The arrow from Dayna’s bow flew straight and true, skewering through the rabbit’s neck – its life ended, quickly and efficiently.
“Ha!” Dayna shouted. “Four-one to me.”
“Yes, I never actually agreed we were competing,” Blake said as she jogged lightly over the forest floor towards the rabbit. He followed at a more sedate pace, giving her time to pull the arrow free and clean the head against a nearby tree. She passed him the rabbit, which he bound next to the others on the lengths of twine around his next.
“Says the loser,” Dayna pointed out, grinning ear to ear.
“Given that I’ve never used one of these before,” Blake gestured with his own bow, “I actually think one is little short of miraculous.”
“Well, you are the Roj Blake,” Dayna said, teasing. “Miracles worked daily.”
Blake grinned, as though realising this. “True,” he said, playing along. He liked Dayna, and how completely not in awe of him she was. Some of his GP recruits, like Deva, had been around him long enough to respond to him as Blake, the man – which in Deva’s case mostly involved being regularly exasperated or slightly amused. To most of the others, though, he was still the Roj Blake: miracles worked daily. It didn’t matter that he’d brought these people in, pretending to be a grimy, sell-out of a bounty hunter – they understood that was a front.
“Besides,” Dayna said, “it was a lucky shot.”
“Lucky?” Blake said, pretending indignation.
“Lucky,” Dayna said. “You can’t do it again.”
“We’d better hope I can,” Blake said, serious again now. “Either that, or we should start hoping Avon works out how to fix the Scorpio a lot faster than currently seems likely.”
“We should probably hope for that anyway,” Dayna said.
They’d had to abandon the base Blake had carefully operated and maintained prior to Avon, Dayna, and the others’ arrival. While the timely arrival of rebel back-up forces had seen the defeat of the troopers inside the tracking gallery, there could be little doubt that the Federation knew where the base was, now. Blake had planned for an organised retreat, and drilled his people in the tasks they would have to perform. Deva, for example, had been in charge of organising the evacuation of the armoury. Deva had been unconscious. Blake had been unconscious too – and (as the very apologetic people who explained this to Blake once he’d re-awoken said) those few who had still been conscious just hadn’t expected to have to evacuate eight critically injured people, including their leader and his second-in-command, along with all of their other possessions.
So they’d forgotten to take most of the weapons. And the food.
Blake saw the justice in this argument, and so … did his best not to be angry. His performance in this case, though not totally convincing, was (he thought) in the circumstances, also little short of miraculous. Perhaps the most realistic effort had been the way Blake had shouted at Avon, when Avon had shouted at Taina (third in line, after Deva) for making the same stupid mistake that Blake was privately furious about. It was easy to be convincing there, though, because he was also furious with Avon for other reasons, and because Taina was one of his people, not Avon’s, and she’d been under a lot of stress, and had at least got them out. Avon had also been conscious during the evacuation, and hadn’t made any comments about weapons or food when it would have been useful, so frankly he could shut up now it wasn't.
Avon clearly hadn’t expected to be reprimanded in this way. Blake had then had to pretend he didn’t feel bad as Avon’s eyes had grown very large and he’d made some excuse to return to his work on the Scorpio, which had unexpectedly become the rebellion's most vital tool.
Blake’s army hadn’t been that concerned with off-world transport, at least not after Jenna had died running the blockade. They had flyers, but few planet-hoppers. That had been fine for a largely GP-based rebellion, focused on taking advance of the open-planet designation to pick up escapees from Federation justice, but without a base or weapons that plan seemed more than a little foolhardy. It seemed particularly foolhardy at this moment when a representative of the Federation High Council, and undoubtedly an enormous and well-armed entourage, was about to descend.
Scorpio, which Del Tarrant had only recently crash-landed into the planet, had therefore become one of their best options for evacuation. Avon’s current estimation suggested he could have it working again in approximately three weeks; but Dayna was right – really they needed it a lot quicker than that.
Not that it was any use brooding on the matter.
“Surely you’re not saying you’d like to stop having to hunt like this?” Blake said, keeping his voice light-hearted. “Particularly not with these?” He gestured with his own bow, arrow already nocked but not yet released. “That would spoil all the fun.”
Dayna laughed. “It is fun.”
“Speak for yourself.”
“Avon said you liked history!”
“I’d rather not live in it,” Blake said, wondering when that particular nugget of information had come up, and in what context. Probably, he concluded in the worst of all possible contexts. Blake liked history – that was why all his ideas were so tired. Still. They had at least mentioned his name after he was gone.
Dayna made a mocking, faux-sympathetic sound. “Poor Blake,” she teased. “Don’t worry – when we get back to civilisation, I’ll make you one of my self-aiming guns. In the meantime--”
There was a rustling in the trees, a rabbit startled by their clowning around about to make a run for it. Dayna drew another arrow from the quiver on her back, but Blake (competitive drive peaked by her mockery, and arrow already nocked) got there before her. He loosed. The arrow missed, but it was at least––
“Closer,” Dayna said, encouragingly. “And you’re quick. With practice, you might even turn out to be mediocre after all.”
“Why thank you,” Blake said. He gestured towards the arrow, and the deeper forest. “Shall we?”
They walked on. Dayna shot another rabbit, and Blake missed another two, though with increasing accuracy and good-humour.
“Thank you for coming hunting with me,” Dayna said as the light began to fade. “I haven’t had this much fun since I left home.” Although she was talking about being happy she looked suddenly sad, as though the light had taken all of her pleasure in the hunt with it. “We used to do this all the time on Sarran.”
“You and your father?” Blake said.
“My sister,” Dayna said. She flopped down on a fallen tree stump, and began restringing her bow so, Blake thought, she wouldn’t have to look at him while she was upset. “My father used to say we had a perfectly good food machine, and we might as well use it. He didn’t believe in unnecessary killing.” He voice took on a strange, fake brightness. “Odd for a weapons designer, don’t you think?”
Blake shook his head. “Wise.”
When Dayna didn’t respond to this, he said what he was thinking:
“I’d have very much liked to meet him.”
He’d only been twelve when Hal Mellanby’s revolution had been crushed, but he’d heard his parents and his uncle whispering about it for months afterwards. Later, when he’d been older, Blake had heard the full story – both the official version (coward flees self-created disaster), and the version his uncle had told him on Exbar.
Mellanby (who had managed to do what few others had done and actually upset the Federation, who had started a rebellion that had taken three weeks to supress) had been one of Blake’s greatest inspirations. Now he wished the older revolutionary were here, rescued along with Dayna and now on Gauda Prime. A brilliant weapons designer who abhorred unnecessary violence but believed whole-heartedly in freedom; someone Blake himself believed in with the fervour that so many others believed in Blake – yes, he could certainly have used Hal Mellanby’s help about now.
“He would have liked to meet you,” Dayna said, looking up at Blake with eyes that shone with unshed tears. “He talked about you a lot, you know; followed everything you did. He said you were magnificent – obviously he hadn’t seen your shooting.” She tried to laugh, but the sound was too close to a sob, and she broke off to crush the balls of her hands angrily into her eyes. She said harshly, “I’m going to kill Servalan for what she’s done.”
The sentiment was one that Blake had entertained himself on more than a few occasions. He understood it, and he knew he could use Dayna’s fire to help drive the more reluctant revolutionaries amongst his forces, as he had once used Cally’s. They would need passion like Dayna’s if they were going to win, and he too wanted Servalan dead. Cut off the head of the snake and the body would wither. Blake could use Dayna as an assassin, and be ready to move once the job was done.
But he owed more than that to Hal Mellanby, who had once told his daughter that he thought Blake was magnificent. He owed it to Hal to be Roj Blake the legend, rather than just the desperate, angry man.
He sat down next to Dayna.
“Three years ago,” he told her, “I was pulled off my ship into a forest much like this one by, what I can only call, magic. It’s true,” he said as her expression changed to one of amused disbelief, as though she thought he was trying to cheer her up with a rather unconvincing fiction. “Avon and Vila never told you this story? I suppose it wasn’t so vivid for either of them. They got to stay on the ship while Jenna and I enjoyed the scenery down on the planet.”
He pulled his lower lip thoughtfully, as he worked out how to tell the rest of it in a way that would resonate.
“An old enemy of mine had also been brought down – a man called Travis. He’d killed twenty of my friends back on Earth; now he’d been assigned to track me down. The two women who’d brought us all down there were the last two survivors of a war that had wiped out their whole people. They wanted me and Travis to fight, and to learn a lesson.”
“And did you?” Dayna said, a good audience – Blake smiled at her in gratitude.
“Yes,” he said. “We fought – and I learned the lesson.” She raised her eyebrows, and Blake said, “That I didn’t have to kill him.”
Dayna made a face. “What a stupid lesson,” she said, and for a moment Blake was unsure whether to continue. So much, he thought, for the legend. Sinofar had been much more impressive.
“Killing him wouldn’t have brought my friends back,” he explained as the gloom fell heavier in the woods of Gauda Prime. “I would have enjoyed it, briefly, but then what? Another man would just have taken Travis’s place. I'd have to kill him - I might enjoy killing him too. And I have never wanted to be a man who enjoyed killing.”
“You’re saying I shouldn’t kill Servalan?”
“No, of course not. I’m saying you should kill her, if you have to, for the right reason. Revenge is not the right reason, not for a man who hated unnecessary violence.”
This time Dayna didn’t say it was a stupid lesson. She said,
“You remind me of him, you know?”
A warm glow built in Blake’s chest, making him feel genuinely good for the first time in months, years even; as though none of this terrible week had happened, and they still had hope. They did still have hope; Avon would fix the Scorpio, and they had people like Dayna and Deva and Avon and all the others Blake had recruited.
“So do you,” he told her kindly and quite truthfully, for she was, like Hal, brilliant and principled and passionate.
She smiled – hesitantly at first, and then with her old energy and enthusiasm she was on her feet again.
“We should be getting back.” As Blake nodded, and stood more slowly, she continued, “But we should also go hunting again. Repeatedly, starting tomorrow.”
Blake groaned – only partly theatrically. “Oh god.” While he liked Dayna’s company, he didn’t exactly relish another two hours traipsing through the woods and failing to hit anything with arrow after arrow.
“If it does take Avon three weeks to get Scorpio ready, you might even manage to hit another rabbit,” Dayna said cheekily.
Blake shook his head. “He’ll have it done in two weeks. One, if I ask very nicely.”
Given what was at stake, Blake realised he probably should have done it sooner. It was easy to tell Dayna not to make decisions based on sentiment, but harder to realise you had to do it yourself. After asking for Avon’s help, he should probably also work on forgiving Avon, who, unlike Servalan, hadn’t meant to harm; and who had, after all, and after all this time, come looking for him.
Dayna looked bemused for a moment, and then she laughed. “Miracles worked daily?” she said.
Blake wrapped an arm companionably around Dayna’s shoulders as the two of them walked back to camp. “I prefer to think that we should all at least try to be magnificent, if we possibly can."