7th Story of Perceptions
Sequel to Knowing the Enemy
When Cally noticed Avon having trouble the first time, she had not been too concerned. The attacks were happening with greater frequency but the drugs seemed to be able to bring him to the point where he was strong enough to handle them. He was not alone and Argus knew what to do.
The second time was different. Cally was able to sense that Avon’s mind was on the verge of collapsing. Cally had immediately dropped what she was doing in the medical unit and raced to the flight deck. Fear spurred her on as she nearly knocked several people over in her wake. She had tried to reach Avon with her mind but he did not seem to hear her. He was either too focussed on something or he was in the grip of another powerful nightmare.
Cally took the flight deck steps in a leap and ran over as she saw Avon collapse into Argus’s arms.
"What happened?" she asked frantically as they lay Avon down on the couch. She began checking his life signs.
Argus hovered anxiously nearby. "We received an emergency communication. It was from someone calling himself, Del Grant."
"Grant?!" Cally asked in shock as she continued checking Avon. This was not good news. Avon was just starting to deal with one set of nightmares. He did not need another one.
Argus asked, "Why would Grant want to contact Avon? It must be a trap."
Cally said, "I don’t know. Give me a moment. I'm going to try to reach Avon."
Cally took Avon's hand in hers and reached for his mind, trying to be as gentle as possible. She nearly pulled back at the first blast of emotional pain. Having an awareness of Avon at the edge of her consciousness was very different from being able to touch his mind this closely. Cally steadied herself and tried again carefully, just touching the edges of his mind and keeping her own mental barriers up.
* Avon. Can you hear me? *
Reya, Vila and Lt. Dain arrived on the flight deck. Cally’s frantic rush through the corridors of the ship had alerted them that something was wrong.
Argus waved them in but indicated that they should give Avon and Cally some space.
Reya whispered, “What happened?”
Argus kept his voice low as he replied, “Someone named Del Grant…”
“Grant!?” exclaimed Vila. “Where?”
Argus explained, “He sent a signal using the emergency frequencies. Zen intercepted the message.”
Vila asked anxiously, “What does he want?” Del Grant had made him nervous during the incident on Albian. Plus Avon had killed his sister.
Argus said, “I don’t know. We haven’t responded to the signal yet. Avon had a bad reaction to the name and collapsed.”
Vila wanted to move closer but he didn’t want to disturb Avon and Cally. He tried to look around Cally.
When Cally didn’t get a response, she tried to reach further into Avon's mind. At first she felt resistance as his natural barriers repulsed her efforts, then there seemed to be a vague recognition of who she was. There was a slight relaxing of the walls.
* Avon. Can you hear me? *
Avon's responding voice was weak. * Yes. *
* I know about Grant, * she told him. * We will face this together, Avon. I will not leave you alone. *
* They made me remember. * His voice was pained and thin. * At the detention centre. *
Cally asked gently, * What did they make you remember? *
* Anna. *
The name sent him into another jolt of memories.
She betrayed you! She never loved you! You were a fool! Mocking laughter filled his mind.
A cruel voice asked, Do you want to feel it again? What shall it be this time? Do you want to experience yourself shooting her again? Or do you want to hear her say how much she loves you before she plunges a knife into your heart? Do you want her to laugh this time? Do you want to spend some 'time' with her before it happens? Yes. I think that will be even more effective. “No!!!” Avon choked out in helpless anger. Laughing faces surrounded him.
Cally put her arms around Avon and held him close. She tried to project a comforting presence into his mind. * Avon, it’s alright. It’s not real. Come back. *
Avon's body arched and he screamed in agony as they turned on the machines. Blinding pain to batter his mind until he could no longer resist the visions. It didn’t take long, he was already too weak to fight them. Cally cried out with Avon as the pain hit her too. She pulled back, holding her head.
"Cally!" "Avon!" Vila held onto Cally to support her while Argus and Reya held Avon down on the couch. His body was writhing from the pain being inflicted in his mind. He finally stopped screaming but he was now moaning.
Lt. Dain felt awkward. He had been concerned and had come to help too but he felt like an outsider. The others clearly cared about each other and knew each other well. Dain stayed on the periphery, ready to help if any extra assistance was required, but mainly to lend his support by his presence.
Cally leaned against Vila as she reached for Avon's hand.
Reya said, "Do you think that's a good idea?"
Cally said, "I have to let him know that he's not alone. He has to know." There were tears in her eyes. Even though she wasn't touching him, she could still sense some of his pain.
Her voice was angry and reflected Avon's suffering. "They hurt him badly, Reya. And they kept hurting him until he couldn't resist anymore. He thought that once he escaped it would all be over. But it hasn't. They still have the power to hurt him. In his mind, he has never escaped. He's still trapped." Cally wanted to be able to go into Avon's mind and destroy all of his torturers; banish all of the nightmares. She hated them all.
Everyone's faces reflected Cally's anguish as she told them about Avon's condition.
Argus said, "You mean that this happens regularly?"
Cally admitted with anguish, "At first it only happened occasionally but now…it's almost every day."
Argus said, "No wonder I've had to use the patch several times. I thought it was just being triggered by what we've been talking about."
"Yes. The triggering events have also increased."
Argus's face held a frown. He wished he had been told about this, then he would have been more careful when he was with Avon. "Why didn't you tell me, Cally?"
Cally said, "I'm sorry. Avon asked me not to."
Argus expelled a breath in forceful aggravation. "Of course he would."
Cally said, "There's no way to hide it now."
Avon was finally silent although they could see that he was still in great distress. He was moving restlessly, his face contorted at whatever nameless horror he was facing.
Argus asked, "Why aren't the drugs working? I gave him one a little while ago."
Cally said worriedly, "I'm not certain. At first it was enough to only reduce the symptoms of panic. It gave his mind the chance to reassert control, but once the memories take hold, nothing seems to be able to stop it."
Reya asked, "Are you saying that his mind is no longer strong enough."
"Oh, I don't like the sounds of that," said Vila worriedly. The idea of an Avon whose mind could no longer face and defeat every challenge, made the world an uncertain place. It was something he could not accept.
Cally's head bowed, "That's what he's afraid of." Avon's interactions with her lately were tinged with a sense of urgency, even last night. It was as if Avon was afraid he didn't have much time left and wanted to use every moment of it for something important.
Argus hit the side of the couch with his fist.
Vila said, "It's not fair. We just got him back."
Cally said, "I am not going to leave him alone again." She shook off Vila's arm from around her shoulders and took Avon's hand in hers. She was careful to keep her own mental barriers up and only touch the edges of his mind so that she would not be shocked.
Avon’s emotions were so strong that it was hard to block it all but Cally was determined. They seemed abnormally strong. Enough to debilitate. The most traumatic events of Avon’s life had been used to torture him; the ones that produced emotions that he was helpless to. Cally felt responsible. It was because of what she had revealed to Sester about Avon that enabled them to do this to him. Sester had been helpful and persuasive; full of compassion and understanding. She had missed Avon and before she had realized what Sester was doing, he had encouraged her need to talk about him.
For Avon, a man who was so normally emotionally controlled, these events had devastated him. Cally wondered if anything else was done to Avon in order to encourage this, to make him even more vulnerable to the emotions.
Slowly she went further past his protective walls. Every step was a struggle against a resistant mind. It was not just his mental barriers that were obstructing her, it was a sense of the nightmare that had taken over. It was a dark, malevolent place that she did not recognize; Avon was not in control here.
* Avon, it’s only a vision. You have to fight it. * No matter what she did, Avon could not hear her. Cally held him tighter as she could feel his body reacting to what he was seeing in his mind. She was filled with anguish. * Avon! *
The others watched in shocked silence. None of them had seen Avon this deeply into one of his nightmares before. To witness anyone in such emotional agony was hard enough, to know that it was Avon, the man who rarely let emotions show on his face, made it disturbing. He seemed too vulnerably human.
Zen reported, "Information. A second emergency communication is being received."
Argus had every intention of leaving this second one unanswered as well.
Vila asked, “Aren’t you going to answer it?”
Argus responded, “No.”
Reya said, “It’s an emergency communications. Perhaps they’re in trouble.” No one had explained to her who Grant was yet.
Argus said again, “We are not going to answer it. Just the mention of Grant’s name did this to Avon. I am not going to risk it.”
“Maybe you should.” They all looked at Cally in surprise.
Argus said, “I don’t understand. I thought you would be the last person to want this.”
Cally explained, “The shock of hearing Grant’s voice may be the only way to bring Avon out of this. It was the knowledge of Grant’s communication that started him on this set of nightmares. Perhaps it can reach him again.”
Argus said apprehensively, “Are you sure?”
Cally said, “I cannot be certain of anything but we have to try. There is no danger in listening to what Grant has to say.”
Argus said thoughtfully, “Alright. We’ll use audio-only communications, that way Grant will not be able to see Avon. If Avon has more negative reactions, signal me immediately and I will terminate the connection.”
Vila said uneasily, “I hope this works.”
Argus instructed, “Zen, I want audio-only communications. Connect me to Del Grant. Incoming only.”
There was static over the comm speaker and then a scratchy voice, “..el Grant. Requesting immediate assistance. Kerr Avon. This is Del Grant on Solteral in Sector Six. We need your help. I know your ship is within communications range of this signal. You’re the only…” The message continued as Argus asked, “Is that Grant’s voice?”
Vila had been listening carefully, trying to decide the same thing. “It sounds like him.”
Solteral? thought Argus. That was one of the planets on Servalan's list. It was the one that needed humanitarian assistance.
Argus said, “Alright. Zen, open external communications.”
Argus said formally, “This is Drel Argus of the Justice. We have received your emergency signal. How may we be of assistance?”
At that moment Sester arrived but he stayed just outside the flight deck and did not come down the steps. He had also noticed Cally’s race through the corridors and had come to see what was going on. Reya turned around and noticed him. Sester smiled. She gave him a barely perceptible nod then turned her attention back to more urgent matters.
The scratchy voice over the comm speaker said, “That must be Commander Argus.”
“This is Argus.” He was irritated that yet another person called him by his old Federation rank.
Grant’s voice sounded relieved. “I’m glad we finally got through to you. I thought that you may have gone out of range or that our signal was being blocked. Is Avon with you?”
Argus said carefully, “He is.”
Grant said, “That’s good news. We need him here on Solteral. The…rebels here did something that was very ill-advised. It caused the computers of the weather control system to suffer a catastrophic failure. Unfortunately, they also managed to blow up the key computer personnel who could have fixed it. Also very ill-advised. We’ve tried rebooting the system and allowing it to reset, but it’s only made it worse. There appears to have been a fail-safe built into the system that ended up wiping out key portions of the programming in case non-Federation personnel got access to it.”
Argus asked, “You need Avon to rebuild the programming?”
“He’s the only computer expert I know and trust,” said Grant.
“Why hasn’t the Federation sent people out?”
“They have, but their closest computer expert with the ability to do this is three weeks out. By that time everyone here will be dead. This is an ice planet or at least it used to be before it was terraformed for human habitation. The temperature has dropped thirty degrees since the computers went out and over half the planet is under ice again. Plus we’ve been under siege from the Federation troops stationed here but they might pull out if it gets worse. If Avon doesn’t get here soon, we might all have to.”
Argus had listened carefully, trying to catch anything suspicious in what Grant was saying. “Alright, I will talk it over with my people. I’ll contact you again on this frequency.”
As Argus and Grant were talking, Cally could sense Avon’s consciousness shifting. She couldn’t tell if he was paying attention, but he was aware of the voices. His emotional state was starting to stabilize.
Before communications terminated, Grant said, “Argus. There aren't enough ships on this planet to get everyone out. We’ll be lucky to get more than ten percent.”
“Understood,” said Argus. The comm went silent.
Reya said, “It sounds too real to be convincing or too real to be ignored. The situation is plausible enough. The same thing did happen to them when Star One was destroyed.”
Argus said, “It tallies with the information Servalan gave to us about the planet. The weather systems did go down and they are in danger.”
Vila said, “This could be a trap. Do you think he’s working for Servalan?”
Argus said, “I can’t see why he would be. Servalan has a vested interest in keeping Avon alive but a trap is something we're all worried about. Avon did kill Grant's sister.”
Reya asked another question, “How did Grant know that Avon was near enough to help?”
Argus said, “It does seem too coincidental. What I don’t understand is how his signal was able to get through to us at all. It’s standard Federation military procedure to block all outgoing communications signals. It prevents enemy forces from calling for help.”
Vila remarked, “You’d think the people on the planet would have learned the first time, and not do something so silly as knocking out the weather systems. Freezing to death is not the best way to go. Of course nasty deaths of any kind is not the best way to go.”
“I agree,” a weak voice said. They all turned to look at Avon, who was staring up at them from the couch. “It is very silly, but human beings have never been blessed with an over-abundance of intelligence.”
Cally helped Avon to sit up. * Are you alright, Avon? *
* I’m better. *
Argus asked, “Are you alright?”
Avon said, “I’ll let you know when I am.”
Argus asked, “You heard everything with Grant?”
Argus already guessed what Avon wanted. “It’s not a good idea, Avon. It could be a trap. What if he wants revenge for your killing Anna?”
Avon said, “That's a distinct possibility."
Vila said, "Avon, he wanted to kill you the first time, when he thought that Anna had died because of you. This time you really did kill Anna. It's suicide going to meet him."
Avon said to Argus, "Grant is on Solteral.”
Argus said, "I know."
“I know what I said, Avon."
"I'm their only chance."
"I know that but the circumstances are different. I will not risk you. We’ll try to find another way to help them.”
“You know there's only one solution,” said Avon.
Reya asked, “Avon, do you have to be on the planet in order to reprogram the computers?”
“It’s not that simple,” said Avon.
Cally asked, “You want to see Grant, don’t you?”
Avon looked at her and said, “I have to see him.”
Argus said, “I was afraid you were going to say that. You could reprogram the computers without going down to the planet, couldn't you?”
Avon did not answer.
Argus said, "That means yes but you still want to go down."
Cally said, “Avon, you don’t owe Grant anything.”
Avon said, “I know, Cally.”
Vila said, “Avon, it’s not like the last time. You don’t have Anna to do it for this time.”
Avon said, “It is my decision whether to risk my life, unless you all intend to restrain me or lock me in my cabin.”
Argus said with frustration, “You know we won’t do that.”
“Then the decision is made,” said Avon with finality.
Argus said reluctantly, “Alright but you’re going down with a full escort. I am not going to risk you more than I have to.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” said Avon. “I have no intention of dying.”
Argus said, “Reya, prepare a team to go down with Avon.”
Argus said, “Zen, open up audio communications to Del Grant.”
“Confirmed, communications channels open.”
Argus said, “Grant. This is Argus. We will render whatever assistance you require. Send your coordinates.”
Grant’s scratchy voice responded over the speaker. “That’s the best news I’ve had all week. Sending coordinates now.”
As they were all discussing Grant and the situation on Solteral, the voice from the flight deck steps said, “I would be very careful about going down there.”
Argus snarled at the sight of his least favourite person on the ship. “What are you doing here?”
Sester smiled at Argus’s predictable attitude and came down the steps. “I saw Cally running through the halls earlier. I guessed that something was wrong.”
“And how does that concern you?” asked Argus. He took a menacing step towards Sester, placing himself directly between the psychostrategist and Avon.
The amused smile had never left Sester’s lips. Argus's move had been very obvious. Sester had no fear of being beaten up, not in front of witnesses, and one witness in particular. The more Argus acted aggressively, the more it was to Sester’s advantage in that quarter.
“It does,” said Sester. He added with a slight smirk, “But for my own reasons, of course.”
Argus said, “We don’t need you to tell us to be careful.”
Sester had an annoying habit of sounding as if there was something he knew that no one else did. “Oh, I know. You’re careful about many things, but are you careful enough about the things that you don’t know about?”
Sester’s presence always set Argus on edge. “What are you talking about?”
Sester explained, “You were right in identifying that it’s suspicious that Grant’s signal was able to get through. What’s even more suspicious is that Grant has fought Federation forces before and he would know standard Federation procedure. Why would he bother sending a signal that he knew would be blocked?”
Reya said, “Perhaps the communications jamming equipment was damaged in the fighting or Grant may have had it destroyed.”
Sester loved her quick mind. “Yes, it is possible. Grant is experienced after all. It would be something he would think of doing if he needed help. But as you also pointed out, it sounds too good to be true and it is too coincidental that of all the people who could be contacting you, that it would be Grant.” He looked directly at Avon. “The one person who could trigger nightmares you can’t control?”
Avon’s face was expressionless. He had no intention of giving anything away to Sester. It was already bad enough that everyone was a witness to one of his weak moments. In the face of enemies, he was determined to be the man he was before.
The look on Avon’s face may not have been as hostile as Argus’s but his eyes were dark with mistrust and unpleasant thoughts. “You think Servalan is behind this?”
“You already suspect it,” said Sester. “Why are you allowing sentiment to cloud your judgement, Avon? You can’t have believed the lies that they fed you at the detention centre, or what Anna told you.” Sester’s eyes widened slightly in understanding and his voice was full of sympathy. “That’s why you’re going, isn’t it? You need to know if Anna was lying.”
Avon’s face may still have looked cold but inside he was burning with increasing anger. “Spare me the false concern. You are the one who used the nightmares against me. You had them twisted so that I could no longer tell what was real. You’re the reason why I still experience them now.”
Sester said with regret, “Yes. I did all those things to you. I have no excuse." He spoke with passion and conviction; he wanted them to believe him. "You should hate me. That is why I want to help you now. That’s why I’ve been trying to help you. Why do you think I’ve allowed you to put this on me?” Sester held up his wrist with the tracer bracelet.
“Why do you think I haven’t said anything, no matter what you’ve done to me? It’s not because of Servalan. I don’t care what she wants but…” The edges of his lips lifted in a fatalistic and ironic smile. “But you won’t believe me, no matter what I say or do, and that’s fine. There is one thing you can understand about me. I am a tool that you can use. I have access to knowledge that none of you are able to obtain. Let me contact Servalan before you go down to see Grant. I will try to find out what I can.”
Argus scoffed. Sester was right, he had not believed a word of what he had said so well. “You’re joking. Why would we let someone we don’t trust, contact someone we trust even less?”
Sester said with annoyance, “Don’t be a fool Argus. You know that Servalan has a vested interest in keeping Avon alive. You’ve said so yourself. If she does have anything to do with this, then it’s in your best interests to find out why. You also cannot keep me from contacting Servalan forever. She will be expecting me to report in. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s wondering why I haven’t yet. She might be wondering how serious you are about working together against the alien incursion.”
As Sester spoke, Argus put his hand to his temple and rubbed it. There was something he needed to remember about Servalan. She had been displeased with his lack of contact too. The Federation President could do some very unpleasant things if she wanted to and he had too many people to protect.
Where did that thought come from? As Argus reached for the idea, it disappeared, leaving only feelings of hatred for Servalan and disgust at himself.
Argus put his hand down and there was almost a low growl in his throat as he said, “I will let you contact her but I will be here to monitor your communications.”
Sester said, “No, you won’t.”
“Then you’re not talking to Servalan,” said Argus.
“Servalan will not like an audience when she talks to me, any more than you like witnesses for what you do,” said Sester. For the first time in their conversation, Sester conveyed a hardness none of them had heard before.
The tension between the two men was palpable. Everyone in the room knew what Sester was referring to, except Reya and Lt. Dain. They all held their breaths.
Reya looked from one man to the other with an uneasy feeling. She knew she was missing something.
Avon interjected, “Let him talk to her.”
Argus started and stared at him, “Why, Avon?”
Avon replied, “He has a point. He lost the ability to report directly to her with the loss of his ship. Servalan will be expecting regular communications from him. She is capable of a great deal of mischief if she doesn’t get what she wants. Since Sester is on this ship, her mischief might not be confined to him.”
Argus said, “And you want to know about Anna.”
Avon’s jaw tightened. “Yes.” He turned to face Cally. His tone was tinged with regret. * I’m sorry. *
Cally put a hand on his arm. * I understand, Avon. You have to find out about Anna. *
He reassured her, * It does not affect how I feel about you. Nothing can do that. *
* I know. *
As Avon and Cally ‘talked’ to each other, the others felt like uncomfortable voyeurs. Even though they were barely touching, there was closeness between them that belonged to no one else. It was as if they were alone together. Argus and Reya glanced at each other. It was something they both understood very well.
Sester wished he could be anywhere else except where he could see Argus and Reya looking at each other.
Vila was surreptitiously watching Sester’s reactions. The man was generally hard to read but there was a brief unguarded pain in his eyes as he looked at Argus and Reya and then glanced quickly away.
Vila had been impressed with how convincing Sester had sounded earlier. It was very easy to believe this man. He had a way of speaking; a passionate, easy and sincere manner that drew others to him. Vila knew he had to be careful. Avon and Argus’s warnings echoed in his ears but Vila was beginning to entertain the idea that there was a small fraction of truth in what Sester was saying. A very small fraction.
Avon and Argus had wanted Vila to be an objective observer. For Vila, that meant that he would be willing to see both the good as well as the bad. Vila was no fool though. He knew how dangerous Sester was and how easy it was for him to deceive. The best thing to do was to wait and see, continue to interact and allow Sester to reveal himself, just as he had done briefly.
Avon asked Argus, “You will set up a private communications channel for him?”
Argus said with ill humour, “Yes.” He said to Sester, "Nothing on the flight deck will work for you. It is locked to the command crew . I will leave instructions that Zen will activate your bracelet if you touch anything while you’re alone. There will be no warning signal. You will be disabled so if you want to have any clever ideas, please do try them.”
Sester said agreeably, “I wouldn't dream of it.”