Cally had surreptitiously been watching Avon during the discussions and opening up her awareness of him as far as she could. She knew it would irritate him further to have evidence of what she was doing. Since this morning, Avon had been in an increasingly contentious mood. They had a huge argument earlier and from his interaction with the crew, it seemed that he was intent on being difficult with everyone.
She knew that the mornings were getting to him. Waking up to the nightmares left him in a weak and vulnerable state that he hated. The knowledge that he was constantly being watched and was never allowed alone made things even worse. Cally wished that it wasn't necessary, but she felt that they had no choice.
In reality, she was surprised that it had taken this long for him to show the stress of losing his privacy and independence. She had expected to deal with this much sooner.
Vila tried to not sound too enthusiastic as he said, "I like the sounds of Kuriam."
Avon said cynically, "Your decision has nothing to do with the valuable crystals there of course."
Vila asked defensively, "What's wrong with saving the universe and doing a little commerce on the side? Don't tell me you're not interested in the crystals."
"Not for the same reasons you are," said Avon. He was clearly insinuating something.
Cally had been running interference by diverting the flow of conversation, to Avon's increasing annoyance. She asked, "Why are these crystals so valuable?"
"Their importance lies in their ability to accurately reflect directed signals without distortion. It's used in the most advanced long-range communications technology. The possibilities have yet to be fully explored. I was starting to look into the potential use of Kuriam crystals for the Acquitar project in order solve some fundamental difficulties before I decided to work for myself."
The others may have been bored by the details, but Cally noticed Avon's tone slowly changing, the irritability faded. She had seen this happen before and had been hoping that this diversion would work when she asked her innocent question.
When Avon's head was occupied with the scientific and technical world he felt most comfortable in, his tensions eased and he became a different person; eager, interested and open to sharing. He seemed to want others to appreciate the beauty he saw in a world that made sense to him.
Cally wondered what Avon would have been like if he had stayed in that world, full of people who shared the same values and interests that he did. When he was working with the scientists and engineers on Pleasure City, he seemed to come alive. He had revelled in the debates, found joy in the discovery of new things and was like a child in a confectionary establishment when he could experiment to his heart's content. The occasional mischievous humour he shared with her, became even more evident.
It explained a lot about his actions after Star One, when he could finally pursue his own path; the desire to investigate the sopron rock and even the way he chose to fight the Federation afterwards. He had sought out different avenues rather than follow the militaristic ways of Blake. Despite his knowledge of weapons and explosives, of all the equipment he could have improved on the Liberator and the Scorpio, he never produced anything with offensive potential. He preferred to fix Dorian's teleport technology and increase the speed of the engines rather than improving the sorry weaponry systems of the Scorpio.
Avon had never been the warrior at heart, he was an explorer and a man of science and technology. That was the way he dealt with the world, with infinite curiosity and desire to have things make logical sense. It was the way he was most comfortable with.
The Liberator had been a dream find for him. Whenever Blake wasn't demanding his attentions, he was invariably found exploring some aspect of the ship's technology; taking things apart and putting them back together again.
She wouldn't be surprised if Avon could rebuild most of the ship if he had the equipment.
Cally remembered fondly how he had tried to admonish her for relying on her own instincts and senses rather than on objective facts. She was glad that he accepted her 'senses' as fact now and trusted them.
The only other times she had sensed this ease and passion in him, was when he opened himself up to her; when he included her within the world that he felt at home in. Those times were becoming much less frequent now. Cally missed his light humour, the naked honesty, and the almost shy but intense affection of the man who was more conversant with machines than people.
She wondered what happened to cause him to leave the world he loved.
Her attentions were brought back by Avon saying, " Wealth represents strength for the Andromedans. They need it in order to build up a power base in this galaxy because they're cut off from their own."
After Avon was finished Argus said, "That sounds like a good reason to go to Kuriam. What's in the Goderich Territories that would be of interest to the Andromedans?"
Reya responded, "It's a highly volatile area. They've made several incursions into the Athol Territories. My brother has fought them many times. So far, we've been able to keep them within their own borders. If the aliens were looking to destabilize another area, that would be a good place. There are usually several civil wars going on at any one time in their territories."
Vila said, "It sounds like we'll be going into a war zone, full of other people's wars. Is that a good idea?"
Argus said, "We're not going there to get involved in any wars. We only want to find out what the Andromedans are doing in that sector and stop them."
Avon remarked dryly, "It appears as if you've made up your mind as to our next destination."
Argus said, "Not yet. That's why we're having this discussion."
Avon's contentious mood had returned. He asked cynically, "Is that what this is? A discussion? Or are you going to manipulate us into doing what you've already decided?"
Argus had a puzzled look on his face, he couldn't understand why Avon was acting like this. "I thought that you were keen to check out the Goderich Territories and Kuriam before? You know that there've been reports of suspicious activities in those areas."
Avon said, "The report about Solteral came from Servalan."
"You're expecting more traps?" asked Argus.
A familiar voice intruded into their conversation, "Of course Avon expects a trap." They all turned to see Sester leaning against the entrance way. Ignoring the various hostile looks being directed towards him, he came down the steps. From his vantage point, he had been observing the dynamics of the crew with interest. He had noted all the things about Avon that Cally had.
Argus said with a distinctly unenthusiastic tone, "I don't remember inviting you to this meeting."
Sester smiled pleasantly, "You didn't but I am the Federation liaison, isn't it about time you did? I can be of help."
Argus said sarcastically, "Assuming we can trust anything you say."
Avon came to stand next to Argus. His voice contained a cold cynicism and his eyes were dark with hostility as he said to Sester, "If there is a meeting that needs your brand of half-truth, we'll let you know." All of Avon's irritability had been channelled into aggression against the psychostrategist.
Sester's voice was calm and reasonable, his face never lost its pleasant friendliness. "Come now, gentlemen. The Federation President has as little to gain in allowing the aliens influence in this galaxy, as you do. What happened concerning the news about Anna was regrettable but I did not plan it. It was an unfortunate series of circumstances that would never have happened if you had trusted me."
Cally came to stand next to Avon. Her voice was hard. "Are you trying to blame us for what happened?"
Sester put his hand up as if to deflect all the attacks being directed at him. "I'm not doing anything of the kind, Cally. Servalan was trying to manipulate Avon with the news about Anna and with sending you all to Solteral. I didn't agree with what she was trying to do, that is why I tried to keep the information from all of you."
Argus still didn't trust Sester's part in what happened and said, "Do you think that if you repeat it enough times, we'll suddenly forget what you are and believe you? Are you seriously expecting us to believe that you didn't 'arrange' the circumstances after what happened with Vanora?"
Sester tried not to look annoyed. "Just because I can do it, doesn't mean that I did it this time. Don't let your personal prejudices against me, prevent you from using an advantage when it is being offered to you. I can steer you around Servalan's traps. I know how her mind works."
There was a cold accusing tone in Avon's voice. "Just as you know mine? You're Servalan's instrument. You are here to continue her manipulation of me."
The temperature on the flight deck seemed to have dropped several degrees.
Sester looked at each of them in turn. His eyes lingered briefly on Vila, who was trying to keep very inconspicuous in the background. He thought, I see you've had your second cup of coffee.
Vila seemed to guess what he was thinking and looked guilty, but he didn't say anything.
Sester admitted, "You're right, that is what she wanted."
There was a dangerous look in Avon's eyes.
Sester continued, "But it isn't what I want."
Argus didn't believe this 'act', he said with a snarl, "Let's throw him off the ship, Avon." The two Alphas glanced at each other, an agreement seemed to pass between them.
Avon said coolly, "Be my guest."
Cally may not be able to sense Avon as well as she did before, but she was aware that something was going on.
A dangerous smile appeared on Argus's face as he directed, "Lieutenant."
Dain had also been keeping quietly in the background. He knew when it was not his place to say anything. "Sir?"
Argus said, "Take our guest to the airlock."
Reya exclaimed with shock, "Argus, what are you doing?" She didn't want to believe that he was capable of doing this; but she would never have thought that he would have beaten up Sester and concealed the information from her either. Reya was torn. She wanted to believe in him but she couldn't allow him to make a mistake he would regret later.
Dain moved towards Sester with a troubled but determined look on his face. "Yes, sir."
Vila could not keep silent any longer. He asked with concern, "Shouldn't we think about this?"
Cally did not like this turn of events either. She projected, * Avon, stop this! * There was no answering response, or any indication that he had heard her.
Inexplicably, Sester had an amused look on his face. He stood his ground as Dain neared him. "I'm very disappointed gentlemen. You will never win against Servalan if you don't use me."
The lieutenant grabbed Sester's arm in a tight grip. Sester grimaced and said, "Your orders were to take me to the airlock, not man-handle me."
Dain responded by pushing him towards the steps. He said firmly but politely, "It will be easier if you don't resist, sir."
Sester allowed himself to be pushed as he asked with an amused smile, "Easier for whom?"
Reya pleaded, "Argus, don't do this!" She moved towards Dain and Sester.
Vila also moved to stop them.
The tone in Reya's voice had shaken Argus but he remained controlled. The trust in their relationship had been broken and it was his fault. There was a sick feeling in his stomach but he couldn't stop now, he had already committed himself to this action. He had to carry it through. Argus blocked them both and gestured them back.
Dain pushed Sester a few more steps forward. There was still no look of concern on the condemned man's face but a note of nervousness crept into his voice as he said, "Avon? I know you don't trust me, but you know that you can use me. You know that."
A look passed between the two men.
Sester stressed, "I keep my promises, Avon."
Argus said with a sneer, "You're starting to sound desperate."
Avon's eyes bore into Sester's like a laser trying to cut through the illusions. He hated this man but there were some things that he could depend on him to do that none of the others would. Despite all of his hidden agendas, Sester was genuine in his regrets and his desire to help him. Avon had recognized this a long time ago. It did not make him feel any better about this man, but it did make him useful.
Avon said, "Or human. No one wants to die. Not even him."
Argus did not like what he was hearing in Avon's voice. "Avon?"
Avon turned to face Argus, there was a challenge in his eyes, "You never intended to kill him."
Argus returned his stare. Neither man seemed to want to back down. Everyone waited.
After what seemed to be an eternity, a grin flashed across Argus's face, "Did you?" He said to Dain, "Bring him back."
Avon said, "We will never find out now."
Dain led Sester back towards them.
Argus said, "You can let go of him, lieutenant."
Dain released Sester's arm and stepped back, but not too far. Sester rubbed his sore arm and wrist.
Argus asked Avon, "What should we do with him?"
"As he suggested, we should use him." He asked Sester, "What 'surprises' are waiting for us in the Goderich Territories?"
Sester suppressed a smile.
After the decision to go to the Goderich Territories was made, and the various assignments handed out for the preparations, the meeting adjourned.
Avon and Cally headed towards his lab, accompanied by Sester. Sester could almost feel Avon's eyes staring at into his back as he walked ahead of them. He stopped and asked, "Is something wrong? Apart from the obvious, that is." There was a light tone in his voice. He preferred to not begin things on a hostile note.
Avon replied, "You knew all along that we wouldn't kill you."
A pleasant and amused smile returned to Sester face. "Would I be of any use against Servalan, if I couldn't see through something that obvious?"
Avon asked Sester, "Why the charade?"
"It wasn't. I was telling you the truth."
Avon asked cynically, "You're expecting me to believe that?"
"You're sounding like Argus now. If you didn't believe me, then why are we here?"
Avon said, "You achieved something by interfering in our discussions, I want to know what it was."
"You keep asking questions you don't want to hear the answers to," said Sester.
Avon said, "Tell me."
Sester nodded. "Just you."
Cally had not been surprised by the turn of events. Despite Avon's ability to block her, she had known that something else was going on. Plus she knew the conditions under which Avon and Argus could kill someone, the situation on the flight deck had not been it. She asked, "Avon. Is it a good idea to hear what he has to say? We know what happened the last time."
Avon looked at Sester and said offhandedly, "You can always kill him afterwards."
Cally said, "You know I won't do that."
For some reason, the encounter with Sester made Avon feel better. He was no longer irritable and his humour had returned. The corner of Avon's lips curled in a hint of a grin. "I know."
She said, "I have other ways of making him regret hurting you."
His eyes met hers, there was return of a light warmth in them and a mischievousness. "I would like to see that."
Cally was puzzled by Avon's sudden change in mood but she hoped that it was a sign of something reassuring. She slipped back into their light banter by returning his bare grin with one of her own. "I'm sure you would."
Sester asked with amusement, "Is this another 'act' for my benefit?"
The lightness quickly disappeared from Avon's face as he answered flatly, "I wouldn't recommend finding out."
There was absolutely no humour on Cally's face as she added, "I wouldn't either."
Sester tried not to smile again. "I won't."
To give them time to talk, Cally said, "I have some things to attend to in the medical unit. I will join you later."
The two men entered the lab but before Avon could repeat his demand, Sester said, "I haven't told the others."
They both knew what he was referring to.
Avon said flatly, "I know."
Sester asked, "I don't suppose it makes a difference?"
The two men faced each other like two opponents over a chessboard. Avon's grim determination was in contrast to Sester's amiability but there was no question that both men were equally matched. It was the meeting of two superior opponents across the field of battle. There were no indecisive moves, each one was highly calculated. Both men did not lose lightly.
Sester said pleasantly, "It's good to know where we stand."
Their exchange became like a lightning game of speed chess.
Avon asked, "Why did you interfere on the flight deck?"
"Do you want my help or not?"
Avon didn't like this man's tendency to be evasive. "Answer my question."
"You looked like you needed help."
Avon said with scorn, "I don't need help from you."
"Would you prefer the others finding out?"
There was no question of the warning in Avon's tone. "Is that a threat?"
"Nothing of the kind, but if you don't want the others to know what you're planning to do, then you have to stop pushing them away. Cally will suspect soon, if she doesn't already. Vila knows something's wrong. They may not be able to guess why, but they will know the what. I already know."
Sester's superior manner grated on Avon's nerves, he asked with derision, "What do you know?"
Sester paused, breaking the flow of their fast-paced battle of words. "You're afraid."
Avon had an instant negative reaction. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"You do insist on asking questions you don't want to hear the answers to."
Avon accused him, "You're stalling. You still haven't answered my question."
"I have. You just don't want to face the truth." His voice was no longer one of an adversary and there was a faintly compassionate look in his eyes; because he knew that Avon would not want to hear what he had to say. "Finding out that you may have killed Anna in error, was a big shock to your self-confidence. You're afraid that your next mistake will kill Cally. You think that the best thing for Cally would be to push her away, but you haven't been able to, not completely. Pushing her away hurts her, and you can't bear doing that. But not pushing her away means that one day she may die because of you, and you can't bear that either. You're in the midst of doing both, and neither and you know it won't work. You don't know how to resolve it and it makes you increasingly stressed. That in turn causes you to take it out on other people."
Hearing the truth stopped the words Avon wanted to throw at his enemy. Words that would to deny all the thoughts that had haunted him since Sester succeeded in returning him to consciousness. Facts could not be refused, even if they came from a man he hated. He had become deathly quiet as Sester spoke. This dealt with something very personal. Sester was the last person he wanted to discuss this with, but this man was the only one he could. The others would stop him if they knew what was going on inside his head.
Sester ended by saying, "Your logic won't help you in this situation but mine can."
Avon continued to be silent. He was deep in thought and began pacing the room slowly as Sester waited for a response. He finally turned to him and asked, "A psychostrategist's logic?"
Sester smiled, "Yes. Another one of my varied services that is available to you. Let me worry about how you're going to achieve this. For now, don't push the others away. Cally needs you as much as you need her. Don't deny her that."
"She has no need for me."
"You're wrong." Sester was keeping many thoughts to himself. There were other words Avon was not ready to hear yet. His intelligence did not seem to apply when dealing with the complexity of relationships. By encouraging Avon to stop excluding Cally, Sester hoped that she would teach him before it was too late. He knew it was a lesson Avon would never accept from him and he did not want to have to live up to the promise he had made.
Vila's request had reminded him what he owed Avon. He would do his best to help Avon rebuild a life that he had a hand in nearly destroying. Sester doubted if the debt would ever be fully paid. There were some things that could never be undone.
Avon asked, "What could she possibly need from me? I am no longer the man I once was. You and Servalan made certain of that. I am little more than a burden to her. What little I could give her will be gone once my mind can no longer function."
Sester told him, "Her need for you doesn't lie in those things that require action or even the functioning of your mind, Avon."
"What else is there?"
"All of the intangible things you have never given a regard to."
Avon remembered the things he had learned during those dark and cold years spent in captivity. They were important but were they enough? He wanted to give Cally something more substantial. He said, "I have to give her more."
Sester knew that Avon didn't really understand yet. "I will help you."
Avon eyed him speculatively. "This doesn't change anything between us."
Sester smiled, "I never thought it would."