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Interminable Nightmare

By Marian Mendez
Page 1 of 13

"No." Cally gave Tarrant a stare as cold as Avon's best.

Irrationally, Tarrant thought for a moment that Avon had somehow merged with Cally telepathically before they lost him. But that wouldn't explain Vila's attitude change or Dayna's new-found hostility. With an effort, he controlled his temper. "See here, Cally, I'm not suggesting we abandon the search for Avon."

Vila looked up from his post at the weapons console. "Damn straight you're not," he said firmly. His eyes met Tarrant's with an unflinching sternness that still seemed unnatural to the pilot despite the number of times he'd seen it recently.

Dayna came onto the flight deck with a tray of drinks. She paused, taking in the tense postures, then continued, setting the tray down on the round transparent table by the U-shaped couch. "Did something happen while I was away?"

Vila came forward to accept his drink. "The boy wonder thinks it's time we forgot about Avon and went on to other things."

Dayna's head snapped up and the look she turned on Tarrant was lethal. "There are no other things."

Tarrant spread his hands. "Now, wait just a minute, before you all start sharpening your knives. I want Avon back as much as the rest of you do."

"Yeah, right," Vila muttered. "I remember how you and Avon were such good pals- really close, you two were."

"You weren't exactly chummy with him yourself," Tarrant shot back. "I seem to recall you calling him a right bastard."

"Well, maybe I just hadn't had a chance to compare him with you."

"Stop it," Cally said, moving between the two men before they could come to blows. "Fighting amongst ourselves will accomplish nothing. Tarrant, if you wish, you may leave Liberator at any time. But we will continue searching for Avon, with or without you."

"I don't want to leave Liberator! " Tarrant took a deep breath. "Look, let me start again. All I said was that we'd been looking for him for months and it was time we tried something different." Hastily, he added, "I meant a different way of searching for him."

"Well, why didn't you say so?" Vila's tone was still aggrieved, but no longer angry.

"I did try."

"What do you propose?" Cally asked, putting her hand gently on Tarrant's arm for a moment. "I am sorry to have doubted you, Tarrant."

"I propose that we stop beating the bushes at random- following every rumor of Avon or Servalan that Orac doles out has been a complete waste of time. We need a different approach."

"We did help the rebels on Helotrix, and got the antidote to Servalan's latest poison," Dayna pointed out. "I don't consider that a waste of time and neither do any of the rebel factions we sent the formula."

"But we missed Servalan again, and Avon had never even been there. All Orac can tell us is that she never brought him back to Earth for trial or collected the reward for his capture."

"That's the odd part," Vila said. Once the confrontation was over, he'd returned to his forgotten drink and sat at the couch, sipping slowly while he listened to Tarrant. "Avon's worth three million credits, last I heard. Now, Servalan fancies Avon -"

Dayna growled, and Vila shook his finger at her. "You know she does," he said, "But three million credits worth? I ask you, is Servalan crazy? Well, yes, I guess she is, but she's also the greediest woman I've ever met. And believe you me, I've met plenty."

Cally nodded. "Yes, I had considered that uncharacteristic, myself. Unless..."

"Unless Avon's worth more as her prisoner." Vila looked around the flight deck.

Tarrant followed Vila's gaze. "Avon had nearly three years to learn Liberator's secrets."

"And he used that time well, Tarrant," Cally said. "He was always experimenting and investigating."

"Always?" Dayna arched an eyebrow.

"Always," Cally said firmly. She spoke seriously, looking at each of the others in turn, "Avon is invaluable. Blake knew it. It worried him, I think, until he realized that Avon would never work for the Federation."

"Not if he had any choice," Vila lowered his voice to a bare whisper. "But Servalan won't give him one."

Dayna stiffened. "Avon's no coward. He won't cooperate with her."

"You've led a sheltered life," Vila replied. "You don't know what they can do to a man's body- and his mind."

"Come on, Vila," Tarrant said, "They couldn't condition you into an honest citizen. Are you saying you're stronger-willed than Avon?"

Vila shook his head. "No, you don't understand. They couldn't condition me to be something I'm not, but they don't have to do that to Avon. He's a computer technician and a scientist first and a rebel only when he had to be. They could use everything except the rebel part."

"Then we have to find him fast," Dayna said.

"It may already be too late," Cally added.

"Not as long as Avon's alive." Dayna turned to Tarrant, eyes wide and beseeching. "You won't give up on him, will you?"

"No, of course not. But I am about to give up on Orac." Tarrant strode over to the little computer which had been blinking and humming to itself while they talked. "Unless, of course, Orac, you have finally figured out a way to find Avon."

*Of course, I know a way to find Avon. *

"What! Where is he?"

* I do not know the present location of Kerr Avon. *

Dayna came close, standing next to Tarrant. "You're not making sense. I think you're right, Tarrant. Orac must be broken."

* I am making perfect sense! *, the computer protested. * I know a way to find Avon. It is not necessary to know where Avon is in order to find him. *

"Orac's gone round the bend," Vila decided. "Pity, he was such a nice, friendly computer, too."

* You fail to see the logic. * Orac gave a mechanical sigh. * You have had me seeking information on Avon and Servalan. This is futile. Servalan has sufficient intelligence not to input any information on Avon into any computer system. I cannot read what has not been written.*

"Might as well be broken, then." Tarrant moved as if to pull Orac's key.

* If you will just listen!*

Tarrant hesistated, then let his hand fall to his side. "All right, but only because we owe you for saving the Liberator. "

"You owe him? What about me?" Vila asked, "If I hadn't picked Avon's pocket for the key, Orac would have been a useless pile of junk. Which it is, anyway."

*Nevertheless, it was I who told you that firing the Neutron Blasters with the Radiation Flare Shield down would destroy the space-enzyme and allow Liberator to regenerate. It was unfortunate that the ship had to be evacuated during the unshielded Neutron Blast and the regenerative period.*

"But if you'd told us sooner, we could have been back on Liberator before Servalan took Avon and got away in her own ship!"

"It could have been worse," Dayna put in. "If we weren't following Servalan through the woods trying to get Avon back, we would have been in her base when it blew."

"And Orac didn't bother to warn us about that either, did he?"

"Vila?" Cally interrupted. "Please, let Orac finish."

Vila grumbled, but stopped arguing.

* To continue. Servalan may not put her trust in her computers, but she cannot do everything by herself. She must rely on human agents and they do not all share her aversion to computers.*

Vila was still disgusted. "Big deal. You can find Servalan's flunkies. But can you find one who knows where Avon is?"

* Yes. One of Servalan's most trusted agents-*

"Which isn't saying much," Dayna interrupted, softly, so as not to irritate the computer.

* - is on the planet Gauda Prime. Her assignment is to infiltrate a rebel base which is currently led by a rebel who was an associate of Avon's. She referred to this connection in one of her communiques to her superior. In the context, it was apparent that she knew Avon is in custody. Since this has not been reported publicly, or through military channels, it is not unreasonable to assume that she learned this directly from Servalan, and quite likely that she knows the location of his incarceration.*

"Still, it's a bit of a long shot," Vila said, unwilling to congratulate Orac on his cleverness after all the false leads it had given them.

"What isn't?" Tarrant asked. He returned to the pilot's position, and asked, "We go to Gauda Prime, yes?"

"Yes," Cally agreed, while Dayna nodded firmly. Vila shrugged. "Why not?"

Tarrant smiled. "Cheer up, Vila, maybe Gauda Prime is a paradise planet. Zen, lay in a course for Gauda Prime- speed, Standard by Four."

+Confirmed.+ Zen intoned, and the subliminal background noise of the Liberator changed as the engines changed course and speed.

Vila laid his head back against the couch cushion, shutting his eyes tightly. "Paradise planet. That sounds nice. Come on, Orac, tell us about Gauda Prime. I want to hear all about the dancing girls and the topless bars." His voice held an enforced note of cheerfulness. "And if there aren't any, make some up."

* You wish me to relay inaccurate information? That is against my programming.* The computer sounded offended.

"Never mind Vila, Orac." Dayna took a seat on the couch, and picked up one of the drinks she'd brought. "Tell us what we need to know about Gauda Prime. The truth, please."

* Do you wish political, geophysical, or historical data? You must be more specific.*

Cally's question was very specific. "Who is the leader of the rebel base? If it's someone Avon knows, then perhaps they will believe us if we warn them about Arlen."

* You do, in fact, know the leader quite well. Roj Blake is the current head of the insurrection on Gauda Prime.*

"Blake!" the name came as a chorus from the startled group. Cally and Vila exchanged grins.

"Hah! Avon couldn't find him, and now, when we've stopped looking, we stumble across him." Vila laughed out loud, then sobered. "Blake won't be best pleased with us for losing his computer expert."

"It's been so long," Cally said, musing. " I wonder if he's changed."

* That is a strong possibility.* Orac's voice was silky, almost smug.

"What do you mean, Orac?" Cally snapped.

* Blake has been employed as a bounty hunter for nearly a solar year- under an alias, of course. He has turned over more than forty fugitives to the Federation.*

"I think I'm going to be sick," Vila said in a very small voice. He turned to Cally, who had paled perceptibly. "Do you think the rat-in-a-box has got it right?"

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Marian Mendez

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