Vila was holding several cloths a distance away from his face; or more specifically, from his nose.
"Nuclear waste coming through," he said loudly as everyone got out of his way. He exited the improvised nursery area and turned right.
"Vila, what are you doing?" asked Cally nearly bumping into him on her way in. She was carrying a container of medical supplies.
"Trying to get rid of the evidence," said Vila.
"Evidence?" She eyed the cloths curiously. "But aren't those…"
"Yes. Your keen Auron senses have smelled them out. I cannot lie," said Vila.
"I thought that there were bins for those in the nursery," said Cally.
"They're all full."
"You're going to get a new bin then? Aren't they that way?" She pointed in a direction that Vila had not been going.
"Yes, I would be going that way if I was going to get a new bin," said Vila.
"Where are you going then?" asked Cally.
"Well, where I took the other ones." Vila coughed and avoided her eyes.
"And where's that?"
Vila coughed again and said, "The air lock."
"Did you just say you're ejecting them out of the airlock?" There was an incredulous look on her face.
"Not in so many words," mumbled Vila. Even though it sounded like a reasonable solution at the time, he was feeling distinctly guilty now; and he wasn't even sure why.
"Oh, Vila." Cally shook her head. She didn't want to get into a debate about proper space waste management procedures; there was an even more pressing issue. "What happens if we run out of cloths before we get to Kaarn?"
"But there are so many clothes in the storage room, we couldn't be running out already," said Vila.
"Have you been in there lately?" asked Cally.
"I don't understand it. I've taken care of lots of kids and they aren't so…they don’t have so much…"
"Waste?" asked Cally. "You must member that they've been at an accelerated growth rate since they were born. Even though Avon was able to stop it, they still haven't stabilized yet."
Vila shivered at the messy possibility. "Couldn't we get there faster? Maybe standard by twelve? It is sort of an emergency."
"Why don't we stop ejecting the cloths from the airlock for a start." She carefully took the ones Vila had been holding. "And let's assign some people to full-time laundry duty since no one seems to have thought of this solution." She led a reluctant Vila back inside.
Vila decided not to say anything about the idea of doing laundry and especially not himself doing it. For him, it ranked right up there with other suggestions that usually ended with 'over my dead body.'
Sester came back to the flight deck to talk to Reya. There was a spring in his step and a very self-satisfied look on his face.
She looked up immediately as he arrived and her eyes narrowed in suspision. "You look very pleased with yourself. What have you been up to?"
"You have a very suspicious mind, Reya." He went over to the couches and made himself comfortable.
"I have to, with you," said Reya.
She asked him, "Have you thought about what I asked you?"
"You mean about finding a way to neutralize Vanora's danger without killing her? I did tell you my opinion about that."
"Does that mean you haven't thought about it?" asked Reya.
"I promised to help and I am. I'm working on something."
"We don't have that much time. We're going to arrive at Kaarn in twelve hours."
"I know. I'll be ready before then. Have you blocked access to my ship? There are some analysis tools I require," he said casually.
"No. It's your ship. And the cargo bay it's in is far from key areas of the ship. There was no need to block it off."
Sester already knew this; he had a very different reason for asking. "Good." Things were going well; the required seeds were being planted. He got up and headed for the steps. At the top, he paused a moment and looked at Reya, she had her back to him and had returned to whatever she was working on before. Sester felt a twinge of guilt. Even though Reya had suspicions about him, in the end, she did believe in him. He hoped that she would understand what he was about to do and wouldn't hate him too much. It was something that had to be done.
Cally ran into Sester in the corridor as he was on his way to the cargo bay containing his ship.
"What were you doing with Vanora?" she asked. There was a distinctly unfriendly look on her face.
Sester replied, "You've been keeping an eye on me. I'm touched."
"Don't play games with me, Sester. I've seen too many of them."
He gave her an easy smile. "I'm glad you still remember our time together."
"You mean, when you tricked me into thinking you were one of the prisoners? And made me trust you enough to talk about my time on the Liberator? Information you used to torture Avon with?" she asked with hostile sarcasm.
Sester sighed. "Neither one of you are going to forgive me for that, are you? I was only doing my job and I have tried to make up for it."
"Nothing will ever be enough," said Cally coldly. "Now answer my question."
"I'm surprised at you, Cally. You know better than anyone else what affect Vanora has on the men on this ship. I'm no exception."
"I thought you were…"
"You thought that my obsession with Reya made me immune?" He laughed. "If the feelings were reciprocated, perhaps it would have been enough. But you know that they never will be. And I know that now too."
There was a self-mocking smile on his face that quickly disappeared and was replaced with resignation. He allowed the pain, which he had been trying to bury, to be reflected in his eyes; just a little.
Cally did not trust this man; she doubted if she ever would. But she could clearly sense the flash of pain emanating from him and his resignation. "I'm sorry. Is that why you were with Vanora? You were looking for someone to replace Reya?"
"I don't know what I was trying to do."
"Don’t get mixed up with her, Sester. She's a dangerous woman and she's only going to use you."
"Isn't that what you believe of me?" asked Sester with a wry smile.
"I know you've tried to help Avon. I do appreciate it even if it will never make up for what you did. I wouldn't want to see you, or anyone become a victim of Vanora's tricks." Despite her resolve to maintain a hard and suspicious attitude towards Sester at all times, he was making it very difficult.
"Thank you, Cally. Sometimes it's not easy having to face the open hostility from all of you constantly. I am still human."
"Don't mistake this for what it's not," warned Cally.
"I would never presume," said Sester. "But I have always appreciated your humanity."
"I've almost forgotten how good you are at this," said Cally, trying to stay objective and keep him at a distance.
"One of the hazards of my profession," said Sester. "My ability to persuade is indistinguishable from true sincerity. I assure you, even though you may not believe it, I am being sincere with you."
"I almost believe you," said Cally.
Sester sighed. "Do you have any other questions or warnings regarding my association with Vanora?"
"You're an independent adult. I can't stop you," said Cally.
"No, you can't. But thank you for the warning." Sester continued towards the cargo bay.
Cally watched Sester's retreating back until he disappeared around the corner. She didn't know what to make of him or the conversation they just had. This man always seemed easy to read using her psi senses but she knew that he was very good at masking the truth. And as he had admitted, his deceptions and his sincerity were barely distinguishable from each other.
Argus felt as if he were burning up inside. He opened his eyes and saw a mesh cage in front of him; there were six men already inside. The door slid open with a loud clang and someone behind him said, "Go inside, lieutenant. Wait for your orders."
Argus immediately stepped inside and the door closed behind him with another loud clang.
"What do we have here?" one of the men inside the cage asked with a sneer. He was a hulking man with a nasty looking scar along his forearm. The other prisoners in the cage also seemed to be tough and violent men. Argus didn't even spare them a second glance; he had already identified them when he entered the cell. He had seen men like these before, they were hardened criminals.
Argus began examining his environment. He saw that he was not in a cage; it was most likely a holding cell. What am I doing here? Why did they put me here? Argus began pacing restlessly, something he rarely did. He didn't just feel hot, if felt as if there was an excess of energy building up inside him.
The criminal with the scar on his forearm was angry that he was being ignored. He came up and planted himself directly in front of Argus. "I asked you a question, soldier boy." The criminal punctuated this with a rough shove against Argus's shoulder. Argus didn't budge; trying to push him was like trying to move an immovable object. This made the man even angrier.
When this man shoved people (which he did with amazing frequency since this seemed to be his favourite way of interacting with people who were not properly afraid of him yet), he expected them to give way or better yet, stagger back.
Argus levelled cold and dark eyes on the man who shoved him and still didn't say anything.
If forearm scar had any sense at all, he would have known to leave the young lieutenant alone but now it was a matter of pride. He couldn't let anyone defy him, especially not in front of the other prisoners. He had a reputation to uphold. "No one ignores me and gets away with it," he snarled. He directed a punch against Argus's face.
Argus put up his hand and seemed to casually intercept the punch with his open palm. He held the man's fist for a moment and then he let go and said his first word since entering the cell, "No."
The other criminals stood with their mouths open in astonishment. They had never seen anyone move this fast before but seem so relaxed.
Forearm scar was livid now. No one did this to him. "Get him!"
The prisoners tackled Argus to the ground and began to punch and kick him. Argus growled and threw off his attackers, sending them flying into the sides of the cage. He stood up and glared at them. The blood was ringing in his ears; he felt good. For a moment, the energy building up inside him had found a release. But it was only limited. He knew he was not allowed to take any offensive action unless he had been given orders. He growled in frustration and began pacing restlessly again. The criminals eyed him warily and gave him a wide berth now. Some of them were still rubbing various sore parts of their anatomy that had hit the cell wall.
Avon heard a strange sound and looked up from the handheld computer he had been using. He looked down at Argus. Argus was moving around restlessly, as if he were fighting someone. There were low guttural sounds coming from his throat; they sounded like growls.
He must be dreaming. Unfortunately, this level of nocturnal activity wasn't good for the injured man's wounds. Avon carefully positioned himself above Argus's head, out of reach of the man's moving arms, put his hand on Argus's shoulder, and gave him a gentle shake. Argus instantly reacted and grabbed Avon's arm in a bone-crushing grip. Avon winced in pain and said, "Argus! Wake up! It's me, Avon. I’m not the enemy."
Argus's eyes opened, for a moment he was disoriented when he saw Avon's upside-down face. "Avon?"
"Yes. Let go of my arm," said Avon evenly.
Argus looked at his grip on the other man's arm. He stared at it in confusion and then he let go. "What just happened?"
"You tell me. I think you were having a dream," said Avon, rubbing his sore forearm. There was a band of red where Argus had grabbed him.
Argus said, "I….don't remember…" He looked at Avon and asked with concern. "Did I hurt you?" He knew his own strength and even though he was badly injured, he knew that he could still do a great deal of damage.
"I'll live," replied Avon. He reached over and put his wrist on Argus's forehead. "You still have a high fever."
"I feel hot. How long was I out?"
Avon glanced at his black wrist chronometer. "Eighteen hours. We're going to have to do something to bring down your temperature. Having it this high for this long is dangerous for your health."
"You mean apart from all the other things that are currently bad for my health? Any movement from our alien friends?"
"Dain and his men are good. We've been able to keep one-step ahead of the Andromedans. This is the third cave we've moved to."
Argus looked around. "Really? It looks like the same cave."
"It's not. There must be infection from the grenade fragments that are still inside you," said Avon.
Argus groaned. "Let me guess. More surgery Avon-style? You really should look into getting some anaesthetics. Your patients will thank you more often."
"No. I was thinking of something a little less intrusive, like throwing you into the stream."
"Oh well, if drowning was an option…"
Avon sighed and interrupted Argus's attempt at humour, "To bring your temperature down. The water in the stream is cold."
Dain and one of the soldiers rushed in, "We have to get out of here. They've stepped up their searches. There's a large group headed this way."