Argus’s conscience had brought him to a virtual standstill. He could not do what Servalan had asked him to, but neither could he ignore what he had promised. All he could do was pace in his cabin while his body felt as if it was going to burst any minute. He punched the wall of the cabin in frustration; he wanted to scream. It was happening again. The barely controlled aggression that made him hate himself was back. His mind strained to understand what was happening but every time he tried to follow a thread of thought, his mind would fragment, making it impossible.
The cabin door opened. Reya. Argus turned to look at her; she always made him feel better.
Reya came in slowly. She took in his agitated state and the tension that seemed to be emanating from him. The sound of Argus’s his fist impacting the wall had been loud enough to be heard right before she opened the door. She said, “Haven’t you done enough damage already?” she asked. Her face was hard.
Argus asked with confusion, “What are you talking about?”
“I know what you did to Sester,” said Reya.
“What I did to Sester? Did someone finally throw him out of the airlock and save me the trouble?” asked Argus. Sester’s name on Reya’s lips caused anger to burn within him, fuelled by his pent up aggression. Something that was difficult to contain before was becoming impossible. He was losing control.
“You have never lied to me before, Argus. Don’t start now.”
“Or what? Don’t start now or you’ll go to him?” he asked angrily. He wanted to hurt someone now, not Reya, he could never hurt her but Servalan already gave him a target.
This time it will not be an unpleasant service. In fact, you might enjoy it. Her silky, deceptive voice rang in his ears.
You must be a mind reader, Servalan, to know that I will enjoy this. The acceptance of the directive filled him with exultation. The tension was still there, but it no longer felt like agony. The aggression was going to be allowed a direction.
Reya's ever-present feelings of guilt made her feel defensive at his accusation but she saw the wildness in his eyes and was alarmed. She remembered what had happened before, the darkness and violence she had seen in him. He had nearly hurt her then; he had barely been in control then.Afterwards, he had been wracked with guilt and self-loathing at what he had done, and what he had been for those few moments.
Reya thought, Is the same thing happening again? Is that why you hurt Sester?
She said, “I know you don’t like Sester.”
“I hate him,” said Argus. He wanted to go find his nemesis now and show him how much he hated him.
“You have to give him a chance, Argus.”
“Why? You’ve given him enough chances for both of us. He doesn’t deserve it.” Don’t you see that, Reya? Why won’t you see it? Don’t let him get between us. Sester was a dangerous man. Even when he wasn’t present, he could cause havoc in other people’s lives.
Reya said, “You can’t hurt Sester just because you hate him.”
Argus said irritably, “I know that. I will only do it if he proves to be a danger to this ship.”
Argus thought, You always take his side. In his mind, Argus’s thinking shifted. Sester was not unarmed, his mind was his weapon. He did damage with his words. Sester was not the cloying kind of charmer that Argus detested; his charm came across in his sincere and easy manner. Everything about Sester encouraged people to trust him and he had used this potent ability to manipulate Reya into believing in him. Sester was the most dangerous person on the ship and she did not seem to have any defence against his tricks. This threat had to be neutralized, or at the very least, it had to be taught a lesson.
Reya realized that talking about Sester was only going to make the situation worse. She had to try to reach Argus. Whatever this thing that happened to him was, it made him irrational and dangerous. “Argus, you have to get control of yourself.”
Argus was only half listening to what she was saying. I have to control myself, or you’re going to try to stop me. All Argus could think of was achieving his goal; he had to take out his target. Sester deserved what he was going to do to him. Let’s see how your weapon works against mine.
Argus took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. He told her in a calmer voice, “You’re right.”
Servalan was right; Sester had to be punished. Somewhere in the back of Argus’s mind, this rationalization made him uneasy but it was not enough to override what he intended to do.
Reya asked, "What's happening to you, Argus? What's causing you to act like this?" Her voice was full of worry.
Argus could see her concern and love for him. He had to take care of her. He couldn’t let Sester hurt her. He couldn’t let him hurt any of them. "I don't know what you mean," he told her reasonably. Focus on what I need to do. Can't let her know what I'm going to do. She'll only get upset. She won't understand that this has to be done.
Reya said, "It's happening again. You're starting to lose control."
"No, I'm not." He did sound in control now. Even though he was still somewhat agitated, his eyes were no longer wild. Reya wondered if she had jumped to the wrong conclusions. Maybe it was just about Sester.
"Do you want to talk about Sester?" she asked him nervously. "If he is the problem then maybe we should talk about it."
Argus reached out and took Reya by the hand. Have to reassure her. Shouldn't worry her. "I didn’t mean to scare you. Sometimes I can't help over-reacting when it comes to what he does to you. I just don’t want to see you get hurt by him, Reya. He’s dangerous. But I'm not up to talking about this now."
Now that the tension inside him was going to be released, it was more under his control. He pulled her to him and pressed their bodies together; there were other uses for the energy built up inside him.
Even as Reya felt her body responding to his overpowering desires, she tried to say, “But we have to…”
Argus’s mouth covered hers in a passionate kiss, preventing her from saying anything else.
Cally lay back against Avon as they relaxed on her bunk. He put an arm around her. They were in the habit of doing this before they retired for the night; sharing their day and their thoughts with each other. Cally had suggested it as a way to draw him out and help Avon become more comfortable with talking to her about personal things.
Nestled against his body, she felt warm and at ease. Usually Avon was guarded when they began. Whatever Servalan had done to him was always a spectre he had to fight against when he wanted to be close. As they talked, she could feel the tightness and the tensions from his body slowly relax. This would be reflected in the slow and deliberate lowering of some of the mental and emotional blocks as he once again explored the safety of their relationship.
Cally twisted around and asked, “Avon. Did something happen today?”
From her tone, Avon knew she wasn’t just asking him about his day in general. He replied, “I made a visit to Sester today. We had a talk.”
“That explains what I was sensing,” said Cally. “For a moment I was worried, but before I could come find you, everything seemed fine again.”
“Yes. The patches you made for me were very effective.”
“I’m glad,” said Cally. “Did he say anything interesting?”
“I wasn’t able to get anything out of him that I didn’t already know,” said Avon.
“He is slippery,” she agreed. “What were you trying to find out?”
“You didn’t expect him to tell you, did you?” she asked, wondering what he had been up to.
“Yes and no. I knew that he had no incentive to tell me. I gave him one.” There was nothing he told her that was not the truth. Avon did not like lying to Cally. He hoped that she would not press for more details.
“What could motivate a man like him?” asked Cally. “He won’t do anything unless he sees that there is an advantage to it.”
“You would have said that of me once,” said Avon.
She twisted around to look into his eyes again. “No, Avon. You were never like that. You may have wanted us to believe it. However, you rarely fooled me. You did too many things that had very little benefit to yourself for that to be true.”
“Are you trying to get me to admit that I’m afraid?” he asked.
“I think you have to admit it to yourself first,” said Cally. “I know that people like Anna and Tynus hurt you. I can’t imagine what kind of life you had that made you afraid to admit that you care. Did you always believe that sentiment was a weakness?”
As Avon thought about Cally’s question, it triggered a brief flash of memory. A woman’s face, barely discernable, looking down at him. A soft and proud smile on her face. She reached out a hand towards him…Kerr
The memory disappeared as quickly as it came. Avon took a breath. He hadn’t realized that he had been holding it. Cally was looking worriedly at him again.
“It’s alright. Just an old memory.” Even as he tried to recall the few details, they were fading away.
“What was it about?” she asked curiously. This one had not produced negative feelings for him.
“To be honest, I don’t know. It’s vague. There’s a woman. She knows my name.”
“Another woman, Avon?” she asked with mock exasperation at the number of women who seemed to have an interest in him.
He gave her a brief mischievous grin. “I don’t think it was that kind of woman.”
“I think you’re just trying to avoid my question about being afraid,” said Cally.
He teased her. “You noticed?”
“You’re still avoiding it.”
Avon laughed. He was about to answer her but something confused him. His mind and his memories told him that he always believed that sentiment was a weakness, but a deeper instinct was telling him that he didn’t. The conflict produced stress again as his breathing quickened. He said, “I can’t talk about it.”
“Avon. Even this? What did they do to you?” Cally shared his anguish.
As he saw her distress reflecting his own, Avon said, "I…don't know. My mind wants to say one thing, but part of me knows it's not true. If that makes any sense."
"We have to get to the bottom of this," said Cally.
"I wish I could remember, but I can't. All I have are flashes of memory. If I try to reach for them, I run the risk of collapsing. If I don't try, then I lose the thread of the memory. It's very frustrating." Before the damage to his mind, he had never been aware of this problem before.
"Do you think the imaging chamber might help?"
"Perhaps. For now, I can only wait until the memories resolve themselves to the point where I can access them consciously." Now that Avon was relaxed and was at ease enough to share with Cally, he found that he didn't want to keep things from her.
His relationship with Anna had been true, but he had never opened up with her. Avon wanted something else with Cally. He needed the closeness that would heal the pain inside him and his love for Cally made her needs as important as his own. She wanted this level of closeness and he wanted her to have it.
He said, “Cally, there was something I didn’t tell you about my conversation with Sester.”
Cally asked, “He did say something?”
“No. It’s not that. It’s about the motivation I gave to him.”
“What was it?” she asked.
“Do you remember the additional enhancement that Reya asked me to make to the tracer bracelet for Vanora?”
“Yes. You added a unit that could control the discharge of pain. I had to use it once to stop Vanora from harming Reya and...oh.” Cally had an idea what Avon was about to say. “That was your incentive for Sester?”
“Yes. I made the same adjustment to Sester’s tracer.” Avon’s could feel his heart beating faster as he remembered what he had done. “Cally, I tortured him.” The words barely made it out of this throat. Avon’s eyes shut tightly as residual memories of pain surfaced. It was Sester’s and his own. For some reason, their pains seemed to be linked in his mind. In Sester’s cabin, Avon could almost feel every cry of pain, every moan of agony as if it were his own. Mentally and emotionally, it seemed as if he was in the isolation cell again, trapped in someone else’s orchestrated nightmare. Avon wondered if he would ever be free from his prison.
“You allowed your hatred to get a hold of you.” She could see that Avon was troubled. Cally rested her head on his chest and hugged him in support.
“I wanted him to suffer. I needed him to experience what he put me through at the detention centre.”
“Did you enjoy it?” she asked. She wanted to know what he had been after.
Avon thought for a moment. “No. It wasn’t about enjoyment, it was about exacting justice. It was about reclaiming my dignity and giving him a taste of what he did to me. ”
Cally knew that Avon was in a dangerous place. She could not expect him to forgive Sester – it wasn’t something she could do herself - but this desire for vengeance had nearly destroyed Avon once. She did not want him to go back to the almost blind need for revenge that had caused him to seek out Shrinker. Those weeks when he had meticulously planned and carried out his retribution had done terrible things to him. She knew that he had barely been able to sleep; food almost made him ill. He would constantly stare out into nothingness, even when someone was talking to him. She knew that he was remembering Anna. Her life and her death had haunted him. Cally had to admit that she had felt a strong jealousy towards the dead woman. Avon had been aware of her feelings and had tried to spare her by not involving her in his plans. She had tried to reason with him, but it was a time when logic did not play a factor in his decisions.
Cally could not imagine the feelings of guilt that had caused him to deliberately submit himself to be tortured. He had said that it was necessary. It was the only way to get to Shrinker. Cally knew it had nothing to do with Shrinker; it was about Avon’s need for justice, whether in the killing of Shrinker or in making himself suffer for not dying instead of Anna.
Cally pushed the thoughts from her mind. She didn’t know why she was dwelling on that treacherous woman. Anna had not deserved Avon. She had hurt him deeply in a way that Cally had not thought possible. It had made him suicidal after Anna died. For days afterwards, he had been in a deep depression, barely involved in the functioning of the ship and saying even less than normal. The insensitive Tarrant had sensed Avon’s weakness and tried to use it to hurt him further. Cally had felt his Avon's anger at the attack and the deep sense of failure that was consuming him. The experience with Anna and Tarrant had only reaffirmed his belief that sentiment was a weakness that others would exploit in order to hurt and destroy him.
Then one day Avon had appeared on the flight deck and acted as if nothing had happened. Cally had known though, it was the only way he could cope with what had happened. It was not the healthiest way but healthy emotional outlets had never been Avon’s strong suit. He had not been open to dealing with things then but Cally hoped that he would be willing to now.
Cally's mind came back to the present. She knew Avon found their mental communications less stressful so using this means she asked, * Avon, was it worth it? Was torturing Sester worth what it did to you? *
Following her lead, Avon also switched modes. * It was satisfying when I was doing it. *
She asked him, * And afterwards? *
Avon reluctantly told her, * I was ill afterwards and could feel myself losing control. The memories and the feelings…became overwhelming. I didn't have the concentration to do the calming exercises you taught me. *
With her head on his chest, Cally heard Avon’s heart beating faster and could feel the tension return to his body.She sensed his anguish as he recalled his experience. Cally asked, * That was when you used the patch? *
* Yes *
She lifted her head to look at him again. * Avon, perhaps it would be a good idea for you to avoid Sester for now. *
* I’m not afraid of him, * said Avon. Even though they were speaking with their minds, his throat tensed.
*You don’t want to be afraid, but you feel it anyway don’t you? Here? * She put her hand over his chest.
Cally always seemed to reach to the heart of things. She was right; the fear was always present. It lurked beneath, like a disease that infected everything it touched. There was a wounded vulnerability in Avon's eyes. * I can't deny that, * he admitted with difficulty.
Cally continued, * I know that learning to open up with me has been difficult for you, but I’d like to think that it's helped. *
Avon found that the warmth of Cally’s hand on his chest was comforting. She gave him a feeling of peace. In some ways, it was more potent than any drugs. * It has helped. When I wake up from the nightmares and see you, I know I’m not alone anymore. It is easier for me to recover. *
* I wish that I could share them with you. That way you won’t be alone, even during the nightmares. * said Cally.
* What you’re doing is already enough. I would never inflict my dreams on you. They’re… * Avon’s jaw tightened as he thought about the things that haunted him. His next thoughts conveyed stress and anguish as his eyes sought and held hers. * Promise me that you won’t try, Cally. *
* But I want to help you, Avon. *
Avon eyes softened a bit, * I know, but not in this. No one should have to experience that, especially not you. *
Cally knew that it was hard to change Avon’s mind once he had resolved to do something. She had to allow him the freedom to do what he felt he had to do. She would be there when he needed her. * Alright, Avon but please be careful with Sester. *
* I will. * Avon bent his head down to kiss her. Just as their lips were about to touch, he hesitated. His face hovered over hers; Cally could feel the warmth of his breath in her skin.
Her eyes met his. * What’s wrong, Avon? * The last few times they had kissed, because of their increasing closeness, her awareness of his desire seemed to mix with her own. When they were intimate, his ‘presence’ seemed much closer, no longer just at the periphery of her consciousness.
* I want more for us. * There was both desire and regret in his eyes.
* I do too, Avon but you’re not ready yet, * she told him.
* I could be with these new drugs you gave me. I could take them before we try. *
Cally reached up and touched his face gently. * There is nothing I would like more than to share this with you, but you can’t use the drugs this way. They only take care of the symptoms; they do not remove the underlying problems. The horror of what Servalan did to you would still be there. I can’t imagine what affect it would have on you afterwards if you forced yourself to do this. *
Avon’s eyes filled with anguish again. * We can’t let Servalan win. *
Cally said resolutely, * We won’t. That's why we must wait until you're ready. *
She curled her arm around his neck and pulled him down into an embrace. As they kissed, Cally had another thought. It may not be a good idea to force the physical intimacy issue with the drugs but using them, Avon might be able to talk about some of his deepest nightmares. She knew that confronting them was the only permanent solution. Until now, it had been debilitating for Avon to even think about them. The drugs should be able to help with that.
Cally knew that Avon’s fear would make him reluctant to try. He had great physical courage when he needed to, but his tolerance for emotional risk was very low. She would have to watch for the right time to broach this with him.
The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, Sester felt much better. His arm was still a bit numb but it was much less painful than the day before. After washing up and getting dressed, he was almost cheerful as he anticipated a good breakfast. Sester opened the cabin door. For a moment, his heart skipped a beat and he nearly backed away from the entrance as he saw someone standing there. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw who it was. Sester’s face brightened in an easy smile, "Vila."
"You almost look glad to see me," said Vila.
"Let's just say, there are worse alternatives," said Sester.
“Is this a social visit or are you here for a purpose, Vila?” asked Sester. Such as spying on me?
“No gopher duties for me today and I just finished my shift. I liked that game of chess the other day. You said that you had some things to show me. To make my game better?”
Sester said conspiratorially, “You want to be able to beat Avon, don’t you?”
“You have a suspicious mind,” said Vila. He didn’t like Sester bringing Avon into a conversation. Vila still remembered Avon in the first weeks after his rescue, when he had been in such bad shape that he had begged Vila to kill him. The psychostrategist should not be treating games with Avon as something light, not after what he had done to him. Vila kept reminding himself that he was supposed to appear harmless.
“It’s an occupational hazard,” replied Sester. He stepped out into the corridor and let the door slide shut behind him. “First, I need some breakfast.”
“Breakfast? But it’s almost lunch time,” said Vila.
“You can have lunch. I’ll get caught up on breakfast,” said Sester.
“Well, I am getting a bit peckish,” said Vila. The two men headed to the dining area together.