By Right of PossessionBy Kathy Hintze
Page 2 of 5
And they had left, barely escaping with a barrage of plasma bolts damaging several of their energy banks. Dayna had called it luck, Tarrant claimed it was his skill. In any words, it had been too close.
But something kept nagging at Avon, telling him that he had to go back, he had to be certain that Vila was dead. It was stupid, of course. Sentiment could kill a man if he allowed it to, but Avon could not shake the feeling. So they had returned two months later and found Vila alive but not the same.
Who could be, after the carnage Avon and Cally saw? The wooded area where Rubin's village had been was now nothing more than a blackened, twisted hole some three-quarters of a mile wide. How Vila had escaped from that defied Avon's power of reason, but escape he had, though not unscathed. The burns testified to that.
Cally was scouting the area looking for any signs of life when Avon found the footprint. The mark was not left by a Federation boot, but the thought did not reassure Avon as he surveyed the harsh surroundings. There was no way Vila could have survived here, he thought, activating his wrist communicator, no way at all.
It took Cally only a couple of minutes to rejoin him once he notified her of the find. Her eyes were darker than usual as she returned. She had hoped against all hope that Vila might have somehow escaped the massacre but her search had yielded nothing.
Avon showed her the footprint. "We'll follow this for a while and see where it leads," he advised, and Cally was quick to agree.
Whoever lived in the cave had disguised it well. Avon walked right past it and it was only luck that Cally spotted the small indentation behind the heavy growth. The plant life had been carefully cultivated to grow in and around the lightweight door panel, concealing it perfectly.
"Cally, stay out here and keep watch. I'll take a look inside," Avon murmured. She nodded and moved away.
Pushing the crude door open cautiously, the computer expert slipped inside. The cave was naturally lighted by a small opening in the ceiling. The air was musty from a small fire which burned near the wall, but otherwise the cave was clean and well-kept. It was while Avon was trying to find some evidence of the identity of its occupant that Vila had slipped past Cally and into the cave.
The figure on the couch stirred and opened his eyes. First pain, then anger filled them as he looked around. He saw Avon and Cally. "What do you want with me?" Vila exclaimed.
Avon paused before answering. Vila's voice sounded deeper and carried no hint of fear, only anger. At them and at himself for being caught. //Much as I would feel,// Avon mused. "As I told you down on the planet, I was looking for someone."
"But there is no one left except me," Vila muttered. Then he looked closer at Cally. "You are not human, are you?"
Cally looked startled. "No, I am not. I am from Auron."
Avon's eyes never left the other man's face. "How did you know she was an alien?"
Vila's face grew puzzled. "I...I don't know. I just knew." Then the wary look was back in his eyes. "What were you looking for in my cave?"
Avon sighed. "Evidence. Evidence that a missing member of my crew might still be alive."
"Then your search was for nothing. No one survived the attack except me. And I'm not your missing crewman."
Avon's eyes narrowed as he looked at Vila. "And just who are you?"
"My name is Restal," came the cool reply and the man's eyes never wavered as he stared defiantly back at Avon.
Avon exchanged looks with Cally before going on. "Well, Restal, until I decide otherwise, you will remain on board as my 'guest'."
"You've no right to hold me like this," he shouted angrily, struggling against the restraints. "No right at all."
"You are in no position to argue," Avon said sharply. "Cally, he is to remain under restraints and if necessary, sedate him, is that understood?"
*Are you sure that is wise?* she asked even as she nodded acknowledgement.
Drawing her out of earshot, he whispered, "Yes, I'm sure. Orac has been monitoring the conversation as well as Vila's reactions."
//Trust Avon to think of all the angles,// Cally thought. "But he could easily get loose. Those restraints were not meant to hold someone with Vila's talent."
Avon glanced across at the man before replying. "I don't think that man knows anything about locks, Cally. He said his name was Restal. But he's not the same man you and I know." Avon did not add how much he wished it were.
Restal glared at Avon as he left and tried once again to break free from the restraints which held him firmly to the couch. A hand gently touched his forehead and he jerked away.
"Why won't you let me go?" Restal snapped, his eyes flashing.
Cally looked at him in mild surprise. "Where would you go? Back to that dead world?"
He stopped struggling and shrugged. "Anywhere away from here."
"Perhaps Avon can arrange that," she responded.
Restal eyed her for a moment, then said, "What does your mate want with me?"
"My what?" Cally was clearly startled by the question. "Avon is not my mate."
The man gazed at her with a strange look in his eyes and said, "Then he is a fool."
On the flight deck, Tarrant, who had been listening to the conversation said, "Well, Orac, what do you make of it?"
"Make of it? I do not 'make' anything of it. Why do you insist on using such ridiculous terms?" snapped the computer peevishly.
"He means what is your assessment of Vila's condition?" Avon corrected, walking down the steps.
"Then why did he not say that in the first place?"
"Tarrant's vernacular may be somewhat limited," Avon said. "But mine is not. What is wrong with Vila?"
Orac sniffed. "From the data accumulated, it would be my opinion that the person in question is suffering from a severe shock induced by both external and mental stress."
"Meaning?" Avon demanded.
"I should think it obvious. Under the extreme pressure, an extreme form of schizophrenia developed."
"What!" Dayna exclaimed.
"In layman's terms, his conscious self retreated within, allowing his subconscious or ID as it was once referred to by primitive psychotherapists to emerge," Orac continued. "This entity was capable of dealing with the demands for survival and took complete charge."
"But what about Vila?" Tarrant asked in a wondering voice.
"Unknown. The new entity, or Restal as he prefers to be called, seems deeply rooted."
"But not too deeply," Avon countered. "He remembered, or to put it better, Vila remembered that Cally was not human."
"That is true," Orac agreed. "Complete submergence of the conscious self may not yet be achieved. But the longer he remains without treatment, the more difficult resurgence of the original identity will be."
Avon activated the console's communicator. "Cally?"
"Yes, Avon?" came her voice.
"Is Restal awake?"
"No," she replied. "I gave him a sedative and he's sleeping." Curiosity entered her voice. "Why do you ask?"
"I'll explain in a few minutes," Avon answered and closed down the communicator. "All right, Orac," he muttered, picking the computer up, "let's see if you can accomplish what the leading psychotherapists in the Federation have failed to do."
"That seems hardly a challenge. After all, my intelligence level is much hi-" Avon jerked the key from its housing and walked silently from the flight deck. Tarrant and Dayna stared after him in wonder.
"And what are we supposed to do?" Tarrant asked, bewildered.
"What we always do," Dayna shot back. "Keep a look out for Federation ships and stay out of Avon's way."
Tarrant looked at her and grinned. "Right you are, Dayna. Zen, any ships within our scanners' range?"
+Negative,+ answered the ship's computer.
"Let's hope it stays that way," Dayna muttered to herself. "I've a feeling that we'll need all the luck we can get this time."
In the medical unit, Avon assisted Cally in connecting the various sensor links to Vila, then drew up a chair and sat down next to the couch.
"Everything is set, Avon," Cally murmured, taking her place by the monitor. Orac had requested that there be constant monitoring of the life signs.
"It is possible that if Restal is too deeply implanted, he may decide to eliminate the threat of Vila altogether by simply willing himself to die," explained the computer. "Such things have been recorded in some extreme cases."
The anxiety was visible in Avon's eyes as he looked at the sleeping thief. There was no sign of the burn scars now and to all outward appearances, Vila was himself. Avon silently hoped that after Orac's treatment, he would indeed be himself and not the other man, a man who seemed every bit as cold and calculating as he was himself.
"You may proceed, Orac," Avon announced after nodding to Cally.
"Very well. Subject is in deep sedated sleep as per instructions?" the computer queried.
"Yes," Cally responded automatically, her eyes locked on the sensitive equipment.
"Stimulation is necessary of the Beta wave area," Orac began. "Now."
Vila's body went rigid, his face suddenly contorted with pain. His hands clenching and unclenching in rapid succession, while he seemed to gasp for breath.
"Pulse rate up to 130," Cally reported. "Respiration dropping."
"All treatment is to cease immediately," exclaimed Orac in a startled voice.
"What is it?" Avon demanded, jumping to his feet.
"Fascinating," the computer continued after a short pause. "The Restal entity seemed completely aware of our actions. Something it should be incapable of knowing while in this state. This will require further study."
"How much further study?" Avon queried apprehensively.
"Unknown at this time," the computer replied.
"Is there nothing more we can do?" Cally asked, concern and fear coloring her voice.
"No," Avon admitted. "One thing, Cally," he cautioned. "He's to be kept restrained at all times. No matter how much he may pretend to be Vila, do not let him loose." He gazed at the sleeping form and shook his head. "Until we know what we're dealing with here, I don't want to take any chances."
"I remember Gan," Cally responded grimly. "I will not forget."
"Good. I'll be in my cabin," he replied and left the room.
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