AnamorphosisBy Alicia Ann Fox
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"Who the hell is Kasabi?" Avon asked, annoyed with Blake's increasingly secretive plans. Tensed against a reply, he stared at the warm golden light emanating from Zen's reference point.
"She's leader of the rebellion on Earth, a very competent leader, I've heard."
"I haven't," interjected Vila from his station at the scanners.
"She's competent, that's why," Gan informed him.
"Blake," Jenna interrupted sharply, "Where did you get this information?"
Blake stretched his arms along the back of the couch, physically imparting his willingness to answer any and all questions. "You all remember Avalon, I'm sure. I've been in sporadic contact with her, whenever we have some information to share, and when I asked her who might know about Central Control, she suggested Kasabi."
Perspicaciously Cally asked, "And why Kasabi?"
Blake winced faintly around the eyes, but he answered smoothly. "Kasabi used to be Federation; she taught at the Academy, and was well-respected before a conservative new President and a conservative new Council decided that her lectures were affecting the sympathies of the young. One of her students, hoping for a promotion, reported on her, rumor says. But she still has friends in high places."
"And enemies no doubt," Avon commented.
"That doesn't mean she would have been given the location of Central Control," Cally pointed out.
"She has sympathizers in the upper ranks, Avalon tells me. If she doesn't already have it, she can get the information we need."
Vila said doubtfully, "That doesn't mean she'll give it to us."
Blake didn't say anything. Suddenly suspicious, Avon stated, "You've already contacted Kasabi, haven't you."
Facing a wall of hostile stares, Blake said, "Yes, I have. She'll send an emissary to meet with us, to decide whether this plan is viable."
"If we agree," Jenna reminded him.
"Yes, if you agree," Blake acquiesced. "This is a big chance for us, you know."
"We should do this," Gan said.
Cally sighed very faintly and said, "I agree."
"We should go ahead unless we receive conclusive information that this is a setup," Jenna said, casting a glance to Avon, whom she hoped would support her in this.
Bracing his hands on the back of the couch, he stared disconcertingly at Blake's profile. "If this begins to look suspicious, Blake...."
"Then we back out," Blake agreed, staring him in the eye. "But for now we set up a meeting with Kasabi's emissary."
Earth floated in the center of the viewscreen when Liberator swooped by to teleport Blake, Cally, and Avon to the vicinity of an old abandoned religious building. Arrival was at the first greying of twilight--their boots materialized in thick tangles of damp cool grass, and their first inhalation was of rich clean ozone. Cally turned her head in response to a melancholy owl's hooting and slowly traversed the limits of the area with her gun poised, until she was assured of their safety. Gesturing to Avon, who had been scouting the edge of the forest, she rejoined Blake near a tumbled stone fence.
"We're to meet the emissary inside," Blake murmured, and pointed the barrel of his gun towards the massive stone building. "Through those big front doors, presumably."
Cally stepped ahead of him. "I'll go first," she said flatly. "Avon will cover our backs."
At Avon's curt nod of acceptance, Blake said, "All right. Lead on, Cally."
They reached the doors sooner than any of the three would have liked. There was something ominous about the heavy roughcut stones looming so high above their heads, as though the walls might stagger and crush them. Avon touched one of the grey blocks in fascination; the surface was blurred with a soft green moss. Then he braced his back against it.
Cally applied her shoulder to the left-hand door and shoved decisively. It swung free without a noise, releasing a gust of dank chilly air, and she slipped inside, sweeping the immense open chamber with her weapon. After a moment or two Blake followed her, then Avon. They waited silently, until the scuff of a shoe echoed up into the vast emptiness above.
"Elsinore," said a voice, its gender lost. Gradually a shadow was extruded from the mass of darkness in the opposite corner of the room. "That is the code word, I believe."
Blake stepped out from the protective shadowing of Avon and Cally into the last shaft of pale grey light which filtered weakly through broken windows. "Nevermore," Blake said, his rich tones rolling out to the four walls. "Which might be the correct response." He stepped forward again, his boots stirring through thick dust and rustling dead vegetation. "I'm Blake. And you're Kasabi's emissary, I hope."
"That's correct," she said, for as she came into the sparse light it became clear that the emissary was a woman. "Lucky for you," she chuckled in a throaty pleasant voice. "Though I see you've brought muscle, just in case."
Blake gestured for them to step forward. "This is Cally, and this is--" His head swiveled suddenly. "Where did he--"
Avon had already passed him, moving towards the emissary until he stood so close that he was forced to bend his head to look down at her. There he froze.
Blake began to ask Avon what he thought he was doing, but sound ceased to come out of his mouth when the woman said in a hopeless voice, "Avon! Why didn't you come back for me?"
After a long pregnant moment Avon holstered his gun automatically; his hands reached, hesitated, clasped on her shoulders as if to replace words he could not utter.
"If you had come back for me you would have been safe, Avon! I would have kept you safe! Why didn't you come back for me, my love, my love....." She buried her face against his chest, whether in sorrow or anger the onlookers were unable to tell.
"Anna," Avon said, in a strange soft voice unlike anything either Blake or Cally had ever heard from him. "You were dead. They told me you were dead, when I wanted to go back for you...."
Abruptly she flung herself away from him and turned her back, as though fighting for self-control. Blake took the chance to say, "Avon--"
The other man turned and said numbly, "This is Anna Grant, who I thought had died under interrogation, when I was betrayed in the bank fraud--"
"We'll be outside," Cally said quickly, dragging Blake by the arm. Avon gave her a small, abstracted nod of thanks, and turned again to the tiny woman in combat fatigues.
Outside, Blake positioned himself against the open door. "Damn right I'm going to listen in!" he whispered to Cally after she gave his arm an outraged yank. "This is important!"
"It's none of our business!" Cally insisted.
"If Avon knows one of Kasabi's trusted agents I need to know how! Don't forget we came here to find the location of Central Control!"
Cally sighed bitterly and sat with a thump on the oversized stone steps, her gun aimed out into the dark. Words from within the old building echoed out to her.
"I'd been shot, Anna," Avon was saying, his voice stronger than it had been. "I wasn't fully conscious for several days, and when I finally woke up, Kevan told me you were dead, that they'd brought you in and--"
The edge of desperation had been smoothed from Anna's voice when she replied painfully, "It was a lie. I was taken away but not...not captured. They found me easily because I'd been waiting for you to come for me, I couldn't understand why you never came for me."
Silence stretched. At last Anna said softly, "Don't hate me. I did love you. I do love you."
Sharply Avon said, "But?"
"I--when we met, on Project L, it wasn't a coincidence. I didn't think I would care, but in the end...." She went on, more vehmently. "I tried to save you, from the interrogators, from Cygnus Alpha--none of it did any good. I thought you were gone forever, and I couldn't take it anymore, I went to Kasabi and she--"
"You were an agent!" Avon said, horrified. "That's what you're telling me, isn't it? That it was all a lie."
"I didn't say that--weren't you listening to me at all? Damn it, Avon, you stubborn son of a bitch--"
Thud. "Ow!" Avon sounded outraged.
"Listen to me!"
"Fine, fine, all right." Long pause. "Now you work for Kasabi."
"Yes. Because of you. Do you understand me, Avon? Does it matter to you at all that I changed sides for you? After I had sworn to Del never to speak to him again, after he left Security to be a mercenary, I did the same as he had done. You and your crazy ideas...you made me believe I could get away. You must believe me!"
Blake sat down, his back to the door, and looked at Cally. She was resolutely watching for danger, apparently ignoring the high drama being enacted behind her. "Cally," he whispered, and nudged at her with his foot. "It sounds as if this Anna Grant had Security connections--she'll be able to tell us what we need to know. Avalon was right."
Cally glared at him over her shoulder for a split second before returning to her vigil. "This is none of our business, Blake," she hissed back at him. "You know how much Avon values his privacy."
"How do you know what they're talking about if you aren't listening?"
"I can't help but listen from here!"
"Haven't you ever been the least bit curious about Avon?" Cally didn't answer, and Blake rearranged his posture to listen again.
"How can I be sure I can trust you?" Avon was saying in low agonized tones.
"I would never betray you," Anna exclaimed.
"Still? I've thought you were dead for the past three years. I've changed, and I'm a hunted man because of Blake."
"So am I, my love, though I can't blame Blake for it. I have the information Blake needs--do you want me to give it to him?"
Silence fell again, so far as Blake was able to ascertain; after a time Avon's voice said shakily, "Anna...."
Blake said disgustedly under his breath, "Don't ask him."
Though Blake strained his ears, he heard nothing. Cally prevented him from getting up and going inside again, so he sat and fumed while whispered conversation was carried on.
After some ten minutes Avon came out of the building, his face set in its usual hard lines. "Let's go," he said.
"After all that, we're just leaving?" Blake asked.
"Central Control isn't on Earth, Blake."
Cally interrupted, "But what about Anna Grant?"
As if suddenly remembering Cally's existence, Avon said, "What about her? She's staying here. I'm going away." He turned to Blake again, businesslike. "No one knows where Central Control is, Blake. Not the upper echelons of Space Command, not the Council, not even the President. Anna tells me it's believed to be set up as a space station somewhere. That's all she knows."
"Why say it's on Earth, then?"
"To attract flies like us," Avon informed Blake patiently. "So they can be properly smashed. I believe her, Blake." He jogged down the steps to join Cally on the grass. "We'd better get out of here before someone spots the ship."
Shaken out of a stunned silence, Blake glanced back in the doorway; there was no sound from within, and he could see nothing in the gloom. Then he followed his companions into the night.
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