Reya asked, "Avon…can you…tell him that…"
The door of the room slid open.
Avon looked up at their captors, expecting them to pick him up and shove him into the corner again, like a bag of unwanted refuse.
Grenthel said curtly, "Bring him."
Him? They were after him this time? Had they finally decided that he had outlived whatever limited usefulness he had and were going to get rid of him? Then why not do it in this room? Was it going to be a public execution like had been mentioned for Reya?
Two of them approached Avon and grabbed him roughly by the arms and pulled him up. Unexpectedly Reya reached out for him and caught his leg. She gasped, "No. Leave him…"
Grenthel kicked her in the side. Reya cried out in pain and let go.
As the two men dragged Avon to his feet and carried him from the room, Grenthel said with a twisted sneer, "Don't worry, we'll be back for you once we take care of this one and this time we will finish what we started. You are NOT the Champion of Chandar!" He kicked her again.
Argus stood like an immovable tree in the midst of a large open field; the only one who didn't seem affected by the strong gusts of wind that whipped up the assorted shrubbery around them. The Chandaran President stood beside him. The two men were calm and seemed outwardly untouched by the tension and danger; every inch the level-headed and fearless leaders that they were. Several soldiers were ranged behind them, their hands lightly touching weapons that were ready to be drawn into service at any time.
Argus's eyes sought out any tell-tale signs of his other men, the ones that would ensure that there would be no surprises. He didn’t spot any; he hadn't expected to. There were no indications of the Chandaran insurgents yet either.
He had to stay controlled, he had to do his job if Avon and Reya were to be rescued.
As his eyes continued to sweep the field, Argus remembered the conversation with Sester, and suppressed an urge to bare his teeth at the thought of the insufferable psychostrategist. Though he would never trust him, Argus knew that his rival had a personal reason for what he was doing. Sester would never endanger Reya's life or Avon's. It was the only reason Argus had agreed with this plan.
“Alright, that might work to get Avon back but what about Reya and the President? How do we know that they won't kill him the moment he's in their hands? How do we know that they will take him to Reya? What if they've already killed her? ” Argus's stomach felt ill at the thought. This secret fear that he refused to voice, had been haunting him even as he refused to give up.
Sester was excruciatingly confident as he said, “They won’t kill either one of them and they will bring the two of them together.”
“How can you be sure of that?”
Sester had the kind of look on his face that set Argus on edge. The psychostrategist knew something. “Why don’t you ask the President why they won’t kill Reya yet? Or him for that matter.”
President Brent appeared perplexed but a look of understanding came over Marlena’s face. She said, “Of course, the title.”
Argus was mystified, “What title?”
Brent finally appeared to understand as well as he said, “Ahhh. I should have remembered. My mistake that started all of this. The Champion of Chandar. They need me to revoke it. And they will want it to be as public a ritual as possible.”
Sester said, “There is another way but obviously they haven’t been able to utilize it. That means Reya is still alive. She is the only other one who can revoke the privilege.”
Marlena asked him, “You are not a Chandaran, how did you know?”
Sester smiled unbearably, “I have my ways.”
Argus was the only one who had no idea what the others were talking about. He did not like this feeling, especially when his nemesis was involved. "What's special about this title?"
Brent and his bond-mate looked at each other.
The Chandaran party entered at the edge of the field.
Cally contained her reactions as she saw caught a glimpse of Avon at the back of the group. He was being half-dragged along by two Chandarans. Avon's face contained as little reaction as she was trying to maintain but she was aware of his confusion and the tightly controlled fear. He didn't know what was happening to him.
She called out to him with her mind, * Avon. We're all here. We're here to rescue you. *
Cally saw his head lift up and felt a flash of excitement across his consciousness that matched her own. She sent him a sense of calm and reassurance and tried to keep her worry from him. A nasty head wound caked in blood explained the pain she had been sensing from him and why he hadn't been able to externalize his thoughts so that she could pick them up.
She could hear Argus asking in a low voice, "Are you ready, Mr. President?"
Brent responded, "I'm ready."
"Remember. If you feel your life is in danger at any time, give the signal and we'll pull you out."
Brent gave a slight nod. "I understand." He turned his head towards Argus and said with the resolve of a man who felt responsible, "We'll get her out. I will not let them them kill her."
The Chandarans came into hearing range before Argus could say anything further. One of the insurgents stepped forward. Just from the way he carried himself, there was no doubts about the man's proud arrogance, not that it would be unusual in Chandaran society, but he seemed even more so.
Brent said frostily, "Grenthel. I should have known you were involved in this."
Grenthel said, "Too late for you."
Brent said, "It's good to know who my real friends are."
Grenthel said with a cruel sneer, "Don't worry, you won't have many for long. I guarantee you that. I should have known you were weak. That's what comes from letting yourself be influenced by a female. Giving yourself up for a stranger you don't even know? You're a fool, Brent. You're not fit to lead us."
Argus said, "Let's get on with it."
Grenthel directed his sneer towards Argus. "All of you are weak."
Brent said, "I would be careful, Grenthel. You can call me weak but I wouldn't recommend calling any of these people that. Remember you made that mistake with Reya."
Grenthel spat out, "We will take care of her too."
Brent said, "She'd better still be alive, Grenthel."
"You're not in a condition to dictate anything."
"That's where you're wrong but we will discuss this after the trade."
Grenthel suddenly smiled. It was an expression that was tainted with aggression. "Yes. After the trade, we will have much discussing to do." He gestured behind him and the two men holding Avon began to drag him forward.
Argus whispered under his breath so that only Brent could hear, "Be careful, Mr. President."
Grenthel said, "Now you, Brent. Slowly."
Argus said to Brent, "Good luck." Two soldiers accompanied the President as he went forward.
Suspicions were high. The open expanse between the two groups was charged with tension as the men walked towards each other. At any moment each expected the other to do something that would cause the field to be bathed in blood and death.
It was almost an anti-climax as Avon was exchanged for Brent and both groups left with their respective prizes.
Cally immediately put her arm around Avon to support him and checked his head wound. * We'll get you back to the ship. * Avon stared at her and then he nodded. The pain in his head was excruciating now, he could barely think. There was something he had to tell them before he could allow himself to relax and to feel relief.
He managed a weak, "Cally…there's…"
"It's alright, Avon. Everything's fine now. We'll get you back to the ship."
"No, there's some…"
Argus had been watching the Chandarans exit the field with the President. He said, "Alright get Avon back to the ship."
Cally took a spare teleport bracelet from her medical bag and snapped it onto Avon's wrist.
Avon tried again. His voice was barely a whisper, "Reya is…"
Argus said in a gentle tone, "It's alright, Avon, I know. We have a plan to get her out. I have people following the President and they should lead us right to her. You get back to the ship with Cally."
Before Avon could tell them that he know where Reya was, that they had both been imprisoned together, Cally called for teleport and they transported back to the ship.
Vila breathed a sigh of relief when Avon appeared on the teleport pad, but it was a short-lived sigh as he saw the dried blood on Avon's head. He immediately came forward from his seat behind the teleport controls but there was little he could do besides offer his presence as support. Cally was there and the soldiers had Avon well in hand. They didn't need any help from him.
Marlena and Corinne, who had been hanging around the teleport room with Vila in case any word came about Brent, also came forward to help.
Marlena said to Cally, "I would like to offer my assistance."
After seeing Marlena handle the wounded soldiers in the medical unit, Cally welcomed her support.
Marlena said, "Corinne, why don't you stay with Vila in case your father needs some help."
Vila was trying not to stare at Corinne. Of course, he had been really trying not to the whole time Marlena and Corinne had been there. First, it was rude to stare and second, and most important of all, he wasn't sure if her mother would like someone like him staring at her beautiful daughter.
In Vila's experience, beautiful women expected far more than he was likely to be able to give them. Not that he didn't think himself worthy, he just knew that no one else did. Even though the people on this ship seemed to appreciate him, he doubted if that was enough.
His restless fingers played absently with a small disk he used to keep his fingers nimble. It was a comforting movement that helped to soothe some of the tension he was feeling.
For a man who was an incessant worrier, expecting that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, wasn't just a trite axiom, it was a way of life. There were so many things to be anxious about that his mind didn't know where to concentrate.
Avon looked bad when he came back onboard. That head wound with all the blood couldn't have been good. Vila didn't like the sight of blood on any day of the week, especially not his own. When it was that of someone he cared about, it was just as bad. Avon seemed out of it too, trying to mutter something that no one could understand.
More injuries to his head was the last thing poor Avon needed. The man did have a hard head but there were limits, even if he wouldn't admit them to anyone else. Cally must be worried sick.
They were all very worried about Reya and what the Chandarans could be doing to her. Vila didn't even want to imagine what his fear was trying to tell his mind was most likely happening. Other than President Brent and his people, the Chandarans he had come across on the planet, did not fill him with any warm feelings.
There was more than enough worrying to go around for everyone.
Sitting teleport duty, waiting for the group on the planet to ask for emergency teleport any minute, was making things worse. Even though Vila knew it was important, at the moment, it didn't feel like he was helping anyone.
He glanced up at Corinne who was pacing nervously, her fingers lightly touching objects as they came into range. Her face looked as worried as he was feeling. He wondered if he looked the same to her.
Vila wished he could do something to make her feel better but all he had were words; words that didn't seem half as good enough right now. All he could do was sit and wait.
He had to say something. "You don't have to worry. Argus would die before he will let anything happen to your father."
Corinne turned to look at him. Vila's own worried face had not escaped her notice. She pointed out, "But you're worried."
"I…well…yes. Just a little. It's my nature, I guess. It's hard not to with everything going on."
Corinne's came over to sit beside him. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't just be thinking of myself. You have a lot more to worry about."
Vila could see that she was feeling guilty on top of being worried now. This was the last thing he wanted. He had been trying to help. "No. It's your father. That's important. If my mother were still alive, I'd be worried sick too."
"You're mother is dead? I'm sorry."
"It was a long time ago." The sorrows of Vila's past crept up on him from out of the depths of his memories. He hadn't thought about these things in quite a while, there were too many regrets to face. In this he was like Avon. Sometimes regrets needed to be kept a small part of life if you were to function at all.
Vila always wished that he had become a master thief while his mother was still alive. He wished he could have been able to give her the things that she deserved.
He told Corinne, "Let's not talk about that. It's in the past and we both have people to worry about now. Do you want to see your father?"
"You can do that?" A hesitant smile brightened Corinne's face.
Vila pointed to one of the moving dots on the locator panel in front of him. "You see this? This is your father."
Corinne looked intently at the dot as if she wanted to see more than it was able to reveal.
Vila pointed to the other moving dots at the edge of the screen. "This one's Argus. And these are the soldiers."
They could see that the team was arranged in small groups, following Brent's dot at a discreet distance.
Unexpectedly, Corinne leaned towards Vila and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "This is wonderful. Thank you for showing it to me."
Vila's mouth dropped open in surprise and his hand went to his cheek where she had kissed him. "It's…nothing. Glad to do it. I though it might help if you could see him. I mean, sort of…"
Corinne gave him a warm smile, "It does very much. Thank you, Vila."
In the medical unit, Cally and Marlena were working to relieve the pressure that had been building up in Avon's head. Sester stood discreetly by the doorway, keeping out of their way.
Avon kept trying to push their hands away.
All Cally could feel from him was pain and increasing tension. She tried to reassure him, "Avon, it's alright. You're safe now. No one's going to hurt you. We're only trying to help."
Marlena said, "Perhaps it's me? I'm an unfamiliar presence. His mind is in such a state of confusion now that any stranger may seem threatening."
Sester told them, "He's trying to tell you something. Something important." He walked over to them.
"How do you know that?" Cally asked suspiciously. She couldn't believe that Sester could notice something about Avon that she hadn't.
Sester, reading the mistrust on her face, said, "Ask him."
As Reya lay waiting for Grenthel's promised return, the door to her cell slid open.
Sester rushed into the teleport room waving a clear data sheet in front of him. He stopped to catch his breath.
Vila and Corinne blinked in surprise at their unexpected and out-of-breath visitor. Vila asked, "What's wrong?"
Sester waved the sheet at him. "We have to get this information to Argus. It's Reya's location."
Vila's eyes widened like saucers and he took the data sheet eagerly. It wasn't just a vague location, it was also a rough sketch of the building where Reya was being held. "How?"
Sester explained excitedly, "It was Avon. He was being kept in the same cell. Quickly, Vila! We can save her!"
Corinne was excited at the news too, she added, "That means my father won't have to go through with the plan. We can get him out now too!"
Vila extended the sheet back to Sester and said, "You'll have to go and give the information to Argus. You can't operate the teleport."
Sester said without hesitation, "Alright." He immediately kitted himself out with a bracelet and went over to wait by the teleport pad while Vila contacted Argus.
Vila pressed the comm button. "Argus."
Argus's muted voice came over the speakers. "Yes, Vila? What is it?"
"I'm sending Sester down."
Argus's voice was not pleased. "Why would you want to do that?"
"He has the Commander's location and a drawing of the building that she's being held in."
There was a pause. Vila could imagine the look of surprise or shock on Argus's face.
Argus said urgently, "Send him down. You can save the explanations for later."