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Death Duel

By Catherine Salmon
Page 1 of 3

Blake crouched in the bushes, listening intently. Someone was approaching. He prepared to attack. If it was Travis...

"Avon!" Blake gasped in surprise, shocked at the choice of the Guardian. Sinofar had said that they must experience the death of a friend. But why chose Avon unless... you know more than I do. Blake, unconsciously pleased by this external evidence of Avon's fealty, smiled at the tech.

On hearing his name called from such close quarters, Avon had spun round, ready to fight. But it was only Blake. He straightened up, frowning at the slight smile curving the rebel's lips, guessing the reason behind it. Sinofar had chosen him to demonstrate the death of a friend, implying that Avon was the rebel's friend.

"How did you get here?"

Avon's eyes widened slightly at the question.

"How might you imagine, Blake. I presume your lady friend is responsible for my departure from Liberator." The tech's gaze was surly and challenging. He was more than a little angered by the position he was in. That Sinofar had picked him was ridiculous. He followed Blake because he had no choice. Where else could he go and have some degree of safety? He certainly did not remain with him out of some misguided loyalty or affection.

"You know about Sinofar?"

"Yes, her words were beamed through the main viewscreen. All other controls are frozen."

Blake stared for a moment. No wonder you're angry. You hate being manipulated, not to mention having your sentiments exposed. Tearing his gaze away, Blake looked around. "Any sign of Travis?"

"No. I am sure one of his mutoids will be with him. They are his only crew."

Blake's laugh was harsh, unlike his usual good-natured chuckle. "What a problem. How do you demonstrate the death of a friend to a man who hasn't got any?

Avon looked up sharply.

"Sorry." Blake was apologetic, placing a companionable hand of the tech's shoulder. But Avon jerked away.

"Listen to me, Blake. Sinofar is wrong. I am not your friend and I am not going to stand by and be an object lesson for you. I have been dragged down here for a purpose that I cannot possibly fulfill, my own life at risk. So you will excuse me if I have no time for your concern. I suggest that we attack first and kill them. Perhaps then, we can return to Liberator and your Cause. The sooner you achieve your ends, the sooner I will be free."

The words were sharp and cutting, intended to wound, and Blake flinched from the anger in them. Good intentions had cost him friends before at Travis's hands and no matter what the tech claimed, Blake believed that he was a friend, albeit a reluctant one. Visions of the massacre flashed through his brain, as always causing a headache to throb behind his eyes. He closed them a moment, calming himself to deal with the vitriolic comp tech. Opening them suddenly, he thought he saw a hint of concern on Avon's face but it was gone in a second.

He sighed. Deny it all you want, Avon. I simply refuse to believe it. "Come on, then. We better make some weapons."

* * *

"These are hardly sufficient weapons with which to face two highly efficient killing machines." The tech hefted the wooden spear that Blake had fashioned from a young sapling, testing its weight. Blake looked up with no small degree of irritation.

"Unless you have a better idea?"

Avon smiled. "At the moment, no, I do not. However, as soon as I do, you will be the first to know."

"Thank you."

Blake returned to his work, putting the finishing touches on his own spear. Satisfied with the results, he replaced his knife and rose, spear in hand. Avon was about fifty feet away, atop a slight rise and Blake paused in his approach. If what Sinofar had said was true, Avon would die here. He shivered at the thought. He would be responsible for Avon's death, one more friend lost. But this time there would not even be the consolation that his friend had died for a Cause he believed in. Avon didn't believe in the Cause anyway so if he died here, it would be for nothing.

He would die because he was Blake's friend, whether he admitted it or not. Sinofar knew what even Blake sometimes doubted. Avon cared. But to be the cause of his death... I am so sorry, Avon.

Avon turned, expecting Blake's approach. "It will be dark soon. We should take shelter, unless you prefer that we serve as some predator's dinner instead of as Travis's amusement."

"I'm sorry, Avon."

Guilt filled the rebel's expression and Avon felt his anger bubble once more to the surface. Blake's guilt over Avon's supposed friendship made him so furious that he had to strike out, even though he recognized that it would hurt the rebel deeply. He recognized it and hated himself for it but it was the way he was.

"Spare me your guilty conscience, Blake. Sinofar is wrong in her belief that I am your friend. I am not and if you think that I will risk my life for you, you are a greater fool than Vila. My safety comes first with me. So you need not fear for my life. I can take care of myself."

Blake frowned at the tech's words. "But Avon, I do care about you."

"It is not mutual, Blake. And if you could see past your own self-delusions you would understand that you do not care for me either. I have value to you only in that I am the best at what I do. You need my computer skills for your Cause and that is all. You do not need me for any other reason."

"I'm your friend!"

Avon's laugh was harsh with no trace of humour. "My friend? You don't even understand the meaning of the word. We are all just tools to you, instruments in your war against the Federation. You try to manipulate us with your pretty words about freedom and caring but that is all they are. Just words, Blake, that is what you are good at. That and getting your so-called friends killed." Avon paused, evaluating the effect of his words on the rebel.

Blake's face was pale with shock. He could not have been that wrong. That Avon believed that of him, that he was using them to fight his battles. "You don't believe that, Avon." But his voice was unsure, his eyes confused.

"You're an Alpha, figure it out." He shook his head. "You're pathetic, Blake. At least Travis is honest about his motives. You make me sick."

Blake's eyes went cold at the mention of Travis. If Avon really believed what he said... "You bastard." Blake snarled his anger and hurt while Avon simply smiled. Bastard, I cared about you! But if you want my hatred, fine. I don't care what happens to you anymore.

"If you have finished, Avon, I intend to cover a little more ground. When darkness falls, the trees will provide relative safety."

Without a glance at his companion, the rebel stalked off, blending into the forest. And after a moment's hesitation, Avon joined him.

* * *

Safely enscounced in a large tree, the rebel and the computer expert sat quietly. The eerie night silence was broken only by the occasional roar of a night hunter and the rustling of the wind through the branches. It was almost peaceful, except for the strained tension still taut between the two men. It was not in Avon's nature to apologize, particularly when he was still furious with the rebel, not to mention Sinofar and himself, for getting them into this situation. And while Blake could forgive many things, Avon had hurt him deeply with his angry words and he could not forget. Images imagined and past haunted him: Avon dying for Travis's pleasure, to teach Blake about death. Hadn't he seen enough? All his friends murdered around him, his memories ripped from his mind. He shivered slightly, shifting uncomfortably against the sturdy tree. His remembered pain fuelled his anger. What did Avon know about loss or caring? You wanted my enmity, Avon? Well, you've got it. I care as little for you as you do for me.

And Avon watched him, as well as remaining alert to their surroundings. He should be satisfied. Blake's sulky anger meant that he had finally convinced him, forced him to accept that Avon was not his friend. Even Blake's disappointed anger was better than his guilty depression. At least now, he would focus on Travis. Stick to action, Blake. It's what you're good at, unlike me... His thoughts trailed off, drawn to his own past. Oh Anna, what I would have given to save you. You were the only one to ever care for me... until Blake. He startled himself with that thought. He had loved Anna and she him, and it had been beautiful in its simplicity. But Blake, their relationship was fraught with complexity, contradictory actions and words. That Blake cared, had cared, was unavoidable. The fact that Avon felt compelled to remain with him was inexcusable and he hated himself for what he saw as weakness.

Avon gathered his thoughts and spoke calmly into the silence.

"Blake."

"Yes, Avon." The voice was cold but attentive.

"Have you done with your sulking? It is about time we settled on a plan for dealing with our opponents, unless, of course, you are planning to throw nuts at each other?

The sharp jibe worked, Blake's eyes flashing his anger.

"Have you never cared for anyone, Avon, other than yourself?"

The comment surprised him but he answered candidly, sure Blake would be too angry to recognize the meaning behind his words but needing to say them.

"I have never understood why it should be necessary to become irrational to prove that you care. Or indeed, why it should be necessary to prove it at all."

And he was right, Blake only heard what he believed he would: that Avon claimed the rebel was irrational, which increased his anger and frustration with the tech. But still, if Avon died here ... Blake looked away for a moment and Avon reached over, gripping his forearm tightly, painfully.

"Know this, Blake. If I die, I will take them with me. I will have companions for my death."

A faint smile touched the rebel's lips at Cally's phrase as he carefully pulled his arm free.

"Bloodthirsty bastard. No, Travis is mine."

Avon relaxed back, eyes narrowed in consideration and approval. Blake would be ready, ready to kill.

* * *


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