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Jabberwocky - Part 6 - Kyl

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 11

Avon was on the flight deck with Tarrant and Hugh when Blake arrived with Kyl Veelan. Avon's eyes fell upon the boy and narrowed slightly. Always suspicious of strangers, Avon tended to resent the presence of people he didn't know on Jabberwocky, no matter how good their reasons. Kyl saw the look and came to a stop in the entrance, then he caught himself and advanced into the room beside Blake.

      "I've brought a visitor," Blake explained. "This is Kyl Veelan, a new recruit of Avalon's, and he's brought us something interesting. Kyl - Kerr Avon, Del Tarrant. and Hugh Tiver."

      "I didn't realise Avalon was recruiting children," Avon said stiffly. His eyes were cold and unwelcoming, but the boy didn't seem daunted now he was actually here. He stared back stubbornly, his eyes almost as cold as Avon's.

      "Hello, Kyl," Hugh greeted him. "Welcome aboard. I'm the ship's doctor. It's my job to keep the rest of the crew in one piece, and they don't make it easy for me. Del's our pilot - correction, one of our pilots. Jenna would have my head for that."

      "Jenna Stannis you mean?" Kyl sounded impressed. He'd heard of her.

      "That's right," Tarrant put in. "Jenna and I battle it out to see which of us is in charge. I'm the one linked with Jabberwocky though."

      "And I'm Jabberwocky," the ship decided to enter the conversation. "Welcome aboard, Kyl. What have you brought us? I like surprises."

      Kyl's eyes sought out Jabberwocky's visual display and he went to stand before it grinning. "Hello, Jabberwocky," he said softly. "I'm glad to meet you. I brought them some of your specifications."

      "What!" Avon surged forward staring. "Where did you get them?" The question was almost an accusation.

      "Out of the Federation Computer System, Avon." Kyl gave the computer expert a sudden nervous look. He didn't seem quite sure how to take Avon, which didn't surprise Blake much. He was probably closer to Avon than anyone, and he didn't know how to take him either.

      "You couldn't have done," Avon insisted. "Let me see what you've got." Kyl passed over the forms, and Avon removed them from the envelope. There was a silence while he studied them, then he looked at Kyl as if he were seeing him for the first time. "Where did you really get these?"

      "I got them where I said I did," Kyl snapped. "I'm not lying. I'll tell you how I did it." He proceeded to do so, and Blake, who didn't count himself completely ignorant around computers, was left behind in moments.

      "I got some of the procedures from your old reports in various journals," Kyl told Avon. "The Federation decided to teach me all they could about computers, so I took advantage of it, but I wouldn't let them control me. They couldn't programme me, but they thought they had. Wrong." He grinned cockily, proving how young he really was.

      "Your system sounds workable," Avon conceded reluctantly. "How much of this" - a gesture at the printouts - "do you understand?"

      "Well, not all of it. Some of it's theory I'm nowhere near yet. I think I can see where it's going, and if I had time and equipment and the right research material I might make sense of it eventually. I'd love to meet Orac. Have you ever thought of duplicating Ensor's process? I've tried to pull Ensor's file, but I can't get at it. I'm not sure how much the Federation knows about him, but they haven't been able to duplicate Orac."

      "Naturally they have not. I am unique."

      Kyl spun and stared at Orac, who had been sitting unnoticed on the table. He went over and peered down at Orac. "So you're Orac. This is great. I never dreamed I'd get to meet Orac so quickly. Or you either, Jabberwocky."

      "The rest of us don't rate, I see," Tarrant muttered self-deprecatingly.

      "Oh, I didn't mean that," Kyl said quickly, embarrassed. "It's just that computers come first with me. I'd love to know how the link works. Can you feel Jabberwocky all the time or just when you concentrate? The information isn't specific."

      "I'm always aware of him, but I don't get specific thoughts unless I put my mind to it," Tarrant replied, ignoring Avon's muttered, "Such as it is." He went on easily, "We can block each other for privacy, but I don't bother usually. It's quite a feeling."

      "I bet it is. I'd love to try it, but I know that's expecting too much." Tarrant's look confirmed that, and Blake grinned. He didn't want the boy to know they could link temporarily yet, not unless Orac cleared him.

      "Orac," he said, following this line of thought, "With Kyl's computer background, he might be able to fool any tests we gave him. But you could scan him and see if there is any Federation conditioning. Will you do that?"

      "My time is much too valuable-"

      "Do it, Orac," Blake insisted. Orac took his superiority for granted but could sometimes be persuaded to act. Besides, Blake had seen Avon moving purposefully toward Orac. Something was disturbing Avon. The computer expert had erected his walls again, more so than the presence of one juvenile stranger could account for, and he kept shooting suspicious looks at the boy as if he believed him a Federation agent. Blake didn't really think the boy was any such thing, but he would have been a fool to overlook the possibility. That didn't mean he would keep the boy at gun-point, just that he would have him watched. But Avon acted as if the boy's presence was a personal affront, and after a minute, Blake thought of a reason. Maybe Avon viewed him as competition, someone likely to develop into a second Ensor. The boy had been given extensive computer training, but all the training in the world wouldn't be enough without a gift for it. Only that gift could take knowledge and training one step further to genius. Avon had that gift, but Avon was forty years old. Maybe he saw Kyl as competition.

      "Oh, very well," huffed Orac. "This experiment would be far better performed in the medical unit where Hugh Tiver could monitor the subject's responses."

      Vila arrived on the flight deck then, whistling under his breath, looking the very picture of innocent mischief, but he stopped when he saw the gathering there. Kyl turned to look at him, and at the sight of the boy Vila's mouth fell open and he stared, eyes narrowing as if he knew a secret. Blake spun to look at Kyl to see if it was reciprocated, and discovered Kyl regarding Vila in alarm. Beside him, Avon's face had darkened, and he watched Vila warily as if the thief were a time bomb about to go off. Then Vila smoothed away his surprise and said brightly, "Company, Blake?"

      "This is Kyl Veelan", Blake said quickly, staring meaningfully at Vila. Vila deliberately ignored the look. "Hello, Kyl," he said. "I'm Vila Restal. I steal things. Money, jewels, Federation information, secrets..."

      Kyl flushed. So he did have a secret, and Vila suspected it. Of course Vila often played the fool, but Blake knew it was mostly a game. Blake had begun to rely on the shrewd individual who hid behind the guise of a coward and a fool. But now, Vila's face was surprisingly bland, and he didn't look worried that he might be confronting a junior Federation agent. Blake wondered if he had met Kyl before, though the boy would have been much younger when they'd all been shipped out on the London, and their trips back to Earth since then hadn't included time for looking up old friends. Neither was Kyl a Delta grade. He had some of the unconscious superiority of an Alpha, though he hadn't been raised entirely on Earth.

      "Shall we go to the medical unit?" Hugh asked. If he didn't know what was wrong with Vila or Avon, he would have sensed the tension on the flight deck. Hugh was good at smoothing over prickly emotions. He'd had to be.

      "The sooner we do so, the sooner we can have our ship back to ourselves," Avon said coldly. Kyl's flush deepened and he looked at Avon unhappily before covering his hurt. Blake was sorry; perhaps Avon had been the boy's hero.

      They went to the medical unit, leaving Tarrant on watch. Vila picked up Orac automatically; he'd got in the habit of carrying the computer for Avon on Liberator and now he did it routinely. Avon seemed to enjoy that, but he didn't react today. His face was hard as he led the way to the lower deck, and he wore 'touch-me-not' signs visible to all but the most imperceptive.

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Sheila Paulson

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