Avon lay on an examination table. He could feel its padded surface moulding to his body. It provided just the right amount of support for his strained back.
He reflected on how this medical facility was unlike most that he had been the fortunate or unfortunate guest of. The atmosphere was no less professional and competent than any he had been in but it appeared to have been designed with the patient in mind as much as anything else. These people saw beyond the physical body to what should be immaterial in the practice of medicine.
Several medical technicians were working quietly around his head, positioning various machines into place.
Dr. Kendric approached and addressed him. "Avon."
Avon turned to look at her.
She said, "We're about to begin. This examination will concentrate on your brain."
Avon asked, "A brain mapping?"
"Yes, in a way. I understand from Cally that you've had one of those done before?"
The technicians finished their calibrations and left the examination area.
Avon recalled the one that Healer Garett had done. "Yes. I doubt if the results will be any different."
Kendric smiled. "Perhaps not. But possibly more detailed. We're able to fine-tune the mapping frequencies to detect a larger range of features."
"What difference does it make if the results will be the same?"
Kendric reached out with her hand. For a moment, Avon thought she was going to rest it on his shoulder. The doctor's hand hovered a second and then she lightly touched the bed beside him. "Don't you believe that all information is useful?"
Dr. Kendric almost seemed to grin but she maintained her calm, detached manner. "We may surprise you, Avon."
Avon stared at her. He still wasn't finished processing the 'surprises' they had given him the previous day. "Surprises are over-rated."
This time Kendric did place a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Of course."
One of the medical specialists behind the panel controlling the mapping machines said, "We're ready."
"Alright." Dr. Kendric looked down at Avon again. "I believe that the mind mapping machines that were used before produced some pain?"
To Avon, the level of discomfort had been of little consequence compared to what he had been used to. "Some. It was negligible."
"I'm sorry. You will find that these ones do not produce pain or discomfort but it may trigger memories and sense impressions. It depends on how receptive your mind is. We will not try to trace memory signatures today. It will be too exhausting for you. Do you have any questions?"
"Very well. Let's begin."
Avon felt nothing as the various machines centred on his brain. No tingling feelings or sensations of any kind. Just a state of relaxed restfulness.
Without any demands on his attention, his mind was free to wander.
All information was valuable. As long as it was useful and could be put into the proper context. That had always been his belief.
The information they were discovering, was about him. Was it useful to know that he may have been the result of someone else's attempts at bioengineering? Whether he had been a part of a eugenics program or had been put together like a puzzle in a lab, did it really matter? Surely not after all this time.
Avon was determined to view it dispassionately. Anything that did not have any value in bringing him back to a more useful physical or mental state was to be discarded ruthlessly and without any personal considerations. At best, it was a curiosity. It had no impact on his present condition and it could not help.
Just as he had asserted to everyone yesterday, and had kept telling Cally since then. He could tell that she wasn't convinced but was refraining from saying anything further for fear of irritating him.
Then why did a sick feeling begin in the pit of his stomach whenever the topic came up? Why did everyone else seemed obsessed with his origins? Why did they insist on talking about it with him? Cally had been the worst. He cared about her deeply, but he had to draw the line somewhere. Some things were private.
Why should it make a difference? Why did he have problems remembering specific details about his past? Did he really want to find out that he had been nothing more than a puppet all of his life? What he could remember was already bad enough. Did he need this additional knowledge?
Vila and Corinne entered the shop with the furry four-legged animal on its holographic banner and “Cisco Blouses” in light blue letters. This was the place where Corinne had picked up several nice blouses, one of which she was wearing now, the one with the white and blue flowers.
Vila glanced up at the banner as they passed under it. The furry animal reminded him of the pictures of cats back on Earth. It seemed so real that he almost wanted to reach up to pet it.
Vila almost did a double-take when he entered the shop and saw the cat from the banner lying with its back on the counter. The elderly shopkeeper with the long fingers and expressive hands was giving it a tummy rub and speaking to it fondly. The cat was giving off little rumbling sounds of contentment.
“Oh, that’s adorable!” Corinne exclaimed.
The shopkeeper turned her head in their direction with a friendly smile on her face. “Welcome back!”
Corinne approached the counter hesitantly and with a great deal of curiosity. There was a hopeful look on her face. “Can I touch it? I’ve never seen a creature like this before.”
“Cisco would love the attention,” said the woman.
Corinne placed her hand gently on the cat’s tummy, almost as if she was afraid of hurting it. The cat gave a little encouraging meow and Corinne began to stroke it. A low rumble of pleasure emanated from the little creature; the sound almost seemed to go right through them. The cat’s happiness was infectious and brought smiles to their faces.
Vila also began petting the cat. “Your shop is named after your cat?”
The shopkeeper said, “Yes. She’s the inspiration for some of my best creations. My name is Sienna.”
“Mine’s Vila and this is Corinne.”
The shopkeeper’s said warmly, “Welcome Vila and Corinne. I hope your visit to Tellar has been enjoyable.”
Vila smiled wryly, “I suppose we stick out as outworlders.”
Sienna said, “Some of your questions did tell me that you were strangers. But I already knew who you were.”
Vila was very interested in this. “You did?”
“Yes, everyone in the Union knows who you are.”
Vila imagined his face being broadcast out on the Tellaran daily newscasts. He’d never been a celebrity before.
“That explains why we’ve been getting the free things,” Vila said in comprehension. In some ways, this made him feel much better. The idea of a place where everything was free was a bit disturbing to his enterprising mind.
Sienna said, “Oh no. That has nothing to do with people knowing who you are. That’s just the way things work on Tellar.”
Vila said, “You mean, everything is free, for everyone?” The tone in his voice indicated that this was an outrageous idea, or at the very least something incomprehensible to him.
Little Cisco flipped over suddenly and sat looking at him curiously, its head tilted to the side.
Sienna said, “Yes. That’s right.” For her it was completely natural.
“I don’t get how a market could work without any money.”
Sienna began scratching the cat behind the ears. “It’s not a market in the sense that you’re familiar with. We don’t work on the concept of currency for value here. The name 'market' is a hold over from ancient days and visitors seem to like it.”
“Then how does it work?”
“We work on the concept of mutual sharing and collective responsibility. People contribute the best they are capable of and that best is enjoyed by everyone. So in that sense, it’s not free. For example, I try to make everyone’s experience in my shop a positive one and I try to create the most beautiful blouses that I can.”
Vila was very sceptical about this kind of system. “But don’t you have people who take advantage of all the free things? What happens if someone decides to be lazy and not do anything?”
Sienna looked thoughtful. “We don’t have many people like that. Usually there’s something wrong with them so we try to help them. We’re taught from a very young age that each person’s participation is important and that we owe each other our best.”
“But what if someone really won’t cooperate? What if they like taking advantage of people?”
“That would be very sad, for both them and Tellar. If the problem itself is that they insist on reflecting the values of the people outside Tellar then they are given a choice. They can live in the world they have chosen or they can stay in the Union. We give them enough so that they will be comfortably set up wherever they chose but after that, it is their own responsibility. They are free to come back if they wish but only if they are willing to abide by the values of Tellar. It is unfortunate, but it is their own choice. Usually people do come back. The world outside is a very good cure.”
Vila said with appreciation, “I suppose most of this Sector would be a good cure for a lot of things.”
Sienna chuckled and continued patting the cat.
Corinne said wryly, “Chandar definitely would be.”
The cat purred encouragingly at them. It was a very comforting sound.
Vila asked, “What about strangers like us? We don’t contribute the way the regular Tellaran does but you still give us free things.”
Sienna said, “You are welcome guests. The hospitality of Tellar is open to you. We find that most visitors get carried away at first and take many things. We understand and we are happy to make your stay here an enjoyable one. But we’ve found that after awhile, most people settle down once they have all the things they think they need. We do have rules for visitors. If there is an excessive abuse of the system, the shopkeeper’s will start charging for items. If the items are being obtained for commercial reasons and not personal ones, then visitors are required to register with the Off-world Commerce Bureau and any items for business purposes will require trade or payment.”
Corinne had a thoughtful look on her face. “People on Tellar contribute their best. That’s how things work here?”
Vila could see that Corinne was bothered by something.
Sienna said, “Yes.”
Corinne said, “I know we’re guests here.” She looked down at her blouse and touched it with her fingers. “But…”
Vila realized what was worrying her. “You want to do something too?”
Corinne turned troubled eyes towards him. “Yes, but I don’t know what. I have nothing to give back. I wish I did.” She said to Sienna, “I would gladly give it.”
Sienna eyes were kind. “Your mother taught you well, Corinne. It is not required for you to give us anything but your thoughts are very much appreciated.”
Vila had an idea. “I know what we could give back!”
Corinne’s eyes brightened.
Vila said, “People on Tellar give their best. I’m good at entertaining people with magic tricks. We can give a show together. You can be my assistant.”
Sienna asked, “What is this magic?”
Vila smiled. There was a possibility that the people here had never seen magic tricks before. “Yes. Illusions, sleight-of-hand, like this…” Vila held up an open and empty hand. With a flick of his wrist, the oval disk he used for practicing finger dexterity, ‘magically’ appeared.
The two women gasped in delighted surprise. Sienna exclaimed, “That’s an amazing ability. You seem to be able to create something out of nothing.”
Vila grinned, “No exactly. It’s just sleight-of-hand. Tricks. I know how to move my hands so that it seems to appear out of thin air. Do you think people might enjoy a magic show here?”
Sienna said enthusiastically, “I’m sure they would.”
Little Cisco batted Vila’s hand, trying to get at the disc.
Sienna said, “I can arrange for you to use the open stage at the end of the square here. When would you like to do it?”
“Well, we’d have to practice a bit. Make it a proper show. How about in three days?”
“That would be wonderful.”
Argus was trying not to be amused by the look on Reya’s face as she lay on the bed in the recovery room.
Reya asked impatiently, “Well?”
“I’m here to release you. Cally says you’ve rested enough.”
“Finally!” Reya immediately got out of bed and started walking around, stretching her legs.
Argus studied her and said with mock-disapproval, “You’ve been getting out of bed when I wasn’t looking. Haven’t you?”
Reya’s face reddened, “I…suppose I have. I’m sorry. It’s hard staying here while everyone else is doing something.”
“Don’t do it again.” The effect of his serious tone was offset by the big grin that appeared on his face. He hugged her. “I completely understand.” He sighed with happiness as he felt her strong body against his. “What would you like to do first?”
Reya smiled. “I want to visit the planet.”