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By Zelda
Page 1 of 8

1. Hostage

It hit me hard, and absolutely unexpected--I had been so long among them. It was like a flash of light, so bright that the afterimage lingered, practically opaque.

It wasn't actually light, of course; it wasn't my eyes shocked and blinded after so long in the dark. But there is no more appropriate simile.

We were in stationary orbit above the planet, Exbar, and Blake had just left for the teleport area. I was still standing at my station, for no particular purpose, force of habit.

It hit, and was past, in an instant. Then for perhaps a second afterwards I could sense him, in my head, perfectly clear. IF SHE COMES. He thought. And I perceived. Not in words, of course, not the unspoken words I always use with them, when I feel the need to try and speak to them. Speak to the dark.

WHILE THEY ARE THERE. Avon thought. I turned toward him.

AND THEREFORE WE ARE HERE. Like a beacon, all was bright, his skull like glass. Just for a second. Like the touch of a hand, after so long, or perhaps it was more like a kiss.

WHAT IF SHE. Then the light, not light, the brief clarity, was gone. I was alone in my head again, as usual.

I turned back to my console, which seemed to have gone momentarily indecipherable. Who am I? What am I doing here? Groping blind.

"Cally, what's the matter?" Jenna asked me.

I looked at Avon. "No," I said. I shook my head. "I don't think it's important."

"Well, it might be," Jenna said. "You've been right before."

I stared down at the console. No, it's not important. Let it go, it's not--I took a deep breath. It is important, I said to myself. I'm sorry, Avon, I thought. Not out loud.

I turned to Jenna. "He told Servalan," I said.

She looked confused, and Avon glared, wordlessly dared me to elaborate.

I did. "Avon sent Servalan a message, telling her where Travis was. Telling her that Travis was here."

It was sufficient. I watched her expression change, as comprehension dawned. "Blake!" she shouted, and abandoned her station, bolted toward the teleport bay after him.

Avon smiled. I wished I had the slightest idea what he was thinking now. What any of them were thinking. Odd, the things you don't notice until they're gone.

I hope that was the right choice, I thought to myself. I hope I have done the right thing.


Thirty-six hours later (last time I'd looked) overall it appeared that I had. Made the right decision, that is, in telling Jenna.

The mood on the flight deck was festive, even almost unequivocally victorious for once. Even though Blake kept saying they'd get another Supreme Commander, and surely a more competent one at that--well, as Vila put it, they hadn't yet. Servalan's body was still warm, or would be if (again, as Vila put it) you were to collect together all the pieces and bring them inside and put them somewhere warm. I suspect he'd begun celebrating ahead of time. But I was not motivated to lecture him on this particular glorious occasion. Regular celebrations are a human necessity. So, smile, drinks all around, and then all around again. No thank you, I said. Come on, said Jenna, Zen can handle it, come on. Oh come on, Cally, just this once, said Vila, and just this once he was offering, not begging. He was pushing a glass toward me half full of that stuff they only bring out on special occasions, though it tastes neither better nor worse on my untrained tongue than the everyday drink.

Well, all right. In the name of team spirit I took the glass from Vila's hand, and drank its contents down, which took him by surprise.

So, in the end, only Avon abstained, even when pestered, from drinking, if not quite entirely from the festive atmosphere.

"Temperance," Vila said, when Avon waved away yet another beverage. "Deadliest of the seven deadly virtues." He rolled his eyes, and downed the rejected drink himself.

"I somehow doubt it's killed as many as faith, hope, and charity," Avon replied.

"Yes, but death by boredom, what a dreadful way to go," Vila said, rather wishing, I suspected, that his spiteful gods would overhear, and opt to give him that which he professed to most fear. Rather than, for instance, killing him in combat.

"I'd love to join in, but one of us has to keep his wits about him," Avon said. Not quite defensive. Jenna and Vila giggled raucously.

"All right, Avon," Jenna said, "if they pull us over, remember, you're the pilot. You and Orac'd be the only ones able to walk a straight line."

"And Zen, of course," said Vila.

"And the prisoner," I added. Really, I have no idea why. Even as I was saying it, I was thinking I'd rather not. It's not as though I enjoy causing trouble.

Jenna and Vila both stopped laughing, sudden as the flipping of a switch.

Blake looked up. "He's not a prisoner," he said, to me, to everyone present, articulating overcarefully. Avon looked at him. "Well, he's not," Blake said. "He agreed to let us take whatever steps were necessary to assure ourselves of his sincerity."

Avon continued to look at him, like that. Blake took a very deep breath, and then a drink.

"Have another, Cally," Vila suggested. "I think we could use it." I smiled at him and gratefully accepted.

Not a long time after that, Jenna, all uncharacteristically soft and sleepy, took me aside and suggested we take a stroll. "Just us," she said. Or in hindsight perhaps she said justice. She was slurring her words quite a lot by that time. A refreshing ramble down to the brig, I believe she said. She was laughing when she called it that, but the laugh was cold.

In fact it was a sleep room very much like several dozen others, except that this one could be locked and unlocked from the outside only. Avon had fixed it, had made very certain it worked. Just until we made sure.

"Sleeping like a baby," Jenna said, as she opened the door to that room, her brig.

"I don't think he's sleeping," I replied. Diplomatically. He was quite obviously awake, but then Jenna's observational skills at the moment were quite obviously not all they could be.

"Sit up," Jenna said to him, and he did. His head hung down. She grinned at me as though she had performed a magic trick. All on her own, far more clever than any of mine.

"We have a few more questions we forgot to ask you earlier," she said to him. "First, please identify yourself."

"Travis," he said. And seemed as though he wanted to say more, but there was no more, no rank, no number. Jenna smiled.

I felt I really ought to leave.

"Tell us, Travis, did you ever fuck a mutoid?" Jenna asked. Now she sounded like herself again. I looked at her. The soft sleepiness had melted off her, as it always does after a while, and always this clean metallic malice underneath.

He moved his head a bit. "Yes."

"How was it? I mean, how was it for you?" This was Jenna unadorned by even her customary cool vague pleasantness.

"Fine," he said.

"I've heard they're modified to enhance their sexual performance. Is that true?"

"I don't think so." He paused, thinking, wanting to say more, eager to please. "They'll do whatever you tell them to. I suppose that's an enhancement."

Jenna looked at me. I could not interpret her expression. It seemed she expected me to react, but I didn't know to what, so I didn't know how. "Don't you want to ask him anything?" she said. "I thought you, in particular--" She made a face that must mean something, the unspoken must be clear, but as I have said, I was feeling foggy.

She glanced away from me, glared at Travis. His eye had closed again. "We aren't finished questioning you, Travis," she snapped. "Stand up. Come to attention."

He did. Swayed. His hands were still bound behind him. If he falls, I thought, he might hurt himself. He might not be fit to catch himself. His head fell slowly forward, down to his chest. Falling asleep on his feet. All in all he didn't look too good, even considering he'd been administered a potentially fatal interrogation drug rather heavy-handedly. The stuff Jenna found in the room with the corpse, that day, the day Gan died. The day we left Earth without Gan, left Gan, they left Gan, left Gan for dead.

Is he?

Travis bent his head up toward me, his eye still closed, or almost, and his face blank. "Yes," he said.

Unexpected. I must either have thought the question out loud, inadvertently, or spoken without realizing that I had. Either way it was a clear sign that I ought to get some sleep.

"How did Gan die?" I said his name out loud this time for certain. Jenna stared at me.

"Roof fell on him," Travis said, quiet. "Head trauma, I suppose. I don't know." Nor care. Quiet and calm.

Jenna hit him. No. I shook my head. She couldn't have hit him. We were both still well out of his reach. Shook my head again. My mind was blurred by two more shots of adrenaline and soma than the none I'm accustomed to, and--he is hated. He is so intensely hated. The hate here was an intoxication in and of itself.

He is an animal in a cage, I said to myself. Something with a reputation, dangerous, poisonous, something that has shown itself to have a taste for blood. Has killed, but has been caught, and is now locked safely in a cage. And we, Jenna and I, we are children with sticks.

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