“Ow. Can you be a little softer please? Or maybe I could get Galena to do it… Ow!!!!” Argus yelped as Reya pressed down harder on his shoulder muscles. He was lying faced down on a towel on the ground while Reya was attempting to give him a massage. He twisted around to face her with a grin, “I was kidding. Ow.”
Reya sighed. He was being very uncooperative because he kept turning around and wanting to do something more interactive.
Argus complained, “Are you sure it’s supposed to hurt like this? I thought you wanted to make it less painful, not more.”
“Stop being such a baby, Argus. You’ve obviously never had a massage before,” Reya told him as she gently pushed him back down so that she could continue. The muscles around his shoulders, back and arms were very stiff. “What possessed you to do push ups with the soldiers? And two hundred? I thought you were going to go there and get them to stop after a hundred?”
“I did,” he mumbled into the towel.
Reya stopped kneading his right shoulder. “But YOU did two hundred?”
“Yes,” came the muffled voice. “Ow! Can you stop? I think I have several bruises now.”
“You’re going to get a lot more if you don’t explain to me why you would do something so idiotic. Are you trying to kill yourself?” asked Reya as she started working on him again.
“A little exercise never hurt anyone,” said Argus. “Not unless you get a massage afterwards,” he mumbled. “Ow!!!”
“Stop moving around so much,” said Reya.
“That’s easy for you to say,” he said incoherently into the towel. “You’re not the one being tortured.”
“This is not torture,” said Reya.
“How can I tell the difference? Ow.”
“If I were going to torture you, believe me, you would be able to tell the difference,” said Reya. “Turn over.”
Argus rolled to face her. There was a big grin on his face. “Are we done? Can we do something else now?”
“No,” said Reya firmly as she took hold of one of his arms and sat down beside him. She began working on his arm muscles.
“I know what would really make me feel much better,” he said with a grin.
“We are not doing that,” said Reya.
“Why?” He looked very disappointed.
“That’s the pheromones talking,” she told him.
“Yes, and they’re telling me to do many interesting things,” he said suggestively as he tried to put his arms around her.
Reya put her hand on his chest and guided him back to the floor. “Behave yourself. I have some very important things to tell you,” said Reya.
“Oh?” Argus’s tone immediately changed and he became serious. “What did you find out from Galena?”
“First of all, her name is not Galena. It’s Vanora. And she’s an Auron, like Cally.”
Argus looked confused. This was the last thing he had been expecting to hear. “I don’t understand. You mean she’s an alien? And she lied to us about who she is?”
“Yes. Cally seems to know her. Or at least, know of her. She’s a scientist who did research into the sending of telepathic signals into human minds. It seems that there was some political conflict over the research and it was stopped. But Vanora and another scientist stole the research and have been using it for personal gain.”
“Let me guess. The things that have been happening on the ship came out of this research? No wonder the Aurons wanted to stop it.”
“You’re partially right. Vanora is able to excite certain areas of the human brain that are associated with the operation of pheromones. She can influence men to fall in love with her and make them want to do things for her. But she says that she has never been able to use it on this mass a level before. It’s always been very individual. She says she’s lost control over it and can’t stop it,” said Reya.
“You don’t believe her,” said Argus. He could read Reya very well; he had noticed the strong tone of scepticism.
Reya said, “I didn’t say that. I just don’t think she has a compelling reason to tell us the truth.”
“What do you want to do?”
“Cally is with her now. I think we’re going to have to watch her carefully. Do you think that you can ask Avon to make another one of those tracer bracelets?”
“I’ll ask him once you finish torturing me,” said Argus with a slight grin.
“You’re hopeless!” she said affectionately as she let go of his arm. “Fine. Your other arm can suffer.”
Argus sat up and tested his arms and shoulders. “That does feel much better. Except for the one you didn’t do.”
“That’s the gratitude I get.” She rolled her eyes. “Next time all of you can suffer.”
“Well, if it’s gratitude you want. I can be very obliging,” said Argus as he tried to put his arms around her again.
“Can we save the ‘obliging’ for later? We have work to do,” said Reya as she untangled herself from his attentions and stood up.
Argus sighed. “You’re right. Have you found a way to neutralize the effect that Gal…I mean Vanora, has?”
“She says that there is a drug which can suppress the psi centres in the brain,” said Reya.
“Do you believe her?” asked Argus.
“I won’t believe it until I have proof that it’s working. She’s too self-protective to be trusted and I get the impression she’s stalling. She doesn’t want to give us the drug, even though she says she does.”
“Is Cally able to verify what she says?” asked Argus.
“Neither of us are sure. She can read her to some extent. They’re sisters apparently and that means that they’re highly attuned to each other.”
“Cally says that Vanora’s telepathic abilities are much more developed and powerful than hers. She’s able to block Cally completely when she wants to; and to control what she can or cannot read from her mind.”
“I don’t like the sounds of that,” said Argus with concern in his voice. “We’re going to have to be careful.”
“I know. That’s why I want the bracelet. And I want Avon to make a special modification to it,” said Reya.
“Alright. He is busy at the moment but I’ll see what he can do,” said Argus.
“How is he getting on with the decoding? Is he close?”
“He said it’ll probably take another day,” said Argus. He paused and looked at her for a moment before saying, “We might have to do something more drastic if Vanora proves that she can’t be trusted. With this ability, she’s much too dangerous if she is only acting for self-interest and is not bound by a conscience.”
“What are you thinking?” asked Reya. This had also been at the back of her mind; it was a disturbing possibility that she had not discussed with Cally.
“Either we will have to exile her to an uninhabited planet where she won’t be able to harm anyone or destroy the areas of her brain which enable psi abilities.”
“I know you don’t like it,” said Argus, when he saw her reaction.
“I don’t,” said Reya. “But I have been thinking about it. I don’t want to say anything until we know for certain whether we can trust her or not.”
“It may be too late then,” Argus warned her. “As you said, it’s very hard to tell if she’s telling the truth. And not just because of her ability to block Cally. She’s been able to fool us all with her act. We can never really trust her, even if she does tell us the truth. She’s shown that she’s capable of using many faces.”
“She definitely is an accomplished actress,” said Reya, remembering how sincere Galena sounded when they had conversed.
“I hope for her sake that this drug works, or we’ll have to make this decision sooner rather than later. You and Cally keep managing things with her. I’ll take care of the rest of the team, and the soldiers,”
Argus went from his cabin, straight to the workshop.
“You look terrible,” he said the moment he saw Avon in front of the computer.
Avon looked up at him, his face was pale and there were dark shadows under his eyes. After staring at Argus for a moment, he returned his attention to the screen without saying anything.
Argus asked, “Have you gotten any sleep since you started working on this?”
Avon said absently as he made some adjustments to the program he was working on, “I can sleep after I’m finished. I’m very close.”
Argus shook his head. “This is important, but not as important as your health. I don’t want you to collapse on me. I already have one woman trying to torture me; I am not having two of them.”
Avon looked up again while Argus lowered himself slowly into a chair. Despite Reya’s efforts, Argus still felt stiff and sore; but at least he was fairly mobile now.
“What happened to you?” Avon asked.
“Don’t ask,” replied Argus. “All I can say is, don’t ever let Reya give you a massage.”
“Ah. Because of the push-ups. You…”
“Don’t say it. I’m not here to listen your opinions on irrational gestures,” said Argus.
Avon gave him a light sarcastic smile. “Alright. Then why are you here?”
Argus gave him a summary of what Reya told him about Vanora.
Afterwards, Avon looked deep in thought. Or rather even deeper in thought than normal.
He commented, “This is serious. If Vanora’s partner is the one who was responsible for the mind interceptor that was used on Blake, and this is part of the same research, then it’s too dangerous to allow anyone access to this knowledge. It has to be destroyed.”
Argus said, “And we have to neutralize Vanora somehow.”
Avon asked, “Did she sell this research to Ellis and the aliens? Was she working with them?”
“Reya and Cally are working on the assumption that she may have. That’s why they’re keeping a close eye on her. I thought it was odd when we rescued her on the planet. Her room was not locked from the outside. Only on the inside.”
“It does seem highly suspicious,” agreed Avon.
“Do you think you can make another tracer bracelet? And make the adjustments that Reya asked for?”
“It’s fairly simple. I should have thought of it myself,” said Avon. “I think I’ll make the same changes to Sester’s bracelet.”
Argus grinned. “Yes, that would be useful and he won’t like it one bit.”
Avon said, “No he won’t.” There was a grim smile on his face. He said to Argus, “When I said neutralize Vanora, I wasn’t just referring to the effects she has on men.”
“I know,” said Argus. “But I want to leave that as the very last option.”
“You’re fooling yourself,” said Avon.
“I suppose that’s better than calling me a fool,” said Argus wryly.
“From what you've told me, I doubt if you can appeal to her better nature. She probably doesn't have one,” said Avon.
“That’s what some people say about you,” said Argus.
“And they would be right,” said Avon coldly.
“I don’t think that I’m the only one fooling myself here,” said Argus.
“If you think that, then you are a fool,” said Avon.
“Then lets both be fools and try to find a way out of this without resorting to more drastic measures,” said Argus.
“And can you please get some rest before Cally comes after me for being a slave driver?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“You would do it just to see what Cally would do to me, wouldn’t you?”
Avon smiled, “The thought had crossed my mind.”
Argus tried a different approach, “Do you really want Cally to worry about you? Right now, my guess is that she’s been too busy with Vanora to notice that you haven’t been taking care of yourself.”
“You’re going to tell her?” asked Avon.
“The thought had crossed my mind,” said Argus.
Avon smiled wryly, “Alright. I’ll go back to my cabin.”
“And get some sleep,” stressed Argus.
“Alright. I will go back to my cabin and get some sleep. Are you satisfied?”
“Cally will be. If she knew,” said Argus. He said wryly, “We both have formidable women to contend with.”
“Would you wish otherwise?” asked Avon as he got up from his chair.
“We would truly be fools if we did,” said Avon.