"You look nervous Vila," said Jenna in the crowded teleport room. Various members of the Athol Elite Guard were putting on the unfamiliar teleport bracelets while the Justice crew explained how to use them.
"I'm not nervous, this is my 'ready for anything' look," Vila told her.
"It doesn't look all that different from your 'I'm nervous' look," Jenna remarked jokingly as she sat beside Cally at the teleport control panel.
"It has a dual purpose," Vila said.
"We're ready," Commander Hent told Argus as the first group arranged themselves on the teleport pad.
"Cally send them down," Argus directed the Auron.
Cally pressed down the teleport control to send the first group down.
Several minutes later the Guard commander reported over the comm system.
"We're in position."
"Do you have them Cally?" asked Argus as he, the rest of the Guard, and the 'ready for anything' Vila stepped onto the teleport pad.
Cally was operating the directional controls on the teleport panel. On the screen she could see various objects representing the twelve Guardsmen who had just teleported down. They had been moving around but now they were all stationary, waiting. There was no sign of the convoy yet.
"Yes," she replied. "We just need the convoy now."
"Argus, there's something going on." Commander Hent's voice came over the ship's speaker. "I hear pulse fire, about half a mile from our position, to the north."
Argus activated the communicator from the teleport panel, "Hold where you are Hent, we're taking a look at it up here." He directed his attention to the Auron, "Cally?"
Cally's fingers were already moving quickly over the teleport controls. "I'm shifting the locator screen now."
Argus looked at the display on the screen which was shifting as she worked.
"There it is," he said pointing to numerous shapes which came onto the screen.
"Yes, Hent was right, it's about half a mile north of their position," Cally said. "Unfortunately, we can't tell what's going on using this."
"From the formation, this must be the convoy," Argus pointed. "And this looks like an ambush," he said, pointing to the shapes surrounding it. That was our alternate ambush point."
"It looks like someone beat us to it," Cally said.
"Someone's trying to get to Avon before we do," said Jenna.
"We can't let them do that," Cally said vehemently.
"I agree," said Argus. "Jenna, go to the flight deck, I think we may need to leave sooner than we planned."
Jenna nodded and rushed out.
Argus continued tracking the action on the screen. "It looks like the truck is trying to move off and the other ambush party is occupied by the escort vehicles. That probably means that Avon is still alive. It's an amateur effort."
Amateur efforts usually get more people killed the rebel leader thought. He thumbed the communicator, "Hent there is an attack going on at our secondary ambush point. I'm going to send you over by teleport." Argus nodded to Cally; she set swiftly to work to bring the first group back up.
Argus continued, "The transport truck is trying to get away, I want you to stop it. The moment you do, we will teleport down and then I want you to shift your focus on helping the other group with the escorts. There don't appear to be any Federation reinforcements yet but keep an eye out."
"Understood," the Guard commander replied over the ship's comm. "We're ready."
"Have you got them Cally?"
"Alright, send them over," Argus directed her. Over the comm he told Hent, "Teleporting you now."
The Commander Hent and his Guard unit shimmered into view on the teleport pad for a few seconds and then immediately disappeared again. Argus, Vila, and the other Guards stepped back onto the platform.
After two minutes, Hent's voice sounded over the comm system, "Now!"
"Do it for Avon, Vila," Cally said to the thief just as she depressed the teleport controls and the second group disappeared.
Argus's group arrived in the middle of chaos. They all immediately crouched down to avoid the random pulse and laser rifle bursts. There also appeared to be old-fashioned projectile weapons also being used.
Argus instantly took in their situation; they were next to the stationary truck, there appeared to be two battle zones, in front and behind the truck. He could spot the dark brown and green fatigues of Hent's Guards. No one seemed to have noticed the new arrivals yet. That won't last long, he thought as he stood up and attached the percussion grenade to the side of the truck and set the directional control.
"Get behind the truck," said Argus in a low voice as he activated the grenade and moved off. Vila and the Guards did the same. The rebel leader could hear Vila cursing. "What's wrong?" Argus asked.
"I didn't step into anything this time," Vila told him.
"Have you looked around you? I think we all stepped into it this time," Argus said to him.
The grenade went off; it had a muffled explosive sound rather than the normal loud one.
They could almost hear all the heads around them turning towards the truck, then everything began exploding. The Federation reinforcements had arrived.
"Cover fire! Cover fire!" yelled Argus as he stood up and began firing his pulse rifle. He stopped for a second and reached around behind him and pulled up the still-crouched Vila. "Get it open! We don't have much time. I'll cover you." Argus positioned himself between Vila and everyone else, and continued firing.
The last thing Vila wanted to do was stand in the middle of a pitched battle with pulse bursts and laser tracers aimed at his back; and having Argus standing as a human shield was not any better. The last thing he wanted was to be even more confused as to whether he should be angry at this man or not.
"Do it for Avon, Vila." That was a low blow, thought Vila, as he recalled Cally's parting words just as she teleported him down into this mess. The thief began removing the tools from his kit and made preparations to open up the non-visible lock.
You're going to owe me big time Avon, thought the thief. He liked the sounds of that. I'm never going to let you forget it. Vila began slicing into the truck with a laser cutter. The cutter would take too long to cut through the thick armour plating but it was enough to expose the lock mechanism. Two pulse rifle bursts hit the truck, uncomfortably close to where Vila was standing. Argus immediately brought down the Federation soldier who had made his way closer to their position and had fired the shots.
Vila kept working; fear always sharpened his senses and enabled to him to work quicker.
"You have two more minutes before I have to use the second percussion grenade," Argus informed him.
At that moment, they both heard a loud click and the door began to swing open.
"Brilliant, Vila," Argus told the thief.
"Remember to tell Avon that," said Vila.
"Quickly, lets get him out before the guards wake up," Argus said as he pulled the door open the rest of the way. Inside they could see a host of guards on the ground and in their seats. Slumped in his own seat was a familiar looking form in grey prison coveralls.
Argus climbed into the truck, followed by Vila. Trying not to disturb the unconscious guards, they went over to Avon. They unstrapped him from his seat and between them, they lifted him up. Vila took an extra teleport bracelet from his kit bag. He hesitated as he saw the restraints already there, and then he became angry as he saw the numerous bruises and cuts on the man's wrists. He pushed Avon's sleeve up, scowling as he saw that the injuries extended up the arm as well, and clipped the teleport bracelet onto the unconscious man's arm.
"Alright, get him out and I'll tell the others," Argus directed Vila. He let go of Avon's arm and watched as Vila and Avon shimmered out of view. The rebel leader turned, jumped down from the truck and was grazed in the leg by a laser tracer. He ducked and in a running crouch headed towards Hent, who was shooting from a prone position behind a log, and directing his own Guards as they defended the truck.
As he saw Argus approaching, Hent said, "You got him?"
"Yes, but don't leave just yet. Have you identified who the other ambush group is?"
"No, but I was able to communicate to them that we're on their side. They appear to have several injuries on their side. None of my men have been hit."
"Have you identified their leader?"
"The one behind the tree." Hent pointed to a man in a dark green jacket and dark brown pants, and firing a laser rifle about fifty feet from them.
"Cover me," said Argus as he picked up a fist-sized rock, knelt up and threw it. The rock hit the tree just above the other leader's head. The man whirled around, pointing his rifle at Argus but stopped as the rebel leader raised his hand with an open palm faced outwards with fingers spread.
"We have him. Get your people out, we'll cover you," Argus shouted to the man.
The other leader hesitated, and then nodded.
Argus, Hent and the Guards provided cover as the other group retreated, then they teleported back to the ship.
"Are all your men here?" Argus asked as they arrived back on the Justice.
The Guard commander replied, "Yes, everyone is accounted for."
The rebel leader, activated the ship's comm and said, "Jenna, we're all back, get us out of here. I'll be right there."
"If you don't need me anymore," said Cally, her voice trailed off.
"Of course," said Argus, "I should have thought of it. We'll take care of things here. Go."
Cally rushed out.
As Cally reached the ship's medical bay, she was filled with trepidation. Avon had not looked good when Vila and one of the Guards had carried him to the medical bay.
"How is he doing Vila?" she asked the instant she entered.
"You're not going to like it," Vila warned her, extending the bio-scanner he was holding so she could take it.
Avon lay on a bio-bed. Vila had removed the restraints from his arms and legs, revealing deep bruises and cuts on his wrists. Even in sleep, he looked tired and strained. Cally pored over the readings on the scanner. What she saw almost brought tears to her eyes, and a desire to lash out at someone, which was not like her.
How can someone have this many injuries and not die? Even as Cally thought that, she saw the answer on the readings. They wouldn't even let you die, would they? You must have been in constant pain. Who would be cruel enough to do this to you? And why?
Cally already knew who. It was the only person she hated with all her heart, the woman who destroyed her people; it was Servalan.
We will kill her one day Avon. You and I. I promise you that.
Vila had been watching Cally as she read the bio-scanner. He had been shocked when he had first done the readings himself. When they had rescued Avon from the Federation the first time, Vila had seen the marks of torture on his body and knew that they had done terrible things to him; but he had never known the extent of the injuries. As he saw the reaction on Cally's face, he wanted to reach out to her.
"It's not good is it?" he asked her.
"You can't even guess," she told him.
"What do you mean?"
"These injuries, there are so many of them, and inflicted over a long period of time. It should have killed him many times over, but they didn't let him die. There are signs of advanced healing methods being used."
"That's what Avon said. He said that they killed him so many times, that he lost count; but each time they brought him back so that they could torture him more."
"Stop Vila!" Cally told him. She did not want to cry, there was too much to do.
"I'm sorry," Vila looked distressed.
Cally hardened herself, dropped the bio-scanner on the table and unzipped Avon's coveralls. For the next little while, she would be nothing but an efficient but gentle medic. Vila helped as best he could. She found that with his nimble fingers, the thief would have made a good healer, if he didn't flinch at the sight of blood.
"Why isn't he waking up?" Vila asked. "Argus said the percussion grenade should have worn off in ten minutes."
"That's a good question," Cally said, picking up the bio-scanner and making some adjustments. She had been so focused on healing Avon's wounds that it had not occurred to her.
"They gave him a sedative of some kind," she told him, "but it should be wearing off soon." As the scanner registered more drugs in his system, Cally began feeling angry again; this was as bad as the readings of the injuries. She wanted to throw the bio-scanner across the room before it told her that even worse things had been done to the analyst. She took a deep breath. No Cally. Your patient needs you.
She continued working on Avon's injuries.
"Why? Why would they do this to him Cally? I mean, they know we have ORAC and the ship. And they never tried to use him to get at us. I don't get it."
"Unfortunately, these readings don't give us any answers to the why," she told him. "The only one who can tell us is Avon."
"Are you going to be okay?"
"I will be fine."
Do you think he will hate you? Vila almost asked her. After all this time, he still didn't understand why Avon did what he did when he went to Terrus to save Cally; especially when Avon was so ready to dump the thief out of the autoshuttle to save himself. I want some answers too, Avon.
"Do you think he hates me?" Cally asked Vila. "If they hadn't used me against him, they would never have been able to do this to him."
The thief managed to look guilty; it was almost as if she could read his mind. Jenna was not the only person on the Liberator who had been uncomfortable with having a telepath aboard; even if she said that she couldn't read their minds. Of course, the fact that she had a pretty face had also played a factor in his relationship with her.
They both looked down at the sleeping man. He had saved one of them and almost killed the other, and neither of them understood why.
The other band of would-be rescuers were lucky to escape with their lives. Several of them had been wounded, two seriously. Sheldon Grene waited for Brena at their arranged meeting point, she never showed up.
The phase-TD engine tests were completed a month later and a new fleet of ships commissioned at the Ovyhra Shipyards.
Professor Ekron and the two engineers returned to their posts. None of them had any recollection of ever having worked with a brilliant unnamed prisoner who had made a key contribution to their research.
Professor Brena Tyler was never heard from again.
Sheldon Grene made it his goal to find her.
The Federation President was very angry that Avon had been lost. She was resolved that the next time she saw him again, would be his last.
***** THE END *****