"Kerr!" A young boy's concerned voice called him by a name that belonged to a past that he thought was dead. A flicker of recognition at the boy's voice. Part of me says I know this voice but I can't remember.
Why can't I wake up? Pain in my head. Disorientation.
He felt strong and insistent hands press down and shake his shoulders. "Kerr, wake up!"
Leave me. Alone. Another voice in my head. Small. Scared. Young. Determined. Strong. Independent. Trying out words.
A familiar mantra but they seem new. Realization.
Here he was young. This was a memory.
Coldness extended from a place deep inside him. He could feel it. It was recognizable to him and at the same time frighteningly unfamiliar to his young mind. The frozenness that numbed all other emotions; taking away fear and pain, along with everything else. His young mind grasped for them both, fear and pain, and the coldness.
"What did they do to him?" Even through the fog of bare consciousness, he could hear the mask of strength in the boy's voice; a determined bravery. He was aware that the young mind that was him/not him knew that it hid a tremor of fear. There was concern and warmth for him.
Threads of memories seemed to mix. This voice. He knew it. Differently. Deeper. More…
Ja… The name eluded him even though his young mind knew it; was very familiar with it.
"I don't know." Another young boy's voice. Worried and considered even at this young age, also producing threads of recognition. But it was instinctive knowledge only. A feeling of knowing. There were no faces to put to the voices. Tantalizing bits of names that would not come to him. Identities contained in his young mind but something was preventing him from knowing them. Just the impressions that they knew each other. They were…
The considered young voice was troubled and sounded small next to him; it was full of anguish and guilt. "It was my fault. He shouldn't have told them it was him."
This voice was disturbingly familiar in its guilt.
The first boy's voice flashed with anger. "It was your fault. He said it wouldn't work but you just had to try it." Guilt and anguish joined the anger, "I should have stopped him. I should've guessed." Then anger again. "You always think it’s a game. It’s not a game!" There was a sudden rustle of movement. The sound of bodies impacting and going down.
Avon jerked awake. He was panting and his heart was pounding in his ears. This memory. It was the clearest one he had so far but it was already fading away, out of the reach of his conscious mind.
"No!" His eyes closed in desperate concentration, he bent over with the effort, and his hands gripped the sheets tightly.
It was no use.
Avon could feel Cally stir beside him and sit up. He didn't have to feel her mind reaching out to him to know that she was alarmed. Her warm, gentle hands touched his shoulders in support. "Avon, what's wrong?"
Blank eyes turned to her. "I…don't know." The memories were almost gone, leaving only a frustrating impression of something he wanted to remember. Avon forced himself to breathe slower, his mind trying to regain control of a body that was still reacting to memories that were gone.
Avon, Cally and Argus gathered in the medical exam room, discussing the previous day's results with the specialists and Alyce. Sester was present but off to the side, observing and keeping out of the way.
Argus said, "Avon, we should investigate this further. There's no knowing what the Federation did to you."
Avon's flat voice said, "The results, while interesting, do not provide any useful information." With the complete lack of emotion in his tone, he could have been speaking about some idle curiosity and not something life shattering like finding out he may have been the result of a program of eugenics or some scientific experiment.
Cally was watching Avon carefully, trying to gauge an emotional state that was firmly hidden behind a tough defensive barrier today. She couldn't understand this attitude from him. "How can you say that, Avon? This deals with who you are. Don't you want to know?"
"It's of little relevance," said Avon. "The knowledge of my origins does not help correct my current condition. It is merely a curiosity. Nothing more."
Alyce was also watchful, and as always, took great care in speaking to Avon. "From a purely medical standpoint, you're right. It has a relevance that is personal and as such, we should not allow it to interfere with our main focus, which is to heal you. I believe people from Earth have a saying. 'It is none of our business?'"
Avon impassive eyes rested on her friendly ones, "Good advice, if you can follow it."
Alyce smiled warmly, "At the right time, yes. We will continue with the examinations."
There was another person who was watching Avon with great interest. Sester with his trained mind and instincts knew that Avon was lying. To himself.
Sester leaned back comfortably in the pilot's seat of his observer craft. His fingers idly touched various switches in front of him without activating them. A slight smile of anticipation played on his lips as he waited for the response to his request for contact.
An emotionless female voice sharpened his wandering attentions. / There is an incoming response signal. /
He sat up just a little as he focused. His face had his characteristic casual irreverence that charmed but also that polite attentiveness that made you feel as if you were the exclusive centre of his attentions. He had natural warmth that could seep into your very bones if you let it but there was also the hint of excitement that came from the smooth dangerous quality that lay just below the surface. "Put it on the screen, computer."
The main viewscreen flickered on and Servalan's cold smile welcomed him. "Has he agreed?"
So eager, Servalan? Why all this sudden interest in Argus? Or is this really still about Avon? Are you missing your playmate and you’ve decided to take it out on someone else instead?
A slow smile thinned Sester's lips. "You know that he won't yet. Not until he knows he has no choice." The light of the screen threw moving shadows and flickers of light across his face.
Servalan had a wonderfully imperious manner very few could pull off without sounding too ridiculous. She almost purred. "And you will make sure that happens. Won't you?"
Sester said with silky complicity, "Were there ever any doubts, Madame President? I am your agent on this ship, after all."
Servalan said coolly, "Sometimes, I think you forget that."
"Then I've succeeded in fooling…" His lips twitched in a complex smile. "Everyone. If you have your doubts, then so have they."
Servalan's eyes measured him carefully from across the screen. "You have them convinced that you're helping them?"
Sester assumed the superior smile of a psychostrategist who was in full control of his puppets. "I believe some of them have made that error."
"And Reya Reeve? Where does she fit into all this?" A surprise attack to catch him out.
Unlike Avon, Sester's mind was fully under his own control. He smiled slyly. "She has her uses."
Servalan pressed her attack. "Enjoyable ones?"
Sester's attention skipped a beat. His lips curled in a smile that bared his teeth like a predator. "I would be lying if I said no."
At his answer, a pleased smile appeared on Servalan's face. "I am glad that you didn't lie to me.”
He brought his right hand up to touch his chest, “Madame President, rest assured, you will always be the most important woman in my life.”
Servalan said dryly, “Only because I have the power of life and death over you.”
There was a flush of excitement on Sester’s cheeks and he allowed a touch of insinuation to colour his voice, “And so much more.” Every sense was focused on this dangerous game and he loved it.
They stared at each other for a moment and then Servalan said, “Now let's talk about Avon." As always, there was deep interest in her eyes and a slight softening of her tone when she turned her attentions to the object of her fascinations. “How is he?”
Sester kept his voice clinical, “As you would expect without the relevant drugs.”
“What are they doing about it?”
Sester weighed his words carefully. “They believe they’ve found people who can help him.”
He asked, “How familiar are you with Sector Nine?”
Servalan’s face looked as if she had just smelled something foul. “Don’t tell me that they’ve found something useful in that repugnant Sector?”
Sester chuckled. “You are familiar with it then. Have you heard of the Tellar Union?”
“No, should I have?”
The deadly snake was poised, ready to turn its hooded head towards a new victim. He would have to be very careful here.
“Not particularly,” he said with casual indifference. “But they might be able to help Avon to some extent. Enough to prevent him from slipping further.”
Servalan’s snarl did not touch her lips; it existed solely in her eyes. “You mean enough for him not to have to be brought to me sooner?”
“For now.” He leaned towards the screen, all casualness gone. “You know that can’t happen yet.”
Servalan’s eyes narrowed. “I will not wait forever.”
For him, you will.
After signing off, Sester sat back in the moulded seat, his eyes were deep in thought. The fingers of his right hand lightly drew a calculated line along the edge of the flight panel.
There were so many games he could play here. It was very tempting. Conflicting loyalties vied for his attention. He needed a reason not to play all of them.
Vila’s arms were full of packages when he and Corinne returned to the ship. His head had to poke out from the side of one of them in order to see her. “Are you sure you don’t want anything else? We could always go back down after I’ve dropped these off.”
“No. I have enough for now thanks. The question is…” Corinne eyed the boxes he refused to allow her to carry. “Do you want anything else. I thought you said you didn’t need anything?”
Vila looked at the embarrassment of riches he was carrying. It was hard to deny it when the evidence was right in front of his eyes. They arrived at his cabin.
“Well, I didn’t when I said it.” But then they had discovered the avenue of gadgets on their way to look for his wrist chronometer.
Corinne helpfully activated the door panel and they went inside. Vila unceremoniously dumped everything on the bunk. “All of these are useful.”
With a dubious look on her face, Corinne picked up an irregularly shaped package. “This one?”
Vila’s face reddened slightly. “That one’s for fun.”
“Really?” Corinne looked interested and studied the wrapped object more carefully from different angles.
Vila almost grabbed it out of her hand before she got curious enough to open it. “Maybe not.” He put the package firmly behind him.
Corinne regarded him enquiringly. He almost looked embarrassed.
Vila said, “Lets…go back down and do more shopping. I want…” Maybe more shopping might not be a good idea. “I want to see how a market works without any money.”
Sester stood leaning against the doorway to Reya’s recovery room. Thankfully, with most of the soldiers on leave on the planet, Argus was taking an extra shift on the flight deck. Reya appeared to be sleeping. Her chest rose and fell in a steady, reassuring rhythm.
Pleasant memories presented themselves for his attentions. Memories of a time when she had reluctantly allowed him past her guard. And unknowingly, she had done the same to him. His actions had been deliberate, hers had not been. She had surprised him, amazed him and thoroughly captured him in a way that Servalan, with all of her power could not.
There was gentleness in his eyes and he felt at peace. There was no hint of the man he had been with Servalan. He had found the reasons he had come looking for; even though he knew he could never have Reya. Sester’s eyes lingered on her sleeping form a moment longer before he turned to leave.
His breath caught in his throat and he stopped moving.
“Is that you?”
Sester turned around and came back into the room. It was almost too painful to face her when she was awake. What was he thinking coming here?
A friendly smile formed on his lips. It was a good thing he was good at hiding what was going on inside. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“No. I was just dozing. Not much else to do. I can’t wait to get out of here,” she said with frustration.
Sester came in to stand beside her bed. He teased her, “I’m surprised you’re still here.”
“Argus promised to do to me what I did to him the last time.”
“Ah,” he said with a grin. He had heard about the chains. Argus could be a stubborn and proud man who didn’t know when to stay down, and so could she.
Reya changed the topic, “Have you been down to the planet?”
“Yes, a number of times.”
“What do you think of it?”
“It’s a paradise, if you like that sort of thing.” Sester tried not to think of how much he missed this easy interaction with her.
“You don’t?” asked Reya.
“I would never feel comfortable in it,” said Sester. “My work thrives in conflict and the imperfections of humanity.”
Reya’s voice was caring, persuasive and threatened to slip past barriers that presented no defence to her. “That’s your work though, that’s not you.”
“They’re the same thing.” Sester felt disturbingly naked and open to her, as if they were back in the bed they had been forced to share together. Except, it was she who had felt this uncomfortable then.
Reya said with a confidence in him, that Sester wished she did not have, “I don’t believe that.”
“I’m a psychostrategist, Reya. It is the same thing. Don’t make the mistake of assigning a humanity to me that isn’t there. We see all people as puppets. It facilitates our work.”
“Is that how you see me?”
Time seemed to freeze for a second as he stopped in mid-breath. He should have known that she would ask this question but he couldn't always think clearly when he was with her. Unbearable tension warmed Sester’s voice as he answered her. “No.”
Sester became very still at this unexpected question. The ever-present undercurrent of guilt flooded to the surface and was reflected in his eyes. His answer was a bare whisper, “No.”
The compassion in Reya’s eyes was too painful for him. He fled from the room without leaving an explanation.