He, Vila, Avon and a group of the Athol soldiers were crawling through a narrow, dark, dank, odorous and rodent infested tunnel.
“Why do we have to crawl through the muck, anyway? There must be a much better way of getting into this complex,” said Vila.
“Yes, there is. It’s called the front entrance. I believe they will even provide a reception,” whispered Avon, who was behind him.
“Why couldn’t we just teleport up to a window, like the last time?” asked Vila in a much quieter voice. Being in dark and small enclosed spaces still made him feel uncomfortable. He did not like it here and talking seemed to make him feel better.
“You know why. They have an energy shield protecting this building. The teleport will not operate through it,” said Avon.
“Well, that’s not very friendly of them. Downright anti-social if you ask me,” said Vila.
“No one asked,” said Avon as he tried to adjust the equipment bag over his left shoulder. It tended to hamper his movements.
“Hey,” said Vila, stopping his own progress to look back at Avon.
Avon stared up at Vila for a moment and then he nodded.
Vila grinned at him, “You asked.”
“So I did. Don’t let it get to your head,” said Avon.
“Who me?” asked Vila with feigned innocence.
“Exactly,” said Avon as he levelled him with a glare.
Vila’s grin widened as he returned to crawling through the tunnel. A touch of a grin also touched Avon’s lips as Vila faced forward again. They were both trying.
Avon knew one of Vila’s sources of nervousness was because of the memories of the shuttle Servalan had given him. Despite knowing the truth, it was a ‘reality’ they had both lived with for far too long.
“Will both of you be quiet?!” said Argus. “Or we might as well be walking through the front entrance.” He put up his hand in a closed fist suddenly.
Everyone stopped and listened. Ears strained to hear any sounds indicating danger. Dripping water seemed to make inordinately loud splashing noises; but other than occasional sounds of small scurrying feet, there was nothing in the tunnel with them.
Argus signalled them to move forward again.
“I wish you would stop doing that,” said Vila. “You’re making me nervous.”
Argus gave him a look that clearly said to be quiet.
Vila whispered apologetically, “Sorry. I talk when I’m nervous.”
As they continued slowly forward, they all recalled why they were taking this scenic route into the complex.
Argus said, “Of course, the most efficient way to destroy the complex is to use the neutron blasters. A precision strike at the coordinates. There won’t be anything left of the building and they won’t know what hit them until it’s too late.”
Avon and Vila absorbed this suggestion. The plan was quick, decisive; and it would achieve their objectives with very little risk to themselves. For a long moment, no one said anything and then Avon said, “We can’t yet.”
They all stared at him.
Argus asked, “Are they shielded against energy weapons attacks?”
“No,” responded Avon.
“There are ships over the planet?” Argus asked.
“No,” responded Avon.
“We don’t have enough firepower to destroy the building?”
“We have more than enough weapons capability,” said Avon.
Argus stared at him irritably, “Can we get to the end? Before I exhaust every possibility you could say ‘no’ to?”
Avon gave him a brief impish grin and then he said, “I promised Cally.”
Argus grimaced slightly upon hearing Avon’s reason. Reya was not very happy with him either and she had made it clear to him in no uncertain terms what she thought of his plans. Argus was feeling miserable. He did not like taking this step, but he didn’t see that they had any other choice. He had steeled himself to do what was necessary. “I’m surprised at you, Avon. I would have thought that sentiment would be the least of your motivating factors where survival was concerned. We can’t afford sentiment here.”
“It’s not sentiment,” said Avon. “I didn’t say that destroying the complex would not be an option.”
“You found another way?” His ears pricked up; there was a hopeful expression on Argus’s face.
“We need to infiltrate the base and plant charges.”
Argus shook his head, “That’s just stalling for time. If we’re going to destroy the complex, then let’s just destroy it. Why give them a chance?”
“It’s not the Andromedans we are giving a chance to by doing this,” said Avon.
Argus nodded. “Alright.” The human side of him welcomed this idea, even though it was little more than a delay. The commander side of him knew that it was a risk with very little to gain.
“Since we’re going in, it would be a good idea to infiltrate their computer systems as well,” suggested Avon.
* Thank you, Avon. *
Avon started at the sudden voice in his head. * Cally? *
“What’s wrong?” asked Argus at Avon’s inexplicable reaction of surprise.
“Are you alright?” asked Vila worriedly.
Avon held up his hand. “I’m fine. Continue.”
“You’re sure?” asked Vila, still concerned.
“I am,” responded Avon, not inviting any further questions.
Argus continued, “We’ll need to involve Lt. Dain and his men. I’ll get Dain.” Argus went over to the comm system to contact Dain.
Cally projected to Avon, * I’m sorry to startle you. They must think something’s wrong with you. *
* That would not be unusual. * Avon thought outwards to her as he and Vila watched Argus contacting the Athol lieutenant. * I thought you couldn’t read my mind? *
* Don’t worry, I can’t. * Cally projected reassurance to him.
* Then how did you know what we were just talking about? * Avon thought to her.
* There’s only one way I can. You sent your thoughts outwards so that I could pick them up, * responded Cally.
* I didn’t realize I was doing that, * he thought to her along with a strong sense of consternation.
* On a subconscious level, you must have wanted me to know. *
* That’s very inconvenient, * Avon thought to her.
Cally sent an impression of amusement and sympathy.
* I’m glad that you find it so amusing, * thought Avon.
* I’m sorry. I will leave you alone now and I’ll try not to eavesdrop. *
* That would be much appreciated, * Avon thought to her.
At the tone in his thoughts, Cally sent him a clear impression of a chuckle. Then in serious tone, she projected, * Thank you, Avon. For trying to give the children a chance. *
* I didn’t say that destroying them would not be an option, * Avon warned her.
* I know. *
Argus came back and sat down. “He’s on his way here.”
The night before, right after Cally had walked out of the flight deck and Avon, Argus and Vila’s plans to destroy the research complex, she went to see Reya and Vanora. She told them of what Avon had discovered, without telling them of what they were planning. Cally and Reya proceeded to question Vanora about the existence of the hybrids.
“They made clones of me?” asked Vanora.
“Don’t tell me that you didn’t know,” said Reya cynically. Vanora looked genuinely shocked, but Reya was maintaining a high degree of suspicion towards her.
“I didn’t,” said Vanora. She sat down. Her face looked pale. “I thought…”
“What did you think?” asked Cally. She had been able to read how stunned Vanora had felt when she heard the news. But she knew that she couldn’t tell if Vanora was being genuine or not. The woman had far too much control over her own psi abilities.
“I’ve been aware of something; at the edge of my consciousness. It seemed familiar. Echoes of something I should know. I didn’t understand it until now. They are my children. They’re extensions of me.” * I don’t have to be alone anymore. *
Cally glanced at Vanora in surprise. It was a brief and stray fragment of thought that escaped from the wall of blankness Vanora normally presented. Vanora seemed to be looking inwards, not aware of anything in the room.
“They’re not identical clones of you,” said Cally. “Your genetic material was spliced with that of the aliens. They’re hybrids.”
“But I can feel, they’re mine,” said Vanora. “There are certain telepathic imprints which are unique to me. They have them.”
“How many are there?” asked Reya.
Vanora concentrated and then said, “Twenty-four.”
“You’re certain?” asked Reya.
“Yes. Now that you told me about them, I knew what to look for. I can feel each of their minds. I’m very certain,” said Vanora. She gasped and smiled suddenly.
“What is it?” asked Cally.
“They’re aware of me,” said Vanora. “I was trying to touch their minds.”
“Can they tell you anything?” asked Reya.
“They’re still at the gestation stage. They have awareness. They can feel general states. But not much beyond that,” said Vanora. She looked at Cally and Reya and said, “We have to go rescue them.”
Cally and Reya suddenly looked everywhere except at Vanora. Vanora eyed them worriedly. “No! You can’t. They haven’t even been born yet. They haven’t done anything! You can’t just kill them!”
“We may not have a choice,” said Reya, shifting uncomfortably on her feet. “If the aliens were to be able to develop a powerful army of telepaths targeted at humanity, and able to do what you’ve been doing on the ship, there’s nothing we can do to stop them. We’d be helpless. We might as well give up.” As she said this, Reya felt ill.
“There must be something you can do! Please! Go and rescue them. If the aliens don’t have control over them, then they won’t be a threat. Don’t hold them responsible for what I did.” Her eyes sought theirs; there was pleading and desperation in them.
Both Cally and Reya were torn by Vanora’s displays of emotion and their own extreme wariness of her.
“We don’t want this anymore than you do,” said Reya sympathetically. She looked at Cally, wanting to catch her attention to get the other woman’s input, but Cally was being unusually quiet. Her eyes were focused down and away from them.
Vanora said, “You want to neutralize my abilities so that I will never be a threat. I know that’s what you've been thinking.”
Reya eyed her suspiciously.
Vanora said, “You don’t have to worry, I can’t read your mind. But it’s evident that’s what you were thinking. In your place, I would be thinking that too. And you were right; I was stalling with the drug. It can be made much quicker than I indicated. But there is a much more permanent solution.”
Reya and Cally stared at her. Vanora sounded sincere. She had sounded genuine before too but never like this; she looked vulnerable, like someone who has been stripped bare.
She looked at Cally, “I know that even if I allow you full access to my mind, you would still have reservations. You would never be able to tell if I am controlling what you’re sensing. And you would be right. But what I am proposing will prove it beyond questioning.”
“What are you proposing?” asked Reya, her eyes narrowing.
“I can show you the centres of my brain which enable psi abilities. You can use a laser probe to disable those areas,” said Vanora. “I would no longer have any psi abilities for you to worry about.”
“I don’t know…,” said Reya.
“That’s too dangerous,” said Cally. “I am not a surgeon. It might leave you with permanent brain damage.”
“I’m willing to risk it. If you will save my children,” said Vanora.
“Do you believe her?” Reya asked Cally.
“I think we must. No one would do this unless they meant it,” said Cally.
“You know what Avon and Argus think,” said Reya.
Cally paused and then in a quiet voice, “Yes. They don’t see a choice.”
“I don’t either, but I’ll try to talk to Argus,” said Reya.
“I’ll do the same with Avon,” said Cally.