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Anathema

By S.L. Koss
Avon was on the flight deck when Orac monitored a message that held promise. It was brief and to the point. Cally logged it and went off to fetch Blake. Avon sighed, he had monitored the transmission from his console wordlessly. Another call from another Federation-hating society who wanted the assistance of the now infamous leader of the masses who wanted to rid themselves of the Federation. Avon thought the whole thing was lamentable at best.

It was not long at all before Avon found himself in search of 'background' information, as if he had nothing better to do than ask Orac to search Federation files for information Blake could just as easily get himself. Since Gan's death, the self-made rebel was becoming entirely too obnoxious to bear at times. Avon had to admit, to himself at least, that he quite enjoyed and kept track of every time he got the best of Blake; particularly in those frequently ignored but never frivolous battles of words. While he studiously gathered the requested 'background' information on the seldom heard of race called Felinians, he made sure he also gathered ammunition for his own use.

The meeting in the crew room was typical and totally without purpose as far as Avon was concerned. He sat sullenly, palm screen in hand, incessantly going over and over again the pertinent facts which were highlighted. He would do his best to convince Blake the stray message gathered via computer channels and not over space channels was a useless endeavor to chase. The message indicated that some government backed group of mercenaries bent on doing harm to the Federation wanted Blake's help and to such an end would arrange a meeting with their leader. Coordinates to a specific far-flung planet as well as specific landing coordinates were given and no room left for reply or response. Blake read the message aloud once more, watching carefully everyone's reaction and wondering at the particular depth of Avon's distance today, it seemed far greater than usual even.

No one in the room had failed to notice Avon's blatant lack of interest in the other information being given and he meant it that way. He would play this agonizing game for just a little longer, his opportunity would come. He had calculated with solid mathematical precision exactly how much the crew individually and corporately would take before they saw clearly Blake's faults as a leader. He needed to play his part, he didn't need to like it, or let anyone else think he did. He was more than ready when Blake turned to him as asked for his information.

Avon got up grudgingly, taking the palm screen with him. "Disturbingly little exists in the Federation records regarding the Felinian race. No official records are available and all data gathered came from references in data files of other civilizations on the Felinian's borders. They actively and regularly trade with several of the outer systems merchants, trading in fur primarily. There was at one time, Federation gained information, but whatever was there has been removed by a very talented programer with access to top level systems. Whoever we are dealing with, Blake, of one thing you can be certain, they are not who they seem to be."

Blake knew well where this road lead and he knew he needed to reign in Avon's hysterics before they got out of hand, risking in the meantime a full scale confrontation. "Enough of the histrionics, Avon, what did you find out about the species, specifically we can make our own conclusions." Blake said, infinitely patient, for today at least, he knew the tech had more but was not likely to give it up willingly.

"I've heard they have teeth and claws like a cat and can cut you to pieces in seconds." Vila offered. After a moment of thought on what Avon had said, he turned daringly to the tech. "A talented programmer, huh? Surely not more talented than you, Avon, that would be something to be worried about."

In a vague effort to bring about some order, Blake persisted. "The Federation frequently wipes certain files from the records, particularly when they are of a sensitive nature the Federation would rather forget about. It seems to me I remember there was some controversy over the Felinian project, they are simply covering their bases. The legends surrounding these people are plentiful and far-ranging. I thought perhaps you could bring some science into it, Avon, more than Vila's tales of wild cat-people stalking babies in the night." The challenge had been lain and Blake knew he could count on Avon to pick it up. He was not disappointed.

Avon, though disappointed he had not achieved what he had been aiming at, settled for playing his part. "The Felinian project was started several hundred years ago. The original aim of the Gentechs on the project was to create a race capable of hunting down dangerous animals on planets the Federation was attempting to colonize but could not due to inability to control the animal population. Modifications made genetically included providing them with claws, lethal by the age of three. They're eyesight is enhanced as well as their hearing. Information from their surrounding neighbors does not give any indication they would be friendly or likely to ask for assistance. They lack any civilized trade agreements with their neighbors and they trade with the Felinians at their own risk, the fur they trade in is highly prized."

"They jealously guard knowledge of their numbers, they attack only in single ship formation, making the exact number of their fleet impossible to calculate. Commerce would suggest, however, that they have a sizable fleet. The Farlian Empire which closest to their self-imposed and efficiently guarded borders, lost approximately half it's star systems to an aggression more than two hundred years ago. This invasion in addition to giving the Felinians more planets, also gave them several mining facilities and they now trade in various metals and crystals as well as fur." Avon spit out facts automatically as was expected of him, a learned teacher lecturing to a group of recalcitrant remedial students.

"The Gentechs used a combination of selective breeding and genetic manipulation. Their end result was not separate species, but rather a race, related though mutated from the human race. They are perfectly made for their purpose, but were not happy in being slaves. Records indicate at one point, they began to isolate themselves from the Gentech community. They began to wear a long braid made of hair which grows thicker and differently colored than the rest at the back of the neck, this they called their 'tail', it served to set them apart. But, the Gentechs did not want trained animals, they wanted thinking and reasoning people, that's where they went wrong. They had managed to engineer an intelligent race whose only purpose was to serve the Federation's purposes."

"That's disgusting creating a race to do their dirty work. What ever became of them?" Cally asked.

"The Gentechs and their facilities were located on one of the moons of Jupiter, effectively cutting them off from contact with the general population. They wanted to have an environment where they could be sure the race they created could breed among themselves and not lose genetic definition. Three generations were raised. They are meant to breed quickly, becoming sexually mature at 12. After only 50 years into the project, a colony of over one thousand Felinians lived on the moon base. The distance between the Felinians and the Gentechs grew exponentially until the Gentechs had virtually no contact with them other than as the Felinians deemed necessary. Communication was eventually lost with the Gentechs and the Federation sent out three freighters to Jupiter with the intention of evacuating the entire colony to the outer planets. The entire Gentech population had been slaughtered, including a contingent of top level Federation troops sent to guard them. The freighters landed, their crews were never heard from again and neither were the Felinians. No communication has ever been received or attempted by the Federation."

"Well that's the answer to your deleted files then." Blake said easily, feeling he did not quite understand Avon's reluctance in the matter beyond his ever growing need to undermine authority on the ship. "The Federation was caught in a mistake they did not want to admit to, it would have been standard procedure to erase the files."

"You don't understand!" Avon slapped the palm screen on the table for emphasis. "Files were deleted in a specific manner, not just everything relating to the project, but very specific files, leaving others completely intact. It was the result of a surgical precision capable of being traced only by someone looking directly for it, few programmers are capable of that kind of precision."

"I understand Avon." Blake answered blithely. "These people know their way around computers, just as well, though I'm sure not better than you do and it makes you nervous. We'll make sure we don't involve anything to do with computers unless you've approved it." Blake felt that closed the topic, though Avon's dark gaze continue to bore through him. Avon completed his circuit of the room, hands clasped behind him, turned and favored Blake with his 'you poor idiot, you can't possibly understand' looks. He had vented himself, he had impressed on everyone his superior understanding of the perils to follow, he would cede from here and Blake knew it. "What else did you find?"

Now a dare, Avon smiled at himself, though he was not entirely sure he should be happy at knowing this game so well, after all, there were more important things than getting to Blake, at least there had been. "Nothing pertinent." He said briskly, sitting down once more, indicating his participation in the conversation was at an end.

A collective sigh circulated the room palpably. They all knew very well Avon's penchant for digging up useless but interesting facts that he enjoyed keeping to himself, they were seldom interesting to anyone else, but as they knew Blake would insist.

Avon had gone back to reviewing his screen disinterestedly. He waited the usual length and added a few second for emphasis before he looked up again. It was clear to him that Blake missed the point entirely, after all, there was no way he could grasp the implications. Every programmer had a particular style honed and perfected from their own previous experiences, entirely individual, like a fingerprint. His were all over the deleted files. He gave up, though, knowing the could not make them understand any further, there was nothing they could do anyway. He decided quite suddenly he would appreciate and by some chance, benefit, from other opinions on the puzzle he had found. "Recent attempts have been made by the Federation to access the Felinian files prior to institution of a project called Pandora. Apparently several Felinian women were trained at Federation expense, their arrivals were clearly noted, where they are now is not indicated."

"All women. Why?" Vila asked, women were always something to be interested in.

Avon was the teacher once more and despite himself, he felt better about it. "Apparently, the Felinians do not educate their women, not an unheard of practice. In this case, however, all the participants were extremely intelligent and earned advanced degrees at some of the Federation's most prestigious learning facilities from medicine to astrophysics. The last degree was granted in trauma surgery less than five years ago. The degree is listed clearly. Other than receiving the degree, the recipient is not mentioned at all and it is not clear whether she is still in Federation territories or not, the records have been deleted and the project was discontinued shortly after the degree was granted due to counsel conflict on their further funding."

"Perhaps those who participated in the program were never returned to their home world and the Felinians are upset about it." Jenna hypothesized.

"Possibly, though you're right Avon, it is interesting but hardly pertinent." Blake said, gaining his hold on the conversation once more. "Whoever deleted those records is a puzzle, but sheds no light on whether or not we should meet with these people and try to negotiate."

Avon called up the relevant information once more, he hadn't really thought he would gain any useful insight from them and he knew that Blake had already made up his mind anyway, no clear path other than acceptance made itself available to him. He got up sullenly, crossing to the other side of the table where Blake stood reviewing a hard print of the region of space they were heading for. He took the palm screen and pressed into Blake's hands. "It is not relevant at all unless you consider that I deleted those files." A thin smile graced Avon's undefeatable features as he looked at Blake defiantly. "You can ask Orac, he will confirm it." That being his final comment, Avon left the room and the comment hanging perceptibly in the air as he headed for his console. More facts were needed, more figures if he was going to settle down his thoughts and they had to be settled, he instinctively knew he was hovering on the edge of flashbacks that had to be avoided at all costs, the episode with Grant had been bad enough, he was still recovering. Of one thing he was certain, flashbacks were deadly and the only way to avoid them successfully was to engross himself in some task. There were always tasks to be done about, he made sure of it. At present, however, he found it difficult to concentrate on any of them. When all else failed, there was the square root of pi and though simple enough, it was distraction enough for him at present, he let the numbers calm him. One half of his mind kept adding numbers to the decimal point while the other half kept tract of how many places he had reached. His personal best was well over 500 and he was determined to break it. The distant sound of Anna's voice became more distant by the moment and soon forgotten completely, she did not exist and never would again and the hollowness that followed that realization became just as distant.

The coordinates they had received were well distant from what appeared to be the dominant city of the planet. Avon confirmed quietly the absence of scanning signals as they put into orbit smoothly. The planet, named Dartine, was well outside any patrolled Federation planet, they were relatively safe, detecting no pursuit. Cally descended the stairs to the teleport causally, dressed in light surface clothes. The others were already there. "Everything is earth-normal." She said snapping on a bracelet. "Fairly temperate zones for most of the planet's year. It seems to be used primarily as an agricultural planet. Their technology is unconfirmed, but it seems they trade for most of what they need. They trade in animal pelts primarily, enough of a market exists so that they are able to trade for whatever they need apparently."

"I don't see why I should have to go, Blake." Vila lamented uselessly, clasping his belt around him. "There's no use for me down there."

"There's even less use for you up here." Jenna scoffed.

Blake was not sure what to expect, so he wanted as many numbers as he could possibly take, though data had suggested numbers would not make a difference if they intended to be hostile. Cally was going because these people were supposed to be telepathic and no one even knew if they could speak, Federation records were less than clear, though records gained from surrounding systems indicated they did trade with them and while there were not overly friendly, they obviously communicated with them. Surprisingly, Avon had volunteered, though Blake was not sure if that was entirely good. Avon had recently become all too observant of his movements for his own liking. Leaving Jenna alone on the ship seemed reasonable since there were no Federation bases near the system they were in. They were pretty far out from the inner planetary systems, and as such Federation power and influence. No indication could be obtained as to what sort of independent militia or space fleets existed in the area. At present, no ships could be detected within the sector, even freight traffic, so Blake felt relatively safe at least. "Let's get moving, it will be dark down there soon and I would like to get the lay of the land before we run into anyone." Blake said, ushering a reluctant Vila toward the teleport area sternly. Avon and Cally were already waiting, ignoring Vila's protests as usual.

Something undefinable was bothering Avon and he did not like it one bit. He needed something to get his thoughts on something and a trip down to the surface seemed a good idea. He needed a focus and he was not about to let Blake out of his sight either. He fidgeted uncharacteristically with his gun as everyone gathered on the teleport pad, uneasiness growing stronger despite his efforts.

They arrived in an open field bathed brightly in the afternoon sun. There was no one about and no buildings of any sort, but that was expected as per Zen's report on the area. Upon reporting their status to the ship, Blake did not get a reply. Avon and Cally tried their bracelets with no better luck. Blake looked in askance at Avon, who shrugged, his discomfort climbing to a nearly intolerable level. "Zen reported random ionic reefs in the upper atmosphere, if one were between us and the ship, communication could be effected. Try again later, it should be clear." He looked around discouragingly at the field they found themselves in, alone. It was a quite open area and no one could be seen anywhere, nor was there anywhere to hide. Behind them, perhaps a mile, cliffs rose sharply against the landscape. In the other direction, the land became slightly more hilly and tree-covered. Avon walked curiously toward the line of trees, stopping suddenly. *Ware the hills, the patrols are out early and far from the city today.* A voice, undistinguishable, his own but not his own blew vaguely through his mind. He was not even sure he had heard anything, but kept his distance from the trees anyway. He looked over at Cally wondering if she had heard anything. If she did, she said nothing, her expression was slightly bewildered though and he decided he would speak to her when they could be further from the others.

Blake sat down while the others went off in different directions, getting the lay of the land. He did not want to stray too far from where they had teleported, so they could signal again from the same spot.

"Eeew!" Came Vila's startled voice from a few feet away.

"What is it, Vila?" Blake asked.

"Some kind of dead animal." Vila answered in disgust.

Avon wandered over and looked over his shoulder. "Someone's dinner most likely. What's kind of arrow is that?" He pointed to a shaft sticking out of the creature's side. Curious, Vila bent down to pick up the animal for closer inspection, wanting to know what sort of weapons these people were likely to have, after all, bows and arrows could hardly be a threat. He froze instantly as a voice came from the brush in front of him.

"Touch that thief, and you lose your hand!"

Vila snatched his hand away quickly, looking around for the source of the voice, relaxing somewhat as a small boy appeared from the brush. By his size, he could not be more than five. He wore a sleek black one-piece tunic that clung to him tightly. A fur-lined cloak reached to his waist and he carried a rather vicious looking weapon, which he pointed threateningly at Vila. Despite is size, he carried himself with tight, predatory precision, every movement calculated and economized. His jet black shoulder-length hair was bound at the back of his head by a leather thong. A thick braid of white and golden-red hair extending for more than two feet was decorated by various pieces of jewelry and painted bone fragments. At the end of the braid was a clasp of gold and set with a large emerald that caught Vila's eye immediately. The boy's face was stern and looked older than he could possibly be. Sharp, severe lines made up the shape of his face. His eyes were brown, the pupil slitted. Triangular ears topped is head, gold striped with red and trimmed in jet black, they moved about independently as he surveyed the group in the field. He grabbed the animal, growling as he stuffed it a bag he carried and then stood up from a crouch to better view those before him. He cocked his head to the side as he studied each.

"Your human, aren't you?" He asked curiously. "I've seen some of your kind down at the freighter ports. The area is restricted and no one goes there, but they ignore me." He spoke softly and looked up cautiously at Avon and then Cally in turn.

Blake stood up and turned toward the youth. "We don't want to hurt anyone, we came here to talk to someone in charge. Do you live around here?"

Before anyone could see him move, the boy crossed to the other side of the circle they had been investigating to stand a few feet in front of Blake, studying him intently, weapon leveled and ready, he growled softly before he spoke, one ear directed at where Vila and Avon stood and the other towards where Cally was moving slowly toward him. "I can sense your intentions, be warned if you intend violence, I will not hesitate to kill you." He looked back at Blake, defying him to question his statement and perfectly ready to prove what he said.

"Well mannered little thing, isn't he?" Vila said, turning with disbelief to Avon who never took his eyes off the youth. "Just what is that contraption he keeps pointing at everyone?"

"It's a crossbow Vila, it fires bolts or darts, likely it's capable of bringing down small animals mostly and foul, but I don't think you'd like to have one stuck in you." Avon smiled faintly at the thought of how much noise Vila could make over the slightest scratch.

"Are you Felinian?" Cally asked, standing next to Blake watching the youth who had commenced pacing a wary circle around Blake and Cally, never presenting his back to Avon and Vila. "We came here to meet with some of your kind, we got a message."

The boy pointed the crossbow at Cally, growling. "Woman, are you in the habit of speaking without permission? Look at me." Cally looked down at him and froze, her eyes unable to look away from his. She gasped slightly and waved the over's concern away. The boy looked away, slinging his crossbow over his back casually, apparently he found them no threat. He had a knife sheath strapped to each arm and Avon wondered distantly why someone who was supposed to have lethal claws at three years of age would bother being so obviously armed, perhaps they were not nearly as deadly as they had been purported to be. He made not a sound as he walked carefully on the dry grass of the field. He turned imperiously to Blake. "I have no kind, the Felinians do not accept me, neither do your kind. You had better hope you don't run into anyone else out here. The Star Commander will not have humans outside the perimeters in the city. He'd likely filet any of your kind he found this far outside the city."

"Is he in charge? I think that's who we came to talk to." Blake said, obviously the child did not understand their intentions here and he did not expect him to.

The boy looked at him as though he were stupid. "One does not speak to the Star Commander, don't look at him, don't dare reach for a weapon or he'll kill you without thinking. You don't understand. He's got his patrols out late this afternoon, he must have spotted your ship and got nervous, they never come out this far. You're on my lands, though, he can't cross the territorial lines, at least he shouldn't." He looked around at the surrounding hills uncertainly.

"Congratulations, Blake, you've lead on another useless chase." Avon said dryly.

The boy paused in his circle and looked sharply at Cally. "Do not try to scan me, Auron, I find it rude, especially when you have no shields of your own." Cally looked away once more, his ears pricked as he scanned the hills carefully.

Blake decided to try to get through to the strange child again. "My name is Blake, and I . . " He stopped abruptly as he felt a sudden pressure in his mind. The boy froze, watching something avidly. He walked towards the line of trees and turned abruptly, speaking to them again earnestly and urgently. "Stand still, don't move at all and don't speak, he'll take offence and anything that offends him, he shoots and I've never seen him miss. He cannot be intimated, he cannot be reasoned with." He turned warningly to Cally. "If you even think about reading him, he'll know and believe me, he'd rather fall on his own knife than be read by a woman. I'll handle him, he's on my lands and has no rightful jurisdiction here, but if he feels threatened even by your thoughts, he will kill you."

Avon and Vila looked at one another doubtfully as they joined Blake and Cally, they all watched the surrounding brush suspiciously, unsure of the intentions, or in fact the sanity of the youth. Blake tried again. "Wait, I . . ."

Pulling his weapon from his shoulder once more and loading it impressively, he looked at each of them in turn, pausing longer on Avon. Avon could almost sense the urgency the boy seemed to feel.

"Everyone just stay here and be quiet, he can hear you already, you know. I'm serious, I know what I'm doing."

The boy walked boldly toward the line of trees as the others watched him uncertainly. Five horses with rather stern looking Felinian riders emerged from the line of trees. One rider detached himself from the others and headed straight for the boy who stood belligerently, weapon leveled unwaveringly. "That's far enough, Giareth, unless you want me to put down your filly"

The rider stopped where he was and dismounted. From what they could see at a distance of perhaps a hundred yards, he stood nearly as tall as his mount. He was dressed similar to the four behind him in a tight-fitting and economical black jumpsuit. The same knifes were strapped to either arm and he carried a slightly larger crossbow. A scarlet cloak draped from his shoulders nearly to the ground, lined in fur. His hair was light and fell in whips to his shoulders. Fierce golden eyes watched the group critically beneath eyebrows that arched upward to follow the angle of his ears. His features were thin and severe and his bearing aggressive. Fear flowed from him in waves that Blake's group could feel distinctly. "I might have known the cause of this, would be a half-breed bastard. You have a fatal tendency to be where you should not, boy. These may very well be your hunting grounds, but I have authority whenever it comes to aliens on my planet." He turned to those behind him who had pulled up as well, watching uncertainly. "Commander Tarsia, set a perimeter and see no one crosses it." The indicated officer nodded, placing his palm to his forehead and extending it toward his leader, an apparent salute. The four others spread out in a semi-circle, watching Blake and his companions critically, each with an energy rifle of some sort pointed at them.

The Star Commander held his ground defiantly as his officers spread out around him, he addressed the boy arrogantly once more, respectful but not at all intimated by the boy's unwavering stance. "You could not possibly have thought I would ignore this, half-breed." He growled loudly, golden eyes daring the child to move. "Do you know who these people are? They attract Federation pursuit ships behind them like a magnet. I cannot have them in my systems. Your mother tried to convince the Counsel that you were gifted by an usually sharp albeit alien intelligence, I begin to question that and find myself less than impressed with your antics. The energy field you built around your property was clever, but I have managed to extend the ion barriers beyond them despite the interference. I must also assume you were seen in the defense complex opening the hole in my defense screens so that they could land a shuttle and take off without challenge. Unfortunately, without communications, they are stranded here."

Blake looked wordlessly at Avon, an ion barrier or shielding would explain why they could not reach the Liberator, the question was, how long would Jenna wait without communication with them?

"Admit it boy, you lost this one. Now let me take them without a fight, the Federation will even pay me for them, alive or dead. I can see to it you and your mother are not punished and I see no reason to waste ammunition on them, don't give me a fight and I will leave your mother out of this."

The boy growled in response, not wavering in his stance. Avon did not like the way the conversation was turning. He looked across the field to gauge the distance before reaching for his gun, it was the last thing he remembered. Pain shot through every fiber of him and he had no time to consider what happened before blackness overtook him and the edges of his consciousness heard a scream.

"NO!" The boy screamed, folding to a crouch and taking aim. The Star Commander paused only briefly to reload his crossbow before getting on his horse once more and turning his attention to the officer who rode toward him.

"Commander." Tarsia said urgently, snatching out of the air the bolt the child had fired and referring to a small screen he held. "The fringe outposts have spotted pursuit ships entering the third quadrant."

"I must leave, half-breed. I will return, make sure they are gone when I do." The Star Commander said as he rode off into the forest once more.

"Avon? Blake! He's been shot!" Cally caught Avon under the shoulder as he slumped unceremoniously to the ground.

Blake tried vainly to raise Liberator, staring blankly at the shaft of the arrow he had pulled from Avon's chest. The shaft was an angry red, but there was no tip on it. The boy snatched it from his hand in disgust. "You do not pull on it! Lucky the shaft broke. Lay him down and get pressure to the wound, he does need to lose any more blood."

Blake turned to the boy frantically. "We have to get him up to our ship! I don't even know your name, can you get us somewhere were we can get a signal out?"

"I don't have a name, but you can call me Kai. By the time you get him clear of the barrier, your ship won't make a difference. It'll be all right, my mother is a doctor, she is coming." He looked off toward the cliffs in the distance. He reached out to take Avon's hand, checking the wrist for pulse. His mind reached gingerly, dodging just barely the pain that reached for him. *Breathe, you must breathe. I know it hurts, but you must.*

Avon took a shallow and ragged breath, writhing as coughing overtook him and with it pain. He struggled to open his eyes, finding the boy's locked on his. He tried to move, bringing on more coughing and more pain. His vision was blurry and unreliable he realized, but he thought there was a woman kneeling over him, alien, but somehow not. She had a medical kit with her and looked at the assembled group with dismay. Flame-red hair was blown from her face by the slight wind crossing the field. She took the arrow shaft from Blake and examined it critically.

Looking critically at Avon, she knelt beside him, reading the results on the scanner. She reached out gingerly to check the pulse in his neck. "It's all right, you've been shot. My name is Alarayna, I'm a doctor. Just try to relax."

Pushing past an about to be ill looking Vila, Blake introduced the group and put his hand out amicably. She looked at him hard for a moment, disdaining his hand. "You've obviously never encountered my kind before." She said somewhat gently while looking sternly at Kai. "Physical contact allows mind contact and I really don't want to know what you're thinking if you don't mind, human thoughts while not unintelligible are extremely confusing to my kind. I assure you I don't want to read you any more than you want me reading you." Blake quickly withdrew his hand and the others, if not physically, then mentally took a step back.

"Can you help him?" Blake asked anxiously.

"I trained as a medic on Auron, let me know what I can do." Cally added.

Alarayna sat back, trying to block out the excess of emotions around her. She turned to Cally first, then to Blake. "Keep pressure on the wound. For now, there is little I can do for him here. My dwelling is not far, I have a fully equipped surgical suite. That arrow has to come out and soon, he is bleeding internally, the sooner I get it under control the better. Kai, go home and fetch the stretcher and get the synthesizers working on at least three pints of AB negative." She watched as the boy scampered off obediently and turned to Avon once more as he groaned in pain and grabbed for her hand as the effort to draw a breath took a toll.

*I can't breathe!* His thoughts screamed at her insistently, bearing with them an incredible amount of pain. She put his hand down gently and reached for her equipment, taking out an injector. As she was not sure he could receive thought, she spoke quietly, trying to keep her own emotions at bay. "You need to take it easy and try not to move, the arrow can shift position. Right now, you're bleeding into your lung and it's likely to collapse. Take shallow breaths only. I'm going to give you something for pain, that should help."

"No morphine." Avon managed to gasp out, pushing away the angry thoughts that arose.

"Allergic or resistant?" She asked, pausing to take out another vial of medication.

"Resistant." He whispered.

She shook her head, wondering what she was getting into, morphine resistance was rare indeed and unfortunately, few drugs could take it's place as effectively. "You need to realize the medication I will have to give in place of Morphine is much stronger and as such more addictive, you will need to be on a tapering dose over the next few weeks to avoid withdrawal." Avon's ragged breathing became easier as she injected the medication, he eyes less wild. Kai had arrived with an anti-grav stretcher and placed it next to Avon while he activated the various monitoring systems it carried.

Together, Blake and Vila lifted Avon to the stretcher which hovered inches off the ground. Blake did not know what to make of this woman or her abilities, but at this point they really did not have a choice, they could not contact the Liberator and if there were some sort of ionic field in operation, it was unlikely he would unless they could find a spot it did not cover. The woman seemed genuinely concerned and competent, perhaps this was one of the Felinian woman trained in the Federation. She sensed his thought and sent to him. *I used to have a piece of jewelry of some sort which was supposed to signify my status as a physician, but it was gold and I sold it.* Asking Cally to monitor the vital sign indicators for change, she took Avon's hand once more, shuddering slightly at the remaining discomfort. She looked at him earnestly. "You are going to be all right. Just try to stay calm. When I have access to the proper equipment, I can make a fuller evaluation and I will tell you everything I am to do before I do anything, okay? I really am good at what I do, though I haven't practiced on an Alpha in years."

"How can you tell he's an Alpha?" Vila asked indignantly. "They don't really have different blood than the rest of us do they?"

Alarayna smiled patiently. "They only like to think so." She said. "They do get certain vaccinations that the rest of the population do not, however, he's without doubt been through a Federation training facility."

"Sure, they don't care if the rest of Delta's die of some raging fever." Vila complained insistently.

"It would seem that way, but they do have clearance to certain areas and certain contaminants that the other grades do not. It makes a certain perverse logic to the Federation not to spend credits on those who keep their society running." She shrugged, guiding the stretcher upwards to a position which enable one person to guide either end and started off toward the area of cliffs. She turned to the boy once more. "Kai get back home and make sure the sterile field generators are up, it should take 20 minutes to complete the field, have my instruments ready and raise the suite oxygenation 20% over normal. You can explain all this to me later."

He looked at her uncertainly for a moment. He reached out toward Avon, his mother snatched his hand back, growling. "I can help." He insisted. "He hears me, I know he does. I can at least redirect the pain. You need to bring his blood pressure down to decrease the amount of bleeding, I can do that." He reached his hand out again.

"NO, Kai." His mother insisted firmly taking his hand again authoritatively. "You can best help by setting things up for me, I can deal with the rest. Even if he can hear you, that doesn't mean anything, only that you can send, even the Auron can do that. Humans do not like at all the touch of another's mind on theirs, they have no possible defense, believe me, now get home!" Reluctantly, Kai scampered off, making sure his mother knew how he felt about it.

Alarayna turned to Blake apologetically. "I'm afraid manners don't mean much to him. We are alone out here most of the time and my people believe it is a waste to speak useless words." She started off, gathering up her instruments and checking the readout on the stretcher to make sure it was working correctly.

"You'll excuse me for asking, but why do you live so far from the other communities? Our scans would suggest that most of the population live in the cities."

"They do. I was trained in the Federation, but I came home seeking protection when I found out what price they had laid on my education. The Felinian Counsel would offer me nothing and refused to accept my son. As long as I am without a mate, I have no recourse. I am to become the possession of the Star Commander, were I to allow him to become my mate now, the first thing he would have to do is murder my son. He agreed to wait until the boy reaches maturity as long as we stay out of his way, he allows us to live in a natural cave formation that was previously modified for habitation, we live out here away from the others but comfortable enough. They are satisfied if I stay out of their notice and keep to myself. We are generally quite alone out here, I'm surprised a patrol came out this far."

"It is far?" Blake asked, uncomfortable and wondering what or who awaited them. "You were trained in the Federation then. And the boy's father, is he there? I assume he's human."

"Yes he is, though I did not think it would be that obvious. Dark hair and eyes are simply not in the genetic patterns of my people, perhaps if it were not for that, he would be more accepted, but it makes little difference. His father is dead." She was disconcerted to find herself staring into Avon's dark eyes. It made her uncomfortable for reasons she could not define. It further discomforted her when he sent to her quite clearly. *You expect me to give you my trust, doctor?*

She answered somewhat angrily, surprised at her own response. *I expect nothing from you. Your companions are concerned for you, but I do not really believe you would trust them to dig about in your chest for that arrowhead. Put simply, if I were to leave you here, you would either bleed to death, or drown in your own blood in less than an hour. Perhaps trust is not such an impossible thing for you to give under the circumstances.*

Avon continued to hold her gaze determinedly. *You are quite young to be a doctor, are you not?*

*Perhaps by your standards, but I started in the advanced course at the Federation medical training facility when I was nine. I had my first degree three years later. Kai was born nearly a year later and I had returned home, or tried to. Among my people, I assure you, I am completely matured. I am not a child. I am a woman and if I had stayed here, I would likely have several children by now.*

*I shall take your word for it, doctor.*

Alarayna squeezed Avon's hand reassuringly, putting her mind quite purposefully and with more difficulty than she expected onto the work she had ahead of her. They had only to walk only a hundred feet perhaps through the cleared brush that hugged the cliff face before they found themselves at the base of the cliffs, rising sharply and smoothly over them perhaps another two hundred feet. Alarayna disappeared through an opening in the rock and the others followed her down a broad passage into and open area. The crew blinked in disbelief as they entered a medical suite that would rival Liberator's. Kai looked up from a bank of humming equipment where he was making several adjustments. Alarayna had them place the stretcher on a well-lit table at the center of the room while she linked the portable systems into the main systems. She turned to Kai who was helping her. She took his hand gently, to find it shaking.

"Kai, take them into the common room and make sure they are comfortable. Secure the outer doors and see if you can find a place where they can communicate to their ship." She pushed him gently but firmly toward a door at the far end of the room. Blake and Vila followed uncertainly, grateful they would not have to watch at least. Cally lingered for a moment, watching the other's leave. She took Avon's hand, watching his face intently. He had been drifting in and out of consciousness and she waited while his breathing evened out somewhat and his eyes became more clear.

"Avon, you know Blake won't leave without you, you'll be all right." She said to him earnestly.

"Oh no, he would not want to lose another of his crew." Avon answered bitterly, without conviction or certainly taking comfort from Cally's attempt.

"I need as few people in here as possible, Cally. I really don't need help and the fewer people, the sooner the sterile field will complete itself. You can monitor everything from the next room if you'd like, Kai will show you how. He'll find a way to that ship of yours too, I'm sure. There is little that goes on around here that he does not know about. I know he's small, but he knows what he is doing. He put all this together with salvaged parts, the ion field is always bringing ships down. The Star Commander lets him scrounge whatever he wants from the wrecks and he's quite good at putting things together." There was an unabashed hint of pride in her voice as she spoke of her son.

As Cally turned to leave, he asked curiously. "Just how old is he?"

"He's four, nearly five. You must realize, though. Our children are born with all the knowledge of both parents. That is why we mature so quickly, knowledge is there, it's only a matter of developing the dexterity to accompany it and, I'm afraid the wisdom which is what Kai lacks. He is capable of astounding things, but he is not always aware of the consequences of his actions or able to see how they will impact the future, he will learn only with time."

Cally gave Avon's hand a final squeeze, knowing it did more for her than for Avon. She looked at the equipment in the room with a new respect and as she exited, the door slid closed behind her with a gentle thud.

Avon watched distantly as the young doctor adjusted settings and ran scans, reviewing them thoughtfully as she waited for the sterile field to reach its maximum capacity. She had bound her long curly hair neatly in a knot behind her head. She watched his face carefully, noting his interest in her every move. She adjusted the various lines and monitoring equipment around him diligently while she watched the sterile field build and waiting for the drop in blood pressure that would mean the anesthetic was working properly. His eyes were heavy, she could tell, but he would not close them. She took his hand again, feeling and enormous and unexpected amount of undefined distress. "You need not fight the medications, it will do you no good. Is there something specific bothering you?"

Avon's voice was tired and barely above a whisper as he answered her, looking perceptively at the scans arrayed on the monitors around him. "Cally was right, he won't leave me here, no matter what." Though the medications were doing their job adequately, he hovered just at the edge of panic, though reason told him there was nothing he could do.

"Is that a problem?"

"I can't move my legs." He did not need to explain, the edge of terror in his voice was palpable to her. Though she knew little about him, certainly ongoing disability did not fit his lifestyle. She smiled gently, looking at the scans, particularly of the spine. "It is most probably the swelling and inflammation surrounding the cord, it's cutting off blood supply to the nerves, that is all. Once I relieve the pressure, you should be able to move normally. I would not do any running for a few weeks, but you should be fine."

"And if it is more than that?" He persisted.

She understood entirely the bend of his question and sighed deeply. Though she did not believe in euthanasia, her job was to save his life and not put at greater risk. Such a disability would effectively end the life of the man before her. "In the event I cannot return you to your former functioning level, you shall not wake."

"Thank you." Avon relaxed appreciably, giving way slowly to the medication's effects. That part of his mind that was still capable of logical thought remembered a scrap of something he had read in the records and also something she had said to Blake.

"Can you tell me something?" He asked. She watched as the sterile field came to full, she put his hand down as he asked softly. "What was the price the Federation put on your education?"

She smiled almost wistfully, noting the indicators read everything was ready. "My son's life."

*****

Kai brought up the environmental systems in the outer room and showed Blake how to adjust the settings in case they were not to his liking. The cavern had obviously been adapted as living space, the walls smooth and dry. There was a surprising amount of electronics in the room and it was obvious though they lived away from civilization, they certainly enjoyed its comforts. Cally sat curiously before the bank of computers and scanners which took up near the entire wall. The room was small but comfortable. Vila sat at a small table, sullenly drinking a glass of water, he had asked for soma, but the boy had refused, saying they had none and gave him water instead. Cally looked at the equipment lined up, wondering how a child of four had managed to put it all together from salvage. She asked him how to monitor the other room and he showed her competently, obviously at ease and knowing well the electronics.

"Don't worry." He said, watching Cally who was trying not to let her concern show. "My mother knows what she is doing, she's not worried, you shouldn't be. Though they will not acknowledge her as a doctor, the local farmers find it closer to come here then to go on to the city. Sometimes, especially during harvest, she is quite busy, though I have to stay out of the way, they think I'm a demon." She smiled bitterly. "I don't exist you see, it's easier for mother that way and when I'm old enough to be a threat, the Star Commander will make it a reality."

"You certainly read feelings rather well, are you a telepath as well?" Cally asked quietly.

"I'm a primary empath." He answered. "Feelings come without my trying to access them, sometimes it's very annoying. Thought I can only reach with effort, but it's not impossible, it just takes concentration I can read the thoughts of the Star Commander though he does not believe it." He turned to one of the screens, bringing up a representation of the planet; he pointed to a blip superimposed on the planet. "That's your ship there. " He watched another screen avidly as information scrolled across it. "Dartine operates a navigational surveillance base, they did not pick up your approach because that sector was shut down for maintenance, the defense systems read that they are powered down. The moon, which contains all the defensive systems, is presently on the other side of the planet, they cannot be a threat to your ship until they come into range. Giareth will not fire on anything he is not sure he can destroy, he is ignoring its presence for now." A green film appeared on the screen over the landscape surrounding them. "That's the ion screen, as long as he thinks you're stranded down here, he will leave you alone. One good thing, though, he's conserving power and just extended it over us. He'll watch until he can devise a clear advantage. Unless your ship shows aggression, he'll leave it alone. The ion field extends just over us, once your ready to leave, it will be a short walk to a clear spot in the field where you can contact your ship."

"Are you certain we are safe here?" Blake asked.

The boy looked at the screens with confidence. "The systems will inform us if the Dartine station initiates defense systems, I assure you."

"Your mother said you built all of this, it's fairly sophisticated for salvage, isn't it?" Cally asked.

"It works, most of the time anyway, something is always breaking down, though. Luckily a lot of ships think they can skim the barriers and land an overly loaded shuttle, there's always a source for spare parts. I keep all this running, it's the only way I can keep us safe out here."

"Safe from what?" Blake asked.

"The Star Commander was granted my mother as his mate, that's why he lets her stay here. She made a deal with him with she brought me here. He will let her stay as long as she keeps out of his way and no one knows about me. Once I reach majority at eight, I am to leave and she is to become his, but she hates him, he terrifies her. She doesn't want to belong to him."

"Belong to him? What like property?" Vila asked.

"It is a woman's place to belong to her mate. There is no other place for a female in Felinian society. Giareth's resources are unlimited; he's smart and accustomed to getting whatever he wants. The only problem is, he can't get near this place without my knowing about it. He'd rather not take the chance I'd kill him if he tried, there would be no honor in it for him."

"What is it he wants from your mother?" Blake asked.

"He can afford to wait her out. Once a mating pair has been established, neither can have another mate, he has been granted his mate, he needs an heir. Once has an heir, his claim on mother will be sealed, then she has no choice in the matter. Without a mate, she needs protection, I protect her." The boy had tightened the focus on the displayed map and it now showed the immediate area with the ion field lingering over the cliffs they inhabited.

Blake watched the unusual child for a moment, noting with dismay his familiarity with the computer components before him. "What about your father?"

The boy turned to him sharply and considered for a moment. "Don't know. I don't really have one, certainly not in the way Felinians think of a mate. Mother was inseminated, she never even met him, and she was not even allowed to know his name. As far as the Felinians are concerned, a woman of child bearing age without a mate is under sentence of death if she does not accept the counsel's assignment of a mate and she cannot because his first task would be to kill me."

"Does all this have something to do with the Pandora Project?" Blake asked. Little data had been available on the matter, but he had at Avon's insistence reviewed it several times.

The boy considered Blake for a long moment, assessing his motives and judging quite accurately how quickly he was likely to be able to reach the gun at his side, never more quickly than Kai could draw and throw one of the knives in either wrist sheath or the ones in his boots. He sat back, confident that he had advantage in the situation and that he could see everyone on the room at once, monitoring just barely their emotions for any aggression. "Pandora, according to Federation records had a primary goal of finding out if it was possible to graft back into the Terran population any of the telepathic abilities which had been an unintentional byproduct of their genetic manipulation." At Vila's obvious lack of understanding, he rephrased himself. "They wanted to see if they could mate interracially and have the offspring retain telepathic abilities, presumably while looking more human than Felinian. At least, that was their working theory."

"You think they had other intentions?" Cally asked.

"I will very probably never find out. I find it curious that all the selected male donors were convicted criminals on the Federation's death list. I suppose it was meant to be very neat, it did not leave any family ties behind, theoretically, it left no one behind. My mother was the last participant in the project, civil rights protesters became aware of it and shut down the project's funding."

"That's fascinating." Blake said, wondering where the boy had gotten all that information, the Federation files containing any information on the project were all encrypted, although not difficult for Orac, it would be both difficult and time consuming even for an experienced technician. "What ever happened to the offspring in the project, or their mothers? It would seem to be impossible to hide such individuals in a xenophobic society."

"Quite, I would not exactly blend well any better than I blend with the Felinians." Kai's tone was blatantly bitter and the words the Star Commander had spoken rang insistently in his mind. "When my mother found out all the participants had died, she left on one of the mining freighters, she would never have been granted a visa. Gaining passage on several freighters, she only got as far as Dartine, Felinas' only trade planet. One of the moons actually. This is not her native planet. The gravity down here is slightly higher than standard, so the bulk freighters land on the moons and then arrange to shuttle down smaller loads. Occasionally they try to skip a step and land down here, then they crash."

"And you built all this out of salvage parts?" Cally asked, noting the different systems that had been linked together to work with each other, a fairly difficult feat of engineering.

Blake looked at Cally with much the same thought in his head, wondering if it was a reflection of the child himself or the race in general.

"The doctor said that their children are born with all the knowledge of both parents." Cally said by way of explanation.

"Knowledge, memories, experiences, skills, all that. Though one must learn to sift through it. Sometimes answers just come to me. I know things that I don't really know I know until I need the information for something. Most of this stuff I managed to put together from what whole bits are left behind. Sometimes, like with the medical equipment, most of that ship was intact, it had lost power and glided down nicely, the crew was dead because their oxygen generators shut down when they encountered the barriers. Most of the components in its hold were completely intact, it was a shipment meant for the hospital on Felinas Prime, nice stuff too, though mother does not get to use it very often. The locals are afraid of me. If someone gets hurt badly enough that they can't make it to the medical facility in the city, they'll let her treat them as long as I stay out of sight." His voice was even and steady, revealing none of the emotion he felt. To show emotion was to show weakness and Kai would never show weakness.

"What about your mother's family? Do they live around here?" Blake asked gently.

"They don't know we're here. Giareth can block out any transmissions I try to make and I have a couple of times, then he sends someone out to destroy the transmitter. The Felinians don't use wave communication, sub space or anything. They communicate primarily telepathically and when it's necessary to get out a specific message, they use a holographic transmitting system, they like to see who they are talking to, watch their eyes, they can tell a lot that way."

"Can't your mother communicate telepathically with her family?" Cally asked.

"Felinas Prime is nearly 20 light years away, a woman cannot send that far reliably. It's not as if she hasn't tried. They know she is, they just don't know where or under what conditions. A child has a secondary link with their parents; formed through touch it is different from a primary link, which is only a matter of sending and receiving. But, again, Giareth can block that as well. He has effectively stranded her here and he's prepared to wait her out. She will never be free while I'm alive and Giareth will never have her while I'm alive. It's trade-off, unless I kill him first." The boy grinned eerily, adjusting his knives. "He does not consider me a threat, doesn't think I can read him, but I can. He underestimates me. He thinks I'm more human than Felinian and that will be the mistake that kills him." Something in the intensity of his dark eyes and the cool assuredness of his tone was disturbingly familiar and no one spoke for some time, considering what they had learned.

It was nearly four hours before the doctor emerged into the common room. She gently eased her fiery bound curls and sat down on one of the couches, eyeing the information on the medical screen beside her.

Blake was the first to voice the collective concern of the group. "Is he going to be all right?"

"He will be under the anesthetic for a couple of hours more, he's done well until now I think he'll be just fine. It will be some weeks before he feels entirely the way he did, but with rest the body will heal itself." Kai had brought a glass of water for her to drink, which she did with relish. She sat him down next to her, bringing out the arrowhead she had removed. It was considerably larger than the narrow points Kai used on his hunting bolts, a finely honed and sharpened triangle with fine, barbed ends opposite the point. She looked at him harshly.

"I was just out hunting." He said defensively, folding his knees tightly and wrapping his arms around them. He did not look fully at his mother, but pretended to be interested in one of the screens.

She sighed deeply. "Kai, this is one of Giareth's own hunting arrows. You don't hunt the upper fields this time of the year. You were on your way back from the city and he was following you. Now don't argue, I just want to know why he left his patrol to come after you. The Star Commander does not waste his time or certainly his custom arrows unless he is provoked. What did you do?"

Kai looked uncomfortable, but defiant. He reached into a pack he carried and brought out a piece of circuitry, which he put in his mother's hand. She looked at it disdainfully, then sharply at her son.

Since she obviously did not recognize the significance of the find, he dutifully explained to her. "It's a holotransmit circuit, a whole shipment of them came in yesterday, he'll never even miss that one. I know I've tried before, but I did not have the right frequency. I have it now and I can reach Prime."

With a patience it was obvious she had learned well and used often to deal with him, Alarayna turned gently to her son. "What about the transmission filters, you know better."

"I planted a virus, the systems will be down for at least four days for reprogramming."

Alarayna shook her head uselessly, rubbing his head affectionately. "He'll find another way, don't doubt it, Kai. What shall I do when he's killed you? Do you figure that into your probability equations? If life was a question of numbers, you'd have it beaten, little one. At least I know what you were up to." She turned to Blake. "It does not tell what you people were doing here or how you got here. Obviously, you know nothing of my people or you would not be here."

"Well, we did get all the information we could, but there was not much to be found." Blake answered. "Our computer intercepted traffic which suggested there were anti-Federation groups in this area looking for assistance from other similar groups, going so far as to leave specific coordinates for contact, although the information was scarce and for the most part second hand, I thought it was worth following-up on. Avon will be the first one to tell me I was wrong I suppose, though he already has several times. I get the impression your people would be unlikely to want our assistance."

"You better just make sure you tell him that when he wakes up, Blake." Vila said from across the room. "He'll make all our lives miserable for weeks otherwise, probably will anyway."

"Vila, stop!" Cally injected. "We should all be grateful he is alive at this point, that was a very serious injury. We could not have been luckier than to have a doctor at our disposal. My people say one should not be unhappy when providence has smiled on you."

"Certainly, anything we can do for you, let me know." Blake said graciously.

Alarayna had lived for five years among these people, but it never ceased to amaze her, the extent of wasted words they used to get a simple point across. She smiled. "I require no payment. I shall be more than compensated if you are gone when the Commander comes back for this, which he certainly will. As for this transmission you are following, I'm afraid your assessment is quite accurate. Our people are just as happy to be left out of that which goes on in Federation space. The Federation leave us alone and we leave them alone. Trade is necessary and that is the only reason we have contact with the other human colonies around us." She looked severely at Kai, holding his eyes mercilessly. *What have you gotten us into? Giareth will not be easily placated after this, plus the fact you've been messing around with his security systems. What shall I say to him?*

*I'm sorry mother, I was curious that's all. I've never seen any of their kind aside from the merchants down at the ports. Giareth has already warned me to have them gone, they will be. The Giardasta left two hours ago chasing Federation pursuit ships, they will be gone at least three days.*

*Can you even be sure he was on the ship?*

Kai smiled evilly. *He wouldn't dare miss a fight like that or leave the glory to one of his underlings. He left on that ship all right. The outer detectors picked them up on trajectory to the third sector, it will be at least three days.*

Alarayna was tired and she knew well that it was useless arguing with the child. She placed the arrowhead on the table beside her and leaned back on the couch, pulling the child's head to her shoulder. "You cannot play these games with the Commander. As far as Felinas is concerned, you don't even exist. There is nothing to stop him from killing you whenever he wants to. If you push him too far, he will have no choice. Once you're gone, I will be his. He will see to it that I forget you ever existed. There is not a thing I can do about it and he knows it." She clutched her son tightly as if he would fade before her.

"You know he can't do that. He cannot take your memories from you, it's illegal. He will never have you, I will make sure of it." He disengaged himself from her grip and looked at her defiantly.

"Eventually you will come to understand, little one, the law is what he says it is and whatever he says it is. You cannot fight it, sooner or later I will belong to him. He can and very well will block out all the memories that pertain to you; it will be to me as if you never existed; he would not want the competition. Once you're grown, you can get one of the merchant freighters to sign you on as crew; you can fly better than any of their pilots. From there you will have your own future, mine has already been sealed. Right now, you're all I have, Kai, and I can't bear to lose you."

Kai looked at his mother critically. She was tired, he could see it easily in her face, but she would not let herself sleep until she felt her patient was out of danger. He reached out to smooth a stray curl from her forehead. As she lifted her eyes to his, he murmured softly. "Sleep." Her eyes closed obediently as he knew they would. He laid her tail carefully across her shoulders, bound at its end only with a length of leather cord, the golden clasp she had worn since birth was in his tail. He turned to the others, who watched curiously. "You should get some sleep while you can, he won't wake for hours yet."

Having nothing else better to do, each of them found a comfortable spot to rest in and was soon asleep. Kai waited patiently, stroking his mother's hair gently. When he was certain everyone was asleep, he sat quietly at his computer screen, keyboard before him.

/computer access systems/ he entered in, waiting for a response as the systems around him hummed compliantly.

/system access available. What system do you require?/

/Orac./

/processing, please wait. Requested system requires security code for remote access, enter code./

Kai thought for a moment before entering a series of numbers and letters.

/system accessed, enter requirements./

/have the zen computer advise jenna that blake is unable to communicate due to ion interference. she is to hold position until he makes contact. confirm acceptance./ Kai watched quietly as the computer carried out his instructions, waiting for the requested confirmation before turning the computer off and blanking the screen.

*****

Jenna was bored. She stood alone at her console and wondered what to do next. She had tried to raise Blake to no avail and Zen suggested it was due to ion interference on the planet below, perhaps a storm that would dissipate with time. The long range scanners showed nothing to be worried about and she had Orac standing by the teleport while she watched the scans intently.

/Information./ As Zen spoke, she nearly jumped out of her seat.

"What is it, Zen?"

/The Orac computer request I pass along the following information. Blake advises he is unable to communicate due to ion interference. He suggests you hold position until he makes contact./

"That's all?"

/There is no more information available./

Jenna took a deep breath and turned to the computer suspiciously. "Where did Orac pick up this information?"

/The Orac computer routinely monitors local computer communication, confirmation in the form of Avon's personal security code was received with the information./

"I understand, Avon's down there playing with computers and I'm supposed to just sit up here and wait! Okay, Zen, hold position until otherwise instructed and have Orac continue standing by the teleport."

/Confirmed./

******

Kai had been sitting cross-legged at the end of the bed when the monitor alarms began to scream. He reached forward as Avon tried to sit up, eyes wild. "Take it easy, it was just a dream." He held gently but firmly to Avon's shoulder. Avon was panting frantically, lights flashed around him and warning alarms rang shrilly. He had no idea what was going on or what he had been dreaming that had bothered him so much.

"Kai, what is going on?" Alarayna entered the room switching off the alarms.

Kai folded himself at the far end of the bed once more. "He had a nightmare. I tried to calm him down."

The doctor picked up a syringe and then one of the intravenous lines in Avon's arm. "With the amount of medication he has in his system, I'm not surprised. Which is why I wanted to stay awake." She looked at her son harshly. Avon, eyes still wild, reached out for her the hand that held the syringe.

"No more drugs." He panted.

She looked at the readouts once more to be sure and turned to him more calm than she felt. "It's just an anti-hypertensive. I have to bring your blood pressure down, you're about to go into asystole and I'd rather not have to try and restart your heart again, it's had quite enough for one night."

Avon made an attempt to calm himself, slowing everything down would help him understand the situation and he did not entirely trust this woman. "I don't need it, I'll be all right. Who are you and where am I?"

Alarayna put the syringe down accommodatively, watching the vital sign readouts, which had in fact begun to drop considerably. "My name is Alarayna, I'm a doctor, I did tell you before, but you were in and out of it most of the time, so I can understand if you don't remember. This is my son, Kai. It is clear you know something of biofeedback techniques, your control is impressive. I won't give you anything if you don't want it, but if it comes to preserving your life, my options need to change. The ones who came with you are in the other room, sleeping unless the alarms woke them." She looked up briefly at Kai who shook his head no, ears erect. She continued, adjusting the intravenous lines critically and lowering the amount of pain killers as far as she dared. "You were shot, you are going to be fine, but you do need your rest." Alarayna sat down on a chair beside the bed, trying unsuccessfully to hold back the images of the nightmare she had seen. It stirred uncomfortably areas of her mind that she would rather stay undisturbed. While she checked the readings carefully, she watched Kai in the corner of her vision. He was unusually reflective himself and avoided her eyes purposefully. Something bothered him and she knew he felt responsible for what had happened in their western fields, his own hunting ground and his to protect. He had without doubt infuriated the Star Commander, though why he would pursue him onto his own territory was puzzling.

Avon had lain back down against the bed, finding the muscles in his chest complained less if he lay still. Although tired, he did not want to go back to sleep and instead he carefully surveyed the room he found himself in. The edges of his dream were fading quickly, but he could not shake the feeling these aliens had something to do with it. He remembered vaguely being in a field with Blake and the others, the woman bending over him checking a wound in his chest. He remembered her voice had vaguely reminded him of Anna and wondered at that. She had a distinct accent, though she spoke standard fluently, the structure of her sentences was slightly unusual. Idly, he let his attention be taken by the equipment surrounding him, refusing to let sleep claim him again until he understood what lay at the back of his mind beyond his conscious reach. Images rushed at him once more, blurred and out of focus, but over it he clearly heard a woman scream, NO, PLEASE! He was about to turn to look at her once more, hoping to more firmly grasp the fragment which eluded him. His eyes met the dark ones of the child who sat at the end of the bed. Though he was not entirely aware of it, Kai held his hand out and whispered, "sleep."

"What did you do that for?" His mother demanded of him.

"He would never have let himself sleep otherwise. Plus this way he won't have any more nightmares.

Alarayna sighed deeply. "Well, it's rude. You may only be half-human, but you need to understand they expect their wishes to be respected, especially Alphas."

"I'll apologize when he wakes." Kai said sullenly. "You still need sleep yourself." He did not miss the fine tremor to her hands. Having checked everything she wanted to, she reluctantly got up to return to the other room. "Wake me before he gets to that point next time." She said quietly, turning out the lights on her way.

Kai sat quietly coiled at the end of the bed, chin resting on his knees throughout the rest of the night. He watched the monitors wordlessly and he watched Avon with a curiosity he did not understand himself and knew that Avon would not appreciate it, but he slept soundly and without nightmares. Kai tried to understand why the man before him, his very existence, fascinated him. At the same time, however, he knew he would not have nearly enough time to understand it even if it were possible. Eventually, silently picking up his crossbow and arrows, he left to hunt, waking his mother on the way.

Alarayna busied herself, checking over the equipment. It really had never had an extended trial such as this and she felt the need to keep an eye on it. She also unobtrusively and carefully watched her patient who was equally curious about her. She did not fail to notice that he tracked her every movement, with curiosity rather than suspicion as he was barely awake. Feeling that he preferred to acclimate himself without interruption, she did not do so. She could hear quite clearly the rest of the crew in the common room. She had left them a bowl of fruit and some spring water to have for their breakfast and they were busily talking among themselves, no doubt attempting to be quiet.

Foggy and not quite sure he was awake, Avon watched the woman before him silently. She worked with obvious proficiency as she went about her tasks. Either she did not know he was watching her, or she did not care, Avon thought it must be the latter, he doubted very much that anything passed her attention unnoticed. She was of average height, though the erect ears atop her head made her appear taller, slim though well proportioned for her age, which Avon's mind told him was less than 20. She moved with a practiced grace which came to her quite naturally. Each movement she made was silent and precise. He had seen her before and he remembered quite clearly the sharp intensity of her green eyes, slitted for maximum use of light. Her eyebrows arched gently upward, giving a most distinct alienness to her angular but feminine features. A cascade of bright red curls fell to below her waist and tended to move with her in a well-controlled mass. The braid at the back of her head was black white and gold, falling to her knees, it was embellished by several pieces of jewelry and other light catching trinkets. Something told Avon these meant something to her and she kept the 'tail' always within her reach, this was also intentional, he was sure. Her ears were outlined in black and stood out conspicuously against the rest of her hair, one of them rotated backwards as she turned her head to watch Blake who had entered via the door beyond the head of the bed. He was busy munching on an apple, he paid little attention to the doctor or her patient, whom he would not have noticed to be awake since she was between them.

"What is it you use for trade? If you don't mind my asking." Blake asked curiously.

"Most of the fruit and vegetables, we grow here. But, if I should need to trade for something, Kai has quite a reputation among the merchant captains. He can fix most anything and they send for him quite often. Giareth does not mind, he'd rather not have a freighter taking up docking space while waiting on a repair crew. Kai never asks for much. The portable scanners and the stretcher he got from an Alteran merchant for re-stressing his hyperspace engines." She smiled fondly, unable to hide her pride.

"That's quite a job for a child to handle." Blake said.

"He does not usually do heavy work like that, but he wanted the equipment. Usually it is just a blown out circuit or a guidance system that needs realignment."

Blake looked around at the equipment in the room with a great deal more respect. "Do you have any more water around? We've nearly emptied the pitcher you left."

The doctor did not fail to notice Avon showed no interest in engaging Blake in conversation, though she may be mistaken, she thought she could feel almost relief that he did not realize her patient was awake. She turned to Blake with a smile. "I'll bring some in a few minutes. I need to run a few more scans first. Can you close the door on your way out? The chatter distracts me no end." She watched as Blake departed, sighing as the door closed behind him, she could still hear voices, but considerably less so. She bent to a shelf beneath the bed, retrieving a pile of neatly folded clothes which she laid on the bed beside Avon. She looked at him matter-of-factly and stepped back from the bed. "Let me know if you need help. If you feel up to it, I would like for you to eat something." She went off to the other side of the room to get a plate of fruit and a glass of water.

The fog in Avon's head had cleared considerably and he found it much easier and more comfortable than he feared to sit up. Mildly disconcerted to find himself completely naked, he reminded himself that the woman present was a doctor. He gingerly picked up his clothes and got dressed. Though unobtrusive, she watched him carefully. She stopped beside the bed, putting down the food she had brought. She helped him with his shirt as his muscles were a little stiff and did not respond nearly as quickly as he would have liked. She ran a nervous hand back through her hair, watching him carefully but quietly.

"You're not accustomed to having crowds about are you?" He asked gently, noting her discomfort.

She smiled graciously, handing him the glass of water. "It's been a few years since I have had more than my son for company. I did live for nearly five years in the domes on your planet. It took some time to adjust, but I managed." She watched him drink critically. "You are doing much better than I would have expected at this point."

"I have you to thank for saving my life. I have never relied on luck, but I was fortunate you were close by." Avon took a drink and reached for the fruit, finding himself more hungry than he expected.

"It is not necessary, I require no payment, the others have already offered. I did have to remove the damaged sections of the lung, it comes out to about an eighth of the lower lobe, I doubt you will miss it. You will feel tired for a couple of days until your body can rebuild its reserves. I replaced the blood you lost with artificially manufactured blood replacement, it works well, but it does not carry nutrients nearly as well as actual blood. Since I have discontinued all the support systems, you will have to eat and you will require a lot of fluids. You're not squeamish about eating animal flesh, are you? I would like you to get a lot proteins as well, it will help rebuild tissue."

Strapping on the rest of his gear, Avon fingered distantly the hole in his tunic which had been patched seamlessly. It was not a large hole and he assumed that the clothes had been washed as well since there was no blood on any of them and he remembered bleeding quite a lot. He stood up gingerly from the bed, not trusting his legs to hold his weight which they did without complaint. The young doctor was watching him critically while running a scan of some sort over him. "I haven't eaten actual flesh for some time, but I have qualms against it. Do you live entirely off the land?"

"As much as we can. It is the nature of my son to hunt and he feels he is making a contribution. Most of the smaller animals he hunts for the pelts. This is primarily an agricultural planet. The only reason the space ports are here is because it is the planet nearest our border, the crimson line, the Star Commander guards it jealously, nothing can pass through our space without his knowledge or permission."

"That would make me wonder why we were not challenged before arriving here. We had assumed it was because we were expected, but I gather that is not the case." Avon asked, suspicions rising.

She smiled and shook her head sadly. "My people are definitely anti-Federation, unfortunately, we are also anti-human. I have not as yet determined what the meaning of this transmission you monitored. Our people do not use wave communication. Giareth feels he is at much better advantage if they only way he can communicate with an incoming ship is to board it and confront the captain personally, this serves his honor. It is difficult, though not entirely impossible for him to transmit his intimidation over the radio." She shut down several of the monitoring instruments and turned to him once more. "If your wish is to get more rest, you may stay for a while. Otherwise, I need to shut down as much as possible to recharge the batteries. Those who came with you will not question if you are to sleep more."

"How long have I been asleep?" Avon asked.

"Nearly twelve hours, but considering the amount of pain medication, it would not be unusual to expect you to sleep the rest of the day yet and I do not get the impression you crave socialization. They have been rather concerned about your progress, I think they would be relieved to see that you're doing well. I do not think they have much confidence in my abilities and you were in bad shape when we brought you in."

"You obviously earned your degrees, there were three of them weren't there?"

Alarayna thought for a moment. "Three in the surgical disciplines, one in psychology and one in biogenetics. Had I stayed, I probably could have refined my thesis on human sexuality, my first attempt was soundly rejected."

"How Love Is Used As Coercion In the Physical Relationship. I read it. Do you really believe people need to be forced into having a physical relationship?"

The doctor looked decidedly uncomfortable and slightly distant. "We see things differently as a race which is why they wanted me to pursue that degree in the first place, it was required. The theory that love is a myth has been proposed before, but I underestimated how tightly your people cling to it, even in the scientific community. You must have done extensive research to find that one."

"Blake likes to take us into things blindly. I have always found it is prudent to gather as much information as there is, it is always useful. Indeed, most of the files connected to your particular case were not available."

"Kai moved most of them to his personal files. He said he covered his tracks well enough so that no one would know they were missing." She crossed into the other room as Avon followed, puzzled. His brain was clearly still affected by medication and he found it nearly impossible to concentrate to his satisfaction. He deftly and purposefully ignored the comments and inquiries from the others as he went into the other room where they were gathered about the table, arguing over their morning meal.

"Someone who did not know what to look for would never have missed the files." Avon said suspiciously, sitting beside the banks of computers and retrieval systems, trying to ignore Cally's concern and breaking her embrace with determination. "It was quite a feat, how old is he?"

Alarayna caught quite clearly the suspicion behind Avon's words and did not fail to notice one of the first things he had done after dressing was to make sure his weapon was operational. "As your people mark age, perhaps less. We count our age from conception. Though human gestation requires nine months, my body is only equipped to carry a child for eight. He was a little small when he was born but perfectly healthy which is good considering he was born on a freighter, but just inside the crimson line." She sat down in front of the main screen, pulling out a well-used keyboard. "I think I can bring up a representation of the sector we're in, Kai likes to track Giareth's fleet."

Avon watched her with interest, more interest than Alarayna would have liked. "You don't have a voice interface?" He asked.

Alarayna waded through a list of programs and files to find the right one, bringing up eventually a representation of the surrounding space. "Kai installed an AI interface at one point, but he disliked his computer talking back to him, so he took it out. The red line represents our borders. Felinas lays claim to 15 stellar systems containing well over 40 inhabited planets and moons, including three stellar systems we recently took from the Farlian empire, now Beta Farl on our borders here." She pointed out the features as she spoke. "You no doubt came in through the Farlian sector here." She said, pointing to a section of space where the red line became violet with the words 'system down for maintenance' written beside it. "The closest outer worlds system on the other side of the line in that sector is the Farlian planet of Alcos. Dartine is situated closest to the crimson line and was the first planet our ancestors reached more than 300 years ago."

"How many were there originally, the Federation estimated the colony at about one thousand." Blake asked.

"Though there were more when the left, less than 750 made it through the Voyage, a nearly four year journey. They made stops to refuel and resupply, but they were in flight for most of the time. They wanted to get as far from the inner planetary systems as they could. They wanted to be left alone, they wanted to establish their own society far from the Imperial influence. The original colony of the ancients was on the third moon of Dartine. Aside from a single exploratory mission, the Federation has ignored us out here and we quite like that. For their part, the Federation would rather forget about us and deny that we even exist anymore."

"What was it that made your ancestors want to leave Terran space and turn on those who had created them?" Cally asked.

Alarayna smiled bitterly. "The ancients were difficult for the Federation to manage, they did not want to be slaves and the Gentechs decided that they needed to reduce our intelligence to make us more manageable. They had created us to be what we were and then they decided they did not like it. In fact, they did not see the danger until it was too late, they had no defenses against us despite the fact they had isolated the colony. It became the ancients' imperative that they escape before they were reduced to idiots, when an opportunity arrived, they took it. It was not easy for the ancients to create a stable society from those who survived the Voyage, but they wanted to hold onto their genetic uniqueness and were determined to keep those qualities which made us different, which made us a people."

"There was not much information on your people after they left." Blake added, curious as to how they had managed to survive and what their social structure was. "I am curious as to the structure of your ruling powers."

She thought for a moment, drawing on her knowledge of the Federation's system of government and their historical precedents. "I suppose it is best described as feudal system. Each of the 15 systems owes homage to one of the major clans. There are ten major clans and 5 minor ones. The major clans were the first to be established after the Voyage and consisted of people of similar breeding characteristics and genetic modifications. The five minor clans were established after we settled here and are usually blood bonded to one or more of the major clans. Each clan is represented in the Counsel, though the major clans have more votes than the minor ones. Ranyanetha is the clan which you would consider to be over the others, the First One who is the head of the clan has the most votes at Counsel and can only be overridden if all the other clans vote against him. Laws, rules of trade, and the breeding schedule are overseen by the Counsel. Clan Giarnetha in the person of the Star Commander makes sure the Counsel's wishes are upheld."

Blake had read about most of this in the files Kai had suggested regarding the history of the Felinian people, he was, however, curious about what put Alarayna in the position she was, exiled from her own people. "With the value that Felinians place on their women, I have to wonder why you would leave only to come back." He asked gingerly.

Face impassive and distantly sad, the young doctor answered hesitantly, not knowing how to make someone understand something she did not entirely. "A Felinian woman has no value except to her mate. I have no mate, so I have no value. No one on the Counsel would dare angering my father or voting against Giareth. Before I left the systems, Ranyanetha and Giarnetha had been granted bonding privileges. The next heir to Ranyanetha and the title of First One would have to be Giarnethan. Such a pairing has never been proposed in the history of the breeding program." She paused uncertainly.

"The result would be a military dictator." Avon offered. "Just who is your father?"

Alarayna nodded. "My father is the First One and he did not want that to happen, so he sent me away, leaving Giarnetha to pair one of their females to my brother. Not long after they were bonded, my brother and his pregnant mate were killed in a transport accident. Though the heir to a clan's title must be passed from son to son, Ranyanetha cannot be without an heir. Giareth can afford to wait until Kai is of majority and on his own, his heir will be in line for the title of First One as well as Star Commander. I have little choice in the matter. Giareth made sure my father was not present for the vote when I came home, full counsel attendance is not necessary for such matters."

Though Avon did not entirely understand, it was clear these people had very divergent customs from those who had caused their existence. He wondered distantly about the message Orac had relayed to them once more and was curious about the missing files again. "How is it you became involved in the Federation's Pandora Project?" He asked, hoping more information would provide the piece he was missing. "Most of the files related to the project were inaccessible."

"Most of the information in those files was misleading or downright lies." She answered, running a hand through her red curls nervously. "The official aims of the project were to elicit volunteer Felinian woman to be inseminated; their offspring would be studied as to how the introduction of the two DNA patterns would be affected by interbreeding. I had just been granted the last of my degrees when four mutoid security officers showed up at my apartment. I had accepted a position on the Mars colony and was happy to be working outside the domes frankly. They told me that unless I participated in this project, they would revoke my degrees and send me back to Felinas. I had worked hard and sacrificed a great deal to earn those degrees, I volunteered. The Gentechs had designed us so that unplanned pregnancies did not happen. In order for a female to become fertile, her mate injects directly into the carotid artery a combination of hormones and mild stimulants which serve to bring on ovulation, without which conception cannot occur, obviously. The Federation managed to synthesize the hormone, but the process was still not that easy. I had several miscarriages and even if they succeed in getting the pregnancy past the third month, it is necessary for the mother to be on immunosuppressive therapy to keep her system from rejecting the human DNA in the child she carries. It is certainly not something I would like to go through again, but I was young and stubborn and not about to go home with nothing to show for my education. On checking on the previous participants, I discovered none of them had lived. Ten women bore children, but neither the mother nor the child were ever given Federation citizenship. My own inquiries were either ignored, or I was lied to. When I left Mars, I was six months along and did not feel I had any other options, I had no desire to find out what it was they wanted from my son."

"You must have had more than suspicion to go on to take such a risk, you were certain they would kill the both of you." Avon said, remembering she had said her son's life was the price for her education. A certainty and not a theory, he felt reasonably certain there was more to it than she was willing to say.

"It seemed more reasonable at the time to risk my own people's reaction than to participate helplessly in whatever the Federation hoped to accomplish. Perhaps I was rash, but I do not regret leaving. Giareth will tolerate my presence here as long as Kai stays out of his way. He does not kill without a purpose."

"What purpose would he have in shooting Avon, then?" Vila asked, bored.

"He went for his gun, an instinctive response." Kai said as he walked through the door, surveying the room quickly and completely before sitting down next to his mother. He turned to Avon with an imperious look. "I did try to warn you. His reflexes are honed to react immediately to any thought of aggression. You send loudly."

"How can I send anything, I'm not a telepath." Avon said suspiciously.

"You do have latent abilities, but untrained they are useless. That's not the point, Kai." Alarayna looked at her son severely. "A latent's thoughts are not any louder than the others, they are simply more organized, there's less background noise, that's all. Alpha training discourages telepathic or psychic abilities of any kind, it's not purposeful. You still have not explained to my liking why Giareth was mad in the first place. You did not challenge him did you?"

Kai planted himself in front of the computer, bringing up surveillance scans with disgust. "He was on my property." He growled loudly as he looked at a missing sector in his perimeter around their dwelling. "I should have shot his filly. Look at this, he took out an entire sector, It'll take me a week to replace all those sensors!"

Shaking her head, Alarayna headed for the door. She knew better than to argue with her recalcitrant son. She also knew there was something he was not telling her, and she also knew it was the very reason she found herself in the current circumstances. Pausing before the door, she turned to Kai once more. "I need to go up and check the water level on the well." *Why don't you bring up the files on Pandora you have stored, they may find something interesting in there.*

Kai watched defiantly as his mother went out the door. *I haven't finished decrypting them yet.* He complained uselessly, turning to look for the files in question. Speaking belligerently but dutifully "Most of these files would have been deleted anyway, the Federation does not like to leave any incriminating about. Some group calling itself the Terran Pure began to get a little to nosey about what they were doing and the Federation yanked the funding for the project just after my mother was enrolled, she was the last."

Avon watched avidly from where he sat, leaning over to get a better view of the data. "It sounds like quite an expensive project, it's not like the Federation to spend those kind of credits on pure research, there must have been other aims to the project."

Kai left Avon to scroll through the files, watching closely. "They wanted information. The donors were very carefully selected. All of them on the Federation's death list, they were careful not to leave any loose ends about. Each of the donors knew something the Federation wanted but could not get in interrogation; most of them were military types, trained to be resistant to standard techniques. The Federation needed only to wait for the child to be born. The link between mother and child allowed them to get the information they wanted from the mother. Neither ever survived, but then the Federation did not want them to."

"That's cruel." Cally said looking over Avon's shoulder. "To torture a new mother without regard for her life or her child's."

"The Felinian race was created to be slaves to their creators whims." Kai said bitterly, the edge of a growl in his voice as he looked at the humans in the room with unbridled hatred. "Torture was not necessary. Following delivery, a Felinian woman is helpless, hormonal reactions make her unable to use her claws. Knowing they are helpless, they tend to be very suggestible. More than likely, the security agents shot them once they had the information they wanted. It's not in the records, but then it wouldn't be, just the notation, 'died under interrogation', appears on all the death certificates."

Avon paused for a moment as requested files would not come up, he turned to the boy curiously. "The files containing donor names are still encrypted, why?"

The boy looked up slowly. He kept his eyes as devoid of emotion as he possibly could, knowing he could easily reveal more than he intended. After all, he had done all the research, he saw no reason why he should share. "The decryption program is still running." He said tonelessly, adding. "A name will not make the Felinians any more likely to accept me. The hands that first touch and infant, especially a boy, needs to be the father, otherwise he has none."

Avon stared at the screen, absorbing data while wondering what it was that made him so curious on the point. He knew well how easily one could buy ones way onto and off of the Federation's death list. The edges of his memory tugged at him mercilessly. He was usually able to drive back the memories when they tried to surface. Either fatigue or the remnants of medication made it impossible for him at the moment.

He had stared at the walls of the cell for and amount of time he had nothing to measure with, days, perhaps weeks. All in all, it was longer than he had expected to wait for his execution, but it did not matter as long as there was an end in sight, he could wait. He did not mind so much the pain from his broken ribs, a lasting reminder of the time spent in interrogation. The pain gave him something to concentrate on. The wound in his shoulder still offered him some distraction. It had been closed but had not entirely healed, still bothering him at times, no to mention the fact the guards knew it was sore and did insist on hitting him there as if it made a difference at all, the end was in sight.

The door to his cell opened unexpectedly; he did not bother to look at the guard who entered. Perhaps they had not given up on getting the Cartel's security codes from him; still, it did not matter.

'Get up, scum, you're being transferred to the Mars detention facility to wait for transport to the penal colony.' The guard had stopped before Avon, shackles in hand. 'Come on, hands front.'

Avon's mind screamed to him that this could not be happening. He got up, numbly allowing his hands to be cuffed. He stifled a gasp as the guard grabbed him by the shoulder and propelled him out of the room. He marched him down the hallway to stop before a door. 'You have a visitor first.' The guard said, shoving Avon into a small room with a small table at which someone sat. Belligerently, Avon sat in the other chair, refusing to look at his visitor, rather staring a spot on the wall opposite. The door behind him closed silently before the man spoke to him.

'Son, you don't deserve to die, certainly not for this, they set you up, you know. You've been trying to destroy yourself ever since . . .'

'At least it makes sense now. Do you know how much I paid for that conviction? Do you care, Julian?'

'I would have gotten the entire sentence reversed if I could have; the penal colony was best I could do, Kerr. You made your own choices in this, son; as long as you know that. While you're alive, there is always some chance for you.'

'You think so?' Avon sneered, wanting desperately to throw up but determined not to let anything show. 'While I rot my life away on the penal colony I will think of how much Novacorps' profits suffered to put me there.'

'Kerr.' The greying man shook his head sadly. 'The doctors told me you would always blame yourself for it, but you know there was nothing you could have done to save her. You have twice the IQ but only half the sense your brother has.'

'Kyl may have only half the IQ, but Novacorp will be all his now, won't it, not that it ever did me any good. I realized too late that the only way to save her was to get her away from you!' Avon spat uselessly, hands clenched in his manacles. At least he had taken Novacorps' brightest heir far from their grasp. His brother had always deserved better, shunned because he lacked the intelligence of his younger brother.

'While there is life, there is hope, Kerr, even for you.'

'Go to hell, Julian.'

'I do believe that's where you are going, genius. Meanwhile, there is no need to worry about Novacorps' assets getting into the hands of your idiot brother, I have already assured the future of Novacorp.' With that, the man left the room. Before the door closed behind him, Avon turned with a congenial smile.

'Make sure you visit often, Dad.'

"Are you all right, Avon?" Cally's voice cut through Avon's weary brain like welcomed sunshine.

"I'm just tired." Avon snapped. After a moment of going back over what he had been reading, it became clear to Avon what had set off that episode. Among the data files were several relating to Novacorp. He did not need to read them to know what they contained, he recognized the file names. There was tracking of several rather large deposits made from the Novacorp accounts to Federation Cartel accounts. Tracing the signatures, they eventually lead back to funding for Pandora. Avon was still missing a piece, but it had just gotten bigger.

Novacorp was without argument the largest conglomerate operating in the inner planets and the domed cities of Earth. With its long fingers into nearly every mode of commerce that went on, it's President, Julian Nova had a stature above even the politicals of the Alpha Elite and Anna Grant did not fit into his picture for the companies' brightest heir. Even though his brother, Kyl, would clearly never be good enough for Novacorp, Avon had been determined from a young age to pursue what he wanted and not the family line. At the age of ten he had changed his name legally from Kerr Nova to Kerr Avon, the irony of placing the name backwards appealed to him immensely. Julian, however, would never accept his son's disdain for the power and financial security that came to anyone even remotely associated with the upper echelon of the conglomerate. Every other interest Avon had pursued, even his relationship with Anna had been blocked at every turn. He had no choice but to try to destroy them from within.

It had taken longer than he would have thought before it became known that Novacorps' considerable resources were being funneled to various anti-establishment groups. Blake would have been amazed though he never would believe that Avon himself had personally channeled several million with the grasp of his domed Freedom Party. It has not been until the Cartel caught on and it became a public atrocity that the programer who had set in motion the program he wistfully called 'anathema' became marked for death. Alone with only his Anna at his side, Avon had watched the crashing repercussions from a resort in one of Novacorp's private domes. He had everything planned down to the last detail and he was determined to watch Julian fall along with the good name of Novacorp and he would probably never know what had gone so terribly wrong four years ago. Avon rubbed absently at the tension in his temples as he read on. He was acutely aware that everyone was watching him intently; the boy with dark eyes suddenly turned an uncomfortable lump in Avon's stomach.

"Why all the research into Novacorp? Most of these files are well-guarded. I should know, I used to work for them, I coded most of these myself, I recognize the signatures."

"It figures you would have worked for them," Vila said. "I could not get a job even doing maintenance in one of their private domes, only the snobs of the snobs got to work for that place, even washing floors."

Avon smiled smugly. "I was their lead programmer for nearly ten years, I probably wrote the program that got your application denied."

Kai folded his arms defiantly. "I had the strategy computers in Dartine City pull every file out of every domain that had even remote connections to Pandora. As it turns out, Novacorp was the last investor in the project, kept it running just long enough for my mother to be its last participant. It was funded through a program named Anathema of all things. I have always wondered why a multi-trillion credit conglomerate like that would be interested at all in such a project."

"Novacorp had more money than it knew what to do with," Avon commented dryly, reining in his instinctive reaction and remembering Julian's statement that he had assured Novacorp' future. Avon needed more information and he knew he must keep his suspicions at bay until he had enough for a conclusion. "There were abundant rumors before I left Earth that the company had gotten itself into several useless ventures."

Blake stared obliquely at Avon. Even in prison, he had heard the rumors that Novacorp had been accused of giving money to the Freedom Party. Blake knew better than to expect an answer to any question he would ask the tech and decided it was best to file the information for future use.

Cally looked from Blake to Avon with concern. She put a hand on Avon's shoulder daringly. "Are you okay, you don't look well, Avon."

Kai indicated she should help guide him to one of the couches, he definitely looked about to be ill. Kai settled on the couch be side him, running a scanner critically. "Until you're completely healed, your body will be spending roughly 5000 calories a day in the healing process, that does not leave a lot left for energy. The intravenous lines were delivering 1000 calories an hour, you're bound to notice a difference. Tomorrow you'll have more energy."

"Rest, Avon, you've been through a lot." Cally said reasonably. "It's not going to do you any good to overdo it now, you're lucky to be alive."

'You don't understand' Avon's mind screamed at him. 'I am anathema!'

*Are you sure, I have always thought I was, that's why they gave me the name they did.* It was the boy's voice which spoke, but it was his own eyes that looked back at Avon.

"Kai, you have a visitor." The doctor entered, a black clad officer behind her, nearly dwarfing the smaller figure of his mother. She watched her son from other side of the room, eyes downward and away from the figure who strode to the center of the room. He wore a long black cloak lined in sapphire and reaching below his knees, telling Kai his rank was at least Commander. The simplicity of the lining of his cloak represented his clan affiliation, Tarsenetha, one of the minor clans. He had tawny golden hair, straight and cut to his shoulders. Vibrant blue eyes held Kai's as he stood before him.

"I have asked the woman if I might speak with you, young one." He said quietly, not a hint of threat to his voice, but there was authority in his air.

Kai growled loudly, instantly coiling into a tight ball, ready for anything. He scanned the room instinctively gauging his surroundings, more than ready to guard what was his.

The officer continued to watch him intently. He reached over his back and took of the energy rifle he carried across it, laying it on the floor along with a silver hilted crystal knife which he seemed to conjure out of the air. Unsure what to make of what appeared to be a show of respect, Kai eyed the weapons suspiciously. He knew clearly his mother was frighted and it was his responsibility to protect her. Still, Felinians were very strongly attached to ritual and symbolism, an answer to the gesture was required and the man seemed more than willing to await while quietly watching the boy before him. Taking a deep breath and hoping he was not wrong in his assessment, Kai placed his own weapons beside the Commander's.

"Commander Tarsia," Kai said, his eyes belying none of the hesitation he felt.

Tarsia knelt silently, bringing himself eye-level with the boy, offering him a small arrow. Kai recognized it as his own. He had completely forgotten that he had shot at Giareth. Tarsia had no doubt snatched it from the very air as it sought his Commander.

"Have a care, young one," he said as Kai took the arrow. "Your aim was true but with such an arrow you could have done nothing but aggravate him. You need to know he sees you now as an annoyance, if you are not careful, he will see you as a threat and as such he can do nothing but eliminate you. Do not doubt that he will, but also do not doubt he will take what he feels he is owed by your mother first. He can, he will make her forget you ever existed."

Kai stared evenly back, fingering the arrow and admiring the speed and accuracy which would allow someone to catch it midair. "Why tell me?" Kai demanded arrogantly, not entirely trusting him.

Tarsia thought for a moment, understanding the instinctive need to protect, but the child also had demonstrated a distinct need to understand his prey, this was unusual but could be an advantage to him. "I have seen you stare down the she-tiger whose hunting grounds these are. She allows you to hunt her territory because she respects you. You leave the part of your kill that is not necessary for yourself, allowing her to feed her young with it. The fire tiger is a rare and intelligent beast, I cannot help but admire one who could inspire her trust. The Star Commander would not be pleased to know I am here, but I have fought him before and bear only scars for the experience. I am first blood bonded to your grandfather and it is to him I owe the greater part of my loyalty. I promised him I would keep an eye on you for him."

"If my grandfather knows we're here, why does he do nothing?" Kai asked belligerently.

Tarsia knew well he was at more danger from the humans in the room and looked about at them suspiciously. He could not blame the youth for his anger, he was not at fault for what he could not change and must feel abandoned and alone in his need to protect his mother. He watched the boy carefully, understanding in his eyes as he answered. "Even the First One cannot disregard the laws of our people, it is his to uphold them. Your mother knows what is hers to accept and she must, there is no other way. A woman must have a mate, this is foundational to everything we have tried to make ourselves. The ancients had to make laws to put an end to the rampant lack of regard for anyone with respect to who a woman belonged to or who her children owed allegiance. Many in the days following the Voyage died fighting over women, we could not survive like that. It was for the common good that the breeding program was established and has strengthened all the blood lines and stopped fighting amongst the clans. A woman's only place can be beside her mate and if he dies, she must die with him. It is our way, it is what make us different from them." He glanced disdainfully around the room, suppressing a growl.

Kai thought for a moment looking the Commander earnestly. "She has a right to prior claim. I did not come from thin air, surely the Counsel does not believe that I did." Kai stared at Tarsia darkly.

Alarayna began to understand more clearly what was bothering her son and what he was hoping for, but she also knew it was useless. Though his very existence proved a prior claim to her, it was necessary that the father issue the claim for it to be granted, something that could not happen. She dared not speak in the presence of one of Giareth's top officers and kept her emotions quiet and her eyes downward.

Tarsia stood up once more, shaking his head. "Genetic manipulation, artificial means of conception, we have had to put these things behind us, and keep our blood lines pure. We cannot condemn on one hand the methods used to create us and embrace them at the same time. It is unfortunate for you to be caught in the middle, but on this the counsel cannot afford to make exceptions, the result with be anarchy. The First One does not blame you for this, but he must obey the laws. He had this made for you, so that you can give your mother hers back." Tarsia held out a clasp made of gold and similar to the one Kai wore in his tail, except that it lacked a clan designation. Kai took it solemnly as the implications of it hit him and he struggled not to show the shame he felt.

"You are the heir to your father only. Your grandfather will do for you what he can, he can do no more, the Star Commander will make sure of it." Tarsia stooped to pick up his weapons, heading for the door. As Kai took the clasp from his tail and replaced it, not really noticing as Tarsia took one he had worn since birth, emblazoned with the symbol of clan Ranyanetha. This consisted of a many pointed star divided in half by a representation of the wormhole which had brought them to the planet they would call their own, cutting perhaps decades from the Voyage. He stopped before Alarayna offering it to her. She took it from his hand without touching him, her own hands shaking.

"The First One wishes health for you and your son." He said gently, disappearing silently the way he had come.

Alarayna could feel the frustration and shame in her son as he grabbed his own weapons and headed out the door as well. She glanced about the room, her eyes settled on Avon who looked decidedly pale. She went over to him, touching his shoulder gently. *Are you in the habit of having flashbacks?*

Avon turned to look at her as if she had attacked him. She had not been expecting an answer and certainly not a straight one, this one was in the habit of concealing rather than revealing, but she needed to know. She sat down next to him and tried to appeal to his reason, taking out her portable scanner. "You realize the pain medications I am giving you are rather strong and I need to know if it's an unusual occurrence for you. Turning from the reading she was getting to Cally, she asked. "Did he lose consciousness or just touch for a moment.? Did he respond when you spoke to him?"

"Just as touchy as ever." Vila offered. "You'd think you were trying to kill him if you express any concern."

"It's not at all unusual, considering your medical history." The doctor continued, trying to keep an even and nonconfrontational approach with her volatile patient. "I do need to know if it is any different than usual, that will tell me if your medication needs to be adjusted."

"What would know about my medical history?" Avon asked defensively. He knew for a fact nothing existed in his records, wiped by the judicial system when he became a 'non-person' and what had remained, he had already carefully deleted. "Federation records don't exist any more, they do that when you're convicted."

"A standard purge is done, I understand that." She said carefully, trying to remain calm despite the growing suspicion and near panic she could sense from him. She knew very well she was plying dangerous waters, but she needed to find a way to convince him to be more forthcoming with her. Felinians knew well how to convey threat with their voices and she had to struggle to contain her instinctive reaction to match threat with threat, that could easily get out of hand. "You can't, unfortunately, purge the evidence that your body carries. Untreated fractures and concussions don't leave Federation medical records, but they do leave their mark." Despite the quiet, confidential tone of her voice, she could feel his apprehension rise and she needed to try another route. She laced her hand in his effortlessly and said quietly, those listening never even heard, but he did. "Look at me."

Though quiet, the statement was a command and though Avon tried to ignore it, he found he could not and when their eyes met, he could not take his from hers. A tingle ran down his spine as the room around him faded. He was standing in a total and clinging blackness. The doctor stood beside him, holding tightly to his hand, he was glad of that because felt distinctly he would fall if she did not. *What is this?*

He managed with some effort.

*Try to calm down. The others won't even notice. I'm sure you realize the brain can process information millions of times faster than speech can convey. This, like in a dream, is how you mind conveys to you my presence in your mind. There's no need to worry, I can't see anything that you don't let me. Contrary to popular belief, I cannot change how you feel or make you feel something. There are those that could force you to remember things or forget them, but this is something a female of my kind cannot do.*

*Your son?* Avon wondered distantly, with the thought came suspicion and defensiveness. The doctor's hand tightened on his briefly.

*When he is older perhaps, but not now. I'm not exactly sure how much of his mind works like a Felinian's and how much like a human's. But that is not why I wanted to get you to talk more privately, is it? You know that and you know what I want to know, it is your way to deflect rather than challenge openly, is it not?*

*How much do you know about me?* Avon was growing more uncomfortable rather than accepting the situation as the doctor had hoped he would. There were things in his mind that he refused himself to see, hence the lack of light. He brought light to things only in flashes like the one he had just had or the frequent and disturbing nightmares that caused him to sleep very rarely in an effort to avoid them.

Alarayna realized reflection did not suit him well and she had to get to the point she needed to know quickly or risk doing further damage to his somewhat fragile, but also through necessity, unbreakable as stone. *Who beat you?*

Avon found himself, not surprisingly, unwilling to go there. His most reliable tactic was to divert. *Does it matter?*

*Surprisingly, it does quite bit. Parental abuse on the whole leaves very much the same pattern, no matter which parent is responsible. Betrayal comes from one's mother, from one's father anger, I sense both.* The flashes of ugly violence had become too frequent and too strong for him to deflect anymore and his only recourse was to retreat, which he did with a surprising agility, which spoke to her of a long established routine, one from early childhood. She kept a hold of his hand though as he backed away from memories which still brought pain, time had not at all degraded them as he had been told would happen. Alarayna turned to the frightened child beside her and spoke as gently as she could, realizing that compassion could easily be misinterpreted and had been often for him. *The very reason it remains, you must realize, it that you run from it continually, leaving it with a well-established hiding place.* She looked again at the boy beside her. His eyes were wide and though filled with fear, would not allow tears to fall. The longer he stood with his back to it, the more determination grew, his defense and well-used.

*If I stay here, it goes away, it always does.* His voice was brave, but he did not dare turn around, it was the only way. His suspicions began to rise once more, giving him something further to cling to. Who was this woman that she thought she could do anything about it? It was his past and he could never be free of it.

She shook her head sadly. *Surely you can see that this does not work for you. You make your roads far from this and they do not often cross this way. But they do continue to exist in your dreams no matter how much you try to avoid them, they are always there waiting for you.*

*I make it a habit not to sleep much.* He said stubbornly.

She smiled patiently. *That does not help. You only make it worse for yourself, they can ambush you, though you are usually able to control those too. I do believe I need to adjust your medication. You're far more able to deal with physical pain than to bear loss of control. I should be able to make it easier for you to maintain control. Why don't you tell me about your mother?*

His response did not come easily or freely, but it was not what she had expected. *She was the only one who understood. I had only ever wanted to be something that I wanted and not what he wanted, whatever that was. She understood and she bought me the piano, an antique pre-atomic. I used to skip classes to come home and play it, it had it's own room it was so big, but it only made him mad. Still, I didn't think he'd punish her for it. I never understood why a mathematician of his caliber could not see the math the ancient composers used, it was so perfect and so complex, but he never saw it. I loved that piano.* There was a fire burning in the corner of his mind, it had burned the wooden keys, scorching beyond salvage the ivory. It had melted the metal strings, managing to destroy nearly twenty adjacent dwellings with it. The authorities had been furious and it had cost Julian a great deal to keep quiet. Though they had arrested Avon and kept him under interrogation for three weeks, they had never gotten what they wanted. He had won and though it had been hollow and not nearly as pleasant as he had hoped it would be, he had gone back to his hiding place when they were done and retrieved the note, bound around a single black key with one of the piano strings. He had kept it with him always, her last words to him aside from 'promise me you will never cry, Kerr'. He had promise her and he was always true to his promises, if for no other reason than that Julian was never true to his.

*What happened to the piano?* She asked him, centering his thoughts uncomfortably once more.

*I killed her and then I burned both of them, I had to, there was way too much blood I never would have gotten it all off. What did you think, doctor? Just because I was only eight didn't mean I couldn't cover my tracts well enough.*

Eight, then, the doctor thought with dismay. She knew she had all the information she was likely to get and that in fact the threat in his voice had become all too real for her to be comfortable. While it was quite understandable for a child of that age to blame himself in a case of suicide, she was not entirely sure of what he capable of, the betrayal was by far outweighed by the anger within him, much hotter than the fire he had set to his memories and blacker than the ashes. She did not try to throw water on what was and would remain unquenchable. She led him back to the place in the dark where he was more comfortable, a determined man and not a frightened child. *You need to sleep for a little while, I will reduce the amount of anesthetics in your system, you will be in a bit more pain, but I take it you would rather have it that way.* She left him to stare blankly into the flames, letting them burn at the edges of his memory, searing them to black. She knew, though she did not entirely understand, that Kerr Nova had died in that fire, burned beyond even DNA recognition, only to be replaced by Kerr Avon, never really born but who existed to stand in the vacuum between.

"Is he okay?" Blake asked with concern as Alarayna laid Avon's head back against the couch and unfolded her hand from his.

"He just needs a little more rest, I think getting up was more stressful than either of us thought. He'll sleep for a little while, but he'll be fine."

"Avon doesn't really sleep much, at least not that we are used to seeing." Blake explained. "I' don't think he sleeps much when he is in his cabin either, he just likes to get away from everyone."

"Probably." The doctor said with a knowing smile. "Everyone has different needs for sleep. "His body is very capable of getting the rest it needs just being inactive. His mind never rests and he wouldn't like it if it did."

"Is the boy all right?" Cally asked, supposing correctly the doctor would rather have the subject changed. "He left pretty quickly."

Alarayna turned to stare at the door briefly. "He's out shooting at grasshoppers, it keeps him busy, though sometimes he loses an arrow, it'll settle him." She sighed as her focus altered and she thought of the words the Commander had spoken and how much it had hurt for Kai to realize his ultimate hope, his grandfather, could not be a help him or to his mother. "I don't think I ever really considered how what I did would effect the child. But, I am fortunate, he is strong. Stubborn and opinionated at times, but he is strong. There are many difficult things he has yet to confront, that strength will help him."

"It must be difficult for you alone raising your son." Blake said. "We owe you a great deal for saving Avon's life, if there is anywhere we can take you, let me know."

The doctor smiled and shook her head sadly. "I belong here, like it or not. Where my son belongs is yet to be determined. The problems he has would follow him wherever we went. The process of maturing for us is different that what it is for you. A Felinian child must learn to integrate within himself those memories and abilities he has gotten from his mother and father and then integrate that into what he is, it can be difficult at times and I'm afraid for Kai, it is more difficult not having his father to answer questions he has on memories and images he cannot understand because he has not lived it. The very concept of growing up in a domed city is unthinkable for him. What he will be must be determined by what is available to him, not memories he cannot hope to understand." She was quiet for the rest of the afternoon, tending household chores. Avon had awakened after a couple hours and though he made no move to let the others know he was awake, Alarayna insisted he eat some stew and sat beside him while he ate, placidly watching him for signs of any complications which would prevent the group from leaving tomorrow. She saw nothing to be concerned about and though she sensed he did not want to talk and certainly not about what they had shared, he was not angry with but rather intensely curious. Something both intrigued and bothered him about the strange woman-child who could access his inner self with relative ease and comfort despite the dangers and the traps he had laid himself; and then there was the child who could look through and beyond him in ways Avon could not define.

It was later in the afternoon, it was difficult to tell the time of day since there were no window or chronometers about, but certainly several hours had passed. Kai had come in sullenly through the tunnel entrance. Avon was busy trying to make sense of the surveillance equipment. It was pieced together from at least nine different technologies, but appeared to work perfectly well together. The pain in his chest had increased slightly as the doctor had promised, though uncomfortable it was much easier for him to concentrate. While the others were busy debating whether they should trust the system's assertion that the Liberator remained in orbit as they had left it, he was having more success on his investigations.

Kai sat placidly next to him and watched for a while, silent and oddly pensive. When he was satisfied, Avon sat back and turned to Blake. "It's certainly eccentric, but I see no reason why it should not be giving accurate information. The orbital surveillance views would seem to come via a direct tap into the planet's main system of satellites in orbit."

Kai smiled with satisfaction that his work was appreciated. "I had one of the merchants place in orbit a satellite of my own, it grabs data off the Felinian security satellites and sends it here."

"Through the uplink here?" Avon nodded, pointing to the component in question. "Can you direct it send data to the satellites?"

"Sure, it would have to be coded and short so the Felinian satcoms don't notice it and flag it to the ops center."

"We should be able to get something off to Orac to let it know it should continue holding station." Avon said, turning to Blake.

"Good, there's no telling how long Jenna will wait about in orbit like that, I'm surprised she is still there." Blake answered.

As a light began to flash insistently on the panel, Kai growled furiously, shutting down the orbital scan and bringing up the entry scans. Three horses stood tethered at the entrance to the cave system. "I don't need to remind everyone not to speak unless spoken to and keep your hands off your weapons."

Vila looked around, trapped. "Can't you do something?"

"Well, I have often considered putting an explosive charge out in the tunnel, but then I'd have to reinforce the walls, it did not seem to be worth the work."

Everyone silently held their breath as the door opened and Giareth entered, flanked by two officers, including Tarsia. The two officers carried a piece of equipment between them which they laid on the floor, taking out their weapons and surveying the room. Giareth strode impressively to the center of the room, daring anyone to move. He conveyed an air of authority that he was well-accustomed to having obeyed, he gave the impression of fearing nothing. Tall and slender, though well-muscled, clearly a standard Felinian trait. His golden eyes glowered and seemed to be able to bore into anything he looked at. Up close it was possible to see that the back of his scarlet cloak was hung with tails of various colors and lengths. The longest hung in the center and carried the same colors that is own did, though it was difficult to see much of the braid through the many mostly gold bands that encircled it. He wore it looped around his shoulders and hanging directly in front of him. This signified his lack of fear and also served to show off most efficiently the various trinkets that lined it.

Kai busied himself and tried to look as unimpressed as he could manage. He did not bother to turn when he spoke sharply, without an edge of fear. "Giareth, what are you doing here? Come to get a second shot did you? That's what you get for missing on the first try."

"Address me properly, boy. Weapons on the floor, now!"

No one thought for a moment before taking out their guns and putting them down. Vila tried to melt into the stone wall behind him.

"Lord Star Commander, General of all the fleets, Keeper of the sacred laws." Kai said sarcastically, purposefully picking up his crossbow from beside him. "What brings you to my humble cave?"

The Star Commander smiled rather evilly, placing one foot on the back of Kai's seat and bending to pick up the arrowhead on the table. "You know very well I would be pleased to have you and your mother stay at my palace in the inner systems. You could have a real roof over your head and I could have unlimited access to your beautiful mother whenever I wanted. Where is she?"

"She's asleep. What do you want?"

"The merchant techs tell me you can fix this for me." He pointed to the equipment on the floor. Kai walked across the room to squat beside it, opening a panel and looking inside.

"What is it?" Kai asked innocently, avoiding Giareth's glance.

"Don't be coy with me, child. The Federation reward for you is nearly greater than it is for them. If it were not that I am curious as to what information they want so badly, I would have handed you over a long time ago. I find it curious that even the Federation do not know what it is they want, several key files seem to be missing from their systems. I did have a rather interesting conversation with the president of Novacorp. He seemed to believe you represented an investment they did not want to lose. Though he was well-accustomed to lying, this Julian did not do it well and I rather got the feeling he was more concerned about something other than money."

Avon listened avidly, though he was more confused than before as to why Julian would fund such a project as Pandora, he did however know which files he needed to read. Kai shut the panel, ignoring most of what the Commander had said. "I haven't the proper tools." He commented lightly. "And I'll need to know how you managed to burn out all the circuits at once."

Giareth turned to his officer. "Major."

The indicated officer produced a box of tools obediently and said quietly. "An outside system has been attempting to run through all our security programs. The main security system tried deflecting the signals back at it and managed to blow all the circuits simultaneously."

Kai considered for a moment. "It will take me a while and I usually get paid."

The Star Commander turned with a low growl. "The escort I sent out to guide the Federation pursuit ships will be here in two days. I will expect it done by then, if you're not done with it, I'll pull whatever information you have lurking in your brain and give the rest of you to the Federation along with this lot."

Kai remained where he was as the Star Commander turned back to the door, stopping beside the boy he extended his claws and ran them lightly around his neck and under his chin, forcing his head up. Kai remained motionless as Giareth commanded. "Look at me." Kai lifted his eyes reluctantly to the golden ones of the Commander.

*Let me down and do not doubt I will make your mother watch while I kill you slowly before her and then make forget you ever existed. Also have no doubt I know why you brought them here. I do hope your curiosity is well-satisfied, but do not mistake that he will not think twice before killing both you and your mother if he feels you can betray him.* Kai stared inconspicuously at Avon whose hollow eyes got darker somehow and he turned to introspection. What did this child have that the Federation would want? He certainly had a talent equal at least to Avon's own, but for him to be more valuable then Blake's crew meant something. Pieces were beginning to fall into places he did not want them to and he tried to shake the rationality they made, one more piece needed to be in place. Kai growled softly as the Cally lifted his chin in concern.

"You're bleeding." She said softly, dabbing a piece of cloth to the wounds and ignoring his growl, he pulled away stubbornly, only to freeze at the voice of his mother.

"What's going on?" She asked emerging from the sleep chamber beyond and taking out her regenerator despite Kai's protests.

"What is that anyway?" Vila asked, turning to Avon.

Alarayna finished her task and continued to stare at her son, ignoring those in the room. Kai looked at her uncomfortable before turning to the equipment once more. "Giareth brought it for me to fix, he was just trying to get my attention and let me know he could have slit my throat if he wanted."

"Will you never understand?" Alarayna asked in dismay. "I know you're not stupid."

"He was just pissed because I did not address him properly."

"You cannot continually provoke him like that, he does not forget. Just because he did not slit your throat today, does not mean he won't when it suits him."

"I don't feel a need to be intimidated by his titles."

"Then you are stupid."

"Am I then? He just left me with the very thing I needed to get them in contact with their ship, forget beaming coded messages through the security network, this is the satcom transmitter. If I hook it into my systems here, they can speak directly to the ship using the subbeam that the satellites use. I don't think he realizes they can teleport, he expecting them to try and land that thing down here, with it's mass, stratospheric pressure alone would tear it to pieces. They've had to fire orbital boosters nearly five times a day to keep their position."

"Can you fix it?" Blake asked, ignoring the fact no one had mentioned anything about teleport.

"It's just a few burned out circuits, he's trying to make me use up all my spares and it probably will. He's taken the transmit circuit out, but I have one of those too." He took the tools appreciatively and headed across the room for the cabinet where he stored his spare parts, digging through it enthusiastically.

"Is there anything we can do?" Blake asked, Avon was unusually quiet.

Kai laid a piece of circuitry on the table beside his computer. "You can re-install the voice circuits, since you people like to talk to your computer."

"Will Orac pick up the signal, Avon?" Vila asked the tech, who had picked up the voice circuit and was examining it critically.

Before Avon could say a word, Kai answered. "If it is monitoring the security systems, it will already be tuned to the frequencies in question, you just need to get its attention. If you want to work on the voice interface, I'll get the transmitter working." Kai said to Avon, taking the components he needed and heading off with his new tools, ignoring the disapproval on his mother's face.

Avon looked up, having to will his mind back to the task before him. "Cally, can you give me a hand connecting this?" Cally crouched beside him as he opened a panel on the computer, looking for the appropriate connection. Cally noticed that his mood had become more intense than it had been; he was working something out; she attributed it to the discomfort she could still sense in him.

It had taken only a few minutes to reach their recalcitrant computer and relay that they wanted the ship to remain on station for at least 12 hours more. Avon ignored Orac's insistence that it had received those instructions already, intending to further investigate later when everyone was asleep.

A few hours after a brief meal of stew, each of the crew one at time found themselves comfortable spots to curl up and sleep. On her way to her own chamber, Alarayna sat quietly beside Avon who was lounging on the couch, but nowhere near sleeping.

"I can give you something to help you sleep if you want." She said gently checking the pulse at his wrist.

"I'll be fine, I'll probably drop off in a little while." He answered softly, taking his hand from hers determinedly. He was not sure how much she could read from him and whenever she touched him, he felt an uncomfortable closeness he knew he had to stay away from.

"All right, let me know if you change your mind, I doubt I'll get much sleep with all that racket." She glanced obliquely in Vila's direction as she headed to her room, followed by the boy, who disturbed Avon on and even deeper level than she did. There was something decidedly dangerous though not malevolent about him that Avon could not define.

Though weary, Avon was determined not to sleep. Once all trace of sound other than breathing and Vila's snoring had continued for some time, he slid quietly behind the computer, speaking into the voice relay softly. "Orac, I need you to compile some information for me and decrypt some of the files on this terminal."

/I have already decrypted all files and stored them to my memory, what information do you require?/

"What did the encrypted files contain that would pertain to any of us and when were they encrypted?"

/Encryption program was run on a selected few files 36 hours ago. I am still scanning the data, but most of the files were lists of donors. Apparently one Kerr Nova was listed as the last of these donors some four years ago. Date coding confirms at the time you were in the detention facilities on Mars any other connection is beyond my ability to conjecture./

"What about Novacorp, what role did they play?"

Though the answer was painfully obvious, Avon held his breath as Orac reported on the data.

/The program had been slated for obliteration until Novacorp produced both the funding and the name of its last participant, insisting that the product be male. The Felinian female involved, though she disappeared and Novacorp withdrew funding, thus closing the project permanently, was and remains on the Federation's wanted list charged under familial conviction./

"Which explains why she won't return to Federation space. What about the boy?"

/As far as the Federation is concerned, the child never survived his mother's flight. As far as Novacorp is concerned, he is their property and have their own rewards out for him, alive./

Avon had the pieces he had wanted, though he wished he did not. "Thank you Orac, code all the information under my personal password and make sure the other's don't know about it."

/Very well!/

Avon sat back on the couch once more, trying without success to block the churning thoughts in his mind. Shock, betrayal and anger waged a war against him for only a short time before his body gave into exhaustion.

Avon was confused and there was a screaming pain in his chest. He tried to remember where he was and what had happened, but he was finding it maddeningly difficult to concentrate. A voice beside him he could not identify whispered softly. 'You need your sleep, love.'

Trying desperately to put a face to the voice, Avon opened his eyes to stare into familiar pale eyes framed in blonde hair. 'Anna?' He asked, for some reason his mind tried to tell him it could not be her, was not, nevertheless she was there.

She smiled at him playfully. 'You need your sleep. Unless, of course, you're done for the night.'

'Hardly. But something is wrong, Anna, don't you feel it? Something is not right here.' Even as he looked at her, she seemed to change before him; she did not feel right; she did not look right. Her hair was never red. Heart racing, he tried to get away from her hoping his thoughts would clear, they did not but she looked the same now. Something at the back of his mind was screaming at him for attention, he tried to focus on it though it intensified the pain in his chest. When it did become clear, it only brought on more confusion. He was breathing heavily through enormous pain. 'YOU'RE DEAD! NONE OF THIS IS RIGHT!' He screamed at her.

'Try to take it easy, you've been shot.' The voice was different this time and the flame-haired woman with emerald eyes that looked at him was not only not Anna, she was alien. Her voice became more real and his surroundings solidified around him. 'Whoever treated this did not do a very good job, there is not much I can do about it now, but I can help it. Try to calm down, the drugs they gave you were terribly powerful, it'll take a while before they wear off completely.'

'WHO ARE YOU?' He persisted, trying to focus on what she was telling him to make clear what was happening. He could distantly remember quite a lot of torrid love-making, but this was not his Anna. More calmly, he turned to her. 'What's going on? Didn't we just . . . Who are you?'

There was a haunted sadness in her dark green eyes as she tended the wound in his shoulder, treated only superficially, it had never healed properly and still bothered him. But that had been ages ago, he did not even know how long. Days maybe weeks of drugs and interrogations clogged his memory. He looked again at the young woman who tended him. She was very young, but there was incredible age in her eyes. It was clear, however she knew what she was doing and her status was confirmed by the golden chain around her neck bearing the symbol of the Federation's medical staff. It did not escape him either that she wore nothing more. She spoke to him quietly once more, glancing at an obvious camera mounted on the wall opposite. 'They will come for you soon enough. I want to finish this, it's not much, but I can tell they have taken much from you. Whatever I tell you, you won't understand, I don't have the time to explain and they will make you forget anyway. They will certainly take your memories, though they are clouded by the drugs, let them stay that way. They will try to take mine as well but they will not succeed. They would seem to know little about my people, but they certainly know it is not woman's place to argue.'

'What kind of drugs did they give me and why?'

'Stimulants and hallucinogenics mainly, a dangerous combination all in all but I don't think they would have cared too much if you died in the process. As it is, you did what they wanted, with all the stimulant you could not have fought it if you wanted to. They would have given you a suggestion to help the hallucinogenics. Reality does not matter, accept the deception they will give you. It can't possibly help you to know what they have really taken from you. Hold still, I'm almost done.'

Something still was not right to Avon, though he could think a little more clearly, dozens of images were clouding his mind, making it all the harder to concentrate. He looked at her again to try and solidify what was happening. A child stood behind her. Brooding, dark, alien eyes held his adding to his confusion.

'You really should sleep, you'll wake everyone,' The boy said quietly. Avon tried to look away from the child, but he could not. Suddenly, he was being dragged by his shoulders and the woman was screaming as a Federation guard shot the child. He was screaming though he was not sure why, pain exploded in his chest. Avon woke with a start and found his stomach sinking as he was looking into the eyes of the doctor. The other's had gotten up from where they had curled up for the night and all were staring at him.

"It was just a nightmare, take a minute and it will wear off. I would assume you are not at all unused to nightmares. I gave you an early dose of medication. You're not due for a couple of hours , but I thought you were in entirely too much pain unnecessarily." The boy was busy disconnecting wires under his console. He turned to his mother in disgust.

"Their computer has been downloading my files all night."

Alarayna nodded heavily. "I hope you found what you were looking for. Kai, disconnect that thing from your systems. Power down the systems and shut off the auxiliary generators."

Avon, though he found the decrease in pain helpful, could not stop in the inner shaking nor could he put his thoughts back onto a more productive track. Careful not to look at the doctor, he rubbed absently at the tension building in the back of his neck. "I could not have forgotten all that so completely. I could not have." He tried desperately to center his thoughts, but was fighting a losing battle. Nothing made sense to him and the truth that stared at him kept changing, taking on new meanings nearly as quickly as he perceived one.

Alarayna crossed the room to pick up her portable injector. She gave it to Cally, telling her how to operate it and not to miss his medication doses until he was finished. "You would not like him in withdrawal." She said quietly, turning to Kai once more. "Go out and check the perimeter and don't come back until I call for you, please." She ran a nervous hand through her scarlet curls as Kai left and she turned back to Avon. "Is there much you remember from the more than 18 months you spent in the Mars facility? Or are you so arrogant that you don't believe they could and had the right to take whatever they wanted whenever they wanted it?"

"Were you going to tell me?" Avon asked her, quiet but powerful anger laid carefully beneath the accusation.

She sat beside him though she sensed the danger it presented. "Would you have believed me? You do not believe anything that cannot be confirmed by your machines, certainly not the evidence of your own eyes. How you could look at him and not see yourself, I do not know, but then you don't look at yourself all that closely, do you? He could not look more like you if he were . . ."

"A clone? That's what they were paying for though, wasn't it? What did Julian offer you?"

Alarayna had seen enough of Alpha superiority while on earth, but she had allowed herself to forget how arrogant they were, especially the Elite. Without exception they possessed a cultivated knowledge that they were the most educated, most worthy of earth's citizens and that the lower grades existed only to serve their whims. She sighed heavily. "Once I discovered that the Federation intended to use my son for information, a fact I am sure I uncovered with Julian's help, he came to my apartment the next day. He proposed that Novacorp would insure the safety of my child, change his appearance cosmetically and make sure he had a position within Novacorp most respected employees. I, of course was never to see him again, though they offered plenty of money to ease my discomfort and keep my mouth shut. I don't think it ever occurred to him that six month's pregnant I would board one of the mining freighters and leave the planet the next day. I could not and have never looked back."

Avon was trying to think clearly and finding it increasingly harder. The images of his dream were blurring and he was finding it hard to hold onto them, nevertheless decide whether they were memories or nightmare images invented by his own imagination. He had to slow himself down somehow and he had to get the data he needed to understand. "Novacorp always gets what they want, they must have offered a great deal, they do not invest that much capital unless they fully expect a gain from it. Just how much did they offer for him?"

Frustrated and trying vainly to hold her temper and her claws at bay, Alarayna got up abruptly, staring coldly at him. "My son was not for sale! I do not appreciate being used a brood animal any more than you like having your DNA used as a trade commodity. Julian Nova found out I could not be bought, I took his investment and I left with it. When Kai reaches his majority he will decide for himself what he wants, I will make sure of that. I do not owe you or Novacorp anything nor do you owe me anything!" She was trembling as she stood before Avon, but he would still not look at her.

Avon was busily putting pieces in place, ignoring the annoying emotion that was shouting for his attention. He cared little that everyone was listening or that his chest still hurt. He could not and would not believe that Julian would have opted to try and replace his talent for manipulating programs with an alien child, buying his own grandchild. Pushing the emotions as far as he could while still being able to concentrate, one single conclusion was clear enough. "Why did he bring us here? What does he want from me?"

She smiled perversely. It was not that he could not understand, he did not want to and she knew it. For once she was afraid for her son, afraid for herself. It had never occurred to her that anyone else would ever had a claim to her son. She would not have it for she knew what the Federation would do to the boy if for nothing else than inflict the punishment they could not on his father. "He's a child, and he's curious. It's not that hard to understand. I'm not sure he understands what he wants or that what he was doing would bring you here. I think he thought if he could justify your existence, it would somehow justify his own. He certainly never meant for anyone to get hurt or for the Commander to get involved. That's the problem with Felinian children, they have knowledge but lack the wisdom to put it to proper use. He will learn only as he makes mistakes."

Not in the least convinced, Avon looked at her suspiciously. "Surely you would not have come back here without profiting in some way. They did pay you didn't they?"

"Do not make the mistake of applying your morals to me!" Alarayna had already accepted she would not get through to him, he was far to deep into denial, had made a life of it and was not about to change now. She turned to face Blake who was trying to unobtrusively follow the conversation while wondering what Avon had to do with the super-conglomerate and its wealthy and powerful president. "You need to go now. Kai had his computer tell the generators to set back the ion shield, you should be able to reach your ship from here." Her face showed clearly the pain she held in check, tears begged at her alien eyes and Blake could see that she was shaking.

The lights in the cave had gone to a somber back-up glow as the doctor had asked Kai to shut down the main power systems, she did not need the lights and it gave a small and tenuous advantage against the armed humans. Blake looked around the room quickly. "Is everyone ready to go? We are going to need to get out of here if there are pursuit ships headed this way." Everyone checked their equipment making sure they had everything they had come with. No one was about to make a comment to Avon, he was entirely too quiet, even Vila watched him cautiously keeping to himself the myriad of questions that came to mind. As everyone gathered in a group at the center of the room, Blake raised his communicator. "Jenna, we're ready to come up."

Alarayna despite knowing she should not keep her back to a possible enemy, also knew she could do nothing if they were, she spoke softly, briefly and to the point, only Cally had seen the tears streaming down her face. "The Star Commander does not realize you can leave without his knowledge, no doubt he is watching all the exits to the cavern. I would advise you to plot your course and give no sign before you leave orbit." Not really knowing what to expect, she waited until the brief flash of light told her they were gone. She brought the lights all the way down and sat down quietly in the dark.

As they materialized onto the deck of the Liberator once more, no one wanted to look at Avon; they were all mulling over the conversation that had just gone on. Cally, however, glared at him haughtily. "Did you have to be so cruel to her? She did save your life. Avon, she was not a threat to you, certainly you could see that, she was terrified."

Cally had not counted on a response. He glared icily at her, taking off his bracelet and putting it away without a word; he did not intend to allow it to be an open subject in the least.

Blake, curious, but not expecting an answer either, asked cautiously, "What was your connection with Novacorp that it's president would get involved?"

"I told you I worked for them." Avon's voice was abnormally absent of ice, he was tired and it showed more than he would like. "As Julian used to say, I was never a team player. There were things he wanted from me that he was not willing to pay enough for. It's pity really, I don't get the feeling the boy is any different. I'll be in my cabin." He snatched up Orac on the way to his quarters, leaving no doubt he would not discuss the topic further.

Vila waited patiently until Avon was out of sight. "What do you suppose Avon could do that Novacorp could not pay enough for?" He wondered idly.

Watching from the teleport console, Jenna asked impatiently. "Is someone going to tell me what was going on down there?"

As Blake shepherded everyone toward the flight deck, Vila followed Jenna closely, putting a hand on her shoulder. "You won't believe me when I do." Vila spent nearly the next hour regaling Jenna with an unusually unembellished tale. The others listened quietly adding few remarks. As if on cue, once the conversation died down, Avon strolled casually onto the flight deck, taking up his position. He had tried only briefly to sleep to no avail. His thoughts would not stop churning; he went over every fact he had learned, every word he had spoken to the boy, and every word the boy had spoken to him. He could not shake the uneasiness he felt, he ignored Blake's comment that he did not need to be on duty, sitting at his station running the figures Zen was using to establish a safe route out in an effort to calm him. He went over endlessly the calculations and stellar measurements, but the numbers would not settle him. He glared uselessly at his station as if disassembling it and putting it back together might just distract him enough. He could feel Jenna staring curiously at him and diligently for several minutes managed to ignore Cally's presence just behind him, he hated it when she did that. Did the woman not understand yet that he neither wanted nor put any stock into her Auron mysticism and constant attempts to analyze his psyche, looking for cracks in his well-organized defenses and sometimes finding one. Staring at his console was not helping whatsoever, he turned to glare at Cally instead.

Cally knew that Avon had very definite boundaries to his personal space, one knew that well if one ever tried to touch him. It was almost as though he had radar which went off when anyone ventured near enough to touch. She knew this, but had hoped she had remained close enough to watch him but not be obtrusive. She was surprised to find his eyes instead of carrying their usual acid, nearly begged her to leave him alone. It made her rather uncomfortable and she realized she had to explain her presence at his shoulder with something, anything but the truth that she was concerned for him.

"I, um, thought you would want to know, the medical computers suggest you report at least three times a shift to monitor your vital signs."

"Fine." He looked beyond her, through her and wished for some reason her hair was not quite so red, no nearly as vibrant as the doctor's, but it bothered him.

Cally decided to go out on a limb. "I do not think she was mad at you, that boy is her entire life and she was terrified for him."

"I don't seem to remember saying anything terrifying."

"Someone did." The compassion in her eyes was almost too much for Avon to bear, he resumed staring at his console and wondered distantly how long it would take him to take the thing apart and put it back together.

Lowering her voice confidentially, Cally said softly. "I left the incoming coordinates programmed into the teleport, we should be here a few more hours at least if you wanted to go back down . . ." She went back to her own console, not waiting for nor expecting an answer.

"Avon, are you finished with Orac?" Blake asked, sensing the mood needed changing and beginning to believe Avon could actually bore a hole in his console staring at it.

"I just have it working on some private research." Avon said, happy to have something else to occupy his mind, there were times when triviality was welcome.

"Perhaps he could find a safe route faster than Zen's strategy computers."

"Probably, it's out in the teleport section." Avon said, thinking rapidly and deciding the answers he needed would probably not come from any of the records which were without doubt either misleading or downright falsified, especially if Novacorp was involved.

"Why don't I go and fetch it for you, Blake?" Vila volunteered before Blake could speak.

Avon had made up his mind and he followed Vila out. As he passed Blake's station, Blake said quietly, knowing Avon would do what he wanted without his being able to stop it. "No more than four hours, Avon, the defense satellites come back into range in that time and I want to have a course plotted by then." Avon nodded and followed Vila out.

Teleporting into absolute darkness was disconcerting to say the least, Avon found himself hoping Cally had not gotten the coordinates wrong and he was in one of the caverns adjacent to the dwelling areas. He waited patiently for his eyes to adjust, hoping the doctor had not gone and left the place empty. He lifted his arm to report he was down and was relieved to find he did have teleport contact at least.

Vila came back sounding irritated. "Just don't expect me to sit around here waiting for you to signal, you better not need fetching quick, I am going back to the flight deck!"

Avon sighed, he was beginning to think this was not such a good idea anyway. His eyes would have adjusted by now and if there was anything to see he would. Without information on what was around him, he instinctively drew his gun while he decided if he should call Vila away from his nap.

"What do you want?" Alarayna's voice, though welcomed, was strained and tired.

Avon found himself unsure what he did want, questions and unlabeled emotions churned and though he had questions he wanted answered, he did not know what they were. "I'm not sure." He said to the darkness. "There are things I remember, or I think I remember them, I'm not sure and I thought you could help me."

Alarayna smiled to herself in the dark and dried her eyes. This one did was not at all in the habit of asking for help and she knew it well. However, she was not in the least bit willing to give up her advantage until she had a better idea of his intent. "Do you usually ask for help with a gun in your hand?"

"It's a force of habit, I'm afraid." He reached around and unplugged his gun and replaced it in its holster. "I don't like unanswered questions and just came here to talk, if you don't want to talk to me, I'll go back." He knew from his research, she could see him perfectly clearly and, though the males were used for the most part to hunt, the females were every bit as deadly.

"I do understand the necessity that has taught you that habit. Computer, bring lights to 75 percent please." She did not look at him as the lights came up, she had been crying and felt quite vulnerable at the moment. "Sit down at least, you did not get more than two hours sleep last night."

She would not look at him as he sat down on the nearest couch. Her emotions were ragged as yet and she tried to put some order to them, at least so they were no so acutely painful. "You have no doubt had time to study all the available data, what can I provide for you they it could not?"

There really was no way to put it graciously and Avon never did like to mince words. He needed information in an orderly fashion to fill the gaping holes in his memory. He found himself staring, rather more fascinated by her beauty than he would like. Her features were distinctly alien, yet not nearly as displeasing as he would want. Everything he had been taught to believe told him aliens were to be tolerated but not accepted. Though the Felinian race had its origins in human genealogy, they had quite purposefully gone their own path and made themselves apart from their creators, also their ancestor. All this he realized, but he felt an unusual and unwanted affinity for the young doctor, he regretted the need to be blunt. "You were not inseminated, were you?"

Her red-rimmed eyes raised to his and he could feel her brush his mind lightly before retreating to her own dark places. She rubbed her temples in agitation and looked away from him again. "There are those things I would rather keep in the dark, I am sure you can understand that. A child has access to all their parent's memories but it is possible to keep certain things from them, their creation is one of them, later when they are able to understand, the blocks give way. He is far too young yet, it is not easy for me to remember either." She was speaking for the most part to try to calm herself, but despite her efforts she could not bar the tears. "I was inseminated four times in total. I conceived one boy and a boy-girl set of twins. They died, there was nothing I could do, they just died."

Though he was not sure what prompted him, Avon got up and sat beside her, reaching out to touch her shoulder. She retreated from his hand violently. "Don't TOUCH ME!" She drew a ragged deep breath to center herself before speaking again. "There are plenty of methods they could have used to take semen from you, I doubt you would remember the experience. They would have had to keep you at the Mars facility until they were certain they would not need you anymore. I'm sure you spent most of it unconscious or entertaining the sadistic whims of the guards."

"At any rate, Novacorp had made an investment and they would insist on a result. The mining facility where I worked was housed adjacent to the detention facility, but I worked for the mines and was told I was told I was never to have contact with the prisoners. It was part of the deal that I was never to have contact with the donor the project would use. For me, it was easier that way, more scientific and less personal. One day, mutoids came to the clinic I was working in and told me I was to tend a prisoner in the detention facility next to the mines. I know better than to argue with mutoids, but I did try. I realized there was no use in it anyway. They brought me to a treatment room in the detention facility."

Though she spoke quickly in an effort to have it over with and done, she was shaking violently and she could not bear to look at him. "You had been drugged heavily, hallucinogenics along with stimulants. When you came to, you thought I was someone called Anna." She got up abruptly in an attempt to get control. She was sobbing by now and she allowed Avon to wrap his arms around her, finding relief in his strength. She sobbed against his shoulder, wanting to stop but also wanting to get it out. Felinians did not generally allow intrusion into their personal space, hers was inviolate as was his, but somehow they gravitated toward one another, confusion and pain canceling themselves out in each other. "You just kept on calling me Anna. I did not get the impression you wanted to hurt me or her. I'm sure the memories are still there, it's just hard to separate them from reality."

Sober and finding it entirely too comfortable to hold her thus, Avon said softly to her hair. "I often had similar dreams, I had to learn to disregard them or go mad." He took a deep breath as memories separated themselves from the fog he had created in putting Anna behind him, leaving only a truth he did not want to accept, but could not deny either. "I raped you."

Cleansed somewhat by the tears, she found she could bring herself to look at him, surprised to find a deep pain in his eyes. She wondered if he was ashamed that he had had relations with an alien, or of he were ashamed of his son. She repeated, watching his reaction carefully. "It was not your intention to harm me. I was . . . young and I would have to assume not as experienced as your lover was. I did not fight you, it would not have done me any good and I probably would have killed you. You wanted desperately to have her, to protect her, you would never have hurt her, you loved her."

Avon was not going there. He had long ago excised all that he had felt, all that he had planned to feel, there was nothing of that left. "You could have killed me, why didn't you?" He asked reasonably, ignoring the dampness on his own face. He had ruined his own life, taken Anna's and disgraced beyond repair his family name, long forsaken, but still in truth his.

"I could have, but I sensed no aggression in you. What I sensed in you was loss, incredible loss. You had lost yourself and intended to die because you could not be what your father wanted, and you could not know what you wanted because he took it from you. He degraded you, he tried to do the same to me. I could not let him do it to my son." She took his face gently, wiping the tears with a smile. "I could not hate you, I could not murder you. I gave you a son, I gave you a legacy of your own. It was my choice and I knew what I was doing and did it willingly."

Avon took a long slow breath to try and calm himself, to stop his body's insistent pulling on him. She was a doctor, she was a woman in her own right, but she was still only 16 and he had too long ago stopped counting the years though it did not stop them from passing. He needed to put space between them or he would surely be lost. She felt entirely too good in his arms and it had been entirely too long for him to stop now. It took all his control to raise his bracelet. "I have to go." He managed. She reached up to take his hand and he looked at her. She was confused and there was clear pain in her eyes.

"Do I shame you? Does your son shame you?" She looked at him with a combination of fear and something else Avon dared not define. "I don't want you to leave, not now."

Fighting a losing battle and not entirely knowing why he fought it, he pulled her closer. "No, never, it's not that." Pulse racing madly, he kissed her.

*****

Vila tapped his console in frustration. Avon had been down on the planet for hours and so far had made no indication of wanting to come up. He looked at Blake and then at the chronometer once more. "What do you think he is doing down there? I mean I have never known Avon to have more than a two minute conversation with anyone. I don't think he talks to himself that much."

"Oh, jealous, Vila?" Jenna sneered.

"No! Not me. It's just she's all of what? 16-years-old, I bet he was older than that when she was born. It's not fair, he probably won't even share, just come back up here and be smug about it, knowing all the while it drives me crazy. Anyway, she's an alien, I did not think that Alpha's mixed with aliens."

Blake cracked a smile at that. "It's a little late now, don't you think? Like it or not he has already mixed with an alien, Alpha training aside, he can hardly deny it now."

"It's just that out of all of us, why does he get to have all the fun?"

"Vila, stop." Cally insisted.

*****

Avon stared listlessly at the ceiling in the bed chamber. He managed, barely to fight back the wave of weariness that threatened him. He knew without thinking about it, he had to get back to the ship. It wasn't that he thought they would leave without him, his bracelet lay on the table beside him and had been suspiciously quiet. He really did not care what everyone above was thinking, he never did anyway. He had to know if he was still capable of feeling in that way again. His Anna was gone and he was not sure what prompted him to be so curious. The fact that this woman had carried his child, even if she could mean nothing else to him, he had not been prepared for how excited it made him and perhaps he should have handled it differently, nonetheless it was too late now. He knew she was watching him, he dared not look at her. He needed to put this on the stack of regrets and guilt that was carefully guarded and seldom visited. It mattered little he realized, while she touched him she could read him and he could feel the presence of her mind like a solid object, just as palpable as the warmth of her body and just a yielding. Her green eyes turned hard and she backed away from him, holding back tears. He looked at her perfectly rationally, unsure if he spoke to convince himself or her. His words were harsh, as his eyes had become and she held her breath lest they cut her deeper.

"You know I can't stay. You know I can't take you and the boy with me. I have already cursed him with my DNA, I can't curse him with the kind of life I've imposed on myself."

"I understand that." She said distantly, quickly building walls against the emotion she knew she could not entertain and he did not share.

"It's what I am, it always has been." He said quietly, getting up and putting his clothes on. It was hardly an apology, but he did not feel the need to justify himself. She turned her back to him and buried her face in the pillow, knowing she could soak it easily with the pain she felt, to no avail. He could not, he would not share in it, he had had his share already and would allow nothing to make him that vulnerable again. All that remained behind him was scorched earth, scorched relationships, a past he refused to think about and a name he had long excised.

"Why Anathema?" She asked quietly, not really expecting an answer and certainly not an accurate one, but he knew himself well and had long ago learned to distance himself.

"After my mother died, I began to believe there was nothing else left for me. She died because of me and I could never be anything but a curse to whatever I touched, that's why I burned everything. Julian had me committed of course. It took me two years to get better at psyching them than they were at analyzing me. They released me perfectly sane and cured. I had learned to play their game better than they dreamed possible. But Julian knew he had lost and I was determined to make sure he knew exactly how much he had lost. I took everything he gave me, burned it and threw it back at him. In the end, the only way to break Novacorp was to use their own computers against them, he never saw it coming until it was too late. He failed to realize, though, his highly paid programmers did not shut it down, Anathema is still running. It takes all my share of the profits, along with my brother Kyl's and hides them in Cartel accounts that only I can access. Little does Julian know I can still pull the economic base out from under him and leave him pennyless."

"Why do you hate him so? He never laid a hand on you did he?"

"Never." The hate and hopelessness seemed without end, dragging him ever deeper into the blackness. He could remember distantly the screams of his mother and brother as they echoed in the night, bitterness that would turn to hate toward his father and ultimately toward himself, welled in endless waves through him. Holding his mother's lifeless body, his hand still clamped around her wrists, the dams holding back the torrents had collapsed and he had been swept along with them, destroying everything he could touch, denying himself joy until he had destroyed everything, Julian and his heritage with Novacorp utmost.

There was not a hint of emotion as he spoke, these were facts and ad to treated as such, he would not let his head fall below the waves again. "The only reason they had me was Julian had beaten Kyl at the age of two, fractured his skull and took at least two hundred points off his IQ. I was Julian's last hope, he never touched me. I used to go out and get myself in trouble. It was no way for a proper Alpha to behave and I think I thought if he just got mad enough, he'd hit me and leave the others alone, I was wrong. My mother knew I would never leave Julian while she was alive, she was right. I never went back, though two years of psychotherapy had taught me to blend in better, I hid it and sniped at him whenever I could, but basically I never saw him again until I was waiting to die in the detention facility and he managed to take that from me too. When he said he had found a way to preserve Novacorp's future it never occurred to me he would do this. He had no right to involve you and certainly not the boy. He had no right to spread the curse I put on myself, certainly not to a child. I give you my word I will make sure neither the Federation nor Novacorp find out where you are. Although Novacorp's influence does not extend this far yet, they may eventually get close enough to be a threat."

Avon reached down to stroke the back of her head, she still would not look at him and he knew why. "Do you understand yet? He made you feel like nothing, didn't he, like dirt? That's his one true affinity. He reduces everyone and everything to numbers and then manipulates them to his liking." His voice dropped and became as hard as ice, making her shiver within. "If you don't know it now, you will. I am infinitely better at it then he ever was. There was never nor will there ever be time when you can mean anything to me or to that child."

She growled softly, turning scalding eyes on him. "That child is your son, AVON. Your father tried to use me for his own purposes, only I would not and will not be USED!" She could not adequately vent her anger and she knew she would not get through to him anyway. Still, she would give him no quarter either. "I knew from the first time I saw you exactly what you are and what you are devoid of. I shall not pity you nor shall I hate you. You are still his father, speak to him before you leave." She returned to sobbing into her pillow.

Avon called the ship and had Cally locate the boy's position outside. He looked down at her, trying at once to remember and to forget. He reached out to take her trembling hand. "You know I can't love you, don't you? The only thing I can bring you is destruction, it is all that is in me anymore everything else is gone and I will never get it back. He dropped her hand once more as Cally signaled she was ready. He retreated into himself once more, this had to stay behind him and had no place in his current reality. He had put Anna behind him, he could just as easily put this behind him.

Alarayna looked up from her pillow as the teleport took him. She smiled bitterly at herself, speaking to the air. "Oh no, Kerr Avon. Not nearly gone, no more than Kerr Nova is. Burned and black, backwards and twisted, but nowhere near gone. Have a care, Kerr Avon, or you will find the one who pursues you mercilessly wears your father's face indeed, but he is you."

It was not nearly as black where Cally sent him, but it was dark. The stars overhead provided insufficient but welcomed light to the landscape around him. He sighed to himself as he looked around, not really expecting to see anything. He was in a field of some sort, he could just make out a tree line several hundred feet beyond him. He took out his gun and sat gratefully on the ground. He listened distantly to the night sounds around him, knowing he had no idea what was normal and what was not, but he was tired and it felt good to relax, or try to. He had barely settled on the cool dry ground. His gun was wrenched suddenly and completely from his hand. He turned to the shadow beside him that he could more sense than see.

"You don't learn very quickly." Kai's voice cut the dark sarcastically. "It is fitting for one to be armed and to show those arms prominently, but never touch a weapon unless you intend to use it, and you had better not intend to use it unless you have a clear advantage over your opponent. Felinians are very wrapped up in their sense of honor, ritualistic and nearly superstitious. They will not fire on you unless you present a threat."

"They." Avon addressed the dark silhouette beside him. "You don't consider yourself one of them?"

As the moon broke from overhead clouds, he could see the boy's face clearly in the dim light. The boy smiled bitterly. "They don't consider me one of them! A child without a father is an abomination. That's what Kai means, bastard. It kind of funny, really. Had they not cursed me, I would not have been a threat to them. Now I stand as a threat to their very existence. I'm sure you can appreciate the humor in that."

"It's an acquired taste. Just how do you come to be a threat to them?"

The boy's eyes sparkled in the moonlight. He looked quickly about, searching the night for threat. Finding none, he sat down next to Avon, handing him his gun back. "I stand to threaten their precious breeding schedule, the cornerstone of their belief that they are different from you. While you are on my territory, it is mine to defend. What blood is spilled here is mine to spill, mine and the she-tiger who watches from the ridge." Kai nodded toward and outcropping as Avon looked about uneasily. "She will warn me if anyone approaches. Never leave your back undefended."

Avon nodded appreciatively. "You can hunt and you can reasonably impersonate my programming methods. Can you protect her here, alone? If there is anything you need, there should be more than enough in my accounts to pay for it. I do not believe in walking away from my responsibilities. Your mother should want for nothing, neither should you."

"And if she wants you?" The boy's eyes looked through Avon accusingly.

"She doesn't."

"You made sure of it?"

Sure of little but that he could do not more than he was, Avon knew he had not promised anything he could not deliver "I did." He said quietly.

The boy coiled like a spring, drawing one of the knives from his wrist. He growled softly, pointing the knife at Avon. "Why does she cry? Did you hurt her?"

Avon knew the child could sense his thoughts, on how deep a level, Avon was not sure, but he was not able yet to hide from himself the necessary pain he has caused the young doctor. "Only what was necessary. Reality hurts more than anything else and I do regret there is nothing I can do about that." Kai's knuckles went white on the knife he held as he reached for his mother. Avon recognized the pain in the boy's eyes, it was the pain you felt when you realize there is nothing you can do to take the pain from others, that they would die and you would be powerless to do anything but watch.

Kai's glance fell to the ground before him as he separated himself from the link. "A Felinian woman expects pain from her mate, never pleasure, there is no fulfillment without pain. She could hope for nothing else."

"What has caused them to become that way?" Avon asked. He had felt in her, anticipation of fear rather pleasure as he held her and wondered at it, he had not as yet threatened her in any way..

Kai looked at him as though he were an idiot. He explained as to a child. "A Felinian woman cannot become fertile without the essence a male carries in his claws. The Pandora project and the Gentechs before them artificially induced ovulation, this made them entirely in control of the genetic mixtures." Kai could see that Avon did not entirely understand. He put down is knife and held out his palm. Folding his fingers backwards, he exposed his claws. "The center one is hollow." Kai paused, slightly uncomfortable himself, but his mother was fairly certain his reproductive system was entirely Felinian, he would have to become comfortable with it sooner or later." He reached up to place his hand on Avon's neck, at the point where the jaw met the neck. "You can feel the pulse of the carotid. It does not have to be that artery, but it is better especially the first time. Originally, essence was introduced into the genetic structure for defense. The Gentechs somehow found it had and aphrodisiac effect on the female and also stimulate her ovulation. The more accustomed a female gets to her mate, the less is necessary." Avon looked distinctly uncomfortable with the thought. "A full-grown male's claws are nearly three inches. I am sure whatever you did to her, it did not hurt as much."

Avon was not at all sure, he been almost eager to endure the physical pain over the mental anguish he had felt when he found out about Anna. His bracelet chimed at him annoyingly. "Maybe, don't ever assume that love is an easier burden than pain is."

"Avon? Are you ready yet?" Vila's impatient voice interrupted the night. "We have a course set and need to be out in ten minutes!"

"Coming!" Avon snapped into his communicator.

The boy looked skyward, picking out the ship above. "It is a beautiful ship, is it yours?"

Avon followed is glance, though he could not see the ship. "Not yet. Soon." Avon put a hand on the boy's shoulder. He wanted to tell him so much. He wanted somehow to convey something to the child that his own father never had, but had no idea how to. He settled for practicality. "You must understand, if the Federation finds out and tries to get information from you, or your mother, you must tell them what they want to know, promise me."

Kai looked back at him soberly. "She will not betray you."

"Make her." Avon snapped. He was determined not to have their blood on his hands too. He would do what he could to make sure their trail was never followed by either the Federation or Novacorp, ultimately, if they gave what was demanded of them, they should be safe. "You have Orac's frequency. Do not hesitate to call if you need something. I will come, I promise. Give me your word you will do as I have asked of you."

The boy paused for a moment, his eyes becoming depthlessly black in the night and Avon realized it was what she saw of him in the child. "I will." He said shortly, his voice steel and nowhere near as young as it should be, the remnants of a child of 8 who had destroyed what came behind him and never looked back, not that anyone could tell. He reached into his pocket and took out the piece of folded paper wrapped around a black piano key held by piano wire and handed it to the boy. "You need to have this."

"What is it?"

"All that remains of my past." He said hollowly. "It's never really done me any good, neither can I get rid of it."

Kai stared it for a moment, then reached behind him for his tail, this he offered to Avon. "Will you do something for me?"

Orac's information on the race gained from the surrounding systems suggested that the Felinians were particularly sensitive about their 'tails'. Early records suggested that the Gentechs habitually cut the growth of hair off at birth and kept it short. Later generations apparently became accustomed to leaving it long as a symbol of their separation from the rest of the human race.

Kai explained that to touch another's tail meant you held their life. The various trinkets bound into it, as Kai showed Avon how to do, signified events they wished to remember. The females tail would grow white only while she carried an infant. Avon bound the remembrance as he was instructed and held the golden clasp the Commander had given him curiously. "Why does this bother you?"

Kai took it back quietly and replaced it, tossing his tail behind him. "It bears no clan designation, basically it means nothing but to be a weight in my tail. Mother deserves to have hers back, it carries the Ranyanethan designation of her father. When she is mated, she will wear her mate's. The stone which is in it is called a Dalsinar, it has telepathic properties and is supposed to bind a male to his female. It creates a special bond with the mind and body of the wearer which magnifies the bond link and adheres itself to the skin. Giareth carries the Star of Giarnetha, when he places it on her forehead, she will be his. A female of child bearing age must wear the symbol of their mate's clan or she is under death sentence."

"I see." Avon said thoughtfully. "It is true they have an entire language other than telepathy which is silent?"

"Every move signifies something, they are very sensitive to body language and are careful of how they move, each gesture conveys meaning, they do not need words and use them sparingly. To waste words is not done."

"What does this mean?" Avon repeated the gesture he assumed was a salute of some sort, placing the palm to one's forehead and then extending it toward them.

"From my mind to your heart." Kai said, solemnly.

"I must go, you and your mother are far safer if you are not around me, you know that?" Avon could not help think he was abandoning them, but it was true, his presence would ultimately mean their death.

The boy nodded, surveying the night landscape once more as the tiger paced slowly and impressively to stand beside him, she folded herself onto the ground beside him, growling softly at Avon. "Pretty, isn't she? The symbol of the Giarnethan clan they have nearly been hunted out of existence. Before you go, would you mind if I used your name?"

"Kai Avon? No, I don't mind as long as you understand it's not really mine, either, if it means something to you, go ahead." The child looked much smaller than Avon had realized as he stepped back, raising his bracelet.

The teleport area was unacceptably bright as it appeared before Avon, and though his eyes were still adjusting, he did not fail to notice the presence of the entire crew. He gave each of them in turn a wilting glare before taking off his bracelet and heading for his quarters.

*****

Alarayna was not sure what had wakened her. She had not called to Kai for him to come back yet and she should be alone. Furious tears had done her no good and she wanted a chance to clean up the various items she had thrown around before he came back. The cold emptiness of her bed still hurt. She had turned the lights back down, preferring the dark just now. As she opened her eyes, however, she found herself staring into golden ones, oppressively close. She pulled back, panic setting in as she realized just how alone she was at this moment. *If you keep still and do not fight, pretty one, it shall not hurt. I keep my claws very sharp. It need not be painful, but it needs to be and you know that.*

Unable to close her eyes or get away, she gasped as she felt the Star Commander's hand on her throat. "My son, Giareth, you promised me you would let him mature! Please, Giareth!"

"I shall not harm him if he gives me no reason to. All this, the one who hurt you, you shall not remember, when the time comes, you will forget all of this."

*****

After only three weeks, Avon was more than ready to return to his duties on the Liberator, boring though they may be, he preferred it to having unstructured time in his cabin on his hands. Much as he tried to put the last month behind him, his thoughts turned constantly to the fiery doctor and her son. At present, he sat obligingly in the medical unit while Cally checked him over and administered the last dose of his medication. The wound had healed more than acceptably and he would not even have a scar to his appreciation. He did not need any more reminders. As Cally finished with him, he got up and headed for the door. "That's it, I am finished, aren't I?"

"Well, yes, I suppose." Cally said uncomfortably.

Avon stopped at the door, his eyes warning her with no effect. "Is there something else?"

"Your body has healed very well, you're probably healthier than you were. I just don't think you can put all this behind you so easily."

"I'll manage." He said briskly, heading out the door.

Cally got up to follow him, unwilling to give up on the subject, even though it was quite clear he was not going to dwell on it and certainly not let her know what he was feeling. She had seen him more than once during a sleep period down at the observation ports, staring off absently into the stars. "But, Avon he's . . ."

"Better off where he is." He had quite purposefully left no room for argument and she let it drop as they descended the stairs to the flight deck, each heading for their stations.

THE END?


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