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Interminable Nightmare

By Marian Mendez
Page 3 of 13

Arlen was a trained Federation officer, an infiltrator, and possibly a fanatic, judging from that blast of sheer hatred. Cally was a trained guerrilla, an outcast, and definitely a fanatic. She had the edge on Arlen in sheer desperation, however. Cally had survived when all her comrades on Saurian Major died. She'd endured the ultimate loneliness of soul then: the only minds she could sense were those of the enemy. Avon wasn't an Auron, and never would have been her choice of soul-mate, but she knew him, trusted him, felt incomplete without his presence. If Vila had been lost, she would have felt the same.

The fight was brief, but vicious. Cally ended it with a sweeping kick to Arlen's knee that sent the agent to the ground. "Now, will you talk?" Cally demanded, standing just out of her fallen foe's reach.

"Why should I talk to you, scum? Just kill me and get it over with." Arlen's chin lifted in defiance.

"If you are cooperative, I may let you live. I know who and what you are."

"And I know what you are. Sub-human trash!"

Cally smiled. "Are you afraid of telepaths, Arlen? Do you wonder what we can do?"

The other woman's eyes widened, and she shuddered visibly.

// You hear me, Arlen. In your mind. Would you like to learn the secret powers of the Auronar? Learn how we destroy our enemies from within? //

"You can't do anything. It's all bluff. You can't even read my mind or you wouldn't have to ask questions."

"You have a disgusting, narrow little mind, Arlen. I dislike wading through it. I already know your rank, Space Commander Arlen. I know you work under the orders of Commissioner Sleer. I know who Commissioner Sleer really is. I know you were sent here to find Roj Blake. How else would I learn this, but through your mind? If I am forced to go deeper, I may damage you. Would you care to live out the rest of your life as a pathetic, mindless creature? Answer my questions, and answer them truthfully. If I sense the smallest lie, your punishment will be terrible."

Arlen's hands formed into claws. "What do you want to know? I can't tell you where Blake is. I don't know. I was setting myself up for him to find me."

"I can find Blake easily enough. All I need do is call." To demonstrate, Cally sent out a telepathic shout of , // Blake! // with all the pent-up emotion of the long, fruitless search- first for him, then for Avon.

Arlen flinched and put her hands up to the sides of her head. The town life around them stilled as others recovered from the shock. Cally had been wide-open, angry and uncaring as she sent the call with all her strength to any mind capable of receiving it. She was surprised at the results herself.

"Then what do you want?" Arlen shouted.

Cally snapped her gun up with one swift, economical move, ending with the cold, unyielding muzzle pressed into Arlen's throat. "Understand me, Arlen. Your life and your death are equally meaningless to me. Tell me where Avon is, and I will let you live."

"Avon?" Arlen laughed, a malicious smile stretching her thin lips. "You've tracked me down for him? You should have saved yourself the bother."

"Why? Is he dead?" The gun pressed deeper into Arlen's throat.

Arlen coughed, fear suddenly brightening her eyes. "No. No, he's alive. At least he was, the last I heard. But Sleer- Sleer's been playing with him. There's nothing left of the man you knew. Be smart, write him off. You'll live longer."

"It may not be intelligent by your standards, but some people value loyalty. So long as Avon lives, I will do everything in my power to rescue him, and if he dies, I will avenge him. Starting with you." Cally's finger tightened on the trigger.

Arlen's eyes widened, and her gaze slid to one side, as if drawn by movement at the mouth of the alley. Cally refused to react to the obvious ploy and her finger moved tighter. "Wait! Don't!" Arlen cried. "I'll tell you. Avon's on the planet Xenon, Sleer has a base there." She held up her hands, begging for mercy. "I know the security precautions, I can help you. Please, just let me..."

"Cally?" the voice coming from behind startled the Auron, not just for its unexpectedness, but for the familiar tone and cadence. Briefly, she lifted her head, torn between her prisoner and the threat at her back.

Arlen snatched at the gun. Reflexively, Cally's hand tightened to prevent its loss. The weapon discharged. Arlen's scream was brief, as she took the blast full in the chest and died instantly.

Cally turned, gun lifted against the interloper. It was Blake - a scarred and filthy version of the man she once willingly followed, a man surrounded by an aura of detached menace. She glared at him. "Why? Why did you do that?"

"Actually, I didn't do it. You did." Blake took another step toward her.

"Don't, Blake. If you are Blake. Don't make me kill you."

Blake paused, and a frown creased his brow. "You've changed, Cally." He nodded toward Arlen's twisted corpse. "I think you were enjoying that interrogation." He took another step forward.

"One more step and you die."

"It's me. Blake." And he took another step forward.

To Cally's hyper-stimulated senses, time seemed to stop, while the alley and its contents shrank - a vision seen from afar. She saw herself shoot Blake, then the image changed to a stone-faced Blake standing above her corpse, then came one final scene in which the two of them were lying in the alley joined in death, while Servalan gloated over their corpses. Kneeling in chains at Servalan's feet, a battered Avon wept. Cally flung the last vision at Blake, her desperation enabling her to achieve a rare moment of complete rapport with a non-Auron.

"No," Blake groaned. "No, it can't end like that." Stunned, he fell to his knees.

Exhausted by the effort of the psychic merging, Cally crumpled. As her consciousness faded, she wondered if she would ever wake again.

"Cally?" the deep voice sounded uncertain.

Cally flinched from the cold compress being applied to her head. She brought up her hand in protest, pushing the cloth aside. "Blake?" she asked, opening her eyes to observe the man squatting beside her. Something subtle had changed in Blake's appearance. Outwardly, he was still the grimy bounty hunter, but the man she knew was once more behind those eyes.

"How do you feel?"

"Better." Cally sat up and looked around. She was lying on a pallet in a dimly lit, musty-smelling cubicle of a room, barely large enough for the pallet.

"My room," Blake told her, with a shrug. "It isn't much, but it's private."

"Good." Cally lifted her hand, but there was no teleport bracelet on her wrist.

"Looking for this?" Blake asked, casually holding the bracelet just out of her reach. He pulled it back. "Ah, no, I'm afraid I can't let you have it, not just yet."

"I must call the Liberator. I do not know how many hours have passed- if they do not hear from me..."

"They'll leave? Avon always was the practical type, wasn't he."

"Avon is not on the Liberator. " Cally studied Blake's impassive face closely. "Servalan captured him months ago."

"Are you sure? Perhaps she simply made him an offer he couldn't resist." A muscle twitched in Blake's scruffily bearded jaw. "No one is above temptation."

"Is that what happened? Did someone close to you fall prey to temptation?" When Blake made no answer, she continued, "And so now you do not trust. I took a great chance in trusting you, Blake. Was I mistaken?"

"Perhaps." Blake stood and took the three paces that the cramped quarters allowed. He ran his hand over his chin. "Do you think that woman was telling the truth about Avon?" he asked abruptly.

"Yes. She was frightened by anything alien, and especially frightened by telepaths. I have on occasion met her type before. She was certain I could read her mind, and therefore a lie would only serve to anger me, while the truth might distract me at a critical moment."

"Only I distracted you before you could get more information from her. I'm sorry. And I'm sorry about Avon." He gazed at the teleport bracelet he still held. "I've... missed him. I've missed all of you, and Liberator. "

"Then come back with me. I can have one of the others bring down a bracelet for you." Cally held out her hand.

Blake shook his head. "No. I left Liberator because I was becoming too distant from the rebellion. Too high-and-mighty in my wonderful, invincible ship. I needed to come down to Earth." He chuckled. "Well, down to the ground of some planet, anyway. I had to stop thinking of people as faceless masses whose well-being I was going to protect by destroying the Federation strangle-hold of Star One. It seemed so right, so straight-forward. Get rid of the machine that controls, and control is lost. Star One did fall, and because it fell people died horribly on hundreds of worlds while the Federation rules what's left with an even tighter fist. I was wrong. Dead wrong. And the innocent suffered for it."

"Travis and the Andromedans destroyed Star One, not you."

"But I would have done it. Avon was right. I was caught up in my own legend and blind to anything outside my own desires."

"You were not entirely wrong or Avon and I would never have followed you."

"Avon." Abruptly, Blake tossed the teleport bracelet to Cally. "Call Liberator. Go rescue Avon, with my best wishes."

Cally checked the elapsed time on the bracelet's inset chrono-chip. "They will not be in position to hear me for several minutes yet. Come with us," she offered again.

"I have a revolution to run here. A small one, but I've learned one world is as important as a hundred, to the people that live there."

"And one man is as important as a world, to his friends, to the people who need him."

Blake turned back to face her. "I can't abandon my people."

"The way you abandoned us?"

"That was different. Avon wanted me gone, and he wanted the ship. Liberator was my legacy to him. He deserved it, even if he only played pirate with it."

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