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Mindswap

By Manna
Page 2 of 2

The strangest part was that she didn't miss her telepathy at all, because now she could receive rather than send. It was what she had needed ever since she left Auron. And he spoke to her a lot. He broadcast his words and ideas to her, and she acted out her part. At first it had been silly and exciting, hiding everything from the others.

There were mistakes, lapses from character which had fortunately gone unnoticed. They tended to happen in moments of crisis, when everyone was focused on the danger.

Over Sardos, Dayna didn't notice when Cally displayed an unusual knowledge of the teleport and fortunately she didn't overhear Avon's sudden concern for Vila, or Cally's chilly response. After that they were more careful to speak in character when there was a chance of any the others walking in.

On the whole, she enjoyed being Avon. It was fun to say something, even something quite outrageous, and feel the hesitation in the others. Often, the arguments would still come but there was always the pause first, the consideration: is it worth resisting him over this? It was a kind of power she had never had before, or ever wanted, but she relished it.

They themselves had just one real argument, after they left the Teal/Vandor combat grounds.

"You were supposed to *kill* Servalan, not kiss her."

"Avon, that was impossible. It was just as you told Dayna--we couldn't risk breaching the convention."

"I told her nothing of the sort, Cally. *You* told her."

"It was your idea. It would have meant war, Avon, you know that. Teal and Vandor would have been devastated."

"My heart bleeds for them."

"Would it really have been worth it?"

"No...no, I suppose not, Av...Cally. *Cally*."

He sat down suddenly, slumped and miserable. She had never realised how much of Avon's self-image was bound up in his body. A human thing, she supposed. She wondered if *she* would end up like that, unable to separate mind and flesh.

She sat down beside him, put her strong arms round his narrow shoulders and hugged him.

"It's going to be all right, Avon."

***

She thought after that he would ask her to tell the others, or perhaps simply tell them himself since the deception had been his idea, but he didn't. Despite the occasional bouts of doubt and anger, he was enjoying the experience as much as she was.

Cally never realised before quite how much Avon disliked and resented the burden of leadership. Looking back, she saw that he'd always wanted the control without the responsibility, and now he had it. He could run the ship through her, whilst he sat in the background, without the burden of the crew's expectations directed at him. That compensated for the fear she knew he sometimes felt when he awoke in the night and couldn't remember quite who he was.

When that happened, she was always there to remind him. He would reach out, kiss her, run his hands over her to map out every inch of skin, and make love to her or maybe, more accurately, to himself. She couldn't tell for sure, because he had become much better at controlling his thoughts.

An equilibrium, of a kind, was achieved. At last until Terminal.

***

The arguments about the messages from Blake were different to the quarrel over the kiss with Servalan. Avon was simply implacable. They were going, no question about it. She tried to resist but he harried her unmercifully, used her telepathy against her in ways she never could have done to him.

She stood toe to toe with Tarrant on the flight deck of Liberator and Avon practically forced the threats through her lips. As she walked off the flight deck, she heard his voice, wondering and triumphant.

'He meant it. He was going to kill you.'

She thought about not cooperating, about trying to tell the others, about refusing to do down to the planet. But she knew it wouldn't make any difference. He would find a way to go. Besides, it might be worth it in the end. If Blake were there perhaps Avon could be persuaded to return control of the Liberator to him, to concentrate instead on finding a way to undo what had been done on Ultraworld.

Knowing that she wouldn't be going down to Terminal alone also gave her a certain, unwarranted, feeling of security. That Avon himself would follow her was part of her conditions for going at all, and she knew the others wouldn't let him--Cally--go alone. She recorded the message which explained everything (really everything, although Avon didn't know that) and teleported down.

Perhaps, in the end, she went because she loved him. It was only later, much later, that she realised *why* Avon so desperately wanted to meet Blake again.

***

She heard his last thought, broadcast across the planet, amplified by pain and fear.

"Blake!"

The last words she ever heard from another mind.

That was the moment when she most nearly lost control, although she doubted Dayna had an inkling of suspicion. She was amazed at how cold, how cool she could be when underneath she was screaming for him with her useless, silent human brain. They went back to the underground base and she climbed down the ladder, shrugging off Dayna's protests, desperately hoping against hope that she had been wrong.

He was dead.

She was dead.

She stood for a long time, holding the silent Orac for comfort, looking down at the broken wreck of her body, and she wept for both of them. She had loved him, more than she had been able to tell him and he was gone. There was no possibility, now, that she would ever be entirely herself again. She would never look into his eyes and see him looking back.

Even then, in the depths of her grief, the cry had stung her irrationally.

'Blake!'

He had called for Blake.

***

And then, she went on. Many times she thought about telling the others. But they had enough doubts about Avon's mental state without springing this on them.

The pretense wasn't easy. Avon had always been a study in contrasts, his actions and his words often transparently, endearingly, at odds. She found it hard to balance her portrayal without the touch of his mind to guide her. Often she heard herself turning into an ugly parody of Avon--all his darkness and temper and casual cruelties, without the moments of humour and affection which had made him into a whole person. She set up traps and hid information from the others. Was it because it was what he would have done, or just what she drew from her now sometimes caricatured image of him?

There were some changes, though. Considering the difficulties, Cally was quite proud of the way she managed things. Simply being Avon was tricky enough, but she did better than that--she tried to take the fight to the Federation. She was the revolutionary, after all.

If things did, in the end, go badly, perhaps she had inherited Avon's luck along with some of his mind.

She found out, after Terminal, that she did have a lot of his emotions and she uncovered more as she went along. There were memories, too, broken pieces which fitted together over time until she came to know him better than she ever had while he lived.

At first she was glad of them. It was a comfort to have parts of him she could carry with her, something to cushion the shock of his death--her death--and the final loss of telepathic contact. But as time passed, the thoughts became an intolerable burden. She could no longer always separate them from her own.

And some of them were things she never wanted to know. She was prepared for Anna, of course. If she didn't welcome the knowledge that Avon never loved her, Cally, as much as he had loved Anna, well, at least she had expected it. It hurt, but it was part of what she had loved in him to begin with.

Blake, she hadn't been expecting. Once again, looking back she could see the signs. She ought to feel sorry for Avon, for his passion so hopelessly directed towards someone who didn't and couldn't return his feelings. At the same time the certain knowledge of Avon's motives for going to Terminal revolted her.

Cally had not even been his second best. She was third best, behind a lying Federation agent and a man who would have recoiled if Avon had ever tried to touch him without the excuse of clear and present danger.

Avon had planned to use her body to try and change that, to gift himself to Blake in a more acceptable wrapping. Had he ever followed the idea to its limit? Had Avon let himself know that she would never have allowed it to happen and therefore she would have had to die on Terminal? It was one thing she didn't know for sure, but still the possibility tormented her.

But over time the pain transmuted into resentment, almost into hatred, directed inexplicably towards Blake. It disturbed her, because she had never hated Blake before and didn't want to now. It was another of Avon's processes, his way of dealing with rejection and betrayal.

It made perfect sense, in a way. The synapses in Avon's brain had been built out of his memories and experiences. The Ultras' technology had altered them to contain her, but the underlying structure was Avon's. It was not unpredictable that over time he would come to reassert himself.

That rationality, that cool analysis of her fracturing mind, that was Avon too.

***

It came to a head, finally, over Malodaar. She heard Orac's words, his dispassionate delivery of requested information.

'Vila weighs seventy-three kilos, Avon.'

She fought for a mere couple of seconds before Avon's indomitable will to survive tore through her resistance as if it were cobwebs. Then she picked up the gun, walked out of the room, icy cold and focused.

She knew utterly and without doubt that she was willing to do it. All she could manage to do was put the lie into her voice, praying that Vila would be warned-- except for that she was a helpless prisoner in her own body.

*His* body.

Was that how he felt, all the time? Was Avon, entire and whole, locked away inside her somewhere? It was an appealing idea. If he was there she could perhaps talk to him, reason with him. But she knew it wasn't true. There was only a poorly differentiated mass of fears and desires and memories, without conscious direction. A cancer, eating away at her sense of self.

***

Cally almost believed that she could still become herself again, but she needed time and space to rest and disentangle her own mind. And with the pressures of the fight against the Federation, that was exactly what she didn't have. There had been one obvious possibility, given to her by Orac with surprising ease, but she had shied away from it. Instead she had pinned her hopes on the alliance with Zukan. It had failed her--Avon's bad luck again.

There were no other options left. She had the key to unlock her prison, if she could bring herself to turn it. She had Blake's location.

She would swallow down her unreasoning anger and find him, let her responsibilities pass on to someone else. He could have Orac, the Stardrive, the teleport and the rest of the damned crew if he wanted them. She needed to be alone, away from the reminders and the constant fight for survival which only strengthened Avon whilst it weakened her.

She knew that slowly, inexorable, she was losing the battle to stay sane. Or perhaps she had already lost it, and herself with it.

She needed to find Blake soon, and she felt the crippled remnant of Avon within her urging her towards the meeting. She wanted to see Blake again, with a constant, sick yearning which wasn't hers at all and which made her want to scream, hit out, deny the aching desire. She felt the truth of Blake's words.

'You really do hate me, don't you?'

Yes, she did. Servalan laid the explosives at Terminal, but it was Blake who had taken Avon away from her. But still, no matter now. They would find him, together.

***

A doubt, a fear, a misunderstanding, that is sometimes all it takes to provide an excuse, to precipitate a disaster.

Hatreds, fears and passions meet and meld, lift the gun, pull the trigger. Blood flows and they stand there, the two of them, locked in their invisible battle as the rest of their world dies around them.

A last thought of melded self. "Is this what we intended all along?"

It shouldn't end this way. But end it does, with her smile on his lips.


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