"I thought that they were keeping all the men away from me," said Vanora, blocking the doorway. “Should you be here? Or did you manage to slip your leash?” she asked sarcastically.
"I'm no ordinary man," said Sester. As he faced this woman, Sester could feel the potency of her attraction. For some reason, she even smelled good. Sester had an overpowering urge to take hold of her.
Vanora was very familiar with the physical reactions she was observing in Sester; the slight flush of the face, the increased breathing, the unconscious leaning towards her. Vanora revelled in the power she still had over men. They couldn’t help themselves. Being on this ship had shaken her confidence somewhat and she was determined to get it back.
She asked, "What are they playing at by sending you here to me?"
"Can't you guess?" asked Sester.
"If Cally thinks that she can keep me from seeing my children by distracting me, then she's sadly mistaken," said Vanora angrily.
"I am more than just a distraction," said Sester.
"My mistake, you're much more than that." She took a step forward and kissed him; his desire for her was instantly obvious.
Vanora broke off the kiss and put her hand on Sester's chest to stop him from leaning in towards her. "Not yet." She drew a finger across his lips. "I'm surprised that they didn't prevent us both from meeting. They have the means."
Sester grinned and lifted the wrist that was wearing the tracer bracelet. "You mean this? They don’t seem to think that it would be dangerous having the two of us together. Which is very short-sighted of them, don’t you think?” Sester gave her an easy smile.
"Their mistake," said Vanora. "Why don't you come in and we can discuss how much of a mistake it is?" She stepped aside to let him in.
Vila was also helping Cally with the children in the cargo hold. Large sections of the wardrobe room had been commandeered as bedding material and ill-fitting clothing. Vila, Cally and the soldiers were all currently feeding the seemingly perpetually hungry children. The soldiers seemed even clumsier than the children did at times, causing Cally and Vila to have to rush around supervising and giving advice.
“It’s a good thing that the food dispensers are working,” said Vila. He was currently holding a spoon in one hand while with the other he was trying to wipe the little girl’s forehead. He wasn’t quite sure how or why, but this one always managed to get some of the porridge-like substance somewhere other than in her mouth. She seemed to think this was very funny. “I don’t know what we’d do if they broke down.”
“It’s too disturbing to contemplate,” said Cally. She smiled encouragingly at the less messy child she was feeding.
“You’re telling me,” said Vila. He fed the last spoonful to the little girl and then went onto the next one. This one seemed reluctant to eat until he started doing funny things with the spoon and making strange sounds to accompany his actions. The little girl laughed delightedly and let him feed her.
“You’re a natural, Vila,” remarked Cally as she watched this performance. “Where did you learn to be so good with children?”
“Where I grew up, most people had to keep down two jobs to make ends meet, or find more creative ways of making money. The older kids were usually drafted to take care of the younger ones. Besides, I like kids,” replied Vila. “And people used to trust me. That was before I found my own creative ways of making money, that is. Things changed after that.”
Cally asked, “Is that what stealing was for you? A more creative way of making money?”
“There weren’t too many professions open to a Delta-grade. Well, none actually. I didn’t fancy myself cleaning up after the other grades. Becoming a thief was as close as I could ever get to having a career. Besides, I was good at it. People respected me. Even if it meant that they wanted to catch me.”
“But I thought that you said you bought your Delta-grade to avoid military service. Why didn’t you buy an Alpha rating? I understand that they’re not required to undergo compulsory service,” asked Cally. Unlike most of her fellow Auronar, Cally was interested in how alien cultures worked.
“Yes, they might not have to but it’s even worse for them,” said Vila.
“Worse? I don’t understand. I thought they were the most privileged grade,” said Cally.
“Well, privilege can cover up a lot of other things. Alphas are supposed to be the most valuable resources in the Federation, because of their brains and abilities. And you know what the Federation does to things it considers valuable,” said Vila.
“I see, they try to possess and control it,” said Cally thoughtfully. She wondered if that was what happened to Avon. It would explain why he had such a strong reaction to control being applied against him. She wiped the mouth of the child she had been feeding and went onto the next one.
“Yes. Unless you had money. And lots of it. Or power,” said Vila.
“Is that why Avon always said that he wanted enough wealth so that no one could touch him?” asked Cally.
“Well…I suppose so. Actually I’d never thought about it like that.” Vila had a contemplative look on his face as he thought about this. The little girl he had been feeding started to cry because he wasn’t paying attention and had stopped feeding her.
“Sorry, little one,” said Vila apologetically as he scooped a large spoonful and fed it to her while making funny sounds and using baby talk.
Cally had picked up a cup of water when she heard a little voice speaking to her mind. * Auntie Cally. *
* Yes, little one? Where are you? * Cally decided it was time to start giving the children names and maybe name tags.
* With the funny faces * the little voice replied.
Cally grinned and looked over to the child Vila was still entertaining and feeding.
* That’s Uncle Vila * said Cally.
* Uncle Funny Faces? * asked the little girl.
Cally nearly laughed out loud. * Yes. Though he would prefer that you called him Uncle Vila. *
* I like Uncle Vila. He’s funny. * The little girl sent her a giggle to emphasize this.
Cally was amazed at how much control these children had already. Their use of psi abilities seemed instinctive.
* Yes, he can be very funny. Did you need something? * asked Cally.
* Yes. Why does Uncle Vila sound like this? Does he forget how to speak sometimes? * asked the little girl.
Cally smiled. * No. It’s something that I have observed Terrans do when speaking to babies who have not acquired language skills yet. *
* If they don’t know how to talk, how can they tell people when they're hungry or cold? * asked the perplexed little girl. * Is there something wrong with them? *
* No, little one. Most children are not as fortunate as you are. They don’t receive the kind of accelerated education you had. * said Cally.
* Why, Auntie Cally? *
* Not many people know how to do it without damaging a child's brain. It is dangerous if not done properly. *
* Oh. Then it is better that they don’t communicate yet, * said the little girl.
* If you want Uncle Vila to speak to you normally, you will have to learn to speak using your mouth, * said Cally.
* Aw. Do I have to? It’s so slow, * complained the little girl.
* Don’t you want to be able to communicate with Uncle Vila? * asked Cally.
* Alright, I’ll try * said the little voice.
* Good girl, * said Cally encouragingly. She could see the little girl try to form her mouth to say something.
“Kul Vila,” the little girl said.
Vila’s mouth dropped open in astonishment as he paused in the middle of scooping another spoonful from the bowl. “Cally! She just called me Uncle Vila!”
Lieutenant Dain and his men were able to find a partially hidden cave for them to hide in. Some of the soldiers went to see if they could find food and water while the others provided sentry duty.
Avon was examining Argus’s wounds again, trying to assess the additional damage done during the escape.
Argus’s fists were tightly clenched and his face was pale. He was trying to rest but the pain from his wounds made it impossible. Instead, he tried to find something to take his mind off it. He said jokingly, “You know, if Reya was here, she’d probably kill me and then you wouldn’t have a problem.”
“I’m sure she will get around to it eventually,” remarked Avon dryly. “I don’t like this bleeding,” he said as he removed the cloth that had served to soak up the blood while they were on the move.
“That makes two of us,” said Argus.
“The wound is deep. I can't tell if there's internal damage,” said Avon.
“Not that there's anything you could do if there was,” said Argus.
“Unfortunately, that's true. I don’t have the necessary medical knowledge to help you,” said Avon.
“I thought you knew everything,” said Argus. He could barely manage a crooked grin.
“Almost everything,” said Avon. “I do have to leave something for other people to do.”
“Then you wasted your time coming back for me,” said Argus.
“The idea of leaving you to the Andromedans until they could heal you, might have some merit after all,” said Avon.
“Hey! I thought I said it was not an option,” said Argus.
“It may be our only choice to keep you alive,” said Avon.
“I’d rather die,” said Argus.
"You don't make helping you very easy," said Avon.
"Well, the next time you're injured, you can return the favour," said Argus.
"I know how to duck," said Avon dryly.
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Argus.
Avon suppressed a grin and said, “There may be a way. I will speak to Cally.”
“You can talk to her from this distance?” asked Argus.
“We've never had occasion to try. This will be an interesting experiment.” Avon closed his eyes and tried to send out his thoughts as far as he could. He knew that it was not the same thing that Cally did but he hoped that it was possible. * Cally. * He concentrated on putting as much mental energy into the thought as he could.
He heard a faint answering thought back. * Avon! *
* Can you hear me clearly? * he asked her.
* Yes, but you’re very faint. The distance is too great. Soon we won’t even be able to manage this, * said Cally.
* Then we’ll need to hurry. Argus has severe internal bleeding. Most of his other injuries can wait until you get back with the ship but this one can’t. I believe he’s going to die if we’re not able to stop the bleeding soon, * said Avon.
* Can you describe the injuries to me? * asked Cally.
Avon tried to give her as complete a description he could with his limited medical knowledge.
Cally said, * You’re right. This is serious. That bleeding must be stopped. *
* Do you know how long he has? * asked Avon.
* From the rate of blood loss, I would say no more than half a day. It will take us another day before we arrive at Kaarn and then another two days to get back * said Cally. * You’re going to have to stop the bleeding yourself. I’ll walk you through the procedure. Avon, is there a way you can get access to something which you can use to cauterize the wounds? *
* I can adapt something for that purpose, * said Avon. He opened up his equipment satchel and began taking some items out.
Cally said, * Good. I wish I were able to see the internal injuries myself. If we make a mistake, it may be Argus’s last. *
* Auntie Cally. Is it all right to speak you and Uncle Avon now? * a little voice interrupted them.
* Children, it is not polite to eavesdrop in other people’s conversations. Uncle Avon and I are busy trying to save Uncle Argus’s life. Can you play with Vila instead? * asked Cally.
* We’re sorry, Auntie Cally but we saw that you weren’t happy. We want to help. We want to help Uncle Argus too, * said the little voice.
* What can you do to help? * asked Cally with curiosity. Even at this tender age, they had a broader range of psi abilities than any Auron she had known.
The little voice said, * You wanted to see Uncle Argus’s injuries. We think we can help you do that. *
* How? *
* If Uncle Avon looks at what he wants you to see and then thinks it with his mind, we can take the pictures and give them to you, * the little voice replied.
* You can do that? * asked Cally in astonishment.
* We’ve never tried, but we think we can do it. As long as Uncle Avon can think hard enough, * said the little voice.
With the help of the children, Cally was able to guide Avon to close the most serious of the wounds.
After they were done and Cally was certain that the children were no longer listening, she said to Avon, * These children are amazing. No one has this ability among my people. At least not yet. Franton may have been able to develop it after a few generation cycles, if he had survived. *
* I noticed another interesting thing. While the children were helping us, your voice came across very clearly, * said Avon.
* That's true. Yours did too. They must have been able to boost it somehow. *
* I suspect it is the power of the group. The children may not be able to do it individually but when they are connected, their power is multiplied. Have you noticed that when they speak to us, only a single child speaks? But she uses 'we'? *
Cally said, * It sounds like something we should explore with the children when we have time. Your voice is getting faint. I think we're about to lose communication unless we ask the children to help. Argus should be fine now until we get back. I will check in occasionally with you with the children's help. Be careful, Avon. *
Avon replied, * You too, Cally. *