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The Price of Silence

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 5

Cally had been waiting in the teleport section in case Avon managed to contact them. They had arrived at Molina only an hour ago. The Federation patrol had given them a lot of trouble, and damage to the Liberator had been severe enough to make it necessary to hide until repairs had progressed sufficiently for them to risk returning to Molina. Liberator was not quite up to full power yet, but Blake would wait no longer, and the others agreed with him. Vila's injury had not been serious; he was recovered now, and as Cally waited at the teleport, he kept popping in to see if there had been any news. When they had first arrived, they had tried to contact Avon, but without success. Now Blake was busy planning a rescue attempt, and Cally was waiting in case Avon had been unable to respond to their first signal and would try to call in.

Vila reappeared in the doorway. "Anything?" he asked.

"Not yet," she said. "Is Blake ready to go down?"

He shook his head. "Blake's being cautious this time," he replied. "He says that it won't do Avon any good if we're caught too, and he's right. It might be dangerous."

"We do not even know if Avon is still here. If they learned who he was, they might have sent him someplace else for questioning."

"Orac would have picked something up if they had," Vila objected. "They sent messages; we know that. But Blake thinks it's too soon for someone to have come for him."

At that moment, Avon's signal sounded. Cally and Vila looked at each other with a combination of hope and suspicion. "Avon, is that you?" Cally asked. Nothing.

She raised her eyes to Villa. "It could be a trick. We do know that he was caught."

"Maybe it's not safe for him to say anything," Vila said.

"And maybe it is someone else using his bracelet." She hit the comm switch. "Blake, I'm receiving a signal from Avon's bracelet, but there is no voice contact."

"Then don't teleport him until I get there. If it's not Avon, I want to be ready."

He arrived in the teleport section quickly, trailed by Jenna, and both of them were armed. "If it's not Avon, this will give us a better chance," he said. "And even if it is, we've got to face the fact that he has been a Federation prisoner for four days. It's unlikely, but they may have broken him. We won't know that until we talk to him, but we can't take any risks." He took out his gun. "All right, Cally. Teleport now."

#

Avon had been unexpectedly pleased to hear Cally's voice, but his inability to respond to her questions frustrated him. He wondered if she would teleport him without voice contact, and when nothing happened immediately, he went back to his bed and sat down wearily. He had not been treated well during his captivity, and he was weakened by fatigue. Without much expectation of any response, he signaled again.

And Cally said, "Teleporting now."

Avon had just enough time to climb to his feet before he found himself on the Liberator again. The others were staring at him in concern, and Blake and Jenna were lowering their weapons. At the sight of him, Blake jumped forward and took his arm. "Avon, you look terrible. Are you all right?"

Automatically, Avon tried to reply, to deny any need for help, but the pain struck again, and he could not speak. His face closed away from them, and he pulled his arm away.

They could not have failed to see the pain that he had been unable to conceal, nor the abortive attempt to speak. Vila and Cally exchanged nervous glances and Jenna gave him a doubtful look.

"Can't you tell us what his wrong?" Blake asked, his voice gentle.

Avon only looked at him helplessly and shook his head.

"Did they break you?" Blake asked in that same gentle tone.

Avon shook his head again. He didn't think that had done that.

"What then?"

"Blake," Cally said quickly, "I do not think that he is able to speak."

Blake turned back to Avon. "Is that it?" he asked. "Avon?"

Avon nodded reluctantly.

"They did something to you to prevent you from speaking?"

Avon inclined his head. Then the strain of the past four days caught up with him and the room began to spin before his eyes. He welcomed unconsciousness as a respite from the questions.

#

 

"Well?" Blake asked as Cally arrived on the flight deck. "How is he, Cally? Will he be all right?"

"He's asleep for the moment, Blake. They treated him a bit roughly down there, but I do not find any serious injuries. He should recover quickly."

"But why couldn't he speak, Cally?"

She looked at him helplessly. "I don't know. I can find nothing to cause it. There is a bit of swelling, but not enough even to cause hoarseness."

"Then why couldn't he talk?" Vila demanded, his concern poorly concealed. "You say there's nothing wrong, but <I>something</I> is."

"I don't know," she repeated.

"Was Avon conscious before you left?" Blake asked her.

"Not completely. He partially revived, and I reassured him that he was safe on the Liberator. He tried to comment, but he could not, and he wen t back to sleep." She shook her head. "No, I do not think he did. He closed his eyes and pretended sleep. I remained with him until I was certain he was sleeping, though. When he awakens, he should feel much better."

"But he indicated that they did something to keep him from being able to speak," Jenna reminded her.

"If they did," said Cally unhappily, "I cannot tell what it is."

"Some sort of conditioning then," Blake realized. "They had four days to work on him. They could have accomplished a lot in that time, even with Avon."

"Yes," Jenna agreed. "And they could have done more than that. He could be programmed to harm us or turn the Liberator over to the Federation."

"Perhaps, but I don't think so. If they've found a way to convince him that he could not speak, that could be a very effective interrogation tool; restore his voice later, and hope he would talk freely. But if he is to do something here, I think he would need his voice, if only to convince us that he was unhurt and that it was safe for u s to continue as before. After four days, they might have assumed we weren't coming back for him either."

"Is there any way we can be sure?" Vila sounded worried.

"Orac might help," Cally said. "But without knowing exactly what was done to him, even Orac might have a problem. I hope Avon will be able to tell us himself."

"How?" asked Vila. "If he can't say anything, how is he going to be able to tell us anything?"

"If there's no other way, he can write it," she said, but she had a feeling that Avon was n ot going to like any of this. He would hate being helpless in any way, and the thought of being dependent on the others would be galling to him. It wouldn't be easy.

#

 

And it wasn't. Avon awoke several hours later and found Vila waiting for him with a hot meal. They had not fed him very well on Molina, and he was hungry, but when he tried to speak to Vila about the food, he found that his voice had not returned.

The thief said, "Cally thought you'd be hungry. Here." He placed the tray beside Avon and made to leave in a hurry. Avon reached out and caught his arm to stop him. He needed information and Vila was the only one to give it. But how to ask questions? He motioned for Vila to speak, and Vila gave up on trying to get away and said, "Orac can't find any physical cause, Avon. He thinks it's either some form of hypnosis or programming. If it's hypnosis, it should wear off, but the programming might need to be removed."

Well, that was what Avon had expected. He motioned for Vila to continue.

"And, uh, Blake teleported down to try to find out what they'd done." Vila went on reluctantly. "He captured a guard and learned that it was a Dr. Kordis who had been working on you . Blake tried to bring him back up here." He stopped, looking even more uncomfortable. "And he was almost caught. There was a lot of shooting--and Kordis was killed."

Without Kordis, there was no way of telling what had been done to him. Ignoring the food , Avon slumped back on the bed, his expression forbidding. If he could have said anything right then, it would have been to order Vila to leave, and Vila knew it, but he looked determined to say something first.

"Avon, Orac's had a bright idea. Until we c an find out exactly what Kordis did. Orac has come up with a gadget that can help. It can translate attempts to talk into a sort of speech. It won't sound anything but mechanical. but at least you'll be able to yell at me if you want to. Blake and the others are working on it now. Orac has given them the specifications; it should be ready soon."

A mechanical voice? Avon considered that and found the idea repellent, but it was better than silence. As usual. Vila's explanation was inadequate, and Avon would have liked to tell him so, but there was no way to do it.

Vila plunged on. "They think it'll be ready in a couple of hours. Blake grabbed some of Kordis's notes too, but they're in some sort of code that even Orac can't break. We can't find the key to it. Orac says there isn't any consistency to it or any pattern. Do you want to have a go at it? Maybe you could make more sense from it than we could."

Undoubtedly. Avon tried automatically to say so and discovered that while no sound emerged, the pain was less than it had been right at first. Could it be wearing off? He tried to speak again, harder this time, and discovered that the pain was still there, lurking just below the borders of awareness. He closed himself away from it, and Vila pretended not to notice. That was even worse; Vila being sympathetic and letting it show, Vila being tactful, Vila avoiding sarcastic remarks. It was insupportable, and it wouldn't only be Vila who would change toward him. It might be better to leave the Liberator than to stay like this. He told himself that he had always meant to leave, but somehow it seemed harder to contemplate now. That made him angry at himself. Better to leave, he thought. Better to leave than to stay, the target of everyone's pity. He'd give it time, in case there was a solution, but if there were none, he would go. He could find that bolthole he'd always talked about; he knew of several possibilities already.

Vila's voice broke into Avon's thoughts. "We've had to leave orbit around Molina, but we got everything there that we could." Vila hesitated. "We got into a battle with some Federation ships before and they did a bit of damage, drained the power cells, too. That's why we were gone so long. We got back to you as fast as we could."

That recalled to Avon that Vila had been wounded, but when he looked at him, there seemed to be no trace of injury.

Vila, who was starting to show an uncanny ability to guess what he was thinking, said, "I wasn't hurt too badly back there. Still, it wasn't any fun, I can tell you, and everybody acted like it was nothing. They just don't understand pain. They wouldn't like being shot, either. I don't think I like going down to planets. Operating the teleport's more my style."

Avon gave him a scornful look, but he was discovering that coping with Vila was impossible without speech. Even worse, Vila now produced a pad and writing implement. "Is there anything else you want or need, Avon?" he asked tentatively.

Avon's first instinct was to fling them across the room, but he controlled it and took the pad. He wrote in answer to Vila's question, "Two things. Kordis's notes. Go away, Vila."

Vila read it over. "Right," he said. "I'll get them," and he went out in a hurry. Avon realized that it could not have been any easier for Vila than it had been for him, but that didn't help. Without speech, he simply could not deal with Vila properly. His sarcastic wit and biting tongue were part of his defense against people who might otherwise get too close to him, and without them, force d to depend on others to get along, Avon did not think he could manage. He'd give Orac's gadget a try, but he already knew he was going to hate it.

Jenna returned with the notes that Blake had managed to steal from Kordis. She held them out to him. "Vila s aid you wanted these. Shall I leave you in peace to study them?" At least she had the sense to ask a question that could be answered with a nod or a head shake.

Avon nodded and took the notes from her, becoming absorbed in them immediately. Jenna looked a t him a moment, then turned to go. She paused in the doorway. "By the way, Cally says there's no reason for you to stay in the medical unit any longer. You can return to your cabin if you'd like."

Avon nodded. He'd had no intention of staying in the medical unit anyway. He turned back to. the notes again as Jenna left.

#

The notes proved to be as incomprehensible to Avon as they had been to everyone else. He took them to his cabin to study them, but he found that, without a voice, he could not even use the intercom to request that someone bring Orac to him. Frustrated because he realized that even if he did have Orac he could not give it instructions, he flung the notes across the room; then, before anyone could come in and see what he had done, he retrieved them and set them aside.

#

 


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