"Didn't I say that this was a bad idea?" asked Vila as yet another ship fired first before asking questions. This had been happening with regular frequency since they had entered the Goderich Territories. The people here didn't appear to have discovered the art of diplomacy yet or even of polite conversation.
As the Justice was rocked again by a battery of hits, they all steadied themselves by grabbing whatever was close at hand, which for Avon, appeared to be Cally. She did not like the fact that for some inexplicable reason, the System designers had decided to place the ship's shields in a place that required it's operator to have nothing to hang onto, just when they were needed the most. Suggestions that perhaps Avon might want to sit on one of the couches while operating the shields had produced a stare and little else.
Avon glanced down at the displays on the control panel and reported, "Shields are holding. Down to 95% on forward shields. Fully charged on aft." The ships in this region didn't have the firepower to hurt them, not without a much larger concentrated effort.
Argus said with consternation, "You're right, Vila. I think it's time to show them how bad an idea. We're not getting anything done this way. We have to get someone to talk before they start firing. Vila, clear the neutron blasters for firing. Zen, put up the radiation flare shields."
Zen responded, "Confirmed."
Vila activated various switches on his panel, "What do you want me to do?"
Argus said, "Nothing too destructive. We do want to talk to them afterwards. Be creative."
Vila smirked. "I can do that." His forehead wrinkled in thought and then he adjusted various settings and pressed the firing control. Four tracers raced towards the ill-mannered ships that had shot at them. Satisfying explosions could be seen as the neutron yields hit their targets.
Argus said, "Nicely done." The shots had knocked out the scanner arrays of each of the ships.
Vila said, "It's hard to fire if you can't see anything."
Reya remarked, "Now if only you could be that precise on the firing range."
Vila grinned at her. "That's different."
There was no responding smile on Reya's face, she was far too professional to engage in such civilian frivolities when they were in the midst of battle. Just for a second, Vila could almost swear that there was an amused glint in her eyes.
Argus said, "Let's see if they feel like talking now. Zen, open a communications channel to the ships."
Zen responded, "Confirmed."
Argus said, "This is Drel Argus, of the Justice. We only wish to talk. We have no desire to destroy you."
The captain of one of the ships, presumably their leader, appeared on the main viewscreen. He was an angry looking man with a full beard and a wide face. The man said furiously, "How dare you fire on my ship!"
Argus was almost taken aback by the unreasonableness of the man's attitude. There was only one way to deal with this kind of man. His manner was as hard as the Herculaneum of the ship's hull as he said, "You should know by now that your weapons can't hurt us, but we can destroy you at any time. We will if it proves necessary, but I only want to talk."
The bearded captain said, "How do I know that you won't destroy us after we talk to you?"
Argus said, "Then I suggest that you cooperate."
The still angry look on the man's face made Argus wonder if Vila would need to be a little more creative.
The other captain said, "Alright. Talk."
"I don't believe that you've introduced yourself."
The man replied, "Captain Giffen of the Chandar Alliance."
Argus asked, "Captain Giffen, I understand that there has been an increase of hostilities in the past few months. We're here to find out the cause."
Giffen sneered, "You mean apart from the lying, treacherous, murdering neighbours that plague my borders?"
The man said derisively, "This is a waste of time. I thought you wanted to talk about something important."
Argus said with infinite patience, "I know that conflict is commonplace in this region of space but even here, this level of hostilities is abnormal." Thinking that it was an indication of something atypical he asked, "Do you normally fire on other ships without finding out what they want first?"
Giffen looked at Argus as if he was too naïve to be believed. "We know what they want! We have always known what they wanted. We're not about to give them the chance to destroy us first!"
Argus realized that his question may have been the wrong one to be asking in this sector of space. Firing first could be customary procedure here. It may explain why there had been no changes in the situation in this region for the last several hundred years.
Avon was about to cross over to Argus's station to make a suggestion when he realized that he was still holding onto Cally. She didn't seem to be objecting. He let go of her and walked over to Argus. Avon said in a low voice, "Ask him if there have been any changes in the lying, treachery and murder."
Argus directed his attentions to the screen, "Are there any particular incidents of lying, treachery or murder that have sparked this increase in activity?"
After much more frustration, they finally got a clearer picture of what was going on. It appeared that one of their neighbours, the Thyssen Alliance, had sent a so-called peace delegation several months ago. The idea was to broker a coalition against another one of their neighbours. Such temporary agreements were routine business. Afterwards, of course, they would return to their regular activities of fighting each other again.
In the course of discussions, the son of the president of the Chandar Alliance had been murdered. The evidence clearly pointed to someone in the Thyssen delegation. Of course, things had quickly deteriorated from there. The entire delegation had been executed and there had been pitched battles ever since.
Reya took a great interest in what this man was saying.
Argus said, "I see." It seemed to be a difficult situation. Justice was required and war seemed to be the only way these people recognized. "Thank you for the information, Captain. Let me talk this over with my people. Perhaps we can help."
Giffen's eyes indicated his interest. "Your ship could help us a great deal against the Thyssen Alliance."
Argus replied, "I wasn't thinking of that kind of help. I'll be in touch. Zen, close the comm channel."
When the screen went blank, Argus said, "Getting in the middle of someone else's war, is the kind of mess I didn't want us to get involved in, but it seems we don't have a choice."
Vila asked, "But what can we do? They don't seem to be the listening type, if you know what I mean."
"You're not proposing to force them to stop by using this ship," said Avon.
"I'm open to suggestions. We need a way to convince them to find a different solution," said Argus.
Cally propose, "Their methods of justice are extreme. It explains the constant civil wars in this sector. Perhaps it's time to teach them that there is another way."
Vila said, "Assuming they'll stop killing each other long enough for you to teach them."
Reya had been deep in thought since Giffen told them about the murder. She said, "This sounds very familiar."
Argus turned to her. "What does?"
"This murder sparking a major conflict."
Avon asked, "You think it's too convenient?"
Reya explained, "The same thing happened in Athol. Someone murdered my father. My brothers all accused each other of treachery. The only people who could have had access was one of them. My father was paranoid about security."
Avon said thoughtfully, "You think that the Andromedans were involved in the murder of your father?"
"Now that we know that they were behind Ellis's increase in power, I wouldn't be surprised."
They all contemplated this possibility.
A voice came from the flight deck stairs, "Solve the murder."
They all turned to the familiar person. Sester came down the steps towards them. He said, "If the Andromedans are trying to cause trouble in this sector. It is highly likely that they are responsible for this murder. If you solve the crime, then you can show the two alliances that the real enemy is not each other. The war will stop."
Argus really wanted to find fault with what Sester was saying but he couldn't. It made sense, and it was a good idea. "We're not detectives."
Sester smiled, "Avon and Cally are."
"That was wonderful," said a breathless Cally as she rested her head on Avon's chest. His arms were still around her. He was feeling more than a bit winded himself after their recent activity. His only response was a muffled, "Hmm."
Cally said, "I didn't realize that doing it without the joining of minds could almost be as pleasurable."
Avon asked with a slightly affronted but very amused tone, "Almost?"
With her head against his chest, he could feel her lips curling into a smile.
Cally asked, "Where did you learn to do that?" She was expecting a witty rejoinder but instead, she felt his body stiffen and his mind close to her. Cally looked up just in time to see a flicker of pain in his eyes that was quickly suppressed. "What's wrong?"
Avon kept all emotion out of his voice; a well-practiced ability. "Nothing." Despite this, he could see that she wasn't convinced.
Cally guessed, "It's Servalan, isn't it? Did you have to do this, for her?"
She knew him too well.
Avon's mind could not keep down the flood of emotions this topic was provoking. Memories of the shame, anger and helplessness made the feel of Cally's body on his unbearable. He didn't want to ask her to roll off but he was feeling trapped. Avon had been trying to maintain a tighter handle on these episodes but it didn't always work. He knew that Cally would want to talk about it.
When he didn't say anything, Cally said, "Avon, I know it's difficult, but you have to talk about what's bothering you. It's the only way defeat the nightmares."
"There must be other more effective ways."
Cally sighed. It was always like this. She would have to present a convincing, logical argument before he was willing to share anything. Even then, it was only a little. Assuming that she won. She didn't always and then he would change the topic. Sometimes she almost felt as if it was a mixture of reluctance and also because he enjoyed debating with her.
Cally asked, "What do you think of the murder?"
"What?" Avon asked with mild surprise. He had not expected her to change the topic.
She said, "Avon, do you remember the Destiny colonists?"
His mind was busy wondering what she was up to. "We solved the mystery."
Cally said petulantly, "As I remember, I did all the leg work."
"I was somewhat busy, if you recall."
"Fixing the ship." She rested her head on him again. "After you said that you were only staying because of the mystery. You were no help at all."
Avon was amused by her tone. "I did solve the mystery."
She rubbed his chest affectionately. "Yes, you did. You enjoyed standing up and giving the big dénouement."
The barest grin crossed Avon's face. "It was satisfying." He ran his fingers down her back, absently tracing her spine.
The sensation caused Cally to take a slow deep breath. "I enjoyed working together. With just you. I wished we had more opportunities like that."
His fingers stopped. "Do you wish that I do all the 'leg work' this time?"
"That can be arranged." His fingers started moving again, lightly brushing against her skin. "Servalan required that I satisfy her. If I didn't…" Avon's jaw tightened. "She would torture me."
Cally held her breath. She could feel the pain he was experiencing as he was sharing this.
Avon continued, "Sometimes she would, even if I did. I wasn't afraid of the pain." Avon paused, trying to catch a breath that seemed harder to take whenever he did this kind of sharing.
Cally didn't say anything, letting him take his time. She knew he had to do this in his own way. Any expressions of sympathy would make it harder for him. Through their connection, she sent a light touch of encouragement.
Avon said again, "I wasn't afraid of the pain. It was the other thing she would subject me to. Sometimes she would chain me to a chair in her office, in the dark in order to induce the nightmares. ORAC's key was on her desk. I was afraid that I would reveal my plans with ORAC through the nightmares. I couldn't afford that."
Cally said, "So you did what she wanted?"
"Yes." The admission caused his throat to tighten, nearly choking him. "I…didn't want to but I had no choice. I learned to give her what she wanted."
Cally lifted her head to look into his eyes, she said, "Avon, I don’t want you to do this anymore. Don't use what you learned for me."
"I need to."
"This ability is mine. I want to use it…for someone…I care about."
Why was it so difficult for him to say? It wasn't as if it was the first time. He added, "Servalan will not win."
Cally said fervently, "No. She won't. We will kill her first."
"Together? I would like that."
She said, "I'm looking forward to solving this murder together too."
"As am I."
Cally brushed her fingers against his chest lightly, "Now, I would like to show you some things that I've learned."