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Jabberwocky - Part 8 - Stand-in

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 11

      //Now we are one,// Jabberwocky said in his head, and Vila realized with astonishment that he had echoed the sentiment thoroughly without even realizing it. In sense, he had even become Jabberwocky, for he could momentarily feel the vast complexity of the ship as if it had become his own flesh and blood, bringing with it a brief and intense moment of power so compelling that Vila understood why none of the others had wanted to give Jabberwocky up. It was almost like becoming a god, Vila the Magnificent, and he knew that with a mere thought he could command the ship to do anything, go anywhere. He could rule the universe... and he discovered he didn't really want to do that. He'd rather be here on Jabberwocky with his friends.

      So thinking, he became Vila again, complete within himself, but aware of the new feeling of not being alone; Jabberwocky was with him, ready to support him and defend him from any threat. No wonder Jabberwocky had been so desperate to save Tarrant, if it felt like this to be linked. No wonder Blake had gone all to pieces when Witt severed the link so violently, and no wonder Cally sometimes seemed so wistful after coming out of link-mode. With a sigh, Vila realized that becoming Jabberwocky's temporary link partner would change him for all time.

      "Marvellous, Jabberwocky, old chum," he burst out. "I didn't know it was like this."

      //It can be even better,// Jabberwocky assured him inside his head, and he loved it. Jabberwocky could talk to him alone with none of the others present.

      But then in the background, he felt something else, and with no experience at telepathy and with only group linkage to go by, he didn't recognize it at first. It was another presence, but it didn't feel complete. Instead it was like seeing the empty shell of a person and he realized he was feeling Jabberwocky's residual link with Tarrant. The pilot was not dead, but he was gone from his body. Wherever he had gone, he could not get back, and all that Vila could feel of him was a ghost image of a terrible loneliness and a horrible fear.

      Instinctively Vila offered all the reassurance he could manage to Jabberwocky. Now he knew why Jabberwocky had needed linkage so quickly, without waiting for the others. If he'd been trapped alone in himself with this the only awareness beyond the conscious level, he would have panicked. He was close to panicking now. They had to do something and do it quickly.

      Vila didn't like taking charge. The others could do it so much better than he could and he preferred them to take the necessary responsibilities - and the accompanying risks - but there were times when he had no choice but to take over, and this was one of them. "Right," he said abruptly, decisively. "We'd better get the others back up here, at least Avon, Cally and Hugh. They'll know what to do."

      "I hope so, Vila," Jabberwocky replied. "Because I cannot find him alone."

      But before Vila could go to communications, Tarrant suddenly stirred and sat up, staring around him with eyes that were wide and blank. Vila froze at the movement, aware of Jabberwocky's presence in his head and the silent warning that frightened him more than a shout would have done. //Vila. He is not Tarrant. Look at his eyes.//

      Vila obeyed and shivered. Somehow a cold green light had overlain the blue of Tarrant's eyes and he squinted at them as if he could not focus on them properly. Vila took a nervous step backward as Tarrant steadied himself and began to speak.

      The words that came out of his mouth were unfamiliar, a language Vila had never heard before, and it did not sound like language as he knew it but a series of garbled grunts and clicks that the human vocal cords were not meant to produce. The creature inhabiting Tarrant's body started toward Vila and stretched out his hand.

      Vila backpedalled frantically into the comm console and tripped,{font Corpus.Medium} {font}winding up in an untidy heap on the floor.{font Corpus.Medium} {font}//Jabberwocky!// he shrieked mentally. //HELP!//

      For a moment, Vila felt trapped, abandoned, then Tarrant uttered a choked sound and pitched over on the floor where he lay, looking even more dead than he had looked before.

      "Quickly, Vila," Jabberwocky cried. "I think the creature has left him. We'd better get him into stasis. Can you move him, get him to the medical unit?"

      "What did you do to him?" Vila asked as he inched forward reluctantly and grabbed Tarrant under the arms and began to drag him toward the doorway.

      "I stunned him. I didn't know if he meant to hurt you or not, but there was something malevolent about him and I wouldn't risk you."

      Vila felt a momentary glow of happiness that Jabberwocky was worried about him, and the link reinforced it. He wasn't Jabberwocky's first choice, but he was the current one, and Jabberwocky was bound to protect him.

      "What about the others" he said. "I can get Tarrant in stasis, if he doesn't wake up. He won't wake up, will he, Jabberwocky?"

      "I don't know. If he does, I'll stun him again. I think it would be best if I contacted Hugh and asked him to come back to the ship and bring Avon and Cally with him. Blake can continue his negotiations for the moment. The fewer of us on board the better, at least for now."

      "You won't go off and leave me alone with him, will you?"

      "Vila, I'm everywhere on the ship, remember? And I'm linked with you so I know what's happening to you at all times."

      "At all times?" Vila asked uneasily. That sounded like it might have some complications. Vila was gregarious but there were moments that were just too private to share, even with someone like Jabberwocky. On the other hand, Jabberwocky was stuck inside the ship all the time. He couldn't enjoy a good cuddle even if the opportunity had come along. Vila wondered if Jabberwocky had been allowed in on the action when Tarrant-. He cut off the thought sharply. It was none of his business. If Jabberwocky picked up on it, he didn't react, and Vila decided that was for the best.

      Tarrant - or the creature that had become Tarrant - didn't revive before Vila sealed him in stasis. Just before he closed the unit, Vila reached forward timidly and lifted Tarrant's eyelid, staring curiously.

      A cold green eye glittered at him before he backed away hastily and sealed the door.

      

      

Hugh Tiver was enjoying himself at the conference. Life had been too hectic lately: first the mission to Serna and then the even worse mission which had left Dayna dead and Avon reluctant to use his healing gift. Until Dayna's death, Avon had rather enjoyed the potential of his gift and had even spent a little time studying and researching it with Hugh to see if they could find ways to make it even more efficient. Some things he would probably never be able to do - the type of healing Dayna had needed, for instance - but there were so many other things that could go wrong which Avon could treat, and Hugh had been anxious to help him fulfil his potential. Now Avon had no time for training, and Hugh suspected that each new crisis that might require Avon's own particular gift would need to be argued over before he would consent to use it. If that were the case, the gift might wither and die on its own and Hugh would be sorry to see that happen.

      But now, on McAllister's World, watching Blake laying out his plans before the members of the matriarchal high council, Avon looked better than he had lately. He was watching Blake with a faint smile on his lips as if he knew the text of Blake's speech and was gauging the reaction of the women - and the one lone man - on the council. Blake's rhetoric was verging on the melodramatic, but Blake meant every word of it, and his earnest conviction was scoring him points at least with the women. The man looked mildly bored, as if he had been convinced long ago and could not understand why anyone needed to hear more.

      Jevanno, the head of the council, was a regal looking woman with white hair and a face that bore few age lines. She was tall and commanding and any leader anywhere would have given a fortune to possess her poise. The look she bestowed upon Blake was maternal, which was amusing Jenna, though the pilot was doing her best not to show it. Hugh could recognize the look though, and he caught Cally's eye and nodded in Jenna's direction.

      //Her feelings for Blake are not so maternal,// Cally replied, and Hugh had to hide another grin.

      Soolin was watching Blake too. Hugh noticed she had done it a lot since she had decided to return to the ship. Though not maternal, she looked as impressed as Jevanno did but fiercely determined not to show it, and only someone who knew her as well as Hugh did would have guessed she was anything but businesslike. Blake had introduced her to the crowd as his bodyguard - such things were the norm on McAllister's World, and every member of the council had one standing behind her, or him. Most of them were women, but the few men who carried the traditional sword and the more modern laser weapon looked tough and competent. Hugh and the others had been told they were part of a quasi-religious sect who practised purification of the body and skill at arms.

      Soolin looked no less competent than they did, and she seemed glad of an excuse to avoid shedding her gun. Avon wore his too, and when one of the guards had objected, he had pointed to Cally and said dryly, "I am her bodyguard." The two of them shared a momentary look of amusement before Avon's face assumed its customary mask.


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Sheila Paulson

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