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Expendable

By Vanessa Mullen
In the Blake's 7 episode 'Gambit', Blake visits Freedom City while looking for Docholli, who may know the location of the Federation's main computer system - Star One. While Blake, Jenna and Cally hunt for Docholli, Avon and Vila go gambling with the aid of Orac and make a profit of ten million credits. They get back to the ship just in time to conceal the money from Bake when he teleports back to Liberator.

      

      With a fluid, long-armed grab, Avon snatched up the box of credits. "Quick, Vila. Set me down again."

      Vila's jaw dropped. "What?" But he was already responding to Avon's urgency by squeezing round to his position behind the teleport console.

      "Blake's suspicious already; he'll figure it out soon enough. I want our money off the ship and in a nice, safe bank."

      "Finance for a bolt-hole?"

      Avon allowed a smile to flicker across his face. "Precisely. Orac, set co-ordinates for the Grammerian Bank."

      Lights flickered on the console as Orac performed its usual electronic wizardry. Avon could follow the pattern now: co-ordinates on that panel there; range check there; and an entire panel that never lit up at all when Orac was operating the system - that one was dedicated to preset routines that would operate in the absence of exact co-ordinates and place the traveller on the surface directly beneath the ship's orbital position. Reassured that the data had been entered correctly, Avon stepped into the teleport bay and the world changed around him as Vila flipped the lever.

      A woman, dressed in an ostentatious carnival costume with a high, powdered wig and several miles of silk frills, flounced back in astonishment as Avon materialised directly in front of her. He muttered an apology and pushed his way past. Normally, he'd have been more careful to specify a location that was likely to be free of people, but right now, time was of the essence. If Blake had found a clue to Star One's location, Liberator would be breaking orbit in minutes. Underestimating Blake's fanatacism could be a dangerous mistake. On the far side of the broad, flower-bordered street, the portal of the Grammerian Bank loomed in high, ostentatious marble. Avon took a brief moment to admire the portico, a high-arching style based on a two-centuries-old revival of a style that had first been popular three centuries before that. Not that anyone actually went through the entrance, except employees, of course. Even the terminals spaced along the wall were few in number; most visitors to Freedom City undoubtedly preferred to carry out their financial transactions through the terminals in their hotel rooms. Public terminals were for the poor and for those who wished to leave minimal records of their comings and goings. He chose a terminal at random and keyed in a fake ID that he'd set up months ago. The machine played a musical sequence back at him in confirmation of his identity and requested a passcode. He pressed in the first digit, only to fall senseless to the ground as a stun shot took him from behind.

      

      

"Avon," Vila demanded in a frantic whisper. "Where the hell are you? Avon, answer me!"

      "Vila!" Blake's voice over the intercom sounded extremely impatient. It was the third time he'd called. "I need you and Avon on the flight deck now."

      "On my way," Vila muttered in quiet resignation. He killed the intercom and tried one last time to call Avon, but there was no response. He tried the teleport. No luck there either - Avon wasn't wearing his bracelet. Somehow, he'd never thought Avon would do it, not with his money. That hurt. Sure, they were both crooks and he'd always known Avon was a self-centered bastard, but he'd still never expected Avon to dive into his bolt-hole with Vila's share of the loot. Or maybe Krantor had got at him. Maybe Krantor's goons were working him over right now. Vila shuddered and ran for the flight deck, arriving slightly breathless, and skidded into his flight position.

      "Where's Avon?" Blake demanded.

      Vila concentrated hard on his console, checked the scanners in order to look busy, and pretended he hadn't heard.

      "Where's Avon?"

      "He teleported down," Vila blurted out before he could stop himself.

      "What!"

      "I don't know why. He just told me to do it." The words tumbled out fast, almost tripping over one another.

      Blake glared at him. "What the hell is Avon playing at? He knows I need him." He turned sharply, looking at each of them in turn. "If Avon wants to stay here, he can. I've no time to waste pandering to his ego - we've got to get to Goth before Travis does."

      "We don't know that Travis heard what Docholli said," Jenna put in.

      "We don't know that he didn't," Cally retorted.

      "We should have killed him," Jenna said.

      "Maybe you're right," Blake said wearily. "But cold-blooded murder? Does anything ever justify that?"

      Vila kept quiet and let the argument pass over his head. There were days when he could never fathom Blake. Callous indifference one moment, and deep morality the next. This fight had been going on too long, and the strain was telling on them all. Maybe if he kept quiet, the conversation would never get around to what he and Avon had been up to while everyone else was down on Freedom City. Maybe if he was really lucky, Blake wouldn't wonder where Avon had got enough money to allow him to make his break for freedom. Maybe, if he was really, really lucky, they wouldn't all die.

      

Consciousness returned slowly. He was lying on a cold hard surface and he could hear the sound of footsteps passing him by. Where was he, that people ignored an unconscious man? Avon opened his eyes cautiously, focusing instantly and painfully on the gun that pointed directly at him. The gun's owner stood casually, leaning back against a wall. He was clean-shaven and neatly dressed, but for all his departure from the conventional image, there was still something about him that would have screamed out 'bounty hunter' even without the licence displayed prominently on his breast pocket. Avon's eye drifted from the bounty hunter to the gun and teleport bracelet resting on the large box of credits at his feet, then to the bank terminal by his side.

      The hunter smiled, a sardonic expression that twisted his lip on one side. "I though you might come here." He kicked the box lightly. "Krantor doesn't allow hits inside the Big Wheel; it's bad for business."

      "So you've got ten million credits," Avon said sourly. "Can I go now?"

      The smile twisted even further. "I don't think so. The ten million is a bonus. You're what I came after. The reward for you is a million credits, alive or dead. That's makes you especially valuable in my line of business. You're expendable."

      Avon said nothing. The lowliest delta street-cleaner was expendable; he objected on principle to being placed in the same category. He came unsteadily to his feet, leaning against the wall for support.

      "You don't get it, do you? You're an alpha expendable. You have no legal rights whatsoever. Anyone can do anything to you, and provided that your dead body is handed over afterwards, the law will have nothing to say about it. I have a client who will pay highly for a man like you."

      A cold trickle of fear ran down his spine. "As fascinating as I find your theories, I feel I should point out that you can extract far more information from a live man. Besides, Blake and his rabble mean nothing to me; I'll answer anything I'm asked."

      The hunter's laugh was pure amusement. "Who said anything about questions?" His eyes flicked up the street for a brief second, before returning to rest professionally on Avon. "Let me introduce my client."

      Avon followed the direction of the glance and saw a slim, wiry man, dark-haired and dressed in tight leather clothes that fitted him like a second skin. There was a springy grace to his stance, but at the same time, something in the eyes suggested age.

      "You've told him?" the client asked.

      "I have," the hunter replied, "but I don't think he really understood."

      The client stared deep into Avon's eyes. "I'm going to kill you. I'm going to kill you slowly and painfully." He answered Avon's unvoiced 'why?': "Because I enjoy it."

      Avon had thought he was familiar with evil. He rated himself as far from virtuous, and acquaintance with the likes of Servalan and Travis had made it obvious how far the human race was capable of falling, but he suspected that this man left them all in the shade. In his eyes, Avon could see something deep and feral, something crueler than the man who murdered for profit, worse even than the man who carried out a massacre because it was politically convenient - this was a man who drew his pleasure from the suffering of others. He stiffened in automatic defiance, wearing superiority as an outer garment, defying his opponent. He would not give anyone the satisfaction of seeing him broken and humiliated.

      His only reward was the quick touching of tongue to lips. "Alpha." The word was spoken as a caress.

      "He'll do then?" the bounty hunter asked.

      "Definitely."

      He gestured at the terminal and his customer, taking the hint, strolled over and keyed in an ID code. Avon translated the musical pattern automatically. Name: Walker. Grade: Beta. Age: 58. Residence: the coding was unfamiliar, but sounded as though it was somewhere on Earth. Then the passcode. He didn't bother to listen to that; the passcodes were so securely encrypted that even the best computers would have taken weeks to deduce them. The bounty hunter gave his ID code which was entered with a rapid tapping of fingers, and money flowed smoothly from one account to another. Before Avon had even realised what was coming, his hands were twisted up behind his back and secured with a pair of cuffs.

      "He's all yours."

      Walker produced a lethal-looking nerve disrupter which would have been illegal on any other planet in the galaxy and gestured with his free hand to a blacked-out cab that had pulled up alongside. He held the weapon causally in the manner of a man used to handling weapons. Even as Avon debated the merits of making a break for it, he knew that he didn't stand a chance. With no protest other than a haughty stare, he entered the cab.

      

      "Speed standard by seven."

      "Confirmed."

      Blake paced the flight deck in nervous irritation. Damn Avon and his desire for a safe bolt-hole, but there was no denying that Freedom City was the perfect place for a wanted rebel to drop out of sight - half the scum of the galaxy probably wound up there. He turned sharply, snapped at Jenna and then apologised. What if he was wrong? What if Avon had some other reason for teleporting down? But there was no possible alternative reason. Avon hadn't even visited the planet before - it had been Blake who had obtained the information from Docholli. There was no possible reason for Avon to teleport down unless he'd decided to leave them for good. They were so close to discovering the location of Star One now. Couldn't Avon at least have seen it through to the end?

      

The room was the stuff of nightmare.

      Avon froze in the doorway and stared. Walker stood motionless behind him and Avon knew that the pause was deliberate, to give him time to realise what was going to happen to him. To give him time to be afraid.

      Everything about the room was black, except where metal gleamed in a mocking, gentle response to the light from the door. The floor was covered in black rubber; the walls led darkly up to a ceiling whose height he could not guess. It might have been no more than a metre above his head, or it might have been twenty - the matt black paint swallowed light and left everything to be judged by guesswork. In the meagre light, Avon could discern racks around the walls, contents neatly sorted in the manner of a workman who likes his tools where he can instantly find them. There were whips, restraints, and other devices whose purpose he could not even begin to guess. Chains depended from the ceiling and wooden devices lurked in unfathomable shadows.

      With cold certainty, Avon knew that if he didn't make a move now, he would never leave this room alive. He cowered back, faking the response. "No," he whimpered. "Please, no." He turned to face Walker, would have held out his hands if they hadn't been restrained. "I'll do whatever you want."

      As Walker relaxed fractionally, Avon lashed out with a high kick. Walker ducked back with surprising speed and fired the disrupter. Fire sparked in agonising bursts along Avon's nerves, muscles spasmed and twitched uncontrollably as he fell to the floor, jerking in random movements. Urine shot down his leg in a hot, humiliating burst. Control was impossible; every instruction sent to a muscle was multiplied a thousandfold, sent down divergent pathways, scrambled, rerouted and finally drowned in the static of a hundred other nerve impulses competing with it for attention.

      "That," Walker remarked conversationally, "was the lowest setting. They say that if you fire at a man's head with a middle setting, he'll be a mental vegetable for the rest of his life. I could kill you with the top setting, but that would be far too easy."

      Reply was impossible. His lips could not form coherent speech. As the epileptic frenzy died away to mere shivers, Avon felt something cold touch against his neck.

      "Feel it?" Walker demanded. "That's my gift to you."

      Avon twisted away from the metal, but too slowly, too clumsily. Walker snapped the collar around his throat. The weight settled like cold lead. Leather lined it on the inside, soft almost warm, but the feel of the bond encircling him, both symbol and essence of slavery, made him choke. Too tight. Snug fitting, touching him at every point, to make him know beyond all doubt that he was held fast.

      Bound hands clenched into futile fists.

      

      Cally glanced up from her monitoring of Federation communications to where Vila sat on the flight deck couch muttering to Orac. He looked terribly upset about something. It wasn't really ethical to listen, but she was worried. Something was nagging at her and she couldn't work out what it was. She keyed on the intercom by the couch and listened.

      "Five million credits," Vila complained. "Five million. I ask you, is it fair?"

      "Fair?" retorted Orac. "Might I remind you that the money was obtained by illegal means in the first place?"

      "I like that! You were perfectly helpful at the time."

      "Merely a demonstration of my superior abilities." Orac always sounded smug, but on this occasion it sounded more smug than usual.

      Cally walked quietly down from her flight position and came up beside Vila.

      "Five million credits?" she asked softly.

      Vila jumped. "Wozzat! I didn't mention any money, did I, Orac? Don't you dare tell her anything, you useless bag of bolts."

      "Orac," she demanded, "what is Vila talking about?"

      Orac was silent, suspiciously so.

      "Orac!"

      "I fail to see why my time should be wasted with your petty enquiries."{tab}{tab}{tab}{tab}{tab}{tab}{tab}

      

      "On your feet."

      The words were spoken in a low caressing tone that deceived Avon not one whit. He sat solidly on the floor, determined not to co-operate in any way. Walker bobbed his head, birdlike, then placed his weapon carefully on a rack and selected a remote control and a small whip. He flicked the whip thoughtfully against his own wrist, then pointed the control at Avon's collar and activated it. Avon felt a jerk as the collar pulled sideways and upwards, the threat of choking suddenly a reality. As the chain was pulled towards the ceiling, it dragged Avon inexorably to his feet. Finally, he acceded to its demands and stood up. It did not matter. He had not chosen to do this. It meant nothing - and yet he was aware that every concession on his part, no matter how small, gave Walker some degree of victory.

      Walker paced slowly around him. He resisted the temptation to turn and keep Walker in sight. A hand caressed his buttock. Avon fought the urge to flinch away from it. He was his own person. He was in control of himself. The hand slid round to his groin, and giving way to the impulse, Avon kicked back at the shin of the man behind him. He regretted the action as soon as soon as he'd done it. It was both childish and futile. Seemingly oblivious to the pain, Walker laughed and caressed Avon harder. "Perfect," he murmured. "Just perfect. But you know I can't let an action like that go unpunished."

      The whip flicked out, catching Avon on the thigh. Not hard, but quick. Twice more, it bit at him, the bite of a sharply stinging insect.

      "There's something wrong, don't you think so?"

      Avon didn't answer. He know what was coming.

      "Come, my pretty one. Don't you want me to see you at your best?"

      There was a limit as to how far he'd co-operate. He would not take off his clothes voluntarily, nor would he acquiesce in having it done to him.

      Walker smiled, a happy confident smile free of all care. There was a spring in his step as he went over to the closest rack, replaced the whip and caught up something in his hand. Easy-handed, he tossed it in the air, light catching it at the top of its arc as the room was suddenly flooded with full illumination. It fell down again, tumbling end over end in flight, to fall smack into Walker's palm. The lights vanished, plunging the room into total darkness except for a bright blue shaft of light emerging from Walker's hand. A laser probe. Avon watched with sick fascination as the light shone and tumbled once more in the blackness: a dizzying array of spins and reverses, any mistake in which would have cost Walker a finger. Closer the pattern wove, and yet closer, until Avon strained at the length of chain to hold himself as far away from that lethal dance as possible. With a sudden swoop, the light dived low and sliced up the length of his right trouser leg to his waist. Even as he froze in panic, the light moved once more, a quick pass to Walker's other hand, and cut up the length of his other leg, the control so accurate that he realised Walker must be utilizing something to enhance his night vision.

      The probe flicked off, leaving Avon nothing to orientate himself by except the sound of Walker's breathing.

      The fabric still clung to his skin, held there by habit and the force of his hands clenched in the small of his back. He felt it peel slowly down and fall away until all that was left was held under his fists. Without comment, he let it fall. He shifted position slightly and felt the pain of a shallow cut on his thigh. So fine was the beam that it had caused no pain as it sliced him, only his movement opened the injury to air and allowed it to sting.

      Walker was behind him.

      He shifted, turning to face the threat that he could not see.

      A low laugh came from nowhere as the probe sliced out again to cut through the fabric of his silver tunic. The folds of the material caught the light and reflected it in a series of tiny glints, each living for an instant as the probe flashed past. Avon fought the urge to flinch. If he moved too suddenly, Walker might overcompensate and cut him again. Then he flinched anyway as a hand slid unexpectedly under his pullover and stole a caress.

      "Jumpy?" A thumb brushed across a nipple and Walker's voice roughened. "So you should be."

      Hands grasped the bottom of the pullover and pulled hard. The fabric tore with a sudden rip, split up to the neck seam, then gave way there too as Walker jerked harder. The sleeves were forced down his arms, pinioning his elbows awkwardly behind his body.

      "You should see yourself now, Alpha. Not so proud now, are you?"

      Avon mustered all the scorn of which he was capable. "How would you know, Beta?"

      He'd expected the blow, but the force of it still took him by surprise, knocking him off his feet and leaving him dangling for an agonising moment from the neck chain. He struggled, caught his feet to the ground and found his balance once more.

      "You will address me as Master."

      "Never."

      He tensed for another blow, but it didn't come. There was total silence. He strained, trying to make out any sound in the darkness. Nothing. A minute passed, maybe two. The darkness pressed in on him, eating time, disorientating him.

      With a sudden click, the cuffs on his wrists fell free. He wasn't foolish enough to think that that was an accident. He slipped the remains of his pullover from his arms and waited.

      Silence.

      It was getting on his nerves. His legs ached from standing still too long. He shifted his weight to ease his muscles and the lash of a whip caught him hard across the buttocks. His breath caught in a wordless gasp, the pain too sudden and acute for him to cry aloud.

      

Cally jerked in surprise. For a moment she'd felt a pain across her bottom. Vila? No, he'd never dare. Besides, he was still sitting guard over Orac. Avon? Even when he was close by, she rarely sensed much from him; at a distance, the pain would have to be great indeed for her to be aware of it.

      

Another blow across the shoulders. He steeled himself, caught the next across his back and managed to keep back the cry. It was bad, but it was only pain. Only pain. His mind sought the words, targeted them, forced them to do his bidding. Then hands were on him in frenzied abandon, touching him, possessing him, claiming him as territory. He struggled mindlessly against them for a moment before rationality surfaced, then grabbed at a hand, caught it, tried to break the wrist, but lost it as Walker twisted away.

      "That's worse for you, isn't it?" Walker said with clinical detachment. "I rather like to see you squirm."

      

With renewed determination, she returned to Vila.

      "Something has happened to Avon. I want to know what."

      "Nothing," Vila protested. "I told you, he left."

      From behind her, she was aware of Blake descending the steps to the flight deck. "What's the problem?" he asked.

      "Something is wrong with Avon."

      Blake came over to join her beside the couch, but she could detect nothing helpful in his stance. "Avon chose to leave us," he said patiently. "He has to accept the consequences of that action." His voice hardened. "We can't afford to waste time, Cally. We have to get to Goth. You know that."

      "I know." Her voice was calm, but determined. "I also know that Vila's hiding something and I'm sure Orac knows what it is."

      "And Orac won't tell?"

      "No. It's possible that Avon put a block on it."

      "I see." Blake turned his full attention to Vila, and Cally found herself reminded yet again of the reasons why she followed Blake. There was a strength to his personality that was hard to resist. Even now, when she could see him teetering on the brink of fanatacism, there was a sense of purpose and dedication that still found an echo within her.

      "Vila." It wasn't a request, it was an order.

      The thief quailed before him. "It wasn't my idea, it was Avon's."

      Visibly restraining himself, Blake demanded, "What idea?"

      "Well, you see, it was like this..." Blake waited, hand on hips. "Avon said it would be a good idea if we took the Big Wheel."

      "Removed it?" Blake sounded incredulous.

      "No, no, nothing like that at all. You see," Vila was getting into his stride now, enthusiasm leaking into the nervous chatter, "the Big Wheel is controlled by a computer, and Orac-"

      "-reads computers," Blake finished for him. "So you and Avon decided to steal some money." He stepped right up to Vila, glaring down at him. "And I suppose it never occurred to you that while you were gallivanting away down in Freedom City, Cally, Jenna or I might have needed emergency teleport?"

      Cally said nothing, because Blake was right. Vila's action offended her sense of responsibility. It wasn't often that she got to go down to a planet these days; the missions always seemed to demand Avon and Vila's talents and to leave her with teleport duty. To discover that they had acted in such an indifferent manner, in a situation where she had always been so conscientious, was galling.

      "You were all right," Vila protested weakly.

      "With Travis down there!"

      Vila had the grace to look sheepish, but Blake was not so easily mollified. "You left the ship unmanned; you risked everyone's lives - I'm surprised you didn't stay on Freedom City with Avon and spend all your winnings on women and booze."

      Vila muttered something under his breath.

      Blake caught him by the shoulder. "Say that again!"

      "Avon took all of it. He took my share as well. He said he was going to bank it for me, but he didn't come back."

      

The darkness was the worst. It spared him from the sight of his own nakedness, but that was all that could be said in its favour. The blackness and warmth of the room suggested a return to the womb, but no womb had ever held knife-edged tension such as this. There was music now, a drumbeat, not steady and regular, but light and exotic, tripping on different notes and suggesting a excited expectation that he was unable to share. A spotlight flared, dazzling, until Avon's eyes adjusted to its intensity and allowed him to see what it picked out: a pair of rings set into the floor about a metre apart with ankle chains attached to them.

      "Go over there and put them on."

      He baulked automatically, stiffening as he found the remnants of his pride.

      Another spotlight flared on, to reveal Walker holding the nerve disrupter. He swirled a finger around the selection dial, while looking Avon straight in the eye. The gun rose to point directly at Avon's face.

      "I don't know what setting it's on. Shall we experiment and find out?"

      Avon stared him right back. "If it's on kill, you'll lose all your fun. Do you want to experiment and find out?"

      Walker laughed out loud, bizarrely pleased at this opposition. He drew a stun weapon from a pocket, and pulled the trigger.

      

      

When Avon regained consciousness, he was lying on the ground with cuffs attached to his wrists and ankles. His back ached and his head felt over-large - a residue of the stun effect. Dim background lighting allowed him to make out the details of his immediate surroundings and the first thing he saw was Walker sitting cross-legged on top of a table. When he noticed Avon's regard, he leapt lightly to the ground.

      "Ready to resume our little game? I have another present for you."

      "I don't want anything from you."

      "Now there's gratitude for you. Stand up."

      As if in response to the command, the bands on Avon's wrists tugged slightly, the chains tautening. Avon eyed Walker's remote control unit with loathing and got slowly to his feet. There seemed no point in resistance. As he came upright, his feet forced apart by their attachment to the floor rings, his wrists were drawn upwards and outwards until he stood almost as an X, unable to touch himself in any way at all. Exposed, with his legs splayed apart, he felt hideously vulnerable. Walker came closer, reached out and smoothed a hand along the skin of Avon's thigh.

      "Is this the only way you dare to touch me, Beta?"

      "I dare whatever I wish. And what I wish is to have you totally at my mercy. Before I have finished, you will beg for the privilege of my touch."

      He didn't want to believe he could be so deafeated, and yet he sensed that this was a game Walker had played before. He'd heard Blake mention such things. Break a man far enough, make him totally dependent on his captor for everything from food to permission to go to the lavatory, and a relationship began to develop in which the victim developed an emotional dependency as well as a physical one. Blake had never talked about it in relation to his own history, but it was easy to imagine what might have gone into the brainwashing techniques that the Federation had used on him.

      Where was Blake? Would he believe that Avon had left Liberator deliberately, as he'd threatened to do so often in the past? Even if he came looking, would Blake be able to find Avon in time? How would he even know where to look?

      A hand grasped the softness between his legs. Avon twisted in unavoidable reaction, then forced himself to stillness. He willed himself to a sense of distance - this was not happening to himself, it was happening to somebody far, far away, and he was merely an observer. He focused on the far distance as Walker played with his genitals, first pulling at his testicles, rolling each ball in its sac of skin, then examining his penis, even going so far as to pull back the foreskin and tweak it. Embarrassment and impotent fury fought to break his self-imposed calm, but the only thread of self-respect he could call on now was that sense of isolation that allowed him to ignore what Walker was doing to him. As long as he could preserve that detachment from events, as long as he could keep his emotional distance, he could avoid giving Walker the reaction he wanted.

      

Blake dropped Vila as though he were red-hot. "Zen, lay in a course for Freedom City, speed standard by eight."

      "What?" Vila yelped.

      "Avon may be a devious, conniving bastard, but I do not believe he would steal from a friend. And if you weren't buried under a guilty conscience, you wouldn't have believed it either."

      "I didn't, I didn't really. That is..." Vila protest trailed off for lack of an audience.

      Blake rested his hands firmly on Orac's casing, watching the flickering lights of a machine he didn't fully trust. Orac wasn't like Zen. For all that Zen was the more machine-like of the two, there was a sense of warmth to Zen, a feeling that he welcomed them on board Liberator. He'd often wondered if the remnants of a human mind had survived somehow behind all the Altas' machinery and programming. Orac cared for nothing beyond its own concerns and thus had to be bullied or cajoled into co-operation rather than simply requested. Yet perhaps, if Orac sensed any kindred spirit aboard Liberator, it would be Avon.

      "Orac, where is Avon?"

      "His last known co-ordinates are the Grammarian Bank. However, the bank's records show no deposit in his name or in any of the pseudonyms known to me."

      Co-operation indeed. Orac was concerned. Blake noted the fact for future reference.

      "Speculate as to what may have happened to him."

      Lights chased one another in a treadmill fashion. "There is a possibility that Krantor may have captured him. However, analysis of Krantor's reputation suggests that he is unlikely to eliminate a heavy winner. Such 'accidents' would be bad for the reputation of the casino. Further analysis suggests three possibilities: first, that Avon was attacked by some other party attracted by his winnings; second, that he fell foul of a bounty hunter; and third, that he has chosen to leave Liberator."

      "Reject the last possibility."

      "It is a valid hypothesis."

      "I said reject it."

      "Very well, but I must point out that in restricting the field of my analysis, you may reduce my probability of success."

      "Just get on with it, Orac."

      He left Orac to its inner thoughts and went to check the status of the energy banks. Conflicting urges pulled at him. He needed to conserve energy for the journey to Goth, but if he conserved too much he might not get to Space City in time. On the other hand, if he went too fast, they might not be able to handle a fight if they ran into one and what good would they be to anyone if they were blown to fragments by a squadron of pursuit ships? He should be better at this by now. He should find it easier to weigh the safety of a friend against a chance to destroy the Federation, but he was still too emotional, still too willing to let personal concerns override the greater good. Somehow, he had to learn to let go, to shake free of the pull of personal loyalty, and yet, should he do that, he would become as soulless as those he sought to destroy. Blake knuckled his forehead trying to drive away an incipient headache. It was a dichotomy he had never been able to resolve.

      Orac's voice interrupted his cogitations.

      "No one matching Avon's physical description has boarded any spacecraft leaving Freedom City since the time of Liberator's departure. Furthermore, no claim has been made to the Federation for the bounty on him. There are no unidentified deaths recorded for the period in question."

      "You're saying he's just vanished without trace?"

      "If you understand what I am saying, why bother asking me to repeat it?"

      Maybe Avon had chosen to vanish. He chewed fretfully on a knuckle. All he had to go on was instinct and his knowledge of Avon. Avon was a convicted embezzler; he had a self-confessed love of money and freedom; he'd frequently stated his desire to leave Liberator. All he had to balance against that was a gut conviction that for all Avon's apparent disdain for Vila, there was a genuine friendship between the two that would not allow Avon to steal from him. That was all he had. He sat up straighter and checked the course setting. Sometimes a man had to trust his own judgement.

      

"You're not enjoying yourself..." Walker murmured softly. "I promised you a present, remember?" He held up something in front of Avon's eyes, a short, narrow strip of leather.

      Avon stared into emptiness, paying it no attention.

      Walker laughed lightly, eyes flashing with false modesty from under lowered lashes. "You don't know what it is, do you? You're so delightfully naive." He landed a fleeting kiss on Avon's lips before Avon could react fast enough to bite him. Then he bent down and stroked a finger around the stem of Avon's penis, below the testicles. With a deceptively gentle movement, he wrapped the leather around the penis and snapped the closure.

      Avon shuddered in spite of himself. He had thought himself a prisoner already, but now, with the very centre of his body harnessed by another man, he knew as never before how totally helpless he was.

      "Do you know what this does?" Walker whispered. "It lets the blood into your cock, but it doesn't let it out again. You get an erection whether you want to or not."

      No! The thought chased round his brain like a hunted animal fleeing in the chase. There was no escape for it, no refuge where it could take shelter. If this too was taken from him, what would be left? He closed his eyes tight-shut in denial and felt something bite hard at a nipple. The pain jerked him to full awareness, forced him to take note of what was being done to him. A second bite, even more painful than the first. He hardly dared look down, but he had to know the worst. A small black clamp clung tightly to each of his nipples, jaws firmly embedded in his flesh. Each clamp ended in a ring and Walker had a finger inserted into each ring. His eyes were feverisly bright, his breathing quick and shallow. He twisted each ring with vindictive suddenness. Avon cried out aloud, head flung back, not only from the sharpness of the pain but for the loss of self, for the denial of his humanity.

      Walker released him with a slow intimate caress that was every bit as bad as the pain. "You look so beautiful when you're in agony. You really ought to see yourself." He paused a moment in apparent contemplation, finger touched to the corner of his lip. "Yes, I really think you ought." He walked around behind Avon, ran a leisurely hand over his buttocks. "You aren't going to like this at all." He flourished a strip of black cloth and fastened it over Avon's eyes. The cloth was lined with a thick layer of foam that pressed against his eyes and forced him to keep them closed.

      He'd thought panic could be controlled by logic. He'd been wrong. The denial of even the little light remaining to him sent sharp spikes of fear through his body. Something cool pressed against his forehead, and with that, vision came to him. A tiny corner of his mind tried to rationalise how the device was operating, but it was cowed into submission by the horror of what he saw.

      He was looking at himself, pale body spread-eagled against the surrounding blackness. He was lean, exotic, his body held open in the most desirable of positions. The black leather of the cock ring branded him as did the nipple clamps, flaunting his helpless sexuality. Flaunting his availability. The wash of another man's sexual desires swept over him. He knew exactly what Walker wanted to do to him, knew with despairing horror that Walker had done this before, raped a victim, plunging deep within a helpless body, and at the height of orgasm had killed. He knew how Walker felt, straining with that imagined thrust, going deep, deeper than he had ever gone before, taking the arrogant bastard who was now so helpless before him. With a twisting bitter wrench, Avon knew that he was erect, that his body was responding to desires not his own. He could feel Walker's growing excitement at the sight of that forced erection, the hissed yes that forced itself between Walker's teeth and the now, now, now that overrode every other consideration.

      Something slammed into the front of his thighs. With a barely conscious corner of his mind, he saw it through Walker's eyes as a small table. His wrists were released simultaneously, and as he fell forward, momentarily unable to support his full weight on his legs, his hands were dragged forward and fastened to the table legs near the floor, his body stretched out along the table top. His penis pressed hard onto the surface; his nipples were agonizingly abused even further. His mind was flooded with the image of Walker's hand on his own cock, stroking it, anointing it, working lotion onto it until it was larger and harder than it had ever been and he was ready to enter the flesh before him. A finger probed lightly into Avon's arse and he flinched uncontrollably away from it, but his bonds allowed of no escape and he heard a voice in quiet delight say in both his ears and his mind, "Virgin." And then Walker was in him, shoving and pushing to enter the tight hole before him and he felt Walker glorying in the strength and the power of it and the wonder of the arse that clung so completely around his cock, and Avon's control broke and he was twisting, squirming, crying, pleading, anything, anything to get away from the cock that split him in two and gave him such pain whilst experiencing such pleasure. The fear and the agonised struggles of the body beneath him excited Walker, carrying him to greater heights and he was flying, flying as he had never flown before. Avon knew Walker's thrill as he reached out and dug his thumbs into the carotid arteries of the man beneath him. Then everything went black.

      

Hours yet until they reached Freedom City. Hours, and he didn't even know where to begin the search. Zen had been unable to get a fix on Avon's bracelet. In some strange tarial universe that paralleled their own, Orac was searching computers. They'd kept the search parameters as straightforward as possible, simply searching for Avon's voice, name and physical appearance. Blake had vetoed a decision to include Freedom City as an automatic parameter - Avon might have been removed unofficially from the planet. Orac had protested as this added large Federation data bases to the search. Blake had snapped back and told Orac to get on with it. Since then, Orac had been silent, lights flickering in an apparently random fashion. They lent an eerie life to the flight deck now that the others had gone off-watch. The low night-time lighting matched his mood of quiet depression.

      "I have information." Orac's voice was almost subdued, lacking the smug superiority that Blake would have expected.

      "Is he alive?"

      "He is alive." From the very blandness of Orac's tone, Blake knew that this was going to be bad, Very bad.

      "Tell me the worst."

      If a computer could hesitate, then Orac hesitated. "He is alive and he is being held a prisoner."

      "Where?"

      "I do not have access to that information."

      "You don't know!" Blake came to his feet, incredulous. He paced around Orac as though he could intimidate the little computer into disgorging the information. "I thought you were supposed to be the most intelligent machine ever built. Or so you keep claiming."

      "The information contains no physical referents. The machine is a sensornet recorder."

      He'd heard of those, read the theoretical papers, but never actually seen one. If the bugs in the technology could be ironed out, it was all set to start a revolution in the entertainment field that would make tri-dee obsolete. The catch was that the net itself had to be permanently implanted in the actor's skull, a process that was extremely expensive. If Avon's captor had such an implant, he had to be a wealthy man. The receiver was simplicity by comparison, a disc that fitted on the user's forehead and interfaced with the brain and the optic nerve.

      "Can I view the recording?"

      "The interface can be adapted to operate with a pair of sensor leads, but I would not recommend this."

      "Why not?" He could think of no technical reason why it shouldn't be safe.

      "It would be... That is to say... It would be most injudicious!"

      Blake stared warily at the computer. "Why?"

      Orac remained suspiciously silent.

      "Orac, if there is any information on those recordings that may help me to locate Avon, then I have to look at them."

      "There is no useful information at all," Orac said.

      "I'll be the best judge of that."

      "Very well," Orac snapped. "Remember that I warned you."

      Slightly bemused, Blake ferreted out a pair of sensor leads that he'd stuffed in the back of the auto-repair cabinet. Holding them brought back bad memories. It was only a few weeks ago that Ven Glynd had tried to use the remnants of his Federation conditioning to control him.

      "Orac, is there any danger from residual conditioning?"

      "No."

      It was like playing twenty questions. "Will this damage my mind?"

      "It will not damage you physically."

      That was telling. It also redoubled his determination to go through with this. If Avon was being tortured in some way, he had to know. He plugged the cable into Orac, sat down on the couch and pressed the pads to his temples.

      

      He lingered another moment in the body beneath him, the warmth of the Alpha's arse clinging luxuriously to his limp cock. Contentment licked at every pore. He was sated as he had not been for years. Such exquisite fear. He reached out a hand and caressed the flank of the unconscious man, feeling the smooth texture of skin, the slight soft down of body hair. He felt almost gentle now, the anger and the heat drained away for a while. Briefly, he nuzzled the soft hair at the nape of the Alpha's neck, flicked his tongue at an earlobe, but there was no fun when there was no response. He'd found the man's breaking point, and until his victim gave up the struggle, he could take him to that point and break him again and again. With a press of the remote control, he released the wrist and ankle restraints and then eased the Alpha to the floor. Thoughtfully, he removed the nipple clamps - if left in position too long, they would cut off circulation and reduce the sensation. That would never do. One had to be creative in such affairs. He removed the cock ring, stroked the warm grain of the leather between finger and thumb and pondered his next move. His eyes flicked along the rack of equipment, considering items and discarding them until the soft glint of gold caught his eye - ah yes. Perfect. A jolt ran through his cock as he envisioned his victim's reaction. The symbolism was so important in these cases; the Alpha would resist the symbolism far more than any actual pain.

      

      Breathing heavily, Blake snatched the pads from his skin and buried his head in his hands. It was no use, his mind still held the image of an horribly abused body, of a form so desirable that he yearned to take it, to fuck it into helpless submission. These memories are not your own. These memories are false. He began the familiar litany that had served him so well over the last two years. It helped, but not entirely. These memories were of an event that had really happened. If he wanted to, he could feel that lean hunger, remember the scent of Avon's sweat, feel directly the joy that had coursed through another man's mind at the memory of Avon's helpless struggles. These memories are not your own. These memories are false. His breathing slowly relaxed. These memories are not your own. These memories are false. He was in control. As Avon so evidently was not. The moment they were in teleport range of Freedom City, they would start the search at the bank. Somehow, somewhere, there had to be a clue as to where Avon was being held. Somehow, they had to find that clue while Avon still lived. He'd felt the death wish in that mind, the joy of killing that was barely held in check by a love of domination. When Avon ceased to offer sufficient resistance, his captor would go for the ultimate thrill and murder him.

      "Zen, increase speed to standard by ten."

      "Confirmed."

      

      

"What, still asleep?" the voice tormented him. "We still have so much to do."

      Avon lay curled up, as still as possible, hoping against hope that Walker would leave him a little longer. In vain. A hand stroked along his flank, intruded a finger into his anus. In the face of that invasion, he opened his eyes and struggled to his feet rather than submit to further indignities. Apart from the chain again holding his neck, he was unbound. Walker eyed him with a knowing smile as Avon mentally measured the distance between them. Just too far.

      "I think it's time your training progressed a little further. Kneel."

      Avon stood stock still. In response, Walker held up a blue disc, just smaller than the palm of his hand.

      "I could always use this again." He touched the disc lightly to his own forehead. "How would you like to replay that last scene? I'm sure you didn't catch all the subtle nuances the first time around."

      Again? To go through that again? Cold agony coiled in Avon's guts and his legs buckled under him. "Excellent," said a voice from far away. "Now address me as Master."

      Rebellion flared in spite of everything, and with rebellion came awareness. Walker was making recordings, and if he was making recordings they must be stored on a computer somewhere. There was a chance, but to take it he would have to face the retribution that must inevitably follow. He took his breath slowly, summoning up all the hate and defiance that he could muster.

      "You don't control me, Walker."

      For all his anticipation of it, the blow still hurt. Walker's fist slammed into his face; Avon grabbed and missed, reflexes slowed by ill-treatment. Another blow into his ribs. This was no calculated beating, designed to torment by slow degrees; this was the instant retaliation of an angry man. Avon took a vicious blow to his stomach and collapsed, retching dry hacking coughs.

      Walker stood over him, a colossus astride. "How did you know my name?"

      There was no strength in him to answer.

      "How?"

      Avon felt a strange exhilaration. He'd actually broken Walker's calm. For this brief moment at least, he was in control of the situation. "Your tame bounty hunter told me."

      A foot kicked Avon over and pressed against his larynx, just below the encircling black of the slave collar. "He doesn't know, and if he did, he would never be foolish enough to tell you."

      Eyes stared down at him; Avon noticed with a curious sense of detachment that they were light blue. Walker was regaining control of himself now, and the anger was sublimating into a cold calculation that perturbed Avon far more than the anger. He'd become more to Walker than just a plaything; they were opponents now. He'd gained equality, but at what price, and for how long?

      

"Information," Orac announced to the virtually empty flight deck.

      Blake sat up with a start. "What is it?"

      "I have the name of Avon's captor."

      "Well?"

      "His name is Walker." Orac continued before Blake had time to ask the obvious question, "There are twenty-three Walkers within the immediate search area, but only four have the wealth or connections to acquire a sensornet recorder."

      "How long before we're within teleport range?"

      "Fifty-seven minutes."

      Too long. Anything could happen to Avon in that length of time. Helplessly, Blake reached out for the contact pads.

      

      He'd miscalculated here. Why had he allowed himself to lose his temper? He already knew what would work on this man, and his carelessness had cost him status. He'd find out what he needed to know soon enough. It was all a matter of applying the correct pressure. He tongued his lips in a slow deliberate circle, watching the Alpha for his reaction. There it was: the giveaway tension around the eyes. He smiled. Now for something special. First, the necessary reminder to the Alpha as to who was really in control here, then the little treat he'd promised himself earlier. He waved a languid hand at the ankle rings set in the floor.

      "You know what I want. Go and put them on again."

      This was a contest of wills. He had to win this time without rendering his opponent unconscious, to force the man to acknowledge his dominance. Slowly, he let his eyes rove over the other man's supine body, deliberately lingering on the pale pink cock that lay so sweetly in its nest of black body hair. He imagined it pliant and willing in his hands, leaping to his touch as he fucked its owner senseless. The image aroused him, sent his own cock leaping into life, and in the Alpha's eyes he saw the trepidation that he wanted.

      "Of course," he purred thoughtfully, "if you don't want to go, there are other games that we can play instead." He smiled, shark-like, attracted by the alternative in spite of himself. "There are so many interesting things that you can do to an unconscious man."

      "But at least I won't know about them."

      He touched a finger to the corner of a lip, stroked it. "Have you ever had a catheter inserted? No? I worked as a medical orderly once. You insert it into the end of the penis - am I bothering you? - all the way into the bladder. You can pass water along it in either direction: fill a man inside, or drain him out. Of course, if you were to fill him and then seal the end of the catheter..." He paused suggestively.

      The Alpha got to his feet and with stilted steps walked the solitary metre to the ankle restraints and fastened them onto himself.

      

      Avon, no! But it was no use. The bastards always won in the end. You fought for as long as you could and as hard as you could, but sooner or later they found the way to break you down, to reduce you to nothing, to make you an empty vessel that they could fill with whatever they wanted.

      He pulled off the pads and ordered Orac to check the background of his suspects for medical experience, but he couldn't concentrate properly. He needed to be there with Avon, as if he could somehow give his friend a transfusion of his own strength and will to resist.

      

      

The restraints snapped fast, holding him in a grip that he couldn't escape. Panic crawled up his body, digging slow soft claws into every crevice. He had to be insane to have done this. But the alternative... What Walker had suggested was unthinkable. And what if Walker does it anyway? demanded the thousand small insects that seemed to have taken refuge in his stomach and his nervous system. The chains gave him a little slack, not enough to allow him to bring his legs together, but enough to let him shuffle his feet around. Right now, it was all he could do to prevent them from taking off in a panic-stricken and futile attempt to sprint.

      "Now your hands."

      No way. It had been a mistake to acquiesce this far. He folded his arms in front of him and glared at Walker. The defiance seemed to spur Walker on. He was almost bouncing on his toes as he circled around Avon. Once, then twice, Walker looped him, enjoying Avon's efforts to keep facing him. A third pass, then the lights went out abruptly, and before Avon had time to react a hand shoved against his chest, knocking him awkwardly onto his back. As he flailed around, trying to catch his opponent, a hand seized his right wrist and ensnared it in iron. He tucked his other hand tight against his chest, but a heavy weight sat upon him, the hand was taken and slowly forced back and above his head to be manacled in its turn. The chains tightened slowly, drawing him apart, exposing him utterly, pulling tight enough to let him know beyond all doubt that he had no hope of escape. He focused his mind on control instead, on the need to retain his own core of self.

      There was a problem he'd been trying to resolve for days in Subcontrol 3. Carefully, he visualised the panel, traced the wiring in his mind's eye.

      A finger invaded his anus, coating it gently with something wet and slippery.

      The red wiring controls the firing circuits for the neutron blasters. If the safety circuits for the neutron flare shields are taken into consideration, then it should be possible to calculate the interaction with the auto-repair system and -

      Something was being pushed inside him. Something large that stretched and filled him.

      - interaction with the auto-repair system and determine the precise time required to raise the neutron flare shields and the nature of the damage to both ship and crew that would be -

      Something that slipped suddenly and firmly into place, held in position by the ring of muscle at the entrance to his body. Something that he could still feel protruding outside him, plugging him, sealing him. Something that vibrated gently and warmly and touched something buried inside him that sent slow waves of pleasure undulating through his body.

      That had to be wrong. In this place, he mistrusted automatically anything that didn't bring pain.

      - to both ship and crew that would be sustained if the flare shields were not raised quickly enough -

      It was warm and it was quiet and he couldn't sense Walker's presence anywhere and his body felt... It was hard to describe the sensation: a relaxed tension, a heightened sensitivity to each minute air current, a pleasurable ache that gradually focused on his groin and his nipples...

      No! He didn't want this, didn't want the slow need that he could feel building within him. He clenched his hands, dug his nails into the palms, used the pain to distract himself from the urge to touch himself in a place that his bonds prevented him from reaching.

      "Aaah." A low-breathed sigh from somewhere to his right.

      A hand touched his penis, stroking it with gentle intimacy, and he shied away from the knowledge in that touch.

      "Did you want something?" Walker asked sympathetically.

      "No."

      "Well, in that case..." Something fastened around his penis above the testicles, far tighter than before, a knob pressing hard into the underside. "We'll have to make sure you don't come by accident. You wouldn't want that, would you?"

      No, he didn't want to give Walker that satisfaction. But what was worse, the humilia{kern 50 0}tion of coming when Walker wanted him to, or the slow edge of suspense that was building up within him, demanding fulfilment?

      He could ignore it. It was a physical sensation, that was all. This did not impinge on his inner self. He set his mind firmly back to the wiring plans of Subcontrol 3. Or was it Subcontrol 2?

      "I think you're trying to ignore me," Walker murmured. "I don't like being ignored." Avon was suspicious of the tone of his voice - not anger, but satisfaction.

      Walker's fingers stroked over his right nipple, teasing it, pleasuring it; they drew it up gently into a small nub of intense sensitivity. Warm, moist air breathed upon it. Avon damned the part of his mind that wanted more, that welcomed the lips that descended, softly suckling, tongue swirling as it drew all the focus of his body to that one area. He was awash in it, floating in it, had never known that so much awareness could be concentrated in one so tiny point.

      The lips withdrew and he waited in suspended silence, dreading their return as much as he desired it. Fingers gripped him, pulled, and then there was pain, lancing though him, piercing sharp, through his nipple and out the other side. Light spotlit his chest and he could see Walker's hands, trembling with excitement, slide a small gold ring into the hole that had been made and close the ring to let it hang with obscene temerity. Avon fought the shudder that recoiled through his body, lost and flung himself hard against his restraints, trying against all logic to shake the thing loose, to drive it away from him.

      Swift as a stooping falcon, Walker pounced, pinning Avon hard to the ground. As Avon pitched and bucked beneath him in frantic fury, he pierced the second nipple with a smooth jab and inserted another ring. Even as Avon screamed, he felt Walker's cum spilling over him, heard the man's cry of triumph and pleasure mingling with his own of despair.

      

      Desire had fled, driven away by pain and humiliation, and yet even in his shattered state of tremoring helplessness he was aware of an erection that would not subside and of the never-ending vibration against his prostate that threatened to take him once again to the shore of that uncrossable river.

      Walker stood, a last drop of semen falling from his cock to join the sticky pool on Avon's chest.

      "I shall leave you for a while. I may come back if you call for me. Then again, I might not."

      The spotlight flicked out.

      "But I wouldn't want you to be bored in my absence. I'll leave you a supply of home movies."

      Avon had thought himself wise to the futility of resistance, but he fought the blindfold with everything left in him. He twisted his head, jerked it from side to side, even banged it on the floor. It bought him a minute's respite, nothing more. With his eyes sealed shut, the disc was pressed to his forehead and the images began to appear. A random sequence edited from the events of the last... How long had it been? He had lost all sense of time. Images of himself being bound and raped were interspersed with sequences of Walker's thoughts as he watched him in the dark. A soft moan escaped his lips.

      "Call me Master," Walker whispered, "and I will touch you and take you and give you what you want."

      "No." He fought the word out through confusion and despair.

      

      

Blake touched the pads lightly to his temples, but there was nothing. No fleeting touch of another mind, no vision of Avon. Nothing to fear, and everything to fear.

      "Orac?"

      He could have sworn the computer sounded slightly worried. "The sensornet is being recharged. There is a 96% probability that Avon is still alive."

      Ninety-six percent. He stared into the shadows that lurked in the dim off-watch lighting. It ought to be Jenna's watch now, but he'd already told her he'd take it. How could he tell her or any of the others what was happening? It was impossible. It was bad enough that he knew. It was an inexcusable intrusion on Avon's privacy to see him like this, and yet having come this far, he didn't feel capable of not watching. He couldn't let Avon go through this alone. Even a vicarious presence was better than none. He was realist enough to know that it couldn't really help Avon, but the illusion helped him.

      

He was alone, and that was almost worse than having Walker present. Did anyone know where he was? Did anyone care? He was nothing - he knew that, because the images in his mind told him so. He was a body without even a name, a thing to be played with, broken and discarded. He existed for one purpose only - to serve Walker. The thing inside him vibrated, and to every vibration his nipples responded with throbs of agony so intense as to verge on pleasure and that in turn increased the pressure in his penis. His whole body was becoming focused on that one thing, on the desperate need for release.

      Dark and light, he saw himself, dark hair, white skin, so perfect, so tense, so proud. He felt himself split that body, pound home in the most intense of ecstasies. He felt overweening joy as he pierced the Alpha's body and marked it forever as his own. He came and he came...

      ...And he could not come. And the agony built higher. He twisted on his back, trying to achieve the impossible and press his penis against the floor. Every hair stood on end; every nerve was afire with a desperate need to be touched. Would being raped again be any worse than this betrayal by his own body? Had he been drugged in addition to everything else? The answer didn't seem to matter. All that mattered was the desperate chasm within him, that demanded something, anything, to fill it. He needed a face, a voice, a touch, a hand on his penis to release him.

      Black and white. He saw himself chained, spread-eagled, and he walked around admiring himself even as he pulled at the chains that held him so. He wanted to fuck himself and he wanted... No, he did not want that. He did not. But in surrender there would be a kind of peace. In surrender he could cast off all the chains of combat, of responsibility. Let someone else decide. Walker could make the agony go away. He twisted again as his body increased its demands. His imagination supplied images of its own as competition to those imposed on him: a large hand holding his penis, stroking it in a firm hard rhythm, a release so incredible that he almost screamed in frustration as he came within a knife's-edge of achieving it. Panting with exertion, he collapsed against the floor, only to start moving once more as his skin demanded any touch, even that of the hard rubber surface beneath him. He writhed against it, trying to filter out the images of himself writhing under Walker's assault, but the images were too strong. Walker's orgasm, as he felt Avon's desperate struggle beneath him, was incredibly powerful. It washed over Avon for the third time, or was it the fourth? He couldn't keep track any longer He just knew that he couldn't face it any more. Couldn't face the destruction of himself. Couldn't face the images that reduced him to nothing but an arse to be fucked. Couldn't face the implications of a sexual need that grew stronger every time he saw himself degraded.

      Sex. Walker. Sex. Master.

      

      

"The sensornet is functioning once more."

      Blake snatched up the pads with almost indecent haste.

      

      The Alpha was near the edge now, writhing and straining in his bonds, the sweat pouring from him. Why had he never thought to use this technique before? Replaying these little sessions for himself had long been a source of delight, but to see the straits this man was reduced to by nothing more than the direct experience of Walker's own desires - that was truly incredible. Just watching it was making him hot and hard. He pumped his cock with a few slow strokes of his hand, then told it to wait. It would have far better places to go before long.

      

      Blake shuddered. It was difficult enough for him to keep his own mind separate from Walker's thoughts - how could Avon possibly survive without his own experience of dealing with implanted memory? He felt a desperate longing for the man on the floor: to hold him, protect him, and shield him from all possible harm.

      "How long, Orac?" he whispered.

      "Five minutes to teleport range."

      Sensor pads still in position, he picked up Orac and headed for the teleport bay, trying not to stumble as his mind fed him information about two different floors at once.

      

      The Alpha was moaning now, soft little whimpers that fought to shape themselves into words. He could almost read his own name in their struggle.

      "Walker." The faintest of whispers.

      Not enough. He toed the floor idly, drawing invisible patterns on the rubber surface.

      The Alpha clenched his teeth, arched his head back and drew his whole body into a tight bow, fighting what was within him, fighting the need to say the name again. There was something so erotic about a man warring with himself like that. Only Alphas ever had such intense barriers against sexuality; a Delta would just have rolled over and let himself be fucked. He'd given up using Deltas long ago. Only in the fight was there pleasure, in the taking of a man who fought every inch of the way until the final, inevitable surrender. The pain of whips and scourges was as nothing when compared to the pain that a man like this could give himself. Maybe if he touched him now? No, wait a little longer.

      "Walker." A little louder.

      Let him believe himself alone. Let him imagine himself abandoned. Make him need.

      "Walker!"

      Ah yes, that was a little better. He ran hands over his own body, enjoying the luxury, imagining the Alpha's struggle to try and touch himself. Such beautiful pain.

      "Walker."

      Yes, perhaps that was enough.

      "You wanted something?"

      "Let me go!"

      "My sweet Alpha, I couldn't possibly do that."

      "Let me..." The voice choked off abruptly.

      "You want to come?" He set the lighting to a low level, reached out and freed the blindfold with a tug. The Alpha stared at him with dazed, impassioned eyes. Dark and desperate, they clung to him with a message that his lips still could not frame. "Call me Master," Walker whispered tenderly. "Call me Master and everything you wish for shall be yours." The power of love and death was his to grant or to withhold. He stood on the pinnacle of the world.

      A white light blazed in the dimness, the halo of an avenging angel. The angel raised a gun to fire and Walker knew a moment of supreme terror before his soul descended for ever to Hell's abyss.

      Blake snatched up the remote as Walker fell and thumbed the button that memory told him controlled the manacles. Avon didn't move. It was as though his mind didn't yet realise that his body was free. Blake knelt beside him, lifted his shoulders and felt Avon's arms go round him in a desperate embrace. Their cheeks touched and he could not have prevented the ensuing kiss even had he wanted to. Avon's lips sought his with a terrible fervour; their bodies pressed together and without even knowing how he had got there, Blake found himself lying on the floor beside Avon, his hand reaching down for Avon's cock.

      Snap. The cock ring came free. He pumped hard, once, twice, and Avon came in spurting jets of cum that streaked in sticky white streamers between them.

      "Master," breathed Avon, the word escaping him as a bird fleeing a cage when the door has unexpectedly been left open. He collapsed in Blake's arms and lay there, eyes closed, breathing fast and shallow.

      Blake couldn't bear to move. Avon's cock lay in his hand like a day-old kitten, blind and naked. Nestled there, it was helpless, demanding of his protection. His own heart was racing, his body going into overdrive. His emotions were far beyond his control. He loved Avon, adored him, wanted him with a hopeless passion and he knew it would never happen. As Avon's breathing softened into the rhythms of exhausted sleep, he allowed himself the luxury of stroking the damp, disordered hair. It was an easy motion, one that felt oddly natural, as though Avon were a small child and he the parent soothing it after a nightmare. Reluctant for the moment to end, he let his hand stroke a few moments longer before he finally removed the sensornet disc and reached round for Avon's arse. There his fingers encountered what he had known he would find. He eased the butt plug out, looked at the obscenity for a moment, then flung it into a far corner of the room.

      

      

After that, it only got worse.

      He teleported back to Liberator with Avon in his arms. It was still ship's night; they encountered no one else as Blake took him to the medical unit and did what had to be done. He cleaned Avon, inspected him and did what was medically necessary with calm impersonal efficiency. As Avon slowly responded to being in safe familiar surroundings once more, Blake saw what he had known he would see. Hate. The knowledge of a word spoken that could never be recalled. He completed his tasks without speaking, silently handed Avon a clean set of clothes and left for his cabin.

      There, lying in the darkness, he stared up at the ceiling, seeing only Avon, feeling only the touch of Avon's lips against his and the limp form of Avon's cock in his hand. Avon would never forget, and would never forgive. It mattered not that the crime was not Blake's. Blake knew. Blake had seen; for that one desperate moment he had shared in Avon's nightmare and {tab}they had come closer than it was safe for them to be.

      If Avon was to fight his way back from this experience, he could not afford to fall prey to Blake's spell. Now, more than ever, Avon needed the illusion of independence, needed to feel that no one controlled his life. Any relationship between them would not only be a travesty of what Walker had done to Avon but would raise the unanswerable question of that love's origins. Could he, with his own knowledge of that uneasy relationship between torturer and victim, ever know for certain if Avon would have kissed Walker with the same fervor had Blake not arrived?

      Avon had broken. With the knowledge Blake had now, it would be easy to break him again. If Blake so chose, he could step into Walker's shoes and dominate Avon with ease.

      He chose not to. If Avon ever came to him, it would have to be years from now when the scars had had time to heal.

      What of his own feelings? He'd always found Avon attractive, but how much of his own present passion was born from an intense sympathy to Avon's suffering, and how much was tainted by the images he had plucked from Walker's mind? Only time would allow him to totally understand what he felt.

      Avon needed to be free. He needed to be free, not only of Walker, but also of Blake.

      When they had destroyed Star One, he would leave. It was the only gift remaining that he could give to the man he loved.

      

      


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Vanessa Mullen

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