The

Decline and Fall

by Una McCormack



She wept for hours as we headed back to base; deep, shuddering sobs of immeasurable grief. Tarrant consoled and cajoled, took her hand and promised her how we would make Servalan pay for everything she had done. Soolin was silent but practical, administered sedatives, and listened to his entreaties and her tears; attentive but distant. I hovered ineffectually, clutched at a bottle and fretted as she told us the whole sorry, sordid tale. We already knew that he was dead, but she told us about her joy at seeing him again, her increasing wonder at the chance she had to revisit and reawaken an affection that had until then remained unspoken and impossible - and then, indistinctly, she explained how she had betrayed her lover. At this point Avon, who had been sitting at his console with head back and eyes closed, stood up abruptly, and disappeared into one of the isolation booths. We none of us missed the significance of his sudden retreat, and Dayna was reduced to fresh tears. It was a comparison none of us would have welcomed.

I tackled him once we were back at base, hammering at his door until he surrendered and let me in.

'You could at least have tried to be sympathetic.'

No reply.

'It wasn't her fault.'

'Try telling that to Justin.' He sneered. 'I forget, though - he's dead.'

'You don't have such a good track record yourself, you know.'

'Since when have you been my conscience?'

'Since you decided not to bother with one anymore.'

He sighed, bored with the conversation. 'Get out, Vila.'

So I did. Who was I fooling? I wasn't Cally. Only she had known how to handle Avon at his most intractable.

I shuffled back towards my own room, but found myself pausing outside Dayna's. She was sure to need someone to talk to. Who else was going to do it? Tarrant was well meaning enough, but probably wouldn't think of it. Soolin avoided anything beyond the most superficialinteraction with all of us. Avon would never be my first choice psychotherapist. And Cally was dead. 

I tapped at the door and gently called her name.A brief silence, then movement from inside; someone approached the door, and it slid open. She looked shattered; her face lined with fatigue. She smiled weakly, and tried to look pleased to see me. 'Vila.'

'Just thought I'd see how you were doing.' I wished I were anywhere else. There was nothing that I could possibly say or do that would bring her any consolation.

'Come in.' She moved sideways to open up the doorway to me. I felt my eyes widen slightly in horror, but she didn't notice. Now I really was caught.

I shuffled forwards and into her room. It was much the same as her cabin had been on Liberator - casually littered with clothes and with electronic gizmos from the lethal toys that she loved to play with; and, in the centre of her desk, framed and essential to the room, a large photograph of a man I knew was her father. I sat gingerly on the edge of the bed. This was awful. Maybe she did want to talk, but I would have given anything to have been out of that room and away from having to make the effort of connecting with another person. The following conversation was going to demand more from me than I really wanted to give.

'Do you want a drink…?' she murmured, gesturing towards a table lined with bottles. I shook my head. She sat down opposite me, and what I feared was going to be a long silence began, until she broke it abruptly. 'Have you spoken to Avon?'

'Briefly.'

'What did he say?' It struck me then how strangely eager we all were for Avon's approbation; how much pleasure we received when he looked kindly on us - how devastating it was when he reproved.

'Not much.' She frowned. What did she expect? Forgiveness? Why did she want it - why did she hope for it? Why did we continue to fool ourselves that we would each somehow be the one who would provoke from Avon an outburst of emotion or irrationality, a gesture that he cared even slightly about our individual lives and fates? Not even Cally could manage that.

'I suppose that's all I should expect…' she murmured, looking sadly about the room. 'All that I deserve…'

This was what I had been dreading. The part of the conversation where I had to console her, to try to make her feel that somehow the world wasn't the shitty fuck-up that we both knew it was. I doubted I would be convincing. I leaned forwards and gently touched her knee.

'Don't talk like that, Dayna.'

The tears were rolling down her face again. 'I killed him, Vila. I did it. And worse, I let myself be used… I let her use me…'

I reached for her hand. 'It's not true, Dayna. You can't blame yourself for what happened… She manipulated you… did stuff to you…' Platitudes. Meaningless words that I knew and she knew were worthless. Her tears flowed on relentlessly. If only Cally were here, I thought, as I did almost every hour of every day.

'Avon got it right,' she went on. 'Justin trusted me and I betrayed him.' Damn the man, I raged internally. As if this poor girl didn't have enough to cope with as a result of this fiasco, she got to have Avon's own guilt-trip forced onto her. Selfish, self-centred, thoughtless bastard…

Dayna was in full swing now. 'Of all the people I could have betrayed him to, how I could I let myself sell him to her? How could I have been so weak, so pathetic…?'

Time to be a little hard with her. 'Dayna, I can't have you talking like that. You cannot blame yourself for what happened today…' She cut across me angrily. 'What the hell do you know about it?' she snarled. 'You really put yourself on the line every day, don't you, Vila? You sneak around this base hoping that if there's a dirty job to do someone else will pick it up for you – what the hell gives you the right to come in here and lecture me…?'

She started to sob again, yanking her hand away from mine to cover her face. I let her cry for a while, then she began to grab for tissues, take deep breaths, go through the motions of displaying control.

'I'm sorry. That was completely uncalled-for.' She gave an apologetic smile. I shrugged to show it didn't matter. 'I really appreciate you coming here, Vila. That's real courage, I suppose.'

Real courage. How completely undeserved. I had come to see her because it was worse to lie in bed thinking that she was unhappy and that I'd done nothing about it than to put my head round the door for a sketchy five minutes and force myself to speak a few meaningless, comfortless sentences.

'...I think that I'd better get some sleep...' she was saying.

I stood up. 'Thanks again, Vila.' 'If there's anything you want, anything I can do...'

'I'll be fine,' she said firmly. She corralled me towards the door and out.

Yes, she'd be fine, eventually. She'd wake up one morning and somehow it wouldn't feel so bad anymore because she would be back in neutral. Like us all, she would try to excise the rawness and the bitterness; and,when she found that they couldn't be cut out completely, she would force them down until she could go through life if not functioning normally, then with sufficient control to prevent her breaking down and screaming at the bloody unfairness and injustice and filthiness that constituted our petty existence.

I went into my room, leaning on the door once I'd closed the base behind me. I looked round me - it wasn't much to show for thirty-eight years - and then I was hit with a profound understanding why it was that, despite our years of shared history, we passed by each other day by day like strangers; why it was that Dayna cried alone tonight, why it was that after almost a year Soolin still felt like a newcomer, why it was that Avon was increasingly distant and remote.

I felt again the intense isolation at the heart of human life: we look to each other for help and support, but finally we will crawl away from others, unwilling and unable to make that final connection; in the end we stand and we fall alone.

I went over to the table and cracked open another bottle.


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