Look, I'm a free trader, a space veteran, damn it. I've spent years doing this. I'm experienced. Not one of these Dome dwellers with no knowledge of what real space travel is about. I know how you have to have resources, mental and physical and emotional, to help you through those long dark times. You develop them. I've developed them. I know how to keep busy, keep productive, not waste time.
This? It's a kitten carved from processed block protein. Only took me three teleport sessions, and even Avon said it was quite good, for a demented mutant jackelope. (Sarcastic bastard... though I might try one of those later).
It beats knitting, anyway - the alloy yarn from the Wardrobe Room breaks my nails.
It made sense. Someone had to be left above, and he needed to be alone sometimes.
He couldn't tell them that - couldn't let them into those broken corners with their nameless shadows and lists of faceless names. While they surrounded him, he forced it aside, welcomed them in so far and no further, smiled and joked and acted whole for them. They couldn't help, and they weren't ready to know he sometimes needed them - to not be there. To be alone.
But sometimes - when the planet below looked safe, and calm, and beautiful - he could send them down for the 'rest' Cally said they all needed. He would stay above to watch, and if Cally, and Jenna, and Gan thought it altruism, and others - yes, you Avon - thought it faked, he didn't argue.
They would go, rest and recover, while he could be alone and patch the cracked places in his mind.
Stay awake. Stay alert. The galaxy needs more lerts, old Pa Chrisemasse used to say, and laughed at himself, but then he laughed at his own bad jokes, didn't he? But I'm not good at alert - not alone, I'm not.
Card games can only keep you awake the first six teleport times. Once you start cheating on yourself, that's time to give in. And solitaire's a game for one, what use is that to someone like me?
There's no booze on the ship yet, and it's hard to buy any good stuff - or even half-good - when everywhere we go is TripleA security when we get there and in pieces when we leave. And I've got a feeling I'd be drinking alone too often. I don't want to start doing that, too often.
There's nothing to read on this ship. Oh, Zen can download books from Federation libraries halfway across the galaxy - so Zen says - but Federation libraries don't stock anything worth reading, just endless ethical tracts and official histories and Collections of Speeches of the last thirty Presidents (those few Presidents that lasted long enough to make more than three speeches, of course). And I don't like reading anyway, you can't do it with other people.
There's nothing needs fixing, even if I knew how and had the energy. There's nothing needs doing. Zen does it all.
There's no work to be done. And working alone's worse than working with others - you can't palm it off on them if they're not there.
There's nothing to steal - well, that's not true. There's plenty worth stealing in the Treasure stores and holds, but it just lies there, free to take. There's no one to steal it from.
There's no one to argue with, they're all down there. There's no one to talk to.
Even a lert needs company, y'know.
I'm a PILOT. I'm a space Captain. I don't GET bored, thank you.
It's a model of the old Galactic Express, all right? I'm carving it from a giant lezah seed.
I like sails.
Six teleport sessions should do it, I think.
And a crew from apple seeds... if we can get apples.
Those little coloured stickers drove him mad sometimes.
He knew what he had to do. Study the computers, understand the computers, control the computers, improve the computers; study Blake, understand Blake, control Bl- yes, well, that might take a little longer, and as for improving Blake... he wasn't going to take that on. Yet.
All this, however, would keep him well occupied when the Great and Glorious Cause hit a lull. And god knows, the Great and Glorious Cause had to hit a lull occasionally, even with Blake in self-elected command. True?
No, not true, it seemed. Blake had quite a busy schedule of mayhem and martyrdom planned. Just long enough for Jenna to give them a crash course (to coin a phrase - there might be very little to crash into in space, but he wouldn't put it past either Blake or Vila to try) in flying their miracle ship, and the Great and Glorious Cause was on. Saurian Major. Centero. And still those stickers stayed on the teleport controls. Stayed because they were needed, no one was confident enough to tear them off yet. Not even him.
And it drove him mad. He ought to be confident, he ought to be right, he had to be the first to not need the silent, sarcastic assistance of coloured stickers to make it work perfectly. He did not need assistance to make Bl- to ensure what Blake insisted on doing - worked, if not perfectly, as well as possible.
It took some weeks, but by the time Blake looked first to him when planning to leave, he knew he could handle the teleport flawlessly. He didn't need those stickers, didn't even think of them - didn't even see them any more.
It was Jenna, left in his place to watch the teleport, who finally tore them off.
He reads, and he writes. It's not just to fill in the time.
The first weeks, he reads up on revolution. Takes notes. Tries to understand what goes on in Blake's head, so he can support him properly, be useful, be needed. Then Cally comes, and he listens to her, and adds in what she said, and writes it down, and learns it by heart.
He remembers what he can of Avon's lectures and Jenna's lessons, and writes it all down. Memorises it. Reaches again for understanding, for how he can help - or at least not hinder.
He writes after each visitor to the ship, be it rebel, passenger or reluctant President. What they'd said, what he'd understood, what it meant - what he thinks it meant.
He stops writing after his breakdown and finds other things to do. By the time he takes it up again, this time for other people to read - one day - and understand - perhaps - it is late, and they are on the way home to Earth.
I like teleport duty, really. It's peaceful. Calm. Quiet. Serene, even. I like that.
I think I'll make another bomb.
I listen to music.
We didn't have music on Auron. Perhaps we didn't need it, I know I never felt the loss. We had each other's mental voices in our minds, far richer and sweeter and more - more - there is no human word for it, harmonious - than those heard with ears alone. Others' thoughts and fears and hopes and ideas, their emotions, joy and grief and anger and love, the wordless feelings with all its shades of soft and loud, light and dark... we are never alone in our minds.
Then I went to Saurian Major, and the chorus within my mind was torn away.
I was not there for long. I did hear singing one night - some of the soldiers, loud and raucous and probably fuelled by drink. If that was music, I decided, I did not care for it.
Oddly enough, it was Avon who suggested I listen again - this time to what he called 'high Lindorian symphonic music' downloaded from the planetary computers by Zen. Jenna shook her head and suggested that his tastes in seventeen-hour Alpha-style atonal torture might not be everyone's, and that all decent music was both electronic, decently brief and 'in tune'. I was about to ask what the word 'tune' meant, when Gan spoke up in praise of what he called 'old-fashioned folksy' music like they played in the 22nd century.
And mentioned a 'lute' he'd found in the Treasure Room.
Blake raised an eyebrow and suggested it stay there. Indefinitely. Oddly enough, it hasn't been seen again...
Vila shook his head and said that none of their music could be decently sung, and what was the point of a tune that couldn't be sung in the shower? Preferably, he went on, as a duet.
Jenna simply looked at him, and ignored that. Gan pointed out that 'Clara-bell from Alpha Sentarra-bell' was not a duet, nor decent. Vila said it could be - well, a duet, at least.
They all then downloaded their type of music - from all over the galaxy, it seemed - and pressed the tapes on me. Jenna and Gan with the words "good music", Vila with an airy assurance that singing in the shower was one of the great pleasures in life, and Avon with a complacent "actually worth the time taken to listen." Blake said nothing then, but later, he quietly handed me a tape of what he called "choral singing - the voices make a difference, Cally."
I smiled, and said thank you and took them away. And I gathered my courage, knowing that these humans meant it kindly - even Avon - and I listened.
And I loved them. All of them, even 'Clara-bell from Alpha Sentarra-bell'. They filled an emptiness inside my mind, not the way my Auron people did, but with different wordless feelings, with light and shade I could hear if not feel. It is not the same, true - and I still feel alone - but I did not feel as empty as I listened.
When the others are away - when I'm left to man the teleport, and to watch for their return - the ship is unbearably quiet and empty. So I listen to music. If I went home, and was with my own again, I would not need this small help, and could leave the music to the humans, and never hear it again. I could.
A pity, though...
"I don't do teleport duty, Avon. Live with it."