Everything was put away. That was the first thing Cally noticed when Avon opened his door. She had not been in his quarters often--but often enough to know that, like any dedicated tinkerer, he usually had pieces of projects strewn around: a needle-probe here, a circuit board there. Now everything was arranged on shelves.
He was standing in the doorway, not quite letting her in, expressionless, patient, as if her visit was a duty he was waiting to get over with. Of course, he must have guessed she would come to see him. He had saved her, saved all of them, from that ancient alien queen who had taken over her mind. Something had to be said about that, some sort of--
"Thank you," she said without preamble. But as she spoke, she realized she meant something different.
"You're welcome." He waited.
A moment more and he would doubtless brush her on her way. But there was more she needed to tell him, for she saw now that it was not for dispelling the alien that she was grateful. That was merely what he had needed to do: to rescue the crew--and himself. That was the sort of thing they all did for each other, just to survive.
"Thank you," she repeated, "for talking to me about Auron." Even if they had only spoken a sentence or two. "Thank you for coming to see me."
He raised his eyebrows slightly. Surprised? "It wasn't any trouble."
But it wasn't the sort of thing Avon did, coming to one's quarters to offer moral support. Vila, Dayna, Tarrant might, but not Avon. Yet he had done it for her. And the reason was obvious: the suffering drew the suffering.
"May I come in for a moment?" she asked.
He eyed her suspiciously, then stepped back from the door. Cally took a chair, while Avon sat on his bed opposite her.
"I should have come to see you too," she said. "But I thought it would be best to give you space."
He peered at her a moment more. "And now, you don't?"
This is selfish, Cally told herself. You do not wish to suffer alone, so you would keep him from keeping to himself as he plainly wishes.
Cally forced her voice to a calm disinterest. "I will go." She rose and headed for the door.
"Cally." She stopped without turning. "Are you all right. . . now?"
That was too much. Cally could feel the tears thicken her throat. "Neither of us is all right now, Avon." She closed her eyes, forcing back the tears. In a moment, she felt a tentative hand on her shoulder. She turned and wrapped her arms around him. After a hesitation, his arms closed around her in return. "I am lost," she whispered, "to the soul of Auronar."
"We can still take you back to them, if you want to go."
She shook her head against his shoulder. "There is nothing to go back to. The two who remain, they are not-- It is not--" It was impossible to explain to an outsider that two or three survivors could not comprise the soul of the murdered millions, that even before Cally had left Auron, so many of her people had lost sight of the old ways, replacing the wisdom of the ages with the dogma of their cloning science--that even Clinician Franton, a good, courageous woman whom Zelda had admired, was one of these, not truly of the Auronar.
Avon could never understand.
But she knew he understood loss at least. There was comfort even in being companions in disparate pains.
Avon hated everything about this: the two of them standing there, hugging like idiots, Cally plainly in the grips of an emotional need he could do nothing about, a display that he wanted no part of. Yet here he was, as ridiculous as she was.
A fool. That's what he had called himself when he'd found out the truth about Anna. A fool. So it must be appropriate he look like one. The alien had picked Vila to play her fool. An obvious choice, but it just served to illustrate how little she saw under the surface.
And Avon--Avon she'd seen as Death. That was apt, too, in its way. After all, he had killed her.
Kiss them; kill them.
He pulled back from Cally a little and pressed his lips to hers. Out of curiosity. To set to rest the question: was it the alien or Cally who had let him come that close?
Cally didn't pull back, didn't respond much at all at first. Then, slowly her mouth pressed his in return.
He kissed her deeper. Well, why not? He was a free man now. He owed Anna nothing. All those years--three years of his life, when every woman he met he couldn't help but measure against her and find inferior to her memory.
Then, in the space of a day, it was all turned on its head. He could imagine no one as contemptible as Anna. Even Servalan, at least, was honest about being a Federation torturer.
But Cally was. . . someone he could trust?
As Anna had been? It didn't matter. Trust, he'd told Anna, was only dangerous when you had to rely on it. There was no reliance here.
Experimentally, he began to undo Cally's tunic, gratified that she responded in kind, pulling at his jacket. He drew her back to the bed, absorbed in the feel of her lips and her slender hands still at work on his clothes. When he reflected on when he had last had sex, he was surprised by how long it had been. But it could hardly have been any other way. A fugitive on this ship, who could he turn to but his crew mates, and there were reasons why the crew of the Liberator kept to themselves. They didn't need more complications. He bent to kiss her neck.
He had never been a slave to his body. He was more than capable of taking care of his own sexual needs when that was the only viable option. But it was no substitute for having someone else to touch.
She felt human, exactly human. Had he somehow expected her not to? Lean and slim, she was as beautiful naked as swathed in that velvety green she'd worn that first year. She had a harder edge these days. Didn't they all? But her breasts were soft under his mouth, small and shapely, just like Anna's--
To blot out that thought, he pulled Cally down under him, perhaps too abruptly. Hard to tell. Her face was almost blank, her body, it seemed, simply following his lead. He closed his eyes as he entered her; he didn't want to look at her. With some surprise, he realized he didn't want to be with her, not with Cally, not like this, when all he could think of was how she had been running him from the beginning. All their plans, their dreams for a freer life, just to two of them safe and far from the Federation. It was all a lie, and he'd never guessed. Del had never guessed. Had she deceived them all? Had her husband known? Had he been in it with her?
It was too easy to imagine her here beneath him, to imagine that the lies had been true and years wiped away and they were making love on Earth. Earth hadn't really been that bad: an occasionally interesting job and no one trying to kill you. Why had he let her convince him it would be better if they ran?
How could anyone manipulate him so completely?
And then, he'd been told she was dead, and there had been nothing left but to prove he could survive, until Blake--
And now that Blake was gone--
Why couldn't the fool have abandoned the Liberator when the rest of them did? His life pod would have likely landed near one of theirs, and all these months of searching--
But Blake had got himself lost.
But Cally remained, even after the chance to go home to her people--the two of her people who were left. She was here, pliant beneath him. But she wasn't really here.
At first, Cally had sensed some connection to Avon, not telepathic but a more basic meeting of selves. When they had kissed, their lips had moved together like two parts of one being, faces close, minds close. When had it passed away? When he had moved to kiss her throat and she couldn't catch hold of his eyes anymore?
It was obscene to feel him inside her and not feel his thoughts. He might as well have been nothing but an intricately programmed sex toy. But it was worse than that--because he wasn't a toy. Avon was a person; he was her friend. It was a desecration to use him this way, to be used by him, so close to each other yet locked away, alone.
She needed another presence, anything to break this silence.
But that was how the alien had seized her. She dare not reach out. Except perhaps. . .
//Moondisk!// She sent a telepathic shout toward her plant. But it was too far away, down the hall in her own quarters. She sensed its distant stirring, not enough to comfort her here.
She would have to wait; that was all.
At least there was not much pleasure in it. She was glad of that: to feel more would indeed be a perversion of what was -- had been -- an act of deep companionship among the Auronar.
She wished he would look at her, but she was not surprised he did not. He kept his cheek close by her cheek, his breath hot against her neck. Perhaps she could console herself that she was truly being of some use to him, that he needed this outlet. And he was her friend; she could do that for him. She drew her arms close around his back and reminded herself he was a real person with thoughts and feelings, even if she could not sense them.
And she had to confess that some part of her did not want to. Avon's mind was not a thing to be shared.
Nothing could be shared anymore, ever. She had pitied herself for being cast out from Auron, but to have no more Auron, no more Zelda. . . No more Blake. No more rebellion. All she had sacrificed and all she had sacrificed it for were equally lost.
He heaved inside her and rocked to stillness, his breathing still heavy by her face. And curiously, she felt nearer to him, the gulf between his desire and her isolation fading. It struck her what she had lost was precisely what he had lost too: all the things he had sacrificed and the reasons for the sacrifice.
It was painfully clear to him in retrospect that when she'd asked to come in, he should have sent her away. This assignation was nothing but a mutual embarrassment. She hadn't even orgasmed. She hadn't even pretended to--which was a compliment in a way. At least, it was honest.
He got off of her and searched for his clothes. And Cally, it seemed, was still just following his lead, diving immediately for her clothes as well. Well, the sooner he could get her out of here, the better.
But once she had dressed, she sat down in his chair, rumpled and staring blankly.
He stood there, not wanting to tell her get out but feeling the necessity looming.
What had he hoped to gain by this? Control over his life? Was it really that banal, a demonstrably futile attempt to tell the ghost of Anna he was not hers anymore?
Any kind of control over his life these days proved elusive. He had enjoyed defeating that alien-Cally because it was within his power to do so. The alien gone, he'd fallen back onto tidying up his quarters, because ordering this room, as well, was something he could do.
Was this was all he had to look forward to: this futility?
Cally shook him from his reverie. "Avon, there is nothing left, is there?" She looked up at him plaintively. "We could not save my people. We could not find Blake. We have not hurt the Federation. We should have moved to crush it while it was reeling from the war. But we did not. And now it is already getting stronger."
In fact, they'd inadvertently helped to quash the coup that Anna had been staging. Inadvertently? He'd killed the coup's leader and set Servalan free. Without intending to, he laughed.
For a second, Cally looked offended. Then she sighed. "We have failed."
He hated that he could hear the tears in her voice. Tired, he sat down on the edge of the bed. "We have survived, Cally."
She fixed him with questing gaze. "For what? What is the point of it?"
For a terrible moment, that question stumped him. A flippant answer would be insufficient. "To refuse to admit defeat."
"Pride?" He couldn't tell if she was mocking the notion or seriously considering it.
"If you like."
"I need more than that," she said low, as if to herself. Then, to Avon: "There must be some good still to do in this galaxy."
"Well, if it's any consolation, there are still billions being oppressed by the Federation. If you're looking for a cause, that one remains free to all takers."
"Yes, it does." Cally sat forward, suddenly intent. "And we have stopped taking it up. We must begin to act again, Avon--concertedly--as if we had something to take action for."
"I, for one, have not ceased to believe in the cause we used to fight for."
"For one," Avon echoed absently. The objection came from force of habit, but her words were starting to make sense.
"Blake was right when he said that we need at least one planet behind us," Cally continued. "Perhaps we should give priority to finding a base again."
Avon's thoughts were racing. If Blake was still alive and free, he would still be doing whatever lay in his power to foment rebellion. He had always searched for alliances with other rebel cells, with Avalon, with Kasabi, and others. If the Liberator became known once again as a significant force against the Federation, then Blake would know of it. And if they could ally themselves with other rebel leaders, then somewhere they might well find one who knew of Blake's whereabouts. . .
Cally's voice intruded: "If we could set up a base from which to form a system of alliances, perhaps Blake would find us--or find a way to reveal his location to us."
Avon smiled to hear her speak his thought. Telepathy? Coincidence? "Tarrant may object." Tarrant still had ambitions of piracy, and Dayna might side with him, especially if she saw the plan as ploy to continue a fruitless search for Blake.
"At first perhaps," Cally answered. "But Tarrant will be with us if we can convince him we can hurt the Federation with well-calculated risk. Dayna will welcome the chance to strike against Servalan. And Vila will support a course that may lead us to find Blake."
It was possible, Avon reflected. With Orac and the right search parameters. True, Orac had not yet been able to trace Blake, but it would be able to trace at least some of the Federation's enemies. It was a question of locating the right ones and making them the right proposition. Tarrant, Dayna, and Vila would fall into step--but more readily if the plan Avon announced was already yielding tangible results.
"Before we bring them in," he told Cally, "we will need to develop a feasible strategy."
Cally nodded. "I agree. Together, I am certain we can develop something workable."
There was a quiet conviction in her tone. All at once, Avon was glad she had come to see him.