The crew split their time between their duties on the Justice and helping down on the planet.
Following some of Argus's ideas and including some of her own, Reya was directing another group in the setting up of security procedures and installing various scanners and detectors around the settlement. Cally, Vila and the remainder of the soldiers spent their time helping with the children. Sester was not allowed anywhere near the planet and was stuck on the ship.
After over a week of compulsory bed rest, ordered by Cally and enforced by Reya, Argus was in a very irritable mood. It did not improve his temper that the only one who visited him regularly was Sester. Everyone else was too busy.
Argus moved around restlessly on the bio-bed, unable to find a comfortable position. Expelling a forceful breath of aggravation, Argus decided rebelliously that he was more than ready to get out of bed, regardless of what anyone said. He felt much stronger. There was still some minor aches and pain, but it was nothing to him.
Argus listened intently but heard no indication of anyone nearby. Other than faint background ship noises, there was not a sound. He slid himself to the side of the bed and carefully put one leg over the side.
"What are you doing?" Reya's voice asked from behind him. Argus grimaced and nearly fell off the bed. Reya rushed over to help him.
"How do you do that?" There was a disgruntled look on his face. He had no idea how she always managed to sneak up on him, just when he was about to do something he shouldn't be doing. Argus noticed that she was holding a long black stick in her hands.
"Do what?" she asked.
Reya asked, "Were you trying to get out of bed?"
"Yes." He looked at her unrepentantly. Then a bit more nervously, he eyed the stick she was holding and asked, "What do you plan to do with that?" He remembered that she had him chained to the bed on another occasion when he was injured and insisted on getting up before he should have.
Reya lifted the stick up. "It's for you."
"In what way?" he asked. "You don't plan to hit me with it, do you? I was only trying to get out of bed."
She almost rolled her eyes and asked, "Now why would I do that? Though…it would keep you out of trouble."
"That's not funny, Reya," said Argus grumpily. "I'm already stuck here while all of you get to go down to Kaarn. I haven't even seen it yet."
"Then it's time that you do. That’s why I’m here. Cally said that you’re allowed to get out of bed now. Here, take this." She extended the stick towards him. Argus saw that it was more than a stick, it was a cane. Carved into the handle was the intricate figure of a white dragon.
Reya told him, "This was Avon's when he was on Papos. He said that you might need it. Now let's get you out of bed."
Argus put the stick on the bed and Reya moved over to help him. He tried to wave her off, but her insistence was greater than his stubbornness. He felt clumsy and his legs didn’t seem to want to cooperate. After nearly falling again, he decided that he should stop complaining about being forced to accept help.
Instead, he said with an impish grin, "You know, normally we're helping each other into bed. This feels strange.”
"Are you saying that you want more bed rest?" Reya asked.
"Only if you want some with me," he said suggestively as he tried to hug her, while trying to stand on unsteady feet. Enforced bed rest meant there were many things he had not been allowed to do.
"Well, you're definitely feeling better," said Reya dryly as she gently, but firmly untangled herself from his attentions. "Though I wouldn't suggest anything more energetic than trying to stand at the moment. See how you manage with the cane."
Argus grabbed the stick and used it to steady himself while Reya slowly let go of him. It was a shock for him to realize how weak he was. He took a tentative step forward and nearly stumbled. Argus righted himself with the cane and tried again. The movements produced pain but it was manageable.
"That's good." She had been watching his efforts without interfering.
As Argus continued walking slowly around the medical bay, he began feeling stronger. Physical movement always energized him. "How are the security arrangements going?"
"They're almost complete. I'm halfway through the security training sessions," she told him.
"And the anti-detector screen?" The cane provided the right amount of support. His renewed mobility was putting him in a much better mood.
"Avon said that his group will need another five days. He wants to use the ship's scanners tomorrow to run some tests."
"Sounds like things are progressing. Now can we go down to the planet? I can't wait to get out of here."
Avon leaned against the doorframe as he watched Cally tending to the children in the nursery area. He had just completed work on the anti-detector screen for the day and had come over to see her. She had been very insistent that he get enough rest and he didn't want to disappoint her.
Cally was working on verbal skills with the children, she seemed happy and content, enjoying what she was doing and at ease with those around her.
Avon wondered what it was like, living in an atmosphere where you were never completely alone. He knew he would find it disturbing and unwelcome. He preferred solitude and the ability to control his access to people, or their access to him.
Cally’s occasional presence in his mind and the knowledge that she was always aware of him on some level, had been discomforting at first, but now he welcomed it. Their relationship was something they had both chosen. Those days when he had lost touch with her had made him realize how much he missed her when she wasn't there.
Cally laughed and all of the children started giggling. It was obvious that they were actively conversing with their minds and only intermittently speaking aloud.
It was such a natural thing for these children and Cally. They trusted each other and felt at ease with one another. To never be alone. And to be with people whom you could trust implicitly.
For Avon, it had always been a hopeless and foolish dream.
And people who could be trusted implicitly.
With Anna, Avon had discovered painfully how little one had to do with the other.
He needed truth. He wanted to know before he committed himself; before he took the hazard of caring. However, life never gave guarantees; it was not like the world of computers and machines. Every act of trust was a risk to yourself. It made you vulnerable; and that was a weakness others could exploit. For Avon, most of those risks had ended with someone betraying him.
Things were different now.
Cally and the children were laughing again. As he watched her, Avon felt at peace.
You are not like Anna.
He had another flash of memory. A shout from Cally. Himself whirling around, drawing his gun. The gun in Anna’s hand. Then shooting her just in time.
The gun. Even though she had not had time to shoot him, it felt as if she already had.
Why did you force me to kill you, Anna? I wouldn’t have. Even after I found out who you were, and what you were. I would not have killed you. I didn't want to kill you. I was that much of a fool.
Keep regret a small part…
It`s a shame I can't follow my own advice.
Now there was Cally. Avon wondered. If he had known about Anna earlier, perhaps he would have been able to come to this relationship with Cally sooner. So much time wasted. It was no use speculating on things that might have been. They had each other now.
I will trust you and conquer my own fears.
He had extended to Cally, what he had once given to Anna. His implicit trust, which was, for a man who did not trust easily, his strongest expression of love. For many he would die, but only for Anna, and now for Cally would he trust without reservation. A trust that did not require proof; a trust that was based on their love for one another. Avon knew that very few people would believe that he was capable of trusting, or even loving like this. Anna had. And he knew that Cally had always hoped. From the first day they met.
It wasn’t just Cally though, there were the others. He couldn’t say that he trusted them without reservation, but he was learning to trust them. It felt strange but he was determined that things would be different.
* Avon. I didn’t see you come in. * Cally had looked up and noticed him by the door.
* Uncle Avon! * A chorus of greetings came from the children.
Cally reminded them, * Remember what I said children. Not all at once or you’ll scare Uncle Avon. *
* Yes, I scare very easily, * said Avon with a light grin. He came over to where Cally was working with the children.
* We’re sorry, Uncle Avon. * Brina conveyed their apologies.
* It’s all right children, * Avon reassured them.
Cally asked, * Are you finished with the anti-detector screen for the day? *
* Yes. *
Cally said, “Let’s continue this verbally. I am trying to encourage the children to speak so that they can develop their vocal skills and not having much success.” There was a mock-look of resigned exasperation on her face. All of the children started giggling.
When little Brina spoke, it was in a clear but halting voice. “But Auntie Cally. It’s no fun and it’s so slow. Couldn’t we do both?”
Avon added in agreement, “I find it easier expressing my thoughts using non-verbal communications as well.”
Cally said with real but light exasperation now, “Oh, Avon. You’re not making it any easier by saying that.”
Avon reached out and took her hands in his. His eyes were steady on hers.
Cally looked down at his hands holding hers and asked, `When you said non-verbal communications, which kind were you referring to?"
Avon smiled; it was a tentative, almost shy smile. "Both."
Vila was having a great time with the children. As their verbal skills progressed, they loved to talk with him. It brought back fond memories of youthful days; when he had taken care of other people's kids.
Vila took a small flat disc out of his pocket. It was one he used to maintain the dexterity of his fingers. He began running it across his knuckles to the delight of the watching children.
"Uncle Vila. More magic tricks?"
"Please, Uncle Vila."
All of the children loved his magic. It wasn't just the tricks he performed; it was his delight in bringing wonder and amazement to their eyes and his obvious enjoyment in spending time with them. He loved all of them. And they all loved their Uncle Vila.
After all of the things in the past ten years that had made him feel old and weighed down, the children made Vila feel young again.
"Now watch carefully, children." Vila made a show of flipping the disc up into the air and catching it in his right hand. Keeping his both fists tightly closed and well away from each other, he shook the fist holding the disk and then suddenly opened it up with his palm facing the children.
They all gasped and made sounds of delight when he showed that the disk was not where they thought it had been. "Oh no. Where did that disk go?" he asked his young audience.
"Other hand!" Several of the children shouted and pointed. Other ones said, "No! Not there!"
"I don't know," said Vila. "Do you really think so? Should I check?" He made a show of trying to peek into his other closed hand. All of the children leaned forward and looked intently at his closed fist, trying hard to see the disk too.
"Nope. It's not there." Vila opened his empty hand for them to see. They all stared in amazement and ooohed with delight.
"Where is it?"
"Where is it, Uncle Vila?"
As Vila continued showing them more magic tricks with the simple disc, he realized that he was happier than he had been in a long time. He wondered if anyone would mind if he stayed on Kaarn with the children and not return to the ship. It was a tempting thought.
Later that day, Vila was back on the ship, attending to his shift on the flight deck. For some reason, Sester was there as well.
Vila told him, "You know…Reya is not due back until tomorrow."
Sester said, "I know." He sighed.
"You really should give up. She's never going to leave him for you," said Vila.
Sester turned to stare at Vila. "Have you given up being the fool for today?"
"At least I can," said Vila.
Sester laughed. There was a self-mocking quality to his easy laughter. "What are your intentions, Vila?"
Without answering his question, Vila asked in return, "Are all psychostrategists this paranoid?"
"Only the smart ones," said Sester.
"It must be a terrible way to live."
"It's all part of the game, Vila."
"Don't you trust anyone?" Vila asked him.
"I trust myself," said Sester.
"I mean anyone else?"
"I trust in human nature," said Sester with a cynical grin.
"Talking to you is like talking to Avon sometimes. Except that you smile once in awhile."
"Well, Avon hasn't had a lot to smile about."
"He never has," said Vila. As he talked with Sester, Vila realized that he couldn't stay on Kaarn with the children. There were things he had to do; his friends needed him.
Someone had to keep an eye on Sester.
Argus and Reya were in their guest room on Kaarn, along with little Brina. Reya would occasionally bring one or two back with her from the nursery area. She was looking for something in one of the drawers beside the bed while she kept an eye on the child.
Brina was staring gravely at Argus with a perplexed look on her face. She asked worriedly, "Auntie Reya, is Uncle Argus sick?"
Reya looked over at Argus curiously. She asked, “Argus, do you not like children?”
Argus looked panicked. “No. I mean yes. I mean no…did Vila tell you that? I’m going to kill him.”
“It wasn’t him. I noticed that you don’t spend much time around them. You seem to spend most of your time working with Avon or training the Aurons. And you’re as far away from this one as you could possibly get without leaving the room,” said Reya.
“She makes me nervous,” said Argus.
“Why? She’s just a child. She can’t harm you.”
“I know she won’t. I’m just afraid of hurting her. Reya…she’s moving,” said Argus.
“Yes? She will do that occasionally. She’s a baby, not a stuffed toy.”
“But what if she falls off the bed?” he asked worriedly.
“You have superior reflexes. I’m sure you’ll make sure she doesn’t hurt herself,” said Reya as she continued rummaging around the drawer.
Argus moved closer to the bed and sat down on the floor beside it with his arms in front of him, just in case.
Reya glanced over and asked, “What are you doing?”
“This is the best position to catch her if she falls.”
Reya sighed and asked, “Argus, do you plan to be like this with our child? By the way, her name is Brina.”
Argus thought with alarm, Our child? Did I miss something? Did we adopt this one while I wasn’t looking?
At the panic in his eyes, Reya qualified, “When we decide to have one that is?”
Argus gulped. “I guess I should call her by her name.”
“That would be a good idea,” said Reya. “We wouldn’t want our child to start developing a complex.”
Little Brina giggled and said, "You're funny, Uncle Argus."
Reya looked over and said, "Yes, he is, Brina."
Argus said, “When you say that, it makes me feel like you’re going to pull one out from that drawer any minute.” He tentatively extended his fingers and Brina grasped them with delight and started playing with him.
“You mean using, ‘our child’?” asked Reya.
“Well, it would be our child when we have one.”
“I know that. It just seems so close when you refer to her as ‘our child’.”
“And you would prefer the event to be farther away?” asked Reya.
“Much. I mean, only if you want it to be,” said Argus. He studied her face. “Reya, do you want to have children now?”
“I would love to have children with you one day. But not right now. I don’t think either of us is ready yet.”
“I mean, it’s not that I don’t want to have children. I would love to. But with this war with the aliens going on and all of the things with Servalan and the Federation. I’m just worried that…”
“I want to give our child a more stable environment. With both of us involved in this fight, it’s just not safe.”
“You know that this war may take a long time to resolve.”
“I know.” His eyes were troubled as he looked at her. With the way she had been around the children, Argus knew that she would love to have one of her own. He didn’t want to disappoint her.
Reya said, “For now, we will both try to make this galaxy a safer place. But we may have to revisit this issue later. If we want children, it may not be possible to wait until everything is resolved.”
“You’re right. If you want we could come back to Kaarn occasionally so you can see these children.”
“That would be nice. I think everyone would like that.”
“Just out of curiosity, when we do decide to have one, how do we go about it?”
“You’re not serious. You’re already well versed in the physical aspects of conceiving a child. Believe me; you don’t need to do anything different.”
“Noooo. I don’t mean that. I know how to have one. But don’t you have to have a license or something? Take some courses?”
“Argus! Don’t tell me you’ve never had friends who’ve had children.”
“Of course I have. But I’ve never asked them. It’s not something that usually comes up in a normal conversation. Men don’t talk about things like that; at least not in the military. We talk about other things.”
Reya sighed again. “To answer your questions, no, we don’t need to get a license or take any courses.”
Argus asked, “But how would we know how to take care of it if we don’t take a course?”
Unable to find what she had been looking for, Reya came over, sat down next to Argus and ran her fingers through his hair affectionately. It was good to see him develop an ease with Brina.
Argus put an arm around her while he continued to play with Brina. “You will show me what to do, won’t you? I don’t want to make any mistakes with our child.”
Reya said, "I'm sure you'll know what to do when the time comes."
Brina asked innocently, "Uncle Argus, what is conceiving?"
Argus coughed and looked with panic at Reya.
As the security of Kaarn became more secure, the crew prepared to leave. None of them wanted to. Being here with the children and among the friendly Auronar had been a special time for all of them. It was easy to forget their responsibilities or that the galaxy outside still had many battles to be fought.
Argus was watching Avon and his team do the final tests with the anti-detector screen. Lieutenant Dain had finished helping Reya in the training of the Auronar when he came looking for Argus.
"Commander Argus," said Dain, catching his attention.
"Lieutenant. Is there something you wanted?" asked Argus.
"Yes, sir. The men and I have been thinking it over. Some of us want to stay here on Kaarn to protect the children and the Aurons."
Argus was surprised. This was the last thing he had been expecting. "That's a serious commitment, Lieutenant."
"We know, sir. But some of the men have become attached to the children and they feel that they need to help."
Argus looked at Dain and saw that he was being serious. "It's not my call, lieutenant. You're only on loan from the Athol military. The general will have to agree to this."
"But you could talk to him, sir. He respects you."
Argus nodded. "I'll see what I can do. Was there anything else?"
Dain shuffled on his feet nervously. "There was something else."
"Out with it, lieutenant."
"Some of us want to stay with the children but the rest of us want to stay with you. If you'll have us that is." Dain looked slightly embarrassed.
Argus looked even more surprised. "Why, lieutenant?"
"Because of what you did back on the planet."
Argus shook his head, "You don't owe me anything, lieutenant."
"It's not about that, sir. We feel that you're someone who is worth serving under."
"Don't think more of me than you should, lieutenant."
"Will you let us stay with you then, sir?" Dain looked hopefully at him.
"This is also something I will have to discuss with the general," said Argus.
"Of course, sir," Dain said confidently.
When it finally came time for the crew to leave, apart from the soldiers who were staying, there was an air of gloom in the air.
One of the children said with a sob, "Don't leave us, Uncle Vila."
Vila lifted her up into his arms. "I don't want to children, but I have to." He was almost close to tears himself; he already missed them. "There are many bad people out there. People who would harm little children like you. All of your aunts and uncles have to go and stop the bad people."
"Will you come back?" the child asked.
"Yes, I promise. We will all come back to visit. We love you all very much."
"We love you too, Uncle Vila. We will wait for you."
******** The End ********
Next Story: Past and Present or Regrets