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Nothing Ever Goes as Planned

By Alicia Ann Fox, Michael Driver
Page 2 of 3

Yawning in the early morning, Tarrant ran his usual check of the flight systems before making himself a substantial breakfast in the galley. Dayna was there before him, quickly slicing some pale orange fruit into a bowl of yogurt and then starting coffee for those who rose at a later hour. "What's the specialty today?" she asked, carrying her food to the table.

"Wheat pancakes with blueberries," Tarrant replied in the intent tone of a hobby gourmet.

"Wherever did you get blueberries?"

"I kept them in stasis after I bought them on Vista."

A half-conscious Vila staggered in and groped for a cup, splashed coffee into it, and gulped it down. He had another cup and said, "Gah! I hate coffee." He piled doughnuts on a plate.

"We know," Dayna remarked.

"I hate to get up early in the morning when it isn't really morning in space anyway," Vila growled, and went to the flight deck. Avon entered as Vila exited, and also poured coffee. He silently added sugar and stirred; pause; stirred more quietly. He set the cup on a saucer and carried it out, heading in the direction Vila had gone. Dayna looked inquiringly at Tarrant, but the pilot was absorbed in cooking. Dayna returned to her breakfast.

On the flight deck, Vila munched on a doughnut and asked Zen what the status of the ship was. Upon being informed that status was normal, he set his doughnuts down next to Orac and settled on the couch. "What's our course?"

+Liberator is enroute to the planet Calipheron.+

"Thanks, Zen."

Avon walked in, carefully balancing his cup and saucer. He stopped briefly and looked down at the computer station, then continued on his way end sat down slowly on the couch. He took a sip of his coffee, made a face, and set it down. He picked up a doughnut, studied it warily, and took a bite. Determinedly he chewed.

"Hangover?" Vila asked conversationally.

Avon jumped. Crumbs flew. "No!" he snapped, wincing about the eyes at the noise of his own voice. His denial was mostly true, he had woken with another headache.

"Sorry," Vila said, unapologetically.

The day wore on. Everyone had two shifts per day on watch; Avon's first had been after Vila's, and his second came after Cally and before Vila's second shift. The day, for Avon, had not been a good one. He could not ignore the pounding in his head, which surely ought to have stopped by now. He was exhausted from dealing with it, and was beginning to be afraid. There was no illness he could bring to mind that produced these symptoms, so he felt his original diagnosis of stress was correct, but--He spent his watch glaring at Orac and his scarcely touched dinner, and fighting down the fear that lurked in a black pit somewhere beneath him. When Vila arrived to take over, Avon had already left the flight deck.

Cally looked up from her booktape at the sound of a knock on her door. "It's not locked, come in," she said.

Avon came in. He hadn't stopped by her cabin in weeks, in fact seemed to have been avoiding her. It was very puzzling, as he had been used to asking her advice on occasion, to decide Liberator's next destination, for instance. At the moment Cally knew for a fact that they were going to Calipheron. "How have you been?" Avon asked.

Cally blinked. What was this? "You haven't seemed concerned lately."

"I've...been doing other things."

"Have you." She switched off her desktop viewer and turned her chair toward him, trying to figure out what it was about him that seemed odd.

"Yes," he affirmed. "I came to ask if you had the bottle of vodka that used to be in the galley."

Again he had surprised her. "Yes, I've had it for some time now." She narrowed her eyes, bit her lip with perplexity. "Have some with me," she offered, and went to get two cups from a cabinet.

"Of course," Avon said, taking a chair. Cally passed him a green cup and watched a carefully over the rim of her own cup as she sat down. He tossed off the vodka quickly and cleared his throat. Cally sipped her drink decorously.

"Have another, the bottle is on the desk."

Automatically he did so. Cally had a sudden bizarre image of him as a puppet and she holding the strings. He drank the second cup as quickly as the first.

Slowly, Cally asked, "Is anything wrong?"

"No." He poured himself another sizable shot.

That ruined the puppet image. He was lying, she knew it with a sureness beyond even telepathy. Watching him now, noticing that his eyes were bloodshot and dark-circled, she thought that he looked worn to the bone. "Aren't you drinking a bit more than usual?"

"Yes," he replied; his face twitched as if he'd meant to say something else. He sat down again and stared into his cup. There was a glazed look on his face, as if he'd been hypnotized...revelation broke over Cally's head. Hypnotics. Side effects. Ultraworld. She'd tested her own blood, but never his. Perhaps the fact that he was human had not excluded him from the side effects of the Ultras' drugs, but intensified his reaction. Perhaps the drugs were still affecting him, weeks later.

"Why are you staring at me?" Avon asked.

Someone should have noticed this before now. Cally remembered, belatedly, Dayna marking that Avon had asked for one of her bottles of spice wine. But why alcohol? If he was still experiencing headaches, why not painkillers? Enough of this. She was tired of dealing with Avon's deviousness. "Why do you think I'm staring at you? You're a wreck."

His eyes widened. He put down his cup and pinched the bridge of his nose with his fingers. "Stress, that's all."

"I don't think so." Inwardly grinning at the absurdity of her next statement she continued, "I can sense it."

Avon downed the contents of his cup, wincing about the eyes. "I've had headaches before."

Score one for me, thought Cally. "I think this one was caused by the residuals of the Ultras' drugs."

This time, she had surprised him. "What brings you to that conclusion?"

"Intuition. And the fact that after we escaped Ultraworld, I had sudden and severe headaches for a few days. The medical scan showed them to be a result of the hypnotic drugs and equipment the Ultras had used."

"And what did you do?"

"Time was the only cure. And soma for the headaches. Do you want some?" Avon sagged visibly in his seat. "Yes. Lucky for me that soma does not react adversely with alcohol."

"Otherwise we could never risk giving any to Vila." Cally was rising as she spoke, and now she headed for her door. "Will you wait for me here?"

A mute shrug answered her, so she slipped into the corridor. Vila was standing at Avon's door, which was between his own and Cally's. He looked up and asked, rather urgently, whether she'd seen Avon.

"Is it important? He's in my cabin," Cally explained. "I'm going to get him some soma, for a headache."

Vila fell into step with her. "We've received a message through Zen. Specifically for Avon."

Cally frowned. "That's very strange." She and Vila stepped aside as Tarrant jogged determinedly by, clad in a faded black sweatsuit and running boots. Cally waited until he had rounded a turn before continuing, "Was the source identified? Horizon or Lindor, perhaps? Or Kaarn--no, Kaarn would have contacted me."

"Not a sniff. It was all coded and Zen wouldn't tell me anything." Vila watched Cally pull a surface injector from a drawer in the medical unit and fit an ampoule of soma to it. "What's wrong with Avon, anyway?"

"Remember Ultraworld?" She picked up a small regenerator.

Surprised, Vila said, "I thought that was just you, because you'd been in that mind-tube so long."

"There were hypnotic drugs given to us, also. They haven't worn off from Avon."

Vila nodded sagely. "That could explain several things. Come on, I want to see what that message is."

Together they went to Cally's cabin and found Avon sitting where she had left him. "Vila has some news," she said. "Would you rather hear it or have the soma first?"

Avon's eyes sharpened. "The news."

"Zen picked up a coded message, Avon. For you."

"For me?" Vague puzzlement was suddenly replaced by urgency. Quickly he exited, followed by Vila and Cally.

"Flight deck," Vila said succinctly.

Avon was already standing before Zen when they arrived. "Decode," he snapped.

+The Orac unit must be utilized.+

Vila frowned. "Why?" he murmured.

Avon had pulled Orac's key from the pocket of his black trousers and shoved it into place. "Orac, decode the message Zen has for me."

For once, Orac obeyed with no comment. Lights flickered within the clear casing and on Zen's face. Avon paced. Vila sat down on the couch after checking the ship's status at his station.

"Do you wish to hear the message?"

Avon hesitated, then said, "Yes. Playback over the flight deck system."

The message began with a burst of computer noise, then--"Avon."

Vila's jaw dropped as he and Cally exchanged a look of shocked comprehension. Avon sank slowly onto the couch. The message continued, "I hope Orac managed to decode this properly. I assume you'll run a voice check as well. In case you don't recognize me, or need confirmation, this is Blake." No-one moved a muscle as the well-remembered voice filled the flight deck. "Sorry there's no vid, but the equipment I'm using has its problems. I can't tell you where I am yet, either; it isn't safe. However, I can lead you to me by steps, using Orac to decode my messages. Avon, I need your help. There's something valuable here, something that can fund the rebellion--all of it--indefinitely. If you can help me, I'm prepared to pay whatever you ask."

The message paused. Cally stepped behind the couch, behind Avon. She seemed about to say something, but the message began again. "There was a tag for Orac at the beginning of my message, which will give him the route to sent me a reply as well as the proper code. If I receive an affirmative, I'll proceed with the first set of coordinates you'll need. I hope all has gone well for you, all of you. Blake out."

"Voice check, Orac," said Cally.

"There is a 94 percent probability that the voice is Roj Blake."

"Blake sounded strange," Vila said, his brow furrowing. "Why did he send the message to just Avon, anyway?"

"He did leave me with the ship," Avon replied. "Orac, acknowledge receipt of message and advise I will cooperate." He stood and paced.

"Confirmed."

"Avon, wait!" said Cally. "We haven't consulted--"

"It's done." He turned his back end faced the blank viewscreen. "Orac, do you have the coordinates?"

"There will be a momentary delay."

"Don't we get a say?" Vila asked.

"No."

"Coordinates received."

"Orac, feed the coordinates to Zen. Confirm when complete."

"Confirmed."

"Zen, lay in a course to the coordinates just received, standard by six."

+Negative. Standard by two is specified.+

"Standard by two, then."

+Confirmed.+

Avon turned to face Cally end Vila. "I'll take the watch, Vila." He headed for his station.

Cally glanced at Vila, then followed Avon. "No, you won't," she said, and slapped the surface injector against the side of his neck. She caught his shoulder in an iron grip so he couldn't twist away.

"Not now," he said weakly, his posture already beginning to slump. "I must stay here...."

When the injector was empty, Cally pulled it away, then passed the skin regenerator war the small mark left by the pressure needle. "Why?" She motioned to Vila, who quickly moved in to support Avon.

A lopsided, soma-induced grim crossed Avon's face. "Why, indeed."

"I'll take the watch, Vila, if you will bring Avon to his cabin," Cally said decisively. "Then come back. I would like to discuss this further."

When Vila returned to the flight deck, he immediately added, "I don't like this. Not a bit of it."

"I don't think I do, either," Cally replied. "Why send a message to Avon alone?"

"That's what I said."

Cally smiled. "I was agreeing with you, Vila."

"Oh."

"And something--"

"--is funny about the way Avon reacted," Vila finished. "He didn't even think about it! He just laid in the course at once, like Blake was standing right there telling him, or--oh."

"O," said Cally simultaneously. "There must be subliminals. There MUST be. And coupled with the hypnotic residues--"

"Orac," said Vila, "were there any subliminals in that message?"

"That information is not available."

"That probably means there are, then," Vila pointed out.

"We cannot be sure," Cally replied slowly. "Vila--for Blake's sake, we need to find out for sure. Perhaps when the next message comes we could have Avon here again. He would went to know if he were being affected by outside causes, don't you think?"

"I don't know," Vila confessed. "I mean I do know, but doesn't that seem kind of risky? He could get set off and try to kill us all."

"If it is a trap, why go to all of this trouble just to kill us? I think we must the risk. Even if the message did not truly come from Blake, the Federation might be hiding him where the messages originate."

Vila wavered. "Orac did say there was a 94 percent probability that it was Blake's voice."

"We could not leave Blake in Federation hands."

"If he is there, and it's the Federation that has him."

"Who else?"

"I can think of a lot of people...." Eyes narrowed, Vila peered at Cally. "You're determined to do this, aren't you."

"For Blake, Vila." Earnestly Cally gazed at him.

Vila wavered and finally gave in. "All right. All right. Avon will be our guinea pig--don't ask me what a guinea pig is, Cally, you'd only laugh if I told you--and then we can be pretty sure if it's a trap or not."

Cally smiled engagingly into Vila's unhappy expression. "Orac, when the next message comes, attempt to detect subliminal transmissions directed to Avon."

"As this matter can only be resolved by a unit such as myself, I will do so."

"Bumptious box," Vila muttered. More loudly he said, "Who's going to brief Dayna and Tarrant?"

"We both will," Cally decided. "We should be democratic about this."

"And then go anyway." Vila said wryly. "Just like the old days, eh Cally?" He hurried out before the Auron could retaliate.

Cally watched him go, then set down and spent some time being very thoughtful.

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