They were all good men. His feverish mind drifted back to the commandoes who had been under his command. The ones who had risked their lives to get him out. They were all dead now, because they saved him. Argus clenched his fists in anger and pain. They were all good men. For once, he wished they were not. He didn't deserve what they did for him.
Dain signalled to his men; they nodded. Guessing what he was going to do, Argus shook his head emphatically but Dain pointed to Avon and made a very clear gesture for him to wait. Then he and four of the team got into position. At Dain’s signal, they suddenly broke cover and began running. The alien troops immediately began to give chase, moving away from Argus and the remaining team. They could hear numerous shots being fired.
One of the remaining soldiers stood up after the alien troops were far enough away. “We’d better get going sirs.”
Two of them moved to pick Argus up but he pushed their hands away and said angrily, “Does no one listen to me anymore?”
Avon said, “Not where your life is concerned. Now stop being stubborn before you get us all killed.”
Argus reluctantly put his hands down and let the two men lift him up. “I hate this.”
“I know,” said Avon.
They all moved off swiftly but carefully away. They could no longer hear the commotion of the alien troops chasing Dain and the other soldiers.
Sester went to Vanora’s cabin again. This time she immediately let him in. She asked anxiously, “Have you found out anything? What took you so long? We’re going to arrive at Kaarn in a few hours.”
“I couldn’t get away until now,” said Sester. “Reya had me helping her on the flight deck. She wanted me to find a way to neutralize you. I was trying to help her find a different way.” He put his arms around her.
“And?” asked Vanora.
“Unfortunately, you already know the difficulties with that. There is only one sure way to remove you as a threat,” said Sester.
“I knew it,” Vanora said with grim anger.
“You would probably have done the same if your positions had been reversed,” said Sester.
“I would have killed me much sooner,” said Vanora. “So what are you doing here? Giving your final respects to the nearly dead?”
"No." He shook his head. “I can’t believe that you’re going to let them kill you without a fight."
“Believe me, they won’t take me that easily,” said Vanora vehemently. Her face was hard now; it was the face of a survivor.
Sester tilted her head up. “You’re beautiful when you’re angry.” He kissed her.
"This is hardly the time for that," she said irritably, pulling away from him.
"You forget the effect you have on me."
“Then focus your energy and help me find a way to stop them."
Sester said, “That’s difficult. Every moment you’re onboard this ship, you’re subject to their control. There is nowhere for you to run.”
Vanora took in this inescapable logic, she knew he was right, and there was nowhere to run on the ship. Vanora said with sudden inspiration, “Then get me off this ship. They must have a shuttle or something.” She eyed him slyly. “I could give you what you want before I leave, if you help me. I’m going to need a distraction. If you can arrange to be on the flight deck with Reya, I can use my abilities and then she'll be too preoccupied to see me leaving until it's too late. They'll have to chose between getting the children to safety and going back to rescue the others or chasing after me.”
“So we both get what we want?” He smiled conspiratorially and pulled her tighter against him.
“Yes, and afterwards, you could blame it on me. The rest is up to you.”
“Has anyone told you that you have a devious mind?” he asked admiringly.
“I believe you said that we’re two of a kind,” said Vanora.
Sester grinned. “You still have one problem. The shuttle. They’re in the cargo bays but they’re most likely coded to only respond to members of the crew.”
Vanora said with frustration, “There must be a way to get access to them.”
“You’ve run out of time. Unless…” Sester seemed deep in thought.
“What is it?”
He stared intently into her eyes. “We are two of a kind, aren’t we?”
“What are you getting at?” asked Vanora.
“There is a ship that is not coded to the crew. Mine.”
Vanora’s eyes widened. “You would do that? Give your ship to me?”
“It’s the only way. It’s a fast ship. You could just make it. I don’t want to see you die.”
Her eyes softened and she said, “Thank you, Sester.”
“Go now. Quickly. It’s in cargo bay four. I’ll go up to the flight deck to distract Reya so she won’t see the bay doors opening. Everything can be run on automatics. It should get you to the nearest inhabited planet.” He let go of her.
They both exited the cabin together. For a moment, they stood staring at each other.
Sester said sadly, “I’m sorry. Who knows what would have happened if I had met you first.”
Vanora said, “When you can get away, come and find me. I’ll be waiting for you.” She went to the cargo bay.
Sester watched her for a moment. In a whisper, he said, “No. You won’t.” He headed to the flight deck.
Sester arrived at the flight deck and found Reya in the same position she was before, her head bent over the panel in front of her, busily checking readings.
“Have you gotten any rest at all since we left the planet?” he asked as he came down the steps.
Reya turned to look at him. “Why do you keep coming? Have you found a solution to the Vanora problem yet?”
“You worry me.” He stopped next to her station.
“I'm not your concern,” said Reya as she went back to what she was doing.
"I'm your friend, remember? We are allowed to worry." He watched her carefully.
"Then give me a solution," she told him. "The only thing I can think of is to disable her psi abilities and find an isolated planet where we can…"
"That is the other reason why I'm here," said Sester. "If you..."
As he began to tell her his ideas, Reya became very aware of Sester's proximity to her. His eyes seemed even bluer than usual, they were mesmerizing. Before she knew it, her arms were around him and her lips were seeking his.
"Reya, we shouldn't be doing this." Sester tried to push her away weakly but he seemed to be caught up in the passion as well.
"I…know…" Further thought was impossible.
Vanora entered cargo bay four hesitantly, expecting a twinge from her bracelet or some kind of alarm. She breathed a sigh of relief when there was none and strode confidently to Sester's observer craft. It was a sleek ship, built for speed.
The door slid open for her. Vanora smiled, it was good to have an ally she could rely on. She was looking forward to seeing Sester again sometime in the future, but now she had to concentrate on getting away.
She slid into the pilot's seat." First, I need to get off this ship. She closed her eyes and smiled. Sester and Reya were on the flight deck. It took just a few seconds to touch Reya's mind. Have fun, Sester.
Before she activated the control panel, Vanora paused, her heart felt heavy. Fleeing in the ship would mean leaving her children behind. This was the last thing she wanted to do but there was no other choice. * I'll be back for you, little ones. *
A little voice responded, surprising her. They didn't speak to her much anymore. The voice sounded troubled. * Mother, where are you going? Are you going to help Uncle Argus? *
* No. I have to leave you now. I will be back. Don't tell anyone that I'm going. * Vanora nearly cried as she said * Goodbye children. Take care of each other. * Even though she promised herself that she was coming back for them, she had to recognize the reality that she may never see them again. She hated Reya and Cally; because of them, she couldn't even see them before she left. Vanora cut herself off from her children. She couldn't let them sense anything else, in case they did say something to Cally.
Her fingers pressed the panel buttons and the ship powered up.
Reya and Sester were still in an impassioned embrace on the flight deck. He felt wonderful and could barely concentrate on anything other than her; she made him feel alive. Sester barely registered when a button on the panel behind her lit up, indicating that one of the cargo bay doors had just been opened. He fought to maintain his focus; waiting for his own time to act. After a few moments the familiar shape of his ship appeared. "Reya! Look!"
"What?" Reya mumbled as she tried to kiss him. He shook his head, as if he was trying to regain control and focus. He spun her around and pointed to the vidscreen. "That's my ship!"
Reya struggled to think past the overwhelming sensations that were controlling her. "That must be…"
Sester spoke in jagged sentences, trying to emulate someone who was having as much of a struggle as she was. "Yes…It must be…Vanora. She's trying to escape….We're almost…at Kaarn. That means….she knows where it is. She'll be a danger to the children….and all of the remaining Aurons." He staggered towards the neutron blaster control station and guided a still confused and preoccupied Reya with him. She was trying to remove his shirt. "Reya! We can't let her get away! Think of the children!"
"We have to save the children…," said Reya.
Reya tried to think but was only able to grasp onto the danger. The children…have to save the children…. There were nagging thoughts just out of reach, warning her, but they couldn't reach her through the fog of pheromone-induced feelings. Her fingers reached for the controls hesitantly.
"Yes! Now, Reya. We have to. We have no choice! She's powering up the time distort engines!" His voice was urgent and persuasive.
Danger. Reya pressed the controls. A neutron blast raced towards the ship and hit it dead centre. It exploded. Reya gasped and shook her head, trying to clear her mind. The feelings were starting to fade.
"What have I done?" she asked in shock as the trails of debris continued to stream outwards from where the ship, and Vanora, had been.
Sester stood frozen after the ship exploded. It was something which had to be done, of that he was certain. He believed it.
So why do I feel ill? Why did a single question keep repeating itself in his mind, like an echo that would not fade. What have I done?
In the cargo hold which had been turned into a nursery, Cally gasped and nearly staggered. She grabbed onto a nearby table for support. Then, to the astonishment of Vila and the soldiers, all of the children started crying and screaming. * Mother!! *
Cally knew that something terrible had just happened.