By James I. Ide

XII, Continued...


Avon thought about going deaf, but Rafe seemed to be coming from the direction of the spaceport and he might have some news. He turned and strolled towards Rafe. They met by the fountain.

"I didn't know you were coming into town today," Rafe said. "We could have come in together."

"I had some very tedious errands. I didn't want to bore anyone else with them."

Rafe grinned. "It couldn't have been more boring than what I was doing."

"Have you," Avon asked with a glance towards the spaceport, "heard anything?"

"It's funny, you know. Tully says there's been dead silence on... well. Not a word since yesterday." Rafe sat down on the edge of the fountain. "He said there seems, seems, mind you, to be a... blackout on the subject just at the moment."


"Just seems, he said. It might not mean a thing. It might even be good news."

"Good news?"

"Well, I should think if the Federation had come out on top they'd say so."

That was a possibility, but--

"You don't see Georgie and Leah anywhere, do you?" asked Rafe, stepping agilely up onto the coping to look about. "I'm supposed to meet them."

"No," Avon said. "If you'll excuse me-- "

"Here they are now," said Rafe, waving to them before he jumped down from the coping and ran to meet them.

Avon turned to see Georgie and Cally walking towards them, followed a short distance behind by their bearers, Lieutenants Krager and Elston. Both women seemed to be trying to convey a wordless message to Rafe and, intrigued, Avon followed Rafe, at a distance, to listen and to observe.

"Georgie," Rafe asked, concerned, not making head or tail of her message, "are you all right?"

"Oh, yes," she said, transferring herself to Rafe's support and Cally heard her ask, very quietly, if he knew anything about cameras. He shook his head, and, as they continued towards the fountain, she handed the camera off to Cally, whispering, "See if you can erase it," then, to Rafe, "I just want to sit down in a cool spot."

Cally wasn't any more familiar with cameras than Georgie and Rafe were, and after one glance at it, she knew she hadn't a hope of erasing the pictures; she didn't know what to do until she looked up and noticed Avon. Hurrying after Georgie and Rafe, she handed the camera off to Avon as she passed him, whispering tersely, "Here, erase it," and went to sit by Georgie asking, in all concern, "Are you sure you're all right?"

Avon stared after Cally not moving. He resented her tone and the order-- and he was wondering what the devil she was doing with a camera anyway, when the bearers appeared to either side of him.

"Galen," Krager said.

"Gentlemen," he replied, glancing first to his left and then to his right--

"Galen!" Cally called urgently, "Please come here!"

Avon didn't want anything to do with her, but he went forward just to get away from Krager and Elston. She came to meet him, took his arm and began walking him towards the fountain, whispering angrily, "I told you to erase it."

"Erase it yourself," he whispered back, trying to hand her the camera.

"I don't know how," she said, still whispering, shoving it back at him.

"Then don't take pictures you don't want to keep," he hissed at her, coming to a halt beside the fountain.

"I didn't," she said, halting too. "It isn't my camera-- " The Jolly-Fly-Boys had caught up with them.

"Well, who's camera is it?" he demanded.

"His," Cally said, nodding and looking over his left shoulder.

"Elston's," said Krager, from his right, making a grab for the camera.

But Avon was already turning to look at Elston when Krager reached for the camera and Krager missed his grab and only managed to drop all the packages.

Now Avon understood. "Damn it," he said, turning back to glare at Cally. Why couldn't she say things plainly? Everybody wasn't telepathic--

Cally glared back, satisfied that he had finally gotten the situation through his thick head, then, moving quickly between Avon and Krager, saying, "Lieutenant, let me get those-- " she knelt down to retrieve the packages and Avon, stepping back to get out of her way, tripped over Elston and--

Both of them fell into the fountain.

When he came up they were all staring at him, and-- embarrassment compounded anger and all his wrath focused on Cally. It was all her fault, she had done this deliberately--

"Oh! But I didn't-- !" she exclaimed, hands flying to her face, dismayed by the unjust accusation, feeling as if she'd been slapped. She felt tears sting her eyes, and then she was angry. "You-- " but words failed her and, her hand fairly itching for want of something to throw at him, she turned abruptly away and bumped into Krager, the expression on her face so fierce that Krager stumbled back, tripping over and further scattering the packages. "S-sorry, ma'am," he stammered in surprise, backing away quickly, glad that there were no bricks convenient to her hand. She glared at him wrathfully for a moment and then, to his relief, she knelt and silently began gathering up the packages.

"Men!" Georgie exclaimed, disgustedly, glaring comprehensively around at the lot of them before she knelt to help Cally.

Avon was fairly disgusted himself. As he moved to get up he felt Elston's camera under his hand and remembered what needed to be done. Cally's and Georgie's anger had diverted most everyone's attention and Krager was busy hauling Elston out of the water, so, Avon remained where he was as if trying to regain his breath, while he felt for the controls and erased the working memory, reinitialized the storage memory and then, for good measure, snapped out the power supply and sent both pieces skimming away underwater in opposite directions. By the time he had finished the excitement had died down and Rafe, Krager, and Elston were all watching him as he got to his feet. "Elston," he said, wading over to climb out of the fountain, "I seem to have dropped your camera."

Rafe and Elston began circling the fountain looking for the camera. Cally and Georgie were still gathering packages. And, as Avon stood, dripping, surveying the situation, he decided he wasn't needed, that he had accomplished all that was necessary.

With his first step away from the fountain he discovered that he squished. He sat down on the coping and began taking off his boots. He wanted nothing so much as to be well away from the whole distasteful scene, but he'd be damned if he'd go squishing--

"I'm sorry about that, Galen," Krager said, coming up beside him. "Elston does seem to, ah... get underfoot at times..."

Avon ignored him. Behind him he could hear splashing as Elston waded back in for the camera. That was quick. Elston must have very sharp eyes--

"I do wish we had pictures of that, though," Krager said grinning and sitting down on the coping. "They'd make very, ah... entertaining viewing in certain, ah... quarters."

Avon finished emptying the water out of his boots, just as Elston, dripping and squishing, appeared before them. The camera was in one piece and he glared at Avon as he silently extended the camera to Krager, but the effect on Avon was spoiled when the gesture of handing the camera to Krager sent a rivulet running down off Elston's extended arm and into Krager's lap. Krager shifted quickly, avoiding most of it, but it would still be embarrassing-- much more embarrassing than being wet all over.

Krager noted Avon's amusement, but, after giving Elston only the mildest look of reproof, he said merely, "Ah, you've found it." Then he took the camera, shook the remaining water off it, and pushed the replay.

Avon set his boots aside and watched as Krager hit replay again and then tried all the other controls. "Is something wrong?" he asked Krager blandly.

Krager looked up and regarded Avon stonily. "Poor Elston's holiday pictures have, ah... been erased."

"Oh. That's too bad. I'm sorry. I must have done it accidentally when I fell." Avon stood up. "But, you can take more," he said, smiling at them both.

"Oh, I don't know that, ah... Elston here will, ah... bother," Krager said. "Sometimes, it's enough just knowing one has, ah... been there, don't you know." And he grinned. "Memories are just as good as, ah... pictures."

Memories. Krager could show Kerr Avon's picture-- once he got another one-- to all and sundry and there'd be no doubt who "Cousin Galen" had really been. But "Cousin Galen" would be long gone and it would make no odds to Kerr Avon.

"Just as good," Krager said again.

"I'm glad you're not upset, then," Avon said. "If you'll excuse me, I don't want to stand here all day. I'm beginning to dry." Ignoring everyone else, he picked up his boots and walked over to the flitter pads, called a flitter and sat down to wait.

The flitters were certainly taking their own sweet time, but the sun was warm, his clothes were drying quickly, and he was just beginning to feel comfortable again when--

"Well done, Galen," Rafe said, dropping a stack of much abused packages unceremoniously onto the pavement by the bench.

"Yes, indeed," said Georgie, sitting down next to Avon. "I couldn't find the erase anywhere. If you hadn't been there I don't know how we'd have managed."

"We'd have had to pinch Elston's camera," said Rafe laughing, "and then they'd know we're onto them."

"Yes," Georgie agreed emphatically. "But cousin Galen has done the thing-- and under water, too," she said, positively beaming at him.

"And now they've been invited to the party they don't know what to think!" Rafe grinned delightedly at Avon and sat down on the other side of him.

Disbelieving, Avon looked from Georgie to Rafe and, before he remembered not to, to Cally, who met his gaze for a moment then blushed and looked away. And the next moment Georgie was patting his hand saying kindly, "It's all right. She knows you didn't mean it. And she didn't-- " It was too much. The-- approbation was too much-- and they were all too-- close and-- he had to get away. From all of them. Now.

"I've just remembered something important," he said, cutting Georgie off, avoiding their eyes. And he got up quickly, grabbed his boots, and hurried towards the spaceport. Georgie called out something after him, but he didn't hear what. He just kept going.

Idiots. They were such idiots! Didn't they realize what would happen? As soon as Krager got his pictures, and got bold enough to start showing those pictures around, everyone on the planet would recognize "Cousin Galen." There would be no refuting it-- and they'd be just as badly off as if the authorities had found Kerr Avon dancing at Marian's damned party--

It didn't matter. He'd find a ship and be long gone.

Once inside the spaceport Avon remembered to put on his boots. They felt cold and clammy at first, but they didn't squish anymore, so he took a turn through the bays to see what ships were in. It didn't look promising. Two cargo carriers, both owned by Barram Pharmaceuticals, and a private yacht. The yacht was a possibility, but what he really wanted was... something more disreputable. The most disreputable ship in the place was Krager's bloody scout--

Krager. Krager would show the pictures of Kerr Avon and everyone would agree-- maybe Georgie could get them out of it with her line of reasoning. He could see and hear her now. She'd fix them with her most ingenuous gaze and, with that voice like an indignant reed instrument, she'd say, "Well! He couldn't possibly be Kerr Avon because if he were Kerr Avon, he would know how easily recognizable he is and he would have changed the way he looks so he wouldn't look like Kerr Avon anymore. Cousin Galen couldn't be Kerr Avon; he must be Cousin Galen." Irrefutable. And she was absolutely right.

And even Georgie couldn't make it stick. Krager would have them all. Cally, too, probably.

Too bad. They had gotten themselves into this-- of course, if it hadn't been for Krager, Rafe would never have--

When one came right down to it, it was probably all Krager's doing from start to finish-- he was probably responsible for whatever had happened to Liberator. His arrival on Barram was certainly coincidental...

And if Krager was responsible for the fate of Liberator and for--

There had to be a way to get Krager. And Avon wasn't going to leave Barram until he found it.

* * * * *

Avon looked up from washing his hands and noticed that his hair had dried a bit oddly after the dunking in the fountain. Cousin Galen, he thought to the reflection in the lavatory mirror, as he tried to repair the damage, you look a bit demented.

How do you know it isn't Kerr Avon who looks demented? the reflection replied.

My apologies. I thought you were Galen.

Can't you tell the difference anymore?

Not by looking. Avon laughed at his reflection and suddenly he wondered how many people could swear, actually swear, that they remembered a face so well that they absolutely could not be mistaken, absolutely could not be taken in by a picture of someone else who bore a close resemblance--

They might swear, but, if they were shown proof, a point-for-point, say, how many would remember a face so well that they could swear they'd been tricked? A lover might know every twist and turn of cartilage on a dearly beloved face, might remember how the teeth met just so, might remember the spot of colour at eleven o'clock on the iris of the left eye, but without distinguishing scars or other features that nature couldn't duplicate...

Proof. They'd either have to produce a Cousin Galen who was demonstrably not Kerr Avon or pictures of Cousin Galen which were demonstrably not pictures of Kerr Avon.

Pictures of Cousin Galen. Pictures. Of Cousin Galen who bears a striking coincidental resemblance to, but is demonstrably not the twin of, the infamous Kerr Avon.

It was an interesting thought. And an intriguing problem. Stored images were merely bits of computer data when one came down to it, and computer data could always be manipulated... video image overlays, that was easy...

But creating the right image to overlay... that wasn't an easy problem... but it was fascinating.

Cousin Galen, Avon wondered looking into the mirror, who do you look like? My mother and your grandfather-- did you, like Cally, have more than two "parents"? How well thought out will you be, cousin Galen?

Cousin Galen grinned. Marian was right: Krager was a pestilence. And when Avon got through with him, he wasn't going to be plaguing anyone anymore-- Krager wasn't going to be able to prove a thing, not even to himself.

Avon bought a camera and a new pair of dress boots and when he got back to Marian's he shut himself up in the study.

No one bothered him or made any fuss. But when he went foraging for something to eat in the middle of the night, he found that Georgie had left a meal for him, all ready and just waiting to be popped into the warmer.

He thought a kind thought of her as he ate. And then he went back to work. There was a lot to do.


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