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Limbo

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 8

I lay awake for several hours, wondering what I had got myself into. I had to be crazy, taking on a problem like this. How much of it was sheer sentiment? I had rescued Avon and bandaged him; now I felt possessive, like a mother with a hurt child. That diverted me momentarily; had the deputy noticed the bandages on Avon's forehead and the bruise on his cheekbone and put two and two together? The rest of Avon's bruises wouldn't show unless he stripped, and hopefully, the deputy wouldn't have thought anything of a bandage or two. I'd have to think up an excuse--a car accident back in Boston, maybe.

I hadn't been thinking of Servalan, either, although if Avon was right about the thoroughness of her determination to rid the Federation of Blake's people, I could not disregard her. Maybe she would arrive and be captured by the Feds. I chuckled to myself at the similarity--the Feds, the Federation--and realized how tired I was to find it humorous. I slept after that, but restlessly, with strange and disturbed dreams, and I did not wake up refreshed.

In the morning, Avon was wearing an impersonal facade as if he feared he'd given away too much of himself the previous evening and now wanted to make up for it. The fact that he was wearing a plaid shirt that had been a particular favorite of Greg's distracted me momentarily from his grim, touch-me-not attitude; then I noticed the floppy slippers and the fact that he'd brought down his black boots as if preparing to don them and run. I resolved we would go shopping for shoes as soon as possible. Most men I knew didn't wear knee-high boots as a matter of course.

"How are you this morning?" I asked sympathetically, for he was moving stiffly.

"I have felt better, but exercise should relieve the worst of it."

"Then I can give you some of that. Come and have breakfast, then we'll go down and make sure your pod isn't visible from the air. It's a good thing it's cloudy."

"Do you mean your world's aircraft cannot fly in cloudy weather?"

"No, they do it all the time. It's just that the clouds are pretty low and it's not the best weather for an air search. It'll give us a little time."

"Not if you still mean to notify the authorities this morning."

No wonder he had brought down his boots. If I called in, he meant to leave in a hurry. I shook my head. "No, I mean to go shopping this morning. There's the possibility of heavy snow today, and I want to lay in a supply of food. We'll get you some shoes and boots, a coat, maybe, and some underwear, too. Then, when we get back, we might call in. I don't think they'd expect us to go out first thing, do you?"

He shook his head. "Will this heavy snow delay things?"

"It's exactly what we need," I assured him. "It'll hide everything we need hidden. It won't cover the broken branches, but it'll make them less obvious. Better yet, it'll protect us from an air search. The only problem is that Iowa weather is unpredictable. It may not snow at all. It may pass us by."

"But weather control--"

"This is the 20th Century, remember? We don't have anything like weather control. Our weather forecasts are little more than educated guesses. Sometimes, blizzards strike without warning. I remember waking up one morning and finding five inches of snow on the ground that hadn't been predicted when I went to bed. Come and have breakfast, then we'll go cover the pod with dead branches. Then we'll go shopping."

He didn't look enthusiastic about shopping, but the idea of breakfast did appeal. I fixed a big breakfast, bacon and eggs and toast and oatmeal with milk and orange juice. He still went sparingly on the milk, but the way he polished off everything else made me wonder about foods of the future. Maybe they only had concentrates or artificial foods. When I asked, he nodded. "Most things come from processing units, which are adequate at best." He sipped the coffee I'd set beside his plate. "I've drunk coffee for years, but it doesn't compare to this."

"It's real," I said. "Made from real coffee beans. I never asked if you had any dietary restrictions, but tell me if you do."

He shook his head, his mouth full of scrambled eggs, an expression of bliss on his face. Once, I'd eaten powdered eggs, and, while they were tolerable, I suppose, if one were hungry enough, they didn't match the real thing. If all his food tasted like that, this ordinary breakfast must seem like a feast to him. I'm not a great cook--I can fix plain food well enough, but nobody goes into raptures about my baking or anything. Until that moment, I'd never really thought much about food except for treats at the odd expensive restaurant. Now I saw that I had complacently taken it for granted.

My eggs tasted better than they had in years.

It wasn't snowing yet when we went out to conceal the escape pod, but there was a sharp edge to the air that stung with the promise of bad weather ahead. Wearing Greg's old green parka and a pair of faded leather gloves he'd found in the pockets, Avon took deep breaths of the sharp, clear air. "The wind is rather nasty," he observed when he saw me noticing him enjoying it.

"You're in Iowa now, buster. Let me tell you about something unpleasant called 'wind chill factor.'" I tucked my hands in my pockets. "I'm not a native here, but one thing Iowans love to do is to discuss the weather."

"How charming," he observed sardonically.

"Wait until you see a Midwest blizzard."

He eyed me skeptically, as if uncertain if he should take me seriously, but didn't reply.

In the daylight, the damage from the crash was noticeable enough, even if the bare ground didn't show it as badly as a green, growing field would have. I thought we could rearrange the rail fence adequately enough and scuff some of the traces over, bringing twigs and branches from the thicket to make the long scar less obviously a straight line. As we worked our way down the hill, I broke off dangling branches and strewed them about artistically so there wouldn't be a direct line to the downed craft.

It had slid in among the cottonwoods, but it was visible if one came in from the southeast, and since the Des Moines Airport was south and a little east of us, I thought it best to make sure the pod really wasn't visible. Low-flying craft would spot it right away, but I doubted anyone would risk flying beneath those low-hanging clouds. We might get away with it altogether, though I wouldn't bet on it.

We spent about an hour fetching brush and arranging it to look natural around the pod. Avon was very careful to do a thorough job--I don't think he ever took chances when his life was at stake, although perhaps he had taken a chance or two beyond the usual when he went to find Blake on Gauda Prime.

Finally, we returned to the house, pausing at the top of the hill to survey our handiwork. I didn't think anyone would notice anything amiss if they weren't looking, but someone might well be looking. Though more likely, the Sheriffs office would dismiss it as a prank and move on to more important things, especially if we did get a blizzard.

Before we set off for Des Moines, I listened to the weather report It seemed that the threatened snow had moved closer, and there were warnings to people en route to Omaha and other places west Interstate 80 was ice and snow packed the other side of Atlantic, and when I heard that, I hurried Avon out to the car. "We don't have as much time as I thought."

He got into the car obediently, asking a great many questions about its function, then commenting with a touch of arrogance that it was inefficient and that the use of fossil fuel was stupid. Well, I agreed with that, but there wasn't a lot I could do about it I lived here and now and had to use what was available, and I told him so. He threw me a slightly pitying look and went back to watching me drive. After about five miles, he said, "I should like to try that."

Well, he knew enough to pilot a spacecraft, so he should be able to manage a car. If we ran into snow on the way back, I'd need to be at the wheel, but it wouldn't hurt to let him try it now, so I pulled over and we changed places. He put the car into drive and edged back onto the road, testing this and that, and shifting the wheel cautiously. At first, he had a two-handed death grip like a nervous little old lady, but after a few minutes, he relaxed and a perfectly spectacular smile brightened his face. It was a good thing he didn't smile more often. People might need sunglasses.

After one violent stop when he hit the power brakes a lot harder than necessary , he settled into driving as if he'd done it a long time, though he was wary at comers. I gave him a quick run-down on traffic laws, and then, before we came into Johnston, a northern suburb of Des Moines, I made him stop again and relinquish the wheel. He looked like he would have liked to do some hot rodding, making me realize that men and their fascination with machines were the same in any century, but I didn't want to inflict my future man and his untested performance on poor, innocent Des Moines.

As we came into town, he watched everything with fascinated interest that turned into skepticism and contempt whenever he thought I was watching him, and when I took him into Merle Hay Mall to find a shoe store, his stare became even more intense. Nobody gave him a second glance, but I knew he could easily make mistakes that might be remembered and remarked upon, so I told him sternly, "Follow my lead. You're supposed to be from Boston. People from back East tend to think Des Moines is out in the sticks. Provincial and backward," I clarified when he looked blank. "It's not necessarily so, but it doesn't do to go around looking like a child in a candy store."

Resentment flashed in his eyes, and he gave me one of those haughty, down-the-nose stares that he must have used to intimidate people in the future. I shrugged, secure in the knowledge that I was right, and took his arm to guide him into a shoe store.

The shoe salesman liked Avon's knee-high boots. "You're all set for the blizzard," he commented cheerfully. "Where'd you get the boots? I haven't seen any like that around here."

"Boston," said Avon repressively.

"Oh, well."

He displayed plain brown loafers to Avon, who eyed them with disdain and said, "I should prefer black."

"To match his nature," I said a little spitefully. Avon could be wearing.

"No, only my heart," he responded, and I wasn't quite sure if he meant it or not, for there was the faintest trace of a twinkle in his eyes. The shoe clerk must have decided we were having a fight and wisely stayed out of it, producing black shoes. I bought Avon a pair that didn't particularly appeal to him, but at least they were free of metal studs and didn't look like he could use them to kick someone to death.

We went into a men's clothing store and bought him some underwear and a couple of shirts and jeans, then I took pity on his curiosity and we mall-crawled for about 45 minutes. I had to drag him out of first Waldenbooks and then Radio Shack, where he got into a discussion with a young man selling computers. Avon put him in his place in precisely ten seconds and proceeded to explain in pitying terms how primitive and inefficient his PCs were. After a few minutes, interest lit the salesman's eyes and he overlooked the contempt and demanded answers. Avon must have viewed him as a bright, retarded child, for he became slightly benevolent and plunged into a discussion that left me miles behind. The young man countered with an argument of his own and battle was fairly joined. When we finally left the store, Avon was smiling and looking quite human, and the salesman' s eyes followed him with respect, almost awe.

"So there are some intelligent people in your time, Meredith," Avon observed as we headed back to the car.

"As many as there are in your own. At least, we don't use suppressant drugs or butcher whole planets."

"Touche."

"We simply don't have the technology," I pressed on. "People like that guy actually might help to bring it about."

"Perhaps, though you are a long way from tarriel cells."

"Whatever they are." I noticed it had begun to snow, a few flurries anyway, still melting when they hit the pavement "Look, it's snowing."

"If this is a blizzard, I am not impressed."

Living in the country as I do, I had learned that a bad storm could cut me off for days at a time, so we stopped to lay in a supply of groceries. I was ably hindered by Avon, who had to be dragged out of the meat department, pried away from a tank of live lobsters--he'd never seen a crustacean before, either--and forcibly restrained from filling my shopping cart with everything from apples to zucchini. Taking Greg shopping had always raised the price of groceries, but shopping with Avon could bankrupt a millionaire.

When we emerged from the grocery store laden with practical and exotic foods, the snow had intensified. "I'm glad we didn't leave it any later," I remarked as we stowed the bags in the trunk. "This could get nasty."

"Will it keep the 'Feds' away?"

"If anything will."

"What kind of weapons do you have?" he asked as we headed north on Merle Hay Road.

"Greg liked hunting--the one area in which we disagreed. He had a couple of rifles and a few shotguns. I've still got them and ammunition. If you start shooting at the FBI, we will be in trouble."

"I was thinking of Servalan."

"I know. I thought of her last night, and I meant to get out the shotgun, but I never did. We will when we get home."

"Do you have the remotest idea how to shoot?"

"Yes, Greg taught me. I like target shooting." I added quickly, "But I don't think I could shoot another person."

"Not even to save your life or mine?"

I hesitated. Self defense is a powerful motivator and I had come to feel curiously protective of Avon. It was nothing to do with love, at least not the man-woman kind of love, but it was a strong feeling. What would I do if Servalan came and tried to take him away, back to a trial and a death sentence? This woman who had killed the Auronar, who viewed life and everything else as cheap before her own desire for power. "Well," I conceded, "I don't plan to let her take you."


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Sheila Paulson

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