Everywhere In ChainsAuthor:
Kerr Avon/Roj BlakeRating:
Avon is reluctant to let Blake know too much about his more extreme fantasies. He does have his pride, after all. And then comes a visit to a nasty little planet called Kilva...Notes:
Can be read as a sequel to Certain Parameters or on its own. In two parts for lj's length requirements.
He can't move.
His face is pressed against the smooth wall, right arm twisted high behind his back, left wrist held next to his ear in a seemingly relentless grip. The roughness of leather scrapes against his bare back, legs push against his thighs. He can hear the fast breathing of the man behind him, but he can't turn enough to see his face.
This is, Avon thinks, with that appraising part of his brain that never quite turns off, moderately humiliating. It’s also the hottest sex he's had in years. He's prepared to endure a certain amount of the former for the sake of the latter.
He has limits, though. When Blake's mouth closes high under his jaw, he does a quick assessment of the collar height on his current favourite outfit.
The pressure against his body vanishes as Blake lets go and steps back. Avon had only intended him to stop the mouthing; the sudden lack of contact leaves him feeling bereft. Not that he can tell Blake that, obviously.
“Too much?” Blake asks.
No, you idiot. Just too careless. Avon neither turns round nor moves away from the wall. Instead he spreads his hands up against it; an obvious invitation to carry on where they left off. "No one is going to believe that we're discussing tactics for extracting that computer from Kilva in here if I come out with your teethmarks on my throat.”
“They don't believe that anyway.” Blake is right. Annoyingly, of course.
"Nonetheless I'd rather keep the exact nature of our ‘discussions’ a matter of speculation rather than public knowledge.” It's bad enough having Blake know about this. He doesn't need to be the laughing stock of the entire ship.
“Fair enough.” Blake concedes. “I'll be sure to leave no marks where anyone else can see them.”
Marks. God, the thought of being marked by Blake is hot. Avon makes a mental note to add it into his favourite fantasy of being chained up and fucked senseless by the man. He doesn’t know what Blake might make of that particular scenario if an invitation were ever to be extended. No such invitation can be made, now or ever, of course. He does have some pride.
In the three weeks that they’ve been having sex this is as far as they’ve got towards fulfilling Avon’s more unconventional desires. He knows that he can’t afford to let these scenarios go any further, not and retain any of the other man’s respect. Blake has taken the opportunity to finish undressing before moving in behind him again, large hands covering his, crushing them against the warmth of the wall here in his quarters. Now Avon can feel the man’s erection hard against his own clothed buttocks. With an act of conscious will he manages not to whimper but he does grind back against it a little.
“Hmm?” Blake’s low enquiry vibrates against his spine. Avon doesn’t dignify it with an answer; his approval of what is happening is already clearly enough on display.
Blake tugs his wrists together over Avon’s head, traps them with his left. His right is at Avon’s belt buckle, then, having dealt with that, inside his trousers. Avon allows himself to groan in pleasure as Blake runs his thumb across the head of his cock. That’s just sex; he’s allowed to enjoy it. In fact it would be impolite not to.
Blake fondles him for a moment or two, then tugs Avon’s trousers down. The man’s erection is sliding across his bare buttocks now, the scent of the lubricant they use suddenly strong in the room. Avon works his trapped legs sideways a fraction, widening the space between them. It’s still going to be a seriously awkward angle if Blake doesn’t let him move a little away from the wall, but that’s not Avon’s responsibility, not this time. Sure enough, an ankle wraps around his lower left leg, dragging it a good foot further out from the wall, followed by the same for his right.
That’s more like it. He rests his forearms against the wall and his head on his forearms. Blake still has his wrists pinioned, though weakly enough that he could break free without much effort, but Avon has no interest in doing anything right now except co-operating.
Co-operation gets him what he wants soon enough, which is Blake’s solid mass inside him and the nails of Blake’s free hand digging into his hip. He’s gasping now without any attempt at hiding just how turned on he is. But instead of moving Blake nips his shoulder and he hisses in lust and desperation.
“Talk to me, Avon.”
Now? Avon gathers his scattered thoughts. There had been something... “Since Orac can’t even detect the computer on Kilva its components might not be in a recognisable form.”
“Not about that!”
Blake is nuzzling at his spine. “Tell me you like this.”
Avon is instantly wary. “What makes you think I do?”
“Oh, you’re making it pretty obvious.” Blake’s hand moves from his thigh around to his cock, squeezes and Avon bites back a curse.
“So why do you need me to say it? Insecurity, or arrogance?”
Blake lets go. “No, you’re right.” He sounds exasperated. “I should have known nothing would break the mood faster than getting you to open your mouth.”
Avon considers a number of ripostes and rejects all the ones that he calculates will lead to an immediate cessation of proceedings, which doesn’t leave him with much. He goes for something relatively conciliatory. “Pillow talk isn’t really my forte, I’m afraid. Could we just skip the chattering and get on with it?”
“Just get on with it?” Blake sounds more offended than placated.
Blake is at least moving now, slowly. It’s good. Now if the man will only shut up for a bit…
“Why the hell am I sleeping with you at all?” Blake’s low, breathless complaint is, unfortunately, still audible.
“This is why.” Avon snaps back, pushing back onto him, hard. The manoeuvre’s too rough to be entirely comfortable for him but he can hear Blake’s gasp of pleasure. It gets the man moving again and keeps him from saying anything else so it’s well worth the brief twinge of soreness, particularly as he manages not to alert Blake by flinching.
Now they are screwing again, properly this time, and Avon lets his animal instincts take over for a while; no need for calculation or control. Blake bites him a couple more times, somewhere below his left shoulderblade and he flings his head back, panting. His hands are still, deliciously, trapped. Blake’s going to come soon, from the noises the man’s making behind him, Blake’s arm tight around his stomach now, pulling them closer together.
“Fuck. Avon. Avon.” And Blake’s gone, gasping barely coherently. Avon finds that particular use of his name a little disconcerting but he doesn’t complain. He’s more interested to know what Blake intends for his own erection, already recovering rapidly from the tendency to limpness that being screwed hard always engenders. He’s not seventeen; the body has limits. Not too many limits, though; by the time Blake has caught his breath again, Avon’s more than ready for the man to get started.
“Avon.” Blake’s free hand rubs patterns across his shoulderblades. “Kerr Avon. What the hell am I going to do about you?”
“Rhetorical? Or do you need a suggestion?”
“I suppose rhetorical, yes.” Blake reaches round to pinch a nipple and Avon shudders. “I think I can probably come up with one or two practical proposals on my own.”
“Practical would be appropriate right now. We can discuss rhetoric afterwards.” Or, preferably, never.
“Right.” Blake sounds sceptical; he’s guessed the silent coda, then. Avon doesn’t hugely care; he just wants Blake to touch him, properly.
Blake drags his wrists to cross each other behind his back. "Turn round." Avon turns, his arms trapped (not really trapped but it will do as entertainment) between his back and the wall, takes the opportunity to shake the trousers off from around his ankles and kick them away. There's a perfectly good bed not ten feet away but this is better and it seems that Blake's got no problem with it either, from the width of his grin.
Blake's palms hit Avon's shoulders, hard enough to jar his head back against the wall. Blake's pinning him at arms length now, taking the opportunity for a slow look down and up again. "You look remarkable."
Avon thinks that's unlikely. He's good looking, admittedly, but Blake's tendency to hyperbole is more irritating than flattering. Still, he tries to take it as a compliment. "Thank you. Now can we...?"
Blake comes forward enough to push a knee between his thighs, letting him grind into a hip, and to kiss him. Blake's kissing is genuinely remarkable, Avon has to concede (though not to Blake, obviously). It’s extremely singleminded and just a little bit rougher that is good mannered. Avon’s getting quite addicted to the taste of Blake’s tongue in his mouth. It’s easy not to let that worry him right now.
There’s a hand now, still sticky from lubricant, squeezing Avon’s cock up against Blake’s hip. That’s going to be enough to get him off in just a few more thrusts. He turns his head, pulls his mouth away from Blake’s, reluctantly, so that he can take the deep breaths he’s desperate for.
“I love it when you lose control.” Blake murmurs in his ear. Avon barely processes it, his mind only on the sensation in his cock. The teeth in his neck go almost unnoticed as he comes in shudders across Blake’s stomach and collapses back against the wall.
And now he feels it. He lifts a hand to the stinging patch. “I said no!”
“Don’t fuss. It’s lower down, it will be under your jacket collar. Almost entirely.” Blake’s pushing at their boundaries again but Avon’s feeling too drained to take him on right now. He crosses the room to throw himself down on the bed.
“Kilva is almost certainly extremely dangerous,” he says. He’s lying on his back, eyes half closed, not quite focussing on the ceiling.
Blake joins him, sprawling stomach downwards, an arm casually draped across Avon’s chest. “We have to do it. You know that.”
Avon contemplates the predictable level of contamination of his bedspread. Too late now to chide Blake, who would doubtless only retort that Avon was contributing equally. True, if he’d lain on his front and Blake on his back, that might have avoided the worse of it…
Kilva. “The problem is that I have to do it, if anyone does. No-one else has a hope of identifying idiosyncratic computer components.”
“No,” Blake agrees, without inflection.
“So persuade me that it’s in my best interests to go.”
Blake snorts. “That would have been easier five minutes ago.”
“Believe me, you’re not quite good enough to make me lose my head completely.”
The other man laughs, surprised. “I think there might have been a compliment hidden under there somewhere.”
“If there was it’s irrelevant to the discussion. Kilva, Blake. Do I really need to go there?”
Blake adopts his lecture voice. “Kilva and Meros. Two binary worlds in the same system, settled simultaneously nearly 400 years ago. Both adopted anti-technology policies and have refused contact with the outside world and, one assumes, each other, since settlement. Scans have confirmed both have basically agrarian economies with populations in the low millions and absolutely no trace of computing technology, though atmospheric changes indicate that Kilva has recently acquired basic fossil fuel based electromagnetic systems. The Federation have left them alone so far; they are just outside their current borders and there’s nothing for it there except a large, fundamentalist and therefore potentially rebellious population.”
Blake taps on Avon’s chest in emphasis. “Orac agrees with the above, and confirms that it can detect absolutely no computer activity on Kilva. Yet ten days ago three solid fuel rockets carrying primitive explosive payloads took off from Kilva and hit all three populated continents of Meros.”
“That’s fundamentalists for you,” Avon comments. “They carry long grudges.” He’s heard all the background earlier but it doesn’t hurt to have Blake’s current thinking. Nothing about Kilva makes him want to go near the place. “So they’ve got a computer that Orac can’t read. Not a particularly sophisticated one, though. Zen could compute those trajectories in a microsecond.”
“Kilva may have developed a completely new computing technology. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated yet; the Federation have plenty of people who can add the bells and buckles. I’d much rather we had it first. Wouldn’t you?”
Avon would, undoubtedly. He just doesn’t fancy dying for it. “I meant it about carrying grudges. These people develop novel computer tech for the sole purpose of blowing things up, and the first people they attack are ones they’ve had no contact with for 400 years. That’s a viciously insular mindset. I imagine if they catch me in an attempt at industrial espionage they won’t slap me on the wrist and let me go.”
“Come on, Avon. With Liberator as back up I’m pretty sure we can keep ahead of a bunch of farmers.”
“A bunch of psychopathic farmers. With guns.”
“Primitive projectile weapons, according to the reports. Ever heard of a bullet proof vest?”
Avon knows he’s going to agree. He doesn’t like the idea, but with teleports, the ship’s scanners and Liberator’s weapons, not to mention the self-evidently titled bullet proof vest it shouldn’t actually be that dangerous. He isn’t going to hesitate to use the weapons either. He’s not going to give any mean son of a bitch from a backward planet like Kilva a chance to kill him first.
“If we take a reasonably high orbit whatever primitive sensors they might have won’t be able to detect us. We can get as much information as we can before going in.”
Blake grimaces. “Ideally, yes, but we got the report about the attack from a Federation report a few hours ago. It’s possible that they might be curious as well. I don’t think we should hang around doing detailed surveys.”
Avon doubts that the Federation will bother them this time. Without Orac’s unique abilities they wouldn’t have any way to know that the computer used was anything out of the ordinary. Unpleasant genocidal regimes attacking their nearest neighbours, though not exactly common, certainly aren’t rare or interesting enough to warrant an immediate Federation response.
Even after he’s pointed all this out Blake still seems to be more concerned about the Federation than the Kilvans which Avon thinks is ridiculous; in his experience a few pursuit ships are considerably easier to deal with than a bunch of crazy muck dwellers carrying sharp objects with murder in mind. They finally agree on a minimum of a full aerial survey of the launch sites and an up to date overview of the state of technology elsewhere on the planet, in particular sensors, communications and weaponry, before they go in.
It’s rare enough that they agree on anything. Maybe the sex helps, Avon thinks. Blake seems to be a little easier to deal with when sated. It’s not going to be a feasible way of dealing with most of their disputes, which tend to take place on the bridge with witnesses, but he tucks it away as worth remembering anyway.
He hasn’t got time for any more testing, unfortunately. Having got his agreement Blake wants to be off immediately to keep in front of those non-existent pursuit ships. A quick shower and Avon’s dressing again. The mark on his neck is just hidden by his collar, if he keeps that high and forward. He objects to being made to hunch slightly to conceal Blake’s heedlessness, but he knows that he will anyway, at least until he gets access to the med unit while no-one else is around. (The bite marks on his back will stay there, though. He hasn’t looked in the mirror for them, but he can feel them still when he rolls his shoulders. He keeps having to resist the urge to do that; it’s not helping to conceal the bite at the front.)
Blake presents their conclusions to the rest of the crew. Avon catches the flicker that goes between Vila and Jenna; he’s not sure if it’s for their unusual show of agreement or the revelation that they have in fact been discussing Kilva and not just indulging in whatever sordid practices the others have imagined (hopefully not accurately) that they have been up to. Probably both. He had rather enjoyed dropping hints of his sexual activities with Blake into the Liberator’s gossip mill three weeks ago, but since then he has found the continual interest in what they might be doing at any given time extremely wearing. It doesn’t seem reasonable. Other people manage to have sex on this ship regularly without this prurient curiosity from everyone else.
No-one else raises any real objections to the Kilva venture, probably because Blake is making it clear that he intends to go down with Avon, leaving the others in the safety of the ship orbiting a planet with no better aggressive technology than primitive and extremely sublight rockets.
* * * * * * * * * * *
“Clockwork.” Avon says in disgust, jabbing a finger at the plans carefully inscribed in some sort of ink on grey parchment.
“Clockwork and a handful of electrical relays,” Blake corrects him. “Can you really launch a rocket on this stuff?”
“You’re the engineer. But Zen says that optimal routes from here to the centres of impact on Meros only require between six and eight booster firings. I imagine you could hardwire that much; these things aren’t designed with any flexibility at all.”
Blake nods. “So all you’d need is the calculation of an optimal route.”
Avon glances out of the control room’s high window at the large moon in the night sky and the dark shape of the rocket on its pad. “Which needs to take into account the gravitational fields from three massive bodies orbiting each other. They must have a computer.”
Blake is leafing through the other bits of paper. “Here’s the final solution for the next one in three days time; rocket mass, time of launch, firing times, strengths, booster orientations, impact time. All the numbers are here but no indication of how they were calculated.”
Avon strides around the room, opening cabinets and glancing at their contents. “Nothing here that looks anything like computing operations, and everything’s written out by hand. It must be held elsewhere.”
Blake wanders off into the next room. “I don’t think there’s anything…” he starts, and then hell breaks loose.
The soldiers come in from several directions and they come in firing. If they’d had real weapons Avon wouldn’t have stood a chance. As it is the multiple impacts knock him off his feet easily. He gets off two wild shots before they are onto him, grabbing his gun and pinning him down.
“Get that thing round his wrist” someone commands and the teleport bracelet is ripped off.
“Isn’t he dead?” The commander comes over to look. “No, I see he isn’t. Interesting.” He draws his own gun from the holster and fires at Avon’s chest from about a foot away. Avon is smashed back against the floor, gasping for breath. That isn’t at all pleasant; he’s pretty sure some ribs have just fractured.
“Bring him along. Sion will want to see this. Where’s the other one?”
“Vanished, sir.” A man salutes.
“No sir. Vanished from right in front of us.”
Blake has got away. That’s something. Avon is fairly confident that rescue will turn up at some point, even if he can’t retrieve his bracelet, provided that he can stop these trigger happy oafs from killing him first. First step is to go with the soldiers without protest. Hopefully they are taking him to someone he can deal with.
Sion is a fair haired man in his thirties, clearly very much in charge and not just of the rocket site. Avon pegs him as a scientist-politician-leader and probably something of a tyrant. He listens to the reports without expression.
“A Meros saboteur.”
Avon shakes his head in irritation. “Meros hasn’t got electricity yet. It’s hardly likely to be engaging in interplanetary travel.”
Sion looks sternly at him. “We all know that the aggressors of Meros are on the point of invasion. Only constant vigilance and public service can keep our planet safe.”
Avon reckons that Sion doesn’t believe a word of that. The roomful of possible VIPs, on the other hand, are nodding vigorously. It’s not his job to enlighten Kilva about the lies its leader tells, but he could do with getting Sion onside.
“I don’t come from Meros. I have no interest in them. I’m an independent party.”
“So what were you doing in my rocket complex, if not sabotage?”
That does take some explaining. Avon decides to go for something near the truth.
“I was interested in your computer. I’m a computer specialist, one of the best in the galaxy. I could be of great help to you in developing its capabilities in whatever way you need.”
The room has gone silent; everyone is staring at him. The guards have seized his arms again, are holding him still while Sion smoothly draws a sidearm and shoots him in the chest.
Fuck, that hurts, again. He’s fairly sure that he screamed this time. He’s hanging limp from the soldiers’ arms, the people around him loud now with shock and excitement
Sion steps forward and rips his jacket open to reveal the smooth black material of the impact amelioration material (bullet proof vest to anyone but Orac). “Get all this stuff off him. I want him on the platform, naked and in chains by the time we start public service.”
Avon has been rather too busy getting shot to wonder why there are so many important people apparently up and about before dawn. He wonders about it now. It doesn’t seem to be for his benefit. The soldiers aren’t particularly gentle about stripping him and he greatly misses the undergarments, which weren’t particularly comfortable but have saved his life at least three times in the last half hour. The chains are welded around his wrists and ankles, a procedure both painful and worrying. So far Kilva is living down to his worst expectations.
The platform is in front of the huge plaza that every Kilvan town possesses, each big enough, Orac estimated, for their entire adult population. “Question mark religious ceremonies,” it had suggested and “more research needed”. Blake hadn’t wanted to spend the extra time- he’d argued that the natives’ religious rites were very unlikely to be relevant to their mission. Avon hopes to live long enough to tell the man in no uncertain terms just how wrong he was.
Sure enough, it appears that the entire adult population of the city is there. Avon estimates three hundred thousand people, all drawn up in what look like military units and battalions. There are no screens but there is a primitive loudspeaker system relaying everything to the furthest edges of the plaza. It’s not yet dawn but it’s still light enough to see to the distant buildings beyond, since the great ball of the binary Meros hangs in the sky, gleaming brightly with the sun’s reflected light. Avon wonders how much this overhead presence contributes to Kilva’s paranoia about Meros. He decides that he doesn’t really care. His chest hurts a great deal, there are burns on his wrists, and he just wants to go home. Home to Blake, he thinks, and the thought surprises him. It’s true, though. Right now, miserable and trapped, it’s Roj Blake he thinks about when he thinks about freedom.
The crowd have quietened in anticipation. Sion has come to stand just a couple of feet from where Avon is held.
“People of Kilva. Before today’s public service starts, I want to share with you an incident which reminds us all of the terrible evil that we are facing.”
The chain of loudspeakers repeat his words with a few seconds delay down the crowd until all have heard.
“Tonight our brave soldiers captured a saboteur in the process of trying to blow up number 2 rocket facility.”
He pauses to let the transmission finish. The crowd are rumbling a little.
“When we questioned the saboteur he told us that not only was he from Meros. Not only did he confirm that their plans to destroy us are well advanced. But he also told us that he was…”
He pauses again. Playing the crowd. Avon wonders what further atrocity he will be blamed for.
“…a computer specialist.”
The crowd nearest to the platform erupt. Avon can see the chaos spread back as the loudspeakers carry the message. Within maybe sixty seconds the neat rows and squares are a heaving mass of screaming, shouting people. He can hear not just the baying anger but the other kind of screams as people are tramped and crushed by the crowds. The mass of guards surrounding the platform are shooting systematically into the nearest part of the crowd to keep them from being overrun but no-one makes any attempt to restore control for three minutes. Avon knows that it’s three minutes because he can see Sion surreptitiously checking his timepiece, waiting it out.
Finally Sion gives a command and thousands of guards all around the plaza wade into the crowds, beating them back. Order is restored remarkably quickly; it dawns on a horrified Avon that he’s witnessing a relatively common occurrence. The bloodied dead and injured are shuffled quickly out to the adjoining streets and the people return to their neat units, some with obvious gaps.
Sion steps up to the microphone again. “People of Kilva, we share your anguish and your disgust and we have listened to your words. We would give this abomination to all of you to rip apart if we could.”
The crowd’s baying hate shakes Avon to the bone.
“But since we cannot, we shall do the best we can. We shall award him at dusk to the unit whose public service is most laudable today.”
Sion jerks his head at Avon’s guards. Apparently his part in the proceedings is done because they hustle him into the building behind the platform and into a thoroughly nasty little cell with a tiny window that he can’t get near, complete with wall hooks for his manacles. He hangs there from his sore wrists, face touching the stinking and slimy wall, feeling the sharp pain in his ribs every time he breathes in and trying to work out how things have gone quite so disastrously wrong and when Blake is likely to get his arse in gear and rescue him. Long before dusk would be really, really good.
“Computer” is clearly an obscenity. One of those things that it really would have been useful to know. One of those things that a cultural survey would have picked up, if bloody Roj Blake hadn’t been in such a fucking hurry. Obscenity or not, they’ve got one, somewhere. Avon no longer cares much about finding it but if they’ve got a computer then they’ve got to have their own computer specialist and it’s that man or woman who might be willing to keep Avon alive long enough for rescue.
He hates this place possibly more than anywhere else he’s ever been. He knows that the Federation have been responsible for all kinds of atrocity but he’s never witnessed first hand anything to match the sight of men and women being crushed to death in front of him by that deliberately engineered riot.
After what feels like hours but is probably no more than twenty minutes, his guards leave the cell and someone else enters. He can’t turn enough to see who so he just waits.
“What’s your name?” Sion’s rich voice.
He’s in too much pain to play games. “Avon.”
“And where do you come from?”
“You said I came from Meros,”
“Meros,” Sion says smoothly, “hasn’t got electricity yet. It’s hardly likely to be engaging in interplanetary travel. I have astronomers. They keep a careful watch on Meros, and I keep a careful watch on them. There’s a new object in the sky, extremely faint but it’s there in geostationary orbit. Your ship?”
“Its weapons could flatten this city.”
“But they won’t, not while you’re missing down here. What were you really doing in my rocket facility, Avon?”
“Exactly what I said. Looking for your computer. We have a device that detects computers. It can’t see yours, which interested me.”
“My computer?” Sion sounds genuinely surprised. “We don’t like computers on Kilva, as you may have noticed. Why are you so sure that your device is wrong?”
“You must have one.” Avon is really tired and sore and fed up of talking to a psychopathic dictator. “The computations for the rockets are far too complex to be done by hand. How many people died out there today?”
“One thousand two hundred and sixty at the last count. There’s another thousand or so in hospital. It’s not a problem. They will all be declared heroes of the war against Meros and their families will receive bonuses and a medal.”
“Even the ones shot by your soldiers?”
“Of course. Why make people unhappy unnecessarily? I need them, after all.”
“Doesn’t every tyrant need their oppressed masses?” Avon asks cynically.
“Rather more directly than that. It’s public service day, Avon. Don’t you have any idea of what that means?”
“Is it important?”
“I think you might find it important, given your reason for being here.” Sion reaches up and unhooks the chains. “Come over to the window.”
Avon shuffles over, watching for a chance to thump Sion with the manacles. The man is carefully staying out of reach and the guards are at the open door.
From the cell Avon can see part of the plaza. The people are still there, still in their ranks. He thinks at first that nothing is happening, but then he starts to notice the single people walking over to an adjacent unit and walking back. Loads of them, constantly on the move. It looks like an ant’s nest.
Something is happening. Something of practical importance, he thinks. This is public service- a collective project of enormous scale. He watches the people go back and forth. They must be carrying something, maybe instructions, or information between the units. Carrying data.
Enlightenment finally dawns. “They’re your computer!”
“We don’t call it that, but yes. One day out of five, eight hours of computations by virtually every adult on the planet. The rocket calculations were completed in twelve days.”
Avon watches his idiosyncratic computer components at work, still not quite believing it possible.
“They’re all working particularly hard today,” Sion says. “They all want to be in the unit that is awarded the Meros computer spy.”
“What size is a unit?”
He wishes he hadn’t asked. “This has all been a misunderstanding. I’ve got no use for your human calculators. I came looking for technology. Let me go and my ship and I will leave without interfering any further. Keep me here and my crew will respond with deadly force.”
“I don’t think they will,” Sion says, smugly. “They haven’t so far. I think once you’re dead they’ll just fly away. And I have promised your death to fifteen lucky workers, remember. I’ll see you again at dusk.” The guards are called back, and they slam Avon against the wall again, driving spasms through his damaged ribs, hooking him up to hang uselessly.
The next few hours drag incredibly slowly. Avon spends them being in considerable pain and listening out for the first sign of disruption but there are no noises off and all the guard changes seem to be going smoothly. Where the hell is Blake? What’s keeping him? He could be dying down here. Hell, he probably will be dying down here, when the sun goes down.
At last- at long last- there is the sound of gunfire, far away then getting closer. Avon guesses that it’s no further away than two or three corridors by the time the boneshaking explosions stop. There’s nothing, and then noise much closer- modern weapons, this time. He can hear the door open behind him. Blake. It must be. Please be Blake.
The tap of high heeled shoes on the stone floor warns him a second before she speaks.
“Kerr Avon? It is Avon, isn’t it? Only from an unaccustomed angle, and so much more bare skin than usual.”
He takes a deep breath. So that’s why Blake hasn’t come. The danger has just been replaced by a different one. Despite the exhausting hours spent in agony he needs to be alert.
“What are you doing here, Servalan?” Surely she hasn’t come just for him?
“I read the reports, and I was in the area. An aggressive war leader might be in a excellent position to bring this planet into the Federation, if he could be brought on side. I thought I’d drop in and see. Of course when we accidentally flushed the Liberator out of orbit it seemed that I wasn’t the only person interested in Kilva.”
Sion and the Federation. What an unpleasant combination. But there had been gunfire… “And was he ‘brought onside’?”
“Not exactly.” She sounds a little put out. “Halfway through a perfectly civil conversation several people in the room attacked me without warning. We had to eliminate the entire leadership. A pity, but I’ve appointed an interim government to bring the planet into the Federation while the locals are still in chaos, so we’ll have it anyway.”
Avon supposes that he ought to feel bothered that the Federation has acquired another subordinate planet, but he can’t help feeling that for the people of Kilva even rule by Servalan’s puppets is a distinct improvement over the status quo. Hell, you could probably put Travis in charge and conditions would still improve.
“And what exactly brings Blake to a place like Kilva, Avon? Clearly whatever it was failed, but I still admit to being curious.”
He could tell her, he supposes, with no harm now but he doesn’t much feel like being obliging so he stays silent. He hears the heels again, closer this time, and then the sharp touch of a nail tracing a circle under his shoulder blade.
“Avon! Are those love bites?”
“It’s a highly infectious skin condition,” he says flatly.
“I don’t think so.” He hates the amusement in her voice. “Shall I guess who?”
“Or you could just shoot me, although I’d appreciate the opportunity to put on some clothes first. Dying like this would be annoying.”
“I don’t think I’m going to shoot you.”
That’s good news, he supposes. He’s tempted to ask why not but he doesn’t want to accidentally argue her out of it. She tells him anyway.
“I’m leaving the pursuit ships here for a couple of weeks, to assist with a smooth transfer of power. If the locals haven’t killed you by then, or you haven’t died from lack of water, or food, or,” she draws the nail suggestively down his spine, “general misuse, then I imagine your gallant lover will come galloping to the rescue when the ships leave. This place is squalid now. Can you imagine what it will be like in two weeks time? If you’re very fortunate it will only be your own filth caking you, but I don’t think you’re going through a lucky patch, are you, Kerr Avon?”
He almost forgets, sometimes, how well she knows them and how much she hates them all. If Blake finds him in the state that Servalan is predicting with such relish it will not just mean the end of their brief physical liaison, but almost certainly of his place on Liberator. There is only so much humiliation that he can bear to be reminded of and he won’t take pity from any of them.
“I can pass on a message to Liberator on my way out if there’s anything you’d like to tell them?” A small voice recorder is pushed over his shoulder. What does she want from him? Sentiment. Useless defiance. Pleading. Anything that will make her laugh. He glares at the slim hand holding the device in impotent fury. If he says anything at all that she thinks might help him or them then she won’t transmit the message, of course.
He has to say something. He has to confirm that he’s alive, at least. Avon takes one more second to compose himself, then starts to speak.
“Roj.” It isn’t hard to sound utterly defeated. “I’m sorry, Roj. Tell the damn box it was right all along. There was nothing here, and now I’m trapped between the Feds and the locals…” As he speaks he can almost feel the sharpness of Servalan’s smile.
* * * * * * * * * *
Avon is dragged out of semi-consciousness by the explosions. He manages to open his eyelids to see the walls of the cell tinged red. Fire outside in the city; he can hear it roaring in the brief pauses between the gunfire.
His wrists and shoulders feel as if they are on fire as well. His chest burns. He’s desperately thirsty and incredibly tired but he drives himself to stay alert and listen, since he can’t see anything but the walls. One noise is familiar; a Federation lander taking off, screaming dangerously low over the city.
The noise of riot and disorder go on seemingly interminably. He can feel the heat of the fires now, warming the cell; he tries to calculate the comparative risks that he’ll be killed in a blaze or murdered by looters, decides both are much higher than he really wants to think about and he can’t do anything about either. A huge explosion shakes the building; he can hear walls collapse in all directions with accompanying screams. That must have been the rocket fuel depot, he decides, closing his eyes a little too late against the cascade of stone dust.
Despite the apocalyptic chaos all around Avon slips back eventually into a semi-comatose state, registering nothing but exhaustion and pain. He doesn’t really respond to the voice or the sudden change in lighting but when an agonisingly laboured breath brings clean familiar air into his lungs he knows that he’s home.
* * * * * * * * * *On to Part 2