11th Story of Perceptions
Sequel to A Difference of Visions
Introduction: What prompted Avon's drastic step?
Note: Thanks to jaxomsride for the great beta.
Argus stood like a stone sentinel by Avon's side; his arms crossed over his chest, an intimidating creature knotted with muscles. His lips curling back when anyone approached, baring what to the imagination of some, seemed to be fangs. He watched carefully as Avalon's rebels brought in a stretcher for Avon.
Cally refused to budge from Avon's other side, her hand seemed to be welded to his. The fierce intensity in her eyes, like a mother protecting her offspring, made them back off. She said, "I am not letting go of him." It was clear that any attempt to separate them might result in a few broken limbs and some missing teeth, if they were lucky.
The rebels looked nervously at her and the stony-looking Argus, who had earlier thrust men aside like rag dolls, and gulped before frantically looking for Avalon.
Vila, who was also standing nearby, didn't look very intimidating but there was fierce determination in his eyes. You could almost imagine that, as a thief, there might be a thin-bladed knife or two concealed, that would come out flashing if anyone were to do Avon any more harm.
It didn't matter that there was a contingent of rebel guards complete with energy weapons nearby. They didn't seem nearly enough to protect them from these three. Noticing that the situation at their corner of the room had become even tenser than before, Avalon came over. "Let his friends accompany him."
From his height, Argus stared down at her. His voice was low, taut and demanding, "No more barriers. No energy screens. We will see him without any obstructions, Avalon."
"Agreed. But I must ask that you give your weapons and teleport bracelets to my people. You will get them back, after you visit Avon."
Argus's lips parted in a snarl. "So it's going to be like that?" He slowly unbuckled his holster and handed it to a nearby rebel. The others did the same. "No more trust, Avalon?" Teleport bracelets were unclasped and given up.
One of the rebels said apprehensively to Argus, "Your knife, sir."
Argus flashed him a hard look and the man nearly fell backwards. A half-snarl, half-smile appeared on Argus's face. He lifted his hand and the knife appeared as if by magic, its matte-black finish absorbing all light that touched its blade. Argus flipped it negligently and handed it hilt first to the man who was almost afraid to touch it. "Anything else?" asked Argus, his acid voice almost made Avalon wince.
"No. I'm sorry, Argus but it has to be this way." She tried to sound compassionate. "I will give you as much time as you need with him."
Argus was unmoved. "Until you kill him tomorrow."
"Justice has to be served," she said unrepentantly.
The rebels moved off with Avon. Argus and Avalon continued to talk as they all followed.
Argus said in a frigid voice, "It's not justice that is being served."
Avalon said, "I know that you don't want to believe it of Avon, even though he confessed. I understand. He's your friend."
Argus abruptly stood still and faced her, a low growl forming at the back of his throat. "This is not about justice, Avalon and you know it. It's about sacrificing Avon so that you can build yourself a united alliance. But I have news for you. It will not work and you would have used up Avon for nothing. These factions are too far apart. They fight each other more than they fight the Federation. Not even Blake's memory will fix that."
There was a stubborn set to Avalon's face. "I have to try."
"Yes, what is the sacrifice of one more life, as long as it's for a good reason?" Argus's words were caustic, burning Avalon's ears with their sarcasm. "Your justice isn't about doing the right thing. It's about doing the expedient thing. Avon thought me a fool for believing that you would give him a fair trial. He said that there are many definitions of 'fair'. He was right. I should have asked what your definition was."
Argus turned his back on Avalon and caught up with the others. Avalon stared after him.
Avon lay on the stretcher, the steady, coordinated steps of the men, gently rocking him to a more relaxed state. Cally warm hand rested on his chest and the other one held his hand. The soft sadness in her voice as she spoke comforting words to him and the warmth of her touch helped drain away some of the tension of the trial.
They had barely spoken of what happened yet. That would wait until they were alone.
He wished he were strong enough to reach up and wipe the tears that he knew she had shed for him. He had been having many strange thoughts. Melancholic. It wasn't that he wasn't capable of them on the rare occasion, when it was warranted. Such as that day in the cellar with Anna, but he rarely gave them much thought or attention.
The half-dose of Shade, which he had been injected with prior to the trial, made his head feel strangely disconnected. There was a struggle inside him, ever since Jenna had visited him the previous night. Between his mind and the heart that refused to be ignored any longer.
How could he explain what he had done and why?
To Cally, he owed his life. To Blake, he owed his death. It was a tension that was tearing him apart.
The night before.
The half-dose of Shade was putting Avon in an odd mood, at least that was what he had determined. Ever since Cally, Argus and Vila had been allowed to visit him, Avon had accepted the help of the kindly sounding doctor. Not that he trusted Gamboa, but he believed that the man had been asked to heal him enough so that he could stand trial.
The doctor had agreed to reduce the dosage of Shade to half. It meant that Avon would experience the pangs of withdrawal but to a much lesser extent. Most importantly of all, it allowed his mind to think.
Without the benefit of sight, Avon focussed on the sounds. The warmth of Cally's voice as she spoke to him from beyond the barrier, like a fire that he could seek refuge in when the cold of his situation threatened to overwhelm him.
A scuffle signalled the entrance of another person. It wasn't Gamboa. The man wore soft-soled shoes that made a brushing sound. It wasn’t one of the guards Avon knew were present in the room. He could hear them breathing and they had not moved.
The footsteps approached his bed. A woman spoke his name formally, as if she was identifying him. "Avon."
He recognized this voice. "Avalon."
"I trust you are feeling better?"
"I will be conscious...for the execution."
"You insist on making this unpleasant."
"You surprise me."
"Very well," said Avalon. "We will skip the pleasantries. Jenna wants to see you."
"Are you asking my permission or issuing a threat?"
"Don't forget where you are," said Avalon in warning.
"How could I forget what I cannot see?"
For a moment, Avalon seemed to be at a loss for words at his sharp reminder. "I regret what was done to you, Avon. I never intended that to happen, but I don't expect you to believe me. It's up to you whether you wish to see Jenna. We can use the barriered room. That way, she will have no access to you."
"I will see her."
Bound to a chair in order to keep him upright, Avon sat in the room, waiting for the woman who wanted him dead.
Booted footsteps announced his visitor but there was no other sound. Avon could imagine Jenna's hate-filled face looking at him, trying to find a way to break through the tempered glass and the energy screen, in order to strangle him or slip a knife between his ribs.
Without his eyes, he was at a disadvantage. He needed her to make the first move.
Avon didn’t know if it had been seconds, or if it only felt like minutes, but Jenna finally spoke. "I know what happened on Gauda Prime."
Avon asked in surprise, "How?"
Jenna's voice was hoarse. “I saw the security logs."
"I see." To his hypersensitive ears, she sounded different. What is she planning?
"You…both of you were fools,” Jenna said with anguish. “If just one of you had stopped to think. He needed you. Couldn't you see that? He couldn't even answer a simple question anymore. There was something wrong with him."
Avon finally realized what had changed. He could no longer hear the naked hatred in her voice. He said guardedly, "He was always evasive when he wanted to hide something…or so I thought."
"You were wrong that day. Your paranoia and his…I don't know…When I saw the recordings of what happened. He was…the things he said, what he did, didn’t make any sense. It was almost as if he was…"
"On the edge of madness?"
There was anger, pain and confusion in Jenna's voice. A need to make sense of the inexplicable events of that day. Avon understood this only too well. "You don't want to believe it."
The conversation brought up the nightmares again. Blake's bleeding body, the look in his eyes, and his incomprehensible answers. All of the circumstances of fate appeared before Avon, along with his anger that day. The agony of being betrayed and the refusal to play the fool again. The feelings of hurt and betrayal, love and anger, sprang up from their twisted relationship and had prompted stiff fingers to pull the trigger.
They had both felt the pain and shock of that act. They could not have the kind of relationship they had, and not have it go wrong.
"He wasn't listening to you, he wasn't really seeing you. And you weren't either. What happened to you, Avon?"
"I…" The memories of Gauda Prime were bathed in confusion for Avon. Servalan's manipulations, her version of what happened, mixed with his own imperfect recollections, warped by a mind that didn't want to believe the horror of what had happened. "It makes no sense to me."
Jenna said, "I don't even understand Vila. Why didn't he say something? Why didn't he try to stop you? Were you all mad?"
Jenna said, "Neither one of you was perfect. You all made mistakes. But did you all have to make them at the same time?"
She could not forget the images from the security logs. The anger on Avon’s face and the pain when he thought that Blake had betrayed him. The shock of the shooting. The shock on both their faces. Then Avon standing guard over Blake’s body at the end even as the Federation troops surrounded him. It had shaken her image of the cold-hearted machine. "The recordings black out just when the guards surrounded you. I could only hear shots after that. What happened?”
Avon had a flash of anger at the mention of his greatest enemy. “It was Servalan. Her personal troops came in and killed the Federation ones. Then…she came in.”
Avon remembered himself sprawled over Blake’s body. Dying. Then Servalan’s voice over him. "Avon. Fancy meeting you here." Avon’s jaw tightened at the remembrance.
Jenna said with anger, “Servalan.”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
Jenna said, "I…wanted to continue hating you."
"It would have been simpler," said Avon.
"I don't understand what happened but I know you didn't mean to kill Blake. It was all…a terrible misunderstanding. You both needed help. I see it now. Cally tried to tell me, that you must have been hurt by the Federation just as Blake had been. That's why you found it hard to trust anyone."
"I did kill him," said Avon, sounding like a man accepting responsibility for his actions and refusing to be deterred from it.
Jenna felt sick to her stomach, guilt was eating away at her. Avon was facing his. What was she doing?
She had betrayed the trust of her friends. She was responsible for a great crime that harmed many people. And...what she had done to Avon. His eyes. His pain. Separating him from Cally. Forcing him to admit to something he didn't do.
The walls of deception and betrayal came crashing in on her. If Avon was guilty, then she was even more guilty. How many lives had she destroyed in her need for vengeance?
What had she done? What had she become?
Jenna couldn't even face herself. She had to make this right somehow.
"I’m sorry, Avon. I should never have done this to you. I should never have tried to force you to confess to something you didn't do. I wanted to believe all kinds of things about you. I wanted to blame you for everything. To see you as evil, but…the truth is, I was trying to push my own guilt on you. I...left Blake several months before Gauda Prime. Blake..." It hurt to remember the truth about Blake and herself. "...he wouldn't stop. There was too much blood. Too many good people died and it was all pointless. So I...left him. And then later, when I heard that he had died on Gauda Prime and that you had killed him..."
Avon cocked his head in thought. "You blamed yourself?"
Jenna's voice was choked. "Y-es." The tears from the previous night started flowing again. "I was wrong, Avon. I should have never left him and I should never have tried to take out my guilt on you. I crossed the line. What I did to you was unforgivable. I can't expect you to ever forgive me. I know that no matter what I do, I can never make it up to you. I wouldn't blame you if you demanded my eyes or my life in return for ruining yours. I owe you, Avon. If there is anything you want or need from me, just ask it."
Avon's voice flattened. "That may be, but it does not change the fact that I'm the one who killed Blake."
His words made Jenna feel even worse. "I'm a hypocrite, Avon. I held you responsible for Blake's death and I tried to turn everyone against you. But the truth is...I have done even worse things. I'm the one responsible for what happened to Rane. He was my friend and I used him and betrayed his trust in me. I am the one who made it possible for the rapid spread of Shade on Athol. I...needed their resources to use against you. I deserve to be killed for what I've done, not you." The guilt was suffocating her as she poured it out. Tears washed her face but it would never be enough to cleanse her guilt.
"Then we both have a debt to repay."
Jenna said, "Cally suggested something. You can carry out Blake's dream, make it a reality. Destroy the Federation and build a better one. That would be better payment for Blake's death. For my part, I will start by showing the recordings tomorrow. I will tell them that you do not deserve to be killed." An unpleasant thought came to her. Her voice was a whisper. "They're going to see him, Avon. They will see what became of him..."
Avon's mind had been racing since he heard that Jenna had seen the security logs from the bounty hunter base and this thought had already occurred to him. His mind was acting on the information and its ramifications. Finding patterns and optimal solutions. Truths unfolded along with the lies. There was a great struggle going on inside him because his rational mind told him that there was something that needed to be done and something that had to be avoided at all costs. But something deep inside him rebelled at the thought. There was a decision he had to make that he did not want to. It hurt too much and it would hurt someone that he cared about deeply.
Cally. He did not want to do this, but he had no choice. It was something she was fighting for too. She and Blake had shared that vision in common. This would be for her too, even though she would not be able to accept it emotionally. Sentiment would prevent her from seeing that this had to be done.
I...don't want to do this, Cally. Breathing was becoming difficult. It was as if his body was fighting too. The two parts of himself warring with each other, the rational and the irrational. But I must. He focussed his mind and pushed down the pain, he could not allow the sentiment to deter him from what must be done. Avon forced out the word, "No."
"Avon, you owe him that at least."
"If you bring the recordings and show them at the trial, it will destroy Blake's reputation. Then nothing I do will make a difference. It will be as great a blow to the rebellion that Blake's original betrayal was, when they wiped his memory and conditioned him to renounce the cause. That wiped out almost all support for the resistance for years. The rebels had to go deep underground. The ones that were not given up by the people they were trying to help. People need people to believe in. They need hope. Blake was the hope for the alliance and for all who fight the Federation. He still is. That is why they have all gathered for this trial. You cannot destroy him."
Jenna's voice was stressed, troubled. "I know…but if I don't show what really happened…they will never believe that you didn’t betray Blake or the alliance. Avon….they'll…"
Avon said, "You cannot come to the trial tomorrow."
"If you do, you might be tempted to use the recordings. We can't afford that."
"But...I can't let them do this to you."
His said in a steely voice, "You owe me this, Jenna. They will kill me and Blake will continue being the hero that they need." Avon's lips lifted in a smile of irony. He had never wanted to be a hero and now he would never be one. It was perfect. "You will do one other thing for me. You will return to the ship."
Jenna's mouth dropped open and she looked at him as if he had lost his mind. "Avon, you can't be serious. Unless you want to give Cally a chance to kill me personally."
"They need your help."
Jenna laughed. "They don't need me, they want to kill me."
"I will talk to them."
"Well, unless you can make them all forget the past year..."
"They will listen."
Jenna wished she knew what was in his mind. “They don't need me, Avon. They’ve done very well without me.”
“Sester has joined the crew.”
“What? How did that happen?” Sester had never said anything to her when they were working together but it made sense now.
Avon had no desire to give any convoluted explanations. The crew would do that. “It’s a long story. The rebellion needs someone like him, Jenna. He’s a top psychostrategist. One of the Federation’s best. But no one will be able to handle him after I’m gone.”
"And you think I can?”
"No. But you have greater experience with deception and pretence than the others. They will need all the help they can get with him.”
"I'm not sure that's a compliment."
"Will you do it?"
"Avon, I can't sit by and let them kill you. I already have enough guilt to last a lifetime."
Avon was adamant. "Then feel guilty but do not show them the recordings."
Jenna didn't think it would be possible to feel worse than she already did. “Avon…I can’t. That would mean…I wanted you dead before. I wanted to make you suffer…”
“Then it should be simple enough.”
“It’s not simple, Avon. It’s…”
“It is simple. It’s just not convenient. Sentiment is weakness. Let it get hold of you and we will fail. Blake will not become the martyr he needs to be. Think, Jenna.”
Jenna said reluctantly, “They’ll never take me back.”
"Leave that to me.”
It wasn't until after Jenna left that Avon allowed himself to think of Cally again. He knew that if he thought of her, he would never be able to do what he needed to do for Blake. Avon tried to convince himself that he was doing this for her too because she had dedicated her life to fighting the Federation. But no rationalization could not banish the pain of knowing that she would be hurt by this decision. Nothing could take away the ache of being separated from her again. But he didn't have a choice. He had a debt to pay.