Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
It takes Kerr Avon less than a day to figure out that the mirror in his quarters--a bare rectangle set in the wall--is actually a communications terminal linking all the private rooms together.
It takes him another three hours to hack into the system and set it so that no one can access his room, but he can unobtrusively access everyone else's. Another hour and he has programmed Zen to never mention the existence of the system to anyone. It isn't terribly difficult--any competent technician could do it. A description that fits exactly one person on the ship, Avon thinks with a smirk.
Avon likes his bolt holes, and exclusive access to a means of gathering information is a kind of bolt hole.
Quite soon Avon has collected enough information to dismiss most of the "crew" as potential threats. They're simple enough, after all, and can be summed up in a word or two: cunning, brute strength, opportunism, and idealism in turn.
Roj Blake, on the other hand, seems to possess all of these traits, in addition to a charisma that Avon supposes would be irresistible to the gullible and weak. This makes him very dangerous indeed, and a threat to keep an eye on.
So he keeps an eye on Blake.
He finds the arrangement satisfying at a psychological level: the mirror that reflects back not a true image, but a twisted reflection. On one side, sanity and pragmatism; on the other, madness and self-immolation. There is a pleasing balance to it, he muses, watching Roj Blake go about his lunatic ways.
Several things he learns quickly: that Blake has a good but untrained singing voice; that he is surprisingly tidy (Avon had expected a slob, but he keeps everything arranged carefully, as if terrified he will misplace something); that if he engages in what the Dome education centers liked to call "self-abuse" he does it in the bathroom rather than in bed.
He tends to talk to himself, as though he finds the silence of his room unnerving: fragments of thought, expostulations, usually too cryptic to decipher. Then one day Avon storms off the flight deck after a particularly acrimonious exchange, the taste of his barbed insults a sweet bitterness on his lips. Entering his quarters (feeling a brief chagrin that the doors of the Liberator do not allow for slamming) he flashes himself a humorless grin in the mirror, gratified by the vicious brilliance of his own smile. He wonders how Blake is taking his verbal drubbing, and reaches out to touch the glass and turn the mirror into a window once more.
Blake has apparently retreated to his quarters as well, for he is sitting in his bedside chair, drumming the arm with angry, blunt fingers. "You're a selfish, sociopathic little prick," Blake growls, making Avon's eyebrows rise. "That's what I should have told him," Blake goes on. "I should have just--just--" He jumps up, pacing, one finger jabbing for emphasis, and Avon realizes that he is re-playing the argument they'd just had, imagining better dialogue for himself. Not appreciably better, Avon thinks with satisfaction, listening to him.
He's aware that his enjoyment of this is small and petty, but he can't resist answering back to the oblivious Blake, continuing their argument even now: "You'd like that, wouldn't you. Oh, I can see what your leadership has gotten us so far." His arms are crossed, he's glaring at the mirror, beyond which Blake is stalking around the room, and he realizes his voice has raised to a cutting pitch: "Maybe if you weren't so determined to get us all killed, I wouldn't have to be so callous." Blake rages on, unaware that he's losing even this second take on the argument, and Avon is suddenly struck by how ridiculous he must look, arguing with a man who can't even hear him, arguing as if he can't help but respond to him, can't just...walk away.
Even as he falls silent, his annoyance with himself outweighing at last his annoyance with Blake, Blake shuts his mouth with a snap and collapses back into his chair, burying his face in his hands. He scrubs at his face wearily for a moment, and then groans as if he is infinitely tired: "Avon."
Avon feels his jaw tighten, looking at his slumped shoulders. Blake's hair is a frightful mess, and Avon's fingers twitch slightly: someone should be smoothing those curls back into place, he looks even less like a fearless leader than usual. It's ridiculous--indeed, quite pathetic.
But there is no one to set Blake's hair right, and no one to keep him company; after a moment he stands up and changes into his nightrobe (Avon doesn't look away, why should he? It's important to assess the man's condition if they ever truly come to blows), then crawls into bed alone as always.
Blake prefers to sleep with the lights dimmed but on. Avon, who is partial to total blackness, generally switches off the surveillance system when he goes to sleep so the radiance leaking from Blake's room doesn't disturb him. Tonight, for whatever reason, he leaves the system on, the mirror a rectangle of dim golden light hanging in the dark. Avon can hear Blake breathing, a rhythmic sound. It's irksome, and yet somehow he falls asleep more quickly than usual, despite the light.
He wakes up to someone yelling nearby.
It's a hoarse, hopeless cry, repeated at regular intervals as though wrenched from someone's throat by force. Disoriented in the dimness, his heart hammering, it takes Avon a moment to realize it's Blake, twisting on the bed, eyes tightly closed, hands balled into fists. He keeps crying out, no words, just the guttural sound of an animal in a trap, suffering.
"Blake!" He only realizes the voice is his as he hears it ring through the room and is horrified to hear no irritation or anger in it, only a desperate urgency: Wake up, man! There's no response, of course. Blake's despairing sobs continue to shred the air as if Avon were a ghost, intangible. Avon's nerves feel scraped by the sound, he finds himself at the mirror with his own fists clenched, his inarticulate yell of warning stopped by the glass, thwarted.
Turn the camera off! Cursing himself for a Vila-level fool, Avon reaches for the corner of the mirror to touch and de-activate the surveillance system--and his hand halts millimeters from the glass as if someone has grabbed hold of it. He stares at fingers as if they belong to a stranger, immobile and trembling, unmoving until the aching sobs dwindle and Blake curls up around his shaking breaths, quiet once more. Only then can Avon make his mirror opaque and see his own pale face looking back at him.
After that, he is even more careful not to risk listening to Blake's dreams. He keeps watching, gauging and calculating the man's sanity, but when he lies down Avon turns the system off. It's bad enough that Avon's sleep is disturbed for an alarmingly long time after--that he wakes with the sound of Blake's nightmares rasping his ears in a silent room--he has no patience with trauma and loss when they interfere with his ability to work.
On this side of the mirror, there are no regrets for the past, only plans for the (Blake-free) future.
Things get worse on the Liberator. Blake's jovial charm is stretched thin and brittle as the hunt for Central Control wears on. And then--
A blank white room, in which Avon is startled to find himself supporting Blake as he falls to his knees. Explosions, rubble, Gan's seat on the bridge vacant.
He returns to his room feeling weary and empty. There was a word in some old Terran language for what he should be feeling, how he should be enjoying Blake's humiliation and failure, but he's too tired to remember it. He catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and feels a sense of startled dislocation: his face is drawn, his eyes dark holes. He looks tired. Acting more from from habit than curiosity, he touches the mirror to fade out his own reflection and see the inside of Blake's quarters.
Blake is striding back and forth, his face set, more expressionless than Avon has ever seen it. His hands clench and unclench, his jaw works. There is violence massed in his shoulders, in the lines of his neck, ready to shatter.
With an inarticulate, sobbing growl, he seizes his armchair, heaving it across the room with a crash. After that it's like a storm breaking, he tears through his quarters, cursing and raging, smashing at his belongings with a blind fury: broken glass, torn fabric. Avon can't seem to look away, his heart is pounding--instinctive fight or flight, he reminds himself he can't be seen, there's no need to--
Blake whirls and his gaze lands on Avon.
For a long moment he stares, his face working, hatred glazing his eyes. Then he grabs up a bottle and hurls it at Avon's face with all his strength. Avon recoils involuntarily at the sound of shattering glass and Blake's voice snarling: "You. You. You!" Blake lunges forward, his fists battering; smears and splatters of scarlet appear in the air between them. Avon finds his arms thrown up in a warding gesture before he remembers that Blake can't reach him, that Blake can't touch him.
That Blake can't even see him.
Blake isn't looking at Avon with such abhorrence at all, that gaze of loathing is not for him. Avon watches as he staggers away from his mirror and collapses on the bed, leaving streaks of blood on the white sheets.
Avon wants to turn off the camera. His breath is still shaking, his heart rate high. But he forces himself to lean closer, to peer past the red streaks painting the air and look at the huddled figure on the bed, look at him long and hard and pitilessly.
This is the fate of the obsessive personality, he tells himself. Learn from this. You will not end up consumed by self-pity and guilt, broken and alone.
: : :
After the attack on Star One, Blake's room stays empty, his belongings untouched. Tarrant and Dayna show no interest in it; even Vila has inexplicably refrained from looting it. The bed is still rumpled from his last night's sleep, one of his more ridiculous shirts still thrown over the foot. No one enters the room. There is no reason to leave the camera on any longer.
On the other hand, there seems no good reason to turn it off, either.
: : :
There is no sign of time passing on the other side of the mirror. Everything looks exactly the same. Liberator's air filtration keeps out even weeks' worth of dust.
: : :
Even months' worth.
: : :
When Avon catches himself wondering if the crumpled sheets still hold any of Blake's scent (a blend of testosterone and fanaticism, his memory suggests) he instructs Zen to physically seal the room against entry.
Blake's room remains inviolate, untouched. There is only emptiness on the other side of the mirror.
There is certainly no reason to spend so much time staring into it.
How Vila would laugh if he saw him standing here, gazing into an empty room. What, you have to check every day to make sure he's still gone? He'd sound timid but teasing, that nervous smile on his face. You're giving me the creeps, Avon, standing there with no reflection. Like a bloody vampire, that's what you are.
He feels the corners of his mouth twitch, feels his teeth bare slightly. It feels like a smile of sorts. He hasn't seen his own smile since--for too long. He could see it, of course. He could make the glass in front of him a mirror once more, stop gazing into the void, could see instead--
The cabin door closes behind him a moment later, leaving the window to Blake's room still hanging in the air, reflecting emptiness back to emptiness.