Jenna was trying to hold her temper and her biting remarks as she smiled sweetly and showed personal interest in the Federation inspections officer who had boarded the ship. She was doing very well, the man found it difficult to concentrate on what he was doing. More importantly, he was glossing over some of the more detailed checks he should be doing as part of his job.
Just flash those pretty teeth and smile. I'll take care of the rest. Those had been Redden's orders. He was a bearded old free trader (which was really another term for smuggler) who had been willing to allow her to join his crew. The man was a fool but Jenna didn't have many options, she needed the credits in order to get back to Earth and she needed to build up her resources. Revenge against a man like Avon was going to be expensive.
Jenna's anger flared at the thought of the man who had killed Blake.
The Federation officer looked at her strangely. "Is there something wrong?"
I have to concentrate on what I'm doing. She gave the officer an enticing smile, "What could possibly be wrong now that you're here?"
Avon and Argus were having a match of three-dimensional chess in Argus's cabin while they conversed about the situation with Sester.
Avon watched Argus make his next move. "He agreed?"
Argus replied, "Yes. That's what Reya said. She wasn't very pleased at being asked to do it."
Avon glanced at Argus before he moved his own piece. He asked, "Did you clarify the situation with your usual skill?"
Argus asked, "Are you trying to say something?" He followed Avon's move with his own.
Avon said, "As a matter of fact, yes. I've noticed that when you speak to the Commander, the information conveyed is, shall we say, less than ideal." He studied the board; Argus appeared to have shifted his strategy again. "You like doing that, don't you?"
"Only when I'm playing you," said Argus.
Avon responded by moving one of his pieces, "Well, it appears you will have to find another strategy, you have a possibility of losing in six moves with this one."
Argus sighed and studied the board. "Sometimes I wonder why she puts up with me."
"Yes, it is one of the galaxy's great mysteries," said Avon.
"Maybe not the entire galaxy." Argus picked up a piece on the top tier and shifted it to the middle one.
"That's better," said Avon as he assessed Argus's move. "You might only lose in ten moves."
Argus said with light sarcasm, "Lucky me. I only wished that things were easier with Reya."
As the two men continued playing, Avon wondered if he was expected to make a comment. He also wondered how many unhappy people there were on the ship and if he was destined to speak to all of them. Avon decided a little proactive action was required; he should pay more attention to Cally before she also developed this problem.
The game progressed further and Argus’s strategy kept forcing Avon to continually adjust his own. They both enjoyed the challenge; it was like a chess game of cat and mouse.
Avon asked, "You're having difficulties with her?" He knew it was a rhetorical question, but it was a direct one.
"I'm the problem. It's not Reya," said Argus. "I'm afraid that if I make her unhappy enough, then I'll be forcing her to go to someone else."
"Yes." Argus was filled with self-doubt and worry.
"You're an idiot if you think that. I would not recommend repeating this to her," said Avon.
"I know. Sometimes…I wish that she would choose someone else, and then she'd be much happier."
"She wouldn't. You would both be miserable." Avon may not have understood the confusing complexities of human relationships, but this kind of deep bond he did have experience with, with Anna and now with Cally. He shifted another piece.
"I suppose so," said Argus as he frowned at Avon's latest move.
"Cally has been trying to encourage me to talk to people," said Avon.
"I was wondering why we were having this conversation," said Argus.
"Do I have to say anything else?" asked Avon.
Argus reached out and lay down his king. "No, I know where this is going and you're right, I need to work on my relationship with Reya. Women like to talk about things."
"Good. Another game?" asked Avon. The two men began setting up the pieces again. “Let’s get back to the topic of Sester. I’ll talk to him but I’m afraid that my natural hostility and suspicions towards him will preclude any unbiased assessment. You have the same problem, as does Cally. We need someone to keep an eye on Sester, who hasn’t had any dealings with him yet.”
Argus asked, “You’re thinking of Vila?” He looked up from the board. “Or have you already asked him to? I have noticed that he’s been spending time with Sester.”
“Has he?” Avon’s eyebrows raised in mild surprise and curiosity. He wondered what Vila was up to. Avon had already warned him about the dangers of dealing with Sester.
Avon made the opening move and Argus immediately countered with his own.
Argus said, “You didn’t know?”
Avon said defensively, “I have been somewhat busy.” Trust was a work in progress for the two men.
Argus nodded in apology. “You’re right. I almost got the impression that Vila was trying to get along with Sester.”
Avon said, “That may be useful for our purposes, but only as long as Vila appreciates how dangerous Sester is.”
“Yes. Do you think he’ll agree?”
“I’ll talk to him,” said Avon as he picked up his rook and placed it on the middle tier.
"There was something else I wanted to discuss. This also concerns Vila."
After the game, Avon went looking for Vila. He knew that Vila usually liked to eat after his shifts and sure enough, Vila was in the dining area. Avon went over to Vila’s table and sat down across from him. “We need to talk.”
“This must be a record, that’s twice in four hours. I’m going to have to start keeping a schedule,” said Vila as he shoved some of his food items out of Avon’s way.
“Is that ice cream?” asked Avon as he noticed one of the bowls. Unlike Vila, he had not gone through the whole menu of food stuffs that the dispensers were capable of producing. Until now, he had restricted himself to a narrow range of choices; it hadn’t seemed important to expand his choices. The daily familiarity had been comforting but he realized that what was reassuring was the lack of choice he had become accustomed to at the detention centre. In many ways, what they had done to him there was still influencing his life. He had gotten used to being a prisoner. Working was not a problem, that was what they had conditioned him to do but personal choices were a different matter. They had tried to destroy his sense of self by controlling his life and environment.
Avon was aware of a faint fear threatening to surface. He hadn’t felt it in weeks because he had managed to create a routine that minimized the kinds of stress he couldn’t handle yet. He knew that he had to overcome it eventually.
“Close enough. Do you want some?” asked Vila as he moved to get up. Even though it had been slight, Vila recognized the look in Avon’s eyes. He had seen it enough times in those first weeks after Avon had been rescued.
Avon got up before Vila did and said, “I can get it.” He walked slowly towards the dispensers, like a man who didn’t know what he would find when he got to his destination.
Vila didn’t know whether to be concerned or not as Avon went to get some ice cream. Sometimes Avon seemed perfectly fine. His mind was functional and his wit, though rarely nasty now, was still as sharp but Vila knew that something as simple as choosing what to eat still produced great stress for him. He wasn’t sure how it was possible that someone could handle complex technical problems but still have trouble with the simple things. But, of course, Avon had always been a complicated man.
Avon came back with a bowl containing vanilla ice cream.
“It’s not black,” said Vila with a teasing grin.
“I couldn’t find a liquorice flavoured one,” said Avon with a deadpan face.
"Uh…I'm glad." Vila shuddered at the thought of black, liquorice flavoured ice cream.
Avon took a spoonful and tasted it tentatively, it wasn’t bad. He ate a few more before addressing why he was there. “Vila, what are you doing with Sester?”
Vila nearly dropped his own spoon, but he managed to ask innocently “Doing? I’m not doing anything with him.”
This was a question Vila had hoped that Avon wouldn’t ask him. It meant that Avon might suspect what he was up to with Sester. Either Avon had seen him with Sester, or someone had mentioned it to him.
Most people would welcome the help, but Vila knew that Avon wouldn’t. He knew that Avon hated the fact that he could no longer function the way he used to; he would see anyone’s help as pity. Vila knew he would have to be careful with his answers. He would only reveal the other reason why he had decided to watch Sester.
“Vila.” Avon pressed for the truth.
“Alright. Alright. I’ve talked to him," admitted Vila reluctantly.
“Are you aware of how dangerous he is?” asked Avon.
“Of course I am. You already told me before," said Vila indignantly.
"I also warned you to stay away from him," said Avon.
"Well, I can decide that for myself," said Vila. "I don’t need you to tell me."
Avon's eyes narrowed in suspicion at Vila's defensive tone. Vila was trying to hide something, of that he was certain. "Your decision led you to ignore my warnings?" asked Avon.
"You think I'm an idiot because I didn't listen to you," said Vila.
"I didn't say that," said Avon.
"Well, you didn't have to, did you? That's what you were thinking."
"Vila, stop avoiding my questions, I don't want this to become an argument. I need you to watch Sester, but I have to know that you're aware of the dangers." Avon almost sighed. He realized that his own past dealings with people was proving to be a handicap in his attempts at relating with people now.
Vila's mouth opened in astonishment. "You need me? To watch Sester?"
Avon said, "Yes, the rest of us have a less than friendly association with him. You're the only one who doesn't."
"Well, now that you’ve mentioned it. I was doing that already."
It was Avon's turn to be surprised. "You decided to do this on your own? Why, Vila?"
"I knew that you said he was dangerous. And I knew that you already had too many things to do. I wanted to help."
"Dealing with Sester is more than just help, Vila."
"I know. Like you said, the Federation tried to condition me to be someone who is easily led and who is afraid all the time. I want to change that. I wanted to see if I could do something on my own."
“Alright. But be careful.”
"Don't worry, I plan to be."
They began discussing what they wanted to do with Sester.
After arriving at Borel's headquarters on Zirgon, Argus and Reya immediately went to see Kameron Reve. They were waiting outside of the official chambers.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to go in with you?” Argus asked her. There was a concerned look on his face. Neither one of them knew what Kameron's reaction would be to finding out the truth about the woman whom he had loved to the point of obsession.
"I have to do this alone," said Reya. She had an air of quiet resolve. The door opened and they could see the formidable figure of Kameron Reve sitting at the far end, surrounded by a mixed group of civilians and military officials. Reya squared her shoulders and went inside. The officials all filed out, greeting her as they passed. One of the people exiting the room was the young General.
The door closed again.
"Commander, it's good to see you again," said Borel.
"General. It's good to see you as well." Argus was only half paying attention to the conversation. His ears were straining to hear what was going on through the closed door.
Borel noticed his preoccupation and asked, "Is there something wrong?”
At that moment there were sounds of a male voice shouting in anger from inside the room. Argus moved forward to open the door but Borel put his hand on the other man's arm, holding him back.
Borel said, “You don't have to worry about Reya. She can take care of herself. Always has. Now tell me what happened. Where is Galena?”
Argus told him everything about the woman who had tricked them all.
Afterwards, a thoughtful Borel said, "I thought there was something wrong with that woman. Kam was acting so strangely."
"Yes. She was able to manipulate men because of her abilities," said Argus.
"Kameron must be livid," said Borel as he glanced at the door. They could still hear Kameron Reve’s angry voice. Intermittently, they could also hear Reya's also loud but much calmer and more controlled voice. The thickness of the door and walls prevented them from hearing anything more than muffled words.
"But will he believe it?" Argus wondered out loud.
He said, "You have to trust Reya. Kameron is no match for her. None of us ever were."
"I know she can take care of herself. If she were trying to." Argus was still very worried.
Borel said, "Well, if anyone can make Kameron see reason, it's Reya."
Argus said, "She feels guilty about what happened and she still blames herself for Vanora's death. Even though it wasn't her fault."
Borel sighed. "Yes, she has a tendency to do that. Guilt is an overriding theme with my sister. You're afraid that she'll take on the responsibility and not explain it properly to Kameron?"
"Yes." Argus wished he was in the room with Reya and her angry brother.
They both continued listening until the sounds of angry shouting finally died down. After awhile, the door opened again and Kameron motioned them inside. He didn't look happy but he appeared to be calmer.
Argus went over to stand by Reya's side. He looked at her and then at Kameron, trying to assess how things went. Reya didn't seem any different than when she had entered the room. She looked at him and gave him an imperceptible nod. That meant that things were going to be fine. Argus breathed a sigh of relief.
Kameron addressed Argus, "I knew you were going to be trouble when you pledged with Reya."
Argus asked with shocked surprise, "Sir?" He glanced sharply at Reya. His look clearly conveyed, I thought you said things were going to be alright? Reya shrugged.
Kameron said in a strict tone, "Just how many of our soldiers do you plan to steal?"
Argus realized this must be another example of Reve humour. He asked, "So you're fine about what happened with Vanora?"
Kameron replied, "Fine? No. But as Reya pointed out, quite forcefully and numerous times, I have to face the facts."
"Yes, she can be forceful," said Argus. He glanced quickly at Reya to make sure she wasn't going to poke him with her elbow for saying that. She looked at him but didn't do anything.
Borel said, "You're a brave man, Argus."
"Brave isn't quite the word I would use," said Reya acidly.
Argus grinned at her in apology. He said to Kameron, "As for the soldiers, I was going to broach you on that matter."
He explained the request of Lieutenant Dain and the soldiers.
Kameron asked, "You believe that the lives of these children will be in danger if the aliens find out they're still alive?"
Argus said, "Yes. If they're able to create a psi-enabled army that has the ability to influence or control the actions of humans..."
"Like Galena did, with me? Yes, you're right. That is a danger we cannot afford." Kameron's face was full of regret and sadness. "Do you know if she was working with Ellis and the aliens from the beginning? Even when she first met me?"
Reya knew this was a question Kameron needed to know the answer to. Unfortunately, no one had one for him. She replied, "We haven’t been able to determine that. Vanora was not very forthcoming about her role in what happened. She did seem shocked at the discovery of the children, but we all know that she's an accomplished actress. It's hard to know what was real with her or not."
Argus added, "There may be one way to find out. Avon was able to download some files from the research complex. He hasn't had time to break the encryption on them yet."
Kameron said sadly, "I'm not sure I want to know." He paced the room in thought as they waited. "Very well. The children are important. The men on Kaarn can stay. If the Auronar need anything else in terms of resources or soldiers, let them know that we will be glad to offer assistance."
Argus responded, "That's very generous of you, sir. I will convey your offer to the Aurons."
Kameron said, "The children are innocent victims in all of this and from what you've said, they're nothing like Galena."
Reya said, "They seem to have naturally sweet dispositions. In a way they are very much like the Vanora we first met. But in the children's case, it appears to be real."
Kameron said, "Well I hope the Aurons will be able to raise them properly."
Argus asked, "Have you decided on Dain's request?"
Kameron said. "They can remain with you." He took on a sterner tone. "But don't make it a habit."
Argus said, "Yes, sir." He really had no idea why Reya's brother always made him feel like a junior lieutenant.
Kameron asked, "When are the two of you getting bonded?"
Argus nearly choked at the unexpected question. "Well, we…"
Reya said, "That's none of your business, Kam."
Kameron said mischievously, "But I'm only thinking of you. It's time he made a more serious commitment."
Reya knew her brother's sense of humour and was not going to take any nonsense from him. "Leave Argus alone."
Kameron said, "You're no fun, Reya."
Servalan listened with great interest as Senior Controller Tarvin from Central Security gave her his report from the vidscreen on her desk.
She asked, “When was the signal intercepted?”
“Several hours ago. I contacted you right away when I saw the report.” Servalan had left standing orders that anything connected to Avon and the Justice be forwarded to her immediately. “What do you want done, Madame President?”
Servalan’s mind was imagining all of the useful things that could be done with this piece of information. Avon, Argus and Sester had been away from her control for too long. She said, “Allow the signal get through.”
“But Madame President, this is the perfect opportunity to neutralize…” Tarvin began objecting but Servalan cut him off.
“There are more important objectives than ridding the Federation of a few minor troublemakers.”
“I wouldn’t call…”
Servalan cut him off again, “You have my orders, Tarvin.”
“Very well, Madame President.”
Servalan shut off her vidscreen and smiled thoughtfully. She missed Avon; it was going to be excitingto play with him again. Servalan looked forward to having fun with all of her men.