Argus said to Avon, “I’m going to need you to access their computer network to find out where they’re keeping them." There was carefully formality in his tone.
“You need me to come with you this time? Didn’t you say that Vila could handle the computers?” sneered Avon.
Argus’s eyes met his; he had been expecting this contest of wills. It was against Argus’s pride to back down in any conflict, he never had before, but he knew that it wasn’t about his pride here. Avon felt he had to do this and Argus understood why. It had to do with Servalan and what she had done to him.
For three years, Avon had been little more than a plaything for her; subject to her every whim. He had been an object to be used, a puppet to be controlled. She had tried to take away his will, not just his freedom. Argus knew that none of them would ever be able to imagine what it must have been like for him. He knew that even after all of these months, there wasn’t a day in which Avon didn’t still feel Servalan’s control over him. She had made sure he would never be free from her. Every day that he was dependent on the drugs, whenever he tried to do something and found that he no longer could, it was a horrible reminder of everything she had done to him. She had nearly destroyed him and Avon feared that at any moment, she still could.
For Avon, regaining control over his own life was something he desperately needed. And once he got it back, he would never let it go again, to anyone, or for any reason. It was so important that it was even blinding him to priorities.
Argus knew what he had to do to resolve this. It was the worst possible time to tackle this issue but it had been his own fault. He had not thought through the implications of his own actions earlier; he had only been concerned about Avon’s physical needs.
The onus was on him now. Avon was waiting to see what he would do. Argus knew that to fix this, he had to take a risk and perhaps pay a price. How large a price depended on Avon. It was a test of trust and a decision about the true nature of their relationship. They both recognized that even though Argus had instituted a partnership between the two of them; the final power still lay with him.
Argus took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He had to take the time to do this, even in the middle of a mission. All of their lives depended on the trust between the two men.
Argus said to Avon, “Can we talk for a moment? Over here?” He indicated a corner away from the others.
Avon replied sarcastically, “In the middle of a mission? That’s not very professional of you.”
Argus said, “If the mission is compromised because we no longer trust each other, then I don’t think the others can afford to have us not resolve this.”
Avon looked at him suspiciously, wondering what he was up to. “Alright.” He followed Argus to the area indicated. The others moved away to give them even more privacy.
Once there, Argus said, “I’ll make this quick. I was wrong. You were always the only one who could tackle the computer systems. It would have saved time having you come with me in the first place as you had insisted. It was not my only consideration. But I should have told you the truth; I should never have tried to manipulate you.”
“No. You shouldn’t have,” said Avon coldly.
Argus nodded in acquiescence.
Avon sneered, “Did you think that a simple apology will resolve this? Then we can get back to the mission?”
“I know that you hate appearing weak; that was why you refuse to be manipulated. You wanted to push this issue because you wanted the others to see me back down. I have now. What else do you want from me, Avon?” asked Argus.
“It’s not enough,” said Avon.
“Why, Avon? Do you really have to see how far you can push me? Are we at the stage where you decide to take over leadership?” asked Argus.
“What if I said yes?” asked Avon.
“Is that what you want?” asked Argus. Is this the price you want me to pay, Avon?
“Are you prepared to give up the leadership to me? Or do I have to take it?” asked Avon with coldness in his eyes. There seemed to be a chill in the room.
“Which do you want me to say?” asked Argus.
“Are you saying that you would give the leadership up to me willingly? Without a fight?” asked Avon.
“If you can no longer trust me as the leader. Then yes,” said Argus.
“Are you prepared to tell the others yourself?” asked Avon.
Avon knew that Argus would find a way out of the situation they found themselves in, but he had never expected him to do this. He wasn’t sure what Argus was doing; the man kept giving ground regardless of how much Avon pushed him. Avon knew that this was something very unnatural for someone like Argus to do. This man never backed down unless he felt he had no other choice. Avon could not understand the choice Argus was making.
He also wasn’t sure why he kept pushing Argus either. Avon had not intended to push the leadership issue; that was not why he had instigated this conflict. He knew that with his own precarious condition, he would never be able to stand the stresses involved. Avon didn’t know if it was some predatory instinct on his own part or if he really did want to know if Argus had a point beyond which he would no longer be willing to be pushed.
Argus hesitated and then he said, “It would be more effective if I did.”
“No hesitations? No regrets? No complaints?” asked Avon.
“Do you want me to do it now?” asked Argus. There was blankness in his expression. His eyes had never left Avon’s.
“Why are you doing this?” asked Avon.
“Isn’t this what you wanted?” asked Argus.
“What happened to being partners?” asked Avon accusingly. “Or was that something you only said to gain my cooperation without intending to honour?”
Argus grimaced and said, “I did mean it. I still do. I didn’t think through the implications of what I was doing when I tried to manoeuvre you.”
“Once you break a trust, it is hard to regain,” said Avon. His voice was still hard but he was no longer being adversarial. The atmosphere between them was different now; something had changed.
“I understand that,” said Argus.
“For this to work, you can never manipulate me again,” said Avon. “For any reason.”
“I understand,” said Argus.
“I need truth from you. Not lies. Not manipulation.”
Argus paused for a moment before he responded. “I need the same from you, Avon. It cannot be a one sided exchange. Anything less and it will not be a true partnership.”
“Don’t make me regret this,” said Avon.
“The only thing I can promise you is that I will try,” said Argus. “Is that enough for you?”
“I’ll let you know,” said Avon.
“You’re a difficult man, Avon.”
“And you’re not?”
Argus asked lightly, “Do you plan to do this every time we have a conflict? I would like to know if I need to build in time for it during missions.”Avon stared at him. “Shall we go and find the computer system? I believe there is something pressing we need to do.” He headed towards the exit and Argus followed.
Vila had been nervous as the two men conversed in the corner. He wished he were there to help head off any potential disasters. Avon and Argus were both proud and stubborn men; every inch Alphas and as such, unwilling to bow to anyone.
Avon seemed much better after some rest. His eyes were bright with energy and he didn’t seem to have any problems standing toe-to-to during the conflict with Argus. There was no sign of weakness.
Vila had been puzzled by some of what Avon had said to him about this conflict with Argus. He said that Argus would find a way for it to work. Vila wondered what that meant.
Avon was having an extreme reaction to being manipulated. Vila knew that he always hated it but this time it was different. There was something going on. He knew that part of Avon’s response must be a result of what Servalan did to him; but it was more than that. Avon had deliberately forced this confrontation with Argus even though the man had good intentions.
Vila wondered when he had changed his own opinions about Argus. He hadn’t even realized it had occurred until now. Argus was military, even the ex- didn’t make a difference; in Vila’s estimation that was already a strike against him. He was more physically fit than anyone had a right to be and he carried himself with a confidence that Vila found annoying at times. And he was much too serious.
Despite all of this, Vila found himself starting to like this man. It wasn’t just because Argus had put his own life at risk in order to protect him. Something about him made Vila trust him.
Vila knew that he didn’t have to stay. Unlike before, he had his own resources now; he didn’t have to depend on anyone. The fortunes that the Pleasure City had given all of them ensured that. For the first time in his life, he really had a choice. He could go his own way and he found that he didn’t want to. He liked being here. These people mattered to him. And now that he discovered the Federation had tried to condition him into following blindly, he wanted to learn to make his own decisions. He wanted to make his own mark. These people needed him. Avon had the brains, Argus had the military expertise, Cally had her psi abilities, he wasn’t sure what Reya’s contribution was, except that she kept Argus in line, but none of them had the common sense that he did.
After a few minutes, Avon and Argus seemed to have reached some kind of understanding. Vila could see that there was less tension between them now. He was glad. The days ahead would need them to work together.
Cally was in Vanora’s cabin, keeping an eye on her.
“They’re afraid,” said Vanora as she tried to keep the connection with her offspring. Her eyes were closed as she reached outwards with her mind.
Cally, was seated in a chair next to her, watching. She asked, “I thought you said that they weren’t fully developed yet. That they only had a general awareness.”
“Yes, that was before.” She opened her eyes and focused them on Cally. “I suspect that the maturation cycle has been accelerated.”
Cally was alarmed. “Something must have happened if the Andromedans are speeding up their plans. I have to warn the others. They have to hurry.”
“Do you have a strong enough connection to Avon that you can communicate with him from this distance?” asked Vanora. The building they had infiltrated was shielded from wave energy of any kind, not just teleport.
“I can try.” Cally closed her eyes, concentrated on her awareness of Avon’s mind and tried to project her thoughts to him. She had been having a vague impression of rising stress and tension levels from him; but this was not unusual, he was on an important task...
* Avon. It’s Cally. Do you hear me? *
There was no response. She tried several more times but there was no variation in what she was sensing from him. He could not ‘hear’ her.
She told Vanora, “I can’t reach him. His mind must be occupied.”
“Do you have any indication if they’ve found the children yet?” asked Vanora.
Cally replied, “No. My link with him doesn’t include anything other than general impressions of emotional states.”
“You could change that,” said Vanora. “I could show you how. With your strong connection with each other, I think it would be possible. I’m surprised you hadn’t it discovered it yourself. Physical touch enhances our psi abilities with humans. With the most intimate of physical contacts, coupled with a strong prior mental connection, you should have already discovered that your bond becomes even stronger.”
Cally shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “We haven’t gotten that far.”
“What? You mean, you haven’t slept together yet? I thought that you shared a cabin together,” asked Vanora in surprise.
“It’s complicated. I do not wish to discuss it,” said Cally.
“Little sister, you really do have problems, don’t you,” said Vanora sympathetically.
“Stop calling me that,” said Cally.
“But we are sisters, as much as you would like to deny it. We’re even closer genetically than any natural Terran twins,” said Vanora.
“We may share the same genes, but we are nothing alike. I’m not an amoral opportunist,” said Cally.
“I prefer to think of myself as a successful survivor,” said Vanora.
“You don’t care who you hurt as long as you survive,” said Cally.
Vanora said sarcastically, “And what do you call killing my children? Isn’t that also a matter of survival?”
“We don’t want to,” said Cally. Her eyes reflected the struggle of conscience she was having. She had been trying to find a different solution but hadn’t been able to.
“Spare me the useless sentiments, sister. They mean nothing to me. All I know is that you are going to murder twenty-four innocent babies who have done nothing to anyone. Their only crime is that they exist.”
“Then help me to find a solution, Vanora. We don’t have much time. Hopefully when Avon brings down the defence shield and we can contact them, we will have enough time to stop this tragedy from occurring.”