"I was wrong," the man on the screen said emphatically. "I was completely utterly stupidly wrong. I allowed my advisors to feed me lies about the Administration. I believed them, and I acted on them – unthinkly. I endangered ordinary, hard-working citizens, and for that I can only beg for your forgiveness. Worse – I convinced others to follow me, based on these lies. I can't apologise enough for that either."
"Have you seen this?" Anna called from the bedroom. "Avon?" she shouted when he didn't immediately appear, and either confirm or deny it. "You've seen that Freedom Party man has finally come to trial, haven't you?"
"They've played it often enough," Avon said, emerging from the kitchen with the wine he'd been uncorking, and two glasses. Anna sat up from her sprawl over his bed, and took one from him before it fell. "Grateful, one assumes, to have finally apprehended someone after the shambles around the Delta revolt. Even I have been forced to watch the trial twice – though not yet,” he said, holding his glass out to her in an ironic toast, “by choice.”
"Thank you for indulging me," Anna said with a grin, clinking her glass against his.
She was a news junkie. Five different papers turned up at Avon's flat every day, even when Anna wasn't staying the night – and when she was, she monopolised his viz station for both the six o'clock and the ten o'clock broadcasts. Avon, conversely, was aware of who the President was, and he knew a few other notable popular figures and had a rough idea of whether they were at war with anyone or not, but had otherwise little or no knowledge of the political situation in his Dome or any other.
Not interested in other people, Anna had joked once, which Avon had said was entirely true, even though it had made Anna roll her eyes. She believed that because he demonstrably cared about her, there must be more to him than he was willing to admit to; Avon believed that one day Anna would realise he wasn't the person she thought he was and would leave him.
The truth was slightly more complicated than simple disinterest, though less flattering. Avon disliked knowing about horrific things he had no control over. It made him feel helpless and angry, so he preferred to isolate himself completely from reports on current events, which were either depressing or outright lies. Cowardice, as opposed to sociopathy.
"They said he worked on the Aquitar Project," Anna said, gesturing at the screen with her wine glass. She was leaning against Avon now, propped up against his shoulder so that he just needed to turn his head to kiss her temple.
She smacked him lightly with her free hand. “Blake. Freedom Party Blake."
"Well, I'm not surprised," Avon said. "The halls are full of malcontents. They complained about the lack of complimentary coffee for almost three weeks. Imagine what they could do with institutionalised oppression."
"Be serious, Avon. You know what I'm asking."
“I'm completely serious. They asked me to sign a petition, you know, despite the fact that I drink decaf.“
"Did you ever meet him?" Anna pressed.
"Who?" Avon said, and Anna fell back onto the bed with despair, somehow managing not to spill a drop of her wine.
It was actually a reasonable question. Anna wasn't silly like some people could be, and she wasn't asking for the thrill of association with an associate of a known terrorist. If Avon had known Blake, who had, after all, apparently worked on the same project Avon himself worked on, then he and Anna might both be questioned by Security Services in the next few days to ensure a lack of involvement. That would be unpleasant – and it would be even more unpleasant if entirely unexpected.
"No," Avon said, stroking Anna's leg. "We worked in different departments. We never met."
"Not even in the cafeteria?"
Avon made a face. "I don't know. Possibly. He certainly never tried to recruit me."
"His loss," Anna said affectionately. She returned to a sitting position to kiss him, and pull his wine away from him. "You'd be an asset to any revolution." She stretched down to put the wine on the floor, and then enfolded him in her arms.
"True," Avon said, letting her pull him down into the softness of the bed. "But he never asked.”
They kissed slowly for a while as the vizscreen continued to play out the results of Blake's trial. In the back of his mind, while his concentration was elsewhere, Avon heard again Blake’s sentence, more lenient than it might have been because of his repentance; his desire to be rehabilitated back into Federation society; and his cooperation with the Administration.
Eventually Anna pushed Avon back so she could look up at him. "What would have done ... if he had asked?"
Avon raised his eyebrows. There was surely only one answer to that, whatever your actual feelings on the matter: turn Blake in to the proper authorities, and act aggressively lawfully for at least the following decade in an effort to convince the authorities that the contact had been entirely accidental on your behalf. But Anna was frowning.
"I think I might have said I was interested in listening to him,” she said. "He seems convincing even now, and it's clear he's been brainwashed into saying he's been misled." If possible, Avon felt his eyebrows rise still further, and Anna sighed. “Oh, honestly, Avon. Don't you think so?"
He did think so, but that was of limited relevance. Blake's story was full of holes, but it had been constructed by the kind of people who had taken the leader of the Freedom Party and wiped his brain clean until he was convinced black was white and that he'd been terribly misled. Those kind of people were not the sort of people you wanted to publicly disbelieve.
Anna's confidence in him was an invitation for Avon to make a similar confession – and he wanted to give it to her, and show her that he trusted her as much as she trusted him. The truth was that he wouldn't have known what to do if Blake had approached him two months ago. The Freedom Party had operated successfully for years without any of its members being identified until now. It had been known and spoken about in the Domes – it might have seemed like an reasonable prospect. It might have seemed like a chance to finally do something about the news items Avon was now forced to watch twice a night with his lover. Now, it was obviously not a reasonable prospect, but two months ago, Avon thought that, like Anna, he could have possibly been interested. Which would have made him possibly dead or braindead by now, just like Blake. Even thinking about the possibility, how easily the mistake could have been made, terrified him.
Cowardice, Avon thought, and resolved never to tell Anna about it.
“I would have said no,” he said to her instead. “Obviously.”