The Night Windby Sheila Paulson
The dreams wouldn't go away.
Tarrant rolled over in bed and pounded his pillow into a hard lump, the bedclothes twisting around his feet until he was forced to get up to unwind himself. By then he knew he wouldn't get any more sleep, so he sat on the edge of the bed and clasped his aching head in his hands. Even with his eyes open, he could still see it. He knew he would never come closer to death until his own life ended, and he would never forget it as long as he lived. If he'd been told his brother was dead, he would have suffered like anyone else who'd lost close kin, but he hadn't simply learned of Deeta's death, he'd felt it tear through his own body, all the more agonizing because Deeta had known he was there, not through the sensor link because it was one way, but through a different link that the brothers had forged years ago back on Earth. Deeta knew he had come to the Teal-Vandor Convention, and Deeta had known he would 'listen in.' Deeta had been forced to tell him goodbye with the whole circuit listening, and he'd pulled Del closer to him than they'd been since Deeta left Earth and abandoned his little brother--or so Del believed, inside where it didn't show. But when Deeta sent his final message, Del could hold the walls against him no longer and the love he'd always felt for his big brother came surging back as Deeta died. It had linked them far more strongly than the other fools who enjoyed games of life and death. If Dayna hadn't pulled the sensor link from his forehead when she had, Tarrant was firmly convinced he would have followed his brother into death.
It hadn't been such a bad idea.
He wasn't suicidal, not now, even if he had wanted death for an instant he had covered with a defensive quip--far be it for him to lower his guard in front of Avon and the others. But he didn't want to die now. He had begun to understand Dayna's obsessive desire to kill Servalan, but he knew Deeta's death wasn't entirely Servalan's fault: to her, Deeta had been incidental. That he was Tarrant's brother made her game all the more enjoyable, an unexpected bonus, but it was only part of her larger plan, a plan he and the Liberator's crew had foiled. Tarrant grinned wryly at that. Yes, they had won this time, but the price had been too high, and Tarrant was still paying it. The loss of a loved one was hard enough--Tarrant could still remember his mother's death--but this was far worse because he'd been there with Deeta, felt his anguish, known his unresolved hopes and expectations, experienced his pain. When Death finally claimed him, it wouldn't come as a stranger, and Tarrant didn't know if that made him fear it less--or more.
But the urge to follow Deeta into the darkness had passed and now he wanted to go on living. Time, counseled the others, at least Cally and Dayna. They'd both experienced violent losses and they'd come to terms with them in their own ways, though Dayna still sought revenge, and Cally, isolated from her people--who knew what she felt about the emptiness inside her head. Cally had always been an enigma to him, and though she had been gently and calmly sympathetic, she had not touched his own empty places.
Vila had tried too, which surprised Tarrant. He had never been very fair to the little thief who irritated him so. Vila seemed such a bungler that Tarrant was inclined to take him at face value, only to be pulled up with surprise when Vila proved there was more to him than that. At first, Tarrant had despised him for being so easy to bully, but even that couldn't stand against the puzzle that was Vila Restal. He was both more and less than he seemed, and now, as Tarrant struggled to come to terms with Deeta's death, he found Vila a relaxing companion who placed no demands on him, who could come up with a ready jest or do something foolish enough to bring a smile to Tarrant's face. He knew he would never really confide in Vila. They were too different for that. But these days he was glad of the thief's tolerance, though he doubted he deserved it.
And that left Avon.
Tarrant grimaced. Avon was the same as usual; one didn't expect sympathy and understanding from men like Avon. Had Avon been sentimental, Tarrant would have fainted from the shock. But if Avon's sarcasm had not deserted him entirely, it was slightly less biting lately. Avon still made derogatory remarks and claimed to like, need or want none of the others, but in the past few weeks, it was Avon whom Tarrant found easiest to deal with, and that surprised him. Maybe it was because Avon was the only one who still treated him quite normally. Tarrant wanted desperately to put his grief--and even perhaps the memory of Deeta--into some kind of distant perspective, to seal it away where it wouldn't hurt and wouldn't matter, to resume his usual daily routine as if it had never happened. Each day, he tried to do just that, helped by Avon, who probably didn't give a damn that Tarrant might be suffering and who treated him as he always had. Odd as that might seem, it helped to spar with Avon, to challenge him, to argue with him.
The nights were the hardest. The dreams came at night. "The nights, I warn you the nights are dangerous. The wind changes at night and the dreams come." He didn't remember the source of the unwelcome quotation, but it fit. Gods, how it fit. He was sleeping poorly, and Deeta waited behind his eyelids to whisper to him in sleep. It was all right for Dayna, who had been linked to Vinni, or for Vila, who had left the link early, but Tarrant relived his brother's death every time he closed his eyes.
He didn't lie down again. Another night would be spent prowling the remote corridors of the Liberator . According to his chronometer, he'd got at least three hours of sleep tonight. Better than some. Wearily he hoisted himself to his feet, stripped off his sweat-soaked nightclothes and headed for the shower. The warm water helped relax him a little, but he knew he was tense and jumpy. He would be the better for a little companionship, but the others would want to know what was wrong and he couldn't tell them. That would make it all too real.
Hair still damp, he let himself out of the cabin and started down the corridor. It was quiet on the ship. It was Cally's watch, he thought, or perhaps Dayna's. Vila would be sound asleep, and Avon--sometimes Avon slept badly too. On one of his late night prowls, Tarrant had encountered Avon in the bowels of the ship, and they had passed with scarcely any recognition of each other. Tarrant wondered what nightmares kept Avon awake in the small hours of the night. What horrors lurked behind his eyelids?
Though he couldn't have said why he did it afterwards, Tarrant found himself signaling for admittance at Avon's door. There was a moment's silence, and Tarrant was just turning away, cursing himself for a fool, when Avon's voice called out, "It's not locked."
Tarrant opened the door and stepped inside.
If Avon were surprised to see him, he didn't show it. He was up, wearing an elegant black robe that made him seem more of a stranger than ever, and he was listening to a tape of some complex and elegant music that Tarrant recognized with a start, while he worked on some small mechanical device. Setting it aside, Avon raised a questioning eyebrow.
"Sleepwalking?" he asked in a neutral tone.
"No," Tarrant denied. "Insomnia."
"Then I suggest you take something for it and don't disturb me in the middle of the night."
"What would you do?" Tarrant parried, unwilling to retreat.
Avon studied him measuringly, then the corner of his mouth quirked as if Tarrant had scored an unexpected hit. "As you can see," he replied, gesturing toward the tools spread before him on the table.
"It looks complicated. Perhaps I should give it a try."
"Something less complex, surely?"
Tarrant ignored the sneer in Avon's voice and stalked forward to peer at the equipment. "A mineral scanner?" he hazarded.
Apparently it was a lucky guess, for Avon cocked a surprised eyebrow. "Perhaps you have been doing some research?" he suggested.
"Or perhaps I know more than you are willing to admit," Tarrant responded automatically, breaking off when the music wound its way through an intricate passage in a brilliant shimmer of notes. Avon, too, he noted, paused to listen, and for an instant, his eyes relaxed in simple appreciation. "But doesn't listening to Okasarian make your work all the harder?" Tarrant went on.
This time, Avon's stare was more intense. "You are familiar with the music?"
At any other time, Tarrant might have taken offense at his tone, but not now. He was remembering the last time he had heard this particular piece. "Deeta used to like it," he explained, his voice remote with memories. "I saw Okasarian perform once. Unsynthesized concerts are rare enough, but somehow Deeta got two tickets. I never knew how. It was one of the most unusual experiences of my life. I was too young to understand the music, but I could still feel it. I used to dream about it." He added bitterly, "The Federation killed him, you know. Okasarian. Too revolutionary. His music made people think and they couldn't have that now, could they?"
"You're quite right about that. The Federation doesn't like people to think. Or even," he added sardonically, "to act without thinking as Blake did."
When Tarrant didn't respond to that, Avon turned back to his work, picking up the probe and inserting it into the mechanism. But instead of feeling shut out, Tarrant realized that he could stay if he chose, so he pulled up a chair and sat down, reaching for another part of the device. "Do you ever have nightmares, Avon?" he asked.
Avon looked up sharply then dropped his eyes. "Doesn't everyone?" he asked with deliberate lightness.
"I felt him die." In spite of the lack of overt encouragement, Tarrant kept on talking, as if the words were being dragged relentlessly from him. "Everything I'd heard about the Teal-Vandor convention couldn't have prepared me for that. What about all those other people in the sensor link? Doesn't it bother them?"
"Perhaps they were not so...involved," Avon replied slowly.
"Or perhaps they weren't involved at all. I'd appreciate knowing how you maintain that cool detachment, Avon. I could use some of that just now."
"Like everything else," Avon returned flatly, "it has its own price. I don't believe you'd be willing to pay it, Tarrant, or even capable of paying it."
"Oh, of course not. No one else really exists for you, do they, Avon? You hold onto that fine, lofty detachment--most of the time. I saw it slip once."
Avon's face grew dangerous. "I do not choose to discuss--"
"I wasn't going to talk about Anna," Tarrant cut in quickly. "I only meant to remind you that you weren't entirely immune either. But you recovered quickly."
Avon's eyes were too dark to read. "You think so?"
Tarrant made an impatient gesture. This wasn't going well. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that. I suppose I know better, but--it was the sensor link. I felt Deeta die. I almost died with him--and at that moment, I think I would have chosen to go with him if Dayna hadn't pulled the pad away."
"Well now," said Avon carefully, "must we guard you against future suicide attempts?"
"Assuming you'd care?"
"A good pilot is useful."
"Ah yes. Avon's brand of commitment. How useful the object is, be it a person or a tool. Or are we all tools to you, Avon?"
"If you believe anything else--about anyone--you are a fool, Tarrant."
"Maybe," Tarrant conceded. "But I'd rather have died with Deeta than accept that as a blanket statement. You didn't believe it either, or you wouldn't have gone after Shrinker."
"You think not?"
"You took your teleport bracelet off," Tarrant reminded him. "I think that's why I'm here now. You went through it too, Avon. I want to know what to do next. How do you stop seeing her when you sleep?"
"Do you expect an answer to that question?" Avon looked very dangerous now.
"No," denied Tarrant quickly. "I know there isn't one. You haven't found it yet, either. I just want to be able to sleep again, Avon."
Avon might have been immune to that plea, for his face didn't change, but after a moment he said softly, "Deeta didn't betray you, Tarrant."
Tarrant sucked in his breath sharply and was silent a long time, his eyes squeezed shut. In a way, Avon was right, but in another... "He was my brother," he burst out, eyes fastened on Avon's face. "And he killed people for money."
"And you read a personal betrayal into that? You are a fool, Tarrant. He was not required to live his life to your expectations. I have little patience with this. Nothing he did was deliberately aimed at hurting you. If you are unable to tell the difference between than and a deliberate betrayal, you are more stupid than Vila."
"I know you're right, Avon. It's just not as easy as that. Did you--you had a brother, didn't you?"
Avon's face closed away from him completely. Realizing he was getting into this too deeply, Tarrant would have gone away if Avon hadn't said softly, "Yes."
Only a fool would have questioned him about it, and in spite of Avon's claims, Tarrant wasn't that big a fool. He only said, "Then maybe you understand."
"Perhaps," Avon conceded, working the probe deeper into the device as if his attention was fixed on it completely. "But it's a different betrayal you're facing this time, Tarrant. The most final of them all. Death."
Tarrant dropped his eyes. Avon was right. How could someone who had so many problems dealing with emotions be so right? Deeta's death was the final betrayal, the ultimate abandonment, and it was a death that, in a convoluted sense, Tarrant had participated in, had shared. It was almost as if he had betrayed himself that he hadn't shared it completely. He didn't know if that realization would help him now, but he sensed that it might in time.
But not yet. Deeta was dead and his corpse was waiting behind Tarrant's eyelids to pounce from the concealment of sleep. He might go away if Tarrant let him, but Tarrant wasn't ready to yield him up yet, not until he was through punishing himself for failing to save him, for being alive when Deeta wasn't. In time, he suspected, it would come right, and as for now, there was some small consolation in realizing the truth.
He heaved a vast sigh, resisting the tears that nothing in the universe would let him shed in Avon's presence. "What was he like?" he asked Avon instead. "Your brother?"
Perhaps Avon sensed his need for a distraction or perhaps he simply wanted to speak of his brother for once, now in this time of shared secrets. Neither of them would ever mention this night again, and both of them knew it. It would change nothing between them. He said softly, "He was--rather like Blake."
"Is--is that why--" Tarrant began then caught himself. Even here, there were limits, and that was one of them. The music swelled to a crescendo then descended in light, scattered notes like dead leaves falling, the strings wailing in the background like the night's changing wind. Tarrant caught his breath sharply. If anything could free the tears he'd never really shed for Deeta it would be this music that his brother had loved. Avon rose with an impatient sigh to switch the tape off. "He was a fool, just like Blake," he continued in a grumpy voice that was unlike any of his usual tones. "He had the same knack of rushing headlong into trouble without the slightest time for thought. Oddly, though you are like Blake in no other way, you too have that gift for action without thought."
"As opposed to thought without action?" Tarrant challenged gratefully. Avon being tactful was a whole new experience.
"Oh, go to bed." Avon sounded remarkably tolerant.
"Maybe I will." He stood up, stretched comfortably, and started for the door.
Warily, Tarrant turned back to find Avon holding out a bottle of some blue liquid. "What's that?" he demanded suspiciously.
"Something Vila gave me after--"
After Anna, Tarrant realized. "Did it help?"
"So now you're too lazy to throw it away?"
Avon's eyes lightened fractionally. "Precisely."
"In that case, I'll take it." He accepted the flask. "Good night, Avon."
But Avon was already caught up in his work and didn't raise his head when Tarrant let himself out of the cabin.
Back in his own quarters, he set the flask down carefully on the table. He didn't drink any of it, but it wasn't the alcohol itself that was so helpful. It was the offer. He wondered if Avon had felt like that when Vila had made his overture, and found himself hoping he had. Tarrant had always rather resented Avon, partly because he didn't understand him, but for the first time, he discovered that if he didn't understand, he was beginning to see a glimmer of comprehension. He wondered if Avon's brother was dead, too. Avon might have a whole company of ghosts waiting behind his eyelids. Anna, his brother, possibly even Blake. Tarrant didn't envy him.
He wasn't due on the flight deck for five hours. He didn't relish the coming of the dreams any more than Avon must, but they would go away in time. He'd always remember the way Deeta's death had felt and would hear Deeta's voice saying goodbye. If nothing else, he'd had that. It would have to be enough, Deeta's voice, calling him 'little brother.' Ah, he remembered.
"They are voices. They are not words at all, but the wind rising."
Sighing, Tarrant ran weary fingers through his hair. Maybe he'd borrow the Okasarian tape from Avon. Someday when it didn't hurt so much.
He got into bed and closed his eyes.
Deeta was still waiting.
The two quotes are from "Epistle to be Left in the Earth" by Archibald MacLeish
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