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Anathema IV - Alone and Silent

By S.L. Koss
anathema (-nēth"-m) n., 4. One that is greatly reviled, loathed, or shunned. [Late Latin, an accursed thing, --

Scorpio sped through the coldness of space heading toward the only home its crew knew at present, the base on Xenon. Hole in its side and low on fuel, their speed was not optimal but it was the best they could do. After the usual complaints and accusations, the crew was at present silent. Avon quite liked it that way. He sat at his console contemplating the main screen which currently showed nothing but void, a perfect inner reflection. He had not bothered to argue that the reason for their impact with the asteroid was the fault of the old and unreliable systems of the ship, they would not listen if he did. They preferred to blame him when things went wrong, never give him credit when they went right, but they were bound to blame him for failures. He found it did not bother him nearly as much as it used to. There had been a time when he would have argued with Blake until they were both blue in the face over the slightest provocation. Blake was gone, Liberator was gone and he could not find it in himself to care whose fault anything was, the plague that was anathema was bound to catch up with him. He had named the program which wrested millions of credits from the Cartel system with a purpose, never expecting it to be the theme of his life.

A shudder rocked the less than smooth flight of the ship prompting the Slave computer to speak up apologetically. /Master, there is an unknown spacial disturbance just ahead of Scorpio disrupting flight stability. And there is a ship on direct approach!/

"Identify the ship." Tarrant ordered.

/Unknown configuration, it is heading directly at us and an adequate profile of the ship cannot be obtained to identify it. I am sorry./

"Never mind, put it up, Slave." Avon ordered, bored.

Everyone looked at the screen as an image appeared. The Liberator's crew recognized immediately the three pod configuration, though Soolin watched perplexed and a little frightened by the apparent size of the thing.

Avon reached over lazily to switch on communications, saying calmly. "Starfire, what is your business in this sector?"

The response which came was unexpected and curt, but Avon complied nonetheless. "Freighter, power down and hold position."

As the engines powered down and the ship came to a stop, Soolin turned to Avon in shock. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" She asked harshly. "What is that thing?"

Avon smiled eerily, folding his arms across his chest nonplused. "That is my son's ship." He said calmly.

"You're what?" Soolin asked, pulling her gun cautiously, as two figures congealed on the flight deck behind Avon and Tarrant.

"What the hell do you call this?" The Star Commander asked, sweeping the deck with the rifle he held, bringing to rest in Soolin's direction. "Put it down, woman or I shall take it from your body." He said authoritatively.

Soolin held her ground. She had never seen Felinians, though she had heard of the cat-like race. She backed up infantismally as Kai approached her. He carried no weapons, though knives were strapped to either wrist and golden hilts were evident in the both his knee high black boots. The cloak he wore over the unadorned black tunic was black, lined in white and black tiger fur, it reached below his waist to mid-thigh. He was taller than Soolin, though not nearly as tall as his companion. Straight black hair was cut neatly as his neckline. Black-lined triangular ears topped his head, their graceful angle matching the angle of his upturned eyebrows. He looked distinctly familiar and distinctly alien at once. As he raised a hand palm toward Soolin, his dark eyes caught her as the ironic smile reminded her unwittingly of Avon. He reached the other hand toward the gun in her now shaking hand. *Give it to me, lovely thing. I shall let no one harm you.* He sent effortlessly.

Soolin gasped at the voice in her mind as Kai curled a hand around her wrist, gently pulling the gun from it. He smiled, looking her up and down appreciatively. "It's called a planet hopper, Lord Commander." He said lightly. "In its present condition, that may be stretching it a bit." He added ironically.

Without putting his rifle down, Star Commander Giareth walked silently around to the side of Avon's console, resting a foot passively against it and bringing the rifle to bear on Avon. "Taken up trading now, thief? Does terrorism and theft no longer pay? When the Altas said you had flown your ship through a VanGellen cloud, I thought they must be mistaken. There are only four in the entire galaxy. I'm sure your computer was competent enough to advise you to avoid it."

Tarrant bit off a bitter reply, the subject was best closed and, whether due to the loss of the ship, or Cally's death, Avon had not been the same since.

Gesturing around him and disregarding the rest of the Star Commander's comment, Avon said flatly. "It generally operates sufficiently."

"Is that what you call it?" Giareth scoffed. "Barely perhaps. It is certainly not something I would attempt to orbit an asteroid in." He looked side long at Kai, growling. "Leave the woman, Majesty."

"Let go of me!" Soolin protested as Kai kept a firm grip on her wrist. She strained uselessly against him. Though light in frame, he held her easily, his smile changing from sardonic to appreciative.

"I like this one, Commander. She has fire. All the ones you have introduced me to were terrified of me." Kai answered, slipping an arm around Soolin's waist easily pulling her closer.

Giareth sighed heavily. "You have laterally hundreds of suitable Felinian, well-bred women of child-bearing age to choose from. I find it difficult to believe none of them is pleasing. Besides, once they get older and have had several children, they do not look so enticing anymore. Just what good is a woman if she is not terrified of you? You would have considerable trouble getting the proper respect from that one and you are not allowed to have a human!"

"She's a bit old for you, isn't she Kai?" Vila inquired sourly. "Besides, I don't think she goes for cats."

Kai growled instantly, though he tried to give humans leeway as they tended to say whatever was in their mind without thinking, he disliked immensely being called a cat, something Vila knew very well. He produced a rifle from under his cloak, pointing it at Vila who stared at the aggressive 10-year-old with wide eyes.

"Why must you invite death, thief?" Kai growled menacingly as Soolin, released, sat back down in a huff, picking her gun up from the floor and holstering it reluctantly.

"What did you up to, Kai?" Avon asked, ignoring with effort the Star Commander who towered over him quite purposefully as he sat. "I did not think you used the jump engines in Federation space."

"I don't." Kai replied easily with another warning growl at Vila. "There's no Federation presence in the entire sector, besides, I would not mind particularly getting into a fight with them, it's not as though they have anything that could challenge Starfire. I wanted to see if the reports the Alta's passed along about the destruction of the Liberator were true." He looked around disdainfully. "I take they are. Besides, the girls wanted me to give you a present." *Mother is worried about your stress level.* He added silently.

With a passive look at Giareth who enjoyed greatly his position and still held the rifle steadily, Avon said stonily. "She knows better than to analyze me."

"Apparently not." Kai said, strolling over to Avon's console confidently. He turned with hiss at Giareth. "Stand down, Commander."

Giareth considered him momentarily, a fleeting moment of challenge passing quickly as he saluted obediently, stepping back, keeping a vantage on the assembled crew. Kai stood curiously examining the control panel in front of Avon, turning to him imperiously. "Is this the best you could do?"

"It is what was at hand." Avon grated.

Kai shrugged and took his bracelet off, placing it on the console he depressed one of the buttons on it. Beneath the bracelet appeared a box, four red roses tied to the top of it. Kai reached for his bracelet and snapped it back on. He studied his father for a brief moment, noting the lines of stress the last several months had added to his face. *The next time things get too rough, call to me. I heard it when Cally died, but you made it impossible to send properly.* The dramatic swiftness with which Avon's eyes turned to stone told Kai the request would go unheeded, though he would not mention that to his mother or sisters.

"More confections?" Avon asked idly.

Kai smiled placidly. "I think they want you to develop a sweet tooth. It keeps them busy anyway and gives them an excuse to perfect their recipes." Kai took one of the roses, examining it thoughtfully. He watched Avon for a brief moment. "How many fuel crystals do you need?" He asked quietly.

"We have enough to get us back to base so long as we keep the speed down. It is clear we shall have to find other fuel sources." Avon said briskly.

Kai looked intently at Avon, calculating the route indicated. "And spend months in this crate?" He asked incredulously. It was certainly not something the crew were not used to, however. He turned to Giareth, challenging him to question. "Go across and see what we can spare in the way of fuel crystals, Commander."

Leaning against the bulkhead behind Kai, Giareth had a good vantage and clear line of fire. He looked at Kai and then at Soolin who sat glaring openly at him. He shrugged casually. "Commander Tarsia can bring them over." As he raised his bracelet to speak, a shower of sparks from the equipment behind him was all that gave an indication of the knife Kai had thrown far too quickly for anyone to see.

"Now Commander." Kai growled, daring him to respond. Meanwhile, Giareth had dropped to a crouch to avoid the knife, thus losing his tactical position. Touching a button on his bracelet, he disappeared.

Kai retrieved his knife from the wall, shaking his head at the broken tip. "I've ruined a perfectly good knife for nothing." He slid the knife back into the top of his boot, muttering. "He's getting all together too old for his position, yet still I underestimate him."

"How old is he?" Avon asked, wondering as he certainly did not look very old, but unsure of how Felinians manifested age.

"You didn't know?" Kai asked turning to him once more. "He and mother are what the Felinians call 'disparate twins', born at the same instant. It happens frequently among the same sex, but rarely between those of different sex. Ordinarily, he would have been banned from being able to bond to her. It creates and usually strong bonding and quite often an obsession on the male's part which can be dangerous. Little did the First One know that years ago on a trip with his father, Giareth saw her in the gardens, he has been obsessed ever since. Having killed all his brothers and his father, he was the only one left of his clan and the Counsel wanted a pairing between them enough to ignore their own precepts. She should have been safe as long as she stayed out of his reach. Returning to Felinian space put her back within his reach. Luckily, I have always been ten steps a head of him."

"Have you?" Avon replied darkly, making a mental effort to remember the man-child pacing the flight deck was only 10 and heir to more power than Avon could dream of, even for an Elite. The ship standing along side their own and dwarfing its rusting mass made that more than evident. Avon noticed several more plasma cannons had been added to the ship since he saw it last, a total of four on each pod section and five ringing the main section, a most formidable ship.

Noticing the same thing, Tarrant spoke up as Kai examined Slave's circuitry curiously. "You've enough armament on the that ship to destroy a planet. Do the Felinians have any plans to challenge the Federation? With such a fleet particularly at this time it should be a simple thing."

Kai closed and inspection panel and turned to Tarrant. "Ah, now the problem is, the Felinians are as much interested in their isolation as they are in any bids for conquest. As long as they are left alone, they don't see the Federation as a threat. I have no doubt that will change, especially when the Federation find out what comprises our fleet."

"It is unrealistic for them to believe that isolation will stay intact." Avon commented, looking intently at Kai for a moment. "There's something else, what is it? The Star Commander is entirely too over-protective of you, what does he want?" A question that Avon did not know the answer to, but he could feel an almost distinct wave of concern in the boy's manner. He had clearly sent the Star Commander away because he felt uneasy in his presence.

Kai turned from his examination of Slave's circuitry, brushing Soolin's eyes as if he could not bear to look at her again. There was a hint of sadness and clear frustration in his voice as he spoke. "I am not nearly as Felinian as they want me to be. Oh, it's not hard to act the part." He stopped just beside where Soolin sat, still watching him suspiciously, with effort, he did not look at her. "I trust I did not hurt you? One is to despise a female that does not know her place, if Giareth had gotten to you first, he would have killed you without a thought. They keep telling me I will learn to react on instinct and not on ration, but I really don't think I capable of that."

"That can hardly be considered a detriment." Avon commented dryly.

Soolin smiled slyly and reached for her gun once more. Before her hand was halfway, Kai had brought the muzzle of his rifle to bear on her head. *I do not need to make an example, do I woman? I trust you understand I am completely capable.*

Soolin shrugged nonchalantly. "You're instincts do not appear to need any improving."

Kai stared back at her harshly for a moment and then broke into a smile. "You're not afraid of me in the least. I am supposed to be turned on by a woman who is terrified of me. So far, I cannot seem to bring myself to be impressed by the fact they think I am a demon to them, an offense which desecrates their breeding protocol. Most often they faint at the sight of me."

"Why would they think you're a demon?" Dayna asked.

Ignoring the breach of protocol it was to speak without leave, Kai shrugged. "All Felinian literature depicts evil with dark features. It does not occur naturally in their people. Regardless of what they think of me, I shall have to find a way to accept a mate before I reach majority."

Majority for a Felinian was 12 years, but Avon was not aware that they were mandated to have selected a mate by then, the Star Commander for instance was quite a bit older than that and still without a mate. "Why the hurry, Kai?" He asked, intrigued.

"The minor branches of Clan Ranyanetha do not believe I am capable of producing an heir. Kai said, running a nervous hand through his hair. "If I don't, there will be clan war. Grandfather is not willing to give in to them and name another heir among his more distant relatives. Giarnetha will not get involved because they are still hoping for their Warrior Prince even if they have to wait until Alarayeth has a child."

"That would seem a rather long time to wait." Avon commented. "Giareth already had his chance, does he think he will get another?"

Kai glared back at him openly. "You did make it easier for him to entertain the possibility. Surely you're not foolish enough to think he would not for that prize encourage the Federation in their attempts to destroy you just to get a chance at mother again. I know, I watch him constantly and if I didn't, he would have been successful by now. He won't make the same mistake twice, she will give him a son. He has the capability to completely subvert her will and he will use it when he has to." Anger was palpable in Kai's every movement as he walked over to the wall, placing his back against the bulkhead and waited while Giareth reappeared before him.

Glancing about the deck sharply, the Star Commander said haughtily. "What we can spare is in their hold." He turned to Kai belligerently, saluting dutifully. "It is all we can spare, our fighters use those crystals and I am not about to put the ship at risk just because your sire finds it amusing to dodge asteroids with a junkheap."

"It should be enough to get us to base and then some." Tarrant said.

"Good." Avon said turning to Tarrant. "Go down and get it installed. Slave, prepare to place the operating systems at maximum." He ignored totally the perfunctory 'yes, master' turning back to Giareth with obvious disdain. "The next time I am in need of fuel crystals, I shall endeavor to remember your eminent wisdom, Commander, though I'm sure you appreciate my natural tendency toward suicide."

"Far better than you do, human." Giareth smiled ferally. "Come, my young Prince, though we are safe for now, Beta Farl is known to patrol this part of the sector and I don't want to draw their attention unless necessary."

They vanished without further comment and after a short time, Tarsia appeared bearing a piece of equipment. He placed it on the console before Avon dutifully, saying quietly. "It is called a Stardrive and should give you far better speed than you are currently capable of. Where the Altas got the technology, we do not ask, but we use them in our freighters and they are basically the same design." He stepped back, watching Avon keenly.

Avon glanced at it appreciatively, noting its connections would fit the Scorpio's main drive systems. He turned to Tarsia suspiciously. "Does Giareth think I need charity now?"

"He does not know." Tarsia replied softly. "Were the Federation to know of its' existence it would compromise our relationship with the Alta. Kai does not believe you would draw attention to yourself with it. Speed is one thing, but you lack the weaponry to do more than run from possible attackers, you had might as well run fast, the little ones will worry less." Without further comment, he left.

As the Starfire vanished, Avon watched the viewer skeptically, calmly devising a program which would allow Orac to notify him of any unusual interest in his activities by the Star Commander.


Malodar slipped effortlessly behind them as the minutes passed, but Avon's thoughts would not be placed behind nearly as easily. He sat before his console, feigning interest in some research Orac was feeding to his console. Vila sat on the other side of the flight deck, watching him mercilessly. At regular intervals, he would glance up at Vila just so he would know Avon totally understood his anger and did not care in the least, nor was he at all sorry. Ration suited him, it served him loyally and he was determined not to give in and let emotionality color his thoughts.

"Yes, but Avon you're slipping. I don't seem to recall you failing quite so often on the Liberator. Perhaps it's loss has effected your ability to reason thoroughly." The voice had been Blakes'. Avon closed his eyes, refusing to look beside him, he knew that Tarrant sat in the pilot's seat beside him and he knew Tarrant had not spoken. He rubbed his temples in agitation, opening his eyes and forcing the data before him to settle his thoughts. Avon swallowed hard, the figures before him refused to make sense, at present the numbers looked more like faces looking out at him.

"Avon, we've got another few hours before we reach base, maybe you should get some rest, you look like hell." The voice was definitely Tarrant's, but Avon had to fight vigorously against an unreasoning fear that he would look over and see Blake. He steeled himself with more effort than was usually required. He knew intuitively what to expect from his nightmares tonight, it would be bad enough without the thought of sleeping on the ship and waking up screaming. At least Tarrant was Tarrant as he turned to him. "I need to unwind, Tarrant. I don't think I could sleep about now."

"You know, if you had thought of it, I bet you could have jettisoned the oxygen tanks to lose enough weight, save yourself from stripping the shuttle clean. There would have been enough oxygen in the ship to last without recycling until we picked you up." Tarrant babbled on blithely.

Avon glared openly. He found it more than disconcerting that Tarrant had thought of a completely reasonable solution that had completed eluded him. He did not comment, hoping the pilot would realize he was in no mood for useless chatting.

"He had other things on his mind." Vila contributed bitterly.

Resting his head on one balled fist, Avon returned to making sense of the data in front of him. Dayna wandered over, placing a hand on his shoulder compassionately, feeling only echoes of suppressed angst he felt. "What went on over there?" She asked gently, not expecting an answer, but feeling the further tightening of his shoulder muscles instantly.

He looked at her somberly for a moment, wondering what it would take to make her go away. The periphery of his vision could easily see that Vila was paying close attention. "It was . . . stressful." He said shortly. "The tachyon funnel would have been useful, but at least we did not lose anything vital."

"HA!" Vila exploded. "Not for lack of trying anyway."

Finding it more difficult that he wanted, Avon managed to avoid the accusation in Vila's stare for the rest of the flight in a silence the rest of the crew had learned not to disturb. As they approached orbit, Slave spoke up apologetically.

/Master, there seems to be some unauthorized person present in the base complex./

"Just one, Slave?" Tarrant asked quickly.

/Um. It would appear there is just one, Sir./

"How did they get there?" Soolin asked.

/Unknown, Madam. The entry doors are all secured and have not been opened./

"Run scans of the base." Avon ordered, bored as he eyed the views of the base appearing on the screen before him. He was not surprised and nearly glad when scans of the crew room revealed a flame-haired woman sitting on one of the couches.

Dayna peered at the screen over his shoulder. "Alarayna? What's she doing out here alone?"

"I doubt the Starfire is outside of jump range tapped into the surveillance system. As for why she's there, your guess is as good as mine." Avon said sourly, deactivating the screen.

Scorpio settled uneventfully into its cradle below the surface of Xenon. As the hatches opened and the ship came to rest, Vila watched from his seat as the others did while Avon went over and snatched up Orac heading out the door briskly. Vila waited until he was out of sight before getting up to follow.

"Go home, Rayna." Avon said irritably putting the computer on its stand with resounding finality.

Alarayna looked at him calmly settling into the couch. "Did you want to bring me? Kai won't be back for at least three days. It would give us a chance to talk, it's at least a two day flight to Dartine from here, isn't it?"

Though not unexpected, Avon's response was a dark glare. As he stormed off for his quarters, he turned to Soolin. "Soolin, this is Alarayna, show the her one of the spare rooms."

Alarayna growled softly as Soolin turned to her, letting her know what she thought of being told what to do and where to go. She sat dejectedly on the couch, watching as Vila entered the room, favoring Avon's retreating form with a dark look of his own. "Vila. What's happened?" She asked, rising to put her hands on his shoulders, an unusual gesture as Felinians detested physical contact. It was far too personal a gesture to be taken lightly, though Vila tried.

"You would not believe me if I told you." He said dully.

"I wish that were so." Alarayna said softly. "Kai said he was worried about him, it is not like Kai to worry over nothing. Where are your quarters? I think you need some rest."

Vila looked at her in amazement for a moment before heading off towards his room, surprised to find her following, medkit in hand. She sat quietly in a chair beside the bed, listening intently, observing without comment the abundant body language more than listening to the words. He finished his story, trembling and as near tears as she had ever seen him. "I swear to you, Alarayna he was going to kill me."

After a long sigh, Alarayna turned to Vila once more, injector in hand. "I believe you, Vila. You need to get some rest."

"Rest isn't going to help." Vila complained bitterly. "I can hardly keep my eyes on the bastard all the time."

"Perhaps not." The doctor said, compassionately. "But rest will do you good, this much stress is not good for anyone." She paused, looking seriously at him. "If it helps at all, he knows he's crossed a line and I doubt he will want to get near it again."

"Thanks, doc, but that's really not much consolation." Vila murmured as she injected his arm and folded him in what she imagined would be a comfortable position on the bed. She shook her head uselessly, placing a small sensor on the table beside the bed. "Computer, I want to know when he wakes." She said quietly, making some adjustments to her portable scanner to interface the computer systems. Wandering into the crew room once more, she found Tarrant busily adjusting a piece of equipment he had brought from Scorpio, a part of the endless task if keeping the ship running. "I take it Vila will survive then? If he were at all a threat, I would put Avon's chances of surviving the week fairly low." Tarrant said congenially.

Alarayna sat down thoughtfully. "I see you don't miss much, though Vila does not think anyone will believe him. Are you space worthy?" She looked at the mass of wires and circuits Tarrant was busy nursing.

Tarrant sighed. "We can't afford to believe him. We live in close quarters unless you hadn't noticed. If we took time to think too much, I think we'd all go insane."

Slightly surprised, Alarayna looked hard at Tarrant. "You think Avon's crazy then?"

He looked up seriously from his work. "You know he's never been the same since Anna. Cally dying and losing the Liberator did not particularly boost his morale. Honestly, Alarayna, look around you. There is not a system in this base that does not rely on the computers. What choice do we have? He knows that perfectly well and uses it. Did you want us to bring you back home? Aside from a few blown circuits which is not at all unusual, Scorpio will fly."

"You're much more perceptive than you let on aren't you, Tarrant?" She said with a sad smile. "I do not hold out much hope it will do any good, but I do have to try. Kai will be back for me in at least three days. Vila will sleep until nearly then at least. Perhaps there is a short trip you need to make?"

Tarrant thought for a moment. "It's been a while since we made a supply run, that would take two days at least and if I do some searching, I could probably find of bottle of something that would lift Vila's spirits more than a few day's rest." Dayna and Soolin, hearing voices came into the room innocuously. "You girls up for a supply run?" Tarrant asked, nearly excited at thought of a few days away from their untenable leader.

"What about Avon and Vila?" Soolin asked perceptively.

"Vila's going to have a bit of rest and Avon's best left to someone more qualified. At least Cally used to be able to keep a lid on his more outrageous tendencies." Tarrant answered, closing the panel he had been working on.

"Sounds almost relaxing." Soolin commented dryly.

Dayna looked at Alarayna dubiously. "Are you sure you want to stay here? He's not likely to be happy about any of this."

"Don't worry about me." Alarayna answered with a smile. "Kai would not have left me without defense. In response to the proper word, the computers will totally shut down every piece of electronics down here. It's bound to get really dark without lights, not so dark I can't see but it does give me an extra advantage. I can even have Orac shut down telepathically."

On his way to the door, Tarrant turned at that. "I thought there was some sort of bomb that would go off if Orac were contacted via that route."

"There was, Kai removed it." Alarayna answered, grinning guiltily.

"Good luck." Tarrant said as they filed out.

Avon sat before the desk in is room, fuming. Whatever made the young Felinian think she could just come out of her hiding place and expect to carry on a conversation as if nothing had happened. No time had passed since he last banished her from his presence. After looking briefly over his unfinished projects scattered about in a disarray which was unusual for him, he stared interested in the screen before him which relayed various views of the base complex. He adjusted it to show only the crew room, watching Tarrant's work curiously. Though he could have audio as well, he decided he would rather not as Alarayna sat down to talk with Tarrant. As the crew filed out and his indicators registered imminent launch, he could have reached over to shut down Scorpio's launch system, but found himself reluctant, he stared instead at the unfinished projects on his desk. Absently, he picked up a circuit board and examined it intently. Normally, these things felt comfortable in his hands, familiar and understood. The harder he stared at it, the more it felt unfamiliar.

The voice of his father cut through his thoughts, unbidden and unwelcomed. 'Karia, you should not encourage the boy to take things apart, it does him no good. We have people to fix things. Focus his mind on something useful, profitable, not nonsense, not that piano you insisted I buy for him. It occupies time he could be spending on studies. Kyl would never have wasted his time on such frivolity.' Karia, his mother, had never tried to argue with Julian, it was useless and she feared he would do to the younger brother what he had to Kyl, thus destroying his life and potential. Little did she know he would do that quite on his own and very thoroughly as he did everything. His mother had told him he should pursue what interested him and not what Julian wanted him to pursue, but all that was dead and burned blacker than night, blacker than his thoughts.

She had encouraged his fascination with music, had understood the intrinsic math in the symphonies he played effortlessly from the time he was three, the very same music his deaf daughter sang over and over in her mind, never having heard it and without the possibility of ever doing so. Alli understood her twins' appreciation of the link between music and math, but Alli would be his in name only and he could not afford to think of her in any other way. Just as he could not afford to consider how much Rayvon looked like Karia. Karia was long dead, burned beyond recognition, silenced and it had to remain so. Kerr Nova had been emotional and it would have affected him, but Kerr Avon could not afford such luxury, it lead to death, that one fact he knew as well as he knew the circuitry in front of him. He put the circuit down carefully and rubbed at the building tension in his temples. His head hurt terribly and effort did nothing to calm him down.

"I can give you something for that headache." Alarayna said quietly. The fact that she was in the room did not surprise him particularly. She like all of her race could move with absolute silence. No doubt Kai had given her the codes to his door security system. He decided it was best to ignore her presence. Though he knew she would not leave, she was decidedly emotional and it was not hard to hurt her enough for her to know she was not wanted. He sighed heavily, wondering which of her vulnerable emotions to attack, finding himself reluctant yet again. Perhaps Blake had been right, losing Liberator had taken something from him, something he needed to survive. He would need to concentrate on getting it back.

"Do they only talk to you, or do you see them as well?" She asked calmly, knowing entirely the volatility of the contents of the box she opened.

An emotional argument was impossible to win with a telepath, so he tried something which worked equally well, avoidance. "Does it matter?" He responded heavily.

"You know very well it does and don't avoid the question. We'll be alone down here for at least two days." Alarayna watched him carefully, her medical training being her guide, she did not ignore a single nuance or unintentional movement.

"So you believe I am crazy, doctor? Did they send you down here to treat me or get me out of the way?" He spat, not bothering to look at her.

"I certainly did not mean to ambush you. Your son was worried and that is a rare enough occurrence to want to check it out. I know you want me to think you are crazy, that you want them to, but I cannot fathom the reason for it. You never do anything without a perfectly rational theory behind your actions. Maybe I'm deluded myself, but I thought you might want to share that with me."

Avon got up and turned to where she sat on his bed, cross-legged and casual, but no doubt able and ready to act when needed. He could not afford to trust her as he did not entirely understand her. Nor could he afford to want her though she was a most enticing young thing. Though she had ample natural defenses of her own, she would and could not harm him and he knew it. He crossed the small room easily to wrap one arm firmly about her waist. He took control of her lips commandingly, picking her up easily, laying her on the bed so that his legs had a firm and unbreakable grasp of hers. He waited patiently for her to calm down, exercising desire as if it were a strengthening routine. Eventually and with satisfaction that he had adequately made his point, he released her mouth, smiling victoriously. "If you insist on staying, I suppose I could find something useful to occupy your time."

She reached up to stroke his cheek appreciatively. "I won't ask if you know how frustrating you are when you're right. But you have been very studiously avoiding my questions, that may very well speak volumes you might not necessarily want it to."

He stared over her shoulder at the unadorned pillows which he rarely slept on, trying to remember her last question. His eyes went somber as he realized lying to her was not advisable and tantamount to admission of truth. He said quietly and eerily, staring down the ghosts of his past, denying their reality while he still could, knowing it would not always be so. The walls which had kept him so safe for so long were eroding, leaving huge unstoppable gaps. "They are all going to let me lead them to their deaths, Rayna. No matter how hard I try to convince them to distance themselves. I will get them all killed. Their blood is already on my hands." He was fully aroused and prepared to take her at the slightest provocation. One weakness was all it took and she had many, foremost her faith in him.

"If you truly believed that, you would have killed Vila, something stands between." She said, perfectly calm as yet and refusing to let her body respond to his despite her own long denied desire.

Nothing stood between them and he kissed her again, longer, so much longer he could barely stand keeping separate from her. She would not be put off easily and insisted, sending as her mouth was occupied by the object of her desire. He would certainly not be denied, but she was determined she would not be either. *There has always been blood on your hands, Kerr. Whose was there first?*

Thought thoroughly determined not to give up on his quest, however her questions were stirring emotions which did not make its acquisition easy and he knew it would become impossible if he did not put an end to her questioning. "Why ask? You're a telepath you know the answer already. What's the purpose?" He asked, conveying clearly his displeasure with her stubbornness.

She smiled, pushing him back infantismally but sufficiently. "Very often, in hearing your own words, you become aware of their absurdity." She relaxed still watching his reactions as he considered her request.

"You know very well it was my mother's." He said quietly as he let slip through the steel walls memories of a small boy whose world was crashing around him and of the helplessness he hated.

She watched the unexpressed sadness in his eyes compassionately. "And how rational is it to blame yourself still, you were a child. Against the might of Novacorp you certainly had no chance to change anything."

"I know." He said hollowly, allowing the release it gave to enable him to complete his quest over her half-hearted objections and even the knowledge that he had no contraceptives. "But, I'm hardly a child anymore." He said fiendishly. He found himself caring little about anything but his own very basic needs, the very ones which Anna had used against him. Alarayna would not, he realized guiltily, betray him without destroying a part of herself, the core which gave her meaning. Though he managed to tarry without sleep for hours longer than he would have imagined, it was the inevitable conclusion to the physicality of the too seldom indulged passion.

Sleep had hit him like a wave, Alarayna folded over him like a rag doll, twining his hand in her golden curls, he gave in to it. The images that assaulted him were not unfamiliar to him, it had become too regular and experience for him even to feel anything anymore. Dead bodies lay strewn about him, accusing him in unison. Though the heavy rifle he held was empty, the greater threat was yet to come and he tossed it, reaching for the gun in his belt. Before him, Servalan approached with her usual haughty aire. She kissed him soundly, taking his mind from the gun he was seeking. He looked at her strangely to find she already held it pointed at his head. Behind her dimly he could see Julian smiling in satisfaction, holding Kai firmly by his bound hands.

"You knew you would betray them, so why be shocked?" Cally asked in his mind. He turned from Servalan to look across the room. Giareth reached smugly for Alarayna's hand. She looked at him with tears streaming down her face, screaming. "NO!" He held her trembling body as tightly as he dared while she sobbed, until the tears went dry, perhaps she had no more.

Awakened quite precipitously, Alarayna turned a tear streaked and reddened face to his still and silent one, the harshness of resolve emanating from him, awake himself. "You're planning for that, aren't you? You've figured all the angles, left yourself back doors and hidden escapes and are waiting for it, aren't you?" She asked him accusingly.

Perfectly calm, he said softly. "It is far better to be prepared, is it not? I've always known, it's always the same dream, the players change that's all. The end is always the same. I die and I lose everything and everyone. I can accept that. I have to, I've been given no alternative."

The calmness in his tone disturbed her more than the dream had. She looked at him searchingly. "You're not that delusional, are you?"

He shrugged. "Maybe I am, Rayna. Maybe after everything it has just gotten to be too hard to do without a few delusions. Maybe I have reached the limits of caring. Existing and surviving are exhausting pursuits. I cannot hope to believe I will be able to maintain my grasp of them forever."

"I don't believe that your grasp on reality has ever been that tenuous nor is it now. You've successfully dealt with enormous stress in the past whilst holding tight to the sane side of the line. It would take unthinkable stress to break your hold She cannot break you, Kerr, she has tried too long and failed." She said, reaching over to stroke the line of his chin reassuringly.

"Would you have me accept the death of my entire crew?" He countered swiftly. "I'd like to think even I have my limits. I don't think I would want to make it through that one and you don't honestly expect me to believe that Vila did not know perfectly well that if I had wanted to find him on a stripped down shuttle, I could have. He will eventually convince the others and the first opportunity they have, they will desert me." He paused, hardening his resolve. "They must."

"Nicely reasoned as usual, but I do not think they will desert you, they know you better than you think they do. Your mathematical certainty is based on removing trust from the equation, it is not yours to remove, no matter what you do. You really did frighten him thoroughly though that is hardly difficult. In his more rational reasoning, he knows you would not have killed him. It's just hard to admit that especially to himself and he's not about to let you off the hook so easily."

"No doubt, he gets very little chance to be right. He will be sure to make the most of it. How long did you put him out for?" Avon asked, glancing at the portable computer she had put on the table beside the bed. "I think he's coming around." Reluctantly, he pushed himself up and out of bed, reaching for his clothes.

The doctor glanced over at the reading the monitoring results. "It will probably be an hour before he's entirely awake, I did not think it had been that long. You don't have to leave, I did not get the impression you were entirely finished."

"Did I say I was? Kai won't be back for another day yet, you're not going anywhere. Vila does not appreciate being in this place alone. There was some sort of creature in the lower caverns when we got here. Dayna blew up all the lower levels, but he still gets nervous, the last thing I need is for him to go on a drinking binge, he's impossible to deal with and very nearly useless to anyone."

"That's unusually charitable of you. I don't suppose you would consider apologizing since you're feeling so generous." She said with a smile.

"Generous, hell. I told you he's miserable when he's on a drunk. Just who do you suppose they get to drag him up the stairs from down below? He would not believe me anyway."

"Not now, I would doubt it. But, perhaps sometime later he may remember it just because of its unusualness, you never know. Don't forget, there's another day yet before Kai gets back, don't think I can't make myself scarce in a place this big."

He smiled slyly, leaning over to kiss her once more. "I'll think about it. Threaten me again and you will be sorry."

Alarayna watched without comment as he left, noting the weariness he would never admit to but which clung to his every move. She would without doubt prescribe a little sleep for him as well when he returned, whether he liked it or not. *Let him get it all out of his system. He's convinced he's going to be dead soon enough.* Kai contributed silently. Lacking the ability to send as back, Alarayna smiled and said under her breath. "That has been the plan ever since I've known him."

The crew room was empty as Avon had known it would be, he sat down dejectedly, examining idly the piece of equipment Tarrant had been fussing over. The thought occurred to him that the amount they spent on replacement parts could easily have bought them another ship. So far, he had managed to convince the crew that it made more sense for him to shift small amounts from other accounts into their own in an effort to avoid undue attention to the activity. The truth was, he still had the ability to raid Cartel accounts at will, a fact he was certain the financially strapped Federation had not forgotten. On checking the course readings on Scorpio's main system, he noted they had gone to the nearby commercial planet of Fraken, he asked absently. "Orac, was Tarrant able to get delivery on the circuit boards we ordered? Without them this is certainly junk."

/Shipment was made and delivered uneventfully. I might add that that particular piece of equipment is in far better shape than anything else aboard the Scorpio./

"Of course, the great embezzler could buy us a whole new ship if he wanted to if it did not do his ego good to be an irreplaceable asset to us." Vila's voice came bitterly from the other side of the room.

"Did you figure that out by yourself?" Avon returned sharply, stifling a smile. "The less we call attention to ourselves the better. Scorpio hardly looks threatening, it's the perfect cover."

"That's the problem, Avon, it's not threatening. I would not take much to overcome it, regardless of how fast it can go." Vila answered irritably, sitting up and rubbing his temples wearily.

"Ah, Vila, despite your confidence in my endless assets, even I cannot buy us a new Liberator. Like it or not, we have to deal with what we have. Personally, I would rather the Federation forget we existed, but is hardly seems likely." Avon paused, reaching into his jacket. He set a small bottle on the table before him. "Do me a favor and get rid of this for me, would you Vila?" They both knew it was the closest thing to an apology that would come from the tech, though Vila eyed the bottle suspiciously.

"Got arsenic in it or something?" He asked cautiously. He did not fail to notice the proffered gift was an unusually expensive bottle of hard to get brandy, but he was unwilling to let Avon know he did not consider even that an adequate apology.

Avon's eyes were void as usual, though irritated that he could not make a generous offer without protest from the thief. "It has not even been opened, you're welcome to inspect the seal on it."

"Then why would you want to give it to me? It must have been expensive." Vila protested, still eying the bottle greedily.

"I really don't know why I bought it. Brandy gives me an awful headache and I'm afraid I have quite enough of those lately." Avon replied rationally, if Vila could not accept booze as an apology, he refused to waste words. "It was expensive, absurdly nostalgic reflex I'm afraid. My father had a case of this particular vintage that he kept under his desk. I do on occasion give in to impulses which are less than well thought out and later come to regret, you can think of it as a weakness if you like." That was closer than Avon wanted to get to admitting he was wrong, but Vila astutely knew it was close as he would ever get. He reached out tentatively, his pride not letting him give Avon an easy out, but overwhelming his desire to make Avon suffer was his relish for such a treat.

"I get the same thing with Tardelian Ale, I understand. I might get drunk pretty fast on this stuff, but that doesn't mean I'll ever forget, Avon."

"I was not entertaining the idea you would." Avon said expressionlessly watching as Vila cautiously looked the bottle over with obvious approval. "You'd might as well give Scorpio clearance to land before you open it, though."

Vila got up slowly, hiding the bottle in his own clothes. On looking over the guidance controls on the panel before him, he could see that the ship had entered the system and would shortly be in range for a landing. He reached over automatically to key the communications. "Scorpio, all systems are green, you're clear for landing approach." He looked up briefly, fingering the bottle in his jacket almost lovingly, Avon had gone.

"It's about time you woke up, Vila." Tarrant answered, slightly annoyed. "I've been circling the system so many times I think Slave is getting dizzy. We're on approach vector."

The crew spilled presumptuously into the crew room as Tarrant walked over to program the off-loading equipment expertly. "I see you enjoyed your nap, Vila. You look better than when we left. I take it Avon's having a turn." He said companionly.

"He's having a turn at something, but I doubt it's a nap." Vila said with a grin. "That doctor is a sweet thing, but I do think she's determined to exhaust him. Mind you, I wouldn't mind going out with something lovely like that next to me. If he had any blasted video links to his quarters, we could watch. There aren't any by the way, I checked, links to almost every corner of this base, but none in his room."

"Shame on you, Vila!" Dayna exclaimed sitting down with a small package she had purchased at the trade port. "You wouldn't actually watch, besides, I'm sure they haven't been at it the whole time we were gone. He may be old, but he's not dead!"

"Just what do you think Avon is up to now?" Soolin scoffed. "That doctor is younger than Dayna. He's . . " Soolin puzzled, unsure of how to express herself in an acceptable way at least.

"Don't listen to Vila, Soolin, he's jealous always has been." Tarrant spoke up. "I'm sure Avon got a couple of naps over the past two days, anyone would have."

"Avon's not anyone." Soolin returned coolly. "From what I've seen of those Felinians, they're a horny bunch. Honestly, did you hear what that kid was thinking last time we saw them? How old is he anyway?"

"I think those thoughts were just for you, Soolin, he's never looked at me that way. How old is he now?" Dayna wondered turning to Tarrant who shrugged amicably. "Let's see the girls must be four by now, that would make him eleven or twelve at least. It's hard, they grow so fast."

"He'll be twelve in another couple of months." Alarayna said as she came in to join them. "By then, he should have his more aggressive thoughts under control, or at least I would hope so." She looked kindly at Soolin, who turned to her in surprise. "He was quite taken with you, though. I'm afraid the Star Commander will never let him forget it. The counsel would take all his titles if they knew he even thought of having a human."

"He's just a kid." Soolin objected, though the thought detested her, she had a difficult time thinking of Kai as a 12-year-old.

"But, fully matured, physically as well as sexually, at least by human standards." Alarayna said with a smile. "Controlling the hormones takes rather longer I'm afraid, that's why they receive their miliary training so young, they can be quite a handful without an adult male supervision around."

"Avon is sleeping then?" Dayna asked. "I take it you managed to improve his mood a little?"

Alarayna thought for a moment. The terminality of his thinking was not surprising to her but something in his normal line of reasoning had changed, giving her considerable cause for concern. "He won't sleep long if I know him. I am surprised how little soma it took, though. Anyway, rest is not what I'm concerned about. If I could count on him having a break from stress, I wouldn't worry. But that hardly seems likely. Although he has considerable reason to be, he's hardly paranoid at present, the lines are blurring though. Eventually, I am concerned that extreme stress situations may make it impossible for him to continue to rely on concrete logic. Once he begins to make decisions based on emotion, he is to say the least, unpredictable."

"Avon reacting emotionally is hardly a comforting thought." Soolin said somberly.

"Hardly." Alarayna answered with a smile. "I don't think you have anything to worry about. Right now he is planning at least ten steps in front of him, which is quite usual. It is the bend of his plans that bother me. His mind is overcome by contingency plans and backup plans ad infinitum. That's how he's always dealt with it, as long a he has a plan, an open door behind him, he feels comfortable. When the doors start closing faster than he can open others, that will be a different story. I did not get a chance to run any medical-psychological tests, he's not in the right frame of mind to get accurate results. I will come back in a couple of months and see how he's getting along though. Kai is keeping a close watch on him too."

"Why all the precautions?" Tarrant asked curiously.

"I'm not sure I can explain." Alarayna answered. "Not without giving away more than I feel comfortable with. But both he and Kai are expecting something to happen, what I don't know, but it's worth keeping an eye on. Even Giareth is more attentive than usual."

"Xenon base, this is Starfire." The audio channel announced unexpectedly. Tarrant got up to answer.

"Xenon base. What can we do for you, Starfire?"

"I'm on final approach." Kai's voice answered. "Is my mother ready?"

The doctor ran and impatient hand through her hair. "Kai, Why must you rush me so? I get to spend so little time with him, you know that." She was mildly annoyed but not surprised, she noted an unusual edge to Kai's voice.

"Sorry. I need to get the Starfire out of the sector as soon as I can. The Warlords have gone so far as to threaten me and I can't afford to let it lie. The best I can do, is to leave the Starfire in orbit on the other side of the sector and come out there with the freighter. Twelve hours tops and that's pushing it."

"Fine." Alarayna said dejectedly.

"Tarrant, I need coordinates for your surface entrance as I take it the Scorpio occupies the silo. I take it you have sufficient landing space down there for a freighter? It is roughly the size of your own, newer model that's all." Came Kai's reply.

"It's being sent to your computers now." Tarrant answered. "We've had to land Scorpio down there a few times when the silo hydraulics were on the blink, it's a short walk to the surface entry. If you need computer guidance to land, let me know it's pretty rough terrain down there."

Tarrant switched off the communications channel as the computers exchanged vital information effortlessly.

Alarayna got up on her way out, she stopped beside Vila. Her hand went to the bulge that represented the bottle he had stashed. "I take it you're feeling better, Vila." She said gently with a knowing smile. "Take at least two days for the soma to clear your system before giving that a try. Okay?"

"Thanks doc." Vila said appreciatively. "Say, do the Elite really drink this stuff?"

"They have it bottled specifically for their consumption." She answered quietly. "I don't know how he managed to come across a bottle of the stuff outside the inner systems."

Vila nodded appreciatively, cradling the precious bottle even more gently. The rest of the crew went about their duties without much comment, eventually turning in for some rest themselves.

As she contemplated the briefness her visits always seemed to have, Alarayna walked through the corridors of the base silently. Her ears could pick up the idle chatter in the crew room even as she walked what was a considerable distance to Avon's quarters. He had chosen a room far from the others' rooms. The base was constructed in a rough circle around the silo, his room was the farthest from the general crew quarters and living areas. It's prior use had been for storage, but he had adapted it for his own use at it was the base's most stable room. Far from regular foot traffic, it was quiet and not easily gotten to unless one went there specifically. The area had a higher level of seismic stability and was securely shielded from the landing area just beyond it's solid stone walls which had been reinforced to keep out radiation and other factors just in case the ship made a less than graceful landing. In other words, it was safe and it was quiet, Avon was seldom disturbed on the few occasions he spent time in his room, which were rare and almost never for sleep.

Keying in the ridiculously long sequence of numbers in order to bypass the door security, Alarayna sighed as the door finally opened. She was satisfied to see that he still slept quietly, though the lines of tension that etched his face did not ease. Silently, she laid down beside him, closing her eyes to get some much needed rest of her own. She could not help reflect on how divergent their lives were. No matter how much she longed for it, they could never live together, raise their children, do the things she at times let herself dream of. Though stressful, he needed the constant input of complicated situations and life or death decisions, he thrived on them. Her own life in contrast, would stifle his need for constant intellectual challenge. Her midnight walks in the gardens simply would not interest him or bring the pleasure she found in contemplating the starry sky above. The futility of her thinking conspired to make her completely unaware of her own tears until he reached over to gently brush them from her cheeks.

She opened her eyes warily to find him staring intently at her, an emotion she could not identify in his dark eyes. Eventually he raised his eyes to look across the room at nothing in particular. "You know better, Rayna. What else must I do to convince you?"

She stared back at him for an interminable amount of time, noting the gentle silver that graced the edges of his hair, catching the light in the room as an ominous reminder of the more than 30 years which separated them. She found that which bound them so much stronger. The children which carried both the thoughts and the darkness in his soul, the seldom acknowledged but strongly felt need that both had for each other. Her tears renewed themselves as she spoke, reaching with her mind as well as her hands to reluctantly stroke the hard line of his jaw. "I love you." She said quietly, turning his face to hers. "I can't help it, I just do."

As he shifted his gaze back to the spectacular red head beside him, he made an effort to harden his eyes. "Stop it, Rayna." He said authoritatively, though his expression was glaringly soft. "You need to understand, Rayna. The others they will kill." He sighed deeply. "They will not kill me, not quickly anyway. After they have done with me, after they have broken me and they have what they want, maybe, maybe they'll just leave me until death finds me itself. I can't be sure. The Liberator at least acted as a mitigating factor. Scorpio, I'm afraid does nothing but increase the odds against me. You have to accept that, I have."

Alarayna watched the impassivity of his features intently. She recognized the always present steel determination and knew she would have a portion of it for herself if she was survive what he certainly felt would come and come soon. "I know." She murmured softly. She raised one hand, palm toward him and silently asked him to share with her.

Avon considered her for a long moment. What she proposed was at once fairly terrifying and strangely tempting. Sharing, while it more often than not contained sex, it went far beyond it to regions of intimacy Avon had no words to describe. Lacking telepathic ability but as a latent being sensitive to it, while not capable of initiating the state, he could participate in it wholly. It involved primarily a blurring of the lines between a couple. Without definition, each could feel as the other did if and when they desired. It involved no large amount of trust and willingness to lower the shields he worked so hard to maintain, but the return was greater than the perceived risk. Though he did not like to admit to it, he did trust her, he knew better, but he did. He reached to fit his hand to hers.

After some hours, Avon woke with a start, not knowing what had wakened him. Alarayna lay coiled in a tight ball beside him, sleeping. The Felinians were a people completely entrenched in emotional ritual, Kai had explained some of the intricacies to him. Her tail lay, quite deliberately he was sure, over his shoulder, the heavy gold clasp at the end of it amidst coils of braid. He reached across for the onyx bound mysteriously by his will to her forehead. This he placed in it's usual resting place when she was not in his presence, a hollow in the gold clasp. Removing it revealed the green, gold and white tattoo which marked her family designation which had later been encircled by intricate tiny symbols and the representation of a snow tiger stretched out in a full run, all this represented his family designation. As to hold one's tail was to hold one's life in your hands, he did so gently not because he cared about their silly rituals, but he did maintain a certain respect for Alarayna and if she could deal with his abundant vices, he could bring himself to honor their rituals. He coiled it neatly in front of her and got up reluctantly, feeling Kai's arrival would be imminent. He dressed quietly and though her ears swivelled to follow him, she did not wake. He went out to the crew room, checking the position of Kai's freighter. The rest of the crew were in the room attending to their various duties. He sat behind the console rearranging his scattered thoughts carefully. The flash of her green eyes caught his attention as she did not usually speak without leave. There was determination in her eyes as she walked into the room to stand before him, binding her long curls into a tight knot, a style she knew he detested. "What precisely is Tango-Alpha, or should I ask Orac?" The barely tempered anger in her voice snapped his thoughts into order quickly.

/The specific tenants of the program are all encoded for proper voice activation only./ The computer offered blandly.

Alarayna nodded knowingly. "Yours?"

Slightly surprised, Avon looked up calmly. "All Orac could give you would be programming instruction, you would not understand anyway."

His composure did not in the least belay the fact that he was more than annoyed that she had accomplished a search mission in his brain while manipulating adeptly his feelings. She hissed openly at him. "You tell me then. While you're at it you can tell me why you did not want me to know about it."

Avon found it most unfortunate that she chose to be confrontational even as Kai's ship pulled into orbit. Knowing his answer would not calm her down, nor would a lie be acceptable, he took a deep breath and said calmly and rationally, not completely understanding what made her so mad, she did not frequently growl or even hiss at anyone. "Tango-Alpha is a very simple program. It contains very precise instructions and contingencies, in the event I am captured or killed, Orac will send a message and its position to Giareth's ship. It will then shut down and wait for Kai to retrieve before reactivating."

Alarayna stared at him suspiciously and for good reason, she did not need his thoughts or the slight change in his tone to tell her he was holding back and attempting to divert her attention. Determined to stay on topic despite considerable mental interference he was using, she stayed on her original plan. "Why Giareth's ship?"

With a perfect calm that was a little to perfect, Avon answered. "Activation of the program gives him the authority to protect you and girls. He is to remain within one hour's distance at all times, his ship will contact Kai's."

"Precisely what makes you think I want Giareth's protection, or that I would consider accepting it?" She threw back, angrily.

Avon knew he could not reason her out of her fury, but he was determined to defend his position. The calm determination in his voice made the hairs raise on the others who listened reluctantly. "What difference does it make once I'm gone?"

"What difference does it make!" She yelled. "Since when does your logic allow you to think of me and my girls as possessions?" She paced the room in agitation even as the teleport field coalesced to reveal Kai and Tarsia. "No wonder you are so convinced of this scenario. He planted it in you, didn't he? There is no possible way even you would consider this a logical plan otherwise."

Avon looked up as he processed her statement, considering. Kai looked from one to the other, stopping in front of Avon, he looked back at his mother's furious stance. "Desist woman!" He commanded sharply.

She put her hands to her hips, turning belligerently to Kai. "Tell him the counsel would never go for such a thing, Kai."

Kai shook his head sadly. "Do not put me in the middle of this, mother, you are warned." Tarsia did his best to remain neutral, but stepped quietly behind her. As she opened her mouth to speak again, Kai turned, tempering his own fury, barely. "SILENCE!." He shouted authoritatively, stretching out a hand toward her. Tarsia was in place to catch her as she folded. Kai walked up to her and snapped a bracelet to her wrist. "Take her up Tarsia and find a comfortable spot for her to rest. Have the cadets begin pre-flight and plot a course for the edge of the sector, third quarter." Tarsia nodded quietly, picking up Alarayna's unconscious form and saluting quickly before he disappeared once more. Kai turned back to Avon, walking over to the console, propping his elbows on it and looking darkly at him. After examining Avon's expressionless face for several moments, he shook his head disapprovingly. "I do believe she is right, its far too precise an image to be dream induced. Mind you, it's very deeply planted and well-hidden, not just anyone would notice it."

"You know better than to read me!" Avon snapped, annoyed at both his treatment of his mother and his presumption to know his thoughts.

Kai paused for a moment, still staring deeply into Avon's eyes. "I take it the manifestation is a recurring dream? Did it occur to you to wonder why it started after our last visit?"

"It didn't." Avon protested, not entirely sure what Kai meant, the boy had a penchant for talking in circles as if one knew what his intent were without explanation. Something which no doubt worked perfectly well among Felinians, but Avon disliked it. "If its the dream I think you mean, I've had that one for a long time. Why would the Star Commander bother planting dreams in my head? It's not as if I don't have enough of them already and I'm not about to start believing them."

"If that were true, you wouldn't be wasting your time with contingency planning." Kai answered, perfectly reasonable. "If you want to know, it is a fragment of a possible future, the Giarnetha are capable of seeing such things with reasonable accuracy. His first step is in making you believe in it, which you have, secondly you must act on the belief. He has two on you." Kai paused to smile sardonically. "Of course, it is a moot point as the Counsel have already decided they will not confirm me without a second heir. You can bet Giareth will get to working on that as soon as he can. Especially since you have been so kind as to hand him the opportunity."

Avon had to endeavor to remain calm, Kai had that effect on him, he knew the proper strings to pull. "For your sisters, Kai. If there is even the slightest possibility, I owe it them to plan for it."

Shaking his head vigorously, Kai stepped back. "You fail to understand what your against. Emotion is not just a feeling for them, it is as concrete and solid as your equations. In creating a fierce race, the Gentechs knew they had to have a mitigating factor if for nothing else than to protect them from the very aggression they were trying to bring out in the race. That is why they grafted empathy in. It is much more difficult to kill someone when you can feel their emotions. They did not count on telepathy being just as strongly introduced. Their attempts to breed out telepathy gave them the Giarnethan, unfortunately they did not breed out the telepathy, they bred out the empathy and they were totally unprepared for the havoc a group of fully matured males without any regard for the feelings of others could do. They were all dead before they knew they had made a mistake. A Giarnetha can never rule, must never rule. They cannot take other peoples emotions into account, it is what makes them ruthless warriors and totally incapable of any sort of diplomacy."

Noting Avon's dubious expression with dismay, Kai tried one last appeal to his reason. "There is absolutely no reason to think Giareth would ever do anything out of the kindness of his heart, even for Alli. He has less of a heart than you do. Even if he had one, he had he would not know what to do with it, they know only destruction. Be grateful if that is the only thing he planted in there."

Avon folded his arms across his chest, not in the least swayed by his son's emotional argument. "You finished?" He said sharply.

Kai's eyebrows went up quizzically and he thought for a moment. He shrugged, futility always reigned in an emotional argument, he knew that well enough. "I did have to make a few necessary adjustments to your program, I'm afraid. It does make it more difficult for him to get what he wants, but if you are determined, I shall not stand in your way. For my sisters of course." He saluted solemnly, favoring Soolin with a long look before he touched his bracelet.


Avon's entire logically placed and neatly ordered universe fell apart in large chunks that he was at a loss to fit back into place before they slipped permanently and irreplaceably from his grasp. Upon securing Orac in the landing bay, he had whispered to it quietly but determinedly. "Activate tango-alpha systems." Since that, it seemed to him things began to have a bizarre twist to them, ration fled faster the harder he tried to apply it. 'He betrayed us, Avon, even you.' 'I set all this up.' Well used and familiar logic told him he should try to slow things down and look at what was going on, his own impressions did not make any possible sense. In the void left behind the retreat of his logic, emotion raced at him with an alarming speed. He reluctantly understood what Kai had meant by emotion being a manifest thing. He could feel it slam into him with immense strength that he could not fight. He could only fire the gun in his hands.

The periphery of his vision confirmed the presence of bodies laying about him and he continued to fire until the gun was spent. He tossed it aside, noting that not all the figures were on the floor and that a black-haired woman approached with a strange and repulsive smile on her face. In the second it took to reach to his belt for the other gun he carried, pain searched his chest and he barely knew it as he hit the wall behind him.

Swimming images refused to congeal and what little ration he had left told him he knew pain well and that help was on it's way. Somewhere in the fog that represented his thoughts and the screaming pain, he opened his eyes cautiously. The edges of his mind could hear voices, chilling voices that did nothing to resolve his determination that this was indeed the end. They filtered through to him in fragments. "You fool, they're paying for a live subject, not a dead body. Have my physicians standing by I want him whole!"

Someone grabbed his hair roughly, pulling his head back and making more difficult to breathe. Shifting his gaze and ignoring the pain, he saw, without much surprise, Servalan kneeling beside him, satisfied smirk on her face. "Don't worry, Avon. I'll get you fixed up. I'm sure its not as bad as it looks. Anyway, Beta Farl has promised to pay good money for you, but they want you alive. It's nothing really compared to what they have offered for a certain Felinian Prince who looks strikingly like you. I understand if you're not cooperative in giving them the information the Federation has paid for, he will. You see, he has a weakness, something you would not understand no doubt, two little girls. Now I can't tell you what it is they want from you, they seem to think you killed their Warlord. I must admit I really did not ask for details, you'll find out soon enough. Once my medical staff has healed you. I'm afraid you won't stay healthy for long, but that is not my concern. They have assured me you will cease to be a problem for me and that is good enough." She loosened her grip on his hair and Avon groaned as it proved impossible to control his neck muscles enough to keep his head from falling to the side.

Summoning every bit of strength he had left, he asked shocked at the weakness of his own voice. "Is he dead then? Is everyone?"

Servalan did nothing but look at him disdainfully, near regret in her dark eyes. She turned to an officer who came up to her.

"Scans of the area reveal nothing but freight traffic in the immediate vicinity. A large ship of unknown design is on approach vector from the outer reaches of the sector traveling at Standard by 23, they will be here in less than an hour." The officer reported dutifully.

"Good, that gives us more than enough time. Get him on the medical ship and tell them to be on course for rendezvous. Meanwhile, get every Federation ship out of the sector." She paused, smiling at Avon's discomfort as they lifted him none too gently to a stretcher. "You've killed Blake all right and I have it all on tape. Be grateful I am turning you over to Beta Farl's care, every rebel in the galaxy will be after your blood once the tape is shown. You can't deny it, I've won this time, Avon and it will be the last time." She smiled smugly at him as they took him from the room and unconsciousness took him once more.

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S.L. Koss

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