Argus hovered anxiously. He was standing as close as he could to the red energy screen in one of the critical care rooms. The opaque surgical barrier concealed the area where Cally and Marlena were trying to repair the damage to Reya’s lungs and chest.
Argus’s fists opened and closed with the tension of feeling helpless. There was nothing he could do except wait and hope. The light reddish tinge to the screen made him uncomfortable. It reminded him of the colour of blood; Reya's blood as it slowly bled out of her injured body. He thought the builders of this ship must be callous sadists to make it a colour that would remind him of his failure and her pain.
Avon entered and watched the preoccupied man for a moment before he said, “Everyone’s back on the ship.”
“What?” Argus belatedly registered what he was saying. “Good. What’s the situation on the planet?”
“Choatic but the Champions are providing leadership.”
Argus turned around and stared at him. “Do you think it’ll work?”
“The Commander staked her life on it.”
Argus flinched at yet another reminder of what was going on behind the screen that hid the person he most wanted to see. With a loud thump, he hit his fist against the frame of the bed next to him. "I know she did. That’s not what I asked.”
What he desperately needed to hear was that Reya's sacrifice was not going to be for nothing. He couldn't bear the thought of that on top of everything else.
Avon paused for a moment. He stared blankly at Argus's sudden outburst of emotion. The reaction told Avon that what he had said, while accurate, was making the situation worse. He hadn't intended that.
The other man didn't seem phased or uncomfortable with his own emotions, unlike himself.
Avon wondered what it was like to be that much at ease with one's own humanity. He'd never had it himself and it had never occurred to him to ask why that was until now. Why was he different? It wasn't as if he didn't have emotions. To him they had always been forces he battled with until he could wrestle them into the background where they couldn't interfere with the operation of his mind, or they won and made him someone others would consider human. Those emotions that tended to dominate even a mind such as his; anger, fear and the most inexplicable one that others would recognize as caring or the most foolishly optimistic, as love.
As he stared at Argus, he could read the play of emotions across the other man's face as if they were living entities that had taken him over and fought to have expression; fear, guilt, pain, despair, helplessness. Avon felt his own twinge of emotions as Argus's naked feelings stirred up memories of his own from the Detention Centre.
But what the other man was experiencing were only distantly related to his own. Argus was having these because of someone else's pain, not his own. There was one other emotion that he recognized, the most and least understandable of all to him, the one that made people do things against all reason.
It didn't take an emotionally conversant man to recognize Argus's need for reassurance. Which was fortunate considering Argus was turning to him for that support. “Sester’s assessment was sound. As was his strategy.”
Argus said with self-incriminating bitterness, “It wasn’t sound enough to prevent her from nearly being killed.”
Avon felt ill-equipped to be anyone's support. It required someone more sensitive to the needs of others. What he needed was Cally. Avon played with the idea of reaching out to her with his mind. He knew she always kept an active awareness of him these days. It was irritating at times, comforting at others and could be downright useful in times like this.
He decided to apply his own mind to the problem. He was intelligent, he should be able to manage something. Argus was asking him. He was trusting him. Of course, if it didn't work, he always had the Cally contingency.
He could see that Argus was full of guilt and he was doing something he had a predictable tendency to do, which was to rationalize everything as his own fault. Avon said with the dispassionate tone of a man whose logic was inescapable, “Sester warned us of the dangers but he also gave us the odds of success. Unfortunately one does not preclude the other. There was no way to predict that the Andromedans had taken over so many of the Champions. The Commander knew that and accepted the risk and you honoured her decision.”
Argus's eyes were staring down at the bed. He seemed to withdraw into himself.
Avon wondered if Argus had even heard what he said. Perhaps it was for the best. His attempt at interpreting and giving the other man what was needed was feeble at best, hampered by his own limitations.
Argus had heard what Avon said and recognized that the other man was trying to help. In some ways, Avon's deliberately emotionless presentation of the facts had given him an avenue to look at things more objectively. Reya needed him. She was the one person who could disturb his professional calm and the normal discipline that was needed to prevent the uncontrollable side of himself from escaping.
The others needed a leader who didn't fall apart under personal considerations. It was one thing to be moved by emotions, another thing entirely to lose his mind and become someone the others couldn't depend on.
He lifted his head to look at Avon and briefly put a hand on the other man's shoulder, "Thanks. I know you're right but…"
"This is an occasion when knowledge and emotion do not agree?"
Argus said with a momentary wry smile, "I'd be lucky if they didn't start a pitched battle." Another thought caused Argus to barely manage to prevent a snarl from appearing on his face. “I hate it when he’s right.”
Avon didn't need psi abilities to know who he was referring to. In this they were both agreed. Avon’s voice became like the cold of space. “If he wasn’t, we would have no use for him.”
“I suppose you’re right.” Argus turn back to the energy screen, trying in vain to penetrate it with a hard look from his eyes.
Avon leaned back against a tall supplies cabinet and crossed his arms. “They know what they’re doing.”
Argus turned back to look at him. “I know. But it doesn’t help. And before you say there’s no point in worrying, you can save your breath. I can’t believe that you wouldn’t be worried if it was Cally in there.”
Avon tilted his head to regard him as he thought about this. “Perhaps you’re right.”
Argus sat down heavily on chair and expelled a worried and frustrated breath. It didn’t make him feel any more comfortable so he immediately got up again.
Avon watched all of this aggravated activity with an impassive look on his face but with a bit of curiosity in his eyes.
Argus suddenly fixed him with an intense stare and said, “You’re not a machine, Avon.”
A thin curl of amusement formed on Avon’s lips at this unexpected interjection. “Many people would disagree with you.”
“Yes, I know. You’ve said it quite a few times since I’ve met you and I haven’t believed a single one.” Argus released Avon’s eyes and returned to futiley trying to penetrate the energy barrier again with his intense stare.
Avon was about to respond but saw that Argus was no longer thinking about this topic. He wanted to know why was this man so certain about him. But there was no use in trying to engage Argus in any kind of conversation now except ones concerning Reya.
The energy barrier turned from red to light blue and they were finally able to see inside. Cally and Marlena were on either side of the surgical bed, looking at the readings on various monitors. Argus crowded the energy barrier as close as he could.
Reya’s face was pale and her eyes were closed. The band of a machine was extended across her chest. Because of the covering, he couldn’t tell how she was breathing.
Cally and Marlena finished what they were doing and came towards him. As they passed through the energy barrier, it seemed to flash orange and then became blue again.
In an anxious voice, Argus asked, “How is she?”
A tired-faced Cally said with a pleased smile, “She’s going to be fine. The surgery went well. We were able to repair most of the damage.”
“When...can I see her?” Argus looked like a man who had suffered a severe injury as well.
Cally didn’t need her psi abilities to tell her that Argus and Reya were tied closely together. When one was injured, the other felt the pain as well.
She said in gentle voice, “She won’t wake up for a couple of hours but you can go in to see her. The energy screen will remove any contaminants from you as you pass through it.”
Argus said in the tone of a man who had just been given a reprieve, “Thank you. Both of you.”
Marlena said, “It’s my pleasure.”
Cally touched her hand to Argus’s arm. “You had better go in and see her. We’ll be here if either one of you need anything.”
Argus wasn’t listening anymore, he was already headed towards the bed. The screen flashed for a moment as he passed through the barrier, cleansing him of anything that would harm Reya. He wished there was a device like that to keep all danger away from her.
The sound of breathing could be a wonderful thing when your greatest fear had been no breathing at all. It could produce a calming effect that was more potent than any music. Argus picked up Reya’s hand and closed his eyes and listened.
When you think that time is limited, you don’t want to waste any moment of it. Even if it means doing something that may not seem important to you but does to someone else. If it were up to Avon, he would spend the rest of his time improving the ship and working on technology that would protect Cally after he was gone. But he was aware now that for her as it had been for him at the Detention Centre, being alive wasn’t enough. Cally had to have a reason to live. She needed memories she could hold onto.
After his semi-successful attempt to help Argus, Avon turned his attentions to Cally.
After Cally had emerged from behind the protective screen and Argus had gone in to see Reya, Avon said, “You look tired.”
Cally said, “I feel tired.”
Marlena offered, “I can stay with her. Why don’t you go with Avon?”
Cally said, “Thank you for your help. I couldn’t have done it without you. I’ve never performed surgery of this nature before.”
Marlena smiled, “You did quite well. The advanced medical technology of your ship made it much easier. You should be able to handle it on your own now that you’ve seen it done.”
Cally said wryly, “Having medical texts and vid examples don’t make up for real practical experience. There were some things you showed me that weren’t in the files.”
“As you said, some things can only be learned by experience. I was glad to be of assistance.”
Cally knew that the advanced medical equipment of the ship was only valuable if she knew how to use them. The tissue regenerators, the various scanners and the recognizable drugs were all things they had used but there were many others that she only knew the function of. The ability to use them without killing the patients was another matter altogether. Just as brain surgery belonged to specialists the use of some if this powerful equipment should only be attempted by those who knew what to do with them.
Before she left with Avon, Cally said to Marlena, “It was much appreciated.”
Marlena looked thoughtfully after them.
In the corridor just outside his cabin, Vila had a momentary stunned look on his face. Corinne had come racing towards him, hugged him, thanked him and given him a kiss on the cheek. He could barely remember in which order it had occurred.
He wondered if someone had told her that this was a customary greeting between people from Earth. Vila certainly hoped not.
He asked with amazement, "What was that for?"
"You and your friends are wonderful!" she said breathlessly as if she had raced in from somewhere. "I was watching on a vid monitor one of the engineers was nice enough to set up for me."
That certainly pricked Vila's ears up. "Which engineer?" He thought he should start keeping track of who else was being nice to Corinne other than him. Vila was trying to be realistic. Corinne was a beautiful woman and he didn't want to be ignorant of the competition.
He knew he wasn't the most handsome man on the ship and his physique was hardly anything to boast about. Being a Delta most of his life, he was used to how others viewed him and despite his best efforts, it had determined how he saw himself. So he needed all the advantages he could get.
Corinne reacted in surprise at the unexpected tone in his voice. Her face turned into a worried frown. "Did I do something wrong? I wasn't trying to take up his time."
The suspicion on Vila's face softened. "No no. You didn't do anything wrong. I just wanted to make sure that…never mind. You don't have to thank me. The Commander was the brave one."
"Yes! She was magnificent! And so were you!" There was a radiant smile on her face. "You were all so brave and you care about people."
For a moment Vila thought she was going to kiss him again. Not that he would mind.
Corinne said, "I wish I could be like you."
Vila liked being thought of as brave and wonderful, especially by someone who was beautiful and he liked a lot. But for some reason, he felt he had to be truthful with her. "Well, to be honest, I didn't feel very brave. I was scared the whole time. My knees were knocking so hard, I'm sure everyone saw it."
"But that makes you even more special. You're afraid. It takes a lot more courage to do what you did."
Vila disagreed. He didn't feel that what he did should be compared with what Reya had done. "What the Commander did was much more than I did. She was willing to die to help people who tortured her and wanted her dead. I just…couldn't leave them."
"You did it because they're your friends?"
"Well…yes." Until now, Vila hadn't realized that he was shivering. The stress and danger of what he had done on the planet was finally starting to catch up with him.
Corinne's eyes held warmth and then sharp concern as she asked, "What's wrong, Vila?"
"I…this happens sometimes when I've been too scared. It'll go away after I get some sleep."
Without warning Corinne hugged him again but this time she didn't let go. Her body felt warm and seemed to help somewhat. It was nice to have someone who cared enough to hug him when he needed it. He pushed her away gently. "You'd better go. Before…"
"Did I do something wrong again?" she asked with the uncertainty of an outworlder facing the customs of Earth for the first time.
"No. You do everything right. It's me that might do something…well…something that wouldn't be a good idea right now. I can't really explain." He hoped that Corinne wouldn't ask for more details.
Corinne looked disappointed and still concerned. “Are you sure you’re going to be alright?”
“Yes. I’ll be fine. Do you want to meet for breakfast? Not too early?"