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The End of the Rainbow

By Cami
Page 2 of 12

"What do you mean that Tarrant is alive?" Vila's startled exclamation was mirrored in Dayna and Soolin's faces. The four of them were gathered in Vila's cottage. It was located on the outskirts of a modest-size city, a long flyer hop from Blake's headquarters on Horizon but near the medical services that Vila's condition required. Avon handed them a packet that contained five still pictures extracted from the disk. "I don't know how...but he is. Blake's people searched the base when they rescued us. The Federation must have already moved Tarrant somewhere else, possibly off planet." He rubbed his hands over his eyes. "He is most definitely alive." "They've had him for...," Vila pressed at his fingers, calculating the interval since Gauda Prime, "...twenty-three months." Dayna's hands were trembling as she passed the pictures to Vila. After a quick glance at the strained face in the top photograph, Vila shuffled them on to Soolin. "What are we going to do?" he asked. "I am going to Galinum," Avon said. "That's where this Federation Space Systems Complex is," Soolin said, fingering the photo of the laboratory. "Security is going to be tight." Vila wheeled his chair to a cabinet on the far side of the room. Inside was a small chest that he carried on his lap back to where the group was seated about a table. "It's lucky then that I've kept my skills sharpened," he said, displaying a set of lockpicking tools. "Damn that Grant." Dayna stood and paced, her lithe body taut with anger. "He's on Galinum, isn't he?" Avon nodded. "Good," she smiled ferally. "I wonder what he'll look like with his cock in his mouth." "Silly," Vila suggested, trying to ease the tension that permeated the room. "When do we leave?" * * * Arriving on Galinum, they had barely completed a post-flight check when Grant appeared at the hatch of their ship, seeking admittance. "Hear him out before you get violent," Vila told Dayna as they waited for the mercenary to make his way to the flight deck. "I expected you all to show up," Grant said, pausing cautiously on the threshold. Dayna glided in his direction. "I'll just bet you did," she purred. Avon put out a hand to stop her while directing his words to Grant. "I trust that you haven't solved Blake's problem yet." Three sets of eyes snapped towards Avon as his shipmates realized why he had insisted on haste. Soolin voiced what they all were thinking, "Blake was going to kill Tarrant." Grant shrugged noncommittally. "As I said, I've been waiting for you." He stretched out his right arm so that they could see the large envelope in his hand. "Blueprints of the complex," he explained. He tapped his head, "And information. My operative, Tayl, has done some checking. Tarrant never leaves the grounds. Tayl couldn't find out where his living quarters are located; you'll have to snatch Tarrant from the lab itself." "That's unfortunate," Avon said. "I had hoped to avoid the complex entirely, the research facilities in particular." He accepted the packet and extracted the contents. "This will help. Thank you." "There's something else." Grant hesitated then continued, "You'll have to make your move right away." "Why is that?" Dayna asked, her stiff voice proclaiming that she hadn't come close to forgiving him. The blond man settled in a chair, rubbing a hand to his jaw. "Tayl managed to slip Tarrant an antidote, on the chance that he was being given psycholucinogenic drugs." "Psycholucinogens are used to sustain conditioning," Vila said in response to the questioning looks on the women's faces. "Was he conditioned?" Soolin asked. "Apparently so. Now it's breaking down. He's been judged unstable, and they may decide to terminate him." "Grant," the rest of Dayna's angry words were drowned under Avon's, "What gave you the right to interfere?" "I did you a favor," Grant said unruffled. "Now he's likely to know you're on his side and cooperate with his rescue." He pointed to the diagrams still clutched in Avon's hands. "Shall we get down to business. I don't know about the four of you, but I'd like to get this over with. I'm as concerned about my operative as you are about your former pilot." * * * At some point in time, he had understood where he was and why, but now Tarrant's thoughts were reduced to confused gibberish. He drifted endlessly in a void where nothing existed, including himself. There was nothing to see, hear, taste or smell. Even touch was limited to the mildest sensations. He was floating in mid air, arms and legs loosely restrained so that they were stretched to their full lengths. There was no up or down. No anchor on which to orient his body or his mind. There was nothing. He was buried alive in nothing. Panic welled in him. He wanted to cry out for help but his lips wouldn't move. Time was forever in his vacuous eternity, ticking away with an unending sameness. Ever so slowly, his anxiety mutated to terror. Seconds stretched for years, allowing the terror to build and swell inside him until it bubbled free as wild hysteria. He would have pulled his hair out, clawed and bit at his flesh, done anything to affirm his existence, if the restraints hadn't prevented it. A scream of madness filled his mind. It shrilled perpetually, continuing long after any comprehension of it faded. When only blankness remained, the voices began, gently reawakening his consciousness to a stream of propaganda, while his body continued to float in its barren womb.

Tarrant shuddered when awareness returned. A distasteful mingling of antiseptics and perfume clogged his nostrils, causing his nose to twitch. He could sense hands releasing the padded cuffs that secured his wrists and ankles, and detaching sensors from his forehead and chest. Sharp twinges accompanied the removal of intravenous and catheter lines. The tape was already gone from his mouth. There was gravity in the room again. The interminable night was finally over. The patches were lifted from his eyes and light flooded his optic nerves. He squinted against the discomforting brightness, watching an army of fuzzy bodies scurry from the room. Three figures remained: his two guards, assigned to protect him, and the woman who hovered beside the treatment table. "How are you feeling?" she asked, curving her hand to his cheek. "I'm fine," he said, sliding from under her caress and climbing shakily to his feet. She draped a robe over his shoulders. "Are you up to going to the lab today?" "Yes." He shrugged his arms into the sleeves, tied the sash, and brushed out of the chamber into the adjacent apartment. "Shouldn't I be?" "You have been working too hard again," she scolded softly. "The director very generously allowed you time off for therapy." "I'm fine now," he insisted, afraid that any other response would send him back to the sensory deprivation chamber. "How long was it...this time?" "Don't think about that; it's over." "How long?" "Forty hours." //Forty hours!// No wonder he felt weak and disoriented. Tarrant paused to rub his still light-sensitive eyes, and her hands reached for him again. It sent shivers up his spine. He turned to her, studying the familiar face, remembering her expression when she had hooked him up to the chamber's technology. She had been sympathetic then, except...except for the faintest hint of satisfaction far back in her eyes, as if part of her enjoyed his discomfort and fright. Or had he imagined that? "Do you love me?" he blurted out. Surprise, then hurt, washed across her face, and he was immediately ashamed of his unkind thoughts. "Del, I hope you're teasing. Of course I love you. You mean everything in the world to me." "Then why...why?" His eyes focused on the deprivation chamber door. "Darling, I don't like putting you through that, but it's necessary for your health. Like a bad-tasting medicine, the benefits are worth the temporary unpleasantness." She squeezed his hand then gave him a gentle push toward his bedroom. "Get freshened up. I'm going to make your breakfast." Confused, he chided himself for his childish behavior, striking out to punish her for the hateful therapy. She loved him and loathed the treatments as much as he did. It was inconceivable that she would relish his distress. He was simply befuddled. The therapy sessions always left him feeling insecure and vulnerable. In the privacy of his room, he found himself staring into a mirror. "Please help me," he begged, without knowing to whom he was speaking or why. * * * "Thanks to Tayl we know exactly where Tarrant will be today," Grant said as his fingers roamed over the map of the primary research building. "He'll be in one of these three labs on the second floor. There are troopers posted at the stairwells and the lift. You'll have to decide which route to take when you get inside. Remember, he has two bodyguards who are with him constantly." "Are we sure Tarrant *is* at work?" Avon asked. He had been troubled when they hadn't been able to make their move yesterday as originally planned. "Yes," Grant said patiently. "Tayl's signal confirmed that." Sensing Avon's unspoken question, he added, "I told you that it wasn't unusual for Tarrant to be absent for a day. They were probably reinforcing the conditioning. Let's hope Tayl has a chance to administer another dose of antidote." Soolin put her hand on Vila's shoulder. "Are you sure you are going to be all right?" "I only have to unlock the door to the lab building," he replied, "then Grant will teleport me back to the ship. It's a supply door, back in an alley. There shouldn't be a problem." Grant nodded. "Tayl should be here by then as well. That leaves the three of you to pull Tarrant. As soon as you get into the open, signal me for teleport." "That's it then," Avon said. "Not quite." Grant looked at each of them in turn. "If he won't come with you, you know what you have to do." "We'll get him out," Dayna snarled. * * *

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