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By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 8

"Ultimately. But too many things had gone wrong. I was a fool to believe that finding Blake again could matter." It was almost as if he had forgotten I was there and was speaking to himself. I let him. He needed the catharsis badly. "I told the others the Rebellion needed a figurehead, someone I could use, someone the rabble would follow, and Blake suited my purpose. I meant to use him." He was pacing the floor as he talked, and I followed him into the living room. Suddenly, he sat on the couch and took his head in his hands. "It wasn't entirely true. Damn him! I didn't want to need him. I didn't want to need anyone."

"It's not wrong to need our friends." I knelt before him and took his hands in my own, tightening my grip when he made an involuntary attempt to pull free. I should have been frightened of him, of the violence I sensed in him, of his tale of murdering his friend, but I was not. I knew what loss felt like and I'd suffered it alone. No one should have to face it alone. "I wish it had been different for you. Servalan and people like her and the time you lived in induced paranoia. I think you should try to change the future." Then, when he flashed me a scornful look, his eyes glittering with rigidly suppressed tears, I went on, hastily, "I'm so sorry. I know that doesn't help. It didn't help me when Greg died. But it wasn't your fault, not completely. It sounds like it was mostly other reasons."

"Do you believe that matters?"

I shook my head. "I know it doesn't. Cry for him, Avon. It's all right I understand."

He shook his head violently. "You understand nothing." A tear trickled down his cheek, and he jerked free a hand to dash it away. He was not a man who cried; he couldn't have been, not in a culture like his where sentiment was probably counted as foolish. He was the type of person who refused to admit he cared, at least consciously. But he had cared anyway, and everything had gone wrong. Meeting Blake after an apparent separation, they had evidently misunderstood each other, and someone had helped the misunderstanding along. Now, Blake was dead, and apparently other friends with him, and he'd been a prisoner. Being stranded in the 20th Century and the crash must be the final straw. No one would have been strong enough to take any more.

"I understand," I soothed. "Go ahead and let yourself cry. We'll never speak of it again."

It wasn't my sympathy. It was nothing to do with me, but with the fact that he'd been pushed as far as it's possible for a human being to go. If he didn't release it now, he'd snap completely. So when he turned away helplessly and choked on a sob, I put my arms around him and held on without speaking. I was simply a lifeline, another human being. His body shook with the ferocity of his grief, and I ached for him. I should have been afraid, but I wasn't I knew I was in no danger now.

When he got control back, I freed him and led him to the bathroom. "You can wash up in here," I told him. "Know how to work things?"

He shot me a look of mild affront at the question. "I will manage."

"Okay. Have a shower if you like. I'll find some of Greg's things for you to wear. You're about the same size. I'll leave them for you here on the hamper."

He shut the door in my face. After a moment, I heard water running.

A few friends had told me I should get rid of Greg's clothes, but I couldn't bear to do that, so I packaged them up and put them in the attic. Deep down inside, a part of me couldn't help refusing to believe that Greg was dead, that someday he would come back and need his things. At first, that part of me had been quite strong, though I knew better now. But I left the clothes in the attic, pretending I had forgotten them. Now I was glad to have them. Greg might have been an inch or two taller than Avon and his arms a little longer, but I thought Greg's things would fit I didn't know how long Avon would be here, if he would be rescued, or even pursued through the vortex by Servalan--at that thought, I resolved to load the shotgun and be ready for her--but if he couldn't get home immediately, I didn't intend to turn him over to the authorities. I had shared his grief; I would protect him.

I got out some jeans and slacks, shirts, sweaters, and tee shirts. Socks and underwear. Shoes might be a problem; Greg had big feet. Well, I'd find out Avon's size and pick up something in the morning. I put jeans and a sweater on the hamper along with a pair of moccasins that might be too big but would at least keep his feet warm. Iowa can be cold in November, even though it hadn't snowed yet.

When I was washing up in the kitchen, it occurred to me to wonder if anyone else had heard Avon's escape pod or, worse, if it had been picked up on radar. I found myself planning the lies I would tell if anyone came to investigate. I wouldn't turn Avon over to the authorities, not after his escape from Servalan. Besides, if the government found out there was someone here from the future, they'd take over, and he'd be cross-examined, studied, practically dissected in order to provide answers to their myriad questions. Avon was in no shape for it; he'd probably come apart. No, Avon was my find, and I was determined to protect him.

When he emerged from the bathroom, looking comfortably 20th Century in blue jeans, a blue pullover sweater, and floppy moccasins, there was no trace of tears, or even the inclination toward them, on his face. He had found his control again and pulled it around him tightly as if defying me to remind him of his breakdown. I knew better. Accepting the truth of loss doesn't make it go away. Only time does that, and not even time works perfectly. I knew I was badly adjusted to Greg's death--a few friends had tried to tell me so--but maybe that would be useful now. I knew where I'd gone wrong. Perhaps I could help Avon.

At the moment. he looked prepared to refuse all offers of help. He said, flatly, "I left my clothes on the hamper."

"I'll see that they're cleaned." At first. I had thought the blood on that outfit was his own from the crash, but as he'd talked of Blake, I'd begun to wonder if it might be Blake's instead. There had been times when he had noticed it and stared at it in appalled disbelief before calling his thoughts to order.

"I don't want them," he replied, confirming my speculation. "The boots will be necessary until I can replace them." He looked around the cozy farmhouse. "l find I am stranded in this time. I do not intend to be a burden upon you."

"When you get to be a burden, I'll tell you about it. I think you should stay here until you find your feet. Besides, if anyone comes looking for you, they'll come here."

"The only one who would come is Servalan. After your help, it would be a poor reward to expose you to her less-than tender mercies."

"She'll come whether you stay or not. I think I'd feel safer if you were here to protect me from her."

He considered that. I suspected he had wasted little concern on strangers' well-being in his life, but my words pulled him up short. "There is that to consider. Have you nowhere else to go?"

"This is my home. Greg's home. I'm not leaving. Besides, it surely can't be something she'd do immediately--follow you into that vortex, I mean. She might think you're dead. If she knows you're in another time, might she just leave you here? You'd be no threat to her."

"She might relish the thought," he agreed. "My specialty is computers. After seeing that primitive device in the other room, I realize how backward your time is."

"That's just a personal computer," I defended. "There are much more complex computers than that."

"But conceptually at much the same level?" He shook his head. "To me, it would still be primitive, Meredith."

"I'm sorry," I apologized uselessly, then froze as I heard the unmistakable sound of a car pulling into the driveway, gravel sputtering under the tires. "Damn, they're here."

Avon stiffened and looked at me as if I'd betrayed him, too. "Precisely who is here?" he asked coldly, and I felt the first real threat from him.

"Well, the government. If they picked up your escape pod on radar, they'd come to investigate. Mostly the government is okay, but if they thought you were an alien or something, they'd--"

"I can imagine what they would do. However, Federation escape pods are shielded from planetary detection in the event that one should have to come down on a hostile planet. There is a homing beacon which can be activated, but I did not activate it."

"Good. Then we're probably dealing with a visual sighting. It might be someone from the Sheriffs office. I think the best thing is to deny all knowledge of anything."

"Won't your property be searched, then?" he asked.

"Probably. Oh, damn, if they see the pod, it'll be the same thing. We've got to delay them, or hide it somehow."

"Is that possible?" The threat still hung around the edges of his voice, but he no longer looked quite so threatening to me.

"I hope so. Play along with me anyway. You're an old friend from Boston. You're staying here a few weeks. If I say you're from England--you sound like it--somebody might want to see a passport."

The knock came at the door. I squared my shoulders and went to answer it. It was a sheriff's deputy. "Excuse me, ma'am," he said politely. "Are you Mrs. Everett?"

"Yes, I am. Is something wrong? Won't you come in? I was just going to make a fresh pot of coffee."

He stepped into the hall, and as he did, Avon emerged from the living room, holding a glass of liquor--a nice touch, that. "Who is it, Meredith?" he asked casually. He'd done it perfectly.

"Someone from the Sheriff's office." I let a touch of curiosity enter my voice. "What's happened?"

"We'd picked up a report of a plane crash--someone thought they heard a plane coming down in this area." He chuckled suddenly. "Somebody else said it was a UFO. I wondered if you'd heard anything."

"I most certainly did. Some idiot in a small plane buzzed the house. I thought he was coming through the roof. Whoever he is, he ought to have his license revoked. He was probably drunk. I didn't hear a crash, though. After he'd scared us to death, he pulled up again and went flying off as if it was nothing." I smiled faintly. "A UFO? It didn't sound like one to me. Some people have excellent imaginations."

I didn't think anyone else lived near enough to have actually heard the crash, and if I could get them to waste time looking for a hotshot pilot, it might give us time to conceal the wreckage. It wouldn't be visible from the road, but if anyone went up in a helicopter in the morning to search out a possible wreck, they might spot it, and I didn't want them to do that.

"Did you hear it, too?" the deputy asked Avon. "I didn't catch your name."

"My name is Kerr Avon. I'm a friend of Meredith's from Boston. Yes, I heard it Some reckless, suicidal fool. A slight miscalculation, and he would have hit the house." He had masked his accent a little so he sounded more like me. The locals still think I sound like a New Yorker, but once, on a visit to New York, I realized I'd picked up a little of Greg's accent. The result from Avon could have been a Boston accent; certainly, it sounded less obviously British. The deputy seemed to notice nothing untoward.

"We'll look into it," he promised. "If it crashed, it was further afield, then. I wonder what airport he came from."

"He wouldn't have needed to come from a airport, " I pointed out helpfully. "A couple of farmers around here have their own planes, and some of them have lighted runways." I sighed a little. "You know, I almost wish it had been a UFO. At least that would be something different. I'm from New York, and it sometimes feels like nothing ever happens around here."

"Well, I'm glad it wasn't a UFO, Ma'am. I've got enough to handle without something like that." He declined my offer of coffee and took himself off, and Avon and I exchanged glances.

"That was easy," I managed, letting the tension seep out of my neck and shoulders.

"Assuming he believed you."

"Why shouldn't he? As far as he knows, I'd have no reason to lie."

"And when they find no evidence of a hotshot pilot?"

"Then they don't. They probably won't pursue it. I don't think we should move your escape pod tomorrow after all."

"What brilliant reasoning leads you to that conclusion?" he demanded as we returned to the living room.

"Well, what we should do is cover it with brush and camouflage it. If Servalan comes, she'll probably find it wherever it is, but if the police look, they'll believe I'm uninvolved a whole lot longer if it isn't hidden in my garage. Even if we move it, the place where it landed will be noticeable. You took out a fence, and there are broken branches and even a small tree or two. If they find footprints, they'll have to assume I went down in the morning to look. If we move it, they'll find tire tracks and they'll know I was involved. I think we'll have to call the sheriff back tomorrow and tell them we found the pod."

"And when they ask why we didn't hear a crash?"

"I'll tell them we were otherwise occupied," I replied without meeting his eyes. Then, I added quickly, "Besides, it's a UFO--unidentified flying object--or it will be to them. It's not broken up. Maybe they'll assume it made a soft landing."

"Perhaps." He sounded very skeptical, but he didn't argue further. Instead, he said, "I have no identification papers here. If they should ask..."

"I don't think they'd ask unless they got suspicious, and we're trying to prevent that Maybe you can use Greg's 'primitive computer' and make yourself something."

"What would I need?"

"Usually, people have driver's licenses, but you're supposed to be from Massachusetts, and I don't know what a Massachusetts driver's license looks like. And everybody has a Social Security card."

"Social security?" He cocked an eyebrow at me. "That sounds rather ominous. What are the functions of your Security branch?"

"Oh, it's nothing like that." I explained Social Security cards hastily. "But the thing is, people aren't really required to show ID unless there's a driving violation or a crime involved. Or unless you're writing a check. That's the only time I ever have to prove who I am. Since you don't have a bank account, that won't be a problem."

"At least, not immediately." His face was brooding, but I could not read his eyes. It had dawned on him that, short of the intervention of his enemies, he might be stranded here for the rest of his life. That pulled me up short, too. In many ways, tonight had been like a game and I was willing to help Avon, but I couldn't make it my life's work. I might be able to help him out and get him started with a financial loan. If he was as good with computers as he claimed, he could design a new system or something and make enough money to repay me. We simply had to find a way to keep him inconspicuous until then.

I had told Avon the government was no dictatorship, and in reality I had never felt its restrictions, but I was pretty sure if 'they' found out the truth of Avon's origins, any hope of escaping detection would vanish. Avon would be put under protective custody and interrogated. He would be guarded 'for his own protection,' but in effect, he would have no rights and no freedom, and I didn't trust the intelligence community one bit. They might decide it was to the benefit of national security to 'terminate' the problem. Knowing too much, I could be in danger, too.

"You suspect trouble," he observed. He noticed too much sometimes.

I nodded and explained my reasoning. "Maybe I'm paranoid, but I think we should plan for the worst-case scenario." I didn't even smile at the spy terminology; this was no smiling matter. "Maybe we should just leave the pod alone. Let them think the pilot was picked up. But we'll have to call in the morning." I shivered. "Once it's found it'll be more than the Sheriff's office interested. The people we want to avoid will be here in droves, and they're the type who ask for IDs. I don't know what to do, Avon. It seemed so easy before we thought it through."

John Adams padded into the living room and stood leaning against Avon's leg, and his hand went automatically to the dog's head. Damn it John Adams liked him. I couldn't let the government get their hands on him.

"The best thing for you is for me to vanish," he said flatly. "That way, you could tell the sheriff I held a weapon on you last night. It might remove suspicion from you." He was silent a few minutes, then he continued in a voice edged with suspicion, "I do not understand why you put yourself at risk for someone who is a stranger to you. Surely, there must be some benefit for you, but I am at a loss to understand it. All I can see is the risk of exposure to the less pleasant elements of your government and the disruption of your life, not to mention danger. I am nothing to you, nor you to me. Why are you doing this?"

"I've wondered that myself. You're right to be suspicious. People usually aren't so altruistic. I don't know why I'm doing it, except for one reason: Greg would have done it."

"Ah, yes, your husband. It's interesting how often late spouses and friends become true paragons after their deaths."

That hurt. "Damn you, Avon," I flared at him. "That wasn't fair. I know I dwell on Greg too much, but that doesn't mean he wasn't special. What about Blake? Is he going to change in your eyes now that you've killed him?"

He winced, but to my surprise, he smiled, though it was not a warm smile. "That's better. I was beginning to doubt you could be human. I'm glad to see you can hold your own. As for Blake, he is not relevant to this discussion."

"Yes, he is. If it hadn't hurt you to kill Blake, do you think I'd do anything for you? Act as cold-blooded as you like, but I know better. There's someone else buried inside, and that's who I'm helping. It won't do any good to talk about it any more tonight. We're both exhausted, and I'm sure you feel terrible. Let me show you your room and you can go to bed. In the morning, we'll get up early and decide what to do next."

He drew all his emotions inside and presented me a bland and unfeeling face, but he let me show him upstairs to one of the spare bedrooms. I went after the clothes I'd retrieved earlier and brought them to him. "Greg didn't use pajamas," I explarned. "Will you be warm enough?"

"Yes." He took the clothes and stood in the middle of the room, looking curiously at a loss. I smiled at him. "Good night."


I stopped in the doorway.

"Thank you." The words came awkwardly and with difficulty. He was unaccustomed to thanking people for anything.

"Sleep well." I pulled the door shut behind me.

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