As Cally raced to the flight deck, she was aware of the continued mental cries of the children at the edge of her consciousness; she had to push them there or be overwhelmed. Her own heart and mind were in enough turmoil already. She never realized how much finding another Auron had meant to her; even if it was someone as treacherous as Vanora. And the children. How were they going to comfort the children?
In the nursery, Cally had received a split-second blast of mental energy; horrible realization and anguish from Vanora, and then silence. Cally had desperately tried to reach for her presence afterwards but had found nothing. Normally she didn’t have any sense of Vanora when she was blocking her; but now there was a finality to the nothingness.
As she reached the top steps, Cally saw Sester and Reya standing together at the neutron blaster station. He was staring at her but there was no contact between them.
Cally was instantly suspicious. “You! What did you do?” she asked Sester accusingly.
Both Sester and Reya turned to look at her; they both had guilt in their eyes.
Reya said with anguish, “I’m sorry, Cally. I…killed Vanora. She was trying to escape. I don’t know how it happened…but I killed her.” She lifted eyes full of pain and devastation, “How are the children?”
Cally replied with the same anguish, “They felt her die. They started crying and screaming. I knew something terrible had happened.”
“Oh, god.” Reya’s face paled.
Sester quickly put his arm around Reya's shoulders, trying to comfort and support her, but she brushed him off. He said to her, “It wasn’t your fault. It must have been Vanora. She confused us by using her psi abilities. We weren’t thinking clearly.”
As he said this, Sester felt terrible. The look of anguish and pain on Reya’s face was his fault.
He still believed that what he did had been necessary though.
Then why do I feel like I’ve done something wrong? It had to be because of Reya. He knew she would not have done what he did. She would not have been able to do what was necessary, that was why he had to. Now she was blaming herself when the responsibility was really his.
This was the human face of what he had done. Through Reya, the horror of his actions, the impact on the children, the murder of another human being, hit him emotionally in a way it had not before. To him, human emotions had always been things to be manipulated and controlled; to be considered objectively and at a distance. Because of Reya, he found it impossible to do that now.
He tried to convince himself. Vanora was too great a threat to be allowed to live. Every day she was running free meant that the aliens might have a chance to create more powerful telepaths to be used against humanity. For Sester the choice had been clear, it had made logical sense.
Strategically, Vanora represented too much of a risk to be tolerated in their battle against the aliens. The survival of the human race was as critical now as it had been during the Star One invasion. Only the nature of the battle had changed. The enemy was using different means. Humanity could not allow them that means. Killing her had not been personal. It was war.
Reya said, “I should have talked to her. Told her to come back. Threatened her…I didn’t even give her a chance. I just…killed her.” She was angry with herself and horrified at what she had done. “I should have talked to her earlier. Should have tried to come to some kind of understanding. She must have felt alone and threatened. She must have thought we were going to kill her.”
“It was the logical conclusion,” said Sester. “She would have known that. If your positions were reversed, she wouldn’t have had the same scruples about killing you in order to remove the danger.”
Cally was still eyeing Sester with suspicion. “What was your part in this?”
“I told you, Cally. I was affected too. Vanora was clearly trying to distract anyone who was on the flight deck so that they wouldn’t notice her leaving,” explained Sester reasonably.
Reya, who was trying to make sense of what happened, said, “There’s something I don’t understand. She took your ship. Did you give her access to your ship?”
Sester replied defensively, “Reya, you know I was working on a solution for you. I had to use the analysis tools on my ship. I had planned to go back to it so I didn’t lock the ship when I left. It was careless of me. If I had known what Vanora was planning to do…”
Cally asked sarcastically, “That sounds very good but how would Vanora have known that you had a ship? Unless you told her.”
Sester’s face turned slightly red, he seemed embarrassed. “I spent some time with her. You know that. I mentioned that I had to go to my ship. Vanora must have followed me to find out where it was. She’s probably been trying to find a way to escape all along. She must have discovered early that she couldn’t use the shuttles. It was just a lucky coincidence that she found mine unlocked.”
“It was very unlucky for her,” said Cally.
“Was it a coincidence, Sester?” Reya asked him, but not wanting to believe it.
“Yes, Reya. You have to believe me.” Sester’s voice was sincere and convincing; everything about him said he meant what he said. He wanted her to believe him. That much was very true, it was important to him.
Reya said, “I believe that you think you were helping. You did try to convince me several times that the only solution was to kill her.”
“Yes, but you made it very clear that it was not an option for you,” said Sester.
“But for you?” She pressed him for a clear answer.
“I have to admit that I still do think it was the only real solution. But I didn’t kill her,” said Sester.
Reya lowered her eyes and said dejectedly, “I did.”
Those two words were like daggers plunging into Sester’s heart. The way she said it, her whole demeanour made Sester hate himself. I can’t do this anymore. Not to you. He said in a grave voice. “No. You didn’t. I did.”
Cally looked sharply at him.
Reya, who still had her head lowered, said sadly. “You don’t have to say that.”
Sester took her by the arm and emphasized, “No. You didn’t. I’m the one who killed her. I arranged it all. If it wasn’t for me, she wouldn’t be dead, you wouldn’t feel horrible and the children would not be without a mother. The responsibility is mine. I tricked Vanora. I manipulated you into killing her.”
Reya shook her head, “You’re just trying to make me feel better. You’re trying to take all the blame and not make this my fault. You couldn’t do it by putting it all on Vanora, so you’re trying to take it on yourself.” She patted him on the chest and said sadly, “You’re a good friend. No matter what anyone says about you.”
Under any other circumstance, these words would have filled Sester with joy, but they only filled him with shame. He was telling the truth now and she didn’t believe him.
“No, Reya. You have to believe me. The ship. Trying to get Vanora to trust me. Making leading suggestions. It was all a strategy.” He tried to be as convincing as he could be. “I wasn’t affected by Vanora’s psi abilities. It was all acting on my part. That was how I was able to guide you into what I wanted you to do.” How can you still believe me? He didn’t want her to; he wanted her to hate him for doing this to her.
“Now I know you’re lying,” said Reya. “I could feel that you were affected. We both were. I could see the effect it had on you.”
“Reya, I’ve always had that reaction to you. It had nothing to do with Vanora.”
As Sester tried to convince Reya that it was his fault, Cally was conflicted and confused. Sester sounded sincere, as much as he ever did; which was very much. As with Vanora, it was very hard to tell what was true or not. She could sense his guilt and his deep feelings for Reya, she could sense that he thought he was doing the right thing and that he wanted to help, but she had been sensing those since she came in. Nothing had changed. What she could not tell was the specifics. There was no way to know what the truth was, not from her sense of him. All she knew was that she didn’t trust him; but she also knew that his love for Reya was genuine.
What are your real intentions? Are you capable of murder?
She knew that as a psychostrategist, he must have planned many scenarios, some of which caused deaths. But are you capable of doing it yourself? If you are, then you’re too dangerous to keep with us. But if you’re only trying to help, if you’re trying to take on the blame yourself in order to spare Reya, then perhaps there is hope.
It was impossible to tell. There was no proof.
Cally said cynically, “It’s very convenient for you, being able to sound so sincere with both lies and the truth.”
“Then you believe me?” asked Sester.
“I believe that you’re trying to help Reya. That’s what you’ve wanted to do from the beginning.”
“Yes. That’s why I did what I did,” acknowledged Sester.
Reya said, “Cally, you don’t believe he’s capable of murder, do you?”
Cally said, “I have a much more cynical attitude towards him than you do. I don’t know whether he did arrange for Vanora to die. He’s certainly capable of planning it. But without proof, I’m willing to keep an open, though suspicious mind.”
Sester said with frustration, “But I’m telling you that I did it. I murdered her. I planned it all.”
Reya told him, “It won’t work. You’re trying too hard to convince us. You keep doing that and it won’t sound sincere anymore. You’re going to have to try something else.”
Sester sighed. It was ironic that convincing people of the truth was proving much harder than getting them to believe the lies.
“Alright,” he said resignedly. He made a silent promise to Reya. I will never do this to you again. I will try to make it up to you. I will never lie to you again.
Reya asked, “What are we going to tell the children?”
Cally was at a loss. No words were going to be adequate no matter what they decided to tell them. Humans didn’t understand the depths to which an Auron felt the death of someone close to them. To those with the same genetic make-up, whose minds were most closely linked, it was a shared agony. Cally wished Avon were with her. She needed his cool and focused mind. Her own was in too much of a turmoil to think clearly.
Sester was at a loss too. He had taken away the children's mother; he had murdered her. And though it was necessary, it was something that no child would ever be able to understand. He didn’t dare step inside the nursery. Not just because of his fear of their powerful psi abilities but also because of the guilt that Reya had inspired in him. For some reason, the loss of objectivity when he was with Reya was extending to other things. She was giving him a human perspective.
Sester was afraid to face the children.
In the temporary nursery, the children were no longer screaming in agony but they were still crying. Vila and the soldiers held the infants, trying to comfort them and feeling helpless that they couldn’t do more.
“Hush, little one,” said Vila as he wiped the tears of the little girl in his arms. “It’s going to be alright.” Vila didn’t know what else to say. It sounded lame, even to him. How could everything be all right? He needed to find something else to tell them. What he needed was for Cally to come back and tell them that everything was all right.
“Uncle Vila, don’t leave us,” said the little one as she hugged him tighter.
Vila’s mouth dropped. These were the first clear words from this child’s mouth and it was a coherent sentence.
“You can speak?” he asked her in amazement.
“Of course, Uncle Vila. We’ve been speaking lots.” Even though the pronunciation of some of the words seemed to require an effort and weren't clear, the little girl had no trouble making herself understood.
“But I’ve never heard you,” said Vila.
“You can’t hear in your head, Uncle Vila,” she told him.
“You mean you can speak using telepathy?”
“Yes. We speak to Auntie Cally, Uncle Avon and…” The little girl started crying again. This set off all of the other children in the room and they all started crying loudly.
And your mother. Vila felt horrible; he knew what it felt like to lose his parents at a young age. He wanted to cry too.