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A Rebel's Best Friend

By Marian Mendez
Page 2 of 4

"Can't we stop for a minute?" Vila pleaded. He shifted hands on the red chest once more. "I'm beat." They were walking up a slight slope, heading for wooded hills where deer were likely to congregate and the incline had him huffing.

"You will be if you don't keep up," Avon informed him. He looked over his shoulder at the panting thief. "Perhaps you should lighten your load?"

"What! And waste perfectly good survival rations?"

"Give it here," Blake said, "I'll carry it for a while."

"Thanks, Blake."

Blake swung the chest and looked thoughtful. "And when we make camp tonight, we'll see if Avon and I can help you lighten the load."

"Oh. Well, of course I was going to share," Vila said quickly.

Blake grinned at Avon. Once he was committed to this hunting expedition, he began to feel better about it. He and Avon and Vila, bonding together in primitive surroundings. It should release some of the tension ship-board life had created. Who knows, it might even mellow Avon. He chuckled at the unlikely image of a mellow Avon, communing with nature, in harmony with his inner self.

"Pleasure machines- sensory ecstasy hours- that's my idea of a holiday," Vila said, poking a stick into the fire for emphasis, then jumping back with a yelp when the stick snapped, emitting sparks.

"Well, I'm having a good time," Blake said. He lay back with his hands entwined behind his head, gazing up into the night sky at an unbelievably bright moon. It was almost light enough to read by. He glanced over at Avon who was also looking at the moon. "Beautiful, isn't it?"

Avon turned his attention to Blake briefly. "It is unusual. Moonlight, of course, is merely reflected sunlight and Lupus's sun has a unique radiation signature."

"Radiation?" Vila said nervously, "Anything dangerous?"

Avon went on as if there had been no interruption. "Orac had no information on the specific radiation, but assured me it posed no danger to human tissues. It might, in fact, even promote cellular regeneration under certain circumstances. Interesting."

Blake sighed. Trust Avon to analyze a simple beam of moonlight into something to frighten Vila. Not overly difficult. Vila had been hearing 'things' all day long.

"Did you hear that?" Vila asked for the umpteenth time.

"No," Blake and Avon simultaneously replied.

"Well, I did."

Avon got up. "If it will make you feel better, I will go out and shake the bushes. That will surely drive off the ferocious meadow mice and rabbits."

"Would you?" Vila sounded grateful.

Avon shook his head. The wildlife so far had been nothing spectacular, greatly resembling Earth forms of the temperate EuroZone, the main difference being that all the animals were white. It was either a seasonal change, anticipating the approaching winter or perhaps an adaptation to the unusual solar radiation. If it snowed, the animals would be well camouflaged, but at present they were glaringly obvious against the darkness of earth, rock and vegetation. And Vila thought some white animal was sneaking up on them in the cover of the moonlight? "As it is probably the only way I will get some sleep, yes, I'll do it."

Avon marched off, long stick in hand to rattle bushes. He was only a few feet away when he paused, head tilted.

"Do you hear it?" Vila asked.

"I've probably been listening to you too much," Avon replied and continued forward, sweeping the long grass with his stick. He was only a few feet away when the stick struck something which did not give. Instead it rose to all four feet with a snarl, head down and hackles raised. "Blake! Vila!" Avon shouted and drew his gun, firing point-blank at the beast. The flare of the Liberator gun centered on the snowy white pelt of the animal- and didn't stop it. Seemingly untouched, the animal advanced, slowly, with hate in its blazing yellow eyes.

Avon backed to the others, who were now standing before the fire, guns out. "What is it?" Blake asked.

"Who cares! Shoot it, Avon!" Vila shouted.

"I already did. Apparently, the wolves on Lupus are immune to energy weapons."

The white wolf sat on its haunches, snarling, then howled. And was answered.

"Oh, my Gawd. There's a whole pack." Vila could see them now. White shapes, gleaming in the moonlight as they abandoned their belly-crawling through the grass to stalk the humans boldly.

"I only count five of them," Blake said. "Avon?"

"I agree. But with our weapons useless, that may well be enough."

Vila whimpered.

The wolves charged. Blake grabbed the leader by the throat, ignoring the foul breath and raking claws as he throttled the beast. Vila ducked to one side and the wolf which leapt at him landed in the fire instead, screaming and retreating with its coat ablaze. "Fire, Blake! Use the fire," Avon shouted, dropping his useless gun to pick up brands, thrusting one into Vila's hands.

The thief managed to singe two wolves with one panicked sweep of his arm, frightening them into fleeing. Avon's wolf had learned to be wary, and circled just outside his burning stick's reach.

"I can't hold it much longer," Blake gasped. Avon turned to see Blake's wolf had twisted within its loose fur and the gleaming teeth were mere inches from Blake's bare throat.

With a shout of rage, Avon whirled and flung his torch onto the wolf, which shrieked and fled, leaving Blake exhausted but unhurt. Avon's wolf seized its opportunity and leapt for Avon's unprotected back, getting in several lightning quick slashes before Vila was there, driving it off with the stub of his burning stick.

As abruptly as the attack had begun, it was over. Vila stood, trembling, staring wide-eyed into the night, until his stick burnt down to his fingers and he dropped it. Blake hastily threw more wood onto the fire, building it up again.

"Avon?" Blake knelt beside the dark shape lying on the ground, afraid of what he might find.

Avon sat up and brushed away Blake's offer of support. "It's not that bad, Blake." He looked around. "They're gone?"

"Yes. For now." Blake grinned. "They've gone looking for an easier meal."

Avon hunched over then, drawing in a pained breath. "Good."

"Let me look at your back."

"Ah. Not so rough, Blake," Avon protested when the big rebel ripped apart Avon's tunic to bare the injuries.

The flickering firelight was bright enough to see to dress the wounds, two shallow slashing cuts running from the point of the shoulder down several inches. "You were right. It's not too bad," Blake said cheerfully, as he disinfected Avon's shoulder by pouring the contents of one of Vila's bottles over it, figuring the alcohol content high enough to kill any germs. "How's it feel?"

"How do you think?" Avon snapped, still hissing from the sting of the raw alcohol. "And we have yet to catch your deer, oh mighty hunter."

"We could go back to Gerrat," Blake said. "If you're not feeling up to it, there's no point in going on."

"And what would Avalon say?"

Blake shrugged. "She'd understand. Or not."

Avon looked sour. "No. I will be all right. But you owe me, Blake."

"And I'm sure I can count on you to remind me, when the time is right." Blake patted Avon on the good shoulder. "You get some sleep. Vila and I will share the watch."

Vila looked around nervously. "Why not? I'm not going to sleep tonight, anyway."

It was a restless night for all. Avon slept in fragments, waking up frequently to gaze at the huge silvery moon traveling slowly across the sky.

*******

"Avon?"

"Wha..." Avon blinked, confused. It was broad daylight. Weren't they supposed to start at dawn? "Why are we still here?"

"You needed the rest. How are you feeling now?"

"Sore. And annoyed. You should have wakened me. I want to get this over with." Avon sat up, and frowned at the twinge in his shoulder. "I am thirsty. Do we have any water left?"

"Yes." Blake held out a canteen. "Unless you'd rather have some of Vila's 'supplies'."

Avon's stomach turned. Just thinking about liquor made him queasy. "No, thanks." He drank deeply, returned the canteen, then got up carefully. "Let's go."

"Blake," Vila said quietly, after they'd been tramping for several hours. "I don't like the way Avon looks."

Blake glanced back. Avon was lagging behind, but caught up with an obvious effort when he noticed Blake looking at him. He was pale, with red patches high on his cheeks, and his eyes were overbright, nearly glassy. "Do you want to take a breather, Avon?"

"No."

"But..."

Avon turned on Blake. "I'll be all right. Just leave me alone." He pushed past Blake and took the lead.

"Blake?" Vila raised his eyebrows.

"Nothing we can do for him till we get back to the Liberator, Vila. It's probably a mild infection. If he isn't better by tomorrow, we'll start back, whether he wants to or not." He caught up with Avon, who had stopped, and was standing with bowed head, staring at the ground. "Avon?"

"I believe I've found your deer, Blake." He pointed at the hoof marks crisscrossing the area. "It looks like an entire herd." He straightened, then wavered. Blake grabbed Avon under the arm and urged him down onto a nearby boulder.

"You're burning up," Blake said. The heat came off Avon's body in waves. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"What good would it do?" Avon shut his eyes. "Even if you don't recall it, I remember Gerrat saying he wouldn't give back the teleport bracelets until we returned with your deer."

"But you're ill."

"I don't think Gerrat would take that as an excuse." Avon slid down the rock to sit beside it. "Go get the deer. Vila and I will wait here for you."

"You aren't going to leave me here with him, are you?" Vila hopped anxiously from foot to foot.

"He's right. We have to complete the trial before we can leave. Just keep him quiet and comfortable. I'll be back as soon as I can." He turned, then hesitated, and said to Vila softly. "If I don't make it back by nightfall, build a large fire, just in case."

"In case the wolves come back, you mean," Vila replied unhappily.

*******

Blake had been gone for hours. Avon had drunk all the water and was still thirsty. Vila had offered his liquor and Avon finally got desperate enough to try. It turned out to be a mistake. In the prolonged vomiting bout that followed, he lost everything he'd drunk, and was completely wrung out, lying helpless on the ground as Vila wiped Avon's face afterward.

"At least you're not sweating anymore," Vila remarked. "That's a good sign, isn't it?"

Avon was too weak to glare.

"Unless it means you're too dried out to sweat." Vila worried. He pinched the loose skin on the back of Avon's limp hand. The skin stayed puckered up, so dehydrated it had lost its elasticity. "Um, Avon. I think I had better go get you some water. Remember that stream we passed?" Avon managed a sketchy nod. "I'll go and I'll be right back." Vila looked around. The boulder protected Avon's back, so if Vila built a group of big fires around him on all the other sides, he should be safe enough until Vila returned. It took him half an hour to gather enough wood to satisfy him. By the time he had Avon in a protective circle of stone and fire, the computer tech was barely conscious.

"Don't worry, Avon. I'll be back before you know it. You'll be all right." Vila dumped the contents of a half dozen bottles and stacked the empties in his red chest. It wasn't far to the stream. If he hurried, he could be back in half an hour. Avon would recover, he had to. Avon was tough.

*******


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