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The Machiavelli Factor

By Lillian Sheperd
Page 3 of 103

      

Cally made her way through the dimness of the cruiser's main corridor, stumbling over an area of metal floor that had buckled upwards in the crash. Edging into the chaos of the engine room, she spoke to the two dark shadows crouching over the glow of a hand lamp. "There is nothing you can do until dawn when we can start recharging the solar batteries. I think you had better come outside. I have prepared a meal from the ship's concentrates."

      The taller and thinner of the two shadows turned towards her, though he could see even less of her than she could of him. "We should be rationing those. This thing may never be spaceworthy again."

      "In which case, Tarrant, we must start living off the land as soon as possible," Cally retorted. "Dayna and I will hunt in the morning. Now we must eat and sleep."

      "Got it all worked out, haven't you, Cally?" Tarrant muttered loudly.

      She ignored him. "Avon?"

      "Yes. Perhaps you are right." Avon straightened, swaying slightly. Cally watched him anxiously as she moved aside to let him pass but he seemed steady enough as he made his way towards the yellow glint of fire beyond the open hatch.

      Tarrant hadn't moved.

      Cally decided to try just one more time. "You can't see anything in here until we fix the power, Tarrant. What are you trying to prove? That you are more stubborn than Avon or more stupid?

      There was a pause, then Tarrant snapped: "What's that supposed to mean?"

      "Whatever you want it to mean," said Cally, and was gone, back out into the twilight.

      Tarrant scowled as he followed her. Damn it, he didn't have to prove anything. Avon had led them into this trap and had lost Liberator in the process. Surely there could no longer be doubt in anyone's mind as to who was the right person to lead them? Avon would just have to accept that.

      He came out into a noisy Terminal evening. The afterglow of the sunset was beginning to fade into the darkening sky. Cold air with a hint of rain in it slapped him fully awake.

      The others were sitting about a small fire, except for Dayna, who was standing looking outwards towards the scrub-covered slopes, plainly on guard.

      Tarrant inclined his head towards her and asked, "Expecting visitors?" as he took the small bowl and spoon that Cally offered him.

      Dayna did not look round. "The creatures Servalan spoke of may attack."

      "Our future descendants," said Cally, with a tiny shudder.

      "Not yours," said Vila. "It must be a comfort, not to be human."

      "It all hardly seems worthwhile, somehow, if the human race is going to end up like the things Cally and I saw," Tarrant commented.

      Avon, who had been staring blankly into the fire, roused himself at this. "Unlikely."

      "Servalan said that they were what mankind will become," Tarrant pointed out.

      "Servalan is... wasn't a scientist. Her ignorance of the forces of evolution is obviously as profound as yours. Those creatures are what mankind might become if all of the human race was isolated on Terminal. In any other environment... who knows?" Despite the opportunity to lecture, Avon sounded disinterested. He lapsed into silence again, the meal in his hands untouched.

      Vila and Cally looked at each other, then at Avon, then back at each other.

      "I'm going to get some sleep," Vila announced loudly. "Coming, anyone?" He stared hard at Avon, willing him to get up, but Avon's chin just dropped even further towards his chest.

      It was Tarrant who reacted to Vila's words. "Wait a minute, Vila," he said sharply. "We've still got to arrange the watches."

      "We will be safe inside the ship if we lock the hatches," said Cally.

      "I still want a watch set."

      "Then watch." Cally glanced across at Avon but, though his eyes were still open, he did not seem to have heard.

      Tarrant glared at Cally. "Very well. I'll take first watch. You can follow me, then Avon, then Vila and finally Dayna."

      "But-" Cally began, ready to argue, when Vila got in first:

      "I saw something." He jumped to his feet, staring out into the darkness in a pantomime of surprise and fear. "They must be sneaking up on us."

      "What?" Tarrant, also on his feet, shook Vila's arm. "Where? What did you see?"

      "Eyes. Over there. Look! There they are again."

      "I can't see anything."

      "There!" Vila made a dramatic gesture with his free arm, pointing into the darkness.

      Tarrant freed Vila and snatched up a brand from the fire. "We'll take a look. Come on, Vila."

      Surprisingly, Vila did not protest. As he copied Tarrant's action in taking a piece of burning wood from the fire, he looked at Cally, winked, and jerked his head at Avon.

      Cally looked startled, then smiled and nodded.

      When all she could see of Vila and Tarrant was the red flicker of their improvised torches, Cally crossed to kneel beside Avon. She said, gently, "Come on, into the ship, before you go to sleep right here."

      He raised his head very slowly and blinked at her. "Does... it... matter?"

      "You will feel better in the morning. Come on, Avon. You don't want me to have to ask Tarrant to carry you, do you?"

      Avon gave her a dark look. He tried to get to his feet, but had to catch hold of her shoulder to stop himself from falling. When she put her arm around his waist, he did not protest, just leaned heavily against her.

      Dayna appeared out of the dark. Her black skin, lined in red by the firelight, made her seem like a warrior from the far past, but her expression was concerned. "Avon?"

      "He is all right. All that has happened is that his body is finally reacting to the demands he has made on it during the last few days."

      "Do you need help?"

      "No, thank you. I can manage. You'd better wait here for Vila and Tarrant."

      In the dim glow of the emergency permalights, Cally supported Avon into the ship. She steered him into the nearest cabin and settled him onto the bunk, helping him take off his jacket and boots. It was as she was covering him with a thermoblanket that he opened his eyes and looked up at her, his pupils huge and unfocused.

      "Cally?" he whispered

      "Yes. I am here."

      "He's dead, Cally. Blake's dead."

      "Yes, Avon, I know."

      "He's dead... and I'm free of him. Free forever."

      "Yes, you are free. Go to sleep."

      "We... we've... done... perfectly well with... without him."

      "Shhhh. Go to sleep, now."

      "Perfectly well," Avon insisted.

      "Yes. Of course we have."

      "Then why... why...?"

      "Why does it hurt?" Cally sat on the edge of the bunk and gently stroked Avon's cheek with the backs of her fingers. "If they cut off a hand or a leg you would expect it to hurt, wouldn't you, Avon? We were all part of each other: you and I and Blake and Vila and Jenna and Gan. We've lost another part of ourselves today, perhaps the most important part."

      "I wanted to find him..." Avon whispered. "Tell him..." His voice faded away. His eyes, still fixed on Cally's face, closed slowly.

      Cally was still sitting looking down at Avon's face when, a few minutes later, Vila's head poked into the room.

      "Cally?" he asked softly.

      She started rather guiltily then, recovering, smiled. "It's all right. I think it would take an earthquake to wake him."

      Vila came into the room and stood beside Cally, who had risen to her feet.

      "Did you find anything out there?" she asked.

      "No. Isn't that odd?" Vila was grinning.

      "Very. Thank you, Vila."

      Vila shuffled his feet and avoided meeting her eyes. "Didn't do anything. Er... look, Cally, wake me when it's Avon's watch, will you. I wouldn't trust him to watch a stripper in this state."

      "Stripper? No, never mind, Vila. I will stand half of Avon's watch. I did not intend to wake him, anyway. He will be ill, if he pushes himself any harder. As it is, he came close to collapse from lack of sleep and shock."

      "Not to mention being manhandled by Servalan's minions. Well, at least we're rid of her. If it wasn't for the news about Blake, it might almost be worth - oh, damn." Abruptly, Vila spun round and fled the cabin.

      Cally looked down at Avon, thinking: I will also weep for Blake tonight. I wish that you could, Avon, for I think that you miss him most. She sighed.

      You might have left us hope, Servalan. Well, we are revenged, at least. We are revenged.

      

      


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