The door to Reya's cell slid open. Aiken and a group of men she didn't recognize came in.
Aiken in his scratchy voice said, "Quickly! We have to get her out of here before Grenthel and the others get back."
Several of the men lifted Reya up; she tried not to groan at the pain that the movements caused. They supported her between them as they headed towards the door.
Reya gasped out, “Why…are you…doing this?”
Aiken was not as cruel-sounding a man as Grenthel. Perhaps it was because he was a medical man and that presumed at least a modicum of caring for those who were hurt, regardless of whom they were. There was no question what his loyalties were as he said, “Don’t make the mistake of thinking that we’re doing this for you. We’re not here to rescue you.”
“You’ll find out soon enough. Now be quiet or I’m going to have to knock you out.” The group moved quickly but cautiously down one hallway after another.
Argus and his team arrived at the building where Reya was being held and headed straight for the cell. The door was open and they entered cautiously only to find it empty. Everyone stared at the blood on the floor and the chains along the wall.
Sester said, “She was here.”
Argus’s voice was tight with tension even as his heart sank. “We’re too late.” He could barely keep his eyes off the blood that indicated that something terrible had happened in this room. It seemed as if all of his fears were coming true. The man of action was suddenly frozen, unable to act.
Sester bent down and touched one of the pools of blood, he grimaced at his findings. “This is still fresh. And warm. She couldn’t have left that long ago. Reya may still be in the building.”
Argus still stood stunned, staring at the blood, barely paying attention to what Sester had just said.
Sester shook him. “Argus! Snap out of it!”
This was a mistake as Argus instinctively reacted and slammed Sester against the wall. Argus’s eyes bored into Sester’s with dark anger and violence. For a brief moment, Sester wasn’t sure if Argus was going to kill him but the control quickly come back and Argus let go of him.
Argus took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to contain the anger that was inside of him. He said, “You’re right.” This was as much of an apology as he was going to give his rival. “Everyone split up. Teams of two. We need to find her. Use a radiating pattern and head for the exit points first. Keep in touch using the teleport bracelets.”
Argus looked at Sester and then he directed one of the soldiers holding a rifle, “Give him your sidearm.”
The soldier removed the pistol from his holster and offered it to Sester who immediately held up his hand in refusal of the weapon. He said, “That’s not a good idea. I’m not very good with weapons. I’ll probably end up shooting you in the leg. By accident, of course, and then you’ll be forced to kill me because you think I did it on purpose.”
Argus took the gun and shoved it at him. “Then make sure you don’t.”
Sester followed Argus as they looked for for Reya. Argus was a grim figure, like a predator intent on catching a prey that it intended to devour whole. Sester held the pistol tightly. He didn’t like weapons; he generally considered them the last resort of people who didn’t have the brains to think their way out of situations. Not that he wasn’t conversant with the realities that did require them; he just had never come across one personally until now.
They hadn’t run into anyone yet but that could change at any moment. They had to find Reya before Grenthel and his group arrived with the Chandaran President. If they didn’t, things would become even more complicated.
Argus peeked carefully around the corner as they came to another junction. “It’s clear.” They turned into the corridor and began running down it. Suddenly at the end of the corridor, a group of people came into view. Two of them were dragging a battered and bleeding figure.
There was no freezing of motions this time, no hesitation from Argus. Recognition became action as he yelled Reya's name like a battle cry, instilling fear in those whom it was directed at, “Reya! “ Before the shout ended, Argus had already shot the two men in front before they had a chance to bring their guns up.
The two men holding Reya were shocked to suddenly find themselves in the direct line of fire as their compatriots fell to the ground. There was a split second of indecision as they tried to decide if it was better to go for their weapons or to use Reya as a shield. Neither of them was dumb enough to risk drawing after witnessing what Argus had just done with blinding speed and precision.
Each man tried to pull Reya in front of them, which might have worked, if they were working together rather than pulling in opposite directions. Instead, both of them fell as well as Argus shot them both.
It had all happened so quickly that Sester was still trying to decide whether he could risk shooting at the insurgents when the two holding Reya died.
Argus rushed forward to catch Reya before she touched the ground, his pistol clattering to the ground beside him. He cradled her gently in his arms and his face was filled with grief. He whispered her name softly as if he was afraid of hurting her with his voice, “Reya.”
There was no response. With trembling fingers he felt for her pulse. The beat was weak but she was still alive. He expelled a breath of relief and hugged her tenderly. The warmth of her body and the faint rising and falling of her chest was all he wanted to feel. Argus no longer looked like the strong soldier he had been moments ago, the agent of death who had dispatched four men before anyone could blink.
Sester watched the two of them, his pistol hanging limply in hands that wanted to reach forward and touch Reya as well. The wounds on her body filled him with anger. He had seen ones like these on Avon before; he could guess what had caused them.
There were feelings of guilt and regret when he thought about Avon. When he looked at Reya now, the guilt over what he had done to Avon mixed with the horror at what had been done to her. For some reason, it felt like he was responsible for her pain too.
They had come close to losing Reya. It suddenly hit him how precious and fragile her life was. She deserved someone better than a man who could not help playing with other people's lives. It was who he was; just as being a thief was who Vila was. He couldn't change. Reya deserved someone who loved her enough to stop playing games.
Sester did a double-take. He said with alarm, “Argus, look!”
Argus lifted grief-stricken and uncomprehending eyes to look at him. Sester pointed. “They’re not Chandarans!” Argus’s eyes moved slowly, as if he was stunned and could barely register where he was, and followed the direction of Sester’s pointing finger. His eyes widened in shock at the sight of the men he had just killed, because they were no longer men. They had become green blobs. Argus grabbed the gun he had dropped on the ground just as Sester heard the sounds of a door sliding open behind him. He turned around and saw men entering into the hallway from an outside door.
He saw the Chandarans bring their rifles up to fire. Sester didn’t know how he managed it but without thinking, he placed himself between them and Argus and Reya and immediately began firing.
His first shot hit one of Chandarans in the head and the man went down. Sester was sure he hadn't been aiming at anyone's head but he didn't care. He may not be good with weapons but he knew that as long as he continued firing, the enemy would feel the need to duck out of the line of fire and that was exactly what they did.
The Chandarans flattened themselves against the wall; others sought the shelter of the rooms along the corridor. Anything to get away from this madman who was firing wildly at them, seemingly knowing no fear as he stood like a standing target.
Argus was also galvanized into action but Sester was in his way. He recognized the man who had fallen with Sester's first shot; it was Grenthel, the man who had been at the exchange. There was no sign of Brent but he didn’t have time to worry about that. Argus tried to shoot around Sester and said, "Get out of the way! You're blocking my aim!"
Sester heard the shout but continued firing madly. A shot hit him in the shoulder but he didn't seem to notice. With his free hand, he unclipped the extra teleport bracelet from his belt and tossed it behind him to Argus. "Get her out."
Argus hastily snapped the bracelet to Reya's wrist. He thumbed the comm button, "Vila, teleport! Three of us to come up! And get Cally!" Sester stopped firing as he heard the request for teleport. Another shot hit him in the chest and he began falling as the teleport whisked them all away.
Argus, Reya and Sester appeared on the teleport pad just in time for Sester to complete his undignified fall to the ground. President Brent was standing by the teleport control panel when they arrived.
Cally and Marlena rushed in with medical kits in their hands. Argus wondered why the hell this ship didn't have any portable stretchers or medical conveyors of some kind as he moved Reya gently off the pad. The others helped Sester as he groaned in complaint.
Argus said, "Vila, get the others back up."
Vila asked, “Are we getting out now?”
Argus said, “No! We have unfinished business. The aliens are here. They’re involved in the coup and we’ve just killed several of them.”
He went to the comm panel and contacted the flight deck. "Sergeant, have Zen bring the battle and navigation computers online. Have it monitor all activities within range and plot an escape path in case we need it. What’s the status of the anti-detector screen? Is there any indication that anyone’s aware of the ship yet?"
The duty sergeant’s voice responded, “They don’t appear to know we’re here yet, sir.”
“Good, let me know the moment the situation changes.”
The sergeant acknowledged the orders.
Argus bent down by Reya again and asked Cally, "How is she?"
"We have to get her to the medical unit. She needs immediate treatment."
Argus picked Reya up gently and stood up. He looked down at Sester. There was no instant hatred for this man anymore, only an uncomfortable feeling because he wanted to hate him. "How is he?"
Marlena had been tending to Sester. "He will live but we have to stop the bleeding. We need to get him to the medical unit as well."
The injured pair was rushed to the medical unit while Vila began bringing the soldiers back and Corinne stayed to assist.