The Justice crew were given seats to one side of the Captain of the patrol ship. Captain Tarija was a commanding, dark-complexioned woman who lent calm to the rush of activity around her. The room was full of industrious activity as blue and white uniformed Tellarans made preparations to depart. The air seemed electric with excitement.
Vila mumbled to himself, “Chairs. Comfortable chairs.” He was enjoying the feel of his chair. It had moulded around his frame as he sat down, giving an odd sensation at first. The chair gave the right support where his body needed support. He felt ready for anything.
Vila had never liked the Altan’s poor excuse for flight deck furniture. They could do with chairs like these on the Justice. He imagined that he could do a double-shift without falling asleep on one of these. Not that he’d volunteer to test that theory, of course. He liked to think of himself as the ideas man. Like Avon. Though Avon didn’t seem to get the idea. He tended to like doing things himself. Well, one couldn’t be perfect.
Argus looked over at him. “Did you say something, Vila?”
“It can wait.”
Argus, Reya, Vila, Corinne, Cally and Lt. Dain were in attendance.
Captain Tarija said to them, “Feel free to ask any questions.” The crew was bursting with curiosity but had refrained from disturbing the Tellaran crew. Now that they had an invitation to ask questions, they were not going to pass up the opportunity.
Cally started, “What do you do on these patrols?”
“We have many different types ranging from border defence to the one we are on currently. A search and rescue patrol.”
Vila asked, “You help people?”
“In its simplest form, yes.”
Argus asked, “And at its most complex?”
Tarija smiled. “Situations in this sector are invariably complex. Search and rescue missions are amongst the most dangerous we engage in.”
Reya asked, “Dangerous in what way?”
“We cannot prevent our neighbours in this sector from engaging in acts of violence against each other. We wished we could but it would be useless. Even if we stop one, the moment we leave, they would start over again.”
Argus asked, “What do you do then?”
“We go in after a conflict and help whoever is still alive.”
Argus was sitting forward in his seat. This subject fascinated him. “That is the danger.”
“Yes. Unfortunately, there are those who prey on the weak. Salvagers and pirates. They are not there to help and often they hinder our efforts. At times, we are attacked by the winning side. They don’t always like leaving the enemy alive.”
Cally asked, “What do you do in those cases?”
“We disable them.”
Argus asked, “You attack them?”
“We don’t attack.”
Vila was puzzled, “How do you disable them without attacking?”
Captain Tarija said, “We have one weapon on this ship that will destroy but it is not used except as a last resort. I’ve never had to use it in fifteen years of patrolling and I hope I will never have to. We have other weapons. Ones that do not destroy.”
Argus said, “We have seen the speed of your ships and your energy-absorbing shields.”
“Yes, those are an important part of our defence. But we have other ones which you will see later.”
A Tellaran, with a double stripe across his left shoulder, approached them. “Captain, we’re about to leave Tellar space.”
“Thank you, lieutenant.” She turned to Argus, “If you will excuse me, I have a few things to do.”
Avon stared into the faces of his two young friends. He was back in the dream again. His mind kept coming back here, there had to be a reason for it.
Jack said eagerly, “We’ll help you.”
Young Kerr shook his head. “I don’t want to get you in trouble. I can handle the computers myself.”
Jack pointed out, “We’re friends, Kerr. We’re in this together. Besides, you need someone to watch the door.”
Avon could feel Kerr smiling, “You only want to get kicked out of this program.”
Jack returned Kerr’s smile with a shy one of his own. “Do you think it’ll work?”
“I don’t plan to get caught.”
“I’ll have to try something else then.” Jack grinned. “But let’s help you first. Right, Charles?”
Charles. Avon now had the name of the other boy. It satisfied his curiosity but little else. The only Charles he knew could not be his young friend. Avon tried to concentrate on the blond boy’s face. The pain came right away and the face became indistinct.
His mind might be able to put him in this memory but something else was preventing him from identifying the boys.
This is annoying. There must be a way around it. Hopefully the Tellaran's regression therapy will avoid this problem. Avon stopped struggling and allowed the vision to continue.
Charles had not been looking enthusiastic about the whole idea. “I don’t know…”
Jack said, “He’d help us if we needed him.”
For some reason Charles seemed to look guilty. He said defensively, “I didn’t say I wasn’t going to.”
Avon could tell from what Kerr was feeling that something had happened between his young self and the blond boy. He could not tell what it was. Kerr said, “It’s alright. You don’t have to come. I just need Jack to watch the door.”
“I said I’ll go with you. When are we doing this?”
Kerr said, “After lights out tonight. We’ll wait an hour.”
“Tonight?” Charles swallowed nervously.
“There’s no reason to wait,” said Kerr.
Jack said, “I’ll be ready.”
Charles said reluctantly, “I’ll be ready too.”
The boys snuck into the dark room and let the door slide closed behind them. The lights of the terminals played shadow games along the stark grey walls as they felt their way along, waiting for their eyes to adjust.
I remember this room, thought Avon. It’s the computer lab. He had no other recollections of the Academy or any of these boys but he remembered this room. It was good to be able to remember something; Avon finally felt some connection to these memories.
Jack said, “I’ll go watch the corridor, you do what you need to, Kerr.”
Kerr went over to the instructor’s desk and sat down behind the computer. This computer was the only one with links to the networks outside of the building. Kerr quickly made his way along the public systems and gained access to a communications distribution node.
Even at this young age, simple password-protected security systems were no challenge for him. Avon smiled as young Kerr easily broke in.
After watching with Jack for awhile, Charles came back inside, pulled over a chair and joined his friend by the computer. He ran his fingers along the edge of the table nervously. “How long is this going to take?"
Kerr said absently, “Longer if you keep interrupting me.”
Out of the corner of his eyes, Avon saw Charles picking things up from the desk and putting them down again. It was clear the boy was nervous. "You don't have to be here, Charles. I can do this alone."
"I…want to be here. I'm just…never mind. Just make it quick, will you?"
Kerr said, "As quick as I can." His fingers seemed to work even faster. Avon could feel his young self's appreciation. He knew that Charles was afraid. Being at the Academy was very important for him but he was willing to risk it for friendship.
Charles couldn’t seem to sit still. He asked, “Kerr, what do you think your parents will do when they get your message?”
"They’ll try to find me.”
"Yes, but what can they do? If the Federation wants you, there’s nothing they can do about it.”
"That won’t stop them,” said Kerr confidently. His parents loved him. He knew they would never give up until they rescued him.
Charles asked, “Are you done?”
"The message is sent.”
With a relieved look on his face, Charles stood up. “Let’s go.”
“Not yet. I have to do one more thing.” Kerr continued working on the computer.
“But, Kerr, if we stay any longer we’re going to get in trouble.”
Kerr looked up at him. “I’m already in trouble.” Avon was surprised by how young the voice sounded suddenly. It was no longer the self-assured voice of someone far beyond his years. It was the voice of a scared young child who had lost his parents.
There was a look of understanding in the blond boy’s eyes. “Do what you need to, Kerr. I’ll wait for you.”
Kerr turned to the computer again. Screen after screen of menus replaced each other in rapid succession until he stopped at:
Grade Type: Triple-Alpha
EU Grouping: EN-RA, Group 008
There were many other groupings of letters that Kerr did not understand.
Charles exclaimed, “You broke into your own record!”
“I need to find out something.” Kerr quickly scrolled through the files. Avon wished he could direct him. There were many things he wanted to see in this file.
This file must still exist. Avon wondered if he could find it.
Charles said, “This doesn’t look like a normal school record.”
“It’s not. This is not a normal school.” He continued scrolling through the detailed screens.
Charles pointed to a menu item, “They have genetic data on you. Why would they have that?”
“I can’t worry about it now. I have to find something.”
Charles pointed to something red flashing at the top right corner of the screen. “What do you think that is?”
Kerr hesitated in what he was doing. Something flashing and red was never a good sign. It was like a flag of danger. His finger reached for the ominous blinking symbol.
“You’re not going to touch it, are you?”
“It might be important.” Kerr touched the flag. Another file immediately opened up. Both Kerr and Avon gasped in shock as they saw pictures of Kerr’s parents. They read the file quickly. Shock turned quickly to horror and disbelief.
They betrayed me, thought Avon angrily. His young self was too shocked and hurt to think anything.
Avon remembered the feelings of betrayal quite strongly but he didn’t remember finding out this way. His brother had told him. The brother he loved.
Something was wrong with this memory. Pain lanced through his head. Avon groaned.
Charles’s voice seemed far away. “I’m sorry, Kerr.” Avon could feel the blond boy place his hand on Kerr’s shoulder in support. “We should get out of here.”
Kerr’s voice was filled with anguish and denial as he shrugged off Charles’s hand. “No! I’m not leaving! They’re lying. My parents would never leave me.”
Charles tried to reason with him, “You saw the file. The Federation picked them up the day they took you from your school.”
“No!” Kerr shook his head violently. “They would never give me up to save themselves. They’d die first!”
Charles said sadly, “Sometimes we don’t know what people will do until they do it.”
“You don’t know my parents! They would never…” His words trailed off. Avon could feel young Kerr trying to deny his own fear and the hurt that seemed to be like a deep open wound. He stubbornly held onto his faith in his parents' love for him.
Avon wanted to tell his young self that things were going to be alright, but even if it were possible, he would be lying. He knew the boy’s future; his own past.
Jack came rushing over, “There’s someone coming this way! We have to get out of here.” He stopped and stared at them. “What’s wrong?”
Charles stood up. “His parents sold him to the Federation so they wouldn’t get sent to a penal colony.”
Jack looked at his friend in shock. “I’m sorry, Kerr.”
Kerr stood up, “No. You’re all wrong!”
Charles shut off the computer.
Kerr tried to stop him, “No! I have to find out the truth!”
Jack took him firmly by the elbow but his voice was gentle, “We have to leave now, Kerr. We can come back another day.”
Kerr was unresisting when Jack steered him towards the door.
Avon woke up covered in sweat. His head was aching and the memories were already fading. He barely registered the ceiling of the examination room. His voice was scratchy, “My parents…” His voice choked. The pain of the child still ran deep.
“What happened with your parents, Avon?” the calm voice of one of the doctor’s asked him.
“I…” Avon stopped. It was an important memory but it was not one he wanted. The vague impressions he had always had of his parents were already bad enough. Some facts were harder to handle than the regrets that plagued his life. Avon waited as the mind blocks mercifully closed over the nightmare. For once, they were not an enemy. “I don’t remember.”