It was time to try the drugs that Cally had suggested, the ones that he didn't really want to take. Both of them were in the medical bay and Avon was lying down on one of the bio-beds. The steady beat of his heart could be seen on the life monitors by the side of the bed.
As Cally approached with a bio-injector in her hand, Avon had an involuntary stab of fear. The unfeeling monitors betrayed the rise in his heart rate and stress level.
Avon closed his eyes. Breathe. Concentrate. Relax. In the place of his nightmares, someone approaching with drugs always signalled more torture. I am not at the Detention Centre, he reminded himself.
Cally waited with a concerned look on her face as she watched him and kept an eye on the screens. She could feel his distress and anguish. Cally knew that Avon hated what the memories did to him.
The stress level slowly decreased. Avon opened his eyes and saw her staring at him. * It’s alright, * he reassured her.
Cally didn’t say anything and only nodded. She touched his arm. * It’s going to get better. *
Avon carefully kept his thoughts neutral. He didn’t want her to know how he really felt about his chances for recovery. She needed to have hope. * Thank you. *
Cally brought the injector up to his neck but she pulled back. She asked, “Do you really want to do this, Avon?”
He replied, “You want to. That’s good enough for me.”
“I don’t want you to do this for me,” she told him.
Avon said, “Its fine, Cally. We need to explore all possibilities.”
“But you didn’t want this possibility before.”
An amused smile touched Avon’s lips. “Are you trying to convince me not to do this now?”
“I…don’t know. The more I think about it, the more I realize that you were right. I can’t do this to you. As an Auronar, I should know this. Our feelings for each other are a strength. It gives hope. Without them, you would have little more than cold, statistical odds. I know you don’t believe yours are very high.
She knew. Avon smiled wryly, “I could never keep anything from you.”
“Does it bother you?” asked Cally.
“It’s disconcerting,” said Avon.
“I’m sorry.” She knew that for a man who was as naturally closed as Avon was, being involved with an Auronar would have been very difficult. Even though he had a great deal of mental discipline for a Terran, when the emotions were strong, he could not hide them from her. He was especially vulnerable after what had been done to his mind at the detention centre.
Avon covered her hand with his. “Don’t be. I came into this relationship knowing what the conditions would be.”
“You mean the hazards.” It was Cally’s turn to have a wry smile.
“I am still here.” His eyes told her that he always would be.
“Yes, you are.” Their eyes were locked on each other.
“Since you don’t want to try the drugs, what do you want to do now?” asked Avon. He rolled onto his side and reached out to pull her towards him.
Guessing what he had in mind, Cally said, “You’re getting to be as bad as Argus.”
“He does have some good ideas occasionally,” said Avon. A touch of a grin lifted the corners of his lips.
Cally asked, “You must be getting along better. That almost sounded like half a compliment.”
“You’re an optimist,” said Avon. Their light banter had returned his monitor readings to normal levels.
“Avon, I don’t want to use the drugs I originally had planned to use but there are other ones which may help reduce the symptoms brought on by the nightmares. They’re used to treat panic attacks. Your body’s physical reaction; the increased breathing, heart rate and the chemicals released serve to reinforce and magnify what you’re experiencing. If we suppress those reactions it may reduce the feelings to a more manageable level.”
Avon said thoughtfully, “That does sound like a possible solution.”
“Unfortunately, it’s not a permanent one.”
“Having a temporary solution is better than having none. Will they impair my ability to function?”
Cally allayed his fears. “No. It shouldn’t affect your mental faculties. I will prepare some as a patch, similar to the tranquilizer patches. That way you can carry some around with you at all times. But only use them when you need to.”
Reya, Vila and Lieutenant Dain were in the practice range with a group of the Athol soldiers. This was Vila’s first time here since Reya had the cargo bay converted for training purposes.
Vila asked, “There’s no need for me to be here, is there? I’d just embarrass myself. Besides with all of these fine marksmen, I’m sure I’ll never be needed to fire a gun. Not unless you wanted someone to miss. I can do that.”
Reya said, “I’m sure you’re not that bad.” She handed him one of the training pistols and Vila took it reluctantly.
The gun felt uncomfortably hard and awkward in his hands. Vila had fired them before. Ever since he started following Blake, he couldn’t avoid it; but Vila still didn’t like guns. He never had; they always made him nervous. He never used one when he was working as a thief. Vila wished that he had the same excuse that Avon had to avoid having to use one.
Reya immediately noticed Vila’s discomfort with the practice weapon. She had seen people who avoided weapons before but had never had to work with one.
She asked, “Vila, if you were ever in danger of someone trying to kill you and you had a gun, what would you do?”
Vila said without hesitation, “Run. I find that if you have a gun and someone else has a gun, they always get the impression you’ll use it. Then you’re stuck.”
Reya said, “That’s assuming that you can run fast enough. Or if they cared that you’re armed or not. I doubt if Federation soldiers are that fair-minded.”
Vila said, “I’m not saying that I can’t use one. If I had to, I could use a gun.”
Reya said, “What I’m trying to do is to increase your odds for survival. Don’t use a weapon unless you have to, but when you do, make it count. That way when your life is in danger, or if someone needs you to save them, both of you will stand a better chance.”
“Well, if you put it that way,” said Vila.
As Vila ran through some of the target exercises Reya had designed to work on his marksmanship, his accuracy improved quickly. His hand-eye coordination as a thief was proving to be very useful.
Avon paused outside of Sester’s cabin. His heart was racing in anticipation of another confrontation. It was a mixture of excitement and an involuntary fear. Avon dipped his right hand into his vest pocket and brought out one of the panic patches that Cally had given to him. He stared at it for a moment. It was meant to be used in the event of trouble, not in anticipation of it.
With the pressure of the nightmares and memories, Avon was at a disadvantage when dealing with Sester. He could not afford to have a handicap when facing him. Sester would be able to spot it right away and use it against him.
Avon undid the first few clasps on his shirt and applied the patch directly over his heart. The effect was immediate. The beating in his chest slowed down. He became instantly calm. This was much faster than the meditation methods Cally had taught him.
He still felt the same as he did before, but the feelings were muted, as if someone had turned them down but not off. A tight smile came over Avon’s face, he was ready now.
Sester was passing a towel through his damp hair when his cabin door slid open without warning and he saw Avon framed in the doorway. As always when facing him, the expression on Avon’s face was not a friendly one.
Sester paused in mid-wipe and gave him a friendly smile. “Do you always check that I’ve just finished a shower before bursting in here? I don’t see how that gives you an advantage. I don’t mind you seeing me with my hair wet.” He continued drying his hair.
“We’re going to have a talk.” Avon’s voice dripped menace.
“Oh good, we’re going to play games. I haven’t had a good opponent in ages.” Sester dropped the towel on the table and ran his fingers through his hair to smooth it down.
Avon took the control unit for the tracer bracelet out of his pocket and pressed it.
Sester groaned in surprise and gripped his pained wrist with his other hand.
Avon had the look of a panther contemplating a prey it was toying with. He held the control unit like a weapon pointed at Sester. “I will play. You will talk or scream. The choice is yours.”
Sester gasped, “I’ll talk.” He recognized that Avon wasn’t in a mood for being pushed. It was best to let him think that he was cooperating.
Avon turned the device off and pointed to the chair that Sester had sat on during their last pained conversation. Sester sat down and said, “At least you weren’t lying when you said that all of our conversations would be like this.” He rubbed his arm.
"You could always leave," said Avon, putting the control unit on the table so that Sester could see it. Avon was not after subtlety.
"Yes, so you keep saying and I've told you that it's not possible, not unless the President orders it." Sester smiled cynically. "And she finds it much more amusing keeping me here so I doubt if that will happen."
"It's not going to be very amusing for you," said Avon. In the past, even the mention of Servalan in a conversation like this would send his heart racing. His stress level should have spiked but Avon remained calm and controlled. The patches Cally made up for him were proving to be very useful.
Cold anger with just a touch of stress; the involuntary fear that he had when he faced this man was no longer strong enough to stop his hatred. Cally’s drugs had done this for him. This conversation was a battle Avon was determined to win. He had lost too much ground to this man already; he was determined to regain it.
"I'm certain you will try to make sure of that," said Sester.
"Oh, I will," promised Avon in a silken half whisper that sent chills down Sester’s spine. "Now let's begin with Servalan's plans."
"I've already told you, Avon. I don't know them. She never tells me anything other than what I need to know. You should appreciate that," said Sester.
Avon reached towards the control unit.
Sester said, "You don't believe me."
"You're Servalan's most able advisor, is there a reason why I should?" asked Avon as he picked up the unit.
"You're forgetting Servalan's paranoia. She doesn't trust anyone except herself. Everyone else, she controls. You should know that." He eyed the device nervously.
You should know that. Sester's words echoed in Avon's mind. I do know. More than anyone else, Avon knew Servalan's control. He was aware of his stress level rising, memories of the years of captivity threatened to surface. Avon breathed deeply and banished the thoughts from his mind. It was much easier with the patch Cally had given him. A control that was tenuous and hard fought on most days, seemed much easier. I know how Servalan is still trying to control me. A burning anger flared within him and was controlled. Avon adjusted the unit and looking deliberately at Sester, activated it. There was a cruel smile on his lips.
Sester cried out at the sharp pain and held his arm to chest. Avon wasn't starting out with a mild warning as he had done before. Sester brought his pained eyes up to meet Avon's. The look on Avon’s face was disturbing and his eyes were full of deep rage. Sester was alarmed. Something's wrong. In the past, even during Avon’s worst moments at the detention centre, when he was full of anger and hatred at his tormentors, Sester had never seen this look of cruel darkness before.
Avon said in a voice that would not accept a refusal, "Tell me."
Sester's instincts told him that he was in a precarious position. He said, "I cannot tell you what I don't know but what I'm able to deduce from my skills as a psychostrategist, I will tell you."
"That's not good enough," said Avon. He increased the intensity setting.
"No!" Sester gasped out. He bent over in pain. The agony had spread across his chest and he could only breathe in short shallow breaths. Sester lifted his head up again with difficultly and glared at Avon. There was no chance for mercy. He could not expect any when he had given none himself.Sester knew that it was only partially about the information. For Avon it was about something much more personal.
Sester thought, Are you capable of doing to me what I did to you? Will you be satisfied then? Part of him hoped that Avon would take his revenge, then Sester would no longer have the hindering burden of guilt. Sester was angry at what was happening, but found that he could not hate Avon for doing this. He knew that he owed it to him.
Sester knew that his mind and Avon's were evenly matched but he didn't know if he had the other man's strength of will.
I guess we'll find out.
After checking that no one was lurking in the corridor leading to the flight deck, Argus approached the visual interface and said, "Zen, use my personal contact protocol, D18. And let me know the moment someone enters the corridor just outside the flight deck."
Zen responded, "Confirmed."
Argus took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He was about to talk to his least favourite person. Expecting this to take awhile, he read through the day's action reports from General Reve's headquarters. They were currently in mopping up mode as Ellis's fleet and the alien forces were in full retreat. The Justice was no longer needed.
There was one curious note. No one knew where Ellis Reve was. He seemed to have disappeared.
After a few minutes, Zen said, "Communications channel established."
"Put it on the main viewscreen, Zen."
The star field blacked out for a moment and then Servalan appeared. Anyone who didn't know any better, would have thought her beautiful in her white gown with a touch of striking red highlights. She was a vision of deadly beauty. Unfortunately for her, Argus did know better.
"Madame President," said Argus with formal stiffness. The screen seemed to flare briefly, causing him to be irritated. I always forget to tell Avon to take a look at this.
Servalan said with disapproval, "I thought you had forgotten about me, Commander. I would have been very disappointed if you had."
Argus said, "I never forget an enemy."
Servalan smiled, "But, Commander, we've agreed to be allies."
Argus was a man who did not issue threats, only promises. "A temporary situation that can be rectified as soon as you break our agreement by hurting Avon."
Servalan seemed very sincere when she said, "Believe me when I say that Avon's continued survival is very important to me."
For some reason, this reassurance made Argus very nervous. "There are more things to life than just survival."
"Oh, I know, Commander." She smiled again.
Argus had the uncomfortable impression that she was telling him a truth that should send most men running. He said, "I'm almost finished with what I need to do. I need you to provide a list of possible alien threats. We will make an assessment on where we're to go next."
Servalan seemed amused by his assertion of control over the situation. "Of course, Commander."
Argus did not like talking to this woman. Every time she said something, he was certain she was also saying something else. The screen flared again. Argus grimaced at the brightness. I have to get Avon to take a look at that. It's getting annoying. It was making him feel uncomfortable. "I will tell you when we've decided."
Servalan said, "That takes care of our alliance. I believe you have another service to perform for me, Commander."
Argus scowled at the reminder. "Who do you want me to kill this time, Servalan? And remember, I have final approval on whom I will accept as a target."
Servalan said pleasantly, "This time it will not be an unpleasant service. In fact, you might enjoy it."
Argus regarded her warily. "Out with it, Servalan. Who is the target this time?"
Servalan said with an wicked smile, "My wayward psychostrategist."
Argus could not keep the shock from appearing on his face. "You want me to kill Sester?"
"Not kill. Make very uncomfortable. I'm sure you know how to do that," said Servalan. "I have every confidence in your abilities."
"I am not here to be your thug, Servalan," said Argus coldly. "If you want to punish your underlings, use your own people." This was a task he had no objections to but Argus knew that it would cause all kinds of complications for him personally. Not the least of which, Reya would be very angry if she found out.
"Is this a task that is against your conscience?" asked Servalan.
Argus said reluctantly, "No."
"Then our agreement does not give you the option to refuse," said Servalan. A sly expression appeared on her face, "Unless you can provide me with a compelling reason why you cannot do this. I might consider it. I'm not altogether unreasonable."
Argus snarled, "I’ll do it." The last thing he wanted Servalan to know was that he had personal reasons for not wanting to do this.
"Excellent, Commander." Servalan added casually, "Do not tell him who ordered this. You can find a suitable excuse."
Argus became even more suspicious. "Why?"
"You do not need to know, Commander. Report to me after it is done," said Servalan. She closed the connection.
Servalan sat back in her chair after turning off her vidscreen. A pleased and reflective smile was on her lips. Everything was starting to fall in place.
She also noted that Argus had stopped objecting to her use of his military title.
You will be ours again. Completely ours this time. Her pleased smile became a smug one. You will be mine. Argus was proving to be too useful and decorative a tool for her to let anyone else use him.
Sester lay on the ground groaning in pain as Avon watched with a ruthless sense of justice. With slow deliberation, he turned the tracer control unit off.
Sester gave a sigh of relief as the pain ended. He lay unmoving, his body curled in a protective position, trying to recover from his ordeal. There were no sounds in the cabin other than his own strained breathing. Avon sat like a dark, ominous spectre.
Sester slowly straightened up and struggled to a sitting position. He looked at Avon and asked in a tense voice, "Do you believe me now?"
"I'll let you know," said Avon with aggressive antagonism. He got up and left the cabin without a further word.
Sester continued sitting after Avon exited. His whole body felt battered and stressed and he was exhausted. There was one thing that made him glad about this experience. He found that he did have the strength of will to withstand the torture; although it also made him want to avoid any future occurrences if he could. Sester gripped the edge of the table. It took a great effort to stand. His legs felt weak and nearly buckled from his own weight.
As he was trying to stand, Sester could not help remembering Avon in the isolation cell. He wondered if this was a small taste of how Avon had felt then. The memory was even worse because Avon had not been able to stand. Sester remembered himself applying increasing amounts of pain so that Avon would not be able to get up. He remembered Avon's anguished cries as he stubbornly tried to stand and Sester would not allow him to. The vision caused a stab of guilt. It had ended with Avon collapsed on the ground in exhaustion and defeat and then the interrogators coming in.
I gave you some of your nightmares. He remembered tears streaming down Avon's face as he had everything stripped away from him, even the ability to scream. What he had done to Avon was far worse than what Avon had just done to him. Sester wished the isolation cell had not happened and that he had not been responsible for bringing Avon to the breaking point. It had been a job then but now he hated himself.
Avon. I truly am sorry. Perhaps by doing this, you can gain back some of the things I took from you. He knew that it was a poor repayment but it was the only thing Avon would accept from him.
Sester saw the towel he had dropped on the table before. He picked it up and wiped the sweat from his face and neck. He needed another shower. On unsteady feet, Sester left his cabin and headed for the ship’s bathing facilities.
I should have waited, thought Sester as he hung onto the wall. Halfway to the facilities, his weak legs nearly gave out. He leaned heavily against his vertical support, gasping for breath and trying to rest. He was too weak and tired to go on and he doubted he could make it back to his cabin.
Strong and gentle hands went around his shoulders. Before he turned around, he already knew who it was. "Reya." When he saw her, he gave her a grateful smile.
You're here for me when I need you. I knew you would be.
With concern in her voice, Reya asked, "Are you alright?"
He said with a warm smile, "Fine now that you're here."
"Who did this to you?" she asked.
Sester didn't want anyone to know what Avon had done; it was something between the two of them. Sester didn't answer.
Her face was troubled. "Did Argus do this?"
Reya didn't want to believe it but she couldn't help thinking it. "He should never have done this to you. I'll have a talk with him."
"No, Reya. Don't do that! It wasn’t Argus." He put his hand on her arm and pushed himself away from the wall.
Reya said, "Why are you trying to defend him?"
Sester repeated again, "No, Reya. It wasn't Argus. Don't be angry with him. He doesn't deserve that but don't ask me to explain what happened. I can't tell you."
Reya was standing close, her arms still around his shoulders, holding him up. The warmth and strength of her body were a comfort and a temptation. He wanted to hold her in return, but Sester knew it would be a serious mistake if he did.
There was no suspicion or guardedness in Reya's manner; there was only the voice of a friend. "Sester. You have to get off this ship. It's too dangerous for you here. There are too many who wouldn't mind seeing you suffer or dead."
Sester said wryly, "I gave them good reason to."
"But this is wrong, Sester. No matter what you did," she told him.
"It's justice," said Sester.
"This is the kind of justice that the Federation indulges in. It should not be ours," said Reya.
"It's the only one I know," said Sester.
"I'm sorry," said Reya.
"I am not a good man, Reya. The others are right. You should not care about me," said Sester. Even as he said this, he was aware that he was wishing it for her, not for himself.
"That may have been true before, but I don't believe it is now," said Reya.
"You're wonderful for believing in me. It's why I…," Sester stopped before he said something that would make her feel awkward. "Well, regardless, thank you. I've never had someone who believed in me for something other than my abilities. You'd better go. I'm feeling better now." He let go of her arm and extricated himself from her help.
Avon sat in his cabin in the dark. He knew the drugs from the patch were wearing off. His body was shivering and his heart was beating so hard that it seemed to want to break free from his chest. He could feel his mind slipping into shock. His thoughts were fragmented and he was experiencing intense spikes of irrational emotion. His rational mind struggled to right itself as he attempted the calming breathing exercises. The fear of losing mental control was nearly paralyzing. He knew that something was wrong but the only thought he could grasp hold of was that he couldn't worry Cally; he had to calm himself before Cally came to see what was wrong.
Avon shoved his hand into his pocket and took out another patch. He almost ripped his shirt open and barely managed to apply it over his chest before he lost all ability to concentrate. Avon breathed a sigh of relief as he felt the medication take effect.