Avon and Argus sat across from each other on the flight deck, discussing the list of possible alien incursion threats Servalan's people had provided. Avon was perusing a datapad containing the information.
Argus asked, "So what do you think?"
Avon answered, "The second and the fifth one have possibilities."
Argus said, "They all have possibilities. I don't like the looks of the one on Solteral."
The weather satellite system on the planet had suffered a disastrous malfunction. It was a terraformed planet that was plunging into an ice age from which it had been reclaimed. The Solterans had barely survived the destruction of Star One. They were just starting to become prosperous again.
"You would. That's purely a humanitarian rescue. Servalan's people can take care of it. They are the ones with the expertise to repair the weather system. It does not take the capability of the Justice to handle that."
"The Federation?" Argus asked sceptically. It wasn't that he didn't believe the Federation would help; it was part of their empire after all.
Avon said, "Regardless of the reason, it is not in their best interests to allow the planet to become unproductive."
"I know that, but I would like them to see that there are avenues to help them other than Federation ones."
"A political motivation," said Avon with not a bit of distaste. "That is always a good reason to do anything."
Argus was puzzled. "I thought that you believed in the rebel cause and that was why you were with Blake. Are you saying that you didn't?"
When did you become a believer? The memory of Jenna's cynical voice rose from the depths of Avon's mind. The others never had understood him. Blake had, just a little. He suspected that Cally always did. He would have to ask her that some day.
Avon said, "It was never a matter of not believing in the cause."
"Then what was it?" asked Argus. This intelligent man before him was a constant mystery. He still didn't fully understand Avon's motivations. The only thing he knew was that his instincts told him that he could trust Avon.
Avon hadn't thought about these matters in a long time. He did sometimes, when he had been on the Liberator, and later on the Scorpio.
Yes. What was it? Why did I stay?
Normally thoughts of Blake would cause instant pain and an overwhelming sense of guilt and horror. It had been a long time since he had been able to think of those days with any semblance of coherence.
It must be because of what happened last night. Opening up to Cally and experiencing both physical and emotional closeness with her had changed him. The sense of no longer being alone wasn't just a mental acknowledgement, it was something he knew.
"Avon?" Argus asked with concern when Avon continued staring at him blankly but not answering.
Avon brought his mind back. "I was thinking about something."
"Anything that I should know about?" asked Argus.
"You want to know if I believe in the rebel cause?" asked Avon. "That is what you want to know, isn't it?"
"It isn't that simple," said Avon.
Argus said wryly, "Is anything with you ever simple?"
"Not for you."
"Do you like avoiding questions?"
"Alright." Avon gathered his thoughts. So far there was no sense of panic but he was careful not to think about Blake directly. He did not want to test his new sense of peace on something that crucial yet. He didn't want to deal with more than one set of nightmares at a time.
Avon continued, "I have never said that I don't believe but I have never thought that it was possible." He looked Argus straight in the eyes and said, "I still don’t."
"Then why did you help Blake if you didn't believe it was possible?" asked Argus.
"He was full of confidence and he had the ability to make people want to believe, even against their better judgement. It was why the Federation was afraid of him." This was an ability that Avon had always envied.
"Against your better judgement, Avon?"
Avon hesitated and then said, "I thought him a fool for believing in something that could not be achieved. I…" The feelings that he had been able to hold at bay were starting to intrude into his consciousness. "Thought that if he took the time to think, he would realize this and stop what he was doing. He almost did when we first met. I tried to help him see the reality of the situation. I didn't want to see him throw his life away on a hopeless dream, not after what the Federation had already done to him and his family. It was only a brief moment, and then he was the fanatic again; only seeing the goal and not the overwhelming probability of failure."
Avon still remembered that day in the computer control room of the London. He could almost hear the anguish in Blake's voice as he told them about the Federation murdering his family and friends. The price of failure was high in the Federation, regardless of which side you were on. Avon knew that only too well. He had almost convinced Blake then, until Jenna had stepped in. Avon wondered what would have happened if Jenna hadn't. They would all still be alive. Blake would still be alive. Avon's stomach twisted in pain. It was starting again.
"Avon!" Argus's voice rose in alarm at the grimace of pain on Avon's face.
The shout caused Avon to draw his mind back from the memories. He was breathing hard, as if he had just ran several miles. Avon put his hand up, "Give me a moment." He calmed his mind and slowed his breathing. "I can't talk about Blake. Not yet."
"I won't press you. You can tell me when you're ready," said Argus.
"There is one thing I can tell you," said Avon. "I thought that Blake fought because he believed it was possible to win, but I was wrong. He fought because he believed the fight itself was important, even if you couldn't win." His stomach twisted again in sharp pain. Avon nearly doubled over. He put his hand up again to stop Argus who had gotten up and was going to come over to help him. "I have to say this. I didn't understand his reason for fighting until that last day when I killed him." Avon's fists tightened as he tried to block out the pain. He had left it too late; the memories began to flood into his mind like an irresistible tide. His hands gripping the gun…
Avon felt something against the side of his neck. He tried to brush it away but strong hands blocked him. The drugs from the patch that Argus had hastily applied flooded his system, giving Avon an instant calm.
Cally's concerned voice suddenly spoke in his mind, * Avon, are you alright? Do you need me to come? *
Avon responded, * I'm fine. I had problems with one of the memories but the patch is working. Argus is here. *
* Alright, Avon. * Cally's voice faded.
Argus was holding onto Avon's arm to keep him up, trying to give him support. He asked, "Do you need me to get Cally?"
"She was just here," said Avon. At the confusion in Argus's eyes, he tapped the side of his head, "In here."
"I'm going to have to get used to that," said Argus as he let go of Avon's arm.
Despite what had just happened, Avon wanted to continue. He was very careful this time. "To answer your question. I have always believed that the Federation needed to be brought down, or at least changed, but I have never believed it was possible. I still don't, but because of Blake, I accept that continuing the battle is as important as winning. For this reason, I will fight with you."
Avon added, “That does not mean that I agreed with Blake’s methods.”
There was more to be said but Vila came down the flight deck steps and joined them. Avon and Argus glanced at each other. The conversation was over, for now.
Vila sat down and said, "Which one of you beat up Sester without telling me?"
Both Avon and Argus said at the same time. "I did."
They looked with shock at each other.
Vila asked, "You were both in on it?"
Both Avon and Argus answered again. "No."
Vila's eyes narrowed, "You both beat him up separately?"
Argus asked Avon, "How did you…?"
Avon took the tracer control unit from his pocket, "I questioned him with this."
Vila said with dismay, "Well, you two geniuses nearly killed him."
Avon said, "That's not possible. I was very careful."
Vila turned to Argus.
"Vila, if I wanted Sester dead. You would not be here asking me. He would already be dead."
Vila said with exasperation, "And when both of you do it? One after the other?"
Avon said to Argus, "We do appear to have a problem. In future we should coordinate our efforts more effectively."
Argus replied, "You're right. I should have told you what I was doing."
Vila couldn't believe his ears.
Argus said, "Avon, it might be a good idea if you don't keep the control unit."
"Are you planning to give up your fists as well?" asked Avon.
iU; mso-ansi-language: EN-CA; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA">
"You have a point," said Argus.
Vila didn’t expect to be heard when two Alphas were talking but he no longer accepted that his role was to listen. He said, "Avon, why don't you give me the control unit? And Argus, you need to stay away from Sester. You want him to help you against Servalan, but its hard to convince him if you keep beating him up."
Vila looked at them both nervously. They were staring at him. He couldn't tell what they were thinking or even if they were going to tell him to mind his own business. Vila wondered if it was going to be like it had always been, with no one listening to him.
Argus looked at Avon and asked, "What do you think, Avon?"
"It does sound like Vila but I would not rule out alien possession," said Avon. He sounded serious.
"You always think its alien possession," complained Argus.
"True," said Avon.
Vila protested, "I am not possessed by an alien!"
Avon said, "You are, in a manner of speaking. You are possessed by a new Vila."
Argus said, "We like this one."
Avon’s eyebrows rose. "We do?"
Argus said, "You know you do."
Avon could not keep the amusement out of his eyes. He handed the control unit to Vila.
Vila stared at it. He couldn't believe that Avon was actually giving it to him.
Avon asked, "Have you changed your mind?"
Vila took the unit from Avon's extended hand. "No."
Avon said, "You realize that I can very easily make another one."
Avon said, "But I won't."
Argus chimed in and said, "Avon might want to borrow it occasionally though."
Avon glared at him and asked, "Does Commander Reve know that you beat up Sester?"
Avon remarked humourlessly, "I thought not."
“You’re not going to tell her, are you?”
“Do you plan to lie to her?” challenged Avon.
Why was it that Avon always knew how to get to him? “I…No, I don’t.”
Avon said, “I won’t tell her unless she asks.”iU; mso-ansi-language: EN-CA; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA">Vila
iU; mso-ansi-language: EN-CA; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA"> said helpfully, “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I won’t say anything.”
Avon looked pointedly at Argus. “It will hurt her, if she finds out, and even more if she discovers that you deliberately kept it from her.”
Argus’s shoulders slumped. “I know. I don’t know what possessed me. I should never have hurt him that badly. I’m usually much more controlled than that.”
“Jealousy?” asked Vila.
Argus glanced at him. It was something he had been trying to deny. He had not wanted to take a look at it that closely. Doing so meant thinking about Reya’s and Sester’s interaction together. He said reluctantly, “Maybe.”
Vila said, “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’re a man. If anyone had…”
Avon saw Argus’s anger rise. He said, “I wouldn’t suggest pursuing it, Vila.”
Vila stopped. For the first time, he noticed part of the patch sticking out from the edge of Avon’s collar. He wondered what had been going on before he arrived.
Avon said to Vila, “We will leave the monitoring of Sester’s progress to you. Let us know when we need to back off.” He addressed Argus, “Agreed?”
The three men began discussing their plans with regards to the psychostrategist.
A little while later, as Avon, Argus and Vila were nearly done, Cally and Reya joined them.
Avon found himself staring at Cally as she came down the steps towards them. Though his face was as impassive as ever, there was a barely perceptible softness in his eyes as he remembered the previous night. Pleasant memories to drown out the nightmares in his head.
* Avon. * Cally sat down beside him as he moved over. Their thighs were touching lightly.
Before she could ask how he was again, Avon asked, * Can you look in on Sester later? He might be hurt. *
* What happened? * she asked.
* I need you to not ask any questions. Just trust me. *
She glanced over at Argus and Reya, who were sitting on either side of Vila.
* You don’t want Reya to find out? * she asked.
Avon asked with consternation, * Are you certain that you can’t read my mind? *
Cally sent an amused ripple towards him. * No, Avon. I just know you. Besides, it wasn’t that difficult to work out. You realize that those two are going to have trouble over this? It can’t be hidden indefinitely. *
* Argus is aware of it. *
* Alright, Avon. I will look in on Sester. *
Sester sat on his bunk and lay back against the wall carefully, grimacing at the continued pain. He was trying not to use another one of the analgesic patches Vila had left him.
Vila had been very helpful lately, visiting him regularly and bringing food. Not that Sester had much of an appetite. He guessed that there must have been some internal damage done as a result of the beating he had received from Argus. The man’s fist had been like tempered metal.
Sester was still resisting Vila’s efforts to convince him to see Cally. Part of him wanted to avoid trouble between Reya and Argus. He did not want to see her hurt again. The other part of him was also aware that if she found out, and knew that he was trying to do the right thing, it would only benefit him.
He looked down at the chess set that he had arranged on the bed beside him. Another difficult configuration. He applied his mind to the task in order to take his mind off the pain.
The cabin buzzer announced another visitor. Vila.
Sester got up slowly and went to press the door control on the table. He had a puzzled smile when he saw Cally. She had a bag slung over her shoulder.
“To what do I owe this pleasure?” Sester waved her in.
Cally’s manner was guarded as she said, “Avon said that you were hurt?”
Sester said, “Avon exaggerates.” Avon being concerned about his health set off all manner of alarms in Sester. He wondered what everyone was up to.
She suddenly reached forward and tried to press her hand against his mid-section. Sester reacted quickly and backed away, but causing himself pain in the process. He grimaced.
“You were saying?” asked Cally.
Sester realized that Cally must know about the beating he had received from Argus.
Sester asked, “Does Reya know?”
Cally said, "You can't fool me, Sester. It will be very convenient when Reya finally finds out what Argus did. Then you can seem noble in trying to protect their relationship, and she will be even more sympathetic towards you. And Argus will look even worse.”
“You’re much too cynical about me, Cally,” said Sester with a wry smile.
“Spare me the act,” said Cally harshly. “Take your shirt off and lie down on the bed.”
“Normally, when women ask me to do this…” He smiled and began to unbutton his shirt.
“Save the banter for someone who is fooled by it,” said Cally as she slid the bag off her shoulder and began removing some items from it. Cally was giving him no quarter; she was here as a professional, not a friend.
Sester draped his shirt over a chair and lay down. “You used to be much more fun than this.”
“That was before I found out what you really were.” She turned on a medical scanner and passed it over his torso.
Sester sighed. “Of course.”
Cally studied the readout from the scanner as she said, “I don’t appreciate your trying to act as if nothing happened.”
“I don’t suppose it makes any difference that I’m sorry for tricking you and for using the knowledge I gained to trap Avon.”
Cally turned the scanner off and put it down. “You’re expecting forgiveness?” she asked angrily.
“I was hoping for a little less hostility. I have been trying to help Avon after all.”
“You’re not going to get it. Nothing you do will ever be enough,” said Cally as she picked up an instrument that looked similar to the tissue generator. This one was larger and had more controls on it. She changed the settings. “You have internal bruising. That is the cause for the discomfort you are experiencing. This is a deep tissue regenerator. It will repair the damage.”
When she turned it on, the instrument gave off a soft blue light. She passed it over the affected areas.
Sester asked, “Why are you doing this?”
“You’re my patient. I have a responsibility for the health of the people on this ship.”
“Even of enemies?”
“Even you,” said Cally. She turned the instrument off. “You should be fine now. Try to get up.”
Sester sat up carefully. There was no longer any pain or discomfort. He smiled. “Thank you, Cally.” He got up from the bed.
“Don’t thank me,” she said coldly as she packed up her equipment.
“Nevertheless, I am grateful. To you and to Avon.”
“Avon does not want your thanks either,” said Cally as she picked up the bag and headed towards the door.
He looked thoughtfully at the door after Cally exited. “I’m sure he wants something else from me,” said Sester.
Several hours later Avon returned to the flight deck to talk to Argus.
“We still haven’t determined where we’re going to next,” said Avon as he sat down on the couch, facing Argus, who was at his flight station.
“I thought we were going to Solteral.”
Argus grinned. “Alright, let's discuss this. The aliens might be involved in the disruption of the weather satellite control systems. That means that it’s not purely a humanitarian mission.”
Avon said, “The Kuriam crystal mines are just as crucial. If it is the Andromedans causing disruptions there, they may be trying to control their own supply of Kuriam. That would not be good for anyone. The implications could be much wider than helping a single planet.”
“No one’s life is in direct danger there,” pointed out Argus.
“The other consideration is the Goderich territories. They are directly adjacent to Sector Ten. The reports of increased hostilities there can be an indication of another alien incursion attempt.”
“That’s true, or it might just be a normal territorial dispute,” said Argus. “Those territories are well known for them and they tend to keep to themselves.”
“There’s no way of knowing for certain until we go to investigate,” said Avon. He stressed, “It is next to Sector Ten. Each one of these are potential dangers to humanity if the Andromedans are involved. It is a matter of scope.”
Argus thought for a few moments. “The Goderich territories and Solteral are near each other, aren’t they?”
Avon made some calculations. “At standard by ten, they’re two days apart.”
“Good. We can do both. Then we can go check out the Kuriam mines.”
“You want to go to Solteral first, don’t you?” asked Avon.
iU; mso-ansi-language: EN-CA; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA">For the next week, as the ship headed towards Solteral, everyone was busy. Reya had instituted regular training and practice sessions on the weapons range. Cally had started educating some of the ship’s personnel on basic first aid techniques for field use. Vila
was teaching some fundamental lock-breaking techniques to some of the Athol soldiers. Avon was doing research on the three places they were going to go. Argus began drawing up preliminary strategies and contingencies for each mission and discussing them with Avon.
They were doing that during Argus’s shift on the flight deck when Zen reported. “Information. An incoming emergency communications signal is being received.”
Argus looked over at the visual display. “Who is it from, Zen?”
Zen responded, “The source of the signal is Del Grant.”
Upon the hearing of the familiar name, Avon’s face turned pale and he dropped the datapad he had been working on. He couldn’t breathe. A flood of conflicting emotions was choking him along with memories of Anna.
Argus was becoming very familiar with Avon's episodes. He rushed over quickly and applied a patch to Avon’s neck.
Avon regained control as calm returned.
Argus asked with concern, “Avon, who is Del Grant?” There was only one Del Grant that Argus was aware of. He was a mercenary with a reputation for ruthless efficiency and exorbitant fees. This may or may not be the same one, but it was definitely someone who had a great impact on Avon.
“He swore that he would kill me once,” he told Argus. “He has more reason to now.”
“Then we won’t answer the signal,” said Argus.
“I have to.”
Argus asked again. “Avon, who is Del Grant?”
“Grant?” The emotions might be under control, but the memories of Anna and Grant were not. Avon’s eyes went out of focus as their faces appeared before him. “He was Anna’s brother.”
Argus may not know who Grant was, but he had heard of the infamous Anna. The Anna of Avon’s nightmares. If Grant was her brother, then…
“Then we’re definitely not answering this signal,” said Argus. To him going anywhere near Grant would be too risky for Avon.
Avon’s voice was deathly quite. “I loved Anna.”
His mind was being filled with echoes of the past and the twisted memories of his nightmares. At times he could no longer tell which was real.
Anna's voice as he had always remembered her. I let you go. She had played him to the very end. It didn't matter if the sentiment had been real or not.
His voice as it had always been, a man desperate for someone who would not betray him. The voice of a fool. No. You never let me go.
His nightmare was coming to meet him. It was not giving him a choice. He spoke as a man who still had trouble processing what happened. “She betrayed me. She…tried to kill me.” The nightmares did that to him. The Federation torturers had played on his guilt and the pain of being betrayed, feeding him a desperate fantasy that perhaps it had all been a mistake. She hadn’t betrayed him. It was all a terrible error. His error. Avon screamed in agony and bent forward. “NO!!”
Argus grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “Avon! Snap out of it! Anna worked for the Federation. Her brother probably wants to kill you. You have to think! Avon!”
Avon’s eyes were wild when he looked at him. He wasn’t seeing anything except Anna. He didn’t feel anything except his own arms around her as she lay dying.
Then the laughter of Federation torturers as they called him a fool. She betrayed you! She was working for us all along. It was all an act and you fell for it. She never loved you.
Avon cried out again, the agony of betrayal.
His mind had known the truth but a small part of him had allowed himself to be fooled by the visions. He had wanted to believe them. Avon looked up at the interrogators as they roared with laughter. He was the ultimate fool.
Argus shook him again but to no avail.
Avon’s mind was no longer registering where he was. You said you let me go. Avon wished she hadn’t said it. It would have been easier if she had never thought of him as anything but a fool. In that sentence, she had held out a cruel hope.
Why, Anna? Why did you force me to kill you?
iU; mso-ansi-language: EN-CA; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA">The drugs may have been able to regulate Avon’s physical responses but it could not stop his mind from shutting down. "Why…" Avon collapsed and fell forward as Argus caught him.