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By Paula
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"And stay out of my mind!" Avon snapped, looking around Jabberwocky's flight deck, grateful he was alone there. He had been enjoying the watch simply because it was his alone, and he had spent part of it doing some fine-tuning of various pieces of field equipment in preparation for their next planetfall. That Vengler was a boring world long committed to the Resistance and that their only purpose there was a goodwill visit did not make Avon any less wary. Jabberwocky's crew had been attacked more than once in the supposed safety of Ryalon Base, and Avon was not given to taking chances with his life and safety or, more recently, with the safety of any of the others.

      The mission was a minor one. Not all the crew had not come along. Gan, newly restored to them, was back on Ryalon, since the removal of his limiter implant was recent enough for the possible risks of a field mission to prove dangerous to his recovery. Though Avon would have happily left him behind, Perren was present - Blake had thought the presence of the psych tech might be useful in determining the mood of the audience for his speeches and the people at the political receptions - but Perren's teammates, Edge and Tanz, were back at the base, putting the finishing touches on the second mindship. Cally had stayed behind, too, as one of the few telepaths of the Resistance, in hope that she could assist the new ship-mind adjust to the transfer. Perren would do a lot of work with the new ship when he returned, but his real work would not begin until the process was finished, while Cally could provide a link for the man before he became a part of the ship. Tarrant was here, of course, and the other three women, and Vila, but Hugh Tiver, the ship's doctor, had stayed behind to work with the medical team who would be doing the brain transplant.

      Avon missed Cally. He could sometimes go for days without thinking much about her, but that was when she was here. Their relationship was fairly open, in that neither of them made demands upon the other nor expected verbal commitments, but neither of them would have minded demands. The only person who came closer to Avon than Cally was Blake, and that was something both of them knew and accepted. Cally had always said serenely that there was no place for jealousy since she was completely satisfied with the side of himself Avon was able to give her. It was not in her nature to be possessive, and while there had been times when Avon rather wished she would be slightly more demanding of her rights, another side of him was reluctant to make a permanent commitment - or rather, to admit to making one. Funny that he could be quite content with the status quo until he actually considered it, and then he would draw back. Perren had tried to talk to him about that on several different occasions, but Avon tended to avoid Perren, suspecting the brown-haired man had an uncanny knack of reading him too well. He could admit to himself that he had slowly become more trusting than he had been for years, but it was not his way to announce it to the world. He rather hoped the world, at least the part of it who were considered Jabberwocky's crew, would have the good taste to pretend not to notice.

      Of course, these days, most of them read him better than he would like. Link-mode had done that, the sharing of minds that took place when they joined mentally with their telepathic ship to perform routine ship functions. Any of them could go into link-mode, but the ship with the human brain at its core had been designed for a more intense linkage, a permanent one. It was currently bonded with Tarrant, and likely to stay that way, but a recent Federation attack had temporarily severed those linkages and only Avon, whose telepathy was of a different sort from Cally's, had been able to reach Jabberwocky and prevent his insanity in the void created by the breakdown of the linkage. To do this, Avon had for a short time become Jabberwocky's link-mate.

      Always insistent that such was his rightful place, Avon had discovered, to his amazement, that he no longer needed the ship link as he had once thought he did. While he did not find the total mental union as distasteful as he would have done at the beginning, and while he enjoyed the sense of control it gave him, it was not something he would choose on a permanent basis; so when the linkages were repaired, he had returned Jabberwocky to Tarrant.

      Which would have been fine if not for the occasional bleedover of sensation and thought that had troubled him ever since.

      "I'm sorry, Avon," Jabberwocky now said aloud. "Was I doing it again? I didn't mean to." He added with a chuckle, "It's just that being linked with you was fun and you've been stand-offish since."

      "I am not stand-offish," Avon returned in his most stand-offish voice. "I simply prefer that you keep me out of the routine link, and I'm sure Tarrant prefers the same."

      "Tarrant's asleep," Jabberwocky admitted. "I wanted someone to talk to."

      "Then talk out loud," Avon replied. "Or ask before you come in." He frowned, pondering the situation. "Do you have these little lapses with Blake, Cally or Vila as well?" They had all been linked with Jabberwocky in the past, though Vila's link had been as transitory as Avon's, to cover a temporary crisis.

      "No," Jabberwocky admitted. "Blake and I didn't really fit, you know. I love Blake, but he wasn't quite happy to have me in his mind and I never go there except for link mode. Cally, of course, is a telepath and we frequently communicate that way, but it's not really linkage, more like routine telepathy. She needs that, since you're the only other telepath here and not that fond of it in the first place. But Cally was trained all her life to avoid slipping into other people's privacy, so she has automatic shields. I couldn't slip in unawares with Cally."

      "Then why am I singled out?" Avon asked coolly, resenting the distinction.

      "I think it's because you're a telepath, but you're not thoroughly trained. You don't shield automatically. You did it so completely for years you blocked it all out, but now that your talent is out in the open again, you can't close it away without severing it altogether. Blocking me out would be a conscious thing now, and sometimes it slips. So when it slips and I'm distracted at the same time, there's a bleedthrough. The longer we're unlinked, the less often it will happen, I think, and as you become more comfortable with your telepathy and better trained in its use, you will be able to put up automatic shields."

      "That's reassuring," Avon said sourly, not enamoured of the hours of practice Cally was always suggesting.

      Jabberwocky laughed. "Don't be stuffy, Father. You know it was fun, being linked."

      "I know no such thing. It was useful, being linked, but it didn't happen through choice, for either of us. You wouldn't give up Tarrant - which speaks volumes about your questionable taste - and I would not choose to have a permanent mental invasion."

      Jabberwocky laughed, undaunted by the glower on Avon's face. "If you were really angry, I'd know it. I'm sorry I bothered you, but Tarrant's due up soon and I'll have a nice distraction."

      "A distraction at any rate, though I should doubt how 'nice' it will be," Avon said, and picked up the booster he'd been reassembling. "For now, let me finish my work. At least when Vila interrupts me he does it out loud - and if I am fortunate, I can hear him coming." He turned his attention to the device and didn't converse with the ship again, remaining silent and uncommunicative until Soolin came to relieve him. He built up a conscious wall to shut out Jabberwocky, not because he disliked Jabberwocky, which he didn't, but out of determination to avoid a mental invasion. When no one bothered him at all in the whole time, he found himself rather resenting his isolation, illogical though it that was.


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