After making sure Argus was moving safely away from the direction of Galena's cabin, Reya went back inside. There were some very important questions which needed to be asked and she was determined to ask them.
“It’s time for some truth,” said Reya. From the way Cally and Galena were looking at each other when she entered, she knew that something had happened while she was outside with Argus.
"Did I miss something?" she asked.
"Is Argus fine?" asked Cally. She had been aware of the strong emanation of emotions from outside the cabin and wondered if something had happened.
"He'll be alright. It's up to us to get to the bottom of this. None of the men can be trusted to act rationally with all of this going on," said Reya.
"I think we're partway there already," said Cally, looking pointedly at Galena/Vanora.
Reya's eyebrows lifted in question. "Seems that I missed a lot then."
Cally said, "Galena and I have been having a very interesting conversation. To start off with, she's not human.
Reya was alarmed. "You mean she's one of the aliens?"
“No. She's an Auron like me. But she left a long time ago to go her own way,” said Cally.
"What was she doing with my brother? And what is she doing with the men on this ship?" asked Reya. She glanced briefly at Cally. She didn't know much about the Aurons, or for that matter the alien aspects of Cally; but she hoped that this wasn't something that Cally had kept from her. Her instincts still told her that she could trust Cally. She kept an open mind, but not too open.
“All very good questions,” said Cally. She turned to Galena. “And I hope you will provide all the answers.”
Galena/Vanora had a guarded look on her face. “If I have to.”
“I was serious when I said that I would help you; but only if you tell us the truth,” Cally said to her.
There was still a reluctant expression on Galena/Vanora’s face. “What do you want to know?”
“First, tell Reya who you are.”
“Alright. My real name is Vanora. As Cally said, I'm an Auron. In fact, I am Cally's sister; but we're from different gestation clusters. I'm ten years older than she is.”
“I knew that you looked similar,” said Reya. “You have related bone structures. You must have had reconstruction surgery done to alter your appearance?”
“Yes, soon after I left Auron,” replied Galena/Vanora. She continued, “My specialization was in augmented telepathic projection. When my people discovered that Franton’s cloning technology resulted in psi abilities cropping up in certain sibling groups, project teams were formed to research what was happening. Some concentrated on the cloning technology itself. I was assigned to a project group which explored the possibilities of telepathic projection with non-Auron species.”
“It was very controversial,” said Cally. She could remember the many heated discussions and the final formal debates in the Communion chamber. The majority had overridden people like Vanora. It was the first time the Chamber of Telepathic Union had witnessed such great conflict. Cally knew that Vanora still harboured great anger and resentment over what happened. She didn't require telepathic access to know that.
Reya asked, “Why was it controversial? Did you try to read non-Auron minds as well as communicate with them?” The idea that someone could read her mind without her consent made her skin crawl.
“No. Nothing like that,” said Galena/Vanora. When she spoke, she had taken on the tone of a scientist. “Reading another person’s mind is not that simple, even between Aurons, except with those who have high telepathic affinity; such as ones in the same sibling group. There are many complications and with alien minds, it is virtually impossible except in the rare cases where the subjects are highly attuned to each other. Normally we are only vaguely aware of emotional landscapes. With other Aurons, we can only easily read surface thoughts and emotions.”
“Then what did you research?” asked Reya. She was somewhat relieved but not by much.
“My group looked into the possibility of artificially producing and enhancing the frequency waves involved in telepathic communication. And adjusting them to alien physiology.”
“That still doesn't sound worthy of controversy.”
“It's not controversial if the signal is used purely for communications but it is if used for offensive applications.”
Cally said accusingly, “Such as sending an oscillating pulse tone which is used to trigger and maintain a preconditioned hypnotic response. They did that with Blake. Using it they were able to control his actions.”
Galena/Vanora said, "A very simple application. Some of us believed that being neutral shouldn’t mean being helpless. We may not develop weapons which kill and destroy but when the psi abilities were discovered among cloned generations, some factions in our society saw it as a way to create a peaceful means of defence. In this case developing a mind interceptor which targeted the pilots of any alien force which could threaten Auron.”
“It was wrong,” said Cally.
“Some believed that,” said Galena/Vanora. “We didn’t.”
“It is tantamount to taking over another person’s will and reducing them to puppets. How would that make us any different from the Federation?”
“You of all people should have understood,” said Galena/Vanora. “You thought that our isolation policy was wrong too. When you were exiled, you gave your service to rebels who were fighting the Federation.”
"That was different," said Cally.
Galena/Vanora smiled wryly. "We both wanted what we felt was best for Auron but the pacifistic majority shouted us down. Literally. Telepathic communion enforces majority rule, if nothing else. My project group was shut down and all of the information destroyed; but not before I and another member of my team copied all of the research data and we escaped.”
“You stole it,” accused Cally.
“It was our research and they were just going to destroy it. They treated us like criminals even though our only intent was for the good of Auron.”
“Don’t make yourself out to be noble, Vanora. When you left, the only thing you sought was profit,” said Cally.
“What else could we do, Cally? We were now alone, with no one to turn to for support. No resources. Did you know that they sent telepath teams out to search for us? We had to do what we could to survive.”
“You sold our Auron heritage to anyone who could pay,” accused Cally.
“Not to anyone,” said Galena. “We never sold our services to the Federation.”
Reya decided that now was a good time for some intervention on her part. “Alright, you’ve given us your background. But you still haven’t told us why you've been playing havoc with the men on this ship. This ability to affect the men, does it come out of your research?”
“Partially. It was a lucky accident. I continued doing research on our psi abilities after leaving Auron. Testing and building up my own. I'd like to think that I know more about our telepathic capabilities than any Auron alive. But that wouldn't be saying much these days. I've been playing around with mental projection abilities as well as artificial. One of the things Aurons can do is project telepathic communications into Terran minds. It doesn’t always work and not all Terran minds are receptive to telepathic communication waves. Your brains are different and the waves are too complex for some minds. The results were erratic. I began exploring the lower telepathic frequencies; ones that work on the near-subconscious level. The signal is much simpler, closer to the oscillating pulse tone. I had greater success but most produced very little in the way of useful effects, except for one area. This one was tied to the pheromone receptors in the brain.”
“That’s how you did it,” said Cally, her eyes widening in understanding.
“Yes. And no.”
“What do you mean?” asked Reya.
“With my own abilities, I can affect one or two people at a time. I have to specifically target those areas in the subject brains.”
“But everyone on the ship is affected,” said Cally.
“Yes. This has been troubling. I've never been able to affect this many people at one time before. At least, not until I came on this ship. And I don't seem to need to target it anymore either. It seems to work subconsciously now. At first it was interesting exploring this new development but I seemed to have lost control over it recently. I can’t stop it. I’ve tried.”
“How can we believe that?” asked Cally.
“There is one way to convince you,” said Galena/Vanora. “I will open my mind and you can find out for yourself.”
Cally said. “I don’t want to do that.” Even though Aurons were telepathically connected, they were always careful to respect each other's boundaries.
“It’s the quickest way to know the truth,” said Galena/Vanora. “I am willing to let you do this. You're not forcing me. If what you say is true about what is happening on the ship, the faster we trust each other and work together the better.”
Cally was still very reluctant but she agreed. "Alright."
Galena/Vanora sat down. "It works better with physical contact."
"Yes, I know," said Cally as she sat down beside her. She had discovered this when trying to help Avon.
Galena/Vanora closed her eyes and put her hands on the table. Cally reached out and covered the other woman's hands with her own. At the contact, Cally gasped as a familiar Auron mind was opened to her. She hadn't felt this in a long time; she was surprised to find how much she missed this connectedness. As she began to travel along the mental landscape of the other woman's mind, Cally was amazed at the amount of control Vanora had. This was a highly developed telepathic ability. She felt ashamed that hers seem barely formed compared to this.
* You are capable of this as well, little sister. You only need to practice and experiment. * Vanora's mental voice was clear and melodic. * You may surprise yourself. *
* How have you been able to block me? * asked Cally.
Vanora sent her a mental impression of a smile. * There are some things, which I must keep for myself. The areas containing the information you need are open. You must understand if I don't allow you access to everything. *
Cally's explorations began to touch areas containing the memories she was interested in. At times it seemed as if she were experiencing a muted version of them; limited by a single perspective. She could even feel what the other woman had felt during the occurrences of the memories.
The kidnapping. The encounter with Ellis. Being held captive and moved repeatedly to prevent people finding out where she was. Then installed at the location where she had been rescued.
"They found out you were Auronar? " asked Cally. She voiced her thoughts so that Reya could follow what was going on.
Vanora did the same, "Yes, I was injured when I was taken. They had medical personnel who treated me.They seemed very interested when they found out that I was Auronar but they barely asked me any questions. And other than the medical treatment for my injuries, they didn't do any examinations of my brain or anything else. They never suspected I was a scientist and I was careful never to let them know I had any knowledge which was useful to them."
"Do you think that the aliens are responsible for what is happening on the ship? Could they have tampered with your psi abilities?" asked Reya as Cally continued exploring the other woman's memories.
"I don't see how. Other than for the medical treatment, they didn't do anything else to me," said Vanora.
Cally withdrew from the other woman's mind and let go of her hands. Vanora opened her eyes.
"But Avon found that Ellis has been conducting extensive medical research. This has to tie into it somehow," said Reya. "It's too much of a coincidence."
"I agree," said Cally. She asked Vanora, "Could they have drugged you?"
The woman replied, "You must know that even in an unconscious state, the mind still registers activity. Do you find any indications?"
Cally said, "No. But we don't know what capabilities that the aliens who are with Ellis have. They may be able to render you completely unaware, even on an unconscious level."
"If that's true, then they could very well have tampered with my psi abilities." The look on her face was of someone who just realized something very unpleasant. "Cally, I could not read any of the aliens. They are completely closed to Auron abilities."
Cally asked, "Even the low frequency ones you've been using to provoke a pheromone response?"
"Yes. At first, I thought that they had blocked my abilities but I realized after awhile that almost all of the ones they had with me were alien. It was a waste of time trying."
Reya looked thoughtful, "If they are somehow able to use your ability to influence the men on a mass level but are immune to it themselves, then they've just made you into a powerful weapon. For them."
Vanora said, "But my ability to provoke a pheromone response has always been to attract men and make them more agreeable to what I want them to do. It's never caused this kind of aggression before."
"Until now," said Reya.
"They must have been able to increase the strength and range of the effects then," said Vanora.
Cally asked, "You said that you've lost control over this ability?"
"Just recently. It seems to be working independent of my conscious will. I can't stop it."
"How recent?" asked Reya.
Vanora thought for a few moments. "Not long after I talked to your brother."
"That can't be another coincidence," said Reya.
They looked at each other. Cally said, "We have to find a way to stop it or block its effects."
"And we need to find out where that medical research facility is," said Reya.