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Jabberwocky part 16 - Mutoids

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 23

 

Blake knew as well as everyone else that reversing the mutoid process was highly unlikely, that it might prove impossible, and that success might depend on a combination of factors that would not prove universal. A flaw in the process might have blocked rather than removed all memories, the number of times a mutoid had been blanked might affect the outcome, and the key factor, that only on a one-to-one basis by the use of Avon's psi-healing might it be done at all would certainly limit any propaganda value. Avon loathed the psi-healing process, although he had used it whenever it had been needed to aid the crew, and even to aid Deeta Tarrant, whom he'd had no reason to like or trust. He'd even tried once, without notable success and with great risk, to heal himself. Blake knew he would use it this time, but only if it had a remote possibility of success. He might attempt it and fail, and refuse to try again, and no one could blame him for that.

Blake intended to determine the mutoid who offered the greatest chance of success. The one who had watched the camera so sourly might be best, unless that was part of Servalan's plan. Maybe the mutoid was bait so she could learn more about Avon's healing and determine if it would be worthwhile to risk capturing him to force him to use it for her purposes. Avon wouldn't--but if his refusal meant someone he cared about would die, Blake wasn't sure what he would do. Forced to trade Blake for his captured son, Kyl, on a mission, Avon had intended to offer himself in place of either.

The serum craving that caused many to refer to mutoids as vampires presented another problem. It might be impossible to remove without destroying the mutoid or without a bionic reversal, which could be dangerous, even assuming anyone in the Resistance possessed the skill to do it. He'd have to ask Hugh to work with Orac on that particular facet and put Orac to work on the physical aspects of the conversion process. There might be a subtle memory implant to convince them they must obey their Federation overlords or be deprived of feeding. If Blake had been running the program, he might have done it that way.

As everyone went about their daily tasks, Avon vanished into the computer crawlways without a word of explanation. Probably brooding. Perren arched an eyebrow after him, shrugged, and let him go. He set off to make his round of the other two mindships, for Essilon had only begun to undergo its training flights, and Darsan had not yet fully bonded with Deeta Tarrant, largely because Del's brother still suffered from the remnants of brain-burn from the sensor link he'd worn as First Champion of Teal. Temporary links with Darsan for longer and longer periods were proving therapeutic, and Perren worked with them regularly. His two companions, Edge and Tanz, were already over at Darsan, and Dayna was with them, working on the weaponry systems, noting the upgrades, and working to design similar ones for Jabberwocky. She and Tanz often worked together; her weapons design background and his engineering skills complimented each other.

Orac had sent a faint hint through several remote planetary systems that Servalan had defected. That the rumour would make its way to Space Command Headquarters eventually in its roundabout way with no way to trace it to Ryalon might actually convince the powers that be. A trade then, if the rebels went for it, would return Servalan to Space Command under a cloud, doubly so for losing the Mark-70. Blake had no doubt she would find a way around it eventually unless she were executed out of hand, and the fact that the Mark-70 was now a resistance ship would affect any possible credibility. Even if she weren't jailed, she might be demoted from the rank of Space Commander.

Vila set off for the market with a vague excuse, and Tarrant decided to go to Essilon and talk with his counterpart, Garenn Martagg, taking Hugh with him. Soolin lingered, calmly checking the weapons system and coordinating with Dayna through the mind-link, boosted by Jabberwocky and, in Dayna's case, Orac. She wasn't one for idle chatter, so Blake left her to it. Instead, he asked Jabberwocky to display the mutoids on the screen one at a time and to monitor for any evidence of awareness beyond the general mutoid level. While those ran, Blake updated the logs with the aid of Thorm.

//Blake.//

Jabberwocky's mental voice sounded worried as he drew Blake into link-mode. //I need you to look at this. Don't speak aloud.//

The rebel glanced at the screen that displayed the fair-skinned female mutoid. She was staring at the floor so he had a poor view of her features. He sent a question.

//Wait.//

Jabberwocky's alarm ran through the link, and that was enough to alert Thorm, who presumably already knew what was going on, to set aside the log recorder control and stand before the main screen. Blake shifted sideways so he could see, just as the mutoid raised her head.

Blake gasped, unable to repress his shock.

No one ever really looked at a mutoid. They saw the headgear and the garb with the panel on the chest for the infusion of serum, and that was enough. But Blake looked at this one.

She looked just like Soolin.

//Shift image,// he thought urgently to Jabberwocky.

By the time Soolin responded to Blake's gasp, the screen displayed the mutoid with the surly glare, still staring at the camera in his cell. His mouth was twisted, his eyes hard.

Soolin joined Blake, who sent a private mental urge to Jabberwocky to coordinate with Orac and discover if a member of Soolin's family could have undergone the conversion process. Supposedly, they had all been killed, but it might be possible one hadn't. Jabberwocky agreed.

"I see why you wonder about restoration," she said. "Although that may have been his normal expression before conversion. Avalon's tests prove they all require the serum implants, so he's really a mutoid. He doesn't look like he'd ally with the resistance."

"We can't assume that. He may have just enough awareness of his state to resent it. I don't understand Servalan's willingness to accept him if that is so."

What would Soolin think to discover a mutoid with her face? Would she be furious that Blake had kept it from her? Blake had done it to buy time, to learn what he could, before he broke the news to her. She wouldn't thank him for it, but Blake refused to offer such shattering news without complete information. He knew how he would feel if someone he loved had undergone mutoid conversion.

Had that been a part of Servalan's plan?

Because of the past experience of holding Servalan captive, the security around her was excessive. She would have no chance to escape this time, and Avon had eradicated the programming that had driven him to shoot Tarrant in her last escape attempt, a plan for her to take over Jabberwocky. Avalon's gaolers had learned from the experience. Her cell was isolated; she saw no guards, so there was no one for her to disaffect. But Blake could speak to her through a viscast. He was sure she would admit nothing, but if Perren watched her, he might find clues in her facial expressions and in her posture.

Blake sent a private message to Jabberwocky. //I think we need Perren here, and probably Hugh, too. Can you fetch them? And make identification of the female mutoid and this one Orac's top priority. Determine if there is any record of Servalan's choice of mutoids being specific, if you can.//

Jabberwocky sent the message to Orac, and suggested Blake activate the little computer. //I have given Orac instruction to track the original identities of the two mutoids as well. Although the Federation claims all mutoid records are deleted from the files, I doubt that to be entirely true. It was said my records were deleted, but Orac found them. I think mutoid records exist, extremely deeply buried, and Orac will be able to crack those files in time. He might even be able to restore them if they were truly deleted--or deleted after these six were captured.//

Yes, Orac could read any file as long as tarial cells were involved, and tarial cells were common throughout Federation record keeping. Still, once the Federation had realized Orac's abilities, certain records might have been stored in alternate systems; the record keepers would have been crazy not to have done that. Blake thrust the activator into its slot. "Orac, at this point, I will need the prior identities of all the mutoids."

*So Jabberwocky has already informed me. Typical redundancy. Such information will take time to isolate.*

"What, for you?" Thorm asked, with that grin that always produced dimples. Who would have expected an avatar body to have dimples? "The greatest computer in existence?"

*For anyone else, it would be impossible,* Orac said haughtily. *I have already identified the mutoid presently on the screen. His original name was San Bennan. He was a pilot of considerable skill, the top of his class at the Federation Space Academy. He graduated seven years before Tarrant and was expected to rise in rank, which he did. At the time of his conversion, he was a Space Major.*

"People of that rank aren't usually converted," Blake objected. "Why was he?"

*Information is sketchy, but the implication I can read from multiple files is that Bennan developed resistance leanings. Evidently, the woman he loved was a member of the resistance, and he had become disaffected through her. Later files prove she was actually a Central Security agent who betrayed him. One of his officers had reported several minor instances in which he had been sympathetic to captured rebels, and she was assigned to run him. General records report he was killed in a battle with a resistance ship, but closed files prove he was converted.*

"He shall indeed be delighted when he is restored to discover an agent was running him," Avon said from the doorway. His mouth had twisted, probably remembering Anna Grant. Blake grimaced. For all he knew it had been Bartolomew, Anna's Central Security persona, who had betrayed Bennan. He hoped not. They didn't need any more complications, and that would be a major one, especially if Avon were to enter his mind and release buried memories.

he is restored?" Blake asked to steer Avon's thoughts away from Anna Grant.

"Knowing you, Blake, you will insist." Avon's eyes were hard, but not out of anger at Blake. Perhaps he had a fellow feeling for anyone who had been betrayed by a Central Security agent. One didn't dare assume so, or even worse, say so. Certain triggers always sent Avon into mild regression, turning him into to the man he had been at the time of Terminal.

"I have never seen that much expression on a mutoid's face," Blake said instead. "Perhaps Servalan instructed him before the mission that if any of them were captured he should--"

"Should what? Pretend the conversion was failing? No one would believe that. Are you claiming she understands psi healing and chose that mutoid deliberately to lure me in?"

Avon stood toe to toe with him, and the darkness in his eyes proved he understood much of Blake's reasoning, and also that he would be expected to break the mental blocks in Bennan's mind, a process he would loathe. When Blake hesitated, Avon continued, "No one would believe it, except perhaps the great bleeding heart, Roj Blake. It is entirely conceivable that Servalan could arrange just such an experiment as part of a plan, should she be captured. She is no doubt aware of my abilities, and the entire galaxy realizes your desire to free the rabble. Why not a mutoid, as well?"

Soolin edged closer. "He could be right, Blake. Servalan is devious, with layers upon layers of subtlety. I would put nothing past her."

"Do you think this is a mind-trap for Avon, then?" Blake asked. He needed to warn Avon of the mutoid who resembled Soolin.

Avon replied before Soolin could speak. "Why not? It is exactly the type of scheme she would relish. Don't forget, she had entered into a light link with Darsan before her lies gave her away. She has more understanding of the mind-link process than anyone else in the Federation since the death of Rendall Weed. I have never trusted her. The last time she was a prisoner on this base, she escaped, and turned me against you in the process. She would not confront Jabberwocky and Essilon using an untested mindship without an escape plan, just as she concealed another ship on Terminal in case she failed to secure the Liberator."

Blake, Avon, and Soolin studied the mutoid Bennan. "We should run scans on all of them," Blake decided. "Mutoids being considered expendable, it is also possible that she has implanted explosives or other devices in them, possibly even a plague sphere the way she tried with the android version of Avalon. Even though we ran scans when we brought them in, there might be protections around such devices. Jabberwocky, notify Avalon."

Blake glanced at Soolin briefly, then nodded. "Perhaps we should go over to the cells, Avon." Quickly he sent a thought to Jabberwocky, to explain about the female mutoid to Avon.

Avon's face tightened as he received Jabberwocky's information, and he darted a quick look at Soolin. You have not told her? He sent to Blake through his telepathy rather than link-mode.

Though Blake was no telepath, Avon was no Auron, and could read responses from people, if he knew them well and if they thought hard enough.

"I'll come with you," Soolin volunteered.

No doubt she meant it as a portion of her bodyguard function, but Blake didn't want her to see the female mutoid without warning. //Jabberwocky,// he prodded because Jabberwocky could contact Orac outside of link mode.

//Yes,// Jabberwocky replied, and his voice was sad, regretful. Blake could tell that he had drawn in Avon for his response because Blake could sense him there. //The mutoid in question is kin to Soolin, most likely her sister. She was taken from the planet Gauda Prime as a teenager, but not slain. She and a man who was not kin to Soolin escaped the murder of Soolin's family, but were captured two years later, and she was converted. She has even served under Servalan--//

Who, no doubt, had recognized her, or had recognized Soolin when she had first encountered her.

Avon studied Blake, but his face didn't change, although he darted a measuring glance at Soolin.

Generally suspicious, Soolin noticed the glance. "What aren't you telling us, Blake? You're linked with Jabberwocky and so is Avon. Don't you think the rest of us are entitled to an explanation of your secrecy?"

"Jabberwocky has discovered the identity of another of the mutoids." It couldn't be kept secret any longer. This wasn't the way Blake would have chosen to tell it, but it would have to come out. He wished Perren were here for his psych-tech abilities, or Hugh for his natural sympathy and his relationship with Soolin. He faced Soolin. "This won't be easy for you to hear, but one of the mutoids may be...a member of your family."

Soolin froze into statuelike stillness, all expression drained from her face. She didn't even protest that all her family had been butchered. At first, she said nothing, then she whirled. "Jabberwocky, display the mutoid on the screen." Not one iota of emotion sounded in her voice.

Jabberwocky obeyed. The mutoid's head was bent, but Soolin's gasp proved she didn't need a full face viewing. "Impossible," she hissed. "It's a trick, another of Servalan's plots against us."

"I wish it were a trick." Jabberwocky's voice was rich with sympathy, and Blake suspected he was reinforcing his words through a personal link. "Soolin, she came originally from Gauda Prime. She was taken away at the time of your family's murder by a man named Rolf Horper."

? He was the one who sold us." Fury twisted Soolin's face and she spoke through gritted teeth. One hand went automatically to the clipgun she wore although she did not draw it, and Blake realized the weapon had become a form of security. "He must have meant to take advantage of her. I remember seeing him watch her and I saw the lust in his eyes, and I hated him. My father trusted him, but I never did."

"Apparently two years after they fled Gauda Prime they were captured. Or perhaps he used her as a bargaining tool."

"He liked young girls," Soolin spat. "She must have grown too old for him." She was silent a moment, then she said very quietly, "Carlan imagined she loved him." Then she said under her breath, "I am glad I killed him."

Blake could feel Jabberwocky offering wordless sympathy, but she clenched her teeth and ignored it, her face so utterly impassive as she studied the screen that Avon could not have bettered her expression.

She hesitated, then she whirled to face Avon. "Can you restore Carlan?" she asked. "You and Orac and Jabberwocky between you have removed programming and cured other problems. You must restore her."

Avon hesitated, his eyes intent, then he spoke very gently. "Carlan's life has been a series of horrors. Might it not be kinder to allow her to...continue to forget?"

She glared at him, deliberately holding his rare sympathy at bay. "No. That gives her no chance to ever be herself. I don't know if you can reverse it, Avon. They'll want you to start with the other one because everyone will think his process has begun to fail. But if his can, then why not hers? Why not all of theirs?"

"That is what Blake needs must determine," Avon said. "Once we are certain none of them are in any way implanted or sent here as a threat to us that we would be unable to contain, I will attempt it."

Blake knew he would not enjoy it, and that his offer was extremely reluctant, yet when the chips were down, Avon had never held back from the psi healing he had not asked for and still hated. He had linked with Del Grant, who had wished to kill him, and with Deeta Tarrant, a man he had no reason to value or trust. But he did value and trust the members of Jabberwocky's crew, some more than others. He would understand Bennan's suffering at the manipulation of the Central Security agent, and Soolin's pain at her sister's fate.

He tightened his grip on Soolin's shoulders in a rare gesture of comfort. "I fear it will fail. But I will try." He added to the room at large. "I have sent for Cally. Her telepathy will assist me, if she agrees to it."

"And mine," Jabberwocky jumped in. "I will take us into linkage together."

Oddly enough, Blake was the one who offered caution, although he knew that, in kinder times, Avon would twit him about it. "Before you start, the mutoids must undergo thorough scans to determine there are no delayed triggers or lethal implants of any kind."

"And very carefully, too," Thorm put in. "I remember, before I was Jabberwocky, we captured a suspected rebel. He had swallowed a device that was designed to react to scans. When they tested him, it exploded, killing him and three other people, including the psycho-strategist brought in to twist his mind and turn him from the cause of the resistance. Servalan surely has that information. If she used anything of the sort, deep scans would prove dangerous."

"So we don't scan them, and it goes off, and we do scan them and it goes off." Avon offered a bright, crocodile smile. "Just what I love most, a win-win situation."

 

                                                                               *****

 


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