Sester had just taken a shower to help him recover from the effects of a massive hangover. He did feel slightly better, but not by much. What he needed was something from the infirmary. The cabin lights were dimmed and he had just put on a pair of black slacks when the door buzzer sounded. Sester winced at the aggravating sound and immediately went to open the door so that the noise would end.
"Vila…Oh…" He was not expecting Reya to be standing in his doorway. Reya raised her eyebrows as she saw his half-dressed state.
Sester said in a subdued tone, "Reya. It's a good to see you. I rarely get that privilege anymore." He tried to smile but only managed a brief one; anything more seemed to exacerbate the pain in his head. Sester moved aside to let her in.
Seeing Sester with only his pants on made Reya think that she should come back later. She entered cautiously and said, "I wanted to talk to you."
"Wanted to?" He didn't miss the tense.
She said, "I do want to, but I can come back when you're dressed."
Sester looked down at himself. The rest of his body seemed like a long distance from the pain in his head. "If that's the only thing bothering you, it's easily rectified. Let me slip into something more comfortable. You can stay for that part. I promise it won't be anything you haven't seen before."
Sester always managed to make things sound suspiciously indecent when talking to her. He was a master of innuendos and double meanings. He offered her a chair and then chose a dark grey tunic from the dresser and put it on.
[Back in his cabin, a listening Avon did not like what he was hearing. He had no idea that Sester was like this around Reya. He doubted if Argus did either, else Sester would be off the ship, and not in the most user friendly fashion.]
Reya made her disapproval plain as she sat down. "I'm not here to indulge your sense of humour."
Sester straightened his tunic and said with an apologetic grin, "Force of habit. You bring out the best in me. Though I'm sure you would call that my worst."
Reya was about to say something scathing, in response to his constant games, but restrained herself. She was here as a friend, albeit a reluctant one. "Vila was worried about you."
Sester realized the hazy mental picture of Vila in his cabin was not an alcohol-inspired vision. Vila had been here and he had seen him in a highly inebriated state. "He sent you?"
"He was worried, and so am I." There was genuine concern in her voice, despite her constant guardedness around him.
"You don't need to be, Reya, I'm not your concern. Face it; you don't really want to be here. Why are you?"
"You don't know me very well if you're asking me that," she told him.
"Maybe, it's hard for me to believe that someone like you could exist these days."
"Stop doing that," she said with exasperation. Sester always seemed to want to get under her guard, one way or another.
[Avon's impassive face had a definite scowl now as he kept listening. This was not what he wanted to hear but it was a good thing he did. What Sester was trying to do was very obvious. Avon planned to have some very interesting conversations with him afterwards. They had to keep a tighter check on this man.]
Sester said, "I'm only stating the truth, but I will stop it. I only want what you want."
"Then tell me why you've been drinking?"
Sester gave her as big a smile as he could without causing himself pain. He loved her directness and her disconcerting habit of cutting right to the heart of the matter, with very little preamble. He liked the foreplay though and he also had no intention of answering her questions that easily.
[Avon reacted in mild surprise at Reya’s straight question. He wondered how Sester would wriggle out of answering it. Avon had respect for Reya's single-mindedness when she wanted something. She would not let this go until she was satisfied, but Sester was not that easy a person to pin down.]
[Vila was pacing nervously on the flight deck. He had been trying to imagine what Sester could be saying about Avon and Anna. His wildly inventive mind was drawing up all kinds of alarming thoughts. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time and he had been very clever about it. He had been trying to help Avon. Avon had wanted it. Vila didn't know if all of this was such a good idea now. Plus he was stuck on the flight deck and he had no idea what was happening.]
[Cally was down on the planet with Argus. He and the Athol soldiers were helping one of the rebel groups set up some precautionary measures. They wanted to be ready for when the Federation forces with the specialist arrived. Cally was aiding the medical personnel to treat cold victims.]
Sester asked, "Why do you care about me, Reya? I thought you swore that you didn't?"
Reya said, "It's not going to work. Stop deflecting the question and trying to make me feel uncomfortable."
"Do you feel uncomfortable?" he asked. There was a great depth of hidden meaning in his eyes and a slightly lower tone in his voice.
For Reya, the suggestion in Sester's eyes and her own conflicted feelings about a man whom no one wanted her to be friends with, made her feel extremely ill at ease. She could not deny that she was physically attracted to him, very reluctantly so, but she never intended to go down that path again.
What he had done for her in a time of need, was something she could not forget. Even though she had not encouraged him, Reya felt guilty. She should have done more to dissuade his interest in her. Now he was stuck and he was drinking. She hoped that it had nothing to do with her. If it did, then she had to do something to help him. She couldn't do anything if he kept deflecting her like this.
Reya said frostily, "You're trying to make me feel that way."
"I can't create feelings that didn't already exist. Which comes back to the question, why do I make you feel uncomfortable?"
"If I answer your question, will you answer mine?" She added, "Truthfully? My definition of truth?"
[Avon was learning some very interesting things about how these two interacted. Reya was even more of a weapon against Sester than he thought, and despite her toughness, she was much more vulnerable. It was a very interesting tightrope that these two walked.]
Sester desperately wanted Reya to answer his question, but not at the cost of answering hers. It wasn't just about him or Reya for that matter. Her question had to do with Avon, even though she didn't know it. Adding the last part had been clever of her and made it almost impossible for him to answer her.
Sester wondered if she suspected that he had committed himself to telling her the truth, if she asked. He had given himself too many handicaps when dealing with her. Sester could not bring himself to use some of his normal tactics, especially after what he had done the last time with Vanora.
He told her seriously, "I can't do that."
Reya was not to be deterred. "The first part or the second?"
He answered, "The third."
Reya regarded this complex man carefully; the origin of an idea was forming in her mind. "This doesn't have to do with me, does it? Something else is making you act this way."
Sester was amazed how she always managed to make him feel naked; and not the unclothed condition he would have preferred with her. "Please don't ask me, Reya. I can't tell you."
[Avon wondered why Sester wasn't trying to be more devious and manipulative. The man sounded as if he was trying to be honest. Unless that was the lie.]
She said, as if his answer just confirmed her suspicions, "It is someone else then. The only one could be…" There was only one other person she knew that Sester had a strong reaction to. He had spoken to Servalan not long ago about him. Reya said with increasing comprehension, "You didn't tell us the truth about what you learned from Servalan, did you? Or only the partial truth? A psychostrategist's truth?"
[Avon leaned forward. Every nerve was alert as he listened.]
Sester looked pained. There was an entreaty in his voice as he said again, "Reya, please don't ask."
[Vila was sitting at his neutron blaster station. He was increasingly worried and it showed.]
Reya was relentless. "It must be something very significant for you to act like this."
Sester stressed, "Avon doesn't need to know."
[Avon thought, I will be the judge of that. He wished he was in Sester's cabin right now, dragging the truth from him much more forcefully than Reya was currently doing.]
She challenged him, "How do you know that?"
Sester could tell from Reya's manner that she was not going to let this go, but he had to try to dissuade her. This was the longest he had gone without trying to manipulate someone when he had his own agenda. He was finding it very difficult.
"I'm a psychostrategist, Reya. I know."
Reya pressed her case, "Avon would want to know."
He told her, "I'm well aware of that, but sometimes what we want is not what's best for us."
"That's not for you to decide."
"Someone has to."
Reya hardened herself and said ruthlessly, "You're the last person who has the right to decide what's best for Avon, after what you did to him."
Sester's jaw hardened and his eyes held a grimace as her words hit him. He said in a subdued voice, "You're right. I am the last person."
Once the words left Reya's lips and she saw the brief flash of pain and guilt on Sester's face, she wished she had not taken this step. She was ruthless with enemies but never to friends, and Sester qualified at least as half of one. It wasn't the time for apologies though, she knew that she was nearing the truth.
[Avon's heart was starting to race. He knew that he was close to finding out what Sester was hiding from him.]
[Vila was undecided. He wanted to do something but he didn't know what he should do. Leaving the flight deck was out of the question. The Federation ships were still out there and more were due to arrive. Even with the compromise, he didn't trust them for one minute.
He activated the ship's internal comm system and tried to contact Avon. The monitor on the panel indicated a red status for Avon's cabin. He's turned the comm off. Avon probably didn't want to be disturbed. Now what do I do?]
Reya said in a less harsh voice, "Tell me what Servalan told you. Let me decide."
Guilt was a very strong motivator to be used against anyone. For Sester, when Avon was involved, it was never very far away. He smiled wryly to himself. I'm a fool.
When he had no response, Reya said, "I will tell you how I feel about you, regardless of what your decision is." She did not want their relationship to be a bartering chip for his cooperation.
Sester took a deep breath and tried to exhale away some of the tension. "That isn't necessary. I will tell you what you want to know." He paused for a moment and then he began.
[Avon's hand gripped the receiver unit tightly. He was barely breathing as he listened.]
Argus came by the crowded infirmary to check on the situation with Cally. She looked confused as she put a healing cast on a patient.
He asked, "What's wrong?"
She said, "I just received a very strange communication from Vila. He was trying to say something but was trying very hard not to."
Argus said, "That doesn't make any sense."
"I know. I have a feeling that something's wrong. I'm getting some erratic spikes from my connection to Avon. Nothing unusual, he does have them occasionally because the breakdown of his mind causes memories to surface. But it's almost becoming more than usual. His heart monitor has been registering increased stress. He's concentrating on something so I can't even get through to him with my psi abilities."
"Do you want to go back to the ship?"
Cally looked around at the packed infirmary and the crowds of people still requiring treatment. "They're short-handed here. I can't leave."
Argus tried to assess the situation. "Can you tell if there's a real problem?"
"Not yet. If he slipped into another nightmare or if he collapsed, I would know."
"Try contacting Vila again. It's obvious he knows something."
"I'll try that."
Sester's normally vaguely superior tone was almost non-existent as he told Reya [and Avon] what she wanted to know. He was very subdued as he paced around his cabin.
"There are several things Avon wants to know but there is only one primary question to be answered. Did Anna love him?" He turned and faced Reya. "The answer is not that simple."
[Avon bared his teeth at the answer. What game are you playing at, Sester? He thought that he was finally going to hear the truth, but now he wasn't sure.]
Sester continued, "There are several things Anna said to Avon in the cellar, that she never had the opportunity to explain before she died. When I talked to Servalan, she knew answers. She had Anna investigated after the incident in the cellar. She wanted to know the truth too. She considered it knowledge that might be useful in her pursuit of Avon."
Reya asked, "Was Anna a Federation spy?"
"That was never a question. Anna was Bartolomew, Central Security's most dangerous and top secret agent. She was tasked directly from the Presidential office. No one else knew who she was except for the President and the most senior handlers at Central Security."
Reya's eyes narrowed as she asked, "Does that mean she was working for Servalan?"
"Yes. It was Servalan who sent her to Chesku. She was having him investigated. At that time, she didn't know that Anna and Avon had a prior relationship. Information about classified agents like Bartolomew is not widely circulated. It's the only thing that protects them from the wrath of subsequent administrations."
Reya said with disgust, "A dirty business."
Sester nodded. "I don't disagree, but I imagine that you view what I do with similar distaste."
"I would be lying if I said that I didn't."
Sester sighed but continued, "Anna told Avon that she let him go."
Reya said, "But that can't be true. Weren't all of his contacts pulled in after he disappeared? There was a massive manhunt from what I understand. They had patrols searching for him. How could she have let him go?"
"That wasn't the whole truth. Anna did let Avon go."
[Avon gripped the receiver unit so tightly that his knuckles were turning white. This was what he wanted to hear. He had already applied two of the patches to slow down his stress reactions but his heart was pounding again. Avon reached down and applied another patch to his chest. He had to obtain this information before Cally came looking for him.]
Reya was confused and said, "I don't understand."
Sester hesitated. If Avon was here, he might not have continued but Avon wasn't here. He went on. "Central Security had already decided to bring Avon in. Anna had not been able to find out if he was political or not and they were not going to wait any further. Anna had been stalling for months. She did not want to give Avon up. At the best, he would be convicted of the largest bank fraud in Federation history, the worst he would be deemed an enemy of the state, a rebel like Blake. They are not treated too kindly by the ruling powers, as you know. Though for Avon, they had something very special planned. Something very similar to what Servalan did to him. It would have left him controlled but his mind still useful."
Reya said accusingly, "You mean, what you did to him as well."
Sester bowed his head and said in a guilty voice, "Yes."
This was something Reya could never forget about this man she considered a friend. He had done some things that were difficult to sweep away. Her voice had a controlled anger as she said, "You and Servalan, all of you in the Federation, wanted to make him into a slave. An intellectual one. You never saw him as a human being. He was only a valuable resource, as long as he was useful, as long as he cooperated. And what did they do to him when he didn't? I can't imagine Avon taking too well to having his life controlled by anyone."
Sester could not face her. "No, he wouldn't have." From Avon’s confidential files, Sester knew that the control had started from an early age. The Federation tended to think of it as guidance and the protecting of valuable assets. They were almost paranoid of keeping control over their geniuses, after Ensor, and later Egrorian, disappeared.
[In his cabin, wave after wave of memories hit Avon at this turn in the conversation. He bent over in pain. All he could remember was agony and pressure in his head. A voice burst forth from inside him and tried to spill out from his lips, but it came out mute. Some part of him was trying to speak but had been silenced, leaving him with nothing except a pained hatred. Something had been taken away from him. He could clearly remember that idea but he didn't know what it was.
The memories went as quickly as they came. These ones were fleeting and never tended to stay; he never remembered them afterwards. They were just sparks of memory that could not catch hold.]
[Cally suddenly jerked up at the blast of pain emanating from Avon. She gasped in surprise and shared agony. It was so strong that it almost paralyzed her. The people around her reacted in shock and came to her aid, but she barely noticed them, even when they helped her into a chair. Her mind struggled to put up the walls she had been taught to use when she needed to protect herself from damage.]
Sester was still talking. "Anna didn't want either one to happen to him. When Central Security started shutting down Avon's operation, it was a mistake, and one Anna took advantage of in order to help him. Because of their precipitous actions, Avon knew right away that the game was up. Anna had been ordered to bring him in, but she didn't. She let him leave her and go to the other end of the city to obtain exit visas. In doing that, she let him go."
[Avon's dropped the receiver unit from hands that could no longer hold it. She did let me go. A slow look of horror and confusion came over his face. Then why did she try to kill me? Was she trying to kill me? I saw the gun in her hand.]
"Anna had someone watch out for Avon to make sure he got away. She never expected the visa dealer to try to kill him. It was fortunate that her man was there. Avon was nearly fatally wounded, he passed out on his way back to their flat. Anna's agent got him to safety and hid him. Avon never suspected that it wasn't just luck that put him in the hands of a helpful citizen. Someone who wasn't afraid to hide him from the Federation patrols that were looking for him."
Sester paced a few steps before continuing. "Avon was unconscious for almost two days. Anna's people fixed his wounds and kept him safe, despite the manhunt going on. After he regained consciousness, he insisted on looking for Anna. He would not leave until he found her, or found out what happened to her. He was a very stubborn man."
"He loved her very much," remarked Reya.
Sester said sadly, "Yes. He did. Anna was getting frantic. Her handlers were putting pressure on her because she had let him leave the flat, without arresting him. The patrols were being stepped up. They had pulled in extra manpower just to look for him. Avon refused to use the escape plans she had set up. It was only a matter of time before he was caught, but he wouldn't leave. He was still badly wounded but he insisted on going out every day to look for her. Anna was at her wits end. Then she did the one thing she thought would work. She had news leaked that she had died. Central Security was livid. They wanted Avon contained on Earth so they could catch him. Fortunately for her, they never found out who leaked the news."
[Avon felt as if his life was falling apart again. His head was spinning. Anna had done all of this for him. There no longer seemed to be a frame of reference for anything in his life. Too many things didn’t make sense.
He realized that he had wanted Sester to say how Anna had hated him, how she had played him for the fool, how she never loved him, and how she had done nothing but betray him. This would have been an Anna that he could finally let go of. The Anna that Sester was painting, was not this woman.
Why did she try to kill me? Why didn’t she come with me? ]
Reya was absorbed by Sester's account. She asked, "That was when Avon escaped?"
Sester turned towards her again. "Anna's idea almost didn't work because Avon still didn't want to leave. He was almost paralyzed. He had lost the will to live after finding out she was dead. Anna never expected that. She never really understood how deeply he loved her. One of the bright agents hiding him got hold of a picture of Anna and gave it to Avon. He told him that if he really loved her, then it wasn't time for him to die yet. He had to find out who killed her and who betrayed both of them. I understand Avon still had the picture with him on the London."
[Other memories flooded into Avon's non-resistant mind. Now he had one of being on the London. He was staring at the small picture of Anna that one of his benefactors had given to him. He looked at it incessantly and kept it in his pocket when someone nosy came around.
Avon's heart was straining with the stress and the memories. Something unbearable was pressing against his chest.
I was only ever Anna Grant with you… Avon still didn’t understand.]
[Back on the planet, Cally had finally recovered from the shock of the pain that had assaulted her. "I have to get back to the ship," she told them urgently. "Tell Argus there was an emergency. He'll understand."]
[Vila had just decided that he should tell someone when Cally's voice sounded over the ship's comm. She said in a rushed voice, "Vila! Get someone to the teleport quickly. I need to come up. Avon's in trouble!" Vila raced from the flight deck.]
Sester felt tired and sat down as he talked. "From my assessment, purely as a psychostrategist, I believe that if Avon's plan had succeeded and he had gotten away with it, Anna would have gone with him. I think she wanted to believe it was possible. But as everyone who fights the Federation finds out eventually, no one truly wins in the end. You only die. Anna knew that much more than Avon. She was far more cynical about their chances than he was, but she wanted to believe in him."
[In his cabin, Avon stared, unseeingly in front of him as the memories of those days claimed his mind. He was in shock and could feel his straining heart trying to beat free from the imprisonment of his chest. Part of his conscious mind continued listening.]
Reya asked, "Why did Anna continue to fake her death after Avon left Earth?"
Sester replied, "She did that because she loved him. She knew that if she 'resurfaced', Avon would come looking for her. That would have been too dangerous for him. For a long time after Avon escaped, Anna was watched carefully by her handlers. They suspected that she had let him go but they didn't have any proof. She convinced them that it was much more useful for her work as Bartolomew if Anna Grant stayed dead. It meant sacrificing her real life and her relationship with her brother but it kept Avon from trying to find her."
"She did that for Avon?"
"And for her brother. You see, until then she had also been protecting Grant. He never suspected it. Grant is a mercenary with rebel leanings, it was her duty to turn him in but she had convinced her masters that it would be the perfect concealment for the persona of Anna Grant. No one would suspect her of being Bartolomew with Grant as her brother. She was actually pulled in several times by unsuspecting Central Security agents because of her brother. They gave her a very hard time and she let them. It made her cover even more believable."
Cally arrived out of breath outside Avon's cabin. The door controls did not respond to her. She pounded on the door. "Avon! It's Cally! Let me in!"
Reya stood up from her chair and said, 'Thank you for telling me."
"I'm not finished yet."
Reya reacted in surprise and sat back down. "There's more?" She thought that it was already more than enough.
[Avon’s heart faltered.]