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The Thirteenth Hour

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The last of the day I spent over the photonic drive with a mechanic Deva had given me. A fast engine meant nothing to Blake, in biostasis. Unless our freighter had pursuit.

Six people were dead, none of mine. Two we shot in the tracking gallery, two to a bomb, another to heavy stun. The sixth is Blake. His death I am told is technical.

Blake had armed the spy with a neural suspender, usual for his tests. Dayna and Deva were up in half an hour. My other crew had Federation stun, and Tarrant remains in danger. I'd only been dazed. The troopers in front had crouched to shoot up and miss the troopers behind, and I collapsed at a shock to my forehead. Then the counterattack. A massacre, with three squads trapped in the gallery, and me semi-conscious in the thick of it. I know I crawled over Blake, in another time in my daze, I thought him wounded. When his personnel found us there I told them, “He's hit. The aliens.”

The aliens were me and Blake dead. I was treated with a drug and had a spell of half-sensed catastrophe, before I had my memory back.

A medic told me Blake has a chance.

I saw him in his biostasis capsule, in his technical death. Deva was beside him. I didn't know Deva, he was just a stranger with frenzy in his face and tear streaks. I backed out and fetched Orac from my flyer.

In the crowded corpses of the tracking gallery Deva and I met. “Avon. My name's Deva, I'm in charge. We're for the planet Horizon, I understand your ship crashed, you're with us?”

“Is Blake going in one of the freighters in the hangar? I have a TD-fifteen drive in my ship, perhaps functional, the pilot lived. This machine can be questioned where treatment is to be had for Blake.” I gave him Orac. “Do I have time?”

Five hours after the Federation attack we lifted off, with flight clearance and no gunships. I was down in the engines of Blake's freighter. Dayna didn't forget me with the news. “Tarrant's through the stun. He's in surgery for his kidney.”

“Yes?”

“Orbital Asclepios, astro two-three-two in the eighth sector. For independent medicine. Heard of it?”

“I've heard of independent medicine.”

“Orac's choice for Blake. The latest in science from fifty worlds. And they charge for it.”

“And we pay with what?”

“The bounty Blake picked up for his capture of the terrorists you see about you.” Dayna grinned. “Ingenious, isn't it?”

“Blake's original art of war.” I had an eye shield on. And fatigue leant me a drone.

“We're going straight to Asclepios. The other ship to Horizon, where headquarters is. Don't you think we'd be wiser to unload? Blake's in stasis.”

“Blake is dead. Headquarters must want the point cleared up. If any of you mind the trip you can transfer to the Horizon craft.”

“Tarrant can't. We're for sticking together.”

“Vila's unharmed?”

“He jumped out of his skin to be alive. He's sad about Blake.”

From her simplicity I gathered she'd be kind for once.

“Avon?”

I directed my eye shield to her.

In a shy pose Dayna toyed with my fusion cable. “Near-perfect isn't such a disappointment.”

My chest suspended a beat. In outrage. Blake is dead.

She meant to be kind. I disregarded her. I had lied, besides, Gauda Prime being close enough to suicide. Last time I'd tried to leave them behind, this time I just dampened enthusiasm. They had no stake in Blake.

But they weren't who I'd killed. I didn't understand what had happened with me. Difficult to think about. To be hackneyed. Like a bad dream. Blake, I had a bad dream.

Dayna had gone. I craved to join him but I'd have to wait. I slogged on with the drive.

#

There had been no pursuit, and Blake's brain cannot corrupt in biostasis, yet the photonic drive felt like an achievement. Deva made much of it.

He and I needed a discussion. Maybe to him I belonged in the brig. Off the flight deck in his captain's quarters he gave me a drink. Of spirits. I swallowed it. Strange idea, to eat or drink after Blake is dead.

“Avon, have a seat.”

“I'm not tired.”

He nodded. Deva is early forties, cerebral, a touch of the ivory tower I suspected. And he wept over Blake.

“I think --” Fists curling at his hips, he studied the distance. “I'd like to speak to you of Blake's state of mind. Unless it's a wretched lack of tact.”

I hesitated. “I thought perhaps you'd have questions. I'm not uninterested in his state of mind.”

“Half a year,” started Deva. “I've followed him. From Jenna I --”

“Jenna?” Where was she? I hadn't seen her. Horizon?

His knees sagged. “You hadn't heard? I'm sorry. She's lost. To the gunships.”

Lost. Dead he meant. You and me, Vila. “About Blake?”

“The bounty hunter job. I was against the choice of him. Jenna told me he knew his trouble, he just needed time. There'd been a tragedy, the guilt was too hard for him. I left it. Blake hid from me. I'd never have heard of this from him.” Deva screwed up his eyes. “Today he told me he has difficulty trusting. If I hadn't been in a fight with him. I'd have shrieked. Yes, he had difficulty trusting my systems --” Here a whimsical smile. “Face to face tests, he insisted on. But why no-one but him had to do the dangerous jobs? Why wear the world on his shoulders?”

In his grief, I thought, he needs to rant about Blake. His disclosures taught me nothing but that Blake had remained Blake. “The world belonged there to him.”

“Avon, I have to say a thing that sticks in my throat.”

“Do if you have to.” Name me a murderer. What in the world have I done? I stared at a wall, and I saw him, as he left the flight deck to me for the battle against Andromeda. I saw him say what he said to me. I had said nothing to him. But I'd thought –

I hadn't thought this –

“True, Blake was key as a test, and we had great results. But twelve weeks ago, we lost Jenna. I'm ashamed you found him in his bounty hunter games. I demanded he go back to Horizon, demanded mediocrely. Between his jokes, I saw living was a misery to him. – Don't mistake me. But his rashness, playing the bounty hunter, was old to us. His strategy was rash. I warned him – in fact – just before. We don't try to blame you. You had your people to defend.”

My head whirled. I had a fear, a passionate fear, I'd go up and strangle him. He was perverse. What did he think I am to say? I told him, in a fury, “Blake is dead,” and found my way out of his quarters.

#

I have murdered Blake. I went to watch the photonic drive, where no eyes watched me, and more than once my hand was tempted to my gun. The others had an asylum. The rebellion had Orac back. If Blake lives? He'd translate the gesture.

Waiting for me, he said. I can wait for him until Orbital Asclepios.

Blake, your people acquit me as though we're in a court. You were rash, did you know? Did you know you're to blame? The triviality. Have they asked me why? Have they said, but it was Blake?

Are they sure I even knew I had people to defend? I can't have known much. People to defend, from Blake? I don't know what happened.

My hours as a murderer I spent in an attempt to analyse why. Had I known what I was to do, I'd have reversed the gun before I walked in. That much Blake believed of me, that much. He trusted me.

#

Up the aisle of engines traipsed Tarrant. Kidney surgery? From my lair in the semi-dark I met him with, “How's your kidneys?”

“Annoyed. You've been busy.” He knelt to inspect the photonic drive. Why he wasn't in bed I'd find out. “I hear I may have the chance to bite my tongue. For slander.” He threw me a straight, faint, interrogatory glance.

“If he can't mislead you he'd be upset.”

“The marvels of medical science. Did you know where he was for weeks, Avon?”

“Did I say I did?”

“You said you did.”

I slanted my head to admit, “I lied.”

Over the drive Tarrant gave a nod. “Say the marvels of science fail us, where next? Horizon?”

“In this ship. Vila's been there.”

“Can I ask a delicate question?”

“You can try.”

“Is Blake's headquarters a circumspect destination? Or have we an evasion to plan for Orbital Asclepios?”

We. Have we an evasion to plan. Tarrant's desperate cry to me. Back from my other planet I thought them slaughtered in my absence. What to say to him? Blake's murderer forgot you. I told him his information. “Don't be paranoid, Tarrant.”

“No?”

“You missed the trial. Murder in defence.”

Again a nod. “You never know.” Tarrant stood and handed me a data cube. “Re-animation, theory and practise. Orac's worst for my medic. There's a reader in your cabin. D-eighteen, I'm to your right.” He traipsed back down the aisle.

Had I only teleported him and piloted Scorpio. My feet I found clumsy as if stuck in mud to cabin D-18. I learnt, as famished as if my mastery of re-animation science were of use to Blake.

#

With a dictionary from the medical bank I managed. Translations of alien work, history of human trials. Human re-animation achieved New Calendar 286. Beyond Orac to determine the feasibility for Blake. Yet whether or not I'd had credence before, I granted the chance.

Deep in cytology, neogenesy, I had the bad dream again. That estranged me in the tracking gallery, I was him again, lived the murder. Tried to analyse.

I saw Blake. Truly Blake, to my intransigent demand. Blake to use, Blake to be used because I won't be wasted. There he was, and resembled – ship's gravity, again. After an idiot had switched it off. My imagery I'd keep to myself.

He told me poor but honest was history. He told me to my face.

The dream jumped time. We were under fire. Blake was hit, Blake was hit in the gut. He's dead, I thought. He wasn't, he kept his feet, he tried to walk, to me – to me, Blake, try, try.

And I did that. And I did that.

Nearly I blasted off my other hand. I had to live, but a temptation to blast a hand, to hurt, to mitigate the hurt. I knew I'd feel great serenity. And knew the shock had me crazed. I didn't, I waited.

Without technophobia, there was a ghoulish side. Who, the station in chaos, decided on this weird sophisticated science? The medic? Deva? The five other dead had been left dead. Blake, if they resurrect you, you're going to hate that. Don't be modest, Blake, I'd admonished years ago. The rebellion needs you.

As to my dream. Not much sickens me more than sentimental lies. Clearly I can shoot the guts out of a man I am indebted to but I can't face up to my actions. What murder? cowers my memory. I am disowned.

#

An hour until Orbital Asclepios. I washed. Drank a glass of water, greedy to. Unnatural past the throat. I found the galley, and in the repugnant aroma selected the nutriet sponge they clap on the spacesick. Had me in mind of the ritual up to capital punishment. The dread had set in. Then to the flight deck.

I walked in a machine for the service of Blake, my mask harsh.

Of my group, Vila and Tarrant were there. Tarrant mustered a grim glint of teeth, Vila gazed between his feet. Deva acknowledged me. “Avon. I was about to alert you.” I half believed him. Mine not to intrude on Blake's next-in-charge, mine to watch for oversights. I stood to the rear of the deck.

Asclepios hung under the amber moon of a gas planet. Yes or no for Blake. A white wheel in the sky and the planet queued with traffic. Deva hailed the orbital. We were a syndicate from the mines of Gauda Prime, Amuga Johns a victim to the anarchy there. If his earnings can buy him back, insisted Deva the frontier capitalist. A secretary to the governor of Arcos had been re-animated here last year. For his friend he had to try.

A message back, voice only. Cautions about failure, and about cost. Deva muttered, “I'd be happy were the cost more than his bounty.”

“They'd never have another incognito client,” I said.

He twisted to me. “You're right. The danger is Federation eyes in there.”

“We guard him.”

“Throughout. Johns had tenaciously anxious friends.”

Questions next from the orbital. Cause and time of death. Treatment of patient since. State of patient. The medic I knew from Blake's station stepped up. Three bullets to torso. Two unremoved, third had penetrated. Sternum fracture. Oesophagus perforated. Graze to heart.

My ears shut. When she had finished I said, “Orac, eavesdrop on transmissions out of Asclepios for mention of Blake, Amuga Johns or our ship.”

“Party to go with him.” Deva straightened his back. “You and I, Avon, Medic Grey, Trujdar. And Tarrant and Vila?”

“If they like.”

“We like.” Tarrant marched over. “Arms?”

“Funny if we didn't,” answered Deva. “We're from Gauda Prime, we're paranoid.”

Yes from the orbital for a test of Blake's potential. A synopsis of re-animation science to warn us again of the rarity. Lastly, a human note. “The patient has nothing to lose. Those close to the patient have hope to lose. Orbital Asclepios wishes life to Amuga Johns.”

“And a stack of cash,” drawled Vila aside to Tarrant.

The medic and a rough type named Trujdar went for Blake's biostasis capsule. We met at the freighter's shuttle. They floated him past me. In there he hadn't changed. In there, the front of his shirt was spattered wet. His throat stretched back. An eye up. As beneath me, when I faced the guns and told him, for you. Told the world, for him.

I must have wanted the world to know where I stood.

Nearby, Tarrant shoved Vila away and grated, “You don't have to go.” Queasy or not, Vila ended up in the shuttle.

Yes or no, Blake, I thought to him as Tarrant flew us to the wheel against the amber moon. The no is for you and for me, Blake.

Our shuttle docked to instructions. Into a milky tunnel we trooped, Deva at Blake's head. A robot waited. “Anything live in this orbital?” queried Vila. Then he cringed.

Tarrant strode through us to Deva. “He's our comedian. Here we go.” We followed the robot. I saw Deva's neck quiver but his face was stern and wary. He wasn't armed. Trujdar had a laser and grenade pouch. Cameras, hatches, and I doubted the robot unmilitant. You don't steal your healing arts here.

The robot ushered us into the ward of Stras Heaney, re-animation scientist. A gaunt man in his fifties with quiet eyes. He smiled at us, touched the biostasis capsule, and glanced to Blake's face before his injuries. “Johns was a miner? Thirty-six, thirty-eight?”

His voice and his eyes I trusted. I didn't have to trust him far, the patient had nothing to lose.

Deva ummed about Blake's age. “Thirty-six,” I said.

“Young. I'm afraid I need three-quarters of an hour. The newness of my science forbids me to be definite. But if I can say yes, I do so in the strong belief he is to live, in mind as you knew him.” With that, he drew Blake from the medic and through another door.

Trujdar scowled at Deva, who flickered a hand to keep him on his leash. “Who counts down?” asked Tarrant.

“I do entreat not.” Deva surveyed them, poignant but with nothing else to say. Think the worst, I'd have told them.

I did. We were just where we were in the ring of troopers, Blake dead, me to join him. I have done the worst, yet I give my death to you. There I mused. Strange to say, more at peace than – perhaps for years. The worst has happened? Possibly this is peace for Blake. No, Blake isn't young. Blake wore the world on his shoulders, until I shot him from under it. There's no escape for you, Blake, yes or no?

Half an hour. I glanced up. Statues the group of them.

Am I your killer, if I give my death? In the fact. Not in the truth of me. I don't ask your endorsement, Blake, I hate to say. Live and do my work, you'd urge me. A strong case, and not a feat beyond me. But – this is crucial. Do you understand? I scarcely do.

I go with glory, in my sight.

You'd understand, Blake, in spite of yourself. Yes. To push our diction into an intersection. There is a time for the ideal to overarch the real. A bullet in my brain, Blake, has a significance I won't live in the absence of. Known as a futile gesture. Known to me, here and now, as proof.

“Nearly time,” gentle from Deva. Tarrant trod furtively up behind me. Vila stared vacantly and twitched.

No for you is no for me, Blake. No for you is no for me.

The door started the slide. Dread clutched my gut and I stormed against no for Blake. The re-animator said, “Yes. I believe Johns can be saved.”

Deva gave a heavy gasp and squeezed his fists against his head. Vila caved in to choked sobs. Tarrant thanked the scientist with great courtesy and charm. Medic Grey and Trujdar kissed and laughed into each other's faces. I swore to live.

Into the blaze of heaven, the robot quoted the cost. I noticed Heaney slide it an eye of contempt.

#

Heaney had a passion for his work, but then is there greater? We listened to his description of the resurrection-to-be of Blake, fascinated and left behind, though our medic pursued. Out of Vila, abysmal jests. That I was overjoyed is true but amusement was beyond me. Science undoes a murder – for the murdered, not for the murderer. But Blake is going to live, in fifty to sixty hours, with his surgery.

Is Servalan to hear? “Why, Avon, I hear you stabbed Blake in the back. Why, Avon? Did you find your back against that wall that waits?” Yes, I must have done. I found Blake corrupt and found what is too much for me. There's a stranger in my mind more cynical than I am, who had the fantasy. In sixty hours, Blake, I have to answer you why.

Don't I trust you? I had understood I did. I had treasured up the power of trust to use vanishingly rarely. It's lost.

The resolve I didn't lose, for a dead face living, to live with whatever had happened to me.

#

After payment, Deva contemplated in the earshot of only me, “My decision was strategic. But not to his directives, even against them.”

“The king's ransom?”

Wry, shrewd eyes in encounter with mine. “Yes, quite.”

To save Blake, over the others. An astronomical figure to times by six. I gave my verdict. “Ask not what your mining syndicate has done for you – ask what you can do for your mining syndicate. He can do more than most. A hard fact he isn't ignorant of.”

“Isn't ignorant of? He's ignored me thoroughly.” Deva puffed under his unkempt russet hair.

“Modesty. Not to be humoured.” I nearly, nearly said, leave him to me. I missed Blake. I never discussed him. Certainly I never missed him, whilst unlikely to get him. – I miss eccentric things.

“The day the syndicate triumphs he has to forgive me.”

“I fancy he can have gratitude quicker than that,” I frowned. “May I inquire whose the money was?”

“Whose? Ours. His.”

The usual confusion. Stiffly I stated, “It has my attention.” My financial heart. But I had cost them an astronomical figure.

Deva stiffened. Ignoble of me to attend to money. “I don't see the need. Had he been guarded, there'd be no harm done. My systems, and his detection, failed us.”

The spy had been with him, her neural suspender for sticky situations, if she hadn't been a spy. “The need is mine to see,” I persisted and sauntered aside.

Blake, join me. These people have no idea.

Deva constructed my actions into defence. To Dayna, an enemy's an enemy, even in a swoon upon the Sarran beach. I wasn't a murderer by that criteria. Tarrant? Recognises murder. But comradely to a fault, drags other people out of spacesuits when they're not. Knew I'd played down the quest for Blake. Enough of a romantic to dismiss crimes of passion?

Alone with my wrongdoing, I thought of Blake, alone in his sloughs. Never had he wasted himself. Swallowed the death of Gan to bite back at me.

My naïve days, Blake. Wade in blood up to your armpits. But even Star One wasn't blood enough to wear out the Federation. Free of you, free of the labyrinth. Is Blake a maniac? Have I erred? If there is a sin that sin is to destroy for a belief – if I had a belief that was it. Naiveté. In the face of Pylene-50 I don't need to believe. Here I am to fight to the last drop of blood we have.

What winning means I don't know, but I know we mustn't lose. Hard fact. Next to the work, that I murdered you isn't a damn.

#

To diminish stress, Blake had his surgery before animation. Surgery in Asclepios shamed the Liberator. We saw him in the machine, his healed breast, skin perfect, not even pale but rich. And they had eased his neck, shut his eye. His strong, quiet countenance, more him. The more a corpse for that. His dignity, my mirage, or the shape of his face.

What are we doing to you, Blake? I backed from the crowd. The dead can't sign consent for medical treatment. Though he'd left directives with Deva, no special treatment. Or perhaps I'm just shy.

In amnesia as to his alias, Vila named him Scarface. Heaney said, “Tidy the scar, or was he proud of it?” Deva deferred to me. There was no chance Blake was proud of his scar. But neither did I have jurisdiction over his face. The disfigurement remained.

Blake lay in tissue to the waist. His feet, among the tissue, wrong – the left gone. Missing foot. What he walked to me on must be cybersurgeon's work. I didn't think Vila had picked it up. Strangely, the inspection of surgery over, I had an attack of disquiet. Short breath. Had to go into the window bay to breathe. My lungs' effort, I theorised, to join the lachrymose majority. Quaint that his foot upsets me, I didn't do his foot.

Clinging to me. From his knees, clinging to me. My own throat throttled me at the memory of my name, cracked in his throat.

Just about tangible, the memory of Anna, in the cellar, kissing me, her arms about my neck. Why won't you touch me?

Didn't I? Touch you, Anna?

I leant my forehead against the window. Outside I saw the dark, I saw death. Anna had thought I'd hurt her. Anna thought I'd never believe her.

I hadn't believed Blake.

Since the year I had with Anna, I knew where non-monetary value was for me. I knew sentiment can be a transfiguration and not a self-delusion. Our love. She doubted mine, and yet I didn't. Had she told me, we'd be together. Is that untrue? If that's untrue I'm dead and have been.

No. I stared into the dark. No. Just because I hurt you, Blake. I'd never have hurt her.

#

Then his datal mistosis and the divine science, popularly, life. A wonder to enthral Blake – I thought of him with the animals the Lost had created. I thought of him thinking of Jenna, twelve weeks ago blasted to nothing.

Half a year with his army, and where he was before I'd have to ask him. I didn't anticipate Blake angry. Hindrances angered him. Murder? A trifle too serious, for excitement. No, he'd be, of the first importance, calm. In our rupture over Star One, Blake had striven for dispassion, given up the Liberator, his fairest. I thought to find him the same. His fairest when the trial is hardest. Why was his great question, always. Whatever out of the way I did, to hinder or to help, he'd pause in his way to ask me why.

I'm as surprised as you are, was as true as the last time. I had no answer. Three shots is purpose, or is panic. I've never panicked, gun in hand. His death I had no purpose for. I had no answer why. I had my condemnation of the act to give him, nothing else, but that he'd want.

If my condemnation is the truth – and that is quite the thorny question – I'd say, he's to shake my hand and forget it. Had Travis told him, I'm a butcher and I've no excuse, Blake might have shaken Travis's hand. Why not mine?

Beds and synthesisers were ours in Heaney's ward. Vila synthed champagne to toast Blake in. I said, “You're early.” He ignored me, and I ignored the toast to Blake. Vila's feud had gone on for eight weeks. It may go on forever. Blake had swept his general gloom away. The difference to me, he used to stare the ogre in the eyes. Now he stared askance.

To my faint disgust, I had the perviousness to find this discouraging.

There was an observatory. I watched, the hours Heaney worked, fatigue unknown to him with that rare gift, a patient. I was energetic from the nutrient sponge, and the physics of the brain are instructive for my field. Medic Grey and I discussed the organics of Zen, without names.

These people of Blake's, I thought odd. Call me a cynic, but in defence of my crew or not, I'd have expected a trace of ill nature. Blake is contagious, but is he an epidemic? I decided they were too happy.

Once the medic said, “I had one biostasis capsule and Johns was my first casualty. Deva is over conscientious.”

Yes, unless that were her story for Blake. Neither the freshest nor the least injured. The stun shock casualty had a far greater chance.

The medic and I were alone to see the signal of brain activity. “Life,” she snapped.

“Yes.” Blake is alive. Thoughts in his head. Motion, to that heavy, static figure. Alive to speak to me. Past time, Blake, I've discoursed to you.

The medic shone her eyes and lips at me. It may be I smiled.

Heaney faced us and asked us in. I gestured Grey ahead of me. Blake breathed. Unconscious, beneath dreams, for hours yet. Astir, his throat and mouth. His fingers twitched and he swallowed. I touched him, lay my heart over his heart. Heat and strong rhythm. Not murdered, but to go down to Federation guns, and me beside him by the statistics I told Servalan were fate. Watch out, Avon. Your sentiment.

She said that. Not you. I removed my hand from him and gave the scientist my praises. Heaney thought he'd brought back an unsavoury prospector who had made his stash on an open planet. He was jubilant. He'd like Roj Blake.

#

In the freighter's medical section I sat in near oblivion. Blake had now slept the hours Heaney had desired. I last slept in the forest. Me aside, Vila and Deva waited for the removal of his narcotic band. He was blessed with an alcove out of my sight.

“I feel criminal he's alive and hasn't known,” Deva declared.

Vila gave him his mildest smile of ridicule. “He doesn't know he doesn't know. If he did, he'd know, you know.”

“You must have missed him.”

“Miss Blake? Miss pursuit ships, derring-do, squads of troopers, derring-do – I'm smarter than that,” Vila nodded gravely.

“It's the quietest days I've had this year,” admitted Deva.

I wondered if I'd ever joke again, and wished I'd never met Blake. I hated Vila for his charm and hated Deva for not having murdered Blake. Why persevere? I can never be as I used to be before the tracking gallery. Blake lived, there's nothing wrong with Blake, but me, this alone I'm scarcely human.

The medic wanted from among us a face familiar to Blake, against the trauma. “Not Avon's,” voted Vila.

In Asclepios he hadn't spoken in my direction. “Nor yours, he might have forgotten it. Deva's, who has to brief him.”

“Right,” said Deva and went with Medic Grey.

Vila drifted about the furniture. I heard Blake, from his alcove, howl my name. I didn't care. You're fixed, Blake, but me? You brought me to this, Blake, you.

Nothing more we heard. Perhaps a quarter hour Deva was in there, and then he roamed out, ardent with his news. “Blake is clearheaded, though disturbed. I have briefed him, he even had a question or two. He's tired. But he's Blake, yes.” Deva slipped into a laugh. “Even his memory, right to the end. Heaney lost me with his lesson – I'm just amazed.”

“Eh, Blake's back,” Vila told the world, tenderly.

To Blake, the tracking gallery was a quarter hour ago. He had howled.

Deva stood before my seat. “Avon?” His face diffident and astute. “These days haven't been easy. I didn't know what happened.”

“Nor did you ask.”

“Ask whom?”

Me or my crew, who else? I grinned to discover I had been under suspicion. “You're not as dumb as I thought.”

“No.” He scratched an ear. “I didn't like the fact Blake had no gun. My other fact was his admiration for you.”

Known to be vast. “Is this an interrogation?”

He ignored me. “When Blake chose Horizon, he listed the qualities. Distant, defended, and known to Avon. I'll have him back if it's the last thing I do.” Deva beamed. “He'd hate me quoting him.”

There is nothing like the tactlessness of innocence. “Prophetic of Blake.”

“I'd have been happier, nevertheless, if you'd mentioned to me about Arlen.”

My belligerence alone hid my puzzlement. “You didn't interrogate me, did you?”

“No. I didn't.” Deva stepped back. “I can be found on the flight deck.” He walked from medical.

Vila wrinkled his nose. “What did he mean about the spy?”

Ah. Arlen is the spy? Blake has a story about the spy. That she incriminated him. I have to admire you, Blake, you were only just briefed about her. You truly astound me. “He meant,” I told Vila, once I figured it out, “Blake has lied to him. To clear me.”

Vila eyed me like a morose weasel. “Sticking up for you.”

“It won't stand up in court.” Court? Wasn't important. Blake's instinct was to defend me.

“Same old Blake. Used to be fond of you, you know.”

My wit was in a renaissance. “Blake used to be fond of much that was fatal.” I am joking about his death. He lied to clear me. He is in there and he lied for me.

“Avon, I'm curious. What are going to say to Blake?”

“I'm going to say I'm sorry to Blake.”

“That's unnatural.”

“Naturally I don't do things to be sorry for.” We stared, as unamused as each other.

Until Vila said, “Going to tell him you have the morals of a cut-throat?”

“That I might leave to you.”

“Do you kid yourself I'd have done the same to you? Maybe if I had the guts?”

He had guts. He had the guts to disdain to fear me. He had the guts to tell me he had thought we were friends. “One of us had to, Vila. Unfortunately for you, I recognized it had to be me.”

“I'm not a whiz as a cut-throat,” he said.

“Malodar ought to teach you to practice.”

Vila scuffed his shoes. “Blake's tired, I guess. Welcome him back later. See you around, Avon, unfortunately for me.” He left me alone.

Medic Grey passed by, from the alcove to a cabinet behind me. I had no idea what it was like to come to the end. Or to be started up again by a novelty of science. I asked her, “Traumatic for him, medic?”

“He quietened marvelously. In fact, he's just said to me, this is the most peculiar of his vicissitudes. I sketched out re-animation for him – he wasn't aware we'd achieved it.” With an injector Grey paused in front of me, her curly hair in a knot, though wild at the temples. “In his own time, Avon.”

“I'm merely using your furniture,” I claimed.

“He knows you're aboard, from Deva.” Then she cocked her head. “Which of you is the ghastlier sight, I'd be rude to say.” Into his alcove she vanished.

Peculiar vicissitudes. I doubted I had long to wait. Tough, isn't he?

And before remotely long, Medic Grey was back. “He's asked to see you. Don't tire him, Avon, but I won't intrude.”

I had a revolt and snarled to the ground, “Medic Grey, I shot him. Is it wise?”

From her I heard, “A terrible thing between you. Blake can't be easy until you see him.”

With a nod I pushed up from my seat and sleepwalked past her. I may have bumbled into Blake's alcove. The living dead meets the living dead. Before I glanced his way I sat in the chair beside his bed. Said, “Here I am, Blake.” Waited. One last time I waited for him.

“And here I am.” His voice, rich, and tranquil. “Awes me. Don't know about you.”

He lay with an arm behind his head, and his eyes toward the ceiling. Lively and fascinating, from the vein in his wrist to the moisture of his eye and mouth. I admitted to him, “My scalp is crawling.”

Blake laughed.

My scalp crawled down the nape of my neck, I think. It's science, I told myself. It's nothing but Blake laughing. “Glad to rejoin us?” I observed. For it was hard to miss that he was.

“Wildly.” He caught his lip in his teeth, and swerved his eyes to me. As if the sight of me didn't bother him. “If I'm slow to the point, yes, I am.”

I spread my hands. “Not in the least.” Since he set me at my ease, I'd co-operate. “That is the major point.”

“You spent money on it.”

He made me smile. Since he must have me smile, I did my grimaced best. “Oh, not mine, Blake.”

To that he said, “You're more yourself.”

“Yes.” We were onto the point. Up to me. I wiped at my grimace with the knuckles of my fist. I wasn't at my ease, but his effort served as a reminder of whom I had shot. “I hear there wasn't corrosion of your memory? And I don't have to narrate to you the comedy of errors from mine.” Not much of a start. Is he to find in that I lived because he did?

“No, you don't have to narrate. Except, I can't tell corrosion from lights out. There no-one but you can help me out.”

I didn't quite throw away my resolutions, get up from my chair and go. “Yes, I can establish – your time of death.”

“I keeled over. Is that the last thing you think I ought to know?”

He is tough. He isn't squeamish. Unless about oxygen starvation of the brain. Or is his bravado for me? “Yes. The last thing I know you ought to know.”

“Thank you. I'm told I'm the eighty-sixth homo sapiens to rise from brain death. I've been where you haven't, haven't I?”

“Heaven?” I guessed.

“Of course.”

He was music to hear and he tantalized my sight. His face healthy, his spirits high at the unexpected denouement. But he'd sent for me, not just for me to catch his joy to be alive. “I'm here to answer your questions, Blake. Go ahead.”

“You're here for me to know you the Kerr Avon of my acquaintance.” He gazed into me, with a curve to his mouth.

As if he meant to mesmerise me into me, if I wasn't. And, in the tracking gallery, hadn't he? “That's a question,” I told him. “The answer is, no, the stranger you met isn't my latter day standard.” Then I murmured, “This is quite new.”

“Another question. When were you rid of the nonsense?”

I didn't attempt to analyse the thrust of his questions. What for? To dodge them? To brace against a verdict, that I've earnt? I concentrated on my accuracy.

My nonsensical suspicions, I had given up, at the time he grabbed my arms. Tarrant told me he sold us. Unlikely, unless Blake was not Blake and that had been done before. I remembered he said, it's me.

It's me, isn't proof. I must have known him by his face. “The nonsense was up to when you laid your hands on me. After, my failure to do much, was just stupefaction.” Next? I glanced at him, guardedly.

His gaze – I half-imagined – was a shaft of light into me. “Those are my critical questions.”

Blake isn't going to prompt me to own myself in the dismal wrong, is he? Up to me. “Then, I have a statement.”

“Yes, Avon?”

I had a statement. If I had honour, if I had honesty. I pictured him between my feet. Too late then. Too late, but to be dead with him. For that moment, I had this moment. I spoke to Blake. I avoided his eyes. For a spontaneity I am bad at, I spoke straight from my thoughts of the past days. “I am disowned. I've no memory of the shots, or the intention to shoot. Until the memory slinks out I do not know why. I believed you – corrupt, or brainwashed perhaps. That is no excuse. Today, and most days, just not the one in question, I'd reverse the gun. Before I murdered you.” I spat my statement.

“Avon.” His voice a grieved caress. “Nothing there I once doubted.”

I felt as if – I'd had my soul in pawn, and he'd lent me the cash. Just the way I felt. I'd searched for Blake, for his uses, and because he is this. What I thought of to say was overwrought. True, but overwrought. I stood, and without the glance I knew an embarrassment to us both, left him.

Blake isn't perfect but there are times I don't quibble. That I might have said, I thought in retrospect. “You're not perfect, Blake, but for the moment I won't quibble.”

“That's a first,” he'd have said.

Silence is best.

#

He pushed at the gun. Pitched to his knees, clutching me. His fingers gouged. He gasped into my face. My name. In sad blame, my name. My name in damnation.

I moaned into consciousness.

“Avon? Avon?”

The cabin speaker. Voice of Deva. I thumbed the switch by my bed and croaked, “What?”

“Sorry. Blake wishes to see you.”

Just at that time that was bizarre. “Does he?”

“Uh, it's urgent, I think.”

A setback? “What's wrong?”

“Nothing's wrong – with him – but he was very urgent.”

I switched off. Splashed my face, stumbled into my suit and walked to medical straightening my hair. Very urgent? Must be the rebukes he forgot.

Medic Grey smiled from her console. Why Blake's medic smiled at me I didn't know. “Go in, he's alone.”

I stepped into his alcove. Blake, braced up in bed, whirled, even his half-shut eye wide with fright. At the sight of me, he went deadpan.

In a leap of deduction I knew what was urgent. My life. I'd been shut up in my cabin, until he started to think I'd stated my last statement. He flattered me. I hadn't, and therefore, he'd never know I'd had it in me. Roughly I said, “No, you needn't have woken me up, Blake. I'm not as penitential as you.”

He cradled his jaw, and snorted at me. “No. You keep your perspective. I don't, idle in here. Going back to sleep?”

“I've slept.”

“Then catch up with me.” Angling his bed to lean against in comfort, he creased his eyes.

From the entrance, with my arms crossed, I told him, “In perspective, you have Orac, which has teleport schematics, and news to interest you, coded Zombie.”

“I've sorely missed Orac, and the teleport.”

“Not a bad deal.”

Blake stroked his mouth. “Do you mean, for three days demised? Not a bad deal. I was puzzled to find your Wanderer. To do with your Soolin?”

“To do with you. Orac traced you to Gauda Prime.”

“Traced me?”

“Don't ask. Orac works in mysterious ways.”

“Orac won't when I ask. I don't care to be traced. Nostalgia, Avon?”

His usualness clashed with the hangover from my dreams. I spoke before I thought. “I wasn't reminiscent of much. I owe you money. Transport to and from Horizon used to be rare.”

He glanced into a corner. The only sign he gave of disappointment.

I am, as I am always, as free to go as though he can do what we did without me.

“It isn't now.” Eyes back again to me. “Courtesy of Jenna's blackmarket riches, we've ships to spare.”

“I asked about transport.” I didn't ask to hear he doesn't need my money. Certainly I did not ask to be rewarded with a ship. I fumed, as glaciers do.

“Have to ask Deva. He knows the equipment runs, I think you've a choice of two or three in the next fortnight.”

Glorious. For nostalgia's sake I've abandoned him, that over we can catch up. “You knew Cally dead.”

“Yes, I did. From the bounty lists. Vila told me about Servalan's trap.”

“Elaborate. And while she was elaborate with me her presidency was stolen.” I bared my teeth. Then I joined him within the alcove and perched my hip against the end of his bed. Because I had under a fortnight, or because her name had come up, I thought I'd – plumb the depths of philosophy, as we used to do. “I've met Servalan often, Blake. I might have done with your moral profundities.”

“Might you?”

I had learnt to hate and hate clouded my mind. I knew he knew the problem. He had battled his. But Travis was demented, whereas Servalan – “She is beyond my profundity,” I said to Blake. “She wiped out Auron. As Sleer she runs the Pacification Programme. I know her. She has even tried to captivate me. If she can't capture me. I've witnessed --” I do not think there is the wisdom, Blake – “she has sensibilities.”

Pensively Blake listened. “Human evil remains a paradox to me. I only know both words belong.”

To me that was a great deal to know. I had the sense he hadn't said that before. Nor had I said what I said. Blake found words to describe her – if words I'd never heard him use. Where I had stared at her and scarcely believed my eyes enough to think. But I have inch by inch conceded my naiveté next to him. The naiveté of a man who thought morals were for children. Servalan isn't for children. “She's the tale of my two years.” Under the sheet, he wore both feet. “You left a foot behind in your travels.”

It amused him. “My two years is a motley tale. Avon, any chance I hear why you're going? Or were you just tired of the ownership of Orac?”

“No.” Head at a slant, I peered past him. To disarm him with my simplicity. “Not nostalgia, Blake. I came with a purpose. As may be rumoured, I have stood up and been counted. Unfortunately, I can't stand up and be counted with you. As a great consolation I imagine I can dump upon you several misfits I've gathered.”

“Since you find that unfortunate, I find that frustrating. Yes, I've heard the rumours about you. I thought we'd best put our heads together. I still think we'd best. If there's nothing else preventing you. What can I do towards it?”

He disarmed me. I heard from me to him, I heard a stranger I was unashamed to be, I heard simplicity, “You've done the utmost there is for you to do. You have forgiven me, Blake.”

“That's a start,” said an undisconcerted Blake. “I'm acquainted with remorse, Avon, I'm a fund of the art of living with it. I don't think your usual complaint goes.” He paused for stress, and deepened his voice. “I understand.”

He did, or close to, and I became reckless. What I said I said. “Remorse isn't the question. Justice is. I lack the sense of injustice to stare you in the face as if I did nothing.” With that I glared him in the eyes through the image of my dream. I thought of the circles of hell. Where you do over and over the worst thing you did. There is no hell. There is the rest of my life. I can't spend it with him.

Blake had no trouble to meet my eyes. Now he didn't hide his determination. He'd been determined to salvage the situation since he discovered himself alive. But Blake had done nothing wrong. Blake is indomitable when he has done nothing wrong. “What I can do, is stare you in the face as if you've done far more for me than you've done against me.” A noise in his throat. “One less I owe you.”

“Blake. You know that a mockery.”

“I've told you how I feel,” he said from his throat.

“How you feel,” I pounced, at an easy target. “How do you judge?”

Narrowed dusky eyes scorched me. “Yes, you're a friend of mine. No, I haven't suspended my judgement for you. Can you stare me in the face and know the same?”

One of us had his wits about him. I didn't think it me.

Blake had a point. I was not a beau ideal of dispassion this morning. I thought of him, guilty of the death of Gan. His philosophical flea had instructed him in detachment. Stay alone to live. In practice that had meant to Blake, don't go down with Gan. Detachment from Blake before a decision, detachment to live with him. Forget.

“As I once said about you in your absence.” I bared my teeth at him again. “Penitence is self-pity.”

“I honour penitence.”

“I don't, when a nuisance to those around you.”

“Fair, as I thought at the time. Fair but cruel, in your medicinal fashion.” He smiled impishly.

I'd kicked him in the teeth. Medicinal? It had made him fight. But my purpose had been to kick him in the teeth.

I wished he'd do the same for me.

“I'm going to think in my cabin, Blake.”

He helped me with, “Don't do as I do, do as I say.”

“I don't much plan to do either,” he frowned.

Before I was out of medical, I had thought. A hardship to me to work with him. The hardship to him is if he went through that for no gain. I had a choice of whose hardship. With the idea to avoid self-pity. It was quite clear.

And where is justice? Where justice never isn't, in the mind. I know my guilt. I don't have to demonstrate it. I won't punish Blake with it.

If it hurts to see him I won't complain.

With that agenda, my strength of mind came back.

#

Outside our quarters, Soolin chanced upon me. She said she'd unearthed a chess set in her boredom, and now clamoured only for competition.

I hadn't seen her since I erased the great figurehead of the rebellion. Therefore I consented to play chess. In the strong suspicion that the idiocy prerequisite to staying with me had lately soared beyond her ambitions.

Chin in hand, she played fiendishly, a pearl ribbon mazy through her hair. “The idealist figurehead plan is off, Avon?”

“That remains to be determined.” I hadn't given him my answer yet.

“By the figurehead?”

“Blake hates to waste pieces. Once he tried to use the Terra Nostra. I am of use. You are a stranger to his drive.” He lost in the translation, but these points were true.

Her blonde brows arched. “By you, then?”

“By me for me and by yourselves for yourselves.”

Trapping my knight engaged her. She dangled my knight at me and smirked, then ahead with the inquisition. “Orac cautioned us he may be a bounty hunter.”

Indeed. And when he sought to elucidate, why didn't you, the sensible Soolin, shoot me in the back? “I imagined him in camouflage as the hunter to avoid being the hunted.”

“Until he gloated to Tarrant.”

There I splayed my fingers as an answer.

“And you didn't care for your idealist unidealistic.”

I did notice her pronoun. I noticed what she meant. Is that a question, or are you merely meditating upon the miracle? I believe in Blake? Of course. Over the chess, I perused her as though this were tedious. Caught her bishop, and waited.

To win I needed an hour, and Soolin asked nothing else. She saw me from her cabin without a distant clue to her intentions.

Drumming up the troops, Blake, isn't my forte. I have cast upon you the glamour of my testimonial. Over to you.

#

Back to medical. Out of his alcove, at the console, stood Blake, in trousers and boots and fastening a cream shirt. His dark curls brambly, his eyes crinkling to see me. The Liberator might have been yesterday.

“Up and about?” I said, in no very ungratified tone of voice.

“If I behave.” He grinned at Medic Grey. “I hear we have a new engine, Avon.” Shirt done up, he slung his hands from his hips. “Time distort fifteen. An invention of yours?”

“Who am I, Leonardo da Vinci?”

A notion he pondered. “Avon's vain,” he asserted to Medic Grey. “Am I right to go?”

“Yes, Blake. Don't push yourself.”

“Thank you for your care. Not to mention your conversation. I can't stand sickbeds as a rule.”

I think he slew her heart. Typical. Then he strode to me, touched my shoulder easily, and before I knew, I was in journey beside Blake through the freighter. “Where are you going?” I inquired.

“Flight deck. Where are you going?”

I gritted my teeth. He heartened me. I had to grit my teeth, or shine with the fact I was here. “I'm not. You win.”

“Took me five years,” answered Blake. “Why?”

“Why, Blake?” We were in a lift of naked metal. I didn't write a thesis, but stuck to the bare bones. “I've investigated Pylene-50. I've investigated Servalan. I've spent two years investigating. Up against what I have seen of late, I don't think your fanaticism a bad thing.”

Blake's face didn't give much away. He thought to himself, and I perceived he had lived two years since our times, and not just me. I'd have to ask him about them, again. From the lift. In the next passage Blake said, “Do you know, Avon, I admire you for the five years.”

“I hate fanatics.” His word – not mine. A word beneath us both. In spite of the pressure he'd been under at the time, I reminded him of it.

“Yes. That I concluded for you.” He glanced over me, with his traditional slightly martyred patience. “Until necessary.”

“Then I use them.” I grinned. With my notorious charm.

“After five years, I trust you to use me in a conscientious fashion.”

He has a way with words. My five years' indecision, my wasted time, Blake christens my conscience. I pursued an interest of my own: what led him to say he was waiting for me. “You had the idea you'd see me again. Deva informs me.”

“At least, I had the idea you'd be as suspicious of the Federation, as of me.”

“And decide you were right.”

“And decide you see the necessity I do. I had an early start, Avon.”

“Is this your definition of trust?” I queried. Not to be provocative. To have the past past. Start from scratch. We've a foundation for trust, now. We never had one. Or just the once, when I had asked the question, can't you trust me, just this once?

Blake trod along with his flesh and his cybernetic foot. “Deciding I'm right? No. I didn't count on it.”

Which left what, in fact, for him to count on, to answer me then as he had? Idly I remarked to him, “You have an ideal definition.” And I started to suspect my mood.

“Do I?”

Why I raked up the past I don't know but I did. “Here in time and space, we're headed for Horizon, where I might have run.”

“I thought you might have,” Blake remembered at once. No sign of chagrin. “The deterrence of the Terra Nostra. Horizon is remote, I had no wish to be stranded there. Even with a decent case behind you.”

“You were right, Blake, I might have run,” I purred to his cheek. “I asked why you travesty words.”

If I was in a rage, he was. “I didn't trust you to be loyal.” His eye blazed at me. His breath was hot. “But if you weren't, I trusted you to be right. Is that the travesty you mean, Avon?”

I'd provoked Blake into a declaration, again, and again he declared more than I bargained for. It had the terrible import that if worst came to worst he trusted me over himself.

I pushed him about trust because I killed him.

“I mean,” I decided I meant, as I decided my rage was for me, “your ideal trust eluded me, for I know nothing of the word.”

Blake didn't answer. I didn't wonder.

We were at the flight deck steps. To go up Blake grasped the rail, and I hadn't the hypocrisy to help him with a hand. Halfway up he said, “Those days. For your own satisfaction you had to stay, answer for yourself. My side, you must have thought futile.”

“No. Blake,” I said in tired justice to him. “I thought the truth served. For you.” He'd stopped and I stopped.

He whispered to me, “You trusted I'd forgive you?” As if he had scored a great point.

I stared into his fervent stare. “I know you, don't I?” my half rebuttal.

“Hm.” He pulled himself up a step. “What's your definition of trust?”

I was snappy. “Faith.”

“Now you're being perverse.”

To play with Blake, after what had happened, enchanted me.

Tarrant was on the flight deck, hobnobbing with the pilot. His teeth glittered at the sight of Blake. He neared us, with fake sangfroid. I said, “Blake, this is Tarrant. Tarrant, this is Blake.”

“I've figured that out,” nodded Tarrant.

Blake smiled. “As have I. The bounty list biographies don't tell the inside story.”

“And my background is diverse.”

“A background in the military must be handy. Without Avon to enlighten me I had to rely on our methods. I knew you fly for him but I knew no further.”

“I'm sure your methods more enlightening,” said Tarrant. “One matter confuses me.”

“Yes?” asked Blake, with a clandestine check over his physique.

“We eliminated two of your people.”

“Yes, I saw.”

The brevity of that left Tarrant at a loss. “Clumsy,” he criticised. Who he criticised was up for grabs.

I savoured his certain if thus far miraculously escaped death, for his ethical pose on behalf of those of his shipmates who had eliminated Blake's people. Well. He'd find himself out of his league with Blake.

Tarrant is decent. Blake is moral.

“Our architecture was clumsy,” agreed Blake. “We had a house of cards on Gauda Prime.” A finger to me. “Your flyer, Avon, was the last contingency I needed. I ordered security from your path --”

Tarrant interrupted him. “The station belonged to you. We encountered hostilities. People lost their lives. Is my military and mercenary background alarming enough for the result?”

There are going to be fireworks, I thought.

Blake started again, from the start. “The Tracking and Analysis Station was a front. The civilians ignorant of what we were up to, Jude and Klyn, the people you mean, among them. I had to keep our cover. Intruders were security's business.”

“I see. They made us their business.”

Blake was gruff. “A pity.”

“A great pity for them,” agreed Tarrant.

Throughout this I gazed at the stars. Here I translated, lest Tarrant think him a bastard again. Lest Blake think I need my lessons spelt out. I didn't bother to note I don't answer for the others. Blake despised that line. “Blake means, a pity we didn't thump the civilians. Who thumped you. Lazy, Blake. Gauda Prime was a war, we hadn't run into any neutrals. I believe I recommended to my crew to ask questions later.” That shouldering of responsibility, I thought sterling of me.

“They weren't neutral, they employed me to hunt,” he corrected without dramatics. “They just weren't armed. I assumed them safe from Tarrant, since he wasn't armed. I assumed them safe from you. No matter the planet.”

My head swam. I gazed at stars.

I didn't object that Soolin thought her gun organic to her. What of me? I'd inspected that rifle, at the use, for a knockout charge and found none. In her call to security I thought I hadn't the leisure. I wasn't going to circumstantiate about that rifle to Blake, and I said what I had said. “We were lazy.”

“The road to hell is frequently a shortcut,” he said. He waited for a comeback.

He heard none. The swimming of my head slowed, to imagery of ship's gravity. Moral gravity. Isn't this what I wanted him for? I do not want to find one day I am on the other side. The day Servalan said she waited for. No, Blake didn't hear a comeback.

“Joining me in Deva's quarters?” he asked both of us.

Behind him, Tarrant and I jousted eyes. I hoped that entertained my pilot. Blake can rap me over the knuckles and ignore the irony. But Tarrant must be confused at what he raps me for. They just weren't armed.

In the captain's quarters, Blake had time to seat Tarrant, before Deva had him in an armchair with a hot cup. I leant against the darkened window to the flight deck, rear of Blake, and didn't partake of the tea party.

Jocosely Deva told his leader, “They inquired about touching up your scar, in Asclepios. But we never decided who was to decide.” Blithe to depict 'we' as ridiculous.

“Jenna swore it dashing.”

Eerily, I heard her laugh, as if among us, flirting with him.

“I thought it shady,” volunteered Tarrant, at home in his chair with his shins sprawled. “But then you were.”

“Not me. Ask Avon.”

“Yes, I have tried from time to time.”

Blake threw his curious amusement over his shoulder to me. I differ, Blake, I thought at him. I don't enjoy being haunted.

“Uh, Blake,” dared Deva, up on his feet and hovering. “About your accident.”

I admired his linguistic skills. I caught the closure of Blake's face, before he faced front. “What is it?”

“The general surmise has been --” he scratched his forehead – “you were a casualty of the Federation attack.”

That must be why nobody has strung me from the gantry. Blake discarded his cup to the arm of his chair. “The general surmise?”

“At headquarters, and on board. Outside of Medic Grey and me.”

Between them, Tarrant squinted at me. What do you want me to do, Tarrant, wear a sign? The hand I clasped in front of me had gone cold and scaly, like lizard. The last time I had been in court, I'd scorned the charges.

“How?” demanded Blake. “The Federation used stun.”

“And grenades. A stray rifle, after the battle in the tracking gallery? I don't know whether Avon has described the situation. He'd had an indirect hit, and he --” There Deva halted, and peeked at me, to go on for him. Too mannerly for the witness box.

“He neglected to confess,” I drily told the back of Blake's head. “I was concussed. As I recall, I said the aliens did it. A story I have since considered beyond the credulity of even your people.”

“Yes, Blake.” Deva's greyish eyes stayed on me, keen and clear. “And in his concussion, he was found sheltering your body with his own, from the battle. Our people weren't to surmise other than they do.”

The comedy, I had to admit, was splendid. Blake had gone quiet, and I didn't imagine he was hugely amused. I asked Deva the obvious. “Why haven't you acquainted your people with the facts?”

“As you know, I didn't gather the facts. And I'm glad I didn't guess them. I waited for the facts from Blake. Arlen arrested you. With a Federation agent at his side, Blake had no chance to unravel his games. As a traitor to the rebellion, with what he knows, he had to be killed. To speak for myself, I doubt I possess the resolution to act as you did.”

I doubted I possessed the resolution to stand here and listen to the heroization of my murder of Blake. I said, “Blake is a liar.”

“Deva,” growled Blake over my sentence. “Squabble later. I was dead yesterday.”

Deva heard Blake. He didn't hear me. He wiped his hands up and down his tunic. “I'm sorry. Disturbs you, Roj. We're at Horizon tomorrow, and I had an apology for Avon.” He slipped past me, out to the flight deck. He had cried for Blake.

The three of us were left in silence. Until Tarrant wondered, “When did Arlen arrest us, Avon?”

I had spent this time in contemplation of the back of Blake's head. Blake who intended to conceal the circumstances of his death. And presumably depended upon me to. To Tarrant I said, “I didn't notice.” That was the truth. “Ask Blake.”

“Yes,” from Blake. “I mistimed the arrest, Tarrant. Avon hasn't lied. Now he and I need privacy.”

As ordered, Tarrant stood up, and paced over to me. “I've been told to leave you with your lawyer.” Then he paced outside.

“Don't mind my pilot's wit,” I murmured to Blake. “He just thinks perjury beneath him. I thought your lie your noble instinct to leap to the defence. Not a plot.” Blake was the last one to speak in euphemisms of murder. Or else why had I found him in jail?

“Right now my lie is my noble distaste for your persecution.”

“Right now the quest for justice is persecution,” I said. “Is it?”

“Where's your practicality, Avon?” he challenged.

I blinked, and bethought me of the consequences of the truth. The gantry was melodramatic. But the truth was a great nuisance. To our work. “If you fail to persuade your followers to work with me, Blake.” You can tell the nature of the beast by how the beast deals with nuisances. I used to play the nuisance to Blake. Just to test him. “Then that is your followers' right to decide. An informed decision might be thought obligatory.”

His shoulders hunched. “You'd have to talk a fair bit more than your wont, Avon. Before those who don't know you are in a position to judge you. At times, my team has to trust to my decisions. That's my job.”

Ah yes, he was persuasive. But this time he wasn't persuasive enough. “Having an army has gone to your head, Blake. I do not lie about murder, you may do as your love of the truth permits you.” My voice echoed in my ears, seductive, contemptuous. The voice I had for Servalan. Blake, the power his charisma gave him, and corruption, had long been a triangle I feared to see joined up. My crime may not be of great moment. But the next?

He bent his head. “Avon.” Cautious. Very serious. “I believe, the difference between us here, is only ostensible.”

“No, Blake.” Here I don't cross, after you. This ostensible line. “It isn't.”

“Hear me out.”

“Hear yourself, Blake,” I lilted.

“Least, grant me more time than in my station.”

That shut me up. That even made me question my grand righteous stance. Is this Star One again?

Blake seized his chance to speak. “You've twice used a word I don't use of what you did to me. Murder. Why that word, Avon?”

I changed my mind. Blake's mercy has clouded Blake's justice. That I didn't contemn in him. I even apologised. “Because I shot you dead. The fact you're alive is our great fortune, but doesn't change what was done.”

“Done is done, yes. Murder wasn't done. I know yours is a mentality directed to results. But what about the causes?”

“Mitigating factors? The aggravating factors counterweigh those. I didn't hear you out. You weren't armed. Strikes me as slaughterous for manslaughter, Blake. It may be your most detested word. Nevertheless I did it.” Then I caught my used up breath.

“You don't know, Avon. You told me, you remember from the time I reached you. I know more. I watched you from start to finish. Initially I was bewildered, but once shot at, I went hyper-alert. Off to pain. Wits sharp.”

Off to pain. A syndrome I had experience of, wounded in the heat of a fight. With major injury, I'd witnessed the same. – What was Blake's other point? “You I remember, Blake. Start to finish. My shots, I misremember, as from elsewhere. When you reached me, I knew I'd shot you, and puzzled, how the hell.” Accuracy at the expense of sense.

“Can't I bridge the gap in your memory?”

I paused. “You're not quite telepathic.”

“No, but I am quite a veteran. I've confronted many faces whose goal was my death with malice aforethought. A gallery of murder, and the face I watched on you, doesn't belong there. Your confusion was plain. Your anguish, at my predicament, plain. Hostility? I saw none. Your statement to me I knew beforehand. Not from blind faith, but observation. I think you didn't decide on what you did. I think you didn't know what you did. To which I'd testify in court. Murder can't be perpetrated in such a state of mind. Why, Avon, I used the word persecution. The populace isn't a court, and is seldom as balanced. A fair trial or none. Otherwise, this remains in the private sphere.”

Clarity, amidst his jurisprudence, had detonated in my head. “You believe I was irrational,” I told the rear of his. Like a simpleton. Had I believed I was rational? Yes. I had.

“Yes, I do,” Blake signed and sealed. “I'm not going to coddle you about it. You don't need me to. You threw off your confusion before I hit the floor. I have to say, at that stage, I find you brave to do so.”

To be less diplomatic. Blake had coddled me for the past day. Blake sits in his chair and faces the other way. Lest he have to say to me I wasn't sane.

Due to his masterly delivery, or due to bravery of mine, I endured the news. Strangely, my sight had gone dark. Constricted from the periphery, into a black world. But my thought was stark and serene. And I had the grace not to fight. “You're right. I had no rationale. There is to be no why. Not guilty of aforethought, due to temporary insanity.”

Blake said, “You're aware that's legalese for a phase you aren't to be held to account for. It isn't in sync with medical usage.”

I was aware I was in perfect mind until the moment and since. I was aware my mind was not an incidental to me. Aware I wasn't how Roj Blake can condemn me to death unawares. “You're my lawyer.”

“I'm reminded of the state of fantasy Control threw me into. I had the notion I'd hallucinated the Federation. There's an irrational notion for you. You don't share my tendency to dejection, but you do demand great fortitude of yourself. What have you struggled through I don't know about? You're human, Avon. Even you.”

For this drivel I had no lenience. “Blake, I have killed, in my state of fantasy. I do not do that and live to do it again.”

“You mean to kill yourself.”

Dispassionate. I thought his praise, and plunged into dispassion. “Against my more famous philosophy. But to remove a threat. I'd kill you, if you were me.”

“And I'd be irate, Avon. What threat? I distinguish a threat to your vanity, I don't distinguish a threat to much else.”

No. He wasn't up to it. I don't live to be untrustworthy, Blake. Or to be useless. In time he'd see. Dispassion was out. And at times dispassion was no more than a lie. “Scarcely an issue for an argument with you.” I'd promised to work with him. “I'm sorry I didn't, Blake, before your re-animation. I do what I have to. There is no call for you to dwell upon this. I am content with the result. Thank you, for your honesty to me, and your very great kindness. It has been an enlightenment to know you.” After that throe of courtesy, certainly my height, I thought I'd exit. The door control glimmered at my need. My eyesight won't humiliate me.

“Excuse me just a moment, Avon, but I've an argument with you. You're not a machine to be switched off. As harsh as I might have known, from you. I think you're ignorant.”

“Ignorant?”

“Yes. Ignorant,” he ridiculed. “I don't think this is your territory, Avon. I'd conjecture the irrational intimidates you. Since you've spent the last third of a century diligently trying to know nothing about it, why don't you listen to me?”

I'd have laughed perhaps. Blake hadn't finished with me. I didn't laugh. I heard him, husky and scathing. He was lost to my sight. Finish with me he must, but – no, fast isn't easiest. He needed to argue. Or he'd argue with me afterwards, and wonder whether he'd have won. I wasn't in a rush to strike up an acquaintance with the wrong end of my gun. I wasn't scared. But I wasn't in a rush. The end I knew, but moments more with him seemed very far from ill-spent. “I'm listening, Blake, if you have an argument.”

“Smart of you. For a start I've a story with a moral, of what happened to me.”

“What happened to you, Blake?” I asked in the dark.

“Worse than what happened to you, Avon.”

His huskiness had vanished. He envisaged me talked out of it. I had a battle ahead. Twelve weeks ago, Jenna blasted her own ship. You can't blame him.

“Last year I was captured,” went his story. “My interrogators tried disease – a live rot. Where I left behind my foot. After the foot, they cured me. Mine was just so I'd know how bad it was. It was filthy, slow and nasty, and fatal in about a week. They gave it to slaves. Five slaves, in a cell with me. Next week there'd be the next five slaves. And the next. Until I spoke. My interrogators must have had a theoretical knowledge of pity, you see. Maybe I was afraid I'd speak.”

“Slaves, Blake? Death is a treat to most,” I interrupted tersely.

He hesitated. “I might have done with your profundities,” he told me lightly. “I thought about you in there.”

My jaw throbbed with tightness. “What happened next?”

“I lost my tongue. I lost my tongue beyond danger of using it. I didn't use it until I was at liberty again, weeks later, and I left them nothing to interrogate. I underwent a mental absence, Avon. The moral is, I'm back. The living mind is magical to us, we haven't matched it.”

I'd had a prescient knowledge of pity. When I saw his foot in Asclepios, I panted in the window bay. Trod on a mine, I'd thought. But I'd never have thought up what interrogators think up.

Blake suggested, “Or maybe I'm the machine that ought to be scrapped, do you think, Avon? I mean, if you are, there's not much to be said for me.”

Polemics aside, I told him what I had to say for him. “I think you saved the next five slaves, and the next, without capitulation. I think another phrase for what you underwent in there, is a stroke of genius. What I don't think, is that your situation sheds light on mine.”

“Awkward to argue with today, aren't you?”

He meant I was nice to him today. “I didn't start it, Blake,” blew through my teeth. I'd have liked to be nicer. I'd like to have been there. I'd like to rip his interrogators' throats out.

“Avon, you had a nightmare. As straightforward and as terrifying as that. I do know. Had you been with me on Zil's planet, in the wake of Control, you'd have heard me distort the crystal light of day into my demons. There I see no difference between us.”

“Don't you, Blake?” I knew he'd see a difference if the difference damned him. The difference damned me and I knew he saw none.

“Jenna told me years ago, you can't convict yourself, if you want to live. You have to forgive.”

I knew if Blake had killed me with his own hands, he'd see to forgive to be grotesque. I didn't say this to him. But here I argued back. I had one argument and now I had an illustration. “Blake, I'd have had you down to be the first to understand.” Nor was I without my touches of artistry. “The more after your story. I am a danger. Your slaves learnt what you do – in my position, Blake. You go away. Where you're a danger to nobody. I cannot be incarcerated, given my fame and my information.”

“Incarcerated?” he echoed as though the idea had never crossed his mind.

“Face the fact, Blake. Fantasy, or nightmare, the difference between yours and mine. I was violent.” There ended my argument. To go and meet my gun. With which I am too much acquainted.

“Under the circumstances. In no other case have I known you to fire in anger. By the fuss you kick up, you haven't changed. Am I to ignore your nature?”

“I imagine it is a slippery slope.”

“Don't imagine,” he barked at me. “Look at the causes. You told me, you've spent these two years investigating whether the Federation is wicked enough to justify me. At last you decide it is. You go to join me. To discover I've betrayed you, to the Federation – me. You fire in anger.” He paused for breath, or eloquence. “A piece of you does, Avon. A piece of you that crept up from the murky depths, and fled again without trace. You've no memory of it. I didn't even catch it in your face. My betrayal hit deeper than the strata you choose to live in, Avon. For a moment you had no choice. Now you're going to be doubly vigilant, and I don't think you're to see that piece of you again.”

The irrational is a natural talent of Blake's. I have often said so. Never argue with Blake unless you can stand to lose. Can I stand to lose?

He hasn't a piece of him that thirsts for his comrades' blood, when he goes to pieces. I just do not know whether I am persuaded, Blake. To fire in anger. To do to you what you didn't even do to Travis. I quoted, “The man who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken.”

“One of Cally's?” His voice closer.

He'd glanced behind him. Which meant him secure I'd keep my brains in my head. If he faced away for comportment, I wished he wouldn't jump to conclusions. If he dropped analysis for entreaty, I'd wish I were dead. I hadn't liked his husky patch. Not from Blake. Not for me. Not remotely. And I'm not built of stone.

“Yes, your trust is your own liability. But you can be mistaken on such a scale, your world betrays you. Happened to me at Control. You believed I'd stand against Servalan, on the back foot as we are, and I sold you to her.”

I believed him the antithesis of Servalan. My figurehead, my chance against her. In the tracking gallery, I was in a world without an antithesis to Servalan. The world of my youth. However, in Blake's word, I had not then met human evil. Half content to thus excuse my tantrum, I had the heart to banter at him. “You're not my world.”

And he had, to rumble at me. “True. I meant Servalan may be.”

“True. Blake,” I smiled in vast amusement. The things he penetrated to. Then again, she had been second on my list to discuss with him. “But --”

“Avon,” he yearned. “But don't sentence yourself to death. To be sincere with you, I find to live harmonises punishment with duty, if my philosophy serves for you, Avon.”

I saw my hands, distinct. Hands guilty of the death of Blake. I had to wear them, for punishment. Duty, to stand with him against her, was a dream. I dreamt.

And I dreamt the contrary. Blake after my abandonment. Behind his energy, behind his care for me, he hid what Deva had painted to me as his suicidal state of mind. I noticed the abyss between his philosophy, and what Jenna told him years ago. “But the greatest of these is duty?”

His laugh was intrigued. “That's an important bit. But the greatest of these is duty.”

I'd just run a test on that. “Has Deva told you the cost of your resurrection?”

No answer.

Blake's dejection – as he and I once agreed – has nothing to do with me. I keep out. When the same becomes a threat to safety, I claim the right to shoulder in. I have an especial right when I may have to deject him further. “He thinks you a bad investment. Devotion to duty is academic, when one's strategy is suicidal. To bounty hunt on Gauda Prime, alone, for example. There are heroes besides yourself, you know. Hell was last year, Blake. Aren't you over it?” Fair but cruel, he might call me. I did want to be significantly outlived.

“What's the matter, Avon?” he asked with a hard disdain. “You want to check you leave behind enough to fight Servalan, after you give up. Do you?”

“More or less,” I murmured.

“I'm tempted to say you don't.”

Honest. At least. I frowned. “What else are tempted to say?” What else was he tempted to not say to me, until he had to? I started to question the foundations of this analysis. What is your trust worth, Blake? Your trust in my mind. “A great deal of garbage about the irrational?”

“No, Avon, temptation doesn't lead me to do that.”

I didn't believe him. Because he thought about me under interrogation, when he needed more callousness than he found to muster. I didn't believe his rationalizations of my – seizure. Because he needed me. “You've played this down from the moment you had your thoughts straight. Forgive me but it smacks of desperation.”

“I can stand on my own two feet. What are your grounds to think I've lost my nerve?”

His feet I hadn't forgotten. His nerve? Blake and courage are synonymous to me. “I didn't say you'd lost your nerve.”

“You did say. Your grounds? Or do you just not want to live?”

“I want to live.”

“Therefore you demolish me to demolish my arguments.”

Under his barrage I fought back. “Arguments or sentiments?”

“Sentiment? I plan to work with you, Avon. Am I so sentimental about you I'd endanger my people to keep your company?”

“Scarcely.” I'm not arguing, I'm wandering into cul-de-sacs. I'm potshooting at him lest he's wrong. “My mind is at stake,” I muttered.

Blake regrouped. He'd lost his umbrage with me. “I've told you a dubious story and you doubt the shape I'm in. The trouble is, you have to trust my judgement.”

“I don't despise you for your story, Blake.” That much I knew.

“Thank you. I think I can discriminate to your satisfaction, between my hopes for you, and desperation. Does that help?”

“I'm in your hands, Blake.” I meant I was listening. I meant I was in his hands.

“My story has a sequel, that to me goes straight to the point. I have to wax personal, this is to do with Jenna. She freed me, from my captivity last year.”

I said, “I'm glad she was there.”

He gave a slight noise of acknowledgement. “I'd had no news of her since the Liberator. She'd gone back to her old pursuits. To see her again, at such a time – I found my tongue for the event. I'd hidden my feelings. Wisely or foolishly I thought I mustn't sway her. Mustn't interfere in her choices. To be with me is a high risk. She was there. She didn't mind my foot. Jenna was sensual, maybe I'd been selfish. That was what the sirens sang. Had I acted on my feelings, five months later, I can't think I'd have lived through the guilt. I was just quite determined she wasn't to stay with me for my solace. She did stay, for whatever cause she found. I tell you, to tell you I was near desperation. I stuck to hope. I've stuck to hope with you. You have my word.”

This was the Blake I knew. This was the Blake I trusted. Moral of the story? If he needs me he does do with his principles uppermost. His analysis of me, his conclusion I am functional, I believed judicious. Once I'd given him my own word. The day we saved the galaxy. Blake only gets to save me. “Your word wins you the argument, Blake.”

“I've won?”

His cream shirt, in the eclipse of my eyes by my worst fear, curved into sight. “As I say.”

“Winning an argument was never so sweet.”

“Losing isn't bitter, I must admit.”

I caught his soft, stressed laugh.

For the sake of my anatomical integrity, I had learnt more about the inside of Blake's breast than his closest companions had guessed or gossiped to. But I didn't know what to say. I used to think him ungenerous to Jenna. If he did too, I thought I'd leave his shoes for him to wear. I wore my own wretchedly enough.

In sympathy I never saw much use. I didn't see much use in mine for him. But what he writhed in of grief and guilt, I'd understand. And, whatever it was worth or wasn't, I told him that. “A while ago I made a mistake. The only shadow of amends I have, happens to be your crusade. In memory of the one who paid for my mistake. I tell you, to tell you I am not short in incitement, these days.”

Blake answered to my moral. Not to my agony. The same as I had done. “There's no shortage of work.”

Utilitarian of him. He knows the incitement is claustrophobic, unless the work stretches as far as the eye can see.

My eyes had faced the universe again, starting with his shirt. The weighing of the scales of my life or death had wearied me, and went I descried a chair, I went for it. The chair young Tarrant sat in for tea. Last aeon.

My friend Blake had a semblance as dazed as me. I used the word with perfect clarity. “Circuitous, Blake, but we end up where we quarrelled. Your noble and jurisprudent lie.”

“Are those your true or your sarcastic thoughts about my lie, Avon?” His eyes creased.

“What is noble in the victim is ignoble in the perpetrator.”

Blake creased his eyes more. Into his very utmost of charm. “But I know that won't worry you.”

No-one but Blake gets away with what Blake gets away with. Not, to be technical, murder. But just about too much for my cruder model of conscience. I told him, once I had clambered aloft his joke, “I am going to remain silent.”

Blake is a liar? Blake told temporary lies. Until the battle. In the battle, he told us we had the choice to back away. We may have been cowards without his lies. We may have ignored the consequences. Losing. I thought of zombies riding escalators, numbered on the forehead. The numbers were big.

Winning, I don't think of. But there is an antidote to that drug. Once I defused a bomb. It didn't forward the war. But the people on Albion lived.

Blake asked, “I have your permission to lie?”

“I just said you do. The least glamorous version is your shrewdest choice.”

“The most practical version seems to be for me to stay a casualty of the Federation attack.”

I remained silent. He thought that practical? That gave him six people to persuade. I thought no further, because I was in it now. Death might have been simpler.

Blake continued, “Have I your permission to justify my stance to your crew?”

“I fancy you're going to have to.” Then I poked a finger in his direction. “Did I never warn you drive me crazy?”

For the day I lose my sense of humour is the day my soul is beaten. Anna dead, there had yet been Servalan circumvented. Blake dead, there had been my desire for my execution. I am amused by saving graces.

Blake mulled over my joke. “Yes."

I hadn't asked him to answer. I hadn't asked him to answer yes. “I have a villainous headache, I might go back to bed.”

“Not a bad idea. Sleep tight.”

My eye slanted up to him. Sleep tight? In these moments you see what people think you are. I slept tight last night, I don't think.

“Suspected not,” he discerned from an empty face. “I've a narcotic band in my drawer. The medics never like to give them out.”

A trick of his. I hate his tricks. What daunted him at bedtime? Tortured slaves? I thought to set nightmares at nought, as an example to him. Then I thought I'd be his example, when I am. There was Horizon and the curious crowd to endure tomorrow. And I'd had a hard day. “Unimaginative of the medics, Blake, however only the mind can master the mind.”

“I try, Avon. To that end I say three Hail Avons before switching out the light.” He didn't smile. He gazed without a hint of humour at my chest.

I'd be his example as a task of priority. “It isn't learnt overnight, Blake. Indeed, I can do with the night off.” I explained to him, “I'm not perfect.”

Blake feigned astonishment.

I watched him fetch me the band from his cubicle. I had a vision of him in his quiet strength bawling over Jenna. I didn't do that. I just didn't. Had I arrived with the teleport twelve weeks ago, she'd have escaped the way I escaped. A contrast even Blake must resent.

He passed me the narcotic band.

“It's a rude question, but why was being alive fantastic yesterday?” Did I truly ask him that? Why don't I mind my own business?

His face flowered into laughter. “I must have wanted to mystify you.”

Yes, why don't I? “Until tomorrow, Blake.” I arose.

“Until tomorrow, Avon.” He moved aside. I felt his eyes dance upon my back.

#

A splash in the face. I heaved up in bed, dizzy but alert. To find Vila, his countenance in a gape and in his fist a jug, upside-down. “Vila,” slurred I, “I am wet. Is there a purpose behind it?”

“Thought you were comatose.”

Vila was drunk. “Seen one of these?” Off my wrist I wrenched the narcotic band, before I slurred into a drowse. By the timer I'd slept three hours. The other five I hadn't. My cranium ached, in a rhythm like axe strokes. Terrific.

“Sorry. I shouted at you.” And he slumped himself down on the side of my bed. “Blake angry with you?”

He picks my cabin lock, throws a jug of water in my face, to ask whether Blake is angry with me? That's drunk, even for him. With the patience of a saint I mopped my head and throat with my sheet. “Not tremendously. Go away.”

“He's quiet about you. Weren't joking, were you?”

“Joking when, Vila?”

“You'd, you know. Behave as if you have a heart.”

This had gone beyond being his business. At least I'd learnt my oldest acquaintances weren't dissecting me from behind my back. “He won't eat you if through carelessness you drop my name. My door's over there.”

Sullenly Vila's moon face hung before me. “Be different if you'd hunted him down like an animal. Eh?”

I nearly thought he'd forgotten. He was here. In his drink, upon the side of my bed. I tried sense. Sense as I saw sense. “Vila, did I marry you?”

“Oi?”

“I don't lay down my life for you. Does that insult you, Vila?”

“No. And the answer's no thanks.”

“Then?” Why the feud, Vila? The others thought I spoil him. He knew I spoil him.

“You didn't even think twice.”

“I'm a quick thinker. And I thought you're just as dead if I don't.”

“Then you joked.”

When had I joked? “Did I?” I stared in Vila's hostile eyes.

It's a trip I won't forget, Avon. As you always say, Vila, you know you're safe with me.

“Safety is to stick with the self-interested, Vila. It isn't funny but it's right. Hypocrisy, Vila, is to count on that, when it's Tarrant, or Dayna, or Soolin.” I didn't know whether I'd lost patience or found more patience than was natural to me.

“Or Jenna, or Gan. Or Blake. Or Cally.”

If he had a point I failed to see it. I conjectured Blake, in an overweighted vehicle with me. Of course he said, It's my fault.

Jenna? She said, Toss you for it.

Gan said – I can't kill. My chances aren't great.

And Cally said, I have no fear of death, Avon. I am not alone and silent.

My throat tightened.

“You'd have thought twice once,” Vila told me.

I knew his point to be true. “Perhaps.” In the early days. When I was thirty and cynical. “Once we were children.”

“Once you were half human.”

To that I said, “Perhaps.” And stared at him no more.

The back of my mind had said as much to me for eight weeks. The front of my mind had said to the back, shut the hell up. Shut the hell up.

“What d'you do that to Blake for?” Vila remonstrated plaintively. “Blake betray us? Eh? What d'you do that to him for?”

“Vila, get out of my cabin,” I instructed. “Stay out of my cabin,” I rasped. “Stay out of my sight.”

I heard him do the beginning of that. He'd do the end. I seethed between my teeth in my damp bed. Strapped the narcotic band about my wrist.

#

Having slept, I washed, and found my antique nutrient sponge. Surveyed my situation. I was as hungry as an animal. I was alive, and wasn't grim about the fact. Nothing if not tenacious. I possibly had no crew left. I had a leader back.

Then I surveyed my leader's situation, while I steamed. He knew his own trouble, Jenna had told Deva. His trouble is, he has to fight to the last drop of other people's blood. He's had the time you said he needed, Jenna. Next time, I bounty hunt beside him.

I had the suspicion I'd done Blake a service. There is no sedative for guilt, but to be of help. To help me, a feat he'd risen to, eagerly. Yes, I understand you, Blake.

Though I didn't much like to, I thought of him – absenting himself, under interrogation. I argued for him. But I owed him to be objective. What else was there to do? Talk? Not to save lives in front of him and lose big numbers at a distance. I'd despise him for that. Suicide? If they'd left him the instruments. I thought he'd crack his head against the wall if they left him a hard wall. I know interrogation cells and they don't. Watch? I'd have done that. I'd have watched more than five slaves rot alive. Ten. Fifteen. Twenty. Twenty-five.

I may be vainer than him, I may be more insensible, I may be less clever. I'd stand it.

Star One argued for him. The death toll from Star One came to roughly a fifth of the zombies in the galaxy today. Oh yes, I'd done the figures. When the figures were in. To do them when Blake did them? – I still doubt it. Which is why he's in charge. No, I don't question his strength to do the job. It's afterwards he's undisciplined. After Control, where he lost one out of six, conservative, when the crew gave him the license to lose three. A fifty-fifty chance, Blake, I overheard your promise. After Star One? I wasn't there to see it.

I'd stick to lessons in the sleep of the just, and in not fighting the Federation single-handed. Beyond that, Blake can stand what he has to stand, just so long as it isn't futile.

If it's futile we're damned together. I don't think it is.

By this time I was by the strictest standards clean. There was an hour until Horizon. The flight deck told me Blake had gone to study his new engine, and I went down there.

He stooped over the photonic drive, in a wrinkled shirt, yesterday’s. Spared me a cursory, cloudy glance and grunted, “You can build these?”

“Orac, along with a fifth-grade drone, can build these. I'm not a factory.” He hadn't shaved, or civilized his hair, and resembled a forest. “I've slept, have you?”

He grunted a negative, and rummaged in the Tarsius coil to no studious end.

Blake was in a moody mood. Perhaps – you never know – he had a cause. I speculated he had struck difficulty with what I had yesterday given him my permission to do. “Have you news for me?”

At the drop of temperature in my voice he lifted his head. With quite a terrible state of face. “News? No. Sorry. I'm a bit tired.”

More than a bit. “Has the medic seen you?”

Here he searched my eyes. Earnest, deep. Desolate. “Yes, I'm fine.”

I give up, Blake. What's wrong?

“I recognize you now you've slept,” he smiled.

“Can't you, Blake?” In the twilight I touched his elbow. Certain he'd talked too much to me.

His ill-ease, when I had the effrontery to do this, was ill-disguised. I unhanded him. Whereupon he spoke. “I had things to think through. Vila insisted on unbosoming himself to me, last night. His Dutch courage was at its highest.”

My heart hurt me.

Just in case I wondered whether I had one. I said to Blake, “He had the same chance I had.”

This he did not dignify with an answer. Me did not dignify with a glance.

Ah, Blake, at once I ached at him. You're too soft. I'm too harsh. Never the twain. Ironic, but why we're both worse off apart. I said, “I never claimed to be other than I am. I don't encourage misperceptions. I have none. It was him or me.”

“Avon. Wait.” His hand signalled me to a halt. “You're on the wrong track.”

I halted. I think the heart in my chest halted with me in suspense. Just say what you think, Blake. Up above, my brain noticed he had me at his mercy. I had killed him, and he had forgiven me. If I am from time to time alien to me, that is a strange brew to have swallowed.

Sentiment leads you to your death, I said aloud in the teleport bay at Terminal. And that meant, given the situation? To my crew it meant, don't do as I am doing. It meant, in the last analysis, I'm not stupid. I'm not ashamed. I'm going.

Blake didn't know I was thinking this while he was thinking about Malodar. “Avon. I'm in a quandary. I don't want to trample in what's private to you. And I'm not at my peak, I'm tired. Nonetheless, I don't like to half-know. What Vila told me half of last night. Without at least asking you. If just for the sake I've asked. You haven't forgotten I do that.”

No, he wasn't at his peak. His sentences were ungrammatical. And he had an anxiety I'd rarely glimpsed in him. Not Malodar. I had no idea what. I wet my lip and told him, “Ask. I won't bite.”

Blake chewed his lip. “Vila isn't a chatterer, even drunk. He thought I might need assistance as to why you didn't see through my bounty hunter cover. You see, Vila – fears you scarred from the past. A past you spoke of to me yourself. I hope I haven't abused that. I'm afraid I didn't stop him.”

“Vila,” I hissed like a snake in the midst of his solicitude. “Told you I have quite a tradition behind of killing my --”

“No, no such thing,” fierce from Blake, before I was mad enough to finish. “He told me you've been betrayed before. I know that isn't your idea of her, Avon.”

I had the idea of her smack in my face and I had the idea of him. Nearly I seized him in my arms, and not for his sake. Half for his sake. I strove for control.

I heard him say, “Forgive me. I've distressed you to no purpose.”

Between my teeth I snarled, “Didn't you want to know the truth? That's a purpose. What does Vila use for a brain?”

“I do want to know the truth. Vila's too much on your side.”

Blake's voice was the height of calm. I wasn't. “Leave me alone for a moment.”

He walked away from me, out of risk of my frantic arms. He slid down me to the ground and I didn't catch him. I didn't catch him. I felt Anna's face against my shoulder. I smelt her hair. I did this but I doubted I was of a stuff to suffer it. In quick time I glanced around for Blake, who needed me to.

Blake slumped on an elbow against the old engine. Strength is to be needed. In that is yours, Blake. I went to him like a lesson in utility in hell. “Sit down, Blake, you're tired out. It's the last story I'd have chosen for you. While I haunt your sleep.”

His head, hung until my bluntness, reared up, haughty. “Don't guess at my nightmares, Avon. You don't know me enough.”

As you like, Blake. I sat down, where a duct crossed into the disused drive. Beside me, he sat. Close. Under the whirr of the ventilation I told Blake about Anna. Why? Chiefly because he was interested. To miss a night's sleep over my history, must be as much interest as has been had in me. Next because he'd understand. Third? The third too ugly for my scrutiny.

“I tried to requite Anna's death. To execute her torturer, which I am told goes by the name of revenge. Perhaps. At any rate, justice was not poetic. I caused her death.”

By my side his face sloped to listen. I saw his eyes but they didn't watch me. In the space I left he hazarded, “Ignorance did.”

Our last day. Who are you? she asked me. Had she only told me who she was. Trusted to my love. Now she'd be alive. “Truer than you know,” I told Blake. “My silence to her, is in the end her cause of death. Nothing else is not misfortune of circumstances.”

He thought this through. When he spoke he didn't dismiss blame where blame lay. Neither did he throw me to the wolves of it. “I know your silence, in my different sphere.” His hands he clasped at his knees. His voice he unleashed the gentleness in. “It's eloquent, but you need your own strength to hear. She had to lie to you. Not a position of strength.”

Roj Blake must be a genius at me. When had he done the study? How does he know what to say? I backed up, into the facts of the case. “You've learnt of her career. From espionage to her coup.”

“Indeed I have. I'd thought Sula bold. But to conceive she was Bartolomew. She astonishes me, and I dare say she astonished Servalan.”

His praise of her came as bread to the starving. “And her husband,” I said as a footnote.

Blake had no visible thoughts on the fate of Chesku. Sula used methods outside his field. It is true, I don't give a damn what became of him.

“A short friendship, you must have had with her?” he guessed.

“No.” I sounded surly. “Not so short. I knew her for a year.” My head slanted. “In between her entanglements, you understand. Her other cases. Known to me as her vigilant husband.”

He kneaded his fingers. “Then she skated thin ice to be with you. She has to have strung Central Security along. You had no dissident conspiracy behind you.”

This was his trail to one of the things he didn't know from Vila. The other thing he'd want to know was why she went for a gun. Was he game to ask me that? I answered number one. “If you mean, did she care for me? she did. She told me at her death.”

I watched him. He winced at my knee. As if I had slid a knife in him. Sympathy. It didn't help me and it hurt him. That was the theory. I went on not for my sake or his, but for hers. There were distortions about her circulating. I think of what she must have been, to be a double agent. Isolated. I do not know a more demanding job. An idealist, as bad as Blake. I have at least pride in the fact I had the brains to love her.

Number two. “I can't say whether she'd have shot,” I persisted with the facts. “For her coup or simply to live. But she believed she needed a gun between us. The moment I knew. She drew, and I thought nothing else but, this is Bartolomew. And I shot. In the instinct to live.”

I stopped. Blake started to coax sense into me. “She knew you felt for her deeply. That's just why she was frightened what you'd do.”

“Hurt her?” I grated.

“In the heat. She was afraid. Wrongly, but she'd lived a lie.”

“I killed you,” I grated worse.

“I'm not Anna,” his objection. “I'm me.”

We sat, wisely quiet. I had the thought, I have her work. My grief is my fuel. But his? “Blake, perhaps this great trouble I've caused you has been a distraction.”

I sensed his face whip around to me. His fingers stroked together. “This great trouble you've caused me has knocked me out of myself. You haven't lost your timing.”

“I don't understand why you talk about her,” I said. Because I didn't.

“To keep her near. I won't talk about Anna again.” With that, Blake pushed to his feet, and changed the atmosphere. “Two of your crew, Avon, I've yet to lay eyes on. It is them or me you're ashamed of?”

I rose to mine. “Quite the contrary. I'm eager to throw you into the amphitheatre with them. A Christian to the lions.” I bared my teeth.

“I wonder what they've heard about me.”

“The nicest things,” I said.

In dismissal of our loves we traveled to D-deck. I had a transient wish that Blake had shaved. Then I decided, charisma isn't on the outside. He had his energy again and he wasn't unsightly.

It isn't fair.

Dayna and Soolin loitered together on the crane shaft bridge. Whispering. Both armed on the revolution's flagship. They were, I saw, eaten alive with fascination, and I didn't envy Blake. I named names. Soolin gave him a hand to go with hers. Dayna didn't, but she hadn't been trained. My intention was to leave them to it.

“Dayna and I shan't be tongue-tied,” Soolin promised him, her yellow hair fluttering. She was up to mischief. “Though we heard of you when we were girls.”

She did. Soolin is twenty-five. Orac and I alone know it. Tarrant figures her as old as him, Vila believes she was born this way.

Blake fingered his chin. “I can beat that. When I was a boy, I saw Hal Mellanby, Dayna's father.”

“He never said he met you,” jumped in Dayna.

“No, he won't have,” laughed Blake. “Even I was young then. Fifteen, but I escaped from home to hear him speak. Those of us in the domes through the three weeks of his revolt never forgot the courage to think big. I know Mellanby taught me to hope.”

Dayna's face, childishly perfect, gleamed. Her father had admired Blake, but rebels didn't admire her father. Not as a rule. Blinded and a widower, he had saved his daughter. Damned if I'd met many of his comrades who didn't harden at Dayna's surname. I forgave Blake that one.

Soolin targeted him with a smirk. “Avon's told tales, but we doubted him. He says you're off to find the castle of liberty, and more quixotic, you want companions.”

“I'm afraid Avon's tales are true.”

“At least you're afraid,” she mused. “And I have wages outstanding from Avon.”

“Perhaps he pays up when I pay him his.” Twinkling eyes to me.

There was an attack of quiet. Did Blake forget the last time they saw us together? No, he just had a conspiracy of silence to draw my crew into. I stared down into the crane shaft. My own doing. If you don't like the consequences – don't shoot.

“Perhaps,” Soolin sang, or sighed. “Blake, we're strangers, yet may I be candid?”

“You may be if I may be.”

“Graciousness,” she smiled, genuinely, elegantly, “is a beauty.”

I eyed her in stony disbelief. Dayna squirmed.

Blake – modest or not – didn't play dumb. He smiled his smile, rich and true. “Soolin, I thank you.”

I saw him decide to seize the moment for persuasion. I wasn't thrilled. Mightn't he abstain until I'm absent?

“What I owe to Avon,” Blake informed Soolin, “is known only to me. He helps me persevere.”

Never, never start Blake on candour. He enjoys it. I do not think my permission to him permits such a sentence. I may inscribe it on my tomb. Here lies Avon. He helps me persevere. – Roj Blake. “You two,” I intruded fast, “had a brain each at the time you met Blake. Try not to lose them.”

He bent aside to smile at me. “Now I am nostalgic, Avon. You have your impatience back.”

If I wasn't pink, I was lucky. The ship's alert saved me. Atmosphere entry. “There,” declared Blake. “I have the honour to welcome you to our headquarters. And I know the hatch to avoid the stampede.”

Behind his back, Soolin or I intercepted the other. She remarked to me, “You didn't tell me he's a dish.”

I remarked to her, “I didn't know.” That was the end of our conversation. I had the sense that she was the least baffled by the transactions on Gauda Prime. Don't ask me where I picked that up.

“Oi, don't go without me.” Vila, dishevelled at his door.

Blake halted the troops for him. “Slept late, Vila?”

“Late? 'Searly.”

Soolin sniffed the miasma. “Where did you steal it, Vila?”

“I'm afraid Deva gave him mine,” Blake whispered to her.

I tried to go unnoticed. I'd lost my temper with Vila. He had scuttled to Blake, but not to blab about Malodar. When the idiot had struggled on his boots, he joined us. He ignored me. I ignored him. But he also ignored my instructions to him.

The feud, I'd clued Blake into. What did Blake think? He thought me inhumane. I thought him irrational. Not much was different, was it, from the day we met? Not much. Just that we want each other's profundities from time to time. Thus are great compromises struck. Because I wish I were Blake and Blake wishes he were me. Just at times. There is a humility in envy. I didn't think we'd tear each other's hearts out over Malodar.

Around the hatch serving the flight deck, we hung onto girders for the ride. Dayna was anxiously tantalized by Blake's scar. “Blake, isn't your vision narrowed?”

The most sense I'd heard about Blake's scar. His head swivelled to her. “Slightly. But people try me from my blind side. I'm standing here, and they were mistaken. More of a snare.”

“Mind you,” mentioned Soolin, “I may have tried you from the side you least anticipate.”

He paused for thought. “Thank you, Soolin.” Caught my eye. He knew a professional when threatened by one.

Vila leant into his spare arm to drawl, “Don't worry, you were never handsome.”

Blake hugged with the arm, and afterwards, ruffled him at a temple. “You were never hirsute.” A giggle from Dayna

The freighter careened, and grounded. The hatch clanked up, and in wafted the feverish weather of Horizon. “Be my guests,” Blake urged the others, and curiously they stepped out to the planet.

The ramp was steep, with no rail. I clasped Blake's elbow. He didn't step forward, but said to me, “We lived.”

As statements of the obvious go, this called to be stated twice. “We lived.”

“To fight another day.” Eyes slow and melancholy, and crinkling up. “For the greatest of these is duty.”

Thundercloud boiled in the sky. The me I'd been on the trip to Gauda Prime – that distraught creature – quite the significance of Blake to him, I didn't know. But I wasn't him. I had nothing to lose, but his distance, his discouragement, his fatigue. I had to win – the solitary ideal of my own invention. Say what else has happened to you. Or don't step from this ship. With my eyes fastened on the threshold in front of me, I told Blake, “I'm more biblical.”

Blake laughed. “Anomalous image.” Then he demonstrated his scholarship. “There were three, of which the last was the greatest. Faith, hope, love.”

He thought I meant Anna. But I was in a semantic corner. Greater love hath no man than this, that he walk from a hatch for his friends. She'd have lived through that trip with me. He'd live. Uncrowded, my corner. But I don't mistake what it is to stand there. “I'm not that biblical,” I frowned to the threshold. “It's the last I'm discontent to do wrong.”

“Yes, I know.”

Silence, I knifed into my heart, is a curse. Our last day, she asked you to conquer your silence.

She may have run with you. These hideous years, she may have lived, with you. Blake once thought you hated him, and perhaps, perhaps that day you did. “I imagine there are different spheres.”

Blake spent a moment quiet. I must have startled the hell out of him. “Of love?” at last he said, soft, definite. “Of course. It's a universal.”

That was just like him, though in fact I'd never heard him say the word. It wasn't the time for philosophical dispute. He knew what I meant and I needn't go on. Nevertheless I did. “You won't mind if I try again?”

“Do,” he answered. “I am, Kerr.”

My name is not as unfortunate in his voice, I thought. This was an attempt not to think what else I thought. What else I thought reduced to, don't try to rival me, Blake.

On the Liberator, Blake had spared me deep acquaintance with what he thought of me. He'd had no choice. If he didn't think much, it wasn't leaderly to have me know. If he did, I'd have felt more of a bastard than my position made me. Yesterday, today, when he woke up from death, he hadn't been as paranoid.

“I didn't start it,” he said.

But I wasn't up to wit.

His arm pulled from the grip I had forgotten. Instead, he leant a hand on my shoulder, along with much of his weight. Blake never did that. I'd braced him a hundred times, but Blake stood on his own two feet. He growled, “And I've learnt the right way, the hard way.”

Ah. I understood him. For the sake of Jenna's liberty he had never leant on her.

The past can't be helped. In order to distract him from it, I met his eyes. “Now to inspect this army of yours, Blake.”

“Ours, Kerr Avon, for once in the years I have known you.”

I demurred, “Not before I inspect them.”

Our eyes had stuck. That wasn't unusual. The zest in his, even for his, was unusual, and mine was undreamt of.

Blake and I headed out to Horizon.

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