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For Executrix, should she care to accept it|
- Whatever I've done, I avoided surrendering my soul.
- I don't find your pretence of scrupulosity very convincing.
- Oh, it's not that. I'm saving the final throw of the dice, for when I really need it. It's pathetic to panic too soon and surrender when worse is yet to come.
- Executrix, Assume a virtue if you have it not
It's the only way I can be sure that I was right
- Blake, Star One
There's a crack, there's a crack, in everything:
That's how the light gets in.
- Leonard Cohen, The Future
PROLOGUE: GET BACK TO YOUR POSITION"Shut up, Avon," said Blake slowly, looking into Avon's face.
"Make me," said Avon, and Blake split apart. Sudden delight split his mind along the line between enjoyment of the argument and the angry need to protect himself from it. Light flooded in through the break like unexpected laughter, taking him by surprise, wiping his mind of ambiguity and of calculation. He was utterly charmed. The way Avon staged himself as a razor-sharp wit - the gravel of his voice, the blank nastiness of his expression, the way he held his body - even when he was saying "You're an idiot", or "Make me", with all the subtlety of a five-year-old: oh, Blake loved it.
He wanted to hold the moment, the feeling, but he found himself holding Avon; kissing him.
Avon returned the kiss competently, deliberately, and hard, before detaching his mouth from Blake's. "Novel," he said, and his mouth was so close that Blake could feel his breath on his own lips. "Don't try it on the flight deck, though," he added, beginning to undo Blake's belt.
Not here! thought Blake, or was it Now, here? His hands rested on Avon's, feeling the busyness of fingers working on buckle, neither helping nor hindering.
Avon pulled the belt through all its loops and out, and dropped it on the floor; Blake let Avon manoeuvre him into a corner (not for the first time), felt cold metal against his back and warm Avon against his front, and forgot which direction gravity was working in.
Avon kissed him quickly, then moved his head back a little so that Blake was craning his neck to get it back, the darkness and the warmth behind that perfect mouth. He licked at Avon's lips, reaching as far as he could, tasted the particular, indefinable taste of them; and then the very tip of Avon's tongue touched the very tip of his and the explosion was tiny enough to dance on the head of a pin. Avon's mouth closed on his again, and Blake's hands slipped like water down the contours of Avon's back, down and over and round to cup his buttocks. One well-angled jerk/pull brought Avon's body against his, all the way down, chest to chest, hip to hip, thigh to thigh, cock to cock.
Avon wormed a hand in and started playing with one of Blake's nipples. Blake arched and yelped; Avon used the extra space the arching made between them to slip his other hand in through Blake's fly.
His fingers curled with terrifying accuracy around Blake's cock, each one a sweet tight ring flexing and teasing, little finger making little excursions to trace the ridge that led down towards Blake's balls, index finger pressing tiny sensitive spots just under Blake's foreskin. Blake was entirely enthralled by such small individual attentions, at the same time as he grunted, bucked his hips and began to fuck Avon's fist.
He let his hand trace the shape of Avon's pelvis, round to the front. His fingers met Avon's again there, helping him to unbutton trousers. He found Avon's cock already weeping and rubbed his palm over the wetness, smoothing it over the whole head before trailing his fingers down the shaft, then closing them. He fucked Avon's cock with his hand and Avon's hand with his cock. He let Avon's cock fill his hand, let Avon's hand pump his cock.
"Oh," he said; and Avon, as if he had been given permission, began to breathe more noisily, to give little grunts and sighs and yesses. Blake leaned his head on Avon's shoulder, feeling Avon's breath, Avon's words, ruffle his hair; he kissed Avon's neck and mumbled into it. That's good. I like that.
I WANT TO HIT AT THE HEARTThe lights in Blake's cabin were low apart from a rectangle of brightness on the desk. Blake was reading from printouts, not from a reader; the black characters on the white paper were uncompromisingly set down in their straight lines, square and unbudgeable as Federation troops.
He was reading old speeches from his Freedom Party days. Except that to have given so many speeches, written so many manifestos and analyses of the situation, he would have to have been working approximately forty-eight hours a day throughout the three years the Party had lasted (Orac's calculations).
Ghost-written, he thought and smiled grimly to himself, taking a drink from the tumbler beside him. Ghost-ridden.
Tonight was one of the nights when he couldn't tell which were forgeries. Had he believed that the key to the situation on Earth was education of the lower grades? Possibly. It sounded perfectly plausible. But... no little prickle of recognition, no feeling in his gut, no connection.
Some nights he could see through the bars of the black letters on the white paper to a younger man; a wiser man. A man whose mind and heart and body were connected together: not someone with nothing but a sore, blind, gut-deep anger hastily assembled into the shape of a half-remembered belief. Nothing but a grudge and a ghost-written, ghost-ridden name.
Blake riffled through the papers, looking for something he could trust. Education of the lower grades. Support for the movement for the autonomy of Betron-IV. Disruption of food rationing. Lobbying against all forms of rehabilitative psych treatment. They all sounded like good ideas.
He put them all down and drank the rest of the whisky, raising the glass almost solemnly, as if it were a toast.
Here at the limits of his knowledge, he would stick by what he did know.
They butchered my family and gave me tranquillized dreams. They had to be stopped. The whole fucking thing. All of it, piece by piece or - preferably - at a stroke. It was the only way.
THESE EXERCISES DO NOT APPEAR TO IMPROVE THE TEMPERCally's quiet voice: "Yes, Vila, that's good. Don't forget to pull up from the spine. Keep it straight - that's it."
Avon was standing in a ridiculous posture, with all his weight on the back foot, waiting for Cally to finish with the others. His back leg was beginning to go into small muscular spasms. He sighed ostentatiously, dropped his right hand from its position palm-outwards level with his face, shifted his weight onto his front leg, let his shriekingly-straight spine twist back into its usual and more comfortable kink, shook out his left arm, and said: "Tell us again what the purpose of this exercise is."
Cally sighed. "These are very ancient Auron warrior exercises," she said. "By balancing the principles of fort and da in the body, your movements in combat will be more effective."
"And do the Liberator guns respond to the balance of fort and da?" asked Avon. "Or only to their technical principles?"
"Shut up, Avon," said Blake. "You of all people could do with learning how to relax. These are relaxation exercises as well, Cally?"
"Relaxation is not my first priority in hand-to-hand combat," Avon interrupted.
"Which is exactly why I can do this," said Cally from behind him, and pushed him gently in the shoulder so that he lost his balance and staggered forward. "You are fighting yourself, Avon. You are constantly rigid and tense, and it makes you easy to unbalance. Once your own body is balanced, you can begin to fight your opponent."
"All right," said Avon between his teeth. "Get on with it, then. I have work to do." He untwisted his protesting spine, put his weight back onto his right foot, and slapped his arms into roughly the right place.
"That's fine, Avon," said Cally, and moved down the line to Blake. "Let me see you do the last part of the form, from white-crane-spreads-wings."
Avon dropped out of stance again, into a more characteristic position which managed to be both bolt upright and flagrantly lounging. He watched Blake go through the moves with Cally placing a hand on his shoulder to push him forward when he leaned too far back, or taking his hand and pulling it into the right position, as he went.
"That's good, Blake."
"Hmm," said Blake. "It feels very awkward."
"Your body movements are synchronized, but not properly connected yet," said Cally. "That will come with practice. Now," she said, turning to face the rest of them as well, "we should finish with some meditative postures."
Avon settled irritably into the posture Cally had chosen for him and stared at the floor, thinking about all the other things he would rather be doing with his time.
"What's wrong?" said Cally suddenly. Avon looked up
"That sound," said Blake. "I keep hearing it."
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