There was a hive of excited activity on the ship after the Chandarans communicated their readiness for the crew to return. Everyone came back from their extended leave on Tellar and were busy making preparations. They were all relaxed and in great spirits.
A contingent of Tellarans was transported up to the ship to help with the mission on Chandar; this included Corinne and her mother. Marlena was to serve as the liaison with her bond-mate’s people and would help coordinate the efforts of the three groups.
Corinne was busy helping Cally reorganize the medical unit in order to make room for the additional supplies that the Tellarans had generously provided.
As Vila entered, he heard Corinne remarking to Cally, “With all of this equipment from your ship and from Tellar, you’re probably more advanced than most hospital ships.”
Vila couldn’t see Cally but her distracted-sounding voice seemed to emanate from behind one of the counters. “Yes, we could be with more qualified medical personnel.”
Vila grinned at Corinne and said to the invisible Cally, “We will have one once you tear yourself from Avon and graduate already.”
Cally’s head popped up from the edge of the counter. “What did you say?”
Vila said with mock-seriousness, “I think Avon is a bad influence on you, Cally. You used to want to do other things besides spending time with him.”
Cally stood up and put the box she had been holding down on the counter. “My next series of studies require the dissection of a humanoid body. Would you like to volunteer?”
Vila held up his hands, “Nooo. I wouldn’t dare. I’m sure Avon wouldn’t appreciate anyone else helping you. Besides, I like to keep all of my limbs in one place.”
Cally said to Corinne, “Corinne, why don’t you take a break? I believe that Vila would like to spend some time with you.”
There was a roguish grin on Vila’s face even as Cally's stern face broke into a smile.
As Vila led Corinne along the busy corridors of the ship, he reflected that it finally seemed like a proper ship with a full crew running about. In the past, he could walk several corridors without encountering a single soul. The many empty cabins had made it seem more like a ghost ship. It was eerie at times; especially since the original Altan crew on the Liberator seemed to have disappeared without leaving any forwarding address.
Vila had a disturbing thought. The Altans had wanted the Liberator back. What if they wanted the Justice back as well? They’d barely survived the last time; there was no guarantee that they’d survive another attempt. He should check with Avon. Maybe there was something he could do to stop the Altans from taking over the ship? Put in some kind of security or lockout.
Corinne interrupted his random musings, “Vila, where are we going?”
Vila had been so preoccupied with his thoughts that he’d forgotten that he hadn’t told her. Not to mention, he was trying not to give away the surprise. “Oh, sorry. Didn’t I say? We’re going to the flight deck. Argus wanted to see you.”
“Did he say why?”
“Uh…it’s a surprise.”
Corinne looped her arm through his. “You’re being awfully mysterious.”
He touched his fingers to his brow in a jaunty imitation of a dashing secret agent from the Delta vid-dramas. “That’s me. Vila, Galactic Man of Mystery.”
Corinne giggled. “What should I be?”
“You could be…the femme fatale that always gets the hero into trouble.”
“Oh, I don’t think I could do that. Couldn’t I be…the long-suffering heroine that saves the hero once in a while? We could take turns.”
Vila started laughing. “Alright. I suppose we could do that.”
They arrived on the flight deck and let go of each other. Corinne paused at the top of the steps. It was an almost full gathering of the crew. Even Avon was there. They all stopped what they were doing and turned to face her.
Argus extended an open arm in greeting. His voice was a rumbling and warm invitation. “Corinne, please join us.”
Vila held out a hand for her, and like a princess being escorted into a grand ball, Corinne made her way down the steps. Vila led her to stand in front of the crew. They all seemed very serious, which made Corinne very nervous. She turned as she heard footsteps behind her. Cally had arrived on the flight deck with a friendly smile on her face. She went to stand by Avon.
Argus said, “Now that we’re all here, we can do this properly.” He had a grave look on his face. “Corinne, the crew has discussed this and we are all agreed. We would like to extend to you a formal invitation to join us as a permanent member of the Justice.”
Even though she had been expecting this, Corinne was stunned. “I…don’t know what to say. Thank you for the invitation.” She had been hoping to join Vila but this formal ceremony made her realize what an important step she was taking. It wasn’t just about being with Vila, it was about joining a group of people who were trying to do some good in the galaxy. By accepting her as a member of the crew, these men and women were placing their lives into her hands and she was entrusting hers into theirs. She straightened up and said with commitment, “It would be my honour to join you. I will not let you down.”
Argus looked to Avon.
Avon’s grave voice said, "Zen, record the following voiceprint." He waited expectantly.
The computer’s perpetually tired sounding voice said, * Proceed. *
Corinne said, "Corinne Brent."
Avon instructed, "From now on you will obey her requests and commands for level two access."
* Confirmed. *
A plethora of smiles broke out as they all gathered around and congratulated Corinne. Even Avon said a brief but sincere welcome. As the others talked to Corinne and she asked them questions about being part of the ship, Vila went to the side to speak to Avon.
Avon was at his station, inclined on his chair idly checking various readings. Planted himself next to Avon as they both watched the activities, Vila asked casually, "Can I call you Kerr?"
Without turning his head, Avon asked without indication of agreement, "What do you think?"
"Thought I'd try." Vila grinned briefly. "Avon, do you remember much from the dreams? Do you remember me?"
Avon turned his head to look at him for a moment. "No." He returned to watching the group around Corinne before he said, "I don't remember you or the dreams."
Vila frowned disappointingly. "That explains why you don't want me to call you Kerr."
"You thought I would allow you call me Kerr if I remembered?"
"Well, that's what I…I suppose not. I mean, you're Avon now, you're not Kerr anymore."
They watched for a bit while Argus informed Corinne of her possible duties on the ship.
What Avon said next was scarcely audible and it had such a lack of tone that it was hard to know what he was saying, even if Vila had heard it. "I remember the relationship."
Vila looked at him. "What?"
Avon seemed to be trying to understand it himself but was finding it hard to. "I cannot access the memories. Nevertheless,…I know the relationship existed. I can…" His brow knitted in incomprehension at something he could not express.
"You can feel it?"
Avon said in automatic denial, "Don't be a fool."
Vila looked curiously at him. "You do, don't you? You just don't want to believe it."
Avon scoffed, "It's irrational to think that I could be affected by relationships I do not remember."
"Then how do you explain it?"
"There must be another factor at work, perhaps a random memory that wasn't completely suppressed."
"Or the relationships and sentiments that you don't think are rational really are. You just don't understand how they work yet."
Avon eyed Vila suspiciously. "Have you been speaking to Cally?"
There was a soft mental chuckle in Avon's mind. He looked over and saw that Cally had come closer and was smiling in his direction. Avon had a brief irritated look on his face.
Vila asked, “Why? Should I be?”
Avon conceded with ill humour. “Perhaps there is a rationality that I do not recognize.” Avon could almost see Cally’s smile widen but it was hard to tell because she was speaking to Corinne. “Regardless of the logic, there is no denying that it does have an effect.”
Vila asked carefully, “On you?”
Avon tried to keep the annoyance out of his face. Why did everyone insist on making such an issue of him having these kinds of irrational moments? While he recognized their importance to other people and to a limited extent to himself now, he certainly didn’t want to call any attention to them. He said with reluctant resignation, “Perhaps.”
Vila tried not to grin too obviously. “Well, anyway, thanks for agreeing about Corinne.”
“She will be a valuable asset to the ship.” An uneven grin appeared on Avon’s lips. “If only to keep you out of trouble.”
“You mean like what Cally does for you?”
At that moment both Cally and Corinne burst into laughter. Avon and Vila looked at them suspiciously but it was hard to determine what they were laughing about. They did seem to find something very funny.
Avon and Vila looked sheepishly at each other.
Vila said wryly, “You know what they’ll say, don’t you? That we both need someone to keep us out of trouble.”
“I don’t see the need.”
“Yeah, neither do I.”
Cally and Corinne were giggling now. Avon and Vila tried not to look annoyed or feel paranoid.
Avon said, “You may call me Kerr, but keep it a rare occurrence. And only when we’re alone.”
Avon was not finished. “In return, I retain the privilege of calling you a fool when the occasion warrants.”
Vila’s grin opened into a smile. “I know it's crazy but I do miss that sometimes, our old interaction. But only on the rare occurrence.” Vila extended his hand towards Avon in agreement. “Deal?”
Avon looked down at the gesture; it was an act that was becoming less alien to him. People had rarely acknowledged him as little more than a tool in the past. You didn’t shake hands with an instrument, you only used it. Avon grasped Vila’s hand in firm acknowledgement. “Agreed.”
Avon and Cally were in the examination room, studying the concludions that the Tellarans had come to in their comprehensive examination of Avon’s mind and body. There was an enormous mass of information that was fortunately condensed into an easier to understand summary report, along with a list of recommendations.
Dr. Kendric was again warm and professional. “As you can see, there are various treatments we can provide to deal with your most serious health concerns. The heart being the most urgent, of course. Your body’s production of several essential chemicals and hormones has been severely compromised. We have various treatments that will fix this. You will no longer be dependent on some of the drugs you require now.”
For Cally and Avon, any reduction in the dependence on artificial aids was greatly appreciated. Cally asked, “How long would all of these treatments take?”
Kendric consulted with her colleagues. "In all it should take approximately six to eight months of intensive treatments and rehabilitation. Assuming that you can stay here. We are aware that you have urgent matters that will not allow you the luxury of that time. To that end, we've devised a modified schedule that allows for maximum flexibility. It will only require periodic visits here for the more complex treatments. We will start with your heart first. Once we are satisfied with your progress, the rest of the recovery can be carried out onboard your ship. We have prepared extensive files for the required therapies. As for your overall physical strength, flexibility and endurance, your current rehabilitation efforts are more than adequate. You will find that your progress will quicken as your basic health increases.”
Cally scrolled through the files that had been prepared for her. "This method will take much longer."
"Yes. How long will depend on you but at our best estimates, the minimum time it would take is two years."
"Two years?" This didn't sound good. She was hoping that it would be a lot sooner.
"Or longer if you cannot come back here more frequently."
She projected to him, * Avon? *
* We cannot afford the time to stay here. *
* But... *
Avon could see that she wanted to for his sake. He said firmly, * This is a luxury we cannot afford, Cally. *
Cally was about to respond that she did not consider it a luxury to have him better but she recognized the stubborn resolve that was communicating to her through their mental connection. She nodded imperceptibly.
Avon asked, “What of the mind?”
Dr. Kendric pursed her lips with displeasure. “This is a much trickier area. There are some things we can do for you, but not as much as we had hoped. While our knowledge and skill in this area has advanced further than the Federation’s, there are still things we cannot do. The procedures they performed on you are quite complex and highly individualized. Without the original brain prints, we are limited in what we can do to return you to your original state but we will do what we can to fix any damage.”
Avon had been expecting the news.
Cally asked, “What did they do?”
Dr. Kendric seemed perplexed. “That is the most puzzling aspect of our findings.”
Avon asked immediately, “In what way?”
“As you may have guessed, most of the adjustments to your mind were done to maximize your ability for certain types of thought and creativity and to suppress or minimize any areas that they thought would hinder with this function. To this end, certain areas of your brain were damaged, leaving only basic function.”
Cally asked, “Such as the processing of emotional and social inputs?”
“Yes, to an extent. Right brain function is important in the creative process and for making intuitive leaps in logic. What was done was to tie it more strongly to the brain’s logic processes and to interfere with its coordination in other areas. A large part of this was achieved through conditioning and the regulation of various hormones.”
Avon asked, “You mentioned a puzzling aspect?”
“Yes. Many of the adjustments that were done to your brain and the damage done to the production of various hormones have received partial repairs. We suspect that this occurred during your incarceration.”
Cally explained to Dr. Kendric, “We had guessed but we never understood the extent of the tampering.”
“We have found evidence that repairs have been made to re-establish normal emotional and social responses. Efforts have also been made to repair your hypothalamus region in order restore the normal production and release of oxytocin and vasopressin. These hormones facilitate social bonding and attachment and have a role in forming higher levels of trust.”
It's ironic that you are benefiting from her obsession with you. Avon scowled at the memory of Sester’s words. Servalan.
He said, “You mentioned that the repairs were partial?”
Dr. Kendric nodded. “Yes. It may have been deliberate or it may be due to a lack in skill or knowledge. There isn’t enough information to make that determination. We will finish the repair efforts that were started. But…as for the conditioning, there is nothing we can do on a physical level that will reverse it.”
Avon asked, “But on a non-physical level?”
“That will depend a great deal on your strength of will and determination and the support of those around you. You will have to make conscious efforts to relearn basic social skills and interactions and mental thought patterns and beliefs. Now you will have the aid of the hormones that encourage and reward these behaviours, but it depends on you, Avon. It will feel alien to you. Even wrong. You have to want this to happen.”
Avon was aware of two different forces warring within him; the rational and what he had always identified as his irrational side. This was the very pattern that Dr. Kendric was referring to.
He knew that part of him didn’t want to be fixed. This was the part that the Federation had encouraged and made dominant. But when he saw the look in Cally’s eyes and remembered his friends, he very much wanted to be whole again.
Now he was being given a chance to rebuild himself into something he wanted, not according to someone else's agenda or wishes. He would have the freedom to choose what was important to him and what he would believe in. Perhaps he would not entirely give up the highly rational part of himself but to incorporate more of the side that someone had found so inconvenient to his function as a useful tool.
To not do this would be to allow the Federation to win. And the boy he had once been would be gone forever. For the first time in a very long time, Avon knew what he wanted and why. With his eyes fixed on Cally’s, he said, “I want this to happen. Will you help me?"