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White Knight

By Willa Shakespeare
Page 2 of 9

The horse lifted its head, and the glazing eyes suddenly cleared and saw him. Deliberately, it lifted its leaden legs and came to him, standing over him stiff-legged. It stared into his face for a long moment, then the proud head lifted and it gave a stallion's scream of defiance.

The shadows came then, swarming over the black horse, covering it entirely. It made a soft, almost human sound of despair, and fell, crushing Blake beneath its body. He realized the horse had saved him from a worse end, as he heard the creatures above him worrying at the living flesh of the helpless stallion.

The sound of carrion crows was loud, raucous as they fed. Too loud. Dying, trapped beneath his horse, Blake should not have been able to hear them.But he wasn't beneath the horse. He looked around. The bloody mud was churned, and ran liquid with red, fresh spilled and bright. His people and the black shadows lay, indistinguishable from each other, united in death, and equally welcome to the crows.

His body was whole, and once more in the white wool undergarment. A chill wind blew across the field, the sweet reek of blood mingling with the other odors of death. Something moved, something that was not a carrion crow, and his heart leapt, hoping that something yet lived. He moved toward the motion, then stopped, sorrow and guilt eating at him. As the crows ate at the black stallion lying motionless in the filth, its mane lifting to fly in the wind. The crows fled him as he walked to the animal.

The horse shifted as he came nearer, and for a moment he thought it had clung to life and he would have to put it out of its misery. Beyond it were the bits of shield, and sword and fragments of armor that once were people, before he decided to use them. He shuddered and moved closer. The transformations were undone before his eyes, leaving only the corpses of men and women. Even in death, they were more real to him than anything else in the whole bloody pointless business.

"Well, are you happy?"

Blake turned heavily. The monk was there once more, its bony hands tucked neatly into its sleeves. "Happy?" he asked, the question meaningless to him in his grief.

"You got what you wanted. See." The monk waved at the field. "Your enemy, the black knight, is dead. Your people are free."

"My people are dead. And I have not even destroyed the true enemy."

"A minor point. I'll take care of it." The monk waved, and the only other living thing on the battlefield - the gray horse - gave a loud cry and fell, stiffly. "Easy enough. It was old, and corrupt within. It would have died soon enough without either of us."

"Then what was the point? Why did you let me do it?"

"You wanted victory and you wanted it now. You said you were willing to pay anything. I am always fair."

"You tricked me!"

"I did not. This is what you demanded. It is not my fault that you did not see the consequences of your demands."

"Please," Blake said. "It was my mistake, why must they all suffer for it?"

"Why not?" The monk said. "Excuse me, I must finish my work." He reached the corpse of the dark-haired man who had been Blake's charger, and picked up the body.

"Leave him."

"No. He is mine now, and will serve me, as he did you." The monk pushed back its hood, and the face was the same hollow nothingness that was within the black knight. "He will make a fine Death, don't you think? Driven mad, and to murder, and suicide? They will talk of him for a millennia." The monk slipped one arm of its robe onto the dead man's arm. The corpse's brown eyes opened, and turned to Blake.

"Blake," the voice was a thin thread, but it pulled at Blake's heart.

He lunged forward, wrestling the chill emptiness of Death, fighting to pull his friend from its claw-handed grip. "Avon!" he shouted, suddenly knowing the man he'd used and ruined and killed. "Avon!" he fought blindly with all the strength in his body, feeling his fists batter against something that yielded and gave. He pulled the corpse into his own arms, and looked into the brown eyes once more. Avon smiled, at peace, and lay dead in Blake's arms.

"Easy, Blake! Easy!" Avon was scowling, one hand over his right eye. The left hand was clutching at Blake's shoulder, digging deeply into the muscle.

Blake blinked and looked around, startled. "What?" He was sitting up, dressed in a loose medical tunic, in Liberator's medical unit, clutching Avon's arms. "Avon? Are you all right?"

Avon released him, and stepped back, lowering his hand to reveal the blossoming of what would be a real shiner, given time. "I have been better. Next time, I don't believe I'll give in to Cally's soft heart. 'Restraints are barbaric'. Maybe so, but it's easier on the rest of us."

"Are you all right, Blake?" Cally's concerned face filled Blake's vision. He was glad to see her, but somehow he wished Avon was there instead.

"Fine," he said, staring past her, to Avon. Avon raised his head like a wary animal, and Blake saw the stallion again, distrusting him but still loyal to the death. "I'm sorry, Avon."

Avon gave him an odd look, but his voice softened. "Yes, well, I should have been more careful. You were delirious. A result of the blow to the head. The one you took on your last mission," Avon prodded as Blake was silent, staring at him.

"Yes, I remember," Blake said. He did remember. It just seemed so pointless. Another raid, another military complex blown up, another bit of 'essential' hardware stolen. After awhile all the missions began to seem like the same one.

"Cally?" Avon asked, concern showing on his normally cold features, his eyes softened. Blake liked the effect. And Avon had a nice smile, he thought, remembering the last time he'd seen it. But that had been before he began arguing the necessity of destroying Central Control.

Cally bustled around Blake with instruments which he ignored, filling his eyes with the sight of Avon. Alive and well, and fractious as ever. "There were indications of a slight concussion. But the equipment has taken care of that. You are fine, Blake." She patted him on the shoulder. "You can get up and get dressed any time."

"And get back to your rebellion," Avon muttered, resentment barely in check.

Blake rose and took the clothes Cally held out to him. "Thank you, Cally." He gave her a warm smile. After all, it was only a dream and a particularly silly one at that. The feelings he had for the dream Avon were the ravings of a bruised brain, nothing more. He went behind a screen for modesty's sake and quickly donned the clothes. "I'll see you on the flight deck, Avon."

Avon nodded and started to follow, but halted when Cally said, "Avon, let me put a regenerator pad on that eye. Or do you enjoy looking like a bandit?"

Avon glanced at Blake's retreating back, then shook his head. "All right, Cally. Let's see if you can put right what Fearless Leader has done."

Blake heard, and it was as if a cold hand had clutched his heart. Dream or no, Avon was all too human, not the invulnerable creature he pretended. The thought of Avon dying because of Blake made him feel ill. It was worse somehow than if he pictured one of the others dead. Avon didn't want to fight the Federation. He just wanted to be left alone.

Did he have the right to impose his will, his sense of moral duty, on the others, especially on Avon? And worst of all, what if he was wrong? What if destroying Central Control was as useless as killing the black knight? Abruptly, he changed his mind about going to the flight deck. He was in no condition to be seen by the others.

He would go to his cabin and rest. When he woke, he was sure to have recaptured his certainty. He had to. It was all he had. He had to destroy the Federation. He shuddered, as the words carried an unpleasant echo of the white knight.

Avon arrived on the flight deck, and stopped. Only Vila was there, and he was snoozing at his post. The last part was normal enough. Gan was in the Rest Room, attempting to use Orac as a study aid, although the computer was as poor a teacher as the big man was a student. Still, you had to admire brute persistence. The pilot's position was also empty, as Jenna was in her quarters, resting. She'd been on duty two straight shifts following the botched mission where Blake was injured and the pursuit ships came close to ending all their careers. She'd held out long enough to be sure Blake would be all right, then agreed with Avon that their only pilot had to take care of herself. At one time she would have waited until Blake woke, but she appeared to have finally accepted Blake as a mere friend, and given up hope of a more personal relationship.

With Blake the Cause came before anything. Including his own life. As exemplified in this latest fiasco. Avon had warned him that the complex was too ill-guarded for such a valuable installation, but would Blake listen? Hah. So he had to drag an unconscious Blake out of a trap after a bare-knuckles bout with a trooper who'd obviously eaten all his spinach as a lad.

He had wanted to ream Blake out thoroughly for his poor judgment, but it hadn't seemed appropriate to attack him in the medical unit while the other was still groggy. Not quite sporting. The flight deck was a better venue. He was surprised that Blake wasn't there, having had plenty of time to get there ahead of him. Cally had noticed that he was favoring his right side, so she insisted on examining him thoroughly and then, while regenerating two fractured ribs which he'd thought were merely bruised, she gave him a lecture. For some reason she considered Avon's natural desire for privacy an act of overly heroic self- sacrifice. He didn't bother to disabuse her. "Where is Blake?"

"Um? What?" Vila unslouched sufficiently to look at Avon. "Blake's not here."

"I can see that, idiot. Where is he?" Avon was already annoyed and didn't need Vila to add to it. "When did he leave?"

"He didn't. I mean, he never got here." Vila sat up, looking worried. "Cally said he was all right. D' ya think he's collapsed and died in a corridor somewhere?"

"I doubt we are so fortunate. No, he's probably just had a brilliant scheme occur to him, and gone off to plan our demise. Still, it wouldn't hurt to check." Avon went to the nearest console and set the intercom to Blake's quarters. "Blake? Are you there, Blake?"

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