8th Story of Perceptions
Sequel to Regrets
Reya asked, "Is there something I can do to help?"
Argus winced. Involving Reya was the last thing he wanted to do. It ranked right up there with other things that ended with, "over my dead body."
Sester said, "Did President Brent tell you the implications of being a Champion of Chandar?"
Reya struggled up to a sitting position while Argus helped her. He was staring daggers at Sester. Reya said, "No, he didn't."
Sester caught Argus's eyes. "I know what you're thinking. She's not going to be in any danger. All she has to do is to assert her rights as a Champion. You can do the rest."
The look on Argus's face told him that it had better be just that.
Sester gave him a friendly smile. "You know I would never risk Reya any more than you would."
Argus had to remind himself that Sester was only trying to help. He just wished the man wouldn't be so irritating while doing it.
Reya looked between the two men. She said with a none too amused tone, "Can you both include me in this conversation?"
Argus said apologetically, "I'm sorry. You're right."
Sester said, "It was rude of us. My apologies."
Reya asked, "What are these rights of a Champion?"
A smile appeared on Sester's face. "You'll find these interesting."
While the soldiers scouted out the next location, Vila was watching Cally carefully as she concentrated on using her psi abilities. Corinne hovered silently behind them, keeping out of the way.
Vila asked, "What do you think, Cally?"
Cally opened her eyes. "I don't like it. There's far too much hostility at this location. I get the impression that they're waiting for something."
Vila asked nervously, "Or someone? Like us?"
Cally looked around the corner at the commercial plaza they were watching. Everything seemed normal but she knew that it wasn't. "It's hard to say with any certainty but attentions are far too high here. Any additional activity might raise alarms."
"We don't want to be doing that. We're going to have to find a better place to put them down. Somewhere a lot safer."
"I think you're right."
Vila pressed the comm button on his teleport bracelet. "This is Vila to team three; we're going back to the ship. This isn't a good location. Rendezvous back here." All of the team members acknowledged.
Vila said, "Corinne." He turned to look behind him. There was no Corinne in sight.
Sester propped his pillow up and made himself comfortable as he told Reya and Argus about the significance of a Champion of Chandar.
He told them, "Another title for the Champion is the Guardian of Chandar."
Argus asked impatiently, "What difference does it make what they're called?"
"Oh it makes a great deal of difference. Guardian is actually a more accurate term. Function-wise."
Reya asked, "You mean that the title is more than ceremonial or an indication of achievement?"
"Yes, I knew someone might understand."
Argus glared at him.
Sester smothered a smile. Even though he was trying to help, he couldn't help needling the man.
"Oh much more than that. Because the Chandarans place such a high value on physical and military prowess, those whose achievements mark them as exceptional are entrusted with safeguarding the values and tradition of Chandar."
Reya said determinedly, "I'm not about to uphold anything they value here."
Sester resisted an urge to tell her that she was irresistible when she was being firm and dangerous. "I believe you also are entitled to some lands and various monetary compensations. And a seat on their ruling council."
Argus said, "I begin to see the value for us in this title."
Sester responded, "I don't think you do."
Reya asked, "What else is there?"
Sester gave her an encouraging smile, "There is one thing the Champions can do that not even someone on the ruling council can do. It has to do with their roles as Guardians. That means that you can call out anyone to a Challenge. It is usually a public challenge with full coverage by all the viz cast services. About 500 years ago, before the Champions became what they are today, the President then was a lunatic. He had to be removed but he was also a charismatic, vicious and vindictive man who had a lot of followers. Everyone was afraid of crossing him and no one was able to stand up to him. One of the Champions at the time was a man named Traber. He challenged the President. Traber died of course and not a pleasant death from the accounts but it sparked an uprising because he was a popular and respected man. The President was toppled and the next President instituted a formal role for the Champion of Chandar in light of what Traber had done. It's only been used twice since it became a formal office. If the Champion cannot prove his case and win, then he is stripped of his title and is banished. He has to be sure of what he's doing but there is one advantage, something they didn't bother to tell you. A Champion is protected from political reprisals. He cannot be touched or removed except by the President who installed him, by personal refusal, or by banishment as the result of a failed Challenge."
Argus looked at Reya. He could already tell from the set of her jaw and the fierceness in her eyes that she was determined to issue a Challenge. He was afraid for her but he also loved her even more.
Vila was frantic. Corinne was missing and Cally was sensing a lot of hostility around them due to some unknown cause. The only place he knew she wasn't was the commercial square in front of them. She couldn't have gotten past them without being noticed. He was about to send the soldiers back out to look for her when Cally said, "Vila!" She pointed in the direction of the avenue which led to the commercial square. Vila nearly had a heart attack. Corinne was casually walking along as if she had all the time in the world.
Vila nearly pulled her around the corner when she came within grabbing distance. "What did you think you were doing?!"
Corinne became anxious. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to worry you. You and Cally were busy and I didn't want to disturb you. I saw someone I recognized, one of my father's old attendants. I thought I might be able to find out some information for you. I thought I finally had a chance to do something useful." She looked so guilty and unhappy that Vila didn't have the heart to be angry for long. Corinne had meant well but she didn't seem to appreciate the danger she had put herself in. He was going to have to keep a closer eye on her in future.
Vila said, "Corinne, next time can you tell me first before you go off? I was about to have everyone go back to the ship but I couldn't find you."
"I'm sorry I worried you."
Corinne still looked so unhappy that Vila said, "It's alright. I know you were trying to help. I was just worried is all. I don't want anything to happen to you."
Cally asked Corinne, "Did you find anything out from your father's old attendant?"
"Yes. He was surprised to see me but he told me that someone is going to go on the public viz cast tomorrow and declare himself as President. Not everyone is happy about it."
Later that night, after the last of the Chandarans had been returned to the planet, it was time to help Avon. Only Marlena and Sester were watching as Cally administered the drugs from the Detention Centre. It was felt that the fewer the people the better when they did this.
Cally's perceptions were open, touching the shape of Avon's mind and being aware of any changes in the flow of emotions that were constant now. If it weren't for his innate protective wall that shut people out, she knew that she would be as overwhelmed as he was.
They all stood waiting and hoping as Cally gave Avon the last one. After allowing the drugs a few moments to work their way into his system, Marlena asked, "Any change?"
Cally could feel fewer bursts of emotions escaping from behind the wall of Avon's mental prison. There was still an active undercurrent of emotions but they were no longer overwhelming his mind. "It seems to be. The intensity of the emotions has decreased."
Sester said, "That's good."
Cally took another injector from the table. "I'll try to wake him up." She entered the settings for a mild stimulant mixture that had a heart stabilization component and applied it to Avon's arm. She could feel him come awake. His eyes moved beneath lids that were still closed.
Avon's eyes opened and he saw her looking worriedly down at him.
Cally felt a strong flash of love and concern from him, along with confusion.
Avon asked, "Cally? What happened?"
She asked, "You don't remember?"
"The last thing I remember is being here, trying to get some sleep."
"You don't remember talking to me or Vila?"
Cally could feel fear and frustration emanating from him as he wracked his mind for any recollections of what she was referring to. This was not the Avon she was used to. His emotions were much more controlled than this. She should not be able to sense every nuance of his response to what was happening to him, not until it became a much more urgent and he couldn't hold it back. Whatever the drugs did, it wasn't enough. She would have to be careful.
She tried to calm him down by sending him encouragement and peace as she said, "It's alright. Don't worry about it."
She realized immediately that Avon was not the kind of person who could let things go once it entered his mind. Especially not something that impacted him.
The fear in Avon's mind increased and began to override all other emotions. It was too late. He grabbed her arm. "Tell me!" The panic increased as he looked down at what he was doing. He let go of her in shock as if her arm had suddenly burned him. "Cally…" Feelings of guilt; and more panic and fear, this time for her. He couldn't protect her from himself. He shouted in desperation, the sound coming out in a choking cry. "Cally!" He was panting and his heart was racing so hard that it threatened to escape from his chest.
Through their connection, Cally was caught up in what he was feeling. The emotions were so strong that she couldn't think. The only thing she could do was to talk hold of his arm in return, trying to anchor him so that the emotions would not sweep away his mind.
Avon suddenly slumped forward and his eyes closed. The overpowering emotions faded, releasing them both.
Sester's voice was full of concern as he asked, "Cally, are you alright?" With surprise, she felt his arms around her shoulders, holding her up. He guided her to a chair nearby.
Marlena was checking on Avon. In her hand was a bio-injector. Cally realized that they must have put Avon out again.
Cally said, "I'm alright." She tried to get up to go to Avon but Sester gently held her down.
He said, "Not yet. Give yourself some time. You've suffered a great shock." Sester let go of her.
Cally asked, "I don't understand what happened. I thought the drugs were supposed to stop this."
Sester gave it some thought. "I can only guess but from what I understand about the drugs, they don't control Avon's mind, they control the circumstances under which it functions. The actual control still rests with him."
"That doesn't make any sense. If the control still relies on him then how does it work?"
"That's where the surgery comes in. There were things done to his brain that adjusted the way his mind works, such as his ability to process emotional responses. Normally Avon has a great deal of emotional control. It's one of his defining characteristics. It hampered greatly our efforts at psychological manipulation. Using microsurgery, the Centre specialists were able to interfere with that control, leaving him vulnerable. Other things were also done to adjust and train his mind to magnify emotional responses far beyond the point where he could handle them. It facilitated the effectiveness of the nightmares."
Cally said angrily, "That's monstrous!"
Sester grimaced at a strong stab of guilt. "Yes. It is. He left us no choice. If his mind hadn't been as strong, we wouldn't have had to employ such drastic measures."
Marlena had come over and heard what Sester said. "Are the adjustments reversible? Did they destroy areas of his brain in order to achieve this control?" There was no recrimination in her voice, just a desire to understand.
Sester faced her. "I don't know enough about it. All I know is that they started to give him the drugs because without them, it's very difficult for him to maintain control. They flushed the drugs from his system when we wanted to torture him."
Cally said with dismay, "That's what we've been doing to him?"
"I tried to tell you."
Her voice was tight with accusation. "No, you didn't. You only said not to remove the drugs. You never said why!"
"I didn't think you'd believe me. You were all very suspicious of anything I said or did. You still are but the situation is more desperate now. You don't have a choice."
Marlena asked calmly, "Why aren't the drugs working now?"
"Well, my guess is that they are. It's Avon's mind that is not. Subconsciously he must believe that he no longer has control. Even if he tries, he's convinced himself that it's no use and he's going to fail. Somehow it's bypassing what the drugs allow him to do."
Marlena asked, "You mean that he's doing this to himself but he doesn't realize it?"
"Yes. That's what I'm saying."
Marlena's quiet calm had helped Cally settle down and focus on a solution rather than the source of the blame. She asked, "Then what can we do? If I bring him around then his mind goes out of control. I can't reach him when he's like that. I don't have enough time to tell him what's happening."
Sester said, "You need to distract his mind."
Cally asked, "You mean with something that will not produce an emotional response? Something technical?"
Sester nodded slowly. "That might work. When you brought him around, for a few moments, he was stable."
"What was he experiencing?"
Cally remembered back to the sense impressions she got from Avon in those few moments when he was conscious. "There were emotions but calm ones. Love. Happiness…"
"That was when he saw you?"
"Yes. There was some concern because he recognized where we were. He didn't seem to remember what happened. Then there was confusion and fear."
"He was processing where he was and when he realized there was a problem, that was when the other emotions surface?"
Sester's mind was actively focused. "Then I don't think that merely presenting him with a technical problem or a puzzle to solve will be enough to prevent his mind from trying to understand his environment. That understanding is endemic to his survival. You can't stop it from happening."
Cally asked worriedly, "Then what can we do? How can I reach him?"
Sester looked at her for a moment, studying her face and her manner. He was trying to decide how open she would be to discussing something much more personal. "You still need to distract his mind but the distraction has to be strong enough to prevent him from thinking about his situation. At least long enough for you to be able to reach him. Something that will put him off his guard and make him more receptive to you."
Cally could see that he already had an idea but was hesitant to mention it. "What would do that?"
"When the two of you are ‘together' does he allow you closer access to his mind? Is he less guarded and more receptive? Does he concentrate fully on you and nothing else? You realize that I'm talking about on a personally intimate level."
Cally paused. This was very personal. "Yes. That does happen."
"I had guessed as much. It's a primal instinct. It's one of the few times he's operating mainly out of the right side of his brain. He trusts you enough to allow you to get past the barriers of his mind."
"Yes." Cally looked over towards the subject of their conversation. Even now, there was stress on Avon's face. "I'll try it but not here."
Sester said, "Of course. We will still need to be with you for the beginning, in case you need us. But we'll leave once we see that it's working. Once he is relaxed enough to allow you access to his mind, you can tell him what he needs to know but do it carefully."
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