AbsolutionBy Kathy Hintze
Page 3 of 8
The sigh which escaped the medical unit was echoed by one on the flight deck as Avon sat back, relieved. He had activated the intercom as soon as he had arrived there and heard everything. He was glad Vila was going to be all right. Vila might be the most bothersome, obnoxious, irritating person on board, but Avon had to admit he kept things interesting.
On Danmyon, Jared wished things weren't so interesting as he awaited Servalan's displeasure. Micah had thoughtfully carried her the news of Vila's rescue and Blake's escape. If he lived long enough, Jared intended to pay Micah back for his treachery. But the odds of that happening were very slim. The Supreme Commander was not known to forgive anyone once, let alone twice. So far, he had merely been placed under house arrest and put in the same cell Vila had occupied. No doubt to meditate on what his punishment would be.
Death would be a blessing, but he could not see Servalan granting him that way out. And a horrible thought occurred to him. No, she wouldn't do that. Would she? Modification? He shuddered inwardly. No! He would force them to kill him before that happened.
In the command center, Servalan watched Jared via the monitor, reading his face as easily as she would any printed matter. He had failed and now sat waiting for whatever punishment she deemed proper. Of course; the Code demanded it. Given the chance, he probably would have killed himself with his own knife. Ah, she remembered, but his knife was gone. Gone with Vila who by now was surely dead. One less rebel, however useless, to worry about. She contemplated the man on the screen. Punishment was called for, something severe, but not deadly. Not yet. Jared might still prove useful. She turned as the door swished open and Micah entered, saluting. His eyes caught sight of the figure on the monitor and he smiled.
"You've decided on the punishment, Supreme Commander?" he asked.
Servalan eyed the man curiously, then nodded. "Yes, Captain." Micah straightened at his sudden promotion. "In view of his previous record, I've decided to grant him absolution--"
"Absolution?" Micah was stunned.
She smiled sweetly. "Yes, absolution by trial. According to the Code."
Micah's disbelief turned into a vicious smile. "You realize that I am now in charge of the unit?"
"Of course. And as your first act, it will be your honor to stand as executioner of the sentence."
Servalan could see how eager Micah was. So eager he could well get himself killed. The Code demanded that the accused face his commander in a narrow, dark tunnel. If he or she emerged alive, which had rarely happened, they were released of all charges and restored to whatever rank previously held. She was sending Jared to his death and yet, she thought, there was a chance he would survive. The Saluccian Code demanded only the best, after all.
As for Blake and the others, their capture had merely been delayed. Sooner or later, she would catch them. And then her plans for power could move forward.
Vila regained consciousness in stages. The first thing he discovered was the terrible pain in his back was gone, replaced by a dull throb which he found he could tolerate. Then his other senses started working. A sweet fragrance filled his nostrils. He couldn't place it exactly, a fruit perhaps or some kind of flower. Or.... Perfume, that was it. Blake and Gan didn't wear any; he didn't think Avon did, so whoever was with him had to be either Jenna or Cally.
He opened his eyes slowly. A blur of gold swirled into view. Gold? Am I dead after all? he wondered, remembering a story he had heard as a child. Thieves' Heaven had streets paved with gold. Or so the old beggar had told him. The gold moved closer and a voice, a distinctly familiar female voice, called to him.
"Vila? Can you hear me? It's all right. I've removed the knife. You're going to be all right."
Knife? he thought idly. What knife? Then he remembered and a cold shiver ran through him. The Saluccian blade. His mind spun into focus as he imagined the damage to his back. To his spine. His spine? I'm not paralyzed, am I? he wondered. He tried to move his arms and was relieved when they responded. Legs? He tried them and was doubly relieved.
Jenna laughed. "I told you. You'll be all right. Cally said a few muscles were cut up, but all in all, you'll be back to, drinking and complaining soon enough."
Vila tried to look irritated, but the effort exhausted him. He felt so weak, so light-headed. Must have lost some blood, he thought. Probably got me doped up, too.
"Here, drink this, Vila," Jenna instructed, holding a glass filled with a pale green liquid to his lips. "Your throat must be parched."
Up until she mentioned it, he had not really noticed. He did now, and Vila drank the liquid thankfully. His throat had felt like the bottom of a barrel left too long in the sun. Definitely dry. Whatever was in the drink, it relaxed him and he smiled up at her. "Thanks."
She returned his smile and that puzzled him. Jenna had never taken to him like the others had, but now she seemed to have changed.
The pilot regarded him for a moment, then asked, "How did you guess I would know about the knife?"
Vila tried to shrug, then grimaced as the movement disturbed the healing wound. "I...I sort of thought you being a smuggler, you might have come across one somewhere."
Jenna nodded thoughtfully. "As a matter of fact, Tarvin had one. Souvenir off a Saluccian sent to kill him. It seems the Federation thought we were taking too many of their precious cargoes. I only saw him use it once, but that was enough. And you?"
"Ran into them when me and a pal were working on a government job. Saluccia were guarding the place, but we didn't know that. They looked like regular security guards, but they weren't." He paused a moment and grimaced again. "My friend tried to escape. He shouldn't have.
"Speaking of which," Vila looked around. "What did you do with the...the...."
"Knife?" she asked.
"I gave it to Avon," Jenna explained. "He was curious about it. And I didn't think you'd mind."
"As long as it doesn't end up in my back again, I don't," Vila grumbled.
She laughed. "Just remember not to get Avon angry at you and you won't have to worry."
Avon. The conversation in his cell between Jared and Servalan came back to Vila. "Where is Avon?" Vila inquired.
"On the flight deck, I expect," Jenna answered, surprised. "Why?"
"Oh, no reason. Just wondering."
"You're awake, I see," came Blake's voice from the doorway. He crossed the room to stand looking down at Vila. "How are you feeling, Vila?"
"Much better, thanks." He gazed up into the rebel leader's face and added, "Thank you for coming back for me, Blake."
"You didn't think I would leave you there, did you?" The doubtful look on Vila's face gave him his answer. Blake cleared his throat. "Anyway, I'm here to thank you."
"Thank me?" Vila didn't understand what Blake was talking about.
"Well, if you hadn't told Gan to bring us up, this conversation would probably not be taking place," Blake told Vila. "Cally and I are both grateful to you."
"And Avon?" Jenna demanded. "Isn't he grateful, too?"
The person in question chose that moment to make his entrance. "Ah, I see despite the Federation's best efforts, you are still with us, Vila." While his tone was as callous as ever, Vila knew there was nothing malicious behind it.
"Sorry, Avon?" Vila asked.
"Hardly," Avon answered matter-of-factly. "Every ship has its weak link. With you missing, that left just Blake or Gan."
Blake raised an eyebrow at Avon, then shook his head. "I think that's as close to a 'thank you' as you're likely to get from him, Vila."
Vila studied Avon carefully before replying. "I'll accept it," he said.
Blake looked at Jenna who looked back at him. The rebel leader cleared his throat again. "Well, Cally said not to exhaust you, so I won't."
"You would be enough to exhaust anyone," Avon responded, drawing a frown from Jenna.
"Avon, if I were a man..."
"Don't let that stop you," he returned coolly.
Blake broke it up. "Jenna, there's something I need your advice on." He looked at Vila. "We'll come back later when you're feeling better." Then he dragged Jenna from the room.
Vila watched them leave with mixed emotions. How could he tell Avon about his brother? And yet he had to say something or he would burst. As Avon headed for the door, Vila gathered his nerve and called him back.
"What is it?" Avon asked in an annoyed tone. "Need your pillows fluffed or what?"
Vila looked uneasily at him, then decided to plunge in. "Avon, I know it's none of my business, but...but do you have any brothers or sisters?"
Avon froze, staring at him. It took him so long to answer that Vila thought he wasn't going to, then Avon said slowly, "I had an older brother, Jared. But he was killed some time ago. Why do you ask?"
Vila swallowed hard. In his mind's eye, he compared the two men, overlaying Jared's features with Avon's, then vice versa. There was no chance of his being mistaken. Jared was not dead. He was alive and working for the Federation.
More hesitantly than ever, Vila spoke. "Was...was he tall, sort of muscular, with blond hair?"
Avon's expression frightened Vila. "Yes, but how could you know that?"
"Avon," Vila began fearfully. "Avon, your...your brother is alive. He's not dead. He's in charge of the Saluccian Unit on Danmyon. That knife that Jenna took out of me--it's his."
Vila watched Avon's eyes, seeing the disbelief. "I know it's true, Avon. I heard Jared talking to Servalan. He thought I was unconscious. Servalan said something about his joining up because of the disgrace you had brought to him. Your...your brother didn't like that, but I think it was the truth." Vila looked worriedly at Avon. "I...I think if he saw you again, he might even try to kill you, Avon."
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