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Another Beginning

By Marian Mendez
Page 2 of 4

The tiny flier that Tarrant piloted was a far cry from Sleer's lumbering flagship. Blake, Pavra and the four from Scorpio filled it to capacity. The pilot was guided by Vila until Dayna leaned forward with an exclamation.

"To the left," she said. "See the flattened bushes in that clearing?"

Tarrant landed the craft directly atop the damaged foliage. Beyond the relatively flat area that the flier occupied the landscape was rough, broken terrain. Vila indicated the direction Avon had taken on leaving the flier, but as Avon had disappeared from view almost at once and the stony ground held no footprints this wasn't very helpful. A thorough search of the immediate vicinity turned up no clues and the discouraged group met back at the flier.

Soolin was irritated. She untangled a few twigs from her long blonde hair and complained, "If Avon wasn't so suspicious, he could have told us how to find Orac."

Still entranced, Vila had been keeping up a constant babble of nonsense which his friends were doggedly ignoring. At Soolin's remark he stopped for a moment, then said, "Avon said, 'If Blake wants Orac, he can whistle for it.'."

"Yes, but he didn't mean it literally, " Dayna protested.

"Perhaps he did." Blake boarded the flier and reset the transmitter to wide-band ground level communications. The others gathered around the open door."Here goes," Blake said. He switched on the instrument and began whistling an old freedom fighters anthem. In mid-stanza he was interrupted by a familiar precise, supercilious voice.

* Identify yourself, * Orac said.

"This is Roj Blake." The rebel leader was grinning. "Where are you?"

*Identity confirmed. Select a frequency at random and resume transmission. I will reveal my location when contact is reestablished.*

"Avon's little joke," Dayna said wryly.

 

Orac's instructions led the party along a winding path formed by a dry stream bed. Within a few paces of their destination they were shocked into immobility by an explosive hissing originating from a dark opening in the sandy soil. Soolin crouched with her gun aimed at the hole. "Gully Viper," she said, "Lethal."

* Correct,* Orac's voice emerged from the hole, * and I am capable of driving them into a fury by the use of ultrasonic vibrations. Alternatively, I can repulse the serpents. You have thirty seconds in which to identify the members of your party.* Orac was silent as the humans hastened to comply. * Acceptable. Remain stationary until the vipers are clear of the entrance.* A rustling tangle of drab brown coils emerged from the dark pit, separating into individual snakes seeking shelter away from their nest. Orac said, * I am just within the entrance. Move swiftly, before the occupants return.*

Blake lunged forward, snatching Orac from the snake den. "Let's get out of here!" He ran heavily with Orac's clear plastic case clutched to his chest.

 

In the flier on their way back to the rebel base, Blake asked Orac why he had verified their identities. "After all, you don't care whose questions you answer, do you?"

Orac replied, *Avon ordered me to allow my retrieval only by you or him. Further, I was instructed to attack any group containing Servalan, even if accompanied by you and Avon.*

"So Avon did suspect a trap." Blake stared out of the window without seeing the passing landscape. "I wish I knew if he was still alive."

*Most probably he has been preserved for informational purposes.*

Blake shuddered. "Federation-style inquisition... and when they discover that he can no longer lead them to you?"

*Having no further value he would presumably be terminated.*

 

Sleer/Servalan entered the interrogation room. Undisturbed by the reek of strong antiseptics overlaying a mixture of blood and the subtle stench of fear she smiled down at her captive. "So, Avon, we meet again," she purred, running her clawed fingernails gently down his cheek. "I'm pleased to see you looking better."

"Purely a temporary condition," Avon said, weakly jerking his head away from her touch. "An easily corrected oversight."

"I don't want it corrected. I want you at my side."

"Like this?" Avon glanced down at the thick straps securing him to the steel table.

"Answer my questions and more comfortable quarters will be arranged."

Avon grinned cynically and shut his eyes. "Go to hell, Servalan," he whispered.

"I'm truly sorry, Avon, but you have made that your destination." Her negligent wave drew the technicians to their prey. "Inform me when you've broken him. I'll be in my quarters." She strode from the room, allowing the sound-proof door to close of its own accord.

 

Servalan wandered restlessly in her suite, her black gown swirling around her ankles as she turned back to the desk. She stabbed a button and her viewer lit up, revealing the interrogation room. She heard Avon's voice raised in a drawn-out wordless howl. The sound was abruptly choked off, then replaced by the chief technician's unemotional tones as the man faced Servalan's monitor.

"I regret, Commissioner, to report that the subject is not yet cooperative. Physically, he is weakening at an alarming rate. Conventional methods are liable to kill him long before he talks. With your permission, I would like to try an experimental drug. "

"Why haven't you already done so? I have always given you complete freedom in your work."

"The drug has a high mortality rate, Commissioner. Also, I will require the assistance of a female volunteer and all of my personnel are male."

"It sounds interesting." Servalan lifted an eyebrow in amusement. "What role does this woman play?"

"She will be the focus of an induced dependency. The subject will do anything she requires, once initial resistance is overcome. The process is harmless to the woman."

"Now you have me fascinated, doctor. I'm coming down to discuss this in person. It may not be necessary to requisition a volunteer."

 

Servalan stood in a small room adjoining the interrogation chamber, studying a vial of colorless fluid. "Before I commit myself, doctor, I have a few questions. How, precisely, does this drug work, and would the process be affected if the man disliked, even hated, the woman ?"

"The drug makes such considerations irrelevant. Primitive areas of the brain are stimulated, creating a permanent state of terror. Only the presence of the person injected with the counteracting agent relieves this anxiety. In a very real sense, the subject is addicted. You see,the counteracting agent causes the woman to emit, through pores and breath, a nullifying pheromone. Both drugs are long lasting- up to a week from a single dose. The subject has already been given the terror agent and been placed in isolation."

"Is he likely to die?" asked Servalan.

"No. Adverse reactions, when they occurred, took place immediately. This one will survive the drug."

Servalan held out her arm for the injection, wincing at the sting. "He may survive longer than that, if it suits me."


From two corridors away, Servalan noted that Avon's new cell was not sound-proofed. As she and the doctor approached, the shrieks died down. The doctor signaled the guard away from the cell door and slid back the inspection panel for Servalan. "He has been experiencing the full effect for twenty minutes. It was necessary to restrain him to prevent self-mutilation after the first five minutes."

Servalan gazed dispassionately at the heap of coarse fabric huddled in a blood-streaked corner of the cell. On her orders, the guard opened the cell and brought two chairs. She settled gracefully into one chair, and nodded toward Avon. The guard yanked Avon up by the thick cloth of the strait-jacket and deposited him on the other seat, holding him in place with a heavy hand.

Servalan forced Avon's head up. "What have you done to yourself, Avon?" She touched the angry scratches that ran the length of his face, perilously close to his eyes. "Doctor, tend these wounds."

Except for a constant, violent shivering, Avon never moved. His eyes were blank, unblinking even while his face was being bandaged.

"Catatonic, he's useless to me, doctor," Servalan warned.

"It's simply shock, Commissioner." He tweaked Avon's earlobe, producing a noticeable flinch and a flicker of animation on the chalk-white face.

"Answer my questions, Avon." She pulled him close, kissing him with bruising force. "The fear is less when you please me, isn't it?" She smiled at the startled realization in his eyes. "Yes, I'm the antidote for your condition. Cooperate and end this pointless misery."

Avon was bleakly defiant. "No," he rasped, hoarse from screaming. "Never."

Servalan tightened her grip on his matted hair, then she released him with a vicious twist of her wrist. "Perhaps you'll change your mind in an hour or two. That is, if you still have a mind by then. Call me when you decide, but don't delay too long. I do so hate dealing with idiots."

"The subject endured longer than expected, Commissioner, but before he lost consciousness he asked for you." The chief interrogator stepped aside, allowing Servalan to precede him to the table on which Avon lay. "There has been no neurological impairment. He will, of course, be disoriented." The doctor gave Avon an injection, then checked the restraints.

Avon stirred, shifting in his bonds. "Wake up, Avon." Servalan snapped her fingers to attract his attention. "Look at me... that's better. Now, you are going to be a good boy and tell me everything. Aren't you?" She patted him gently on the bandaged cheek.

Avon bit his lip, sending a trickle of blood down his chin. "Yes," he whispered.

"A very good boy," Servalan crooned, toying with a lock of Avon's hair. "Where is Orac?"

Avon gave her Orac's coordinates. Then he said, "It's in a viper nest. Orac will goad them into attack unless I'm there." He paused for breath. "Also, it will attack if it hears your voice."

"How sweet... you were expecting me. Are these vipers the only obstacle to possession of Orac?"

"Yes. My resources were limited."

"Then the problem is easily solved." Servalan issued orders for her personal ship,Stiletto, to be stocked with gas grenades lethal to reptiles and readied for a flight to Gauda Prime.

 


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