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His Brother's Keeper

By Betty Ragan
Page 2 of 5

The whole ordeal had given me a terrible headache, though, which is why I finally came back to the medical unit later. The mutoid was still unconscious, and Orac was monitoring him, so there wasn't any reason for anybody else to be there. Otherwise they would have made me go through Cally instead of helping myself to the medical cabinet, and Cally has this funny idea that too many drugs are bad for you, or something. What Cally doesn't understand, of course, is that I am a big Delta and was successfully medicating myself for years before I ever met her, but she gets such satisfaction out of mothering us all that I hate to disillusion her. Stealing's easier than arguing, anyway.

But that's why I got a little nervous when I heard someone coming just as I was re-arranging the contents of the cabinet to make it look like there wasn't anything missing. I figured it may or may not have been Cally, but if it was Gan or Blake, they'd probably report me to Cally, or at the very least make me put my "headache powder" back, and given those three-out-of-five odds, I figured it would probably be prudent to hide. There's a lovely little hiding space behind that big rack of diagnostic equipment -- er, not that I've had to use it on a regular basis, of course -- so I finished locking the cabinet back up and ducked behind there, just in case.

It wasn't Cally, as it turned out. It was Avon. And he had a gun.

I'd been about to get back up, because Avon doesn't care what I put into my body when we're not on a mission, but when I saw that, I froze. Avon with a gun is a pretty frightening sight, at least when he's not pointing it at someone who's trying to kill you. And he wasn't. He was pointing it at his brother.

I honestly don't know whether I would have done something or not. I mean, I like to think I would have, but... Well, anyway, I didn't get the chance to find out, because by the time I could have moved or anything, Blake had come in.

I don't know if he'd seen Avon with the gun and followed him, or just come to check on the mutoid and found him there by accident, but whatever the case, he didn't look at all surprised. He just said, "Avon. Don't," in that very calm, quiet voice he does when he wants to get you do what he says before you've even taken the time to think about it.

Avon said, "Go away, Blake."

Blake came up behind him and curled his fingers over Avon's and pulled the gun down to point at the floor. Avon said, "Damn you," but he didn't pull the gun back up.

I almost sighed with relief at that point, but remembered just in time not to make any noise, because I was pretty sure that if Avon found out I was there, he'd probably be wanting to use that gun on me.

Blake looked at the gun, then at the mutoid, then back at Avon, and said, "This isn't the answer."

Avon said, "It's the only answer. Look at him, Blake! That thing is no longer my brother. They raped his mind and erased everything that made him human. Would you want to live like that?"

And Blake said, "I did."

They just stared at each other for a minute, then, and there were all kinds of things in their eyes that I really didn't want to think too much about. I felt bad enough for seeing all this, anyway, but I could hardly have stopped watching, could I?

Finally, Blake said, "I got my life back, Avon. Maybe we can do the same for him."

Avon said, "You're an overoptimistic fool," but when Blake held out his hand for the gun, he let him take it.

"Orac says talking to him might help," said Blake, and then he took the gun and left.

Avon stared after him for a moment, then he came and sat down next to the bed. He had one of those peculiar half-smiles on his face that he gets where other people would have some sort of normal emotional reaction, like tears, or pouring themselves a drink.

"Well, Sarl," he said, "you always used to tease me about wanting to be a machine instead of a human being. Rather ironic that it is you who achieved that state instead of I."

He took the mutoid's hand and just sat there for a long time, examining it like there was going to be a quiz later and he was determined to get an A. Maybe there's something really fascinating about mutoid fingernails. Probably it was just easier than looking at his face, though.

Enough time passed that I was starting to cramp up, and I'd about decided that I would have to come out of hiding and hope that Avon wouldn't actually manage to kill me now that Blake had taken his gun. I'd just started to straighten up when Avon let out a sigh, and something about it told me that I'd really be better off staying put for the moment. Particularly when it ended it a sob. Or maybe it was a laugh. That'd be more in character for Avon, anyway. I couldn't really make out what he said next, because he said it real quietly, and he'd raised the mutoid's hand up to his face so I couldn't see his lips. But it sounded like "You, as well." Then he lowered the hand, said, "I'm sorry, Sarl," in a perfectly expressionless voice, and left the room without even glancing over at where I was hidden.

It was that last bit that got to me: the "I'm sorry." I couldn't stop thinking about it, while I was waiting for the pins-and-needles in my leg to go away so I could walk. I had wondered, you see, just what it was that Avon's brother -- Sarl, apparently; Avon hadn't bothered telling the rest of us his name -- had done to get himself picked for conversion. Mostly they use crimos, deserters, people like that. I'd kind of figured that it just meant Avon wasn't the only criminal in his family, or, for that matter, the only one to get caught. But a really, really horrible thought was starting to come to me.

You hear about it, of course. Deserter's families sold into slavery on Ursa Minor or someplace like that. Families of resistors being rounded up and shot; I suspect that's what happened to Blake's siblings, although I'm not going to ask him. But they don't do that sort of thing do the families of embezzlers and thieves. Not even highly successful, recidivist thieves. But…

To the extent that I ever really thought about it, I must admit, I'd always kind of liked the idea of being a Famous Rebel Terrorist. People back on Earth knowing my name, telling stories about me. I've had this lovely image of myself, years after Blake's finally managed to topple the Federation, sitting in a pub somewhere telling a room full of enthralled strangers about how I was with Blake -- yes, the Blake -- and impressing pretty girls with only slightly-exaggerated tales of my heroic exploits.

But it never occurred to me to stop and think about the possible downside of being a Famous Rebel Terrorist… well, except for the obvious one that involves people trying to kill you.

I have two brothers and a sister.

I think I started to shake. No, I did start shaking. I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Orac was still sitting there, humming away, and... Well, I hadn't heard anything from my family in over a year, of course, and I'd always assumed they were fine because, well, they're Restals and Restals are survivors. Ask anyone. But suddenly I was utterly convinced that... Well, I had to contact them. So I staggered over to Orac -- I still had pins-and-needles -- and yelled at him that I needed him to do something for me right now.

The stupid plastic box got halfway through his usual spiel about how busy he was and how he didn't have time to handle my petty affairs, when the voice of reason kicked in and said that if they weren't OK, there wouldn't be much of anything I could do about it, and if they were OK a transmission from me would only call attention to them. Annoyingly, the Voice of Reason sounds just like Avon, but I listened to it, anyway, and just got Orac to look through the Federation records for them instead of calling them up.

They're fine. The Federation doesn't consider Deltas worth bothering with, apparently. But I don't mind telling you, that was one of the worst moments I've ever had in my life.

**


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Betty Ragan

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