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Jabberwocky part 16 - Mutoids

By Sheila Paulson
Page 3 of 23

Bringing the deactivated Orac so it could continue its researches on site, Avon, Blake, and Soolin set off for the prison section of the Ryalon base. On the way through the central market, they encountered Cally, who joined Avon, touched his hand briefly, and spoke to him in an undertone, then fell in beside Soolin. Unless Jabberwocky enhanced it, Soolin would not be able to respond to Cally's telepathy, but she would be able to listen. Avon, who could listen if he chose, deliberately did not, once he realized Cally was telling Soolin the fate of her clone sister, Zelda, when Servalan destroyed Auron, and offering her understanding. Instead, he linked with Jabberwocky and, through him, reported to the rest of the crew that one or more of the mutoids might have dangerous implants. He also informed them about Soolin's sister. He left it to Jabberwocky to explain to everyone that it would be better if they didn't fuss. Then he directed Jabberwocky to contact Avalon and arrange for her to meet them at the cells.

Gradually Perren and Hugh, Tarrant, and, finally, Vila and Gan, joined them. Jenna was over at Darsan with Edge, Tanz, and Dayna, and Jabberwocky had told them to stay there. The newcomers fell into step. Avon promptly handed Orac to Vila.

For once, the thief didn't protest being so laden, even if he must have long realized that Avon's insistence on Vila carrying Orac was not only a means of getting at Vila but a sign of trust. Vila simply passed Orac to Gan. Gan, of course, accepted it phlegmatically, but his eyes twinkled before he sobered.

"So we're all going to be blown up?" Vila asked, his faint smirk at passing off the task to the larger Gan nearly smothered by a barely submerged panic instinct. Vila might panic loudly, but it would generally be a vocal panic these days, usually either before or after the crisis, but rarely during. He wouldn't run, not unless all of them did, although he had never lost the habit of complaining. "Or be poisoned? It's as bad as Albian. Could they implant a solium radiation device in a mutoid? Can they make one that small? I think we should instantly go into orbit and wait there till it's safe."

Although Avon appreciated the sentiment, mention of Albian reminded him of Del Grant, which in turn reminded him of Anna; she had not been far from his thoughts since learning of Bennan's betrayal. "Shut up, Vila," he said automatically through tight lips.

Vila cast an edgy glance at Soolin. "Well, you know what I mean," he muttered, and added penitently to Soolin, "Sorry. For my next trick, I'll chew off my other foot."

Displacing Cally, Perren and Hugh fell in protectively on either side of Soolin, ignoring Vila, and Avon left her to them whilst he pondered the possibility of a solium device small enough to be implanted in a mutoid. A plague sphere such as the one employed by the android Avalon might be more likely, although it would need a trigger or a programmed action on the mutoid's part to be activated, and Servalan would prefer it to remain inactive whilst she remained in close proximity to it. Maybe a trigger could begin a breakdown of an outer coating, a trigger that could be activated by various types of scan as they had theorized. Perhaps a physical search for a scar might help, although most scars were easily removed or concealed, unless they were too severe or unless the victim could not afford the surgery. Servalan would hardly leave helpful clues.

At capture, the mutoids had been thoroughly searched for weapons, their clothing scanned and then returned after several implanted receivers were removed from their helmets. Since their garb was modified to allow for the serum and since the helmets were so distinctive, in the event of an escape, they would be instantly discovered. Orac had examined them for subcutaneous implants such as Perren and his friends had unknowingly borne, which had not triggered solium devices or plague spheres or any other possibilities they had not yet considered, but deeper probes might well activate Servalan's plan. For all they knew, the surface scans might have set in motion a timed reaction.

"I would suggest all unnecessary personnel be removed from the cellblock, including other prisoners," Avon suggested to Blake. "Perhaps even from the base itself."

The rebel's eyes widened. "In case Orac's examination triggered a delayed activation?"

"Or in case one of the mutoids did it by a process we do not yet understand. I suggest we bring the male mutoid Bennan to a sealed room, where we can question him." When Soolin opened her mouth to protest that her sister should be the first candidate, Avon raised his hand to silence her. "Whilst it is possible the sight of you might trigger a reaction, even if it is only surprise at the resemblance, that reaction may well be the trigger for a possible device. It may be the very reason Servalan selected her for the mission."

"I have the right to see her," Soolin cried.

"Yes, you do. But I would prefer you see her in a safe, controlled environment after we have determined that bringing you into contact with her will not trigger a violent explosion that could damage or destroy this base or kill everyone in it."

"You can't be sure that would happen."

"No, but we can't be sure it will not. I do believe her presence on Servalan's mission is not by chance. Do not doubt Servalan is aware of your identity and the mutoid's, and that she serves as a back-up plan in case her mission should fail."

Soolin hesitated, her face cold. "Maybe," she said. "But consider this, Avon. The odds are that if her mutoids were captured, Servalan would be captured and would fall victim to any such plan if it were intended to destroy the base. I don't believe she would risk her own life."

"Maybe she meant only for that mutoid to be captured," Vila threw in. "We can't be sure. We need to find out. Maybe she should be scanned."

"Vila speaking sense? Perhaps she has already triggered her device to create such a radical effect," Avon purred. He then added more softly to Soolin, "If there is a chance of restoring your sister, we will take it. Even if I did not wish to, Blake would insist. But we must not endanger us, the people of the base, or Ryalon itself in the process. Triggering such a device might kill the mutoid, and I don't think you'd want that."

"Always rational, Avon," she snapped, but she appeared to realize the sense of his caution.

"As are you," he reminded her.

"What about Servalan?" Perren asked. "Maybe we ought to question her first. Remind her she's right here and a target if she set any traps."

"She might have set a trap to which she is immune," Hugh offered. "If it is a form of poison, she may have prepared in advance by taking an antidote."

Blake nodded. "I've notified Avalon, and additional monitors are activated in every cell, including Servalan's. Guards have been doubled, and monitors in the passages are set to check for gas or poison or any alteration in the quality of the air, with sensors set to test for minute vibrations. Life monitors outside each cell will report any physical changes in the prisoners. Other prisoners have been transferred to a separate location."

"Thorough, for once," Avon remarked. If he persisted long enough, Blake just might learn sufficient wariness for survival. "Or did Orac suggest it?"

"Jabberwocky did," Cally said. "He told me through his telepathy. I think it might be beneficial for us to interview the mutoid in link-mode, or even in gestalt, and do it before we interview Servalan, so we can confront her with as much information as possible."

Blake agreed. "I want you and Avon in there with him, Cally. You won't be able to read his thoughts since he is not telepathic, but you can detect emotions."

She inclined her head. "I can."

"Mutoids are emotionless, Blake," Gan put in. "I've seen enough of them to realize that. They kill mindlessly if ordered, and if not, they don't. Either way, they simply don't care."

Avon wondered fleetingly if Gan's woman had been killed by mutoids, but elected not to ask. There were enough raw wounds involved already.

"They certainly appear that way," Blake argued. "This one had evidence of facial expression which I have never before seen on a mutoid. I have seen physical pain, but animals show pain, and even pain is muted in mutoids. The possible expression could be at a command from Servalan, although I can't guess why she would give that particular order."

"You can never tell with her," Vila argued with an elaborate shudder. "She might have learned enough about Avon's healing to think he'd be sure to try. But I wouldn't trust her if she said my name was Vila Restal."

An interesting theory even if Avon had already considered it. Vila was definitely coming on. "So Cally is to detect supposed emotions in the mutoid. What is it you will have me do, Blake?" Avon asked. He knew without asking, but he wanted Blake to say it.

"You will do what you do so well, Avon. Fail to trust. We need your suspicion."

"Finally, he appreciates you," muttered Vila just loudly enough for Avon to hear him.

"And so he should. And the rest of your merry band, Blake?"

"We'll monitor visually, and also in link mode with the two of you. If we send for Thorm, he can relay anything from the linkage to Avalon."

"Whilst Orac monitors the mutoid for implants."

"Electrodes were attached before without harm. We will do that now."

"Oh, joy," Avon muttered. "I am sure Orac will enjoy that every bit as much as we do." He was glad the activator was not in place, or he would have had to listen to Orac's complaints all the rest of the way to the cells.




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Sheila Paulson

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