Vila and Corinne were playing a board game together in the recreation room when Argus’s voice came blaring over the ship’s comm.
** Intruder alert! Security Team One to Deck Two, Corridor…Three. Security officer coordinate a deck-by-deck sweep. Intruder alert! Unidentified mechanoid device found on Deck Two. **
Vila dropped his playing piece, which resembled a tiny clown, and his mouth opened in shock.
A loud claxon began to sound the warning.
He gulped and mouthed a silent, “Oh no!”
Corinne looked worried, “Should we be doing something?”
Vila popped up out of his seat and shouted. “Yes!” Then he looked down at Corinne and his eyes widened and took on a panicked expression. “Um…I mean, I should be doing something. You stay right here…because…uh…you don’t know what to do yet and…”
He headed quickly towards the exit. “You stay right here, Corinne. It might…be dangerous. That’s it. Dangerous. Very dangerous…” He seemed to be babbling.
Corinne had also stood up and was about to accompany him. “I should come with you.”
He held up his hand. “Nooo. You heard Argus, there are mechanoids. They could be dangerous.”
“Then I should definitely come with you.” Corinne came towards him.
Vila backed up against the door, as if he was trying to block her from leaving. He tried to wrack his brain for any reason to prevent her from coming with him. “You’re not trained yet, Corinne. There are security teams out there. You’d get in the way.”
Corinne’s face fell in disappointment and she stopped advancing. “I suppose so. I wouldn’t want to interfere. I’ll stay here.”
Now Vila felt terrible. “I mean, it’s just for now. Until you’re trained. You can come next time.”
Corinne nodded. “Alright.”
Argus entered the infirmary and headed straight towards Avon’s bed. Avon was sitting up with his arms crossed over his chest. He appeared to be waiting.
Argus said, "Avon, look at this. I found this lurking around on Deck Two."
Cally was nearby doing something and only nodded her head in acknowledgement of Argus’s entrance. The firm look in her eyes also contained a warning.
Argus noticed that the claxon sound had been turned down to a quiet suggestion of warning as he approached the bed looking for a place to put the machine down.
Avon shifted his legs aside to make room and asked, “What took you so long?”
Argus carefully put it down on the vacated area. Its weight made a huge dent in the bed. “It's heavy.”
Avon immediately began examining it. He touched the various broken protuberances with a puzzled look on his face.
Vila raced in out-of-breath and skidded to a stop as he saw the machine on the bed. He exclaimed with a horrified look on his face, “Spot!”
Avon and Argus looked at each other. Argus mouthed, “Spot?”
Vila came over with halting steps and stared with dismay at the broken machine. He said accusingly, “You’ve killed him!”
Avon’s eyes narrowed and he asked, “Are you responsible for this…contraption?”
Vila didn’t seem to hear the question; he seemed to be overwhelmed with emotion as he reached out and touched the machine’s head. “Spot, what did they do to you?”
Argus said, “Vila, is this…thing…yours?”
Vila looked up. “It’s Spot.”
Avon remarked sarcastically, “Beyond being typically uninformative as usual, you’ve also managed to add an unprecedented level of irrelevance.”
Argus asked, “Vila, is this machine yours?”
“Well, yes. Sort of.”
“You brought this machine onboard and let it roam the ship? Without informing me?”
Vila tried to explain, “It wasn’t supposed to be like that. I didn’t know it got loose. I was hiding it in one of the supply cupboards and the room was locked. I swear, I don’t know how it got out.”
Avon asked with a suspicious tone, “You were hiding it? For what purpose?”
“It was supposed to be a surprise. A gift. I would have told you. Just not yet.”
They were starting to get a much clearer, if not entirely clear picture.
Argus asked, “Vila, what is this machine?”
“It’s a cleaning ‘bot.”
Avon looked at the protuberances again; the object that looked like a cloth, was obviously meant for wiping. The duster, was not some odd weapon. A hose was most likely used for water or some other cleaning liquid and not a deadly chemical spray. He had a highly amused and sarcastic tone as he said to Argus, “Congratulations, you killed a cleaning appliance.”
Argus had a perturbed look on his face, “Well, how was I supposed to know? It looked…”
Avon took the cloth from one of the ends and handed it to him. “Dangerous enough to clean?”
Vila asked, “Who’s going to fix it?”
Avon studied the twisted metal bits. “We have an adequate cleaning system on the ship. This is redundant.”
“But it’s cute. It has a personality and it’s nice and polite.”
Argus looked at Avon. “Was that an insult? Who is he talking about?”
Vila added, “And it doesn’t go around destroying things.”
Argus said, “That must be me.”
Avon remarked dryly, “It certainly isn’t me. You broke it; you should be the one to fix it.”
Argus was not enthusiastic. “But…I’m not a technician or a mechanic.”
“You’re not seriously proposing that I fix a cleaning appliance?” asked Avon in an insulted voice.
Cally came over and reminded them. “Avon is not going to be doing anything yet. You already have enough things for him to do.”
Vila was insistent. “But it’s for Corinne’s birthday. She really liked the one she saw on Tellar, that’s why I got it for her.”
Avon, Argus and Cally exchanged looks.
Argus asked, “When is her birthday?”
Cally stared hard at Avon. Avon had a pained and reluctant look on his face and then he sighed and nodded. “I will fix it.”
Vila said with relief, “Thanks, Avon.”
For some reason, Avon found that he wasn't entirely reluctant to do this for Vila and Corinne, even if it meant repairing a cleaning robot. “You're welcome. Just keep it away from him.”
Argus said, "I suppose I should turn the alarm off."
Cally led Reya and Corinne deep into the bowels of the ship, commonly known as the engineering deck. "Avon suggested this place when I told him that we were singing as a form of recreation."
Reya glanced over. "Is that all he said?"
"Well, there was a raising of the eyebrows first."
Reya said jokingly, "That strong a reaction?"
Cally grinned. "I told him that it was a good way to relieve the stress of having to deal with stubborn men."
"What was his reaction to that?"
Cally remembered the affronted look on Avon's face and she had felt the instant denial in his mind. However, after a brief struggling thought, those were not the words that came out for her. "He said the harmonics room on the engineering deck would be the optimum place for this kind of activity."
Reya said, "He makes it sound like a scientific experiment."
Cally turned a corner and the women followed her. "For Avon, most things are. Sometimes I think he likes to say things just to see what effect it will produce. He's very inquisitive."
Corinne had been following the older women's discussion with interest. "But what if the words he says hurts someone?"
Cally and Reya slowed to look at her. Cally said with a pleasant smile, "That makes you a wise young woman. Wiser than Avon in some respects."
Corinne rejected this idea, "I couldn't be smarter than Avon. He's much more intelligent that I am."
Reya said, "Very few people have a brain that compares with Avon's but Cally wasn't speaking of intelligence."
Cally stopped in front of a door. "Avon has a weakness. He doesn't understand some basic things about being a human being. He does not recognize the importance of emotions or sentiment. He often sees himself more as an alien than as a human being."
Corinne's forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. "But aren't you an alien? You don't think like that."
Cally smiled, "That's true. That's why you're wiser than Avon."
"I don't understand."
"It's complicated." Cally touched the panel on the side and the door slid open, revealing a large room. She announced, "We're here."
The women looked curiously into the room. A rainbow of lights, like coloured shadows played along the crystals embedded into the walls. Their mouths fell open in astonishment at the exquisite vision.
Corinne said in a voice that was almost afraid to break the stillness, "Oh, that's beautiful!"
Cally was stunned, "All those years on the Liberator…I never knew this was here."
Cally heard a faint and tentative question along her mental connection to Avon. * Do you like it? *
She sent him an impression of a pleased smile along with her feelings of wonder. * Yes, I do, Avon. Thank you. It's wonderful. *
* I'm glad. The musical harmonies will interact well with the crystals. I will leave you to enjoy it. * Avon's voice became quiet.
Corinne asked, "How did Avon know this was here?"
"There is very little he doesn't know about this ship. But there is also very little that he communicates unless he feels there's a need."
Reya loved the dynamic colours that wove and intertwined with each other. "I'm glad he communicated this."
Cally said, "So am I." She crossed the threshold with soft steps, almost as an acolyte entering a sacred chamber for the first time. The others followed her.
They explored the chamber and its banks of crystals that were embedded into the walls. Light emanated from the crystals and were the source of the rainbow of colours that reflected off every surface, including their bodies.
Reya asked, "Did Avon say what this room was for?"
"Nothing other than it was a harmonics room."
Corinne was studying one of the crystals carefully. It was pulsing with brilliant energy. She said with wonder, "These crystals…almost seem alive."
Cally remarked, "I wouldn't be surprised. Avon said that there was an organic basis to some of the ship's technology."
Reya felt the hard, smooth surface of one of the crystals, it pulsed beneath her fingers. "All of this…energy…it wouldn't be radiation of some kind, would it?"
"Avon didn't mention it but it wouldn't be harmful to us or he would not have sent me here."
"I'm not worried. Just curious. I would like to know what this room is for."
Corinne said, "Me too. It has to have some other function than being beautiful."
Cally said, "I will ask him if you wish."
Reya said, "Go ahead, we're both curious."
Cally closed her eyes and concentrated on her connection to Avon. * Avon, is there anything in this room that we should not touch? *
She waited a few seconds before hearing his distracted reply, * No. You are free to touch anything in the room. You can even remove the crystals if you wish. Just return them when you're done. Each slot is individualized to the crystal so there is no concern of improper placement. *
Cally asked, * Avon, what is this place? *
* Didn't I mention it? *
Cally wanted to send a sigh and a mental roll of her eyes but refrained. *You didn't. *
* The ship requires living crystals for its various systems. The room you are in is the secondary storage area for these crystals. They enable the ship to dynamically repair itself, like a living organism, and return it to its original state. A template in effect. *
* You mean, like a genetic profile for the ship. *
Cally was aware of a light wave of admiration emanating from Avon. * That is a good analogy. *
* Thank you for telling me, Avon. *
* All knowledge is useful. Sharing that knowledge with someone who understands is also useful. *
Cally sent him an amused, * I'm glad you enjoyed sharing it with me. * She could almost imagine the reluctant smile threatening to appear on his face.
With a final, * You're welcome. * Avon's voice became silent again.
Cally refocused her eyes on the two women.
Reya asked, "Well, what did he say?"
Corinne grinned, "It must have been something very interesting."
Cally shared what Avon had told her about the room.
When she was done, Reya brushed her fingers along the crystal-embedded wall. "That's very interesting." She took hold of one and lightly tugged on it. The crystal didn't budge. She took a firmer grip on it and pulled harder. The crystal came away with a snick.
Cally and Corinne removed their own crystals and looked at them.
Reya held hers up and peered into its translucent body. "Living crystal, he said?"
Cally replied, "Yes."
Corinne had both hands around hers and was enjoying the tickling sensation that seemed to radiate from it and through into her body. "It feels alive."
Cally had a suspicion. Holding the object in both hands like Corinne, she closed her eyes and sent her consciousness towards it.
Energy. Connectedness. Wholeness. Life.
Cally's eyes sprang open. "It's alive but…not in the way we understand it."
"What does that mean?" asked Reya.
"It's hard to explain. It's aware but there is no consciousness. At least, not that I can recognize with my psi abilities. Sort of a state between inanimate object and animate. Avon would find this interesting."
Reya pursed her lips in thought, "Do you think Avon knows?"
"You mean he had a reason for sending us here?"
"Sending you here."
Cally said, "You're paranoid."
Reya said apologetically, "Sorry, it's the security officer in me. Bad habit among friends." She said thoughtfully, "As you said, Avon must know every centimetre of this ship. If he wanted to use your psi abilities to test the crystals, he would have long before now. So it must mean that he already knows the properties of the crystals. He didn't need you to test them. He just wanted you to enjoy the room."
Cally said, "Speaking of enjoying this room…"
Corinne said eagerly, "Are we singing now?"
Reya turned the crystal over in her hands, "What affect do you think the singing will have on these?"
Cally slid hers back into its slot with a click. "There's only one way to find out." She took a small rectangular device from her pocket while the others re-slotted their crystals. “The only songs I know are Auron ones. I hope you don’t mind.” Cally turned the device on.
A beautiful melody surrounded them on all sides, accompanied by delicate counterpoints and harmonies. The sounds bounced off the walls and crystals, like waves of energy that was felt as a vibration that reverberated in their bodies. The coloured lights of the crystals seemed to respond with an accompanying rhythm. Sights, sounds and sensations wove together to form a visceral experience of the senses. They were all stunned. It was incredible.
Cally was even more astonished. She could ‘feel’ a connection to the crystals, a delightful sensation of the mind, reflecting the evocative Auronar melody. It was indescribable. There was a feeling of being filled and no longer being alone. With shock, she realized that she had felt something like this before, back on the planet with the shadow creatures. But there was something different; it was similar but not quite the same.
Cally got hold of herself and turned the music off.
Reya and Corinne gasped as the sensations dissipated without warning.
Corinne said with awe, “That was amazing!”
Reya agreed, “It was incredible. The music…I could feel it.”
Cally looked around her with wonder. The crystals were pulsing around them almost as if holding onto the dying echoes of the beautiful melody. “It wasn’t the music. It was the crystals. They did this. They took the music and echoed it in vibrations, sounds and light. And in my mind. It was…it almost felt...as if I was touching other minds again.”
Reya asked, “You mean they really are alive?”
Cally wondered if Avon knew this would happen. “I can’t describe it. They’re alive but it’s a different sense of being alive. Suddenly...I didn’t feel so alone anymore.”
There was such a sad and wistful expression on Cally’s face that Reya touched her arm. “I never asked you about Auron before. About what happened to your people. It must be very lonely for you.”
Reya suddenly found words difficult. What could you say to someone who had lost an entire people? “I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a telepath and to suddenly find yourself alone.”
“It…has been difficult. The loneliness at times is overwhelming. I miss them very much."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Reya asked gently.
There was anguish and pain in Cally's eyes. Even after what she shared with Avon that night, it was not enough, the aches were still there. As with him, the healing would take a long time. She would need the support and understanding from people who cared about her.
Corinne had been watching silently. Compassion filled her heart even though she didn’t know what the two women were talking about. She could see Cally's misery and sadness. She could identify with the loneliness even if she didn't understand its nature or its extent.
No one had ever told her about Cally but she wished there was something she could say to give support. Corinne also reached out and touched Cally's arm. “Cally, I don’t know what happened to your people. It must have been something terrible. I can't imagine. But I’m here for you too. If you want to talk about it, I want to listen. I want to hear about the people who could create such beautiful music."
Cally had not intended to talk about herself but she realized now that she should have guessed. Something inside her wanted to hear the songs of her people being sung again. To hear the beauty of their souls being reflected in the unique harmonies.
She began quietly, not talking about herself, but her people, the Auronar.
"We are…" Cally hesitated. In her mind and heart, she still thought and spoke of them in the present tense. "We were people of peace. Maintaining a neutral position despite the violence around us."
Corinne asked, "Were you all telepaths?"
"No. Psi abilities existed in our population but it was rare until Franton. He was the greatest biogeneticist our people ever produced. His specialty was cloning technology."
Reya leaned forward with interest. "You mean like the Clonemasters?"
"Yes, outside of the Clonemasters, my people were the masters of cloning technology."
A thought passed across Reya's face. "And now they're both gone."
"Yes, Servalan destroyed them both."
"If I were the suspicious kind…that would seem odd. Did she have something against people who had cloning technology? Or was it a coincidence?"
Cally also reflected on this. "I never made a connection."
Reya shrugged. "Perhaps because there is none. I am naturally suspicious."
Cally continued, "Franton found that his new cloning technology produced consistent psi abilities in the offspring. My people had been trying to do that for centuries. Some of us thought that it might become a peaceful form of defence."
Reya was interested in this, "You mean using psi abilities rather than military force?"
"That was the idea. That is why some of our scientists worked on mind interceptors."
Reya remembered with a shock of guilt, "Vanora."
Cally said sadly, "Yes. She was one of the scientists."
Corinne realized that there was a lot to be caught up on in the lives of her new shipmates but there would be time for that. She asked curiously, "Cally, what is it like being telepathic? How is it to be able to feel all those minds?" After she said it, she realized that it might not be a good time to ask this question considering the sadness Cally was feeling. "I'm sorry, ignore my question. I shouldn't be asking it now."
Cally gave her brief reassuring smile. "It's alright. I want to speak of them. I need to." She stood up and went to one of the walls. Her fingers lightly, almost lovingly, touched the pulsing crystals. "When the music played, you could feel the vibrations all around you. Touching you, reaching inside of you. Filling your senses. That is what it is like for an Auronar when we are joined. We are part of each other. Feeling each other's presence, like something tangible but inside our hearts and minds. Knowing each other's love. Understanding each other on a deep level."
Corinne said wistfully, "That must be wonderful."
Reya asked, "But how do you get anything done? How do you operate and think independently? Or is it more like a group mind?"
"No. Nothing like that. We are all independent, even though we are joined. From childhood, we are taught to build up mental walls that quiet the voices in our minds to a dull murmuring just at the edge; an awareness of each other without losing ourselves. We are not all joined with the same strength. Those in the same sibling groupings have the strongest connection. With some, I am only aware of them just a little more than a non-Auronar. When we have group meetings, we open ourselves up to each other's voices. And in intimate moments…we share the essence of who we are."
Her voice trailed off in remembrance. With Avon, she was beginning to share a shade of what was possible with a fully psi-developed Auronar. Only time would tell if more was achievable.
Corinne said with wonder, "Sharing the essence of who you are…that sounds…scary and wonderful at the same time."
They were touching an area that was intensely personal for Cally. "It is. But now…I don't want to talk anymore. I want to sing. Of Auron.”
Reya said, “It will be one way we can help keep your people alive.”
The women sat down while Cally turned on the music again. Projected in front of them were the words so they could follow along. They let the sensations of the crystals wash over them, enjoying the harmonies together as Cally began singing, her voice a melancholy soprano. She sang of the joys of never being alone, of harmony and peace.
Soon Corinne’s voice joined hers as she picked up the melody. Hesitantly, and with a scratchy voice, Reya tried following along. Cally and Corinne both smiled encouragingly. Soon a low alto emerged from her throat and the three of them enjoyed the gift of music from a people they were determined not to forget.