Quest for FireBy Riley Cannon, Cami O'Tool
Page 1 of 9
|One thing about life in the environment controlled domes,
Tarrant decided, at least they didn't have blizzards.
Maybe this snowstorm didn't quite qualify, yet, but it was hardly producing ideal conditions for a trek across Gauda Prime. Especially as it spawned the kind of cold that cut straight to the bone, and was causing his bad leg to ache horribly. He honestly didn't know if he could make it much further.
Stopping to rest against a boulder, Tarrant brushed snow out of his eyes, squinting to catch sight of Avon somewhere up ahead. He'd gone to scout for a place they could make camp for the night, but Tarrant couldn't see him anywhere now.
Hardly any cause for alarm, but the wind and snow created an eerie atmosphere, and somehow he couldn't keep from calling out Avon's name. No answer came back, and he wondered how far Avon may have gone; it was all too easy to lose your sense of direction in a storm like this.
"Avon!" Shifting his backpack, Tarrant started to push off from the rock, felt his leg give out, and grabbed for some support as he pitched forward. He snatched at the boulder, but the ground disappeared beneath him and he tumbled down a ravine, landing on the half-frozen ice of a stream. The ice started to crack, water bubbling out and beginning to soak through his anorak.
* * *
Hearing Tarrant call for him, Avon started back to where he'd left the pilot.
At least they would have better shelter than a tent to ride out this storm; the house he'd found might even have a forgotten store of food to help stretch their supplies, in case the weather took its time clearing and they were longer than expected reaching Vanash. Given the way Tarrant had been favoring his leg the last couple of hours, Avon had a feeling he would welcome the chance to get off his feet awhile.
Surely this was where he'd left the pilot, Avon thought, looking around. "Tarrant? Tarrant!" Where the hell could the idiot have gone?
It was probably futile to look for footprints in this snow, but Avon cast about for some sign all the same, spotting a splash of color amid the white. Reaching for it, he found Tarrant's backpack snagged in the branches of a bush--and at the bottom of the ravine, sprawled on a sheet of ice, was Tarrant.
"Oh marvelous." And how was he meant to get down there to him? Avon wondered, seeing nothing that looked remotely like a path. There had to be a better method of descending than the one Tarrant had found. Avon scanned the embankment, knowing that he better be quick, before the storm got any worse.
He locked on an area to his right. There was something that could be construed as a footpath...if you were a mountain goat. Although Avon supposed this really wasn't any worse than what he had encountered on Horizon. But at least there, none of the others had been incapacitated; if Tarrant were badly injured, or -- But no, he wasn't going to anticipate trouble. Just get down there and deal with whatever he found.
A few more feet... There. He was down and over to Tarrant, kneeling in the snow to carefully pull the pilot out of the stream, checking for a pulse. Even as he felt the steady thrumming, Tarrant's eyes opened to gaze up at him fuzzily.
Who else did he expect? "How do you feel? Is anything broken?"
"I...I don't think so."
Avon was checking the pilot's left leg, the one that had been injured in the Scorpio crash, then broken by Servalan's thugs as a means of gaining cooperation from the pilot and himself, when they were captured. The pain had been so intense, however, Avon recalled--having been forced to watch--that it had worked against the sadists, rendering Tarrant unconscious. Unfortunately, the rebels hadn't had the best medical care available for Tarrant, and his leg had never healed properly. He'd been left with a permanent limp, and experienced intermittent cramping that could leave the young man white-faced and shaking--and didn't do a lot for Avon's composure either.
"I think it's all right," Avon said at last.
Tarrant's smile was wry. "No worse, anyway."
"Do you think you can walk then?"
"I think I'd better try." Tarrant accepted the hand extended to him, leaning a little heavily against Avon. "Where are we going?"
"There's an abandoned farmhouse not far off."
"So what're we waiting for?"
Giving Tarrant an exasperated look, Avon said, "In case it has escaped your attention, we do not have a handy escalator." But he steered Tarrant over to the path he'd found.
In real time, it probably took them only four or five minutes to scramble back to the top, but it felt like hours--pretty much on hands and knees, with Tarrant starting to slide back down at one point before Avon's hand clamped in his coat, muscles straining to hold him still, irrationally praying that the fabric wouldn't rip. Somehow they made it, sprawling in the snow, sweating, and panting for breath.
After a few moments, Avon sat up, rubbing a handful of snow over his face, appreciating the cold. "Do that again," he warned Tarrant, "and you're on your own."
Sounding unimpressed with the threat, Tarrant said, "Why did you come back for me this time?"
Avon chose to ignore the question.
* * *
Yes, Tarrant agreed this was a considerable improvement over spending another night in a tent. It was a little damp and musty, but a fire soon saw to that, making it almost snug and cozy in the main room. Meanwhile, the antique central heating unit was slowly chasing the chill from the rest of the house. Decidedly better than a tent.
From where he was sprawled on a sofa, he glanced into the kitchen area, saying, "It doesn't look like this has been deserted for very long." There was a layer of dust over every surface, but not a very thick one. Avon hadn't found any fresh food, but there was a quantity of pre-packaged meals in one of the cabinets that were judged fit for consumption. "That's an odd thing for a farmer to have, isn't it?"
Putting a couple of the meals in the oven, Avon said, "The popular idea is that farmers live off their land. Perhaps this one was not especially productive. Or," Avon came back into the living room, holding a communicator that he tossed to Tarrant, "perhaps the last residents were not farmers."
Tarrant examined the device. "This isn't Federation issue."
"Then they might check here, when they start looking for us." Tarrant supposed that was no cause for alarm; if they were discovered they could surely fob the rebels off with some explanation. After all, he and Avon were the only ones left who knew what had really happened in Blake's tracking gallery; as far as the rebels were concerned, they were great heroes.
That they had made this attempt to run for it, however, might get some to wondering. And he and Avon might not get a second opportunity.
It wasn't that either of them feared the wrath of the rebels, it was that living a deception had gotten to be too much for them, especially Avon.
In all truth, no matter how often he re-examined his actions, Tarrant couldn't find fault with what he'd done. With flawless hindsight, yes, he could see how there had been things he should have done differently--that was true for just about all of them. But he could also rest easy, knowing malice had played no part in his actions; he'd only been concerned for the welfare of Avon and the others. Maybe he was being over generous with himself, that was always a difficult judgement call, but it seemed to him that his worst sin had been a certain gullibility, or blindness, for not being able to see through Blake's hardcase bounty hunter act. For what it was worth, he always reminded himself that Avon hadn't seen through it either--not until it was too late.
The reason Tarrant's conscience was not wholly at ease, was because of Avon. He was sorry about Blake, but when you got down to it, the rebel had been a stranger to him. Compared to the deaths of Vila, Dayna, and Soolin--people he had known and lived with--the rebel's death had barely touched him. Except by its impact upon Avon.
If it was impossible to undo Gauda Prime, it was possible to get Avon the hell away from this forsaken world.
Well, Avon had helped him, after Deeta's death; it was Tarrant's turn to return the favor. Planning this excursion had put some life back into Avon. The more distance they had put between themselves and the rebels, the more Tarrant had been relieved to see an Avon he recognized again, not the man who had only been going through the motions these last months.
He decided he wasn't about to let the rebels have Avon back; not to be unjustly tried as a hero-killer, nor to be smothered in kindness.
Avon didn't seem particularly concerned, however. "Even if they do think to look here," he said, settling into a deep armchair, "they won't come out until this storm is over. We'll be long gone by then."
"We can't go anywhere until it blows over either," Tarrant pointed out.
"Ah," Avon smiled, "didn't I mention it? There's a flyer in what used to be a barn."
Tarrant sat up a little. "In working condition?"
"But possibly not?"
Shrugging, Avon said, "I should think that, between both of us, it can be made to get us to Vanash at least."
Well, Tarrant sank back down on the cushions, that was the best news he'd had in awhile. Over optimistic perhaps, but if Avon wasn't going to worry about it right now, neither was Tarrant.
"Do you suppose there's a map around here? It could be helpful to know where we are, and how far we have to go."
"I haven't found one yet, but there's probably one stashed somewhere."
Tarrant nodded, noticing the aromas coming in from the kitchen, his stomach growling in response. "Do you think it's ready yet?"
A corner of Avon's mouth twitched, and he got up to go check, coming back with a tray for the pilot. "Is this sufficient to ward off starvation?"
"It's a start," Tarrant said, sitting up and enjoying the novelty of being waited on by Avon. As he dug into his food, he was pleased to see that Avon appeared to have rediscovered his appetite as well. Tarrant used to worry about that, too, that maybe Avon was trying to starve himself to death. But whether it had been by intent, or apathy, the pilot was glad to see that was one more fear he could cross off now. Having something to look forward to at last seemed to be making quite a difference in the tech.
It had taken Tarrant a long time to figure Avon out, and he was still probably clueless about some things, but with all the time spent together with no crew or crisis to distract them, it had been inevitable that they learn a few things about each other. Somewhat surprisingly, a lot of the discoveries had been pleasant ones. After all the games and power plays, it had been rather nice to discover that they might actually like each other. Even with all the macho nonsense, there had always been a certain camaraderie, a mutual respect. Now Tarrant thought it would not be incorrect to say they were friends.
Of course Avon had never said a word that indicated he shared Tarrant's new outlook--and the pilot didn't expect him to. That had been the hardest, and most enlightening, lesson to learn about Avon: that what Avon said, and what he did, were often at variance. Not a new discovery by any means, but before Tarrant had always been stumped as to what to make of the apparent contradictions--where to place the import.
What mattered most, for instance, that Avon had come within a hairsbreadth of shooting him en route to Terminal, or that, earlier, Avon had been equally close to confiding in him? Tarrant was sure of the answer now, but it had taken time, and experience, to come to terms with that and other incidents. He wished it had not taken Gauda Prime to bring it about, but all too often it seemed to him that the old parable (or whatever it had been) was true: that anything that really mattered could only be purchased at great cost.
As far as Tarrant was concerned, he and Avon had purchased a considerable portion of happiness by now. Or, if not happiness, at least something that didn't hurt, that wasn't so much of a struggle. He knew Avon felt a debt was owed, for Blake's death, and that would mean some future action against the Federation... But please, not right this minute.
Right this minute, feeling wonderfully replete and cozy, all Tarrant was inclined to do was snuggle down on the couch and sleep for a couple of years.
* * *
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