Vila asked with astonishment, "We knew each other as children?"
He felt like pinching himself but he doubted if it would work. Avon had already doused him with a glass full of liquid reality and it hadn't seemed to make a difference. He was still in this crazy dream.
Three people whom he had thought couldn't possibly have a connection to each other were suddenly childhood friends. They all had memories of being together that barely any of them remembered. And now he may have known them too.
Vila had a fleeting thought. Could he have been one of the friends too? It was a crazy hope. How could he be? Alphas ran in exclusive circles. They didn't see the hired help. Other grades were little more than part of the functional furniture. There to serve and not be seen.
Sester said, "That is a remote possibility that we would like to test. Avon had a dream about you."
Vila said with a jokingly aside, "Something good I hope."
Avon said straight-faced, "I don't remember. The likelihood is that it was a recent memory."
Sester was leaning against his bed. "Yes, most likely but as we don't know for certain, we would like to test it."
Vila sat up straighter, "Do you need me to do anything?"
Argus said, "That's why you're here."
Sester said, "It appears that I was able to trigger memories for Avon while I was experiencing my own. I think that the sound of your voice might help facilitate this."
This didn't sound too dangerous. "You want me to talk to him while he's sleeping?"
"Not quite. The Tellaran doctors will guide Avon to a dream state and direct his mind to go back to find a memory with you in it. Your voice may be helpful in this process."
Vila repeated, "So you want me to talk to him while he's sleeping?"
Sester chuckled. "You're right. That is what we want you to do."
"You Alphas like to make things complicated." Vila stood up. "When are we doing this?"
Avon looked at him with amusement, "Well, it appears that you want to do it now."
Looking as if he just realized that he had stood up, Vila was almost on the verge of sitting back down again, "I mean we don't have to do it right now. We could wait."
Argus said decisively, "You're right, Vila. There's no time like the present. We might as well settle this now. If you're ready, Avon?"
"By all means, let's do what Vila suggests."
Avon and Sester were in adjoining beds in the examination room. Green rays bathed their heads as the specialists prepared for the session.
Vila stood by nervously as the medical specialists prepared. He wasn’t sure what to think of all this activity or the revelations about childhoods that were hidden.
Despite their numerous conflicts, he'd always felt closer to Avon than anyone else, other than Gan. With Gan, he shared the bond of grade experiences but with Avon, it was different. He liked to think that they were the two smartest people on the ship. They both saw the dangers and the things that the others didn't. But what if there was something else that joined them? It would be like finding out that he still had some family left.
Vila asked, "Avon, do you think we could have known each other as children?"
Avon had been wondering the same thing as he contemplated the ceiling. "That's what we're endeavouring to determine."
"I know but…"
Sester turned his body partially to look at the two of them. "What Vila wants to know is if you want it to be true?"
Avon's eyes narrowed at the unwanted intrusion and then he asked Vila, "Is this true?"
Vila shuffled his feet nervously. "I lost my family a long time ago."
Avon turned to stare at him. This made Vila even more uncomfortable, he could only hazard a brief glance at Avon.
Sester said lightly, "In case you were wondering, Avon, that means yes."
Avon almost growled, "I do not need a translation."
"Well, you certainly need something. Would you like the probabilities of your messing this up?"
Argus asked Dr. Kendric loudly, "Do we really have to have him in there?"
Dr. Kendric smiled with amusement. "Yes, Sester's presence will be helpful if what you suspect is true."
Sester smothered a smirk from his bed on hearing this none-too-subtle exchange. Acting as if he were completely ignoring the lack of welcome for his participation he turned to Avon and said, "Avon, you still haven't answered Vila's question."
Avon directed a dark glare in his direction.
A quiet voice asked, "Avon, don't you want it to be true?"
Avon became very still, there was no expression on his face as he rolled to face Vila. His voice was subdued. "My family was also lost to me."
At that moment Dr Kendric said, "We're ready now."
Avon and Sester settled back down on their respective beds. There was an unspoken question that was shared between the four men.
What would they find inside Avon's mind?
Dr. Kendric's voice was calm. "I am going to begin by putting you both in a state that promotes dreams."
The beams changed colours as they continued to bathe their heads. Avon and Sester's faces relaxed and their eyes closed.
"Avon, can you hear me?"
Avon's voice sounded distant. "Yes."
"Good. Do you know where you are?"
Avon's eyes opened for a moment and then he closed them again. "I am in the examination room."
"Yes. You are in the examination room. I want you to remember that. No matter what happens in your memories, you are still here. Do you understand?"
Avon responded. "I understand."
Vila waited anxiously nearby as he watched.
"Good. Now, Avon, I want you to follow my instructions precisely. Can you do that?"
Avon paused. "It depends on what they are."
Dr. Kendric looked at Argus with amusement.
Argus said, "He's like that."
Kendric nodded. "Alright, Avon. You are aware that you have mind blocks?"
"I do not want you to break through the blocks."
Avon paused. "Then why are we doing this?"
"We are going to find areas in your mind that surround the blocks."
"You are attempting to bypass the obstacles?"
"Yes. Can you do this?"
"I will try."
As Dr. Kendric focused on Avon, Sester's mind was relaxed and suggestion-free. He decided that it was a waste of time to wait for his own instructions and began exploring on his own. His awareness sharpened as he applied his skills to the interaction between Avon and Dr. Kendric.
Dr. Kendric asked, "Where are you now?"
Avon's voice was different; the whisper of a small child who was trying to be discreet. "I'm in a tunnel."
Dr. Kendric had asked him to return to an earlier time when he remembered Vila but was not associated with a memory block. The people at the Academy had never known that it was in the tunnels that Kerr first met Vila.
"Where is this tunnel?"
Avon's small quiet voice replied, "It's in one of the classroom corridors."
"This is in the Academy?"
Avon grimaced and his hand went to his head.
One of the doctors said, "Direct memory of the Academy seems to have been blocked."
Dr. Kendric nodded. "Avon, I want you to stop trying to think about the Academy. Just focus on the tunnel."
Avon relaxed and put his hand down.
Kendric asked, "Why are you in this tunnel?"
Avon turned to his side and curled up. "I…don't want to talk about it."
"Alright, Avon. What is the tunnel like?"
"It's narrow and dark. I'm cramped. I'm waiting…for…I don't know." Avon was panting as he struggled.
Sester had been paying attention to this interaction. He took particular note of Avon's partial change in manner as he became Kerr. Sester decided that they could use some help from him. No one had his skills after all.
In his partial dream state, Sester spoke from his bed, "It may be a partial block, not on the location but on a person. Avon is obviously waiting for someone in the tunnel but that person is being blocked from his mind."
The doctors reacted with surprise. One of them exclaimed, "How is he able to do that?"
Argus asked, "What's the problem?"
Kendrick explained, "They are both in a suggestive state. They should not be able to initiate actions on their own unless directed to. It appears that they both can."
Argus said, "Avon has an unusually strong mind."
"Yes. We expected that, but it looks as if Sester does as well."
Argus scowled at the thought. The last thing he wanted to hear was that Sester had a strong anything.
The doctor asked cautiously, "You don't like him?"
Argus started at this question from a stranger. He was allowing his personal considerations to show. "It has no bearing on the matter. What is Sester suggesting?"
Kendric said speculatively, "If the person Avon is waiting for is being blocked from his mind, then we might be waiting a long time in this tunnel with him. Is that what you're suggesting, Sester?"
Sester smiled dreamily, "Yes. A very long time. Use Vila."
In her calm voice, Dr. Kendrick said slowly, "Yes, of course. He might serve as the trigger. Avon's mind might be able to block his memory of Vila but it cannot block the real Vila. Very good, thank you Sester."
Sester beamed. "My pleasure."
Kendric said, "Vila, do you know what you need to do?"
Vila took a step towards them. "I think so. You want me to speak to Avon. See if I can trigger a memory?"
"Yes. You can stand right by his head but stay out of the range of the beams."
"Right." Vila got closer.
Dr. Kendric said in a gentle voice, "Avon, can you still here me?"
Avon's voice was a child-like whisper, "Yes. I'm here."
"Are you still waiting?"
"Yes. I'm waiting." Even though he was using an adult's voice, in child-mode, he sounded vulnerable.
"That's good, Avon. Keep listening carefully."
"I plan to." Kendric signalled Vila to begin.
Vila cleared his tense throat. He wanted very much for this to be real, that he and Avon had been childhood friends too, just like the others. He said tentatively, "Avon?"
There was no response.
He leaned closer and tried the whisper that Avon had been using, "Avon, its Vila."
Still no response met his attempt. Vila's heart fell. He had wanted this to be real.
Dr. Kendric said, "Try again, Vila."
Vila was reluctant to add another disappointment. His eyes widened as a thought struck him. He bent even closer to Avon's ear, blocking off the green rays, "Kerr?"
Avon took a gasping breath in and then a smile spread across his face. It was the young Kerr who responded, "Vila?"
Vila's mouth dropped and then he swallowed. It was almost as if someone had given him an unexpected present. "Yes, Kerr. It's Vila. Do you remember me?"
"Vila? Of course I re…" Avon's head twisted left and right. He groaned as he put his hand to his head and there was confusion on his face. "What? Why..."
Dr. Kendric said urgently, "Vila, that's enough. Avon is confused now because what you're saying does not match what he remembers. Let him process this on his own. If he has trouble then you can try speaking to him again."
"Right." Vila took a step back.
Kerr shook his head. The shadows seemed to be playing tricks on his eyes. Vila's young face seemed strange, unclear. He rubbed his head and then his eyes, trying to focus. Slowly, like a malfunctioning screen that needed a kick, Vila's face began to clear. The pain faded. Kerr said, "I thought you weren't coming."
Vila said with a smile, "Nothing could keep me away. Not rain or shine or a whole squad of troopers."
"You have rain where you live?" asked Kerr sceptically. He'd only experienced it in special environment domes that approximated the ancient climates and the times he had gone off-planet with his parents. He doubted if his Beta friend would have had the same opportunities.
"Nah. Just read about it. I suppose you have, being an Alpha," said Vila enviously.
"It's nothing special."
"That's easy for you to say."
Kerr was always fascinated by the differences between them. Vila was his first non-level grade friend. "Do you…resent us? I mean, me being an Alpha?"
Vila chewed his lip and looked nervously at Kerr, "Well, that's what we all do. All the grades. We bash the Alphas. Not you, of course, I would never do that to you. You're different. You're not like the others."
"And neither are you," said Kerr. "You're much smarter than the regular Beta."
Kerr could see a bare frown amidst the shadows that played across young Vila's face.
Vila said, "You see? That's why we don't like Alphas. You all think that no one can be smart just because we're not like you."
Kerr felt bad. He had expressed a normal attitude that he had grown up with. It hadn’t occurred to him that he might offend a friend. He'd have to be careful now. It was different having a non-Alpha as a friend. He was determined to learn. "I'm sorry."
Vila grinned. Kerr noticed that his friend didn't seem to keep anger for very long.
Vila said, "S'alright. My mum says that's just the way of the Alphas. You can't help it. It's the way you grew up. We have to be charitable in our attitudes."
Kerr laughed. "I like your mother."
Vila smiled. "I do too."
"I wish…" Kerr suddenly felt sick, like there was a heavy weight on his chest. He turned away quickly.
He could feel Vila's hand on his arm and heard a small concerned voice, "It's your parents, isn’t it?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"You used to want to. What happened?"
Kerr looked down at his drawn up knees. "It never does any good. Talking about it doesn't change anything. My parents…" His voice choked as a stab of pain seemed to pierce his chest. "…are never going to come for me."
"I don't want to talk about it."
Vila's hand dropped from his arm. "Alright."
Kerr suddenly had a need to say something. "Vila, what I said earlier, I was serious. You're very smart."
Vila asked, "What about it?"
"Have you…received your first grading tests yet?"
"Nah…that's not 'til next year."
Kerr could hear the pride in his young friend's voice. He could almost imagine Vila's chest puffing up in the darkness. Vila said, "I know I'm gonna do well. They'll re-grade me as an Alpha. I'll be just like you." Kerr could tell that this idea made Vila very happy.
Kerr said quietly, "Vila, don't let them re-grade you."
Vila's head tilted back a bit. "Why? Don't you think I can be one?"
Kerr was careful, after his earlier remark, he didn't want to hurt Vila. "I know you can. But you don't want to, Vila."
"Sure I do."
Kerr shook his head. "You don't. Not like me. You're not just smart, Vila, you're very smart. If you took the tests, they might send you here."
"Oh. That's not good." Vila looked worried. "Do you really think they'd do that?"
"They did to me." Kerr was very aware of the constant pain in his head. His voice no longer sounded like the confident Alpha child. "Vila, I don't know what they're doing to me."
"What do you mean?"
Kerr rubbed his temple. "My…head hurts all the time. The therapists try to twist me around, make me think differently. They don't like it when I won't. Then they use the learning machines and my head hurts even more."
"That's outrageous! They can't do that to you!"
"They can and they are. My parents are letting them."
Vila said sympathetically, "I'm sorry, Kerr."
"It doesn't matter. It's too late for me but not for you, Vila. Don't let them send you here." Kerr grabbed Vila's arm in urgency and fixed his eyes with a determined gaze, "No matter what you do, don't let them send you here."
Kerr's ears pricked up. He could hear voices. Charles and Jack. "Vila, you'd better go."
Avon woke up with a start. He was disoriented. His head felt as if someone was using it for laser practice; shot after shot was being fired directly into his brain. He could feel his heart pounding like a drum that was too large for his chest and was threatening to beat free from its tight confines.
Vila's face floated into view. For a moment, two faces seemed to be superimposed on each other, both Vila but not the same one. Avon gasped out a ragged, "Vila?" He tortured mind remembered something about a tunnel. Fighting through the pain he struggled to retain the memory. There was something important he had to say.
His hand went to his head, as if he were trying to hold it together. "You were there…in the tunnel." Avon groaned. No matter how hard he tried the vision was fading from his mind. He continued struggling. "The tunnel. Vila. The tunnel. I ...can’t remember." There was anguish and frustration on his face.
Vila put his hand on Avon's shoulder. "It's alright, Avon. Let go of it. I'll remember for us." There was a strange look on his face.