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Animal Nature by Andrew Williams

ANIMAL NATURE

by
Andrew Williams


Avon, Tarrant, and Soolin stood together, at a discreet distance from Dayna. The young woman was still sobbing uncontrollably as she rocked back and forth on her knees, cradling Justin's head in her arms, her whole frame heaving with every sob.

"So what do we do now?" Tarrant asked softly.

"We'll have to do something about the body," replied Soolin in equally hushed tones. "For Dayna's sake. We can't leave it here for those creatures to maul."

Avon was staring at Og’s corpse, sprawled across the ground nearby, surrounded by the bodies of three dead mutoids. His eyes flicked toward Justin. "We'll take him back to the base," he said. "But we wait for Dayna first."

As if to prevent any argument, Avon crossed to Og and began to study the body.

Soolin raised an eyebrow. "Vila's going to be in for a nice surprise, then," she said under her breath.


Eventually Dayna's sobbing died away. After a little while longer, she gently lowered Justin's head to the ground and stood up. Soolin went and stood nearby, resting a hand lightly on her shoulder as Dayna remained standing, head down, staring at Justin.

"What now?" Dayna asked hoarsely, a catch in her throat.

"We're going to take Justin back to his base. He belongs there. It was his home." The words sounded hollow even to Soolin. She had never learned to comfort, for she had never had anyone to comfort her. Soolin looked at Avon and Tarrant and they stepped forward to join the two women.

Avon knelt beside Justin and very delicately fastened a teleport bracelet to his wrist. Then he brought his own bracelet up to his mouth.

"Vila," he said softly. "Are you ready?"

"Yes, all ready, Avon." Vila's voice was also subdued. Avon had already updated him so that he wouldn't say anything tactless.

"Tarrant, you stay here with Dayna. We'll come back with a bracelet for you shortly. Soolin and I will go ahead."

With a brief nod to Soolin, he gently slid a hand under Justin's arm. Soolin did the same with the other arm, and as carefully as possible, they hefted Justin into a sitting position.

Making sure he wasn't going to let Justin slip from his grasp, Avon activated his communicator. "Bring us up, Vila."

*

Vila jumped out of his seat when he saw three figures materialise in the teleport bay. He’d been trying to repair his bypass probe but dropped it and the tool he was using in surprise. He stared at the figure hanging between Avon and Soolin.

"Stay here," ordered Avon, shoving a limp arm in Soolin's direction, not stopping to see if she had caught it or not. Soolin grappled with the sudden, unbalanced weight of the dead man, but managed to keep her footing.

"You brought him HERE?!" cried Vila incredulously.

"Not for long," snapped Avon, hoisting Orac from its resting place on the forward console. "Do you still have the co-ordinates of Justin's bunker?"

Flustered, Vila glanced wildly around the control panels. "Er, yes, they're still in the system."

Avon quickly stepped back into the teleport bay. Soolin could understand his subdued behaviour around Dayna, but his manner had suddenly become electric. But why?

"Well, put us down there. And don't lose the co-ordinates we just came from."

Vila hesitated, then began punching the teleport controls.

"Okay, I’ve stored those co-ordinates and recalled the ones for the bunker."

"Then put us down, Vila."

"With pleasure!" acknowledged Vila, pressing the twin teleport levers forward almost too quickly. He watched the figures shimmer out of sight and then stood from his seat.

"And so the departed departed," he muttered to himself as he shakenly flopped back in his seat.

*

Avon and Soolin materialised outside the secondary entrance to Justin's bunker, just as they had done earlier that day. Avon hurried ahead, dropping Orac on a workbench, and then returned to help Soolin carry the body into the bunker.

"Be careful," he warned, as they made their way into the wrecked laboratory. "The floor's slippery." He indicated a clear patch of floor. "Let's put him here for the moment."

"We can't leave him here," Soolin pointed out, once Justin was laid out.

"We're not going to," replied Avon, slapping Orac’s key into place. "There must be a cryo-chamber on this base somewhere; you're going to find it. Orac, where is the medical centre in this bunker?"

Orac's answer was direct. "West, E-4," it said.

Avon turned to Soolin. "You know the standard pattern the Federation uses to lay out these prefabricated modular bases?"

Soolin nodded. “It shouldn't be too hard to find.”

“Good. Get going, come back once you've found it and we'll relocate our friend here. Orac, get me a list of the personnel assigned to this base under Justin."

Soolin took a step towards Avon. "Avon, what's going on here?"

Avon stared at her with a frown. "I'll let you know when I find out. Now find that cryo-chamber."

With a frown of her own, Soolin spun on her heel and trotted through the left blue door, the twin of the one they had just entered through.

As she left, Avon heard the metallic scrape of her gun being drawn.

After some minutes Orac announced it had compiled the requested information.

"Compiled? Not found?" queried Avon, righting a chair. Orac often gathered information from a variety of data stores, but 'compiled' was an interesting choice of phrase for the pedantic machine.

"The Bucol 2 project was Code W Secret, classified security code XX material. That means that all information is--"

"Only communicated verbally. I know, Orac."

"Therefore I had to use other methods to determine which personnel were assigned to the project. I first examined the records relating to Justin to establish how and when his record was falsified six years ago. This gave me the starting point for identifying the other members of his scientific warfare team."

"And that team was?" asked Avon, searching through some drawers. He found some protective gloves and pulled them on.

"The team designation was SWT-463."

Standing in the small alcove at the end of the laboratory, Avon glanced at the two large monitors mounted in the wall. The left one had been smashed, but the other appeared intact. He switched it on and began punching through the channels. After seeing several cages - empty but for straw - Avon came to one view that showed one of the surviving creatures - apparently underwater, judging by the air bubbles trickling up the side of the picture. Another channel showed one of the creatures in its cage. Almost immediately, the creature began gazing into the monitor. Obviously there was some kind of indicator light in its cage that let it know when the scan-cam was watching.

And the fact that it was caged meant that those creatures were part of Justin's experiments, and not just some of the native wildlife as he had so far assumed.

Pausing to study the creature, Avon wondered what had smashed the left-hand monitor. Looking down at the workbench below, he noticed a rigid black case. Picking it up and opening it, Avon found it was full of shattered glass. Setting it down again, he began scanning the bench and floor.

Avon crouched down and began sorting through the remnants of broken glass on the floor. He found a few slides that were intact and, reaching up, deposited them on the bench above. Most of the slides were damaged, however, and he threw them in a nearby bucket as he went.

"And the names of the other members?" he asked.

"Leighton, Palmer, and Carter." replied Orac.

A few more broken shards flew into the small red bucket.

"What were their positions, Orac?"

"Leighton and Palmer were also genetic engineers. Carter was the nominal team commander."

"So, a Federation officer?"

"That is correct."

"And Justin was something like chief geneticist and head of the operation?"

"That is also correct."

Another slide was added to the bench.

"What other information have you got on them?"

"Carter, E; Rank: Team Commander, Scientific Warfare Team four six three; Eyes: Green, Hair--"

"Enough!" interrupted Avon. "And what about the research on the laboratory computers. Can you read that?"

"Possibly."

"Possibly?" growled Avon.

"All the computer systems have been keyed to wipe all data. In normal systems, the data would be recoverable because the machine only flags the data as being no longer there. That way, the data is not lost until new information is saved over it--"

"--But this being a military complex, it has military computers that immediately overwrite the section of memory holding deleted data with random characters," finished Avon. "So what possibility does that leave?"

"The systems were physically damaged before they had finished the overwrite passes, so some data may still be recoverable."

Avon paused, taking in the damage. It made no sense. Why would Servalan destroy all the information like this? Either she would do a thorough job and make sure everything was all destroyed, or she would keep the information for herself. Keeping the information for herself seemed more likely. Especially as she’d had Og, either as bait or to take and study.

If she was going to destroy all the evidence, including Og, surely she would want to destroy the other animals? And if she had been taking Og to study, why hadn't she just taken Justin's data as well, instead of trying to destroy it?

Unless, of course, it was Justin trying to stop Servalan getting her hands on the information. "Orac, did Servalan file a flight plan here?"

"No, there is no flight plan on file."

Inconclusive.

Avon stood, peeling off his gloves inside out. He dropped them on top of the broken slides in the bucket.

"Alright Orac, get me all the medical data you can find on Justin and the others - psych assessments, genetic profiles, anything."

"What for?" asked Soolin, returning to the laboratory.

Avon shuffled the bucket out of the way with his foot. "Did you find the medical bay?"

"Yes."

"Does it have a cryogenic capsule?"

"Yes, and I've started it up so it will be ready shortly."

"Alright," said Avon, moving towards Justin. "Lead the way."

*

Having deposited Justin in the cryogenic chamber, they checked everything was working properly and teleported back to Scorpio.

"About time," said Vila, relieved to only be dealing with the living. "Do you want to go back down to Tarrant and Dayna?"

"Yes," said Soolin.

"Not yet," said Avon, over Soolin. He was already out of the teleport bay and standing before Scorpio’s flight computer. "Slave, is there any sign of Servalan's ship, or any other Federation ships in the area?"

"I cannot find any sign of any ships within maximum detector range, Master."

"What about signals traffic? Any coded packets or telemetric bursts in the last hour?"

"Again I regret to report that I did not detect any such occurrence, Master."

Avon smiled grimly. "I thought not."

"Federation ships?" hooted Vila. "Is Scorpio in danger sitting here? Would you like me to come down with you, Avon? I could watch over--"

"--Justin's corpse? No, I didn't think so!" exclaimed Avon, returning to the teleport bay. "Don't worry Vila, there's no longer any threat to us on or near Bucol 2. Now put us down."

"Wait, Vila," said Soolin. "Avon, I’m worried about Dayna. She doesn’t strike me as the type to fall apart like this - she’s a mess down there. She told me about the death of her father and sister, but she seemed so reserved about it; not like this at all."

"I’ve got Orac looking into it," Avon replied. "Seeing Justin would trigger memories of her family, but I don’t think that’s the answer. I think she’s had some chemical assistance. Which is why we have to get her to Orac straight away. Vila, alert Tarrant and put us down."

Avon and Soolin materialised back at Servalan's landing site. Dull impressions in the grass showed where her ship had squatted on its landing jacks, while patches of burnt vegetation hinted at too aggressive a burn on the launch boosters, the sign an unplanned and hasty departure.

Seeing no-one in the immediate vicinity - no-one living at least - they cast about looking for their missing associates. Suddenly Tarrant emerged from some of the spindly bushes a little way from them, leading Dayna with his arm around her shoulders.

"Come on Dayna," he soothed, taking his bracelet from Soolin. "Now we can pay our last respects."

"Bring us up, Vila," said Avon.

*

Once they were all back on Scorpio, Vila reset the co-ordinates for Justin’s bunker and teleported his four associates down to Bucol 2 again.

"What's Orac doing here?" Tarrant demanded, catching sight of the small computer on one of the workbenches.

"Sit here, Dayna," said Avon, ignoring the question. Tarrant frowned at Soolin, but she merely raised a shoulder in reply.

Dayna sat, staring at the wrecked laboratory with red-rimmed eyes.

Soolin squatted in front of Dayna and rested her hands lightly on top of the young woman’s.

"Do you want to see Justin now?" she asked softly, looking into her eyes. Dayna nodded sadly.

"Dayna," said Avon. "Before you go, can you tell me what happened to the others? The other scientists that were working here with Justin?"

Slowly Dayna lifted her head until Avon found himself looking into her enormous, sad eyes. She took a breath and swallowed and said, "Justin -- Justin said that they abandoned the planet just before the war ended. B-but they were shot down by an enemy ship just after t-take off."

A tear rolled down her cheek and she began to sob again.

"That's enough, Avon!" cried Tarrant, hotly.

"I wasn't going to ask Dayna anything else," said Avon, rising. "Now I suggest you take her to the medical bay. It's West, E-4. Can you find it, or shall I draw you a map?"

Tarrant scowled back at Avon, wanting to respond but restraining himself around Dayna.

Soolin hastened forward. "I'll show you," she said as Tarrant gently helped Dayna to her feet.

"No," said Avon. "Tarrant can find it. You can stay here."

Tarrant gave Avon one last dirty look as he helped Dayna down the corridor by himself.

As soon as Dayna and Tarrant were out of earshot, Avon bustled into action. Soolin noticed that where he had been slow and quiet around Dayna, he was once more fully galvanised.

"Orac," he snapped. "What is your diagnosis?"

"As I told you before, it is difficult to make a proper diagnosis without being connected to the subject via medical sensors. However, I can detect traces of the mind adjustment drug diorthochlorobenzeprine in her system. Diorthochlorobenzeprine has a will-suppressing effect; that is, it makes the subject receptive to suggestions. It also makes the subject more docile. It is widely used by Federation interrogation teams, though normally in combination with other chemical agents."

"We could have guessed that," muttered Soolin. "What about side-effects, Orac?"

"The depressant characteristics of the drug are the hardest for the body to flush out. These agents stay in circulation the longest and cause a fragile, highly emotional state in the subject. The effects are readily apparent in Dayna. Although having no lasting effect, it will persist for several days."

"What about implants, Orac?"

"Implants?" queried Soolin.

Orac took no notice of the interruption. "No tracking devices, explosives, or other foreign bodies have been implanted."

"And Servalan's ship - is it still in range? Can you read their computers?"

"As I have frequently explained," returned Orac irritably, "the concept of 'range' does not apply to tariel cells."

If Avon noticed Orac's tone, he didn't show it. In fact, Soolin noted, when it came to Orac's attitude, Avon frequently gave as good as he got.

"When they arrived in orbit, did they carry out a full detector survey of the planet?"

"Of course they did!" huffed Orac, clearly pained at having to state the obvious. "Full orbital surveillance is a habit ingrained into Federation pilots through years of training, as well as being required procedure."

"In that case, I want to know what their survey said."

Soolin frowned. "Couldn't you have got Slave to carry out a detector sweep of Bucol 2?" she asked.

"Whatever equipment Servalan has on that ship, it is bound to be more accurate than ours. Well, Orac?"

"The navigation computer shows that there is no sign of radioactive contamination, or any other legacy from the war. However, that data has not been transferred to the flight log."

Avon gave the little computer a grim smile. "You mean the flight log which it is mandatory to complete and keep up to date at all times? It just goes to show, Orac, that just because something is required procedure it does not mean that it has happened." He turned to Soolin. "Obviously Servalan doesn't want anyone to know where she’s been, and the information in the navigation bank will be cleared out of the temporary cache next time they run a full sensor sweep."

Soolin raised an eyebrow. "I don't think the captain of that ship has a very long life ahead of him."

"Probably not. What about crash damage, Orac? Any signs of impact craters on the surface or fragments of hull in orbit?"

"None whatsoever."

"Well now, just what was Justin was covering up for?"

Soolin stepped up to Avon. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, if those men weren’t killed the way he described, then what happened to them? If they were here at all."

*

When Dayna and Tarrant returned to the outer annex, they found Avon and Soolin hard at work. They had rigged Orac up to some device, which Avon was feeding slides into. Orac was passing judgement upon each one, whereupon Avon would pop the slide from the device and hand it to Soolin. Soolin was then stacking them into a wide, flat drawer that had obviously been designed to store them. Tarrant got the impression that the drawer was refrigerated or environmentally controlled in some way; probably from the sterile blue light emanating from the drawer cavity.

"Negative," declared Orac. Avon removed the slide that had been rejected and slapped another into the device.

"Negative," said Orac again.

"What's going on?" demanded Tarrant.

"Negative."

Avon turned his head so that he was looking at Dayna.

"Dayna, why did Justin choose to come here? Did he prefer the company of the animals to human society? Didn't he like people?"

Oh, I've been on my own on this planet so long now... I don't think I can cope with people any more.

Dayna's face was mask-like. "Of course he liked people, that's why he was working on the project. It was to save human lives."

Avon paused with a slide in his hand. Placing it on the bench top with slow deliberation, he stepped towards Dayna.

"He would have had lab assistants to help him do the real work, wouldn't he? He wouldn't have done the work on those creatures himself?"

I learned the surgery later. Having a lot of success too.

"He - He said he did some of the work himself."

"He would have to," supplied Avon. "Once the others had gone."

Dayna glanced up at Avon, latching on to the escape route he seemed to reveal amidst the doubt he had created.

Still trying to think well of me?

"Yes. . . yes, that's right. He knew the work began with cruelty, but he thought something good could become of it. So that it wasn't in vain. The others just gave up."

Avon paced up and down in front of Dayna. "But being Federation scientists, they didn't have the option, did they? They all had to do what the Federation said and stop when the Federation said. They couldn't just leave on a vote; couldn't just decide not to work for the Federation and stay where they were, could they?"

I once worked for the Federation.

He isn't interested in offers. He doesn't want Federation help or any help. He just wants to be left alone.

Dayna frowned, shaking her head as if to throw off the cloud of confusion settling around her thoughts. The escape route seemed to have lead to a trap door. Why was Avon doing this?

"They left. I don't know how or why - I think they just decided to abandon the project for whatever reason. But Justin didn't want to go."

You're so rational about it all.
Not as rational as you might think Dayna. Quite emotional, really.


"But why would he stay by himself, with no way off the planet?" urged Soolin. She didn't know what Avon was getting at, but she wanted to find out. "With no human company?"

He's alone, isn't he? He has nobody, has he?

"I don't know. I just don't know! He said the original humans he worked on were deserters, perhaps it scared him, maybe he didn't want to be a deserter."

Soolin noted Tarrant squirm a little at the mention of deserters. If Avon noticed he didn't show it. Dayna was oblivious, her head sunk into her hands again.

"Avon, I'm warning you!" said Tarrant, stepping in front of Dayna to shield her. "She's in no state for this. Do you know what Servalan did to her on her ship? She told me--"

"Orac," said Avon, raising a hand as if to block the younger man. "Is that correct about the deserters? Have you been able to find a manifest?"

"That is correct," the little machine affirmed. "The stores manifest confirms four subjects were originally supplied for experimentation. They were all listed as deserters. A fifth subject was supplied later, just over two years ago."

Avon's eyes narrowed to slits. "Just before the war," he breathed to himself. "Were any other subjects supplied?

"No. Only five human specimens were provided. A brief order was received some time later stating that the project was to be abandoned."

"Explain, Orac. I thought all orders were oral only."

"The communication is brief and does not mention the project, or any team member, by name."

Avon nodded to himself and then hefted Orac off the table.

"That's it. Let's go," he said.

"No," frowned Soolin, crossing angrily to Avon. Obviously the last piece of the puzzle had locked into place for him, but she didn‘t even know what the game was yet. "What about the slides we checked? Orac, do they match the genetic profiles of the original subjects?"

With both hands occupied, Avon was unable to snatch Orac's key away. His eyes flashed murderously at Soolin as the computer supplied the conclusion that he had not wanted Dayna to hear.

"No. The DNA samples from the animals match the genetic profiles of the other personnel in Justin's team."

Tarrant blanched. Soolin felt her stomach drop.

"But that means," whispered Tarrant, "the only person who could have done it was--"

"Justin," moaned Dayna, breaking into tears; uncontrollable sobs shaking her in anguish.

I only hope your mad scientist is going to be worth the trouble.
Nothing mad about Justin. At least there wasn't, the last time I saw him.


"Are you sure?" shouted Tarrant, desperate to counter Orac's arguments; even with lies if it would cushion Dayna's feelings. "What about the fifth subject? Couldn't you be confusing his DNA with one of the team members? If one other person was involved, they could have done this, then escaped from Justin in their ship."

"No ship was assigned to this project," buzzed Orac, oblivious to the chaos caused by its absolute adherence to the facts, and its desire to reveal all it had discovered.

"But the fifth subject, Orac - who was that, if it wasn't a deserter?"

"They were deserters," said Soolin hollowly. "At least to Justin. They tried to desert him."

"The fifth subject was supplied at a later date. It was decided to allow criminals to be used for experimentation as well, particularly those who had already had brain surgery of some type, such as memory revision or criminotherapy. In this way it was felt that the project could, as a secondary objective, observe the effects of the previous operations upon the mind. This would allow the current techniques to be refined and made more impervious to reversal. Due to this directive, the new subject became the main test case. Urgent work was also necessary due to the condition of the specimen. Many operations were carried out to address its extreme injuries, and at the same time it was quickly brought up to the level of the others, using the techniques perfected on them. From then on all work was done on it first."

Interested despite himself, Avon lowered Orac back onto the table. Believing no more surprises to be in the offing he asked, "Is there a name, Orac? It wasn't some particularly nasty crimo we may have heard of, by any chance?"

"No. The project created a convention to name its specimens by their initials--"

"How?” scoffed Tarrant. “Surely that wouldn’t always work."

"From the research files I could recover, some - creativity - was used to name the specimens. One creature was called ‘Ekspee’ as the subject had initials X.P. Similarly, the sole female specimen was named ‘Umk’ as the human specimen was named--"

“And Og?" interrupted Avon.

"As I had been explaining," replied Orac, returning to its earlier theme, "as a new file was created for each subject, the initials of the donor human became the notation on the file and that became the name of each specimen. Hence the first creature was named Og, being the brain-dead body of the political criminal Olag Gan."

Avon's eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted down in anger and revulsion.

"Blake's cause has killed Gan again."

He caught sight of the one creature still visible on the monitor view, and it seemed to stare back at him through mournful green eyes.

Only Dayna's weeping cut through the silence.


"Ah well, I can't tell you all my secrets, can I, Dayna?" - Justin, 'Animals'


***


Animal Nature was originally published in Trooper Orac's Fantastic Plastic Army (aka TOFPA), 2001 and is reproduced here with permission of the author

All original fan fiction hosted on Horizon is copyright to the individual authors. No attempt is being made to supersede any copyright held by the estate of Terry Nation, the BBC, B7 Media, Big Finish or any other licensees or holders of copyright on Blake's 7 material.

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