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The Morning After

By Russ Massey
Page 1 of 1

Cally woke with an unaccustomed feeling of disorientation. She sat up to grope for the light panel and realised, too late, that the movement was a big mistake. She felt as if a stun bolt had hit her right between the eyes. Sagging unsteadily back onto the bed, she made a brave attempt to begin the mental calming exercises taught when her telepathy had first manifested. It was no use: they didn't work on hangovers. She ran her tongue gingerly over dry lips. Her mouth tasted like a trooper's boot lining. What in the name of the Thaarn had been in those pink drinks anyway? She agreed with Jenna, now; letting Vila mix the drinks for Avalon's farewell party had been a mistake. Never again...

      When she next opened her eyes she had no idea how much time had passed. At least she was now able to drag herself upright and push her legs over the side of the bed without feeling as if the grav field was out of synch. She sat there for a while and made a half-hearted attempt to remember if she should be on watch. There seemed no alternative to checking with whoever was manning the flight deck. She braced herself to stand. At least she didn't have to bother about dressing. Cally looked ruefully down at the cream suit that she had slept in, now stained with red and blue splotches from various spilt drinks. She didn't smell too fresh either. Well, a shower could wait until more urgent needs had been taken care of - like a visit to the dispensary for pain-killers.

      Cally blinked back tears as her overly-sensitive eyes were assaulted by the light from the Liberator's corridor. Closing her door quietly, she picked her way over and around the debris of last night's festivities. The need to avoid the mess at least gave her some excuse for using the wall as a means of support. Mercifully, the ship was quiet. Not only would her pounding head have protested at any noise above a loud whisper, but she would also prefer not to encounter any of the other crew until she had returned to being her normal calm and efficient self. Cally could well imagine the jokes at her expense from Vila and Jenna. As if being able to consume large quantities of mind-altering poisons were some sort of status symbol. Gan and Blake would probably be tactful and pretend not to notice her distress, but Avon... well, she couldn't really predict how Avon would react, and would prefer not to find out.

      The door to the medical room was half open when Cally arrived, and the bottle of Phoramatol she wanted was standing open on the examination table. It was a slight relief to see some evidence that she was not the only crew member to have over-indulged. It wouldn't have been Vila who had taken the pills. Despite his tendency to drink too much, he seemed never to suffer any of the painful after-effects. Probably the alcohol had destroyed his pain receptors, she thought uncharitably. She didn't think Gan the likely culprit either. He tended to rely on his own store of herbal remedies whenever possible. Cally smiled as she recalled several occasions when he had joined her at meal times and bored her with propaganda about 'the miraculous healing powers of nature's bounty'. She half-guiltily hoped that it had been Avon. At least then no one would have to suffer from his holier-than-thou arrogance and snide remarks about fools who clouded their minds. Though he had certainly had a drink in his hands on the occasions when she had noticed. It probably explained why he and Jenna had been arguing so strenuously.

      Cally shook two of the small, blue pills onto her palm, and conscientiously replaced the bottle in the store cabinet. She considered dry-swallowing the tablets for only the briefest of instants, before drawing half a cup of water from the dispensary spigot. The pills washed down with a gulp, and she felt them lie heavily in her stomach. That would have to do. Blake was expecting to be able to teleport Avalon to her new base of operations sometime today, and he would no doubt have something to say about it if Cally wasn't at her station. With a sigh of resignation, she headed for the flight deck.

      

      

Avon had been staring at the patterns on the bulkhead above his bunk for several minutes. If he squinted he could just make out a fine pattern of lines that had been left by the auto-repair systems the last time the cabin had been damaged. It would be easy for him to reprogram the system to erase those tiny flaws - then the bulkhead would once again be pristine: all traces of the violent event expunged, as if the damage had never occurred. Unfortunately, not all problems were amenable to such neat solutions. He turned his head and gazed at the tangle of blond hair on the pillow next to him. In repose, Jenna's face was peaceful, vulnerable, younger somehow. It lacked that mask of world-weary cynicism with which she normally challenged the galaxy. A faint snore drifted from her lips.

      Avon's eyes returned to their examination of the roof. He had run through several different scenarios of Jenna's possible reactions when she awoke. They ranged from protestations of undying love to violent assault, passing through conspiratorial good humour, icy indifference, and smouldering hatred. None of these scenarios struck him as being remotely plausible, and he had come to the conclusion that he lacked enough psychological insight into Jenna to make an accurate prediction.

      Avon noted a distinct change in the rhythm of her breathing. She was awake. He was suddenly aware that Jenna's leg was in contact with his own as she stretched and yawned beside him. One outflung arm dropped onto his chest, and only with difficulty did he manage to prevent himself flinching. Jenna uttered a single word. A word whispered tenderly and huskily. A word that Avon had certainly not envisaged in any of his scenarios.

      "Blake..."

      "Hardly," came the measured response, tinged with a trace of bitterness that he found himself unable to suppress.

      Jenna froze in place for what seemed a long, long moment.

      "I suppose it could have been worse," Avon continued, unable to stop the words. "You could have said, 'Vila'..." To his surprise, he heard Jenna chuckle.

      "It could have been worse than that, Avon," said Jenna, with what sounded to him like a completely normal voice. "I could have said, 'Cally'..."

      A huge weight seemed to lift from him, and Avon barked out a short laugh. He turned to look at Jenna once again, and saw that she was smiling.

      

      

      

"What a party." Vila spoke aloud, accusingly, but to an empty room. "I throw the best bash the Liberator's ever seen and what happens? Gan gets the girl, Blake gets philosophical, Avon and Jenna get to trade insults, and I get to sit on my own in a room full of money that I can't spend. Wonderful, Vila."

      He took the final swig from his bottle and allowed it to roll from his fingers and across the floor, until it fetched up against a container of silver bars. "I wonder if Avalon would like a talented and... handsome? Yes, handsome. Thief that is. I wonder if she'd like to take me with her to whatever planet she's decided she's going to. 'Course, it'd have to be a peaceful one. Plenty of good restaurants and pretty girls. Not too likely really. Not when you're 'tempting to ferment robellion. Foment rebellion. I bet they'd never let me take my share off the ship anyway." With a sigh, he sprawled forward, pillowing his head on a bolt of silver cloth. There was time for a quick nap n.

      

      

      

Avalon stood triumphant on the balcony of a golden palace. Beneath her were cheering multitudes, all crying her name, saluting their liberator. The President of the Federation knelt in chains by her side. Space Commander Travis's head was displayed on a spike for all to see. The galaxy was freed of tyranny at last. But, as she listened more carefully she could hear that it was not her name being cried. A man stood next to her. He stepped forward, and she was obscured in his shadow. He raised his arms, oh so modestly, and the common people bellowed his name to the stars. "Blake!" they were crying, "Blake is our saviour..."

      With a start, Avalon jerked to wakefulness. She opened her eyes to see Travis looming over her, his face twisted into a brutal snarl. For a moment she was back in his torture machine, desperately trying to tell him nothing, while knowing that all her efforts were doomed to failure. She screamed, heart pounding, muscles tensed for flight. Powerful hands grasped her shoulders and pressed her down onto the bed.

      "What's wrong? Meredith! What's wrong? Was it a nightmare?"

      Panting for breath, she finally recognised the face of Olag Gan. For a moment she had been so certain: his expression had seemed so feral. "I'm sorry, Olag! I'm sorry. Yes, a nightmare. I thought I was a Federation prisoner again."

      "It's bound to be difficult at first, love. I know what it's like when those bastards mess with your mind..."

      Avalon looked sharply at Gan. It was the first time in all her weeks aboard that she had ever heard such naked emotion in his voice. Now he stared past her, his eyes unfocussed. One huge hand rose absently to touch the place where she knew a limiter had been embedded in his skull. A limiter. For the first time she really considered what that actually meant. Limiters were generally used to suppress extreme emotional states in individuals who had some value to the Federation: individuals who were politically well-connected, or useful as researchers or specialist workers. The Federation didn't waste good credits suppressing the murderous rages of criminals who were about to be exiled to a prison world. She suddenly felt cold. She had spent the night with one man only to wake with someone who now seemed to be completely different. "Are you all right? Olag?"

      Gan turned to look at the slender woman as if seeing her for the first time. "It's nothing, Merry- just a headache from Vila's cocktails. I've been to the medical unit for some pills."

      Avalon remembered her fruitless discussions with Blake at the party. It had been her last chance to make the rebel see that his good fortune in gaining a ship like the Liberator should be extended to benefit all anti-Federation groups. Of course he had an answer for everything. "No Avalon, you can't have any of our weapons - they only recharge from the ships' plant. No Avalon, I can't build you a teleport - it would take years." Blake. The Federation had accused him of being a child molester. She remembered that now. She also remembered what sort of crime a killer had to commit to warrant the use of a limiter.

      Avalon slid out of the sheets and turned away from Gan, reaching for her tunic. She suddenly didn't want to be on this ship any more; didn't want further endless discussions with Blake about 'co-ordinated strategy', or 'counter-propaganda targeting priorities'; didn't want to be advised, and counselled, and helped and patronised by this crew of pirates and thieves, aliens and deviants. She looked back at Gan as she opened the door of his cabin. He was staring at his hands, which he held up in front of his eyes. One of them clenched and unclenched, spasmodically. The door slid shut behind her, and Avalon headed toward the flight deck. It took all of her willpower not to start running.

      

      


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