"Oh, good," said Argus weakly. For some reason what Avon said made Argus want to giggle. He was in a very strange mood. “I’m serious,” said Avon. He was worried. Argus seemed to be getting progressively worse even though they had been able to stop the most urgent of the bleeding. His eyes were bright, his face was flushed and he was moving around restlessly.
They had been fortunate. Because of Argus's well developed musculature, it had helped prevent the hot grenade fragments from penetrating too deeply. None of the vital organs had been punctured though there was some burning around the wounds. But he was feverish and seemed to be intermittently delirious.
Cally was not due to check in for a few more hours. There was nothing to be done except try to keep him cool. Avon had already sent one of the soldiers to get more water from a nearby stream. He poured some water onto a cloth and applied it to Argus’s forehead.
Argus looked up at this motion and said, “You’re always serious. Too serious.” His drifting and mercurial mind became preoccupied with the idea of Avon needing to have some fun. It seemed very important. “You need to lighten up. Smell the roses. Or whatever it is you do to unwind. Though, you’re right, I can’t see you smelling roses. Cally had the right idea. You probably like to rebuild ship engines for fun. Or destabilize banking systems. Or research fifty ways to…”
“You’re delirious,” remarked Avon.
“No. This is important, Avon,” said Argus.
“It’s even more important for you to get some rest,” said Avon.
“But I’m not sleepy,” whined Argus.
“Humour me,” said Avon.
“But, Avon…” He was acting more like a rebellious child.
“Do you want me to tell Reya that you’re not taking care of yourself?” asked Avon. He knew bringing up her name would mean that Argus would instantly become more cooperative; regardless of whether he was delirious or not.
“Oh. Don’t do that. I’ll behave,” said Argus.
“Good. Now close your eyes and get some rest,” said Avon.
“Yes, Avon.” Argus obediently closed his eyes.
Avon leaned back against the cave wall and closed his eyes as well.
Sester and Vanora were in bed together, resting. Sester smiled and turned to look at the woman beside him. He brushed several strands of hair away from her face and said, “You’re very good.”
Vanora looked up at him; there was a content look on her face. “And so are you. You’re very experienced.”
“It’s an activity I enjoy. It helps to get lots of practice,” said Sester.
“And what about Reya?” asked Vanora with a calculating look in her eyes.
The smile disappeared from Sester's face and he asked guardedly, “What about her?”
“You’re one of the ones who was able to fight the pheromone effect before, because of your strong feelings for her. You’re not seriously expecting me to believe that you’ve suddenly succumbed to my charms now and you no longer care about her? I think you’re here to distract me.” As she said this, Vanora ran her fingers lightly and teasingly across his chest.
That produced some very strong sensations for Sester; it made it difficult to focus on what he was really here to do. He wanted to feel her touching other parts of his body; she had very talented hands. He said, "I didn't hear you objecting."
"I can still enjoy the gift without falling into the trap," said Vanora.
"First I was a distraction and now I'm a gift? I must be multi-talented." Sester put his arms around her and pulled her closer, enjoying the feel of her body pressed up against him.
Vanora placed her hand flat against his chest to stop him. “Not yet. Not until you tell me what I want to know. Did Reya or Cally send you here? What are they up to?”
“Do you really think that I would be the kind of man to let others use me this way?” asked Sester. His voice raised in denial.
“I think that where Reya is concerned, you’re willing to do almost anything.”
“The operative word being, almost,” said Sester.
“Are you saying that they didn’t?” asked Vanora.
“Of course not. They’re not like you. Or me,” said Sester. “They have principles.” He said the word as if it were something distasteful. There was a cynical, but also a faintly admiring smile on his face as he regarded Vanora.
“Then why are you here?” she asked.
Sester looked away from her. “I may be willing to do almost anything for her but she can’t wait for me to leave. I’m pursuing something that will never be possible. I don’t like doing things that are a waste of my time.”
“You’re looking for a substitute?” asked Vanora with a laugh.
“You’ll never be able to replace her but you could be a useful ally. Not to mention a fun one.” He grinned and tightened his hold on her.
“A fun ally. I like that. You still haven’t told me what their plans are. Why aren’t they letting me see the children?” asked Vanora.
Sester was expecting the question. It was time to begin laying some groundwork.
“They’re afraid of your influence on them. They know your children are powerful. Even more than you.”
“I knew it. They’re deliberately trying to keep me from seeing them. I can’t even reach the children much now with my mind. They don’t seem to be hearing me. Cally must have found a way to block even that,” said Vanora angrily. “I’m going to go confront her. They’re my children.”
“I wouldn’t advise it,” said Sester.
“Why not?” she asked heatedly, directing her anger at him too.
“Reya was mentioning that she was trying to find a way to neutralize the danger you pose to everyone,” said Sester.
“Do you think she would kill me?” asked Vanora.
“I don’t think she wants to. But she has a military mentality and she’s a security specialist. I don’t think that her wants would get in the way of her doing her job.” He was speaking like a psychostrategist, dispassionately and objectively.
“Even after I gave them the ability to disable my psi abilities permanently?” asked Vanora angrily.
“They don’t believe you and I doubt if they ever will. You’re too good a performer. Like me.” He touched her face. “We’re two of a kind. If I hadn’t met Reya first…”
“We might have made a good team?” asked Vanora with a tone of cynicism. “Could we ever trust each other?”
“I suppose not. But it would have been fun trying,” said Sester with a grin.
Vanora asked worriedly, “Has Reya said anything specific about killing me?”
“She told me she wants to neutralize you and she’s exploring various options. I don’t think she’s decided how or when yet,” said Sester.
“It’s only a matter of time. I’m too dangerous to keep alive if they don’t believe they can disable my psi abilities. What am I going to do?” Vanora hugged him, seeking comfort in the warmth of his body.
“Avon.” Argus turned his head and looked at the man sitting next to him and leaning against the wall of the cave.
“You’re supposed to be resting,” said Avon, without opening his eyes.
“I need some water.”
Avon sat up and picked up the water bottle next to him. He removed the stopper and lifted Argus’s head. Argus drank thirstily and then lay back down.
Avon leaned back and closed his eyes again.
“I thought I told you to rest,” said Avon.
“When we were in the storage room…”
Avon asked, “Do you really think this is the time to discuss what happened?”
“No time will ever be the right time. Not unless we decide it is,” said Argus. Even though he was still burning up with fever, his head seemed very clear now; and like a man who was putting his affairs in order, he felt there was something he needed to do.
“Now is not the right time,” said Avon.
“That’s the point. There will never be a right time. But we need to deal with it for everyone’s sake. For ours. Once we’re back on the ship and everything gets back to normal, it’s going to be harder. I will no longer be in this crazy mood.”
Avon stared at him and then said, “I prefer your other crazy mood.”
“So do I.” Argus took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “When you challenged me in the storage room, you were trying to make a point.”
“Come on, Avon,” said Argus tiredly. “Can we do this before I die or become crazy again?”
“You’re not going to die,” said Avon.
“Reya’s going to kill me. Isn’t that what you said before?”
“Alright. Yes, I was trying to make a point,” said Avon.
“Thank you. I made a mistake and you wanted to see how I would fix it. You wanted to know how important this partnership is to me and if I really saw you as an equal.”
“It wasn’t about the partnership,” said Avon.
“Then what was it about? What is it about?” asked Argus.
“It’s about trust.”
"I see." Argus thought for a moment and then said, “I can't say that I have always trusted you. I didn’t for a long time after Tess died. But I can say that I do trust you now.”
“What changed your mind?” asked Avon.
“It wasn’t any one thing. More an accumulation of things. What you did for Cally was a big one. Then watching you since you came back, I realized that we were both a lot alike. We’re both stubborn and proud men. We’ve both done things we’re not proud of but we want to make things right. My instinct tells me that I can trust you. It’s never let me down.” He studied Avon’s face, trying to search for some indication of what he was thinking.
Avon said, “I do not trust instinct.” He paused for a moment, as if he was trying to decide something. “But I do trust you.”
Argus nodded. “Thank you, Avon. Do you want to tell me why?”
“Could you manage to be a little less difficult sometimes?” asked Argus.
“Is that a serious question?”
Argus smiled. “I guess not. I think I’ll be a little less difficult now and get some sleep.”
“What a good idea.”
Cally was about to check in with Avon again when Brina (this was the name she had given to the child who seemed to speak for the others) asked * Auntie Cally. I don’t understand something. *
* What is it Brina? * Cally asked her. The children were endlessly curious and loved to ask questions. She couldn’t wait for them to develop more verbal abilities and start asking Vila or some of the soldiers these questions.
* I don’t understand what mother and Uncle Sester are doing. *
Cally was immediately alarmed. * They’re together?! *
The child, not understanding Cally’s source of concern asked worriedly, * Did I do something wrong? I wasn’t trying to listen. But they’re very loud. *
Cally’s mind raced, trying to understand the implications of what the child was saying.
* No, Brina. You didn’t do anything wrong. * Trying not to scare the child further, Cally said in a much calmer and more controlled voice, * Brina, are they still together? Are they still very loud? *
* No, Auntie Cally. They’re quiet now. *
* Can you tell where they are? * asked Cally.
The child responded with an eager and innocent smile, * No. But if you want, I can try to see through mother's eyes. *
* No! * exclaimed Cally. It was time to start setting up some guidelines for the children on the use of their psi abilities. The last thing she wanted was for Brina, or any of the other children to witness what she realized Vanora and Sester must be doing. She hoped that her next breakthrough with Avon didn't happen until after the children were safely away on Kaarn.
Having Sester and Vanora together was very troubling. What are the two of you up to?
Unfortunately, she had something more urgent to do now before she could do some investigating. It was time to check in with Avon.
* Brina, can you and the others help me to speak to Uncle Avon now? *