By xBryn Lantry

Avon stepped down onto a surreal flight deck. Fatigue shock, he decided at once. Since Space City, Blake's wits had been dispersing to the far spatial horizons. Now he was finally off his launch-rails, from seeing the proliferation of the evil guys.

"Avon," waved Vila genially. "Join us in a threesome."

Fingers playing in a manner too saturnine to be called fiddling, Avon wandered to the couch and hung over Vila. "What kind of a threesome?" he inquired, enigmatically wicked.

"Cards," protested Vila, brandishing a hand of them. Then his injured air vanished "Though more thrilling suggestions can be proposed to the party and voted upon."

Avon threw a furtively bantering look at Blake his humour was in the rebel's honour. "Not on the flight deck, you might sophisticate Blake. Our crusader isn't quite acclimatised to the criminal element yet."

"Hang around and you might learn unsuspected things about the rebel element. Blake's been teaching me a traditional dissident game, to while away nights before a strike one game lasting an average of one Earth night. It's popularly known as Dementia."

"Ominous name."

Blake spoke up, sepulchral. "One has to be demented to agree to play."

"Or drunk," beamed Vila.

"Or fey. We strike Plato Three in eighteen hours."

"Or desperate," added Vila.

"Or a black humorist," finished Blake.

"Staying on Liberator qualities me under the last category," said Avon. "I can smell which Vila qualifies under. How about Blake?"

"All of them," growled Blake. "Though I'm still working on the drunk."

Vila continued, "The entry fee is a bottle of liquor rarer, more expensive and more potent than any so far tendered. So if you can out-class Blake's Gourimpesian red-label irradiated soma with solar particles, and my Black Hole neo-rum which is a cataclysmic twelve hundred and sixty years old, you're in."

"Well now," said Avon. "I do possess a phial of distilled Zondawl eight-tusked swamp rhino milk. Which I was hoarding for a particular occasion. But since the occasion is unlikely to ever occur, why not?"

Vila perked up further. "Some survivors claim swamp rhino milk has aphrodisiac properties."

"Only if the catalyst of sugar is introduced. I like mine straight but it does tend to be bitter for the less sophisticated palate."

Blake warned him, "In the last round we all play with a severe handicap. That is, we mix a cocktail of every player's entry fee and swallow the result before proceeding. Incidentally, the history of this game does record the odd fatality."

"You may do so, Blake. No wonder Freedom Party enterprises were uniformly disastrous. I'll fly your ship to Plato Three in the morning, shall I?"

"Rule of the game," Vila said. "There are dress rules too, but not so strict. The more weird and wonderful, the more points you begin with."

"I noticed. You look like a costume party in a rehabilitation centre."

The thief was apparelled in the lower half of a space suit, a detached pink thermal-suit hood, twelve teleport bracelets and a graffiti-scrawled Federation flag wrapped around his torso. Blake was dressed to the nines in Gan's elephantine tunic, Vila's garish yellow belt, and, wound about his head, Cally's embroidered shawl from a market on a primitive planet, from the hem of which Jenna's earring collection dangled in a sparkling, jouncing fringe to his eyebrows.

"You haven't anything of mine on, Blake."

"How do you know?" the guerrilla countered ambiguously from the shadow of his shawl. Avon smirked, rather intrigued.

"The other rule," said Vila, "is that everyone swears on their honour to forget everything in the morning."

"Amen," muttered Blake.

Less reckless with his dignity than Blake, the technician submitted that he was both weird and wonderful enough without dressing to prove it. Vila passed the former half of this motion. Blake consulted Orac, and translated the computer's assessment of Avon's intellect as passing the latter half. So Avon repaired to his cabin, and reappeared in the fine garments he'd purchased one planet-leave for stopovers on civilised worlds. A cream shirt with pointed cuffs and collar, and a gap of skin from clavicle down over which thirteen bronze clasps fastened. The trousers were genuine jeujo-skin, supple leather mottled with amber down the outside thighs, tailored with a slight puff from the hips and narrow from the knees. Once Blake had mentioned that he looked "smashing" in the outfit.

Only when he returned with his bottle did they inform Avon about the forfeits. These obliged you to do anything your debtee told you to do (with the option of quitting the game in a tantrum, in which case you lost your entire liquor cabinet to your fellow players). And the truths, where your debtee could ask you any question which must be answered honestly. And finally the secrets, where you must impart a secret any secret to your debtee. Avon cautioned them that he thought he would be bad at this game, and with that he joined the play.

Continued in Forbidden Star

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