Rating: Het ImpliedNote:
7th Story of Perceptions
Sequel to Knowing the Enemy
I will be going on holiday in about 3 1/2 weeks. I'm close to finishing the current story; half-way through chapter 19 at the moment. It's been a bit draining because it's the heart of this story and this one is heavier than the other ones. Plus I'm trying to set up certain things for the final story of the Perceptions
group. I've really enjoyed doing this one, both for its emotional impact on the various characters and because it resolves one of the story lines and advances others. I hope people have had as much fun reading it.
It's been exciting doing the Avon/Cally stuff and exploring the dynamics between Vila and Sester. Of course torturing Avon a bit has also been (just a bit) fun. He does get some compensations though ;)
I will be able to post all of the chapters before I leave. Internet access will most likely be variable during my travels but I have a new 'hand-bag' laptop that I'm dying to try out overseas.
Avon and Cally stood waiting on the teleport platform. Argus had taken Reya and a team of the soldiers down first in order to secure the location and make sure there were no ‘surprises’ waiting for them.
One of the Athol engineers was at the teleport control station, waiting for orders to send them down. Vila was on the flight deck, nervously watching for any sign of Federation activity.
Avon rubbed his palm absently. The teleport room seemed to be getting hot and he was already sweating. He tugged at the collar of his jacket. It seemed too tight around his neck and he was having trouble breathing. Avon rubbed his palm again; he wished he had the metal tension balls he used to use on the Liberator.
Did Grant know? That was the key question that would determine the reception the advance team would receive. Other than a message that they were down and safe, there had been no further communication from Argus.
Were they in trouble? Had it been a trap after all? If it was, then he had endangered them. Grant wanted him. Grant…
Cally’s voice intruded into his thoughts. * Avon, don’t do this. They’re fine; I have no impressions of danger from them. *
Avon felt like unzipping the suit partway so that he could get some air. He glanced at her, * Are you telling me not to worry needlessly? Isn’t that a logical reaction, not a human one? *
She brushed the edges of his anxious mind with her own calm. * But you are making yourself ill. It is good to worry but it doesn’t help anyone if you incapacitate yourself. *
The light touch of Cally’s mind was comforting. It reminded him to do the breathing exercises she had taught him.
Control. Cannot lose control. But what if… Avon rubbed his palm again. Remain calm. There is no use in worrying. Cally is right. If I allow these emotions to get hold of me, I will be of no help to anyone.
He used to be able to control the emotions much better than this. Cold, icy rationality that could push down most feelings and reduce everything to a logical exercise. Unless someone he cared about was hurt or in danger.
Someone he cared about…
No. It can’t be.
What was the mantra he used to use? It was about sentiment. His mind was so preoccupied with Grant and the safety of the advance team that his thoughts were fragmented. What was that about sentiment?
Let it get hold of you and you’re dead.
Yes. That was it. Let sentiment get hold of you and you’re dead. How many times had he said that? How many times had he tried to convince himself of it?
If he let sentiment get hold of him this time, the others would die. No. It didn’t make sense. Sentiment. Denying it should save him. No. It never did. It was a false sense of security. It isolated him and made him vulnerable. He knew that now. He shouldn’t be trying to squash it again. Cally wouldn't want him to.
But he couldn’t function this way. Cally was right, it was incapacitating him. So many emotions taking control. I have to regain…I can't…Sentiment cannot take control. I cannot deny sentiment. The conflict was…
A flash of memory. A cold, mechanical voice. Do not allow emotions to influence your mind. Control must be maintained. Logic must…
A stab of pain and a flash of light inside his mind. Avon gasped and held his head. He staggered against Cally.
“Avon!” She put her arms around Avon to steady him. The engineer quickly came over to help.
Avon steadied himself. “I’m fine.”
Cally’s voice was full of concern and her eyes were troubled. She always seemed to sound this way these days. “I don’t think you should go down. I’ll tell Argus.”
Avon put his hand over hers as Cally brought up her teleport bracelet. “No. We have to go down. Don’t tell him.”
She tried to convince him, “You can’t, Avon. Not like this.”
Avon kept his hand on hers and sent his thoughts out to her. * I have to, Cally. I need to do this while I can. *
Cally knew that something had changed for Avon. * It’s no longer just about Grant, is it? *
He told her, * No, it’s not about Grant. If this is the last thing I am to do, I want it to mean something, to both of us. *
Cally’s stomach felt ill at the tone in his voice. He was a man planning for the end. * You want to save the Solterans? *
* Yes. *
Argus’s voice came over the speaker. “This is Argus. It’s all clear. Send them down.”
Avon looked at Cally. After awhile, she nodded slowly.
Avon said, * Thank you, Cally. *
* Alright, Avon. *
The coordinates provided by Grant led to large, bare room with walls the same uninviting and unimaginative grey colour as most Federation complexes. A large exit was on one end. There was a group of rebels guarding it. At the far end were two closed doors. Intermittent sounds of weapons fire and the occasional explosion could be heard.
When Argus and the advance team arrived at the given coordinates, they found a reception committee waiting. A group of men dressed in white and grey fatigues, each carrying a rifle.
The two groups eyed each other warily and held their weapons closely but not pointed at each other. If anyone made a wrong move, it could very easily be the last one for them.
Reya was alert and her senses were on heightened awareness. She was a professional doing a job. The geography of their location, and the exact number and position of everyone in the room and all of the exits were already imaged in her mind. Her mind was set to notice any changes.
The welcoming group had made no hostile movements but neither had they proven particularly friendly yet. All of this information filtered into her mind instinctively and only took a few seconds.
Argus took a slow, unthreatening step forward, keeping his hands clear of his weapons. “I’m Drel Argus. Which one of you is Del Grant?”
A fair-haired man in a light grey jumpsuit rushed in from one of the smaller doors. His rifle was slung across his back.
The blond man said, “I’m Del Grant. Sorry for being late. I was held up. You must be Argus?” He extended his hand towards Argus without hesitation.
Argus grasped it in a firm shake. The two men recognized each other’s strength. “Yes, I’m Argus. People seem tense here.”
Grant explained, “We’ve been under siege for two weeks. Everyone’s tired. The Federation doesn’t let up.”
Argus nodded. He understood very well the persistence of the Federation when it wanted something. To punctuate the Federation’s persistence, a spate of weapons fire could be heard in the distance. Argus’s team brought their weapons up again in alarm.
Grant reassured them, “Don’t worry about that, it’s at the far end of the complex. The Federation troops like to keep us up.”
Argus nodded and gestured his men to lower their weapons.
At a glance, Grant could see that Avon was not with them. “Avon didn’t come down with you?”
Argus said, “You won’t mind if my people make sure that this location is secure first?”
Grant had a direct and straight-forward manner. He and Argus understood each other. “It would be quicker than trying to gain your trust any other way. Be my guest.”
Argus nodded to Reya. She directed the team to secure the location while she stood watch.
As they were doing this, Argus introduced Reya and Grant did the same with the group that was with him. The first two were the most important.
Grant indicated the man on his left. “This is Kellon Grey. He’s the leader of the largest rebel faction on this planet.” The tall Grey nodded a cautious welcome. He seemed a naturally untrusting man and under different circumstances, he could have easily passed for one of the Federation's many faceless bureaucrats.
Grant introduced the man on his right. “And this is Tayvel Hess. His group was the one who helped us gain access to the base.”
Hess had a thin studious face and looked like he belonged in an old dusty reference archive. His manner was more open and much less suspicious than his fellow rebel leader. He offered his hand in greeting. “Grant says that you may be able to help us?”
Argus shook the man’s hand and said, “We will do what we can. Tell me the situation here.”
Hess, who seemed to think it was an invitation to start from the beginning, said, “We heard the success the Albians had in throwing off Federation rule with Grant’s help. And since the Federation is still hard-pressed…”
Grant said, “They decided to try the same thing.”
Hess said, “Yes. We gathered a group of the best fighters amongst the rebel groups on our planet and hired Grant to organize an assault on the base here.”
Grant said dryly, “Unfortunately, they also had their own ideas.”
Grey said defensively, “We got a little carried away. We wanted to destroy the Federation’s control of our planet…so we…”
Hess continued, “We used higher yield mines than Grant told us to.”
Grant was a mercenary, hired to do a job. Any irritation at the stupidity of amateurs was kept out of his voice. He said, “It was supposed to be a precision strike to only take out key security and information systems but it doesn’t matter who is to blame. I’m only interested in fixing the problem.” He turned to Argus, “That is why I contacted you and Avon.”
Reya received the all-clear from the security detail.
Argus said, “Before I bring Avon down, there are several questions I need answered.”
“Ask your questions,” said Grant.
Argus asked Grant, “How did you know where we were? How did you know we were close enough to come to your aid?”
Now that they were all introduced and talking, both groups had relaxed. The weapons of the rebels hung loosely. The soldiers were still on alert though they were less guarded. Reya had not told them to stand down yet.
She had been noticing something that she couldn't quite identify. A tension that could not be explained. Something vague and uneasy. There was nothing specific; it was just a feeling that she should not let down her guard. She never would have anyway but now she was extra vigilant.
Grant responded, “I keep an eye on conflicts that might be of interest to me. I’ve been watching the war in Sector Ten and a contact told me that a ship that matches your description had been spotted there periodically. I took a chance that you were still in the vicinity. Luckily for us, you were.”
“Employment opportunities?” asked Argus.
“I like to know where my options are.” Mercenaries had to peddle their skills like everyone else.
Argus was familiar with mercenaries. This did not sound out of the ordinary. “How did you get through the Federation jamming equipment?”
Grant replied, “It wasn’t easy. We’ve had a lot of problems getting through to you and not just because of the jamming equipment. We were lucky to get through at all. I had one of the groups destroy their jamming equipment but our comm equipment was damaged in one of their attacks. Fortunately, we managed to liberate some Federation equipment from a transport vehicle.”
“You’ve done well then," said Argus. Grant seemed a capable professional. Argus always appreciated that.
“We’ve survived. So far. But there’s nothing we can do about the weather control system.”
Argus had saved the crucial question. "What are your intentions regarding Avon?"
There was an instant reaction among the rebels. It was very minor, but it was definitely noticeable to anyone who was sensitive to danger. There was an increased tension, a slight tightening of hands around weapons. Reya's hands moved imperceptibly towards her own. With her eyes, she signalled her team to be ready.
Argus looked at Grant. They were both aware of what had just happened.
Grant help up a hand, "We have no intention of harming Avon in any way. You have my word and that of every rebel leader here. I would never have tried to contact you if I could not guarantee that. We need Avon's help."
Hess's face was carefully neutral as he said, "We’ve heard the rumours about Avon, but Grant assures us that Avon would never have betrayed the alliance or killed Blake. He would have died first."
Argus managed not to react. Behind him, Reya was ready for anything. This was a worry Argus had always kept in the back of his mind; Avon’s role in what happened on Gauda Prime. So far, since Avon’s rescue, they had not had contact with any rebel faction and exposure to anyone who might have an active interest in Avon had been limited. As they started interacting more with the various rebel factions, the possibility of suspicion and hostilities could not be ignored as long as Avon was with them.
Argus's voice was even as he said, "Avon didn't betray the alliance. Any rumours that you heard to the contrary were just that, rumours put out by the Federation to discredit Avon. If you want details, we can discuss them, but at a later time."
That much was safe to tell them. It was a truth that had to be spread if Avon was to have any chance. Argus carefully avoided the difficult topic of Blake’s death and hoped they would not realize that he had not fully addressed their concerns. That could be left for a much later date.
Argus hated having to do this. It felt like something the devious psychostrategist would do. He had no choice though; they didn’t have the time to get into debates or recriminations. The truth would come out in time but none of them could afford to have it come out now.
Grey was not as easily persuaded by Argus’s words and he continued to pursue it. "But Avon didn't die. Did he? That in itself is very suspicious."
Argus's voice lowered in tone as he addressed the suspicious Grey. Anyone on the receiving end of this voice should be very careful. "No. He didn't. Avon was under Federation custody during that time. At one of their Special Detention Centres.”
Almost everyone grimaced at that information. The Special Detention Centres were infamous with anyone who opposed the Federation. No one wanted to be sent there, they would all rather die first.
Argus continued, “They tortured Avon there for three years but he never told them anything that would compromise the alliance."
"That's hard to believe," said Grey. "No one holds out that long." That was the reputation of the Special Detention Centres; everyone broke, there were no exceptions, unless someone was lucky enough to die first, or be rescued. Until Argus and Avon, no one had ever been rescued successfully before. “You die or you break.”
Argus said confidently, “Avon didn’t break.”
Hess added, "Then why is he still alive? The Federation does not have that kind of patience. They would have killed him unless he gave them something they wanted."
Grant stepped in and told Grey, "You don’t know Avon. He would never have given them anything."
Argus explained, "Unfortunately for Avon, with the knowledge he possesses and the abilities he has, the Federation would wait, and so would you. Otherwise you wouldn't have called for his help."
Hess said reluctantly, "I can believe that Federation would deliberately try to discredit someone that used to fight alongside Blake. They wouldn't want another symbol for freedom after Blake died. And there were rumours that Avon was still fighting the Federation after he parted company with Blake after the alien invasion."
Grey said, "Too many rumours. Too many perceptions of the truth. It's hard to tell which is real or not. The evidence against Avon is damning."
Argus emphasized, "Evidence fabricated by the Federation. They even tried to implant false memories in Vila, another one of Blake's crew, in order to spread lies about Avon. If you want, I can bring Vila down here and he can tell you what they tried to do. You can question him yourself."
Grant said, "Vila is with you?"
Argus said, "Yes. He's joined us. Vila believes in Avon and so do I."
Hess, the less suspicious one, said, "Your reputation is unmistakable Argus, and if one of Avon's former crewmates can vouch for him…" He looked at his fellow rebel leader. Grey nodded reluctantly.
Grant said, "Then it's agreed?"
Grey said guardedly to Argus, "We promised Grant that we would not harm Avon if he helped us with the weather systems. He refused to contact you unless we did. We will honour that promise but, if we can speak to Vila…"
Argus said, "I'll arrange it. But first things first, let's get your weather system fixed before the other half of your planet is covered in ice."
They were all in agreement.
Before Argus used his teleport bracelet to contact the ship, he warned them, "I told you that Avon was tortured by the Federation for three years. That means that he's still not in very good shape. I would appreciate if you didn’t put too much stress on him or say anything if you see him having problems. Do not mention the conversation we just had until after he's finished his work. And do not mention Blake. Avon still has a very bad reaction to what happened to Blake."
Grant and the rebel leaders nodded in acceptance of this condition.
Argus pressed the comm button, “This is Argus. It’s all clear. Send them down.”