10th Story of Perceptions
Sequel to Mysteries and Discoveries
Introduction: The aftermath of the Three Challenges. The crew heads to their next mission and Avon has a few things to say.
Author's Note: This concludes the three-part story surrounding the Chandar Alliance and the Tellar Union. Jenna's journey had more of a spotlight in order to set up for the final story of Perceptions. Perceptions of Truth finally deals with Blake and what happened on GP. The Sester material with the Guild is set up for the next series to follow this one, tentatively titled, From the Ends to the Beginning.
Thanks everyone for all your support. For all the people who've contributed and made comments, either here, on email or chat, it's been greatly appreciated. Special thanks to jaxomsride for the invaluable help and for being a wonderful sounding board and quick-beta. The scene you contributed was wonderful.
EDIT: Due to timing problems with the next story, I have had to adjust the Sester scene.
Sester sped towards Athol Prime on his observer craft. It had been a long time since his ship had been used for the purpose for it was designed. A quick long-range scout vehicle with sophisticated scanners and comm equipment. Not to mention a state-of-the-art stealth capability that made him invisible to all but close range sensors. It wasn't as good as the one Avon had developed for the Justice but it was more than adequate for his purposes.
From his ship, he could observe his puppets and ply the skills that made him one of the best manipulators in the Guild. What he had achieved on Chandar was minor compared to some of the tasks that his master had assigned him in the past. Venner had warned him that something was going on in the Athol Territories, something beyond the Shade problem they seemed to be having currently. His task was to find out what and to stop it, after it occurred. Whatever that meant. His master was more cryptic than he was most of the time.
You will find the information you need once you discover the problem.
Sester sighed. This was easier said than done if you had no idea what you were looking for. He would just have to be patient and keep his mind and senses sharp. The master always had a reason for what he did. He most likely did not want him compromised because he was going back to the crew with an Auron onboard. If he knew ahead of time, stresses might show despite his control.
He looked forward to visiting Athol, to walk its streets and absorb its atmosphere personally. It wasn't usually required for a psychostrategist in order to do his work. Their tools and information were cold things contained in computers and on strategy boards.
Sester liked the personal touch. There was something special in being with people even though he wasn't part of them; energy he needed to bring his own abilities to its full potential. He found them fun to be with even though they were supposed to be nothing more than puppets to him. This was something he carefully kept from the others in the Guild.
At first, his instructors had tried to 'cure' him of this. It had meant many sessions in the rehab clinics and the punishment chambers. Surprisingly, it had been his master who had finally allowed him this 'quirk' as a necessary requirement for his talents to be maximized. The Guildmaster had given a directive that he was to be left alone while he was doing his job.
Sester had made the most of this 'freedom' but never in an obvious way. He never wanted his master to regret his decision. The only exception had been in the area of women.
Sester smiled wryly as his fingers played absently with the console and part of his mind filtered information from the screens in front of him. He had never been able to resist where they were concerned. Women were delightful and dangerous. The ones who challenged him were wonderful treasures.
Now there were two women in his life. Reya and Kirsten. He had been surprised that during his time in the Chamber, when he needed to hold onto a warm memory, it had been Kirsten who came unbidden to his mind. There was undeniable heat with this woman and she had an irritating ability to get under his skin. She wasn't just a mystery and a challenge, she was an enigma. He had misjudged her at first, a mistake he was determined not to make again. She had a sharp intelligence and strength of will that would serve her to great advantage if she had been given the opportunities.
He was looking forward to joining the crew again. Assuming that Argus and Avon let him back onboard. Sester smiled.
The crew made their final farewells and left Chandar. Marlena and her team of Tellarans remained behind to help President Trist and the women who had elected to stay. The rest would be picked up by another Tellaran ship that was on its way. Some of the women had asked to join the Tellar Union while others like Karita wanted to return home.
The Chandaran Senate was informed of the important role the women had played in revealing the presence of more aliens in their midst. Even the most stubborn of the men could not deny that it was a weakness to ignore the usefulness of the women in identifying possible alien threats. More dialogue was opening up every day.
The bolder and more sympathetic of the men were bringing their women out into the light, though never alone. It was a small step but a significant one.
The women of the Challenges were held up as heroes and Trist, in his role as both President and the Elder Champion, made sure that they were always included in Champion duties and ceremonies. He charged Dannon with their instruction on Champion protocols so that no one could say that they were lacking in any way.
Each Champion of Chandar was given a sizeable stipend and property so the women were now truly independent and no longer needed to return to their former lives. This caused great uproar at first but most of the men realized that they would have preferred not taking them back. You couldn't be the dominant male if your property was a Champion. It would make things awkward to say the least.
Alara was given the holdings that had once belonged to her man. He was dead of course, his lifeless husk had been found in one of the storage rooms. Brady had comforted her when he was released from the hospital. The two spent much time together and eventually became bonded.
Kirsten had asked to stay on with the crew and had been granted a trial period while she decided what she wanted to do with her life.
The command crew was gathered on the flight deck as they discussed their new mission.
After another rehabilitation session with Cally, Avon was feeling very mellow but as he began to process information, he became his impassive self again. He asked Reya, "Did your brother tell you what the dangers of Shade were?"
Reya sat opposite. "No. He only said that it was an addictive drug and that he needed our help in finding its source."
Avon said, "It's more than just an addictive drug. It rivals Shadow in its destructiveness."
Vila was trying not to rub the slight bump that remained of the bruise on his head. The last thing he needed was to try to explain his 'door accident' to someone else. "That's all we need."
"Aptly put. I have been doing some research on the origins and spread of Shade."
Argus's face was grave. "Is the Terra Nostra behind it?" He had some bad dealings with that criminal organization.
Avon said, "No. It's a rival group to the Terra Nostra. They have been trying to seize power from the Terra Nostra for several centuries now. We've already fought one of its leaders."
Vila felt a chill. "Please don't tell me it's Sevisia."
"I told you not to tell me that. Now, I won't be able to sleep tonight." He still remembered the crimmo leader who had made mincemeat of his opponents, literally.
Argus mused, "I had been wondering why a criminal would feel the need to have an army or to carve out a territory for itself. If they're going against the Terra Nostra…"
Vila said quickly, "Then they'd be going up against the Federation."
Argus turned to him in query. "The Federation?"
Vila said, "You don't know, do you?"
"Know what? What has this to do with the Federation? Other than they're a bunch of crooks too."
Avon said, "You're more correct than you know."
Vila said, "The Federation runs the Terra Nostra."
Avon said, "Not quite."
Vila turned to him. "What do you mean, not quite? Isn't that what we found out on the Shadow planet?"
"I've had some time to think about this. If you remember, I found the ID of one of the President's special security force."
Argus and Reya found this all fantastic news. Reya asked, "What did you conclude?"
"The President's special security force is answerable only to the President. Like Servalan's guards, they are her own personal security force. They are not strictly Federation and do not serve wider Federation interests. They only answer to the President."
Argus mused, "They only serve the President's interests?"
"Correct. So more accurately said, it is the President who runs the Terra Nostra, not the Federation."
Vila groaned, "This is sounding better and better. Why did I wake up this morning?"
Avon remarked, "You didn't."
"What do you mean, I didn't? I'm standing right here!"
"I believe you made an appearance past noon. Although appearance would be stretching it."
"Haha. That's very funny."
Argus said, "Let me get this straight. You're saying that this criminal organization is fighting Servalan by attacking the Terra Nostra?" That might explain why Servalan had me execute Sevisia. If this organization were becoming a threat to her, then she would want them eliminated.
Vila seemed confused. "Does that mean they're on our side? I mean, anyone who’s an enemy of Servalan can't be all bad."
Reya said fiercely, "They're not on anyone's side except their own. They're harming my people."
Cally said, "Reya's right. They're both the enemy."
Vila seemed even more confused as he looked at Cally. "But Cally, didn't you support Blake when he wanted to use the Terra Nostra to fight the Federation? How would this be different?"
Cally had a troubled expression on her face. She watched Avon carefully. There were many things she wanted to say about Blake but she dared not say them for Avon’s sake. She had a long time to think on Terminal. The conclusions she came to had not been pleasant ones. If she had to choose her own path again, she would have objected more to what Blake did rather than her one feeble attempt over Star One. She would have supported Gan and Avon more in trying to stop Blake and to make him think.
"I've also had time to think, Vila. When I was on Terminal, I had nothing else to do. I think Blake lost his way at some point and we blindly followed him. I should have realized it when he wanted to work with the Terra Nostra. Nothing is worth sacrificing innocent lives no matter how noble the purpose. We cannot fight criminals by becoming criminals ourselves or we become the very things that we are trying to fight."
She said as an aside to Avon, * I’m sorry for bringing Blake up. I know memories of him are difficult for you. *
* It’s fine, Cally. I no longer have the right to criticize him but you do. *
* If we had been able to go off together, I would have liked that. *
* You mean, avoid Blake altogether? Now that would have been an interesting proposition. *
* It’s too bad that we never thought of it. *
Avon smiled. * What makes you think that I didn’t? *
Argus said, “I agree with Cally. When I left the Federation, it was because of their ruthlessness and brutality. It never sat right with me that some of the rebels did the same things. We are not going to work with this Shade organization, we’re going to destroy them.”
Jenna’s heart was heavy with guilt and grief as she sat watching Lelea tend to Rane. The old soldier had slipped into a coma. There wasn’t much time left but at least he was no longer in pain.
Where are you, Argus? Why aren’t you here yet?
She said in a hushed voice, “Lelea.”
The woman turned a tear-stained face towards her. “Isn’t there anything you can do?”
“I know that Rane didn’t want this when he…” Jenna caught herself, she had almost said, when he was still alive. “…he was still conscious but my friends are coming. They might be able to find a cure.”
Lelea’s eyes brightened with fearful hope. “Where are they?”
“They’re coming soon.” She hoped very soon. “But it won’t do any good if he’s dead when they get here.”
“Then what can we do?”
“This is the part he won’t like but we don’t have a choice. There is one way to slow down the poison. We have to give him the Shade.”
Lelea shook her head violently, “No! He didn’t want that.”
“I know he didn’t but I don’t want to see him die. Do you? You can tell him that I forced you.” Jenna took a small lined case from her jacket and took out the injector.
---------- THE END ----------
To be continued in Perceptions of Truth