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Jabberwocky - part 14 - Malodaar

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 32

      Kyl arrived then with his friend Cella in tow. She was younger than he was by maybe a year, a tall girl with a face that was sad in repose but that now held a glimmer of excitement as she looked around the flight deck. Vila studied her thoughtfully. He'd never liked the idea of the families of resisters being dumped on prison planets, though it was better than summary execution. They'd seen it happen all too often, though. Blake's own family had been sent to one - only to be executed while false messages from them reassured the mind-wiped rebel that they were well. Vila's own crimes had been civil rather than political, but he'd wondered if any of his family had ever been deported after he'd joined the Liberator. There had been no way to find out, though he'd tried without success to trace them after the crew had Jabberwocky. Dayna and her father had stranded themselves on Sarran, which could amount to the same thing. Cella had a wary air about her as if she'd learned young to be on the defensive and only Kyl's proprietary hand on her arm enabled her to relax.

      She had light brown hair that she wore long and straight and dark brown eyes. In some ways she looked older than her years, but that was more a trick of the expression than anything. Enforced rebels, those who had been made that way by Federation mistreatment, had a tendency to cynicism. Blake was the rare exception, but there were times when Blake could brood over his past, some of which was still lost to him. Kyl, too, had been wary when he first boarded Jabberwocky, though Kyl's reasons had been personal.

      "This is Cella, everyone," he introduced her with a proprietary air. "She's been here on Ryalon for three months and Avalon's had her vetted, so she's okay. Cella, you remember my dad, Kerr Avon."

      The girl's eyes fell upon Avon and she studied him with some caution. Well, that made sense, thought Vila. Avon could be a right intimidating bastard at the best of times, and Vila wasn't sure how good these times were. Kyl had probably warned her about his father. Yet Avon produced a fairly genuine smile for the girl. Kyl, as much as Jabberwocky, had assisted in the humanizing of Avon, and Perren was pushing around the edges when he thought no one was looking, to complete the process. Vila did his share, too, and Hugh had also been good for the computer tech. The return of Blake had put its seal on the process. At least Avon was polite to strangers now, much of the time, even if he still went armed when off the ship, even on Ryalon.

      Cella relaxed slightly at Avon's smile. Vila hid a grin of his own. If Avon had any idea how devastating that smile could be to women, he didn't show it, and Vila wasn't about to tell him. It was much more fun to watch the results.

      "And this is Blake." Kyl adored his father but he had an element of hero worship for Blake as one of the rebellion's reigning icons. It showed in his voice. He took Cella's arm and guided her over to the rebel leader.

      Cella looked even more nervous than before, lowering her eyes then risking a slanting look up at him. She'd heard of Blake all right. Probably had a crush on him. Some of the local teenagers did. Vila didn't mind. He preferred women a bit more mature than Cella to display an interest in the 'famous' Vila Restal. Girls who followed Blake around were at least assured of kindness whenever Blake noticed them. Those who followed Avon were more cautious in their devotion.

      Cella stared at Blake as if he couldn't believe she had just been introduced to a legend, her eyes round with disbelief. She said, "Hello, Blake," in a wary voice as if she feared she wouldn't measure up and would be tossed off the ship. Her expression was uneasy and Vila noticed her hands curling up tightly into fists, not as if she wanted to strike someone but because of a tension that washed through her like a flood. The thief saw Perren notice and narrow his eyes. You couldn't get much past Perren when he slipped into his psych-tech mode. Vila shot a questioning look at Tarrant, who fielded it and then let his face smooth out the way it did when he and Jabberwocky were in mental contact. The more people alert the better. You could never tell when an assassin might sneak in, and Blake was a prime target. Cella didn't look like an assassin, but assassins who looked like assassins weren't very likely to rise to the top in their line of work.

      "It's good to meet you, Cella," Blake said in friendly tones. "I wish you could have the full tour but we're preparing for a mission, so Kyl will have to make it the short version."

      She blinked in surprise and some of the tension went out of her. Not a secret assassin then, just a young girl who was nervous about meeting the idol of the people. She looked a little disappointed, as if she had discovered the legend was really only a man, but she masked the feeling immediately. "That's all right. I wasn't sure I should be here anyway, but Kyl thought it was a good idea."

      Kyl's expression was completely unreadable. Vila had seen that kind of look on Avon's face more than once when Avon was being particularly difficult and didn't want anyone to have a clue to what he was thinking. Vila had always been able to read Avon pretty well, though he usually didn't admit it, but Kyl was a little harder. Part of that was his youth. Vila had always liked kids but he hadn't been around that many of Kyl's age lately, and he simply didn't know the boy as well as he knew Avon. Kyl's particular idols had always been his father, Blake, and Jabberwocky.

      He proved that now by leading Cella over to the computer's main fascia. "Jabberwocky, this is Cella," he said proudly as if he had made a rare discovery. Ah, young love, thought Vila with a sideways grin at Avon. Kyl had known Cella some weeks now, but this was the first time he'd brought her to the ship.

      "Welcome, Cella," Jabberwocky said, his voice, as usual, warmly human. No one would ever mistake that voice for a typical computer one. Of course Orac didn't sound like a computer either. He sounded irritated and annoyed half the time. But Jabberwocky sounded like a real person, which he was to all the crew.

      Cella put up her hand and touched the screen briefly, winning her an approving look from Tarrant, who tended to resent people who didn't know how to treat his bondmate. "Hello, Jabberwocky. Kyl's told me a lot about you." She smiled at the fascia.

      "And he's told me about you," Jabberwocky said. "Welcome to the ship. Kyl, I think it would be kind of you to introduce the others."

      "Oh. Yeah. Thanks, Jab." Kyl grinned impudently at the screen - he and Jabberwocky had been friends from the moment they met - and made his girlfriend known to everyone else. This was one of the few times the ship's entire complement was present on the flight deck at once without several of them in some kind of linkage with the ship. Kyl had chosen his moment well. He rattled off the names, grinning at each in turn. He was a lot friendlier to Cally now than he had been at first. Coming here newly, he had been wary of her because of her relationship with Avon, but he'd grown friendly with her over the months. Jenna still seemed to awe him a little, as did Soolin, partly because the young gunfighter took no guff from anyone. But he was on better terms with Dayna since his meeting with Cella, because he no longer had a crush on Dayna and could treat her like a friend, when he wasn't wanting to take the android apart and study her inner workings.

      Tarrant was next, and Kyl had always liked Tarrant, and often wheedled piloting lessons from him. He chose Dr. Tiver next, and Hugh greeted Cella with his usual warmth, making the girl smile. Gan stuck out a big paw and engulfed her slender fingers, Tanz bounced up enthusiastically - but there was nothing new in that; he did everything with enthusiasm. Edge nodded, paying more attention to his mini-computer and psi detector than he did to her, and Vila suspected he was taking readings to see if she had any latent psi talents. He was always doing that to new people, planning maybe for the day when the Rebellion possessed a fleet of mindships and would benefit from scattering natural telepaths aboard the ships.

      Perren greeted her with a teasing wink that made her blush. Perren always flirted, even with younger girls than Cella, and he had a coterie of teenaged girls who dreamed about him, though it was their older sisters he was interested in. Perren was always in love with one woman or another from the base, and he had a way with the ladies. Cella rose to it with innocent enjoyment that made Kyl give him a dirty look even though he had always liked Perren.

      "Ignore him," he said to Cella under his breath. "I always do."

      "Oh, I wouldn't ignore any of your friends."

      "Then here's Vila. Don't ignore him; he'll pick your pocket."

      "I wouldn't dream of it," Vila assured her. "You don't look wealthy enough. Besides, any friend of Kyl's..."

      "You're his father's friend aren't you, you and...and Blake?"

      "Well, I don't know if I'd put it like that," Vila said hastily, noting a glint in Avon's eye.

      "I shouldn't," Avon replied predictably. "Not when you wouldn't trust me on the shuttle."

      Vila's eyes widened. He was always a little surprised when Avon resorted to good-humoured teasing, though it was becoming a little more common these days.

      "You don't mind?" he asked.

      "Mind a survival instinct? Far be it for me to discourage any one of you who might inadvertently stumble upon one. You're all far too trusting."

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