Link Up - The Begining

The troopers surrounded Avon as he straddled Blake's body. Protectively? Now that Blake was dead at his hand, by his error, was he trying to protect him as he had often done in life? He raised his gun and he smiled. Then everybody fired at once. Avon dropped, hit by a dozen shots.

She screamed, sat bolt upright in bed, and went on screaming.

There were comforting voices at once, hands easing her back against the pillow, and several of the voices were familiar, but she was too weak, and she let them soothe her back into sleep. Avon's voice was not one of them, but that was right; Avon was dead. Blake had died at his hand and then Avon had forced the troopers to kill him. An elaborate suicide, perhaps, or had he simply run out of options? There are limits, times when a person no longer has the strength to fight. From the look on Avon's face as he stared down at Blake's body, he had reached his limits a long time ago. He'd been going on by momentum alone, like a dead man looking for a place to fall down. Tears leaked from behind her closed eyelids and she cried for Avon, who would never thank her for it, for Blake who had dared to try so much, who had discovered that caring and trying led only betrayal and death, for the others, caught up in something they had never quite understood. Poor Vila, he'd been as trapped as any of them. Perhaps more than any of the others, he had let himself care for Avon in a safe, undemanding way, only to have Avon turn on him over Malodar. Maybe Vila could have done more for Avon than he had, but Avon would never have let him try, and Vila had known that. After Terminal, he had simply let himself go with the flow, no longer able to guide his destiny.

Then there was Tarrant. She wasn't sure why Tarrant had stayed, particularly after the loss of the Liberator. Maybe Dorian had been right, that their experiences had made them a part of each other. Maybe there had been simply nowhere else to go.

Dayna might have felt some loyalty to Avon, but it seemed her desire for Servalan's death had driven her more than her friendship with the crew of Scorpio. As for Soolin well, when there is nothing left to strive for, one place is as good as another. Soolin was little more than a cipher to her, and she felt no understanding or companionship toward her.

Avon had seemed, if not less sane, certainly less pleasant as time passed. His choices might have been appropriate, but the results were all so appallingly negative. It would be no wonder if he had indeed become mad by the end. Certainly he had been teetering on the brink when he had confronted Blake in that control room on Gauda Prime. "Have you betrayed me?" Her heart bled for that desperate entreaty, and though Blake had muffed it, Avon would have turned aside at the slightest reassurance. There had been no reassurance, no margin for error, and now they were all dead.

Or were they? The voices that comforted her as she tossed and turned restlessly were familiar voices. She was cared for far too tenderly to be attended by strangers, too gently to be a prisoner. It made no sense to her, but gradually she began to be curious.

The final scene played itself over and over in her head like a merciless tape loop, and she shivered away from it, finally breaking free of it, opening her eyes to a bare, white ceiling. Too weak to call for assistance, her eyes traced the weld lines, and she counted the bolts there waiting.

"She's awake!" Elation filling his voice, Vila scampered over to the bed and peered down at her. Vila? But Vila was dead. She had seen him fall. Frowning, she studied his face; it was tired and there might be a new line or two, but his eyes were unshadowed, and he looked delighted to see her. "Cally? Don't try to move yet. Wait till the surgeon comes."

Vila was dead. No, that wasn't right. She was dead. She had felt the explosions rock the building, had screamed Blake's name inside her head as she died. If she were alive and Vila was here, had he escaped from Gauda Prime and come to find her? Or thoroughly perplexed, she shook her head, wincing at the pain the unwary movement caused her, and tried to find her voice. "Vila? Where...?"

"It's a long story, Cally," said Vila quickly. "And Avon'll have my hide if I make you too tired. We're all safe. We're off Terminal, and you'll be all right. There's nothing to worry about, at least nothing more than usual. Avon's still glooming around. I think he knows it's his fault, but you know what Avon's like. He'll never admit it. Tarrant keeps rubbing it in too. I think Tarrant was maddest about Terminal. He always is, isn't he?

Terminal? But what of the time and events since then? Cally closed her eyes again. "Vila." Her voice was barely audible. "Avon. I must see him."

"Not yet, Cally. You're not well enough for visitors."

She struggled to reinforce her insistence with a mental command. //Vila, please. I must see Avon.// But Vila did not respond. He gave no sign that he was aware of any telepathic contact. //Vila// She tried desperately, and her head began to hurt with a great, vicious pain that brought unwilling tears to her eyes and stark terror to her heart. Had she lost her telepathy?

Either something got through after all or Vila guessed what she was thinking, for he said quickly, "Cally, it's all right. You're not to try to use your telepathy yet or even to talk much. You've been very sick. It'll come right, the surgeon says it will come right, and he should know, but not quite yet. It will take time."

She lay there staring at him, feeling a vast and echoing emptiness inside where once a part of her being had lived. If she had lost her telepathy, her very essence was gone. She had come to accept life among non-telepaths, though the loneliness had almost killed her at first, but this was even more basic, more unacceptable. Could she even live without telepathy? Vila's insistence that it would come back was well meant, but how could he know? He was a Human, he wouldn't understand how it felt to be so alone. If this was what humans lived with, this blank, echoing wall within their heads, how could they survive? How could anyone survive this? She felt less than a whole person, some weak, diminished creature. Even more than her five senses, Cally's telepathy had been a part of her basic make up. Frightened, desperate, she tried again. //Vila, hear me.//

The pain was suddenly everywhere, bathing her nerve endings in white hot light. She cried out. Then, because it was easier than the pain and the utter aloneness of being trapped silent inside her being, she fainted.

"Avon, she woke up! Cally woke up!"

Avon had been hard at work with a laser probe on the main drive controls, assisted by Tarrant, with Dayna running a weapons check on their unfamiliar vessel when Vila came bursting onto the flight deck, shouting. The three of them spun to stare at him, and Avon fumbled the probe and dropped it.

"Vila, I would be grateful if you would stop galloping about the ship and shouting," he barked at him.

Tarrant looked at Avon without surprise. The computer expert had been remarkably short tempered these past three weeks. None of them had been a delight to live with, but Avon had been the worst, probably, thought Tarrant cynically, because his fault was the greatest. He wasn't sure if Avon felt guilty about Terminal or not, but if Avon hadn't led them there, Liberator would still be intact and Cally wouldn't have been lying near death all these weeks. True, the surgeon that they'd kidnapped from a neutral world and forced to care for her said that he thought Cally would recover completely, but as the days passed with no sign of it, Avon became even more short tempered than Tarrant would have believed possible. He didn't think Avon had managed more than two hours of sleep at a stretch since they'd escaped from Terminal.

Now Avon retrieved the laser probe and said to Vila, "You've summoned the surgeon?"

"Tiver's with her now," Vila agreed. "He thinks it's good she woke up. She knew me, Avon and she wanted to see you. Tiver says not yet, but soon."

"Then she's going to be all right?" That was Dayna, her voice eager. She had missed Cally and, with Vila, would most openly mourn her if she had died.

"I don't know," Vila admitted. "She tried to send to me with her telepathy, and she couldn't. It scared her. More than I'm ever scared, that is," he added in a little voice. "If she can't use her telepathy any more, I don't think she'll be all right, even if she is."

"Remarkably succinct," Avon retorted. "I'll speak with Tiver myself. If nothing else, the man can give a clearer report than you can, Vila." He strode off the flight deck without a backward look, and Vila stared after him, a knowing expression on his face.

"It's about time he went to see her," Dayna said quietly.

"He couldn't go before." Tarrant surprised himself with his awareness. "He knew she was hurt because of him. Even Avon's capable of feeling guilty when he does something wrong, though he isn't often willing to admit making a mistake."

"He did it before though," Vila announced. "One time he got Blake into trouble by sending a message to Space Command Headquarters that Travis was on a planet. When Blake went down, Avon knew he could be heading into trouble, and he went down himself to try to make it up. None of us knew what was going on at first, but Cally guessed." He grinned. "He's been worried about her. Old, cold-hearted Avon has been worried. But you know him. He wouldn't admit it under torture."

Tarrant frowned. Avon pointing a gun at him still rankled, coming at a time when he'd felt he was finally beginning to get on better terms with him. Avon's entire management of the Terminal incident had been less than glowing, but Tarrant realised that Avon had been desperate to find Blake and it gave him a new insight into Avon's character. Though Avon might discuss Blake's idealism, with scorn, at the first hint of Blake he went charging into danger, dragging the rest of them with him willy nilly. At least this time, Avon had been willing to face the danger alone, though Tarrant couldn't help thinking sourly that the false Blake's promise of great wealth might have had something to do with it. Then he shook his head. No. Avon might have used that as his excuse, but he didn't think it was true. Avon always made excuses if he feared they would misjudge him and suspect him of altruistic motives. He had to have a good, opportunistic reason for everything he did, and once he found one, he would then be free to be altruistic, firmly convinced that no one would suspect. That didn't mean he wasn't an unpleasant and arrogant bastard ninety-five percent of the time, but he could be something more. He had been genuinely worried about Cally. Tarrant still remembered the look on Avon's face when he'd carried Cally's body from the rubble of Terminal base, his face as pale as hers and only marginally more alive.

If only Avon and Dayna had discovered the booby trap on Servalan's ship sooner, they might have got a warning to the others, but Avon had disarmed it only just in time. Tarrant wondered if Avon blamed himself for the delay in warning them which had given the other charges enough time to go off. But Avon would have seen the practicality of saving their only means of transportation off Terminal and would have abandoned it only if it was too late to prevent the blast. If Cally had been uninjured, Avon would have accused them of stupidity for failing to discover the explosives on their own. But Cally had been badly hurt, had almost died, so Avon had been silent about it. Injured himself, Tarrant had revived in time to see Avon bring Cally from the ruins, risking his own life to go in after her. He had gone back a second time for Orac, leaving the others to care for Cally, and since then, though it had been his idea to kidnap Hugh Tiver, he had not been to Cally's cabin once.

The ship Servalan had left behind, suitably booby trapped, was useless in a fight, so once they had snatched Tiver, they had gone to ground on a deserted world, waiting for the search for them to die down. Servalan had planned the Terminal scheme in great detail, but she hadn't spread the word about it, and the little Orac had been able to pick up reported no mention of her, the Liberator, or Blake. Of course Servalan had claimed Blake was dead, but Tarrant knew better than to believe her. Blake might indeed be dead, but he could just as easily be alive.

Servalan must be dead though. She had been on board Liberator and Liberator was gone. Odd to think that he would never see the Liberator again, never give commands to Zen. Once, on the way here, he had automatically given the command, "Zen, standard by six," and the others had looked up at him with varying degrees of annoyance and upset. Surprisingly, Vila, had turned on him. "Shut up, Tarrant," he had said savagely and stalked off the flight deck without another word.

"What's got into him?" Tarrant was defensive.

"It wasn't easy, watching Zen die," said Dayna quietly, her face turned to her instruments.

"It was just habit," Tarrant had defended himself.

And Avon, who might have mocked them all for sentiment over the loss of Zen, whom he would have considered simply a machine, was silent, his face unreadable. Tarrant wondered if Avon might, in his own way, miss Zen more than any of them.

But there was nothing to be done about it now. Tarrant heaved a sigh and turned back to Vila. "Do you think Cally will be all right?"

Vila looked surprised, as if the thought of Tarrant asking his opinion was something different, which it was. "I don't know," he replied at length, sitting down at the pilot's position and running his fingers lightly over the instruments. "If she loses her telepathy, I don't think she will be. She looked really odd when she opened her eyes and saw me like I was the last person she expected to see."

"Probably she thought you'd finally run," Tarrant said unkindly.

"We've all run, then, Tarrant, "Vila reminded him. "What's this if not a bolt hole?"

"It's only until we decide what to do next. We can't take on the Federation with an obsolete, broken down ship."

"Where're we going to get another ship then?" Vila asked. "Just waltz into a Federation base, and steal one?" He looked up from the instruments. "It won't be the same without Liberator, Tarrant. It was bad enough when Blake and Jenna left, but now we don't even have a ship, and Cally still might die. And I don't know about Avon, if it's true that Blake's dead and if Cally isn't all right." He was silent a long time, and neither Tarrant nor Dayna had anything to say to comfort him.

Finally Dayna said, "At least Cally's awake."

"That's not the same as all right," said Vila with certainty. He got up again and wandered out.

Tarrant turned to find Dayna looking at him expectantly. "Well?" he snapped.

"I don't know, Tarrant. But you'll have to do something." She picked up Avon's abandoned laser probe and handed it to him. "At least you can get the drive back together." She walked out too, and Tarrant looked after her, feeling more alone than he had since he had joined the crew of the Liberator. They'd fought before, he and Avon had jockeyed for position, he had picked on Vila and none of them had been openly supportive of each other, but Tarrant suddenly realised that they had been a team anyway. They could work together when they had to, and they knew each other's strengths and weaknesses. When the chips were down, they backed each other, rather, thought Tarrant with a wry smile, like squabbling siblings who never got along until someone else entered the fray when they became united.

But it wasn't like that any more. He didn't know if it was the Liberator that had bound them or if it had been Cally, but the way things stood now, if the Federation happened along, Tarrant wouldn't give a bent credit for their chances.

Hugh Tiver was young for a surgeon, only a year or two past thirty. He was almost as tall as Tarrant, with curly brown hair and blue eyes, but the resemblance ended there. Hugh was at times vulnerable, at times bitter over the Federation's treatment of both him and his planet. He'd gone to the Federation Space Academy like Tarrant, hoping to become a pilot, but the Federation had singled him out because of his exceptionally high science scores on the entrance exams and had made a surgeon out of him against his will. Finally, after he'd had time to learn to love his work they'd sent him home to Dayson Prime to help initiate a pacification program on his homeworld. Until then, suppressants had not been used there and the thought that he would be the one to bring them to his world was enough to turn Hugh completely against the Federation.

One man alone didn't have a lot of options; though Hugh had done what little he could to delay and foul up the programme. He knew if he came out in the open about what he was doing, he would be replaced by someone with no scruples who took his work to heart, so he ran a programme that gave the appearance of 'gremlins' in the works. Everything went wrong; the suppressant mixture failed, it vanished, it reappeared diluted, it worked on a hit and miss basis. Hugh turned in endless reports, requests for backup, military support, additional supplies, flooding headquarters in a sea of paper. He cultivated the reputation of being something of a fool, mildly incompetent and thoroughly unlucky but no great threat. It was a fine line to walk, and he fully expected to fall from his tightrope one day.

In the meantime, he consoled himself with the thought that he was buying time for the Dayson Prime rebel movement to gain strength. A stranger coming in to implement the programme would never have taken so long, and the rebel movement would have been doomed for lack of time. But Hugh worked on, never knowing if the rebels realised what he was doing for them or not. More likely they thought he was an ass, somebody they could use for their own purposes. They never approached him directly.

When rebels did finally approach him, they were from off-planet. Hugh was working late, programming the computer to add an agent to the latest batch that would render it impotent when suddenly a voice said over his shoulder, "It won't work."

He let out a yelp and jumped a foot, spinning around wildly. Two men stood behind him, though the door had been locked and bolted; one of them dark and grim-looking with a stony countenance and expressionless dark eyes, the other seeming shorter and more uneasy. Hugh didn't think he had seen either of them before around headquarters, but for all that, they looked slightly familiar. It was the grim man who had spoken.

"Don't do that!" Hugh shot at him. "Sneaking up on a man at work. You could have given me a coronary."

"Your formula is incorrect," the man replied, unimpressed by Hugh's startlement. "As a suppressant it will be worthless."

"He was doing it on purpose, " the little man pointed out as if he had just made a brilliant deduction. "I think he meant it that way."

"Merely an error brought about by fatigue," said Hugh haughtily, for though neither man wore a Federation uniform, they could be spies, sent here to check on him to see if his string of 'bad luck' was in fact a shrewd attempt to overthrow the system.

"What are you doing here anyway?" he demanded. "This is a restricted area."

"You are Hugh Tiver?" the dark man asked impatiently.

"You must know that, since you're here."

"We do know it. I would advise you to make no fuss. You are a surgeon, are you not? I believe you have worked with Aurons before."

"And if I have?" This was strange. Auron had been mysteriously silent for a long time, and it was only lately that word had come in that a plague had killed the entire population. Maybe the information the press had released was wrong and some Aurons had survived. If so, he knew he could help them. It would be a chance to get away from here at last. The resistance had got a good hold on Dayson Prime now and they could fight the suppressants as well as he could. Better probably because it wouldn't be long before he was replaced, for incompetence if nothing else.

He squared his shoulders. These two didn't look Federation. If they really weren't, if they'd broken in here somehow, this might be his chance. "Yes, I know Aurons," he said. "I spent part of my internship working with a small Auron settlement on Earth. Why?"

"One of our crew is an Auron," the dark man explained. "She is badly injured. We require your help." A gun suddenly filled the man's hand. "In fact we insist upon it."

"You'll come, won't you?" the other man asked eagerly, and Hugh could sense his worry.

"How did you get in here?" he demanded.

"Does it matter?" asked the grim-faced man.

"You're not Federation, are you?"

"No, we're not," said the little man, and to his companion, "Well, he'd know that anyway. I got us in here. I'm good with locks."

"You're Vila Restal." He made the connection then. "You're Blake's people."

"Blake is dead," snapped the dark man. "Are you coming voluntarily, or do we have to stun you?"

"Voluntarily," Hugh agreed quickly. "I'm on your side."

"Is that a fact?" the dark man, Kerr Avon, Hugh realised, seemed sceptical, and his gun did not waver. "Perhaps you will not be surprised if I don't believe you." He gestured with the gun and Hugh allowed himself to be led to the door. Why not? He hadn't been controlling his own destiny lately, and though he'd made a good show of it here he knew his usefulness on Dayson Prime was at an end. With Blake's people, even temporarily, he might do some good. They weren't as he'd imagined them, of course, but then nothing ever was, and besides, they were worried about their companion. He would go with them and take whatever happened as it came.

They guided him from the room and Restal locked the door again behind them. It was late at night and guards were few and far between, and they were able to evade them easily. He was led to a ground car which took them some distance out of the city to an outdated spaceship Hugh wondered where the mighty Liberator was and if this was a sample of their shuttles. But after they took off and Avon and a curly haired man, who was surely too young to be Blake, had set their course away from any known Federation bases, he was taken to his patient, and he realised that wherever the Liberator was, it was someplace out of reach.

The Auron woman was badly hurt. Avon had provided him with a good supply of medical equipment, surgical supplies and anything else he might need, but at his first glimpse of the monitors that read Cally's life signs he was afraid he would fail. Vila confided that she'd been in an explosion and had been buried in the rubble and that Avon had gone in and fetched her out. "She'll be all right won't she?" he had asked eagerly.

"I'm a surgeon, not a magician," Hugh had replied rather more harshly than he intended, and Vila's face fell.

Avon came in then carrying a clear box full of blinking lights. "This is Orac." he explained. "Orac will assist with the surgery."

"It's just a computer," Hugh retorted, disappointed.

"I beg your pardon," snapped the box. "I am far more than any computer you puny humans could imagine. You cannot understand me, and like all others of your kind you waste time with pointless remarks. You must begin your work immediately. Time is essential."

"Bossy, isn't he?" Vila had asked.

But Hugh had suddenly remembered hearing of a super computer that Blake had managed to steal away from under Servalan's nose. If it was as good as the reports had led him to believe, then maybe the Auron woman stood a chance after all.

The surgery took seven hours, and without the computer's assistance, he knew he could never have saved her. Even when it was over, he was not sure he had. The head injury was the worst; with Aurons, head injuries were tricky things, and sometimes, even if everything was intact, the gifts of the Auronar responded badly to physical trauma. He didn't understand telepathy; he couldn't point to a certain portion of the brain and say that it was the centre of telepathy, though there were certain points of the Auron brain that were slightly more convoluted than the human equivalent. One of these areas had been injured and a slight blood clot had begun to form, but he had removed it, and he hoped it had been soon enough to prevent any permanent damage. Her reflexes seemed normal and her extremities were responsive, so he doubted paralysis would be a threat. But the surgery had drained her dangerously, and he had spent the next twenty four hours sitting beside her bed, prepared to act instantly if the fragile spark of life faltered.

Vila, Tarrant and Dayna poked their heads in at intervals, checking on her condition, but Avon never came. When Hugh remarked upon it to Vila, who seemed willing to be friendly, the thief shook his head. "Avon isn't the type to hang about sickbeds," he explained. "Besides, he feels responsible."

"Is he?"

"In a way." said Vila thoughtfully. "He didn't set that explosion though. That was Servalan. One more thing to hold against her." He made a face. "But we wouldn't have even been there it weren't for Avon."

"That goes with being leader," Hugh objected.

"It wasn't like that," explained Vila, and he poured out the story of the events leading up to Cally's injury in the explosion. Hugh was surprised at the confidence, but then he realised that Vila needed to tell it, so he listened, though the more he heard, the more certain he was, that Avon would be furious if he knew what Vila was saying.

"So Blake was never there?" he asked.

"No. Servalan says he's dead. But I wouldn't trust Servalan, nasty woman. She'd lie to us every chance she got. But I think Avon believes it. For a bright man, he can be stupid sometimes, can Avon."

"You like him, don't you?"

"Me? Like Avon!" Vila grimaced as if Hugh had accused him of some strange perversion. "Nobody could like Avon. He's a right bastard, he is." But something twinkled in Vila's eyes, and Hugh wasn't fooled. Maybe when you were in as much danger as these people continually were, it was safer when you didn't admit you cared. He didn't know. But he wasn't going to interfere with a working system. He wouldn't be here long enough to do that anyway.

The intercom had squawked then it sputtered and spat like an angry cat, when it worked at all and Tarrant's voice came through. "Tiver, we're landing. Is Cally secured?"

"Yes, Tarrant. Go ahead. I'm monitoring her carefully."

"Is Vila there? If so, send him here. It's time he did some honest work for a change."

"Honest work," Vila muttered under his breath, but he had gone without further protest, and Hugh had looked after him shaking his head before he had seen to Cally.

That had been several weeks ago, and it looked like they were going to stay right here until Cally revived. As time passed, Hugh had begun to doubt his handiwork, though Orac assured him that her condition was improving steadily.

"Will her telepathy be impaired?" he had asked Orac only yesterday.

"Unknown. You are the surgeon. What is your diagnosis?"

"I believe the impairment, if there should prove to be one, will be temporary," Hugh replied thoughtfully, but he wasn't sure if he really believed it or if it was only wishful thinking.

But now Vila had summoned him to tell him that Cally was awake, and he hurried to her bedside. When he entered, her eyes were closed, but she opened them as he approached the bed, then her brow furrowed. "I do not know you." He liked the sound of her voice, even weakened as it was, and he smiled at her reassuringly.

"No. I'm Hugh Tiver. The others picked me up on Dayson Prime. I'm your surgeon."

Her eyes focused on his face and she stared at him with painful intensity. "There is only silence inside my head," she confessed in a frightened voice.

"Yes, I know." He hooked his leg around a stool and drew it over, sitting down and taking her hand. "I think it's a temporary condition brought on by pressure and swelling. I've removed the clot that was forming, and the fact that you're alert now proves that you're well on the road to recovery. You must wait and give it time." He squeezed her hand reassuringly. "I've invested too much work in you to see it go wrong now."

"Vila said Avon was here?"

"Yes, he's on the flight deck. The ship that Servalan left for you was in very poor condition and the others have been working on it to make it a little more spaceworthy. We're on a deserted planet now, far from the space lanes, but they hope eventually to get a better ship."

"But what of Gauda Prime? I saw Avon shot down."

"I don't know anything about Gauda Prime, but if Avon's had time to go there since you left Terminal, I don't know when it could have been. It took them three days to get to Dayson Prime from there and then we came straight here. What makes you think the others were shot?"

"I saw it."

"Then it must have been a dream."

"No, it was real, real."

"Were you there?" he asked.

"No, I was dead. But it was real, a vision of what will happen."

"Cally, Cally, you're worrying about nothing." He lifted her hand to his lips briefly; she would need physical contact while she was bereft of her telepathy; he would have to tell the others. "You're alive and will be well. Your powers are in temporary suspension. If you can't use your telepathy then you can't experience precognition either."

"It was real, I tell you. Real. I would know the people. Ask Orac. He can tell you if any of them exist."

Hugh didn't think she should be humoured, but it might calm her to know that what she had seen had been nothing but a fever-induced dream. "All right, Cally," he said, "but not until you're stronger, though. I think you should sleep now. You're tired. I'll stay with you until you sleep."

She closed her eyes obediently, too weak to protest, and drifted into a rapid, though restless, sleep.

He waited until he was sure she would not reawaken, then he freed his hand from hers and got up to check the instruments which monitored her condition. She did seem better, and her life signs were stronger, closer to normal than they had been since he had begun to treat her.

A sound from the doorway alerted him and he turned to find Avon standing there, a disapproving expression on his face. "A sentimental bedside manner will not cure her, Tiver."

"It won't hurt her either," Hugh replied quickly, joining him in the corridor so as not to disturb Cally. "A little sentiment could do all of you some good."

"I doubt that, and it's not your concern. What is her condition?" he asked briskly.

"She is recovering. She will sleep now and be stronger when she wakes; it will take time but she will gradually regain her strength."

"What was that nonsense about precognition. I hope you will not encourage it."

"No, because it isn't good for her. I doubt she experienced anything but a normal dream, possibly distorted and nightmarish. As she becomes more alert, she'll realise that and all will be well."

"Will it?" Avon asked scornfully. "You're a fool."

"That's what the Federation thought," Hugh snapped, irritated by Avon's manner. "I fooled them for three-quarters of a year ."

"Orac gave us your background. He said that while you were a gifted physician, your record on Dayson Prime indicated incompetence in some areas."

"Hah!" Hugh exclaimed. "Fooled you too."

"Explain." Avon didn't like the thought of being fooled, apparently, and his expression was far from friendly.

"It should be obvious. Dayson Prime's my home world. The Federation sent me there to initiate a suppressant program. Do you think I wanted that to happen to my people? I gave the appearance of incompetence in order to delay as long as possible. The rebellion there had time to prepare counter measures while I was filing reports."

"Rebellion," Avon huffed. "Another idealist. Tedious as all the others of your ilk."

"And here I thought you were a resister too," Hugh said in a gently mocking tone. Though Avon was cold and intimidating, for some strange reason, Hugh was not intimidated. He wondered if it was because he could guess that Avon was worried about Cally or if he were simply accustomed to far worse bullies than Avon. Besides, from something Vila had said over coffee when they were sitting with Cally, Hugh had formed the impression that Avon had little tolerance for those who didn't stand up to him, those he could bully. Hugh intended to stand up to him from very beginning.

"No," Avon replied. "I leave that for idealists and fools, like Blake. Blake was an idealist and a rebel, and it killed him. I'm still alive."

"And enjoying it so," Hugh snapped.

"I am not your concern. Cally is. When she is herself again, you will discover that she is neither weak nor sentimental. I would regret the loss of her telepathy; it is useful, and is vital to her. Without it, she would lose her effectiveness."

"And then she'd be no use to you? You're a cold-hearted man, Avon. I wish I understood why the others stay with you."

"Convenience, perhaps? "Avon suggested. "How long do you estimate it will take Cally to fully recover?"

"Not in the immediate future Avon. Perhaps another month. If her telepathy doesn't return, longer, at least emotionally. If that interferes with your plans, I'm sorry. But she's my patient, and I will decide what is best for her."

"Oh, you will, will you?"

"I'm not afraid of you, Avon. You wouldn't want a surgeon who didn't know his job and who didn't do it properly?"

"I want someone who will give me no trouble."

"Then you've got the wrong man. Right now, what you want means nothing to me. Cally's life does."

"Do you fancy yourself in love with her?" Avon asked scornfully.

"No, I don't know her yet. But I know she's my patient. I wouldn't advise moving her quite yet. Vila said something about getting a better ship. That sounds like it could involve fighting. She won't be ready for that for a while, and taking her along will limit her chances for survival, especially if it comes to a fight. Physically she should make a complete recovery, and she'll be up and around soon, but I wouldn't advise moving this ship for at least a week, if not longer. Orac and I feel she'll regain her Auron abilities given time and a lack of pressure. Unless you mean to abandon her and I don't think the others would let you, even if you wanted to you'll have to wait. I'm sorry if that interferes with your plans. Maybe you'd learn that the next time you rush into danger as ill advised as going to Terminal you'll need to consider your crew too."

"That's none of your business." Avon leaned close to him to emphasise the words. "Now that Cally is recovering you are no longer essential. The others will tell you that I don't hesitate to remove those who get in my way. I will remind you that you are my prisoner. I can shoot or dump you if I so choose."

"I don't like you, Avon, but I'm not afraid of you either. I stay here by my own choice and not because I'm your prisoner, but it won't be for any longer than I have to. I took an oath when I completed my training and Cally is my patient. She's worried about you."

Avon leaned back suddenly uncomfortable, aware that the threat was turning onto him.

"In her premonition she saw you killed."

"Indeed?" Avon looked bored. "I'll expect daily reports," he added. "You can make them on the flight deck."

"Don't you want to see her?' Hugh asked, not really surprised.

"I see no need for maudlin watches over her unconscious body."

"Afraid you'll let a little uncharacteristic sentiment get through?" Hugh prodded, realising as he said it that though it might well be true, it might also not be the smartest thing to say.

"Spare me from sentimental idealists," Avon snapped and stalked away.

Hugh looked after him and wondered which of them had won.

"I'm bored," Vila complained. "Here we've sat for days and days, and not one drop of adrenalin and soma on board."

"It's good for you, Vila." Dayna leaned forward and moved her castle.

Vila stared down at the chessboard. He liked chess; it fitted into a nice puzzly pattern, like opening locks did, and he enjoyed playing with Dayna because she invariably rushed into hasty and daring moves that could be lethal. Once in awhile, she would get lucky and beat him, but for the most part, Vila won. Of all the crew, only Avon really challenged him, and of late, Avon hadn't wanted to play. Now, as Vila traced out patterns in his head the way he traced out circuits in locks, most of his mind was not really on the game. He was thinking about Cally and about Avon, and wishing that something would happen. Cally had been conscious for almost a week and she was visibly gaining strength, at least physically. Hugh had suggested someone stay with her most of the time, and Tarrant was there with her now. Hugh had come in a while ago and reported that Tarrant was reading to her out of an old bound book they'd discovered in the crew quarters, Shakespeare's sonnets. Vila liked Shakespeare; he could be bawdy without being crude, and he had a wonderful way with words. There hadn't been much chance for reading in the Delta domes, but Vila had been nothing if not ambitious, and he devoured books whenever they came his way. If it wasn't that he thought Tarrant would mock him for it, he would have gone along and listened.

Vila considered his bishop, then glanced up to see Hugh watching him, a frown upon his face. Vila's hand eased away from the bishop and hovered over his knight. Hugh grinned. Vila considered it for a minute and then swooped down and captured Dayna's knight. "Check."

"Beast," Dayna retorted without malice. "Hugh, you're helping him. It's not fair. He wins anyway."

Vila gave Hugh a friendly grin. He liked the surgeon. A few years older than Tarrant, Hugh could unbend and be silly without worrying about his dignity, and he had the nerve to stand up to Avon even when the others would have seen the signs and gone for cover. Avon griped about him and made cool, derogatory comments when Hugh was within earshot, but he didn't annihilate him as he might have done one of the others. Hugh knew a lot about piloting a ship, and he and Tarrant had a good time talking about flying and tearing apart the reputations and the abilities of the instructor's at the FSA. With Vila, he would listen to exaggerated tales of thieving with a flattering interest that made Vila decide that Hugh was the best of good fellows, and then cap Vila's stories with some of his tactics at delaying and fooling the Federation on Dayson Prime. He talked weapons with Dayna and seemed to get on well with Cally when he was with her. Vila rather hoped Hugh would decide to throw in his lot with them, but he doubted it. Avon wouldn't permit it. He wouldn't tolerate Hugh any longer than necessary. Hugh was too stubborn, too unwilling to knuckle under. Avon didn't like people who feared him, but neither did he like being pushed. Watching the two of them square off was the only real entertainment going.

"He doesn't always win," Hugh told Dayna. She promptly turned back to the chessboard and Vila followed her gaze, staring in dismay as he realised the trap he had just walked into. He held himself in control, hoping Dayna wouldn't see it, but for all her impulsiveness, Dayna knew her chess. It didn't take her long. Her queen slid out and she grinned delightedly. " Checkmate."

"That's not fair," Vila accused Hugh. "Taking sides, are you?"

"You didn't mind when you thought it was your side I was taking."

"That was different." Vila began to gather up the chess pieces. "Someday, I'll take you on. Beat you too."

"I'm shaking in my shoes."

Vila stuffed the chessmen back into their box and closed the lid. "I'm bored," he repeated. "We should do something."

"What do you suggest?" Dayna stood up and went over to inspect the weapons' console as if she thought it might have changed in the last hour. "We could go outside."

"Outside? You never know what's lurking out there. Hordes of hairy aliens, probably, creeping up on the ship, waiting to pounce on me. No thank you. I'll stay in here where it's safe. Dull, but safe. All I have to look out for here is Avon."

"Correct, Vila." Avon walked onto the flight deck, casting scowls about impartially. "What new method have you invented to avoid work today?"

"The same as you. I haven't seen you lifting a finger in days. Sulking about isn't working either."

"I am considering our next move, Vila, something that would never occur to you."

"What are you planning Avon?" Dayna asked in an apparent attempt to defuse an argument. "We can't hope to fight in this ship."

"No. But we don't have to fight. We have a thief in Vila according to him, the best in the galaxy. I feel he should be put to work."

"Why does everybody want me to work?" Vila moaned. But the idea of some action, though frightening, almost felt good. Inactivity wasn't helping any of them. "We can't, anyway. There's Cally."

"What I propose should not harm Cally. Of course," Avon went on with heavy sarcasm, "I will clear it with our 'leader' first." He turned to Hugh. "Since we'll be returning to your home world, you might even be of some use to us."

"Why should I?" Hugh asked. "I have agreed to help Cally, not to aid Blake's rebellion."

"I am not a part of Blake's rebellion."

"Now why didn't I realise that?" mused Hugh.

"Stupidity, most likely."

Hugh's eyes twinkled, but he didn't comment. Instead he asked, "What is it that I'm to do for Avon's rebellion now?"

"I plan to steal a ship," Avon explained with exaggerated patience. "Servalan's people might know what armament we have. Even if this world is remote from known star lanes, we could still be discovered here. The Federation gains strength, unopposed as it has been since Star One was destroyed. Sitting here in plain sight does not appeal to me. It would not appeal to the rest of you, if you had two thoughts to rub together."

"You're going shopping for a ship on Dayson Prime?" Hugh asked.

"Yes. I want the Mark 60, the new experimental ship the Federation has been playing with. It experiments with a type of computer brain that I'm told is partly organic."

"Like Zen?" Vila asked, surprised.

"No." That was short and final. Vila wondered if Avon missed Zen, though he would never admit it if he did. "The Mark 60 is supposed to incorporate the latest techniques. The computer mind is imprinted to match the brain of the chosen pilot, a mental link that in theory cannot be broken."

"In practice too," Hugh put in. "I've read about the Mark 60. I don't think it will work, personally. The drain on the pilot's brain would be enormous. Were the ship severely damaged the pilot could die. I don't know that Tarrant would volunteer for something as risky as that."

"The link is not physical," Avon explained. "And I have not decided if Tarrant will be the one to bond with the ship."

"He's the best pilot you have," Hugh persisted. "He's one of the best pilots I've ever come across. But I'd feel more comfortable with the Mark 60 if he were older."

"And less prone to acting first and thinking later," Vila chipped in.

"I had considered using Orac in the bonding."

"Wouldn't work," Hugh objected." The Mark 60 needs an organic match-up. Orac might think he's more than a computer, and he might have certain of Ensor's personality traits, but he's still a machine."

"Avon couldn't do it either, then," Vila said promptly. "He's not much more than a machine himself."

"Cally would be a good choice, were her telepathic gifts intact," Avon mused. "However, the Mark 60 can function for brief periods with temporary bondings. It might be possible to use Orac as a link in the chain. Orac is gathering information on the Mark 60 now, and is predictably fascinated with the idea."

"He would be," muttered Vila.

"But why should the Mark 60 be anywhere near Dayson Prime?" Dayna wondered, coming over to sit in the pilot's seat and study Avon over the top of the control panel. "They don't usually test such valuable ships so far out. Better in the Inner Worlds where the Federation is stronger. It could be the bait for a trap to catch us."

"A trap?" echoed Vila in dismay. "Maybe Servalan escaped from the Liberator and knows we couldn't have got far. She's probably setting us up."

"Servalan is dead." The grim satisfaction in Avon's voice rather frightened Vila.

"I'm not sure," Dayna disagreed. "I know we saw the Liberator destroyed and she was on it. But maybe she made it to the teleport in time. It was still working there at the end."

"Then she'd still be on Terminal," Vila said. "With the Links." He found that idea rather pleasant. "Or maybe she was in the base and blew up with it. But I don't like the idea of the Mark 60 ship. I still think it could be a trap. Servalan had to pull a lot of strings to get us to Terminal. Somebody else must have known about it and might be using the Mark 60 to get us. The whole Federation's after us, remember, not just Servalan."

"Nevertheless, we are going to steal the Mark 60" Avon insisted. "With the prototype, we can develop a new teleport system."

"If we can get the ship and if any of us are crazy enough to link with it," Vila reminded him. "Why would they come to Dayson Prime, Hugh? Is there anything special there?"

Hugh frowned. "I've been trying to think," he confessed. "But nothing has come to mind. It's just an ordinary place."

"No computer experts?" Avon asked.

"No one special." Hugh shook his head. "No one with your abilities. Avon."

Avon looked both unsurprised and fractionally gratified and Vila hid a smile. Like everyone else, Avon needed to be praised, even in a second-hand way like this, and when he spoke again, he sounded less unhappy with Hugh than was his custom. "It would not be your field, of course, but as a scientist, you must have heard something, some sort of special preparations, perhaps?"

"No, there's been nothing. I would have welcomed anything that would have given me more cover," Hugh said frankly. "I was running out of ways to stall and something like that would have been just what I needed. If I'd have known, I could have leaked information in several places, to the rebels, to the government, even to the press. It would have taken their minds off the suppressant problem for a while. But they told me nothing. They probably thought I'd manage to foul that up too."

"All right," Avon said. "Then word of the Mark 60 would not be widely known there. In your opinion, could the rebel movement on Dayson Prime have heard about it?"

"No, I don't think so, but that's just a guess. Frankly, Avon, if I were testing the Mark 60, I might have chosen a remote place in the outer worlds and given them no advance notice. You only know about it because of Orac. If anyone knows about the destruction of Liberator, they'd probably think Orac was lost too."

Avon nodded, though he did not seem to consider the news of the Mark 60 as serendipitous as Hugh did. Of course he had a much more suspicious nature. He turned to Vila. "We will be needing your unique skills, Vila, so get your kit ready."

"My kit?" Vila demanded, outraged. "Where d'you think I'd get a kit then?" He glared at Avon. "All I brought off the Liberator was Orac. You didn't notice me carrying any kit, did you?"

"Surely you can find something to use. There must be something on this ship..."

Vila had a few things, small pieces of equipment that he habitually carried about his person because one could never tell when they'd be necessary, but while they would be adequate to break into a safe, perhaps, or a private jewellery collection, or even in a pinch, out of a Federation cell, they would certainly be no use against a maximum security system. Vila threw Avon a reproachful look. "Something on this ship? Wonderful. I use finely designed precision tools. It's like asking you to programme a computer with an axe."

"Well, improvise," Avon snarled. He wasn't about to give up, Vila could tell. "A talented thief is rare, Vila, but not irreplaceable."

"Neither is a computer expert," Vila snapped, but he stayed prudently out of range as he said it.

"We will leave in two days," Avon announced and strode off the flight deck without a backward look.

"Vila." Cally turned her head and smiled at the thief when he entered the small cabin designated as the medical unit for the duration. "I am glad to see you. I have need of you."

"Need of me?" Vila asked uneasily. He would do almost anything for Cally he still blamed himself for failing to get her out of the exploding base on Terminal. But there was a fevered look in her eyes that made him uneasy. Most likely it would be something Avon wouldn't care for and then there'd be trouble. "What d'you mean?" he asked.

"Now that I am recovering, Orac has been removed," Cally explained. "Hugh has offered to do some research for me, but Avon will not allow him to use Orac when he is not present. You, however, should be able to manage it. Hugh is not yet a member of the crew, and he hesitates to use Orac when Avon has forbidden it."

"We're talking about the same Hugh?" Vila asked in surprise, lowering himself into a chair. "Curly haired chap with a way of talking back to Avon every chance he gets?"

"That is different. Orac belongs to us."

Vila began to wonder. If Hugh had told Cally he couldn't use Orac for her, it might be because he thought it best not to do so. So Vila asked suspiciously, "What do you want to know?"

"I merely want Orac to check on several names for me, to learn if such people actually exist and if so where. Does that sound so terrible?"

It didn't, but Vila was still uneasy. This was Cally though, and Vila trusted her. "What people?" he asked. It couldn't hurt to find out that much.

"Dorian. He has a ship called the Scorpio. Soolin. A Dr. Plaxton. Muller. Egrorian. Zukan. Arlen. Deva." She frowned. "There are more, but you may begin with them."

Vila repeated the names, committing them to memory. "Who are they, Cally?"

"No one," she said in a voice so soft he could scarcely hear her. "I hope they do not exist."

Genuinely worried now, Vila reached out and patted Cally on the hand. "Did you hear of them on Terminal? Are they part of Servalan's plan?"

"No, Vila. But also check the existence of a Commissioner Sleer."

"Who are all these people? Somebody nasty, probably."

"I hope they are but a dream, Vila." Cally closed her eyes.

"Is your head hurting? Shall I fetch Hugh?"

"No, Vila. I'm only tired. I am not used to the emptiness."

"But you've been with us a long time and none of us are telepaths," he reminded her.

She reached out for his hand. He would have responded to the gesture with a quip before Terminal, but now he only took her hand sadly and patted it with his other hand. "You haven't been in here trying to send to us, Cally? You know Hugh said it was too soon yet."

"He is not an Auron. He does not understand."

"He knows a lot. He's smart, Hugh is. He just doesn't go around telling everybody the way Avon does."

Cally smiled faintly. "Avon does announce his credentials."

Made uneasy by Cally's request and by her continuing weakness, Vila said, "Should I leave you to sleep now, Cally?"

"No, Vila, stay awhile. Tarrant found a book of Earth poetry. Would you read some of it to me? It helps me to sleep."

So Vila picked up the poetry book and opened it at random. This was not the book of Shakespeare that he had seen before but another collected volume of poetry, and he considered making off with it and reading it himself later. He wondered who the Federation officer was who had read old poetry. Pausing at a page, he skimmed it silently.

When I consider how my light is spent
E're half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless...

No, that would never do. He flipped a few more pages. Something light. He found what he was looking for and began to read aloud.

"'Twas brillig and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe."

Cally's eyes opened again, and she stared at Vila. "What language was that, Vila? It almost makes sense, but not quite. Is it Terran?"

Pleased at his success, Vila read on, pausing here and there to give her his own unique interpretation of Jabberwocky. By the time he had finished, her eyes had brightened and she was laughing.

CONTINUED...


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Last updated on 13th of October 1996.