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Jabberwocky - part 1 - Link-up

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 26

"Avon, she woke up! Cally woke up!"

      Avon had been hard at work with a laser probe on the main drive controls, assisted by Tarrant, with Dayna running a weapons check on their unfamiliar vessel when Vila came bursting onto the flight deck, shouting. The three of them spun to stare at him, and Avon fumbled the probe and dropped it.

      "Vila, I would be grateful if you would stop galloping about the ship and shouting," he barked at him.

      Tarrant looked at Avon without surprise. The computer expert had been remarkably short tempered these past three weeks. None of them had been a delight to live with, but Avon had been the worst, probably, thought Tarrant cynically, because his fault was the greatest. He wasn't sure if Avon felt guilty about Terminal or not, but if Avon hadn't led them there, Liberator would still be intact and Cally wouldn't have been lying near death all these weeks. True, the surgeon that they'd kidnapped from a neutral world and forced to care for her said that he thought Cally would recover completely, but as the days passed with no sign of it, Avon became even more short tempered than Tarrant would have believed possible. He didn't think Avon had managed more than two hours of sleep at a stretch since they'd escaped from Terminal.

      Now Avon retrieved the laser probe and said to Vila, "You've summoned the surgeon?"

      "Tiver's with her now," Vila agreed. "He thinks it's good she woke up. She knew me, Avon and she wanted to see you. Tiver says not yet, but soon."

      "Then she's going to be all right?" That was Dayna, her voice eager. She had missed Cally and, with Vila, would most openly mourn her if she had died.

      "I don't know," Vila admitted. "She tried to send to me with her telepathy, and she couldn't. It scared her. More than I'm ever scared, that is," he added in a little voice. "If she can't use her telepathy any more, I don't think she'll be all right, even if she is."

      "Remarkably succinct," Avon retorted. "I'll speak with Tiver myself. If nothing else, the man can give a clearer report than you can, Vila." He strode off the flight deck without a backward look, and Vila stared after him, a knowing expression on his face.

      "It's about time he went to see her," Dayna said quietly.

      "He couldn't go before." Tarrant surprised himself with his awareness. "He knew she was hurt because of him. Even Avon's capable of feeling guilty when he does something wrong, though he isn't often willing to admit making a mistake."

      "He did it before though," Vila announced. "One time he got Blake into trouble by sending a message to Space Command Headquarters that Travis was on a planet. When Blake went down, Avon knew he could be heading into trouble, and he went down himself to try to make it up. None of us knew what was going on at first, but Cally guessed." He grinned. "He's been worried about her. Old, cold-hearted Avon has been worried. But you know him. He wouldn't admit it under torture."

      Tarrant frowned. Avon pointing a gun at him still rankled, coming at a time when he'd felt he was finally beginning to get on better terms with him. Avon's entire management of the Terminal incident had been less than glowing, but Tarrant realised that Avon had been desperate to find Blake and it gave him a new insight into Avon's character. Though Avon might discuss Blake's idealism, with scorn, at the first hint of Blake he went charging into danger, dragging the rest of them with him willy nilly. At least this time, Avon had been willing to face the danger alone, though Tarrant couldn't help thinking sourly that the false Blake's promise of great wealth might have had something to do with it. Then he shook his head. No. Avon might have used that as his excuse, but he didn't think it was true. Avon always made excuses if he feared they would misjudge him and suspect him of altruistic motives. He had to have a good, opportunistic reason for everything he did, and once he found one, he would then be free to be altruistic, firmly convinced that no one would suspect. That didn't mean he wasn't an unpleasant and arrogant bastard ninety-five percent of the time, but he could be something more. He had been genuinely worried about Cally. Tarrant still remembered the look on Avon's face when he'd carried Cally's body from the rubble of Terminal base, his face as pale as hers and only marginally more alive.

      If only Avon and Dayna had discovered the booby trap on Servalan's ship sooner, they might have got a warning to the others, but Avon had disarmed it only just in time. Tarrant wondered if Avon blamed himself for the delay in warning them which had given the other charges enough time to go off. But Avon would have seen the practicality of saving their only means of transportation off Terminal and would have abandoned it only if it was too late to prevent the blast. If Cally had been uninjured, Avon would have accused them of stupidity for failing to discover the explosives on their own. But Cally had been badly hurt, had almost died, so Avon had been silent about it. Injured himself, Tarrant had revived in time to see Avon bring Cally from the ruins, risking his own life to go in after her. He had gone back a second time for Orac, leaving the others to care for Cally, and since then, though it had been his idea to kidnap Hugh Tiver, he had not been to Cally's cabin once.

      The ship Servalan had left behind, suitably booby trapped, was useless in a fight, so once they had snatched Tiver, they had gone to ground on a deserted world, waiting for the search for them to die down. Servalan had planned the Terminal scheme in great detail, but she hadn't spread the word about it, and the little Orac had been able to pick up reported no mention of her, the Liberator, or Blake. Of course Servalan had claimed Blake was dead, but Tarrant knew better than to believe her. Blake might indeed be dead, but he could just as easily be alive.

      Servalan must be dead though. She had been on board Liberator and Liberator was gone. Odd to think that he would never see the Liberator again, never give commands to Zen. Once, on the way here, he had automatically given the command, "Zen, standard by six," and the others had looked up at him with varying degrees of annoyance and upset. Surprisingly, Vila, had turned on him. "Shut up, Tarrant," he had said savagely and stalked off the flight deck without another word.

      "What's got into him?" Tarrant was defensive.

      "It wasn't easy, watching Zen die," said Dayna quietly, her face turned to her instruments.

      "It was just habit," Tarrant had defended himself.

      And Avon, who might have mocked them all for sentiment over the loss of Zen, whom he would have considered simply a machine, was silent, his face unreadable. Tarrant wondered if Avon might, in his own way, miss Zen more than any of them.

      But there was nothing to be done about it now. Tarrant heaved a sigh and turned back to Vila. "Do you think Cally will be all right?"

      Vila looked surprised, as if the thought of Tarrant asking his opinion was something different, which it was. "I don't know," he replied at length, sitting down at the pilot's position and running his fingers lightly over the instruments. "If she loses her telepathy, I don't think she will be. She looked really odd when she opened her eyes and saw me - like I was the last person she expected to see."

      "Probably she thought you'd finally run," Tarrant said unkindly.

      "We've all run, then, Tarrant, "Vila reminded him. "What's this if not a bolt hole?"

      "It's only until we decide what to do next. We can't take on the Federation with an obsolete, broken down ship."

      "Where're we going to get another ship then?" Vila asked. "Just waltz into a Federation base, and steal one?" He looked up from the instruments. "It won't be the same without Liberator, Tarrant. It was bad enough when Blake and Jenna left, but now we don't even have a ship, and Cally still might die. And I don't know about Avon, if it's true that Blake's dead and if Cally isn't all right." He was silent a long time, and neither Tarrant nor Dayna had anything to say to comfort him.

      Finally Dayna said, "At least Cally's awake."

      "That's not the same as all right," said Vila with certainty. He got up again and wandered out.

      Tarrant turned to find Dayna looking at him expectantly. "Well?" he snapped.

      "I don't know, Tarrant. But you'll have to do something." She picked up Avon's abandoned laser probe and handed it to him. "At least you can get the drive back together." She walked out too, and Tarrant looked after her, feeling more alone than he had since he had joined the crew of the Liberator. They'd fought before, he and Avon had jockeyed for position, he had picked on Vila and none of them had been openly supportive of each other, but Tarrant suddenly realised that they had been a team anyway. They could work together when they had to, and they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses. When the chips were down, they backed each other, rather, thought Tarrant with a wry smile, like squabbling siblings who never got along until someone else entered the fray when they became united.

      But it wasn't like that any more. He didn't know if it was the Liberator that had bound them or if it had been Cally, but the way things stood now, if the Federation happened along, Tarrant wouldn't give a bent credit for their chances.



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Sheila Paulson

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