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Whose Justice?

By Judith Proctor
Page 3 of 3

      There was a warped kind of logic there for Blake to follow. He and Avon were so different that it was amazing they'd ever understood one another at all, but that was Avon for you. His loyalties were to individuals rather than organisations and so were his hatreds.

      "You wanted to kill her yourself?"

      Avon's hands tensed momentarily into claws. "Yes."

      Blake nodded in reluctant understanding. If Avon had said that in the hall above, they'd never have believed him. He could see Shona out of the corner of his eye; she certainly didn't look convinced. You had to know Avon, had to have worked alongside him, had to have experienced his complexities at first hand, to know what motivated him.

      "If you've quite finished reminiscing," Shona demanded, hands on hips, "we need to be moving."

      Blake waved her forward and the small procession shuffled onwards in silence. Blake's thoughts drifted back to the last time he'd seen Avon on Liberator's flight deck, at Star One - the scene of another of their famous arguments. But he'd trusted Avon to hold the gap in the defence zone, and he had. Personal loyalties again. Avon's protective instincts for people he'd never met were close to non-existent; Blake had argued, pleaded, used every trick he could think of to persuade Avon to risk almost certain death facing the Andromedans. He'd succeeded, and he was under no illusions as to why. In the final analysis, Avon had done it because Blake had asked him to. Even with their relationship strained almost to breaking point by the events leading up to Star One, there had still been that degree of faith between them. Now it was gone.

      Monotonously straight and smooth, the tunnel carried on relentlessly down, white walled and barren, offering no solace and no dreams. Blake shifted the shovel onto his other shoulder for about the tenth time and sighed with relief as he spotted the doorway ahead. Shona moved swiftly ahead, opened the door fractionally, carried out a quick check, then slipped though, gun in hand.

      A couple of minutes later, she returned and nodded an all clear. The late afternoon sun filtered into the back of the caves and shone into their eyes as they made their way forwards along the stream, Helena solicitously assisting Avon on the uneven floor.

      Blake blinked as he came out into the open; it was easy to forget how bright it was outside when you lived by artificial lighting underground. Sunlight streamed into the clearing, casting long contrasting shadows of grasping branches onto the ground. The wildwood pressed close and the city dweller in him withdrew. He dumped the kit bag on the ground and rested his weight on the shovel. Helena bustled forward, all eagerness and assistance.

      "Over there looks like a good place." She gestured to a small hollow in the ground about fifteen metres away.

      It looked as good as anywhere else. Avon followed him as he made his way over, and sat pointedly on the edge of the dip. "Made your mind up yet?"

      "Yes. Get out of here before I change it."

      "And her?" Avon nodded towards Shona who stood on watch at the edge of the clearing, blending in with the scenery in a way that Blake knew he never did. Roj had always seemed closer to nature, maybe that was the influence of the clonemasters.

      "She'll do what I say." Blake wished he was as confident as he sounded.

      Avon didn't move. He stared at some point slightly behind Blake's head. "I want a gun."

      Blake tensed in instant denial, knew Avon had seen it, and cursed himself for a fool. The request was a logical one. Give Avon a food processor to rewire and he'd be at home; expect him to feed himself off the land and he'd fare even worse than Blake. Helena's supplies wouldn't last forever; Avon would need to be able to shoot game.

      "Afraid?" Avon's voice mocked him.

      Yes, he was afraid. Avon in this fey mood was capable of doing anything. There was only one way to deal with Avon when he was like this, there had only ever been one way. And if the risks were greater this time? Well, perhaps he had a debt to pay.

      Sweat trickled down his back as he motioned Shona over. This was the time of reckoning, for all of them.

      "Give him your gun." Not Helena's weapon with its variable power setting and false promises but Shona's, a Kraft 37, lovingly cared for and accurate up to a kilometer.

      "No." She stood, legs slightly apart, gun held casually but ready for instant use.

      Blake resisted the temptation to talk to the far horizon and looked her directly in the eye. "If I send him out there without a weapon, it's tantamount to murder. If we don't give him what he needs to survive, then we might as well kill him now."

      "And what if he kills you."

      "He won't."

      "You're a fool, Blake," she said.

      Avon got unsteadily to his feet, nodded his head to Shona, then addressed Blake. "I see I've become redundant." He picked up the kit bag and slung it on his shoulders. "I wish you more joy of her than you ever had of me." The words were smooth, careless and accompanied by a smile that grated on Blake's nerves with every millimeter of its deliberately polished charm. Avon started across the clearing, back straight, step brisk, and then ruined the effect as he stumbled slightly with the weight on his bad knee.

      "Avon!"

      He didn't even turn his head. "I'll see you in Hell."

      "Will he be all right?" Helena's voice spoke worriedly from just behind Blake.

      Blake didn't look at her, his eyes fixed on Avon's retreating backside. "No," he answered. "He'll die. A combination of his pride, your presumption and my stupidity."

      "Shouldn't someone..."

      Shona's eyes flicked over her with contempt. "You perhaps?"

      Blake could read the fear in Helena's eyes: fear of the forest, fear of Avon, fear of the unknown. Giving Blake her gun had been an easy step: it gave her the cosy feeling of virtue while demanding nothing in return. Helena was a well-meaning woman but she wouldn't leave home, friends and safety to venture into the wilderness with a madman. He wasn't surprised when she plucked up the courage to accept Shona's condemnation and said, "I'm needed here."

      Shona was looking at him now, eyebrow raised in query. Blake ignored her, turning his attention to gravedigging instead. If Avon was to stand a chance, he needed to ensure that there was no pursuit and to do that, he had to make the death look convincing. The ground was rocky and hard to dig, but underneath the thin soil, the stones were at least weathered. It was easier to pull them out by hand than to use the shovel. He gripped another rock and tugged, wishing for a crowbar, all the while feeling Shona's eyes on his back. "I can't," he said in response to a question she hadn't asked. "You know I can't." There was so much to do here. He had responsibilities; if he left, everything would fall apart.

      "I could go after him and give him my gun," Helena offered.

      Blake didn't reply. He struggled with another rock, trying to answer questions. Would a gun really make any difference? Did Avon know anything about wilderness survival? Just how bad was that knee injury anyway? The rock he was lifting slipped in his hand and crashed down, scraping trails through the mossy undergrowth. Blake swore under his breath.

      "You know it's impossible," he demanded angrily of Shona.

      "If you say so." Her voice was cool, even.

      "Why the Hell should I go after him?"

      "Because you want to."

      "Oh really?" But it was no use. He didn't want to go, couldn't afford to go, but he had no choice in the matter. None at all. He picked up a small rock and taking her hand, slammed the stone into it. "Finish this off for me," he demanded. "Tell them I've gone walkabout - I need time to think. Tell them anything, except the truth."

      "Will you be coming back?"

      Shadows reached out to ensnare him as the forest stood in its ancient strength. An even older enemy than the Federation, man had fought against the wilderness from time immemorial. Blake sought the future in the darkness between the trees and failed to find any answer.

      "No." They would know eventually that he'd betrayed them - he couldn't come back here. He felt an irrational surge of anger against Avon. Why couldn't the man have stayed decently dead? No one should be forced to have to weigh his dreams against the life of a friend. Or was it simply guilt that drove him? Blake and guilt were old acquaintances, they'd had many a tussle together in the depths of the night. What mattered to him most, saving Avon's life, or easing his conscience from the burden of nearly having killed him? He wasn't sure that he wanted to know the answer, wasn't sure that he'd like himself if he did. Perhaps the excuse Shona and Helena would make for him wasn't so far from the truth. He needed to think, needed to come to terms with himself again, even as he had after Gan's death. There was too much grief and anger for him to cope with right now.

      Without pausing for farewells, Blake strode across the clearing, heading in the direction where Avon had already gone. Shona followed, a bare step behind him.

      He stopped.

      She stopped.

      "Why?" he demanded.

      "Because you won't abandon a friend."

      And as simply as that, part of the knot inside him untwisted. As long as someone else believed in him, Blake could believe in himself.

      "Besides," she carried on briskly, "you know nothing about forest survival, you'd probably poison yourself in a week, you forgot to take a weapon and Avon is a major security risk if captured as he knows the location of the base."

      Blake rested a hand momentarily on her shoulder. "You're very like him, do you know that?"

      As they left Helena standing by the gravesite and plunged into the trees, Shona looked at him in horror. "I sincerely hope not!"


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