Stunned by Love
by Nicola Mody


The comms light on Avon's desk blinked. It was that stuffy old bore, Angus Day. Avon sighed. Day was dried up, passionless, and colourless, the sort who gave accounting a bad name, when really, anything to do with the movement and acquisition of wealth could not possibly be as boring as most people assumed. Unfortunately, the majority of investment accountants and their offices were just that.

Avon pressed the button. "What is it?"

"Valanne Ward has arrived."

Who the hell was that? Oh, yes, the new junior partner from Lindor. Probably some dour and earnest type who failed to grasp the sheer joy and pleasure of finance.

"I have the Gardenos Banking Corporation meeting this morning, so I thought you could welcome her and show her around."

Oh, you did, did you? "Very well." Avon punched the comms off and leaned back in his chair. "Orac," he said in a whisper that no one would have been able to hear even from the other side of his desk.

"What is it?" Orac's irritated voice sounded in Avon's tiny earpiece, in exactly the same impatient tones Avon had used earlier.

"What do you have on Valanne Ward?"

"She is the junior partner hired last month by Day, Kanagalingam, Wong, Meyer, and Chevron Financial; starting today—"

"Yes, yes, I know that. What else?"

"She graduated the top of her class at Seladon University, Lindor, two years ago, and has built up a string of successes since then, mostly in Seladon. Her client companies were—"

"That will do."

"But the data is extremely interesting."

"I doubt it." Avon could hear approaching footsteps. "Display her company file and leave it at that."

Orac was the secret weapon in his financial campaign: his legal and illegal activities and the covering up of the latter. It was safely out of sight in a locked drawer, but Avon could converse with it and get it to display data on his visible and quite ordinary terminal. So far, he had been so successful in his depredations on the wealthy and stupid of Califeron (surprising how often the two occurred together in a society with an entrenched aristocracy) that he could have bought Day, Kanagalingam, Wong, Meyer, and Chevron Financial several times over.

He really was rich, safe, and untouchable.

The door opened and Day came in with a smartly-dressed woman.

"Chevron, this is Valanne Ward. Ward, Kertis Chevron will look after you today."

Avon stood up to greet her, and froze.

It was her.

Her shining black hair was longer now, cut straight above her tawny eyes and falling in thick, glossy raven's wings to just below chin level. Instead of the trademark flamboyant gown, she was wearing a tailored tunic and trousers in a rich, deep gold which matched her eyes, but for all that, she was still Servalan. Or Sleer, or whatever she called herself now. Ward?

She smiled warmly at him. "Pleased to meet you, Chevron."

Avon said nothing; he was too busy trying to work out what her game was.

Day nodded at them both. "I'll leave you to it, then." He went out, closing the door behind him.

Avon bared his teeth. "Ward."

Ward's smile wavered, and two tiny lines appeared between her perfect dark brows. "Have we met?" She looked genuinely puzzled, and strangely younger, dewier, than the Servalan he remembered.

"I would recall being introduced to you. Sit down." He pointed at the three chairs in front of his desk.

She coloured slightly at his rudeness, compressed her lovely lips, and sat in the middle chair, crossing one leg over the other before meeting his eyes with a disconcerting directness.

"Let me check your career details." Avon ran his eyes over the employee record on his screen. Yes: Servalan smiled blithely from the photo in the upper left corner, dressed delectably in a high-collared caramel-coloured tunic. A pity he hadn't looked at the record before now. "You came to investment accounting rather late," he said neutrally.

"I did, yes. But I have a talent for it."

"What did you do before Seladon University? There's nothing here."

"Oh, there wouldn't be." Ward lowered her thick, curling lashes and looked to one side, a fairly reliable sign of deceit. "I was from a wealthy Carthanos family who lost everything in the Andromedan invasion. The whole infrastructure was destroyed, so the only records I have date from when I arrived on Lindor."

It sounded rehearsed and a little too glib. What had Orac been blathering on about? Ah, yes, her clientele. Avon tapped his stylus on the relevant link. The first client, acquired while she was still a student, and the only current one, was a Lindor company called Lock and Load. "Lock and Load."

"That's right. A family concern."

Avon closed his eyes briefly. The name alone was a dead giveaway, but all the same he brought up the details. A security firm with several employees and two directors: Vila Laster and Lisa Soolin. "I'll kill him."

Ward's eyes flashed with outrage and her chin came up. "I beg your pardon!"

"Ahh..." Very well, he'd play her game until he found out from Vila, damn him, just what the hell was going on. "Achilles heel," he said smoothly. "Always a mistake to use an anagram of one's real name, I find. I do approve of the choice though; Vila has always been a survivor."

Ward looked startled. "Vila changed his name? Why?"

She really looked as if she didn't know. "Bankruptcy," Avon drawled. "I daresay he was evading his creditors."

She gave a relieved laugh. "Oh, that does sound like him, the dear man. Vila's very good at making money but hopeless at keeping it. I'm so glad I could help them both manage it properly and invest it well. I still do, by the way." She clasped her hands, innocent of jewellery, over one knee. "Retaining Lock and Load as my personal client was one of my stipulations for accepting this position."

The dear man? Avon was suddenly almost overcome with a hot wave of jealousy. "So I see."

Her face brightened with revelation. "And of course, that's why you seem familiar! You're one of Vila's friends."

"I'd hardly describe myself as that, but yes, that may be why." Avon stood up. "Come along, I shall introduce you to the other partners and show you where your office is, and," he gave her his most charming smile, hoping it still worked despite lack of use, "we could have coffee in the executive café."

Ward smiled delightedly—and delightfully—back at him. "Thank you, that would be lovely."

He opened the door for her and followed her out, shaking his head as if to clear it of her scent: a light, airy, gingery one instead of the heavy musk she used to favour.

She was even more beautiful and fascinating then ever, and he felt like a ship in a gravity well, falling fast.


Valanne sat at her desk, tapping her stylus against her chin. Chevron did not just seem familiar—he was, and on a deep, almost visceral level.

She had had many admirers at university and afterwards, and dallied with a few of them, but all had failed to meet some personal standard which she had assumed was that of her adopted brother.

But now she knew, now that she had met Kertis Chevron, that her ideal wasn't sweet, kind, funny Vila, but this dark and brooding man with his cruel, sculpted lips and arrogant, aristocratic profile. She ran her stylus around the outline of her own lips and imagined his pressed to them, brutal, demanding... and utterly thrilling.

She got her breath back and tried to concentrate on investment accounting.


"Lock and Load, Vila speak—" Vila's eyes widened with alarm as he stared out of Avon's comms screen. "Avon! How'd you find me?"

"It's pronounced Chevron. And it wasn't hard. Firstly, there's the name of your company. Your puns are distinctively execrable."

"I thought it was quite good. 'Lock' for the property side and the whole thing for the personal bodyguard stuff."

"I assume Soolin does the latter."

"And very well too! President Sarkoff himself's her biggest cli—" Vila frowned. "What d'you mean, firstly'"

"Secondly, there's your name. But I suppose it's appropriate enough. You always were a survivor."

"No thanks to you. And if you've just rung up to sneer—"

"And thirdly, there's the new junior partner at Day, Kanagalingam, Wong, Meyer, and Chevron Financial." Avon paused.

"Oh! I didn't know that was you." Vila looked considerably more worried. "Valanne? Is she all right?" He narrowed his eyes. "You'd better not've hurt her."

"Your concern is touching. Vila, what the hell were you thinking?"

"Look, you leave her alone. She isn't herself any more, well, I mean she is, but that's not who she was."

Avon raised his eyebrows.

"She's forgotten."

"So it seems. Explain."

Vila looked embarrassed. "Well, a stunner blast to the head'll do it."


Vila hung his head.

"Right. I'm coming to visit this weekend."

"Oh. Are you?" Vila looked horrified.

Avon smiled wolfishly. "I'm looking forward to seeing you again." He flicked the disconnect button before Vila could answer.


It only took Avon a few hours to get to Lindor at time distort 20 in his very fast and very expensive spaceship You Can't Afford It. He tried to avoid thinking about why he hadn't used it to find the perfect bolthole in which to enjoy his now vast wealth in anonymous safety, because most of the reasons were called Anna, and the rest were to do with betrayal—and not all of it perpetrated on him. Instead he told himself, with considerable truth, that the sheer boredom would be stultifying.

Vila and Soolin lived in the hills above Seladon's harbour, in a large house with a disconcerting number of windows for an ex-dome dweller, and a semi-tropical garden. Avon was surprised; he had expected a fortress. A discreet plaque on the gate said 'Lock and Load', and beside it was a small button. Avon pressed it. Several cameras swivelled to face him, and a computerised voice asked him to state his identity.

"You know who I am, Vila."

The question was repeated.

Avon suppressed his irritation. "Kertis Chevron." All the fine hairs on his body lifted at the same time as an invisible force field did.

The gates swung open. "Enter."

Avon did so and felt the same strange tingle as the gates closed behind him and the force field re-formed. As he went up the steps, the front door opened and he found himself in a small foyer, confronted by a stylised image of himself with little blinking arrows pointing to his gun in its holster, the smaller one in a jacket pocket, and the knife hidden in his boots. He sighed and removed them all and placed them in the receptacle provided.

The inner door opened and a gleaming android stood there. "Follow me, sir."

Avon almost jumped at the familiar voice, but maintained his dignity just in case Vila and Soolin were watching, and he was sure they were. The android led him to a large and airy room with floor-to-ceiling views of the sea. Vila was sprawled on a couch, his feet on a coffee table and a drink in his hand, and Soolin stood beside him, looking suspicious.

"Very impressive security," said Avon.

Vila looked gratified. "The whole house is a demonstration of our services."

"And I now know who salvaged Slave."

"Yep. Gave him legs and another name."

"I hate to think."


Avon closed his eyes briefly. "Indeed." He looked around the room: understated luxury and taste that he hadn't suspected Vila of, plain cream walls, bright hangings and paintings, and a few objets d'art scattered about. He raised his eyebrows. "Acquired from your clients?"

"Only with the fees they paid!" said Vila, affronted. "My guarantee of protection means something, you know."

"Is that what you promised Servalan?"

Vila downed his drink, took his feet off the table, and sat up. "In a way."

Avon bared his teeth, the old suspicions returning. "In return for what? Me?"

Soolin moved to stand in front of Vila and put her hands on her hips.

"I'm not armed."

"I know." Soolin smirked. "But I am."

"Oh, come on, Avon. Sit down and behave like a civilised person for once," Vila said crossly. "It isn't what you think." He pointed to a sideboard. "Have a drink."

"I prefer to keep a clear head." Avon sat down on the couch opposite Vila. "Explain."

"Well, it was a bit of a mess, what with troopers everywhere and rebels counter-attacking and shooting at everyone they didn't know, but we managed to get out in all the confusion. And who should we find outside but Servalan, complete with ball gown and stilettos—of both kinds no doubt—and a couple of mutoids, and I was in the lead—"

"You amaze me."

"You know me, fast getaways and all that. So I shot her."

"You obviously didn’t aim well enough."

Via winced.

"He has a very good aim when it comes to pursuit ships, but he has a problem face-to-face." Soolin shook her head and smiled fondly at Vila. "I've never broken him of the habit."

"And he had his gun set to stun, of course."

"Of course."

"You didn't. You could have finished the job."

"Oh, I fully intended to, but—"

"You wouldn't have either, Avon," said Vila. "Not when you heard what she said."


Soolin bent over the mutoids she had shot, peering at their faces for some reason. "Odd. Their guns are set to stun too."

"Let's not go into that now," said Vila, hopping from foot to foot. "Let's just go."

Soolin straightened up and looked at Servalan, who was still breathing. "You idiot, Vila. How many times have I told you to keep your eyes open when you're shooting at people. She's still alive."

"Course she is. I only ever use a stun setting."

"Oh, that would have killed her if you'd done it right. Fried her brain."

Vila looked ill.

"As it is, you've just scrambled a few synapses." Soolin aimed her gun at Servalan's head. "Never mind, I'll finish her off."

"No. Let me." Dayna pushed in front.

"Just not—" Tarrant looked away, "—to the face."

Everyone glared at him.

"What? I couldn't help it. You had to be there." He wilted under their gazes. "It was the sand."

Servalan sighed and stirred, and two guns swung to cover her. She opened her golden eyes and stared up at them, puzzled. "W... w... I think I'm lost." Tears welled in her eyes, which wandered bewilderedly from face to face until fixing on Vila's. "'M lost 'n' scared," she whimpered, then set her jaw. "I'm Val...Val...V'lan an' I live on lev' one." Then a large and happy and proud smile spread over her face, crinkling her eyes up in a very un-Servalan way.

"An' I can tie my own shoe laces!"


"Not even Dayna could shoot her after that."


"Yeah, Dayna and Tarrant were with us. We see them now and then. They run a freight business."

Avon kept looking at Vila until he got the point.

"Look, the rebels had carted you off by then, and anyway—" his chin came up defiantly, "—like you said, I'm a survivor."

Avon suppressed a wince. It had probably been for the best. They had found him standing protectively over Blake's body before he toppled from the stunner hits, and with Arlen's neck broken, there hadn't been anyone left who knew what had really happened. "Go on."

"Mind you, it was lucky any of us survived. I've got no idea why those troopers were all using stun."

"That's obvious. So that the Federation could reprogram us and make us publicly recant like Bl... as they usually do. Get on with it."

"Well, she was like a three-year-old or something, what could we do? Her ship was there so we used her hand on the palm locks and got clear away. Ditched the ship and stole another one on Helotrix, then made it here. It looked like she wasn't ever going to remember, so we—well, I—adopted her. More as a sister, really. Always wanted a little sister, even if she's older than me."

"Hence the name Ward."

"And the name she first called herself, yeah."

"Surely she wondered who she was."

"Well, we just said we were civilians who happened on a gunfight and rescued her." Vila looked innocent. "It was true that she didn't have any ID on her."

"Vila, many people with stunner head injuries do recover their memories."

"Valanne hasn't. We did take her to a specialist, but he said all the personal stuff was gone."

"Not gone," said Soolin. "Inaccessible."

"But she could still read and write and all that, so after a few months, she was ready to go to university." Vila looked sad. "Pity she grew up so fast. She was a lovely little girl."

Soolin frowned at him. "Let's not go into that," she said, obviously reviving an old argument. "I'm just not the maternal sort."

Vila gazed at her appealingly. "But they might look like me."

Soolin smiled faintly. "Even so."

"I’d have thought that would be enough incentive not to breed," Avon said acidly. "I have read up on the subject and—" Seeing the look on Vila's face, he hurriedly added, "I'm talking about stunner injuries, Vila. The brain has an impressive regenerative capacity and people can often regain their memories, just as Bl... just as you did after your readjustments."

"Oh. Well, she hasn't."

"And believe me," said Soolin, "if she had shown any signs of it, I'd have shot her."

Vila looked shocked.

"Oh, come on, Vila. My first priority is looking after you. And it would have been the same if she'd made a play for you."

"She wouldn't have! And I wouldn't anyway, even if I didn't have you. I mean, not knowing who she was."

"Hmm." Avon stood up. "Well, I think that's all I needed to know. I shall watch her carefully." He paused. "And for what it's worth, Vila, I'm glad you survived."

And it seemed to be worth quite a lot, because he saw Vila's face begin to light up with a sickening delight as he hastily turned to go.


Valanne had been at Day, Kanagalingam, Wong, Meyer, and Chevron Financial for a month now. It was all she wanted in a job: demanding, involving a great deal of money and power, and providing her with entertaining and fascinating colleagues. One in particular, that is. Kertis Chevron intrigued her with his darkly amused eyes, his saturnine features, his rare and dazzling smile. He always looked as if he were playing some game only known to himself, so she had challenged him to a real one. They met every lunch hour for a meal, then chess, sitting opposite each other, exchanging barbed banter and assaults on each other's pieces.

She wanted him. She suspected at times that he reciprocated, but she held back, keeping the table and an arms-length business relationship between them. Why, especially when he was the first man who had really got to her, heart, soul and... body?

Or at least, the first one she knew about.

That was the trouble. She was afraid that if she allowed herself to care about Chevron, her past life would destroy anything she could have. She couldn't remember anything but the distant and indistinct faces of Mater and Pater, cold, unloving, demanding more of her than she could give, but there were certain indications that it might not be something she would want to remember.

The beginning of her life with Vila and Soolin was jumbled and confused, but she could recall the angry faces looking down at her; only Vila's had been kind. She had tried to find out more about who she might be, but Vila had only said that she had no identification on her, and the reason she was dressed in ball gowns and high heels on the way to Lindor was because that's all they could find on the ship that would fit her.

"And anyway," Vila had said, "why look a second chance in the mouth?"

Why indeed? All the same, she'd seen the cautious and wary looks Soolin and Dayna often gave her, and even Vila...

There was that one time just after they got to Lindor when he'd come into her room after watching the news and he looked as if he'd been crying. He had pointed at his shoes, with the laces all loose and asked her to do them up. She'd been glad to show how clever she was, crouching down and tying them, her tongue out with concentration, her long, grown-up fingers surprisingly nimble, and when she had finished, she had looked up at him with a smile of accomplishment, hoping for the praise the shadowy figures had never given her. And Vila's face had crumpled and he had lifted her to her feet.

"I'm sorry," he said.


"It wasn't fair."

"But I wanted to!"

"And you're very clever, but I won't ever do that to you again. I promise." And he'd put his arms around her and hugged her and everything had been all right.

It was only later, when she was better, that she realised that he had been wanting to punish her for something, to humiliate her. It ought to have made her angry, but his obvious remorse and his brotherly tenderness from then on were more than enough to make up for it. For anything... she hoped.

But what had she done? Who had she been?

"Choose." Chevron's voice broke into her thoughts.

She tapped one of his closed fists and it opened. "Black." Like my mood.

As they set up the pieces on the board, Valanne kept worrying at that ticklish little place in her mind, at something she couldn't quite put her finger on. Chevron was somehow familiar, but not completely. The name, after all, had sparked no recognition, but his pale, aristocratic face was both deeply attractive and disturbing in a way she couldn't define.

"I've moved."

"Oh, sorry." Valanne slid a pawn forward and tried to think of lighter matters. "One of the partners told me that the spaceship in the holo on your office wall is yours."


"You Can't Afford It. I like its name." Valanne smiled teasingly. "And can you?"

"Of course."

"How? Not on your salary here."

"I have... independent means."

"Ah. A rich family?"

His face lengthened. "I have no family."

"Neither have I, at least not in the usual sense. There's Vila of course."

"And that hardly counts."

Valanne frowned. "Oh, but he does. Very much. He's my big brother in every way but blood." It was odd. Just mentioning Vila made Chevron go all expressionless.


"You said Vila fled his creditors. Are you one?"

"No." Chevron's face twisted briefly. "The reverse, if anything." He smiled, but it seemed forced. "We used to play a game of insulting each other, that is all."

She could believe that, knowing Vila's sense of humour. "So, if you can afford the ship that no one else can, why do you work here?"

At first, she didn't think he would reply. He sat still for a few seconds, then deliberately moved a rook. "Because when I tried to live a different life, it did not work."

He looked so lost for a moment, she reached out her hand to touch his, but he withdrew it before she could. "I understand," she said softly. "Sometimes safe is better."

Because that was what she clung to. She liked this life she had. She continued to play on automatic pilot while she thought about that. The doctor Vila and Soolin had taken her to had said that she should start to remember things in a few months, each one triggering more in a hyperbolic curve (like doubling one's money each time) which he called a cascade. It hadn't happened though, and perhaps it was because she didn't want to remember.

"You're not paying attention."


He smiled at her, his dark brown eyes for once warm. "White knight takes black queen."


Back in his office, Avon frowned at the holo of the rakish spaceship on his sideboard. Why hadn't he taken his money and run as soon as Valanne had shown up? There were plenty of places where he could disappear and live in comfort, but instead he met Valanne for lunch every day. Why? She was a beautiful and enchanting woman, yes, but was he fascinated by Valanne or the woman she had been?

Valanne, surely. He had loved Anna, not Bartolemew or Sula or whoever she'd really been. But what the hell possessed him to fall for another woman with a second and very dangerous identity, and, moreover, one he knew about? Was he attracted by the risk? After all, the challenge and the ever-present if relatively slight danger of getting caught were possibly two of the reasons he stayed here.

"You can't afford it," he said out loud. Then he sighed and turned on the comms. "Valanne?"


"Would you care for a spin to Califeron 7 in my ship one day this weekend? It has spectacular rings and there's a very good restaurant on one of the moons."

She smiled entrancingly. "That would be lovely."


Valanne stood on her balcony, watching the sun go down over the city. She lifted her face to the evening breeze which ruffled her hair and made her yellow tunic flutter softly against her body, and sighed with happiness. That had been a wonderful day, and she had the odd feeling that she had never done anything so simple and yet so enjoyable, even in her lost, past life.

The planet had been as beautiful as Chevron had promised, the enormous surface storms making it look like a huge alabaster ball shot through with pastel whorls of colour. He had taken the You Can't Afford It on a weaving path through the glittering lace of the rings, his eyes filled with warmth at the sight of her pleasure, then they had docked by the restaurant on the moon Illyria.

The restaurant Illyrian was domed, and for some reason this gave Valanne a strange feeling of déjà vu. Chrevron had booked a table right by the curved plastisteel windows for a magnificent view of the rings, and the meal had been equally impressive.

Valanne smiled now at the memory of Chevron, who had hardly even looked at the view, keeping his eyes on her. He had been the perfect gentleman throughout, his manners almost archaic; he had even returned her to her door without even a kiss. She had been ready, her lips parted in anticipation, but he had just placed his hand lightly on her cheek and gazed at her, his dark eyes blazing with intensity. Then he had stepped back, given her an almost ironic nod, and said, "I shall see you tomorrow."

Valanne's heart sang at the thought.

He was shy. No, not shy; he had been hurt. She had seen the darkness in his face before today.

She would be patient. She could wait.


She awoke the next morning with her heart pounding from the dreams she had had, but not in the way she would have preferred.

They had been nightmares. And they all had a common theme.

In the first dream, she was on a windswept beach, tied to a frame of driftwood by hairy and primitive barbarians, but Chevron, scowling like Heathcliff in the musical, cut her free with his blade, flashing in the sun.

In the second, she was in a dark, dank dungeon, like those in the old children's stories, chained to a wall. Chevron was in that dream too, aiming a gun at her, but only to shoot her chains off. Then as he knelt on the floor with eyes only for a slight fair-haired woman, the scene faded and...

...she was again tied up, under a black canvas roof, pretending not to fear the raucous and ribald laughter of the soldiers outside. But Vila was one of them, his face shocked, then pitying, and his clever fingers untied the knots and freed her.

She sat up in bed and frowned. What did all that mean? That she was a prisoner of her amnesia, that her true self was bound? In that case, why was had Chevron looked so cold and angry, and why had Vila been a Federation trooper with a gun and a look of distrust?

Did it mean that she was afraid of them knowing who she was, that she didn't think they'd like the real Valanne? No, perhaps she wanted them to release her, the two she cared most about. That must be it.

She got out of bed and stretched. Whatever the dreams meant, they weren't related to real events; an utterly ridiculous idea. They had to be symbolic.

She slipped out of her aqua silk pyjamas, kicking them and her lingering anxiety aside, and got into the shower.


Afterwards, wrapped in a fluffy sapphire-blue towel, she hummed to herself as she sorted through the clothes in her wardrobe. Peach, gold, coral, turquoise, azure, emerald... any colour but black or white which she considered too harsh and unflattering. She frowned at the lilac shirt which she'd never worn; for some reason it seemed too... purple. Valanne didn't like purple. Far too like a bruise. She slid the garment along the rack and swayed, suddenly assaulted by strange images.

She had worn mauve on that beach. Was that why she didn't like the colour? Don't be silly, that hadn't happened, had it? But now she saw Chevron with Dayna—Dayna?—standing there, aiming a gun at her, then a man in dark glasses falling in front of her own gun.

When had she used a gun?

Chevron, kneeling on the floor while she caressed his cheek and neck with a pistol.

Another man, looking like someone from the Han systems, falling as she shot him; then a man in a dark, jewelled coat with a huge vampiric collar, then a fat man in red, a warlord with pink hair... they came faster and faster...

No! She just made it to the bathroom in time, retching into the basin.

This must be the cascade the doctor had talked about. Who the hell was she? She stared at her pale face in the mirror.

Earliest memory; cling to that.


"In case you get lost, I should be so lucky, you are Valentina Servalan and you live on level one. Say it."

"I'm Val...Val...V'lan an' I live on lev' one."

Mater rolled her eyes. "She's hopeless," she said to Pater.

"An' I can tie my own shoe laces," Valentina said, in the distant hope of praise.

"Give me patience."

"There's really not much point to them until they're adults," said Pater. "At least we can get rid of her in a couple of years. First boarding school, then Space Fleet Academy."

"And not a moment too soon." Mater glared down at Valentina. "In the meantime, just look at her. Hair all over the place—leave it alone, Valentina or I shall cut it all off—and stop fiddling with your buttons. Honestly, I shall be ashamed to display her in public."

"Nonsense. No one will be looking at her." Pater smiled. "Every eye will be on you during the medal ceremony... General."

"Councillor." Mater smiled.


Valentina Servalan? She was Servalan! Supreme commander Servalan—images of a man in fancy dress offering her sweet cakes on a silver platter; President Servalan—Tarrant standing there looking down at her, reciting her titles as she hung from her chains in that dungeon; and Commissioner Sleer—a knife of glass, glittering as she brought it down.

She staggered as the force of recall hit her.

"But I'm not... I wouldn't..." She clapped a hand over her mouth. "I'm not her!" Her mind, heart, and stomach all revolted and she bent over the basin again.

Her parents hadn't loved her. They never had.

No one had. Avon—Avon, not Chevron— pushing her to the floor, successive images of Avon pointing guns at her.

Vila had loved Valanne though. Poor fool.

She looked down at a rock, a gun, and a teleport bracelet, and picked up the rock to bring it down on the man who was hitting Vila. Then she took the gun and the bracelet, but she shot Vila's assailant, not him.

"Vila, you really must try and be a bit more trusting," she said out loud. Because you could trust me, you know. I saved you. I didn't kill you although I could have.

She grasped at that straw. I was still a bit V'lan, Valanne, Valentina, even then.

Then the tears came, tears of horror and denial and also relief that she had, a little at least, earned the life and love she had known as Valanne. She crawled back into bed and pulled the covers over her head, and curled up tight, sobbing, "I'm Valanne, I'm Valanne, I'm Valanne," over and over and over again.


Valanne wasn't at work the next day. Avon frowned, wondering why. Surely it could not be the food; the Illyrian served only the best. Perhaps she did not want to see him. He shrugged, tried to put his feeling of disquiet aside, and decided to call her at home if she was not in the office tomorrow.


But she was.

She answered his call, looking tired, desolate, and somehow older. He knew, before she even spoke.

"Hello, Avon."

He switched the comms off, got his gun out of a drawer, checked that it was charged and ready to fire, and strode down the corridor to her office.

She was sitting behind her desk, calm and resigned, her hands placed in the top, in full sight, in front of her.

"You've remembered," he said flatly.

She looked up at him, her amber eyes resigned and clouded with sadness. "Go ahead. Shoot me."

Avon's finger tightened on the trigger, but he suddenly saw another face, scarred and stubbly. He caught his breath in sudden pain.

"Just do me one favour, Avon. Don't tell Vila. Let him remember me as Valanne."

Avon said nothing, his eyes devouring her fragile, exotic beauty as if to sear it into his memory.

"Oh, come on, Avon. Just do it."

"Why?" It was barely more than a whisper.

"Do you have any idea what it feels like to be two people? To be me and have her memories? To remember all the things she did, and even though I couldn't do them now, know that I once did?" She leaned forward, her face pale and distraught. "I would give anything not to have done some of those things, not to remember them. Do you know what that's like?"

"Yes. I do." Avon put the gun down on the desk between them.


That dark, tortured look was back in his eyes, and she reached out impulsively to touch his hand, but he pulled it back as if burned.

He sat down and his shoulders slumped, all the tension going out of him. "I shot Blake."

Her eyes widened. "It was you?"

"I thought he had betrayed me. So many others did before him."

"Ah." Yes, of course. Anna. That fellow Timon or whatever his name had been, but by the time she got there, they were all dead and there was a plague warning in orbit, and for a moment, a startling fear that she had lost something terribly important. The fat purser. Was that why she had taken considerable pleasure in shooting him herself? "I don't think he did, you know." She reached out a finger and nudged the gun towards Avon. "I don't know what he was doing there, playing bounty hunter, but I—she—I put out a message that only Orac or you would understand. Then I ordered the planetary blockade forces to disable your ship so that you had to teleport to safety, and planted an officer there to inform me when you arrived."

Avon looked bleak, defeated.

"Avon, do you know why I ordered everyone to use only stun settings and not," she pulled an ironic little face, "aim for the head?"

He looked away, and she could not see his eyes beneath his lowered lashes. "So that you could display your trophies," he said flatly.

"No. It was because I never could bring myself to kill you, even when I was Servalan. I meant what I said on Sarran, you know."

He turned and met her gaze, his face briefly alight with... what? Anger? Hope? "And I still think I was right." His eyes were shuttered, guarded.


"Then," he said, very softly. He picked up the gun and put it in his pocket.


Avon had never been able to deny the dark fascination Servalan had held for him, the combination of beauty, power, and danger, but he could never have brought himself to trust her. Valanne however was another matter: honest, transparent, his intellectual match, but somehow she had been too young, lacking the depth of experience and sorrow.

But perhaps together...

"Who are you now?"


This was it. This was where she could tell him that Servalan was only the other, the 'she' whose memories Valanne had, but now the moment was here, she could not build her future on a lie.

"I am both."


"Valanne is who I would have been had things been different. My parents never loved me."

Avon's dark eyes seemed not to see her; his gaze turned inward. "You are not alone in that."

She would have to ask him about that some time. "I know. But I became someone hard and uncaring, someone who pretended to be anyway, while I tried to outshine them and make them wish they..." She shook her head and went on. "And when the one person I thought really had loved me—"

"Don Keller?"

"—when he left me, I thought it would break my heart, but I decided to love power and control and playing the game of politics instead."

"And now?"

"And now... " she put her head on one side in thought. "I still have all those memories, but I have been Valanne for two years and I think she—I—will be strong enough to handle it." She brought her chin up. "Oh, they're both me, Avon. One is the person I was and one is the person I would have been if I had been wanted. As I indeed was." She smiled fondly. "Vila once said, never look a second chance in the mouth."

Something changed in Avon's face as if he had realised something that ought to have been obvious, then he smiled too, fondly, shaking his head. "Vila," he said, "sometimes shows signs of intelligence."

"He does."

"We have a lot in common, you and I," Avon said slowly. His eyes glittered. "We like to play the same games, moving our pieces across the board, but they need not be for the same spoils this time. We're both in finance. We could build something of our own which could be just as powerful and galaxy-spanning, but with money and investment and financial control, not people and guns. Blue chips, not pursuit ships."

He stood up and came around the desk to her. "We would be very good together." He abruptly held out his hand.

Valanne placed her small one in his square, blunt one, and he pulled her to her feet and enfolded her in his strong arms and kissed her. Not brutally and demandingly as he had done those other times, but sweetly and tenderly. And when their lips parted, Valanne whispered just one word.


The end