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A Case of Deja Vu

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 8

Tarrant staggered to his feet, caught his balance, looking like he was fighting not to be sick. "Where's the flight deck?"

"You're not up to--"

"I'm probably the best pilot on board. Argue later."

Jessa's voice came over the intercom then. "We could use some help up here," she said dryly.

I hit the return button. "On the way." Then I led them to the flight deck.

The ship rocked twice more before we got there, but it felt more like near misses than actual damage, and we've got a strong force wall. By the time we reached the flight deck, I'd told Tarrant what type of ship we had and he had nodded knowingly.

"I've experience wi th a ship like this," he said.

"He's very good," Soolin added quietly.

"He's as good as Jenna," Vila added breathlessly. He looked scared, which, oddly enough, reassured me. Vila, Avon and Blake had evidently all changed. I was glad there was still one thing the same.

There was no time for introductions. We burst onto the flight deck to find my whole crew there, Col manning weaponry. Avon wasn't there, which surprised me a little.

"Tarrant's the best pilot on board," I said. "Let him at it, Jess."

She didn't argue. Tarrant went to her station and I eyed them with respect as Tarrant stood watching over her shoulder, checking the readouts until he was familiar with them before the tapped her arm briefly. She slid out of position and he slid in so neatly that there seemed no transition. At once he set to work, and Jessa nodded approvingly and moved to the auxiliary potion where she activated the screen. There were no ego problems with Jessa.

I checked the main screen that revealed three pursuit ships coming in at an intercept course. "They've been trying to cut us off," Jessa announced. "If we can get past them we'll be home free."

Vila eyed the screen uneasily, and Soolin looked around the flight deck with a cool expression, studying each member of the crew. She watched Col the longest, probably as intrigued as I was by his relationship to Avon, but she eyed Jessa too and seemed satisfied, only looking mildly amused at the Gariks, who were as gung-ho as ever.

Then Tarrant altered course on a heading straight toward the lead pursuit ship as if he meant to ram it, and Col's eyebrows climbed up his forehead. He opened his mouth to protest, but at the last moment kept silent.

"Here, what are you about?" Vila demanded uneasily, but a sharp gesture from Soolin shut him up. The pursuit ship loomed larger and larger on the screen, then at the last possible moment, it jerked aside and we went smoothly past. Col let out his breath in a near whistle, but Tarrant began feeding instructions into his equipment to avoid fire, weaving about the sky like an expert. For what seemed a long time, we were buffeted about by the odd near miss, but only once did a charge actually impact on the force wall. The lights dimmed momentarily but came right back, and it wasn't long after that when Ren announced with satisfaction that we were out of range.

Tarrant laid in a new course and set us on it at top speed. Out of range didn't mean out of danger.

But the immediate tension had eased, and it was time for introductions. At once Ren and Rod gathered around Tarrant and began congratulating him on his skill, and after they ran down, Jessa joined him. "Del Tarrant," she greeted. "I've heard of you. You're as good as they say you are. You're even better than me, and I don't get too many chances to say that."

"You were holding them," he returned. "You might have got past them even without the games." Satisfied with each other, they turned for the rest of the introductions.

"I think we need to rest," I cut in. "It's been a rough day. Jess, do you think you're up to manning the flight deck awhile longer?"

She nodded. "No problems. "

"I'll rest," Vila volunteered. "And I wouldn't say no to a glass of adrenalin and soma. Do you have any, Gan?"

"If I'd known you were coming, I'd have laid in a supply, but I think we can find something. The only problem we've got now is that this is a small ship, and I'll have to double everyone up. Soolin, you can bunk with Jessa, Vila with me."

"Kerr is already in my cabin," Col volunteered, but he looked restrained and didn't offer any further information. He looked weary and depressed and I guessed the reunion had not gone very well.

"What about me?" asked Tarrant.

"Well, we've run out of cabins. You can bunk in the medical unit for the time being, all right?"

Tarrant nodded. "Somebody should probably check on Blake anyway. At least he's alive."

"And Avon's brother's here," Soolin reminded them as I led my three passengers back toward the medical unit. Blake didn't stir when we entered, but he looked like he was resting easier. "He must have thought he was dead. I never saw Avon react like that before."

"Maybe it will help," said Vila doubtfully. Col didn't look like it had helped. "Avon's changed a lot, Gan. You wouldn't know him. He doesn't even tease me any more. When he insults me now, he means it." He looked small and sad. "He even tried to kill me."

After hearing how Avon shot Blake, I wasn't surprised, though it had sounded like a misunderstanding. I didn't think this was. "What happened?"

Vila told me. They'd been on a shuttle over the planet Malodaar that weighed too much to achieve escape velocity and Avon had hunted Vila through the ship, evidently prepared to toss him out the airlock to lighten the load. Then he had found something heavy enough to serve and pushed it out instead. "He called to me to help him, and he sounded more normal," Vila finished. "But I was--I didn't come out till after. He was never the same to me again."

"Or you to him," Tarrant said neutrally.

"I had cause," Vila defended himself. "What would you have done if he'd tried to kill you?"

"Probably gone for him," Tarrant admitted. "I guessed what happened on Egrorian's shuttle, Vila, though you and Avon weren't talking. I wondered about it. I think you'd be dead if he'd really wanted to kill you."

Soolin looked surprised as if she had not expected reassurances from Tarrant, but then she said, "He's right. Because you probably wouldn't fight back, not against Avon. You'd hide if anything. But where could you have hid after the shuttle was stripped down?"

"I never thought you'd defend Avon," snapped Vila. "I thought of all that, didn't I? You weren't there. If you had been, you'd have hauled me out and tossed me off the ship to save your own skins. If you had, I would've fought you." Bitterness had run through all their voices, even Tarrant's when he had meant to reassure. I wondered how bad things were between them all.

"But not Avon?" I asked .

"You tear yourself up for him and he only hurts you," Soolin said unexpectedly. "Is it worth it, Vila?"

"You wouldn't think so, would you? You're almost as bad as he is. He hurts himself more than he ever hurts me anyway." Vila bit his lip and turned away. I thought he didn't want the others to see his face. Vila was much cleverer than me but he knew how to play the fool. Sometimes on Liberator, we'd laugh about it. I wasn't laughing now. These people were at the end of their rope. I wondered if Blake could help.

"And that makes it all right?" Tarrant cried incredulously. "Avon's a cold hearted bastard who doesn't care for anyone, not even himself. He needed Blake, I think, because Blake could keep him whole, or at least as whole as he could ever be. That's why we've hunted him, because Avon couldn't stop, even though he didn't accept that he needed Blake or ever had. We've all just got further and further apart, especially after Cally died. We should be working together, but we're not. We're running the Red Queen's Race, to keep from getting worse, and we're losing. Now we've found Blake and all but killed him. It would've been more than one man who died." He looked at Blake uneasily. "Avon might have been better off never having known him."

"That's your guilt talking, Tarrant." Vila's chin jutted out as he faced Tarrant down. "But you might be right. We can't keep pulling in different directions. Here's Blake and he's alive, and Avon's brother's here. Maybe they've got their own problems, but Avon was glad to see him, so he might do some good. At least Avon reacted to him at first. If Blake doesn't wake up cursing him, Avon might have a chance."

He turned his back on Tarrant and looked at me. "What should we do, Can? you were always straightforward. The rest of us play games, and that makes it worse. I think you have the right idea."

Vila had changed. The acid bitterness in his voice was new, and he'd never let the pain show like this before. Vila fancied the role of court jester, but a jester must be a wise man underneath. Maybe Vila was wise, but he'd played the part so long it became real and he made mistakes, like the time he'd thrown his gun away on the London. Vila was smart, but he wanted answers from me. Anyone will tell you I'm not smart, but Jessa says I have common sense. I've just lived a good bit, that's all.

"I've got one idea," I said slowly. "But it's not easy."

"What is it?" Soolin asked, interested.

I wondered if Blake was listening. He shifted slightly. "You could try being honest with each other."

None of them liked that very much. They were too used to hiding. Even at best on Liberator, we'd done that. It's the life the Federation makes us live. It's safest to hold back, but that only hurts in the long run. Avon was an extreme case, but the others had only been better in degree. There was even some of it on my ship; Jessa's surface cynicism, Col's secretive nature. Maybe Alphas were raised like that. But Vila had grown up in a large, extroverted Delta family and he was nearly as bad.

"All this thinking is giving me a headache," I said with a smile. "But--"

"You're doing it too," Vila cried gleefully. "You were never stupid. Maybe you aren't as clever as Avon, but who is? You were smart enough to live without destroying yourself. He's right, Soolin."

She frowned. "I don't choose to bare my soul to you."

"That's not what I mean," I said. "You're all worried about Avon, I could tell. You're afraid of what Blake will do when he wakes up. If he starts cursing Avon and wants to shoot him in revenge, the rest of you will try to protect him, though you'll pretend that's not really what you're doing, even you, Vila. Even though he might have tried to throw you off that shuttle."

"What do you mean, might?" Vila cried.

"If he'd tried to kill you, you'd be dead. Where is there to hide in a stripped-down shuttle?" I turned pointedly to Tarrant and Soolin, who looked slightly abashed. "You haven't convinced Vila," I told them. "Though you didn't have to try."

They started to protest, then they went quiet, and I kept on. "Convincing Avon will be harder. If Avon and Vila can be friends again, it will help everyone. They need that friendship."

"Avon needs Blake too," Vila said in a little voice. "I think they almost turned into each other when they were apart. They weren't comfortable together but there was something there. Blake looked as nasty and suspicious as Avon when we got to Gauda Prime, and Avon keeps trying to win the rebellion." He heaved a sigh. "I'm glad you're here, Gan. We need somebody like you. It's been terrible, especially since Cally--"

"Nobody ever talked about her," Soolin said. "When I joined the crew, I used to wonder if I'd be ignored and forgotten if I died. Then once, when I mentioned Cally, Vila snapped at me and I realized she wasn't forgotten, just a forbidden subject."

"You don't know anything about it," Vila snapped, then he shut up. After a long pause, he said, "I really liked Cally. In a way, I think Avon loved her. Not like lovers," he went on quickly. "But Cally gave us a--a center, a heart. After she was gone we didn't have it anymore."

"But you could have done," I said. "Don't you see, Vila. You had each other if you'd tried."

"It sounds far too easy," Tarrant replied. He sat down on the med table he'd abandoned in the crisis, his face too white. Some adrenalin and soma might help him too.

"With Avon around?" Vila was skeptical. "Nothing's easy with him."

"I think you should all rest now," I said. "Will you be all right here, Tarrant? We can clear out a hold and make another cabin, but probably not until tomorrow."

"I might as well stay," Tarrant answered. "I can watch him."

I checked the monitors. "I think he's sleeping now."

"Not unconscious?" Soolin asked. She looked at Blake's face as if answers were printed there.

"He lost a lot of blood. He'll probably sleep the clock around." I clapped Vila on the shoulder and steered him and Soolin toward the door. "Can you stay awake until I've done my rounds?" I asked Tarrant as we went out.

"With this headache? I don't have a hope of sleep."


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