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A Stitch in Time

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 7

"It's been two days," Vila complained, casting a resentful look at the contraption that was steadily taking over Scorpio's flight deck. Orac was the only one of them having a good time, working on redesigning the equipment that had been damaged on Earth, ordering all of them about as if they were all Delta Grades, and picking on Slave until it reached new depths of subservience. Vila enjoyed the sight of Tarrant jumping to obey Orac, but he was sure that when Avon was back, Tarrant would find a way to make him pay for the experience. When that happened, Vila planned to go to ground somewhere safe. He'd had enough of Avon's bad temper.

"It looks like it'll take at least two more," Soolin remarked. She seemed cool and disinterested but she was quick to help with the design of the equipment. Vila wondered if she liked any of them but all but then, why should she? None of them seemed to like each other any more, least of all Avon, not that he had ever liked any of them to start with.

Vila smothered a sigh. Thinking of Avon hurt him now. He'd always believed Avon liked him, at least a little, and that, as long as he was careful he was safe with Avon, but that one time had finally come when taking care wasn't good enough. The only reason he was alive was because Avon had found something heavier than he was to toss off Egrorian's shuttle. He hadn't expected Avon to sacrifice himself for Vila's sake, but he'd hoped Avon would have tried just a little harder to find a solution to Egrorian's treachery. On the other hand, maybe Avon had simply panicked. Vila had done it often enough, himself, and he might have come to terms with it more easily if Avon had said he was sorry--or if he couldn't manage the words, if he had let Vila know some other way that he regretted the incident. Vila would still have been hurt, but he could have accepted that. One of the reasons he was working so hard to construct the time travel device was so Avon would have one more chance to apologize to him. Vila narrowed his eyes. If he didn't, then the thief was well rid of him, and it wouldn't matter any more.

He didn't believe it one little bit.

They had returned cautiously to Earth, and now Vila sat looking at the planet on the main screen, wondering if Soolin had been right, if Avon were simply a prisoner on Earth. Would it be possible to determine if there were a form of teleport in the lab to shift intruders to a secure cell?

"Maybe we should send somebody down to make sure Avon isn't down there," he proposed tentatively.

Tarrant looked up from the panel he was working on. "Volunteering, Vila?" he asked in surprise.

"Maybe." He stood up defiantly. "We're awfully quick to believe he's in the past, aren't we? It shouldn't be so hard to check. We could teleport into that room again and see if there's any evidence of a teleport."

"We wouldn't get near the place," Dayna objected.

"But we've got to try," Vila insisted.

"If we put you down, you'd be on your own," Tarrant replied. "I can't spare any more of us. Then we'd probably have to rescue you, too."

"But Orac could attach a monitor, a tracer or something, and if I was still on Earth, you'd have that to go on."

"Avon's teleport bracelet didn't help him. What makes you think you'd be any safer than he was?"

"I don't know. But I want to try."

"You're a fool," Soolin insisted.

"That's what Avon always said."

Tarrant looked at him levelly. "All right, Vila. If you want to go looking for him, you can go. But I won't teleport you into the room directly. Outside. If you can get in, fine; have a look for Avon. If the place is too well guarded, then we'll bring you up again."

Vila nodded. He hated the idea of going down there again, but he had no choice. He wasn't sure why, but he believed he had to go after Avon. Damn the man! Vila would have no peace until he was found.

Oddly enough, the room was not guarded at all. The door was sealed up, but Vila had no trouble getting in. He called in to report his success, then he prowled across the room to the access panel that had been glowing when Avon stood on it. It was glowing faintly now.

Deliberately Vila stepped forward, placing first one foot and then the other on the panel.

Suddenly the floor was spinning around and the lab vanished before his eyes. The device was still working. Vila cried out, "It's happening," into his bracelet. There was no time for an answer.

*****

When Avon woke, he felt better. His mind was clear and he could think without the feeling that he was wading through mud. Of course, his body ached all the more for having time to stiffen up, and his ankle felt like fire but, as long as he was careful not to move, he could detach himself from the physical pain and allow himself to face his problem without distraction.

He lay listening to the almost subliminal sounds around him: rhythmic banging on metal, some kind of a code signal perhaps, and the occasional rattle and thunder of machinery that increased and faded again, like a ship passing only different. Ground vehicles in this distant century? Underground trains, he rather thought, casting his memory back to what little history he'd been allowed to read--and the forbidden books he had been unable to resist. They called it a tube or metro or subway; he wasn't sure which or, perhaps, they were all the same.

Vincent meant him no harm, though Father was suspicious of him. Avon must be doubly cautious here since he did not know his way around and since he was helpless, unable to return home. Home? A sour smile twisted his lips. He could not remember a place where he had ever felt at home, unless it was Liberator at the beginning, before Blake's fanaticism began to drive him further and further from the rest of his crew. Avon caught himself at the thought. No, Liberator had not been home either. He had never allowed it to be. Had he wanted it to be?

He ignored that thought, too, glad of a distraction when Vincent issued a young woman with shoulder length brown hair into the room. Never perceptive about people and their relationships, Avon could nevertheless feel a bond between these two even though they were neither looking at each other nor touching, not even with a hand-clasp.

"Catherine, this is Kerr Avon," Vincent introduced them. "Catherine Chandler. She lives above and works in the D.A.'s office."

"D.A.?" The term was unfamiliar.

"District Attorney," Catherine clarified hastily, looking at Vincent in surprise.

Avon shook his head. "I know what an attorney is, but not how this specific position fits into your culture. Didn't Vincent explain where 1 came from?"

"He told me where you claim to come from," she returned. "He doesn't think you're lying, but sometimes people believe impossible thing."

"In other words, you suspect I am mad." Avon smiled, and she winced at the sight of it. "Which may well be accurate on your part, though not with regard to my time of origin."

"You doubt your sanity?" Vincent asked with gentle interest.

"Perhaps."

"Then how do you expect us to believe a story on time travel?" Catherine wanted to know. "Vincent brought me down here to see if I can help you. If you are using your correct name, I can find no records of any criminal activity or any missing persons reports. I ran your name through our computer files and state records, even national ones, and you weren't there. Now that I hear you talk, I realize I might be checking the wrong records. You sound British. I'll need to check passport records and such things."

"Unlike Vincent, you are not prepared to take me on trust?" Avon asked. He respected her caution.

"Vincent can't allow himself to take you completely on trust either, Mr Avon," she returned. "The safety of other people is at stake. Vincent thinks you need a refuge, and he is prepared to offer you one, but the final decision is not his. I doubt the council will welcome you if you continue to talk about madness."

"Would you have me lie?"

"No, I would have you try a little honesty. Aside from the delusion about the future, you seem rational to me. While your story isn't something I'd easily believe, Vincent has taught me that nothing need be impossible simply because it seems to be." She smiled up at Vincent and put out her hand for his. He took it and squeezed it.

"You realize that your contention this is the past requires a leap of faith on my behalf as well," he reminded her. "I'm not accustomed to faith as I've learned to be suspicious. In my time, conditioning and programming are common, and this could be part of an elaborate drug-induced hallucination."

"So, the future is not a 'brave new world'?" Vincent remarked.

"Hardly, in the sense you mean," Avon remarked. "Though if you speak of the Twentieth Century novel rather than the Shakespearean quote, you might be more accurate than you believe."

"They allow such books in your world?"

"Hardly." He laughed bitterly. "My father held a high position and was allowed more leeway than many people. I used to read banned books whenever I could, learning early never to mention it to anyone. The fact that I am doing so now makes me wonder if I have been drugged or conditioned to believe your story."

"I think he means it, Vincent," Catherine said, regarding Avon with sympathy that bordered on pity. He resented it.

"It doesn't matter to me if you believe me. Either the people from my time will reverse the process or they won't. There is nothing I can do from this end." The thought of being stranded here disturbed him, though the pragmatic side of his nature began to weigh up the pros and cons of such a situation.

"I believe him," Vincent replied.

She smiled up at him. "You have a gift of seeing the truth--and the best in people."

Vincent returned the smile. "We must not keep him talking. He needs to rest. Father said not to disturb him for very long."

Catherine nodded." All right, I'll continue checking. We must be sure of you," she told Avon.

"I wish you luck."

"Does that mean that you intend harm down here?"

Avon met her eyes. "Only if I am harmed. I have no reason to threaten anyone else otherwise. Contrary to popular opinion, I do not enjoy causing pain."

She held his eyes for a long time, then she nodded. "You haven't always been fortunate enough to avoid it," she observed. "I'm sorry."

Avon turned away. Not only was his head throbbing painfully once again, but he did not want to speak to this woman any longer. She and Vincent between them saw far too much and he did not intend to expose himself to them any further.

"Let him rest." Vincent was annoyingly understanding. He put his hand on Catherine's arm and guided her from the room.

When they had gone, Avon found himself unable to sleep. His last words to Catherine echoed in his mind. 'I do not enjoy causing pain.'Was that why he had avoided Vila so carefully since returning from Egrorian's base? He could have done nothing else on the shuttle, and even the memory of Vila's hurt, resentful eves could not change that. Did Vila honestly believe Avon would nobly sacrifice himself to spare him? Dying together would be the sort of foolishness Tarrant would preach but likely not practice, and Dayna and Soolin would certainly have considered Vila expendable if the choice was that they were to die in his place. Vila knew that. Yet he kept looking at Avon expectantly and Avon was unable to understand why. In a crisis situation, his own safety must come first. But Vila's eyes had haunted Avon and he had taken to avoiding him. One would have expected the thief to have avoided him entirely, but whenever he turned, there was Vila, hovering in the background, his very posture a reproach. Avon did not know what Vila wanted, and neither did he understand why he should care if Vila wanted anything at all. But his words to Catherine had been true. Avon did not enjoy causing pain. He had never been granted the luxury of avoiding it but, given a choice, he would go his own way and avoid the complication. Once he had sought Vila in the shuttle, it became fact. He could not change it, and if it happened again, he would do the same.

He forced his eyes shut but that was worse, for Vila's reproachful expression haunted him all the worse behind his eyelids. Dayna's face, back on the Scorpio after Dr Plaxton's death was just as accusing, and that situation perplexed him still further. It had been a clear choice; save himself, his crew, hie ship, or all of them die. Dr Plaxton was expendable. With her death, he saved all the others. Yet the others had looked at him with loathing as if he had been torturing a kitten. What did they expect of him?

Not that it mattered, for his purpose had never been to fulfil the expectations of others. It was only lately that he found his nights full of unpleasant dreams, full of their bitter eyes, their pained stares. Along with Blake, they haunted his sleep and he could not understand why. Better to be rid of the lot of them so that he could be free.

He should have known better. Being rid of Blake had not freed him any more than he had been freed by Anna's death. Memory lingered painfully in each instance, and the only way to forget was to continue as coldly as possible and insist to himself and to the others that none of it mattered.

It was a pity it didn't work.

*****


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