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One I'd Love

By Willa Shakespeare
Page 1 of 9

Maybe if Avon hadn't been so smug and pristine in his silver tunic and sleek black leather trousers Blake would have been able to ignore his sullen computer tech's latest tirade. After all, he had just saved them all from a lingering, pain-filled death.

Blake was bone-weary and covered with radioactive muck glued sweatily to his bared torso while Avon's aroma was that of supple leather, expensive cologne, and pampered Alpha aristocrat. On top of the nausea caused by the radioactive ore he'd been grubbing while Avon primped, this sweetly poisonous viper was too much for him to stomach.

Normally Avon could see when Blake's sternly suppressed rage was too close to the surface, but he wasn't thinking too clearly either. He was furious with himself for his indecision- either he should have left immediately or he should have gone to Blake's aid much earlier. This way he had nothing, neither the ship, nor the trust of the others. Not that he should care what any of these fools thought. So he attacked Blake, venting his frustration on the most suitable target.

"Enough, Avon!" Blake shouted, interrupting the endless sniping. The object of his roar stepped back and blinked, temporarily shocked speechless by the force of the blast. "Thank you for risking your precious neck to retrieve us from Horizon. Thank you for nobly resisting the urge to abscond with the ship in my absence. And thank you so very much for graciously pointing out my mental deficiencies. Now. If you're quite done we can get on with the job at hand."

Without looking, Avon could sense the others watching, wondering if he and his 'fearless leader' would finally come to blows. Blake was angry enough, and certainly big enough, to smear Avon all over the flight deck in front of the entire crew. A placating word was in order. Unfortunately, Avon didn't feel like giving one. "What job?" he replied, suspicion running through him, stiffening his spine and narrowing his eyes.

"I'll let you know as soon as I get the details worked out." Blake rubbed the back of his neck. His anger ebbed as a throbbing headache began. He didn't need this constant aggravation among his own people- wasn't fighting the Federation enough? He was just plain tired of Avon clawing at him, at them all.

"Will you?" From suspicious to vicious, in the blink of an eye. "I doubt it." Venom dripped. "You don't need anyone's advice. Not Cally's on medical matters, nor Jenna's on handling the ship, and your confidence in me is so gratifying. 'Avon might run,' indeed!"

Blake shrugged. "You took your sweet time coming down. I had hoped for better from you."

"Better? What is your definition of better? Another mindless follower? Haven't you enough of them?" Avon whirled, glaring impartially at the others gathered on the flight deck. Knowing they would support Blake to the death, probably dragging Avon down with them, infuriated him. Under the raking gaze, Gan maintained a dignified silence, while Jenna simply returned the glare, with interest. Cally looked too puzzled by Avon's unwarranted attack to reply to it.

Vila hadn't any dignity, couldn't glare if his life depended on it and never let confusion stop him. "If you feel that way about us, why are you still here?" he asked.

"Why, indeed," Avon muttered. "I should prefer any halfway habitable planetoid to this ship of imbeciles and fanatics."

"Right." Blake grabbed a fistful of silver tunic. "You want out. Fine. You get out. Now." He shoved the slighter man toward the corridor leading to the teleport room. "There's a halfway habitable planet below us. Just what you ordered."

Twisting around, Avon went for his weapon, still holstered at his hip after Blake's rescue. He had his hand on it, but Blake snatched it away, ripping the cord from the powerpack. "Wouldn't you like to arrive at your new home on your feet?" He pushed again, harder, forcing Avon back.

"Blake, you can't," Cally protested. "Avon has done nothing to merit abandonment."

"Hasn't he?" We either stand together against the Federation, or we die. He can stay if he is willing to cooperate with the group. Otherwise, he's more a hindrance to us than to our enemies."

"But- but, you can't leave him here!" Vila said, forgetting his anger at Avon. "I mean - there aren't any cities or any real people, just hairy savages with blow-guns."

Avon's lip lifted in a sneer. "Blake's type, surely. Perhaps he would like to emigrate to Horizon."

"You're not listening," Blake said softly, shaking his head. "Either you swear to act as a loyal member of this crew, in all ways, or you go. It's your choice. I won't have you destroying crew morale any longer."

"Crew morale? What a joke. You want a drooling, yelping pack of hounds to leap when you crack the whip. And lick your boots, grateful for the privilege of serving you. You're no better than Travis. Just another power-mad maniac."

"That's it." Blake's grip on Avon's shoulder tightened and he began frog-marching the struggling computer tech to the teleport. Over his shoulder, Blake growled, "If anyone wants to join him, that's fine by me."

The scuffling and muffled cursing faded away before any of the stunned Liberator crew regained their voices. "Blake means it," Vila said, horrified. He wondered if another thief could get booted off in unfriendly space for not being a gung-ho rebel.

"About time too." Jenna went briskly to the navigation console, studying the panel as if she expected Blake to order an immediate departure.

"Now, Avon's not that bad." Gan looked down at his hands, then spread them helplessly. "He doesn't mean most of what he says."

"I wouldn't bet on that," Jenna replied.

"If he did, we wouldn't be here, now, would we?"

"He needed us."

Cally frowned at Jenna's dismissal of Avon. "And we don't need him?"

"There are other computer techs in the universe- and all of them are a hell of a lot easier to get along with than him."

Vila had the last word. "But Jenna, I was just getting used to him."

Once they were alone in the teleport room, Blake released Avon and went to the teleport panel, his hand hovering over the controls. "You've one last chance."

"Chance? Oh, you mean a chance to bow down before you?" Avon's head lifted with pride. "I would rather 'rule in Hell than serve in Heaven'." He picked up a bracelet and snapped it on his wrist. He backed into position, his eyes never leaving Blake's face. "If I were you, I'd watch my back. Because I'll get off that planet and come for you. Somehow, some day. You can count on that. I keep my promises."

"You'll have a long wait. Even the Federation only sends a supply ship once a year. No one else knows Horizon exists. And it is the only habitable planet in the sector. You won't lack for company, though. There is an active wildlife population. From what Ro tells me, most of them like the taste of human flesh." Blake tossed Avon his confiscated gun. Avon fielded it neatly, but made no move to reconnect to the power. Not much point when Blake already had his weapon aimed directly at Avon's midsection.

"When you arrive, you'd better be prepared to use that," Blake advised.

"Why, thank you. I didn't know you cared."

"Actually, I do. Avon, I wish you hadn't forced me to do this. It's still not too late," Blake urged, his voice mellow and compelling.

"Yes, it is," Avon spat the words out. "Put me down, Blake."

"Remember, you asked for it," Blake's hands pulled levers.

"Perhaps I did," Avon replied, just before the teleport light engulfed him.

"Blake?" Vila looked up when he heard the big rebel's tread, returning slowly to the flight deck. "You were only kidding, right? Avon's just sulking in his cabin, isn't he?"

Blake walked past Vila and stared at the planet on the viewscreen.

Cally left her post and marched around to face him. "You did it. You actually abandoned Avon on that planet." Her mouth firmed. "This is not right, Blake. You must bring him back."

"Oh, yes, certainly." Blake sat down on the flight deck couch and leaned back, casually resting his elbows on the cushioned support. "Once he calls and asks to come back. Not before."

"He will never do that."

"Cally, given the alternatives- a short life on a primitive world against a fighting chance on Liberator - he'll be sensible. Just give him time to unbend that stiff neck of his and he'll realize that I'm right."

Vila approached, nervously wringing his hands. "But what if he doesn't, Blake? I mean... it's not as if I like him or anything like that, but, he's... well, he's Avon. The ship won't be the same without him."

"Less arguing, for one thing," Jenna said coolly.

Gan was unhappy enough to dispute Blake's actions. Despite his respect for his leader, he suspected Blake had not been entirely honest about his motivations. "I know Avon ought to listen to you more, but he's going to resent being forced to leave. Will you be able to trust him if he does come back?"

"When he comes back." Blake scrubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Yes, I believe so. If I can once get his word, Avon will keep it. That's the really infuriating thing about him- he's a man of honor if you can only push him into pledging it."

"You may have pushed him too far." Cally almost understood why Blake had done it, but she found that understanding was not enough. She stalked off the flight deck in a manner more than a little reminiscent of their departed computer expert.

Vila looked at Blake, shook his head, and followed Cally. His parting words were, "It's funny, Blake. He came back for you."

Blake sighed and turned his gaze to the two remaining members of his crew. "I had to do it, don't you see? We need Avon." He held up a hand to forestall Jenna's protest. "You know it and I know it. But we need him fighting with us, not dividing his energies by tearing at us as well as the rest of the universe."

"I don't think you'll have to worry any more about him being mad at the rest of the universe," Gan said with a sigh.

The forest was green with vegetation and buzzing with pollinating insects. Except for those signs of life, Avon was entirely alone. He crouched warily and pivoted, reconnected gun sweeping the area until he confirmed his original impression of uninhabited wilderness. He relaxed slightly and put the gun away. "Blake," he said, staring up at the lone patch of sky visible between the trees, "I have a long memory. You may have occasion to find out just how long."

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