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A Case of Deja Vu

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 8

Leaving Gauda Prime seemed very urgent by then; when the backup troops came in they'd know someone had been before them and they'd look for us, so we'd have to run or fight. The Voice is a decent ship and others think it's marvellous, except for Col, who doesn't think anything is, but they hadn't been on Liberator. I knew we could outrun pursuit given a decent chance, but there were no guarantees of that.

I had Ren and Rod go to the flight deck with Jessa to man the weapons and back her. I stayed to work on Blake. I was surprised when Col chose to stay too, but I put him to work with the young man.

Besides losing blood and having the skin of his belly torn up, Blake wasn't too badly hurt. Col had taught me to read some of the medical scanners, so I could set up a transfusion though the machines did most of the work. Once replacement blood was pumping into Blake's body and the wound covered with a regen compound, I could safely leave him and see to the others.

Col had finished his patient by then. "He's a bit the worse for wear but it's the stun that's made him unconscious. They were all stunned. It seems the Federation wanted them alive." He began to examine Avon.

"He'll be all right," I said. "He was hit with our wide angle beam." Col's design was very handy for the kind of fighting we'd done at Blake's base, where you're clearly outnumbered and scoring direct hits doesn't matter as much as stopping the enemy and getting out alive.

I checked Vila next, and suspected he was shamming. If he'd recognized my voice, he didn't admit it, but he was too tense to be unconscious, and as I bent over him, he groaned tentatively. He didn't want to open his eyes to a Federation prison and discover a torturer bending over him, but he was listening for all he was worth.

"Come on, Vila, you're alive and well," I encouraged him. "We brought out everyone still alive. We're ready to leave Gauda Prime, and I could use your help." To prove me right, Jessa came over the intercom and told us to brace for takeoff, then the ship began to lift. I steadied Vila through the initial boost.

He opened on eye and peered at me. He must have remembered my voice, but it was the last one he'd expect. Suddenly I was sorry I hadn't let him know I was alive.

When he saw me, he turned paler than before and shut the eye quickly. "I knew it," he moaned, "I'm dead."

"No, you're not, and I'm not either," I reassured him. "Sit up and take a look around. Avon and Blake are here and two others I don't know."

"Avon and Blake!" Vila cried, bouncing up so quickly he almost fell over. "Blake's dead, isn't he? And you're dead, Gan." His eyes opened so wide I thought his eyeballs would pop out. "Is this...Hell?"

"Not even Heaven, Vila. Take it easy, you've been stunned."

He made a face. "I know that. I feel terrible. I'm going to be sick."

Deftly Col passed me a basin. I held it for him and steadied him until he finished retching, then I wiped his face and eased him back against the wall. "You'll feel better soon, Vila. You shouldn't move around so much until the stun wears off."

"I'll never move again." His eyes moved though, searching the room. "Avon. I should have known he'd make it." He didn't sound pleased, but the muscles in his shoulders relaxed. "He is alive, isn't he? Murderous bastard, he always survives."

"He's alive. He was standing protecting Blake from the Federation when we arrived."

"Protecting Blake?" Vila shook his head and winced.

"Straddling his body, gun raised. He looked like he knew he had no chance, but then he smiled. I supposed because he'd take some of them with him?"

"No, it was because he knew they'd kill him." It was the blond woman, who sat up very carefully, holding her head in her hands. "I think he wanted to die. Did you say Blake was alive?"

"Wanted to die?" muttered Col in a horrified voice.

"Blake is alive," Vila confirmed. "Soolin, this is Gan."

"I thought Gan was dead." She stared at me.

"So did I. But he's not--not unless we're all dead?" he finished nervously.

"None of you are dead," Col said, removing the basin and sticking it in a disposal chute.

Vila stared at him, his eyes widening again. "I know you, don't I?" he said in a strange voice. "Surely I know you."

Looking uncomfortable, Col turned to the other unconscious man. "We have never met."


A groan from Avon interrupted him, and Vila moved to place me between him and Avon. "You take care of him," the thief said. "That'll give him a good shock."

"I don't think he needs any more shocks, Vila," Soolin reproved him. She got up carefully and sat beside Avon, touching his arm. "Avon, it's Soolin. We're safe and away from the Federation."

Maybe she thought he'd come up fighting but he didn't. Instead he opened his eyes and my heart lurched because his eyes looked dead. There was no expression in them at all. "Vila's here," Soolin went on. "And Tarrant, though he's still unconscious."

"Blake's alive, Avon," Vila said meaningfully, winning a hard look from Soolin, who had evidently meant to tell him more gently.

Avon flinched. "Blake is dead." His voice was as empty as his eyes.

Col turned from Tarrant and spoke in a tone I'd never heard from him before. "Blake is alive. I promise you that."

Avon went so white he looked like an albino. I thought nothing could distract him from Blake's survival, but Col did. Avon's eyes closed tight like a child's will when he sees something too frightening to look at, and his hands closed into fists. He quivered and shook.

Vila glared at Col and sat beside Avon. I had wondered at Vila's hostility to Avon, but he didn't sound hostile now. "Avon," he said gently. "You're not seeing ghosts. I promise. You're not. I don't understand either."

"You? Understand?" Avon opened his eyes. They passed me without more than a flicker of surprise, lingered on Blake with the blood dripping into his arm and then returned to Col, who had not moved. They stared at one another.

"Hello, Kerr," said Col.

"You are dead," Avon returned in an unsteady voice. "I know you are dead."

"I'm sorry, but I'm not."

"If you're not," Avon replied in the strangest voice yet, "Then I am not sorry."

I didn't know how he meant that, and I don't think Col did either because he took a step back as if Avon could do less damage from there. To everyone's surprise, Avon hesitated then stretched out his hand to Col, and Vila stopped being protective and gave Col room to take it.

Col pulled Avon to him and hugged him. "I've missed you," he said.

Avon mumbled something that might have been agreement and actually hugged him back. After a long moment, he caught himself, jerked free and said furiously, "Where the hell have you been?"

I looked at Vila, who was smiling in a very know-it-all fashion. "This is only my ship. Why should I know what's going on?"

"I don't know either," Soolin admitted. "But Vila does. He's going to tell us right now, aren't you, Vila?"

" Anybody can see it. Look at them. " He gestured at Col, who was facing Avon talking nineteen to the dozen. "He's Avon's brother, that's who he is. Avon must have thought he was dead."

A bell rang in my head. I'd thought more than once that Col reminded me of Avon but the blond hair had misled me. I'd noticed Col making references to Avon once or twice and thought he'd picked it up from my talk about the Liberator. But when we'd entered Blake's control center, Col had gone straight to Avon and had fussed over him ever since.

"It's too many resurrections for one day," lamented Vila. "You owe us a story, Gan. How did you survive? Blake said you were dead. Why isn't he dead? Avon shot him thoroughly enough."

Col and I echoed, "Avon shot him?" in astonishment. Avon had fought with Blake and disagreed with him and sometimes acted as if he hated him, but I'd never quite believed it. I couldn't imagine Avon shooting Blake. Avon avoided looking at Col, staring at his hands with a great show of interest.

"It was party my fault," said the battered young man, Tarrant, who was sitting up in bed watching us with a bemused face. He must have been awake and listening. "Blake was playing at being a bounty hunter and I thought he meant to turn us in for the reward. Now I don't think so, but Blake's devious. He must have been testing me to see whose side I was on because I don't think he's gone bad. Gone mad maybe, but that's different. He had a woman there, Arlen. She was an undercover Federation officer who had worked her way into Blake's organization and set up the ambush at the end. We came at the wrong time." He turned to me. "Did I hear Vila call you Gan?"

I nodded. "We rescued you. We're trying to run the blockade."

"We're doing it. Can't you feel it? We're almost free of the atmosphere."

I hadn't been paying attention, but he was right.

"Who are you?" I asked. "Besides being a pilot. "

"He's Tarrant," Vila introduced. He glared at Tarrant. "You had to do it, didn't you? You told Avon Blake betrayed him."

"I thought he had," Tarrant defended himself. "What was I supposed to do, let him turn us in for the reward?"

"You could have been a little more circumspect," Soolin said. "But Blake's still alive."

Avon's eyes went to Blake, and Tarrant stared, wide-eyed, at the supposed corpse. "He was wearing body armor," I explained. "If he was pretending to be a bounty hunter, the armor was a good idea."

Avon moved stiffly, and Col helped him to his feet. He went to Blake's bed and looked at him, and I couldn't guess what he was feeling. For a long time, he stood there, then, without warning, he turned and walked out of the room. Col looked after him, gave me an apologetic smile, and followed him.

Vila stared after them miserably, then he got up and went to stand by Blake. "He didn't explain," he said. "Avon asked him to, said he didn't understand, but Blake didn't explain. He never did. I don't know why Avon thought this time would be different."

I watched Soolin get up carefully and join Vila beside Blake, while Tarrant propped himself up on his elbow.

"Blake always did things his own way," I agreed.

Vila exchanged a look with the other two, then he cried, "Wait a minute. 'Where's Dayna?" And all three of them froze.

"If you've left her..." Tarrant started, half sitting up, then his voice trailed off. "She's dead, isn't she?"

"We brought out everyone alive, Tarrant," I told him. "I'm sorry."

"Arlen shot her," Soolin reminded Tarrant. "She shot that man of Blake's and he's not here either. I think the Federation troops had their guns set to stun and planned to take us alive, but Arlen was undercover and had to protect herself."

"Servalan would've been furious if she'd killed Avon or Blake," Vila muttered. "She'd have wanted them alive." He was quiet a minute, then he said, "Poor Dayna."

"She knew she could die," Soolin said flatly. The three of us looked at her, then Vila nodded reluctantly.

"We should never have gone there," he said at last. "And I bet Avon noticed right away that she wasn't here."

" At least Blake's alive," I pointed out. None of them looked like they considered it a fair trade. "You should rest," I said. "You've all been stunned, and you don't feel very well."

Vila opened his mouth, either to agree or protest, then he broke off as the whole ship rocked violently. "So much for running the blockade."

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