Sester didn’t know if it was night or day anymore. All he knew was that he was tired, irritable and he needed lots of coffee. Hot, black coffee that would scald the throat. He stormed into the dining area and nearly skidded to a stop. Kirsten!
The source of his frustration was laughing at a table surrounded by a protective layer of women. She had a beautiful smile and seemed fresh from a restful sleep. The red, inviting lips from the previous night beckoned to him. His disobedient legs took a step towards her and then another. Look at me.
As if she had heard his thoughts, Kirsten turned and stared straight at him. His legs turned to gelatine and he nearly stumbled. Kirsten's eyes were bright with amusement, drawing him even closer.
He stood staring down at the crowded table but the only face he could see was hers. His voice was harsh with need, “Come with me.”
All of the women stared at him with astonishment but he didn't notice. The object of his attention tilted her head to study him but didn’t answer.
Sentha asked, “All of us?”
Sester seemed to wake up suddenly to the fact that there were other people at the table.
With a glare at Kirsten. You know I’m talking to you. He said politely, “Sorry, I meant Kirsten. I have some details to go over with her before the Challenge tomorrow. Kirsten, can you come with me please?”
Kirsten said pleasantly, “Alright. Sorry ladies, it looks like I’m busy. I’m sure it won’t take long. Go on without me.”
They were two politely correct people who were not about to do anything remotely interesting.
Sentha eyed Sester suspiciously but said, “We’ll save you a spot. Don’t take too long.”
Kirsten led him out to the corridor, her gracefully swaying hips provoking a primal reaction. He felt feverish as his quickening pulse sent hot energy rushing through his body, gathering at a spot that made him glad that he was no longer wearing flimsy shorts. This woman made him feel things that he never had before. With Reya, it was a controlled passion. With Kirsten, it was the instinct of an animal that wanted to possess its mate. He wanted to whirl her around and pin her to the wall with his body. Pressing up against her so that she could feel his hard, eager length.
Before he realized what he was doing, he had her exactly in that position. His mouth devoured hers, tasting her, drinking her in hungrily, swallowing her moans of pleasure. She was finally his and he couldn’t get enough of her. He wanted to run his impatient hands over her body and feel every inch of her. His fingers were suddenly clumsy as he struggled with her clothes. Who uses buttons these days? He was only dimly aware that they were in his cabin.
Her light laughter rippled through him and her eyes danced with amusement, "Would you like some help with that?"
The animal part of him wanted to dispense with the buttons altogether and tear the clothes from her body. He was overheating and needed the cool of her flesh against his. But something stopped him. No! I can't. His mind struggled for control. What am I doing? What are you doing to me?
Light fingers brush against his groin. He groaned and threw his head back, pressing himself against her hand and pinning her harder against the wall. He was lost. His voice was like rough silk. “I need…”
“You need Reya.”
He stared at her in shock, as if she had suddenly doused him with a bucket of ice-cold water. “What?”
The sparkle had left her eyes and she was studying his reaction intently. “You heard me.”
Sester pushed himself away from the wall as opposing emotions tangled his body's reactions, allowing his straining mind to regain control. She had managed to turn the tables on him again. He glared at her as passion turned to cold anger. "Get out."
Kirsten was taken aback by the tone in his voice. Had she misjudged something about him? Had she been right about everything else, except this?
The warning that Reya had given her rang in her ears. She should not get in too deep that she couldn’t get out. The danger was about Sester. But was the real danger the other way around? Was Sester the one who found himself trapped and he couldn't get out? This was very interesting.
Her talk with Reya had reassured her about one thing. Whatever her feelings were for Sester, they did not extend further than friendship. But it was obvious from Sester's reaction that the reverse was not true. The silly male. He had fallen for a woman who could never be his. How did a bright psychostrategist manage to entangle himself in such an impossible situation?
All of this confirmed something else for her. Despite his casual and roguish appeal, this man was capable of a great deal of love and devotion. It was the second thing that had drawn her to him.
It was obvious that he needed help. Her head bowed and she said in a mollified tone, "I'm sorry. It's none of my concern. We can continue if you want. I won't mention it again." Her fingers went to her blouse and she began removing the remaining buttons.
Sester stared at her in shock as anger turned to confusion, which transformed into fascinated horror as she slid the blouse over her shoulders. His eyes followed her movements, entranced by the satiny smooth skin that he wanted to taste and the curve of…
Surprisingly, he reached out and drew her blouse back over her shoulders. "No, not like this."
"Isn't this what you wanted?" She tried to slide the blouse off again.
He put his hand over hers. "Yes. It is." He couldn't believe what he was doing but he closed her blouse and began buttoning it. For some strange reason, this was easier than trying to unbutton it.
The fact that he was putting her clothes back on was having an erotic effect on Kirsten but she kept her voice light. "You're very confusing. Do you plan to do this with my clothes on? It might be a little awkward as we get near the end."
When he finished, Sester kissed her gently. She tasted even sweeter than before but this time he controlled himself. He pulled back and looked into her eyes. "I want you to leave now."
Kirsten said, "You don't have to do this. I'm willing to…"
"I know you are but I won't use you like this. You deserve better."
Her voice became a whisper, "You don't want it casual between us?"
Kirsten's heart leapt at this admission. "I'll go. But only if you let me come back."
Sester nodded. "We still have to discuss the final Challenge."
"That's not what I meant."
"I know. But it's all you're going to get for now."
Psychostrategist Deverell was a master of the first order, a member of the inner sanctum and a long time friend of the Guildmaster. He was also one of the few that dared oppose him, but only when he let him. There was a short scar over his left cheek and an unshaven look about him that did not fit the traditional image of the Guild. Currently he was in the Guildmaster's work chambers at the end of the day, discussing a subject of great concern, namely Sester.
"He’s out of control, Venner. You have to bring him back. He’s becoming too human.”
“It’s because of his humanity that he’s been so successful,” Venner said with unconcern as he picked out a decanter of vintage brandy and brought it up to the light. He was used to Deverell's paranoia where Sester was concerned.
“But it makes him dangerous.”
“We need him to be.” Satisfied with his choice, he unstoppered the bottle and took a light whiff of its heady aroma.
“I don’t understand you.”
“You’re not supposed to.”
"Yes, you're the Guildmaster and I'm just your sidekick." Deverell loosened his collar. He couldn't wait for the relaxation that was allowed at the end of the day and cursed the trappings of formality that made his life so uncomfortable.
Venner knew that Deverell was cantankerous and tended to rail against things he didn't agree with, but the man was useful. He was not afraid to speak his mind, even in front of the Guildmaster but he also knew his place. "You're a valued friend." He poured generous portions into two glasses.
"You've created someone who does not fit into the Guild order."
"That is at my discretion. As you pointed out, I am the Guildmaster."
"Yes, and I'm your valued friend and comic sidekick, I suppose."
Venner laughed. "One of those."
“He’s your favourite but what you’re doing to him...”
“He may be my favourite but he is here to serve Guild interests.”
“Remind me never to be your favourite, Venner.”
“Don’t worry. You never will be." Instead of going back behind his desk, he went to a lounge area that had couches on two sides and a low rectangular table with a polished wood look. "Perhaps I will have him brought back in.” He put both glasses on the table and made himself comfortable.
Deverell came over to join him. “You’re seeing reason after all.”
“I'm not having him adjusted.” This was another word for rehabilitation therapy. Standard procedure in the Federation for those who were too valuable to be allowed to act too independently. The Guild had its own version but it accomplished the same goals.
“He needs to feel our discipline.”
Deverell was as ruthless as they came but the Guildmaster was on a different plane. “Are you going to tell him why you're bringing him in?”
“I always do. But he knows he has to come.”
“I've never understood your relationship.”
“You said that already.”
“It still applies.”
Venner rolled the glass between his hands and enjoyed the odour of the brandy as it warmed. “He comes to me because he needs to come to me. It’s something he doesn’t even try to fight.”
“What do you want done with him when he arrives?”
“Prepare Chamber Five.”
“Five? But that’s for…” Deverell sat back and stared at Venner. He had meant for Sester to come back for rehabilitation, not punishment and certainly not this level of discipline.
“He’s too strong to bend to anything less.”
Deverell shuddered. “You allowed him to become more human and still he comes. That’s incredible.”
“That’s why I’m not concerned about him. As long as he comes to me, I know that he still believes. And as long as he believes, he must come.” He took a luxurious sip.
Deverell had already downed his in several large gulps.
Venner regarded this with amusement. "You're a philistine, Deverell. That's a two hundred year old brandy and you've barely tasted it."
"You drink your way, I'll drink mine." He eyed the decanter at the other end of the room. "You did well with him."
"I had a long time to work on him. He's very gifted."
"As are you, Guildmaster."
The Guildmaster smiled. “It wasn’t that difficult. Part of him wanted what I offered. He has wanted it since he was a child. The privileges. Plus the challenges that will stretch his mind and abilities to their utmost." He took another sip. "Go ahead."
Deverell went to fill his glass. “He has quite the ego and he’s a charming rascal. It’s amazing that you were able to bend him to your will without breaking him.” In his experience, someone with that strong a will, had to be broken first or they would be impossible to handle. He poured a double helping and went back to his seat. This time, he took the time to sniff the glass first.
“As I said, I was giving him what his heart wanted. He understood this on a subconscious level even while he was fighting me. And he has a weakness, one that he does not understand. He has a need to love.”
Deverell snorted. “A human weakness.”
“We are all human underneath, Deverell, no matter how far we’ve risen above it. Don’t forget that. It’s what makes Sester much more valuable and more effective than any of the psychostrategists this Guild has produced.”
“You failed with…”
Venner's manner became ice cold. “Don’t mention his name.”
Even his oldest friend would not dare cross Venner once he drew a line. “Of course, Guildmaster.” The name of the one who had left the Guildmaster was never to be mentioned again. His existence had been stricken from the Hall of Records. He had also been a favourite of the Guildmaster, until he ran.
“He was never as gifted as Charles. He felt threatened and his jealousy made him useless.”
“He couldn’t accept that you loved Charles more than you loved him.”
“It is not a matter of love.” Despite his fondness for the boy, Venner had always remained a deliberate distance between them.
“Of course, Guildmaster. My mistake.” Deverell remembered the two young scoundrels. Their rivalry had turned the Guild upside down on several occasions. The discipline chambers had been very busy. “Sester has turned out quite ruthless despite the humanity that you’ve allowed him to keep.”
“His humanity is bound to his identity with us. He cannot survive without either one. That was what I helped him to achieve. It is what sets him apart.”
“What are you planning with him now, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“He's integral to our long-term goals. All of the four boys are. Their ties have remained strong. They are very similar in many respects, each having a need to love that none of them understands. And despite the Federation’s attempts to destroy that aspect of them.” A ruthless smile curled the Guildmaster’s lips. “And we will use this weakness which is their strength.”
Vila was trying to teach Corinne some of the finer points of pick pocketing, to ticklish results. She sashayed up behind him and bumped him 'accidentally'. As her hand dipped into his trouser pocket, she began to giggle.
He frowned. It was the seventh time and each had ended up with the same result. He was beginning to think that she wasn't cutout to this particular life of crime. "Corinne, you have to take it seriously if you want to do it right."
"I know but…"
"What's the problem?"
Her eyes looked down at his pocket. "Well…when I'm reaching into that pocket…" The beginnings of a flush reddened her cheeks. "…to be honest…I'm thinking about something else…lower."
"Oh." He followed her gaze, and then just a little lower. His eyes brightened. "Ohhh."
"You see my dilemma?"
"I see a lot of things down there."
Corinne leaned against him and continued looking. "Anything to do with pick-pocketing?"
"I'd have to think about it."
Corinne gave him a mock-punch to the arm. "You…"
Vila chuckled and put his arm around her. "No more pick-pocketing today. At least until I find some pockets that are less distracting."
"I want to go to the medical unit."
"Avon and Cally are in there."
"That's why I want to go. We haven't visited Cally since that time we saw them."
"That's all the more reason we shouldn't go. What if we catch them doing something?"
"Then we'll leave."
"On the other hand…"
Corinne took his hand and led him to the door. "You have far too many hands."
Vila grinned and followed her out.
Avon perched on the edge of Cally's bed as he scrolled through a data pad. "The meters on this one are interesting. Complex rhyming patterns."
Cally looked over his shoulder and said decisively, "Not that one."
Scrolling through a few more, he stopped at another selection. "This one…"
"Not that one either."
Avon handed the data pad to her in frustration, "Which one then?"
Vila said as he entered, "Hello. What are we doing today?"
Cally glanced at her companion, "Avon is reading me some Terran poetry."
"Avon? Poetry?" There was a look of incomprehension on Vila's face. The two words didn't seem to fit together. Or they were threatening to make him laugh.
Avon looked at Cally. "That was my reaction."
"Then it's all the more reason to start. We can both learn about Terran poetry."
Avon grimaced faintly but he couldn't hide his lack of enthusiasm.
Cally asked, "You don't think it's a good idea?"
"Do you want a truthful answer?"
Vila smirked, "Avon would rather be dunked naked in a pot of boiling oil."
Avon's face was set in his most impassive and obstinate mode, with a faint hint of sarcasm. "I prefer to be fully clothed."
Cally sighed but she was just as determined as he was stubborn. She knew that he would do it for her sake and with some additional grumbling, but she wanted him to enjoy it as well. "Words can be very beautiful."
"Words convey information."
Corinne said, "Can't some information be beautiful?"
Avon looked at her with interest. "Some complex mathematical formulae can be considered 'beautiful'. For instance…."
Vila jumped in, "We believe you. We're actually here to visit Cally."
Avon said dryly, "I was beginning to think that you needed a map." Everyone on the ship had visited Cally over the last few days. Except Vila and Corinne.
"Well…the last time…." Vila lapsed into silence.
Corinne said, "We were here before but we didn't want to disturb you. You and Cally were…doing something."
Cally almost grinned. "Avon. Vila and Corinne saw us doing something that made them not want to disturb us."
"Ah. Perhaps you don't need a map."
Vila said, "I do have a pot of boiling oil somewhere."
Avon eyed the datapad as Cally scrolled through it. "Keep it handy."