Taken By ChanceBy Linda Terrell
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During the years he'd spent in limbo after Gauda Prime, the Federation met its match from the center of the galaxy and pulled back to lick its wounds. But it was never again the force it had been after the Benefactors came through.
A resilient and remarkably ambivalent species, the Benefactors did not conquer so much as assimilate and the Federation was sucked in. They weren't dictators, neither were they benevolant--they didn't particularly care. If a government tottered and fell they didn't step in and take over--they let the pieces lie and went about their business. Not conquerers in the accepted sense, governments toppled like dominoes in their wake, and the Federation was too scattered and too weak to fill the gaps. By default, a measure of self-rule came to the Empire.
Avon decided he didn't much like benign neglect either. At least with a dictatorship, you knew who to blame.
A loose confederation of free-choice, free-willed, bickering planets wasn't much better than the Empire. There were more "Off icials" to blame which made it easier for them to pass the blame.
Never trusting, Avon retreated and lived his years on the periphery of the system. In spite of himself, he became a legend.
Now he moved confidently across the planet he called Chance--for that was how he had found it, by chance listening to a sub-space channel years ago aboard. By chance, hearing a voice telling him that IMIPAC would never leave the planet. By chance, hearing a long--ago far--away guardian who spoke with Blake's voice.
He'd fixed the coordinates in his mind, thinking to someday return there to see this other Blake; to hide there, to rest, to regroup.
On his way to Legend, Avon became a hired gun--a Bounty Hunter--reclusive, restless, ruthless, and Chance became his bolt-hole. He kept it his by putting out Plague warnings, and radiation warnings, all of which kept Chance unsavory.
The planet had even been taken off Federation charts--no doubt, by a very nervous Servalan. Now Chance could only be found by chance. One of those places you had to know where it was in order to find it--and nobody knew where it was, or even that it was, except Kerr Avon, and the planet's only inhabitant: the duplicate "Roj Blake."
"Roj" had accepted him with all the warmth, trust and disarming honesty of The Other; Roj always called Blake "The Other."
It had been a rash move, coming to Chance. IMIPAC was probably still hidden here and he knew evenless of it's guardians, save that one spoke in Blake's unmistakeable voice.
'Okay, okay, so I'm taking a big chance,'he thought, smiling wryly, and pushed on through the lavender and lace field of flowers.
Avon suddenly spun, drawing to fire at a movement behind and to his side. As he did so, it flashed through his mind that that had often been Blake's way of coming to him. Avon's gun was rapped out of his hand by a deftly swung staff.
Holding his hand, teeth gritted with the pain, Avon froze, staring numbly at the large man who now flipped the gun up into his own hand. Examining it, he scowled then flung it away.
"I don't like weapons on my planet."
Avon didn't question the possessive. Blake's voice wore Blake's face. Tanned and lean, "Blake" stood slightly defensive yet casual, intense curiousity burning in his eyes--Blake's eyes, sunlit and laughing under the pall of threat, small as it was.
He was wearing a loose tunic, held at the waist by a wide belt of a type Blake used to favor. Loosely wound boots of a soft animal skin covered the powerful legs to the knees...there didn't seem to be much else worn by the man, except a few flowers woven into the untamed curls. Only a woman would do that--could do that--to her man and get away with it.
"Blake" moved confidently toward Avon.
Ears roaring, raw cold flushed through his gut and Avon took a reflex step back, checked himself and laughed softly. Not desparate laughter, or slightly mad--Avon was genuinely amused by the turn of events and his own reaction to "Blake." But even as he laughed at it, the old wound was threatening to open, the old pain return.
For his part, "Blake" did not register surprise, only looked at him with large, concerned eyes.
"Do you have any idea of what I'm running away from?" Avon almost giggled. The irony of the pain coupled with the humor of it all almost overwhelming him.
"Why do I have the feeling you know who I am?"
"Only the people we vowed to protect from IMIPAC would come here voluntarily. Of those people, only Avon and Vila are left."
"Been monitoring the sub-space chatter I see," Avon said more cooly than he felt.
"We've been expecting one of you," "Blake" said, smiling and leaning closer, anticipating Avon's reaction.
"I'm not sure I was expecting you.
"Why else would you come? Certainly not for IMIPAC, your name is on it."
"Ah, but you promised, long ago, that it would be hidden and never used."
"If you are Avon or Vila, you know you have nothing to worry about, so why are you arguing with me?"
"Then you are Avon and I welcome you." With that, "Blake" swung his arms around Avon and held him with the first of many nearly overwhelming bearhugs. Something Blake had probably always wanted to do, but instinct had told him Avon wouldn't accept--although occasionally Blake had done it anyway, just to annoy Avon.
This time, Avon didn't mind. Contact with another human being
--which he'd denied himself for so long--suddenly was very important. But remembering himself and the circumstances, Avon stiffened and pushed away. After all, he knew little about this "Blake" who seemed to know about him. There was something to be learned here. With the Clone Masters dead, "Blake" may have had a few secrets.
"Well now, you know who I am. Who are you, or, at least, who do you think you are or who did the Clone Masters tell you you are?" It was the longest single sentence he had uttered in years.
"Blake" smiled tightly. Ever his own person, he didn't like to be
reminded that he was a duplicate of another.
"Rashel will welcome you," his face softened. "She has had only me to talk to for years and I'm afraid it isn't always enough. You can tell her new things and talk of other places. Tell both of us about the stories we've heard about you and the...others."
"That doesn't tell me your name."
"The only name I have is Roj Blake. He was called Blake by everyone. I answer to Roj."
"Very well, Roj, but I'm not a raconteur." Avon finished without thinking there may be some words Roj didn't know.
Sure enough, Roj's face went blank then was broken by a grin. "Well then, teach me words I don't know. Rashel' s run out." And he moved away with long casual strides, not looking back, his every move confident that Avon would follow.
"I'm supposed to have murdered...him," Avon called after the retreating figure.
"No one believes it," the reply floated back to him.
True enough. Most people still believed--wanted to believe--that the Federation had killed Blake and laid the blame on Avon. In an odd sort of way, that was also true, but Avon never denied it. He also never offered it unless asked directly.
"It doesn't worry you then?"
"No." He turned neatly, using his staff as a pivot. "But I have IMIPAC and if something happens to me, Rashel also has IMIPAC...." Roj's smile was almost predatory.
"Then I see your point."
"Yes," Roj continued walking, not looking back.
With a smile that was nearly a grin, Avon reflected a moment on this typical Blake maneuver then followed. He couldn't stop smiling.
Rashel did indeed welcome him and dispite himself, Avon told them both more about himself--and Blake--than he had ever told anyone at least recently. And a very few nights later, Rachel came to his bed. She was not at all "bored" with Roj, and she taught Avon a few things.
Avon was comfortable here: Roj did not ask questions, did not demand, did not accuse, did not manipulate. Seeing him, alive and hearty, soothed the old wounds.
Neither did Rashel ask anything.But she died, childless, and Avon was taken with a lingering depression. He remained weeks longer than usual, seeking solace as well as giving it.
Roj bounced back with typical Blake resiliancy. It was Avon who couldn't let go, finding himself oddly bouyed by Roj's simplistic outlook, as if the power of Blake's idealism had passed to his duplicate.
It was Roj who gave voice to what was deeply disturbing Avon. "You are sorry we have no children." And he meant "we."
"Well, I will admit it might have been fascinating bringing up a Blake in my image."
"I may have been duplicated, Avon, but I don't know how to repeat the process." A grin lit his face.
"You are everything that was good about Blake, that was compelling about him--what drew me to him. You are the innocence and the guilelessness. Your ignorance is disarming. It would be interesting to see if you could pass that on."
Roj's look reminded him of Blake at his nurturing best. "It must be obvious by now that Rashel couldn't have children--we can't both be sterile. And just as well. I never wanted to be a father and I really can't see you as a doting Uncle...."
"I wouldn't 'dote', I assure you."
After that, Avon returned more often, staying longer. Roj never gave any indication that he wanted to go with him and he never offered. Roj was a man of the land--he had carved out a life here with his bare hands and saw no reason to leave an entire planet for the uncertainies of space. But he did not like to see Avon leave.
"I will always return," Avon assured him. "If they don't get me first."
Which was what Roj was always afraid of. But, like Blake, Roj had an instinct for keeping Avon by letting him go.
Right now, a powerful man moved easily toward him. Looking to be a fine specimen in his 30's, Roj was, in fact, nearly 60. Avon had always suspected it was more a gift from the Clone Masters than any true quirk in the genetic make-up.
Avon allowed himself reflection everytime they met here, in a field of remarkably varied flowers. His first meeting with Roj had seen the large man coming toward him, dressed in carefully wrought animal skins and thigh-deep in lavender and lace flowers. Even now, Roj still had a penchant for tunics and vests of animal skin worn over clothes Avon gave him.
Engulfed in a bear hug, Avon not only allowed it, he welcomed it. He often "allowed" Roj liberties he'd never granted Blake, thought there had often been times when he'd wanted to. But Blake had a possessive streak--and so did he.
"Your visits are getting closer together," Roj said, eyeing the curious shuttle-craft Avon had recently 'liberated'.
"I've brought a friend." Avon tried to look non-committal but he'd up given up using The Look on Roj--it simply didn't work because Roj ignored it.
"You've found Vila."
"Do you know everything before I say it?"
"I like to think so," Roj barely contained a smile and his hair was getting far too long when an eyebrow touched a curl. "You must want familiar faces around in your old age."
"You're as old as I am."
"Almost," Roj tilted his head, rubbing his jaw, "but my past doesn't have any familiar faces."
Avon winced. "You, you're bigger than me and stronger. You get Vila of out of there. He's unconscious...again."
Roj moved to the craft and in effortless motion, lifted Vila out and carried him to the "house," Avon moving just behind him.
"By the way," he started, "I will not be coming back here again."
"Yes?" Roj flinched, but kept moving.
Avon stood looking from the shuttle to Roj, grinning. Then he handed the ignition module over to Roj. There was no moving the shuttle without it.
"I won't be leaving again unless you tell me to."
"I'll let you know."
It felt like Home.
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