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Blessed Be the Memory

By Tom Beck
Page 1 of 1

The crowd was good-natured, even jovial, but a sudden hush possessed its members as they prepared to enter the main shrine. Mothers quietly rebuked their children for the high spirits that had seemed natural only moments before. Men removed their hats self-consciously. Teenagers worried that they were making too much noise treading on the leaves. All made sure their cameras were working and that their film was fast enough to be used without flash---or that they had film at all. No one was leaving here without pictures.

Their guide shepherded them all into the roped waiting area outside the entrance. "There's another tour group still in there," she said. "Won't take but a moment. In the meantime, let me tell you want to look for inside..." She droned on and on; her charges tuned out, shuffling their feet in anticipation and impatience. They didn't need her mumblings; they'd all devoured the histories, guidebooks, sensotapes, shared holographic telepathowaves, and drug-induced pseudomemories. What they wanted was to see the real thing, the actual place.

Suddenly, from just inside the tunnel, someone signalled the guide. She turned to the group with an expression on her face that was half professional smile, half ecstatic glow of an acolyte about to enter the presence of her idol. "If you'll follow me, I'll take you inside now. Please don't touch anything." She turned and strode purposefully Into the sloping entryway.

One could almost see the group's interest rise toward an even keener edge than they'd previously displayed. They stared around then like nervous pigeons, desperate not to miss anything there night be to see, even in the dark, metal-walled passageway. There were a few pictures here and there, just enough to prime them for the holy place a few meters away. As they paused just outside the doorway into the sanctum sanctorum, an almost religious fervor seemed to pass through them like a shockwave. The guide noted this and was very pleased. It was nice to have a full group of believers, for a change.

"You are about to enter the final station of Saint Roj's journey toward martyrdom," she said. "Before you do, please turn to page one of your guidebook and join me in the Prayer to the Liberator." The crowd opened their little books, one or two of them shuffling their feet in embarrassment.

"O Saint Roj," the guide intoned, her eyes closed in her rapture, "Blessed art thou for thy sacrifice, for thy momentous and instructive life, for thy acts of rebellion and leadership, for thy flouting of the evil sorceress Servalan, for thy worthy command of the holy ship Liberator, and for thy showing us the Way of the True Rebel. Blessed by thy followers, who shine in thy reflected light. Cursed be the name of thy Betrayer, Kerr Avon, and cursed be the Federation that pursued thee to thy end. May thy memory live forever in the hearts and minds of all free beings everywhere. Amen."

"Amen," repeated the crowd. "Play ball!" cried one wit, who was instantly silenced by half a dozen worshippers around him. His wife tried to look like she was with someone else. Of all places to make a bad joke! Deva's Chamber on Blakeworld, the whilom Gauda Prime, was the holiest place in the Blakian Canon; in here even an agnostic should respect the beliefs of the Blakians.

Ahead of them, the door opened up. Slowly, one by one, they passed through into the sacred room. A collective gasp arose from the foremost of them as they had their first view of the place. For here on the floor in front of them, in a roped-off area, was the sight that most of them had travelled half a galaxy to see, the Blakian equivalent of the True Cross, the visible sign of their hero's martyrdom, the Holy Bloodstains.

The guide took up position just outside the ropes, a look of deep passion on her face. Her gaze accompanied each pilgrim as he or she passed by the Stains. She smiled or frowned depending on how much emotion they seemed to show. When the flippant one who'd spoiled the end of her prayer came by, she glowered at him like she imagined Blake had stared down Avon during their many conflicts. The man hurried past her, and she felt like she had won a victory for her Saint.

All around were the chalk outlines showing where His Acolytes had fallen after him. The crowd gave these minor holy spots the attention they deserved. The first ones in were now becoming impatient, they wanted to get to the final stop on the tour...

A young woman with frizzy blonde hair stopped in front of the Stains. She stared at the crimson splash and shook her head. "Miss," the guide said, "please move on. There are others behind you waiting to see this." The woman stayed put. The guide put her hand on the woman's wrist. The woman shook it off.

"No!" she cried out. "He's not dead! He's not dead! I just know it!" She began to weep, then to sob, louder and louder. The guard was frantically pushing her beeper, summoning guards to take the distraught worshipper away. There was one in every crowd, a Blakian so fervent she couldn't accept the physical evidence of the Martyrdom. The guide wished she could comfort the sufferer; she knew what the woman was feeling, the shock of actually seeing the Stains, being forced to face the fact that Saint Roj was truly dead. She remembered her own crisis of faith the first time she herself saw this place; only her decision to serve here as a novice had kept her from madness.

Guards came and gently led the sobbing woman out. A man said to the guide, "It's a good thing she left now. At least she won't have to look at the Body, you know? What would that do to her?" The guide nodded, distracted, unable to take offense at the man's jocular tone.

Fortunately, no one else took the sight of the Stains as hard, although there were plenty of tears and dabbing hankerchiefs. Many were Orthodox Blakians, making the Sign of the Teleport as they saw the final falling place of their Hero. The guide was Reform herself; she didn't accept all the stories of His exploits as gospel. No one could have put up with Vila for that long, for example. And she didn't for a moment believe that He hadn't sinned against purity with Jenna the Smuggler. Not that she could swallow the heresies of the Slashmongers. Still, all that really mattered was that you recognized Blake as the Great Rebel, the One who showed the Way, the Victim of the Federation, whose followers later destroyed the evil Terran dictatorship. The guide would let the theologians dispute such trivia as how many mutoids could dance on the head of a pin.

Good, they were all inside the chamber, and all had had a chance to see the Holy Bloodstains. The guide began her pitch. "Be of good cheer. His body may be meat but Roj Blake will never die. Though betrayed by His ungrateful follower Kerr Avon (a few of the crowd made the Sign of the Teleport upon hearing that name), yet He lives amongst us in the memory of His life, and in His legacy of the destruction of the Federation.

"I will now read from the Book of Roj.

"Roj Blake was born a noble Alpha, yet betrayed His idle class to serve all of Mankind. Tortured and imprisoned by the Federation, He yet never lost hope or heart, but pledged Himself to liberate all men from their bonds. Escaping from captivity by divine intervention, He used the starship Liberator in His Holy Cause. Aided by stout companions, He made war on the Evil Federation and won many victories against its evil leader, Servalan (again, the Sign of the Teleport by some of the worshippers).

"After the destruction of Star One, Roj Blake went into seclusion for meditation. Two years and more He spent in the wilderness, seeking a sign of what to do next. Coming to Gauda Prime, He sought out new followers, before He was foully betrayed by Kerr Avon and slaughtered. Cursed be Kerr Avon," she intoned.

"Cursed be Kerr Avon," responded the crowd, some of them once again making the Sign of the Teleport.

"And yet," the guide went on, "in His death was His salvation. For His martyrdom, and that of His followers, was the spark that set off the conflagration that led to doom for the Federation. From all corners of the galaxy, new rebels came forth to carry on His fight. Within fifty years of His death, the Federation was overthrown, and a new democracy took its place. Roj Blake is dead, but His victory is forever. Blessed be Saint Roj."

"Blessed be Saint Roj," the crowd responded, some of them crying out in ecstasy. There were sobs from a few, but the Celebration of the Victory was supposed to be a joyous moment in the service, and most of the crowd were happy. The guide could see only one person not smiling beatifically, a very old woman in a bright red dress. She looked familiar, somehow.

The guide shook her head. She saw so many pilgrims here, how could she hope to recognize one person? In any case, she had her duties to fulfill. A few of the mourners who had entered first were edging toward the exit, eager to move on to the next stage of the tour. The guide strode toward them, understanding liheir impatience. Reaching the door, she turned to address the crowd.

"We will now go see the Body," she proclaimed, as if granting them all an enormous favor. The crowd began to buzz with anticipation. The Body of Saint Roj! The holiest sight in the entire Refederation! The Body, lovingly preserved for eternity by weeping disciples, encased in glass so that all could come and experience His calm gaze, His proud yet dedicated bearing, His stern glance toward the future, even the Scar on His eye, the sign of His years in exile and suffering after Star One. There were stories that seeing the Body had caused miracles to happen. No wonder the crowd was impatient to enter the Viewing Chamber.

Inside, it was dark and cool, perfect for focusing one's attention on the Saint and on contemplating His Life and Acts. There in a case in the middle of the room, lit by a few sharp spots, standing upright, was Roj Blake, even in death a commanding figure. A voice, similar to Vila Restal's, intoned a list of His achievements and sacrifices, while serene music played in the background. On the walls were pictures of His acolytes and of the Liberator. There was even a photo of ORAC, the amazing supercomputer that had never been found after His death.

Even though the guide came through here five times a day, the sight still stirred her heart. Tears came to her eyes as she examined the Body. It was wearing a dark brown pirate shirt this morning, she noticed. Yesterday It had been in green. The most blessed and favored of the acolytes were permitted to dress the Body; she was willing to wait until it was her turn, years in the future, perhaps.

Suddenly, she felt her sleeve being pulled. It was the old woman in red. Her white hair was very short, almost a crew-cut. Now why did she seem familiar?

"Forgive me," she said, "But where is Avon's body?" A few in the crowd near her hissed when they heard the name. She seemed unfazed. "I'd heard that Avon is kept here also."

The guide stared at her. That voice... She shook her head. "You surprise me, madam. Only a few care to view the case containing Avon's body."

The old woman smiled, her face suddenly rejuvenated. "I've surprised a lot of people in my time. May I see Avon, please?" She said the last word as though it were from a language foreign to her.

The guide couldn't refuse, for some reason. She found herself leading the old woman to a small door in the back of the chamber. "This way, madam. It isn't exactly off limits, but we don't advertise Avon's presence. I don't know why his body was preserved at all, or why he's kept so close to the Saint."

The door opened onto a dark, narrow passageway. A few feet later, it led into a small room carved out of stone. There, against the wall, was a glass case. Inside it stood Kerr Avon, staring out at a world he'd never understood. He was dressed in a black outfit mottled with metal studs. His hands were at his side; he looked helpless. The woman approached the case slowly, as if unable to believe it.

"Avon," she breathed. "Avon, again, after all these years."

The guide settled behind her. "Madam? Did you...know him?"

The old woman exhaled powerfully. "I once thought I did. But I was wrong."

Others from the crowd had followed them in there. One young woman spoke. "I should hope you didn't know him! Imagine knowing the Great Betrayer! The man who killed our Redeemer! I only wish Avon hadn't died so soon after shooting Blake, I wish he'd suffered longer for his crime." The girl's boyfriend nodded.

The old woman turned to look at the young girl. "What do you mean, you wish he hadn't died?" she asked. "Avon's not dead, you know. Nobody could kill Avon. Even when they wanted to, they couldn't actually do it."

They all stared at her as if she were mad. "Come on, lady, Avon was killed by the Federation. Everybody knows that!" said a middle-aged man.

"Then everybody's wrong," the old woman said. "I'm telling you that Kerr Avon is still alive."

"But that's his body right there!" the old man shouted, pointing at the case.

"Not at all," the old woman replied.

"Then where is he?" asked the guide.

"In there," said the woman in red.

The middle-aged man sputtered. "But you just said he's alive!"

The woman nodded. "He is."

"What?!?" everyone shouted at once.

"He's alive in that case," said the old woman with the very short white hair.

The noisy crowd suddenly shut up tight, as if they'd all been strangled. Their eyes bugged and their mouths hung open.

The old woman smiled. "I haven't been here for years. But I've always hoped this room would tell me what actually happened here, why Avon killed him. It never does. Nobody knows what happened, you know. Nobody even knows whether Avon betrayed him at all. Nobody will ever know. All your nonsense about Blake's 'holy cause,' you have no idea how foolish that sounds. Blake was no holy martyr, and Avon wasn't an evil tool of the devil, either. Nor was...Servalan such a viper. The Federation didn't end because Blake's followers rose up after his death and overthrew us...them."

"Then, how did it happen?" asked the young girl, her eyes filled with tears.

The room was silent. Everyone knew they were hearing the truth, though why they should believe this ancient crone wasn't clear. Her voice came as if from far away, though every syllable could be heard. "The Federation ended because after Blake's death, after Avon' didn't have the energy, the will to go on. The Federation always had a purpose, it wasn't the dictatorship Blake thought it was. Without that purpose, it just fell apart. Blake won, but not the way he thought he would." She fell silent, her eyes downcast. Then she turned to face the growing crowd, drawn by her presence.

"Oh, go ahead, believe in your stuffed saint! I suppose that's our purpose, just as mine...the Federation's was...well, who cares now? Go on, read your Book of Roj, recite your Prayer to the Liberator. It might even be true. I...the Federation never was very good at understanding the common people." With that, the woman strode out of the room, into the great Chamber, and through the exit out onto Gauda Prime.

The crowd behind her was silent, stunned. Could she be telling the truth? Was the mythos of their faith just that, a myth? What would happen to their new lives if she were right? Did it really matter? Whether Blake was a martyr or not, his death had spurred the demise of the Federation, which was surely a good thing. But still....

The guide began to shepherd the crowd out of the small room, leaving a staring Avon to stand lonely vigil behind them.

"Who was that?" the young girl asked as she exited.

"Oh, just some crank," replied the guide. "I've heard about her. She comes here every few years or so, in some disguise, trying to make trouble."

The middle-aged man left the room, too. Before he did so, he turned and said to the guide, "Did you get a load of that outfit?"

the end

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Tom Beck

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