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By Marian Mendez
Page 1 of 18

Blake's eyes snapped open, but he saw nothing. Something covered his face. He put his hands up and encountered resistance. He investigated, trying to remain calm. A tough fabric covered his entire body. He pulled and kicked, but the fabric wouldn't tear, barely even moved. It was stiff and colder than anything he'd ever felt, so cold his mind couldn't register the sensation properly. He panicked and struggled, gasping wildly. His right hand struck something metallic amongst the folds. It had felt like a zipper, so he traced it up to the top of the sack, poking a finger through a small gap above the zipper, and pushing until he felt it give. Once he'd widened the gap enough to put his hand out and grasp the zipper pull from the outside, it went quicker. He wriggled out like a butterfly escaping from its chrysalis, landing on a hard surface with what should have been a loud thump. There was no sound. There hadn't been any, he suddenly realized, even his gasps being silent.

He kicked his way loose and stood. He still could see nothing, but he had his panic under control. He turned, arms outstretched to keep his balance, and saw a light. It was only a dim reddish glow, but it was the first point of reference he had found, and he was unutterably relieved. He moved toward the light slower than he would have liked, edging one foot forward to feel the way, and keeping his arms out to protect his face. There were obstacles, heavy, unyielding things that jarred him, and cables that unexpectedly slapped against his arms.

Where was he? The last thing he remembered was Avon... Gods, Avon's face. He thought he'd had a bad time of it, but what had happened to Avon? For that matter, what had happened to him? Hadn't Avon shot him? He groped over his belly, and encountered several ragged tears in his clothing. His fingers went further, and he stopped, sickened by the extent of the hole he had discovered. He didn't feel any pain, but he knew he must be dying. He should be dead already, but something had roused him and graced him with a last surge of strength, blessedly free from pain. He mustn't waste it. He pulled his torn vest together and tightened his wide belt to cover the gaping wounds. It was so cold, that was why he wasn't still bleeding.

He reached the light and fumbled beside it, finding a sealed door and a control panel. The panel had a pair of buttons. One was already depressed. With nothing to lose, Blake pressed the other button. The red light blinked rapidly for several minutes, then faded to yellow, and blinked slower for a few minutes more, and at last, turned green. The door slid open, revealing a brightly lit, small metal-walled chamber with another blinking red light at the far end, beside another closed door. Blake squinted against the light and went in. The door slid shut behind him. He glanced back, then took four steps to reach another control panel with two buttons. He hesitated, then pressed the raised button. His sleeves stirred, and he felt a breeze. Simultaneously, he began hearing a thin beep, synchronized with the light which was now blinking rapidly. The beep became clearer as the breeze strengthened. "No," Blake whispered hoarsely. It had been cold in the other chamber, true, but it couldn't be. Just because he hadn't been able to hear, it didn't mean there hadn't been any air. That was impossible. Temporary deafness must be another symptom of shock. After all, he'd lost a lot of blood. He shook his head. He didn't have time for this. He had a purpose. Yes, that was what had awakened him. He had to find Avon. Everything had gone wrong, it was all finished, but it couldn't be finished until he'd seen Avon once more. They couldn't leave it like this.

The door slid open, and Blake stepped out into a corridor. As he'd surmised, he was on a space vessel, and the arrowhead and linked circles emblazoned on the bulkhead told him whose it was. Federation. Instinctively, he reached into his pocket hideaway for the sleek little `bounty-hunter's friend' Jenna had given him. Ah, Jenna. He'd be joining her soon. Too soon if he didn't pay attention. If the Federation had him, then maybe Avon had been captured also. They wouldn't kill Avon outright. He was too valuable. That sharp mind held too many treasures. They couldn't. Avon must be alive. Blake stilled and listened intently. Footsteps. From the sound of them, one person going away from his present position. Blake ran after the footsteps as quietly as he could. Around a corner- carefully- there! Just ahead of him walked a man in trooper's uniform, casually carrying his helmet in one hand. Blake lunged, grabbed the trooper around the throat with his left arm, shoving his knife into the man's back just hard enough to cut. The helmet fell with a clatter. "It's a very good knife," Blake growled, "If my hand slips, you'll be beside yourself. Don't make me do it." Blake took the man's gun, picked up the helmet and glanced around. "I need someplace quiet where we can talk." When the man stayed silent, Blake tightened his grip and said, "Or I can just break your neck here, and find someone more cooperative."

The trooper's left arm lifted and pointed frantically at a narrow door only a few paces further along the corridor.

"If it's a trap, you'll die first," Blake promised. The door opened as they neared, and Blake shoved hard, sending the trooper face down to the deck. He stepped in far enough for the door to close, and planted a foot firmly on the trooper's back. He looked around. The room had no other exit, and was filled with stacked boxes of standard rations, all secured to racks lining a narrow passageway. Good enough. Blake picked up his foot, and put it under his prisoner, flipping the man over onto his back.

The trooper looked at Blake and gasped. His eyes rolled up, showing the whites, and his head lolled to one side.

Blake kicked the man, and the body shifted limply. With a muttered curse, Blake tossed the helmet to one side, and knelt. He slapped the man's face hard. "Wake up!"

The man muttered, and came around slowly. He blinked up at Blake. "You're dead," he blurted out, cringing away. "What are you, a zombie?" His accent was thick and guttural, but still understandable.

So they were recruiting Outworlders now. Some of the old superstitions lingered in the hinterlands. That could be useful. "Yes. And do you know why I've come back?" The trooper shook his head. "Revenge!" Blake snarled, glaring. "You killed me!"

"No, I didn't! I wasn't even there until after you died."

Blake shrugged. "You're a Federation trooper. You're as responsible as the trooper who pulled the trigger."

"But it wasn't one of us!" The man was frantic. "I swear. It was a rebel. Avon, Kerr Avon, he's the one who shot you, don't you remember?"

Blake frowned, then said, slowly, "Perhaps. I'm not sure. But he's not here, and you are. I must have a victim soon." He opened his mouth and licked his lips. "I'm hungry." He had no idea whether zombies, whatever they were supposed to be, ate people or not, but it seemed a fairly likely guess.

"NO! No, don't, not me, it's Avon you want, Avon! I can take you to him. He's here, on this ship."


"The next level down. In interrogation. Or maybe he's back in the cells with the rest of his crew by now. I don't know, but I can find out."

"His crew is alive? Vila Restal, is he alive?" Blake shook with the sudden surge of hope. If he had those two, then it was still possible. What was still possible? He was dying, and the longer he took to find them, the less chance he had of making his death count for something. In his anger he took the trooper by the neck and shook him.

"Yes, yes, they're alive! The cells, next level down, Blue 32 through 36. Kill them all, they were with Avon, they helped him murder you."
"Murder?" Blake gazed at the guard. "Oh, no. When Avon killed me, it was suicide." He knew that with a gut-deep certainty. His life and Avon's, they were so inextricably tangled together that the universe wasn't wide enough to break the bond. Stretch it, yes, but it was never broken. He felt sorry for Avon. He was going to end soon, but Avon would have to live with the guilt. The death of a friend. That was the lesson some aliens had once set out to teach Blake, but they were far too late. He'd already learned it by heart.The guard looked hopelessly confused and terrified. Out of pity, Blake struck, knocking the man out. He picked up the helmet, and looked at it, then at the unconscious man. He wasn't quite Blake's size, but his uniform was a loose fit. Still, there would be no getting it on over his own clothes. Blake undid his belt and took off the vest, staring resolutely at the wall while he did so. He ripped his shirt into strips, winding enough around his middle to cover his wound and prevent any seepage from showing through the trooper's uniform he appropriated. After he stripped the trooper he gagged and tied the man with more strips. He really ought to kill him, but Blake was sick of death. If he succeeded, there would be other ways to handle the prisoner situation. If he failed- well, at least one man would keep Blake's name alive. That trooper would never forget this day.

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