Love Means Never Having to Say You're SorryBy Nova
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My first time in Resoc was the hardest. For some reason, the headshrinkers'
usual methods didn't work on me, which annoyed them no end. That left me
feeling pretty bloody cocky, so I couldn't resist cheeking the screws
whenever I got the chance. It wasn't a bright idea. In less time than it
takes to say 'Juvenile Resocialisation Unit', I was hauled into the
governor's office. He made me stand there for fifteen minutes, while he
shuffled case files round his big shiny desk - prolonging the suspense, I
suppose, although even a first-timer like me knew a visit to the governor
always ended with a stint in solitary.|
So I nicked his desk calendar, from right under his nose. Getting my revenge in advance, you might say.
As it happened, I could've done a lot worse. I'm the sociable type and solitary confinement didn't agree with me, so it was nice to have something to pass the time. I smashed the calendar's base into tiny pieces and flushed them down the loo, then hid the metal hoops in a crack between the bricks and stowed the plass pages in the hems of my uniform. By the time the governor noticed his calendar was missing, they couldn't prove a thing.
For the next I-don't-know-how-long, I worked on hammering the metal into a lockpick. Whenever my hands got too sore, I lolled back on my bunk and read the calendar. There was a motto for every day. I had hours of fun, arguing with them. 'Honesty is the best policy' - not for the likes of me, it isn't. 'Silence is golden' - if that was true, I could've bribed my way out of solitary. 'What's sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose' - the person who came up with that one can't have been bisexual. And then there was my special favourite, 'Love means never having to say you're sorry.'
I hadn't ever been in love at that point but I'd seen people who were. It always looked like a pretty sorry sort of business to me. My mum, apologising to my dad for falling pregnant again. My oldest sister, apologising to her bloke for not turning enough tricks. My little brother, apologising to his bloke for catting around and bringing home a dose of the latest dick disease.
Love means never having to say you're sorry? In a perfect world, maybe. Not in this one.
I came out of solitary relatively sane but I was stuck with that bloody motto for life. No matter where I went, I couldn't help keeping an eye out for people who thought they were in love. I watched them lie to each other and let each other down and betray each other - and try to fix it all by saying they were sorry. In nearly twenty years, I never came across a single person who fitted the motto.
Roj Blake broke all the rules. The rule is: you grumble about the Feds, then go along with them, but Blake fought back. The rule is: revolutionaries waste all their energy arguing with one another but Blake made us buckle down and get things done. The rule is: queers are supposed to feel ashamed of themselves but Blake shone like a supernova when he and Avon got together.
And the rule is: if you walk out on your boyfriend and disappear for two years, your first words, when he finally tracks you down, ought to be, 'Sorry about that.' Not Blake, though. He just stood there, saying, 'Avon, it's me, Blake' and, 'I set all this up' and, 'Avon, I was waiting for you.' He didn't seem to notice that Avon was going to pieces, clutching that hefty great gun and whispering, 'Have you betrayed me?'
He loved Avon, see. He thought that was enough. He didn't think he needed to say he was sorry.
Well, he was wrong, wasn't he? Avon had been betrayed before, by the Grant bitch, and being a logical sort of person, he must've assumed it had happened again. So, when Blake took a step forward, Avon shot him in the gut. And shot him in the gut. And then shot him in the gut again, which struck me as a bit excessive, considering that Blake wasn't even armed.
After that, all hell broke loose. A little ginger-haired bloke rushed in and did a double-take at the sight of Blake, stretched out on the floor at Avon's feet. He didn't get time to introduce himself, because this skinny kid who'd been standing quietly next to Blake pulled out a stun gun and shot him, then announced that she was a Federation agent. I don't like surprises, so, the minute I got a chance, I turned heroic, for a change, and thumped her. Unfortunately, it was wasted on the others. Dayna had already been stunned by the kid and Soolin and Tarrant were busy being heroic too.
And Avon? Avon was off with the pixies, staring down at Blake as if there was no one else in the room. He kept that up, even when a bunch of Feds appeared from the middle of nowhere and used the rest of us for target practice. Fair enough, Avon couldn't have saved us single-handed but - oh well, he might've tried. He didn't, though. He just stood and stared, till the Feds closed in on him. Then he swung his foot across Blake's body, straddling it and protecting it.
And I don't know what happened next, because by that time I was so bloody annoyed with him that I stopped fighting the stun and went off with the pixies myself.
When I opened my eyes, the little ginger bloke was bending over me. He smelt nice - a mixture of salt and vanilla. I've always thought you can tell a lot about people by the way they smell.
'Are we dead?' I asked, wondering if he was my reward for being a good thief. 'Where are the others?'
The little bloke smiled at me and then blinked, as though the smile had hurt. 'We're alive,' he said. 'And your friend Dayna's off helping to evacuate the base. But the tall boy and the blonde woman and - Blake, they're all dead.'
I closed my eyes and said a quick goodbye to that gung-ho flyboy Tarrant and cool, calculating Soolin. Then I remembered how we'd got into this mess.
'What about Avon?' I demanded, keeping my eyes shut, because I felt safer that way. 'Is he still alive? And if so, for how long?'
The salty-vanilla smell came closer and a hand patted my shoulder. 'Don't worry,' the little bloke said. 'We're rebels, not Federation. We don't execute people without a trial. Although it's not likely to come to a trial - we all knew Blake would take one risk too many, some day soon.' He laughed wryly and added, 'Besides, we can't afford to lose a topflight computer expert.'
Amazing, isn't it, the way some people always land on their feet? I could swear Avon had nine lives, like a cat. It looked as if I wasn't going to see him get his comeuppance, not this time, so I let the little bloke - Deva - haul me to my feet and steer me down to the launching pad, where everyone was filing onto a clapped-out old spaceship. I must've been out of it for quite a while, because the ship took off ten minutes later.
That was fine by me. I was glad to see the back of Gauda Prime.
As soon as the ship was airborne, I joined the queue shuffling out of the launch-seat section, on the offchance that there might be a spare bottle of soma and adrenalin lying round somewhere. I was still a bit woozy from the stun, so it took me a while to notice that I was being watched. By Avon, as it happened, standing over to one side, with his mouth pulled down and his shoulder hitched up, as if he was warding off the world. There was something different about him. I couldn't place it at first but then the ship lurched sideways, which reminded me of the London.
Oh yes, of course. Avon used to look like that, way back then. All tense and wary, instead of arrogant and pleased with himself, like he was later on. It made me mad - or sad - or something along those lines. As if the last four years had never happened.
As if Blake had never happened.
When the queue shuffled forward again, I let it shunt me in Avon's direction. 'You stupid bastard,' I hissed. 'He loved you, Avon. But it's wasted on you, isn't it?'
The Avon I knew on the Liberator or Xenon Base would've said something really cutting and I would've answered him back and we would've gone on from there. This new - or old - Avon just looked down his nose at me, as if I wasn't even worth the effort. Then Deva came running over, to say the navigation computers were playing up, and basically that was the last I saw of Avon, till we landed near Avalon's base on Cymry III.
By that time, Avon had saved the ship from spinning out of control more often than anyone could count, so he'd become part of the team - in fact, he was a bloody hero. Even Dayna seemed to have forgiven him and she **liked** Tarrant and Soolin. I suppose I might've forgiven him too, if I'd had the time. But first we were all busy settling in and after that Deva roped me into organising the funeral.
It turned out that we'd brought Blake with us, in a wooden box tucked away at the back of the hold. I actually sat on the box at one point, while we were unloading the ship, which gave me a nasty turn when I found out. We got a couple of Avalon's musclemen to dig a box-sized hole at the top of a nearby hill and next morning everyone stopped what they were doing and came along to see Blake off. Deva wanted me to give the speech, because I'd known Blake the longest, but I told him it wasn't my style, so he did it himself. Bloody well, too - some of the old stories, a few jokes and a bit of politics, right at the end, to send the rabble away happy.
We were all hanging round afterwards, blowing our noses and swapping Blake memories, when I heard it. A strange sort of noise, like a rusty gate opening or someone tearing their shirt in half. Strange noises make me nervous - it's an occupational hazard for a thief - so I ran a quick scan and noticed a couple of rebels shuffling their feet and looking as nervous as I felt. Then they backed off, in opposite directions, and I found myself looking straight at Avon.
He was on the far side of the grave, with his hands covering his face. While I watched, he clenched all his muscles and forced his hands down to his sides. His face was wet, his mouth was twisted out of shape and those terrible sobs kept ripping up through his chest. He stood there, giving us all a good view, stiff and straight as a soldier on punishment detail. A rum idea of punishment, letting other people see how you feel, but that's Avon for you.
There'd been a bit of a party atmosphere, up until then, but within seconds everyone started edging away, checking their chronos and remembering they had to be somewhere else. In the end, Avon was standing all by himself, staring at the hole in the ground. I thought about going over to him but - oh well, I didn't know what to say, any more than the rest of them.
Besides, funerals always make me randy. Frankly, right at that moment, I was more interested in getting Deva back to our room and shagging him senseless.
It wasn't till I was sucking my little bloke's big cock for the second time that I remembered about Avon. Even then, it didn't seem polite to leap out of bed straight away, so I had to wait for Deva to doze off afterwards, before I went to have a look around. Avon wasn't in the room he shared with Avalon's other computer buffs, which didn't really surprise me. He wasn't in the computer room either but I spotted a message-flash on one of the cubes. A message for me, actually. It said:
Don't try to follow me. You wouldn't like it.
I suppose he was trying to be cryptic but it wasn't up to his usual standards. I mightn't have spoken to Avon for a week or so but I still knew how his mind worked. What's more, I've always been allergic to the idea of doing what I'm told. I went straight to Avalon's office, opened the safe and lifted five hundred credits. Then I packed my bag, left a note on the pillow for Deva and hitched a ride to the space port.
It would've been nice if I'd found Avon there but I didn't. To make matters worse, none of the ships in dock were heading exactly where I needed to go. I couldn't hang around, in case Avalon sent someone after me and the money, which meant I had to detour to Space City, then wait five hours for a connection. So, by the time I was hiking through the forest round Blake's Gauda Prime base, I had a pretty fair idea of what I was going to find.
The Feds had blown up the entrance to the base but they can't have known about the silo at the back, because it was still in one piece. I switched on the torch I'd bought at the GP space port and stepped into the dark. After a few false starts, I found my way to the tracking gallery. I watched the torch beam skitter round the walls and settle on a gun in the middle of the floor, with somebody lying nearby. Face down, arms flung out, still and silent.
I don't like looking at dead people, especially people I know. So the next part was an effort but - oh well, that's what I was there for. I heaved Avon onto his back and ran the torch down his body, avoiding the face. He'd shot himself in the gut, of course. Three times, which must've taken some doing. From the marks across the floor, it looked as though he'd died hard.
I switched the torch off and sat there, thinking about nothing in particular. After a while, I reached out and held Avon's hand, cold in the darkness.
As if that did anybody any good.
Then I switched the torch on again and poked around till I found a stretcher and a spade. It was hard work, hauling Avon out of the base, and even harder work, digging a long deep hole in the hillside. When I'd finished, I eased the stretcher into the hole and started shovelling the dirt back. I tried not to watch what I was doing - it's marvellous how little you see, if you keep your eyes crossed - but when it came to the point, I had to take one last look at Avon's face.
It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. His eyes were shut, which was a mercy, and the smile-creases at the corners were deeper than usual, as if he'd been pleased he was dying at last. He looked very beautiful: and very dead, even though the bloody mess of his stomach was hidden under a blanket of earth.
One more spadeful and he'd be gone for good.
I stood there, holding the spade in mid-air, and stared at the Gauda Prime hills till my arms started shaking. Then I tilted the spade, very gently, and felt the earth fall. After that, I tamped the dirt into place, wiped my sweaty forehead and sat down next to the grave, hugging my knees to my chest. Thinking about Blake and Avon. Wondering how it'd feel to love someone so much that you'd die for it.
I had the chance once myself, in a shuttle over the planet Malodaar. We were trapped in orbit, stripping the shuttle like madmen, with seventy kilos to go before we could make escape velocity. As I headed out to dump the next load, I heard Avon say, 'Damn it, what weighs seventy kilos?'
Orac said, 'Vila weighs seventy-three kilos.'
I swung down the ladder, faster than a frightened monkey, and paused for a split second at the bottom. Two choices. If I turned right, towards the airlock, I could space myself and save the shuttle: and Avon. If I turned left, away from the airlock, I could hide in one of the bulkheads and hope Avon would come up with another plan.
There was no choice, really. I've been a survivor all my life. I couldn't change that, right at the last minute. So I crouched in the bulkhead and listened to Avon calling, 'Vila, I know you're here. I need your help. Please help me' in that sad, gentle voice I'd only ever heard when we were in bed together. Tears streaking down my face. Hugging myself tightly, the way Avon hugged me that first time when I got him drunk after Domo, because I wanted to make him say, 'My hero' again. Longing to stand up and walk out and let Avon shove me into the airlock.
But staying where I was.
That was the end of anything between us, because I didn't feel safe with Avon after that. I couldn't stop caring about him, though. So, as I sit here on the Gauda Prime hillside, part of me wants to howl at the sky, then curl up on the end of the grave like a faithful dog and lie there till I starve to death.
Except that another part of me's enjoying the wind against my face, drying the sweat - and checking the angle of the sun, to see if I can make it to the space port before dark - and wondering whether I'd prefer stew or barbecue for my dinner.
And before I know it, I'm standing and stretching, filling my lungs with a long deep breath and striding down the hill, without looking back.
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