4th Story of Perceptions
Sequel to The Definition of Peace
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Argus didn't know what he was expecting them to look like when they came back, but he thought it highly unfair of them to look relaxed, when they were planning something mysterious that he didn't know about.
"Is that a problem?" asked Reya.
"Uh...no," said Argus.
"You look very tense," remarked Cally.
"You should see Avon," said Argus.
"He's tense too?" asked Cally.
"No. That's why I think you should look at him. He's not human," said Argus.
"Just because he trusts Cally more than you trust me, doesn't mean that he's not human, Argus," said Reya.
"It's not that," said Argus trying to reassure her. "I do trust you."
"But?" asked Reya.
Argus looked uncomfortable. He wished Avon were here too so he wouldn't feel so outnumbered.
Cally looked at the two of them. "I'll go to the flight deck," she said and headed out of the teleport room.
"Well?" asked Reya after she and Argus were alone.
"I'm not sure what to say," said Argus in an uncertain tone. He didn't know what was making him nervous. His reaction did seem out of proportion to what was happening.
Reya looked at him in puzzlement. He seemed stressed and confused.
"What are you afraid of?" she asked him. Does it have to do with what I did with Sester? You didn't act like this before.
"I don't like feeling that I don't have control," said Argus.
"Oh," said Reya unhappily. "That can't be the only reason."
"I shouldn't feel that way with you," said Argus. "I know you would never make me do something I didn't want to."
"No, I wouldn't."
"Part of me wants this. But the other part of me isn't sure," said Argus.
"You don't know what I've planned yet. How would you know if you want it or not?" asked Reya.
"I think I can guess."
Reya was mystified. She didn’t think that Argus could possibly have guessed what she had planned; unless he had contacted the Pleasure City personnel or Avon had tapped into their computer system. Is that what they did while Cally and I were getting our relaxation treatments?
"What have you guessed?" she asked him, trying to understand his source of anxiety.
"Well...you've arranged a bonding ceremony."
"What?!" exclaimed Reya.
"I thought..." Oh, no. I've done it again.
"Do you really think I would do that without asking you first?!" said Reya in a raised voice.
Argus hung his head. "I guess not."
"What possessed you to think that I would do that?"
"Well, you were talking about having a deeper level of commitment. I agreed. And then you started making plans with Cally."
Reya was starting to calm down from the shock of what he had just said.
"Would bonding with me really scare you that much?" she asked.
"Well, it's not the 'with you' that scares me, it's the bonding part," said Argus.
"So you wouldn't mind bonding with someone else?" asked Reya.
"I didn't say that," said Argus.
"Then what are you saying?" she continued pressing him.
"It just seems so permanent."
"You wouldn't mind bonding with me, if it wasn't permanent?"
"I'm not saying that."
"You never want to bond with me then?"
"I...I'm not saying that either." He was getting frustrated with himself.
"I am too," he said miserably.
Reya had not been expecting to discuss this topic; but now that he had brought it up, she didn't realize there would be problems. She wanted to understand what they were.
"You don't like the idea of bonding?" she asked him.
"I've never really thought about it," said Argus. "I never wanted to while I was in the military. I never wanted anyone to suffer if I made a mistake."
"They would punish your families if you made a mistake? That's horrible," said Reya.
"They didn't normally. But if you deserted, your family would be sent to a penal colony," explained Argus.
"You thought of deserting?"
"No. But sometimes politics can play a factor. And that's something you can't control."
"Why didn't you leave sooner?"
"It may be hard to believe. I find it hard to believe. But I did believe in the Federation once. I believed in order. And not everything they did was bad. But it's no longer the same Federation. I think the Federation I believed in stopped existing long before I was born. What we have now is the result of centuries of corruption and power hungry people like Servalan."
"You're not in the military now, Argus. And you're no longer Federation," said Reya. "You don't have to be afraid."
Argus looked at her. There was a serious look on his face. He finally understood why he had been concerned when he thought Reya had been arranging a bonding ritual.
"It's not that," he told her. "I'm afraid of bonding with you because I'm not permanent."
Reya looked confused. "I don't understand."
"I've chosen a hazardous life, Reya. Fighting the Federation is dangerous. The likelihood is that I will die. If you attach yourself to me, it wouldn't be fair to you. I don't want to do that to you."
"Oh, Argus! I thought we had discussed this already. We're in this together. That's my choice."
"I want to protect you," he told her.
"I know and I love you for that, but you have to let me make the choice."
"When I sent you down in the life capsule and then when I saw you again later, it hit me how hard it was for you to have someone like me in your life. Someone you could never trust to come back. And then when I found out about Sester. I thought that maybe you would be better off with someone else."
Reya put her arms around him and hugged him. "You beautiful idiot."
"Did I say something wrong again?" he asked.
"You say all the right things. But it's still wrong."
"How can it be both?" he asked.
"That doesn't matter. I need you to understand that staying with you is a decision that I have made. It's not within your control. That's the freedom you must allow me."
"I know." He sighed sadly.
She touched his face. "I won't ask you to bond with me. But don't ask me to go away."
He took her hand and kissed her palm. The sensation sent a shiver through her body. "I would never do that," he told her.
"You had better not."
"Can you tell me what you do have planned?" he asked her.
She smiled. "You'll like it. It has absolutely nothing to do with bonding. But I want it to be a surprise."
This Avon seemed to be more capable of emotion than she was used to. In the old Avon, the emotions were either muted or they were very strong; there was rarely a middle ground. This Avon, even though he was still not an emotional man, had a more normal range of emotions. Cally wondered if it had anything to do with the breakdown of his mind; the control he normally exhibited was much harder now and needed to be actively maintained.
If this is a beneficial side-effect, it may not be a good thing for you to regain full control.
Feeling that he was being watched, Avon looked up and saw her.
"I didn't notice you come in," said Avon.
"I haven't been here long," said Cally. She came down the steps and walked towards him. "Argus said that he was afraid you might not be human," she said in jest.
"Does he now? Perhaps he's right," said Avon.
"I don't believe it. I think you're more human now than I've ever known you to be."
"You must be mistaken."
"Must you always perpetuate the illusion that you're not human? Even to yourself?" asked Cally.
"Not all illusions are false, Cally."
"This one is," she persisted. "Especially now."
"That's what you wish to believe," he told her.
"That is what I know."
"Is this a new ability I'm not aware of?" asked Avon sarcastically.
"Don't do that, Avon."
He stared at her for a moment. "It's the only thing I can do."
"You don't have to do it with me."
"Especially with you."
He stared at her again. "For me it is," he said finally.
"It has kept me alive."
"There is more to life than surviving," said Cally.
"Not for me," he told her.
"Don't you want more?" asked Cally.
"I did. Once." There was a hard tone in his voice and tightness in his jaw.
"What happened, Avon?"
"People discovered I was too useful," he said bitterly. There was also a hint of anger in his voice.
"When was this?" she asked him gently. Cally could feel his growing anguish and beneath it, a pain deeply buried.
Avon turned away from her and stared off into the distance. He said, "I don't remember."
Cally looked at him in surprise.
"Why, Cally?" he asked, still looking off into the distance.
"What are you asking, Avon?"
"Being intelligent should not make me a tool for others. It should not be a curse." His anger was very clear now. His breathing was faster, he was starting to hyperventilate.
In Avon’s mind, vague memories began to surface that were not the familiar nightmares; things which had been buried deep in his past. His mind tried to grasp onto the fleeting images; his head began to hurt.
"We should do single bets," whispered Vila as he lifted up his drink to his lips. "ORAC used to be able to predict single numbers. We won bigger that way with a lot fewer credits." He took a sip of his glass.
Ture disagreed in a whisper back. "I can't predict the play exactly with this. We have a greater chance if we spread the risk."
Vila shoved his enormous stack of casino markers over to the indicated ten through fifteen squares.
The roulette dealer looked at him suspiciously. This customer had won four times in a row on various bets. The dealer knew that his bosses were most likely watching this table carefully now, looking for any irregularities. If the man won again on the sixline bet he would be up over eight million credits.
The dealer waved his hand across the table, "All bets are closed." He spun the wheel and released the sphere. The numbers spun around, each chasing the other in an endless game which few won. People around the table watched excitedly as the ball travelled at its own speed; an inanimate object oblivious to all the attention centred on it.
"Red fourteen. We have a winner," shouted the dealer.
Those around the table erupted in sounds of laughter, incredulity and joy. It was good to see the house fall.
Vila turned around and hugged an astonished Ture. "We did it! Wait 'til Avon hears this!"
"Does that mean you don’t want to keep playing?" asked a disappointed Ture. "I was hoping to try out something else."
"Of course, we're not quitting! We've just started!" Vila let go of his partner. He tried to brush off the drink which he had spilled in his excitement.
Allren was nursing a drink at one of the colourful casino bars. Serella had passed on a message that she would be waiting for him here at the end of her shift.
"Good, I've found you," a woman said behind him.
Allren turned around and saw Serella. The hostess had changed into different clothes from those she had worn in the reception centre. She was no less beautiful in a simple black skirt and a red top.
She grabbed his arm and told him, "You have to come with me."
"That's a little quick," said Allren, following her. She didn't seem to be wasting any time. When they passed the lifts to the suites and continued onwards, he asked, "Where are we going?"
"To the casino. We have to get your friends out of there before they get into trouble," she told him.
Allren groaned. I shouldn't have left those two alone.
"What's happened?" he asked her.
"Did they bring anything into the casino?" she asked.
"I don't know what you mean," he said carefully.
"Well whether they did or not doesn't matter. They're attracting some attention I don't think they want to attract."
"What attention? What have Ture and Vila done?"
"They've won. Big. Suspiciously big," she told him. "Don't they know that they shouldn't do that? Especially if they have something?"
"Damn. I should have been watching them. Ture always gets into trouble without me watching his back. He's like a little kid when it comes to his toys."
"So they did bring something in," said Serella.
Allren looked at her guiltily. "Sorry."
"I'm not concerned if they have or not. Personally I'd love to see you bring the whole house down. But I hope we're not too late to stop your friends before the new management partners get involved."
"They're that bad?" asked Allren in a worried tone. "Who are these people?"
"Let's just say that once they get involved, the best place for you and your friends is as far away from here as possible. The new people make the Terra Nostra seem tame."
"Are you safe?" Allren asked.
Serella looked at him and gave him a brief smile. "Don't worry about me. I know how to survive. But your friends don't seem to."
They both entered the casino floor. Happy sounds filled the room. Not the sounds of happy patrons but the sounds of bubbly casino machines promising hope for all. There was an eruption of joyous shouting. This time it was human.
"There they are!" said Serella, pointing towards the crowd of people surrounding a table with a big upright wheel. "Oh no," she said in a whisper.
"What's wrong?" asked Allren sharply.
"I can see some of the new people," she told him, indicating several tough looking men standing by the other entrance. "Get your friends out now. It might still be alright."
Allren wondered how two people could get into so much trouble in the space of an hour as he quickly went over to the big upright wheel table. Sure enough, Vila was at the centre of attention, taking bows at his latest win. He seemed to be slightly tipsy and was in the process of telling a joke. Ture was standing behind him with a glass in his hand.
Allren went up behind them and discreetly tugged on Vila's and Ture's jackets. Vila turned around mid-joke and spotted him. "Allren, my friend, you're just in time to hear my latest joke," he said in a slurred voice.
"Good. I always like a good joke," said Allren. "Let's hear it back at the suite." He took Vila firmly by the arm and began propelling him towards the exit. Ture followed. Vila pulled back on his arm and said, "Wait! My markers."
"I'll have them processed and delivered to your room," the dealer told Vila.
"You're all wonderful," said Vila. He slid one of the markers towards the dealer. "That's for you."
The man looked flabbergasted. It was a ten thousand credit piece. He looked around him nervously as he accepted the generous tip. "You're very kind, sir." The man lowered his voice, "May I suggest you leave, sir?"
Vila and Ture looked at the man in surprise.
"Yes, we should all leave," Allren stressed to both of them in a low voice.
Ture recognized this tone of voice; it was Allren bailing him out of trouble again. He felt a bit guilty. "Vila, maybe we should go," said Ture. He took Vila's other arm and helped Allren guide him out of the casino.
Allren looked back, Serella was nowhere in sight. He sighed at a missed opportunity and then focused on getting Vila and Ture back to the suite. He really hoped that he had gotten the two troublemakers out in time.
Maybe we should concentrate on wine, women and song the rest of this trip, thought Allren.
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