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By Marian Mendez
Page 3 of 7

Avon woke. Alarmed, he checked the Liberator's status and the chronometer. He'd only slept for some ten minutes, but disaster could have struck in far less. He relaxed when he found that everything was under control. Still on schedule and course. His mind was drawn back to the dream, vivid as day despite its brevity. Damn Blake. He couldn't shut his eyes without the man leaping out at him, begging for his help.

Help? That was a laugh. He was having enough difficulty handling the crew and running a hopeless revolution, without aiding an overgrown naive child. Maybe, though, if this message wasn't a trap, he might get some help for himself. All that time he'd been supporting Blake, he hadn't realized that he'd been leaning on him as well. A healthy dose of Blake's simple- minded certainty would settle his nerves.

He'd gladly give Blake the pleasure of cutting Tarrant down to size. He was damn tired of being leader; father figure to Dayna, guardian to Vila, commanding officer to Tarrant and Cally... well, Cally was the one bright spot in this dismal picture. She didn't expect him to be anything other than Avon. He would have liked being something more to her, but he didn't dare. She was in his dreams too often. He'd warned her about the mountain, but she refused to be influenced by his dream. She was not willing to give up her fight against the Federation and he seemed stuck with it himself. Well, he'd rescue Blake and get this mysterious something which was supposed to make them all wealthy. He didn't object to wealth, but, knowing Blake, most of the profits would be siphoned off to fuel the revolution.

He settled back onto the flight deck couch. He was determined not to sleep, only to rest his eyes a moment, but it had been nearly thirty hours since his last semi-successful struggle with insomnia.

Avon woke. He was back on watch again; this time squatting in trampled slush and congealed mud in a bitterly cold wilderness. There was a brushfire in an improvised rockpit before him. He fed the thin flames from the brittle shrubbery piled at his side. It wasn't much of a blaze; taking little of the chill from him, but it did provide sufficient illumination for him to study his dormant companions. Orac was dark and silent, with an improvised probe lying in the damaged micro-circuitry attesting to Avon's repair attempts. His human companions were, for a change, refreshingly silent as well, sleeping huddled together on the bare ground. Vila and Dayna looked well enough. Tarrant appeared a bit ragged around the edges, which Avon hoped would subdue the young man's excessive enthusiasm for action- for a time, at least. Where was Cally?

Oh, Cally. He remembered now. His dream had caught up to Cally, and Liberator, too.

Cally was gone. Beyond the grief which he refused to acknowledge was a selfish fear for his sanity. It had been hard enough without Blake- but no Cally for him either? He shivered and reflexively tossed more twigs onto the fire, even though no physical combustion could melt the ice presently forming around his heart. He'd killed Cally, and Liberator in the bargain, while hunting Blake. Blake didn't give a damn about any of them or he'd have contacted them. In all these months, was he supposed to believe that an engineer had never found any communications device capable of contacting Zen or Orac?

Avon curled up, clutching his weapon to his chest. Blake had abandoned them, gone to play hero on a broader stage with a more appreciative audience. He hadn't even the courtesy to say good-bye. Well, who needed Blake, anyway? Once they got off this botched experiment of a world Avon would run the revolution his own way. He arranged his limbs as comfortably as possible. None of his dreams had showed his crew being dismembered by links, so he felt safe enough to rest. He was quite sure that whatever sent his nightmare wouldn't have overlooked such a bloody scenario- it was only the rare pleasant times that came as a surprise to Avon.


Avon woke. He recognized Scorpio's flight deck and wondered where they were headed. He shifted, trying for an unobtrusive glimpse at the navigation console. Vila looked back at him with a cold, unfriendly gaze, then resumed watch on his monitor panel. The thief's sullenness brought Avon up to date. That and the general air of defeat in Scorpio's much recycled air.

Two names came to him, Zukan and Malodaar. They spoke volumes about his rapidly failing faculties. Once, he would have known better than to trust a proven megalomaniac, before his mental degeneration had proceeded to this point. He'd been trying to convince himself that he didn't need Blake. Still trying to avoid playing out that last, worst, dream - the one with Blake lying dead and bloody at his feet.

So he'd allowed Zukan to destroy his petty refuge, his ridiculous alliance, and the feeble vestige of faith that his crew had in him. They only remained because they'd acquired too many enemies to survive separately. Tarrant wasn't up to passing judgment on him at present- the loss of Zeeona was still a fresh wound that bled away much of his emotional energy, but why did the others say nothing? Couldn't they tell that he was unable to take care of himself, let alone them? It might have been, Avon admitted, that they did know the truth. They'd learned from him the art of ignoring unpleasant facts, to plod onward to the next attempt at making everything all right.

But this would be the final attempt. Avon had done everything he could to fight it, but he had come at the last to accept his destiny. It was regrettable that the others were entangled in his web of fate, but, like Blake and him, their deaths were linked. No point in struggling any longer, that simply made it worse. When Zeeona died, Avon had understood. She saw an unacceptable life ahead, filled with remorse for her father's murders,and rejected that life, ending it cleanly. Avon should have gone in her stead, but that was not the way his dream ended. Play the game according to the rules, without cheating. That would be dishonorable.

Dishonor. Avon stared bleakly at the back of Vila's head. Malodaar had been the most dishonorable thing he'd ever done, the most blatant proof that he'd reached the end of his rope. How could he have accepted Orac's advice to sacrifice Vila to save himself? Why couldn't he think rationally? If he had asked Orac what was different about the shuttle from the previous trip, when it made orbit without difficulty, then the computer might have directed him to Egrorian's trap. There were dozens of ways, now that he had time to think, to have saved them both without ever threatening Vila, without ever alienating his trusting fool.

Now he led his crew on their ultimate journey. Piecing together the dream fragments, it seemed at least a quick ending for all of them.

He could grant them one last mercy. He'd let them think that they still had a chance. That Blake, the miracle worker, could take their tattered lives and reweave them into bold successful warriors, or in Vila's case, a whining, successful thief. It was a comforting thought. He would have liked to believe it himself, that he was going to return loyally to Blake's revolution with these poor deluded fools who insisted on following Avon, to no profit, even against the highly-developed self- preservation instincts of Vila and Soolin. He closed his eyes. They'd reach Gauda Prime soon enough, and then he could rest all he needed- forever.

Avon woke. He was encircled by black garbed, helmeted men as anonymous as ants. He was standing over Blake, staring down at the still face. Avon's crew was already down. Blake was dead, by Avon's own hand. The game was finished. He smiled in relief- one last move and he could turn out the lights and go to sleep. Without, he fervently wished, dreaming.

He lifted his weapon.

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Marian Mendez

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