Axiom - February 2000
Blake Lives - L J P Kilford
(page 3/18)

Blake Lives

After ten rounds of it, he could barely stand. The rough soma that was all he could afford burnt his throat, and the smoke from the other drinkers' cigarettes made his head whirl. Vila felt awful. Worse, he felt old.

He drank nowadays to forget. There was certainly enough that he wanted to forget. But now, even his marathon drinking couldn't block out the past. In fact, it was about to catch up with him.

Blake had haunted his dreams for nearly thirty years. A scarred man, ripped apart at point-blank range, seemed to mock his failures, his inadequacy, his cowardice. Ash on Gauda Prime now, but still somehow alive to him.

And then there was the secret. Only he knew it now.


Avon stood alone, an almost empty gun in his hands. Roj Blake, the greatest revolutionary of them all, lay dead beneath him. He smiled. The troopers closed in.

Suddenly, the room was ripped apart by the crash of blaster fire. The troopers whirled, shocked by this new assault. Avon dived to the floor and emptied his magazine into them.

It was all over very quickly. The Federation men, caught unaware at their moment of victory, fought bravely, but were slaughtered.

A handful of dishevelled men and women, dressed in the uniforms of the new rebel alliance and of Blake's own organisation, ran into the room. Several had been hit glancingly, and one, wearing green medic's flashes, cradled a broken wrist.

Avon leapt up and grabbed the shoulders of one of the women. He was clearly angry; almost on the verge of tears.

"You bloody fool! I handpicked you to back me up, and you were too late. You failed me, and you failed Blake!" shouted an uncharacteristically emotional Avon.

"Arlen posted her guards well. We were delayed. We were lucky to reach you at all. Most of us didn't," explained the obviously rattled force commander, desperately attempting to placate him.

The man whose wrist had been broken had been checking the bodies on the floor as his superiors argued. Arlen was clearly alive, although badly concussed, but as he looked at Soolin, Dayna and Tarrant his expression grew more resigned. He shook his head sadly.

Suddenly, Vila groaned and sat up.

He found himself the centre of attention. After the rescuers had reholstered their guns, the medic and one of the other men pulled him to his feet.

"I ducked," he said.

Avon looked surprised, but recovered quickly. "I never thought I'd say this, Vila, but I really am glad to see you. Now, we have work to do."

Under Avon's guidance, the rebels set detonation charges around the room. Vila's eyes widened as he realised that there were enough explosives there to shatter Blake's base like an egg.

"Why?" asked Vila.

"Blake is a legend, an inspiration. Knowledge of his death would wreck my - our Alliance's chances of opposing the Federation. No-one needs to know that he died; there are no Federation witnesses to his death."

Silently Vila indicated the still body of Arlen.

Avon smiled.

As they left the control centre, Avon grabbed Vila and held him back. Vila was shocked to see the sheer tiredness in Avon's eyes.

"You never saw any of the things that happened in that room. Blake did not die. I did not kill him. I did not kill him. I did not kill him!"

An understanding flashed between them. Vila swallowed.

"Where's Orac?" he asked, in a desperate attempt to change the subject and distract an obviously unstable Avon.

Avon bent down to unscrew a floor plate. Underneath was Orac. He pulled Orac out and fitted the key.

"I have a new project for you, Orac. Can you create false reports of an individual's movements and actions and feed these to the Federation's data gathering networks?"

"Of course I can. My capabilities are not in doubt."

Avon's eyes blazed with rage.

"Create random sightings of Roj Blake. Include in these reports details of damage done to the Federation by him, and his crew. Use your capabilities to make it convincing. Confirm program."

"Program confirmed."

"Wonderful. Even your dead fight for you, Avon."

Silence.


Computers dream. Even the first, primitive, computers replayed while idle images that they had processed during their work periods. Naturally their eventual descendant would dream as well.

Orac was alone. Entombed deep in a protective vault, he created the computer projections that fed the rumourmongers of the Federation, and warmed the hearts of the rebels who still believed.

Deprived of input, as all those who had supervised his installation were dead, he was left to execute his last orders in peace. Memories of Avon drifted through his circuits. He missed the interactions of one as incisive as Avon, and even the company of lesser beings like Tarrant and Vila.

His simulation of Blake had begun as a crude approximation. However, over the years, interpolation after interpolation had refined it into an uncannily accurate model.

There was, however, one problem with the model. Avon had never had time to specify the final part of the model - a death-date. This was, Orac reasoned, a mistake. Even rebels don't live forever.


Vila was suddenly recalled to the present by a hand shaking his shoulder. A worried-looking bartender stood over him.

"Men have been asking for you. Police men."

Vila got unsteadily to his feet. He tried to run, but he was too late. A big, burly man, in a tattered and worn Federation uniform, put his arm around Vila in an unpleasantly friendly way.

"My friend Vila and I are just going for a nice, private walk. Aren't we?"

Vila felt a knife sheath against his side, and decided against saying anything.

Outside, the big man punched Vila hard. He sank to the ground, retching.

"Where's Avon? Tell me," he said aggressively.


"Dead; when his Alliance tried for Earth..." he spat blood onto the pavement.

"I don't believe you." A vicious kick left him desperately gasping for breath.

"I saw him die." I can still see you smiling when I close my eyes, thought Vila. Damn you for ever, Avon, why can't you leave me alone?
"What about Bl-," started the big man, then stopped, as he saw Vila climb painfully to his feet, holding a knife awkwardly in one hand. He checked his belt. Empty.

"Go away. I'm dead; why can't you leave me in peace?"

"Don't be a fool, Vila. I'll break you with my bare hands."

He went for Vila, but grabbed only empty air. He felt a brief pain in his stomach, then, as he stepped forward, a numbness spread through him. He slowly folded up, and sank to the ground. He heard, dimly, his mother's voice, and then only a faraway sea.

Vila dropped to his knees, and was sick beside the big man's dying body.

At last he stood up, although his knees were weak. His eyes came to rest on a roughly painted wall, which had recently been graffitied. He stared at it for a long time, then hurried away into the night.

The message was simple.

BLAKE LIVES

L J P Kilford