"At least the food's not bad, unlike the rest of this place." Avon finished his drink and frowned at the décor as he set the glass back on the table. It was a cheaply furnished room - even the table was transparent plastic. "I've seen more comfortable rooms on Federation starships. So you should feel right at home." He smiled at Servalan.
She smiled back, her elbows on the table, looking at him over her clasped hands. "I prefer a little more luxury than this, but I'm sure I'll survive. As long as it's not for too long, of course."
"We just need to dig our way out." It sounded easy, but it was hard to know where to start. Avon stood and gazed up at the dark windows, which were buried under the sand. For all he knew, the whole base had been buried. However, he was determined he and Servalan would get out somehow, despite their hunger leading them to stop for dinner.
"Have you seen any shovels?" she asked.
Servalan sounded amused and Avon turned to face her, a frown on his face. "How would you know what one looks like?"
His question didn't phase her. "I suppose you've done a lot of digging on the Liberator?"
He managed not to wince at her mention of the ship. "I don't see you making any effort to get out of here." Even while he'd been searching the base for clues, she'd roamed around looking decorative. The base wasn't that big, but she could have at least helped and then he would have been able to focus on fixing that damn computer.
She smiled. "I know you'll find a way."
"No thanks to you. You were more interested in..." He broke off as he realised, his eyes widening.
He shook his head. "No, not me." He remembered her idly looking around, but then she'd opened a door, gazed inside and wandered off. Once he'd looked he'd found Don Keller, dead for the last five years, but still warm and supple. "Don Keller." When he said the name he saw something in Servalan's expression that he'd never seen on her before and it confirmed his suspicions. Keller had been someone she was fond of. "You knew him."
Servalan smiled, but her expression was blank. "We knew each other when we were children. Then we grew up. We never saw each other again." She shrugged.
She was certainly trying to convince him she hadn't felt any affection for her childhood friend, which was interesting. Up until now there'd been no evidence she'd ever cared about anyone except herself. Avon saw no advantage in destroying that image just yet, so he didn't press her on it. The knowledge may come in useful later. "And he came here," Avon said thoughtfully, returning to the problem at hand.
"And died here," she pointed out.
"But why?" He started pacing, feeling caged in under all this sand. "What killed him, then kept him warm and supple, as if he'd died just before we arrived?"
"The same thing that's unique to Virn."
It was the obvious conclusion, although it didn't help much. "But what is it?"
"I don't know." She stood up and went over to him, stopping his pacing with a hand on his arm. "You're intelligent, I'm sure you'll work it out."
He raised an eyebrow. "You're trying to flatter me."
She grinned. "Is it working?"
It was - she had a way of making him want to live up to her outrageous claims, but he was loathe to admit that to anyone, least of all her. "You're just as intelligent. Do you have any ideas you'd like to share?"
She put her hands out. "I'm just as baffled as you are, Avon."
He didn't believe that for a minute, but he let it go. If Servalan wanted to play the damsel in distress then he'd let her. Until he found out what she wasn't telling him. "Well, at least we won't starve here." He took two steps over to the couch and sat on it, leaning back and making himself comfortable, although it didn't help him think particularly.
Servalan ran a hand over the back of the couch then perched beside Avon, leaning towards him slightly. He said nothing, waiting for her to speak, which she did after a moment. "You're not relying on poor, gallant Tarrant for rescue, are you?"
He laughed. "If I relied on Tarrant I'd be dead."
"I'm very glad you aren't." She ran a hand down his arm.
He gazed at it, but didn't move away. Although he didn't want to give her what she wanted, there was something about her that he couldn't help but be attracted to. Much like a moth to a flame, he suspected, so he was better off resisting without appearing to resist too much, lest she step up her game and really have him trapped. He changed the subject to one he'd been curious about since her mention of the ship, hoping it would redirect her attention. "Speaking of dead, how did you get away from the Liberator? There were no ships nearby and not enough power for the teleport."
She shrugged. "A malfunction. A power surge. Suddenly I was on a Federation world." She smiled, having made it sound so simple.
He had rather suspected as much and was pleased to have it confirmed. At least he no longer needed to worry about the Liberator falling into the wrong hands. The teleport was only an advantage so long as no one else had one. "But you'd lost the presidency," he pointed out.
"Stolen in my absence. Don't worry, I'll get it back." She certainly didn't sound worried.
"As long as they don't guess who you really are." He wasn't sure what the Federation thought of Servalan these days, but whoever had stolen her crown had to be at least as ruthless as she was and in their position Avon would have made sure to find some rumours that stuck.
She sighed and dropped her hands into her lap. "You used to be more supportive."
"Was I? It must have been by accident." He smiled at her revisionist history, but he supposed that to be president you had to be good at that sort of thing.
"Oh, Avon, admit it. You like having someone your intellectual equal around." She leaned closer and lowered her voice. "Unless that's what you keep Vila around for..."
He laughed, but said, "Perhaps I do."
She raised an eyebrow, but lay a hand over his. "Then it's a pity Vila isn't here. I'm sure with his intellect he'd have got us out of here by now."
He shook his head at her misunderstanding, resenting her complaint that they were still stuck here and stood up. "Perhaps we should spend our time trying to work out how to get out of here."
She sighed. "You used to be more fun too."
"What is that?" Servalan sidled up to Avon and put a hand on his shoulder as she looked down.
Having searched the base again, he'd admitted defeat and decided to approach the problem another way. He'd programmed the food machine to give him some glass cubes of various drinks and was now moving them around a matrix he'd mapped out on the table using torn-up napkins. "A probability square. It's giving me some very interesting results."
"Oh, yes?" Despite her sounding curious, she left his side to lounge on the couch and he glanced up to see her looking at him expectantly.
At least she was finding this interesting, if not fun. Given what he'd found so far, that was just as well, since they could be spending a lot of time alone together. He picked up a cube and tossed it in his hand. "What's the one thing that everything that has happened here has in common?"
"The planet?" She didn't sound as if she believed her answer.
He held up the cube, which contained a vial of Earth spring water and was standing in for Virn in the matrix. "And what is the planet covered in?"
"Sand." She frowned and sat up straighter. "You don't mean to say the sand is doing all this?"
"What other explanation is there?"
She thought for a moment before standing up. "So the sand kills people and it trapped us in here. Why hasn't it killed us?"
"I thought that would have been obvious." He didn't bother hiding his amusement.
She approached the table, putting her hands on the back of the chair, but not leaning on it.
Since she didn't seem to be interested in guessing, he explained. "We're food. And breeding stock to make more food. That's why the other men died. It tested them and found I was the strongest." He grinned. "I never expected sand to have such good taste."
"I agree with it, of course." She stepped closer to him, running a hand up his arm.
She silenced him with a finger over his lips. "Any number of women are safe because taking nine months to incubate a baby rather ties up your breeding stock. In which case, I'm very glad you came here alone. I wouldn't be nearly as safe with Dayna and her quest for vengeance or Soolin and her homicidal tendencies." She replaced her finger with her lips.
"I suppose that you intend to start breeding now," he said, breaking off the kiss, but not leaning away from her. Even though he tried to tell himself he shouldn't, he wanted more.
She smiled. "Can you imagine what our children would be like?"
He shook his head. "Not much of anything trapped here."
She sighed. "Oh, Avon, you have no imagination."
"So I've been told." But it didn't stop him from kissing her again.
Soolin dropped Vila's wrist. "His pulse is weak."
"He'll live." Tarrant looked round at Dayna, who was pouring water over the sand with a look of triumph. "Now we've saved Vila, I suppose we should do something about Avon." Tarrant would have been all for leaving him, but the others had already overruled him on that.
"What do you propose?" Soolin asked, stepping away from Vila.
Tarrant tried the teleport controls, but they were just as dead as they had been earlier. "We'll have to go down there."
"What?" Having finished with the water, Dayna came round to stand beside Soolin, presenting a united front. From her tone of voice she clearly thought that was the worst idea anyone had come up with so far, and some of Vila's had been pretty bad. "We'll be torn to pieces."
Tarrant shook his head. "Not necessarily. We know the Federation landed a ship on Virn, remember?"
"Yes, but they didn't spend hours beforehand orbiting in an atmospheric storm."
"I can do it," he assured Dayna, leaning a little closer to her.
"Don't mind me," Vila said weakly. "I'm just dying over here."
Tarrant didn't mind at all, but Soolin rolled her eyes and went to see what he wanted. Probably just a bit of hand holding, which she was welcome to.
"I've flown more battered ships in worse situations."
"And how many of them still worked properly by the time you'd finished with them?"
Better not to tell Dayna the answer to that. "We can't stay here forever and the planet won't let us leave. What do you suggest?"
She sighed. "Well, don't blame me if we all end up dead."
"What?" Servalan pulled her discarded dress against her and joined Avon at the window. "It doesn't rain on Virn."
"Exactly." He glanced over at her, amused at her modesty now, but there were more important things to discuss. "It's so unusual because the sand doesn't want it to rain." He could see why, as the sand seemed to melt away, falling from the windows and letting in what little light there was outside. It looked like it would be safe to walk outside without risking the sand having second thoughts about the breeding stock it had chosen. Servalan had been too distracting, he concluded, despite the exercise doing wonders for his frustration. A little longer with the probability square and he'd have come up with something, without needing to rely on anyone else.
She turned to watch him as he returned to the couch and picked up his discarded clothes from the floor. "So you're just leaving?"
"You want to stay?" He frowned, looking up briefly as he pulled his trousers on.
"If there is a child..." She looked unsure and smaller somehow, with a dress clutched to her.
He hesitated, his jacket half-unbuttoned. "If there is..." He kissed her. "Don't tell me." He didn't think a child would help Servalan get the presidency back and it wasn't likely to help him find Blake either. Whatever Servalan might feel she had to do, he'd rather not know. "I suppose you never had that problem with Keller." he gave the impression of concentrating on his jacket buttons, but was looking at her out of the corner of his eye and he saw her flinch.
"Of course not." She raised her chin. "We were just children."
He didn't smile at her lie, but went to find his gun and let the rain in.