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"Oh, don't mind him. He came with the building, and we let him stay because he keeps down the rats," the undertaker said as he led Avon past the racks of trooper ash-caskets (small gray plex boxes with prepaid mailing labels on). "He must smell something on your boots. Do you have a pet?"

"Not unless you count Vila." Avon kicked halfheartedly at the brown-striped cat that kept trying to grab the buckles of his boots. The cat took that as an invitation to play, and came back with enthusiasm.

"Here we are." The undertaker opened the door to another room. It was much colder in there, all steel walls with drawers set in them. "I really shouldn't do this, you know."

"But you will." Avon scanned drawers, reading the names set on them. "That one."

The undertaker unlocked the drawer with a key taken from his pocket. "You'll have to hurry. He's scheduled for a funeral service in fifteen minutes."

"Closed casket?"

"Well, yes, we did our best, but close range blaster fire doesn't leave much scope for artistry." He pulled the drawer all the way out into the room, revealing a zipped shut black bag.

"And Sleer will be in attendance?"

"Yes, of course. Major Jecho was her aide de camp before his unfortunate accident. She's going to give the eulogy."

"Perfect." Avon began lifting out the corpse.

"Oh, I say! You can't do that!"

"Can't I?" Avon aimed his gun at the man.

"It's all very well, helping a fellow rebel, but you've not got a union card!" The man got the corpse out of the drawer and put it in an unmarked drawer the next row down. He put a fresh black body bag in the drawer and unzipped it. "Get in. And remember not to breathe when they move you. I'm going on holiday in five minutes, and my assistants aren't rebels." He checked his chronometer as he tucked an oxygen canister and face-mask in beside Avon and started to zip him in. He heard a noise and went to the door and looked both ways, finding only bare corridor, and then returned to finish wrapping Avon and shove the drawer back into the wall.

--


The drawer pulled out and lurched to a stop. The bag unzipped and cool talons traced along Avon's cheek, pulling away the face-mask. His eyes flew open. Sleer smiled down at him.

"You really didn't think you could fool me, did you, Avon?"

"Sooner or later, you'll make a mistake."

"But you won't be around to see it." She touched his throat. "I could simply have you put back in storage. Without this." The oxygen bottle swung from her hand.

Avon shook his head, smiling. "And miss my last moments?"

"True." Sleer's ruby-red lips pouted. "It would be a pity." She began unzipping the bag, while watching Avon's face. "I set you up, you know."

"Yes, I know." Avon stared into her face, ignoring her mutoid guards. "And after it was over, you let Vila and me escape. Why?"

"Well, Avon, you must understand." Sleer fondled Avon's chest as the bag opened further. "I needed...a distraction. An excuse. A rebel with a name that would ensure funding for the Pacification Programme."

Softly, Avon said, "You needed a figurehead."

"And you served splendidly. However, you are becoming tedious with your single-minded attempts at assassination. I will find another figurehead." Sleer ripped the zipper all the way down, and screamed, leaping back as a brown furry object launched itself at her throat, drawn by the waving black tips of her ermine cape.

Avon sat up, gun in hand, and shot her mutoids. He untangled himself from the bag and looked down. Sleer... Servalan... was lying on her back, her head at an obscene angle, and a look of horror frozen on her white face. The cat lay on her chest, kneading with his paws and purring. He looked up at Avon, one honey-amber eye wide and round, the other narrowed by a scar.

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