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By Louise Rutter
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Chesku walked determinedly across the entrance hall, his footsteps sounding loudly on the expanse of polished wooden flooring. He loved this old-fashioned style of understated wealth and elegance: it gave such a sense of timelessness. Sula hated it, of course: she would have preferred the latest in modern practicality, totally functional and soulless. Sometimes he wondered if she really did detest their house as much as she claimed, or if she merely chose to disagree with him on principle.

He followed the floating, melodic sound of the piano towards the music room, relieved to have found his wife at home. Given her professed dislike of his taste in furnishings, he found it impossible to understand her obsession with such a ridiculously antiquated (and expensive) instrument. If she must devote so much time to music, there were far more reasonable alternatives.

Beautiful as a work of art, the piano was hardly practical. Yet despite his rapid disillusionment with her, he tended to acquiesce to most of Sula's material demands - it made her a marginally more bearable companion to live with.

Reaching out towards the door control, he hesitated, certain that his interruption would only worsen his reception. Still, the news that he carried would have a great deal of effect on both of their lives, so she would have to accept his intrusion. The door, covered in fake wooden panelling, slid back with a faint hum as he depressed the button, revealing the slight figure of his wife, seated at the piano in a light, spacious and otherwise empty room.

She did not look up as the door drew back, nor did she cease playing. Chesku waited a few moments, then sighed as he realised that she would ignore him unless he forced her to acknowledge him. He kept a strong grasp on his earlier enthusiasm, resolutely refusing to let her dampen his mood.

"I have some important news for you, Sula."

There was no reply, but at least she had stopped that irritating music.

"President Servalan has confirmed that I am to have a position on her High Council."

She turned to look at him now, the bitterness triggered by his joy reflected in her whole bearing. "If Servalan wants you as a High Councillor, it proves only that you are too weak ever to oppose her. Madam President has a habit of surrounding herself with gutless sycophants."

The open hatred in her tone startled him, even though he had expected an unenthusiastic response. "But Sula, don't you see what this will mean to us, in terms of..."

"It means that you will be truly thrilled sitting in meetings with a lot of other boring old men, agreeing the merits of Servalan's policies, and that I will have more time without you. Now, since you have delivered your message, perhaps you will leave me in peace."

He stared at her for a few more seconds, biting back his retort. He had no intention of getting into another argument with this derisive vixen that he had so mistakenly married. He turned on his heel and left.

With the quiet click as the door closed, Sula relaxed and leaned gently against the piano, caressing the ivory keys softly with one hand. The skill and dedication that it took to master the instrument appealed to that part of her which sought perfection. I must be more careful to control my anger, she thought, reflecting on her existence and deriding herself for this outburst, this failure. I cannot afford to drive him away yet. I need him.

She had married Chesku out of fear for her life. If Central ever suspected that she had withheld information from them, that she had covered for Avon and let him go, she would need the protection of someone influential. The politician Chesku had had the right connections, and he had desired her for some time. It had been easy enough to ensnare him. Now, with each passing month she found him more insufferable.

Damn you, Avon! she thought in another brief flash of anger. How could I have been so stupid? Things would be so different now if I hadn't been so careless as to fall for you... The anger faded as she remembered the turmoil of her life at the time. It had seemed in the end that there was no decision to be made - she had only one choice. She could not have gone with him, she knew that. Alone, Avon had a chance to vanish despite the knowledge Security already had, but Central would never have let Bartolomew go - they would have traced her eventually. If she had gone with him, they would both have died. So she had had to make him leave without her, and the only way to do that had been to convince him that she was dead. And that would also have hurt Del so badly...

Oh Avon, my love, she wondered, will I always go on like this, hiding because of what I did for you? Hiding behind Chesku in case Central ever guess that I lied for you, hiding from you.... Can I ever retrieve my life from this mess?

Chesku's news only made her situation more difficult, for she knew now that her safety was compromised yet again. Servalan's Presidency was dangerously unstable: there had been several uprisings already, one of which had come perilously close to success. With Servalan herself spending far too much time roaming the galaxy on mysterious unstated errands, she would eventually be deposed. And when the President went, a recently-appointed High Councillor known to be loyal to her personally would be removed as well, along with his wife.

There was no way that she could prevent Chesku from accepting the promotion.

He acceded graciously to many of her demands, but his ambition allowed no interference in his political life. She had to free herself from Chesku quickly. But then where would she go?

She rested her elbows on the keys, steepling her fingers and allowing her thoughts to run free. Somewhere there was a way out of this trap she had built for herself, a solution that would finally release her from her past.

When the idea first occurred to her, she dismissed it and continued her search for a less risky alternative. Later she returned to it, beginning to ponder the possibilities. The Presidency... The one certain way to gain enough personal power to protect herself. She had no loyalty from the military as Servalan had had to aid her takeover, but she was certain that she could ingratiate herself with one of the remaining rebel groups. They would be competent enough once they had an insider to organise and plan for them, and later she could seize control in such a way that only a small number would realise how little had changed. The enlightened few who objected to her leadership could be executed as traitors to the rebellion while she consolidated her position. It could be done, given a little strategic planning.

One major problem was likely to be Chesku - as soon as her plan was initiated, he would turn against her, so he would have to be dispatched when she made her first move. She regretted the necessity - she could not like this tedious, rather gullible man, but she could pity him. Yet her pity would not make her hesitate: It is your life or mine, my husband, and I want my life back! I will not let you stand in my way, I will not hide again!

She smiled slightly as she realised that her involvement with Avon, which had disrupted her life so severely, was now leading her to the Presidency. And he could assist her in keeping it. It seemed that she had a second chance to free him, and this time it would work to her benefit. The rebels would accept her control more easily if among her first acts she guaranteed safety for Avon and his associates. You will not fight if you are no longer hunted, my love. I know that. Once the pursuit stops, you will leave my Federation in peace. She understood Avon's pragmatism well enough to be sure that he would not risk his life battling against a government which had no interest in him, no matter what its morality. He had never been political, and not even Blake, the great orator, could have converted him. Yet she was uncertain just how much of a threat he would pose to her personally. Would he try to kill her if he discovered the truth? The Avon that she had known could not have done so, but the life he had been leading hardened people, even survivors like herself and Avon. And what would her reaction be if he found her? She considered that she could probably avoid the need to kill him; she had always been able to convince him of her innocence in the past.

The scenario was irrelevant - she was Sula now, and he must never be allowed to track her down. It was not uncommon for Presidents to keep out of the public eye for fear of assassination; Servalan in particular had taken care never to be seen in an open viscast. There were so few left now who knew of her past, and the downfall of Servalan and her associates would finish it. Bartolomew would never have existed.

Anna would finally be dead.

Sula tore herself away from this unproductive line of thought, one hand gently closing the lid over the row of glistening keys. The Presidential mansion, she mused, would be rather less irritating once it belonged to her. It was an impressive sight, with those huge expanses of lawn and trees - it was so rare now to be able to see such things. It would all be hers.

And then I will release you, Avon, one more time, and I will finally be free of you.

If this plan were to succeed, it would have to be carried out quickly, before someone else toppled Servalan's regime. The main difficulty, she knew, would lie in contacting the rebels and convincing them of her belief in their Cause. The supply of information she could give, gleaned from her husband and her past work with Central, would soon show her to be invaluable. The rebels were unlikely to have any inside agents in such a privileged position, with knowledge of many of Servalan's movements. That, together with her grasp of military tactics, would probably be enough for her to gain acceptance as leader of the operation. If not, she could always rely on her ability as a seductress. The most important factor in the plan would be to capture Servalan before she had time to disappear, which meant a rapid attack in a location where she would be totally confident of her security...

Sula's trained mind slipped easily into a web of calculated possibilities as she swept from the room, her footsteps echoing in the emptiness.

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Louise Rutter

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