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Jabberwocky - part 12 - Lifeblood

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 17

      The fleet had been gathering for several months, a few ships at a time, eight from this world, half a dozen from that, all centring on Ryalon, the headquarters of the growing resistance movement. Avalon had realized that, as the rebels gained strength, the Federation would stop ignoring them and do something about them. It seemed likely that Supreme Commander Arpel would be forced to consider them a military threat now, and the only way to meet a military threat was with force. In preparation for a potential attack, Avalon called for ships from the various planets which had been aligned with the resistance in the past year. The past month had been spent in manoeuvres.

      Dr. Plaxton, the inventor of the photonic drive and a devoted rebel, had been working frantically since the ingathering, equipping as many ships as possible with his drive. He had recruited Kerr Avon and Orac to assist him, and anyone else who had the necessary skill. Now fully half the rebel fleet was faster than anything the Federation could throw at them.

      He often bemoaned the fact that it had not yet been possible to duplicate the Mark 60 mindship, Jabberwocky. Even if everything could have been duplicated, the procedure necessary for the installation of a human brain in the heart of the ship and the telepathic linkage process were still beyond rebel technology. Such a transfer was fraught with its own difficulties in any case, for the Federation had blocked Jabberwocky's memories and the trauma caused by their re-emergence had come close to destroying them all. For now, consideration of a fleet of mindships was on the back burner, the idea not entirely abandoned, but not planned either.

      Tarrant's training at the Federation Space Academy and his brief service in Space Command had been highly beneficial to the training, and more than once he had found himself in charge of the entire fleet, both for his own useful background and for his position as Jabberwocky's linkmate. When the final battle came, if it did, Jabberwocky would be in the heat of the fight, so Tarrant found himself thrust to the forefront. He enjoyed it immensely, and only sometimes, alone at night in his cabin, did he wonder if his youth and lack of experience might endanger the entire rebel movement.

      A chain of communications ran from rebel world to rebel world and everyone watched the Federation fleet now involved in manoeuvres as complex as anything going on at Ryalon. Everyone involved expected the fleet to start for Ryalon at any moment and tensions ran high.

      Then the word came through that the battle had been postponed. The Federation fleet had abandoned their war games and the different flotillas scattered in different directions. It must have been intended only as a show of strength. Supreme Commander Arpel might have meant it to warn off the rebels, whose fleet was smaller but who would have the advantage of defending their home territory. As yet, Avalon was not prepared to take the battle onto the Federation's home ground, though she sometimes dreamed of taking Earth.

      "Now we get a holiday," Vila remarked when the word came through. "What about it, Blake? We've been working hard ever since we traded Servalan away."

      "So has everyone else, Vila," Blake reminded him, stretching comfortably at his deck position. They had just run several hours of tests in linkage, the days when any lengthy effort linked had induced headaches long gone. Now everyone was relaxed companionably, even Avon, who had unbent remarkably of late. Tarrant watched him as he stretched his legs out before him, and crossed one ankle over the other. When Cally sat beside the tech on the forward couch, he gave her a cheerful smile and draped an arm around her shoulders. Her face warmed, and Blake, who had also been watching Avon, nodded to himself as if he were pleased with what he saw.

      

      "It would still be nice to get away for a bit," Jenna suggested. She was standing at Blake's side, looking around the flight deck with some satisfaction. In linkage, she and Tarrant handled manoeuvres together and Jabberwocky was skilled enough to sort through their directions and choose the most effective ones with no real loss of time. The longer the two pilots worked together, the more they found themselves in agreement, though Jenna still resented the fact that Tarrant's Federation training had elevated him to something resembling commander of the fleet. Tarrant knew that and could live with it, and so could Jenna, most of the time. They weren't in contention these days.

      Blake nodded. "In fact, Avalon suggested it. She said we needed a holiday too, but I said I would talk it over with the rest of you."

      "Presumably you said we'd work our fingers to the very bone for the cause," Avon muttered with a wry grin.

      Blake laughed. "Well, no. I think it's a good idea, too. I'm just not so sure about the timing."

      "The Federation fleet's broken up for the moment," Soolin reminded him. As usual, she looked willing to take Blake's position, as soon as she learned what it was, but like the rest of them, she wanted a holiday. "We could go away for a short rest, couldn't we? Somewhere the Federation isn't likely to come. A peaceful planet where we could relax."

      Tarrant found the idea curiously appealing. Though he came alive at the controls of his ship, he needed a break from constant stress as much as the rest of them did.

      Hugh, who was sitting on the second forward couch next to Dayna, smiled. "I put in my vote for a holiday," he agreed. "We've been stressed out worse than this, but if there's to be a big battle one day soon, I'd prefer to go into it refreshed. We could take off for a few days and enjoy ourselves."

      "Hugh's right," Jabberwocky interjected. "You are a little stressed out, all of you. Especially you, Blake. It looks like we're coming closer to success, and that makes us all feel good, but we're not accustomed to it. You've been working extra hard, Blake, and so have you, Del."

      "So you keep telling me. Then it's settled. Where do we go?" Tarrant turned expectantly toward Blake.

      It was Dayna who spoke up, her voice unusually soft and hesitant. "I'd like to go to Sarran."

      Silence fell abruptly. To go to Sarran was to remind them that the original Dayna was buried there. It would bring back memories of her funeral, unleashing all the painful feelings they had learned to suppress. At the mention of it, Avon had stiffened, straightening up out of his relaxed pose and pulling free of Cally as if he might give something away in the physical contact. Tarrant tensed too, looked at Dayna uneasily, and Vila, who had said little till now, darted a quick glance at the young weapons tech, then dropped his eyes.

      Feeling their tension, Dayna faced them unhappily. "You see, there are still problems. I think we need to go, to put them behind us. Besides, I want to visit my grave."

      "I think it needs doing," Hugh agreed, his face serious. "But it doesn't sound like the holiday I proposed. I'll put my vote in for it if we can go somewhere else afterwards and really relax."

      "Maybe we'll relax the better for it," offered Cally. She looked at Avon sideways, her expression grave.

      "I think so too," Blake conceded. "What do you think, Jabberwocky?"

      "Well, it might work. After all, you made me work through all my problems. Why not Dayna too - and the rest of you as well? One of the best things about this ship is that we're all together."

      "Oh, is that the best thing?" Avon asked with a touch of his old astringency.

      "You know it is," Blake told him. He held Avon's eyes and the computer tech didn't look away.

      "Perhaps," he conceded. "But we should consider that going to Sarran takes us right away from any rebel worlds and introduces us to the less than tender mercies of the Sarrans."

      "Then you're against it?" Dayna asked him with a show of defiance.

      "I didn't say that," he replied. "I am not against the idea in theory, though I feel it will not be as easy in practice as any of us think."

      Tarrant grimaced. He had seen nothing easy about Dayna's proposal but he couldn't deny her the opportunity and he doubted Avon could either. "It won't be easy," he agreed. "But I vote we go."

      One by one the rest of the crew nodded, even Avon, and it was resolved to go to Sarran. Blake went to discuss it with Avalon, to let her know what they intended. Tarrant sank into a deeper linkage with Jabberwocky. //Is there any way you can link with the base and let us know if the Federation should reassemble their fleet and head for Ryalon?// he wondered.

      //It's possible. I can't do a real linkage over that distance, but between Orac and me, we can work something out.//

      


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Sheila Paulson

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