He looked up at her approach. "You don't need to be that careful," he told her.
"I didn't want to cause you more work later," she sat down cautiously opposite him.
"The sentiment is appreciated. But I could put ORAC back together even if you knocked all of the components off the table." He removed another piece from inside ORAC and placed it carefully beside another similar one on the table.
"Then why are you so careful about the placement of things?" she asked him.
"The order saves time and my mind resists chaos." He bent his head down over ORAC's case in order to look at something more closely.
Cally watched him for a few moments. Avon was absorbed in what he was doing but he looked up at her again and asked, "Was there something you wanted?"
"Your mind," said Cally.
Avon looked at her quizzically and straightened up. "Which aspect of my mind were you interested in?" There was an amused look on his face.
"I wanted to talk about when we get to Zirgon. Aren't you worried?" asked Cally.
"Ah." Avon put ORAC down on the work table. "Worrying does not achieve anything useful, Cally. I prefer to concentrate my energies on things I can do something about."
"But this deals with your mind, Avon."
"I'm very aware of that. I did not say that I am not concerned. Of course, I am. That is why I have agreed to see Garett."
"Aren't you afraid? I know that sometimes it is a struggle for you to maintain control, even with the drugs. I can feel it. It's getting harder each time."
Avon's jaw tightened in an involuntary reaction. "Afraid?" There was an unreadable stillness in his expression only given away by the continued tension in his jaw. "More than you know," he said finally.
"It's not something you can ignore, Avon." She wanted to draw him out, to get him to talk about it.
"Yes. It is. I have to. Otherwise I would never be able to function. I would be of no use to anyone."
"I never realized. How is it that I can't feel that from you?"
"A lifetime of necessity," he told her; his eyes took on a distant look.
"I don't understand. You mean that you've been afraid most of your life?"
Avon's eyes focused on the present again and he looked at her. For a moment, he had almost shared something deeply personal. He had never done that before, not even with Anna; he had never let his guard down this much before, with anyone.
Avon looked down at his hands, which were resting on the table. They were shaking. "I'm not sure," he said uncertainly. For a few moments, his entire life had seemed accessible; things he never realized he had lost. His mind reached for long forgotten memories but they retreated; and his mind with them.
"How could…Avon!" Cally grabbed him as he toppled over. All of the pieces on the table scattered and fell to the ground.
Argus and Reya were in his cabin, being extremely passionate again. After the scene on the flight deck, he needed to do something he was good at and was in no way embarrassing. They were about to reach another high point in their explorations when the comm signal sounded. Reya groaned while Argus made a growling sound and mumbled something incoherent.
"Argus!" exclaimed Reya in surprise. She had understood what he almost said.
The comm sounded again several times; it was an insistent noise. Argus sat up and took several deep breaths, trying to overcome the contrasting confusion of interrupted passion and great aggravation. He hit the comm button and said, "What is it?" He managed to keep his voice even and free of the frustration he was feeling.
"Argus. It's Cally. Avon’s collapsed.”
Argus responded immediately, "Where are you?" All feelings of frustration and passion were instantly gone, replaced by concern and professional calm.
“We’re in his workshop,” responded Cally over the comm speaker.
Argus got up and started getting dressed. Reya did the same. “I’ll be right there,” he responded.
He turned to Reya, "Reya, go to the flight deck and tell Vila to increase the speed to standard by ten. And contact your brother. We might need Healer Garett as soon as we get there."
Cally looked worriedly at the readings on the life monitors.
"What do you see?" asked Argus.
"Physically, there's no change from before." Of course, this didn't mean that there wasn't still a lot wrong with Avon physically; just that there was no worsening of his overall condition.
"Then what's wrong with him?" asked Argus.
"There are some readings which I don't understand. They have to do with his brain. The readings are irregular."
"Is he experiencing a nightmare?"
"Not as far as I can tell. These readings are different. Healer Garett will most likely be able to understand it better than I do. I will make a recording of it to data crystal. He will need this information."
Avon groaned and opened his eyes. He immediately put his hands up to block the light; it hurt his eyes and added to the already considerable pain in his head.
"The light…" he said in scratchy voice.
Argus turned the light down. "Is that better?" he asked.
"The light. Yes. Your voice? No," said Avon as he put his hands down and tried to focus. He grimaced, his head still hurt.
"Sorry," Argus dropped his voice to a whisper. "How are you feeling?"
"You mean apart from the pain in my head and not remembering how I got here?" asked Avon as he registered where he was. Cally came over to stand by Avon's head. He asked her, "I assume it happened again?"
"Yes. I think you were trying to remember something from your past and it triggered a collapse," said Cally with concern.
Avon grimaced again and put a hand to his head. It felt as if his head was being split open.
"Your head hurts?" asked Cally.
"Yes." Her soft voice was a soothing sound.
"I'll get you something for it."
Through the haze of pain, Avon tried to focus on her face. "Thank you."
"Do you remember anything at all?" asked Argus as Cally went to get the medication.
"If I did I wouldn't be asking," said Avon with a snarl. He sat up and tried to get off the bed but this resulted in a wave of dizziness and nausea which caused him to fall over. Argus grabbed him quickly and guided him back onto the bed.
"I don't need your help," said Avon angrily trying to push him away, even as Argus helped him to lie down again.
"You could have fooled me," whispered Argus. Avon's eyes had closed again. "Avon?"
Cally came back with an injector in her hand, she added her voice, "Avon." She shook his shoulder gently but there was no response. Cally checked the readings. "He's unconscious again."
"That didn't happen before. He was able to get up the last time," said Argus.
"It's getting worse," she told him. “And his behaviour is erratic. He seems like two different people.”
"We're going to get him some help, Cally. I've increased our speed. We'll have the Healer take a look at him the moment we arrive."
What's wrong with me? thought Vila. Reya had just left the flight deck after contacting her brother. The ship was speeding towards Sector Ten.
The news that Avon was sick had filled him with alarm and worry. But the other feelings were not far away; they never were these days. Hatred. Hurt. Betrayal. Pain. Violence. This last one wasn't like him at all. Vila didn't understand it.
I thought I had forgiven him. I thought I had. I was going to start over again. Why can't I shake this?
The violent dreams disturbed him as much as the ones of the shuttle. The feeling of enjoying them scared him. In them, he was the monster, not Avon. Vila shook his head. In those dreams, he enjoyed hitting Avon, again and again, until the other man collapsed to the ground. And a voice. Always a voice. But he couldn't remember what it sounded like.
Where do these dreams come from? Why am I having them? What is my mind telling me? That we can never be friends?
Vila shivered. He had never enjoyed inflicting pain before but in these dreams, he did.
That’s not me! It can’t be.
The look in Avon's eyes always shocked him awake. The fear and pain he saw in them, made Vila feel triumphant; but the others, made him ill; it was hopelessness and the look of a man who no longer had a reason to live. Vila recognized it; it was what he saw in Avon’s eyes when he had begged Vila to kill him several weeks after being rescued.
My mind must be mixed up. His childhood fears, what happened on the shuttle and the events since; they all seemed to be jumbled together. My mind is playing tricks on me. I can’t let it. Avon needs me now.
Vila was resolved but he was still troubled. He had not liked the Vila of the nightmares; the one who enjoyed hitting Avon. Vila shivered again. I have to fight this.
They all wanted to go down with Avon. None of them wanted to be left behind. Argus decided that it was safe enough to leave the ship unattended as long as they locked it down. Cally and Vila went down by teleport with Avon; while Argus and Reya piloted the shuttle.
The moment they arrived at Borel’s headquarters there were no thoughts of pledging or feasts. The still unconscious Avon was rushed to the medical unit where Healer Garett was ready for him. They all stood around with concerned and troubled faces as Garett asked Cally, “What happened?”
“He was trying to remember something and he collapsed,” Cally replied.
“Has this happened before?”
“Yes. Once before. Not that long ago. I took some readings of his brain activity this time.” She handed Garett the data crystal she had made onboard the ship.
Garett went over to a desk and slipped the crystal into a reader. “These are very disturbing,” he said after studying them.
“Can you see what’s wrong?” asked Argus.
“I don’t want to say until I do a thorough examination of his brain. I had the brain mapping machines brought in.”
“Brain mapping? That sounds painful,” said Vila.
“It won’t hurt him,” reassured Garett. “But they will give a comprehensive scan of every aspect of his brain. Leave him with me.”
“I would like to stay with him,” said Cally.
“Of course. But only you. Why don’t the rest of you get some rest? There’s nothing else you can do.”
“How long with this mapping take?” asked Argus.
“Several days, depending on the complexities I find.”
“Complexities?” asked Cally.
“His mind was tampered with when the Federation captured him. And from the sounds of it, there have been other instances of manipulation as well. The extent will determine the level of complexities that have to be unravelled.”
Argus really hoped that Cally understood what Garett was talking about, because he only had a vague idea; and even that vagueness was not painting a good picture.
Argus, Reya and Vila were brought to the dining room where they were to join Borel and Kameron for an evening meal. The two brothers were not in the room yet but there was another man at the table, who had his back to them.
“Sester?” said Reya in surprise.
The man turned around to look at the new arrivals. It was indeed the psychostrategist. There was a pleasant smile on his face as he stood to greet them.
“What are you doing here?” asked Argus before Sester could say anything. There was no friendliness on Argus’s face, only suspicion and a veiled hostility.
Sester’s face never lost his smile as he replied, “Waiting for you.”
“You’re as direct as ever,” said Sester pleasantly.
“And you have not lost your talent for being evasive,” countered Argus.
“What are you doing here?” Reya asked. There was no hostility in her manner but there was seriousness in her tone.
Sester directed his gaze to her. He tried to convey to she had nothing to fear from him. “I was telling the truth, Commander Reve. I was waiting for all of you.”
“What does Servalan want?” asked Argus coldly.
Sester looked at him calmly; he had been expecting this attitude.
He said, “The President wishes me to extend the full resources of the Federation in this region to help in the battle against the alien threat. I am to serve as her liaison. To you and your crew.”
Now that Sester was faced with Argus and Reya, Sester understood, beyond the shadow of a doubt that this was part of Servalan’s game. She knew.
You are not going to destroy these two, Servalan. I am not going to help you. And you will not gain the upper hand with me.
“Tell her to send someone else,” said Argus. “Anyone, except you.”
“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice. I am her choice.”
“Avon already has enough to contend with, without your presence,” said Argus. His voice had lowered in tone and he was also very calm now; professionally calm and cold.
“Avon? Where is he? What happened to him?” Sester had noticed that Avon wasn’t with them when they came in and from Argus’s manner, he surmised that something was wrong with him.
“It’s none of your business,” said Argus. “Save your false concerns for someone else.”
“No matter what you may think of me, Argus, my concern for Avon is genuine.”
“I doubt Avon would believe it anymore than I do,” said Argus. His voice never lost its hardness.
“I suppose I deserve that.”
“Is this another act of being genuine?” asked Argus. “This one is not believable either.”
“If I were acting, you would believe me,” said Sester.
“More psychostrategist trickery?” sneered Argus.
Sester ignored the bait and said, “If you don’t want me as the liaison then I would suggest that you take it up with the Federation President.”
It would be interesting to see you try. And it might reveal something about her strategy, thought Sester.
“I will,” said Argus coldly.
Argus, Reya and Vila seated themselves on the side of the table, the farthest away from Sester. Unfortunately, this meant that they were also facing him. An awkward silence followed as Sester and Argus stared at each other with an open challenge in their manners.
“Where is the other member of your crew? Jenna Stannis?” asked Kameron Reve as he entered the dining room with his brother.
With that request, Argus decided that this trip back to the Athol Territories was not going to rate amongst his most pleasant experiences. They all stood up to greet their hosts.
Argus answered evenly, “Jenna decided to leave us. She had other priorities."
“That’s a shame. Please, sit.” Kameron gestured them all to be seated. “I believe that you know Sester?”
“We have crossed paths,” said Argus in a cold tone.
Kameron looked at them curiously; there was a clear air of tension in the air. Sester had not told him that there was conflict between the two of them. Kam had been expecting an entertaining display from Argus and Reya. He had planned to tease the two of them because of the hasty manner of the pledging which had taken place.
“Is there a problem?” asked Kam.
“Not from me,” said Argus. He had to stop himself from adding ‘sir’ at the end. For some reason, Reya’s older brother had that effect on him. He wondered if it would be different if he was not pledged to Reya.
“Nor from me,” said Sester agreeably.
“Good. With what is happening, it would be inappropriate to hold a celebration but I would still like to extend my congratulations to you, Argus and Reya, for this step you have taken.” He raised his glass and the others followed. “Among my people, pledging is almost as serious as the bonding ceremony. You have agreed to explore a life together. Whether you wish to make it formal or not, you are committed to each other now. I wish both of you, all of the best things a relationship of love can bring. Congratulations.” With that he drained his glass. The others followed his example.
Sester pause a moment before he downed his. This had been an unexpected surprise. He drank and then put his glass down with the others. He stole a glance towards Reya. With Argus next to her, he didn’t want to make it too obvious that he was watching her. She looked happy; and he was happy for her. Sester sighed. No matter what happened, he was determined that she stay that way.
Kameron addressed his sister, “Reya. It is customary for the oldest male leader of the household to give you a gift for the occasion. Amongst our people, property is passed between males. But I would like to break this tradition.” He placed a cube on the table and activated it. A large holographic depiction of the Athol Territories was projected above their heads. He pressed a control and the view shifted and zoomed in until they all saw a beautiful planet, like a jewel of blue, green and red spinning slowly in space. “This is my gift to you, Reya. The planet of Tyrellis. It was our mother’s birthplace. She died shortly after you were born so you don’t remember her, but she was like this planet. A shining jewel who brightened everything she touched. The lordship of this planet will now pass to you.”
Reya was speechless; there were tears in her eyes. Argus put his arms around her.
Borel said, “I can’t believe it. You’ve made her cry now. Only Argus is allowed to do that.”