"The situation has changed." That statement from Argus contained a wealth of understatement. The assorted Chandarans were gathered around him and Vila in the cargo hold that was currently being used to house them. The plans to retrieve their families had taken on a different importance now that they had proof that the aliens were also involved in the coup.
One of them asked, "What are they after? Why are they here?"
Another one said, "It's obvious, they want to take over."
President Brent spoke to his people, "I'm afraid that their plans are even more dangerous than that. From what Argus has told me, this is not the first sector that the aliens have tried to take over."
Marlena added, "Chandar is the center of the Chandaran Alliance. If they gain control here, then they will be able to influence over a dozen worlds in this sector. This is no longer just about Chandar."
Argus said, "Yes, Marlena and your President are right, this concerns all of humanity. The aliens were defeated many years ago at great cost to themselves and to us. But they haven't given up. Some of them survived when their ships crashed or they got away in escape pods. They weren't able to return to their galaxy when the Federation rebuilt the defensive mine field, so they went underground, biding their time. We've just discovered recently that they weren't idle. They are still trying to take over this galaxy."
There was great stirring and concerned whispers among the Chandarans as they listened to Argus.
He continued, "Their methods are much more insidious this time. They are trying to use our own weaknesses against us by subverting some in order to take over. I don't know if they plan to cause enough chaos to destroy each sector one at a time or to use them as an army to further their own interests. All I do know is that if they are allowed to take control then humanity is doomed again. Their final goal has not changed."
The President's personal assistant, Trey, asked, "What can we do to stop them?"
President Brent said, "We can't let them take over Chandar. We have to let our people know what's happening. We have to expose the aliens."
Trey said, "But they won't listen to you anymore, sir. Not after everything that's happened."
Brent said, "But we still have to tell them somehow. We can't let the aliens take over the Alliance."
Everyone agreed with him but no one had an idea how this could be done.
Marlena said, "I would recommend that for now, as long as it is safe enough, all of you return to your families. We will find a solution but once we do, we will need voices to support us. You can provide those voices."
Brent said, "Marlena's right. Some of you wanted to continue the work that I have started. It is up to you to influence others. We need voices of dissent to show people that I'm not the only one."
For the first time, Corinne spoke up in the group, "Maybe we'll find that there are more people who feel the same way. They just haven't had the courage to say something. But if they hear other people, maybe they'll join in."
Vila thought that it was an overly optimistic idea given what he had seen of Chandaran society and from the faces of the others, they all thought so too. Everyone except Marlena and Brent. Vila thought that they were all just too polite to say so, either because she was Brent's daughter or they thought she was naïve. And of course, her father and mother would support her.
Vila said, "Corinne's right, we'll never know until we try. Even if it's just one person,"
They all indicated their agreement that there might be one.
Argus said, "Alright, if you're all agreed, we'll start sending you all down. We'll provide a secure communications channel so that you can coordinate with your President. If at any time you feel that your families are in danger, contact us. Vila, since you did such a good job at the Residence, why don't you coordinate that end of things with one of the teams while I work with President Brent and Marlena to come up with a plan regarding the aliens?"
Vila replied, "I'd love to."
While Brent and Marlena talked with the Chandarans, Argus went back to the medical unit. It was already late but he wanted see Reya. He doubted if he could go back to his own room to get any rest. All three patients appeared to be sleeping when he entered, Avon on one side and Reya and Sester against the far wall..
Argus stood silently looking down at Reya's face. With the tissue regenerator, the bruises had disappeared and the swelling had gone down. Her face was still pale and her breathing thready. Reya opened her eyes and upon seeing him, a wide smile brightened her face. "Hello, handsome." Her voice was slightly slurred and her eyes were bright, almost feverish.
Argus coughed in embarrassment. "Uh, hello." She had never called him that before. "How are you feeling?"
Reya said cheerfully, "I feel fine."
Argus realized it must be a result of the pain drugs. They must be very strong. He wondered if it was alright if he held her, he didn't want to hurt anything.
Reya reached up and brushed the hair from his forehead. "It's getting long."
"I haven't had much time to take care of it."
"I like it this way." She ran her fingers through his hair.
Argus took her hand and placed it over his chest and said, "Reya, I'm sorry. This should never have happened to you. "
The smile disappeared from Reya's face, replaced by soft concern. "It wasn't your fault. You have to stop blaming yourself for everything."
"If I had been there or…"
She said gently, "No one could have known what would happen."
Argus said bitterly, "Sester would have. If I had let him help instead of getting angry and sending him back to the ship…I failed you. You were right. I can't see clearly when it comes to him."
Reya sighed. "You can't blame yourself for that. It's how you feel. You couldn't help it."
Argus told her, "I don't know if I hate him more or less now because he was the one who saved your life. If it weren't for him, you'd still be a prisoner. Suffering. I'm such a fool."
"Don't say that. At least you were able to overcame your feelings and you worked with him to find me."
Argus bowed his head. "For you, I would do anything."
"Even give Sester a chance?"
"I owe that to him. But…I will never completely trust him. I’m not sure if I ever can."
Reya regarded her soldier. He was a man of honour and honesty; and he loved her. "Can you hold me?"
"I'm not sure it's such a good idea. I don't want to hurt you."
"It's alright. Just be careful."
Argus lifted her up gently and sat on the bed beside her. She leaned up against him and he put his arms around her. Argus finally felt at peace.
As Argus and Reya had been talking, Sester had not been asleep. He had woken when they had started speaking but didn't want to disturb them. His eyes remained closed as he listened.
He remembered the conclusion he had come to while he was helping Argus rescue Reya. She deserved someone much better than himself.
Argus and Reya loved each other deeply. Anyone listening to them could tell that. Even their tones were different when they were speaking to each other. There was a level of intimacy and love they did not share with anyone else. Argus would do anything for her, even overcome his own weaknesses. Reya deserved someone like him.
Sester accepted that now. He just wished it didn't hurt so much.
Vila and Corinne were sharing a late night snack in the dining area. He had been introducing her to some of his favourite Earth foods. Her favourite so far was ice cream. It seemed that there was no Chandaran equivalent.
Vila placed a bowl in front of each of them and sat down. Each one contained several types.
Corinne said, "Oh, those look good. What flavours this time?"
Vila grinned and pointed them out in turn, "This is Baked Alaska, Caramel Chew, Strawberry Cheesecake and Chocolate Fudge Brownie."
"They all sound so interesting." They both began to dig in.
Between sounds of enjoyment and eating, Corinne glanced at him and said, "Vila."
Vila mumbled with a mouth full of delicious Caramel Chew, "Yes?"
"Earlier today, when we were talking to the others. You didn't agree with what I said, did you? I could see it on your face."
Vila nearly choked on his Caramel Chew. He put his spoon down and looked at her. "I'm sorry."
"Oh, you don't have to apologize. You were very sweet to support me even if you didn't believe what I was saying."
"It's not that I don't believe what you were saying."
Corinne put her spoon down too. "But?"
This was the first really serious conversation they were having. Vila wasn't prepared for this at all and wished he had had some advanced warning. "Well…it's just hard to believe, if you know what I mean. You told me that you've never really met people outside the Residence before. I have. They're not like your father's friends, Corinne. They're a mean and cruel lot. Shoot first and don't bother to talk first. Beat you up if you don't do what they want."
Corinne said quietly, "I do know."
The change in her voice caused Vila to look at her sharply. "You do?"
"My father's friends weren't always like the way they are now. Even my father wasn't like this at first. My mother told me that."
"She changed him?"
"Chandarans are very cruel to people they capture from Tellar, especially the women. They try to break them but my mother never did. My father was one of them but he came to respect her a great deal, though he never let on to the others. They were going to kill her but he bought her and told them that he could break her himself. Instead he took her home and healed her back to health and told the others that she broke. But he never tried to. My mother taught him many things about women and how his society was wrong about them. She said he was very stubborn but she had come to love him and he discovered that he felt the same way about her. Eventually they became bonded."
Vila said, "They sound like very special people. Your parents."
"They are. At first they tried to keep their relationship a secret but in a household, it's hard to keep that kind of secret for long. Eventually they all found out but these people all respected my father. They kept their secret. Then after awhile they all came to respect my mother too and their attitudes towards her and me, changed. Everything became much better after that."
"That's why you think that there's a chance for the others?"
"Yes. My mother says that all people have a measure of good and bad in them. You just have to work hard to find the good sometimes."
Vila said, "I wish I could believe that." He really did. But after a lifetime of seeing evil, he wasn't sure that it applied to everyone. "Corinne, you said that the Chandarans are cruel to the Tellarians, especially the women. Why's that?"
"Oh, it's because of their society. They're a matriarchy."
Vila asked with alarm, "You mean women run things?" Most of the women he'd run across were usually much better than the men he had encountered, barring Servalan, of course. But in his experience, people with power could be relied on to abuse it. He couldn't imagine that women would be much different if they were given the chance.
Corinne looked at him curiously. "Why would you think that?"
Vila's brow knitted in confusion. "Well, a matriarchy, that's the opposite of a patriarchy, isn't it? Where men run things. That's like most Federation societies. So in a matriarchy, don't women run things?"
Corinne said, "Oh, I guess that's an easy mistake to make."
"It is?" Now Vila was really confused. "Why is it?"
"It's something my mother explained to me. You have to take into account the nature of men and women. In a patriarchy, it's natural that men run things. Men have a tendency towards dominance and competition. Not all men, but a large number of them. So it's normal that in a patriarchy, the style of leadership and government reflects that nature."
That made sense to Vila. "Most worlds that we've run across are like that." There was something he didn't understand though. "Alright, what you said makes sense but if no one runs things, then how does Tellar society run?" Vila really couldn't think how any society could operate without some kind of leadership.