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Jabberwocky - Part 9 - Choices

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 15

      "I do not know about you, Tarrant," Avon continued coolly, laying aside the laser probe. "But we've found enough trouble on these 'milk runs,' as you put it, to satisfy us all. Certainly our mission to Eridani Major was anything but safe. You almost died of the experience, as I recall. Neither did we come away easily from Triana. Without the help of the Froma, we should have been vaporized there." He speared Tarrant with a cool look. "But that is not enough for our dashing space captain, is it?"

      Tarrant glared at him. "I can't help being bored," he said. "It was never that way on Liberator."

      "At least we're still alive," Vila piped up. "It was dangerous on the Liberator."

      "Some of us are still alive," Tarrant burst out before he could stop himself. Blake winced, remembering Dayna all too clearly. He held himself responsible for her death and knew deep inside that the reason he was so willing to accept all these milk runs for Avalon was because of Dayna. When Gan died he had become obsessive, driving himself on, trying to prove himself right, to justify what he had done. This time he intended to go in the other direction. He knew his crew was at risk each time they left the security of the Ryalon system, but the kind of risks they took these days were justified, with acceptable safeguards. To go out on the death-or-glory missions that Tarrant craved meant a far higher risk and the chance he would be responsible for yet another death.

      There was no defence against Tarrant's hasty words, but Tarrant realized that himself, for he drew back, appalled. "I'm sorry, Blake. I didn't mean it like that."

      "You did, and you had every right to," Blake replied. "But the point is that Avalon wants us to go to Parais and Hallar Prime. We aren't in this rebellion alone, Tarrant. Being in possession of Jabberwocky doesn't give us leeway to choose our own missions."

      "All right," Tarrant agreed stiffly. "I agree with that. But I still think it's boring."

      "I don't mind," Jabberwocky joined in. "There are a lot of ways to have fun. I think we should all link now."

      Tarrant's eyes narrowed and Blake couldn't help wondering if Jabberwocky were chastising him for mentioning Dayna the way he had. Blake had never expected it to work so well when Tarrant became Jabberwocky's link-mate, resenting it a little because he had been the one who was linked before Tarrant and circumstances beyond his control had severed them. It had never been a bone of contention between him and Tarrant, at least Blake didn't think it had, but lately he and Tarrant were always on opposite sides when it came to a discussion. Blake wasn't certain he wanted group linkage.

      But Cally smiled. She never passed up the opportunity for a link, enjoying the mental contact she would once have known on her home world of Auron. She had been known to comment that the bond formed in the group link was as strong as anything she had experienced on her home. "I think it would do us all good," she agreed. "Jabberwocky knows what he is talking about."

      Avon stiffened a little. He had never been entirely comfortable in the group linkage and was even less so since he had felt Dayna die through his healer's link. But he cast a sideways glance at Blake, measuring and considering, and then he nodded. "We may as well get it over with. When Cally and Jabberwocky team up, the rest of us have no chance at all."

      That won him a fond smile from Cally and a delighted grin from Vila. Hugh, who was always willing to link, came down from the upper section of the flight deck and sat beside Vila. More slowly, Soolin followed, sitting beside Hugh. The two of them seemed more comfortable together these days than ever before, and Blake was glad of it. He knew how Soolin felt about him and also knew that his commitment was to Jenna, but Hugh was always there and that was to the good.

      Avon lay aside his tools and followed Cally down to sit between her and Blake, and Tarrant came last, his face vaguely resentful, but given no chance to refuse by Jabberwocky. He sat on the end of the couch and reached across reluctantly to take Soolin's hand.

      While everyone could link for purposes of operating the vessel without requiring physical contact, they had always maintained a direct touch when merging this way. Usually, Tarrant, in constant linkage with Jabberwocky, would pull the others in, but this time, he hesitated and Cally sent a telepathic, //May I?// before initiating it herself. After a few moments, Tarrant unbent and helped her.

      Blake felt the familiar warmth of the group mind surround him and relaxed into it, though he tried to block his own doubts, about Dayna's death, about his reluctance to risk another of them. He had become too close to everyone, even Tarrant, to bear losing someone else, and he held back his concern, closing it away in a corner of his mind before opening himself to the group.

      At first, it had been hard to do anything like that, but as they worked on the linkage, boosted by Cally's telepathy and Jabberwocky's skills, they learned how to function within the group link. In the beginning it had meant headaches each time they did this, but now they were easier at it and Blake was glad of it.

      Someone had once said they liked the group linkage because it was the one time everyone was at his best. He rather thought it had been Dayna who said it, Dayna who had been the most suspicious of Jabberwocky from the very beginning, but who had been willing to admit that there was good in their bonding. He winced at the thought of Dayna before he could mask it.

      Someone was there; he could feel another presence close at hand - in linkage he could feel all the others in a comprehensive whole and could distinguish one from the other - but this was much closer at hand, not physically but mentally, and it was sympathetic. He recognized the cool, clear pragmatism of Avon's mental tone overlaid by the concern that Avon displayed for him now. He knew Avon cared but it was never something for blatant display, instead a certainty in the back of his mind, a warm sureness that Avon would be there if he needed him, as he was now. Avon had healer's instincts, long suppressed, and Blake realized that Avon knew and understood why he was so willing to go along with Avalon when he had never hesitated to play the maverick before.

      Avon had come to fear healing, suffering over his failure to save Dayna and the agony of nearly following her into death through his healing bond. But Avon had healed again and probably would continue to do so if any of them needed it. He did not initiate healing now - it was too private a thing for the entire group - but his support was there.

      Blake could feel Tarrant too, and in the union of everyone's minds, the pilot's hostility had faded. It was hard to stay hostile when this degree of knowledge was possible. Jenna had said it once, that to be completely known was a kind of freedom. Of course they were all human and none of them lowered all their barriers, but there was more unity between them than there had been before they acquired Jabberwocky, more than could have been possible before. Blake began to relax in the safety of the support he felt.

      Jabberwocky's contact held great joy. Though the ship was not designed to function this way for extended periods, he was always thrilled with the thought of group linkage and ended it with great reluctance. The danger was that separate identities could be lost if they stayed bound too long and while it was sad to return to the loneliness of one's individual mind after being part of such a whole, none of them was ready to sacrifice his own identity. Human beings were not designed that way. Even Aurons weren't.

      Cally was the one to draw back first, sending the urge to separate, and they became individuals once again. But Jabberwocky had been right. They had needed the group linkage badly. Now Tarrant returned to his stripped-down console without resentment, whistling to himself, and Blake, freeing Avon's hand as the link parted them, flexed his cramped fingers, realizing they had been in there longer than usual this time. He caught Avon's eye and smiled and Avon actually smiled back.

      


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Sheila Paulson

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