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Fellow Feeling

By Sally M
Page 3 of 5

     It's... time. My turn. Pity that there's so few places to hide on a spaceship, even one as big as this one.

     No.

     No. I don't want to do this, but Orac says it's got to be done.

     So I walk back to the medical unit. We're doing it there now because Blake needs to be under restraint. Well, according to Avon and Orac, he needs to be, and he agreed, "now that I'm in my right mind," very gently, "even if it's still not my own."

     Everyone winced at that, even Avon.

     I can hear Cally talking to him before I get there. She's being soft and soothing, trying to be calm and failing completely. She's upset because they won't let her do this, and I'd be perfectly happy if she took my turn. But Orac says no.

     Orac talks too much these days.

     Blake's lying on the gurney with the forcefield restraints already in place over him. He half-turns his head as I come in, and stares at me with that deep, intense, totally unnerving stare he normally keeps for Avon, or sometimes Cally. Somewhere in the back of my mind, behind the little voice still screaming that I don't want to do this, I note that it's far more fun watching Avon being seen right through than it is being seen through like that myself.

     "Vila," he says, his voice rasping as if he's been coughing or crying, "I'm sorry. I really didn't -"

     "Yeah, so you said. But Orac says otherwise, and what Orac says goes today, doesn't it?" I hoist myself up on the table at his side, glaring at the plastic box of lights and ego. "So let's get it over with."

     He draws back, and I'm sorry, a little.

     But this is his fault. It's unfair, I know, but I can't help thinking it. If he'd just minded his own business all those years ago... if he hadn't needed to save the whole galaxy, and just saved himself... if he'd just been someone else...

     I'd be stuck on Cygnus Alpha. I know. And maybe I don't know which would be worse.

     From somewhere, the old phrase lie back and think of Earth comes to mind, and I push it back down again as I lie back and think of it all being over tomorrow instead.

     Cally's putting the sensors on and, to add insult to injury, they're icy cold. I concentrate on feeling aggrieved about it - yeah, petty, I know, but did I ever claim to be above that? No. So I'll feel aggrieved if I want to. I'll sulk and moan if I want to. It may be Blake's nightmare, but I'll even scream if I want to.

     I want to, but it's too late now.

     Blake's voice again. "Vila, I'm sorry, I..."

     "Hush," Cally says. "It will be over soon. Orac, we're ready."

     *Second session commencing. Blake, think back. You must think of that time, when you were told what to believe.* There's a soft, buzzing tone. From somewhere a long way off, Orac's voice fades into babble...

     ...And he's still talking as I surface, through a thick, empty nothingness full of horror. Someone's screaming, and I think it's me - no, no, this time it's Blake. I'm only bawling my eyes out.

     "Not... true, not... no. False. Don't!" It's high and horrible, doesn't sound like him at all. I just want him to shut up, to shut up long enough for me to start. "I won't... won't..."

     *Second session completed successfully. Avon, tranquillizer pad.*

     A moment, then Blake's voice dies away in tangled murmurs of pain.

     Avon is here?

     I open one eye, just enough to see Cally hovering over me. Moving my head - a little, just a little - turns out to be a big mistake, it's bludgeoned by something big and sharp and made of bolts of lightning by the feel of it. Cally seems to know - probably because I shrieked just a little - and lifts my head to help me drink something. For all I know it might be even worse than the swampwater, but I can't taste it at all. Cally's still holding my head, and I can't even enjoy it because it all hurts too much, the pain, the misery and the fragments of Blake's nightmares, hanging around in my brain just out of my mind's eye.

     I thought I'd known what it was like. I hadn't.

     I suppose I can't actually say it's worse than being lowered head first into a helium core drive, only because I've never been lowered head first into a helium core drive. But if it's even half as bad as what those people did to the man who's running my life at the moment, I never want to be lowered head first into a helium core drive.

     I can't recall just what those voices I couldn't quite hear said in the memories, what Blake remembered being told and told and told until he'd believe to order. I know I've found somewhere else I never want to go again. And I have to go back - I don't want to think about how many times - before today's over.

     I manage to turn my head a little, and look across. Avon's with Blake, he's tranquillized the poor bastard again - I can't help thinking that Blake is going to end up the most rested mental wreck in the Federation when this is over - and he's holding him carefully like... I dunno, like something fragile or damaged. Blake is lying still, face even whiter than Avon's and glistening with sweat; from here, I can see black shadows under his eyes and blood on his mouth.

     Just for a minute, I hate him.

     "What are you doing here, Avon?"

     He's settling Blake and doesn't even look up. "Sleep proved more elusive than I expected, and Zen informs me I'm not needed on the flight deck."

     I don't like the idea that he watched me. I didn't watch him, so why did he have to watch me? Then I realize that he probably didn't even look at me, just at Blake. Right now he's totally focused on Blake, wiping away the sweat, and the blood from the bitten lips.

     *Vila's session has been most satisfactory,* Orac pipes up. Startled at praise from that source, I stare at him blankly. *It appears Blake's reservations were unfounded, and Vila is perfectly acceptable in this role.*

     "Thanks, I needed that," I mutter. "Nice to know I'm good at something new, though sharing nightmares is not what I'd have chosen." Funny, the pain in my head's nearly gone - that dead-thing-in-swampwater tea does work.

     Cally helps me to sit up and gives me a handful of pills. "Go and rest, Vila," she says. "You are free for another three hours."

     Some freedom.

*** *** ***

     The rest of the day's a blur, and a nasty sick-grey-and-green colored one, of sleep that won't come, dreams that aren't mine, and voices from Blake's past saying things I don't want to hear.

     Odd, I could swear I tottered up to the flight deck at one stage and found Jenna collapsed in a flood of tears after one of her sessions.  They don't suit her, you know - she's not the type to weep, more to throw things around, but who can we throw things at over this? So I left her to it.

     I think I heard Avon tell Zen to take us to the seventh level of Hell by the shortest available sea route and not to spare the horses. I have no idea what he meant by that, but luckily neither did Zen.

     I think I heard Blake denouncing the President and that old friend of his - Foster - with equal savagery, crying for his dead sister, pleading with people I've never heard of.

     I'm sure I told Cally I didn't want to die for Blake, but three more sessions and I'd think about it.

     "No one is going to die, Vila," she said wearily. She'd been watching over us all for fifteen straight hours by that time and still wouldn't leave Blake's side for more than a few minutes. I think that was just after I'd learned more than I ever wanted to about the official version of Travis's massacre - the version they made Blake believe for so long.

     "Renounce... guilty... must renounce..." I can still hear him crying it, over and over till I'm ready to renounce just about anything anyone wants, if I never hear that word again. Never, never, never...

*** *** ***


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