In a Dark TimeBy Catherine Salmon
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Darkness: he was walking amongst trees. And he was in darkness. Light filtered through the canopy of leaves, a faint illumination, tinted in green. He was carrying Orac and he was alone. Where were the others? Vila? Tarrant and the girls? He wasn't sure, but he knew that they weren't who he was looking for, searching for.
Blake was here. He knew it, felt it. But where? Pausing. he sensed something, someone. "Your tastes have changed, Avon." He whirled round, Orac still in his arms. Blake!
"Not as much as yours have. I see." Despite the coolness of his words, Avon stared at the man leaning against one of the huge moss-covered trees. No doubt it was Blake but so different. He blended into the forest around him, still clad in browns and greens but larger, ... more dangerous? His hair was dirty, curls matted and tangled. The rebel's gun was held loosely, but held nonetheless, not holstered. There was a frown on his lips, though his eyes showed... affection? Welcome?
Placing Orac carefully on the ground, Avon took a step closer, watching the smile spread from Blake's eyes to the rest of his face.
Blake reached out a large, slightly grimy hand and, with a hesitant smile, Avon extended his own.
"I was waiting for you." Blake's voice was soft, calm. But something wasn't right.
Avon felt a sudden chill. A snap of a branch, the whine of a laser rifle. Blake stumbled against him and they both fell to the ground.
"No!" Avon woke up with a jerk, covered in sweat. He stared blindly for a moment, heart still racing. His clenched hands released as he slowly recognized his surroundings. He was in his cabin, darkened for sleeping, in his bed with his sheets, damp with the sweat of fear.
I'm still on Scorpio, he thought. A dream? He shivered and spoke out loud. "It won't happen like that."
He ran his hands through his hair. He'd never get back to sleep now. Rising quickly, he headed for the shower. Then he'd go back to Orac's reports. He wanted to know everything he could about what they would find on Gauda Prime, including where to find a certain rebel leader.
* * *
In a dark time, the eve begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood-- A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
* * *
Lying on the ground. Orac beside him, Avon watched the flames rise from Scorpio's remains. He spared a moment to mourn Tarrant's loss. No one could have survived the crash. But the girls, Soolin and Dayna, and Vila should be around somewhere. And Blake, he reminded himself as if he needed reminding.
Picking himself up. he checked his weapon and picked up the testy little computer.
"Orac, what direction will take us toward the most likely location for Blake to have established a base?"
*Northwest, which is of course an estimate based on the set teleport coordinates.*
"Of course," Avon muttered. "How far will we have to travel, assuming the teleport coordinates were accurate?"
*If we proceed immediately, we would reach the most likely location in approximately two days.*
"And the others, assuming they are uninjured?" Avon waited impatiently.
Orac hummed away for a few moments before replying. *They are, assuming the same rate of travel, six hours ahead of us.*
Resigning himself to a long walk, one in which he would have to remain very alert to danger, Avon set off, Orac in arms. After a while, despite the thickness of his clothes and Orac's not insignificant weight, Avon felt chilled. Gauda Prime's forests were dense, the tree canopy blocking out all but a small amount of leaf-filtered light. It was cold and damp. thoroughly uncomfortable and Avon silently damned Blake for choosing such a planet for a base. Not only was he cold and uncomfortable, he was nervous. Too many hiding places for the bounty hunters Blake was reputed to be one of. Carrying Orac would be a handicap if he had to face any man eager to collect on the bounty the Federation had put on his head.
Pausing to rest. Avon decided to better the odds. Placing a homing tracer inside Orac's casing, he removed the key and pocketed it. He then concealed the computer under a large bush, piling brush and rocks over it until it was completely obscured from view. Satisfied that he would at least have the chance to go for his weapon if necessary. Avon set off again, eyes alert to the smoke up ahead.
Scorpio's remains, no doubt, he mused. Was it possible that Tarrant could have survived? It seemed unlikely, but Scorpio was in the direction he was heading; it would cost him nothing to check. Tarrant, in spite of his many irritating habits, was a man Avon had grudgingly come to like and respect.
* * *
Sweaty and chilled, Avon stopped as he entered the clearing where Scorpio had crashed. Or rather, the clearing Scorpio created when she crashed, trees flattened and bits of metal everywhere. Scorpio was tipped open, the flight deck exposed.
Cautiously. Avon approached. He paused near the flight console, recognizing traces of blood streaked across what remained on the instrument board. Slowly he walked round the wreckage of his ship, features tightening as he found Tarrant.
The body was slumped against one of the few remaining intact consoles. Avon knelt down, knowing before he checked that Tarrant must be dead but needing to be sure. Gently, he brushed fingertips against Tarrant's throat. Nothing. He looked at his hand; slight traces of blood darkened his fingers. Tarrant wasn't long dead then. He had survived the crash, at least for a short time.
"Friend of yours?"
Eyes wide with shocked surprise, Avon jerked to his feet, blaster in hand. That voice? He searched the clearing. Where was it coming from? A dark figure melted away from one of the towering trees and Avon saw the goal he bad been searching for: Blake. Dirty and unkempt as the Blake that had haunted his sleep, this one too carried a blaster in his band, but not pointed at him.
It was pointed toward Tarrant.
"How long have you been here?"
"Long enough," Blake replied ambiguously.
"Was he alive when you got here?" Avon inquired softly.
Blake's eyebrow rose in response and he paused before answering. "Yes, but not for long. His ribcage was crushed, Lung probably punctured." Blake spoke quietly but with an indifference that Avon had seldom heard there before, not from Blake.
Without being asked again. Avon answered Blake's initial question. "Yes. he was a friend."
Blake stared hard for a moment. Avon watched as Blake's gaze shifted uneasily away, locking in on the remains of the teleport chamber.
"A teleport... Avon? Salvageable, do you think?"
"You were on Liberator too. Blake. You tell me."
The big man stiffened and Avon caught a glimpse of pain, quickly masked as Blake looked up. "I'm interested in survival. There have been many times these last two years that the teleport could have been useful, could have saved lives."
Blake's words were clipped, his voice had darkened perceptibly with anger, with regret. And Avon could guess the source.
"Blake, after Star One, we searched for you and Jenna. Both of you reported being safe. Did Jenna ever find you?" Avon's probe was rewarded with a slight flinch from the bulky rebel. For a moment, Avon thought his question would be ignored. Blake turned away. prowling around the wreckage of the flight deck. But Avon waited patiently until Blake was back where he had started from and probed again. "Blake?"
Blake's voice was bitter and cold as he answered. "Yes, she found me. Unfortunately."
So this was the reason for Blake's downtrodden attitude. Yet another of his followers dead. Avon thought uncharitably, and most likely his lover at that. Avon shied away from such thoughts almost immediately. Cally's death was still a dull ache when he was reminded of it. Perhaps he could understand Blake's sorrow, his guilt; but the rebel's current attitude and appearance were very different from the aftermath of Gan's death. Then Blake had been filled with the desire to continue the fight, to justify Gan's death to himself. Now he seemed indifferent, tired out, even disillusioned. Was Jenna's death the only cause?
Focusing himself back on the present, Avon noted that Blake was leaning against one of the moss-covered trees. Despite his obvious distraction. the rebel's eyes were alert to any movements in the forest, head cocked to pick up the slightest sound. The attitude of a man too long on the run. Back on Liberator, Blake had been fastidious about being clean, despite his relaxed style of dress, hair always clean and, curls aside, never the tangled mess it was now. Blake's face, the half that Avon could see in the shadows, was dirty, as were his clothes.
Propping himself against his console, Avon asked the question that was puzzling him. "What on earth happened to you?"
Blake lifted his head. allowing Avon to see him fully for the first time. " It wasn't what happened on Earth, Avon. If only Earth had been the end of it."
Avon could do nothing but stare. Blake words barely registered. except for the dull despair of their delivery. What transfixed him was Blake's face. One side looked as it always had, hazel eye, skin a bit more bronzed, a few more lines beneath the stubble. But the other... the other side of Blake's face was disfigured by scar tissue, the eye almost scarred shut, the mark of stitching extending several inches down his face. It looked sinister, lending a malevolent cast to Blake's once innocent features.
"How?" Avon wondered.
"A man who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken." Blake quoted. "I was mistaken and Jenna paid the price." The unscarred eye focused on Avon. I don't intend to be mistaken again."
Avon felt a cool dread settle in his stomach, making him feel distinctly nauseous. He wanted to know what exactly happened. Was Blake betrayed by his own? Even though Blake's gun was still held loosely, it could be aimed faster than he could draw his own. "You once said you trusted me. Blake." Avon forced himself to breathe calmly, to wait patiently, as emotions skittered across the other man's face, anguished remembrance mixed with a desperate pain.
"Yes. I did." Blake finally said. "And I sincerely hope that I was not mistaken. For both our sakes." Turning away, Blake crossed over to the damaged teleport. "How did you teleport off? Orac still with you?"
"Orac operated the teleport, if that is what you are asking, Blake." But it was not, Avon knew, all he was asking. Eyes scanning the forest for a moment, he then returned his attention to Blake who had a faint smile on his lips.
"Direct as ever, Avon. I asked if Orac was with you."
"Do you see it?" Avon inquired sarcastically.
Blake's smile widened a moment before shutting down completely. "If I were you, I would have hidden him somewhere safe."
"If you were me," Avon said with no little asperity, "you would have hidden it somewhere very safe. And not told anyone where it was." He watched for Blake's reaction. The rebel was very on edge, almost nervous, gaze jumping from him to the forest perimeter and back.
"And have you?"
"What do you think?"
Blake sighed. "I think I'm tired of the mistrust, of the hatred, and the death. And most of all, of the lies."
Avon believed him, could see it in his eyes, his wary yet weary stance, the cynical tone of his voice. He had never sounded like that on Liberator.
"You came here to find me, Avon?"
Avon inclined his head gracefully.
"Well, here I am. I assume you want to join forces. That means Orac could be very useful. Are you going to tell me where he is? Or where the rest of your crew are? Blake had moved again, back to the edge of the forest, blending into the trees as if he belonged there, was part of them.
Orac is safe; we can go pick it up." Avon paused for a moment. "I'm not sure where the others are. We didn't all teleport together."
"Will you take me there, Avon?"
Not the Blake of his dreams, not the Blake of his memory, and yet, Avon wanted to go with him, believe in him. But if Blake the idealist was now Blake the cynic... What might I do in his position? Warily drawing his own gun, Avon gestured for Blake to follow. They headed away from the crash, back the way Avon had come.
* * *
What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
* * *
A couple of hours later, they were still walking. It was late afternoon and what little light could penetrate the foliage overhead was getting faint. Avon frowned at the thought of traveling in the dark. There were too many places for others to hide, too many chances to be trapped. Blake, though, seemed to ignore it all. Oh, he was watchful, Avon admitted to himself. Alert to the surroundings didn't even begin to describe Blake's state. But there was definitely something wrong. And it was making Avon uneasy. Blake had said that he wouldn't be mistaken again. Was the bounty hunter guise an act, or was it for real? Avon tightened his grip on his gun. He didn't want to believe it, couldn't believe it. If Blake had finally lost his faith, what was left in the world but cynicism and death?
"You're very quiet, Avon. Tired of my undemanding company already?"
Avon glanced sideways at the bigger man. The voice had been mild but Blake's expression was suspicious. As if he expects to be led into a trap, Avon guessed.
"Trying to concentrate, Blake. You do want to find Orac, don't you?"
Blake's free hand tangled for a moment in his own curls before pulling free and he scowled at Avon. "Of course, I do. The last thing I need is for the Feds to stumble upon it. But that's not the only reason I'm here, Avon.
Avon shied away from the uncertainty in Blake's eves, the anguish evident in the harshness of his voice. Either Blake was his enemy, lost to the Federation or to the guise of a bounty hunter, or he was the Blake Avon remembered, the Blake of his dreams. Avon was unwilling to accept any other possibility, particularly the one he was facing now. But this Blake was no more easy to deal with than the Blake he once thought he knew. And they were almost to Orac's hiding place.
Once he had trusted Blake, insofar as he had trusted anyone. The man he had known on Liberator would never have given Orac to Servalan or the Federation. But this stranger? Was this still Blake, battered and bruised, or the same man, but manipulated by the Federation's brain butchers to betray him?
The tracer clicked audibly, drawing Avon's attention sharply. He cautiously surveyed the clearing they were in before approaching a large bush.
"You left Orac here? Out in the open?" Blake sounded amazed
"It was not convenient to carry it. You would have had a better solution, I assume?" Avon asked acidly, as if he had had any real choice in the matter, kneeling down and pulling the brush away to display the clear surface of the little computer's casing. He flinched as a strong hand gripped his shoulder.
"Sorry, it doesn't matter anyway, we've got him now. Back to base. We'll send out a team to find the rest of your crew. It shouldn't take too long." Avon glanced up to find a faint, smile lightening Blake's grimy face.
Both men froze in a moment of shock, Blake's grip turning painful before he remembered and released, his hand dropping to his side.
"Stay still, keep your hands were I can see them, and don't turn around until I say so." The voice was female, strong and authoritative. Harsher than Servalan's, it was unfamiliar to Avon but clearly a great deal more familiar to Blake.
"Arlen, what are you doing here? Why are you doing this?" Blake's voice was angry and confused.
Avon tilted his head up to watch Blake's face. Even in his anger, Blake had one hand outstretched, as if Arlen was merely a lost child he was flying to coax back home.
"Federation officer Mien to you, scum." Avon saw the realization sink into Blake. "We knew about your base here, pretty harmless actually. But we knew Avon would come to you eventually and that Orac would be with him. Commissioner Sleer intends to have it. So we let you play your bounty hunter game." She paused. "I hope you enjoyed it because it's the last game you'll ever play. Get up!" She gestured sharply with her blaster and Avon rose gracefully at Blake's side. Blake's face was pale underneath the grime, whether with anger or anguish Avon couldn't tell.
"Arlen, you can't expect to get away with this. Deva knows where I am." Avon looked up sharply. Who was Deva and how the hell could he know where Blake was when the rebel hadn't been in touch unless.. .a tracer? Or was Blake lying through his teeth? Avon observed Mien very carefully, one moment of distraction and they might have a chance. And Blake could be very distracting.
"It's over. Blake. You've lost. Space Command will be very pleased when I bring in you two and Orac. A pity about your base; you won't be able to die with the others."
Blake's eyes were cold as ice as he stared Mien down. "You'll have to kill me to keep me from warning them."
"I intended to from the start, Blake. When we first met, you said that you couldn't tell your friends from your enemies any more. You were right. I was sent to infiltrate your base, capture Orac and Avon if possible, and kill you, discreetly, of course. A martyr is the last thing we want you to be. You've made it easy. Avon, pick up Orac. Sleer wants the both of you."
With a quick glance at the other man, Avon bent, lip curled at the thought of Servalan waiting for him, rising with the little computer in his arms. Blake was standing very still, Mien's blaster pointed at the rebel's heart. Avon felt the constriction in his chest. Not this way, he thought desperately. Most of Mien's attention was focused on Blake, although he could tell she was aware that Orac was in his arms.
"How does it feel, Blake, to know that this is the end?"
Blake's expression didn't change from its calm composed state. "I accepted long ago that I would not live to see the Federation destroyed." His gaze hardened "But it will be destroyed, sooner or later."
"Too late for you, though." Avon watched as Mien's grip tightened in preparation for firing.
"Avon." Blake spoke softly, with a hint of regret and Avon met his gaze. And knew, Blake was waiting for him. Avon dropped Orac with a loud crash. Mien jerked round in surprise and Blake drew and fired. No chance even to scream, Mien collapsed in a smoking heap. Avon stared as Blake walked slowly toward the dead flesh, the rebel glaring down at the body, anger evident in the lines of his bulky form. When he raised his head, all Avon could see was despair.
* * *
A man goes far to find out what he is --
Death of the self in a long, tearless night .
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.
* * *
"No place like home," Blake said with a bitter twist, gesturing Avon through the door into his room. Avon didn't bother to respond, walking carefully round the small, dark, depressing room. Underground, there were no windows, dim track lighting the only illumination. There was a narrow cot, unmade, and a cluttered desk. Half-buried under a pile of computer print-outs was one of Liberator's teleport bracelets. It was nothing like Blake's cabin on Liberator. Oh, it had been messy but it had been a hopeful mess, room brightly lit, the few objects Blake treasured openly displayed. This room spoke only of depression and neglect.
"I know it's not as clean as you'd like. Avon. But you can rest here. Deva said your crew have been spotted and that they are headed this way. A couple of my men have gone out to fetch them in but it'll take a couple of hours." Blake dumped a pile of clothes from the bed onto the floor and Avon glanced over.
"Where are you going?" Avon spoke as if the answer didn't matter in the least.
"Nowhere," Blake whispered sadly and Avon had to hold himself back from reaching out, uncertain whether to comfort and strike out. He always hated self-pity; Blake's actions after Gan's death had driven him to fury. Now Blake tilted from cynical anger to despondency and he wasn't sure which was worse.
"Drop the act, Blake. You feel guilty over being wrong about Mien, over having to kill her. That doesn't mean you're dropping your cause. You'll never give it up.
Blake was angry now, his eyes glinting fire. "Maybe I don't feel guilty, Avon. Maybe I enjoyed it and maybe I want to go out and play the same game with your crew.
Avon stared at him, disbelieving. "You don't believe that."
And slowly Blake's anger dissipated, leaving dull despondency. "No, I don't believe it. He sat down abruptly and after a moment Avon joined him.
"What do you believe, Blake?" Avon asked gently.
"I don't know anymore. I wish I did." Blake looked up sadly. "I still believe the Federation will fall, must fall. But I won't be the one to do it. I won't live to see it."
"You don't know that, Blake--unless omniscience is a new talent of yours that I've missed? Even if it were true, is that a reason to quit? Like it or not, you're a legend. Others believe in you. While you continue, they gain the strength to carry on their own struggle." Blake was still watching him and Avon took a deep breath; he hated to openly commit himself but if that was what it took...if he was honest with himself, he had made his commitment long ago, cemented it by coming to Gauda Prime.
"You are not alone, Blake. Not anymore." Blake's face stilled, the darkness clearing slightly as Avon's words registered. Avon felt Blake's hand on his arm, felt the grip tighten before releasing with a slight sigh. "But I am certainly not prepared to carry your cause for you."
Blake bristled slightly and Avon knew the quick thrill of success. "I never asked you to, Avon. I only wanted your help."
"So now you have it. Use it."
A quick smile touched Blake's lips. "So I shall."
* * *
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man. I climb out of my fear.
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