The first group of Chandarans was delivered back down to the planet without incident. All-in-all it was very anti-climactic. As they stepped off the teleport platform, Corinne had a disappointed look on her face. She unstrapped the belt from her waist and let it hang by her side.
Vila called up to the flight deck to report success while the teleport operator readied another set of coordinates. The next group of Chandarans were already arriving. Soon it would be crowded again.
Vila asked, "Are you alright, Corinne?"
She said in a despondent voice, "I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
Despite her words, she still didn't sound very happy. "Yes, I'm fine."
Cally said, "Vila, I'm going to check on Avon. I'll be back before you go down."
Vila acknowledged her. "Right. I hope he's..." Cally had already rushed off before he finished his sentence. More Chandarans began to arrive and Vila greeted them.
Corinne was pacing slowly between the pad and the teleport controls station. She sighed.
Vila asked her, "Are you sure you're alright?"
She looked over at him and gave a brief smile. "Yes. Don't mind me, Vila. I just wished that I could be of more help. All of you have something to do but it just feels like I'm there to stay out of everyone's way."
Vila didn't know how to respond to that. Actually he was afraid to say that 'staying out of danger' was the role he had really assigned her.
Corinne said apologetically, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be complaining. You were very nice to let me come down with you."
Vila felt rotten. He had made Corinne feel useless and he hadn't meant to. All of his life people had tried to make him believe that Deltas were useless and worthless, only good enough to be used by people much better than they were. He never meant to make Corinne feel that way.
He was very apologetic when he said, "You're not useless, Corinne. I'm sorry if I made you feel like that."
Corinne sounded even more apologetic now. "No, it's not your fault. I don't have any experience and I am a liability. I shouldn't have insisted on going down with you. I just…wanted to help."
Vila knew he had to fix this. "You're not a liability."
"You're just being nice because you like me."
"It's not just because I like you. But, you're right, you don't have any experience and I wanted to make sure that you didn't get hurt. I'll tell you what. After this mission is over, you can train with us."
Vila thought that for once he might actually enjoy one of Argus's training sessions. He wondered how long he should wait before asking for another one.
The unhappiness disappeared from Corinne's face. "Really? Then next time you can give me something to do?"
"Yes. I promise."
The second Chandaran group was filling up the teleport room. The time for personal conversations was over.
Cally rushed into the medical unit to check on Avon. She was surprised to find Marlena there looking at the life monitors by Avon's bed. There was a thoughtful look on the woman's face.
Marlena looked up and said, "I hope you don't mind. You're giving up your time helping the others. I thought the least I could do was to look in on your patients while you were away."
Cally said gratefully, "Thank you. I don't mind at all."
Marlena stepped aside to let Cally use the monitors. She reported, "Reya is progressing nicely. Sester seems to have caused some additional stress to his chest injury but I've applied a tissue regenerator and he should be fine."
Cally said absently, "Thank you."
"As for Avon…" Marlena had not been tending to Avon until now, Cally had. She had never seen the life readings for him before. There was a concerned look on her face.
Cally said, "I'm aware of his condition."
"What happened to him?"
Cally always found it hard to talk about what happened to Avon. "He…was a prisoner of the Federation."
A look of sadness and gentle sympathy crossed Marlena's face. "They tortured him?"
Cally's answer caught in her throat and the corner of her eyes felt wet. She knew that Avon was nearing the end but she hadn't wanted to face it. What was she doing running around helping other people? She should be here holding him, giving him comfort. She didn't want his last days to be passed in a drug-induced sleep. Cally hadn't told anyone yet because she knew that he wouldn't want her to. She knew she had to say something soon.
After Avon's last episode, when he was frozen and couldn't move as he held onto her and Vila, Cally had done another comprehensive brain scan with the Justice's equipment. What she found had alarmed her and filled her with dismay. There was marked deterioration in some major areas of his brain and his wave patterns were chaotic. Madness was closing in on him. Soon his mind would shut down altogether because it could no longer cope with the stresses that were tearing him apart.
She didn't know if it was a result of the brain injury or the shock of seeing Grant again and the revelations about Anna. Avon's episodes had been increasing but it had been a steady progression. Now it seemed that he had completely collapsed. She felt helpless and afraid.
Marlena reached out with a hand and touched her gently on the arm. "I know I'm a stranger but I'm here if you need me."
Drops slid down Cally's cheeks and her head bowed. "There's nothing you can do."
Cally could only nod. She put her hand on Avon's head, gently brushing it, trying to send comfort and peace into his mind. Even in sleep, she could feel the turmoil that seeped from his unconscious mind. Chaotic emotions that seemed to leave gaping wounds of pain wherever it touched. Even the sedatives were barely working. That meant that there was nothing left that she could do for him. She rested her hand on his head, trying to reach a mind that could no longer be reached.
Marlena said, "I'm sorry."
"We knew this might happen but we didn't expect it this quickly." Her shoulders were slumped and she was bent over him.
There was a thoughtful expression on Marlena's face again. "My people might be able to help."
Cally looked up quickly at the faint offer of hope. "How?"
"The Tellar Union is advanced in many fields, including that of medicine. Even before I was captured, we were already further ahead than the Federation in some areas. It is possible that they may be able to help."
This was a glimmer of hope but was it enough of one? "He doesn't have much time."
"I thought it might be a week but the sedatives are no longer working. He has two days at most."
Marlena's face fell. "Even with the speed of your ship, we need twice as long. Cally, you shouldn't help us. You should be here with him."
Sester had been making his way slowly towards them. The two women were so caught up in their concern over Avon that they didn’t notice him until he was near and said, "He has longer than that."
Cally directed suspicious and unfriendly eyes towards him. "What do you know?"
Sester had a chastened look on his face. "More than I should."
Marlena looked at him with a puzzled face. She was aware that Cally had hostility towards this man.
Cally asked brusquely, "What did you mean when you said Avon has longer?"
Sester let the sincerity and concern show clearly on his face. "What you need is for Avon to regain control of his mind. You have the means to do that." He went over to the table and picked up the small box that lay unnoticed there. Sester handed it to a suspicious Cally.
She recognized it before she opened it. "These are the drugs you brought from the Detention Centre."
"Yes. Some of them should help bring his mind back under his control. There's just a single dose of each. I couldn't find the rest."
Cally had a sickening feeling. "I destroyed the rest."
Sester sighed. "I was afraid of that. You can't replicate these, not even with your ship's technology. They're too complex. You're going to have to be very careful about keeping stressors away from him. If you do that then you should have more than enough time to reach Tellar."
Cally stared at him, the hostility lessened and she said, "I should have listened to you. I should never have removed all the drugs from his system."
"That's not important now. We need to help Avon."
Cally returned to the teleport room with a less heavy heart than she had before but only slightly less. There was still no solution, only a temporary reprieve that pushed back the inevitable. She couldn't wait until this Chandaran business was over with.
As she made her way through the crowded corridors and entered the teleport room, she saw Vila and Corinne speaking together. There was no cloud hanging over their heads, just light banter and an eager exploration of the other.
Cally had a sense of melancholy. She was happy for Vila but she wondered if it was meant to be a balance of sorts. Just as Vila was gaining a potential partner, she was facing losing hers. She gripped her medical bag tighter, it wouldn't do to break down into tears here. These people needed her. Avon would tell her not to let sentiment interfere with what was more important. But for her, Avon was more important.
It wasn't fair. They barely had enough time to explore each other and their relationship.
Why did she end up losing the most important people in her life? Her own people, the rebels she fought with on Saurian Major, her crewmates and now, the most important one to her on a personal basis.
May you die alone. It was an Auron curse but it seemed to be the theme for her life.
Perhaps I'm the curse. Everyone who is involved with me ends up dying.
Cally knew that rationally it was a silly thought but it was hard not to feel that she was a blight to everyone she cared about. She braced herself and straightened her back. They had a mission to accomplish.
Argus had just directed Zen to go to the next set of coordinates when Marlena returned to the flight deck to join them.
Argus asked, "How's Avon doing?"
Marlena glanced over at her bond-mate and said, "How much has Cally told you?"
Sensing that there was something more serious going on, he leaned towards her. "She said that Avon had another episode and that it's getting worse."
Marlena sat down beside Brent. "Yes. That's correct. She didn't tell me not to say anything but I know that she wanted to tell you herself."
Argus shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "It sounds like he had more than just another episode."
"I'm afraid so but you had better ask Cally for the details. The only thing I can say is that we need to get Avon back to my people as soon as possible."
"They might be able to help him?"
"I'm hoping so."
Argus took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He was torn between saving a friend and defeating the aliens and helping the Chandarans. They were all were important.
President Brent said sympathetically, "If you could lend me a couple of your teams, I'll carry on and stop the aliens. You can take Avon to Tellar."
Argus shook his head. "No. You don't have a hope without the Justice."
"I have to try," said Brent.
Marlena interrupted. "We may be able to do both. Sester has…"
"Sester?" Argus tried to push down the old feelings of hostility and irritation at the mention of the psychostrategist's name. "What did he say?"
Marlena told him, "With his help, Avon's situation isn't as serious as it could have been. I believe he has given us just enough time to take care of both urgencies. From what I understand of what Sester said, the more successful you are at keeping stresses away from Avon, the more time he will have."
Argus was relieved that he wouldn't have to make a difficult decision but he hated having another thing that he owed to Sester. It looked as if the irritant of his life had come through again. He sat back in his seat. "Alright, we'll continue with our plans. I'll speak to Sester and Cally later."
After the planning session, a tired Argus went back to the medical unit. He stood in the doorway for a moment, watching Reya's sleeping form. Avon was also resting, but that was to be expected. The only one who seemed to be up was Sester who was reading something on a datapad.
Argus approached Reya's bed. Sester noticed him and put down the pad. He asked with a smile, "You came to thank me?"
Argus held his temper. Making a promise to give Sester a chance, didn't mean that the man irritated him less. "Marlena said that you helped Avon?"
The smile disappeared from Sester's face. "No. She was mistaken. I was only trying to fix a mistake that I had made in the first place. Unfortunately, it's only a temporary solution. It only gives Avon more time."
Argus turned his eyes towards the other end of the room where Avon was sleeping. "If you can find a permanent solution, I might be able to forget my hostility towards you."
Sester studied him speculatively. "You would do that?"
Argus's head turned slowly back to Sester. "You heard me."
"He's that important to you?"
"You should know that."
Sester smiled. "Yes, I do. What I don't know is why."
Argus's brow furrowed in thought. He had given himself many reasons why Avon had become important to him but none of them had seemed adequate.
Sester could see the play of emotions across the other man's face. It was hardly difficult for someone like him. He remarked, "You don't know either, do you? That's very interesting."
"What are you talking about?"
"Just a psychostrategist's musings. Not something you would be interested in. I just needed to know what price you were willing to pay to help Avon."
Argus grimaced involuntarily as he was reminded of the price he had given to Servalan in order to keep Avon safe. "Now you know. Are you able to help him?"
"Oh, nothing is impossible if I put my mind to it." Sester wasn't about to tell Argus that he would have done it regardless. He wasn't enough of a fool to throw away an advantage if it was delivered into his lap.
The corner of Argus's lips barely avoided a snarl. The man was insufferably arrogant about his abilities.
Reya's sleepy voice asked, "Argus?"
Argus turned to her. "I’m sorry. Did we wake you?"
She rolled her body to face him. "I wanted to wait up for you. I guess I fell asleep."
There was a gentle smile on his face. "You didn’t have to do that. You need your rest."
"Are you going to stay here tonight?"
"If you'll have me again."
Reya smiled. "I don't think I could stop you. You'd probably sleep on the floor if I said there wasn't enough space on the bed."
Argus grinned. "Probably."
Being cooped up in the medical unit, Reya had been feeling out of things. She hated being inactive when everyone else was doing something. "How are the plans? Have you decided on a way to expose the aliens and turn the Chandarans against them?"
Argus said, "Yes, we've outlined something. It's risky and the chance of success is fifty fifty at best. Brent doesn't have much influence anymore but it's our best chance."
"You're going to use Brent to gain access to the leaders of the coup?"
"That's the idea."
Sester's asked, "And what do you plan to do if they don't take the bait? As you said, Brent doesn't have much influence anymore. Why would they want to talk to him? It's not as if he has anything to give them. And after our stunt the last time, they're not going to trust any trade you propose, real or otherwise."
Argus said, "I know that. We were going to create a reason for them. "
"Something clever no doubt." Sester looked at Reya. "But why go to all that trouble when you already have a real reason?"
The way Sester glanced at Reya instantly put Argus on his guard. Something told him that he wasn't going to like this.