things get complicated," said Argus as he walked with a brisk pace.
"For whom?" asked Avon with a barely suppressed smirk.
"Don't say it. I wasn't the only one looking at her. I doubt if Cally would understand either."
Avon smiled sardonically.
"I'm assuming you found something on the computers?" asked Argus.
"That would be a reasonable assumption," said Avon.
"Can you tell me what you found, before I get a headache?" asked Argus.
Avon gave him a half-grin and said, "Well, since you asked, I did find something of interest. The files I accessed indicate that Ellis is having extensive medical research being carried out."
Argus's eyes widened with interest; he was instantly alert. "What kind of research? And where?"
"That's what I was trying to find out when you interrupted me."
"Damn. You should have told me. Going back in will be too dangerous now. If they haven't already found out that we've rescued Galena, they will soon," said Argus.
"There's no need," said Avon. They arrived at the flight deck and headed to their respective stations. "I've already downloaded the relevant portions of their files. The only problem now is the encryption."
"Can you break it?" asked Argus as he settled himself.
"Given time. ORAC would have been able to do it much faster." Avon checked some readings on the panel in front of him.
Argus said, "Zen, is there any indication from the planet that they're aware of our position?"
Zen responded, "There has been no sensor activity."
Argus said, "Good. That means that the anti-detector screen is still holding. We'll hold orbit here for now until you can break the encryption. Then we can decide if anything needs to be done."
"Alright." Avon finished what he was doing and headed back to the workshop to begin work on the files.
Avon paused on the top step and turned around.
Argus said, "Not right now. Get some rest."
"Is that an order?" asked Avon.
"No. It's a request. I know you've been working almost nonstop. Even if you are feeling better, you're still human. You need rest," said Argus.
"I didn't know you cared," said Avon sarcastically.
Argus sighed. "What do you want me to say? That I don't? You should know me well enough by now."
"Yes, you have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility to your own people," said Avon, there was still a sarcastic edge to what he said, but less of one.
"You would fault me for that?" asked Argus. Sometimes he had no idea where conversations with Avon would go.
Avon hesitated, as if he was trying to decide on something, and then he came back down the steps and walked slowly towards him. "You won't be able to reach your goals if your friends are more important to you than what you want to achieve."
Argus turned away from Avon and looked down at the panel in front of him; they were touching on a sensitive area for him. He said, "If it came down to that, I would rather sacrifice my goals."
"I don't believe you." Avon kept pushing.
Argus looked up. Avon had settled himself in the flight station next to him and was staring at him. "You're right. I wouldn't. But I still wouldn't sacrifice my friends."
"Even if what you're doing is bringing down the Federation?" challenged Avon.
Argus realized that the other man wanted to understand what motivated him. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Other than Reya, he had never told anyone before the thing which haunted him the most. Argus wondered if telling Avon would engender trust between them or if it would turn him away. But one thing he did know was that in order for there to be real trust between them, he had to tell Avon the truth.
"Yes. Even that." He looked down at this station again. Somehow it made it easier to say this without looking at someone and seeing their reactions. He began to explain. "You know that I was a commander in the Federation commando units. But I've never told you why I left. Do you remember the killing of the civilians at Zircaster?"
"Yes. It was broadcast widely on the news services. Travis was one of the people convicted of being involved in the massacre."
"I was there," said Argus in a subdued voice. "I was involved too."
"They ordered you to kill civilians and you refused? That's why you deserted?" asked Avon. His voice was in neutral information gathering mode and what he said was not meant to be offensive, but to Argus it felt like an accusation.
Argus grimaced. "I wish that was the way it happened." His right hand clenched in a fist and he said in a tight anguished voice, "I didn't refuse before."
"You killed them?" asked Avon, his voice remaining dispassionate. He was watching Argus very carefully, studying him. The other man's shoulders were uncharacteristically slumped, the normal confidence was gone.
"Yes." The admission came out in a voice full of anger and self-loathing. Sometimes when he closed his eyes, he could still see the faces. It always made him ill. "When they ordered my unit to go in again, I couldn't. I quit my commission. They sent military security to detain me but my men helped me to escape."
"That's when you decided to fight the Federation?" asked Avon.
"No. I ran. They sent a death squad after me. I stayed along the outer rim planets. Any place that didn't ask too many questions."
Avon could relate with that; he knew the life of a wanted fugitive long before he ended up on the London.
Argus continued, "Then one day, I got hold of a military Roll of the Dead from the disaster on Zircaster." He lifted his head and looked at Avon again. Avon could see the anguish on the other man's face. "All of my men were on it. Every one. Not one of them survived. None of the other units were wiped out. Just mine."
"You think it had to do with their helping you to escape?" asked Avon. He was getting what he wanted; he was starting to understand the why.
"Or they refused to follow orders after I left, but weren't lucky enough to have someone help them to escape. I should have stayed with them!"
"If you had, you would be dead now," Avon pointed out.
Argus faced away from Avon and stared at a point directly in front of his own station. In his mind's eye, he could see the faces of his men; his friends. All dead now. Because of me. "I should never have endangered them by letting them help me."
There was a pause as each man was caught up in his own thoughts.
"Your men must have cared about you a great deal. They must have known the risk. It was their choice," said Avon. His voice had lost some of its impassiveness. He could see that the other man was wracked by guilt so strong that it threatened consume him.
This is what drives you. Avon finally understood; it was something he was intimately acquainted with. For years, he had blamed himself for Anna's death, before he knew the truth. It became a debt that he could never repay; driving him to face death in order to help her brother, making himself undergo torture at the hands of the man who had made her suffer. None of it had been enough though. Responsibility to someone who was already dead was a burden that could never end; not unless you could forgive yourself. Avon hadn't been able to do it. Neither can you. He could not imagine being weighted down by so many deaths.
Argus was not a man who lived in half-truths. Avon respected what the other man had done in telling him this. He appreciated the trust and the power Argus had given him by revealing something which was so deeply personal.
"Yes. But I had no right to risk them." Argus's voice was still tight with anguish. He could not believe how raw the wounds still were; it was as if it had all happened yesterday and he had just found out that his men had died.
"You would rather risk yourself alone?" Avon understood.
"I wish I had." His voice was full of a wish which was too late.
"That's why you take such great pains to take care of your own people? Because you feel you owe it to them?"
Argus nodded slowly.
"I don't believe you," said Avon.
Argus looked at him, not understanding why Avon was saying this.
Avon continued, "You must have taken care of your men before any of this happened. It's in your character. That's why your men risked themselves for you."
"I wish they hated me. I wish they were still alive so that they could hate me."
"Don't be a fool. That sentiment will not bring them back."
"I know." Argus took a deep breath again, trying to clear his head. "Did you get what you wanted?" he asked, his eyes locked on Avon's. It was difficult to read what the other man was thinking or feeling, but there was no hardness there.
Avon stared back at him for a moment and then he said, "Yes."
"Are you still able to work with me after what I told you?" Argus wanted Avon to say yes; but that part of himself which was filled with self-loathing, wanted Avon to say no, wanted him to be disgusted and turn away.
On the other man's face, Avon could clearly see the fear and the hope, the expectation and the dread. There are many things we both regret. Avon's reply was a simple, "Yes."
There was a brief flicker of pain and then he said, "Thank you, Avon. I'm serious about this partnership."
"I know." The air was different between them now.
"Do you find something wrong with her?" Cally asked Reya as they were exercising together.
"You mean besides being so beautiful that all of the men are acting like idiots?" responded Reya. There was a frown on her face which had nothing to do with the weight she was trying to press. She was leaning back against an incline bench, pushing against a resistance arm.
"I'm not referring to her outward appearance. It's the men's reaction to her," said Cally as she lifted her arms over her head to stretch.
"Well, one is tied to the other," said Reya.
"I'm not so sure if that is the only factor at work. The reaction is too extreme."
Reya asked with a puzzled expression, "Have you been able to sense anything from her?"
"No. Nothing at all."
"That's odd," said Reya.
"Not necessarily. Some people are naturally closed," said Cally.
"She looks a bit like you," remarked Reya as she got up from the bench and joined Cally with some cooling down stretches.
"I don't see any resemblance," said Cally.
Reya suppressed a smile and decided not to say anything; even though she had recognized some similar facial structures between the two women.
"I've never seen anyone so beautiful before," said Vila wistfully.
"She is quite attractive," agreed Sester absently. He was waiting for Vila to make a move on the chess board. They were playing a game in Sester's cabin, trying to stay out of the way of the soldiers looking for things to do on the ship. Galena had not come out of her room yet.
"She'd probably never be interested in someone like me," said Vila as he moved a piece forward.
"I imagine a woman like her has a pick of whoever she wants," remarked Sester as he countered. Sester was finding it interesting playing Vila. There was never any question that he could beat him; that was not why Sester was playing. At times Vila showed a keen intelligence, making moves which Sester would not have expected; but the thief was erratic and undisciplined, not to mention he was only half concentrating on the game. His real attentions lay elsewhere.
"Do you think she's come out yet?" wondered Vila.
"Do you want to go and check?" asked Sester. They looked at each other for a second and then they both got up without another word and headed out.