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Every day they intercept about seven thousand Federation transmissions. Avon's written a program to flag anything with certain keywords and summarize the rest. He gets a copy, Blake gets another, and Avon checks every day to be sure he's read it.

Sometimes, when he's especially bored or especially nervous, Avon skims through the raw decryptions. Mostly it's supply and payroll data--he's noted down some access codes he hopes to use someday--but there's also a steady trickle of illicit messages. The rations, clothing, and even armaments from official requisitions sometimes turn up a few days later among the offerings of black marketeers. Less dramatically, people slip private messages--everything from birthday greetings to love letters to a chess game between two communications techs half a galaxy apart--into the official datanet. Not surprising, when the commercial networks charge fifty credits a kilobit.

Everyone cheats if they can. It's true in the Federation; it must have been true under the old calendar, or how could the Federation have begun? And if Blake manages to establish his revolutionary utopia, it'll be true there too.

Nobody's pure. Vila filches jewels from the treasure room and hides them in his wardrobe, and Avon does a version--a vastly better thought-out version--of the same trick. Jenna's making contacts among the smugglers on every planet they visit. Simple-minded Gan is only here for the good food and the warm clothes, and also, Avon suspects, for the chance to fuck Vila now and again. Even Cally has her petty vices. A little listening at mental doors, a lot of pleasure in being superior.

And then there's Blake. Blake's vices aren't petty, they're grand, and too impersonal to count as corruption. All except one.

It's amusing, in certain moods, to think of himself as the mildew under Blake's shiny ideals. In other moods, he knows he's the human factor, the inevitable spanner in even the most perfect works. Avon's the noise and inefficiency, the excess messages clogging the datastream, the gap between the blueprint and the reality. The difference, maybe, between Blake and Travis, or Blake and Servalan.

Corruption, Avon thinks, is its own kind of virtue. Perfectly efficient systems aren't meant for living inside. A little rot just makes space for love letters and games of chess. Space for pleasure, which is worth more than any revolution.