Category: Angst, Drama
11th Story of Perceptions
Sequel to A Difference of Visions
Introduction: Avon's execution nears. Is the crew out of time?
Sester groaned and cursed his failing legs as his punctured back hit the flight chair. Have to stay conscious. No time to…
The controls on the panel swam dizzyingly into view. He blinked hard, trying to focus. It was a good thing he had a flight and nav processor.
"Computer…engines to full thrust. Take us into orbit and follow…uh…preset navigation coordinates. Maximum speed."
The ship seemed to shiver as the engines came to life.
"Full scanners. Warn me…if anyone is following us," Sester managed to say before he slumped over the controls.
Argus walked with heavy steps and shoulders bent by weariness as he headed back towards the room where they kept Avon. He wasn't physically tired, but it felt as if he hadn't slept in days. Finding Jenna had proved harder than looking for a needle in a haystack, though to be honest, he had no idea what a haystack was or what it would look like if he came across one.
His right hand tightened, muscles tensed to the straining point and he smashed it into a nearby wall, startling several people who immediately drew weapons and pointed them around nervously.
He mumbled with embarrassment, "Sorry." He shuffled off before someone decided to report him for attempted sabotage. Several of the bystanders went to look at the wall he had punched. Bare grey rock that had been hewn out of the asteroid. Tough material. Which was why they all stared after him in astonishment as they saw the indentation he had made in it with his fist.
Jenna stayed well to the side of the corridor as everyone rushed past her on the way to the execution hall. Her feet dragged and she felt physically ill. They all seemed to want get there early, probably to get a good seat. Why were ordinary people so fascinated by the misfortune of others? There should be a law against it.
Avon had asked her to stay away from the trial and she had, though, she'd had to get drunk to do it. When she had woken up this morning, moaning and groaning, Jenna had found herself passed out behind a maintenance cart. Her mouth tasted like bucketfuls of ash and something large and loud was pounding on the inside of her head. Even with a double-dose of pain blockers, she had to cover her eyes because of the glaring overhead lights.
One foot in front of the other. Keep going. It had never seemed so hard before and it didn't help that her heart was so heavy with guilt that it threatened to sink her into the ground.
She had promised to keep away from the trial, but nothing could prevent her from going to the execution. Not out of revenge, but because, even though he might not appreciate it or be able to see her, she wanted to be there for Avon. Even though this was his choice, it was still her fault.
Vila sat by Avon's bed while Cally sat on his other side. He said, "I can break into the storage locker and get our teleport bracelets. We still have time."
Avon turned his head towards him. "Don't."
"Avon, you're the biggest idiot in the universe," said an upset Vila.
"Then after I'm dead, you can lay sole claim to that title again."
Vila was almost crying. "That's not funny."
"It wasn't meant to be."
Vila wasn't sure but Avon's voice seemed slightly warmer than his normal flat tone.
"Avon." Vila stopped for a moment, feeling embarrassed. Even with Kerril, he'd only admitted to liking her a lot. With Corinne, he had taken the plunge and told her how he felt. But this was Avon. Avon had tilted his head in his direction. Vila knew that if he didn't say something soon, Avon would.
"Avon. We're friends, aren't we?"
"Your gift for stating the obvious never ceases to amaze me."
Vila automatically had a sharp retort on his lips but he paused. "Did…you just say that we are friends?"
"I…think you did."
Cally noted, "He did."
The corner of Avon's lips curled in a smile.
The door to the room opened and a grim-faced Avalon entered. Beside her, the man with the scarred lip from the arrivals hall, limped into the room. Behind them followed a contingent of eight armed rebels.
Cally rose and with arms spread, blocked their way to Avon. "You're not going to take him."
Vila came to stand beside her. "You'll have to go through both of us. But if you want to talk about it first…"
The guards moved towards them but Avalon held out her arms to stop them. "Cally, don't make this difficult."
"How difficult could it be? You're killing an unarmed man." Her tone was scathing. "If you're planning to shoot him, don’t forget to tie him to something. Unless you're prepared to kill him while he's lying defenceless on the bed. You don’t even have to provide a blind fold. That should make it much easier for you."
Tears were forming at the corner of her eyes but she fought them back and continued her verbal attack. "Or better yet. Prop him up in the middle of the room and let people throw heavy objects at him. They were already doing that in the trial room and you didn't stop them. I believe that in Earth's barbaric past, they called it stoning."
In the face of Cally's wrath, Avalon tried to remain calm and reasonable. "We're not barbarians, Cally. We will try to make this as humane as possible."
The scarred lip man said, "Avalon, they're stalling, don’t you see?" He drew his gun and advanced on Cally and Vila.
Avalon grabbed hold of his arm, "Enough, Dev."
Dev said, "What are we waiting for? Blake's blood demands vengeance."
Avalon stared him down. "We're here for justice, not vengeance."
Dev snarled, "Is there a difference? It results in the same thing. One just sounds better."
"We do this the right way."
Dev said, "Yours isn't the only way, Avalon. The Outer Worlds demand justice. It's time you Earthers began to realize you're not the centre of the universe."
Avalon looked annoyed. "We never said we were."
"Oh, you never say it. You just act it."
A voice came from the vicinity of the bed. "While this may be fascinating, in a puerile way, either take this conversation elsewhere or come back tomorrow. I do not wish to have this inane conversation as my last memory." Avon was beginning to wonder if it was worth protecting Blake's memory for rabble like these.
Avalon said, "Sorry, Avon. You're right." She glowered at Dev before asking, "Where's Argus? I was expecting him to be here."
Cally said, "He's looking for the recordings he promised you. He hasn't returned. We need more time, Avalon. Please. What if you're wrong about Avon? What does your justice say then?"
Avalon looked uncertain. Her hand went to the back of her neck and rubbed it as if the tension was starting to give her a headache. "We shouldn't do this without Argus here."
Dev said with a sneer of sarcasm, "How long do you want us to wait? An hour? Two? Should we have lunch first? Or maybe we should cancel it altogether? You'd like that wouldn't you? You Earthers all stick together."
Avalon put her hand down and fixed him with a hard glare. "I said enough, Dev. We'll wait for a few minutes outside. Avon's right, we should not subject him to our arguments. It's not fair to him."
"Not fair to him? That's rich," snarled Dev.
"Outside, now!" Avalon shouted and pointed to the door. They all filed out as Avalon and Dev stared at each other.
When the last guard had exited, Dev said, "This isn't over, Avalon. The Outer Worlds refuse to be pushed around any longer. It's not like the old days. After the Federation ships, we bore the brunt of the alien assault. We lost many good men and women."
Avalon said, "I know that. We would have too if we had been close enough and had faster ships."
"Things are going to change, Avalon."
"That's why we're here!"
Avon asked, "Cally, are they still in here? Or am I hearing an echo?"
Avalon turned to him, "Sorry, Avon. We're leaving now. You have fifteen minutes. I will tell the others that there has been a delay."
Dev appeared to be having a fit. "Fifteen minutes?!"
When the two bickering rebel leaders left, Avon remarked impassively, "The idea that we would be saving Blake's reputation for that…"
Cally said, "They're human."
Avon growled with disgust. "Yes."
"They can't be all bad," said Vila. "Look at me."
"Now wait a minute…"
"On the other hand, there is a distinct possibility that you're not human."
Vila looked with confusion at Cally. "Was that a compliment? Or did I miss something?"
"You didn't miss anything." Cally touched Avon's chest. "Avon, you sound as if you're reconsidering."
"Argus was right; the recordings need to be shown to the leaders. Blake's reputation was always most effective with the rabble. They would follow him, and he would fight to the last drop of their blood. As long as they never know."
Vila asked, "You mean that Blake went barmy near the end?"
"Perhaps we both did," said Avon, his voice suddenly quiet.
"Yeah, well, there was enough of it to go around that day. Look at ORAC."
Avon said urgently, "Vila, go and find Argus. Cally, do you have your medical kit here?"
"Yes, what did you have in mind?"
Vila rushed out.
"Jenna!" bellowed Argus as he spotted her head in the crowd. As a last ditch attempt, he had decided to try the execution hall in case she showed up. He pushed his way to her.
Jenna winced and covered her ears. The incessant noise around her was bad enough already.
Argus said, "I've been looking for you."
Jenna moaned as she held her head in both hands. "If you want to kill me, can you do it now?"
Argus stared into her bloodshot eyes. "What's wrong with you?"
Jenna winced again. "Don't shout."
"I'm not shouting."
"It sounds like you are." She rubbed her temples. Everything behind her eyes was in pain.
Argus lowered his voice, "I need to talk to you." He took her by the elbow and steered her away from the hall.
In a quieter corner, he said, "I want those recordings from Gauda Prime."
Jenna looked sharply at him. "I promised…"
"I know, what you promised Avon."
"He told you?"
"Yes, and he made me promise as well. But we can't let him die, Jenna. Avon's wrong. It would not be a good legacy for Blake. He isn't thinking clearly. You know what Shade does to the mind."
Jenna's eyes scrunched as she tried to think. "We'll have to go back to my room. I hid the recordings there."
Argus groaned. "I should have searched your room."
Jenna said, "We don't have time, the execution is in..." She looked at her chronometer. "Fifteen minutes."
"We have to try! Run!" He took her by the arm and pulled her after him.
Avon cried out in agony and his body arched like a bow pulled tight. He slumped back onto the bed, moaning and his body shuddering violently. Cally placed a hand on his forehead while her other pressed lightly on his chest. "Avalon!" her cry was shrill with panic.
Avalon had rushed into the room. She asked in alarm, "What's wrong with him?"
Dev's scarred lip curled in cynicism, "They're faking it. It's the oldest trick in the book."
Cally's frightened face said otherwise. "He's not. Feel his head!"
Avalon put her hand on Avon's flushed face. "He's burning up. You can't fake that."
Dev looked around the room suspiciously. Cally was glad that Avon had her hide the medical bag under his pillow. She hoped the scarred man didn't remember that it had been sitting on the table.
"What does it matter? We'll be doing him a kindness then. We'll be putting him out of his misery," Dev said harshly.
Avalon said, "We are not putting him up, like that."
"You're getting soft, Avalon."
"And you aren't thinking. How do you think it's going to look if we execute a man in this condition? It will look like Argus was right and we did torture the confession out of him!"
Dev had a defiant look on his face. He wanted this execution under any conditions. Cally did not like this man and not only because he wanted Avon dead. There was something dark about him that came across to her psi perceptions, a devious, chilling deliberation that sent shivers down her spine.
The scarred rebel said, "You've been using Shade on him, haven't you? Flood his system. Then he won't feel anything." He fixed Avalon with the eyes of a predator that would pounce if it detected weakness.
Avalon stood firm, her glaring eyes like hard polished jewels that could flash fire. She snapped her fingers at one of the armed rebel guards. Her voice was brusque, cutting the air like a knife. "Get it from Gamboa."
"Yes, Avalon." The guard raced off.
Cally said, "Avalon, you can't."
Like a gunfighter who dared not take her eyes off her opponent, Avalon kept hers set on the scarred man. She said, "I'm sorry, Cally."
Even though Cally could feel the regret rolling in waves towards her, there was a hard, inflexible expression on Avalon's face.
Sester forced sluggish eyes open and began moaning as the agony from his back greeted his awakening mind. His shirt was slick with blood and stuck uncomfortable in places where it had dried. He was still alive.
His mind told him that the knife couldn't have penetrated his lungs or he'd be dead by now. Servalan hadn't wanted him dead. Or at least she wanted him to survive long enough to deliver the vid recordings. The translucent data crystal winked at him as the cockpit lights reflected off its angled surface.
Have to get this to Argus.
His ears caught a steady, rhythmic beeping sound. "Attention, navigation coordinates reached. Attention, navigation coordinates reached."
Sester groaned loudly in complaint. The computer couldn't possibly expect him to do something in this state? He was about to die. Didn't it have any mercy?
Avon! The memory of his situation caused him to jerk upwards. A thousand sharp knives in his back caused him to cry out as his body and mind were paralyzed by excruciating pain. With gasping, groaning breaths, he began to curl his back to a semblance of normality, as the sensations returned to the previous level of agony. It was almost like an old friend.
Trembling fingers pressed the code sequence and then the comm button.
His voice was strained and he struggled to speak clearly. "This is…Chuck. I'm…" What was he? "…member of…Justice crew on…special mission. Requesting…entrance."
There was a crackle of static and then a woman replied, "You seem to be breaking up but we got your security verification. Should have your comms checked. Welcome to Advance Base. Place your ship under automatics. We will take it from here."
Sester slid his hand over and pressed a large grey button. Maybe he could close his eyes and rest while the docking control took over? His head nodded forward.
Can't sleep. Might not wake up.
His fingers closed firmly around the crystal, feeling its hard edges pressing into his skin. It helped him to focus.
The base interior swam into the view of his bleary eyes. Soon he would have to get up. He was not relishing it.
The pain radiated from Sester's back like an exploding sun, searing his mind. With choking, sobbing breaths, he forced himself to get up, leaving a sticky pool of blood on the seat.
The agony paralyzed his ability to think but he compelled himself.
Think. Breathe. Mind. Body. Focus. The discipline of the Guild asserted itself like an old companion. If I could beat the Chamber, I can do this. This time it wasn't for his master, it was for Avon and the others.
His eyes saw the blood-drenched seat, already drying into darker patches. Can't go out like this. What would the neighbours think?
They'd probably take one look at him, toss him on a stretcher and throw away the key. He shook his head, trying to bring it under control.
Grabbing at various parts of the craft for support, he opened a clothes cupboard. The dark overcoat would do. With further groans of pain, he shrugged it on gingerly.
Tapping his pants pocket to reassure himself that the data crystal was still there and he hadn't imagined himself placing it there, he headed for the exit.
The rebel guards held Cally back as Dev approached Avon with the injector. With a cruel sneer on his lips, made even more sinister by the vertical scar, he turned the settings an extra notch and quickly applied it to groaning man's neck. Avon's body immediately became slack and his eyes glazed over, rolling upwards into his head.
Cally shouted and Avalon had moved forward, but it was too late. The irate rebel leader asked, "What are you doing?"
"Just an extra measure. Wouldn't want him to make any unbecoming sounds, while we kill him, now would we?"
Avalon's voice was tight with anger. "That's triple the normal dose!"
"Why are you worried, Avalon? You think it'll kill him?"
There was clearly a power struggle going on between the two rebel leaders. So far, Avalon was not winning.
"It had better not," said Avalon. "If he dies one minute before the execution, Argus might rip you in two."
Dev unconsciously glanced at the door, expecting the rebel leader to appear. He laughed nervously, "He's too late now, isn't he? His time is up."
Avalon looked apologetically at Cally and Vila. She gestured to the guards. "Take him."
Cally said, "Argus isn't back yet. Avalon…"
"I'm sorry, Cally but I gave him additional time."
Like a funeral procession, two guards carried Avon's limp body while the others arranged themselves in vertical file in front and behind. Dev and Avalon led the way as Cally and Vila lagged behind under the watchful eyes and ready weapons of the rear guards.
A few incoherently muttered questions had given Sester the general direction of the execution hall. His heart had skipped several beats when he heard that the sentence was about to be carried out. He had raced on, staggering like a pale drunken man, holding onto walls that were further than they appeared.
The line of bodies seemed endless as they waited to enter.
"The line's back there!" Someone shoved him as he tried to get past. Sester groaned as he stumbled backwards, crying out in pain as his back hit the wall. He collapsed to the ground.
"Have…to save...ahhh…" He doubled over in pain.
Caring hands rolled him over. Sester yelled in agony as his back touched the ground. "No!" he gasped. He tried reaching into his pocket to pull out the crystal.
A familiar face floated into view. Sester blinked twice. "Argus?"
"What happened to you?" Argus knelt beside him, concern etched on his face. He looked tired. There was a puzzled expression in his eyes as his nose twitched.
Sester could barely speak. "Recording…" He tried to reach into his pocket again but his fingers were no longer cooperating.
Argus's eyes brightened. "You have it?"
Sester nodded and touched his trouser pocket. He tried to tell him to be wary. That the crystal would save Avon but he didn't know what else it would do. The words refused to form on his lips.
Argus reached in and extracted the crystal.
"Argus, he's bleeding!" Jenna's familiar voice was behind Argus.
Argus frowned. He had smelled blood but didn't realize it came from Sester. "Jenna, help him. I'll get this to Avalon." He was about to get up but looked down at Sester for a brief moment. His free hand touched the injured man's arm. "You did well."
Sester's lips formed the semblance of a smile as Argus got up and ran to save Avon. Jenna bent down and asked, "Who did this to you?"
"Beautiful…snake." Sester's eyes closed and he mercifully passed out.
Jenna scowled, wondering if he had been referring to her or the person who had wounded him.