Jaberwocky Part 15 - AvatarBy Sheila Paulson
Page 1 of 24
"It could be a trap," Avon said.|
"You think everything is a trap," Vila muttered to himself. He wasn't any fonder of their journey across the Ryalon base than Avon was, and probably had even less reason to be there unless it was to carry Orac. Avon had put the little computer firmly into Vila's arms, and even the mysterious summons from Avalon hadn't entirely squelched the twinkle in his eyes when he loaded the thief down. He enjoyed doing things like that. Sadist.
Oh, well, the only other good thing about this whole excursion was that it had taken Avon away from that mysterious project of his. When he was caught up in his research, he tended to be snippy, high handed, obnoxious, all those words that must have been invented just for Avon. And secretive. How could Vila have forgotten secretive? Avon had snapped at Blake just this morning--and Avon rarely snapped at Blake anymore, and then only to keep his hand in.
"It's as well to be wary," Blake defended Avon's suspicion. He didn't seem to mind the snappiness. Maybe it reminded him of the old days. "Even here on Ryalon, there can be threat."
"And a mysterious stranger who makes Avalon decide to send for Tarrant is not a guarantee of safety," Avon replied. He could totally partition his mind. Secret/threat. Two separate reasons for Avon to be wary. Probably two of dozens. Vila grimaced.
"Do you have any idea who it might be?" Hugh Tiver asked the pilot, who had been silent since they had teleported over to the base's headquarters. They had considered it best to bring their ship's doctor because of their destination. His tawny curls caught the sunlight as they approached the door to the main medical building. He didn't worry about Avon's mysterious project, not old Hugh. He trusted Avon. Trusted lots of people, did Hugh. Funny thing, Avon had never betrayed that trust.
Tarrant shook his head. He must have been wondering, too, who it could possibly be. "I formed some contacts when I was a mercenary, but no one I'd expect to show up here. Dorn is already making runs for the resistance. I didn't get close to many people whilst I was out there on my own." He and Dorn Suliman had deserted together, and his old friend was the son of Jabberwocky, or rather, the son of the man Jabberwocky had once been, before he had been injured beyond repair and his brain used as the basis of the Mark-60 mindship. Vila was accustomed to Jabberwocky now and always thought of him as a person, even if he wore the body of a Mark-60 spaceship.
"The Federation doesn't encourage friendship," Blake agreed. "We're more fortunate these days."
Avon didn't respond to that; he seldom reacted to declarations of friendship, but at least he didn't shun them any more. Vila saw his expression shift fractionally and hid a smile. Tiver didn't bother to hide his. He'd always been open, and his nature had driven Avon to distraction at first. Vila had always enjoyed watching Avon's astonished, affronted, and outraged reactions to Hugh Tiver.
"More fortunate if this is not a trap, Blake," he replied. "Finding old friends is dangerous. It was even dangerous finding Kyl." Avon's long-lost son had returned bearing programming that had nearly cost the computer expert his life. "That's why I insisted on bringing Orac. For an old contact of Tarrant's to arrive mysteriously could be a threat, someone programmed to destroy us. I prefer to face such situations armed and suspicious."
"I can't imagine who it could be," Tarrant replied. "Avalon only said the man was injured, and that he was rescued from an otherwise-deserted asteroid in the 8th sector, and that I should come right away. They brought him here and have been treating him. He evidently just regained consciousness." Poor old Tarrant looked thoroughly perplexed.
"And he couldn't be identified through the computer system?" Avon demanded suspiciously. He hadn't talked to Avalon. Only Tarrant and Blake had, since they had been on the flight deck when her message had come through. Vila didn't know what they'd said, but they weren't secretive like Avon. They'd reported everything to the rest of the crew.
"Not easily without Orac," the pilot returned. "I'll be able to tell if he's a threat to us."
"If he's someone you know, you might," Avon countered. "I still think it could be a trap."
"Untrusting, that's our Avon," Vila muttered to himself. He took a deep, put-upon breath, and shifted Orac in his arms. "Tarrant, you great lump, why not take Orac for a bit?"
"Because Avon wanted you to have it," Tarrant returned. "I should hate to deprive you of the privilege."
The rest of the crew hadn't come along. They could hardly trail across the base, or even through the medical unit, in a body; they'd have children running after them and calling their names, and any ship's crew hanging about would be bound to be suspicious. Vila didn't mind the kids, but he knew Avon preferred to be subtle and discreet--or sneaky and wary, whichever term best suited his mood.
Sneaky, probably. He'd been talking to Edge in an undertone just before he left. Edge was probably the next best computer man on the ship--or on the planet. Maybe he was in on the big secret, and no one could say that Edge was a talkative man. Of the three psi techs they'd rescued from Sarran, Edge was probably the one Vila knew the least. But then, he and Avon had their science in common. When the three had helped to build Jabberwocky, Perren had handled the mental aspects, Tanz the building--and Edge a lot of the science behind it. In a world where the Federation didn't dominate everything, the three of them could have made millions. Vila sighed. Oh well, he'd rather steal the millions, himself. So much less like hard work.
Tarrant couldn't avoid worrying as they entered the rebel base's medical centre. He knew there was sure to be trouble. Mysterious messages and sudden strangers always meant trouble, even if they didn't intend it. Kyl hadn't meant trouble even though he'd brought it. Gan hadn't meant it, either. Cloned and programmed, he hadn't known either, only that he finally had a chance to rejoin Blake. Blake's daughter Cella hadn't meant trouble, and she hadn't even caused it, not really, but the news of her had come at a bad time, when the crew was dealing with Egrorian's plot. So Tarrant was convinced the mysterious stranger who knew him by name would hardly prove a welcome surprise. Maybe it was someone he'd attended the academy with, someone ready to switch sides. Maybe the whole thing was a new plot from Servalan, who had hardly given up and gone away just because she had to call herself Sleer now. Who knew what Supreme Commander Arpel had up his sleeve? Avon's suspicion must be catching, or perhaps it was only common sense.
Avalon met them in the medical centre's reception area, her face grave and worried. She was accompanied by the clone of Blake who had been rescued from the planet where IMIPAC had been destroyed. When the clone had joined the resistance, he had undergone mild plastic surgery to make him less like a carbon copy of the original, and his hair follicles had been treated to straighten and lighten his hair. He still looked like Blake but not so obviously that bounty hunters and troublemakers would mistake him for the original, and he had taken the name Rojers instead. Avon didn't trust the man an inch, not after he'd rendered the real Blake unconscious and attempted to take his place on a mission that had cost Dayna her life. The real Blake had been rescued from Servalan, and Dayna now existed in an android body, but Avon was well known for holding grudges.
Blake nodded pleasantly at his clone. Of all of them, he seemed the most at ease with the man, which always gave Tarrant pause. Tiver also offered him a quick smile. "We're here," Blake said. "You've found someone who knows Tarrant?"
"We've found someone who might be a ticking time bomb." Avalon pushed a strand of dark hair off her forehead. "Rojers just came in from a mission; he was pulled off course by a distress signal and went to investigate. It turns out the beacon was homemade and the man he found must have constructed it himself out of the most rudimentary tools. He was alone on that planetoid in the 8th sector with only marginal supplies and equipment. His ship had crashed there."
"It looked like a converted pursuit ship, one of the old style," Rojers put in. He still sounded like Blake; no one had altered his vocal cords. Only the inflection was slightly different. "It was in bad shape; he was lucky to bring it down more or less intact. I found the poor fellow lying in the wreckage, unconscious. I don't know how long he'd been there, but when I saw him I knew I had to bring him straight here. If anyone would have pity for him, I would."
Avon's eyes narrowed at his words, and Tarrant shifted uneasily. Just what did his reaction mean? That the rescued man was a clone with no identity of his own? That he'd lost his woman? Or simply that he'd been stranded alone on a remote planet? A shiver of uneasiness traced its way up Tarrant's spine. Why send for him? It made no sense. Unless... Could the man be his father?
"Why send for me?" he asked, questing in his mind for the link he always had with Jabberwocky.
//I'm here, Del,// the mindship replied immediately. //I always am.//
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