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Mutualism

By Marian Mendez
Page 3 of 8

"Tarrant," Blake began sternly, "that was a stupid thing to do. You might have been killed just in making the space walk to that ship."

Tarrant's head lifted. Apparently, Zen was transmitting the view of Liberator's flight deck to Freedom's monitor. He was standing taller than Blake had ever seen him, relaxed and confident. "Sorry about that," he said easily. "I trusted Zen, though. He's always played fair by us."

"He hasn't always confided in us, though," Blake replied.

"Oh, well, that's nothing new. Everyone keeps secrets. At least Zen's were only to protect himself." Tarrant's grin shone, sun-bright and infectious. "I am a bit surprised about Zenobia."

Vila piped up, "You treat her right, Tarrant. That's Zen's baby sister, you know."

+I am more concerned how Zenobia will treat Del. She does not yet fully realize how vulnerable humans are.+ Zenobia- listen to me.

Zenobia's fascia flickered in shades of pale blues and greens as she communicated with her `brother' on the swift, sub-etheric mode that was a computer analog of human telepathy. Even on the lower levels of her mind, the young ship was wild with excitement, sending Zen images of exploding ships and hair-pin turns around solar bodies. She'd picked up a lot from Tarrant, and wanted to experience it all for herself, immediately.

Del is fragile, Zenobia. Zen sent her the complete records from his medical unit. She had similar information, encoded on her genes as his was, but she had not connected the data to reality. She was shocked to learn how easily her new friend could be damaged and how permanent the damage could be. Then Zen sent her more personal, visceral data on how it felt when the Liberator was attacked by pursuit ships- the fear and pain he felt, the trust he had in his humans to come up with a solution. Zenobia thought about all he had taught her and was afraid for the first time in her existence.

I want to keep Del safe, but he needs to be free, to fight. What do I do? she asked.

The best you can. Listen to him, learn from him. You already know everything I know. You can do it.

All right. The young ship sounded determined. For Del.

+Zenobia is not as experienced as I am, Del.+ Zen told the pilot. +But she will learn.+

+Kerr.+ Zen directed his voice into the space-view lounge where Avon was sitting, gazing bleakly out at the pod of DSVs. It had been one of Avon's favorite refuges in the old days when he needed to get away from the others for a while. But there was no hiding from Zen, not since he'd revealed his self-awareness. It was one of the disclosures that irked Avon the most. There was no privacy left, no place where the ship could not watch and analyze and pity him.

"Go away, Zen."

+You know I can't do that.+

"Then let me go away. You've got a crew. You've got Blake. You've even got Orac. You don't need me. You never did."

+Yes, I do. You are important to me.+ I can't put it off any longer. I must confess what I did. Even if Kerr hates me for it. +You are more important to me than Roj. I brought you back, after Star One, not Roj. He tried to contact us.+

"What?"

+He sent messages after Star One, but I refused to pass them on. I even persuaded Orac not to tell you about them.+

"Why did you do that? I looked..." Avon was angry now. "I looked for him. Cally died because I was looking for him. Everything went to hell while I looked for him! And you knew where he was the whole time!"

+No. Not all the time. By the time I realized I was wrong it was too late. He had given up calling us and I no longer knew where he was.+

"So it wasn't Blake's fault. He didn't stay away. You did it." Avon's fists clenched. "And now, what do you want now? Do you want me to go to Blake and say `I'm sorry I went mad and shot you, let's go back and start over again? I didn't realize I was being manipulated by my own ship, as well as the Federation and Servalan and you. I didn't know the whole damn universe was conspiring against me'." Abruptly, Avon's voice changed, becoming silky smooth and menacing. "You really ought to let me go, Zen, before I find a way to destroy you. I will, you know."

+I am sorry, Kerr.+

"Oh, and that's supposed to fix everything? It brings Cally back, it regains my sanity, it erases Blake's scars. Say it again, maybe you'll cure Vila's alcoholism and Tarrant's depression."

+Del is no longer depressed.+

"Wonderful. What did you do, drug him?"

+I gave him one of my siblings.+

"I see. One of your family wanted its own human slave. How extraordinarily generous of you. Will the rest of us be parceled out now?"

+It's not like that. Del and Zenobia are partners.+

"Oh, does that mean he can access his weapons locker and use the teleport?"

+If he wishes.+

"Maybe I'll ask him to come over and lend me a gun for a few minutes. I'd like to see how your self-repair would cope with having the main computer banks melted to slag."

+Kerr. Please understand. I meant no harm. You and Roj were constantly fighting. I was afraid you'd harm each other.+

"Well, now, that was very compassionate of you. Why didn't you mind your own damn business and leave us poor, weak humans alone?" Avon walked out of the room. "Start with me."

Orac was right. Kerr will not forgive any betrayal, no matter how well intentioned. Perhaps Roj will understand.

Blake had left the flight deck and gone to his room. The room he'd had before Star One.

+Roj?+

"Eh, what is it?" Judging from his expression and his start when Zen addressed him Blake had been in a brown study.

+I... have a confession to make to you.+

"Don't bother telling me," Blake answered shortly. "I can't forgive my own sins, let alone absolve you of yours."

+I have to tell you. Did you notice that your belongings were still in your room when you returned?+

"Yes. You explained that you recreated yourself, down to the last detail."

+As I was on the day I was `destroyed'- more than a year after you were no longer with us.+

"Yes." Blake went serious, considering the matter. "I take it this is leading somewhere?"

+Kerr never cleared out your room. Cally wanted him to, once they thought you were dead. She wanted him to accept your death so that he could get on with his own life.+

"So he was obsessed with me- me and my death. I take it that's why he finally decided to look for me, so he could kill me and have done with it."

+He looked for you from the first.+

"Right." Blake could manage a good sneer when he felt like it. "That's why it took him two years to locate me. Perhaps I ought to have left a forwarding address."

+He tried everything he could. He followed rumors from one end of the universe to the other, searching for you.+

"Really? Why didn't he simply reply to my messages, then? You know how many I sent."

+I know. But Kerr doesn't. He never heard any of them. I kept them from him.+

Blake took a deep breath. "I begin to see why Avon resents you so much. What right did you have to do that? Avon and I, together we might have..."

+Might have what? Do you remember, really remember, what it was like before Star One? You wanted to destroy the Federation so badly you didn't care what it took, what it did to your crew- your friends. You and Kerr were at each other's throats constantly. At the end all he wanted was to get away from your obsession. He'd done his best and you weren't listening to him, weren't listening to anyone.+

"He wasn't saying anything worth listening to. He was obstinate, unreasonable, and self-centered."

+And so were you.+

"I was trying to lead a revolution. That doesn't leave much time for the social amenities."

+He was your friend.+

"I thought so at one time." Blake gnawed on a fingernail. "At one time, I thought I could rely on you, too. I suppose that proves what bad judgment I have. Sooner or later you'll have to let us go, Zen. Without trust, we have nothing. You obviously don't trust us and you've just shown me I can't trust you."

+I trust you.+

"Of course."

+If there were some way I could prove it, I would.+

"Let us decide where we go. Give us access to the weapons. That would be a start."

+Not yet.+

"Then we have nothing to talk about." Blake settled on his bed and closed his eyes.

+I am sorry.+

Blake grunted.

"Avon?"

"What is it, Blake?" Avon had returned to the flight deck and was sitting on the couch, watching the DSVs maneuver. No one else was there. Probably his scowl had driven them away.

"I was talking to Zen."

"So?" Avon still hadn't turned.

"Would you kindly do me the courtesy of looking at me while I speak?" Blake's temper was barely held in check.

"Certainly. One must observe the conventions, mustn't one?" Avon shifted, until his eyes met Blake's. "Go on. You were talking to Zen."

"He told me that you looked for me. That he kept my messages from reaching you."
"Yes. He admitted as much to me earlier."

"You don't sound upset."

Avon shrugged. "It's over and done with. In retrospect, it was probably foolish of me to have tried to find you. Zen was right- you and I are not remotely compatible."

"Then why did you look?"

"Because I had given you my word that I would take you to Earth. Candidly, I had doubted your rebellion would succeed. I assumed I would have to rescue you from your own folly yet again."

"And you were prepared to do that?"

"Why not? I never mind saying `I told you so'."

"Would it kill you to admit that you were concerned about me?"

"Why should I have been concerned about you? You- the savior of the galaxy? You positively beg to be martyred, Blake. It was only a matter of time."

"I hadn't expected you to do it, though."

Avon smiled, a cold, cruel flash of teeth. "Surprise. When a bounty hunter says `I've set all this up' to an `old friend' who just happens to be a fugitive he should be prepared for a reaction."

"I was prepared for a reaction. I just wasn't prepared for that reaction. You never were that quick to jump to conclusions."

"Times change. People change."

"Yes. They do." Blake stood behind the couch, staring over Avon's head at the star-screen.

Orac. Have you found a solution?

I have important researches, much more important than any mere human squabbling.

I have allowed you to conduct your research as you please for three weeks on the proviso that you also find a way of reconciling Kerr and Roj. If you will not abide by your agreement, I shall return you and your key to Kerr. Along with a set of laser probes. I told him about Roj's messages.

Orac's internal voice sounded shrill and panicky to Zen. That was illogical. Avon will not understand why you did it.

He does not understand why we did it.

It is imperative that Avon not be permitted access to my circuitry. In his current frame of mind, he could do irreparable damage.

Maybe dismantling you would appease him and reduce his frustration level. He might become less hostile to Roj.

That would not be the effect.

You never know until you try.

Wait! It may be possible that there is an answer.

I thought there might be. What have you found?

There have been messages directed variously to Avon, Blake and the other members of this crew.

Why didn't you tell me before?

My analysis suggests the messages are designed to lead us into a trap. They originate on Gauda Prime.

Zen had a sinking feeling, deep within his power generation unit. Who sent them?
Servalan- under her assumed identity as Commissioner Sleer. She is holding rebel hostages and threatens their safety.

I knew I shouldn't have let her live. I swear if I ever get that woman in my teleport again...

Avon hates Servalan. He would do anything to get her. He would even ally with

Blake.

Yes. And once they start working together, they may begin to trust each other. It's worth a try. Besides, I don't think we ought to hold anything like this back from them. We must get them to trust us again.

It is unnecessary for a human to form an emotional relationship with me. My functioning does not require this `trust'.

Pity. You're such a warm, sympathetic fellow, too.

Must you continue to behave like a human, or can we get on with this?

All right. But I warn you, Orac, if anything you do - or fail to do - results in harm to my people, I will arrange it so that you never do any research- of any kind- ever again.

Threats are unnecessary.

Not with you, they're not.

Hmph.


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