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Jabberwocky - Part 8 - Stand-in

By Sheila Paulson
Page 2 of 11

      "I don't know. Some kind of alien device. Kyl found it in the bazaar back home on Ryalon and gave it to Avon. He's tickled to have it - the first present his son ever gave him - but of course he has to pretend he likes it because it's alien and mysterious, and it's driving him round the bend because he can't understand why it lights up some of the time and the rest of the time nothing happens."

      Tarrant grinned. He enjoyed it when Avon failed, at least on such a minor scale, because Avon had such a habit of superiority that Tarrant couldn't help but resent it. Vila knew Tarrant would enjoy it if he could make sense out of the cube before Avon returned from the planet, and Vila might even enjoy it himself. Sometimes Mr. Kerr-I can do anything better than you-Avon irritated the thief, though deep inside where no one could guess it, he considered Avon a friend.

      "I think you should leave it alone, Del," Jabberwocky suggested. "It might be dangerous. I'd prefer to keep you in one piece."

      "Dangerous?" Tarrant echoed sceptically. "When Avon's done everything but blast it with a clipgun? It's harmless. It's only a light cube, even if it's an alien one."

      "I don't know, Del. I've got a bad feeling about it."

      Tarrant threw a grin at Jabberwocky's main display panel. "Bad feeling? A touch of precognition? I didn't know the Federation had it in them to program that."

      "You never know. All this linking just might trigger something. I've come to the conclusion that there are portions of the human brain that are never used. The Aurons know about them - we don't. But look at Avon. He's got powers that humans usually don't have. I know that there are always a few wild talents among humans, but it isn't commonly known."

      "The way the Federation pounces on anyone with the hint of a gift, I don't wonder," Vila retorted. "One of the reasons Avon didn't know he was a telepath was because his father was afraid the Federation would get him for it."

      "It isn't hereditary either," Tarrant remarked. "Kyl doesn't have any of it. Orac and Cally got curious and ran some tests. His psi level isn't any higher than mine."

      Vila eyed Tarrant warily. "Cally thinks you've got some talent though, Tarrant. It's why you do so well with the link. Why Cally did too, because of her telepathy. Blake doesn't have much psi ability, if any, and he wasn't as good at linking as either you or Cally." He grimaced. "I wonder if that means Avon would be good at it."

      "He will be one day," Jabberwocky remarked, "Once he learns he doesn't have to keep himself all bottled up the way he does."

      Tarrant chuckled. "The thought of Avon being open and letting all of us see how he feels, boggles the mind. I don't think I'd be comfortable with a jovial and friendly Avon."

      Vila's mind was boggled too as he tried to picture Avon as Tarrant described him. It was almost ludicrous. Obnoxious as he could be, Avon shouldn't change too much, Vila decided.

      Tarrant jiggled the light cube again and the light flickered sharply. "There!" Tarrant cried eagerly. "I'm getting it. Look, Vila. It never shone like that for Avon, did it?"

      Vila didn't like the look of it. The colour was a cold, greenish light, not warm and cosy, and there was something about it that made him uneasy. "You know, I think Jabberwocky's right," he muttered. "That thing makes me nervous. I think you should forget about it, Del. Leave it for Avon."

      "Put it out an airlock," Jabberwocky cried. "I'm registering some kind of power surge, but it's like nothing I've felt before. It's energy, but unfamiliar energy. Put it down, Del!"

      But the light flared up again, and Tarrant stiffened as if he'd received an electrical shock. With a choked cry, he pitched over and collapsed over his console, his face dead white. For a horrified moment, Vila didn't think he was breathing, but then he heard the harsh rasp as air was dragged into Tarrant's lungs.

      "DEL!" cried Jabberwocky in a voice that shook with pain. "Del, don't leave me!"

      "Is he dead?" Vila exclaimed uneasily, grabbing at Tarrant's wrist to check for a pulse. "Jabberwocky? What's happened to him?" He could feel the pulse beating beneath his fingers, steady and normal, but the pallor of Tarrant's face was far from normal, and his body was limp as if it was untenanted. That thought made the thief jerk his fingers away.

      "I can't find him," Jabberwocky lamented. "Somewhere in the back of my mind is the remnants of the link, and he is alive - but I can't find him." The lights flickered suddenly, and Vila shivered. "Here now, Jabberwocky, you're not going to fall apart, are you? Separation..."

      "Separation hurts," Jabberwocky moaned. "I can't find him, Vila."

      "Can you handle it?" Vila asked anxiously. "Should I go to manual or something? You won't do something to the ship?"

      "I must find him, Vila."

      "What should I do to help?" Call Avon, that was the answer. He started toward the controls, only to freeze when Jabberwocky made a sound halfway between a moan and a sob. Vila was terrified. He'd seen what happened to Blake when he'd been shoved from the linkage. Jabberwocky had survived that because Witt had replaced Blake in the link. When Tarrant and Jabberwocky had been separated before because of the explosion Soolin had triggered when her programming came to the fore, Jabberwocky had seemed to handle it all right, but he hadn't been communicating with them except through the screen and a print out. Maybe he'd been suffering like this and none of them had known it. Maybe that was why he'd been so desperate to find his son, because he'd known the loneliness of separation. If it was as bad as he sounded right now, Vila could understand his need for something to fall back on, even if it was the hope of a son he'd not seen for ten years.

      "Jabberwocky?" Vila said tentatively. "What should I do? How can I help you? When you were separated from Blake, you were all right"

      "I must find Tarrant," Jabberwocky burst out. "He is not dead, but he is not in his body any more. I must find him. You must help me."

      "Yes, I'll help you," Vila agreed. "Tell me what to do."

      "You must link with me," was the astonishing reply.

      "I must what?" Vila echoed. "You can't - you and Tarrant are linked. You-"

      "If Tarrant should die, I might die with him," Jabberwocky admitted. "There is still a link with him, but I cannot find where he is. I do not suggest a permanent linkage, Vila, just that you link until we can find the answer." The lights blinked again. "You must hurry. I can feel my control slipping."

      "Avon will be furious," Vila announced, but that didn't deter him. He'd always liked link-mode when the group got together, but he'd managed to hold a part of him back when they did it, though Cally had always encouraged openness. This would require of him more openness than he would find comfortable, but what else could he do? How could he tell Avon that he'd let Jabberwocky and Tarrant die because he was afraid to link.

      That decided him. Squaring his shoulders, he turned and looked directly at the main display. "Right, Jabberwocky, I'll do it," he agreed. "Tell me what to do."

      "Sit at Blake's position," Jabberwocky directed, "And be quick about it, Vila. Good. Now put your hand there, on the green panel."

      Vila obeyed nervously. He had never aspired to this, and though he'd had a few fantasies about his great triumphs as Jabberwocky's link partner, he knew that Cally could do it far better and that Avon, with his combination of potential telepathy and vast computer knowledge, would be the ideal partner for Jabberwocky if he could ever allow himself to lower his guard so far. But Avon and Cally weren't here now and Vila was, so he sat there, his hand on the panel, feeling the suction that Cally had described, waiting uneasily for Jabberwocky to pounce on him and read his mind.

      But it didn't feel like that at all. At first there was no sensation of another mind at all, and when it did come, it was all one way - in the opposite direction Vila had expected. He was reading Jabberwocky's mind, seeing the memories Jabberwocky had of his human life, his awakening within the shell that encased him, his curiosity about what had happened to him, his gradual realization that he was 'human' no longer, but his fascination and vast curiosity getting him past the beginning. Vila saw the slow return of Jabberwocky's memory, which had driven him to a form of insanity, then the sudden intervention of Avon in the healing mode. Shocked and fascinated himself, Vila could not shut that out and it showed him a whole different side of Avon as he realized how the healing mode worked. Avon had to know someone thoroughly to heal them properly, and he could only do that by lowering his own barriers within the healing mode. But there would be time to speculate on that later. Vila let it go, and felt instead Jabberwocky's love for his crew, his understanding of each of them with a perception greater than Vila had expected, then, suddenly, his attention was directed on Vila alone, and the thief was momentarily frightened to be known so well. But a wave of affection from Jabberwocky swept away the fear and he realized that Jenna had been right long ago when she had said it was a kind of peace to be thoroughly known. Jabberwocky knew him so well that Vila need never hide from him.

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Sheila Paulson

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