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By Patti McClellan
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Although he could not have said why, Avon was glad that he'd happened to glance up at Blake after asking the question. A simple query, really, one an engineer of Blake's years ought to have been able to answer in his sleep - a mass/stress ratio he must have used a hundred thousand times in his work. And he didn't know it! How could he not? Yet clearly, he didn't.

      In that moment, Blake's eyes aged a thousand years. Obviously, the Federation had destroyed much of Blake's engineering knowledge when they'd conditioned him to be a good little Alpha. For the first time, Avon understood why so much of the work aboard was left to him. The horror of the idea profoundly shook him. Not to have his work... He permitted the emotion to wash through his body, causing his hands to tremble. A laser probe fell from suddenly numb fingers and touched a live circuit. The brief flare was essentially harmless, but Avon had kept his hand deliberately near. He stared at the blistered fingers and shivered.

      "You're too tired to do this now, Avon. Come on, let's get something for that hand." Blake took his arm and Avon allowed the larger man to march him off the flight deck, ignoring the stares he felt on his back. It had been so quick, he didn't think anyone else had noticed.

      Neither man spoke again until Blake had applied a liberal coating of regen gel to Avon's hand and wrapped it in a sterile mitt. Crossing his arms, Blake leaned back against a bulkhead. "So now you know."

      Avon pondered the tone of voice. What did the man expect him to say? "Does it make a difference?"

      "Yes!" Blake calmed himself with difficulty. "I was made an administrator, Avon. I handled budgets, estimates, work force, appropriations applications." The words dripped bitter venom. "I had hoped that since large chunks of my memory have returned, the skill - the knowledge would return as well. It hasn't. And I can't re-learn it. It won't stay in my mind." He shuddered, whiter than his shirt. His voice sank to a whisper. "I loved my work. I was good at it."

      Avon caught sight of the medicine cabinet and then had a better idea. "Come with me, Blake." He later wondered why he had been so certain the man would do as he said. In fact, Blake did follow him to his quarters, and at his gesture, sat in the recliner chair. Avon reached into the deep bottom drawer of his desk and produced a bottle filled with amber liquid. He poured a measure into the glass he kept with the bottle and gave it to Blake. "Scotch whiskey. Very old, very smooth." He fetched an additional glass from the 'fresher and poured some for himself, then sat down in the desk chair.

      Again there was silence while they savored the smoky liquid. Avon nursed his own drink along, encouraging Blake to drink another, then another. I'm not very good at this, the technician thought. I'm not even sure it's a good idea. Still - "You weren't really an engineer anyway, you know. Not even before they stole your technical knowledge." Blake's eyes blazed. Raising a hand to stay the outburst, he smiled. "You were a revolutionary. That was where your real skill lay, even then. That was why they had to stop you."

      Stunned for a moment, Blake then shook his head. "But I..."

      "Think about it," Avon urged, hoping Blake would think about that rather than wonder why in the nine hundred worlds Avon would acknowledge him as anything other than an idealistic fool. "There are thousands of good engineers. If that had been enough for you, had been your true vocation, would you have been a threat to them? Such a threat they could not even afford to kill you?"

      Avon watched until some of the confusion left the other man's face, to be replaced by resolution, and something else the tech could not quite identify. Finished with his drink - and, he thought with some humor - his amateurish attempt at psychological first aid, he stood up. "Go away, Blake. I'm tired." Not to say irritated with myself for bothering about you.

      When the bigger man struggled to his uncertain feet, Avon changed his mind and pushed him easily back into the chair. "On second thought, you'd better sleep it off there." He went to the closet to get a pillow and blanket for his guest.

      Watching him with an odd expression, Blake asked, "And you? What's your true vocation?"

      Tossing him the pillow and coverlet, Avon bared his teeth. "Isn't it obvious? I'm a born iconoclast." The tech didn't know whether he was pleased or irritated when Blake emitted a comfortable chuckle.

      After a jaw-cracking yawn, the rebel leader ran both hands through his hair. "I really ought to go to my own quarters." He gave a mocking leer. "Whatever will the others think?"

      That struck Avon as amusing. "Are you concerned about your reputation, or confused about mine?"

      With the abrupt mood swing that sometimes afflicted drunks, the larger man's face went red and he started up again. Weary of the whole thing, Avon snapped, "Don't be stupid, Blake. They'll only think that you made me go to bed and stay there. That you remained here to enforce your order and fell asleep." Wryly, he reminded himself that no good deed goes unpunished.

      After one of those long stares that Avon wondered about (did they mean he wasn't thinking, or that he was seeing far too much?), Blake blinked, then began fumbling with the blanket. Avon abruptly made an exasperated noise and tucked him up properly.

      "They will, won't they?" Blake asked. "I could even tell them the truth, and they'd never credit it." He nodded solemnly. "It's a good act, Avon."

      "I've no idea what you're babbling about. Go to sleep." Avon turned down the light, undressed and went to bed.

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