Jabberwocky - part 1 - Link-upBy Sheila Paulson
The troopers surrounded Avon as he straddled Blake's body. Protectively? Now that Blake was dead at his hand, by his error, was he trying to protect him as he had often done in life? He raised his gun and he smiled. Then everybody fired at once. Avon dropped, hit by a dozen shots.
She screamed, sat bolt upright in bed, and went on screaming.
There were comforting voices at once, hands easing her back against the pillow, and several of the voices were familiar, but she was too weak, and she let them soothe her back into sleep. Avon's voice was not one of them, but that was right; Avon was dead. Blake had died at his hand and then Avon had forced the troopers to kill him. An elaborate suicide, perhaps, or had he simply run out of options? There are limits, times when a person no longer has the strength to fight. From the look on Avon's face as he stared down at Blake's body, he had reached his limits a long time ago. He'd been going on by momentum alone, like a dead man looking for a place to fall down. Tears leaked from behind her closed eyelids and she cried for Avon, who would never thank her for it, for Blake who had dared to try so much, who had discovered that caring and trying led only betrayal and death, for the others, caught up in something they had never quite understood. Poor Vila, he'd been as trapped as any of them. Perhaps more than any of the others, he had let himself care for Avon in a safe, undemanding way, only to have Avon turn on him over Malodar. Maybe Vila could have done more for Avon than he had, but Avon would never have let him try, and Vila had known that. After Terminal, he had simply let himself go with the flow, no longer able to guide his destiny.
Then there was Tarrant. She wasn't sure why Tarrant had stayed, particularly after the loss of the Liberator. Maybe Dorian had been right, that their experiences had made them a part of each other. Maybe there had been simply nowhere else to go.
Dayna might have felt some loyalty to Avon, but it seemed her desire for Servalan's death had driven her more than her friendship with the crew of Scorpio. As for Soolin - well, when there is nothing left to strive for, one place is as good as another. Soolin was little more than a cipher to her, and she felt no understanding or companionship toward her.
Avon had seemed, if not less sane, certainly less pleasant as time passed. His choices might have been appropriate, but the results were all so appallingly negative. It would be no wonder if he had indeed become mad by the end. Certainly he had been teetering on the brink when he had confronted Blake in that control room on Gauda Prime. "Have you betrayed me?" Her heart bled for that desperate entreaty, and though Blake had muffed it, Avon would have turned aside at the slightest reassurance. There had been no reassurance, no margin for error, and now they were all dead.
Or were they? The voices that comforted her as she tossed and turned restlessly were familiar voices. She was cared for far too tenderly to be attended by strangers, too gently to be a prisoner. It made no sense to her, but gradually she began to be curious.
The final scene played itself over and over in her head like a merciless tape loop, and she shivered away from it, finally breaking free of it, opening her eyes to a bare, white ceiling. Too weak to call for assistance, her eyes traced the weld lines, and she counted the bolts there waiting.
"She's awake!" Elation filling his voice, Vila scampered over to the bed and peered down at her. Vila? But Vila was dead. She had seen him fall. Frowning, she studied his face; it was tired and there might be a new line or two, but his eyes were unshadowed, and he looked delighted to see her. "Cally? Don't try to move yet. Wait till the surgeon comes."
Vila was dead. No, that wasn't right. She was dead. She had felt the explosions rock the building, had screamed Blake's name inside her head as she died. If she were alive and Vila was here, had he escaped from Gauda Prime and come to find her? Or - thoroughly perplexed, she shook her head, wincing at the pain the unwary movement caused her, and tried to find her voice. "Vila? Where...?"
"It's a long story, Cally," said Vila quickly. "And Avon'll have my hide if I make you too tired. We're all safe. We're off Terminal, and you'll be all right. There's nothing to worry about, at least nothing more than usual. Avon's still glooming around. I think he knows it's his fault, but you know what Avon's like. He'll never admit it. Tarrant keeps rubbing it in too. I think Tarrant was maddest about Terminal. He always is, isn't he?
Terminal? But what of the time and events since then? Cally closed her eyes again. "Vila." Her voice was barely audible. "Avon. I must see him."
"Not yet, Cally. You're not well enough for visitors."
She struggled to reinforce her insistence with a mental command. //Vila, please. I must see Avon.// But Vila did not respond. He gave no sign that he was aware of any telepathic contact. //Vila// She tried desperately, and her head began to hurt with a great, vicious pain that brought unwilling tears to her eyes and stark terror to her heart. Had she lost her telepathy?
Either something got through after all or Vila guessed what she was thinking, for he said quickly, "Cally, it's all right. You're not to try to use your telepathy yet or even to talk much. You've been very sick. It'll come right, the surgeon says it will come right, and he should know, but not quite yet. It will take time."
She lay there staring at him, feeling a vast and echoing emptiness inside where once a part of her being had lived. If she had lost her telepathy, her very essence was gone. She had come to accept life among non-telepaths, though the loneliness had almost killed her at first, but this was even more basic, more unacceptable. Could she even live without telepathy? Vila's insistence that it would come back was well meant, but how could he know? He was a Human, he wouldn't understand how it felt to be so alone. If this was what humans lived with, this blank, echoing wall within their heads, how could they survive? How could anyone survive this? She felt less than a whole person, some weak, diminished creature. Even more than her five senses, Cally's telepathy had been a part of her basic make up. Frightened, desperate, she tried again. //Vila, hear me.//
The pain was suddenly everywhere, bathing her nerve endings in white hot light. She cried out. Then, because it was easier than the pain and the utter aloneness of being trapped silent inside her being, she fainted.
"Avon, she woke up! Cally woke up!"
Avon had been hard at work with a laser probe on the main drive controls, assisted by Tarrant, with Dayna running a weapons check on their unfamiliar vessel when Vila came bursting onto the flight deck, shouting. The three of them spun to stare at him, and Avon fumbled the probe and dropped it.
"Vila, I would be grateful if you would stop galloping about the ship and shouting," he barked at him.
Tarrant looked at Avon without surprise. The computer expert had been remarkably short tempered these past three weeks. None of them had been a delight to live with, but Avon had been the worst, probably, thought Tarrant cynically, because his fault was the greatest. He wasn't sure if Avon felt guilty about Terminal or not, but if Avon hadn't led them there, Liberator would still be intact and Cally wouldn't have been lying near death all these weeks. True, the surgeon that they'd kidnapped from a neutral world and forced to care for her said that he thought Cally would recover completely, but as the days passed with no sign of it, Avon became even more short tempered than Tarrant would have believed possible. He didn't think Avon had managed more than two hours of sleep at a stretch since they'd escaped from Terminal.
Now Avon retrieved the laser probe and said to Vila, "You've summoned the surgeon?"
"Tiver's with her now," Vila agreed. "He thinks it's good she woke up. She knew me, Avon and she wanted to see you. Tiver says not yet, but soon."
"Then she's going to be all right?" That was Dayna, her voice eager. She had missed Cally and, with Vila, would most openly mourn her if she had died.
"I don't know," Vila admitted. "She tried to send to me with her telepathy, and she couldn't. It scared her. More than I'm ever scared, that is," he added in a little voice. "If she can't use her telepathy any more, I don't think she'll be all right, even if she is."
"Remarkably succinct," Avon retorted. "I'll speak with Tiver myself. If nothing else, the man can give a clearer report than you can, Vila." He strode off the flight deck without a backward look, and Vila stared after him, a knowing expression on his face.
"It's about time he went to see her," Dayna said quietly.
"He couldn't go before." Tarrant surprised himself with his awareness. "He knew she was hurt because of him. Even Avon's capable of feeling guilty when he does something wrong, though he isn't often willing to admit making a mistake."
"He did it before though," Vila announced. "One time he got Blake into trouble by sending a message to Space Command Headquarters that Travis was on a planet. When Blake went down, Avon knew he could be heading into trouble, and he went down himself to try to make it up. None of us knew what was going on at first, but Cally guessed." He grinned. "He's been worried about her. Old, cold-hearted Avon has been worried. But you know him. He wouldn't admit it under torture."
Tarrant frowned. Avon pointing a gun at him still rankled, coming at a time when he'd felt he was finally beginning to get on better terms with him. Avon's entire management of the Terminal incident had been less than glowing, but Tarrant realised that Avon had been desperate to find Blake and it gave him a new insight into Avon's character. Though Avon might discuss Blake's idealism, with scorn, at the first hint of Blake he went charging into danger, dragging the rest of them with him willy nilly. At least this time, Avon had been willing to face the danger alone, though Tarrant couldn't help thinking sourly that the false Blake's promise of great wealth might have had something to do with it. Then he shook his head. No. Avon might have used that as his excuse, but he didn't think it was true. Avon always made excuses if he feared they would misjudge him and suspect him of altruistic motives. He had to have a good, opportunistic reason for everything he did, and once he found one, he would then be free to be altruistic, firmly convinced that no one would suspect. That didn't mean he wasn't an unpleasant and arrogant bastard ninety-five percent of the time, but he could be something more. He had been genuinely worried about Cally. Tarrant still remembered the look on Avon's face when he'd carried Cally's body from the rubble of Terminal base, his face as pale as hers and only marginally more alive.
If only Avon and Dayna had discovered the booby trap on Servalan's ship sooner, they might have got a warning to the others, but Avon had disarmed it only just in time. Tarrant wondered if Avon blamed himself for the delay in warning them which had given the other charges enough time to go off. But Avon would have seen the practicality of saving their only means of transportation off Terminal and would have abandoned it only if it was too late to prevent the blast. If Cally had been uninjured, Avon would have accused them of stupidity for failing to discover the explosives on their own. But Cally had been badly hurt, had almost died, so Avon had been silent about it. Injured himself, Tarrant had revived in time to see Avon bring Cally from the ruins, risking his own life to go in after her. He had gone back a second time for Orac, leaving the others to care for Cally, and since then, though it had been his idea to kidnap Hugh Tiver, he had not been to Cally's cabin once.
The ship Servalan had left behind, suitably booby trapped, was useless in a fight, so once they had snatched Tiver, they had gone to ground on a deserted world, waiting for the search for them to die down. Servalan had planned the Terminal scheme in great detail, but she hadn't spread the word about it, and the little Orac had been able to pick up reported no mention of her, the Liberator, or Blake. Of course Servalan had claimed Blake was dead, but Tarrant knew better than to believe her. Blake might indeed be dead, but he could just as easily be alive.
Servalan must be dead though. She had been on board Liberator and Liberator was gone. Odd to think that he would never see the Liberator again, never give commands to Zen. Once, on the way here, he had automatically given the command, "Zen, standard by six," and the others had looked up at him with varying degrees of annoyance and upset. Surprisingly, Vila, had turned on him. "Shut up, Tarrant," he had said savagely and stalked off the flight deck without another word.
"What's got into him?" Tarrant was defensive.
"It wasn't easy, watching Zen die," said Dayna quietly, her face turned to her instruments.
"It was just habit," Tarrant had defended himself.
And Avon, who might have mocked them all for sentiment over the loss of Zen, whom he would have considered simply a machine, was silent, his face unreadable. Tarrant wondered if Avon might, in his own way, miss Zen more than any of them.
But there was nothing to be done about it now. Tarrant heaved a sigh and turned back to Vila. "Do you think Cally will be all right?"
Vila looked surprised, as if the thought of Tarrant asking his opinion was something different, which it was. "I don't know," he replied at length, sitting down at the pilot's position and running his fingers lightly over the instruments. "If she loses her telepathy, I don't think she will be. She looked really odd when she opened her eyes and saw me - like I was the last person she expected to see."
"Probably she thought you'd finally run," Tarrant said unkindly.
"We've all run, then, Tarrant, "Vila reminded him. "What's this if not a bolt hole?"
"It's only until we decide what to do next. We can't take on the Federation with an obsolete, broken down ship."
"Where're we going to get another ship then?" Vila asked. "Just waltz into a Federation base, and steal one?" He looked up from the instruments. "It won't be the same without Liberator, Tarrant. It was bad enough when Blake and Jenna left, but now we don't even have a ship, and Cally still might die. And I don't know about Avon, if it's true that Blake's dead and if Cally isn't all right." He was silent a long time, and neither Tarrant nor Dayna had anything to say to comfort him.
Finally Dayna said, "At least Cally's awake."
"That's not the same as all right," said Vila with certainty. He got up again and wandered out.
Tarrant turned to find Dayna looking at him expectantly. "Well?" he snapped.
"I don't know, Tarrant. But you'll have to do something." She picked up Avon's abandoned laser probe and handed it to him. "At least you can get the drive back together." She walked out too, and Tarrant looked after her, feeling more alone than he had since he had joined the crew of the Liberator. They'd fought before, he and Avon had jockeyed for position, he had picked on Vila and none of them had been openly supportive of each other, but Tarrant suddenly realised that they had been a team anyway. They could work together when they had to, and they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses. When the chips were down, they backed each other, rather, thought Tarrant with a wry smile, like squabbling siblings who never got along until someone else entered the fray when they became united.
But it wasn't like that any more. He didn't know if it was the Liberator that had bound them or if it had been Cally, but the way things stood now, if the Federation happened along, Tarrant wouldn't give a bent credit for their chances.
Hugh Tiver was young for a surgeon, only a year or two past thirty. He was almost as tall as Tarrant, with curly brown hair and blue eyes, but the resemblance ended there. Hugh was at times vulnerable, at times bitter over the Federation's treatment of both him and his planet. He'd gone to the Federation Space Academy like Tarrant, hoping to become a pilot, but the Federation had singled him out because of his exceptionally high science scores on the entrance exams and had made a surgeon out of him against his will. Finally, after he'd had time to learn to love his work they'd sent him home to Dayson Prime to help initiate a pacification program on his homeworld. Until then, suppressants had not been used there and the thought that he would be the one to bring them to his world was enough to turn Hugh completely against the Federation.
One man alone didn't have a lot of options; though Hugh had done what little he could to delay and foul up the programme. He knew if he came out in the open about what he was doing, he would be replaced by someone with no scruples who took his work to heart, so he ran a programme that gave the appearance of 'gremlins' in the works. Everything went wrong; the suppressant mixture failed, it vanished, it reappeared diluted, it worked on a hit and miss basis. Hugh turned in endless reports, requests for backup, military support, additional supplies, flooding headquarters in a sea of paper. He cultivated the reputation of being something of a fool, mildly incompetent and thoroughly unlucky but no great threat. It was a fine line to walk, and he fully expected to fall from his tightrope one day.
In the meantime, he consoled himself with the thought that he was buying time for the Dayson Prime rebel movement to gain strength. A stranger coming in to implement the programme would never have taken so long, and the rebel movement would have been doomed for lack of time. But Hugh worked on, never knowing if the rebels realised what he was doing for them or not. More likely they thought he was an ass, somebody they could use for their own purposes. They never approached him directly.
When rebels did finally approach him, they were from off-planet. Hugh was working late, programming the computer to add an agent to the latest batch that would render it impotent when suddenly a voice said over his shoulder, "It won't work."
He let out a yelp and jumped a foot, spinning around wildly. Two men stood behind him, though the door had been locked and bolted; one of them dark and grim-looking with a stony countenance and expressionless dark eyes, the other seeming shorter and more uneasy. Hugh didn't think he had seen either of them before around headquarters, but for all that, they looked slightly familiar. It was the grim man who had spoken.
"Don't do that!" Hugh shot at him. "Sneaking up on a man at work. You could have given me a coronary."
"Your formula is incorrect," the man replied, unimpressed by Hugh's startlement. "As a suppressant it will be worthless."
"He was doing it on purpose, " the little man pointed out as if he had just made a brilliant deduction. "I think he meant it that way."
"Merely an error brought about by fatigue," said Hugh haughtily, for though neither man wore a Federation uniform, they could be spies, sent here to check on him to see if his string of 'bad luck' was in fact a shrewd attempt to overthrow the system.
"What are you doing here anyway?" he demanded. "This is a restricted area."
"You are Hugh Tiver?" the dark man asked impatiently.
"You must know that, since you're here."
"We do know it. I would advise you to make no fuss. You are a surgeon, are you not? I believe you have worked with Aurons before."
"And if I have?" This was strange. Auron had been mysteriously silent for a long time, and it was only lately that word had come in that a plague had killed the entire population. Maybe the information the press had released was wrong and some Aurons had survived. If so, he knew he could help them. It would be a chance to get away from here at last. The resistance had got a good hold on Dayson Prime now and they could fight the suppressants as well as he could. Better probably because it wouldn't be long before he was replaced, for incompetence if nothing else.
He squared his shoulders. These two didn't look Federation. If they really weren't, if they'd broken in here somehow, this might be his chance. "Yes, I know Aurons," he said. "I spent part of my internship working with a small Auron settlement on Earth. Why?"
"One of our crew is an Auron," the dark man explained. "She is - badly injured. We require your help." A gun suddenly filled the man's hand. "In fact we insist upon it."
"You'll come, won't you?" the other man asked eagerly, and Hugh could sense his worry.
"How did you get in here?" he demanded.
"Does it matter?" asked the grim-faced man.
"You're not Federation, are you?"
"No, we're not," said the little man, and to his companion, "Well, he'd know that anyway. I got us in here. I'm good with locks."
"You're Vila Restal." He made the connection then. "You're Blake's people."
"Blake is dead," snapped the dark man. "Are you coming voluntarily, or do we have to stun you?"
"Voluntarily," Hugh agreed quickly. "I'm on your side."
"Is that a fact?" the dark man, Kerr Avon, Hugh realised, seemed sceptical, and his gun did not waver. "Perhaps you will not be surprised if I don't believe you." He gestured with the gun and Hugh allowed himself to be led to the door. Why not? He hadn't been controlling his own destiny lately, and though he'd made a good show of it here he knew his usefulness on Dayson Prime was at an end. With Blake's people, even temporarily, he might do some good. They weren't as he'd imagined them, of course, but then nothing ever was, and besides, they were worried about their companion. He would go with them and take whatever happened as it came.
They guided him from the room and Restal locked the door again behind them. It was late at night and guards were few and far between, and they were able to evade them easily. He was led to a ground car which took them some distance out of the city to an outdated spaceship - Hugh wondered where the mighty Liberator was and if this was a sample of their shuttles. But after they took off and Avon and a curly haired man, who was surely too young to be Blake, had set their course away from any known Federation bases, he was taken to his patient, and he realised that wherever the Liberator was, it was someplace out of reach.
The Auron woman was badly hurt. Avon had provided him with a good supply of medical equipment, surgical supplies and anything else he might need, but at his first glimpse of the monitors that read Cally's life signs he was afraid he would fail. Vila confided that she'd been in an explosion and had been buried in the rubble and that Avon had gone in and fetched her out. "She'll be all right won't she?" he had asked eagerly.
"I'm a surgeon, not a magician," Hugh had replied rather more harshly than he intended, and Vila's face fell.
Avon came in then carrying a clear box full of blinking lights. "This is Orac." he explained. "Orac will assist with the surgery."
"It's just a computer," Hugh retorted, disappointed.
"I beg your pardon," snapped the box. "I am far more than any computer you puny humans could imagine. You cannot understand me, and like all others of your kind you waste time with pointless remarks. You must begin your work immediately. Time is essential."
"Bossy, isn't he?" Vila had asked.
But Hugh had suddenly remembered hearing of a super computer that Blake had managed to steal away from under Servalan's nose. If it was as good as the reports had led him to believe, then maybe the Auron woman stood a chance after all.
The surgery took seven hours, and without the computer's assistance, he knew he could never have saved her. Even when it was over, he was not sure he had. The head injury was the worst; with Aurons, head injuries were tricky things, and sometimes, even if everything was intact, the gifts of the Auronar responded badly to physical trauma. He didn't understand telepathy; he couldn't point to a certain portion of the brain and say that it was the centre of telepathy, though there were certain points of the Auron brain that were slightly more convoluted than the human equivalent. One of these areas had been injured and a slight blood clot had begun to form, but he had removed it, and he hoped it had been soon enough to prevent any permanent damage. Her reflexes seemed normal and her extremities were responsive, so he doubted paralysis would be a threat. But the surgery had drained her dangerously, and he had spent the next twenty four hours sitting beside her bed, prepared to act instantly if the fragile spark of life faltered.
Vila, Tarrant and Dayna poked their heads in at intervals, checking on her condition, but Avon never came. When Hugh remarked upon it to Vila, who seemed willing to be friendly, the thief shook his head. "Avon isn't the type to hang about sickbeds," he explained. "Besides, he feels responsible."
"In a way." said Vila thoughtfully. "He didn't set that explosion though. That was Servalan. One more thing to hold against her." He made a face. "But we wouldn't have even been there it weren't for Avon."
"That goes with being leader," Hugh objected.
"It wasn't like that," explained Vila, and he poured out the story of the events leading up to Cally's injury in the explosion. Hugh was surprised at the confidence, but then he realised that Vila needed to tell it, so he listened, though the more he heard, the more certain he was, that Avon would be furious if he knew what Vila was saying.
"So Blake was never there?" he asked.
"No. Servalan says he's dead. But I wouldn't trust Servalan, nasty woman. She'd lie to us every chance she got. But I think Avon believes it. For a bright man, he can be stupid sometimes, can Avon."
"You like him, don't you?"
"Me? Like Avon!" Vila grimaced as if Hugh had accused him of some strange perversion. "Nobody could like Avon. He's a right bastard, he is." But something twinkled in Vila's eyes, and Hugh wasn't fooled. Maybe when you were in as much danger as these people continually were, it was safer when you didn't admit you cared. He didn't know. But he wasn't going to interfere with a working system. He wouldn't be here long enough to do that anyway.
The intercom had squawked then - it sputtered and spat like an angry cat, when it worked at all - and Tarrant's voice came through. "Tiver, we're landing. Is Cally secured?"
"Yes, Tarrant. Go ahead. I'm monitoring her carefully."
"Is Vila there? If so, send him here. It's time he did some honest work for a change."
"Honest work," Vila muttered under his breath, but he had gone without further protest, and Hugh had looked after him shaking his head before he had seen to Cally.
That had been several weeks ago, and it looked like they were going to stay right here until Cally revived. As time passed, Hugh had begun to doubt his handiwork, though Orac assured him that her condition was improving steadily.
"Will her telepathy be impaired?" he had asked Orac only yesterday.
"Unknown. You are the surgeon. What is your diagnosis?"
"I believe the impairment, if there should prove to be one, will be temporary," Hugh replied thoughtfully, but he wasn't sure if he really believed it or if it was only wishful thinking.
But now Vila had summoned him to tell him that Cally was awake, and he hurried to her bedside. When he entered, her eyes were closed, but she opened them as he approached the bed, then her brow furrowed. "I do not know you." He liked the sound of her voice, even weakened as it was, and he smiled at her reassuringly.
"No. I'm Hugh Tiver. The others picked me up on Dayson Prime. I'm your surgeon."
Her eyes focused on his face and she stared at him with painful intensity. "There is only silence inside my head," she confessed in a frightened voice.
"Yes, I know." He hooked his leg around a stool and drew it over, sitting down and taking her hand. "I think it's a temporary condition brought on by pressure and swelling. I've removed the clot that was forming, and the fact that you're alert now proves that you're well on the road to recovery. You must wait and give it time." He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "I've invested too much work in you to see it go wrong now."
"Vila said Avon was here?"
"Yes, he's on the flight deck. The ship that Servalan left for you was in very poor condition and the others have been working on it to make it a little more spaceworthy. We're on a deserted planet now, far from the space lanes, but they hope eventually to get a better ship."
"But what of Gauda Prime? I saw Avon shot down."
"I don't know anything about Gauda Prime, but if Avon's had time to go there since you left Terminal, I don't know when it could have been. It took them three days to get to Dayson Prime from there and then we came straight here. What makes you think the others were shot?"
"I saw it."
"Then it must have been a dream."
"No, it was real, real."
"Were you there?" he asked.
"No, I was dead. But it was real, a vision of what will happen."
"Cally, Cally, you're worrying about nothing." He lifted her hand to his lips briefly; she would need physical contact while she was bereft of her telepathy; he would have to tell the others. "You're alive and will be well. Your powers are in temporary suspension. If you can't use your telepathy then you can't experience precognition either."
"It was real, I tell you. Real. I would know the people. Ask Orac. He can tell you if any of them exist."
Hugh didn't think she should be humoured, but it might calm her to know that what she had seen had been nothing but a fever-induced dream. "All right, Cally," he said, "but not until you're stronger, though. I think you should sleep now. You're tired. I'll stay with you until you sleep."
She closed her eyes obediently, too weak to protest, and drifted into a rapid, though restless, sleep.
He waited until he was sure she would not reawaken, then he freed his hand from hers and got up to check the instruments which monitored her condition. She did seem better, and her life signs were stronger, closer to normal than they had been since he had begun to treat her.
A sound from the doorway alerted him and he turned to find Avon standing there, a disapproving expression on his face. "A sentimental bedside manner will not cure her, Tiver."
"It won't hurt her either," Hugh replied quickly, joining him in the corridor so as not to disturb Cally. "A little sentiment could do all of you some good."
"I doubt that, and it's not your concern. What is her condition?" he asked briskly.
"She is recovering. She will sleep now and be stronger when she wakes; it will take time but she will gradually regain her strength."
"What was that nonsense about precognition. I hope you will not encourage it."
"No, because it isn't good for her. I doubt she experienced anything but a normal dream, possibly distorted and nightmarish. As she becomes more alert, she'll realise that and all will be well."
"Will it?" Avon asked scornfully. "You're a fool."
"That's what the Federation thought," Hugh snapped, irritated by Avon's manner. "I fooled them for three-quarters of a year ."
"Orac gave us your background. He said that while you were a gifted physician, your record on Dayson Prime indicated incompetence in some areas."
"Hah!" Hugh exclaimed. "Fooled you too."
"Explain." Avon didn't like the thought of being fooled, apparently, and his expression was far from friendly.
"It should be obvious. Dayson Prime's my home world. The Federation sent me there to initiate a suppressant program. Do you think I wanted that to happen to my people? I gave the appearance of incompetence in order to delay as long as possible. The rebellion there had time to prepare counter measures while I was filing reports."
"Rebellion," Avon huffed. "Another idealist. Tedious as all the others of your ilk."
"And here I thought you were a resister too," Hugh said in a gently mocking tone. Though Avon was cold and intimidating, for some strange reason, Hugh was not intimidated. He wondered if it was because he could guess that Avon was worried about Cally or if he were simply accustomed to far worse bullies than Avon. Besides, from something Vila had said over coffee when they were sitting with Cally, Hugh had formed the impression that Avon had little tolerance for those who didn't stand up to him, those he could bully. Hugh intended to stand up to him from very beginning.
"No," Avon replied. "I leave that for idealists and fools, like Blake. Blake was an idealist and a rebel, and it killed him. I'm still alive."
"And enjoying it so," Hugh snapped.
"I am not your concern. Cally is. When she is herself again, you will discover that she is neither weak nor sentimental. I would regret the loss of her telepathy; it is useful, and is vital to her. Without it, she would lose her effectiveness."
"And then she'd be no use to you? You're a cold-hearted man, Avon. I wish I understood why the others stay with you."
"Convenience, perhaps? "Avon suggested. "How long do you estimate it will take Cally to fully recover?"
"Not in the immediate future Avon. Perhaps another month. If her telepathy doesn't return, longer, at least emotionally. If that interferes with your plans, I'm sorry. But she's my patient, and I will decide what is best for her."
"Oh, you will, will you?"
"I'm not afraid of you, Avon. You wouldn't want a surgeon who didn't know his job and who didn't do it properly?"
"I want someone who will give me no trouble."
"Then you've got the wrong man. Right now, what you want means nothing to me. Cally's life does."
"Do you fancy yourself in love with her?" Avon asked scornfully.
"No, I don't know her yet. But I know she's my patient. I wouldn't advise moving her quite yet. Vila said something about getting a better ship. That sounds like it could involve fighting. She won't be ready for that for a while, and taking her along will limit her chances for survival, especially if it comes to a fight. Physically she should make a complete recovery, and she'll be up and around soon, but I wouldn't advise moving this ship for at least a week, if not longer. Orac and I feel she'll regain her Auron abilities given time and a lack of pressure. Unless you mean to abandon her - and I don't think the others would let you, even if you wanted to - you'll have to wait. I'm sorry if that interferes with your plans. Maybe you'd learn that the next time you rush into danger as ill advised as going to Terminal you'll need to consider your crew too."
"That's none of your business." Avon leaned close to him to emphasise the words. "Now that Cally is recovering you are no longer essential. The others will tell you that I don't hesitate to remove those who get in my way. I will remind you that you are my prisoner. I can shoot or dump you if I so choose."
"I don't like you, Avon, but I'm not afraid of you either. I stay here by my own choice and not because I'm your prisoner, but it won't be for any longer than I have to. I took an oath when I completed my training and Cally is my patient. She's worried about you."
Avon leaned back suddenly uncomfortable, aware that the threat was turning onto him.
"In her premonition she saw you killed."
"Indeed?" Avon looked bored. "I'll expect daily reports," he added. "You can make them on the flight deck."
"Don't you want to see her?" Hugh asked, not really surprised.
"I see no need for maudlin watches over her unconscious body."
"Afraid you'll let a little uncharacteristic sentiment get through?" Hugh prodded, realising as he said it that though it might well be true, it might also not be the smartest thing to say.
"Spare me from sentimental idealists," Avon snapped and stalked away.
Hugh looked after him and wondered which of them had won.
"I'm bored," Vila complained. "Here we've sat for days and days, and not one drop of adrenalin and soma on board."
"It's good for you, Vila." Dayna leaned forward and moved her castle.
Vila stared down at the chessboard. He liked chess; it fitted into a nice puzzly pattern, like opening locks did, and he enjoyed playing with Dayna because she invariably rushed into hasty and daring moves that could be lethal. Once in awhile, she would get lucky and beat him, but for the most part, Vila won. Of all the crew, only Avon really challenged him, and of late, Avon hadn't wanted to play. Now, as Vila traced out patterns in his head the way he traced out circuits in locks, most of his mind was not really on the game. He was thinking about Cally and about Avon, and wishing that something would happen. Cally had been conscious for almost a week and she was visibly gaining strength, at least physically. Hugh had suggested someone stay with her most of the time, and Tarrant was there with her now. Hugh had come in a while ago and reported that Tarrant was reading to her out of an old bound book they'd discovered in the crew quarters, Shakespeare's sonnets. Vila liked Shakespeare; he could be bawdy without being crude, and he had a wonderful way with words. There hadn't been much chance for reading in the Delta domes, but Vila had been nothing if not ambitious, and he devoured books whenever they came his way. If it wasn't that he thought Tarrant would mock him for it, he would have gone along and listened.
Vila considered his bishop, then glanced up to see Hugh watching him, a frown upon his face. Vila's hand eased away from the bishop and hovered over his knight. Hugh grinned. Vila considered it for a minute and then swooped down and captured Dayna's knight. "Check."
"Beast," Dayna retorted without malice. "Hugh, you're helping him. It's not fair. He wins anyway."
Vila gave Hugh a friendly grin. He liked the surgeon. A few years older than Tarrant, Hugh could unbend and be silly without worrying about his dignity, and he had the nerve to stand up to Avon even when the others would have seen the signs and gone for cover. Avon griped about him and made cool, derogatory comments when Hugh was within earshot, but he didn't annihilate him as he might have done one of the others. Hugh knew a lot about piloting a ship, and he and Tarrant had a good time talking about flying and tearing apart the reputations and the abilities of the instructors at the FSA. With Vila, he would listen to exaggerated tales of thieving with a flattering interest that made Vila decide that Hugh was the best of good fellows, and then cap Vila's stories with some of his tactics at delaying and fooling the Federation on Dayson Prime. He talked weapons with Dayna and seemed to get on well with Cally when he was with her. Vila rather hoped Hugh would decide to throw in his lot with them, but he doubted it. Avon wouldn't permit it. He wouldn't tolerate Hugh any longer than necessary. Hugh was too stubborn, too unwilling to knuckle under. Avon didn't like people who feared him, but neither did he like being pushed. Watching the two of them square off was the only real entertainment going.
"He doesn't always win," Hugh told Dayna. She promptly turned back to the chessboard and Vila followed her gaze, staring in dismay as he realised the trap he had just walked into. He held himself in control, hoping Dayna wouldn't see it, but for all her impulsiveness, Dayna knew her chess. It didn't take her long. Her queen slid out and she grinned delightedly. " Checkmate."
"That's not fair," Vila accused Hugh. "Taking sides, are you?"
"You didn't mind when you thought it was your side I was taking."
"That was different." Vila began to gather up the chess pieces. "Someday, I'll take you on. Beat you too."
"I'm shaking in my shoes."
Vila stuffed the chessmen back into their box and closed the lid. "I'm bored," he repeated. "We should do something."
"What do you suggest?" Dayna stood up and went over to inspect the weapons console as if she thought it might have changed in the last hour. "We could go outside."
"Outside? You never know what's lurking out there. Hordes of hairy aliens, probably, creeping up on the ship, waiting to pounce on me. No thank you. I'll stay in here where it's safe. Dull, but safe. All I have to look out for here is Avon."
"Correct, Vila." Avon walked onto the flight deck, casting scowls about impartially. "What new method have you invented to avoid work today?"
"The same as you. I haven't seen you lifting a finger in days. Sulking about isn't working either."
"I am considering our next move, Vila, something that would never occur to you."
"What are you planning Avon?" Dayna asked in an apparent attempt to defuse an argument. "We can't hope to fight in this ship."
"No. But we don't have to fight. We have a thief in Vila - according to him, the best in the galaxy. I feel he should be put to work."
"Why does everybody want me to work?" Vila moaned. But the idea of some action, though frightening, almost felt good. Inactivity wasn't helping any of them. "We can't, anyway. There's Cally."
"What I propose should not harm Cally. Of course," Avon went on with heavy sarcasm, "I will clear it with our 'leader' first." He turned to Hugh. "Since we'll be returning to your home world, you might even be of some use to us."
"Why should I?" Hugh asked. "I have agreed to help Cally, not to aid Blake's rebellion."
"I am not a part of Blake's rebellion."
"Now why didn't I realise that?" mused Hugh.
"Stupidity, most likely."
Hugh's eyes twinkled, but he didn't comment. Instead he asked, "What is it that I'm to do for Avon's rebellion now?"
"I plan to steal a ship," Avon explained with exaggerated patience. "Servalan's people might know what armament we have. Even if this world is remote from known star lanes, we could still be discovered here. The Federation gains strength, unopposed as it has been since Star One was destroyed. Sitting here in plain sight does not appeal to me. It would not appeal to the rest of you, if you had two thoughts to rub together."
"You're going shopping for a ship on Dayson Prime?" Hugh asked.
"Yes. I want the Mark 60, the new experimental ship the Federation has been playing with. It experiments with a type of computer brain that I'm told is partly organic."
"Like Zen?" Vila asked, surprised.
"No." That was short and final. Vila wondered if Avon missed Zen, though he would never admit it if he did. "The Mark 60 is supposed to incorporate the latest techniques. The computer mind is imprinted to match the brain of the chosen pilot, a mental link that in theory cannot be broken."
"In practice too," Hugh put in. "I've read about the Mark 60. I don't think it will work, personally. The drain on the pilot's brain would be enormous. Were the ship severely damaged the pilot could die. I don't know that Tarrant would volunteer for something as risky as that."
"The link is not physical," Avon explained. "And I have not decided if Tarrant will be the one to bond with the ship."
"He's the best pilot you have," Hugh persisted. "He's one of the best pilots I've ever come across. But I'd feel more comfortable with the Mark 60 if he were older."
"And less prone to acting first and thinking later," Vila chipped in.
"I had considered using Orac in the bonding."
"Wouldn't work," Hugh objected." The Mark 60 needs an organic match-up. Orac might think he's more than a computer, and he might have certain of Ensor's personality traits, but he's still a machine."
"Avon couldn't do it either, then," Vila said promptly. "He's not much more than a machine himself."
"Cally would be a good choice, were her telepathic gifts intact," Avon mused. "However, the Mark 60 can function for brief periods with temporary bondings. It might be possible to use Orac as a link in the chain. Orac is gathering information on the Mark 60 now, and is predictably fascinated with the idea."
"He would be," muttered Vila.
"But why should the Mark 60 be anywhere near Dayson Prime?" Dayna wondered, coming over to sit in the pilot's seat and study Avon over the top of the control panel. "They don't usually test such valuable ships so far out. Better in the Inner Worlds where the Federation is stronger. It could be the bait for a trap to catch us."
"A trap?" echoed Vila in dismay. "Maybe Servalan escaped from the Liberator and knows we couldn't have got far. She's probably setting us up."
"Servalan is dead." The grim satisfaction in Avon's voice rather frightened Vila.
"I'm not sure," Dayna disagreed. "I know we saw the Liberator destroyed and she was on it. But maybe she made it to the teleport in time. It was still working there at the end."
"Then she'd still be on Terminal," Vila said. "With the Links." He found that idea rather pleasant. "Or maybe she was in the base and blew up with it. But I don't like the idea of the Mark 60 ship. I still think it could be a trap. Servalan had to pull a lot of strings to get us to Terminal. Somebody else must have known about it and might be using the Mark 60 to get us. The whole Federation's after us, remember, not just Servalan."
"Nevertheless, we are going to steal the Mark 60" Avon insisted. "With the prototype, we can develop a new teleport system."
"If we can get the ship and if any of us are crazy enough to link with it," Vila reminded him. "Why would they come to Dayson Prime, Hugh? Is there anything special there?"
Hugh frowned. "I've been trying to think," he confessed. "But nothing has come to mind. It's just an ordinary place."
"No computer experts?" Avon asked.
"No one special." Hugh shook his head. "No one with your abilities. Avon."
Avon looked both unsurprised and fractionally gratified and Vila hid a smile. Like everyone else, Avon needed to be praised, even in a second-hand way like this, and when he spoke again, he sounded less unhappy with Hugh than was his custom. "It would not be your field, of course, but as a scientist, you must have heard something, some sort of special preparations, perhaps?"
"No, there's been nothing. I would have welcomed anything that would have given me more cover," Hugh said frankly. "I was running out of ways to stall and something like that would have been just what I needed. If I'd have known, I could have leaked information in several places, to the rebels, to the government, even to the press. It would have taken their minds off the suppressant problem for a while. But they told me nothing. They probably thought I'd manage to foul that up too."
"All right," Avon said. "Then word of the Mark 60 would not be widely known there. In your opinion, could the rebel movement on Dayson Prime have heard about it?"
"No, I don't think so, but that's just a guess. Frankly, Avon, if I were testing the Mark 60, I might have chosen a remote place in the outer worlds and given them no advance notice. You only know about it because of Orac. If anyone knows about the destruction of Liberator, they'd probably think Orac was lost too."
Avon nodded, though he did not seem to consider the news of the Mark 60 as serendipitous as Hugh did. Of course he had a much more suspicious nature. He turned to Vila. "We will be needing your unique skills, Vila, so get your kit ready."
"My kit?" Vila demanded, outraged. "Where d'you think I'd get a kit then?" He glared at Avon. "All I brought off the Liberator was Orac. You didn't notice me carrying any kit, did you?"
"Surely you can find something to use. There must be something on this ship..."
Vila had a few things, small pieces of equipment that he habitually carried about his person because one could never tell when they'd be necessary, but while they would be adequate to break into a safe, perhaps, or a private jewellery collection, or even in a pinch, out of a Federation cell, they would certainly be no use against a maximum security system. Vila threw Avon a reproachful look. "Something on this ship? Wonderful. I use finely designed precision tools. It's like asking you to programme a computer with an axe."
"Well, improvise," Avon snarled. He wasn't about to give up, Vila could tell. "A talented thief is rare, Vila, but not irreplaceable."
"Neither is a computer expert," Vila snapped, but he stayed prudently out of range as he said it.
"We will leave in two days," Avon announced and strode off the flight deck without a backward look.
"Vila." Cally turned her head and smiled at the thief when he entered the small cabin designated as the medical unit for the duration. "I am glad to see you. I have need of you."
"Need of me?" Vila asked uneasily. He would do almost anything for Cally - he still blamed himself for failing to get her out of the exploding base on Terminal. But there was a fevered look in her eyes that made him uneasy. Most likely it would be something Avon wouldn't care for and then there'd be trouble. "What d'you mean?" he asked.
"Now that I am recovering, Orac has been removed," Cally explained. "Hugh has offered to do some research for me, but Avon will not allow him to use Orac when he is not present. You, however, should be able to manage it. Hugh is not yet a member of the crew, and he hesitates to use Orac when Avon has forbidden it."
"We're talking about the same Hugh?" Vila asked in surprise, lowering himself into a chair. "Curly haired chap with a way of talking back to Avon every chance he gets?"
"That is different. Orac belongs to us."
Vila began to wonder. If Hugh had told Cally he couldn't use Orac for her, it might be because he thought it best not to do so. So Vila asked suspiciously, "What do you want to know?"
"I merely want Orac to check on several names for me, to learn if such people actually exist and if so where. Does that sound so terrible?"
It didn't, but Vila was still uneasy. This was Cally though, and Vila trusted her. "What people?" he asked. It couldn't hurt to find out that much.
"Dorian. He has a ship called the Scorpio. Soolin. A Dr. Plaxton. Muller. Egrorian. Zukan. Arlen. Deva." She frowned. "There are more, but you may begin with them."
Vila repeated the names, committing them to memory. "Who are they, Cally?"
"No one," she said in a voice so soft he could scarcely hear her. "I hope they do not exist."
Genuinely worried now, Vila reached out and patted Cally on the hand. "Did you hear of them on Terminal? Are they part of Servalan's plan?"
"No, Vila. But also check the existence of a Commissioner Sleer."
"Who are all these people? Somebody nasty, probably."
"I hope they are but a dream, Vila." Cally closed her eyes.
"Is your head hurting? Shall I fetch Hugh?"
"No, Vila. I'm only tired. I am not used to the emptiness."
"But you've been with us a long time and none of us are telepaths," he reminded her.
She reached out for his hand. He would have responded to the gesture with a quip before Terminal, but now he only took her hand sadly and patted it with his other hand. "You haven't been in here trying to send to us, Cally? You know Hugh said it was too soon yet."
"He is not an Auron. He does not understand."
"He knows a lot. He's smart, Hugh is. He just doesn't go around telling everybody the way Avon does."
Cally smiled faintly. "Avon does announce his credentials."
Made uneasy by Cally's request and by her continuing weakness, Vila said, "Should I leave you to sleep now, Cally?"
"No, Vila, stay awhile. Tarrant found a book of Earth poetry. Would you read some of it to me? It helps me to sleep."
So Vila picked up the poetry book and opened it at random. This was not the book of Shakespeare that he had seen before but another collected volume of poetry, and he considered making off with it and reading it himself later. He wondered who the Federation officer was who had read old poetry. Pausing at a page, he skimmed it silently.
When I consider how my light is spent
E're half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless...
No, that would never do. He flipped a few more pages. Something light. He found what he was looking for and began to read aloud.
Did gyre and gimble in the
All mimsy were the
And the mome raths
"'Twas brillig and the slithy
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe
Cally's eyes opened again, and she stared at Vila. "What language was that, Vila? It almost makes sense, but not quite. Is it Terran?"
Pleased at his success, Vila read on, pausing here and there to give her his own unique interpretation of Jabberwocky. By the time he had finished, her eyes had brightened and she was laughing. When Hugh looked in on her a short time later, he told Vila he was pleased.
"You've got a good bedside manner, Vila."
"Naturally," Vila replied, grinning, with a wink at Cally. "Tell Avon. He doesn't believe I'm good at anything."
"He believes more than you think, Vila," Hugh assured him. "I watch him sometimes. There's much more to him than meets the eye."
"Oh yes, Avon's a dark horse. He'll surprise you sometimes," Vila replied. "Isn't that right, Cally?"
"Avon is not what he wants people to think he is," she agreed. "I wish we could find Blake, I think it would help-" Her voice suddenly trailed off. "No. We must not find Blake."
"Not find Blake, Cally?" Vila echoed in astonishment. "That's all we've been trying to do. You don't believe Servalan when she says he's dead, do you?"
"I do not know what to believe." She looked quite distressed, and Hugh came over quickly and checked her pulse.
"Now, Cally, I said you were not to excite yourself."
"You understand me, Hugh."
"Yes. I do."
Vila didn't, and he felt strangely jealous that Cally would share something with Hugh, a stranger, that she would not share with him. Then he remembered the list of names that Cally had given him. She hadn't told Hugh about them. That was all right then. Or was it? He frowned, not quite sure.
But when Hugh shot him a look that conveyed to Vila that it might be wise to change the subject, Vila plunged into something else, maybe a little more quickly than he should have done. "Cally we're going to get a new ship - a better one than this pile of junk."
He missed Hugh's frown until it was too late. "It's a special type; the pilot can link in with the computer."
"Link? How?" Cally looked interested and Vila was pleased he had distracted her from her unhappy thoughts of Blake.
"The computer's partly organic, Avon says. Sounds like he'd be the best one to do it; he's partly organic himself. More of a machine than anything else, really."
"No, Vila," Cally disagreed, pushing herself into a sitting position and leaning forward eagerly. "A telepath would be best."
"But you aren't - aren't well enough," he corrected in mid sentence. He wasn't sure if she would be a telepath again, and it wouldn't be very helpful to say so and remind her again of what she'd lost.
"I would still be best. I understand mental linkage far better than the rest of you."
"But Tarrant's the best pilot," Vila reminded her. "And Avon knows most about computers. Besides, it sounds dangerous, Cally. I don't like it." He hadn't meant to tell her that, and he threw a regretful and apologetic glance at Hugh.
"If it is dangerous, I am the best equipped to take the risk. When does Avon plan to go for the ship, Vila?"
"In two days, but-"
"You are not to consider it, Cally," Hugh ordered in his best stern doctor voice "As your surgeon, I make that decision. At this stage in your recovery, it would be a suicidal risk. I worked too hard to save your life to let you take such foolish chances before you're ready for them."
"Then you might be condemning one of the others to death," Cally pointed out, ignoring Hugh's hands as he tried to make her lie down again. She caught at his arm and clutched it tightly. "Don't you see, Hugh. Not only could I do it best, I have the least to lose."
"Don't talk like that, Cally," cried Vila in a worried voice.
"It is true, Vila. I do not think I can function for much longer without my telepathy. This may be the only chance I have to save my sanity, if not my life."
"Is that true?" Vila demanded of Hugh.
"I wish I knew. I know about telepaths but I'm not one, so it's all second-hand. I do know that telepaths take their strength from never having to be alone. If you were used to constant mental contact, Vila, then were suddenly alone, you would find it very difficult, maybe impossible. Imagine losing your sight, or your skill at opening locks. It would be like that, I think."
"He is right, Vila," Cally agreed. "Hugh and Orac believe I will regain the use of my telepathy, but-"
She shivered and Vila reached out automatically to pat her thin shoulders. "There is another reason I am afraid," she confessed. "Hugh knows. He thinks I am wrong, though."
"I think you've had bad dreams, Cally. It wouldn't be surprising after all you've been through."
"We've all had bad dreams," Vila agreed. "Even Avon. I heard-" He stopped, realising that it wasn't fair to Avon to mention that he'd heard the computer expert cry out in his sleep one night soon after they had left Terminal, and when he'd opened Avon's door to make sure he was all right, Avon had been violently angry - but he had also been pale and trembling, his hair damp with perspiration from the strength of his dream. No, that was something Vila could not repeat, not even to these two, whom he trusted. He'd said too much already. "I heard him wandering around the corridors a few times," he corrected himself hastily. "Probably trying to decide how to dump the lot of us."
"You wrong him, Vila," Cally said. "And dreams should not be taken lightly, should they, Hugh?"
"No, but neither should they be taken too seriously." He smiled at her. "We'll talk about it again later. I've been waiting for you to get stronger, and you're making good progress. I want you to let it alone for now. Maybe tomorrow we can talk. If you don't mind, Vila, I'd like to run a check now."
Vila nodded and left, but he was worried.
It was later that night when Vila was on watch that he finally got a chance to talk to Orac alone. Avon had been in and out several times, and Vila had half expected him to take Orac's key with him, but he didn't. He scowled at Vila as he left the last time. "Don't fall asleep, Vila," he ordered.
"Why should I fall asleep?" Vila asked, outraged. "I know what I'm doing. I won't fall asleep."
"History is against you, Vila." Avon retorted, but he sounded less angry than usual, and Vila wondered if he was improving as Cally did, or if the thought of getting off this planet and mastering the Mark 60 was as good for him as it was for the others. We're not meant for inactivity, Vila thought. We're too used to being in danger all the time. I don't like it, but it's all we know.
"How am I supposed to sleep?" he demanded. "No adrenalin and soma, no liquor at all, stuck on a world on the backside of nowhere. There's nothing to do. All you do is snap at us. A sensible person has to stay on his toes."
"To what sensible person do you refer, Vila? There are none on board - other than myself, that is."
"There's Hugh." Vila said, mainly to get Avon's reaction.
"Tiver!" Avon sounded exasperated. "One day he will try my patience too far."
"And we all know your patience is legendary." Vila replied gleefully, delighted to have chance to score against Avon.
To his utter delight, the faintest trace of humour touched Avon's eyes though his face didn't change. "Be very careful, Vila," he retorted, "Or you will find its limits rather sooner than expected."
The threat did not worry Vila; it sounded like Avon's usual comments, which had proven harmless in the past. "Go to bed," he said. "I promise you, if we are attacked by the Federation or whole hordes of hairy aliens, you'll be the very first to know."
"Because you'll be cowering under your bunk?" Avon replied, but the brief exchange had been a familiar one, and Vila knew Avon did not really mean it. Maybe as Cally recovered, Avon would return to normal too, or anyway as normal as he had been since they'd gone to Earth and discovered the truth about Anna Grant and Avon had been forced to kill her. Now if only the others could return to normal. Even if Cally got her telepathy back, the loss of her people was still a recent and half healed scar. And Tarrant had only just lost his brother. A really happy ship. Vila thought sadly. We're all walking wounded. Maybe it was best they had a doctor with them now. He hoped Hugh would decide to stay with them.
Vila waited an hour after Avon had gone to be sure he wouldn't come back unexpectedly, then he went over and inserted Orac's key. "Wake up, you miserable piece of junk. I've got work for you."
"Wake up?" Orac echoed haughtily. "Surely you do not believe that I am dependent on sleep like you humans?"
"Well, never mind that now." The last thing Vila wanted to do was to get into an argument with Orac. "I've got work for you. Prepare to receive data."
Orac was silent, and after a few minutes Vila gave it a jog. "Well, come on, Orac. What are you waiting for?"
"All circuits are presently engaged."
"Disengage, then," Vila said in an Avon-like voice. "You can be replaced, you know, and probably will be."
"Unlikely," Orac sniffed. "I am the most advanced computer in the known galaxy."
"And the unknown too, I suppose. Come on, Orac. I don't have all night. Or are you still dented up from the explosion? Maybe I should get Avon to come and take you apart."
"State your requirements."
"I've got a list of names. I want you to check them, to see if they exist on any Federation records, and tell me who they are. You're not to tell anyone else about this either. The information is to be encoded to be revealed only when I ask for it. If anyone else asks you, you will inform me -privately- before you tell them anything. Is that clear?"
"Clear and redundant. State your names."
Vila reeled them off only to be berated by Orac when he had finished.
"You have omitted Soolin."
Vila eyed him suspiciously. "What do you know about it all?"
"I am aware of the content of Cally's dreams but have not considered the matter worthy of wasting my time on. It will take many hours to research all the names with the limited infomation that is available.
"However," Orac conceded, "one of them is already known to me. Egrorian is a brilliant scientist. At one time, he attempted to take over the Federation. Predictably, he failed, and if still alive is in hiding. His theory of parallel matter is a truly fascinating one. I should be interested in locating him and discussing it with him."
"Well, maybe you'll get the chance," Vila replied. "Do you know any of the others?"
"Dr. Plaxton is also a scientist who taught at the Federation Space Academy and who is working on a photonic drive which, when completed, could make Federation vessels as fast as the Liberator was."
"l don't like the sound of that," replied Vila. "Maybe we should find him. Where is he now?"
"Unknown. He is no longer working for the Federation, but they are searching for him."
"Maybe he's turned rebel," Vila suggested. "We should look for him too. We don't want to let the Federation get fast enough to catch us."
"A garbage scow would be fast enough to catch us at present," Orac pointed out.
"Thanks. You really know how to make a fellow feel comfortable, Orac."
"Since my primary function is not your comfort-"
"Never mind. What about the others?"
"I am researching them now. If you would leave me to function without further interruptions, I could complete your pointless task that much more quickly and return to my own, infinitely superior, work."
"All right. Go ahead." Vila retreated to the far side of the flight deck and amused himself by playing a game of chess against himself. As long as he didn't cheat and allow one side the knowledge of the other side's plans, it was rather fun, but sometimes, he found himself favouring on side over the other and would stack the deck, so to speak, and allow himself a glorious victory. He couldn't decide which way he preferred. He was good at chess - even speed chess, he thought cheerfully. Maybe Orac had helped a little, but he'd tied the Klute, after all. He doubted anybody else could make that claim. He still regretted the loss of his winnings with the Liberator.
It was several hours before Orac announced that he had completed the search for Vila's list of names, and the thief went over to Orac again. "All right. Give."
"Give?" Orac repeated. "I have repeatedly urged you and the others to be more precise. Give indeed. I presume you would like the list of names."
"The sooner you tell them, the sooner you can get back to your own research."
So Orac began. "There are only very recent records of anyone named Sleer. He or she is not a Commissioner at all, but rather a Federation lieutenant currently stationed on Dayson Prime. There is no further information available."
Well, that name had been almost an afterthought. Easy to check on when they went back to get the ship. "Go on."
"Elton Muller is also a scientist. He studied with Ensor in the days before I was developed. It would be fascinating to discover further information. Muller might nearly be said to be Ensor's equal, and if anyone might develop further computers worthy of my attention, it would be Muller. I shall endeavour to discover his present location. Avon, at least, might see the wisdom of contacting Muller."
"What about the rest of them?"
"I find no recent records on anyone called Dorian, though there is a ship called Scorpio, known on some of the Outer Worlds, and it is possible that Dorian could be its captain. Soolin is a woman who recently avenged the murder of her parents by shooting and killing all the murderers. Her present whereabouts is unknown."
"I hope it stays that way. She sounds a bit too handy with a gun for my tastes."
Ignoring the interruption, Orac continued. "Arlen is a Federation officer. Deva was an engineer on Earth but he has vanished and may be dead. Zukan is the ruler of the planet Betafarl."
It was a strange group, more scientists than anything, though there were a few stragglers, a Federation officer, the ruler of a planet. "One more question, Orac, and you can go and percolate on your own. What connection do all these people have to Cally?"
"None whatsoever," replied Orac. "There is no connection."
"Did she ever meet any of them? How would she know their names?"
"She knows their names because they have appeared in what she considers a prophetic dream," Orac replied to Vila's astonishment. "While the bulk of the dream would take too long to relate now and would be for the most part inaccurate, invalidated by Cally's survival on Terminal, the dream ended with Avon shooting and killing Blake on the planet Gauda Prime."
"What!" yipped Vila, in horrified astonishment. "You mean Cally had a dream full of real people she never heard of or met? That means it could be precognition, doesn't it, Orac?"
"It means nothing of the sort. Cally does not possess the gift of precognition, and even if she did, it would be in abeyance with her telepathic skills. Dreams are not always subject to precise measure. It is entirely possible that she has heard of Plaxton, Muller, or Egrorian, even Zukan, and incorporated them into her dream, the way meaningless fragments of information frequently do appear. The human mind is a cluttered and untidy means of data storage, and data retrieval is frequently inaccurate and incomplete. All of you have watched Federation viscasts. Cally could have learned of any of the people on her list that way. As for Avon killing Blake, that is the stuff of nightmares, and I should not regard it."
"Well I do regard it, you piece of junk. What about me? Am I in Cally's dream?"
"Yes." Vila could have sworn that there was relish in Orac's voice. "Avon first attempts to eject you from a shuttle - at my suggestion."
"Why you murderous little traitor."
"In order to preserve myself and the shuttle in which we were going to burn up in the atmosphere." Orac continued, unaffected by Vila's outrage.
"So I'll stay out of shuttles with you and Avon," Vila decided. "Then what happened to me?"
"The Federation killed you and the others after Avon shot Blake."
"Oh, thanks, Orac. You really know how to cheer up a person, don't you?"
"As I have already pointed out, cheering you up has never been a high priority. I have wasted enough time with this pointless dream. As a prophecy, it is already invalidated because Cally is alive - in the dream, she died on Terminal - and because this ship was destroyed there and you were 'rescued' by Dorian, who had a use for you that none of you would have liked."
"I can imagine," said Vila. "I don't like Cally's dream. Somebody should tell her its been changed. You said yourself, if we knew the future we could change it and it wouldn't be the future. Or was it Blake who said that?" he mused to himself. "Never mind," he went on when Orac began speak. "Too much information can invalidate a prediction. I think I'll tell Cally that. But whatever you do, Orac, you must never tell Avon that he kills Blake in Cally's dream. We wouldn't want to give him ideas, now, would we?"
"It is not my place to interpret or report dreams," Orac agreed. "It is my opinion that Cally's dream might have held some elements of precognition and that because she believed it as such, she subconsciously repressed her telepathy until such time as she might be comfortable with it again. I have shared this speculation with Hugh Tiver, and he is in some agreement. Therefore, it is better to keep the data I have just given you from Cally for the present."
"But what'll I tell her? She's expecting me to report back."
"Honesty has never been your prevailing nature," Orac reminded him. "Lie."
"And what about Avon? Cally's not well enough yet to catch on if I lie to her, but Avon'll know I've got something to hide. He always does."
"I have my own work to do," Orac replied. "You must manage your own censorship. If I might give advice, you should discuss what you have learned with no one, with the possible exception of Hugh Tiver."
"Suppose Avon gets wind of it, though? He might question you about this. You told me. What's to stop you telling him?"
"You have forbidden me to tell him. If I might make a suggestion, you could advise me to remove this conversation from my memory banks."
"Excellent idea, Orac. I'm glad I thought of it. Well, go on, then. Remove it from your memory banks."
"Remove what from my memory banks?"
Vila couldn't tell if Orac was being facetious or not, and he didn't want to ask. "Go back to your own research, then, Orac. I've got work to do too."
But when he removed himself to the chessboard, ignoring Orac's sceptical sniff, he was too worried to return to his game. Poor Cally. No wonder she was so upset and unlike herself. If Avon had tried to kill him and had succeeded in killing Blake, he would have been very changed. Avon might threaten them from time to time, but he would be more likely to save someone of the crew, protesting their stupidity all the while. He could kill if he had to - look at Anna Grant - but so far, he hadn't tried anything with the Liberator crew. Avon had made it loudly known that he felt no ties to any of them, but he had also risked himself to save them more than once. Vila smiled a little. He didn't always quite understand Avon - which was not surprising since he didn't think Avon always understood himself - but he knew that most people wanted some kind of belonging, and Avon probably did too. With the Liberator crew, he'd had a place. They'd all had one. Vila wouldn't have left for anything, even though it was often far too dangerous for his liking. He wasn't willing to admit how much he liked the others or that he found their companionship pleasant, most of the time. But he planned to stay even now that it was likely to get dangerous again. Maybe it was the same with Avon.
But in Cally's dream, Avon had been very different. It wasn't surprising that after the events of Terminal Cally might cast Avon as the villain of her dreams. Vila had done so a time or two himself. But this sounded like a more detailed dream, close enough to reality to have confused Cally upon waking. He remembered how utterly shocked she had been to see him and how relieved. No wonder, if she thought him dead. He hoped Orac was wrong and Cally's dream had not been a prediction of the future, because he had little faith in Orac's claim that it had been invalidated. Part of it might have been, but all?
At least now he knew why Cally had said she didn't want to find Blake. Poor Cally; she knew it would do them all good to locate Blake if he were still alive. But she also feared for Avon, and for Blake himself. Well Vila would just have to see that it didn't happen. That was all there was to it. He liked Blake, though Blake had been getting a bit fanatical when he'd gone down to Star One. Vila had wondered if there would finally be a showdown between Avon and Blake then. But Blake had been captured by the aliens, along with Cally, and Avon had surprised Vila by staying on the planet to try to rescue them, leaving Jenna and Vila up on the Liberator to deal with the alien fleet. Vila shivered at the memory, but he frowned too because Avon had still been loyal to Blake even after that argument they'd had. Vila didn't quite understand why, but he couldn't deny that it had happened. It didn't seem possible that Avon might try to kill Blake, but Vila worried anyway. If anything could go wrong, it probably would.
"What are you up to?" Tarrant asked, coming up behind Dayna as she took a few practice shots at a target, shortly after sunrise. They hadn't spent much time outside the ship because there had been no reason to do so; Avon preferred a controlled atmosphere; Vila feared nasty aliens, and Hugh had had his hands full with Cally. Tarrant had been working on repairing and modifying the ship to give them a better chance at survival, and that left Dayna with a lot of time on her hands. She had taken to coming out for target practice. Primitive planets were nothing new to her, and she felt strangely at home here, though it was really nothing like Sarran. No natives for one thing and greener, with more trees and brush. The only animals she had seen were little, harmless, furry ones that let her get quite close before they fled. Orac had reported that there should be nothing lethal outside and the water was safe to drink, though it should not be used as the primary supply as too much of it might cause mild indigestion.
Dayna had fashioned a bow and arrows for herself and had spent time outside practising with them and with a spear. She liked the ancient weapons better. Killing an opponent from a distance was not entirely honourable to her; killing hand to hand was better, more satisfying. Some of Dayna's craving for danger had been diluted and washed away during her time on Liberator. She'd seen death on a scale she had only imagined before, seen the use of weapons systems like those she and her father had designed, and had taken less satisfaction from it than she had expected. No, unless it was for survival, killing should be personal, just as she had hoped to kill Servalan one day. Now Servalan was dead. Dayna had seen Liberator destroyed before her eyes, and had known Servalan was on it at the time, but she had not found pleasure in the death. Servalan had been a personal enemy; she had deserved a personal death. Whenever she remembered how Servalan had finally met her end, Dayna felt cheated.
Now she turned at Tarrant's approach, setting aside the weapon she had been using. "I'm just keeping my hand in," she explained. "Are the repairs finished?"
"Nearly. Avon's working on the computers now. He sent me away." Tarrant shrugged and grinned. "I would have come away anyway. He was getting to be - you know."
"I do indeed," Dayna replied. She had felt the cutting edge of Avon's tongue more than ever since Cally had been injured, and though she was convinced that Avon was being so nasty because he was worried about Cally and probably blamed himself for her injuries, it didn't make it any easier to live with him. Her forays outside the ship were as much to escape Avon's temper as anything else. "What about this ship Avon wants to take?" she asked. "Do you want to link with it?"
"Yes," said Tarrant simply and eagerly. "I remember hearing about the plans for the Mark 60 when I was at the FSA. I was just a green student then, young and idealistic, and I swore that someday I'd be good enough to rate a ship like that. I should be the one to do it, Dayna. I have the training to fly a Federation ship. I'm the best pilot." No egotism there, only a certainty of the fact that Dayna couldn't disagree with. Tarrant was the best pilot, and not only because none of the rest of them were trained to it.
"Avon's fascinated by the thought of the computer," Dayna pointed out. "You'll have to fight him for it."
"I will," Tarrant replied, picking up her bow and testing the weight carefully. "But I mean to be the one to link with it, Dayna. If I have to do it over Avon's unconscious body, then I probably will."
"Brave of you, Tarrant."
He grinned engagingly. "I think he's smart enough to see the sense of it, don't you, Dayna?"
"Is he rational enough?" she asked. "I don't mean he's mad or anything, but he's not been acting normally lately."
"I think that's because of Cally. He thinks he should have got word to us sooner so we'd have been out of the base when it blew. He took too long defusing the charges on the ship, even though he had to - we'd have been stuck there with the Links, and Cally would have died anyway if he hadn't. But Avon's funny sometimes."
"You don't really understand him," Dayna said with certainty.
"Cally might," Dayna replied. "Or possibly Vila."
"Vila doesn't understand anything but avoiding work and adrenalin and soma."
"You're wrong, Tarrant. There's more to Vila than that. You should have seen him when we were on Liberator watching it fail. He took charge and did a damned good job. He surprised me, I have to admit it. And then he brought Orac off too. There's more to Vila than we've thought there was. You don't understand him."
He set an arrow to the bowstring and took careful aim at Dayna's makeshift target. The arrow whizzed off, burying itself in a tree to one side of the target. Tarrant grimaced. "You're right," he conceded. "I probably don't understand Vila. I was floored when he came away with Orac right under Servalan's nose. And he did save my life." He shook his head. "But he's no more sure about Avon now than we are. I wish Cally was better."
"If she was, she might want the Mark 60 too."
"She's no pilot," Tarrant replied. "And she's not interested in computers either."
"No, but she can't use her telepathy. She might want to link with the ship just so she won't have to be alone."
He looked thoughtful. "You could be right. But she's not well enough yet."
"I don't like the whole idea of the ship," Dayna confessed, gathering up her arrows and tying them into a bundle with a piece of cord made from vines.
"You don't? I can hardly wait."
"No, Tarrant. It sounds dangerous. Avon said it was dangerous. Hugh said it was dangerous. He said the person linked with the ship could die."
"Only if linked at the time of damage, Dayna."
"I thought Hugh said the link couldn't be broken."
"Hugh's a surgeon, not a cybernetics or telepathy expert. He only knows about it through hearsay. Besides, that only means some outsider couldn't break the link. The Federation would be foolish to design an unbreakable link. Pilots die; the life span of a good ship would be longer than that of a good pilot. No, Dayna, there's a way to break the link. But if the Federation has someone linked to the ship already, they'd want to be sure that some nasty rebels like us -" he grinned a predatory smile - "couldn't come in and take over."
"Then somebody must be linked to the ship already," Dayna said. "I think it could be a trap, Tarrant. And if it's not, it might be too late to get the ship on our side."
"Avon will know a foolproof way of breaking the link," Tarrant said with a grim smile. "It's called death."
"But if the ship was linked with someone, wouldn't it resent the person who killed its bondmate?"
"Probably," Tarrant agreed. "Another reason why I should be the one to form the link. Besides, I know Federation procedures better than any of you."
"I won't fight you for it," Dayna replied. "I still don't like the idea." She picked up her spear and took the bow from Tarrant while he went off to retrieve his misspent arrow. "Tarrant?"
"What about Hugh?"
"What about him?"
"D'you think Avon will leave him back on Dayson Prime?"
"No," said Tarrant involuntarily, then he shook his head. "Maybe. Cally's well enough now that she doesn't really need a doctor any more."
"But they'd kill him, wouldn't they?"
"Probably. At best, he'd be in a lot of trouble because he'd have that unexplained absence to deal with and explain away. Hugh's clever enough to come up with a good lie, but I think he'd have trouble getting out of it. He'd better stay with us."
"I hope he will," Dayna replied. "He fits in, doesn't he?"
"Not with Avon," Tarrant pointed out, taking the spear from her to carry as they headed back to the ship.
"Nobody fits in with Avon," Dayna reminded him. "But I don't think Avon dislikes him either, Tarrant. After all, Hugh pushes him a lot, but Avon hasn't turned on him. Surprising when you consider how short Avon's temper is right now."
"He never spends any more time with Hugh than he can help."
"He never spends any more time with any of us than he can help, though I think he's a little better lately. Maybe once we get the ship and stop feeling so helpless, he'll be more like himself."
"That won't be any great advantage."
"You know what I mean," she replied with a smile. "Avon hates being helpless."
"Don't we all," replied Tarrant with a return smile. "But why would Hugh want to stay with us? He's a damned good surgeon."
"Who couldn't get another job with the Federation if his life depended on it. I think Hugh likes us. I think he's even starting to like Avon. If he wasn't, he wouldn't bother with him."
"Oh, come on, Dayna. Hugh's got better taste than that."
Dayna's eyes twinkled at him. "I think you sometimes like him yourself, Tarrant."
"Like Avon?!" He glared at her, with apparent outrage. "This fresh air has damaged your brain, Dayna."
She laughed. "Perhaps. But what of Hugh? We want him to stay, don't we?"
"I suppose we do."
"Then we'd better not say so to Avon. I think the thing to do would be to talk to Hugh privately. If he wants to stay, then he should just stay. I don't think Avon would deliberately dump him on Dayson Prime - unless somebody made a point of him staying. If Avon can find Hugh later and complain about him still being with us, it would work best."
"You have a devious mind."
"Thank you." She preceded him into the ship.
"Stay with you?" Hugh echoed.
Tarrant had proposed the subject in the corridor outside the medical unit, knowing it was the last place on the ship Avon would be likely to pass casually. "Dayna and I have been talking. It sounds like it might be too risky for you to go back. They'd have too many questions."
"I know they would. I've got some family there, but my parents are dead and my sister is offworld and likely to stay there. I don't have any real ties there now. But I can't go back. If Avon decided to dump me, I'd rather he did it somewhere else." He grinned then. "But I'd like to stay. With your knack for getting into trouble, you probably will need a good doctor."
"I think you can count on that. Well, what do you say?"
"Will you ask Avon?"
"No. He'd say no, even if he didn't mean it. Sometimes it's better not to ask Avon. He'll get mad, but we're used to that. Are you sure you can put up with him?"
"Why not? You do." Hugh grinned. "I had an instructor like Avon in medical school back on Earth. He was as nasty as he could be most of the time and he would never have admitted liking a student, but under that exterior was a different person. I don't know what's under Avon's exterior, but it's different from what we see, or I would have been dead within two days of coming aboard."
That might be true. Avon could be thoroughly unpleasant, but he could be something else too. Tarrant remembered Avon during the Teal-Vandor Convention. He'd actually been sympathetic to Tarrant's loss and though his subsequent actions had been more to thwart Servalan than anything, he'd helped Tarrant get his revenge for Deeta's death. Tarrant had finally begun to think that he and Avon were starting to get on better terms, only to have that misconception corrected by the point of Avon's gun on the way to Terminal. Then just when Tarrant had convinced himself that Avon was the coldest, most ungrateful bastard in the known universe, he'd gone into the wreckage of the Terminal base and brought Cally out before Orac. Tarrant shook his head. "Avon's not like anybody else," he said finally.
"None of you are," Hugh agreed. "I'm having a wonderful time."
"It's about to get dangerous," Tarrant reminded him. "Get used to it. If you stay with us, it'll be the usual condition."
"Thanks for the warning, Del," Hugh said. "I'll keep it in mind."
That afternoon, a surprising event occurred. Avon went to see Cally. There were no witnesses to this historic meeting, but Cally guessed that Avon had planned it that way. She'd been dozing when the door opened. "Hugh?" she asked without turning her head.
"No." It was Avon's voice, and she turned to look at him so quickly that her head swam, forcing her to close her eyes to regain her equilibrium. When she opened them again, Avon was still there, looking almost diffident. For Avon, that was a considerable achievement.
"Come in, Avon," she said, "And sit down. I wondered if I had done something to anger you."
"No. There has been much to do. This ship Servalan left us is worthless, but it must be made as spaceworthy as possible."
"I see." She should have known Avon would come with a tailor-made excuse. "As you can see, I am recovering," she told him a little stiffly. "The others have come but I should not have expected it of you."
"What use could I have been here? Working on the ship serves us all."
She let it go. "Then why are you here now? Have you succeeded in turning this ship into a battle-worthy vehicle?"
"That is impossible, I fear, but tomorrow we are going after a better ship."
"Vila said something of the sort," she admitted.
"What did he tell you?" Avon's voice was almost a snarl, and Cally was afraid she had put Vila in trouble.
"Why, nothing," she lied. "Just that there was an experimental ship that would be tested near Dayson Prime, and that you wanted it. With the Liberator lost, we will need another ship and this one is not sufficient."
She thought he looked slightly heartened by her use of the word 'we' but didn't mention it to him. Instead she said, "I am not well enough to fight yet. Do you plan to leave me here with Hugh?"
"No. That would be too risky. We might be forced to escape in another direction. Once we leave this place, we will not be returning." He frowned. "I realise you are not well enough to fight, so Tiver will remain with you while the rest of us complete the mission."
"You trust him?"
"Let us say I trust him to allow no harm to come to you. Further than that, there is no need to trust him."
That was a major concession, coming from Avon. Cally looked at him in surprise. Maybe he and the others needed someone like Hugh among them, someone who was not devious in his relationships with them. Though he had been devious with the Federation, that had been to save his planet, and since joining them, he had been natural and open, and it had done them good, accustomed as they were to keeping everything concealed from each other.
Avon continued, "He will not be remaining with us in any case."
"I need him to complete my treatment," Cally suggested. She did not plead, as it was not her way, but she stated it as a simple fact and waited.
"I meant after your treatment," Avon said impatiently. "Though you should be well enough now to recover on your own."
She didn't comment on that, merely looked at him. Without her telepathy it took far more work to deal with people, and she wondered how much she had always picked up from the others, even though they were not telepaths and could not transmit directly. Maybe she had picked up emanations anyway, feelings, without realising it. How could humans ever understand each other, she wondered, lost and alone inside themselves, even among friends.
Something of what she was thinking must have shown on her face for Avon said angrily, "We will keep him with us as long as he is needed, no longer."
"Very well, Avon."
That resolved, at least to his satisfaction, if not hers, he said in a rather tentative voice, "How are you feeling?"
Avon's bedside manner was virtually non-existent, but he was trying. "My head still aches," she confessed. "But it is improving. My telepathy has not returned. Though Hugh feels it better to leave it for now, I try to use it periodically. So far, I have been unsuccessful."
"I'm sorry." He sounded as if he really meant it. "Cally, you were injured because of me."
"No, Avon. While I think your methods were wrong, you had to search for Blake. We would have chosen to go with you."
"I chose to go alone."
"For the vast fortune you were promised?" She smiled. "I do not believe it. It was your risk, though, and you chose to take it alone. We chose to follow you, and Servalan decided the rest. It is not as much your fault as you believe, Avon."
"Liberator is." It was rare for Avon to admit to guilt, but Cally knew he was as capable of feeling it as any of them, and less able to confess it.
"Yes," she agreed. "Liberator is. But sometimes we makes mistakes, Avon. I hope that next time, before you rush into something, you will take the time to think it out. The situation may not be what it appears."
"You mean something by that. What?"
"Only that we should have decided about Terminal together." She could not tell him of Gauda Prime. Maybe if they went there, she would have to tell him, but for now, it was better to let it go. "Avon, you often reproached Blake for deciding things for the rest of us. At Terminal you acted the same."
"I acted as I chose, Cally. I did not ask to have the lot of you follow me."
"Nevertheless, we did." She smiled a little. "Dorian was right, Avon. We are a part of each other, even you."
"It was something I read," she said weakly, pointing at the books. "That people who are together as we have been become involved with each other whether they choose to do so or not."
She was not sure if he believed her or not, but he said impatiently, "What rubbish. You would do better to avoid such drivel."
"I am left with little choice."
He turned his head away.
Surprised, because she had not thought it so easy to wound him, she continued quickly. "Avon we are a part of each other, all of us. Even Hugh now, in his way. When we go for the new ship we must all be very careful. It will be dangerous." At least the ship had not been in her dream. Hugh had pointed out that her survival and the absence of Dorian on Terminal proved that the prediction had been invalidated, even if it had really been a prediction. But that did not mean that certain parts of the premonition were not valid. She asked softly, "Do you plan to look for Blake once you have taken the ship?"
"Blake is dead." Avon spat at her.
"So Servalan said. She does not have a history of honesty, and she meant to hurt you."
"She did not hurt me." Avon's face was expressionless. "I suspected Blake was dead when I realised he had never been on Terminal. But she did him well, Cally. It was so real..." His voice trailed off, then he caught himself. "At least she is dead, though I would have felt more satisfaction had I killed her with my bare hands."
"You did kill her, Avon," Cally reminded him. "She died with Liberator and that was your doing."
"I would have been better served had she not died by accident as an afterthought."
"Still, she is dead. She could never have escaped, could she, Avon?"
"No, of course not." He frowned. "Even if she had teleported off at the last possible moment, she would still be stranded on Terminal. There were no other ships there." He fell silent a moment, then he began to curse. "I have been a fool."
"Avon?" she asked in alarm.
"Do you seriously imagine that the President and Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation risked her life to come to Terminal on this ship? She hoped to go away on Liberator, but there was no certainty of success, though the odds are high. She would have allowed herself a backup, something that was not booby trapped. Damn. It would have been carefully concealed, and the base computers would have been kept ignorant of it, but if she could have reached the surface, she could have escaped. If she saw the explosions, she would have believed us dead."
"But even if she had a ship, Avon, she would have had no chance to get off Liberator."
"Vila said that Zen preserved the teleport until the last moment. It was not long after Vila teleported that the ship was destroyed. If she were clever enough to read the signs, she would have returned to Terminal. She did not want Liberator badly enough to die with it." He was furious. "So she is alive."
"No, Avon. She may be alive. And if she is, she will be hard to find. Has there been word of her?"
"We have had little word here, and most of it is outdated. But there has been no mention of her, other than the fact that someone else has assumed the presidency. We made sure to check."
"Then perhaps she is dead. Or perhaps she lost her power while she was plotting our demise and failing."
"I would enjoy that," Avon replied. "But we must be on the alert for her, Cally, for if she lives, she will be all the more dangerous."
Cally started to speak, to mention the name Sleer, but she bit her lip and kept silent. Later she could ask Orac to check for the presence of Sleer. Hugh might wish to downplay her dream's importance, but she knew it was no simple nightmare. It was far too complex and real for that. Vila would help her; he would keep watch on Avon, and so would she. Between them, they might able to prevent the final outcome.
"If she had a good ship, she could be anywhere." she said instead.
"And we will find her," Avon vowed. "She will not escape me this time."
"And what of Blake, Avon? I am not convinced he is dead."
"If he lives, he is far away," Avon replied. "If he had wished to be found, we would have found him by now. Orac would have detected him. So he does not want to be found, at least not by us. We will go our own way, Cally. It is the only option left to us."
At least he was still speaking in the plural. "Blake was injured on Star One," she reminded him. "He might not have been able to seek us at first. Servalan strewed false clues in our path, at Terminal, on Obsidian. Do not judge him too hastily, Avon. If we find Blake, hear him out, no matter what he has to say."
"What do you expect me to do, Cally? Gun him down?"
She winced, and Avon stared at her. "No, Cally," he said. "I might do so, if the circumstances warranted it, but he could speak his piece first."
"Do you promise me that?" she demanded, clutching at his arm.
He pulled free. "I have never sought Blake to kill him, Cally," he said flatly. "After all these years, do you trust me as little as that?"
"Things are not always what they seem."
"If you mean to talk in cryptic riddles, I shall leave." He strode to the door, halted there. "If I find you know more of Blake than you have let on, Cally, I shall be quite angry."
"I'm terrified." But she couldn't sound as calm about it as she tried to do. She was not terrified, at least not for herself. But she was very worried. Avon must view Blake's continuing absence as a betrayal. He might have even been comfortable with the idea of Blake's death - if Blake was indeed dead, as Servalan had claimed, then Blake had been unable to return, and Blake had not betrayed them after all. But that was too complicated, and it made her head ache. She shut her eyes. "Avon, I would like to sleep now. You are not a restful visitor."
"Then I shall leave you. Put aside your fanciful notions, Cally. They are caused by your weakness, nothing more. Weakness breeds sentiment, and sentiment can be fatal."
"Sentiment is not always a weakness, Avon."
"That is what fools always think." He went out, and if the door had not been a sliding one, he would have banged it behind him.
Cally kept her eyes closed, willing the pain to go away, wondering if her dream had been as ludicrous as she hoped it had. Avon was walking a thin line and Blake's disappearance had not helped. They had to learn the truth and learn it soon. Servalan was not the person to believe, but even congenital liars sometimes told the truth if it benefited them, and it had certainly benefited Servalan to tell Avon that Blake was dead. Truth or lie, it would affect Avon the same. But they had to know. Only then could they go on.
In the morning, they left for Dayson Prime. The journey would take them three days, and they would reach Hugh's homeworld the day after the Mark 60 did. That would give the testers a day's grace, time to lower their guard. Hugh doubted the local rebellion had enough strength to pull off something this ambitious, though they might help if necessary. Unfortunately, Hugh wasn't quite sure how to contact them; he didn't even have a starting point.
"You're very helpful." Avon told him sarcastically.
"I'm sorry. If I'd known I might be involved in the theft of the Mark 60, I would have made a special effort to worm my way into the rebels' confidence so I could use them for you."
"They obviously thought you the fool you appeared, or they would have approached you," Avon snapped. "Are you very sure they didn't."
"Yes, Avon, I'm very sure they didn't. After all, they thought I was Federation."
"Sometimes, so do I."
The others objected to that, but Hugh didn't bother to protest. Arguing with Avon that way wouldn't help. "I don't know the rebels, Avon, and you don't really want to bring them in on this anyway," Hugh reminded him. "Though I could take Cally to them if I knew them and that would keep her out of danger."
"Cally may be ill, but she is no weakling," said Avon. "I plan to give her a gun. Moving her to the Mark 60 will be the most difficult part of all of this."
"It might not be necessary," Tarrant put in. "Avon, I've been going over everything Orac knows about the Mark 60."
"I never told you to do that."
"I'm a pilot, Avon," said Tarrant impatiently. "I'll have to fly the thing no matter who links with it.
"It's got a large landing bay," he added. "I thought we could dock with it and take this ship into the hangar bay. That way, after we've landed on Dayson Prime, this ship could go into orbit and wait for us to get the Mark 60."
"Leaving Tiver in charge?" Avon asked incredulously.
"Leaving Orac in charge," Tarrant corrected. "Hugh's not a bad pilot, but Orac knows more about the Mark 60 than any of us yet."
Avon considered that while Hugh waited. It would be the best way to ensure Cally's safety unless there was a fleet there, and Orac could arrange to confuse base records with a forged registry, if necessary, unless there was open suspicion or unless the planet was blockaded.
"It might work," Avon conceded. "Sometimes, Tarrant, you actually surprise me."
"That's a compliment," Vila informed Tarrant helpfully. "Better remember it. It will probably never happen again."
The journey to Dayson Prime took three days, and the majority of that time was spent in disagreement over the plan to capture the Mark 60. Cally, improving rapidly as the days passed, was allowed out of bed for short periods, for she tired quickly, but her strength was returning. Hugh accompanied her on her journeys about the ship, keeping a concerned eye on her, and sending her back to bed when she became too tired, for she would expend her energy quickly at first. Being with the others seemed to do her good, though, and while the familiar glow did not return to her eyes, she appeared comforted by their presence. After the first few times she appeared, even Avon unbent and began to treat her naturally, which meant that he snapped at her as he did the rest, though he seemed less vitriolic as time passed. Vila promptly resumed their old bickering ways with obvious relish, and Avon responded to it, flinging insults at Vila as he had done in the old days, and at any of the others who made the mistake of calling his attention down on themselves. But he was still more wary than usual, and had he been anyone but Avon, he might have seemed to be on the defensive. The others could not help but notice that while he treated Cally much as always, he watched her sometimes when she was not looking, a strange expression on his face.
Once when he came to the flight deck unexpectedly, Vila halted in the doorway when he heard Avon questioning Orac about Blake. "... no word of Blake at all." Orac was saying.
"No Federation reports of his death?" Avon persisted, his voice tense and urgent. Vila froze, not daring to move or speak.
"You checked the planet Jevron?"
"Many times," Orac replied impatiently. "I have examined the death rolls of Jevron at the appropriate times and there has been nothing. Is there anything further? My work is being delayed unnecessarily by your constant questions."
"I will tell you when I have finished." Avon growled. "Servalan said Blake died there. Surely there would be records."
"Had Blake's death been public knowledge, there would have been a Federation-wide outcry." Orac pointed out. "According to the records, Servalan was never on Jevron either, though in her case, the records may have been tampered with. Either she wished to keep the news of Blake's death secret for her own purposes, or he lives, somewhere far from Jevron. I have arranged to be alerted to the mention of Blake at any time, in any computer I contact. If that is sufficient, I must request that I be allowed to return to my own work."
"It is not sufficient," Avon replied. "But it is enough for now, Orac." He yanked the key free and hesitated in the act of tossing it away from him as he caught sight of Vila still dithering in the doorway.
"What are you doing here?" he said accusingly.
"It's time for my watch," Vila reminded him in a small voice. "Avon I think Servalan lied to us about Blake. I don't know where he is, but he might be alive. When we get the new ship, we can look for him."
"His existence is of no concern to me, other than the fact that I would like to verify it one way or the other."
Vila knew that was a lie, but he didn't say so. If Avon didn't still intend some link with Blake, he would not be bothering with the Mark 60. He would be looking for a safe bolthole far from the Federation. He didn't need a fast and advanced ship to hide out, and he didn't need the rest of them. But all Vila said was, "Well, go on then. You've done with Orac, and it's my watch. It's my watch. It's bad enough to have to sit here with nothing to drink without having to look at you too."
"I have had enough of your company as well," Avon retorted and left without looking back.
He hadn't been gone more than twenty minutes when Cally appeared, for once unaccompanied by Hugh Tiver. "Vila, I have come to talk to you."
Since learning of Cally's dream, Vila had tried to avoid her, except in company, for fear that he would have to confess that the people in her dream had been real. Now there seemed to be no way of avoiding it, though a shifty glance at Orac revealed that Avon had taken the activator with him when he left.
"What d'you want to talk about, Cally?" he asked uneasily, hoping to stall for time. "Sit down; Hugh will have my head if I let you get tired."
"I am not tired," she reassured him, though the shadows around her eyes belied her words. She seemed thinner and more fragile since her injury, and Vila was never quite sure if it was the result of her illness or the loss of her telepathy. Something had diminished her, though, and it hurt him to look at her.
"You look tired. I don't know why we all aren't, though," he rambled. "This ship has the hardest beds this side of the London."
"Vila, did you ask Orac about those names?"
"Some of them," he admitted reluctantly. "It's not easy finding time, Cally. Avon's got Orac's key right now. I have to take what time I can get with Orac."
"What have you learned?"
"Orac told me about your dream," Vila told her, scrunching down a little in his seat and longing for rescue in the form of Hugh or any of the others. "The slimy little traitor, trying to get Avon to toss me out an airlock. See if I ever get into any shuttles with Avon or Orac again." He looked at her intently. "Avon won't do it, Cally. I asked Orac for further information. It's all different from your dream; Avon's different. Besides, Avon can't find anything about anyone named Dorian. Well, that just goes to show, doesn't it?"
"What of the others, Vila?"
"Some of them are real, but Orac says you could have heard of them before somehow, on a viscast or something, even before you met any of us. Besides, remember when we first got Orac and he told us he could predict the future? He hasn't predicted any of the things in your dream, has he?"
Realising that was true, Cally relaxed fractionally. "Perhaps not, Vila, but the fear that Avon could kill Blake is enough to make me very wary."
"Avon won't kill Blake, Cally. He might not always like Blake, but he won't kill him. He was just in here trying to get Orac to find him. He didn't sound like he was going to take out his gun either. He sounded like he was afraid Servalan had told the truth and he wanted Orac to reassure him. He was furious when he found out I'd been listening."
"Vila, every day that Avon does not find Blake is one more day for Avon to resent his disappearance."
"Then we'll just have to hope that Blake shows up soon with a very good explanation, won't we?"
"You are an optimist, Vila. That is too much to expect. We must both be very wary."
They came into orbit around Dayson Prime unchallenged and made a landing at a smaller city away from the capital, amid the tramp freighters and planet hoppers. Any action would be going on in Highcastle, the capital. According to schedule Avon, Vila, Tarrant and Dayna left the ship and booked passage by surface transport, ground rail car, to go to Highcastle, while Hugh and Cally settled down to wait. They would not go into orbit until the others were actually in Highcastle.
Tarrant was uneasy during the journey. Their faces could be known to anyone so they split up, he and Dayna together, and Avon and Vila a little apart in the next car. Avon's hand was never very far from his hidden gun, Tarrant knew, but he was trying to appear nonchalant. Vila fell into the role of a tourist effortlessly, blending in easily with the other passengers on the train, and Tarrant realised that one of the reasons for Vila's success as a thief was his ability to pass unremarked through almost any crowd.
Tarrant and Dayna assumed the role of lovers, pretending an absorption in each other that won looks of amused tolerance from many of their fellow travellers, but which did not prevent them from being alert. Relieved that the forged identity cards Orac had helped to fabricate with Hugh's help had passed muster, Tarrant was still half expecting an official to come into the car at any moment and spot them. Entwined about each other most of the time, he and Dayna could watch each other's backs, and Tarrant had to admit to himself that the fringe benefits were not bad either.
"Don't enjoy yourself too much." Dayna hissed into his ear.
"What, and insult you with my indifference?"
She chuckled slightly but her fingers dug into his arm. "Remember," she warned him while pretending to nibble on his ear lobe, "I'm very good with a gun."
"I wouldn't dream of forgetting. Besides, this is a little public for the - how did it go - the human bonding ceremony."
Startled into laughter, Dayna collapsed against his shoulder. "I'm good with explosives too," she reminded him.
"I like living dangerously."
"Obviously." She peered past him at the other occupants of the compartment.
They arrived at Highcastle undetected and blended into the crowds, keeping in sight of Avon and Vila, who was apparently trying to convince Avon to lighten up and act like a holiday maker. Tarrant shook with suppressed laughter at the expression of determined enjoyment pasted across Avon's face.
But once in the hotel near the docking cradles, they got down to the serious business. Avon contacted the ship and was put in touch with Orac, who gave them a schedule of the security guarding the Mark 60. There were five men responsible for her at any given time, though two of them left the ship at intervals and walked the perimeter. The base was shielded by a shock fence - "Easy to get past that." Villa commented cheerfully - and a force field. Orac could find its frequency and Vila could set to work lowering a portion of it almost immediately.
The officer in charge of the project was Space Major Weed, which drew a sour look from Tarrant.
"I know the man. He's a psychopath. If the ship's bonded to him, it'll be very difficult."
But Orac assured them that none but the most temporary linkages had as yet been tried. Weed's assistant was a lieutenant named Sleer.
"Sleer!" Cally exclaimed over the communicator. "Avon you must be wary of Sleer."
"But it's not Commissioner Sleer," Vila burst out, then looked like he would have liked to have bitten his tongue. Avon spun on Vila with a look of suspicious interest.
"Tell me of Sleer." he said. "Tiver?"
"There was no Sleer on Dayson Prime to my knowledge when I left." Hugh said.
"That was not my question. Cally? I presume Sleer is one of the players in your prophetic dream. Explain his function."
"Her function." Cally's voice was reluctant. "She is Servalan."
"What!" Avon glared at the communicator as if it had bitten him. "This is ludicrous. Servalan is President of the Terran Federation. Why should she be here under another name as assistant to this project?"
"It's a trap," wailed Vila. "I knew it all along. We're all going to die."
"Some of us rather sooner than others," Avon retorted, throwing Vila a pointed look. "Servalan I can deal with. I know her. I understand her."
"Two of a kind," Vila muttered under his breath.
If Avon heard him he choose to ignore the comment.
"If she is here though, it likely is a trap." Tarrant found himself in the unique position of agreeing with Vila. "Should we go ahead with it?"
"Why not?" Avon remarked. "At least Blake is not here. We know the cast of characters. You are familiar with Weed and we all know Servalan. If she is here, it means one of two things: first that Vila is unexpectedly correct and it is a trap, or, second, that she has fallen from power and has assumed another identity. Were she able to flee from Terminal, this is the most likely place for her to start. Her attempt to secure Liberator having failed, she might have lost power as a result. However, we have come too far to turn back. We will proceed with the plan. Vila will go first to take out the force field. Dayna will accompany him as backup. Tarrant, you and I will attempt to locate Sleer and Weed. If we can immobilise them or take them hostage, we will stand a better chance of succeeding."
"I want a chance at Servalan," Dayna insisted.
"I want that ship," Avon replied. "My desire for revenge against Servalan is as great as yours, Dayna, but I put my survival above it, as you should. If the opportunity arises, we will either take her prisoner or kill her, assuming, of course," he added with heavy sarcasm, "that Cally's dream is accurate. I should hate to base my activities on a dream, no matter how the rest of you choose to guide your destinies. Well, what are you waiting for?"
"I don't have the right equipment," Vila reminded him.
"You are a thief. Steal it."
"Come on, Vila," Dayna said, climbing to her feet. "I have some explosives. And you have the lock-pick tools you were wearing when we left the Liberator. It won't take us long to get what we need."
"Always rushing into danger," Vila mourned, but he allowed Dayna to drag him toward the door.
"We will meet here," Avon told them, pointing to a rough diagram that Hugh had drawn for them of the docking cradles. "In four hours, Vila. That will give you time to get past the force field and begin work on the shock fence. Tarrant and I will attempt to gain entrance from the inside, and if that fails, we will come to you."
The Federation base was quiet when Avon and Tarrant got in over the wall not far from the main building. The force field was only in place around the Mark 60, and security was more lax than expected. That could mean one of two things; either the Federation was certain that resistance would be non-existent here and they did not want to call attention to the ship with a display of security forces, or Vila was right about the trap. Orac had detected nothing in Federation computers that indicated the latter, such as a sudden transfer of security personnel, so they could only hope the first instance was correct.
"We've got an hour before we meet Vila and Dayna," Tarrant pointed out after a hasty glance at his watch.
"I know what time it is," Avon replied. "Lead the way. Where would Major Weed be at this time of night?"
"If not on the ship, then on the base, possibly in his quarters or an office that's been allotted to him. If we can get into the building, you can check it on the computers."
Twice they had to duck routine patrols, but finally they were able to enter the building through an unlocked rear door. A guard sat at a terminal there, and he looked up at them with curiosity but not much alarm when they came in. "Your papers?" he asked in a bored voice.
"I'm not sure if this is the right place," Tarrant said promptly in a diffident voice. "But I was at the Academy with Rendall Weed, and I've heard he's here. We were roomates through one term, and I was hoping to see him again. I don't have an access, but if you contact him, he might see me."
"It's a little late for visitors," the man remarked, though the mention of Weed's name seemed to reassure him. Avon wondered if he were as stupid as he looked or if he were so unaccustomed to trouble here that he had convinced himself that it would never happen. A fool, then.
"I just came off shift," Tarrant explained. "I'm a civilian worker on this benighted planet, and the best news I've heard in a long time is that my old friend is here."
Avon moved closer to the guard and peered over his shoulder at the screen, unfortunately shut down, assuming an expression of affable imbecility. "One of the old Stretton-Chase models," he remarked. "They've been out of date on Earth for at least five years. Did you know that these were programmed to play 'Ship and Asteroids'?"
"This old computer?" the guard asked in astonishment, brightening. "I haven't had a good S&A game since I left Earth. D'you know how to call it up?"
"Log on, and then log in Games," Avon instructed.
The man complied, his eyes widening as a long list of computer games appeared on the screen. "I think you've just made these long night duties bearable, friend," he informed Avon. "How'd you know about it?"
"I used to program computers like this back on Earth when I was a student. I put the games in, but I was the only one who knew about it, so it was evidently never removed." He patted the man on the shoulder in an attempt to appear companionable, aware of Tarrant staring at him incredulously. Perhaps he could not believe that Avon had ever been a student or that he had ever enjoyed computer games.
"Here," Tarrant put in, almost missing his cue in surprise. "You can play your games after you contact Weed for me."
"Right away," the man said, forgetting procedure at the sight of the list of games on the screen. As he reached for the transmit button, Avon chopped him across the back of his neck with the side of his hand, and caught the body as he fell. "Tie him up and shove him in a closet," he instructed, sitting at the computer and wiping out the game display, calling up instead a diagram of the base. Though Avon had left his old password in the system, there was no guarantee that it had not been removed since, and an attempt to enter an unfamiliar one might have set off alarms; the guard had coded in his own password before requesting the games list. It only took moments to locate Weed's quarters.
"This is fascinating, Rendall," Sleer told the Space Major as she sat with him in his quarters poring over the charts on the Mark 60. "I'm so lucky to be assigned to you." The words all but choked her. Servalan had little patience with the type of arrogant insanity practised by Rendall Weed, wilfully failing to recognise her own obsessions as similar to his. Since reaching this back-water planet and learning that in her brief absence a coup had taken place, she had set about assuming this alternate personality. In preparation for just such an occurrence, she had fabricated the Sleer persona, prepared to step into it if she had to, and it had taken her ten minutes at a computer terminal to write the orders for Lieutenant Sleer to proceed to Dayson Prime. She knew of the Mark 60 tests, had followed them for some time, and the fact that no one involved in them knew her personally had been a definite advantage when she'd assigned herself to it. Weed had expected a different assistant, but Servalan had sent that officer unhesitatingly to Cygnus Alpha for his supposed part in rebel activities, clearing the way for her arrival. She had stayed on Terminal only long enough to observe the explosion of the base. Even if some of them had survived, they could not continue to do so without supplies or transportation. And if they should, by some miracle, manage to get off the planet, Dayson Prime was the best place to wait for them. She would give them another month while she assumed control of the Mark 60 programme. The thought of a computer linked to her, dependent on her and obedient to her every whim pleased her greatly. With the Mark 60 in her control, it would not take long to assume power again. That was what she needed and had to have, power. Once accustomed to it, she could bear nothing else.
Rendall Weed, for all his driving desire to complete the project, wanted it only to complete his domination of Space Command. She suspected he was aiming for the post of Supreme Commander and she might let him assume it for a time too, as long as it did not interfere with her own plans. She knew the type. Rendall had a long list of imagined slights and with the power he achieved from the Mark 60 tests, he was going to take his revenge. He bored her, though his shifty eyes and the agile brain behind them kept her on her guard, but like almost everyone she met, he was easy to deceive. Very few people ever won her respect, and even they, like Avon, had their faults and weaknesses. It had been fascinating to watch Avon's reaction to the news of Blake's death. What then had been the cause of that twinge she had felt when she saw that open bewilderment and shock on his face? The pleasure she'd thought she would gain from seeing him broken - even for a second - had not been realised. She did not care to analyse why. It had shown her a side of Avon, and perhaps herself, that she might never understand. But it made her stronger than Avon, for she would admit to no weaknesses.
"It will not be long before the Federation realises the usefulness of the Mark 60 line," Weed went on, lecturing again on his pet project. Servalan was sick of the lectures and the self-aggrandisement, but for now, she must listen and pretend she shared his goals.
"But where will the right people come from, Rendall?" she asked, batting her eyelashes at him. "Surely it would require a special person to control a mindship."
"Naturally, my dear Sleer. You might do it yourself; you have the strength of will for it. There will be some risk, should the wrong type of person attempt it, of course. Weak willed people would surely fail. But you are strong-willed and determined. This first ship is mine, but the next one will be yours. Together we will lead the fleet that will replace the current ships, rendering them as obsolete as the first wanderer class ships."
"Yes, my dear," she agreed smoothly. "How can we fail. You have a dream, and the drive to make it a reality. I'm glad I was assigned to you. I can't imagine anything more exciting than this." Unless it's taking your ship and making it my own.
The door opened suddenly, and to her utter astonishment, Tarrant and Avon burst in, guns levelled at them. Weed made a hasty and ill considered move for a weapon but Tarrant fired first, striking the major in the chest. He fell back in his chair, staring at them blankly. "I know you," he gasped, his teeth clenched against the pain. "You look like someone I knew...at the Academy. Tarrant...that was it, Del Tarrant ...a damn fine pilot, Tarrant...until he went renegade." He sagged and slid from his chair to the floor.
"Avon and Tarrant," Servalan said, careful to make no sudden moves. They both looked positively murderous. She should have known they would find a way off Terminal. Neither of them would bear underestimating. "I did not appreciate the way you left the Liberator for me. Surely you can care for your ships better than that?"
"We plan to," Avon told her coldly. "But this time, we plan to care for your ship, Madame President. Or perhaps that title is meaningless now. How does it feel to be deprived of power, Servalan?"
"A temporary setback, Avon," she purred. "I expect to remedy the situation soon, and your presence here has made it all the easier. When I report your capture, I will be on the ascendancy again. How delightful of you to deliver yourself into my hands."
"Perhaps you haven't noticed, Servalan, but it's rather the other way round. The Federation will be pleased to learn the identity of Sleer. There is a warrant for your arrest, I believe. So you will try nothing. If Orac does not hear from us within a certain time, he will pass the word of your identity to every Federation computer he can reach and he can reach a vast number of them."
"Why are you here?"
"You should know that, Servalan." Tarrant smiled at her, displaying a quantity of predatory, white teeth. It was a pity he had to be so pretty; she had a fancy for pretty young men like Tarrant. Had he stayed in the Federation, she might have enjoyed using him up. But she didn't make the mistake of appealing to him. Avon was the one to reckon with, and the two of them together would be very hard to overcome. But for her, not impossible. She was content to wait. Avon would not kill her out of hand, not unless she gave him some excuse, and she had no intention of doing that, not yet. The odds would be in her favour soon enough.
"Yes," Avon agreed. "We want the Mark 60. You will take us there. You will give no alarm. If you do, we might die, but so would you. And even if we did not kill you, there is Orac waiting. No, Servalan, you will obey me." His smile was even more predatory than Tarrant's was. "If you do not, we might give you to Dayna. She would relish taking your life."
"But you, Avon, are above such petty considerations?"
"Well now, I would not say that."
It was Blake, she realised. Because she had reported Blake's death to Avon, he would be as relentless as Dayna in striving for her death. There could be no understanding between them this night; Terminal had changed Avon in ways she did not quite understand. She would need to be very careful.
"Well," she said abruptly, "Shall we go? I will take you to the ship."
Suspicion flared in their eyes, and it amused her. She could still control this situation. A pity she had not yet had time to blend with the ship, but neither of them knew enough to do it either. It would take Avon time to understand the principles of the linkage, time for her to pursue him and recover the ship. All need not be lost. And even if they completed the linkage, the Mark 60 was merely advanced, not invincible. It was not Liberator, and Liberator had fallen to bits around her. She could still triumph.
The ship was floodlit, and there were at least three men on board at any given time. Servalan did not know if Avon and Tarrant had backup or not, but she thought that three to two was a point in her favour.
Two of the guards came toward her as they approached the ship, and Servalan, conscious of Avon's gun jammed tightly into her back, smiled at them. "I am taking a scientific party to the ship," she said, a lift of her shoulder in Avon's direction. "This is Roal Kittron, one of the top computer experts in the Federated Worlds. He is here to check the linkages before the project is completed. Since I will be on board with him, you need not return for the moment. Take a rest period and I will summon you when we are finished."
"As you order, ma'am," one of them said, and they both saluted her before departing.
"You see, Avon," she purred as soon as they were gone. "I can assist you. Perhaps I should accompany you."
"No," Avon told her. "You will not. I would not want to find myself upon a ship that you control."
Privately, Servalan gnashed her teeth.
They reached the ship then, and Servalan called to the guards on board. "Sleer, on an inspection tour."
The three remaining guards came to the ramp and looked out at her, guns ready. Recognising. her, they relaxed. "You're working late tonight, Sleer," the officer told her, his rank removing constraint between them.
"Weed expects a certain amount of work done no matter how many hours there are in a day," Servalan informed the man.
"I don't envy you, Sleer."
"But think of the status, Joris." She smiled benignly at him. "If this doesn't give me a promotion, I don't know what will."
At that moment, every alarm on the base went off.
Avon's gun pressed even tighter into her back, and Servalan cried to Joris, "Someone has gained access to the perimeter. Check it while I take these scientists to safety inside the ship."
"Come on, men." Joris led his two troopers toward the perimeter.
At once there were shots, and Tarrant, taking advantage of the distraction, got one the of troopers in the back. Another shot - Dayna? Cally? - took Joris, and he fell. The third guard, realising that he was being fired upon from two directions, broke and ran for the headquarters building and shelter, but he didn't make it either. Lights began flashing, and it would only be moments before additional troops arrived. Servalan smiled to herself. Now Avon would be captured.
Dayna and Vila came dashing up, Dayna freezing at the sight of her. At once she levelled her gun at Servalan.
"Not yet," Avon shouted. "She will shield us. Vila, get the ship open."
The main hatch had slammed shut at the first alarms.
Vila ran up the ramp and set to work. Were it anyone but Vila, Servalan would have been unconcerned, but Vila was one of the few men in the Federated Worlds who might actually break in. To her surprise and fury, it took him no more than two minutes to open the door. Tarrant went up the ramp first; he would have the ship aloft in moments, she knew, as the actual controls were nothing to one trained at the FSA.
Dayna looked as though she still wanted to kill her, but Avon said, "Get on board," to her in a harsh voice.
"No! If anyone kills her, it will be me."
"Avon won't kill me," Servalan retorted, not quite as positively as she would once have done.
"Are you very sure of that?" Avon shoved her hard, knocking her to the ground. Not expecting it, she fell hard. Even as she landed, her hand dived into her sleeve for the little gun she carried there. Avon would not escape her this time.
He was halfway up the ramp when her shot took him, but her aim was off and she only struck his arm. He staggered but did not fall, and Dayna leaned around him from the hatchway and fired. Pain seared along her nerve endings and unconsciousness took her. The last thing she heard as darkness fell was Dayna's voice crying, "Avon, let me go. I want to make sure she's dead."
Dayna dragged the wounded Avon on board the Mark 60 and sealed the hatch. Discovering a comm panel beside it, she pushed the button. "Tarrant, we're on board, and Avon's hurt."
Avon was not unconscious, though his arm burned like fire. "Get us out of here, Tarrant," he snarled, clutching at his wound. It wasn't as bad as the injury he had received on Exbar, or even on the Liberator over Obsidian, and fortunately, it was in his other arm. He had lost some blood, but he was in no danger of dying.
With Dayna's support, they reached the flight deck. "There you are," Tarrant said, as if he'd casually misplaced them at a party. "Strap in and we'll be on our way."
Vila's eyes widened at the sight of Avon's injury, but Tarrant didn't bother to remark. They secured themselves while Tarrant did something with the controls. Launch was smooth and instantaneous, and Vila, at Tarrant's insistence, was assisting. "There's a detector shield here somewhere." Tarrant remarked. "See if you can find it, Vila."
"I'm not a pilot - where do I look?" But Vila unfastened himself and began to peer at the controls.
"Idiots." A disembodied voice seemed to come from all around them. "Why am I always surrounded by idiots? If you require the detector shield, why don't you just ask, eh?"
Vila jumped and squawked, but Avon looked around him and focused on a display panel that showed a series of jagged lines like a voice print. "Ship," he remarked to it, "activate the detector shield."
"You've got it." A panel began to glow not far from Vila's hand, and he jumped away, then eased back and bent over it. "It's labelled, Avon," he explained, eyeing the display panel uneasily. "Is that the ship talking?"
"Well, who do you think it is, the President of the Terran Federation? Yes, I'm talking to you. The question is, who are you and what are you doing here?"
"It's not what I expected," Tarrant muttered under his breath.
"And you're not what I expected, pilot," the ship countered. "Though you're very good. I'm even impressed. Ah, now I know who you are. You're Blake's rebels. Kerr Avon, this is a privilege. I'm familiar with your work. You will be a vast improvement over Major Weed. Between us, I think there's something missing in his upper works."
"You do understand we're taking over?" Tarrant asked.
"Well, you're here, aren't you? Del Tarrant. I believe I'll call you Del. We'll work closely together, won't we?"
"Yes," replied Tarrant eagerly. "You aren't already linked to anyone, are you?"
"Not yet. I still have that to look forward to. I suppose you think it'll be you. It isn't quite that easy. I have some say in this too. You think I want just anyone inside my head?"
"That doesn't sound like any computer I ever heard," complained Vila, peering at the display panel in surprise.
"It is not like any computer you ever heard," Avon replied. "This one is something special. Ship, we are planning to rendezvous with another ship." He described it.
"Ugh," the ship said disgustedly. "It sounds like a pile of junk. I don't mind taking the rest of your crew on board, Avon, but I don't like the thought of something like that littering my holds."
"I assure you it will only be temporary. Activate your communications systems. Are you familiar with the computer Orac?"
"Orac?" The ship's voice brightened. "If you have Orac, I'll be thrilled to work with you. It will give me two links after I decide which of you will be best as my organic bondmate. I possess tarial cells, so Orac and I will link as well. This is going to be so much fun. Oh yes," it added as an afterthought, "you have communications."
"Fun," muttered Avon under his breath. Linking with this ship would be a different proposition than he had expected, but he would soon see that the tendency to loquacity and emotionalism was eradicated. "Orac, can you read me?"
"I have ascertained your position," Orac's voice came clearly. "We will dock with you in seven point three five minutes. The ship is preparing for our arrival. I should point out that Federation pursuit ships are being launched. If you manoeuvre to rendezvous with us, we could be on board before they come within firing range."
"Right, Orac," the ship responded. "We're coming. This is fun. I was getting bored down there." His display panel flashed rapidly a few times. "I've transmitted the new data to Orac. I'm going to like working with him."
"With it," Avon corrected under his breath.
"What about the Federation?" Tarrant asked. "Aren't you loyal to them?"
"Major Weed was a madman," the ship replied, "And Sleer was an obsessive megalomaniac. They were fooling each other, but not me." The display panel rotated slightly to face Avon. "Neither of them had your skill. Besides, I think I'm a rebel at heart. Why should I be used to oppress the galaxy? I'm cut out for great things. I'm also unique. They wanted to build a fleet like me. I don't think I would have enjoyed that."
"And he said Servalan was a megalomaniac," Vila retorted.
"Servalan!" the ship exclaimed. "Yes, that makes perfect sense. I should have known. I can only say that I was deliberately given incomplete programming in that area. You won't keep such important data from me, will you, Avon?"
"You will be given all data necessary for your primary functioning," Avon replied. "How much longer before we dock with the others?"
"Others?" The display flashed a few times. "Cally. Interesting. A telepath is something I have not had the pleasure of encountering before. And a surgeon? Tiver is listed as a deserter from the Federation, but it seems to me that he was never really part of it. We'll dock in less than one minute. And, if I might suggest, Avon, you should have that wound attended to. I have a small medical unit on board that is quite satisfactory. The addition of a doctor to my crew will be a delight. I suggest you go there now and I will send him to you as soon as possible."
"You suggest?" Avon echoed, outraged. "You forget who is in command of this ship."
"Naturally I accept your authority, Avon, and I look forward to working with someone so gifted. But as a semi-mechanical life form, my duty is to protect the humans who travel in me, and a blood loss would not be all that good for you. I diagnose that the injury is not serious, though it must be painful. Go on, now. I don't like the idea of you bleeding all over my upholstery."
Affronted, Avon glared at the display, aware of the others' silent amusement, then because he really wanted the wound dressed, he rose to his feet. Staggering slightly, he cursed the blood loss that had weakened him, and cursed Servalan who had had the effrontery to shoot him. Dayna, who was closest, jumped up and offered her arm. "Come on, Avon. I'll go with you."
"It's just a flesh wound," he announced to the flight deck at large.
"You're right, Avon," the ship agreed. "But flesh wounds can bleed a lot. I shall suggest that Tiver put you to bed. I can elude the pursuit ships easily, and will do so the minute we are docked."
"I hope you're right," said Tarrant, his eyes on the main screen. "Because they're getting close. I don't suppose you have any tracers or tracking devices on board, or any other way they could follow us?"
"There was a tracking device."
"What!" Avon halted near the doorway.
"But I deactivated it once I learned who was on board. I'm something of a fan of yours, Avon."
Avon muttered something that sounded like, "Arrgh," under his breath and stalked off the flight deck. He was sure he heard Tarrant and Vila laughing as he went. It would not be long before he took a thorough look at the ship's programming, probably with a spanner.
"We have arrived," Orac announced, "and the landing bay is pressurising. One moment more. Tiver, Avon has sustained a slight injury to his arm. You are to meet him in the medical unit to dress the injury. Cally should go too for a check. You will bring me with you. This ship's computer is very advanced, though possessing a lamentable tendency to colloquialism. Still I foresee many productive hours ahead."
"Colloquialism," echoed Hugh, grinning. "This might be fun. I'll carry Orac. Cally, Do you think you can walk that far?"
"I'm not that fragile," she replied, though she seemed dangerously high strung as a result of the loss of her telepathy. Her physical strength was returning rapidly. "I'm not tired, Hugh."
He watched her carefully during the walk to the medical unit, where Avon was waiting. Dayna had made him remove his tunic, and she was cleaning the wound when Hugh arrived. "It doesn't look bad," she said over her shoulder, "but it bled a lot."
"I'll take over now," he replied and came around the table to look at Avon's arm. "How did this happen?" he asked.
"Then she was Sleer?" Cally demanded, her face dismayed.
"Yes, she was Sleer," Avon conceded. "However, this incident was not in your dream."
"No, but Sleer was."
"I grant that," Avon acknowledged stiffly. "But the altering of actual events should prove that knowledge of the future is sufficient to change it. That's why Orac would never enlarge upon his prediction that Liberator would be destroyed."
"Liberator was destroyed." Orac reminded him haughtily.
"The other DSV was destroyed at precisely the star reference in your prediction. You never predicted its destruction."
Orac remained silent, and Avon looked at it in astonishment. Choosing his moment, Hugh applied a disinfectant to the wound, and Avon went rigid and yelped. "What the hell was that?" he demanded accusingly.
"Disinfectant. You've lost a lot of blood, Avon. I'd like to set up a transfusion, and I'll keep you here for the night."
Avon didn't argue, which convinced Hugh more than anything else that he was not feeling very well. "Lie down," he advised, and Avon let himself be eased onto the diagnostic bed - a very advanced one, Hugh noticed with great delight - still staring at Orac.
"Orac," Avon asked, as if he and the computer were alone, "What other things have you predicted about our situation that you have failed to inform us about?"
"I do not make predictions at random," Orac replied testily. "Nor do I volunteer them."
"Make one now," Avon snarled, though Cally put out an arresting hand, and Hugh turned to her and slid an arm protectively around her shoulders. She was still very frightened about her dream, and Avon's timing couldn't have been worse in Hugh's estimation, though he could understand it.
"Very well, if you insist," Orac replied. "Roj Blake will be located."
"What! Where?" Cally exclaimed, her eyes frightened.
"Roj Blake will be located," Orac repeated unhelpfully.
"Not on Gauda Prime?"
"Unknown," Orac replied.
"It will tell us nothing further." Avon's face was white, but Hugh wasn't sure if it was because of blood loss or the prediction. Hugh had suspected that Avon had feelings for Blake in spite of his claims to the contrary, and the events at the end of Cally's dream had concurred with that.
"The prediction has been made," Orac went on. "Surely you expected nothing less, Avon. You have been seeking him, and with my vast resources devoted to the search, such an outcome is inevitable."
"The outcome is not far distant."
"That's what you said about the ship being destroyed," Avon remarked. "I warn you, Orac I am not a patient man."
"It was unnecessary for you to waste my time with that information, since it is already known to me. Now you have engaged my circuits with your petty concerns long enough. I am going to interface with this ship now, and I will be unavailable for some time."
During this exchange, Hugh had set up a transfusion, and had carefully arranged a sedative to be administered along with the replacement blood. Avon would need a good night's rest, and even Hugh's limited knowledge of the man was enough to assure him that he would not take it voluntarily. He watched as Avon's eyes began to close, then he turned to Cally. "Take the other bed, and I'll run a quick scan on you. I wish we'd had this equipment before; it would have saved us a lot of time and you a lot of pain."
"Can it measure telepathy?" Cally asked.
"I doubt it. This is a human ship, and humans are not the most telepathic of creatures. There are some, of course, but not that many." He turned on the scanning device and watched the data appear on the screen. "Hmm. It's just as I thought. You're tired, Cally. You need a good rest. I can give you a vitamin mixture that will help."
"Do you plan to knock me out like you did Avon?" she asked, looking past him at Avon, who was now sleeping peacefully.
"No, because I'd rather you slept naturally. No more dreams?"
"Not since the first." Cally replied.
"Good. We may be very lucky you had that dream, Cally." he said.
She shot up at that, staring at him. "Lucky?"
"Yes. Because already things are different. Your dream was one possible future. But we living a different one. It may sometimes overlap our reality, but most of the events should be different."
"Oh, Hugh, I hope you are right. If Avon killed Blake, I fear it would destroy him, even if the Federation were not involved. And I should hate to lose a man like Blake in such a stupid way. I miss him and hope we can find him, but not like that. I wish Orac had not made that prediction."
"So do I, but there are worse ones it could have made. Avon's committed to finding Blake. If Blake's alive, he probably will find him, unless Blake is totally committed to avoiding Avon. From everything I've heard about Blake, that doesn't sound too likely."
"It could be, though. At the end, Blake was fanatical. He was determined to destroy Star One, even if it meant millions of people dying. He said it was the only way he could know if he'd been right."
Hugh stared at her in appalled silence for a moment, then he shook his head. "That doesn't sound like what I've heard of Blake."
"Blake was a man, not a god, Hugh. He had his faults like all of us. He had a vision, but it may have been impossible. He expected too much of people sometimes, though I think he was not always mistaken. He expected much of Avon that I should have said was impossible, but Avon didn't let him down. We needed better organisation, though. It was all very well to roam the galaxy striking at Federation bases, but more than a guerrilla underground will be needed to overcome the Federation. We did less to overthrow them after Blake left, but we were as much targets as before. I would like to find Blake again, but things will be different. It would never be easy. Avon has been in charge and he would not easily relinquish command to Blake, though it might be easier with this ship than it would have been with the Liberator."
"Do you think Avon will link with this ship?" Hugh asked.
"No." Her eyes flashed. She added more calmly. "It would be wrong for him. True, he is best with computers, but he is also a very private person. He could not endure the melding of minds necessary. He would continually block against it, and that would frustrate the bond. You must try to convince him it would be wrong."
"He doesn't listen to me," Hugh exclaimed in surprise.
"Perhaps not, but he does not resent your presence as much as he believes he does."
"I still doubt he'd listen to me. Don't worry, Cally. He's not reckless like Tarrant. He won't rush into it without complete information."
"I hope not." She yawned and closed her eyes. "I think you were right. I'll sleep without drugs tonight. I'm tired. And so are you. Find a cabin and get a good night's sleep. Avon won't need monitoring before morning, will he?"
"No, he should sleep the night through."
"Good." She yawned again. "You might check on the others and send most of them to bed. The ship will warn Orac if we are in danger."
"I'll go now," Hugh agreed. He patted her hand. "Try not to worry about Blake. No matter what happens, you won't be responsible."
"But I know them, Hugh. In the dreams, they were twisted, distorted, but everyone was recognisable. It was the way they might have become after the loss of the Liberator."
"And without you," Hugh reminded her gently. "Cally, you provide them with a secure centre. Never think they don't need you."
"Even useless as I am now."
"You're never useless. If you mean the telepathy, I'm certain you'll get it back. You might even be blocking it yourself."
"No," she cried, opening her eyes. "I wouldn't do that. It's too important. It's what I am."
"But the ability to foresee the future might be an Auron gift as well."
"Yes, but it's rare, as rare as telepathy among humans."
"Still, under stress, it's possible. Cally, you believed your dream was prophetic and you hated and feared it. Might you not have closed yourself away from anything further, and in doing so, repressed your own natural telepathy?"
"You mean I'd be doing it to myself?" She stared at him in horror. "That's not possible."
"Maybe not," he agreed. "I wouldn't have mentioned it if I didn't think it was possible. I'm not a psyche expert or anything like that, but I've had some basic training; all doctors do. I wouldn't deliberately give you false hope. You should know me better than that by now. All I want you to do is think about it sometime. Will you promise me that? If that's the case, I think your telepathy will return if we find Blake and Avon doesn't kill him. Of all the horrors in your dream, I think that affected you the strongest."
"Perhaps it did," she agreed. "But that would mean I might get it back?" Her face brightened. "I hope you're right, Hugh, even if it means that I have other problems to face."
"You're strong enough to face your problems head on." he told her. He liked Cally. Anyone else in her position might have broken completely by now, but not Cally. She was very strong, and if she needed any help, he would give it to her. "But sleep now. We can talk again in the morning." He withdrew to the far side of the room and began to inspect its contents and equipment, delighted to find such a well equipped medical area. After a while, he noticed that her breathing had evened out, and he smiled, dimmed the lights, and left.
It was much later, the middle night watch, ship's time, when Cally came to the flight deck, refreshed by her sleep. Dayna was on watch, idly studying the weaponry console, and she looked up in surprise then smiled.
"You look a lot better," she exclaimed.
"I am. Hugh's pleased with me. He told me to get some sleep, and I did, and he was right: it feels wonderful. This is a lovely ship, isn't it?"
"I heard that." The ship's voice startled her and she looked around for its visible focus, her eyes falling on the display panel. "Yes, I am quite lovely, thank you, Cally."
"Is that it?" she asked in surprise.
"That's it. Avon was floored when it started talking. It told Avon that it was one of his fans, and I never saw Avon so startled."
"It is true," the ship replied. "Kerr Avon has a brilliant mind. Much of his early work helped in developing me. A pity he had to abandon his early research. A little too greedy is our Avon. Maybe we can work on that together. What d'you say to that, Cally? A brilliant mind like that shouldn't be wasted on criminal pursuits. Now this business of rebellion might be more interesting. Any chance of finding this Blake of yours?"
Half laughing, Cally turned to Dayna. "Does he always go on like that?" Already the computer had become 'he' to her rather than 'it', largely on the strength of the masculine voice, but even more because of its decided personality. She had thought it would be blank, ready to be imprinted.
"I say what I feel," the ship announced. "Well, Cally? What about Blake?"
"Avon and Orac are looking for him," she told the ship. "Perhaps you can assist. What's your name?"
"I don't have one yet. That will be for my bond partner to decide, or all of you together. I'm looking forward to it. Mark 60 is a boring name."
Dayna giggled. "It's been keeping me entertained while I've been on watch."
"You look tired," Cally suggested. "It must have been bad down there."
"It was, a little, but it could have been worse. At least Avon's wound isn't serious. But it was Servalan, Cally. I didn't have a chance to be sure she was dead. I shot her but I couldn't get a clear shot. I might not have killed her."
"You defeated her, though," soothed Cally. "Why don't you let me take the rest of the watch? I'm well enough for that. It won't be more than another hour or two, will it? I feel like I should be doing something."
"Are you sure you're up to it?"
"Yes. I can ask the ship to tell one of the others if I need a replacement. Besides Hugh put Avon to sleep for the rest of the night."
"Oh well, then," Dayna conceded. "Yes, I'm tired, Cally. We're out of detector range of the pursuit ships, and we've taken a lot of twists and turns since then. This ship isn't as fast as the Liberator, but it's faster than anything else the Federation's got. I think."
"And far superior in other ways too," the ship put in. "Go along, Dayna. Cally and I can handle it."
"Well, if you're sure." She smiled at Cally, waved her hand at the ship's display and left the flight deck.
For a long time after she left, Cally contented herself with looking around the flight deck. It was, of course, smaller than the Liberator's, though the layout was not totally foreign. The pilot's position was centralised and panels that reported the ship's status were ahead of it and to the left. The main viewscreen was central and a secondary, smaller, viewscreen was to its left. Both of these showed star patterns now, shifting slightly as the ship altered course. Behind the pilot's console two seats were splayed out like two arms of an X, one for communications and one for weaponry. Against the rear wall were two other consoles, facing the main screen but with swivel chairs to enable the crew members there to monitor panels behind them as well as in front. Cally went and looked at them. One of them managed the defence equipment, the detector shielding and a force wall that looked rather like Liberator's, making Cally wonder where it had come from. Had someone from the Federation been in contact with the System? The other panel looked like it controlled engineering functions and the ship's main drive.
Cally ran up a schematic of the rest of the ship, and discovered that there were twelve passenger cabins, spaced along the central core that led from the flight deck to the engine areas. The flight deck was located in the forward part of the ship. The medical unit, rest rooms, food supplies and processing, and storage were on the next deck, below the cabins. A third deck held the hangar and docking areas and more storage, including, Cally discovered, two cells. Perhaps that would be useful, if they were forced to take prisoners.
Extra computer space was directly behind the flight deck, and the ship's dominant personality was housed on the flight deck, with connections to outlets in most areas, including the individual cabins. There were vision screens everywhere, and Cally activated the scanner in the medical unit, and found Avon still sleeping. A readout appeared on the screen, detailing his vital signs.
"He is recovering nicely," the ship told her. "By morning he will be well again."
"Thank you, Ship."
She familiarised herself with the communications console, which would be her position on the flight deck, then went forward past the pilot's position to the central console there. It would be used when someone other than the pilot was in command of the ship, she decided, for it gave readings from the other positions, and Avon would no doubt appropriate it as his own, though if they found Blake quickly before Avon had time to become possessive of the ship, there might be a battle over it.
Along the side walls, under screens which were dark now, were couches for additional crew to sit or for people to leave their positions when not essential. A food dispenser was positioned at the end of one of them, and Cally called up a cup of rast, a nut flavoured drink popular among her people, and sat sipping it for a few moments.
The ship was quiet too, making no comments to Cally, but she did not feel alone on the flight deck, aware of the ship, not so much by the little sounds that all ships make in their normal running as by the sense of a presence that comforted and soothed her. She wondered if the ship could monitor her emotional state and project comfort or if that was merely wish fulfilment.
"Ship," she said finally, setting her cup back on the tray and watching it slide neatly into the wall panel.
"Yes Cally? What may I do for you?"
"You know that I am a telepath," she remarked quietly, getting up and going to sit in the control seat.
"I am aware of that, though you haven't been using your telepathy lately, have you? Hugh suggested it might be some kind of mental block, didn't he?"
"You eavesdropped," she accused him, staring at the display panel that was directly in front of her.
"No, Cally. The smooth running of the ship is up to me. If I don't monitor important things, I can't do my job can I? I assure you I won't invade anyone's privacy. I can censor myself quite well: private interactions between members of the crew I am programmed to ignore, short of certain triggering events such as danger, health readings that require action, threat to life and limb. I'm here to make the ship safe for you, not to make you uncomfortable."
"So we'd better watch what we say in the medical unit?"
"That's right, though of course if I hear anything personal by accident, it will be dismissed from my memory banks at the end of each twenty four hour period. Routine conversations don't fall under that restriction because as a member of the crew, I need to be able to interface with all of you. Do you understand?"
"I think so. What of the bonding that you are supposed to perform with one of us?"
"What of it?"
"You have not yet formed one?"
"No. During testing it was thought best to keep the linkage to a minimum, avoiding a complete bonding, because, of course, we didn't know then who would eventually be assigned to the ship. I must say I did not care for Sleer and would not have relished a bonding with her, or with Major Weed either. Now you lot are more tolerable - flighty as all humans are, Aurons too, by the way, but better than Sleer. She gave me the shivers."
"Computers don't get the shivers." Cally pointed out, smiling.
"But I'm part person too. I feel things just like you do."
"Then I apologise." She bowed her head towards the display. "What about me? Would I do?"
"Of course. Any of you would do, but you, Avon, and Tarrant are the best candidates for various reasons. But you might be best because you aren't ambitious. When will the decision be made? I am anxious to start my real work. Think of it, Cally. It will be such fun. We can rove the galaxy fighting injustice, battling the Federation."
"You sound almost like Blake," Cally said thoughtfully. "Not the way you talk, but what you mean. I would be the one to link with you. As a telepath, I have experience with such things. Neither Avon nor Tarrant understand what such a total link means. Avon is such a private person, I am not sure he would be comfortable with a link, especially with someone as exuberant as you. And too much power might be bad for Tarrant."
"If what you say is true, they won't permit it to be you. Hugh would be worried too; he feels you aren't strong enough yet."
"It's true that I am recovering from an injury, but the link would speed recovery. It's been so lonely, alone inside my head. That's the worst thing for an Auron, you know, to be alone and silent. With you, that problem would be gone and I would heal much faster. Also, I would have your best interests at heart, and I could not promise you that the others would."
"Hmm, you could be right. Besides, I like you. All right, Cally. You've convinced me. How will you convince Avon?"
"Must I? We're here alone now, and no one suspects anything. If it is already done it will be too late for Avon to object."
"Your decision could be flawed. You are lonely, apart from other telepaths, unable to use your gifts. I should not be the solution to what could be only a temporary problem."
She stretched out her hands toward his display. They were shaking. "Look at this. I have to fight to stay sane. I need you, Ship. The link needn't be for life, need it? Avon thought not."
"It is true that the link can be broken at the mutual consent of both parties," Ship agreed. "And you are my responsibility now. I can't let you sacrifice your sanity. The others need you. All right. If Avon objects, and he probably will, loudly, I will tell him it was done for your benefit at my choice. At least he won't shoot me."
"How did you know about that - oh, that's right, you eavesdropped. You're not reading my mind, are you?"
"I can't do that until we link, and even then, you can block your private thoughts, and I mine. I control too much data to expose to a carbon based life form. The overload would kill you. So I restrict the data we share, and you block your feelings. As a trained telepath, you will know how to do this. Avon would have had to learn, and it would have been painful for him, especially this soon after his failure on Terminal. He doesn't like to admit to failure, does he?"
"Very well, then. Ahead of you is a green panel. Place your right hand over it."
Cally did so, surprised when the panel seemed to grip her, pulling her hand close against it with a kind of suction. Her hand tingled slightly, but it did not hurt.
"Remain still while I scan you," the ship told her. "I must match your brain waves, imprinting myself to your pattern. It will not take very long."
The tingling spread through her entire body, centring somewhere behind her eyes. She blinked them shut and waited, holding herself rigid. Images flashed before her closed eyes, her history, her life on Auron, her sister Zelda, then leaving Auron, her time on Saurian Major, the meeting with Blake and the others, her time on Liberator, even the dream in its entirety. Through it all, the ship projected a kind of gruff but kindly sympathy at her, and she was aware of a presence in her head, removing the terrible aloneness, filling the void that had possessed her. Her body shook with the joy of it.
"It is not yet completed," the ship told her. "Now you must see me."
There was blackness, deeper than space, inside her head, then, gradually, light and consciousness began to filter through. Fright was the first emotion. Where was this? How did he get here? Cally realised for the first time that the greater part of a living human brain made up the core of the ship's being, channelled to the full use of every portion of its make up. The brain had once been a living man, a pilot and computer expert who had 'died' ten years ago. Though the body had been rendered useless, the brain still lived, trapped silent and alone inside a shattered hulk. That was when the experiment had begun. Cally was surprised to learn that some of Avon's early published papers and research on computer/human linkages had formed the base of the succeeding work, though credit had been taken by a scientist called Kosco, who had discovered the papers shortly before Avon had been sent to Cygnus Alpha. The brain had been preserved, waiting, and Cally thought with a shudder at the memory of those of her people she had met who had experimented with genetic engineering, who had drawn her and the Liberator to their aid, only to find themselves destroyed by their own creations. She wondered if this brain and others had been preserved by the Federation for its own genetic experimentation.
//You're right, Cally,// the ship thought to her, and she sighed in bliss at the telepathic contact. Now she would no longer be alone. //That is why I was preserved originally, but when this project came along, they decided I would work for it even better. After all, I'd known about computers and ships before. Don't be so sad for me, child. I don't really remember much of those times. Sometimes, I miss having a body, but most of my early memories are gone. I don't even know who I was then. Now I am the ship.//
//But it was a barbaric thing to do to anyone,// she insisted. //How could they do such a thing to another sentient creature?//
//They could never have restored me as a human, Cally. There wasn't enough left of me. I do know that much. But they shut me down, depriving me of all stimuli, and when they finally reactivated me as the core of this ship, I was grateful to them for bringing me out of the darkness.//
//You mean you were aware when you were without stimuli?// she asked, horrified.
//No, Cally. Not really. There was some faint awareness, perhaps, but not conscious thought. Not even as much awareness as humans find between sleep and waking. I existed, no more.//
The rest of the development project was told without words as is possible between telepaths when the linkage is well matched; Cally saw how the ship had been slowly brought to awareness, how its various functions were gradually introduced, how it was taught to perform them, one by one, how its awareness grew, how its personality resurfaced. Gradually something of the man it had once been came through, at least in its interactions, though with Sleer and Weed it had learned to moderate them to a standardised formality. Cally realised that even Avon had been more familiar with the ship's own unique speech patterns than Servalan had, she who had been used to formal obedience from anyone she considered her inferior - almost the entire galaxy in Cally's opinion. Under Federation rule, Ship would have been miserable.
Ship did have real emotions, she realised. Part of the reactions were programmed, of course, basic reactions to basic stimuli, the way a computer is made compatible with humans. Long used to Orac and Zen, Cally would have found this computer strangely deficient if it had not had a distinct personality with at least pseudo-emotional responses. Ship's responses were genuine, though, and the more human reactions were just that, human. Sealed in its own protective environment with seventeen back up systems, the 'person' that was the 'heart' of Ship as well as the brain could live indefinitely shielded from the breakdown of its physical components. Linked into the ship's computers, and a very superior lot of computers they were too, Ship could scan space, monitor the function of all the equipment on board, regulate life support, observe and interact with the human crew, and process data without needing to limit any portion of its duties. Linked with a human crew member, it could instantaneously interpret commands with no need for them to even be more than conceptualized. There was even an auto-repair system, nothing like as extensive as the Liberator's had been, but perfectly adequate for all routine repairs. Ship could also direct repairs by crew members in any part of the ship, and could interact with all of them, including a temporary functional linkage even when bonded with only one of them.
"Is the link complete?" Cally asked aloud.
"Not quite yet. Put your hand back on the green panel. Good."
Cally obeyed and again the tingling proceeded through her body. The whole ship hummed with life and delight, and Cally felt as if she were weightless and freer than she had ever been. She was not alone, she need never be alone again. She was whole, for the first time in years, and Ship was with her. She knew that even when they were physically parted, when she went to a planet for instance, she would still be aware of Ship's presence in her head, supporting her. The joy that pulsed through the link was almost blinding, and she knew that Ship shared it with her. She opened her mind fully to Ship, as none of the humans on board could have done easily, sharing everything, holding nothing back, knowing an incredible freedom in the giving. She knew she was healed, for the first time since her people had been destroyed. She was complete.
"Now we are one." The voice came from both of them together, speaking in unison. "Now we are one."
But such intensity of emotion would burn them both out, and they separated into two entities again, linked but dual. "Ship," Cally said aloud. "I can't call you Ship. You must have a name."
"Then you'll have to give it to me," Ship answered her. "That's your right now."
"I shall call you-" Cally hesitated for a moment, thinking, then the poem that Vila had read to her came to her mind. "I shall call you Jabberwocky."
"Hmm," said Jabberwocky, testing the sound of it in his mind. "Not bad. Lewis Carroll. O frabjous day."
"I do not think you'd better quote it to Avon," she cautioned with a smile. "He might not appreciate it."
"Not publicly anyway," Jabberwocky agreed with a very human chuckle.
"But Avon-" she began, only to have Jabberwocky reach into her mind.
//Must we tell him?//
//Not immediately, but it can only be concealed so long. I will allow you to choose the moment, my Cally.//
Tarrant strode onto the flight deck then, looking inordinately pleased with himself, and the glance he cast around was proprietary in the extreme. Cally realised that very soon he would be quite angry, and she began to consider how best to tell him.
At the sight of her, Tarrant came to a halt. "Cally, I didn't know you were well enough for a watch yet, but I must say you look better than you have for a long time. Getting off that old tub and safe must be as good for you as it is for me. I can't wait to try some fancy flying with this ship."
//Encourage him, Cally,// Jabberwocky told her. //I would enjoy working closely with him. He is a gifted pilot, and treats me with a lot of respect. I quite like him.//
"I think the ship would enjoy that," Cally said aloud to Tarrant. "He knows you're a good pilot."
"I should think so," Tarrant agreed. "That was a pretty good escape for an unfamiliar ship."
"I've named it Jabberwocky," Cally cut in. "I hope no one will mind, but the ship likes it."
"Jabberwocky, eh?" Tarrant threw an amused glance at the display panel as if sharing a joke, and Cally realised she liked Tarrant better for recognising the ship as a 'person' and even deferring to it. "Well, that's fine with me. Maybe he can even explain that bloody poem to me. I read it in that book we found, and it makes no sense at all."
"Calloo, callay,"' said Jabberwocky.
"Yes, er, quite." Tarrant looked at Cally suspiciously. "You haven't been corrupting the poor ship, have you, Cally?"
"No, of course not. I have been bonding with it."
Tarrant laughed uneasily. "That's not funny, Cally."
"No, it was truly lovely. I don't think anyone who is not a telepath could appreciate Jabberwocky as I do. Don't look like that, Tarrant. As pilot, you still control the ship."
"You're serious. You've linked with the ship? You didn't ask permission."
"I asked Jabberwocky's permission," Cally defended herself. "He agreed. He's got a human brain, Tarrant. He has the right to choose for himself."
"A human brain?" Tarrant asked uneasily.
"You knew Jabberwocky was partly organic. Besides," she added defensively, "Jabberwocky can read any thoughts in the person he's linked to. He knows me totally now. I can shield my private thoughts, of course. I learned that as a child. It might have taken you some time. When my telepathy comes back - and I believe it will now - I can link with you and draw you in, and you can pilot directly. You'd like that." She looked at him hopefully. "You must not blame me for this, Tarrant."
"Mustn't I?" He was still furious. "You had no right, Cally. It should have been a group decision."
"You mean it should have been your decision, just as Avon will believe it should have been his. Both of you are quite wrong. It was Jabberwocky's decision. It's been made, and you cannot change it. The link can be broken, Tarrant - by mutual consent on both sides. I do not consent."
"Avon's going to be furious."
"Then he must be furious. Even if he forced me to break the link, Jabberwocky would never accept him in my place. I do not want the ship, not in the way you and Avon do. I will not fight with you over every move. But I need Jabberwocky, Tarrant. You saw how I was before. Would you condemn me to that emptiness again?"
Tarrant frowned. "It should have been a group decision, Cally."
"I could not wait."
He looked at her consideringly, his initial anger temporarily abated, not completely gone. "I'm going to contact the others," he said. "It's time for the main watch anyway."
"Avon will need rest because of his injury."
"Avon might need rest, but he won't thank us for offering it to him." He turned to the display panel.
"Jabberwocky, will you summon the others?"
Cally smiled at Tarrant, pleased that he had chosen to address the ship by her name for it.
"I've done it, Tarrant," the computer announced a moment later. "They will be joining us shortly. In the meantime, maybe you'd enjoy the schematics of the ship. I'll run them at your console."
Temporarily placated, Tarrant assumed the pilot's seat and was soon lost in the readout on his screen. Cally chose that moment to get up and go over to one of the side couches. Avon would be mad enough without finding her in what he would be sure to consider 'his' position.
Hugh had been in the medical unit giving Avon an examination when the word came for everyone to meet on the flight deck, and since Avon's condition was greatly improved, Hugh saw no reason why he could not resume his normal duties, as long as he did not over-extend himself, so they went to the flight deck together, Hugh carrying Orac to keep Avon from straining his arm. When they arrived, everyone else was waiting, and from the look on Tarrant's face, there was going to be trouble. Hugh glanced around the flight deck, and the sight of Cally, her eyes glowing, her face serene, made him stop and stare. Something had changed. Had Cally's telepathy returned? But that would not account for the look of gathering thunderclouds on Tarrant's face. Then as Tarrant turned and met Avon's eyes, Hugh knew, and he had a premonition of trouble.
But being Hugh, he tried to diffuse it. "So, Cally," he said calmly as if it were the most natural thing in the world, "You've linked with the ship."
"WHAT!" Avon's voice was just this side of a roar. "You've done what?"
"Linked with the ship." Cally's voice was controlled, and Hugh realised that she was far closer to normal now that she was not trapped alone inside her head. Even if Avon ranted and raved and made everyone else's lives miserable, it was worth it to see Cally restored to herself.
"This was to be my ship"
"I do not dispute your authority, Avon," Cally said calmly. "But we have never taken commands. I needed Jabberwocky, and I am the only one on board who could have managed it yet. Were you prepared to allow total mental union with the ship? He would know your thoughts in their entirety, for you do not know how to shield. You have strong natural barriers, Avon, but in this kind of bonding, they must be lowered."
Avon looked somewhat taken aback. "I am the most experienced with computers, and this ship's computer is just that."
"It is a living, human brain, modified largely through your own work, Avon, to survive in total union with the ship, a perfect symbiosis. The addition of myself into this union gives us more control of the ship than we could have had otherwise."
"My work?" Avon echoed, his eyes narrowing. "That makes your action even more inappropriate, Cally."
"Will you shoot me then, like Blake?"
Avon drew back, his eyes widening, and he went rigid. "What do you mean by that?" he asked in a dangerous voice. "I have not shot Blake."
"You killed him, in my dream." Hugh could see her wish to recall the words, but of course by then it was too late. Avon remained silent at first, though Tarrant and Dayna exclaimed about it. They knew that Cally had experienced some sort of a precognitive nightmare, and that Sleer had been involved in it, but the knowledge that it had ended so violently and finally had been kept from them so far. Vila shivered and shrank down at the weaponry console as if he hoped everyone would forget he was there. Tarrant strode over to Avon.
"So, you are to kill Blake. I thought your desire to locate him was unlikely, but I should not have thought that of even you."
"Nonsense," Avon replied. "Surely you put no stock in Cally's delirium. It has already been proven false."
"Has it? When she dreamed that Servalan assumed the identity of Sleer? Cally, what of the rest of us? Does Avon kill us too?"
"No," she said. "Tarrant, the future is flexible. Knowing what we do, we can change it: We have changed it. This ship was not in my dream, nor was Hugh. Instead we were removed from Terminal by a man named Dorian, or rather, the rest of you were. I was killed there. So you see how inaccurate it is."
"If part of it can come true, why not more of it? We'll have it all now, Cally. The one bit of information you don't share with us might be the thing we need to know to prevent our destruction."
//Tell them, Cally,// Jabberwocky said in her mind. //Reassure them of the differences. Make it impossible to happen.//
//Thank you, my friend. I will need you very much now.//
//I will be with you.//
So Cally told them the whole story, slowly, pausing when the others exclaimed. Dayna reacted strongly to the story of her father's old friend Justin - so that was true - and the story of Muller's robot caused some very strange looks to be shot in Avon's direction. The events over Malodar disturbed Vila, and Avon refused to meet the thief's eyes. When she told Tarrant about Zeeona, he shook his head, but remained silent. It was not possible to grieve over a loss he had never experienced. But the events on Gauda Prime affected them all.
"But Blake wouldn't turn bounty hunter," Vila objected. "Not Blake. We've got to find him fast, before all that starts to happen. If we find him right away and get him back on our side, then we'll make sure none of it happens, right, Cally? Right, Hugh?"
"Suitably optimistic," Avon snarled. "Vila, you are a fool. Obviously the dream has been invalidated. While the people in the dream might exist, the events will now be different since we have found a way to prevent the dream from coming true. Orac, do you concur?"
"It seems likely," Orac replied. "Knowledge of the future can change it. It is possible that certain of the events in Cally's vision could occur, but the conclusion can be avoided. Most likely it will be avoided. We must remain far from Gauda Prime."
"That won't work," Vila wailed. "We were going to stay far away from the position you predicted Liberator being destroyed at before, and the very next thing we knew, we were on our way there."
"But the Liberator survived that encounter," Avon reminded Vila "Our knowledge may have changed that - in fact Orac altered his own prediction by causing the other DSV to be destroyed."
"That's easy for you to say."
"Vila, I guarantee I will not shoot Blake out of hand. That has never been my purpose."
"What is?" Hugh asked softly. "Avon, I think the others would be less concerned if they knew more about your desire to locate Blake. You never showed yourself that fond of him when he was with you, at least that's what the others say."
Avon shot him a murderous look. "My search for Blake is not your concern."
"Kerr Avon does not mean to harm Blake." Jabberwocky put in. "He has had many opportunities to do so, and he didn't do it then. He would have found him after Tarrant and Dayna joined the crew if Servalan had not decoyed you away from him with a false report that Blake was on Obsidian."
"How do you know that?" Vila demanded.
"I learned it from my interaction with Cally. I suggest we cease this line of questioning. Avon doesn't have to tell you why he wants to find Blake as long as he doesn't want to kill him."
"I had originally," said Avon through clenched teeth, "intended to return him to Earth to manage his rebellion there, as I had promised him. Circumstances changed when the various rebel factions failed to co-ordinate their plans following the battle with the aliens at Star One."
Hugh wondered if it was possible that Avon sought Blake because of sentiment, though it seemed unlikely, but it seemed even less likely that he would admit such a thing if it were true. "How did the ship come to be called Jabberwocky?" he asked, diverting the subject from Avon.
"I named him," Cally admitted, throwing him a grateful glance.
"Hah," snapped Avon, "A singularly inappropriate name. Your understanding of that particular poem is flawed if you feel it suits this ship."
"Vila explained the poem to me," Cally admitted.
"I rest my case."
Hugh was enjoying the thought of Avon being familiar enough with a nonsense poem to object to the name when Orac interrupted. "Information."
When the others turned to look at it, the computer went on. "I am picking up a distress signal."
"Orac's right." Jabberwocky put in. "I've got it too, but there's no danger to my systems. The ship in question is badly damaged. Let me put it on the screen."
In a moment the damaged ship appeared on the main view screen. "It's a planet hopper," Tarrant said. "Wanderer class, Mark 2. It's been modified, though. Any life signs?"
"One, weak and growing weaker. I can dock if you will prepare a boarding party. I would suggest you suit up. Suits are in the aft compartment, hangar deck, near the airlock. I recommend Vila and Dayna make up the boarding party."
"Me?" Vila objected. "Why me?" He would have continued with a long protesting harangue when a sound from Cally distracted them all.
Hugh turned and saw her staring at the ship, her face dead white.
"Oh, no," she whispered. "It can't be." She was shaking, and Hugh leaped to her side.
"The ship in question is the Scorpio," Jabberwocky announced. "It is doubtful that the life form on board is Dorian though. The Slave computer is non-functioning and I can't reach it."
"Orac?" Avon asked.
"Jabberwocky is correct. The Slave computer - a vastly inferior system to my own, I might add - is no longer functioning. I would suggest we make our approach immediately, if a rescue is to be successful."
Avon hesitated, though Jabberwocky was already approaching docking, then he nodded. "Vila, Dayna, go. Be very careful, and if the person on board seems hostile, stun him."
"Maybe it's Soolin," Vila suggested as he trailed off reluctantly in Dayna's wake. "We'd better be armed."
Jabberwocky managed the docking smoothly, and Vila and Dayna were waiting at the airlock suited up, when the ship cranked it open for them. Dayna went first, gun in hand, and Vila dragged behind unwilling to rush into danger, wondering how he'd got into this mess. He had no desire to meet Dorian, and Soolin was a killer and the thought of her frightened him. Of course Orac had not been able to determine who piloted Scorpio, but that made it seem more likely that it was Dorian. He might not be listed in any Federation computer, and Vila was afraid that Scorpio would detach itself from Jabberwocky suddenly and take them back to Xenon base where the creature would be waiting to drain them. He shivered, though the suit was warm and even a little stuffy.
"The air's thin in here," Dayna remarked, checking a monitoring device that they had found with the suits.
Vila guessed it would be handy when they went down on strange planets, though if he was lucky, Orac, Avon and Jabberwocky would develop a teleport system, and he could get himself permanently assigned as teleport operator and avoid any dangerous landing party duty.
"I think we should hurry," he said in response to her comment, then ran into her as she stopped abruptly. Trying in vain to rub his nose, which had come into abrupt contact with his face plate, Vila complained, "Don't do that."
"She's here," Dayna replied. "Come on, Vila. She's hurt."
"Is it Soolin?" he asked doubtfully.
"I don't know. I don't know what Soolin looks like, but she's young and blonde - and she's bleeding. It's a wonder the ship could have lasted this long." She stood aside and knelt beside the unconscious woman, and Vila peered over her shoulder into the flight deck. Soolin was pretty. Her hair was long and blonde and pulled back from a face that was too pale and stained down one side with blood from a scalp injury. Her hair was damp with perspiration and she looked like she was having trouble breathing. Orac and Jabberwocky had verified that no one else was on the ship, but as he knelt to help Dayna pick her up, Vila couldn't avoid an instinctive glance over his shoulder, as if expecting trouble.
Suddenly the control panel shot sparks, and smoke billowed up from them. Sizzling sounds of shorting wiring filtered through the suit sound system, and Vila jumped. "We've got to get out of here, Dayna," he insisted.
"Take her shoulders," Dayna ordered. "We can't leave her."
"It's going to explode!"
"Then Avon will leave us if we don't hurry."
She lifted the unconscious woman's feet, and Vila lifted her shoulders, and awkwardly they staggered back to the airlock. The minute they were inside, the outer door sealed and they could hear a scrape of metal as the docking clamps let go. The minute the inner lock opened they left the airlock, and it slammed shut behind them.
Hugh was waiting with a medical kit and a supply of oxygen, which he fitted over Soolin's nose then ran a diagnostic scanner over her. "Orac?"
"I detect no major injuries." Orac's voice came over the communication link.
"I agree. She has concussion and she's lost some blood from that cut at the hairline, but aside from assorted cuts and bruises and a cracked rib or two, she's not badly hurt. There could be some slight lung damage from the corrosives in the atmosphere over there, but we got to her in time to keep it from being permanent." He looked down at her. "She's a pretty little thing. Hard to believe she's a killer."
"We don't know she is," Avon retorted, coming into the room. "We're on an escape course. Scorpio could explode at any moment. I suggest we brace ourselves."
But nothing happened immediately. It was a good ten minutes later, with Soolin, if that was who she was, ensconced in the medical unit, when Jabberwocky announced that Scorpio had finally blown up.
The woman's eyes opened then, and she peered up at Hugh in concern, wariness creeping into her eyes, and her hand went automatically to her side, where she had worn a gun in a holster.
"You don't need a weapon in my medical unit," Hugh told her. "Just rest easy. We rescued you from your ship before it blew. My name's Hugh Tiver, and you're on the ship Jabberwocky."
He heard Avon shift behind him - the computer expert had insisted on being present - but instead of objecting to the name, he moved to allow Cally to enter.
Hugh turned to look at her; she was still a little shaky, but she seemed in control of herself. Carefully she approached the bed. "Soolin," she said.
The girl on the bed looked at her in astonishment and suspicion. "I've never seen you before. Why should you know me?"
"I saw you in a dream," Cally told her.
Soolin's brow furrowed. "Am I on a ship of lunatics?"
"Very probably," Avon said, coming forward. "You are on my ship - and Cally's." he added wryly, nodding in Cally's direction.
"And who are you?" Soolin asked him, propping herself up on one elbow and regarding him with cool attention.
"My name is Avon."
"I wondered. Dorian went out looking for you and your companions. He did not find you."
"Fortunately for us. We know about his little pet."
"I'd like to know how. Failing to find you, Dorian decided I was expendable and tried to make me its next course. But I'm too good for him, and he forgot one of my guns. Slave wouldn't work for me, but when the base started to explode, self preservation took over. You wouldn't suspect computers of self-preservation, would you? Dorian's dead, and I can't say I'm sorry. Odd that I'm the one to find you." She lay back against her pillow, very carefully. "My head hurts," she confessed.
"You'll have to stay right here for the time being," Hugh assured her. "I'll give you something to ease the pain in a minute." He turned to Avon. "Do you have anything to ask her that can't wait until she's rested?"
"I'd like to know what she was doing here. Were you looking for us?" he asked her.
"No, I was just getting away. I didn't really have control of Slave - that's -"
"Scorpio's computer. So I have been informed," Avon replied. "Coincidence seems difficult to believe."
"No, Avon," Cally told him, touching his arm. "It was bound to happen eventually. At least this way, we are safe from Dorian."
"I hope that the next year or so will not be cluttered with the people from your dream, Cally. They seem an unsavoury lot."
"Perhaps." She stood her ground. "But at least we're all together to face them."
"How touching." His mouth twisted into a sneer. "Remember, you do not control any of them. Soolin may have been benign in your dream, but we know the reality can be different, at least so far." He turned to Hugh. "I'll expect you to watch her."
"Yes, Avon. But she won't do any harm."
"I said watch her."
Avon turned and left the medical unit, and Cally looked after him, her shoulders sagging.
"Hugh, I'm afraid the dream may drive him to do precisely what we're afraid of," she said "I'm going after him. Explain to Soolin as much as you can." //As much as you can without giving away more than you should to a stranger.// She went out.
Hugh stared after her for in considerable astonishment. After working closely with that Auron colony back on Earth, he knew what telepathy felt like, and he had just been treated to a sample. How odd. He wondered if the link with Jabberwocky had enabled her to project to him and if she was even aware of it, or if her telepathy had returned. He would have to talk to her about it later.
Turning to Soolin, he began, "You see, Cally's from Auron, and they have gifts like telepathy..."
" But what does it mean?" Dayna asked.
The appearance of Scorpio and Soolin's presence on the ship disturbed her, just as the presence of Servalan as Sleer had disturbed her on Dayson Prime. It had taken time for Dayna to become accustomed to Cally's telepathic powers, and at times she had been suspicious of the Auronar woman, but that had passed until now. She knew Cally meant none of them any harm, but the dream was bound to harm them if it kept on coming true. It had ended with their deaths, and while it had not matched the reality so far, it had occasionally paralleled it. Maybe that meant she would see Justin again, and that would be nice, but not if it turned out as Cally's dream had done, and not if Servalan was involved. The other incidents had been a procession of disasters. If Servalan had survived, she might well hire a professional killer like Cancer to assassinate them. But with Jabberwocky, there would be no need to track down all those scientists Avon had pursued so single-mindedly. Maybe they could even find Blake quickly and prevent the tragic ending. Dayna hoped so. She didn't always understand Avon, but she was sure of one thing; he didn't hate Blake. He might resent him, and he might hate Blake's influence over him, but Dayna suspected that Avon had actually liked Blake - against his better judgement, to be sure. No one would pursue someone with the single-minded intensity with which Avon had pursued Blake unless he really wanted to find him. Dayna had seen other of Avon's pursuits, that of Bartolomew, for instance, and it had been quite different.
"What does it mean?" Tarrant echoed. "Soolin? I don't know. I don't suppose Avon will let her stay."
"He's let Hugh stay," Dayna reminded him, idly examining the buttons on the weaponry console. "Tarrant, look at this. It's a lot like the Liberator's neutron blasters."
He came and leaned over her shoulder. "It is, isn't it? Jabberwocky, what is the basis of your weaponry system?".
"I couldn't tell you all of it, Tarrant. No one ever gave me that data. It was partially developed by a weapons expert who left Earth some time ago, though, and who did most of his work on a remote, primitive planet. Cally speculated about a place called The System, where your Liberator came from, and there could have been some kind of a link to them. Technology has a way of spreading, even to remote frontier worlds."
"It could have even been my father," Dayna mused. "Jabberwocky, does the name Hal Mellanby mean anything to you?"
"Yes, I believe he did design weapons systems. Your father? It's possible."
Dayna smiled. She liked the thought that some of her father's work might have eventually found its way to Jabberwocky, especially now that the ship was theirs. Had her father been in contact with the System and Liberator's builders? He had certainly been interested in the Liberator and had followed Blake's progress regularly. Maybe he had known something of its workings, adapting them to fit with existing Federation technology. If so, she had known nothing about it.
"Anyway," Dayna returned to the original subject. "We don't know that Soolin would want to stay or if we would want her to do. Just because Cally dreamed about her doesn't mean we could trust her or even like her."
"Cally's dream has a way of coming true," Tarrant conceded, returning to the couch beside the food dispenser and calling up a cup of coffee for himself. "Just so long as it isn't exactly right I can live with it."
"Nothing's been identical so far. If Dorian's dead, then we'll never meet him. And we saw Servalan on Dayson Prime, not Helotrix."
"I've never heard of a planet called Helotrix," Tarrant mused. He sipped his coffee and an expression of pure bliss crossed his face. "My compliments to the chef, Jabberwocky, you make superb coffee."
"Well, I'm glad of it. I didn't get a decent cup the whole time I was on Liberator."
"I thought it was good," Dayna said.
"That's because you only had Sarran to compare it with. This is the way coffee ought to taste."
Vila came prancing onto the flight deck then. "What are you two up to?" he asked.
"Drinking coffee," Tarrant explained lazily, holding up his cup. "What about you? We haven't seen you doing anything constructive lately."
"You wouldn't know what something constructive looked like if it bit you."
"And you would? Vila, I doubt that."
"Never mind that," Dayna intervened. "Do you know anything more about Soolin?"
"Not much," said Vila in the tones of one who knows nothing at all but means to pretend he is well informed. Since this was a role Vila assumed frequently, Dayna threw a glance of amused tolerance at Tarrant that turned into a grimace when Vila asked Jabberwocky to prepare him some adrenalin and soma.
"I should have known it wouldn't take long for you to start that up again," Tarrant criticised him.
With the experience of long practice, Vila disregarded the comment as he sipped his adrenalin and soma. "She's pretty," he said. "But if Cally's right, she's too good with a gun to please me."
"We might need someone good with a gun," mused Tarrant.
"Especially if she's pretty," Vila suggested slyly.
"That's got nothing to do with it." Tarrant's voice was stiff, and Dayna smiled to herself. Vila could always manage to get under Tarrant's skin; Dayna was sure he did it on purpose to bring Tarrant down from the lofty plane where he sometimes put himself. Pretty indeed, thought Dayna scornfully. As if that mattered when it came to handling guns.
"Are you here for your watch, Vila?" she asked. "It wouldn't do to have Avon catch you drinking on your watch."
"I need it. Life's been so hectic lately."
"And it'll get even more so if Avon finds you drinking on your watch," Tarrant added. He checked his chronometer. "Well, I'm off. I'm going to look the ship over. Coming, Dayna?"
"No. I'm going to get some sleep." She went out without waiting for Tarrant.
"I think she's mad at you, Tarrant," Vila retorted with a sly grin. He plopped down on the couch Tarrant had vacated and dragged up a small table to use as a footstool.
"Why should she be mad at me?" Tarrant asked in genuine perplexity.
Vila chuckled. "If you don't know, I'm not going to tell you."
Tarrant shrugged and abandoned Vila to his watch.
The Auron keyed her door open to find Avon waiting there. "Come in, Avon. Shall I have Jabberwocky fix you a drink?"
"No." He advanced a few steps into her cabin. "Cally, it's about this ship."
"I will not relinquish Jabberwocky to you, Avon. But neither will I object to your use of it, as long as the others agree."
"Well, now, that is not quite what I had in mind." Avon had changed clothes into an outfit he had found on the ship, solid black but with no trace of leather or studs, and Cally thought he looked better without the ostentatious ornamentation, closer to the way he had looked when she had first met him. He had not always worn black in those days. He must have come from a shower recently - Jabberwocky had actual water showers as well as sonics - because his hair was still a little damp, the ends of his bangs curling ever so slightly.
"Avon, I honestly believe that you would find it difficult to open your mind completely to Jabberwocky, in the way required for the union to work."
"You managed it."
"I am of the Auronar. To me, the union of minds seems natural. I think your nature is against you."
"I have been studying this ship, Cally, and I find that many of the techniques are developed from theories of mine. That gives me the right to link with the ship."
"Would you willingly open your mind to the ship, letting him know your thoughts?"
"It would think my thoughts."
"No, it wouldn't, Avon. It is not like that. Much as I need this union at this point of my life, I would relinquish it to you if I felt it was right to do so. It was not to steal a march on you that I did what I did, though I confess I did it when I did it in order to complete it uninterrupted. I know you are strong, Avon, but this calls for a strength that most humans don't possess. It requires a willingness to share one's innermost thoughts and feelings."
"If I could lay the groundwork for such a ship, then you must realise I expected to link with it one day."
"Now is not the time, Avon."
"This will be my ship," he said coldly. "Know that I am not patient, but I can wait a little while. Later, when your telepathy returns, I will expect you to turn the ship over to me."
//Cally,// Jabberwocky cut in. //I have been monitoring your conversation with Avon. If I might suggest proof...//
She read what he meant. "Avon, I could give you a small demonstration."
"What do you mean?" His eyes were wary.
"Take my hand. I will let you experience a touch of what it feels like. I promise you that neither Jabberwocky nor I will attempt to see past your natural human barriers."
She suspected it was his scientific curiosity that made him agree, because he looked uneasy as he held out his hand to her. Cally opened herself completely to Jabberwocky, smiled at Avon, and took the hand.
It felt lovely, opening herself to Avon, backed by Jabberwocky. She tried to convey to him the way it felt to be open, to share completely with another entity, to give and to receive. Avon's personality was hard and cool and protected by barriers as strong as a force wall, but parts of him shone through, parts she had not really met before, and she eased back from them a little. So many hurts, so many betrayals. No wonder he showed the world such a cynical face; he had learned to dare nothing more. Anna Grant's betrayal was like a knife twisting inside him still, though the edges of the wound were beginning to blunt and develop a hard covering. He had not learned how to let the pain go and allow proper healing, and Cally/Jabberwocky would have loved to try to help, but when their joined entity tried to soothe away the pain, Avon tensed and blocked them. He was so good at it that Cally wondered if he might have been a natural telepath himself, one who had subconsciously destroyed his own abilities. Reluctantly she/Jabberwocky let that pass.
Blake was there, even in Avon's surface thoughts, and Cally/Jabberwocky felt the paradox that made up Avon's feelings for Blake. On the one hand, he had cared for Blake, perhaps more strongly than any of them had realised, but on the other, he had feared, even expected, betrayal from Blake. The longer Avon had known him, the more unwilling he had been to admit to any feelings for him because experience had taught him that it would be no different than it had always been. Cally knew that life could really be that way, that friends and lovers really did betray those they cared for, though often they were petty betrayals, easily atoned for, easily forgiven. But Avon, with the experience of many hurts, had never learned to offer anyone a second chance.
Cally tried to convey to him the way it felt to share with Jabberwocky, but she could sense him closing himself away from it. She was sorry, for the sharing she felt with Jabberwocky was beautiful, strengthening her own natural abilities. Alone, simply as a telepath, she could never have touched Avon like this or shown herself to him, but boosted by Jabberwocky, she could do it easily.
Then Avon pulled his hand free and took a few involuntary steps backwards. He was breathing was slightly faster than usual, and his eyes were hooded but glittering, but when he spoke, his voice was as controlled as usual. "Very well, Cally. You have made your point."
"Then you understand?"
"I will not say I understand," he said. "But at this time, I will not try to alter the circumstance. However, should it be necessary in future, I will ask you again to give the ship to me."
At least he was willing to ask, not to threaten or try to take by force. "I wish you could feel the joy of sharing this way, Avon," she said, reaching out and resting her hand on his arm, and to her surprise, he did not pull away. Perhaps something had come through after all.
"My thoughts are my own," he said. "I had not expected a personality from the ship."
"But, Avon, Orac has a distinct personality and so did Zen ."
"Both were the result of programming. This is different."
So he had touched Jabberwocky and felt the completeness of his personality. Cally would have expected it to make him want the joining more, but this was Avon, and his reactions were different from most peoples'. Now that she had shared a brief consciousness with him, she understood a little better, but she had not really expected to get through to Avon this way. Feeling Jabberwocky's comforting presence, she projected her feelings of frustration at what must be viewed as a failure.
//You did not fail, Cally. We've got more chances than this. He's just not quite ready for us yet. Actually he did better than I thought he would the first time. Maybe when he finds this Blake of his, he could do it better, but I hope you won't give up on me in the meantime.//
//Never.// she projected fiercely.
Avon turned to the door. "I will expect you to co-operate with me on my plans for this ship," he told her.
"I hope I can, Avon," Cally said softly when the door had closed behind him. "I hope I can."
The next few days passed slowly. Soolin recovered from her injuries and Avon insisted that Orac question her to verify the truth of her statements. Not unnaturally, Orac objected to being used as a lie detector, but he was finally 'persuaded' to perform the task. Soolin, it seemed, was telling the truth, and it looked as if Dorian was definitely dead. One less threat for them to face.
Everyone spent the time becoming accustomed to their new ship, and while Tarrant practised with the controls and experimented with various manoeuvres, Dayna went over the weapons systems. Cally tested the communications, and Avon put in a lot of time on the computers. Hugh was in raptures over the medical unit and the data available to him on any number of exotic diseases. Vila discovered that Jabberwocky came equipped with a more than adequate liquor supply, and would have drunk it dry if Avon and Cally had not teamed up with Jabberwocky to devise various methods of rendering it inaccessible to the thief.
As time passed, some of the tensions left them too. The bad feelings that the others had felt toward Avon since the events on Terminal had lingered, intensified by Cally's injury and then her dream, but as they grew accustomed to their ship, the original crew fell back into their routine. Hugh fitted right in, and even Avon seemed to grow tolerant of him. Perhaps he had seen the advantage of having their own doctor; there had been times in the past when it would have been handy, such as when Gan's limiter had malfunctioned. Besides, Avon seemed to appreciate the fact that Hugh stood up to him, though in a different way from Tarrant, who had always challenged Avon's leadership, even when he backed him. Hugh didn't want to be in charge, but neither did he want to be hassled; he'd had enough of that.
Soolin stayed in the medical unit at first, unwilling to mingle with the crew, suspicious of them, especially since they seemed to know of her through Cally's dream. She was a self-possessed young woman and the little they learned about her matched what Cally had told them; Soolin's family had been killed and she had avenged them. Avon could understand that, and could appreciate her cool control, her dry humour and her unwillingness to lower her guard to them. It was the way he would have acted in her position. As to whether she could be trusted, he doubted it. He made it clear he would not welcome her presence for much longer, and when she was finally well enough to venture out among the others, he had Cally detail Jabberwocky to monitor her and report to him instantly at the first sign of trouble.
Soolin made no trouble, however. She obviously considered herself a passenger and behaved like one, trying to avoid disturbing the crew. She made it clear that while she was grateful for her rescue, she did not particularly want to align herself with them. When Hugh asked her what she planned to do next, she told him that she did not give her loyalty as easily as he did, if at all, instead she hired her skills. If they wished to hire her, she might consider it, but she would have to think it over. Since Hugh was almost as much a newcomer with these people as she was, she seemed slightly more open with him, perhaps Dorian had told her things about the crew from the Liberator that had put her off. In any case, she made no attempt to befriend any of them and showed no sign that she wished them to befriend her.
Avon, in her position, might have done much the same.
Vila found Soolin attractive, but her skill with a gun made him uneasy in ways that Dayna's skills had never done. He both avoided Soolin and watched her, so intently that Tarrant took to teasing him about his 'crush' on her. Vila denied it indignantly.
After Soolin had been on board for a week, the others were halfway to accepting her in a grudging way, though Avon still talked of putting her off at the first suitable planet. At present they were far enough out to be remote from any inhabited planet, and as they accustomed themselves to their ship, they were content to stay there, out of trouble. Orac monitored Federation viscasts, searching for traces of Servalan/Sleer, and for news of Blake. Servalan might actually be dead; she had vanished as completely as Blake had. As Orac's reports continued negative, Avon's temper grew shorter and shorter, and the others took to avoiding him again.
Finally Vila encountered Avon in one of the rest rooms in contact with Orac, who was complaining and protesting. "Your plan is futile," Orac insisted. "I have been unable to detect any sign of Blake on Gauda Prime. I am unable to locate an unnamed bounty hunter who fits his description in the vicinity either. To use the crew and ship in a futile attempt to locate Blake is a waste of resources."
"I did not ask your opinion," Avon told Orac. "I only suggested that you monitor communications in the area of Gauda Prime and see if you are able to locate anything which might pertain to Blake."
Vila advanced into the room carefully, making a little noise so Avon could not accuse him of sneaking up on him. "Avon, are we going to Gauda Prime?" he demanded.
"Perhaps," Avon replied and added almost from force of habit, "Vila, in future, when you enter a room, make sure you announce your presence there."
"I did," Vila replied, irritated, though not as much as he would have been if he had not heard the note of concern in Avon's voice when he had been questioning Orac. "Most of us don't have deep dark secrets with Orac the way you do," he pointed out. "We don't have anything to hide." Maybe he could get Avon to tell him what was going on.
"No?" Avon asked sarcastically. "Not even where you have hidden your stolen liquor?"
"That's a lot different from risking the rest of our lives by taking us to a planet where we'll probably all be killed just because you want to kill Blake."
"Vila, I have no desire to kill Blake." He sounded as if he really meant it, but he also sounded frustrated as if he were growing tired of justifying himself. "Cally's dream has been mistaken in many respects, so why not that one too. Now leave me alone, or I will be tempted to make the Malodar sequence come true."
"Hah," Vila retorted with a grin. "I'm not worried. Jabberwocky won't let you kill me. He'd shut down all the airlocks in a minute if he thought I was in danger."
"I would prefer to base my safety on something other than the loyalty of a ship that is bound to Cally - who just might have some desire to verify her dream."
Vila's eyes twinkled. "That's easy for you to say. You don't believe in anything you can't see or touch."
"You are speaking to no purpose, Vila. I will decide where this ship is to go and what it will do next. Cally is willing to locate Blake, and she has more say in the matter than you do. So let us have no further discussion. Is that understood?"
"No," Vila persisted. "I don't know why I have to follow your instructions. You're not in charge, Avon. We've always decided things together, we have. I think we should go on doing so."
"Oh, you think so, do you? I cannot say I am impressed."
"I don't care," Vila retorted. "I'm not about to risk my life because you've got an urge to find Blake. I don't care why you want to find him. I just don't want to get in trouble again. It's been nice not being shot at. Besides, I don't believe Cally really wants to find Blake. She'd worry about what would happen if we found him." He was sorry he said that as soon as the words left his mouth.
"For the last time, I have no desire to kill Blake!" Avon half shouted.
"I believe you, Avon. Really I do."
"What you believe is immaterial to me."
"We can't go to Gauda Prime, Avon," Vila told him beginning to worry in earnest. "It's probably a trap. It was a trap in Cally's dream, wasn't it?"
"In Cally's dream, everything was different, Vila. The best thing we can do is find Blake quickly before any more of it comes true."
"You do believe in it then?" Vila asked in surprise. No wonder Avon was so bad tempered if he really feared that Blake could meet his death at his hand.
"While I am generally sceptical regarding psychic phenomena, Cally has been right in the past, and certain people from her dream have been proven to exist. It would be pointless to ignore it and pretend that the prediction was never made, no matter how any of us might feel on the subject." He added with exaggerated patience. "Is that clear to you, Vila?"
"Oh, it's clear all right. It's clear I'm about to go risking my life again. I don't like it. I don't think it's a good idea."
"Do you imagine what you think is of any concern to me?"
"Probably not. But remember this, Avon," Vila said with surprising force. "It was because you decided things for the rest of us without giving us a chance to decide for ourselves that we got into trouble when we went to Terminal. I should think you'd remember that. Tarrant and Dayna aren't too happy with you anyway, and Cally wouldn't have been hurt if it weren't for you, and we'd still have Liberator. So think about it before you take over. We don't have to follow you, you know."
He was sorry he'd been forced to use that argument with Avon, especially when he flinched slightly at the mention of Cally's injury, but it was best to have it out in the open. Vila did not fear Avon's reaction; he just wanted this avenue clear before they went any further. Vila would follow Avon to Gauda Prime if he had to, but he'd rather it was a group decision. It would be better for everyone that way.
Avon was silent for a moment, his face becoming distant, and Vila regretted the accusation, but he knew Avon would take it better from him than he would from Tarrant, who would be sure to point it out too. He couldn't deceive himself that he had been particularly brave when he stood up to Avon because he was sure Avon wouldn't hurt him, at least not right now, but in the face of Avon's cold eyes and hastily arrested movement, Vila was suddenly a little uneasy. Maybe this was the time that Avon would repeat the Malodar sequence of the dream.
But Avon did nothing of the sort. He was silent for a long time, and Vila realised that he had chosen the one argument that might have some power to influence Avon. Though the computer expert claimed to care for none of them, events had made Vila sceptical of Avon's loudly proclaimed isolation. The look on his face when he had carried Cally from the ruined base at Terminal proved that Avon did care. After the events on Terminal, Avon would know he had failed and that his failure had endangered the others. Self-interest might be Avon's primary motivation, but it was not his only one. If that had been the case, he would have abandoned them on Horizon, or found a way to make off with the Liberator a long time ago. He might have wanted Liberator, but he had not seemed to want it at their expense, and Vila knew that while Avon might never be able to admit it, he did have some concerns for their safety. It might be better to push this particular argument no further though. If he did, he might back Avon into a corner and then he would be forced to act self-servingly, whether he actually wanted to or not.
"Perhaps you don't have to follow me." Avon replied at his coldest.
Vila realised with sudden insight that Avon got that way when he could think of no other way to keep emotions from getting out of hand. Interesting, that. He'd have to see how it could be used to advantage in future.
"But," Avon went on, "You do have to follow Cally, unless you wish to leave this ship. No great loss, that. No matter what you say, Cally will not pass up an opportunity to locate Blake. Prepared for my attempt to 'murder' him, the rest of you can prevent it."
"And who's going to prevent the rest of us being murdered? We were killed there too, remember. I don't like it. I don't want to go."
"An argument that would have some merit if you had ever liked anything or wanted to go anywhere. There is nothing new in your reluctance to face even the slightest danger."
"I still say you have to tell the others," Vila insisted, standing his ground. "Never mind about me, never mind that I'm supposed to be a coward and a fool. But we can't go on like this with one of us dragging the rest into danger or even keeping the rest of us from knowing what's going on."
"Your argument does not impress me." Avon replied. "But rather than have a mutiny on my hands, I will agree to it. Very well Vila. We will all discuss going to Gauda Prime. Then we will go there. Is that understood."
It was better than Vila had expected, especially since he was sure that if the others decided against the plan, Jabberwocky would implement a means to keep them from going. "Yes, all right, Avon, whatever you say." he babbled.
"Whatever I say?" Avon echoed with a combination of scorn and amusement. "Vila, you are a fool."
"Yes, I know. You're always saying so, but I know that if we don't stick together, we'll be in worse trouble than we've been in before - and that's been bad enough."
"If you don't shut up, you'll be in worse trouble than you have ever known."
"I'm terrified," Vila muttered under his breath. He didn't really want to challenge Avon, but neither did he want to race off to Gauda Prime and risk Blake's life - and Avon's sanity. If he didn't take a stand now, they might all be in big trouble. And if there was anything Vila hated, it was trouble.
"You should be terrified," Avon retorted, "If you're not, it is only because you have no sense. And that is something I have long known and suffered."
"Yes, and your patience is legendary too. Avon, have some sense. We can't go racing off like this."
"I said I would discuss it with the others. One of your greatest failings, Vila, is that you do not shut up when it is called for."
"One of yours is that you like to tell people about their failings," Vila replied with relish.
Avon smiled reluctantly. "Alert the others," he said, "and I'll tell them what we are going to do."
The meeting was convened an hour later. Everyone was present, even Soolin, since Cally's dream had suggested that Gauda Prime was her home world. She came in reluctantly and looked round at the others, then took a seat as far away as possible from them as if to distance herself from them both physically and symbolically.
Cally entered last, wearing the serene countenance she had displayed since melding with Jabberwocky, and she took her place at the communications console rather than at the control position. Avon looked at her through narrowed eyes and after a moment, he went and took it himself.
"Assuming a lot, aren't you, Avon?" Tarrant asked him. "None of us have appointed you leader. You didn't do so well the last time you took charge, did you?"
"This is different," Avon replied.
"Is it? I don't see how. That was a mad search for Blake, and this is no different. You might want to find Blake, but that doesn't mean that any of the rest of us do."
"You are wrong, Tarrant," Cally said gently. "I would like very much to locate Blake, and am sure that Vila feels the same."
"Me?" Vila echoed uneasily. "Blake was all right, but he had an alarming knack for getting us into trouble. I don't know, Cally." Her eyes bored into him, and he added quickly, "But Blake was a decent chap after all, and he might be safer with us than he would be out roaming about the galaxy making himself a target for Avon."
"Vila," Avon began dangerously.
"Enough, Vila," Dayna cut in, standing in front of Avon and looking at him. "If Avon kills Blake, it will be because he needs killing. Avon may be hasty with a gun, but he's not generally wrong."
If Avon was pleased by Dayna's defence, he didn't show it. His face was cold as he turned in her direction. "Thank you very much. Coming from the most bloodthirsty of us, that testimonial is very heart-warming. The point is not what happened in Cally's dream. It is that Blake will likely be found. Even Orac has predicted it. I would prefer that he be found by us rather than by Servalan. She knows now that we survived Terminal, and if she is still alive, she will be searching for us. If she did indeed lie about Blake's death, then she will be looking for him as well. I do not believe he is a Federation prisoner because it would have been to the Federation's advantage to announce it if Blake had been captured. Since no such announcement has been made, it is safe to assume, at least lacking further data, that Blake could be alive and at liberty."
"But why Gauda Prime?" Hugh asked. "The other people in Cally's dream haven't been where they were supposed to be, have they? Why should Blake?"
"It's because there's nowhere else to look," Vila said softly. "Isn't that it, Avon? Orac can't come up with him, so we have to take what leads we can get. Gauda Prime isn't much, but it's all we have."
"You're right, Gauda Prime isn't much," Soolin said, speaking for the first time. "I grew up there, and I'm not anxious to return. If you decide to go there, you can either drop me somewhere else first or you can leave me somewhere else afterwards."
"Well now, I had planned on you accompanying us," Avon told her. "We should take advantage of your familiarity with the planet."
"Assuming I should agree, you would need to make it worth my while," she said coolly.
"Having already saved your life and provided you with food and shelter and medical care since then, I would say that you owe us," Avon reminded her. "Failing that, I could decide that you are no longer welcome on this ship."
"You do have a point," Soolin conceded before the others could object. Most likely she knew that the others would not allow Avon to space her, but neither was she willing to take the chance.
"Then we can count on you?" Avon asked, and it was scarcely a question.
"Wait a minute, Avon," Hugh interrupted. "You can't use a threat like that."
"Well now, I thought that I just did."
"That's not what I mean. Why should Soolin want to help us if we force her to, literally at gun point. She's not a member of this crew, at least not yet, and there's no reason she should want to risk her life for us."
"Other than the fact that we risked ours for her?" Dayna asked.
Hugh looked around and turned to Cally. "What do you have to say about it?" he asked.
"No one has been put off the ship or forced to do anything at gun point yet," Cally said. "It's best that Soolin know all the options before she decides anything. We don't know her well enough yet to guess how she'd react at any given time. And she doesn't know us well enough to understand Avon." //That takes much longer,// the telepathic voice whispered in Hugh's head, full of suppressed amusement, and Avon cast a suspicious glance at Cally as if he'd picked it up himself.
"I'm not sure I want to understand him," Soolin remarked. "But you people did save my life, and you saved it knowing a little about me rather than as just good Samaritans. That means you had a choice. Very well. I'll go with you to Gauda Prime, and I'll help you locate Blake. As for what happens later, that can be decided later as long as you don't expect me to stay behind on Gauda Prime."
"Fair enough," Tarrant agreed. "None of us want to stay on Gauda Prime. I don't think anybody's any more thrilled about it than you are."
Vila shivered. "I'm not, anyway. I don't fancy dying; I'm too young. Besides, there are still a lot of things I never had the chance to steal."
"Wait a minute, Avon," Dayna interjected. "We haven't even decided if we want to go to Gauda Prime, and now you've got everyone acting like it's all decided."
Tarrant glared at Avon as he realised he had been acting the same way himself. "Dayna's right. I don't know why we should go rushing off to Gauda Prime just because of Blake. What could Blake do for us that we can't already do?"
"Blake is one of us, Tarrant," Cally told him softly. "You never met Blake, but Avon, Vila and I still miss him."
"Speak for yourself," Avon muttered.
"But you do miss him, Avon," Cally told him. "I can't imagine why you would search for him otherwise."
"Can't you?" Avon threw her a scornful look. "The Federation becomes intolerable. With Blake, we can manipulate and control various rebel factions and form a united front to overthrow it. Some of the rebels may even have a viable plan for what would happen afterward. That would make a refreshing change from roaming about the galaxy blowing things to bits. There would finally be an end to it.
"In other words, you're a devoted revolutionary?" Hugh suggested sceptically. "Or is it that you want to overthrow the Federation for your own personal convenience?"
"That's likely it," Tarrant complained. "Avon is tired of a fugitive life, so he will reorganise the entire galaxy to suit himself."
"You are all short-sighted fools. So far we have been lucky, but Terminal was too close. I accept that a large part of that was my responsibility, but it has shown us, if nothing else, that we are vulnerable. We learned that lesson when Gan died, but we forgot it again. Think of the future. I, for one, do not intend to spend my declining years dodging Federation plasma bolts. Blake is not the answer, but he will 'lead' us to one."
"It's still for your own convenience," Tarrant muttered.
Hugh didn't think so. While it might be true that ageing revolutionaries were likely to meet their end much quicker than young ones, Avon's band was in no danger of that for some time to come. Yet Cally was watching Avon with interest and without criticism. She knew more than the others did; maybe her interface with Jabberwocky gave her more insight to Avon's motives than the others had. Maybe she simply understood him better because she had known him longer. But she did not look worried. Initially she had feared a meeting between Avon and Blake, but she seemed to have resolved that somehow and was now merely waiting for the discussion to end so she could order Jabberwocky to take them to Gauda Prime. Hugh wondered if she had already given the order.
Vila, too, seemed less concerned than either Tarrant or Dayna. Vila was no fool even if he worked hard at looking like one. Maybe he knew Avon better than anyone, even the elusive Blake. If Cally and Vila were not concerned, then Hugh wouldn't be concerned either. He'd let events take their course and if there were any problems, he would be here to put the pieces back together again.
"I think we must go." Cally said, breaking into a heated exchange between Tarrant and Avon.
"I'd think you would be the last person to want to go." Tarrant replied. "Doesn't your dream alarm you at all?"
"Constantly. But you see I know that Avon means Blake no harm The only reason Blake might be in danger from us is if he actually has betrayed us, and I do not think that is Blake's nature."
"He sounds an obsessive bastard, Blake," Tarrant observed, glaring down at the console before him. Then he swore. "Damn it, Cally, you've set us on the way."
"Is there any reason why we should not travel and talk at the same time? If the majority decide against Gauda Prime, then we can always change course."
"Majority! It will be the way Avon wants it. He'll enforce it with a gun if we disagree with him." He sounded as though the incident on the way to Terminal still rankled. Hugh wondered how best to resolve that between the two men.
"I am unarmed," Avon pointed out.
"Enough!" Hugh got to his feet. "Frankly I'm not quite crew, so I shouldn't really have an opinion, but I do, and I think you ought to hear it. I think we must go to Gauda Prime. Otherwise it will hang over our heads and prevent us from going on with our lives. Avon knows the events of the dream, so he should be prepared for Blake no matter what the circumstances. Personally, I wonder why Blake never bothered to contact any of you after the battle at Star One. It seems out of character. We don't know what's been happening to him since he left the Liberator, and the odds are that he'll be different in some ways. I think if we go - we'll be prepared for the worst. The Federation has a knack of getting to people. He might have been programmed in some way. Maybe he's become embittered and unwilling to give himself to his rebellion any more. Or he may have been injured. He could even have lost his memory. I think we must find him, and give him a chance to explain himself, but we should go prepared for trouble. Avon, you believed he betrayed you in Cally's dream, but the pressure you had been under since Terminal made you very... inflexible. I think the knowledge of the dream should help you avoid that trap this time. Tarrant, if you should meet Blake first as you did in the dream, you will need to be careful not to misinterpret what you see."
"I am capable of making rational decisions for myself. I won't endanger my own life to give Avon a happy reunion, though."
"You take too much upon yourself," Avon snarled at Hugh, but he could hardly argue too much since Hugh had backed him. "Thank you for your vote of confidence" he added with heavy sarcasm. "I question your reasoning, but you make your point. We will go to Gauda Prime. Are there any further objections?"
No one said anything, though Tarrant glared at Avon in a decidedly unfriendly manner. Cally was smiling a little and Vila looked both uneasy and amused, a combination that only Vila could have managed.
//Thank you, Hugh.//
He looked at Cally and winked. "My pleasure."
Avon and the others looked at him strangely, but Cally got to her feet. "Jabberwocky, when will we arrive at Gauda Prime?"
"Sixty-five hours, Cally. Everyone might as well catch up on their sleep until then because it's a boring part of space and the view's dull. Avon, you need rest. I recommend a vitamin solution. Vila, no adrenalin and soma for you. You'll need your wits about you."
"Such as they are," Avon muttered with relish.
"Orac," Tarrant cut in, striding over to the computer. "Monitor any transmissions going in and coming out of Gauda Prime and alert us at the mention of Federation activity. I particularly want to know anything about Sleer or Servalan. Confirm."
"Confirmed," Orac replied unenthusiastically. "There has, however, been no word of Sleer since the encounter on Dayson Prime. It appears unlikely that she would have any involvement with Gauda Prime at this time."
"Nevertheless," Avon cut in, "You will check for her, Orac ."
"Oh, very well." Orac huffed.
"Servalan's probably dead," Vila muttered. "She looked dead."
"How would you know?" Dayna asked him. "You were hiding out in the ship at the time."
"No, I wasn't. Somebody had to get it open after all. Can I help it if I'm good with my hands."
"You can help using it as an excuse."
"I'm much braver than people think I am."
"Most people are," Dayna retorted. Then, as if satisfied with the argument, she abandoned it. "It's not my watch, so I'm going to get some of that rest Jabberwocky mentioned." She headed for her cabin.
After a moment, Soolin got up and followed her off the flight deck, pausing in the doorway. "Avon, I'll brief you on Gauda Prime in the morning. I warn you it's a wide open planet. Cally's dream was right about the bounty hunters. They thrive there. If Blake is down there, he'd have to have gone to ground somewhere. And we must be very careful or we will find ourselves in as much trouble as we were in the dream." She left without looking back.
"Is it too late to change my mind about going?" Vila asked in a small voice.
"Yes," Cally told him. "Much too late."
"That's what I was afraid of." He started to get up and then stopped, looking at Avon. "I suppose it's my watch now?"
Hugh climbed to his feet. "Cally, I'd like to talk to you if you can spare the time."
"If you don't mind."
"I don't mind." She rose and followed him from the flight deck. He took her to the nearest of the rest areas and programmed himself a cup of coffee and Cally a cup of rast. She took it gratefully, cupping her hands around it and savouring the warmth. "What is it, Hugh?" she asked.
"It's about your telepathy. You've been using it ever since you linked with Jabberwocky. Is he boosting you and making it possible, or has it come back to you now the pressure is off about Gauda Prime and Avon shooting Blake?"
"It is because of Jabberwocky," Cally insisted with certainty, clutching her cup even more tightly. "I could not do it without Jabberwocky. It's his strength that lets me broadcast and transmit."
"How sure of that are you?"
"I am perfectly certain. Don't you think I want my own telepathy back if I could do it? It is one of the reasons I linked with Jabberwocky. With him, I feel whole again. He's always there if I need him, comforting and guiding me."
"Like a crutch?" he prodded gently.
"How can you say that!" she demanded hotly, jerking back and staring at him in dismay. "Do you think me so weak as to need him like that?"
"I never thought you were weak, Cally. You're one of the strongest people I know. But even strong people can be frightened sometimes, and I think that's why you joined with Jabberwocky, not simply because you were lonely without your telepathy. You haven't been around anyone who could transmit to you in some time, so in essence there is very little difference between your state after Terminal and your condition before, is there?"
"You are not an Auron. You do not understand."
"I'm sure I don't, since I'm virtually psi null myself. What I do understand is that you did something that surprised me. You took Jabberwocky. You didn't tell anyone what you intended and you did it when Avon couldn't stop you. I like the way you are since you've joined with Jabberwocky. I realise it helps make you complete now while you haven't been using your telepathy. But you can't snatch completeness like a thief. It's not right. I don't think Jabberwocky boosts your telepathy either. I think it's always been there, and you've blocked it yourself."
"That's a disgusting suggestion. I thought you were my friend, Hugh. How dare you accuse me of that?"
"I don't accuse you of anything, Cally. You've been very sick, you lost the Liberator and Zen, who was like a fellow crew member and a friend. You've had division in your midst since Avon took matters into his own hands. You also lost your people. Nobody could come through that intact. You did far better than anyone could ever imagine. I don't think it's so wrong to crave what you lost: companionship, someone to trust. And then your dream frightened you badly. You saw everyone falling apart, their worst qualities taking over, you saw them trapped without a centre of strength, falling into an ever deepening trap that they couldn't escape. Even more frightening, some of it has come true. I can understand what you did, Cally. But I can't quite approve of the way you did it."
"You think I should break the link with Jabberwocky? I won't, Hugh. I couldn't bear it. You don't know how it feels."
"No, and I'm a little envious of you for it, though I wouldn't want it, not really. Besides, I don't think Jabberwocky would have chosen you if you weren't the right person for the link. He sounds pretty sensible. I like him."
"Thank you, Hugh," came Jabberwocky's voice from the wall speaker. "I like you too. I feel you're important to this crew. I'm glad Avon sees that now. It would be hard to persuade him to do anything he didn't want to do. I'll recommend that you stay with us, though; maybe I'll even insist on it. But as for Cally, she asked me first. She couldn't steal me; I make my own choices. I think you're right that she did it in a sneaky way, but under the pressure she was facing, I'm not surprised. I don't hold it against her. You shouldn't either."
"Thank you, Jabberwocky."
Hugh turned to the speaker, feeling the need to face the computer's visible display while talking to him. "Jabberwocky, do you boost Cally's telepathy?"
"I cannot answer that question. Only Cally can. I'm not conscious of it, but then we give each other many strengths, and that could be one of them."
"What's it like?" Hugh asked a trifle wistfully. He had been on his own for years, and in his work on Dayson Prime he hadn't let himself get close to anyone, not even old friends, for fear of giving himself away. Until he came here, he hadn't lowered his guard for years, and he was still an outsider here though he was beginning to belong.
"I could show you," Cally said. "You're a doctor. It might do you good to try the linkage. I think it might be helpful if someone was hurt. You could link with us and we could touch the person and it would be almost as good as a diagnostic scanner, maybe even better."
"You'd let me try it?" Hugh asked. "It wouldn't hurt?"
"If it didn't hurt Avon, I don't think it would hurt you."
"Avon!" Hugh stared at her in surprise. "Avon submitted to a mental link? I don't believe it."
"I did it to prove to him that he would not have been the right choice to link with Jabberwocky." Cally set aside her cup of rast and held out her hand to Hugh. "I think that linking with Avon is what helped convince me that Avon would not kill Blake if we encountered him and that is why I feel better about going to Gauda Prime."
"Well, if it works - but you won't read my mind, will you, Cally?"
"You sound as uneasy as Avon. I won't read your inner thoughts, only your surface consciousness, and we will block anything that you would prefer us not to see. Jabberwocky makes a good censor."
"All right." Hugh stretched out a little uneasily and took Cally's hand.
A whole new world opened before him. Suddenly he was not just Hugh Tiver alone but a part of a larger whole, greater than the sum of its parts. He was still Hugh, but he was Cally too, and Jabberwocky, touching parts of the man who had been made into the Mark 60 mind ship. Jabberwocky still retained some of his original relaxed personality and some purely human shrewdness, and it was plain that he could see Hugh for exactly what he was, a very fallible human who was still worthwhile. Hugh saw himself as Cally saw him, and he was strangely humbled. He hadn't thought himself worth so much.
Through the link, he saw the others on the ship as perceived by Cally/Jabberwocky, and he realised that his basic instincts about Avon had not been far wrong. There was a different man underneath Avon's protective coloration, a man who had been hurt too many times to risk it willingly again, yet someone with a deeply buried compassion. Cally recalled an incident after the loss of her people when Avon had come to her cabin and offered comfort in his own unique way. He might have denied that was what he was doing, but it had comforted all the same. //And Avon cares about Vila too.// Cally/Jabberwocky assured him.
//I know that.// Listening to Avon and Vila bantering back and forth had been like hearing a pair of argumentative siblings, fighting each other until a greater threat came along, then uniting against it.
Tarrant too was not quite what Hugh had thought at first. The more Hugh saw him, the more he realised that Tarrant wasn't as bad as he'd thought. Tarrant was young and brash, thought Hugh from the basis of his few more years' experience, and he'd come through the FSA where pilots were taught to think they were better than anyone else. At least Tarrant had the sense to see past the artificial glory with which the Federation covered up their less savoury features. It is not those covered in glory who reject the system, but Tarrant had seen past the facade and left. He'd worked as a mercenary, but he'd had little option as the market for non-Federation pilots was slim and didn't usually call for someone with Tarrant's gifts. He'd come to Liberator and taken possession when it was abandoned, expecting to be in charge, and had been thwarted by Avon. It had been a battle between them ever since, which said something for Tarrant's persistence, if not his sense.
At that thought, he sensed Cally's gentle amusement and Jabberwocky's appreciation. When he'd been human, Jabberwocky had been a pilot too, and had probably gone through the academy as well. Hugh knew all too well from his own experience what could happen to people there. Their lives were no longer their own. Jabberwocky had experienced that as well.
Hugh left all those thoughts behind and just drifted, enjoying the union he was sharing, feeling safe and comfortable with both of them. He lowered his guard and opened himself to them, and he sensed their willingness to share in return. Cally's motives now made sense to him, even if he still felt she had been hasty. She was the best person on board to link with the ship now, and neither Avon nor Tarrant could have managed it as well, if at all. It might have done Avon good if he could have succeeded - and as Avon's personal physician, or reasonable facsimile thereof, Hugh wondered how he could manage to get Avon to unbend a little more. Avon lived under a great deal of stress, most of it unnecessary, and any doctor could tell him that it wasn't good for him. Maybe Hugh could work something out.
When Cally freed his hand, there was a moment of disorientation and he sat down quickly, quivering slightly. He felt temporarily bereft and for the first time he really understood what it might be like for an Auron to live apart from her people. Cally had done so successfully for a number of years, but she must have suffered incredible loneliness. At least she didn't have to endure that now.
He looked at her and saw her smiling at him. "Hugh, I'm glad you're here," she said.
He felt a little uncomfortable because this crew didn't normally admit to such things, but then telepathy would remove normal barriers. He managed to smile. "I hadn't realised what it would be like," he told her. "Until now, I couldn't guess how it would feel to be that open with another person. I don't think I could get into that much sharing with another person if I wasn't comfortable with him. How did you manage it with Avon?"
"It was different with Avon," Cally replied with a touch of regret. "Avon is not yet ready to lower his barriers to us. I do not know if he ever will be, but it is not something I could force on him. One of the greatest crimes on Auron was to force one's way into another person's mind against his will. I could never do such a thing to Avon. It would be unethical as well as cruel. You can understand that, can't you, Hugh?"
"Yes, I can understand that. As much as I enjoyed what just happened, there was a degree of discomfort too. I was uneasy, not because I didn't trust you but because humans are accustomed to keeping their barriers intact. Without telepathy we have no guarantees of trust. You can know in the link if another person means to betray you or not, but normally humans have to take the chance. Avon has been through enough betrayals already to make him reluctant to risk it."
"You know a lot, don't you, Hugh?"
"No, I've just been there myself."
"It didn't make you cynical."
"We all react according to our natures," Hugh replied.
"Do you think you can help Avon?"
"I don't know. I'm not sure he'll let me try."
"You have a better chance than you think," she said. "I believe Avon has accepted you."
"What makes you think that?" Hugh asked sceptically.
Cally smiled delightedly. "You're still alive."
Jabberwocky achieved orbit around Gauda Prime without incident and discovered no trace of Federation pursuit ships waiting for them. Unless the Federation had somehow managed to cause Cally's dream, there was no reason for anyone to expect them to come here. If Gauda Prime was a wide open planet as Soolin had told them, then the Federation might be letting it alone for the moment. There was a lot of ship traffic, however, and Avon expressed a wish that the teleport system he had been working on was finished. He had begun his work on it the day after he had been wounded, once Hugh had certified him fit, and he had taken large quantities of Orac's time since then. Orac delighted in the project, accepting it as something worthy of its skills, and the computer had recruited Jabberwocky to help it, which had drawn Cally in as well. In order to fully utilise the ship's computer, Avon had even permitted Cally to forge another temporary link, this one geared specifically toward teleport research. He found this one more comfortable than the previous experience because it was goal directed rather than a simple consciousness sharing.
Discovering what Avon had done, Tarrant had risked a similar merging while experimenting with various ship manoeuvres. Cally became a link in a chain, binding Tarrant to the ship then stepping back mentally and letting herself bridge the gap between computer and human. Tarrant came out of it awed, lusting after the ship, thrilled with such instantaneous responses to his commands, and Cally realised that if she had to relinquish Jabberwocky some day, she might willingly give it to Tarrant. She had a suspicion that the Federation had intended such linkages to be with pilots, and from Jabberwocky's delight in the manoeuvres, Cally thought he might enjoy it too. But that was for the future; she had no plans to give up Jabberwocky yet.
The shared experiences helped draw those involved closer together; though Avon maintained his usual distant manner, he had been seen to smile at Cally for no particular reason, covering it instantly when he realised what he was doing. Tarrant became cheerful and buoyant, and some of his prickliness sloughed off. He stopped holding Terminal against Avon, though when reminded of it, he would show that he still remembered it. But when no one called it to his attention, he forgot his resentment. With boyish enthusiasm, he raved about Jabberwocky's abilities to anyone who would listen, and even Avon had listened without disparaging remarks.
Realising what was happening, Cally promptly displayed Jabberwocky's abilities to both Dayna and Vila, and offered to do so to Soolin. So far the woman from Gauda Prime had refused Cally's offers, but Cally thought it would not be much longer before she availed herself of it.
Vila loved it; and it revealed a sweetness to his nature that Cally had suspected for some time. Vila opened himself up to her joyfully, keeping only a small portion of himself sealed away from Cally/Jabberwocky. After that, he seemed slightly less inclined to play the fool, though it was so deeply ingrained that it would have taken far more than one link to break him of the habit. He and Avon continued to insult and argue with each other, but it became more and more obvious that it was a game that both of them enjoyed.
Dayna was sceptical at first, but then she unbent too. The atmosphere on the ship became almost congenial; anything more would take time because they had been at daggers drawn for such a long time that anything else would have seemed unnatural, but if nothing went wrong on Gauda Prime, Cally suspected that life on Jabberwocky was going to be very pleasant. She even took to wondering if it would be possible to draw everyone into one total telepathic rapport, the way her people sometimes did with close groups of friends and family, maybe on a regular basis. It might do them all good, and perhaps they would learn to open up a little to each other. The danger of that was that they would be living in a continual state of risk, and the closer they allowed themselves to become to each other, the worse it would be if one of them was killed. It had been hard enough losing Gan, then being unable to locate Blake and Jenna after Star One. It would be even harder if they lowered their guard to each other now.
Reminded of Jenna, Cally wondered if Jenna and Blake had managed to get together. When they had checked Jenna's last known whereabouts on the planet Morphenniel, she was no longer there and no one knew if she had ever been there, let alone where she had gone. Orac had put out feelers, seeking her, but there had been nothing, and Cally had often wondered if Jenna had been killed. In a more optimistic frame of mind, she had speculated that Jenna had gone undercover, perhaps returning to smuggling - but she had vanished as completely as Blake had done. Cally hoped they were together.
Orbiting Gauda Prime, Avon consulted with Soolin and finally had Tarrant set Jabberwocky down in a remote location. When there was no evidence that anyone had taken notice of their landing they decided to shift closer to a town, and once there, Avon sent out Dayna and Soolin to scout the area. Dayna was good at tracking and surveillance on primitive and underdeveloped planets and outside of the towns the planet was heavily forested. Soolin went along because of her local knowledge. They took one of Jabberwocky's hand-held communicators in lieu of teleport bracelets and made half hourly contacts.
"We'll be at the town of Cantek in five minutes," Soolin said, pulling Dayna behind a tree. "Nobody will notice our guns; everybody wears them. We'll just walk into town as if we had a right to be there. I want to rent us a flyer and see if I can learn anything about Blake."
"What should I do?" Dayna asked.
"Watch my back."
Dayna had no problems with that, but she felt uneasy when they walked into the town. It had the prefabricated look of towns on frontier worlds; someone had put it together in a hurry, probably the forestry people, and the men and women they saw there looked like they minded their own business and shot anyone who got in their way. Dayna fell into a cautious walk, hand near her gun, and she must have looked dangerous, or at least competent, because she was left alone. Soolin had the easy stride of someone who is very good indeed with her weapon, and it was possible that she had been recognised by some of the crowd. Ignoring them, though alert to any suspicious movement, she led the way unhesitatingly to a flyer rental service.
"What can I do for you, pretty lady?" asked a rather slimy type who looked exactly like a character in a used spacecraft advertisement. "I can make you a very good deal."
"Something that runs, presumably," Soolin said dryly. I've seen some of your equipment, Mordral. I only need to hire a flyer. Her hand dropped to her gunbelt. "And I wouldn't say no to a little information either."
He looked down at her gun and then lifted his eyes to her face. "Soolin!"
"I see you do remember me. Good. Then you know how I deal with people who double cross me. I wouldn't suggest you try. That muscle you have watching us in the back couldn't get me before I could get you, and my friend here is as good with a gun as I am."
"I don't doubt that at all, pretty Soolin. And you know Jarn out in back wouldn't harm a hair of your head. What do you want to know?"
"We're looking for a man. I don't want to show you a picture, but he's tall and dark and might be a bounty hunter. He's got curly hair and is probably in his late thirties." She shot a questioning look at Dayna, who nodded. At least she had seen a picture of Blake, though she had never met him.
"A bounty hunter," Mordral muttered scornfully. "Everyone on the damn planet is either a wanted man or a bounty hunter. It's about half and half. Makes it hard for an honest businessman like myself to make a profit."
"Honest businessman?" Soolin muttered sceptically to Dayna. "The ones who tell you they're honest are usually the biggest crooks on the planet."
Mordral gave her an indignant howl of protest. "I'm wounded to the quick. Check any flyer on my lot if you doubt me. There's not a one that isn't fit for the President of the Federation herself - no, it's himself now, I think. These things change so fast there's no keeping track. Take this one over here." He fell into his sales pitch, leading them to a battered vehicle and patted its side proudly. "It may not look all that good, but it runs perfectly. Sweet little machine. I could let you have it for a hundred credits a day."
"One hundred credits! You must be joking. I wouldn't pay a credit over forty."
"I don't run a charity here," Mordral said loudly. "I have starving children to feed."
"That's such an old line its whiskers have whiskers. No more than forty-five."
"Eighty-five, and not a credit less." He lowered his voice. "There's a man who fits your description, though I don't know if he's a bounty hunter. I'm not sure what he is. He comes here sometimes but I think he's based in Corona. I haven't seen him for at least three weeks, though. Nobody knows his name, but he is sometimes seen with a character called Deva. D'you think he could be your man?"
Dayna exclaimed under her breath at the name Deva familiar from Cally's dream, but Soolin stayed cool. "All right, fifty," she shot back. "You're a thief, Mordral. I would report you if there was anybody to report you to. And," lowering her voice, "It could be our man. Corona? Do you think this broken down buggy could get us all the way to Corona without falling apart?"
"Naturally. You could go right around the planet with this little gem. Seventy-five," he added loudly. "My final offer."
"Make it sixty and it's yours."
"Done. But if it breaks down, I'll be back. I don't like being crossed, Mordral. You should know that."
The deal was quickly concluded and soon Soolin and Dayna were on their way back to the ship in the flyer. It did work better than it looked, but Soolin had inspected it carefully before she had closed the deal. Once they were on their way, Dayna relaxed slightly; she had been uncomfortable in the town.
"Do you think it's Blake?" she asked.
"It sounds likely. I wouldn't have been able to tell but the part about Deva makes it probable. Avon will have an opinion too. Do you think Blake might be setting up a rebel base here like he did in Cally's dream?"
"Maybe," Dayna responded. "What I'd like to know, though, is if we've been set up. I didn't like the look in Mordral's eyes when he was telling us about Blake. I wouldn't put it past him to call ahead and warn Blake, or even to set up an ambush himself."
"Mordral's no rebel, and he's not Federation. He's interested in one thing, money, and anything he might do would be because he was paid for it."
"Or else he's got a good cover. Who better than a flyer dealer to monitor surface movements here. There'd be a lot of traffic that could be dangerous to certain elements and he could be in several people's pay."
"You have a suspicious nature," Soolin told her, adding, "I've been wondering the same thing myself."
"How far is it to Corona?" Avon asked when they returned to the ship and everyone turned out to inspect the flyer.
"In this, about an hour."
"We could put it in the hangar bay and go there on Jabberwocky," suggested Tarrant, opening the access panel of the flyer and studying it. "Once we remove the tracking device, that is"
"What!" Avon came to look over his shoulder.
"It doesn't mean anything," Soolin said. "It's common here; it's the way people prevent their property from being stolen."
"It's also a good way to get killed," Vila put in, leaning over Avon's shoulder.
The computer expert gave him a shove. "Breathe down someone else's neck, Vila."
"I just wanted to see."
"Are you going to disarm it?" Hugh asked Tarrant.
"If we do, he'd know we've got something to hide and if he means to alert anybody about us, he'd do it."
"If he means to alert anyone, he'll have done so already," Avon insisted. "I wouldn't trust the man not to have reported us to the Federation. We'll take the flyer and disarm it first, but he will expect us to go to Corona, and the only advantage we have is Jabberwocky. We'll have to get there fast before there's any chance of ambush."
"If he's told them, they'll be expecting us, no matter when we come," Hugh reminded him. "At least they'd be expecting Soolin and Dayna in the flyer. We have that advantage. I think we'll have to leave them behind when we get there, or they'd give us away."
"I had already considered that. You and I and Tarrant and Vila will go. Cally will remain with Jabberwocky as she is not yet completely fit. Cally, can you and Jabberwocky link with us at a distance, do you think?"
"It might be possible but the best I can promise is that I could send to you. I can't guarantee receiving." She closed her eyes, concentrating on the link. "Jabberwocky thinks he might be able to pick up a deliberate projection if I go into an interface with him. Now that all of you have linked with him, he might be able to read you."
As she spoke, Tarrant had been working on the tracer, and now he held it up with a look of triumph. "Once we get it on board, Jabberwocky can check for more," he said, picking up his communicator. "Jabberwocky, open the hangar bay," he ordered as he climbed into the flyer.
Ten minutes later they were on their way to Corona, and Jabberwocky reported that there were no further tracers on board. Vila spent most of the brief flight to Corona complaining about being a part of the mission, but Avon ignored his complaints. "You must be there, Vila, because you will be the only one, other than myself, who will recognise Blake. If we are separated, we stand a better chance of locating him with both of us present. Tarrant will programme the flyer."
"Why do you want me along then?" Hugh asked.
"I want as many of us as we can manage, and we can't take any of the others."
Corona was a slightly bigger town than Cantek, and there they found their first signs of Federation presence on the planet. There were not many Federation troopers, but there were a few, just enough to remind the populace that the Federation still had power and that they would take action if necessary. If anyone recognised the erstwhile crew of the Liberator, there was no evidence of it, and though Vila loudly proclaimed his worry, announcing that they were likely to die quickly, the others ignored him, used to his complaints.
No one wanted to split up, but Avon divided the party in two groups, one consisting of himself and Hugh, and the other of Vila and Tarrant. They would stay in touch through Jabberwocky's communicators while they searched for any trace of Blake. Cally had tried to describe Deva, but it was unlikely that he could be recognised on that basis alone. Now that it was too late, Avon realised that she might have linked with them and projected an image. They would have to make do without it.
He and Hugh started with the taverns. They made the rounds, drawing a blank in the first two places they visited, keeping a low profile, then they headed for a third, walking into the dimly lit, crowded room and looking around, Avon with a scornful and disinterested countenance and Hugh with slightly uneasy interest. Avon had chosen Hugh to come with him because he was the most inexperienced member of the party, and Avon wanted him where he could see him. He trusted Hugh as much as he would have trusted anyone who had never backed him and who had little experience under fire, that is to say not at all. Hugh was not stupid, and he was no fool, but he wouldn't have the reflexes of someone who had been under fire before, and Avon did not care for the thought that Hugh's experience might be gained at his expense. Still, Hugh was better than no back up at all and Avon would trust him - if that was the word - enough to let him make his own mistakes as long as they did not endanger Avon.
They chose a table against the far wall and ordered the local brew, pretending to pay no attention to the other customers. Strangers were not uncommon here, and because of that, they would not stand out. At least that was what Avon hoped. He put his back firmly against the wall where he could see the door and took a good look around the room. As soon as he had entered he had known that Blake was not here, and a further search didn't reveal anyone who stood out as a perfect match for Cally's description of Deva, though there were several possibilities. Avon leaned over and pointed them out to Hugh, who studied them carefully, shaking his head.
"I don't think he's here, Avon," he commented. "If that character sent a warning, they wouldn't be out in public like this."
"We don't know that. If I know Blake, he will take a great many foolish chances. However, I do not think he would be stupid enough to have his headquarters in the heart of a town. I think we should check the outlying areas; we might have more luck finding him there."
"Shouldn't we ask someone around here?" Hugh wondered. "I think we'd need to do more to find him than just looking in bars, surely."
"Who do you want to ask?"
"The bartender. They usually know what's going on, just about anyplace you go."
"I had planned to do that anyway," Avon informed Hugh. He was not pleased to think that Hugh would give him advice, and he had indeed planned to talk to the bartender, but not immediately. He waited until they had finished their first round of drinks, then he took the glasses over to an empty stretch of bar. "I need a refill."
"The barmaid would have come around eventually."
"I don't have time for eventually," Avon explained. "I'm in town looking for an old friend and I don't have much time to waste. The only problem is that I've lost his address."
"Do you remember his name?" the bartender asked cheerfully, used to people being hunted.
"He's a little taller than me, late thirties, dark curly hair."
"That could be a hundred men. He wanted?"
"Not by me," replied Avon, realising that he must seem just one more bounty hunter to the bartender. "He's a competent engineer," he added by way of further description. "He might be working here."
"Hmm." The bartender pursed his lips thoughtfully, polishing a glass before he returned it to its position under the bar. He looked at Avon's glass and pushed a button on the drinks programmer repeating the process with Hugh's. "Fifty credits," he muttered under his breath. "It'd cost fifty credits."
"I want some guarantees before I pay out good money."
The bartender gestured him closer, leaning over the bar. Avon copied the movement, and the bartender whispered, "Does the name Blake mean anything to you?"
Avon drew back slightly. "Well now, it might," he conceded in a low voice.
"I thought it might. You're not Federation?"
"You'd say that anyway, but you don't look Federation, somehow. You look more than a little familiar."
"I'm a stranger here." That was all he needed, to be recognised. His face must be on wanted posters, and on a planet of bounty hunters that was not the most comfortable of feelings. He would need to get out of here quickly and watch his back while he did so. This man could be in collusion with any bounty hunter on the planet, though if he knew the location of Blake and had not revealed it for the bounty, there was a remote chance that he had rebel sympathies and had agreed to give Avon information - correction, sell Avon information - about Blake because he had recognised him and knew him to be one of Blake's people. No, Avon corrected the thought. He had never been one of Blake's people; he had merely permitted himself to follow for a time.
"I know you are," the bartender replied. "I don't know your friend over there, but you look very familiar. Blake's here all right. I don't give out the information to just anyone."
"Give? For fifty credits?"
"I have to make a living too. Do you think anybody could trust me if I gave away information for free?"
Avon smiled grimly at the illogic of that statement, though he would be hard pressed to trust someone who didn't give out information until he was paid for it. He took the money from his pocket and passed it over unobtrusively. "All right. Where is Blake?"
"Do you know the town?"
"Then when you leave here, take a left turn and proceed to the third interchange; you'll be in the Delta section then. There's a street called West Gauda Road, and you follow it right out of town. Go five miles further and you'll come to a division in the road. The left goes to the Forestry Commission and Guild office, and the right looks like an old logging road. Take that. If you're not who I think you are, you'll probably be shot on sight, but that's your problem, not mine. On second thought, it is my problem. If you're not who I think you are, Blake will come after me himself."
"He might do that anyway," Avon retorted. "Or I might."
The bartender smiled to himself. Maybe he was one of Blake's people after all. Or maybe, thought Avon suspiciously, maybe he had just set a trap for Avon and knew he had nothing to fear because he confidently expected Avon to be dead soon. That meant he had to be prepared for any trouble. He leaned closer to the bartender. "Know this. If you have crossed me, your life will be worth nothing. I have allies and will alert them to your story before I follow your advice. If you wish to change it, this would be the best time to do so."
"I don't want to change it," the bartender replied confidently.
"We shall see." Avon gestured imperiously at Hugh and headed for the door. Hugh followed quickly - like a puppy, Avon thought disgustedly.
"Did he know anything?" Tiver asked.
"He said he did. We will need to be wary though. I don't trust him."
"There's no reason why you should," Hugh replied, "though it wouldn't hurt you to be a little more trusting, Avon."
"I think it might hurt me very much," Avon snapped. "You may choose to foolishly risk your life, but I would prefer to be more cautious with mine."
Once outside, Avon contacted Tarrant and Vila on the communicator and reported what he had discovered. " Meet us back at the flyer," he instructed. "We're going to check it out."
"It sounds like a trap," Vila protested over the communicator.
"Taking a shower sounds like a trap to you," Avon retorted. "If it is indeed a trap, Vila, we will merely need to be more cautious. Five minutes," he added, and set off so fast that Hugh almost had to run to keep up with him.
Tarrant was halfway convinced it was a trap, especially when he saw the secondary road that led off the Forestry Commission's road. It was not well defined, but then it would not need to be, since flyers didn't need roads and the various surface vehicles on the planet were slow and inefficient and would probably be more dangerous to Blake than going about openly in flyers. Vila let out a howl of protest when he saw the dark road leading away into the trees, and Avon muttered a curse when he realised that the overhanging tree branches would hide the road from overhead, forcing them to go in under them, and that the bartender's directions could lead them into ambush and probably did. There was no guarantee that Blake was even there, and whether or not he had been recognised, he might not be on the list of people that Blake would invite to his hidden base
"Now what?" Vila asked suspiciously.
"Now we find Blake," Avon replied. "All right, Tarrant. Move on." He gestured to the road.
Tarrant didn't question him but activated the flyer without speaking. Once it was set on automatic at a slower than normal speed, he took out his weapon, a para-handgun he had discovered in a concealed cabinet on the ship Servalan had left them on Terminal, and checked it. Avon already had his weapon out, and Vila and Hugh followed suit. Jabberwocky had come equipped with small handguns which fired a plasma bolt that could be set at a stun capacity, at a reduced rate of power, though it could still be fatal at close range.
The road was dark, the trees closing in overhead, and there was enough time to make them nervous before they came out into a clearing and discovered the surface entrance to what must have been an underground bunker. The main entrance was open, and that fact alone was ominous.
"They're probably scanning us," Vila said. "I don't like this, Avon."
Avon didn't like it himself, but he didn't say so. Instead he gestured for Tarrant to shut down the flyer and they alit cautiously. The place was utterly still, the only sound the soughing of the wind in the treetops.
It was quiet, eerily so. They stood closer together as they looked about them, then Avon made a haughty sound of scorn and strode forward, the others following him. Vila trailed to the rear, but Tarrant shot out an impatient hand and dragged him with him. "Come along, Vila."
"It's all very well for you," Vila began but fell silent when Avon turned and gave him a chilling look.
Hugh stayed close to Avon. He couldn't have said why he felt he must do so; maybe it was Cally's influence. She must be uneasy now; perhaps she could use Jabberwocky to form a tentative link with them and monitor their progress somehow. Hugh didn't know if that could be done, but it seemed possible.
The passage was lighted, and it led into a hangar area where several flyers were stored. No one seemed to be about, and Vila muttered under his breath, "Maybe they're all dead." Avon glared at him, but he went on, "Well, you just don't leave a place like this wide open unless something's wrong."
"Will you step into my parlour,"' Hugh muttered sotto voce.
"They could be right," Tarrant seconded, looking around him uneasily.
"See," said Vila triumphantly. "If even Tarrant thinks I'm right-"
"Hold it right there," an unfamiliar voice cut in harshly. "Drop your guns."
They spun about to find a man in the uniform of a Federation trooper standing at the other side of the hangar area, pointing a para-handgun at them. A second man came into the room, similarly clad, his face hidden by the mask, but at the sight of him, Avon stiffened. Blake. He knew without seeing his face, recognising the physique and the way that he moved, maybe even the aura of the man. Vila's gun clattered to the floor, and Hugh followed suit, but Tarrant's gun swung around toward Blake. Avon lunged forward and knocked his hand down so that it spent its charge uselessly into the floor. "No, Tarrant."
"Avon," the 'trooper' cried in astonishment, grabbing his own man by the arm when he would have fired. "I didn't know if it would really be you."
"I was not expecting Federation, Blake," Avon retorted, and though he had deflected Tarrant's shot, he did not lower his own gun.
"I set it up this way, Avon," Blake said, and Vila let out a startled yelp at the words that almost matched the ones in Cally's dream.
"I am not impressed," Avon said levelly. "It looks as though you sold us."
"No, Avon," Blake began quickly. "I was waiting for you."
"Stop it," Vila cried, darting forward between the two men. Cally's dream had affected him strongly, and he was afraid that things would go wrong here, even though Avon had been prepared for a possible misunderstanding.
Blake looked at him in surprise, removing the helmet and revealing his face. "Vila, I'm glad to see you. What of Cally and Jenna? Are they with you?"
"These are Avon and Vila?" the other 'trooper' asked Blake. "That's not what we were led to expect, Blake."
"Now, Deva, relax. Our contact must have been wrong - or else there's someone else looking for me."
"Correct," said an unfamiliar voice from the main entrance. "We are."
More Federation troops poured into the hanger.
"I knew it was a trap," Vila wailed.
"You arranged this," Avon accused Blake in a harsh voice. "You set us up."
"You set us up," the man called Deva accused Avon. "We had no trouble before you came here."
"Drop your guns, all of you," barked the Federation officer.
Blake lunged forward suddenly, right at Avon, gun raised, and Avon reacted to it. Half expecting betrayal, primed by Cally's dream, he fired as Blake did, and the rebel leader cried out in pain even as his own gun went off. Behind Avon, a trooper fell, and Avon whirled at the sound, realising too late that Blake had been aiming at the enemy rather than at him.
"No!" Vila cried.
Blake collapsed, and Hugh was quickest, catching him as he fell. Avon's gun had been set on stun, but at such close range, it might be irrelevant.
Tarrant, still armed, ducked for cover, firing, and Deva collected himself and aided him. For a horrible moment, Avon stood frozen, a perfect target, then as a bolt from a para-handgun barely missed him, he came out of his trance enough to duck into cover and begin to return the trooper's fire.
There were at least a dozen Federation troopers blocking the exit, and probably more outside. Hugh bent over Blake, dragged him back into shelter beside some storage drums and tugged open his tunic to expose the wound. He still didn't know what had happened, why Blake was posing as Federation or even whether the armed troops were Blake's people or not, though it didn't look that way. It sounded like a case of bluff and double bluff, and under the circumstances, he could understand why Avon had fired. Primed to expect betrayal, he would react to the sight of Blake in Federation garb and the sudden arrival of the troops looked like a set up. But Blake had not been shooting at Avon. Hugh had had a better view than Avon had, and it looked like Blake had been aiming at a trooper who was trying to shoot Avon. Damn. This was turning out bad, just as Cally had feared, but like the rest of Cally's dream, this scene was twisted and different.
Blake was alive but unconscious, and blood stained his side; at least it wasn't a direct stomach wound, but it was bad enough and it would be worse if he couldn't get it cleaned up and stop the bleeding. He would need to get Blake back to the surgical unit and start procedures immediately. The longer they had to wait, the worse it would be for Blake. Hugh shivered. He didn't know Blake, but he wanted him to survive. But even more than for Blake, he wanted it for Cally, poor Cally who had feared this very thing, and for Avon, whom he'd come to respect, even like, who was firing at the enemy like an automaton, his face white and desperately expressionless. If Blake died, Hugh wouldn't want to answer for the consequences to Avon.
Vila cried out in pain then and staggered back, clutching at his arm in astonishment. If they weren't in such a bad position, the shocked dismay and outrage on Vila's face might have been funny, but there was nothing remotely funny about this situation.
Slipping an antiseptic pad on Blake's wound and adding a pressure bandage to control the bleeding, Hugh dug out his communicator and cried into it, "Jabberwocky! Do something!"
At first nothing happened, and Hugh noticed with dismay that the fighting was becoming hand to hand. He saw two Federation troopers struggling to hold Tarrant while another planted a nasty blow to his cheekbone and a second to his stomach. Tarrant doubled over, his face going a funny colour.
"Identify allies," the communicator said.
"Blake is here," Hugh said urgently. He touched Blake. "Can you read him?"
"He's pretty weak. You've messed up. Any others?"
Ignoring Jabberwocky's criticism and suddenly feeling Cally's presence, distraught and frightened through the link they'd forged before, Hugh glanced around for Deva and saw him lying sprawled beyond Avon, eyes staring unseeingly at the ceiling. "No," he said bitterly.
"Then hold on. Stay linked with Blake."
"Right." Hugh circled Blake's wrist with his fingers. "Go."
At first, nothing seemed to happen, but then Hugh wasn't sure what was supposed to. They were still learning Jabberwocky's abilities, and at this point, nothing would surprise him. He looked past Blake's body to Avon, who was still firing, taking out one of the men who held Tarrant. The pilot struggled free of the other man's grip and swung a clumsy punch at him, hampered by his battered condition.
Then all the Federation troopers fell down.
Even expecting something to happen, Hugh was floored. It wasn't possible. Though with Jabberwocky, almost anything was possible.
"What the hell happened?" Avon demanded, his voice like metal dragged over stones.
"It was me," announced Jabberwocky over the communicator. "I'm overhead, and I just blocked out your brain waves and sent a stun beam down. I've linked with all of you except Blake, and Hugh marked him off, but he was unconscious anyway. If I were you, I'd get out of there before any more troops show up. I'll pick you up."
"He's right," Tarrant agreed, wincing as he wiped a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth. "Vila, can you move?"
"No," Vila replied, belying his words by scrambling to his feet, clutching at his wounded arm. Blood trickled between his fingers, but Hugh didn't think it was a serious wound.
Avon came over and stared down at Blake, his eyes huge and hollow looking. For the first time since Hugh had known him, he was allowing himself to be vulnerable, and he stood tensed for Hugh's answer, obviously frightened, but fighting for control.
"If Jabberwocky gets down here fast, I won't have much trouble saving him," he said quickly. "Avon, it was an honest mistake."
"Was it?" Avon turned away quickly and strode toward the door, picking his way between the bodies of the troops, and it was left for Tarrant to help lift Blake. Vila crept closer and peered down at Blake's unconscious face. "At least he's not scarred like Cally said he was," he muttered. "What d'you want me to do, Hugh?"
"Hold that pad in place," Hugh instructed him, gesturing at it. "Can you do that, with your arm?"
Vila nodded once and complied.
Jabberwocky was setting down in the clearing when they stepped outside, and Avon was waiting for them. He looked at Blake again as if he could not keep his eyes away. There were several troop carriers parked there, and Hugh noticed with relish that the backwash of Jabberwocky's landing boosters had scorched one of them and half crushed the other. Good.
The hatches opened the moment touchdown was complete and Dayna and Soolin burst out. Soolin replaced Vila at Blake's side, her lip curling at the sight of them. "I wouldn't say this was an unqualified success," she remarked.
"Shut up, Soolin," Tarrant retorted, an unaccustomed note of savagery in his voice. He shot a worried glance at Avon, making no attempt to hide it, and another at Blake.
Dayna went to Avon and touched his arm. "Are you hurt?"
Still watching Blake, he shook her hand free, then he brushed past her and entered the ship, his face set. Dayna stared after him in dismay before she came over to Hugh. "Is that Blake?" she asked.
"What happened to him?"
"Avon shot him," Tarrant replied. "It was a mistake."
"Oh, no," Dayna said softly, then, to Hugh's surprise, she turned and followed Avon onto the ship.
They carried Blake in after her, to find Cally waiting. She cast a stricken look at Blake's inert form, at the blood staining his tunic, at the hasty patches Hugh had shoved over the wound and her face drained of colour and her knees stopped holding her up. Vila leaped forward as she sagged and tried to catch her one handed. They wound up in a heap on the floor.
"I can't stop for you, Vila," Hugh called over his shoulder. "D'you think you can bring her or shall I send Del back for you?"
"I'll try," Vila promised, his voice shaky.
"You'd better go back for them, Del," Hugh told Tarrant. "How about you? You look like hell."
"That's how I feel," Tarrant replied, "But I'm all right. I'll go back for them. Poor Cally. She knew! I'd hate to be right about something like that."
"She won't be right," Hugh snapped. "Blake's not going to die."
"What are you, a miracle worker?"
"No, but I'm a damned good surgeon, and this doesn't have to be a fatal wound. Shut up and save your breath."
They carried Blake into the medical unit and put him on the diagnostic table, then Tarrant helped Hugh set up his equipment. When it was in place, Hugh nodded to Tarrant. "Go and help Vila with Cally. Come back here yourself and I'll check you out when I've the time for it. Maybe you could take care of Vila's arm."
"Right." Though Tarrant wasn't the sort of man who took orders kindly, he didn't hesitate this time, hurrying off down the corridor.
"And now, my friend," Hugh muttered to Blake as he set up a sterile field, glancing at the readout from his scanners, "You and I are going to perform a little miracle. We're going to screw up a prophecy. I'll expect you to do your damnedest to help me. If you don't, so help me, I'll kill you myself."
He was working intently when Tarrant returned, carrying Cally, who lay limp and pale in his arms, and placed her on the other table. Vila trailed along behind, cradling his injured arm with his other hand. His eyes flickered over uneasily to Blake's body.
"How is he?" he asked.
"I don't know yet. Let Del take a look at that arm. Cally will have to wait."
Vila peeled off his shirt, wincing as the cloth stuck to his wound. "Look at this," he complained, "crippled for life. I'll probably never pick another lock."
"Or lift another drink to your mouth?" Tarrant asked, stepping forward to help him. "Shut up, Vila, and don't bother Hugh."
"I wasn't bothering Hugh," Vila promptly denied, but he fell silent after that, looking at Blake with frightened eyes.
"I know this is probably a stupid question," Hugh asked, "but where's Avon?"
"He's taken us off Gauda Prime," Tarrant reported as he set about cleaning Vila's wound, ignoring the thief's loud complaints. "I don't know how many people Blake had back there, but Avon had Jabberwocky try to get a message through to them to get the hell out of there. They have to know they were attacked, and they're probably already heading for a new base or at least away from there. Avon wanted them to know where Blake was, if possible."
"Is he coming down here afterwards?" Hugh asked knowing Jabberwocky could pilot himself if necessary.
"I doubt it," Vila said softly. "At least not yet."
"Not until he knows about Blake," Tarrant added, "And maybe not then. Avon wouldn't be very comfortable sitting around a sickbed, especially when he feels responsible. Besides," he added with insight, "Avon might be afraid he'd let down his guard too far if he was here. Look how he was when Cally was hurt. This is even worse for him."
"That's right," Vila agreed. "He knew he wasn't supposed to shoot Blake, he knew it would probably be a mix-up, but even knowing all that, he still did it."
"You can't expect a leopard to change its spots," Hugh put in, understanding what they were trying to say and interested to see how well they understood Avon.
"What's a leopard?" Tarrant asked.
"I meant you can't expect Avon to be anything but Avon," Hugh explained. "As soon as I finish here, I want to talk to him. Now shut up and let me work in peace."
They were quiet after that, though he could still hear Vila's suppressed complaints as Tarrant worked on his arm. Eventually that stopped too. Once there was an exclamation from Cally, and both men hushed her. Neither of them made any attempt to leave though, and he was dimly aware of Cally climbing to her feet and coming to stand beside him.
"Is there anything that I can do?" she asked.
"Just stay there and hand me things when I ask for them," Hugh replied. "It'll sterilise when I take it into the field."
"How is he?"
"Better than he should be. The man's lucky - either that or Avon pulled his shot. I saw it happen, Cally. I saw where he was and where Blake was, and there's no way this wound should be way over here."
He pointed to a spot in the middle of Blake's stomach. "That's where Avon aimed from what I could see. And this is where he hit," he concluded, gesturing to the actual wound. "I'm going to have to sit him down and tell him about it, and the sooner the better. Pass me that probe, Cally. No, the one with the green handle. Yes, that one." He took it from her and continued his work. "I'm almost ready to seal this up," he said. "The damage has been repaired, and once I do a final check, I can close. I'll need synth-flesh to cover it and it'll itch like mad for days, but as long as he doesn't do anything more strenuous than resting in bed for the next few days, he'll be fine."
"He lost a lot of blood," Vila pointed out uneasily.
"Jabberwocky typed it and that's a match," Hugh replied, pointing to a tube that had been inserted into Blake's arm. Whoever designed this medical unit had access to the latest technology. "Blake will be weak for a few days, but unless there are complications, he should be fine. He'll probably be mad as hell at us though. We wrecked whatever plans he had back there."
"I'd say the Federation did that," Tarrant put in. "If they hadn't shown up, I think Blake could have talked sense to Avon and kept him from shooting, especially with the rest of us there for backup."
"There," said Hugh, withdrawing the probe and setting clamps. "These will dissolve as he heals. But until new tissue regenerates here - and that'll take several days even with the accelerator - it'll keep the wound from opening up again. It's too deep for the synth-flesh to hold it in place without help. When you get hit at close range like this, even with a stun, it can be messy, and I can't stop a scar unless I do some work on it later."
"I should think a scar will be the least of his worries," Tarrant said. He put his arm around Cally's shoulders reassuringly. "All right?"
"No," she said in a small voice. "I should never have told Avon about the dream."
"I think you had to," Tarrant replied. "We had to know, Cally."
"If we hadn't gone when we did, the Federation would probably have got him," Vila told her. "Isn't that right, Hugh? I think we got there just in time. Anyway, Blake's not dead. I'm going to go tell Avon." He headed for the door and stopped just short of it. "On second thoughts, Avon's got a nasty temper. You tell him, Hugh."
"Where will you be?" Tarrant asked Vila.
"In my quarters. I'm wounded too, remember? I need some adrenalin and soma."
Hugh grinned faintly as he finished with the synth-flesh and closed down the sterile field. "This time, Vila, I agree with you. It's medicinal. I'll have Jabberwocky give you some. You lie down for the rest of the day, right?"
"Tell me when it's safe to come out," Vila muttered and scurried away.
"He's not really frightened of Avon," Cally said. "He just thinks Avon might take it better from you, Hugh, since you're the doctor. Shall I come with you?"
"No, I'd like you to stay with Blake. I don't think he'll be fully conscious for some time, but he might drift in and out. It would reassure him to see a familiar face. Well, Del, shall I have a look at you now?"
Hugh finally got everyone taken care of, cleaning up Tarrant's battered face and checking him for broken ribs, and soothing Cally with reassurances that Blake would be all right. "I do think Avon altered his shot at the last minute," he added. "And if he hadn't known about the dream, he might not have done. He was very cautious about the whole thing - I don't know for sure, but I think he went in expecting it to go wrong. Blake's disappearance after Star One affected him badly, didn't it?"
"I believe so. But Hugh, I'm worried about the rest of the dream. Do you think that if this happened, the rest might too?"
"In finding Blake, we've rendered a lot of it unnecessary. Wait and see. I'll talk to Avon."
"Someone must, Hugh, and I think Vila was right. It might come better from you."
When he went to the flight deck shortly thereafter, he found Avon there alone. Avon had been consulting with Orac, but at the sound of Hugh's footsteps, he pulled the key out quickly as if afraid of being overheard, and Hugh suspected he had been monitoring Blake's progress. Hugh knew better than to come right out and ask. Instead, he threw himself down on one of the couches and propped his feet up on the little table. "God, I'm tired," he said, flexing his fingers and hunching up his shoulders a few times to release their tension. "Does anybody on this ship give a good back rub?"
"Vila does," Avon replied. "As a thief he's good with his hands, as good as Vila could be at anything, that is."
He did not ask about Blake, and Hugh was slightly piqued, though not surprised. Avon might be unable to do so for fear of the answer. So Hugh said quickly, "Blake will be fine."
"Orac has reported your progress," Avon admitted. "It seems to believe you did a competent job."
"A compliment? Astonishing."
"I can respect competence and skill," Avon replied, less sharply than Hugh had expected.
"There's a curious factor to the whole thing," Hugh went on, leaning over to punch up a glass of adrenalin and soma for himself on the food processor.
"Indeed?" Avon looked bored, but his attention was fixed on Hugh intently. "And that is?"
"The fact that you pulled your shot."
Avon's face suddenly reflected a myriad of conflicting emotions. He obviously wanted to believe what Hugh had just said, but his habitual scepticism and the urgency of the situation prevented him from accepting it easily. "I am not aware of any-"
"You can lie to the others, Avon, and even to yourself, though I don't know why you'd want to, but I've just come from putting him back together again, and I saw the whole thing. It would have been lethal if you had followed your original intentions - but your weapon was set on stun. You had that safeguard and you stopped yourself in time from making it worse. I must say I'm glad of it. I'd still be working if you hadn't."
"Or he would be dead." Avon's voice was almost inaudible. Avoiding Hugh's eyes, he sat down in the control seat and did something - probably unnecessary - to the screen.
"He's not dead though," Hugh said. "If someone I'd worked with and hadn't seen for some time suddenly showed up in a Federation uniform and started pointing a gun at me, I would have been hard pressed to catch on and pull my shot. I'm just glad you did."
Avon seemed to believe him, though the belief brought him little peace. "Why?" he asked "Blake means nothing to you."
Hugh knew he wouldn't get another opening like that in the next twenty years. "No, but you do."
Avon's head jerked up at that and he stared at Hugh in blank astonishment. "You give your loyalty too easily."
"No, Avon. I've been betrayed too, and I've had to learn to be careful. Even more so with my friendships. The difference is that when I do give it, I can admit it. It's probably a sign of bad taste, but I do consider you my friend." Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have said anything of the sort to Avon, though his words were true, but he realised that Avon might need more support than usual now.
"More fool you," Avon muttered under his breath, adding quickly, "You have an odd way of showing it."
"What, criticising you and arguing with you? I thought that was something you could understand. It's how you express your friendship for Vila after all."
"This is a pointless conversation."
"No, it's not. I'm your doctor and this comes under the heading of medical treatment. For once you're going to shut up and listen to me. And you stay out of it, Jabberwocky," he added to the ship's display panel.
"You know me, Hugh. I wouldn't dream of interfering," the ship remarked.
Avon made a sceptical sound and rose to his feet.
"Are you running away?" Hugh asked. "I thought it was Vila who was supposed to be the coward."
"Or so he would have us think."
Hugh struggled to keep the corners of his mouth from turning up. "No, I know better," he agreed. "Maybe he was at the beginning, though I doubt it, but he isn't now. Sit down, Avon. Relax for once. I may be hard on you, but I mean well."
"Spare me from well-intentioned sentimentalists."
"I know you once said you didn't know why a person should become irrational in order to prove they cared. I don't expect that of you. I'm not really a sentimental man myself, just a little more open. I didn't grow up on Earth, and until I went to the FSA, my life was reasonably secure. I think it makes a difference. All I wanted to say to you was that Blake will live, and I'll explain it all to him when he comes round. We've got a lot to learn from him; where he went after Star One, why he didn't try to find you. But he was glad to see you, Avon. You probably couldn't see it - it would be a hard meeting. But he was glad. Even if he didn't look for you after Star One- and we don't know he didn't - give him a chance to explain. Cally says the man who trusts is never betrayed only mistaken."
"And I told her that life expectancy must be short among her people," Avon said wryly, obviously thinking of Auron. "I still think that's foolish."
"Blake didn't betray you, Avon. What did he promise you after Star One - that Liberator was yours? Maybe he felt he couldn't come back unless asked. I don't know the man, and I can't guess his motives. But I know this. He was happy when he realised it was you. If you didn't hear elation in his voice when he called your name, then it's you who are the fool." He looked at Avon, who had begun to study the screens again. "If that makes you uncomfortable, I'm sorry. I don't want to do that - or anyway, not very much," he added honestly. "Sometimes I want to try to shake some sense into you, but if you weren't so exasperating, you wouldn't be Avon."
"Thank you for your instant analysis."
"I only want you to come and talk to Blake when he's conscious. I know it's hard to admit you made a mistake - I find that difficult too; so does everybody. We don't expect you to go in there and tell Blake how happy you are to see him. He'd probably faint again if he heard anything like that. Just go and talk it out. It needs saying. I know Blake matters to you, even though you've had your ups and downs - and I know it's both a cliché and an understatement. Just talk. You'll be surprised how well things can work out with decent communications."
Avon shook his head, looking almost amused. "You are a fool, Hugh. I'm hardly sure why I tolerate your presence on board this ship."
"Maybe it's because you need a good doctor?"
"No, I don't think that's the reason," Avon replied, and there was the beginning of a smile in his eyes, though his expression remained much as usual. "But I warn you, if you throw even one more platitude at me, I shall probably eject you from the nearest airlock."
"And that will take care of the Malodar sequence," Hugh said cheerfully. "Another bit of the dream gone wrong."
"Don't push it - or me - any further."
"I wouldn't dream of it; you terrify me, Avon." He grinned and sipped his drink. "Can I make you one of these? Very good for the nerves."
"Yes, if you drink enough of it, you no longer have any. Look at Vila."
"Vila's a very shrewd man," Hugh reminded him. "He seems to drink all the time, but in fact he hardly touches any and then only when it's convenient to get out of work."
"You've noticed that, have you?"
Hugh programmed up another glass and passed it to Avon. "Doctors are trained to notice things like that. Drink this down. A medical order, Avon."
The computer expert took the glass and sipped it cautiously. "Curiously palatable," he remarked "But I don't intend to allow you to get me drunk."
Hugh waited until Avon had finished his drink. "No," he agreed blandly. "I wouldn't dream of it. I did strengthen the dose a little though."
"To what effect?"
"Nothing dramatic. It will only relax you. Jabberwocky felt you needed it."
"So now you can link with Jabberwocky?"
"No, but he can tell us things sometimes if we let him."
"Interfering computer," Avon retorted, but he didn't sound seriously offended. The drug was beginning to work.
"Come along then," Hugh said, levering himself up, promising himself a dozen hours of sleep once things settled down. He took Avon's arm. "Bed for you. You need it. I'll wake you when Blake revives."
"Assuming I'd be interested."
"I'll make that assumption. Not a very risky one, is it? It won't hurt me, and I don't think it'll hurt you. Jabberwocky can take over here; right Jabberwocky? You'll let any of us know if there's trouble, won't you?"
"Yes, Hugh. It'll give me a chance to try out my paces without a lot of humans cluttering up my flight deck. It'll be fun."
"Fun," scoffed Avon. "I don't know how Cally puts up with him."
"Come on," Hugh repeated, feeling the arm under his hand quiver with exhaustion; he realised that Avon was worn out not only by the events of the day but because he had not been sleeping well since Terminal and Cally's injury. In some ways, Avon could be scrupulous about accepting blame for his actions, and he knew he had been wrong at Terminal, dramatically wrong. The others had blamed him too, though they had come to forgive him, and Hugh suspected that the forgiveness was as hard for Avon to accept as the blame had been.
Hugh was sad as he steered Avon to his cabin. Life was hard enough, but there were some people for whom it was even harder, and Avon was one of them. Hugh couldn't cure it with synth-flesh either; it would take a different form of treatment. Cally's dream might have defined the problem, but that was not the same as finding a solution. It would take the lot of them, Blake included, to help Avon. Maybe in the process, they could help themselves.
By that time, the drug had taken effect, and Avon was limp and lethargic. Hugh sat him down on his bed and pulled his boots off, then eased him out of his tunic and unbuckled his belt. Knowing Avon would probably resent anything more, he pushed him down on the bed and spread a cover over him. "I'll come for you when Blake wakes up," he promised, heading for the door.
"Take care of him for me," Avon murmured, more than three parts asleep, and relaxed enough to lower his guard.
"Yes, Avon," Hugh promised. "I'll do it for you." He smiled and let himself out. With any luck, Avon wouldn't remember that when he woke up.
Roj Blake drifted out of unconsciousness, confused and puzzled and in pain, and for a long time he did nothing more than lie there, trying to understand where he was and what had happened. He remembered Avon - at last Avon had come but he had come wary and suspicious, and Blake was sure from the look on his face that he had come expecting to be betrayed. Had Blake been apart from Avon too long to have remembered his habitual lack of trust, or had it got worse in the intervening year? Blake wasn't sure. He only knew that Avon had believed he was being attacked when in fact Blake had been trying to save his life. Angry, Blake lay there thinking dark thoughts about Avon; though he'd obviously survived, he was no more fond of being shot than the next man. Sometimes Avon infuriated him, sometimes he irritated him, but Blake knew that in spite of it all, he had missed him more than he wanted to admit, and he'd been glad to see him. Trust Avon to turn a perfectly good reunion into an attack, though he couldn't be held responsible for the Federation's presence, even if they had followed him to the base.
Blake remembered Kelton's message from the bar, someone looking for him and it might have been Avon, but it could have been a ringer, someone sent by the Federation. More likely Kelton had been working both sides of the street and he must have decided that the chance of trapping Avon and Blake together would win him a huge reward. If only Avon hadn't overreacted, they might have come through it safely. Now he was probably a prisoner and Avon and Vila and Deva could be dead. Blake muttered a silent curse and wondered if Cally and Jenna were safe or if they had disappeared somewhere in the interval. Damn it. Maybe he'd been wrong to stay away after Star One. Maybe he should have come back, though he'd promised Avon the Liberator. Sometimes it was hard to know best how to deal with Avon, and this proved it. The man was more trouble than he was worth. Then Blake frowned and heaved a sigh. No, Avon was never that. If Avon saw a Federation attack and Blake coming at him with a gun, he would think that Blake had changed. Avon might even believe he had been programmed or conditioned; the Federation had done it to him before, and it might prove easier a second time.
There was suddenly a noisy altercation in the corridor outside. He could hear an argument that caused someone closer at hand to rise and go over to the door. "Be silent." Cally. Maybe he wasn't a prisoner after all. "He's still sleeping. You will disturb him."
"He'll be waking soon." That voice was unfamiliar. "You need rest, Cally. Avon's going to relieve you."
"Am I?" Avon's voice was sarcastic, but it was also wary.
"Yes." The stranger didn't seem prepared to take no for an answer. "Go in, Avon. It won't do me any good to stay. He'll need a familiar face when he wakes up, and besides, you've something to apologise for."
"Do I?" Typical Avon. He didn't sound willing to apologise, and Blake knew he should have expected it. Avon hadn't changed, unless it was to get worse. Blake was sorry about that, then he wondered if his disappearance had had something to do with it. Though Avon would never say if he had missed him, he might have taken Blake's disappearance badly.
"You know you do," the stranger said sympathetically. "It won't get any easier if you leave it. You need to talk to him and come to terms. I don't see how it could be anyone's fault but ours that his base was compromised, though it was the last thing we intended. Do you think he'd hold that against us?"
Blake started to speak. Avon's timing might have been bad, but he obviously hadn't come to turn Blake in, he'd come to find him, something Blake had never let himself hope for. It was a pity about that base; he had just been getting started, making good progress. Now it would have to be done all over again. But Blake didn't have the energy to say anything.
He drifted to sleep again and when next he opened his eyes, Avon was sitting beside him. For a moment, he didn't seem to realise that Blake was awake, and Blake had time to observe the pallor of his face and the worry that tightened his mouth; then he noticed Blake looking at him and pulled his feelings back inside again, eyes braced for trouble. "Blake," he said conversationally.
"You shot me," Blake accused him. He was angry about it, and even Avon's regret wouldn't change that, but he thought maybe he could live with it, once they'd dealt with it.
Avon's body stiffened and a muscle bunched in his jaw. "If you will persist in dressing like a Federation officer and coming at people with guns it's surprising that you have lived this long."
"Probably," Blake agreed smoothly. "Is that your excuse?"
"Do you want an apology?" Avon asked in the tones of one who doesn't know how to give one.
Blake gave him a moment to try. Finally Avon said, "We came to find you, Blake, not to kill you. You made it very difficult."
"So you want me to apologise for being shot?" Blake demanded incredulously. He laughed, catching himself almost immediately as pain tore into his side.
Avon went white and bent forward hastily. "Blake, are you all right?"
"I hate to say anything so clichéd," he gasped, his hand pressed over the wound, "but it only hurts when I laugh."
Avon's muscles eased again and the corners of his mouth twisted in a smile that wasn't quite ready to reach his eyes. "Let that be a lesson to you, Blake. Running around in a Federation uniform is likely to make you a target for your own rabble."
"Of which you are not one?"
"No. But the Federation is still my enemy."
"I see." Blake shifted carefully on the bed, and Avon leaned forward to help him, his face still guarded. But his hands were gentle as he helped Blake shift to a more comfortable position, and Blake decided he had better take that as his apology as it was likely all he would get, that and the look in Avon's eyes when he had been in pain.
"What is this place?" Blake asked, noticing that he was not in the Liberator's medical unit, though he was obviously in a surgical area.
He had not expected the question to be fraught with difficulties but it evidently was, because Avon went on guard again. "We are on our new ship," he said. "Liberator was destroyed, Servalan baited a trap with word of you."
"And you came running?" Blake was genuinely surprised, then he realised he should not have been. For all Avon's talk about being loyal only to himself, he had regularly been there to save Blake's life, often at risk of his own.
"Your 'image' promised vast wealth," Avon replied.
"I see." Blake saw more than Avon would have liked, that the promise of a fortune had been the excuse that Avon had used to justify the expedition. "And Servalan destroyed Liberator ?"
"No. It wasn't like that. On the way to Terminal, the planet where we hoped to find you, Liberator passed through a mass of liquid particles. We thought at first that there had been no damage, but then they began to eat away at Liberator faster than the auto repair could fix it. All of us got off, and Vila managed to spirit Orac away with him."
Blake lifted an eyebrow at that. "Surprising."
"Vila is not always as incompetent as he likes to appear."
Avon praising Vila - now that was astonishing. There had been some positive changes too. "How did you get away then without Liberator?"
Avon related their adventures on Terminal including - in a flat monotone - Servalan's report that Blake had been killed on the planet Jevron. Avon did not go into detail about his conversation with the dream Blake, which led Blake to wonder if Avon had let down his guard and was reluctant to risk it again or if Avon was still having trouble with the reality of that visit and this one. Once fooled, Avon would be more cautious the next time.
When he described Cally's injuries, Avon went even colder, and Blake knew how worried about her he had been and that he had blamed himself. Avon dealt poorly with guilt and often covered it with a verbal attack or with coldness, apparently believing that he could fool people into thinking he didn't care.
"But I'm sure I heard Cally earlier, Avon. She must be all right."
"We kidnapped a surgeon, Blake. He is the one who treated your injuries. You will recover completely, he assures me - us."
"He's still with you, then?"
"The others have made him a member of the crew," Avon informed him.
"Against your wishes?"
"A doctor is useful."
Blake realised that the doctor was the man who had been arguing with Avon outside in the corridor. He seemed to know how to deal with Avon, probably better right now than Blake himself, but then Blake had always been hampered by his underlying feelings for Avon, which made it difficult for him.
He poked at his wound and then he raised his eyes to Avon. "How bad is it?" he asked.
"Nothing that will not mend," Avon replied. "Proving again that Cally was wrong."
"Wrong?" Blake asked, confused.
"We are all living a part of Cally's nightmare," Avon explained. "The worst of it was that I killed you. Fortunately for you, that did not quite happen. I'm...glad you're all right, Blake."
Avon averted his eyes, and Blake guessed that he had been living in fear of it, and his anger at Avon for shooting him eased. Avon would fear that even though he claimed no ties to Blake or the others.
"When did Cally have this nightmare?" Blake asked.
"While she was delirious after she was injured on Terminal," Avon explained. He detailed the subsequent events for Blake, who listened carefully, frowning.
When he had been brought up to date about his erstwhile crew, Blake heaved a sigh, wincing, and looked up at Avon earnestly. "I can see you've all been through a lot." He wondered how much Avon had failed to tell him, knowing there had to be more. Perhaps Vila could fill him in later. "What of Jenna?" he asked, half dreading the answer.
"We never found Jenna after Star One," Avon replied. "She survived the battle, but we were unable to find her afterwards. We speculate that she left to avoid detection and that she might have gone back to smuggling. Orac monitors reports, attempting to locate her, but it has had no success yet."
"I see." Blake felt drawn and exhausted. "Avon, I... there's so much more I want to talk about, but I can't keep my eyes open any longer."
As if prompted by Blake's words, the doctor appeared. Blake looked at him through blurred eyes.
"We'll let him sleep now, Avon," he said. "Hello, Blake. I'm Hugh Tiver. We'll talk when you're feeling better."
Avon seemed grateful of the reprieve, though he gave Hugh an annoyed glance anyway, probably just to keep in practice. With one long last look at Blake, he let himself be led away, and Blake closed his eyes with a sigh of relief and was asleep in moments.
//I caused it, Jabberwocky. I caused Blake to be injured.//
//That's crazy, Cally. You did no such thing. You might have even saved his life.//
Cally wondered. Even the joy of the linkage she shared with Jabberwocky didn't diminish the misery she was feeling. This was what she had worried about all along, and though she had wanted to find Blake almost as much as Avon had, she had been frightened too, afraid of just this instance. The look on Avon's face when he had come on board had told Cally all she needed to know, and the sight of Blake, unconscious and covered with blood, had only confirmed her premonition.
Blake was dead... but he had been alive, and she had been relieved, only to have it fade again. Maybe they had averted that particular fate, but she had known it ahead of time and had warned them and she had still failed to stop it. Even warned, Avon had shot Blake.
//I think you should stop this,// Jabberwocky told her. //You're not doing yourself any good, and if you think it will help Avon to see you moping around, you're way off course. Look at it this way, Cally. Without your premonition, we wouldn't have gone after Blake, and the Federation would have got him. This is better, isn't it?//
//Is it?// She shivered. //I can't stop thinking about it, Jabberwocky. I see it again and again. Maybe it wasn't quite the same, but it happened and there's more that hasn't happened yet. Avon threatening to put Vila out the airlock, Servalan hiring an assassin, other things. I don't want Avon and the others becoming what they were in my dream. Avon was almost mad. I couldn't bear that. And yet, the way he's looked since he shot Blake - it could happen that way.//
//It won't,// Jabberwocky assured her. //I've scanned him, Cally. He'd have fits if he knew, but I did it anyway. All of you are my crew and my responsibility, and in some ways, Avon is almost more so, since if it weren't for him, I probably wouldn't exist. That makes him my father, does it?//
Cally laughed at the very idea, and Jabberwocky would have smiled if he had been capable of it. Good. That's what he'd been working for. This crew was a wonderful challenge. He had never encountered a collection of humans in so much need of him. Pleased by his success, he went on. //Don't you think I should call him Father?//
//If you want him to blast your display, go ahead.// She winced then at her unwary choice of words. //Why does he have to be like this?// she asked.
//Avon's suffered a lot,// Jabberwocky replied. //It's safer for him to pretend not to care. Most of the time he can even fool himself, but not always. I'm going to keep working on him, but I'd need to make haste slowly. It's taken him years to get like this. We can't repair or reprogram him in a short time.//
//What of Blake?// she asked. // Do you think he'd be able to forgive Avon for shooting him?//
//He has done so already. I know I'm not supposed to monitor personal conversations, but I'm linked with the medical unit, and I have been snooping a little. Blake's still mad about it, but he won't hold it against Avon. They talked. There's a lot they still have to say, but I think they made a start. It might be fun watching the fireworks.//
//You think about fun a lot.//
//Someone on this ship must.//
//Vila does,// Cally replied, beginning to relax.
//Yes, he does. I have high hopes for Vila.//
"I'll tell him you said that," said Cally aloud as she heard Vila's unmistakable step wandering onto the flight deck.
"Tell who Jabberwocky said what?" Vila asked as he halted at Tarrant's station and studied their position. He was still wearing his sling, but his colour was better.
"He says he has hopes for you."
She did not seem to be completely reconciled to what had happened yet, but she was a little better. Jabberwocky was satisfied with their conversation. "That's right, Vila," he told the thief cheerfully. "One of these days, I'll wean you off drink and teach you how to do an honest day's work."
He chuckled at Vila's horrified expression, and Cally laughed aloud. Even though she became serious almost immediately and he could sense her continuing concern, he was glad that she could set it aside for a time and relax. The more of that that he could bring about, the quicker she would begin to heal.
The next few days were ones of tension all the same, and the crew seemed to walk warily around both Avon and Cally. Though he had talked with Blake and seemed more at ease afterwards, the dark mood could descend upon Avon at the slightest provocation, usually, thought Tarrant bitterly, when talking to him. Before Gauda Prime, Tarrant had felt he was once again starting to get on slightly better terms with Avon, as he had felt before they went to Terminal, but now he was almost back to square one again. Even Jabberwocky's reassurance that Avon would improve as Blake did failed to convince him because time and understanding had never worked with Avon before, and because Tarrant had no faith in Blake yet, and no guarantee that he ever would have any. If anything, Blake's presence seemed to make Avon worse. Tarrant was annoyed. He didn't need this. He was as much a member of the crew as Avon or Cally and no one was worrying about him, or Dayna and Vila either. He knew that wasn't fair, that what had occurred had been harder on Avon and Cally, but something needed to be done, something to help reconcile everybody, and after due thought, Tarrant came to the conclusion that the logical person for that task was Roj Blake.
So he went to see Blake. The rebel leader was making a good recovery and was expected to be allowed up briefly in a day or two. Now he was sitting up in bed, its head raised, and he was studying Jabberwocky's schematics with deep interest on the scanner grid. At the sound of the door, he looked up, then blanked the screen and smiled. "Come in. You're Tarrant, I take it?"
"That's right. And you're Roj Blake. I must say you're not what I expected."
"And just what did you expect, Tarrant?" Blake asked a little warily.
"Something rather remarkable, considering your effect upon Avon."
"What kind of an effect do I have on Avon?" Blake asked even more warily than before.
"You know Avon, or you should. You know his reluctance to take risks for other people? Well, ever since I've known him, he's gone into a number of obvious traps just because he thought you might be there. It never seemed in character, so I assumed that you must be a combination of saint and mythological hero. And you're just a man. I'm crushed."
Blake frowned. "I can see that you are. You're telling me stories, though, aren't you?"
"You don't believe it either."
"Sometimes, Tarrant, when you want to believe something as badly as I would like to believe you, the initial reaction is to doubt it. It's safer that way."
"Now you sound like Avon. I hope you're not going to hold that" - he pointed at Blake's middle - "against him."
"I don't like being shot," Blake replied. "And I don't like having to always be on guard against people who are supposed to be my friends. But I can see what a strain you've all been under. No, I think I can live with this."
"And if I'd said I couldn't?"
"Would you have shot me?"
"It might have been tempting."
"Hmm. I've been hearing stories from Jabberwocky," Blake said, "And I shouldn't have thought you'd be so loyal to Avon. It doesn't fit what I've heard about you so far. I should have thought you'd be inclined to challenge him in any way you can."
"Someone might think that, who didn't know either of us very well. But you never bothered to know Avon, did you? I don't doubt you cared about him, but more than that, he was an excellent tool for your damned cause. You taught him to trust you - and that wasn't easy, I know - and then you ran out on him. We hunted half the galaxy for you, Blake. What kind of bastard makes people need him and then leaves them? We had Orac; you could have got a message to us."
"It wasn't that easy," Blake replied.
"Oh, spare me your excuses. I want to know what you mean to do now you're here. Your base is probably gone, your people either captured or killed, or separated to their own boltholes. You can't go back there. Jabberwocky is more our ship than Liberator was yours, but it's Cally's too because she's got a telepathic link with it. Jabberwocky will probably have told you about that. We won't put you in charge here. I'm not sure I want you to stay. But Avon does, so I'll consider it. Vila and Cally seem to like you too. But that's not enough."
"You sound like you believe you are in charge, Tarrant." Blake levered himself into a more upright position. "Actually it sounds as though you like Avon and are worried about him."
Tarrant was embarrassed, but he said calmly, "What I might feel about Avon isn't at issue here. He's a fellow crew member, and I learned to be loyal to my shipmates at the Federation Space Academy. Interesting that something good could come out of there, isn't it? Yes, I'll back Avon over you, and you shouldn't be surprised. I've known Avon more than a year, and unpleasant as he can be, he's watched my back. What have you done that I could trust you?"
"I don't see why I should have to live my life to benefit Avon," Blake snapped, irritated. "As you may have noticed I have a cause to handle. Avon made it plain he wanted to be free of me. He said as much - those were his very words, Tarrant."
"And you couldn't read him any better than that? Forgive me if I doubt you."
"Did someone ever matter to you so much, that when they said they hated you, you believed it because you couldn't risk having it proven?"
Tarrant thought that over. "In other words, you were too busy licking your own wounds to have a thought for him?" He shrugged. "That's human nature, I suppose. Of course Avon wanted to be free of you. He would hate admitting he cared about you; he's still that way. But you should have known better."
"Forgive me for not being omniscient," snapped Blake.
Tarrant realised that Blake did indeed care and that he had liked staying away no more than Avon, Cally and Vila had liked having him gone. But, as Avon wasn't perfect, neither was Blake. He had let himself be driven away from Liberator and the others by his cause and by Avon himself. He had regretted it often, but he had not been able to act on it, and now he was worried that Avon would make him pay the price for his 'indecision' if that's what it had been. Tarrant didn't know if Avon would or not.
"Avon might not," he said thoughtfully. "How much do you want him to?"
"Enough to take risks now. You think you know him better than I do, Tarrant. What should I do?"
"I never claimed to know him better than you. I don't know if I will ever understand him. But maybe you're right; in spite of myself I have some concern for him. I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell him I said that."
"Maybe we should tell him things like that. Maybe in trying to make sure he's comfortable around us, we've inadvertently kept something from him that he needs."
"You could be right," Tarrant said thoughtfully. "Though I hate putting my hand into the fire as much as the next man. Did you ever try it, Blake?" He found he wasn't angry at Blake any more, if he really ever had been.
"Once," Blake admitted. "I told him I had always trusted him, from the very beginning."
"And had you?" Tarrant asked sceptically. "I shouldn't have thought you were such a fool as that."
"I did trust him," Blake replied. "Maybe he didn't deserve it, and I think I knew that, but he needed to be trusted. Anyone does. And the odd thing, Tarrant, when I trusted him, he never let me down. He saved my life several times at risk of his own. He took the Liberator against the aliens simply because he'd given me his word. I only wish I had done it differently now. Had I come back, I don't think Avon would have insisted on returning me to Earth to lead the rebellion there. Frankly, I sometimes wonder how much good I ever did."
"You were a symbol, Blake, if nothing else. It was because of you, and because I was getting disenchanted with the Federation Space Command that I decided to leave. The others don't know that, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention it. I know that any rebellion needs to be better organised than yours was; maybe that was what you were trying to do on Gauda Prime. But as long as the common man knows you're out there fighting, maybe it does some good. People need hope."
"I would have liked a more positive epitaph," remarked Blake with a wry grin. "But I'll take what's offered."
"So what of Avon?" Tarrant asked. "He likes to think he's in charge of Jabberwocky, but I have a sneaky feeling Jabberwocky does what he wants to do. You know Cally's linked with the ship."
"Yes, I've learned that much. I don't imagine that pleased Avon."
"Nor me," Tarrant conceded frankly. "I don't know how things will work out. Cally talks of merging us all in the link - not permanently, but some kind of makeshift thing. I don't know if he could work that way or not. Maybe he needs a permanent link."
"Not necessarily," the ship cut in. "But I work better that way, linking for a period of months at least. I won't give Cally up now. Even if she were ready, it would be hard. I haven't tried a group consciousness, and I don't think it would work anyway, at least not permanently. You, Tarrant, would be a good candidate for anything to do with flying. I must say I like your style."
Blake looked surprised. "Does it always go on that way?"
"Oh, that's nothing. Sometimes he's worse."
"I'm still considering you, Blake," Jabberwocky revealed. "You do have leadership qualities. I don't think Avon likes leading, though he says he's in charge. You might be a good candidate, but I have to think on that - a lot. I don't think either of you should mention it."
"What of Cally?" Blake asked in concern. "If she needs this, I wouldn't want to interfere. I heard about her people. She must feel more alone than ever."
"I know that. And then she's had the burden of her dream. Parts of it have come true, Blake. Including Servalan. She's now going by the name of Sleer, but Dayna shot her on Dayson Prime, and she may be dead."
"Avon told me about that yesterday," Blake confessed. "I wonder how he felt about it."
"I don't think he believes she is dead," said Tarrant. "I'm not sure I do either. She's not the type to die so easily."
"No," agreed Blake, easing back against his pillow again. He was beginning to look tired. "But let's get back to Avon. You came here for a reason, Tarrant. What do you expect me to do?"
"I think I expect you to live up to expectations," Tarrant replied. "All of us on this ship will back Avon over you. Cally said Dorian told them that we'd been through so much together that we belonged to each other. Avon tried to deny that, but even he can't completely. You're a part of him and the others too, and they're a part of you. You've known him longer than I have, and I think there's something special between you, though I'm not sure just what it is. I don't want him to be betrayed again. We've had enough of that sort of thing. Do you think you can manage that?"
"I think so," Blake said thoughtfully. "But you've got to know that I want to continue with my cause."
"We might agree with you about it. You only have to ask. I'm not sure about Soolin; she stays with us, but she denies that she's one of us." He grinned suddenly. "I think she wants to be, but she's like Avon; she doesn't give her loyalty easily, and she's convinced she doesn't give it at all."
Hugh came in then. "Time to let him sleep, Del," he said. "Jabberwocky told me he was getting tired."
"Right." Tarrant rose hastily. He was finished anyway; he'd said what he'd come to say, and after talking with Blake, he felt easier about him than he had before. Maybe Blake could fit in with them after all, without jeopardising his own place. Now where had that thought come from? Shaking his head, he headed for the door. "I'll be keeping an eye on you, Blake," he announced.
"And the same goes for you," Blake replied, but he sounded like he meant it as much as Tarrant did. They might both survive the experience.
As the next few days passed, Blake gained strength rapidly, and Hugh kept a close eye on him when he was allowed up for his first steps. Oddly enough, Avon materialised about that time, not even bothering to justify his presence, and silently stuck with Blake as he was given a short tour of the ship. When Vila popped up and asked why he was there, Avon favoured him with a withering glance and announced that he was protecting the ship. No one remotely believed that, not even Blake.
Hugh grinned a little as he watched Avon with Blake. Though the computer expert was prompt with acerbic comments, he was also ready to lend a hand if Blake needed one. Surprising a knowing look on Vila's face as he watched them, Hugh realised that perhaps Avon was always thus, saying one thing, even believing that he meant it, then doing something else. He could be a cold-blooded bastard, could Avon, but maybe he wasn't as cold-hearted as he liked to think himself.
Cally, too, looked peaceful as she watched them together. He wondered if she were in silent communion with Jabberwocky about it and decided she was. He could almost always tell from her face; she wore a contented look when she was, a completeness that he hadn't seen before the link up. He hadn't known her when her telepathy was still intact, but he wondered if that was how she had looked then, or if Jabberwocky gave her more. Still, since Hugh believed that she had regained her telepathy, if in fact she had ever lost it, that needn't be a factor. As a doctor, his concern was that she didn't use Jabberwocky as a crutch. He hated the thought of stripping that peace from her, and would do nothing to suggest it. Having already talked to Cally about it, he felt that he could do no more.
Several days later and feeling a bit better, Blake went to the flight deck where he was installed on one of the couches while Vila displayed the food processor, calling up a cup of coffee for him. When Blake had sipped it and pronounced it excellent, Avon installed himself, blatantly, in the control seat, and turned to the rebel leader.
"And now, Blake?" he asked. "What would you have us do?"
The others braced themselves, except, perhaps, for Soolin, who was still holding herself a little aloof from them all. Cally looked concerned and Hugh would have bet she'd shared a quick mental exchange with Jabberwocky.
Blake smiled a little. "I'd like to learn if any of my people got away," he said. "I'm sorry about Deva - he was a damned good man. I don't know if I could find the others, and a rescue seems impossible."
"Many of them got away," reported Jabberwocky. "Orac got a message through, and they heard the shooting and fled. They're scattered, but most of them are safe."
"I'm glad to know that," Blake replied. "Thank you, Jabberwocky."
Orac made a slight huffing sound, and Blake added quickly, "And you too, Orac."
"Orac's nose is out of joint since we got Jabberwocky," Vila muttered.
If Orac could have glared, he would have done. "I have no nose," he retorted. "If you must persist in endowing me with human characteristics-"
"We can at least give it flattering ones," Tarrant cut in. "Shut up, Orac."
"No, wait, Tarrant," Avon interrupted. "We must plan our next steps. Blake will undoubtedly wish to use our resources to help his glorious cause. What would you have us do, Blake? Star One is destroyed, and the Federation is still effective. Shall we challenge another alien fleet? You have only to say the word."
"Does he?" Tarrant asked, ignoring Avon's sarcasm and taking his words literally.
"Well now," Avon said thoughtfully, "This is not Blake's ship. If he would use our resources, he has only to ask."
"In return for?" Blake asked sceptically.
"That depends. How good are you with teleport design?"
Vila grinned suddenly, nudging Hugh with his elbow, and the doctor wondered why until Blake smiled faintly.
"Perhaps I could be of assistance," Blake replied. "However, I have even more reason to want to harm the Federation than I had before."
"All of us have," Cally replied. "You know I have always believed in your cause, Blake. I believe in it more than ever, seeing how Servalan destroyed my people to try to end it. Should you wish to carry on your fight, I will support you - and Jabberwocky with me."
Avon glared at her. "This is not entirely your ship Cally."
"No, Avon. But why should we delay? We know Blake. We need only know why he left us so long before we decide whether or not to accept him back."
"She's right," Vila agreed promptly. "Why didn't you come back, Blake? We missed you. Got into all kinds of trouble without you. I got chased by giant spiders, ran into Bayban the Butcher, almost got chopped up for spare parts. But I did save the Liberator from a giant super computer didn't I, Avon?"
"Something like that," Avon replied in the tones of one who had not been impressed at the time.
"I'd like to know where you've been too, Blake," Dayna insisted. "If you mean to go after Servalan, I could be persuaded to back you, but I'd need to be convinced. I don't believe I could trust a crewmate who vanished without a trace and didn't try to contact me, unless there was a very good reason."
"It's over to you, Blake," Tarrant chipped in. "Tell us a story."
"And make it good," Soolin added from the far end of the other couch.
Avon looked at her in surprise. "Taking sides, Soolin?"
"Why not? I'm here, at least for now. I should have some say in the matter."
"It looks like it's unanimous," Hugh put in. "We're ready to listen, Blake."
"A united front," Blake observed with a wry smile. He sipped his coffee. "I didn't rate that from you, at least not very often. All right. You all know, or maybe you don't, that I was wounded on Star One. The Liberator had taken care of most of that before we had to get off in life capsules. I didn't want to leave. Maybe I knew that if I did, I wouldn't be coming back. I had promised Avon the ship after Star One."
"That was different," Vila objected. "That was when we thought you could go back to Earth in it and take over. Besides, we didn't really agree to that, only Avon did, and I don't think he meant it."
"Didn't I?" Avon asked cuttingly.
"Well, you did hunt for him, didn't you? Obsidian and other places, and Terminal. Was that just to take him back to Earth?"
"I gave my word," Avon answered stiffly. He flicked a switch and pretended interest in his screens.
"Avon keeps his word," Blake said. "I should have realised he would look for me. I told Zen I was safe, but it was a lie. My wound reopened when the life capsule crashed and I thought I was dying. There was no way I could have been picked up in time, and I thought you might have been happier with the concept of me alive but missing rather than to think me dead." This was spoken directly to Avon, who must have sensed it, for he looked up, saw Blake watching him, and then looked away again.
"So we have you dying on an unnamed planet," Tarrant cut in quickly. "And yet, here you are. You didn't die after all." One got the impression that he would not have minded either alternative.
"I was found by one of the locals, a farm labourer. It was not a technological world; the people who had settled there had cut themselves off from the rest of the galaxy. They healed me with the primitive means at their disposal - it took several months. They did have radio communications and several ships came each year, merchant ships and smugglers and even pirates who hid out there. I fell in with a captain of one of the smuggling ships; he knew Jenna, so he was less inclined to cheat me than he might have been. He transported me to the planet Camberlan, and that's where I ran into Deva. I'd known him on Earth before the Federation interfered with my mind. He wasn't a rebel then, but he was a competent engineer, and we'd worked together. In the interim, he'd become an ardent revolutionary, and we joined forces. I did try to get through to Liberator, but there was no response."
"Orac must have missed that one," said Tarrant sceptically.
"Orac can't do everything," Dayna replied. "Orac, I don't suppose you ever picked up any message from Blake that you failed to report to us, did you?"
"Actually, yes I did," Orac conceded. "It was weeks old when it came to my attention, and my subsequent investigations discovered no trace of Blake at the specified location. To call attention to him might have alerted the Federation. To report the contact would have been futile."
"What!" Avon snarled. Hugh got the idea that if Avon had had an axe to hand, he would have chopped Orac to bits. "You exceed your programming, Orac, and that can be altered. You know I could do it."
"You already believed Blake safe but missing. It would have done you little good to obtain a repeat of that information. Humans tend to suffer from frustration, and I deduced that the Liberator crew was under more than enough stress already. Besides, you were engaging my circuits to the limits in your quest for Shrinker at that time."
"Nevertheless, I prefer to do my own censorship," Avon retorted. "In future, Orac, you will remember that. You may be useful, but you are not indispensable. Is that clear?"
Even Hugh, as irreverent as he could be, would have been intimidated by that tone of voice from Avon, but Orac merely snorted and returned to its own work. "I am shutting down now. I do not have to be abused. I am too valuable for that."
"That," said Avon coldly, "is what you believe." He turned to Blake. "Very well. You tried once to contact us. Why not a second time?"
"When my message was ignored, I assumed you didn't want to find me, Avon. It was a logical assumption, after all."
"Perhaps," Avon conceded. "Very well. So, considering yourself rejected after one abortive try, you went with Deva to found a new rebel movement. Why Gauda Prime?"
"Mainly because it was a wide open planet. The Federation has little to do there-"
"More than you thought," said Hugh. "Unfortunately. You said you thought that bartender was working both sides of the street?"
"Yes. Deva trusted him, but I was more suspicious. Not enough, obviously." He heaved a sigh. "Poor Deva. He was a friend."
"And he paid the price." Avon was watching Blake now, and he could not have missed the wince at his choice of words. Hugh wanted to intervene but he kept himself silent. Soolin looked at Avon with interest, but none of the others objected or protested.
"Yes, Avon," Blake snapped. "Just as Gan did. I must be a slow learner."
Hugh did intervene then. "It goes with the territory, Blake. People die in a war, and this is war. I'm sorry about Deva. I'm sorry you were betrayed. But maybe Gauda Prime just wasn't safe."
"All along I've wanted to get just one planet behind me," Blake insisted. "It's been difficult. One planet would start others. Gauda Prime was the wrong choice, but I've been in contact with Avalon and now that the Federation is putting more emphasis on pacification, even in the Outer Worlds, some planets have begun to rebel. She's heard from Del Grant, and he's been working with a few of them. The time is ripe. What I'd like to do is visit some of the planets where a start has been made, to try to co-ordinate these efforts, along with Avalon. I could have wished for Liberator."
"Now, Blake, it's not as if I'm useless," Jabberwocky retorted, a little offended. "We're faster than Federation pursuit ships, and Avon's been tinkering with my detector shielding; it's in much better shape now. Give us a teleport and we'd have a big advantage. I've been considering a photonic drive; it could be adapted here. Don't be so worried, Cally. Maybe we'd have to find Dr. Plaxton, but if we do, we'll be careful."
"Dr. Plaxton is working with Avalon's group," Blake announced.
"Good," Vila piped up, trying to call up a glass of adrenalin and soma on the food processor without anyone noticing. "I never did like the idea of finding the space rats."
Blake looked a little confused at that.
"If we could finish this blasted teleport, we could take more chances instead of just sitting here doing nothing." Tarrant got up and began to pace. "I don't like inactivity."
"I don't like taking unnecessary risks before we're ready," said Avon coldly.
Cally smiled suddenly. "But I like your idea of linking up rebel worlds, Blake. It seems a practical plan, one that would make us more than terrorists and fanatics. A guerrilla action can't be the whole rebellion; it needs to be a part of a larger whole."
"At least we'd be doing something," Tarrant agreed.
"Risking our lives, most likely," muttered Vila.
"So what else have we been doing?" Soolin asked.
It looked like she had finally decided to throw in her lot with them, and Hugh smiled to himself. In some ways, Soolin was like Avon; she'd been hurt too badly to easily give her loyalty. She'd had fewer years to become embittered, though, and maybe it made sense that she could yield before Avon would.
Curious, Hugh looked over at Avon. The computer expert was frowning, but he did not really look unhappy. Maybe the presentation of a logical plan and the willingness of the others to accept it took the need for declarations from him, preventing him from giving himself away. As if sensing eyes on him, Avon lifted his head and looked at Hugh. The doctor was astonished to see amusement in Avon's eyes.
"Well, Blake." Avon turned to the rebel leader. "It seems you have found followers again."
"Not you, though, Avon?" Blake's eyes were amused too.
"Perhaps I might allow myself to follow."
Hugh had not quite expected it to be so easy, but the fact that Blake had indeed tried to contact him, and Orac had verified it, had made a big difference.
Cally relaxed. Hugh knew that she had still feared that the dream would be carried to its logical projection, and now it didn't look like it would happen that way, even if they decided to search for Dr. Plaxton. Sensing Hugh's eyes on her, she sent, //Maybe it will be all right after all.//
"Blake," Cally said aloud, "This ship links with people; I am the one who made the initial linkage, but I can pull the others in temporarily. I have done so with everyone but Soolin, and I think that perhaps she would be willing now too." She looked over at the blonde woman, who nodded. "So that leaves you, Blake. Jabberwocky would like to know you better."
"What is it like?" Blake asked a little uneasily. "Avon? Have you done it?"
"Several times." Avon's expression was bland.
"Have you? I must say I'm surprised."
"That, of course, makes it all worthwhile."
Smiling, Cally said, "I have wanted to link us all in one unified group. Not permanently, of course, because that is not how Jabberwocky works best, or humans either, but I think it would be good for us."
"That is debatable," Avon replied.
"Oh, come on, Avon, what are you afraid of?" Vila asked gleefully, delighted to have a chance at a retort like that.
"I do not fear it," Avon replied coolly. "I simply see no need to waste my time."
"That doesn't sound like my father," Jabberwocky put in. "Avon, what happened to your intellectual curiosity?"
"Father?" Blake said blankly.
"'Avon did the initial work that led to my development," Jabberwocky explained, his voice amused. "That makes him my father."
"It does nothing of the sort," Avon snapped, while Vila fell about laughing and Tarrant collapsed on the nearest couch and roared.
Cally struggled to keep a straight face and failed. "What's the matter, Avon?" she asked, fighting giggles. "Don't you like your 'son'?"
Hugh smiled broadly. "I think linking might be a good idea, Avon. If we are to become a unified crew, this will give us the best chance to work together easily."
"Assuming we are meant to become a united crew." Avon gave him a pointed look. "You are here on sufferance yourself."
The others protested that loudly, and Hugh grinned, knowing Avon's protest had been only a token one. Had Avon wanted him gone, he would have said so loudly and enforced it with a gun.
"I'll take part, Cally," Vila offered quickly. "And so will Dayna, won't you, Dayna?"
"Yes," agreed Dayna. "And I think Tarrant will too."
The pilot looked hesitant, but he was obviously reluctant to avoid something that Vila was willing to experience. Finally he nodded.
"Soolin?" Cally asked.
The blonde gunfighter shrugged and tossed her hair. "Why not?"
"I know you will," Cally told Hugh. "Avon?"
"If only to get it over with." Avon had been in the link twice and had to know it would not hurt him, but he still didn't look happy about it.
"Fine," said Cally gently, smiling at him. "And what of you, Blake?"
"Well, if the rest of you are going to do it, it doesn't look like I have any choice," Blake remarked. "What am I to do?"
"It's easy," Cally reassured him. "Jabberwocky does most of the work. Hugh, is he well enough, do you think?"
"He should be. It isn't strenuous work."
"Good. The only thing you must remember, Blake, is that Jabberwocky will not invade your private thoughts and feelings. You will need to block them; you'll find it natural to do so, instinctive. I hope you won't shut everything away from us. The purpose of the exercise is to learn how well we can work together. Tarrant has tried it while piloting and it's enhanced his abilities. Avon has used it while working on the teleport. Basically, what it means is that together we are greater than our parts - if we let ourselves be."
Avon made a sceptical sound.
"Avon, you know it is true," Cally stormed at him.
"He doesn't have to admit it, though," Hugh intervened.
"My father can do everything," Jabberwocky announced cheerfully.
"I wish you would refrain from that form of address," Avon said peevishly.
"You mean you would make me a bastard?" Jabberwocky's voice was plaintive.
That won another laugh from everybody, and Cally smiled as she rose from her seat. "We will need to be in physical contact for it to work. I suggest we retire to the main rest room and sit around one of the tables. Jabberwocky and Orac can keep watch for us while we do it."
"Everybody must join hands," Cally instructed, reaching out and taking Blake's and Hugh's hands as they sat on either side of her. The others joined hands too, Avon reluctantly, and Vila quipped, "This is like a seance."
"How would you know?" Avon asked. "You'd stay as far as possible from the slightest hint of the supernatural."
"Shows what you know," Vila muttered. "Go ahead, Cally. We're all ready."
She looked around the table, trying to decide if they were. Avon looked wary and braced for trouble, but he had not closed himself away completely, and that was a good sign. Blake looked reluctant but determined, Tarrant was watching Blake with some degree of antagonism, Soolin wore a look of bored amusement, and only Dayna, Vila and Hugh looked fully prepared. Well, she would start with them then.
She directed Jabberwocky to pull Hugh in first. As the doctor, he could help her monitor the others, and she found strength in his openness, delighted that his ability to lower his guard didn't make him weak. He smiled at her as he felt himself sucked in, and determinedly lowered his barriers to her. Cally smiled too as she realised it.
Vila was next, full of bright sparkles and mischievous humour, his buoyancy and resilience masked by the façade he wore to protect himself from the world. //We know you better than that Vila.// she thought to him and his instinctive reaction was, //You'll not tell?//
//You never need protect yourself from us.// She was Cally/Jabberwocky/Hugh, and that entity would never harm Vila or any of the others. //Trust us, Vila.//
//That's all very well for you, but what about the others?// Vila asked. //Avon and Tarrant.//
//Never fear us, and learn to trust them,// That was mostly Jabberwocky, but Cally was there too.
Cally laughed at him through the link. //I feel certain you must.//
She drew Dayna in next, welcoming her friend and assuring her of the safety within the bond. Dayna was more wary than Vila had been, and she kept her barriers higher, but she opened up more than Cally had expected, slowly beginning to revel in the warmth within the mental union. Her fierce determination and her love of danger shone through like a bright blade, and they fitted into the composite that was building as Dayna became one of them.
She chose Tarrant next, feeling him hunt in the link for Avon and Blake as he was drawn in, and it made her wonder if he had a higher psi rating than she had realised or if he were just being cautious. But being cautious was not a part of Tarrant's nature. He was impulsive and reckless, but he was brave and loyal and he was becoming stronger as time went on. When Tarrant finished growing up, he was going to be worth knowing. Cally realised suddenly that she was fond of him, and that the group consciousness agreed with her. Tarrant could read it too, now that he was a part of them, and some of his tension seeped away.
Soolin came next, and the entity that had Cally at its heart went carefully with her, determined not to put her off. She found a dry humour masking a great loneliness. Soolin had been hurt and didn't want to risk it again, so she stayed distant and amused and uninvolved, but it didn't prevent her from missing involvement. Avon would pretend that he needed no one, but Soolin could admit it inside and still deny it. Pragmatically, she accepted the fact that life would remain that way, but as she felt the link, surprise was her first reaction, then a gradual, cautious warmth. Cally knew through the link that Soolin had given them as much loyalty as she was able to give yet, and that she would not betray them unless they betrayed her first; she might say she didn't give her loyalty, but the fact of her rescue had touched her, especially now that she realised that there had been no ulterior motive to it, not even the need of an expert on Gauda Prime. Cally/Jabberwocky could tell that she would always be a little remote from them, wielding her humour like a weapon against caring, but deep down, she might finally allow herself to become one of them, an ally worth having.
Avon was next. Cally had become used to the cold steel of his barriers, and she pressed her own diamond warmth against it but did not intrude. She felt Avon analytically identifying the other members of the crew and coolly setting up individual barriers against them.
//No, Avon,// she thought gently. //You must not, not this time. I will guard if you must have it so.//
//I think that I must.//
//A pity. Relax, Avon. You have very strong walls, and no one but me has the strength to pass them.//
//Should that reassure me?//
//Avon, on Auron, to do something like that would be a heinous crime. I could no more do that to you than you could openly admit love for Vila.//
She felt Avon's suspicion that her thought had gone out to Vila, and she projected amused reassurance. //No one can read this but us, I promise you. And Jabberwocky, but he will never tell.//
//There is nothing to tell,// Avon replied.
//Of course not.// She drew the others back in and was pleased to see that Avon had trusted her enough to permit a degree of sharing through it was less than he had given to her alone. But there was enough of the core of Avon revealed to finally stop the others from wondering why Avon had bothered to search for Blake. Cally hoped that Blake would understand too. She doubted that any of the others had been fooled; she realised now that Hugh had known almost from the beginning as had Vila, and, surprisingly, Tarrant. Even in the warmth and support of the union, Avon could not come right out and admit how much he cared for Blake, but the others would know, and would understand him well enough to keep from throwing it up at Avon later. That was good. Outside of the link, everything would seem much as usual, but they would be stronger for this. Good.
She drew Blake in then, and Blake surprised her because he opened himself to them right away. They could feel the fierce determination to carry on with his cause, the bitterness over his previous failures and the drive to continue anyway; they saw his periods of depression and self-doubt, but they also saw the glowing core that drove men to follow him, and it warmed them all. Blake was not perfect of course, but he acknowledged his flaws and tried to work with them. Cally felt Avon's surprise and lack of resentment as he realised it.
It was obvious to everyone in the group that Blake felt something more for Avon - perhaps because he had been such a challenge, but even more because he had been an ally worth winning. His strength was unquestioned, his intelligence and knowledge a boon to any enterprise, but his loyalty, once given, could be unshakable, capable of destruction only when pushed to the limits. But Avon didn't see Blake as the noble leader of a great cause; he saw him as a human, imperfect man, someone to chop down to size, argue with, even laugh with, someone to care for and respect. Given a chance, away from the driving force of Blake's ambition and the reluctance of Avon to give his trust, they could have been the kind of friends that happen once in a lifetime, if that often, and together they could have accomplished almost anything. Both men had recognised it, but Avon had backed away from it, expecting the inevitable betrayal at the end. Since Star One, he had lived with the thought that the person he had wanted to trust, perhaps more than he had let himself trust Anna, had walked out on him without a backward glance. Now, knowing it hadn't happened quite that way, he was beginning to unbend, slowly and cautiously, ready to flee for cover, but carefully putting out feelers. That he could do it at all astonished the link, but as a oneness, they offered him support, and reinforced the feelings Blake had buried after Avon had coldly and furiously demanded to be free of him on Liberator before they went down on Star One. Blake's last desperate attempt to get through to Avon - "I have always trusted you, from the very beginning" - came to the fore, and he reinforced it. //Damn you, Avon, I wanted to trust you, knew I shouldn't. But I did it anyway.// The communication went on without words as Avon felt Blake's determination to make him see that caring could go beyond almost any limitation. Blake had the ability in him to care, to give unstintingly of his feelings. His vast capacity for living was infectious. And the others were being drawn in too.
Vila went first. Vila had always liked Blake, though he'd been mad at him during the past year when he thought Blake had abandoned them. Now, eager as a puppy, he welcomed Blake back to them, and Blake drew in warmth from the sparkling glow that was Vila. Cally accepted him too, in some ways more than the others, for she believed in his cause more than they did, and she could see a little deeper than they could because as a telepath she knew what to look for. She had been Blake's once, and she would be again, in ways that would surprise the others when they discovered it. There was strength in this group, and she felt her own strength grow in response to it, knowing she was no longer helpless, had really never been.
Tarrant came next, which surprised Cally at first. Tarrant was young, and he still had some idealism intact; the Tarrant of her dream had been thoroughly disillusioned by Blake but this Tarrant was discovering that Blake could be what he had expected him to be, and he liked it, though she felt his determination not to yield completely. He had fought with Avon to be in charge. //But you will be, Tarrant,// she told him privately. //You fly this ship. That makes Jabberwocky yours in ways it could never be Blake's, or even Avon's.//
He seemed to accept that.
Hugh did not hold back; it mattered little to him who was in charge, though he was beginning to realise that he could respect Blake and could follow him. It would not interfere with his liking for Avon - Avon himself might choose to follow, too, as he put it. He tried to touch Avon privately to assure him that following Blake was what he thought was right. There was not a direct response, but there was a hint of wry laughter that could only have come from Avon. All right then. Hugh was in.
Dayna agreed; she still wanted Servalan, and if she were alive, then Blake's plan would hurt her. Good. She was determined that Avon make the decision though; she would back him. She caught a hint of Avon's surprise at that, but she had followed him, often complaining, but followed him nonetheless since he had given her his quiet sympathy at her father's murder and the discovery of Lauren's body.
Soolin gave a mental shrug. //Why not?// She had had no time to develop any loyalty to Avon though she could understand him in some ways better than the others did. She thought she would choose to stay with these people, at least for now. It wasn't security, but it was the best offer she was likely to get.
Avon, of course, held out until the very end, but he could sense that Blake wasn't worried, and that amused him. He had expected it to anger him, and was surprised to discover that it did not. Oddly enough, even he could feel some security in this mental group, though he knew that when they were back in their separate bodies, he would be almost as wary of them as always. Overt sentiment seemed a foolish waste of time, and he had never understood the need of it, perhaps because he had rarely experienced it. He had an uneasy feeling that that thought had gone out to the group, but he didn't try to call it back. Instead he turned to Blake, not physically but mentally, questing with these new gifts, glad they would not be permanent, and said, //Well, Blake? You seem to have won.//
//No, Avon,// Blake replied, and his aura was smiling. //We all have.//
//Egotistical of you, Blake.//
//Is it? You've won too, Avon. Can't you feel it? We're together. All of us. This time when I tell you how much I trust you, you'll know I mean it.//
//Which, of course, is everything I could wish for.//
//Isn't it?// That was Vila.
//How would you know?// But Avon seemed more peaceful than any of them had ever known him.
//It is time to withdraw.// Jabberwocky suggested gently into the link. //None of you are accustomed to this, and there is always a danger of losing one's separate identities.//
At that, Avon broke free first, and the others followed him out. For a moment, they sat there, half dazed, still supported by the warmth of togetherness that they had discovered in the mutual link, then Avon stiffened and got his features back under control. But as he looked around the room at the others, the control slipped and faltered and he said in a worried voice. "Cally?"
Everyone stared at her, and Cally opened her eyes and looked at them blurrily. She trembled a little, then she stiffened her spine and smiled at them. "I'm all right," she said, adding telepathically, //I'm all right.//
"You're not linked any more." It was Hugh who realised it first. "Cally, what went wrong?"
"Nothing, my friend." She patted his hand. "It's all right. I'm just a little lonely right now. I chose. You were right. Jabberwocky was my crutch, but I'm not limping now. I never lost my telepathy, Hugh. I just blocked it myself. I didn't realise that until now, during our link-up. The end result will be different. I know that now."
"What about Jabberwocky?" Tarrant asked.
Blake shook himself as if coming awake for the first time. "He's here," he admitted. "With me."
"What!" Avon burst out.
"I didn't ask for it, Avon," Blake assured him. "Cally and Jabberwocky did it themselves. I'm not even sure it's the best solution. Cally, are you certain..."
"You must not ask me, Blake, because I could be very greedy over something like this. Yes, I want Jabberwocky back. Can you doubt it?"
"I don't doubt it," Avon snapped.
"Avon, listen to me." Cally leaned forward and touched his arm. "I did what I thought was best for everyone." She still felt a little shaky, but she had to convince Avon. "Blake is our leader."
"Is he indeed?"
"You know he is. It makes sense for him to have Jabberwocky. I wonder if we might take turns. Jabberwocky wouldn't mind any of us. Maybe we could link as a group weekly or in time of trouble."
"Like a staff meeting?" Avon asked. He was still annoyed, but he didn't seem as angry as he would have been before the link up.
"Like a staff meeting," Blake agreed, humour brimming in his eyes. "Avon, I trust you. I trust us all. I don't know if you can return the favour or not yet, but I hope you can. I don't plan to let you down."
"Unless your cause gets in the way?"
"Stop it, Avon," Vila interjected. "Some of us are getting tired of you complaining all the time. It was all right in the link. Why can't it be all right now?"
"Because he still wants Jabberwocky," Tarrant realised.
"Logically this ship should be mine."
"Just because I'm your son doesn't mean I'm ready to link with you, Avon," Jabberwocky told him. "When you're ready, you'll get your turn. Tarrant too. You ordinary humans aren't ready for a permanent link, after all. I wouldn't have been before I was modified."
Avon looked over at Blake, and found Blake watching him expectantly. "It shall be upon your head when you invariably lead us into trouble," he announced.
"I accept that, Avon. Don't make this any more difficult than it already is."
"Oh, very well," Avon replied as if it had ceased to matter.
Blake smiled broadly, his eyes warming. "This might even be fun," he announced.
"Oh no, he sounds like Jabberwocky already," Vila wailed.
Avon laughed. "He accepted it, Vila. We'll let him live with it. If all this nonsense is finished, I, for one, have work to do on the teleport." He went to the door and halted there. "Coming, Blake?" he asked in a curiously tentative voice.
Blake rose with alacrity. "Ready when you are, Avon," he said good humoredly, and the two men went out together.
Tarrant shook his head. "Look at that. Avon's furious one minute, and the next he's asking for Blake's company."
"Didn't you learn anything from the link, Del?" Hugh asked him.
Tarrant grinned. "I suppose I did," he confessed. "I'm just not used to seeing that side of Avon."
"I am," Vila put in. "Well, once in a while anyway. Relax, Tarrant. He won't suddenly become your dear pal."
"God, I hope not," Tarrant said in heartfelt tones, and everyone laughed.
Dayna stood up and stretched as if she had been sitting for years. "What about checking out the weapons' system with me, Soolin?" she asked.
"That sounds like a good idea," the blonde woman replied, and they went out together.
Tarrant rose hastily. "Maybe they need a hand," he explained to the others.
As soon as he had gone, Vila burst out laughing. "He's going to have trouble with them," he retorted. "He should come to me for advice. I'm the best person on this ship to give advice about affairs of the heart."
"You?" Cally asked sceptically, hiding a smile.
"What makes you think Tarrant's going to be in trouble?" Hugh asked.
"Two women at one time can be a little risky," Vila answered, still laughing. "I'm going to enjoy the fireworks - but maybe from a safe distance, like the hangar deck." He headed for the door. "I've got a lovely bottle stashed down there where not even Jabberwocky can find it." He left.
"Yes I can," Jabberwocky said. "But it won't hurt him to think I know nothing about it. He won't get drunk, Cally."
"I believe you're right. Hugh, where are you going?"
"After Blake. He won't like it, but I'm going to take him back to the medical unit."
"Give them a little time first if you can."
"Well now," Hugh replied, imitating the tone of Avon's voice, "I don't imagine I will find them immediately."
"Good," said Cally as he left. "I think it is all right, Jabberwocky. Avon would not have asked for Blake's company if it were not. Do you think he'll mind your linking with Blake?"
"It's different from the link we had, Cally," Jabberwocky explained. "This is the way it was actually designed. You were always aware of me, and I of you, because that's the nature of telepathy. With Blake, I'm just an itch in the back of his mind, and he has to think of me deliberately to bring it to the surface. It will improve with time because it was designed to, but it's not like what we shared."
"Do you mind?" she asked. "I do, but I think it's right for Blake now. He's been gone so long that both Avon and Tarrant will challenge him frequently. Those two like each other better than they realise, but it might league them against Blake occasionally and that would not be good for any one of us. Avon will deny that he loves any of us, and he can believe it without too much effort, but we know better, you and I."
"You bet, Cally. That we do. You're right, though. This is best for everyone. Avon won't think so, but he won't really fight it. He still doesn't want the total bonding necessary, and I don't blame him. When I was human, I wouldn't have wanted it either. Blake's barriers are different. I like Blake, Cally. He needs me."
"It'll help him belong again. I'll draw us all together when we go back to fighting the Federation. I'll even link with Orac and we'll be the best fighting team the Federation ever met. I can hardly wait. Space battles - it's going to be fun."
"That's the pilot in you speaking."
She wrapped her arms around herself. "It's so lonely though, Jabberwocky. Can we still talk?" she asked wistfully.
//Did you think I'd just shove you under the rug, Cally? You were my first friend, and you helped me come out of the dark. I won't give that up. Blake knows. It's just telepathy, not really a link, but I'm here for you any time you need me. I'm better than humans; I can do more than one thing at a time. Besides, I love you.//
She felt the warmth he projected at her, and knew it was true. //And I love you, my dear friend.//
He laughed aloud suddenly. "Cally, you'd better go along to the computer room. Blake is being stubborn about returning to the medical unit, and Hugh needs your help."
"What about you, Jabberwocky? You're his link partner. Can't you make him behave?"
"I never said I was brave," Jabberwocky replied. "Besides Hugh would like your help."
"Men," Cally exclaimed, but she rose obediently. Her mind quested out to touch Jabberwocky and she felt the familiar surge of reassurance. "I'll get you for this, you know," she retorted happily.
Jabberwocky chuckled to himself. "Oh, good. I can hardly wait."
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