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Slash by Unsentimental Fool
Not all that you want and ought not to want Is forbidden to you
FIC: Extrapolating From A Single Data Point B7 
17th-Jun-2015 10:35 am
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Title: Extrapolating From A Single Data Point
Author: Unsentimental Fool
Fandom: Blake's 7
Characters: Avon, Blake
Rating: Teen and up
Word Count: 5,800
Summary: Avon glanced around him apprehensively, then shouted “Blake!” as loud as he’d ever called before. The noises around him went suddenly, shockingly quiet, and in the silence he could hear something else.

'Extrapolating From A Single Data Point' on AO3 here






Avon materialised on an unfamiliar planet with the all too familiar feel of a gun barrel pressing into his back. He dropped his own weapon, raised his hands very slowly and waited, his heart pounding. They hadn’t been expecting enemies…

The trees around him towered ten, twelve metres. Inexplicable noises screeched from the undergrowth in every direction but whoever was behind him was silent. Avon waited a moment longer then started to turn, slowly, hands still up.

The thing sticking into his spine turned out to be a broken branch. He was alone. Avon scooped his gun up again and called Liberator. No-one replied. He tried again, several times. Nothing. “Blake” he called out, not too loud. Nothing.

Damn. They had decided that the risk of losing the signal to the fluctuating electrical fields of this planet was low enough to make teleporting down safe, but apparently they’d been wrong. Now Avon was standing in the middle of a jungle with no way of contacting the ship or Blake who ought to be standing here with him.

He took a few deep breaths, trying to compose himself enough to think about what to do next. There were animals in this place; he could hear them call, hear the vegetation rustle. He didn’t like animals; they were unpredictable. Some of them ate people. His hand tightened on the gun.

“Avon?” came from his bracelet.

Avon let out a breath he shouldn’t have been holding. “Blake? Where are you?”

“Beside a river. I can’t raise the ship. You?”

“I can’t raise it either. There are trees all round me. No features at all.”

“OK.” Blake sounded reassuringly calm. “Turn this off for twenty seconds and I’ll shout. If you’re nearby you should hear me.”

It was a long twenty seconds during which Avon heard nothing but the noises of the jungle. The smell of decaying vegetation was strong and unpleasant. “I didn’t hear anything.”

“You try.” The transmission cut off. Avon glanced around him apprehensively, then shouted “Blake!” as loud as he’d ever called before. The noises around him went suddenly, shockingly quiet, and in the silence he could hear something else.

“Nothing.” Blake confirmed.

“Water.” Avon said. “I think I can hear water. I’m going to move towards it.” The background noise had returned .He tried not to think about predators honing in on his position.

In a few moments he had pushed his way through to the edge of a wide waterway. He couldn’t see Blake anywhere.

“Maybe it’s a different river,” he said, disheartened.

“Mine’s about thirty metres across, fast moving but pretty smooth. Sort of dark greenish?”

That was close enough to what he was looking at. “I suppose it might be the same one.” Even with the dodgy fields, the teleport shouldn’t have put them down too far apart. “Which direction are you?”

“I’ve no idea.”

Avon contemplated the dark water, the occasional branch floating past. If Blake were upstream… “What are you wearing?” Not that he actually needed to ask; he’d seen Blake five minutes before.

“Is this really the time for that sort of conversation?” Blake sounded a great deal more cheerful than Avon felt appropriate.

“My only interest is in anything brightly coloured that you can manage without.”

“Oh.” A pause. “This shirt, I suppose. Hang on.”

Avon wasn’t going anywhere. He spent the few minutes before Blake reported back trying to estimate the speed of the water. Maybe four miles an hour in the central current.

Blake’s voice came back. “It’s off-white, should show up OK. I’ve wrapped it around a small floating log. Ready?”

“Go on.”

“In the river now. It’s right in the centre.”

After twenty minutes Avon was fed up of alternately straining his eyes for the object and spinning round to check the unsettlingly active forest behind him. “Either you’re miles away, or downstream, or it’s a different river, or the log’s got caught up somewhere or sunk. Or something ate it. Take your pick."

“Hardly worth sacrificing a good shirt for. Pity. You’d better try.”

“My clothes are all dark.”

“Come on, Avon. I’ve seen your laundry.”

The only thing that Avon could think of right now worse then being stuck in a hostile jungle all alone was being stuck in a hostile jungle all alone with no underwear and the suspicion that Blake was laughing at him. “There’s little point. The chances are high that you won’t see it.”

“Can you think of a better idea? Apart from just waiting separately for the ship to get back in touch? "

Avon didn't like the idea of being on his own indefinitely at all. There were things, large things, close by - he was sure he'd seen movement in the brush several times. "All right," he conceded. "Wait."

It took a long time to struggle out of his trousers with one hand but he wasn't relinquishing the gun for a moment. Eventually he had a small white bundle. "Going in the river now," he announced and threw it into the place where he reckoned the flow was fastest. Then he turned his back on the water and tried his best to wriggle back into his remaining clothes whilst watching the trees.

It was a little less than ten minutes when Blake's voice came back. "There it is!"

"Are you certain?"

"It’s close enough to the bank that I can almost read the label. Not going very fast."

Avon revised his distance estimate down a little. "Two thirds of a mile at the most, more likely half." He looked without enthusiasm at the tangle along the bank. "It could still take hours."

"At least we know which way to go now. We'd better start- it looks like dusk will be setting in soon. "

Nightfall was another inconvenient property of planets, along with vegetation and predators. Avon set off, scrambling awkwardly over decaying logs and pushing with difficulty through spiky leaves and tangled branches. He was soon sweating in the hot humidity and his leather trousers had started to chafe in the absence of his rather comfortable underwear. For the first few minutes Blake kept up a desultory chatter until Avon told him to shut up. He had a nasty feeling that something was following him, just beyond his line of sight and he didn't want the distraction.

Blake broke the silence after about half an hour. "How far do you think you've come?"

"Three hundred metres?" Avon guessed.

"About the same here. We could try shouting again? "

"No. The less attention we draw to ourselves the better. We can't miss each other, provided you stay by the edge. "

" You've got your gun, haven't you?"

"I'd rather not have to use it. Animals travel in packs, sometimes. Large packs."

"Not through vegetation this thick, surely?" But Blake didn't suggest calling out again.

Half an hour later Blake called in again. "There's a huge tree fallen about halfway across the river here. Easy to spot and the hole left by the roots is the first significant cover I've found. I'm going to stop here and try to make it into a real shelter.”

Just like Blake to decide what they were doing without consulting him first. Avon glared at the tangled mess ahead. If Blake stopped now he'd have to go twice as far. On the other hand he'd seen nothing resembling shelter either. It would be a relief to arrive to some of the work already done. "Acknowledged," he said curtly and scrambled onwards.

He saw the fallen tree as he worked his way round a long curve; first the mountain of leaves in the centre of the river and then the solid trunk arching over the water swirling underneath. When he could see the whole length to the bank, the mass of roots towering six or seven metres above the ground, he stopped.

"Blake."

"Yes?"

"Stand on the left hand side of the roots, facing the river, and wave."

The last faint hope that it might be a different treefall faded as he saw the figure appear, hands moving above his head. Hell and damnation. "We have a problem," he said aloud.

"What is it?" Blake stopped moving.

" You're on the wrong side." How very appropriate. And inconvenient.

"Ah. That's a problem, yes. I can see you now."

They didn't say much more until Avon had finished the trek to the nearest point to the tree on his side of the river. They could have shouted to each other across the noise of the water but they kept to the communication bracelets.

"I don't suppose you can swim?" Blake asked.

Avon looked at the fifteen metres of opaque green-brown water separating him from the fallen treetop, full of branches and God knows what being swept rapidly downstream. "No."

"That's a pity. I never had any reason to learn either. Maybe we could make ropes?"

"Do you have any idea how to make a rope?" Avon asked.

"I think you plait fibres, or something." Blake said vaguely.

"And do you know how to plait fibres?"

"Not a clue," Blake admitted.

"Can we stick to feasible solutions? We aren't in an adventure vid."

He heard Blake's sigh. He could see across the river well enough to know that the man had put his jacket back on despite the cloying heat and that his body language displayed little of the tension that Avon was feeling.

"Why aren't you carrying your gun?" he demanded.

"It's in my belt. I haven't seen anything I need to shoot at yet."

"Nor have I. That doesn't mean there's nothing out there."

"The settlement." Blake said abruptly. "If we ended up within half a mile of each other, chances are the settlement we were teleporting down to is no further away than that. They can help."

"You're extrapolating from a single data point." Avon said. "It might just as well be ten miles. Even if it is only half a mile, without an indication of the direction to try we could be searching in this mess for days."

"There must be roads leading there. If we each head directly away from the river one of us is sure to cross one."

"They might use the river for transportation. Primitive societies often do."

" Have you seen anything man-made in this river?" Blake demanded. Avon could see his arms planted firmly on his hips.

"If we're upriver we wouldn't. "

"All right." Blake's words had become clipped in exasperation. "Let’s assume we're upriver. That gives us two directions to look in- down river and away from it. Which do you want to take?"

Nothing would induce Avon to head back into that morass of jungle alone. “We’ve just spent hours getting ourselves moreorless in the same place. It would be stupid to split up now.”

“Not really.” Blake hadn’t once turned to check the undergrowth behind him. The man seemed completely indifferent to the danger they were both in. “You’ve got no shelter over there, and if something does attack you there’s nothing I can do about it. Staring into each other’s eyes across this river isn’t going to get us anywhere. I’m going to head back into the trees and try to find help.”

Avon glanced up at the strip of clouded sky visible along the river route. It was noticeably darker than it had been. Blake had turned away as if the conversation was over. He could vanish completely in the next few seconds, leaving Avon alone. Something coughed, nearby and Avon jumped, swinging his gun in the general direction of the noise. Sod it…

“Wait! I’ll swim across.”

Blake turned back. “I think swimming’s one of those things you have to learn, you know. This probably isn’t the best place to experiment.”

“I can swim,” Avon snapped. He’d been quite competitive for a while at school, until he’d worked out that his physique meant there would always be others better than him. Then he’d lost interest.

“Ah,” Blake said. Avon could hear the amusement in his voice.

“Nobody would volunteer to swim in that if there was an alternative,” Avon said, and was rather annoyed that it had come out defensively. He didn’t have to justify himself to Blake.

“But you don’t want to be left alone.” The amusement hadn’t gone.

That was intolerable. “I would invariably rather be alone than in your company. But as you pointed out, there is no shelter on this side, and when your carelessness gets you eaten by something I’d like to be in a position to recover your gun and bracelet.”

“If you say so.” Blake’s tone of voice came over rather too clearly. “I don’t really need to know your reasons anyway. Are you sure that you can make it over though?”

Avon wouldn’t be doing it unless he was sure. The distance was trivial for a swimmer of his capacity, the current could be compensated for by starting further up the bank. He’d be swept down into the branches of the tree- they looked substantial enough to let him clamber up to the wide trunk and crawl the rest of the way. The main danger was from large bits of debris in the water- he’d just have to keep a look out.

He couldn’t swim it in boots and jacket though. He made his way a dozen metres back the way he’d come and started to undress, regretting the absence of his underwear rather acutely. His jacket made a bundle of the rest of his clothes and the gun, tied with his belt to a large piece of lightweight bark and attached to his ankle. It would be a bit of an obstruction to his footstroke in the water but he wasn’t prepared to leave it all behind. Blake made a few apparently meant to be helpful suggestions which he mostly ignored. Then he found a high bit of bank and, naked except for his bracelet and the bundle tied to his ankle, he executed a neat, shallow dive into the dark green water.

Not water. More like dilute acid, oily and nowhere near as buoyant as he’d expected. His eyes burned as he fought to clear the surface so he could breathe. Swim. He had to swim, or he wouldn’t get out. Avon ploughed forward blindly for half a dozen strokes until he hit the side of the fallen tree and was nearly dragged underneath the tangled branches. Everything hurt now, his skin burning, his eyes streaming and tightly shut, the branches scraping agonising welts across his sides. Slowly, painfully, he pulled his upper body out of the water. Where was the main trunk? Disorientated, he couldn’t open his eyes, he didn’t know which way to go. He couldn’t hang on for long.

“Avon!” Blake’s voice sounded different. Not through the bracelet. “Avon! This way!” He followed the sound of the voice, handhold after difficult handhold. Eventually something grabbed his wrist, Blake’s voice much louder now than the river. “Up here!” Avon let go of the branch, flailed out and caught the warmth of the other hand, his chest scraping raw against the rough trunk as Blake pulled him upwards. He was going to get out…

At first the pain in his leg felt little different from the rest of his protesting nerve endings. Then he realised that he was no longer moving upwards, despite Blake’s efforts. His foot had got trapped in something. Something very sharp that felt like it was chewing his leg off. He kicked out with his other leg, hit something soft and moving. Above him Blake made a noise not that far off a scream and one of his arms was abruptly dropped. He was pulled away from Blake, towards whatever was below him, slipping back under the not quite water. “Blake!” His own shout was embarrassingly screamlike too. Then there was a noise and a flash that lit up even the inside of his tightly closed eyelids and the pressure on his leg released. One final agonising tug on his ankle and he was free in the water again.

It took a long time for Blake to get him to dry land, or as dry as the jungle got. Avon grimly hung on to consciousness and did what he could to assist but his leg wasn’t responding at all – he wasn’t entirely sure that it was all still there- and he was too weak to pull himself along. Eventually Blake’s voice came through the confusion. “Rest now. I’m going to collect some rainwater.”

It was raining hard. Avon hadn’t noticed. He turned his face up towards the water- real water- and felt a slight easing of the pain. “Where’s my gun?” he asked weakly.

“Inside something with a lot of teeth, I’m afraid, along with your clothes. I’d lend you some of mine but your skin looks like it might start blistering. I think you should get as much rainwater on it as possible right now.”

That at least was easily accomplished; it carried on raining for hours. Avon managed to get his stinging eyes open in time to see the last of the light slowly ebbing from the jungle around him. Blake had collected water and cleaned up the gashes in Avon’s leg as well as he could. With the darkness came a drop in temperature that had Avon starting to shiver. Blake dragged him into the shelter of the hole under the upturned roots and crawled in beside him.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you do something that disastrously stupid before,” Blake said conversationally.

“If I die you can put that on my gravestone.” Avon was sour.

“You’re not going to die. When I rescue someone they stay rescued.”

Avon could think of at least three instances in which Blake’s idea of a rescue had led to the rapid demise of the rescued party, but he was too tired and cold to bother correcting the man.

“I’d give you my clothes but they’re wet through. I don’t think it would help.” Blake moved closer to him in the dark, chilly hands feeling for his bare skin and starting to rub across his chest and shoulders. “You have to stay awake. How’s the leg feeling?”

“It hurts.” Avon would kill for some pain suppressants right now. At least Blake’s hands were slightly warmer than his own skin. He poked feebly at his bracelet. Still functional despite the immersion, still no signal from the ship. They lapsed into silence, Blake’s hands still transmitting some semblance of warmth.

“That’s a good sign,” Blake said, finally.

“What is?”

“If you’re thinking about sex you’re probably not about to die.”

Avon had not been thinking about sex and said so with sharp indignation. “An autonomic nervous system response. Your ignorance of human biology is pitiful.”

“Sorry,” Blake said, with no hint of remorse or embarrassment. “Just checking.”

“Why? Are you planning to proposition me?”

“When you’ve just told me you’re not interested? Certainly not.”

Now that Blake had been crass enough to mention it, Avon was all too aware of his own reaction to the warmed hands and had a little trouble thinking about anything else. It didn’t help that Blake wasn’t being particularly careful in the dark and his hands tended to collide with Avon’s erection every so often.

He needed a distraction. “What did it look like?”

“What? Oh, your river friend. Its head was about a metre wide and full of teeth. Very ugly.”

“Did you manage to kill it?”

“I’ve no idea. It let go, at least. How are you feeling?”

Cold, wet, naked, in a lot of pain, moderately terrified of the jungle night around him and nevertheless ridiculously aroused. Avon didn’t reply. Blake’s fingers encountered him again, moved away, and he lost patience.

“If you’re going to keep doing that, at least do it properly!”

“Like this?”

Very much like that. Avon was determined not to say anything that might be read as excitable so he merely grunted assent.

Another five minutes and he was almost warm, the blood pulsing hard around his body. At least there was no question of reciprocity; he could still barely move. He was vaguely aware that he should probably have thought of something incisive to say to Blake after the man was done but despite Blake’s shouts and shaking he drifted instead into an exhausted sleep.

Avon woke to artificial brightness and the comfort of his own bed. He tried moving, found the aches and pains gone and his leg fully functional again. He was clean and naked under a sheet, a pile of his own clothes on a chair next to the bed.

He ignored the suggested clothes in favour of his own choice from his wardrobe, regretting the loss of his jacket. Nothing hurt and he seemed to be absolutely fine again so he headed for the flight deck, picking up a roll and coffee from the galley on the way.

“Avon. Back with us I see. How are you?” Blake greeted him from in front of the screen.

“Fine. What’s happening?”

“Orac has been analysing the electrical fluctuations. We seem to have hit a particularly bad patch. We’ve told the settlers that we can’t risk going down at the moment; we’ll have to return some other time. They aren’t best pleased but I think they understand.”

“Some other time someone else can go. I’ve decided that I don’t like jungles.” Avon said.

“Blake said you dived into a river full of monsters!” Vila chirped in. “I’ve always said that you’re a man of many hidden talents, Avon. I didn’t know you could swim!”

“I’ve decided I don’t like swimming either. Where are we off to next?”


Avon spent a lot of time over the next few days thinking about how he was going to respond when Blake brought up the incident in the dark. He intended to be scathing, mainly, make it clear that it was irrelevant in every respect and that if Blake thought he could presume on it in any way he was badly mistaken.

He’d rehearsed the discussion so much in his head that by the time he worked out that Blake wasn’t going to say anything it was positively infuriating to not get to say any of his carefully honed and pithy putdowns. Why on earth did Blake think he could just ignore it, anyway? The man didn’t seem to treat him any differently at all.

By the time Avon found something he could properly take offence at, he was sufficiently wound up to take his opportunity with both hands. It was a couple of weeks later and Blake had been arranging to go down to a planet surface to find a jettisoned data cell.

“Vila and I will go in case we need to break into it.”

“It’s a computer component,” Avon said. “I’ll be more use than Vila. I’ll come down.”

Blake glanced at the screen showing the sparsely wooded landscape. “Are you sure. Avon? We can bring it back up to the ship for you to work on easily enough.”

Avon looked pointedly from the screen to Blake. “Yes I’m sure. I don’t know where you’ve got the impression that I’m frightened of trees, Blake. I do not need mollycoddling.”

“Hey,” Vila said. “If it’s too scary for Avon I definitely don’t want to go.”

Blake nodded. “Come on then.” He turned towards the teleporter room without another word.

It didn’t help Avon’s mood any to discover that he didn’t like walking through the trees at all. They were more spread out and there were far fewer noises than there had been in the jungle, but there was still the odd call of birds and the sound of wind in the branches. Blake strode on ahead of him without so much as a glance around for danger, his focus entirely on the device that should lead them to their goal.

Avon caught him up, his hand round the gun in his belt. “Blake.” He was about to criticise the man’s carelessness.

“Don’t worry.” Blake still didn’t look up. “I got Zen to scan the area. There’s nothing moving that registers more than a couple of kilograms for miles.”

Avon felt relief and annoyance in equal measure. “That wasn’t necessary. You think I’ve lost my nerve.”

“You?” Blake did look up at that point. “It wasn’t done for your benefit.”

“You expect me to believe that Blake the hero is worried about a few wild animals? I warn you, Blake, I will not be humoured or pandered to.”

Blake had stopped, was staring at him. “All right, Avon. No pandering. What do you think happened after you passed out?”

“We were rescued.” Obviously.

“Eventually, yes.” Blake turned and started striding away again.

Avon caught him up again, a hand on his sleeve. “Since you clearly want me to know, you’d better tell me what happened before that.”

“All right. After about an hour when I couldn’t wake you you suddenly took a turn for the worse. Pulse weakening, breathing shallow, core temperature dropping. I knew enough about what was happening to know that if you were to have any chance of survival I had to keep you warm and dry but I had no way to do either. You were almost certainly going to die and there was nothing at all that I could do.”

Blake grimaced. “I didn’t have too much time to fret about that because it turned out that the horror in the river had some land dwelling relatives. Smaller, but as you predicted, hunting in packs. I imagine that they must have been aroused by the smell of blood because it didn’t seem to matter how many I killed they would not leave us alone. That went on for- I don’t know, a couple of hours, I think.

“Eventually,” he flickered a cold smile at Avon. “Eventually Jenna was crazy enough to bring Liberator down to about twenty metres above the treetops, in an atmosphere, in the dark and with malfunctioning instruments and we got the teleport to work. You were, to my astonishment, still just about breathing when we got you to the med unit.”

He swung away from Avon, resumed walking. “So yes, I’m a little jumpy about the idea of a few wild animals at the moment, not to mention wildernesses in general. This is the last place I want to be right now, but I can’t tell them that, and I can’t ask anyone who follows me to do anything that I won’t, so here I am, with Zen’s scan to make me feel a little safer, at least.”

They walked in silence for a while. Avon was thinking. Before he had come up with anything to say, Blake spoke again.

“I hate the med unit.”

“Oh?”

“Not the fact that it works. Of course I’m glad you’re alive and unhurt. But there’s no time for transitions. One minute you’re on the brink of death and the next time I see you you’re fast asleep, then a few hours later you’re stamping around the bridge in a sulk about something trivial as if nothing happened.”

“I don’t sulk.” Avon said automatically.

“That’s really not the point.”

“So what is?”

“The point is that I went through hell thinking I was going to lose you just as we might finally have something, while as far as you were concerned you just went to sleep and woke up back on the ship perfectly well again. Is it any wonder that we haven’t been able to talk about it?”

Avon jumped with relief on the only bit of this conversation that sounded anything like his predictions. “We did not have something.”

“No, we didn’t.” Blake agreed. “That was obvious afterwards. I’d merely taken advantage of the situation and it was wrong of me.”

Avon hadn’t expected to be apologised to. He didn’t much like the implications. “What on earth makes you think I was taken advantage of?”

“Well,” Blake said. “It’s clearly not something you’d choose to have happen in other circumstances.”

“And how do you know that?”

Blake stopped to frown at him. “Because you’ve done nothing towards having it happen again. Come on, Avon. Obviously as far as you were concerned it was a mistake than you have no intention of repeating. Don’t pretend otherwise.”

“I’m not pretending anything. And I don’t need you to dictate my love life for me, Roj Blake.”

“Love life?” Blake laughed, short and unamused. “I thought we were talking about a quick fumble in the dark.”

A quick fumble in the dark was almost exactly the phrase that Avon had intended to use to dismiss the whole incident. To have Blake use it first was oddly uncomfortable. “If that’s all you’re interested in, I’m sure you can find the chance of that elsewhere.”

“We’re not talking about what I want.” Blake’s voice had turned harsh. “You can stop your games now. I’ve apologised. Whether you accept it or not, there is no need to be deliberately cruel.”

Avon was genuinely baffled about the turn that the conversation had taken. How was he at fault? Blake had decided that there would be nothing further to it, in his usual high handed fashion, without even consulting him about the matter. There wasn’t anything that Avon could do about that, obviously, if Blake was determined to be indifferent, but to then simultaneously blame him for being unkind seemed illogical.

“I didn’t start this conversation in the first place. I’m more than happy to stop having it.”

They conducted the rest of the trip in near silence.

* * * * *

This is a pre-set proximity alert. Liberator will shortly be passing within one million spacials of Arctos Five. Zen announced within warning.

“So?” Dayna retorted. “Why should we be interested in a dump like Arctos Five?”

“Who set up the alert?” Tarrant asked?

Proximity alert set up by Roj Blake.

“That’s odd. Any ideas, Avon?”

Avon was checking his console screens. “Ah, that planet. Blake had a mission there, helping the settlers with some equipment failures. He couldn’t complete it, due to high levels of fluctuating electromagnetic fields. I imagine he set up the alert so that he could try again later if we passed this way.”

“Zen, is the radiation down to safe levels?” Tarrant asked.

Confirmed.

“Since we’re here, shall we find out if they still need our help?”

Avon looked up from his console. Vila was watching him.

“It’s not a very nice planet,” the thief said. “Maybe we’d be better staying away.”

“Give me communications,” Avon said. “I’ll talk to them.”

The teleport worked perfectly this time. The settlement was a small, walled compound with cultivated fields outside the gates stretching away from the river and huge rafts floating at the jetty.

Their problems were the usual sort with frontier planets- a couple of accidents had removed the only people fully trained in repairing their med equipment and they were slowly losing functionality. Avon spent a couple of days fiddling around with the mechanics fairly successfully and got Liberator to print out a hard copy manual for after they left again.

He had noticed that there seemed to be a unusually high reliance on prosthetics and he’d made sure the system for producing them at least was working well. “Machinery accidents?” he asked.

The leader shook his head. “It’s a thing the young people do. Swim the river. It’s a kind of coming of age ceremony. They at least wear skin suits and mask so we get less scarring and blindness than the first settlers did, but it’s still very dangerous.”

Avon looked down on the acid water from the high window. “How do they learn to swim?”

“There’s a lake a little way inland. It’s fresh water and we keep it clear of predators. There’s been some talk of banning swimming in it, so that the kids can’t learn well enough to swim the river, but we’re worried that they’ll just go in anyway.”

Avon glanced down at the man’s artificial foot. “I believe the expression is, we were all young once.”

The council leader laughed. “Hard to believe any of us were young and stupid enough to jump in a predator infested river just to impress a girl!”

“Indeed.” Avon turned away. “I’m done here. How dangerous is the jungle in daylight?”

“It’s usually all right. The land widemouths are nocturnal and there’s nothing else out there that will attack a human. Just don’t go in the water.”

“Everything all right?” Vila was waiting by the ship’s teleport.

“Yes. I need to go down again, to a particular spot. Zen, can I have an image of the river south of the settlement? Magnified about one hundred times.”

Confirmed

The remains of the tree was still there, leaves and branches gone but the trunk still jutting out across the river. “Put me down on the bank, there.” Avon indicated. “Not in the water, whatever you do.”

“How long will you be?” Vila asked.

“Half an hour, maybe. I’ll check in regularly.”

The hole where they had sheltered was almost filled up with leaves and dirt. There was no sign of the predators that Blake had shot; the bodies would have been eaten by other things or their own pack members almost immediately, no doubt. The fallen trunk was slippery and not nearly as wide as Avon had remembered it. He thought about crawling out a little way, decided against it. Blake had done it, of course, and got him back across.

There wasn’t anything else to see. It had been pointless to come at all. Wherever Roj Blake was now, it wasn’t here. Avon looked round once more, checking there was no-one in earshot, then switched his bracelet off temporarily. “I will find you,” he said aloud, feeling rather ridiculous, “if I have to swim a dozen monster infested rivers to do it.” Then he turned his bracelet back on. “I’m done here,” he told the ship. “Let’s go.”
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