Logo by L. Mundy Undercurrents
By James I. Ide
Chapter 20 Index Page Chapter 22



We're down," said Tarrant as Scorpio settled jarringly onto the landing pad. "I do believe I'm beginning to get the-- " as he spoke the ship seemed to drop from under them again as the pad began descending quickly down the underground shaft that was the entrance to their new base, "-- hang of this."

"The hang of what?" asked Vila sourly.

"Gravity," said Dayna, teasing. "It works most every time."

"How far did you drop us?" asked Soolin, her tone and facial expression carefully calculated to give no offense. Dorian was dead now and she had cast her lot with them. She would have to establish herself as a member of the crew, learn to fit in, earn their acceptance.

"That was a very smooth landing," he said, not put out by them. "I'd like to see you do better."

"I'd like to see you do better," said Vila.

Avon regarded Tarrant and the others wearily, impatient to be rid of them. He had accomplished his purpose: he had regained possession of Dorian's ship-- how many days had it taken? Three? Thirty? It seemed like thirty-- but what did it matter? Now he wanted only rest, but there was one more thing to do before he could rest. What concerned him now was--

"What are we going to do with her body?" asked Dayna.

Avon was startled to hear his own question spoken aloud and he looked quickly at Dayna, braced to meet accusations, only to realize as he followed her gaze, that she was asking her own question and they were all staring at Pella's body.

After a moment, Soolin looked over at Avon and said mildly, "I suppose you had to kill her."

Avon shrugged in indifference. Pella. She had tried to take the ship. She was telepathic. She was dangerous. There was nothing else he could have done. It wasn't important now, anyway; there were more pressing concerns--

"Well? What shall we do with her?" Dayna asked, echoing his thoughts again.

And Avon wondered. How was he going to dispose of the body? This could be very inconvenient--

"Is there anywhere on the base we could...?" Tarrant asked Soolin.

"There's only the main disposal."

That sounds promising, thought Avon, listening in spite of himself--

"But, she's a person," Dayna objected.

"Was a person," Soolin corrected.

"Is a person. And entitled to some dignity."

"Since when," asked Avon, in annoyance, "are you so concerned with the dignity of the dead?"

Dayna looked down at the body. "I don't know... it just isn't right."

"Well," said Soolin, "if you want to give her a funeral, you'll have to take her up to the surface."

Now that would be awkward--

Vila was looking down at the body, too. "Everyone deserves a proper funeral," he said. "It's the least we can do, getting her killed and all."

Tarrant laughed. "If only the Federation believed as you do, Vila! They'd be kept occupied attending funerals for the next thousand years."

Dayna and Vila didn't laugh. In the awkward silence that followed Avon realized it wasn't Pella that Dayna and Vila and Tarrant were thinking of now--

"We'll let her people decide," said Dayna.

"She hasn't got any people," said Soolin.

They were all silent, looking at Pella's body. "Neither did Cally," said Vila quietly. "I wish we could've given her a proper funeral."

Avon laughed. The irony was exquisite. What would they say if he told them? Who would they blame? "She's dead. It doesn't matter to the dead what you do-- "

"It matters to me!" said Dayna, glaring at him. "I couldn't do anything for Cally, or for my sister or my father, but I can give Pella the dignity she deserves. And we aren't just going to chuck her into a disposal!"

Avon glared back. "Do what you like," he said. "Give her a state funeral if you want. Just get her off the ship. Now."

He and Dayna continued to glare at each other; the others watched in silence. After a long moment, Avon said, "I'm going to get some rest." And he picked up Orac and left.

As he walked to his quarters he wondered again where on board he would find Cally's body. And what he would do with it when he did.

* * * * *

Dead. Death was the only thing that could have kept Cally from trying to rescue everyone from Dorian. Only death could keep her from getting involved, from charging in--

He had hoped that first day-- when Soolin greeted them with five glasses of wine he'd thought-- but no, not then. And not later. That had only been the Seska. His concealed weapon hadn't turned up. And if Cally had been alive, she would have made her presence known-- and the Seska would surely have felt the presence of another telepath.

The hate was gone now, but he had hated her. For being so stubborn, for the worry she had caused him, for-- but, she was dead and--

And it was her own damned fault. Always arguing-- she knew it was impossible. Why couldn't she ever just-- if she had been sensible in the first place--

But, now all the problems were solved. No more arguments. No decisions to make. No clever plans. There'd be no pretending to be dead. Cally was dead and all Avon felt was tired...

As he thought about dead Cally, he realized, for the first time, how very fond he had become of her.

Loving the dead was always so much easier than loving the living.

* * * * *

While the others slept, Avon searched Scorpio.

He searched every nook and cranny and he was ready to concede that perhaps Cally hadn't even made it aboard, when he discovered the lifeboat. It was so well hidden at the back of the cargo section that he had missed it on the first sweep. On closer scrutiny, however, he noticed that it only seemed hidden from the cargo deck. The main access to it was from the deck above, the flight deck and this secondary access was for emergency use only. It was hard to believe that she could have found the lifeboat quickly-- perhaps she had felt she couldn't find a safe hiding place and had stayed behind...

Avon went closer, looking intently at the hatch as if staring at it would yield up an answer. He touched the latch--

The hatch opened easily and inside was Cally. She looked dead; he thought she was dead--

He laughed. Cally's luck had held. It was a Sleeper. Complete osmotic medical support facility for prolonged flight. Cally was sleeping. A Sleeper! Dorian had been such a paranoic that he had planned for every contingency: Cryo chamber and med unit above, and this lifeboat-- he had been covered no matter what happened to himself or the ship.

"You do lead a charmed life," he said, and he reached in and flicked the switch that would revive her. Revival would take a while, but not too long, so he leaned against the hatch, made himself comfortable, and watched the changing telltales.

The telltales showed that she and-- Cally was in good health, and-- that would be dealt with shortly, as soon as--

He turned his attention to her and began to watch for signs of waking. Her metabolism was still so slow that he couldn't detect breathing. "Have you enjoyed being dead?" he asked, laughing softly as he looked at her face. Her expression didn't change, but he noted the slightest flicker of her eyelid. "No?" he asked her, laughing again. He was sure, now that she had had time to think, that she would see the impossibility-- the absurdity of her position. "We've a new ship, a new shipmate, and a comfortable new base, you know. Once we're settled, we can enjoy ourselves-- just one, big, happy family again-- "

Her tunic was rucked up oddly on one side. He reached out to smooth it, and discovered that the seam of her tunic was slit from hem to underarm. Lifting the hem, he discovered that the waist of her trousers was also slit--

She didn't expect to be awakened. Not by him, anyway.

She meant it. Cally had meant it-- she meant it. Nothing had changed her mind-- nothing would change her mind. She meant to leave.

He let the hem of her tunic drop and stood, just staring at her, unable to think any further, until the sound of her first deep breath galvanized him to action and he reversed the switches. Then he stood staring again as the system sent her back to sleep.

It was better this way. He had nothing to say to her. She had said it all; she had made her decisions. She meant to stay "dead."

And now-- now what? He couldn't--

He remembered their bargain. They had found a way off Terminal and he had promised--

Well enough. He'd carry out his part of the bargain, and there it would end. For both of them.

Ignoring Cally he checked the lifeboat's systems and verified that all were in working order. The lifeboat, preprogrammed to return to Dorian's base, could easily be reprogrammed. After that, releasing the lifeboat "accidentally" during the shake-down flight would be easy, and, with Orac's help, choosing a suitable route or destination for her would be easy, too.

As he withdrew from the lifeboat he noticed her tunic again. Practical Cally. But, it was so--

Involuntarily he looked at her face. Somehow the thought of Cally being found in such a state of dishevelment was... disturbing. He smoothed her tunic, tucking it decorously closed. You should have brought something else to wear, he thought to her... and again he was looking at her face, so still, so unmoving--

Fingers tingling from the osmosis field that surrounded her, he quickly shut the hatch, locked it, and set out to consult Orac.

* * * * *

Avon reviewed all the systems and the new flight programme. The lifeboat had been given a new identity, call signal, and a sketchy history of the accident which destroyed the ship she was launched from-- all suitably garbled so as not to contradict whatever memories Cally might choose to have on waking. The bundle of clothing was stowed. Everything seemed to be in order--

For the first time he noticed the message board. Surely she had left a message--

But the cartridges were all neatly stacked in the rack and no indicator light showed on the board. He punched the replay anyway. Silence. Just as well, he thought. There was nothing she could say that he'd want to hear.

He made himself look at her face. She wasn't really pretty. Not really. Too thin by half, nondescript nose, eyes too close, mouth too wide, and that determined jaw-- stubborn. Stubborn she looked and stubborn she was. And a great deal of trouble, too, since the moment they'd met-- and she couldn't take care of herself properly-- she was always getting herself into fixes. A great deal of trouble. It had taken forever to find that stupid cloak and that stupid dress and--

Why had he ever let her into his life? He knew she'd leave in the end, had known from the beginning-- no one could be trusted, least of all women. They would use one, betray one, always let one down-- whatever sentiments women professed, whatever reasons women might give, they always did just as they pleased in the end. A man had to be a fool to listen to them, a fool to believe-- sentiment would only get one killed and only fools believed-- no more--

He stepped out of the lifeboat and took off his left boot: from inside he pulled out a square of black tape. "Here," he said to unconscious Cally, holding it in front of her face as if she could see it, "you may as well take this, too. I've been a fool long enough." And he laughed and reached inside her tunic to stick the square of tape under her arm--

Vila was calling him. He withdrew quickly from the lifeboat, knocking message cartridges off the console and out onto the cargo deck as he went. He had dogged the hatch and was pulling on his boot when Vila appeared.

"Are you ready?" asked Vila, coming up to him.

"Yes," he said. Vila was looking at him oddly, clearly puzzled as to his behavior, but he didn't venture to comment on it.

"Where'd these come from?" Vila asked, stooping to pick up a cartridge.

"I don't know," said Avon, giving his boot a final tug and straightening up.

Vila nearly dropped the cartridge when it blinked and beeped at him. "Somebody left a message-- "

Cally-- ?

"-- I wonder-- " Vila said, and he thumbed the replay.

Avon snatched the cartridge out of Vila's hand and quickly deactivated it.

"-- hey! Don't you want to listen to it? It could be interesting-- "

"It couldn't possibly be of any interest to either of us," said Avon, slipping it into his pocket. "Come on. Let's go."

Vila glared after Avon for a moment, murmuring "Spoilsport," under his breath. He was just about to follow when he remembered the other cartridges scattered on the deck. Gathering them up he thumbed the replay on each, but none of them held a message. With a sigh, he went to join the others.

* * * * *

"Slave! What was that?" asked Tarrant.

"The lifeboat has been launched, Master."

"Who launched it?"

"No one, Master. The launch circuit indicates a short triggered by a power surge."

"Great! Short circuits in the systems, power surges. What a bucket of bolts! I'm glad this is only a shake-down flight."

"And now we've lost the lifeboat!" Vila said.

"I didn't know we had a lifeboat," Dayna said.

"It looks pretty small," said Tarrant, watching it on the screen. "One man, if I'm not mistaken."

"You aren't," said Soolin. "One man Sleeper. That was Dorian's ace."

"One man! Then I'm just as glad it's gone," said Dayna. "I'd hate to have to fight over it!"

"We could draw straws," Tarrant suggested.

"Or match coins," said Dayna.

"Or shoot each other," said Soolin.

"We can pick it up later," said Avon, annoyed. "Unless someone is on board the lifeboat, and it seems to me everyone is accounted for, it has to be on automatic and that means it will go to the nearest planet, and the nearest planet happens to be one we just came from."

"Why bother?"

"Soolin," Avon said, "take a look at these readings and tell me if they're normal."

Soolin came to stand by his station. She watched the instruments, checked adjustments. "Everything seems in order," she said at last.

He sniffed and looked at her hard for a moment, then said, "Very well. Let's put Scorpio through her paces and see what we're dealing with."

* * * * *

Avon couldn't rest. He poured himself a glass of Dorian's wine and contemplated the message cartridge on the desk before him.

The message was from Cally. The first words were, If you are listening, but he hadn't listened to any more, hadn't decided whether he would. There was no reason to listen. In fact, if it hadn't been for Vila, he never would have found--

He could just chuck it. He knew what she was going to say-- she had said it all, very clearly, on Terminal, had explained it all. And he'd heard it all before.

Women. Choices. It always came down to choices. Cold and calculating, women made their choices...

As Rowena had. She had chosen revenge-- dedicated her life to an obsession: avenging the death of a man-- a stranger, who had lain with her once and left her with a bastard son. A son whose only use to her had been as an instrument of that revenge--

And then there was Anna. Sweet, treacherous Anna. At least Rowena's revenge was understandable, but Anna's choice? Together they could have had everything, but Anna had chosen-- what? Power? Whatever it was she wanted, for whatever reasons, she had used him to get it.

And then, at last, there had been Cally...

So different... but...

At last, she made her choice, chose what she wanted-- in the end, they all had chosen what was most important to them, and no one had ever chosen Kerr-- and he had been a fool ever to have imagined that would change!

Still... there were times he had almost believed...

He just wanted to rest. But, fierce, brave, stubborn, provoking Cally-- she who was always barging in, who never gave one a moment's peace-- even when one had done all one promised-- wouldn't let him rest. He studied the message cartridge. There wasn't any reason to listen to it, but...

Damn Vila.

He poured himself some more of Dorian's wine, then, propping the message cartridge up against the bottle, he thumbed the replay and stood back, prepared to listen to her for the last time, for he now realized that so long as Cally had something left to say, she wouldn't go away.

"If you are listening to this, I must be well on my way."

"I've always hated sleepers. There's no knowing when-- or if, for that matter-- and I'm getting a very bad feeling from that fellow -- "

Her voice seemed so clear and close he could almost believe she was in the room--

"But, much as I want to, I can't do anything about it. You're on your own now, all of you. All of us. All I can do is prepare myself for... for whatever may happen.

"This sleeper... we could hardly have wished for a more convenient or timely solution to our problems, could we? We made our plans, and-- abracadabra! as Vila says. Another few days or weeks and-- well, no matter.

"These, then, must be my last words to you. Where to begin...

"I'm sorry for some of the things I said to you yesterday. You were right. About a lot of things. I thought I knew what I was doing, but, I was only pretending I was dealing with the situation."

"Shall I say, 'I told you so'?" he asked, turning to look at her before he remembered she wasn't-- he turned away again and sipped the wine as she continued.

"I love you, you know. That's what made it all so difficult. I love you and I wanted so much for us to have a future and when it... happened... I couldn't make the decision. I know I should have, but it was so difficult to think clearly, I was so tired, so ill sometimes... and I wanted so much to believe that it would work-- wanted to believe that you and I-- but... you were right: it's impossible. I was fooling myself-- I told you I'd find my part easy."

He could see her wry smile--

"But, I was right, too. I can't lightly destroy-- it's not our way-- that's why I'm glad of this... neat solution. I'm afraid that if I saw you again I wouldn't have the strength to leave you... just like all the other times... even though I know there's nothing for us-- especially because I know that. Because, if I stayed, then there would be nothing. You see, I know you don't love me-- though, there were times... that doesn't matter now. What matters is that, this way, we're doing what's right and... and I have something of you... and we both have... a hope for the future. And that's what we're fighting for, isn't it? For that hope? I'm glad we have that much now. I hope you will be glad, too."

She looked so stern and fierce-- she always did when she thought she was right--

"I wish you could have loved me a little... really, I think you did, you know. A little. I know you wanted me, needed me in some ways-- a part of me hopes you will wake me up and storm at me, tell me I'm an idiot, hold me and make me stay--

"But, you won't. At least, if you found this message, it means you cared enough to look for it. I couldn't leave it out where just anyone might pick it up, circumstances being what-- not knowing who might find me-- I'm babbling. I'm sorry. I just hope you find-- my time's running short and just thinking about going to sleep in this thing, not knowing, makes me nervous.

"I know I can rely on you to send me off in good order. S-sorry to be such a bother, but..."

Her voice caught, but she rallied and went on, fierce, brave Cally--

"You'll be well rid of me. I've run the system checks, by the way, and my optimum is seven to one. I hope you took that into consid-- "

"Orac did-- " he said, touched, turning towards her, wanting to offer her some--

"This is the right thing. We are doing the right thing."

He laughed a small, bitter laugh. "Don't we always?" he asked, and he raised his glass to the cartridge, drank the last swallow of wine--

"If you remember nothing else, remember that I love you, now and always.

"My time is up and I have to give myself over to the sleeper system. I hate sleepers-- I suppose it will be good practice for being dead, though."

Her courage was always surprising--

"Keep well. You and the others. Think of... me sometimes."


He looked into his empty glass, waiting, but heard only silence. End of message. "Good-bye," he said quietly--

"I love you," she said, and then the cartridge beeped signalling end of message.

His duty to her done, Avon went to the desk and, laying the cartridge aside, he poured himself another glass of Dorian's excellent wine.

She'd had her say and he had listened; he had done all she asked, all he had promised. And now, she was gone, and it was over, and he could get some rest-- he could have some peace--

He picked up the cartridge and tossed it into the disposal. Then, making himself comfortable, bottle near to hand, he sat quietly, sipping the wine, savouring it...

It didn't help.

There was no peace to be had.

* * * * *

"Well," Soolin said, opening the door to Avon, "to what do I owe the honour?"

"In future," he said abruptly, "if you are to remain part of this crew, you will show some consideration for others and not drench yourself with scent."

"Drench myself with scent?"


"Dorian never complained."

"Perhaps Dorian had no objection to being suffocated by your scent-- "

"Perhaps Dorian didn't have such a sensitive nose."

"-- but I have. In these close quarters the practice of wearing scent is insupportable. Remember that or get out."

"I'll do as I please."

"You'll do as I say," he said, pushing his way into her quarters. Soolin was surprised and fell back. He looked around, spotted the bottle of scent and went quickly over to it. Soolin, recovering her balance, went after him. As he reached for the bottle, she shouted, "Hey! That's mine!" and made a grab for it. They were struggling for possession when she suddenly let go, the stopper flew out, and the scent went all over Avon.

"That settles that," she laughed.

Avon glared at her while he deliberately emptied the little remaining contents onto the floor. Then he dropped the empty bottle and left.

Following him to the door, still laughing, she called out after him, "Remember in future not to drench yourself with scent, Avon!"

"Whew!" Vila exclaimed as Avon approached. "What have you been into? You smell like-- ooof!" The force of the shove sent Vila bouncing against the wall. "Cally," he finished saying to himself, while he rubbed the back of his head and glared after Avon, "but in spades with knobs on."

In his own quarters Avon pulled off his lavender scented clothes and threw them into the cleaner, but that wasn't enough. The scent was on his skin, too, and now it was making his breath catch in his throat and--

He got quickly into the shower. As he stood there under the stream of water, lathering and scrubbing, the smell of the lavender assaulted him, made his heart pound, made the blood sing in his ears, made him remember--

He pressed his hands to the sides of the shower stall to keep himself from falling. "I don't need you," he whispered. "I don't need anyone. I never have. And you're dead-- dead. You're dead and I don't need you..."

The words kept repeating in his mind, over and over, until the smell of the lavender was gone and he believed.


Chapter 20 Index Chapter 22

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