Reya was getting an increasingly bad feeling about the mission. She was rechecking the status of the comm channels and the scanners in case there was a malfunction, when Sester arrived on the flight deck. He staggered down the steps and stood for a moment, trying to steady himself. Reya looked over and was about to ask him what he was doing there when she noticed his odd behaviour. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked.
Sester came over slowly, trying to walk in a straight line towards her and only having limited success. He thought that he was doing wonderfully considering. “Wanted to see you,” he replied. Speech seemed a bit of an effort too.
“You’re drunk,” said Reya with irritation.
At the tone in her voice, Sester said, “Don’t be disappointed in me, Reya. You’re a hard woman to get over. Needed some help.”
He looked so dejected that Reya’s manner softened. “You’re not going to do it by getting drunk.”
Sester’s face brightened with a self-mocking smile. “Didn’t know that until after I got drunk.” He sat back heavily onto the couch.
Reya sighed sadly; the situation with Sester was not going to be resolved that easily. She hoped that some of his extreme reaction was a result of Vanora's presence on the ship and that he would not find it so hard after she was gone. Reya couldn't help but feel badly for him. She felt it was partially her fault, even though her mind told her that it wasn't.
She told him, “Can you sit there quietly? It’s important. I’m expecting the mission teams to report in any minute.” From the looks of the drunken man, she doubted if he could get up again without assistance, never mind leave the flight deck.
“Course. I’ll be quiet,” replied Sester with a smile as he put a finger to his lips to emphasize his ability to be silent.
In the teleport room, Cally waited anxiously. She knew that Reya often had good instincts about danger; she hoped that this time the instinct would prove to be wrong. As always, she was aware of Avon at the periphery of her consciousness. She knew that he was preoccupied with what he was doing. His stress level had increased.
Cally was still lightly linked to the children. They seemed excited, scared and curious. She continued to send them reassurances.
Avon finished downloading parts of the research facility’s database to his handheld unit and then sent out virus programs to wipe out all of the information stored in the complexes’ computer network. He was also keeping a close eye on the maturation panel readings. He could feel Argus approaching and standing behind him.
“How much longer, Avon?" asked Argus.
"It's done," said Avon as he deactivated the pods and released the latch controls. Each of the pods opened up with a soft swish.
Argus said, "Alright. Everyone grab the babies and get ready to leave."
The soldiers all got closer to the pods but no one made a move to take one of the babies. They all looked nervously at each other and the infants. No one seemed to want to make the first move.
Vila realized they were all too nervous and would need some encouragement. He stepped forward to one of the pods and carefully lifted the infant up and cradled it in his arms. The toddler smiled encouragingly at him. "See. It's easy. Just move slowly and you won't scare them."
Vila's example seemed to spur everyone to action. Except for Avon and the team that was to run interference for the others, they all started removing the babies from the pods. Even though the infants were physically closer to two years old now, it was still a strange sight with the big, muscled soldiers carrying them. Most of the soldiers carried two; one cradled in an arm and one riding on their shoulders. With their free hands, they carried their weapons. The men all seemed to have astonished and shy smiles on their faces as they regarded the children.
Vila shook his head with wry amusement. You'd think they'd never seen a baby before. He looked down at the little one in his own arms. It was hard not to be mesmerized by the soft face and the beautiful smile; he felt at peace.
Argus used his earcomm. “Team one and team three. We’re ready. Set off the last of the explosives and fall back to the transport tube.” Dain and the other team acknowledged.
While Argus did this, Avon was watching the reaction of Vila and the soldiers holding the babies with interest. He had a suspicion and decided to try something. Avon sent his thoughts out. * Children. *
A tiny voice he recognized from before spoke into his mind eagerly. * Uncle Avon! Is it all right to talk to you now? Mother and Auntie Cally said that we shouldn't bother you or any of the soldiers. *
Avon said * Yes. You shouldn't bother us while we are trying to rescue you. But I need you to listen. *
The little voice said * Yes, Uncle Avon. Auntie Cally said we are to do what you say. She says you're very smart. *
Avon said * Good. I know that you said that you're not talking to the soldiers. But are you doing anything else to them? *
The tiny voice replied * Yes, Uncle Avon. We are doing what we did with you. After we hurt you before, we tried to help you feel better. We are doing the same thing with the soldiers and the uncle with the funny faces. We thought it would be all right. Did we do something wrong? *
Avon realized these children had a great deal of power but they were too young. The abilities seemed natural to them and but they didn't have the wisdom to know when they shouldn't use them. It made them very dangerous even though the children meant well; they had to be handled carefully.
Avon told them * I need you to stop what you are doing. It is distracting the soldiers from rescuing you. *
* We're sorry, Uncle Avon. * The tiny voice was distressed.
Avon said * I know. But I need all of you to promise me that you will not do anything else unless you ask Auntie Cally or me first. Do you understand? *
* Yes, Uncle Avon * said the tiny voice.
* Good. The soldiers will be taking you out of this room soon. There will be a lot of noise and running. Do not be frightened. Everything will be fine. But you must be very quiet and not bother Vila or the soldiers. Do you understand? *
* We understand. *
Avon realized that the children trusted him implicitly. They believed in him; there was no doubt in their little minds. How long does it take children to learn the dangers of trusting like this?
There was a hollow feeling inside him; he didn't remember when he had learned it. He had a flash of remembered emotion and the sound of a small voice. No! You're lying! With shock, Avon recognized it as his own. He reached for the memory…
* Uncle Avon, are you all right? * a tiny voice broke through to him; it was full of worry.
Avon shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. * Yes. There is no need for concern. You must be silent now. *
Argus said, "Alright, let's move out." Avon joined the others and kept an eye on the surveillance feeds on his monitor screen as they all left the room. After moving a far enough distance from the research labs where the children had been kept, Argus directed one of the soldiers, "Set off the explosives in the labs." This would not only destroy the research labs where the children had been kept, but would also serve as a counter distraction so that they, and distraction teams could escape while the enemy rushed to protect the labs.
"Argus." Avon caught his attention. At that moment, the lab was destroyed in a satisfyingly large explosion.
"What do you see?" whispered Argus as he came up to him.
Avon pointed to one of the surveillance feeds. "Three up ahead."
Argus nodded. "Team two. With me." He and four of the soldiers moved ahead.
With Argus and Dain's teams running interference, the main group with the children got safely to the transport pod without being seen.
Vila asked, "Is it me or are things going a bit too smoothly?"
Argus rushed in with the last team. "Quickly, they're right behind us." He and Dain covered from the doorway as everyone began to file into the pod. It was even more of a squeeze than before with the addition of the children.
When the last one was in, Argus said, "Dain, go." While the lieutenant joined the others, Argus closed the door of the room and shot out the door panel. He entered the transport as everyone tried to make room for him. Avon pressed the button to seal the pod and set the controls. They could all feel the pod powering up and then there was a beeping alarm sound.
"What is it?" asked Argus.
Avon checked the panel. "We've exceeded the capacity of the transport. It can't handle the additional weight of the children. We never expected them to be this size."
Argus asked, "How much, Avon? How much weight do we have to lose?"
At that moment, there was banging on the transport room door and then sounds of laser fire hitting it.
"We've run out of time," said Argus. He knew what had to be done. Suddenly he reached across Avon and pressed the door control. The pod door slid open. He jumped out of the transport and hit the control to close it. He kept his finger on the button to keep the door closed.
It happened so fast that none of them had time to react until the pod door had closed again and they saw Argus standing on the other side. Argus turned his head towards the door that was showing signs of weakening under the laser fire.
"What are you doing?" asked Avon as he tried to override the door control.
Argus faced him and replied with grim resolve, “What has to be done. Avon, you have to get the children out of here. It’s the only thing that’s important. The Andromedans must never know that they're still alive.” He reached for the control that would send the pod heading towards the surface. For a moment, his hand hovered over the button, and then he looked up and caught Avon’s eyes. He said, “Tell Reya that I need her to do this. For me. Tell her...I’m sorry.” With that, Argus slammed his hand down on the control.
As the transport pod started moving away, they saw Argus whirl around with his rifle and fire in the direction of the door.
As the transport pod hurtled towards the surface, everyone was still stunned at what just happened. Vila moved awkwardly, trying to find a more comfortable position for the toddler he was holding. It was extremely crowded in the pod. His foot hit something and he looked down.
He shouted, “Avon!”
Avon looked at him and then followed his eyes down towards the floor of the pod. There was a teleport bracelet lying next to Vila’s foot.
Vila asked, “Why would he do that?” He had a sickening feeling in his stomach as he stared at it and remembered his own words. Things were not going smoothly now.
There was a grim look on Avon’s face.