Sester sat back and observed as the central Tellaran Council listened to Marlena and Argus speaking. Observation was barely adequate as a description of what he was doing. Psychostrategists didn’t just watch, they delved beneath the surface in order to find truth; objectively studying a myriad of details and nuances such as the Tellaran Council chambers.
The room reflected the character of its designers and to an extent of the people that used it. It was a circular meeting room with tiered levels of seats behind curved tables. As far as he could tell, the Council members sat in loosely functional groupings. There was no real hierarchy that he could discern. There were scattered individuals who seemed to command more respect than the others did. The tiers were for functional purposes rather than any indication of precedence or rank. Argus and the team were seated together near Alyce.
As part of his overall analysis Sester's eyes took in the colours of the room and let them wash over his mind, allowing them to blend and impact him on a visceral level. The blue and green hues of the walls radiated a comfort and peace that would produce a soothing effect if he allowed them to. However, he was an observer, not a participant in the room at the moment so he filed it away.
There were embellishments of yellow in various places, most noticeably making up one of the three intertwining circles in the symbol of the Tellar Union. The brighter colour added a strong splash of energy; conveying an impression of vibrant spirits and friendly cheerfulness.
Peace. Reflection. Caring. Friendliness. Energy. Those were what the colours conveyed to him. Whether it was a true reflection of the Tellar people remained to be seen.
Sester’s mind turned from the observation of non-living things to the living as Marlena began speaking. His eyes slowly swept the curved chamber, positioning each Council member by sight. Soon he would be able to close his eyes, envision them in his mind, and begin building each one as a construct of name, face, body, posture, voice, mannerisms and a myriad of other things. All the factors essential for a psychostrategist to be able to understand the human element they were so good at manipulating.
There was hushed silence as Marlena recounted her experiences to the Council, telling them about her capture and treatment by the Chandarans. There was a hint of tension and pain in her voice that was reflected in the looks of sympathy around the room. There were other conflicting looks; a natural propensity for peace disturbed by a rising anger. But layered over that was an overriding desire to understand.
Marlena quickly moved onto her relationship with Brent. Here her tone changed. She lingered over the details of discovery about Brent and his people, his desire to free her, her decision to stay in order to help them and their combined efforts to facilitate Brent's rise to a position where he could make a difference.
Sester studied each face intently as they reacted to Marlena's account. There was compassion and sympathy on their faces as she told them about her ordeals. He noted the way some of them leaned forwards to catch every word, while others leaned back with eyes half-lidded, listening intently or still others whose faces reflected her emotions like a reflecting surface.
They were all active listeners.
It was amazing. In Sester's experience, people generally didn't listen very well. At best, they were preoccupied half-listeners, caught up as much in themselves as they were in the object of their attentions. These Council members were focussed on someone else; it was a room full of empathetic people. Either it was a requirement for leaders of the Tellar Union or they were trained that way. He doubted if all of the Tellarans were like this. They were human.
The circular room radiated the energy of the yellow accents, as each person seemed to be bursting with the desire to ask questions. They were all thinking, processing, and full of the need to understand. There were constant and curious, but friendly, glances at their visitors.
When it came to the arrival of the Justice and the events of the past few weeks, Argus added his voice. In contrast to Marlena, his voice was cool and reflected his military competence and detachment.
After the accounts, they both explained the needs of the Chandar Alliance and the plans to defeat the Andromedans.
Alyce inclined her head in their directions and said, “Thank you, Marlena and Argus."
She turned to face her fellow Council members with an eager but solemn expression on her face. "We have several things to decide, my friends. First, according to the tenets of Tellar, we must help those who are in need regardless of who they are. Unless there are strong reasons why we cannot or should not. Do I hear any objections?"
Alyce watched and waited until a red-haired woman in a red and pink robe broke the serious air and said, "Oh, come on Alyce. Let's do it."
Some of them grinned with amusement and others started laughing. Someone else said, "You know us, Alyce."
Another man in a green studded jacket said, "One of these days one of us might object just to see what you'd do, Alyce."
That brought more good-natured laughter.
The shorthaired man beside him said with a grin, "You'd better get a stretcher just in case she faints."
Alyce's serious face grew a wide smile, "Alright, alright. Let's get on with it."
The levity died down and they all returned to business but the light air remained.
Alyce said, "There are two goals here. The first deals with the Andromedans. The second with the Chandar Alliance. Thanks to Argus and his team and the courage of Reya Reeve, the first round has been won on both fronts. Cambrin, your department flagged the arrival of Argus's group at Chandar. What's your assessment of the situation there now?"
Avon leaned his head towards Argus and whispered, "We need to understand these people."
Argus nodded and said, "Yes. But they seem genuine enough and they're not hiding anything."
Avon kept his voice low and flat, "Not as far as we know."
Argus glanced at him. "And what if they're not hiding anything and they are who they say they are?"
Avon didn't answer but his eyes were deep with interest as he tried to find what he was looking for.
Cambrin, a balding man in a dark purple shirt and white slacks stood up. His voice was cultured as he reported, "My department has been looking into some anomalies in Chandaran society lately. We didn’t realize it was due to Marlena’s influence and that of the Andromedans but now it makes sense."
Cambrin addressed Argus, "We were shocked by the arrival of your team and everything that happened afterwards." There was an appreciative look on his face as he said, "Your team seems to make things happen wherever you go. You've been keeping us quite busy."
Cally asked, "Is that why you've been watching us?"
Cambrin looked at Alyce and she nodded to him. He said, "It's one of the reasons but not the primary reason. We have been following some of you for quite some time. We have an interest in people who make things happen. We may be a people devoted to peace but we are not neutral."
Sester found Cambrin very interesting. The man had a watchfulness he recognized. "Let me guess. You've been tracking Avon and Argus?"
Cambrin turned towards him and said, "Yes. And…" Sester got a strong impression that Cambrin was going to add another name but the other man smiled strangely and said instead, "When we've been able to. It’s not easy being this far from Earth Sector but we try to keep up with what’s happening."
All eyes turned to Alyce as she said, “I know that you may have concerns. It may be discomforting to discover that we have been watching your activities. But be assured that it was never with any ill intentions. We have been hoping to meet all of you.”
Cambrin said, “When you started showing up in the neighbouring Sector, you can imagine our surprise. And then to find you making an appearance on Chandar and seeing what Commander Reeve did…it was beyond our expectations, even for you.”
Sester noted the rustle of excitement and the looks of admiration being directed towards the crew. With barely suppressed amusement, he also recognized the looks of discomfort from the crew as they suddenly became the focus of attention.
Argus almost seemed at a loss for words as he said, “We…Reya…all of us did what we had to do.”
“That is why we have been interested in your crew,” said Alyce. Her eyes seemed to radiate the warmth of her feelings towards them.
Cambrin said, “We have a team calculating the impacts of what you've achieved. The existence of the Champions has always been a focus for us. We knew that if change were ever to come to Chandar, it would most likely be through them. I imagine it was your psychostrategist who identified that?”
Argus replied, “Yes. It was Sester. He came up with a strategy that utilized their influence.”
Cambrin inclined his head in Sester’s direction, “You are welcome, psychostrategist.”
Cambrin said, “You may be interested in my department. Perhaps we could talk later?”
Sester’s fingers casually traced the curve of the table in front of him as he smiled. The games had begun. “I would like that.”
A quip of a grin appeared on Cambrin’s face and then he turned to the others again. “From our initial assessments, the Chandar Alliance has a possibility for change now. We believe they will help to fight the Andromedans and defend against any further incursions into this Sector but as for anything else, it will have to be handled carefully.”
Hope had many faces, and most of them were currently reflected in the chamber.
The red-haired woman who had spoken earlier asked, “Marlena, if we send an action team there, do you think they’ll be willing to work with us? The Chandarans will know better how their own people will respond, but we might have expertise that may help them. I know that they want our help. But that help seems to be limited to our role in being able to talk to their women.”
Marlena replied, “I know that those who have been working with my bond-mate and I will be willing. Some of the Champions as well. Dannon and Trist in particular. I believe that the other Champions are open to dialogue.”
Alyce said, “Tamar, why don’t you and Cambrin put a team together? We’ll need people from both your areas.”
Tamar, who was the red-haired woman, asked, “Do we have a time frame? I think we need more information before deciding on the composition of the team.”
Argus said, “I’ve been keeping in close contact with Brent. I’m sure he’ll be willing to provide any information you need. We do have time. At the moment, things are settling down and the Champions are restoring order. I get the impression they’d prefer to be given time to do that before we introduce something new.”
Avon remarked, “Not too much time. We’d be giving the Andromedans time as well.”
Alyce said, “That will depend on the Chandarans. We will need to have some meetings with them. Argus, can you arrange that?”
“I will speak with Brent.”
Avon and Cally sat out in a secluded corner of the gardens surrounding the Tellaran Council chambers. After several hours of discussing the Chandaran situation, Alyce had called for a period of rest and refreshment. Argus and the others had accompanied the Council members on a tour around the building.
Cally knew that Avon needed to spend some time away from people in order to be re-energized. He would start getting irritable if he couldn't have the time alone. At most, he could tolerate her presence, but no one else. They had sought a quiet, undisturbed corner where no one would bother them.
Avon stared out across the beds of beautiful shrubs and flowers. His eyes were deep in thought. Cally shared a companionable silence, knowing it was what he needed. She was aware of his mind as a close and comforting presence.
Alyce had gladly arranged a meeting for them with some of the top medical people of the Tellar Union. They were going to do a comprehensive examination of Avon. A tentative hope lifted Cally’s spirits. She found it easy to relax in this garden. Its natural beauty surrounded them with the promise of life and hope. She could tell that it was also affecting Avon’s mood. There was more light amidst the darkness that had been dragging him down into depression.
After awhile, Cally heard Avon take in a deep and calming breath and found herself following suit. The sweet scent of many flowers formed a fragrance that tickled the senses and lifted the mind to a place of peace.
Content, she turned and leaned back against Avon. She felt him hesitate and then put an arm around her. She said, “I like these people.”
An amused smile played at the corner of Avon’s lips. “You would.”
Cally said with light humour, “I know you don’t like anyone so I won’t ask you.”
Cally turned to look at his side profile and saw that the tension that hardened his face into an unresponsive shell had relaxed somewhat.
He said, “I like you.” There was a mischievous spark in his dark eyes. “And Vila.”
Cally grinned and said, “But don’t tell him?”
A brief smile relaxed Avon’s face even further. “Not if you want to keep my reputation intact.”
“I think you’re reputation deserves a kick once in a while.”
“You think so?”
“I know so.”
The complex beauty of the garden drew Avon’s eyes again. It was interesting that something that intricate could also produce a simple, pleasing effect on the mood. His eyes deepened in thought. “He already knows.”
Cally leaned against him again. “Well, he has to know by now.”
“I told him.”
Cally’s turned her head towards him with surprise. “You did?”
“I thought it was something he needed to know.”
Cally asked, “What about the others?”
Avon’s eyes were still focused on the flower structures. He said absently, “When they need to know, I’ll tell them.”
Cally leaned against him again and there was a teasing tone in her voice, “If you keep doing that, your reputation will never recover.”
As Argus, Marlena, Alyce, and some of the Council members continued talking after lunch. Corinne had suggested that she and Vila explore some more of the grounds on their own before the meeting. Marlena had thought it a good idea.
No one seemed to mind, least of all Vila. All of this political talk wasn’t for him. He liked doing things, not talking hours about doing things. Corinne was taking the lead, following corridors that interested her. The whole place seemed to be a maze of corridors. No one stopped them. The people they ran across only smiled or nodded in greeting and walked on.
The walls of the current hallway were lined with paintings. Real, old-style paintings with canvas-like material and paint.
Vila was amazed as he examined the depictions of Tellaran society. He reached out sensitive fingers to touch the texture of the paint. An energy screen flared slightly and tickled his fingers, causing him to withdraw them. “It’s protected by an energy barrier. It makes sense. I heard these old paints deteriorate.”
Corinne was looking at several of them intently. Her eyes seemed to drink in the details. “They’re so colourful and beautiful. I like the clothes here. The ones back home are so bland and functional.” She looked down at her unimaginative clothing, a formless dark brown skirt and matching shapeless brown shirt. Only someone with a vivid imagination, or who was blind would find it interesting. Or someone who liked her a lot.
Vila said, “I don’t mind. You look beautiful in anything.”
“But wouldn’t you want to know how I look in something beautiful?”
“I don’t know if my eyes could take it. It might be too much.”
“Oh, Vila,” she said in mock-consternation.
He grinned at her. “It’s true.”
“I’d like to go shopping.”
Vila’s mouth dropped. “Shopping?”
Corinne’s eyes were hesitant and she touched the collar of her shirt self-consciously. “I think it’s called that. I’ve heard that people do it on some worlds. You go to a market with lots of shops and buy what you want?” She sounded wistful. "I thought it might be nice."
Now he was really shocked. He thought that shopping was a basic fact of life for most people, and especially women. “You mean, you’ve never gone shopping before?”
Corinne’s eyes lowered in embarrassment. “No. On Chandar, the men control all the money and they give us what they want to give us.”
“I thought that your father would give you nicer things. He loves you.”
Defensiveness crept into Corinne’s voice, “He does. He gave us the best that he could but he didn’t want people to notice me. He thought it might not be safe. He didn’t want anyone asking for me. He didn’t want to have to explain why he didn’t want to sell me.”
“Sell you?” Vila’s faced flushed with outrage. He had known the facts about Chandaran society but hearing it connected with Corinne made it too close.
“He would have died before he let anything happen to me.”
Vila put his arms around her in a fierce protective hug. “Me too. They’d have to go over my dead body.” He let go of her and said, “We’re going to go shopping and we’ll buy the whole street if you want.”