Cally was in the dining area, gathering some items for Avon. He was currently resting in their cabin, under protest.
Sester came in for an afternoon meal. There wasn't much else for him to do. He kept a carefully neutral tone. "How is he?" he asked Cally as he picked up an empty tray.
This request was met with a distinctly unfriendly look from Cally. "What do you want?"
Sester sighed. "Nothing hostile. Honest. I just wanted to know how Avon was doing. After what happened when we were down on the planet…"
Cally's voice sounded as cynical as Avon's as she said, "I'm touched by your concern. He'll be fine. He just needs some rest."
"I doubt that." Sester ordered up a plate of assorted sandwiches and a strong, hot tea.
Cally's ever-present anger whenever she was near Sester began to surface. "You should know."
Sester sighed again as he picked up the items from the dispensers and put them on his tray. "Yes, I know very well. I am the person who was responsible for some of it."
Cally was trying hard to maintain her anger at him but her 'senses' told her that he was experiencing regret. He seemed to be genuine in what he was saying but she still didn't trust him.
"Yes, you were." She picked up her tray headed towards the exit.
Sester asked, "Cally. Is Avon experiencing the nightmares every morning now? Just as the drugs begin to wear off?"
Cally stopped and turned back to him. She wondered what he was up to. "Yes. Now unless you have something useful to add, I'm leaving."
"I do have something."
Cally's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What is it?"
"When Avon was at the Detention Centre, he was kept on a very finely balanced mixture of drugs. It enabled a great deal of control over his physical, mental and emotional state."
What she was hearing was not making Cally feel better disposed towards Sester. In fact her anger was growing.
Sester did not have her psi abilities but he was very observant about certain indicators, not to mention, anyone with half a brain would realize what he was telling her would make her mad.
"Hear me out first, Cally. This will help Avon."
Cally's manner was rigid. "Keep going."
"There is one way to stop the morning nightmares."
"I am not going to subject him to more drugs."
"You might have to. Not the drugs that regulate his system, something else. The only way to stop them is to wake him up before he regains consciousness. Before the drugs begin to wear off."
Cally considered this idea. "You mean a stimulant?"
"Yes. By waking him up before the nightmares begin, he won't have to experience them. It will give his mind less need to recover every day. With the decrease in stress, you should begin to see improvement in other areas. His emotional state should stabilize."
"Will the other incidents decrease?"
"You mean, the collapses? Perhaps. It is probable that the incidents will decrease. With a rested and stronger mind, he should have greater control, but don't expect them to disappear. Have you been getting him to talk about them?"
"Yes, I've been trying to." Cally recalled her constant struggles to get Avon to open up. It was a slow and difficult process. Even though he knew that it was necessary, his natural instinct was to remain closed.
"Good. I knew you would understand what was needed. The nightmares prey on his deepest fears and traumas, some of which happened to him in the past, others we gave to him by manipulating his reality. The only way to stop them having a hold over him, is for him to deal with them."
"Yes, I know and I'm sorry, Cally. That is why I'm trying to help him now."
She still didn't trust him but what he suggested was a good idea. "I will try your advice about using the stimulant."
Avon stared at the plate of sandwiches that Cally had brought. He didn't feel like eating. Cally had just told him about the encounter with Sester.
"I should have thought of it." His normally impassive voice was tinged with anguish. "It's an obvious solution."
Cally said, "I should have too."
"You don't understand."
Cally wanted to put her arms around him and tell him that she did and that it was alright. Avon defined himself by his intelligence. It was an integral part of who he was. Any loss or failure in that ability affected him deeply. For him, it was not alright.
She didn't know what to say to him to make him feel better. Telling Avon that she valued him far beyond his mental abilities would not convince him. He would just see it as a form of pity, neither of which he could accept.
Cally said, "It won't always be like this. You will get better. We'll find a way. With the use of the stimulants, things should improve. Sester said that it should help you in other areas as well. Your mental control should get better."
He looked up at her, his eyes still held anguish. "You have hope?"
"Yes, Avon. I do."
"I…have never had that ability. I could never believe in things that I know aren't possible."
"Avon, did you believe that you would ever escape from Servalan?"
Avon's mind went back to those terrible days, after Servalan and Sester had taken away everything from him. The only thing he had left was something he never believed in, an irrational hope. It was not based on himself or his own abilities or plans but the knowledge that Cally and the others were alive somewhere and free.
He said to her, "I know what you want me to say and I can't. It would be a lie." Avon saw the sadness in her eyes. "But I did have hope. It was not for myself. It was hope for you and the others."
Cally could barely stop herself from sending mental reassurances and comfort. What Avon was telling her was that they had pushed him to the point where he had given up. His only hope had been in someone else's freedom. "Then can you accept that I have hope?"
Avon could see that she needed this. It helped her to go on. This was something he could understand. Avon replied, "Yes. I can do that."
The second contest was held in a large empty, enclosed room. Vid cameras were stationed to cover every angle of the room. The Chandaran public was not to be denied any ounce of excitement.
The crew was in a preparation room just off the main contest chamber. Reya was decked out in a gun and holster ensemble, designed for fast draws. She was standing by, making last minute checks of her weapon.
Avon said, "This contest is one of nerve, speed and skill?"
Reya replied, "Yes. From what I understand, we will start off with both weapons holstered and then at the signal, we will draw and fire at each other. The first one to drop is considered the loser."
Vila said worriedly, "That sounds like a duel to the death."
Reya finished checking over her weapon and re-holstered it. "No, not this time." She made a quick practice draw with the weapon, nearly causing a startled Vila to jump back. Reya put the gun back. "These weapons are at half-strength. They carry a big jolt but they're not lethal."
Cally did not like the sounds of this. "So you keep firing at each other until one of you is incapacitated?"
"It doesn't have to be. It depends on our skill and accuracy. If we hit the right spot, then it should incapacitate almost instantly. For example, if I hit his gun hand, then the contest would be over. He would no longer be able to hold his weapon."
Vila said, "Then let's do that. Anything else sounds too painful." He almost shuddered at the thought of being a moving target. No one could pay him enough to do that.
Reya said, "Unfortunately, he will most likely be expecting it and will try to do that same."
A slim smile touched Reya's lips. "We will see who copies whom then."
Argus, who had been speaking to President Brent, came over to them and asked, "Reya, are you ready?"
"As I'll ever be." She nodded to him.
"Alright, let's clear the room." He let the others go ahead of him and then said to her, "Be careful."
The room was cleared and Dannon finally made an appearance. The two of them were alone while various announcements were made to the vid audience in the contest chamber.
Dannon asked, "Are you ready, Reya Reeve of the Justice?"
"Let's get on with it."
He handed her a small disk.
Reya turned the disk over in her hands and asked, "What is this?"
"It's the intermittent signal disk. You put it on your jacket. That's what makes the audio signal for tracking." Dannon slapped his own disk on his right shoulder. It stuck and blended into the jacket.
As she did the same with her own disk, Reya was having a bad feeling that she had not been told everything about this contest. "Why do we need this?"
Dannon looked at her with surprise. "Didn't someone tell you?"
"Tell me what?" She was getting a very bad feeling.
"This contest is conducted in the dark. These audio disks emit intermittent signals."
The look on Reya's face became harder. "No one told me."
Dannon looked shocked. "I'm sorry."
She asked cynically, "Are you?"
"I win by skill, not by trickery. I am as outraged as you are. This is as much against me as it is against you. It's a disrespect for my abilities." Dannon did look outraged. "I'll have them stop this. We can do something else."
Reya said, "It doesn't matter. It's too late now. I'm sure that they'll make it look bad for me if any one of us asks that this match be terminated. We have to continue."
Dannon said, "You're probably right. Someone wants you to lose badly enough that they're willing to cheat to do it. I am sorry."
"Yes, you've said that."
Dannon said, "I can arrange to lose. I don’t have to be as accurate in my aim."
"No. You have to do what you normally do, anything else will become too complicated. They'll know that you're helping me and do something else. At worse, I will lose this contest and we will be tied."
Dannon said uncertainly, "I don't know."
"Well decide now because they've just announced us."
"Alright, Reya. I'll do it. Just be careful. I am very good at this round. Remember, all they need you to do to end the contest, is to hit the ground and stay down."
"I will remember."
The door between the prep room and the chamber opened.
Argus and the crew had been provided with prime seats overlooking the chamber. A glass wall separated them from the contestants below. There was a full spread of food and drinks on a side table. Vila went to check it out and said, "They don't spare anything here." He opened up a few of the bottles and checked out the contents. The sniff of choice alcohol filled his nostrils. He poured a generous helping. "Avon, check this out."
Avon had been checking out the computer terminal in the corner but came over. Vila handed him the glass and poured a smaller portion for himself.
Argus and Cally were looking down at the contest floor below and saw Reya and Dannon enter.
The voice of the announcer was heard in their room. "Contestants please prepare. There is to be no drawing of weapons until the signal."
Everyone took their seats around the window.
Reya and Dannon were twenty feet apart and facing each other. They both looked prepared.
The announcer's voice was heard again, "There will be five chimes. On the final chime, the contest will begin."
The excitement in the room increased with each sound of the countdown. Five. Four. Three. Two. There almost seemed to be a long pause before the final chime. One.
The room below was plunged into darkness just as two shots rang out, nearly at the same time.
The crew gasped in surprise. "What just happened?!"
The observation window seemed to shimmer for a moment and then they could see below again, except this time, it was still dark but the contestants seemed to be giving off some kind of glow. They saw Reya and Dannon roll and quickly get up again. The shots had come from them the moment the lights had gone out. They had both missed.
It was clear from the way they moved cautiously, feeling their way with their non-gun holding hand, that they couldn't see each other.
Avon touched the window, he could see the reaction of the energy field on his fingers. He said, "There's something unusual."
Vila said, "We know that but what is it? Why is it so dark down there?"
Argus was not happy. "They didn't tell us the whole truth about this contest."
Avon said, "There is an energy field across this window that wasn't there before. It enables us to see the room below."
Cally asked, "You mean it's an infrared field of some kind?"
"Not quite but something similar."
Vila asked, "They want them to shoot each other in the dark?"
Argus said, "It increases the level of challenge."
Cally has been sensing the increased excitement levels at the edge of her consciousness. It wasn't just from the crew in the room. It was all around them. "It adds to the stimulation level of the audience."
They saw Dannon remove something from the right shoulder of his jacket and place it on his left forearm.
Reya circled slowly, keeping her rifle in front of her. Her ears strained to hear something, anything; the slight scuffing of the shoes, an intake of breath.
There was nothing, just silence and the dark. Her own movements were controlled, making no sound. The whole room seemed to be waiting for one fatal mistake.
She lightly touched the disk that had embedded itself in her jacket. When was it supposed to sound? Dannon hadn't told her. He had only told her that it was intermittent. That could mean anything. It was most likely random.
Reya continued moving carefully, wary in case she accidently brushed up against her opponent and would have to move quickly.
They had both fired shots the moment the last chime had sounded. It had been a chance neither one could miss. The last split second when they could position each other by sight. Reya smiled to herself. Both of them were too good to allow such an opportunity to pass them by and they were too wary to stand and be stationary targets.
Reya's disk gave a short beep. Almost immediately, a shot raced towards her and she jumped sideways, turned her body, dropped and rolled. Several additional shots seemed to follow her movements, barely missing her as she continued rolling in one direction and then abruptly in another. Dannon was following her by the sounds she was making while trying to avoid being hit.
Reya flattened herself on the ground with the last roll and forced herself to move slowly and quietly. The shots stopped. She could only spare a mental sigh of relief. Fortunately, in the action, she still had a hold on her gun. Reya got up slowly and carefully. Her heart was beating faster, she hoped not loud enough to be heard in the silent room.
There was grim determination on her face. She would not concede this match easily.
As Reya was trying to avoid being hit, there was much commotion in the room where the crew was helpless observing.
Vila shouted to the rolling figure below them, "Watch out!"
Avon said, "I doubt if she can hear you."
"How do you know?" asked Vila, who continued shouting. "Not left! Not left!"
Avon said reasonably, "It's logic. There is no sense for them to give us the ability to warn the Commander or to give her directions."
"I don't care. You never know, they might've made a mistake."
"This glass does not transmit sound."
"Well…I still don't care." Vila turned to the window again but things had fallen silent again and the action seemed to be over.
Avon heard Cally's voice in his head. * Avon, let him do it. It makes him feel better. He's worried about Reya and he cares. *
Avon tilted his head and thought towards her, * It's not logical to do something that will not help. *
She told him, * It does help Vila. When there is nothing that can be done, people still want to do something, even if it makes no difference. It comes from a need to do something. You should appreciate that. *
Avon turned his head to look at Vila. He noted the anxious and worried expression on his face. Vila looked as if he wanted to jump through the window if he could.
He said to Cally, * I will find a way. I might be able to adapt the generator for this energy field. *
Avon said to Vila, "You had a good idea."
Vila asked perplexed, "What idea?"
"We could try to reach the Commander."
"But I thought you said that we couldn't."
"Not under the present circumstances. At least, not with our voices. How many tools did you bring with you?"
Reya and Dannon continued playing their game of cat and mouse. Except for a few singes, they had barely been touched yet. Reya was not as experienced at this type of match where her visual senses were not being utilized, but she was not that easy a target either.
She could not understand why none of her shots had landed yet. From the position of the audio transmitter on Dannon's jacket, she should have hit something. The only thing Reya could think of was that he had moved the transmitter.
She couldn't be sure though. Since no one had bothered to tell her the full conditions of this contest, she could not risk moving her own and be in violation of whatever rules they had also not seen fit to tell her.
Her transmitter beeped again and she immediately switched directions, ran a short distance and dove to the ground as more shots followed her. Pain lanced her chest before she hit the floor. Reya could barely jerk around and keep rolling in a different direction. After a few more shots, that did not land, the firing stopped. Reya got up slowly, her free hand held over the area where she had been hit. She was in pain and gritted her teeth, trying not to make another sound.
That was not half-power. These people were determined not to give her any chance. She was certain that her own was probably at half-power or less.
If Dannon had moved his own transmitter then she could no longer aim her shots according to their old position. He could have moved the device anywhere on his person. Where should she aim?
Cally exclaimed, "She's hit!"
They all watched anxiously as Reya got up again.
Vila helped Avon removed a panel from the side wall, after determining that they weren't being watched. Once the inner workings were exposed, Avon studied them carefully.
Vila asked, "What do you think?"
Avon said, "It's possible. I could use some of these to create a device that would interfere with t-band signals."
Argus, who had been paying intermittent attention to what they were doing, asked, "What would that do?"
"Their audio transmitters most likely use signals within the t-band range. If I can created a directed device, I can interfere with the audio signals being produced by the Commander's device."
Vila asked, "But wouldn't they get suspicious if it stops working?"
Avon replied with a mischievous smile that lifted the corners of his mouth, "It wouldn't stop the signals. It would just decrease the volume. For the purposes of the people controlling the signal, it would still be working and I would still allow some to go through without interference."
Cally said, "Then they'd think that there was something wrong with the transmitter? It had malfunctioned somehow?"
"Yes. When they check it after the contest, there will be nothing wrong with the unit."
Vila said, "Or they might think there was something wrong with their ears."
Argus said, "Do it, Avon. We need all the help we can get." He looked worriedly down at the contest below. Reya had been hit again. She appeared to have a slight limp. He knew that as long as she was still standing, she would not give up.
The last series of shots had not touched Reya, but she had already received four hits from the previous times. She had a pronounced limp now and was in severe pain from the shot in her back.
There was one positive thing. Reya was almost certain that she knew where Dannon's transmitter was now. She had been able to determine that from her own experimental shots, trying out different configurations according to where it could be. The next opportunity would prove whether her theory was right.
The audio transmitter beeped. It wasn't hers. Reya fired two shots in rapid succession in the direction of the sound. She heard a cry of pain and a clatter as Dannon's gun hit the ground. Reya fired several more shots but there were no answering sounds of pain. Dannon had effectively rolled away.
But she knew where his audio transmitter was now. Her shots would no longer hit empty air.
Reya was in considerable pain now but she knew that Dannon was probably no better off than she was. Her shots hit were hitting with more frequency whereas his were becoming more erratic. All she would have to do was hang on and keep playing.
Suddenly there was a loud chime and the lights turned back on. Reya and Dannon shielded their eyes from the blinding glare.
The announcer's voice was heard, "This contest has now concluded. The one hour time limit has been reached." The announcer's voice was flat. He did not like delivering this pronouncement.
Another thing they didn't tell us.
"The result of this trial is a draw."
Vila asked, "It's over?" He and Avon were still working on the jamming device.
Cally replied, "Yes. It appears so."
Argus said urgently, "Let's get down there!" They could barely keep up with him as he raced from the room.