Jaberwocky Part 15 - AvatarBy Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 24
His reproof didn't have the same effect as Blake's warning but, to Tarrant's
surprise, Avon didn't pursue the subject.|
And to Avon's surprise, Deeta burst out laughing. "You're right, they are," he said. "I was just pointing out how well trained I am to react to threats. It becomes instinctive when you live it. I was the First Champion of Teal for a long time." His eyes came up to his brother. "In the midst of all that, I forgot that I was still Deeta Tarrant until you showed up at the Teal-Vandor convention, little brother."
Hugh stood apart, fiddling with Orac, waiting, but Tarrant wasn't sure how to react to that. "Who are you now?" he finally asked, wary and reluctant, hating the audience that hung on his every word.
"That's what I hope to find out." He gestured at Hugh and Orac. "The link is gone from my head, I think. I can't feel it anymore. Being dead, I retired from my position as Teal's First Champion. Should Servalan have replaced the link with nothing, or with breakable conditioning, I may find myself...free...for the first time in my entire life. I am not sure I will know how to deal with the condition."
"Throw in your lot with us," Vila said in a jolly voice. "Wine, women and song. Heroic ballads written about you. Danger every second. And to think I used to be a happy thief."
Avon's mouth didn't twitch, but the others knew him well enough to realize he was fighting down a smile. Deeta didn't know him at all, so he ignored him. Instead he turned eyes that glittered too brightly with ill-suppressed hope upon his younger brother. "There would be room for one battered mercenary in your cause?"
"We're rather good at taking in strays," Avalon said from her position near the door. "The strays who are discontented enough with the system are the ones who want to change it. Even if you don't become a dedicated revolutionary, we won't turn you away. It's the Federation who would do that."
"That's one of the reasons we fight." In another second Blake's zeal would pitch him into one of his fervent recruitment speeches, and Deeta wasn't strong enough for that. Look at him now. Even though every line of his body was braced and defensive, alert to danger, his mouth quivered with tremulous hope. He was ill and battered and didn't have the strength to confront Roj Blake or Kerr Avon, who took careful handling at the best of times.
"No pep talks, Blake. He's still ill," Tarrant said warningly and popped a thought to Jabberwocky to urge Blake to back off. A second later Blake's face cleared and he grinned easily, held up his hands to show that he meant to delay the sales pitch.
"Yes, there are too many of us in here disturbing him." That was Tiver, shifting into his doctor status. "I want to conduct an examination." He nodded briefly at the base's primary physician, Doctor Ralker, who had entered without Tarrant noticing him. "We'll see if he's ready for Orac to deprogram him. Tarrant, will you serve as control?"
Hugh turned his eyes upon Avon who recognized the look and took a step backward. "I am willing to rely upon Orac," Avon conceded. Del knew he would use his patented healer techniques should they prove necessary and should Tarrant ask him. That Tarrant actually might proved the status change between them. When Avon had saved his life, it had made a difference. For a long time, Tarrant had believed he still disliked Avon and Avon disliked him. How odd to find out that he no longer did--and that perhaps he never really had.
And even odder to realize that, somewhere along the line, he had been taken into a whole new family. It was a fractious family, one that wouldn't be considered your 'normal' grouping, but it was family all the same.
Now here was Deeta--if he really were Deeta and not a new trick of Servalan's, who was bound to have many more up her drab uniform sleeves--and where did he fit? When Deeta had left Earth, Tarrant had missed his brother fiercely at first, but as the years passed, resentment had crept in. Even though he'd understood why Deeta had gone, it hadn't helped the feelings of abandonment he'd never quite been able to quell. Now his big brother lay before him, alone, broken, defeated, isolated--needing Del as he had never needed him before.
The universe rocked on its pinnings.
"...Tarrant's brother," Vila explained, evidently relishing being the centre of attention on Jabberwocky's flight deck. "Looks like he's been starved and beaten, but he's not a clone." He cast a hasty, apologetic glance at Gan, who was still Gan with Gan's memories, even if he had a new body, and at Dayna, whose innards were mechanical.
"Is he programmed?" Kyl Avon, less than a year from the age when he'd be considered adult and able to sign onto a ship's crew if he should be so inclined, although his father still considered him too young, had taken to spending much of his spare time on board Jabberwocky. Sometimes he brought Cella, Blake's daughter, with him. The two of them were so close it alarmed both fathers.
Ven Perren hid a smile. As a psych tech, he enjoyed watching the crew interaction. He was having a field day on Jabberwocky, He couldn't imagine a better place to be, especially since his two closest friends, Roald Edge and Ran Tanz, were here with him. Well, Edge was closeted in the lab at the moment. He had a new project going with Avon that he wasn't talking about. Perren knew he could worm it out of Edge without the slightest difficulty and that the secrecy was at Avon's behest. Sneaky character, Avon. Perren liked him, loved needling him, and enjoyed it when he could provoke Avon into a thoroughly human response to the teasing. He had hopes one day of getting a look at Avon's psi healing abilities--or would if it didn't mean he'd have to need it. Avon performed gestalt linkage with the crew without enthusiasm, but these days he handled link-mode as if it were a natural part of life. The insights Perren derived from both experiences fascinated him, not just from Avon but from all the crew. He hoped a puppeteer never got his manipulative hands on a mindship. The dangers that could come out of such a catastrophe were sure to be unpleasant, to say the least.
Programming, now, that might mean that Avon and Perren would need to work together. So he slung his arm around Kyl's shoulders in a comradely fashion and said, "I want to know that, too."
"Don't know yet," Vila admitted. "Blake sent me back to let everybody know what was going on." He glanced around the flight deck. "Where is everybody else?"
"Cally and Jenna are over working on the other mindship," Gan explained. "Tanz went to the market for electronics equipment. Edge is working in the computer lab. I'm not sure where Soolin is."
"And I'm here," Jabberwocky announced. "Soolin went to the firing range to try out a new gun she bought in the market."
"If it works like she thinks it does, I'll adapt it to suit us," Dayna added.
"But to return to Tarrant's brother," Perren jumped in. "They think it's really Deeta?"
"Yes." Jabberwocky's voice was thoughtful. "Tarrant feels the man knows things that only Deeta would know. There's no evidence he is anything but human, he has been subjected to no cosmetic surgery, and he is not a clone. Which still leaves several dangerous possibilities."
"Programming like I had?" Kyl suggested. "What else, Jab?"
"Deliberate infiltration, I should think," offered Dayna. "Just because he's Tarrant's brother doesn't mean he's automatically on our side. He's a mercenary, and they work for the highest bidder. Servalan may have access to a great deal of money, even now."
"If his story is true," Jabberwocky observed, "she may have saved his life."
"And you think he'd be loyal to her for doing so?" Gan shook his big head. "Surely he's not fool enough to believe she wouldn't have done it for her own purposes. Even I'd know that." He frowned. "And don't say I wouldn't, because I did believe some of what Supreme Commander Arpel said to me. I still think his views are ambiguous and that he might well turn out to be more for us than he's ready to admit. But we all know Servalan. There isn't a benevolent bone in her body."
"Gan's right," Vila agreed. "I wouldn't trust her to give me a drink of water."
"Or adrenaline and soma?" Perren teased him.
"Probably poisoned," Vila said darkly.
The signal chimed to indicate someone was waiting at the main hatch. Since none of the crew would ring for admittance, Jabberwocky popped a view of the entry on the main screen, where a deliveryman in a sand-coloured uniform waited beside a long box balanced on contra-grav skids.
"Somebody bought me a pressie," Vila said with a grin. "I'll go."
"You, Vila? Working?" Perren grinned and got up. "I will." He picked up a gun from the supply on the way, conscious of Kyl trailing curiously behind him.
The deliveryman thrust out a clipboard. "Delivery for Kerr Avon," he said without interest. He represented the local distribution company and Perren had seen him or his companions moving around the base on more than one occasion, hauling cargo that had come in on the freight ships. This was just another day's work for him, not a thrill that it had taken him to the ship of the legendary Blake.
"What is it?" Kyl craned his neck to see past the deliverer.
The man shrugged. "They don't pay me to know what's in it, son. Only to take it where it belongs."
"Looks like a coffin," Kyl continued.
"Oh, thanks." The deliveryman grimaced elaborately. "Hope not. I've had it on my skid all morning. "It's marked 'computer supplies'. Best I can do for you. Are you Kerr Avon?"
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