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Time and Fevers

By Nova
Page 1 of 5

I was feeling very sorry for myself as I scrambled out of the shuttle that had transported me from the orbital spaceport down to Gules. Oh, the trip had been tolerable enough, apart from the absence of leg room and some muzak bleating insistently. But somehow those twangy synthoharp chords had stirred up the dregs of an old anger.

Anger at Deva, for leaving me? Or anger at myself, for being so pathetically afraid that I was about to spend the rest of my life alone?

Revolutionaries are supposed to be committed to personal autonomy, as well as galactic freedom, but the truth is, I've always needed to have someone around. I'd only gone without a partner for five years of my adult life and I was mindwiped for four of them. As for the remaining year - well, at that point I was so preoccupied that I'd hardly even noticed when Jenna packed her belongings and moved out of my cabin.

Ah, memories. I sometimes think I was better off without them.

I flexed my stiff legs, then tilted my head back and gazed up at the silvery towers of an Old Earth cathedral translated into xenite. From an engineer's point of view, it was a daft idea - along with the usual buttresses, the architect had decided to sling an unnecessary bunch of protomodernist girders across the facade. Mind you, from a freedom fighter's point of view, the design would've been a gift. I was here as an emissary, not a guerilla, but I caught myself charting an easy climb, starting from the glittering gargoyles round the door, which would make useful footholds, then swinging up onto an ornamental ledge and along the girder that braced a rather presidential balcony.

For a moment, I wondered whether I should warn the occupants but on reflection, I realised that DasKapital Enterprises didn't need to worry about security, because the company owned the entire planet. The cathedral was, in fact, the only building on Gules, apart from the armaments factory and the compound that housed DasK's workers, so its apparent accessibility was just a sophisticated way of flaunting its very real defences. Guards swarmed the shuttleport and lined the square in front of the cathedral, armed with the latest DasK weaponry, ready to dispose of any invaders who managed to bypass DasK's so-far-invincible planetary shield. Armaments and inventions were clearly a lucrative business, although I didn't grudge DasK their wealth. After all, they had refused to sell arms to Sleer's Refederation as consistently as they'd supported Avalon's Alliance of Revolutionary Planets. Hence my presence here on Gules.

I plodded down an avenue of guards, feeling very small against the sky-high monolith. Not that I needed a monolith to make me feel diminished. Fifteen years had slipped by since I'd been a figurehead for the revolution. When I glanced at my blurred reflection in the xenite walls, I saw a portly unshaven middle-aged bloke, like a frontier planet mayor with a substantial corporation - although actually the mayoral comparison was coming it a bit strong. I was just Avalon's errand boy these days. Now that Deva was gone, I had nothing left, not even my name.

'Jor Grimm,' I said, displaying my pass to the guard at the door. (A private joke, combining my personal conviction that Roj Blake was a fairy tale with Deva's routine question, 'Why are you looking so grim and bleak?')

The guard nodded and clipped a tag onto my battered leather jerkin. Plass doors slid open, admitting me into the foyer. I summed it up at a glance - no more medieval references, just acres of sleek xenite walls and silver-grey ersatz marble floors - and went on thinking about Deva. The most uncomplicatedly loyal man I'd ever known. In all our fifteen years together, we'd never had a single argument. Deva had rescued me from the debacle at Gauda Prime, after which I'd had been dead in the eyes of the world - and Avon, Vila and the rest had been dead by any criteria you care to name. Deva had made a place for us at Avalon's headquarters. Deva had endured my moodiness and tantrums without a murmur of complaint.

I often wondered what he'd got out of it.

The muzak from the shuttle kept oozing through my head, as irritating as a syrup stain on my jerkin, still sticky hours later. '_Some day I'll get over you._' It would've been nice if the words had reminded me of Deva but they didn't. The trouble had started long before that. A pity I'd never been able to get over ...

At that point, my boot jarred against an ersatz marble barrier, letting me know that I'd reached the reception desk. 'Jor Grimm,' I said again. 'I'm here to see whether I can arrange a consignment of heat sensors for the ARP.'

The receptionist smoothed flawless silver-grey hair, the exact colour of ersatz marble, and held out an elegant hand for my credentials. 'Smart move, sending a real live male, not an e-mail,' he said in an unexpected Deltan accent. 'We're running a bit short on h-sensors but Avalon's favourite round here, so I'll let you have a word with the boss. If you ask nicely, he might shunt you up to the top of the queue.'

At his almost imperceptible signal, a guard detached herself from the wall. She led me across another slippery expanse of floor and ushered me into a long low room, so resolutely minimalist that it contained nothing but a massive desk and a second door at the far end. No ersatz marble here. The desk was a slab of authentic Obsidian igneous rock and the man bent over a state-of-the-art computing cube matched my image of an authentic company director. Fleshy jaw, prominent nose, hair impeccably groomed but receding at the temples, with a white badger-stripe sweeping back from the forehead, and a sombre charcoal jacket tailored to flatter middle-aged girth. He looked up, blinked and hit a button at the side of the desk.

'Blake,' he stated, pushing his chair back. As bars slammed down from the ceiling, caging off the desk, he activated the intercom and snarled, 'Give him anything he wants, at cost. Then get him out of here.'

He turned his back on me and strolled towards the far door, unhurried but determined. 'Avon?' I whispered, as the door hissed open. No answer, naturally. I grabbed the bars, filled my capsized lungs with air and shouted, 'Avon! Kerr Avon! Come back, you bastard.'

The door hissed shut but I went on rattling the bars until a blaster muzzle rammed into my back, just above the kidneys. 'Steady on,' said the guard's voice. 'We don't appreciate that kind of behaviour. Hands up and over to the wall - and slowly does it. You don't want to startle me, sport.'

She sounded convincing and besides, any guard employed by Avon was guaranteed to be lethal. But when I turned, hands lifting, she inexplicably lowered her gun and backed away. I glanced down the length of the room and saw two women framed in the doorway. A plump blonde with a crewcut, knowing eyes and a gunslinger's swagger, one arm hooked over the shoulder of her taller, more stately companion, whose iron grey curls made an effective contrast to her ebony skin. There was something vaguely familiar about them but I couldn't quite place it. While I was interrogating my memory, they ran their eyes across me in identically appraising stares.

'That's him, all right,' the black woman said. 'Ten kilos heavier than the holos - I rather like the Falstaff effect - and he's gone grey, like the rest of us. But he's still Roj Blake, my father's revolutionary pin-up boy.'

'Yes, I recognise him now,' the blonde agreed. 'Leave him to us, Hunter. We'll take over from here.'

As the guard shrugged and strode out, I massaged the small of my back reproachfully. 'You seem to know who I am,' I growled. 'But who the hell are you?'

'I'm Dayna Mellanby,' the black woman said, 'and this is Soolin. We're Avon's chief executive officers and we'd like to invite you to dinner, so you can tell us _all_ about him.'

*

Three hours later Dayna tipped back her chair and licked brouillika juice from her fingers, sighing contentedly. 'Thanks for the stories, Blake,' she said. 'Cally told me some of what happened in the early days on Liberator but the Auronar tend to see things differently from the rest of us. And Vila never stopped talking about the original Blake's Seven but - well, he would've killed me for saying this but the truth is, he idealised Avon. You don't, which makes it useful to get your perspective.'

'Besides, we always wanted to meet you,' Soolin drawled, foraging through a dish of Lindorian nuts to find the remaining macadamias. 'We've been working with Avon for the best part of two decades but he's a hard man to understand. Somehow, I formed an impression that you're the key to a lot of his secrets.'

I stared morosely into my brandy glass. Light refracted through the liquid, distorting the shape of my fingers. Three hours of Avon memorabilia had exhausted me. I hadn't rehearsed those stories for years, certainly not to Deva and, even more certainly, not on my own account. Still, the human mind is resilient. By now, I'd almost recovered from the shock of discovering that Avon was alive. As a matter of fact, I was just beginning to wonder which of the two women he was sleeping with.

So it shocked me all over again when Soolin tossed a macadamia, caught it and added casually, 'Did you realise Avon was in love with you?'

Dayna's chair thudded to the floor. 'Soo!' she protested, one hand waving wildly, as if she could scrub out the last sentence. 'We don't know that. It's just a theory we came up with. Avon would hate it, if he -'

'Avon hates everything and everyone,' Soolin said placidly. 'If I confined myself to topics he approves of, I'd never say anything at all. Well, Blake? Do you remember the question or should I repeat it?'

'Yes, I remember,' I said with an effort. 'The answer is no.'

'And if you accept our theory, what then?' Soolin persisted. 'Would you be interested?'

I took a swig of the brandy and felt its mellow warmth spread out through my body, easing its way down to the groin. 'The answer to your second question would be yes,' I said formally.

Volatile as a child, Dayna sat up straight and applauded. 'Oh, good!' she said. 'In that case, we have a plan.'

I looked from one woman to the other - Dayna leaning forward, positively humming with energy; Soolin leaning back, sandy lashes shading the implacable gleam in her eyes. Something told me I was caught between an irresistible force and an immovable object.

'A plan?' I repeated fatalistically. 'All right, what is it?'

*


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