Selection Library Help

Jabberwocky - part 10 - Program

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.

Part 7 - Clone

Realizing mention of IMIPAK will draw Servalan back to the planet where it was left, Blake plans a mission to find and destroy the weapon. Trailed by a mysterious ship, and protesting all the way, the crew arrive to find that Blake's clone is still there. When the mysterious ship arrives and Dayna dies in an accidental confrontation, Servalan captures the clone only to find she has the original Blake. The clone overpowers Blake and replaces him on Jabberwocky. When the captain of the mysterious vessel proves to be Dorn Suliman, a friend of Tarrant's and the son of the man Jabberwocky once was. Avon plans a rescue of Blake, using the dummy IMIPAK. Dorn warily decides he will try to get to know his father again.

Part 8 - Stand-in

A mysterious cube proves to be a prison for an alien mass-murderer, who escapes - into Tarrant's body. With the link broken, Jabberwocky's sanity is in jeopardy, and Vila offers himself as a temporary link-mate. With Tarrant's body in stasis and the alien in possession of the ship's computers, only Vila can find a solution that will drive him away and restore the ship and Tarrant. The link is returned to Tarrant once the being is defeated.

Part 9 - Choices

When Avon's son Kyl stows away on a mission and winds up being kidnapped by Servalan, she plans to use him in trade for Blake. Left with an impossible choice, Avon is overruled by Blake himself, and with Jabberwocky's help and the development of a gestalt linkage, the whole crew forms a mental link to confront Servalan and rescue Kyl and Blake.


Program

Vila Restal bolted upright in bed, shaking with the force of the nightmare. It had been a long time since he'd dreamed about Dayna, but for the last two nights, she had appeared in his sleep, calling his name, pleading for help. The last time he had jerked awake expecting to find her in the room. But then, as now, he found himself alone with nothing but darkness.

      "Dayna?" he whispered tentatively, half afraid that to speak to her now that he was awake would call her spirit back to haunt him. Vila didn't like the thought of ghosts, even ghosts like Dayna who should be on his side.

      There was no answer. Of course not. Spirits didn't haunt the ship: if they did, Jabberwocky would know about it and warn them. Vila switched on the light and looked around his cabin as if seeking signs of an intruder. Nothing. Imagining the effect upon Avon of such a warning, Vila brightened slightly. Avon had no patience with things like ghosts, though he probably had more of them haunting his dreams than any of the rest of them did. Anna Grant, his old 'friend' Tynus, maybe even Gan. Dayna for a certainty. Probably still blamed himself for her death, which was stupid. Vila would have loved to tell Avon there was nothing he could have done to save Dayna when Dorn Suliman's bodyguard had shot her. Avon might - reluctantly - be a healer, but his healing went in a different direction. Emotional pain was what he was good at; almost a joke, considering how poorly Avon dealt with his own emotions. Sometimes Vila wondered if Avon could ever turn his special brand of healing inward. Physician, heal thyself, he thought with half a smile.

      As usual, thoughts of Avon chased away the spirits. Avon was so blasted pragmatic that no spirit would dare appear to him for fear that Avon would look at it, say calmly, "you don't exist," and banish it with a wave of his hand. Kerr Avon, ghost slayer, thought Vila with a wide grin.

      Fully awake, Vila turned his thoughts to the others. Blake was making noises about going off on another mission soon, probably in the next day or so. Vila would have to protest it for all he was worth, just to keep in practice. After all, he was the resident coward on board Jabberwocky, and even if that had always been partly a facade, people expected more of him than they had of the old Vila. That would never do. Before long they'd be expecting him to work. Vila shuddered elaborately.

      He considered dressing and wandering out to the flight deck, but there wasn't much point. Here on Ryalon, at their home base, the flight deck was not always manned at night since Jabberwocky could monitor for trouble perfectly well. Trouble didn't often come to Ryalon, though it wasn't impossible. But going to the flight deck if no one was there didn't sound very entertaining.

      In the old days, he would have had himself a drink or three to put himself back to sleep, but he hardly drank at all these days. If they hadn't got Jabberwocky when they had, Vila suspected his drinking might have got out of hand, but everything had turned around and now he got more fun out of pretending to cadge a drink than from actually drinking.

      "Go back to sleep, Vila," he told himself. "It was only a bad dream." Putting out the light, he crawled into bed again. The darkness seemed ominous. He whispered uneasily, "Dayna?" but there was no reply. After a few minutes, he began to relax. Deliberately he turned his thoughts to Avon and began to replay in his mind Avon's conversation yesterday when he was repairing the extra range detectors. Avon had taken it into his head to explain the procedure in great detail to Vila, who had been the only one not quick enough to get away. Now, he went over it in his head, step by step.

      It put him to sleep in minutes.

      

      

"I'm not sure this is such a good idea," Jabberwocky said aloud.

      //Interface, // Orac urged through the computer link. //It is the only way.//

      "No, Orac," Jabberwocky replied still speaking orally, though he firmed up his link with the Orac computer to echo his own uncertainty there. "Our project will be best if the rest of the crew don't know about it. I still think it's a big mistake." He approximated an all too human sigh. "But I couldn't resist it either."

      "Do not assign my project human motivations," Orac replied tartly, defending his motive of pure research. "I feel that to duplicate this program for each member of the crew could be beneficial."

      "How?" Jabberwocky wondered sceptically.

      "By preserving knowledge."

      "But it risks all kinds of emotional disturbances among the crew. With me, too," he confessed ruefully.

      "Humans appear to enjoy the sentiment involved in wallowing in their memories," Orac returned. "Why should this be different?"

      "It's a lot more detailed than most memories," Jabberwocky replied. "We've achieved more than we bargained for, and I don't think I like it."

      "More than you bargained for. In spite of your abilities, your thinking is still almost entirely human." The criticism in the observation was poorly concealed.

      "And your snobbery isn't? I am human, and I'm glad of it. Maybe you wish you were."

      "Never."

      Had he still possessed a body, Jabberwocky would have smiled at Orac's decisive reply, but then he remembered something Ensor's creation had said, and he asked, "What do you mean, more than I bargained for?"

      "You underestimate your abilities. I do not. I knew more was possible than you would admit - or realise. With our combined input, the result would naturally achieve far more than a normal human brain could ever accomplish. You will note that you have already far exceeded your own design specification. Why not in this as well?"

      Jabberwocky brooded a bit. "I thought we were coming closer to self-awareness than I'd imagined possible."

      "It may yet be possible."

      "How?" Jabberwocky was openly sceptical and more than a little wistful.

      "Input from the human crew of this ship might complete the process."

      "No!" Jabberwocky was shocked at the suggestion that he would put the crew in a position to be hurt. "I won't do it," he burst out. "Avon's my father. I won't do this to him, and I forbid you to do it either. I'd like to take the program to its logical extension too, but it's hard enough already. Don't ask me to do any more, Orac, because I won't. This stopped being fun a long time ago."

      "Humans," sniffed Orac impatiently. "Such a waste."

      "Waste!" Jabberwocky returned hotly. "What are you doing now? Psychological studies of a crew under stress? I'll dump the program before it comes to that."

      "I think not. Taking an experiment to its logical conclusions is the only rational action."

      "Are you studying me too? Are you enjoying my reactions?"

      "As an example of atonement?" Orac asked, displaying more understanding of human motives than Jabberwocky had expected.

      "Enough!" he cried. "Leave me alone, Orac. I won't take it any further. It would really be best to erase the program now." But he knew he could not bring himself to do that.

      "Could you?" Orac asked perceptively, and Jabberwocky was surprised to hear faint sympathy in the computer's question. He wasn't sure if it were real or if Orac had learned to mimic such responses, using them when necessary - Avon would deny that any such thing was possible, and as a computer expert, he should know Orac's parameters, but both Orac and Jabberwocky knew he was not entirely correct.

      Orac was right. Jabberwocky sighed again. "No, you know I couldn't. Maybe I'm punishing myself, but I want to keep the program."

      "Then we must take it that final step?"

      "I almost went insane once," Jabberwocky said obscurely. "I know what it's like. We mustn't."

      "The situations are not the same."

      "Near enough."

      "You adapted."

      "I'm still partly human. Do you believe even my father can 'heal' a program?"

      "He might welcome the opportunity to try."

      "No. He'll deny the entire program and refuse to associate with it. This is enough, Orac. Leave it."

      "Cally could finish it for us," Orac wheedled. "There would be no need to involve the others."

      Orac must have been very excited to suggest using a human to complete the work, but Jabberwocky was adamant. "I know Cally. We were linked and I owe her more than this. You can't understand how it would hurt. Leave it."

      Orac was silent, and Jabberwocky suspected he was in a snit, but after a brief interval, the computer said, "We will continue this discussion at another time."

      No, we won't, thought Jabberwocky, but a part of him tended to agree with Orac, even though he understood better than anyone the problems involved in completing the experiment.

      Vila wandered idly onto the flight deck - not much was required for maintenance when the ship was grounded on Ryalon, their home port, and not everyone was even on board today. Jabberwocky had registered Vila's return to the ship and had monitored him automatically as he pottered around here and there. Now he tried to put the project from his mind to greet Vila normally. Orac chose not to react to Vila's presence verbally - when it came to the rest of the crew, Orac rarely spoke unless spoken to. Like a good child, thought Jabberwocky, keeping it from Orac, who wouldn't have appreciated it, and from Vila, who would.

      "Vila. You're back then. I thought you were gone for the day. What's the matter, are you bored?"

      "Bored? No, I'm not bored," Vila said with a yawn that spoke of a late night or a sleepless one. "I've been thinking of something to do to liven everyone up. Complacent, that's what they are. Mind you, we've been lucky lately. Nothing really dangerous since our last run in with Servalan. I wonder if she ever managed to escape from Parais, or if they've got her doing hard time." Though his babble sounded slightly forced, he grinned broadly at the idea. Then his face fell.

      "No, Blake wants us to traipse off to Foran Prime so he can make speeches. I ask you."

      "You can always sleep," Jabberwocky returned. "I know you, Vila. You sleep better when you're supposed to be paying attention than anyone I know - and with your eyes open."

      Vila took it as praise. "Years of practice," he replied smugly, buffing his fingernails against his shirt.

      "At what? Sleeping?" Avon asked, entering the flight deck with Cally. Both halted abruptly when Vila and Jabberwocky went into gales of laughter.

      "I think they're bad for each other, Cally," Avon told her instructively. Jabberwocky considered his 'father' for a serious moment. Avon looked good, as well adjusted as Jabberwocky had ever seen him. The last thing he needed was to get wind of his and Orac's project. That would put an end to all good moods on board.

      "Laughter is good for the spirit," Cally replied in the tone she used when quoting another old Auron saying. Jabberwocky noted the momentary sadness in her eyes at the reminder. Vila didn't notice, because he was watching Avon, but Avon did without even turning in Cally's direction. He placed an unobtrusive hand on her arm, and her eyes warmed again. A sense of contentment warmed the ship/computer at the sight. Avon had made great strides of late.

      Better to keep his project to himself. Even if Orac was right, that it would take very little to extend the program a step beyond the possibilities, Jabberwocky decided to stay away from it for a while.

      //I don't want you going behind my back,// he instructed Orac through their interface.

      //You could not stop me.//

      //There are ways,// Jabberwocky transmitted ominously. //Don't push me too far, Orac. You may be able to control some of my functions through my tarial cells, but I have ways of circumventing you.//

      Orac did not reply, and Jabberwocky turned back to Vila's lugubrious description of the planned mission to Foran Prime. Avon had instantly taken exception to the idea of a mission which would expose yet another planet to Blake's rhetoric, but Jabberwocky knew that Avon would back Blake, complaining all the way. The crew had grown closer since the Parais mission, aided by the strong bonding that had come about in the link used to rescue Blake, and Avon's son Kyl from Servalan. Though such linkage could only be used sparingly away from the ship, as it drained Jabberwocky's power, there had been occasional practice sessions since returning from that mission. Even Avon, who had scorned the idea of linkage for anything other than ship functions, had proven quite adept at merging into the gestalt link.

      That linkage had suggested the current project to Jabberwocky and Orac. Realising how close to all the crew he had become made him wonder what practical uses there were for the knowledge. In one of his customary links with Orac - the two computers routinely interfaced for information exchanges and to monitor ship's functions - the theory of developing comprehensive programs based on the personalities of members of the crew had come up. Realising how extensive was Jabberwocky's understanding of his shipboard friends, Orac had been fascinated. Soon Jabberwocky, whose thirst for knowledge had been cultivated to replace some of the physical functions he could no longer experience, was as caught up in the idea as Orac was.

      Even now, Jabberwocky didn't know which of them had taken the suggestion a step further. If it were possible to design a program which contained as many facets of a human's personality as Jabberwocky could bring to it, then why not design such a program based on a real person. A person who was no longer alive. Dayna.

      Jabberwocky blamed himself for Dayna's death, knowing if he had acted differently, she might be alive today. He missed her. Though Dayna had not been as open with him as some of the others, he had found the young woman from Sarran loyal and brave and would have given anything to bring her back. Instead, he did the next best thing.

      Some of Orac's techniques were beyond Jabberwocky's conscious understanding, and some of his own were Greek to Orac, but between the two of them, they got the point across. Laboriously they had worked to put every bit of information about Dayna into the program. Then Jabberwocky added to it, taking what he'd garnered from his linkages with the young woman, everything that made her Dayna, feelings he had sensed, reactions, emotions. Those things would be beyond Orac's abilities to add, but with them, Jabberwocky had given 'life' to the program that would have been lacking before. When accessed, it reacted and conversed with him and with Orac much as Dayna had done. He knew it was only a program, but lately, the dividing line had grown thinner and thinner. Orac was of the opinion that further input might take their program over the edge into something resembling actual sentience.

      Skilled and complex androids were possible, so why not create one using Dayna as a model. Avon and Blake had once reminisced about an android of Avalon which had been planted aboard Liberator that had even fooled people who knew her slightly, discussing the Cause without revealing itself. If true, why not design a Dayna-personality capable of reacting to the crew that was Dayna in all but the physical. Avon had done some basic programming on the Avalon android without much lead time. How much better could Jabberwocky and Orac do with their combined resources?

      A part of Jabberwocky liked the result; it filled a hollow place in his 'heart'. But it reminded him of what was gone in much the same way that contemplating his son did. Jabberwocky had adjusted to his present state, but there were still difficult times. Seeing 'Dayna' like this reminded him of another loss, a permanent one. Dayna was dead. The program was just that. Jabberwocky had far more; he lived, though in a different form. His reactions were really his, and though his personality had changed in the process, the man that he had once been remained beneath the powerful ship's computer. What he and Orac had created was just a substitute, no matter how real it seemed.

      There was a commotion on the flight deck as Soolin and their ship's doctor, Hugh Tiver arrived. They must have been prowling about the base marketplace that dominated Ryalon City, for Soolin had a new gun to display that she had bought there. Avon was interested and they bent over it to study its function.

      Dayna would have liked it, mused Jabberwocky, wondering if he should call the program up and tell 'her' about it. The Dayna program was stronger than he had expected. He was half afraid that one day it would pop up on the main screen and start talking to the crew.

      Jabberwocky couldn't bring himself to dump it. It would be like killing Dayna all over again. So he joined in the conversation and tried to turn his thoughts away from it all. One of the faults of his design was that it was impossible to shove unwanted ideas and thoughts into the subconscious mind. He could select what he wished to focus on, but the rest of it didn't go away. He could screen it out for purposes of ship functions, but he couldn't forget.

      //You seem sad.// Tarrant, his link mate was with Blake on the target range at headquarters, but the bond between them was strong enough to transcend the distance. //Should I return to the ship?//

      //No. I'm just remembering something,// Jabberwocky replied. //It's all right, Del.//

      Sensing Tarrant's doubt, he suspected he would return earlier than planned, but not even to his partner could he reveal this secret.

      

      ...Strange... It was strange. Something had happened, something she didn't understand. She couldn't think clearly, could get no sense of herself. She remembered conversations with Jabberwocky, with Orac, but none of the others, and she wondered why no one came to talk to her. She'd heard Vila once, but it had faded away.

      Even more frightening, she could not sense herself at all. It was as if she were bodiless, a strange, ephemeral being that drifted in darkness, that had no home.

      Sensory deprivation? Was that it? Was she prisoner, kept captive for some evil purpose of Servalan's, an attempt to drive her mad? She didn't feel mad, only detached and different, but the thought that she was a prisoner sent tendrils of fear racing through her consciousness. Maybe only Jabberwocky could reach her like this. Maybe the link was keeping her sane.

      Her periods of consciousness were so fragmented she did not know if they were real or only dreams. At first she had not remembered, responding to Jabberwocky or Orac then 'going away' afterwards. When next they talked, it was as if prior conversations had never been and only now did she guess there had been many of them. It was as if she had been mindwiped after each talk, as if she had no essence, as if the person that had once been Dayna was no longer real.

      She didn't know where she was now or why she was here, but she could feel nothing, hear nothing, see nothing. She was disembodied, drifting, and though she struggled after consciousness and awareness, she could not leave her limbo state.

      But she could hold it. When awareness had come before, it had gone again and she had been powerless to stop it. This time, she could hold it a little longer.

      Maybe it meant she was getting well.

      Getting well?

      She focused on that, trying to understand. Getting well? That meant she had been ill, or hurt. Suddenly it made sense that she could not rouse any further. A little at a time; she would come back a little at a time.

      But then why hadn't the others visited her? Why wasn't Hugh hovering at her bedside? Why didn't Vila pop in and talk nonsense at her in hopes of coaxing her back to consciousness? Why didn't Tarrant sit holding her hand? And why didn't Avon come whispering into her mind with his own particular brand of healing? She knew what that felt like. She had been through it before. She could almost remember it, but it was strange, skewed, as if she were seeing it from Avon's perspective rather than her own. But maybe that was the way of it. Maybe it was like the best of linking, when she felt like she and the others were one.

      Only it wasn't. When she remembered dying - dying?! - she only remembered Avon's pain and an echo of her own. She remembered... her death!

      Terrified, she shut out the memory, unwilling to accept what she had just seen. The memory faded abruptly after that, but a moment too late. She could not have witnessed Avon's stark pain so vividly if she were dead. Conscious, even partly conscious, she might have recalled it through the link, but dead...

      She tried to fade into the merciful oblivion, but this time she couldn't find it. It had always gone without conscious control before. There had been periods of awareness, brief flashes of reality, interspersed with periods of rote interactions, as if Jabberwocky asked questions and she answered them like one programmed. She had been given no choice.

      But Jabberwocky would never hurt her. Maybe he was helping her, aiding her to work through this problem. Maybe she was in a coma, struggling to come out of it. If Avon had believed her dead, she must have been very badly hurt. Maybe she was too badly hurt to have sensed the others, even as background.

      Jabberwocky was helping her. She fixed onto that and struck out into the darkness, sending a tendril of something she didn't recognise ahead of her. //Jabberwocky.//

      A startled eternity went by, then, //Dayna?// Jabberwocky sounded haunted. Maybe she really was dead. Maybe this horrible nothingness was death.

      //Am I dead?//

      //You are safe.//

      She calculated that answer for a time that might have been a year or a nanosecond, then she came back quickly. //That's not an answer. Tell me, Jabberwocky, am I dead?//

      //You tell me how you came here.//

      That puzzled her still further, but she concentrated her energies on it, responding as if the order must be faced before anything else. That annoyed her. She didn't have to take orders from Jabberwocky. //No,// she replied. //I asked first.//

      //It isn't supposed to be this way,// Jabberwocky replied. //Orac, respond. Monitor us.//

      //Confirmed,// replied Orac and Dayna was startled to realise that Orac could link with her too, just as Jabberwocky could. Once Cally had said Orac's carrier waves passed through the same dimension as her telepathy - but hadn't she also said Orac had no consciousness in that zone?

      //Help me, Jabberwocky. Where am I? On the ship?//

      //Yes. You are on the ship. Tell me how you feel.//

      //Confused. I remember talking to you before, but it was as if you could block me out whenever you wanted and I couldn't come back unless you let me. Am I in a coma? Is that the way we're talking?//

      A hesitation. Again Dayna could not measure the gap, but this time she concentrated on it, trying to understand.

      //It is something like a coma, I think. Will you go to sleep again for me? You must rest.//

      //I don't want to sleep. I want to understand. Why don't the others come to talk to me? Why does Orac communicate like this?// A horrible idea occurred to her. //They haven't made me like you? I don't want that. Jabberwocky, please...//

      She sensed his hesitation, then he replied, //No, Dayna, you are not like me.//

      //You're lying. I know you're lying.// But he wasn't. She was not like him. But she wasn't herself either.

      //I'm different. How am I different?//

      //I promise to tell you everything when you are stronger.//

      She heard great sorrow in Jabberwocky's response, but how could she feel sorrow in a computer? She knew Jabberwocky was a person, too, capable of great emotions, but she also knew these responses came through his computer functions. But the link...

      This was not the link.

      She panicked. What had happened to her? Why was she trapped like this? Why was...

      She snapped into darkness as if the world had ended.

      

      The mission to Foran Prime did not begin well. Since it was routine, going to a settled world committed to the resistance, there was no real threat. Kyl wanted to come along, but Avon, wary after their last mission when Servalan had taken his son prisoner, was reluctant to allow it. He and Kyl had a heated argument about it, no surprise when two such stubborn people clashed. Kyl insisted that life came with built-in danger and that he was no safer on the base than he would be on the ship. Avon replied that he had a responsibility to avoid interrupting his schooling. Kyl reminded him that his field was computers and between Avon, Orac and Jabberwocky, he could learn more than he could on the base. That was obviously true, and Avon considered it.

      "I know I said I didn't want Kyl on missions," Blake put in, unwisely entering the fray. "But this is nothing more than a goodwill tour. We can assign Orac the task of locating and monitoring Servalan{\151}"

      "Since her ship does not possess tarial cells, that seems a singularly futile task." Avon's glare informed Blake that he had best stay out of the argument if he knew what was good for him.

      Blake held up his hands in a gesture of peace and withdrew to his flight desk station, where he ran a check on the systems. Avon suspected that in spite of his obvious preoccupation, Blake was listening for all he was worth.

      "Anyway," Kyl plunged on. "I think I'd feel safer with you around than I would otherwise, as long as nobody's shooting at us." There was a sneaky look in his eyes as he tried on this particular argument, trying to gauge its effectiveness. The boy was an expert manipulator.

      "I hardly think I can guarantee that we won't be used for target practice," Avon replied. "In any case, I should prefer you to remain on the base."

      Kyl gave him a rather surly look but finally let it go. Avon hoped he knew better than to stow away again. Missions for the resistance were no place for a boy his age, though younger people than Kyl took part in the fighting on some embattled worlds.

      "He's trying to protect you," Hugh told Kyl in an undertone, casting a sideways glance at Avon as if he hoped Avon hadn't overheard him. Avon pretended he hadn't. While it was true he didn't want Kyl exposed to danger, he rather resented the others knowing it and probably assigning him motives of sentiment. He would have to distance himself from them on the mission, so that they would be reminded to keep on their toes. Unfortunately, he saw the humour in the situation, something that was happening more often of late. Sometimes Avon did not recognise himself.

      Finally Kyl agreed, parting rather stiffly with his father, and Avon watched him go with a combination of resentment and relief. The others had the sense to say nothing about it, but not even Vila pretended to quail before the savage glance he cast impartially around the flight deck.

      Ordinarily, Jabberwocky would have pitched in with his own brand of peacekeeping during the argument, but this time, Jabberwocky hadn't, and Avon missed the distraction. Jabberwocky had been rather quiet lately, almost a brooding presence. Once Avon would have welcomed a more restrained tone in their computer, but now he missed Jabberwocky's inconsequential chatter about the fun of life, much as he missed Vila's perpetual babble when the thief was silent.

      Unwilling to admit to either, Avon assumed his position at the computer station as they prepared for takeoff.

      As usual, they linked for the procedure, and this time, Avon had enough interest in Jabberwocky's reactions to unbend completely within the linkage. Usually he set his barricades before entering, using only what was necessary to manipulate his controls and the ship, but this time, he used lower blockages. Jabberwocky was largely computer and Avon was curious about his functioning.

      But whatever the problem was, Jabberwocky could shield it from the rest of them. Avon might have probed deeper had he been in link-mode without the others, but he could do only so much without arousing their speculation. It was bad enough that he was making them curious about his lowered barriers.

      Avon sent a few careful probes in Jabberwocky's direction. Though the ship seemed to welcome him, he gave nothing away. Avon resolved to try later, when the others had left the link. Tarrant would be there, of course, but Tarrant must suspect something was wrong already unless he was as insensitive as Avon had first believed him. Even now, he did not entirely discount it. It was his nature to see people at their worst as Blake chose to see them at their best. Blake would have claimed that was why they worked so well together, but Blake was given to platitudes.

      The lightest of mind touches told him Cally was with him, sensing his concern. He might have repulsed one of the others, but not Cally, so he allowed the mental touch. Though Cally would not pry, she had her own way of finding answers, in private, out of group linkage.

      Jabberwocky knew he was under observation, but he seemed his usual efficient and garrulous self.

      When on their way to Foran Prime and everyone free of linkage, Cally caught Avon's eye, though she didn't speak. It was Blake who had questions, but they were private, and he waited until Avon left the flight deck to ask them.

      "Do you want to tell me what that was all about, Avon?" he asked when the two of them were alone outside the computer crawlways, where Avon had planned to run some systems checks.

      Avon didn't pretend to misunderstand Blake, for to do so would result in tedious explanations. "An experiment," he said lightly.

      "Should I believe that, you'll be happy to sell me a slightly used planet named Terminal," Blake replied. "I won't say I wasn't glad to see you getting into the spirit of linkage. Didn't you notice how much smoother it went?"

      "The gestalt you and the others shared on Parais has spoiled you, Blake," Avon replied shortly. "Next, you will expect us to spend our days in linkage, living inside each other's heads. The idea lacks appeal."

      "I don't want that, Avon. I value our differences and I don't want any of us to change too much. Should you become mellow, you'd no longer be helpful to me. You keep me on my toes."

      "Which is, of course, my primary purpose."Blake grinned engagingly, looking years younger than he had on Gauda Prime. "Neither of us would know what to do without the sparks we strike off each other," he said, with open affection.

      "Now you are becoming sentimental. If you will excuse me, I'll go off - to be sick."

      Blake's eyes twinkled, then he grew serious. "Something's bothering you, isn't it? Is it Kyl?"

      Avon shook his head, then wished he hadn't. Perhaps he might have fobbed Blake off with a careless reference to his son. But lying to Blake was something he had never been particularly good at. It was true that he seldom expressed overt concern for Blake, but Blake could read beneath the surface and Avon preferred him to do his own hard work. This was different. While he did not mind misleading Blake a little if the situation called for it, the risk of possible danger to the ship made it mandatory to tell Blake.

      "Have you noticed Jabberwocky lately?" he asked. "He's been far quieter than usual, and he spends a lot of time interfacing with Orac."

      "Maybe Orac's researching the Mark-60 specifications," Blake theorised.

      "Perhaps, though why that would make Jabberwocky so moody I have no idea."

      "And if you don't, no one will." Blake frowned. "When you were working on your own plans for this ship, you must have considered the possibility that using a human brain as its base could lead to trouble?"

      "Naturally, Blake. It was something I would have phased out, given time and the opportunity to make decisions. I suspected that using a human brain could produce the type of problems Jabberwocky faced when his memories surfaced. My plans included a total block of returning memories."

      "Mind wiping?" Blake's mouth curled with distaste at the idea.

      "It is quite easy to plan such things in the abstract," Avon replied coolly, though he was uncomfortable with Blake's reaction. Blake still resented his lost memories - some of which had never come back, even after all this time. "My work was entirely theoretical at that point, and as you must be aware, the well-being of strangers has never been my prime consideration."

      Blake nodded, accepting Avon's explanation, as if he considered it an attempt at justification. Avon resented that, but he was more inclined to tolerate it from Blake than he had in the old days, so he let it go.

      "The present situation doesn't match any of your scenarios?" asked Blake, frowning, when Avon was silent.

      "No. But then I never expected anything like Jabberwocky. I believe I expected something more like Zen than anything, though without the ability to withhold information from the crew. Jabberwocky is far more human than I had planned."

      "Or wanted, I'll wager."

      The corners of Avon's mouth lifted in reluctant amusement. "Quite. However Jabberwocky is efficient and functional, and I would not change that."

      Blake tried unsuccessfully to mask a knowing look. "You suspect this problem might endanger the ship?"

      "There is no evidence of that, but I should be a fool to ignore the possibility."

      "Have you attempted a private link?"

      "Not yet. I wished to discuss it with Cally first. Tarrant seems to have the best grasp of linkage," he added with some disgust. "But it was designed to accommodate a pilot. I should prefer not to solicit his help at present. He's too involved with Jabberwocky to be objective. Cally is practical, and has the added advantage of experiencing the link first hand."

      "As have I," Blake reminded him.

      "True, but I should have said your experience was not fortuitous."

      "No, not entirely, but it gave me enough background to know something's bothering Jabberwocky, now that you mention it."

      "Fortunately for all of us, I am somewhat more perceptive. I want to look into this, Blake. It may be nothing. Humans tend to be moody creatures, and Jabberwocky's emotional responses are human. But I should prefer to trust my life to something more substantial than speculation."

      "Yet you said nothing before the mission."

      "If I'd expected danger, I would have done. I doubt we'll face anything as severe as last time - and the gravest problem then was Jabberwocky's interference with my test results."

      "And his manipulation of me," Blake reminded him.

      "So you suggest we watch Tarrant for similar occurrences?" Avon asked.

      "Exactly. It's what you'd already planned unless I'm mistaken."

      Avon nodded. "We're fortunate to have Jenna now. Should there be a problem with Tarrant, she could fly the ship with normal computer backup, without resorting to linkage. I doubt it will come to that though."

      

      

That night, Avon told Cally what he and Blake had discussed. It would have been difficult to keep it from her had he wished to, but he needed her experience.

      //Tell me now what is bothering you,// she telepathed, her cheek against his shoulder. //You've been meaning to. Is something wrong with Jabberwocky?//

      He settled the blankets over them comfortably before he relaxed against the pillows. When together like this, she often insisted on telepathy, and sometimes their thoughts went back and forth so quickly that it was difficult to tell which of them was speaking. Had he not trusted Cally, he would have loathed the experience. He was not entirely comfortable with it, even now, but he did not want to hurt her. If he could not love her as wholeheartedly as she loved him, he could at least give her this, a voice to chase away the empty echoes inside her mind, just as she drove back the cold from his heart.

      //I doubt 'wrong' is the correct word, but something is bothering him. He's been much too quiet of late. Have you noticed?//

      //Quiet - and secretive, as if he'd done something he doesn't want us to know about,// she suggested.

      Her certainty triggered an answering response in him and he realised he'd suspected as much, just not conceptualised the idea. It was like Vila, when he was in trouble, though the thief was likely to babble to cover his mischief and Jabberwocky was apt to keep his to himself. Only the feel was the same.

      //Yes,// Cally agreed, sensing his thought.

      He was still not entirely comfortable when she did that. //So Jabberwocky has done something he doubts we'll approve,// he theorised.

      //Something that doesn't threaten the function of this ship.//

      //A dangerous assumption.//

      //Is it? Jabberwocky wouldn't hurt any of us and you know it.//

      //I don't know it, and I refuse to assume any such thing. I should consider it unlikely he would wish to hurt us, but that's another story.//

      //That's why you opened up so much in the link,// she realised. //You wanted to see what you could pick up. Have you considered healing?// Her question was tentative.

      Avon stiffened. He had been uncomfortable with healing since Dayna's death. Lately he had been refusing Cally's suggestions that he continue to research the phenomenon in order to strengthen his abilities. The experience had been too painful, and Avon had long ago learned that avoidance could shut out pain.

      //Oh no, my love,// Cally reproached him gently, her hand gently stroking his hair. //It was never true. You shut out far more joy than you ever shut out pain.//

      "And I thought Aurons could not read minds?" he said aloud, acid creeping into his voice.

      "I can't," she replied at once, avoiding telepathy with annoying tact. "But together like this, I can read it when you project right at me. The arm across his chest tightened round him when he might have struggled free of her embrace. "After all this time, what secrets could stand between us?"

      Though the thought made him uncomfortable, he knew it was true. Cally didn't make a habit of reminding him of his innermost feelings either, though the rare times she did still bothered him. Now he forced himself to relax into her embrace, letting the warmth of her skin against his own soothe him. But awareness of her proximity could lead to more than speculation about Jabberwocky. Half to distract her from her talk of healing and half because the warmth of her body was distracting him, he tilted up her chin and covered her mouth with his own.

      Communication after that was telepathic, but it was also intimate, and for the moment, the subject of Jabberwocky was set aside. They came together in a sudden frenzy of arousal, and the telepathy fed pleasure from one to the other.

      Later, when Cally slept curled against his side and he lay limp and boneless, sated and drained of energy, his thoughts returned to Jabberwocky. He resolved to get to the bottom of it in the morning. It was time to try the direct approach.

      Only when he had made that decision did he allow himself to sleep.

      

      "Something's wrong," Vila muttered as he pulled off his boots and tossed them one after another across the cabin. "Avon's acting strange. I can always tell." He nodded sententiously as if to impress an audience while he rubbed his stocking feet. "One thing I know, it means trouble. Always means trouble when Avon starts acting strange. I should've stayed at the base, that's what I should've done." He pulled off a sock and rolled it up into a ball, prepared to toss it after the boots, when someone said, "Vila?"

      He jumped and looked around, but no one had come in. He was alone and it hadn't been Jabberwocky's voice. As he realised that, he noticed that it sounded frighteningly familiar. "Who's there?" he cried uneasily, his hand arrested in the act of throwing, his body braced. He couldn't help remembering his dreams.

      "Vila, is that really you? Why has no one come to see me? Why won't you talk to me, Vila?" The voice came out of the very air around him. With a nervous look over his shoulder, and an even more wary one under his bunk, he came to the conclusion that he was alone - except for the voice. "Dayna?" he faltered. It was ghosts after all. He was being haunted and it wasn't fair. He hadn't had a drop to drink, not for at least a week.

      "Yes, it's Dayna. What's happened to me, Vila? Jabberwocky won't tell me and neither will Orac, and none of the rest of you will come to see me. I remember some of it. Am I dead, Vila?" The familiar voice quivered with remembered horror, and Vila quivered along with it.

      "It's a trick," he muttered. "I know it's a trick. Go away, trick. I don't like being haunted." He folded his arms over his head and scrunched down into a little ball on his bunk.

      "Vila, please help me. I'm afraid."

      "Then you're not Dayna," he returned, wondering if he could be having nightmares while he was awake. "Dayna wasn't afraid of anything."

      "I'm all alone and I can't feel anything or see anything. Sometimes I just go away and I can't control it. I thought Servalan had me, then I thought I must be dead. I can remember Avon watching me die."

      "Stop it! Stop it, Dayna. Don't get at me. I don't like being got at." But he felt a tug of pity for the lost sound of the voice that demanded his help. "Where do you think you are?" he asked tentatively, reluctant to encourage a ghost.

      "I don't know. It was dark here in the beginning, but I'm starting to see. It glows, Vila, and there are passageways everywhere. I can follow them, but I have to think about it. They take me different places. They took me to a place where I could hear your voice."

      "Can you see me?" he asked. Emerging from the shelter of his folded arms he peered around the cabin. No one was hurting him. Maybe it was all a trick, a recording of Dayna's voice. No one on board would do any such thing. Or would they?

      "No. I know where you are, but I can't quite see you. I don't understand." The voice shook with fright. "I asked Jabberwocky if I was like him now, and he said no, but I'm sure I am. I must be, because I can't find my body."

      Vila started to cover himself up again, but the pain in the voice forced him out of himself. "You can't be like Jabberwocky," he said quickly. "He's linked to all kinds of back-up systems that would take a team of Avons to connect. We'd know if that had been done. It hasn't."

      "Then I'm a ghost?"

      "NO!"

      "What else can I be? Am I dead, Vila? Tell me. You won't frighten me. I'd rather know than go on like this. I remember going after IMIPAK, but nothing later. Did I die?"

      "Yes, Dayna." Maybe he was hallucinating. Maybe some bad air had got into his cabin or some weird drug into his food and this was all a bad trip. He had to play it as best he could until he could get help. "I'm sorry, but you are dead. We buried you on Sarran with your father."

      There was a silence for so long that Vila thought the illusion had stopped, and he pulled on his sock again, knowing he didn't want to stay in here alone after this. Then the voice came back.

      "Why am I here, Vila? Is this hell?"

      Vila didn't believe in hell; life had enough rough spots to make hell unnecessary, and he'd never understood religion particularly well. But the dead had never come back and talked to him in his cabin either. "I don't think so," he said. "Did you say you'd talked to Jabberwocky? Let's ask him." Suddenly he realised he could have called for help at any time, had he not been too flustered to think of it.

      "Jabberwocky? Are you there?"

      "Right here, Vila. Do you need help?"

      "I need something, and I need it quick. Dayna's been talking to me. Scan my cabin for the past ten minutes and tell me if you can read it."

      "Scanning." There was a long pause, longer than necessary, and Vila's eyes narrowed as he stared at the small cabin access screen. He was starting to get suspicious.

      "And don't try to pull the wool over my eyes, either," he chided. "I'm perfectly sober."

      "You are alone in your cabin and have been since you entered," Jabberwocky replied immediately.

      "Oh, no, you don't. That's not what I asked you, and you know it. Avon was acting funny during link. I think he was checking you out. What do you know about this?" he demanded darkly.

      "Recordings show two voices in your cabin, Vila," Jabberwocky confirmed reluctantly.

      "That's better. And who's your best candidate for the second voice?"

      "The voice sounds like Dayna," Jabberwocky replied slowly.

      "Then explain it to me, there's a good computer. Run a voice print. That can tell you exactly."

      "The voice is a mechanical approximation of Dayna's voice."

      "They say computers can't lie, but you're sure hedging," Vila murmured. "Dayna, are you still here?"

      No response. Vila pondered that. "Jabberwocky, are you suppressing it?" he demanded heading for his boots and pulling them on again.

      "What are you doing?" Jabberwocky asked in some alarm.

      "I'm going to tell Avon," announced Vila defiantly. "Mechanical voices that sound like Dayna need looking into."

      "Avon is with Cally," Jabberwocky announced in restraining tones. "Besides, don't you think it might upset him if you went running to him saying Dayna was talking to you?"

      Vila came to a dead halt, his foot half into the second boot. "Blake, then," he burst out. "I'm going to tell Blake."

      Jabberwocky gave a very human sigh. "I can't stop you, Vila. But this wasn't meant to happen. I promise you that."

      "Wasn't meant to happen?" Vila echoed disbelievingly. "Wasn't meant to happen! What have you done? You know all about this, don't you. A mechanical voice, you said. What have you done, made a recording of Dayna's voice? No, that wouldn't work. She talked to me, answered questions. A recording wouldn't do that." He finished putting on the boot and stamped his foot to make sure it was on right.

      "No," Jabberwocky admitted. "A recording wouldn't do that. Orac and I have been experimenting."

      "With Dayna! You're mad. How do you think the rest of us will feel about it? What did you do? Tell me."

      "It's a personality program. We wanted to see how complete it could be. I took everything I could from my link experience and the perceptions I'd read from the rest of you in link-mode, and Orac designed the program. Orac wants to do backups of everyone."

      Vila shuddered at the very idea. "Programs of us? Sounds like something the Federation would do. What if they find out about it? They could use it on us for all kinds of nasty things. Besides, that sounded too real. Dayna said she was scared. How can a program be scared?"

      "Because we did it better than we thought we could. Just lately we've suspected it was becoming - well - self-aware."

      "Self-aware!" echoed Vila in horrified disbelief. "It isn't possible. A computer, maybe, like Orac, but not a program. A program does what it's written to do, nothing more. If you program it to react within certain parameters, then that's what it does. That isn't self-awareness. Avon will tell you."

      "That's how an android is programmed, Vila. You've encountered sophisticated androids before. The one that looked like Avalon, and Vinni, who killed Tarrant's brother. No one would have guessed immediately that they were androids. Yet their 'consciousness' was a program."

      Vila stared at the display monitor in shocked disbelief. "You mean you've been preparing to make an android Dayna?" he demanded. The idea frightened him. It wouldn't be Dayna, though Jabberwocky must have known Dayna well enough to make his creation far more like her than the Federation had made Blake's clone like Blake. With enough input from the rest of the crew, Jabberwocky and Orac could do an incredibly thorough job, though they couldn't turn a program into a real person. It would only be a look alike, no more Dayna than Cally's clone sister Zelda could be Cally, though at least Zelda was a person in her own right.

      "We had intended to do nothing more than create the program," Jabberwocky replied. "Don't tell anyone about this, Vila. I think the program should be erased. The deeper we got into it, the more I saw what a mistake it was. Orac wants to keep going. You know how knowledge fascinates him. He doesn't understand how much it could hurt the rest of us."

      "Then why haven't you erased the program?" Vila demanded.

      "You talked to it," Jabberwocky replied. "Could you erase it?"

      Vila stood there blankly thinking it over. It would be like killing Dayna all over again to wipe the program. But what good was it? It couldn't go around talking to the others. It would hurt too much. Avon would want no part of it - Avon always clammed up when it came to emotional risk. Blake had blamed himself for Dayna's death in the first place, and Tarrant had been bereft. Soolin had lost her first real friend, and he and Cally and Hugh had been miserable. If the Dayna program started popping up around the ship and pleading for help, it could destroy everyone's morale and push a few people too close to the edge in record time.

      But neither could order its destruction. It had felt too real, though too upset to sound entirely natural. If by some miracle it had become aware, wouldn't dumping it amount to murder? Vila shivered. "No," he said in a small voice. "I couldn't." Struggling to maintain calm, he pressed on. "But how did it get here, talking to me, and where is it now? It was here before, only I thought I was dreaming."

      "I control computer functions on this ship. I directed it elsewhere, where it wouldn't harm anyone else. I sent it to Orac. Dayna can ask it all her questions."

      "Don't call it Dayna!" cried Vila. "It's not Dayna. It's nothing like Dayna." But he knew it wasn't true. It had many of Dayna's memories, a voice like hers, as much of the essence of Dayna Mellanby that Jabberwocky could absorb through link mode and feed into the program. If it wasn't really Dayna, it was what was left of her, and Vila hated the thought of wiping the program, destroying it completely. For the first time, he understood how Dorn Suliman had felt when he had confronted his father - now Jabberwocky - and fled in denial.

      "It's too much like Dayna for me to erase."

      Vila sighed. "I know. What do we do, Jabberwocky? What do we ever tell Avon?"

      

      Blake was alone on the flight deck when Tarrant arrived the next morning, and he stared at the pilot, noting new lines of worry that had wrinkled the younger man's forehead. "Problems, Del?" he asked, concerned. Did this tie in with Avon's speculations?

      "I wish I knew," Tarrant replied, flinging himself into the seat at the pilot's position and checking the readings to align himself to their position and speed. "I think Jabberwocky's holding out on me."

      "That was Avon's thought too," Blake replied.

      Recognition lit Tarrant's eyes. "That's why we were treated to his exhibition during take off yesterday."

      Blake nodded seriously. "He understands no better than you do, but something's bothering Jabberwocky. Will you try to find out what it is?"

      "I have tried," was Tarrant's frustrated cry. "But he just says nothing's wrong. I doubt anything is wrong, really. We're in no danger, and ship functions are normal. I can feel that through the link. There shouldn't be trouble on Foran Prime either. It's not that kind of planet."

      "You've been there before?"

      "Twice, when I was smuggling. They didn't even try to catch me. The Federation's never threatened them. I'm surprised they've even bothered to rebel." He shrugged Foran Prime away. "Jabberwocky, are you holding out on us?" he asked, casting a what-the-hell look at Blake.

      There was a pause, then Jabberwocky said quietly, "Yes, I am Del, but it's nothing dangerous. It's just a program that Orac and I have been running. It's turned out differently than we expected, but it's no threat to the ship."

      "What kind of a program?" asked Blake as he exchanged a surprised glance with Tarrant. He hadn't expected this much of an answer. It seemed almost too easy."

      "It's a personality program," Jabberwocky explained. "Suppose we make a program that could replicate, in many ways, a living person. Imagine the chaos if we could insinuate a program which could, under the appropriate circumstances, respond as if it were Avon. Suppose we loaded it on Servalan's ship." A chuckle. "I don't know about you, but I don't think Sleer would like that very much."

      Blake laughed in response. The picture it called to mind was worth considering. He suspected Avon would enjoy the idea himself and might even work with Jabberwocky to manage it, provided it did not involve delving too deeply into his psyche. "Is it working?" he asked. "Can we plan some computer sabotage at any time in the near future?"

      "Not right away," Jabberwocky replied.

      "You said it didn't turn out like you'd hoped," Tarrant reminded him. "What do you mean by that?"

      "There are a few bugs in it, that's all. Orac wants to take it further than I think it should go. We've got to decide between the two of us before we do any more."

      Blake sucked at the inside of his cheek as he pondered that. "You're implying a power struggle between you and Orac," he said at last. He didn't like the sound of that.

      "Not really, Roj. Don't worry about it. It's under control."

      Tarrant shot a very sceptical glance at Jabberwocky's flight deck fascia. "Is it?" he persisted.

      "If it gets loose, I'll have to let you know."

      "Gets loose?" echoed Blake. "We're not talking computer viruses, are we?" Suddenly he regretted leaving Kyl behind. The younger Avon had a knack for weeding out such things, enjoying the challenge.

      "No, nothing like that. Just an unruly program. When we debug it, we'll tell you all about it. My word on it."

      "Avon won't like it," Tarrant replied positively.

      Jabberwocky chuckled again but it sounded forced to Blake. "Avon's always suspicious," he replied. "I'm used to it and so is Orac. Now if you'll both excuse me a minute, I want to initiate a course correction. You can link in if you like, Del."

      "I think I will." Tarrant slipped easily into link-mode. Blake went in too; since the days of his pairing with Jabberwocky, it was easy for him to drop into linkage. Though he had no function this time, he monitored the course correction that the other two initiated, registering that it was smooth and normal. Jabberwocky's problems with his difficult program didn't affect normal ship's functions.

      At least, he thought uneasily as he dropped out of linkage, not yet.

      

      Vila had put a lot of thought into what he'd learned in the night, and he knew he must discuss it with someone. Not Avon; Avon was too personally involved. And not Blake who was too prone to guilt; he'd blamed himself for Dayna's death because of his insistence on the mission to retrieve IMIPAK. Tarrant was out because he'd been too close to Dayna, and much as he trusted Cally, he knew she'd probably tell Blake. Soolin? No. She had been a good friend of Dayna's, but then so had Hugh.

      Yet once he'd thought of Hugh, Vila knew who to tell. The doctor was sympathetic, would hear him out. He'd liked Dayna, of course, but they hadn't been all that close. Besides, he was sensible enough to know that telling the wrong people wouldn't help anyone.

      Then too, he still did the odd counselling session with Jabberwocky. Secure in his identity, the ship's computer had settled down now, more comfortable with his returned memories, especially since he was in occasional contact with his son, Dorn. He and Dorn seldom met, but when they did, they could talk, though somewhat stiffly.

      Vila frowned. What did he want? Someone to make the decision for him? Yes, that was it. Vila could be decisive if he had to, but this was over his head. So he went to the medical unit where Hugh worked most mornings, keeping up on his medical journals, monitoring his equipment, checking supplies. He was on call for people who might be feeling under par or for anyone who wanted to stop in for a cup of coffee and some conversation. If Vila hurried, he could be there before most people were out of their beds.

      "Hugh?"

      The doctor shut down his book reader, blanking the screen as he turned. "Morning, Vila. Under the weather? You look pale."

      "I feel pale," Vila replied. "But I'm not sick. There's a problem, but you've got to promise not to tell anyone until you've thought it through properly."

      "Sounds serious." Hugh programmed coffee and passed a cup to Vila, who curled his hands around it but didn't drink.

      "It's serious. It's terrible." He shivered, glad of the warmth of the coffee cup. "I don't know what to do. Avon will have kittens."

      Hugh's eyes sparkled at the picture that presented, but he sobered immediately. "I'm listening," he encouraged, his face grave.

      "Orac and Jabberwocky have been playing about with a program that acts just like Dayna," Vila burst out. "They think it might have turned out better than they planned. Jabberwocky says it's just about self-aware."

      Hugh froze, his face going blank with a massive effort of concentration. After a long moment, he said, "What?" in the tones of someone who's just been given an overload of information. Vila sympathised.

      "What do we do about it?" he demanded.

      "Are you sure about this?" Hugh asked sharply.

      "She talked to me, last night, in my cabin. She doesn't know what's happened to her and it's scared her. She sounds just like Dayna and she knows she's dead. But we can't erase the program because she's Dayna."

      "She isn't, you know," Hugh said. "I mean it isn't. It's only a program, not a person."

      "And if it's self-aware?"

      "Orac is self-aware, but it's only a computer."

      Vila frowned. "Avon wouldn't agree. He'd insist it was only programmed responses." But Vila had suspected more than once that Orac's responses went far beyond simple - or even complex - programming.

      "Then he'd be wrong. He is capable of being wrong, Vila."

      "About computers?"

      "About a great many things. I know how much Avon means to you, but he's far from perfect." Hugh grinned at Vila's discomfiture. "He's my friend, too, but he doesn't have all the answers."

      "I hate to think what kind of answers he'd have for this," Vila replied with a shudder. "He'd wipe that program without stopping to think about it, wouldn't he?"

      Hugh nodded. "That's why we must make sense of this first. Can we call up the program?"

      "I don't know. Jabberwocky?"

      "You've told Hugh?" the computer said cautiously. "Well, that's probably for the best. Frankly, Hugh, I'm not sure what to do about her. Orac wants to keep going with it, and to have me pull in more data in link mode, but unless I go very deep, I can't touch memories of Dayna now. What I've used so far came from my own memories of her and from previous linkages."

      "I thought you erased superfluous data after a given period."

      "I do," Jabberwocky replied. "But usually things like what you ate for dinner yesterday or how long Soolin practised at the target range. Things I don't need. I do need to remember my interactions with people. Unless I deliberately dump memory, I don't forget. So I dump the boring things that won't be needed, and I dump old readings that won't affect current missions. But I don't dump my memories of link-mode or the gestalt. It means too much to me."

      "So after Dayna died, you held onto everything about her you could," Hugh said sympathetically.

      "Didn't you?"

      Hugh nodded involuntarily. "You wanted to create something to remind you of Dayna?" he prompted.

      "No, we didn't even think of Dayna in the beginning. We wanted to see how comprehensive a personality could be written into a program, given optimum storage and access to all my memories in and out of linkage. Orac has gifts I never suspected, and he found ways to tie it all together, and synthesised the voice. He says it might be possible, given the right material and specialists, to create an android body and house the program within it. It's been done before. Then, as the program continued to develop and I took more data from each of you, it would almost be like bringing Dayna back."

      "No it wouldn't," Vila burst out, revolted. "It wouldn't be real at all."

      "Any more than I am real?" Jabberwocky asked as if his feelings had been hurt.

      "That's different," Hugh said hastily, but he sounded shaken as if he were not entirely certain.

      "You call me Jabberwocky, all of you. Nobody ever calls me Thorm, even though you know that was my name. I'm different now. Dorn knows it. He calls me Jabberwocky too, never Father."

      "Maybe you could design a Thorm android and write a program for you," Vila began, then fell silent. "No, you couldn't," he realised.

      "No. I'm Jabberwocky now. Thorm Suliman is dead."

      "Dayna is dead," Hugh said in a voice barely above a whisper.

      Vila looked at him miserably. "What should we do?" he burst out.

      "You're asking me?" Hugh was silent a long time. "I don't know. Can I talk to the program, Jabberwocky?"

      "Yes." A moment's pause. "Call her name."

      Vila and Hugh exchanged glances, then Vila said, "Dayna, it's Vila again. I've got Hugh with me."

      "Hello, Hugh. I knew you'd be here. Won't you tell me where I am? Vila says I'm dead."

      Hugh recoiled slightly, his mouth dropping open in shock. Whatever he had expected, it hadn't been that. For the first time, Vila realised the voice had the faintest of a filtered edge as if talking over shipwide comm.

      "Yes, Dayna," Hugh said gently.

      "I was shot, wasn't I? Did Jabberwocky do something with the link? He says I'm not like him, and I don't want to be. I'm sorry, Jabberwocky, but the link always made me slightly uncomfortable, especially after Tarrant was linked."

      "I know, Dayna. I've always known. It's all right."

      "Then what am I? I can't be just essence, just thought. It doesn't work that way. Even telepathy needs more than that."

      "Yes, it does, Dayna." The computer outlet blinked a few times. "What should I tell her, Hugh? Orac and I have never gone past this point."

      "I'd be more comfortable asking Avon," Hugh replied. "But we can't do that."

      "Is something wrong with Avon?" Dayna asked.

      "He doesn't know about you, and you remember he was with you when you... died."

      "Then what is it? One of you tell me or I shall go mad."

      "Dayna," the doctor began with a sideways glance at Vila. "You've been in link mode many times. You learned the programs with all of us, and you went willingly into group linkage. We learned much of each other in those mental bonds, didn't we?"

      "Yes, but..."

      " Jabberwocky has always recorded those links. After you... died, he and Orac took those memories of you, and all the memories he could access from the rest of us and put them together into a program. He -"

      "NO!"

      There was horror in the cry, horror that sounded like genuine emotion, and Vila winced in real sympathy.

      "Wait, Dayna," he began helplessly.

      There was no response. He and Hugh stared at each other, then the doctor said, "We've got a serious problem." As a bit of understatement, it was first rate.

      

      Jenna had already joined Blake and Tarrant when Avon arrived on the flight deck, and the three of them were casually discussing Jabberwocky's new program. Speculating without proper information, Avon would probably call it.

      Blake looked up and grinned when his friend arrived. "Good morning, Avon. I think we've got to the bottom of things for you."

      "Indeed?" Avon probably couldn't help sounding suspicious. Blake must have appeared a little too jovial. "And what have you discovered?"

      "Orac and Jabberwocky have been designing programs based on specific personalities. Jabberwocky suggested that a program based on you and turned loose on Servalan's ship could create all kinds of havoc."

      Avon couldn't help smiling a little at the image that came to mind. "What else?" he persisted as if his suspicious nature insisted it was too easy.

      "Jabberwocky says there are some minor bugs in the system," Tarrant volunteered. "He and Orac aren't sure how far to take it." Maybe Tarrant shouldn't have spoken, but it was hard to restrain him, and ordinarily Blake enjoyed his enthusiasm, even as it irritated Avon.

      Avon nodded. "How complex are we discussing?" he demanded, a wary note creeping into his voice.

      When Blake hesitated, Avon turned to the computer. "Jabberwocky?" he said coolly. "I require data on the program you have discussed with Blake."

      "Don't you trust anyone, Avon?" Jenna asked before Jabberwocky could reply. Blake had long suspected she enjoyed pitting herself against the computer tech. She seemed to understand him well enough, but they grated against each other, and she seldom missed an opportunity to take the opposing side.

      "People seldom give me reason," Avon replied smoothly, the corners of his mouth turning up. Blake knew he'd long enjoyed his sparring with Vila. Perhaps Avon simply enjoyed that kind of give and take.

      All the lights went off.

      Before anyone could speak, they returned. "Jabberwocky!" burst out Tarrant. "What's wrong?"

      The lights dimmed once more and this time they did not stabilise as quickly, staying off for several seconds, the flight deck lit only by the blinking lights on the various instrument panels. Then they came up, and Jabberwocky said quickly. "I'm sorry. It's under control."

      "Demonstrably," Avon replied with overt scepticism. "Explain."

      "I will, but you won't like it."

      "I already don't. What have you done?"

      "Jabberwocky, talk to me," cried someone over the comm system. It sounded so much like Dayna that Avon flinched and Tarrant's mouth dropped open in disbelief. Soolin didn't sound like Dayna over the comm, and Jenna was already here.

      Tarrant paled. "Dayna..." he whispered, then in a roar, "Jabberwocky, what the hell have you done?"

      "We now understand the impact of the personality program," Avon answered flatly. "There is no need to explain whose personality was used. What went wrong, Jabberwocky?" He sounded furious, pacing across the flight deck to stand glaring at Jabberwocky's main fascia.

      He looked as pale as Tarrant and was probably far more shaken than he would admit. Blake was more than a little shaken himself.

      "We did it better than we'd expected," Jabberwocky replied ruefully. "The more data we fed it, the more realistic it became. Then I couldn't stop. I missed Dayna. At first it felt good. Then, as we continued, it started to learn on its own."

      "A good program will do that. But it does not turn off lights and start talking unless it is called up," insisted Avon coldly, his arms folded across his chest.

      "Between Orac's skills and my knowledge from link-mode, we gave it enough to allow it to become... self-aware."

      Avon took an involuntary step backward. Even better than Blake, he knew that should be impossible. He understood computers better than anyone on the ship. Perhaps not better than Orac, but better than any human. Yet Orac could never have managed without Jabberwocky's input. "Erase it," Avon ordered ominously.

      "No!" burst out Tarrant in dismay.

      Avon stared at him. "You cannot want this travesty of Dayna? It's not real, Tarrant."

      "He said it was self-aware." Tarrant's anguished voice was full of accusation. Blake didn't know if it was directed toward Avon or toward Jabberwocky and Orac.

      "Self-aware? Perhaps, though not likely. It is a programmed response, Tarrant. Like Orac. It is not Dayna," he ground out. "Erase it, Jabberwocky."

      "No," Jabberwocky returned defiantly. "I won't."

      "He shouldn't," Blake agreed, coming up behind Avon and gripping his shoulder. "We don't understand the phenomenon. If it's self-aware, we can't erase it. It would be murder."

      "It. Is. Not. Dayna." Avon shrugged off Blake's hand with all the revulsion he would have shown before they had arrived at Star One.

      "It's all of her we've got," said Jenna softly.

      "Don't be a fool," Avon shot at her. "It is only a program. Surely it is a bit maudlin on our parts to keep it." His voice was steady, but Blake could hear the strain in it. Avon had been linked with Dayna when she died. He must be reliving those tragic moments.

      "Avon, don't," Dayna's voice again. "Don't send me away."

      "Shut it off!" he barked.

      "No," said Jabberwocky. "I won't kill Dayna again."

      "We can't shut it off, Avon," Tarrant persisted, coming forward and grabbing Avon's arm. "I won't let you."

      "Don't imagine you could stop me," Avon snarled.

      "Avon!"

      They turned to find a white-faced Cally in the entrance to the flight deck. Jabberwocky must have summoned her. From the stricken look on her face she knew what was happening.

      Avon met her eyes across the flight deck. "I must erase the program," he cried as if pleading for understanding. His eyes were almost black, and Blake's chest ached with suppressed misery at the sight of him.

      "You cannot," Cally insisted.

      "I will do what I must," Avon returned in measured tones.

      Vila and Hugh burst onto the flight deck at a run with Vila in the lead. Sensitive, as he generally was, to the atmosphere on the flight deck, the thief came to a dead stop so abruptly that Hugh bumped into him and half knocked him into Cally. For a moment, the three of them struggled for balance. At any other time, it would have been funny, but Blake felt no amusement now. Vila and Hugh clearly knew what was going on, but they waited, caught up in the tension in the air.

      "You can't," Cally continued, her eyes locked with Avon as if no one else was present. "Jabberwocky told me what was happening. He pulled me into linkage with Dayna."

      Avon jerked as if he'd been hit with a stun bolt. "It is not Dayna," he hissed desperately.

      "Yes," said Cally. "It is." She shook her head, her curls bouncing around her face. "Perhaps I view it differently because I am accustomed to cloning. I know that in actual fact, Dayna is dead and her body laid to rest. But the... the essence of Dayna has survived in all of us, and most particularly in Jabberwocky's memories. I do not understand how he and Orac did this, but what they have assembled used all of that. It is Dayna. Not all her memories survive and she is frightened and traumatised, but the part that makes her Dayna is there."

      "Do you mean the soul, Cally?" Hugh asked uneasily.

      "The soul of the computer?" Avon asked with withering sarcasm. "I am a computer technician and I tell you that what you are saying is compounded largely of ignorance and wishful thinking. It is not possible. It must be erased."

      "No," Cally cried fiercely. She went to Avon and gripped his upper arms, staring into his face. "Dayna was my friend and I loved her. Do you think I would welcome a travesty of her any more than you would?"

      "Do you believe that Orac and Jabberwocky between them are able to resurrect the dead?" Avon shook his head. "Wonderful for us if they could. I should become so rich that no one could ever touch me again. What you have here is a copy. If it contains any of Dayna's essence," he added in a strangely dead voice, "she would not thank you for allowing her to exist in this form."

      Cally's hands dropped to her sides, but she didn't give up. "I understand what you are saying, Avon. Naturally we can never have Dayna back the way we did once. But I cannot kill something I can touch with my telepathy in link mode."

      "You can touch Orac in link-mode, if Jabberwocky draws it in through his tariel cells," Avon said witheringly. "Yet I doubt anyone here would hesitate to destroy Orac if it meant our own survival."

      That was probably true, though Blake sometimes wondered if Orac had not become more than Ensor's programming. But the question of Orac was not the issue now. Blake raised his voice over the sudden burst of argument. "Enough!"

      Everyone turned to stare at him, Avon with resentment, and most of the others in surprise. Vila was looking at him hopefully, as if he had all the answers, and Hugh waited expectantly, sorrow in his eyes.

      "Our leader speaks," Avon muttered under his breath. "Now what, Blake?"

      "We must calm down first of all. We don't know what's happening here. We don't understand exactly what has been done. We should make no decisions until we learn more. If the program - if Dayna - is self aware, then we can't erase it - her. Avon, I'd like to trust you to check it out. I know it's asking a lot of you, but you'll understand it best."

      Avon eyed him reproachfully but didn't immediately respond.

      "You can't let him near her," Tarrant cried. "He'll only erase the program and none of us know enough about it to stop him."

      "I trust Avon's word," Blake replied unhesitatingly.

      "He hasn't given it," Soolin reminded him in a quiet voice. Blake wondered how long she had been standing there unnoticed in the entrance. He knew she had been close to Dayna, and she looked shaken, but she was waiting calmly for Blake to decide what to do.

      "I'm not sure I'd trust him with this," Jenna pointed out, winning a cautionary look from Blake. Avon ignored her.

      "I trust him too," said 'Dayna'.

      Avon shuddered. "Oh, I wouldn't," he breathed very quietly.

      "You tried to save me, Avon. I don't understand completely, not yet. It seems I remember your memories of my death as much as my own. But I don't believe you'd let me die a second time."

      "Dayna!" Vila objected sharply in a shaken voice.

      Blake's eyes had never left Avon, and he saw Avon's eyes flinch at 'Dayna's' choice of words.

      "I didn't mean it that way," the filtered voice plunged on. "Avon, you know I didn't. I don't blame you. You couldn't have saved me."

      "Are you convinced?" Tarrant asked Avon angrily. "That's more than a program."

      "Why should it be Avon's choice anyway?" Jenna queried. "He's not in charge of this ship, Blake. You are. I'd say that Avon has just one vote."

      "I say we're all getting too excited and it's time to calm down and think this through rationally." That was Hugh, of course. Though he looked shaken, he seemed very determined. "Sit down, everyone, and let's make sense of this. Yes, Avon, you too. Go on. Sit down."

      Avon glared at him, and Hugh glared right back. One of the things Avon had always respected about Hugh was the doctor's ability to stand up to him. Right now, Avon looked none too pleased about it, but instead of arguing, he made a throwaway gesture with one hand and stalked across the room to the right forward couch, where he sat down deliberately, folding his arms across his chest. After a moment, Cally sat beside him, followed by Vila, who sat at Cally's other side.

      The rest of them found chairs, Tarrant taking his pilot's seat with a sideways look at Jenna, who was never very pleased to be set in the position of secondary pilot. She went to Avon's customary place, and Soolin and Hugh sat across from Avon and the others. Only Blake remained standing, but he was accustomed to stating his views while pacing the flight deck.

      "Go ahead, Blake," Soolin prodded him with an encouraging smile. He could always count on the young gunfighter to back him, a fact which didn't always sit well with Jenna. But now, Jenna only nodded at him. Since the gestalt experience on Parais, she and Soolin were on slightly better terms.

      "I've been thinking about this, and it's clear we don't have enough information."

      "Brilliant, Blake," muttered Avon unhelpfully.

      "Jabberwocky, I want you and Orac to explain what you did. Never mind about the why for now. Just tell us how you did it." He picked up Orac's key and shoved it into place. "Orac, we are requesting information about the Dayna program. I expect you and Jabberwocky to give it to us."

      "Very well," said Orac huffily, reacting to the slightly threatening tone Blake had adopted. "It was agreed between myself and Jabberwocky that we design a program capable of holding as much data on a given person as possible, a wide-based, comprehensive program, which I designed based on the fact that Jabberwocky's input would be thorough." The little computer began to explain how he had written the program, defining parameters. Blake, who knew something of computers for his engineering work, was quickly left behind. He glanced around the flight deck. Everyone there had some computer skills, though most were tied into their speciality fields. Blake noticed that Hugh kept on nodding after everyone but Vila and Avon had begun to look confused, that Vila faltered soon after Hugh did, and that, some time later, Avon put up a peremptory hand and started asking questions, something to do with regulating feedback. Though Avon had begun hostile to the entire process, he seemed caught up in the intellectual puzzle, something which had always fascinated him.

      "In other words," he said at length, "You, Orac, always intended something of this magnitude, though you did not share that expectation with Jabberwocky."

      "It was my intention to take this program to its natural limits and then to push beyond them," Orac replied smugly.

      "You mean you knew Dayna might become self-aware?" Vila cried accusingly.

      Blake regretted his choice of words, for Avon's face closed up again. Though Vila noticed, he hung on stubbornly.

      "I was aware of the possibility," Orac replied. "Ensor's gifts in that direction are documented, as proven by my own existence."

      "You are a computer," Avon insisted. "Your responses are the result of programming. You also have a physical basis. A program lacks even that. You have simply written a more complex program."

      "No, Avon, it's more than that," Jabberwocky insisted. "You see, some of my functions are programming. I can interface and use those functions as if they were part of my mind, and none of you can tell the difference. But I can. This has gone beyond that. I didn't know or realise what Orac had in mind. I simply wanted to put as much of Dayna into a program as possible so she wouldn't be entirely lost. I never thought I was bringing her back."

      "You haven't," Avon replied.

      "No, but wait, Avon," Vila cried. "Last night when Jabberwocky told me what was going on, we talked about androids. Couldn't we get an android body and put the program into it?"

      Avon shuddered, and Blake found himself sympathetic to more than just Avon. "Dayna?" he asked. "Are you still listening?"

      "Yes," came the familiar voice.

      "What would you say to an android body?"

      "No," the Dayna-voice cried in horrified revulsion.

      "That isn't just a program," Tarrant insisted. "Dayna, I know you. I think you'd rather be - be a physical entity than exist the way you are now. Can you remember... Vinni?"

      Blake glanced at him in surprise. Whoever Vinni was, he had a powerful effect upon Tarrant. He cast a curious look at Vila, who shook his head slightly. Not now.

      A pause, then Dayna's spoke. "Yes, I think so. He was an android. He - killed Deeta."

      Tarrant's brother. Blake hadn't recalled the android's name, but it came back to him now.

      "Do you remember," Tarrant persisted, "How you linked with him during the Teal-Vanor convention?"

      "I'm not... wait, yes. I linked with him. He was fast. He was so fast, he only needed react because he knew he could win."

      "You didn't guess that he was an android," Tarrant persisted. "Did you?"

      "I can't remember clearly."

      Apparently Dayna's memories of the event had come from someone else, not herself, or else those memories had never emerged in linkage.

      "None of us ever guessed," Tarrant went on. "Not until it was too late for Deeta. I think you'd be much happier that way. Federation android technology is top-notch. What would take it a step further for us is the skill of our programmers. Don't you see, Dayna, you could live again."

      Avon made a disgusted sound and rose as if to leave, but then Dayna asked, "How could it be done?"

      "Is there an android assembly plant on Foran Prime?" asked Blake. He found the idea uncomfortable, but he could see its advantage. The Dayna-program, left as it was, might deteriorate into madness, but a body might enable it - her - to function again. It wouldn't really be Dayna, but it would come closer than anything else possible. Cally said it was Dayna's essence. There might be gaps in her memory, but if she were really aware, not merely responding within certain parameters, then he didn't want her destroyed. There were gaps enough in his own memories, but he was still Blake.

      "You can't mean to go ahead with this?" Avon half shouted.

      "Not immediately, not without complete information."

      "Even if you do," Jenna offered, coming to stand before Blake, "an android assembly plant would be under strict Federation control. We can hardly knock at the door and ask them to make us a duplicate Dayna."

      "Foran Prime is not a Federation world," Blake reminded her.

      "But android technology is controlled by the Federation," Hugh reminded them. "It's not my field, but I do know that much. The Avalon android you've mentioned was of Federation design and so was Vinni. They've developed it to an art. If we intend to do this right, we must go to them."

      "Go to the Federation?" echoed Vila. "You're mad."

      "Go to one of the more remote installations," Hugh insisted. "It might take a week to construct an android body properly before the imprinting could be completed."

      "That could be done on board this ship," Orac volunteered.

      "Only because of you and Jabberwocky," Hugh argued. "It will look rather strange of us to require a blank body. Most likely there would be questions."

      "If Servalan came to hear of it..." Vila began darkly.

      "Then we'd be in trouble," Hugh agreed. "It's risky, Blake. The nearest installation to Foran Prime is in the Tabora system, I think. Jabberwocky?"

      "You're right, Hugh. We don't make enough use of all your Federation knowledge, do we? Shall I change course for Tabora Major?"

      "No, you shall not," insisted Avon.

      "Not yet," temporised Blake. "I must go to Foran Prime in any case. Though they side with us, it would be an insult to their government if I didn't arrive on schedule. However, the rest of you could go to Tabora Major after you've dropped me off."

      "That would mean leaving you alone. I won't do it," Soolin frowned. "It's difficult to be your bodyguard Blake, if you insist on going off alone."

      "Then I shall stay with you too," Jenna replied. "The rest of you can manage on Tabora Major."

      "Assuming we go," Blake muttered. He believed a vote would go in favour of the trip, but Avon was adamant in his objection to the entire plan. Jabberwocky had designed the program in an attempt at atonement and Tarrant wanted her back because he'd missed her more than he had expected. Cally insisted that the essence of Dayna had been captured and now survived in the program, and Cally understood telepathy. But was it enough?

      "What's in your mind, Blake?" Vila prompted, leaning forward and catching Blake's eye.

      "I want to go into link-mode and pull the program in. Can you do that, Jabberwocky?"

      "Yes. Now?"

      "Wait a moment. It shouldn't just be my word on it. Cally, will you join me?"

      "Of course."

      "I will too," volunteered Vila.

      "And I." That was Hugh.

      After a moment, Tarrant nodded a cautious affirmation.

      The others remained apart and for the moment, Blake knew he must leave it that way. He slipped into the linkage and welcomed those who came with him, Tarrant first since he was linked all the time, Cally, Vila and Hugh. Together they went into the gestalt mode that they had developed on Parais. The oneness within the link was a palpable thing, something Blake always welcomed wholeheartedly, though he would not choose it for always. Jabberwocky could maintain this degree of linkage on board ship for several hours without strain, but the further from the ship they tried it, the less time they could manage.

      As one, they sought out Dayna, and suddenly she was there, drawn in by Jabberwocky. All of them had known Dayna in the link mode, and there was a moment of recognition, for the feel was the same. It was Dayna, yet it wasn't; a paradox. It was not the loss of some of her memories, it was the diminution of her personality as if she had become less than herself, and as she sensed them, she sensed their reaction.

      //I'm not really Dayna, am I?// The question was wistful.

      //You are,// Cally insisted, drawing the others with her through the gestalt so that it seemed they all responded. //Do you trust me, Dayna?//

      //Yes. I trust you.//

      //Then know this. What makes a person is not just the physical body. It is the spirit within. An Auron knows this clearly, for our telepathy defines us. You humans have no telepathy, but you have the essence that makes you individual. That is what a person is, that centre. Jabberwocky has preserved your essence. That is what matters.//

      //It's not enough.//

      //We want you back, Dayna.// That was Tarrant, desperate to convince her. Blake felt the pilot's anguish as if it were his own, as the gestalt was wont to do, and here like this, he could not object.

      //Will you trust us, Dayna?//

      //I do trust you. But I hate this. I don't like being afraid. I'm not a coward, Blake. I'm not, Tarrant.//

      //We know.// That was Vila. //I'm the resident coward, remember?//

      Faint laughter came from the Dayna-essence. //I wonder,// she replied. //But Avon will never agree.//

      //Avon minded your death very much,// Cally reminded her. //Even now, it disturbs him. This has reminded him of his pain, and he has always been unwilling to be reminded of such things.//

      //He remembers anyway,// Vila argued.

      //But this will hurt him too much. It will hurt all of you.//

      //No,// Cally assured her. //It will not be easy, Dayna, but we can try. I think Avon will accept you in time.//

      //And if he doesn't?// That was the question. Blake gathered them all to him within the gestalt. //I don't want my crew divided, and I don't want them hurt, but it's already too late. We must make the best of this.//

      //If- if I agree,// Dayna began, //We could use this against Servalan, couldn't we? She still lives, doesn't she?//

      //We left her prisoner on Parais,// Tarrant explained and they showed her how it had happened through the unity of the link, images flowing as if from all of them at once.

      //You were too good to her.//

      //Blake is that way,// Vila replied. //Won't you try it, Dayna? I missed you.//

      //I don't know. I don't want to be like this any more. But I wouldn't be - I wouldn't be human. I never liked the idea of the mindship. Sorry, Jabberwocky. I don't want to be like that.//

      //You won't be. You'll be one of us again.// Cally sounded very positive. Of all of them, this was easiest for her to accept. Blake was not quite sure he could do it, but he withheld that from the gestalt. He only knew he couldn't leave 'Dayna' the way she was now.

      //And if Avon can't accept me? Blake, you'll never send Avon away.//

      That was true. But Avon could come around. He would have to. Blake hesitated, unwilling to promise anything he might be unable to deliver, then he said, //I'll deal with Avon.// It was not a promise, but it was the best he could do.

      //I'll take it. What choice do I have?//

      When they left the gestalt, Avon was brooding. His eyes came to rest unerringly on Blake. "What folly have you arranged this time?" he demanded suspiciously.

      "I intend to proceed with the plan," Blake replied. He folded his arms across his chest. "We have no choice."

      "My choice is to erase the program."

      "Ah yes, the easy way out."

      Avon froze, staring at Blake. "It is the only sane solution, and you know it, Blake."

      "You weren't in the gestalt," Tarrant interrupted. "You wouldn't take the chance, so you don't know. It's Dayna, Avon, and I, for one, mean to do everything possible to give her a body again and bring her back. If you don't like that, it's your problem. The rest of us are agreed."

      "Indeed. Then perhaps the rest of you can manage without my unwelcome assistance." He turned, circled around Blake, and stalked off the flight deck without looking back.

      Blake stared after him in dismay, but when he made to follow him, Cally caught his arm. "Leave him, Blake. He needs time to come to terms with this."

      "But will he?" Vila asked, staring after Avon, his face worried.

      

      In the end, Blake decided it might be better to go to Tabor first, so they increased speed in order not to arrive late on Foran Prime. Orac was put to work researching the facility on Tabora Major to determine the project's feasibility as well as the security risks to the ship and crew. The facility there was more a research station than a Federation installation, and while security was tight there, it was internal security only. Breaking in might prove difficult, but a direct approach could be safer, especially if they could pay. Private organisations and rich individuals did commission androids regularly, for protection and even companionship. Blake envisioned android prostitutes, which he personally found distasteful but which proved how completely functional such creations could be. Many corporations in the Outer Worlds commissioned androids to protect their facilities. If they could be as effective as Vinni, it would probably work well.

      Money was no problem. Vila had suggested using Orac there too, creating a dummy account with funds pulled from various Federation sources, and while Blake would not have countenanced out and out theft for personal gain, he was willing to do so for Dayna's sake. As Orac set about transferring funds in the least noticeable way possible, Blake realised how easy Avon's bank fraud would have been had he possessed Orac when he attempted it.

      As they raced for Tabora Major, Cally, Vila and Tarrant went into linkage with Jabberwocky to feed him information about Dayna. Adding everything they got to the program, Orac and Jabberwocky tried to fill in holes in Dayna's memories. When the program spoke to them on the flight deck now, it sounded more like Dayna.

      "What's to stop her from suffering emotional problems?" Jenna asked practically when they were only a few hours away from Tabora Major.

      "Emotional problems?" Blake asked, then realised that it was all too likely. "Like Jabberwocky did?"

      "All too possible, I'd think," Hugh confirmed when asked. "When one's sense of self is challenged, problems are inevitable. Dayna will need all the support we can give her. Having a functional body again will help, though of course there will be differences. She'll need support to adapt, but knowing Dayna, she'll value the efficiency of an android body. It will give her an edge with weapons, and she'll like that. I'm not trying to oversimplify, Blake, but we must show her the advantages of her situation."

      So far, Blake wasn't sure how the advantages would weigh against what Dayna had once known. It had taken a lot of time to help Jabberwocky adjust. But perhaps it would be easier for Dayna, since she would at least approximate what she had been before.

      As for Avon, he still resisted the entire idea. While Blake knew he would have welcomed the chance to experiment like this had the person in question been a stranger, he found it impossible when it was Dayna. Though he could not have saved her, he felt some guilt about her death, which made it worse for him. Blake had tried to talk to him about it, but he had refused. While he emerged to take his watches, he would not respond to conversational gambits which touched on the android project.

      As they came into orbit around Tabora Major, they were relieved to note that the Federation presence there was minimal and evidently not interested in them. They chose to rely upon the teleport instead of landing, which would give them a head start if they needed to run. Blake had realised he was too well known to chance a visit to the facility, so the team would consist of Hugh, Soolin, Cally and Tarrant. Avon would have been the ideal person to send, though he was nearly as well known as Blake, but when Blake asked him, Avon flatly refused.

      "I told you I wanted no part of this, Blake."

      "It's inevitable, Avon. If we succeed, you'll not be able to avoid it. Dayna will be one of the crew again."

      Avon was silent a moment. Then he said in an emotionless voice, "Perhaps there will need to be changes."

      "What do you mean?" Blake felt a serious flicker of alarm. He was glad he had insisted this conversation be private.

      "Well now, Blake, I should have thought you rather more intelligent than that. I refuse involvement with this project."

      "No one blames you for Dayna's death."

      "That is not... entirely true."

      "I talked to her about it. She understands."

      Avon's face closed away from him. It dawned on Blake that Avon still blamed himself, though there was nothing he could have done. It was why he was so reluctant to use his healing abilities now, though not even a fully equipped Federation medical facility on the spot at the time of the injury could have succeeded. But if Avon did blame himself, the sight of 'Dayna' every day would only remind him of his failure. Avon had never dealt well with failure.

      "There was nothing you could have done," Blake insisted urgently, resisting an urge to take Avon by the arms and shake him. "Don't let this alienate you from the rest of us."

      Avon managed a scornful expression, though his eyes were desolate. He didn't bother to reply.

      "We must continue," Blake tried. "It was my insistence on going for IMIPAK that led to Dayna's death. It was Jabberwocky's messages to his son that brought the man who killed Dayna there. If you must blame anyone, blame us. Blame is futile anyway unless one can learn from it."

      "Further platitudes would be a waste of energy, Blake," Avon said flatly. "If that creature joins this crew, I shall leave it."

      Blake froze. He had no doubt that Avon meant what he said, but he could not deny Dayna a second chance. It was not a physical body that made a person, as they had learned from Jabberwocky. It was the essence of a person, that which thought and reacted and felt and hoped. Jabberwocky and Orac had made a miracle and captured that part of Dayna. Even if it meant driving Avon away, Blake could not condemn Dayna's essence to non-existence. He stood frozen, faced with an impossible choice.

      As Avon realised what Blake's decision was, he jerked into complete immobility, his face rigid, his eyes hollow. It was the same shocked look he had worn on Gauda Prime when he had believed that Blake betrayed him. In spite of all the progress they'd made since then, Avon viewed Blake's decision now as a betrayal. In all his efforts at healing, Avon had never attempted to heal himself, and now Blake realised that what he'd been seeing - and enjoying - these past months had been a veneer over the wounds that Avon had never allowed to heal. If he rejected Avon now, it could easily be for always.

      If he erased the Dayna program, he would be committing murder. His conscience would not permit it. Neither would it be fair to reconstruct 'Dayna' and then abandon her.

      Blake faced an impossible situation.

      He tried the one possibility left to him. "We could leave together." He knew he didn't want to go away from Jabberwocky and the others, but neither could he abandon Avon like this.

      Avon's face didn't soften. "You needn't make a martyr of yourself, Blake," he said softly, then he turned and walked away.

      Blake stood frozen, feeling as if the blood had drained from his face. Then he collected himself and went to the teleport section to see off the shore party.

      Odd each step should feel so heavy when he felt so little of him was left.

      

      Soolin preferred landing party duty to staying tamely on the ship, and though she was Blake's self-appointed bodyguard, prepared to back him against dozens of Federation squads, she didn't mind going down with the others on a mission when he meant to stay on board. So when he came into the teleport section to see them off, she was prepared to go cheerfully, armed to the teeth, determined to keep the others out of trouble for him.

      But the sight of Blake's face stopped her dead in her tracks, and the teleport bracelet she had been about to put on nearly slid from her hand. "Blake!"

      At her near shout, Cally, Tarrant and Hugh spun around to stare at Blake, and Vila, who was manning the teleport, gave her a curious look before turning to the rebel leader.

      But when she spoke, Blake shook himself out of whatever was disturbing him. He turned an expressionless face upon them, as if he had learned non-expressions from Avon. Tarrant frowned, puzzled, from looking back at Soolin to see what was wrong with her. A furrow deepened momentarily between Cally's eyes. Perhaps she could sense something telepathically. Hugh didn't react overtly, but Hugh often waited until he got a grasp of a problem before he spoke of it. He said, "Any changes, Blake?" in a casual tone.

      "No, none. Try to keep it short down there. Jabberwocky will be linked with you, Tarrant, so you can explain his requirements easily."

      Tarrant nodded.

      "I can stay on the planet if one of us must," volunteered Hugh. "Tarrant would be too far away from Jabberwocky if he stayed."

      "If it's necessary, go ahead, but be prepared for trickery in case any of you are recognised. Any signs of stalling could mean you've been identified."

      Soolin snapped her bracelet closed around her wrist.

      "Are you all right?" she asked Blake in an undertone.

      "Just a little tired. We'll remain on station or warn you if we need to move away."

      So she wasn't to be told. Probably something to do with Avon, who had been acting as annoying as ever he did. Time someone told him to grow up and accept that some things couldn't be changed by sulking about them. In fact, when she came back, she would do it herself. She knew Avon had had a hard life, but in truth, no worse than her own. She had survived and she had believed he was learning to do so. If he didn't, it was no real concern to her, personally, but it was to Blake, and that did matter. When she returned from the planet, she would go looking for Avon and tell him a few home truths.

      Satisfied with her decision, she stepped onto the platform with the others. "Ready."

      "Then put us down." Tarrant took charge.

      They materialised in an antechamber of the android assembly building, near the offices, an area Orac insisted would be unoccupied at this time of day. It took a matter of minutes to find the reception area and to be admitted into the purchasing section. A plump, balding man who introduced himself as Ruel Galt waved them into chairs. It seemed anyone able to afford androids was treated with the same brusque courtesy.

      "And how many of my magic mannequins will you be requiring?" he asked in an oily voice.

      Soolin cringed as much as the disgusting name as at his tone and caught Cally's eye to share an amused look.

      "Only one," Tarrant replied, falling into the part. Tarrant could act a part when necessary. "You see, I want an android for... er... companionship."

      "Indeed. And these ladies?" Galt gestured to Soolin and Cally with a suggestive leer.

      "This is my sister," Tarrant replied, pointing to Soolin. "And she is my brother's wife." Cally and Hugh promptly shifted closer to each other on their couch.

      "Yet you bring them with you?" Galt shrugged. "But then we all have our own different customs, outworlders more than others. Have you specifications?"

      "Yes." Tarrant was starting to get into his role. "You see, my wife... died in a speeder accident, and in my position it is necessary to be a family man. I travel around the Outer Worlds selling computer equipment, and the head office prefers I travel with a wife. When my lady died, I kept the news from them - it was not their business. But should I have a replacement designed, then I could continue as before." His tone suggested that he and Galt were both men of the world and that the salesman would understand his need.

      Though Galt looked a little confused, he nodded promptly. "You have design specifications?" he enquired again. Tarrant took out a holographic display and activated it, revealing a holo of Dayna. Galt nodded. "Ah yes. And further data."

      Tarrant passed him a data tape that Orac had prepared. "Sufficient?"

      Galt put it into a portable scanner and activated it. "Sufficient. And the personality?"

      "Well, we'd handle that ourselves," Tarrant replied. "You see, my firm deals with various types of artificial intelligence, and I have access to the necessary equipment for the imprinting." He began to talk above Soolin's head, and evidently above Galt's too, as Jabberwocky fed him information.

      Galt seemed satisfied, even more so when Tarrant sat down at his screen and pulled up his credit balance for the man's approval. The salesman all but danced about in glee. A retainer was transferred into the company account, the balance to be paid on completion of the work.

      The finished product would take six days, he explained. Where could he contact the honourable gentleman when it was finished?

      "We'll contact you," Hugh informed him, standing up. "I'll check on the sixth day."

      Galt showed them out, the picture of triumph and enthusiasm. They parted from Hugh, who would find a room in the city and go to ground. Of all Blake's people, he was the least well known.

      

      "But it is imperative that I speak directly to Supreme Commander Arpel."

      "Impossible." The female Space Commander seemed prepared to prevent any contact. In fact Galt thought she looked rather more like the late President Servalan than any woman had a right too, but he concealed his nervousness at that very dangerous idea.

      "I have information the Supreme Commander will pay for, and gladly," he said quickly in an attempt to conceal his reaction.

      "I am Arpel's aide," she announced impatiently. "Space Commander Sleer. Your message will be given to me - or not at all."

      "There is still the question of payment, Space Commander."

      "If your information is valuable, you will be rewarded accordingly," she returned. Even over the screen link, she seemed dangerous. The words were a threat. If his information was not worth her time or Arpel's, he could find his life in great jeopardy.

      He spoke quickly. "The rebel Blake."

      She drew a deep breath. "You become interesting, Galt. Proceed."

      "I should hate this information to leak out."

      She made some adjustment to her screen, out of his line of sight. "The line is now secure," she announced. "What of the rebel Blake? Have you seen him?"

      "No, but I have seen four of his people. As you know, my company makes androids for the Federation. Today four of Blake's people came here to request I make them an android to their specifications, an android of the rebel Dayna Mellanby. I recognised the holo instantly, just as I recognised Del Tarrant and the Auron Cally. They lied poorly. The other two were strangers to me, but they can only be more of Blake's crew."

      "Describe them."

      He did quickly, not failing to notice the recognition that flitted briefly across her face. Servalan. He would need to be very careful to show no recognition. She might suspect him when she considered his skill at remembering faces.

      "Excellent," she responded. "Have you kept them there?"

      "They are to return in six days time, Space Commander." He allowed himself a satisfied smile. "The android will be complete in five. It allows you time to lay your traps well."

      "Yes, yes," she said with irritation. "It will be done. An android of Mellanby? She has not been seen with them of late, and the last report I have suggests her dead." A frown puckered her brow. "You will reveal nothing of this to anyone. You will make no effort to observe the rebels, even if you should see them again before the time is up. You will make certain the developing android is in a shielded area. I do not want them teleporting down and taking it."

      "All construction areas of the facility are heavily shielded and are maintained at maximum security, Space Commander. You will pass my information to the Supreme Commander?"

      "I will deal with this myself. The Supreme Commander has assigned such duties to me. You will maintain tight security and mention this conversation to no one. If I find that you have done so, you will become expendable."

      She stretched out a languid hand and his screen went dark. He gulped uneasily, wondering if he had made a serious error. Now that he had told her what he knew, he was of no further value. His reward would likely be that he be silenced permanently. He began to doubt if he would ever receive his reward. More likely he was a dead man.

      Galt shivered. Was there a chance of escaping with his life? Now that he knew who would be coming here, he was certain he had given his knowledge - and his life- away. Better to be long gone when she arrived. Steadying his shaking hands, he pressed the intercom button to his foreman. "Rax, the new project, the black female android. Put a priority rush on it. I want it completed in three days."

      

      "... and then we turned Servalan over to the planetary council on Parais," Vila related, chuckling. "You should have seen her face. If she could have killed us by looking at us, we'd have all been dead."

      "What happened to her then?" Dayna's voice came over the comm system. "Did she ever get away?"

      Before leaving, Hugh had suggested that Dayna be allowed to communicate with them whenever anyone was on the flight deck. "Treat her as if she were just as before," the doctor had urged them. "The more you seem to accept her, the easier it will be for her to adjust." At first it had been difficult to carry on as before, but as Jabberwocky kept adding input and Dayna's 'memories' stabilised, she began to tease him again, and it grew easier. As they sped toward Foran Prime, Vila would have been quite happy with Dayna if it weren't for Avon, who was still shut away in his room and who wasn't answering the comm signals. Soolin had stalked off to confront him when she returned to the ship, but Avon had refused to talk to her. Or any of the others.

      "Oh yes, she got away quite soon," Jenna put in. She and Dayna had only been casual friends before, so the current situation affected her less strongly. "Orac monitored Parais. She was allowed to communicate with the Federation, and they made some threats. Parais returned her to the Federation in return for guarantees that the Parais Proposal would still be honoured. She's working for Supreme Commander Arpel again."

      "Too bad," Dayna replied. "You should have killed her."

      "Some of us wanted to," Jenna agreed. "But Blake wasn't having any. Typical." She threw a fond smile at Blake, who sat across the flight deck with Cally, preparing his speeches for Foran Prime. He raised his head as if sensing her eyes upon him and smiled at her, but he looked distant and strained. Vila suspected he had quarrelled badly with Avon.

      Tarrant and Soolin were sleeping, and Jabberwocky had not been contributing much over the past hour or so. It was rather peaceful on the flight deck, and Vila liked it though he was worried about Avon himself.

      "Blake isn't the type to seek revenge," Jenna went on. "That's why he has the rest of us."

      "Speaking of the rest of us," Vila plunged in, "why don't we have Avon out here? He can't go on avoiding us forever. Cally, can't you try? He won't turn you away."

      Blake's head jerked up again, but before he or Cally could speak, Jabberwocky joined the conversation. "Avon's not on board."

      "WHAT!" Blake leaped to his feet. "What the hell are you saying?"

      "Avon left the ship at Tabora Major."

      "And you didn't think to tell any of us." Blake was so angry he didn't even give a thought to Cally, who sat beside him, her face gone quite white.

      Vila felt a curious sense of desolation. Nothing would be the same without Avon, nothing.

      "It's my fault, isn't it?" Dayna asked sadly. " He doesn't want me back."

      "He's afraid to have you back," Jabberwocky told her soothingly. "He'll come around."

      "When he's not even here?" Jenna asked coolly. She went to stand beside Blake, sliding her arm around his waist. "I think you exceeded your authority, Jabberwocky. You teleported him down, I presume?"

      "He asked me to."

      "Damn it, you don't have to obey him. You're not a computer like Orac. You've got the ability to decide for yourself."

      "That's true, Jenna. I do. I decided the best thing I could do for Avon was give him some space. You don't believe he wants to leave, do you?"

      "It hardly matters when he's gone," Blake replied. He tried to pull himself together and suddenly remembered Cally. She sat as if quite composed, her face quiet. "Cally, I'm sorry. I-"

      "It is not your fault. It is something Avon must learn to accept. None of us could allow any more harm to come to Dayna. Perhaps it is time Avon learnt that his healing can be directed inward, to help himself."

      "What good will that do me - us?" Blake burst out.

      "Think about it, Blake," Jabberwocky urged. "Where did he leave? A place where we mean to return in a week. Hugh is there, and while I could still link with him, I told him Avon was there and gave his teleport co-ordinates. If anyone can help Avon, it's Hugh, and Hugh isn't afraid of Avon at his worst. Besides, I know Avon will be back."

      "How do you know?" Vila demanded. "He's so stubborn he'll stay away even if he wants to come back."

      "I know, Vila. There's a very good reason. Well, there are a lot of them, and most of them are on this flight deck, but I was thinking of Kyl."

      Blake relaxed abruptly. "That's right. He won't leave his son."

      Vila thought he was trying to convince himself. He could understand that. He'd like to do the same thing himself.

      "Blake!" It was Dayna. "I think you owe me an explanation. If Avon left because of me, I want to know about it."

      Vila caught Blake's eye and shook his head. He stepped forward toward Jabberwocky's fascia as if he expected Dayna to be there. "It's because of what happened when you were shot, Dayna. I don't know how much of it you remember. Avon tried to heal you."

      "I- think I remember that. Sometimes it seems to come to me from Avon's viewpoint, but I felt him in my head. He couldn't have healed me, could he? But he helped Tarrant when he was shot."

      "He could do that because Jabberwocky was feeding Tarrant strength while he was connected to life support in the medical unit," Cally put in, joining Vila. He glanced at her sideways and reached out to pat her arm. "All Avon did was give Tarrant the will to survive. He was so drained that it was a near thing, but he was in a controlled setting backed by everything medical science could do. You didn't have that luxury. Avon should not have tried, but he could not refuse to help you. When you... died, Avon was almost pulled with you into death. If Hugh hadn't shaken him out of it, he would have died. But that is not the issue. It is that he has never accepted it. He still blames himself for what happened."

      "It wasn't his fault. I told him not to hate me."

      Vila's heart thumped. "What did he say?" he couldn't resist asking.

      "He said that he'd never hated me." The voice was small, sad.

      "Then don't you see," persisted Vila. "That's part of it. Maybe he can't face you because he gave too much away."

      "You'd think he'd be glad to have her back," Jenna said.

      Blake turned to look at her. "Oh, no, Jenna. That's the easy way. Avon could never take the easy way. All this time, he's felt safe with us. He's still holding us away, but because he felt safe, he relaxed. Now it's not safe any more. I should go after him. He said he couldn't stay- I'm sorry, Dayna, but he put it to me as a choice between him and you."

      "And you chose me?" she burst out in astonishment.

      "I chose to help you survive. Not even for Avon could I let you die. I told him I'd go with him, if he couldn't stay on the ship, but he refused."

      Cally and Jenna both turned to stare at Blake, then shared a look between themselves that Vila couldn't begin to interpret. Cally smiled faintly, but Jenna's face showed momentary hurt.

      "When I get the android body..." Dayna began, then paused. "When I get it, I could go," she offered. "I'm sure Avalon would find a job for me. I'll be faster with guns, I'll be able to do more. I'd be useful, wouldn't I?"

      "We don't intend to drive you away," Blake insisted. "Your leaving wouldn't help Avon in the long run. It would still give him the easy way out. He must learn to face things like this. Otherwise all we're doing is helping him avoid them."

      "And of course we must all spend our lives helping Avon," Jenna returned, a trace of spite creeping back into her voice.

      "If that's what you believe, then you would have expected me to go with Avon," Blake returned.

      "No, I wouldn't. It wasn't only Dayna that made you choose as you did. It was your cause."

      "My cause?" Blake echoed in surprise, staring at her.

      "Yes, because you set yourself higher standards than most people as an example for the rabble. The only thing that moves you as much as your bloody cause is Avon, but you couldn't choose him. You have to save the day single-handed and you couldn't do that if you weren't here. I'm not surprised Avon turned you down. He could probably see that." There was a pause while Blake stared at her in dismay, then she added, "That doesn't even make me second fiddle, does it?"

      "Jenna, you know what you mean to me."

      "Do I? Yes, I do. I've just said. That's without even mentioning Soolin. It must be nice to have someone who believes you are God."

      "Enough. I thought we were past games and jealousy. You matter to me in a way no one else does. But Avon matters too. You've always known that." He looked embarrassed at having this quarrel in public. "But right now, Dayna and Avon are the ones at risk. I have to help them first."

      "So much so that you offered to leave."

      "I never expected it to be permanent."

      "Next time you decide to leave, you'd best make sure what will be waiting for you when you return." She glared at him, then suddenly she relaxed. "We're on edge, all of us. It isn't your fault, Dayna. Maybe we've all been so friendly lately that we have to blow off steam when things don't go well. In the old days we never hesitated."

      "You're right, Jenna," Cally agreed, giving her friend a comforting pat on the arm. "Even Avon has relaxed, and now he regrets it. He thinks he has trusted us and been proven wrong again. He believes the only way to avoid hurt is to avoid involvement. I have tried to show him he is wrong, but it has taken time." She smiled suddenly. "Now I see that he is not the only one of us who thinks so. We are all that way." She turned to Blake. "Don't blame the Federation. I can feel your need to do so, but blame is not the answer. We must try to change ourselves. We have been doing well. Perhaps setbacks are normal."

      "You call this a setback?" Vila echoed in disbelief.

      "Yes, I call it a setback. I do not believe Avon is gone for good. We will have Dayna back again. Blake's cause is gaining strength and planets. And all of us have learned to trust each other enough to experience the gestalt. Even Avon."

      Vila remembered the gestalt experiments in which Avon had actively participated and realised she was right. Though Avon had complained of the process and often found excuses to avoid it, he had entered into it no less than five times. The old Avon could never have done that.

      For the first time, he began to have hope that Avon would come back.

      

      Hugh Tiver hesitated outside the door of another bar. He knew Avon was on Tabora Major, somewhere in the main city, Rilt, but he had proven elusive. The past three days had been spent in searching, and Hugh was rapidly running out of places to look. It was always possible that Avon had immediately hopped a ship to work his way back to Ryalon and Kyl, but Hugh doubted it. Avon would not burn his bridges so completely.

      Pushing open the door, he let himself in, finding the bar quiet and dimly lit, with only a few patrons present at this late morning hour. One of them looked up sharply as Hugh came in, and with an inward sigh of relief, Hugh crossed the room and stopped in front of his table. "Join you?"

      "I see no way of stopping you." Avon had a glass of some clear liquid before him that could have been water or some form of liquor. It looked untouched. "Why are you here?"

      "We decided one of us should wait until the android body was completed. It fell to me."

      "Then this is just a 'fortuitous' meeting?" Avon asked sceptically.

      "No. Jabberwocky told me you were here. I've been looking for you for three days."

      "And now you have found me." It was a flat, throwaway line that allowed Hugh no encouragement.

      "Yes." Hugh was silent as a waiter came up. He ordered a beer and leaned back in his chair. "You made me join your crew at gunpoint," he reminisced. "I didn't like you for it."

      "Strange if you had." Obviously Avon intended to give him no help.

      "Later on, though, I was glad of it," Hugh went on. "Once I got to know all of you, I wouldn't have changed it for anything. Sometimes, my stubborn friend, we don't know what's best for us."

      "I should not advise you to take me back at gunpoint," Avon said through clenched teeth.

      "I'm no match for you with a gun anyway. Probably not at argument either, but I've never backed down from one. You haven't gone for good."

      Avon lifted an eyebrow sardonically. "You think not?"

      "You wouldn't leave permanently without telling Cally. Or Vila, I think. I know you could go back to Ryalon on your own and get Kyl, but you might have an argument there. He plans to join the crew the minute he's of age. He'd go with you because he adores you, but he'd resent you for it."

      Avon seemed to resent the entire conversation, though something flashed in his eyes when Hugh had said, 'he adores you'.

      "I can't shut you up, it seems. But you are talking nonsense."

      "I think not. You left too quickly. You want to come back already, even if it means coming to terms with Dayna. Why are you so afraid of her? I shouldn't have considered you a coward."

      "I never feared Dayna. This is NOT Dayna."

      "Cally differs with you. What makes a person, Avon? The ancients talked about something called a soul. You scoffed at the idea, but it's as good a term as any. What makes you Avon is your intellect, your attitude, your life experience. It isn't necessarily this body you wear. Jabberwocky's still a person though he's only a disembodied brain. You helped design the mindship and you know that is true. Jabberwocky's abilities and Orac's skills have done what we thought impossible. They've saved Dayna's essence. I don't know if they could do it again. It might be a fluke that could never be duplicated, but we should take advantage of it."

      "We should take advantage of it, should we?" Avon glared at him. "I disagree."

      "Everyone wants you back."

      "What everyone wants has never been my first concern."

      "No, of course not. That's why you've bent over backwards to help everyone in the crew, risking your life for them time and again, even saving Tarrant's life when the two of you don't get on well."

      Avon didn't like being reminded of any of that. He picked up his glass and rolled it back and forth in his hands a moment as if to warm the contents, then he drank a little of it. From his expression, Hugh realised it couldn't be water. Only Vila would grimace like that, given water.

      "Make your point," Avon insisted, setting the glass aside with something like distaste.

      "I'd rather ask you a question. You want to stay with us. Don't deny it, it's a given. You didn't want Dayna dead. You were always concerned about her. You risked your own life to try and save her. What are you afraid of? Not that she'd accuse you of anything? No, it's easier than that. You just can't take that kind of risk. Emotional risk. I know it hurts sometimes, but that's how we grow."

      "Thank you, Dr. Tiver." Very sarcastic.

      "I'm sorry, but it's true. Come back and make the best of it from day to day. It's all anyone can ever do. Don't say it isn't enough, because it's better than what you allow yourself now. If you stay away, you'll never have the chance again, and you're throwing away more than most men get in their entire lifetimes. Cally. Blake. Vila. They'd do anything for you."

      Avon's face closed away from him.

      "Don't believe me. Stay here. Drive Kyl away too because some day he might die or hurt you. What you have left is worth nothing. You might as well turn yourself over to Servalan."

      "She's coming," a strange voice broke in behind him, causing Hugh to jump. He spun around to find Galt standing there, his face pale and worried. "Servalan. She's alive and she's on her way here You've got to get out of here."

      Avon grabbed the man's wrist and pulled him down into the remaining chair. "Who are you?" he demanded in a low, threatening voice.

      "He's Galt," Hugh explained. "His firm is making the android."

      "I should tend to doubt that," Avon replied. "He's sold us. Haven't you?" He leaned toward Galt, his face grim, his gun in his hand.

      Galt winced at the ice in Avon's voice. "I didn't know it was Servalan until I got through," he confessed. "It's true I meant to turn you in for the money. I tried to get through to Arpel. They say he's an honourable man. But I got her. I'm good with faces. I never forget one, Avon." Avon nodded slightly in acknowledgement of the man's gift. "When I saw it was Servalan and when she found out what I had to say, I knew I was dead. She wouldn't pay me, she'd kill me."

      "The reward of traitors," Avon spat.

      "I'm no traitor. I'm loyal to the Federation." He caught himself as he realised what he was saying. "I'm loyal to myself," he corrected. "I owed you people nothing."

      "Except goods for profit," Hugh muttered.

      "The android will be ready tonight. I don't think Servalan could be here until tomorrow even if she left five minutes after I talked to her and came at top speed all the way. If you take the android and make it look like you broke in, she'll think you escaped. If I let you in and make it easy for you, will you take me off planet so she can't find me?"

      "You betrayed us to Servalan and you expect us to reward you?" Avon demanded with cold disbelief.

      "I'll get your Mellanby android for you and help you free of the installation. In exchange for that, I expect a reward, yes. I could have fled on my own. I didn't have to tell you when she was coming."

      "She could be here now. This could be a trap." Avon leaned back in his chair, regarding Galt through narrowed eyes. "Nothing you have said has displayed honour. Why should we take risks for you?"

      "In order to get the android," Galt babbled. "The lady's dead, I presume, but you've found a way to imprint the android as if she lived. I'd give anything - short of my life - to know what techniques you'll be using. I'm skilled at my craft. Let me come along and I'll assist. You might find it easier with my help. That and the warning should buy my freedom. I didn't have to come to you."

      "You did if Servalan uses you to bait a trap," Avon replied. "I need proof of what you've said."

      "Can't you check it through my computer system?" Galt offered. "You're supposed to be the best now they say Ensor is dead."

      Avon liked that, but only Hugh could tell. "Oh, we will check you all right," he said. "And we will do it now." He holstered his gun but his hand remained close to it. "I suggest you take us somewhere we can access your system. I am very good with a gun. If you betray us, I will find time to kill you before I die."

      Hugh could tell Galt believed it. The salesman's round face was perspiring and he rose shakily, gripping the edge of the table with his hand. "My word on it," he said. "I won't betray you now."

      "I shouldn't," Hugh agreed. "Avon doesn't take kindly to betrayals, do you, Avon?"

      Avon only looked at him, then he grasped Galt's arm in case the man had a thought of breaking free and running for it.

      They went to ground at Galt's home, where Avon checked his system for signs of monitoring, and finally called up a record of Galt's conversation with Servalan. Galt's eyes widened as he watched it play back, only slightly fuzzy.

      "She said it was protected," he burst out.

      "Oh, but it was," Avon purred, a smug look flashing across his face. "Well protected."

      "Even you aren't perfect, Avon," Hugh said doubtfully. "How did you get it?"

      "I accessed Orac," Avon replied smoothly. "Skill needn't mean doing all the work myself, just knowing how to get around the tightest blocks."

      "Then you've alerted the others?"

      "They're not on the ship. Orac will inform them when they return, or Jabberwocky will tell them through Tarrant. They will be returning for us shortly. In the meantime, I have initiated other arrangements."

      "What other arrangements?" Hugh asked doubtfully. Though he was not surprised to learn that Avon had found a way to warn Blake of the danger here, he was not certain he trusted the look on Avon's face. "You're not still planning to leave us?" he asked, lowering his voice so Galt, who sat across the room, chin propped gloomily on his hand, could not hear him.

      Avon ignored the question. "We can't wait here," he said.

      "It's only a few more hours," Galt reminded them. "The factory closes down for the night. The equipment we use is shut down at five local time. If you like I can make sure the android is ready. By six no one will be there but the guards and they obey me." He favoured them with a smug smile. "I can get you in and I can arrange transport for you to take the android to your ship. I want to come with you."

      "We'll see," Hugh temporised. Though Galt might be useful for the imprinting, he couldn't be trusted. He might have a locator implant, and even if not, he would need watching every minute. If he understood the android imprinting process, he knew computers, so he couldn't be left unsupervised on the ship, though Jabberwocky could watch him.

      "I want some guarantees," Galt insisted hotly, only to back down when Avon favoured him with one of his icy stares. "But I'll trust you. I'll go with you to the factory. You choose the route to your ship. Teleportation might be difficult with the android unless you've monitored it for non-living tissue."

      Avon stopped to consider that possibility, and his face grew serious, not as if he were reminded of Dayna but as if the puzzle of teleporting the android, once completed, would be an intriguing challenge. Hugh began to wonder if Avon might yet come around.

      He didn't reply to Galt. "It might help if you would feed us," he said. "Then, check with your plant and see how the android is progressing."

      

      It was dark when they left for the factory, in Galt's private car. Avon's searches through the computer with Orac had proven that Servalan was expected the following day, and it seemed that Galt had alerted no one else to their presence. Since Galt meant to flee in any case, they simply checked in with the guards and walked into the plant, Galt introducing them carelessly as visiting scientists. It had the added advantage, Avon remarked dourly as they entered the plant, of actually being true.

      The lab had been left in readiness for them, thanks to a call Galt had made to his subordinate Rax. He brought the lights up and Hugh drew in a sharp breath at the sight of the android lying on the table. Avon made himself study it, realising that the work was well done, for it looked exactly like Dayna, missing only the animation that had once filled her face. Naked, the machine was covered with a sheet, positioned in the midst of the imprinting equipment.

      Avon strode forward to examine it. "Do you know how to run this?" he asked Galt over his shoulder.

      "Of course I do, though I'm a little rusty. I can set it up, but I thought you didn't have your program here."

      Avon seated himself at the computer console and began to work. "Not yet," he said. "But I will in a few moments."

      "Avon!" Hugh burst out. "What are you doing?"

      "Blake and the others will not arrive until after Servalan," Avon explained impatiently. "I do not know about you, but I should find it more convenient trying to avoid her were I not lumbered with a non-functional android."

      "But - you can't mean to program it now," protested Hugh.

      "Why not?"

      "Because - because we're not even on the ship."

      "With Orac, we needn't be on the ship."

      "But the emotional trauma..."

      Avon frowned. "According to Orac and my own studies, we have the best chance of successful imprinting if done here with the appropriate equipment." He made the adjustments carefully, then activated the voice monitor. "Orac, are you standing by?"

      "I am standing by. I find your haste excessive."

      "It is necessary to compete the process whilst I have the equipment to make it successful. We are safe here, for the moment, and we have a hostage to insure our protection." He raised his eyes to Galt, who paled and took a step backwards, only to come up short when Hugh, who was clever enough to play along, came up behind him and took his arm.

      "If you want a ticket off this planet, you'll play it our way," he threatened, and Avon hid a smile at the way the salesman shivered.

      "While I am not an expert at personality imprinting, I have done enough work in related fields to know if you do your part incorrectly," Avon told Galt. "Should it fail, I will hold you responsible."

      "There is no reason why it should fail," Galt defended himself uneasily. He shrugged his arm free of Hugh's grip and started attaching the leads to the android, flipping toggles as he went, until the boards lit up and the appropriate data was displayed. Avon checked everything he did.

      Galt was evidently frightened enough to do as instructed, for Avon could find no fault with the man's work. All that was required now was to initiate the basic program that would activate the android, charge up the power, check the physical function and then load the primary personality.

      Avon's research had indicated that routine android programming from this point to conclusion took half an hour, but Orac had indicated that with the complexity of the Dayna Program, it would likely take twice that long.

      While an armed Hugh stood guard at the door, Galt ran the basic program, testing the reflexes in order, from the arms and legs to fingers and toes, to head and body movements, even down to facial expressions. Avon made himself watch each test carefully, holding himself rigid. This was only a scientific study, he insisted, done for fully practical reasons.

      The android was not, and would never be Dayna. The facial tics that were intended as smiles and frowns bore no resemblance to Dayna's actual expressions. He said so.

      "That will require some practice," Galt explained. "It will be fairly easy. Several hours before a mirror should do it, and once the usual expressions are repeated a few times, they are likely to come naturally. At first the body movements will be somewhat awkward, as the personality adjusts, but with the complexity of the program you intend, it will learn quickly."

      "She will learn quickly," Hugh interjected.

      Avon ignored him. "Orac, we are ready. Are you and Jabberwocky standing by?"

      "We are ready. Jabberwocky says Hugh Tiver will be useful when consciousness is achieved. He also says that you are not to be too hard on Dayna." From the tone, he was obviously quoting, under pressure from Jabberwocky.

      "Commence," Avon snarled. He did not enjoy being taken to task by either Jabberwocky or Orac.

      As the program ran, there was at first little to show for it. Avon and Galt monitored the equipment, both of them checking for power overloads or intermittent feed, but it ran smoothly and clearly. Gradually, the body started making random movements; a hand twitching, the head turning slightly from side to side. He told himself it was only a machine, and knew it was true, but the look on Hugh's face irritated him, for the doctor was eager, expectant. How could the man go through life with such a positive attitude and not be destroyed? He was a fool.

      When the program had run its course, the android lay still again, unmoving. Galt got up and began to disconnect the leads, but Hugh forestalled him. "Wait a minute. Isn't it - shouldn't it be conscious now?"

      It? So the doctor had his own doubts.

      "It will respond when activated," Galt replied. "When the leads are removed, the last one is the trigger switch. My readings are all positive. Fortunately for us, your design specifications were comprehensive enough to allow us to work successfully. In general, androids do not require storage for such large programs. When we did the design work my people were sceptical that anyone could do programming to that level. They might have believed me had I told them the programmer was Kerr Avon."

      "And Orac," Hugh put in. "Though I doubt we could have done it without Jabberwocky." Still holding his gun, he edged forward, watching intently as Galt finished removing the umbilicals. When he reached the last one, Hugh was standing beside Avon, his tension radiating from him so clearly that Avon could not help but feel it.

      "You'll be no help to us if Federation guards arrive," Avon remarked. "Go stand guard." His voice was harsh, and Hugh obeyed without question, though his eyes didn't leave the android.

      Galt unclipped the last linkage, and stood back. For a moment, nothing happened, then a shudder passed through the body on the table. A second followed it, then, suddenly, the eyes blinked open. They stared uncomprehendingly at the ceiling overhead, the lights, the cables, the equipment, then the head turned and the eyes came to rest on Avon, pinning him in place. He froze, unable to move, because it was too much like Dayna.

      "Avon?" The voice was a little slurred, faint and confused. Momentary irritation ran across the face, and it tried again. "Avon?" This time the diction was clearer.

      "What-" Then realisation. "I'm in a body?" She tried to sit up, steadied herself. The sheet slipped away, and it was Hugh who came forward and wrapped it around her again.

      "Have you some clothes for her?" he asked Galt.

      "There should be something." Galt went over to a closet and removed a pair of coveralls. "Try this."

      Dayna leaned against Hugh. "Where are we?" she asked him. "I don't recognise this place."

      "It's on Tabora Major," Hugh explained quickly. "We've just activated your new body. You'll feel strange and clumsy at first, but you'll soon adjust." He gave her a hug then handed her the coverall. "This isn't much and we'll get you more soon, but you'll need it." He held up the sheet as a shield while the android wiggled into the coverall.

      When she emerged from the sheet, she seemed more like Dayna, though Avon could not quite believe it.

      "Let's get out of here," he said.

      "Is there danger?" Dayna asked Hugh. After a doubtful look at Avon, she had decided to address the doctor instead.

      "Servalan's coming," he told her. "That's why we did the transfer here. We didn't think we'd stand as good a chance taking your body with us unactivated."

      "Servalan." Dayna's eyes narrowed. The effect was slightly off, as if it were an attempt to copy the real Dayna, and Avon turned away abruptly. "Shut everything down and let's get out of here," he barked at Galt, who jumped, startled out of rapt contemplation of the android and went to work.

      As he completed the shutdown, Hugh gave Dayna a quick replay of the events since Galt had confessed his duplicity. "He recognised Servalan," he went on as Galt finished, "He knew he didn't stand a chance, so he came to us. We decided we could use him."

      "You mean Avon decided," she corrected. "I'm surprised to see him. Blake said he wouldn't stay on board if I were there."

      "Blake was mistaken," Hugh said. "It was Avon who decided to activate the program tonight. How do you feel, Dayna? Any problems?"

      "Not yet. I still can't believe it. I don't feel that different, only clumsy as if my arms and legs were asleep. You and Avon look a little sharper and brighter around the edges, but not very much. If I hadn't known, I might not have guessed right away. But there will be differences." She shivered a little.

      "Not that many," Galt told her. "I'm not used to programs this sophisticated. You can eat, but it goes into a receptacle in the abdominal cavity which must be emptied at least weekly. No bladder and bowel functions, but you can perform sexual intercourse. I'm told it can approximate a normal response, but I could never really compare it because we never did anything but pure machinery before. Since our customers often expect the machines to pass for human, we are prepared to cater to a variety of motivations." He looked smug. "I think you will find it satisfactory. In fact I often think that if I could find a way to do what has been done to you that I would like an android body."

      Dayna stared at him doubtfully. Avon suspected that, in her position, he would be unable to accept it. Dayna, always athletic, might appreciate the capabilities of the body she now wore.

      But that meant he was beginning to accept the machine as Dayna. He stiffened away from such thoughts, irritated that she should seem so real.

      "I'm finished," Galt announced, dimming the lights. "Lady, when we leave, the guards will expect a typical new android. It would be appropriate for you to shamble slightly when you walk, and to talk in a machine-like voice if you say anything at all. It might be best for you to remain silent as we pass the guards."

      Dayna threw him an irritated look so realistic that Avon turned away. "I'm neither a child nor stupid," she snapped. Then, when Hugh said quietly, "Dayna," she conceded, "All right. I understand. But I won't pretend to be just a machine one moment more than I must. I want a gun."

      "No," said Avon.

      "Avon, you know I'm good."

      "I know you're likely to be slow and clumsy at first, but I also know that the guards will not expect a newly programmed android to be armed."

      "Or barefoot." She glanced down at her feet.

      "I'll explain it," Galt put in. "Quickly. I haven't felt comfortable being here as long as this. Servalan may have send ahead to warn the base."

      "I should doubt that," Avon replied as they headed for the entrance. "The last thing she would want would be for someone else to make the arrest." He let his hand hover in easy reach of his gun all the same.

      They passed the guards with ease, Galt explaining that he intended to make a private delivery. The guards looked Dayna up and down as she stood expressionlessly, then one of them nudged the other in the ribs with his elbow as he leered at Dayna. "Private delivery," he muttered in an undertone. "That's the kind of private delivery I could fancy."

      "Enough," Galt reprimanded him, with a sideways look at Avon and Hugh. Avon donned a stern, disapproving look, and the guards stifled laughter. They could hear laughter and muffled ribald remarks behind them as they headed for Galt's car.

      "I should have killed them," Dayna muttered under her breath. "Avon, can't we hurry? My feet are cold."

      Involuntarily, he glanced at her bare feet then turned and entered the car.

      They didn't return to Galt's residence, though the man protested, claiming he had things he wanted to pick up there before he left.

      "It's your choice," Avon told him unfeelingly. "Stay with us and have a chance to get off world, leave us and forget it." If Galt chose to leave, Avon would kill him.

      "Ah well, in that case..." Galt conceded regretfully.

      Avon intended to watch him carefully. Galt might be useful, and that was the only reason Avon didn't shoot him here and now.

      Hugh and Dayna sat in the rear seat, talking quietly while Avon took the controls. Galt watched his every move, and before many minutes had passed, he relaxed. "I wasn't sure you'd head for the spaceport."

      "Are we heading there?" Hugh asked in surprise. "I didn't think Jabberwocky could be here so quickly."

      "We are not waiting for Jabberwocky."

      "But Avon..." Dayna began, then fell silent. Her speech was clearer now and she sounded almost normal, only an awkward inflection betraying her occasionally. "What are you planning?"

      "I have no intention of sitting here to wait for Servalan."

      "But how will we get away if your ship's not here?" Galt asked uneasily, only to fall silent when Avon halted before the entrance to the docking area.

      "Stay if you like," Avon returned and led the way. Hugh's face was thoughtful, but he offered no protest until Avon guided them to a small ship, much the size of a Federation pursuit ship and gestured them on board.

      "What ship is this?"

      "It is mine," Avon replied.

      "Yours. But - You did mean to run."

      Avon did not reply directly to the question. "It was a contingency plan, Hugh, and the contingency has arisen."

      Hugh stared at him as Avon sealed the airlock behind them, including Galt. Surely the doctor would understand that leaving behind someone who could still betray them was a fool's option.

      But that was not in Hugh's mind. "You were still here when I found you," he burst out. "You didn't mean to leave. You were just preparing for trouble."

      "I had not yet reached a decision. I should have had to return to Ryalon in any case, and why not on board Jabberwocky."

      "You never meant to leave us," Hugh persisted stubbornly. "You only wanted away from us for a time."

      "No, he wanted away from me," Dayna insisted. "I never meant to drive you away, Avon. I'm not sure how I feel about all this, but I understand your hesitation. I've remembered Tarrant killing Vinni. You said, 'It's a machine, kill it,' or words to that effect. I was in Vinni's mind through the sensor net. He didn't know he was a machine."

      "He was programmed not to know," Avon replied as they reached the flight deck. The ship was small, comfortable for two people, and Avon had selected it because it was fast, easily manageable and well shielded. It would be cramped with four people on board. Four people?

      "Am I programmed not to know?" she demanded urgently, catching at his arm.

      He shook free of her. "No," he admitted at length. "I studied the specifications of Orac's and Jabberwocky's programs. This is beyond the abilities of any programmer." Ignoring her relief, he sat at the main controls and began to activate them. "What will happen if we attempt to leave without clearance?" he asked Galt.

      "Probably nothing very much," the salesman replied. "There's been no evidence of a problem in the system. Calling for clearance should make this seem a legitimate flight. I'll do it if you like. What's the registration number?"

      Avon considered it. When Servalan arrived looking for Blake's rebels, one of the first places she would look would be a ship that had departed without clearance. He took out his gun and levelled it at Galt's face. "Do it," he breathed. "At the first sign of betrayal, you will be dead."

      "Very messily dead," Dayna put in.

      Galt gulped as if he meant to swallow his Adam's apple, and obeyed, reaching for the activator with trembling fingers. Though the others listened to his every word, there was no sign of anything but a standard request for clearance, which was granted. After a five minute standby, they were clear. While Dayna guarded Galt, Hugh took the ship up.

      "How will we contact Jabberwocky?" he asked as they escaped the atmosphere. "What course shall I set, Avon?"

      "Back to Ryalon."

      "But Blake - You can't mean to allow Blake to come here."

      "Blake is not coming here," Avon replied.

      "You said he was."

      "Explanations are so tedious."

      Hugh gave him a dirty look. "All right. You told them you had your own ship. They're standing by and will only come in if we couldn't get off on our own." When Avon didn't contradict him Hugh glared at him a minute then grinned reluctantly. "It would be easier to like you if you weren't so annoyingly thorough, Avon."

      "Someone must be." Avon waited until Hugh turned back to the controls to set the necessary course, then, faintly, he smiled.

      The sight of Dayna watching him wiped the smile from his face.

      

      

"I don't like the idea of just waiting," Blake burst out. He'd been saying this or a variation of it for the past five hours, and this time, only Soolin nodded in agreement.

      Jenna glared at her before turning to Blake. "Neither do we, Blake, but we're tired of hearing you say so."

      Blake started out of his glum preoccupation and cast a rueful glance around the flight deck. "Sorry."

      Everyone was there though nothing much was happening. Avon's warning had stunned them all. They had been betrayed and Servalan was coming to Tabora Major. Blake wanted to rush back to rescue him and Hugh immediately, but he had several hours speeches still scheduled and could not break off without appearing suspicious. Avon's message claimed everything was under control and that he would rendezvous with the ship later, away from Servalan. If true, that was all very well, but the extent of the betrayal had not been made clear and Blake was afraid something would go wrong.

      Since leaving Foran, they had set a course in the general direction of Tabora, but Avon had told them not to enter the planetary system without further notice. Blake had never liked playing a waiting game, and the strain was beginning to tell upon the others as well.

      To make matters worse, the Dayna program had gone silent as if it had been wiped. Tarrant had been talking to it, reminiscing as per Orac's advice, recalling past adventures to mind. Jabberwocky said it worked rather like additional programming, and Dayna was responding more naturally now. Blake knew Tarrant had accepted the program as Dayna, and he feared Avon's threat might delay the android process.

      Then Dayna broke off in mid-sentence, and Tarrant came to his feet in alarm. "Dayna? What's wrong?"

      When there was no response, Tarrant collapsed into his chair, his face rather white, his eyes closing as he sank into a deeper link with Jabberwocky. When he emerged, he looked shocked, disbelieving and angry.

      "Avon's doing it right now," he cried.

      "Doing what right now?" Vila's voice was uneasy. He stared at Tarrant with wide eyes.

      "Programming the android."

      "What, from there?" the thief asked, startled. "Can he do that?" He spun round and inserted Orac's key. "Orac? Can Avon program the android from this far away?"

      "Kindly do not interrupt. I am very busy."

      "Damn it, Orac," Tarrant cried, jumping up and advancing purposefully upon the little computer.

      "I am programming the android," Orac said hastily. "Further interruptions will delay the process and endanger it."

      Though everyone clamoured for answers, Blake gestured at Vila to remove the key. "Wait, Vila. Orac can explain when the process is complete. If Orac can interface with any computer, there's no reason it can't interface with the imprinting equipment there."

      "But why not wait?" Cally asked softly. "This way seems risky."

      "Perhaps it would be risky for Avon to escape with a deactivated android," put in Soolin practically. "It would seem to be his show. We will have to wait." She smiled deprecatingly. "None of us are good at it."

      Since then Orac had informed them that the program had been run successfully. It confessed that it could read Dayna but could not interface with her. "This will require a great deal of study," the computer concluded with as much enthusiasm as a human might have shown for an exciting new project. Sometimes Blake wondered just how self aware Orac was.

      "I hate waiting," he muttered.

      Jenna sat beside him and ran her hand along his arm. "Get some sleep, Blake. One of us can keep watch, or Jabberwocky can. We'll need to be fresh when Avon contacts us."

      If he contacts us... Blake forced away the unwelcome thought. Avon had finally run. If circumstances alone forced him back, would he stay? Yet he had seen the android through imprinting. If nothing else, Dayna herself might get through to Avon. Blake realized such a thought was idiotically optimistic, but Avon was a realist. If the Dayna android was anything like the real Dayna, Avon would be the first one to know it.

      Blake shook his head. He's right, I am a fool. Then he stood up and stretched luxuriously. "I think you're right, Jenna. I need to rest." He pulled her to her feet. "You do too."

      She came along with him willingly enough, though he doubted their differences had yet been resolved.

      

      

"Avon, may I talk to you?"

      Avon had been standing watch alone on the flight deck. At his instruction, Galt was locked into a cabin, its computer interface deactivated, and Hugh had taken Dayna away to find her some clothes and then to get some sleep. Avon had been enjoying the solitude, though he knew he was only postponing the inevitable. Dayna.

      Her voice scarcely surprised him. In the several hours since she had gone with Hugh, she must have done some work on the fine tuning of her imprinting, for she moved with her usual animal grace and her facial expressions were natural now, not so stiff and exaggerated. She had found a flight suit that fitted her better than the coverall, and a pair of boots that looked only a little too big.

      He gestured her to the other seat and she curled herself into it the way he'd seen her do many times on the Liberator and since. Warily he watched her, prepared to find and register every difference between this mechanical body and the original.

      She gave him a wary look. "Stop it, Avon."

      "Stop what?"

      "Stop making comparisons. You understand the technology better than I do, but you know technology alone couldn't have succeeded like this." She lifted a hand and flexed her fingers.

      "Android technology has made great strides in recent years."

      "You said yourself you couldn't have achieved programming so thorough."

      "What would you have me say?" he asked. This was absurd - sparring with a machine.

      "Avon, I'm Dayna. Ask Cally. She linked with me. Do you think she could link with something that was only a computer program?" When he didn't reply, she touched his arm lightly. He had to struggle not to jerk free.

      "Cally insists that you are the essence of Dayna. But you see, I know better. I felt Dayna's death." He could not meet her eyes.

      She winced. "I remember. Most of it I remember from your memories. Jabberwocky gave me that. Maybe he did it so I'd understand. I think I do, Avon. It was easier for me. I had only to let go."

      "Dayna would never have welcomed death."

      "It's all I could have done. I asked you to look after Tarrant for me. Have you done it?"

      Avon remembered her 'last request.' "Someone must," he said, smiling faintly.

      "I've talked to him as much as I could, but I'm not sure how he will react to me like this. I'm not sure how I react. A part of me wants to have screaming hysterics."

      "I trust you will restrain yourself," he said uneasily.

      She dimpled at him with Dayna-ish amusement. "Don't worry, Avon. I won't weep all over you. You'd never forgive me." She stretched lithely. "I feel quite different," she admitted. "It's better to recognize that, I think. Once I'm used to this body, I'll be able to fight all the better. Maybe I can get Tarrant to work out with me."

      Avon couldn't help responding to the humour in her voice. "After you wipe the deck with him a time or two, his enthusiasm will drop to zero."

      "I've more sense than that." She smiled suddenly, a decidedly feral smile. "Then there's Servalan. In a way I'm sorry we had to run. I'll enjoy meeting her in this form. I asked Galt some questions. He says that the body is shielded to resist anything less than a neutron blaster. There might be some superficial damage if I were shot at close range, and I can be hurt in explosions or crashes, but in general I'm quite resilient. I made him talk to me about it just now. Hugh says the more I deal with it the better, and he knows more about that kind of thing than the rest of us."

      "He is a doctor." Avon stared at her warily. Well for her to accept it. Whether the rest of them could do so - whether he could do so - was another story.

      "You still don't accept me, do you?" She leaned back in her chair and studied his face in a way he'd seen Dayna do many times when trying to read beneath his surface fašade. "Look at you now, making comparisons. My old body died, Avon. Everything that was Dayna died. But because of Jabberwocky and Orac, I was brought back. Jabberwocky doesn't forget. He stored all his memories of me. That, in itself, wouldn't have saved me, but Orac knew more. Between the two of them, they experimented. I have a suspicion that neither of them is quite sure exactly how it was managed, since so many combinations were attempted."

      "They are computers. They do not forget."

      "Nevertheless." She smiled faintly. "It happened. I know there are some gaps in my memory, but I don't think that makes me any less Dayna." As he opened his mouth to speak, she cut in sharply. "Not unless you mean to imply that Blake's amnesia from his programming makes him any less Blake."

      Avon knew there were still memories that eluded Blake, though most of his memories had returned when he had witnessed the massacre of Bran Foster's rebels. Blake was annoying, but he was Blake. Yet he wore his original body. He said so.

      "I thought you were a scientist," she objected. "You understand this type of thing. You have to know I've become more than a program. You simply don't want to admit it."

      Avon grimaced. She was accusing him of letting his emotions run away from him, something he had prided himself on never doing. Logically, she implied, he should be able to accept her simply because his scientific curiosity would demand it. He had long refused to let his emotions rule, yet what other excuse could he give for failing to accept this copy as Dayna? He glared at her.

      "Avon," she said softly. "Will you link with me? I think I might need it later. I think it's been too easy so far and that eventually I'll need the kind of help you give. I'm not asking for healing now, just a link."

      "Jabberwocky is not here to boost a link," he reminded her stiffly.

      "I know that. I also know you can do it without Jabberwocky. Vila said so."

      "Oh, so Vila said so, did he?" He looked at her warily. She regarded him unblinkingly. Why should an android need to blink? He let the thought distract him and said offhand, "You should train yourself to blink from time to time."

      "I will." She blinked. "Thank you, Avon."

      He shot her an irritated look. "When did Vila tell you that I could link without Jabberwocky?"

      "Two days ago. He said you went into healing mode with him without Jabberwocky."

      Avon grimaced. "Am I to have no secrets?" he asked.

      "Don't blame Vila. I asked him to talk to me. He knew I might need help one day and was trying to reassure me."

      "Surely not even Vila is fool enough to believe the thought of me could be reassuring."

      "Why not?" she asked lightly. "It was to Vila. Link with me, Avon. Just a superficial link. I want to know if I can still do it."

      "You did it with Cally," he reminded her. "Or so she claims."

      "Jabberwocky might have assisted. She isn't certain."

      "Damn you," he muttered. Perhaps if he went through with this, it would establish once and for all that he was dealing with a machine. "And if it proves impossible?"

      "Then I will offer my services to Avalon and you needn't be troubled with me any more." She met his eyes on the level, and he was annoyed to note she had remembered to blink. "The last thing I want is cause dissension between you and the others."

      "A pity no one thought of that before."

      "That's rather petty of you."

      He knew it was. "All right," he conceded uncomfortably. "We shall attempt linkage. Give me your hand."

      It felt human in his own, though perhaps a little cooler than normal human flesh. But Cally's Auron system was fractionally cooler too, so it felt no less real than holding Cally's hand. There was no pulse beat, of course, and no practical way to simulate it, which gave him the eerie sensation that he was holding the hand of a recent corpse. Shuddering, he pushed the thought away and sank into linkage, reaching out for the essence of Dayna.

      At first, there was nothing, and he was prepared to jerk away, but then he experienced a sensation, different from anything he had felt before. It was more like linking with Jabberwocky, or even sensing Orac in linkage than the more normal link with one of his crewmates, but it was quite real, and after the first uneasy moments, he realized he was sensing the essence of Dayna Mellanby.

      //Avon. I can feel you.//

      //Yes,// he conceded reluctantly. Suddenly it was Dayna, though he had held her stiffening body in his arms when she died.

      //I know,// she sent nervously. //I will always remind you of that. But we've beaten it, Avon. Don't you feel it.//

      //I sense undue optimism,// he thought. He also felt an urge to slip into his healing mode, and he shut it off. She had not asked for healing and he was not prepared to give it. He broke the link abruptly and stared at her.

      "Does it really bother you so much?" she asked quietly. "You've been talking with me. Do I disturb you so? I can still leave. I won't come between you and Blake."

      The old Dayna wouldn't have made the offer, but this one was still uncertain of her rights. Avon resented that.

      "I would prefer it if you defended yourself. I am not the sole arbiter of your existence."

      She smiled. "In that case, try growing up, Avon. I'm here and I'm real. It won't do you any good to deny it. I don't want to leave Jabberwocky and I've as much right there as you." She braced herself defiantly to meet his glare.

      "Oh, you think so, do you?" he asked. Suddenly he was very tired. Struggling not to yawn, he faced her, waiting.

      "I know so. I understand what you're going through. I've watched Dorn trying to come to terms with Jabberwocky, and I know how hard it is for him. I think you could easily accept an android made from a program that had become self-aware - if it hadn't been someone you cared for. So many people have hurt you that you expect it. You shut yourself away from it and pretend you're devoid of emotions, but they haven't beaten you yet, Avon. You're still able to feel."

      "Regrettably."

      "No, not regrettably." She shook his arm. "Don't you see. You've beaten them. They haven't destroyed you. Don't let me take you over the edge."

      He stiffened, though he knew there was some truth to her words. In the old days, before Jabberwocky, he would have scorned it all, but in the old days, he wouldn't have allowed the conversation to progress so far.

      "I'm Dayna," she went on. "I know that. I believe it. This body is a different one than I wore before, that's all. I'm a little scared of it, of everyone's reactions, but Hugh says that's normal. I don't like being scared, and I won't be for long. You don't like being scared either. Am I so hard to deal with?"

      "You're far from easy." He stared at her. She couldn't be Dayna, could she? Not really Dayna? But she felt as if she were. He considered it. If only he could think straight. He was having trouble thinking at all. Fatigue washed over him as if he had been struggling for hours to stay awake.

      "But I'm Dayna," she insisted. She had always been strong. She was quite able to stand up for her rights with or without his approval. She faced him defiantly a moment, then the defiance slid away and she smiled at him. Her fingers tightened around his and he realized that he had still been gripping her hand. "I'm Dayna and I'll fight for my rights if I must. I don't want to fight you, Avon, but I will."

      That was more like the Dayna he had known. If only he could think. His hand tightened around hers, trying to hold onto something, even if it was this. He found himself yawning again.

      "Well, I never thought I was boring," Dayna burst out, a mischievous smile lighting her face.

      "I'm tired," he said stiffly. "Tired..."

      She looked at him sharply. "You don't make a habit of falling asleep on the flight deck. Certainly not at a time like this. Avon, look at me!"

      He found it hard to comply. It took effort to focus on her face. She stared into his eyes a moment, then she said, "Damn!" and spun about to the environmental controls. He watched her work them with only mild curiosity.

      "Something's wrong with the air," she cried. "Are there life support suits?"

      "Life support suits?" he echoed muzzily. "I don't..."

      She attacked the controls again, but he was sliding down the flight couch, unable to stop himself. She blurred before his eyes. "Dayna..." he mumbled, his voice long, drawn out, distorted.

      "Avon!" She ran across the flight deck, opened a compartment, dragged something free. "Hang on, Avon!" she cried. She must have hit the intercom, because he could hear her calling Hugh. "Listen to me, Hugh. Life support is failing. Get into your support suit. Do you hear me. Get into your support suit. It's in the compartment beside your bed. Galt, get into your support suit. It's in the compartment beside your bed."

      Then, she bent over him, fitting something to his face. He tried to focus his eyes, but he couldn't manage it. The last thing he remembered was Dayna's voice cursing him and threatening him. "Don't you dare die on me, Avon. Do you hear me?"

      

      

"Attention." Jabberwocky's voice sounded sharp and worried. "We're picking up a distress call."

      Everyone had gathered on the flight deck, awaiting contact by Avon and Hugh, but so far there had been nothing beyond the original message and a briefer one to indicate that they had left the Tabora system. Now Vila said, "But we're waiting to hear from Avon. We can't go harking off on a rescue mission."

      "We must, Vila," Cally chided, turning to give him a reassuring smile. "Avon is quite capable of taking care of himself."

      "As it happens," Orac interrupted. "He is not."

      "What do you mean, Orac?" Soolin asked suspiciously, staring at the little computer. It didn't often volunteer information when it wasn't required.

      "It is Avon's ship that has sent the distress signal. Their life support has failed. I have fed Jabberwocky the necessary coordinates."

      "And we're on our way there now," Jabberwocky replied. "There wasn't time to draw you in."

      Soolin glanced over at Tarrant, who must have known ahead of time, or at least sooner than the rest of them, and saw that he was monitoring the controls at his position.

      "How long will it take us to get there, Jabberwocky?" he asked.

      "Six hours, fifty three minutes."

      "The life support has failed?" Blake asked, alarmed. "What kind of backup system do they have?"

      "There is no backup system. It's a serious problem, Roj. They only have life support suits. Dayna's put them into the suits, but they have not yet revived."

      "Then they're alive!" Blake burst out in relief.

      "For now," said Orac. "Life support suits on board the ship carry oxygen for four hours each."

      "Don't they have backup suits?" Vila cried in alarm.

      "There is one backup suit. It will provide enough air for two people to survive until the ship arrives."

      "But Dayna's an android. She doesn't need oxygen, does she?" Jenna asked practically.

      "No, she doesn't," replied Jabberwocky. "But there is another person on board, the one who helped them activate Dayna. Should the air be divided equally between them, they will run out of air twenty minutes before we arrive. I've gone over everything I can and we can't get there any faster. I've calculated teleporting them into the equation, the moment we get into teleport range. I've alerted Dayna to make sure they're wearing their bracelets, but the third man has none."

      "And Dayna wouldn't have one either," Tarrant objected.

      "At present functioning level, Dayna won't be able to use the teleport anyway," Jabberwocky reminded them, and Soolin realized why.

      "She's not technically alive. It only works on living tissue."

      "She doesn't need air to breathe anyway," Cally said practically. "We can teleport the others and then dock and pick up Dayna, or someone can teleport over and bring her back."

      "But we still won't get there in time," Vila reminded them. He looked small and frightened and Soolin knew he was worried about Avon. She couldn't help worrying about Hugh, who was her closest friend, but she didn't let it show.

      "Couldn't they shut off their air periodically and then start it up again?" she asked. "A person can go for several minutes holding his breath. When I was on Chantry 2, I saw the coral divers. They used to go underwater without equipment to bring up the coral and they could stay for three or four minutes. I don't know if it would work or not, but it's the only thing I can think of. If they can stretch their air out, a few minutes at a time, they might last until we get there."

      Everyone stared at her. She wondered if she had come up with a foolhardy suggestion, but Blake was nodding thoughtfully.

      "I have relayed the suggestion," Orac informed them haughtily. "I have also suggested life support be closed down on all decks but this one and that power channelled into the drive system. It is possible it could marginally increase our arrival time."

      "It'll be close, no matter what we do," said Blake. "And we'll need life support in the teleport section. Get me a life support suit, Jenna. I'll go down and check it to make sure it's functioning properly. We won't need to reinstate life support there until we've nearly arrived."

      "There is another problem," Orac cut in so smoothly that Soolin suspected it was enjoying the crisis.

      "What is it this time?" Vila asked. "Federation flotillas? Asteroid fields? Hairy aliens?"

      "Servalan. Her present course toward the Tabora system will take her within scanning range of Avon's vessel."

      "But she won't know it's Avon's vessel," Tarrant objected, glancing up from his controls to send a reassuring look at the others.

      "No, and she isn't likely to stop to rescue a derelict when she thinks she's got us waiting like sitting ducks on Tabora," argued Blake.

      "But she thinks we are sitting ducks," Cally reminded him. "We aren't supposed to know she's coming, and she doesn't expect us quite yet, not for at least three days. She'll believe she has plenty of time, and it will do her image good to rescue a hapless victim of a space accident."

      "I can't see her as a good samaritan," Jenna replied. "But there's a chance her crew might call it to her attention and she'd be forced to comply."

      "Her crew is composed of mutoids, isn't it?" Blake asked.

      "It wasn't on Parais," Vila reminded them. "Can't you tap into her systems, Orac, and find out, there's a good computer."

      "Servalan's ship is devoid of tarial cells. The only method I have to determine her flight course is to interface with records of her departure from Space Command Headquarters and to project the fastest course to Tabora. If she proceeds at top speed, she could be in the vicinity of Avon's ship 27 minutes before we are within teleport range."

      "You just mean she'd be in scanner range, don't you, Orac?" Blake asked urgently. "Not that she would have had time for a rendezvous?"

      "Since her course is only a projection, it is not possible to determine with any degree of certainty her exact arrival time on Tabora. It is possible that she could rendezvous with Avon's ship before we achieve teleport range. Without further information, it is impossible to be more precise."

      "In other words, we've got trouble," Vila said. "We'd better warn them about Servalan. Orac, can you do that?"

      "Naturally I can do that. I have already done so. It is fortunate that my responses are quicker than those of mere humans."

      "If they're quicker, why do we do faster than you on the teleport?" Vila asked. It was a good thing he wasn't expecting an answer, because Orac didn't give him one. Vila grinned faintly before turning to Blake. "What do we do now?"

      Blake heaved a vast sigh. "What else, Vila. We wait."

      

      

Dayna had spent a frantic few minutes, getting Avon connected to the oxygen in the support suit. She didn't dare take the time to put the entire suit on him, but since the cabin had not lost pressure, oxygen seemed to be the most urgent need. Once the oxygen was flowing, she fled to Hugh's cabin where she found him collapsed, his life suit half out of the compartment. It took moments to set the breathing mask in place and make sure he still lived. Sure that he was breathing again and likely to come around on his own, she went to check Galt. He was sprawled on his bunk, and it took her a few minutes to resuscitate him and make sure he would survive. Then she locked him in his cabin once more and returned to the flight deck.

      Avon was conscious when she arrived, holding the breathing mask in place with one hand, looking a little dazed. He had pulled himself up to the controls and was keying in something one handed when she arrived. Looking up quickly, he said, "I see your present state has its uses."

      "So it does." She found it irritating to keep being reminded, but this was hardly the time to worry about it. "What are you doing?"

      "Getting word to Orac. I have arranged a code to get its attention should I have need of contacting it from a distance. I have sent the code. An answer should print out on this screen."

      Dayna leaned over his shoulder, adjusting his breathing mask to free his other hand. "You don't need the whole suit," she said. "I didn't have time to detach it before." She suited the words to the actions. "Hugh's alive," she added. "When he comes round, I expect he'll join us. Galt had taken an aversion to breathing, but I changed his mind. I left him locked up."

      "Pity," Avon replied. "We might need the oxygen. There are only four suits on board."

      "How do you know?"

      "I checked." He pointed at the screen, on which a list of supplies had scrolled out. Avon had stopped it at the point that listed oxygen supplies. "Four hours of oxygen per suit. I should doubt Jabberwocky could reach us in time."

      "But they must," she burst out then fell silent. The thought of watching Avon and Hugh die whilst she waited for Jabberwocky to arrive appalled her.

      "Ah." Avon bent over the screen. "Contact." He became very busy, and Dayna waited, knowing better than to interrupt. When he looked up again, his face was expressionless. "Interesting. Our air will last us until twenty minutes before Jabberwocky arrives. Go and bring me Galt's oxygen supply. Should he die, Hugh and I could survive."

      "I can't kill him, Avon."

      "Then you condemn us to death. Which would you prefer in the long run, three corpses - or only one?"

      "You can't mean that."

      "It is a choice I have made in the past."

      She stared at him in horror. "But-"

      "Wait." He held up a hand. "Further contact."

      "What do they say."

      He stared at the screen, then he turned and looked at her, smiling a patently false smile. "They suggest we hold our breath."

      "What! They can't..."

      "The suggestion is that we shut off our air periodically, for two or three minute intervals. We bleed off the air from the fourth suit, divide it evenly, and move around as little as possible. They will shut down everything they can and try to get here sooner."

      "But that could work, couldn't it?"

      "Perhaps. It is not a risk I am inclined to take."

      "What else - I can't kill Galt."

      "Galt sold us to Servalan."

      "He also warned us she was coming."

      "I don't intend to reward him for that." He frowned. "Wait. Another message." This time he was silent a long time, then he drew in a deep breath and turned abruptly. "This should please you."

      "I'll welcome good news. What is it?"

      "Servalan is on an intercept course with us. By all accounts, she will arrive before Jabberwocky. If we change course, we will delay rescue and the air will run out. It seems we have no choice but to meet her."

      "But she won't know it's us," Dayna burst out. "She'll think we're a derelict or something."

      "A derelict going at top speed away from Tabora? A derelict from which a distress signal went out." He shot her a disgusted look. "My folly. Without that signal, she would likely ignore us."

      "I should doubt that. She's too suspicious. Though she wouldn't expect to find us in a ship like this, she might expect us to discover Galt's betrayal and try to escape before Jabberwocky returned." She smiled suddenly. "She won't be expecting us to know she's due."

      "Small advantage that gives us."

      "More than you'd think." She grinned. "I should have had them build a weapon into my hand like Travis had. But I can make do without it. You won't deny me a chance at Servalan, will you, Avon?"

      "Servalan?" Hugh dragged himself onto the flight deck, holding the breathing mask in place. "What the hell happened? My head feels like it's splitting apart."

      "A little shortage of oxygen," Avon informed him with a too bright smile. "Get used to it. It is a substance which we must learn to deal without."

      "What do you mean?" Hugh collapsed into the pilot's chair. "We're at top speed. Where...? Rendezvous with Jabberwocky?"

      "Yes, twenty minutes after we run out of air, since Dayna made the mistake of reviving Galt. Without him we just might survive."

      "We can hardly kill him."

      "Morality. I should have expected that from you." He shrugged abruptly. "In any case, that won't matter. Our other... option is equally charming. Servalan. It seems she will find us first."

      "I liked it better unconscious," Hugh muttered. "Anything else I should know?"

      "Orac suggests we try holding our breath and hope that Servalan ignores us."

      Hugh gave a snort of laughter. "Useful as ever."

      "I suggest the both of you shut up," Dayna cut in. "And shut off your oxygen right now. I'll time it. Two minutes."

      They turned to her with identical expressions of resentment, but they both complied, leaning back in their chairs. She could tell that the two minutes felt more like twenty to them, and when they turned their air on again after the time was up, they both gasped like beached fish. She hoped that didn't defeat the entire purpose.

      "And we'll need to do that ten more times if we're to survive," Avon informed Hugh. "Get the last suit, Dayna. I want to check the interfaces and make sure we can bleed air into our systems without losing any."

      At least he was calling her by name. The crisis might prove beneficial in that one regard. People who worked together to prevent disaster often came closer together. Foolishly optimistic, but at least he was treating her normally. She hoped that as the air was spent, he wouldn't blame her for surviving when he was at risk.

      Surely there was some means of keeping Avon and Hugh alive short of murdering Galt. Of course Servalan was coming. If not for the risk to the others, Dayna welcomed the arrival of Servalan. For too long there had been blood between them. Maybe now she could do something about it. After all, there was air on Servalan's ship.

      Smiling a little, she took the gun Avon offered her and went to fetch Galt. It was time he started practising holding his breath.

      

      

Space Commander Servalan smiled to herself. She had been fortunate to pick up word of Blake and the others, word that she could keep to herself until after she captured him and his crew - and the mindship. Arpel didn't have to know a thing about it until she presented him with a fait accompli. He didn't know where she was right now, since her contact with headquarters had specified a routine sweep of the Seventh Sector. I'm coming for you, Blake, she thought with delight. And for you, Avon. I owe you both. The thought amused her and she didn't hold back her smile. The mutoid crew she had brought with her would not remark upon it.

      "There is a distress signal, Space Commander."

      "Ignore it."

      "But, Space Commander, those on board will die if we do not attempt to rescue them."

      "And I have ordered you to ignore it," she snapped out, pausing suddenly. "Wait. Put the vessel on the screen."

      The mutoid obeyed immediately, and a small glowing dot lit up, marking its proximity to the Tabora system.

      "Monitor its course and give me a projection of the length of time it has been in flight." She frowned a little, chewing lightly on her lower lip. She could risk ignoring no ship in this vicinity. If it had left Tabora Major - perhaps it contained one of Blake's people. Was it paranoia which made her suspect the possibility or simply a meticulous attention to detail? It was why she remained in ascendancy whilst Arpel seemed to stagnate. He was strong and could hold power a while yet, but she mistrusted him, and watched him carefully lest she go down with him when he fell. Instead, she would pick her way carefully through the rubble and replace him as the Supreme Commander. From there, it was only a short hop to the Presidency.

      "The vessel is a small scout ship, Commander," the mutoid reported, her voice flat and expressionless. "It is going at maximum speed on course 0 mark 457, and if it continues at its present course and speed, it will pass within 100 spacials of our present course in seventeen minutes. It left Tabora Major eight hours three minutes ago. While we cannot at this range determine the number of people aboard, the ship is small and could comfortably hold no more than three or four people."

      It had left Tabora Major on the night of the third day. She considered it. Wherever it was going, it was heading there fast. "Project its course," she ordered. "Are there any planets within immediate range?"

      "No, Commander. The vessel reports life support failure, notably oxygen. There is nothing within immediate range of the ship. Presumably the fault was not discovered until they were too far from Tabora to return."

      "Then why continue in such a hurry?" After consideration, she smiled. "A rendezvous. Are any other ships in range?"

      "Not presently, Commander."

      "Focus the extra range detectors along the vessel's projected course, and notify me the minute something comes in range," she ordered. "In the meantime, take us in slowly. Raise the force wall. It is possible we might be fired upon."

      "How close shall I go, Commander?"

      "I intend to dock with that ship. Contact the rest of the crew and see that they are issued arms. We will board that vessel."

      "Is this a rescue mission, Commander?"

      "Possibly," she replied. "Possibly not. If that ship contains only innocent victims of a space disaster, they will be taken to Tabora unharmed and the credit will come to me. If they are not innocent, then, of course, they will become my prisoners."

      "Do you expect Blake, Commander?" the mutoid asked in the same level voice.

      "It is too soon to tell." But she did expect, if not Blake himself, a member of his crew. Someone to use as bait. This could prove very satisfactory. "Contact the rest of the flotilla," she ordered. "Have them stand by. They are to follow us in but to maintain a distance of 1,000 spacials unless I send for them."

      If the damaged vessel were racing to rendezvous with the mindship, one ship apart from the others would seem a more tempting bait, and Servalan knew her presence on board the damaged vessel, or the presence of one of Blake's crew upon her own would be enough to hold the rebel leader at bay. He could hardly walk in and practice whatever mystical Auron technique he had used on her on Parais.

      When they were close enough to the ship to determine that it contained three life forms, she signalled the mutoid to open communications.

      "This is Space Commander Sleer responding to your distress signal. Prepare to be boarded."

      There was a long silence as if communications were down, then a familiar voice responded. "You are not welcome, Servalan."

      "Avon." Her smile broadened. "Is that you? I could have hoped for this. What is your problem? Might I be of assistance."

      "We have no need of your dubious assistance, Servalan."

      "Indeed? You have learned to breathe vacuum, then? A pity. I have always felt that you and I might deal well together. There are three of you on board, I am told. Which of the others are with you? Not Blake himself? I should doubt myself so lucky.

      "I mean to dock with your vessel, Avon. I know you expect rescue, but I doubt you can hold out so long. I know you, Avon. You value your continued survival. I am a better chance to you than running out of air. I doubt you will stop me."

      "I think perhaps I might."

      "Mutoids may be replaced easily. They shall board first. Oh, do be sensible, Avon. Once on board my vessel, you will have leisure to plan your escape. Remain where you are and you will die. Your corpse is of little value to me."

      "So I am to become trade goods? You don't expect me to welcome the opportunity of that."

      "Neither do I expect you to sacrifice your life nobly to save your companions." She gestured for the mutoid to take the ship in closer. "You will allow docking, Avon. You know you have no choice."

      "Perhaps not," he returned. "But consider this, Servalan. Allowing me on your ship is a risk that you may regret."

      "Oh, Avon. I do not think I will regret it." She laughed. "You see, for once, I have you completely at my mercy."

      The docking was completed without interference, and she went with a party of armed mutoids to the boarding tube, all of them wearing breathing devices. They went through first, fully ready to fight, though their orders, unbeknownst to Avon, were to stun rather than kill. They met no resistance and advanced, forming a protective circle around her, onto the flight deck.

      Avon awaited her there, accompanied by Tiver, the doctor, and by Galt, the man who had contacted her in the first place. At the sight of him, she drew back in surprise, then she nodded wisely as her mutoids disarmed them.

      "So this has all been a plot to lure me into a trap, has it, Avon? I think you will find that the trap has backfired."

      Avon gestured to Galt. "You are welcome to him, Servalan. He meant to betray us, but he recognized you and panicked. So he came to us."

      "When?" she asked.

      "Three days after Blake left."

      "So." She turned to Galt. "You think to profit from me and betray me at the same time. You are useless to me now."

      "I warned you, Servalan. If not for me, you wouldn't have these prisoners. I knew you would be coming, so I sabotaged the air on this vessel."

      "Thus risking yourself? You are lying to me. I don't believe Avon would have trusted you enough to let you anywhere near anything vital. But you are a devious, lying man. I have no further need of you." She gestured to a mutoid, who raised her gun and coolly shot Galt before the man could do more than babble a frantic protest. He fell over sideways, and Avon, who was beside him, reached out and shut off his air supply. Ever a practical man, Avon.

      "What of the android, Avon?" Servalan asked. "Did he lie about the construction time as well. Is the android aboard?"

      "I preferred to save my own life," Avon replied coolly. "What would be the point of bringing along a non-functional android? Search if you like."

      She gestured to the two male mutoids, and they went off to examine the small ship.

      They did not return.

      Servalan frowned as time passed. The longer it took, the more likely the mindship was to arrive and endanger her.

      "There was no way to activate the android, was there, Avon?" she asked uneasily after ten minutes. There had been no sounds of gunfire.

      Avon pointed at Galt's body. "That is the man who understands android construction. Put your question to him."

      She raised a hand to slap his face and at the last moment drew it back without touching him. Instead she took one of the mutoid's guns and pushed it up against Avon's temple.

      "You. Dr. Tiver. As a doctor, you are no doubt a compassionate fool. You will answer my questions or I will kill Avon."

      "I should doubt that," Tiver replied coolly, meeting her gaze with a stubborn glare. He was really quite decorative, she thought, enjoying the challenge in his blue eyes, the smooth curve of his cheek, the tousled hair. She wondered how well he could be retrained, programmed. A personal physician one could trust completely would be a decided advantage.

      Withdrawing the gun from Avon's temple, she traced it caressingly down the side of Tiver's face. "Yet you care about your friends. Surely you can see that cooperating with me is the best way to make them safe."

      "I can see you think me a fool," he returned. "I've known Avon some time. Don't you think I've learned a few things from him by now?"

      Two shots rang out and two mutoids dropped soundlessly. Servalan spun around uneasily looking for the source of the threat. Now she had only two mutoids left.

      "You will put down your arms," a familiar voice called out. "If you do not, I will kill Sleer. Do you understand. I will kill her."

      The mutoids looked at her for orders, and Servalan nodded reluctantly. "Yes, you fools. Put your guns down." She set her own aside, relieved to remember the small one up her sleeve. It might yet be useful.

      "We are disarmed, Dayna," she called.

      It was Dayna, alive after all. She strode onto the flight deck, eyeing Servalan with feral pleasure, her gun pointed unerringly at her target. "Now, Servalan," she said. "We will remember my father. I threatened you at the Teal-Vandor Convention, but I could not kill you then. There is nothing to stop me now, is there."

      "You have no breathing device," she burst out. Was this an android after all?

      "No. The air has filtered in from your ship by now. The boarding tube is open." She bent over Galt, removed his breathing device and fitted it over her nose, hanging the oxygen tube easily over her shoulder. Servalan watched her chest rise and fall as she breathed.

      "It's all been a trap," she burst out. "You lured us in for the oxygen."

      "Ordinarily, you'd be the last person we'd be glad to see," Tiver told her. "Your timing was excellent. We would have welcomed anyone, but it's even more satisfying to have it be you."

      "Even if it meant the death of your cohort?" she asked, gesturing at Galt's body.

      "He was no cohort, simply an opportunistic little man who was too dangerous to leave behind," Avon retorted. "You spared us the effort of killing him."

      "Avon was all set to kill him and use his oxygen," Dayna replied. Her gun had never wavered. "Why don't I kill her now, Avon?"

      "Why not indeed?" she asked. "I have other mutoids on my ship, and it is not my only ship. Avon, I fear you have overreached yourself this time."

      "I think not," Avon replied. "Your mutoids are dead, and you are a hostage. Contact your ship and order them to leave. If they come within firing range, you will be the first to die. Hugh, collect their oxygen."

      The doctor got up, careful not to come between Dayna and Servalan, passing Avon one of the breathing devices. Avon replaced his own immediately.

      "Get rid of them," Avon ordered, gesturing at the remaining two mutoids.

      Dayna shot them. Servalan noticed the doctor's surprise, but then mutoids were considered expendable the galaxy over. Servalan could replace them easily enough. But the doctor's reaction intrigued her and she watched him sideways. Was he the weak link here, her means of escape?

      When he pulled her over to the communications station, there was nothing weak in his grip. "Tell them to back off," he ordered firmly.

      She turned from him to Avon and Dayna, who were regarding her relentlessly, and shrugged her shoulders. She had always known when to cut her losses, and this was the time. Her survival now gave her the option to try again later. So she ordered her ship to join the other two, and the three of them to hold position until she gave the order to change. Being a mutoid, the pilot did not question the order, but simply replied, "Yes, Commander."

      They monitored the undocking, then Dayna took her by the arm and guided her to a position away from the controls, bound her arms together in front of her, and sat nearby, her gun propped across her other forearm, watching her steadily.

      "What will you do with me?" asked Servalan.

      "Hold you hostage," she replied. "To keep your ships at bay." A smile curled her lip. "Be grateful for that, Servalan. Otherwise you'd be as dead as your mutoids."

      Servalan shifted position until she could feel the little gun pressing against her arm just above her wrist. She would need only one moment of distraction to turn the tables.

      

      

"Coming into range now," Tarrant reported over the comm. "We're powering up the teleport, Blake."

      "Ready." When a green light lit on the panel before him, Blake removed his breathing apparatus and set it aside. He gathered up a collection of bracelets and stowed them in the pocket of his vest. "I'll teleport over and bring them back."

      "We've been picking up ships at the edge of our range," Tarrant cautioned him. "Orac says they're pursuit ships. They're just sitting there. We'll contact Avon and see what he knows about them."

      Blake waited, ready to set the coordinates for teleport, but after a moment, Jabberwocky spoke to him. "I'll set the teleport, Blake, and take you over. They're alive and well, and they have Servalan prisoner. Her ships are ordered to stand off. Once we've got our people back, we can run, and we'll have enough head start to leave them behind. This is fun."

      "Fun," muttered Blake in disbelief, recalling the tensions of the past hours when he feared they might arrive too late. Now it seemed that they hadn't. Avon and Hugh were alive, and Dayna was functional. Servalan a prisoner? That would be an interesting story.

      Then there was the problem of Avon. Had Avon adjusted to Dayna? Would he come back? Or would he simply ride along to Ryalon, collect his son, and leave again? Blake clenched his hand into a fist around the bracelet he'd picked up for Servalan. He had no way of knowing.

      "You're sure Servalan's restrained?" Blake asked. "I don't want to trigger something when I teleport."

      "Orac has verified it," Jabberwocky replied. "Relax, Blake. And stand by. You'll be going over very soon. Ready?"

      "I'm ready, Jabberwocky."

      "Then prepare to teleport." The control levers shifted position and Blake felt the momentary disorientation of teleportation. The flight deck of the other ship came around him and the first thing he saw was Servalan glaring at him.

      "Blake," she greeted him coolly. "I've been waiting for you."

      "And hating every minute of it," Dayna told him, standing up to greet him. He was momentarily disconcerted at the sight of her, looking so normal. Her expression was partially masked by the breathing device she wore - not necessary, surely. Perhaps it was to deceive Servalan into believing she was still alive and not an android. Time enough for that later, when Servalan was locked away.

      But it meant he couldn't greet her as he'd meant to without giving her away. Instead he smiled at her. "It's good to see you, Dayna."

      She smiled in return. "Your timing is impeccable. We have a little oxygen left. Servalan was kind enough to bring us enough to last."

      Servalan looked as if she were gnashing her teeth. Blake noted her bound wrists before he turned to Avon, who was standing beside Hugh at the pilot's station. They sometimes forgot that the doctor was a competent pilot as well.

      Avon's eyes were dark and his face gave nothing away. "Blake," he said in a greeting that told him nothing.

      "Avon. This ship was a good idea."

      "Well now, I wasn't prepared to wait for trouble." He gestured at Servalan. "It has a way of finding us, and I preferred mobility."

      "What went wrong with the air?" asked Blake, glancing around the flight deck, noting the mutoid bodies dragged off to one side. Evidently they had not wanted to waste oxygen taking the mutoids to an airlock and spacing them.

      "This ship is a piece of junk," Hugh retorted with a sideways grin at Avon. "It looks good, but it's cheap. There wasn't time for more thorough checking."

      Avon flashed him an irritated look in response. "As I informed you, this vessel was a contingency plan."

      Blake handed him a bracelet and passed a second one to Hugh. "Then we can leave it behind easily enough."

      "Did you bring Servalan a bracelet?" Avon asked as he fastened his own around his wrist.

      "Yes. I brought several spares." He hesitated, then gave one to Dayna. The problem of her teleporting was still unsolved, but she took the bracelet and fastened it round her wrist without lowering her gun. Catching his eye, she looked a question at him. He was awed that an android could manage such expressions and that they would so closely duplicate Dayna's. She was Dayna, he reminded himself, for all intents and purposes.

      Hugh slid over to stand beside Dayna, and Blake wondered if he could bring her along by gripping her arm as they teleported or if it would take more than that.

      "And a bracelet for you, Servalan," Blake added. "You'll find our hospitality isn't everything you could wish, but we'd prefer not to leave you behind where you could warn your ships to pursue us."

      "You expect me to put it on like this?" She held up her bound wrists in a graceful gesture.

      "You'll manage," Avon snapped unsympathetically.

      She fumbled with the bracelet, and Blake turned back to raise his own. "Right, Jabberwocky," he announced. "We're-"

      He didn't see what Servalan did, but he heard Avon's sudden cry just as a shot echoed through the flight deck. Something struck Blake's shoulder and he fell backwards, aware of a flurry of action as the darkness claimed him.

      

      

As Blake raised his bracelet to call the ship, Avon saw something slide free of Servalan's sleeve, and he let out a wordless shout of warning, jumping forward too late to stop her. Blake collapsed without a sound as Avon reached Servalan, wrenched the gun from her hand and flung her backwards into her chair. He was hardly aware of Dayna crying out, pulling her shot with her new lightning reflexes as Avon cut between her and her target. Without even thinking, his hands went round Servalan's neck, tightened.

      He relished the raw panic in her face as he squeezed. Her fingers clawed helplessly at his wrists as she tried to pull free, but he had had enough of her. Her slender throat was no match for the strength in his hands. She would die, as Blake...

      "Avon, no!" Someone was pulling at him, jerking him free of her, first one hand and then the other. He resisted, but whoever did it was too strong to fight. His grip loosened and Servalan sagged back on the couch, dazed and gasping, her respirator making choky sounds as it struggled to catch up with her. She tried automatically to draw in breath through her mouth but the respirator fitted to the nose and for a moment, she writhed in panic until she caught the rhythm of it.

      "Damn you, Dayna," Avon snarled. "Let me go."

      "No," she returned stubbornly. "I want her dead as much as you do, Avon, but not like that."

      "You meant to shoot her yourself," he ground out.

      "I know I did. But it would have been a defensive movement. I couldn't let you do it, not like that. Besides," she added ruthlessly, "it would have been too easy."

      There was something in what she said. Avon turned abruptly, jerking himself free of her grip, and knelt opposite Hugh, who was bent over Blake. Blake was sprawled clumsily on the deck, his face gone pale, his breathing ragged, a nasty wound in his left shoulder. But he was alive. For a long moment, Avon stared at Blake, muttering a choice curse. The man was a walking magnet for trouble. He wasn't fit to be out alone.

      "Hugh?" Avon asked in a low tone.

      "He'll make it. It's not that serious, though I'll want him in my surgery as soon as possible. There's some nerve damage, easy enough to fix. Call for the teleport. I don't think Blake got through."

      Avon turned to Dayna. "We're prepared to teleport. How do you want to handle it?"

      Dayna's eyes never left Servalan as she knelt beside Avon. "Take my wrist," she said in an undertone. "You too, Hugh. I think that might work."

      "And if it doesn't?"

      "Then come and dock."

      Avon glanced over his shoulder at Servalan, who lay against the couch, her face a funny colour, her laboured breathing doubly loud as the respirator struggled to match its pace. She was in no fit condition to fight them now, and her bracelet was intact. She would present no threat.

      He glanced back at Blake, who looked no better. A rough patch covered the wound - Hugh had not fortified himself with a medical kit before leaving Jabberwocky, but he always carried first aid supplies with him just in case.

      Now he finished fastening it into place. "Ready," he said, curling his fingers around Dayna's wrist. His other hand lay upon Blake's chest, whether to monitor his heartbeat or to hold him steady Avon didn't know. Blake's unconscious face drew and held his eyes. He would have harsh words with Dayna later about stopping him killing Servalan.

      But that was for later. Now he took her wrist in his hand, activating his bracelet with his other hand. "Jabberwocky, we've had trouble. Get a med table to the teleport and tell Soolin to stand by with her gun."

      There was a momentary touch of linkage as the teleport activated and Avon knew it was enough for Jabberwocky to warn the others what had happened. They materialized in their own teleport section, where Vila sat behind the control console. He had a gun lying beside him and he picked it up as soon as they solidified.

      Avon glanced around, pleased to find that their precaution had been enough to bring Dayna with them. He loosed her wrist before Vila could comment.

      Vila's face held a myriad of conflicting emotions. He probably wouldn't have noticed if Avon had brought Dayna back by carrying her in his arms.

      "Dayna," he exclaimed with every trace of delight. "You're just the same. I-" he saw Servalan lying behind them on the platform and his mouth dropped open. "Is she dead."

      "Regrettably no," Avon snapped.

      "Is - is Blake?" Vila's voice quivered a bit, and he came over to look down at Blake in alarm.

      "No, he's not dead, and he's not going to die, Vila. Where's the damned med table?"

      "Give them time, you just asked for it," the thief replied. He tightened his grip on his gun and went to look at Servalan. "Somebody's been choking her," he observed dispassionately.

      Avon glanced at the darkening marks on her throat. As if she realized, her hand went up to her neck and she glared at Avon balefully.

      "Pity you didn't finish her," Vila replied. "Here, they're coming now."

      'They' proved to be the rest of the crew charging into the room like a herd of maddened cattle. Jenna cried out in alarm when she saw Blake, but she was steady when she helped place him on the table. Soolin, cool and competent, levelled her gun at Servalan and ordered her to her feet. "Come along, Servalan. We're going to lock you away for a bit."

      Servalan staggered. "Leave me alone," she rasped. "I can't stand."

      "Then crawl," spat Avon. "Get her out of my sight."

      Soolin dragged her off remorselessly.

      The whole scene shifted to the medical unit, where Hugh took Cally as assistant and shut the rest of them out. A few crises ago, Vila had dragged chairs from one of the rest rooms and lined them up outside the medical unit in preparation for just such a time and Tarrant had come along later and bolted them into place. Now the crew sat there, Tarrant sliding into linkage to get the ship away. He pulled some of the others in, Vila to man weaponry, Soolin, when she returned from locking Servalan in the cell, Jenna, more to keep her mind occupied than anything else. Drawn in too, Avon suspected the same thing was intended for him.

      Servalan's ships were still standing by. Perhaps the mutoid crews lacked the initiative to pay heed to a ship that never approached the vessel they had been warned away from. Another ship was approaching them, but it was still distant. //It could be trouble,// Tarrant decided. //Back to base, Jabberwocky. Top speed.//

      //And record everything you can on the new ship,// Avon instructed.

      When they dropped out of link mode, Avon realized Dayna had been in with them. She had felt a little different than before, but not so different that it had alerted him. He glanced at her, sitting across from him talking to Soolin, who was regarding her with some degree of wariness. Tarrant was beside her, his eyes never leaving her. As if she sensed it, she turned to him and gave him a smile. "Hello, Del."

      "You look just the same," he said.

      "I should. I may choke the next person who says that." she broke off abruptly and glanced over at Avon.

      "You reserve the privilege to yourself?" Avon asked her sarcastically.

      "I couldn't let you kill her in cold blood," she insisted as if none of the others were present. "As much as I wanted her dead myself, it would have been wrong." Suddenly she smiled, a smile full of mischief. "Besides, Blake would have been furious."

      Avon could have done without the reminder of Blake, but he knew she was right. That was never Blake's way.

      "He'll be all right, Avon." Oddly enough, it was Tarrant who offered this comfort. "Hugh said so. If he could help me when I was much more badly injured, he'll have no trouble with Blake."

      "I'm certain you're right," Avon returned noncommittally.

      Beside him, Jenna rose and began to stride up and down the corridor. "I should be in there."

      "Sit down, Jenna," Soolin urged. "Don't you think Hugh would have you in there if it was really serious?"

      Jenna threw her a what-do-you-know look, her eyes unfriendly. Soolin took it without resentment, her own face calm.

      "I know Hugh," she said. "He took Cally because she's the best at backing him. She had some training as a field medic on Saurian Major. Come and sit down."

      Jenna's resentment ebbed away and she returned to her seat, though her fingers began a nervous dance on the arm of the chair. "I loathe waiting," she burst out.

      "How are you, Dayna?" Vila cut in, turning to the android. "I don't dare tell you you look the same, but it's good to have you back. Did you miss me?"

      "Not if she had any sense," Tarrant retorted automatically.

      "We missed you," Vila plunged on. "It's nice that you can teleport. How did you manage that?"

      "Avon and Hugh held my wrists."

      "It will be necessary to deal with that particular problem in future," Avon heard himself saying with some surprise. "I am not certain without study that the teleport can be modified, but it is possible. I shall put Orac to work on it. A rather pretty problem. Orac might even enjoy the challenge."

      "And if it doesn't work?" Dayna asked him.

      "Then I shall arrange for Hugh to culture a tissue that can be worn around your wrist when you teleport, to convince the device that it is in fact transporting living tissue."

      "That's a good idea, Avon," Vila cried. "I never knew you had it in you."

      "The list of things you never knew would fill several catalogues," muttered Avon.

      "I know more than you think," muttered Vila, but his eyes were twinkling. Suspecting he was ready to say something outrageous, Avon rose hastily.

      "Where are you going?" the thief asked him with some alarm.

      "To get cleaned up and change. Then I shall go to the flight deck and investigate that ship. It could yet endanger us, something none of the rest of you have considered."

      "But Blake..." Soolin objected. It was plain that nothing short of a solium bomb would move her from her position.

      "If you can tell me how my sitting here would matter to Blake one way or the other, I shall consider it," he replied and stalked away.

      

      

"I knew it," Vila exulted as soon as Avon was out of earshot. "He's going to stay. I know he is."

      "Blake's still in surgery," Jenna objected. "Yet he doesn't even bother to wait."

      "He's not the type to wait outside the medical unit, Jenna," argued Vila.

      "Besides, he all but killed Servalan when she shot Blake," Dayna interjected. "He was choking her to death. I pulled him off. He's a little irritated with me about it." She smiled suddenly. "I'm a little irritated with me about it too. Perhaps I should have let him do it. But you can never tell with Avon. He can do things like that but they don't sit well with him. I don't think he's ever really come to terms with killing Anna Grant. And there's something between him and Servalan."

      "Yes, hatred," Soolin volunteered.

      "Hatred - and something else," Tarrant corrected. "His loyalty is to us, but I think he's attracted to her. It's nothing he would want but we can't always control such reactions. I think you were right, Dayna, even if it means trouble later."

      "Thanks, Del."

      Vila grinned a little. He had no trouble accepting Dayna this way. Now it seemed that Tarrant could do the same. He'd always been sure of Blake's acceptance of her. Blake had a big heart. Soolin and Jenna were conversing normally with Dayna, and even Avon had spoken to her as if she were Dayna and not just a machine. Maybe she was a machine but she had Dayna's memories and Dayna's emotions.

      "Dayna..." he began.

      "Yes, Vila?"

      "How was Avon with you on the other ship?"

      "Difficult at first, then when everything started going wrong, there wasn't time for that. He was much more natural during the crisis." She looked around at everyone. "You've all been..."

      "Perfectly wonderful," Vila said quickly before everything became too sentimental. "After all, we're wonderful people. I know I am, and it takes one to recognize one. Mind, you, I always-"

      "Oh, shut up, Vila," Dayna burst out.

      "Good advice, Dayna," Tarrant replied. "I think some of us should go to the flight deck. I'll go if you want to wait, Jenna. Soolin, you stay too."

      He gathered up the rest of them with his eyes, and they headed for the flight deck. Vila went along without more than a token protest. He didn't know how long it would take Hugh to complete the surgery, but Jabberwocky would alert him the minute it was finished.

      

      

Cally found Avon asleep in his quarters and crept in softly to sit beside him on the edge of the bed. Though she was tired herself, she had things to do before she could sleep. For a moment, she just watched him sleep, noting the way his hair fell forward across his forehead. She had been glad when he had resumed wearing it the way he had done on the Liberator. It made him look younger. As he slept, he looked even more youthful, the hard lines easing, the wary defensiveness fading. Her presence had not roused him and that gratified her. He had recognized her in sleep and did not consider her a threat.

      Cautiously she stretched out her hand and lay the palm against the side of his face. He half started up only to relax again when he saw her. A wary look filled his eyes and she banished it quickly. "Blake is fine. The surgery went well."

      "I should have expected nothing less," he said as if he hadn't worried at all. "Hugh is good at his work."

      "I hated waking you, but I thought you'd want to know."

      He nodded, sitting up and running his hands through his hair. He was usually so tidy and buttoned up that she cherished the few rumpled moments when he awoke from sleep. He still looked exhausted.

      "I... owe you an apology," he said after a silent moment.

      "For leaving without telling me?" she asked. "That was almost a reassurance, Avon."

      "A reassurance?" he echoed doubtfully.

      "I thought you'd have told me if you meant to leave for good."

      He digested that. "Perhaps."

      "I've been speaking with Dayna," she admitted. "I know it will never quite be the same for you, or perhaps for any of us, but we have achieved something we had believed impossible. Now that Dayna is here, none of us want her to leave." She took his hand and squeezed it. "But neither do we wish to lose you. Vila said you were trying to find ways for Dayna to teleport. He said he was sure you meant to stay."

      He grimaced. "I didn't give him leave to discuss me." She knew it to be a token protest. After a moment, he pursed his lips, considering, then shook his head impatiently. "I doubt Blake would let me go. He never has."

      Like Anna? She didn't speak the words aloud, but perhaps he sensed them with his telepathy, which was rather different from her own. He put his arms around her. "Or you," he added more gently than usual. He kissed her then drew back. "Forgive me, Cally, but I fear I am too sleepy to enjoy your welcome home right now."

      "Then sleep. I will come and alert you when Blake is awake."

      He muttered something that sounded like, "You needn't bother," that deceived neither of them, then he lay down again and shut his eyes. She stayed where she was until his breathing evened out.

      

      

      

Blake came out of unconsciousness as if swimming up from the depths of the ocean, feeling the pressure lessen as he drew nearer to the light. When it was close enough to touch, he opened his eyes and saw Dayna bending over him, a smile upon her face.

      "Dayna," he said with delight. "We're back, then?"

      "Safe on Jabberwocky and on our way back to Ryalon. We almost had a run in with Supreme Commander Arpel while you had your beauty rest."

      "Supreme Commander Arpel?" he echoed in dismay. "What happened?"

      "Servalan filed a report before she left that she intended a routine patrol, but apparently Arpel's smart enough to be suspicious. He followed her. While we were waiting for you to arrive, he contacted Servalan's flotilla and found out she'd ordered her ships off. About the time we teleported you back, he joined them and they came after us. They were fast - but we were faster. Avon warned them off, threatening to kill Servalan if they didn't drop the pursuit. Arpel said that an officer always knows he might be called upon to die in the line of duty and kept after us. But we outdistanced them easily enough. They know where we're going, of course, but they won't follow us back to base, and we're too close now to be cut off." She chuckled. "Tarrant and Arpel had a running argument."

      "What about?" Blake asked, putting an exploratory hand to his shoulder, which was throbbing dully.

      She took his hand and shifted it. "Leave it alone, Blake. They talked about your Cause, mostly. I didn't know Del had it in him. He reminded Arpel of his reputation for honour and asked how he could support the Federation and all it stands for. Arpel insisted he had taken vows of loyalty and that if the Federation had faults, they could be better changed from within.

      "Then Avon jumped in and said his argument would have more merit if there were evidence that Arpel was actually attempting changes, and that, with Orac, we could monitor Federation activity. He implied that Arpel was a liar devoid of honour. Arpel was furious."

      Blake couldn't help laughing, though it made his shoulder ache. "I can well imagine." What was harder to imagine was Avon arguing on behalf of his cause. "Then what happened?"

      "Arpel said our views were so twisted there was no arguing with us and signed off. Tarrant thinks he just may come around to our view one day."

      "The Supreme Commander? I should doubt it, Dayna." He pushed aside that unlikely thought and turned his attention to the here and now. "How am I?"

      "You'll be up the day after tomorrow," she said. "Hugh wants you to carry your arm in a sling for a day or so after that. But it wasn't really as bad as it could have been. Servalan's gun was so small it didn't have much kick. Anything bigger would have been found too easily. I'm furious with myself for missing it. I'm sorry, Blake. I think I'll need some time to accustom myself to being like this."

      "And you've some gaps in your memory. I know, Dayna. It's hard to start functioning again when you don't remember things that everyone else knows."

      "You went through it too."

      "I was fortunate. I remembered most of it. But now and then there are things just at the edge of memory, things I should remember, things I struggle to remember, things I never will remember. That's a large part of why I fight."

      She patted his good arm. "I know, Blake."

      "I never got to ask you how you were. Is it difficult? Do you need anything from us to make it easier?"

      "There are times when I think it will be impossible," she said frankly. "And times when it seems as if nothing is different. I know it will be. I know there are problems I haven't imagined yet. But there will be advantages too." She smiled a little. "Avon tried to kill Servalan."

      "What!"

      "He grabbed her and tried to strangle her. I stopped him."

      "Then she's alive. And he's here?"

      "Yes. We've locked her up. And Avon looks like he means to stay."

      "Then he's come to terms with you?" Blake asked hopefully.

      "Not easily. It's hard for him, maybe harder than it is for the rest of you because he felt my death. But I think he'll come round. He's planning ways to enable me to teleport."

      Blake received this good news with relief, then remembered something else she'd said. "He tried to kill Servalan?"

      "He thought she'd killed you. He wanted revenge."

      "I'm glad you stopped him, Dayna. I realize it would be to our advantage if she were dead, but not for revenge. That's their way. We aren't executioners."

      "I knew you'd say that. Avon's mad at me about it, but I can live with that." She broke off. "Or whatever the android equivalent is."

      "Does it bother you so much?" he asked gently. "Do you wish we'd never done it, that Orac and Jabberwocky hadn't designed the program?"

      She hesitated, her face grave. "No, I don't think I wish that, Blake, though there will probably be moments. I wasn't ready to die, but I don't know what problems I'll face like this. One of them is that I won't grow old like the rest of you. I've been thinking about that."

      "We'll help you all we can."

      "I know that. I think even Avon will. He linked with me on the other ship, and I could sense him wanting to offer healing. I wasn't ready for it then. Maybe I'll never be ready, and maybe it won't even work like this. It's hard to say. But if he could heal Jabberwocky, perhaps he can heal me."

      "At least it's an option."

      She smiled. "I was supposed to tell the others when you woke up."

      "Don't worry, Dayna," Jabberwocky cut in. "I already have. Avon's here, Blake. He might pretend he just happened by, but don't believe it. When I woke him, he dressed in record time."

      Blake and Dayna shared a satisfied smile, then she went over and opened the door. "Avon," she exclaimed in mock surprise. "Just passing by?" Her voice was full of mischief.

      "Just so," Avon replied flatly and pushed past her into the room. Dayna slipped out and the two men faced each other.

      "Well, Blake," said Avon at length. "It seems I owe you an apology."

      Blake cocked an eyebrow at him. "Apology?"

      "We missed Servalan's gun."

      "It was very small," Blake replied, adding as sternly as he could manage. "But be more careful next time."

      Avon drew back, looking startled, then a reluctant warmth invaded his eyes. "Jabberwocky informs me you will be allowed up tomorrow or the day after. We should be back at the base then, so I suggest you prepare yourself to turn down any more goodwill tours until Hugh clears you."

      "You can remind me," Blake replied. "Since you're evidently back to stay."

      "This is my ship," Avon reminded him hastily. "By right of design and knowledge. Orac is mine too. I refuse to leave you with all the advantage."

      "And you didn't want to go," Blake said fondly.

      "That's your sentiment showing."

      "Let it. Blame it on my wound if you must. I meant it when I said I'd leave with you. I wasn't trying to play the martyr."

      Avon hesitated. "It doesn't matter now," he said a little awkwardly.

      "And Dayna?"

      "What of Dayna?"

      "Will her presence be a problem?"

      "No more than the rest of you. She has a tendency to interfere in my business, but most of you excel at that, so why should she be different?"

      That was as close to acceptance as Dayna was likely to get from Avon yet, but it was so much better than Blake expected that he relaxed. With the tension broken, he was once again aware of the pain in his shoulder. Avon noticed - for someone who claimed no ties with anyone, he was remarkably good at noticing such things - and glanced at Jabberwocky's screen.

      "Jabberwocky, assess Blake's condition. Does he require a painkiller?"

      "Yes, Avon. I'll deal with it." There were tubes attached to Blake's arm, so presumably Jabberwocky could regulate the mixture to include something to dull the throbbing. After a few moments, he felt the start of a peaceful lethargy and he let his tensed muscles relax.

      "I've given him a sedative as well," Jabberwocky replied. "I checked it with Hugh. Sleep will do him good. That means you should leave, Avon."

      "I do not take orders from computers or disembodied brains," Avon returned with what seemed like genuine good humour. Blake knew there might be problems ahead: in fact there were bound to be. But they'd take them one at a time. He yawned and tried to ease himself into a more comfortable position.

      "Welcome home, Avon," Blake said sleepily.

      Avon muttered a reply that could have been anything, but he sat down in the chair Dayna had vacated, prepared to wait here until Blake fell asleep.

      Blake stretched out his good hand to Avon. He was almost asleep when he felt Avon clasp it.

      

      

Ryalon base and night watch. Avon sat alone on the flight deck, running checks with Orac. Mostly he was working on the teleport problem, but from time to time, he sat quietly, doing nothing more strenuous than relaxing quietly. It was odd, and disgustingly sentimental, but Jabberwocky felt much more like home than it had before. He would never admit it to the others, but having left and chosen voluntarily to come back, he felt that his place was really here.

      They had returned to base yesterday. Kyl had been waiting, eager to describe to Avon a program he had written to increase the power of the ship's shields. When he burst onto the flight deck, admitted to the ship by Jabberwocky, and saw Dayna, he had stopped dead, his mouth dropping open in stunned surprise.

      "Hello, Kyl," Dayna said. "Don't be afraid of me. Let me explain."

      "An android?" Kyl asked quickly, darting a sideways glance at his father.

      "Yes, but Dayna all the same," said Blake, who was half lying on the forward couch, his arm in a sling. "Orac and Jabberwocky wrote a personality program for her and it worked."

      Kyl's eyes lit with fascination. "I want to know all about it," he burst out. "This is fantastic. How close to the real thing?"

      "I am the real thing," Dayna replied, sounding irritated. "Don't think I'll turn you loose on my circuits."

      "Kyl," said Cally gently, "Their program became self-aware."

      His eyes widened still further. "Did you help write the program, Dad? This is fantastic. I can hardly believe it. Dayna, don't take me wrong, but I need a project for my graduation dissertation. May I write about you?"

      Avon astonished himself by laughing. "I should be wary of him, Dayna," he told her. "Knowing Kyl, he'll have you in pieces before dinner, and put you back together again working better than before." He caught Kyl's eye. "One certainly understands where he got his intellect."

      "Let's hope ego isn't transmitted genetically or there's no hope for him," Vila cried delightedly.

      Before Avon could threaten Vila for this slur, Dayna laughed. "All right, Kyl. As long as I stay in one piece, I'll work with you when we're in port. It's to my advantage to learn everything about myself."

      Remembering that moment now, Avon realized he could accept Dayna, though he knew that at times it would be more difficult.

      Servalan, too, must be considered. Blake had turned her over to Avalon when they arrived, suggesting she might be useful, perhaps in a prisoner exchange, possibly as a hostage. Avon doubted that Servalan would be of use in any context. The most likely possibility he could foresee was an escape, involving threat for himself and the rest of the crew. It was a pity Dayna had stopped him finishing her. He regretted that more than anything that had happened. But it was past and short of sneaking off to murder her, there was little he could do about it.

      There were, however, other things that might need doing.

      "Jabberwocky?"

      "Yes, Avon."

      "I want you to give me your word," Avon said in the most threatening tone he could manage, which was very threatening, "That you and Orac will refrain from meddling with any more unsolicited personality programs until further notice."

      Jabberwocky gulped audibly with pretended tension. "Yes, Avon. Whatever you say."

      


Rate This Story: Feedback to
Sheila Paulson

Selection Library Help

Back to B7 Top