Her presence was immediately noticed. There was a mental atmosphere of excitement and an increase in the ambient chattering at the edge of her consciousness.
* Cally! It’s been a long time. * An adult voice greeted her.
Another one also expressed a welcome, * Greetings, Cally. Are you passing through or are you coming here? *
Cally recognized the voices immediately. She put down the child she had been holding and responded, * Patar. Franton. It’s good to hear your voices. Is everyone well? *
* We’ve been very busy. Are you on your way here? It will be good to see you, * said Patar.
Cally said, * We should be arriving soon. I can’t wait to see all of you. I have some surprises. *
* Surprises? What kind of surprises? * Franton’s voice asked.
Cally asked, * Are you able to handle more children? *
Franton said, * Why don’t you explain what you mean first. Are you talking about your children? *
Cally explained about the children and Vanora.
* Hmm. * Franton conveyed a wealth of deliberation and sadness in a single mental sound. * I knew she was headed for a bad end when she left us. Did she give any indication where Lorne is? *
Cally had almost forgotten about Vanora’s partner. * No. She only said that they had a difference of opinion and they parted company many years ago. *
* That’s unfortunate and troubling. Lorne was potentially the worse of the two. But we will gladly take care of the children. Even though Vanora was technically their mother, in many ways, the children are as close to you genetically as they were to her. Bring the children here; we will be ready for them. *
The Kaarn settlement was a bustling place; full of activity and the energy of youth.
Vila said, “Where did all these adults come from? Shouldn’t they all be much younger?”
Cally responded, “The Andromedans are not the only ones who are able to accelerate growth, though we don’t often practice it to this degree. I imagine it was the only way Franton and Patar could manage so many.”
Dropping the children off at Kaarn was hard for everyone. The children didn’t want them to leave and the crew and the soldiers felt as if they were abandoning their little charges. Cally promised the children that they would come back.
The Justice returned to pick up Avon, Argus and Dain’s team without incident. Argus was rushed to the medical bay where Cally was waiting for him.
Argus opened his eyes. After days of rocky cave ceilings, the smooth metallic surface of the medical bay appeared strange.
"How are you feeling?" Cally was checking the life readings next to him.
Argus tried to assess his own condition. "Head feels groggy. Can't feel anything else."
"Those are the anaesthetics, they're still wearing off. You should be fine in a few moments. There's someone here to see you." She moved out of the way, revealing Reya standing behind her.
Argus stared at her with a stunned look on his face.
"Hello, Argus." Reya came forward and stood next to his bio-bed.
Cally said, "I'll leave the two of you alone. Don't talk too long. He still needs plenty of rest." She doubted if the two of them had heard her.
After Cally had left, Argus and Reya continued staring at each other silently.
Argus finally said, "I can't stand it. Please say something."
"I'm glad you're alright. What else is there to say?" she asked.
"I know you're disappointed in me. I promised I would never leave you alone again and I did."
"You were playing hero again." She sounded disappointed.
His shoulders slumped. "I didn't mean to. It's not what I was thinking of. I couldn't think of another way to do it."
Reya sighed. "Argus, do you really think that's why I'm disappointed?"
"I…don't know?" He really didn't.
"You always do what you need to in order to save the others. It's one of the reasons why I love you." She brushed her fingers through his hair affectionately.
"Yes, I do." Reya had a way of smiling, with a shy tentativeness, ending in an expression that always lifted his spirits.
"Then I don't understand."
"Why did you tell me to go and leave you?"
"How is he?" Avon asked Cally when she entered their shared cabin.
"Much better now. I was able to remove all of the fragments. He's talking to Reya now." She stretched tiredly and sat down on the bunk.
Avon sat down beside her. "Then better is a relative term."
"I haven't had time to give you an examination. How are you feeling?"
"Nothing a few days of sleep won't cure. I'm glad you insisted on including a drug kit for me."
"Well, after what happened on Papos, I wasn't about to risk a repeat performance. Though I think I'm going to insist on a basic medical field kit for everyone going down on a mission from now on."
"I doubt if Argus will object." Avon noticed that she wasn't just tired, she appeared sad and distracted. He touched her face gently. "Tell me what's wrong."
Sester had retreated to his cabin after Argus and the others had been retrieved. He didn’t particularly want to face the sight of Argus and Reya together. His chess set was always set out for a game; the current configuration was a tricky one that would require some more thought. Sester preferred the old-style chess sets with pieces he could move with his hands.
He applied his mind to the task and reached out to make a move. As his hand touched the black knight, he gasped in pain and grabbed the wrist wearing the tracer bracelet, dropping the piece in the process. The agony began to spread up his arm. Sester gripped the edge of the table in order to pull himself up, scattering the chess game across the floor.
Malfunction of the tracer. Or deliberate. Have to get help. He staggered towards the door but the pain was increasing at a debilitating rate. He was panting for breath and collapsed to his knees halfway across the room. At that moment, the cabin door slid open. Sester looked up and saw Avon standing there; an ominous presence clad in black.
Of course. Sester gasped out, “If this is your idea of a greeting, then I’m not very impressed.”
Avon stepped inside, letting the door close behind him. He stood staring down at Sester but didn’t say anything. The pain kept growing as Avon watched impassively. Sester groaned and said angrily, “Stop this and tell me what you want.”
Avon said finally, “We're going to have a discussion.”
Even speaking was hard now. “This is not…discussion. it's torture…I refuse…say anything …until you stop."
Avon's face was hard and unyielding. “You’re not in a position to make any demands. And, if you recall, this was the only kind of discussion you offered to me, when our positions were reversed.”
With dismay, Sester remembered it only too well. He and Servalan had tortured Avon and forced him to talk to them while he had been in agony. It had been an expression of their power over him. The tables were now turned. For Sester, it had simply been a means to an end. There had been nothing personal in what he had done. For Avon, it was much more. It was revenge against a man who had made his life a living nightmare.
Sester said, “You’re right. But unless…you want the challenge of questioning…unconscious man…suggest…come to…compromise.” He groaned, the pain had spread to his whole body; he could barely keep upright, even on his knees.
Avon took a small control from his pocket and made an adjustment. The pain began decreasing slowly until it reached a constant but more manageable level. Sester breathed a sigh of relief.
Avon pointed to the chair Sester had occupied during his interrupted chess game. “Sit down. Over there."
Holding his pained left side, Sester did as ordered. He said, “Let me guess. You've talked to Cally and then you had an irresistible urge to come and visit me.”
“She had some very interesting things to say about you,” said Avon.
“All bad, I’m sure,” said Sester. “So why are you here, other than to torture me?”
“I want to know everything that happened leading up to the death of Vanora.” Avon sat down opposite him.
“Is that all?” asked Sester casually. “I’ve already told Cally and Reya what happened.”
“I want to know what you haven’t told them.” Avon fixed him with a glare that demanded truth, or else.
Sester was rarely concerned when facing hostility. Psychostrategists usually had people on the wrong side of interrogations; he was well acquainted with antagonism but with his abilities, was usually able to turn it into something more constructive, for him. Of course, he was the one on the wrong end of this interrogation but this didn’t worry him either.
There was one problem though, he had made a promise. Sester wondered which variation of the truth he could tell that would not necessitate lying to Reya if she asked. He had already tried to tell the truth and had not been believed. Sester doubted if Avon would have the same problem.
“I guess there’s no use asking you not to kill me if I tell you the truth?” He spoke with a straightforward casualness.
“Not at all.”
“Unless, of course, you’ve already decided to kill me before you entered this cabin.”
“The thought had crossed my mind,” said Avon.
“Just crossed?” asked Sester with an easy smile.
“What happened to Vanora was unfortunate but unavoidable,” said Avon.
“Ah. I knew that you, of all people, would appreciate the danger she represented. You’re an infinitely practical man, Avon.”
“And what are you?” asked Avon.
“I’m an expedient one.”
“You did kill her then.” It was not a question.
Sester hesitated and then a slow smile spread across his face. “I knew you would believe me. We are two of a kind. We understand what needs to be done.”
“Is that what you told Vanora?” asked Avon sarcastically.
Sester laughed. “The opposite. She was the one who believed that we were two of a kind.”
For some reason, those words made Sester feel uncomfortable. In many ways, he and Vanora had been two of a kind; and he had arranged for her death. He was suddenly hit by how alone she must have felt in the instant she realized what was going to happen; alone and betrayed. Forced to abandon her own children. It gave him a sick feeling in his stomach.
Avon said, "I have a dilemma. Vanora’s death, while regrettable, was not without reason. Whereas…”
Sester laughed. It was a self-mocking, fatalistic sound now. “Whereas, my death would neither be regrettable nor without reason.”
“Oh good. We do understand each other.” Avon was looking at him strangely, as he noticed the perplexing shift in Sester's attitude.
“So, will it be the airlock? Or do you have one of the soldiers standing outside with a rifle?” Sester asked with an inappropriately cheerful tone.
“I hope you don’t expect me to kill myself,” said Sester. “That is something I refuse to do. You would have to kill me first.”
“You still haven’t told me everything that happened. I want it in detail,” said Avon.
“Is this a form of torture? Something akin to digging my own grave?”
“It will keep you alive a little while longer,” said Avon coldly.
“Well, that’s always a good thing. Though most people on this ship might think otherwise. Very well." With that, Sester told Avon the truth.
After he was done, Sester asked tiredly, "Are you going to turn this thing off now?" He held up his tracer-adorned wrist. The pain was just barely tolerable now. "I would like to have a few pain-free moments before I die."
Avon took the control unit from his pocket. It was hard to tell what his intentions were. Sester waited nervously as Avon pressed one of the buttons. The pain disappeared.
Sester's body relaxed. "Thank you."
Avon studied Sester as the man waited for his next move. He had not expected to hear this much truth from the psychostrategist. It made him even more suspicious of his intentions. Sester had revealed how he had arranged for Vanora to be murdered. He had admitted to manipulating Reya and what he had done to her on the flight deck. All of the details had been there. There was even a why. He had considered Vanora too great a risk to be left alive. Sester had told him all of the details, except one. Avon smiled.
Avon waited until Reya had left the medical bay before he went to see Argus.
Avon said, “We have to talk.”
Argus opened his eyes. “What about?”
“Our favourite person on the ship.”
Argus snarled. “Sester.”
“Yes. Did Reya tell you what happened with Vanora?”
Argus grimaced. “She blames herself. I tried to tell her that it wasn’t her fault but she can’t let go of it. Are you here to tell me what really happened?”
“How do you know that there was more to it?” asked Avon.
“You wouldn’t be here if there weren’t. And…” Argus had to admit something that he wished were not true. “Reya is vulnerable where Sester is concerned. I trust her but for some reason; she finds it difficult not to trust him.”
“Very uncharacteristic of her.”
“I know.” It was a constant source of frustration for him and something that made Argus want Sester off the ship even more.
“He is very good at gaining people’s trust. Even Cally believed him this time.”
“I want him off the ship,” said Argus.
“Once I tell you what really happened, you’ll want that even more.”
Avon proceeded to convey what Sester had admitted to him. As he did, Argus’s hatred for Sester grew.
When Avon was finished, Argus asked with cold anger and suspicion, “Why would he tell you this? Is it another trick?”
“I believe he was telling the truth,” said Avon.
“I’m going to kill him,” said Argus. He made a movement to get up.
Avon immediately put his hand on Argus’s chest to stop him. “No.”
“Why? Did you already kill him?”
“No. And you know you would never be able to kill anyone in cold blood.”
“I’ll give him a pistol first,” said Argus with antagonistic fairness.
“No, you won’t.”
“And why not?”
“Because we need him,” said Avon. Avon seemed very certain of this.
“This is Sester; we’re talking about, Avon.” He wondered what Avon was up to.
“He is too dangerous to be allowed to stay onboard. He’s already proven that.” For Argus, the safety of the people on the ship was paramount.
Avon said, “That is precisely why we need him.”
“Would you like to explain that before I conclude that you’ve lost your mind?”
Avon explained, “Eventually, we will be going after Servalan. At the moment, she has all of the advantages and the resources of the Federation at her disposal. And this agreement we have with her to fight the Andromedans, while necessary, will also serve to help consolidate her power.”
“So you think we need our own advantage? One she doesn’t know about?”
“As you said, Sester has proven himself to be too dangerous a man to have onboard. But what if we can turn that danger around and point it somewhere else?”
“Turn him against Servalan? Do you think that will work?” Argus looked sceptical.
Avon said, “When he was telling me the truth of what happened, there was one thing he left out. Something that we will be able to use.”
The tone in Avon’s voice made Argus uneasy. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“No.” Avon almost looked apologetic. “You’ve identified that the commander has a weakness where Sester is concerned. But that weakness extends both ways. He killed Vanora because Reya asked him to help. She didn’t know the extent of what he was willing to do and he was very careful not to tell her.”
“He did it for her?” Argus did not like this one bit.
“That’s not all.”
“I’m not sure I want to hear anymore,” Argus said with great irritation. The idea that they should get rid of Sester was still his preferred option. But the thought he might not be able to, was causing great frustration.
“You’re going to have to. Don’t you find it curious that Sester would tell us the truth? Knowing what your response would be? He also tried to tell Reya and Cally the truth.”
“Yes, she told me. But they didn’t believe him.”
“No, they didn’t. But he knew we would.”
“Why would he do that?” It was more than just curious.
Avon hesitated; he knew that the next part would be difficult. “He did it because of something you don’t want to face. But it’s something we can use against Servalan.”
“No!” Argus said in angry denial. He knew what Avon was going to say.
“Unfortunately, you can’t change the facts. He has very strong feelings for Reya. Strong enough that he’s willing to do almost anything for her. That is why he told us the truth even though he knew it would put him at a disadvantage. It’s because of a promise he made to her. He will not lie to her. And he will not put himself in a position where he will have to lie to her. He knew that in this case, he had to tell us the truth. Because eventually she would believe the truth.”
“When that day comes, Reya will most likely throw him off the ship herself,” said Argus.
“He knows that.”
“I am not going to use her, Avon. And I’m not going to lie to her either.”
“I never said we were going to. The beauty of this trap is that we don’t have to do anything. Sester will continue walking into it without any help from us. All we have to do is keep an eye on him.”
“You make it sound very easy, Avon. But we both know it’s not.”
“To defeat Servalan, we need a dangerous weapon. We can still decide what to do with him afterwards.”
Argus thought this over. He hated leaving Sester on the ship, knowing how dangerous he was and how he felt about Reya; but he knew intimately the even greater danger Servalan posed.
“Alright,” he agreed reluctantly.