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Jabberwocky - part 12 - Lifeblood

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 17

      "No." It was said quite fiercely. She looked at him with irritation. "That's what makes me so angry. I feel helpless, and I hate it. Yet a part of me keeps insisting that perhaps it's true, that I'm inferior to humans, that I deserve less."

      "You deserve what you're capable of taking," he reminded her. "With your intellect and drive and your skill you can go as far as you like. You are a person, Dayna. If I achieved nothing else today, I hope I convinced you of that."

      She nodded. "I know, but I'm suffering from something that's been around for a long time. I'm part of an oppressed minority, and to make it worse, I'm a superior example of such. I'm a threat to people. They expect me to justify myself to them. Even Avalon's people do it sometimes. I see them watching me, waiting for me to reveal myself to be less than human. I have to try harder to be accepted and watch what I say and do. I'm far too conscious of it. Perhaps it's always been that way for downtrodden minorities, or maybe it's my own inferiority complex. If I could come to terms with myself, I wouldn't worry about it."

      "There is some truth in what you say." He smiled at her suddenly, that new, warm and charming smile that delighted her. Maybe he hadn't completely healed himself, but he'd done far better than expected.

      She thought about it now as she stood looking down at the graves. Her mortal remains lay there, next to her father. It was said Avon had decided she should be buried here, and he had been right. This world had been her home for so long that it still seemed natural to stand here alone, unprotected but for the weapons she carried. She knew the others were nearby - the Sarrans were still here and still hostile to off-worlders - and for her to be here alone would have been stupid. At least the others thought so.

      Dayna's mouth curled into a smile. The Sarrans might think her helpless, one human alone, though any who recognized her might fear her, but she was not helpless. She had never been helpless but now she was far less so. Her reflexes were better, her senses more acute, her skill with weapons honed to a deadly edge. Any Sarran who tackled her might find he had bitten off more than he could chew.

      She spoke a final goodbye to her father and glanced around to check for Sarrans. In the distance, alone, stood a slim, redheaded figure. Kyl. Avon had given his son strict instructions about Sarran, but the boy was independent and venturesome. No doubt he'd followed her to prove how adult he was. Dayna could easily remember being sixteen. She had gone here and there alone, ignoring her father's worry, convinced she was indestructible. No sixteen year old believed he would ever die, and Kyl was no exception. He was also showing signs of a crush on her, following her around the ship and asking all kinds of questions, not just about her android state but about everything under the sun. He wasn't that much younger than she was, but the difference was much greater from her perspective than from his. She smiled a little.

      As she started towards him, he waved and came plunging down the sand dune to meet her. He must have been waiting, knowing her pilgrimage demanded privacy. No more than she, would he be able to conceive of her feelings at such a moment.

      As he skidded to a stop in a flurry of sand, she smiled. "Hello, Kyl. Your father will have your hide, wandering around alone."

      He stiffened and drew himself erect. "I can take care of myself," he reminded her, gesturing at the hand blaster he wore at his hip. "Besides, I'm not really alone. Vila's there somewhere." His eyes sparkled. "He doesn't like running, though."

      "You ran off and left him," Dayna accused, picturing Vila sputtering ineffectually behind Kyl, calling for him to wait.

      "He could have kept up. I wasn't going as fast as that." He looked around in fascination. "I haven't seen any of your hairy natives yet."

      "They're here. Some of them are watching you right now."

      The boy revolved slowly, scanning the horizon. "I don't see anyone."

      "That's because they don't want you to. Someone's been watching me all the while I've been here."

      "Aren't you worried?" Kyl's expression said, all too clearly, that he was, but that he didn't want her to know.

      "I can handle them. But you can't. You're not trained - and Vila's not the best either. You shouldn't have left him unguarded."

      Kyl stood crestfallen. "I'd better go back."

      "Not alone. Come on, we can protect each other. You do know how to shoot?"

      He nodded but his look convinced her he had never shot at anything but a target before.

      Vila had been joined by Hugh, when Dayna and Kyl arrived, and Vila greeted the young man with loud cries of relief. "Kyl! Your father would have killed me if you'd been captured."

      Kyl looked guilty, but a part of him seemed pleased that his father would worry.

      "Let's find him now," Hugh urged. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I've got the feeling we're being watched."

      "Yes," agreed Dayna. "They're watching us. They probably won't attack the three of you, though. Where are the others?"

      "Just over that hill," Hugh pointed.

      "Then you go back there. I have one more stop to make."

      "But they're watching us," Kyl reminded her urgently, his concern evident. "You should stay with us where it's safe."

      "I'll be all right. They know better than to jump me. I'll just go along and see if there's anything I can salvage."

      "To your underwater base?" the boy asked. "May I come too?"

      "After I've made sure it's safe." She didn't know if the natives would have found their way inside or not but she wouldn't expose Avon's son to the risk. She liked Kyl in his own right and the last thing she meant was to endanger him. "I don't know what I'll find there." The natives wouldn't have risked breaking in if they knew her father lay there, but they would have seen her crewmates give him his burial several months ago. Since then they might have broken into the base and made it their own.

      She parted from the other three and set off for the shore. The smell of the sea hung heavy in the air and she would have recognized her location with her eyes closed. For a moment she felt a pang of regret for her lost childhood, lost in more ways than one for the recreation of her memories had not been complete. Jabberwocky and Orac could only recreate what they knew, and there were large gaps, chunks of her childhood gone forever. Being here seemed to do what she might once have considered impossible. She was remembering.

      She knew it was nothing like that really. Avon had explained it to her once. The program could learn and it could build on existing memories if properly structured. The more she saw that looked familiar, the more less-clearly-remembered things would seem familiar. The circuits would take the right input and add it to the memory areas, building upon it. "The part of Jabberwocky that is computer remembers like that," Avon had explained, "adding input to the human part. It will be much the same for you. Clearer in some ways for you have mobility and more chance of interaction than Jabberwocky will ever have." Avon spent great chunks of time studying the work Orac and Jabberwocky had put into the program. For all his computer expertise, he had come up perplexed a time or two. Instead of frustrating him, it made him more determined to master it.

      She came over a rise and there was the sea gleaming and translucent. Home. No, she corrected herself. What had once been home. Jabberwocky was home now. It felt like a homecoming all the same when she ran across the sand to the entry hatch and opened it.

      Descending into darkness, she paused, reaching for the light controls. Before she could activate them, something crashed against her head and staggered her. A human would have been knocked unconscious by the blow but she was not. Instead she knew a momentary disorientation while the servo motor circuits in her head compensated for the shock, and in the interval, her gun was snatched away. Someone in the background cried, "Don't, Perren, it's a girl!" in a shocked voice as the lights came up. When she raised her head she saw three men watching her. The one with the gun had longish brown hair and a stubborn cast to his chin as he aimed the weapon at her. A slightly younger man, shorter and stockier, was the one who had protested. He wore his auburn hair long, pulled back Sarran-style with a headband, but he was not a Sarran. None of them was. The third man was tall and thin and reminded her slightly of Avon though he was very fair and Avon's hair was dark. Obviously the resemblance was in expression rather than any actual similarity of features; his face held the fascinated concentration Avon's wore when he was working on his computers.

      "She's all right, Tanz," said the brown-haired man reassuringly.

      "She's not a Sarran," the third man protested, staring at her in fascination as if he had found a lily in his path instead of a frog.

      "Score one for you, Edge," retorted Perren. "Did you just figure that out?"

      "What are we going to do with her?" Tanz asked, worried.

      "She's our prisoner," Perren replied with a grin. "She's our ticket off this planet."


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Sheila Paulson

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