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Outlaws and In-laws

By Nova
Page 1 of 13

For Ika and the Pink Triangles.

Note: this story takes place in an alternate universe that peels off after The Web.

1. The frontier planet's third sun was setting behind the silver dome of a Federation research station but the air was still thick with lemon-coloured light from its paired suns, suspended above the jagged grey mountain that faced the dome. Avon eased himself cautiously to the edge of a pock-marked slab of volcanic rock and peered down the mountainside. A line of men and women in olive coveralls - the labour force of prisoners who had just finished building the research station - wound through the maze of boulders below him, headed for a waiting spaceship. He turned to Blake, expecting the signal to move, but instead found him staring at the prisoners with a bemused, almost fearful expression.

'Blake?' he whispered, touching the other man's arm to attract his attention. 'Roj, what's the matter?'

Muscles twanged under Avon's palm. When he looked closer, he saw a sheen of sweat glossing Blake's face. 'That man and woman at the end of the line,' he muttered, still staring. 'They're my parents.'

Avon's eyes narrowed, straining against the acid glare: a purely reflex action, since he would hardly have been able to identify any family resemblances from that height. He contemplated saying, 'I thought your parents were dead' but he had never liked stating the obvious.

**I can leave that to Vila. And besides, Blake should know.**

'All right,' he said, assimilating the information with his usual speed. 'This calls for a change of plan. Come on, Vila.'

A theatrical sigh eddied towards him as Vila elbowed through the gap between Blake and the rock face, stuffing a pack of cards into his pocket. 'I was just going to cheat myself at Patience,' he complained. 'Can't a man ever get any peace around here? Why me?'

'Because we are about to rescue two Federation prisoners and you are wearing a Federation uniform. I assume you can make the connection between those facts.'

'So? Blake's in uniform too.'

'Ah, but these prisoners are Blake's parents, which presupposes that they are intractable liberals, if not outright revolutionaries. Either way, they are unlikely to react favourably to the sight of their son in Federation blacks.'

'What's an intractable liberal, when it's -?' Vila began and Avon snarled, 'Hurry, fool! We don't have time to waste on political discussion.'

He gripped Blake's hand and then released it, unholstered his blaster and set off down the hillside under cover of a stony ridge. Vila caught up a few seconds later, jogging along behind him.

'Wait a minute,' he whispered. 'I thought Blake's mum and dad were dead.'

Avon smiled. **There, I knew I could rely on Vila for the appropriate banality.** 'So the Federation told Blake,' he replied. 'But here they are.'

'Parents,' Vila mused, as he dodged a spiny bush. 'I had one of them once, a long time ago. Well, two, I suppose, except I wouldn't recognise my dad if I fell over him in a Federation holding cell - which I may've done from time to time, come to think of it. Still, they say that people who grow up round their parents tend to get attached to them, so it'd be a nice gesture, saving Blake's mum and dad. Any idea of how we're going to go about it?'

'Why don't we just trust our luck? That seems a suitably Blakean strategy.'

Vila winced. 'Actually, I might trust your luck, Avon,' he decided. 'Mine's been wearing a bit thin lately.'

As it turned out, the rescue was easier than either of them anticipated. They ducked across the track, skidded down a shale slope and squeezed between two standing stones, emerging at the next bend in the path just in time to intercept the three Federation troopers who were guarding the final batch of prisoners. While Vila fanned his blaster in a casual semi-circle, Avon scanned the group and pointed to a tall thickset man and the small round woman beside him.

'We need two labourers to carry some equipment you idiots left behind,' he snapped. 'They'll do.'

Five seconds later, they were herding their prisoners back up the track towards the research station. Avon kept an eye on the guards until they turned the corner but the three men didn't even bother to look around.

**Marvellous what an air of authority can achieve. Let's see whether it works equally well on Blake's parents.**

As they reached the rocky outcrop that marked the beginning of the ridge, he halted and said, 'I should inform you that we are not, in fact, Federation troopers. Your son is waiting in the hills. If you leave the path here and -'

Before he could finish the sentence, the small woman was tilting her head back to glare up at him. 'Oh no, we aren't quite that gullible,' she snapped. 'If you want to shoot us, you can do it right here, where they'll find our bodies. Maybe some of your precious scientists will think twice about the system they're supporting, if they see what it costs in human lives.'

She bristled and puffed her chest out, like a bantam confronting a fox. Avon, gazing down into a pair of devastatingly familiar hazel eyes, found himself temporarily silenced. At his side Vila shuffled and cleared his throat.

'He means it, you know,' he said earnestly. 'Roj Blake's a friend of ours, honest. We came down to blow up that place you've been working on, only Blake saw you, so we decided we'd better rescue you first. It'd be nice if you could believe us straight off, because me and Avon ought to get a move on, before they start shipping the scientists in.'

For some reason, Vila's random babbling seemed to have more effect than rational explanation. At any rate, the small woman breathed, soft and questioning, 'Roj? Roj is here,' while the tall man gnawed his thumb and murmured, 'A strange lie for a pair of Federation executioners to choose. I think we might risk believing them', as though he were talking to himself.

That seemed close enough to assent. Avon raised his hand in a signal and watched Blake scramble to his feet - little more than a distant smudge against the hillside but Avon could recognise the tension in his stance. Blake's parents took one look at the shadowy figure and turned away without another word, helping each over the first ridge of basalt and filing along the stony track with the unconscious precision of sleepwalkers. Avon watched them for half a minute and then jerked his head at Vila, who blinked and rubbed his eyes.

'You sure we shouldn't stay and help them up the hill?' he said wistfully. 'I wouldn't mind a front seat at a family reunion.'

Avon hitched at the tube of explosive devices slung over his shoulder. 'Curb your sentiment,' he told Vila. 'We have a job to do.'

So they did it, planting the explosives at regular intervals throughout the dome and then teleporting back to the Liberator where, to Vila's obvious delight, the family reunion was still in full swing. Cally, Gan and Jenna clustered in a benevolent semi-circle around Blake, who was canted at an alarming angle, one arm hooked over his father's shoulder, the other arm reaching down to embrace his mother. They swayed together, still too dazed with emotion to say anything more than variants on 'You're alive' and 'The Federation claimed you were dead' and 'Oh god, so they were telling the truth about Jak and Meirion' - Blake's brother and sister, as Avon recalled: the rumours of their deaths had clearly not been exaggerated. He halted at the outer edge of the circle, hooding his eyes and folding his hands in front of him.

'Objective achieved,' he reported in his driest tones. 'The dome is now a kilometre-deep crater. The Federation will have to find another site for their research station.'

Blake's mother broke away from the group embrace and took a step towards him. 'Thank you,' she said fiercely. 'Well done.'

Avon shrugged. 'There is no need to thank me. I am not the resident hothead.'

'Nah, he's the resident bucket of cold water,' Vila cut in. 'Which reminds me, I could use a drink right now. After all, we've got a lot to celebrate - reducing the dome to rubble and finding Blake's folks.'

He beamed at the family tableau and headed for the door. Blake overtook him in two strides and swung him back. 'Not so fast, Vila,' he said. 'Let me introduce everyone first. These are my parents, Gwyneth and Huw Blake. My crew - Vila Restal, Jenna Stannis, Cally and Olag Gan.' He paused to wrestle his smile back into manageable proportions, then grasped Avon's elbow and urged him forward, adding proudly, 'And this is my lover, Kerr Avon.'

For a moment Avon genuinely believed that the temperature on board the Liberator had dropped. He was about to go and investigate when he identified the waft of icy disapproval emanating from Blake's mother. She let out a tiny wail, like a disappointed kitten.

'Roj, no!' she protested. 'What on earth do you mean?'

Side by side, Roj and Huw Blake frowned, lifted their hands in perfect synchrony and bit down on their thumb knuckles. Avon's mouth twitched. But his sense of humour, cultivated to help him through his own family gatherings, seemed out of place here, so he disciplined his face into its customary mask and launched a social smile in Gwyneth's general direction.

'Perhaps we should leave the celebrations until later,' he suggested smoothly. 'Blake, your parents must be exhausted. Why don't you show them to one of the vacant cabins?'

He twisted a hand into the back of Vila's jacket. At the same moment Cally, always intuitive, linked arms with Jenna and Gan. Between them, they hustled the others across to the corridor, leaving Blake and his parents alone on the flight deck.

'What was all that about?' Vila said plaintively, as Avon steered him towards the recreation room.

'Well, I hope I'm wrong,' Jenna said, falling into step, 'but I got the impression that Blake's parents don't approve of homosexuals.'

'Homosexuals? Where?' Vila asked, startled.

Cally said, 'Oh, Vila!', Jenna kicked his ankle and Gan heaved a patient sigh. Vila covered his face with both hands, peeking out through a crack between the fingers.

'Sorry, Avon,' he groaned. 'The thing is, I'm so used to you and Blake by now that I'd forgotten.'

'Never mind,' Avon said with a backward glance at the flight deck. 'If you forget again, I am sure Blake's mother will be happy to remind you.'

*


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