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Jaberwocky Part 15 - Avatar

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 24

Reassured in that respect, Tarrant waited for Avalon's answer, but she said, "I'd rather you see him. In here." She led the way down a short corridor past busy uniformed personnel and a few patients out for short walks, and stopped in front of a closed door where two of Avalon's security people stood guard, one on either side.

Avon's hand hovered near his gun, and the others bunched up behind him, but when Avalon pushed the button and the door slid open Tarrant went in first. Avalon stopped the others in the doorway but Tarrant knew Avon was behind him, gun at ready, in spite of the precautions that had already been taken.

The man on the diagnostic bed lay with his face turned away from the door, his dark hair in mild disarray, as if he hadn't been able to have it trimmed for a long time. The hospital staff had cleaned him up, and he wore a hospital gown. Tarrant's first view gave him an edge of jawline and forehead, no more. Inexplicably, he began to tremble.

Sensing a presence, the stranger turned and revealed a face that, except for the fading bruises and the recently-broken nose, looked remarkably like his own. He was slim, not to the point of emaciation, but thinner than was healthy, and shadows lurked in his eyes. For a moment, he squinted at Tarrant in disbelief, then his face shifted into a relief so colossal that it forced out tears, the eyes blurring behind them. "Del! Thank God. I thought I'd never see you again." He put out his hand and Tarrant clasped it involuntarily.

He tried to speak but for the first moment words would not come. Then he cleared his throat and tried again. "Deeta? But--you're dead. I felt you die." He hardened his voice--and his heart. "Are you a clone?" Was that why Rojers had taken pity on him, because of his shared state? The others had accepted Gan's clone, but this was Deeta--or a copy. The idea of a copy of his brother hurt him so fiercely he had to bite his bottom lip to steady it. He let go of the patient's hand and took a wary step backward.

"I--don't believe I am. Servalan said I was not, when she revived me after the Teal Vandor Convention. I regained consciousness on her ship." He caught his breath. "I'm sorry. I didn't want to talk to you with all those people in my head and that wasn't fair to you. But now--that's over." That's what Deeta had said as he lay dying in the ruined building, but then anyone would know that. The whole planet had listened in as he died. Like Tarrant, they had all experienced Deeta's death. It hadn't been sham; it had been death. Tarrant hesitated, unconvinced--but he longed to believe.

//What is it, Del? What's wrong? Your heart rate, your blood pressure are elevated. I can feel how distressed you are.// Jabberwocky's anxious questions filled his head and Tarrant let him see the image of what he was seeing, sinking into a gestalt with the computer. One on one, he could do that well for short periods of time away from the ship.

//It's Deeta,// he explained hastily through the telepathic link they shared. //My brother.//

//I thought your brother was dead.//

 

Tarrant gave a sound that was half a laugh, half a sob. //So did I.// The mental communication occurred so quickly that no one noticed a gap. He shook himself to awareness of the present, his gaze all over Deeta--if he really was Deeta. "I felt you die," he insisted. "You didn't just pass out, you died. I knew it through the link and so did millions of people at the Conference site--and all of them knew what you said to me. You'll have to convince me."

"And the rest of us," Avon put in, a feral look upon his face.

Tiver wiggled past Avon, who turned, affronted. Circling the bed, the doctor eyed the readouts on the diagnostic screen at the head of the bed, then reached for Deeta's wrist. Hugh had never been willing to go entirely with readouts, not when he could examine the patient in the old-fashioned, hands-on method.

"That's what Servalan said, that I was dead when she reached me," Deeta replied, scarcely noticing Hugh. "She put me in a stasis tank and she did it quickly enough that they could heal me, resuscitate me--and remove the sensor link from my brain."

"Well now," Avon said, moving closer to take a stance at Tarrant's side. "What proof have you of that? It had better be good. We know what Servalan was involved with shortly after the Teal-Vandor Convention, and you were not a part of it."

"No. I realized that she had a plan, but I wasn't told of it." Deeta's face narrowed. "She left me behind on a remote base with strict instructions."

"Before you tell us what they were," Blake said, gesturing Vila forward with Orac, "we have a few tests to make of our own. You understand why we can't take you completely on trust. Even if you are who you appear to be--and you could be clone or android, or even shapeshifter, or cosmetically altered--you could be conditioned or programmed with an unknown trigger. We have encountered that, as well."

"All true, I could be. I don't believe I am. And you are?" Deeta's eyes flashed. He'd always stood up for himself: with Father, with the Federation, with anyone who got in his way. Tarrant had not been surprised that he'd become First Champion of Teal and defended the position so well--up until an android named Vinni had taken him down.

"I'm Roj Blake," the rebel replied. "I'm in charge of Tarrant's ship. That gives me some authority."

Avon's expression made it plain that Blake(s assumption that he was in charge was not completely accepted. He did work with Blake now and even liked him, but he had limits upon what he would acknowledge in public. "Under the circumstances, you can scarcely expect to be taken on trust. As with others before you, the burden of proof falls upon you." He had been as rigid with his own son, Kyl, so Tarrant had no grounds to complain of that, but a flash of annoyance toward Avon surged through him that he tried to squelch. Even though Tarrant didn't like it, Avon was right.

"What have the medical tests discovered?" Hugh asked practically. "I can tell from these readings that this man is not a clone. Has he been scanned for implants?"

"Of course," agreed Avalon. "There are none. He is correct that the sensor link he wore as First Champion of Teal has been removed. We can determine the existence of no other devices or implants."

"None that can be detected within the limits of your medical science," Avon put in.

Hugh's eyes were busy as he studied the patient. "He is obviously run-down and needs nutritional supplements as well as proper vitamins."

Vila muttered, "Adrenaline and soma," under his breath, winning a brief glitter in Avon's eyes in response.

 

"Conditioning would not be readily apparent, of course," continued Hugh. "You acknowledge," he continued to Deeta, "that you were in Servalan's hands. Admittedly, she had little time for ongoing programming and may have simply put you aside, intending to return for you later." He smiled at Deeta. "I'm Doctor Tiver." Perhaps he thought the title would be reassuring, but it didn't reassure Deeta, whose eyes narrowed slightly. "We have a...means of detecting such things."

Avon's face froze. Tarrant thought Hugh meant Orac, who had always been able to run such tests, but apparently Avon feared Tiver referred to his own abilities as a telepathic healer, something he hated to use on strangers. Better to start with Orac, who would be more objective than Avon and who might even find the process fascinating.

Hugh nodded at Orac. Vila had deposited it on the table the moment they entered the room and pretended exhaustion at the strenuous effort of carrying the little computer through the medical section. When no one had noticed, he had straightened up quickly and concealed his disappointment.

"Is that Orac?" Deeta asked with the first show of real interest he'd produced. "I've heard tell of it."

Avon said, "It is merely a device which will monitor you during the tests." Although Avon had allowed himself to become slightly more outgoing with the crew over the past year, he had never once yielded his suspicion of outsiders. Trust with Avon, now that he had gradually learned he could trust, was not a universal. It had to be won by individuals, one at a time. Sometimes it had to be proven more than once. At times, Tarrant found Avon's wariness annoying, but he had had cause to be glad of that suspicious nature on more than one occasion. They lived in a harsh universe where even friends and relatives could wear false faces. That was why Blake fought.

Blake spoke up. "I've been through this process myself. Conditioning can be buried for years."

Avon glanced at him quickly, then at Deeta. "In your case, since we know you were in Servalan's control, we should be utter fools not to test you. And we are not such fools."

Deeta looked at Avon with pure dislike. "Should I have been conditioned, it would hardly be my fault, would it? I submitted myself to your medical science. I accepted tests. I acknowledge you need to do them. I even acknowledge you want to do them because you are concerned for my brother. You need not revel in them."

Avon actually looked astonished. "Since I performed similar tests on my own son..." he began through clenched teeth.

"Avon," Blake cautioned.

Avon's face smoothed into blandness. "My leader speaks," he purred and Blake's eyes quickly masked amusement. Even in the stress of the moment, Tarrant noticed Avon had interpreted that one word from Blake without the slightest hesitation.

Deeta bit his bottom lip and subsided. "Run your tests," he said. "Only a fool would expect to be taken on trust--and I have never been accounted a fool." His mouth was tight a second then he added, "But I warn you, I am very good at defending myself."

"Threats are tedious," Avon countered.

"Avon," objected Tarrant.

 


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Sheila Paulson

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