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Jabberwocky - Part 7 - Clone

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 25

They left on schedule, everyone on the flight deck, linking for departure, and Blake tried to sense problems in the link. But link-mode for ship functions involved control over everyone's individual stations, and it felt normal. When Ryalon was behind them and everyone pulled out of linkage, Blake had to confess that if Dayna hadn't spoken to him, he would have had nothing on which to base any suspicion. There was always the chance that Dayna was jealous of Jabberwocky. She was fond of Tarrant and might wish for a more intimate relationship only to be put off by the thought of the link. Blake might have said Tarrant was more interested in Soolin, but it was only speculation. Maybe Tarrant missed her, and Blake could only sympathise. He liked Soolin, too.

      Automatically he massaged his temples, though the link no longer gave him headaches unless it ran for protracted periods. Vila, of course, still insisted it was cause for adrenaline and soma but then Vila said everything was. But Vila never drank on missions or when he was on watch or responsible for something, though he didn't like that pointed out. Automatic reaction, Blake guessed. The old protective coloration. In his different way, Vila was as gifted at concealment as Avon.

      Blake assigned himself first watch. It would take almost a week to reach their destination, and he wanted everyone to settle to shipboard routine. Their last mission had been successful only in that they had all survived it, and he meant this one to go better. The suspicions aroused by the Serna mission had largely been banished by Soolin's voluntary exile. Blake hoped she would return, but it was probably best she stay away until the IMIPAK crisis was resolved. When they returned to Ryalon, Blake would go round and urge her to come back.

      He had been alone on the flight deck planning strategies with Orac and Jabberwocky for half an hour when he heard someone come in and looked up to see Avon just within the doorway. "Any progress, Blake?" he asked.

      Blake knew a moment of elation, though he didn't let it show. "Avon! You're not supposed to be here."

      "You do not control my actions, Blake," he returned stiffly. "Perhaps Jabberwocky failed to report my return to the ship."

      You probably instructed him to, thought Blake fondly. "He did. Do you think this is a good idea?"

      "No. I think it an utterly stupid one, but I also think you will take foolish risks without someone to rule against them. In any case, as long as the Federation does not reach the planet first, we should be able to neutralise IMIPAK's threat." He sat at his position.

      "When you left the ship, I thought you meant to stay away."

      "I felt it necessary to explain to Kyl that I would be gone." Avon avoided his eyes. Though still uncomfortable with Kyl, he and his son were progressing in their relationship. He busied himself with an instrument check before raising his eyes. "I should not make too much of my presence here if I were you, Blake."

      "I wouldn't dream of it, Avon." Blake was careful not to smile. Suddenly he was sure Avon had come out of loyalty, but he knew Avon would have his own admittable motives which would have nothing to do with his feelings. In the old days, Avon had seemed to believe his own pragmatic reasoning but of late the excuses had worn thin. Avon managed some cautious trust now, and the linkage had made it impossible for him to deny he cared, Blake knew - though they rarely spoke of it - that he was as important to Avon as Avon was to him. Avon had feelings for the others too, and suddenly Blake wondered if Avon had come along so he wouldn't have to face life alone should the others be killed or captured on the mission.

      "The rest of you lack the necessary skills to preserve this ship," Avon returned. "Without me, it could be destroyed."

      "Thank you, Avon," Jabberwocky said. "It's nice to be appreciated."

      "I was referring to the ship, not its personality."

      Jabberwocky chuckled. "Oh, I know, Avon. Someday, when you and I are linked, I shall remind you that you said that."

      "Someday?"

      "When you're ready. We'll have such fun. But first you must learn to have fun. It's not impossible. My father is not the type of man to hold back from something simply because it's a little risky."

      "I'm not your father and some risks are more worth taking than others."

      "Don't pick on him, Jabberwocky," Blake intervened, wondering what would happened if he clapped Avon on the shoulder in a comradely fashion, and deciding against it.

      Just as well; Tarrant arrived studying something on a clipboard, and at the last minute, he noticed Avon. "Well, what have we here?" he asked. "A stowaway?"

      Avon met his stare levelly. "You see a stowaway. I see a fool." His eyes examined Tarrant pointedly.

      Blake wondered what Tarrant would do. If Dayna was right about tensions between Tarrant and Jabberwocky, Tarrant might be touchier than usual, but he hadn't been as abrasive with Avon since Avon had helped save his life.

      Tarrant grinned. "Where?" he asked. "I don't see any mirrors about?"

      Avon quirked an eyebrow in acknowledgement of Tarrant's jibe. "I think I'll put Orac to work monitoring transmissions and signals to see if Servalan has an interest in our destination."

      Turning to Orac, he began to give instructions.

      Tarrant passed the clipboard to Blake. "I've a report on space pirates," he explained. "Not quite on our heading, but Avalon sent the message to make sure we were on guard."

      "Was she angry?" Blake noted Avalon had bypassed him.

      "Not really. Not surprised either. Cally contacted her once we'd left the system. Avalon said to wish you luck and that if you didn't come back she would personally come after you and rip your liver out."

      "I shall help her," Avon muttered without looking up.

      Blake grinned in Avon's direction before studying the message. "Pirates," he mused. "Not Amagons, I hope."

      "Pirates," Jabberwocky burst out. "I'd like to fight pirates. With this ship we could make mincemeat of them - whatever mincemeat is. It doesn't sound appetising, does it?"

      

      

Tensions on board were high as they headed into their third day, and Vila didn't like tensions. He cast a speculative eye around the flight deck as he entered, noting that while it was Tarrant's watch, a number of the crew had contrived to be there. Dayna was playing 'Ship and Asteroids' with predictable results; she did well at first but never made it all the way through, and when her ship was destroyed, she would mutter to herself, punch the reset button and start again. Hugh was peering over her shoulder, but his attention was really focused on Avon, who sat at the forward couch conferring with Orac in low tones while he fiddled with a laser probe and display board. Vila suspected he was listening to the argument between Tarrant and Jenna about a famous space battle. Each had a different opinion on the proper way it should have been fought. Vila didn't know enough battle strategy to guess who was right, but if someone didn't intervene, things would get out of hand.

      Deciding to break up the argument, even if it meant starting another one, he advanced with a grin. He was used to the others being irritated at him, and he could take it. So he came clumping onto the flight deck, which made everyone look up but Avon. Vila suspected he knew what Vila was about and that he refused to look up so that they wouldn't notice he was smiling.

      "I miss Soolin," said Vila loudly, which got Hugh's and Tarrant's instant attention. Tarrant had played at being half in love with Soolin and half with Dayna, but Hugh might well be in love with her, and Vila regretted his choice of distraction. "What about you, Del?" he persisted, knowing Tarrant would be annoyed at the use of his first name. "Do you miss her?"

      Dayna looked up sharply, her eyes pinning the hapless Tarrant with something like accusation, and the moment she turned away from the game, her ship was wiped out. It did nothing for her temper. Vila wondered how much she did like Tarrant. She'd been arguing with him in the teleport section only that morning. Vila rather enjoyed the thought of a promising romance.

      "I miss her," Hugh admitted as if he could read all the undercurrents and wanted to defuse Vila's time bomb before it could go off. "I think we should go round and ask her to come back when we get home."

      "You think so, do you?" Avon muttered.

      "Yes. Soolin's been cleared; she's not programmed now. If we're to talk of holding people back because of programming, then remember it was done to your son too." Hugh could fight back with the best of them.

      Dayna forgot her trifling irritation with Tarrant and turned to Hugh. "That's not fair." Dayna had always shown loyalty to Avon that had nothing to do with male-female bonding but with a different kind of respect, as if Avon were her chosen leader.

      "Oh, but it is, Dayna," Avon replied, looking up. "Hugh is always fair. You are arguing because it isn't pleasant but the truth seldom is. Very well. I withdraw my objection to Soolin, but not because of anything resembling sentiment. If Soolin has been cleared and vouched for by Orac, she has the option of returning."

      "She has the right to come back," Tarrant insisted. That was a mistake because Dayna glared at him.


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