But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
Dark. And cold. Thick mist rolling over and obscuring the landscape. Quiet, too quiet. What was he doing here--and where was here? What had happened to the others? He made a slow 360 degree turn, looking for something, listening for something. Faintly, so faintly, there was a sound, a voice, calling to him:
Who was it? He couldn't quite make out the voice. He moved, he hoped, towards its source: slowly, cautiously, eyes straining to pierce the misty darkness. "Where are you?"
The voice was closer, almost identifiable. "Who are you?"
"...where are you, Avon...Avon, where are you...."
"I'm here, right here...Blake?" Was that who it was? He couldn't be sure; this mist distorted the sound. "Blake, speak again."
"...why don't you answer, Avon...Avon, why don't you answer...."
"I am, Blake! Just tell me where you are!" The mist was getting worse, almost as though it was a living entity, trying to keep him from Blake.
"...Avon, where are you...."
"I'm right here!" The mist was wrapping itself around him, suffocating him. "Blake!"
"...Avon, where are you...Avon ...Avon ...."
He was lying on the sleeping couch in his quarters on Liberator, the lights dimmed but not dark, not misty. He just lay there, sweating, heart pounding, remembering the dream. It was just a dream, and he forced a quick, nervous smile. He was a bit old to be frightened by a bad dream.
And why was he dreaming about Blake?
There was no accounting for your subconscious, of course. Perhaps he felt guilty about not finding Blake again after Star One. Perhaps. He had tried, he really had, but what could he do when the man wouldn't just stay put somewhere and wait to be found? And why should he feel guilty about that? Maybe he was just losing his mind; he had sufficient cause.
Almost three years now he had been on this ship, with these people who so undemandingly intertwined their lives with his. It didn't matter how often he snapped and snarled, how obnoxious he became--they never seemed to mind, not enough to do anything about it. There had been times when they could have abandoned him somewhere, but they hadn't. Instead they did things like standing there and saying, "We've discovered we care what happens to you." Why did they have to do things like that? It made it so much harder to not care about them.
Just like Blake standing there and saying, "Avon, for what it's worth, I have always trusted you. From the very beginning." Of course, he'd set himself up for that one, hadn't he? He had asked: "Couldn't you bring yourself to trust me, just this once?" He never had quite come up with an "explanation" for that. Blake's trust was a matter of complete irrelevance to him, so he had always said.
So why had he asked for it at the end?
Why had Blake ever mattered?
His entire life had been turned upside down ever since he'd met Blake on the London. Well, all right, it had been turned upside down ever since he had attempted the theft of those five million credits. But Blake hadn't helped any. True, he had freely volunteered the information that he, and only he, had the technical skills Blake would need to carry off his takeover of the London. If he hadn't admitted to it though, Vila would have brought it up. And what had ever possessed him to talk to Vila in that holding cell? The thief had just been such a pest; not going away, not keeping quiet; just sitting there and nattering, like some self-appointed welcoming committee, preparing the "new boy" for life on a prison world. And managing to worm the basic facts out of Kerr Avon.
Avon didn't have an explanation for that either, for why he never--quite--got thoroughly fed up with Vila. A good thief was hard to find, but even to him that sounded a bit feeble.
At least he had some excuse for putting up with Vila. His liking Blake defied explanation. As did practically everything he'd done since he had set foot on the Liberator.
Why, for instance, hadn't he left Blake on Cygnus Alpha? Because Jenna would have shot me where I sat, he answered himself, smiling a bit wryly, and wondering why it was he missed her too. Why hadn't he simply taken his share of the loot and gone his way when Blake had put that offer to him--to all of them? He could say that it was because he was a greedy bastard and wanted it all. He could say that, but something in him didn't quite buy it. Despite what Tarrant might think, the Liberator was his; so why was it almost a case of not knowing what to do with it--almost not wanting it anymore--once he had it?
Because the price--losing Blake--had been too high?
Avon sat up, shaking his head, as though to clear away all of these perplexing, unanswerable questions. All because of some absurd dream.
At any rate, he'd had enough sleep for awhile, and he got up. He'd go to the flight deck, maybe talk to Orac. The computer might be irritating, but at least he understood it, knew how to respond to it. There was no demand, however gentle and unspoken, to form emotional attachments.
Computers didn't ask for promises either, nor expect them to be kept.
Not that Blake had actually asked for his promise to search for him should they all get separated. Any more than Avon had actually given him his word on that. But, like so many other things that they had never actually said, the promise had been made.
"....Avon, where are you...." the dream voice echoed in his mind, and he sighed.
"All right, Blake. One more time," he told the voice, and went to the flight deck to start searching again.
And Blake better have a damned good reason for why he'd been so hard to find.
The man was tall, strongly built; not classically handsome perhaps, but quite an attractive man in his way, with warmly humorous brown eyes, and brown curly hair. He was waiting, not too patiently, for the maintenance technician to give him the verdict on his ship. He already had a hunch what it would be; the planethopper hadn't exactly been in top condition when he'd gotten it, and these last few months had taken their toll. He had barely made it here, to Cadramani, a neutral world; if that Federation patrol had realized who was in that dilapidated planethopper he might not have made it at all. So be thankful for small favors, he told himself.
The technician was on his way over, shaking his head. "If I can get replacement parts, maybe it will fly again."
"But you doubt it."
"Yeah. Do you want me to try?"
"Might as well."
The technician shrugged. "It's your money. It's going to be awhile, though, so if you're in a hurry to be somewhere...."
The man shook his head. "No hurry."
"Yeah. Well, I'll let you know. What's your name, by the way?"
"That all? Just Roj?"
"Isn't it enough?"
"Yeah. Sure. What the hell do I care?"
The technician went away, and "Roj" headed on into town to find somewhere to wait. If the truth be known, he could do with some R&R; it had been quite a while since he'd really had a chance to stop and catch his breath. And, while Cadramani was hardly the crossroads of the galaxy, you never knew who might turn up. Maybe, if he stayed in one place for just a little while....
Blake smiled, looking up at the dusky sky, wondering.