by Jenny Hayward
The rain had stopped, but the trees were still dripping. Two figures, a man in black and a woman in grey, stood over a third person on the muddy ground. The one on the ground was obviously dead.
“Why? He wasn’t a threat.” said the man dressed in black.
“Squeamishness from you?” the other returned. “I’m surprised.” But her voice was edged with irony, not surprise.
“No, you’re not,” Avon said, threateningly low. “Why did you kill him?”
“He was dangerous,” she stated flatly. The wind tossed a few wisps of her long blonde hair into her face.
“An unarmed man with a broken leg isn’t dangerous,” Avon countered. He had heard the bones snap when the man had fallen over, slipping on the slick ground. Avon had wanted to question him, find out why he was following them, but Soolin’s fast draw had made that impossible.
“That depends on the man,” Soolin said.
“It wasn’t just prudence that made you shoot,” Avon surmised. It hadn’t been necessary to kill him. Unless one was desperate to keep him from talking.
“Try some logic. He was a Bounty Hunter,” Soolin snapped.
“Surprisingly altruistic of you to think of the rest of us,” Avon said dryly. And how did she know he was a Bounty Hunter anyway? They hadn’t found the permit until after the fellow was dead.
“Altruistic?” Soolin queried.
“There’s no price on your head,” Avon pointed out. “Of course, Bounty Hunters aren’t the only people who kill for credits.”
“Is that supposed to be an accusation?” Soolin’s eyes narrowed.
“I hadn’t noticed you drawing wages,” said Avon.
“I hadn’t noticed you giving them,” Soolin returned.
“Maybe I don’t like industrial disputes,” Avon said lightly, but with a bitter edge.
“Maybe you’re about to have one,” Soolin said.
“And where would you spend your wages?” Avon retorted. “In a Federation cell?”
“I'm not wanted,” Soolin stated, putting her hands on her hips.
“Well, maybe I lied,” Avon said with a curl of his lip. “It seems unlikely, does it not? For someone with your skill and history not to have a very expensive head?” Wiping out the men who had killed her family would be bound to get someone upset enough to post a bounty on her. “Why else did you come to Xenon?”
“Perhaps I just liked Dorian,” Soolin answered.
“Not enough to avenge him,” Avon pointed out.
“I would have killed him if you hadn’t done it first,” Soolin declared. She had been more betrayed by Dorian’s nefarious schemes than the crew of the Liberator. She thought she had known him. She had trusted him. They had never met the man before he planned to use and destroy them.
“If you had had a gun,” Avon amended.
“I have one now.” Soolin placed her hand lightly on the butt of the clip-gun in its holster by her side.
“Nervous, are you?” Avon said with a dark smile.
“Prudent,” Soolin said.
“Guilty conscience?” he needled her. It didn’t occur to him that provoking a guilty Soolin could be a very dangerous thing to do; perhaps the last thing he would ever do. He just wanted to find out what she was guilty of. If anything.
“Your confidence is inspiring,” Soolin returned with heavy irony.
“People who can be bought have a bad habit of putting the price up,” Avon frowned.
“It’s my services I sell, not myself,” Soolin said.
“Until a higher bidder comes along?” Avon jibed.
“I don’t break my contracts,” Soolin retorted. “Unless someone else breaks them first.” she added pointedly.
“Your reputation for integrity is known all over the galaxy.” Avon said sarcastically.
“Yours too,” she returned, equally sarcastically.
It was Avon’s turn to bristle. “I keep my word.”
“When convenient,” Soolin said.
“I would prefer not to discover convenience at the wrong end of a gun.” Avon poked his foot at the corpse on the ground, making a silent point.
“Wouldn’t we all?” Soolin said dryly, refusing to be baited. “Nothing is certain.”
“Not if you betrayed me,” Avon said softly, but oh, so coldly. “You would certainly die.”
“The reverse is true also.”
“Of course,” Avon agreed. “You would be justified.”
“You would worry about why someone wants to kill you?” Soolin said incredulously. A gust of wind blew a spattering of drips from the wet branches onto both of them. They ignored it.
“There are worse reasons than revenge,” Avon declared.
“Consider our late friend with the broken leg.” Avon gestured at the dead man in the mud. “Why did he kill people?”
“So it’s mercenaries that bother you?” Soolin said, raising her eyebrows. “What about Tarrant?”
“Tarrant is not the problem,” Avon said smoothly. “You are.”
“Because I killed a Bounty Hunter?”
Avon inclined his head towards the body at their feet. “Because you killed this Bounty Hunter,” he said. “If he was a Bounty Hunter.”
“You needn’t make it so obvious that you don’t trust me,” Soolin glared.
Avon gave her a level stare. “I don’t trust anybody,” he said evenly.
Soolin showed her teeth in a half-smile. “That’s your problem, isn’t it?”
A year ago beneath the dome,
My love and I walked here alone,
The endless pipes and corridors,
The painted rows of sterile doors,
Asked of me: Who walks this way?
I said: The man I love today,
A man who holds me dear as life,
A man who thinks to call me wife.
But I knew in some future plan,
I’d walk beside another man.
And sure enough, a later day,
Another lover now holds sway,
And all along, the serried doors,
Are silent if I chance to pause,
And I hear nothing in the dome,
Except the voiceless monotone,
Of power pumps and air recyce,
That make an endless day of night;
But maybe now, to him they say,
That he’s the one I’ll next betray.
– Judith Proctor