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Premature Burial

By David Tulley, Alan Stevens
Page 1 of 1

Gunfire, it could form a harmony for his life, the boom of Federation weaponry, the reedy electric scream of a Liberator sidearm, the crash of a clip-gun... and now -

He remembered Blake's face as the gun bucked, the grip punching his upper arm as it recoiled. He saw the hand Blake had held out in appeal, spattered with blood from his ruined chest. The ruby stigmata like martyr's tears.

Now the black clad soldiers moved in, their faces hidden by eyeless, blank facades. They were unreal to him, their masks concealed monsters. They could kill with impunity behind the dark image. He had killed so many of them, they had become irrelevant.

He stood astride Blake's body and slowly raised the plasma rifle to shoulder height. He could feel the air tense, and see each and every weapon pick its target with close-range accuracy. Avon smile, the gun bucked again, a black skull exploded and the tension broke, all guns firing in return.

Hard sounds off hard surfaces: the noise was deafening as the shots ripped through him, but Avon felt on pain, only a glowing spreading numbness, mixed with a feeling of puzzlement.

*****

Memories moved. In these blank and drifting moments, his mind went back to the time they had reclaimed Scorpio from Pella... The others had gone outside to bury the bodies and to scout the immediate area. Soolin had a little local knowledge and besides, he'd told Tarrant to keep an eye on her so as to evaluate her motives. The fact that they might actually kill each other was a risk he was prepared to take.

He'd brought Orac on board, dumped the square box atop of the corrugated flight consoles, clipped the key into place and snapped, "Orac: further to your other adjustments, I want you to establish some control imperatives on the shipboard computer. My instructions are to have priority over all others. Clear?"

"Perfectly."

On the far wall the Slave computer, hanging as ever like a gourd plant, squirmed uneasily. "Please forgive the intrusion Master, but I would like to draw your attention to..."

"Be quiet. Do it now Orac." Electronic communication hummed as he continued. "Eliminate all concealed overrides, trigger phrases and keywords, and also any suspect subroutines built into the mainframe."

Orac fizzed and ruminated. "The system is surprisingly complex-"

"Take as much time as you need." He unclipped his gun. "I'm going to have another look around, just in case Dayna missed anything. Are the cargo bays at standard atmospheric pressure?"

"The compensation procedure is automatic. All areas are now safe to enter."

"Good. Get on with it."

*****

Memories. Drifting like ghosts.

Shev, Gan, Anna, Cally, Blake, Dayna, Vila, Soolin, Tarrant... Avon...? No, he wasn't dead. He was living, breathing... thinking.

*****

The ghosts returned from out of the past...

He'd found the comatose bodies in a concealed compartment on the flight deck. Some kind of cryo chamber at a guess, with room for one, but the twin Seska inside were slightly built, stacked like preserved meat. Dorian's work. He must have put them in storage, but for what reason?

Then the answer came - in a white wave of agony that seared through his skull. He dropped the clip-gun and shrieked, but the sound was lost in the tumult behind his eyes.

It came again and this time with words...

"NOW IS THE TIME," it said. "IT MUST BE NOW."

He knew the voice. It had sought the understanding in the group and now; now it wanted him. The need burned into him like a brand. His had been the understanding, his was the darkness. It recognised that and, out of then all, it had made him its choice.

Something within him watched as he slid back the glass, picked up the two bodies and clipped a bracelet on each. The coordinates were on the tip of his mind. He sent them there, then, with Orac's collusion, he followed. The machine made no comment, simply obeying, because for Orac possession meant destruction.

The room was silent. Almost. The susurration on his skin was a lover's breath. Avon obeyed.

He woke the girls roughly, sinking his nails into their earlobes to elicit a response. When they were awake and nervously holding each other, he pushed them to the back of the cave and stood at the foot of the staircase. Waiting.

The room came alive around him, crystal veins suffused with light. His skin began to crawl as if bright insects moved just beneath the surface.

And in the shadows he seemed to hear laughter.

Through Avon it watched the girls mould into each other, raving with pain, bonding closer than love, than sex, becoming one. They shared a mouth and then shared a scream.

The possession receded and he watched again, this time with a mixture of fascination and horror.

*****

The room had survived the destruction of Xenon base. He was sure of that now. He had buried the place like the memory he had suppressed, the lives he had given instead of his own.

Perhaps he had paid with his humanity.

The troopers were finally beginning to notice him not dying. The blank masks swivelled in comic opera dismay. Idly he brought the gun round and fired. The man behind the visor shed his mortality and Avon grinned again.

He fired until the charge ran out and the troopers he hadn't killed were running away. He shot them in the back with his clip-gun, then scooped up the spare magazines from his fallen friends. He spent longer over Dayna, thoughtfully relieving her of a concealed phosphorus grenade. He needed to cover his tracks and fire was the most effective means. Besides, it was a warriors' funeral. Blake's body was not going to be displayed in some triumphant show.

Having placed the device where it would be most effective, Avon left the death chamber, his scorched outer garments sloughing away like the skin of a snake. Many of his earlier wounds from the shoot-out had gone. Yet the later ones were taking longer to heal. Hope remained. Was it losing its grip?

The troops had arrived via the underground silo and so, as a matter of course, the area was now strewn with the bodies of the dead and dying. Avon made his way to the flyer, the door hissed open and Orac was retrieved from where Vila had left it.

He killed two more guards in the corridor, more on his way outside. As he changed a clip, he heard the thud of the explosion and a bright actinic flare licked over his trail.

He breached the outer lock and the wind stirred ashes from his hair. There was something calling him, a voice,insidious, alluring, distant, cold.

Avon ignored it.

He holstered his clip-gun and strode away.

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