Jabberwocky - part 12 - LifebloodBy Sheila Paulson
Blake begins behaving oddly, and problems develop with the ship as Jabberwocky begins to remember his long suppressed past - his memories had been blocked when his brain was used in the mindship. In the meantime, Jenna Stannis and Del Grant have teamed up and have one objective: Kill Avon. When their plan goes wrong and Tarrant is gravely wounded, only the combination of the mindship and Avon, the untrained telepath are able to save the pilot's life, and at this point, Tarrant becomes Jabberwocky's linkmate. Jenna joins the crew.
It wasn't a real chill, of course, just the result of extremely sophisticated programming, simulating the feeling. But her human responses were so well simulated that Dayna sometimes went for days without remembering she was an android.
There was nothing to help her adjust to such a total change, only her own practical common sense and the support of her friends. Even Avon had tried to help, attempting his own special brand of healing when she had gone to him and confessed it bothered her. Afterwards, he told her reluctantly that it had not been his best effort and she knew it was because he was working with a program rather than the original consciousness that had been Dayna Mellanby. When she had said so, he had shaken his head impatiently. "You misunderstand me, Dayna. Of course that is a part of it, but you are more than the sum of your parts. I cannot deny that. It should be easier for me to help you, having helped Jabberwocky."
"It's because you were there when I - when the original Dayna died, isn't it?" she had asked gently, knowing it was a touchy subject with Avon, who was only recently comfortable enough with her to risk this much.
His mouth traced a taut line. "Perhaps. It was not an experience I should care to repeat. I have reached the conclusion I lack the temperament for healer's work."
"Pity you're so good at it, then. I do feel better, Avon. Nothing you can do can alter what I am. Only I can change how I react to that. Knowing you and the others accept me helps. Perhaps one day I will accept myself."
He watched her with some discomfort, though their minds had been so closely locked during the healing that she knew she had no secrets from him. "That," he said, "is perhaps the hardest part of all."
With sudden insight Dayna realized he was no longer talking about her. "You healed yourself, didn't you?"
"Not completely. I attempted it. I doubt I can fully succeed with myself. I know myself too well." He grimaced. "I have made myself change, but my instincts tell me I may be wrong, and that in lowering my guard to Blake - to all of you - I am exposing myself to intolerable risk."
"That we'll hurt you?" she asked in surprise. He should know better than that by now.
"No," he agreed thoughtfully. "That you will... die."
"We will eventually, all of us." She caught herself. "Well, perhaps not. I'm not sure about this body. If anyone has the fear of surviving one's friends, it's me. You know me and accept me. Strangers might not. In the Federation as it is, I have no rights. Androids can own no property, cannot vote, even assuming voting meant anything, are subject to any human who owns them. In fact, legally you should have an ownership document for me."
"That's absurd," he returned, distracted from his expectations of betrayal.
"That's reality. You should hear Blake on the subject. He means to crusade for android rights when the rebellion wins."
"If it wins," Avon responded cynically.
"I think the time is coming that we finally might," she contradicted him, grinning. "It would make me feel safer."
He looked at her seriously. "Do you feel - less than human?"
"No." It was said quite fiercely. She looked at him with irritation. "That's what makes me so angry. I feel helpless, and I hate it. Yet a part of me keeps insisting that perhaps it's true, that I'm inferior to humans, that I deserve less."
"You deserve what you're capable of taking," he reminded her. "With your intellect and drive and your skill you can go as far as you like. You are a person, Dayna. If I achieved nothing else today, I hope I convinced you of that."
She nodded. "I know, but I'm suffering from something that's been around for a long time. I'm part of an oppressed minority, and to make it worse, I'm a superior example of such. I'm a threat to people. They expect me to justify myself to them. Even Avalon's people do it sometimes. I see them watching me, waiting for me to reveal myself to be less than human. I have to try harder to be accepted and watch what I say and do. I'm far too conscious of it. Perhaps it's always been that way for downtrodden minorities, or maybe it's my own inferiority complex. If I could come to terms with myself, I wouldn't worry about it."
"There is some truth in what you say." He smiled at her suddenly, that new, warm and charming smile that delighted her. Maybe he hadn't completely healed himself, but he'd done far better than expected.
She thought about it now as she stood looking down at the graves. Her mortal remains lay there, next to her father. It was said Avon had decided she should be buried here, and he had been right. This world had been her home for so long that it still seemed natural to stand here alone, unprotected but for the weapons she carried. She knew the others were nearby - the Sarrans were still here and still hostile to off-worlders - and for her to be here alone would have been stupid. At least the others thought so.
Dayna's mouth curled into a smile. The Sarrans might think her helpless, one human alone, though any who recognized her might fear her, but she was not helpless. She had never been helpless but now she was far less so. Her reflexes were better, her senses more acute, her skill with weapons honed to a deadly edge. Any Sarran who tackled her might find he had bitten off more than he could chew.
She spoke a final goodbye to her father and glanced around to check for Sarrans. In the distance, alone, stood a slim, redheaded figure. Kyl. Avon had given his son strict instructions about Sarran, but the boy was independent and venturesome. No doubt he'd followed her to prove how adult he was. Dayna could easily remember being sixteen. She had gone here and there alone, ignoring her father's worry, convinced she was indestructible. No sixteen year old believed he would ever die, and Kyl was no exception. He was also showing signs of a crush on her, following her around the ship and asking all kinds of questions, not just about her android state but about everything under the sun. He wasn't that much younger than she was, but the difference was much greater from her perspective than from his. She smiled a little.
As she started towards him, he waved and came plunging down the sand dune to meet her. He must have been waiting, knowing her pilgrimage demanded privacy. No more than she, would he be able to conceive of her feelings at such a moment.
As he skidded to a stop in a flurry of sand, she smiled. "Hello, Kyl. Your father will have your hide, wandering around alone."
He stiffened and drew himself erect. "I can take care of myself," he reminded her, gesturing at the hand blaster he wore at his hip. "Besides, I'm not really alone. Vila's there somewhere." His eyes sparkled. "He doesn't like running, though."
"You ran off and left him," Dayna accused, picturing Vila sputtering ineffectually behind Kyl, calling for him to wait.
"He could have kept up. I wasn't going as fast as that." He looked around in fascination. "I haven't seen any of your hairy natives yet."
"They're here. Some of them are watching you right now."
The boy revolved slowly, scanning the horizon. "I don't see anyone."
"That's because they don't want you to. Someone's been watching me all the while I've been here."
"Aren't you worried?" Kyl's expression said, all too clearly, that he was, but that he didn't want her to know.
"I can handle them. But you can't. You're not trained - and Vila's not the best either. You shouldn't have left him unguarded."
Kyl stood crestfallen. "I'd better go back."
"Not alone. Come on, we can protect each other. You do know how to shoot?"
He nodded but his look convinced her he had never shot at anything but a target before.
Vila had been joined by Hugh, when Dayna and Kyl arrived, and Vila greeted the young man with loud cries of relief. "Kyl! Your father would have killed me if you'd been captured."
Kyl looked guilty, but a part of him seemed pleased that his father would worry.
"Let's find him now," Hugh urged. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I've got the feeling we're being watched."
"Yes," agreed Dayna. "They're watching us. They probably won't attack the three of you, though. Where are the others?"
"Just over that hill," Hugh pointed.
"Then you go back there. I have one more stop to make."
"But they're watching us," Kyl reminded her urgently, his concern evident. "You should stay with us where it's safe."
"I'll be all right. They know better than to jump me. I'll just go along and see if there's anything I can salvage."
"To your underwater base?" the boy asked. "May I come too?"
"After I've made sure it's safe." She didn't know if the natives would have found their way inside or not but she wouldn't expose Avon's son to the risk. She liked Kyl in his own right and the last thing she meant was to endanger him. "I don't know what I'll find there." The natives wouldn't have risked breaking in if they knew her father lay there, but they would have seen her crewmates give him his burial several months ago. Since then they might have broken into the base and made it their own.
She parted from the other three and set off for the shore. The smell of the sea hung heavy in the air and she would have recognized her location with her eyes closed. For a moment she felt a pang of regret for her lost childhood, lost in more ways than one for the recreation of her memories had not been complete. Jabberwocky and Orac could only recreate what they knew, and there were large gaps, chunks of her childhood gone forever. Being here seemed to do what she might once have considered impossible. She was remembering.
She knew it was nothing like that really. Avon had explained it to her once. The program could learn and it could build on existing memories if properly structured. The more she saw that looked familiar, the more less-clearly-remembered things would seem familiar. The circuits would take the right input and add it to the memory areas, building upon it. "The part of Jabberwocky that is computer remembers like that," Avon had explained, "adding input to the human part. It will be much the same for you. Clearer in some ways for you have mobility and more chance of interaction than Jabberwocky will ever have." Avon spent great chunks of time studying the work Orac and Jabberwocky had put into the program. For all his computer expertise, he had come up perplexed a time or two. Instead of frustrating him, it made him more determined to master it.
She came over a rise and there was the sea gleaming and translucent. Home. No, she corrected herself. What had once been home. Jabberwocky was home now. It felt like a homecoming all the same when she ran across the sand to the entry hatch and opened it.
Descending into darkness, she paused, reaching for the light controls. Before she could activate them, something crashed against her head and staggered her. A human would have been knocked unconscious by the blow but she was not. Instead she knew a momentary disorientation while the servo motor circuits in her head compensated for the shock, and in the interval, her gun was snatched away. Someone in the background cried, "Don't, Perren, it's a girl!" in a shocked voice as the lights came up. When she raised her head she saw three men watching her. The one with the gun had longish brown hair and a stubborn cast to his chin as he aimed the weapon at her. A slightly younger man, shorter and stockier, was the one who had protested. He wore his auburn hair long, pulled back Sarran-style with a headband, but he was not a Sarran. None of them was. The third man was tall and thin and reminded her slightly of Avon though he was very fair and Avon's hair was dark. Obviously the resemblance was in expression rather than any actual similarity of features; his face held the fascinated concentration Avon's wore when he was working on his computers.
"She's all right, Tanz," said the brown-haired man reassuringly.
"She's not a Sarran," the third man protested, staring at her in fascination as if he had found a lily in his path instead of a frog.
"Score one for you, Edge," retorted Perren. "Did you just figure that out?"
"What are we going to do with her?" Tanz asked, worried.
"She's our prisoner," Perren replied with a grin. "She's our ticket off this planet."
The fleet had been gathering for several months, a few ships at a time, eight from this world, half a dozen from that, all centring on Ryalon, the headquarters of the growing resistance movement. Avalon had realized that, as the rebels gained strength, the Federation would stop ignoring them and do something about them. It seemed likely that Supreme Commander Arpel would be forced to consider them a military threat now, and the only way to meet a military threat was with force. In preparation for a potential attack, Avalon called for ships from the various planets which had been aligned with the resistance in the past year. The past month had been spent in manoeuvres.
Dr. Plaxton, the inventor of the photonic drive and a devoted rebel, had been working frantically since the ingathering, equipping as many ships as possible with his drive. He had recruited Kerr Avon and Orac to assist him, and anyone else who had the necessary skill. Now fully half the rebel fleet was faster than anything the Federation could throw at them.
He often bemoaned the fact that it had not yet been possible to duplicate the Mark 60 mindship, Jabberwocky. Even if everything could have been duplicated, the procedure necessary for the installation of a human brain in the heart of the ship and the telepathic linkage process were still beyond rebel technology. Such a transfer was fraught with its own difficulties in any case, for the Federation had blocked Jabberwocky's memories and the trauma caused by their re-emergence had come close to destroying them all. For now, consideration of a fleet of mindships was on the back burner, the idea not entirely abandoned, but not planned either.
Tarrant's training at the Federation Space Academy and his brief service in Space Command had been highly beneficial to the training, and more than once he had found himself in charge of the entire fleet, both for his own useful background and for his position as Jabberwocky's linkmate. When the final battle came, if it did, Jabberwocky would be in the heat of the fight, so Tarrant found himself thrust to the forefront. He enjoyed it immensely, and only sometimes, alone at night in his cabin, did he wonder if his youth and lack of experience might endanger the entire rebel movement.
A chain of communications ran from rebel world to rebel world and everyone watched the Federation fleet now involved in manoeuvres as complex as anything going on at Ryalon. Everyone involved expected the fleet to start for Ryalon at any moment and tensions ran high.
Then the word came through that the battle had been postponed. The Federation fleet had abandoned their war games and the different flotillas scattered in different directions. It must have been intended only as a show of strength. Supreme Commander Arpel might have meant it to warn off the rebels, whose fleet was smaller but who would have the advantage of defending their home territory. As yet, Avalon was not prepared to take the battle onto the Federation's home ground, though she sometimes dreamed of taking Earth.
"Now we get a holiday," Vila remarked when the word came through. "What about it, Blake? We've been working hard ever since we traded Servalan away."
"So has everyone else, Vila," Blake reminded him, stretching comfortably at his deck position. They had just run several hours of tests in linkage, the days when any lengthy effort linked had induced headaches long gone. Now everyone was relaxed companionably, even Avon, who had unbent remarkably of late. Tarrant watched him as he stretched his legs out before him, and crossed one ankle over the other. When Cally sat beside the tech on the forward couch, he gave her a cheerful smile and draped an arm around her shoulders. Her face warmed, and Blake, who had also been watching Avon, nodded to himself as if he were pleased with what he saw.
"It would still be nice to get away for a bit," Jenna suggested. She was standing at Blake's side, looking around the flight deck with some satisfaction. In linkage, she and Tarrant handled manoeuvres together and Jabberwocky was skilled enough to sort through their directions and choose the most effective ones with no real loss of time. The longer the two pilots worked together, the more they found themselves in agreement, though Jenna still resented the fact that Tarrant's Federation training had elevated him to something resembling commander of the fleet. Tarrant knew that and could live with it, and so could Jenna, most of the time. They weren't in contention these days.
Blake nodded. "In fact, Avalon suggested it. She said we needed a holiday too, but I said I would talk it over with the rest of you."
"Presumably you said we'd work our fingers to the very bone for the cause," Avon muttered with a wry grin.
Blake laughed. "Well, no. I think it's a good idea, too. I'm just not so sure about the timing."
"The Federation fleet's broken up for the moment," Soolin reminded him. As usual, she looked willing to take Blake's position, as soon as she learned what it was, but like the rest of them, she wanted a holiday. "We could go away for a short rest, couldn't we? Somewhere the Federation isn't likely to come. A peaceful planet where we could relax."
Tarrant found the idea curiously appealing. Though he came alive at the controls of his ship, he needed a break from constant stress as much as the rest of them did.
Hugh, who was sitting on the second forward couch next to Dayna, smiled. "I put in my vote for a holiday," he agreed. "We've been stressed out worse than this, but if there's to be a big battle one day soon, I'd prefer to go into it refreshed. We could take off for a few days and enjoy ourselves."
"Hugh's right," Jabberwocky interjected. "You are a little stressed out, all of you. Especially you, Blake. It looks like we're coming closer to success, and that makes us all feel good, but we're not accustomed to it. You've been working extra hard, Blake, and so have you, Del."
"So you keep telling me. Then it's settled. Where do we go?" Tarrant turned expectantly toward Blake.
It was Dayna who spoke up, her voice unusually soft and hesitant. "I'd like to go to Sarran."
Silence fell abruptly. To go to Sarran was to remind them that the original Dayna was buried there. It would bring back memories of her funeral, unleashing all the painful feelings they had learned to suppress. At the mention of it, Avon had stiffened, straightening up out of his relaxed pose and pulling free of Cally as if he might give something away in the physical contact. Tarrant tensed too, looked at Dayna uneasily, and Vila, who had said little till now, darted a quick glance at the young weapons tech, then dropped his eyes.
Feeling their tension, Dayna faced them unhappily. "You see, there are still problems. I think we need to go, to put them behind us. Besides, I want to visit my grave."
"I think it needs doing," Hugh agreed, his face serious. "But it doesn't sound like the holiday I proposed. I'll put my vote in for it if we can go somewhere else afterwards and really relax."
"Maybe we'll relax the better for it," offered Cally. She looked at Avon sideways, her expression grave.
"I think so too," Blake conceded. "What do you think, Jabberwocky?"
"Well, it might work. After all, you made me work through all my problems. Why not Dayna too - and the rest of you as well? One of the best things about this ship is that we're all together."
"Oh, is that the best thing?" Avon asked with a touch of his old astringency.
"You know it is," Blake told him. He held Avon's eyes and the computer tech didn't look away.
"Perhaps," he conceded. "But we should consider that going to Sarran takes us right away from any rebel worlds and introduces us to the less than tender mercies of the Sarrans."
"Then you're against it?" Dayna asked him with a show of defiance.
"I didn't say that," he replied. "I am not against the idea in theory, though I feel it will not be as easy in practice as any of us think."
Tarrant grimaced. He had seen nothing easy about Dayna's proposal but he couldn't deny her the opportunity and he doubted Avon could either. "It won't be easy," he agreed. "But I vote we go."
One by one the rest of the crew nodded, even Avon, and it was resolved to go to Sarran. Blake went to discuss it with Avalon, to let her know what they intended. Tarrant sank into a deeper linkage with Jabberwocky. //Is there any way you can link with the base and let us know if the Federation should reassemble their fleet and head for Ryalon?// he wondered.
//It's possible. I can't do a real linkage over that distance, but between Orac and me, we can work something out.//
"A holiday?" Kyl Avon demanded eagerly, flashing a bright grin at his father as they stood on Jabberwocky's flight deck. Blake and Dayna were there too, but each was busy and the two Avons paid them no attention. "Isn't it a good thing we're at school break now? I haven't had a holiday for years. In fact," he added quickly before his father could object, "I don't think I've ever had a holiday."
"You had one on Parais," Avon said repressively, "before Servalan captured you and used you as bait in a trap."
Kyl didn't back down. "That was different. That was a mission. This time it's a holiday on purpose and you're going away to relax. But I guess you like the thought of relaxing without me, don't you?" He struck a mournful pose and glanced around the flight deck as if gauging his support from the other two.
"Troublesome child," Avon growled but without malice. "I'll have no peace one way or the other unless I agree to your terms. I do, however, recognize emotional blackmail, and I suggest you modify your strategy in future as it will not work against me."
"No?" asked Kyl with a great show of scepticism.
"No. The reason I permit it this time is that it is not a mission, there should be little danger, and because I expect you to obey my instructions at all times."
"I'm not a child," Kyl snapped, his temper fraying.
"Did I say you were? The world we plan to visit is peopled by hostile natives. I am experienced with them whilst you are not. If I give you an order it is for your safety, not an arbitrary decision. Blake has already agreed to your presence and while it galls me to give him as much support as that, you will obey him as you would me."
Blake looked up from the circuit board he was repairing, shot Avon a lazy grin, winked at Kyl and returned to his work. The boy brightened. Perhaps this would be more fun than he had envisioned. He looked around the flight deck enthusiastically. "Is everybody going?"
"Yes," said his father dryly. "Not content with our every working moment together, it seems that we must take our holidays together, too."
"I didn't hear you complaining," Blake observed cheerfully.
"What good would it have done?" Avon didn't sound terribly upset about an enforced holiday in the company of his closest friends. Kyl hid a chuckle. Lately his father was starting to enjoy the others more openly which made it easier for the group. He had to complain periodically to keep his hand in. Probably he didn't want anyone to think he was going soft. Kyl knew better. His father might be in better humour these days but he was far from soft.
"What's Sarran like?" he asked Dayna, who had been sitting far forward at work on a bow. The base boasted an archery range and Kyl had seen Dayna there more than once, outdoing everyone in sight. He enjoyed watching her. He liked Dayna better than almost anyone and the fact of her transformation into an android had not daunted him for more than a minute or two. Fascinated, he had spent hours and hours learning how her new body worked, and the two of them had emerged from the process firm friends. She wasn't much older than he, and was much closer to him in age than the others. He didn't hesitate to ask questions the others might fear too personal, not with Dayna.
"You'll like it," she replied promptly. "It's peopled with nasty natives who don't particularly like Earth people dropping in. They'll use you for target practice if you don't watch out. That's why your father's being strict about it."
"It sounds exciting," Kyl replied. "I want to go down when we get there."
Avon's face twisted briefly and Kyl frowned, expecting an immediate denial. His father was good at refusing permission to everything that sounded remotely interesting.
This time Avon didn't reject the idea out of hand. "I suspect we will all go down," he said. "We will land on the planet as a sign of strength. If you leave the ship, you will stay with at least one of us. No wandering off alone."
Kyl agreed. It was his intention to stay out of trouble even if the place was fascinating enough to make him want to explore. He didn't like the sound of the natives anyway. "I promise," he said, not realizing it was a promise he would have no choice about breaking.
Avon shot him a sceptical glance. "I shall remember that."
"I'm not sure I like this," Avon confessed reluctantly to Blake as they shared a watch shortly before their arrival on Sarran. The voyage was peaceful and the two of them sat on the forward couch, conversing in low tones. Tarrant was at the pilot's position but he had been quiet a long time and Avon and Blake had almost forgotten he was there. Arrival at their destination would be in another two hours, and so far they had avoided Federation pursuit ships or even remote blips on the scanner. Under protest at the waste of its skills, Orac had arranged a direct link with the base strategy computer which had been kept open during the entire flight. If the Federation decided to attack, they would return to Ryalon. Otherwise they'd make Dayna's pilgrimage, then find a peaceful planet for a few days. Vila had held out for one with good bars and a lively port while Blake favoured a pastoral world.
"I agree," Blake said now to Avon. "I don't know if Dayna's ready for this."
"I'm not certain I am," confessed Avon. "It wasn't easy watching Dayna die, Blake. I have been facing the fact that I have never dealt well with that. It was ever my way to deny a need to come to terms with my feelings. I simply sealed them away."
"It's better not to do that," Blake said in a mild voice. "This time we'll have a chance to work it out. I don't look forward to it any more than you do."
Avon frowned. "I doubt that but perhaps I am wrong. None of you has appeared too comfortable on this voyage. Unfortunately, the healer in me can sense your discomfort."
"What about a group healing session?" suggested Blake, stretching his feet out before him.
"No." The denial came automatically and his voice had raised enough for Tarrant to stir himself out of whatever fancies had been absorbing him and turn to face them. Avon saw him move and added in much quieter tones, "It is too personal for that, Blake. I cannot work that way."
Blake made a dismissive gesture with his hand. "Whatever you say." He glanced at Tarrant. "What's our status, Del?"
Blake was being tactful. Such things irritated Avon but not as much as they had once done. He put the suggestion behind him and raised his eyes to Tarrant too. The pilot had long since recovered from his wound at Avon's hand, but occasionally something reminded Avon of it. He and Tarrant had never been that easy with each other - too different to be close friends. Now he remembered a comment of Jabberwocky's during Tarrant's recent convalescence, when someone had remarked - either Avon or Tarrant, he couldn't remember now - that the two of them didn't get on. Jabberwocky had given a snort of laughter.
"I know," he said. "Everyone keeps saying so. Funny that no one would suspect it if they didn't."
Avon had sneaked a dismayed glance at Tarrant and saw the pilot returning it with equal dismay. Casting his mind over his dealings with Tarrant, the computer tech realized that even when they had genuinely appeared to dislike each other they had worked together with ease. Of late there had been no tension between them at all, other than is normal between two strong men with certain notions of their own importance. Ever since he had healed Tarrant, he had stopped professing to dislike him, at least in his own mind.
"No pursuit ships in sight," Tarrant reported. "No ships at all. We kept our eye on a blip for awhile, but it was only an ore freighter and it's long gone. They wouldn't have picked us up."
"How long until we reach Sarran?" asked Avon.
"Another hour and a half." Tarrant grimaced. "I can't say I'm keen on this either, but I keep telling myself we'll have a real holiday afterwards. I can use one. Helping Jabberwocky coordinate the fleet is a big job."
"You handled it well," Blake reassured him. "Don't worry. If it ever becomes too much we can go into gestalt and deal with it."
Tarrant shook his head. "Jenna maybe, but not everyone. Much as I like the gestalt, command is a lonely place. I want to spend more time with the strategy computers when we return home, though."
"I'll help," Jabberwocky offered. "I think it'll be fun. Even better, it's nice to know that the Federation is finally taking us seriously. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't try to negotiate with us before they try to fight us. Orac says that other unaligned worlds are contacting Ryalon now, since the Federation fleet didn't confront us. They backed down and planets that hesitated to take the risk before are rethinking it. Arpel made a big mistake there."
"Maybe," Tarrant replied. "Or maybe it was a way to put the Federation government in a place where they'd have to negotiate. In the long run, a galactic war doesn't benefit anybody. Look at the mess after the Andromedan War and how long it took for the Federation to start regaining strength. One of the reasons they didn't attack us after their war games was because they're still not up to strength, even after almost two years."
"You could be right." Blake's face glowed with enthusiasm. "But that doesn't change the fact I want to do something about the Federation itself, not just make our part of the galaxy safe from it. If they're weaker than before the Andromedan War, it might be the best time to strike."
"Ah yes, you'd risk war for your rabble," Avon murmured. "Not content with avoiding a war and winning quietly, you have to go in and save the day yourself. Give it time, Blake. Freedom may yet happen, assuming the rabble will know what to do with it when they achieve it."
Blake frowned, though not at Avon's choice of words. He should be able to tell there was no malice in them. "Perhaps I'm too impatient. I want everything to change all at once. Even if Arpel wants reform, he's just one man. Power is a hard thing to let go of. His superiors may yet insist on war."
"And they may not. Take it one step at a time, Blake," Jabberwocky put in. "Allow the possibility and do your best."
"That was never enough for Blake," Avon told the computer. Once he would have said it with sarcasm, but this time, he turned to Blake and smiled faintly. "He would ever save the universe right this minute."
Blake grinned in return. "Someone has to."
They arrived at Sarran to find it free of any ships at all. Orac was able to detect wreckage on the planet's surface but reported it was left over from the Andromedan War. After a careful study with the extra range detectors, they landed close to Dayna's underwater base and prepared to go onto the planet's surface.
"I'll go alone," Dayna had insisted.
"Dayna," began Tarrant in an automatic protest. His concern for her was evident in that one word.
She raised her eyes and looked at him directly. "This is something I have to do, Del," she told him, dropping a hand on his arm. "Of any of you I'll be safest out there. I know this world. The natives might like to kill me but they can't. I'll go armed."
"The rest of us will take the air," Avon said coolly. "We will allow you your privacy, Dayna, but you wouldn't leave us cooped up on the ship."
"I thought you weren't keen on water sports," she said, making him smile.
"Nor on hiking or exerting myself on primitive worlds," he agreed. "However I occasionally enjoy a bit of privacy. The rest of you are always present. Distance has a distinct appeal."
"Not too much distance," Blake urged. "The Sarrans would love that."
"I want to go out, too," Kyl insisted.
When Avon's head came up sharply,Vila grinned and stepped forward before Avon could make his automatic protest. He hadn't had Kyl long enough to feel at ease when danger threatened and there were times when he was over protective. Being an Avon, Kyl was apt to resent other people, even his father, making decisions for him. Vila had always been good at playing peacemaker. "I'll go with you. This isn't my favourite kind of planet - nasty natives and too much outdoors aren't as much fun as a good bar - but I wouldn't mind some fresh air either."
Avon exchanged a glance with Vila, then nodded. Dayna thought that was telling, that Avon would entrust his son to Vila, and Vila's eyes lit up at the realization as he strapped on his gun.
Blake and Jenna set off together, and Soolin followed them at a discreet distance. She considered herself Blake's protector, and she meant to protect him even when he made it difficult. Armed with two guns, she appeared deadly, and Dayna suspected the Sarrans would think so too. They would resent outsiders on their world, but they wouldn't run into the strangers' guns either, watching and waiting for weakness before they attacked. With Soolin, such moments were so rare as to be nonexistent.
Hugh walked part of the way to the grave with Dayna, then he backed off. "Be careful," he urged her. "I'll go find Vila and Kyl. I think the boy's pushing Avon. He's at that age, and Avon makes it difficult sometimes."
"Not on purpose," Dayna replied. "That's just Avon. Kyl will learn."
"Not without a few clashes," replied Hugh. At Dayna's suggestion he drew his weapon and returned the way he had come.
Tanz had come to hate Sarran in the three months he had been stranded here, and now he hated it even more because the dangers they had faced had driven Perren to strike down a woman without pausing to question her. Perren had always tended to jump in and act on instinct. Of the three of them he had the quickest temper, blowing off his frustration with angry outbursts. Edge would have been more likely to disarm the woman with a clever stratagem, and Tanz would have tried to make friends. Now that the first blow had been struck that might not be possible but Tanz would try if he thought it would help. Perren was inclined to be distrustful of strangers and said anyone who wasn't was a damned fool, but somehow he never complained of Tanz's more trusting nature.
The black woman didn't look hurt. True, she had been armed but that didn't make her an enemy, not on this planet. It just meant she was prudent. She wasn't one of the Sarrans either. The Sarrans were fair skinned.
The woman shook her head as if to clear it and braced herself defiantly. The look she threw the gun in Perren's hand held scorn as if she was sure she could disarm him without a second's thought when she was ready. "What are you doing in my home?" she demanded abruptly, directing the question at Edge, who probably seemed least inclined to attack first and question her later. Edge was the calm one who didn't lose his temper like Perren did or burst into wild enthusiasms like Tanz. Their differences made them a good team.
The underwater base had been deserted when Perren had found it on one of their scouting expeditions but it had not been abandoned permanently for no one had cleared anything away. They speculated it had been deserted since the Andromedan War. The battle had raged around this area. Either the fighting had involved surface personnel or they had been rescued by one of the ships engaged in the fighting.
The base had proven a haven to Tanz and his friends. The three of them had been able to change their tattered clothes for clean clothing here. Someone had left without bothering to pack. Now someone had come back.
"Your home?" Tanz demanded in surprise. "It's deserted. We've been here for a couple of months and nobody's bothered us."
"It's too bad I can't be away for a few months without squatters moving in," she challenged coolly. "I didn't leave the door unlocked."
"No, but that wouldn't keep Edge out," Perren told her. "He does magic with systems like that. We call him the boy genius."
Edge flashed him a tolerant grin. "We call him troublemaker," he replied. "Is this really your home? Why did you settle here? Anthropologists to study the Sarrans? This base has been here since before the War."
"Many years before the war," Tanz put in. "We ran tests."
"Exactly," Edge replied, "but there was no evidence of recent habitation."
"Not that it matters," Perren continued with his cocky grin, "because we have right of possession. We'll return it to you on one condition."
"What condition?" the woman asked sourly. Perren's gun had never wavered. Tanz had noticed her watching it, her gaze flicking from the brown-haired man to his weapon to gauge his readiness. She knew what she was doing.
"You came from off world, didn't you?" Tanz asked eagerly in hopes of distracting her from attacking Perren. His friend wasn't as tough as he pretended. Killing the woman would be hard on him. None of them were killers, just three men forced to live rough, protecting themselves as best they could. "You have a ship?"
"And if I do?"
"Then you're our ticket off this world," explained Perren. "I'm sure your friends would rather have you back here in one piece than in several. They can have you - and we'll leave this world so fast you won't see our dust."
"And then what? You take our ship and strand us here? You'll find it harder than you think." She sounded very certain. There was probably a score of armed personnel on the vessel.
"I think we can handle it," Perren replied with calm confidence, too much confidence, thought Tanz. "We disarmed you easily enough."
"After you attacked from ambush." She looked tempted to whip the gun from his hand, but curiosity made her delay. Maybe she didn't sense real menace from any of them, even Perren. Her eyes ran over each in turn and she frowned. Maybe she recognized the clothes. Perren was closest in size to the original owner. The sleeves didn't cover Edge's wrists and everything was tight and long on Tanz. The woman's face held blind resentment as she studied them.
"It was sheer luck you got the drop on me," she told Perren, gesturing at the gun. "Did you ever think of simply asking for a ride?"
"I did," Tanz said under his breath.
Perren shot him a quick, fond grin and heaved a faintly exasperated sigh. "Yeah, I know. You'd walk into a trap if we'd let you." He turned back to the prisoner. "The natives out there aren't the sort to encourage trust. We'll handle this my way. She came in here armed, remember that? She's probably a Federation enforcer."
Tanz paled. That could be big trouble even if she wasn't wearing a Federation uniform. This hadn't been a Federation base. She looked tough and dangerous but she wasn't Federation. He hoped. After all these months he had begun to believe that they were safe from the Federation, even if it meant being stranded. "Maybe she's a mercenary," he volunteered. "They aren't usually friends of the Federation, are they, Edge?"
The blond man shook his head, studying the woman measuringly. There was a curious light in his eyes that indicated fascination, but Edge wasn't the type to be distracted simply because the woman was pretty. He probably had something else in mind entirely, something complicated that would make him spend hours at the computer working out the details.
She raised a sceptical eyebrow. "Don't tell me you're rebels?"
"Or course not," Edge said quickly. He would never give away the truth. "We've been stranded here for some months. Why not contact your ship and tell them we're taking over? I'm sure they won't want any harm to come to you. We don't mean to keep your ship, just leave here."
Tanz began to hope a peaceful settlement might be reached. If they played their cards right, they might not have to use her as a hostage after all, and then they could negotiate with her crewmates for passage off Sarran. They could, of course, be Federation, but if so, this woman would have been in uniform too, wouldn't she, unless she had meant to lull them into complacency? Their enemy was good at playing games that she alone could win.
"We can make a deal," offered Tanz, speaking soothingly. He liked her looks. Though she was young enough to be hotheaded, she had waited, measuring them before acting. She was competent enough not to attack immediately, but the longer they delayed in working out a solution the more likely she was to realize that not even Perren was used to guns. If she figured that out, she could whip the gun away and shoot them, or take them prisoners. Back to Space Command Headquarters. Tanz shivered.
She hesitated, as if about to strike a deal, when fate intervened. Behind her, they heard the outer hatch opening. Perren tensed and waved the gun at her, gesturing her away from the ladder. Could it be a Sarran? One of her companions coming to hunt for her? She shifted position readily and Tanz realized she'd done it so Perren would no longer be pointing the gun in the direction of the doorway.
"Be careful, Perren," said Edge in an undertone. He had realized what she was trying too. "She'll get the jump on you."
The metal door overhead banged open and a young voice called anxiously, "Dayna? Are you all right? What's taking so long?"
Perren swung the gun around as a teenager clattered down the metal steps, his gun still in his holster. Edge caught the woman's wrist and tried to pull her back but she resisted, grabbing him and flinging him to the floor with stunning force. He collapsed in a heap and didn't move. Flinching, Perren shot a desperate look at his fallen comrade, but only for an instant. He caught himself immediately and renewed his grip on the gun, his jaw tightening. The boy on the ladder grabbed frantically for his own gun and struggled to get it out of its holster.
With an alarmed cry of, "Edge!" Tanz jumped for the woman called Dayna and caught her other arm, yanking her away from his sprawled friend and kneeling beside him in her place. He suspected the only reason he succeeded was because she meant to go to the boy's rescue. Her face held alarm at the danger to him. Danger to herself had only annoyed her but danger to the boy meant more.
Tanz had delayed her long enough for Perren to take aim at the newcomer. He brought up his gun, hesitating fractionally because of the newcomer's youth. Perren was always suspicious of strangers but he had a soft spot for kids.
"Kyl, get out of here," Dayna cried. "It's dangerous."
That didn't deter the newcomer. The redheaded boy burst into the room, gun finally in hand, ready to blast anyone who threatened her. He looked no more than sixteen. As Dayna struggled toward Perren and the gun, Tanz grabbed her ankle and yanked with all his strength, afraid everything would get out of hand. If anyone fired it might lead to disaster. "Easy, Perren," he warned. "Don't shoot."
Though Dayna was able to counter the main force of his pull with surprising strength, it put her off balance enough that her hand missed the gun by centimetres. Perren jumped for Kyl and knocked the weapon from his hand. He caught the struggling boy around the neck and pulled him back against his chest.
"Okay, lady, freeze," he ordered her, "or he buys it." He sounded convincing even to Tanz who knew he wouldn't hurt him unless it was the only way to save his friends. Dayna had no way of knowing that, though. She froze. It was all right to risk herself, but she wouldn't endanger Kyl.
Tanz realized the boy's presence meant the newcomers probably weren't Federation officers. They didn't usually take boys of Kyl's age into the field. It was more likely a private ship, smugglers probably, though he thought he'd heard the name Dayna before.
Kyl struggled furiously, trying to kick Perren in the legs. The brown haired man tightened his grip. "Easy, kid. I don't want to hurt you," he soothed. "Just stand still and everything will be fine. You try too much more of that, though, and I'll have to shoot your girlfriend here."
Kyl's face flamed - that had touched a nerve - but he quieted immediately. "You touch her and I'll kill you," he vowed, sounding very young and passionate. "You don't belong here. This is her home. You broke in, didn't you?" He fell silent a minute, considering that, then he added, "How did you do it? I saw that lock. If it was sealed, it'd take somebody almost as good as my dad or a thief like V- like my friend up there to break in. You're not computer specialists. You're thieves." His voice was full of contempt and scorn.
"Edge did it," Tanz said through drawn lips as he felt for the blond's pulse. All Dayna had done was knock him down. Why was he still unconscious? Tanz felt a reassuring thump beneath his fingers and it was comfortingly normal, but Edge wasn't moving. "He's not a thief. None of us are. He said that lock was child's play. Perren, Edge is unconscious." He hoped Dayna didn't notice the wobble in his voice. This situation was getting even more out of hand and he was afraid it would turn deadly.
Perren's green eyes darkened with rage and worry. "You'd better hope he wakes up, lady, or you'll regret it," he ground out. Perren was always quick to defend his friends and he'd known Edge for fifteen years, two years longer than he'd known Tanz. They had been students together.
Kyl twisted his head in an attempt to see the man who held him. "She was only protecting me," he pointed out. His temper had cooled as he looked at Tanz and Edge. "She doesn't kill people unless it's necessary."
"He's only stunned," Dayna remarked. "Isn't he, Tanz?"
The young man nodded. "I think so. But you'd better not try anything like that again. All we want is a ride off the planet. Why don't you let us take it? You'll be rid of us soon enough."
"A ride off the planet?" Kyl cried hotly. "You've got a funny way of asking for it. Whatever happened to hitching a ride?"
"They might be Federation, Kyl," Dayna explained as if warning of a greater threat than they already faced.
Kyl tensed and studied them in alarm.
So they didn't like the Federation either, Tanz thought. That was interesting.
"They're not in uniform," the boy said reasonably.
"That doesn't mean anything. They're wearing my father's clothes."
His eyes widened sympathetically. "That's awful, stealing your father's clothes." He began to struggle again. "Let me go. You won't get away anyway. Jabberwocky knows. I'm in link-mode, Dayna. The others are coming. Vila's right outside and the others will be here in a few minutes. My father's going to be furious." He grinned at the thought.
Link mode? Did he have an open comm link? Were the rest of the crew listening, prepared to storm the place? They should have searched him. Tanz stared at her to see what her reaction was, even as he recognized the name Kyl had spoken. Vila? Could he possibly mean Vila Restal? Were these Blake's people? Dayna? Hadn't there been a Dayna on the Liberator? No wonder the name was familiar.
"That's an understatement," Dayna replied. "He'll be out for blood." She knelt opposite Tanz and grasped Edge's wrist, checking his pulse, ignoring Perren's hastily aborted movement with the gun. Tanz watched her anxiously but she merely checked competently for vital signs, then reported her findings. Edge's pulse was normal. He had a lump rising on the back of his head but it wasn't serious. Even as she showed it to Tanz, the unconscious man stirred and moaned, opening his eyes. Relief flowed through Tanz.
"Don't sit up," Dayna told Edge.
"Of course not. You'd only knock me down again." Edge sounded reassuringly normal. Perren caught Tanz's eyes and they shared a moment of mutual relief. Edge grimaced. "Martial arts?"
"I prefer hand to hand combat," Dayna replied. "I like the danger, the risk."
"In fact this has all been vastly entertaining for you," he replied wryly. "I don't feel ill. I'd prefer to sit up now."
She gestured for him to do so and Tanz helped him. When the cautious movement didn't daunt him Tanz relaxed and grinned up at Perren. "He's all right."
"Then you can let me go," Kyl insisted. "You're outnumbered and outgunned and my dad gets mad when anyone threatens me. Besides Tarrant's really worried about you, Dayna."
"Tarrant?" Perren echoed. "Dayna?" He must recognize the names, too. Kyl groaned at himself for speaking them aloud. He knew he had given them away.
"You're really Blake's people?" Edge said, climbing to his feet and dusting himself off. "Fascinating. I didn't know he recruited them so young." He nodded at Kyl. "We should have guessed. Dayna Mellanby. I'd heard you came from this planet. In fact I'm sure..." He let the thought trail away before Dayna could pick up on it. "This is your home. I'm afraid we've made rather free of it but we had no choice. We were stranded and in danger from the Sarrans. They didn't like us."
"We still have no choice in case you haven't noticed," insisted Perren, though his grip on Kyl had loosened. The boy could probably have struggled free if he had wanted to but he was still annoyed with himself for giving them away and hadn't noticed.
"They won't dare take us off world," Perren realized, tightening his grip. "They'd be afraid we'd turn them in."
"Would you?" demanded Kyl hotly, squirming to free himself. "You can't be Federation."
"Yeah, kid? Why not?" Perren tightened his hold on Dayna's gun. "We could be undercover. You've got no way of knowing."
"Because you're friends," Kyl insisted, gesturing at the three of them. "You're together. You backed each other against the Sarrans and you worried about him - " he pointed at Edge - "when Dayna zapped him."
"I hate to break it to you, kid, but Federation officers can have friends too," Perren replied. Tanz could understand the boy's reasoning though. He and his two friends had been a team for so long that not even the Federation had managed to separate them. Blake's people wouldn't take the risks though, now that they had been identified.
"He's right, Kyl," Dayna said. "We can't trust him. Your father won't."
"My father never trusts anyone," said Kyl dismissively. "Besides, I like them. Even him." He jerked a thumb at Perren.
The gunman groaned. "It's nice to be appreciated, kid, but in case you hadn't noticed, I've got this interesting gun jammed in your neck. It's got a lot of settings and right now it isn't on stun."
Kyl paled, but he didn't give ground. "Dayna," he said. "Link up. Jabberwocky will draw you in."
"I'm not good with the gestalt," she reminded him but her face blanked with concentration.
Edge shared a puzzled look with Tanz. "Fascinating. It appears they have developed a form of mental contact. Perhaps it's telepathy. Wasn't one of the Liberator crew from Auron?"
"Cally," agreed Tanz. "But Aurons can only receive from other Aurons. I think this is something else. Wow!" he breathed as he realized there was communication going on that he couldn't understand. "I wonder how it works. Do you suppose it's anything like the link we helped design with the-"
"I wouldn't, pal," Perren interrupted quickly. "What they don't know isn't going to hurt them."
"Just us," Edge replied with a shrug and a gesture at his surroundings. "We know too much. Just as we know such things are possible. Evidently these people have developed a system of their own. It clearly works. I think we can expect an invasion at any time now."
"It works for us, not for you," snapped Kyl, struggling again to yank himself free of Perren. "You're in trouble now. See if you're not."
"This could be very interesting," said Edge, who had always been given to understatement. He caught Tanz's eye and looked a question. "Try to note any form of linkage you can. We might be onto something here."
Dayna and Kyl exchanged suspicious glances but didn't speak. Their faces wore expressions that indicated they were concentrating on something only they could hear.
Tarrant had returned to the flight deck where he sat absently-mindedly playing chess with Jabberwocky as he waited for the others to return. He would have liked to go with Dayna on her pilgrimage but he could understand her desire to go on her own, and was willing to grant it to her.
Lately, he had felt closer to Dayna than ever, and he was gratified to find that she was responding to him with much less suspicion than she had for a long time. He knew Dayna had always been slightly uncomfortable with linkage, even before she had become an android, and that she had tended to resent it when he became Jabberwocky's linkmate, though she loved Jabberwocky and trusted him completely. It wasn't long after the initial linkage that Tarrant had begun to look toward Dayna in a different way. He had enjoyed playing at being in love with both her and Soolin, but he had learned quickly that Soolin was not really his type. When Dayna had died, he had spent time with Soolin at the base, but she had never encouraged him. He missed Dayna more than he had believed possible.
Now that they had Dayna in her present form, he had discovered he could accept her. It was true there were differences - her strength and extra abilities were a change, but Dayna didn't flaunt them. She used them when necessary just as Tarrant used piloting skills and Hugh his medical gifts. He had wondered how much of that was her tact and how much a desire to conceal what she had become. After he had been wounded by Avon as a result of Servalan's programming, Dayna had visited him often and they had discussed it.
"I don't know, Tarrant," she had mused. "Part of it might be denial. Hugh thinks it is, in a way. He says there's no guidelines for me to use for what has happened to me and that I have to come to terms with it myself. He's helped me a lot, and even Avon is trying to help."
"That must be interesting," Tarrant had responded. "He has problems of his own."
"I know, but he's doing a lot better these days. He's almost likeable."
Tarrant grinned. "Come on, Dayna, you always liked him, even when he irritated you and made you want to wipe the deck with him."
"Well, maybe." She flashed him a very human grin. "I think I'll let him try his healing on me. They say he's good at it."
Tarrant nodded in remembered agreement. "He is. He and Jabberwocky between them saved my life when Del Grant shot me. He knew exactly what to say to me. Irritating that Avon would know me so well."
"Why not? He isn't stupid." She shook her head. "As for me, what I hate about it most is that I catch myself hesitating, making sure of my rights. I never used to do that."
"Not with us, surely?"
"Sometimes," she admitted. "Sometimes with you, most of all."
That made him stare. "With me?"
She lowered her eyes. "Yes, because - because it might have been different between us, if I'd lived."
So she had felt the closeness between them, too. Tarrant hesitated. A part of him still cared for her in that same way, but another part wasn't sure. Dayna was still Dayna, but she was an android, too. She might go on existing long after he was dead, and in several ways that limited his options. It wasn't that there couldn't be a physical relationship between them. Hugh had taken him aside not long after Dayna had returned to the ship and had explained to him that there was no need to hesitate if he wanted to proceed in that direction. For once, Tarrant found himself more embarrassed than he liked to admit. He did want Dayna and had for some time. Hugh seemed to think that they had been lovers already, and Tarrant didn't disabuse him of the notion. They might have developed a relationship but it had never happened. After he had become linked with Jabberwocky, she had backed off entirely. They hadn't discussed it, but he knew it was because she didn't want Jabberwocky in the link at such a time.
Tarrant could have worked that out if he'd tried. There had been a woman on Ryalon he'd spent time with between missions; nothing serious. She had known about the link with Jabberwocky and had no objections. Tarrant had suspected she found the idea intriguing.
He and Jabberwocky had discussed the subject several times. In his present form, Jabberwocky's physical pleasures were limited and Tarrant would have shared sex with his linkmate if he had wanted it. Jabberwocky had chosen to hold himself aloof from Tarrant's brief fling, though. He had asked Tarrant recently about Dayna.
Tarrant had been thinking about that and wondering if there was a way to bring up the subject without creating further problems for Dayna. He had wanted her to feel secure, human and part of the crew, and to know that he cared for her, but he wondered if his hesitation was symptomatic of his own doubts. The issue would have to be dealt with. Maybe this visit to Sarran might help her enough to come to terms with herself.
//Del,// Jabberwocky's mental voice cut into his musings with an urgency that jerked Tarrant alert at once. //Dayna's been captured.//
//By Sarrans?// he asked, jumping to his feet and starting for the door.
//By three men in her former home. It could be Sarrans.// He was silent as he gained information. //She's linked with Orac through her tarial cells and Orac is reporting to me. There are three of them, and they have her and Kyl.//
Tarrant grabbed for a gun, fastening the belt on quickly. //Pull the others into link mode and warn them,// he said. //I'm heading there now. Where is everyone?//
//I'm calling them. I'll draw them into linkage.//
As Tarrant left the ship he felt the start of the gestalt as the others were drawn in. Using his power to link everyone away from the ship took a great deal of Jabberwocky's energy, and Tarrant could feel the mindship shutting down nonessential systems to convert power. Awareness of the others followed immediately. Vila and Hugh were on the scene. Blake and Jenna were hurrying there from further away, trailed by Soolin. Avon and Cally were nearly there and Avon was furious. Vila's hasty explanation in the link didn't mollify him.
//We will free them both,// Cally soothed. //Dayna has many capabilities. She may free herself and Kyl.//
//I'm fine.// That emphatic declaration came from Kyl himself. //I don't think they're Federation. They've been hiding out here so long they don't know who to trust. I like them. They just want a ride off Sarran. Let me talk to them. I'm okay, Dad. Don't come in with guns blazing. That'll make it worse. Trust me.//
As Tarrant hurried across the sand dunes he 'heard' Avon's response as clearly as if the computer tech were standing at his side. //You will take no risks,// he insisted fiercely. //You cannot judge the motives of desperate men whether you like them or not. Dayna, can you hear me?//
//Yes, Avon.// As always, in linkage she was fainter than the others and one had to strain for the sense of her words. She took that to mean she was less than human and that irritated him. Now Orac must be boosting her because he could hear her much more clearly than usual, though not as sharply as he had heard Kyl. //I don't know who these men are but I am certain they're not troopers. I think they may be scientists. One of them is better with a gun than the other two, but not as if he uses one regularly. I have not tried to jump him because I'm not sure how he'd react. I'd know with a professional. They haven't hurt Kyl. Let me talk them out of it. I'd rather not damage them - or us.//
//I have no qualms about damaging them,// Avon cut in.
//No, Avon, wait.// That was Blake. //We don't know who they are. Many men fought against the Andromedans who were not Federation troopers. Tarrant did, and so did we. We can't judge them negatively for that. They have something going for them if they have survived here for so long. Even if they aren't allies we can take them to a neutral world. Going in shooting would only endanger Kyl and Dayna.//
//They've only been here a few months,// Dayna volunteered. //I don't think they came here at the time of the War. I think they were stranded here deliberately.//
Avon reacted scornfully to that. The thought of people someone had gone to the trouble to abandon holding his son did nothing to abate his wrath.
//Kyl,// Jabberwocky urged abruptly, his voice cutting through the growing argument, //it would help if you would show us the three men. It might be possible to identify them.//
//Hey, great idea, Jab.// Kyl's enthusiasm ran through his mental voice. He wasn't remotely frightened. //All right. This is Perren. He's sort of in charge, I think.//
//Perren!// Jabberwocky's mental voice was surprised - and delighted. //It's Ven Perren. I know him. I've met him. He was one of the Federation team who worked on me before I was taken to Dayson Prime for testing. He worked on my programming. There were three of them and they handled all areas involving the link. Telepathic research was a specialty of the group though none of them was a telepath. Perren is a psychologist and he knows enough about piloting a ship that he could give me input there, too. I linked with him briefly in the early phases of the testing. He was the first one I ever linked with. He's naturally suspicious of new people but he's a good man. He won't hurt Kyl.//
//It isn't your life you're risking with that certainty,// Avon replied, his voice full of scorn. //You linked with Major Weed, too, and even with Witt. You're programmed not to fight your linkmates.//
//You know that's different,// objected Jabberwocky. //You know neither of those links was voluntary. Perren might have a quick temper but he's not insane or out for power. He's a good man.//
//This one is Edge,// Kyl said hastily, projecting a tall, blond man. Tarrant felt Avon's surprise run through him.
//I've heard of him,// Avon conceded. //He has a certain skill with computers. He is not at my standard but for a near-layman he is exceptional. His main field is telepathic research and he worked with a colony of Aurons on Earth. I met him once ten years ago. I can see evidence of his work in the computer linkages on board Jabberwocky.//
//Yes, he did many of my linkages,// Jabberwocky confirmed. //I like him very much. He explained every step of his procedures to me and was delighted when I understood it. This is fun. I'm glad to see my old friends again.//
//Fun,// Avon's snarl ran through the gestalt, but above it, Blake's chuckle rang out.
//Sounds like old home week. Who's the third one, Kyl?//
//This is Tanz,// Kyl explained, showing them a stocky auburn-haired man who was a year or two under than the others. Tarrant didn't think he looked remotely threatening.
//Oh good, Tanz, too,// exulted Jabberwocky. //We had such fun working out all the system links. He can put things together better than anyone I ever saw. Edge would tell him what he wanted and in a remarkable time Tanz would have it ready. We could do anything if they joined the crew.//
//I want to talk to Edge,// Avon insisted. //Jabberwocky, is there any way of pulling him in? With his scientific background, he might be receptive.//
The ship replied, //Attempting it now.// His voice thinned and the link wavered briefly as Jabberwocky projected himself at the man called Edge. The constant use of link mode and gestalt had boosted the ship's abilities and the blond man jumped as Jabberwocky called his name.
Kyl concentrated furiously. In gestalt Tarrant could feel each of them and know who was thinking or speaking without having to consider it. He could also read their projections when they worked at it. This time he could see with his mind's eye what Kyl saw, a room in the underwater base, with Perren holding a gun on Kyl and Dayna. Dayna's face was not resigned to a waiting game, but Tarrant knew she would not endanger Avon's son.
Edge jumped as if he had been struck. "Who spoke?" he demanded.
"What do you mean, who spoke?" Tanz stared at him in alarm. "Perren, maybe he has a concussion after all." He caught the blond's arm and turned him slightly.
"Someone said my name. I heard it." Edge was definite.
//I spoke your name. I am Jabberwocky, but you knew me as the Mark 60 Mindship. You hold two of my crew hostage. That must stop. There are many armed people ready and waiting if you leave the base. Negotiations might be in order. Tell Tanz and Perren that I'm here. Orac reports the three of you are listed as Federation deserters. Are you on the run? I never thought you were any more geared to siding with the Federation than I was.//
"Negotiations? Mark 60 mindship?" Edge's eyes widened in delight. "We worried about you after we were severed from the project, but he didn't know any way to contact you." Then his face fell. "I should have known this was a Federation trick. We won't go back. We'd rather stay here than that."
"Mindship?" echoed Tanz. "Wow. It's the mindship contacting you? How does it feel?" His face fell. "She sent you after us, didn't she? Servalan, I mean? Or whatever name she's using now. I should have known it was a trick."
"It's a Federation ship, Tanz," Perren cut in. "What else could it be?" All three of them had experience with the concept of Jabberwocky as well as hands-on experience, so they accepted the gestalt communication. If Orac said they were on the run, it might be to the crew's advantage to recruit them, especially since none of them sounded eager to encounter the Federation or Servalan again.
//Were you attempting to defect?// asked Jabberwocky smoothly. Only Tarrant could sense the strain in the mindship's voice at such a projection. It was hard enough for him to reach the rest of them at such a distance but they had plenty of practice at linkage. These three had had limited contact and it was before the scheduled tests on Dayson Prime. To pull them in would drain him alarmingly. Their time was limited.
"You already know that," Edge snapped. "You drove us to it. We won't come back. Leave us to the Sarrans. We'll let your people go if you forget you found us."
"We're not Federation," Kyl burst out in aloud for the three men's benefit. Tarrant could still hear him through the link. "Do you think the Federation takes people my age on missions? Besides, you already figured out we were Blake's people."
"He's right, Edge," Dayna put in. "We thought you were Federation, and we still aren't sure, even if Jabberwocky likes you."
"Jabberwocky?" echoed Edge, distracted. "Is that what you named the mindship? That's great. I like it."
"You would," Perren retorted but without spite.
//Everyone is being too trusting,// Avon snapped. His mental voice was full of impatience. //I don't trust them. If they are willing to surrender themselves to us, we can take them off Sarran. Jabberwocky can initiate a proper link once we've left this world behind and see how they came here. This reeks of Servalan.//
//I think she stranded them here. They're on our side.// Jabberwocky's enthusiasm filled the link. //Orac is researching them now. He reports all three are listed as deserters by the Federation and are under a death threat. Any trooper finding them may shoot on sight. I find that interesting. You know they wouldn't do that unless they were afraid of something. I think we've stumbled into a plot that may be worth learning. This is fun.//
//Your concept of fun has always eluded me,// Avon replied.
//Oh, come on, Avon,// interjected Hugh. //They wound up on Servalan's bad side and were dumped here. Probably figured it was safe, that we'd never come here since she suspected Dayna was dead.//
//Speculation,// scoffed Avon. //I still suspect a trap.//
//Then bring them back to the ship so I can link with them properly and we can find out,// Jabberwocky suggested. //They're friends, Avon.//
//It's worth a try,// agreed Blake. //Jabberwocky, tell them they may have passage off the planet if they release Dayna and Kyl.//
//They already have,// Kyl projected. //There's no gun on me now. We're all coming out.// He turned to Perren, who had lowered his weapon reluctantly. "Come on out and you'll see. I guarantee we aren't Federation."
"Come on, Perren," urged Tanz. "It sounds like the best offer we've ever had."
Tarrant reached the group that had gathered around the doorway to Dayna's underwater base. He could feel the utter strain in Jabberwocky's mental voice and knew this had to stop. //Bring them out, Kyl,// he urged. //We have to leave gestalt now.//
//We're coming,// the boy sent, and Jabberwocky dropped the linkage. The members of the group blinked in surprise and glanced around, adapting to the more restrictive viewpoint. Avon appeared glad of it but Avon was too private a person to enjoy the gestalt. His face was taut with concern for his son, and he was frowning.
"Don't imagine I will trust them, Blake," he retorted. "The coincidence of finding three people who worked on the mindship here is almost too obvious for Servalan, but it can only be another trap."
"We'll see, Avon," Blake returned reassuringly as the hatch opened and Kyl scrambled out. He looked around and fastened his eyes on his father.
"Dad! That was great!" he exulted, completely undaunted by his spell as a hostage. "The gestalt is fabulous." Registering his father's gun, he shook his head. "It's okay. You won't need that."
"I beg to differ," Avon said stiffly. He caught his son's arm and studied him carefully, as if for hidden wounds. "You're unhurt?"
Kyl blinked at him in delighted surprise. He always responded well to evidence of concern from Avon. "I'm fine," he insisted. "It was an adventure. They never wanted to hurt me."
"We didn't," agreed Tanz, emerging next from the hatch. He was probably Tarrant's age, and three or four inches shorter. His earnest expression confirmed his words so completely it would have taken a Kerr Avon to doubt him. People everywhere would trust him on sight. Women would offer him their babies to hold. He smiled around now, surprised to see so many people had gathered but undaunted by their presence and their weapons. "I'm Ran Tanz. You must be Roj Blake." He picked Blake out unerringly, a fact that made Avon's eyes narrow. "I remember seeing a picture of you when they had that fake trial and tried to frame you for child molesting."
"That was one of the Federation's more stupid moves," agreed a blond man following him out. "Though unfortunately some people fell for it. It's generally disbelieved now on Earth."
"I'm glad to hear it," Blake replied. He had always hated what had been done in an attempt to discredit him and thus the Freedom Party. "Yes, I'm Blake."
"Roald Edge," the blond replied. His eyes moved around the group and settled on one of them in particular. "Avon. You're looking well."
"You know each other?" Jenna asked in surprise, staring from the tall blond to Avon, her eyes narrowing slightly in suspicion though she must have realized through the link that Avon knew of Edge's computer expertise.
"Casually," Avon replied. "I am familiar with his work. He is a competent computer technician."
Tarrant would once have found that a case of damning with faint praise but he knew Avon well enough to realize it was intended as a compliment. Avon referred to him as a 'competent pilot' after all. Of course he called Vila 'talented and gifted' as a thief.
Edge must have recognized the words as they were intended because a smile warmed his face. He turned and offered a hand up to the third man, Perren, the one who had grabbed Kyl. Avon knew that too because a frown settled between his brows. Anyone who threatened Kyl would win no favour from Avon. Cally edged over and rested a hand on his arm. Avon acknowledged her presence with a quick look and put his hand over hers in a gesture that, in another man, might have appeared possessive, but with Avon merely meant, 'I know you're here.' He wasn't given to gratuitous physical displays.
"Don't encourage Edge," Perren said to Avon with a bright grin. "He's conceited already."
Edge lifted one eyebrow with just the right degree of disbelief. "Do I hear that from you?" he asked. Tanz chuckled. Perren grinned disarmingly and shrugged.
"Knowledge of one's own gifts isn't conceit."
"Precisely," Edge agreed.
Dayna scrambled out last and made a point of locking the hatch. "As you can see, we're not hurt, Blake," she said calmly. "I don't think they wanted to hurt me and I know they didn't want to hurt Kyl. Perren told Kyl his gun wasn't set on stun but it was. It was my gun and I had made sure it was at the highest setting in case I encountered Sarrans but he altered it after he took it away from me."
Soolin stared. "He took it away from you? He must be good."
Dayna shrugged. "Ambush," she replied. "I was - distracted."
Tarrant could imagine her distraction, returning to her home, the place where she had spent most of her life, the place where Servalan had killed her father. The distraction must have been considerable.
"She's all right," Tanz volunteered quickly, coming to stand beside Dayna and grinning at her engagingly. She smiled in return and Tarrant felt a faint stirring of jealousy at the sight.
"I think we should return to the ship," suggested Hugh. "We can question them there. Even if Jabberwocky vouches for them, we need further information.
Vila glanced sideways at the doctor. "I thought you trusted everyone," he muttered.
"Why would you think that?" Hugh grinned. "Because I have the poor taste to trust you?"
Vila wailed a protest. "Hugh!"
That made Avon smile. "You're mistaken, Vila. Hugh trusts people he knows. Not always a wise decision. Blake is much the same. That's why the rest of us have our work cut out for us."
"But I have always trusted you, Avon," Blake replied, a twinkle in his eyes.
"More fool you," Avon returned with remarkable good humour as they started back to the ship.
Jabberwocky was still largely powered down when they returned. Cally sent out a quick, telepathic question and received a brief reassurance. //Power returning.// That was good. The group had been further from the ship this time and the gestalt had been loosely organized, since many of them had not been together when Dayna's warning came through. It was good, thought Cally, that Dayna could access Orac the way she did because use of the gestalt had not strengthened latent telepathic abilities in her the way it had in the others. Though none of them besides herself and Avon could really be considered telepathic on their own, the others were receptive enough to Jabberwocky that they could attract the attention of the mindship, who would do the rest. As long as Orac could link with Jabberwocky through its computer circuits Dayna could be a part of the gestalt like the rest of them. Cally was pleased by that.
The three men that only Avon really regarded as prisoners stared around the flight deck with recognition and interest. Tanz moved around, brushing fingers lightly over control panels and nodding to himself. Perren stood in the centre of the room then, before anyone could object, dropped into Tarrant's seat and put his feet up on the rail. Cally felt Jabberwocky's momentary amusement when Tarrant made an abortive gesture of protest. Edge didn't touch anything. Instead he raised a cautious hand to Avon to show he meant no harm and pulled a monitoring device from his pocket. Holding it aloft so Avon could see it, he adjusted several dials and nodded. It stirred to life, making soft beeping sounds while an antenna protruded from its top surface.
"I see you've increased the power systems. You've needed it, if you practice group linkage often. We only tried that once, the three of us, and we had to wait until Weed was off duty and Coscu had gone home."
"It was the greatest feeling we ever had," Tanz said with a smile.
No one disputed that, though Avon was the only one likely to do so. He merely gestured Edge and Tanz toward the forward seats and then went to the table where Orac sat. The key was in place already and Orac was humming contentedly to itself.
"Orac," Avon said in his usual abrupt tone, "you will monitor subsequent conversation until instructed otherwise. There are three strangers on the flight deck. You will assess their veracity."
"Well, really!" huffed Ensor's creation. "I am not a common lie detector."
"Nevertheless, you will do it," Avon insisted.
Orac emitted a very human sigh and grumbled, "Oh, very well."
Avon smiled brightly. "Over to you, Blake," he said. "These three might be useful to us but they could as easily be part of a Federation ploy. Servalan wants to retrieve the mindship. Finding three people involved in its development on Sarran is a coincidence I do not like."
"We don't know why she chose Sarran," Tanz replied immediately. "But Servalan stranded us here. She had a crew of mutoids and she instructed them to ignore the fact that we called her Servalan. They called her Space Commander Sleer. We decided she's on the run, too, and that she'd probably blank the mutoids as soon as possible."
"So it was Servalan," Jenna burst out. "Avon's right. It is a trap."
"Maybe not." Vila leaned closer. "When did she bring you here? Hugh said something about timing. There was a time Servalan thought Dayna was dead. This world is Dayna's home. If she were dead, this is the last place Servalan would expect the rest of us to come. What worries me now is that she knows now that Dayna is alive. Yet you're still here. I don't like it. It might be a trap even if you're not at fault."
"We came here three months ago," Perren retorted. "Not my idea of a holiday resort. The beach is all very well, but the locals hate tourists. Not even a concession stand."
"Servalan was our prisoner for much of that time," Blake said thoughtfully. "She didn't learn Dayna was still with us until we captured her. Even if she wanted to come here and get rid of these three, she couldn't have done it. The fleet manoeuvres probably occupied her until just now. I wouldn't be surprised if she showed up at any minute."
"You had to say it, didn't you?" moaned Vila. He scooted over to the drinks dispenser and programmed himself a big glass of adrenalin and soma, though he only took a sip. "She's not happy with us these days."
"Was she ever?" Avon asked. "Edge. Suppose you explain your involvement in the mindship project."
"Should I, Jabberwocky?" Edge asked, fixing his eyes on Jabberwocky's main display.
"Yes, tell him. I don't like it that friends of mine think they're on opposite sides."
"Right." Edge was still standing near the rail that divided the consoles from the open area in front of the main screen. He assumed the pose of a university lecturer. "The three of us were recruited for the mindship project because of our involvement with psi studies. We'd done work on telepathy and other mind talents since our days at the science academy, and we had the expertise to achieve what the project wanted, a direct computer linkage that could boost latent telepathy in the host brain that was to be the ship's core. All humans have this ability, in varying degrees, but most humans never access it. It is, perhaps, like an undocumented feature in a computer program. The user is unaware of it, so it is never accessed. Of course the analogy is not exact, because the program is there in its fullness when accessed, but telepathy requires either a natural gift or extensive training. Usually the training will bring the ability up to a low level and the Federation wanted more. They followed our psi experiments even though we didn't know they were doing it."
"We suspected," Perren put in. "At least I did. The Federation doesn't give out unlimited funding and top notch facilities and then stand aside and allow people to do what they want to do. They nudged us in directions they wanted more than once. Telekinesis and precognition were real favourites of theirs."
"So that they could use it," Soolin breathed. "Against us, presumably." She took the cup of coffee Cally passed her and sat down beside Hugh on the bench next to the dispenser.
"Against anyone who opposed the Federation," Tanz replied. "We really didn't know right away. We worked with Aurons a lot, but we were never told that they were either prisoners or the relatives of hostages to guarantee their cooperation." His face was full of unhappiness at the very idea.
"They took us away from that when the Mindship project was started up," Edge continued. He folded his arms across his chest then raised one arm to stroke his chin between thumb and forefinger. "Coscu was good - a few said the best - and it was a privilege to work with him, or so we thought." His eyes narrowed. "What we didn't know immediately was that much of his research was stolen, from Ensor's files, and a great deal from Avon.
"I was familiar with Avon's work, so one day I approached Coscu and pointed it out to him. He merely shrugged and said, 'Avon's a resister, sentenced to life imprisonment on Cygnus Alpha. From his conviction onwards, his work was available to anyone who required it, and the Federation does require it.' At that point we didn't know yet that Avon was on the Liberator. That news broke later."
"Coscu said that only proved his point," Tanz mentioned. "None of us were very happy about it but there was nothing we could do. The medical team was still involved then, designing the linkages for nutrients to keep the brain alive, to be certain that the feed lines were self-clearing and that no unforeseen glitches would shut it down. They had seventeen backup systems. It was incredible. I worked with them on the linkages. I've an engineering background besides my psi work."
"That was when we found out that they meant to suppress the memories of the brain," Perren put in. "I thought that was a bad idea because they didn't dare do a complete erase. They needed as much knowledge as the brain retained to make the system work. They could only attempt a blockage. I was sure it would fail eventually, but they didn't listen. They brought in a puppeteer to override me. I was only a psych tech, they said. What did I know?"
"Evidently more than they suspected," Hugh put in. He appeared fascinated by the slew of information. "You were right."
"Jabberwocky did break down?" Perren asked, alarm shooting across his face as he studied the flight deck. His eyes lingered on the glowing green panel that was Jabberwocky's primary fascia. "How did you deal with it? Is one of you a doctor?"
"I am," Hugh replied. "But I'm not the one who dealt with it. I only helped."
"My father did it," Jabberwocky put in proudly. "Avon."
"Avon!" All three men stared at him. He was momentarily disconcerted, then he put on a smug expression.
"I am a computer expert," he replied. For once, he made no objection to being named Jabberwocky's father.
"He's also a psi healer," Hugh went on. "We're still learning how that works. Did your background ever produce any information on psi healing that might be helpful to us?"
"Wow!" breathed Tanz, his mouth open as he studied Avon's face. "We knew there were such things on Auron, but we never met anyone who knew about it and there wasn't information in any files we could access." He glanced at Cally. "You're of the Auronar, aren't you? I assume you and Avon have worked together to develop the techniques?"
"You assume correctly," she replied. Avon would not want to talk about this in front of strangers, but these strangers just might be the people who could provide the information necessary for him to complete his training. Even if they were psi null themselves, they would have information which would be helpful. She prodded at them with her telepathy, just a nudge rather than mental speech, to see what would happen. No conclusive reaction but there was a faint flicker on all three faces that might mean they were receptive. They were not telepaths, for a telepath would have known instantly what she was about, but she suspected there had been enough of a bleed-through in their work that they were receptive to psi, even if they could not project it.
"I would value the opportunity to research the subject," Edge told Avon.
He made a dismissive gesture with one hand. "You haven't concluded your story. We still have no guarantees that you're not in contact with Servalan." Reaching out, he plucked the detector from Edge's hand and studied it.
"It's not a homing device," Tanz objected hotly.
"So I can see." Avon pried open the casing, peered inside, replaced it, and pushed a few buttons, studying the readings, intrigued. "A useful gadget. I would welcome an opportunity to study it at length later." He gave it back.
"So what happened next?" Kyl demanded eagerly. He had been hanging on their every word, completely fascinated. Though these men had held him hostage, Kyl didn't seem to blame them for that. He slid closer, ducking under his father's arm when Avon put it out to halt him, and held out a hand for the gadget. Edge smiled and passed it over without hesitation. Kyl was charmed. He sat down next to Soolin and opened it as his father had done, and for the next few minutes, he could be heard muttering enthusiastically, only lifting his head when Perren resumed his narrative.
"What happened next was the arrival of Servalan," the psych tech said, his mouth twisting wryly. "Milady Black Widow Spider. She announced that the preliminary test had been completed to her satisfaction and that the Mark 60 was to be taken off Earth for further tests. We protested because it was a crazy risk, but she didn't listen. One of the techs heard that she had a scheme running in a distant sector and that she planned the tests to coincide with that."
"Terminal," Tarrant remembered. "She set herself up without knowing it. If she'd left the testing behind on Earth, we'd never have Jabberwocky now." He smiled fondly and Cally knew he and the ship were sharing a moment of communication. The days when she had been Jabberwocky's linkmate still lingered fondly in her memory and she sighed under her breath. Beside her, Avon wrapped his fingers around her wrist. He knew. He always did.
"But she thought she was going to steal the Liberator then," Vila protested, taking another sip of his adrenalin and soma. Cally noticed that the glass was still nearly full. "Why would she need them both?"
"She probably decided to make sure she had a handy backup. She was never conspicuously lucky against us in the past," said Blake with a smile. "If she didn't get the Liberator, if her plan went wrong, she meant to zip over to Dayson Prime and take the Mark 60. I'm sure she wanted it, too. She didn't know there would be a coup in the meantime and that she'd lose power."
"She shuffled us into another project," Edge continued, "before she went off, supposedly to conduct the Mark 60 tests. It was a dead end project and we knew she was trying to keep us out of the way until she could deal with us. We were pretty sure she'd think we knew too much. When we heard she had been deposed, we half expected the project to collapse, and we started making plans to disappear. We thought we had a little more time, that was the only difference. The longer we'd worked on the Mark 60 project, the better the rebellion sounded to us. We figured that if we could get off Earth we could break free. We put in a request to go to Auron for further testing. We were stonewalled." He glanced at Cally quickly. "I'm sorry. We only found out what had happened to Auron later."
"It was horrible," Tanz volunteered. "I can't believe anyone would do anything like that, destroy a whole planet's population. The word was that it was a plague but we didn't believe it. In the inner circles, when the plague was mentioned, people would exchange knowing glances and that proved it. It was the last straw for us. We'd worked with the Auronar for a long time and we couldn't accept the stories running around Earth, even if we knew they were true."
"Servalan did it," Cally informed them through gritted teeth. "She killed my world to get me and the rest of us." Avon's hand ran up her arm to encircle her shoulders, a gesture he rarely made in public. Reminded of the loss of her people, she leaned into the embrace. This was not the time to tell them the Auronar genestock had been rescued. Even now, she could sense the growing children in the back of her mind, taking away the silence, but they were too young to communicate yet. One day her people would rise again.
Tanz nodded, his face stricken. "That finished it with us," he said. "We decided to defect, but we didn't know how to do it. If we couldn't go to Auron, we were trapped on Earth. We started planning but making contacts took a long time. Then a few months ago, Servalan came. She was different - she'd stopped wearing those dresses and was in uniform and her hair was curly. She said she needed us for another project, and when she could tell we were suspicious, she brought in mutoids and hauled us off to a ship. We tried to run but they captured us and beat us up and threw us in a cell on board." His eyes darkened and he shuddered as he recalled the incident. His seemed an innocent spirit, and Cally was sure he still couldn't understand why people would beat other people and kill planetary populations, and never would.
Perren's mouth tightened in a hard line in memory of the incident and he sat up straighter, his feet dropping from the rail to the floor, exchanging a quick glance with Edge. He stretched out his arm and clapped Tanz on the shoulder, making him smile. "Hey, guy, she did us a favour," Perren said. "We found Jabberwocky and Blake and now we can finally join the rebellion." Turning to Blake, he continued. "She brought us to Sarran. She laughed about it. She claimed it was the one place we'd never be found. No one had been near the place since the Galactic War. We were sure she was right. Then the friendly natives decided to use us for spear practice. Nice folks. We hid in caves and sometimes we'd bury ourselves in the sand with a reed to breathe through so we could sleep without being found."
"Then we discovered the hatch that led to Dayna's underwater base," Edge put in quickly. "I was able to open it, and we've been hiding there ever since. I've worked on the communications system. It receives beautifully but there was no outgoing communications system."
"My father was interested in the news of the galaxy," Dayna explained, "but he didn't feel the need to talk back. We were in hiding. I think he did have a communications device somewhere. Teachers came periodically to instruct us. But he never told me how he sent for them and I learned not to ask."
"Orac," Avon turned to the computer. "Assess the previous communication and report."
"Subjects were speaking truthfully. Without proper monitoring equipment I was unable to distinguish between subtleties of communication."
"That means they're not working for Servalan," Vila said. "They're not on the other side."
"I agree," Jabberwocky stated. "I could boost a link and pull them in briefly. I have enough power for that. It would be the one certain way to tell they are what they claim to be. I trust them enough to risk it. Who's with me?"
"You know I'm with you," Tarrant agreed. "Cally, what about you? You know what you're doing."
She smiled at him, grateful. He went out of his way to include her in such tests. Now that he had experienced the linkage for the greater part of a year, he was much more aware of the severity of her loss, when Servalan had infected the Auronar with the plague. The Tarrant who had first linked with Jabberwocky could never have made the offer, but this Tarrant would never hesitate.
"I shall come, too," said Avon, to Cally's surprise. She turned to him in delight, and reached out for his hand.
The one thing that proved they were doing right was the fact that none of the three men objected. Edge and Tanz sat down on the couch opposite Vila and Perren went over to join them, squeezing in between them. They lifted faces with identical expressions, expectant and fiercely concentrating.
Cally welcomed the link. Tarrant was aware of her instantly as he always was and she sensed his reaction when Avon and then Blake followed her in. Because of the length of time spent in the gestalt, none of the others joined them.
Jabberwocky pulled in the three psi experts and they took a few minutes to accustom themselves to an experience they had only touched on before. Tanz's awe shone through the link as he sensed them. He wore no barriers. His open enthusiasm for the link was as bright as a beacon and Cally could feel him putting out little tendrils of thought as he experimented, enjoying himself immensely. She had been right about his innocent spirit. Avon would never understand him but, after this, he could not fail to trust him. She prodded Avon mentally in question and he sent her a mental grimace and agreed.
Edge matched his name, for the diamond edge of his curiosity sparkled through his presence in the link. While Tanz was simply thrilled to be experiencing it, Edge wanted to know why every facet of it worked. He lowered his barriers slowly, not because he was concealing something but because he was testing how the system worked. When he sensed Avon he took a mental step backward and looked at him long and hard. Avon smiled deprecatingly and Cally realized he had sensed in the blond man a kindred spirit.
Perren had the most barricades of the three but they were not high enough to shut out the friendship he felt for his two companions and the pleasure he felt at linking up with them again. He had liked it before, but he had liked it in his own way. Like Tarrant, he was adept at controlling linkages. Of the three men Perren was probably the toughest and most cynical, though nowhere near Avon's league. He probably took the flak for the others when things went wrong. Cally could sense a ready temper held in check and she was granted a brief glimpse of a man who kept it all together because he knew there were people he could rely upon. As he sensed the rest of them and Jabberwocky in the link, he grinned engagingly, winked at her, and relaxed.
They separated reluctantly because it had been a good experience. Cally knew she would enjoy linking with any of them again. They were not experienced in matters of rebellion but they had useful gifts that would help the rebels if they chose to join up. They might be most useful on board this ship though, when at Ryalon they could work with Avalon's scientists and attempt to develop other mindships. The chances of doing that had just increased radically.
Blake must have been thinking along similar lines because he turned to the three men. "We've contemplated designing further mindships," he said. "We'd come to the conclusion that we didn't have the capacity but with the three of you, Avon and Dr. Plaxton, there's a much higher chance of success."
"Wow! Dr. Plaxton!" Tanz exulted. "That would really help."
"Yes it would," agreed Edge. "I suspect your limitations might well be on the medical side. However if you could assemble the best team you've got, we could come up with specs and go from there. I remember many of the medical procedures since I attended the actual surgery."
"That's all very well," Hugh objected, "but you're not a medical doctor. I know for a fact that I wouldn't be qualified for any of this work. Of course there are skilled surgeons on Ryalon."
"There's another problem," volunteered Perren. "The actual brain to use. People aren't waiting in line to be turned into mindships, you know. With Jabberwocky there weren't many alternatives but the Federation didn't exactly give him a list of options. They just did it. They made me repress his memories." His mouth traced a tight line. "The reason I agreed to it was because I felt it would probably be better to allow him to come to consciousness as the ship and to learn the abilities he now had rather than letting him wake up aware of his loss from the beginning. I knew there would be problems from a psychological aspect but the people in charge of the project weren't prepared to listen to me. I should have been here all along."
"It would have helped, Ven," Jabberwocky told him. "But Avon coped very well."
"I want to find out about that," the psych tech agreed. "I felt a hint of that in the linkage. This has proved a lot of my theories on the subject, that stimulation of esper functions strengthen them. Working with the Aurons didn't really help us because it wasn't interactive. The Aurons could transmit to us but we were passive receivers. The gestalt you've worked out was always meant to be a possibility with Jabberwocky but we didn't know it would go this far. I'd like to run esper tests on all of you and see if you've become more capable through its use."
"I think they have," Cally agreed. She'd noticed it several times, not only with Avon, whose long-suppressed talents had blossomed with use, but with the others too, even those who had possessed no real talent to begin with. None of them were actual telepaths without Jabberwocky's input yet, but they were stretching their minds. Subliminal awareness of each other was growing, a condition which could only be useful to the resistance and which was bonding them as close friends. The little experience Perren, Edge and Tanz had shared with Jabberwocky had helped to form a bonding in an already close friendship and she realized their awareness of each other was already as strong as that among the Jabberwocky crew. They would fit in well here.
One of them was starting to fit in already. Tanz had left the couch and come to stand beside Dayna and she had turned to him with a welcoming smile. Cally darted a quick glance round the flight deck, noticing Kyl manfully stifling jealousy and Tarrant catching himself before he could join them. Turning automatically to Avon she sent a quick flash of amusement and noticed him responding to it, his mouth sternly repressing a smile. This might be entertaining and it was the best possible thing for Dayna. Cally suspected that when Tanz learned Dayna was an android his first reaction would be an enthusiastic, "Oh, wow!"
"Something we should consider," Avon pointed out, "is the fact of Servalan. We can speak of designing additional mindships later but I don't trust Servalan. She was our prisoner for a time, and after that she was involved in the Federation's show of force but now she'll be at leisure to consider the possibility that we might come to Sarran. The last thing she will want is to encounter these three. I suggest we leave Sarran immediately." He turned to Tarrant. "Do we have the power for that?"
"Jabberwocky's power is returning," Tarrant replied. "I can take us up manually and point us off world. As long as no one comes into detector range we don't need to hurry. What about that holiday world?"
"I think we all need it," Jenna said, sitting beside Blake. "It might be our last chance to relax for a long time."
The holiday world selected was Murray's World, a planet within the rebel sphere of influence that offered enough amenities to satisfy anyone on the ship. Vila's good bars existed there aplenty. Blake's pastoral regions were just beyond the reaches of the main city, Amisport. For Avon, there was the Hall of Technology, a science museum that would also appeal to Kyl and Edge. A ship building yard might interest Tarrant and Jenna, and Hugh always liked to drop in to the local hospitals when they visited new planets. Cally planned to explore the shops. As they made their way toward Murray's world, the two groups came to know each other as they planned their holiday.
Though it had seemed likely that Kyl, that impressionable young man, would be drawn to Edge, the one who was closest to his own course of study, he chose instead to develop a major case of hero worship toward Perren, a fact which did little to please his father. Avon found the psych tech to possess an irreverent side, all the more irritating because Perren was likely to tease him unexpectedly, and Avon had never really permitted teasing except from Vila and, occasionally, Cally.
The thought of a holiday appealed to everyone though. Perren remarked cheerfully that after three months on Sarran he needed a holiday more than he'd ever needed one in his life, and that after he and Kyl explored the port, did Vila want a companion for bar hopping? Kyl glowed and Vila brightened.
"We've been here before. I'll show you all the best places," promised the thief.
"I'd like to just wander around the streets," said Tanz. "Want to come with me, Dayna?" The question was tentative, as if he wasn't sure of his reception.
Dayna glanced up at him, a considering expression on her face, then she smiled. "I'd like that."
Tarrant, who had overheard this conversation, glaired at Tanz, all the more irritated because the young engineering tech wasn't remotely aware of Tarrant's resentment. Over the next two days, Tarrant began to freeze the auburn-haired man out, ignoring him when he met him in one of the corridors. Hugh, who had been a silent witness to the original encounter, frowned thoughtfully as he noticed further evidence of dislike, and the first chance he had, he cornered Tarrant in the rest room.
"I don't like that look on your face, Hugh," Tarrant observed. He programmed himself a cup of coffee and flung himself down at one of the tables, stretching out his long legs and bracing his elbows on the table. "You look like you've come to read me a lecture. What have I done to you?"
"Nothing." Hugh fetched coffee for himself and sat down opposite him. "I was just noticing the way you've been treating Tanz."
"I haven't done anything to him."
"No, but you've gone out of the way to welcome the others and ignored him entirely. I've seen him watching you and wondering what he's done to make you mad at him."
"It's nothing to the way Avon reacts to Perren," insisted Tarrant, and both men shared a grin. Kyl's case of hero worship was probably a salutary lesson for the computer tech, and everyone but Avon knew it. "I'm not mad at Tanz," Tarrant denied.
"No, you're angry at yourself," Hugh remarked, smiling fondly and knowingly at Tarrant.
"Come on, leave the mind games to people better suited to them."
"You're jealous," Hugh persisted. He never backed down from confrontation. "You resent him because Dayna likes him and he likes her. I think it's the best possible thing for Dayna though, and I think you should cut her a little slack."
"I haven't hurt Dayna. You know I wouldn't."
"No. Because you care about her too much to do anything to hurt her, at least directly. But don't you think it's rather selfish to interfere when she has a chance to be happy? If you don't want her, let her go to someone who does."
"That character? If I hear him say, 'Oh, wow,' one more time I swear I'll break his neck."
"I like his enthusiasm," Hugh said mildly. "He's been stuck on Sarran all those months fighting for his life when he's not used to it. Give him a chance to unwind."
"I know. I probably wouldn't mind him at all if it weren't for Dayna. I don't have any problems with Edge, and Perren only rubs me the wrong way because he's so arrogant." He grinned unexpectedly. "Maybe we're too much alike." The grin faded and he stared into his coffee cup as if it held the secrets of the universe. "I love her, Hugh."
The doctor hadn't quite expected that confession, and he thought about it quite seriously before he replied. "No," he said. "I don't think you do, at least not in the way you mean." Holding up a hand before Tarrant could interrupt, he plunged on. "I think you love her the way we all do, because she's one of us, because you've known her so long. But the other kind of love?" He shook his head. "Maybe you loved the Dayna that was, but you didn't let yourself realize it at the time, not until she was dead. When she came back, you had the same feelings - but for the old Dayna. You believe this version contains her essence, and you feel you have to love her because you did before, but a part of you holds back. It's been a couple of months now. I remember we talked about the possibilities once before. I think if you really had loved her in that way you would have done something about it before now. You haven't even shown her any particular attention."
"I've thought about it," Tarrant defended himself. "I don't think these things should be rushed."
Hugh chuckled softly. "Coming from a man who rushes in where angels fear to tread, that's good. I'm not trying to hurt you, Del. I just think the best thing you can do for Dayna is let her find herself. She doesn't know Tanz very well yet and he doesn't know she's an android. We'll let her tell him in her own way. I think once she's able to do that she'll be well on the way to accepting herself. I don't think he'll turn away from her because of it."
"He'd better not try." Tarrant swallowed the rest of his coffee. "Because if he hurts her he'll have me to contend with."
"I think she can deal with him herself," Hugh said with a grin. "Just ease off a little. Let her find her feet."
"Fine, but what if she finds them with him?"
"Then that's the way it was meant to be."
Dayna was slowly coming to the realization that she was happy with herself. There were still a lot of problems to face but the trip to Sarran had accomplished what she had hoped it would. She had been able to say goodbye to the Dayna that had been and to face the Dayna that existed now. Her friends had always accepted her, even after a tricky beginning, Avon. She occasionally wondered about Tarrant for she had always felt deeper feelings for him but now she suspected it had been a sort of sibling affection. They had come to the Liberator together, younger than the rest of the crew, and though they had sometimes played at being in love, nothing deeper had really developed. She had sensed Tarrant holding back just as she had sensed his affection, and knew that even if he loved her, her android state would always be an issue between them just as his being Jabberwocky's linkmate would disturb her. They could work around it but they could never forget it.
Then the three scientists in her father's base had entered her life and the world began to change. The resentment she had felt for Perren for attacking her had faded when she realized what the three men had been through. She liked their loyalty and affection for each other, realizing they were a family in all but blood, as she and Lauren had been sisters. It was like inviting three brothers to join the crew. They were going to be devoted rebels and good friends but they were family first.
She had not told them she was an android, but that would have to be done, and the others had left it to her to choose the time and place. Tanz had displayed an interest in her from the beginning, seeking her out on the ship, talking to her for hours, coming to her to share new discoveries. Dayna had always been completely self-sufficient, able to defend herself and others. In Tanz she found a different attitude toward life. Tanz was not soft, for no one raised in the Federation, forced to work under Servalan and stranded on a hostile world could remain soft. But there was a hopeful innocence that none of the blows of fate had been able to crush completely and which Edge and Perren would have fought to protect. Tanz was an optimist, bubbling over with joy at the good things in life. He was thrilled to be on the mindship and spent a lot of time linking with Jabberwocky, risking the headaches that came with unpractised linkages to test the program's parameters. He invited Dayna to share the time with him.
That would mean discovery. It might put an end to their fledgling relationship, and Dayna hesitated. On the one hand her time with Tanz held a sweetness she had never before experienced, but on the other it was not entirely honest because she had not shared her true nature with him. The longer she waited the worse it would hurt if he rejected her, but a part of her wanted to delay the discovery as long as possible. If it ended she wanted to enjoy it while she could.
"I think the linkage would be great," Tanz said now as the two of them sat together in her cabin where they had come to talk.
"I'm not good at linkage," Dayna said quietly. This was going to be the moment of truth.
"Psi blind?" he hazarded. He sat beside her on the edge of her bed and put an arm around her shoulders. "Some people are, it's just the way it is. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you, after all. Jabberwocky can probably boost you, can't he, if you're needed in the link?"
"Not really." She risked one quick look at him and saw concern in his warm, brown eyes. "Tanz, I've wanted to tell you but I wasn't sure how you'd feel."
"Tell me what?" he asked. "I knew there was a problem. I could tell you didn't really want to hold back but something bothered you. You're so brave, I wasn't sure what could scare you, but something has."
"I don't know how brave I am. I just can't run from it any more."
"It's all right. You can tell me." He squeezed her shoulders. "After everything that's happened to me I don't think anything could surprise me."
"I'm an android." She hadn't meant to blurt it out like that but she couldn't resist the challenge in his words, and his surprise would grant her an honest reaction.
His mouth dropped open and he gaped at her in astonishment. "You - an android! That's incredible. I didn't know androids could be - real." He thought about that and continued quickly, "I mean you're a person, you're real. You have feelings, you're yourself. I always thought programming had its limits, but you're far more than a program."
"I am, in a way. Jabberwocky and Orac between them retrieved my essence after the original Dayna was killed. They took the memories Jabberwocky had gleaned from linkages and put them together in a program that was so complex it became self-aware. When everyone realized that, they put the program into an android body. This body. See?" She held out her hand. "Feel my wrist."
He did, not warily but with eager excitement, his fingers probing the synthetic flesh to the structure beneath it. "You mean it! I just thought you were strong, that you'd worked out and developed your muscles but-" His arm tightened reassuringly around her shoulders. "Does it feel the same to you? As it did before?"
"It feels human. As if I were alive."
"You are alive," he protested hotly. "You're human, maybe in a different way but you're a person, and anyone who doesn't see that is crazy - or scared." Suddenly he closed both arms around her and held her. "You were afraid to tell me because you thought it would make me stop liking you, weren't you? I would never do that, Dayna. You have to learn to trust me. I'd never hurt you."
"No, listen to me." He rested his hands on her shoulders. "We've talked a lot, more than I've ever talked to anyone but Edge and Perren in my whole life. That wasn't a program talking to me. That was a person with feelings and hopes and humour and dreams. We're friends, Dayna, and I think we can be more than friends if you'd like that. But you can't doubt yourself."
"You might if you'd seen people reacting to it. Some of them at the base are afraid of me."
"That's crazy. You're on their side. They're only scared because they don't understand. People fear what they don't know. But you know yourself. You understand. You have to know you're real, Dayna."
She closed her eyes abruptly, relief so strong it was nearly a pain. Tanz was right, she was a person. She might be a person with circuits inside instead of flesh and bone and organs, but what made a person was the spirit, the part that thought and felt and reasoned. Though Dayna had never in her life been helpless, she had occasionally felt diminished by her altered state. Now, listening to Tanz, she realized she had chosen that, had bought into it because she had stereotyped her own condition instead of individualising herself. She was real. She might still have problems to face but she could face them head on the way she had always done. If other people found it difficult, that was their problem, not hers. She was going to be all right.
Impulsively she put her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "Oh, Tanz, you're incredible. You've made me see what I should have known all along. I am real - and I'm glad you're here."
He pulled back far enough to smile at her, then he brushed his lips against hers. Dayna leaned into the kiss, knowing these feelings were real, too, even if someone, somewhere, had programmed them. That didn't matter now. Tanz did.
"Stay with me," she urged him breathlessly. "Don't go."
"I wasn't going anywhere," he promised, holding her close. "Link with me, Dayna."
"Yes," she whispered as he drew her down on the bed.
"She's a what?" Perren stared at Tanz, disbelief filling his wide, green eyes. "Your girlfriend is a what?"
"An android. She asked me to tell you." Tanz stared defiantly at his two friends. "If you hold it against her, I'll have to make you see reason. She's a person no matter how she's made, and I love her."
"Fascinating." Edge's face was alight with scientific curiosity. "I had a sense at first, when we were on Sarran, that something was different, and the psycho-kinetic monitor registered strange readings from her. I can pick up telepathic residue from the others that comes from all their time in linkage, but there was none from her. I wondered what was different, but I never suspected anything like this. I assumed she was psi blind like a few of our test subjects. Will she answer questions about it?"
"Probably. But treat her with respect, Edge. Don't you go in there as if she was a lab experiment."
"Tanz," Perren reminded him, eyes glowing with mischief. "Edge views everything as a lab experiment. That's the way he's made."
The three of them had gathered in the rest room over coffee, and until Perren remarked about Tanz's extraordinarily cheerful demeanour, the engineering tech had sat grinning to himself, remembering his time with Dayna. His good mood observed, he put himself to the task of explaining since Dayna had urged him to clarify her situation to the other two.
Avon came striding into the room and stopped when they all stared up at him. "Am I interrupting a private meeting?" he asked with a hint of sarcasm in his voice as if to remind them they were on 'his' ship on sufferance. Avon was the only member of Jabberwocky's crew to act that way, and that was only because he was much slower than the others to trust new people, even Edge, whom he'd known before and obviously liked.
"No, I was telling them about Dayna," Tanz explained quickly. He refused to let Avon intimidate him, though he knew the computer tech could do it more easily than anyone else on the ship. "She asked me to. Edge is switching into science mode, and he'll probably want to dismantle her, but she said if he tried she'd take a clipgun to him." He grinned brightly, remembering the amusement in Dayna's voice as she had made the threat, her fingers tracing up and down his chest. "It was bad enough when Kyl wanted to," she had reminded him with a grin. "He wrote a school paper on me. He's going to be jealous of you, by the way. He has a crush on me."
Tanz grinned at the memory. At least he didn't have to worry about Avon being jealous. Avon already had a relationship with the Auron, Cally.
During the earlier part of Tanz's words, Avon had tensed, but when the engineer finished he relaxed slightly. "I presume Dayna chose to share her condition with you," he said. "It has always been her choice."
"I knew something was upsetting her," Tanz replied, holding out a cup of coffee to Avon who took it automatically and sipped it, though he didn't sit down with them, standing instead at the end of the table. "So I tried to make her talk. I wanted to try linking with her." He felt his cheeks warm at the memory of the very different, but no less satisfying, linkage he and Dayna had shared, and saw brief understanding and momentary resentment flare in Avon's eyes.
"And she told you?" Avon leaned closer, menacing them with his presence as he was so good at doing. Vila had confided brightly to the three of them that Avon was ever so much better than he used to be, which had made Tanz wonder how any of them had ever dared face him before he had changed and improved.
He nodded. "She thought I'd stop liking her when I knew, but I couldn't do that. I've never known anyone like Dayna."
"Young love," remarked Avon wryly. "I should have expected that - however I would have assigned the role of infatuated idiot to Tarrant, a part he could convey without difficulty."
"Is that why Tarrant doesn't like me?" Tanz burst out, eyes wide in surprised realization. Perren chuckled knowingly. He must have figured that out already. He'd always been good at guessing people's motives.
"Tarrant tends to be possessive," Avon replied. "Toward this ship, for instance. One day, Jabberwocky will be mine."
"Not yet, Avon," Jabberwocky interjected, joining the conversation. "You aren't quite ready. But Tanz is good for Dayna and that's what's important. I won't let anyone hurt her. I like Dayna."
"So," said Avon pointedly, "does Tanz." He shook his head as if the effort of dealing with a matter as simple - and complex - as human relationships had wearied him utterly. "There will be no experimentation unless she permits it," he informed Edge. "And you-" turning to Perren. "Stay out of her mind unless she wants you there. I know your type likes to meddle."
"I never meddle," said Perren with a broad grin. "Not even with a man like you who needs a good meddle."
Avon favoured him with an affronted glare and turned away. "Anyone who hurts Dayna will live to regret it," he announced deliberately.
"Oh well, at least we'll live," Perren replied gleefully. He always enjoyed such repartee, even with Avon who might conceivably mean it.
"In your case," returned Avon as an exit line, "I might make an exception." He left and Perren grinned after him.
"I like him," he said. "Give me a year or two and I might make him human." He turned to Tanz. "Now about you. Are you sure you won't be hurt?"
"I'm sure I care about Dayna. Anything else is part of life, right? You can't walk down a street without risk. Don't worry, Perren, I'm fine. Better than fine."
Perren's face softened. "Anyone who hurts Tanz will live to regret it," he said under his breath. "Don't worry, buddy. I won't interfere. But remember, we're here if you need us."
Tanz grinned. "Great. Now I have to find Dayna. We'll be landing on Murray's World in half an hour and the two of us are going exploring."
Murray's World was reminiscent of Ryalon, not in the climate or the layout of Amisport but in the sense of freedom prevalent in the air there. Another free system devoid of Federation influence, Murray's World had been settled at the end of the Old Calendar by humans fleeing from Earth's wars. They had resumed contact with the Federation a hundred years ago but for trade purposes only. Since the Federation's influence didn't extend in this direction and the cost of overwhelming the system would have outweighed any gain, the Federation had left it alone. When Ryalon had become the headquarters of the rebel faction and other worlds had joined the growing rebel movement, Murray's World had promptly thrown in its lot with the Resistance. It had vast shipyards which supported this quadrant and which had built many rebel ships already. Blake's suggestion that his crew come here for R&R was probably motivated by a desire to talk to the owners of the shipyard about building possible mindships. Now that he had Perren, Tanz and Edge, he was fired with enthusiasm about the vastly improved chance to make it work.
"We're limited now by medical considerations and resources," he explained to Avon as the two of them sat on the flight deck. Jabberwocky rested in the docking cradle and several of the crew had already dispersed to explore the planet. Blake had watched Dayna and Tanz set off hand in hand and had smiled after them.
"That's the best thing that could happen to Dayna," he had remarked to Soolin, who had stood beside him in the hatch.
"What, falling in love?" she had returned tartly. She was not the type to surrender herself to love, reluctant to extend her trust as far as that. Blake knew the blonde woman loved him and he cared for her, but his commitment was to Jenna. From time to time the thought of knowing Soolin was there and evidently willing made him wonder about the possibilities, though he did not take advantage of them. If Jenna knew that, she never let it show, and her relationship to Soolin was cool and casual, uncomplicated by anything like trust. Blake suspected Jenna would protect him from his baser instincts if no one else would, and his regret was brief.
"Falling in love," he had told Soolin, "with someone who comes into it with his eyes wide open, knowing what she is. That's the only way love works, Soolin, with complete honesty."
She had opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again with the words unsaid. "Are you going ashore?" she had asked, her hand falling to the butt of her gun, prepared to defend him if he was.
"Presently. I want to go to the shipyards. Avon, Tarrant and Edge are coming with me."
"Let me know when you're ready to leave," she had bade him, patting the gun once more. He had smiled regretfully and nodded.
Now, turning back to Avon, he said thoughtfully, "I've been briefing Edge about the medical facilities on Ryalon. He doesn't think it's impossible and he has additional specs for us."
"I didn't notice any specs when he came aboard," Avon returned, frowning. Then he corrected himself. "Of course. He has a photographic memory. That should prove useful. It will prove better with specs than it will with surgical procedures since he is not a medical doctor."
"Any information it gives us will put us that much further ahead," Blake argued. "I've had Orac going through the base files and it's come up with two possible candidates for the mindship brain, both male pilots, both so gravely injured they would be on complete life support for the rest of their lives."
"Some might prefer the freedom Jabberwocky has to that kind of existence," Avon suggested, considering it thoughtfully. He was the one who had found a way to help Jabberwocky achieve peace with himself by reminding him of all he had left. It was not an existence Blake would envy, but how much better than a life in stasis or even total support?
"You're right, Avon," agreed the mindship. "I've had Orac go through the base medical files and those two candidates are such that they cannot be healed, even with the use of cybernetics. When the time comes, it can be put to them, perhaps by Perren, who might handle it best."
"Perren?" Avon echoed in surprise. "That frivolous, impudent-"
"Gifted psychologist," Jabberwocky cut in. "Don't hold it against him that Kyl likes him so much." Avon masked his affronted glare before Blake could respond to it. "Without his input I should not like to see it even attempted, knowing how difficult the adjustment is," the mindship continued. "Avon, should you overcome your suspicion of him, you might find him an able partner in your healing. He might sound frivolous and cocky, but he's a very loyal friend and an intelligent man."
Avon grimaced at the very idea of working with him, especially with regard to his healing.
"I think we can trust him and the others," Blake said. "The loyalty those three have to each other is a sign of their ability to be trusted. Jabberwocky vouches for them - and I'd trust the men I've linked with in any endeavour. You would, too, Avon, and don't deny it."
"Trust is often overrated. I might trust their intentions but I am reluctant to offer any individual complete trust."
"Any individual?" Blake asked, disappointed, though he expected a qualifier. Avon didn't disappoint him, either.
"Well now, apart from you and Cally," he conceded as if Blake should have known it all along. "And perhaps Vila. Hugh..." He stopped abruptly. "One day soon, I shall no longer know myself, Blake. You have much to answer for."
"I know I do. I'm a terrible influence upon you." Blake clapped him affectionately on the shoulder and rose, pleased when Avon didn't stiffen away from the touch as he once would have done. "Come on, let's find the others and visit the shipyard. Think what we'll have to report when we go home."
Avon was slowly learning he could trust people, but he was right when he said it could not always be universal. Sometimes betrayals were involuntary, done in total innocence.
Dayna and Tanz were strolling through the marketplace, always the centre of activity in any spaceport, a general gathering area where goods could be bought and sold, spacers could meet other spacers, meals and entertainment could be provided and good fun could be had.
Dayna and Tanz ate a healthy meal - Dayna could take food and receive sensory input from it, though she did not require it to survive. She seldom ate on shipboard but she did now, simply as a social occasion. The two of them laughed a lot. Dayna felt carefree, almost innocent again, the way she had been before her life on Sarran had ended, before her body had died, before everything had changed. With Tanz beside her, she was confident that she had as much right to enjoy 'life' as anyone else, and she meant to do just that.
It was the second day of their visit to Murray's World. Last night, she, Tanz, Perren, Edge, Hugh, Soolin and Vila had gone to a cabaret and enjoyed themselves immensely. Vila had met a local woman and fallen immediately and cheerfully in love. Soolin and Perren had circled each other warily, not quite sure how to take the other, interested but cautious, and finally they had vanished together. Edge only smiled knowingly and talked medicine with Hugh, who shook himself out of amusement at the antics of his shipmates and listened for all he was worth to the techniques employed in the brain connection in the mindship.
This morning Perren and Soolin were fairly cool to each other, but still interested, warmer than before. Dayna thought it was funny, watching Soolin snap at the brown-haired man as he teased her. He teased everyone he liked with equal good humour, but Soolin had not yet realized that. Teasing did not come any easier to her than it did to Avon, though Avon had had Vila to initiate him into the sport. Though Dayna doubted anything serious or permanent would come of the encounter between Soolin and Perren, she thought the cocky young psych tech would be good for her friend. He was spending time with Kyl this morning, which had thrilled the red-haired boy and irritated Avon, who wasn't used to jealousy where his son was concerned.
Tanz had started to tell a long, involved story about a trick Perren had played their dorm fellows in school, and Dayna chuckled helplessly at the psych tech's early stunts. It was plain from the way he talked that Tanz loved his friends very much. Dayna understood. On Sarran, with only her father and Lauren for companionship she had developed closer, deeper relationships with either than she would have done in a more populous society. Maybe that was why she and Tanz could understand each other so well. Both had come from small, self-enclosed groups, but each had emerged from it as a different type: Tanz was eager to face the universe, delighted with its possibilities, while Dayna knew it a dangerous place and believed many of its possibilities were negative ones. Maybe they balanced each other. Maybe that was why they were so unexpectedly companionable.
She was so caught up in the warmth of companionship and her first real love that she lowered her guard. Tanz was much more fascinating than the planet around her and it was a friendly planet, loyal to the rebellion, not as likely to hold the dangers she was accustomed to facing. With her hand clasped in Tanz's, Dayna forgot everything but the moment's reality until it was too late.
"So, Dayna, I should have known you would cause me trouble. But then you always have."
At the first words in that familiar voice, Dayna went rigid, feeling Tanz's fingers tighten around hers in shocked surprise.
"Servalan!" The two spun to face her, never losing hold of each other, both of them wide eyed at the shock, Tanz because he had believed himself free of it and Dayna angry at herself for lowering her guard.
The space commander was not in uniform. Here on a rebel world it would have been impossible. Her hair had grown into a mass of tumbled curls and she wore a long tunic over a divided skirt like many of the natives did. Behind her were two bland-faced men, not mutoids which would have been impossible to carry off here, but probably officers who worked under her. Both were armed with Federation hand blasters and their weapons were pointed at Tanz and Dayna. If Servalan was disconcerted to be identified by name she gave no sign of it. Dayna wasn't surprised. She was the type who could inspire personal loyalty, if not through affection, then through the desire to gain power, and through fear.
"What are you doing here?" Dayna demanded. "If anyone finds out who you are, you'll be in trouble." She glanced around, noticing her surroundings for the first time. She and Tanz had walked unheeding of their destination and their steps had led them to a wide street, nearly deserted, where tall trees grew in a centre divider. No one was within earshot and the people in the distance were paying them no attention.
"I have come for him," she replied, pointing at Tanz. "I could always find him and his friends, but while they were safe on Sarran they offered me no concern - at least not until I learned you still lived."
"Because if you thought me dead you believed we would never go to Sarran," Dayna said knowingly. "The last thing you wanted was to get Jabberwocky together with Tanz, Perren and Edge. It would give us too great an advantage. Well, you're too late, Servalan. We are together."
"But how did you know I was here?" Tanz blurted out in blank surprise. "We weren't followed from Sarran."
"That was unnecessary. Do you think I would have left you there totally unguarded? Suppose a ship came? You would vanish and I could not find you. I could not allow that risk, so naturally I took precautions."
"What precautions?" Dayna demanded, wondering for an insane instant if one of Tanz's friends could have betrayed him. She knew the idea was impossible as soon as she had formulated it. Between those three there could be no betrayal.
"It hardly matters that you know now, since you have become my prisoners," Servalan purred smoothly. "We implanted a long-range signalling device beneath the skin of each of your shoulders while you were our prisoners," she told the engineer. "The devices are shielded to resist scans so unless its presence is known it cannot be detected. It sends a pulse I can pick up with this." She displayed a small receiver set with a miniature screen. As they watched, a yellow light blipped once, twice, a third time. Below it, a grid read off coordinates.
"Oh no," mourned Tanz miserably, his face white with distress. "This is all my fault. I've led them right to you, Dayna. I'm sorry."
"We thought we were safe," she reminded him. "Avon even insisted on those scans we ran and we didn't detect anything. How could it be your fault? It's always her fault."
Nor did it have to stay a tragedy. Dayna promptly switched over to the correct mode in her mind and sent Orac a message through her tarial cells, describing their location and the presence of Servalan on the planet. Calmly she asked, "How did you land here? Under an assumed name, I would guess. Have you seen Jabberwocky?"
"I know where your ship is. Mine is nearby." Servalan smiled coolly. "It is fortunate that I should find the two of you together. Two separate hostages, one for each group. For you, Blake will not hesitate to surrender the mindship."
"Blake won't do any such thing and even if he wanted to, Avon would never allow it," Dayna snapped. "Did he surrender it when you had Blake and his son? No. We'll defeat you, just like we always do."
Servalan's eyes narrowed dangerously. "On the other hand, one hostage might be sufficient. You appear quite fond of this one, Dayna." Servalan smiled. "He is useful, of course, but with Avon and with Edge, I can do so much more." She made a throwaway gesture with her hand. "Kill him."
"NO!" Dayna acted so quickly she was sure she had always known what Servalan intended. Her gun sprang into her hand faster than any human draw - no wonder Vinni had been so fast at the Teal-Vandor Convention. The guards had no chance to stop her. Even as Servalan produced her own gun, the troopers were already falling.
Fast as she was, Dayna was not fast enough to stop all three of them. Servalan's gun swung around to Tanz even as Dayna continued the movement she had begun as she started firing. Her gun levelled at Servalan even as Servalan fired at Tanz, but by then Dayna's movement had carried her in front of the engineer. Servalan cried out and fell, allowing Dayna one second of triumph before Servalan's blast struck her full in the chest. She heard Tanz scream, "Dayna! NO!" in horrified denial, then she pitched over backwards and everything ended.
Tanz snatched up Dayna's gun dumbly and aimed it at the fallen Servalan, who lay in her own blood, unmoving. She was not a threat. Kicking her gun away from her out-flung hand, Tanz bent over Dayna, automatically feeling for a pulse before he cursed himself in impatience and fumbled open her tunic to survey the damage.
Dayna's body was the best money could buy, but a blast at such close range had ruptured the synth skin and disrupted the circuitry beneath it. He didn't know if it could be repaired or replaced without damaging the programs that held her essence, and for a minute he sat there gazing at the twisted plastex and metal that had emerged from the flesh he had stroked so lovingly only last night. Shudders racked him and he damned himself for bringing this upon her. She had flung herself into the blast to save him and now she lay here, no evidence of power in her circuits, no trace of life in her body.
"It's my fault," he breathed. "Oh, Dayna, it's all my fault."
With shaking fingers he closed up her tunic, then he picked her up in his arms and started for Jabberwocky.
He was halfway there when the others arrived in a bunch, led by Tarrant and Perren, Avon hot on their heels. Blake, Soolin and Jenna were not present, but Edge was there, his face pale with shock. Tanz registered their advance with numbed eyes, but he didn't stop his determined plodding toward the ship.
"What have you done to her?" Tarrant shouted, trying to snatch her from his arms. He held her tighter.
"She jumped between me and Servalan's gun," he said miserably. "Oh, Perren, Servalan planted locator transponders on us all. They're shielded so scans won't pick them up. That's how she knew where we were. She was going to hold us hostage." Perren dropped a comforting hand on his shoulder, and Edge fell in on his other side.
"Where is she?" Avon demanded in a voice full of ice. Tanz hadn't realized he could look so white and stricken, but suddenly he remembered that Dayna had said he had been trying to heal her when she had died. This must have reminded him of that other incident. Sensitive to his mood as always, Cally slid her arm around Avon's waist and leaned against him.
"Dayna shot her," Tanz replied. "I left her lying in her blood." He shuddered. "We've got to get back to the ship. You can repair her, can't you? You have to repair her." He stared down at the slack face and his body quivered with reaction.
"We can try," Edge offered. "Avon and I between us, with Orac and Jabberwocky to help? Of course we can repair her." He shot a helpless look at Avon who was clenching his teeth so tightly his jaw muscles had whitened.
"I'll take her," Tarrant insisted. His face was as white as Avon's. He reached out but Hugh touched his arm to stop him and shook his head.
Tarrant made an impatient sound, but he looked so miserable Tanz could not find it in himself to resent the pilot's attitude.
"How did you know?" he asked instead as they returned to Jabberwocky. "Dayna - Dayna said she couldn't link well."
"She can link with Orac," Cally said gently.
"Tarial cells," Edge explained in an undertone.
"She warned us Servalan was here," Cally continued quickly. She stayed close to Avon as they walked. "Blake, Soolin and Jenna went to find her ship and report her presence to the city government. They don't want Federation people here. The ship will be seized. We'll report what Servalan attempted. Someone will have found her by now. Was she dead?"
Tanz was startled. "I - I don't know. She lost a lot of blood. I didn't check." Avon made an impatient sound but Cally squeezed his arm and he bit back his angry words.
"Someone must check," he insisted. "Tarrant, if you would? Orac will give Jabberwocky the location."
Tarrant plainly didn't want to go, but he would be of no use in the upcoming repairs. He nodded to Vila, who had been speechless since seeing Dayna, and the two of them hurried away.
Blake was waiting when the others returned to the ship, Tanz still carrying Dayna. The boy stiffened in alarm at the sight of her. Avon pushed past Blake, pausing only briefly to drop a hand on his son's shoulder, then he strode onto the ship followed by Edge, Tanz with Dayna in his arms, and Perren. Hugh shook his head, muttered, "I'll see about removing those transponders," and followed.
Cally paused beside Blake. "Servalan shot her, Blake. She may have killed Servalan. We don't know yet."
"We found her ship," Blake reported. "Amisport officials have impounded it and her crew has been arrested as spies since they turned out to be Federation officers out of uniform. Even if she escapes she will have nowhere to go. What about Dayna? Is she-?"
"Dead?" Cally shook her head, flashing a concerned glance at Kyl, whose face was stark in alarm. "I'm not sure, Blake. Edge feels he and Avon can repair her with help from Orac and Jabberwocky."
"Maybe I can help," Kyl volunteered. "I'm good with computers, after all. Should I go, Blake?"
"Leave it to them," the rebel said gently, putting a fatherly arm around his shoulders. "Your father knows what he is doing and Edge is gifted, too. What was that about transponders, Cally?"
As the three of them boarded the ship, Cally explained how Servalan had found them. "I think Tanz blames himself for it, though he couldn't have known. He loves Dayna. He is taking it very hard."
Blake remembered the stricken man's face as he had carried her onto the ship. "What can I do to help?" he asked.
"Wait with us," she replied. "Be here for Avon when it's over. I could feel him withdrawing from me the minute he saw her. The only betrayal left to us is to die. He once told me it was the thing he found the hardest to contemplate, the one reason he could still give for holding himself aloof from us."
Kyl shivered. "I want to go to him."
Blake knew it wouldn't help Avon in the slightest to have his son there. Much as Avon loved the boy he was still not entirely comfortable with him, especially in situations full of emotion. Blake would have liked to send Kyl to the flight deck or even his cabin, but Kyl was sixteen, old enough to understand the situation. "We'll all go but we'll stay out of his way," he said. Then, turning to Cally he spoke thoughtfully. "It's not a betrayal, Cally."
"The end result is the same."
They headed for the medical unit. Everyone had gathered there. Avon and Edge were bent over Dayna, her tunic removed to expose the damaged equipment. Already leads were attached, running from her body to Orac who was blinking away furiously. A reading appeared on the diagnostic screen above the bed, magnifying the damaged circuit boards and chips.
On the other bed Tanz lay, his body rigid with tension while Hugh ran a scanner across his right shoulder, pausing periodically to fine-tune the instrument. Suddenly he snapped his fingers, reached out to palpate the skin carefully. "It's here. This will be simple." He adjusted a probe. "You'll feel a slight sting when I do this but the probe will anesthetize the surrounding tissue when it enters."
"Just do it," Tanz urged.
The process took several minutes, then Hugh displayed a small, egg-shaped device no bigger than his little fingernail. For need of something to do Kyl went and peered over Hugh's shoulder at it. Blake wondered when he had grown tall enough to do so.
"Interesting device," muttered the doctor. "Well shielded. Avon will like it." Reminded of Avon, he shot a worried glance at the other table, then he sprayed Tanz's shoulder with synth flesh and gestured at him to put his shirt on again. When the auburn-haired man had risen and gone to stand at the foot of Dayna's bed, Hugh beckoned Perren to take his place.
The psych tech patted Tanz's other shoulder sympathetically and went to have his locator removed, peeling off his shirt. Hugh did it smoothly and Perren popped up again, accepting his shirt from Kyl, who had held it for him like a squire holding his knight's equipment before a battle.
"I'll do Edge when he's finished," said Hugh to no one in particular and went to offer his help to the other two. Perren looked at Tanz, who was staring with frozen attention at the operation, then slung his arm momentarily around Kyl's shoulders. The boy smiled at him but it didn't touch the desolation in his eyes.
Abruptly Soolin pulled up a chair and offered it to Tanz, who stared at it blankly, only sitting down when Perren edged him into the chair. Jenna, her face serious, said, "Someone should be watching the flight deck since Jabberwocky's busy," and went to do it.
After that it was merely a question of time. Avon did the delicate work with a variety of laser probes while Edge removed damaged circuit boards, called up stores for replacements and handled modifications whenever they were called for. Blake watched Avon, unable to take his eyes from the computer tech. As they worked, Avon's rigid shoulders eased slightly and Blake guessed he had some confidence of success.
"Will she be all right?" Tanz ventured in a small voice.
Avon didn't turn in his direction. He was too caught up in his work. It was Jabberwocky who answered. "She can be restored. At this point it is not possible to tell if there will be memory dropout. We can restore everything we started with and additional information since, but if there has been a memory dropout it will be the most recent things that will be lost."
Tanz flinched. "You mean she may have forgotten me?" he breathed.
Perren moved away from Kyl like a shot and slung his arm around his friend's shoulders. "I think you'd be hard to forget, pal," he said as reassuringly as possible.
It was no answer and all of them knew it. Kyl bit his bottom lip and shifted closer to Cally, who turned briefly and offered him a gentle smile.
Tarrant and Vila arrived then, entering quietly so as not to disturb any delicate work in progress. Tarrant slid around to Blake, leaving Vila to fetch up at the foot of the bed, his eyes wide and worried. "I hate to break it to you, Blake," the pilot said in a frustrated voice, "but Servalan wasn't there. It needn't mean she's alive," he added hastily. "Only that she had been picked up and taken to hospital. We left Jenna checking it out."
Vila stared at Dayna. He didn't ask a single question, his eyes moving from Dayna's face to Avon's and back again. After a minute he turned aside and sat down on the other bed. Cally went to stand beside him and spoke to him in an undertone, and Kyl, who evidently needed physical contact, sat beside Vila and leaned a little against his shoulder.
Tarrant hesitated, then he went over to Tanz, dropping down on one knee to be at a level with him. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I jumped on you before and I know it wasn't your fault. I was jealous and ready to blame you for anything."
Tanz glanced up in surprise at being addressed by Tarrant, then he smiled faintly. "You couldn't know. You care about her too. I've always known that and so has she. I could never come between you and Dayna in your friendship."
"I couldn't take the risk though," Tarrant admitted. "I couldn't go any further with it. I hurt her."
"She understood. It was different for me, though. I didn't think there was a risk." He accepted the hand that Tarrant offered then turned back to his scrutiny of the still form on the bed.
"There is always a risk," said Avon in a cool voice, "though perhaps less this time." He straightened, flexing his fingers, then he made one final adjustment before replacing the skin covering and fastening her tunic across her breast. Kyl leaned forward, his father's tone encouraging hope. On the bed, Dayna's eyes flickered open and she stared around, recognizing her surroundings, identifying people. "Avon?"
"Dayna. You know me?"
Her eyes widened. "Of course I know you. And I know Hugh and Vila and Edge and-" She stopped, sitting up abruptly, her face filling with relief. "Tanz!"
The young engineer shoved his way to the bed, his face aglow with relief. "I'm all right, Dayna. Do you - do you remember..." He wrapped his arms around her in delight.
Tarrant shook his head, conceding the point. "I can see I'm going to have to work on my timing," he remarked wryly to the room at large. Then everyone moved forward to greet Dayna and welcome her back.
Blake abruptly found Avon at his side. The computer tech sat down in Tanz's abandoned chair and regarded Blake with a solemn expression on his face. "I told Dayna once that in trusting the lot of you I was exposing myself to an intolerable risk," he said in flat tones, though his eyes, when they lingered on the bed, held quiet relief.
"What risk, Avon?" asked Blake, though he was certain he knew the answer already.
"That one of you will die. There was a time I would have walked out that door the moment the job was finished and not returned. Now it appears I have learned sentiment. It binds me to the lot of you, irritating as you are. I will not thank you for it, Blake."
"It's all right, Avon. You did it. You brought her back."
Avon met his eyes and allowed Blake to see the pain that was fading from their shadowed depths. "And the next time?" he asked as if he already knew the answer.
"If it happens, Avon, we bear it together. That's the only way to survive pain in this world, with the knowledge that there are people who love us and who'll be there when we need them."
"Sentiment is weakness, Blake," Avon said in the tones of one who has made the point so often he is merely going through the motions.
"No, Avon. Sometimes it's strength." He gestured across the room where everyone gathered happily around Dayna, who sat smiling, leaning against Tanz's shoulder in companionable contentment. "Look at her," Blake continued, happiness warming his entire body. "She's found herself. She's all right."
Avon didn't misunderstand. "I rather think Mr. Enthusiasm helped her in that regard," he remarked, nodding at the young engineer.
"Then I'm grateful for it. I'm going to ask them to join the crew, Avon. Have you any objections?"
Avon looked at the three men. Tanz with his arm around Dayna's waist, and the other two, who stood near him offering moral support, Perren with a friendly elbow propped on Kyl's shoulder. The boy seemed glad to have it there. "I suppose I can endure it," Avon remarked. "Edge has many useful skills, Tanz is a design expert who might be able to support you, and I'm told Perren has some use though I'm at a loss to understand what it is."
Perren heard him and turned, his green eyes sparkling with amusement. "Then I'll tell you, Avon," he announced in a delighted voice. "I'm the one who is going to humanize you. You've made a good start but there's a long way to go." He shook his head sententiously. "A long way to go. Of course you produced this excellent specimen," he added, ruffling Kyl's hair, "so that must count for something."
"Don't push your luck," Avon returned, shaking his head ominously. Kyl flashed his father a cheeky grin.
"You got it," replied Perren with a cheeky grin. "Never mind, Avon. I'll enjoy it."
Blake realized he was enjoying himself completely. He raised his voice. "Now we have one thing left to do. Edge still has his transponder to be removed and we must find out about Servalan. If she's alive maybe we can have them imprison her here and never have to face her again."
"We can hope," Soolin said. "I'd as soon make sure she's finished."
"And now Blake will insist we can't finish her in cold blood," Avon said in a long suffering voice as Hugh applied the probe to Edge's shoulder and removed the final transponder.
"We're not vigilantes," Blake replied. "I'd rather beat her honestly, develop more mindships, negotiate. If we can get that far, more worlds will come around to our way of thinking." He was in full cry now, brimming with enthusiasm. Avon was coming around, willing to stay with them no matter the crisis, they had new crew who looked like they would be helpful, not to mention good companions. Dayna was finally at peace with herself, and Servalan's threat was neutralized, at least for the moment. "I think we should start home to Ryalon," he declared, smiling around at his crew and his friends. "The future is going to be interesting."
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