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The Price of Silence

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 5

When Blake arrived with "Orac's gadget," he came alone, and Avon, who was becoming touchier by the minute, found himself resenting Blake's tact almost as much as he resented the need for it. But he was curious. If this worked, it could make things easier.

"Vila said he told you about this," Blake said, holding out something that looked like a throat microphone. "I tested it on myself, and it does work. I have a feeling that you're not going to like it very much, but at least it will give us some options." When Avon didn't respond, Blake went on quickly to the basics. "What it does is to take the speech impulse and translate it into sound. What you need to do is go through the motions of speaking and this wi l l pick up the vibrations and amplify them, producing a facsimile of speech." He stepped forward to put it on, but Avon forestalled him, taking it from Blake and studying the device. It was mounted on a band that fastened around his throat. He put it on, a djusting it comfortably, and looked a brief question at Blake to make certain it was attached properly. Blake was watching expectantly, and Avon, who would have liked to make his first attempts with the device in complete privacy, was forced to try it in front of an audience instead. "All right," he said. The sound produced was blurry around the edges, indistinct as if he were very drunk. It also sounded mechanical and completely without inflection. Avon stiffened at the sound of it.

"I think it might be best if I left you to work on it on your own," Blake said, but Avon didn't care for that any better. He put out a hand to forestall Blake, and, making a deliberate attempt to clarify the sound, he asked, "Is there a technique to improve the sound quality?" This time he thought he sounded fractionally better.

"We don't know," Blake replied. "At least you're understandable. It seems to work better for you than it did for me, but Orac's design was based on you specifically. I know it will probably take some time and it will be tiring right at first, but it will help."

"You mean if the condition is permanent?" Avon asked. It took him a long time to frame each word, and he could see Blake resisting the temptation to step and complete the sentence for him.

"We don't know that it is," Blake said. "Do you remember exactly what he did to you, Avon?"

"No. I remember nothing about it."

"Well, you probably wouldn't in any case. Orac suspects it may be a form of hypnosis rather than programming."

"Kordis said he had paralyzed the speech functions of the vocal cords," Avon remembered. "However the vocal cords have other functions as well."

Blake found that it took a great deal of concentration to understand Avon. "That's true," he agreed, "which would, I think, mean that he had done nothing physical to you. Did he tell you if it could be reversed or not?"

"He said not."

"We1l, he'd say that in any case. They were questioning you; they wanted to break you. I should think that temporarily removing your ability to speak would be a good interrogation tool. For all they knew, they had plenty of time to work on you. Did they know who you were?"

Avon nodded. "They knew." He thought of something else then. "Blake, you must be careful. I found my bracelet right before you came back, under strange circumstances. My escape was too easy." He had to stop to catch his breath before he could continue. "You do not know what other conditioning might have been implemented."

"We've already considered that. We don't think there was time for anything else." He shrugged. "We don't know though. What do you suggest? That we have you watched?"

"No. Find me a bolthole."

"And just leave you? I don't like that idea very much, Avon."

"Am I a prisoner here?" The sarcasm that could not show in his voice was clearly visible on his face.

"Of course not. But I think it's too early yet to be giving up."

Avon gave him a look of cold fury. Things were bad enough already without Blake's apparently patronizing attitude, and if that were a sign of how th ings were to continue, the bolthole was starting to look more attractive all the time. But he didn't say so. Instead, he pretended fatigue and asked to be left alone. Blake went with obvious reluctance.


"How is he?" Cally asked when Blake returned to the flight deck.

"I'm not sure. The device works and I could understand him, but he sounded very different. I think he'll use it, but it's not easy for him." He frowned. "Another thing to consider is something we've mentioned before, the possibility t hat he may have been programmed to kill one or all of us. Avon, himself, recognizes that possibility--he says that his escape was too easy, and I'm inclined to agree with him about that, but we have no way of telling if he was programmed to harm us or the ship."

"So what do we do about it?" Vila asked nervously.

"Short of placing a guard on him, I don't see what we can do, and I don't like the idea of doing that. I think we ought to just wait. It might mean a bit of risk for us, but I don't think that Avon has been programmed to hurt us. They might have got round to that eventually, but I don't think they did, and I'm willing to gamble that I'm right."

"That's all very well for you to say," Vila said doubtfully.

"What do you suggest, Vila? That we lock him up on the off chance?"

"No, we can't do that either." Jenna said, "If he were going to do something, then he would have done it already, unless there was some trigger phrase that would initiate the program. And if that's the case, then one of us would need to say it, which would mean that someone would be there at the time. I think that if we stay alert, we could meet that kind of threat if it developed."

"What did Avon suggest?" Cally asked.

"That we find him a bolthole and leave him there."

"You mean just abandon him?"

"Vila, I don't think he liked making the suggestion any more than I liked hearing it. I don't plan to take him up on it." Blake frowned and added reluctantly, "At least not until I have proof that I must."

Nobody had a good answer to that.


Avon worked for several more hours on the coded notes that Blake had stolen from the base at Molina, coordinating his work with Orac and, when he was ready to stop for the night, he had reached the conclusion that either Dr. Kordis was a rare genius who had invented a totally unbreakable code, or else the pages were filled with nonsense. He was just tired enough to find the latter idea amusing.

The voice device did sound better with practice, and Avon realized that he was going to have to venture out among the crew before very much longer. He hated the idea of it and, because he hated it, he was determined to do it as soon as possible. It would be better to have the first bad moments over with and go on from there. If their reaction to that dreadful monotone voice was as bad as he expected it to be, he didn't want to put it off any longer than necessary. He did not want to see the pity that he was sure he would find in their eyes. Blake had concealed it fairly well, but his whole attitude had changed, and that made Avon uncomfortable. How Vila and Cally would react worried him--Vila had been unlike himself earlier, and Cally would not be very good at hiding her concern. It was going to be harder than he wanted to think about


In the morning, he presented himself on the flight deck at his usual time, his face guarded and impassive. Blake looked up and saw him. "Good morning, Avon," he said as if things were normal.

Things weren't normal, but it gave him something to work on. "I fail to see what is good about it," he returned. He had been practicing since he awoke, and he thought he had improved, but the strained silence that fell as soon as he spoke made him realize he had not improved enough. Blake managed not to react badly, but Cally cringed slightly before she could hide it, and Vila looked away.

Jenna, to his surprise, only gave him an interested glance and her comment was reassuringly matter of fact. "It sounds like it's working well, Avon. Congratulations. You should have heard Blake trying it out yesterday."

"Thank you for your vote of confidence." He had meant to sound sarcastic, but he had forgotten that there was no emotion in the mechanical voice, and Jenna appeared to take the comment at face value.


Vila was not really that upset by the mechanical voice. The meeting with Avon the previous day had been difficult, and he realized that, unless Avon could talk to him, their relationship was going to deteriorate in an alarming manner. Avon may have been nasty-tempered and difficult, but Vila had got used to that, and he was comfortable with it. It didn't matter to him so much that Avon didn't sound normal. What did matter was that Avon could fight back just like always, and he had turned away to hide his relief. Now as he looked over at Avon, he wondered if Avon had misjudged his response and he decided to find out.

"I should have known it was too good to be true," he said into the uncomfortable silence.

Avon's eyes came to rest on him suspiciously, but it was Blake who asked the question. "What was too good to be true?" He didn't sound like he wanted to hear the answer.

"I thought I finally wouldn't be yelled at and complained about and insulted, and now he's going to start up allover again. It's not fair. I always get picked on."

"Only because you deserve it, Vila," Avon told him, and while there was no trace of emotion in his voice, he looked slightly more at ease than he had before.

"I knew it," Vila went on. "And it's too much to hope that any of you lot will stick up for me. You never do."

"Perhaps they have too much taste for that, Vila," Avon said.

"Maybe they don't want to risk your nasty temper. They can see how you treat me and they know that the same thing would happen to them."

"No, Vila, I reserve it for those who deserve it most." He glanced over at Blake, who was grinning broadly, and then turned back to Vila. "I don't understand why they bother to put up with you at all," he said, and for once there was a trace of warmth in his eyes that belied his words.

Vila pretended to be affronted. "Avon," he said, "shut up."

Silence thudded down on the flight deck at his choice of words, and Blake exchanged an uncomfortable look with Jenna. Cally took a hasty step forward to intervene, but she was brought up short by a harsh, rasping sound from Avon. She turned to him quickly, then stopped dead, staring. Avon was laughing.

The tension snapped abruptly. For once, Vila had done the right thing, and it had worked. Avon turned to Vila. "Don't press your luck," he said, but Vila relaxed happily at his words and turned to Blake. "So what dangers have you got planned for us next?" he asked. Changing the subject seemed like an awfully good idea to him right about then.

"He's volunteering," Avon said. Vila looked horrified and began to protest at once, and the activity on the flight deck settled down.


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