Avon turned to face the transport door while the soldiers did what they needed to do.
The alien troops readied themselves as the pod slowed and arrived on the transport pad. They were prepared to follow orders and shoot all of the occupants but leave one alive.
Looking through the clear partition of the pod though, the choice of survivor was simplified for them. There appeared to be only one occupant of the transport pod. He was a tall man in a black jacket and his hands were held away from his sides so that they could see he was not carrying a weapon.
One of the Andromedans activated the control to unseal and open the pod. The door slid open. All of the alien troops already had their rifles pointed towards the opening.
Argus's questioner said, "Come out slowly. Keep your hands up."
The single occupant walked slowly towards them. He moved with the confidence of a man who was in control of a situation he couldn't possibly be in control of. Unless he knew something they didn't.
As the transport slowed, Avon was alone in the pod. He was ready and the soldiers were waiting for his signal to appear. Avon was calm and controlled; there was no indication of emotion on his face. He could not afford any, not if they all wanted to survive and get Argus out alive.
He could see the alien soldiers as the pod stopped, they all seemed ready to shoot him the moment he exited the pod. For a moment Avon's lips parted in a crooked smile and then his face became expressionless and controlled again. He held his hands away from his body, keeping his palms open so that they could see that he was unarmed.
The transport door slid open. Avon could hear one of them order him out of the pod. He walked confidently towards the speaker. At the threshold of the transport pod door, he stopped and looked around slowly and deliberately, taking in the situation.
Argus was lying in a pool of blood; he did not look good but at least he was still alive. Avon did not react; it was as if it was just another piece of information to be processed.
Avon had identified the speaker as the one with authority over the other aliens in the room. He said to him, "I am here to negotiate your surrender."
The speaker’s eyes widened in surprise and then he started laughing. "Delightful! Is this what you humans call a bluff?"
Avon replied, "It would be, if I were human. Most people know better than to accuse me of being one."
The questioner asked, "You're one of the Auronar?" There was no question that this prospect excited him.
The corners of Avon's lips curled in a smile that did not touch any other part of his face. He said, "Worse."
The questioner asked, "What does that mean?"
Avon said, "Do you really think that you're the only ones with designs on this galaxy?"
"You mean…no it can't be. They don't have enough imagination to make this kind of move." The questioner eyed him suspiciously. "You're not bluffing. You must be stalling. Continue coming forward. Slowly." He directed the soldiers, "Check the pod and don't forget the roof."
Avon did as the questioner instructed. He kept his hands up as he walked unhurriedly away from the entrance of the transport pod. Once he cleared the opening, the alien soldiers went inside to search. There wasn't anywhere to hide in the pod. They immediately checked the roof.
After a thorough search, the soldiers reported, "The roof is clear."
The questioner looked at Avon. "I was certain that you had someone up there."
Avon said, "Perhaps your people made a mistake. They could check it again. I'll wait."
The questioner said, "Now I know you're stalling. You want us to waste our time. There must be something else going on."
"I assure you, there is," said Avon with an oddly ingenuous smile.
The alien questioner had no idea what to make of this man. "You don't seem like a fool. Coming down here like this, with no support, that's suicide. You must have a reason why you're so confident."
"We all have our foolish days. Unfortunately for you, today is not one of mine," said Avon as he suddenly dropped to the ground, covering Argus with his body.
Argus grunted, he hadn’t thought it was possible to be in more pain from his injuries but he was discovering a whole new level of agony now. He was about to protest vehemently except that he heard a sudden commotion and then gunfire.
The aliens were all focused on Avon’s surprising move and didn't see Lieutenant Dain and his team sliding down the sides of the transport tube. The team immediately rushed forward and began firing. The Andromedan troops barely had enough time to whirl around to face the new threat when they were all brought down with quick efficiency by Dain’s team.
After it was all over, Argus was finally able to gasp out a pained, "Avon. Get off me."
Avon got up slowly and carefully, trying not to hurt him any further. He knelt down beside Argus and began examining his injuries. Dain and his team kept watch at the doorway in case anyone else decided to come visiting at an awkward moment.
“What are you doing here?" asked Argus.
Avon knew what he was really asking and replied, "The children are safely on their way. Cally and Reya are getting them out."
"Why aren't you with them?" asked Argus.
"I have problems with following anyone's orders. I believe we've already established that," said Avon.
"So you're doing this just to be contrary? I should have told you to stay then," said Argus with a pained laugh. This caused him to started coughing. His fists clenched tightly at the pain this caused. He began wheezing. Avon watched helplessly, unable to help.
When Argus finally stopped coughing and lay back Avon said, “We have to get you help. We have to stop the bleeding. Unfortunately, we can't do anything about it until we get you out of here. And getting you out of here will probably cause more injuries."
"You're afraid of making my injuries worse? Just do it, Avon. Get us out of here. I would rather be mortally injured than mortally dead," said Argus. “And don’t even think of leaving me here so that they can fix me up and you can rescue me later. I don’t think their attentions will be confined to healing. They seem to have other interests as well.” He said this last bit with disgust.
Avon’s eyebrows lifted in question. He remarked, "You do seem to have a problem keeping your shirt on."
Argus said irritably, "Can we skip the clichés, please?”
A slight grin appeared on Avon’s face, "Alright."
Argus closed his eyes wearily as the soldiers conveyed him to the transport pod. They were soon speeding towards the surface again.
Trying to take his mind off the pain he asked, "Avon. Where were Dain and his men? The Andromedans checked the roof of the transport. Why didn't they see them?"
Avon replied, "They weren't on the roof. At least, not all of the time."
"Where were they then?" asked Argus.
Avon explained, "When the transport slowed down, Dain and his men were already on top of the pod. They were able to climb onto the walls of the transport shaft. The shaft is not illuminated. They stayed in the shadows until the Andromedans checked the roof, then they came down and waited for my signal."
"That was quite a performance you gave," said Argus. "You had me confused."
“There is nothing more confusing than truth without context,” said Avon. "We have to find a place to hide until the Justice comes back for us."
Argus said with a grin, “I know why you decided to come back down for me. You didn’t want to have to be the one to tell Reya my message.”
To Reya's annoyance, Sester came back to the flight deck shortly after Cally gave Reya the coordinates to Kaarn and then returned to the makeshift nursery. His face was full of concern as Reya monitored the ship’s flight path to Kaarn. She exhibited no emotions, just a controlled professionalism. He saw that she had been very careful not to leave anything that would reveal the location of Kaarn to him.
He asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Leave me alone, Sester. I have no interest in talking about anything with you,” said Reya.
“I’m only trying to be a friend. You did say that I could be that,” said Sester.
Reya looked up and stared at him. “Not today. I need to be alone.”
“No, you don’t,” said Sester.
“Get out of here,” Reya said icily.
“You’ll have to throw me out then. Because there is no other way I’m leaving,” said Sester.
She left her station and came towards him. For a moment, Sester wasn’t sure if she was really going to physically remove him from the flight deck. He stood his ground and said, “You’re not really mad at me, are you? You’re mad at him.”
Reya stopped in her tracks.
Sester continued, “And you’re not really mad at him. You’re angry with yourself. Because you’re not there with him.”
Reya’s face suddenly went pale. She turned around and went back to her monitoring station. “You can stay if you want,” she told him. “But don’t say any more.”
“Alright,” said Sester.
Other than thoughts about Argus and the team trying to rescue him, Reya had been thinking about something else. She was feeling uneasy about something. She looked asked him, “Does this friendship extend to making yourself useful?”
“We friends are very good at multi-tasking. What do you want me to do?” asked Sester.
Reya said, “I have a concern about Vanora. Cally is too busy with taking care of the children. She might not have time to think about this but I don’t think we can afford to ignore the real dangers Vanora represents.”
“You mean the effect she has on men? I thought that she’d given Cally the knowledge to be able to disable her psi abilities. Unless you don’t believe her,” said Sester.
“I don’t trust her. I can’t believe that she would so easily give us the ability to remove the one advantage she has. But that’s not the concern I’m referring to,” said Reya.
“It must deal with the children then,” said Sester.
“Yes. From the little Cally has been able to tell me, these children are very powerful. We were very right to be concerned. Their powers extend far beyond what Vanora is able to do. And they’re only two years old physically,” said Reya.
“You wish that Argus and Avon had destroyed them?” asked Sester.
“That would have been the easiest solution, if they were animals or inanimate objects. But they’re not,” said Reya.
“That’s the hazard of having a conscience,” said Sester.
Reya gave him a hard stare, “Don’t tell me that you don’t have one.”
“Psychostrategists are supposed to be above such things,” said Sester. “We are trained to be objective evaluators.”
“So you do have one,” said Reya. “Even if you’ve learned to turn it off in order to do your job.”
Sester smiled, “I thought we were talking about Vanora and the danger she represents, not engage in a philosophical discussion about psychostrategy.”
“In a way it is the same discussion,” said Reya.
“Ah. You’re concerned about the influence that Vanora will have on the children. You don’t want her to have any,” said Sester.
Reya said, “I know it would be cruel to deny a mother access to her children, but she’s no ordinary woman, she’s a dangerous one. If any of her children turn out like her…”
“Then we won’t just have a ship full of men who would fight each other over her,” said Sester wryly.
“It will be infinitely worse,” said Reya.
“How can I help?” asked Sester.
Reya said, “I need you to use your skill as a psychostrategist and find us a way to neutralize Vanora’s danger.”
“You mean without denying access to her children?” asked Sester.
“You know that the only guaranteed way is to kill her,” said Sester.
“That is not an option,” said Reya.
Sester shook his head. “It’s a mistake to leave her alive.”
“You’re supposed to be a brilliant psychostrategist, find me a way,” said Reya.
“Being your friend isn’t going to be very easy, is it?” asked Sester wryly.