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The Price of Silence

By Sheila Paulson
Page 1 of 5

The Price of Silence

Sheila Paulson

originally published in Errantry 1


 

Avon awoke with a stabbing pain in his throat and a dull ache in his head. For a moment, he could not remember where he was or what had happened to him. He was reluctant to open his eyes, but when he forced himself to do so, he saw the sterile walls of the experimental laboratory and everything came back to him.

For the past four days, he had been a prisoner in this room, never taken to a cell because the remote Federation base on Molina did not boast a cell block. Besides, the lab was the domain of his interrogator, Dr. Kordis, a bitter and brilliant scientist who was determined to break his prisoner before the Federation ships could come to take him back to Space Command Headquarters. It would be a feather in his cap if he were to do so, and Kordis was nothing if not ambitious. But Avon was different from the usual prisoners who came his way for questioning, and Avon didn't break. At least he could not remember breaking.

"Aha, awake, I see." Kordis appeared beside Avon's bed and looked down at him with a combination of contempt and pity. Avon had seen many things in the face of his interrogator in the past four days, but pity was a change. Either it meant that something new--and very unpleasant--was about to happen to him, or that it already had.

"What--" Avon started to say something, but he never completed the sentence. As he tried to speak, pain tore through his throat and absolutely no sound emerged. He tried again, clearing his throat, though it caused incredible agony, then desperately tried to frame words. Nothing happened except that it hurt, and Kordis looked gratified as well as pitying.

Avon's lips shaped the word, "Why?" It was as close as he could come to speaking, and he had to know what had been done to him.

Kordis smiled, the kind of smile that can be turned on and off at will. "Why, my dear fellow," he said in that falsely heart y manner that had annoyed Avon from the very beginning, "you have refused to talk all along. I have simply made that condition permanent. You would not talk, so now you cannot talk. Poetic justice."

Avon longed to remind the man that Servalan would want h im able to talk when he was taken before her for further interrogation. Knowing that, and knowing that Kordis would realize it too, he could only hope that the condition was not permanent and that Kordis was lying when he said it was. But Avon could not p ermit himself to believe it to be so. Though Avon's face hardened into an expressionless mask, Kordis seemed to know how Avon really felt.

"A bit of a shock, is it not?" he asked. "I've paralyzed the speech functions of your vocal cords, you see; made speech impossible. You might wonder if the process is permanent. I don't know; I've never been able to reverse it." He bared his teeth in another false smile. "But then with dissidents, it doesn't really matter, does it? Traitors to the Federation deserve no consideration." He laughed, and it was even worse than his smiles. "I'll leave you now to think things over. Perhaps when I return, we can talk about written statements."

He left the room without turning back, and Avon lay back on his bed and thought. There was no way to tell if Kordis was lying or not. He could not speak now, but that did not mean the condition was permanent. Kordis could be trying to scare him and, privately, Avon admitted that the doctor had done that well. Not that it mattered. He wasn't going to break, not here. Kordis did not have the proper equipment for that. Even if he had, Avon had been through Federation interrogation before; he knew a few tricks.

But it seemed that Kordis had a few tricks of his own. Avon hadn't planned on something like this. He had been certain that he could hold out until the Liberator returned to Molina. But the Liberator had not come back.

It had begun as a simple raid to blow up the communications center on the planet. Molina was remote, but it was a link in the communications relay, and as such its damage or destruction would hurt the Federation. Avon, Cally, and Vila had teleported down, not really expecting much trouble. But, unexpected1y, Federation pursuit ships arrived on routine patrol. Blake had called down to try to pull them out, but even as he did, troops arrived. Vila had been hit, and in trying to make his way to the thief, Avon had walked right into a relief patrol. He was captured immediately and his bracelet was removed. The last thing he remembered before waking up in Kordis's laboratory was the sight of Cally and Vila being teleported to safety.

At first, he had expected a rescue attempt, but there had been none. As time passed, he told himself that Blake had been forced to take the ship out of orbit, that he had the others and the Liberator to think about, and that he would return as soon as it could be managed. But as days passed and he did not return. Avon began to believe that they were not coming back. He told himself that if th e circumstances were reversed, he could have abandoned the others without a qualm, but they were more foolishly loyal than he had ever been, and they would be inclined to make heroic gestures in an attempt to rescue him. That they had not done so indicate d that perhaps the Liberator had been destroyed or at least damaged severely enough to prevent its return. After all this time, they might believe him dead or suspect that he had broken. He would have to accept the fact that they were not coming back.

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He got up; they had never restrained him except when Kordis practiced his little experiments on him in an attempt to make him talk. He began to prowl around the lab, exploring, looking for something that might help him to escape. Everything of value ha d always been locked away, and perhaps he' might be able to manage some of the locks in time and with the proper equipment. But time was limited because someone might come in at any moment, and there was no equipment in sight. The only things that were not locked up were a shelf full of old-fashioned books. He had paid no attention to them before, but curiosity drove him to examine them now, that and the need to keep his mind occupied. Pulling one of them off the shelf, he opened it. It was very old, possibly pre-atomic, and he wondered how it had come to be in such a place as this. Under the circumstances, he found it a fruitless speculation.

He shoved the book back on the shelf and turned. Out of habit, with no real hope of success, he went around the room and tested the locks on all the cabinets. None of them had been opened before, but there was always a first time, and he wasn't going to pass up a chance simply because the effort might be futile. None of the drawers would open, no matter how hard he pulled on them, and he almost gave up right then. He pictured Kordis watching him on a monitor and smiling in that empty way of his as Avon grew more and more frustrated. But Avon had not been able to find a monitor in the room; maybe the base was too remote to have them. Or maybe it had never been felt necessary to plant one in the lab.

The last of the drawers was locked, and Avon turned away from it in frustration. There were still the rest of the cabinets to be checked, but he didn't really feel like bothering with them. They would be locked too, like always, and Kordis would enjoy his wasted effort.

He began to search the cabinets, trying to open the lower ones first, then the ones on the upper sections of the walls, cursing himself mentally for wasting hi s time this way. But there was nothing else he could do with his time except worry about his lack of speech and dwell on thoughts better left alone, so he continued.

And then, to his surprise, he found that the highest two cabinets yielded to his touch. The locking mechanism was intact, but the doors hadn't been pushed together tightly before it had been activated, and they sprung open now.

Avon dragged over a chair to stand on while he investigated the contents of the cabinets. Probably they would hold nothing more useful than files or lab equipment, but he could not pass up a chance. He began to search the crowded shelves. At first he did find files: records of equipment that had been bought for the lab, complete with cost breakdowns, and in one instance with a note from the director of the base attached, telling Kordis to cut expenses. Avon smiled to himself, imagining how Kordis must have felt about receiving something like that.

He shifted the file box so that he could see behind it, only to find more file boxes stacked away in neat, orderly rows. Avon was almost tempted to drag them out and fling them on the floor, leaving Kordis and his aides the task of organizing them again, but he restrained himself. Instead, he would search the boxes one by one, and maybe something useful would come to light. It wasn't until he was opening the last one that something did.

It was his teleport bracelet.

For a moment, he could hardly believe it; it must be a trick. But when he took it out of the box, he knew that it was real, and it looked undamaged. He put it on and pulled his sleeve down over it in case Kordis came back, then closed the doors carefully and returned the chair to its place. He couldn't request to be brought up, even if the Liberator w ere back on station, but he could signal. He hit the button and waited to see if anything would happen.

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