Vila came back with the medical supplies; an analgesic patch and a tissue regenerator. He had been fortunate that Cally had not been there, otherwise there would have been lots of awkward questions as to why he needed these things. Sester had not moved and his eyes were closed when Vila re-entered the cabin.
Vila put the things down beside the bunk and asked, "Are you asleep?"
"He should never have done this to you," said Vila.
Sester turned to look at him. He wondered if this was all part of the act. With Avon and Argus roughing him up and Vila coming to provide help, it was a very old tactic. He expected something much cleverer and more creative from Avon.
If you're doing this so that I'll let my guard down and trust you, then you're mistaken. At the moment, Sester didn't care if the caring was genuine or not. He knew that he needed help, and a false concern was better than none at all.
Sester said, "I don't know who you're talking about."
"You can't fool me. There's only one person who could have done this to you. It has to be Argus."
A stab of pain caused Sester to grimace. He said, "Don't get involved, Vila."
"Yes, I know. It's none of my business." Vila wondered what game Sester was playing at this time. Regardless of what Sester's intentions were, Vila didn't like Argus beating him up like this. He said, "At least let me help you and give you something for the pain. Unless you think that's none of my business too."
Sester said, "You won't leave until I let you help me, will you?"
Vila said, "Not a chance."
Sester said reluctantly, "I suppose I don't have much of a choice then."
Sester hadn't managed to fasten his shirt up and it was only draped across his torso. Vila reached for it but hesitated and looked at him.
Sester nodded. "Go ahead."
Vila carefully spread open the shirt. His face contorted in sympathy as he saw the deep bruises that were turning black and blue. Argus has to have a reason why he did this. Maybe Sester provoked him. He still didn’t like it though.
Sester said jokingly, "I would like to say that I feel better than your face looks right now, but then I would be lying."
"He really shouldn't have done this to you." When he saw that Sester was about to say something, he said, "Yes, I know. It's none of my business." Vila unpeeled the backing from the analgesic patch and applied it to Sester's neck. "That should help with the pain."
He picked up a palm-sized device. "I’m going to use a tissue regenerator. It should take care of the bruises." He turned it on and rolled it slowly over Sester's chest. “It won’t fix any internal injuries if you have any. You really should have Cally take a look at you.”
“No. I don’t want any else to know.” Sester grimaced. "How long does this patch take before it works?"
"Shouldn't take long. Give it a few moments." He continued moving the tissue regenerator over Sester’s body.
Even before Vila had finished speaking, the pain had disappeared and Sester breathed a sigh of relief. “I don’t like pain.”
Vila said, "I don't like pain much either." He did feel a bit of sympathy for Sester. It was hard not to, seeing the other man like this. Just the look of the bruises made Vila wince.
Vila didn't know if he was just feeling sorry for Sester because Argus had beaten him up. If that had been Sester's plan all along, then Vila knew he had to be careful.
Sester said, "I suppose you think that this is justice of a sort? I did torture Avon.”
The mention of torture helped remind Vila who this man was. "I didn't know that psychostrategists did that sort of thing."
He finished with the regenerator and turned it off. There was something he felt he needed to understand about Sester. Avon had never wanted to talk about it, but Vila could tell that Sester had done something terrible to him.
"They don't normally," replied Sester. He looked down at himself and saw that the bruises had indeed disappeared. “That’s impressive medical technology.”
"Then why did you?" asked Vila. He helped Sester up so that he could sit leaning against the wall.
Sester replied, "When one works for the Federation President, you do what is necessary."
"You mean, she made you do it?"
"No. It was required of me and I didn't refuse." Sester grimaced as he remembered what the lack of refusal had cost Avon. "I don't want to talk about this, Vila." He was about to repeat that this was none of Vila's business but said instead, "You probably won't believe me, I know Avon and Argus don’t, but I do regret what I did to Avon." Sester didn't know why but he wanted Vila to believe him in this.
The others are right, you are dangerous, thought Vila. Sester sounded as sincere as anyone he had ever believed in. Of course, all of them had let him down in one way or another too.
"Well, I'm not the one you have to convince," said Vila.
"No, but at least with you, I have a slim chance of being believed."
"I didn't say I believed you," said Vila.
He gave Vila a wry smile. "I suppose I deserve that."
"I didn't say that I didn't believe you either," said Vila.
Sester sighed. "Do I have to add you to the list of people I have to prove myself to?"
Vila hadn't considered this because it was such an unlikely idea. He knew that Avon and Argus had good reasons to be biased against Sester, which was why they had asked for his help. Vila knew that if he had the same reasons as they did, he would probably feel the same way. He knew that he should, at least for Avon and Cally’s sake.
He said, ""No. Why should you have to prove anything to me? You don't owe me anything."
"True. Are we done now?"
Vila replied, "Yeah.”
"I don't know why you're doing this, but thank you, Vila."
"Well, not all of us want to see you dead," said Vila.
"That's good to know." An easy smile returned to Sester's lips.
After taking over from Vila on the flight deck, Argus sat at his flight station. He stared blindly down at his control panel. Other than doing the standard checks to begin his shift, he hadn't been able to concentrate on anything else. He rubbed his fist absently and shook his head. His stomach still felt sick after what he had done. When he shut his eyes, he could see Sester reacting in pain to every strike of his fist on the other man’s body. Argus opened up his fist and placed his palm flat on the panel. He stared at it. What am I doing? Why do I lose control like this?
No, that wasn't right. He had been in control. When he hit Sester, every punch, every measure of force had been carefully calculated. Enough to cause considerable pain but no more than that.
He was trained to get the job done and he did it exceptionally well. Including beating up defenceless people! Argus hit the panel in anguish and frustration. In the Federation military, he had managed to avoid it. That was why he had resisted being assigned to the Death Squads. There had been considerable pressure for him to join one of their elite units but he had become very ill at one point and they had stopped asking him after that.
Other than the incident at Zircaster, he had always found a way to get around his orders; to achieve the same result without doing something against his conscience. He would have gotten in trouble many times if he hadn't been so successful. The men under his command loved him but Argus knew that the other commanders considered him a fool. Even Travis had told him to be reasonable, to think about his career. Travis, the man who was supposed to be his friend.
Thoughts of Travis brought about great sadness for Argus. They had been good friends once, idealists who thought that they were serving the greater good. Both believed that order had to be maintained if humanity was to survive. I was such a young fool.
Argus shook his head of the memories of the past. He had something more important to think about now, he was supposed to report in to Servalan. She had ordered him to, after he beat up Sester for her.
"You have done me a great service, Commander," said Servalan from the main view screen.
"Spare me the congratulations, Madame President," said Argus with a snarl, making the pronunciation of her title sound like something very unpleasant. "I'm not interested."
"Don't tell me that you didn't enjoy doing it," said Servalan with an ingenuous smile.
"I'm not a thug like you. I do not enjoy inflicting pain."
"Perhaps not pain in general." There was a conspiratorial twinkle in her eyes.
"Are we finished?" asked Argus in annoyance. The screen flared and Argus winced at the brightness. "I would like to get back to more important things." Why do I keep forget to tell Avon about this?
Servalan smiled at his insult. That irritated Argus even more as the screen flared again. He put a hand to his temple and rubbed it. His head was starting to hurt.
"Is something wrong, Commander?" she asked sympathetically.
"Nothing," said Argus with greater force than he intended. His hand went to the back of his neck and he began kneading the muscles there. They were tight with tension and were starting to bother him. "Leave me alone."
Servalan asked with mild surprise at this unexpected outburst, "What did you say?"
Argus's tried to concentrate but the pain was building in his head. "I…I said leave me alone."
"I haven't done anything to you, Commander," said Servalan. "How could I? We're sectors apart."
"Yes…" Why… am… I…having…problems thinking?...Something’s wrong. Something... The screen flared again. There was something he should remember… It finally dawned on him what it was. Argus shouted at the woman on the screen. “Servalan! Stop trying to manipulate me!”
She smiled down at him from the screen. There was a mixture of satisfaction and pity in her eyes. “I see that you remember now.”
Yes! He remembered everything that he should remember, including the knowledge about the conditioning.
It was the conditioning.
Argus wanted to believe that he would not have thrashed Sester that badly if Servalan had not been playing with his mind. It made him feel better, but only slightly. He couldn’t shake off the feeling of responsibility. It had been his decision to do what Servalan had asked.
Argus said angrily, “Why did you do this? I already agreed to beat up Sester for you.”
“You seem to think that you can contact me anytime that you wish, Commander. I do not like being ignored. It puts me in a very bad mood, as you’ve just discovered. This lesson wasn’t only for Sester; it was also for your benefit.”
“You mean your benefit!” Argus said with venom.
“You know me so well,” said Servalan. “Now let’s get down to business. You will report in to me regularly regardless of what you’re doing. Once a week should be sufficient for now.”
“I do not work for you, Servalan. I will decide when I make contact, not you,” said Argus.
Servalan said, “Do we really have to go through the whole tiresome business again? You do not have an option to refuse. I am not asking you to do anything against your conscience. I only want you to make regularly contact in case I need to use your services. At the moment you are gaining much more from our arrangement than I am. I only seek to redress the imbalance.”
Everything Servalan said sounded reasonable. She was making it seem as if he was taking advantage of her.
Argus said, “You’re such a liar, Servalan. This is about control. Your control.”
Servalan was very pleased with herself. “As I said, Commander. You do know me so well.”
Something had been nagging at the back of Argus’s mind. “Perhaps not pain in general." He wondered why she would say that. Specific pain? Sester’s? Why would she think that I would gain any pleasure from torturing Sester? Because of what happened to Avon? Or something else?
The way she had said it, Servalan had made a clear insinuation about something.
No! She could not know about Reya.
Servalan had been watching him carefully. She had followed the flashes of emotion across his face. “Is there something you want to ask me?”
Argus directed a look of pure hostility at her. “I want nothing from you except for you to get out of my life.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t do that. And to answer the question that you’re too afraid to ask, yes, I do know about Commander Reve.”
In a voice of anger and fear, Argus choked out, “No! Leave her alone!”
There was a look of triumph and sympathy in Servalan’s eyes. “And now, you will forget that knowledge and everything about this conversation that I do not want you to remember. Until the next time.”
Argus said in helpless anguish, “No!” He reached towards the screen in a futile attempt to reach the woman who had done this to him.
The screen flared again and Servalan said, “Stand down, Commander.”
Argus’s voice became a strangled whisper as various barriers fell across his mind like a trap doors. “No!” Reya!
Memories and feelings disappeared, leaving only disgust at himself and anger at Servalan.
Servalan watched Argus carefully as the mind blocks fell into place. The look on his face changed from anguish to displeasure.
She said to him calmly, “You will report to me once a week as agreed.”
Argus almost growled with distaste as he said, “Yes.”
He didn’t know why he had agreed to this. I need to do something to regain control. She's taken too much of it already. Argus looked down at his clenched fist. He didn't remember closing it.
Jenna was happier than she had been in a long time. The freedom of piloting a good ship under challenging conditions was a joy. No killing, no destroying, no treacherous people, just her and the ship in full communication. It was an exhilarating experience. She missed the old days when she had her own crew and plied the trading lanes. Things were much simpler then.
There was a pleased smile on her face as she twisted her wrist quickly to swerve the ship past another meteor. The adrenaline was pumping through Jenna's body, her mind was sharp and her reflexes were quick. Jenna was good and she knew it. She had a reputation of being the best once; it was good to know that she still was.
She noticed that Prex, the pilot, no longer had his hands poised over his own flight controls, just in case she didn't prove up to the task. He was leaning back now, enjoying the ride.
Captain Atton said, "I think she may be better than you are, Prex." He actually thought that Jen was better than Prex, but he was not about to aggravate his old friend.
"Yeah, she'll do," said Prex grudgingly.
"I think he's jealous," said the red-haired navigator with a smirk.
Prex was getting irritated, "Why don’t you shut up? What do you know, you're just the navigator."
They all grabbed onto something as Jenna executed a series of fast intricate manoeuvres to avoid a dense cloud of debris. Everyone seemed to be holding their breaths as barely brushed past one meteor only to be directly in the path of another one.
Atton shouted, "Watch that one!"
Jenna did a quick lateral drop with the ship and said calmly, "I saw it." She turned to look at Atton.
Atton was about to say, "Shouldn't you be looking at the screen before you get us all killed?" But he only got as far as, "Shouldn't you…" He stared at the screen in shock. "We're through?" Atton could hardly believe it.
Jenna grinned. Her face was flushed with the excitement of what she had just achieved. "How was that for time?"
Atton looked down at his flight panel. "We're almost three hours ahead of schedule. How?"
Prex said reluctantly, "She picked the fastest route."
"But I thought you said that it would take longer than this," said Atton.
"It would have been, if she didn't choose a more dangerous route," said Prex with consternation.
Jenna reminded Atton, "You did say that we were tight on time. I just proved that it isn't dangerous." She repeated Atton's challenge to her before, "As long as you know what you're doing."
Atton's laughter filled the flight deck of the Raven. He said with an appreciative smile, "And you have proven that you do. You are welcome on my crew, Jen."
Jenna said, "If you don't need me further, I'm going to rest in my cabin." Now that it was over, she suddenly felt very tired.
Atton said, "Of course, you must be tired. You've earned the rest, Jen. We'll talk later."
Avon was in his lab, working on a program to break the encryption from the files he had downloaded at the alien research facility. Occasionally he glanced over at Cally who had her back to him and was reading intently from the screen in front of her. From what he could tell, she appeared to be studying molecule diagrams today.
When they were alone together, he felt relaxed and at ease but not today. Avon focused his mind so that she would only get an impassive impression from him; concentration on his task and little else. It was something he had learned to do long ago, when he realized that she could ‘read’ him. It wasn’t perfect, it could not prevent her from sensing when he had strong emotions, but it was sufficient for normal purposes. Avon hadn’t done this in a long time and for some reason, it made him feel uncomfortable.
Avon needed to think. There was a decision that he had to make. It was something that troubled him. Avon tried to push his own emotional reactions to the side, he would not be able to present a neutral front to Cally if he allowed them to affect him.
Think dispassionately. Factually. He was normally very good at it, it had been something he had done most of his life, but what he was struggling with was by its nature, emotionally charged. Avon put his hand over his vest pocket, he could feel the extra medicinal patch that would regulate the unwanted feelings of panic that came over him. He hated that he wasn’t strong enough to control his own mind when the memories came. His heart was already beating faster as he thought about this; involuntary feelings of helplessness and anger that were never far away. He breathed deeply, using the calming exercises.
Avon was torn with indecision. He wanted to do this, but an almost incapacitating fear was stopping him. His stomach twisted in pain. I have to defeat this. I can't let Servalan win.
He lifted his head and looked at Cally. A barely visible smile touched his lips as he regarded her back. "Cally."
She turned around. "Yes, Avon?"
"We need to talk."
"Alright." She came over and sat near him at the table. Cally had been aware of Avon's struggle, despite his attempts to block her from sensing what was going on inside him. She hadn’t said anything because she knew that he needed the space to come to decisions on his own. If she didn’t, he would begin to feel trapped and controlled; and that would have brought remembrances of the detention centre. What he needed the most was encouragement and support. "What did you want to talk about?"
Avon dipped his hand into his vest pocket and brought out the patch. "I used this before I went in to see Sester."
"You didn't want him to give him any advantage," said Cally with understanding.
"I know that wasn't the use you intended for these." He nervously fingered the patch.
"That's true, you have to be careful with them. They're very effective but they're not meant for long term use. Sometimes I'm nervous about prescribing you any drugs because of the ones you're already taking."
His eyes searched hers. "I want to use one now."
"What are you thinking of doing?" She was alarmed when a pained look appeared on his face.
His words came out in a half-whisper, like a man who did not want to disturb the peace. "I want to talk about Servalan."
"Avon, are you sure?" She knew that thinking about their enemy caused great stress for him.
For Avon, every word took great effort. "I want to do this. Servalan has already taken away too many things from both of us." There was grim resolve in his eyes.
"We should go back to our cabin," said Cally, moving to get up.
"No." He put his hand on her arm to stop her. "Not there. I can't do it there."
Cally put her hand gently over his and sat down again. "Alright. We won't."
Silence fell between them as Avon struggled with what he wanted to say.