"Come down and find out," Avon's voice sounded over the flight deck speaker.
Argus and Cally looked at each other.
"Is there a reason why you can't come up to the ship to discuss it?" asked Argus cautiously. Cally continued watching Argus as he conversed with Avon.
There was a pause. "Is there a reason why you want me to come up now?" asked Avon's voice over the flight deck's speaker. Argus sighed. Avon was not always the easiest person to deal with, but he sounded suspiciously like he was having fun. Cally looked on with an amused expression.
"Yes," responded Argus.
There was another pause. "Do you plan to tell me, or do you want me to guess?"
"Stop playing games, Avon."
"I wasn’t aware that we were," said Avon. Cally could almost imagine Avon's self-satisfied smile.
"I need you up here now. I will explain when you arrive," said Argus. With what had been happening, he was in no mood for this. He was starting to get a headache.
"Very well. Send someone down with two teleport bracelets."
Argus asked guardedly, "Is that wise?"
"It's either that or come down yourself. The choice is yours."
Argus assessed the situation quickly. The fact that Avon had revealed the existence of the teleport bracelets, to the strangers with him, meant that something was going on. It may even have to do with Sevisia and his people. If that was the case, it was much safer discussing it onboard the ship. Avon obviously had judged that these people could be trusted.
Argus responded, "Alright, Avon. I'll send Cally down."
Vila returned to the medical bay. He couldn't keep away for long.
"Who's this?" asked Vila when he spotted the new occupant. Vila tried not to look too closely at the man's wounds; they looked too much like Allren's. It seemed as if they had found another one of the crimo's victims.
Ture had been sitting dejectedly by Allren's bio-bed. He looked up upon hearing Vila's voice.
"Argus and Cally brought him in," he replied in a whisper, trying not to disturb his friend's sleep.
"What happened to him? Did he try to cheat the casino?" asked Vila in a quieter voice, matching Ture's.
"I don't know. I wasn't really paying attention."
Vila looked closely at Ture; the computer technician looked like someone who hadn't slept for days. "How is Allren?"
"He hasn't woken up," said Ture unhappily.
"I don't think he's supposed to. Didn't Cally give him a sedative?" asked Vila.
"Then don't worry. This is normal," said Vila.
"I don’t call this normal," Ture responded angrily.
"I was talking about him not waking up," clarified Vila.
"You can't keep blaming yourself," said Vila.
That stopped Vila. He knew that he also had a share in what happened to Allren. In the silence following the lack of words, the sounds in the room seemed strangely magnified. The erratic breathing of the man in the other bio-bed contrasted with the more regular one of Allren.
"It was my fault too," said Vila in a quiet voice. Ture glanced at him without lifting his head. He didn't say anything.
"Is there anything I can do?" asked Vila. He felt that he should do something.
Ture shook his head. His communication seemed to have deteriorated to non-verbal gestures now.
"Do you mind if I sit with you?" asked Vila. Ture just stared at him. Since there was no negative response, Vila took that to be a 'yes.' He found a chair and joined Ture.
Kern and Panner looked around in amazement after they appeared on the teleport platform. The sensation of being displaced somewhere different was so strange that Kern nearly fell over. Avon grabbed his elbow to steady him.
"It takes a little getting used to at first," Avon told him.
Cally and Avon took off their bracelets and placed them back on the tray.
"You do that a lot?" asked Kern as he followed suit, looking back at the spot he had appeared on. Panner placed his on the tray too.
"It saves time," replied Avon dryly.
"Yes. It saves a lot of time," said Panner thoughtfully.
"This is Commander Argus." Avon introduced Argus who had gotten up from the teleport control panel and come around to meet them. Argus scowled at him in annoyance.
"You're Federation?" asked Kern.
"I used to be. I'm not anymore. Just call me Argus. Now Avon, do you want to explain what's so interesting that we had to bring two guests onboard?"
Avon had a trace of a smirk on his lips. He explained, "This is senior project manager Kern and senior technician Panner. They work in the holographic simulations research division of Pleasure City."
Argus nodded. "Gentlemen."
Avon said to Kern, "Tell him what you told me."
After Kern had finished, Argus said, "It seems you've run into the same people Vila and Allren did. They all work for a man named Sevisia."
"Sevisia?" asked Avon in alarm.
"Yes. You've used that name before," said Argus, remembering the excuse Avon had used several years ago when he went down to rescue Cally. "Have you met him?"
"No. I heard of his reputation during one of my forays into...some less savoury places."
Argus looked at him. Avon's stare back clearly said, don't ask.
Argus suppressed a smile. "We have a serious problem then."
"So it would seem," said Avon. He glanced at Cally curiously, she was staring at him. There was a question in his eyes. She shook her head slightly, the corners of her mouth lifted in a brief reassuring smile.
Cally hadn't participated in the conversation because she had been consciously attuning her psi abilities towards Avon. It had been getting easier lately. With the damage to his mind, his emotional state was more readily available. He was a constant presence at the edge of her consciousness now.
She knew that he would hate what she was doing, would consider it an invasion of his privacy. But she couldn't think about that, he was too important to her. Even though his ability to think was intact, other areas of his mind seemed to be deteriorating. She was afraid for him.
Avon turned back to Argus who was continuing, "Sevisia seems to be making a serious bid to expand his empire. He's no longer satisfied with simply a criminal one."
"It's possible he's trying to set himself up as a warlord. Build up a territory for himself," said Avon.
Argus asked, "How advanced is that molecular stabilizer technology? Can it be used offensively?"
"Not in its current form, no," responded Kern.
"It's only in the early stages. Any practical application is still far off," said Avon.
"Hopefully not that far off with the help you've given us," said Panner.
Avon stared at Panner for a moment, "That may be. It will still take at least two years depending on several factors."
"Well, if the inverter field doesn't prove unstable…" said Panner.
"There are ways to compensate for that," said Avon.
"I don't see how, without it making even more unstable."
"It's not a matter of instability…"
Argus interrupted, "Can we get back to Sevisia?"
"Of course," said Avon focusing his attention back on Argus. He had a tendency to get carried away when discussing interesting new technology.
"We rescued the head of Pleasure City," said Argus.
"You found our boss? Is he alright?" Panner asked eagerly.
"He's suffered severe injuries but he'll be fine. Physically. Mentally he seems unstable. He was tortured in order to force him to hand over ownership of Pleasure City to Sevisia."
"He was tortured?" asked Kern in shock. Avon mouth twisted in an unpleasant reaction.
Cally noticed Avon's silent response right away. So far, everything had seemed normal. He was his old self; or as much of his old self as he was capable of under the circumstances. His mind was active and able to concentrate. His emotional state was even, until Argus had mentioned the torture. She knew Avon was remembering his own experiences. There was nothing out of the ordinary or troubling yet.
"I'm afraid so," said Argus. "Allren was as well," he told Avon.
"What happened?" Avon's face had taken on a hard look at the mention of someone being tortured.
"We can discuss that later," said Argus. "Let's go to the flight deck and talk about this."
"Can we see Smithson?" asked Kern.
"Of course, you need to see him," said Argus. "Come with me."
Kern and Panner stared in shock at the wrecked form of their boss lying on the bio-bed.
"Will he be alright?" Panner asked anxiously.
"Yes, he will be in time," answered Cally. "His physical injuries are healing. But he has suffered great emotional and psychological trauma. He will need professional counseling."
"We'll make sure he gets the best treatment. We'll get the best replacement for his arm," said Kern. "He always looked after us if we needed anything. This shouldn't have happened to him."
"It shouldn't have," said Panner vehemently.
"Can we talk to him?" asked Kern.
"I wouldn't suggest it," said Cally as she checked Smithson's life readings on the monitors.
Avon left the others to talk while he went over to look in on Allren.
"Avon. I'm glad you're back. I've done something horrible," said Vila.
"We both have," mumbled Ture in a subdued voice. He didn't look up.
Avon was about to say something sarcastic about Vila's tendencies to let greed blind his usually overdeveloped sense of caution, but the look on Vila's distressed face, stopped him. Now wasn’t the time for their usual banter. Instead he said, "Argus told me. We're planning to deal with it."
At this Ture looked up. "I want to help."
Vila stared at Ture in surprise; his companion had been very quiet until now. Before he realized what he was doing, Vila blurted out, "I do too."
"It's going to be dangerous," warned Avon.
Vila looked at Allren and then Ture. And then he looked at Avon. Avon confused him; this was a man he had almost considered a friend. Avon had saved his life on many occasions, but Vila couldn't forget the one incident which had destroyed it all.
Allren turned in his sleep. What am I thinking? thought Vila. The saving should have been both ways and it never was. You never could depend on me to back you; but you still wanted me with you wherever you went. I never understood why. What good friends we turned out to be. Not like Ture and Allren.
The two friends made him feel ashamed. He looked up at Avon. Maybe we can start over again. Do it right this time.
"Maybe I like dangerous now," said Vila. The moment he said it, he had second thoughts that maybe he should have started on something a little less challenging and work his way up.
"Really?" asked Avon in sarcastic disbelief. Vila's intense gaze puzzled him.
"I said maybe."
Avon smiled. "My hero."
"Avon…" Vila paused. Now wasn't the time to talk about things. There were more urgent matters. "Never mind."
Avon found Vila's manner mystifying. He opened his mouth to say something but Argus came over and said, "Avon. Vila. We're going to the flight deck to do some planning."
Ture stood up, "I want to help. I owe it to Allren."
"We would welcome your help," said Argus. He headed out and the others followed.
"Avon, can I talk to you for a moment?" asked Cally, holding him back.
Before she could say anything, Avon turned to face her and said, "I know you're concerned, Cally. Don't be."
"I thought I was supposed to be the psi-enabled one," said she with a wry smile.
"I know you."
"Yes. And I know you, Avon. I know that you will never admit when something is wrong. You can't stand the sympathy. Can't you at least let one person care?"
Avon stared at her for a moment; and then he touched her face gently. "Thank you."
"You don't mind?"
"Not from you. Besides, I don't think I could stop you." He gave her a soft smile; there was humour and tenderness to it. Cally had never seen this smile before.
"Avon…" Cally stopped. She wanted to say something else but now was not the time. There were more urgent matters needing their attendance on the flight deck. "Never mind. We can talk about it later."
Avon looked puzzled. Why is everyone saying this to me?