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No Greater Gift

By Kathy Hintze
Page 2 of 3

When he regained consciousness, Avon had torn open his tunic, exposing the wound. Vila wondered how long he'd been out. "How much...." he started to say but changed his mind. "How long before the ship gets back?"

"Forty minutes," replied Avon, checking his chronometer. A sudden spasm of pain nearly drove Vila back into unconsciousness. Avon studied his face, then asked, "Vila, what did you mean, this is an old style vault?"

Vila focused his eyes on Avon. "Booby-traps," he murmured, wincing as Avon accidentally jarred the lance. "Mephisto, they named it right. Maybe he even designed this place." Vila paused and something like fear crossed his face. "Avon, don't touch anything in here."

"I don't intend to." At least not until I get you back up to the ship, Avon thought to himself. His examination of the lance had proved futile; the device was one solid piece. If he tried to melt through it, the entire lance would become white hot, burning anything coming in contact with it, including Vila.

"A youngster I knew once tried to rob something like this," Vila related. "When he didn't come back, I went looking. This thing," indicating the lance, "had him square in the chest. Killed him instantly. Not like me. Not like this." A shudder ran through his body.

"Forget about him, Vila. How do you feel?" Avon demanded.

"Like some damn butterfly on display," he wailed. "How do you expect me to feel?"

Avon let that pass. "Can you move your legs?" Vila stared at him, them complied. "Now try your arms," ordered Avon.

Vila lifted his left arm with ease but when he tried to move his right, pain shot across his face.

Avon sighed. "At least, there is no spinal damage."

Puzzlement crossed Vila's face. "Avon, there should be alarms going off. Why aren't there?"

The computer expert had been too occupied with Vila to even notice. "I don't know," he commented. "Maybe they didn't feel they were necessary."

"Even I can't buy that," mumbled Vila as he looked around the interior of the vault. "No sign of any monitors and no interior devices. I wonder."

"You wonder what?" demanded Avon.

"With all the dampness around here," explained Vila. "It's just possible the computer's auditory system malfunctioned."

"The device holding you was not triggered by a malfunction," retorted Avon.

"I didn't say it was, did I?" Vila shot back. "Oh, I wish I'd stayed on the ship."

But I needed you here, thought Avon as he stood up and searched for some trace of a monitoring device. With the exception of the massive computer terminal which occupied most of the vault, there was nothing else to be seen. Returning to his companion, he asked. "Vila, if I find the master control, can this thing be withdrawn?"

"No," muttered Vila. "Once it's activated, nothing stops it from homing in. It's attracted by movement. Activate the beam and the first motion it senses, sends it flying." Vila shuddered again, this time losing consciousness as blood began seeping out onto the floor from beneath his body.

"Vila?" murmured Avon, touching his companion's face. "Vila?" Avon stood up and made his way back to the hall, one thought in his mind, find that computer. Backtracking to the crossroads, he walked down the right passage. A hidden sensor flashed as Avon passed under its position and a wall slid open before him. "Well, well, well," he whispered, edging his way through the opening.

A mechanical voice broke the silence. "Attention. You are in a restricted area. Give proper identification." Avon kept walking, blaster now in hand. "You are in a restricted area. Identification is required," the voice repeated.

A service drone appeared as Avon rounded the corner. He fired, striking the mechanism's sensor control, leaving it helpless. Avon quickened his step, only to find himself facing a blank wall. Cursing, he turned around and ran right into a force barrier, which knocked him to the floor. The place is full of interesting little diversions, Avon thought as he got to his feet and rubbed a sore arm; then the barrier began moving inward, towards the wall.

Caught between the two, Avon aimed his blaster at the surface of the wall and fired. It exploded, revealing a room filled with panels, data banks, viewscreens and flashing lights. "Access to Guardian is restricted," intoned the same voice he'd heard before. Avon glanced behind him. The force barrier had disappeared. The computer room lay waiting before him, but he paused, remembering the vault. Carefully, he checked the doorway for trip devices but found none.

"Now let's find that sentry device," he said aloud. Walking by a viewscreen, he stopped. The vault's interior was illuminated on it. Vila lay very still, bright crimson staining his tunic. One of the panels in the wall must be a one way monitor. There was no way to tell if Vila was alive or dead, but Avon quickened his search.

Four panels from the door, he halted. In bold letter were the words VAULT SENTRY CONTROL. Avon smiled as he scanned the intricate system. A rather old control station with a few modifications, but nothing posing a problem for him. A green flashing light lay near the indicator. Obviously, that was the device holding Vila. But which switch to remove it? Vila said once activated, it could not be stopped. But Avon didn't want to stop it, just retract it.

Glancing at Vila's image again, he made his choice and threw the switch closest to the indicator. The light flashed red and Vila screamed. Avon rushed to the view in time to see the lance withdrawing from Vila's body.

Avon left the room at a cautious run, fully aware that Vila could bleed to death in the time it took for the lance to withdraw. Something flashed overhead from green to read. "No wonder the mechanism was primed," he murmured, arriving at the vault entrance. A check of the neutralizer showed it was still functioning, the light burning a steady red.

Vila was moaning in pain as Avon knelt beside him, and blood was pouring from a gaping hole in his shoulder. Avon glanced up. The lance had withdrawn into a recess hidden in the ceiling. A thin line of Vila's blood trickled out, marking its secret position.

"Avon," groaned Vila. "What happened?"

"Don't try to talk, Vila," replied Avon. "Keep still while I try to stop the bleeding." Stop it, he thought, how? The gap was at least a decimeter wide. Avon doubled over a piece of cloth and pressed it against the wound. The makeshift bandage was saturated in seconds.

Vila was trembling violently now, going into shock. As he looked down at his companion, Avon wondered if removing the lance had been the right thing to do after all. Holding Vila's trembling form, he checked his chronometer. Twenty minutes before the Liberator would be back.

"Avon?" Vila's voice came faintly. "Gan was the first real friend I ever had. Did you know that?"

"Be quiet and conserve your strength, Vila," he urged.

"I thought I'd never again have another friend like him when he was killed. But I was wrong." Avon stared down at him. A cold sweet had broken out on Vila's face. "I like to believe that Blake was my friend...and I know Cally likes me. But...but...." Pain ran through him, draining what little control he had left. "I wasn't wrong, was I?" Vila's eyes glistened with tears as he looked up at Avon.

His mind is rambling, thought the computer specialist. Delirium, no doubt. "Be quiet," he ordered. "The ship will be here soon and then we'll get you taken care of."

But Vila would not be quiet. "I've always liked you," he murmured. "Even when you shout at me. I need shouting at sometimes, don't I?" he added whimsically.

Avon smiled. "You always have. Now do as I say and shut up." Vila managed a smile, then went limp. Avon checked for a pulse. Weak, very weak. Damn it, he thought, by the time they get here, it will be too late.


On board Liberator, Cally had been unable to shake the feeling she'd experienced after Avon and Vila had teleported down. She tried to concentrate on other things, checking the medical supplies and tracing a minor problem within the teleport system, but the urgency of the feeling offered her no rest. Finally, she gave up and walked to the flight deck.

Tarrant and Dayna were talking but broke off when they saw her expression. "Tarrant, I think we should go back now."

"Why?" he inquired. "Avon said one hour. We still have another 15 minutes to go."

"Because there is something wrong," she exclaimed.

"Zen has been sweeping the area, Cally," reported Dayna. "And there's been no sign of any Federation ships."

"I do not believe the danger will come from space," Cally explained.

"What do you mean?" inquired Tarrant.

"It is just a feeling I have. I cannot explain it." Nor could she stand still, but kept pacing as she spoke. Dayna and Tarrant exchanged worried glances. "Please, Tarrant, we must go back.

Tarrant looked at Cally's face, seeing the concern and fear. "All right, Cally. Zen, reverse course. We're going back to Mephisto."



Avon was startled to hear Cally's voice over the communicator. "Avon?"

"Cally? What are you...." he began, then stopped. "I'm glad you're back. Vila's been badly hurt. He needs immediate treatment."

"Do you want me to teleport you up?" she asked, looking at the surprised faces surrounding her at the teleport station.

"No, I would prefer you to check him here first. His condition may not allow it."

Tarrant silently removed two bracelets, handed Cally one and nodded to Dayna as the pair stepped onto the skid. "Cally and I are ready to teleport, Avon," he called into his bracelet.

"Lock onto my signal. You should be able to teleport right into the vault."

Dayna adjusted the controls, then signaled Avon. "Teleporting now," came Dayna's voice over the bracelet.

Avon relaxed a bit. They were at least ten minutes early. Why? And Cally had sounded worried before he even mentioned Vila's injury. He looked down at the pale form he was holding and wondered. How had she known?


Cally and Tarrant appeared, weapons in hand, inside the vault. But the Auron forgot everything when she saw Vila and hurried to his side. "My God, Avon, what happened to him?"

"I'll explain later," he replied, moving aside so she could check Vila.

"Down and safe, Dayna," Tarrant called into his bracelet, then turned to look at the computer terminal. "So, that's the money machine."

"Yes," remarked Avon, following his gaze. "Keep an eye on the corridor. I don't need any more surprises."

Tarrant glanced at Vila and nodded, moving towards the open vault door. Peering down the corridor, he saw Vila's kit, still open and lying where Vila had left it.

While Vila was being attended to, Avon moved toward the terminal. He easily bypassed the computer security code, then inserted a coded message. Multicolored lights reflected in his eyes as the message was received by the Federation Banking Commission's central computer. There was a pause as the user's code was verified, then formal acknowledgement of the transaction. Avon turned back to his companions, a smile on his face.

Cally's analysis of Vila's condition, however, was not encouraging. "He's lost so much blood, Avon. I don't think he can survive the teleport."

"We don't have a choice now," exclaimed Tarrant, running back into the vault with Vila's kit in one hand, his blaster in the other. A service drone was advancing down the hall towards the vault. Tarrant ducked and fired, disabling it, but another drone was right behind the first.

"We'll have to chance it, Cally." Avon looked down at Vila and activated his bracelet. "Dayna, bring us up."

The service drone fired but the blast struck nothing. As it entered, its bulk forced the neutralizer aside, tripping the sentry mechanism. The bloody lance slammed with such force into the drone's metal casing, that it exploded into flames. Flames which spread to the contents of the vault.


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