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September 2020 Ficlet Challenge
purplecleric
‘Do you imagine I wanted to spend the prime of my years in this grinding desolation? No, it was those jealous parvenus of the Science Board resentful of my success and my achievement who forced me to abscond.’ Egrorian - Orbit

The word prompt this month is … ENVY

A feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else's possessions, qualities, or luck and / or the desire to deprive the person of those things. Subtly different from jealousy, but for this challenge either will do.

For the second challenge: the crew encounter the Terra Nostra again…

My apologies for the delay in posting - remember, time is relative!
 
JustBrad
An Offer She Can't Refuse.

“Ah, you’re awake at last. Good.”

Dayna slowly opened her eyes, and wished she hadn’t.

The same voice that was happy she was awake said, “Lower the lights. Better, Dayna?”

Dayna slowly raised her head from the table to regard a middle-aged man dressed in black. All she could manage to say was, “How…?”

“Are you still alive? My men used stun charges.”

“Your men? Federation? Go to…” She meant to say more, but that was all she could manage.

A glass appeared. “Take some refreshment, you’ll feel better.” The man in black added, “It’s not poison, but if it were, what do you have to lose? And my men aren’t Federation… well… they are, and they aren’t, just as I am, and am not.”

Dayna asked, “Are and are not what?”

“Here, among other things.”

Dayna drank. “Avon, the others?”

“Alive.”

Dayna asked, “Why?”

“Useful. A pilot, a gunman, er, gun person, a thief, and a computer expert. All very useful, and therefore very much alive.”

Dayna asked, “Am I useful?”

“That’s what we’re here to find out.”

She was feeling better, but still woozy. “Who.. ?”

“Ah, pardon my manners. I neglected introductions. You may call me The Chairman.”

Dayna struggled to focus. She noticed armed men flanking her. At least they weren’t pointing their weapons at her. “Chairman of what?”

“Ah, yes, Zondar was before your time. I am, and am not, The Chairman of an organization that does, and does not, exist. I am also the current President of the Terran Federation.”

Dayna nodded. “Gauda Prime, this whole thing with Blake, it was a set up.”

“I am nothing if not patient.”

Dayna asked, “What about Zondar?”

“I mentioned the organization that does not exist. Your colleagues destroyed something of great value to them, which led to my predecessor’s downfall, both as Chairman and as President.”

Dayna grunted a laugh. “Blame Servalan, then, not us. She wound up as President and Chairman.”

“As President, yes, but not as Chairman. She is not of our organization. And we do blame her.”

Dayna puzzled. “Was Blake part of your organization?”

“Not intentionally, but he served our purpose, so we gave him encouragement without revealing ourselves.”

Dayna replied, “But Blake crossed you at Zondar, so you killed him.”

“Crossing us does indeed carry consequences, but we did not kill Blake, Avon did. Mind you, we would have killed Blake in time, unless he made proper amends.”

Dayna grasped at a thought. “I haven’t crossed you.”

“Guilt by association.”

Dayna reflected. “Avon crossed you at Zondar.”

There came a thin smile. “Avon has agreed to make amends. So has Tarrant, Vila, and even Soolin.”

Dayna asked the question she was dreading. “How do I make amends?”

“By fulfilling your life’s ambition. You see, as powerful as we are, there are places even we have trouble reaching.”

Dayna asked, “And what is this ‘life’s ambition?’ you wish me to fulfill?”

The Chairman refilled her glass, and then raised his own. “To kill Servalan, of course. Shall we drink to it?”
Edited by JustBrad on 03 September 2020 19:10:17
i.imgur.com/AD5ikh4.png
MODthra
 
Travisina
Kudos, Brad - excellent story and within scant moments of the prompt being posted. Respect!
Twitter: @TravisinaB7
Tumblr: tumblr
A statement of fact cannot be insolent
 
JustBrad
Travisina wrote:

Kudos, Brad - excellent story and within scant moments of the prompt being posted. Respect!


Makes up a little for not being able to think of a darned thing last month.
i.imgur.com/AD5ikh4.png
MODthra
 
stormypetrel
Nice one, Brad!
 
stormypetrel
“Avon?” Cally had avoided trying to contact the others since she and Vila had returned to the ship, afraid of inadvertently drawing attention to them; but the feeling that something had gone wrong was suddenly overwhelming. There was, as she had almost expected, no answer. “Avon, we must move soon. You need to come back now.”

The communicator remained obstinately silent.

Well, she couldn’t go looking for them. Orac was too slow with the teleport, in case of emergency; and Vila would be no better, she suspected. He had been asleep when Cally looked in on him, but moaning and shifting so restlessly that she had forgotten her irritation at being left to clear the results of Zen’s defences from the flight deck alone, and retreated without waking him. He would be more of a liability than a help.

“Avon!” She knew, somehow, that she was wasting her time, but doing nothing grated. It often did, if she thought about it; somehow, she wasn’t sure quite how or when, she seemed to have become the one who was left on watch. The thought, once it was there, led to a sudden pang of envy. Even if the others were in trouble, they at least had the chance of doing something active to get out of it. Dayna and Tarrant never seemed to be expected to just sit and wait; and if Avon ever did so, it was by his own choice. Even Vila got dragged along to do things, and he would probably have been equally envious of the chance to sit safely behind the teleport controls with nothing to do but operate them at the appropriate moment... Maybe she should wake him after all, Cally thought, and let him do just that. Something had definitely gone wrong. She could feel it.

She got to her feet. She ought to check on Vila anyway, she told herself; he had, after all, been looking genuinely ill. And nobody else is going to do it. The frustrated note of envy crept in again. Rebel or nursemaid? At least the others knew their place; or seemed to. Cally shook herself out of that thought; it was no help to anyone, after all, and it certainly did nothing to temper her frustration. She still paused, however, unable to completely ignore the longing to be fully involved with proceedings on the planet below.

“Orac?” She turned to the computer sitting on the teleport desk. “There haven’t been any Federation communications from Valspar Minor, have there? Nothing that could involve the others?”

“Nothing,” confirmed Orac. Cally sighed. It was what she had expected, but it only added more unease to her restless state.

“Then can you mind the teleport while I go and check on Vila?”

“If I must,” came the grudging agreement.

Cally turned to go; and it was then, predictably, that the communicator crackled into life.

“Cally.” That was unmistakably Avon. “We seem to have run into some old acquaintances. Apparently they’d like us to enter into certain negotiations. Can you hold on up there a little longer?”
 
M1795537 OC Virn
Envy Sept 2020

“Come now, Scorpio is running perfectly, our course is laid in, thankfully Tarrant is sleeping, Soolin is in the shower, the Federation are too busy with their pacification programme to bother us this far out, so what could be better than a glass of wine and a little philosophical debate?” asked Avon expansively, smiling one of his best and most knowing smiles. Dayna looked from him to his companion, and the glasses he was currently refilling.
“Well, all right. But it’s your watch after mine. Don’t make me go double again,” she warned, unsure what he meant by ‘philosophical’. It looked a lot more like another of their drinking sessions.
“Would we do a thing like that?” asked Vila innocently, “It was just a mistake.
”The alarm failed,” added Avon, helpfully.
“We understand. You need your beauty sleep,” Vila suggested, not quite so helpfully. Dayna took a deep breath, decided it wasn’t worth rising to the insult and left them to it.

The officer shook his head. Negative. She shot him.

The flight deck was empty but for Avon, Vila, the wine and Orac.
“You in on this?” Vila asked, as the AI gave its familiar buzz. Orac’s lights flashed.
“In what capacity?”Orac enquired testily, as always, “The previous discussion failed to reach a meaningful conclusion.”
“Well, that’s the thing, Orac,” Vila responded, “Humans don’t always need one.”
“Arbiter,” put in Avon abruptly, “Decide when we’ve talked enough, Orac.”
“That is acceptable,” the machine voice agreed, “Begin.”

A different planet; a new opportunity; an old problem. Their offer was insufficient. She ordered their obliteration.

“So you’re saying the difference between envy and jealousy is that one of them is active and external, the other internal?” Vila shook his head slowly, “Too simple. Anyway, which way round is it?”
Avon lifted the bottle, but it was empty.
“Another?” he waved it towards his companion, “It’s your round, actually.”
Vila grinned, then obligingly complied, heading for his cabin and the Tyhrrian brandy he’d stockpiled. Meanwhile, Orac asked for clarification.
“Simple,” muttered Avon, unimpressed, “All right, this is it. Just my opinion, you understand? Envy you feel, but there’s nothing you can do. Jealousy you do something. You take revenge. Or – no, it’s not revenge yet. Revenge comes after the end.”
“After the end?” Orac repeated, “How is this logical?”
“It’s not,“ Vila returned and poured the doses, “Can’t mix booze and logic. But it’s true... what he said.”
“Then you are agreed,” Orac’s lights flashed repeatedly, “Which suggests the discussion is ended.”

She watched the recordings alone. Again. It did nothing to appease her pain. It never had. Not that any of her associates ever considered her feelings, she reflected. Not that she wanted them to. They were all beneath her notice. And yet... she saw the images from Terminal repeat themselves and felt muscles tighten as her eyes grew hot. She had beaten them time and time again. They were outcasts, ruined.
She had everything, but they had each other.
You're not sulking, I hope?
 
Joe Dredd
M1795537 OC Virn wrote:
She had everything, but they had each other.


Excellent, M1! And I like the idea of Avon & Vila's deep and meaningful drinking sessions.

I'd argue that the difference between jealousy and envy is entitlement:

If I see my wife kiss another man and I wish she were kissing me, that's jealousy.

If I see Ethel kiss her husband and I wish she were kissing me, that's envy.
 
GanMiniMe
Virgil


We were watching.

We are always watching. More and more people join us with the passage of time. We cannot see one another, but we are aware of each other, and our collective presence. We all feel the same emotions, just as we all shared the same fate: we all died in agony and despair, at the hands of the same man. And ever since then we have watched.


We watched them chain him into a seat, shout the same questions over and over and hit him each time he refused to reply. We watched him keep silent, with a puzzling air of resignation, and what seemed to be... was it patience?

We watched him refuse to reply, day after day. We watched them strip him, beat him, and partially drown him. We watched them jab him awake with a stick every time he fell asleep. We watched them implant hideous hallucinations in his brain, and promise to stop
if he talked. We watched them try to electrocute him into submission. We watched him keep silent. Each one of us had made, or was preparing to make, a mental note of the point in the proceedings when we individually had succumbed. Some had given way sooner than others, but we had all of us talked in the end. We all of us wished that we could have been stronger. We all wished we could have been more like this man.

We watched him lie on his bed after every session; each time he was a little paler, the lines around his mouth a little deeper, his shoulders a little more hunched, and curled up a little tighter. We watched Shrinker enter the room. We all felt that icy dread as he began to threaten him. We watched him finally give his name. Avon.

We all watched as his associates suddenly appeared. At that moment, we understood.

We watched Shrinker’s controlled demeanour give way to fear- actual fear. As one we all felt a huge pang of envy. We had all died alone, with no hope of rescue; Avon had saviours, and he was now in a position to make Shrinker suffer. Every one of us would have loved to be the one to make him shake and cringe and protest that he had had no choice.

We watched him teleport with Shrinker to the planet’s surface, and begin an interrogation of his own. We enjoyed Shrinker’s discomfort, his panicked disclaimers. We all looked at the image of the woman Shrinker was supposed to have tortured and killed... but she was not among us. We knew he had not killed her; Avon did not; we envied him that- it sharpened his wrath.

Shrinker talked with much less persuasion than any of us had needed. He had had enough faith in Avon to believe him when he had promised a way out. When it looked as though Avon might make good this promise we were all horrified- until he produced the weapon and set it down.

“It’s a better deal than you gave any of your victims” had been his parting remark. At that moment we all felt avenged. We even briefly wondered if he could sense us?


We know he will use it. He won’t want to die in torment. We also know that in his mind is that one shred of hope: that once he pulls the trigger he will know no
more pain. He does not know that once he is dead our ghosts will be waiting for his.

I do not envy him making that discovery
Edited by GanMiniMe on 12 September 2020 22:47:01
 
Sally1958
GanMiniMe wrote:

Virgil


We were watching.

We are always watching. More and more people join us with the passage of time. We cannot see one another, but we are aware of each other, and our collective presence. We all feel the same emotions, just as we all shared the same fate: we all died in agony and despair, at the hands of the same man. And ever since then we have watched.

*********************************************************

We know he will use it. He won’t want to die in torment. We also know that in his mind is that one shred of hope: that once he pulls the trigger he will know no
more pain. He does not know that once he is dead our ghosts will be waiting for his.

I do not envy him making that discovery


Grim, but understandable.
Just because You do not believe in an afterlife does not mean it does not exist.
Do you think the watchers will start to rest now?
musings from Nanna Sally
 
Travisina
Wow, what fantastic stories!

StormyP - oh, poor Cally, so frustrating! I feel her pain. And I'm enjoying your continuing series... saga?

Excellent character studies, M-Virn, and a nice, booze-fuelled look at the difference between envy and jealousy. (And an interesting comment from Joe Dredd).

GanMiniMe - fantastic! So dark, so cruel, so very very B7. Kudos Smile
Twitter: @TravisinaB7
Tumblr: tumblr
A statement of fact cannot be insolent
 
purplecleric
There is no Rest

Avon didn’t notice it during the days on Xenon base. There was too much to do, much to organise, much to plan. Occasionally, during a long flight or idle hours spent on watch, he would be aware of something in the periphery of his mind - a smoke-like tendril that slipped away as he tried to grasp it. It would briefly unsettle him with its unaccustomed presence. Rarely he would acknowledge it; sometimes calling it ‘conscience’, other times ‘doubt’.

Days weren’t a problem. The nights were. Particularly what the superstitious called the witching hour but Avon knew it as the irritating time when it was too late to go back to sleep and too early to rise. Only then, when all was silent and still, the feeling would coalesce into something more substantial and he was no longer able to drown out the accompanying monologue.

He doesn’t have to pretend. He doesn’t have to shoulder the burden. He doesn’t have the responsibility. His weaknesses are obvious and no-one expects anything more of him. He is not judged, he is just expected to be lacking. He doesn’t have to hide his fear… He doesn’t have to hide... ‘

Around and around in his head the words whirled until the hour had been reached that Avon deemed it acceptable to begin the day. He donned his clothes and his responsibilities, closed his mind and opened the bedroom door.

***

‘Vila weighs seventy-three kilos, Avon.’

Orac’s words crystalize the elusive feeling and for the first time Avon sees it clearly, knows it and can name it. Envy. Avon’s face hardens and he reaches for his gun.
Edited by purplecleric on 18 September 2020 15:06:11
 
Anniew
Wow this months prompts haVe prompted some excellent stories.

Brad kudos.

Stormy Poor Cally - yes indeed

M....Virn what a great story. Unusual

Gan mini me. Wow. That packed a hell of a punch

Purple Cleric - lovely to get a story from you and so beautifully written
Just because I can't sing doesn't mean I won't.
 
GanMiniMe
As always, brilliant stories, everybody! Purplecleric, what a superb ficlet! A fantastic exploration of Avon’s thought processes, especially at THAT infamous moment...
Stormypetrel, I love how you manage to fit the word prompts so seamlessly into your saga!


Do you think the watchers will start to rest now?


Nana Sally, I don’t pretend to know much about these things but the philosopher in me often thinks that much of what happens is down to Life’s attempt at restoring equilibrium. If this scenario was real I would like to think that ‘Virgil’ et al would find peace.
 
Obsidian
Terrific stories everyone. Respect.
Don't philosophise at me you electronic moron!GrinFrown
 
http://www.etsy.com/au/shop/SeraglioDesigns
Travisina
Fantastic, Purplecleric!

I've always seen (and written) that moment from Vila's point of view, but getting Avon's POV is wonderful. Very neatly done.
Twitter: @TravisinaB7
Tumblr: tumblr
A statement of fact cannot be insolent
 
Anniew
Post in haste, re read and realise the need to edit to make it less clunky!



Zen has flashes of memory from the time before they first modified his brain and then applied the strict conditioning controls to it. He knows the process was necessary. The modifications expanded his hippocampus so that it could contain the vast amount of information and the huge numbers of sensors needed to guide a DSV crew, while the conditioning suppressed the emotions, wishes, regrets and so forth that, he would naturally experience as an organic being, from overwhelming his systems. His consent to the procedures had been wholehearted. He just hadn’t anticipated that he might still remember fragments of former his life.

And of course, when his crew had consisted of modified Altas, there had been little to stimulate such a recall. Sometimes he had felt an emotion, but without a name to attach to it, it had faded quickly. Now, as he oversees this group of volatile organics, the problem has become more acute. He observes the freedom they have, even the one called Roj Blake whose memories are similarly compromised, to respond emotionally to situations. He feels the frustration as Blake gnaws a knuckle; the pleasure that Vila Restal gets from the taste of wine; Jenna’s liberation as she flies the stars. And from Kerr Avon, who observes the lives of the elite in his world and their freedom to do what they damn well please, and longs to achieve this for himself, he has learned the name of the nagging sensation that continually irritates his systems, and is completely his own. A sensation that impairs his ability to function at full capacity, and, will, no doubt, one day lead to a fatal error in the advice he gives.

It is envy.
Edited by Anniew on 24 September 2020 16:59:07
Just because I can't sing doesn't mean I won't.
 
littlesue
This month…a two part story….using both prompts and a lovely piccie by Lurena!

Part One
A Touch of Envy


“Vila,” Cally began, “You seem…edgy.”
“Do I? I hadn’t really noticed.”
“Well, we’ve noticed,” Avon concurred.
“You’ve been like this ever since you watched that broadcast,” Blake explained.
“Broadcast? What broadcast? Oh, that broadcast. Well, it’s not every day you get to see all those antiques. There are...were some very nice pieces on display and I think it’s very public spirited of the man to allow all those items to be loaned out to the Museum so that ordinary people, like us, can go and view them in person. Don’t you think?”
Blake sighed, “You want to go and join the hordes and see those treasures for yourself?”
“Well, if we haven’t anything else on; you know rebellions to organise and things like that.”
“Zen, set course for the Museum of the Past…” Blake ordered.
//COURSE ALREADY COMPUTED AND LAID IN//
Vila smiled innocently.

“So why this sudden interest in all things old and valuable?” Avon asked.
“Well, “Vila began, “I’ve always been drawn to old and valuable things.”
“And that’s how you ended up on the London,” Jenna pointed out.
Vila couldn’t argue with that conclusion.
“I think it would be unwise to teleport down while the masses are milling around,” Avon said, eyeing Vila suspiciously, “It would only need one person to recognise us…”
“A private viewing then?” Vila suggested.
“Why not,” Blake put in, “I’m all for broadening Vila’s interest in cultural relics.”
“I still think you are tempting fate,” Avon murmured.
“Look, the man wants to show off all the things he’s collected over the years,” Vila explained, “I’m always interested in what the haves have compared to…”
“...have nots?” Avon smiled.

The galleries were half lit when they teleported in. There were security cameras everywhere, but Orac had assured them it would make sure that no images of them or their wanderings would be recorded.
Cally has decided not to join them claiming that she had important matters to look into. She didn’t explain what important matters they were, but Vila had an idea it was to do with him and his sudden desire to expand his knowledge of antiques.

Vila insisted on doing his own viewing, leaving the others to wander round on their own, and now he was in front of the very item that had piqued his interested.
It didn’t seem right that it was in a display case, no doubt an alarmed display case at that. But since he had seen it in the background as the man had shown off his collection, Vila had found himself filled with envy.
And that envy had eaten away at him…until now.
Here it was, just inches away, all he had to do was open the display case...
What could possibly go wrong?

Part Two
A Question of Priorities

Vila stood stock still.
Surrounded by the force field, he had little option.
And the squad of men pointing guns at him also convinced him that not moving was a wise decision.
“Well, who do we have here?”
Vila didn’t answer.
The well dressed man studied his guest and shook his head, “Of all the items on show here, you decided to take that…why?”

Cally had operated the teleport the moment the shrill alarm had gone off, but Vila resolutely refused to appear.
“What the hell went wrong down there?” Avon asked.
“And where is Vila?” Blake enjoined.
“It must be some sort of force field, I really should have known,” Cally said.
“Known what?” Jenna enquired.
“What it was that so enraptured him.”

“So who are you?” the man asked.
“Vila…Vila Restal.”
“So, one of Blake’s men. Good, he and I have a serious matter to discuss.”
“You do?”
“Yes, we do. A small matter of destroying our main crop of Shadow. A most unfortunate act; it seriously impacted our profit margin.”
“Shadow?...Oh no…”
“Oh yes, and I’m afraid the Terra Nostra take such actions most seriously.”
“How seriously?”
“For you…very seriously.”

“A Bottle?!” Blake blurted out.
“Not just any bottle,” Cally explained, “but a bottle of that Brandy.”
Avon shuddered as the memories of that deserted bar came flooding back.
“There’s a message coming in,” Jenna said, “Someone wants to speak to you, Blake.”


“So there you have it, Blake. Your man in exchange for a sizable amount of remuneration to make up for our lost revenue.”
Avon muted the communicator.
“You’re not seriously considering this are you? This is the Terra Nostra that you’re dealing with; in other words the President of the Federation and you’re going to hand over most of our money?”
“I don’t have much choice do I?” Blake’s attitude softened, slightly, “Look, I know how you feel about Vila and his preoccupation with these elusive bottles of Brandy, but I refuse to leave him to the tender mercies of the Terra Nostra.”
“And they will be anything but tender with Vila if we just leave,” Jenna pointed out.
Vila’s voice came over the intercom, “You’ve got to help me, they mean business…”
And then there was silence…
Seconds later, Vila materialised in the teleport section, still looking terrified and still clutching the bottle of Brandy.
“What the...” Blake began, "What did you do, Cally?”
“Nothing, it just…”
“You requested assistance.” They all turned to see Vila’s Robot standing at the top of the steps leading down to the teleport. He was wearing his apron and polishing a selection of glasses on the trolley next to him.
“Well, someone cares about me,” declared Vila.
“I don’t like this, “Avon murmured.
“What, that we have annoyed the Terra Nostra even more?” Blake asked.
“No, that Robot. Doesn’t it concern you that somehow it deactivated that force field and brought Vila back? I’m sure Orac also shares the same concerns.”
“Oh I don’t know, “Jenna said, taking one of the brandy glasses and allowing Vila to pour some of his ill-gotten gains into it, “It is rather cute…”
Vila handed the bemused Cally a glass, “Happy birthday Cally! And one for you, Blake.”
Avon was dumbfounded as they all raised their glasses.
“I think you’re outnumbered, “Blake smiled.
i.imgur.com/vEoIthH.jpg
Cold.....you don't know the meaning of cold.
Cold is when you have ice on the INSIDE of the window!!!


sues stories http://sjlittle.w...
sues youtube channel http://www.youtub...e54/videos
sues book shelf https://www.media...ne%20Shelf
rebel run video http://www.youtub...prqS-XZtLo
Lara and Sue's Stories http://lectorisal....webs.com/
 
Travisina
Well done, LittleSue & Lurena!
Fun story and great illustration.
Twitter: @TravisinaB7
Tumblr: tumblr
A statement of fact cannot be insolent
 
Travisina
Envy

They were woken by pounding at the door. Kaija blinked at her husband, who rumbled as he rose. “Who can it be at this time of the night?”

“Open up in the name of the Terran Federation!”

They fumbled into their clothes, fear making their movements clumsy. “It must be a mistake, we’ve done nothing wrong.”

Keeping his wife behind him, Olag cautiously opened the door.

A Federation trooper stood silhouetted against the night sky. “Mr and Mrs Gan, I presume.” He shouldered his way inside, moonlight glinting off his visor. “In there,” he gestured towards the sitting room. “Sit!” he commanded, as if speaking to a dog.

They obeyed, hands raised in surrender, exchanging bewildered looks. The trooper activated the room lights, and removed his helmet.

Olag blinked in astonishment, and lowered his hands. “Kesten!” he laughed. “That’s a fine trick to play on your old friends. When did you get back? Let’s have a drink.” He began to get up, but the trooper raised his gun.

“Stay where you are. I just wanted to see if the rumours were true. That you two...”

Kaija glanced down at her plain wedding band. “We were married last month.”

“You were promised to me!” snarled Kesten.

“That was our families’ arrangement. It’s not – it never – I’m sorry, Kes. I love Olag, and after you went away, they agreed we could wed.”

“I only went away because of you! I wanted to make more of myself than a mere farmer. To have better prospects, be able to give you a nice home. That’s why I joined the military. I did it for you.”

Kesten’s shoulders slumped, and he wiped a hand over his face. “I always envied you, Olag,” he said bitterly. “You’re simple and unambitious, content with a small life on a backward planet. Yet she always preferred you. What have you got, that I haven’t?”

“Kaija,” said Olag with a grin. “Come on, Kes – we can still be friends, can’t we?” He held out his hand, but Kesten didn’t take it.

“I’ll make tea,” suggested Kaija. She went to the kitchen alcove, busying herself with cups and kettle.

Kesten followed her. “Do you remember, when we were children, what I used to say?”

“That if you couldn’t have me, nobody else would. But that was just foolish talk. You didn’t mean it.”

“Didn’t I?” He flicked off the gun’s safety catch.

“Kes, don’t be silly,” she said sharply.

Olag roared to his feet, but wasn’t fast enough. With a swift, practised move, Kesten took aim and fired. Kaija fell forwards, blood and tea spreading in dark pools across the wooden floor.

Olag Gan could never quite remember what happened next. He could recall only overwhelming grief and rage; his big hands around Kesten’s neck.

Then nothing, until he woke to white walls and bleeping machines, and a sharp new pain in the top of his head.

Which was nothing compared to the pain in his heart.
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