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One I'd Love

By Willa Shakespeare
Page 2 of 9

"Zen, I want you to contact Ro. I need to talk with him." Blake strode restlessly in front of the flight deck couch. Having bathed and changed into clean garments, he felt better physically, but thinking about Avon made him wonder what could go wrong with his plans. Also, Cally had returned to the flight deck and was making him guilty with her solemn scrutiny.

She asked, "Why?" suspicion in her voice. "Have you realized that Avon will not accede to your demands? Will you have Ro capture him for you, paralyzed by their darts? That will surely endear you to him."

"No need to be melodramatic, Cally. Avon's only been gone a few minutes. I just want to make sure that he's safe."

She nodded, shortly. "As safe as he can be. Alone on that world."

Blake had wondered about Cally's loyalties, but the Auron, while disagreeing with Blake, had not asked to accompany Avon. He dismissed her from his mind and concentrated on what he would say to Ro. If he ever hoped to make Horizon a rebel base, he could not offend the planetary leader.

Ro looked as Blake had seen him last, proudly primitive in indigo feather cape and full native regalia, but with the eyes of a man of calculating reason. "Blake. Is something wrong?"

"No, not really." Blake smiled. "I'd just like to ask a favor of you."

"Anything," Ro replied without hesitation. Standing beside him, her hand resting lightly on her fiance's shoulder, Selma nodded and smiled.

"One of my crew is on Horizon. I'd appreciate it if your people could look out for him while he's there. But discreetly, I don't want him to know about them."

Ro frowned. "My planet is not entirely safe for outworlders, Blake. He would be assured of safety, and much more comfortable, if he was a guest in my palace."

"Thank you, but no. Avon... he needs time to think. Alone." Behind him, Blake sensed Cally's stiffened affront at that. But she said nothing in front of Ro.

The native ruler's eyes flicked to Cally, then back to Blake, seeing more than Blake had intended. "A matter of discipline? Very well, I will have men set to watch him. They will not be seen. Unless, of course, there is no other way to protect him. I assume you wish him to come to no permanent harm?"

"Exactly." Blake smiled at Ro, grateful for the other leader's quick understanding of Blake's problem. "I just want a few of the rough edges knocked off him."

"Perhaps Vila is not such an idiot after all," Avon muttered while wrestling with palmate fronds to construct a rude shelter. The fronds were wickedly thorn-studded, which he hoped would discourage any predator interested in alien cuisine. Namely Avon. "Dedicating oneself to wine, women and song must be marginally less painful than this. Damn." He paused to suck yet another wayward thorn out of his hand. His light-weight tunic wasn't any protection from them either, as his striped ribs could attest. "Then, of course, there is the company and fellowship of one's 'friends'." He yanked angrily at a recalcitrant frond, wedging it firmly in place. "Yes, Blake, you are right, I can't survive long here. On the other hand, if I give you uncontested support, how long will I survive your lunacies on the Liberator ?"

It was becoming dark by the time Avon crawled inside the man-sized dome he'd made. The mat of softer vegetation he'd heaped for a bed was hopelessly inadequate. Which summed up Avon's efforts at dealing with this environment. He sensed the unrelenting hostility of this world. It didn't like him, and had no intention of suffering his presence for long. "I don't plan to set up permanent residence," he assured the creeping, slithering, rustling, life about him. "Blake's bleeding heart will soon get the better of him. Then he'll come down to me." He fell asleep exhausted, with one hand clutching his weapon, but with a smile on his lips. Blake would have to come back and Avon would have won.

"How long are we going to wait for Avon?" Jenna asked. She was idly plotting various courses to crew recruiting stations. Computer techs of Avon's reputed skill might be rare, but she was quite willing to accept a lesser talent provided it belonged to someone she could tolerate.

"As long as it takes," Blake said, arms folded across his chest. "One night in the open should convince him. It will be quiet and he won't have anything else to do but think. He'll make the right decision. By morning, he'll call in, complaining that we're abusing Orac and he hates to see a good computer suffer."

"And if he doesn't?" Cally asked, deaf to Blake's attempted humor.

Blake rolled his eyes toward her and said nothing.

"Blake?" Vila added his plea to Cally's. "He's only going to get madder the longer he's down there. You know how he hates getting dirty."

"All right." Blake surrendered. "I'll give him a day. If he doesn't call us within eighteen hours, we'll pick him up."

Gan wondered how Avon might react to an unsolicited pick-up after his unceremonious departure. He wouldn't be stubborn enough to ask to be put down again on Horizon- would he? But what of the 'boltholes' he was always talking about? "Will he want to stay with us after this?"

"What do you want me to say?" Blake growled. "That I'll go down and beg him on bended knee to come back?"

Vila pursed his mouth judiciously, imagining the scene. "Might work. You may not have noticed, but our Avon has a bit of an ego. That should appeal to him."

Blake laughed. "Yes, I suppose it would." He stood up and stretched. "I'm going to my cabin to rest. If anything comes up..."

"If Avon calls, we will waken you," Cally replied, smiling just a little as she sensed that Blake had begun to regret his ploy. Avon was often ungracious, but perhaps he would realize that he had also been at fault and would accept Blake's words.

"Blake! Get up here now!" Jenna's voice over the intercom brought Blake up out of a light doze. He was on his feet and out the door before he fully awoke. He hit the flight deck on a dead run, colliding briefly with Vila before skidding to a halt in front of the viewscreen, shocked by the sight of a flotilla of rapidly approaching Federation pursuit ships.

"Where did they come from?"

"Does it matter?" Vila wailed as he ran to his weapons station. "They're here and they're going to kill us and Avon's going to laugh and say 'I told you so'."

The rest of the crew were already at their positions. Cally said, "Hush, Vila. We have no time for recriminations."

"Avon." Blake groaned. "We have to get him."

"No time," Jenna snapped, "they're closing in fast. What do we do, Blake?"

"Run." Blake gripped the panel before him so tightly the plastic creaked. He stared at the viewscreen blindly, seeing Avon, stranded, helpless. "If we stay and fight, they'll know there's something on the planet we're interested in."

"Can't we use the same trick you did before, making them fly into Horizon's magnetic force field?" Gan asked.

"No. There are too many of them and they're too scattered. Even if we decoyed some of them, the survivors would have us."

Vila looked up from his controls. "Can't we at least tell Avon what's happening? He'll think we left him to die."

"Can't chance the transmission being intercepted. We'll lure them away from Horizon and come back for Avon later."

"Alone," Cally spoke so softly that only Vila's sharp ears heard her, "left to die alone and silent."

Fatigued by unaccustomed physical labor, Avon slept through the brief battle that took place above the sky of Horizon. Hidden nearby, his appointed guardians noted the sudden birth and death of stars with wonderment, unaware that they were ships which had blundered into the force field protecting their planet.

Their ruler, Ro, knew better. He considered the possibility that the Liberator was destroyed, in which case he should bring Blake's surviving crewman to the safety of his palace. But Blake was too stubborn to die easily. And he had given his word to keep this Avon ignorant of his protectors until Blake's return. The word of a ruler should not be lightly broken.

Avon stared upward. This time he cursed not only Blake, but also the weather, the mud, the insects and every other animate and inanimate object on this world, all of which conspired to make him miserable. He turned over a small amphibian corpse with the toe of his sadly battered boot. He didn't like the look or the feel of the creature, or its smell. However, it was edible, even if unpleasantly flavored. He'd had no luck hunting anything bigger than these frog-things. Then again, nothing had tried to hunt him, which was becoming less of a consolation as the depressingly similar days passed. He had been filthy for so long that he no longer smelled himself, and his hunger and weariness were bone-deep.

Several experiments with vegetation were such disastrous failures that he would rather starve. As it was he had intermittent, and extremely painful, stomach cramps which he attributed to the inadequacy of a frog diet, preferring that to the equally likely alternative that one of the experiments had permanently damaged him.

He speared the little web-footed body on a twig and braced it above the small fire he had coaxed into being. With luck it would fall into the flame and be burnt to a cinder so that he wouldn't have to eat it.

It was difficult, sometimes, being too contrary to commit suicide. It would have been much simpler and less painful than going through this mockery of survival, but he refused to give Blake the satisfaction of his surrender. He patted the Liberator gun in the absent-minded habit he'd developed of reminding himself that there was an easy way out, even if he would never take it. Of course, the gun might not work much longer. Since he'd used it to rescue Blake and the others... His lips pulled back into a mirthless grin at the thought, a flash of light half-hidden in scruffy beard . Well, since then he'd had no opportunity to recharge it and he'd used it to start countless fires. Then there was the night- or was it a night, a day and another night?- anyway it had been dark at the time. He brought his mind back into focus with an effort. He must continue to think! He had unwisely eaten several handfuls of berries which resembled Terran raspberries and suffered hallucinations for an interminable period of time. He recalled being surrounded by Federation guards, who mutated unpredictably into Blake and the crew of the Liberator and then into the painted natives of this planet. He fired at them, he was sure of that. So it might be that when he needed it, he would have no easy way out. No, he corrected himself, no civilized way out.

Before he'd given up on the plants, he'd tried one particular fungi by touching it to his tongue. He'd had heart palpitations for an hour. A handful would surely kill with merciful swiftness. But not yet. He told himself this every day. He might yet, by some miracle, find Blake. Then he'd have a use for that fungus.

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