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From the Very Beginning

By Marian Mendez
Page 2 of 2

"Doesn't look like much, Vila," Jenna commented after she had called in to let Blake know that they had arrived safely. They were still uneasy about the teleport; Blake's first test had sent out a crewman who never came back. He swore he understood the system now, but Jenna and Vila were understandably dubious.

"Wouldn't be too clever to set down in the casino, would it? People might talk." Vila kept his voice calm. Avon had a disconcerting habit of screaming in terror when people argued. "Dark alleys are safer than some spaceships."

"True." Jenna unsnapped her bracelet. "Let's get on with it, then."

Vila removed his bracelet and Avon's, dropping the teleport devices to the ground at Jenna's feet.

Jenna activated the communicator on her bracelet, holding it open before her. "Blake," she said, flatly.

"Yes, Jenna, is something wrong?" Blake sounded as if he knew what was wrong and hoped to have it denied.

"Nothing's wrong here, Blake. Avon and Vila and I are safe. You're the one in danger. I advise you to watch your back. Oh, and tell Jack to use a lighter touch on the turns."

"Jenna. You aren't coming back, are you?" Blake was quiet. For once, he wasn't trying to jolly her out of her bad-temper.

"Bloody genius, the man is," Vila muttered.

Jenna shushed him, then told Blake in the same quiet tone, "No, we're not, Blake. And you know why. I'm sorry. We wish you luck on your crusade, but it isn't ours and it never was. We're plain ordinary criminals, Blake..."

"Speak for yourself," Vila said.

"...And we just want a chance to live. That didn't seem too likely on the Liberator. Don't come after us, Blake or send any of your goons. We've no intention of going back, ever. Goodbye, Blake." She dropped the band atop the other two and used her blaster on the heap, smelting them into an unrecognizable lump. "That's that," she told Vila, ignoring the sting of unshed tears. "Let's get Avon attended to."

"Your brother will receive the finest care here at the Freedom City Hospital for Nervous Disorders." The man reassuring Vila was white-haired, ruddy-faced and pleasant, polite to a fault. In Vila's opinion the most important point in the man's favor was that Avon seemed to like him, clinging to the man's hand and watching him with wide-wondering eyes.

Avon's eyes reminded Vila of a puppy he'd seen in a rich man's house one evening. He'd been tempted to leave the silver and take the dog instead, but then, as now, he couldn't take the responsibility of caring for it. What if he was caught? So he and Jenna were committing Avon to this nice, clean, well-run institution. Vila still hated the idea.

"For our records, Mr. Acre, I'll need your full name and your brother's."

Vila drew the multiply-lined paper to himself. "Patient- Daven Acre. Next of Kin- Will Acre. Relationship to Patient- Brother." It didn't take long for Vila to fill in what blanks he could. "Doctor, we've just moved here, as I told you. I'll have to fill out the rest after I get settled."

"Certainly." The doctor didn't mind. "Many of our clientele prefer anonymity. As long as the patient's financial records are in order..."

Vila smiled. Before Blake's crimos had sobered up enough to search the Liberator for loot, Vila had found the `treasure room'. He removed what he considered to be three fair shares, one for himself, one for Avon and one for Jenna. Freedom City was an excellent place to turn gems into credits; less than the usual cumshaw went to the authorities, because there wasn't any legitimate government to demand their cut. Avon's share would have been enough to buy him a mansion on Earth, complete with dancing girls dressed in red fur costumes. It should cover his bed and care in a hospital for a while.

"Thank you, doctor. Well, Jaine, I think we have to be going now." Vila leaned over Avon and gently turned the man's head, holding him until his eyes focussed on Vila. "Jaine and I have to leave, Daven, but don't worry, I'll be back every week to visit. I promise." He wasn't sure he'd gotten through, but when he released Avon, the dark eyes continued to watch him.

Jenna knelt and gave Avon a tender kiss on the cheek. "I'll miss you, Daven. You'll be in my prayers." She sighed and stood. "I wish I could say I'll be back, Will, but you know how it is. I've signed on a tramp freighter. Who knows when I'll be in port again?" She kissed Vila goodbye, then walked out of the hospital, head high and back straight. She'd wait until she was alone to cry.

"Remarkable woman," the doctor commented.

"She is that." Vila grinned. While investigating a suitable place for Avon and settling into their environment (checking out ships and rich spots to rob, that sort of thing) Vila and Jenna had become close. He'd miss the blonde, but that was life for a thief, love `em and leave `em.


"Now, Daven, that wasn't very nice," Vila scolded mildly. Avon had overturned the bowl of cereal that the Delta had been coaxing him to eat. Secretly, Vila was delighted at the show of temper. In the three months Avon had been in the hospital this was the first time he'd rebelled against authority. The scowl on Avon's face made Vila grin fondly. It reminded him of the old Avon, on the London.

Vila wiped up the mess without calling for an orderly. He'd faithfully visited Avon each week. At first, he'd only come because he felt a lingering guilt that he hadn't gone with Avon to board Liberator, but gradually he'd become fascinated by observing the process of healing Avon was undergoing.

Most of it was natural. The alien attack had done him no physical damage. The doctors assessed his condition as retreat from unbearable shock, a defense mechanism that would fade given time and a supportive environment. Vila thought of Gan and Arco when the doctors explained this to him. //Always thought Avon was a survivor. No matter what it took.// Avon was supposed to make a full recovery, with no memory loss or impaired faculties. Vila doubted at first, but Avon had been making steady, if slow, progress.

Each week, Avon rewarded Vila for his patience with his childish delight at the sight of the thief. Vila liked children and Avon responded well to him. The visits were too short for both of them, but Vila had a dishonest living to make- for both of them. Avon's care was more expensive than the thief had figured. The Liberator's gems were not going to last long enough to finish Avon's recovery.

"Now, Daven, why did you do that?" Vila asked reasonably.

"Didn't want it," Avon answered. "Tastes yucky."

Vila looked at the sticky honeyed mess and shuddered. "You liked it last week." Avon had a finicky appetite, the despair of Vila and the staff, until they'd discovered he'd eat almost anything if it was sweet enough. It didn't seem to make him fat, which Vila rather resented, not having as fortunate a metabolism.

"Didn't taste yucky last week." Avon replied, as serious as a judge. The effect was spoiled by the sticky cereal smeared along his face.

Vila laughed. If Avon's taste buds were growing up, then maybe the rest of him would soon follow suit. Avon had begun to pay attention to the prettier female nurses. Of course at his mental age that consisted of little more than shy smiles and offers to share his toys. It was a start, though.

"Hello. I know you, don't I?" Avon's soft voice roused Vila from a pleasant reverie. He had been imagining himself partnered with Avon once the man was himself again. The combination of computer expertise and his own handiness with physical locks should be amazingly profitable. Also, after seeing Avon as a child, Vila knew he wasn't really the cold-hearted bastard that Blake had discounted.

"Yes, you know me."

Vila smiled. "Jenna - I mean, Jaine, it's good to see you again. Are you staying long?"

"I'm afraid not. I left my ship short-handed to come here, Will. I had something to tell you." She sounded so glum that Avon began to whimper.

Recognizing the signs of an imminent cloudburst, Vila said, "Let's go out into the garden where we can have a nice, private chat."

"Me, too," Avon insisted, distracted from his tears by the proposed outing.

Vila shrugged. "Why not. It'll be all right, Jaine, he likes to watch the birds and bugs and stuff, he won't pay any attention to us."

Avon loved it when Vila took him out to the garden. The hospital had created a serene setting, pruned bushes and well-kept lawns where the patients strolled in safety. Avon didn't stroll. He tracked insects to their nests and climbed trees after birds. Keeping up with him was impossible, but Vila soon noticed that Avon never went beyond sight of Vila. The Alpha often stopped to reassure himself with a glance that Vila was still there.

Vila had a favorite bench that he used as Avon's homebase. Jenna and he sat there and talked of inconsequential things until Avon relaxed and began his explorations.

"He's looking much better," Jenna commented. "For that matter, you seem happier, too, Vila."

"I am," he confessed. " `s funny, Jenna, but I think it was lucky for Avon and me, what happened to him. The docs say he had a bad time as a kid the first time round and it filled him with complexes and neuroses's. We'd all noticed he wasn't a happy person. Well, they said that he would have suffered a breakdown if he was under any kind of long term stress. Revolution's not exactly a rest cure, you know, and Blake didn't strike me as the type to lay back and take it easy...What's wrong? What did I say?"

"You were right about Blake and the Liberator, Vila. I know we hadn't any real choice, but I still regret deserting him that way."

Vila slipped a comforting arm around Jenna's shoulders. "You didn't desert him. He wouldn't listen to us. We wouldn't ever have been able to influence him. He wanted blindly obedient followers. We couldn't give him that, neither of us. Even if it hadn't been for Avon, we'd have had to leave Blake."

"I suppose so, but I can't help thinking that if I'd been there..." She shook her head.

"Been where? What did you come here to tell me?" Vila knew bad news when he read it on a friend's face. "It's Blake, isn't it?"

"Yes, and Liberator, too." Jenna's eyes were suspiciously bright. "I only just found out, but it happened a few weeks after we left him. Blake's crew heard that the Federation had put a million credit bounty on him. You remember how they wanted to use the LIberator for piracy and he wouldn't allow it?" Vila nodded. "Well they must have decided he was in the way. They killed him and turned his body in for the reward. Then they turned Liberator into a murdering pirate. The Federation might have ignored them if they had possessed the rudimentary good sense to stick to neutrals and independents, but the Federation had the fattest prizes and that's mostly what they preyed on. It didn't take long for someone in Space Command to dispatch a fleet of pursuit ships. I'm only glad that they destroyed Liberator instead of capturing her. She was a sweet ship and deserved a better crew."

"I'm sorry, Jenna," Vila said softly. "I know how you felt about Blake."

Jenna wiped at her eyes with her sleeve and tried to compose herself. "Yes, well, that's more than he ever did. He never noticed me, I'm sure."

"Blake was stupid."

Startled, Jenna and Vila looked up. Avon had abandoned his hunt and returned to listen to their conversation. He understood very little of it, but enough to know that Jenna needed cheering up. He was a compassionate child, and it distressed him to see others unhappy. He had tried to say something that would show her he sympathized. Now he added, "You're very pretty." He offered her a flower.

Jenna took it and smiled, tousling Avon's hair affectionately. She was rewarded with another of his bright smiles, open and loving.

"Yes, Blake was stupid." Jenna put the flower in her hair.

Vila said, "It's a shame, though. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I'd gone with Avon in Arco's place. Could I have changed anything by being there?"

"Now, don't start blaming yourself, after the trouble you went to to keep me from falling into that trap," Jenna chided him.

"No, I'm not doing that. It's just curiosity, you know me." Vila sighed and leaned against Jenna. "Silly, really. I'm just a Delta thief. What difference could any action of mine make in the grand scheme of things?"

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Marian Mendez

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