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Jabberwocky - part 1 - Link-up

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 26

Hugh Tiver was young for a surgeon, only a year or two past thirty. He was almost as tall as Tarrant, with curly brown hair and blue eyes, but the resemblance ended there. Hugh was at times vulnerable, at times bitter over the Federation's treatment of both him and his planet. He'd gone to the Federation Space Academy like Tarrant, hoping to become a pilot, but the Federation had singled him out because of his exceptionally high science scores on the entrance exams and had made a surgeon out of him against his will. Finally, after he'd had time to learn to love his work they'd sent him home to Dayson Prime to help initiate a pacification program on his homeworld. Until then, suppressants had not been used there and the thought that he would be the one to bring them to his world was enough to turn Hugh completely against the Federation.

      One man alone didn't have a lot of options; though Hugh had done what little he could to delay and foul up the programme. He knew if he came out in the open about what he was doing, he would be replaced by someone with no scruples who took his work to heart, so he ran a programme that gave the appearance of 'gremlins' in the works. Everything went wrong; the suppressant mixture failed, it vanished, it reappeared diluted, it worked on a hit and miss basis. Hugh turned in endless reports, requests for backup, military support, additional supplies, flooding headquarters in a sea of paper. He cultivated the reputation of being something of a fool, mildly incompetent and thoroughly unlucky but no great threat. It was a fine line to walk, and he fully expected to fall from his tightrope one day.

      In the meantime, he consoled himself with the thought that he was buying time for the Dayson Prime rebel movement to gain strength. A stranger coming in to implement the programme would never have taken so long, and the rebel movement would have been doomed for lack of time. But Hugh worked on, never knowing if the rebels realised what he was doing for them or not. More likely they thought he was an ass, somebody they could use for their own purposes. They never approached him directly.

      When rebels did finally approach him, they were from off-planet. Hugh was working late, programming the computer to add an agent to the latest batch that would render it impotent when suddenly a voice said over his shoulder, "It won't work."

      He let out a yelp and jumped a foot, spinning around wildly. Two men stood behind him, though the door had been locked and bolted; one of them dark and grim-looking with a stony countenance and expressionless dark eyes, the other seeming shorter and more uneasy. Hugh didn't think he had seen either of them before around headquarters, but for all that, they looked slightly familiar. It was the grim man who had spoken.

      "Don't do that!" Hugh shot at him. "Sneaking up on a man at work. You could have given me a coronary."

      "Your formula is incorrect," the man replied, unimpressed by Hugh's startlement. "As a suppressant it will be worthless."

      "He was doing it on purpose, " the little man pointed out as if he had just made a brilliant deduction. "I think he meant it that way."

      "Merely an error brought about by fatigue," said Hugh haughtily, for though neither man wore a Federation uniform, they could be spies, sent here to check on him to see if his string of 'bad luck' was in fact a shrewd attempt to overthrow the system.

      "What are you doing here anyway?" he demanded. "This is a restricted area."

      "You are Hugh Tiver?" the dark man asked impatiently.

      "You must know that, since you're here."

      "We do know it. I would advise you to make no fuss. You are a surgeon, are you not? I believe you have worked with Aurons before."

      "And if I have?" This was strange. Auron had been mysteriously silent for a long time, and it was only lately that word had come in that a plague had killed the entire population. Maybe the information the press had released was wrong and some Aurons had survived. If so, he knew he could help them. It would be a chance to get away from here at last. The resistance had got a good hold on Dayson Prime now and they could fight the suppressants as well as he could. Better probably because it wouldn't be long before he was replaced, for incompetence if nothing else.

      He squared his shoulders. These two didn't look Federation. If they really weren't, if they'd broken in here somehow, this might be his chance. "Yes, I know Aurons," he said. "I spent part of my internship working with a small Auron settlement on Earth. Why?"

      "One of our crew is an Auron," the dark man explained. "She is - badly injured. We require your help." A gun suddenly filled the man's hand. "In fact we insist upon it."

      "You'll come, won't you?" the other man asked eagerly, and Hugh could sense his worry.

      "How did you get in here?" he demanded.

      "Does it matter?" asked the grim-faced man.

      "You're not Federation, are you?"

      "No, we're not," said the little man, and to his companion, "Well, he'd know that anyway. I got us in here. I'm good with locks."

      "You're Vila Restal." He made the connection then. "You're Blake's people."

      "Blake is dead," snapped the dark man. "Are you coming voluntarily, or do we have to stun you?"

      "Voluntarily," Hugh agreed quickly. "I'm on your side."

      "Is that a fact?" the dark man, Kerr Avon, Hugh realised, seemed sceptical, and his gun did not waver. "Perhaps you will not be surprised if I don't believe you." He gestured with the gun and Hugh allowed himself to be led to the door. Why not? He hadn't been controlling his own destiny lately, and though he'd made a good show of it here he knew his usefulness on Dayson Prime was at an end. With Blake's people, even temporarily, he might do some good. They weren't as he'd imagined them, of course, but then nothing ever was, and besides, they were worried about their companion. He would go with them and take whatever happened as it came.

      They guided him from the room and Restal locked the door again behind them. It was late at night and guards were few and far between, and they were able to evade them easily. He was led to a ground car which took them some distance out of the city to an outdated spaceship - Hugh wondered where the mighty Liberator was and if this was a sample of their shuttles. But after they took off and Avon and a curly haired man, who was surely too young to be Blake, had set their course away from any known Federation bases, he was taken to his patient, and he realised that wherever the Liberator was, it was someplace out of reach.

      The Auron woman was badly hurt. Avon had provided him with a good supply of medical equipment, surgical supplies and anything else he might need, but at his first glimpse of the monitors that read Cally's life signs he was afraid he would fail. Vila confided that she'd been in an explosion and had been buried in the rubble and that Avon had gone in and fetched her out. "She'll be all right won't she?" he had asked eagerly.

      "I'm a surgeon, not a magician," Hugh had replied rather more harshly than he intended, and Vila's face fell.

      Avon came in then carrying a clear box full of blinking lights. "This is Orac." he explained. "Orac will assist with the surgery."

      "It's just a computer," Hugh retorted, disappointed.

      "I beg your pardon," snapped the box. "I am far more than any computer you puny humans could imagine. You cannot understand me, and like all others of your kind you waste time with pointless remarks. You must begin your work immediately. Time is essential."

      "Bossy, isn't he?" Vila had asked.

      But Hugh had suddenly remembered hearing of a super computer that Blake had managed to steal away from under Servalan's nose. If it was as good as the reports had led him to believe, then maybe the Auron woman stood a chance after all.

      The surgery took seven hours, and without the computer's assistance, he knew he could never have saved her. Even when it was over, he was not sure he had. The head injury was the worst; with Aurons, head injuries were tricky things, and sometimes, even if everything was intact, the gifts of the Auronar responded badly to physical trauma. He didn't understand telepathy; he couldn't point to a certain portion of the brain and say that it was the centre of telepathy, though there were certain points of the Auron brain that were slightly more convoluted than the human equivalent. One of these areas had been injured and a slight blood clot had begun to form, but he had removed it, and he hoped it had been soon enough to prevent any permanent damage. Her reflexes seemed normal and her extremities were responsive, so he doubted paralysis would be a threat. But the surgery had drained her dangerously, and he had spent the next twenty four hours sitting beside her bed, prepared to act instantly if the fragile spark of life faltered.

      Vila, Tarrant and Dayna poked their heads in at intervals, checking on her condition, but Avon never came. When Hugh remarked upon it to Vila, who seemed willing to be friendly, the thief shook his head. "Avon isn't the type to hang about sickbeds," he explained. "Besides, he feels responsible."

      "Is he?"

      "In a way." said Vila thoughtfully. "He didn't set that explosion though. That was Servalan. One more thing to hold against her." He made a face. "But we wouldn't have even been there it weren't for Avon."

      "That goes with being leader," Hugh objected.

      "It wasn't like that," explained Vila, and he poured out the story of the events leading up to Cally's injury in the explosion. Hugh was surprised at the confidence, but then he realised that Vila needed to tell it, so he listened, though the more he heard, the more certain he was, that Avon would be furious if he knew what Vila was saying.

      "So Blake was never there?" he asked.

      "No. Servalan says he's dead. But I wouldn't trust Servalan, nasty woman. She'd lie to us every chance she got. But I think Avon believes it. For a bright man, he can be stupid sometimes, can Avon."

      "You like him, don't you?"

      "Me? Like Avon!" Vila grimaced as if Hugh had accused him of some strange perversion. "Nobody could like Avon. He's a right bastard, he is." But something twinkled in Vila's eyes, and Hugh wasn't fooled. Maybe when you were in as much danger as these people continually were, it was safer when you didn't admit you cared. He didn't know. But he wasn't going to interfere with a working system. He wouldn't be here long enough to do that anyway.

      The intercom had squawked then - it sputtered and spat like an angry cat, when it worked at all - and Tarrant's voice came through. "Tiver, we're landing. Is Cally secured?"

      "Yes, Tarrant. Go ahead. I'm monitoring her carefully."

      "Is Vila there? If so, send him here. It's time he did some honest work for a change."

      "Honest work," Vila muttered under his breath, but he had gone without further protest, and Hugh had looked after him shaking his head before he had seen to Cally.

      That had been several weeks ago, and it looked like they were going to stay right here until Cally revived. As time passed, Hugh had begun to doubt his handiwork, though Orac assured him that her condition was improving steadily.

      "Will her telepathy be impaired?" he had asked Orac only yesterday.

      "Unknown. You are the surgeon. What is your diagnosis?"

      "I believe the impairment, if there should prove to be one, will be temporary," Hugh replied thoughtfully, but he wasn't sure if he really believed it or if it was only wishful thinking.

      But now Vila had summoned him to tell him that Cally was awake, and he hurried to her bedside. When he entered, her eyes were closed, but she opened them as he approached the bed, then her brow furrowed. "I do not know you." He liked the sound of her voice, even weakened as it was, and he smiled at her reassuringly.

      "No. I'm Hugh Tiver. The others picked me up on Dayson Prime. I'm your surgeon."

      Her eyes focused on his face and she stared at him with painful intensity. "There is only silence inside my head," she confessed in a frightened voice.

      "Yes, I know." He hooked his leg around a stool and drew it over, sitting down and taking her hand. "I think it's a temporary condition brought on by pressure and swelling. I've removed the clot that was forming, and the fact that you're alert now proves that you're well on the road to recovery. You must wait and give it time." He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "I've invested too much work in you to see it go wrong now."

      "Vila said Avon was here?"

      "Yes, he's on the flight deck. The ship that Servalan left for you was in very poor condition and the others have been working on it to make it a little more spaceworthy. We're on a deserted planet now, far from the space lanes, but they hope eventually to get a better ship."

      "But what of Gauda Prime? I saw Avon shot down."

      "I don't know anything about Gauda Prime, but if Avon's had time to go there since you left Terminal, I don't know when it could have been. It took them three days to get to Dayson Prime from there and then we came straight here. What makes you think the others were shot?"

      "I saw it."

      "Then it must have been a dream."

      "No, it was real, real."

      "Were you there?" he asked.

      "No, I was dead. But it was real, a vision of what will happen."

      "Cally, Cally, you're worrying about nothing." He lifted her hand to his lips briefly; she would need physical contact while she was bereft of her telepathy; he would have to tell the others. "You're alive and will be well. Your powers are in temporary suspension. If you can't use your telepathy then you can't experience precognition either."

      "It was real, I tell you. Real. I would know the people. Ask Orac. He can tell you if any of them exist."

      Hugh didn't think she should be humoured, but it might calm her to know that what she had seen had been nothing but a fever-induced dream. "All right, Cally," he said, "but not until you're stronger, though. I think you should sleep now. You're tired. I'll stay with you until you sleep."

      She closed her eyes obediently, too weak to protest, and drifted into a rapid, though restless, sleep.

      He waited until he was sure she would not reawaken, then he freed his hand from hers and got up to check the instruments which monitored her condition. She did seem better, and her life signs were stronger, closer to normal than they had been since he had begun to treat her.

      A sound from the doorway alerted him and he turned to find Avon standing there, a disapproving expression on his face. "A sentimental bedside manner will not cure her, Tiver."

      "It won't hurt her either," Hugh replied quickly, joining him in the corridor so as not to disturb Cally. "A little sentiment could do all of you some good."

      "I doubt that, and it's not your concern. What is her condition?" he asked briskly.

      "She is recovering. She will sleep now and be stronger when she wakes; it will take time but she will gradually regain her strength."

      "What was that nonsense about precognition. I hope you will not encourage it."

      "No, because it isn't good for her. I doubt she experienced anything but a normal dream, possibly distorted and nightmarish. As she becomes more alert, she'll realise that and all will be well."

      "Will it?" Avon asked scornfully. "You're a fool."

      "That's what the Federation thought," Hugh snapped, irritated by Avon's manner. "I fooled them for three-quarters of a year ."

      "Orac gave us your background. He said that while you were a gifted physician, your record on Dayson Prime indicated incompetence in some areas."

      "Hah!" Hugh exclaimed. "Fooled you too."

      "Explain." Avon didn't like the thought of being fooled, apparently, and his expression was far from friendly.

      "It should be obvious. Dayson Prime's my home world. The Federation sent me there to initiate a suppressant program. Do you think I wanted that to happen to my people? I gave the appearance of incompetence in order to delay as long as possible. The rebellion there had time to prepare counter measures while I was filing reports."

      "Rebellion," Avon huffed. "Another idealist. Tedious as all the others of your ilk."

      "And here I thought you were a resister too," Hugh said in a gently mocking tone. Though Avon was cold and intimidating, for some strange reason, Hugh was not intimidated. He wondered if it was because he could guess that Avon was worried about Cally or if he were simply accustomed to far worse bullies than Avon. Besides, from something Vila had said over coffee when they were sitting with Cally, Hugh had formed the impression that Avon had little tolerance for those who didn't stand up to him, those he could bully. Hugh intended to stand up to him from very beginning.

      "No," Avon replied. "I leave that for idealists and fools, like Blake. Blake was an idealist and a rebel, and it killed him. I'm still alive."

      "And enjoying it so," Hugh snapped.

      "I am not your concern. Cally is. When she is herself again, you will discover that she is neither weak nor sentimental. I would regret the loss of her telepathy; it is useful, and is vital to her. Without it, she would lose her effectiveness."

      "And then she'd be no use to you? You're a cold-hearted man, Avon. I wish I understood why the others stay with you."

      "Convenience, perhaps? "Avon suggested. "How long do you estimate it will take Cally to fully recover?"

      "Not in the immediate future Avon. Perhaps another month. If her telepathy doesn't return, longer, at least emotionally. If that interferes with your plans, I'm sorry. But she's my patient, and I will decide what is best for her."

      "Oh, you will, will you?"

      "I'm not afraid of you, Avon. You wouldn't want a surgeon who didn't know his job and who didn't do it properly?"

      "I want someone who will give me no trouble."

      "Then you've got the wrong man. Right now, what you want means nothing to me. Cally's life does."

      "Do you fancy yourself in love with her?" Avon asked scornfully.

      "No, I don't know her yet. But I know she's my patient. I wouldn't advise moving her quite yet. Vila said something about getting a better ship. That sounds like it could involve fighting. She won't be ready for that for a while, and taking her along will limit her chances for survival, especially if it comes to a fight. Physically she should make a complete recovery, and she'll be up and around soon, but I wouldn't advise moving this ship for at least a week, if not longer. Orac and I feel she'll regain her Auron abilities given time and a lack of pressure. Unless you mean to abandon her - and I don't think the others would let you, even if you wanted to - you'll have to wait. I'm sorry if that interferes with your plans. Maybe you'd learn that the next time you rush into danger as ill advised as going to Terminal you'll need to consider your crew too."

      "That's none of your business." Avon leaned close to him to emphasise the words. "Now that Cally is recovering you are no longer essential. The others will tell you that I don't hesitate to remove those who get in my way. I will remind you that you are my prisoner. I can shoot or dump you if I so choose."

      "I don't like you, Avon, but I'm not afraid of you either. I stay here by my own choice and not because I'm your prisoner, but it won't be for any longer than I have to. I took an oath when I completed my training and Cally is my patient. She's worried about you."

      Avon leaned back suddenly uncomfortable, aware that the threat was turning onto him.

      "In her premonition she saw you killed."

      "Indeed?" Avon looked bored. "I'll expect daily reports," he added. "You can make them on the flight deck."

      "Don't you want to see her?" Hugh asked, not really surprised.

      "I see no need for maudlin watches over her unconscious body."

      "Afraid you'll let a little uncharacteristic sentiment get through?" Hugh prodded, realising as he said it that though it might well be true, it might also not be the smartest thing to say.

      "Spare me from sentimental idealists," Avon snapped and stalked away.

      Hugh looked after him and wondered which of them had won.

      


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