Corinne snuggled against Vila’s shoulder as they looked up at the Tellaran night sky. The moon was like a bright saucer that they could almost reach out and touch. A plush blanket made a nice cushion on the lush grass.
With his arm curled around her shoulders, Vila felt comfortable and happy. It was an odd but good feeling for him. He had a restless nature; he always needed something to do or people to talk to. It wasn’t often that he just sat unless he was in trouble.
Corinne sighed contentedly. “I like it here.”
“I do too.”
“The moon is beautiful.”
Vila looked up at it. It did seem very beautiful tonight but that might have been because of the company he was keeping. “It’s reflecting your beauty.”
Corinne squirmed around to look at him. “You say the nicest things.”
“It’s true.” He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her.
A little later, Corinne said, "The moon here is different than on Chandar."
"How's that?" asked Vila puzzled.
"It reflects the light of the sun."
"But Corinne, that's what a moon does. That's why we can see it."
"I know but here, it's like a promise. The light is a reflection of something brighter that's coming. On Chandar, what comes is another day and that doesn't mean a whole lot. At least it didn't to me. But here, a new day on Tellar means something good."
Vila looked up at the full moon again. It seemed brighter somehow and even more beautiful against the night sky. Its silvery glint made their surroundings seem just as magical as their stage had been. He hadn't noticed that before.
He'd been fighting the Federation for so long. It seemed to be a dream that kept moving farther away every time they thought they were getting closer. It was hard to have hope sometimes. It would be nice to have a victory that wasn't temporary.
He said, "I think you're right. It is special here. When I'm here, it feels like there is hope. It's good to know that somewhere, what I've been fighting for can become real."
He brushed a wisp of hair from her face. "It feels real when I'm with you too."
There was a gentle smile on Corinne's face, "That was my thought when first I saw you."
"Yes." She leaned towards him.
“The name’s Kerr,” said young Avon. He was walking towards two boys. They both looked to be about four or five years of age and Alphas from the assured way they carried themselves. All of the boys and girls in the room had that same look of privilege.
Finally, a memory where I’m awake. It was time to find some answers. As he looked at each of the two boys, Avon tried to reach for the information that refused to be known. He gasped as a stab of pain lanced through his head. The faces became indistinct as he pushed against the pain. Avon realized it wasn’t his young self feeling pain in the memory. It was him.
Another lance of pain split his head and the vision began to splinter, making faces impossible to recognize. No!
A vague voice reached him. "Avon, relax. Let the memory come to you. Don't try to control it." Avon could barely identify it as the calming, reassuring voice of Dr. Kendric.
Something was preventing him from identifying the boys. But if he let the vision continue, perhaps he might find some clues. Avon relaxed his mind. The pain slowly faded.
The young Kerr was standing in front of the two boys he had been talking to earlier.
One of the boys asked, “You know what’s going on?” Avon recognized the voice. This was the child that kept shaking him in the other memories, the one with the strong hands who had shown concern for him. Avon studied him carefully even as his young self answered. “I don’t know for certain but I have a pretty good guess.”
The strong boy had short brown hair and was tall and large. Even at this age, he reflected strength and solidity in the way he moved. At times he almost seemed embarrassed by his own size.
The second boy was smaller and had a shock of blond hair and a friendly expression on his face. He always seemed to have a ready smile. His eyes were sharp and intelligent.
The blond boy said, “Well don’t keep us in suspense.” It was the other boy, the persuasive one who would land him into trouble later on. Avon regarded him warily. He wished that someone would say the blond boy's name. They must have introduced themselves already and he'd missed it.
His young self said, “They’re gathering the top Alpha children.”
The blond boy smiled, “I already knew that. But how did you? I didn’t see you talk to anyone.”
Kerr said, “I have ears. You only have to listen to know that most of the boys have a vocabulary and grammar far above their ages. I would guess that most of us have been placed years higher at our schools.”
The blond boy said proudly, “I’m eight years higher.”
Kerr said quickly, “So am I.”
They both looked at the strong, brown-haired boy. He seemed almost embarrassed. “I’m only four years.”
Kerr said encouragingly, “That still means that you've advanced faster than normal expectations.”
“I suppose so.” The brown-haired boy sounded relieved.
With a movement of his head, Kerr indicated some of the other smaller gatherings of children. “Some of them clearly aren’t but they might have something else special about them that's not apparent.”
The brown-haired boy said, “I don’t like that loud one. He seemed nice at first but he's a bully. He didn't like it when some of the others didn't agree with what he was saying. He tried to push me.”
The blond boy laughed. “I saw that. You pushed him back and he fell down. He must be one of those ones you were talking about, Kerr. He'd have to be to even consider pushing someone of your size, Jack. Or maybe he's one of…what do people call them?”
The Avon inside the young Kerr's mind thought, So the strong boy's name is Jack. This was a good start. Now he just needed the other one.
Young Kerr said, “Regressives?"
"Yes, one of those. Born an Alpha but doesn't grade as one."
Young Kerr said sarcastically, "Yes, either that, or he’s blind.”
The brown-haired boy said, “I hope I didn’t hurt him. I tried not to push him too hard.”
Kerr said, “Well, I wouldn’t worry about it. He’s still standing.”
Jack looked over at the loud-mouthed bully. “I suppose he is. Do you think I should have pushed him harder?"
Young Kerr and the blond boy stared at him. Jack looked innocently back at them; there was an open and earnest quality to him and then the corners of his mouth twitched and he started laughing.
Young Kerr said, "You had me worried there."
Jack said with a grin, "I'd never do that unless he tried pushing me again."
The blond boy said, "He'd be stupid to do that." He grinned. "Of course, he hasn't shown much in the way of brains yet, has he? Just look at him trying to act nice now."
Most of the other children were standing warily away from the bully now, not taken in by his smiles and warm manner. Once a bully shows his colours, it's hard to convince anyone you're nice and sincere, especially when your audience is a group of dominant Alphas who are not easily pushed around.
A small group of them were gathered around him though. They seemed to hang on his every word.
Young Kerr observed this and said derisively, "Bullies don't usually come with an abundance of brains. My parents say that violence is a common substitute for lack of intelligence. They say you should never have to resort to violence except in self-defence or if someone is in immediate danger. And even then, you should try to use your brains and only descend to using force if you have no other choice."
Jack said, "I like your parents."
Young Kerr turned to look at him. "You've never even met them."
"I mean, they sound better than…" Jack looked uncomfortable and stuffed both his hands into his pockets, almost as if he was trying to make himself smaller. "…never mind."
Avon was surprised that he could feel his young self's feelings of sympathy for this boy. The young Avon was similar to himself as an adult, but he was also different.
Had he been capable of greater empathy when he was younger and not just on rare occasions? To this young self, it seemed natural, not something he had to work at and remind himself to do. Young Kerr asked, "You mean different than your parents?"
Jack took his hands out of his pocket and he pulled his shoulders back, making him seem even larger. His face had become grim. "I don't want to talk about it."
Young Kerr put an open palm up. "It's alright. I won't talk about it. Let's talk about something more useful. This place must be a special training center of some kind. They want to train exceptional Alphas."
Jack asked, "Why?"
The blond boy said, "It must be the Federation. They want to select the top Alphas for special training. They want to make sure we get the best."
Young Kerr had a cynicism far beyond his years and he wasn't afraid to express it. "You mean they want to make sure that we only work for them. They're taking us young so that we won't have a choice."
"Shhh." The blond boy had a finger to his lips and his eyes darted nervously left and right. "Don't say that too loud. Are you trying to get us in trouble?"
Kerr did not let up on his cynicism but he did lower his tone. "I don't like being used. People took me from my school. They said my parents had put me in a special program. They lied. My parents would never do that without discussing it with me first."
Jack asked, "They wouldn't?"
Kerr said, "My parents are good that way."
The Avon inside the young mind thought, Why don't I remember that? The memories he had of his parents were vague and tinged with negative associations.
Jack said emphatically, "I really like your parents. My…" Avon noticed the young boy seemed uncomfortable again. "Never mind."
The blond boy said jokingly, "Do you plan to say 'never mind' every time you get to an interesting part?"
Jack glared at him.
Young Kerr said, "Leave him alone. How about you?"
The blond boy said, "My parents were glad when I'd been selected for a special program. I was too. They said I'd get much better education. Something that suited my intelligence and abilities. My parents aren't one of the really rich or powerful Alphas. So this is a great opportunity for me. Who wouldn't want that?"
Kerr asked, "It doesn't matter to you that you don't have a choice?"
"But we did."
Kerr's laughter had a sharp edge. "They would have known that you'd want it. It's why they didn't force you or your parents. What do you think would have happened if you’d refused?"
The young blond boy looked thoughtful, "You mean they might have done the same thing to me that they did to you?"
"I don't doubt it."
The blond boy glanced sharply at him, "Kerr, do you think your parents know where you are?"
Kerr said, "I highly doubt it." He looked around to make sure none of the others was close enough to hear and lowered his voice to the barest of whispers. "I'm going to try to find a way to contact them."
The blond boy seemed to find all of this difficult to believe but he whispered, "Are you crazy? What if you’re found out? Look what they did to you already."
Jack whispered, "But it sounds like he's a prisoner. He has to contact his parents."
The blond boy said, "This all sounds too fantastic. We're not like some of the lawless border worlds. This is the Federation."
Kerr looked piercingly at him. "Exactly. It's just the type of thing they would do."
The blond boy glanced around anxiously again, his eyes were taking on the look of someone who suddenly found himself surrounded by crazy people. "You sound like one of those rebels. You're not, are you? Because if you are, I don't think my parents would like me talking to you. You're going to get me in trouble and probably kicked out of this program."
Jack's voice was still in a whisper but it had risen slightly, "Is that all you care about? Doesn't it matter to you that Kerr is a prisoner?"
The blond boy snapped back at him, "Of course I do! It's just that…"
Avon could feel that the young Kerr wanted to break up the tension. Kerr said, "I know it's hard to find out the truth about something you've always believed in. My parents say the Federation is very good at covering things up."
The blond boy said sceptically, "If it is the truth."
Jack said, "Are you saying that Kerr is lying?"
The blond boy was defensive. "I didn't say that. It's what Kerr said, it's hard for me to believe it."
Jack said snidely, "Not to mention you don't want to lose your place in this special program that makes some of us prisoners."
The blond boy's voice rose above a whisper and he said angrily, "Shut up! You're not the only one who's worried about Kerr."
Young Kerr stepped between them. "Stop it. Both of you." He turned his head towards Jack and asked in a low whisper, "Jack, are you a prisoner too?"
Jack grimaced. "Not really. Not like you. My…father put me in this program. I…didn't want to come." His shoulders slowly slumped.
Young Kerr put his hand on Jack's shoulder. "Why didn't you want to? Like he said, it is a good opportunity for you."
Jack looked up. There was misery in his eyes. "You wouldn't understand. I know why I'm here."
"Why?" asked Kerr.
Jack shook his head slowly. "I don't want to talk about it."
The blond boy said, “Kerr, you didn’t answer my question. Are your parents rebels? That might explain why you were taken away from them. The Federation might have thought they would be bad influences on you.”
Kerr said cynically, “Yes the Federation would call the truth a bad influence. But you might have a point, that may be why they took me."
Jack asked with concern, "Do you think they might hurt your parents?"
Avon could feel his young self's concern, "I don't know. My parents aren’t rebels. They don’t like them much either. They call them ignorant and violent. My parents respect their intentions but don't agree with most of the things they do. They say the rebels harm more people than they help and their actions make the Federation act even more brutal and oppressive. My parents said we should oppose the Federation but use your brains and try not to get people hurt in the process.”
Avon was confused by what young Kerr was saying. He did not remember this about his parents. It was as if Kerr was describing someone else’s parents. He needed to find out what happened. Which memories about his parents were real?
And who were these two boys? A tickle of memory touched the back of his mind. Avon felt that he should know who these boys were. They seemed so familiar, as if he'd seen them before. Of course he had, they existed in his childhood memories. But there was something else...
There was an explosion of pain in his head. Avon cried out even as the dream receded back into the depths of his mind.
Dr. Kendric's voice told him, “It’s alright, Avon. You’ll feel better in a minute.”
Avon’s eyes opened. He recognized the muted mint green hues of the examination room ceiling. The pain in his head was fading, replaced by a feeling of calm. The memories were gone; he couldn't even remember what they had been about. A faint feeling of frustration filled him as he turned his head to look around.
Some of the doctors were at the control panels, stabilizing his condition presumably; making observations and taking readings. There was someone standing behind them. Avon blinked his eyes several times. For a few disturbing moments, his confused mind didn’t recognize him.
Sester. A frown darkened Avon’s face. How could he forget one of his greatest enemies?