Avon's head ached abominably. That was the first thing he was aware of ™ the second was that he couldn't remember what had happened to make it hurt. He struggled through dizziness and disorientation to open his eyes, only to find himself looking up at an unfamiliar ceiling.
He turned automatically towards the sound of the voice and saw the man he'd been searching for for the last half a year. "Blake."
Blake blinked in slow surprise. "You knew me before."
Before what? This man was older and the voice was all wrong. Yet, he was Blake. If Avon lived to be a thousand, he would never forget that face. "Blake," he insisted.
Avon took that in slowly. There were too many questions to ask and for once he was uncertain of where to start. What did he call this man? He denied the name Blake, but offered his own with no indication of which name was to be used. He didn't act like an alpha, but could Avon address any relative of Blake's (and this man had to be a relative) by his first name?
"What do I call you?"
"Morgan." There was a glimmer of amusement, of a sense of humour so dry that he almost missed it. "You already decided that for yourself."
He had? He struggled to sit up, to get a better view of wherever he was, then collapsed back on his side as his head spun and nausea coiled in his throat. There were questions he needed to ask ™ where he was and how he had come to be here ™ but his mind refused to allow speech, drawn instead to the more immediate issue of trying to control the urge to vomit. Impressions filtered in gradually: the mattress he was lying on, the light coming gently through each small glass pane of the window, the dark wood of the cupboard standing in the corner beyond the window. The bed he lay on had brass rails at head and foot that gleamed with a gentle shine. Morgan stood beside the bed, watching, a frown creasing his forehead.
"You all right?"
Avon struggled to answer, then gave way to the bile that rose in his throat and spilled out over the plain fabric of the mattress. The action seemed to be something partially detached from himself; he felt dizzy as though he wasn't really there at all.
"I'm sorry," he said, half closing his eyes to shut out the sight of his last meal spread before him in small watery lumps.
"The Old Lady wouldn't have begrudged her bed to a sick man." You could hear the capital letters when Morgan spoke. "You'll be needing a doctor," he added. More of a statement than a question, but with a slight uplift on the last word that left the final choice to Avon.
"No doctor." He was in too much danger if the authorities found him ™ he still had a price on his head. "Water."
Morgan's brow furrowed, then he left the room. Avon heard the sound of him going downstairs, followed by the running of a tap. Morgan reappeared a minute later, carrying a mug that had seen better days.
"I thought there was still one ™ cracked you see."
He assisted Avon to a sitting position. In spite of the gentleness of his touch, the motion was almost enough to make Avon vomit again. The mug that was pressed into his hands was indeed cracked, liquid seeping in a slow bead down the outside, but the water itself was cool and eased the burning in his throat. He drank in small sips, relying on Morgan's arm across his shoulders to keep him steady, finally finding the strength to ask:
"Where am I?"
That meant nothing. "What planet?"
"What planet?" Avon insisted.
But Morgan didn't answer. Instead he lay Avon back on the bed and headed for the door.
"I'll be back soon."
Avon felt that he ought to be worried about something, but he was too tired. It was easier just to let his mind wander. There were no clocks here to measure the passage of time. His eyes drifted around the room, slowly taking things in. There was quiet of a quality that he was not accustomed to; he strained to hear the hum of machinery, the motors that circulated air and supplied heat and light, but there was nothing except the harsh call of some kind of bird. Somewhere primitive then? His mind wandered, butterfly-like, from object to object, never stopping long enough to require concentration, but gathering up random thoughts in a ravelled thread. Wood and metal, but no plastics. Furniture for storing things in, but nothing of a personal nature at all except Morgan's jacket lying neatly folded on a chair. There were no pictures, no hairbrushes or combs, none of the trinkets that would normally be associated with a woman's room. No one lived here, unless it was ghosts.
Where was he? It didn't seem to matter terribly. He let himself drift on a sea of silence and dreamed that he was floating in infinite space between the lonely stars.
A sound distracted him, pulled him from the cocoon that protected him from the vacuum, resolved itself into footsteps. He ought to know who they belonged to. Someone had said they would come back for him. Someone was shaking his shoulder gently. Someone with familiar curly hair and brown eyes.
"Morgan." Blake/Morgan sounded tired. "I can't call an ambulance; they've disconnected the phone. I'll have to take you to hospital in the Land Rover. Will you be all right?"
Would he be all right, leaving this room of quiet and stillness to its faded ghosts? To go with this strange Blake clone? "Why not?"
Morgan hesitated. "You haven't told me your name. Can you remember?"
Could he? But Blake should know it anyway. He felt too dizzy to try and sort things out.
"Avon. My name is Avon."
As though speaking his name caused the world to become aware of his presence, everything seemed to rush in upon him, seeking to fill the void that he had become. There was a part of him that was missing, an emptiness that tried to tug him into it while he was too weak to resist its pull. Waves lapped on an endless shore, offering him oblivion in the depths of the ocean. All he had to do was step into the water and there would be peace and total forgetfulness.
"Can you stand?"
That voice. This was the Blake who wasn't Blake. Avon groped for the name through the drowning and found it with a sense of triumph. Morgan.
Could he stand? He tried to sit up, unwilling to show weakness in front of Blake, even if he wasn't Blake. Stars spun around his head in slow, lazy circles and he grabbed at the hand Morgan held out to him.
"Put your arm round my shoulders."
No condescension in that voice, just a solid practicality. Avon obeyed, feeling the reassuring strength under the worn jacket as Morgan helped him to his feet. They made their way downstairs carefully, each narrow step a potential downfall, the wood worn smooth by the passage of many feet. Avon glanced to his right as they came to the bottom. Wooden beams running across the ceiling supported the room above, but in this room below there was nothing: no furniture, no carpet, nothing to show that anyone lived here. Not even ghosts laid claim to this room.
Morgan opened a door a pace in front of them, leading into a small porch. A further door opened to the outside. Morgan methodically locked the door of the empty house and dropped the keys into his pocket. As Avon's eyes adjusted to the brightness of daylight, he stared in astonishment at the antique in the yard before him. Morgan hadn't struck him as a wealthy man, but to own such a vehicle, let alone have the permit to drive it, indicated a small fortune.
"How old is it?" he asked in wonderment.
Morgan looked offended rather than flattered. "She still goes."
Smoke from a dying bonfire drifted across the yard, the wind catching small scurries of ash and blowing them onto the truck. A fragment of a photograph, a child's face half burnt, landed on the ground before him for an instant before being whisked away, curling up and over, weaving a spiral dance with the wind.
When he looked back at Morgan, there was a dog by the man's side. Ears pricked, it watched Avon alertly. He resisted the urge to back away from it. Animals were unpredictable and dangerous; anything might provoke one into an attack. He reached instinctively for the comforting shape of his Liberator gun, but he wasn't wearing it.
"He won't bite," Morgan said with a touch of impatience. He gestured the dog to the open back of what was presumably the Land Rover. "Get in, you clown."
The dog leapt smoothly over the tail gate and sat on its hind legs, waiting.
The creature was intelligent then. A product of genetic engineering?
Morgan opened the left-hand door and helped Avon into a seat. The slam of the door shot daggers through his skull. Instead of climbing in the driver's side, Morgan first opened the gate to the yard. When he got in and shut his own door, Avon tensed for the slam but it wasn't so bad this time ™ anticipation helped. As Morgan started the engine and drove the Land Rover through the gate, the main thing Avon was conscious of was the mixture of smells inside. Animal smells, not just the dog: chemicals, all different; nothing he could identify. That bothered him. Smells should be familiar things. Smells were the background of life ™ the hot smell of solder on a circuit board, the aroma of cooked food, the background scent of old sweat that permeated the domes, the smell of the recycled air on board Liberator ™ so familiar that the mind forgot it until returning to the ship after planetfall.
Morgan stopped in the road on the other side of the gate and got out. Avon heard the clang of the gate closing before Morgan climbed back in and set them moving again. Inefficient ™ the gate should have been automatically controlled. The country they passed through was desolate. Straggly trees; low stone walls, looking as though they had been built by hand; enclosed fields where nothing grew except grass. Sheep grazed in some of the fields, greyish white wool as drab as everything else seemed to be here.
Where was here?
"Where are we going?" he asked.
Had he said that before? Avon wished he could remember.
"What planet is this?"
Morgan's eyes flicked away from the road to give him an odd look. "Little green men from Mars is it?"
"From Mars are you?"
This conversation was getting crazier and crazier. All that existed on Mars was a few mines and a traffic control base.
"I'm from Earth," he snapped back, and then wished he hadn't as it made his head hurt.
"England, you mean."
"How did you know?"
"Your accent," Morgan said as though stating the obvious.
"I haven't got an accent." This man might not be Blake, but he was well on the way to being equally irritating.
"Damn English." He snorted. "Think anyone who doesn't speak like the BBC is a bloody foreigner. You're not in England now; you're in Wales."
Wales? Nobody lived in the open in Wales. Not legally anyway. An Outsider? But an Outsider wouldn't have the money to own an automobile or a pet.
Morgan halted the Land Rover at a road junction, then turned onto another, wider road. Another automobile, bright red, shot past them, then another and another. Avon clutched the sides of his seat, struggling with the stuff of nightmare. This place wasn't real, it couldn't be. There was a white dashed line painted down the centre of the road, paint still bright and clean. This road was maintained and intended to carry a heavy traffic load. That in turn implied the resources to fuel all the automobiles, resources that Earth hadn't had for centuries. Something was very, very wrong.
The motion of the Land Rover and the mixture of smells were beginning to make him feel even worse. He hunched his head into his hands, trying to fight the nausea, but it didn't help. Wind whistled through the half closed window beside him and out the open back. He was conscious that there was nothing but a pane of glass between himself and the oncoming traffic. If one of them were to veer by just a few metres... He bit his lip and stared forward, trying not to flinch at cars speeding towards him. Morgan's bulk beside him was a reassuring presence. If Blake thought the road was safe, then it probably was. Just for once, his memory avoided reminding him of all the times when Blake had been wrong.
The road joined another and buildings began to appear, scattered along the way. Individual dwellings, stone, with slate roofs, surrounded by grass and trees. So much space. How could people live like that, so spread out? His mind toyed with the novel concept of living alone. The superiority of the domes was obvious; they gave privacy when needed, with all the advantages of communal living. People to argue with, people to share a meal with, people to discuss ideas with, people ™ his mind drifted to Anna ™ to love. He tried to imagine Liberator with no one else on board and the idea was as disturbing as it had been over Horizon when he'd thought them all dead. He didn't need them of course. He didn't need anyone, but even an idiot like Vila helped to make the emptiness of life more bearable.
As the houses began to cluster more closely together and merged into long terraces, Avon felt more comfortable. Alien this world might be, but no more so than any other he'd visited. If he didn't feel so dizzy, he'd be fine. If he didn't feel so dizzy, he'd be trying to work out where this ridiculous world was.
Time travel was impossible. Blake being someone else was impossible.
This place wasn't alien; it was old. Archaic. Like history tapes.
There was no way to ask without sounding like a fool.
The tone of the engine changed as Morgan adjusted some controls and took them round a corner. "Say?"
"What year is it?"
"'Eighty four." No surprise, just an even-worded answer that never even caused Morgan to take his eyes off the road.
Eighty four? That gave him no information apart from that he had already feared. He was lost. The year was no longer 258: it wasn't even counted by the same system. The whole situation was impossible.