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Blood, Threats and Fears

By Nicola Mody
Page 3 of 5

Avon left them to it.

He went back to Vila’s cabin, intending just to close the door. He hesitated and, driven by curiosity, went in. Vila’s room had not been what he had expected. He was not quite sure what he had thought it would be like—cluttered with velvet paintings and tasteless plastic souvenirs of various planets, probably. Instead, it was almost austere, the white walls unadorned except for a glass shelf holding a small piece of twisted driftwood and two exquisite jade figurines, doubtless stolen. Unsure quite why he was doing it, Avon straightened the vibrant blue, green and purple raw silk bedcover, picked up Vila’s discarded jacket from the floor, folded it and placed it tidily on the end of the bed. He took the damp towel back to the bathroom. It too was spotless, decorated only with a large spiral seashell and a bottle made of clear turquoise glass. Back in the main cabin, he looked around again. Vila must store his tools and other things in the cupboards. Avon did not open any of them. He quietly closed the door on the oddly peaceful cabin and locked it. He had never thought of Vila as a particularly private person, but now he reflected how little he actually knew about him, despite his almost constant inconsequential babble. Perhaps noisy waters could run deep.

Avon walked to the fight deck, disturbed to find how worried he was. Since Anna Grant’s death years ago, he had been determined never to care for anyone ever again, but somehow, without him noticing, he had become close enough to the Liberator crew to find that the loss of any one of them would matter to him.

“What’s going on?” Jenna asked as he entered. “Is Vila all right?”

“He was injured on Exbar,” Avon replied shortly. “He’s in surgery.” He sat down with his back to Jenna and started work on his device. She should know better than to annoy him with further questions. He was relieved however when she switched on communications to the surgical unit, as he had not wanted to do it himself and reveal his concern.

***

The surgery over, Cally checked the life support readouts. “His vital signs are still weak, but stable,” she told Blake. “I think he may pull through. He still has a high fever and the antibiotics will take a while to work. I’ll stay with him.”

“All right. I’ll take over in a couple of hours, and organise the others into two-hour watches.” Blake looked down at the pale, still Vila. “I don’t want him left alone.”

When he returned two hours later, Vila was delirious again, and Cally was leaning over him, her face intent.

“What’s going on?”

“He’s back in that nightmare again, the one he had before. I’ve been giving him a light sedative, but he’s too weak to take anything stronger. I don’t think he can hear me speaking, so I was trying to send him comforting thoughts. I think it’s working.” Cally looked at Blake. “It must be the root of all Vila’s fears, Blake. Darkness, claustrophobia, the inability to breathe, knives, blood, violence.”

“Knives,” Blake said slowly. “When I was down on Cygnus Alpha, Vila saved my life by stabbing a priest. I can still remember the look on his face. He was horrified, couldn’t even move. I had to yell at him. And then yesterday my uncle threatened him with a knife. He said Vila went to pieces. I think he was quite ashamed of what he did and that’s why he made such a point of Vila standing up to Travis.”

“Blake,” Cally hesitated, then went on. “Do they—well, do they do that sort of thing when they condition you?”

Blake shook his head. “Not to me, anyway. But none of the standard treatments worked on Vila.” He looked ill. “Who knows what they did to him.”

“Well, going by the sort of thing he says and the faint images I’m getting, I think he was very young at the time. He mentioned the Juvenile Detention Wards once last year. Perhaps it was there.” She turned back to Vila, who had fallen into an exhausted sleep. “His fever is going down slightly. The life support should handle things, but call me if there’s any change.”

Blake nodded and took her place.

 

Blake called Cally about an hour later. “Cally, before you ask, Vila’s all right, but I think you’d like to hear this.”

When Cally got to the surgical unit, Avon was standing with Blake, holding a plastisheet printout.

“Avon heard us talking over the intercom,” Blake said, “and did some looking around.”

“I got Orac to find all he could find on the so-called therapy the Federation gave Vila,” Avon said. “None of it’s particularly pleasant, but there was nothing that matched what you picked up, Cally. You said he mentioned his mother, so I got Orac to do a search on her matching any of the key words. This is what it came up with. It’s a police report.”

Cally took the sheet and read it through. She looked up, horrified. “Vila was only four! Oh, the poor little boy.”

“Indeed,” Avon said. “However he is now an adult, debatable as that is, and should be quite capable of dealing with it.”

“All the same, thank you, Avon. I think this will help a lot.”

 

Vila was still feverish when Jenna took her two-hour stint. He slipped in and out of unconsciousness, seemingly unaware of his surroundings, but the few words he muttered were too quiet for her to catch. Once though, he opened his eyes and looked at her, and said quite clearly, “Mummy?” Jenna was annoyed until she reflected that if Vila thought he was still four years old, his mother was only 22, young, blonde and very pretty too, judging by the picture Orac had found and displayed. Mollified, Jenna awkwardly patted Vila’s hand and told him to go back to sleep. She had never become that close to him. He could be very exasperating, but Blake had said once that she had not seen Vila at his best, coolly cracking locks and jokes at the same time, but she could well imagine it—he was efficient and accurate on the neutron blasters despite all his protestations of cowardice and complaints of illness afterwards. She smiled, remembering how funny he had been the day before, worrying about whether he had enough clothes on before teleporting down to Exbar, and asking plaintively for hand-warmers as he disappeared. She had to admit that she would miss him.

 

When Avon relieved Jenna, he brought Orac and the latest device he was working on, and set them up on the other bed. He checked Vila’s condition and the life support readouts, then turned his attention to his work, looking up occasionally. He wanted to create something which would allow the Liberator to mimic another ship to any Federation vessel, using the tarial cells in the enemy computers. Perhaps he could use the other ship’s own details, modified slightly, or those of all the ships the Liberator had encountered in the local area, averaged out in some way. He was not however having much success. He had read about Soprons some time ago, a life-form which did much the same thing. He resolved to get hold of one to examine if he was ever in the vicinity of their home-planet. As he worked, he was aware of Vila occasionally stirring but mercifully saying nothing. Pity there wasn’t a less life-threatening way of keeping him as quiet at other times.

“Avon…”

Avon looked up. “What is it?”

“I’m cold,” Vila whimpered.

Avon sighed and got up. “Yes, one of your favourite complaints,” he said dryly, laying a blanket over Vila. He checked the readouts; Vila’s temperature and blood pressure had both dropped sharply and his vital signs were very low but holding. Letting his breath out in relief, Avon sat, keeping his attention on Vila and the screen.

“Avon…”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry…”

Avon had never seen the point of lying to make others feel better. He had doubtless exacerbated Vila’s injuries by attacking him, but regretting it was futile. “That is a singularly useless statement. It does not change the past,” he said quietly, but placed his hand on Vila’s shoulder.

“Feel funny…dizzy…” Vila whispered, and closed his eyes. His head fell to one side and Avon took his hand away.

When he heard Cally come in, he turned, deliberately wiping all expression from his face.

“How is he? Oh, Avon, why didn’t you call me?”

“It was hardly necessary. His readings are all in the safety range.” Avon forbore to say that they were only just, and had not always been.

He gathered his things to go, and raised an eyebrow sardonically when he noticed that Cally had drawn up a chair and was holding Vila’s hand. “He’s unconscious, Cally. That is a waste of time.”

“No, it is not.” Cally said. “There is always a level of awareness.”

Avon left, shaking his head at the illogical crewmates he had to put up with.

***


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