With Sester in tow, Vila approached Argus on the flight deck. The man was deep in discussion with Dain, the stocky young lieutenant in charge of the Athol elite unit. Argus noticed him right away. He eyed Sester with suspicion but didn’t say anything. “How are your preparations going, Vila? Everything ready?”
Vila replied, “Ages ago. Don’t worry about me. I’ll do my part.”
“I don’t doubt it. Was there something you wanted?” asked Argus.
"Yes. Sester hasn't eaten yet."
"I don't see how that's my problem," said Argus with a sneer at the psychostrategist. "He's got legs. I suggest he use them. We're not running a hotel."
"But he doesn't want to cause any problems. That's why he hasn't gone. He knows you want to keep an eye on him," said Vila. "Have you really not eaten all day?" he asked with concern in his voice.
"I'm not hungry," said Argus. Usually when he was planning, Argus was full of energy. Minor personal considerations, like proper nutrition, tended to take lesser importance.
Vila said, "Well, he is. I'm going to take him down to the dining area. If that's alright with you."
Argus glared at Sester. He was still certain the other man was dangerous even though Sester had been very cooperative the last few days. Argus did not understand why Vila was taking such an interest in helping the enemy. Vila did seem to be concerned about him not eating either. The last thing he wanted was for Vila to get it in his head to tell Reya that he wasn’t taking care of himself.
"Alright," said Argus. “Don’t let him out of your sight.”
"Don't worry. We’ll be practically joined at the hip," said Vila.
Sester asked Argus, "Are you ever going to trust me?"
Sester smiled, "You don't leave any lines to read between, do you?"
"Get out. Before I change my mind," said Argus with a low grumble.
"Come on, let's go," said Vila. "I'll fix you up." Sester followed Vila out.
Sester stopped just short of the open doorway to the dining area. Vila went in and was about to say something when he realized Sester hadn’t followed him in. He looked back and asked, “Something wrong?”
“I think I’ll come back later,” said Sester.
“Why?” Vila asked. He turned his head to see if anything in the room was causing this reaction. He spotted Reya and Cally eating together at one of the tables. “Oh,” he said with understanding.
Sester smiled wryly. “Eloquently put.”
“You’ve still got to eat,” pointed out Vila.
“I can go in and get something and bring it out on a tray,” offered Vila. "You stay here."
“What happened to being joined at the hip?”
Vila grinned, “What Argus doesn’t know, we won’t tell him. He shouldn’t have let you starve just because he isn’t hungry. Any special requests?”
Sester thought, How much of this attitude is real and how much of it is purely for my benefit? He replied, “The one Argus normally takes is fine.”
“Oh, you mean the ‘big breakfast’,” said Vila.
“Yes. I’m hungry enough for that,” replied Sester.
“One ‘big breakfast’ coming up,” said Vila with a grin. He went back inside the dining room to get the food.
Sester stood to the side of the door, surreptitiously watching Reya and Cally. They didn’t seem to have noticed him. That’s good. The two women seemed to relate well to each other. They were talking easily.
There was a time when you were like that with me. Right now he would settle for her liking him again. Sighing heavily, Sester pulled back and leaned against the wall beside the entrance. He didn't want to risk her seeing him.
You're very clever, Servalan. Should I do your work for you? Which would be more fun? Annoying you and helping them? Or pursuing my own interests? You haven't stated what your goals are here, though it's very obvious. You could hardly blame me for not doing something you haven't ordered me to do. It's dangerous giving me that kind of latitude. You've pushed me enough. It's time for you to learn that no one manipulates a puppeteer without consequences.
Vila came back out, carrying a large tray of food. Where is he? The last thing he wanted to do was report to Argus that he had lost sight of Sester on their first foray.
Sester smiled as he watched Vila's reaction upon exiting the dining room, and not seeing him right away. Can I achieve both ends? Now that would be a real challenge. "Behind you."
Vila wheeled around and saw Sester leaning near the doorway with his arms casually crossed over his chest. "Missed me?" Sester asked with an effortless smile.
"I don't think it would be good for you if you got lost," said Vila.
"Yes. I imagine Argus doesn't have much of a sense of humour; where I'm concerned." Sester pushed away from the wall and looked down at the items on the tray. Bacon, ham, sausages, a mound of scrambled eggs and a stack of toast on a side plate. A huge mug of black coffee. The smells wafting from it were mouth-watering. The Justice's processors dispensed some of the best synthetic food he had ever seen. If he hadn't known, he would have never guessed that it was reproduced. "Hmm…I'd forgotten how much he eats. I probably won't be able to finish this."
"I could help a bit. It's making me hungry just smelling it," said Vila obligingly.
"Then let's eat."
"I couldn't believe it the first time I saw him eat all this," said Vila as he transferred some of the food from Sester's tray to his own plate. They were in Vila's cabin. It was a comfortably cluttered place, unlike Argus's barely decorated one. The items from the food tray were adorning the clear table top.
"Well, I imagine he needs it with all of the physical activity he does," said Sester. He picked up the mug of coffee and looked into the dark murky depths. Black coffee. Not his preference. He wasn't surprised that it was Argus's. The aroma was rich and enticing though. Sester took a sip. Not too bad. He drank a few mouthfuls.
"Yes. I couldn't believe that either, the first time I saw it," said Vila as he dug into the food with his fork.
Sester asked, "You're talking about the coffee?" He put the mug down and also began eating.
"Noooo. The exercising. I've never seen anyone so serious about it before. Not close up. He does it every day!" said Vila as if this was extremely abnormal in his opinion.
"So does Reya," remarked Sester casually as he began spreading some marmalade-like substance on a piece of toast.
Vila glanced surreptitiously at the psychostrategist as he said, "Yes, they make a good pair." He picked up a piece of toast as well. Vila looked at the choices of spread indecisively - orange marmalade, grape, and strawberry - he liked all of them.
Sester replied, "Yes. They do." There had been no hesitation in his answer, but Vila didn't miss the flash of wistfulness in the other man's eyes.
You're good at hiding it. Vila wondered what else the psychostrategist was concealing. He was determined to find out, but it was too early yet. "You won't ever catch me waking up early just to exercise. It's unnatural."
"I'm not fond of it either," said Sester, hiding a smile by taking a bite of his toast. He remembered a conversation he had with Reya about this very topic.
Vila grinned in agreement as he settled on using all three spreads on his toast.
Sester added, "The soldiers are like that too. It must be a military habit."
"I'm glad I avoided it," said Vila. He put the knife down and took a big bite of the smothered slice of toast and began chewing contentedly. All conversation stopped for awhile as they both enjoyed the food.
Reya arrived on the flight deck. Argus was talking with the Athol lieutenant; no Sester was in sight. Everyone else was finished for the day and was off relaxing or finding some recreation on the ship. She had spotted a couple of the soldiers headed towards one of the cargo holds which had been converted into an exercise facility by Argus.
Dain finished his conversation and headed out as well. He nodded and gave the customary Athol salute of a fist over the heart to Reya when he saw her. Reya nodded. "Lieutenant."
"Commander." The stocky young man headed off the flight deck.
Argus watched her as she approached. When she stood in front of him, he put his palm over his heart. "Reya."
"You've got the salute wrong," said Reya.
"It's my own personal one. Just for you," said Argus with a warm smile.
"What did you do with Sester?" asked Reya. The fact that the psychostrategist was no longer visible, after Argus has insisted that the man spend his every waking moment in his sight was worrying.
Argus's smile disappeared, his jaw tightened. "Why do you want to know?"
"Don't get upset, Argus," she said placatingly.
"I'm not upset," he replied in a tight voice.
Reya refrained from making a remark on that. "I thought it was just odd that he isn't with you. Did he do something?" she asked with concern.
"No." Argus took a deep breath and let go of his slowly rising anger. He was determined not to let Sester get between them. "He went off with Vila."
"Yes, they went to get something to eat."
Reya was puzzled by this but decided not to ask. "Everything's ready?"
"I've scheduled a rehearsal for tomorrow afternoon."
"Cally is worried about Avon," she told him.
"What else is new?" said Argus. "Did she say anything?"
"Not specifically. But she seems to be bothered about something."
"Does she not want him to come on this mission?" asked Argus. "It will be harder to do what we need to without him, but I could arrange to leave him behind."
"No. Don't do that. I think that's why she doesn't want to say anything to anyone. She doesn't want to interfere unless it's something that will endanger his life. She knows that his independence is important to him."
"Alright. I'll keep an eye on him."
"Cally would be relieved. If I could tell her, that is. Now were you trying to convey something earlier?"
"Earlier?" asked Argus, his eyebrows rose quizzically.
She reached down, took his right hand and placed his palm over his heart. "With this."
He gave her a self-conscious smile.
Cally rose from the terminal where she had been continuing her medical studies. She stretched tiredly and went over to where Avon was working. He had a teleport bracelet stripped apart on the work bench.
"I'm tired," said Cally.
"Hmm…" said Avon absently. He was studying one of the components, turning it around in the light. Avon paused and looked at her. "What did you say?"
"I just said that I'm tired. I'm going to bed. Are you coming?" asked Cally.
He registered the fatigue on her face and the slight drooping of her shoulders. "You should go to sleep. I'm not finished here yet."
"Your energy level seems much improved. You're outlasting me," she said with a tired smile.
He stared at her. "It seems that way."
Cally looked down at various components on the table. "What are you trying to do with the teleport bracelet?"
"I'm trying to reduce the size so that it's not so conspicuous," he went back to studying the object he had been holding.
"That's a good idea."
"I thought so," he said absently.
"Good night, Avon."
He looked up at her and said, "Good night, Cally."
After she left, Avon put the component down. He was still full of energy, but it was not his own.
So much to do. He was determined to do his best to keep all of them safe. There were so many ideas; so many things which could be built or modified.
I shouldn't take another shot tonight. It's already late. Avon also didn't want Cally to begin suspecting, she already worried enough about him. Just a few more days, then I'll rest.
Vila delivered Sester back to his guest cabin for the night.
"Thank you, Vila," said Sester before he entered his room.
"What did I do?" asked Vila.
Sester said, "You're good company."
"Well, you're easy to talk to. For a psychostrategist."
Sester gave him an easy smile. "I never thought that Argus would let me leave his sight."
"Oh. You're talking about that. You were starving and he was being unreasonable." Vila shrugged his shoulders as if it was nothing.
"You didn’t have to do it. It was appreciated, Vila."
Vila could see that Sester was being genuine. But he had also learned today, how convincing the other man could be. It was very hard to distinguish between Sester being sincere and when he was not; or when there was an element of both in what he said. The psychostrategist was an easily pleasant and charming individual to be around. Anyone who didn't know, would never realize how dangerous he was.
"It was nothing," said Vila nonchalantly. "Good night."
"Good night, Vila."He wondered how Avon was doing. Seeing the other man in pain had worried him. He knew how much Avon hated being seen as vulnerable; hated admitting, especially to himself, that he wasn't able to do what he used to. Vila didn't know if what he was doing would help, but he was going to try his best.