He looked down the corridor again and smiled wryly to himself. It didn’t matter. He didn’t regret what he had done earlier. It had been an easy decision for him, though it was not an easy thing to do. The only thing he knew was that Avon had needed it.
Argus knew that for a man like Avon, trusting anyone was difficult. It entailed a tremendous personal risk. After all that had been done to him, Avon needed somewhere he could feel safe; even though he would refuse to admit that he did. Argus knew that it must have been terrifying for Avon to discover that the one thing he always thought he could depend on, his own mind, he could no longer trust. The weeks following Avon's rescue from Servalan had been nerve-wracking for all of them. They had to keep a close eye on him in order to prevent him from killing himself.
Argus knew that Avon desperately needed to regain control over his own life; he had to know that he had a choice again. In their therapy sessions together, Argus had become aware that Avon’s secret fear, the one he would never acknowledge, was that at any moment, everything could be taken from him again; and he would be reduced to nothing but a puppet subject to someone else’s will. Argus was determined that Avon would never feel that way again.
“I’ve located it,” said Avon.
Argus looked back at him and said, “Good. Where are they keeping them?”
“There’s an underground facility below this one. That’s where the most sensitive research is being carried out,” said Avon.
“I suppose the teleport is out?” asked Argus.
“Unfortunately, even when I disable the shielding around this complex, the underground portion of the facility is too deep for teleport operation.”
“How do we get in then?” asked Argus.
“There are several transportation channels that are possible. The best ones for our purposes are the ones used for conveying supplies. I’ll check the transport schedules. There should be one we can use. If not, I can probably issue fake orders to make it appear as if one of the transport tubes is already in use.”
“Have you found out any information about the hybrid research?” asked Argus.
“I’m still searching. I have established controls over the security network,” said Avon. “I can bring down the energy shield anytime. I’ve also made links to their surveillance system.”
“Excellent work, Avon. Once you find the transport channel we can use, we can get the others.”
Avon concentrated on the screen again.
“They’re developing at an amazing rate,” said Vanora with a soft smile of wonder. Her eyes were closed again as she concentrated on the minds of her far-away offspring. “They’re beyond the gestation stage. I can talk to them now. Simple things. They know who I am.”
Cally tried to concentrate her own psi abilities. She had a vague impression but little more. “Are you deliberately blocking my access to the children?”
Vanora opened her eyes and looked at her in surprise. “Why would I do that? What would I have to gain?”
“Why don’t you tell me?” asked Cally with suspicion.
“You must stop being so mistrustful of me, little sister,” said Vanora.
“You haven’t given me a reason to trust you,” said Cally.
“I’ve already given you the ability to disable my psi abilities. What other proof do you need?” asked Vanora.
“We haven’t yet,” said Cally. “Now answer my question and stop calling me little sister.”
Vanora’s face lit up in a bright, warm smile. This was a smile that used to be on Galena’s face, but it had an additional mischievous quality to it. “You cannot ignore genetics, Cally. No matter how much you would like to. You can consider me one of the…’black sheep of the family’; I believe the Terrans call it. But we are family nonetheless. We are the last two of our sibling group left. Why would you deny our connection?”
“You make it very easy to,” said Cally. “And you’re still avoiding my question.”
“I think you’ve been around Avon too long. His suspicious nature is influencing you,” said Vanora.
“I don’t need anyone’s influence to be suspicious of you,” said Cally. Her eyes narrowed. “Leave Avon alone, Vanora.” There was a stern warning in her voice.
“Are you threatening me with violence, sister? I really wouldn’t recommend it. Remember, you haven’t disabled my psi abilities yet. There are things I am capable of that you have no idea of. For example, did you know that my ability to affect pheromone response is not confined to males? I believe there is another female on this ship.” For a brief moment, Vanora had a far away look in her eyes and then she gave a brief smile. “She’s currently with someone. Someone who has a strong interest in her. What would you think the effect would be if I activated the pheromone centres in both their brains?”
Reya was still on the flight deck, monitoring the comm channels. She was absently drawing on a graphics pad. It was a space view of the planet that her brother had given to her as a pledging gift.
Someone cleared his throat. Without turning around to see who it was Reya asked, “What do you want, Sester?”
“How did you know it was me?” He came down the flight deck steps and crossed over to where she was sitting.
She looked up at him irritably. “Don’t you ever take ‘no’ for an answer?”
“Depends on the question,” he said facetiously as he sat down next to her on the couch; but not close enough to make her uncomfortable. He glanced down at the pad she had been working on. “That’s a beautiful planet,” he remarked.
Reya put the pad on the table, faced down and turned towards him. “I’m not interested in a social conversation with you, Sester.”
“Neither am I,” he told her.
She eyed him warily, “Then what are you here for?”
“We have to talk. This may be the only opportunity we have. Once your shadow is back on the ship, we may never have this chance again,” said Sester.
“My shadow?” asked Reya.
Sester replied, “Isn’t that what he is? Except when you’re both working apart, he’s with you wherever you go. Either you’re trying to avoid me or he’s making sure we’re never alone together.”
She said, “You can twist either one of those to your advantage no matter which one I say is true, so I won’t.”
Sester grinned, “You have such faith in my abilities.”
“I would hardly call it faith,” said Reya sardonically.
Sester’s grin widened into an easy smile. He was having fun; he always did with her. “Can we talk then?”
“Will you leave me alone from now on if I agree to?” asked Reya.
“Only if you want me to,” said Sester.
Reya studied his face, trying to assess his intentions. Unlike Argus, she did not get a sense of danger when she was around Sester. She knew that she should, but she didn’t.
“Alright, say what you want to say,” said Reya.
Sester was very aware of Reya as he began talking. The annoyed look on her face, the hard set of her jaw, the expressiveness of her eyes all told him that she didn’t want him to be there. He was determined to change that; he knew her well enough to know that he would be able to.
“Before I begin, I want you to know that I never intended for this to happen. I have never meant you any harm. I want you to believe that.” Sester’s tone was simple and sincere. There was a naked earnestness in his eyes.
At his words, Reya realized she had made a serious mistake. She recognized this Sester; this one made her uncomfortable. She did not want to hear from this one. This was the man who had been there for her when she thought she had lost everything and didn’t want to go on. When he spoke, his compassion was so close she could almost feel it.
It was hard to separate out her memories of what he had done for her and her suspicions of his behaviour now. They both looked and sounded the same. She hated that she couldn’t just dismiss what he was saying. I can’t let you get to me. It was a mistake to let you stay. But I promised I would listen. Reya steeled herself, trying to remember that he was devious and could not be trusted.
The psychostrategist part of Sester noted her reactions and knew that his words were having the desired effect. It was too easy. The part of him that had feelings for her was thrilled and at the same time, he could not ignore a sense of guilt at what he was doing. Despite her efforts to hide it, Sester had no problems reading her. He knew the struggle she was having; he knew she was fighting herself. It was very deliberate on his part. In the end, he knew he would win. If Argus had been there, Sester knew that he would never have stood a chance. Alone, Reya was vulnerable because she had witnessed a side of Sester no one else had. He doubted if it was something she had told anyone, and especially not Argus. It was like a secret between them and it would be her undoing.
Sester said, “When were down on Papos, after I was injured, you could have left me to die. You had every opportunity to and it would have been very easy for you. You had no ties to me. But you decided to stay with me and make sure that I was taken care of. And you ended up paying a terrible price for it. Then we became so busy planning our escape and trying to stay alive that I never thanked you properly. I'm very grateful for what you did, Reya. If it weren't for you, I would be dead now.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” said Reya. She had not expected the conversation to go this way; she had anticipated something that she could rebuff, not this gratitude and sincerity. I should have known it would not be easy with someone like you. “I would have done that for anyone.” Not just you.
“Yes, you would have,” agreed Sester. There was appreciation in his voice and gentle admiration in his eyes as he regarded her. "That's what makes you so special."
"There is nothing special about me. I only did what anyone would have done," said Reya.
Sester smiled softly and shook his head, "No. Not anyone. Very few people would have done what you chose to do for me."
"Is that what this is about? You think that because I saved your life, it must mean that I have feelings for you?" Reya asked.
Sester replied, "No. It's not that." His eyes searched out hers, trying to gauge her emotional state.
"Then what is it?" asked Reya.
He deliberately hesitated, as if he were reluctant to continue, then he said, "It's about all the things you don't want to remember about our time together."
Reya said immediately, “Please, stop.”
Sester looked confused. “Did I say something wrong?”
“Yes….No…I mean…I don’t want to hear anymore.” His gentleness and consideration reminded her of someone she did not want to fight. With shock, she realized that he was sitting right next to her now. She hadn’t noticed him moving closer. Her breathing had quickened.
Reya knew she should get away from him but something was stopping her. An irresistible force seemed to be drawing them towards each other.
Sester could see the misery and conflict in her eyes. He didn’t want her to be this unhappy but at the same time he was very aware of her body next to his. Sester couldn’t even remember himself moving closer to her.
Trying to fight her own rising desire, Reya said desperately, “You have to go. Please. I want you to go.”
Sester was very close now, his body almost touching hers. He said in a husky and irresistable voice, “This is what you want. This is what we both want.” An impulse caused him to put his arms around her. The physical contact seemed to connect them instantly.
Reya gasped in surprise, it was as if a current of energy passed between them.
For a moment, Sester felt her muscles harden to repulse him but then she seemed frozen in shock. He kissed her. With astonishment he could feel her responding to him; they were both caught up in an overwhelming passion. No more thought was possible. They were two bodies entwined, seeking pleasure and finding it in each other.
"Stop it!" said Cally as she realized what Vanora was doing and whom she was referring to. "How could you possibly expect me to believe you when you do something like this?" she said angrily.
"Then stop trying to threaten me, Cally. I don't respond well to it. Not even from a sister," said Vanora.
Cally tried to control her feelings. Vanora was a dangerous woman and until they were able to disable her psi abilities, she had to be handled carefully. "Very well. I will refrain from making any more threats. But I need you to stop trying to influence the people on this ship."
Vanora smiled mischievously again, "But they're having so much fun, I really hate to interrupt them. They're very entertaining."
"Vanora! Stop it!" shouted Cally. "Leave them alone!" She plunged her hand into her pants pocket and pulled out a small black box. When Vanora continued smiling and did not respond, Cally depressed a button on the device briefly. Vanora gasped in pain and grabbed her wrist; she was wearing the modified tracer bracelet that Avon had made.
"That was just a small taste," said Cally. "I don't want to do it but you left me no choice. Now stop what you're doing and leave them alone."
"You have more promise than I thought. Alright, I'll stop it." She closed her eyes and concentrated for a few seconds. There was a knowing smile when she opened them again. "It's done."
"What did you do?" Cally asked abruptly. Everything this woman did made her apprehensive.
"I told you. I stopped affecting their pheromone centres," said Vanora. There was still an amused smile on her face.
"What aren't you telling me?" asked Cally.
"So very suspicious. You really do show promise, Cally. I think Avon has been a good influence on you. You might just live long enough to enjoy a life together. I was telling the truth. I have stopped what I was doing. But that doesn't guarantee that they have both stopped. In fact, I'm fairly certain that they haven't."
"You don't care who you hurt, do you?" asked Cally angrily as she stood up and prepared to go and rescue Reya from doing something she would regret.
"What good is a warning if it's not effective?" asked Vanora. "I think this warning was very effective. I do not like being threatened."
"This is not over," said Cally as she went to the door and activated the panel control. She took a step outside and then stopped abruptly and came back inside. Cally stood in front of Vanora and accused her, "You're a liar."
"What are you talking about?" asked Vanora.
"You just said that you stopped affecting their pheromone centres with your mind. You've been lying to us. You could stop it anytime you wanted to," said Cally heatedly.
"Oh that. I told you, my personal abilities work on an individual level. That is still something I can control. The psi broadcasting ability which affects en masse is something which is outside of my control."
"How can I trust anything that you say?" asked Cally.
Vanora sighed. "It is difficult. That's true. It's one of the drawbacks of living the kind of life I've chosen."
"Aren't you tired of the lies? The falsehoods? You've shown us so many faces, I wonder if you know who you are anymore," said Cally.
Vanora's face became very sombre; her eyes reflected a deep sadness. "Sometimes, I do wonder that myself. I used to believe in something once. I wanted to help our people. Like you, I knew we were headed for trouble. It doesn't matter if you don't like my methods. None of our people liked our methods, Cally. Yours or mine. That's why you were exiled. And I was shut down. They tried to silence me. Not the permanent kind but it might as well have been. That's why I had to leave. I couldn't stay and be silenced."
"For a moment there, I almost believed you," said Cally. "I almost felt sympathy for you."
Vanora sighed heavily and gave a short self-mocking laugh. "It doesn't matter anymore. I thought that finding you, a fellow Auron would make a difference. But it doesn't. We're both as alone as we were before we met. We will never see from the same perspective. You will never trust me and I can never be someone you can trust. You asked me if I know who I am anymore? I am a survivor, Cally. It's the only thing I have left."
Cally was still very suspicious of her but Vanora sounded as if she was finally speaking the truth. "You have your children now."
Vanora asked cynically, "For how long? Didn't Avon and Argus go down there to kill them?"
"I asked Avon to give them a chance. I know he will try," said Cally.
"I wish that I had as much faith in him as you do," said Vanora with sadness. "If I were them, I would not take the chance. It is much safer for the human race if this threat wasn't hanging over them. But they are my children. I can feel them with my mind. They know who I am. They're afraid, Cally. And I don't know what to tell them." Her voice choked.
Cally put a hand on her shoulder, "I believe that you love these children. It's the only thing I am certain of. Perhaps because it's new and you haven't learned how to hide it yet. You don't want them to die and neither do I. With them, you're not alone anymore. I think that means a great deal to you. You're willing to do almost anything for them."
Vanora lifted her head. Her eyes reflected fear and vulnerability. "You will help me? Help them?"
"We're all going to try," said Cally. She knew Avon had promised that the killing of the children would be left as the last possible option but she didn't even want that now. The children had to be saved. "But you need to work with me. No more lies."
"As long as you save the children. I'll do anything you ask."
Cally asked, "Were you telling the truth when you said that you cannot stop the mass effect?"
"I swear to you, Cally. I have no control over it. Ellis must have files on what was done to me. If Avon finds those files then you will know that I'm telling you the truth."
Cally stood looking at her. She was not certain about this woman; every instinct told her that she still couldn’t be trusted. Nevertheless, at the same time, she believed that Vanora was finally telling her some truth. Cally remembered in shock, “I forgot about Reya!” She had been about to stop another tragedy from occurring but had been caught up in what Vanora was saying. Cally rushed out and headed for the flight deck in a run.