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The Price of Justice

By Judith Proctor
Page 3 of 3

      Why not, indeed. It sounded like Avon. He treated life as a game on occasion, an intriguing puzzle to be solved. It could be easily be true; it could just as easily be a total fabrication. There was absolutely no way of telling, all they had to go on was what Avon said.

      Hendrix obviously didn't believe it at all. Pacing up and down in front of Avon, he tossed rapid-fire questions, barely waiting for a response before throwing the next one.

      "What was your relationship with Servalan?"

      "On what other occasions did you meet her?"

      "How much did she pay you?"

      Avon was coping with the questions, but at the same time, he was visibly flagging, the earlier confidence and humour beginning to fade. The reaction of a guilty man? Or simply that of a man who had already faced too many interrogation sessions? About to demand a halt, Blake was caught short by Hendrix's next question.

      "Who was your Federation contact after Servalan died?"

      But Servalan wasn't dead, Avon had told him that. And if she had lived after Gedden, and Avon knew, why hadn't he reported this to the Federation? What possible reason could Avon have had for allowing Servalan to live, apart from some sort of alliance with her?

      Avon's eyes flashed at him. Back me up, they said. Back me, or I'm a dead man.

      How could Avon ask that of him? What had Avon done that he didn't know about? Had Avon been lying to him all along?

      Avon was speaking, but to Blake, not to Hendrix. "I had no Federation contact."

      Against his will, Blake believed that. But Avon had to be telling only part of the truth. What was the rest of it? What reason had he had for letting Servalan live? Surely, the only possible reason for him sparing her was some kind of alliance? Blake's head ached. An hour ago, he had thought that everything between himself and Avon could be resolved; now there was an ever growing tangle of mistrust and suspicion in his mind. He had too many questions that he wanted to ask, but was afraid to voice them. There might be answers. There might even be answers that would satisfy him; but would they be answers that the others would accept, or simply material to tighten the noose around Avon's neck? He knew from the look in Avon's eyes, that Avon believed the answers would kill him.

      If he kept silent about Servalan, was he protecting Avon or betraying the people here? Even as he debated inwardly, the questions kept coming.

      "Why did Betafarl, Tarl and Hirriel go to war almost immediately after entering into negotiations with you?" Hendrix demanded. "How much did the Federation pay you to kill Roj Blake?"

      "Stop!" Blake cried.

      Caught by surprise, Hendrix faltered. "What? He's virtually ready to confess!"

      "You mean browbeaten into saying whatever you want! The Federation had him for nearly two months - do you think he's in any state to stand repeated questioning?"

      "And how else," Hendrix demanded, "are we supposed to get the information out of him?"

      "You're presupposing that he's guilty."

      "Blake," Hendrix said with forced patience, "we already know he's guilty. By his own admission, he shot Roj."

      "Then shut up, forget about conspiracy theories, and let me try and explain why."

      Hendrix waved a hand with exaggerated politeness. "Be my guest."

      Having centre stage, Blake hesitated, nerves jumping. The things Avon had told him sounded so much more feeble out here in the open hall with everyone listening. Still, he had undertaken to speak in defence. He had to do the best that he could.

      "Avon came to Gauda Prime looking for me. Not to shoot me, but because he believed he needed me to help with the work he was doing. When his ship crash landed, he was separated from one of his followers, a man named Tarrant. When he met Tarrant again in the tracking gallery, Tarrant said that I'd sold them all out."

      "Why should Tarrant have thought that?"

      "I can only presume that Roj used the bounty hunter routine on him, and that Tarrant escaped before he came to know the true state of affairs."

      "What evidence do you have for this?"

      Blake glanced at Avon, who reluctantly answered, "The relevant sections have been edited out of the tape."

      "Or were never there in the first place," Hendrix said cuttingly.

      Blake resumed, fighting a growing sense of futility. "Avon believed Roj intended to sell him for the bounty. He thought he'd been betrayed. Thus, he shot him."

      Hendrix leaned forward to make his key point. It wasn't vindictiveness that drove him, but a passion that Blake recognised as akin to his own nature.

      "Roj was unarmed!"

      There was nothing left for Blake to say, nothing that he could say. Every single piece of evidence pointed to Avon's guilt. There was only one thing left for him to do: appeal for clemency. To appeal with all the sincerity that he could muster.

      "I accept Avon's guilt. It is beyond dispute that he killed the man whom I regarded as my brother. It falls to all of you here to decide on his sentence.

      "Remember the things that Avon did for the rebellion: the times he risked his own life, the times he saved mine. I owe him a debt that I can never repay. We all owe him a debt! Remember the Andromedan War? It was Avon in command of Liberator who held the aliens at bay until the Federation fleet arrived. Without him, humanity's losses would have been twice as great."

      It was no use; he knew what he wanted to say, the words were there, but he couldn't inject them with the necessary fervour, couldn't convey them in the way that they ought to be said.

      "I've forgiven Avon for what happened on Gauda Prime. I honestly believe that he didn't intend murder. I ask you to forgive him also."

      He sat down abruptly, conscious of the sweat on his palms. Words. Mere empty words. They weren't going to work, because he was no longer sure that he believed them himself.

      Hendrix was calling for a vote. Blake listened, only half taking in the words, watching the hands as they went up and down. On the charge of conspiracy, guilty, but not a sufficient vote for death. On the charge of murder, guilty, with an overwhelming majority for the death sentence.

      He couldn't look at Avon. He'd started this, and now he had to finish it. His own duty was clear - no matter how much he wanted to avoid it. Blake rose to his feet, trying to control a lurching sensation inside him.

      "As leader of this community, I accept the verdict of the community. As leader of this community, mine is the responsibility to carry out the sentence."

      He was glad that he had his back to Avon. He didn't want to see his friend's face.

      He felt at his hip, but he'd taken his gun off earlier. He reached out a hand, and a woman on the front row held up a weapon, sympathy evident on her face. She'd been one of the very few who had voted against death. But even she had deemed Avon to be guilty of murder.

      Now he had to turn and face Avon. There was no other course for him to take. Yesterday, killing a man in cold blood had seemed difficult, but justified. Today, it was even more difficult. Was the act he was about to perform justice or simply vengeance?

      Slowly, he turned.

      Avon stood stock still, waiting for him, eyes the only things living in his frozen face.

      Can you understand, Avon, he wanted to say. I have to do this, to preserve what I believe in. If I don't enact the decision of the people, then this group falls apart, everything that I have achieved here falls apart. I have to live by the rules that I helped to create.

      The gun was a dead weight in his hands, yet it seemed to rise almost of its own volition.

      "Traitor!" shouted a voice from behind him. "Murderer!"

      Yes! said a voice inside him. You know Avon lied. You know he was holding back the truth. He betrayed your trust. He killed Roj.

      He fired, and saw the stunned shock on Avon's face, the eyes that couldn't quite believe.

      He took a step closer, and saw more, too much more. Blake would never be able to describe what he saw in Avon's eyes, but he knew, knew the horror that Avon had felt as Roj died. Knew as Avon had known that there had been no betrayal, only a chain of tragedy.

      Knew too late.

      

      


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Judith Proctor

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