Avon had been observing the people around him carefully. To the casual observer, nothing had changed in his demeanour. He was working away on another piece of equipment, just as he was before. His well-honed survival instinct and his unconscious habit of analyzing everything around him, told Avon that something had changed in the room and that whatever it was, it wasn't good.
One of the scientists, Panner, came over and looked with interest at what he was doing. He kept at an unobtrusive distance. The people in the room respected Avon's need for privacy and generally left it up to him to initiate any interaction. It was the best of both worlds for him. His solitary nature found peace amongst a group of people who did not find it odd. And when he wanted, he didn't have to go far to find people with whom he could converse intelligently and who shared the same fascinations with all things scientific and technical.
"Is there something wrong?" Avon asked in a neutral tone. He never looked up from what he was doing.
"No. Just curious. You had an interesting idea before. I came to see how it was working out," replied Panner.
"That's not what I was asking," said Avon, still in an impassive tone and focused on what he was doing. He clarified, "There has been an increased tension in this room."
Panner reacted in surprise. He looked around nervously and asked in a lowered tone, "Who told you?"
"No one had to tell me."
"We should've known that we couldn't keep it from you," said Panner. "You should leave, Avon. Before it gets complicated. Go back to your ship."
"I like complications," said Avon.
"This is not your fight."
"True. But I would like to know where fighting fits into the application of simulation technology on a pleasure planet."
"It doesn't," said Panner. "You really should go, Avon."
Avon finally looked up at the other man and met his eyes, "Not until you tell me what I want to know."
"You might as well tell him," said Kern, coming up to them. The lead project manager had been working nearby and had overheard their conversation. "Avon doesn't like mysteries he can't solve. Do you, Avon?"
"It's a weakness," admitted Avon. He put down the tool he had been using. For as long as he could remember, Avon loved solving puzzles. He hated things he couldn't work out.
"And does your weakness extend to helping us?" asked Kern, testing the waters. Kern was not a political man. He cared little for things outside of his own rational world of science and technology. Unfortunately, the real world was threatening to intrude and to bring in chaos. He was afraid that he could no longer ignore it.
Avon studied the man speculatively. It didn't take a genius to figure out that the situation had the potential to get complicated very rapidly. "It depends on the help," he said carefully.
"You're a cautious man, Avon," said Kern in appreciation. "Only a fool would jump in without assessing the risk first."
"I find you live longer that way."
"I don't think it's reached that stage," said Kern.
In Avon's experience, people who said that had an unfortunate tendency to misjudge the situation they were in. He knew that if Vila was there, the thief would be whining that they should get out now, before the stage collapsed. Avon almost smiled. Vila always wanted to run at the first hint of danger. Sometimes the thief's constant and neurotic worries were the only support Avon had for his own more rational warnings.
Avon's stomach twisted in pain; causing him to grimace. He couldn’t think about Vila now without an underlying guilt; Vila always relied on him and he had let him down.
The terrible memory intruded into his mind, like a living nightmare. It always seemed like one of Servalan's twisted dream scenarios, but he knew it wasn't, at least, not that he could consciously remember. It was not one of the ones she had used to try to break him.
Recollections of what happened on the shuttle always threw him into confusion. It was surreal; fragments of memory which didn't seem to make logical sense. Sometimes it made him physically ill.
Other memories also surfaced, haunting him. The look of anger and disappointment on Vila's face when they were in the warehouse on Papos, when Vila thought Avon had betrayed them all to save himself; the automatic accusation in Vila's manner when they were in the alley after what Avon had said to Jenna. Avon knew that he would be paying for the betrayal in the shuttle, perhaps for the rest of his life. Vila would always suspect him, no matter what he did.
"Are you alright?" asked Kern in alarm when he saw the look of pain on Avon's face.
"Yes." Avon straightened up. He hadn't been aware that he had bent over in pain. "It's an old trouble. Nothing to worry about. What were you about to tell me?"
Kern looked as if he wasn't sure if he should say anything now. He hadn't realized that Avon was ill.
Avon was irritated. It was already bad enough that he was hampered by these flashes of memory and flares of uncontrolled emotion. He did not want them to affect the way others viewed him.
"There's no need for concern" said Avon, trying to dismiss his own aggravating disability. "Tell me the problem."
"Alright," said Kern hesitantly. "Come with me. We should discuss this somewhere more discreet."
Avon got from the workbench where he had been sitting and followed Kern. Panner followed.
Sevisia's lieutenant was relishing his next task. There was a bounce in his step as he headed towards the 'play' room. The inflicting of pain was not just another aspect of his job, it was a pleasure. His boss always had his men's interests at heart. He knew what made them happy.
Verant was not troubled that the rest of civilized society viewed them as monsters. He saw them as 'the weak' and spoke of them with contempt. They lived to serve those like him, in whichever capacity he saw fit. He was smarter, stronger, faster and more capable than 'the weak' and was not hampered by annoying things like conscience. He recognized power and ability; and little else.
Verant hesitated before he opened the door. It was no pause of conscience. He was anticipating the moment, savouring it. His hand reached forward to activate the door panel.
It was the last thing Verant would ever do. His last moment among the living was a never realized expectation.
Argus caught Verant's body before the dead man had started to fall. He could not allow this man to enter the room and order the painful death of the man called Smithson. He looked around him quickly. No one had seen his actions. He dragged the body to a nearby empty room.
Using the teleport comm, he called the Justice.
"Justice, this is Argus. Come in Justice."
"Argus, this is Cally. Do you need to come up?" asked Cally over the comm.
"Not yet. I have some instructions for you. Is Reya there?" he asked.
"Yes, we're both here," responded Reya.
"Good. Get Vila to watch the flight deck. Reya, I need you to come down armed and with an extra teleport bracelet. Cally, get a fix on my location. I need you to stay by the teleport. We'll need a fast pickup when we're done."
"What's going on, Argus?" asked Cally.
"I have no time to explain. Just do it and tell me when you're ready. Someone's life depends on it."
"We'll contact you when we're ready, Cally out."
While he waited, Argus looked around the room where he had dumped the dead Verant. It was a storage room full of an odd assortment of items. He rummaged around and found some thick black cloth. He ripped them into strips.
Cally's muted voice came over the teleport bracelet comm. "We're ready, Argus."
"Send her down."
Reya appeared with her weapon drawn and facing away from him. She immediately looked around and spotted Argus and the dead body lying on the ground.
"You started without me?" she asked him.
"Just warming up." He gave her a brief grin but his face quickly became serious again. He handed her one of the simple strips of cloth and tied the other one around his face.
"What are we doing?" she asked as she did the same.
"We're going to rescue someone." He gave her a brief summary of the relevant details.
Reya's face took on a hard look when he told her that Smithson had likely received the same treatment as Allren, and maybe even worse.
"What are we waiting for? Let's take them out," said Reya.
"I love you, when you're like this," remarked Argus as they both checked their weapons and put them on the maximum setting.
"Flatterer. You just like fighting."
"That's true. But it's more fun with you." When they were together, Argus felt as if they could achieve anything. He turned serious again, they had to concentrate. There was a grim task ahead. "Be careful, Reya. These people. They're not like us. They enjoy inflicting pain and killing people. They don't live by the same rules we do."
"I know. What they did to Allren was inhuman. They need to be stopped."
"Let's go." Argus checked the hallway and led the way out.
At the door where Verant had been before, they both listened carefully. Trying to position the people in the room by sound was not exact but it was better than going in blind. This had to be a quick strike. Verant had mentioned at least one camera. The alarms would be raised the moment they entered the room and began neutralizing people.
They could identify sounds of moaning. This had to be Smithson. There were at least three other occupants of the room. If there were others, they weren't able to hear them through the door. Argus used hand gestures to indicate which area of the room he wanted Reya to cover. She nodded in acknowledgement.
Argus took a deep breath and exhaled. His mind was calm and cold. He glanced at Reya. Her body had a relaxed readiness, ready to pounce on the enemy. Argus smiled with pride underneath the improvised mask. Working with her was like playing.
Argus activated the door panel.
Before the door had fully opened, Argus spotted one of their targets and shot him. They both burst into the room and before the first man had fallen, Argus and Reya had quickly brought down another two.
The final two targets, whom neither of them had heard, frantically reached for their weapons. They had barely cleared their holsters when Argus and Reya almost as one, fired off another two quick shots and brought them both down.
Five crimos lay dead. It had all taken less than ten seconds.
Argus looked around quickly. He shot out the cameras and the door panel. Reya checked for signs of life in the men they had just killed and kicked away their weapons.
They looked to the man bound to a chair in the centre of the room. The condition of Smithson's body was similar to Allren's when they had found him, but even worse. Some of the wounds had been inflicted over a longer period of time. They both approached the man.
"Bastards!" Argus allowed himself a brief reaction to what he was seeing. These monsters could not be allowed to harm any more people. Reya's face was grim. She inspected Smithson's wounds and tried to get a status of his condition while Argus searched the bodies for the key to unlock the restraints.
There was banging at the door. The enemy was trying to gain entrance. "Open the door!"
"Reya, contact Cally. Tell her to be ready." Argus continued rifling through the pockets of the dead men, trying to find the keys.
Reya used her teleport comm, "Cally, this is Reya. Three to teleport. Standby."
Cally acknowledged, "Standing by."
Reya hesitated before she snapped the extra teleport bracelet around the man's wrist. The lower half of the man's left arm, below the elbow, was missing. From the looks of it, this was a recent occurrence. Reya grimaced in sympathy and placed the bracelet on Smithson's other wrist.
Argus found the key and released Smithson from the chair. They carefully lifted up the injured man. He moaned in pain and opened his eyes. He reacted in fear and tried to pull away.
"We're here to rescue you," said Argus. "Do you understand?"
Smithson nodded and stopped resisting. There were tears in his eyes as he realized his ordeal may finally be over.
"Cally, teleport now," Argus spoke into his comm.
Another three people disappeared from a locked room.
Kern brought Avon into his private office, Panner followed. After the door slid closed, Kern locked it.
"It appears we are both cautious men," remarked Avon. He wondered what he was getting himself into. It was no longer a simple matter of curiosity. Events seemed to be getting more complicated by the minute.
Avon wondered if he had made a mistake in trusting these people. They were fellow practitioners of logic and rationality. Science and technology was their domain. But as Avon had found out from bitter experience, they were still human; Tynus had been human. And so had Anna.
"These are dangerous times," said Kern.
"You should know that more than most, Kerr Avon."
Avon did not react. Kern and the others had only been told that his name was Avon. He had been careful not to tell them anything else. Avon stared at Kern impassively, trying to assess the danger he was in, now that Kern revealed he knew his true identity. He wondered how long Kern and the others had known and what advantage they would make of it.
"Now that you know, what do you want?" asked Avon guardedly. He slowly positioned his hand over the teleport bracelet’s comm button.
"I didn't know for certain who you were. I suspected," said Kern. "There aren't that many people of your calibre and you were the top man in the field of computers."
"I still am," said Avon.
Kern nodded, "Of course. My apologies."
Kern had noticed Avon’s increasingly guarded manner. Not that he blamed him. Avon was not just one of them, he was also a recognized rebel; with a complex reputation. There were those who said that he was a traitor and had betrayed the rebels. Some said that these were lies told by the Federation who were out to destroy his reputation. After working with him over the course of the day, he had come to a decision about Avon. That was why he decided to ask for help.