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You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby

By Linda Terrell
Uh, this is Vila Restal, currently in command of Liberator. Well, not in command, actually. Sort of in charge because no one else is or can, which is why I'm putting this into the log. When they all finally remember, I may not have time for this or the inclination or be physically able. They're gonna be really angry--"Avon! Put that down! Now!"--because it's my fault. Well, not all my fault. I mean, no one told me you couldn't ferment those berries. And they tasted so good, too.

Hold it, Restal, you're getting off course, here.---"No, you can't play doctor! Blake said no, so take his word for it. He's bigger than the rest of you. And me."--I'm not sure how or when this started. I thought it was because Blake got sick. Not very sick, not at first. We all just thought it was a stomach ache and we all got a kick out of Avon fretting over Blake. For some reason, Avon can't cope with anyone being sick; he gets so guilty, it's funny. Anyways, I thought Blake would pull out of a simple belly ache, but he just got worse. After a while, he couldn't even eat. Nothing would stay down. Nothing.

Well, having him in medical may have been good for Blake, but the rest of us, Including Avon, spent so much time 'checking' on him, that Avon had him brought to the flight deck so that we could all keep an eye on him and not run off station every ten minutes. Fixed him up a cot in the alcove, even.

Avon trying to spoon-feed Blake. That was a giggle, at first. But when nothing would stay in him and he got so pale and lost weight, it wasn't funny, at all. We all began to get a bit desperate. Then, I realized that it must have gone back to something more.

* * *

 

"Avon, do you think he knows about that tape?" I ventured, which broke Avon's concentration on some hard copy he was studying.

"What tape?" Cally snapped suddenly.

Avon snarled at me under his breath. "Perfect timing, Vila. No one is to know of that. No one!"

"Too late," Cally said, moving in close to us. "What is it that must be so secret? If it is hurting Blake, we should know."

Avon sat back, folding his arms and fixing his face into that mask he puts on when he's tryIng not to care. His eyes go so dark and hard, then, like black diamonds.

"Avon was doing some kind of research. Checking through Blake's file. You can't be surprised at that, Cally. I thought we'd all had a go at Blake's files at one time or another. It helps to know what makes him tick, especially with his mind having been so messed up by the Federation and all, and..."

"I came across some file tapes, Cally." Avon's voice was strangely gentle with that slight purr he gets when he's being really serious, but not threatening. "I found a name in Blake's file that felt familiar and I vas trying to track that person down." He looked right through us with that queer way he has of averting his gaze while talking straight to you. "But it wasn't the same Tarrant." He shifted uneasily, hitting me with a glance so hard, I felt it. "While I was sifting through all of this, I ran across a tape that turned out to be...the execution record...of his family..."

Cally was so disturbed that I actually felt it stab through my head.

Looking truly pained, Avon continued with effort. "Execution is being kind--it was slaughter. They walked off their shuttle and were bludgeoned to death by four guards. If Blake has seen it..."

"Surely, you destroyed it!"

Avon sighed deeply. "No, it is a record, after all. And Blake has a right to see it, eventually. When he's prepared."

"That's what I was trying to say," I said. "What if he's come across it?"

"I hid it under my own voice command code, Vila. Do you think I'd let something like that lay around where Blake could stumble over It? Blake's a time bomb. You know it. I know it. Blake should know it. That tape could open up wounds or conditioning we couldn't hope to deal with."

Cally glanced over at Blake, who was dozing on the flight deck. "Then, you have watched it, on a screen somewhere on the ship?"

"Of course. But I didn't know what it was. It took me totally by surprise."

"Then, you do not know if someone may have been watching it from the stairs."

"Well, no..." Avon went rigid, drawing in a sharp breath. "Damn!" He came to his feet. Whirling on me, teeth clenched, he shot me a glare that fried my eyeballs.

"I let you know I was there, didn't I?" I carefully chose my 'whimper' octave. This often put Avon so off, he'd leave me alone. It wasn't working.

Cally put out a hand to us both. "That is not the point, any longer. Blake may have been nearby. He may have seen it and this illness of his may be his reaction. His emotions have been very disturbing to me. He is hurting."

Avon was away from us and striding over to Blake's sleeping form. Then, he knelt on one knee near Blake's head and shook the man gently.

Blake's eyes flew open and he blinked several times. "Don't try to feed me again, Avon. I don't even want to see food." And he closed his eyes.

"Cally seems to think you may have inadvertently seen something I never meant for you to see."

"Yes, Avon." Blake's voice was frighteningly calm, soft, almost caressing. I'm scared of Blake when he does that. Avon's scared, too, but he never shows it. Not to Blake. "Why did you do it?"

"Why didn't you let me know you were there?" Avon's hand had gone to Blake's arm and rested there, firmly but gently. He never ceases to surprise us at how kind he can be. I sometimes wonder if Avon knows he's doing that.

"It hurt too much, then. I hope you were suitably entertained."

"Don't ever accuse me of that, Blake!" Avon sounded dangerous. "I came across it by accident. I didn't know what it was until it was over and the report codes came up."

Blake actually managed a weak smile. "No, I shouldn't accuse you of that. You wouldn't hurt me...like that. Leave me alone, please."

"No."

"I'm too weak to stop you."

"You're too deep in your own self-pity. You've got to stop this!" Avon's voice was ragged and as close to real emotion as I'd ever heard.

Blake raised himself up on one elbow with a lot of effort. "Don't you think I've tried?" He fell back. "I can't stop it. It's like a tidal wave."

Blake closed his eyes again.

Avon looked around at us and at Jenna, who had just entered. "We've got to get him off this ship. Somewhere quiet and preferably uninhabited. A complete change of environment."

"What have I missed?" Jenna demanded. When Cally leaned close and filled her in, Jenna went nearly as pale as Blake.

* * *

 

Well, we thought that would end it all. But it turns out it was really only the beginning. Avon found us a terrific planet, uninhabited, "pastoral," (he said), and we all put down. We even brought Orac. Oddly, Orac didn't fuss about it. Something about the planet being an anomaly. Being where it wasn't. That confused me. It fascinated Avon.

Blake could barely stand, so we sat him down beneath a tree. Blake is fond of trees.

Later, I found the berries. They were mottled blue, with nubs on them. And when Orac said they were fine as is, we all ate some. Then, Jenna and Cally managed to convince Blake to try a small mouthful. Cally is very good at, um, urging. She can feed some very interesting visions into your head when she's trying to sway you to her side. And Blake had been resting easily for hours. Avon says "getting natural" seems to rejuvenate Blake. Most of us prefer a dome, but Blake likes "natural" planets and enjoys resting in a warm patch of sun. Don't know where a dome dweller got that and he says he isn't sure, either. He sure didn't get it staying with Ushton and Inge. That planet is cold. Or maybe that is why he likes sitting in the sun--after all those cold days. I don't know and Blake doesn't know. Anyway, he seemed to be feeling better. (Avon was skulking around. He was very upset that Blake had seen the tape and more upset that Blake seemed to blame him for its being there. Avon has very convoluted guilt fantasies. He doesn't do anything without a lot of introspection and reasoning and cool calculation. So, when he decides to feel guilty, it can be awfully complicated.)

Well, those damned berries made Blake feel better! Within a very short time, he asked for more, and then, more. He was ravenous from days without food. Then, even Avon broke down and joined us--"Put him down! Now! No, you can't play in the teleport. Jenna, don't kick Blake!"--I'm getting awfully tired of this job. No, that's not true. I think I'm really liking being a baby-sitter. I get to boss them all around. But Orac says if I can get this concoction and soma into them, it'll work and they'll be themselves again-- "Don't touch those buttons! Orac, close the airlock, will you?"--Easier said than done. They're a slippery lot and Blake is big!

I guess this is where it's my fault. Orac said the berries were all right as is. That they had a mild soporific effect and worked on the nerve centers and could even produce pleasant hallucinations if eaten in bulk. So, the berries worked on Blake where soma didn't. But I shoulda remembered that Orac volunteers very little and you gotta ask him directly. So, I brought a whole mess of the berries back and made some wine out of them. It's a hobby of mine, making wine. I like to see what I can make wine out of. I have this goal of making wine out of everything edible in the galaxy. Well, the berries were a success--Blake was nearly himself in a very few days. And Avon returned to tongue-lashing rather than fretting (which I kinda miss--it changes his face and he looks nice). So, when the wine was ready--I got this secret process for speeding up wine--I brought it out for all of us to try. We may be rebels on the run, but we're not an inelegant lot. Avon seems to like the really good wines. Cally likes to experiment. I guess it's because her guerilla diet was so boring. Blake is neutral; if it's there, he'll drink it. Otherwise, he doesn't notice. He's so caught up in his Cause, you know. Well, maybe you don't. I don't know who's going to ever be listening to this.

We all liked the wine. We all liked all of it. And for the first time in memory, they all managed to drink most of it before I could. And that's where all this started.

All of us were pretty laid out and feeling really expansive toward one another. Blake put his arm around Avon's shoulder once and Avon didn't mind, at all. At least, he didn't pull back and snarl. The colours seemed more vivid. That's about all it did for me. I relaxed and enjoyed watching them relax. Then, Blake began acting silly, trying to tickle Avon, and when Jenna tried to stop him, he tickled her. He was giggling. Orac has told me since that the wine affected the one with the most control first. Now, you'd think that would be Avon, but actually, it's Blake who was himself under control the most. He knows his mind's been messed up, but he doesn't know what might set him off, what subliminal conditioning might still be there, so he's in the tightest control all the time. You just don't see it, especially since in Avon, it's more visible. So, I waited for Avon to explode, but he was smiling and seemed to be going along with it. Then, he reached out and pulled Jenna's hair and she kicked him In the shin. Then, Cally leaned over and bit him.

And it went straight downhill from there. Within a very few hours, I was surrounded by four adults with the mental capacity of seven-year-olds. Orac told me it was the wine. Fermenting the berries turned their mild hallucinogen into some kind of uninhibitor. All the "adult" training and maturity in Blake, Avon, Jenna and Cally was suddenly not there, which left children. But it did not affect me. I didn't need Orac to tell me why. After all, all the Federation's horses and all the Federation's puppeteers can't permanently re-arrange my head, so why should a mere wine? Actually, Orac said it was because I didn't have inhibitions and I wasn't an adult, anyway. I told him to shut up and to take control of everything, because Blake was finding the coloured buttons fun to push and leading everyone to different consoles.

Consider this: being a nanny to four children in full grown bodies. How do you control a group like that? How do you spank them? I managed to keep them occupied with sleights of hand and bad jokes and puns, but their attention spans took them away from me every five minutes.

Blake's natural curiosity had him trying to take apart anything he could get his hands on, including Orac! Avon was still intense, but he kept very close to Blake, even so, and if I came across too threatening to Blake, Avon became very protective of him. Well, he was always protecting Blake. I think Avon saw Blake as a big child, enthusiastic and naive, and now, he was a big child. They make a good team, those two. Blake likes to take things apart and Avon delights in seeing what's inside. Jenna pretends to fly the ship, but can't since I ordered Zen not take any voice commands from any of them. Orac went to work on a formula to counteract the wine and I managed to whip some up under his nasty guidance. He's a testy cook.

Trouble, now, is that both Cally and Jenna have a terrific crush on Blake, but the two boys don't want anything to do with the girls.

"No, I don't want to kiss you and don't kiss me again or I'll smash you in the face!" Blake growled, moving back and slightly behind Avon.

Jenna stood defiantly with hands on hips, pressed up against Avon and looking and talking right past him as if he wasn't there. "You can't tell me what to do. Go ahead, hit me. Just try it. See if you can. Betcha can't. I'm faster." She danced backwards, laughing.

"Well, if you won't hit her, I will." Avon moved forward, swinging out at her, but Blake caught him by his pants and pulled him back.

"I don't think we're supposed to hit girls," Blake said, looking wide-eyed and very serious.

"Watch me!" Avon snapped, pulling away and marching to Jenna, who still stood defiantly, daring him.

Avon swung out and Jenna decked him.

I had always wondered why she was the only one of us Avon never really verbally attacked. Why he and she always seemed to be more equal than the rest. Avon considers me below him. He's in awe of Blake's strength and visions. Cally sometimes seemed to have Avon's "attention." But in hindsight, Avon never really tongue-lashed Jenna. Now, maybe, I know why. She decked him with one neat left cross.

She stuck her tongue out at him, then walked over to Blake. "Think you can take me? Go ahead, I dare you."

Blake was pouting dangerously. He picked up a hefty tool and was preparing to throw it at her. I got in between them--which I realized was suicidal, later---snatched the tool from Blake and pushed Jenna to the flight couch.

"That's enough! Both of you. If you keep this up, I'll lock you in your cabins." I don't believe I said that.

There was a chorus of "No!" and things settled down, until Cally decided she wanted Blake's attention. She helped Avon to his feet and was very gentle with him, leading him back to Blake and the weapons they'd been picking apart. Then, she sat with both of them and got "interested" in their work.

Cally's a pretty sexy lady and she was a pretty sexy kid--she got their attention, both of them. Well, maybe Avon's, a little more. Blake was not "noticing," even then. Avon and Cally got into an animated conversation over some piece they were trying to sort out. Blake got his together and working (as much as I'd allow) and presented it to them with a satisfied, "There!" They ignored him. He threw it at them. Avon instinctively went for Blake and they both went rolling over the deck in a snarling tangle. Cally just sat back, smiling a little, feline smile.

By now, I was very tired of the squabbling. I decided to let them settle things among themselves. I had a terrible headache.

Cally and Jenna pulled the two men apart, then they both sat with Blake, soothing him and going on about what a terrible boy Avon was. Stamping his foot in frustration, Avon ran to the couch, threw himself down on it and, curling up near me, went into a formidable pout.

"I'm not bad!" he cried, turning to me for some parental support. The two girls simply wrapped themselves more tightly around Blake, who looked like he was enjoying it. He certainly didn't seem to mind the attention. Blake never minded attention. But now, he didn't have a chance against the two of them. We were always outnumbered by the two women. Jenna and Cally were always a bit wary of each other, but now, they were united.

"He was playing with me," Avon cried to me. "Why did they take him away? He's my friend!"

"I, er, think he may be a bit confused, Avon."

"He's my friend. Tell them to leave him alone."

Avon in full pout is impressive.

"Why don't you all play together?" I asked, which was about as wise as I could call up, by then. Avon wasn't buying it.

"Blake is my friend!" He turned and looked at Blake, who could only smile stupidly back past the two girls, who were smothering him. "Aren't you?" When Blake seemed at a loss as to how to reply, Avon crawled into my arms and cried quietly. That was an entirely new experience.

"They're always taking my friends away from me," he sobbed.

"Who?"

"My parents. My tutors. They say my friends aren't good enough for me to be with. That they will bring me down and get in the way of my learning. But I want to play with them! I like talking to them. Other kids have friends to play with. Why can't I?" He lifted his head to look at Blake. "Don't let them make you leave me, Blake."

Well, that pushed all the right buttons in Blake. Even as a seven-year-old, he was still the compassionate, loving teddy bear. He was on his feet and to Avon and me in a few, long, determined strides.

Avon clung to me, so Blake put his arms around us both, hugging Avon to him. "I haven't left you, Avon. And I won't. I like you. We were just teasing you."

I saw then that it had probably been a favourite game of the children surrounding Avon when he was a child: teasing the intense, desperately lonely boy. Taking his "friends" away, just to see him break down and cry. Blake pulled him from me and held him tightly, vowing life-long loyalty and devotion.

Avon whimpered softly and hugged Blake back. True to their mental ages, the two of them were soon playing and laughing with each other as if nothing had ever happened. But occasionally, Avon would look around furtively, as if expecting someone to take Blake away from him at any moment. I'd like to see someone ever try.

Well, they were all calmer, then. Trouble with caring for this lot Is that they have the stamina of adults and don't tire easily. Trouble number two was that the goop Orac and I had come up with tasted terrible and very little helped to cover it.

"You sure it won't wear off?" I asked Orac.

"No. It is progressing, even now. They will get younger and younger, until they will not be able to care for themselves, at all. Feed it to them immediately or you will soon be changing their nappies."

That was one vision of them I didn't want to have a part in.

I tried ordering them to take the medicine. It worked until Blake spit it out, then took Avon's from him and tossed it away.

"No!" Blake thundered. "You're trying to make us sick," he accused.

It was like something of his torture by the Federation was getting by his seven-year-old mind.

"If I eat it, too, will all of you?"

"Maybe..." Blake muttered, folding his arms and looking awfully stubborn.

The rest of them waited on Blake's decision. He must have been a handful to control when he was a child. He was probably taking command, even then.

I made such a terrible face that they all fell about, giggling and making faces at each other. Then, they refused to eat it.

Now, what was I to do? I couldn't force-feed them.

"Wait, " Orac instructed, "until they are babies. Then, you can get it into them."

"After changing their nappies."

"Do you believe you can possibly hold any of them down long enough to get the proper dosage into them?"

"You know I can't."

"Then, I suggest you sit and wait and entertain them until they are approximately one year old. They will still fight you, but they will also be more inclined to accept your authority."

"We can't leave them like that for long! When will they reach that age?"

"It isn't a question of when will 'they' reach that age. They are all approaching it at different rates. Get Blake to take it and the others will probably follow."

"Okay, okay. So, when will Blake be an infant?"

"In approximately twelve hours."

"Let's hope none of them have to go to potty in the meantime."

"Avon may reach that stage first."

Oh, no.

The wind-down was incredible. I sat and watched the lot of them get younger. They "forgot" how to walk and their speech turned to gibberish. Except Cally. She projected pictures at everyone, which were every bit as good as talking. Maybe better. She seemed to remain more mature than the rest, so I tried to use her to talk with them.

"Come on, Cally. Tell Blake he has to eat this or he'll get a belly ache. All of you will get sick."

Cally glared at me and sent really nasty images, which frightened the rest of them. Now, I had three scared children to contend with.

"Please, Cally. Think nice things!"

She pouted, but her dark images faded. Then, she moved toward Blake on her hands and knees.

I didn't like this job, anymore. Jenna was wrapped around Blake, while Avon was curled into a frightened ball near him, whimpering. And Blake, well, he sat like some kind of pagan idol with a protective arm around them both, then pulled Cally to him. A very compelling man, Blake. I almost felt like curling up near him, under his protective wing, myself. Blake's look was defiant and imperious.

One look at them all told me they were still under Blake's spell. Convince him and they would follow. But Blake can be very stubborn.

"It's up to you and me, Blake, innit?"

Blake got that look on his face, that very stubborn, very dangerous look that usually meant he was going to do something desperate. Now, what's desperate to a seven, er, two-year-old? Defying authority, that's what. I took his head in my hands and laid the facts on the line: "Eat this or get a spanking! And if a spanking doesn't bother you, I'll spank Avon." I was praying that a two-year-old's reflexes weren't as good as mine. But maybe I should have reckoned with an uncoordinated adult's.

He knocked the spoon out of my hand. So, I stopped being reasonable and slapped him, hard, across his face. Now, I would never hit a child in the face; it's demeaning and demoralizing. But where could I hit Blake that he'd even feel it and have it mean business? The effect was startling. He just continued to look at me, while tears welled up and spilled down his cheeks. There was no sound from him, no pouting, not even trembling, just tears slowly running down his face.

I sat in front of him, wondering at this sudden change, and if I'd had to hit him again, I don't think I could have done it. I mean, his face was the adult, but those wide eyes of his were full of child. Then, I put the full spoon to his mouth and slowly, still defiant, he took it and swallowed without even a face. Blake was in his martyr mode. I made him take the entire dose, then went to work on the others, who were glaring balefully at me over Blake's shoulders, but there was no fighting or spitting. They ate slowly, warily, if somewhat messily. Jenna fumed and Cally made more awful pictures, but at me rather than them. Avon tried to duck behind Blake, but Blake grabbed him and pushed him to me. Sort of 'If-I-gotta-eat-this-mess-you-will-too-so-there.'

However, Avon turned and spit it out at Blake. Went eyeball-to-eyeball with him, too. It was never very smart to challenge Blake, at any age. He grabbed Avon, pushed him down and stuffed the spoon into his mouth. Whatever it was Orac and I had kicked up, it seemed to be taking effect on Blake rapidly.

Turning on his very best stone face, Avon stopped fighting and ate. It was painfully obvious that Blake had every intention of continuing to stuff Avon until he was bloated. Or choked to death.

I stopped him in the midst of a coughing fit from Avon. Blake held him and clapped him on the back a few times, then handed Avon the spoon and said, "Eat!" Avon stopped arguing totally and did as told, making exasperated faces and letting out large, weary sighs.

Now, I wait. After the sleeping effect it has, I expect they'll all wake up adults. Or so Orac says.

Anyway, it's going to be very interesting when they do wake: Blake and Avon are presently curled up with each other. Cally, who isn't really sleeping, but dozing with a dark, sullen look, is leaning against them. If they move suddenly, she'll fall over on Jenna, who is curled up near them, chewing her fingers.

Actually, I think I might miss the "children" a little. But I couldn't do this all the time. I prefer real children who you can pick up and hug, who don't pick you up when they hug back.

Well, this log is on vid, as well as audio. I think I may just file it under a voice command code and spring it on Avon when he gets too nasty.

...Well, maybe I'll just threaten him with it. It doesn't pay to embarrass Avon. Come to that, it doesn't pay to threaten him, either.

"Yes, Avon? Why is Blake holding you? Well, uh...don't you remember? Oh, you do. No, don't hit him in the ribs. You know how Blake tends to wake up in a short temper. Yes, he's as surprised as you are and so is Jenna, and so is Cally." I may never live this down. "No, it didn't get to the nappy stage, but it was close. Be nice to him, Blake, some part of him likes you more than you and he may realize. Well, yes, I slapped you, you were spitting out everything! Put me down, Blake! Aw, come on, put me down, please. Be a sport...Blake, Avon, Jenna...NO! Orac! Zen! Help! Come on, guys, grow up!"


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