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"I suppose you're going to say that it was all Blake's fault, for testing you. That you were only acting the way a good rebel should. That you're innocent." The rebel looked Avon over and shrugged. "Blake said you were a man of honour. Didn't do him much good, did it?"

Avon didn't reply.

"I'm not. I could gut you and leave you to die. I would, except that I've got a job for you."

Avon spoke for the first time after killing Blake. "A suicide mission?" He nodded. "I might surprise you and survive."

"It wouldn't surprise me. Rats have a way of surviving." He waved his gun at Avon. "Get up. I'll show you the job."

Avon considered for a moment, then rose to his feet.

As they walked down the corridors, rebels with burdens scurried all around them, obviously preparing to abandon the base. Avon's guide and guard commented, "The self-destruct's set to go in an hour. They're too busy to think about you. Or - " He waved with his gun at a pair of double doors on the right side of the corridor. "The job."

Avon pushed open the doors, took a few steps, and stopped, staring at the woman lying in the medical bed, attached to various monitors and pieces of equipment that bleeped and whirred softly.

"Keep going. She won't mind."

Avon moved to the bedside and stared down at the woman. "Do you know who she is?"

"I knew Jenna Stannis. " The man shut the double doors behind them and entered the medical unit. Like the rest of the base it showed signs of having been hastily gutted for supplies, but the area near Jenna was neatly ordered. "Or I should say Jenna Blake. We're old-fashioned here."

Avon smiled slightly. "Well, you finally had your way, Jenna. I hope it was worth it." He surveyed the readings on the machines and his face went blank.

"Yes. She's been brain-dead for months. Blake wouldn't let her die and, even now, no one wants to take the responsibility for ending it. That's your job." The rebel pointed to one machine. "Turn that off and she's gone. Do it."

"I'll do it, but not for you." Avon reached forward and shut down the machine. Jenna's chest exhaled once, then went still. The other machines began shrilling alarms, and Avon shut them down one by one. When the room was quiet he stopped looking at Jenna's face and turned to the rebel. "All right. You can shoot me now."

The man shook his head slowly. "No. That was only half the job." He pointed at another room, leading off from the main medical unit. "In there." He backed away from Avon. "I'm leaving it up to you. Once you're finished in here, you can go. Your flier's where you left it." Once he was at the exit he turned and left.

The other room was much smaller. It contained only an enclosed cot with a datapad hanging from the end. Avon read the most recent entry in the datapad and gazed at the occupant of the cot. For a slightly premature newborn, delivered by caesarian of a comatose woman, the child appeared quite well developed, sporting a full head of pale brown curls and waving plump arms aimlessly. He put a hand in to touch the child's throat. "I killed your mother and father. I could kill you. Why not? I've killed so many people. It would be so easy." He caressed the delicate skin. "I'd be doing you a favour, too. You haven't a chance, you know. Not a chance in the universe." One tiny hand struck Avon's and the baby's fingers tightened around one of his with surprising strength. Avon stood still for a long moment, then sighed, wrapped the child up in her blanket and picked up the bundle, gingerly. "All right, Ronna. It's stupid, but when did I ever let that stop me?"

They were far enough away from the base when it blew that the sound was muffled by distance. Avon was glad of that. He didn't want to wake the baby.

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December 2011

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