Heaven Doesn't Want Us...By Betty Ragan
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In the irregular breaks between torture sessions, he was allowed to roam at
will across the bleak red landscape, presumably to give him time to simmer
in anticipation of the next bout of agony and to contemplate the utter and
eternal hopelessness of his plight. Effective enough, perhaps, but it was
nothing that the Federation interrogators had not already familiarized him
with years ago, and Avon found it all rather disappointing. He had expected
a bit more sadistic creativity from Hell.|
Nevertheless, he took what advantage he could from these moments of illusory freedom: if nothing else, they at least brought him respite from the company of the other damned souls and the tediously unimaginative demons who tormented them. And so he happened to be walking alone by the lake of fire when he first saw Blake.
His first thought, when the shock of recognition had worn off enough to let him think again at all, was that this must, at last, be some novel form of punishment, that the powers of Hell had given up trying to reach him through physical torture and sent this apparition to haunt him, instead. Full marks to them; the pain that shot through his heart at the sight was of an entirely different order from having his flesh consumed by tongues of flame or his eyeballs burnt from their sockets.
But, of course, this time it was no illusion. The man who approached him was as real, and as damned, as he.
"Hello, Avon." Blake's voice was unreadable, his face as battered and grim as when Avon had last seen him.
"Blake. Why... Why are you here?" He hadn't really meant to ask that, but those seemed to be the only words that would leave his mouth.
Blake gave him a strange, almost pitying look. "You don't remember?"
"Of course I remember!" How could he possibly have forgotten? The feeling of his finger pressing against the trigger, the thick red blood erupting from Blake's chest, the look of shock and disbelief on Blake's face.. He fully expected the sensations to stay with him, real and immediate, throughout the rest of eternity. "But why are you here?"
Blake shrugged. "Murder, sabotage, acts of terrorism. You name it, really." He smiled. Avon had thought he was the only one who ever smiled in Hell. "It's all right, Avon. I fully expected to end up here. Or rather, I would have, if I'd ever thought of it as anything more than Old Calendar superstition."
"I'm sorry." A thoroughly inadequate, not to mention banal, way to apologize to someone he had murdered, but what else was there to say? He felt a bizarre urge to cry, but that particular emotional release was denied to the damned, and he had lost the ability himself long before he had physically entered this place, in any case. But if anything he had experienced here deserved tears from him, it was the loss of his one remaining consolation: that at least he had sent Blake to a better place than this. Foolish of him to expect, against all that experience had taught him, that there would be even that much justice in the universe.
He found himself involuntarily reaching out a hand towards Blake, and aborted the movement with an awkward jerk. "No. You don't deserve this. Not you."
In the distance, someone screamed.
A moment passed.
Avon watched, astonished, as Blake's jaw took on a familiar determined set, an expression he had thought he would never see again. "You know something, Avon? You're right." Blake turned his head slowly, surveying the landscape as if for the first time, taking in the orange-red heat of the flames, the odor of burning flesh, the cries of human suffering in the distance. "I don't deserve this. You don't." He turned to Avon, the old fanatical light gleaming in his eyes. "No one deserves this."
"And I suppose, in your extreme egotism, you believe that it falls to you to redress this moral imbalance?" Avon felt his heart lifting, a little. Maybe Hell was worth it, for the chance to exchange friendly insults with Blake again. For the chance to see Blake being Blake again. For even a slim chance at Blake's forgiveness.
"Why not? I've got all of eternity to work with." And he meant it. Of course he meant it. He was Blake.
"Haven't you learned anything at all from your life's experience, Blake?"
Brown eyes bored into his. "Yes. I've learned that it's always possible to have a second chance, if only you're willing to take it when it's offered. Are you with me, Avon?"
"Why not?" He labored to keep his voice casual, even knowing that Blake would see through it as he always had. "It might prove... interesting."
Avon smiled, and Blake's answering grin was like the sun breaking at last through the clouds of sulfur. It didn't fade even when the demon appeared behind him, pitchfork raised to prod him once again in the direction of the pit.
"I'll see you again, Avon."
"Yes," he promised. "You will."
Blake and the demon disappeared, and he walked on, alone, by the lake of fire. He smiled.
Look out, Hell. Roj Blake is back.
And this time, I believe.
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