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Jewel of Death

By Kathy Hintze
Page 1 of 4

"You're sure he's been infected, Javarre?" the woman asked as she looked at the dusty, dark-clad figure lying unconscious on the couch.

"Positive, Madame President. The standard incubation time for the virus is one hour and he's been here nearly two. I personally injected him with the virus, as you instructed, as soon as he was found."

"Excellent." Servalan picked up a slender vial which lay on the table next to the couch and looked at its contents closely. "Beautiful, like a liquid ruby," she murmured, handing it to the physician. "And yet so deadly."

Javarre took the vial and secured it carefully in a small wooden case. "Madame President," he inquired curiously, "with the Federation's vast selection of viral strains, why did you choose this particular one?"

Servalan looked at the prisoner and smiled coldly. "I want to give the crew of the Liberator the chance to watch each other die. And this particular strain has proven most effective in the past."

"But how did you know he was coming?" the doctor asked in a puzzled voice.

"Because I invited him--not directly, of course. I merely sent word that Blake was here. I knew he would check it out. As for the collapse of the ceiling, that was providential."

"Then this is all a trap?"

"Of course," Servalan sighed. "Now, it is important that he be returned to the exact location where you found him. And there must be nothing to indicate he's been moved or anyone else has been there. Avon is not a fool. If he suspects anything, my plan will fail."

"But, Madame President!"

"Javarre!" she returned impatiently. "The Liberator will surely have missed him by now, and I don't want anyone teleporting down looking for him. Once Avon is on board, we need only wait until they are dead or too weak to offer resistance. Then we can take the ship at our leisure."

"I see," he commented and walked to the doorway where two guards stood. "You two, take him back to the bunker," he ordered. "Make sure you place him exactly as you found him. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"And we must not forget this," Servalan added, taking a teleport bracelet from a nearby table and snapping it on the unconscious man's wrist.

The guards picked up the prisoner and carried him from the room into a nearby building. Servalan and her companion followed at a discreet distance. Rubble filled several corridors of the decaying structure and the ceiling creaked and groaned, showering the visitors with a fine layer of dust. Cautiously picking their way through the debris, the men arrived at the site of the recent collapse, positioned their burden on the floor and left. Javarre and Servalan took up watch behind a large slab of concrete and waited for their captive to awaken.

#

Dust filtered down from the ceiling as Avon moaned and opened his eyes. He was very surprised to find himself alive. With care, he sat up and looked at the carnage around him. The collapse must have been triggered by the teleport beam, he mused, recalling his narrow escape. The only safety he had seen lay between two large stone blocks, but as he dove for them, a piece of debris had struck him on the head. Everything after that was a blank. How long have I been out? he wondered, then slowly got to his feet and tried his bracelet. "Liberator, this is Avon." No response, then static.

Cally's relieved voice answered him. "Avon, where have you been? We've been trying to raise you for at least an hour."

"I had a minor argument with a piece of rock," he replied dryly, fingering a gash alongside his left temple. "It won. Bring me up."

#

From her hiding place, Servalan watched Avon disappear and smiled. "How long until the entire crew is infected?"

"Depending upon exposure, I would estimate 12 hours. Death occurs within 36 hours after initial incubation unless the subject receives the vaccine."

"Then in three days, the Liberator will be a ghost ship," she mused. "A pity Avon won't be alive when I come aboard."

"But how will you know where to find them, Madame President?" the doctor queried. "They could be anywhere."

"A ship the size of the Liberator will be easy to locate, Javarre." Her patience with the man was beginning to wear thin. "Now, I must be getting back." Looking at the handsome doctor, she added with a captivating smile, "You are coming back with me to Earth?"

"It would be my pleasure," the doctor responded with a smile.

#

Vila was with Cally when Avon materialized on board. "You certainly took your time," Vila complained. "I thought something happened to you."

Avon's head began to ache and a trickle of blood ran down the side of his face as he replied. "Something did." He walked slowly to the teleport couch and sat down. "And when did you begin to think?"

"Avon, you're hurt," Cally murmured with concern. But as her fingers brushed the wound, Avon jerked away.

"I'm all right, Cally. A little dizzy, that's all."

"Did you find anything?" she asked quietly.

Avon looked up at her and frowned. "You mean any sign of Blake? No. If Blake did send that message, which I doubt, he had to move on in a hurry. The base down there has not been in use for at least 50 years. The buildings are falling apart."

"Avon, are you all right?" a voice called from the doorway. Dayna stood staring at him with worried eyes.

"Why all this sudden concern?" he returned, eyeing his companions coldly. "Or did Tarrant think to take command without the benefit of seeing my corpse?"

"Avon!" Dayna exclaimed. "How could you think..."

"You are tired and hurt, Avon," Cally interrupted in a soft voice. "I think you should get some rest."

Avon glared at Cally for a moment, then realized she was right. "I'm going to get cleaned up. Vila, tell Tarrant to break orbit. I want to get clear of Pendra in case it is a trap."

#

As Avon walked from the teleport station, a scarlet mist rose before his eyes and dizziness swept through his mind. He forced himself up the steps and down the corridor toward his cabin. Once out of the others' sight, though, he leaned against the wall, breathing heavily as he tried to regain control. Avon glanced back toward the teleport, but no one had followed him. With the wall as support and feeling a little better, he continued on, but the dizziness grew steadily worse. Then in the corridor near his cabin, his strength gave out and he crumpled to the floor.

#

Vila was on his way to the flight deck when he found Avon sprawled face down in the middle of the hall. As he turned Avon over, Vila winced. Blood was flowing down the side of Avon's face. He reached for the wall communicator and hoped that Cally was still at the teleport.

"Yes, Vila, what is it?" came the Auron's voice.

"I--I've found Avon lying in the corridor near his cabin. Cally, there's something wrong with him," he said in a frightened voice. "He's unconscious."

"Stay with him, Vila, and don't let him move about. He may have a concussion."

"Not much chance of that. He's out cold," Vila mumbled. "Do you think I should call Tarrant?"

Cally hesitated. "No. I'll be right there."

"All right," Vila replied, switched off the communicator and returned to Avon's side. "You did this on purpose, didn't you? Just to worry Cally and me." As Vila examined him closer, he noticed Avon's face seemed unusually flushed and when Vila felt his forehead, he seemed abnormally warm.

"Vila, has he come around?" Cally's voice startled Vila.

"No," Vila murmured, looking up. "Cally, he feels awfully warm."

The Auron's expression grew concerned as she checked Avon. "A concussion may cause a rise in temperature, Vila." She looked at Vila's frightened face and smiled. "I am sure it's nothing serious. Now, help me get him to the med unit."

#

Vila rubbed a sore shoulder, wishing Cally had let him call Tarrant. Avon was no featherweight and getting him to the med unit had not been easy for either of them. Vila watched as Cally gently wiped the blood from Avon's face and began cleaning the wound. Vila flinched as he saw the gash. "That's a pretty nasty cut, Cally. Do you think that's what made him pass out?"

The Auron nodded. "It's possible, Vila. The wound is very close to the temple."

"You'd think Avon would know better than to wander around in old buildings," Vila said with a mischievous smile.

"Yes, you would," Cally agreed, returning his smile. "Weren't you supposed to tell Tarrant something?"

"Uh, yes," Vila remembered. "In all the excitement, I guess I forgot."

#

But after two hours, Avon still had not regained consciousness and Cally began to worry. And since Avon was unable to prevent it, she decided to run a few tests. When the results came back, they were anything but encouraging.

"Subject appears to be suffering from a fever of unknown origin," the med computer advised. "However, tests results are inconclusive at this time."

"Inconclusive?"

"A scan of ship's data banks have no recorded reference on which to base diagnosis," the computer replied.

Cally checked her chronometer. Four hours had lapsed since Avon had been found in the corridor. Four wasted hours, the Auron thought, punching the wall comm.

"Yes?" answered a familiar voice.

"Vila?" Cally could not keep the surprise out of her voice. His shift wasn't due to begin for at least another six hours. "What are you doing on watch?"

"Tarrant wasn't feeling up to par. Some of Dayna's cooking no doubt," Vila laughed, then his voice changed. "How's Avon?"

"He's still unconscious, Vila," Cally murmured. "I don't understand. He has a slight concussion but nothing serious. He should have regained consciousness by now."

"Then what..." Vila quavered.

"I don't know," Cally replied. "The med computer said he has some kind of fever but nothing definite."

"Have you tried Orac?" Vila asked.

"That's why I'm calling. Bring him down to the med unit, will you?"

"Have him there in a minute," Vila answered.

The small computer lay on the flight table, but as Vila reached for it, Orac suddenly came to life. "I do not wish to be disturbed."

What was he doing activated? Vila wondered. Then he remembered who had used the computer last. What was Tarrant thinking of, leaving the key in? Vila eyed the flickering lights uncertainly, remembering the last time Orac had said that. He had received quite a jolt. But Cally needed Orac right away. He gathered his courage and said, "Come on, Orac. Cally needs you to..."

"I am aware of her request."

"You are?" Vila asked in surprise.

"Of course. I have been monitoring the tests and find them fascinating, though somewhat incomplete." The computer sniffed. "Due no doubt to the inferior status of the ship's medical computer. However, anticipating you would require my services, I have already undertaken a scan of my own. I shall inform you in due time of my findings."

"Uh, all right," Vila muttered, walking back to his console. "I don't like that. Orac anticipating what we want and all."

"Just let me know what he finds out," Cally called, making Vila jump. He'd forgotten to turn the communicator off.

#


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