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By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 8

Paternus proved to be an unappealing world. Buffeted by sandstorms at the equator, and snowstorms everywhere else, it boasted one abandoned Federation base from which everything useful had evidently been removed, and one abandoned rebel. Zen detected a life reading on the base where else to shelter from the continually bad weather? Apparently life support worked, but little else. Attempts to establish voice contact proved futile.

Orac had detected no evidence of Federation ships in the sector and no transmissions or reports involving Paternus, Shivan or even the Liberator itself. Servalan was up at Space Command Headquarters working on a plan of her own, which might or might not involve Blake and his people. Travis was still freelancing it somewhere but, without Federation backing, he was less of a threat. In other words, the mission was as safe as it could be, if one didn't allow for random factors.

Avon always considered the random factors in his equations.

Vila was out of the medical unit, his wrist knitted but not strong enough yet for actual duty. He had volunteered to man the teleport for Avon and Cally. Jenna would be at her station on the flight deck, ready to take the ship off station should it become necessary, and Blake meant to stay in constant voice contact with the landing party.

"Somehow," Avon had told him, "I do not find that particularly reassuring."

Now the landing party, himself and Cally, stood on the platform, clad in thermal gear, prepared to teleport just outside the Federation base. It was not shielded, but there were no guarantees that this was not a trap. When Blake remembered to think of it, he was very careful about traps, probably as a result of the time when Travis had trapped him by coming early to await him and his band of rebels. This time, there seemed no hidden horde of troopers waiting, but it seemed a sensible precaution to teleport outside the base.

At least it seemed sensible until they materialized on the surface, in the teeth of a howling gale. The air was alive with icy particles being swept nearly sideways, which stung his face like pebbles. Turning away from the wind, he lifted his teleport bracelet. "Down," he reported. "I shall not say we're safe. I may never forgive you for this, Blake."

"We are in an ice storm," Cally explained. "We'll enter the base now."

"The sooner the better," Avon muttered, lowering his bracelet. "That looks like the entrance over there. Remind me to be less careful on shore leave in future. Had I managed to break my wrist, it might be Vila down here."

Entry was easily gained; the door was not locked. Avon insisted that was suspicious, but Cally shook her head. "Why should he lock the door? There's no one to keep out."

"That he knows of," Avon returned. Were he the only inhabitant of a planet, he would continue to lock his door. He considered it foolhardy for Shivan, the prisoner, to overlook any such risks. But the fact that the man was a prisoner implied a willingness to risk himself one too many times. Blake would not have locked the door either.

It was nevertheless a relief to be out of the storm. The temperature inside felt hot for the first moments away from wind and storm, and he and Cally turned down the heat in their suits. After several minutes, they realized that the passageway in which they stood was unpleasantly cool and would require at least a jacket for routine comfort. Perhaps the living quarters were warmer.

Cally shivered. "Avon, I feel it more strongly down here. There is something very wrong."

"Do you sense the Federation?" he asked.

"No. It is not physical danger I am feeling. It's something else." She shook her head, pushing back her hood, and looking around. "Which way?"

"Zen reports we will find him in that direction?" Avon pointed down the corridor to the right. Removing his gloves and stowing them in his pockets, he took out his gun and aimed it in front of him as he led the way.

Shivan was reported to be a man in his forties. Orac had been able to access no background information; no mention of planet of origin or relatives still living. It was Orac's suggestion that Shivan was an alias, assumed when the man had decided to become a resistor. There were no pictures of him available and what little they had found with reasonable ease claimed him dead. Only with Orac had they been able to go any deeper. He might be programmed, brainwashed. Avon hated to agree with Cally's Auron mysticism, but, for once, he, too, had an uneasy feeling about the mission.

The base looked as if no one had cared for it in years. Dust lay thick in the corridors, disturbed only down the middle as if someone came this way but rarely. There was no need for Shivan to go outside, one assumed. Here and there were broken and abandoned pieces of furniture, and the lighting, built into the ceiling, had begun to go. Along the way, they passed doors, some ajar, displaying deserted living quarters, empty storage rooms, places where computer systems had been pulled, leaving only the connecting cables behind.

Eventually they reached a section of the base that looked more lived in. The dust lay less thick upon the floor as if someone had cleaned it within the past month or so, and all the panels were lit. It was somewhat warmer, as if certain rooms were kept at a liveable temperature and the heat bled out into the passageway. Avon exchanged a look with Cally. "In there, I think," he said, pointing to a door ahead of them. "Zen says that would be the main control room."

Gun at ready, he approached the door, while Cally, similarly armed, came beside him. As they neared the door, it swished open automatically, revealing the control room. Some of the equipment was still running, though some of the consoles had been pushed aside to make a bedroom out of one corner. Toward the center of the room, a table had been dragged, presumably from the mess hall, and lounge chairs from a rest room had been spaced about in an attempt to make the place more liveable. Yet an aura of dust and despair hung over it all as if Shivan had lost heart during the years of his exile.

He was there, sitting at the table, his back to the door, and when the two from Liberator entered, he did not turn to greet them. He was wearing a simple grey tunic, and his hair matched it, a slate grey, unevenly short as if he cut it himself rather than let it grow long and unkempt. His hands were the only thing about him that moved, turning a laser probe over and over with what seemed a feverish intensity. Cally and Avon exchanged a doubtful look.

"Shivan?" she said.

Slowly, the man went still. He lay aside the probe with careful exactness, before he composed himself and turned. "I monitored your ship in orbit." The voice was rusty, long unused. "I knew it was not Federation. Whether it was human or not, my computers could not tell me."

Something inside Avon went cold and hard like a block of ice. Be felt his fingers clench on the handle of his weapon so tightly that his joints hurt, but he scarcely heeded it. This was some mad dream. For once, he should have listened to Cally's Auron warnings. For once, they made sense.

Shivan finished turning and Avon stared helplessly at the familiar face, slender and pale, cheekbones prominent, the hair a tight cap against his skull. He was far too thin, almost emaciated, and there was a tremor in his hands that might have been the result of some disease. The pallor his face made the vivid blue of his eyes seem even brighter by comparison.

He stared at them blankly as if he had never seen a human being before, then his eyes focused upon Avon and widened. "Perhaps a hallucination," he told himself reasonably. "That would be in keeping with the rest."

Cally stared at Avon, who had tensed and jerked as if he'd been struck in the gut. "Avon?" she cried. "What is it?"

"Presumably one abandoned rebel," Avon said flatly and turned away. "Give him a bracelet." The words were forced out past stiff lips.

Cally eyed him doubtfully, then went to Shivan. "My name is Cally and he is Avon. We've come to rescue you. This is a teleport bracelet. Put it on and we'll take you to our ship."

"Thank you, my dear." The familiar voice was so changed that it was strange he had known it so quickly. "It has been many years since I have seen another human being. "

"She is an Auron," Avon said flatly.

"I was referring to you," Shivan's voice took on an edge. "But perhaps I should refer to Cally. She might have more claim upon the definition than you do."

"I shouldn't be surprised." Avon raised his bracelet. "Blake?"

Blake's voice came back instantly, full of alarm. "What is it, Avon? Are you hurt? What's wrong?" A perceptive bastard, Blake, to read so much into a single word.

"Ve have located...Shivan. We are ready to teleport."

"Avon, are you sure? It's not a trap?"

"Not the sort you mean. Bring us up, damn you."

A moment later, they were back on the Liberator, where a wide-eyed Vila, stared at them suspiciously. It was only moments after the materialized that Blake came into the teleport section with an uneven run, still slightly favoring his turned ankle. He had a gun in his hand. At the sight of Avon, Cally, and the other man, he stopped, stared at Shivan a moment as if registering any potential threat. A moment later, he set aside the gun, and, shooting Avon a questioning look, he advanced upon Shivan. "I'm Roj Blake," he said. "You must be Shivan."

"Must he?" Avon asked with heavy sarcasm and stalked out of the teleport section, flinging his bracelet in Vila's general direction as he went.

Blake stared after Avon in considerable dismay. "What the hell is that all about?"

Vila edged over to the tray, slipping Avon's bracelet into a slot. "Whatever it is, he's furious," he volunteered. "Maybe that's not Shivan."

"Cally?" Blake asked, for the moment ignoring their passenger. "What went wrong down there?"

"Nothing that I could see. But as soon as we found him," she pointed at their guest, "Avon changed. He became as cold as ever I've seen him and they talked for a moment, as if they knew each other."

Nothing else could explain it. Blake turned to the grey haired man, discovering in himself a growing antipathy for him, whether or not he was Shivan. Whatever the man had done had upset Avon more than Blake had ever seen him, even when they encounter Del Grant and Blake had learned the truth of Avon's lost love.

"We came here looking for a rebel named Shivan, " Blake said. "Are you he?"

"I am. I've been down there a dozen years, with only an annual supply ship crewed by mutoids for company. Thank you for finding me."

"It's not that easy." Blake took the bracelet Shivan removed and passed it to Vila. Cally shed her bracelet, then her thermal clothing, and when she was removed them, took up her gun again, not pointing it at Shivan, but simply holding it in her hand. Anyone who knew Cally would understand how quickly she could use it, but Shivan paid her no heed.

Blake looked after Avon. "That man is a friend of mine," he warned Shivan "I don't know what's between you, but I won't have him harmed. I'd like an explanation."

He must have sounded convincing, for Shivan nodded gravely. "I'd like to sit down, if I might? I've not been well lately." It was not intended as a play for sympathy but rather a statement of fact, though there was something else in his eyes that Blake could not read.

"'We'll go to the flight deck," Blake decided. "You can rest there," He let no sympathy show in his voice, though in the normal course of things, he would have been far more concerned for Shivan after the man's twelve year ordeal. "This way."

Vila scurried ahead of them, causing Blake to wonder if he intended to make sure Avon wasn't there, or to warn him of their arrival if he were. But when Blake and Cally ushered Shivan onto the flight deck, only Jenna and Vila were present. The thief was hovering near the other door as if he'd meant to get right away before they arrived, but at the last minute he hesitated, then came back and took his position at the weapons console. Blake gestured to the couch and Shivan sat down wearily, moving like a man twenty-five years older than his actual age.

Blake made the introductions hastily. "Now," he said firmly when Shivan had acknowledged them. "I want some answers. Do you and Avon know each other?" He took a seat opposite the grey-haired man.

Shivan hesitated. "Avon and I?" he repeated. "Yes, you could say we know each other."

"If that is so," Cally intervened, dropping down beside Blake and regarding Shivan suspiciously, "why did Avon say nothing to us when we decided to come looking for you? You're not Shivan, are you?"

"Not exactly. I am the rebel Shivan, though. I am the man you came looking for, though I'd give a great deal to hear how you knew where to look. The data was erased from their computers. I was abandoned there and only a select few knew where I was. The supreme commander knew."

"Servalan?" Jenna asked suspiciously.

"No. It was Rascar in my day. Servalan was one of the staff officers then, but a rising star. I expected trouble from her, Kasabi expected trouble from her. But she was so well connected we knew she'd go far. So she's supreme commander now. That's very bad."

"We think so," Vila agreed.

"So they exiled you," Blake prompted, turning the conversation back to Shivan himself. "Odd. When they caught me, they played games with my mind, forced me to recant, made me forget my Cause. It took years for me to remember what I'd fought for and to start fighting again. They sent me to Cygnus Alpha, but we took this ship and escaped."

"I was never so lucky. K...Avon called you Blake. I've heard of you. They sent me the report of your first trial, where you renounced the Cause. They thought it discourage me. They shoved me your second trial as well, with that trumped up charge of child molesting. Their methods grow worse all the time."

"Ye know that," Cally said. "But before the two of you start on the inequities of the Federation, we want to find out about you."

"Why did they simply banish you?" Blake asked

"Several reasons. Like Servalan, I had excellent connections. At that time, it was deemed wiser that the connection never be made public. They felt that the disappearance and reported death of the rebel Shivan would serve the purpose. They prefer to discourage anyone in the Alpha grades from rebellion. That's why they here so hard on you. But Shivan came out of nowhere. Better he return there. Better no one ever learned his real identity."

"Ah," breathed Blake, coming closer to the light. "So Shivan is an alias."

"Yes. I believed in my Cause, but I saw no need to implicate my family until I was certain I could make a difference." He paused for breath, shifting on the couch as if his joints ached. These days, arthritis was easily treated, but perhaps on his remote world, Shivan had been denied the proper medication. Any serious illness could have killed him. It was a wonder the solitude alone hadn't done so.

Twelve years alone and still sane? Blake shook his head. He doubted he was strong enough to have endured it. For the first time, a reluctant sympathy for the other man began to creep up on him.

"But you knew Avon back then," Vila suggested suddenly. "And you knew him well, didn't you? You started to call him Kerr. I heard you. No one calls him that, not if he wants to go on living." He pursed his lips. "You knew him, and he knew you. That's why he took off like that. What did you do to him, back then? Avon never has old friends. They're always old enemies. You're another, aren't you?"

"Yes," agreed Shivan. "I did know Kerr. What did I do to him? I...died."

They all stared. "I think you'd better explain that," said Jenna tartly. She and Avon were hardly close, but she would back him against a stranger, especially a stranger who talked in riddles.

"I lied to him and I vanished. He must have believed me dead. I'm sure he preferred to believe me dead. It would mean I hadn't walked away without looking back. It would mean I hadn't abandoned him completely. It would mean I hadn't stopped caring." He heaved a vast and shaky sign. "He's my younger brother."

Vila nodded as if he'd expected it, and Cally sat back, a distressed look in her eyes. Blake realized he must have guessed, for he felt no surprise. Avon had always been reticent on the subject of his brother, mentioning him voluntarily only once, when they had first boarded the Liberator and the ship's defense system had showed Avon an image of him. The image had been compulsive enough to draw him toward what might easily have been his death if Blake hadn't been able to resist the illusion and stop him. Afterwards, he'd asked Avon about his brother, volunteering the knowledge that his own brother and sister had been murdered by the Federation and false vistapes sent to keep him complacent. Avon had not been precisely sympathetic, though he had not sneered it off as he often did confidences. But neither had he volunteered any information. He had simply remarked that his brother was dead and ended the conversation by leaving the flight deck. Blake knew better than to bring the subject up again, until now.

"He did think you dead," Blake acknowledged. "But I got the impression it happened a lot longer than twelve years ago."

"I left home when Kerr was eighteen," Shivan explained. "He was at the Science Academy then, destined to go far. His reports were all brilliant, and he couldn't see past his enthusiasm for his work. I tried to recruit him, but he wasn't interested. We fought about it. I went anyway." Blake realized that was a very simplistic description of something that had affected both men very strongly, but he didn't press for more detail. Avon would be furious that this much had been revealed without his permission.

"I joined the resistance," Shivan continued. "It was mostly because of Kerr I chose an assumed name. I knew they could prove I was Aric Ayon if they caught me, but I didn't believe I'd be caught. I did a lot of good, I think. It went well for longer than I had any right to expect. I never once heard from Kerr in those years. Until today I was never sure if he had guessed my identity or not. Today I realized he'd had no idea. Shortly after I left home, I had a speeder accident and my hair went mostly grey. People always thought me older than I really was. It served as a disguise after that. If Avon even considered Shivan the rebel, he would have assumed I was too old to be his brother. There's only four years between us. You wouldn't think it, would you?"

"So he chose to believe you dead," Blake returned. "And you resented the quarrel enough to avoid him. Evidently you never contacted him either."

"It would have been risky." Shivan...Aric Avon...replied.

Blake doubted it would have been impossible to get a message to his brother in those days. It was only after Shivan's arrest that there had been a serious crackdown on rebel groups. Before that there had often been open meetings, such as the one Bran Foster attempted, which were simply broken up by the Federation, and the attendees sent home. Foster had genuinely believed he would not be killed if he offered no resistance. Of course the serious leaders were always routed out. How many years before Shivan's arrest had Hal Mellanby and his band been destroyed? Perhaps they fear Shivan might become another Mellanby. They circulated the story that Mellanby had run, just as they had tried to discredit Blake with the false child molesting charges. Perhaps it would have been too risky for Shivan to contact Avon when he had been at such pains to keep the connection secret.

"Perhaps you felt bitterness that he had not understood your cause or shared it with you," suggested Cally gently. "It is a pity it came between you. Perhaps it is not too late to make amends."

"Yes, it is," Shivan replied. "It's far too late, Cally."

"If that means you won't try..." began Blake hotly, angry for Avon's sake though Avon would never thank him for it.

"He won't try," Shivan corrected. "He was always stubborn."

"That hardly means you should give up without a fight. Did those twelve years remove every trace of Shivan? You were always ready to take risks," Blake remembered. "It was stories about you that first caught my interest. I wanted to get involved and make changes the way you did." He was becoming disillusioned and he resented it.

"I didn't ask to be rescued and it is not my responsibility to live up to your expectations," Shivan snapped. "You did rescue me, however. I would be grateful if you had a spare cabin so I could rest, and I am hungry."

"Cally, would you show him a spare cabin and get him some food," Blake asked her, standing up abruptly.

"Where are you going?" she asked

"To talk to Avon."


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