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Rogues

By Teri White
Page 1 of 4

Don't let the sun go down on me:
Although I've searched myself,
It's always someone else I see
Losing everything is like the sun
Going down on me.

John / Taupin

Well, Tarrant had been quite right.

Everyone had to be, sooner or later it seemed. Even Tarrant.

"You're not a good enough pilot!"

"How good does one have to be to crash land?"

Famous last words.

Not quite last words, as it happened, of course. Otherwise, he would not find himself pinned here like this in the wreckage of the Scorpio reflecting on that final conversation. As well as berating himself for a act of supreme stupidity that surpassed anything even Vila might have done.

It was all too obvious, at least in retrospect, that what he should have done was grab Orac himself and teleported down, leaving the hotshot pilot to cope as best he could with an out-of-control vessel plunging toward the hell planet known as Gauda Prime.

Kerr Avon could not explain even (or perhaps especially) to himself why, instead of doing the logical thing, he had forced Orac into Tarrant's reluctant arms and teleported him to safety rather than going himself.

It was not one of the cleverest moves he had ever made. It seemed, in gloomy reflection, almost Noble, and how he despised that word and all that it signified.

There had to have been some more rational explanation for his blatantly uncharacteristic behavior, and someday he would have to think about that. But not now.

At the moment, there were other, more immediate problems to consider. Primary amongst them was the question of just how he was going to extricate himself from this rubble and be about his business. It was rather bewildering that although he could see the two heavy slabs that his legs were pinned between, he could not feel any pain or pressure.

Or anything else, actually.

Oh, his head was pounding, certainly. And one arm felt as if it might be broken, or badly sprained any rate. But there was no pain in his legs.

That was worrying.

He heard some sort of low-flying skimmer pass overhead and ducked automatically. A few stray shots pinged and dinged around him, but he had the feeling that they were not actually intended for him. Still, he groped for his blaster and held onto it with his one good hand, just in case.

He wondered, idly, if the others were anywhere nearby.

They would assume he was dead, probably, and that was just as well. He would be free of the responsibility, and they would be free from the effects of his madness. If madness it was, and of late he felt fairly convinced of that.

For all that the various members of his recent crew considered themselves clever and able to cope with what life and the Federation threw at them, Avon had found it absurdly easy to mislead them for the last two years. They ascribed any number of motives to the actions he took, most of them fairly venal, none of which did he choose to dispute.

Revolution.

Riches.

Revenge.

Insanity.

Whatever they wanted to believe suited him, as long as they were useful.

Not once, however, did they even come close to the truth. And it was so simple. So obvious. So painfully trite.

He was looking for Blake. It was that uncomplicated and yet he didn't even understand it himself.

"I have always trusted you, Avon, from the very beginning."

He was sometimes given to wonder if the bastard had truly known what he was doing when he uttered those fateful and ultimately dreadful words. Did Blake have any idea at all that he might as well have bound Avon to him with chains forged of Alborian steel?

How could one help but hate the person who trusted him so?

So, for two years Avon had tried to find Blake. He raced around a hostile galaxy; he manipulated and maneuvered; he did whatever had to be done in pursuit of his goal. That included lying to his crew.

The most recent lie concerned just how long he had known where Blake was.

"Long enough," was the off-handed reply to the pointed question.

"Since before Zukan?"

"Oh, yes."

Lies.

The message had come in only hours earlier. Not even a message, really. Just one word: Avon. He knew immediately who had transmitted his name. Immediately, he put Orac to work tracing the source of the signal. Within minutes of discovering where Blake was, Avon had the ship heading for Gauda Prime.

But he lied and they believed him. As usual.

His plan was set into motion and the end of his quest seemed to be, at last, in sight. But as they neared the planet, the ship was attacked and everything fell apart with unbelievable swiftness. Then he was stricken by that sudden bout of nobility or whatever the hell it had been.

He'd been so close to his goal and now he would probably never find Blake at all. Blake would never even know that he'd been looking. Avon leaned his head back against the rubble and closed his eyes, not wanting to feel the pain that was threatening to shatter something deep inside his being.

One more perfect Kerr Avon plan had crumbled to dust in his hands. There would be no way of knowing how things might have gone had he been smart and teleported himself down. Then Tarrant would be the one trapped here in a crashed ship.

Damn.

A sudden noise startled him, and he jerked into wakefulness, the blaster lifting automatically. "Step out here where I can see you," he said. "One wrong move and I shall certainly kill you."

"I'd really rather you didn't, Avon. After all this time, it would be rather anti-climactic, don't you think?" His heart twisted at the sound of the unmistakable voice. "Blake," he whispered.

"Quite." He stepped from the shadows.

Avon blinked. He was glad that he'd heard Blake speak before seeing the bedraggled, filthy figure that appeared in front of him. Otherwise, he might well have shot first and asked questions later. This man looked very little like the Blake he had last seen on the Liberator after Star One. "Blake," he said again. "It is you."

"Yes, Avon."

He gave a long sigh. "At last."

"I was beginning to wonder," Blake said, "just how bloody long it was going to take you to find me."

Avon frowned. "You have done very little to make the task easier."

Blake came closer and crouched beside him. "Admittedly, but there were reasons for that."

"I'd be fascinated to hear them."

"And so you shall. In time." Blake glanced around with nervous, darting eyes. "But this is probably not the most advantageous time or place to discuss them."

"Probably." Avon gazed at him. "So you are a bounty hunter, then?"

"I am many things," Blake evaded.

"Indeed." He was silent for a moment. "Some people might believe that you have betrayed the precious cause."

"I suppose some might think that." Blake's eyes were as open and obvious as they had ever been. "Not anyone who trusted me, of course."

"Of course." Avon narrowed his eyes. "Is there anyone in the galaxy who does?"

"Probably not," Blake said with a grin that was very much of the man he had known. "Except you, of course."

"Hmm."

"Your very presence here more or less proves that, I should think," Blake pointed out.

Avon didn't say anything.

"Well, enough of this," Blake went on briskly. "I had best see about getting you out of this mess."

"I would appreciate any effort in that direction," Avon admitted.

Blake nodded. He stood and began to throw the pieces of debris aside with seeming ease, until the area around Avon was cleared of everything except the two massive slabs that had him pinned. He knelt again, frowning, and touched Avon's shoulder lightly. "That must be very painful."

After a moment, Avon shook his head. "The truth is," he whispered, "I can not feel anything at all below the waist." He angled a look at Blake. "I cannot imagine that bodes well."

Blake's frown deepened and his fingers wandered, seemingly of their own accord, to Avon's cheek. "Well, we might as well be about it." He stood and began, slowly, to shove one of the slabs aside. Even with his full weight behind it, the slab moved only a little at first. Blake's breath became strained and his face contorted. Finally, finally, the slab shifted and then fell over with a dust-raising crash.

At that moment, Avon felt the first pain, a knife-like stabbing in his spine, and then he passed out.

* * *


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