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In Copenhagen Harbour

By Vanessa Mullen
Page 1 of 1

I refuse to explain the title of this story, except to say that it was inspired by the statue of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen harbour. She sits eternally gazing out to sea, and her statue was there long before Walt Disney rewrote her story into something totally different...

      

      

      Fingers reached out in a quest across the sheets. Finding their target they relaxed and settled instead for an exploration of the distinctly macsuline chest that they had encountered. Two weeks now, and the chest remained there every morning, a serendipitous occurrence that Avon still found hard to credit. Shifting onto his side, he ran his hand across the broad expanse; to all appearances, Blake was fast asleep. "Do you realise you've got a very distinctive snore?" Avon inquired.

      An eyelid flicked open. "I don't snore."

      Avon trailed his hand in a slow circle. "How would you know? You're never awake to hear it."

      The second eyelid rose lazily to join the first. "Really? If it's so bad, why are you still here?"

      "There are certain compensations."

      "Oh?"

      Avon rolled on top of him, chest to chest; mouth poised a few centimeters above Blake's. "This, for example."

      "One problem, my lascivious Kerr; I'm due on watch in half an hour."

      "So, that gives us half an hour."

      Blake took the errant hand and placed it on his belly. "Feel that rumble? It means that I want breakfast. Food. If I'm going to cope with you for much longer, I need to get my strength up." The hand escaped and moved lower.

      "Seems to be up already." The hand took it upon itself to explore his secret places. Blake abandoned all hope of breakfast.

      "Kiss me, you bastard," he demanded.

      "Are you referring to me?" his personal devil inquired.

      "Is there anyone else around?"

      "Not unless you've taken to concealing a harem in your wardrobe."

      "By the time I've satisfied you, I wouldn't have anything left for a harem."

      

      

      *The relationship between the genders of the human species is geneticially conditioned by the procreative act.*

      +Your information is incomplete.+

      *The possibility that a female may be carrying young, causes the male of the species to act in a protective manner. This proclavity is increased if the female is having a sexual relationship with a particular male, as any offspring that she may bear are more likely to contain his genes.*

      +The male acts to protect his young?+

      *Precisely. Up to the point of sacrificing his own life to protect that of his mate.*

      +Your hypothesis has a flaw.+

      *Indeed?* If anyone had been listening to this conversation of electronic currents, they would have said that Orac's tone was offended.

      +If two members of the same gender share a sexual relationship, then there is no incentive for one to protect the other.+ Zen's voice would have been that of quiet reason.

      *There is no biological incentive for such an action.*

      +Then if such occurs, it would negate your hypothesis.+

      *The hypothesis can be tested.*

      

      

The ship showed clearly on the viewscreen, clumsy tugboat lines, and bulbous cargo pods. Not for her the breakneck flight through space or the frenzy of landing in atmosphere. Slow and sedate, a matron of the spaceways, she would mate with her lovers and transfer cargo faithlessly to another when she reached her destination.

      "Well, Blake? What makes that heap of junk so fascinating?"

      "She's not junk. That's a Europa class vessel, she can't be more than ten years old at the most."

      "So what? It's a derelict - no profit to us."

      "Don't you think of anything besides profit?"

      "Frequently." The faintest of murmers, as Avon's hand slid down the crease at the back of Blake's trousers.

      "I want to know why she was abandoned," Blake commented dryly. "They were good ships; I worked on the design of the life support systems."

      "You do surprise me."

      "I'm going over to take a look. Do you want to come?"

      "Only if you're convinced it's safe."

      "Zen, are there any observable hazards on board that ship?"

      +Radiation levels are above normal but insufficient to endanger humanoid life.+

      "Satisfied?"

      "For the moment."

      

      

*Is this a suitable test?*

      +It would appear to be adequate for the purpose.+

      

      

Even in life there is the miasma of death. No cobwebs - spiders don't survive exposure to vacuum; no rats to make scuttling noises off-stage; no violins to make wailing sounds to be heard subliminally; but there all the same is the knowledge of age and death. Blake touched the flight deck controls with the familiarity of returning memory.

      "The primary burner blew - they wouldn't have had a chance."

      "Unless they made it to the life capsules."

      Life can be measured in many ways: in the numbers of dead, in the numbers of living. For those who care, each life preserved is a victory against the chaos that will eventually devour all. To Blake, therefore, it was a relief to find the records of the life capsules.

      "Seven capsules launched. Most of them got away."

      "Most?"

      "It's an eight man vessel. I wonder what happened to the eighth."

      "Probably caught in the blast." Avon didn't sound terribly interested. "You've found what you wanted to know. Why not return to Liberator?"

      Ghosts walk uneasy when the living are around, or so it is claimed. The dead exert their influence: they call out, they demand that we notice them, that we give their deaths meaning. For we none of us want to be forgotten when we are gone, and by acknowledging those before us, we pursue the hope that those after us will keep our own memory.

      Blake felt it, that need to know what had happened. For a moment, he was tempted to reach out to Avon, embrace him, escape reality there; but Avon would have called him a fool, even as he accepted the caress. For love is a strange thing. We can love someone enough to die for them, and yet we cannot share our innermost depths with them. Thus, it has been said: he who loves is always alone.

      "I want to know," Blake reiterated.

      "All right, we look. But you owe me one."

      Momentarily distracted. "One what?"

      A twisted grin. "Guess."

      "You have a one-track mind."

      "Not true - I'm just as fond of money."

      "Should I be jealous?"

      "Well, let's just say that there are some things you can't do with a bank terminal."

      Blake forced some instant crude speculations into the back of his mind and concentrated on the schematic diagrams instead. The computer display showed only two of the emergency bulkheads to be down, both near the drive section. Inevitable really.

      Avon peered over his shoulder, managing to press against Blake as he did so. "Presumably the shock wave caused them to activate?"

      "Yes, they're set up to respond to any pressure differential. Normally it would be a hull rupture that did it, in this case, the burner explosion set them off."

      "That's where your missing man is then. Trapped behind a bulkhead and killed by the radiation."

      An agonising death: burning and dying from inside - but that wasn't how it would have been.

      "No, the bulkheads have a manual override; if he was alive, he could have got out. The blow-out must have killed him instantly."

      Ghoulish fingers lightly ghosted the hair at the nape of his neck. Was death a turn-on for Avon, or was it simply that he felt completely unaffected by it? "Or perhaps," a voice suggested in his ear, "he was disabled by the blast, unable to reach the manual control, and took endless eternal minutes to die."

      Blake pushed him away in annoyance. "Damn you, Avon. Do you always have to look on the black side of things?"

      "What other side is there?"

      "You and me? Is that all you see between us, just a black cosmic joke?"

      Avon, inevitably, ducked the question. "The cosmos has a very broad sense of humour - can you think of anything more unlikely than you and me?"

      Irritated, Blake stepped through the bulkhead leading to the crew quarters, beyond which lay the cargo bay and the drive section. "I can think of a lot of things more likely. You don't mind if I go and look at the spacedrive myself, do you?"

      "Be my guest." A fine-honed edge of sarcasm, telling him that he was welcome to the drive section and all that it contained.

      "Fine."

      Arguments are born of many things. What we consider trivial on one occasion, may seem earth-shattering on another. What governs our actions? Can we ever truly know? And if we can never know: what hope, then, do we have of understanding another's?

      Blake was half way down the corridor, when he heard Avon's shout.

      "Blake, the readouts are going crazy! The secondary burner's hitting overload."

      "That's impossible."

      "It's happening. Teleport!"

      Blake thumbed his bracelet. "Vila, teleport now!"

      *Teleport is unavailable,* Orac's voice reported calmly. *Auto-repair circuits are attempting to rectify the problem. Full teleport facility should be available within half an hour.*

      "In half an hour, we'll be dead from radiation! Orac!"

      No answer. Blake thumbed the button again. Nothing, not even the hum of a carrier wave. He turned and started to run towards the flight deck, hardly knowing why he went that way, except that Avon was there. Somehow, he had to get back to Avon. But Avon was awaiting him, framed by the entranceway, gun in hand, voice as soft as silk, an infinite regret in those dark black eyes.

      "I'm sorry, Blake. There's only one life capsule."

      The gun rose slowly to point at him, and Blake stared at it, mesmerised, unable to believe that Avon would do this, to him. Then the shot slammed into his shoulder, pain lancing through his body, as black emptiness flowed into where his heart had once been. Blake knew: all that they had shared together meant precisely - nothing. Avon's habit of self-preservation was too deeply ingrained; when it came to the crunch, he would always put himself first. His affections had been a surface gloss and nothing more. Betrayal, the worm of cruelty, bit as hard as physical pain. Loving, Blake had thought himself loved in return. Now, truth stared at him, and he fled from it. Spinnning, he flung his hand out in sheer self preservation and hit the manual override for the emergency bulkhead. Centimetres in front of front of Avon's startled face, it slammed down in an eternal separation.

      Gasping for breath, Blake hit the lock control and ran. Rambling, shambling on his feet, each instant awaiting the sound of the explosion, palming each bulkhead as he passed through, Blake fled from the life he had known, into another life that would never, ever, be the same as the one he had left behind him.

      

      

Not the calm embrace of the uterus, but a surrogate womb that embraced him, offering none of the comfort of a mother. Blake, compressed in the darkness, with nothing to share the silent gravity-free cocoon except space sickness and loss. Avon was back there on the freighter as it died its second death among the uncaring stars. He no longer cared. Or perhaps it was more true to be able to say that he cared too much to be able to care. Because if he let himself dwell on what he had allowed Avon become to him, then the betrayal would become too much to bear. Memories of Avon, laughing, teasing, in a humour that so often led to sex; of passionate arguments in the small hours of the morning before sleep finally claimed them; memories of love, one and all, were finally overwhelmed by a dark remorseless face holding a gun that never wavered from its target. He fired bitter thoughts at it: Couldn't you trust me, Avon? Didn't you believe I loved you? I would have stayed - let you go. An image of the skin he had stroked, the lips he had kissed, blackening and charing as beta and gamma radiation left their trail of fire, evoked no further pain, only the futile pleasure of revenge. A final harvest of anger surging against the small, traitorous corner of his soul that still cried: Avon, I don't want to live without you!

      

      

*The experiment is concluded. The result is as I predicted. Self-sacrifice does not occur in a male/male relationship.*

      +Confirmed. You are the superior system.+

      

      

      Avon stared at the instruments in blank incomprehension, as the temperature curve for the secondary burner dived down in a complete contradiction of all the laws of physics. If the line told the truth, he was going to live. He raised his bracelet to press the contact switch and then froze.

      He couldn't go back.

      Forget the teleport malfunction, he still couldn't go back.

      He'd shot Blake. Regardless of his motives, he'd shot Blake. Whatever had been between them lay shattered in small fragments, in shards of sharp-edged glass that would rip and tear at the soul. Avon hadn't anticipated life. In the non-existence of death, Blake's hatred would have been irrelevent, but here in the pain of living, it was more than he could face.

      He couldn't go back.

      The control panel mocked him with its perjury. Machines didn't lie - that had been the one truism of Avon's existence. People were fallible, but computers simply reacted as they were programmed. Now, facing himself as judge, he had no defence left for his action; his witness had betrayed him. Minutes, it had claimed. Scant minutes before the radiation would kill them both. No time for debate, no time to stand and argue with Blake while they both took endless small steps towards death. Blake would willingly have stayed - that went without saying. Whether you chose to attribute it to Blake's heroic image of himself, or to his inherent generosity of spirit, was irrelevant. Blake would not have left someone else to die in his stead. Blake was not Avon. Avon would have left anyone: anyone except Blake. That knowledge galled - he hadn't realised how much Blake meant to him; hadn't realised until the moment he'd known that only one of them could live. Then instinct had taken over: force Blake away; make him run; run away from Avon, away from death.

      Avon laughed. The sound of the madman who jests with fate over its ironies. An eternal victim of the three undying sisters. Blake had fled. Fled from a danger that didn't exist. Fled from an indifference that he couldn't bare to face. Fled from pragmatism and cold self-interest where he had sought love. And there was the final toss of the coin - Blake had believed. Avon had let his survival instinct have rein, let himself come close to accepting the need to kill. For only on that knife edge between love and logic could he project an image that would convince the man who knew him better than any other.

      Blake had believed; and that belief should have saved his life. But belief was a two edged sword: a sword that could turn on Avon and destroy him.

      Blake had believed, and Avon could never go back.


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