Logo by L. Mundy Undercurrents
By James I. Ide
Chapter 17 Index Page Chapter 19


"Death Watch"

Cally awoke alone. Again.

Everything's going to hell, she thought, as another wave of nausea swept over her. She closed her eyes, tried to relax, tried to pretend he was beside her--

It was no good. She was in his bunk, but he wasn't beside her. And sleep was far away. She got up and found her robe, and, gathering it tightly against the chill of the passageways, she went looking for Avon.

* * * * *

Avon was working at his customary station, Orac close at hand, and he was watching the main viewscreen intently as he played the last intercepted message back visually. The signals were tantalizing. The points of origin and relay of the transmissions shifted without pattern, as would be expected from someone trying to remain hidden; the transmissions were faint and spotty and nearly impossible to read, nearly undecipherable-- and the decipherable contents of the half-heard messages were, by turns, disconcertingly telling and frustratingly ambiguous. The codes matched the last ones Blake had established, everything seemed to be as one might expect, everything seemed to fit. It was possible that Blake was trying to contact Liberator; one could almost believe the signals came from Blake in hiding, and yet--

At first Avon had wanted to tell Cally and the others about the signals-- especially Cally. He had wanted to ask her opinion, ask if she thought the signals sounded like Blake, but--

Cally was too trusting. True, Blake had never tried to intentionally mislead, but he had always displayed an understanding of his crew, had always seemed to know what made each one tick-- all but one, that is-- and Blake had played them each, like instruments as his needs arose. But who knew what made Blake tick, after all?

If the signals were real, Avon had some hard questions he wanted to ask Blake, questions no trusting sheep would think to ask, questions they wouldn't dare to ask--

The messages bothered Avon. The content, the decipherable content, was too... teasing, too much like... bait.

If it was bait, it was a very subtle bait. Liberator only intercepted that first signal by the merest chance and it had almost gone unrecognized. And yet, the signal had been noted and recognized, and other signals diligently sought and, with difficulty, intercepted and imperfectly interpreted...

Difficult and unlikely. Was the difficulty real or part of some plan? It was much more likely that Blake's codes had been broken by the Federation, either before he disappeared or shortly thereafter. That was a reasonable assumption.

An even more reasonable assumption was that Blake had been captured. Captured and used as bait.

If the signals were bait, only one fisherman was subtle enough to have devised it: Servalan.

Bait. Bait could be followed and not taken. And if the fish followed the bait, it would lead to the fisherman. Blake or Servalan, Avon had a score to settle with each. Blake or Servalan, he wanted to find out for himself, handle it himself, without interference. Then, perhaps, he could come to terms--

If it was Blake, he would have his answers; but, if it was Servalan, this time he would win. This time he had to win. And that meant the fish would have to be very, very clever and very, very careful.

Servalan. He could see her now, remember vividly his last encounter with her at Teal, remember her arrogance and pride-- her laughing contempt... and she was every bit as powerful, seductive, and treacherous as the Federation that had shaped her. Their contest of wits had been a draw; she had withstood him then, but this time he would wipe the arrogance from her face, strip her of her pride, teach her about contempt-- this time he would have the last laugh--

Cally came quietly onto the flight deck and he saw her from the corner of his eye. "Zen, main screen off," he said, then he turned to look at her, asking abruptly, "What do you want?"

"Nothing," she answered, a little startled by his sharp tone. "I couldn't sleep."

"Try some hot milk."

"Is everything all right?" she asked going over to him. His expression was unreadable.

"I couldn't sleep, either," he said. And as he said it he shut down his station and then Orac. He did it casually, but he didn't deceive her. She knew he was hiding something.

She touched his arm lightly, concerned, but she only said, "You look tired. Will you have some hot milk with me and come back to bed?"

Her touch disturbed him. He never knew how much she could "read" from a touch. He didn't move away or change expression, but he withdrew. "I'm not tired. I don't want to sleep."

"Talk with me a while?" she asked, smiling at him.

He nodded slightly and they walked round to the forward deck. He waited for her to sit down and then he took the seat opposite her. "What shall we talk about?" he asked.

Cally watched him for a moment, smiling, wishing she could think of something clever or subtle to say. It hurt that he wouldn't sit next to her, that he was keeping something from her, and she wanted to ask about it, wheedle it out of him, but she couldn't be anything but honest and he was entitled to his privacy. "I missed you," she said at last.

"I haven't gone anywhere," he said, deliberately trying to keep from thinking.

"I meant when I woke up."

"I don't seem to need much sleep."

"Is something worrying you?"

It would be a relief to tell her, but-- "No." Why couldn't she leave it alone? Why did she always have to pry, her and her intuition?

She nodded, not knowing what to say. She knew he wanted her to go away and leave him alone, and yet, she also felt he wanted her to stay-- suddenly her stomach felt queasy and the chill of the deck on her bare feet made her shiver. She shifted, curling her legs up on the seat, and covered her feet with her robe. Hugging herself tightly, trying to control the nausea, she said, "I should have worn my slippers."

"Why don't you go back to bed?" He watched her closely, wondering at her expression, wondering if she had read-- if he had let his thoughts slip through--

"I'd rather talk a while. What were you doing when I came in?"

"Nothing important."

"You don't have to tell me. I just felt-- "

She knew! Her and her damned unpredictable telepathy-- her damned intuition! She knew about Blake, about Servalan, about the way he felt-- had probably known all along-- "No, I don't have to tell you, do I? You always know. There's nothing you don't know, is there?"

"I don't know what's wrong with you," she said severely.

"Don't you? Don't you know? Don't you know all about me yet?"

"Exactly what is it I'm supposed to know? I don't read minds. And if I did I wouldn't read yours!"

"I'm glad to know I've some privacy left."

"So that's it. You think I lie there in the dark eavesdropping on your thoughts! Sorting through your mind, ferreting out your secrets."

"Don't you?"

"Of course. And I'm saving them all up so that one day I can reveal them and make a complete fool of you!"

"Saving them up? Why not just broadcast them telepathically to all and sundry? You have an inbred talent-- "

"Inbred talent? At least I have some breeding. I'm not the product of random chance, a bad gamble-- "

"Not human, like the rest of us?"

"I'm glad I'm not! And I'll tell you what: from now on I'll give you all the privacy you want!" And she ran from the flight deck.

"Thank you!" he called after her. And as he watched her go he knew the satisfaction of having routed her, of having won. She had fled. And he was sure she didn't know his secret, how he felt about-- didn't know about the signals that might or might not be from Blake.

But the satisfaction was cold and lonely. And it didn't make him feel any less an ass.

* * * * *

In the passageway, outside the flight deck, Cally leaned against the bulkhead, fighting both tears and nausea. She hadn't wanted to run from the fight, but when she felt the tears and the sickness rising in her throat, she had to leave. She didn't want him to know there was anything wrong; didn't want him to know how ill she was. Didn't want him to see her cry.

After a few moments she felt better and she decided to go to the galley for something to eat. That might help settle her stomach. She went back to Avon's cabin first and got her slippers and when she came out again, she ran into Dayna who was coming quietly out of Tarrant's cabin.

Dayna grinned. "You too?"

Cally tried to smile, but she still felt unsteady.

"Are you all right?" Dayna asked.

"Yes, it's just... I'm just going to get something to eat-- "

"That's where I was going. I'm famished. Come on, I'll keep you company," she said, falling in beside her. "Cally... can I ask you something?"


"Men. Do they... do they all... fall asleep? After?"

Cally almost laughed. "Not all of them, no. Most. They're all different, but it's natural for them to want to sleep."

Dayna nodded. "It doesn't seem right. I'm so full of energy I could stay up all night."

"I was like that, too, once. We all change."

"Hmmm... I suppose I should be glad he can sleep now. After, well, Deeta died..."

Cally nodded in sympathy. Tarrant's brother had died while he was consciously linked with Tarrant and she knew how painful that was.

In the galley Dayna set about making herself a complete meal, but the smell of food bothered Cally and she settled for making some spiced milk. They sat together and Dayna fell to her meal with obvious enjoyment, while Cally merely sipped at her milk.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Dayna asked again, noticing in the brighter light of the galley that Cally didn't look well.

"Yes. It's nothing."

"I'm no telepath," Dayna smiled, "but I know that's a lie."

Cally smiled a bit.

"Is it Avon? I've heard the way he talks to you-- abuses you, I should say."

"He doesn't abuse me-- and in case you didn't notice, I can defend myself."

"Still, he can be nasty." Cally was silent and Dayna watched her wondering. "I wouldn't put up with it."

"You don't love him."

"No," Dayna said a little heatedly, without thinking. "And I don't-- " she broke off in embarrassment at what she had been about to say.

"You don't understand how anyone could," Cally mildly finished the thought for her.

"No. I don't," Dayna admitted. She ate a few more bites before she asked, "Does he love you?"

Cally didn't know how to answer that. Once she had been sure, but now-- nothing Avon felt was simple, and reading him was almost impossible these days. Dayna was watching at her intently waiting for an answer, but Cally didn't have one and had to look away.

"Cally?" Dayna reached out and took her hand. "Cally, don't let him use you. Don't humiliate yourself-- "

Suddenly Cally felt the sickness rising again and she knew this time she couldn't stop it. She got up quickly and just made it to the galley head in time. Dayna followed her, and when it was over, she found a towel, knelt beside her and gently wiped her face.

"Here, rinse your mouth," Dayna said, handing her a glass of water. "Now," she said when Cally had done so, "tell me what's wrong. The truth now."

"It's just the contraceptive."

"It doesn't make me ill."

"Lucky you, you're human."

"Human? What do you mean?"

Cally smiled wryly at her own joke. "It wasn't meant to be used by Auronar, that's all. Help me up."

Dayna took her arm and they went to sit at the table again. "You'd better have the implant out, then."

"It's already out. I'm taking oral doses daily."

"Well, you obviously haven't got the dose adjusted properly."

"I know."

"But why not? Surely-- "

"The med unit can only synthesize certain-- it's a long explanation. I'll work it out."

"But, if it's making you so ill, you should-- "

"Stop? Would you?"

Dayna grinned. "Well, what about him? Couldn't he-- "

"There are no male implant contraceptives on board. And the med unit can't manufacture them."


"Really. He'd be in the same situation I'm in."

"Well... it's his responsibility, too."

"Yes, I know, but... it's such an inconvenience... and..." And she didn't want to bother him. Avon had been so unapproachable lately, so impossible to talk with-- and Cally had been worrying too much about everything and she was tired and wanted some peace--

"It shouldn't make him ill," Dayna went on, "he's not Auronar, after all."

And I am, Cally thought bitterly. 'Not human like the rest of us,' he had said. Damn him. If I weren't human I wouldn't need the contraceptive at all. Think of that, Avon! Would you come to me then? Would you? She felt tears filling her eyes.

"Cally? Now what's wrong?" Dayna asked, watching her in concern, reaching out to touch her hand. "Don't tell me he refused," she said sharply.

"I haven't asked," she snapped, pulling her hand away, angry at Dayna's accusation. "And I'm not going to."

"I'm sorry," Dayna said, withdrawing. "I just thought..."

"I know what you thought." She brushed at the tears, took a deep breath, and looked at Dayna. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "It's just never made me this ill before, and I'm so tired." She smiled wanly. "And I can handle it myself."

"Cally, you shouldn't-- you can't go on like this."

"I can't go on any other way."

"You're being a fool," Dayna said, softly.

"I know." Dayna cleared up the galley while Cally sipped at her milk. "Tomorrow I'll ask for another formulation. I'm sure the dose can be adjusted."

"You'd better get some sleep," Dayna said, tidying the last of the crumbs. "Do you want me to walk you back to your cabin?"

"No, thank you. I'll be fine. I'm just going to sit here for a while."

"Sleep well, then," she said and she left.

Vila © 1999 Leslie Mundy

Cally was sipping at her milk again when Vila appeared in the galley a few moments later.

"Doesn't anyone on board sleep anymore?" he asked when he saw her.

"It doesn't seem like it, does it," she replied.

"Perhaps they could if they'd stay in their own beds," Vila offered as he opened the larder and began searching.

"And what's your excuse, then?" she asked, glad of the diversion.

"Ravening hunger," came the cheerful retort. "I didn't get my share of afters, thanks to Avon and his bloody project... fetching and carrying... what the deuce is he up to, anyway?" he asked, still searching.

"I don't know-- "

"Where is it? Dayna and Tarrant couldn't have-- aha!" He brought forth a large bowl of strawberry trifle. "What were you saying?" he asked, setting it on the table.

"Nothing. If you eat all that," said Cally eyeing the trifle, "you won't sleep anywhere."

"Much you know about it. Want some?"

"No, thank you."

"Sure? I'll fetch another spoon. Plenty for two. And there's extra custard."

She shook her head.

"Suit yourself," Vila said, taking the seat opposite her and digging in.

A new wave of nausea swept over Cally and she felt hot all over and-- the smell of the strawberries and custard made her gag.

"Are you all right?" he asked watching her with concern.

She controlled the sickness this time and after a moment, she nodded, and said, "Fine."

"You look a bit green round the edges."

"I'm fine. It's just the smell of the strawberries."

"Oh." Vila shrugged and took another bite, then, frowning slightly, he said, "The smell of the-- " His expression suddenly changed from puzzlement to wild surmise and he nearly choked. "You're not-- you aren't-- are you?" he asked anxiously.

"I'm not what?" she asked, laughing at his expression, but having no idea what he was talking about.

"You know," he said, gesturing with the spoon, looking from her face to her middle, back to her face.

"What?" Cally asked, looking down to see if she had spilled something in her lap.

"Er...well... breeding."

"Bree-- Vila! Of course not," she said quickly, shocked at his supposition. But Vila continued to stare at her and after a moment, she asked, "What would make you think that?"

"My... aunt. Whenever she was breeding, smells made her feel all queer and go off her feed, and-- "

"Well, I'm not breeding," she stated heatedly. "In fact, I'm doing my best to avoid it. That's the problem, if you must have it."

"Oh," said Vila. "Good." And he dug into the trifle again.

"You wouldn't say so, if you were in my place."

"I didn't mean... I mean..." Vila looked down at the trifle and said, "I mean, they... make me ill, too."

"You mean you-- ?"

He nodded. "Sick as a cat. Can't use 'em." After a moment he asked, "D'you want me to take this away? My aunt... it's no trouble, I'll just go to-- "

"No. I'm fine now. It comes and goes."

Vila turned his attention back to the trifle. After a few more bites, he said, "It's my system, you know. It's very sensitive."

"Mine, too."

He nodded again. "Yeah. What about, ah..."

"Avon? There's nothing on board."


"Didn't you know?" she teased.

"No reason I should know, you mean," he said mournfully.

And for just a moment, Cally felt sorry for Vila, until she caught the gleam in his eye and then they both laughed. She watched as he dug into the trifle again and she wondered, not for the first time, just what unsuspected depths lurked in him. "Vila... are you ever sorry that you didn't go with Kerril?"

"Kerril? Now there was a girl in a million! Beauty, talent, brains. Taste. She knew a good thing when she saw it. She'd've killed me in a week."

"Be serious. Don't you miss her? Don't you miss having someone?"

"Miss her? A woman who's a crack gunslinger-- " He broke off and looked sharply at Cally for a moment and then seemed to come to a decision. "I miss the idea of her, but, I don't know-- what's all this about? You feeling sorry for the old maid?"

"No, I just wondered... you could have made a new life-- "

"In a colony? Tending livestock? Raising turnips? Me?"

"You could've had a family-- a dozen kids..."

"Kids? I wouldn't half mind sowing that crop, but... look here, what are you on about-- you're not having me on, are you? You're not..."


They were silent for a few minutes during which a large part of the trifle disappeared.

"Mind you," said Vila, grinning wickedly, "I'd give a lot to see Avon changing a nappie."

It was ten minutes before they could stop laughing.

"Where did you learn about children, Vila?"

"Here and there."

"I haven't seen many babies. Never had to take care of one. I wish I could've stayed to see Georgie's baby..."

"Your friend on Barram?"

Cally nodded.

"Believe me, you wouldn't want to be there," said Vila feelingly. "Household upside down, everything at sixes and sevens, crying at all hours, toys and baby paraphernalia everywhere-- used nappies-- talk about smells!"

"What do you know about it?" she asked, amused.

"More than I care to, ta."

She nodded and was silent. "Still, someone's got to have babies..."

Vila watched her and then said, very seriously, "It won't fadge, Cally."

"I know."

"Course you do. Wouldn't work. Not here. We'd have to space you inside of a week." Their eyes met over the fragile joke and then he looked away.

After a moment, Cally said, "Don't worry. It doesn't look as if any of us is destined to have a family. We've all made our choices."

Vila watched her for a moment, struck by the sadness in her voice. "Maybe," he said, "but, we're a family. Not much of one, mind..." He reached out and touched her hand, saying, "I'm not completely stupid, you know. I know what you've... if it wasn't for you... well..." He gestured helplessly, then said, "I don't know how we'd get on without-- "

"Without me?" she asked. "Nobody on board needs me."

He looked down into what was left of the trifle, toyed with the spoon. "I wouldn't be so sure." Then, looking up to meet her eyes, he said, "We are family."

Cally looked back at Vila, surprised and touched by how much he understood, saddened by how much he didn't understand. "I tried, but it's beyond me," she said at last and then she got up to put her glass in the washer. "I need some sleep. Good night, Vila."

* * * * *

Cally lay down and tried to relax.

Staring into the dimness, she thought again about the bargain she and Avon had struck that night, the bargain neither could have stated clearly then. The terms were clear now, simple and equitable: everything one had to give, in exchange for everything the other had to give.

And the bargain was scrupulously kept. She had nothing to complain about. He still sought her out, still needed her, and he never denied her when she came to him; always held her until-- until one of them fell asleep. Everything he had to give, he gave. But, more often than not, she awoke alone-- even in his cabin. The door to his quarters would open to her touch, but not his heart.

She tried hard to give him what he needed, to make things easier for him, but-- he needed so much of love, loyalty, understanding that it was like trying to fill a bottomless well. She didn't grudge the giving, didn't even mind that he took his frustrations out on her-- she could take care of herself, but--

She couldn't pull the crew together anymore. Not since Barram. Oh, Tarrant and Dayna were more closely allied than ever, but Tarrant's contempt for Avon and his intolerance for Vila seemed to be growing daily and when Dayna sided with Tarrant--

No one would listen anymore. Avon was a bastard and Cally a fool for loving him. And now it couldn't be undone--

Or maybe it could, but she felt queasy almost all the time now, and she couldn't think straight and there was so much to worry about.

Avon and his secret project-- the project so important to him that he wouldn't even betray it by a stray thought.

Avon who could be so warm and tender with her at his own need.

Avon who didn't even know himself how much he needed her.

Avon whom she loved so much that would give him anything-- everything.

She closed her eyes, tried to relax, tried to pretend he was beside her...

Asleep beside her, warm and solid, in that wonderful wide, soft bed, in Marian's guestroom...

It was early morning, and in the morning light she watched him sleep, so peacefully, protected by the love that filled that house, love that healed both hearts and minds. She reached out to touch him--

As she often did now, Cally cried herself to sleep.

* * * * *

Avon didn't bring up the lights when he went into his cabin. He was exhausted and the dimness was a relief. The three hours he had spent with Orac and Zen had been frustrating and useless and-- it had been hard to concentrate after Cally left. He hadn't meant to say those things, but--

Why did she have to be so provoking? He never would have said those things if-- if she couldn't understand, if just being oneself wasn't good enough, well, better it ended now-- what difference did it make? Sooner or later she'd have enough of him and she'd be off anyway.

His eyes were slow to adjust to the dim light and he undressed blindly, letting his clothes fall where they would as he went to his bunk--

Only to discover he wasn't alone. Involuntarily, he reached out and softly touched her hair. The feel of her hair, the sound of her slow, even breathing, the nose-tickling lavender smell of her, reassured him of her reality. He watched her for a moment, then, quietly, he slipped under the covers to lay down beside her. She didn't awaken, but she snuggled close and he put his arm around her and breathed her familiar earthy scent as he drifted off to sleep still wondering how this woman could love him.

* * * * *

It was getting worse. She had tried every formulation the med unit and Orac could come up with, and there was nothing more to be done. She woke up sick every morning now and she couldn't chance him finding out, couldn't chance becoming a problem to him. She didn't want to stop the loving. He needed it and so did she, but if he found out... there was no alternative available yet and she couldn't chance losing him...

She could handle it-- would handle it herself.

After Avon fell asleep Cally slipped quietly out of the bunk and went quickly to her own cabin.

She hoped that soon they would call at a civilized planet.

* * * * *

Avon awoke alone. Again.

Staring into the dimness he thought about her. At first he thought it was just her way of making a point about his privacy, but now... she seemed very withdrawn and preoccupied. She never denied him; she wasn't actually avoiding him, but...

She didn't argue with him anymore. Not like she used to. It was disturbing and he wondered if, after all this time, she had finally grown tired of him.


Chapter 17 Index Chapter 19

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