Tance said, "What do you think? My colleagues aren't very happy right now. I wouldn't want to deprive them of a bit of fun. It’s the only thing they have left after we win the bet."
"Bastards!" said Vila angrily.
The bearded man twisted his arm. "Ow!" Vila reacted in pain.
"If I were you, I’d worry about yourself," said Tance. "If your friends don’t come soon. We might start having some fun ourselves. I hate getting bored waiting. It’s so unproductive," he said with a chilling smile.
They brought Vila back into the other room, shoved him in and shut the door. Vila looked in shock at the floor stained with blood and the still form of Allren. The blood seemed to be everywhere. Vila felt ill when he saw what the monsters in human form had done to the engineer. He was almost afraid to see if Allren was still alive.
There was a muffled moan of pain. Allren's mouth had been gagged. That was why there had been no more noises from this room. The sound broke Vila out of his shocked paralysis and he rushed over to Allren's side, nearly slipping on the patches of blood. He bent down and removed the gag.
"Vila?" Allren's voice was barely audible. He coughed painfully; each cough produced blood.
"Yes, it's me," said Vila. He took Allren's hand and squeezed it to reassure him that he was not alone.
"They…wanted…know…couldn't tell..couldn't...can't...tell..." Vila could barely make out what he was saying.
"Yes. I know. You couldn’t tell them. He's your friend." Vila wanted to cry; and he felt guilty. It hit him how close he had come to telling the monsters what they wanted to know. Why do I always do that?
Looking at Allren, Vila knew why. He felt both relief that this had not happened to him and horrible guilt. He had not wanted to end up like this. No one should have this happen to them. I only wanted to survive. That's all I ever wanted to do. I didn't tell anyone anything this time. But why does it feel like I've done something wrong?
Almost every part of Allren’s exposed upper body had been cut or sliced open. In areas, it had seemed as if they had tried to peel off his skin. Vila wanted to throw up. He knew that if he hadn't come up with the last minute idea, he was afraid that he would have told them everything they wanted to know; in order to avoid this.
Allren had made a different choice. It didn’t even occur to him to ask if Vila had done the same.
I'm standing here without a scratch and you don't even ask why?
Vila felt ashamed. This time it wasn't someone dragging him into danger he didn’t want. This mess was something of his own making and someone else was paying the price.
Allren’s body stiffened, he cried out in pain. Vila held onto his hand until the agony passed. "Hang on, Allren. We'll get you back to the ship and you'll get fixed up like new."
"…thought…you…better liar…" rasped Allren. His words tailed off and his eyes closed.
"Allren!" Vila called his name and shook his shoulder. There was no response. He fearfully felt for a sign of life. It was still there, a faint beating; but the other man’s hand felt cold.
Where are you, Argus? I didn't mean to call you a lazy sod. Allren needs you. He's a real friend. Not like me. Damn you, Argus! Why aren't you here already?!
Argus finished giving Ture his quick lesson on teleport operation.
"You have it?" asked Argus in a calm voice as he snapped on a teleport bracelet. He was anxious to get down but they weren’t going anywhere if Ture couldn’t operate the teleport controls.
"Yes. I’ve got it," said Ture.
Reya entered the teleport room carrying several weapons and an equipment satchel. She placed them on a clear space on the console for Argus and then got several teleport bracelets.
"I’ve set both the outbound and inbound coordinates. All you have to do is operate the controls," said Argus as he strapped on the holster and checked the pistol.
"Got it," said Ture.
Argus inspected the outbound coordinates and looked at the positioning screen. "There’s no one in the room now," he noted. "Damn, that means we’ll have to find them. There are two in the next room. We’ll try there first." He made some adjustments to compensate. "Corridor seems clear. Reya?" Argus armed himself with the rest of the equipment Reya had brought.
"Ready," acknowledged Reya. She drew her weapon and stepped onto the teleport pad. Argus did the same. They stood back to back. "Send us down and stay by the teleport."
"Yes. Good luck."
Argus and Reya disappeared from the platform.
They both appeared in the room where Vila and Allren waited, weapons raised and ready for anything.
"Argus!" exclaimed Vila with relief. "Am I glad to see you. You have to get us out of here. Allren’s in really bad shape."
Argus looked at the man lying in a pool of blood on the ground. There was time for a reaction of horror later. Reya had already bent down to check on the injured man. The military leader in Argus was assessing the situation. He had to do his job if they were to get out without any mishaps.
"How is he?" Argus asked Reya. He went over to the door and listened for any indication of someone coming.
"Vila’s right, he’s not good. We have to get him back to the medical bay. He’s losing too much blood. He's gone into shock. We're going to need Cally," reported Reya.
Argus said, "Alright. You and Vila get Allren back. Contact Cally. Tell her to come back but don’t let Avon know. He still needs to get rest."
"You’re not coming back with us?" asked Reya.
"Not yet. There are some things I need to check out. Something is going on here and we need to find out what. Vila, tell me quickly what’s been going on."
After the others teleported back to the ship, Argus went looking for a specific bar in an out of the way corner of Pleasure City. This one was unusual; it had a darkened and subdued atmosphere unlike most of the other brightly coloured bars. It seemed to be a refuge for the terminally depressed. The walls had holographic images of various star systems. Argus recognized a few; they were mainly desolate regions in space. The bar was called The Great Nothing.
He went up to the counter and ordered a beer. "I’m looking for Laxon," he told the purple-haired bartender.
"I owe him some money," replied Argus.
The man laughed. "Everyone owes him some money. He’s over there." The bartender pointed out a grey-haired man sitting alone at a corner table. "I’d buy him a beer, or he might not want to talk to you. He’s not in a good mood today," warned the bartender.
Argus said, "Fine. Give me a mug of whatever his regular is." The man filled another glass. Argus paid the man and downed his own mug before going over.
Argus approached the man, placed the mug in front of him, and slid into the seat opposite. Before the man could object, Argus said, "A mutual acquaintance said that you needed a little help."
Laxon looked at him speculatively. Argus was expected.
"I hope you’re better than the other three," said Laxon.
"The other three?" asked Argus. He didn't like the sounds of this.
"Yes. You're the fourth one. The last one our employer sent didn’t last a day. We never did find his body."
Servalan forgot to include that little detail, thought Argus. He doubted if it was an accidental oversight.
"She’s not my employer," Argus said coldly.
Laxon smiled sarcastically. "She said that you were independent."
"Did she also say that I hate people who waste my time?" asked Argus. His eyes were cold.
"She also didn't say what your name was."
"I only tell my name to people I kill," said Argus with an unfriendly sneer.
Laxon sighed. These professional killers were all alike. It was best not to antagonize them. He reached for a case beside him and handed it to Argus. "Then tell your name to this one. His details are on the data crystal. Everything else you need is in the case."
Argus took the case and got up to leave.
"She said not to get yourself killed. There are other things she needs you to do," said Laxon.
Argus snarled at him and left with the case.
Cally was getting some tools for Avon when Vila’s voice came over the comm unit on her teleport bracelet.
"What is it, Vila?" she asked.
"Argus wants you to come back. He said to leave Avon there and just come up yourself."
Cally was puzzled. Vila’s manner told her something was wrong. They obviously didn’t want to involve Avon. She agreed with that. He did not need any stress.
"Alright, Vila. I’ll come up. Let me tell Avon first."
"Good," said Vila. "Be quick, Cally," he added with a note of urgency.
There is something wrong, thought Cally. She went quickly over to the workbench where Avon and a group of engineers were working on something. Handing him the tools he had requested, Cally said, "Can I speak to you for a moment?"
"Of course," Avon got up and they walked over to a quiet area. "Is there something wrong?" He had been worried that she was bored but she had not wanted to leave before.
"No. Argus wants me to go back to the ship. I’ll be back later."
"Should I go back with you?" he asked.
"No. He said for you to stay and enjoy yourself. He probably wants me to give him a break."
"Yes. With Jenna gone, there are only the three of you taking the shifts. And with you here keeping me company…"
"Don’t worry about it, Avon. I enjoy being with you. And I know Argus doesn’t mind. If you wish, you can take double shifts when you get back on your feet. I’m sure Vila will insist on it."
"He probably would. Especially all of his," said Avon wryly. "Get some rest yourself," he told her.
Before Cally left the room to find a secluded area safe for teleport, Avon touched her on the arm. "Thank you, Cally. I never realized how much I missed this type of interaction. It has been a wonderful gift."
"You’re welcome," said Cally. She turned to go but hesitated and faced him again. "Avon. Do you want to stay here?"
Avon was perplexed. "What do you mean?"
"Instead of staying on the ship. You could stay here and do what makes you happy. No more killing. No more putting yourself in danger."
He stared at her. This was a serious topic. "I can’t stay, even if I wanted to," he told her.
"You would be safe here. No one knows who you are."
"I owe Blake," he said simply.
Cally looked at his grave face. This was something he had never discussed with her, or anyone. "Will you tell me what happened on Gauda Prime, Avon? Tell me what happened between the two of you?"
Avon looked away from her. He was no longer relaxed. His mind was trying to fight the flood of emotions and memories which always threatened to overwhelm him when he tried to think about that day. "No. I can’t even tell myself right now."
"I’m sorry. I should never have brought it up," said Cally. She could sense the growing turmoil in his mind and the jumble of emotions and realized she should not have broached this topic. It was undoing the rest he had been getting.
He said in strained voice, "I want you to know, Cally. But I can’t deal with it now."
She put her hand on his chest. "Go and enjoy yourself, Avon. Don’t think about it anymore. I won’t press you. I will wait until you’re ready."
"You always seem to be waiting for me to be ready."
"I don’t mind."
"As long as there is an end to it?" he asked.
"No," said Cally. "Because it’s you."
Argus sat at a table in a suite which had been prepared for him. He searched through the contents of the case he had been given by Laxon. It contained information on his target's habits and the best places to gain access to him as well as various pieces of equipment.
Sevisia. That was Servalan's target. This was the man whom Vila had told him, was responsible for what had been done to Allren. It was ironic that the man, who had been causing his friends grief, was the man their most hated enemy wanted to have killed.
Argus’s main goal for staying behind had been to find out information on the people who had hurt the members of his team. These people had to be stopped before they could hurt anyone else. They had to pay for what had been done to Allren and probably many more besides. Having both his goal and Servalan’s target coincide had been a lucky coincidence.
Servalan's people have done my homework for me. I must thank her for that, he thought ironically. He wondered why Servalan wanted Sevisia disposed of. What devious reason do you have, Servalan? What is your real goal here?Argus knew that part of the responsibility for what happened to Allren and Vila fell on his shoulders. He had not told any of them that Sevisia was here; had not warned them to be careful. Argus had misjudged the potential for mischief that his team was capable of. They were supposed to be enjoying themselves; getting some rest and recreation. He had not imagined that would lead to trouble.
Argus was not a healer. That task he left to people more qualified than he was. He was a leader, a protector and a killer; he was very good at all three.
I must add fool to that list now too. Argus knew that somewhere down the line, Servalan’s real agenda would be revealed. But for now, he had to play her game; he had to do what she wanted. It was the price she had demanded for leaving Avon alone. Argus grimaced. He hated this woman but now he was forced to work with her.
He had only agreed under the condition that he had would have the final say on what he was willing to do. But he was under no illusions. Servalan was a master manipulator. He had to be very careful. Sevisia was a target he had no problems agreeing to. The man was as bad as they came. Taking him out would be a service to humanity.
Argus reached into the case and took out the remaining items. His hands felt each piece critically and began to assemble them. He could have done it blind-folded. It was an assassin's rifle. After it was assembled, he put it on the table and stared at it. Part of him felt ill. He had never wanted to do this again.