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Nothing Ever Goes as Planned

By Alicia Ann Fox, Michael Driver
Ultraworld's remains lay far behind them now, and Liberator cruised near the edges of known space. Unsure of the damage done by the giant brain fed by the Ultras, Tarrant was re-calibrating the pilot's controls. Dayna checked the weaponry systems, and Cally the communications console. Vila relaxed in his cabin, as he had been the hero of their recent adventure.

Suddenly Cally ceased her work and went for the portable medical kit that was kept on the flight deck.

"What is it?" Dayna asked, concerned.

"A sudden headache, that's all," the telepath reassured her, even as she shook out a painkiller and swallowed it dry. "I'll rest a few moments." She took a seat on the couch.

"You don't think it has anything to do with what the Ultras did to you, do you?" pressed Dayna. "You look pale, Cally."

"It took us a while to find your mind-tube," Tarrant added. "Dayna could be right. Maybe you should check it out."

Cally was pleased by their concern, and realized that she should have had a medical mode as soon as Liberator was safely away from Ultraworld. "I think I will," she and went to the medical unit.

The scans indicated that her headache was a side-effect of residual hypnotics in her blood as well as her body's reaction to the mind-stress caused by the Ultras' experiment. Cally promptly sought out Avon to see if he had been affected, but neglected to explain; he confessed to a headache after his experience, but it had quickly gone away. So Cally decided her alien metabolism was to blame. Within a few days, the side-effects were gone, and she put the incident out of her mind.

Nothing should have come of this.

However, Avon had lied.

#

Kerr Avon lay in his bunk, hands clasped tightly to his temples, and reflected on the bare half-ounce of vodka left in the bottle he kept for his private consumption. He'd had that particular bottle since before their trip to Obsidian, but had not delved deeply into it until lately.

The blasted headaches. He attributed them to stress and the resulting insomnia. After all, he'd had the same symptoms before, caused by the same things, and had treated them in the same way; painkillers if he had to work, alcohol if he could afford to sleep. No matter that the symptoms had been more severe this time, they'd scarcely had a break since the plague on Auron, and their most recent encounter with Servalan had been traumatic for all of them, not Tarrant alone.

Unfortunately, he still had the problem of a near-empty bottle. He had been fearful of using too many painkillers since the time he'd not realized he had a broken wrist for more than an hour. He had shrugged it off as stoicism to the others and decided then and there to cut down. It wouldn't do to be seen in weakness.

Blake had been a vodka drinker. Was probably a vodka drinker still, Avon reminded himself sharply. He'd kept it...under the bunk, in the cabinet with the star charts Jenna had coaxed out of Zen.

Avon got to his feet and grabbed a robe, belting it tightly about him, checking the time as he did so: 2430; there wouldn't be anyone about. He stepped across the corridor (the bulkheads had glowed faintly with golden light since he and Blake and Jenna had moved in) and went two doors to the right. His hand was raised to knock before he remembered, and ruefully shaking his head, he pressed the palm-lock.

The door slid open, making a smooth 'whish' noise. He had not set foot inside this cabin since the time Travis had aimed those hypnotic trigger pulse tones at Blake, so long ago. The door slid shut behind Avon as he remembered the frightened look on Blake's face as he and Jenna had explained why Blake couldn't remember the past few days.

Avon slowly sank down onto Blake's lounge chair. The lights brightened automatically as they sensed his presence, and by their light he contemplated the empty cabin. A rumpled blanket was at the foot of the bunk, a leather overshirt on top of it. On the shelf near the head of the bunk were three teleport bracelets and a digital wristwatch. There was nothing else in sight. Deserted in haste, the cabin felt to Avon as if someone had died there.

Briskly he pulled out the remembered half-size bottle of vodka, labelled "Product of Destiny." It figured. Avon left behind the larger bottle from Earth that was nearly empty and escaped to his own cabin.

#

Cally walked briskly past the teleport bay, past the armory, around a corner, past one of the computer rooms. The door was closed and, the red light indicated, locked, but the unmistakable sound of Avon's voice came through it swearing vehemently. She stopped, pushed her hair out of her eyes, sighed, and walked on.

Inside the starboard second computer room, Avon stood holding a wrench. It was a very small wrench, not much larger than his index finger, and it was intended to unfasten very small bolts that held a very small panel closed and dust-free. Avon swore and tried to accomplish this for the fifth time.

His hand was shaking. After the first twist the end of the delicate wrench snapped off. Cursing violently, he flung it to the floor and slammed his fist into the panel.

"Bloody fucking hell!"

Suddenly he froze, his mouth clamping shut. Then he bent, slowly, and picked up the wrench, and the head of the wrench. He shook his hand a little.

"Damn." Slowly he headed for the flight deck.

#

Three nights later Avon again had to look for more alcohol, despite the fact that he'd only allowed himself to drink before going to bed, and spent his waking hours snapping at everyone like Blake on a bad day. Now he found himself at the door next to his own.

Vila started out of half-sleep at the preemptory rap on his door. "Coming, I'm coming," he said. The tape screen fizzed greenly at him, because the tape had run out, so he switched it off before tripping the elaborate door lock he had created one afternoon out of boredom. "I wish you wouldn't bang on it--" he complained as the door slid open "--Avon. I'm not really in the mood for chess tonight--"

"No chess," Avon said flatly. "I'm taking you up on that offer of adrenaline and soma."

Vila considered the older man for a moment and remarked, "You look like you want to drink it alone."

"Yes."

Vila paused. "I'll get you a whole flask, I just made a pretty good batch. It's none of my business why you want it, eh?"

"No, it isn't."

"Okay." Vila pulled a stoppered flask from behind the tape-screen, handed it over, and smiled. "Have a nice night."

Avon took the flask and left without thanks, so Vila went back to his viewing apes.

Two hours later Avon had decided that soma was what he'd need, but unfortunately the taste of the synthetic 'adrenaline' was decidedly disagreeable to him. Added to at, the biliously-colored stuff was a milder intoxicant than he would have expected, knowing Vila. He couldn't convince himself to choke down enough to put himself out for the night.

Avon poured the rest of his glass of adrenaline and soma down the sink and stoppered the flask so he could return it to Vila in the morning. He sighed and walked a short distance down the corridor. Arranging his expression, he knocked on Dayna's door. "Yes, come in," she said.

"Good evening, Dayna," Avon replied as he stepped into the room. Dayna was seated on a rug in the center of the deck, adjusting a hand weapon which was held motionless by a clamp she had bolted to the decking. Various mechanical parts and tools were spread about her, at odds with the bow, quiver, and knife displayed on a bulkhead. Avon noted that she'd added a fur throw over her chair since he'd last been here, probably bought with some of the rare minerals they had mined from an asteroid. Dayna did not like delving into the saferoom. "Do I remember you mentioning the spiced wines Vila recommended to you?"

Dayna glanced up for a moment of eye contact before focusing on her project again. "You know, I'd almost forgotten about that. I bought six bottles and haven't had enough special occasions to open any. Why do you ask? Would you like to try some?"

"I thought it might be interesting," he said smoothly, hands clasped behind him.

"Have some, then. It's in that plastic crate under the table."

Avon spent some time at his selection, and asked what she was working on. "Another disintegrator," she said offhandedly. "I think I've got the power consumption just right."

"Ah." Finally Avon emerged with a wine distilled from some ex-tee fruit that was only lightly spiced and fairly highly proofed. "Thank you, Dayna."

"You're welcome.... I'll bring you the gun when it's finished, so you can have a look at it."

Avon congratulated himself on his smoothness as he returned to his cabin and drank himself beyond pain and into sleep.

#

Yawning in the early morning, Tarrant ran his usual check of the flight systems before making himself a substantial breakfast in the galley. Dayna was there before him, quickly slicing some pale orange fruit into a bowl of yogurt and then starting coffee for those who rose at a later hour. "What's the specialty today?" she asked, carrying her food to the table.

"Wheat pancakes with blueberries," Tarrant replied in the intent tone of a hobby gourmet.

"Wherever did you get blueberries?"

"I kept them in stasis after I bought them on Vista."

A half-conscious Vila staggered in and groped for a cup, splashed coffee into it, and gulped it down. He had another cup and said, "Gah! I hate coffee." He piled doughnuts on a plate.

"We know," Dayna remarked.

"I hate to get up early in the morning when it isn't really morning in space anyway," Vila growled, and went to the flight deck. Avon entered as Vila exited, and also poured coffee. He silently added sugar and stirred; pause; stirred more quietly. He set the cup on a saucer and carried it out, heading in the direction Vila had gone. Dayna looked inquiringly at Tarrant, but the pilot was absorbed in cooking. Dayna returned to her breakfast.

On the flight deck, Vila munched on a doughnut and asked Zen what the status of the ship was. Upon being informed that status was normal, he set his doughnuts down next to Orac and settled on the couch. "What's our course?"

+Liberator is enroute to the planet Calipheron.+

"Thanks, Zen."

Avon walked in, carefully balancing his cup and saucer. He stopped briefly and looked down at the computer station, then continued on his way end sat down slowly on the couch. He took a sip of his coffee, made a face, and set it down. He picked up a doughnut, studied it warily, and took a bite. Determinedly he chewed.

"Hangover?" Vila asked conversationally.

Avon jumped. Crumbs flew. "No!" he snapped, wincing about the eyes at the noise of his own voice. His denial was mostly true, he had woken with another headache.

"Sorry," Vila said, unapologetically.

The day wore on. Everyone had two shifts per day on watch; Avon's first had been after Vila's, and his second came after Cally and before Vila's second shift. The day, for Avon, had not been a good one. He could not ignore the pounding in his head, which surely ought to have stopped by now. He was exhausted from dealing with it, and was beginning to be afraid. There was no illness he could bring to mind that produced these symptoms, so he felt his original diagnosis of stress was correct, but--He spent his watch glaring at Orac and his scarcely touched dinner, and fighting down the fear that lurked in a black pit somewhere beneath him. When Vila arrived to take over, Avon had already left the flight deck.

Cally looked up from her booktape at the sound of a knock on her door. "It's not locked, come in," she said.

Avon came in. He hadn't stopped by her cabin in weeks, in fact seemed to have been avoiding her. It was very puzzling, as he had been used to asking her advice on occasion, to decide Liberator's next destination, for instance. At the moment Cally knew for a fact that they were going to Calipheron. "How have you been?" Avon asked.

Cally blinked. What was this? "You haven't seemed concerned lately."

"I've...been doing other things."

"Have you." She switched off her desktop viewer and turned her chair toward him, trying to figure out what it was about him that seemed odd.

"Yes," he affirmed. "I came to ask if you had the bottle of vodka that used to be in the galley."

Again he had surprised her. "Yes, I've had it for some time now." She narrowed her eyes, bit her lip with perplexity. "Have some with me," she offered, and went to get two cups from a cabinet.

"Of course," Avon said, taking a chair. Cally passed him a green cup and watched a carefully over the rim of her own cup as she sat down. He tossed off the vodka quickly and cleared his throat. Cally sipped her drink decorously.

"Have another, the bottle is on the desk."

Automatically he did so. Cally had a sudden bizarre image of him as a puppet and she holding the strings. He drank the second cup as quickly as the first.

Slowly, Cally asked, "Is anything wrong?"

"No." He poured himself another sizable shot.

That ruined the puppet image. He was lying, she knew it with a sureness beyond even telepathy. Watching him now, noticing that his eyes were bloodshot and dark-circled, she thought that he looked worn to the bone. "Aren't you drinking a bit more than usual?"

"Yes," he replied; his face twitched as if he'd meant to say something else. He sat down again and stared into his cup. There was a glazed look on his face, as if he'd been hypnotized...revelation broke over Cally's head. Hypnotics. Side effects. Ultraworld. She'd tested her own blood, but never his. Perhaps the fact that he was human had not excluded him from the side effects of the Ultras' drugs, but intensified his reaction. Perhaps the drugs were still affecting him, weeks later.

"Why are you staring at me?" Avon asked.

Someone should have noticed this before now. Cally remembered, belatedly, Dayna marking that Avon had asked for one of her bottles of spice wine. But why alcohol? If he was still experiencing headaches, why not painkillers? Enough of this. She was tired of dealing with Avon's deviousness. "Why do you think I'm staring at you? You're a wreck."

His eyes widened. He put down his cup and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. "Stress, that's all."

"I don't think so." Inwardly grinning at the absurdity of her next statement she continued, "I can sense it."

Avon downed the contents of his cup, wincing about the eyes. "I've had headaches before."

Score one for me, thought Cally. "I think this one was caused by the residuals of the Ultras' drugs."

This time, she had surprised him. "What brings you to that conclusion?"

"Intuition. And the fact that after we escaped Ultraworld, I had sudden and severe headaches for a few days. The medical scan showed them to be a result of the hypnotic drugs and equipment the Ultras had used."

"And what did you do?"

"Time was the only cure. And soma for the headaches. Do you want some?" Avon sagged visibly in his seat. "Yes. Lucky for me that soma does not react adversely with alcohol."

"Otherwise we could never risk giving any to Vila." Cally was rising as she spoke, and now she headed for her door. "Will you wait for me here?"

A mute shrug answered her, so she slipped into the corridor. Vila was standing at Avon's door, which was between his own and Cally's. He looked up and asked, rather urgently, whether she'd seen Avon.

"Is it important? He's in my cabin," Cally explained. "I'm going to get him some soma, for a headache."

Vila fell into step with her. "We've received a message through Zen. Specifically for Avon."

Cally frowned. "That's very strange." She and Vila stepped aside as Tarrant jogged determinedly by, clad in a faded black sweatsuit and running boots. Cally waited until he had rounded a turn before continuing, "Was the source identified? Horizon or Lindor, perhaps? Or Kaarn--no, Kaarn would have contacted me."

"Not a sniff. It was all coded and Zen wouldn't tell me anything." Vila watched Cally pull a surface injector from a drawer in the medical unit and fit an ampoule of soma to it. "What's wrong with Avon, anyway?"

"Remember Ultraworld?" She picked up a small regenerator.

Surprised, Vila said, "I thought that was just you, because you'd been in that mind-tube so long."

"There were hypnotic drugs given to us, also. They haven't worn off from Avon."

Vila nodded sagely. "That could explain several things. Come on, I want to see what that message is."

Together they went to Cally's cabin and found Avon sitting where she had left him. "Vila has some news," she said. "Would you rather hear it or have the soma first?"

Avon's eyes sharpened. "The news."

"Zen picked up a coded message, Avon. For you."

"For me?" Vague puzzlement was suddenly replaced by urgency. Quickly he exited, followed by Vila and Cally.

"Flight deck," Vila said succinctly.

Avon was already standing before Zen when they arrived. "Decode," he snapped.

+The Orac unit must be utilized.+

Vila frowned. "Why?" he murmured.

Avon had pulled Orac's key from the pocket of his black trousers and shoved it into place. "Orac, decode the message Zen has for me."

For once, Orac obeyed with no comment. Lights flickered within the clear casing and on Zen's face. Avon paced. Vila sat down on the couch after checking the ship's status at his station.

"Do you wish to hear the message?"

Avon hesitated, then said, "Yes. Playback over the flight deck system."

The message began with a burst of computer noise, then--"Avon."

Vila's jaw dropped as he and Cally exchanged a look of shocked comprehension. Avon sank slowly onto the couch. The message continued, "I hope Orac managed to decode this properly. I assume you'll run a voice check as well. In case you don't recognize me, or need confirmation, this is Blake." No-one moved a muscle as the well-remembered voice filled the flight deck. "Sorry there's no vid, but the equipment I'm using has its problems. I can't tell you where I am yet, either; it isn't safe. However, I can lead you to me by steps, using Orac to decode my messages. Avon, I need your help. There's something valuable here, something that can fund the rebellion--all of it--indefinitely. If you can help me, I'm prepared to pay whatever you ask."

The message paused. Cally stepped behind the couch, behind Avon. She seemed about to say something, but the message began again. "There was a tag for Orac at the beginning of my message, which will give him the route to sent me a reply as well as the proper code. If I receive an affirmative, I'll proceed with the first set of coordinates you'll need. I hope all has gone well for you, all of you. Blake out."

"Voice check, Orac," said Cally.

"There is a 94 percent probability that the voice is Roj Blake."

"Blake sounded strange," Vila said, his brow furrowing. "Why did he send the message to just Avon, anyway?"

"He did leave me with the ship," Avon replied. "Orac, acknowledge receipt of message and advise I will cooperate." He stood and paced.

"Confirmed."

"Avon, wait!" said Cally. "We haven't consulted--"

"It's done." He turned his back end faced the blank viewscreen. "Orac, do you have the coordinates?"

"There will be a momentary delay."

"Don't we get a say?" Vila asked.

"No."

"Coordinates received."

"Orac, feed the coordinates to Zen. Confirm when complete."

"Confirmed."

"Zen, lay in a course to the coordinates just received, standard by six."

+Negative. Standard by two is specified.+

"Standard by two, then."

+Confirmed.+

Avon turned to face Cally end Vila. "I'll take the watch, Vila." He headed for his station.

Cally glanced at Vila, then followed Avon. "No, you won't," she said, and slapped the surface injector against the side of his neck. She caught his shoulder in an iron grip so he couldn't twist away.

"Not now," he said weakly, his posture already beginning to slump. "I must stay here...."

When the injector was empty, Cally pulled it away, then passed the skin regenerator war the small mark left by the pressure needle. "Why?" She motioned to Vila, who quickly moved in to support Avon.

A lopsided, soma-induced grim crossed Avon's face. "Why, indeed."

"I'll take the watch, Vila, if you will bring Avon to his cabin," Cally said decisively. "Then come back. I would like to discuss this further."

When Vila returned to the flight deck, he immediately added, "I don't like this. Not a bit of it."

"I don't think I do, either," Cally replied. "Why send a message to Avon alone?"

"That's what I said."

Cally smiled. "I was agreeing with you, Vila."

"Oh."

"And something--"

"--is funny about the way Avon reacted," Vila finished. "He didn't even think about it! He just laid in the course at once, like Blake was standing right there telling him, or--oh."

"O," said Cally simultaneously. "There must be subliminals. There MUST be. And coupled with the hypnotic residues--"

"Orac," said Vila, "were there any subliminals in that message?"

"That information is not available."

"That probably means there are, then," Vila pointed out.

"We cannot be sure," Cally replied slowly. "Vila--for Blake's sake, we need to find out for sure. Perhaps when the next message comes we could have Avon here again. He would went to know if he were being affected by outside causes, don't you think?"

"I don't know," Vila confessed. "I mean I do know, but doesn't that seem kind of risky? He could get set off and try to kill us all."

"If it is a trap, why go to all of this trouble just to kill us? I think we must the risk. Even if the message did not truly come from Blake, the Federation might be hiding him where the messages originate."

Vila wavered. "Orac did say there was a 94 percent probability that it was Blake's voice."

"We could not leave Blake in Federation hands."

"If he is there, and it's the Federation that has him."

"Who else?"

"I can think of a lot of people...." Eyes narrowed, Vila peered at Cally. "You're determined to do this, aren't you."

"For Blake, Vila." Earnestly Cally gazed at him.

Vila wavered and finally gave in. "All right. All right. Avon will be our guinea pig--don't ask me what a guinea pig is, Cally, you'd only laugh if I told you--and then we can be pretty sure if it's a trap or not."

Cally smiled engagingly into Vila's unhappy expression. "Orac, when the next message comes, attempt to detect subliminal transmissions directed to Avon."

"As this matter can only be resolved by a unit such as myself, I will do so."

"Bumptious box," Vila muttered. More loudly he said, "Who's going to brief Dayna and Tarrant?"

"We both will," Cally decided. "We should be democratic about this."

"And then go anyway." Vila said wryly. "Just like the old days, eh Cally?" He hurried out before the Auron could retaliate.

Cally watched him go, then set down and spent some time being very thoughtful.

#

"Do we know when the next message is due?" Dayna asked.

+One point seven hours.+

"Thank you, Zen," she said, surprised. "When we get there, we get another message, and so on?"

"We're flying blind," commented Tarrant uneasily.

"And we have no idea how long it will be before we reach our mysterious destination," Dayna added.

"But there is a possibility that we will find Blake." Tarrant's tone made it clear it although he recognized the risk, he intended to go along.

"Yes," Cally said.

Dayna smiled broadly. "Is sounds all settled to me."

From the weaponry station, Vila spoke up. "I think we have a problem. I don't think Avon will be awake in one point seven hours."

"Then we will test for subliminals the next time."

"Or the next," Vila said glumly. "We won't know until we're even farther down the lion's throat...."

In fact, the spaces between the messages grew longer each time, so even after the third message, when Avon had awakened, there was a long wait before the subliminals theory could be tested. Also extra travel time was added when Liberator was forced to around an area of space that Zen classified as possibly dangerous to the ship. Avon's consent to be a "guinea pig" had been given grimly end with faint signs of trepidation; yet he had given his consent nonetheless. He did not like the thought of manipulation any more now than he had when he'd first boarded the Liberator.

There was twenty minutes before the next message, the fourth, was to arrive. Tarrant and Avon sat on the flight deck couch, for once not saying anything at all to each other. Vila slept in his cabin. Cally went to visit Dayna with a very specific purpose in mind.

"I need a stunner. Hand-held. Small enough to fit in my pocket."

Dayna eyed her narrowly. "You'll use it if you have to, won't you?"

"Yes."

"I thought so. Good." She took something from a drawer and pressed it into Cally's hand. As all of Dayna's creations of the past year were, it was an aesthetic weapon. The stunner was molded into the most comfortable handgrip Cally had ever held.

"Thank you," she said solemnly. "I'll return it soon." Then she returned to the flight deck, to join Tarrant and Avon. Time passed in silence.

Cally had been watching a countdown on the wristwatch she'd donned, so was prepared when the burst of computer noise filled the flight deck. Used to the sound after two repetitions, Tarrant wasn't surprised either; however, the effect on Avon was startling if not unexpected. He had been sitting, toying with a light-pencil, but with the onset of the sound got to his feet automatically.

+Arrival confirmed.+

"We're there," Tarrant said, then stopped and stared at Avon.

"I've got to go," Avon muttered to himself. "Go down there. Of course. I'll go down. I've got to go down...."

Tarrant said to Cally, "This is a bit more extreme than I'd expected."

"Avon?" Oblivious, and still intently muttering that he had to go, Avon began walking off the flight deck. Cally followed, shouting back, "I'll handle this. Tarrant, call the others."

"Teleport. Go to the teleport and teleport down."

"Avon, you don't have any coordinates!" Then she realized that he probably did; she'd seen him translate computer "spoken" language before. She hurried after him.

"I must do this."

"Listen to me, Avon. You're being controlled." She sent telepathically, **Listen to me, damnit!** Mechanically, Avon slapped on a teleport bracelet and stepped towards the console.

Cally shot him.

She pressed the intercom button and asked for Tarrant. "I think I need help to move him."

#

Vila shifted from foot to foot in the teleport bay and looked hopefully at Dayna, who was manning the controls. Smiling, she shook her head. "I'm sorry, Vila, but I don't think there's any way I could be mistaken for Avon." Her feral grin grew more compassionate as she continued, "Besides, neither Tarrant nor I have ever seen Blake in person."

Vila sighed. "Looks like it's up to me again." He fiddled with his teleport bracelet to make sure it was safely secured, checked his gun to be sure it was charged, and felt for the two extra teleport bracelets he'd concealed in separate pockets. One of Dayna's little blasters was tucked in his boot.

"Ready?" Dayna asked.

Unhappily, Vila nodded.

"Don't forget to leave the intercom channel on your bracelet open, so Orac and I can hear if you're having any problems."

"Well, put me down."

Dayna did so. Vila materialized, stumbled on uneven ground, righted himself. "I hope Terminal isn't what I'm going to be," he commented to a bush, and started walking.

A short while later he faced en obnoxious floating sphere, which demanded that he prove his identity as Kerr Avon. "Smeg," Vila cursed.

"I heard that," Dayna laughed over the comm channel. "Don't worry, Orac is taking care of it."

True to her word, soon the sphere began moving, and Vila followed, at last reporting, "I have to go underground."

"I might still be able to manage communications," Dayna said, "but teleport probably won't work."

"Wish me luck?"

"Luck, Vila."

The thief descended into the bowels of Terminal.

#

In the medical unit of Liberator, Kerr Avon blinked muzzily at the ceiling.

"Are you awake?" someone asked. After some thought, he identified Cally.

"Yes," he said. "Are we there yet?"

"Yes," Cally replied slowly.

Avon felt strange. He pondered this for a few moments, then concluded that he felt much better. The buzzing he'd felt..when? Why was he in the medical unit? "Cally--"

She placed her hand over his mouth for a moment. "You don't remember, do you?"

Avon thought, and slowly broken bits of memory began to surface. However, he couldn't quite put them together. "I remember a buzzing sound...."

"Avon, you remember the messages."

"From Blake, yes."

"There were subliminals in the messages. Meant for you."

Something was wrong. "What did I...do?"

"You seemed to want to go down to Terminal very badly," Cally said matter-of-factly.

"Terminal?"

"That is the planet we are orbiting," she explained.

"How did you keep me from teleporting down?"

"I shot you."

"Oh." Pause. "I feel much better."

"The computer instructed us to give you an antipsychotic drug, as your symptoms seemed to warrant it. You should be fine." She added, "You had reacted so positively to the subliminals because of the Ultras' drugs. It won't happen again."

"No, it won't," Avon replied firmly. "What's been happening?"

Cally pulled up a chair. "We sent Vila down...."

#

Vila descended the last rungs of the ladder, stepped quietly to the floor, and nervously looked around. No-one was in sight. He listened and heard nothing, then lifted his arm and pressed a button on his teleport bracelet. "Are you there, Dayna?" he whispered.

The answering chime almost made him leap out of his skin. "Yes. Don't forget to leave the channel open."

"Done," Vila replied. "Here I go."

The tunnels were deserted, but the sound of machinery within the walls made them seem to be the innards of a living creature. Vila shivered, remembering childhood nightmares, and moved more quickly. The sound was like a heartbeat, he decided. If Blake had been behind this, he surely would have indicated which direction to go in. Therefore this probably was a trap, and Vila would have to avoid being caught in it before he could ascertain whether or not Blake was being held prisoner here.

"Still alive," he whispered into his bracelet, and peered around a turning in the corridor. He took a cautious step, then stared, astonished, at the miniature dart in his hand before collapsing.

Mist. The room Vila stood in was filled with mist, and it was cold. Blake lay on table before him, covered with a white sheet. Blake's face was bearded, and he was trying to speak to Avon.

"Vila," Vila said. "I'm Vila."

Blake vanished. Vila was staring at an unfamiliar ceiling, and his feet were cold. Unsteadily he dropped to his feet, banging his head on some knobby protuberance, then staggered out into the corridor, fighting the muzziness with every cell in his body. It was several minutes before he realized that his teleport bracelet was gone, and with it his gun, the extra bracelets, and the blaster in his boot. Mechanically he cursed, standing swaying in the middle of the corridor.

Without warning he was seized from behind, and a gun shoved into his kidneys. He was unable to make effective resistance and was soon marched through a door. His captor pushed him into the center of the room and departed. Vila staggered, then straightened. The swift forced walk had cleared his head.

"So it was you, all along," he said, appraising Servalan's silver-polished nails. Probably poison under them, he reflected. "Vila," she said smoothly. "Whet a surprise."

Strangely, he still felt no fear. "You were expecting maybe Avon?"

Servalan, rising gracefully and walking toward him, said, "Where is Avon? Surely he would not have sent you to regain Blake."

"Oh, you mean because of the subliminals?" Innocently Vila smiled. "We twigged that right off." He thought, I won't tell you what else I've twigged!

"However, you still came," Servalan said. "Blake is all the hold I need." Her eyes suddenly widened in momentary surprise and she turned to the entrance.

Vila almost groaned when two guards clad in silver and red hustled Dayna and Tarrant through the doorway, but he bit it back long enough to collect his thoughts. "I'm sorry, Vila," Dayna said wearily.

"You ought to be sorry," Tarrant snarled, causing Vila to blink in surprise. "It was your bumbling--"

"My bumbling--"

Vila caught on. Miraculously, Servalan didn't appear to. "If you're going to try and rescue someone, you shouldn't march right in like a herd of elephants!" he shouted.

"He's the one with big feet--"

"At least I'm quiet on them--"

Simultaneously Dayna and Tarrant turned on their captors, Dayna's going down almost immediately. Vila quickly stepped back as the women who had been guarding him went for Dayna. Events were going much too quickly for him to follow.

Tarrant leaped for Servalan like a young lion once he had managed to dispatch his opponent and grab the fallen weapon. He should have shot her immediately, Vila thought as the young pilot drifted to the ground, one leg curled to him in agony.

Without knowledge of his method, Vila found himself staring into Servalan's amazed amber-colored eyes from a distance of centimeters, and his hands tightly locked about the gun she'd wrested from Tarrant. He supposed she stepped on his foot, but the pain only gave him fresh strength, and he fought her desperately for the weapon, gasping with terror. Disconcertingly she hissed at him; he pulled back in shock; the gun went off.

Silence.

"Vila?" asked Dayna.

Vila's eyes were closed as he waited to die. When he felt no change in his existence, only an intensified throb in his foot, he opened his eyes slowly. His hands were clenched around the gun, which was pointed at Servalan, whose eyes gaped wide. Vila's hands shook violently and he pushed the gun away, causing the President's corpse to collapse on the floor. He took three rapid steps backward and wrapped his arms tightly around his body.

"Damn," said Dayna. "I wanted to do that."

"Is...is that it?" Vila stammered. "That's all there is?"

"It was well done," said Tarrant as he slowly sat up on the floor. He added tightly, "I think she broke my shin."

#

On the Liberator, the crew had been forced by circumstances to gather in the medical unit. Dayna was running a regenerator over Tarrant's leg while Cally checked the results of Vila's bloodtest and injected him by pressure needle with the necessary antidote. Avon leaned against a bulkhead, arms crossed, very much in control. He would have to continue with the drug Cally had given him for a short while longer, but didn't particularly care now he knew the hypnotics would wear off.

He said, continuing from a moment earlier, "There was no sign of Blake."

"Not a sniff," said Vila, apparently recovered from his ordeal. "She might have had him once, might have him still, but not on Terminal."

"If we knew where she got his voiceprints," Tarrant suggested.

"I would like to know that very much," said Avon intently. "Particularly after Orac sends word to the Federation that their President is dead. In a week or so."

"Avon, you're joking--" began Vila.

"Oh, no. We haven't been very diligent in our search for Blake of late. I think we should intensify our efforts."

"I agree," said Cally quickly. "There will be a struggle for Servalan's power, and Blake could take full advantage of it."

"I vote yes," grinned Dayna.

"We'll have to begin immediately," said Tarrant.

"Good." Avon smiled a small brief smile. "Long live the rebellion."

"Cally," complained Vila, "I thought that stuff was supposed to keep him sane?!"


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Alicia Ann Fox

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