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Fellow Feeling

By Sally M
Page 1 of 5

     *This entire scheme of Ven Glynd's has been a complete fiasco, as I would have predicted had I been consulted in the proper manner. Initial reports from Atlay indicate that he and Governor Le Grande are dead. Space Command is in full control, and the situation may be said to be without whatever illusory hope it might have had.

     *There is no further time to be wasted.

     *Whatever the reasons for the delay in continuing Blake's eradication therapy might have been, they are now without import. Having begun the treatment, it must be continued as a matter of urgency. Further delay could result in mental trauma and possible damage.

     *My previous instructions stand: five minute sessions interspersed with one hour rest periods.

     *From the previous aborted attempt, it is clear that dual therapy must be continued, but that Jenna is incapable of carrying out the role of monitor for the full period. Vila and Avon will therefore alternate with Jenna to complete the full two hours of therapy. Cally will be needed to oversee. It is suggested that the Zen computer be instructed to avoid all possible contact with other ships, unfriendly or otherwise, for the full twenty-six hours involved.*

 

     I don't want to do this, I don't, I don't, I don't...

     And Blake doesn't want me to.

     I do want it done, I guess. But I'm not well, my head hurts enough from trying to follow Avon's explanation, I'm sure I'd make things worse for Blake, not better. Maybe I could suggest that to Avon. Maybe I don't want to hear his answer. He's sore enough for seven Warg-stranglers with seven strangled and very mad wargs at the minute, and he gets even less loveable when he's sore.

     Five minutes. Five minutes once every three hours doesn't sound much, does it? Perhaps that's how I need to look at it.

     So I'll sit here in the galley for a while, while Avon has his turn, and I'll drink a lot of this revolting hot swampwater tea that Cally is handing out to all of us, and I'll listen to the silence. I'd prefer something stronger - a lot stronger - but Orac says no. Not even Cally's patented soma and adrenalin mixture, made just the way I like it. Adrenalin's a stimulant, soma's a relaxant, we can't have both, or either. Orac says it would be risky to Blake.

     Blake...

     It all ended so fast, that stupid business with Travis and Governor Le What's-her-Name. Blake snarled something about "what are we all standing around for?" and strode off. We all went after him, tried to catch him before he reached the flight deck, but he moves so fast when he wants to, and Cally just caught his sleeve as he turned the corner and almost fell over the body. The Governor's servant.

     Y'know, none of us can even recall the man's name now. It's sort of there in the corner of my mind, a small, sad thought that doesn't come clear. It's pretty awful when you think of it. He's dead, and we have to get rid of him, and not one of us knows his name to send back to wherever he came from. But we had to let it go, let him go, because he was dead and Blake was alive.

     Blake stared down at him as if he'd never seen a body before .

     "Avon?"

     Avon walked straight past me as if I wasn't there, across to Blake, in his close-up-and-really-too-personal move, the one I hate when he does it to me. "You have Orac's key, Blake?"

     "No, I..." Blake fumbled in a pocket, drew the key out.

     "As I said, Blake," and I didn't like his voice at all, it had that horrible soft purr he gets when he's angry but isn't sure who at, "just say thank you, and nicely. Believe me, you won't want to thank us later."

     "Thank you," Blake said, missing normality just enough to scare me. "Now, thank you for... what?"

     Avon slid Orac's key in. "Orac, tell Blake what he has been fortunate enough to forget." Jenna half-stepped forward, with a gasp. Avon looked at her, and she fell back. "Go on, Orac."

     Blake listened in silence, except for a small, caught sound of pain at the mention of that Ven Glynd who'd done this to him, and an even smaller one at the words 'mind control'. By the end his eyes were closed, his face... well, almost blank. But the bit that wasn't 'almost', it hurt.

     It's no good pretending, I can't read him and never could, so I looked over to Cally, then Avon. Cally was watching him, flashes of pain flickering over her face; Avon was staring straight past him, as if looking for something to look at that didn't look the way Blake looked. If you know what I mean.

     "No." So soft we nearly missed it. "No. No..." Then he whirled around and headed straight for the door - which I was in the way of, and pretty sure that he'd sweep me aside like so much absolute nothing. I barely had time to scramble out of his way, and Jenna was one step behind him, her hands reaching out, grabbing his arm but barely able to slow him down.

     "Blake!" Avon's voice was sharp as a knife - I can't stand knives - and it seemed to stop him, just for a fraction of a part of a second. Then Jenna pulled him around, still gripping his arm tightly.

     We could all see him trying not to shake.

     "You do not have to like it, Blake," Avon went on, cold and as composed as if he didn't realize how stupid that sounded. "But you do have to accept it. We do not have time to indulge your disbelief. You heard Orac. You are still vulnerable."

     "I thought I was free of it." There was a silence, then he suddenly shivered, seemed to pull all the pain inside and went on rather too calmly. "Obviously not. I see... and I do thank you."

     "I doubt that you want to," Avon said. "You do realize that you were nearly killed. We were nearly betrayed. And you were used -"

     "And abused," Cally added.

     "- by that creature. While he is dead, fortunately for him," Avon smiled, and I did not like that smile at all, "what he could do, others must not. The eradication therapy must continue."

     Jenna groaned slightly. Blake turned and saw the pain on her face. "Jenna?"

     "Jenna has already sampled your memories, Blake." Avon was again staring past him. "Not pleasant, I gather. But Orac decreed that someone has to share the therapy with you, and its choice fell on her."

     "Would you have refused?" Jenna snapped.

     "Leave it, both of you." Neat, it was, Blake saving Avon the need to answer her. "Please. Orac, there has to be another answer. There has to be -"

     *I fail to see any reason why. Do you have any conclusions that are superior to mine?*

     "Anything! I'd beaten the butchers, I'd beaten..." His voice trailed off. "I thought I'd beaten it all."

     *Obviously not.*

     "I agree." Dry despair. "Obviously not."

     Cally spoke, very gently. "You could hardly defeat something you did not know was still to be fought."

     "We did not know," Avon corrected, with a grating edge to his voice. "Nearly two years, is it not? Blake has been running our lives for nearly two years and neither he, nor any of us, had any idea how easily he could have been -"

     "Avon, please." She almost glared at him - Cally! Never seen it before - and he stopped, took a breath and went on.

     "How easily he could have been destroyed, and all this with him.  Orac," voice sharpening again, "your conclusions. Now."

     *The situation is quite simple, and the necessary actions should be obvious to the meanest intelligence.*

     "Tell us anyway."

     *Oh very well. This entire scheme of Ven Glynd's has of course been a complete fiasco, as I would have certainly predicted had I been consulted in the proper manner. Initial reports indicate...*

     On he droned again. For all the complaining, I'd bet my - I mean Blake's - last credit that Orac loves any chance to lecture us poor dumb humans. I admit, I was beginning to tune out to the actual words.

     But that's when Orac said it. That the therapy had to go on; that Jenna couldn't do it alone; that Avon and I had to take our turns playing host to the nightmares.

     Oh help.

     I don't know if I moaned, but from the look both Jenna and Cally gave me, I probably did.

     "So we will take it in turns," Avon spoke quite calmly, as if his insides weren't churning up at the thought. Mine were, let me tell you, but then maybe he's got an all-herculaneum stomach to go with the all-circuit brain.

     Blake looked up suddenly, straight at him. "Not Vila."

     Hell.

     "Why not?" Jenna spoke sharply.

     "I don't want Vila involved like that."

     I didn't know what to think. It felt like I'd been given a reprieve and a kick in the guts at the same time, and I couldn't decide whether to feel sick with relief or offended. Then I remembered what it was we were talking about and plumped firmly for relief.

     "Well, if that's what Blake wants, surely he knows best..."

     Err. Not the right thing to say. Avon was looking at me like I'd crawled out from under something not nice to know.

     "Even you must have noticed that Blake is not showing his usual immaculate judgement at the moment, Vila. We will do as Orac -"

     "I said no," Blake interrupted.

     Avon's smile got hateful again. "I see. An interesting point. Should Vila be disturbed because you do not trust him with your memories? Or should Jenna and I consider your singular lack of concern for us?"

     "Avon." One word from Jenna, soft, but definitely a warning. This was going to turn nasty any moment, and I really wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else.

     "I would prefer not have any of you used this way."

     "But you cannot do this alone." Cally spoke with the sort of careful, sweet reason that never works on Blake. "I would be willing to take Vila's place, Blake."

     *No,* Orac cut in again. *The differences in cerebral configuration are too great, as I have said before, if you had listened. All this arguing is pointless.*

     "Not quite," Avon said coldly. "Orac, could Jenna and I cover the monitoring without Vila?"

     I stared at him with my mouth open. Not like our Avon to volunteer for extra agony, is it? But then I thought about it and closed my mouth again, quickly, before something stupid like a protest got out. Not that I wanted to protest. If Blake didn't want me, that was fine with me. More than fine. I'd forgive him, even thank -

     *Of course not,* the blasted box of tricks fussed. *My instructions were quite explicit. If you cannot be bothered to follow them, then kindly do not bother me with your petty concerns, while -*

     "Enough, Orac!" For a wonder, it was Cally who snapped at him.

     *Either you want Blake to recover with the minimum pain and risk to the rest of the crew or you do not. Please make up your minds.*

     A silence, then I let the something stupid out.

     "I can do it, I guess. If we all have to."

     "No, I don't want you involved."

     *Blake, you are not in any condition to decide this.* Orac is bloody hard to shut up when he thinks he's in charge, and Avon wasn't stopping him. *Since the matter is settled, it is recommended that you rest for an hour, under sedation, then we will begin. Avon will take the first session.*

     "We have no choice, Blake," Avon added, and the edge in his voice seemed to have eased off - it wasn't exactly gone, but it wasn't as bad. Like he'd got what he intended from Blake and could lay off him, a little. "Not Jenna or I, and not Vila. You least of all."

     Blake closed his eyes for a minute, seeming almost to shrink into himself, and nodded slowly. "All right." He turned away, and this time Jenna let him go, watching as Cally took her place. Then he stopped and spoke again without looking at any of us. "You are wrong, Avon. I will want to thank you later. But you may not want to hear it then."

     "Why not?" Avon said with a pretty good stab at his usual dryness. "Go and sleep, Blake. I will see you - more's the pity - in one hour. Try not to be late."

     I suppose I should be glad he could joke about it. I'm not.

     I'm too scared.

*** *** ***


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