Corinne was dressed in a more modest, but still a beautiful shimmering burgundy dress with gold accents. It accentuated her figure nicely but in an understated way. With the help of the two friendly military engineers, they had just finished building the last of the props for the magic show, a large black standing cabinet with holes at staggered intervals.
The engineers left and Vila and Corinne stood back to admire their handiwork.
“That looks just like some of the old archive photos,” said Corinne.
Standing here staring at the magic props, Vila's voice was wistful and his heart was full of recollections from his past. "Just what I've always wanted." He was eager to try out his new toys.
Vila had always wanted to be able to do a proper magic show. It had been one of his favourite hobbies while growing up. Unfortunately, he never had the chance. He found out all he could about magic and magicians, often sneaking into theatres he could never afford to go to. Being able to go backstage and see how all the props worked after everyone else left was a big thrill for him.
For some people, knowing how a trick worked took all the wonder out of it. However, for him, knowing how illusions worked was fascinating. The ability to transport an audience out of their own worlds and give them a few moments of wonder or laugher away from grim reality was something he loved doing; even if it was just to tell a few funny stories or playing the odd practical joke or bringing magic to people’s lives.
When it looked as if he would never have the opportunity and that his dreams were just that, he had turned his nimble magic-practiced fingers to more practical pursuits. Like Avon, he had settled for something he didn’t want to do because the world worked differently than they wished it did. It had made them both jaded and cynical about people and the world they lived in.
He became the best thief that he could be, pouring his heart into his craft until he was better than anyone else; until a thief wasn’t what he was, it was who he was.
Being himself didn’t seem to mean much in this galaxy. At least people were interested in him when he was a thief; whether for good or bad.
At heart, he was still that young boy who was entranced by magic and wanted to give people pleasure.
Vila said with an eager smile, "Do you want to try it?"
"I'd love to," said an excited Corinne. "What do you want me to do?"
Vila opened up the box. It was painted as dark on the inside as the outside. "Get in here."
Corinne stepped into the box and Vila closed it up, plunging her into darkness. She immediately poked her head out of the larger hole near the top, her eyes blinking at the light. "What else do I do?"
Vila pointed to another hole part way down. "Stick your hand through here."
A slender hand poked through. "Like this?" She waved her hand.
"Yeah, that's it."
"Now, a foot here."
Corinne looked down and her booted foot tried to stick through the hole at various angles.
Vila bent down to take a look, "Hang on a sec. I don't think that's going to work. Can you take your boot off?
Corinne's extremities disappeared from the holes and he heard her moving around inside the box. As she was doing this Vila said, "I think we're going to have to get you new shoes. Or make the hole bigger."
There was a distracted and muffled, "Hmmm?"
"Are you alright in there?"
"I'm fine. It's just dark in here."
"Oh, sorry." Vila quickly opened the door to the cabinet.
Corinne blinked at the light and put her hand to cover her eyes while the other one was holding the removed boot. "Thanks but I'm done already."
Vila asked, "What do you think? Do you want new shoes or do you want to make the hole bigger?"
"I'd love new shoes. I forgot that last time we went down."
"One shopping trip coming up," said Vila eagerly.
"You just want to go back to the gadgets avenue."
Vila grinned, "Well, it is on the way…"
Corinne chuckled. "Maybe we can go after we finish here?"
"I thought you'd never ask."
It was a good thing that the medical examination room was large otherwise; it would have been standing room only. There was a gathering of the numerous Tellaran medical specialists along with Alyce, Argus, Marlena, Vila, Corinne, Cally, and the reason why they were all here, Avon.
Having this many medical people gathered in one place might be comforting and flattering to some but if there weren`t serious problems, there would be no reason for any of them to be here. This was something they were all very aware of.
Argus found it very frustrating only being able to see the backs of people. He couldn’t tell how things were going or their reactions to what they were seeing. The only thing that was visible was their busy hands doing things he didn’t understand with the control panels. There were streams of data flowing across the various wall screens and terminal monitors. Dizzying arrays of information and two- and three-dimensional graphs. He wondered how anyone could possibly read so fast. He didn’t think he was that slow but of course, if they were all like Avon, it was no wonder.
Various diagrams were thrown up on the large screens along the walls. Some of them were recognizable even with his limited knowledge of the subject matter. Numerous scans of Avon’s brain with various grids and markings to point out various areas of interest. It didn't helped him much in understanding what was going on though.
He wished someone would say something. Not that they weren’t. The specialists were keeping up a constant level of noise as they worked together. Argus just wished they would say something he could understand.
Alyce was trying to keep up a running commentary. He did appreciate that but she only seemed know a bit more than he did about what was going on. He wished they had waited a bit longer and allowed the specialists time to analyze the data but he had been impatient. From the preoccupied look on Avon’s face as he stared intently at the torrents of data, so was he. Argus wondered if Avon understood it any more than he did. Medicine and biology were not his areas of expertise.
It was Cally’s though. Argus shifted his attentions to Cally. She was also absorbed in what she was seeing and there was a concerned and serious look on her face. From the way she and Avon angled towards each other at times, he guessed that they were ‘speaking’ with one another.
Avon was seated on a chair and his face was drawn. He had been unsteady on his feet when the exams had finished but he had insisted on waiting while the specialists analyzed the results. He had relented to sitting down when Cally pointed out that if he didn't, he might not be able to hear the entire report.
The level of chattering died down gradually as the specialists concluded their analysis. Dr. Kendric came over to where the crew was waiting expectantly.
She addressed Avon directly. "Healer Garett may have already told you that he found three different types of interference in the working of your brain?"
"He found evidence of conditioning, microsurgery and mind blocks." From Avon’s discussions with Cally, he already knew that the Tellarans had found much more than Garett did. He was waiting for the results, not with eagerness, but dread. Not that you could tell from his face. He kept things factual as befitted the clinical setting.
There was something he wanted to know first. "The machines you used, they're able to regulate my emotional state and allow me to maintain control?"
"In a manner of speaking. The right brain is more identified with negative emotions. We were able to interfere with how it perceived them."
Cally remembered something, "You mean like what the Federation did to interfere with Avon's ability to process emotions?"
Dr. Kendric replied, "No. Our methods are less intrusive and are only temporary."
The stress of urgency coarsened Avon's voice and he unconsciously leaned forward as he asked, "Is this effect reproducible outside of your machines?"
Kendric turned kind and sympathetic eyes towards him. "Unfortunately, it's not a solution and it can only be done by the machines. The number of areas in your brain that needed to be regulated required a concerted effort using almost all of them. It would also require specialized knowledge to do what we were able to do."
Avon settled back in his seat. If he were a man who wore his emotions on his face, then his disappointment would have been clear to everyone. Instead, he maintained a passive façade and convinced himself that it was not an unexpected thing to hear.
Dr. Kendric said, "This is not to say that we cannot do anything for you."
The effort of his one attempt at hope, no matter how faint, was all that Avon could spare. There was no pricking up of ears or leaning forward in anticipation. He regarded Kendric with the only part of him that he could not suppress; his dark, expressive eyes that were alive with deep and hidden thoughts.
Argus didn't have the same hang-ups. He asked, "What can you do for him, Doctor?"
Kendric said, "There are various things which you must decide on. First, I want you all to understand what was done. This will give you a better idea of the nature of the problems we face in attempting to correct them."
Avon was still stony-faced as he said, "Go on."
It was so quiet that it seemed the entire room was waiting for what Dr. Kendric was about to say. She leaned back against an edge of one of the control panels, like someone readying herself for something that might take awhile. "We've been able to categorize four periods of tampering with your mind."
Cally asked with surprise, "Four? Healer Garett said there were three."
"He was not wrong given the limited sensitivity of his equipment. We have been able to modify the calibrations to a finer level." She nodded to one of her colleagues who pressed a few buttons in front of him. One of the large wall screens showed a long blue line with various regular numbers at the bottom. There were an angry cluster of red dots near the beginning of the line and at various intervals along it.
Dr. Kendric picked up a small, thin pointer device and turned it on. A moving hand icon pointed along the line as she moved the device. “Avon, this is a timeline representing your life so far. The red dots correspond to incidents of different types of tampering. As you can observe, the most extensive incidence of interference, what we would categorize as bioengineering, occurred during your formative years. I will go into much more detail in a moment.” She moved the hand further along. “During this second period, there were staggered instances of interference with your mind. My guess is that this is due to the Federation's practice of rehabilitation for people they determine are important but are difficult to handle?"
Avon's jaw tightened at the recollections this drew up but he kept his voice even and factual, "Yes. I have never been able to suffer fools."
Dr. Kendric did not seem to think so. Her manner was warm and understanding, "You are too honest a man to hide how you feel."
Avon's eyes were like hard stone. "Some would call it something else."
Alyce stepped forward, her face also reflecting her compassion, "There is nothing wrong with your honesty, Avon. There are other ways of expressing it that are not as detrimental to yourself or others."
Kendric said, "Yes. My guess is that this is part of what was done to you as well when you were young. Behaviour patterns, especially in the way we choose to express ourselves and how we cope with high stress situations, are mainly learned during our formative years. My guess is that the primary purpose of those who did this to you was solely on making you more functionally effective. They wanted to focus all of your mind’s efforts and abilities on what they wanted you to do. To that end, something like truth would be paramount to a person who was expected to work in the world of science and technology. Other parts of you, like emotions have very little use in the realm of objective realities. In fact, I imagine that any you had were frowned upon and highly discouraged. Perhaps you were even taught to suppress them or view them as irrelevant? Having personal emotions and the expression of these emotions would have been considered a waste and disruption. It's a common characteristic we've observed in many Federation scientists. They have low emotional responses."
Vila and Corinne had been standing quietly watching and listening to everything going on without saying anything. What Dr. Kendric just said sparked a flash of memory for him.
Something that Dayna had said. As Vila tried to remember his dead crewmate, a dull ache of sadness surfaced from the place he kept the grief for lost friends. Dayna had been nasty to him. Even worse than Avon at times. And she never treated him seriously but they had shared many dangers together and saved each other's lives. He was sad she was gone and he missed her, even the insults.
That was it. Dayna had been slightly drunk one day because of the death of Justin. In her sad and melancholic mood, she had said some things about Justin. It was something she said. What was it? It had something to do with what he was.
Vila interrupted Dr. Kendric. "Dayna told me something once. She's a former crewmate of mine. Mine and Cally's." The dull ache got worse as he began talking about Dayna. "She had a tutor named Justin. He was a scientist and he told her something that she thought was odd. He told her that…" Vila's eyes unfocused a bit, as he tried to remember the beautiful young woman and what she had shared with the crew. A vision of Dayna leaning back in her chair on the flight deck, Soolin with her feet up on one of the panels, Tarrant only half paying attention as he fiddled around with the flight controls and Avon staring at Dayna.
"…that scientists were supposed to be short on emotion and that sort of thing. It was something that she thought was strange at the time but Justin was killed before she could ask him to explain it. Do you think that might have something to do with it? I mean, just because you're a scientist shouldn't mean that you don't have much emotions, should it? That would be like saying that you're a bastard just because you were smart. It doesn't make any sense, does it?"
He remembered something else now. While Dayna was still talking, Avon had gotten up and walked away without saying anything. Vila hadn't thought much of it then. Just dismissed it as typical insensitive behaviour from Avon. But now he wasn't sure.
Cally had been aware of Avon’s increasing stress level as the specialists had been doing their analysis. It was getting worse as Dr. Kendric began telling them the results and now with what Vila was saying.
They had to be very careful. Whatever residual effect the machines had in helping Avon, had obviously worn off. She continued monitoring him carefully while trying to pay attention to what the doctor was saying.
Dr. Kendric looked thoughtful. "It would be a confirmation of what we’ve suspected about certain segments of Federation society. It would also mean that the scientists themselves are aware of this difference though they may not know why."
Now that they were talking about odd things and people with highly intelligent brains, Vila began seeing other coincidences. Could it be?
Vila said, "There's another thing. When we were on the Liberator and the Scorpio, we ran into a few geniuses. Professor Ensor, Pinder and Egrorian. They were all a bit eccentric, if you know what I mean. Egrorian was a psychopath if I ever met one. Pinder was…he was very strange. And Ensor…well, he programmed ORAC - that's our defunct super-computer - with his personality and I can tell you, it definitely wasn't normal. Justin, well he knew he didn’t have much emotion.”
Now that Vila was thinking about the people they had encountered, another thing occurred to him. He continued, “You know, there’s another odd thing. I’d never really thought about it before but I suppose it could mean something. All of them, including Dr. Plaxton, who developed the photonic space drive, escaped from the Federation and went into hiding. We didn’t run into anyone else who did that. Just people who were very smart. At the top of their fields. That seems strange, doesn’t it?” He purposely looked at Avon. The other man had his eyes down and his hands were gripped so tightly around the arms of the chair that they were white with the lack of circulation. Vila said, “It’s like they didn’t want anyone to be able to touch..."
Before Vila had finished what he was saying, Cally gasped in shock as a blast of emotions hit her through her connection to Avon. Everyone turned to look at her as she instinctively put her hand on Avon’s arm. “Avon!”
He lifted his eyes to her. They were filled with pain.