"The old, the simple plan:
Let him take who has the power,
Let him keep who can"--Proverb
"Since you are dear bought I will love you dearly"--The Merchant of Venice
"Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer"--The Godfather
"You've got to let me go with you," Vila said. "I mean, to think that I was that close to meeting my idol...."
"No hurry, Vila," Blake said. "He'll be here for months, years perhaps. At least until we take out Control."
"He won't be here a minute unless you talk him into it." Blake gave him a stony gaze of certainty, not even impaired by Vila's lack of faith.
"Blake, he's the greatest crook of...well, the century for sure, maybe a lot more. The chap who nicked five million off the Federation banking system! And then ran off and bought his own planet! And knowing that I could have met him, and shook his hand and counted my fingers afterward and I didn't--and it was 'cos you didn't let me--well, it would break my heart...."
Blake sighed, envisioning as a best-case scenario his comrade puking into a marble fireplace after chug-a-lugging a whole bottle of some priceless vintage. To wash down a gold-trimmed Limoges plateful of jello shots. Worst-case scenarios assailed him, but he pushed them firmly out of his mind.
On the other hand, if Vila was going to operate as a deterrent, perhaps it was better that he do so from the outset and not scare the fellow off once he arrived on Liberator. "Oh, all right, Vila. I'll tell Tarrant to stand, down, that you're coming instead. But mind you behave yourself...I heard they live in a fucking palace."
+Don't forget to give him my schematics!+ Orac said. Orac was certain that, with a single glance at the schematics, the greatest computer expert in the Federation would reciprocate his love at first byte.
Blake triggered the commlink. "Deeta, Vila insists on coming with me, so I won't need you on this go-round."
"All right, Blake," the First Watch Commander said and broke the connection. "D'ye hear that, love?"
"Good," Jenna Stannis-Tarrant said, checking the schedule. "That means we'll both have the same sleep shift on....Tuesday. And some catching up to do."
You can't be too rich, but perhaps you can be too safe. It is a likely hypothesis that the exciting events that had removed Kerr and Anna Avon from their tranquil dome-stic lives had given them a taste for adventure. No doubt if they had actually been pair-bonded, they would have used separate last names, as the few married couples in their circle did.
Events had made it quite impossible for Anna to get a divorce. So, perhaps, strictly speaking she had a right to the gigantic white diamond engagement ring on her left ring finger, but not to the last name, or to the two guard rings, set all around with black diamonds. They might give the wrong impression...but then, she and her partner had got where they were today, as the owners of an immense and valuable house called Knowledge, in large part by giving people the wrong impression.
There had been, as was only to be expected, some dislocations when they fled from Earth to bucolic Murrhenia and spent a million or so credits building a fortified mansion-cum-bank-cum-laboratory.
The first step was to distribute another million credits among Anna's former colleagues, to re-direct law enforcement priorities. Much of this money proved to be wasted. When Blake escaped from the London and possessed the Liberator, he energetically propelled himself to the top of the Most Wanted list. But, like an industrialist who knows half his advertising expenditure is wasted but not which half, Anna and Avon didn't begrudge the money. They still had three million for investment, and as seed money for their differing enterprises.
When alien races meet, they have to overcome their quite natural feelings about barbaric jibberings, hideously disproportionate limbs, and mephitic odors. When the Avons' friends came to Knowledge for house-parties, they also had to get used to the Murrhenians, but some of the latter, like Beauty's Beast, proved to be quite sweet once you got to know them.
When she was quite sure that her third orgasm was over, Anna slid down to the floor. She had been sprawled across Avon's lap with her face buried against the arm of a well-padded club chair. He had one arm pressed against her neck, holding her in place, and the other hand inside her. As she sat down, her skirt fell back down into place, but her knickers were still caught up in the clasps of her stocking suspenders.
She slid a hand along the inseam of his trousers. "What about you?"
"Leave it for now," he said. "I could use a bit of an edge. Maynard
and Lydia brought Jeffrey Cetewayo along. He's just been promoted out of
the corps. If he's interested..." (Young artistes quite often were, when
good-looking and generous youngish patrons of the arts were doing the asking)..."then
when I come between those exquisitely talented legs, I want him to feel
like an entire jeroboam of champagne foaming there."
"What a horrible thought," Anna said. "Warm champagne?"
There was a discreet tap on the door. (Knowledge had an all-robot staff, although the Avons always kept French maid uniforms around for those who liked that sort of thing.)
"A couple of fellows to see you," the butler said. "Oh, and shall I clear away lunch?"
"All the except the coffee service," Avon said. "What sort of fellows? What do they want?"
"Humans, wouldn't tell anyone except you what they're here for."
"Armed and dangerous?"
"Armed, and I don't know."
"Well, keep them cooling their heels for a while...the Blue Drawing Room, I think. Nothing in there worth stealing. Then take their weapons away, let them get halfway down the corridor, and take their other weapons away."
A few minutes later, a gracious pair of freshly washed hosts greeted the guests.
"Where did you land your shuttle?" Avon asked. "I'll have it valet-parked for you."
"We have a teleport," Blake said smugly. Avon essayed a grin to cover his flinch.
Blake sized up his hosts. At first, Blake thought they looked alike, like the fifth act of Twelfth Night. Then he realized that (although neither of them was tall) the resemblance was far more one of stance and attitude than physical features. Both of them projected a profound awareness of their rather delicate, vulpine beauty. Each had skin that belonged half-way between scone and raspberry jam. Anna's titian hair was neatly clipped in a gamine cut, and her face was innocent of cosmetics other than a bit of earthy pink lipsalve.
Avon had a slim line of kohl etched all around his eyes, accenting the curled, gleaming, extra-long eyelashes. As for his Jacobean-oak hair....well, Blake reminded himself that he often went a few weeks between haircuts himself, when he was busy.
Avon had all the leisure in the world, this had to be a calculated insult to propriety. The thick plume of hair cascaded in heavy waves, past cheekbones that yearned toward a highlight as they stretched the skin tight, past the angle of the square jaw, past the willfully outthrust chin and the dent between that chin and the habitual pout. His hair's too damn long Blake thought. I'd like to get my hands into--on--it. He envisioned a warm tress yielding to my hands to a pair of scissors, scattering across a pillow to the floor.
"Excuse me, the Cerinthian bond market will be closing in twenty minutes," Anna said. "I must get back to work."
Avon turned to his guest. "No doubt I'm delighted to meet you," Avon said. "And who, exactly, is delighting me?"
Slightly deflated, Blake said, "I'm Blake. *Roj* Blake."
"Indeed. I'm afraid you have the advantage of me," Avon said. This was a complete lie, but it worked precisely as intended.
"He's the worst rebel in the whole Galaxy," Vila said earnestly. He turned to Blake. "Well, you know, the worst one from their viewpoint, the one that's the most trouble. The biggest one. And he's got the best ship, and the best computer, and he thinks that if you help him fight with the computers and that, he can get all the marbles, knock the Federation for six, and then you won't be in trouble any more, none of us would be, you can go anywhere, couldn't we all."
Although that was not the way he would have chosen to put it, that was more or less what Blake wanted so say, so he remained silent, gauging Avon's reaction.
"I don't need to go anywhere, it's rather nice here," Avon said to Vila. He turned to Blake. "If I do provide whatever sort of help you have in mind, what's in it for me?"
"We have an extensive Treasure Room," Blake said. "We can make it more than worth your while."
"I've got lots of money," Avon said, gesturing vaguely at a room full of expensive objects.
"It's like Shadow, isn't it?" Blake said. "I suppose it makes you so happy that soon all you can think about is getting some more. Anyway, there's never a dull moment aboard--and I don't think you can say that here. In fact, I think you're getting stale, keeping open house for a load of layabouts."
"Oh, well, it's all right with me, but talking Anna around should be more difficult. I do all right from patent royalties, but I have a manager for those. Her business is far more hands-on."
"We'll promise her to bring you back safely."
Avon shook his head. "It's a package deal--both or neither. At any rate, I should have thought that I was merely the trailing spouse in all this. Of course Anna is of more significance to your project?"
Blake cast about for some suitable compliment, but came up empty and had to say, "Why?"
"Well, I thought that as she was Central Security's top agent, she would have a good deal of tradecraft at her disposal. Not to mention a quantum of possibly obsolete data that could still be valuable as a starting point for research."
Blake mastered his astonishment. It certainly wasn't the first time that Zen and Orac had been economical with information, but this took the biscuit..."I hadn't heard. But whose side is she on now, and how can you be sure?"
We'll get nowhere if everything has to be explained to you "Hers," Avon said. "Which furnishes a bedrock, don't you think?"
"But...how can you trust her?"
"I don't, any farther than I can throw her. Perhaps not that far. She doesn't weigh much. As long as you keep that in mind, you should be fine. But it's your look-out. You have to have a long enough perspective. Early in the First Calendar, you know, they used to consider falling in love a distinguished but quite tragic manifestation of the gods' direct interference in human life. Certainly not anything that one would wish for. It was only halfway through that it was sent downmarket. Bourgeoisified. Will you and your colleague be staying to dinner?"
"If you don't mind," Blake said. Even if he and Vila teleported immediately, they'd miss Second Watch supper, and Blake would just as soon eat something here as raid the refrigerator.
"We usually have only four courses on weeknights," Avon said. "I expect you haven't brought dinner clothes, so I'll tell everyone not to change--it was going to be a small party, now it's ten for dinner. Have you any special dietary requirements?"
"Just as it comes," Blake said faintly.
At dinner, Blake was seated at Anna's right hand, at the head of the table. Vila, as secondary guest of honor, was at Avon's right hand, at the foot of the table. Blake sighed. If Tarrant had come along on this mission, Blake would have had to worry whether he used the right fork. With Vila that far away, Blake could only hope for a high ratio between silverware returning to the table and cutlery entering Vila's pockets.
Actually, Vila was far too entranced with both the menu (tamarind-tomato soup; endive salad scattered with smoked salmon and smoked trout; Cerinthian pavoine a la Maryland; and individual chocolate souffles with ginger ice cream) and with his speculations about what Avon was doing when his hand disappeared beneath the tablecloth, in Jeffrey Cetewayo's direction, to appropriate any material resources for the Rebellion.
Avon, impressed as hell that someone had managed to get a teleport to work, but desperate not to show it, re-lit his cigarette as soon as he stopped shimmering and solidified. He thereby gained no points with Cally, who grudgingly allowed only one smoking room, on D Deck, or with Tarrant, who didn't think men should smoke gold-tipped, pistachio-green cigarettes out of long amber holders.
Jenna sucked in her breath as she saw the magnificent tawny-gold fur lining of Anna's ankle-length (and easily turned) leather coat.
Gan hadn't figured out any way to teleport five Louis Vuitton steamer trunks, so Hector Jorvoxx, Jenna's adjutant, had to do a cargo run with one of the shuttles. Then it took three people to get everything loaded into Cabin C20.
Anna unpacked a few necessaries (silk underwear, bath oil, hampers of field rations such as prosciutto di Parma and smoked oysters, a silver chafing dish) while Avon scanned the operating instructions on the cabin terminal. Once he got the hang of adjusting the climate control, lighting, and soundproofing, they settled down to christen the cabin.
Blake thought that the best time to introduce the new--well, not crew members, perhaps "consultants" was the word--was at the regular crew meeting. This was held daily, just as the First Watch turned over to the Second. Cally, as Communications Chief, read out the announcements and Operations Chief Gan reported on physical systems.
"Kerr and Anna Avon have kindly agreed to join us for the time being. You may have heard, he was the top computer man in the entire Federation, and I'm certain that his assistance will be invaluable in locating Central Control. They have not been recruited through normal channels, and they will not be subject to our military discipline, but I've vetted them thoroughly, and you needn't be concerned about security. They won't be allowed access to weapons or to the teleport, of course," Blake said.
A snigger floated out from underneath the teleport console, where Avon was halfway through the two-trillion-spatial tune-up.
"Restal, get a haircut," Tarrant said, by simple association of ideas.
"Blake, do I have to?"
"Yes, you do," Blake said. "That sounded like a direct order to me, Vila."
"What was that awful racket?" Gan asked.
"The new chap--you know, the computer consultant--was putting up some shelves in the First Watch Crew Room. He and his wife must have brought, I don't know, thousands of bookplaques and vistapes. Oh, and a half a dozen or so holos by Rice," Lauren Mellanby said. (She tactfully forebore to mention that the holos were now interspersed among Jenna's and Deeta's wedding pictures.)
"How did he get on with it?" Gan asked. "You can tell a lot about a person by the way they take on a job of work."
"I expect they were crooked," Jenna said.
"Or bent," Tarrant said.
Avon felt at somewhat of a disadvantage, because he had a forkful of éclair halfway to his mouth when Vila came over to him in the crew room to shake his hand and thump him on the back.
"You're my idol," Vila said simply, but was trumped in the simplicity stakes by Avon's "Why?"
"Well, because I'm a thief--like I told Kerrill, she's my wife..."
"I know," Avon said. "The crew chief." He powered the bookplaque down and pushed away the cake plate.
"That's what I am, not just what I do. But the most I ever stole was enough for a flash suit and a couple of good meals and a place to sleep. Most of the time, not even that. And I kept getting caught. So what you did..."
"I'm sorry to disappoint you," Avon said. "That bank coup--well, it was precisely something I did. I didn't take the money--my share of the money--and use it to recruit a gang. In fact, I quickly assumed the mantle of the utmost respectability."
"What did you do with it?"
"We built a house, with most of it," Avon said. "Anna built a bank. I built a laboratory, and I try to invent things. Generally it takes longer than I expect it to."
"Sounds dull," Vila said. "Personally, I think being a crook is more interesting, and there's a lot of scope here for a man of my talents."
"Oh. So you're not selflessly devoted to the cause of freedom, longing only to lay your life on the altar of liberty?"
"I've heard the official version," Avon said. "What happened?"
"Well, they knew Blake was bent..." (Avon absorbed this information much as Viola did the news bulletin that Duke Orsino was still a bachelor) "so they fitted him up for kiddy-diddling, and sent him off to Cygnus Alpha. Then Blake tried to start a rebellion on the prison ship, but that just wasn't on, was it?" (Avon had heard the official version of whose fault that was too.) "And it looked pretty bad, but then this ship here drifted up, and they told Blake and Jenna to get on it, have a look, but they drove off with it. instead.
Poor old Jenna didn't know about Blake, some fellas like that you just can't tell, eh? Expect she thought it'd be all Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, but Blake said, first thing we've got to go get those poor buggers off Cygnus. And some of 'em got killed and then, isn't it always the way, most of 'em wouldn't budge even after Blake and Jenna came to rescue 'em. But I hopped on board, and Gan, and about a dozen others, well you can see there's lots of room.
Then Blake wanted to play with his new train set, so we went to Saurian Major for a blow-up job, and that's where we met Cally. At first Blake was listening to us about using the ship to have some fun--well, our kind of fun I suppose you'd say--but Cally twisted his arm about using it to have their kind of fun. So it's mostly been political stuff, not much crook stuff at all. And the most of the new people are politicos, what you said about altering liberty. "
"Ah." Avon said. "Matchsticks."
I'm not going to play cards with you for money."
"You've got loads, and Blake is giving you more."
"I'm just sentimental about money."
"Oh," Vila said shyly, remembering he was in the presence of greatness. He drew the deck of klebschnock cards out of the special pocket in his tunic.
Avon took a long time looking over the backs of the cards, to make sure that they weren't marked, then made a fuss of counting the 57 cards into three piles so he could appropriate a card.
Avon could just about manage a simple deal from the bottom of the deck, which was no match for Vila's mastery of card manipulation and indeed all kinds of close-up magic. But he could count cards and Vila couldn't, so they were playing pretty even until Vila made a serious mistake. Vila knocked over his glass of apricot nectar-and-soma so he could swap the discard pile for the draw pile. This maneuver was completed successfully, but--just as Avon suspected--the sight of Avon licking apricot nectar off his fingers resulted in complete discombobulation. So it was worth it, even though Avon had to close his eyes to give it full value.
When they were halfway to Centero, Avon caught up with Blake in the galley (Blake had missed supper again, and no one thought to bring him a tray). "Don't do it, Blake."
"You've no call to issue orders to me on my own ship."
"What do you hope to accomplish by this mission?"
"It's a new crew, they've got to learn to work together. And, of course, the cipher machine is a valuable objective."
"Blake, you can't steal a fucking cipher machine, it's the first thing they'd miss. Then they'd just change the cipher anyway so all you have is an expensive paperweight, perhaps an expensive bloody paperweight as well as the converse."
"We'll just have to take that chance, and anyway Centero is an isolated outpost, it'd be a while before they report back and then a while before the low-priority report percolates up to anywhere it matters."
"Getting shot is something of a coterie taste," Avon said. "And one that, I can tell you, I don't share. You won't hold the crew if they think that you're risking them for nothing. At any rate, why don't you ask Anna? She probably has the cipher, if Centero is back of beyond as you say."
Blake often felt a distaste at being beholden to anyone--particularly his very-possibly-but-not-quite-certainly-former enemies. "That hardly seems like a legitimate military objective," Blake said. "Or rather, like a legitimate military tactic in pursuit of the objective."
"Well, which would you rather do? Swan about impressing yourself, or win?"
"I'm a one-man woman," Anna told him repressively. "Stop it."
Panic flashed through Deeta's gray-blue eyes (a one-man Civil War!). Married to a bloody little pansy like that he'd thought, She must be panting for it. He re-buttoned the top button of her blouse and smoothed the fabric down (being careful to confine contact to the collarbone and above), then lifted both his hands palm-out and put them in his own lap.
"No, I won't tell Jenna. So long as you don't try it on again. More to the point, I won't tell Kay."
"Believe me, Anna, it's more to the point that you won't tell Jenna--and thanks. All your man can do is pull out my entrails with a windlass. I say, do you really love him?"
"Yes," Anna said. "But keep it to yourself. He's not on the distribution list."
"And you've been together, how long?"
"About five years."
"No other chaps?"
"I've never so much as looked at another man," Anna said, which was accurate but failed to provide information necessary to prevent the statement from being misleading.
[Five years or so, earlier]
Yes, it was Anna standing before him, not a hallucination, not the pain-hazed fulfillment of a dying man's wish. Oh, God, it was Anna, and two troopers, so it was worse than possible, she hadn't escaped, she....
Avon thought for a moment, and re-interpreted the scene he could still see behind his tight-closed eyelids. Body language. Anna wasn't slumping, terrified, or dragged, defiant. In fact, if anything, the troopers seemed deferential to her.
He opened his eyes. Anna pointed at one of the troopers, who bent down and put his hands under Avon's arms, preparing to drag him away.
"Anna?" he asked, in a mere dry request for information. She nodded.
He started to laugh with the last of the breath that could be dragged into his ruined lungs. Yes, she'd got him all right. He had been an immense, spectacular fool. A galaxy class, heavy-cruiser, entered-in-competition idiot. In fact, he had probably received the Golden Palm and the Jury Prize for stupidity.
Anna looked down at him, where he sprawled on the floor, his blue tunic solidly sopped in blood from the ribs down. Just in the moment when she heard him laughing at his own death, she fell in love with him.
He was the sexiest man she had ever met. For what that was worth, because on the Kinsey scale of 0-6 she would report herself as about 5.75. But she had enjoyed him, so pretty, perverse, and persistent. And he was so clever, they had so much fun together, even on nights that they had actually had to spend together in default of any girls that appealed to her and when he was between boyfriends.
"The visa seller called me," she said. "He was wearing a vest, you know. You should have aimed for his head."
"I did," Avon said. "Bad shooting."
Anna knelt beside him and laced her fingers into his, cold with deep shock. "Anna..." Avon whispered. She brought her face closer to his. "The pay and allowances of a full Colonel....well, say twenty thousand a year. We took five million credits, Anna. Five million! And you'll never get to it without me."
She squeezed his hand. "Trooper!" she called. "Get that Regen unit over here! You'll be in the glasshouse forever unless this prisoner survives to be interrogated!" She winked at Avon, who with great relief, felt safe to stop trying to be conscious in adverse circumstances. Before he surrendered, he pulsed his fingers within her grasp. One-two-three-four-five!
In their first sustained job together, Avon and Orac went through all of Anna's ciphers. She didn't exactly have the one that the Centero station used, but she did have one that gave SuperUser privileges at the Third Sector cryptography unit, which covered Centero and five other stations.
The fifth station, on the dark side of Lalume, was the Advanced Suppressant Research and Testing Unit. There was very little e-mail traffic, whether plaintext or enciphered, between Lalume and anywhere else in the Federation command, because the Chief of Station had hooked all the tarriel cells on the planet into a network that could inter-communicate but couldn't be reached from outside. Most of the e-mail traffic consisted of the station chief being smug about his brilliant security system, and everyone else bitching about it.
So, instead of going to Centero, Blake ordered a course to Lalume, at Standard by Six, to seize the ASRTU's back-up server. Blake led the mission himself, with a small team--only ten people in all. It was a sort of meta-mission, because the server would certainly come in handy, but Blake would also have a chance to assess the performance of various new additions who had not yet been fully integrated into the Liberator command structure.
"Shift over," said the Second Watch Commander. She slipped her feet out of the yellow marabou mules that matched her shortie nightgown.
"Went well, I take it?" her husband asked, making room in the bunk. Now the Liberator crew was large enough, with enough members of a more martial bent and experience, for Vila to go on raids only if his special talents were called for. "It must have been odd for Blake to have to keep an eye on Kerr all the time he was keeping an eye on the job. Watching your back and your front at the same time."
"There's nothing about nicking a lot of money that has to make you good in a scrap," Kerrill said. "But Avon did all right. He's fast, and he's brave, and he's smart so he should learn fast."
"Have you ever killed anybody, Avon?" Blake asked, before the raid. "Close up? Face to face?"
All Avon said was, "No," rather than, "Well, I tried once but made a hash of it."
"I didn't think so," Blake said, haut en bas, professional to amateur.
"Tell you what's odd though--*she's* in the biz, I'd bet anything on that," Kerrill said. They looked out for each other she thought. They'd keep looking back to see the other wasn't in any trouble, and when Anna dropped her gun Avon pulled another one out of his boot and tossed it to her, and then she kicked that chap in the face when he went after Avon...It'd be nice to have someone watching out for me like that.
And then she snapped off the line of thought, because Vila was...Vila, and she wouldn't give up how funny and sweet and loyal he was, not when she could jolly well look after herself. She'd been studying for her Level Five Certification in the Gunhands' Guild and likely to get it with distinction, back when her former employer had outsourced opening a door to Vila. Back when they'd both decided that Homeworld was a nice place to visit but you wouldn't want to live there.
"She looks awfully County, like she spends the day putting mud packs on her face and doing the flowers," Vila said. "But Kerr says that when they're home, she owns a merchant bank. Not just that she's a managing director--she owns the lot."
"Sounds ruthless all right, but not the right kind of ruthless," Kerrill said. "There's more going on that we've been told."
"Mushroom theory of management," Vila said, having a comfortable scratch through permeable gray underwear. "Keep 'em in the dark and cover 'em with horse manure. How'd the new girls do?"
"The blonde Sarran girl was all right, but we had to pull her sister away before she kicked a bloke to death. I don't like excessive enthusiasm--it tends to burn out."
"And the stuff you went for?"
"Too soon to tell. Avon's holding Orac's key and whispering sweet nothings into his...well, Com1 port I s'pose, whatever he has instead of ears. I tell you, Anna must be a saint, not being jealous of that thing."
Kerrill hung up her tunic, threw her shirt down the laundry chute, unhooked her bra and sent it after the shirt, and turned around, slowly removing her boots and trousers. Underneath, she wore electric blue stay-up stockings, with a bow knitted beneath the back seam, and a matching g-string.
"Ohmygodcorbloodymighty," Vila said.
Halfway to the bed, Kerrill noticed that she was now wearing only the stockings.
"You're in the mood, I hope," Vila said, gazing down on Little Elvis' Houdiniesque escape attempt from his y-front prison.
"Just s'long as if you say 'Oh, Kerrill,' it's got two syllables," she said.
Avon went back to their cabin. His hair was still damp and he was shivering from an unaccustomed cold shower. Anna had her manicure kit laid out on the desktop and had a laser probe in her hand, adjusting the settings of some of the black diamonds.
"Dammit, Anna, you've been using it as a knuckle-duster again." She already knew that her ring (whether viewed as a profound gesture of love or portable flight capital) cost a hundred thousand credits, so he didn't tell her again. It had occurred to him that someday she and the ring might be gone, but he wasn't overly worried, since he had stolen the money for the ring in the first place.
"I hate it when you're mean," Anna said. "I suppose you'll be angry that I gave Kerrill a set of LaPerla lingerie."
"That's what? About three hundred credits' worth? It does seem excessive."
"I believe in keeping the romance in marriage." She noticed that Avon had lit his third cigarette from his second. "You're cold. The bear shirt won't wash off, you know."
"That's why we say berserk. The warriors would dress up in a bearskin as a signal that they would let it all out, that they'd let the fury come to the surface, that they gave themselves permission to go mad."
"It's never very far down, is it? I thought I was different."
"Civilization isn't always an advantage. Wasn't it delicious?"
"Christ, yes. I wouldn't be so miserable now if I hadn't been so happy then. The most fun you can have with your clothes on."
"Not counting a stand-up quickie in the gun room with that Dayna girl."
"I can't help it if you're not her genotype, can I?"
"There's metal more attractive," Anna said.
Avon made an appointment with Blake. "Here," he said, scattering a half-dozen datacubes across the desk. "Wage scales, payroll program, pensions for injury, pensions for anyone who's had enough and just wants to walk away clean."
"Avon, we're running a rebellion here, not a factory for...trainers," Blake said, picking the first useless thing he could think of.
"Wake up, Blake," Avon said. "The drugs may have worn off, but you're still dreaming. Wealth is the only reality."
"There must be quite a few realities besides that," Blake said. "Because no one here's getting paid,. For that matter, nor are the mutoids piloting those ships that are after us. The troopers aren't getting rich off their salaries, although I daresay I'd like to have what Servalan sweeps into her reticule. But this is a war of ideas, Avon. Everyone here fights because they believe in freedom. There are no mercenaries here."
"Present company excepted," Avon said.
"But it's not the money, really, is it?" Blake asked. "You just wanted to go and run away with the circus."
"I should have thought, that to appropriate a man's labor was to make him a slave, and to pay him makes him a free man who can come and go as he pleases. You do want them here willingly, don't you? Not because they have no other alternatives. I assume, of course, that the Treasure Room belongs to them all in common, doesn't it?"
"This is a military ship, Avon. We can't just have people strolling on and off--particularly when they know enough to forfeit all our lives. At any rate, I don't want anyone in the permanent crew who isn't loyal."
"Ah, yes, who wouldn't want an army of worshipers?"
"I suspect you wouldn't. You don't seem particularly fond of responsibility. My crew isn't loyal to me personally, but to an ideal. I simply can't--won't--believe that the cash nexus is the test of everything. It would be like saying that making love must be inferior to prostitution. because there's no money changing hands."
"There's a simple way to tell," Avon said. "About the matter at hand, I mean, not the relation between lust and greed. Put it up for a vote. See what the rabble--excuse me, the People--say." And he smiled, one of his least-nice smiles, which was going some.
Luckily, Gan was coming in to discuss the purchase of a third hydroponic unit, so Blake had an excellent excuse for thanking Avon for his interesting ideas and showing him out of the office. Then Cally came in and wanted to know if the class in Basic Haklutyan had to be scheduled at the same time as Yoga for Relaxation, and Nicolaes Gevaertsse, the master-at-arms, complained about the poor performance of the last lot of magnetic mines they'd purchased (somehow the stuff they bought never worked as well as the stuff they stole from Federation armories), until the end of Blake's work shift and after.
Just to be sure that they would all go away and get out of his face, Blake made an extra round, confirming from all the section leaders and crew chiefs that the situation was stable. He re-set the commlink in his cabin to accept only messages at Priority One or Two. Then he got a wet washcloth and a dry one from his ensuite bathroom, and opened the drawer of his night table. Lust and greed!
Instead of a half-full container of Hot Chocolate! lotion there was a full one of Sandalwood. There was a note attached, in a tiny handwriting that was nevertheless clear enough to read across the room:
"My strange and self-abuse
Is the initiate fear that wants hard use" (Macbeth)
Blake's first candidate for instant strangulation was Vila, but he had never been noted for leaving things in other people's cabins, nor for his easy acquaintanceship with ancient languages and literatures.
Blake flipped open the top of the container, and the smell of sandalwood instantly made him furiously randy as well as furious. Oh, I'd like to slap that smirk off his face Blake thought, but then realized that it would take more than that. Possibly a guillotine. And Avon would simply pick up his head and saunter off, saying something really awful as a Parthian shot.
In the Second Shift Crew Room, Cally was struggling to add the next word to a much-crossed-out manuscript. In the background, Dr. Renor's chat-up lines, endlessly flowing like the Thames, pattered away.
As usual, Cally ignored him. Ignore-Renor. Ignore-Renor. She shook her head, trying to clear it, staring down at the manuscript. Once you got caught on a rhyme like that, it could become a voice in your head and it wouldn't go away, and then where would you be?
Oh, the voices weren't all bad. Bad sometimes, surely. Sometimes they told her things that weren't for her good, or weren't for the good of the crew. Sometimes they simply got in the way, making it hard to connect with the minutiae of daily life.
But at other times, it was the voices that tugged her along, taking her to the warehouse of stories. The voices opened the many doors a crack at a time so a golden wedge of light shone out. And they gave her, after many a hard-fought struggle, the words.
Cally riffled back through the pages, looking for the painstaking description of Hallie Beaton who kissed Melissa Barroway to such abiding effect. Blonde, yes, Hallie should still be blonde, but she should no longer be slender but sturdy, feet planted securely on the ground, with springy hoops of ashy-golden streaked curls. Rather, she should be elfin, foxen, fine-boned, murmurous.
Blake thought it was time to regularize Avon's situation somewhat. ("Making an honest man of him" was a bigger miracle than even the would-be conqueror of the Federation felt equipped to tackle.) Avon's name never appeared on the ordinary duty roster, and he was assigned neither to First nor Second Watch command. But there had been no scheduled actions for days, and they were in a quiet Sector with no trouble anticipated, so Blake invited Avon to share the late-night watch.
He turned up punctiliously on time, although in a decidedly non-uniform turnout of patent-leather riding boots, velvet trousers, a deep crimson tunic, and a long black chiffon scarf wound twice around his throat, one end thrown behind his shoulder and the other trailing to bisect the tunic.
Half an hour or so before the end of the shift, Blake walked over to the Communications position for a routine status check. The headphones shrilled a little, but the readouts were normal.
Blake held out the headphones. Avon came over, listened, took a small gauge out of his trouser pocket, and then whacked the headphones against the edge of the console. He re-gauged the headphones and put them down on the console.
"I think they'll be all right now," he said, his hand resting reassuringly (or something) on Blake's shoulder.
A moment later, Blake asked, "Why are you nibbling my neck?" His eyes closed and his head drooped forward. The posture made him feel both humiliated and exalted. Avon pushed up the rank of curls that grew lowest on Blake's neck, exposing a line of skin that seldom saw the light of day (or ship).
"Because it's so delicious," Avon said indistinctly, pressing forward slightly, wedging Blake closer in to the console top. Blake could feel Avon's chin lift. "Oh, hullo, Tarrant!" Avon said brightly.
Blake's eyes snapped open and he heard a hiss and whistle like a rattlesnake doing the Rope Trick. Of course, there was no one on the Flight Deck with them, he could feel Avon laughing at him.
He couldn't help noticing that, in yet another impressive display of manual dexterity, Avon had gathered Blake's hands behind his back and bound them with the soft scarf. The chiffon had a damnable amount of tensile strength.
"Very funny. Now get that thing off me."
"Certainly," Avon said. "As soon as I've brought you off."
"I've made a little wager with myself. Now, I'm going to reach my hand out and touch you--the only time I'll touch your cock in this session, by the bye. If you're not hard, then I will untie you right away and give you as abject an apology as you could desire. But if...ah, yes. Of course it's a simplistic analysis to say that a hard-on must be tantamount to consent. Do you want me to stop?"
"Fuck you to hell and back, Avon!"
"I'll take that to mean you don't want me to stop." He wrenched the tunic and shirt a few inches down from Blake's shoulders. He treated the stifled groan that overflowed the dam of Blake's bitten lower lip as further evidence.
The irritating part was that Blake couldn't figure out what Avon was doing--he didn't seem to be doing anything much, a fleeting caress here, teeth just closing there, the most tenuous kiss or even just the warmth of his breath, and yet Blake had already started to come before Avon said "The shift is ending...time to be relieved," and spun him around and sank a lush kiss into his mouth. And by the time Blake could open his eyes, he was alone on the flight deck again.
Avon, sure of his welcome, walked into Anna's cabin, into her bed, into her dream. "Anna, oh Anna, help me, I'm burning up," he said, stroking her until her nipples were harder under bias-cut silk than Blake's had been under his coarse tunic. Avon pulled his own tunic over his head (now his neck was bare, he'd whispered "Souvenir" as he slipped the chiffon scarf over Blake's head and around his neck).
Once Anna woke up with a feline stretch-and-yawn, she turned toward him. Because they were face to face, she could kiss him deeply. She pressed the pad of one finger against his cock, which strained against her as she slid her finger from root to tip. "You haven't fucked him yet," she said.
"I thought that, in the long term, the situation called for a little--delicacy."
"Tell me," she said, and, stoked by narrative and caresses, she rode him hard until she keened and he groaned and she fell back to sleep in his arms. He felt entirely unslaked despite a copious orgasm, still randy enough for his teeth to throb, in some spectral erotic equivalent of phantom-limb pain.
+Well, if it isn't the ill wind. I don't know what you see in him.+
"He always speaks well of you, Orac. It's a carbon-based thing." Avon said, reproachfully. "You wouldn't understand." He began to sing under his breath: "I don't want to belong to a boy who wants to love only me."
+Not going to reproduce the species, are you? So what's it all in aid of?+
Avon patted Orac's casing reassuringly. "I ain't sayin' you ain't pretty, all I'm sayin's, I'm not ready for any person, place...or thing...to try to pull the reins in on me."
+We might not be standing around forever waiting for you to make up your mind.+
" I'll take my chances. And as for what he sees in me...You know, it was sometimes cited as proof of the existence of a benevolent Creator that species evolved in support of one another. Tall trees...long-necked giraffes. Butch bottoms. Femme tops."
+I'll just stand here and wait for an explanation, shall I? Not all of us were bred in the gutter, you know.+
"We are all in the stars, Orac. Some of us are looking at the gutter...There are certain erotic practices that Blake finds pleasurable. However, in his somewhat confused psychic calculus, he also believes that these practices compromise his masculinity. So in order to permit himself such enjoyments--in order to feel himself being taken, in order to find an arena in which he can entirely yield--he must find a partner who, in his view, is his inferior in masculinity, and therefore does not furnish a threat."
+And you are willing to engage in such practices?+
"A man should try everything at least once, Orac. That is, except for incest and folk dancing."
Blake really couldn't imagine who would be knocking on his cabin door, so he opened the door a crack.
"Oh, hullo, Gan. Staff meeting isn't until 0600 hours, you know."
"I do exist as an individual, Blake, I'm not just the sum of the tasks on my punch list. May I come in?"
"Sorry. Sorry. Of course you can."
"I'm leaving, Blake, I'm done here."
"Don't say that, my friend. You've been here from the first. We need you."
"That's as may be, but I'm not prepared to tolerate flagrant immorality."
Blake wondered what he meant--admittedly Tyce Sarkoff had a tendency to try it on with any passably attractive woman, but no one ever charged that she wouldn't take "No" for an answer. She behaved with perfect correctness toward the women who worked with her in her dual role of Political Officer and Internal Combustion Engine Specialist.
"It was yesterday afternoon," Gan said. "I saw you."
"Well, you see me all the time."
"I went into the B Deck bathroom for a shower. The door on the bath cubicle wasn't properly closed," Gan said.
"Sorry!" Blake said. I suppose the OCCUPIED sign wasn't strictly true at that point.
"So I could see that although there were two vacant bath cubicles, and I haven't issued a Water Conservation Alert, you were sitting in the bathtub in a normal way and...that...._fellow_ was right there in the bathtub with you, facing the other way."
"Yes," Blake said. "I was awfully flattered. I mean, you only have to know Avon for five minutes to know that generally it's the other person's back pressed up against the bath taps."
"He was sucking on your toes," Gan said.
"He'd have to be a contortionist to suck anything else from that angle," Blake said. "With gills."
The Central Control affair hadn't started auspiciously--"one balls-up after another" was about right, actually. It didn't help at all that Avon tripped and went sprawling in the Forbidden Zone. But undoubtedly the low point was reached when they struggled their way to what was supposed to be the ultimate target, the brain that controlled everything--and there was nothing there. (And, indeed, Anna could have--would have--told him that, if Blake hadn't made sure that she was kept out of the loop before this critically important mission because he still wasn't sure where her loyalties lay.)
For Blake's sake, Avon knelt down and, instead of bellowing with laughter, he embraced his lover. And for Avon's sake, Blake relaxed into his arms for just a second, allowing absolutely hopeless blackness to shower over him. Then he opened his eyes, and freed himself from the embrace, and stood up, undestroyed.
They all got out alive. It was bloody lucky that Jenna found Colonel Kasabi, when she was dying but not dead. Of course the portable med kits they all carried contained antidotes for interrogation drugs as well as miniature tissue regen units, so Jenna was in time to pull her around. And it was more than lucky that the Ladies' Doubles match resulted in so resounding a Rebel victory, although no respectable tournament would pit three against one. Yes, capturing the Supreme Commander was a fair return on the investment in the mission.
Leonardo might have drawn the group that shimmered into the teleport bay: a young woman, scarcely out of girlhood; a mature woman; an older woman (but by no means a crone). Perhaps some variant of The Virgin of the Rocks. Then again, the Western iconography is fairly low on representations of St. Anne holding a gun to the Virgin Mary's head while St. John the Baptist handcuffs her.
Colonel Kasabi didn't know whether to regret not being more helpful to Servalan's earlier incarnation, or whether to help her now by escorting her out of a world of guilt and grief and moral ambiguity.
Kasabi jabbed the gun into Servalan's neck. "It all worked out in the long run, didn't it? Oh, I was angry enough at the time. You called me a traitor. I lost everything. But you made me a rebel. You made it all true, when you fitted me up. And now I'm on top, and you're...you're nothing. But why did you do it to me?"
"I loved you," Servalan said. "And you rejected me."
"You must be out of your fucking mind," Colonel Kasabi said. Then she cut her eyes over to Verron, apologetically.
"Mom!" Verron's disgusted look said back to her. "I'm a soldier!"
(Seventeen years earlier)
In every graduating class, or perhaps every other graduating class at Winsloe Towers, there would be one student who had a genuine talent for politics and a genuine interest in political analysis and military history. Most of them simply marked time at what was a required course for the future mothers of the Federation elite.
But then, Anita Kasabi was marking time herself. She'd always wanted to teach at FSA. That was where you had a chance to make a difference, to mold the Federation's true leaders. But that was a prime posting, and it mattered much more to have an influential sponsor than to have something to say. Meanwhile, she had to earn a living, and she taught form after form of rich girls, most of them silly and vacuous and bored.
Perhaps it was naïve to hope that a fascination with politics had been Irene Servalan's reason for haunting the classroom, raising her hand in the midst of rather torpid discussions, and constantly preparing extra-credit assignments. She was always the last to leave a small-group discussion, always the one who found Mlle. Kasabi's lost cigarette case and brought it to her dormitory room, the one who contrived to be next to Mlle. Kasabi as backs were thumped and cheek-kisses were exchanged after a hockey match.
It was a bit annoying when Irene made sure that Mlle. Kasabi would replace Genevieve Hooper, the Standard mistress, as the supervisor of the Mask and Buskin Society. It was a bit embarrassing the passion which Irene devoted to her inane romantic lines, during the endless solo rehearsal calls she insisted on (while Mlle. Kasabi held the book).
That night, when holidays had just begun but Anita Kasabi had been detailed to keep the dormitory open for the few girls who couldn't go home for one reason or another, she had just poured a finger of gin into her toothmug when Irene knocked on the door.
"They're all gone...we're alone," Irene said.
"Nonsense, Miss Servalan, the domestic staff are all here, as are several of the girls from the Outer Worlds."
"Oh, well, them," Irene said, waving one hand in dismissal. Then she took a deep breath and launched herself at Mlle. Kasabi, their mouths meeting hard, teeth jarring.
Kasabi stepped back, startled. Irene drove forward again, grasping Kasabi's shoulders and kissing desperately at her neck.
"I need you!" Irene said. "I'm a woman now, with a woman's needs, and I love you and I have to have us be together."
"You disgust me," Mlle. Kasabi said, succeeding at last in breaking away and pounding down her drink. "Idle...spoilt...vicious. The Federation is degenerate if it is inhabited by creatures like you."
Irene fell to her knees, sobbing. "Don't tell my parents--it would kill them--"
Mlle. Kasabi pressed her lips together. "I suppose I can forget this distasteful episode. That is, if it never happens again. And if you exercise your well-known interest in me in a constructive manner by getting your family's backing for me to teach at FSA."
Irene ran back to her study (fortunately, her study-mate was in one of the small music rooms, practicing the tuba), hurled herself on the floor, and cried until she thought she would dissolve. Then she sat up, brushing her plaits back over her shoulders, and grinned.
In just three more years, she could be an FSA cadet. Three years wasn't very long to wait. She knew she wouldn't change her mind in that time. She never did, about anything she really cared about.
"First of all, I'd like everyone to give three cheers to Colonel Kasabi, for her inestimable assistance on the Earth mission. She was instrumental in capturing Supreme Commander Servalan, and I think you'll all agree was the turning point that will ensure our victory. The Colonel's next posting will be on Astraea, where we all believe the Provisional Government will soon fall. Her daughter, Verron, will be serving with us for a while."
The cheers rang out, interspersed with a whistle from Dr. Renor. Cally wanted to sink through the floor.
"I've got two words for you," Vila whispered to Tarrant. "Jail. And Bait."
"Three words!" Tarrant whispered furiously.
"Jail. And Bait. And Sir." At least someone's got longer hair than Kerr Vila thought. Wonder if Tarrant's going to order her to get it cut?
"Mellanby...and Mellanby," Blake said. "Fall out!" The sisters glanced at each other anxiously. "I've had a communique from your father. He hasn't heard from you as scheduled, and he's worried. I'm not running a holiday camp here, you know."
"Day!" Lauren said. "It's your turn to write this week!"
"Oh, you know me, I'm hopeless about letters..." Dayna began, then trailed off.
"Then stand down now and go write the bloody letter before your father drives me spare. Any other business?" Blake asked wearily, longing to adjourn the crew meeting.
"Well, yes, Captain," Lauren said. "What about...you know? What we asked?"
It was not a command decision Blake had ever expected to have to make. Presumably he was the Captain of the ship, which would give him the authority to perform marriages. And, by another analysis, he was the head of the Terran Government in Absentia, which gave him at least veto power over the broad range of domestic relations law.
Blake had no objection to marriage as a social institution, and in fact he expected to maintain the practices of trial marriage and pair-bonding once he took the helm of the de jure Terran Government. But on his own ship, he had not yet had the experience of presiding over a bonding ceremony. All of the material details were in place. Dayna had fabricated half-a-dozen sets of rings for the couple to choose from, and Cally had written up a cross-cultural marriage service. Avon promised to cater the reception, and Vila had the list of songs picked for the disco.
Blake had no experience of presiding over marriage services because both the Restals and the Tarrants had presented him with a fait accompli. Vila and Kerrill came back, all giggles, from a Space City furlough. They had paid the extra seventy-five credits to be married by an Elvis impersonator and twenty-five more for a plastic orchid that was still tacked to a wall in their cabin.
Jenna rebounded as smartly as a well-thwacked squash ball and got the Wardrobe Room to run her up a white wedding gown, train and veil that still somehow fit into a knapsack. A surprising number of Tarrants turned out to have been notified in advance and showed up at the Carellian register office. The pictures, in silver frames, adorned the First Shift Crew Room.
Lauren Mellanby had moved out of the cabin shared with her sister. That was all right. Dayna Mellanby and Verron Kasabi were best friends who were glad to share a cabin, although it might compromise preparedness if, as Blake suspected, they giggled and gossiped all night. The problem was that Lauren had moved in with Pilot Trainee Vicco Bankstjerne and they wanted Blake to pair-bond them.
Blake didn't really feel justified in telling Lauren, "No, you can't marry him, he's an idiot." Lauren was a young woman, but Blake wasn't really in loco parentis. Nor could he in all good conscience proclaim a no-marriage policy when both of his crew chiefs were married.
In fact there was another crew marriage that Blake didn't know about. Gan--or, as his fingerprints and retina scans had been reprogrammed in the Federation data banks to call him, Guastav Oliviero--was already remarried. Demeterian law and custom made it not only lawful to marry one's deceased wife's sister, but imposed the deepest possible obligation on a widower to marry his oldest sister-in-law who was still single. Corveen had had three sisters, and Gan felt that he had struck lucky. Pier-Luigina, the one he had always liked, was free, white and thirty-four and glad to have a respectable establishment of her own.
The problem was not the institution of marriage but the unfortunate fact that Bankstjerne was hands-down the dullest knife in the Liberator dishwasher. Blake was desperate to find a way to flunk him out and get him out of harm's way. Vicco would be terribly offended, of course. Lauren would be terribly offended. All of Bankstjerne's friends would be terribly offended--he was a handsome and gregarious youth. The entire rebel force were nothing if not volunteers, so you had to keep them sweet.
Blake's first instinct was to re-assign Bankstjerne immediately. More than sixty lives were riding on it, and you couldn't have a pilot who couldn't be trusted within 500 spatials of an asteroid. But washing him out of pilot training implied re-assigning him somewhere. There was always the option of kicking him upstairs to Operations with a promotion. (Bankstjerne would doubtless find a way to keep the ship permanently short of bog rolls and light globes, but that was survivable.)
Maybe Avalon would take Bankstjerne off Blake's hands, along with the two Haklutian recruits. Blake hated to see them go, one of them was a gunsmith and the other one a philosopher who had spent years in a Federation dungeon for his subversive pamphlets. But the Liberator's roster also included eight Gurnivians, and everyone knew that you couldn't leave Gurnivians and Haklutians together for a minute, at least not while one or more of them was conscious.
So it was either offload the Haklutians and keep the Gurnivians or vice versa, and Dayna Mellanby was one helluva gunsmith, at least as good as Lal Zaxvea . Haklutians were a right pain in the arse anyway because they wouldn't eat red fruit or vegetables on FourthDay of the weekly cycle or onions, ever. Blake didn't feel equal to the task of figuring out when it was FourthDay given their never-ending displacements in time and space (and the Haklutians seldom agreed with each other). Blake's cursory researches in the recipe database revealed that apparently you put onions in damn near everything.
And there were two of them and eight of the others, but those eight were just infantry...When he took the chair at his first Freedom Party meeting, he'd never predicted that years later he'd be embroiled in a pan-Galactic game of Cannibals and Missionaries.
"This must be some kind of a joke," Servalan told Anna. "This" being the boiler suit she had been provided with (harsh in both fabric and color) and the monastic bareness of her prison cell. "They'd jolly well better release me before every pursuit ship in the Sector comes thundering in to rescue their Supreme Commander."
"Oh, I don't think that's very likely," Anna said. "Not very likely at all. I've been monitoring the cipher traffic, and Kay has come up with some very nice little decrypts for personal messages.
Sorveeno and Bexalorn had their knives out for you for ages, didn't they? And I think that they got you. That you slipped down the greasy pole. That you wouldn't have been lurking about an empty building on the off-chance of snaring Blake if you still were anybody. I think that you needed Blake to buy your way back into power. And Blake's got you now, so he's on his way up. And you're on your way down--unless you can manage a lateral move."
"What are you doing here, Bartholomew? With rebels, and traitors?" Servalan hoped that it was all an elaborate bluff to deliver the Liberator into Federation hands, but she couldn't really believe it.
"Having a bloody good time," Anna said. "I didn't realize till I stopped doing it, how much I hated the approvals and the paperwork and the carry-on that got between me and a mission."
"It must matter," Servalan said, "Whether you are serving your Federation or degrading yourself with the offwash of the lesser planets."
"Must it?" Anna said. "Tell me that you got where you are--where you were--because of your love of the People."
"The Federation isn't like that, Bartholomew, and you know it."
"Then you got where you are because of your love of good order, and decency."
"Yes, that's it, that's nearer to it."
"Reenie, you got where you are because you were the biggest beetle sunk in the depths of the cesspit. You were the greediest, and you had the biggest stingers and the strongest jaws. But you're not any more. You fell--or rather, to keep up with my own metaphor, you floated. You had a magic mirror, but it didn't tell you who was the fairest, it told you who was the foulest, the most treacherous. And you knew this day would come, and it did. Someone else was worse. And now you're nobody and nothing, but no one here knows that except Kay and me. Tell them that you'll throw in with them, let Blake convert you, and you can be free and powerful again. You said you wanted the Liberator, well, join us and you can have it and get everything back again. Reenie, with you and with Kay and me, Blake can win, the Federation will fall, it is hollow as well as rotten."
"So you are where you are because of your love of the People?"
"Don't be absurd. I want what I want, and more of it. We were always rivals, you and I--you in the visible Army, me in the secret one. We each got to the top, and then I--retired. Stay as you are, and you'll die. Once they realize that you have no resources at your back--or even before that--they'll kill you. They'll tear you to pieces unless I protect you. But I would, Irene. I will. I'll take care of you if you come with me. When we're partners, and not rivals, no one can defeat us. "
"And just why should you do that for me? Why not throw me to the wolves, why not appoint yourself wolf-in-chief?"
"Because I love you, Reenie. I always have."
"No wonder we always said that when you lift a rock, all the rebels and perverts will crawl out until the sunlight burns them. And they'll be hiding under the same rock. Get away from me, Anna. I won't touch you, but...."
[About fifteen years earlier]
"I'm far too busy to have juniors hanging about me," Irene said.
"Fifth formers are the backbone of the school," Anna said, adjusting the striped tie to fit better between the lapels of her silver mylar blazer. "Anyway, I don't see anyone else hanging about you just this minute."
"What do you want, Anna?"
Anna pulled a bookplaque out of her satchel and twirled the dials until she found the marked file. "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate..."
"Bad choice, child," Irene said, rubbing the back of her neck (she still couldn't get used to a mid-brown bob instead of mouse-brown plaits).
"When I am dead, my darling...."
Servalan huffed out an exasperated sigh. "Are you implying, Grant major, that you are still tiresomely fixated on your infantile homosexual stage, and that you are making an attempt to embroil me in it?"
"I love you," Anna said mulishly. "Because it's you. Because it's me. It's not a stage, or a phase, or mistake. It's real and it's everything to me. And I won't change. I'll always feel the same. You know me, Irene. Once I make my mind up to something, I get it. Sooner or later."
It was twenty minutes before dinnertime, which gave Avon just enough time after his consultation with Orac about re-balancing the Liberator's investment portfolio to go back to the cabin, wash up, and put on a fresh shirt, which was all he could manage in the way of dressing for dinner.
Anna sloshed more cognac into the snifter. "Do you know what she said? That not only did I disgust her, but that she'd take you away from me and fuck you in front of my face."
"Sometimes there is a God," Avon said. "And so quickly!"
"It's not like you to gloat," Anna said. "Or shall I say, not to gloat at my discomfiture rather than that of a rather more remote connection."
"Relax, love, relax. St. Sigmund wasn't always right, but he could be remarkably perceptive at times. Just consider the mechanisms that trigger protesting too much." He waved his cigarette as though he expected stardust to pour out from it. "And you shall go to the ball..."
It hardly seems fair," Servalan said. "Here am I, one frail woman locked in a prison cell" (and, she thought, at a significant disadvantage caused by wearing shower
slippers and orange polyester) "and you, a big man. With a very big gun." "
"I'm no coward," Blake said, "But I'm not reckless either. I thought about bringing in one of my troops, to keep guard. But I thought that negotiations might be more...productive....on a one-to-one level. So, what shall we do with you? Shall we hold you for ransom...well, of course we could do that whether we'd killed you first or not. Whether or not your crimes had caught up with you."
"It would take the edge off a little, if you tried to operate a war crimes tribunal as a profit center, would it not?"
"What about a prisoner exchange? Perhaps we could trade you for Ninian Trophimoff, I know his execution date is quite soon."
"That barbarian? He set back valuable research on batch-process mutoid modification by a decade or more. Exchange him for me? Why, I'd sooner...." Servalan halted abruptly.
"Yes, a man after my own heart. I'd hate to find out what we're capable of, Servalan. For all I know it might be quite as bad as your propaganda." (He had his own, none too high opinion of Servalan's personal courage, based on a few encounters, with and without androids.) "So why don't you help us all by cooperating gracefully? No one likes a gambler who tries to welsh when the cards turn against her."
"Well now, can you do anything besides threaten?" Servalan growled throatily. By the set of her shoulders, she somehow managed to drape the glaring jumpsuit into graceful folds. She kicked off the slippers and tucked her now-bare feet (toenails painted pale blue) beneath her on the cot that hung by chains from the solid-steel wall of the Liberator's brig. "Don't you have anything to offer me? You and your big gun?"
"That's the difference between us," Blake said. "Damn it--and damn you-- I'm offering you mercy, if we can come to terms. And I'm treating you as a defeated enemy, but still one worthy of respect and serious discussion. And all you have to offer is a cheap attempt at seduction."
"The difference? To start with, I'm normal and you're a degenerate...." "That too," Blake said cheerfully. He left, slamming the door behind him, to contemplate how to handle the Servalan Problem. At the very least, he wanted to study her, to understand the effect of a pure, undiluted intravenous drip of power politics. It must be some through-the-looking-glass isomer of idealism--to place everything at the service of that one goal, to let everyone and everything go hang just to promote the interests of one person. What did she get from it, in the end? And what could he learn from her?
He hoped that, unlike the kidnappers in the O. Henry story, he wouldn't be provoked into paying the Federation to take her back.
Servalan's visiting privileges were rather limited, so Avon and Anna went to her levee, held, of necessity, in her cell.
They didn't think that she would surrender lightly, so they sacrificed their very last tin of foie gras and bottle of Sauternes to the cause. Avon baked a loaf of brioche to put the foie gras on.
He told Servalan that the harsh lights in the cell couldn't be turned off. (They could, and he had already made damn sure that the surveillance camera had been.) Servalan sat on the steel plank, chained to the wall, that served as her bed. Avon sat next to her; Anna sat on the floor at Servalan's feet.
"How dear and romantic of you to worry," Servalan said. "Here's to you, then!" She took a hard swallow of the last ounce of the sweet wine and threw the crystal goblet against the far wall, so it would never be used for a less honorable purpose.
"Now, you see, Anna," Servalan said, "This is what a normal man wants. He wants a real woman, not a freak like you." She lifted Avon's hand and put it on her breast.
"Quite," he said. "Only a big, strong, manly man can stroke a woman's breast. You need a hard Y-chromosome for that." He slipped his hand inside her coverall. Her nipple hardened between his fingers, and he moved his hand further inside the coverall, enclosing her breast. His hand felt cool, even inside the coverall, even against her warm skin. He pulled her onto his lap and closed his teeth on the junction between her neck and her shoulder.
"You see that?" Servalan said. "He wants me. I can feel how he wants me."
"Stand up," he said, his voice beginning to thicken, like a half-done bechamel.
Servalan obeyed, wondering whether he was going to throw her against the very new and shiny stainless-steel wall and take her then and there. Instead, he tore the coverall open to the waist. The sound of the Velcro fastener ripping made her close her eyes and shiver.
Now he was fully behind her, one arm clamped around her waist, one hand toying, with maddening lightness, with the breast he had not already roused. She could feel his teeth, just touching her neck, she tried to rub against him but he held her in place and moved a tormenting inch or so back.
Both her nipples were hard, one against the cool work-hardened palm of his hand, the other pinched between his soft warm fingertips. Her head went back, she was so ready for him, mellifluous, she felt his breath on the back of her neck as his tongue and teeth clamped just above her collarbone. His hands clamped her tight, bunching up the coveralls over her hips. He bent his head to suck behind her shoulderblade. His touch made her shoulders arch back, and her breasts lifted up and out, seeking and sought by a gentle avid mouth.
"Kiss me," Servalan said, and he pulled her head down and kissed her mouth, Servalan felt his soft skin and smelled face powder, Servalan was trapped between him, all warmth and smoothness over muscle...
Servalan opened her eyes. To lose one parent is a misfortune, to lose both is sheer carelessness, and to have four hands and two bodies is not to be expected even from the best computer man in all the Federation.
Avon kissed Anna's hand, which was resting on Servalan's shoulder. Anna's other hand slid down from the notch between Servalan's clavicles, to span the distance between her breasts, and to the rounded plane of her belly.
"You can't do this to me, you bastard," Servalan said.
"Oh?" is all Avon said, on his way out the door. It wouldn't do to keep Blake waiting. Although it was quite polite to bring a rampant erection in lieu of a bunch of flowers, there was just enough time for a shower and a clean shirt so he could smell of Russian Leather instead of Fracas.
"I hardly expect you to believe this, Blake, but...well, I'd tell you where Star One was. If I knew. If anyone knew. "
"That's right, Irene, I don't believe it. How could a small crew like that handle even the most routine maintenance? What if anything needed repair? How would technical improvements be made? You look a lot better in that dress--" (it was a blue one, from the Wardrobe Room) "than in that orange overall." If you expect me to keep helping you, you'd better help me. I still have the keys to the brig...or worse.
"But do you trust her?" Blake asked, while he was still deciding what to do about Servalan.
"As adders fang'd," Avon said cheerfully. "Keep an eye on her, of course. But there's no middle ground with Servalan--if you haven't the stamina to kill her, you might as well put up a good pretense of being nice to her. If you throw a few sops to her monstrous ego--rather like Muscovites throwing the baby off the sled to pacify the wolves--then she may make herself quite useful. I think Anna has more or less talked her 'round to cooperating with you. They were school friends, you know."
"Old Girls' Network?"
"Something like that, yes."
"No, no one knew. That was the key to securing it, you see. If anyone had the information, then they could give it away, sell it, or someone could get it out of them. The plan was, that by the time our technology needed to be maintained, much less improved, another facility would already be in place."
Blake shook his head. "Hardly up to the omniscient level of planning I thought I was up against." He strolled to the wall communicator. "Kerrill," he said. "Detail someone to fill the food dispensers in the brig. And get a few more of those overalls out of the Wardrobe Room. Yes, the bright orange ones."
"Of course, that was just the official line," Servalan said. "People often know things they're not supposed to, don't they?"
"A name," Blake said. "Give me a name. If it checks out, then I'll know that you were on the level. This time, at least."
"Space Major Provine. He's in charge of the garrison, on Albian."
Blake didn't ask, so Servalan refrained from mentioning her hope that the nasty little insurrection on Albian had already been stamped out. Otherwise, Provine, who was a darling when he was still on staff but inclined to be a trifle impetuous, might render Albian--or might already have rendered it--a very restful sort of place. Not at all where one would expect to get a straight answer out of anyone. And Provine, as a loyalist, would have course have gone down with the planet.
Servalan couldn't help being impressed by Blake's ambition. His audacity. If only she had thought of it herself. To become master of Star One would be to gain untold power. To be Supreme Commander of the Federation, or even President, paled in comparison.
But then, as she reflected, not having had the idea in the first place wasn't always a deal-breaker. In her milieu, prizes were awarded for survival, not originality, and very often it was the dead who were more imaginative than the living. Sometimes it was better to wait for someone else to do the difficult part, and then swoop in and appropriate the rewards.
As for why she misunderstood Blake's reason for wanting to find Star One--well, perhaps he wasn't entirely candid during the discussion. And perhaps she wasn't listening very hard. She was never very accurate at hearing things that weren't what she wanted to hear.
"Oh, hullo, Del," Avon said into the taut atmosphere in the Albian war room. The temperature seemed to have dropped ten degrees with his putative brother-in-law's arrival. "Did we remember to send you a Solstice card?"
Del Grant, blinded by the tide of blood that fury drove into his eyes, lunged at Avon. He managed to knock him to the ground and half-throttle him before Blake on one arm and Cauder on the other hauled him to his feet. "You bastard!" he sobbed. "Motherfucker! Cocksucker! She died for you! You let them kill her!"
When Avon reassured himself that a reliable air supply was available (his neck was too short to make manual strangulation a sinecure for anyone with hands larger than Anna's anyway), he sat up.
"Evidently every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Del, if you're referring to Anna, I assure you that she is not dead--we've been living together for five years--and in fact the man now pulling your left arm out of its socket can corroborate that because at the moment she's sitting on his ship. Of course, in an hour or so we may all be dead in company with the rest of the planet, so you may have to take my word for it."
They all lived (and Blake's survival proved that, even if Looks Could Kill, Vila wasn't in on the secret). The sibling reunion was perhaps a little less than inspiring. Del sobbed. Anna flounced. She had never thought much of Del's acting ability, so if she'd let him in on her real fate, she would never have managed a clean getaway.
Blake offered him a consulting contract, but he said that he wasn't having anything to do with an arm of the Rebellion that had horrible people like that in it. And, by the way, Grant said, what kind of a Rebellion was it if the worst that had happened to Servalan was temporary deprivation of couture? If Blake didn't have the stomach to deal with her, Grant was glad to volunteer his own services.
"We don't deal in murder, here," Blake told him, moralistic as only the truly ambivalent can be.
"Is this your idea of fashionable Alternative rebellion, then?" Grant sneered. "Homeopathy? A molecule of rebellion in a sea of compromise?"
"A day without blood on my hands, perhaps. A sort of holiday."
"It's not a tea party, Blake," was the last thing Grant said before they put him down at Elkavorn with a gift box of land mines for the rebels.
I've got to win, Blake thought. I must prove that it was all worthwhile, all the suffering, the death, the destruction, the hopelessness. Lose and walk away? That's not an option any more.
What he needed to know was what it would mean to win, and whose opinion he would take on the final score, and how deeply the commentators would analyze the means.
"I'll be Mum," Kerrill said, handing the steaming teacup to her best friend. "There's no cream, but the scones are ever so nice even without, they have currants. And there's some marmalade."
Tyce spooned sugar into the cup. "You're softening me up for something, Puggie. What is it?"
"I'm worried about Cally. Don't tell anyone, of course, but just the other day Vila found her wandering toward the airlock, with the pockets of her cardigans stuffed with stones. Well, not that that would make a blind bit of difference, but it just goes to show. He talked her out of it, but I'm afraid she'll try again unless she has something to occupy her. Take her out of herself . I think she really loved that Anna, and now that Servalan has taken up with her, well, Anna dropped poor Cally like a hot potato."
"Hang about," Tyce said. "She's an alien, you know."
"How'd you like it if everyone got all shirty with you just 'cos you're from Lindor? You can't help being from where you are."
"At least we're human."
"Auronar aren't very alien. Got the right number of legs and eyes and so forth and they eat food--oh, well, normal food, y'know, not like mud or people or anything--and breathe air. And I like Cally, she's one of the best. In fact, if I wasn't married and if I liked girls, I bet I'd make a play for her myself."
"And if your aunt had balls she'd be your uncle, Puggie."
"I don't think Meenah would take you back--well, you can't expect it after Hawthorne-2, really--and you wouldn't be cruel enough to try to break up Rauna and Giselle. You and Anna couldn't stand each other even before this. So it's just you and your little box of toys till your next leave, and just the other day you were in here complaining about how long that'll be."
"Blake!" Vila said urgently, clambering onto the table. "It only goes one way, y'know," (although there was a Tarantesque murmur of "Unlike some people's children"). "Time, I mean. Doing things. If you try to do something and it doesn't work, then you can smash it to buggery afterwards. But if we could build another Star One--I don't think we could, we're not clever enough--we couldn't just build one when we wanted it."
Blake was sure that Avon would have something epigrammatic to say, and Anna would have something practical to contribute, but (or therefore) this crucial meeting was for crew only. And, just to be on the safe side, he sent Servalan back to the brig (although he let her keep her Regency-striped trouser suit).
"Vila, I think that most of the people here would say that I'm a good man," Blake began. There was a murmur of approbation. "And you follow me because you think I'm better than most--that what we stand for here is better than what you could have got in your old, safe lives. Comfortable, I was going to say. Safe and comfortable lives, but for many of you, the Federation denied you that option. We're here because we know that the Federation has to be defeated. That if we have to, we can make use of our enemies, but only to serve our objective. If we take Star One, then it's Checkmate in one move. Absolute, unarguable victory."
Shaheen Prunty climbed onto the table (by this time Vila was sitting cross-legged on it) and clapped her hands in agitation to gain attention. That didn't work, so she whistled shrilly between her fingers. "I'm from Vanovehm, out in the Third Sector. Awful little place. Hardly nobody lives there, nobody famous, nobody rich. It's a dump, really. But nobody couldn't live there if it wasn't for Star One. Once you shut that down, there'd be no air to breathe, and it wouldn't never rain, so there'd be nothing to eat neither. So for the love of God, don't do it. Don't kill my world."
"You've never hung back in a fight, Prunty!" Blake said. "You've got two Purple Hearts on your dress tunic, and a Star of Valor. You know that the Federation is tyranny, and death, and worse than death, so you've put your life on the line."
"I came here to fight, and I'll fight willingly," she said. "But my brother, and his wife, and his kids, they stayed to live. Maybe I'm braver than them and maybe they're smarter than me. When I fight, I fight soldiers. I don't stab innocent people in the back."
Blake knew that if Avon were there, he'd say that in a war, nobody and everybody is innocent, the distinction vanishes.
"What do you want me--want us--to do then?"
"I'm game to take Star One," Prunty said. "Or die trying. The worst people in the world have it now, and they use it for the worst reasons. "
"Because of what it is. Because of what happens to anyone who has that power, that total power, over life and death. Anyone would be corrupted. I can't risk that."
Blake thought of the Countess Cathleen ni Houlihan, who sold her soul to buy bread for her starving peasants. He couldn't remember what was supposed to happen to her--he hoped she could be forgiven, because of her somewhat atypical motivation. But he suspected that she was damned anyway, which is what has to happen when you knowingly sell your soul.
"Your soul. Their breath, their food," Prunty said.
"Tarrant?" Blake asked. "Restal? What do the crew chiefs have to say?"
"Vila, you're wrong," Kerrill said. "I love you, but you're wrong. This is a big war, and we've got to end it. We've got to end it now. We might just be able to end it all at once and win it, but only if we strike now and strike fast and strike hard with everything we have.
"Quite right," Tarrant said. "I think we can win the battle--once. Then consolidate our victory on Earth and the outer planets. But what we can't do is keep fighting the same battle over and over again, forever. If we can take Star One, then we'll have to take on every chancer who wants to push us off the top if the hill. If we can't take Star One, it won't matter. If we can take it, the only course of action to take then to destroy it."
Sixty-two people were entitled to vote. There were, despite earnest entreaties by both parties, nine abstentions. Twenty-three people voted to go to Star One to destroy it. Thirty voted to go to Star One to capture it.
In all the many struggles and sorrows of Blake's life, he had never felt so sick at heart, so disappointed, so betrayed. But he had chosen the means--an organization of some size, linked to other rebel groups, rather than a small guerilla band. If he had only a handful of followers, he thought that he could have talked them all around, or simply ordered them to do his bidding. As it was, he felt bound to abide by the vote.
Then his mood began to lighten. It had been impossible to avoid a lifetime on Cygnus Alpha, hadn't it? To gain the best ship that had ever been, and to hold it? And to gather up an army in a Federation that claimed all its citizens were content and drugged and murdered the few who said they weren't? To escape shot and shell and plasma bolts? To find the coordinates for a place whose existence everyone whispered about and whose location nobody knew? Then perhaps he could become the master of Star One and not be consumed by its corruption.
Six impossible things. When he got back to his cabin, Avon poured him a cup of tea from a thermos flask, handed him the silver rack of cold toast, and began frying eggs in a chafing dish.
Dr. Renor re-programmed the sign on the Med Unit door (Closed Until 20:00 Hours...In Emergency, Beep 43-79) and went to the Second Watch Crew Room. It was between missions, so there were no injuries, and no illnesses except for a couple of colds in First Watch, so he was bored.
He mixed himself a drink, signed a bar chit (although he appreciated getting a salary, he felt that he was pouring half of it back into the ship's coffers) and looked around the room.
Smashing! Two birds with one stone! he thought, noting that Cally was there with her eternal goddamned manuscript, and Lauren was also there. He had noted (although no demand for his medical services was made) that Bankstjerne had a black eye, and Lauren's ring finger was denuded. So, in full sight of the one (had she been paying any attention) he approached the other.
"I say, pretty lady, are you in need of a bit of consolation? There's lots of good fish in the sea...as good as ever came out of it."
Lauren said, "Yeah? I guess you'd know," and took the glass out of his hand and poured the contents over his head. "Now you look just like a fish. Glub glub."
Oblivious, Cally searched back through the manuscript pages. How had she not realized it before? Hallie Beaton wore the costume of the Principal Boy, especially the snug high boots (...if indeed, she had not somehow transformed and transcended, to be girlboy successively and successfully). She walked with a slim swagger, preceded by her plush lips, and to kiss those lips was indeed an invitation to a paradise of pre-history and history.
It all would have gone much more easily if the dozen or so garrisoning Star One had, in fact, been Federation technicians. That way, even if they had heard about Servalan's fall from power she would probably have been able to social-engineer them into believing that she was, at least for the moment, Supreme Commander or even President, after a dazzling counter-coup. But if your aunt....
So what actually happened is that Servalan, sent outside for a quick reconnoiter, encountered Travis outside the door. She briefly considered exchanging a few lines of bitter badinage, then thought better of it and gut-shot him. It had been a long time since she'd killed anyone personally. She realized that she missed it.
She shot him in the head, just to make sure.
"All quiet?" Cally whispered when Servalan came back in through the door.
"It is now," Servalan said.
And meanwhile, the Andromedan commander was admiring the quality of Blake's "artificial" hand, and Avon was shooting a looking-glass Andromedan, and then everyone discovered what was happening.
The easy part was shooting the occupiers. The hard part was staving off the invasion force.
Anna and Servalan raced to the communications consoles. Together, they knew every cipher, every commander and every piece of equipment in Space Command. For a day and a night, except for moments grasped for a glass of adrenaline and soma or a hundred breaths of sleep, they stood together, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, thigh to thigh. They were calling and re-grouping the Federation fleet , the Liberator, and a Second Calendar Dunkirk of every craft piloted by humans and their allies, and Avon transmitted the signals.
Blake and Cally went back to the ship. For that long day, everyone on Liberator fought to hold the gap, to deflect the bolts of the Andromedan fleet, or to slide out of range then dance back into battle, to solder breaches and re-wire burnt relays. It was a damned close-run thing, and it often looked as though the call for Life Capsules would have to be raised.
In fact, if the perpetual pessimist had been on board and not at Star One, they might very well have abandoned ship. But there were little touches of Blake in the night, and although many were frightened, no one was disheartened. And in the end, the teakettles had to slink home, their spouts between their legs.
The victory was so glorious that an ecstatic Servalan was prepared to pardon them all on the spot, filthy traitors though they were, until she remembered where she was. I did it, I did it, I saved the Galaxy, I saved the human race, I diditdiditdidit..." and she got to shoot Travis, and there she was with her lover in her arms.
Some days are better than others.
After some very tense negotiations (during which all four parties--Blake, Avon, Anna, and Servalan--gave at least a thought to the theoretical desirability and possible moral justification of bumping off at least some of the others and becoming masters of the known worlds), Blake turned over command of Liberator to the Tarrants. They used it (and the rest of the DSV fleet built to plans drawn up by Avon) to hold Star One and defend it against all challengers.
The Liberator's preferred weaponry provider was Mellanby and Daughter (meaning Lauren--Dayna succumbed in her turn to the Curse of Bankstjerne and stayed on board the ship).
Star One became a premier posting for the best and brightest technocrats of all the human and human-ish races. Avon made sure that the computers stayed up and the planets got their climate control . Servalan made sure that the trams in Servalan City ran on time and Anna made sure that the bills got sent out on time. They raised the rates for utilities and terraforming services frequently.
Avon and Anna rented Knowledge to Maynard and Lydia for an exorbitant amount. They went back for a couple of house parties, but the place seemed to belong to another sort of life.
Blake went back to Earth and got everyone to stop kicking the corpses. When he left Star One, Avon (feeling a little sad, but mostly ironic) said, "Farewell, thou art too dear for my possessing."
"We'll see each other, often," Blake said serenely. That was the sort of thing he had practice believing.
"Oh, we have a certain partiality for each other, largely fueled by curiosity. But there was no contest. You had to choose between me and your Cause, and you chose it. I had to choose between you and Anna, and I chose her." And, really, the relationship had never weathered their rift over the fate of what was now the most valuable property in the rebellion's real estate portfolio.
They kissed goodbye. And they did see each other sometimes, brief explosively erotic encounters that the press of business always cut short even before the first argument. This was always a cause for a touch of regret.
The United Confederacy of Terran Nations had a coalition government so, like the weather in Maine or the tram service in Servalan City , if you didn't like it you just had to wait five minutes for the next one. Blake was sometimes in office, sometimes out. On the whole, he preferred being a shadow minister. He could at last see the attraction of standing on the sidelines poking laser probes into other people's plans.
He settled down quite happily with the Chairman of the Physics Department at the University of the UCTN. Sometimes he wondered if it would have been better to take a shortcut to Valhalla and die in glorious battle instead of meeting his present fate of gray hair, root canals, and committee meetings. But not very often.
Dr. Renor was able to use his celebrity to open a plastic surgery clinic on Del-10. He was soon hip-deep in wealthy divorcees. Vila and Kerrill opened a restaurant there (and traded a lifetime supply of Tuesday-night prime rib for a little work on Vila's eyes). She did a lot more of the work, he mostly sauntered in wearing evening clothes and treated his favored punters to bottles of champagne.
Like paired Persephones, Cally and Tyce spent half of each year on Lindor, half on Auron. The climate was better on Lindor, but Cally got more writing done on Auron.