Vila was startled by the praise. He didn't know why, but whenever Avon said something positive about him, it had always felt good. "I do…I do?"
Avon said, "Yes. It was a good idea to not take advantage of his condition to illicit more information."
Vila was feeling much more confident these days but also a bit nervous. It felt strange having people take him seriously. "Well, I didn't think he would trust me if I did that. And we want him to."
"I still want that information that he obtained from Servalan." Even though Avon had decided to let Anna go, for a man who couldn't stand unsolved mysteries, it would always be a Gordian knot that needed unravelling. If Sester could be used to provide the stroke to cut that knot, then Avon was not going to pass up this opportunity.
"Are you sure it's a good idea? It didn't sound like it was something good. You might not want to kn…" Vila stopped. Of course, Avon would want to know, even if he shouldn't.
Avon said with sudden intensity, "I have to know." His eyes were dark with complex emotions though his face was still. Avon took a deep breath, trying to wrestle with the emotions that were threatening to surface again. It was bad enough that Cally was able to sense his strong emotional states, even when he would have preferred to keep them to himself. With the heart monitor, she would know the instant there was any abnormal rises in his heart rate.
Vila said, "I knew you were going to say that."
Avon asked, "What do you want to do next?"
Vila had a conspiratorial twinkle in his eyes. "I can't ask Sester, but that doesn't mean that someone else can't."
"Ah." Avon's expression conveyed that he knew what was coming next. It didn't seem like he thought it was a good idea. "You're thinking of using the Commander? I doubt she'll agree."
"Well, it depends on what I ask her to do, doesn't it? There are some things she definitely won't do."
The sliver of a grin appeared on Avon's face. "And some things she will. What did you have in mind?"
"Well, I could mention that I noticed that he's been drinking. Don't know if Argus would like that. Imagine if Sester came on the flight deck drunk, while…"
Avon said, "Vila!" He almost sounded disapproving but it was hard to tell.
Vila asked, "Too much? You don't think I should do it?"
Avon face was as unreadable as ever as he gave Vila a hard look and then he said, "That's brilliant."
"You really think so?"
"It's deviousness worthy of me." There was more than a glimmer of a grin this time.
Vila decided he could get to like this Avon.
Avon added in warning, ""Let's hope that it's enough for a psychostrategist."
Vila became nervous again. "He's a tricky one. He could probably out-trick himself."
"That's what we're relying on. Be careful with the Commander. She is not going to be pleased if she finds out that she's being manipulated."
Vila asked hopefully, "Maybe Argus could help?" He wasn't sure about tackling Reya by himself. It had sounded like a good idea when he thought of it. "I might need some support. There's just one of me, and all of her."
"Don't tell me that she still makes you nervous, Vila."
"Have you seen what she can do with a laser pistol?"
"Something suitably destructive, I imagine."
Vila seemed in awe. "That's not even the half of it. She's an artist."
"Artistic use of a laser pistol. It sounds like a contradiction in terms."
"Not if you've seen her in action on the firing range."
"I'll take your word for it. I will speak to Argus if the need arises."
So far, other than for an enquiry into Avon's health, Vila had refrained from making any personal remarks. He knew that Avon would prefer to keep some things private, especially when it dealt with Anna. There was no preventing it though, what they were doing had a direct impact on Avon's history with Anna. He asked, "Avon, what happened with Grant down on the planet?"
Avon faced away from Vila and became very still as he stared off into the distance. In his mind, he could see the troubled face of the man whose life he had ruined. "I told him about Anna."
"You really did it. Did he…do anything?"
Avon looked at Vila again, "If you're asking if he tried to kill me, then no. Was he thinking of it? Without a doubt."
"You took a big risk. What stopped him?" Vila had visions of Cally or the Commander tackling Grant to the ground and taking the gun from him. Or maybe both of them.
"The truth?" asked Vila.
Avon looked away from Vila again and stared off into the distance with eyes that were deep in thought. "The truth stops everyone eventually. As long as you're willing to see it."
"So Grant believes the truth about his sister?"
There was a touch of regret in Avon's voice as he said, "Yes."
Vila asked, "Do you?"
Avon turned to look at Vila again. "I don't need to believe it. I know the truth." There was just a dull flare of pain as he said it. More regret than anything else.
Vila said, "That wasn't what I was asking."
Avon looked away again. "I know."
Vila really hoped that the information they would find out from Sester would be worth it. He didn't want to make things worse.
Reya was nearing the end of her shift on the flight deck when Vila arrived. He hovered nervously at the entrance watching her, trying to compose what he was going to say before he went inside.
Reya was bent over the force wall controls when she looked up and said, "You're early for your shift."
Vila nearly jumped out of his skin when she spoke. "I…could come back." He didn't feel ready yet.
Reya gave him an amused but friendly smile. "Vila, I don't bite. You can come in."
Vila reluctantly descended the few steps leading onto the field of doom as Reya's face resumed its normal professional manner. It was a look that always made Vila jumpy. He sunk down onto the couch facing her. Where he was sitting felt lumpy and he shifted around uncomfortably. "What are you doing?" he asked, trying to make polite conversation.
"I'm recalibrating some of the force wall controls. There's a slight misalignment in the harmonics but the autorepair didn't fix it properly. I might have Avon take a look at the programming."
"That sounds...bor… I mean interesting." He wondered how to steer the conversation towards Sester.
Because of the concentrated look on his face Reya asked, "Did you want to talk about something?"
Despite her friendly manner, Vila gulped as if he had just be caught in the forward scanner of a pursuit ship. This is important. I have to do this, he told himself. Gathering his uncooperative courage, he plunged ahead into what he had planned to say. He said indecisively. "There may be something but I don't know if I should say it. Argus would kill me."
Reya's eyes sparked with interest and she straightened up from what she was doing. "Why would he do that?"
Vila never noticed the couches feeling so bumpy before. "I don't know if I should tell you."
"Come now, Vila. You obviously came here to tell me something. You might as well do it."
He said reluctantly, "It's about Sester."
Reya's forehead furled when she heard the name of someone she would prefer to remain out of any conversation. "I see."
Vila had the look of a messenger that didn't want to be shot. "I knew you wouldn't like it."
Reya's face had become hard with tension. "What has he done now? Don't worry about telling me. I won't let Argus anywhere near you."
"I've been trying to get to know him. Sester, that is."
She had been noticing this. With a disapproving voice she asked, "Vila, why would you do that?"
"Well, everyone's nasty to him and…"
"You felt sorry for him?"
"Not exactly. Well, I suppose, just a bit."
Her face softened a bit and she studied him. "You're a good person, Vila."
"I don't know if you would call me good." This was the first real, personal conversation he had with Reya since she joined the ship. In the past he had always been too nervous. Vila found that he liked this side of her. "He seems stressed lately and really unhappy."
"He doesn't show it," said Reya. She was aware of Sester whenever he came anywhere near her. Her guard instantly went up higher when he was around.
"Yes…he doesn't when people can see him but he's…" Vila hesitated and looked at her.
"What have you seen?"
"He's been drinking. A lot. I had to break into his cabin yesterday when he wasn't answering. I was worried. He was passed out drunk and I was thinking…if he's drunk and comes and tries to find you…with Argus around…" He left the thought hanging. Vila felt like he needed a drink now. He wasn't sure he liked manipulating Reya, or anyone for that matter. Vila wondered if Sester ever felt this way in his job. He doubted it. Alphas like him loved playing games with other people's lives.
Vila wondered why he even liked Sester. He had to admit that he did, just a little. The man was charming and fun to be around, but there was something else about him. He wasn't quite sure what it was.
Reya said with reluctant concern, "I see. Thank you for telling me, Vila. I'll take care of it."
"Do you…want me to come with you?" he offered.
"No. It's better if I do this alone. But thank you."
Vila felt rotten. He didn't mind manipulating someone like Sester. It was nothing that he didn't deserve, but Reya… Vila was surprised to realize that he didn't think of her as just the Commander anymore.
Avon was still sitting on the bed in his cabin. His back was propped up against the wall with a pillow for support. He fiddled around with a receiver unit. At the moment there was hardly any sounds emanating from it. He didn't expect there to be, Sester didn't seem the type to talk to himself. Most likely, like himself, most of Sester's thinking was confined inside his head.
Now that Avon was in close communication with Cally, he often speculated how useful it would be to have full telepathic ability, only one way of course. It would never do to have it work the other way around.
Avon glanced down at the panic patches beside him. He was ready for anything. He didn't expect many surprises but he always liked being prepared. Sometimes the least likely possibilities seemed the most inevitable in his life; such as finding Servalan on Sarran. Avon's lips curled in a snarl as he contemplated the start of a journey that had ended in his imprisonment under her power. If he had killed her on Sarran, then everything might have turned out differently.
Vila should be finished speaking to the Commander now and had started his shift. That meant Reya would be looking for Sester soon.
Avon looked down at the small receiver unit in his hand. His hand was gripping it too tightly. He relaxed his hold and waited.
His goal was close.