Awake and Find No

by Ika


Monday, Mar. 6 – Find my baby dead. Send for Hogg. Talk. A miserable day…

Thursday, Mar. 9 – Read and talk. Still think about my little baby…

Monday, Mar. 13 – Shelley and Clara go to town. Stay at home and think of my little dead baby. This is foolish, I suppose; yet … whenever I am left alone to my own thoughts, and do not read to divert them, they always come back to the same point – that I was a mother, and am so no longer…

Sunday, Mar. 19 – Dream that my little baby came to life again; that it had been only cold, and we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived. Awake, and find no baby. I think about the little thing all day. Not in good spirits.

From Mary Shelley's diary



She was sitting at a low table, looking with a very narrow focus at the outer half of her right eyelid in the mirror while she licked a finger and smoothed her right eyebrow into place.


She got up and walked to the door, laying her palm on the discreet scanner pad beside it; it swished open and the guard outside nodded briefly to her as she walked slowly and steadily, one–two (heavier step), one–two (heavier step), down the corridor and through the door to the small drawing-room where the meeting was.

She held her stance in the door for perhaps three-quarters of a second while the faces turned to her and the people began to stand up, and while she walked to sit in the largest armchair by the tea table she suddenly flashed all over with the memory of that strange magnesium pain, tasted ash in her mouth, saw an old image of herself at the age of about six, coming out of the pool with her hair wet and flat like a seal, grinning, gap-toothed. She didn't remember that day, only seeing the picture when she was going through her parents' personal effects in the holiday after they died.

How absurd, she thought, almost intrigued.

'Please sit,' she said, and smiled.

Why should she be thinking about the Auron debacle now?

'Thank you, Madam President,' said Marka, who was chairing the meeting. 'May the meeting come to order?'


'Second meeting of the Emergency Committee, codename Anna. Minutes of the last meeting, please, Secretary Bruhl.'

Bruhl was reading the minutes in his extraordinarily amusing voice (he wasn't a born Alpha and his attempts to sound like one were unfailingly funny), which if the truth were told was the reason she had made him Secretary of the Committee, although his skills, like those of everyone on her personal staff, were of course beyond reproach.

'Following the advice of the President we abandoned attempts to trace any connection between Sula Chesku and Kerr Avon's insurrectionist group, focusing attention on tracking links between Chesku and the Alpha Revolutionary coup of July last.'

Of course. Fools. Without Blake, Avon was just another pirate. A nothing.

When she had seen Avon's face as it lit for a second, as his gun went off in the cellar, she'd felt it then, flaring from her belly into ash in her mouth.

'Any amendments to the agenda, Madam?'

'No; please continue with your report, Marka.'

It was always fascinating to her to listen to Intelligence reports, the translation of the chaos of flesh in pain in small bright rooms into clean, simple lines and grids of facts, clues, a careful network of intersections which would each lead just as carefully, just as straight, to someone's death. She traced the lines in her mind as she listened, out from Sula Chesku and Hob back over the past year to the Alpha Revolutionary coup: no real surprises, a few disappointments. She'd have to try and get Martrich reconditioned: he was too good to lose entirely. Or perhaps modified.



Back in her study, she glanced up from the table-top screen for a moment, frowning at someone's particularly infelicitous attempt at flattery, and saw the door, and something fell into place. It felt like: Something happened to me.

Her own death. But not in her body. Outside her, where she was made to survive it and where it would haunt her, where she would see it again and again, as she'd seen it in Avon's face.

That was probably when she had the idea, looking at the closed, still door of her study; unless she'd had it all along: that was certainly when she saw the idea, the shining node all these lines had spun themselves into.



'Gentlemen,' she said and smiled, feeling dizzyingly powerful with the certainty that this was going to work, feeling larger than herself, like she sometimes felt after a long fuck, knowing all the muscles in her body (and in someone else's) had worked to bring her this empty, quiet completion.

'Madam President,' they murmured, and sat down round the table, watching her face with a ratio of fear and interest that varied from nondescript scientist face to nondescript scientist face.

'This meeting is Code Double X, oral information only. For this reason I would appreciate it if you would all give me your full attention. In one standard week I shall expect a full feasibility report, a list of requisitions for personnel and equipment, a schedule and a budget. These may be prepared for me in writing, Encryption Level Nine, under the codename … Valentine.

'Do you have your preliminary reports ready?'

Docassi rose to his feet, keeping his anxious eyes on her face. 'Madam President,' he murmured. 'I have run a synthesis of the last available psi profile of Kerr Avon with the latest available data gathered from the most recent sightings through the main Department computer and obtained a 73% probability that he was indeed involved in a – um, homosexual relationship with Roj Blake.'

Servalan couldn't stop herself smiling, and turned her face away. She hated to sound like that oaf Jarvik, but … as if any of them needed a computer to tell them that!

'A promising start,' was what she said. 'Forbus?'

'As you know, my researches into muscle relaxants for cadet training programmes have resulted in the development of a drug which increases suggestibility. So far, however, its effects are very limited in time and it will not be possible to create the desired effect through chemico-manipulation alone, although it would appear that Pylene-30 will be able to form the basis for more direct psi intervention.'

'Thank you. Petrel?'

Petrel stood up, said: 'The computer interface is theoretically possible,' and sat back down.

That was it. Servalan smiled at Petrel in appreciation, and noted her almost-blush in response as of mild interest.


The meeting was a success.



She couldn't sleep – she often couldn't in-flight – so, after an abortive attempt to soothe her mind into unconsciousness by visualising all the dresses she'd owned before she was twenty, she got up, smoothing down her long white nightdress where it had bunched up around her thighs, and poured herself a tumbler of water (real Earth water, from the hermetically sealed tank in her sleep quarters where it was stored as ice).

She sat at her desk and raised the screen, tracing through links to ensure that the Alta Project was going according to schedule. She would have to keep a remote eye on this one, which was irritating: she felt more confident the closer she was to the centre of things, but Project Valentine was close to launch and she wouldn't have time to get back to Earth before starting out for Terminal. Which was in itself a worry, after the failure of her attempt to take the Teal–Vandor confederacy, so soon after the Chesku coup (so soon after Auron… She took a sip of her water, icy, clean, a little shock running through into her belly).

However, the success of the Alta Project would more than make up for that: with a new-style fleet, Teal, Vandor and anywhere else would be taken, simply and cleanly, within months. No more need for these tiresome schemes and duplicities.

The personnel had been relatively easy to find, a near-duplication of the Aquitar Project line-up, in fact: it had half-amused, half-appalled her to find that Blake and Avon had both worked on that project, and checks for political reliability on this second version had been considerably more stringent; a nuisance – it had knocked out several top-flight candidates – but she had no intention of allowing history to repeat itself at her expense.

'Blake,' she said aloud, surprising herself; so she said it again. 'Blake.' In her mouth it was shaped like contempt, quite unlike the hysterical fervour the poor idiots she'd had executed after the war and the revolt on Earth had tasted, had seemed to taste, when they said it. Blake.

She wondered how it felt in Avon's mouth, which, like hers, was shaped more for contempt than for blind and total belief: and she remembered the way 'babies' had shaped itself in her mouth, with contempt, and the feel and taste of death which was all Auron had left her with. Ghosts. Duplicating not her life but her death.

She remembered, again, the image of herself coming out of the pool. It was recognisably her as a child, but when she had found it there had been no memories with it; it was like looking at someone else. She glanced briefly at the mirror on the wall before turning back to the screen.



She was sitting in a large, bright room, waiting for Avon. There was a tight, anxious feeling in her stomach now that it had come this far, this close: everything was going right, step by inevitable step as projected, and it felt, surprisingly, like doom.

She glanced at the chronometer above the door; one minute to go; and arranged herself on the seat, leaning back against the wall, her hands ostentatiously free, the room open and bright around her.

And here he was, precisely on time; precisely enough to be a little frightening.

'Avon,' she said, and it felt strange, repeating the words she had planned, but this time it was really happening; this time it was real. She could hear the laughter behind her voice. 'How very nice to see you again.'



As the script unfolded she was listening carefully, not so much to what he said as to the way they spoke to one another, the way they understood one another. Blake, he said, and she said, and all the time something was passing between them. The gamble of it. The stakes, hidden but high. In all its predictability it was somehow exciting.

'How very noble of you,' she heard herself saying, her voice bright and arch: the way they understood each other. The game.

'I thought so,' he said, smiling at her.

'Of course, it had nothing to do with not wanting to share Blake's mysterious discovery.' His Valentine to you. Like he is my Valentine to you.

'Nothing at all,' he said and laughed as his eyes met hers and she watched him knowing that she knew.

'Well, let me reassure you. You weren't entirely misled. Blake is alive and, if not well, at least on the road to recovery,' and for once the word tasted sweet. She thought of how the name had tasted in Avon's mouth when he had said it. Not contempt. But soon it would be ashes and defeat he tasted: soon it would taste like 'Anna', or 'Auron', the death of something that wasn't even real.

'More important – he is my prisoner. Naturally, I wouldn't expect you to take my word for it, so you may see him and talk to him.'

He stood up, smug: 'I already have.'

Here we go, she thought.


'Your security is not very efficient.'

She was enjoying this, suddenly, whole-heartedly. Watching his lies to himself – Anna was perfect, Blake still loved him, Avon was cleverer than Servalan – tangle him more effectively than her lies to him had ever managed. Keep away from ghosts and mirrors, Avon, she thought.

'You were supposed to be held in close custody.'

'It's not very important. Let's get down to terms. I want Blake's freedom. What do you want?'

She brought up the image she'd picked, and flung her arm towards the screen. A little drama always appealed to Avon.

'That. A straight exchange. You get Blake, and whatever it is he's discovered, and I get – the Liberator.'

And there were the stakes, out on the table.

'It's a very reasonable contract, Avon. You have your lives, Blake, and transportation out of here.'

'And you have the best ship in space.' She could hear the dice falling in his mind.

'The pattern for a fleet.' Let him see what we're playing for. Let him live with what he was willing to give for Blake; for nothing. Ghosts and mirrors, Avon.

'You really think you can duplicate the Liberator?'

'I've assembled a team of scientists who are sure they can. In fact, they've staked their lives on it. And with a fleet like that, I can unite and rule as nobody has ever ruled before.'

'What if the crew won't obey me?'

She had him. That was a poor effort. She was going to win this. All the way from the beginning, it had fallen the way she had predicted; she was going to win this. Finally. Her stomach twisted: this was it. Finally.

'Oh, I don't think that's likely,' she said, letting him hear she knew he was bluffing now, but she drew her gun, just to give him the right setting for this, the edge of risk he would need. 'I have Blake. I have you. Call the ship.'

He moved towards the communicator.



There was a haze of white air, a ghostly outline, and then Dayna filled it.

'All right,' said Servalan. She felt dizzy with relief and excitement; a peculiar combination. 'Get their bracelets. Move them over there.' Then, with a long look at them all: 'That, I think, concludes our business.' It was all they were worth now.

'You said there's a ship that could get us off here.'

'There is. Perhaps I've exaggerated just a little. You see, she was rather badly damaged when we made our landing. But I think with some months' work she could be made spaceworthy. Just about.'

'What about Blake?' said Avon, with difficulty, not quite looking at her.

'Ah, yes. Blake. I owe him so much. After all, it was he who brought you to me.'

'We made a deal. You promised me Blake.'

She looked at him, and told her final lie, and there was no triumph in it any more, in watching the ghost of something die in Avon's face, as it hadn't died when he had admitted defeat and given up the ship.

'Blake is dead. He died from his wounds on the planet Jevron more than a year ago. I saw his body. I saw it cremated. Blake is dead.'

'I saw him.' Servalan wasn't sure he even knew whether he was speaking aloud. 'I spoke to him and he—'

She had to interrupt him there. His voice was a mirror she had to turn away from.

'You saw nothing. Heard nothing. It was an illusion, a drug-induced and electronic dream. We spent months preparing it. We recreated Blake inside our computers, voice, images, memories, a million fragmented facts. When I was ready, I started sending you the messages, seeding the idea in your mind. I was conditioning you. And you were my greatest ally, Avon. You made it easy because you wanted to believe it. You wanted to believe that Blake was still alive.'

She was watching his face all the time, unable to look away, unable to feel her own victory while she looked at him, and somewhere inside her she could hear the ghost of her own voice telling him the truth: that Blake was alive, and with Stratter Fenn on Zavlos, and doing nothing that her spies didn't tell her about weeks in advance. Blake was her creature now, her only creature, only Blake.

She barely noticed Avon lunge towards her, Tarrant hold him back. On with the script.

'One final thing. As you know, this planet was designed to help our scientists watch and study how life first developed on Earth. The experiment was more than successful, and has led to some highly unpleasant life-forms. Do be careful.'

'We have met some sort of primitive humanoids,' said the Auron girl. Servalan glanced at her with the minimum of interest. 'I hate to think that they were our ancestors.'

'Oh, but they're not. The planet's evolution was massively accelerated. It developed through millions of years in a very short time. The creature you saw is not what man developed from; it is what man will become.' Evolution in all its sad and messy unpredictability: anything but simple, anything but pure; the future gone as well as the past. Nothing would repeat itself any more. The six-year-old with the sleek hair would never finish climbing out of the pool. It was over. She turned away.

'I think I'm ready. Give the order. Please.'

Tarrant did as he was told. She looked at Avon for the last time, at his defeat; no more of that, either. Past.

'We won't meet again. Goodbye.'



'Manual operation,' said Servalan. 'Set course for the planet Earth.'

'Computed and laid in.'

'Main drive.'

She raised her arms and felt victory, finally felt it, all the way through her body: all the lines, all the nodes, had finally made it here, to this completion. This was the beginning. A clean slate, with her own face on it.

'Maximum power.'



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