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Mourning

By Jean Graham
Page 1 of 1

"She loved you, you know."

Vila's words were the first sound to intrude on Terminal's brittle morning. He sat across the campfire's ashen remains, his breath clouding in the frozen air, and studied Avon's facial non-response to his statement, neither expecting nor receiving a reply.

A short distance away on the snow-patched ground, an injured Tarrant lay sleeping in Dayna's protective embrace, oblivious to a new-formed intimacy they had never shared aboard Liberator. Avon's gaze fell somewhere beyond them. Vila supposed he was watching the sunrise: Terminal's blue-white star had only just begun to thrust cold light above the horizon.

What are you thinking, Avon? It was a question he dared not ask, but one he could easily dare to wonder.

Is there anything human left inside you? Or can you even care thiat one of us died down there, under the rubble of Servalan's trap for you?

Vila kept his back to the hillside, preferring to look anywhere but back at the ruin of the glass shaft-housing, with its shattered, blackened shards pointing skyward.

Cally's tomb.

He shuddered and hugged himself against the unrelenting cold. "She may never have said it," he murmured aloud, suddenly acutely aware of the repressive quiet and of the soft, even breathing of the nearby sleepers. "But I think she..." He'd intended to say more, but let it drop when his companion looked sharply at him, loathing and anguish both stirring in the dark eyes.

"You're a fool," came the quiet assault, but there was more weariness than rancor in the tone.

Vila's eyes glittered in the pale light. "You've known that for years," he said, and smiled wanly as the unbidden memory of another fool's words incited him to add, "Everything and nothing..."

The twig with which Avon had been toying flew outward to clatter against Orac's dusty casing. Though its key was in place, the computer remained grimly silent.

"Nothing, I should think," Avon said.

Vila took that as an accurate assessment of the odds against surviving here much longer. As though to underscore his morbid thought, the ground beneath him trembled with the muffled roar of yet another explosion.

Avon's head came up, but neither man spoke until the tremor and its rumbling echo had subsided.

"When the chain reaction reaches the power core," Vila said without concealing the tremor in his own voice, "what then?"

Avon's reply was dully prosaic. "The planet will implode," he said, and glared toward Orac as though the broken computer were somehow responsible. Vila felt a pang of guilt at that; if he'd been able to get Orac out on time, the electronic pain might just have solved this mess, snatched a passing spaceship from the stars or something and whisked them all away to safety.

Of course, it would still have been too late for Cally.

He hadn't been quick enough to save Cally, either, and that hurt far more than Avon's seeming indifference to her death or his wrath at the damage done to Orac. At least, Vila reflected, he had managed to pull Tarrant free. No doubt, however, Avon found little value in that. A pilot was of no use without a ship to fly.

"I'm sorry," he blurted, and instantly regretted the outburst when Avon's look demanded to know why. He couldn't answer.

Dayna stirred in her sleep, distracting them, and rolled away from Tarrant, who had not moved at all.

Vila wondered morbidly if the pilot were still breathing.

"There was nothing you could have done," Avon said abruptly, startling him. "This was Servalan's doing. Servalan's and..."

He didn't finish, but Vila knew what the final word would have been. Servalan's and mine...

"Doesn' matter." Vila's speech was slurred by the sleepless night. He blew on his fingers to warm them; it scarcely helped. The eastern sky was very blue now, but it hadn't grown any warmer. "It's just that..." he began, and coughed before he could continue. "Well there are some things that just ought to be said before... well before we... you know."

"You're babbling."

Something squealed in the distance -- a link or one of those disgusting plants, Vila decided. Both men glanced in the direction of the sound; both checked to see if Tarrant and Dayna had been awakened by the noise. They had not been.

"All the same though," Vila said as though nothing had intervened, "it ought to be said." He took a breath, exhaling soft white vapor. "I always thought you were a bastard, Avon."

The hooded eyes regarded him calmly in reply, as though to say, 'Well now, surely you've known that for years.' But Avon said nothing.

Vila forced himself to look at the ruined entry shaft and then back at the stone-like figure sitting before him. "She was a good fighter, Cally was." It helped to talk about her, even if Avon did not want to hear. It kept the tears that had come secretly in the night from returning. "Never had a chance with you though, I suppose. You never seemed to notice she was there." Did you notice? Did you ever notice? Sometimes, on the flight deck, when your back was turned, she would watch you, did you know? There was a way she had of looking at you that never touched the rest of us. I saw it, even if you didn't -- or couldn't. "You could always bet Cally would be there for you. For any of us. She cared and she was never afraid to let it show. Not like us."

Avon's gaze, centered somewhere in the firepit's cold ashes, had lost its focus once again. Vila wondered if the tech could even hear him, then decided just as quickly that he really didn't care. "I never met any aliens before Cally," he said. "Never met any since I could say I liked. More human than you, that's what you said about her once. And you know what? You were right."

His companion still said nothing, but Vila scarcely noticed. Avon shutting him out was an all-too-common occurrence. It had never discouraged him from talking in the past, either.

"Gan told me, you know, how she bluffed the port command at Space City; even took pot shots at them until they caved in and demanded that Largo let the lot of you go. She had cheek, our Cally."

The something in the distance shrieked again, and Terminal's cold blue sun crept higher in the eastern sky.

"Did you see her get the drop on Blake that first day on Saurian Major? Well he bested her later, with a cheap trick, but she had him dead to rights up to then." Vila paused, considering. "She had a kind of respect for Blake from then on. Maybe that's what I liked about Cally. She respected people. When Gan's limiter went, she had compassion for him even though he attacked her. She built a trust with Jenna right off, and we both know how hard that was to do. A friend to Tarrant despite all his failings, and a mentor to Dayna. And me... me she tolerated, if I want to be honest just once in my life. But it was a nice sort of tolerated."

The chill bit through his clothing to trigger a violent shiver. Vila hugged himself tighter and wished for one of Liberator's thermal suits.

"I'm freezing," he said, and struggled awkwardly to his feet. "There must be something else on this miserable hillside that will burn."

Avon offered no objection when the thief stooped to retrieve the Federation blaster from the ground at Orac's side. Vila tucked the weapon securely beneath his arm, thinking that there'd be little point, after all, in being eaten by a link before the planet itself could swallow him, though right now either option seemed better than freezing to death.

He lingered a moment over Orac, and without warning, his right foot lashed out to deal the silent computer a swift but inobtrusive kick. He'd wanted to do that since the day Blake had first brought the egomaniacal little brain back from Aristo. And ever since it had tried to possess and use Cally to take over the whole bloody universe.

The blow was cathartic for more than his anger toward Orac, however. It had also served to express his contempt for a thing he couldn't name -- the indefinable something that had long been missing from Avon's soul.

"She loved you, you know," he repeated.

When the statue beneath him failed to stir, Vila turned and tramped away across the icy ground toward a stand of matted thorns. There might be some of them dry enough to burn...

Perhaps because the morning was so deathly still, or possibly because a thief acquired hearing skills beyond those of most men, the words he had almost certainly not been intended to hear reached Vila's ears just the same.

Though Avon spoke without inflection, his utterance betrayed, to the departing listener, a lifelong and desolate emptiness.

"I know," he said.
 
 


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