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Adventures in Babysitting

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 5

Avon roused from blurry darkness to a pounding in his temples and a soothing coolness across his forehead. Somewhere nearby a fire snapped and crackled, its dancing light flickering against his closed eyelids. At first, he couldn't remember what had happened, then a memory of Blake calling his name emerged from the confusion. Forcing his eyes open, he looked around.

They had reached the tentative safety of the cave; shadows lurked beyond the range of the firelight, and rocks and jagged walls emerged from the dimness. Closer at hand, Blake sat propped up against a rock spur leaning against a pillow, tucked in a blanket. Ree leaned against him, sleeping.

Muted voices made Avon turn his head a little. Desta sat stirring something in a pot that hung over the fire. Her brother, his bad leg stretched out before him, leaned against another rock, scooping food out of a bowl with a chunk of dry bread and eating it.

"He should have been awake by now," Desta insisted in a worried voice.

"Blake says to let him sleep," Tirn replied calmly. "He was hurt worse that we realized and he needs the rest." He grinned suddenly. "And that means he needs a rest from being mothered, Desta. Leave the poor man alone. He's not used to children."

She glared at him but no harder than Avon was glaring. What right had the boy to pry into his business? Maybe he wasn't accustomed to children, but he was perfectly capable of dealing with them. They could be no more threatening than Blake and he dealt with Blake every day. Certainly they were far less ominous than Servalan and so far Blake and his people had kept her at bay. But no one could be expected to deal with children--or even with Blake--when his head ached like this.

"Maybe not," Desta returned. "But I like the way he treats us. He doesn't act like we're babies. When he's tired of us, he says so. He treats us like we're grown ups."

Avon pondered that. How else should one treat children? Of course he would prefer to ignore them entirely, but since he chose to ignore most people, what difference did it make?

Blake entered the conversation, a smile in his voice. "He's been very patient with you, Desta. Avon's not a patient man."

"You like him," she observed, lifting the spoon and beating the handle against the pot's rim to keep it from dripping.

"Avon would doubt that," returned Blake, "But it's true. He's a difficult man, hard to get on with, but I trust him."

"I don't know why," Tirn observed. "He doesn't trust anybody. When I told him what Grandfather said, about it being easier to hate the dead, he believed it. How can he do that? I wanted to--I thought maybe Grandfather was right--but he wasn't, was he, even if Avon thinks so?"

"He might think it safer," Blake replied. "And he wouldn't thank us for talking about him. Why don't you go out and see if you can hear anything? It's been an hour since the last flyer went over."

"You just want me to go out because I said that about Avon," Tirn replied sullenly, but he levered himself to his feet. "They can't scan us through the rock. It's a good thing the sled fit in here, isn't it?" He limped off.

"So they're looking for us with flyers?" Avon asked abruptly, causing Blake to turn and stare at him.

"You're awake."

"For some time now," Avon said pointedly. "What happened?"

"You collapsed. Why didn't you tell me you'd been hurt in the crash?"

"I saw no point in it. In any case, I wore a bandage. I should have expected even someone of your limited intelligence to put two and two together." He glared at Blake. "What were you doing up? You're not well enough for that."

"You collapsed," Blake replied as if it were obvious. "Should I have just left you to lie there?"

Avon ignored that. "I assume there's been nothing from the Liberator."

"No."

Avon sat up cautiously, catching at the cold cloth that someone--probably Desta--had spread across his forehead. It had dripped annoyingly into his hair, but when he saw her anxious expression, he couldn't find the energy to crush her with a criticism. Passing it back to her, he fingered the injury and noted that the swelling had gone down. The ache was still there, lurking dully behind his eyes, but the vertigo had gone.

"Blake!" Tirn came limping back, his face white. "The woods are full of men. Maybe they've got detectors that can read a heat residue."

"If they know Blake is here, they'd use their most sophisticated equipment," Avon remarked. "Something made the Liberator run for it. Perhaps Travis is here, Blake, or even the Supreme Commander herself."

Tirn retrieved a gun, passing another to Desta, who checked it with trembling hands.

"No, I've a better idea," Blake announced. "If there's a fight, you three would be in the line of fire. Better we turn ourselves in and tell them you've been our hostages."

"Oh, very good, Blake," Avon burst out. "If we have hostages, we're hardly likely to give up at the first sign of trouble. Besides the Federation has never given much concern to the safety of hostages before."

"We're not hostages, we're rebels," Ree piped up, clutching at Blake. "We'll fight too. I'm a good shot, remember? I'm grown up. I can fight. Can't I, Desta? Can't I, Tirn?"

"Whatever we do, we've got to get Ree and Desta to safety," Tirn insisted. "Maybe we can hide them in the back of the cave while the rest of us fight." His look defied Avon and Blake to exile him with the children. Blake might have done it, but Avon was unwilling to lose the advantage of another gun. Tirn was old enough to fight--younger people fought on other worlds. Vila Restal had been in detention already at this boy's age and would never have hesitated to take his place as an adult.

"Tirn, I think you--" Blake began, but Avon cut him off.

"He can fight, Blake."

Suddenly an amplified voice boomed around them. "You in the cave. Blake, it's you, isn't it? If you come out now, your companions will not be harmed."

"Travis," Blake muttered in despair. "He'll not care about the children. He won't listen to reason. He's obsessed with me."

"He's human, he can die," said Avon, drawing his gun.

Blake approached the mouth of the cave. "Travis," he called. "If I turn myself over to you, will you guarantee the safety of these children?"

"You care about the safety of children now, Blake?" Travis' voice held a note of amused skepticism, and Blake's face darkened as he realized Travis referred to his trial and the false accusations against him.

"You'll find us hard to capture, Travis," Blake replied.

"I'll find you easy to kill. That cave has no other entrance. We could seal it up and wait for you to suffocate. Not a pleasant death. Come out now and I might allow the children to survive."

"Don't believe him, Blake," Avon cautioned, gripping Blake's arm. "He means to kill you. Nothing else will satisfy him and he won't care who gets in the way."

"Including you?" Tirn asked sarcastically. "I thought you'd be braver than that, Avon?"

"He's brave," Desta defended. "He's trying to protect us. Don't worry, Avon, we know how to fight."

"When you are outnumbered like this, there must be an alternate to fighting," Avon replied, but he could think of nothing. Surrender might not buy them time because Travis was so fanatical about Blake that one couldn't trust him. They would lose their bracelets immediately should they be imprisoned, and Avon was reluctant to base his hope for rescue on the Liberator which might already be destroyed, and the remaining crew. Vila was afraid of his own shadow and Gan wouldn't be able to think quickly enough to plan a rescue. Jenna and Cally were more reliable, but Avon had long ago learned not to trust people to help him. He was more certain of safety if he managed his own.

But this time there was no option. He turned to Blake who looked shaky on his feet but determined. "Well, Blake, what now?" he asked. "Fight it out?"

"I'll surrender myself," Blake decided. "It might give the rest of you a chance. There might be another way out of here. I wouldn't take Travis' word for that."

"I wouldn't trust anything about him," Avon snapped. "It does not look promising, Blake. I have always suspected you would be the death of me."

Tirn muttered something sarcastic under his breath about cowards, and Avon glared at him. "No doubt you think it heroic to die for nothing."

"At least I'm not complaining about it," the boy scoffed.

"Blake, do you read us." Jenna's voice cut across the tensions of the cave like a knife. "Do you want to come up?"

"Where the hell have you been?" Avon snarled.

"We had to go off station when fifteen pursuit ships arrived," Vila's voice came over the bracelet's comm link. "Are you all right down there? Didn't take you long to get into trouble, did--"

"Somebody get down here with three bracelets right now," Blake snapped. "Hurry."

Tirn exchanged a look with his sister who went to stand beside Avon with a defiant look at the older boy. Ree hadn't moved from Blake's side. When Jenna appeared with the spare bracelets, the younger boy let out a squeak of surprise and clutched at Blake's arm. Desta grabbed Avon's hand. When Jenna noticed the children, an expression of surprised amusement flashed in her eyes before she passed out the bracelets.

"Blake, I am waiting!" Travis bellowed from outside the cave.

"Travis," Jenna gasped.

"You cut it rather fine," Avon observed.

Ree put on his bracelet and it promptly fell off. Catching it up again, he shoved it above his elbow and bent his arm. Desta didn't loose Avon's hand, fastening her bracelet on that wrist. With a skeptical expression, Tirn put his on. "Now what?" he asked.

"Bring us up," Jenna instructed and they vanished from the cave just as a massive explosion brought down the opening in a ton of rocks.

The Liberator materialized around them and Vila, who was sitting at the controls, stared at the children in astonishment. Jenna strode over to the intercom. "Take us out of here, Cally. We've got them," she ordered. In moments Avon could feel the difference in the ship's power surging beneath his feet.

"Company?" Vila asked brightly, his eyes fixed pointedly on Desta's grip on Avon's hand. His eyes were twinkling mischievously and Avon suspected he'd never hear the last of it.

Before he or Blake could comment, Desta surprised him by taking charge. "You must be Vila," she said. "Don't just stand there. Avon and Blake are hurt. They said it would be all right once they got back here. I think you should take care of them before you do anything else." She faltered before Jenna's stare and Vila's startlement, then stiffened her spine. "Well, that's what I think."

"She's right, you know," Tirn put in. "They said your medical unit could take care of them. If we don't have to fight, you'd better do something now."

"I am all right," Avon said and pulled free of Desta with the excuse of removing his teleport bracelet, and started for the flight deck.

"Not so fast, Avon," Blake cut him off, grinning. "She's right, you know. I suspect you might have a concussion."

"If so, it's slight," Avon replied. "Leave it, Blake."

"He won't and neither will I," Jenna informed him. "Come along, Vila, let's get these two fixed up. Then you can find cabins for our passengers. What do you intend to do with them, Blake?"

"They have an aunt on Raskin Major," Avon volunteered. "I have no doubt Blake intends to find her."

"But they might follow us," Vila objected. He had discovered Blake's wounded shoulder and had pulled back the tattered edge of his big-sleeved shirt to check the bandage. "The Federation will be looking for us all the harder now that we've got you away from there."

"Travis was down there, Vila," Avon informed him. "I expect pursuit. Perhaps you should tell Cally to increase speed."

Having nowhere else to go, the children followed them. Desta hovered annoyingly at Avon's side, refusing to be budged even when Jenna saw the two men installed on the med tables and activated the equipment to determine the extent of their injuries. Only when she turned and smiled at the little girl and explained that both men would be all right did Desta back away, satisfied to allow her to do her work.

"Got a way with the kiddies, don't you?" Vila teased Avon, who turned and favored the thief with a megawatt glare.

"He might think so," Tirn observed sarcastically. "Some people are easy to fool."

"Yes, you," Desta fought back. "Just because you don't like anybody doesn't mean everybody else is like you. Grandfather wasn't. Neither is Avon."

"Avon doesn't like anybody," Vila corrected. "Unless it's Blake, but he's got a funny way of showing it." He chuckled. "On the other hand, maybe there's a whole new side of Avon we haven't seen yet." He sidled toward the door.

"You take your life into your hands, Vila," Avon snapped, trying to fend off Jenna as she ran the diagnostic scanner over his forehead.

"Lie still," Desta said softly at his side. "She's only trying to help you."

Avon heaved an exasperated sigh and gave up. When they let him out of here he intended to show everyone just exactly who was in control. Until then, he favored the entire room with a malevolent glare and closed his eyes.

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