11th Story of Perceptions
Sequel to A Difference of Visions
Introduction: Avalon ponders the rebellion and Avon's fate. Avalon and Argus square off again. Jenna receives an invitation.
Avalon stood staring out at the viewscreen, her eyes focused on one particular dot that was growing with every passing hour. A bright, shining light that would soon acquire shapes and shadows. The cradle of humanity, or so most of those in the founder worlds liked to think of it. She knew that some of her rebel brethren would hotly contest it. She avoided the topic like the plague.
It would be nice to go home. She didn't often get the chance. Or rather, she didn't dare go back. It was far too risky. Avalon absently rubbed a lock of her hair. She'd changed the colour so often for the purposes of concealment that she'd almost forgotten what the original colour was.
But they weren't going to Earth today. No visits to fondly remembered haunts. They were headed to an inhospitable place, a system that had been deemed, unfit for human colonization.
Planets with sand storms that would sear the flesh from your bones within seconds. Others with electrical storms that could power several worlds for years, if you could get close enough without having your ship's systems fried. A half-hearted attempt at terraforming and the use of weather control systems had produced numerous casualties and had been abandoned.
The trial would be held on one of the moons, a cratered affair that concealed a brand new rebel base. A place she had hoped would be the springboard for a coordination centre of sorts.
The rebels were far too scattered, each with their own private agendas. Some hated each other as much as they hated the Federation they all fought. When Jenna had approached her with the idea of holding a trial for Blake's murderer, Avalon had jumped on it as an auspicious start. What better way to bring all of the rebel groups together in a common purpose?
Blake's name and legend was still a powerful force, something she had enthusiastically encouraged. He was the rallying standard that they all used in their recruitment efforts.
An ironic smile tugged at the corner of her lips. There were still periodic Blake sightings. It had been amusing to spread a few herself. People needed hope, and a hero. Even if he were only a ghost.
The perfect man. A man of honour and integrity who sacrificed his life to save humanity. The man who could not be defeated. The one that his enemies ran from. A man full of love, compassion and truth. Who never made any mistakes. No one could stand against him.
It was amazing how much the ordinary people believed that such a man could exist. Avalon was far too cynical to believe in perfection. The Blake she knew was a man she admired and would forever be grateful to. But he was still a man, as full of faults as the rest of them.
He saved her life and they had met eye to eye in their hatred of the Federation. Of course, there had been many areas they had disagreed on and quite vigorously. Blake was a passionate man who knew his own mind. She had found him arrogant at times. The man was so adamant in what he thought was right. But they were both equally hardheaded leaders.
They had to be sure of themselves. Others depended on their strength and looked to them for certainty and something to believe in.
She knew that he'd run into a great deal of conflict with Bran Foster. Blake's focus was Earth. To him it was the centre of the Federation and that was where they needed to strike. At the heart. To Foster, Earth was little more than a distraction. A place where they could tie up Federation forces in order to give the Outer Worlds a chance to break free of colonial rule. She knew that Foster had not been pleased when Blake had developed his own following within the group and began acting out on his own. Using violence rather than passive political protest.
It was no wonder that Foster had waited for years before approaching Blake again, out of desperation. Cruel of him, leaving Blake to rot, knowing what the man had gone through and how the Federation had twisted his mind. Only seeking him out when he needed him again. But the rebels were a ruthless lot at times. They had to be. You couldn't afford people in your group that you couldn’t be sure you could manage. She wondered how Foster had thought he could control someone as strong as Blake.
There had been some success. Foster's plan had worked on some worlds. Well, a few at least. Bright shining examples like Helotrix, Lubrus and Portia Major.
Avalon's lips contorted in anguish. They were all under Federation rule again. Helotrix, full of obedient zombies drugged into submission. What a mess. All because some of the shortsighted ones among them thought that destroying Star One would solve everything.
All chaos caused was more chaos and people who fed on the misery of others. She'd tried to warn them but they hadn't listened. And now, hundreds of millions dead, worlds lain waste, the economies of entire planets destroyed, all for a chance that had been little more than a futile hope. Not that she wouldn't have done it herself; if she had any confidence it would work. Sometimes you had to sacrifice some in order to help others. But she didn't believe it would work.
It didn't matter that she had been proved right. The damage was done. And all they could salvage was Blake's untarnished reputation. The indestructible man who in the end had fallen to the treachery of a friend.
Avalon's lips now curled downwards in disapproval. The treacherous Avon. Some still believed that he was a hero. Mainly those whom he had helped directly. Federation rumours and lies. That's what they attributed it to.
It was time for the truth. For once, the rebellion would have a chance to show what they were made of. Were they disorganized, mindless rabble as the Federation considered them as? Or were they the hope of a new order, as she had hoped they would be.
The trial would tell.
She heard footsteps behind her. A polite cough. "Avalon," said the soft civilized voice of the man who had brought her back to health after Blake had rescued her.
She had been in rough condition then, both physically, mentally and psychologically. Federation torture and mind manipulation produced broken creatures that could rarely be put back together again, not with any degree of completeness. Sometimes, she still woke in a cold sweat. The soft-spoken doctor had stayed with her through the roughest times, nursing her back to health.
"Dr. Gamboa, how is he?" She turned to face the dark-complexioned man. He looked as civilized as he sounded. A reedy man with a thin, intelligent face.
It had been three days since they had left the Red Raven. Gamboa had answered her call for medical assistance and had intercepted her ship.
"You're not going to like it," said Gamboa, his fingers rubbing his lower jaw.
Avalon expelled an aggravated breath. "That bad?"
"If it were just the torture of the last few weeks, he might have recovered. Might. Even then, it would take weeks. He had extensive internal injuries and multiple broken bones. They must have…" Gamboa was a cultured man who hated that some human beings found cruelty a necessary part of life. "…They were very good at their jobs."
Avalon's nose crinkled in disgust. "They were Federation."
Gamboa's head shook slightly. "It's bad enough that some of us feel the necessity to use such thugs. The day that we become as good as they are at brutalizing people…" His eyes met Avalon's unflinchingly. "…is the day I will walk out and you can find yourself another doctor."
"I know." She touched him on the arm. "Thank you for reminding me. Sometimes…it's hard to remember that how we fight is just as important as what we're fighting for."
"You almost crossed the line here."
Avalon grimaced. "I know. I should never have trusted Jenna with Avon. Knowing how much she hated him. His condition is as much my fault as it is hers. I take full responsibility for that. But were we too late? Is he going to die before the trial?"
"As I said, if it were just the current injuries to deal with…we could have saved him. That damage is healing. Albeit slowly. It's the other damage that's the problem."
"What other damage?"
Gamboa rubbed his chin again. "Were you aware that he had been tortured before? And quite extensively from the looks of it. Many scars, both external and internal. Some quite severe. Extending over a long period. I would hazard to guess, three to five years."
Avalon's eyes widened. "Years?" Her mind sifted through the memories of the past. "There were rumours…that he'd been captured after Gauda Prime and he had been spotted at one of the Detention Centres. I'd dismissed those."
Gamboa nodded stiffly, his hand rubbing his neck. "Yes, there were other rumours that he'd sold out and was working for the Federation."
"Well, in light of his killing Blake…"
"You didn’t believe the other ones?"
"How could I?"
"You didn’t want to believe that the Federation could kill the rebellion's greatest hero. You didn't want other people to believe it."
Avalon directed a hard glare at him. "Are you saying that I used Avon as a convenient scapegoat?"
"You tell me. The evidence doesn't lie. The scars are still quite visible and the damage...cannot be repaired. They must have kept him in a life support capsule. I can't imagine him being able to function for any length of time without it."
"That's not what I've heard. He is able to walk around."
Gamboa rubbed his chin reflectively. "It must be the advanced medical technology on their ship. It's kept him alive. I wouldn't mind taking a peek at their medical database."
Avalon turned and looked at the viewscreen, trying to consider their options. The bright dots of light rushing past was mesmerizing, freeing her mind to think. "Are you saying that we'll need Argus and his people in order to keep Avon alive for the trial?"
"I can't see any other way."
"I'll have to think about this."
Avalon exhaled in irritation. "Alright. I will talk to Argus."
"You might also think about postponing the trial. Even if they are able to help him. He is in no condition to answer questions. Even standing and sitting is a problem at the moment."
"But the leaders are already on their way here. We can't keep them there that long. It's too much of a security risk."
"That's your problem. You're the leader. I'm just the humble country doctor."
"How about his eyes?"
Gamboa said cynically, "Do you care?"
Avalon said with annoyance, "Of course I do."
"I doubt if he will ever be able to see again. If it were just the damage to his pupils, it could have been replaced. But it appears that they also burnt out his optic nerve. Though we won't know for certain without specialized equipment. Which I didn't know I needed."
"Well…if they find him guilty, it won't matter."
"As I said, do you care? There's also something else. They seem to have placed something in his head, an implant of some sort. It's attached to the base of his brain."
"Do you know what it's for?"
"Haven't a clue. I'm not a brain surgeon."
Avalon scowled. "Jenna. It appears there are more things she hasn't told me. All right. Try to find out, if you can, and in the meantime, I will contact the Justice."
Argus sat at his station on the flight deck, facing his fellow leader on the viewscreen. "Are you going to let us see Avon?"
"I said I would," said Avalon. "Just before the trial. That's why I'm contacting you. There's been a delay. Some of the key leaders cannot make the allotted time. We've had to postpone the meeting."
"That's risky, Avalon."
"I know, it can't be helped."
Instinct, and his experience with Avalon, told Argus that there was more going on underneath the surface. "That's the official reason. What's the real reason?"
Their eyes locked neither one backing down. After a few moments, Avalon said, "There is another reason. You were right about what Jenna was doing. For that, you have my profoundest apologies."
Cally said, "It's a little late for apologies. I want to see Avon."
Avalon asked, "I'm sorry, Cally but I can't let you do that yet."
Argus said, "What are you trying to hide, Avalon? Are you afraid to let us see Avon?"
Cally said in anguish, "What did she do to him?"
Avalon's head bowed as she considered her next words. "That's another reason why I've contacted you. Jenna tells me that Avon may have developed an antidote for Shade poison."
Argus's voice was tight but controlled, "She gave him Shade poison?"
Avalon admitted, "I'm afraid so."
"No wonder you don't want us to see him," said Argus.
"I am truly sorry."
Argus's eyes regarded her coldly. "We will provide the antidote. But it's only a temporary solution. It does not free him of the addictive properties of Shade."
Cally said, "You will need other drugs for him. Without them, he will die."
Avalon leaned forward in interest. "My doctor had me that there was something wrong with him. Beyond what Jenna did."
Argus's manner was still hard. "When were you going to tell us? You must have known he was dying. We've been trying to contact you for several days."
"I'm sorry about that. Security is tight with all the leaders coming in. I will give you a time and location to drop off the medication that he requires."
"I'm tired of these clandestine games, Avalon. Is there another reason why you're stalling?"
Avalon returned his steady gaze. "I promise you that we will do the best that we can for Avon."
Cally said sarcastically, "You need him standing at the trial."
Avalon bowed in acquiescence. "You're right."
Argus said, "Send the time and coordinates."
Avalon nodded to someone off-screen.
Argus looked down at his panel. "Received."
Avalon was about to cut the comm channel when she hesitated, her eyes suddenly troubled. "Is it true that Avon was a prisoner of the Federation after Gauda Prime? He wasn't working for them?"
Argus and Cally exchanged glances.
Cally said, "Your doctors have had an opportunity to examine him."
"Yes…they tell me that he was tortured. For a long period of time."
"That's why he needs the drugs. They destroyed his body and nearly his mind. They were trying to force him to give up information on the alliance and the technology of the Liberator. But he never did. Avalon…Avon never betrayed the alliance. And he never betrayed Blake. Whatever happened on Gauda Prime…"
Avalon said, "That will come out at the trial, Cally. As I promised Argus. There will be justice. For Avon and the alliance."
Argus asked, "And for Jenna?"
Avalon scowled. "Jenna isn't after justice. But you already knew that."
Argus sadly contemplated the control panel in front of him. "I know."
"I have people watching Avon. Jenna will not be able to harm him any further."
"It was my responsibility. I should never have allowed Jenna to act independently knowing how she felt."
"You couldn’t have stopped her. It was either this, or she would have already killed him. He's only alive because she wants this trial."
Avalon said, "She might not like the outcome."
Argus nodded. "She won't accept any result except Avon's death."
"Do you think that you'll be able to convince me?"
"I'm going to try."
She regarded him contemplatively. "It would take a lot to persuade me. At the end of the day, Avon did kill Blake."
Argus inclined his head. "Yes. But there are other forms of justice."
"You mean other than killing him? It would take a great deal to convince the others to spare him."
"I don't think it's possible."
There was a slight vibration to his voice as Argus said, "I have to try."
Jenna was frustrated and angry. Seeing the rebel doctor tend to Avon's injuries, with gentleness and caring, had made her blood boil. She was supposed to have custody over him but it was in name only. There was nothing she could do to Avon anymore, not with Avalon's bodyguards watching over him.
Protecting the traitor.
She might as well leave for all the good she was doing. Avalon had said that the trial had to be postponed. Three days. She'd even offered her the use of a shuttle so she could go to Earth. No one was going near the meeting place until the time of the trial.
The shuttle was an ugly, functional vehicle but it was fast. Jenna sat at the pilot's seat. It was currently on autopilot and her mind wandered, questioning at what point her plans had started falling apart.
A beep called for her attention. Incoming communications?
It couldn't be the port control system yet. Audio only. A message from Avalon or one of the rebels?
She opened the channel. "This is Jen Blade of the shuttle..."
A man's smooth voice said, "Hello, Jenna Stannis. Don't worry; this is on direct beam access to your ship. Not a public broadcast signal."
Direct beam? That means…he must be nearby and he knows my exact location. This was very troubling, and in a shuttle, no matter how fast it was, she was helpless to any Federation pursuit ship.
The voice. I've heard it before. But where?
The silky voice continued, "You're probably wondering why I've contacted you. I promise that I will make it worth your while. Just give me one minute of your time. After that, feel free to cut me off, I won't be offended." There was a charming insolence in the man's voice.
As much as she didn't want to admit it, the man's approach intrigued her. His voice alone, like rough silk, was definitely worth a few more seconds of her attention. "You have fifty seconds left."
The man chuckled good-naturedly. "Actually, I only need five." His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "I have information about Blake."
Jenna put her ears closer to the speaker in surprise. Had she heard correctly? What trick was this?
The man asked, "Now that I have your attention, what shall we do with the other forty-five seconds?"
"Why should I believe you?"
"Let's meet. I will show you a sample of what I have to offer. You can set the time and place. Come armed. I will be unarmed. If you don't like what you hear, you can kill me. What do you say?"
Jenna stared at the speaker. With everything else going wrong… Could she risk it? The man had information about Blake.
Jenna asked, "What's the information?"
"You're asking for a free sample?"
"I want to know who you are, why you're doing this and what you get out of it."
"Ah…that's four requests. I will only give you one. Chose."
Jenna considered this. "Give me the sample."
"Listen very carefully, Jenna Stannis."
There was silence for a second and then a familiar voice came over her speaker.
Blake's words rose from the past.
Hm? Uh, these two…(rustling sounds) Plantation Five, did she say? (more background sounds)
Yes. Another man's voice. This one was familiar too.
Blake's voice said, I might just take a swing out in that direction, see if there's anything left.
You'll be wasting time.
Deva. That's…Deva. It was the man Jenna had left Blake with. The computer engineer who had offered his expertise.
Blake's voice responded, I'll bear that in mind.
The speaker fell silent. Jenna was filled with confusion and suspicion. Could she afford to take this man seriously? Could she afford not to? He had information about Blake and Gauda Prime.
The silky voiced man asked, "Do you like my sample? Or should I find another line of work?"
Jenna said cautiously, "Blake's voice can be faked."
The man chuckled again. "Very true. There are numerous public broadcasts of him. But you are interested, aren't you? Because of the other voice."
Jenna stared at the speaker, wishing she could see through to the man on the other side. Something told her that she knew this man. His voice sounded familiar too. "If this is a trick…"
"You will have the gun and I have no doubts that you will use it."