GOSSIPS OF DEATH
- - - Part 5
Avon felt confined. He was surrounded by a hundred walls, floors, and light panels and crowded in by the presence of five other people.
The Liberator was full: it was mundane and well-worn on his memory. The five other people that he lived with; and Orac. All their habits were becoming . . . . . familiar. Their shared space was well trodden and Avon was sick of it. In fact he was feeling threatened by it. The close proximity automatically created an atmosphere of hominess that impinged on Avon's privacy. They knocked on his door and asked if he had seen their favorite shirt or their right shoe. They chatted and tried to interest him in idiot conversation about the food, their course, about what he'd done before and his parents, and how many brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, etc. he had. They revealed themselves by their own idiosyncrasies and expected him to do the same. And, bit by bit, by forcing their familiarity on him, they were winning.
Avon was starting to know them through their habits regardless of how little he cared. Repetition was forcing their lives into his. Their little things were now his to share. They were the almost empty cups left on tables. They were Blake's unclean toothbrush by the sink, crumbs on the detectors, blonde hairs on the navigation controls, Gan taking a shower and using up all the towels. They were closing in on him.
Worse still, Liberator was becoming crowded with things as well. Boxes of junk and odd furniture were turning up on the flight deck and in corridors. Pictures on the walls, shelves full of tapes and parts of rooms from Avon's past materialized all over the ship. Where was it all coming from?
Avon knew. Vila.
Vila was going out, using the teleport (even though they were in deep space) and he was stealing these things and bringing them back to Liberator. He would shuffle into a room and politely ask everyone if they minded if he left something under a table or in a corner and nobody would object, not even Avon. Then Vila's prize would be neatly tucked away. But it was accumulating. Boxes went on top of boxes next to more boxes. They spilled out of rooms and into corridors. There were boxes of papers, Jenna's tapes, old clothes, fancy chronometers, pictures of Cally, things that looked like Orac, trays of half eaten food and Vila's dirty socks.
Eventually Vila started to bring back bags of actual garbage. Sacks of mouldy fruit, crusts of burnt toast, stale protein substitutes, waxy food concentrates and old coffee grounds. The plastic bags dripped and smelled and they were everywhere. There were gooey, moldy puddles on the floor, the weapons station controls were sticky and there were fingerprints all over Orac.
Then Avon suddenly realized that he had forgotten about the thing that always accompanied large quantities of garbage. He had forgotten about the_bugs. Flies, silverfish, May bugs, June bugs, dragonflies, aphids, lady bugs, giant moths, big Jamacian cockroaches, maggots, grasshoppers, Sirian fleas, bumble bees, wasps, fire ants, plastic eating locusts and potato bugs. They were creeping and crawling on floors and walls. They were flying and buzzing everywhere. There were spiders building webs on Zen. There were mosquitoes in Orac. And nobody was noticing, or they were pointedly ignoring it.
Blake was the worst offender. He had a magnificent infestation of gnats in his hair. When Avon pointed out that he might do something about them Blake responded with, "Well, they've got a right to live too!" A fat black gnat was crawling across Blake's forehead as he said this. It obviously annoyed him but he refused to wipe it away. So Avon did it for him.
Avon's right arm jerked forward as he opened his eyes and saw . . . . . Blake.
Fully clothed, lying on the couch next to him.
Avon knew he was awake and no longer dreaming but his reflexes still responded to the nightmare. His arms shot out, his hands catching Blake on the forehead and chest, and pushed him away off the couch.
This was a mistake.
The push was too much for the couch's thin frame. Blake yelped in pain, awaking to the feeling of falling and metal legs gouging his body. Avon and the couch toppled backwards. Avon's arms flailed wildly, vainly trying to stop the vertigo of the flying plunge. He landed hard on his back, thin cushions barely protecting him against the metal frame.
"Good morning, Avon."
Deep breath. "Good morning, Blake."
Avon rolled over and painfully climbed to his feet. Bluish static clouded his eyes in a momentary fit of dizziness. His sinuses throbbed fiercely behind his eyes. He felt terrible.
He inhaled deeply, recovered, more or less, and stepped around the fallen couch. The room was gray from the early morning light coming through the tiny and now broken windows. Jenna and Cally were tangled together on the overstuffed floor pillow. Gan was draped, more out than in, over the hammock which sagged nearly to the floor from his weight. Blake was still face down on the floor.
"I don't suppose it would be too much to ask what happened to our hosts last night and why they attacked us after we boarded that ship."
"Right now, I think it might be." Blake spoke into the floor. He didn't feel like getting up at the moment, let alone facing Avon.
"I presume that means that the Vioti have graciously implanted the requisite information in your memory to be passed on to the rest of us, after the fact."
There wasn't any way around it; he had to get up. "Something like that." Blake pulled his arms under him and unsuccessfully tried to rise. His arms were rubbery and the tile floor grated into his elbows on the pointed end of the bone. Thinking that he was helping, Avon got to his knees, locked his hands under Blake's ribcage and pulled up. Blake immediately regretted having eaten anything in the last two days. The lurch of last night's dinner up his throat brought new life to Blake's limbs and he frantically squirmed in Avon's grip, trying to roll away.
Avon, not knowing about Blake's rebelling stomach continued trying to help Blake up. With difficulty he turned Blake around, intending to stand up himself, pulling the stricken man with him.
'You really do deserve this, Avon.' Revoltingly, Blake's last meal dramatically made its return appearance.
"Aaauuugghhh!". Avon rudely pushed his retching comrade away from him. "Damn!" was the last thing Blake heard from Avon before he stomped out of the room.
On his hands and knees he now endured the spasms until he had nothing left to throw up. Weakly he stood up and staggered in the direction of the lavatory. It was surprisingly easy to find in the dimly lit house. The light was on. Squinting and rubbing his eyes, Blake blindly pushed through the swinging door and turned to the urinal on the left. After relieving himself he went to the sink to wash himself up. He cupped the soapy water already in the basin (he tried to avoid catching any of the short black hairs floating around in it) and splashed some on his face. After washing his hands and cleaning himself off he, still dripping, stumbled toward the door.
He didn't stop stumbling until he had left the room. Blake stood in the darkened hallway fighting that queasy lack of memory a person feels when walking in and out of a room and then not being able to remember the room or why he went in there. Something wasn't right. Then it hit him. Someone else had been there.
Blake dashed back through the door and stared at the vision before him.
Servalan, soaking in a bathtub of 1/3 water and 2/3 lavender bubbles, regarded him coolly. Her hair was wet and plastered to her skull (Blake noticed that it made no difference in her appearance), her make -up was flawless, the naughty bits of her breasts were hidden just below the bubble-line.
"Is that the only trick you do? Or do you have something else to show me?", she asked him casually.
"Servalan's naked in the bath. I'm losing my mind," he muttered stunned, and turned back to the door. A piece of Blake's mind that was a little less tired and sick screamed, "YOU JUST TURNED YOUR BACK ON SERVALAN!' His gun had actually cleared its holster and he was half turned around again before the blaster bolt from Servalan's gun, the one that had been hidden among the lavender bubbles, hit him in the back.
Light came to the flat plains of Ross. It illuminated the cruiser, abandoned next to the colony house. The light filled the gaping orifice and added to the artificial ones from within. Vila stirred.
His head rested on something soft but somewhat lumpy. He tried to make himself more comfortable without waking up too much but didn't succeed. His throat was sore, his nose was stuffed up and the pressure on his sinuses was giving him an awful headache. He rolled over. His cheek brushed something soft, fuzzy and just a bit slimy.
He jumped back and opened his eyes.
"Eeeyyyiiicccchhhh!" It was some of the moss from outside. A big patch of it had developed next to the body that Vila had been resting on. The moss seemed to originate from the head of the dead man. It spilled out from the empty, eaten-out eye sockets, the nostrils and the toothless mouth. He scrabbled away from it. His right hand touched and then went through the moss covered surface of something hollow. It was the almost completely decomposed leg of another dead man.
"Aaaauuuggghhh!" He leaped up to his feet and desperately tried to wipe the gooey mess from his hands. First he started to rub it off on his clothes, then realized what he was doing and turned around in circles a few times hoping to see something that might help. He was surrounded by decaying and partially moss covered bodies; ear-less heads, limp sleeves, rotting, dented skulls.
Vila panicked. Frantically trying to shake the mold from his hand, he jumped over the bodies between him and the door. He landed on his feet outside the airlock and headed for the house at a dead run.
The little girl stared up at Avon with huge, seven year-old child's eyes. Avon looked back. The boy, being younger (he looked about five), was less restrained and pouted, screwed up his dark little face and made a face at the adult. Avon stared back.
Avon didn't really like children. Their threshold for rational though was so low as to be practically nonexistent. It was therefore impossible to reason with them on any level that Avon was comfortable with. So, he simply preferred to ignore them. When he could.
Avon had gone to the kitchen of the house and done as well as he possibly could at getting himself cleaned off. Then he heard movement in the dining room. Gun drawn, he had burst into the room to find the only survivors of Colony Upsilon 371 making a meal out of the remains left behind by the Liberator crew.
"Avon?" Cally, with Jenna on her heels, entered the dining rooms. And stopped and stared at the children. They stared back with baleful eyes.
Cally and Jenna had followed Avon, leaving Gan to go check on Blake. They had been conscious when Avon and Blake had fallen off the couch. Jenna had even opened her eyes when she heard them talking. But all three remained perfectly still when Blake had had his little accident since none of them really knew what kind of reaction was appropriate for such an embarrassing circumstance. So, after waiting until the two went their separate ways Jenna, Cally and Gan had sheepishly come to life. After a minimum of discussion Gan volunteered (perhaps foolishly) to go help Blake finish throwing up. Jenna and Cally bravely decided that together they might be able to handle Avon. Neither one was sure why they had to go after him, but assumed that, for some mysterious reason, the other wanted to go find him.
"We seem to have found our passengers," Avon informed them. The little girl, long blonde hair hanging in dirty strands about her face, bit her lip and tightly held her soup spoon in her tiny fist. The boy, apparently tired of meeting new people, slurped from his bowl.
Cally stepped forward and knelt, prepared to be as reassuring as small children who'd been alone in a room with Avon would surely need.
"Hello. I am Cally. Who are you?"
"Thalun," the girl said shyly.
"Sidney!" the boy yelped with a grin and wiped his nose on his sleeve.
'She's cautious,' Cally thought. But it wasn't fear. It was a calculating nervousness that hinted at an intelligence that far exceeded the normal limits of one so small. 'How could a child be so wary?' The boy made a raspberry and grinned again. There was no caution in him but Cally's intuition told her that he understood more than a child ought.
"Cally! Jenna!" The yell was muffled by the number of walls it traveled through but it was undoubtedly Gan. Faint crashing and banging sounds punctuated the the call for help.
They nearly ran into each other getting out the door.
Naked, Servalan bent over Blake's body. Removing his gun and teleport bracelet took precedent over drying herself off.
She had woken up in the room she fainted in and found herself dirty and bruised but otherwise unharmed. It had been an hallucination. Well, mostly. Whatever happened to her left a dreadful rash, so she'd sought out the house's lavatory to clean up. She was not going to face death like a filthy drudge.
'Something has gone wrong with the plan,' she had thought to herself as she soaked in the bath. Something had interrupted them (whoever they were) else she wouldn't have the breathing space she now enjoyed. She planned to take advantage of it.
Then Blake had blundered into range. It did not surprise her that he had been involved was still alive. It also didn't surprise her that he was not doing well. Blake, though a very charismatic revolutionary, really was an amateur. If it weren't for his phenomenal luck he would have been caught and executed a long time ago. His luck seemed to be running thin and she planned to take advantage of that as well.
'He probably isn't the instigator,' she thought while searching Blake for more weapons. He looked horrible. Not only did he look unwell, he was dirty and he even smelled bad. There was a noise at the door. She raised her gun, but too late. A huge man, holding a gun on her, was standing in the doorway.
"Drop it," he told her.
Servalan recognized him as one of Blake's crew. His name was Gan. The one with the limiter.
She casually pointed her weapon at his chest.
"No, you will put your weapon down."
Gan turned pale. She knew. Of course she'd know, she was Supreme Commander Servalan. It was stupid of him not to think that she'd know. Now she would probably killed Blake and he couldn't do anything about it.
"Drop your gun. Now."
Gan didn't move except for a slight trembling. He couldn't put the gun down and yet he couldn't pull the trigger. He very much wanted to fire but his hand was frozen. Spiny pinpricks of pain radiated out from the the limiter in his skull. Already it was getting hard to think and his vision was clouding over. 'Do something!'
The gun slipped from Gan's grasp. He went to his knees clutching his head. Through squinted eyes Gan saw Servalan rise. He saw her feet approached him. He raised his head to see the barrel of her gun straying near his temple. She smiled, preparing to fire.
Lightning quick, Gan's hand grabbed her wrist; the shot passed close to his left ear and hit a shelf of towels behind him. He squeezed hard. She gasped and dropped her own gun from numb fingers. She hit and kicked him but her small blows were useless against Gan's bulk. He jerked her arm toward him and she fell. He tried to grab her but found it nearly impossible. She was wet, slippery and struggled like a mad woman. Gan knew when he had his hands full. He yelled for help.
Avon, Jenna and Cally were shocked to find Gan struggling with a naked Servalan. They rushed in and tried to grab her. Avon got a good grip on an arm and then lost it almost immediately when he took a viscious kick to the groin. The newly freed hand grabbed Cally by the hair, yanked her toward Avon and the two fell together. Jenna came from behind and got and arm around Servalan's throat.
Then Blake woke up. Still dazed, he was dismayed to find that there were bodies falling on top of him. He reached out and pushed the nearest one away. Unfortunately it was Jenna. She lost her balance and her hold on Servalan who successfully wriggled free from the melee and grabbed her own fallen weapon. Blake got an enormous adrenalin surge when he saw Servalan half standing, taking a bead on them all. He grabbed Cally's flailing arm and gun and fired first. He missed, of course, but the shot was enough to throw Servalan's aim off and she missed as well. Then she turned and darted out the door into the darkened hallway. Blake was the first up and out of the room after her, the other were seconds behind.
Servalan raced madly through the house, occasionally stooping to shoot at or throw something in the path of her pursuers. Then she saw her cruiser through a window and made for the nearest door.
She burst through into the daylight and nearly ran into Vila who was running into the house.
Vila, already panicked and suddenly faced with an angry naked Servalan with a gun, screamed in terror and dove for cover. The blast from Servalan's gun just barely singed the hairs on the top of his head. She fired once behind her and sprinted toward the safety of her ship.
Blake dodged the blast and paused in the doorway. He concentrated briefly on the escaping woman and the ship and then he turned and deliberately blocked the others behind him. Avon plowed into Blake's extended arm and went down. The others gracelessly collided with the two of them.
Avon was furious. Blake had grabbed his gun arm and was obstructing his path and aim. He dropped his gun and Blake loosened his grip enough for Avon to swing. Blake went down and Avon retrieved his gun to continue the pursuit.
Too late. Servalan had reached the ship. Avon fired a few shots but she was already inside.
"Damn!" He grabbed a fistful of collar and pulled Blake up. "What the hell are you doing?" he demanded.
Unfortunately for Avon, Blake had had enough and he wasn't taking anymore. He punched Avon in the stomach, knocking the wind from him. Then pushed Avon away and raised his wrist to contact the ship. No teleport bracelet. He cursed, pushed the others out of the way and stormed back into the house.
They caught up with him in the lavatory where he retrieved his teleport bracelet.
"Blake. . . ," Avon started.
"Shut up, Avon." Blake hissed murderously. He called Liberator.
"Don't argue, Orac. Just teleport," he ordered.
"You'd better have an explanation for this."
"You'll get it, Avon. Don't worry."
Blake did indeed explain the Vioti's change of plan, while they were in the teleport and on their way to the flight deck. They didn't like it.
After getting to the flight deck, Jenna laid in a course away from Ross and in an opposite direction to Servalan's ship, which was just leaving itself. Cally went to the medical unit. When she returned with the needed supplies Avon and Blake were still arguing.
"You deliberately let those children get on Servalan's ship. You can't honestly mean to let them and the Vioti loose in the Federation."
"The Vioti have as much right to know what's going on in the galaxy as any other intelligent species," Blake answered while Cally had him sit down on a flight couch, pulled his head back and applied a cold pack to his eye. It was nearly swollen shut and purpling beautifully.
"You mean infect the galaxy, Blake. Once those children reach a civilized planet the Vioti could spread everywhere."
"But it won't Avon." Blake lifted his head and blew his nose on a tissue Cally gave him. It was stained red when he finished. "Damn," he swore. Cally had him lie down flat on the couch while she treated the bloody nose as well.
"You trust them, then?" Avon asked.
"In this case, yes."
"But how are they going to get anywhere. They'll be caught as soon as they decontaminate Servalan's ship," Vila wondered, sitting on the flight couch next to Cally. He carefully probed the top of his head and hoped that Cally would notice and give him a little attention when she was finished with Blake.
"They won't be caught. Nobody'll be expecting them and they're intelligent enough now to avoid a search, aren't they?" Cally answered.
"Yes." Blake looked up at her through his one good eye. "How did you know?"
"We saw them before Gan yelled for help with Servalan. I got close enough to sense that they'd been changed. The Vioti wants them as spies. That's why they let them live."
"Yes," Blake confirmed.
"They're carriers," Avon restated.
"So are we," Jenna reminded from her station. Avon glared back and then lowered his eyes. She was right.
"They don't want to take over anything, Avon," Cally explained. "Now that they know that the Federation exists they want to know what's happening around their planet, especially if anyone decides to start another colony."
"And that's all they want."
"Of course. They don't want to go rampaging through the galaxy any more than you'd want to repopulate it with Avon clones. The Vioti is basically one creature. Any part of it that was established on some other planet would be a completely separate entity that may or may not compete for survival with the original. But now they know that interstellar travelers can affect them they need allies off planet. The two children were already separate, so the Vioti made a deal and in return for their help gave them the intelligence they needed to survive."
"You learned a lot about them while we were there. I can see why they were afraid of talking to you," Gan noted.
"I learned most of it when they took us all over when we boarded the cruiser. They don't know how to shield their thoughts. If they were speaking to a non-telepath they wouldn't have to because he wouldn't be able to make any sense of them. And when I saw the two children I knew the rest."
"But they're children. To be taken over by that stuff for the rest of their lives; that's horrible."
"They haven't been taken over, Villa," Cally explained. "Once they're away from Ross the Vioti can't force them to do anything. But I think they'll honor the agreement."
"Oh, they will?" Avon asked cynically.
"Yes," Cally reflected. "There wasn't any hate or revenge in them. The death of the colony didn't affect them as it might have if they were unchanged. In their minds, at least, they really aren't children anymore."
"They'll be perfect spies," Jenna observed. "Children without a past from a dead colony. Once they get away from Servalan they'll be invisible."
"It'll take them a few years to establish themselves, but once they do all they'll need to do to report back to Ross is point a normal space communication at Ross. The Vioti can pick it up with equipment they got from the colony."
"That won't help them if the Federation decides to level the planet's surface in the meantime. Servalan does not take lightly to being used," Avon informed them.
"Why should she? She doesn't know the Vioti exist. They made it appear that everything was some hallucination that we were responsible for. And as far as she's concerned that's what happened. The worst they'll probably do is quarantine the planet, which is what the Vioti want. And even if the Federation attacked the Vioti can retreat as far underground into the planet as necessary."
"They're indestructible," Vila concluded.
"And we were their pawns." Avon was getting back to acting more like his old self. They hadn't been off Ross for very long but that time had been a blessed relief for his sinuses. "Perhaps Blake can now explain when we appointed him negotiator between us and the Vioti."
There was no answer. Cally lifted the cold pack that she'd been holding to Blake's eye. He was completely relaxed on the couch and sound asleep.
"Well," Avon reconsidered. "Perhaps not."
=-=-= END =-=-=
Note: This story was published in the print fanzine 'Return of the Seven' in 1985. This story was written for the sole purpose of giving Avon my roommate's sinus headache.
Disclaimer: All characters and situations belong to Terry Nation(?), the BBC(?) or whoever; I'm just playing in their sandbox.