The medical unit was empty of other occupants as Cally helped Avon take his shirt off. It slid down his back revealing the scars that still marked his body; an unpleasant reminder of what he had endured for her and a frustrating sign of her failure to remove them.
It made no sense. The advanced tissue regenerators should have been able to remove any physical marks. Nothing in the medical databases had been able to explain it or provide a solution. It was almost as if these scars had a different source other than a physical one. What was even more disturbing was that Avon was still resistant to her attempts to erase them. Cally was always careful when she came in contact with these scars, either in her role as the ship’s medic or in the more intimate setting of their cabin.
No matter how hard Avon tried to suppress his reactions or to mentally convince himself that there was nothing to fear, it always produced an involuntary shudder in his body, at times even repulsion from her touch. Then they would have to stop what they were doing because anything further invoked sensations connected with Servalan; with each moment of pleasure wrapped in pain and a destruction of self.
The shirt was placed on the table next to the bio-bed. Cally noticed his stiffness and his careful movements as he climbed onto the bed and sat on the edge, waiting for her examination.
She picked up a medical scanner, turned it on and pointed the sensor towards him. "Should I bother to ask how you are today? Or have you discovered a new way to say that you're fine?" Despite his protests at her constant monitoring of his condition, they both knew that they enjoyed this game.
A flicker of amusement crinkled the corner of Avon's eyes but he quickly suppressed it and returned to his normal impassive stare. There was a faint tone of petulance as he said, "It doesn't matter what I say. You're only going to believe that machine."
A grin touched Cally's lips and carefully avoiding any scars, she laid her palm lightly on his bared chest. "You mean as opposed to this machine?"
"Perhaps I should reprogram yours?"
Cally lightly placed her hand over his heart. "I would like one to reflect… what is in here."
"I believe the scanner already does that quite adequately. Unless there is a malfunction. Would you like me to take a look at it?" He reached out for it.
She placed the machine behind her back and his arm followed hers. "And have you reprogram it to read that you're fine?"
Avon said mischievously, "Would I do that?" His arm wrapped around her waist, trapping her arm with the scanner behind her.
"I do have other scanners."
Avon grinned and let her go. "So you do."
Cally brought the scanner forward again and proceeded with her examination. "I would like to add something new to your rehabilitation session today."
His eyebrows lifted. "Oh?"
“You’ve been working too hard. Despite my medical advice. The muscles in your back are causing pain and the ones in your neck and shoulders are so tight that you’ve been getting headaches. I felt a massage would be more helpful than your continual use of drugs to alleviate the symptoms.”
“I suppose that any denials to the contrary would be pointless since you’ve obviously checked the medical inventory?”
She said dryly, “You could deny it. That is your choice.”
Avon decided not to say anything. He wondered if she had discovered something else in her check of the inventory.
Cally put the instrument down and said, "The scanner says that there's no change. You're as stubborn as ever."
Avon slid off the bed. It was such a familiar routine that he knew what came next. "You didn't need a scanner to tell you that."
Cally took hold of one of his arms and began to test his range of motion.
Despite his efforts, Avon had an involuntary grimace at one end of the test.
Cally asked, "It's still bothering you?"
He gave her a deliberate smile and said, "No."
"I take it back. You're getting worse," she said with mock exasperation.
After the tests, Cally told him, "Lie down on the bed, faced down."
As he slowly lowered himself onto the bed, an unwanted memory surfaced from the depths of Avon's mind.
A familiar hated voice inside his head. No questions, just lie down on the bed, faced down.
Servalan! A hot knife of pain accompanied the memory. Avon hissed through clenched teeth and his whole body stiffened in reaction to the agony from his back. He stifled a groan.
"Avon!" Cally exclaimed in alarm as she placed her hand on his back just in time to feel the muscles spasm.
Avon was caught halfway between lying down and trying to lie down, hardly a comfortable or useful position to be in. And it was doing his back no good either.
Cally rushed to get the required medication and injected them into him.
Avon breathed a sigh of relief as the pain faded and his muscles relaxed enough for him to lie down with Cally's help.
She felt gently along his spine as she asked, "Why didn't you tell me that it was this bad?"
Avon’s continued refusal to acknowledge his physical disabilities until they became too much for him to deny made Cally sigh and say with light sarcasm, "You mean, not with the drugs masking the pain?"
Avon tried to roll over to face her but only managed to turn his head. "No. Not until just now."
He knew they couldn’t continue with what Cally wanted to give him. It would bring up too many memories he wanted to remain buried. Avon reached out and grabbed her hand. "Cally. No massage. Not right…" He let go of her hand and said again. "No massage."
There was such tension in Avon's voice that it alarmed her. She asked gently, "Do you want to tell me why?"
There was no response and he was no longer trying to look at her.
Cally put a comforting hand on his back and focused on sending him mental ripples of peace and reassurance. "I know what you've been doing lately. All of the efforts you’ve made to relate with people. You want to give everyone what you think we need, because you don’t think you have much longer. You don’t have any confidence that…"
A strangled-sounding voice from the bed said, "Don't…"
"But what about what you need, Avon?" With her hand resting on Avon’s back, she could feel him tense again.
His voice was flat but not because it had no emotion, but because it had no hope. "Does it matter anymore? What purpose would it serve?"
Cally placed herself so that he could see her face without having to move. In a voice that sounded almost angry but was really fear spurring her to try to break through his dangerous mood, she said, "It matters to me." She took hold of his hand. "Do you think it would make me feel any better if your fears came true; knowing that your last days were spent denying your own pain so that you can give us some pleasant memories? Avon, what logic possessed you to think this is what we would want?"
Avon's eyes were full of pain, guilt and struggle when his eyes met hers but he managed to keep most of it out of his voice, except for the words that came haltingly. "I…didn't know what to do. When… I was a prisoner with Reya. In the cell. She thought she was going to die. She asked me to…it was important to her…to leave a message…for Argus. She wanted to give him something."
"So because of her example, you decided that you had to give us something too? So you have been giving Vila the friend you thought he needed and you gave me the Avon you thought I wanted?"
A reluctant admission escaped Avon's lips. "Yes."
"Are you saying that what you’ve been giving us is not real?"
Avon grabbed onto her arm again. "No! Yes. The sentiments…" The words contained a raw pain, as if someone was deliberately cutting him open, without the benefit of an anaesthetic, in order to reveal the living heart beating inside. "Were real. The words were true. The Avon, is one…I could be. Someday."
"If you choose?" She covered his hand with hers. "Avon, is this something you would want?"
Avon's eyes were still locked on hers; like a drowning man unable to let go of a lifeline. Whenever he needed someone to bring him out of his deep depressions, she was always there. She wanted the truth from him and he had to give it to her.
Avon pulled her arm towards him and with great effort rolled his body until he could place her hand over the left side of his chest. "I…want it. Here." He touched his fingers to his temple. "It's not as easy, here." His hand dropped and he stared at her for a moment and then his lips curved in a smile. "It requires some reprogramming."
As Cally helped him get up from the bed, Avon asked, "No more massage?"
"Not until you're ready."
With sudden viciousness, Avon said, "Not until Servalan is dead."
Cally’s voice reflected his. "Shall we do it now?"
He stared at her change in attitude and the fierceness on her face, then his eyes softenened and Avon asked with amusement, "You mean go and kill her now? This must be a very special massage."
His unexpectedly lighter tone caused her to say wryly, "I suppose we should wait until you're fully recovered." She picked up his shirt and handed it to him. Her tone changed again and she said softly but with firm belief, "You will recover, Avon."
Avon took the shirt and stared at it without putting it on. If hope could be borrowed from someone else, it might have sounded like the hesitant words that came from his lips, "I will."
Vila looked nervously at Corinne's mother as she stood in his cabin. She had never come to visit him before. He had two choices, well, three but he was too squeamish to kill himself. Either he could invite her to sit down or he could excuse himself and run.
Why was there never an option four when you needed one?
Vila's voice was an octave higher than normal when he asked, "Would you like…" He coughed several times to clear the nervousness from his throat. Fortunately, it worked and he was able to sound more like his normal anxious self, "Would you like to sit down?" He offered her a chair.
Marlena sat and gave him a friendly and reassuring smile. Vila liked these kinds of smiles. There were fewer chances that he was in trouble when someone gave him one of these. Of course, he had been known to be wrong before. Not often but there was that one time on Gitel Major and the glowing hoops dancer... Not to say that Marlena was one of those. What on Earth was he thinking? Running seemed good about now. Maybe he should do that before option three started looking good too.
Wait a minute. Why should he be nervous? It wasn't as if he'd done anything. Yet. Suddenly the friendly look in Marlena's eyes didn't seem that friendly. On the other hand maybe he was just being paranoid or feeling guilt he was sure was going to come into it someday.
Marlena had a warmth to her personality that could reassure almost anyone. Unless you felt guilty about something which was really nothing but you felt guilty anyways. Evidently, warmth couldn't overcome a wildly imaginative and irrational guilt.
Marlena said, "You don't have to be nervous, Vila."
Vila's voice had gone annoyingly above baritone again, which is a nice way of saying he just barely missed sounding like a soprano. "I don't?" He settled down again under Marlena's continued friendly manner. "Of course, I don't. Nothing happened."
All right, maybe he shouldn't have added that last bit.
Marlena's eyes gleamed with amusement. "I believe you."
Vila found that even though he was nervous enough for ten people, he liked Marlena and he respected her a great deal. Anyone who had gone through what she had, tended to come out angry, bitter and bent on revenge. Not Marlena.
Apart from how Vila felt about Corinne, he didn't want to do anything that would disappoint someone he respected. He swallowed nervously and said, "I like your daughter. Very much."
"I know, Vila. She likes you very much too. That is part of the reason why I asked her to come with us to Tellar so that you could have more time together."
Vila said with surprise, "It is?"
"I appreciate that you've taken your time with Corinne. You must recognize that she isn't experienced in the ways of men like yourself."
"I've noticed." It was very strange talking about this with the mother of someone you're interested in.
"I have taught her to be able to defend herself from unwanted attentions."
Vila's words came out in a rush, "I won't hurt her."
"I know you won't, Vila. I trust you. As does Corinne. And her father." Marlena smiled. "At least he does now."
"Are you sure?"
"Yours is not an unwanted attention. You have proven yourself to be a good man and you have good companions. We support whatever relationship may develop between the two of you. You are both independent adults. I just ask you to be careful with her. She is well equipped with all that I could teach her but she is inexperienced."
Vila didn't know why he had been so nervous. "I’ll take care of her. If she wants.”
Marlena said, “Thank you, Vila.”
“Marlena!” A tall, angular woman with sharp eyes rushed forward to greet her as the crew came into the Council meeting chambers. She hugged her warmly, almost crushing her with the force of her joy. “It’s good to see you! We thought you were dead. There are so many people who want to see you.”
“Alyse?” Marlena was in tears as she clung onto a friend she thought she would never see again. She waved Corinne towards her, “And this is my daughter, Corinne.” No more words were possible as the emotions of coming home overwhelmed her.
Alyse held out her hand and included Corinne as well. “We have much to talk about, my friend.” The people in the Council chambers surrounded Marlena and Corinne and there was great joy as they added their greetings, hugs and kisses.
Argus and the others stood by the side almost unnoticed, trying not to interrupt the emotional reunion.
Alyse approached them with a welcoming smile and held out both hands to him. “I did not mean to ignore you and your crew, Drel Argus. It was too much of a shock to see Marlena again after all these years. Welcome to the Tellar Union.”
Following what he assumed may be the custom here, Argus held out his as well and said, “We understand. Your name is Alyse?”
The woman lightly grasped his forearms in greeting. “Yes. I am Alyse Vail, the current Coordinator of the Council of Tellar.”
Argus grasped hers in return.
Avon asked curiously, “You are the leader of the Tellar Union?”
Alyse let go of Argus, turned her welcoming smile to Avon and said, “You must be Kerr Avon.”
It always made Avon nervous when other people seemed to know a lot more about him than he did about them. This disparity of information was a danger that needed to be resolved as soon as possible. Avon answered guardedly. “I am.”
Alyse tilted her head slightly and regarded him with curiosity. “To answer your question, I provide leadership when it is required but my main function is to facilitate the work of others and provide coherent direction.”
Avon asked, “Hence the name Coordinator?”
Alyse said to Argus, “I will introduce the others in the Council when they are free. The majority of them are here.”
Argus made his own introductions. “You already seem to know who we are but this is Cally, our medical officer, Vila, the access engineer, Sester, and you’ve met Avon.”
Alyse seemed genuinely pleased to meet them. “You are all welcome here. We look forward to getting to know each of you.”
Avon asked, “Why?”
Alyce viewed him with interest. “It disturbs you that we know so much about you, Avon?”
Ever the realist, Avon said, “Information is a powerful weapon.”
“Or a tool which can be used for both good or bad.”
Avon countered, “Intentions are not everything. It is actions which count in the end.”
“You speak as one with experience,” said Alyce.
“What does your information tell you of me?” asked Avon.
Alyce’s face was full of compassion, “It tells me that you have been looking for answers.”
This woman’s self-assurance and warmth made Avon uneasy. But even more unnerving was the feeling that, like Cally, she understood far more about him than was comfortable. His voice did not allow her any quarter and his manner remained cold, “Does your information tell you if I’ve found any?”
Alyce’s eyes reflected a faint sadness, “Part of you decided long ago that you would never find any except the ones you did not want. Part of you hates yourself because despite your best efforts, you are still susceptible to hope. You consider it a weakness because it has given you nothing but pain and bitterness.”
“Hope is irrational.”
Alyce glanced at Cally and then Avon. “Many things are irrational but we do them nonetheless.”
Cally asked, “Why do you know so much about us?”
Alyce said, “We know what we need to know because we are also looking for hope. It is difficult to face the darkness alone.”