Selection Library Help

Jabberwocky - Part 6 - Kyl

By Sheila Paulson

Background

Part 1 Link-up

Cally has survived the explosion on Terminal and the crew have escaped in Servalan's wreck of a ship. While in a coma, Cally dreams the events of the fourth season, including Blake's death. Traumatized by her injury, she has lost her telepathy. When the crew, augmented by Hugh Tiver, a doctor kidnaped by Avon to take care of Cally, steal a prototype Federation mindship constructed around a living human brain and capable of bonding with a human in a mental linkage, their adventures are just beginning. Afraid of finding Blake for fear Avon will kill him, Cally bonds with the ship, naming it Jabberwocky. After rescuing Soolin from the Scorpio, they go to Gauda Prime, where the encounter backfires. Blake is wounded but is rescued and joins the crew of Jabberwocky. Cally's telepathy returns and she turns linkage of the ship over to Blake.

Part 2 Mind-Rape

Blake is back, and in linkage with Jabberwocky, and Servalan wants to steal Jabberwocky and link with it in order to take back the presidency. She had meant it to be hers from the beginning. She uses Witt, a telepath who had worked his way into Avalon's rebel army on Ryalon base, to wrest control of Jabberwocky from Blake, leaving the rebel trapped inside his mind. A mental linkage is the only way to bring him back, and Avon the only one who can do it. With Cally's help, and using nearly atrophied telepathic skills he had long pretended he didn't have, Avon is able to draw Blake back from the prison within his mind. Jabberwocky defeats the rogue telepath.

Part 3 - Healer

With Blake in control once more, Avon is gradually accepting he was born a telepath, but his powers were suppressed to the verge of destruction.

      Blake begins behaving oddly, and problems develop with the ship as Jabberwocky begins to remember his long suppressed past - his memories had been blocked when his brain was used in the mindship. In the meantime, Jenna Stannis and Del Grant have teamed up and have one objective: Kill Avon. When their plan goes wrong and Tarrant is gravely wounded, only the combination of the mindship and Avon, the untrained telepath are able to save the pilot's life, and at this point, Tarrant becomes Jabberwocky's linkmate. Jenna joins the crew.

Part 4 - The Froma

On a mission to draw in potential rebel support, Blake and his crew are asked to steal the Froma, an alien artifact that cannot be stolen as it destroys anyone who tries to remove it from its world. When Avon and Hugh are captured, Avon receives an unexpected telepathic contact - from the Froma itself. The strange device proves to be a sentient organism, the last of its kind. Able to link telepathically with Avon, it wants to bond with him on a permanent basis, but Cally helps, and the entity is taken to Kahn where it can be among the newly reviving Auronar.

Part 5 - Decoy

When the Jabberwocky crew pick up a message that suggests IMIPAK is being taken to a remote world, they are in two minds about going after it, partly because of the danger to Avon and Blake and partly because it may be a trap. But Blake refuses to leave IMIPAK in Federation hands. The mission is complicated by the fact that there is a potential sleeper agent on the ship who might betray them. Everyone suspects everyone else. The sleeper proves to be Soolin, who was programmed long ago. The IMIPAK device proves a dummy, part of a plot to capture the rebels, but they are able to escape, taking the false device with them.


Kyl

Ryalon was a remote world in the ninth sector, the base of a slowly growing resistance against the Federation; one of the few worlds that had gained freedom and held it in the aftermath of the Andromedan war, largely because it was too far away and of too little value for the Federation to want it back. It was part of a system of four inhabited worlds, all pro-resistance. It would take a fleet to wipe out the pocket of resistance that was Ryalon, and so far neither Servalan nor her successor had made the effort. It was easier to recapture planets with a growing suppressant programme, and consequently, while Federation strength grew again in the Inner Worlds, a planet here and there in the Outer Systems might fall away without too much notice. Since Avalon, coordinator of rebel efforts, had made Ryalon her headquarters, it had been suggested that the system made a more attractive target, but even Supreme Commander Arpel had taken no serious steps in that direction yet. Everyone expected it, but there was still time, and men like Roj Blake made the rounds of worlds which had no strong affiliation to the Terran Federation, working out alliances. Ryalon was also a safe haven for those who opposed the Federation. Ships came regularly into Ryalon bringing all manner of men and women; ardent resisters, spies for both sides, criminals fleeing justice, refugees seeking new lives. Ryalon welcomed new people, but it watched them too, for it would be easy to infiltrate a spy into their midst. It had been done before and would be again. No matter how careful Avalon was, she could never be sure that the new man vowing allegiance wasn't a carefully-placed agent whose purpose was to bring the rebel movement to its knees.

      Routine checks were made on any new arrivals who expressed an interest in the rebel movement. It was vital to maintain security, and those who were questionable were weeded out. Occasionally Avalon's people caught a Federation spy, but a suspicious individual was given a chance to prove himself before being turned away. The new rebels came in all sexes, races, backgrounds, ages.

      Kyl Veelan was one of the youngest, and though he did not deliberately come with that intention, he caused a great deal of trouble.

      Avalon was conferring with Roj Blake, just back from the attempt to retrieve the weapon IMIPAK from the planet Serna. Blake was expressing an interest to track the real IMIPAK before Servalan did so, when Avalon's aide Myles knocked on the door. "Have you a minute for a new man?" he asked, and there was a twinkle in his eyes that suggested his question was largely facetious.

      Avalon seemed to welcome the interruption. "Shall we see the new man together, Blake?" she suggested tactfully.

      Blake was feeling frustrated. He was determined to do something about IMIPAK: the mission to Serna had failed and they had been lucky to escape with their lives. IMIPAK was presumably on the world where they'd left it, guarded by Blake's clone, and he wanted to retrieve the weapon before the Federation did. Though Servalan had been marked by IMIPAK too, she might still find a way to use it. Going to that unnamed planet was too risky for him and Avon, and Avalon had suggested he sent the rest of his crew after it while he stayed behind with Avon. It was a reasonable suggestion, but Blake didn't like the thought of staying safe while his people went into danger on his behalf.

      But this was not the moment to decide, because Myles was issuing the new recruit into the office. "Here he is," the big moustached man said, and withdrew. The recruit stopped just inside the door and drew himself to attention, facing them with a combination of excitement and defiance.

      He was tall, almost Blake's height, though much thinner, and his hair was red, not the almost orange shade that is called carroty but a deep auburn. Instead of being freckled, his skin was fair, and his eyes were an unusual light brown, almost amber, which gave him a catlike appearance, heightened by a sharp nose and a rather full lower lip. He was alert and wary and if he was sixteen years old, Blake would be very surprised.

      Avalon smiled at the boy. "My name is Avalon, and this is Roj Blake." The boy's expression didn't change; he knew them already. But at the back of his eyes glowed something that might be hero worship. He had it rigidly in check as if he'd guessed it would make him seem a child, and now he banished it entirely. A self-possessed young man, to be sure.

      "I'm Kyl Veelan," he announced. "I'd like to join the rebel movement, and I thought it best to come here directly so I could prove my capabilities to you in person." It sounded like a rehearsed speech.

      "Have you come far?" Avalon asked mildly, and Blake suspected she was being careful not to look amused.

      "Only from Sestus V. I'm originally from Earth, but I haven't lived there since I was eleven. You needn't be so careful. I'm old enough to know what I want to do, and old enough to hate the Federation." Emotion, quickly concealed, flashed in his eyes. "They killed my mother." It was an old anguish, but the hatred behind it had festered, and now he was growing up, he had determined to do something about it. It was a cold passion he displayed but no less real for all that.

      "How old are you?" Avalon asked frankly.

      "I'm old enough to know what I want to do," Kyl replied. "Is there an age limit?"

      "Not necessarily," she answered. "But if you're under age, someone must be responsible for you, and we have to consider that."

      "I may be under age, but I'm not under abilities," Kyl defended himself. "I've permission to be here. My guardian let me come. Besides, I've brought you something." He turned to Blake and offered a large envelope.

      "What is it?" asked Blake.

      "Some of the design specifications of the Mark 60 mindship," Kyl explained in carefully matter-of-fact tones, grinning as Blake opened the envelope and pulled out plastex sheets full of diagrams and figures. "You call it Jabberwocky, I think. I was sure they'd be useful."

      "Where did you get them?" Blake demanded with both excitement and suspicion. "Orac hasn't been able to pull this up on the system."

      "That's because a lot has been erased," Kyl answered. "I got into the system about the time the Federation realised who had Jabberwocky. Finding this much was hard. They got on to me and wiped most of it - I think they were afraid Avon or Orac was after it. But I got this much. You probably know all about Jabberwocky's capabilities now, but there might be something useful in there. Consider it my membership application. I'm good with computers." He smiled suddenly and engagingly. "The Federation did that. When they found I had an aptitude, they put me through every course imaginable. They didn't know I'd use it against them."

      "Then they were very short-sighted," said Avalon with just the right amount of sympathy. "They shouldn't have expected loyalty after your mother's death."

      "They thought I was safely programmed," Kyl insisted. "I wasn't. Are the specs enough? Will you take me on?"

      "You'd wonder if we took you so easily," Avalon replied. "We'll have to check you out, and we'll turn Avon loose on those." She pointed to the specs Blake held. "Orac will check you for hidden conditioning. They may have programmed you to come here. If you understand any of that, you're a threat to us, young as you are. If you're everything you claim, you'll find a place with us."

      "Or with us," Blake agreed. He wondered what Avon would say to another specialist who had been good enough to get these charts and diagrams out of the Federation system. He didn't want to take someone this young on missions, but the boy had earned a visit to Jabberwocky. "Avalon, let me take him to the ship. Avon can help keep an eye on him and find out how good he is."

      "Go on board the mindship?" The boy looked excited but hesitant. "I'd like that."

      "Fine. We'll go then. I can't wait to see Avon's face when I give him these." Blake glanced at the specs. "On second thoughts, you can give them to him."

      "But he-" Kyl looked disconcerted.

      "You've heard stories about Avon," Blake realised with a grin. "He can be intimidating, but I think you can stand up to him. What do you say?"

      As if he realised it was a kind of test, Kyl stiffened his shoulders. "It'll be worth it to see the mindship," he decided. "I'm game."

      "Keep an eye on him, Blake," Avalon urged with a warning glance, but he grinned and ignored it. If Jabberwocky and the crew couldn't keep one sixteen-year-old boy out of trouble, he wasn't running a tight ship. Besides, he wanted to see Avon's face when Kyl handed him the specs.

      

      

Avon was on the flight deck with Tarrant and Hugh when Blake arrived with Kyl Veelan. Avon's eyes fell upon the boy and narrowed slightly. Always suspicious of strangers, Avon tended to resent the presence of people he didn't know on Jabberwocky, no matter how good their reasons. Kyl saw the look and came to a stop in the entrance, then he caught himself and advanced into the room beside Blake.

      "I've brought a visitor," Blake explained. "This is Kyl Veelan, a new recruit of Avalon's, and he's brought us something interesting. Kyl - Kerr Avon, Del Tarrant. and Hugh Tiver."

      "I didn't realise Avalon was recruiting children," Avon said stiffly. His eyes were cold and unwelcoming, but the boy didn't seem daunted now he was actually here. He stared back stubbornly, his eyes almost as cold as Avon's.

      "Hello, Kyl," Hugh greeted him. "Welcome aboard. I'm the ship's doctor. It's my job to keep the rest of the crew in one piece, and they don't make it easy for me. Del's our pilot - correction, one of our pilots. Jenna would have my head for that."

      "Jenna Stannis you mean?" Kyl sounded impressed. He'd heard of her.

      "That's right," Tarrant put in. "Jenna and I battle it out to see which of us is in charge. I'm the one linked with Jabberwocky though."

      "And I'm Jabberwocky," the ship decided to enter the conversation. "Welcome aboard, Kyl. What have you brought us? I like surprises."

      Kyl's eyes sought out Jabberwocky's visual display and he went to stand before it grinning. "Hello, Jabberwocky," he said softly. "I'm glad to meet you. I brought them some of your specifications."

      "What!" Avon surged forward staring. "Where did you get them?" The question was almost an accusation.

      "Out of the Federation Computer System, Avon." Kyl gave the computer expert a sudden nervous look. He didn't seem quite sure how to take Avon, which didn't surprise Blake much. He was probably closer to Avon than anyone, and he didn't know how to take him either.

      "You couldn't have done," Avon insisted. "Let me see what you've got." Kyl passed over the forms, and Avon removed them from the envelope. There was a silence while he studied them, then he looked at Kyl as if he were seeing him for the first time. "Where did you really get these?"

      "I got them where I said I did," Kyl snapped. "I'm not lying. I'll tell you how I did it." He proceeded to do so, and Blake, who didn't count himself completely ignorant around computers, was left behind in moments.

      "I got some of the procedures from your old reports in various journals," Kyl told Avon. "The Federation decided to teach me all they could about computers, so I took advantage of it, but I wouldn't let them control me. They couldn't programme me, but they thought they had. Wrong." He grinned cockily, proving how young he really was.

      "Your system sounds workable," Avon conceded reluctantly. "How much of this" - a gesture at the printouts - "do you understand?"

      "Well, not all of it. Some of it's theory I'm nowhere near yet. I think I can see where it's going, and if I had time and equipment and the right research material I might make sense of it eventually. I'd love to meet Orac. Have you ever thought of duplicating Ensor's process? I've tried to pull Ensor's file, but I can't get at it. I'm not sure how much the Federation knows about him, but they haven't been able to duplicate Orac."

      "Naturally they have not. I am unique."

      Kyl spun and stared at Orac, who had been sitting unnoticed on the table. He went over and peered down at Orac. "So you're Orac. This is great. I never dreamed I'd get to meet Orac so quickly. Or you either, Jabberwocky."

      "The rest of us don't rate, I see," Tarrant muttered self-deprecatingly.

      "Oh, I didn't mean that," Kyl said quickly, embarrassed. "It's just that computers come first with me. I'd love to know how the link works. Can you feel Jabberwocky all the time or just when you concentrate? The information isn't specific."

      "I'm always aware of him, but I don't get specific thoughts unless I put my mind to it," Tarrant replied, ignoring Avon's muttered, "Such as it is." He went on easily, "We can block each other for privacy, but I don't bother usually. It's quite a feeling."

      "I bet it is. I'd love to try it, but I know that's expecting too much." Tarrant's look confirmed that, and Blake grinned. He didn't want the boy to know they could link temporarily yet, not unless Orac cleared him.

      "Orac," he said, following this line of thought, "With Kyl's computer background, he might be able to fool any tests we gave him. But you could scan him and see if there is any Federation conditioning. Will you do that?"

      "My time is much too valuable-"

      "Do it, Orac," Blake insisted. Orac took his superiority for granted but could sometimes be persuaded to act. Besides, Blake had seen Avon moving purposefully toward Orac. Something was disturbing Avon. The computer expert had erected his walls again, more so than the presence of one juvenile stranger could account for, and he kept shooting suspicious looks at the boy as if he believed him a Federation agent. Blake didn't really think the boy was any such thing, but he would have been a fool to overlook the possibility. That didn't mean he would keep the boy at gun-point, just that he would have him watched. But Avon acted as if the boy's presence was a personal affront, and after a minute, Blake thought of a reason. Maybe Avon viewed him as competition, someone likely to develop into a second Ensor. The boy had been given extensive computer training, but all the training in the world wouldn't be enough without a gift for it. Only that gift could take knowledge and training one step further to genius. Avon had that gift, but Avon was forty years old. Maybe he saw Kyl as competition.

      "Oh, very well," huffed Orac. "This experiment would be far better performed in the medical unit where Hugh Tiver could monitor the subject's responses."

      Vila arrived on the flight deck then, whistling under his breath, looking the very picture of innocent mischief, but he stopped when he saw the gathering there. Kyl turned to look at him, and at the sight of the boy Vila's mouth fell open and he stared, eyes narrowing as if he knew a secret. Blake spun to look at Kyl to see if it was reciprocated, and discovered Kyl regarding Vila in alarm. Beside him, Avon's face had darkened, and he watched Vila warily as if the thief were a time bomb about to go off. Then Vila smoothed away his surprise and said brightly, "Company, Blake?"

      "This is Kyl Veelan", Blake said quickly, staring meaningfully at Vila. Vila deliberately ignored the look. "Hello, Kyl," he said. "I'm Vila Restal. I steal things. Money, jewels, Federation information, secrets..."

      Kyl flushed. So he did have a secret, and Vila suspected it. Of course Vila often played the fool, but Blake knew it was mostly a game. Blake had begun to rely on the shrewd individual who hid behind the guise of a coward and a fool. But now, Vila's face was surprisingly bland, and he didn't look worried that he might be confronting a junior Federation agent. Blake wondered if he had met Kyl before, though the boy would have been much younger when they'd all been shipped out on the London, and their trips back to Earth since then hadn't included time for looking up old friends. Neither was Kyl a Delta grade. He had some of the unconscious superiority of an Alpha, though he hadn't been raised entirely on Earth.

      "Shall we go to the medical unit?" Hugh asked. If he didn't know what was wrong with Vila or Avon, he would have sensed the tension on the flight deck. Hugh was good at smoothing over prickly emotions. He'd had to be.

      "The sooner we do so, the sooner we can have our ship back to ourselves," Avon said coldly. Kyl's flush deepened and he looked at Avon unhappily before covering his hurt. Blake was sorry; perhaps Avon had been the boy's hero.

      They went to the medical unit, leaving Tarrant on watch. Vila picked up Orac automatically; he'd got in the habit of carrying the computer for Avon on Liberator and now he did it routinely. Avon seemed to enjoy that, but he didn't react today. His face was hard as he led the way to the lower deck, and he wore 'touch-me-not' signs visible to all but the most imperceptive.

      Hugh began to set up equipment for a computer relay. Orac could function as a lie detector, though it resented such mundane tasks, but in this case, a lie detector would not be enough. If programmed, Kyl would not know it, and he could truthfully claim to be a rebel and still be dangerous. The fact that he agreed to submit willingly to the testing only meant his intentions were pure. Having been conditioned by the Federation himself, Blake had more than sufficient reason to know that the best of good intentions could be voided by the Federation.

      Hugh attached electrodes to the boy's forehead and set his instruments. A frown furrowed his forehead as he dropped into temporary link-mode. Blake guessed he was urging Jabberwocky to monitor Orac's scans to make sure nothing was overlooked. Orac would search for a triggering behaviour mode, but Jabberwocky would look for memory gaps as well. The Federation believed they'd programmed Kyl. Was it only the boy's vanity that convinced him differently?

      "Orac," Blake put in, "Give us some background on Kyl too. See what you find in Federation records."

      "That will take time," Orac complained.

      "That can surely wait," Avon objected. "It is more urgent that Orac determine if there is conditioning present."

      Blake stared at Avon in disbelief. "It's not like you not to take every precaution, Avon."

      "I find this whole charade of marginal importance," Avon retorted. "In future, he shall be Avalon's problem rather than ours, and I do not understand the necessity of wasting Orac's time with redundant information."

      That was true, but Kyl could be useful and he might be able to do invaluable work with Orac later. It only made sense to clear him completely. Though Blake felt it inappropriate to take someone Kyl's age on missions, Ryalon was there, and they could work with Kyl there. So Blake said "Maybe that's true, Avon, but I still want it done." He sensed Vila shifting nervously and vowed to question him as soon as possible.

      "Oh, very well," snapped Orac. "But I will tolerate no further interruptions."

      "How long will it take?" Blake asked Hugh as the doctor began his work.

      "At most several hours. Possibly less. You don't all need to stay here. Leave me somebody in case this tinkering triggers something. I'll be monitoring results and won't be able to guard him too."

      "Put me in restraints," offered Kyl. "That way, you could be sure."

      "Only if you don't know how to get out of them." Hugh glanced around. "Avon, would you stay? You could help me monitor Orac."

      Avon looked on the verge of refusing, then he glanced at Vila out of the corner of his eye. "Oh, very well," he replied in tones identical to Orac's. "But when this is finished and we have gained nothing of value, I hope you will realise our time could have been better spent."

      "Then use it, Avon, by studying the specifications," Blake retorted. He didn't know what was wrong with Avon, but he didn't like it, and he'd not been in the best of moods to begin with. Usually he could deal with Avon better, but right now, he wasn't prepared to listen to complaints. Besides, he wanted to question Vila. "Vila and I will be on the flight deck," he added, grasping Vila's arm before he could slither away. Vila tried to pull free then caught himself and allowed himself be towed along.

      When they were on their way to the flight deck, Blake turned to the thief. "All right, Vila. Suppose you tell me what you know about Kyl Veelan."

      "I don't know anything about him," Vila responded at once. "I never saw him before. How do you think I could know him? You can tell by looking at him that he's an Alpha. You think I spent much time in the Alpha domes back on Earth"

      "Beyond a little honest thievery?" Blake smiled. "Besides, he's not from Earth. He's from Sestus V."

      Vila raised an eyebrow. "Well, I ask you. I've never been there. None of us have been there."

      "Should we have been?"

      "No, of course not."

      "Then what was all that on the flight deck? He meant something to you. You may never have met him, but you know something and I want to know what it is. With his computer background, he could do a lot of damage on this ship."

      "D'you think Avon would let him? Avon doesn't like him. His nose is out of joint."

      That could well be true, but Vila couldn't know that at a glance. "Have you ever seen his picture before?" Blake persisted.

      "No."

      "Vila, I don't like that innocent look of yours. You're up to something and it concerns Kyl."

      "No, I'm not, Blake. I can't tell you anything now. Wait till Orac gets his background information. That's all I ask. Better ask Orac yourself."

      "I intend to."

      

      

"Suppose you tell us a little about yourself, Kyl," Hugh suggested as Orac worked. "Give us some background. Orac can detect lies, but that's not why I'm asking. The more data we put together, the better we can be sure you're free of programming."

      Kyl grimaced. "Well it will pass the time," he agreed. "I'm almost sixteen, live - or did - with a guardian on Sestus V. Roal Bendik. Roal's a resister too, though he's highly connected and no one knows." The tone of his voice indicated that he was willing to trust them, so they should trust him in return.

      "Useful of us to know," Avon retorted unkindly. "Should either of us be caught and interrogated, we could give your guardian away. But perhaps you don't care about that."

      "Well, I do, then. Roal's not the name the Federation knows him by."

      "Go on," urged Hugh, sensing the boy's embarrassment at his slip. "Have you been with him a long time?"

      "Since I was eleven. Before that, the Federation had me."

      "What?" Avon looked surprised. "What would they want with a child?"

      "They expected to programme, hypnotise or drug me into giving information on things I might have witnessed when I was two years old," Kyl returned. "My mother was a resister. She went to meetings and belonged to a resistance group. She might even have known Blake. When I was two, she was captured and tortured for information. She died." He threw a fierce glare at Avon, who was watching him impassively. "They believed I might have witnessed something, but I was too young to tell them what they needed, so they kept me under rigid control in a special home. As I got older, they would have interrogation sessions. They were looking for names or pertinent information, or trying to find out if important resisters had come to our home. I don't know if they ever learned anything. I don't think so. I was only two, and wouldn't have understood, even if people had come. It was a stupid idea. As I got older, I realised what they were doing. They were trying to turn me against my mother, and I wasn't having any. I told myself my name and hers every night before I went to sleep and I repeated it over and over in my mind when they questioned me. My father sold her," he added spitefully as if defying them to correct him. "They told me that much. He gave them her name in exchange for power and position. When she found out, that's when she broke." He glared at them. "I hate the Federation. If they've programmed me, I want Orac to fix it. I'll never help them willingly."

      "You've had a hard life," Hugh said sympathetically. "But you've been living with a resister. Are you sure he's really not part of the Federation's plan?"

      Plainly the idea had never occurred to Kyl, and he half sat up before Hugh put a hand on his chest to stop him from pulling the connections loose. "I never thought of that," he admitted shamefacedly. "But Roal is really a rebel. He even arranged for me to come here. He thought I'd be safer with Avalon."

      He broke off and stared at Hugh in dismay. "If I was programmed, they'd want me here. You mean it was all a lie? I can't-" He turned his face away, and Avon made an involuntary gesture toward him. Avon had healing abilities, Hugh knew, and the boy was clearly in distress. But the time was wrong, and he shook his head. Avon probably couldn't help Kyl while he was so suspicious of him, and it was possible that the boy's story of his mother's death had reminded Avon of Anna Grant. Avon withdrew at once, looking disconcerted, as if the instinct had astonished him.

      Finally Kyl turned back. "You think I'm conditioned, don't you? You think it's all a plot? Maybe a plot to capture Blake? You'd think they'd want me on their side then."

      "No, it would be easier for you to fool us if you really believed you were opposed to them," Hugh said softly. "I used to be a Federation officer, Kyl, before I found out how bad they were. They wanted me to use suppressants on my home-world and that's when I joined the rebellion. If you're meant to be a plant here, you'd need to be convincing. You're smart and good with computers, but you're still a boy. You might not be able to fool us unless you believed it yourself. But don't worry. If you're conditioned, Orac can detect it and eradicate it. And you might be less conditioned than they think. Using your name as a talisman during the conditioning could have weakened it."

      "Working with Blake has weakened you." Avon snapped. "It's not worth the risk. He's good with computers, true, but we couldn't trust anything he did with them. I don't know if there's any validity to these specifications. Most of the really helpful data is not here."

      "They wiped the computers, Avon," Kyl insisted.

      "Did they indeed? After you cleverly broke into their top security system. No matter how good you are, you are a fifteen-year-old boy. Do you honestly imagine you would be able to do what the top computer minds in the galaxy failed to do?"

      "You mean what you failed to do so far?" Kyl flashed at him. "It's not my fault if you failed. You even had Orac to help you."

      Hugh thought it time to intervene. This wasn't helping. "Avon, Kyl, enough! Let's finish the testing first. We can't speculate without proper information. Leave it." When he used that tone, Avon sometimes listened. This time he looked like he would push it, but instead he turned away and sat down across the room with the specifications. Kyl looked at him, face crumpled as if he might cry. He'd done well standing up to Avon so far.

      "We'll come back to that if we have to," Hugh said. "Tell me more. Is your father still living?"

      "Yes."

      "Have you ever met him?"

      "Yes, I've met him. I wish I hadn't. He caused my mother's death. I'd rather be with Roal - or if he's Federation, I'd rather stay here. I know I can't stay on Jabberwocky, but there must be a place on the base where I could stay."

      "I'm sure there is," soothed Hugh. "If you're that good with computers, there's bound to be a place for you."

      "That's what I thought. But he's right, isn't he? I'm probably programmed. They wouldn't have spent all that time with me if they meant to free me later. I can be used against the rebels. I don't like that, but I can't fix it alone. If Roal sent me here to hurt the resistance, then I can stop it now. Orac can, anyway. What about Jabberwocky? I don't know how the link works, but from what I can understand of the specifications, there are temporary links. Maybe he could link with me."

      "No," said Avon without looking up.

      "It might be a good idea, Avon," Hugh argued.

      "I very much doubt it."

      "Well, what of you? You're a healer."

      "Am I? I have never 'healed' programming."

      Hugh stared at him. "I don't understand you, Avon. You're being deliberately obstructive. I think you'd be glad of someone you could talk computers to. Kyl doesn't want to help the Federation. If we can remove the programming, he'd be safe. Blake wouldn't take him on missions because he's too young, but he could still help us a lot. Is there something I don't understand that would stop that?"

      "That depends. How well do you understand simple logic?"

      "How well do you?" Kyl shot back.

      "I understand this. The Federation owned this boy until he was seven years old, then they saw he received extensive computer training. Then they placed him in the hands of a 'resister'. It doesn't even take Vila's intelligence to understand that this is part of a Federation plan."

      "Aimed at you," Hugh said, under his breath.

      Avon looked down his nose at him. "At me?"

      "Yes, you. Why else the computer training? When the Federation was running you before you tried to pull the bank swindle, they thought you were political. Now I have the feeling you were as political as a rock. You wanted the money and the security it would give you. But they believed it was political and they don't often make mistakes. Was it someone in your family, Avon? Your parents? Your brother?"

      Avon glared at him. "If the Federation chose to make unwarranted assumptions, that is their error."

      "Is it? Kyl might be part of that same plan."

      Avon's eyes narrowed. "Ironic," he muttered. "He might even be doing it voluntarily."

      Hugh expected Kyl to deny it categorically. Instead Kyl flushed and looked away. This was getting more complex by the minute. "What about it, Kyl?" Hugh asked "Are you Federation?"

      "No," spat the boy. "I'm not."

      "To the best of your knowledge, were you sent here for a purpose?"

      "I came here because I wanted to." Honesty rang in Kyl's voice. "Roal was quick to agree - maybe too quick. I thought it was because he felt I'd be safer here, but maybe it was because I was part of a plan. But the last thing I'd ever do would be to hurt the resistance. I mean it, Dr. Tiver. I'm on your side."

      "Should you believe that, I have a remote world called Star One to sell you," Avon murmured with heavy sarcasm to Hugh.

      Hugh cracked a reluctant smile, but Kyl bit his lip and threw daggers at Avon with his eyes.

      "Information," Orac cut into the smouldering silence. "I have the requested information. It is extremely limited and more of it is still blocked even from my scans. It will take far more time to obtain it than it is worth."

      "Tell us what you have learned and we'll decide if it's worth it or not," Hugh instructed.

      "Oh, very well. Kyl Veelan is the son of unnamed parents - their names have been removed from Federation records. His mother was a resister who died under interrogation and his father is a suspected resister who was convicted on criminal charges and incarcerated on a convict planet."

      "You said he was Federation," Hugh reminded the boy gently. "You said you'd met him."

      "I never said he was Federation," Kyl defended himself hotly. "I said he sold my mother. That's not the same thing. And I did meet him. Those records are wrong."

      "That information is listed in Federation records," Orac returned. "Further information refers to a 'Project Darkwater' which began shortly after Blake and crew claimed the Liberator. I have information on some of the programming to which Kyl Veelan was subjected and the history of his education. Such programming is consistent to my findings and can be eradicated."

      "Then I am conditioned?" Kyl asked in dismay and frustration.

      "Have I not just said so? It would be well if you would listen more thoroughly to my reports. The information is incomplete, but it suggests danger to certain members of this crew if carried to fruition."

      "Define that danger," Avon interrupted.

      "Capture by the Federation is the first phase indicated. Roal Bendik is a Federation agent, loosely tied to Central Security. For the past four years, he has been in deep cover on Sestus V, acting as guardian to Kyl Veelan. He has also posed as a rebel agent and has infiltrated the local resistance cell. The archaic term for such is a 'mole' which refers to an extinct Earth mammal with burrowing tendencies."

      "Spare us the biology lesson," Avon retorted. "Since the boy has been in computers, I would assume that I am the primary target. Some of his conditioning had to have taken place before I went on board Liberator."

      "I agree," said Hugh. "We haven't heard it all. I think we should tell Blake about it."

      "Do you? This is my business. It does not concern him."

      "It does if we're about to be captured by the Federation."

      "Deprogramming will remove that threat."

      "If we can," Hugh conceded. "And if he doesn't have a locator implant or some other device we haven't found yet. I'll run a scan."

      Kyl shook his head. "This just makes me hate the Federation all the more," he said drearily. "Maybe I should just go. Do you think the conditioning would let me?"

      "Where would you go?" Avon asked sharply. "Back to your cohort, Bendik?"

      "I'm certainly not welcome here," Kyl replied. "I'm not sure I want to be."

      "Easy," Hugh soothed. "Let's finish this. Avon, go and tell Blake what we've learned. He'll need to notify Avalon and make appropriate plans."

      "Knowing Blake, his 'appropriate plans' will include protecting the boy from himself and endangering the rest of us in the process."

      "Possibly," agreed Hugh. "At least Blake has some compassion."

      "I am not unsympathetic to his suffering," Avon said stiffly. "But I am not sure I believe his story. Other factors-"

      "Orac confirms it, Avon. What other factors are you talking about?"

      Avon headed for the door. "I'll talk to Blake." He let himself out without looking back.

      Hugh sighed. "Don't mind Avon," he said, turning back to Kyl, only to see tears welling from the boy's eyes. Kyl turned away quickly, and Hugh dropped a comforting hand on his shoulder. "He doesn't mean it personally," he ventured.

      "Yes he does," Kyl disagreed. "And you know it as well as I do."

      "You could be right." Hugh's fondness for Avon didn't blind him to the computer expert's faults. "You could be right."

      

      

Vila was lurking in the passage when Avon left the medical unit, and when he saw Avon, he pounced; there was no other word for it. Avon regarded him with wary distrust. "What are you doing here, Vila?"

      "Waiting to talk to you. You see, I know," he announced dramatically.

      "You know what?" Avon asked with a certain asperity. "I should have guessed you know nothing at all."

      "You'd be wrong then, wouldn't you?" Vila countered. "I know who that boy is, and I know why he's here."

      "Do you? He is here because the Federation programmed him to find us. Orac located information on a Project Darkwater which is to do with the boy's programming, but as to the final purpose, nothing is clear."

      "Isn't it? Avon, he-"

      "I must talk to Blake." Avon pushed past Vila. Vila couldn't really know what he was talking about, could he? It was impossible. The information was no longer in the Federation computers. What they had was clearly a lie. Kyl might believe it, but it was lies, almost all of it. Avon knew better.

      Vila caught at his arm. "Avon, wait."

      Avon shook free. "Leave me alone, Vila," he all but shouted.

      "Won't," Vila insisted stubbornly. "Go talk to Blake then. But talk to me too. I want to help."

      "Naturally you do, your help having been invaluable in the past."

      Vila didn't blink at Avon's sarcasm. He fell into step with Avon, and short of reverting to physical violence, Avon couldn't deter him. He knew Vila would not speak of this to Blake until they could discuss it first unless it was necessary for the ship's safety, or unless he thought it in Avon's best interests. Avon would just have to see that he didn't feel it was. //Stay out of this, Vila,// he telepathed, and Vila goggled at him in astonishment. Avon used his questionable gift for telepathy so rarely that people tended to forget it between times. Used that way, it gave Avon an advantage, which was his motive this time.

      "I will then," Vila replied. "See if I care what happens to you. If you don't need my help, that's fine with me. I'll go and bother Dayna. She gets nice and irritated when I pester her."

      "She's working on that new gun of hers," Avon pointed out. "That's exactly the time you would choose to irritate her."

      Vila drew himself up in an elaborate display of offended dignity and didn't deign to reply. He turned pointedly and stalked away, but Avon knew he wasn't really angry, and that he probably planned to consult Hugh instead. Let him. Hugh knew nothing. Nothing, that is, unless he had obtained further information from Kyl. Avon grimaced. Knowing Hugh, he would be discreet. Annoyingly enough, Avon discovered he trusted him. Better that Vila go there and watch his back. He called over his shoulder, "Tell Hugh I sent you."

      Vila ignored him but he went to the medical unit.

      

      Cally had joined Blake and Tarrant on the flight deck, and she looked at Avon thoughtfully when he entered, coming to meet him and taking his hand. Cally didn't often use overt displays of affection in public unless she felt it necessary. He looked at her uneasily; Cally was the last person he wanted to discuss the situation with. He withdrew his hand firmly but not unkindly and came to stand before Blake, folding his arms across his chest.

      "The boy is conditioned, Blake. He is part of a Federation plot which seems to be aimed against us - or against me. He must have been permitted to steal these specifications. His 'guardian' is a Federation undercover agent posing as a rebel on Sestus V. His name is Roal Bendik. You might notify Avalon to warn her people against him. Now the plan is running, he might arrive to take some back-up action."

      "That was remarkably quick," responded Blake, looking at Avon consideringly. "How did you learn it?"

      "Orac accessed Kyl's background. It is not entirely accurate, but there is enough truth to it to make me wary. Project Darkwater seems aimed at me. Thus the design specifications. When the Federation realised we had the mindship, they must have activated the plan. As yet, we don't know what Kyl is meant to do here. I feel we should regard these plans as suspect until Orac and Jabberwocky can check them."

      "I'll go over them with you," Jabberwocky offered. "You'll know as much about them as anyone, Avon. You're my father after all."

      "I've had enough out of you," Avon snarled savagely.

      Everyone stared at him in surprise, and he forced himself to calm down, realising he had let his control drop too much. This would never do. He carried the specifications over to Jabberwocky's display. "Tarrant, you will run these past Jabberwocky. Let him see what sense he makes of them."

      "Where will you be?" Tarrant returned challengingly, though his tone was wary.

      "Busy," Avon growled and stalked off the flight deck.

      

      

The silence after Avon had gone felt incredibly loud. Blake looked after him in dismay, and with growing concern. Cally turned to him. "What is wrong with Avon?"

      "I have no idea. It can't be pleasant to learn there is a plot against him - with the boy's computer background, Avon is the obvious target."

      "But why now?" Tarrant asked, catching himself as soon as he spoke. "Because of Jabberwocky. The Federation wants him back."

      "I don't want them," Jabberwocky announced. "There's more to it than that, Tarrant. I've been monitoring the medical unit. The boy was in Federation hands until he was seven, then trained with computers, and finally placed in the hands of a Federation agent about the time the Federation realised Avon had escaped them. If it was a plot to get Avon, it's been a long-standing one. I wonder what happened to the boy while Avon was a prisoner before he was shipped out on the London."

      "You're suggesting Kyl was always part of a plot against Avon?" Blake shook his head, thoughtfully stroking his chin. "I don't think that's likely. The Federation developed Kyl as a weapon, and now we've got the mindship, it's convenient to use him against Avon. If Kyl has an affinity for computers, he's perfect for something like this."

      "So they might have taken him from some other plan to try to get Jabberwocky back?" Tarrant asked.

      "I'm worth it, after all," Jabberwocky replied. "But something's missing. Both Avon and Kyl admitted the boy's records were incorrect. Kyl would know they were wrong according to his perceptions or his conditioning, but how would Avon know?"

      "He is an Alpha grade of Earth." Cally reminded them.

      "Maybe he knew the Veelan family. Maybe Kyl's father was once his friend."

      "That's the most logical idea yet," Blake agreed. "It would explain why he felt the records were wrong, because he was there and knew what happened - what the Federation wanted people to believe happened. The Federation killed Kyl's mother. Maybe the records told a different story."

      "No, Blake," corrected Jabberwocky. "She died under interrogation. That's in the records, also that the father sold her to them because she was a resister."

      "Poor kid," Blake muttered sympathetically. "I hope we can remove the conditioning. I don't want him returning to Sestus V."

      "Neither do I," Cally agreed. "But if he is a danger to us - Blake, perhaps the Federation felt recapturing the mindship was more important than Project Darkwater, and that's why Kyl is here. Maybe Project Darkwater is simply a method of conditioning from childhood. Until Orac learns more we cannot know. I do not like the danger to us or to Avon, but Kyl has had no chance to harm us yet. We must wait to see what else Orac finds out."

      "That still leaves what's wrong with Avon," Tarrant objected.

      "I'll talk to him," Blake decided. He saw Cally bite back words; she night have planned to do so herself. But Blake was in charge of the ship, and he felt it his place to see what was wrong with his most difficult crew member. He couldn't help being concerned, though Avon would never thank him for it.

      Finding Avon proved more difficult than he had expected. Jabberwocky was grounded at the base, but there was no evidence that Avon had left the ship, and Jabberwocky confirmed it. "He's still on board, Blake."

      "Where is he then?"

      "In the computer crawl-ways."

      Blake hated going in there; he was big enough to find the passages cramped and unpleasant, but this was no time to worry about it. As he started out, he encountered Jenna in the passage as she headed for the flight deck to relieve Tarrant.

      "What's wrong with Avon?" she asked as Blake fell into step with her. "I passed him just now and he bit my head off when I said hello."

      "We've discovered a new Federation plot to take the ship back," Blake replied. "A conditioned boy who's good with computers. If Orac hadn't scanned him for conditioning, he might have endangered us all."

      "A boy?" Jenna echoed in surprise. "What boy?"

      "His name's Kyl Veelan, and he came here to join the resistance, or so he believed. He was manipulated here by the Federation."

      "Kyl Veelan?" Jenna frowned. "He's skilled with computers? A boy?"

      "He's not in Avon's league, of course; he's too young to have the experience. But he's pretty good. Orac's deprogramming him now."

      "That doesn't explain Avon, though," Jenna objected. "I never saw him look like that, even before you went down to Star One. He looked like he meant murder. I got out of his way first."

      "I don't know why he's so upset," Blake replied. "That's what I'm trying to learn now."

      "Find out from a safe distance then," she cautioned. "He hardly looked rational, Blake. Be careful. Someday, your concern for Avon will backfire."

      Jenna and Avon had never been close, but her tone now indicated nothing more than concern for his safety. These days, Jenna was managing her resentment of Avon better.

      "I don't want this to backfire on him," Blake told her. By then they had reached the entrance to the computer section, and he stopped. "I'll see you later."

      "Good luck, Blake."

      He grinned at her. "I think I'm going to need it."

      

      

"Avon?" Blake halted just inside the doorway. "I want to talk to you. Jabberwocky says you're here."

      There was a moment of silence during which Blake feared Avon would refuse to answer, then there was a movement deep within the room and Avon muttered something about interfering computers. "I don't imagine I could convince you to go away, Blake?" he asked.

      "Not this time."

      "I feared not." Avon emerged from one of the crawl-ways, his hair rumpled, his face dark and bitter, his mouth drawn in a tight line. "Talk to me then."

      "Not here."

      "Here, anywhere else, does it matter?" But Avon followed him from the room, down the hall to the rest room, where he sat at a table and stared at his folded hands.

      Blake realised he would have to begin and that Avon probably wouldn't help him. "Jabberwocky told us what Orac found out. Cally wondered if you had known Kyl's parents. Why else would you insist Orac's information was inaccurate?"

      "Why else indeed?" Avon continued to study his hands. "Yes," he said at last, "I did know them. When I saw Kyl, I suspected who he was, though his last name has been changed. Orac confirmed it. I believe the Federation altered the records, but I can't prove it."

      "Do you want to tell me about it, Avon?"

      "No. I don't want to tell you about it, Blake. I will do so reluctantly only to make sense of this and determine the real nature of the threat we face. What I say must not leave this room."

      "Agreed, unless our lives are at stake."

      "What I am about to tell you has no bearing on that. This is what happened. Thirteen years ago, Kyl's parents lived on Earth. His father's job took him about the Inner Worlds and he was gone a great deal of the time. Kyl was two years old. His mother, Arda, cared for him. One day, her husband returned from one of his trips to find them gone. She had left a taped message for him. Bluntly and to the point, it said that she was tired of being alone so much for so little reward and that she had taken a wealthy and powerful lover who could give her the material things she wanted. She claimed her lover was important enough to conceal their traces and that her husband would be unable to locate them."

      He was silent a moment, and Blake was about to speak when Avon went on. "I believed she was wise; money is the only reality."

      "You know that's not true, Avon."

      "Do I?" His fingers moved restlessly. "Her husband did not search for her," he continued at last. "He was not wanted and he knew it. What would have been the point? His son, you say. Perhaps. If the man was as powerful as she claimed, he could have influenced the courts to make the husband appear a bad father, to give her legal custody. Perhaps he had already done so. There was no computer record at all. The husband could not find her or Kyl, so he put them behind him and went on with his life."

      Just like that, Blake thought, knowing it couldn't have been so easy. He was certain he knew where this was going, but it wasn't for him to say so. Instead, he said gently, "Orac assigns her a different fate."

      "The boy said she was a resister, that she may have even known you and your Freedom party."

      "Maybe, but I remember no one by that name."

      Avon looked up sharply. "I told you the boy's name had been changed, Blake."

      "Yes, so you did."

      Avon held his eyes a minute, then he returned to the scrutiny of his hands. "If she were a resister, her husband did not know it," he concluded. "The Federation must have wished to conceal their activities. How better to do it than to discredit her in her husband's eyes. They must have known him better than he expected to enable them to get away with it."

      "Maybe his job required security clearances," suggested Blake.

      "It did."

      "I thought it must. He might have even been watched later, to see if he shared his wife's political sympathies."

      "He wasn't such a fool."

      "No, Avon?"

      "Damn you, Blake." His hands clenched into fists. "They told her that her husband sold her. If Orac is correct she... died... believing that. They told Kyl as well. It wasn't true. He did not betray her."

      "Of course not. It wouldn't have been his nature."

      The dark eyes lifted again. "You know, of course."

      "I know a man whose word I would trust no matter what. I think that man is Kyl's father. Am I right?"

      "Of course you are, Blake." Avon didn't look away. "He's my son," he said at length. "And I don't know what to do about him."

      "He seems a good boy," Blake said gently. "He doesn't mean betrayal. That's not why he's here."

      "He is not here out of any fondness for me," Avon argued. "He hates me and blames me for Arda's death."

      "He'll soon learn that isn't true. I'll tell him, if you like."

      "No," Avon decided. "It's my place to do that. This plan is aimed at me. Personally. Not because I am one of your 'followers' but for some other reason. The fact that we have Jabberwocky may have hastened it, but Project Darkwater was designed to capture me."

      "That could be vanity, Avon."

      "Could it?"

      "All right then. Who would want to aim a personal vendetta at you. Have any enemies?"

      Avon threw back his head and laughed. "Have I any enemies, Blake? The more appropriate question should be, have I any friends?"

      "You have everyone on this ship."

      "How fortunate I am."

      "Damn you, Avon. Don't hold back from us because this has happened. We haven't done anything to you; we're as loyal to you as we were before this began."

      "Are you? Don't you think people on this ship will believe I sold Arda for promises of wealth and position? That's what my son believes. You might doubt or Cally, but Tarrant, Jenna or Dayna might believe it."

      "I doubt that, Avon. I think Arda filled the time while you were gone by playing at rebellion. I don't remember her in my group, but my memories of that time aren't complete, and mine was not the only group. Before he took my group, Travis managed to put an end to two others. She could have belonged to either of them. We might never know how deeply she was involved with the movement."

      "She died for it," Avon said flatly.

      Blake looked at him in concern. This whole thing could give Avon a disgust for the resistance, not that he was that fond of it now. Blake doubted that Avon would turn into a devoted rebel because of this. It wouldn't be in character. But he might blame the Federation for his wife's death and seek revenge.

      "I'm sorry, Avon," Blake said.. "I wish there was something I could do to help."

      "There isn't."

      "You should talk to Kyl," Blake suggested. "Does he know who you are?"

      "Of course he does. He always knew. When Orac finishes his deprogramming, I will speak to him about it."

      Blake realised he was frightened of the confrontation. After all this time, he had no idea how to speak to his son. Avon had never seemed remotely interested in children though he might be pleased by a son who took after him in his computer skill.

      "I think you should speak to him now," Blake said gently. "If he believes you sold his mother, he should learn the truth. The longer you go without telling him, the more likely he is to believe the Federation's story. Besides, if the two of you talk, you might clear up a few things and find out about this Project Darkwater."

      "Doesn't it ever irritate you, being right?" Avon asked sarcastically. He rose and stood looking down at Blake with mild disgust and a faint degree of gratitude. "You may stay behind. I want no audience for this."

      "Whatever you say, Avon." Jabberwocky could help out if needed. Jabberwocky had linked enough with Avon to verify his story if the boy insisted on proof. He kept the suggestion back though. Avon had enough problems without that. It must have been because Jabberwocky claimed Avon as his father that Avon had become upset on the flight deck. He wondered if someday Jabberwocky would claim to be Kyl's brother.

      

      

Kyl lay idly on the bed in the medical unit watching the blinking lights inside Orac's casing and the quiet movements of the doctor as he monitored his screens and threw an occasional comment to Vila, who lazed about the room, looking half asleep. Jabberwocky displayed readouts on the screens, the two computers linked, and there were times when Kyl almost imagined he could feel Jabberwocky as a distinct, human presence rather than just a machine that read his reactions to the pulse of Orac's deprogramming. Kyl wished he could link with Jabberwocky just once, no matter what happened later. The thought of Jabberwocky fascinated him. Though he had carefully schooled himself all his life to hate his father, Kyl had felt surge of something like pride when he had discovered that Kerr Avon had done some of the preliminary work on the Mark 60 mindship. If his father could do that, what might Kyl himself accomplish one day. He knew he was smarter than most people. If he went on learning, he might even develop another Orac. Maybe his father would even agree to help him.

      He cut that thought off at once. There was nothing he wanted to learn from Kerr Avon. He wasn't an Avon any more. He was Kyl Veelan, alone against the galaxy, and he didn't need his father, not one bit. He didn't know how to take Avon, and it was clear that Avon didn't know how to take him. That his father had recognised him immediately had disconcerted Kyl, but he was the right age, had distinctive red hair, his father's eyes and maybe a look of his mother, not to mention the first name of Kyl. Even without a resemblance, Avon would have wondered. He might have believed his son adopted by someone else. He certainly hadn't bothered to find out though. It was clear he didn't want to be bothered with a son. Probably he didn't want to face him after betraying his mother.

      //That's not true.//

      Kyl's head jerked up. Had he spoken aloud? Had the doctor or Vila corrected him? It didn't take much intelligence to tell that Vila and Dr. Tiver thought his father was the next thing to God. Pretty disgusting how easily they were fooled.

      //It's better than closing your mind without giving Avon a chance to tell his side of it, isn't it, Kyl?//

      Where was it coming from? Dr. Tiver was still studying his results, and Vila was staring idly into space. For a minute, Kyl wondered if he was losing his mind, then the answer came to him, and he breathed excitedly, "Jabberwocky?"

      //You don't have to speak out loud,// came the response. //Open your mind and we'll be linked. I'll have to control it because of your programming, but I'll level with you. We've got something in common, you and I. Avon's my father too. He helped design me. You don't know him, and you still believe the Federation's lies. I think I can guess what really happened. Will you listen to me without arguing until I'm finished?//

      //You just want to defend him,// Kyl accused, realising he was in linkage with Jabberwocky after all. He wondered if Tarrant would notice.

      //Not unless I call him in. I control so many things on the ship that I have to screen them or burn out Tarrant's brain. I'll regulate this too. I can't give away Avon's secrets to just anybody. That's his place, not mine. But we're brothers, you and I. We have the same father. So I'll tell you the truth. I know your father very well, Kyl. He's an undeveloped telepath with a healing gift. He hates having it, but he's very good at it. He's been hurt so often that the last thing he wants to do is open himself to more of it, but I've seen him save lives. He saved my sanity when I started to get my memory back. Think what it would be like to be a disembodied brain and remember what you were before. Avon's the only one who understood enough to help. I'd do anything for him.//

      //Even lie for him?// Kyl snapped. He didn't like this. It was making him view his father in a new light, and he didn't want to let go of his hatred. It was the only thing that kept him going. If he couldn't hate Avon any more, he wouldn't know what to do.

      //No, I won't do that. Avon's not perfect and he can be annoying. He likes to think he puts his own survival before anyone else's. He's done that in the past. But just as he's been inside my head, I've been in his. I knew about you before, Kyl. I know he wonders about you - he never thought he'd see you again, so he convinced himself it didn't matter. This is what really happened.// Kyl listened with reluctant interest as Jabberwocky recited Avon's story about finding Arda's tape. //I think they forced her to make that tape,// Jabberwocky concluded. //I think they told her they'd kill you if she didn't. She was a resister, Kyl. We do know that much. I don't think Avon was but they believed it. They couldn't prove it though, so they watched him for years. When he tried to steal five million credits from the Federation Banking System, they thought he had a political motive. I think he wanted the wealth and power he hadn't been able to give your mother. He believed she betrayed him. Maybe he believed if he had money it wouldn't happen again.//

      //You like him, don't you?// Kyl discovered. //I didn't know how anybody could, but I can tell Dr. Tiver and Vila do.

      //The people on this ship will defend him with their lives. They don't all like him as much as Blake, Cally, Vila or Hugh do, but even Tarrant puts up with him now. He's improved a lot since I've been around to influence him.// The chuckle that echoed through his head sounded remarkably human, and Kyl realised that Jabberwocky was like no computer he'd ever encountered. But even on Jabberwocky's urging, he wouldn't welcome his father with open arms. He'd think about it, but he needed more than this. He wanted to hear Avon say it himself.

      As if in answer, Avon entered the medical unit. Regretfully Kyl felt Jabberwocky slip out of linkage before he turned to confront his father. Avon looked a little diffident, though still cold and unyielding. He said flatly to Dr. Tiver, "I'd like to speak to Kyl alone."

      Hugh Tiver glanced at Avon, speculation in his eyes. "The way you were at each other tooth and nail a few minutes ago leads me to think it's not a good idea, Avon."

      "I don't plan to harm him," Avon said impatiently, but Hugh didn't seem offended. Kyl eyed the doctor in disgust. He'd probably stand on his head and whistle the Federation Anthem if Avon asked him to.

      But Hugh was made of sterner stuff. "I'll stay to monitor the deprogramming," he insisted. "I won't disturb your talk, but I have to monitor Orac."

      Avon looked affronted, but he didn't press it. Instead he turned to Vila. "I'll take over now," he said coldly.

      Vila threw him a startled look, glanced at Kyl and jumped up hastily. "All right, Avon, but I still want to talk to you."

      "Do you?" Avon's expression feigned disinterest.

      Vila stood his ground a minute, then he made an exasperated sound and left in a hurry.

      Ignoring Hugh completely, Avon approached the bed. Kyl stiffened uneasily. Here it came. He'd been dreading this confrontation since he'd come aboard. Now that he knew more about Avon, he dreaded it even more.

      Avon looked at him, and for a moment, Kyl imagined he saw a flash of uneasiness in his face. Maybe his father dreaded it as much as he did. The thought gave Kyl a little more confidence, and he demanded, "What do you want now?"

      "You know who I am," Avon observed. "And I know who you are. I think we should talk, to correct your misconceptions about your mother's death."

      "Jabberwocky told me already," Kyl said. "But he just told me what you wanted him to believe, didn't he?"

      "He would have no idea what I wanted him to believe since I never discussed Arda with him. Anything he thinks he knows, he took from my mind without permission." The look he threw over his shoulder at Jabberwocky's display boded ill for the computer. "I did not betray Arda. Until today, I believed she had left me voluntarily. In a way, that was easier to bear than the thought that she was tortured to death believing I had sold her." His face was absolutely white. He meant it, Kyl knew. He'd never thought to see such pain on his father's face, but Avon was hurting. Once, long ago, he had loved Arda, and the Federation had made him believe she had left him. Kyl felt an involuntary sympathy for the man, but he stomped it down ruthlessly.

      "All right," he said. "I might believe that. But that doesn't change anything between us. I was too young to run out on you, but you let me go without a fight." He could see Dr. Tiver listening for all he was worth - if it was humanly possible his ears would have stood out on stalks.

      "She made me believe I would lose," Avon replied. "It would have been futile in any case. The Federation had you."

      "That makes it all right? I was better off without a father."

      "Most likely you were," Avon replied stiffly. Kyl realised that he had the power to hurt his father, and for a moment he considered every cruel and hateful thing he could think of to say to him, but at the last minute, he didn't. Avon wasn't the type to do something he believed futile or to take emotional risks. Kyl may have been only fifteen, but he could understand that. He couldn't imagine being close to his father, but maybe they could deal with each other. There were a million questions Kyl wanted to ask him about computers. If he played his cards right, he could manage that much of a reconciliation. It was hard to give up his hate, but the fact that his father might be vulnerable helped a lot.

      "I don't have a father now, do I?" he retorted. "I can't go back to Roal, and I can't stay on this ship. Blake thinks I'm too young."

      "For once our fearless leader is right."

      "But I can stay on Ryalon," Kyl insisted. "And I'm going to. Maybe I should anyway. Roal might show up, and I'm the only one who knows what he looks like."

      "Orac can give us his picture. I will not have you exposed to a Federation agent."

      "Why not? Hardly out of concern for me."

      "Would it surprise you to learn that it was?"

      "Yes. It would."

      "Believe what you will," Avon returned as if it didn't matter.

      "You're the computer expert. I can't believe that you didn't even bother to look for me that way. Or was it just too much bother?"

      Avon finally looked him in the eye. "I went through every system I could access. It was as if you had ceased to exist. I believed her lover was powerful enough to reinstate you under a false identity. I didn't guess the Federation had you under such tight security. I should have done."

      "You really did look for me?" Kyl tried to hide his feelings at the thought

      Avon began to explain how. It was as if the technical problems involved were far easier to deal with than his feelings, and Kyl felt frustrated. He wanted his father to claim to be glad to see him, to admit he cared, but he didn't think it likely. How did the doctor put up with him? Why did he like him? Kyl wanted to like him; the more he talked to him, the more he wanted it. But Avon had built walls around himself and Kyl couldn't get past them. He didn't see why he should have to do all the work either. Avon owed him more than that.

      "I did look for you," Avon concluded. "Obviously in the wrong places." He glanced over at Hugh. "How long will the deprogramming continue?"

      "Another two hours, and then after a 24-hour rest period, we'll give it another four hours. That should do it."

      "Will he need to be guarded during the interval? Orac?"

      "It will be unnecessary, Avon," Orac returned. "When this session is finished, only the remnants of programming will remain. Without specific triggers, he will not act, and by the time I finish today, I will know what those triggers are and what to avoid. I will inform the crew of them. It will then be possible to release him from restraints."

      "Will you show me the ship then?" Kyl asked eagerly. "I'd like to see more of it. Have you built a teleport? I accessed the Federation project and tried to sense of it, but I couldn't."

      "Neither could they," Avon replied. "As for the tour of the ship, I believe you should wait until the programming has been completely eradicated."

      Kyl nodded reluctantly. "Will you show it to me then?"

      "Well now, anyone could do that."

      Kyl took a deep breath. "I don't want just anyone to do it. I want you to do it."

      "Because I am skilled with computers, no doubt."

      "What do you want me to say? I want you to do it because you're my father. And because you will know enough to answer my questions."

      "We will see," Avon temporised, heading for the door.

      "Avon?"

      He stopped and turned back.

      "I - may I call you 'father'?"

      Avon looked disconcerted, but finally he replied, "If you so choose." Then he departed before Kyl could do so.

      Kyl shook his head in helpless exasperation. "Why do you like him so much?" he asked the doctor.

      Hugh grimaced. "Damned if I know." Then he shook his head. "There's more to him than meets the eye. I didn't guess who you were until now, but I think one of the reasons he's the way he is is because of you and your mother. You probably couldn't see it, but he was glad to find you. He won't let it show right away, but if you persist, he'll probably come around. I'm told he's better than he used to be."

      "It's a good thing we didn't meet before then," Kyl replied. "I'm kind of outspoken."

      "So is he," Hugh replied grinning. "So is he."

      

      

Because Avon was reluctant to expose the ship to Kyl before deprogramming and because Blake felt it unfair to keep him confined in the medical unit, he suggested that he and Avon give Kyl a tour of the base instead. Cally offered to come too, and Avon hesitated. Blake could see him wondering about Cally's reaction to his son, but she would have to know eventually, so he nodded abruptly. "You had better tell Cally of Kyl's background," he said as he went to fetch him. Though Blake was sure the news would come better from Avon, he realised how difficult that might be for him, so while Avon was gone, he filled Cally in. She seemed unsurprised, but Cally could wear an inscrutable face sometimes, and the news did not seem to disturb her.

      It proved to be the other way around.

      When Avon and Kyl returned, trailed by Vila, Blake introduced Kyl to Cally. The boy studied her intently, turned to Avon, then looked at her again. Cally made no overt gesture toward Avon, retaining her distance and her poise, but when Kyl stared at her, she coloured slightly. Avon watched her too, and though he was the last person to be comfortable with overt displays of affection, he stopped beside her and touched her arm. Blake thought he'd done it to show Kyl that a relationship existed between them rather than to shock the boy. But it was now Kyl's turn to flush. He shot a look of hostility at Cally, who managed to remain unmoved, at least on the surface.

      At the last minute, Vila offered to come too. Avon grimaced at the idea. "Won't we look charming parading through the base in a party as if queuing up for something."

      "Well, I can come if I want to," Vila defended himself, and he would not be budged from his plan, though Avon glared at him. He'd learned of late that the difference between Avon's bark and his bite had grown, and he took more chances with him than he had in the past. Blake wondered if that was wise this time, since Avon was so touchy about Kyl, but when Vila dropped into step with Kyl, cast a knowing look at the others and said, "I can tell you lots of interesting stories about your father if you'd like. Did you know we once broke the bank at the Big Wheel on Freedom City? We won ten million credits too," Blake grinned and relaxed.

      Kyl's jaw dropped. But Blake was even more curious, wondering how Vila had known who Kyl was. Knowing Vila, he had eavesdropped for all he was worth, but Blake suspected he'd known the first time he'd seen him. Had Avon actually told Vila of his son? The resemblance was not very strong. How had Vila guessed?

      "You did?" Kyl plainly found the idea of his father gambling unlikely. Avon smiled suddenly. "We used Orac," he replied. "I doubt Blake knows how we managed it, even today."

      "You used a controlled implosion and reduced Orac's size so he could be smuggled into the casino," Blake replied. "I wasn't totally ignorant even then, Avon." He laughed. "I wish I'd seen it. You and Vila were so defensive afterwards I knew you'd done something you didn't want me to know about, so I asked Orac as soon as you left. I knew if you had time with Orac, you'd instruct him not to tell me."

      "You mean you knew all along?" Vila asked in dismay.

      "Yes. I was angry with you then; if we'd needed to come up in a hurry, we might have been in trouble. But now I can enjoy it. I wish I'd seen you playing speed chess, Vila."

      "Vila is very good at chess," Cally defended the thief. "I have often played with him, and he frequently wins. Sometimes he defeats Avon too."

      "He cheats," Avon returned promptly.

      "You never caught me cheating," Vila returned. "Do you play chess, Kyl?"

      "Yes. I was champion of my school, and I competed at world level, but I lost in the finals. Will you play chess with me?" he asked Avon.

      "I might."

      "I'll come along and watch," Vila offered cheerfully. "Avon must cheat. He's not flexible enough to win so much."

      "Perhaps I compensate with my superior skill," Avon suggested.

      Kyl stared at his father, realised he was actually teasing Vila, and grinned broadly. Suddenly Blake was very glad Vila had decided to accompany them.

      Ryalon's main city was called Ryalon too, a rebel stronghold where Blake and his people could walk about safely with no risk of Federation interference. Blake liked visiting here. He was a familiar sight by now, and people actually took him for granted, so eager eyes did not follow his every move. Having a home base like this and several planets working together was his dream, and Blake was never happier than when he came to this city, a free city on a free world, where people went about their business without fear. He'd noticed that even Avon seemed more comfortable in Ryalon, though Avon seldom dropped his guard completely, even here. Sometimes he did on Jabberwocky with Blake himself, Cally, Vila or even Hugh. But the rest of the time, he maintained at least a portion of his defences. It was probably for the best because Avon's wariness had saved them on more than one occasion.

      Now Avon looked around carefully, judging the crowd, letting his instincts protect him even as he sparred with Vila, stopped at an open market stall and bought Cally a flower and even once offered Kyl his teleport bracelet to inspect. Kyl was unbending too, Blake realised. Vila had a knack of making Avon loosen up, and when Avon was relaxed, he was a lot better company. Watching Kyl laugh at something Avon said, Blake hoped that father and son could make peace with each other.

      Blake entered the open air market. Ryalon was a fertile world that grew enough food to sustain itself and its sister planets, but non-food items came in trade, and a large central bazaar had been set up near the port area, where merchants and traders and smugglers hawked their wares. Some merchants displayed their goods on trestle tables, others had elaborate shops, still others sold directly from their ships. One could buy anything in the Ryalon market, from old-fashioned bound books to government secrets, from computer components to hand-crafted jewellery, from illicit drugs to braided rugs. Blake found it fascinating and never tired of coming here.

      Kyl was impressed. He fell in love with a tiny miniature computer that would fit in his pocket and bargained enthusiastically with the seller to reduce the price, though Blake doubted he had enough money. Avon stood back watching him, and no one else would have seen the contentment lurking at the back of his eyes. Blake realised Avon was beginning to like Kyl, and he was sure of it when Kyl dug in his pockets to produce his credit chits and came up short only to have Avon step in and offer to pay the difference. Kyl stiffened and vowed to pay him back. Avon nodded smoothly. "When it's convenient." At that, Kyl relaxed again and pocketed his new toy, glowing with enthusiasm. In some ways, Kyl was like Avon, and he was still wary, though he hadn't had as many years as Avon had to perfect his stand-offishness.

      When he got a chance, Blake asked Vila, "How did you know who Kyl was?"

      "I knew Avon had a son someplace. I read his file once. He doesn't know I did. When I came in, they were standing next to each other and they turned to look at me. Even though Kyl's eyes are lighter, they're exactly like Avon's, and so's the way he lifts his chin and stares down his nose at people. It was like looking at Avon in a mirror. Apart they don't look so much alike, but together they do. Besides, Blake, I'm an observant sort, always noticing things people would rather I didn't. It's how I get by."

      "Do the others know?"

      "Hugh does. I think he was there and saw them together. And you know, I think Tarrant might've guessed."

      "Tarrant? He's the last person I'd expect to notice."

      "I don't know, Blake. He's linked with Jabberwocky and Jabberwocky knows. I'm not saying he'd come out and tell Tarrant, but he might give him a hint or two. Vila pointed past Blake. "Look at them, will you. Avon can be a softie sometimes. Don't tell him I said that," he added hastily. "He'd kill me."

      Blake chuckled as he turned to watch Avon point something out to Kyl and Cally, who were listening with interest. As Avon finished speaking, Kyl glanced at Cally hesitantly, this time without hostility. She met his gaze with a faint smile and took Avon's arm naturally as they strolled on. Kyl's eyes narrowed, but there was no resentment in them, only wariness.

      If Blake hadn't been watching Kyl, he wouldn't have seen what happened next, and he might not have been able to act in time. Kyl's eyes drifted past Avon and Cally, and suddenly he stiffened as if he'd been struck in the face. Blake turned unsure of what to look for and he saw nothing at first, then he noticed a man watching Kyl. He was a big, bulky fellow with dark hair worn long, and a full sleeved-shirt of the type that Blake himself favoured. He had a gun on his hip, which wasn't unusual. Blake and Avon were both armed: Avon because he rarely left the ship without a weapon and Blake because Avon was so insistent he do so that he complied to avoid an argument. Having come so close to killing Blake on Gauda Prime, Avon was determined to ensure that no one else had the same chance. Blake, as one of the resistance leaders, was a legitimate target for every bounty hunter and Federation agent in the Inner and Outer Worlds. But this man was surely not a Federation agent because he was with Myles, Avalon's second, and Myles was chatting to him in a friendly manner, pointing out something about the layout of the streets, catching the man's arm to check him when a ground-car went past in front of him. The big man said something innocuous to Myles that caused him to drop his arm and grin before turning to greet a shopkeeper he knew.

      The dark-haired man's eyes had never left Kyl, but now they passed him and came to rest on Avon, and Blake knew who he was looking at without even turning. He tensed and dropped his hand toward his gun, grateful now that Avon had insisted he wear it.

      But the big man was incredibly fast, and before Blake could move, his gun had cleared the holster and aimed at Avon. Kyl screamed, "NO!" at the top of his lungs and flung himself at his father to shove him out of the way. At the shout, Cally went for her own gun, and Vila started to dart forward.

      Kyl hit Avon a fraction of a second before the laser bolt did, and the impetus of his shove shifted Avon, but not enough to prevent him from being hit. He uttered a choked cry of pain and went down with Kyl on top of him an instant before Blake and Cally fired as one. The dark-haired man toppled over, with Myles goggling at him in stunned disbelief. People shrieked and sought shelter.

      Kyl struggled up, shivering. "Father?" His voice quivered. "Did he get you?"

      Vila knelt at Avon's side as Blake and Cally ran forward to make sure the would-be assassin was no more threat. He was alive; both of them had shot to stop him, but he wasn't dead, though he didn't look like he would survive much longer. Blake hoped he would live long enough to explain who he was and who had sent him.

      "See to him," Blake ordered Myles and returned to Avon, Cally at his side. Vila looked up, his face white and worried. "I think we better get him back to the ship, Blake. Cally, tell Hugh to get ready."

      "How bad is it, Vila?" Blake demanded urgently, kneeling beside the thief as Cally shut her eyes and sent a telepathic message to Hugh. Avon's face was whiter than Vila's, and the wound was in his chest. It looked messy, but Avon was still breathing. The rough sound of each in-drawn breath was the loudest sound around until the gathering crowd broke free of their hypnosis and began muttering and exclaiming.

      "I'm sorry," cried Kyl. "Blake, I'm sorry. It was Roal. I didn't know he'd come here. He must've guessed I wasn't programmed any more. I'm sorry."

      "Sorry?" echoed Vila. "If you hadn't given him a shove, this could have got him in the heart."

      "But I wasn't quick enough. I froze. When I saw Roal with Myles, I couldn't believe it. I stood there staring, and I should've done something."

      "You did do something," Blake assured him as he lifted his teleport bracelet. "You saved his life."

      "Will he live?" Kyl asked carefully.

      "He's got a chance," Vila said in a shaky voice. "That's more'n he would've had if you hadn't pushed him. Avon's tough. Too tough to die." He didn't look convinced.

      "Kyl, you're not wearing a bracelet," Blake observed. "Give him yours, Vila."

      Vila looked like he meant to protest, but he must have seen the anguish in Kyl's eyes for he stripped it off and passed it to the boy. It would be quicker to teleport, and from the feel of Avon's pulse under Blake's fingers, he was strong enough to stand it - just. As soon as Kyl had the bracelet round his wrist, Blake said, "Teleport now, Orac," and they were back on the ship. Dayna and Jenna, alerted by Jabberwocky, were waiting with a med table, and they put Avon on it and rushed him to the medical unit where Hugh was waiting.

      

      

As soon as the others vanished, Vila pushed himself to his feet and went over to Myles and the injured man. "Is he dead?" he asked hopefully, unsurprised to find himself so bloodthirsty.

      Myles was an affable sort who liked to match Vila drink for drink at their favourite tavern, but he looked fierce and stricken now. "What the hell happened, Vila?" he demanded. "This is Seth Link. He's got impeccable credentials. He comes from Albian."

      "His name's really Roal Bendik, and he's a Federation agent," Vila corrected. "Isn't that right?" he asked the barely conscious man, prodding him with his toe.

      "I owe you nothing, scum," the man snarled at Vila.

      "You tried to kill a friend of mine," Vila said. "That makes it my business. You sent Kyl here, probably to kill Avon, but when you saw us today, you knew we'd found out the boy was programmed. Isn't that right, double agent? You're a fine one to call me scum, using a fifteen-year-old boy against his own father."

      "Avon's a wanted criminal. I was sent to take him out because we can get the mindship easier with him out of the way."

      "Nonsense," Myles cut in. "Killing Avon won't give you the mindship. You wanted him dead, yes, but it was either for a reward or a personal reason."

      "That's it, isn't it?" Vila demanded. "Those aren't your orders, are they, to kill Avon? Kyl was supposed to help you get the mindship, wasn't he? Why kill Avon?"

      "None of your damned business," Bendik replied, coughing painfully. A trace of blood touched the comer of his mouth. He was dying, Vila realised.

      Bendik must have known it too. "The boy was mine," he ground out, suddenly forcing himself up on one elbow. "I had him four years, always waiting, always knowing he could be used against his father. He hated his father. I was to see that he did, so when the time was right, he could get me onto the ship. I could have taken you, especially when you got the Mark 60. I know more about it than any of you."

      "Then why try to kill Avon in the street?" Myles prompted.

      "I saw him... with Kyl, laughing with him, and Kyl was hanging on his every word... The boy's mine. I had him four years. I love him. I wasn't going to lose him to a damn traitor. If Avon was dead I could have Kyl back and it would be easy to take the ship because Kyl didn't know I was... Federation."

      "He'd know if he saw you shoot Avon," Vila observed. This was all mixed up. He'd gone against a long-standing plan for a personal motive. He'd let himself become too fond of Kyl. He'd forgotten his duty because of him, and he'd ruined the Federation's plans, at least this time. If he would have got away, the Federation would probably have thrown him in jail forever.

      "You mean you shot Avon because he was taking your place with Kyl?" Vila echoed. "You threw it all away for that."

      "Anyone could take the mindship. But Kyl was mine."

      He coughed again, and caught at Vila's arm with surprising strength, pulling himself up for a minute. "You're Vila Restal, aren't you? You see he does right by my boy. You see he does or..." He sagged back shaking as his body convulsed, then he slumped to the ground and lay still. Vila rubbed at his arm distastefully where Bendik had grabbed him and looked at the dead face, his lip curling. He'd never liked the sight of blood. "It's funny," he said hoarsely to Myles, who reached out and closed Bendik's eyes. "I thought I'd hate him. I probably will if Avon-" He bit that off quickly. "But I can't, quite. It wasn't because they wanted Jabberwocky back. He did it because he loved Kyl in spite of it just being his duty." Vila shook his head. "This will be hard on Kyl." He rose. "I've got to get back to the ship. You better tell Avalon. If he's here for his damned plot, there might be others. Check the ship he came in on and other ships that came about the same time." He edged away a little further. "I've got to go," he said again, then he turned and ran all the way back to Jabberwocky.

      Kyl sat uneasily at his father's bedside in the medical unit. Except for Hugh who was dozing on the next bed, he was alone, and Kyl thought it was Blake's idea. Blake was smart really. He knew Kyl had very mixed feelings for his father. He wanted to love him and he wanted Avon to care in return. Avon had lowered his guard a little, but not as much as Kyl wanted him to. Kyl had seen a different man in the marketplace, and he wondered if Avon might not like him after all.

      What amazed him even more was the concern the crew showed for him. Waiting with Blake and Cally while Hugh performed the surgery, Kyl couldn't help but realise how much his father mattered to Blake. That was part of the legend, the friendship of those two, though he'd seen little evidence of it. Avon had often spoken to Blake in a patronising tone, making sarcastic digs, but only as they waited to hear if Avon would live did it dawn on Kyl that Blake had never seemed hurt by Avon's remarks. Maybe it was just a fašade, to keep the world away. If so, it hadn't worked with Blake or Cally either, because when Hugh came to tell them Avon would live, Kyl had seen tremendous relief in their faces.

      He knew Hugh liked his father and Vila did too, and now he understood how much Blake and Cally did. Kyl had expected nothing like that from Tarrant or Jenna, but Tarrant came by as often as the others did, poking his head into the medical unit to ask Hugh how Avon was managing, and he didn't need to, for Jabberwocky would have given him reports. Even Jenna came to see how Avon was, and Kyl was pretty sure they didn't get on at all. The last crew member, Dayna, who didn't look that much older than Kyl, came too. Kyl would have liked to talk to her, but this wasn't the time.

      Even more surprisingly, Avalon and a few other people from the base checked in with Hugh on Avon's progress, and as Avon gradually improved and consciousness neared, Kyl could hear their relief over the speaker.

      Blast them all, why did they like the man?

      Yet, Kyl had seen traces of a more likeable person as Avon sparred with Vila in the marketplace, as he talked to Kyl of Ryalon's background. Cally had spoken to Kyl once when she came in to look at Avon. She had stood beside him, resting her hand on his arm, and for the first time Kyl had felt her telepathy. //You must not expect too much at first,// she cautioned him. //Just take Avon as he is. He is slow to trust, but I believe you matter to him very much.//

      Then before he could turn to look at her in surprise, she ghosted away, leaving him looking after her in astonishment.

      The rest of his deprogramming was finished before Avon began to show signs of awakening, and Kyl watched as Hugh roused himself to run a diagnostic scan. "He'll be waking up any time now," the doctor informed him. "He'll be weak at first. Whatever you do, try not to upset him."

      Kyl looked at Hugh blankly. "I upset him just being here. Maybe it should be Blake or Cally waiting."

      "We can't all be here, and I think you and Avon have something to resolve."

      "You mean that I didn't push him away in time?"

      Hugh looked startled. "No," he denied violently. "You saved his life, Kyl. Remember that. You reacted to seeing Roal. We hadn't finished the de-conditioning then. That's why you hesitated, that and the fact that you're human. Surprise is a normal reaction."

      Kyl gaped at him, feeling a weight lift off his chest. "Still programmed?" he echoed dumbly.

      "To react to certain triggers. That's gone now, but seeing him might have been one of the triggers. You saved your father in spite of it."

      Kyl turned back to Avon quickly, conscious of a sudden and embarrassing moisture in his eyes. He wouldn't cry. He knew better; his father wouldn't want him to. None of the others had cried. He wouldn't either. Blinking furiously, he stared at his father, and it was some time before he noticed that Avon's eyes were open and that he was staring back.

      "What... happened?" Avon managed to ask.

      Kyl felt Hugh's hand on his shoulder. "The boy's guardian tried to kill you," he explained quickly as if he suspected Kyl's voice would betray him. "Kyl saw him in time and shoved you out of the way."

      "Obviously not... completely."

      "Enough to save your life."

      Avon digested that in silence, his face giving nothing away. Then he said, "You weren't hurt?" and it took Kyl a moment to realise that the question was meant for him.

      "No, I'm all right." Then, flushing a little, he added, "As long as you are."

      Avon was too weak to move much, but one eyebrow lifted and a flash of cynical scepticism showed in his eyes. "Indeed?"

      "Yes," uttered Kyl defiantly. He dropped his eyes and said to the edge of the bed, "The others were worried about you. So maybe I was wrong."

      "Presumably... that makes some kind of sense to you?"

      "It even makes sense to me," Hugh said naturally. "In your usual style, you scared him, Avon. He didn't know how to take you, and small wonder. But he watched us worrying about you and decided we wouldn't have bothered if you were what you'd tried to make him think you were. You owe him your life. He had to resist the remnants of his programming to do it. Stop acting like you blame him for disappearing from your life. It'll take you both time to get used to each other, but there's no need to make it difficult."

      To Kyl's surprise, Avon took that without protest. He was probably too weak to argue, the boy reasoned, then, to his astonishment, a faint smile touched Avon's lips. "Remind me... never to get shot again," he murmured.

      Hugh quirked an eyebrow at him by way of a question.

      "Gives you... unfair advantage," Avon explained tiredly. "I... don't know why... we keep you on the ship."

      His eyelids dropped.

      Hugh patted him on the shoulder. "I've no idea," he said. "Get some sleep."

      When Avon was sleeping, Hugh dropped an arm around Kyl's shoulders. "Come on, I think you could do with some sleep too. The only reason you haven't collapsed is because you've got youth on your side. Ageing types like me need it more than you do. I'll have Cally sit with him. Let's go tell them he's been awake, then it's bed for you."

      Kyl let the doctor steer him through the door. "How do you know so much?" he asked accusingly.

      "Jabberwocky tells me secrets," Hugh said lightly

      Kyl eyed him doubtfully. But the doctor was right about one thing. He was tired. Yawning, he followed Hugh from the room.

      

      

"What do you plan to do with me now?" Kyl asked. It was three days later and he'd remained on the ship all that time, visiting his father every day as Avon gained strength. Though he was still slightly formal around Kyl, he wasn't pushing him away any longer, and Kyl could accept his stiffness. He was that way himself. What really surprised him was that he was actually more comfortable with Avon than he'd expected to be. His father was not emotional with him, and quite often he would say something deliberately off-putting, but Kyl discovered that if he responded cheerfully in kind, Avon would be amused and they'd get on better. The man was a puzzle, but Kyl was coming to like him.

      They were all gathered on the flight deck; it was Avon's first trip out of the medical unit, and he sat propped up on the couch by the drinks dispenser, looking tired. Hugh was hovering, and Kyl suspected Avon would be ordered to bed soon. That should prove interesting. Vila was playing a game that looked like 'Ship and Asteroids' on one of the small screens, but he was watching the others.

      "You can't come on missions with us," Blake said. "You're too young. But when we're here in port, you're welcome to stay on board. You can keep the cabin you've been using."

      "Avalon has found a family for you to stay with while we're away," Cally explained. "They have a son your age."

      Avon nodded in response to Kyl's questioning look. "Is that satisfactory?" he asked.

      "It's fine."

      "Did Orac ever make sense of the plot?" Tarrant asked, sprawling comfortably in the pilot's seat, though he wasn't needed there while they were on the surface. Jenna, sitting in Cally's usual position, shot him a mildly resentful glance.

      "There were several of them," Blake responded. "The first one we know of caused Kyl's mother to be taken." He slanted a look at Avon, who was staring musingly into a glass of adrenalin and soma that Vila had given him with instructions to drink it down because it was good for him. Blake had hidden a smile at Avon's outrage.

      "The Federation hoped to get to the leaders through her," Blake went on. "They wanted no fuss, so they convinced Avon she had simply left him. As near as we can tell Arda knew very little, only one or two names. They couldn't have learned much more than that from her.

      "Afterwards, they kept Kyl for a time, hoping to learn things from him, but as he grew old enough to be useful, they found he really knew nothing. By that time, they were aware of Avon's computer gifts, so they trained Kyl, hoping for a useful tool.

      "But it wasn't until Avon escaped from the London and we found Liberator that there was any real plan against him specifically. It was more of a contingency plan than anything, until we took the mindship, but its purpose was always to capture Avon, using his son. Kyl was placed in Bendik's hands. He was in deep cover as a supposed resister. He was also good with computers. It was intended that should the opportunity arise, Kyl and Roal would contact Avon, and Roal would take Liberator.

      "But we don't have Liberator any more," objected Dayna.

      "True. But once we took Jabberwocky, it became more urgent for the Federation to stop us. They wanted the mindship back."

      "Do you blame them?" Jabberwocky asked. "They're always after me. It gets annoying."

      Avon grimaced at Jabberwocky's display before returning to his drink.

      "By that time, the plot had begun to skew," Blake continued. "Bendik had had Kyl for four years and he'd let himself get involved. By the time Kyl was sent here, Bendik cared more for Kyl than he did for his duty. So he followed Kyl here, and when he saw Kyl and Avon together, he couldn't take it. He tried to kill Avon."

      Kyl hung his head. He'd cared for Roal too. It hurt to think that Roal was dead because of him, even if Roal had lied to him from the beginning.

      "It was hardly your fault," Avon told his son. "He chose his actions. The plot failed and the Federation doesn't have the bait any more." He glanced at Blake. "At least this shows no signs of Servalan's handiwork."

      "Surely she would have had access to all this," Jenna objected.

      "Orac could find nothing in the files about Kyl's real parents. Avon's file said he had a son, but it didn't name him or report his location. I'm sure she looked for him," Blake replied. "But for once, Federation security acted against her."

      Hugh stood up, peering at Avon closely. "Time's up, Avon. I want you back in bed now."

      "I see no need to return to the medical unit," Avon demurred, trying to sit up a little straighter.

      "What I wouldn't give for just one person on this ship who was a good patient," Hugh complained without rancour. "Now, Avon."

      Tarrant grinned broadly. "Yes, Avon," he purred, "Do what the doctor orders."

      "You will take one too many chances someday," Avon threatened Tarrant.

      "Will I?" Tarrant's teeth flashed in a grin.

      "Kyl," suggested Hugh, "Why don't you walk your father back to the medical unit?"

      Kyl hesitated then rose. "All right. Come along, Father."

      Avon glared at him. "Now you're trying to tell me what to do?"

      "Someone must," he defended himself.

      Avon got up carefully, and Kyl suspected he was holding himself upright with willpower alone. "Very well," he said. "But only to escape the tedious company on the flight deck."

      Kyl fell into step with him, resisting the urge to take his father's arm. "Then why complain about going?"

      When Avon faced him, Kyl realised they were of a height. "I have my reputation to uphold," Avon explained as they left. "Don't ask questions like a troublesome child."

      "I am a troublesome child," Kyl returned, concealing his happiness. "What else would you expect?"

      "I admit I should be quite disappointed if you backed down whenever I frowned."

      "That often?" Kyl pretended astonishment. "I'd get a crick in my back."

      Avon burst out laughing.

      


Rate This Story: Feedback to
Sheila Paulson

Selection Library Help

Back to B7 Top