Prisoners: The ShatteringBy Kai Aurelius
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|"My only love sprung from my only hate...."
William Shakespeare - "Romeo and Juliet"
The flight deck was austere and silent. Vila reclined languorously on the flight couch, fast asleep after a bout with some adrenaline and soma. Cally meditated at her position, eyelids half—closed. Dayna brooded in silence, flicking a switch or two at her console just to relieve the interminable boredom. Tarrant paced back and forth between Zen's blank countenance and the flight couch. The only sound was Vila' increasingly sonorous snoring.
The Liberator's course was set for the eighth sector, where a good deal of nothing lay. For three eternal days, hardly anyone spoke, and for three eternal days, Avon had taken leave of all his functions aboard the Liberator and secluded himself in his cabin. It was only three long days ago that he had gunned down his lover whom he'd thought long dead. The whole ship seemed to have taken on mourning and the attitude of a wake. Even Orac was silent.
Tarrant abruptly ceased his pacing and announced to the occupants of the flight deck, "I'm going to see him. Someone has to."
Dayna was startled out of her reverie of flicking switches and buttons and indignantly bolted down from her station, confronting the pilot with an anxious frown. "I don't think you should, Tarrant. Leave him be. It takes time and we owe him that, at least."
"Come on, Dayna. You can't believe that locking yourself away for three days accomplishes anything. We've decisions to make and whether I like it or not, Avon's in command. He's going to have to face up to his responsibilities sooner or later. Preferably sooner."
"Or you'll do it for him?" Dayna retorted defiantly. "I know what grief is, Tarrant."
"And you think I don't?" Tarrant replied loudly and with more emotion than he'd wanted to convey, awakening Vila and rousing Cally from her meditation.
Dayna's hard glare softened and she looked at Tarrant almost sympathetically, knowing she and Avon shared a thing Tarrant couldn't possibly fathom. "Who have you lost lately, Tarrant? And what's worse, have you experienced a monumental betrayal on top of that? Leave him be for a while longer. We'll manage."
The weapons technician turned and abruptly retreated to her station before Tarrant could convince her that Avon should be disturbed. Her passive protectiveness annoyed the pilot, precisely because it was innately unobtrusive. Tarrant could not tolerate inaction for any length of time.
He merely shook his head and made for the corridor. At the top of the stairs he turned and said, "Believe it or not, it's
him I'm thinking about. He needs to come out of himself and rejoin the living."
Vila, slightly more awake and listening with weary interest to the interchange, leaned back into his cushions and murmured, "If you call this living," and attempted to close his eyes again, determined to recapture the dream in which he'd been immersed before Tarrant and Dayna decided to interrupt the ships's silence with their arguments.
Dayna still wasn't willing to leave Tarrant to his own devices. The thought of what a grieving, irrational Avon might do to him frightened her. "Oh, and you're the one to accomplish this feat?," she queried incredulously. "Cally or I can try later, but you're the last person he'd want to see right now."
Tarrant gave them all a weak smile and said, "Yes, I think I can help him. At least, I can try." With that conviction, he disappeared down the corridor before Dayna could say another word.
"Good luck," Vila muttered from the couch as he retreated from consciousness once again.
Cally and Dayna stared at each other and could find nothing to say, though both women appeared worried and apprehensive. No one had attempted to communicate with Avon following that fateful episode three days ago, and no one knew quite what state Tarrant was liable to find him in.
Tarrant found, much to his surprise, that Avon's cabin was unlocked. He'd knocked repeatedly and received no response, so he simply laid his hand on the printlock and the door opened. Uncharacteristically careless of Avon, especially if he desired a modicum of privacy. Tarrant slowly entered Avon's darkened quarters, again surprised that the dimness was illuminated sporadically by candles, of all things. At least three tall, ancient and aromatic wax tapers kept watch over Avon's disheveled form on the bed. With no little trepidation, Tarrant proceeded in Avon's direction. He found the Liberator's resident computer genius not asleep at all, but with his eyes wide open and riveted on the ceiling where the reflected flames danced and flickered in a random hypnotic pattern. In this coarse illumination, Avon resembled nothing so much as an alabaster memento man, a breathing monument to the dead, seemingly carved from the seine marble sarcophagi Tarrant had seen in museums long ago. Avon lay completely immobile except for the erratic and slow blinking of his eyes, which glistened in the candle light. Tears? Tarrant stood nonplussed for a few moments before moving even closer, wondering if the man would perhaps take a moment from his obvious grief to hurl him through the bulkhead for daring to disturb his private rites of mourning. Despite his sense of mission, the fact that he'd gotten this far into Avon's private sanctum disturbed him. Avon obviously noticed he was here, yet said and did nothing.
As Tarrant hovered nervously for several long moments, desperately trying to decide on a convincing argument, Avon very slowly curled himself into a semi—reclining position and pinioned Tarrant with the oddest expression the pilot had ever seen on Avon's face. The diffuse and flickering light from the tapers enhanced the shadows of Avon's pronounced cheekbones, but could not hide the drying salt of old tears. The residue glimmered like diamond dust on velvet. And his eyes! Tarrant had seen the
eyes of men in the heat of battle testifying to their fear and courage, and he'd seen the eyes of men in the throes of defeat, lust, and love. But he'd never quite witnessed the quality of raw vulnerability that he saw this moment in Avon's eyes. Knowing the man as he did, he couldn't quite believe it. This was Avon, seemingly invulnerable to the onslaughts of crass emotion.
"Close the door, Tarrant. The light from the corridor is hurting my eyes," the computer tech whispered with extreme exhaustion.
Tarrant did so, much surprised that he hadn't been summarily dismissed with an acid taunt or a cuff to the head. Despite his vaunted bravado, he still entertained a healthy respect for Avon. The man interested him and his own emotions were in turmoil just at this moment. He'd not been kicked out and Avon's demeanor was almost one of welcome and relief. Very curious. And Tarrant was nothing if not curious.
The pilot managed to find a chair and brought it close to the bed. Without an invitation, he sat down and tried to frame what he was going to say to Avon, though the words he'd decided upon on his way to the cabin were leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. All the fine justifications he'd haphazardly prepared didn't seem to suffice, and he seemed at a loss. All of his bravado had diminished in the wake of the palpable pain emanating from the man lying there in semi—repose. Maybe Dayna had been right, but it was too late for retreat, dignified or not.
"Well, Tarrant," Avon said more softly than Tarrant had ever heard him speak, "You must have a good reason for storming in here. I'd like to hear it." Avon shifted in his bed a bit lethargically, and his intentions seemed unagressive. Tarrant had been prepared for a volcano exploding, but not for this reticence, this near diffidence from the man who'd challenged him at every opportunity for the leadership of the ship they were on. Avon seemed pallid and nearly ethereal, his eyes dark, haunted bruises. And Tarrant admitted to himself that he really wasn't very good at this kind of thing, even with the knowledge of what Avon must be going through, having witnessed the entire event on Earth, in Servalan's palace.
Tarrant cleared his throat and decided to forge ahead. "We've been talking, the crew and I," Tarrant lied skillfully, and we felt it was time for someone to come speak to you. Avon, it's been three days and...decisions need to be made, action needs to be taken. We can't just hang here in space, going nowhere...." The words came quickly and as dispassionately as he could contrive to deliver them, but he trailed off as Avon abruptly sat up and gripped his arm roughly. He was quite strong despite his lack of nourishment the past three days.
"And you drew the short straw, did you, Tarrant?" Avon made a show of teeth and ungently released the pilot's arm. "I'd have thought you'd coerce Vila into it, or Cally," Avon drawled with a milder sarcasm than Tarrant had ever heard from his lips. "What's going on anyway, a crisis you can't handle without me? I just...want... a little peace, Tarrant." Avon glared up at him with all the defiance he could manage to muster in his spent condition. "Just a little peace. That's why I ordered a course into the eighth sector. Nothing there to distract us..." Avon trailed off, introspective and seemingly lost in his own thoughts. Tarrant felt acutely uncomfortable. He was seeing a side of the intractable computer expert that he had never imagined existed, an almost soft and weary side. Tarrant was surprised to learn that Avon was as susceptible as any ordinary mortal to betrayal and pain. Avon was full of surprises, as the pilot had come to know in the past, and was only too aware of at this moment.
Unable to just sit, Tarrant rose and began to pace nervously. Avon's demeanor was languorous and his eyes followed the anxious pilot around the small cabin, fascinated in a remote fashion by the pilot's discomfort and diffidence. Tarrant spent a long few moments trying to compose his words, but Avon beat him to it.
"Tarrant, sit down. I'm quite tired and you're making me dizzy. Do you have a problem with the eighth sector? If so, say it now and change course for somewhere that will provide more excitement for you. I really don't care at the moment." Avon shifted to lie down on his bed and resumed his examination of the upper bulkhead.
Tarrant abruptly stopped his pacing and came close to Avon, presumptuously sitting on the bed, assiduously trying to minimize physical contact. "That's just it," said Tarrant softly, "You don't care. Can you believe how bizarre I sound to myself right now? Here's my big chance, and I'm sitting here trying to convince you that you have to come back to the flight deck and take command. I'm not quite sure I believe I'm doing this. But..." Tarrant announced breathlessly, "everyone is quite worried about you." Avon shifted and watched him expectantly, "Myself included."
Avon managed a weak and morose smile, "Again, I thank you for your concern, Tarrant." The same old sarcasm, but without quite the same bite. Perhaps it was a small improvement, Tarrant thought.
"I am concerned, Avon," Tarrant said as vigorously and sincerely as he could to reinforce the reality of his feelings.
Avon didn't respond. No real surprise there. It was obvious that the man was extremely tired, not only physically. His spirit seemed spent, too. Avon's waxlike gauntness seemed even more prominent now, in the light of the guttering candles.
"Are you up to talking about it?" Tarrant asked lightly.
Avon's sorry attempt at a scowl was a small comfort, and Tarrant wondered why he'd bothered to dare ask the question. Avon's response certainly surprised him, though he still managed to evade the issue. "If you're so determined to stay here, why don't you make yourself useful and get a bottle from the cabinet? The key is in the drawer of my desk," Avon pointed to a darkened alcove, "and a couple of glasses. I'm parched."
Tarrant did as he was bidden and discovered a fine collection of liqueurs in the cabinet to which Avon had directed him. Amazing that Vila hadn't pilfered it, he thought, as he brought out a fine brandy and offered it for Avon's approval. The computer expert nodded and Tarrant found two glasses and poured, handing one to Avon. They drained the first glass in silence and Tarrant poured another, silently and fruitlessly waiting for Avon to begin the conversation. The warmth of the liquor took the edge off the pilot's nervousness and enhanced his bravado.
At a loss for a profound conversational gambit, Tarrant opted for small talk, saying, "This is good, very good," as he settled into the chair.
"Of course, only the best," Avon responded dryly as he downed the contents of his own glass in two gulps.
"Watch this stuff, Avon, it's pretty strong and..." Tarrant started, then thought better of finishing his comment. Avon ignored him anyway. Maybe this was exactly what Avon needed, a few good belts to loosen him up, release some of all that pent—up emotion. Funny, he'd rarely ever seen Avon touch the stuff, but the cupboard was stocked with the very best--as Avon said--most expensive liquors and wines money could buy. It certainly beat the hell out of Vila's rancid adrenaline/soma/and gods knew what else homebrew. Perhaps a decent bender would prove cathartic for both of them.
Tarrant stopped sipping and chugged the fine brandy until his gut was aflame and poured himself another. Avon was already well into his third glass and beginning to sway a little as he sat silently, in his own world, on the edge of the bed. Tarrant noted that Avon seemed quite content to stare into the depths of his glass and decided the silence was too ominous and uncomfortable. Besides, his own speedy consumption was beginning to manifest itself in a manic desire to voice his concern for the computer expert's mental health as stridently and vocally as possible. Sitting here, staring into nothingness together, was hardly accomplishing anything.
"Believe it or not, Avon, I'm a fairly goody listener," Tarrant said, opting for diplomacy over stridency.
Avon took another long drink of the brandy and looked curiously at the pilot, twirling the glass slowly in his hand. "Perhaps, Tarrant. But right now, I'd like another drink, if you don't mind." Avon's voice and manner seemed as distant as the stars, but Tarrant poured another draught for each of them and they both drank quickly and quietly.
The silence was companionable but uninformative until Avon, again on his back and seemingly staring at the ceiling, asked Tarrant, "Have you ever loved anyone so much that it ached?"
The pilot noticed a very slight slur to Avon's words and felt a bit more confident, even if it was the confidence of the fine brandy Avon so willingly provided. The pilot was also shocked and thrilled to the marrow that Avon would even contemplate such an unexpected question. "As a matter of fact...yes." Tarrant's own words were beginning to slur, and he somehow managed to avoid an embarrassing stutter. The brandy was stronger than he'd thought. Both men seemed caught up in a reverie of memories just beyond the realm of articulation, as Tarrant poured yet another glass for each of them. It was undeniably relaxing and mellowing, this liquor. Tarrant's anxiety dissipated as he relaxed in the chair next to Avon's bed.
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