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A Darkling Torrent

By Cami
Page 1 of 1

for S. Lewis
set in her Legends universe
which inspired it
as much for me as for her
because I wanted to know
what happened in between

Sometime after Gauda Prime and before the A/B novel Careless Whispers, by S. Lewis.

The computer bunker was underground. It was quiet and self-contained, isolated from the weather, noise, and danger--but not quite isolated from reality. That fact was all too obvious to Kerr Avon as he studied the battle plans spread across his desk.

Battle plans for Blake's War.

Battle plans formulated with emotionless indifference by the strategy software that Avon had developed.

Sensing a presence, Avon glanced around and saw Vila approaching. "I thought I'd get breakfast started," his longtime comrade said. "Is there anything special that you'd like?"

"No," Avon replied, perhaps a bit too sharply.

Vila shrugged, used to his moodiness, and retreated deeper into the bunker. They'd been on Pathos for two weeks. The planet was home to a Federation base that housed a vital communications network for a dozen star systems. Destroy that equipment on top of the booster relay satellites that Blake had already neutralized and the Federation forces in the sector would lose the capability of communicating over long distances, greatly hampering their ability to work as a coordinated unit.

Blake's plan, supported by Avon's strategy programs, was simply to blockade the well-fortified garrison until dwindling supplies forced them to surrender. According to all available data, that would happen well before reinforcements strong enough to challenge the orbiting rebel fleet could arrive.

Though Blake had hoped for a relatively easy siege, the enemy and the environment hadn't cooperated. The battle-hardened Federation troops stationed at the fort had continuously bombarded rebel positions with their light artillery. In addition, Blake's people had to contend with mud, heat, humidity, and the local insect population. Days stretched long under the harsh conditions.

If their only obstacles had been danger and discomfort, the blockade would have worked. The rebels were all seasoned campaigners by now, and not the type to falter because of a few unpleasantries. But on the thirteenth day a new element had been introduced. The commander of the Federation forces had announced that he would begin killing the civilian workers, who had been trapped in the fort on Blake's arrival. Space Commander Deen vowed to slay four a day until the rebels left or surrendered.

Avon remembered when the first bodies had appeared. An outraged Blake had stormed into the computer bunker....

"Gods be damned, Avon, why is he doing this?"

"Because he believes it will work," Avon answered calmly. "Your policy to protect non-combatants, that makes you so popular with the masses, leaves you vulnerable to blackmail. Deen knows that you won't allow innocent civilians to be killed."

"He actually thinks I'll surrender?"

"Possibly. More likely he is hoping to goad you into something foolish."

"Something foolish." Blake paced slowly, rubbing a hand to his chin. "If I were to offer myself in exchange for the hostages, would he agree to the trade?"

Avon sucked in his breath and answered very carefully. "You would be dead in five minutes and the rebellion dead five minutes after that."

"No one man makes..."

"In this case, it does," Avon said, cutting Blake off. "Forty-five percent of our forces are here to follow Roj Blake; no one else will suffice. An additional forty-five percent would end up killing each other if you weren't here to moderate their petty disagreements."

Blake frowned. "And the other ten percent?"

"Oh, they are hopeless idealists in your mold. They'd continue the fight to the last drops of their blood."

"Where do you fit in those numbers?" Blake demanded.

Caught off guard, Avon nevertheless managed to retain his composure. "Expert advisors are not part of the rabble. I would survive and prosper without you, Blake."

"Then why do you stay?"

"I have a debt to pay," Avon said, knowing that was the only answer that would end this discomforting conversation. Gauda Prime was a forbidden subject.

He watched as Blake's eyes filled with pain, and felt a moment's guilt for causing that.

"Well, expert advisor," Blake rasped out, "find a way to take the base before tomorrow at dusk, and without anymore civilian casualties."

Avon spent the night exploring various options, utilizing the battle programs in his computer. An air strike had long ago been ruled out because of the selfsame civilians who were the cause of this latest complication. By dawn, one plan ranked high above all the others. However, Avon didn't find that alternative to his liking.

A rustling sounded from the entry tunnel. Avon's eyes locked on Tarrant's tall form, hunched over to fit through the low door. The man looked like hell and smelled worse.

"It took you long enough," Avon charged.

Tarrant smiled wearily, his teeth a flash of white against the grime on his face. "I was inspecting the northern-most troop positions when your message reached me. It takes time to slog through three miles of swamp." He eyed Avon's crisp black tunic. "You should try it sometime."

"I think not. You..." and Blake, Avon added to himself, "may believe that cohabitating with the ground troops is a necessary morale booster, but I'd rather conserve my energy for more important tasks."

"Energy," Vila echoed, popping out of the kitchen-living-sleeping area. "As if it took much energy to push buttons all day long. I do all of the real work around here." He handed Tarrant a sweating tumbler that promised something cold and refreshing inside.

"Thanks." Tarrant put the glass to his lips and took a long swallow. "This operation has taught me one thing," he said between gulps, "that I made a wise decision when I focused on piloting at the Academy. Pilots don't have to battle swarms of chicka flies in addition to the enemy."

"Nasty little creatures," Vila agreed.

"Vila, I thought you were fixing breakfast."

"I am. But I heard Tarrant's voice and wanted to say hello." He shuffled away, calling over his shoulder, "I've got enough cooking for four."

"Where is Blake?" Tarrant inquired. "I thought he was to be at this meeting. Or did the message get garbled in transit?"

"He'll be here," Avon hedged, picking up the computer printouts. "I've worked out an attack plan."

Tarrant drained the glass and set it aside before moving to where he could scan the papers over Avon's shoulder. "So your marvelous strategy programs have come through again." There was no mockery in his voice, only simple respect.

Everyone knew that much of the credit for Blake's success was ascribed to the revolution's Black Knight, who had devised an almost-infallible piece of battle computer software. It had allowed them to advance through three sectors, and victory was no longer just the dream of a rumpled idealist.

"Damn, I'm tired." Tarrant brushed a hand across his face and backed into a chair. "My eyes won't even focus. Why don't you summarize the report for me."

"Very well." Avon rested against the edge of his desk and began, "The computer recommends a concentrated frontal assault on the south perimeter."

Tarrant started slightly and shifted to sit straighter in the chair. "But that's the most fortified section of the base. The casualties..."

"...would be very high," Avon finished. "Seventy-two percent of the attacking force, give or take ten percent."

"Blake won't like that."

"No, but it is his desire to keep the civilian hostages safe. The Federation will not take an attack on their best-defended position seriously. An assault anywhere else would trigger further violence to the hostages in retaliation. By the time they realize that the fighting at the south wall is a diversionary measure, their fate will be sealed. They will not harm the hostages at that point because they will need them for bargaining power."

"Diversionary measure?" Tarrant questioned.

"Under cover of the main attack, a smaller force will approach the fort from the bog to the east."

"Poor bastards," Tarrant muttered. The concentration of chicka flies was heaviest in the bog.

"They will breach the perimeter fence and gain control of the artillery tower. Commander Deen will have no choice but to negotiate a surrender."

"Seventy-two percent casualties," Tarrant repeated softly. "War is hell."

"Your chosen profession," Avon reminded.

"So it was...is." Tarrant yawned widely. "Well, I suppose we need to wait for Blake before we can plan specifics."

Closing his eyes, Tarrant rested his head back against the wall behind the chair. Avon took the opportunity to study him. His face crusted with dirt and mottled with the red welts of insect bites, Tarrant didn't much resemble the handsome, boisterous young man who had piloted Liberator. He was simply a worn soldier.

"Blake will insist on leading the main assault force," Avon announced into the room's silence.

Tarrant scrambled out of his half doze, long limbs momentarily flailing until he regained his balance. "We can't let him do that."

"Indeed?"

"I know it won't be easy to stop him but..." Tarrant's voice trailed off in hopelessness. He all too familiar with Blake's policies of leadership and his iron will. "What are we going to do?"

"Blake will argue that he can't ask others to take risks that he won't take himself. He's never been a passive leader, which is why he is so popular with his rabble."

"It's worked," Tarrant said in defense of Blake. "Our people would follow him into hell, which is about what this attack will be." Standing, the young man began pacing the small room. "Our troops aren't stupid. They'll recognize this as a potentially suicidal charge. There aren't many commanders that they'd sacrifice their lives for."

"It would almost have to be Blake then," Avon reasoned. "Or someone else they trusted. Someone close to Blake."

Tarrant pulled to a stop in front of Avon, his red-rimmed eyes bright with a possible solution. "I'll do it," he said. "They'd follow me, especially if Blake asks."

"How will you convince Blake to allow that?"

Tarrant grew thoughtful, his left hand scratching at the stubble on his chin. "Through logic," he proposed slowly. "Blake's too old. He's simply not fast enough on his feet. He'd be a liability."

"He won't like hearing that."

"It's the truth," Tarrant said, looking to Avon for confirmation. Then, before Avon could answer, the planes on the younger man's face stiffened. "My god, you planned this, didn't you? It wasn't an accident that Blake isn't here yet. You wanted to talk to me alone, first. You knew how I'd react."

Avon met Tarrant's accusatory stare. He owed him that.

Tarrant spun away. "You didn't have to be circumspect," he snapped. "I know the rebellion needs Blake."

"Blake won't arrive for another twenty minutes," Avon said. "There's time for you to shower. I'm sure Vila could scavenge a clean uniform."

"No...thanks." Tarrant looked confused as if he hadn't expected Avon to verify his suspicion. "I'd just get dirty again. I wouldn't mind a quick nap though." Without asking permission, he tumbled onto the cot that Avon kept in the room. Half asleep as his head hit the pillow, he managed to blearily force out, "I'd have volunteered without being manipulated."

"I know," Avon whispered, sure that the pilot was too dulled by exhaustion to hear him. Avon had never doubted the man's loyalty or courage. It hadn't been qualms about Tarrant that had prompted his scheming. He had been trying to protect himself. He hadn't wanted to ask anyone to command the assault force. Avon had enough blood on his bloodless-since-Gauda Prime hands. Though others might not see it that way, he viewed his computers as killing machines as deadly as neutron blasters.

His computers...his programs directed Blake's rabble to face death, again and again.

Directed Blake to face death, again and again.

Winning is the only safety, he stoically reminded himself.

"He agreed?" Without Avon's having noticed, Vila had crept into the room, a glass in either hand.

"What are you talking about?" Avon grabbed one of the tumblers and tossed down a harsh intoxicant that burned his throat.

"Come on, Avon. I'm not stupid. You read me the computer projections word for word. You don't have to be an Alpha genius to guess how Blake would react to the scenario. He'd assign himself the most dangerous job. You were afraid that your plan would get Blake killed, so you had to come up with an alternate hero type to volunteer for the assignment, preferably someone from the revered Liberator crew. Who better than our foolish flyboy? He may be the best pilot in intergalactic space, but he's not as valuable to the rebellion as our charismatic leader."

Vila was entirely too perceptive. Avon wondered what else the thief knew.

"You shouldn't feel guilty," Vila continued. "Tarrant was the only logical choice. You're just lucky that nothing is going on up there," he pointed skyward, "or he'd be with the fleet."

"I don't feel guilty."

"Of course you don't. That's why you grow more aloof every day...because you don't care about anyone." Vila sipped at his drink before continuing. "Most of Blake's subcommanders are afraid to speak to you. It makes me an invaluable middleman. They come to me with questions. I talk to you. You give me the answers. I get back to them."

"I don't have time to deal with the rabble."

"And you don't want to risk growing closer to anyone else that you might have to send to their death."

"If you are finished analyzing me," Avon said, putting as much scorn as he could dredge up into his voice, "why don't you check your cooking. I've no doubt that Blake has been neglecting himself. A decent meal wouldn't be amiss."

"The food doesn't need coddling, but I'll leave. Just don't isolate yourself too much, Avon. Everyone needs friends."

#

"Seventy-two percent casualties," Blake exclaimed.

"Give or take ten percent," Avon amended.

"Casualties doesn't necessarily mean deaths," Tarrant pointed out. "Those figures also reflect the wounded."

Avon nodded. "Tarrant's correct. The program isn't able to distinguish between fatalities and disabling injuries. I can't give you a breakdown on those figures."

"I wish there was another way." Blake massaged the flesh between his eyes with two fingers. "I'll not force anyone to participate. Tarrant, put out a call for volunteers."

"Yes, sir. I don't think you'll be lacking in those. In fact, we'll probably have more than we need. How do you want me to make the final choices?"

"The ones without dependents. Those that you judge are best qualified for the job." Slamming his fist against the arm of the chair, Blake swore fiercely, "Damn, damn, damn. None of them are expendable."

Tarrant began pecking notes into a small computer notebook. Without looking up, he said, "I do have one personal request. I'd prefer you assign Dayna and Soolin elsewhere before we ask for volunteers. Their presence would be distracting to me."

"Distracting to you?"

After taking a deep breath Avon answered for Tarrant, who prudently kept his eyes trained downward. "Tarrant will command the attack."

"Like hell he will. I don't ask people to die for me."

Tarrant's head snapped up and he fixed Blake with an ice-blue glare. "Then don't jeopardize their lives by asking them to follow your lead this time. Frankly, Blake, you aren't fast enough to carry this one off. We need to get in close quickly, to where they can't use their artillery without risk of injuring their own troops. Our people would be safer with me."

Avon nodded his agreement. "You wouldn't want to make this more dangerous than it already is."

Blake frowned at the two men but apparently couldn't come up with an argument to defuse their conclusion. "Very well," he agreed with obvious reluctance. "Tarrant will be in charge, but I'm participating, if just as one of the troops."

Avon had anticipated that possibility. "Then who will lead the strike force from the east?" he asked casually.

"Hunda," Blake retorted.

Smiling lazily, Avon played his trump card. "Hunda took some shrapnel in his leg early this morning. He'll be needing a cane for at least a week."

"That leaves you, Blake," Tarrant cut in. "Do you want to choose your squad first? You'll need our best."

Backed into a corner, Blake surrendered less than gracefully. "Why do I get the feeling that the two of you had this all worked out before I got here?" Though it was said lightly enough, there was condemnation in his voice.

"We did," Avon admitted, knowing that Blake would see through a lie. "We discussed the plan and came up with what we thought was the best implementation. Do you have a problem with that?"

"Problem? Who has a problem?" Vila bustled in, and the tension that was beginning to turn the room frigid melted under his warm prattle. He distributed bowls of steaming stew that quickly captured Blake's and Tarrant's undivided attention.

"This is great," Tarrant said, shoveling in large spoonfuls of vegetables and protein substitute. "Whatever it is."

"And we don't have to wave off those damned flies while enjoying it," Blake added. "I think I've accidentally swallowed a dozen of them each day."

"Then there are less to bite you," Vila noted cheerfully.

Avon played with his food and completely ignored the light banter of his companions. Perhaps he could eat this evening when the Pathos base was secured. Perhaps....

#

Avon stared at the computer screen with unseeing eyes. He'd assigned himself several tasks to keep his mind off the on-going battle, but none held his attention for long. He kept imagining that he heard the sizzling hum of weaponry though no sound could penetrate the thick roof and walls of the bunker.

With effort he resisted looking at his watch, sure that only minutes had passed since he'd last glanced at it.

"Damn you, Blake," he murmured. "Why do I stay to go through this time and time again?"

"Aren't you at least going to monitor transmissions so that we can find out what's going on?" Vila grumbled from behind him. Avon swiveled his chair to face him. The thief was perched on the side of the cot, his face an open wound of worry.

"No." Avon returned to his computer. "It will disturb my work."

"Work?" Vila scoffed as if he was well aware the words were a lie. "Fine. Well, I'm going to the command tent. I'm sure Hunda is receiving regular progress reports from the front lines. I'll be there if you need me."

"Go then."

As the time passed what the computer had estimated for the strike, Avon's tension mounted. He resisted contacting Hunda for a progress report, unwilling to face what was sure to be bad news. Seventy-two percent dead or wounded. Only knowledge that Blake wasn't one of the casualties kept him sane.

Finally, needing to lash out at something, Avon slammed one finger against the power button, shutting down the computer. As his hand slipped limply to the desk, he realized that his palm was aching. He turned it over and examined the skin. Blood trickled from gashes where his nails had dug into flesh. He must have been sitting with his fist clenched for hours to have managed that damage.

"Damn you, Blake," he swore for a countless time.

Since Gauda Prime, Avon had often been tempted to flee. To separate himself from the rebellion, death, and destruction. To quit Blake forever. But some unidentifiable compulsion forced him to stay...with Blake...in a situation that was as harsh as the grimmest torture chamber.

A breeze wafted into the room, indicating that the outer door had opened. Thumping on the stairs was followed by the arrival of a wild-eyed, breathless Vila. "It's over," he rushed out. "Deen surrendered. Hunda's men are clearing the facility. Dayna's back. She'll supervise planting the charges to demolish the communication relays. Tarrant's in medical and...."

"How badly is he injured?" Avon cut in.

"Tarrant? He's fine except for a few bruises. He...he wanted you to join him there."

"Why? If he's not hurt, let him come here."

"It's Blake," Vila blurted out. "Tarrant thinks you better come."

"Blake," Avon echoed faintly. A weakness crept into his limbs and his heart skipped several beats. "But he...he should have been safe...the projections."

#

The rebels had taken over the base hospital. Though large, it was crowded with casualties. The wounded spilled over into hallways and administrative areas.

Avon threaded his way through corridors thick with the scent of blood and antiseptics. "Where is he, Vila?"

"Tarrant was in the surgical reception area. I didn't see Blake."

Stepping aside, Avon gestured for Vila to lead. "Take me there."

Ten meters further, their way was blocked by a medtech in a bloodstained tunic. "This is a restricted area," he said, "only authorized personnel are allowed beyond this point. The physicians need room to work." He looked them over, judged that they weren't injured, and added, "If you want word about a friend, go to Room 27B. We've set up an information center there."

Avon bristled and reached for the man's shirt. Vila's arm darted out to block him. The smaller man gave him a grim glare before turning to the medtech. "This," he said, jabbing his finger into Avon's chest, "is Kerr Avon. The Kerr Avon. Tarrant sent for him. And Tarrant was in there," Vila directed his finger to a set of double doors behind and to the right of the technician.

"Avon," the man whispered the name as one would a dark, fearsome legend that they hoped didn't truly exist. Swiftly, he stepped aside.

Vila grabbed Avon's hand and dragged him forward. "If you'd spend a little more time mingling," he grumbled, "I wouldn't have to tell people who you are."

After pushing through the doors, Avon scanned the room and immediately picked out Tarrant's lanky form. The young man was leaning on a desk and talking to the woman seated behind it. Avon grasped his shoulders and spun him around.

Tarrant must have noticed the despair in his eyes because he didn't protest the rough treatment. "Blake's alive," he said gently.

"And?"

"The wound isn't life threatening. However, he'll need surgery after the more serious cases are treated."

"I want to talk to him."

"That's not possible. He's in a pre-surgery area and they don't have room for visitors. Besides...well...he's unconscious."

"Go on," Avon ordered.

Tarrant sighed and guided Avon to an isolated corner of the room. Vila trailed after them. "It's a head injury...a serious one. The doctors won't know the extent of damage until they operate. We're trying to keep that quiet for now."

Putting a hand to Avon's arm, Vila said, "He's got a thick skull. He'll be all right."

"Will he?" Avon slid down the wall to settle on the floor. The room blurred around him and Vila and Tarrant's whispered conversation faded to a hum.

Avon knew that he'd been expecting this day since Gauda Prime. The miracle of Blake's surviving that horror wasn't the sort of luck that fate usually assigned him. And this current injury was also his responsibility. His manipulations had put Blake at the spot where he'd been hurt. Tarrant's assurance that the wound wasn't life threatening wasn't a consolation. If there was mental impairment, it would be even crueler than a clean death.

Avon wasn't sure how long he sat there, oblivious to everything except the guilt that clawed at him. His legs cramped and his neck throbbed, but the mental pain was so much worse that he barely noticed his physical discomfort. It was as if a rapier had pierced his soul, to be lodged there for all eternity.

As the ache grew unbearable, the room disappeared completely. Later, Avon wasn't sure if what followed was nightmare or daymare.

He found himself in a raging river, carried helplessly along by a strong current. Vila was on the bank calling to him and reaching out an arm, but Avon deliberately paddled away from him. Rounding a bend, he saw Tarrant's tall figure flanked by Dayna and Soolin. Their lips were moving, but the water drowned out their words.

The scenery grew grimmer as he was carried downstream. The banks were populated by animated skeletons. Some were recognizable despite the anonymity of their fleshless bones. Cally was hunched over on a rock and appeared to be crying. Dr. Plaxton was waving an arm his way, in an absurdly friendly fashion considering that he had murdered her. Del Grant, a recent victim of the revolution, still had the odd bits of skin clinging to his frame. And so many others, who had been faceless in life before he sent them to their deaths.

Avon expected to spend the last minutes of his existence a prisoner of the powerful current, but abruptly he was thrown onto a bank. He stumbled inland and the first thing he saw was Blake's body, laying spread-eagled under a glaring sun. He backpedaled away from it and crashed into something. He turned to see what it was and screamed. It was Blake, blood pouring from three gaping holes in his chest. Avon ran, looking for place to hide. But everywhere he went, he found Blake waiting for him. And though Blake's body was always torn and ravaged, the eyes were affectionate and full of life.

Blake...Blake...Blake, the silent cry echoed in his mind long after a welcome blackness engulfed him.

Awareness returned when someone shook his shoulder.

"Avon, the surgery is over. Don't you want to see Blake?" It was Vila, sounding...concerned. "You've been sitting there a long time. We were getting worried."

"Yes, I'll see him," Avon answered dully. He owed Blake that, even if all that remained was an empty hulk.

"He's in one of the private rooms," Vila said as Avon struggled to his feet. His legs were numb and it was a long minute before he trusted them to support his weight.

Avon followed Vila through a corridor that was no longer full of wounded rebels. A quiet calm had replaced the sense of dire urgency, indicating that the worst of the crisis was past...for most people.

"In there," Vila nodded to a door.

"Thank you. I'd prefer to visit in private. Do you mind?"

"No, but.... No."

Avon palmed the control and the door slid silently open. The room was dusky, the only light a soft glow to the right of the bed. The figure in the bed was blocked from his view by a silhouette perched on the foot of the mattress. Tarrant.

"...only seven dead," Tarrant was saying with exuberance. It didn't sound like he was talking to someone with no mind.

Avon sagged, clutching the door frame. Blake was not only alive but apparently mentally sound. He...they'd cheated fate again.

"Avon's infallible projections were wrong," Tarrant's voice droned on. "We only had a fifty-six percent casualty rate."

"No doubt due to your exceptionally skillful execution." Blake's voice was raspy and weak, mocking in tone, but with genuine appreciation for Tarrant's efforts shining through.

"No doubt." Tarrant chuckled briefly then turned deadly serious. "Damn it, Roj, you had us worried. The rebellion can't afford to lose you. I wish you'd learn to be more cautious. You don't need to be in the thick of the fighting."

Since Tarrant was saying everything Avon couldn't express himself, he didn't interrupt. Besides, he needed to recover his composure. He didn't want Blake to see him with his shields weakened by anxiety and desperation.

"Bek could have commanded the second team," Tarrant continued. "Or any of a half dozen others."

"Not putting me out to pasture, are you?"

"Hardly," Tarrant snorted, too consumed by righteous anger, worry, and relief to let Blake's teasing comment divert him. "I'm saying you are too valuable to be cannon fodder.

"I'll try to be more careful."

"You can start by getting some rest, " Avon said, marching to the side of the bed. "Tarrant, this is not the time or the place to be presenting a military summation. And hasn't anyone told you that the blockade is over?" Avon plucked at the younger man's crusted sleeve. "You could use a bath."

Tarrant sniffed at his uniform and grinned. "You might be right...for once." Before Avon could retaliate, his long-legged strides had carried him from the room.

"He's insufferable," Avon commented as Tarrant's footsteps padded away.

"Give him a break," Blake said. "He did a fine job today."

"Apparently he was a good deal more successful than you were. How did you manage to get yourself shot?"

Blake went to shrug but halted the movement with a painful grimace. "Zigged when I should have zagged," he said ruefully.

"Indeed."

"Have they finished securing the base? I want to make sure they salvage anything that we can use."

"I'm sure they know that."

"Who is overseeing the takeover?"

"Hunda," Avon guessed.

"Have your strategy programs finished their analyses?"

"No." Avon didn't add that he hadn't even gathered any of the data, let alone fed it into the computer. That wasn't for Blake to know, because he'd then ask what he had been doing.

"I'll want that information as soon as it's available."

"Blake," Avon moved a step closer, into the circle of light, and brushed his hand along the edge of sheet. "I didn't chase Tarrant away so that you could interrogate me about the state of the rebellion. You have been injured and need to rest."

"I feel better than you look," Blake countered, staring squint-eyed at Avon's face. "Aren't you feeling well? What's the matter?"

"As you'll recall, I was up all night."

Blake appeared dubious to accept that explanation, but didn't debate the point. "See that you get some sleep."

"I shall." Moving stiffly, Avon straightened Blake's covers. It brought him close enough to bask in the warmth of his body. That sensation, more than the evidence of his eyes, assured him that it was really Blake's physical presence stretched out before him.

Blake. The never-ending circle of his existence always came back to Blake--in dreams and in reality.

Avon touched the light switch, adjusting it to its lowest setting, then backed toward the door. "Goodnight."

"It already is."

Avon walked the lengthy distance to the bunker alone. One more battle fought, won, and survived. But destiny was still a capricious shadow on the far horizon.

Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?

(Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man I)



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