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Jabberwocky - Part 7 - Clone

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.

Part 6 - Kyl

A teenager comes to Ryalon to join the resistance and causes a great deal of trouble inadvertently when he encounters the crew of the Jabberwocky. Concealing his true identity, he is torn between a desire to become a member of the resistance and the need to confront his long-lost father - Avon. Kyl proves to be programmed, part of a long-standing plot to get Avon, but Orac is able to deprogram him, and the plot is thwarted when Kyl's former guardian arrives and nearly kills Avon. Kyl and his father make wary peace.


Clone

It was quiet on the flight deck. Del Tarrant sat there alone, feeling peaceful and content, dreaming of nothing in particular. It had taken him time to recover from the violent separation from Jabberwocky during the mission to Serna, and there was still some uneasiness about the chance of a repeat performance lurking at the back of Tarrant's mind.

      Dayna had been getting at him about it only that morning. "It may be your link, Tarrant, but you don't own Jabberwocky, you know."

      "I never claimed to. You never liked the link, Dayna. What's wrong, are you jealous?"

      "Of a machine?" She shook her head impatiently. "You've missed the point, as usual. Avon makes sarcastic remarks about your lack of intelligence, and he may be right. You're paranoid, Tarrant, thinking we want to take Jabberwocky away from you."

      "With you first in line?" he smiled mockingly. "That's it, isn't it, Dayna?"

      "No!" she burst out. "I don't mind the group link. I rather like it. It's the one time we see each other at our best. But some people take power badly."

      "Me, for instance? What have I done, Dayna?"

      "I can guess how traumatic it was to lose the link over Serna, and I know you miss Soolin. We all do."

      "She'll be back," insisted Tarrant, adding irrelevantly, "Jabberwocky likes her."

      "So do I, but it's not the point."

      "Then make your point, Dayna."

      "All right. Lately you've been watching us as if we were enemies, out to steal Jabberwocky from you. You ought to know we can't unless you and Jabberwocky agree to it."

      "Yes," he answered smugly. "None of you can."

      "Then it's time you started trusting us again. I know Serna was a setback for all of us, but we're learning to trust each other again, even Avon. He may not trust Soolin yet, but he will. I never thought he'd do so well."

      "Maybe finding his son helped," suggested Tarrant, relieved to turn the subject away from himself. He didn't understand why women developed protective impulses toward Avon; Tarrant couldn't imagine anyone less in need of protection. But if Dayna wanted to talk about him instead of complaining about Tarrant's possessiveness toward his link-mate, that suited him.

      "I think it did," Dayna replied.

      "Of course it did." Jabberwocky entered the conversation. "What else would you expect? Kyl's a fine boy. I like him. He'll do Avon no end of good, and watching the process will be fun. Everybody needs someone to love, even Avon."

      "True," agreed Dayna, "but Avon has Cally, after all, and Blake, in a different way, and-"

      "Family's special," Jabberwocky contradicted her. "And you know it, Dayna. Why are you picking on Del? He hasn't hurt you."

      "I thought it was for his own good," she responded tartly.

      "Don't be upset, Dayna. We've had too much suspicion already. We don't have to worry about that any more, but I think we're entitled to a grace period. Humans take longer to recover than machines, and I should know, since I've been both. Del may be paranoid - sorry, Del, but you are. But so am I. I don't like being cut off from Del any more than he liked being cut off from me. Give us time to adjust, there's a good girl, Dayna."

      She relaxed. "All right. Maybe I expected too much. I miss Soolin too, Let's go see her tomorrow, Del."

      Tarrant grinned. Her use of his first name meant she had decided to forgive him. "If Blake doesn't drag us off after IMIPAK," he reminded her. "Now Avon's fit and Kyl's got a place to live, nothing's holding Blake back, and you know how he feels about the threat of that weapon."

      "Avalon thinks it's too risky, remember? She and Blake don't agree about it."

      "If Servalan goes after IMIPAK, we won't be the only ones in danger," insisted Tarrant. "Blake's thinking about that, and I agree with him."

      Remembering that conversation now, Tarrant frowned. After losing the link, it was more valuable to him than ever, but the more he thought about it, the more he wondered. Jabberwocky was always in the back of his mind, responsive at the merest thought, but recently something was different. It was subtle, something he hadn't noticed before, but it was real. Jabberwocky almost seemed absent-minded lately. At times, Tarrant felt a barrier between them that he couldn't penetrate but there was nothing concrete, just a feeling. He couldn't go to Blake with a feeling. Ship's functions proceeded smoothly. Everything worked. Blake had run drills in link-mode and no problems had arisen. Hugh still did occasional counselling with Jabberwocky about his returned memories, but Jabberwocky was normal now.

      Tarrant frowned. //Jabberwocky?//

      //Way ahead of you, Del. There aren't any real problems. We're going through a phase, I think. You want more attention because of what you went through. It's only natural.//

      //So it's all me.// For the first time, Tarrant was resentful of his link-mate.

      //No, of course not. It was worse for you. I could still communicate, even if I had to print it out on the screen.//

      //Apparently. I'm sorry to take so much of your valuable time.//

      //Del, no. I didn't meant that.// Suddenly Tarrant felt comforted and soothed by the love and reassurance Jabberwocky broadcasted at him. It felt wonderful.

      But a portion of his mind still protested faintly that it was too little, too late.

      

      

"Are you certain about this, Blake?" Avon asked in disgust, glancing around the flight deck as if seeking support from the others.

      "Yes, Avon, very certain. I've said it before and nothing has changed. I can't leave IMIPAK for Servalan."

      "You have no reason to believe she will take the risk, Blake," Avon reminded him. "She's left it until now. She values her elegant hide too much to chance it unless she has discovered a way to cancel the molecular instability the projector induces. If there had been a way to do that, Orac would have discovered it. It has been searching at my command since the incident."

      "True, Avon. But since Servalan has been reminded of IMIPAK, I can't ignore it. What of the rest of you? You were willing to come to Serna for it."

      "That was when we thought IMIPAK would be used by the Federation," Jenna reminded him. "In the long run, it would have been more risk not to go."

      "I see Blake has managed to corrupt you thoroughly," Avon accused. "Is no risk too great for you if your fearless leader commands it?"

      "I don't take commands," snapped Jenna. "And I seem to remember you going down to Serna too."

      "The threat of IMIPAK is very real," Cally put in from her place at Avon's side. "It must be destroyed. I am willing to go, Blake. But you and Avon should remain behind and let the rest of us handle it. It's suicidal to risk the two of you."

      "I could stay and keep Avon and Blake company," Vila offered automatically.

      "What? Afraid, Vila?" Dayna asked him. "I thought your recent bravery was a fluke."

      "I noticed no such bravery," observed Avon, but Blake saw a quickly suppressed twinkle of amusement in his eyes.

      "Going for IMIPAK doesn't require bravery," retorted Vila, strolling nonchalantly toward the drinks dispenser. "It takes lunacy."

      "Exactly," Avon agreed. "And drinking won't help."

      "Who said I was going to drink?" Vila programmed the machine for coffee and began to pass the cups around, saving his for last. Blake wondered if he'd convinced Jabberwocky to throw in a shot of soma.

      Blake returned to the subject at hand. "I see everyone's point about IMIPAK, but I have another reason to go."

      "Stupidity," muttered Avon under his breath.

      "Probably," Blake conceded with a slight bow to Avon. "But I was thinking of the clone. I owe him something after all."

      "I don't understand why," Avon insisted. "From Orac's data, he is a copy, not constructed of your genetic material. If you choose to read obligation into the fact that he was designed to look like you, that is your problem and should scarcely involve the rest of us."

      "I never claimed it did. Whether he's technically my clone or not doesn't alter the fact he was created in my image to be used against me. IMIPAK isn't the only weapon the Federation can use against us there. Suppose they reclaimed him. He could do a great deal of damage."

Hugh

      "True," put in Hugh. "But the rest of us can deal with him. Let us go in your place, Blake."

      "He was never good at that," Avon pointed out. "I must give him that much. Most of the time he's faced trouble with us - after getting us into it in the first place. Give up, Hugh. It's as effective as arguing with the force wall."

      "Or with you," Hugh grinned. Good-natured and open, Hugh seemed to enjoy Avon, opposites attracting perhaps, Interesting how well the cynical computer tech tolerated him in return.

      "Then it's settled?" asked Tarrant with a wry grin.

      "All but Avon," replied Blake. "You should stay behind, Avon. Spend time with Kyl. Let the rest of us handle it."

      "You would be well served if I did exactly that," Avon purred smoothly.

      "Why not?" asked Dayna, jumping into the discussion. "You know I'm best qualified to deal with IMIPAK. Stay where it's safe and let us do our jobs."

      "It's so nice to be wanted." He turned to Blake. "When do you leave - so I can be off the ship?"

      "In two hours."

      "That's cutting it fine. What is it, that you wish to be gone before Avalon finds out what you're planning?"

      "Avalon doesn't control my actions."

      "No?" Avon caught Blake's eye, then he stalked from the flight deck. In a few moments, Jabberwocky reported he had left the ship.

      Blake's feelings were mixed. He wanted Avon safe; Avon's safety had always mattered. But a part of him would have liked Avon to come in spite of the danger, and he was disappointed that Avon had chosen his own safety first.

      "I think we hurt his feelings," Hugh remarked into the silence.

      "Do we care?" That was Tarrant who cared more than he could admit and who sometimes seemed driven to prove he didn't.

      "It would be stupid for him to come," Jenna managed to sound slightly contemptuous. Blake knew she didn't much like Avon, but she had respected him. Now she sounded triumphant, and Blake was irked, as he occasionally was with the pair of them for putting him in the middle.

      Jenna was more prone to overt resentment than Avon, and sometimes she became slightly possessive, all the more because she sensed Avon had a stronger claim on Blake than she did. Cally, who shared a cautious and tentative intimacy with Avon could accept his undefined feelings for Blake, but Jenna lacked her calm control.

      "He's no coward, Jenna," Blake reminded her. "You might rather call me a fool for choosing to go."

      "Then why do it? You could leave it to us. Don't you trust us?"

      "It's not that. It's the clone. I can't resist the meeting. If there was a replica of you out there, you'd be curious too, wouldn't you?"

      "Not enough to risk my life."

      "We don't know how much risk it will be," Hugh intervened pacifically. "From what you've said about the incident, Blake's clone opposes the Federation. We just have to get there first."

      "You're an optimist," muttered Vila over the rim of his third cup of coffee.

      "Maybe," agreed Hugh. "It was the only position open."

      

      

Blake had been in his quarters long enough to take a quick shower when the buzzer sounded.

      Pulling on a clean shirt, he opened the door to Dayna, who looked upset.

      "What's wrong, Dayna?"

      "I'd like to talk to you, Blake. Could we leave the ship?"

      "Leave the ship? But we're ready to go."

      "I know, Blake, but it won't take long. I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important."

      There was concern in her eyes, so he agreed. He and Dayna strolled into the docking cradles.

      Once away from the ship, Dayna relaxed. "It's Tarrant," she admitted. "I didn't want to talk where Jabberwocky could hear us. Ever since Serna, Tarrant hasn't been quite himself."

      "I understand, Dayna," Blake reminded her. "I've been through a worse separation, and it's hard. Tarrant's strong enough to deal with it. He'll find his feet again soon."

      "That's what I thought at first, Blake, but instead he's getting worse. I know Tarrant better than you do, and I thought I could guess at his reactions but he's grown possessive of Jabberwocky. I know he always was, but that was just the pilot in him coming through. This is different. Look how he stalled us two days ago when you suggested a group linkage. He doesn't mind link-mode, but he wants the rest of us no closer than that."

      "Jabberwocky backed him, Dayna. He wanted a few more days to sort out the main link. We've done all our normal practice routines."

      "Should a few days really be necessary, Blake? When Witt pushed you out of the link, you were urging us into link-mode right away when you got it back."

      "True, but we were still learning how to use the ship and..." He broke off, considering. "Maybe you're right. That has nothing to do with it. Jabberwocky never said it was a bad idea. Maybe he's protecting Tarrant. Maybe the separation took him worse."

      "Worse then when Witt ejected you from the link?" she asked sceptically. "I've thought about it, Blake. Remember Jabberwocky's problems when he started remembering his past? He has a son out there somewhere. He and Tarrant were doing fine before Kyl arrived. If Jabberwocky is the problem, seeing Avon's son might have reminded him of his own. And that might make Tarrant slightly paranoid."

      "Too possessive? Tarrant's still young enough to have his insecurities, though he's best at the link."

      "Do people ever outgrow all their insecurities, Blake? And should his skill at linking be the only consideration?"

      "Jabberwocky makes people possessive, Dayna. I want him back myself, and I know Cally does too. If Tarrant thinks someone means to interfere with the link, it's natural for him to react like this. What concerns me more is your suggestion that Jabberwocky might have a problem. It's natural for him to think of his own son now. I'll ask Hugh to talk to him, or Avon can when we return. He hasn't had much chance to be a healer lately."

      "For which he's probably profoundly grateful," offered Dayna with a twinkle in her eyes.

      Blake chuckled. "Well, thanks, Dayna. I'll watch them both. You don't think it could endanger this mission?"

      "Well," she said slowly, "I don't think so. I think they'll both do their jobs."

      

      

They left on schedule, everyone on the flight deck, linking for departure, and Blake tried to sense problems in the link. But link-mode for ship functions involved control over everyone's individual stations, and it felt normal. When Ryalon was behind them and everyone pulled out of linkage, Blake had to confess that if Dayna hadn't spoken to him, he would have had nothing on which to base any suspicion. There was always the chance that Dayna was jealous of Jabberwocky. She was fond of Tarrant and might wish for a more intimate relationship only to be put off by the thought of the link. Blake might have said Tarrant was more interested in Soolin, but it was only speculation. Maybe Tarrant missed her, and Blake could only sympathise. He liked Soolin, too.

      Automatically he massaged his temples, though the link no longer gave him headaches unless it ran for protracted periods. Vila, of course, still insisted it was cause for adrenaline and soma but then Vila said everything was. But Vila never drank on missions or when he was on watch or responsible for something, though he didn't like that pointed out. Automatic reaction, Blake guessed. The old protective coloration. In his different way, Vila was as gifted at concealment as Avon.

      Blake assigned himself first watch. It would take almost a week to reach their destination, and he wanted everyone to settle to shipboard routine. Their last mission had been successful only in that they had all survived it, and he meant this one to go better. The suspicions aroused by the Serna mission had largely been banished by Soolin's voluntary exile. Blake hoped she would return, but it was probably best she stay away until the IMIPAK crisis was resolved. When they returned to Ryalon, Blake would go round and urge her to come back.

      He had been alone on the flight deck planning strategies with Orac and Jabberwocky for half an hour when he heard someone come in and looked up to see Avon just within the doorway. "Any progress, Blake?" he asked.

      Blake knew a moment of elation, though he didn't let it show. "Avon! You're not supposed to be here."

      "You do not control my actions, Blake," he returned stiffly. "Perhaps Jabberwocky failed to report my return to the ship."

      You probably instructed him to, thought Blake fondly. "He did. Do you think this is a good idea?"

      "No. I think it an utterly stupid one, but I also think you will take foolish risks without someone to rule against them. In any case, as long as the Federation does not reach the planet first, we should be able to neutralise IMIPAK's threat." He sat at his position.

      "When you left the ship, I thought you meant to stay away."

      "I felt it necessary to explain to Kyl that I would be gone." Avon avoided his eyes. Though still uncomfortable with Kyl, he and his son were progressing in their relationship. He busied himself with an instrument check before raising his eyes. "I should not make too much of my presence here if I were you, Blake."

      "I wouldn't dream of it, Avon." Blake was careful not to smile. Suddenly he was sure Avon had come out of loyalty, but he knew Avon would have his own admittable motives which would have nothing to do with his feelings. In the old days, Avon had seemed to believe his own pragmatic reasoning but of late the excuses had worn thin. Avon managed some cautious trust now, and the linkage had made it impossible for him to deny he cared, Blake knew - though they rarely spoke of it - that he was as important to Avon as Avon was to him. Avon had feelings for the others too, and suddenly Blake wondered if Avon had come along so he wouldn't have to face life alone should the others be killed or captured on the mission.

      "The rest of you lack the necessary skills to preserve this ship," Avon returned. "Without me, it could be destroyed."

      "Thank you, Avon," Jabberwocky said. "It's nice to be appreciated."

      "I was referring to the ship, not its personality."

      Jabberwocky chuckled. "Oh, I know, Avon. Someday, when you and I are linked, I shall remind you that you said that."

      "Someday?"

      "When you're ready. We'll have such fun. But first you must learn to have fun. It's not impossible. My father is not the type of man to hold back from something simply because it's a little risky."

      "I'm not your father and some risks are more worth taking than others."

      "Don't pick on him, Jabberwocky," Blake intervened, wondering what would happened if he clapped Avon on the shoulder in a comradely fashion, and deciding against it.

      Just as well; Tarrant arrived studying something on a clipboard, and at the last minute, he noticed Avon. "Well, what have we here?" he asked. "A stowaway?"

      Avon met his stare levelly. "You see a stowaway. I see a fool." His eyes examined Tarrant pointedly.

      Blake wondered what Tarrant would do. If Dayna was right about tensions between Tarrant and Jabberwocky, Tarrant might be touchier than usual, but he hadn't been as abrasive with Avon since Avon had helped save his life.

      Tarrant grinned. "Where?" he asked. "I don't see any mirrors about?"

      Avon quirked an eyebrow in acknowledgement of Tarrant's jibe. "I think I'll put Orac to work monitoring transmissions and signals to see if Servalan has an interest in our destination."

      Turning to Orac, he began to give instructions.

      Tarrant passed the clipboard to Blake. "I've a report on space pirates," he explained. "Not quite on our heading, but Avalon sent the message to make sure we were on guard."

      "Was she angry?" Blake noted Avalon had bypassed him.

      "Not really. Not surprised either. Cally contacted her once we'd left the system. Avalon said to wish you luck and that if you didn't come back she would personally come after you and rip your liver out."

      "I shall help her," Avon muttered without looking up.

      Blake grinned in Avon's direction before studying the message. "Pirates," he mused. "Not Amagons, I hope."

      "Pirates," Jabberwocky burst out. "I'd like to fight pirates. With this ship we could make mincemeat of them - whatever mincemeat is. It doesn't sound appetising, does it?"

      

      

Tensions on board were high as they headed into their third day, and Vila didn't like tensions. He cast a speculative eye around the flight deck as he entered, noting that while it was Tarrant's watch, a number of the crew had contrived to be there. Dayna was playing 'Ship and Asteroids' with predictable results; she did well at first but never made it all the way through, and when her ship was destroyed, she would mutter to herself, punch the reset button and start again. Hugh was peering over her shoulder, but his attention was really focused on Avon, who sat at the forward couch conferring with Orac in low tones while he fiddled with a laser probe and display board. Vila suspected he was listening to the argument between Tarrant and Jenna about a famous space battle. Each had a different opinion on the proper way it should have been fought. Vila didn't know enough battle strategy to guess who was right, but if someone didn't intervene, things would get out of hand.

      Deciding to break up the argument, even if it meant starting another one, he advanced with a grin. He was used to the others being irritated at him, and he could take it. So he came clumping onto the flight deck, which made everyone look up but Avon. Vila suspected he knew what Vila was about and that he refused to look up so that they wouldn't notice he was smiling.

      "I miss Soolin," said Vila loudly, which got Hugh's and Tarrant's instant attention. Tarrant had played at being half in love with Soolin and half with Dayna, but Hugh might well be in love with her, and Vila regretted his choice of distraction. "What about you, Del?" he persisted, knowing Tarrant would be annoyed at the use of his first name. "Do you miss her?"

      Dayna looked up sharply, her eyes pinning the hapless Tarrant with something like accusation, and the moment she turned away from the game, her ship was wiped out. It did nothing for her temper. Vila wondered how much she did like Tarrant. She'd been arguing with him in the teleport section only that morning. Vila rather enjoyed the thought of a promising romance.

      "I miss her," Hugh admitted as if he could read all the undercurrents and wanted to defuse Vila's time bomb before it could go off. "I think we should go round and ask her to come back when we get home."

      "You think so, do you?" Avon muttered.

      "Yes. Soolin's been cleared; she's not programmed now. If we're to talk of holding people back because of programming, then remember it was done to your son too." Hugh could fight back with the best of them.

      Dayna forgot her trifling irritation with Tarrant and turned to Hugh. "That's not fair." Dayna had always shown loyalty to Avon that had nothing to do with male-female bonding but with a different kind of respect, as if Avon were her chosen leader.

      "Oh, but it is, Dayna," Avon replied, looking up. "Hugh is always fair. You are arguing because it isn't pleasant but the truth seldom is. Very well. I withdraw my objection to Soolin, but not because of anything resembling sentiment. If Soolin has been cleared and vouched for by Orac, she has the option of returning."

      "She has the right to come back," Tarrant insisted. That was a mistake because Dayna glared at him.

      "I like Soolin," observed Jabberwocky, entering the conversation. "I was thinking it was time to have her back, but you've forgotten she didn't leave because of Avon's objections but because she chose not to risk us. A considerable achievement for someone who prefers not to care for people. Blake would be proud."

      "Blake would be proud," echoed Avon sourly. "Our fearless leader delights in manipulating people."

      "Including you, Avon?" Hugh countered.

      "Hardly."

      "Then why are you here?"

      "To protect my investment in this ship."

      "Thank you, Avon," said Jabberwocky with a noticeable smile in his voice.

      "We believe you, Avon," Tarrant said maliciously. "We really do."

      "I do," agreed Vila. "I've known Avon longer than you have. I know exactly what he means."

      Catching Avon's eye, he grinned broadly.

      Avon stared back impassively, but when he picked up the probe and panel again, he was clearly listening to the conversation instead of pretending disinterest.

      Vila would have continued this; it was rather fun, but then he noticed something on the screen and cried out. "Look at that!"

      By the time everyone turned, it was gone, and Avon favoured the thief with an impatient stare as if to say, 'what are you about now?' "I see nothing but a starfield, Vila. Surely there is nothing unusual in that. Or did you sleep through your years on Liberator?"

      "There was a ship." Vila burst out. "At the edge of detector range." He punched a few buttons on his console and an 'X' appeared on the screen. "There."

      "That's almost too far out for tracking," Tarrant remarked as he slid into his seat at the pilot's station, punching up data on his own screen. "Nothing's out there. Maybe it was a ghost image."

      "What about it, Jabberwocky?" asked Vila. "Play it back for us, there's a good computer. Show them I'm not imagining things."

      "Right." A recorded image, differing from the starfields only by the time insert in the bottom left corner, gave a playback of the last few minutes. The blip Vila had detected was not visible at all.

      "But I saw it," objected Vila. "It was right there."

      "I'm sorry, Vila, but I don't detect anything," Jabberwocky replied

      "That means you're missing something," Vila insisted. He was already beginning to wonder if he had imagined it but was reluctant to back down.

      Avon, always sceptical but suspicious with it, inserted Orac's key. "Orac, Vila is seeing ghosts at the edge of detector range. Check it and give us your report."

      Orac was silent for a moment then announced, "If a ship is there, it is beyond the range of ship's scanners and is not equipped with tarial cells."

      Vila could have sworn Orac was being difficult, but Avon only said, "If a ship comes within detector range, you will notify us immediately," and left the key in place. He turned to Vila. "Does that satisfy you?"

      It did. With both Orac and Jabberwocky alerted, it would be hard for a ship to sneak up on them. It might have been something passing by, touching the edge of their range for a moment. Then why didn't it show on the recording?

      Vila knew the others thought he'd imagined it. Most likely they thought it a product of too much adrenaline and soma, but Vila knew they were wrong. He hardly drank a drop these days, and then only to maintain his image, and he was certain Avon knew that. It was more fun to play games with the others, pretending he was sneaking a drink, making Blake believe he'd doctored his coffee for instance, than the actual act of drinking, but he wasn't about to admit it. Avon knew, but Avon had a way of knowing things. Avon had always been a lot more perceptive than you'd think, on the surface of it. Vila had rarely been able to pull anything over on him. Maybe Jabberwocky had snitched. He still called Avon 'Father' sometimes, after all. Probably knew old Avon pretty well from link mode."

      Between Jabberwocky and Orac, though, they were safe as houses, Vila decided, and headed purposely toward the drinks dispenser.

      "I shouldn't," Avon cautioned him.

      "No, you wouldn't. But I would."

      "Thus reducing your credibility."

      "I did see it, Avon."

      "So you say," argued Jenna. "At the bottom of your glass probably."

      "You'd like to think that, wouldn't you," Vila told her darkly. "You'll eat your words, you'll see."

      

      

The closer they came to IMIPAK's planet, the more uneasy Avon became and he could not hide it from Blake or Cally, both of whom knew him far too well. This whole mission was a ludicrous mistake, though he realised that Blake's clone drove their leader almost as much as the thought of keeping IMIPAK from Servalan. She would probably have left IMIPAK alone if the Serna mission had gone as she planned and Blake's rebels were caught or killed, but they had escaped and now she must accept the possibility that they would seek out IMIPAK. Though she would not relish the risk of seeking IMIPAK herself, she would not let it fall into Blake's hands. She might be there ahead of them, which meant his life and Blake's were already forfeit, though he doubted she would kill them out of hand.

      No, Servalan would use IMIPAK to remove himself and Blake from her path back to power and to advance herself at the expense of Supreme Commander Arpel. To do that she would need to be at her most devious, and Avon relished the challenge of facing her in that condition.

      As they neared the planet, Blake grew touchy and short tempered and Avon knew that he and Blake were not the only ones in danger. The knowledge that he had once again risked their lives on a dangerous mission bothered Blake more now than it would have done before Blake had grown so close to them, not exactly prudent for a battle commander. Much easier to risk lives if one could hold people at a distance.

      Avon was a past master at that, but as he considered it now, he wondered if he had lost his touch. Linking with Jabberwocky and Cally in the healing mode held nothing back from them, held nothing back of himself. Once he'd had a knack of keeping people at a distance, but it took an effort now. He'd never been able to deny the complex, ambiguous feelings he had for Blake. Healing Blake had shattered the walls between them and it annoyed him that Blake could read him so well. Sometimes he had to tend toward the other extreme lest he topple completely, and the irritating thing was that Blake always knew when he did it. A faint smile, a twinkle in his eye, a gesture of stupid carelessness were all Avon had to go on. No matter how angry Blake made him, both of them knew it was sham, protective coloration, and they were content to leave it unspoken.

      Had Blake chosen to remain on the base like a sensible man, Avon would have left the others to deal with IMIPAK. But Blake had not stayed.

      Smiling faintly to himself, Avon considered Cally. She could be so undemanding that it annoyed him and sometimes he bit back the urge to tell her he wouldn't run if she made some modest claim upon him. He accepted their relationship but her tact annoyed him. He would hardly break apart should she make a more tacit assumption of her rights. Her quiet dignity, her tough competence, her surprising passion appealed to him. That it was difficult for him to say so did not disturb her, for she increasingly insisted upon telepathy between them when they were alone, and there were few secrets in the telepathic link. He trusted Cally most to allow him privacy.

      Avon frankly enjoyed Vila. The thief was one of the few people who had never betrayed him, who had never conceptualised the idea of betraying him. The others might not realise how much he and Vila enjoyed their disagreements, but Vila knew. Let the others wonder. Avon didn't care.

      Then there was Hugh. Avon wondered about him sometimes, amazed that any man could take so many emotional risks without facing destruction, but Hugh did. They all depended on him to bring into the open those things that needed to be aired and to respect everyone's privacy in the bargain. Neither did Hugh back down when he thought himself right, and he had never hesitated to stand up to Avon, who enjoyed honing his temper against the doctor's defiant concern. If he sometimes thought Hugh a fool for being too trusting, he realised the doctor was a shrewd and perceptive man. He rushed in blindly no more than Avon would have done, but Avon was less open. There were times when he rather envied Hugh.

      He was becoming more tolerant of the rest of the crew too. Tarrant for example. Though he and the pilot would probably never be close friends, he was beginning to see that Tarrant was growing up, accepting responsibilities. He was still brash and annoying and lately he had been too possessive of Jabberwocky, but he was not putting his foot in his mouth every time he opened it any more.

      Dayna was improving too, thought Avon, glancing over at her at the weapons position where she was going in and out of link-mode as she tested a range booster on the ship's firing mechanism. Sensing his look, she glanced up then grinned companionably before returning to her work.

      He was not close to Jenna. Sometimes people disagreed because they were too alike, though that had not happened between him and Soolin. But then Soolin was cool and self-possessed, and though Jenna could be too, her temper was more apt to get away from her than Soolin's and she had the added complication of caring for Blake and resenting Avon because of it. Avon rather enjoyed her resentment and there was enough nastiness in his nature to play it up sometimes. He would have done it more, but Blake didn't like it and Avon wanted to save the task of annoying Blake for times when it would benefit him.

      //I would doubt that,// Jabberwocky said in his mind.

      Avon glanced at the display. //I don't recall having invited you in,// he observed in annoyance. There was a time he would have hated the very idea of linkage but he'd done it enough to know that Jabberwocky would respect his privacy. He suspected he'd been broadcasting unintentionally, having just come from Cally. As yet, his telepathy was not entirely controlled, though Cally was teaching him.

      He could not read the others' thoughts, for which he was profoundly grateful. He was better at healing, which was a gift he would never have chosen, but having used it, he suspected he would resist losing it.

      //Because you're good at it,// Jabberwocky said. //You like doing things best and having people realise it. I've always felt your ego could stand to be toned down.//

      //Have you indeed?// He slipped from link-mode and looked around to see if anyone had noticed, but Dayna was practising, Tarrant was piloting, and Blake was reading reports. The rest of the crew were not on the flight deck, which was just as well.

      Glancing at the screen, he paused, frowning. Something had flickered at the edge of range, so briefly it might have been an after-image from the panel he'd been studying. Glancing at Orac, he noticed the computer's activator was in place. Orac was instructed to report every ship in range and had done so several times, but none had been close enough to cause problems. If Orac reported nothing now, perhaps the image was a glitch.

      "Jabberwocky, give me a playback of the last two minutes on the main screen," Avon ordered. "I think there may be a problem in the image."

      "Coming up," Jabberwocky agreed. As it had been when Vila had claimed to have spotted something, the screen was clear. It was either an after-image or a flaw.

      "Extra range detectors," Avon ordered.

      "Extra range detectors available in thirty seconds," reported Jabberwocky, though it should have been instantaneous. Thirty seconds was a long time, too long.

      "Why the delay?"

      "I ran a detector check when you asked for a replay," Jabberwocky replied. "I suspected that you had seen something like Vila had, and if both of you did, there was likely something to see. Since Orac had reported nothing, the logical choice was a screen flaw, and I am running checks to determine a cause. Extra range scans available now."

      The screen shifted slightly. "Orac, report anything in quadrant S-15."

      "Oh, very well." A red circle, nowhere near the imagined sighting, appeared. "An ore freighter, en route to Cygnus Tau from the calabrite mines on Lessor. It is far beyond normal scanner range and could never have been visible at the previous setting," Orac huffed in annoyance. "Now, if you are finished, I should prefer to return to my own work."

      Avon turned to the main screen. "Let's have a schematic of the detectors and put it on my panel, Jabberwocky."

      "Are you sure you saw something?" asked Tarrant. He'd noticed Avon's checks in silence until now. "Jabberwocky says there was nothing. Orac says there was nothing. You, of course, are more able to detect ships than either of them."

      "I would probably have disregarded it had Vila not noticed something several days ago."

      "I thought Vila noticed something after a few too many drinks," commented Dayna.

      "Vila rarely drinks on missions," Avon pointed out. "Surely you have noticed that."

      "I didn't know Vila thought he saw something," Blake commented, putting aside his reports and joining Avon, looking down at his screen where diagrams were running.

      "At the time we dismissed it and Orac has been checking for further occurrences."

      "Orac couldn't pick up a ship without tarial cells, not at that range, unless Jabberwocky and Orac were linked."

      "A ship without tarial cells?" echoed Avon. "Orac did say that at the time. But a ship so equipped would be rare."

      "But not impossible. Remember the report of pirates in this sector? I had a report once, before you came to Gauda Prime, that there were pirates who had captured Andromedan vessels and were using them against merchant ships who strayed from the starlanes. No matter how advanced the Andromedans were, they wouldn't use tarial cells. Something comparable, surely, or perhaps more advanced, but whatever it was, Orac couldn't detect it without direct linkage."

      "This information would have been useful to us, Blake," Avon told him accusingly as if he suspected Blake of holding it back on purpose. The mention of Gauda Prime always put him off his stride.

      "I'm sorry, Avon. It never came up. Do you think it could be a pirate trailing us?"

      "It's possible," agreed Tarrant. "When I was running guns, I had some run-ins with pirate crews who wanted to take the weapons. There were one or two captains who would take what they wanted and leave their victims alive, but most of them preferred to leave no witnesses. I don't remember any of them operating in this sector, but then I was working a long way from here."

      "We can beat pirates," Jabberwocky cut in. "We're better equipped and faster, and if we pick them up visually, we could outrun them before they get too close."

      "Visually? I think we'd have done better than this if we were actually being followed," Blake insisted.

      "No, Blake," corrected Dayna. "Not if they were shielded. What we're seeing might be a ship with a high class detector shield. Occasionally power might drop off enough for us to get a brief image."

      "If so, why won't it show on tape? Maybe their guard dropped for a minute, but if so, we'd have it on record. I can't imagine anything powerful enough to edit our tapes selectively from so far away. If they're that powerful, they can take us anyway, so why hide?"

      "Vila said it was a ghost ship," offered Dayna. "It's probably a glitch in the system, but maybe we should watch the screen more carefully. Have you found anything wrong, Avon?"

      "No. Orac and I are both checking. We don't pick up anything."

      "Then there's probably nothing there," Blake replied.

      "That might satisfy you, Blake, but I am not content with it," Avon said.

      "Then we'll set watches," Blake answered. "I won't take chances. We've enough of them already, and we must remember that Servalan has access to Jabberwocky's specifications. There's a chance the Federation is working on another mindship. Jabberwocky was the first, but we can't be sure it was the only one."

      "Yes, I was," Jabberwocky insisted. "But building a second isn't impossible. They couldn't have done it since I joined the resistance though."

      "If it hadn't been begun in secret before then," Avon reminded the computer.

      "I would have known about it."

      "Not necessarily. You did not know that Sleer was Servalan until we told you."

      "That information was kept from me. Of course you could be right that data regarding additional mindships was withheld too, but from conversations I monitored between Major Weed and Sleer, not to mention the rest of the team, I detected no references to additional ships. Even if I had, there'd be no foolproof method for a second mindship to selectively remove data from this ship."

      That seemed to be that, though Avon was not satisfied. He turned to Tarrant. "In your linkage with Jabberwocky, can you perceive anything the rest of us have missed?" He doubted it but wouldn't pass up even that slim opportunity. "I wouldn't keep it back if I did," Tarrant replied in annoyance. "But then Jabberwocky hasn't been that open to me lately." He looked sorry as soon as he said it, his face changing as if Jabberwocky was in private communication with him. After a moment, he added, "But that's my problem, and it's improving. Jabberwocky wouldn't risk our lives for a pique."

      "Are you certain of that?"

      "Yes, I'm very certain of that. Jabberwocky wouldn't risk us, and you know it.

      "He risked us once before," Avon replied, remembering the time that Jabberwocky had come close to suffering a mental breakdown following the restoration of his memories.

      "That's different."

      "I wonder." Avon turned to Jabberwocky. "It was after you were severed from Blake that you began having problems. What guarantee can you give that there were none following this separation?"

      "You never trust anyone, do you, Avon?" Jabberwocky countered regretfully.

      "That is why I am still alive."

      Jabberwocky chuckled. "Actually you do trust us more than you admit. But in answer to your question, there are no additional problems. I had my complete memories before the severing. I will admit it was traumatic but more so for Tarrant. It's possible the glitch on the screen is a lingering after-effect of the explosion Soolin rigged, and I'll run some programs and see if I can track it down. No matter what happens, I won't risk this crew, and that's a promise, Avon."

      "It had better be."

      "Don't threaten him, Avon," Blake intervened. "I'd be inclined to ignore the whole thing if we weren't so keyed up about IMIPAK."

      Avon suspected the rest of them might but he knew he would keep working on the ship until he proved to his own personal satisfaction that it was in fact a glitch and not some mysterious ship. "If you choose to take such risks, Blake, then it is fortunate for you that I came on this mission."

      "I'm glad you're here, Avon," Blake replied easily in that disconcerting way he had of throwing Avon off his stride. "But on the other hand, I wish you weren't."

      "Typical Blake logic," Avon scoffed. "Presumably that makes sense to you." Avon glared at him. It didn't do for Blake to go on like that. He noticed Tarrant hiding a grin and Dayna's eyes twinkling with delighted laughter. "Following your dubious logic," he persisted, "You should be sorry to be here yourself."

      "I don't want to die," Blake answered easily. "Not when I've so much to live for, but some things matter more. Besides, I'm curious about my clone."

      "Curiosity," Avon retorted, "killed the cat."

      

      

Sometimes it was hard to find the exact place any more. If it weren't for the marker, he would have passed by because the ground was level again after the autumn rains. One season, that was all it took for life to go back to the earth. He stared down at the grave, then he raised his eyes to the empty sky.

      Servalan had implied that no ship would ever come here, and she had been right, but that had not mattered when Rashel was alive. The challenge of conquering a whole planet had satisfied him at first, but not now, and he wondered if he owed his restlessness to him, the other. If so, he was not grateful. A lifetime is a long time to spend alone with no resources to fall back on.

      He called himself Blake but he knew it was not his real name, that he was not the original, so when Rashel took to calling him Roj, he was glad because it felt like something he had a right to. But Rashel was gone now, dead of something broken inside from a bad fall, and he had been forced to watch her die agonizingly, a little at a time. When she was gone, nothing mattered.

      He had the weapon to guard, but he didn't believe anyone would come for it. He and Rashel had dealt with it early on, and it could harm no one now. If Servalan returned, she would be disappointed, and his experience of her told him she would kill him for it. Lately he had not thought that a bad thing. All life was linked and he could not accept the idea of suicide, but neither would he fight Servalan for his life.

      He often thought of the other Blake, the 'real' Blake, and gradually bitter envy crept in. He had no idea how fortunate he was to be real. What difference was there between them? Only years. He would have paid for life that way given a chance, but he had had none. Stranded here, they had foraged for technology as well as food and had lived well enough until Rashel's death, but none of their cobbled together equipment had healed her. Among his acquired knowledge was the awareness that people sought solitude for meditation, to find peace. He had sought it too, but could not find his soul. His life served no purpose, he had been manipulated from the beginning, and if he died, it would matter to no one, not even himself. He could not live with the contradiction. Unless he could resolve it, he knew he would soon be insane, if he were not that way already.

      He looked at Rashel's grave. "I don't know how much more I can take," he told her. Talking to her might prove his insanity, but it was his only comfort. "It was different when there were two of us. People aren't meant to be alone. You might smile to see me count myself a person, but I am! Just because I started late doesn't mean I don't have the same rights as him."

      She didn't answer, of course. At times he imagined that she did and he would smile. She might have begun life as a bond slave, but she had been his only friend.

      "I should send for him," he mused, knowing it was impossible. A signal might bring the Federation but never him. It was Blake he wanted, Blake who had what he had been denied, Blake who had given him a past and deprived him of a future. If Blake came, Roj would find a way to reverse that. He had to.

      

      

Sleer was uneasy. The crew of mutoids who served her were impassive and obedient, as mutoids always were. A male and female, both of them engaged in monitoring instruments and maintaining orbit. Neither of them nor the complement of ten more knew anything about IMIPAK. Servalan had ordered them blanked before the mission, and they only knew it was their duty to serve her. If she was forced to return to this Godforsaken world and the risk of IMIPAK, she would prefer to come with creatures who would not have the initiative to experiment with the weapon.

      When the Serna scheme had failed, she had managed to shift most of the blame to the captain of the lead pursuit ship and the rest to Arpel, though the actual mission had been hers. Arpel was the one who had known of the conditioned crew member on the mindship and since that plan had failed, Servalan had managed to avoid censure. But as supreme commander, Arpel had enough power to hold his position. He might be watched more closely now, which pleased her, and her current rank of space captain gave her more power. If her rise to power was slower than she preferred, at least she was gaining on him.

      Once Serna was past, she knew she must go after IMIPAK herself. Blake had risen to the bait, and, freshly reminded of the weapon, he would not ignore it. Servalan had no interest in risking herself since she had been marked by the weapon, but neither could she risk it falling into Blake's hands. The weapon must be removed to a place of safety, and perhaps after she had used it on one or two targets - Arpel appealed to her - she would have it destroyed or rendered useless. No one must ever be allowed possession of the key.

      She had been in orbit for three days waiting for a report from her agent on Ryalon. He was not very highly placed; she missed her man Witt, who had often given her useful information from his position as Avalon's right hand man, but at least he was on the spot and could report ships' movements.

      "Captain Sleer, there is a message for you," the female mutoid reported.

      "Transfer it to my screen." She watched it scroll out before her. The mindship had departed Ryalon six standard days before. She blanked the screen at once. "Six days. They will arrive soon. Manoeuvre the ship so that the planet is between us and the course of a ship arriving from the Ryalon system. We will use the planet as a shield until Blake arrives. Calculate the distance and report the soonest possible time in which the mindship could arrive."

      "Yes Captain." The male mutoid began to do the calculations, pushing buttons and flipping toggles. "The ship could not arrive before 1400 hours, Captain."

      "Very well. Position us away from the approach vector and pinpoint the human readings on the planet. Once the mindship is here, we must go in quickly. Order the crew armed and ready."

      

      

The ghost image appeared only once more on the way to retrieve IMIPAK, but by then everyone but Avon was convinced it meant nothing. Pirates would not have waited so long to attack and Servalan would have realised their destination and got there first. Orac reported no problems and Jabberwocky ran endless tests on his systems. Free of Federation interference, they came to the planet and went into orbit.

      Scans found nothing. Servalan was not obviously there. Scanning the area where Blake, Avon and Gan had teleported before, they picked up one life reading. Impossible to tell if it was the clone or the bond slave who had been with Coser, and Blake worried not only about the potential risk of IMIPAK but also about the idea that his clone might be dead. He sent a message to the surface but received no reply. That might simply mean no one was near the receiver and it would not have worried him unduly until Orac spoke.

      "The signal is being jammed."

      "Jammed! Who is jamming it?"

      "Unknown. It is a wide beam jamming signal of limited duration for the signal requires excessive power. At present it blankets the planet. I would suggest a vessel keeping the planet between itself and us."

      "Servalan!" hissed Avon.

      Orac was silent a moment, then replied, "It is indeed possible that Servalan is present, but it cannot be proven."

      "Do you think she's down there already, Blake?" asked Dayna. Everyone was gathered on the flight deck in preparation for arrival. Blake had determined that the landing party would consist of: himself; Tarrant, so Jabberwocky's linkage could be utilised to the full; Dayna for her expertise with weapons systems; Hugh in the event of a medical problem; and Cally for her guerrilla experience. Avon had raised an eyebrow at the thought of staying behind, but had said nothing. Vila had offered to operate the teleport. Blake didn't know if he was relieved to stay on the ship or if he felt a need to keep an eye on Avon and make sure he didn't try to teleport secretly once Blake was down. Jenna would remain on board because Blake didn't want to leave Jabberwocky without a pilot. If necessary she could draw pursuit ships off or fight.

      "I don't know if she's down already, Dayna," Blake replied, watching her check her gun. "If I were Servalan, I would go in quickly and make sure I got there first."

      "Then she could be waiting with IMIPAK," objected Vila unhappily. "Maybe you should stay up here until we're sure, Blake."

      "Hardly effective, Vila," Avon reminded him. "The weapon has a vast range. She could not mark the rest of you from here, but she could kill Blake or me with a flick of her finger."

      Vila looked even more unhappy. "I knew we shouldn't have come."

      "We don't know she has IMIPAK," Blake replied with hearty optimism he was certain the others could see through. "Let's get down and make sure. If she has it, I'm already dead, so there's no point in my staying on board, and the clone is more likely to trust me than the rest of you. He's never met any of us, but he'll recognise me."

      "If Servalan is present, I am no safer up here either," Avon remarked. "I should prefer to take my chances with her openly, Blake."

      Blake considered it. Avon's reasons made sense. He knew Servalan better than Blake did these days, and he might be helpful down there. Blake couldn't protect him by leaving him on Jabberwocky, though that had been his motive for excluding him from the original landing party. He nodded. "Get kitted up, Avon. I want to go down as soon as possible."

      Avon took a gun from the weapons rack and fastened the belt around his waist. "I am ready. I still think this a foolhardy mission, Blake."

      "What a surprise." Blake smiled at him. "I'll feel better knowing you're here to watch my back."

      "That's your prerogative," replied Avon in the tones of someone who considered it one of Blake's more foolish remarks.

      They teleported into the area Blake remembered from before, in the ruins of the complex, checking for traces of Servalan. She would keep to cover and try to take them by surprise or mark the others with the weapon one by one. "We'd better separate," he decided. "If she's here, she won't find us all at once, and it will give us a better chance of locating the clone."

      It was cool and cloudy in the empty city, with a sharp wind that teased them with the promise of rain, and Blake hid a smile at the thought of how Vila would have been complaining by now, had he come along. Blake decided to pair up his people and chose to take Hugh with him so that Hugh could examine the clone when he found him. He assigned Avon and Dayna together because he knew Dayna's intentions toward Servalan and felt Avon could restrain her better than any of the others. That left Cally and Tarrant, which was a good pairing because if Jabberwocky reported problems to Tarrant, Cally could transmit them telepathically to the rest of them.

      At first they found no trace of life.

      

      

Dorn Suliman sat back in the comfortable chair he'd brought from his old ship and looked round the bridge in contentment. It had not been easy to convert the alien vessel to suit humans, for the Andromedans had possessed an amorphous shape and used other methods of controlling the vessel. A captured Andromedan had assumed human form, taking the shape of one of their companions who had died in the battle, and had instructed them on the use of the ship, which Dorn had named the Scourge. He liked the sound of it and planned to use it against the Federation one day.

      His men had killed the Andromedan as soon as they knew how to run the ship, and he hadn't blamed them. Enough humans had died in the battle to prevent any sympathy for their captive, and Dorn was not really a sympathetic man. He'd had too many bad breaks to remain optimistic, and he preferred to keep his crew under firm control, though he considered himself a fair man.

      Mostly they did gun running, occasionally snatching weapons from Federation weapons ships, sometimes stealing other cargoes that crossed their paths, sometimes hiring out to fight in small wars. He preferred smuggling; it had a cleaner feel to it, but the men liked a bit of piracy from time to time. He was very strict about the type of ships they boarded. Some remnant of honour, perhaps.

      The Andromedan ship gave them an edge. It had a sophisticated communications system, able to send and receive messages without tying into Federation communications relays. It almost felt telepathic, and Dorn liked it. He could communicate by touch alone; resting a hand on a specific panel would give him direct linkage to the ship's computer, and he could send and receive messages without speaking aloud. Since there was only one access panel on the flight deck, this gave him extra control over his men.

      It also gave him the only access to the mysterious message that had come in one day a week ago. The message was strange, beginning with his name. The Federation had lost track of him long ago, and he could think of only one man who might contact him, but that seemed unlikely. Tarrant was with the resistance now, and had shown no sign of wanting to link up with his old friend.

      The message tempted him with background information that no one but the Federation might know, his birth date, school records. It claimed that a meeting might be to his benefit and promised no risk. The course was plotted for him on a vector beginning in the Ryalon System, making him wonder if the resistance wanted him. He'd run guns for Avalon once or twice a long time ago and though she couldn't pay top price, he'd taken the contract to score off the Federation. If he did it more often, his men would think he had gone soft.

      But that meant the rebels had a surfeit of information about him, which troubled him. He would have met with Avalon but she couldn't know his early history, so he chose to follow from a distance.

      The finely tuned Andromedan sensors showed him a swift, efficient vessel with a crew the size of his, with superior firepower. He didn't want to tangle with it; his aspirations these days included staying alive, avoiding trouble he couldn't get out of and making a decent profit to keep the crew happy. There should be more to life than that, but he had never found it. Maybe no one did.

      It was easy to stay out of range and block the other ship's scan, though he wondered if they were aware of him and leading him into a trap. The only reason he didn't cut his losses and run was that he could not understand any reason for such a trap, and he was curious.

      Finally the ship went into orbit around a planet, and Dorn hung back, studying the world from a cautious distance. There was a ship down already, allies for his enemies? A trap for the ship that had led him there? The grounded ship was Federation but the one in orbit matched no Federation types.

      Curiosity got the better of him and he decided to land. Setting the shields at maximum, he went in fast and low, landing far enough away from the Federation vessel that they wouldn't hear him. Arming himself, he ordered his second in command, Jarik, and Rosha, his best gun hand, to accompany him. Rosha was too quick with a gun, but Dorn wouldn't take chances with the Federation.

      "Do we take them, Cap?" Jarik asked hopefully. "Looks like a bunch of mutoids, according to the scans."

      "Mutoids can be dangerous, Jarik," he reminded the older man. "Let's stay away from them until we know what's going on." He attached a hand-held comm unit to his belt. "Any sign that the ship upstairs wants to join the party, let me know yesterday," he ordered Sarna at the comm station.

      "Aye, Cap," she replied.

      It was cold outside with a chill wind that promised rain by day and snow after dark, and Rosha grumbled and pulled his jacket closed, casting a jaundiced look at the brooding sky. "Winter," he muttered sourly. "Why don't we ever land on any holiday planets, Cap?"

      "Because we go where the profits are." He saw Rosha bracing himself as he walked, gun in hand, and added gently, "Let's not shoot before we find out why we're here, shall we?"

      "Somebody shoots at me, I won't wait to ask questions, Cap," retorted Rosha. "I'm your bodyguard, remember? Anybody threatens you, I stop 'em."

      "Preferably not fatally until we can question them. I don't know how we'll profit here, and I don't want anyone dead until I find out. You might be killing the one person who can lead us to treasure."

      Rosha's eyes brightened at the thought of treasure, but he didn't relax his stance. He was a finely honed weapon, quick and deadly, but sometimes he was too quick. The captain had wondered lately if keeping Rosha was worth it, though he was damned good in a fight.

Dorn Suliman

      Jarik caught Dorn's eye and grinned as if he understood. "We need him now, Cap," he muttered under his breath. "I still think this is one big trap."

      "So might I, if I could see why anyone would bother," Dorn replied. "We're small fry compared to the resistance. We've been involved with it only peripherally, hardly enough to attract such effort, and as pirates, we're not famous enough to warrant this much trouble. If someone wants us, I damn well want to learn why. I don't like being threatened or manipulated. If this is a trap, someone will pay. If not, there could be profit in it, and that's what we want, isn't it?"

      "You're an optimist, Cap."

      "Really?" asked Dorn whimsically. "I should have said it was the last thing I was."

      "Well, maybe. But this - just because someone knows all about you is hardly reason to jump in blind. How many enemies you got? Any of them could have run a background check."

      "How many of them could learn I once had a dog? That's in no file I know of. Anyone from Earth who knew that could hardly know what I did after I deserted. Somebody knows me too well. I don't like people going around the galaxy who know so much."

      "So you want to kill this busybody?" Jarik asked in relief.

      "Perhaps."

      "Perhaps! Cap, don't be a fool. Somebody wants you dead and they've baited this trap like pros. Maybe they are pros. You're the best captain I ever served with, and I don't want to break in another. I say be careful. Better yet, let's get the hell out of here."

      Dorn smiled. "I appreciate your concern, Jarik, I really do. But I'm afraid I'm like the elephant's child."

      "More of your fancy alpha quoting. I'm a plain man myself."

      "They once said curiosity killed the cat. This time it could kill me. But not knowing is worse. I had to come, don't you see?"

      "I see you're a damned idiot, boss. But I'll stand with you and so will the others, and we'll all curse you as we die."

      "Fair enough." He clapped Jarik on the shoulder. "Let's get on with it. Somebody more than mutoids is down here. Got your scan-link?"

      "On my belt."

      "Doesn't do much good there. See what you can pick up. The mutoids we know about. Who else is here?"

      Jarik unclipped the device that tied to the ship's computer and directed it around in a wide semicircle. It was not well adjusted for humanoid life, though they tinkered with it periodically. "That way," Jarik pointed out, jabbing a thrusting finger off toward the ruins of what had once been a thriving city. "There's somebody over there."

      "Then we'll go that way too," Dorn decided and set off at a fast walk.

      

      

When the others had gone their different ways, Blake turned to Hugh. "We'll go this way. When I was here before, we encountered Servalan this way." He pointed. "If she's here already, that's where she'll be, but I think we'll find the clone there too. We'll need to be careful."

      "If there's only one life form down here..." Hugh began delicately.

      "Then the clone could be dead," Blake conceded. "I hope not. I never met him face to face. He called in to tell us we were safe, that Servalan was marked and wouldn't follow us. When I heard my own voice, I demanded to know who it was. I expected a trick." Remembering his surprise when the all too familiar voice had said, 'I am you,' he chuckled. That had called for explanations, and only the presence of Servalan and Travis had prevented him from teleporting down to meet the man. He had never dared to return, but now he wasn't sure how he would react to someone wearing his face.

      "Avon says he's not your true clone," recalled Hugh, easily matching Blake's stride. Blake was the taller of the two, but Hugh's legs were a little longer and he was a good five years younger and fitter.

      "Maybe, but he was created in my image. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about him. Both resentful and proprietary, I think." He stopped to get his bearings; it had been a long time.

      "He'll be different from you," Hugh pointed out. "Even a true clone would have diverged since coming here. You've changed in the past few years."

      "I don't know if that's comforting or not. It's like discovering suddenly that I'm a twin." He added, "I had a brother once. He looked quite a bit like me though his hair was straighter and darker. I'm afraid this will remind me of him." One could say things like that to Hugh without fear of scorn; Hugh could be sympathetic without being overly sentimental.

      "Once you see him, you'll lose that image completely," Hugh returned comfortably. "He might look like you, but he'll be himself. I'm sorry about your brother. Were you close?"

      Blake nodded. "It's been years since he died, though the Federation sent rigged vistapes to me after I was conditioned. I thought he and my sister were alive in the outer worlds. You have a sister, don't you, Hugh?"

      Hugh nodded. "She's married and lives on Regula. I had Orac check her once to be sure the Federation hadn't harmed her since I joined the resistance."

      "Had they?"

      "No. Orac sent her a warning, just in case. At least she's prepared for trouble."

      "It's a hard business, rebellion," Blake said thoughtfully and would have gone on, waxing philosophical under Hugh's sympathetic ear when a sudden movement cause him to check abruptly, his hand reaching for his gun. "Blake," called a voice, and he realised it was familiar because it was his own. He put out a hand to stop Hugh when the doctor drew his gun. "No, wait, Hugh. It's him. The one we're looking for."

      The clone emerged from a doorway and regarded Blake measuringly. He wore a homespun tunic and trousers and the same boots he must have had when brought here, and beyond a sturdy staff that lay comfortably in one hand, he was unarmed. He looked fit and only his shaggier hair distinguished him from the real Blake.

      "You were looking for me?" he asked, meeting Blake's gaze with some defiance and a great deal of curiosity. They stared at each other as if looking in a mirror and wonder reflected from one face to the other. Blake heard Hugh's startled exclamation at the sight.

      "We were afraid Servalan was coming here and we wouldn't leave you to her," explained Blake. "Is Rashel safe?"

      "Oh, yes, Blake. She's quite safe from Servalan," the clone replied with sudden bitterness. "She's dead."

      "Dead," echoed Blake in shock. "But how long-"

      "Over a year now. She fell. She was broken up inside and there was nothing I could do for her. Our transmitter doesn't reach far enough to summon help, and even if it had, it would have taken too long."

      He shrugged as if it was past and no longer mattered, but Blake knew it did. The clonemasters had tried to make this man in his image and it damn well would have mattered to him.

      "You've been alone since then!" he burst out. Basically gregarious, Blake found the thought of spending over a year on a lonely planet with only the grave of his woman for company appalling. "I'm sorry," he said futilely.

      "You're sorry? Do you think I care if you're sorry?"

      "Of course not," Blake replied. He was handling this badly, and he cast a helpless look at Hugh to see what the physician could do to help.

      "Is there somewhere we can talk?" Hugh asked calmly. "If Servalan is here I'd rather not meet her in the open."

      The practical question distracted the clone. "Yes, I've a place she won't know about. This way."

      "What about IMIPAK?" asked Blake. "I have to know, since Avon and I were marked. Is she likely to find it?"

      "The odds are against it," the clone replied with a satisfied look. "But that can wait. It took you long enough to come here. I thought you might come sooner."

      "There were complications," Blake replied. "Not the least being the weapon you've been holding in trust. It was dangerous to me and I hoped the threat would keep Servalan away too. "

      "But no longer," the clone countered, one hand stroking his throat in a thoughtful manner. "Why now? After all this time, why is Servalan a threat?"

      "Because she made a mistake and called our attention to IMIPAK," Blake explained. "Once that happened, none of us dared leave it alone." He glanced around uneasily. "She could be here now. Let's get to cover."

      "Follow me." The clone turned impatiently, as if he didn't care if Blake followed or not, heading into a narrow passage between two buildings that would have made an excellent site for an ambush.

      Nothing happened and after a short walk, the clone ushered them into a building that had been tidied and made relatively comfortable.

      Blake suspected it was his home and he was curiously touched that the clone would trust him enough to take him there.

      He gestured them to a row of chairs, probably scavenged from the nearby buildings, and they sat down. Hugh drew back to leave the main conversation to Blake, who couldn't help wondering if the doctor found this as disconcerting as he did.

      "I owe you nothing," the clone said abruptly, "but I owe Servalan less, so that gives you a slight edge. I'd like to be convinced that siding with you will make a difference, but I can't help resenting you. I want you to know that before we go any further."

      Hugh's teleport bracelet beeped unexpectedly, and the doctor exchanged a questioning look with Blake as he raised it to his mouth. "Hugh," he replied.

      "Avon wants you to teleport to his position," Vila burst out. "I don't know why, but I think it's urgent. He was upset."

      Vila sounded worried. "I'll go," Hugh agreed. "What about Blake? We found the clone."

      "Avon only asked for you."

      "Go ahead," Blake urged. "Vila can contact me if it's urgent. I'll stay here and see what I can find out."

      Hugh vanished in a twinkle of light, and Blake turned to his counterpart, relieved to be rid of the audience, even if it had been Hugh. The clone was staring after Hugh as if amazed. "So that was your teleport?" he asked. "And that was Vila?"

      "You know about us?" Blake asked in surprise.

      "They gave me as much of your background as they knew and that included the crew of the Liberator. I would recognise any of them. Your bracelet doesn't look right though."

      "We have a new ship, the Jabberwocky," Blake explained. "Liberator was destroyed at the planet Terminal. We've got some new crew too. That's why you didn't recognise Hugh. He's our doctor."

      "Who else?"

      "Dayna and Tarrant," Blake replied. "Gan is dead. That was my fault. I led them into a place we couldn't all escape and he paid the price."

      "You accept blame easily," said the clone as if he recognised and understood something within himself. "It seems they made me more like you than they knew."

      "I'm sorry," said Blake uselessly.

      "More blame, Blake. None of yours."

      Blake knew it, but had he not joined the resistance, this man would never have existed. It made him feel he had too much power and he didn't like it. "I don't know what to call you."

      "Rashel called me Roj. I felt somewhat uncomfortable with 'Blake'."

      Blake wondered how it would feel to have nothing of one's own, not even a name. It would do no good to apologise again, so he said, "How can we help you? We must keep IMIPAK from Servalan, but what else can we do? Take you somewhere else?"

      "That's a fool's question, Blake. Two men with your face wandering the galaxy? Besides the threat to me because I look like you, there are too many complications to the resistance if I were taken. I've had plenty of time to consider it, Blake." When he said the name, his lip curled as if tasting nasty medicine. "The kindest thing would be to kill me, but you could just leave me. Only one of us must leave this planet."

      "That seems hardly fair."

      "What else is there? But I forget my manners. I should offer you refreshments. Part of my programming, perhaps, an etiquette implant." He smiled deprecatingly. "Wait a moment. I have something that will suit you." He went into the next room. While Blake waited, he studied the room, appalled at how barren of personal touches it was. Maybe one must be a complete person to accumulate such things and 'Roj' had not yet learned to be a person in his own right. Blake damned the Federation for what they had done to this man.

      When the clone came up behind him, he didn't turn for he knew pity would show all too clearly in his face, and he didn't want the other man to see it.

      "I'm sorry, Blake," the clone apologised, and before Blake could wonder at his words, something hard crashed down on his head and took the daylight with it.

      

      

"I'm worried about Tarrant," Dayna told Avon as they left the others to begin their search. "He's been different ever since he and Jabberwocky were separated."

      "Tarrant is hardly my concern," Avon replied automatically then stopped himself. Since he had used his healing gift to save Tarrant when Del Grant had shot him, he felt a certain protectiveness toward the young pilot. He didn't always like Tarrant and knew the abrasiveness between them was partially a personality clash and partly due to the unconscious assumption of superiority they shared. Tarrant would never be his close friend, but he had become an ally, someone Avon trusted to watch his back. Because he knew Tarrant better, Avon found a flaw in Dayna's reasoning that might not be readily apparent to her.

      "You're wrong," he said. "Tarrant has been different but it hasn't been for as long as you believe."

      "But it's the only explanation, Avon," insisted Dayna. She had always voiced her opinions even when they differed with Avon's, but these days she considered her opinions more carefully. "Jabberwocky and Tarrant were separated when Soolin's bomb went off. He's been possessive ever since."

      "Yes, but that is not unnatural. Blake was like that too when Witt broke his link, but he returned to normal quickly." He shot her a deprecating smile. "Fortunately for us." The sarcasm in his voice brought an answering twinkle to her eyes.

      "That's right, he did," Dayna replied. "The problems were Jabberwocky's then. But that wouldn't explain it this time, Avon. Jabberwocky has his memory back."

      "When was his last session with Hugh?"

      Dayna's brow wrinkled. "I know he had one right after we returned from Serna."

      "So the problem was easing when we returned to Ryalon, or there would have been more," Avon pondered. "Something must have altered after that if Tarrant's problem is increasing."

      "Soolin?" offered Dayna. "Tarrant minded her leaving. Could it be that?"

      Avon had to give Dayna points for her casual tone. Though Tarrant liked to act the fool around both women, Avon, who found other people's romances a dead bore, knew Dayna and Tarrant well enough to guess that Dayna's feelings for him were deeper than she let on, and that Tarrant's game was only a game. If the time came for commitment, he would probably choose Dayna, and not only because Soolin's real interest seemed to be in Hugh and Blake. Avon knew her feelings for Blake were those of a reluctant follower; she believed in Blake in spite of herself. But she and Hugh were slowly becoming friends and Avon could not disapprove of her choice. Tarrant was still too young for Soolin, and he was growing in Dayna's direction.

      Avon muttered impatiently to himself at the direction of his thoughts. This healer business might have some valid fringe benefits, but the side effects irritated him. He preferred to avoid the others' personal relationships. Keeping to himself was safer, even if Cally and Blake would not permit him to distance himself from them.

      "I doubt it is Soolin," Avon replied. "You are too close to the situation. Tarrant is playing a game. You need to give him time and it will resolve itself. He enjoys himself too much for the emotion to be real. I rather thought the problem might be Kyl." He said his son's name with unconscious pride, recognising it only when he heard his tone.

      Dayna recognised it too and smiled. "I wondered," she replied. "I told Blake that. You mean he's jealous because you have Kyl?"

      "I mean that somewhere in the galaxy is a man called Dorn Suliman."

      "Jabberwocky's son? You think that's it, then, Avon?"

      "I think it is a good possibility. I shall have to speak with him about it when we return to the ship. I do not want a repeat of the problems we had when we went to Eridani Major. I sometimes fear the Federation altered my original designs too greatly."

      "You wouldn't want Jabberwocky to be just another machine?" Dayna objected.

      Avon hesitated. Life would be simpler if that were the case, but to wish that would be the same as wishing Blake had never been a resister or that Vila didn't steal. Jabberwocky was a person, and any human could have problems. Avon sighed. Healing was an uncomfortable process for him, but to heal Jabberwocky would not expose him further for Jabberwocky knew him thoroughly through their link.

      "No, perhaps not," he conceded in answer to Dayna's question.

      "Then you'll help him?"

      "I will do what is necessary to preserve our safety. Shall we go this way?" He noticed they were leaving the settled area for a more natural environment where trees grew in clumps with large areas of bare ground between. "I think if we double around here we can re-enter the complex over there. I have seen no evidence of Servalan so far."

      "What happened to that gadget you were designing to bring on landing parties?"

      "It is not quite ready." Kyl's arrival and his wound at the hands of a Federation agent had delayed him, and he had given it scant attention until their journey here. He judged it needed a further week of refinement followed by testing before he could use it on a mission. It would have been handy today, and that was proven when three men emerged abruptly from a grove of trees and approached them.

      Always quick to defend herself, Dayna went for her gun. Practising with Soolin had developed her fast draw, and today she was at the peak of her form. But as she drew, the oldest of the three men, a brute of a fellow with thick dark hair and a wary suspicious face, raised the gun in his hand and fired, even as the youngest man cried out, "No Rosha. Wait!"

      The man tried to obey but the warning had come a second too late. Dayna fired as she was struck in the chest and her shot went wild. She choked out a startled cry and folded in upon herself, collapsing on the ground. Avon took out Rosha without hesitation, but when his gun swung toward the other two, they dropped their weapons and the one who had spoken spread his hands in evident surrender.

      "Dayna!" Avon cried, hesitant to turn his back on the two men, but the taller, his hands still spread, said, "She's hurt bad. You have my word we won't try anything if you want to go to her."

      Avon wasn't about to trust the word of a stranger whose companion had just shot one of his crew. He threw the man a harsh, bitter look. "If you do try anything you'll die for it."

      "But, Cap..." the other man protested, only to fall silent when ordered to hush. He checked his dead compatriot, and after staring at him a second more, Avon turned abruptly to Dayna.

      He repeated her name, feeling for a pulse at her throat, and after a moment, he felt it fluttering weakly against his fingertips and knew she still lived, but the wound looked fatal. He contacted the ship. "Vila, teleport Hugh to my position now!" he ordered and cut off before Vila could shower him with questions.

      "Dayna?" asked the tall man, kneeling opposite Avon as he opened her shirt to expose the wound. "Not Del's Dayna?"

      Avon stared at him. "You owe me a lot of explanations," he said flatly. "As for now, a doctor will be coming. Do nothing to interfere with me until then. Tell him I will be in healing mode. He will understand."

      He was not a physical healer. That took years of training, and he'd been unable to heal Tarrant, only to boost his will to live while Jabberwocky gave him strength until his body began to mend. Jabberwocky was not here now, and short of a physical link, Avon doubted the computer could help, but he had to try. With the healing gift came the compulsion to use it, and without it Dayna would surely die.

      "Do what you can to close the wound," he ordered, then shut his eyes and sank into the healing trance. He'd proved he could do it without Jabberwocky when he'd gone into Tarrant, but he'd never done it under less auspicious circumstances. Soon he recognised the familiar state but instead of a cold and windswept plain, he knelt in a small dark room where a tiny fire cast its pitiful light just far enough to reach his hands. //Dayna?// he prodded, seeking consciousness, seeking awareness, seeking existence. He willed himself to pour his strength into her to fuel the fire, wondering why his images in healing mode tended toward flames when fire was no part of his own make up. He tried to reach Jabberwocky, but he must have been too far away, so he was forced to use use his own strength unassisted. He let it flow from him, seeing the flames brighten a bit though they were still so weak that a gust of wind would blow them out and scatter the ashes. //Dayna,// he tried again. //Dayna, stay. I am doing all I can. Hugh will come soon.//

      //Avon?// The response was so faint he could barely hear it, the personality behind it so muted it felt thin and ghost-like.

      //Dayna!// he cried in an attempt to startle her into a stronger response. //You must wait. Hugh will come.// In his mind, he saw the gaping wound below her sternum with the bright blood bubbling up and he knew that instant treatment might not save her.

      //Avon?// she tried once more. //Avon, take care... of Del... for me.//

      //You will not die,// he flung at her like a command.

      //Can't... live. Don't... hate me for...//

      Pain tore through his chest and he thought it was her pain but then he realised it was his own.

      //Dayna,// he began again. //I have never hated you.//

      The fire blazed up a moment then began to flicker again, sinking back feebly toward the last remnants of kindling. There was nothing left to feed the flames, only an empty nothingness that stretched on and on as the walls vanished, taking away his reference points. As he poured his remaining strength into the dying fire, he could only sense one bright kernel of light and he plunged his fingertips into it to pull her back with him. But instead he began to dwindle down into the fire, and it grew hard to think. //Dayna,// he called once more, his voice faint and far away, then there was nothing and nothing and nothing...

      Hands grabbed him jerking him back roughly as someone shook him viciously. "Wake up, damn you!" a voice yelled in his ear. "Do you hear me? You're still here. Let it go, Avon. Let it go."

      He sucked in breath and it hurt as if he'd forgotten how to breathe. Coughing and sputtering, he sagged against the presence behind the angry voice, too weak to open his eyes. Realisation trickled back slowly and he made a feeble effort to distance himself from the support only to realise that whoever held him did it for his own support as much as Avon's. That puzzled him, for he could remember nothing, then memory came back with a vicious thrust that stabbed to the core of his being like a blade. Dayna was dead.

      The realisation struck hard, giving him the strength to pull free. It was Hugh who held him, white and stricken, his medical equipment abandoned in haste as he realised that the linkage was taking Avon into death with Dayna. Some time must have passed for the wound was covered with a dressing, while an injector lay empty on the ground beside her.

      With an effort, Avon turned, looking for the two men who had come with Dayna's killer. One of them had said something suspicious and Avon planned to demand answers.

      They were off to one side, the taller watching Avon. Now he came forward. "I'm sorry. Rosha was warned not to shoot. We didn't intend this."

      "Yes, well, that makes all the difference," Avon returned coldly. "How do you know Dayna?"

      "I didn't. I'd only heard her name once and I wondered if it was the same Dayna. Dayna Mellanby?"

      "You mentioned Del." Avon struggled to stand but his knees were like rubber and he fell back against Hugh's shoulder. "Explain."

      "I'm an old friend of Tarrant's. I've tried to follow his career. I wonder if he's the one who lured me here."

      "Lured you here?" Hugh asked sharply. "What do you mean?"

      Avon pointed his gun at the man. "Explain now or you'll die. After you explain, I shall decide if keeping you alive is worth it." He refused to look at Dayna again.

      "We kept getting messages," the man explained. "They knew things about me that no one could know. I had to find out who sent them. Some of it only Tarrant knew, so when you called her Dayna, I decided Tarrant was behind it, but I don't see why he'd be so mysterious. But there are things about my childhood that Tarrant couldn't know, so I came here expecting a trap. That is why Rosha was so quick with his gun."

      In spite of the shock of Dayna's death, Avon's mind worked with amazing clarity, and an answer occurred to him that tied up all the loose ends. "Are you Dorn Suliman?" he asked.

      "How do you know?" the tall man demanded suspiciously.

      "Tarrant has mentioned you." Avon had no intention of giving Jabberwocky's secrets to strangers even if one of them was Jabberwocky's son. "You followed us here, didn't you?"

      "Yes. We stayed at the edge of your detector range."

      "In an Andromedan ship? Orac couldn't read you and there had to be an reason why you didn't show up in replays when we had visual sightings."

      An explanation occurred to him and he turned to Hugh, disconcerted at the sight of tears on Hugh's face. Dayna's death had hit him hard.

      "Jabberwocky," Avon announced as Hugh turned away and rubbed his hand across his eyes. "Jabberwocky did a selective erase."

      Hugh nodded. "We need to talk to him. But first, let's get you back to the ship. You came too close this time. There was no chance to save her."

      "Should I have refused to try?" Avon asked sharply, then he shook his head. "Never again. I will not be a healer. It is finished."

      Hugh opened his mouth to disagree, then closed it again. "What do we do about Dorn?" he asked instead.

      "I don't know." Avon felt strangely light-headed as if he were about to faint, and it took all his concentration to stay awake. He was not ready for complex questions. "Jabberwocky will decide," Avon replied. "And I shall decide about Jabberwocky."

      

      

Vila was worried. Avon's message had been terse, but Vila knew Avon better than Avon admitted he did, and the tone of his voice was ominous. Vila had transferred Hugh to Avon's location, reporting it to Jenna on the flight deck.

      Vila didn't budge from his post, though Orac sat beside him as backup. Anxious moments crawled past like ants struggling uphill.

      When the signal chimed, Vila jumped. "It's Blake. Bring me up, Vila, quickly."

      Still more problems. Vila watched Blake materialise, a thoroughly dishevelled Blake with his hair tangled and his face flushed with exertion. "Blake!" cried Vila, jumping to his feet. "Are you hurt? What's happening down there?"

      "I don't know, Vila. I found the clone and he attacked me. I had to fight him off. He's dead, Vila."

      "Dead," echoed Vila in dismay. "But, Blake, what about IMIPAK?"

      "He'd dismantled it," explained Blake, "and scattered the pieces all over the planet. It's no threat to us now. He didn't even remember where most of the pieces were. I don't think he was quite sane, Vila." He staggered slightly. "I'm sorry, I'm a little shaky. Will you help me to my cabin?"

      "Maybe it had better be the medical unit, Blake," Vila suggested only to have Blake shake his head.

      "No, Vila, I just need rest. You can tell me why Avon wanted Hugh later."

      "But I can't leave the teleport," Vila began, then broke off. "I'll get Orac to do it. He's not as fast as we are, but it won't kill him to do some work for a change." He inserted the activator key. "Orac, activate the teleport as required."

      "Oh, very well."

      "Come on then, Blake," said Vila, grasping Blake's arm to steer him from the teleport section. Blake was shaky and slightly vague, so finally Vila put his arm around Blake's waist and dragged Blake's arm round his shoulders and guided him to his room. Blake halted in the doorway.

      "I can make it from here, Vila. Be ready for Servalan. I didn't see her down there, but I won't leave it to chance. I'll expect a report on Avon's problem as soon as you get it."

      The door slid shut between them and Vila sighed. Blake looked bad. After the crisis was resolved, he'd better send Hugh to look at Blake. He might have a concussion. Vila decided to check on him regularly over the intercom, and if he didn't answer, it would be the medical unit for him.

      Vila scurried back to the teleport section and had no sooner sat down when he was signalled again.

      "We're ready to come up," said Hugh in an awful voice that caused a sudden throb in the pit of Vila's stomach. Whatever was wrong was very wrong and Vila was reluctant to pull the levers and learn what it was.

      "We've someone extra," Hugh went on - they always took along a spare bracelet in the event of accidents. "And Vila..."

      "What is it?" he asked reluctantly. He didn't want to hear what was coming next.

      "It's Dayna," Hugh said gently and Vila realised he was struggling not to cry. "She's dead."

      "Dead!" cried Vila, horrified, and brought them up. Hugh's face was white, and Avon was half sprawled against Hugh's leg as if he couldn't sit up straight without the support, though Vila could see no visible wound. Dayna lay still in Hugh's arms and Vila realised he was carrying her because he wasn't sure the teleport would have fetched her up. A partially attached dressing covered a wound in her chest. Beside Hugh was a stranger, very tall with short dark wavy hair, a dark moustache and a confused, defensive look upon his face. He wore a gun which must mean he wasn't Dayna's killer.

      "Dayna," said Vila in a small voice and came around the teleport console to touch her face. It was cold with no feel of living flesh and he pulled back in horror. Avon avoided his eyes. "Avon, are you all right?"

      Avon did not reply, and Vila turned anxiously to Hugh, who said, "He tried to heal her and almost went with her. There was no chance. I want you and Dorn to bring him to the medical unit so I can run some tests."

      "Dorn!" Vila spun to face the stranger. "You're Dorn? Jabberwocky's Dorn?"

      "I don't know who Jabberwocky is. I'm not sure why I'm here except that one of my men got trigger happy. If I'd known she was a friend of Tarrant's... If I'd known this was Tarrant's ship..."

      Avon must be far gone, for he didn't challenge that. He let Vila assist him to his feet and didn't pull free when Vila caught him as he staggered. Vila wondered if this was his day to half carry people from the teleport. He looked mournfully after Dayna as Hugh carried her from the room, then he said to Dorn, "Well, come on then, take his other arm."

      "Have you heard from Blake and Cally?" Avon asked, his voice thin and frail as if he'd been fasting for weeks.

      "Blake's back. The clone tried to kill him, and he's resting in his cabin."

      "What?"

      "He's not hurt, just a little dazed and acting strange. I'll monitor him, and Hugh can examine him when he -" He stopped short. "Can you walk or shall we carry you?"

      "I can walk." It was a lie, for Vila and Dorn between them had to take all his weight, but his legs went through the motions as if they believed they were carrying him. His head hung forward against his chest and Vila knew only sheer necessity made him allow their support.

      "Jabberwocky," called Vila, "can you tell me how Avon is?"

      "He is spent," Jabberwocky's voice came from a nearby speaker. "He needs rest and solitude and then he needs Cally. Food would not go amiss either, and I'll see some is programmed into the medical unit. I'm sorry about Dayna. I'll miss her."

      Vila blinked back tears. Avon wouldn't like it if he cried. "We have company," he persisted. "Dorn Suliman."

      "Yes, I know. I heard you talking. Hello, Dorn. Welcome aboard. My name's Jabberwocky and I'm the ship's computer. I would welcome the opportunity to talk to you when everything settles down."

      "You sent those messages?" Dorn burst out. "Why? Because of Tarrant? How did you know about my background?"

      "We'll talk later. There are more urgent things now. Orac must contact Cally and Tarrant and bring them up. When we're all here, we should leave. There's nothing for Servalan to find now that IMIPAK is dismantled."

      Avon's head came up and he gazed fuzzily at Vila. "Is it true? Is IMIPAK destroyed?"

      "That's what Blake said. The clone told him."

      "We should never have come here." Avon's voice was icy. He looked after Hugh, his face cold and almost mad looking the way he'd been on Terminal.

      Vila shivered.

      Then the day caught up with Avon and he sagged. "I'll take him, I'm bigger," Dorn offered. He scooped up Avon and turned to Vila, unhappiness in his eyes. "Lead the way, Vila," he urged. "Once everything settles down, we'll talk."

      

      

Jabberwocky decided the quickest way to get the others back was through linkage. Since Cally was with Tarrant, Jabberwocky expanded the link to include her. //We need you both back on board,// he told them. //Orac will operate the teleport. Del, I have some bad news for you.//

      //I am still in the link,// Cally cautioned.

      //You need to be. Dayna was killed down there. I'm very sorry. It's my fault.//

      That offered Tarrant something to fasten to in order to avoid the blow a few moments longer. //What the hell do you mean, it's your fault? How could it be your fault?//

      //I sent for Dorn.// The method he'd used now looked highly suspect. //That ship that's been following us is his. I erased it from the tapes because I was afraid you'd attack him. He and two of his men were down on the surface. One of them shot Dayna.//

      //What happened?//

      Jabberwocky explained quickly. //We need both of you up here. Avon will need Cally when he wakes. And Dorn should see you, Del.//

      //I don't give a damn about him,// snapped Tarrant. The news of Dayna's death was beginning to hit though it was not yet completely real. He felt dazed and a terrible ache pervaded him that Jabberwocky could feel as if it were his own. Cally, though shocked too, reached out to Tarrant, but he brushed her off and raised his bracelet. "Orac, bring us up."

      Jabberwocky followed their progress through the ship, offering comfort to Tarrant, who deliberately blocked it. "Leave me alone, damn you," he said aloud, ignoring the link, and Jabberwocky realised how this must look to the others. He'd wanted to find Dorn ever since he remembered him, but the impetus had become an obsession since Kyl's arrival. His plans had backfired and Dayna was dead. Del might be lost to him too, for barricades shut him from the link, and though it might not be permanent, it felt lonely and isolating now.

      "Is everyone back on board?" Cally asked.

      "Yes."

      "And IMIPAK?"

      "Blake says the clone disassembled it and scattered the pieces."

      "Then we must leave here. Servalan must be nearby. If Dorn is on board, set a rendezvous with his ship and take us out of here. Tell Jenna my suggestion and have her lay in a course. I doubt anyone wants to stay."

      Jabberwocky obeyed the instructions. Shocked by the events on the planet, Jenna willingly agreed and contacted Blake to ask for a course setting.

      "Go ahead, Jenna," Blake agreed when she explained, still sounding disoriented. "We can't get far enough from here to suit me."

      Jabberwocky set himself to monitoring everyone since the situation had become critical, though his prime attention was focused on Tarrant, who was still shutting him out. Tarrant burst into the medical unit causing Hugh and Vila to jump. Hugh started toward him sympathetically, but Tarrant brushed past him, ignoring Dorn's abortive greeting and halted by Dayna's body. Hugh had covered her with a sheet, and Tarrant pulled it off her face. Cally caught Hugh's arm before he could speak and Hugh backed off.

      Cally went to Avon and read the monitor before turning back to Hugh. "You broke the linkage?" she asked in an undertone.

      "I was afraid I'd lose him. Dayna was already dead. Avon could never have healed her. If I'd been there, I would never have let him try."

      "I don't believe you could have stopped him," Cally disagreed. She dropped a hand on Avon's forehead and Jabberwocky wondered if she could contact him that way while he was unconscious.

      Picking up a signal, Jabberwocky joined the conversation. "Jenna's detected a pursuit ship, and we're leaving. Why don't you go to the flight deck and help her, Vila. You too, Cally."

      "I must be here when Avon awakes."

      "That won't be for some hours," Hugh told her. "I'll give you plenty of notice. Go on, Cally. I'll stay."

      She and Vila left, casting lingering glances over their shoulders. Once in the corridor, Vila heaved a shuddering sigh and put his arm around Cally's shoulders. She let him, both giving and taking comfort from the gesture.

      Dorn remained in the corner of the medical unit, waiting quietly, and while Jabberwocky ran the ship's programs that would take them out of orbit, monitored Avon and interfaced with Orac, he also watched his son. The link with Tarrant was muted, and Jabberwocky didn't try to contact him.

      Finally Tarrant touched Dayna's cheek. For a long time he held the pose, then he raised his hands and covered his face for a moment, then rubbed his eyes like a sleepy child. When he turned, his eyes were too bright, but his face was as hard as ever Avon's could be. Turning to Dorn, he demanded, "How could you let this happen?"

      "One of my men got trigger happy."

      "You have a lot of control over them." Before anyone realised his intent, Tarrant slammed his fist into Dorn's jaw, knocking him down.

      Dorn rubbed his jaw, and looked up at Tarrant without resentment. "It was a mistake. I know that doesn't help, but we didn't plan it. She drew her gun and Rosha was always quick to react to threat."

      "What did you do with the bastard?"

      "Your man killed him." Dorn waved his hand in Avon's direction.

      Tarrant noticed Avon for the first time. "What the hell happened to him?" He still wasn't communicating effectively, but the rest of the room - and the universe - was coming into focus again and he didn't like the view.

      "I don't know," Dorn replied. "He went into a healing trance. We didn't hurt him."

      "Didn't you?" Tarrant averted his eyes from Dayna. Jabberwocky could feel his pain.

      "I'm sorry, Del," Dorn said. "We were expecting trouble. We'd been getting messages and part of them dealt with things only you knew, but I'd never told you the rest, and I suspected a Federation trap."

      "Dayna looks just like a Federation trooper, doesn't she?" snapped Tarrant sarcastically. Then the resentment faded, leaving him limp and defenceless.

      He pulled Dorn to his feet. "I won't say I'm glad to see you. But there's someone who -"

      //Don't tell him about me,// Jabberwocky said sharply.

      //Why not? You set this up. You made him tail us here. This is all your doing. Stay out of my head. I want no part of you.//

      //You want to leave the bond?//

      Even in this state of mind, that was too much for Tarrant. //No. I don't know. Back off for now. I won't give you away, but I don't want to talk to you either.//

      "There's someone who what?" Dorn asked. "Everyone knows about me on this ship. Something to do with your computer. Have you been researching me? Why? I don't like it, Del. Suppose you got mysterious messages about your background. You would have gone in with weapons blazing, wouldn't you?"

      Tarrant nodded reluctantly. "I'll explain later. We thought you might be able to help the resistance."

      "I have done, running guns for Avalon a few times. This is something different."

      "Leave it for now," Hugh intervened. "I'm going to take a look at Blake."

      Tarrant was in no mood to spare time for other people's problems. He nodded. "I'll be on the flight deck. Once we're clear, we can have a burial for Dayna. Come on, Dorn," he urged in a voice that was none too steady.

      Hugh watched him go. "I think we're in trouble, Jabberwocky," he said. "In more ways than one."

      

      

"Captain Sleer, we have found the clone."

      Servalan smiled to herself. "Restrain him," she ordered and went forward.

      "Restraints will not be necessary, Captain. He is deeply unconscious."

      "What!" She entered the room and stared down at the clone. He lay sprawled on the floor, clad only in underwear, his body chilled from the cool temperature, blood matting his curly hair. He was breathing but he needed treatment if he was to survive. And he alone knew IMIPAK's location.

      "Take him to the ship and treat him," she ordered. "You." She pointed to a second mutoid. "Examine the area and determine what could have injured him."

      "Yes, ma'am."

      She swept out after the first mutoid, realising she had stolen a march on the mindship's crew. She had beaten them to the clone - unless they had injured him. Perhaps the pirate vessel was responsible. It was gone now, but the mindship was still here, and that meant she had beaten them.

      Warmth and a stimulant stabilised the clone. Servalan gave him the truth drug along with the stimulant so he would revive predisposed to answer her questions. It had been specifically formulated to work on clones. The doctors promised that something in the clone's DNA structure would react to the drug. When she asked if it would work on the original, she learned it would be weaker but would still possess some slight effectiveness. The clone had been designed with a built in weakness she could exploit.

      "Now," she ordered her assistant. "Revive him. I will wait no longer to learn what occurred here."

      The mutoid raised his hypo. "This will weaken him, Captain Sleer. The cloned body is less durable than the original, especially in its tolerance for drugs."

      "I don't want it to win a longevity contest, simply to answer questions. That was an order."

      The mutoid plunged the needle into the clone's arm.

      

Hugh Tiver felt very old. It was hard to believe Dayna was dead; the sight of her sprawled there with a stranger working on her and Avon sitting like a statue at her side had shocked him profoundly. When Dorn had seen him he had explained what Avon was doing. "But it won't work. I think she's dead."

      Hugh had tried to save her, injecting her with a heart stimulant, even though the wound was too serious. Then Avon's unnatural stillness had warned him and he had grabbed him frantically, shaking him out of the link. Hugh had studied the subject of healer links and learned that physical healing required very specific training and the inexperienced ran the risk of becoming bound to the victim. If not brought out of the link, Avon could have died. When Avon had gasped and shuddered, the doctor could only hold him helplessly and wait for him to revive.

      Avon had revived cold and distant, reminding Hugh of the man who had kidnapped him on Dayson Prime to heal Cally. That man held everyone at arm's length. He hadn't even visited Cally in the medical unit until assured she would live, and he had resisted any tentative offers of friendship from the others. As Jabberwocky's linkage became normal and everyone experienced the group link, Avon had unbent slightly, but now he had withdrawn again, and Hugh feared the trauma of linking with Dayna as she died had made him lose ground. Cally and Blake should be with him when he woke. He would need them more than ever.

      Hugh pushed the buzzer at Blake's cabin door. Vila said Blake had been shaken and wobbly on his feet when he returned to the ship, and Hugh was concerned. Blake had been forced to kill his clone, which must have affected him adversely. Hugh tried to imagine how it would feel to kill someone wearing his own face, who possessed his memories. It might almost be like suicide. No wonder Blake was hidden in his cabin. He'd scarcely reacted to the news of Dayna's death, and that alarmed Hugh more than anything else. Blake was not apathetic by nature. Instead he tended toward involvement and it would be more like him to blame himself for Dayna's death than to ignore it.

      The door finally opened. Blake had changed into casual trousers and a shirt with full sleeves, and he must have been in the shower for his hair was damp and more tightly curled as a result. His eyes were shielded and he looked at Hugh as if he were a stranger. "Come in, Hugh," he said tiredly. "I suppose you want to examine me."

      "Vila says you were badly shaken up down there. I want to be sure you're all right."

      "I'm not hurt. I never meant to hurt him either, Hugh. That was the last thing I wanted. Living alone down there had affected him badly."

      "It must have been hard for him after his woman died," Hugh observed.

      "It was. He'd been alone more than a year. He had some identity problems, too. He believed he was me, but he knew it wasn't true. It's important to see oneself as a person in one's own right and he couldn't. Damn Servalan for what she did to him."

      "You mustn't blame yourself, Blake," Hugh chastised him gently as he ran his diagnostic scanner over Blake. "There was nothing else you could have done."

      "I could have stopped him without killing him," insisted Blake wearily. "He hit me over the head. I was dazed for a minute and the next thing I knew, he was coming at me with a stick. I think he meant to kill me. I fought back." He grimaced, waving Hugh's hand away. "Tell me about Dayna."

      "It was an accident, I think. A mistake. Dorn was down there. That's what's been going on. Jabberwocky wanted to see his son, especially after Avon's son appeared. I think he's suffering from an identity crisis."

      "Like the clone," Blake replied. "You said Avon was in the medical unit. He wasn't hurt, was he?"

      "No, just spent. Trying to heal Dayna drained him. He'll have to learn not to use his powers for things like that. It just doesn't work, not without training - and maybe some Auron blood."

      Blake sat down on his bed and massaged his temples. "Headache?" asked Hugh, his fingers investigating the back of Blake's skull. "I can't find any confusions, and you check out normal if a little anaemic. You haven't been that way for a long time. I can see I must monitor your diet more closely."

      He smiled, but Blake's face did not lighten in response, so he sighed inaudibly. "It looks like the only visible damage is that chipped tooth. Come down to the medical unit when you've rested and I'll take care of it."

      "I will." Blake prodded it with his tongue.

      "And I wish you'd talk to Avon when he wakes up," Hugh pressed on.

      "What about?"

      "What about?" Hugh echoed. "He's gone withdrawn again, holding people off like he did when I first met him. I think he'd listen to you before he'd listen to me, or even Cally."

      "All right. Have I time to get some sleep first?"

      "I think so. I'll fetch you when the time comes."

      "Have we left the planet?"

      Hugh nodded. "We'll rendezvous with Dorn's ship and see if we can find out what Servalan was up to. Dorn's sure she was there. He could pick up mutoids on his scanners."

      "Mutoids?"

      "He's got an Andromedan ship, just as we suspected. Its sensors are excellent. I think Jabberwocky's nose will be out of joint over them." Hugh smiled and started for the door.

      "You can get some sleep too, Hugh," Blake urged him. "You're upset about Dayna. There was nothing you could have done for her."

      "I wish that made me feel better."

      "Time will help," said Blake seriously. "After a while, it won't hurt as much. The wound scars over. Healing takes time."

      Hugh nodded. "All right, Blake. You get some rest and I'll come back for you when Avon's ready to wake up."

      He paused but Blake didn't answer, stretching out on the bed and sighing in pleasure as he found a comfortable position. Hugh hesitated, frowning, then he shook his head and left the room.

      

      

He hurt all over. Carefully he opened his eyes and instantly closed them again. Servalan was bending over him, staring down at him intently. It didn't take much intelligence to realise he was on her ship and in space from the feel of it.

      "Where is IMIPAK?" she asked sharply. "If you co-operate and tell me, I may let you live."

      "Do you think if I'd found IMIPAK, I'd give it to you, Servalan?" he demanded. "That's why I came here, to find it, to keep it from you."

      "Came here?" Her eyes narrowed as she studied him consideringly. "Blake?" she asked. "You are Blake? The real Blake?"

      "Of course I'm..." he began then fell silent. The question could mean only one thing, that she had believed she had captured the clone. He must have left Blake after striking him down and Servalan had found him. Blake wondered where the others were and if they were in pursuit. As for IMIPAK, the clone had implied it was safe from Servalan but had never revealed its hiding place. At least Blake couldn't tell Servalan anything, no matter what she did to him.

      "Are you the clone pretending to be Blake?" she asked. "Or are you really Blake, taking time to consider your options? We found you unconscious. Who struck you down?"

      He refused to answer. If she believed him to be the clone, she would pump him for information about IMIPAK, and she would not believe him when he said he knew nothing. If she discovered he was Blake, he would be in even greater peril. Better to keep her confused a little longer to give Avon and the others time to discover he was missing. Remembering something the clone had said long ago when he had contacted the Liberator to assure them they were safe, he said sententiously, "All life is linked. I am both, Servalan."

      Her eyes narrowed in annoyance. "Increase the dosage," she ordered the mutoid who had been waiting behind her.

      "I warn you, ma'am," the mutoid said as he came forward, "that I cannot guarantee the survival of the prisoner if he is given another dose."

      Servalan put out a hand to stay the mutoid before he gave the injection. "Give him the largest safe dose possible. I am not yet finished with him."

      "He has been given too much already to guarantee his life if he is injected again."

      Blake shivered. He did not feel like he was dying, but he did feel strange, vague and floating as if none of this was real. He lacked the strength to struggle, and he knew he could not resist if the mutoid tried to inject him again.

      But Servalan gestured the mutoid away impatiently. "I think you are the real Blake. You are not clever enough to have attempted deception, not with that dose of the drug in you. If you were the clone, you would have been unable to lie, and if you were Blake and unaware of my misconception about your identity, you would have reacted exactly as you did. Therefore you are Blake. What happened to you? Did your clone attack you? Did he..." She broke off laughing. "He took your clothes. Did he take your place on your ship as well? I wonder how long it will take the others to discover the deception. Perhaps they will believe they have you instead. If he is clever, he might fool them for some time."

      "He won't fool them," Blake replied. "There are too many things he doesn't know." Even as he spoke, he remembered the information he had carelessly tossed at the clone, the names of the crew, Jabberwocky's identity. Perhaps the clone had been pumping him for information. If he was very circumspect, he might manage to fool them, at least briefly. Certain things would give him away. Avon would suspect easily, for Avon was a suspicious man who knew Blake better than anyone else, and if Jenna came to him as she often did, she would certainly be able to tell the difference between her lover and a doppelg{\228}nger. Jabberwocky would know if he studied Blake, and Orac could tell the difference in their voice-prints, but none of that might happen immediately. If Blake had been the interloper, he would have isolated himself from the others and learned as much as possible before he was forced into a confrontation.

      "You doubt your friends," Servalan observed, leaning over him with interest. "Even should they discover the mistake, they do not know where to look for you. You are my prisoner now. I think I am in store for another promotion. Not even Arpel will hold me back when I return with you as my prisoner."

      "Assuming you can keep me," Blake retorted with as much defiance as he could muster.

      "You have been given a truth drug," Servalan informed him, stroking her hand down the side of his face. "I am told it is more effective on clones, but it is not without effect on normal humans. I have a great many questions for you. Shall we start with the mindship? Who is its primary link partner now?"

      Blake bite his lip, resisting the urge to answer her freely. He could resist the drug, but for how long? Avon, he thought helplessly, where are you?

      

      

Jenna directed Jabberwocky into rendezvous with the Scourge at asteroid Kermor 14, and both ships landed there at a discreet distance from each other. She cautioned Jabberwocky to stand ready with weaponry for she didn't know what might happen when the pirate captain returned to his own vessel. He knew what Jabberwocky could do up to a point, and had Jenna been in his position she would have coveted Jabberwocky fiercely enough to try to take him.

      Blake was still mewed up in his cabin and that worried Jenna though Hugh had reported him uninjured, only shaken. Hugh had sounded doubtful, and that made her wish to investigate, but she could not leave the flight deck, not when Tarrant hardly seemed present. He hadn't even objected when she'd gone into link-mode for the flight, merely assumed the auxiliary station. Usually when she was linked, she could sense Tarrant hovering possessively in the background, but he wasn't there this time and Jabberwocky seemed remote as well.

      Of course Jabberwocky was probably excited about his son. He hadn't revealed his true identity to Dorn yet and might fear doing so, if computers could be afraid. Jenna knew Jabberwocky was more than a computer, but her only real involvement was in link-mode and the group-links that Blake insisted upon, which she didn't quite like, and it was rather difficult for her to view the ship as a 'person'. She tended to regard him like Orac, a useful tool with a programmed personality, though she knew him to be more. Now she thought Jabberwocky's reticence might have a very human motive. He had no guarantee his son would accept him. Having manipulated Dorn into coming here, he held back, waiting.

      //I can't, Jenna,// Jabberwocky told her. //Not yet.//

      //Why not?//

      //He wouldn't believe it.//

      //Basically no one would. It'll take time.//

      //If someone you'd once cared for turned up as a ship's computer, how would you react, Jenna?//

      She thought about it. Though she was used to Jabberwocky and liked him, she suspected she'd be horrified if she found out that her mother, for instance, had been reduced to this. She tried to stop the thought from going out but she felt a wave of wistful regret and knew she had failed. //I'm sorry.//

      //You already knew me,// Jabberwocky replied. //It will be worse for him.//

      //And for you,// she thought sympathetically.

      It was bad enough already. Jenna couldn't believe how quickly everything had collapsed. Dayna's death was the worst, of course, but she couldn't help worrying about Blake too. Killing the clone seemed to have affected him badly. Once she was off watch, she'd go to him and see what she could do to help. Hugh had implied that this was also a major setback in the humanising of Avon. He had been bearable lately, but that was probably past now. Of course he might be better when he woke, but Jenna doubted it. Then there was Tarrant. He and Dayna had been close, and while Jenna doubted they were lovers, it would not have surprised her either. Tarrant was miserable. Even Vila eyed him sympathetically, and poor Vila was miserable himself. Only Cally seemed calm, but then Cally had an enviable knack for that; she'd managed it on Liberator when everyone else was ranting and raving about her, and it had taken Jenna time to learn that Cally's serenity was often a fašade. Jenna realised now that she was tense and worried, and the reason she sat there exuding calm was as much to help herself as to help the others.

      Dorn Suliman sat on one of the forward couches looking around with a bright and interested eye, and only Dayna's death kept him for plying them with questions. His interest was so palpable that Cally took pity on him and joined him. "You have many questions," she said quietly.

      "I do. The first one is why you sent for me."

      "That's hard to explain and it's not my story to tell."

      "Del's then?" He lowered his voice and glanced in Tarrant's direction.

      "Partially. You are old friends. When he is calmer he will be happy to talk to you."

      "It's to do with this ship then," Dorn mused. He wasn't slow. "When I came aboard, Vila recognised my name. He said I was 'Jabberwocky's Dorn'. I'd give a lot to know what that means."

      Jenna hoped Cally would not tell him out of hand and Cally didn't. "You'll need to ask Jabberwocky about that."

      "Ask your ship?"

      "I'm sorry. It's not my place to tell."

      Hugh came in quickly. "Cally, I'd like you to come. Avon will wake soon. I'll get Blake but I'd like you to go directly to the medical unit."

      Cally rose promptly and Jenna knew she was relieved at the interruption. Dorn looked after her with mild frustration as if he suspected he was being stonewalled, then he cast a speculative eye around the flight deck as if seeking his next victim. He settled for Vila. "My men will be getting restless over there. I'd better contact them and tell them how long I'll be. I don't want them to think me a hostage."

      Vila's eyes widened in alarm and he turned hastily to Jenna. "Here, we can't have that, can we, Jenna. What should we do?"

      "Jabberwocky?" she asked aloud. "What do you want to do?"

      "I caused all this. I didn't know it would go so far. I'm sorry, Del. I'm sorry, everyone."

      Tarrant ignored him and Jenna realised he'd been doing that since he came to the flight deck. For a moment, she had an unworthy thought; if Tarrant was unwilling to continue his link, it might come to her instead. But that was hardly fair - it was not her way to rob the helpless, though she would gladly challenge Tarrant in a fair fight. Besides, Jabberwocky would have some say too.

      "I've never seen a computer like that," Dorn said thoughtfully. "It must be true."

      "What must be true?" cried Vila in alarm.

      "This is the ship you stole from the Federation, the one with the human brain in it. I remember hearing rumours about the mindship before I defected, but it was just theory then. We started picking up stories that Blake had taken the mindship. That's it, isn't it? That's the only explanation that fits. Del, you're bonded with it, aren't you?"

      Tarrant raised his eyes, old eyes, and nodded before turning away again.

      "I want to hear all about it. Oh, not now," he rushed on when Vila made a protesting gesture. "Later on. I'm full of questions. I'd like to know the basis of the link. Jabberwocky sounds like it's more than a computer. What kind of programming was done? Has your Avon worked on it? They say he's the best."

      "You'll have to ask Jabberwocky," Tarrant returned. "He knows all the answers." He sounded so fed up that Jenna worried that he'd blurt out the truth no matter who suffered, but at the last moment something restrained him and he lost interest again.

      Dorn glanced around the flight deck, looking for Jabberwocky's display. "Well, Jabberwocky?" he asked, striding over to confront him face to 'face'. You arranged this. I get the feeling you planned a more positive outcome. Suppose you explain."

      "Suppose I don't. Not now. Besides I'd rather talk to you alone."

      "Fine. Pick a site and someone will take me there. I presume you have ship-wide outlets."

      "Not now," stalled Jabberwocky.

      Jenna could sympathise, but this was a fighting ship not a lonely hearts club and she knew their situation was precarious. If Dorn's crew should attack, they were in a bad position to fight. Jabberwocky was handling ship maintenance adequately, but that was routine and she thought it involuntary, like her own heart beating. But detecting problems required more effort and Jenna wanted to stay on top of things. "I think we should wait until Blake and Avon are with us again," she suggested. No one challenged her.

      "How long will that be?" asked Dorn. "I can't have my men sitting about doing nothing. They're far too inventive for that. They'll get greedy, and this ship is the most tempting thing they've seen in a long time."

      "Not long. But this ship is capable of taking yours, Andromedan or no. If you don't trust your men, get on the comm link and warn them to stay put," Jenna advised.

      "Am I a prisoner here?" he asked sarcastically.

      "Not yet."

      "What changes that status?"

      "Any hostile action from you or your ship," she told him flatly.

      "She means it," Tarrant added without looking up.

      Dorn's eyes fell on Tarrant and he frowned sympathetically. He backed off, turning to Jabberwocky again. "So this is the mindship," he commented. "You're more than a computer. There was a story that the designers planned to install a human brain or at least a human brain print in this ship. Is it true?"

      Jabberwocky hesitated, and Jenna threw him a understanding look. She knew he was afraid to reveal the truth for fear Dorn would reject him, so she cut in quickly, "Dorn -"

      He turned a braced and hostile glare in her direction, expecting further ultimatums. "Yes, Jenna?" He emphasised her name sarcastically.

      "A human brain once was a part of a human being," she reminded him. "You are treading on sensitive ground."

      "You mean I'll hurt your ship's feelings?" The sarcasm was still there.

      Once Tarrant would have leapt in with flying fists if anyone had dared mock Jabberwocky, but now he only glanced up with a ghost of his old spirit and said, "You don't know what you're talking about, Dorn. Don't be any more of a bloody great fool than you can help."

      Dorn wouldn't have taken the reproof from Jenna, but Tarrant quelled him. He grimaced. "All right. I'll leave your computer alone. For now. But your hospitality doesn't impress me."

      "Shut up!" Vila shouted. "Why are you sitting here arguing? Dayna's dead. Doesn't that mean anything?" He jumped up with uncharacteristic decisiveness and stood before Dorn, hands on his hips. "If you'd had better control over your crew, this would never have happened. None of this. Dayna would still be alive and Tarrant and Jabberwocky wouldn't be at outs and Avon wouldn't be - well, the way he is. If you can't do anything better than make trouble, I think you should go back to your own ship. I'm sorry, Jabberwocky," he said in an aside, "but that's what I think."

      "I know, Vila, and I do understand," Jabberwocky replied. "I cared about Dayna too, and Avon's my father. I've Blake to worry about as well - he isn't behaving normally at all. And now here's Dorn."

      "What is so special about me?" Dorn cried out. "I don't understand any of this. I simply want to know why you people are interested in me. Is that too much to ask?"

      "You are the son of Thorm Suliman," Jabberwocky conceded reluctantly.

      That roused Dorn's attention. "You people knew my father?"

      There was no easy answer to that question, but Jabberwocky replied, "I knew him a long time ago. He was always interested in you, Dorn. He often talked of you to anyone who would listen. I heard a great many stories about you."

      "So you learned about me when you were still - still a-"

      "Still a man," Jabberwocky supplied. He sounded melancholy, and Jenna wondered at Tarrant's deliberate refusal to link in the face of that unhappiness.

      "And you learned about me from Tarrant too," Dorn plunged on quickly to cover his faux pas. "That means he's link-pilot. What's it like, Del? Is it as exciting as the stories implied?"

      Tarrant flung him a scornful glance and did not answer.

      "You don't learn, do you?" Vila exclaimed.

      "I'll talk to him, Vila," Jabberwocky conceded. "Tarrant, would you show him the way to the rest room and leave us there?"

      Tarrant rose automatically. "Come on," he said impatiently. "You may as well get it over with."

      Jenna doubted he knew which of them he meant to speak to. She watched them leave, feeling very uneasy.

      

      

When Cally reached the medical unit, Blake was there already, sitting beside Avon's bed with a concerned look upon his face. Dayna's body had been removed, and Cally was glad; the last thing Avon needed when he awoke was a reminder of what he must consider his failure.

      Blake smiled at her. "Cally."

      "You do not look well, Blake. I am sorry for what happened down there. I know it was not what you would have chosen."

      "No. I would not have chosen it," he agreed. "Too many things went wrong. How goes it on the flight deck?"

      "Not well. It will take time." She dropped her hand on his shoulder then lifted it quickly. Blake felt different somehow, as if he had withdrawn into himself and emerged a stranger.

      When Avon stirred restlessly, Hugh disconnected the IV. "He'll be waking any time," he announced. "Give him distance if he wants it. I think he will want it."

      Cally nodded. "This is the worst thing that could happen to Avon. Of course it is bad for us all, and I feel for Tarrant. He cared more than he realised. But for Avon as a healer, it is very serious. He has never known how to handle grief and this will be too personal."

      Blake surprised Cally by clasping Avon's hand. Though Blake could reach out to Avon and often did, he was very careful to respect Avon's walls, and she doubted Avon would thank him for this.

      They waited in silence, and Cally sat opposite Blake near the wall where Avon would see her when he woke, but would not feel overwhelmed by her presence. Sometimes Avon sent her very contradictory signals, the need to hold aloof from her and the others fighting his desire to allow her closer to him and his wish for her to 'stake her claim'. Avon was too important to her to err too far in either direction, so she walked a narrow path between possessiveness and disinterest, conscious of his annoyance at her tact. There was no real pleasing him, yet she knew he would not reject her. If he seldom permitted himself an overt display of emotion in public, he wouldn't reject her hand on his arm or turn a cold face to her smiles. In private he was more demonstrative and he was a tender lover. That everyone on board knew the status of their relationship no longer troubled him, and the only bar to their bond was his reluctance to develop his telepathic gifts and the stronger, less easily defined bond that existed between him and Blake. She would never interfere with it but she was glad it was not so all encompassing that it shut her out.

      Certainly Blake knew the parameters of his own bond with Avon, but she would have guessed holding Avon's hand as he lay there unconscious was a step beyond them. Killing the clone had changed Blake, and perhaps he was realising that losses are far too common, and he was reluctant to let this one survivor escape him. Cally feared it would have the opposite effect this time.

      Abruptly Avon opened his eyes and for a long moment he did not move or speak. He glanced cautiously around the medical unit, noting Cally in her corner. Though he did not smile at her - he was not a man who smiled often or meaninglessly - she saw recognition of their relationship in his eyes and was content.

      He noticed Blake next, and they stared at each other. Gradually Avon realised Blake was clasping his hand and he pulled free, both startled and fastidious, sending a surprised look at Blake, followed by furious consideration.

      "Avon," said Blake quickly, "I'm glad you are all right."

      "Are you?" Avon's voice was normal with no evident weakness but it lacked its usual timbre. His responses seemed conditioned, Pavlovian; he knew what they expected from him and he would say it while he found his feet. "I should have thought you would be involved in the disposition of IMIPAK, Blake, that being your prime consideration."

      "It's hardly my prime consideration when you're hurt, Avon," Blake replied earnestly, and Cally saw Avon pull back, startled out of his script, hunting around for new lines. It was hardly fair of Blake to throw him off guard at a time like this, and Cally tried to catch Blake's eye to warn him of it. She dare not use telepathy for Avon sometimes picked up on her sendings even when directed elsewhere. She would block him but he might sense that as well, and the last thing she wanted to do to him now was appear to reject him.

      "Well, it should be," Avon finally returned. "Perhaps you do not value your existence, but I should prefer to keep IMIPAK well away from Servalan."

      "Already done, Avon. The clone told me he'd destroyed it and scattered the pieces. She will never find them all."

      "Then your trip was a wasted effort, wasn't it, Blake?" Avon demanded bitterly. "Why have you bothered to come here then? To view the remains?" He caught himself at that and jerked his head back, mouth open, face achingly vulnerable. Cally had seen that look on his face several times before; when Anna Grant lay dead in Avon's arms, when Servalan told him on Terminal that Blake was dead, and on Gauda Prime after shooting Blake. There had been a trace of it on Triana when Avon had been rescued from arrest believing Vila had been gunned down before him, but that was the most of it Blake had seen, and he should feel the impact. In moments, Avon would realise what he was revealing and close himself up again, and if Blake said the right thing, he might be all right. But Blake didn't.

      "I don't know what you're talking about, Avon," he insisted. "Naturally I'd come here."

      "There is no 'naturally' about it, Blake," Avon returned. "Your brilliant plan failed and Dayna paid its price. Between you and Jabberwocky, you have managed to create more trouble than I find acceptable. I warn you, Blake..."

      "Avon," Cally intervened. Killing the clone had affected Blake badly, but surely he could handle this better. Cally did not want their separate griefs to destroy something as important as the link between them.

      He shot her an annoyed look. "Stay out of this, Cally. I want to hear how Blake justifies what happened down there."

      "What do you expect me to say?" Blake snapped. "I never meant anything to happen to Dayna. I don't know what you mean about Jabberwocky, but..."

      "Remarkably slow of you, Blake," Avon sneered. "Naturally this is all clear to you. You understand the ghost signals now. If Jabberwocky didn't wipe the traces of Dorn's ship from the recordings, I shall be very surprised. He wanted to find Dorn and find him he did. I have long insisted that computer functions should be more precise and devoid of emotionalism. This is the outcome."

      "There was nothing you could have done for Dayna," Cally burst out. "Tell him, Blake."

      "Of course he couldn't," Blake agreed comfortingly. "Is that it, Avon? Surely you realise her wounds were too serious for her to survive. If Hugh couldn't save her, what could you have done?"

      "It's worked before, Blake," Avon insisted, a thread of desperation laced through his voice.

      Blake stared at him blankly as if he had forgotten what Avon looked like, then he persisted desperately, "But this is different, Avon."

      "Different how? Surely it was no different from the time with Tarrant when Del Grant shot him."

      Blake looked at Cally helplessly, and she stared back in dawning shock.

      "It was different because Tarrant was hooked into complete life support," she reminded them. "Jabberwocky gave him strength through the ship's systems. You only provided the impetus. It's quite different, Avon. It was understandable you'd feel compelled to try, but you lack the experience and the training to achieve something like that. I think an experienced Auron healer would have failed."

      "Perhaps," Avon returned coldly. He looked at Blake, eyes narrowing. //Say nothing, Cally,// he sent suddenly and she could feel his exhaustion through the blurred edges of his mental tones. //Do not react to what I say now.//

      //Of course, Avon.//

      Avon watched Blake intently. "Tarrant was fortunate to survive at all," he went on. "You've seen how long it has taken him to recover, Blake. He should be fit within this month, and we'll be back to strength."

      "He's handled it well," Blake replied, dutifully following Avon's lead, and Cally drew a sharp breath as she realised what Avon must have known for some time.

      "Yes," Avon hissed, sitting up and fending off Cally's supporting arm. "How long did you think you could deceive us?" he demanded furiously. "What have you done with Blake?"

      "Are you mad, Avon? I'm Blake."

      "Are you indeed? If you were Blake, you would know Tarrant has been fit for months. You'd know what kind of healing I do - did. But you didn't know any of that. You only know a little about us, what the Federation could programme into you. You're Blake's clone, and if you have killed Blake, your life expectancy has become nil."

      The clone must have realised he'd been found out for he sagged back in his chair. "I didn't kill him," he confessed. "I left him back there. I got what information I could from him and knocked him out so he couldn't stop me when I took his teleport bracelet and his clothes."

      Cally heard Hugh calling the flight deck, telling Jenna they must return to the planet, but she couldn't listen further for Avon suddenly lunged at the clone and only the fact that he was still weak from his ordeal prevented him from doing him grave bodily harm. The clone retreated in a panic, but there was nowhere left for him to run. Hugh abandoned the intercom and grabbed him before he could duck out of the medical unit.

      "What shall I do with him, Avon?" he asked, and Cally realised he would do whatever Avon said, even if Avon told Hugh to kill him.

      Avon must have realised it too for he hesitated, staring at the doctor, then he turned away wearily.

      "Restrain him." He stood up, balancing himself against the edge of the med table until he regained his equilibrium.

      "Where are you going?" Cally asked him, offering her arm for support. He hesitated and she feared he would reject it, but he must have known he could not yet go far unaided for he took it.

      "I'm going to the flight deck. The sooner we return for Blake the better."

      

      

Dorn Suliman looked around the deserted room uneasily, suddenly nervous. The computer display was opposite him, blinking in a myriad of colours, and Dorn pulled out a chair and sat down facing it. He didn't know why he found himself so uneasy, but he did, and he was reluctant to go on with this, though he had pushed for answers. "You started all this," he said. "Suppose you make sense of it for me. You know my father? Fine, but hardly reason to make me chase halfway across the galaxy. There's more, isn't there?"

      "Yes, there's more," the computer replied. "I don't think it's going to please you though, and the more I think of it, the more I think I made a mistake. I don't make them running the ship, not any more, but I did once. You see, the base of my personality is lodged in a human brain. The process stripped the memory from that brain, from the person it once belonged to, and the memory came back gradually. When I first experienced who I had been, I went a little mad and it created problems. Avon helped me through that time."

      "I know he's supposed to be a healer," Dorn replied, wondering why the explanations, instead of relaxing him, only made him more uneasy.

      "He is a very good healer, of mental problems. He is not a good healer of physical injuries. But that's not the issue here. Avon has a son. A boy he had not seen since he was two. A few weeks ago, Avon's son arrived on our base and he and Avon were reconciled."

      "I'm glad for them, but what has that to do with me?" Dorn refused to formulate the idea lurking at the back of his mind. If he didn't conceptualize it, it would not be true.

      "It has to do with you in that the reunion made me wish for one of my own," Jabberwocky said. He added tentatively, "I think it is too much to expect that I should have such a successful reunion, but I wanted to try. This will be hard for you to hear, and I would have preferred to back out, if you hadn't figured out so much of it on your own. But before I was a disembodied brain in a mindship, before I was christened Jabberwocky, I had a different name. I was Thorm Suliman. Your father."

      Dorn rose to his feet and backed away. There it was, the words he had half feared he would hear, the words he would not believe. "It isn't true," he cried. "It can't be. I saw my father's body! There was a funeral. He's dead."

      "I'm sorry. I realised once you'd come here that I would have been kinder to say nothing, but by then it was too late. The part of me that runs this ship does its job well, The part of me still human is just as prone to make mistakes as the next person. I wish I hadn't told you, Dorn, but you are my son. I love you. At least I can tell you that. Even if you leave and never come back, I saw you as a man, and I can be content with that."

      Dorn shook his head. He couldn't believe any of this. He couldn't bear it. "You're mad," he insisted. "This is some kind of trick. Isn't it?"

      "It's true. Computers don't lie, and I'm at least half computer. But I'm still your father. If you want to go, I won't stop you, but you know where I am., Maybe someday we can talk."

      "No. Not now." Dorn had reached the door, hesitating there. "Just leave me alone," he cried and fled. He didn't know where he was going but it would be far away from here.

      The computer called his name. The computer? His father? Impossible. He decided it was time to return to the Scourge. He needed to think.

      

      

"So you're just going to run, are you?" Tarrant asked as he set the teleport controls to return Dorn to his ship.

      Dorn looked shaken and Tarrant wondered if his own face looked any better, but it didn't make him feel particularly sympathetic. After all, even though it was not to his own choosing, Dorn had gained a father. He hadn't lost... Tarrant shook his head, and added, "I never thought you were a coward."

      "I never thought you were a fool. What the hell am I supposed to feel, damn you? Could you welcome something like this? Your father's still alive, after all, not part of some great ship, not a bloody machine."

      "Much good he does me." Tarrant grimaced as he remembered his own father and the resentment Blake had felt when he realised exactly who Tarrant's father was. "Someday he'll probably hunt me down like he did Blake."

      "Central Security. I forgot." Dorn didn't look particularly regretful about his lapse. "How would you like him to be like - like this." He gestured at Jabberwocky's display, desperation colouring the motion.

      Tarrant still resented Jabberwocky for the whole fiasco, but he discovered he resented Dorn's attitude even more. He'd been too close to Jabberwocky not to resent this on his link-mate's behalf. "After five minutes of talk, you're going to throw away your own father? That's the coward's way out."

      "Then I must be a coward," Dorn returned. "Because I'm going. I... just can't face it, Del. I can hardly believe it. He says he's my father, but how do I know they didn't make a brain print and use it for the ship. Even if they didn't, my father was a man. I remember the way he laughed, how it always made him feel good. Computers damn well don't laugh. No, even if he has some of my father's memories, he's not my father. It's just a ship's computer, and if I could find the bastards who used my father for the print, I'd blast them in cold blood." He tightened the bracelet round his wrist. "Send me back, Tarrant."

      "You're wrong, you know. There's an actual human brain here, your father's. And even if it was just a brain print, the part of it that has a personality is what makes it a person, and Jabberwocky has that. He is a person whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. Do you think a computer has the initiative to do what he did to fetch you? Or are you saying that a human has to be 100% complete to be a human? Remember Rachley back at the Academy." He named a instructor who had lost both legs in a space accident and whose body had rejected prosthetic implants. "Doesn't he count either?"

      "I don't know," Dorn burst out. "I don't know what to think. You didn't know my father; you can't understand."

      "Maybe I didn't, but I know Jabberwocky. And I say you're making a mistake."

      "Then I'm making a mistake," Dorn insisted. "Just teleport me over to my ship."

      "And you'll keep the bracelet?" Tarrant asked.

      Dorn eyed him suspiciously.

      "Well, you'd be a fool to sever ties completely. Think it over. Usually death is final. At least you've got another chance." That recalled Dayna's image, and Tarrant dropped his eyes to the controls, though he could feel Dorn watching him. After a minute, Dorn said in a flat voice, "Well, I can agree to that much. I don't think it's a chance I want to take, but I'll keep the bracelet. I know where your base is. I've been there before. Maybe when you rescue Blake and go home, I'll see you there."

      Tarrant didn't know if he meant it or not, but he hoped so. Dorn wouldn't leave his ship and crew to join them even if he accepted his father, so this was the best option left. "I hope you will," he said levelly, discovering that Dorn's attitude to Jabberwocky had muted most of his own resentment to the computer. Jabberwocky had hardly meant Dayna to die, and he probably felt worse about it than most of them since it was his fault. "I think you need to come to terms with your father," he added. "I'm not saying you should be his link-mate..."

      Dorn grimaced. "I don't think I'd want that anyway, even if it was... someone else."

      "It can be the greatest feeling in the world," Tarrant told him, recalling the joy he'd always felt in the link. "I wish I could show you. I think you'd stop holding back if I could."

      Dorn took a wary step backwards as if afraid Tarrant would force linkage on him. "No. Just send me home, Del. I've got enough to think about already."

      With a sigh, Tarrant complied.

      Jabberwocky must have reported completion of teleport, for the ship began to move immediately. As Tarrant started for the flight deck, he felt Jabberwocky's mental touch. //Thank you for trying, Del.//

      //I couldn't let him go off like a fool without making some effort,// he replied.

      //I know you hate what I did,// Jabberwocky went on, //and I would do anything to bring Dayna back, but I can't. If you can't forgive me, I'll let you leave the link. Jenna would take me, I think. She's been feeling possessive about me ever since she realised you were shutting me out.//

      "Jenna!" Tarrant burst out resentfully. //No,// he went on in link-mode. //I've got the link and I'm keeping it. I'm angry with you, but I know why you did it. I won't give you to Jenna. I'd never get you back if I did.//

      //You'd want me back?// The tone was so wistful that Tarrant's resentment eased considerably.

      //Yes, I'd want you back. Don't be a fool. Just give me some space, that's what I want now. I know how you must be feeling about Dorn. It was a shock to him. He might come around. You haven't seen him at his best.//

      //None of us are at our best, Del. Not now.//

      When Tarrant walked onto the flight deck, he knew that was true. Avon was there, still too pale, his face closed away from them all, with Cally protectively at his side. At the helm Jenna was all business and Vila was monitoring communications while Orac blinked away busily. Jabberwocky explained that the computer was scanning for Servalan's ship since it would likely have left the planet by now. Hugh sat beside Blake's clone - amazing how like Blake he was, though his expression was different - as if standing guard. When Avon's glance fell on the clone, he looked positively murderous.

      "Anything?" Tarrant asked as he strode in.

      Jenna turned to him. "Not yet. You take over, Del. I'm going to get some rest. If Servalan has Blake, I want to be fresh when we face her."

      He nodded, sliding into position and letting the pilot's link form; he had stopped closing Jabberwocky out. When Jenna went off to sleep, he looked around. "Anyone else?"

      Vila looked tired, but he was sitting close to Avon with that protective attitude that emerged sometimes and never failed to startle Tarrant. He shook his head. No one else moved.

      "After we get Blake back, I want to arrange a star orbit burial for Dayna," Tarrant announced flatly. "She'd like that, I think."

      "No." It was Avon who objected, and Tarrant turned to him angrily.

      "Damn you, Avon -"

      "Sarran," Avon interrupted. "With her father. Once we have Blake back, we'll go to Sarran."

      Tarrant subsided. Avon was right, that was what Dayna would have preferred. He was surprised that Avon had thought of it, for Avon was not sentimental, but Avon must feel he owed it to Dayna. He'd taken her from her home and now she was dead. She belonged with her father now.

      "What will you do with me?" the clone asked. "Leave me back there where you found me?"

      "If you are lucky," Avon said coldly. "If anything has happened to Blake as a result of your actions, you will not need to worry about it."

      "Killing me might be best," the clone agreed reasonably. "I told Blake that. I feel like I am Blake, but I'm not. I have nothing of my own. You couldn't even settle me somewhere else because I would be recognised and used."

      "It won't come to that," Avon replied.

      "You can't just kill him," Vila objected. He seemed to find the resemblance unsettling.

      "Can't I? Do you propose to stop me?"

      "But he looks just like Blake. Avon, he -"

      "He is not Blake, Vila. Because of him, Blake is not here. You don't imagine I intend to reward him for that."

      "You can't just kill him. All he wanted was a chance."

      "Do you imagine, if asked, Blake would have denied him one?"

      Vila was silent, then he shook his head. "No. But he didn't know that, did he?"

      "If he didn't, then he is certainly nothing like Blake," Avon returned smoothly.

      "Why don't we wait and see what Blake wants to do with him," Hugh put in. Always the voice of reason, Hugh could usually produce the right answers.

      Avon turned to Hugh. "You are being merciful," he said. "Just as Blake will be. I am not inclined to be merciful."

      "Blake would expect it of you, Avon," Cally said softly.

      "Blake is often a fool." He turned and rose. "Watch him carefully," he instructed Hugh, who nodded immediately. Satisfied, Avon headed for the door.

      "Where are you going," cried Vila.

      "To bed."

      "But Blake's missing!"

      "If you can tell me how staying up will alter that, I shall reconsider my actions," Avon replied. "Well, Vila?"

      "But -"

      Avon walked out of the room.

      Cally started to follow him, then she sat down again. "He will be better alone," she said, "at least for now."

      "But he won't sleep," Vila objected. "He'll just lie awake and brood about Dayna and Blake."

      "Then he must be allowed to do so. Surely you must realise that he will not allow us to cosset him now."

      "Who says I want to cosset him?" Vila demanded and headed for the drinks dispenser.

      "Oh, fine," snapped Tarrant. "Drink yourself into a stupor."

      "That's the best idea I've heard all day." Vila bent over the controls and produced glasses of some amber liquid, passing them around to everyone, even the clone. "Cheers," he said miserably. Tarrant downed his in a swallow, feeling it burn all the way down. The others drank theirs too, all but Vila, who set his aside after one sip and left the flight deck.

      "Do you know what the greatest flaw in my design is, Del?" Jabberwocky asked him. Hugh looked up at the question, and Cally turned to Tarrant, maybe to see how he would react.

      "No," Tarrant replied warily. "Just what is the greatest flaw in your design?"

      "Computers can't drink."

      For the first time since Dayna's death, Tarrant managed to smile.

      

      

"Leave him," Servalan snapped, looking down at Blake in disgust. He was unconscious again, and the mutoid had warned her against further injections. "He has had too much already, Captain Sleer. Any more and he will die."

      She didn't want Blake dead. She wanted him alive as a trophy, a victory to fling in Arpel's face, a stepping stone to power. She had felt him thwarting her all down the line, and the bastard knew she was Servalan. Of course the mutoid had heard Blake call her that, but he had not been out of the room since then and Servalan was prepared to have him blanked to preserve her identity.

      "Will he survive?" she asked.

      "If allowed time to rest, he may do so. The drugs must be purged from his system too. Shall I initiate the process?"

      "Not yet. Will it harm him to wait?"

      "There can be some delay, but I should not advise it, Captain."

      "You do not advise me," she returned. "Will he die of it?"

      "No."

      "Then what will happen?"

      "He has already begun to close away from you," the mutoid explained. "He is deliberately withdrawing to avoid answering your questions. Ordinarily, that would not be possible short of actual mental illness, but the drug plays with the mind's parameters and the very functions which allow you to question him allow him to prevent it. He will draw himself deeply into his mind where you cannot go after him."

      "Very well," she replied. "Leave him. I may order you to purge his system later. For now, he is harmless as he is."

      "What are your orders, Captain?" the mutoid asked.

      "Report to be blanked when we arrive at headquarters. Tell no one of Blake."

      "Yes, Captain," he replied unemotionally. He had come to her blanked of all but the medical knowledge essential to perform the interrogation of the clone. That it had not been the clone was her advantage, though she wondered about IMIPAK.

      Avon must have discovered the clone, she realised. That also meant he could now possess IMIPAK. But there was a chance he had not. Blake did not know the location of IMIPAK, only that the clone had reported it beyond her reach. That might be good enough for Blake, but it was not good enough for her. She had to know. She punched a button on the intercom.

      "Flight deck," came the answer.

      "Alter course. Return to the planet where we took the prisoner."

      "Yes, ma'am."

      Servalan paced the room, glancing occasionally at Blake's unconscious form. If Avon had IMIPAK, she was not unarmed. Blake would make a lovely shield.

      

      

Avon returned to the flight deck shortly before they came into orbit around the planet, just in time to hear Orac's report. "A Federation vessel is down on the surface of the planet."

      "Servalan?" Avon demanded, striding over to Orac. "Is it Servalan?"

      "Who else?" Tarrant asked. He looked like he'd had no sleep since learning about Dayna; his eyes were red-rimmed with fatigue, but there was an edge to his voice and he looked glad of the opportunity to confront her. If she hadn't baited a trap with a false IMIPAK, they would never have come here.

      "Why is she back?" Vila asked, following Avon onto the flight deck. Avon had the uncomfortable sensation that Vila had been following him.

      "It's obvious, Vila," he said scornfully. "Discovering she had the real Blake might be a triumph for her, but it deprives her of IMIPAK. She has returned in hopes of recovering it."

      "But it doesn't exist anymore," objected the clone, who still sat on the forward couch. Avon had left him with his wrists secured into binders, but in the interval, one hand had been freed and he was fastened to the armrest. He held a cup of coffee in his free hand. "Rashel and I dismantled it. She hid some of it and I hid the rest. It would be impossible to locate all of it now."

      "Did Blake know that?" Tarrant asked.

      The clone shook his head. "No. I only told him it was safe from her; that it was unlikely she could use it. He wouldn't be able to answer her questions, as he didn't know where it was."

      Avon's eyes narrowed. Servalan would give it her best try. Suspecting Blake of concealing a secret, she would probe and push until it became obvious that Blake was not lying to her. Of course by then it might be too late for Blake. "She would not expect to find us still here," he observed. "Unless of course we came back for Blake. Perhaps she will wish to make a trade."

      "But we don't have IMIPAK," Hugh reminded him. "We've nothing to trade, Avon."

      Avon glanced at the clone who looked alarmed, but he doubted Servalan would have any actual interest in him, short of learning IMIPAK's location. "No?" he asked. "We do have an item to trade, courtesy of Servalan herself. We brought an IMIPAK from Serna. Fetch it, Vila."

      "But it was just a dummy device, Avon," Vila objected.

      "Servalan will hardly expect us to test it," Avon replied. "Her risk is as great as ours. It will buy us time, and time is what we need. Orac, what are you able to learn about Blake? Is he alive?"

      "That information is not available."

      "Then I suggest you continue scanning until such time as it becomes available."

      Orac was not foolish enough to disagree.

      Avon turned to Cally, who looked like she had rested, at least briefly; she did not look as haggard as Tarrant did. "Open communications, Cally. See if you can contact her."

      "Contact her?" Vila echoed in dismay.

      "What would you have me do, Vila? Teleport directly onto her ship and retrieve Blake?"

      "I'd prefer it to telling her we're here."

      Avon would have preferred it too, but he had no way of knowing what Servalan had done to Blake, or if he even lived, and teleporting over to rescue a corpse possessed a certain element of futility. On the other hand, if Blake had been drugged or conditioned, Avon would like to know it before Blake was moved, to be certain nothing vital for Blake's survival be overlooked. "Fine, Vila," he now snapped. "Where would Blake be held? What is the size of the crew and how are they armed? Has Blake been drugged, and if so, with what? I should prefer to avoid rushing into trouble. We have had enough of that."

      Vila nodded. "But what if she won't trade with us?"

      "She will trade, if she wishes to continue living."

      Vila must have believed him, for he raised no further objections. Avon turned to Cally once more. "Well?" he asked impatiently.

      She nodded. "I have an open channel, Avon. Go ahead."

      Avon raised his voice slightly. "Sleer?"

      There was a pause, then her familiar silky voice responded. "Avon, what an unexpected pleasure."

      "Pleasure indeed," he returned. "You have something of mine, Servalan, and I would appreciate its return."

      "Something of yours, Avon?" she responded with a trill of laughter. "Do you mean Blake? Is he yours? I had no idea of it."

      "I did not come here to bandy words with you, Sleer. I came for Blake. I have something that would interest you, in his place."

      "Hardly IMIPAK, Avon," she returned confidently. "You would not bargain with something that endangers your own life, not even for Blake."

      "Would I not? Suppose I tell you that Orac has managed to neutralise the molecular instability IMIPAK projects, and that it is no longer a threat to me? Of course I do not intend to share that technology with you. A weapon that is no threat to me is a perfect bargaining tool. I do not care if you wipe out entire planetary populations with it. That is your prerogative. I merely expect you to return Blake to me."

      "You have not changed, Avon," she returned. "Do your crew share your cavalier attitude to the rest of humanity? Will Blake thank you for it?"

      "Blake will thank me for his life, and we will pursue you and fight you for IMIPAK on your terms and his."

      "I don't quite know how it is, Avon, but I am sceptical of your story. Perhaps we must prove it. Bring IMIPAK and I will test it on one of my mutoids. If it kills him, then I will believe you and give you Blake. Otherwise, we have nothing to talk about."

      Avon gestured sharply to Cally, who turned off the communicator. "Jabberwocky, do you recall the selective stun you managed on Gauda Prime?" he demanded. "Could you do that to a selected target in co-ordination with the use of IMIPAK's key?"

      "An elegant solution, Avon," Jabberwocky lauded him, sounding more like himself than he had for some time. "I should have expected it of you. Yes, I could manage that, if Tarrant were a member of the landing party. That would give me a complete view of the situation and I could time my stun to match the use of the key. The mutoid would not be dead, of course, unless you require it for verisimilitude."

      "It might be necessary. Tarrant?"

      "Yes, Avon."

      "Have you objections to the plan?"

      "No. Should I?"

      "You seemed to display a reluctance to link earlier."

      "That's my business, Avon. It won't interfere with ship's functions, and I have as much right to help you rescue Blake as anyone else does."

      "So you say. All right, Cally. Give me a channel again." A moment later, "Sleer?"

      "Yes, Avon?"

      "I agree to your terms, if you will agree to mine. You will bring Blake to the rendezvous. He will be examined by my doctor and pronounced fit. Can you guarantee that?"

      "I shall have him revived."

      "If you have harmed him, Servalan, I warn you that you are still marked."

      "I have questioned him," she said quickly, concerned. She believed Avon could kill her now without the need for a meeting.

      Avon smiled a little. Her fear amused him.

      "Your questioning had better not be fatal, Sleer, or it will be the last questioning you ever do."

      "Avon, you have my word on it. When shall we meet? Shall we say half an hour?"

      "Shall we say fifteen minutes? I will contact before the meeting and give you the location. I will bring IMIPAK and backup. You will bring Blake and one mutoid for test purposes."

      "What is to guarantee my life if I fulfil your conditions?" she asked quickly.

      "Only my word on it," he replied.

      That gave her pause, but after a moment, she replied, "Very well. I will revive Blake. I will meet you at the place you specify."

      The channel closed, and Avon could picture her bustling about giving orders, deploying mutoids to cover the likely sites, instructing more of them to see to Blake's well-being. He turned to face the computer display. "This had better work, Jabberwocky."

      "It will work. Of course it will work. How can you doubt me? You wound me, Avon. I am always efficient."

      "So I have noticed."

      "I'm a member of this crew too, Avon. I have my rights."

      "So long as they do not interfere with the rights of the rest of us. Remember that in the future."

      "He means you should have come to us," Cally explained quickly. "We would have helped you find Dorn if you had asked us to."

      "Oh, is that what I meant?" Avon asked coldly.

      "You know we would have done it, Avon," she defended herself.

      It was true that they would have done it, but Blake would have put the IMIPAK mission first, as he always put the cause first. Should the weapon have been intact, his choice would have been the right one, and even if not, the clone could have been used against them. Coming here had thwarted Servalan whether it had been a triumph or not.

      Avon glowered at the others, but he couldn't deny that much. Damn Blake for taking his stupid risks and doubly damn him for being right about them! Jabberwocky's son had rejected him. Avon knew himself fortunate in his own son, and a reluctant moment of empathy startled him, but he pushed it aside. Time enough for that if Blake were recovered.

      "You haven't slept, Tarrant," Hugh said to the pilot. "Will you be all right down there."

      "Just as you will. You haven't slept either."

      Vila returned carrying the false IMIPAK. The key was in two pieces and he was trying to fit them together as he came in. "Dayna had been working on it, Avon," he said, displaying it. "I know it wasn't anything really, but she had an idea about it. I used to go along and help her sometimes." He glanced uneasily at Tarrant and fell silent.

      Avon received the two pieces. "This is easily mended," he observed. Would that the rest of this insane mission's actions were so. He gathered his tools together and repaired it himself though any of them would have done it properly. Once done, he hefted both pieces in his hand and tried to guess how near to the original they had come. He had never held IMIPAK, merely seen it from a little distance. Could Servalan have marked this copy so she could tell it from the original? It would not leave his hand until Blake was safe. Avon preferred Blake safe on Jabberwocky. He had a very long lecture he planned to give him once Blake was back on board.

      "What about me?" the clone asked. "Will you want me down there?"

      "No. You will only complicate the issue. I want you here, so that Blake can decide your fate when he returns."

      Hugh looked at him in surprise, but had the sense to say nothing about what he must perceive as a major concession.

      When the time came, Avon, Tarrant and Hugh armed themselves thoroughly. Tarrant was linked with Jabberwocky in a deep linkage that didn't interfere with his actions, but which would give Jabberwocky a complete picture of the surface action. In an attempt to guarantee success, orbit was reduced until they were skimming the edge of the atmosphere. For the limited time Avon planned to spend on the surface, the ship's compensators could handle any overheating that would arise.

      Finally Avon contacted Servalan and told her to meet them in the room where they had encountered her and Travis, when he and Blake had come here with Gan. "We will be waiting for you, Servalan. Any action you take against us will be your last."

      The place looked deserted, but Hugh Tiver doubted it was so. Servalan had been to this place before and knew it; it was inconceivable she had not sent mutoids ahead of her to wait here. She would likely not act until it was proven to her satisfaction that IMIPAK was what Avon claimed it to be, but once that happened, their time would run out very quickly. Hugh felt in his pocket for the spare teleport bracelet and hoped he would get a chance to slip it around Blake's wrist. Avon had insisted he check Blake, so that gave Hugh the best chance to prepare him for teleport.

      "Servalan," Avon called, raising his voice slightly. "I am waiting for you."

      "And you are on time, Avon." She emerged from the next room, elegantly gowned in black instead of the uniform she had worn when Hugh had seen her before in the cell on Triana. At her side was a mutoid with a Federation para-gun, and behind her, looking rather worse for wear, was Roj Blake. His eyes were alert, but his body was slack and he had braced himself against the door jamb in an attempt to keep to his feet.

      "Blake?" Avon questioned sharply, dropping his pose of non-involvement at the sight of him, though he would not want to give himself away to Servalan any more than he could help.

      At the sound of his voice, Blake raised his eyes and pinned Avon with them, and through the bruised look of pain there shone out warmth and relief, that Avon had come for him. "What took you so long?" he asked, the note of conscious challenge causing Avon's mouth to lift at the corners.

      "We were passing by," he explained. "We thought it worthwhile to exchange this for you."

      He held up the dummy IMIPAK. Both Blake and Servalan stared at it uneasily.

      "You can't give it to her," Blake burst out, pushing himself away from the door frame and lunging for it. He didn't have the strength for the move, and the mutoid restrained him.

      "Not so fast," Servalan cautioned. "Avon, you offered a little test. Suppose you prove your words by firing at Blake."

      Avon hesitated, then he raised the key, aimed it at Blake, who cringed slightly, and pressed the firing stud. Nothing happened. Avon threw Servalan a mocking smile and asked, "Are you satisfied?"

      "Not yet. I must know if it works at all. This could be the weapon you took on Serna. You." She pointed to the mutoid who was supporting Blake. "Stand over there." The direction she indicated was well away from her. Before the mutoid could move, she held out her hand for IMIPAK.

      "Not yet, Servalan," Avon interrupted. "I will perform the test as instructed, but only when I am certain Blake is all right. You agreed he could be examined."

      "Oh, examine him then," she said carelessly.

      Hugh went to Blake, scanning tools ready, and began to run tests. "He's been drugged," he said. "I'm not familiar with the substance and I'll need to run further tests." He shot a resentful look at Servalan. "I don't suppose you'd care to tell me what it was?"

      "You're right, I wouldn't."

      "Well now, I think you just might," Avon corrected her. The key was now aimed at her. "Will you chance your life for it, Servalan?"

      A look at Avon's face must have convinced her he meant it, for she smiled too brightly. "Oh, very well, if we must have the whole charade played out. The drug is Nexine 30, developed for use on clones, to make them compliant. It is less effective on non-clones. Blake's dosage has been high. However, purging it from his system should prove effective. No doubt Orac can pull data on the drug for you. Must we drag this out?"

      While she spoke, Hugh managed to slide a bracelet from his pocket and clip it around Blake's wrist, masking it by injecting a stimulant into Blake's arm. His sleeve covered the bracelet, and Blake had the sense to stand quietly so the bracelet would not slip down into sight. His vital signs were depressed, but not at a dangerous level, and as long as he was given treatment promptly, Hugh thought he would be all right.

      "You'll do for now, Blake," Hugh said. "Why don't you sit down." He steered Blake to a narrow bench resting against the wall, and Blake sat there with relief, folding his arms so he could conceal the bracelet from Servalan.

      Tarrant stood at Avon's side, braced to send instructions to Jabberwocky, though Hugh's understanding of the link suggested Jabberwocky could take the initiative himself when the time came.

      "I'd like to get him up to the ship quickly, Avon," Hugh urged. "Can we finish this without any more delay?"

      "First we must perform Servalan's little test," Avon insisted. He had determined to go through with it, though they could teleport now if they chose. This way, Servalan would go on her way content with the weapon, believing she had what she thought she did, and unless she started killing mutoids on her ship, she would not learn the truth until later. Dayna had played with the projector to make it look realistic, but had not taken it further. A superficial examination would be convincing.

      "Very well," Servalan replied, adding to the mutoid, "Stand still."

      "Yes, ma'am," he replied stolidly.

      "Mark him, Avon."

      "As Madame President commands," Avon replied coolly, and fired. The mutoid did not flinch, but stood there doing his duty to the Federation. Though he was only a mutoid, Hugh felt rather sorry for him.

      "And now the key," Avon continued smoothly. He threw a warning look at Tarrant then raised the key, pressing the stud again. The mutoid made a choked sound and pitched over.

      Servalan blanched. Until that moment, she had not believed it was real. She had suspected a trick from Avon, but now she 'knew' it was real, harmless to the Jabberwocky crew, and she could hardly wait to get her hands on it. She was a greedy bitch, Hugh realised. She made him uncomfortable.

      Blake leaped up in astonishment. He must have believed they had got the real IMIPAK from the clone, though there would have been no way to immunise him against it since Hugh's injection had come after the first test. "Avon, you've killed him," he burst out disapprovingly.

      "It was that or you, Blake. I don't know why it is, but I tend to rate you higher than a mutoid."

      Servalan lifted her skirts fastidiously and knelt at the mutoid's side, examining him, and Hugh felt a moment of panic. The original plan had been to stun the mutoid, but Jabberwocky must have opted for verisimilitude after all, for Servalan pulled her hand back in satisfaction. "So it does work," she announced, beginning to get greedy. "And I shall have it now, Avon. You have Blake."

      Avon set the weapon on the table behind him, across the room from Servalan. "You may have it when we are gone," he announced. Hefting the key in his hand, he tossed it lightly into the opposite corner of the room. "Tarrant," he suggested mildly.

      Hugh felt the teleport effects start as Servalan dived for the weapon. Then they were back on the ship, and Blake was leaning braced against the wall, his face pale and drawn. Hugh reached out to steady him.

      "The clone," Blake burst out. "He gave you IMIPAK? How did you prevent it from killing me?"

      "The clone dismantled IMIPAK," Avon returned with satisfaction. "That was the thing we went to Serna for."

      "But it worked. You killed that mutoid with it. I don't understand, Avon."

      "No, Blake," Jabberwocky intervened quickly. "I killed that mutoid. That's why Del was one of the landing party, so I could run it through the link. I didn't like doing it, but it had to be convincing, and if you ask the family of anyone who has been modified, they will tell you death is better than being made a vampire. I gave him peace, Blake. To free you. It was my choice, not Avon's, so don't hold it against him."

      Startled, Blake looked at the display, then he turned to Avon. "I don't," he confirmed, managing a smile. "But I admit you gave me a scare, Avon. Was it necessary to be so theatrical?"

      "If we were to free you, yes it was," Avon returned. "What did she ask you, Blake? Did you tell her anything?"

      Blake's face lost its remaining colour and he began to shiver violently. "I won't..." he choked out. "...Won't talk. No... won't talk..." He started to fall, and Avon, his face almost as blanched as Blake's, was there to catch him, supporting Blake's body against his own. "Hugh!" he called urgently.

      "I don't understand it," Hugh replied, running the scans again. "He reacted to the question. We hadn't asked him any before."

      "Let's get him to the medical unit," Tarrant suggested, catching Blake's arm and between them they carried him there. Avon muttered something under his breath, and Hugh turned to him questioningly.

      "Servalan," Avon responded to the look. "She did this. I will stop her. Jabberwocky, can we do it?"

      "We can fight her, and we might win, but our safest course is to run. We are not at our best, and everyone is tired. I've already linked with Jenna and we are leaving the system. I think it would be redundant to return. Let Servalan play games with IMIPAK. It will serve her right when she fails."

      Surprisingly, Avon relented, turning back to Blake. Hugh realised he would change his mind again if Blake's condition proved permanent - or fatal.

      

      

"How is he?" Avon demanded an hour later when Hugh emerged wearily from the medical unit. "What did she do to him?"

      "I don't think she intended to do more than question the clone. I have studied the drug she gave him, and if given to a clone, it would make it impossible for him to refuse to answer questions. Upon an original human, the effect is muted, giving him an opportunity to resist the drug. But resistance when pushed to extremes affects the drug, making it break down in the bloodstream and reproduce, forcing a duplication of the effect. He refused to talk, and the more he refused, the more he blocked out the questions. He can't answer questions now."

      "Is it permanent?" Cally asked. She had joined him shortly after Hugh had begun his testing, and she sat beside Avon in the corridor, her arm round his waist. He had been leaning against her rather comfortably, but now he stood up abruptly, facing Hugh.

      "No, I don't think so. There is a method of purging the drug, and Orac has initiated it. But one of the side effects creates the same condition psychologically. Even when the drug is purged, there will be lingering traces of it."

      "How can that be?" Cally demanded, standing beside Avon and lacing her fingers through his.

      "It creates a mental instability. Unless Blake can be convinced the threat is gone, he will continue to react to questions, even simple questions like 'How do you feel?' as if they were threats."

      "How would one convince him?" Cally persisted.

      "Extended therapy is one way," Hugh replied.

      Avon began to regret not killing Servalan out of hand, IMIPAK or no. The galaxy had harboured her long enough.

      "Are there other methods?" Cally asked further

      "I can only think of one that might work, and it has a much better chance than therapy."

      "Then do it," Avon insisted.

      "You must do it," Hugh replied. "I think this is an ideal situation for your healing, Avon."

      Avon took an involuntary step backward. "Impossible," he denied. "I am not a healer. I have given that up."

      "Then shall I tell Blake you refuse to help him?" Hugh asked, facing him head on. "I never thought you were a coward, Avon."

      "Didn't you? It is not your affair, Hugh. Stay out of my business."

      "Blake's health is my business, and if it comes to that, your health is my business too. Blake needs you. You're no physical healer, and this is no physical problem. If you don't do it, I can't certify Blake fit. We'll have to take him back to Ryalon and give him to Avalon like we did Witt. Is that what you want?"

      "You are a fool."

      "No, Avon. I can see how reluctant you'd be to try healing again. But Dayna's death was not your fault. You must believe that."

      "Must I?"

      "He's right, Avon," Cally told him. "I know of these things, and I know that no one could have saved her."

      "That is not the issue," Avon snapped before he could prevent himself from speaking.

      "I know," said Cally softly. "None of us know how to live with such pain, Avon. You are not the only one suffering. But you have never permitted comfort when you were suffering, so it is worse for you. And it is very terrible, what you must have felt, Dayna's last thoughts as she died." She shivered against his arm. "Had it happened to me, I would have collapsed, I am certain."

      "As I did?" he asked coldly.

      "No, Avon, that was physical. You were drained and you needed to rest. But you carried on and you found a way to rescue Blake. You are very strong, Avon, but you would be stronger if you would let us help you."

      "A contradiction, surely."

      "No, Avon," Hugh disagreed. "You must be strong enough that you needn't pretend to carry the universe on your shoulders. I know you sometimes think me a fool but I'm strong because of my reliance on others. I need other people sometimes, and I admit it. Do you think me weak?"

      Reluctantly, Avon shook his head.

      "Then believe we are all hurting for Dayna."

      "Which will scarcely bring her back."

      "No, but it will allow us to remember her as she should be remembered. And it will allow you to help Blake."

      Blake. It all came down to Blake. Avon hated the thought of walking into the medical unit and linking with him, but he could not leave Blake in a prison of Servalan's making. Surely this was just another form of rescue. He hesitated, cursing Hugh and Cally and everyone for putting him in this position. Then he shrugged his shoulders and laughed bitterly. "Get out of my way," he told Hugh. "And leave me quite alone."

      Squaring his shoulders, Avon walked into the medical unit.

      

      

Blake looked around the twilight clearing, puzzled, wondering at the close-crowding trees and the wind that whipped the branches about. Where the hell was he and how had he come to be here? The small fire before him didn't warm him, but he fed it branches automatically. He kept his eyes on the fire because whenever he did more than glance at the unexpected scene, the trees withered before his eyes, as if he were cursing them with a look. He knew he was dreaming, but he couldn't quite wake up.

      He remembered talking to Hugh. That much was clear. Orac had been there too, offering opinions. Doctor and computer conferred at some length, then Hugh had connected him to equipment, explaining that it would purge Blake's system of Servalan's drug. "Get some sleep, Blake," Hugh had urged. "No one will question you. Just rest. This won't take long."

      Blake hadn't meant to sleep. He was too alarmed at his reaction to Avon's simple questions to relax. But Hugh must have put a sedative in the fluid that coursed through his veins for he had slept and he had 'awakened' here.

      The dream was unnerving. After blasting a section of the forest with his basilisk stare, he did not dare to raise his eyes from the fire. He tried to wake, but the scene before him was too real, and though he pinched himself and shouted and even splashed water on his face from a bucket that sat beside him, he remained fixed in the forest, trapped there. He began to wonder if Servalan's drugs had driven him permanently into madness.

      All of a sudden he knew he wasn't alone, but he didn't dare look up in case he destroyed someone with a look. Locking his eyes on the dancing flames, he said, "Go away."

      "It would be my first choice," Avon replied. How had Avon entered his dream? "No, the truth is, I should have preferred not to come at all."

      Avon sounded bitter and resentful, and it had been a long time since Blake had seriously dealt with Avon in that particular mind-set, though he had tasted a bit of it during the Serna mission when they had all begun to mistrust each other. But Blake knew without explanation that Avon's resentment was not exactly directed at him, and that made him curious.

      "Why is that, Avon?"

      "I prefer to have done with healing," Avon confessed.

      "Why?" The flames leaped and swirled before his eyes, but as much as he wanted it, he could not turn to Avon.

      "It is hardly my style," Avon explained in the tone he used when he was lying to avoid further questions. "But I am here now. For once, Blake, let me be the healer. You would have been a better candidate for this task, I should think. It was ever your nature to worry about other people, especially people who do not deserve it."

      "Yet you're here, Avon," Blake replied. "And you came for me before, when Witt attacked me. I know why you came then. Why are you here now?" Avon had come closest then to admitting his feelings for Blake, and Blake still valued that, though his memory of that incident was vague.

      Avon took a step closer. "The same reason applies this time," he confessed. "Servalan did this to you, Blake. I choose not to let her win."

      "To thwart her then, Avon?" Blake felt curiously disappointed. "I see."

      "Damn you, Blake, what would you have me say."

      Blake wanted to smile, but he didn't. Neither did he risk turning around. "Where is this place, Avon?"

      "A place I am learning to know too well. Your mind."

      "Such as it is," Blake interrupted before Avon could say it, and he felt Avon's momentary frustration at being forestalled. "I must know why you are here," he persisted.

      Avon heaved a sigh. "Hugh and Cally would have disowned me if I had not come." He came closer still. "Look at me, Blake."

      "No. That could kill you. I won't hurt you, Avon. Look around you. I've destroyed this place."

      "I see no destruction."

      Startled, Blake looked up, and blasted trees swam into his vision. Horrified, he dropped his eyes to the fire again. "Can't you see it, Avon?"

      "No. I see a thick forest which looks normal to me. I have never been very keen on roughing it, Blake."

      That startled a chuckle out of Blake. "Then why are you here?"

      "I don't know why you think you must know."

      "I don't know," he confessed uncomfortably. "I just feel I must. I don't want to stay here, Avon, but I can't seem to wake up."

      "Servalan had you drugged. Hugh explained it to you."

      "Yes. He said I was mad."

      "I hardly think he said that."

      "He said I needed extensive therapy." Blake tossed another branch into the fire, his eyes never leaving the flames. "But you've come. I knew you would come. When Servalan had me, I knew you would come. I held on to that. It was all I had."

      "I did come, Blake. My objections to being here now have nothing to do with you. I would surrender this healer talent which I never sought. I suspect had anyone but you needed it this time, I would have let it go entirely."

      There was the declaration Blake wanted, though it was not as open as he needed it. He raised his eyes slightly, tentatively. His expectations of Avon had not been misplaced. Avon had come for him. Avon had freed him from Servalan. Avon had followed him in here. Soon he would dare to raise his eyes past the circle of firelight and even to turn and face Avon.

      "I never thought you hated it so," Blake returned. He remembered Avon volunteering to use his skills to make Del Grant understand about his sister, and the way Avon had risked himself to aid Tarrant, who was not his particular friend. He had not been coerced on those occasions. Rather he had insisted upon it against advice, at least in Tarrant's case. He had used Cally or Jabberwocky to help him too, and this time Blake felt he was completely alone. This forest clearing and campfire were from Avon, part of his particular healing mind-set; Avon had explained once that fire was frequently present when he did his healing. Why should he suddenly abjure the gift? "What happened?" Blake asked. "What happened while Servalan had me?"

      "Damn you, Blake," Avon burst out. "Leave it. This is neither the time nor the place. I intend to take you out from here. If I must drag you by main force, I shall do it. But that's not what you require, is it? Being Blake, you require declarations. I may never forgive you for this."

      The threat was not a serious one. Blake could tell it by his voice. Avon took a step closer and put a hand on his shoulder, gripping him tightly, with all the reassurance Blake sought. "Look at me, Blake."

      "No. It would kill you."

      "I think not. I've come in here against my inclinations because you had a need of me. You don't imagine I enjoy healing."

      "I think you enjoy doing something better than other people," Blake replied, even if you don't like the actual emotional risk of it. Is that it, Avon? Is that why you didn't want to come? Did you think I'd assume too much?"

      "I don't believe you could do that," Avon replied in a diffident voice that sounded totally unlike him, but the meaning was all too clear. Blake need not make assumptions because it was true. He had long known Avon valued him, but even he liked to be reminded of it from time to time. Why couldn't Avon ever just say it? Why make it so difficult?

      "It is my nature," Avon responded to the thought. "Do you insist upon declaration, Blake?"

      "It's not that I insist, Avon. It's that I don't think I can risk looking at you otherwise."

      "You were always more trouble than you were worth. Damn you, Blake. I. Am. Here. Because. I. Care. About. You." He sounded like he was gnashing his teeth. "Now look up, blast you."

      Blake raised his eyes. Trees swam before them, trembling in the breeze, untouched by the destructive force he had unleashed upon them earlier. Cautiously he turned and saw Avon standing behind him, his face warily expressionless. Blake faced him tentatively. Avon didn't wither under the strength of his gaze, instead returning a withering look in Blake's direction, though his eyes twinkled suddenly. "You're a stubborn bastard, Blake."

      "I work at it." He shivered suddenly. "I don't like this place, Avon. How do I get out of here?"

      "Are you ready to go home?" Avon asked him carefully. "How do you feel?"

      "Of course I'm ready to get out of here, Avon. How do you think I feel? Impatient."

      "You don't mind answering a few questions first?"

      Blake stared at him. "What do you mean? I've had enough of this place. Let's go home, Avon."

      Avon gave him a sudden, broad smile, the kind he rarely allowed himself. His genuine smiles were always to be treasured and Blake felt thoroughly warmed by it. Behind him, the fire danced up full strength. Avon gripped his arms and shook him lightly. "Well now, Blake, you seem to be dealing properly with questions. Answering them with questions of your own and telling me what you expect of me. I should say you are cured."

      "Cured." Startled, Blake realised that Avon meant it, that he had questioned him without triggering the conditioned response caused by Servalan's drug, and relief flowed through his veins with the strength of a countering drug.

      He sagged against Avon, who held him a moment, then stood tall, feeling restored. "Yes, I'm cured. I'm ready to go home."

      "And not past time," Avon replied. "You tend to be predictable, Blake." His voice held affection. Blake suspected he would be as difficult as usual when they were back, but this brief time was well worth it. Against it, Servalan had no power at all.

      "Avon?"

      "Now what?" His tone was wary.

      "Why didn't you want to heal me?"

      "I shall tell you that when you wake up," Avon returned firmly. Then he was gone from the clearing, and before Blake could protest his absence, Blake was back in the medical unit, and Hugh was detaching the equipment with a smile on his face. "Welcome back, Blake. How do you feel?"

      "A little groggy," Blake replied. "But aside from that, I'm all right." He looked around quickly. "Where is Avon?"

      "It's been five hours since he did his healing, Blake," Hugh explained. "He's sleeping." Blake was disappointed but not surprised. No matter how Avon felt about him, he was not the type for bedside vigils, especially when something was troubling him. He had withheld it from Blake during the healing, but Blake knew something was wrong with him, and he meant to have it out. Something had turned Avon against healing between Blake's capture and his rescue, and Blake would delay no longer in finding out the truth. "Hugh?" The doctor turned from the equipment and faced him, and Blake noticed new shadows in his eyes.

      "Avon says he didn't tell you what happened, Blake."

      "No. He wouldn't. But I know something's wrong. I want you to tell me about it."

      "All right," Hugh sighed, then he dragged a chair closer and settled himself on it reluctantly. "So many things happened, Blake, but the worst of them is that we lost Dayna. She was killed back there."

      Blake stared at him in horror. "Killed!" he echoed. "What the hell happened?"

      Hugh told him quickly, the messages to Jabberwocky's son, the unfortunate encounter with Dorn and his men, Avon's futile attempt to heal Dayna. Blake listened with growing dismay. Bad enough they lose Dayna, who was still so young, with so much to live for. Why did it have to be complicated by Avon's tragic involvement. "Is he all right?" Blake asked. "He hated having to heal me. He said he wouldn't have tried for one of the others, but I can't believe that."

      "Cally and I would have talked him round, I think, but it was easier that it was you. He needs you, even if he won't admit it." Blake knew it was true, and it worried him sometimes because he didn't have it in him to live up to Avon's every expectation. He would need to watch his step with Avon until healing began, though Avon's nature tended to chafe the scabs of his heartaches, making them take far longer to heal than most people's.

      And then there were the others. Tarrant would take it badly, and Jabberwocky must blame himself for the fiasco, especially since his son had been reluctant to accept him. Blake realised he was fortunate Avon had been able to help him, because the others needed him. "What about my clone?" he asked. "What happened to him?"

      "If you'd died, I think Avon would have killed him," Hugh supplied. "But now we're leaving him for you." He grinned weakly, with none of his usual spirit. "You tend to inherit the worst tasks, Blake."

      Blake grimaced. "I've noticed that. Well, I'd better get up and dressed then. Fill me in. I'm sure there's more I ought to know."

      Hugh talked at him earnestly all the way to the flight deck.

      Blake's clone sat, the picture of depression, opposite Vila, who had inherited the task of guarding him. When Blake had been recovered from Servalan, Vila had decided the clone didn't need guarding any longer, especially when he was sleeping, and he hadn't tried anything before Vila came to fetch him again and take him back to the flight deck. Vila felt uncomfortable with the clone, who looked so much like Blake and who seemed so different, but he felt sorry for the man and hoped they could find something to do with him. They couldn't let him go roaming around the galaxy looking like Blake, and he was far too inventive to trust without supervision until a solution was reached. He'd deceived Vila, and Vila didn't like that, but he couldn't really hold it against him. If Vila had been alone on a planet for a whole year, he might have tried some deception too. Vila took the clone back to the flight deck because he didn't know what else to do with him, programming coffee for him and then he sat back, looking at Tarrant who was at his station brooding at the main screen.

      Tarrant's greeting was brief and his face was still shadowed, and that reminded Vila of Dayna. He'd managed to avoid thinking of her since he woke up but now the memory was back and he glowered at Tarrant for reminding him. Predictably, Tarrant didn't notice. Anxious for a new distraction, Vila turned back to the clone. "Hey. Ever play 'Ship and Asteroids'?"

      The clone looked startled. "No."

      "Then come on. I'll teach you." He led the willing man to the secondary screen and ran the program.

      "Now you play it like this," he said and explained. It might have been incomprehensible to the clone for all the enthusiasm on his face, but when Vila turned him loose on the game, some life came into his eyes and he began to concentrate. Vila grinned to himself, pleased with his idea.

      Then the clone's ship was demolished and Vila realised he'd got just as far as Dayna usually did, and the thief's enthusiasm for the game dropped to zero. Leaving him to it, he sidled back to the forward couch.

      Tarrant must have been reminded of Dayna too, for he shot Vila a reproachful look. "Sorry," Vila muttered.

      "I don't think you ought to encourage him, Vila," Tarrant replied in an undertone. "What good will it do?"

      "Blake will think of something. Hugh says Blake's all right now, just sleeping. He'll have the rest of that drug out of his system around now. Blake's clever enough to think of something."

      "Short of reconstructive surgery, I don't see how we can just let him go," Tarrant returned, eyeing the clone, who was diligently working his way through the asteroids, his face lit with some of the same enthusiasm Blake himself showed when detailing a new plan to get them all killed. He wasn't Blake, but he was enough like Blake to make him a danger to all of them and himself in the bargain.

      Blake and Hugh came in then, and Blake looked so much better than he had when Vila had tiptoed into the medical unit to assure himself he was all right, that he could hardly believe it. There was decisiveness in his step again, and he looked prepared to take charge once more.

      Tarrant turned and grinned faintly at him. "We're on course for Sarran," he reported.

      "Sarran?" Blake echoed, surprised. Then he must have realised why, and he nodded. "When do we arrive?"

      "Another two days. I'll lead the landing party."

      Blake nodded, accepting Tarrant's right to do so. "We'll all come down," he agreed. "Orac can teleport us."

      Vila wondered if Avon would go, though the burial site had been his choice. Better if he went, but such things were not Avon's usual style. He didn't say anything about it though. "You look better, Blake."

      Blake and Tarrant both welcomed the change of topic. Blake grinned at Vila and glanced over at the clone, who was watching him, the game abandoned. "You and I must talk."

      "What will you do with me, Blake?" the clone demanded. "Imprison me? Kill me?"

      "I don't think we need resort to anything so drastic," Blake replied. "Come and sit down. What would you like to do, given a fair chance?"

      Blake was a great one for fair chances for people who frequently didn't deserve it, and Vila was not sure the clone did. If he had been Blake, he would have resented being bopped on the head, stranded and replaced on his own ship, but Blake was probably going to be noble about the entire thing.

      "I've never had a fair chance, except with Rashel," the clone replied. "I don't know what I'd like to do. They made me in your image and gave me as much of your personality and memories as they could, but they didn't give me any of your skills, or any skills for that matter. I like the idea of your rebellion, but I don't know if I could be of any use to it."

      "You could be trained," Blake pointed out. "A lot of people who come to us have few practical skills, and you know a lot about survival on primitive planets. You might be a help to us."

      "Looking like that?" Tarrant asked sceptically. "Oh, come, Blake. If he doesn't take advantage of the resemblance, someone else will, and Servalan must know we have him. If our side doesn't exploit him, she will."

      The clone nodded. "I don't think I should risk you, Blake, and I don't know if I could kill anyone. The clonemasters taught me different values."

      "There's more to the resistance than killing," Blake insisted. "You needn't be a fighter. Could you kill in self-defence or to protect your companions?"

      "I never had companions but Rashel." He pondered it. "I could have killed to protect her, I'm sure."

      "You could hit Blake for your own schemes," Vila reminded him. "You might have killed him, remember?"

      "I was desperate, and, I think, a little mad. I wouldn't do that again."

      "So you say," disagreed Tarrant. "What guarantees would we have that you wouldn't turn against us again?"

      "You had a good idea before, Tarrant," Vila said. "His looks could be altered. Plastic surgery. If he doesn't look like Blake, then he's just one more new recruit, isn't he?" He couldn't quite be comfortable with the clone, but that didn't mean he wanted him dead or stranded on another remote planet, though Avon would probably prefer that.

      Blake nodded. "That might be best." He turned back to the clone. "What do you say? I know it's rather high handed of us to suggest you change your face, but it was my face first and I'd be more comfortable with you if you didn't walk around the galaxy in my image."

      The clone hesitated. "Looking like you has done me no good, Blake. I used to believe I was you, but I knew it was never true. I think we share some attitudes and I have some of your memories, or at least some of your knowledge. That might come in handy one day, but I won't use it against you. I'll do what I can to co-operate with you."

      "What guarantees do we have of that?" Tarrant asked.

      "I think I'd take his word," Hugh put in. "I'd take Blake's, and he's very like him."

      "You're an optimist."

      "What do you think, Jabberwocky?" Blake asked. "Can we trust him?"

      "I think we can trust him not to hit you and try to take your place again, Blake. I think he means it when he says he believes in your cause. But he has no obligations to be anything but himself, and he doesn't really know who he is yet. I understand what that feels like, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone else. I think we should give him his start and any help he needs and let him make his way in the world. He needn't join the resistance unless he wants to. But if he does, let him decide where he wants to go."

      "I wouldn't know where to go," the clone said. "I haven't even a name. Rashel called me Roj, but that isn't me either, not really. I'll find another name. If you want to change my face, Blake, I'll agree to it. I'm not so vain as to cling to a face that isn't really mine."

      "You're so convincing," Tarrant objected. "But I'm sceptical." Tarrant was touchier than usual, and Vila could understand it, but that didn't make the clone fair game.

      "Not as sceptical as Avon will be," Hugh replied. "I'm not a specialist at cosmetic reconstruction, but there's a man on Ryalon who could do a good job. It needn't even be a major change. Alter the cheekbones a little and convince the hair follicles to let your hair grow straight, or blond or red. Change the nose a little too, and you'd look different from Blake but not so different you couldn't recognise yourself. Then you'd be free."

      "Free?" the clone echoed in disbelief. "I wouldn't know what to do with freedom."

      "Neither do Blake's rabble," Avon observed from the doorway. He looked rather breathless, Vila observed, as if he'd been running, and his eyes were fixed almost accusingly on Blake. "What are you doing out of the medical unit?" he demanded.

      Vila hid a smile. Avon had been worried. He would die before admitting it, but anyone who knew him would be able to tell. Blake did, for his eyes warmed perceptibly.

      "Hugh dismissed me," Blake said reasonably. "We've been dealing with my friend here." He nodded at the clone. "I couldn't leave him to worry about his fate."

      Avon could have done it without a qualm, but Avon was like that. Vila grinned at Avon on purpose, and the computer expert caught Vila's eye, rather startled, and turned back to Blake deliberately, ignoring Vila's knowing look. "Naturally not, Blake," he remarked coolly.

      "I feel an obligation to him, Avon. I think you understand that perfectly well, even if you choose to pretend you don't."

      Avon's frown deepened, but he added, "Perhaps. Shall you turn him over to Avalon? She has a habit of taking in all your strays."

      "She's used to it by now," Hugh retorted.

      "She quite likes it," Vila agreed. He wondered if Avalon might not rather like the clone, as she always seemed so taken with Blake, though she might not have existed, except as a resistance leader, for all the notice Blake took of her personally. Of course Blake was a bit tied up with Jenna, but that didn't stop Avalon - or sometimes Soolin - from looking at him with more interest than they could hide. Vila grinned. This could be very interesting.

      That settled, Blake looked around the flight deck speculatively, and his eyes fell upon Jabberwocky's display. Vila wondered if he knew what Dorn had done when he learned the truth about Jabberwocky's previous identity. Jabberwocky was handling it well, but how could anyone come to terms with such a rejection. Vila discovered he would relish planting his fist in the middle of Dorn's good looking face. The fact that Dorn was considerably bigger than he was didn't stop Vila from enjoying the speculation.

      "We've had a bad mission," Blake went on, winning a disbelieving look from Tarrant at his statement and a speculative stare from Avon, who tended to watch Blake a lot anyway. "Oh come, Blake, you can do better than that," Avon said now.

      "I'm thinking we need a break. At least IMIPAK is out of Servalan's hands - and ours too, I'm glad to say. Now we must pick up the pieces."

      "A holiday," Vila burst out. "Let's find some nice pleasure planet and rest and recuperate. I could fancy some time on a beach."

      "Vila's cure all," Tarrant muttered sourly.

      Vila was quite prepared to take the heat. It didn't hurt him to have Tarrant down on him - it was a familiar condition and better than Tarrant brooding at the main screen. Avon's eyes touched Vila's, and Vila realised Avon knew what he was doing. Must be a little of that healer touch still left, even if Avon didn't want it. "Yes," Vila went on, stretching comfortably in his chair and putting his feet up. "I feel a definite need of a holiday."

      "I feel a definite need to teach you a lesson," Tarrant muttered, but he didn't push it. Instead, he turned to the main display. "What about you, Jabberwocky? Would you like a holiday?"

      "If you have one, I can have it too," Jabberwocky replied. "That's one of the advantages of the link."

      Vila began to get interested.

      "You mean if you're linked, you could feel what Tarrant feels?"

      "I've always done that. More when there's a group linkage."

      "Oh, marvellous. Let's have an orgy."

      Avon gave a groan of disgust, but Jabberwocky made a considering sound. "Hmm, now there's an idea. What do you say, Tarrant?"

      "I say he's quite mad."

      "You are a killjoy, Del. I shall have to remember that." Tarrant smiled a little, and Vila wondered if the two of them could help each other now that they seemed able to deal together once more. Both of them had been through a loss. Vila knew he'd like it if he had Jabberwocky there in his head to comfort him over Dayna. Perhaps Tarrant realised that too, for his face took on the look he wore when in deep linkage. Blake noticed it too and turned away with a satisfied smile. They weren't out of the woods yet, but the trees were thinning.

      

      

Dorn Suliman sat brooding in his chair and none of his men dared to disturb him. They didn't understand why he had accepted the killing of Rosha without protest, though Jarik had told the men that Rosha had killed a young girl and that seemed to quiet them. But they didn't know why the captain had returned from his reunion with his old friend, Del Tarrant, in such a black temper or why he wouldn't talk to anyone except to give orders.

      He had seated himself on the flight deck and ordered them to set a course away from their normal routes, away from the space lanes where their usual pickings were to be found. Dorn couldn't help remembering the words of the ship's computer. Jabberwocky. Ludicrous name. And this computer claimed to have once been his father! It was impossible.

      Dorn had been fifteen when his father died, and he could still remember vividly the sight of his father's body at the funeral ceremony the Federation had given him. His father had been horribly mutilated in the battle that killed him, and though the doctors had done their best, his father had not looked normal. Now Dorn couldn't help wondering if he had seen the results of this bizarre experiment. The horror of such experimentation left him feeling sick inside. That a man who loved life as much as Thorm Suliman could have been turned into an experimental ship, of all things, nauseated him.

      Dorn had read of the mindship experiment and thought it a tool that might have great battle implications, nothing more. It had never really occurred to him that some poor innocent would have to 'die' to make it work. And the linkage Del's crew had talked of disturbed him. It sounded telepathic, and Thorm Suliman had not been a telepath by any stretch of the imagination. He had been an ordinary man whose death had given Dorn his first distaste of the Federation, which wasted good men in futile missions. But Tarrant had a link with Jabberwocky - Dorn preferred to think of him as Jabberwocky, not as the man who had given his small son a puppy and who still remembered the dog's name. That had been part of the message that lured him there in the first place, further proof that if it wasn't true, that the ship had access to his father's memories. Somehow. But that wouldn't be possible, not unless it was true, and Dorn couldn't face that.

      His father had been a man, a human being, whose image was recalled every time Dorn looked in a mirror. It had pleased him to look like his father, but now that pleasure was distorted and warped, and he had heard a voice that was nothing like his father's in pitch and tone, though now that he considered it, rather like his in inflection. No. It wasn't right that this had happened. Dorn didn't know if he could bear it.

      But that thought stopped him cold. Didn't know if he could bear it? His father was the one who had to bear it, what was left of his father. Assuming it was true, and Dorn couldn't deny that the Federation was capable of taking what was left of his father and making him over into the core of the mindship, his father's memories must have been suppressed at the beginning. It would have been better to erase his memories entirely, like they did a mutoid's, but they hadn't done it. Instead they had done a cursory wipe, and probably none of the bastards who had done this to Thorm Suliman gave a damn that his memory would come back, given half a chance. Damn them! Damn them! He slammed his fist down hard on the armrest of his chair, causing his crew to jump and stare at him in alarm.

      Jarik came over to stand at his side. "All right, Cap? You sure they didn't do anything to you on that fancy ship of theirs?"

      Dorn had a sudden ridiculous urge to say, "That fancy ship is my father," but he restrained himself. Instead, he said, "They didn't hurt me, Jarik. It's something else. If I work it out, I'll explain. It won't affect our work, I give you my word on it, though it might mean we do more work for the resistance."

      "Some of the men won't like that," Jarik warned him.

      "Then they don't have to stay." He lowered his voice. "I'm sorry, Jarik. I know you mean well. But I'm just not very good company right now."

      "Well, give me a holler if you need an ear," Jarik replied. Of all the crew, he would be the one most likely to follow Dorn if he chose to throw in his lot with Avalon and Blake, assuming the Jabberwocky crew found Blake again.

      Jarik returned to his post, and Dorn returned to his brooding thoughts. What made a man anyway? They used to say it was something called the soul, but Dorn didn't believe in souls. It was the personality that made a person, but that ship's personality had not felt like his father's. Had it? Or had he refused to see it because he was so horrified at the idea that he couldn't see past the metal shell and the programming? Had Jabberwocky been so worried about his son's reaction that he had not dared to be himself either for fear of being hurt? Could a disembodied brain suffer? That was what Tarrant was so upset about. He was linked with Jabberwocky and even though he was angry about the whole mess because of what had happened to that poor girl, Dayna, Dorn could see that Jabberwocky was important to him and that he resented Dorn for Jabberwocky's sake.

      Was Jabberwocky Thorm Suliman? That he had once been Thorm Suliman seemed to be undeniable, but was he still the same person? Could he be the same person without a body, without human physical reactions and feelings? He had been stripped of all that made him a man, and now Dorn had finished the job. He didn't think he could easily accept what had happened to his father, but he couldn't accept himself if he made it worse. But that was idealistic, and he'd long ago learned not to be idealistic. Even if he went back and tried to come to terms with what was left of his father, he might fail to resolve his ambivalence and if he did that, wouldn't it be better for him to stay away instead of raising Jabberwocky's hopes and then dashing them again? Or was that just one more excuse? He had never known himself to be a coward, but that was what Tarrant had called him. Had Tarrant been right? If Del could accept Jabberwocky as a 'person' and let him inside his head, shouldn't Dorn try to face the fact that he hadn't entirely lost his father?

      He didn't know if he could do it or not, but he did know that if he walked away now, he might as well go along with the men and fall into piracy full time. He would surrender what was left of his self-respect either way. He had to try. But it wouldn't be easy.

      

      

Sarran. Avon had been there before and he seemed reluctant to return. Blake didn't know if he would make up one of the landing party, but in the end, he did, refusing to comment on the others' surprise. Only Cally seemed unsurprised, and Blake realised that Avon would consider this a promise to Dayna, or maybe to Dayna's father. Avon did not like to give his word, but when he did, he did not break it.

      So when the time came to take Dayna home, Avon joined the others at the airlock without comment. There had not been time to bury Dayna's father, and Avon was not sure what might have happened in the intervening years, since Servalan had been left in possession of Hal Mellanby's underwater fortress. But when they explored the base, they found that no one had come since Servalan. Dayna's father's body had not been moved, and Blake was glad that Dayna could not see him like this. There were enough of them to hold the Sarrans at bay.

      "What will stop them from coming here and disturbing the grave?" Blake asked in an undertone, reluctant for Tarrant to overhear him. But Tarrant stood at the edge of the water staring out to sea, and gave no appearance of listening.

      "It is against their custom to disturb the dead," Cally told him. "Dayna used to talk about her childhood here and that is one thing I remember. They would have never disturbed the underground chamber even if they could get in, once they knew Dayna's father was there."

      "And Dayna's sister?" Hugh asked.

      "They killed her too," Avon replied. "It was not far from here. They had her tied and they butchered her."

      "They would have left her until the season changed," Cally went on. "Dayna told me that was her only consolation about Lauren, that she would have been given rest eventually. She was one of them, the Sarrans, and their custom would have made them take her down eventually."

      Blake noticed that Tarrant was listening after all. He turned and helped to dig the grave, insisting on putting Dayna there himself, as if it was his last chance to help her. "I feel for him," Jenna said to Blake in an undertone. "You know, Blake, I found myself wondering if Tarrant didn't want Jabberwocky any more, whether I could have him." Blake turned and stared at her in surprise. He hadn't known that. She smiled suddenly. "But I don't think I could do it now, and not only because I would feel uncomfortable when I'm with you." She slipped her hand through his arm.

      The ceremony was brief and formal. Blake spoke a few words, and Tarrant followed him. He was linked with Jabberwocky, which was a good sign, but the only one Blake saw. Avon stood off to one side, his face utterly devoid of expression. Cally was near him but not too close, and Vila, who was trying his best to match Avon's expression and failing miserably, was just beside Avon. Avon tolerated his presence well, and Blake wondered if he knew that Vila needed the reassurance of his presence to get him through the moment. Perhaps his healer instincts wouldn't let him shut out Vila either.

      When it was over they walked back to the ship without speaking. But Tarrant set the main screen to give a rear view as they left the system, and he watched Sarran without speaking until it was gone from range.

      Ryalon felt like home. Hugh managed to get a chance at the communicator as they neared the system and put a call through to Avalon, believing he could do it best, to warn her what had happened to Dayna, and to reassure Avalon that IMIPAK was not a threat. He asked Avalon to leave it to him to tell Soolin; it would come best from him or Blake, and Blake would have the clone to deal with. Hugh didn't relish the thought of telling Soolin. He hoped the tragedy wouldn't drive Soolin further away from them but would make her realise how much they all needed each other. He wanted her back, more than he had believed possible.

      The others began to drift in as they entered the Ryalon system, and Hugh signed off unobtrusively and turned to face them. The clone, at liberty now that he and Blake had come to terms with each other, followed Jenna in, and Hugh realised that he could tell it wasn't Blake without even thinking about it.

      "Nearly home," Hugh said cheerfully. That the cheer was largely forced wasn't obvious to most of them, but Cally, who came in after the clone, knew and spared Hugh a sympathetic smile.

      "Home?" Avon echoed. "Sentiment, Hugh?"

      "It's what I'm best at, isn't it?"

      Avon shook his head. "We must be certain it does not get out of hand, then, mustn't we?"

      "With you around? How could that happen?"

      Tarrant came in then, and looked around. Hugh knew he still had trouble believing Dayna wasn't here and that he was looking for her automatically, but at least he was at peace with Jabberwocky again. When Dorn had run, Tarrant had realised he couldn't lose what he had left.

      Blake's arrival with Vila made the crew complete. He sent a casual greeting around the flight deck and went to sit down with the clone, talking to him about what he might expect when they landed. Hugh hoped the clone could come to terms with the difficulties that were sure to be waiting for him, but Blake would see that the future was as painless as possible. He felt he owed it to the man.

      Avon had not entirely come to terms with Dayna's death, but healing Blake had helped. Hugh suspected he might occasionally be enticed to heal again if needed, though he would never again view it with complacency. But when Blake had needed him, he had lowered his barriers. If Blake had to be hurt, the timing couldn't have been better.

      Hugh grinned as Avon took the coffee Vila gave him and sipped it warily as if he suspected Vila to have slipped something nasty in it. Vila's face lit as he realised he had managed to make Avon suspicious.

      The comm unit beeped and Avalon's voice came to them. "Welcome home," she said sweetly. "Blake, where have you been?"

      "I'm sure you know all about it by now," Blake returned, looking around the flight deck to see who had told, his eyes came to rest on Hugh unerringly. Hugh shrugged. "I have a message to deliver," Avalon went on. "This doesn't mean I won't have a lot to say to you when you land, but first I have been asked to give Jabberwocky a message."

      "Jabberwocky?" Blake echoed in surprise.

      "Me?" Jabberwocky sounded astonished. He was not in the habit of receiving messages from the base, or from anywhere.

      "One of our gun runners," she replied. "An old friend of Tarrant's by all accounts. His name's Dorn Suliman."

      "Dorn!" cried Jabberwocky in total astonishment. "Dorn's there? What does he want?"

      "He says he'll be in port in three days. He says he doesn't know if it will work but he's going to try. Does that mean anything?"

      For once Jabberwocky was at a loss for words. There was a startled silence, then Tarrant gave a whoop of triumph. "It does indeed," he burst out. "Thank you, Avalon. It does indeed."

      "Then I'll meet with you when you're down," she agreed and signed out.

      Blake heaved a vast sigh of relief and the rest of the crew began to show signs of perking up again. It was as if a breath of fresh air had swept through the flight deck.

      "Well we're coming up on Ryalon," Jenna reported. "We'd better link."

      "Oh no," Jabberwocky replied in a voice that was full of triumph. "Don't forget I'm a pilot myself. I have to keep in practice, don't I?"

      Jenna took her hands from the controls and shared a smile with Tarrant, one pilot to another. She understood and so did he.

      Afterwards, the flight controllers at the base wondered why Blake's ship had done loops all the way to the edge of the atmosphere.

      


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Sheila Paulson

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