From Light into DarknessBy Susannah Shepherd
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right, here's your money ten thousand credits.'
The forger gave an ugly grin as he slapped the two visas down on the counter. 'A hundred thousand.'
Avon's eyes narrowed. 'We agreed a price. Five thousand each.'
The man shifted slightly, and Avon tensed. 'Change of plan, sir. I got to thinking a flash Alpha like you, wanting fake visas? Someone's been a naughty boy, and the Federation pays good money for naughty boys.'
'We had ' Avon had his small gun almost drawn and levelled when the lancing pain seared through his side. He gasped and blinked, almost disbelieving, before the reality of the pain refocused his mind. His shot took the man square in the chest. He was dead before he hit the floor.
Adrenaline numbed Avon's own pain as he snatched up the visas and bolted, one hand pressed into the wound in his side. The blood was flowing far too freely, wetting his clothes and his fingers, running down his skin. He knew a blood-soaked man would draw unwelcome attention, even in a neighbourhood as suspect as this one. Avon ducked into an alleyway, trying to navigate his way back to his flat by sense of direction alone.
The pain returned with a vengeance before long, and his legs grew less sure and steady. He stopped for a moment, leaning against a wall. Just to catch his breath. Just for a sec
All around him was dark and quiet and still. Avon realised he was standing on nothing. He looked and saw a patch of mere gloom relieving the unremitting blackness, and began to walk towards it.
The gloom grew lighter and lighter as he approached, and Avon found himself walking into a tunnel drilled through the nothingness. It grew so bright that he couldn't identify the figure standing at the end of the tunnel; it was just an outline in the light. Two hands emerged from the brilliance to grasp his own.
'Anna?' She was sparkling, diaphanous; even more beautiful than usual. She smiled at him and tilted her head up to place a kiss of blessing on his cheek.
'Avon.' He went to take her in his arms, but somehow she eluded his touch, except for the steady grip she maintained on his hands.
'You must go back. You can't join me yet, my love, not yet.'
'No.' Even in this place of light and love he felt his heart darken.
'Yes. Go back and live, Avon. Stay alive for me.'
'I did this for us. I don't want a life without you.'
She gave another gentle smile. 'You do, and you will. You must. I will wait for you.'
The light began to fade as the tunnel dissipated, and Avon was plunged back into the total dark.
The next time Avon regained his awareness, the dark seemed more substantial and the voices were unfamiliar.
'I took an oath, my sweet, and even if I hadn't I wouldn't leave a man to bleed to death on my back step.' Older male, almost amused.
'But we don't know a thing about him! He could be dangerous!' Female, anxious. Young?
'Oh, he won't be dangerous for a while, and I've put his gun somewhere safe.' There was a thoughtful pause. 'He was carrying two visas but no identification. Someone will be missing him.'
'Anna.' It took a massive effort to whisper her name. He wanted to tell the man to find Anna, but then he remembered. It was pointless. Anna was already dead. He let the oblivion claim him again.
Cally had just settled into bed when she heard her name called. It was Avon's voice, but far more tentative and unsure than she'd ever heard him before. He must need to talk to her very badly.
She called up the lights and let him in. He looked distracted as he pulled out a chair and sat down heavily, apparently not even noticing that she was already in bed.
'Cally, what do your people believe happens when you die?'
A spiritual question from Avon was so unexpected that it left her speechless, but he did not comment on that either. He simply waited for her answer with a completely neutral face, but his eyes were shadowed with doubts.
She replied slowly, wondering what lay behind his query. She could read little from him except undifferentiated tension. 'We believe that our souls survive and that we are reunited with those we loved in life.'
He gave a little frown and shook his head slightly. 'No, I meant what happens at the moment of death.'
'That is one of the ineffable mysteries.'
He closed his eyes briefly and then sat completely silent for some time. She could see that he was deep in thought, and that his thoughts were troubling him greatly.
'Avon, is this something to do with Del Grant?' Avon had been tense and withdrawn and even disturbed since their visitor's arrival. His gaze flicked to hers and she could see the distrust flare up.
'What has Blake told you?'
'I did not know there was anything to tell. But you have not been yourself for days.'
He became silent and unresponsive again, and when he did finally speak his voice was so low that she could barely hear him.
'There is an old Earth superstition that when people die, they pass down a tunnel of light into an afterlife similar to the Auron one. And those who were at the brink of death sometimes saw that tunnel, but were sent back by someone from that afterlife.'
'A near death experience. I have heard of them.'
He nodded and composed himself again, rubbing his hands slowly together. When he spoke again, his voice was flat and emotionless.
'I did not plan the bank theft on my own. I had a partner Anna Grant, Del's sister.' Cally did not need to ask what sort of partner he meant; it was written in his eyes. 'I arranged for false visas, but the deal went sour and I was shot. I would have died had I not collapsed on the right doorstep.' He took in a deep pained breath and looked at the ceiling. 'I saw Anna, in the light. That's how I knew she was dead.'
'Avon, I'm so sorry.'
He gave another frustrated shake of the head, and Cally saw that his distress went deeper than the loss of a lover.
'I didn't come back that day, so she must have gone to look for me and got captured. But Del said she lasted five days. Five days .' All the emotion he'd carefully purged from his narrative came flowing into those last two bitter words, and Cally shivered at the rigidly controlled fierceness of his anger. 'I regained consciousness long before that.'
Cally slipped from her bed and went to crouch at his side. He did not react at all to the hand she placed on his shoulder.
'I am sorry. I cannot give you any answers.'
The look in his distant gaze had changed to one of soft desperation. 'At the moment I'd settle for wild surmises.'
'Hallucinations from the blood loss? Your subconscious could have created what you expected to see.'
He shook his head. 'I don't believe in primitive superstitions.'
You believed it when you thought it was true, Cally thought, but she didn't force the point. 'Or perhaps she was projecting to you. Even the human mind is capable of remarkable things in extremis.'
'Under torture?' he said bitterly.
'You were both suffering,' Cally said. 'What is more natural than both of you reaching out for the one you loved so much?'
Avon got to his feet and walked out the door without looking back or saying a word.
'It wasn't all lies. I let you go... my love.'
He recognised the tone of voice, the one she'd always used when she was trying to twist him round and cajole something out of him. At least she'd achieved some semblance of honest expression in the moment of her death, even if her words were demonstrably false. Avon kissed her.
'Oh, no, you never let me go. You never did.'
He wondered how many other fools would be waiting to lead her into the light.
There was noise, and then there was silence. He looked up, frowning. Why had the noise stopped?
The room filled with Federation troopers, all with their guns nervously levelled at him. They moved in until they ringed him and he had nowhere to go.
There was nowhere he wanted to go, of course. He looked down. Blake's eyes were open and looking up at him. Blake had always carried his hopes and his expectations in his eyes, and those eyes told him that he needed Avon with him now, as always.
Avon stepped over Blake's body. They would strike a blow against the Federation side by side once more, this one last time. He raised the gun and smiled.
The shots ripped into him, but his finger kept pulling the trigger until his legs failed him. The noise was receding again as the agony and darkness took over, but he could feel Blake's solid warmth against his cheek, more real than the pain.
'Blake,' he tried to whisper, but his lips would not work. The effort made him cough, and when the blood rushed up his throat he knew nothing more.
All around him was dark and quiet and still. Avon realised he was standing on nothing. He smiled in relief.
'Blake? Blake, I'm here.'
He looked around for the indeterminate greyness that would lead him, eventually, to the light and to Blake. He couldn't see it, and the first hint of worry curled though him.
Maybe Blake was still out here in the dark, searching for the light himself. Avon began to walk, but the darkness was absolute and all-encompassing. Every step took him fractionally closer to panic.
'Blake, I was wrong.' He took a deep breath. 'I should have trusted you, and I'm sorry. Please, Blake. You were waiting for me, and I'm here now. I'm not leaving you again.' His voice was swallowed up by the darkness and the silence, and a part of him doubted whether his words had sounded out at all.
Terror struck him with the force of a blow, and it was only then that he realised he was becoming dissipated, incorporeal. The blackness was completely unsubstantial, but still it was coming closer, pressing in on him, swallowing him, tearing him in shreds.
His scream was no more than a whisper, and it curled around him like smoke, twisting and dissolving into nothing. As he followed it into non-existence, he didn't even have the power to whimper.
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