Avon whirled from the open panel on Slave, probes and link binders scattering about him. "Repeat," he commanded, taking the two steps necessary to reach ORAC, and placed one hand lightly on the clear housing. A great stillness settled over him as he waited.
+I said, search complete.+
His fingers curled into a tight fist. "Which search?"
+For Blake, of course. Do you wish to establish contact?+
You made it easy, Avon. You wanted to believe. "Blake is dead."
+Of course, he is not. Roj Blake is on Gauda Prime, where he has been, with few exceptions, for two years, five months, and twenty-three days. Do you wish to establish contact?+
He hardly knew he moved as he pulled the key from ORAC and walked slowly from the ship. Metal clanked hollowly as the discarded tools were haphazardly kicked from his path.
=Master, I do most humbly beg your….=
Slave's whine buzzed somewhere on the periphery of his awareness—an annoying sound, ignored. He walked on, seeing nothing of the base that had been refuge and prison for all the long months. His mind fled this time and place, lost back on Liberator, back….
I want to be free of him…free of him…free of him…free of him….
Disoriented, he swayed slightly, suddenly aware that he stood in the doorway of the base lounge, staring sightlessly at its two occupants. Tarrant's voice, loud and impatient, rang in his ears. Turning on his heel, he quickly made his way to a surface door. The lock spun easily under his hand, escape achieved.
The dry, cold air of the planet's surface stung his eyes. He blinked against the almost-tears as he headed for the rock escarpment that fell away to the sheer drop into which Scorpio's hanger had been cut. The edge, as always, drew him—the forever-fall it promised a lure almost beyond resistance.
A large body stood slightly in front of him, a solid barrier between Avon and the drop away. A protective hand, warm and strong, held his as the crumbling cliff top was negotiated, comfort he did not deny. How had Blake—who had no fear of falling, only of being pushed—known of the magnetic pull the vast emptiness exerted over him? It was a weakness he had never admitted. But then, Blake had never needed confession to grant absolution.
The wind was stronger here, tugging with determination, pulling him ever closer to the edge. He stood balanced there for unknown time, trying to bring order to the red-streaked chaos of his thoughts….
...two years, five months, twenty-three days...all the long, dark days alone...forever alone...the dark that crowded close, bringing permanent night...two years, five months, twenty-three days...only your ghost slept with me...two years, five months, twenty-three days...did I ever say I loved you...two years...what do you want from me...two years, five months...you're alive, have always been alive...two years...damn you...two years, five months, twenty-three days...damn me...
He turned from the precipice and retraced his steps to the base.
"Avon, what the hell are you doing? Slave's insides are all over the floor, and you just leave? What if—"
"Shut up, Tarrant," he said mildly as he stepped past him into the ship. "And go away," he added, more definitely.
"Who are you to tell me—"
"Now!" He fixed the younger man with a deadly stare, being rewarded with a muttered curse and the sight of his retreating back.
Reinserting ORAC's key, he asked what he needed to know. "Is it safe to contact Blake at this time?"
+Yes, he has a base with secure access. What message do you wish to send?+
"None. I require more information. What has Blake been doing during this time?" …during these long months of living death….
+He is employed as a bounty hunter.+
"You are mistaken. Blake is not a bounty hunter."
+I do not make mistakes.+
"Then your information is faulty, unless…." Suddenly, he laughed, a humorless sound full of the bitterness that had taken over his existence. Blake might enjoy the irony of receiving pay from the Federation, of being sustained by the very thing that had sought his life for so long. And he would have no remorse for the criminals he captured or killed—they were outside the borders of his caring, and as such were fair game…as he had been—the non-believer, the doom-sayer, the cynic—fair game for Blake's messiah complex. He would have nothing less than Avon's soul, but once it was his he'd left, abandoning the shell that remained.
"What name is he using?"
"Indeed. I find that a bit…foolish, even for Blake." What else would one expect from an unrealistic idealist—only this was almost an invitation to the Federation to find him. And the question always came back to why. Why had he left? Why had he never contacted Liberator? Why had he hidden away for all this time? Weren't my body and soul enough?
+Extremely foolish. I can only speculate that the chaotic conditions on Gauda Prime have allowed him to operate undetected thus far. The Federation has plans to retake the planet in the next year, however. Blake's security is undoubtedly in danger.+
"Perhaps we shall ask him if he wishes rescue. I will need as much information about his operation as possible—personnel, armaments, weaknesses. Everything. And you will not discuss this with any of the others." He removed the key and began gathering his scattered tools.
"Put the gun down. Now! Now…." Reierson watched apprehensively as the crazed man's attention slowly shifted to him, the gun still held ready to wreak more havoc. He remained perfectly still, keeping his voice as calm as possible. "No one is going to hurt you, Avon…you are Avon, aren't you? We just need to see if Blake is still alive."
He kept his eyes on the man, on the gun, while a fellow rebel crept up from behind, suddenly striking the black-clad figure in the back of the head hard with the butt of his weapon. Surprise and then surrender, as the man slowly crumpled on top of the bloody figure at his feet.
Reierson leaped forward, grabbing the blaster and tossing it to one side, then roughly dragged the fallen man off Blake, losing interest in him immediately.
Could Blake still be alive, the massive wounds possibly non-fatal? His fingers probed for a pulse, not feeling anything at first, but then with of a gasp of relief finding a faint beat. "He's alive, but just barely." He turned to the men looking on. "Bring a stasis pod. Hurry! We have to get him to Lacron, right now. We don't have the facilities…." Two of his team ran from the room to do as he said. "Tell Jaras to get ready for take-off," he called after them. "Ten minutes."
A faint groan issued from one of the other victims, and he saw the young black girl struggle into a sitting position, feeling around for her gun. He held up a hand to caution his remaining troops. Spying the gun a short distance away, she scrambled across the floor, coming up in one fluid motion, the gun unwavering as it pointed directly at him, even though the girl seemed to wobble a bit. Stun shots weren't so easily shrugged off.
"Who are you?" she demanded, as she took in the grisly scene in the tracking gallery—bodies everywhere, dead Federation troopers, her unconscious friends, the bloodied form of Blake. Realizing her own non-injured status, she added, "Will the others be all right?"
"I hope so; they seemed to have only been hit with stun charges. I'm Marcus Reiersen, Blake's second.”
The girl glanced at Blake's gaping wounds. "Is he alive?" she asked nervously, bracing herself against the damaged communications console.
"Barely. We're transporting him to Lacron—" He broke off as his men guided the stasis pod into the room, avoiding the scattered bodies littering the floor. "Okay, careful now." He helped lower the unit, thumbing the controls to open the top. "Easy, easy…." They lifted the limp body, placing it into the coffin-like case. The similarity was much too close. As the unit closed, Marcus set it for total life support in stasis. "Let's go."
"Wait," the girl said, stepping forward a bit unsteadily, still gripping her gun. "What do we do?"
He glanced back at her. "I'd suggest you get out of here. I'm sure there're more Federation forces on their way."
Why did Blake always insist on these ridiculous debriefings after their fiascoes planet side? They were a complete waste of time and embarrassing besides. None of them were combat trained, so none of their opinions on why things went wrong—and they always did—mattered. Oh, Cally was a warrior, but hand-to-hand wasn't exactly what was needed. The real truth was that Blake was determined to die and take as many of his dupes with him as possible.
"I'm finished here," Avon stated, standing up to leave.
He turned back sharply and gave Blake his most withering look. "I said, I'm finished. You can carry on your little 'Aren't we fearsome rebels?' drama without me. I'm sure you'll get on famously." And with a patently insincere smile, he stalked from the flight deck.
The door of Avon’s quarters opened without notice, but then he hadn't expected any. Blake paused on the threshold a moment then stepped into the room, letting the door slide closed behind him. He waited until Blake came to stand by the desk, reaching out to finger the circuit board that lay in pieces there, before he pushed himself away from the wall where he leaned and moved into closer proximity.
"To what do I owe the pleasure?" he asked sweetly.
Blake turned slowly to face him, separated by mere inches. "One of these days, Avon, I'll call your bluff, and then what will you do?"
Avon reached out and raked a hand slowly down Blake's chest. "Well, now, perhaps we'll just have to find out." He gasped as he was abruptly pulled into a rough embrace, his mouth crushed in a bruising kiss, his breath taken. Blake....
"Avon, wake up, please. Avon…Avon…come on…. We have to leave. Help me, Tarrant," Dayna snapped impatiently, lightly patting Avon's face. There was real fear in her voice. Soolin and Vila were both on their feet, but still looked confused and hardly able to help themselves, let alone someone else. "Tarrant!"
The young pilot bent to grasp the older man under the arms and haul him upright, grunting with the effort. He pulled one of Avon's arms across his shoulders and secured him in a fireman's carry. "Where to?" he asked with difficulty--Avon wasn't a lightweight.
"We have to find somewhere to hide. Soolin, Vila, can you manage?" she asked anxiously, grabbing Avon's gun and hurrying toward the exit Blake's people had taken. She trusted the others to follow.
He stumbled again, his uncoordinated muscles having great difficulty placing one foot in front of the other. He was jerked upright, accompanied by a panted curse and a soft admonition to be careful. Blinding stabs of pain pierced his head in a continuing barrage, not enough time between to breathe or ask why or care. Familiar voices murmured around him, the waves of sound rising and falling in an uneven cadence. Stop, all of you…let me be…go away. He tried to tell them so, but could make no sound other than a faint moan. Sick, he was going to be sick. He tried to tell them this, too, but the darkness claimed him before he could even try.
"I can't manage this…much longer…. He's out again. We've got to…stop." The dead weight of Avon's body was almost impossible to keep upright, even with Vila's help. Tarrant rested a moment, breathing hard, pressing his back against a tree. "Surely we're far enough away from the base. Isn't there any place we can stay for the night?" This whole thing was a crazy fiasco, doomed before it began. Federation troops had obviously been waiting for them, but how? How had anyone known, unless Blake really had sold them out? But Dayna said no, Blake's people had saved them, even though they had then seemingly abandoned them. He shook his head to clear it a bit. How in hell were they going to get out of this? Had all of the rebels left the planet? Not likely, but where had they disappeared to?
"I'll scout ahead. Stay here 'til I get back.'' With those quiet words Soolin slipped from sight among the thick woods which surrounded them.
Dayna came over and took hold of Avon's unsecured arm. "Here," she murmured, "let's put him down, let him rest for a while." She helped prop him up against the tree. "I wish he'd wake up."
'Probably don’t want to wake up, seeings as how he shot Blake an' all. Why'd you do that, Avon, huh?" he murmured as he crouched down to make sure the man was balanced securely against the tree and wouldn't slump over. He tried to get a better look at the head wound, but there was too little light to make out any details. "You're gonna have to wake up, soon, you know, whether you want to or not. Wish I didn't have to be there." He patted Avon's knee and stood up, stretching the kinks from his muscles.
"I thought he and Blake were friends," Tarrant said querulously. "Why'd he shoot him?" And cause us all this trouble, he added to himself.
"I seem to remember you telling him that Blake had sold us out." Dayna kept her voice low, but she was obviously annoyed. "Why'd you do that?"
"Because that's what I thought—wrongly, I admit, but I didn't know that then. You didn't see how he treated me."
"Blake's the last person who'd turn on anyone," Vila put in quietly.
"I had no way of knowing, did I? I'd never met him." Get off my back, he wanted to add, but things were bad enough already. At least Avon wasn't awake to badger him. How badly was he hurt, anyway? He hoped he hadn't wasted precious time and effort dragging a dying man all this way.
Hands, warm and intimate, stroked his body as the rich voice reached deep inside his very soul to weave its magic. He writhed under the touch and shivered as the voice recalled all the nights of screaming passion that had brought him to this place—the only place that was real, the only life that was real. There was nothing else that mattered—neither the breathing of his lungs nor the beating of his heart. All the other moments of his life were moments spent waiting for this. His legs drawn up over the broad shoulders and fingers slick with lube slipped inside him, working deep, opening him wide, drawing the first of his pleas from him. “Blake…Blake…now! Yes!” And as the hard length of cock invaded him, pushing relentlessly deeper and deeper, he screamed and screamed again….
The cave was damp and moldy, a lot like the planet itself…and cold, so very cold. Vila shivered violently. Bloody unfriendly world, this. Trust Blake to try making the silk purse. Blake. He shivered again, and looked over at the unconscious form of Avon, wishing he had something to cover him with. Poor old Avon—what a sodding mess this had all turned out to be.
"Come have something to eat, Vila. He's not going anywhere."
Soolin's cool voice pulled him from his dark reverie, and he realized the smell of cooking meat was enticing, even though he was afraid to ask what it was exactly. Soolin had brought the freshly killed animal with her when she'd returned to lead them to this cave. Maybe the only bit of luck they'd had today was having a native of this benighted place with them.
He moved over next to the small cooking fire and took the offered slice of meat. He guessed that old saying about hunger and spice must be true, because this unseasoned, tough, almost burned leg-of-lizard or whatever tasted divine, as good as any gourmet food he'd ever eaten. "Thanks," was all he said, however, not quite in the mood to elaborate.
Tarrant jerked his head toward Avon, and asked around the food he was chewing, "Why doesn't he wake up, do you think?"
"Don't know." Soolin shrugged, seemingly uninterested.
"He's got a head injury, probably bad concussion. We need to get him to a doctor, but…." Dayna's voice trailed off as the hopelessness of their situation drained her confidence. "What are we going to do?" she finished, sounding incredibly young and frightened.
"No point in worrying about that tonight. Let's get some sleep and think about the rest of it tomorrow." Tarrant wiped his hands on his trousers and stood up. "I'll take first watch," he added and headed for the cave entrance, picking up Avon's gun on the way.
Vila shuddered. He hoped no one expected him to use that monstrosity. They'd have all been better off if Avon had never got his hands on the thing. Liberator's weapons were more his speed. If only they still had Liberator—now there was a ship that kept you safe and could have rescued them from this mess. If only they'd never lost Blake. If only….
"Oh, for god's sake, Blake, just leave it alone,'" he snapped, trying to pull his injured arm from the other man's grasp. He hissed in pain and turned his head away to mask the tears which involuntarily gathered in his eyes.
"Avon! Will you let me finish?" Blake held on to his arm and continued wrapping the torn strips of his shirt across the gaping wound. "Why are you so stubborn?" he muttered, tying off the ends of the makeshift bandage. "There, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"Worse," Avon mumbled, getting unsteadily to his feet. He moved away a few steps and leaned against the rock outcropping. Another near disaster—and Liberator was for some reason not within teleport range…again. If he hadn't managed to tackle Blake at the last minute, the idiot would be dead. And for what? The intelligence information had been wrong. There was no weapons' cache, but there were armed security guards—dead security guards, now. What was the point of all this? Did Blake really think his little band of criminals could make any kind of dent in the Federation behemoth?
He felt Blake move up behind him, felt his warmth against his back. All he wanted was a place to be safe…and this man to be with him. Instead…instead, there was only danger—constant, terrifying danger. The only certainty in this world was death…and the only warmth the arms encircling him.
Vila curled into a tighter ball against Avon and tried to go to sleep. If he'd thought it was cold before, it was absolutely frigid now. Avon had not moved or regained consciousness again and there was very little heat emanating from him. Dayna lay on the other side of the injured man, trying to keep him as warm as possible, but it was doubtful it helped. They'd had to douse the fire because the real bounty hunters in this place used heat-sensing night vision equipment. Not that their little fire had done much of anything except create the illusion of warmth.
He didn't quite understand his feelings of protectiveness. After the shuttle incident a few weeks ago, he'd have sworn that any lingering feelings he'd had for Avon had been destroyed. But seeing him injured like this and helpless, he could only feel compassion and regret that he couldn't do something to help, make him feel better, keep him warm.
Now, Blake had been warm, cozy and toasty like an oven. Just standing close to him was enough to keep away the cold. God, how they needed Blake, had always needed him. He drifted off thinking about the good ol' days when all they had to worry about was a foolhardy plan or two and the only threat from Avon was his sarcastic tongue.
"We have to get off this planet," Dayna said for the third time since dawn.
"I agree, but how? Are you sure Scorpio is unusable?" Soolin turned to Tarrant who was still trying to wake up.
"Positive. I was lucky to survive." He yawned and shook his head sharply. "Maybe we can steal a ship."
"Oh, yeah, right," Vila put in. "We're just going to walk into the spaceport and choose a ship. The whole place has to be crawling with Federation troops. Besides, how are we going to do that while Avon's like this?" Everyone's focus turned to the unconscious man.
Tarrant looked away. "Maybe we'll have to leave him," he muttered.
"What? No way!" Vila squawked.
"Don't be stupid. We're not leaving Avon," Dayna stated emphatically.
"It could mean the difference between survival and death." Soolin's voice was calm and matter-of-fact.
"There has to be some other way. What about the other rebels? They have to have more than one ship; maybe they'd help us."
"Why should they, Dayna?" Tarrant asked. "Avon killed Blake. Would you help someone who'd killed one of us?"
"Blake's not dead, at least, not that we know of." But her voice didn't sound as though she quite believed her own optimistic words.
Avon stirred, his breathing coming in rough, ragged gasps as he became aware of the constant pain battering his consciousness. He groaned once and tried to push away from the torment, only to have it pounce with unbelievable intensity.
"Avon…Avon, lie still. You're injured."
"No…." he whispered and struggled to open his eyes. What was happening? Where was he? He couldn't see, couldn't….
"Avon, you're okay. Everything's okay. Take it easy."
"Wha—" he began, but an arrow of excruciating pain lanced through the back of his head, turning his words into a cry of pain. The world spiraled away into pain and dissonance and the deep, deep darkness of unknowing.
"Blake, what are you doing?" he whispered harshly. "We have what we came for; let's get out of here…now!"
"Just a minute. There are plans here for a new—"
"Hey! You two—what are you doing?"
The sudden appearance of the tech caught them both by surprise. Avon swung around, gun trained on the man, but Blake stepped in front of him, hands out in a nonthreatening gesture. The idiot.
"Are you in charge here? We have a few questions about this program. Would you mind taking a little time to explain—" And reaching the confused man, he swung quickly and surely, laying the man out with one blow.
Avon stepped over the unconscious man and shoved Blake ahead of him into the corridor. "Let's get the hell out of here," he hissed, running toward the lift.
It was a tense few minutes until they were able to teleport, and as soon as they materialized Avon slammed his bracelet and weapon onto the teleport station, stalking from the bay. Was there no end to Blake's stupidity? All the gods in all the heavens, if such things existed, had to be throwing up their hands in frustration. What good did it do to guard his back when he deliberately took unnecessary risks, ignored warnings, stepped into the line of fire?
He ignored Blake's placating tone and kept going. He knew he'd do something he'd regret if he let Blake corner him now. He wanted to shake him, hit him, tear him limb from limb. He quickened his pace.
He tore off his heavy jacket and tossed it on the bed, going to the wall cupboard and taking out a bottle of Andalisan Liquor. He poured a hefty shot, tossed it back, and poured another. He tried ignoring the tap on the door which came a few minutes later, tried blocking out the image of Blake standing on the other side. Damn him to hell! He punched the door release. Damn them both.
"Where'd you get this?" Tarrant asked as he broke off a hunk of the rough bread.
Soolin smiled slightly, but didn't answer. Instead, she pulled a large container of the local brew from the bag she had carried back from her foraging trip. She held out the drink to Vila. "It's not soma and adrenalin, but, if I remember, it's not bad."
Vila took the container in both hands, eyes wide with appreciation. "Thank you, darlin'." He pried off the top and took an experimental swallow, finding the drink a bit hoppy but good none-the-less. Well, well, ol' Gauda Prime might not be the complete shithole that it seemed. Although—he looked down at the waxen face of Avon—maybe it was. He raised the drink in a small salute to the fallen man. We're going to find him, Avon. Just you hold on, just hold on. He took another swig of the brew, and yet another—one for Avon and one for Blake.
"You going to share that?"
"Sure, Tarrant. Sharing's what I'm all about." He took one last draught and handed over the container before moving over to sit down by Avon. No matter what, this man was the closest thing to family he had. "Don't you dare die on me, ol' sod, not yet, anyway," he murmured. "Not yet."
"I'll go spell Dayna for a bit so she can eat, then we need to decide what we're going to do. We can't just continue to hide out." Tarrant set down the drink and walked out.
"I'm not leaving Avon," Vila said quietly, frowning at Tarrant's retreating back. He would not leave Avon alone in this god-forsaken place, even if he were dying—and that possibility seemed all too likely. It had been three days now, and Avon had only awakened a couple of times, for only a few minutes each time. He'd had nothing to eat, although Vila had tried to get a few drops of water down him. But it wasn't enough, he knew. All the same….
Soolin looked at him, but didn't say anything. He knew she probably thought he was crazy, and maybe he was. There'd certainly been nothing lately to make him think Avon would go out of his way to help him, but then Avon was quite insane. Anyone could tell that by looking him in the eye. Madness looked back, and had for quite some time. Ever since Blake had left, the madness had been growing.
He'd always known about the relationship between Blake and Avon, and he'd always known it was a turbulent one—frequently bordering on total meltdown. Avon had threatened to leave over and over, but he never had. And when Blake didn't return after the Andromedan war, he had watched helplessly as Avon had spiraled further and further away from stability. The more time that elapsed after Blake left, the more places Avon looked without finding Blake, the more unfounded rumors of Blake's whereabouts they pursued, the greater the change in Avon.
And now, here they were, trapped in a dank cave on a hostile planet, hunted and hated. Not that this was unusual, but they'd always had a way out before, or someone who could be expected to come to their aid. Was this what it all came down to—all the years, all the deaths? Nothing won or gained, just this dark, lonely cave.
Liberator was a huge ship, with endless corridors and rooms and holds. Blake could be anywhere, he supposed. It all took so much time, and time was the one thing they were lacking. There were only minutes until time was gone. He had to find him, get him off the ship, keep him safe. Where was he? And why were the lights so dim? He'd have to have a talk with Zen. Conserving energy was all well and good, but when there was too little light to see, then it was going beyond what was sensible.
Now he was in a part of Liberator he didn't think he'd been in before. What would Blake be doing here? He stopped at an intersection of hallways, fear knotting in the pit of his stomach. Suddenly he knew he wasn't going to find Blake here—not now, not ever. Blake was gone and he was wasting time.
He turned to retrace his steps and found himself standing on the edge of a high precipice. Vertigo grabbed him and he staggered away from the spinning world below. No! He fell to his knees, shaking. How had he gotten here and where was Blake?
He startled awake, opening his eyes wide on a darkness overwhelming in its solidity. His head still ached abominably, but it was bearable, just. Where was he and why was it so cold? He quickly abandoned the idea of sitting up when a devastating wave of vertigo and nausea overtook him. Oh, god, what was wrong with him? He carefully turned his head to one side—another mistake—and tried to stifle the cry of pain that escaped.
"Avon?" a soft, familiar voice whispered. "Avon, do you need something?"
"Vila…is that you?" His throat was sore and dry, the words coming out as a hoarse croak. "Why can't I see you?" He heard the panic in his voice.
"Yeah, it's me. An' you can't see 'cause it's dark in here. Are you okay? Do you want some water?"
He could hear Vila scrabbling around, looking for something, feel him moving away. "Don't go!" An unreasoning need to keep the familiar man near seized him, and he reached out blindly to grip Vila’s arm. "Where are we? What's happening?"
Vila patted his arm reassuringly. "I was just getting some water. You're dehydrated and—“
"No, just answer…the…questions." He struggled through the growing severity of returning pain. "What…the hell…happened?"
"You don't remember?" The question was tentative, reluctant.
"Don't…be stupid, Vila, just…answer…."
"Sorry, sorry…uh…what was the question?"
"Well, um…we're on Gauda Prime, in a cave, hiding from Federation goons. You got hit really hard on the back of your head, thought you might die there for a bit, but glad you didn't. We've been trying to find a way off here, but no luck so far—"
"Gauda Prime?" Avon interrupted, caught by the feeling that this meant something important.
"Yeah, awful place."
"Where…are the…others? Where're Scorpio and…ORAC?" Why couldn't he remember? Oh, god, the pain…didn't they have anything for the pain?
"Scorpio's gone, Avon. It crashed, and I don't know what happened to ORAC; you teleported down with him…uh…it, but by the time we got back together, you didn't have it. You must've left it someplace. Do you remember anything at all?"
Gone? Scorpio gone, ORAC missing. Why couldn't he remember? "Did the others…make it?"
"Everyone's here—we're all fine, just fine. Don't you worry."
"Why are we…here, on Gauda…Prime?" He could hardly form the words; things were slipping away again, and it was all too much to hold on. "
We…here to find…but…gone…."
"What did he say?" Dayna asked with a hint of relief.
"Nothing. He didn't even know where we were, let alone how to get away from here. He seems to remember who everybody is, but I don't think he remembers anything about what's happened."
"How long was he awake?"
"Only about five minutes or so. But that's a good sign isn't it? I mean, he sort of made sense, just didn't babble or anything, you know?"
"Unlike some people, you mean?"
"Oh, shut up, Tarrant," Dayna said. "This is partly your fault, anyway. Vila, do you think he'll be able to go with us?"
"We leaving? When?" That was the best news he'd heard in…well, in days.
"Not yet, but Soolin thinks she can find the other rebels. She's gone into the port to see if she can contact someone."
"Isn't that dangerous? I mean, there're bound to be all kinds of Federation types around. What if they recognize her?" And then find us.
"Soolin can take care of herself," Tarrant said dismissively.
"Yeah, sure she can. It's not like she's noticeable or anything, of course." Tarrant was such an arrogant bastard. He probably thought he was more conspicuous than a tall, blonde, beautiful woman in this back of beyond.
Gradually, they became aware of people talking somewhere outside the cave. Vila grabbed his weapon and scooted over to crouch by Avon, fear settling in the pit of his stomach. Not again. This damned place was cursed. He watched Tarrant pick up the blaster and move to one side of the cave entrance, gun at the ready. Dayna moved to the other side, waiting.
And then Soolin was coming inside, a slight smile on her normally expressionless face. "Don't shoot, guys, these are friends." She was followed by two hard men, who looked more dangerous than the Federation, although their weapons were holstered.
"He's not dead, is he?" the taller of the two asked as he walked over and crouched down by the unconscious Avon, ignoring Vila's still prominent gun.
Not that he could be faulted for the question—Avon looked terrible, especially in the sallow light of the small fire. And he hadn't awakened again after the few minutes during the night. Vila had thought he wouldn't make it much longer, but now maybe there was hope.
"Not yet," Soolin answered with a small shrug.
The man looked up at her sharply. "You don't sound very interested one way or the other."
"Well, I'm interested," Dayna put in, frowning fiercely at the blonde, who had sat down by the fire. "Can we get him to a doctor?"
"Oh, yeah, I think we can do that. Blake wants all of you brought to Lacron, which is where this one needs to be, it looks like. Has he been like this ever since the attack?" He looked at Vila before standing up.
Vila nodded. "Except for a few minutes last night. But he doesn't seem to remember anything." At least Blake was still alive, but why did he want them brought to him.
"We'll bring a stasis pod, just in case. Wouldn't want him dying on us," he added quite seriously, before turning and heading for the entrance. His partner followed, not having said a word.
"How soon?" Tarrant asked sharply.
The spokesman looked back. "As soon as we can—a few hours, probably. Stay alert."
Vila watched until the two were gone. "Well, what d'you think that means? I mean, Blake wants us taken to this other place and no one acts like they care that Avon's the one who shot him. Don't you think that's just a little strange?"
"Well, maybe they don't know. Everybody was already hit before they got there." When no one answered her, Dayna shrugged and muttered, "It's possible."
"But Blake knows. Why hasn't he told them?" Vila shivered a bit, and not only from the cold. This was strange, very strange. Why was Blake doing this? Not that he wasn't glad to be leaving this place, but he wondered what exactly they were getting into.
"Right now, I don't care. I'm just glad we're leaving this place." Tarrant went back outside to keep watch.
Soolin and Dayna looked at one another, but said nothing.
He awoke to darkness again, but something was different, something…the slight vibration that ran through him…a familiar vibration…. A ship…Scorpio? No, Vila said Scorpio was gone. Whose ship then? Going where? Gradually, he became aware of other things--the faint noise of some sort of electronic device, the weight of covering, the slight stir of circulating air against his face.
Vila...Vila had been with him the last time he had awakened. Where was he now? Why couldn't he remember anything? Gauda Prime...there was something about that he should remember. What was important about that planet? Something...someone.... Something had happened there...something bad....
The rest of his crew? They were all right, Vila said. Had they stolen another ship? Were they all here as well? He thought to get up and see for himself, but lifting his head off the pillow proved to be too much effort and he sank back, aware of the dressing on the back of his head for the first time. He reached a hand up to touch the bandage gingerly. The pain which had been mostly a background annoyance, flared white-hot again, forcing a sharp cry from him.
He heard a door opening, a faint glow of light entering ahead of the person. "Vila?" he asked tentatively.
"No," a strange voice answered. "Close your eyes while I turn up the lights. You've been in darkness for quite some time, and we don't want to blind you."
He closed his eyes obediently and then opened them slowly to see an unclear image of a rough-looking man. "Who are you?" he asked, his voice hoarse and rusty sounding from disuse. Why was everything blurred?
"The name's Anelas," the man told him, looking at the readout on a couple of monitors located inside what looked like the open top of a stasis pod. "How's the pain?" He turned to meet Avon's eyes.
Never show weakness to a possible enemy. "It's fine," he answered as confidently as he could, blinking a few times, hoping to clear his vision.
The man came closer to the bed, peering at him with undisguised curiosity. There didn't seem to be any hostility in the gaze, but neither was there any warmth.
"That so? Guess I was mistaken about that noise I heard from in here; could've sworn it sounded like a response to pain."
Avon ignored the light sarcasm. "Where are the others, my crew?"
"Sleeping, probably. But they're all here, just fine. I'll tell 'em you want to see them when they wake up." He gave Avon one last look and turned away, heading for the door.
"Wait—where are we; where are we going?" He tried to sit up again, but one of the monitors started a loud beeping, and a sweeping vertigo overcame him. He sank back on the bed with a gasp of pain.
Anelas quickly stepped back to Avon's side. "Hey, hey, don't undo all the work we've done." He looked at the monitors again, adjusting one so the loud warning sound stopped. "Just relax. We'll be there in a couple more hours. Then real doctors can take a look at you, okay?"
Avon closed his eyes which the other man apparently took as agreement.
He paused by the door a moment, his hand on the light control. "You want the lights off or on?"
"Off," he answered quietly. It occurred to Avon as the light dimmed and he was in the dark once more that the man had not answered his questions. But it hardly seemed to matter.
"Well, how is he now? Is he conscious?" Blake asked anxiously. He sounded very weak.
"He came through the surgery fine. Stop worrying. It's going to take a bit for him to recover. Remember, he's had that head injury for several days."
"But it's not good for him to be unconscious this long, is it? There might be brain damage."
"I know, but there's no way to know until he wakes up."
Vila thought Reierson sounded a bit fagged, as if he'd answered these questions more than once. As anxious as Blake sounded, he could imagine what the last day had been like. Blake had always been a worrier.
They'd arrived at the medical center on Lacron early in the morning, and Avon had been taken immediately to surgery. The operation hadn't taken all that long, but Avon remained unconscious several hours later, a very worrying circumstance. Of course, Vila had a theory about that—Avon didn't want to wake up, didn't want to know what happened, didn't want to remember his part in the events on Gauda Prime.
Blake had been happy to see Vila, but he was still in the early stages of recovery from his own almost fatal injuries and much too weak to carry on a long conversation. Vila had only stayed a few minutes, promising to return later, which was why he was here now. He'd used the time between to clean up, eat some familiar food, and sleep in a real bed. He felt human again, at least mostly so. The medical center had quite a nice guest facility, strangely enough. And he'd lived for so long on a ship that any decent living space on a planet seemed almost like luxury accommodations. So in a way this sort of seemed like a vacation, that is until he remembered Avon…and Blake.
"Right here," he answered and walked over to the foot of the hospital bed, standing so Blake could see him without straining. He was heavily bandaged and his breathing didn't sound too good. Vila still wasn't used to the scarred face and damaged eye. It made him look like the thug he'd pretended to be on Gauda Prime. No wonder Tarrant had thought they'd been sold out.
"Not very pretty, is it?" Blake asked with a self-deprecating smile.
"What? Oh, the eye? Nah, it's all right, I mean.... What happened?" He was surprisingly nervous. This was Blake...except it was an almost dead Blake, 'cause Avon had tried to kill him. Didn't he remember that?
"Wrong place, wrong enemy. Talk to me, Vila, tell me about everything."
"Yeah, well, it's been over two years. Sure you want to hear everything?" Avon went mad. Servalan tried to kill us time and time again. Liberator blew up and Cally died. And why the hell aren't you cursing Avon...you know, yelling at us like you used to do?
Blake nodded slightly, but Vila could tell there was little real interest.
"Yeah, okay." Vila reached out and dragged a chair over to the bedside and sat down, propping his feet on the bed railing and tilting the chair back on two legs. Might as well look relaxed, anyway. "First, I've got a question for you. Where've you been for two years that you couldn't get in touch with us, huh?"
When it was clear that Blake wasn't going to answer, Vila sighed and went on. "You had your reasons, I guess." Not that Blake would ever tell him what those reasons were, but he was pretty sure it had something to do with Avon—everything always did. "Well, let me see, I guess mostly we just ran around looking for you. I can't tell you how many crappy worlds we ended up on, and how many losers we met. 'Course we found a few good ones, like Soolin and Dayna. You haven't really met them, but I think you'll like 'em. Not idiots like Tarrant, though he's a pretty good pilot most of the time."
Blake closed his eyes.
Vila sat forward, lowering the front of the chair to the floor. "Why'd you send your people to bring us here? I kind of thought you'd be too angry to care what happened to us, after...well, after what happened."
There was no response from the injured man, and he realized Blake had fallen asleep. Just as well. He got up and walked softly to the door, depression creeping over him. Just what Blake and Avon would say to one another when they could, or if that was going to change anything, was still up in the air, but he hoped with all his might that they could come to some sort of peace. He was bone weary of a reality where the two of them were apart. Whatever their differences, together they always found a better way. He closed the door behind him softly, leaning against it for a minute before going off in search of someone less difficult. His mind and heart were tired.
"How long has he been unconscious?"
…a voice…someone he knew….
"Isn't there anything you can do?"
…go away…let me sleep....
"What happens if he doesn't regain consciousness?"
…why couldn't he see….
"What else can you do?"
…questions he…not now….
"Is there brain damage?"
"Can't you do something?"
No, nothing…I can do nothing…nothing…you ask too much…as always, Blake. "Blake?" His eyes flew open, panic seizing him. He couldn't move. Who had captured him? What had he told them? Something about Blake…had he told them something about Blake?
"Ah, you're awake! There have been a lot of people worried about you." The med-tech smiled down at him. "How are you feeling?" He reached up to adjust an IV tube.
Avon looked at him suspiciously. "Why am I confined?" he asked, hearing the weakness of his own voice with surprise.
"Confined?" The young man looked startled. "You're not confined."
"Then why am I restrained?" he asked softly.
"Oh, those are just for your safety, so you wouldn't roll out of bed, or pull the tubing loose. I can take them off if you'd like, as long as you promise not to try to get up or move around too much." He pulled straps free, rolling them up. "Better?" he asked cheerily.
Better? And how would I be better? I don't know where I am; I don't know how I got here; I don't know what happened to make it necessary to be here; I don't know who you are; I don't know where my crew is. So, no, I'm not better. "What has happened to me?" he asked instead.
"You suffered a severe head injury that required surgery. Now, you'll be just fine, as long as you remain quiet and allow the surgical site to heal. Is there anything else I can do for you?" He made a tiny adjustment to one of the monitors.
A head injury—yes, that's what Vila'd said. But how? When Scorpio went down? Surely he'd remember a crash...no, he'd teleported with ORAC. Where was ORAC? Had it been destroyed when he'd been injured? Possibly...but why had they been on Gauda Prime in the first place? Why? Something tugged at his memory, something dark, something he didn't want to know.
The red light played over the room, shadowing everything in the color of death—bloody, unforgiving death. And it came through the bloody light to stand in front of him, as bloody as the room it traversed. All around him was death, bodies falling as it came, everyone dying. This bringer of death must be stopped. He brought up his gun and warned the monster, this demon that killed with his presence, and still it came…and he fired and fired and fired and at last it fell, the bloody hands clinging and slipping…and he was staring down at the scarred face and seeing…Blake.
Ice crystals formed around him, the sharp edges rising in geometric perfection to tower over him, menacing…threatening…. No way out, no way forward. Cold…cold and still…without life…twisting, turning, shattering, falling….
He came awake on a soul wrenching sob that died in the silence of the night. And now he remembered, remembered everything—all the blood, all the horror, all the guilt—remembered Blake walking toward him, saying words that made no sense, not answering the only question that mattered, had ever mattered, remembered his hand moving on the blaster and Blake…Blake….
…nothing but silence, cold, eternal silence…. The voice of warmth he'd searched for, longed for, the voice that had held all he'd ever wanted, dreamed of, needed…silenced forever.
Blake was dead.
"He doesn't want to see anyone, I'm sorry," the young medtech said, looking sincerely regretful. It was the same message he'd delivered everyday for the last week.
Vila frowned and walked away toward Blake's room. What the hell was going on? Avon had never liked anyone to see him weakened or in pain, if he could help it, but this was getting ridiculous. He'd just have to walk in without saying anything to anyone. It was a lot harder to throw someone out than it was to keep someone out. If Avon wouldn't see him soon….
He stopped and turned at his name. "What is it, Tarrant? You lost?" What was he doing here outside Blake's room?
"I wanted to find out how Avon is and what he plans to do now. Is he joining up with Blake, or are we still going it alone, what?" The pilot looked a bit confused and sounded a bit like a querulous kid.
"He won't see you, and you can't bother Blake. He and Avon haven't had a chance to talk things out, yet, and neither is well enough to put up with you. Go play somewhere and relax. This is a non-aligned planet, so you're safe." He made a shooing motion with his hand. "Go, go, go."
"You can't possibly think that the Federation will care if this planet's aligned or not. If they find out that any of us are here, they'll stop at nothing. I for one am getting antsy."
"You're always antsy. I don't think Blake's people would leave him somewhere vulnerable." God, that sounded weird—Blake's people being someone other than he and Avon. He shook his head sharply to get rid of the unsettling thought.
"That'd be fine if Blake's people were the only ones here. Any of the medcenter's staff could be a spy, or on the Federation's payroll."
"Well, if that were true, don't you think they'd be here by now?" Since when had he become the go-to man? He didn't like this role…not in the least.
"Maybe, or maybe they just haven't recognized us yet."
"Yeah, well, guess we'll have to deal with that problem when it happens." He turned away from Tarrant and opened the door to Blake's room and walked in on a verbal free-for-all.
"Goddamn it, Blake, will you listen to reason? If you get up now, you'll undo every bit of healing that's been accomplished. Use your head!" Reierson sounded ready to accompany his words with brute force.
"That's right, Blake; calm down. Avon's all right. You can see him in a few days." Another, older man looked hassled beyond patience. "He's not going anywhere."
"I have to see him; you don't understand. Now, let me go!" The force of Blake's will was formidable as was his strength in crisis. It was no surprise then to see him shake off the hold of his fellow rebels and gain his feet. But he hadn't reckoned with the depletion caused by his injuries, and the first step forward was the last, as his knees buckled and he slumped forward, caught by the willing hands of his followers.
"You idiot," Reierson said, but there was no anger in his voice, only a certain weariness. He and the other man helped Blake back onto his bed. "Now will you listen to me?" he said gently.
Vila didn't know what to say or do. He could offer Blake no comfort and Avon had shut himself away from everyone.
"What about a longer walk today? You did so well yesterday, maybe you'd like to take a short turn about the solarium. There are some lovely tropical plants imported from…."
He turned his head aside, staring blindly at the dull metallic wall, tuning out the annoying voice. There was nothing left to know or see or do. Any reason to continue was gone, destroyed by his own hand. Blake was dead and he was not.
There was nothing left in this world and there was no other. His own death would end the uselessness of his life. And why hadn't he died back there, surrounded by Federation troopers? He should have, or at least have been taken prisoner. Someone had saved him...but for what purpose? In another time he might have been interested in finding out why—now it didn't matter. There was only one thing he wanted to do before he died—kill Servalan. He now remembered where he had hidden ORAC, so his first need was to return to Gauda Prime, but lying here, withdrawn from everything, was merely wasting time and indulging in self pity.
He sat up carefully, forcing away the vertigo and residual pain from his injury. He'd have to plan his escape carefully if he were to succeed and he'd have to get stronger physically before he could do anything.
"Yes, I think I'd like the exercise," he said to the waiting tech, who looked happy with this decision.
"Your friends are quite worried about you, you know. They'll be relieved to see you up and around again. In fact, I'm sure Mr. Restal would be very happy to come and walk with you."
"No! I don't want to see any of them. Isn't there some place private where I can strengthen myself?" Nothing could be worse than to have to endure the questions he knew would be asked. Why did you kill Blake? Why did you shoot him down in cold blood? Why did you destroy the one thing that ever meant anything to you? Why...why...why...? He had no answers, not to their questions nor to his own.
As the medtech fetched slippers and a robe for him to put on, he began his own quest for information he needed to escape from this place. "What is this facility called?" he asked as casually as he could, keeping his eyes focused elsewhere.
"Oh, this is Lacron Medical Center, the most advanced medical facility in the nonaligned worlds. We specialize in the...."
He tuned out the rest. Lacron, small planet in the Torville arm of the glactic spiral, well away from earth and the center of Federation influence. Whoever had rescued Sorpio's crew, had chosen this place with care. Lots of open space and many unfriendly planets lay between it and Gauda Prime. But why had they been rescued and by whom?
He let the tech put on the slippers and stood a bit unsteadily. Donning the robe, he belted it loosely and waited to be taken to the exercise room. "Do you know who brought us here?"
"Mr. Anelas." At Avon's blank stare, he continued. "I assumed he was a friend of yours; he's been quite diligent in his enquiries concerning your progress, as have the others."
Anelas? The name was vaguely familiar, but he didn't know why—something else he'd forgotten. "What have you told them? About my progress, I mean."
"Only that you are getting better. Right in here, Mr. Avon." The tech showed him through a door. "This is the physical therapy department. You don't really need therapy, per se, but there are areas in which you can walk. I still think you'd prefer the solarium and the outdoor areas; there's much more to see."
"This will be fine. You don't need to stay." He wanted to be left alone to think, to plan.
"Don't worry, I won't run away." Until I can. So he walked and walked some more, until he was so tired he had to stop. Dizziness threatened, bringing blurred vision and the desperate need for sleep. The only thing he knew, as he stumbled back to his room, was that he had to get stronger and he had to do it quickly.
Vila sneaked past the duty station and made his way down the corridor to Avon's room. Looking both ways, he carefully pushed the door open. He'd waited for most of a week for the opportunity to see him. The whole situation with Blake was getting ridiculous—Avon wouldn't see anyone and Blake wouldn't force the issue. It almost seemed to Vila that Blake was the one feeling guilty about what had happened. He wouldn't talk about it and didn't want anyone else to. Eventually Vila had had to tell him about Liberator and Cally, not something he had wanted to do, but there wasn't anyone else. He could swear Blake looked guilty about that, too, as silly as that seemed. So today he was going to get through to Avon and make him go see Blake. After all, he did owe him some kind of an apology.
He stopped in consternation at the sight of the stripped and empty bed. A jab of panic lanced along his nerves—why was the bed empty? Had something happened to Avon? Was he...dead? Surely someone would have let him know if.... No, that wasn't possible. Avon was getting better. Where was he?
A medtech walked in carrying clean bedding. He started a bit at Vila's unexpected presence. "Oh, Mr. Restal, what are you doing here? You know Mr. Avon has requested no visitors."
"Yeah, yeah, where is he?" Vila couldn't help the hint of accusation that came through in his voice.
"He's doing his morning exercises and getting much stronger, too, you'll be happy to know." The young man placed the bedding on a nearby chair and turned back to Vila. "You'll have to leave, I'm afraid. No visitors means no visitors."
"I need to talk to him, really. It's very important...kind of a...of an emergency"
"I'll be happy to relay your message."
"But—" He was turned and escorted to the door.
"You don't want me to call security, do you? Or post a guard outside?"
"No, no, I just need to see him, as soon as possible. Please!" Vila gave his most appealing smile, but it didn't seem to affect the tech.
"As I said, I'll give him your message." He motioned to a security guard at the end of the hall.
"Now, you didn't have to do that,"