The three women were still in Vanora's cabin talking. Both Reya and Cally were still very suspicious of her; and Vanora was wary of them. Now that her identity had been revealed, she felt exposed and vulnerable.
"We still can't trust the men around you," said Cally. "Not until we find a way to neutralize the affect you have on them. One of us will have to stay with you at all times."
"You still don't trust me? Even though I allowed you access to my mind?" asked Vanora.
"Your psi abilities are much more developed than mine. I can't be certain that what I was 'seeing' was the truth or only what you wanted me to perceive as the truth," said Cally.
Vanora smiled wryly. Both Cally and Reya found this a strange look as they tried to revise their opinions of her. There was still a sweetness to Vanora but it was different. Cally wondered if it was just a part of the act; or something that Vanora had lived with for so long, that it had become a part of her.
"Is there anything we can do to dampen or block this ability she has?" asked Reya.
"I'm not sure. I wasn't involved in the research into the physiological aspects of our psi abilities." She turned to Vanora. "But you were. Are there any?"
Vanora said, "I refuse to leave myself defenceless."
"That means yes then," said Reya.
"I doubt if you would believe me if I said no," said Vanora.
"You're right. What is the drug?" said Reya.
"Do you really think that I'm going to tell you? The drug dampens areas of the brain that enable psi abilities. It affects all of them. I will not expose myself to the risk of being completely defenceless. My abilities are the only thing I have. Without them I'm like everyone else," said Vanora.
"You have nothing to fear as long as you stay onboard this ship. We will protect you," said Reya.
"Can I trust any of you, any more than you can trust me?" challenged Vanora.
"Is being defenceless your real concern? Or is it that you don't want to be powerless?" asked Cally.
You are naïve little sister. "It's the same thing," said Vanora.
It isn't, Cally thought to her.
"Is that why you chose to fight? Because it's not about power? Or because it is?" challenged Vanora.
"It doesn't matter if you tell us or not," said Reya. "We can always give you a tranquilizer and keep you under until we resolve this. Then you will be completely helpless but you won't be awake to worry about it." There was hard look on her face. She did not like that this woman had had access to her brother. The implications of Vanora's abilities and the fact that she had used to them influence men to do what she wanted, was very disturbing.
"I don't think that will work," said Cally. She tried to sense Vanora but the other woman had blocked her again.
Vanora said, "She's right. It won't. This ability works on a subconscious level. It's active regardless of whether I'm awake or not."
Reya said, "The only solution left is to kill you." There was such a grim look on her face that it was hard to tell if she was serious or not.
"You wouldn't do that. You're too principled to kill an unarmed person," said Vanora.
"Cally wouldn't. How can you be sure that I won't?" asked Reya icily.
"I wouldn't be able to survive this long if I didn't have good instincts about people. I know you won't," said Vanora confidently.
An atypical snarl crossed Reya's face. She turned to Cally, "What do you think?"
"I'm fairly certain that you won't," said Cally. "What if we return her to the planet?"
"And run the risk that she really is working with Ellis? Since those are the only two options she is leaving us, then the choice is clear," said Reya. She looked Vanora squarely in the eyes, "If it came down to your life or the life of the people on this ship, I don't have a choice. I may be conflicted about it but I think my principles would survive killing an unarmed woman under those circumstances. I'm a military leader. Tough choices are my job."
"You wouldn’t…," said Cally.
"Are you going to try to stop me?" asked Reya. Her eyes caught Cally’s for a brief moment then she stepped forward and took Vanora by the elbow. “Get up,” Reya ordered as she pulled her up. Cally didn't say anything or make a move to stop her.
"You can't do this," said Vanora protesting. She tried to pull free but the pressure on her elbow could not be denied. There was a grim and no-nonsense look on Reya’s face as she propelled Vanora towards the doorway. Vanora wasn't so certain that she had read Reya right; she looked nervously to Cally, panic creeping into her voice, "You can't let her do this."
Cally did not get up from her seat but she said, "The longer this ability to affect the men is active, the more obsessed they become. The effects have been increasing since you came onboard. Do you really want them all to kill each other? They could destroy this ship, and all of us with it. It's no longer about your own survival. We can't compel you to tell us which drug will dampen your psi abilities, but we also can't allow you to endanger the ship. Don’t make it a hard choice for Reya."
Reya had stopped pulling the woman towards the door. Vanora still had a rebellious look on her face but there was also uncertainty. She said, "Alright, I'll tell you. But it's not that simple. It'll have to be synthesized. I hope the level of medical technology on your ship can handle it, we will need some sophisticated equipment."
"The Justice has some of the most advanced medical technology I've ever seen," said Cally.
"It will still take time," said Vanora. "The process can't be rushed."
"It sounds like you're stalling," said Reya. She had still not let go of Vanora's elbow.
"No. I'm not. I'm just trying to inform you of the difficulties."
"Do you believe her? You're the one with the psi ability," Reya asked Cally.
What shall I tell her? Cally thought to Vanora. She looked at her expectantly.
"I understand the danger. I’m only trying to help," said Vanora. Her eyes were earnest; looking more like the Galena they all thought had been real.
"We shall see," said Cally.
Avon stretched his back and tiredly rubbed his eyes. He had been staring at the screen for hours, trying to build the complex program needed to decode the files. He was attempting to apply some new concepts he had developed; it was the only way to break the encoding. His hands went to the back of his neck as he tried to knead the tight muscles. He could feel the onset of a tension headache.
He knew he couldn't let Cally down; he couldn't let any of them down. They depended on him. He had to get this done, no matter what it took.
Avon stared off into the distance, trying to rest his eyes. His mind naturally wandered to thoughts of Cally; he had been finding himself doing that a lot lately. Avon wondered if she was still with Galena and what she had discovered.
A fond smile lifted the corner of his lips briefly. Sometimes she showed as much interest in solving mysteries as he had. He knew she would be able to handle the situation; he had faith in her. It was the kind of trust he had only given to one other person before.
Avon had a strong impulse to speak to her with his mind; to reach out into the darkness to find his source of light. He wanted to hear Cally's soft and comforting voice in his mind. Avon wished he could sense her in the way she could him. It was a very uncharacteristic desire, but it felt right with her. She had become very important to him. When she was not around, he missed her.
He smiled wryly at the sentiment but decided not to send her his thoughts. Perhaps later. Now was not the time for uncharacteristic sentiment. It was the time for a more practical expression. He had to break the encryption.
Avon opened a drawer and took out the bio-injector he had obtained from the medical unit. He stared at it; it would be an easy solution to the tiredness. It was taking increasingly more of his energy to maintain the level of concentration he needed; and with Argus interrupting his sleep, he had even less of it than normal. It was very tempting to solve it with drugs.
Your body will not be able to stand the strain if it has to deal with the effects of withdrawal.
Sester's words came back to him in warning. Despite Avon's suspicions about the psychostrategist's motivations, he couldn't deny the truth of the message. He would also be letting Cally down if he allowed the drugs to become a problem. Without a second thought, he put the injector back in the drawer and continued working.
"Is that all you want?" Vila asked Sester. "Don't you want something a little more…"
"Obvious?" asked Sester.
"I was going to say, useful. Sometimes you can be so clever that no one will get it," said Vila.
"That usually indicates that you haven't been clever enough," said Sester as he adjusted some numbers on the datapad he had been using for inventory. Vila had come back into the medical bay to talk about their mutual goals and was leaning against one of the cabinets.
"I don’t understand why you'd want to do this," said Vila with a perplexed look on his face. "It doesn't make any sense. How is it supposed to help you?"
"You don't need to understand," said Sester. "Just help me to arrange it."
"It seems like a waste of time to me but if that's all you want," said Vila. He had a sneaking suspicion that Sester's psychostrategist mind had figured something out, but he couldn't for the life of him understand what.
"Yes. It's what I want. Now, how can I help you?" asked Sester. He input the final numbers into the datapad and put it down.
"We can't do anything yet. Not unless you can find a way to get Galena away from Cally and Reya," said Vila despondently.
"Don't tell me you're giving up already," said Sester.
"I never said I was giving up," said Vila indignantly. "But I don't see how it can be done. Have you seen Reya? I’m not tackling her."
"Wise man," said Sester. It was one of the things that attracted him to Reya; she wasn't for the faint of heart. There was a strong element of challenge in any relationship with her but for him; the rewards were more than worthwhile.
He looked curiously at Vila. He wondered how much of this attitude was an act. And if it was, was it for his benefit? Or did Vila still prefer having other people think for him; even after finding out that the Federation had encouraged this behaviour in their conditioning of recalcitrant Deltas.
Sester wasn’t often required to deal with Deltas in his work. They were usually little more than side inconveniences and easily taken care of. Deltas were either bull headed and were controlled by the application of superior force, or they were easily frustrated and tended to abdicate the thinking to whoever was closest. He wondered if it was something that Vila had thought about yet. Having the thief look to him for guidance was useful and would definitely increase his advantage on the ship.
He wondered how far Vila’s intelligence and capabilities extended; most of it seemed untapped. It seemed a shame to waste someone who could possibly be much more.
Sester said, “If you want to succeed with Galena, you have to look at the weakness of the people involved. You already know their strengths, that means you know what won’t work with them. Don’t view their strengths as difficulties; look at them as possibilities which can be eliminated.”
“I was thinking of something. But…” said Vila.
“What’s the problem?”
“There is one weakness both Argus and Reya have,” said Vila hesitantly.
“Each other.” Despite his own personal feelings, this was something Sester could not deny.
“Yes, that’s it. I don’t really want to hurt them but if I can convince Reya that Argus was in trouble…” said Vila. He didn’t feel comfortable mentioning this. It didn’t feel right to take advantage of Argus and Reya’s feelings for each other in order to manipulate them; but it was the only thing he could think of.
Vila didn’t feel comfortable working with Sester either, but as long as he was the one in control of what was done, he felt it would be safe enough. By cooperating, Vila was also advancing his own plans in keeping an eye on Sester and gaining the other man’s trust. He was in a good position, as long as he could maintain control of the situation.
“Then she would go to him and leave Galena unchaperoned? That may not work. She has a strongly ingrained sense of duty and there are too many possibilities to get around that kind of situation. She could easily get someone else to help Argus or to have Cally cover her with Galena,” said Sester.
“What if she thought that someone was getting Cally to help,” Vila said conspiratorially.
“You mean, what if you offered to be helpful but in reality you weren’t?” asked Sester.
Vila was animated as he thought out his plans aloud. His enthusiasm was infectious now that he was throwing himself into the planning. “Exactly. And if I could trap them in one of the storage rooms and arrange for the door controls to malfunction. Then they wouldn’t be able to get out. And I could swipe Reya’s teleport bracelet so they couldn’t contact anyone.“ There was a smile of anticipation on his face and his face was flushed with excitement. He was really looking forward to being alone with Galena.
“The plan sounds feasible. But you’ve forgotten one very important thing,” said Sester.
Vila thought it over but couldn’t identify anything he had overlooked. “What did I miss?” He wished that Sester would stop over-thinking things. The plan was perfectly fine and would get him what he wanted.
“What happens afterwards?” asked Sester.
“I get to have Galena all to myself. That’s the whole purpose of the plan. What’s wrong with that?” asked Vila.
Sester sighed and asked, “How do you think they’re all going to react afterwards? I don’t think they’ll be very happy with you. Do you? You may have gained some temporary time with Galena but in the end, it doesn’t do you any good; unless your charms are so irresistible that you can get her to run away with you. Then there’s the little matter of Kameron Reve, her warlord lover? He’s not known for being forgiving.”
“I hadn’t thought that far,” said Vila with consternation.
It’s a common failing, thought Sester but didn’t say it. This human weakness often made a psychostrategist’s work much easier than it should be. People had a tendency to be tunnel-visioned; so focused on their immediate goals that they couldn’t see the larger implications of their own actions.
Sester wondered if Vila had been told about the problems surrounding Galena. From the way Vila was acting, either he hadn’t been told or he didn’t believe it. The likelihood was that Argus had told him and Vila had mistaken it as ploy. Sester surmised that if he tried to tell Vila, that the same thing would happen, Vila would stop being so cooperative and begin seeing him as a threat for Galena’s attentions.
“Why don’t you concentrate on removing Argus as a threat?” asked Sester.
Vila didn’t like the sounds of this. He asked, “What do you have in mind?”
Sester smiled, “Nothing too drastic. But Argus also has another weakness where Reya is concerned. He’s afraid of her.”
Vila started laughing. “We are talking about Argus, aren’t we?”
“I’m serious,” said Sester.
“He loves her. Why would he be afraid of her? It doesn’t make any sense,” said Vila.
“He’s afraid of her precisely because he does love her,” said Sester. He hadn’t understood this before either, until he met Argus and Reya. “She means everything to him. He’s terrified of letting her down or hurting her. He would never forgive himself if he did.”
Vila’s face had softened and there was a far away look in his eyes, “That’s beautiful. I wish Galena and I were like that.”
This was one of the reasons why Sester hated Argus; he wasn’t sure he was capable of giving Reya that kind of love. But it was also why he respected him.
Vila had a troubled look on his face, “I don’t know. It doesn’t feel right to use their feelings that way.”
“But if he also has feelings about Galena, then that’s not right either. You would be helping them, Vila,” suggested Sester.
“Well, I suppose it’s alright then.” Vila wondered if he had just allowed himself to be persuaded because he had a vested interest in having Galena all to himself.