faith in their Beloved Leader." That nasty baring of teeth that he probably thinks is a smile appears, for the first time since we got rid of Presidential Secretary Rodent, or Rontane, or whoever he was.
"That is unfair," Cally interrupts. She always did lean towards being fairer than at all necessary. "Ven Glynd has been secretly gathering information and contacts for years, he explained that."
"Avon, he gave us proof of all he's done."
"Had he moved to save Blake, he would merely have gone down with -"
"Of course." Avon picked up the shattered black box. "And that - justifies - this."
She pauses, wilts a little. "No. No it doesn't."
"Ven Glynd can wait," he says, and I can tell that Cally and Gan like the sound of that as much as I do, "tell me about Blake." He looks down at the rat-in-a-box. "What has Orac found?"
"Orac did a test," Cally says quickly.
"Correct. It appears to be a remnant of the original conditioning Blake was subjected to; a hypnotic state originally created by drugs and triggers. Ven Glynd obviously obtained, or always possessed, the original triggering processes and has been using them to, as Avon rightly says, whistle Blake up, thus controlling the defacto leader of the Earth factions. Because this was not discovered and halted at the correct time -"
"Immediately," Avon grates.
"Exactly, the damage done, and the danger of permanent incapacitation is far greater." You know, Orac ought to learn not to sound so pleased when giving us bad news.
"And you suggest?"
Gan and Cally look at each other, and I can tell that what Orac suggested is something they don't like. But Cally gets in first, ahead of our electronic know-it-all. "He suggests eradication therapy."
Avon frowns, whether because she interrupted or because he doesn't like the sound of that. "Orac?"
"Do you doubt my decision?"
"Orac..." There's a warning in Avon's low growl, and with all its electronic brains, Orac ought to know when not to push. But it doesn't - well, that hasn't changed, at least.
"I have already outlined to Cally the steps needed for..."
"Oh very well. If Blake is to have any chance of recovery, he will need two hours minimum of eradication therapy, in five minute treatment periods interspersed by one hour rest periods. A total of twenty-six hours. It will," the junkheap adds placidly, "be extremely unpleasant for all concerned."
Oh great. Sorry Blake, but I don't like the sound of this, I don't like it at all. I think I'd better find a reason to be somewhere else.
"The alternatives are simple," it goes on placidly. "Insanity, or death."
We're all staring down at you, and I can't help wondering if you're still even in there, if you know we're here. You don't look it. You don't even look like you're dreaming, though from what Cally and Gan told us, that may be a relief. The dreams, Blake - they've been bad, haven't they?
"No alternatives at all, then," Avon says. "Any further - advice, Orac?"
"Of course," Orac chirps. "It will be dual therapy - with another human remain conscious so as to monitor approximation to stress threshold."
"You, Cally," Avon says, and I breathe a little easier.
She shrugs. "Very well." That's our Cally, always ready to rush in where no sane angel would dream of treading.
"Suggest another human," Orac says.
Cally frowns, a little put out. "I'm not that alien."
"Me?" And that's our Gan, always ready to - well, lumber in.
"No. You are still implanted with a limiter, and that could be adversely affected." Damn. Oh damn. That leaves the two anything-but-angels on board, and I can't see Avon rushing in anywhere, not even for Blake. He's not about to volunteer for anything Orac so cheerfully calls "unpleasant".
"Suggest -" Orac seems to pause, and I can see Avon's mouth tighten as he turns to look at - no, past me.
He and Orac speak together - creepy, I call it. "Ven Glynd."
So Avon and Gan teleport back down to - persuade the ex-Arbiter General to come and do the right thing by Blake. I'm trying not to think about exactly how Avon is going to persuade him, I'm just glad Avon isn't planning to persuade me.
Better him than one of us, that's what I keep thinking. Even if he's coerced and we - might not have been.
Cally is still sitting next to Blake - who's still unconscious - and gazing around with mildly wistful eyes.
"D'you miss it?" I ask. What I want to ask is, does she miss us.
"Sometimes. Gan does, even more than I do, I think."
"And Blake? I mean, before this happened."
She shrugs. "I don't know. He never seemed to... but then he wouldn't."
That doesn't make sense. "Why not?"
"I think, because he believed he'd never come back." She reaches out and touches his forehead. "At least not alive, and not like this. Never, never like this."
Avon strides back into the medical centre, holding a gun on a plumpish, smugly legal type with a small pursey mouth and small crafty eyes. He's the sort who always screamed both 'lawyer' and 'crooked' when all I ever knew were crooked lawyers - well, and crooks. "Vila, get to the flight deck and help Gan take us out of orbit."
"You have no right, you know." Ven Glynd, to give him credit, doesn't seem that scared, even with Avon's best air of menace trailing all over the medical unit. "Blake will not approve -"
Avon turns, and does that baring his teeth thing again. "Blake is in no position to argue." And steps around the gurney Blake is still lying on.
"What -?" Well, that shakes some of the smugness out of him - he goes white as his own little beard, and his fussy little mouth falls open.
"After all," Avon says with silky malice, "this is your doing, good intentions or not. You can help to undo it."
"That is impossible, it cannot be undone at this stage. You could hurt him."
Cally speaks in a voice as cold as space. "You have hurt him. We seek to undo the hurt."
"What I did was necessary," Ven Glynd draws himself up a little, "for the greater good. Sacrifices must be made, sometimes ugly actions are needed to achieve them. You should know that, you were prepared to kill or destroy when he ordered."
But I don't know the answer to that one, Blake. Remind me to ask you, if you don't die.
Luckily Avon doesn't care whether there's an answer or not, he never did. "Orac, prepare for the therapy. Cally, get the restraints - for both of them. Vila -"
"I'm going, I'm going!" Oh yes, I'm going all right.
"The rebel alliance will not agree to this, Cally, they will support me if Blake's mental stability is in question. You know that." Give him his due, he only sounds slightly terrified, when I'd be more-than-slightly gibbering with panic. Cally says nothing, and I realise that she probably does; that's why she called for Avon. "You have no right - I cannot be coerced like this."
"Oh, you can," Avon interrupts. "And you will. And if you die," he goes on in what he probably thinks is the voice of sweet reason, "you'll be remembered as a martyr who gave his all to the cause. What better epitaph?"
"And if I refuse?"
"Then you will die."
"Cally," Ven Glynd is still trying, I can't help pausing to hear what he tries next. "You can't let him. You know what I'm doing for the war effort, more even than Blake could do alone. What I can do, what could be lost to the cause -"
As the door slides shut, Avon speaks with thin, icy precision. "Fuck the cause of freedom." Well, icy something, at any rate. Avon never did care for causes, except his own.
As I run for the flight deck, I don't hear anyone scream, or plead, or argue. I don't hear anything at all.
Sorry Blake, maybe I should want to be with you when you need us. But I don't.
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