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Pressured

By Sally M
Page 3 of 3

I hate myself, Blake.  Really.  Just a little, but I really do hate myself.  And Ven Glynd.  And the war, and your rabble that let this happen.  And Avon, for coming back.  And maybe even you.

I'm sorry.

Apparently, it's going badly.  Gan turned the intercom on, once, twice - we heard you, sounded like you were whispering, muttering things I don't want to think about, and Ven Glynd making a noise like an animal in pain.  Horrible, even if he did do this to you.  And Cally trying to speak calmly, soothingly, and Orac droning out the deprogramming in a tinny, detached voice as if it doesn't matter.  And nothing from Avon.

The third time, you screamed. 

And I don't even know what they're doing.  I know what they're doing, but not what they're doing to do it, if you know what I mean.  I don't know what they're doing to Ven Glynd to make him do what he has to do to try and save Blake.  And somehow, not knowing isn't helping.

The fourth time we listen in, there's nothing from you or Avon, and I asked Gan to make it the last.  If you're dying, Blake, I don't want to know.

**********

It's another day, and even earlier in the morning.  I'm wandering on to the flight deck as usual to hear the news from Zen about the war - apparently some of the strategic withdrawals on the Inner Worlds were strategic, which is worrying everyone - and the latest from the medical unit about Blake from Gan.  It's been twenty-three hours since I ran, and there's no way I'm going back till it's finished.

Gan is at the pilot's console, probably trying to remember everything he's probably forgotten about it, and fielding messages from the rebels on Earth who want to know where their Leader and his three 'best and closest' friends are. 

Gan asked me about Jenna last night: hell, he asked me about everyone who we've ferried around the galaxy, just to fill in time.  A pity about Jenna, really.  I've missed her at times, mostly when the news about the war - or about you and Cally and Gan - was bad, and Avon turned acid and vicious.  You know he nearly shot Space Captain I'm-the-Pilot-You've-Been-Waiting-For Tarrant one particularly bad day, which wouldn't have gone down too well with the rebels who were actually waiting for him.  And Jenna could have helped with this awful deprogramming of yours, maybe have done it so we didn't have to 'borrow' Ven Glynd and give him back rather worse for wear.

Well, worse according to Gan and Cally.  I'm not going near until it's -

"Ven Glynd's finished," Gan says before I can open my mouth to ask what he wants with his morning adrenalin.

"Wh-whaat?  But it isn't time -"

"No.  It isn't."  He looks at me with those small brown rabbity eyes.  "But he's burned out, and the last three hours will be the worst."

Oh.  Oh hell.  "Can we get someone else?"  The thought of your little cousin comes to mind; come on Blake, you know she'd be willing, but she's so far away...

The answer comes from behind me.  "No."

It's Avon and he looks awful.  His normal 'healthy' pallor's gone six shades whiter and two shades greyer, and the shadows under his eyes look like he's been punched by an Tarzian warg-strangler with toothache. He's holding a glass of what looks like soma mixed with my second-best moonshine, but he hasn't been drinking it - if he had, he wouldn't look like six lightyears of starkill.  But never mind how he is..

"How's Blake?"

Avon simply glares at me.  Not good, I take it.

"What do we do now, then?" Gan, ever practical, asks. Have I mentioned that I missed him as well as Jenna?

Avon switches the glare to him; when it doesn't work, he sighs and turns it on Zen.  "Are we safe from all Federation fleets or pursuit ships?"

Zen confirms.

"And also no rebels - no, no one at all - is likely to disturb us?"

Again, Zen confirms.

"Then we should have time to complete the deprogramming."

Zen decides that's not a question, and doesn't confirm or deny.

Avon stares down at his drink, then up at Zen's fascia, and turns to leave.

"Avon?  Avon, someone's got to do it, and Cally can't and Gan can't and I -"

"Won't," he snaps.

"Can't.  I can't.  Honestly.  So who -?"

Oh.

Oh, damn.

Blake, it's a good thing you can't see his eyes right now.  He doesn't want to do this, and he doesn't want anyone to know that he's going to whether he wants to or not.  Avon's mind is as scary sometimes as yours, and with less excuse.

Blake, please wake up before he has to... "Gan, you'd better come and help.  Vila, stay and keep watch."

"But -"

"Just. Do. It."

"But Avon, we -" And then I realise what I'm arguing about, and shut up before I say something stupid.

Gan opens his mouth, probably to say something sensible, looks at Avon, and closes it.

"Vila, keep the intercom open."  And he leaves before I can mention that I don't want to hear it - which is probably a good thing, he'd only suggest that he can hear it and I can do it.

I lean over and flick a switch.

**********

I still hate myself, Blake.  And I'm never going to talk about what I hear you call out in broken half-understood words, or what Avon's thin, splintered screams are like, or the sound of you crying.  Not to Gan, not to Cally, not to you.

Not even to myself.

**********

They call me down when it's over.  Cally's pulling sensors from Blake's temples: sensors attached to Orac, and to another set that Avon's holding in one hand.  There's round bruises on his temples, spotted with blood.

I still don't know what they did, and I don't want to.  But there's this odd, nasty little voice inside me that says it was all too easy (well, from where I was, which was as far away as I could get) and maybe we only think it's finished.  We thought you were finished with it before, Blake, remember?

But I'm going to forget I thought that.  No use borrowing trouble, we get quite enough for free, I think.

Three hours it took, that last bit, and Avon looks like he's been through a pitched battle, sick and sweaty and shattered - and he's never ever going to forgive us for seeing him like this - but oddly, vaguely triumphant as well.  And you - there's life in your face, your eyes are half-open and more confused than anything.  well, anything except hurting, that is.  Hurting a lot.

"No more nightmares," Cally whispers, and I can't help thinking that, good line as it is, it isn't exactly going to help your confusion.

"A-avon -?"  As thin as a drift of breeze and shaking, but it's you.  It is you. 

"How do you feel?"  Cally asks, but you're looking past her, at Avon, whose face is blank and now overly impassive.

"More importantly," Avon says all too politely, as if he's speaking to a distant relative he doesn't much like, "are you yourself again?"

"What - what do you mean?  Avon, where are we?  Where - what are you d-doing - on Earth?"

Earth?

In spite of everything, I can see Avon's lips twitch to suppress a smile.  "Not much, I would imagine."

"But -"

"Say thank you nicely, Blake, and then try to sleep."

"But -" 

"I think you should do as he says, Blake."  Gan grins, solid and comfortable and damn it Blake, I am glad he's back.  I'm glad Cally's back. 

"Thank you... I think," you say with a touch of humour under the exhaustion.  And yes, I'm glad you're back too.  And as you fall asleep, we all pretend we don't see Avon's hand still on your arm.  Just like old times, it feels.

Well, a little like old times.

**********

Damn it, Blake, you don't need to go back to Earth yet, do you?  We know there's a war on - since you turned Zen's morning news bulletin into two-hourly indepth reports. it's hard to forget - but it's only been two days since we got you back, although I know Avon would question what 'we' rather than 'he' did to get you back.  Gan and Cally are going to have to go back to Earth soon, as soon as Orac says you're well enough.

Ven Glynd is lucky.  While Blake's been recovering, Avon wanted to drop him on the nearest airless asteroid, and it took Cally, Gan and Orac's arguments to dissuade him: he may be a crook, but he still could be useful.  Sometime in the future.  Maybe.

So no airless asteroid.  The nearest prison planet instead, and Orac's going to get every scrap of information that we can use out of him first, and anyone who still wants him in their rebellion can damn well go and collect him themselves.

**********

It's evening, by the clock.  I join Avon and Cally on to the flight deck to hear the news, and to show Cally I'm drinking healthy drinks since she's been gone, with ersatz wheat-germ in my adrenalin.  Somehow, I don't think she's fooled, and anyway, she and Avon are having chocklit. I think I've been fooled, Blake.

On the other hand, they're both still exhausted and ready for a week's - two weeks' - hell, a good long - holiday, far away from the war, and the rebellion, and the good news and bad, and anyone who wants to take you back to Earth just yet.  And far away from anyone you can talk into taking you back just yet.

There's this place called Del 10 I've been meaning to mention to Avon.  just the thing for over-mindwiped rebel leaders like you and their loyal rescuers like us.  An ultra planet, fantastic mountain scenery, and the gravity's so low you can practically fly.  And the galaxy's richest known source of atmospheric -

Oh hang on, there's a message coming in.  Not the news, something else.

From somewhere out in the outer reaches of the spiral arm, apparently.  Somewhere to the left of nowhere.  Who'd want to go there, Blake?  Even you never got crazy enough to want to go out there -

It's Travis.  What the hell is he doing that far out on the left of nowhere?

"What the hell is he doing alive?"  I hear Avon hiss.  Well, that too.

Travis turns and seems to look straight into the camera, and gives a smile like a satisfied cadaver.  His voice is scratchy and as thin as outer space over the millions of lightyears.  "The final -"

He jerks, as if shot from behind, and falls.  Who shot him, we'll never know I guess, or care, but...

Oh god.

Oh god.

He's melting, he's melting... he's turning into green goo.

He's an alien.

I don't like the looks of this; I mean it, I mean it Blake, I really don't like the looks of this...


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