His Brother's KeeperBy Betty Ragan
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|None of it would have happened at all if the explosions hadn't gone off early. But I don't care what Blake says, it wasn't my fault. It was Cally who set the timers; I just planted them. Didn't even touch the dials. I mean, it's not as if I'd wanted to nearly get us all blown up, is it?|
Anyway, whoever's fault it was -- and I'm not blaming Cally, who knows, maybe it was a mechanical failure, all I know is it wasn't me -- but, like I say, whoever's fault it was, the explosions started going off before we got out of the base, and suddenly it was so much for Blake's "in and out before they even know we were here" plan. Pity, too, after the beautiful job I did disabling the alarm at the entrance. Not that I ever got any credit for that, of course.
So there we were, running for the exit while loud bangs were going off and bits of the ceiling were falling around us and alarms were screaming and we were all expecting to meet up with a horde of homicidal troopers any minute. Pretty typical day in the rebellion, in other words, except that I was seriously beginning to think that it was maybe going to be my last day in the rebellion, or anywhere else for that matter. No, come to think of it, that's pretty typical, too. Bloody suicidal business. Don't know why I stay on.
Where was I? Running for the exit, right. Well, there we were, running for our lives, as usual, when Blake suddenly stopped and grabbed me by the arm so I nearly fell over, and said "Where's Avon?"
Well, it wasn't my job to watch him, was it? And, anyway, he'd been right behind me a minute ago. But, sure enough, he wasn't there now. Which was a little worrying, I suppose, but I figured Avon could take care of himself and we should be doing the same: in other words, running like hell for the exit before the whole building fell in on top of us or something even more painful happened. But this is Blake we're talking about, and nothing would do but we had to go back -- towards the explosions, mind you -- and look for Avon. So he called out for Cally and Gan to cover for us, and started dragging me by my elbow back down the corridor.
Now, does that make any sense, I ask you? I mean, Cally, all right, but what's the point of asking Gan to cover for anybody? He can't even use a gun! But Blake didn't seem inclined to listen to me when I tried to point this out to him.
We did find Avon, thank goodness, not all that far back down the corridor. He was just standing there, staring at something on the floor, and I was going to complain at him for hanging about in the middle of all this hideous danger -- which isn't very much like him, really; Avon's the only person I've ever met even fonder of his own skin than I am of mine -- but then I saw the look on his face.
It's hard to describe that look, really, even though I can see it perfectly in my mind, because it's just not a look that ever, ever belonged on Avon's face. It was... Well, the only word I can think of for it is... stricken. He looked like I felt the first time I killed someone, in that knife fight on Cygnus Alpha. Horror and guilt and that awful thing that happens to my stomach at the sight of blood. I'm getting the shudders just thinking about it now. But that's me, you see, and Avon just isn't like that. Nothing bothers him. Well, certainly not that sort of thing, anyway.
So I looked down to see what on earth could possibly put that look on Avon's face. And I saw it, all right, but I still didn't understand.
It was a mutoid. A male mutoid, funny enough -- you don't see many of those -- half-buried under a bunch of rubble where part of the roof had caved in. He looked dead, or at least unconscious, which, if you have to have a mutoid around, strikes me as the best state to have them in. I've never liked mutoids. They give me the creeps. But that certainly didn’t explain Avon.
Blake figured it out though. Real quiet and gentle-like, he said "Someone you knew?"
And Avon -- I don't think he'd even realized we were there until Blake spoke up -- said, "My brother."
I don't think he realized he was saying it, either, until after he did, because right after that his face got all hard and blank again, and he turned away from the mutoid like he was going to leave it there and head down the hall to the exit.
I just stood there staring, and I remember that I was thinking two things at once, and neither of them was about how stupid standing there waiting to get caught was. I was thinking "Oh my god," and I was thinking "Avon has a brother?" I don’t know why that should have shocked me more than the fact that his brother was a mutoid, but I guess I normally just don't think of Avon as human enough to have a family. The mutoid didn't look very much like him, either, but then they all kind of look alike to me.
Blake bent down and looked at it -- him, whatever -- and said, "He's still breathing."
Avon said, "We need to get out of here," and he had a definite point, really, but Blake ignored him, of course, and started hoisting bits of the ceiling off of… of Avon's brother. He yelled at us to help him, and it was pretty apparent that he wasn't going to go anywhere until he'd dug the poor bastard out, so we both pitched in and started hauling rubble with him, so we could get out of there faster and hopefully not end up as mutoids ourselves. Well, that's why I was doing it. I think. And I'm pretty sure that's what Avon would say if you asked him, but I did catch him at one point giving Blake a look that might have been gratitude or something, so who knows?
Anyway, we managed to dig him out -- there really wasn't that much of the stuff on top of him, even though it seemed to take forever -- and Blake had me take his feet while he grabbed the shoulders and we went pounding down the hallway as fast as two people carrying a mutoid can possibly go, which wasn't nearly fast enough for me, let me tell you. I also don't know why Avon couldn't have carried the feet -- I mean, it was his brother, after all -- but I suppose it was his turn to cover us, and, anyway, I didn't really want to take the time to argue.
We made it back to Cally and Gan (who looked about as surprised as you'd imagine but didn't seem to want to take the time to argue, either), out the exit and past the edge of the shielded area just in time, because I could hear what sounded like a whole squad of troopers coming after us by that point. Blake slapped a spare bracelet on the mutoid, yelled for Jenna to teleport, and then, amazingly enough, we were back on the ship and reasonably safe. With a mutoid that used to be Avon's brother.
Well. So, we took the mutoid to the medical bay, and it was up to Blake and me to answer the inevitable flood of questions from everybody else, because Avon wasn't saying a word. They all reacted about like you'd expect, the appropriate expressions of shock and pity. Cally looked about ready to be sick, and kept going on about how barbaric it was, even though for once I don't think anybody in the room disagreed with her. Even Jenna looked upset, and she never did have much sympathy for Avon. It all seemed to be bothering Avon even more than seeing his brother like that, though -- I could see his lips getting tighter and tighter -- so I mostly stood there and didn't say anything.
Then it was pretty quiet for a while, while Cally tended to the mutoid's wounds, which turned out not to be very serious, and gave him something to keep him under until we could decide what to do with him.
At which point Avon finally turned to Blake and said, "It was stupid to bring it onto the ship."
"I couldn't just leave him there," Blake said.
Avon said, "If I could, Blake, you certainly could." Which would have been funny coming from Avon, if it was anyone else they were talking about.
And Gan, looking all outraged, said "Your own brother?" like he couldn't believe even Avon could be that heartless. Avon's right, Gan can be kind of naïve sometimes.
Avon said, "My brother is dead."
Which, normally, I might have tended to agree with. I mean, if they've erased everything that's you in there, maybe you are dead. On the other hand, it seemed a bit... I dunno, inappropriate, I suppose, with the person he was talking about lying there breathing perfectly normally about five feet away. "Where there's life, there's hope," as my old gran used to say, and, after all, my own conditioning never did hold for more than a month or so, so I started thinking...
"Couldn't we maybe... fix him?" I said. "I mean, I don't know anything about mutoids, but whatever they've done to him, couldn't we maybe undo it? We've got all this fancy medical equipment..."
I would have gone on, probably, but Avon was giving me his best "shut up, Vila" look, so I did. On the other hand, Blake's entire face had lit up like it was his brother we were talking about. Well, I seemed to remember that Blake's brother was dead, so maybe he was just glad of the chance to save somebody's brother. Or maybe he was just being Blake.
Jenna, always the practical one, said she'd never heard of a Modification being reversed, but Gan pointed out that that was because the Federation wanted its mutoids to stay mutoids, and then Avon said that that was a good reason for them to make the process irreversible. Blake just ignored them all and went over and stuck Orac's key in.
Orac used a lot of big words, of course, most of which I admit I didn't really bother paying attention to, but the general gist of it was that he'd never heard of a Modification being reversed either, probably because the Federation wanted it to be irreversible.
Avon said "I told you so" -- or words to that general effect, anyway -- which caused everybody to look a lot less sympathetic for him, but Blake kept pushing, and eventually Orac admitted as how it might just be possible, but it would involve surgery and tissue transplants and mental reconditioning, and a lot of other things I didn't really understand but which sounded pretty nasty, and even then it probably wouldn't work.
But Blake had that look in his eye, and I knew we'd be doing it anyway. Blake likes doing unpleasant things that probably won't work, or else we wouldn't be running around blowing up Federation bases in the first place.
Me, I was beginning to regret bringing it up, especially if it meant I was going to have to do any poking around in mutoid guts or anything similarly awful. Then I caught the look in Avon's eye, and I really regretted it. You'd think the man would be happy that his brother had a chance, even if it was a slim one, but maybe it would have been easier for him to deal with if he believed his brother really was dead and there was nothing he could do about it. Some people just don't deal very well with hope, I guess, especially if they don’t get much of it. Either that, or maybe he really didn't care very much about his brother, but thinking back to the way he looked back there in the base, I didn't think that was it at all. In any case, he looked about ready to kill somebody right then, and I figured better Blake than me, so I remembered something urgent I suddenly had to do on the other side of the ship and got out.
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