"Avon, do you want to get better?"
Cally’s whispered question echoed through both their minds as Avon turned to look at her. His face was expressionless but there was a tightness of the muscles that betrayed what was going on inside.
For a brief while, they had shared Cally’s deepest feelings the previous night. The sorrow, pain and anguish. It had bound them together; one pain touching another. It wasn’t just that Avon was able to feel her greatest emotions; he understood and shared them because they mirrored his own. The misery of guilt and a deep sense of responsibility, the kind that seeks pain.
They were both similar characters in that respect. Cally’s guilt over surviving when all of her Saurian Major friends had died, had driven her to want to destroy until she was destroyed. Seeking in that destruction and self-destruction a way to pay the debt of surviving.
She knew that it was what Avon had tried to do with Anna. Of all the ways he could have chosen to find Shrinker, Avon had chosen the most painful and self-destructive way. She had felt then that he was punishing himself for her death; trying to drown out the guilt and agony of going on alone.
Avon had worried her in his obsession over Anna. Guilt could do terrible things to people; making you lose all perspective and engage in self-destructive behaviour. They both knew it only too well.
Cally knew that Avon was wracked by another guilt now. Until Dr. Kendric had mentioned that Avon had to pay for his flaws, Cally hadn’t realized how much guilt had been driving him. Avon was a man who paid his debts.
She wondered about those three years that Avon had spent at the Detention Centre. Servalan had tortured him to the breaking point; destroyed his mind and body, tormented and humiliated him and made him into a helpless puppet. Had part of him wanted it?
Cally asked again, “Avon, do you want to get better?”
The pain in Avon’s eyes deepened. Slowly and agonizingly, he shook his head.
“You know, we really should be getting out of bed,” said Corinne.
“Oh, I don’t know. I could stay here for a couple of more hours,” said Vila as he ran his fingers down her arm, feeling the smooth skin.
That did it. At that moment, an embarrassing rumble came from Vila’s stomach.
Corinne smiled. “I think part of you agrees.”
Vila looked down at the offending area and said, “Traitor.”
“We could come back here after we eat,” offered Corinne generously.
Vila put his arms around her and held her close. “How did I get to be so lucky?”
“You deserve it,” said Corinne as she rested her head on his shoulder.
The simple confidence and trust in her voice pierced him and filled him with guilt. “I don’t. Not really. There are a lot of things you don’t know about me.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Vila pulled back and looked at her. “It does to me. I want you to know who I am, Corinne. I’m not the person you think I am. I’m not brave. I’m not like the others. I don’t rush in when I see danger; I tend to run the other way. Sometimes the danger gets to me and I want to run from it, even if it means leaving people behind. Sometimes even my friends. It’s not something I’m proud of. I’ve never done it. Sometimes I can be brave but sometimes...I don`t know. I have thought of leaving people behind and I’ve told others to do it. Sometimes I wonder if I ever would. I honestly don`t know.”
Corinne’s eyes studied his. “It’s hard for me to believe. But even if it were true, it doesn’t matter. You’re brave now and you help people, even when you’re scared. You grow and learn. You make mistakes but you want to become a better person and you try to. To me, that is perfect. That’s why I love you.”
Vila hugged her again. “I love you too.”
This time it was Corinne’s turn to pull back. “I’m not perfect either. Sometimes, I get very angry and I find it hard to believe in people. I know my mother doesn’t like it. She wanted me to understand the Chandarans but…sometimes it was very hard. She’s very patient with me.”
“That’s understandable,” said Vila. “I lived as a Delta most of my life. I know how hard it can be to believe in anyone. Or to forget.”
“It’s not the Tellaran way.”
“Well, not many ways are.”
“Sometimes, I don`t think I`d fit here. Sometimes I find it hard to want to help people who hurt me.”
“You’re not the only one,” said Vila. “But I think the Tellarans wouldn’t mind. They’d understand. Besides Alyce said that they didn’t start out like this. They learned too. Just like we can.”
“Do you think so?”
“We can try.”
Corinne gazed into his eyes for a moment, as if trying to read something. “Vila, do you want to stay here?”
Vila was troubled. The question he wanted to avoid thinking about for a few more days was staring him in the face and demanding an answer.
Sester always liked to know where the key people on the ship were; those he cared about and especially those who could take him apart and had very good incentive to. That’s why he knew that Argus was on the flight deck and Reya was down on the planet.
As was his habit, he paused at the top of the flight deck steps and took in the situation. Argus was at Avon’s station, looking intently at one of the monitors screens. The man had a strong and professional profile. His back was straight, reflecting a lifetime of service in the military. Calm energy radiated from him but there was also something very dangerous about this man; a hint of violence contained. Sester doubted if most people saw that quality until it was too late.
The man was like a bulwark against the solar storms. Sester knew that people normally gravitated to him for leadership and reassurance. There was an indestructible quality about him. This man was prepared for everything. Sester smiled. But only when it came to physical danger. Argus had very few defences against someone like him.
He could see Argus’s back stiffen and could imagine the displeased look on the man’s face before he turned around. Argus snapped, “What are you doing here?”
Sester adopted a friendly smile and came down the steps towards him. “Not spying on you if that’s what you’re wondering.”
Argus’s eyes were trained on him like a security camera that wanted to pick out any suspicious behaviour. Sester knew that he would be watched carefully every second he was here.
Argus almost growled, “Then what are you doing here?”
“It’s not a social visit either, if that worries you at all.” There was an almost-smirk on Sester’s face. For some reason, he liked needling this man. He noticed that one of the other man’s hands had become taut on the panel in front of him. Not quite ready to form a fist, but definitely tense.
Argus said, “I’m in no mood for your games, Sester.”
“Are you ever?” Sester asked pleasantly, as if they were discussing a friendly chess match instead of squaring off against each other as rivals.
Argus said irritably, “I’m busy. I don’t have time for this.”
“Oh, but you will make time,” said Sester smoothly.
The tone in Sester’s voice immediately made Argus’s senses go into high alert. He looked at him warily. He demanded, “Explain.”
“Have you talked to Servalan?”
Argus stiffened. “I told you that I won’t unless I’ve exhausted all other options.”
“Then you’re a fool and you’re going to kill Avon.”
Argus asked angrily, “What are you talking about? Avon’s fine. He’s on the planet receiving treatment.”
“I didn’t realize that you have such a high capacity for self-delusion,” said Sester with detached sarcasm. “The Tellarans methods of therapy only work if they have time to work. Even if all emotions are removed or dampened, his mind will not be able to handle the rate at which the mind-blocks have been breaking down. Not to mention the breakdown is not controlled. It is chaotic and fragmentary. It is impossible for him to separate out truth from implanted memories or even the nightmares. If they all collapse, then you will lose Avon. His mind will forever be trapped. I have seen it happen. I…have seen it done deliberately. I don’t want it to happen to Avon.”
Argus’s voice was like a sharpened blade, cutting into him. “You’ve ordered it done?”
Sester felt the accusation like a hot slice of guilt that lay bare all of his previous actions. Why did he feel guilty now? He had never before. It was a job, nothing more. The people were puppets.
He had never ordered it personally, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t know what would happen to people that he manipulated. Other people always did the dirty work after him. It was his job to trap them, to guide them, to make them do what they were supposed to do and when they didn’t, to neutralize them.
It was his job. He should not be feeling guilty and definitely not at the hands of his greatest rival. But he did feel it. The shock of the inexplicable feeling caused him to become angry and defensive. He said heatedly, “Of course I did. That’s what I do. I destroy people.”
Argus could no longer hold back a snarl from showing on his face. “It’s good to know that I wasn’t wrong about you.”
“It must be refreshing being right about something.” Sester could see the fist now. He smiled sarcastically, “But only half-right. I am here to stop it from happening to Avon.”
“How can we trust you? How can Avon?”
Sester was disturbed by his own lack of control. He should never have lost his cool when he needed the other man to trust him. For some reason Argus always brought out the worst in him.
In a subdued and sincere voice, Sester said, “You’re right; it’s hard for any of you to trust me. But for Avon’s sake, you need to.”
Argus said in warning, “Don’t try to manipulate me.”
“I’m not. I want to help Avon. How many times do I have to prove it to you?”
Argus said coldly, “Ask Avon.”
Sester had a self-mocking smile on his face. “Of course. Are you at least willing to listen to what I have to say?”
“I can listen.”
“The reason why Avon is in the dangerous condition he is in now is because you ignored my warning about the drugs. I told you that Avon needs them all in order to function. Removing one or two, especially the ones for his mind, upsets a very carefully balanced system of controls.” Sester noted the anger in Argus’s eyes as he said this. “I have asked Servalan for the synthesis machines and the codes that produce the drugs. She has agreed to provide them.”
The anger was no longer confined to Argus’s eyes. “You went to her without telling me?”
“Someone had to. By the time you decided you had no choice, it would have been too late. Besides, it’s already too late. The equipment is on its way here. I will give you the rendezvous coordinates. I didn’t think you would want Servalan to know your exact location.”
Argus’s voice was tight with anger, “You had no right to go to her without asking us!”
“Someone had to,” Sester said reasonably.
With unbelievable speed, Argus had come around his flight station and stood toe-to-toe with Sester. “Not you!”
It was so quick that Sester barely had time to suppress a reaction of shock. He stood his ground and said sarcastically, “It definitely wouldn’t have been you. Your delay could have cost Avon his life.”
Argus grabbed Sester’s collar in an iron-tight grip. He said in a low, menacing growl, “That’s the point! Do you think that Avon would want to continue living under Servalan’s control? He would rather die first!”
Sester grabbed Argus’s hands, trying to loosen the grip that was making it hard to breathe. He gasped, “You were going to let him die?!”
Argus’s entire body seemed to stiffen and his eyes reflected deep pain. He pushed Sester away from him, causing him to stagger back and fall onto one of the couches. “Do you think I want him to?! I can’t force him to live when living is worse than dying. No matter how much I don’t want to lose him.” Argus sat down heavily on the couch opposite, his head hung down and his whole body reflected his anguish.
Sester said in a quiet voice, “You care a great deal about him, don’t you?” There was something about this man that had just touched him.
Without lifting his head, Argus said harshly, “It’s none of your business.”
“I know it’s not. What are you going to do? The equipment is on its way here.”
Argus did not respond.
Sester said, “Look, Argus. You’re not the one who approached Servalan. There are no conditions in accepting the machines. It does not give Servalan any advantage. I made sure of that.”
Argus looked up at him. There was both interest and wariness reflected in his eyes.
Sester continued, “I did not tell her that the Tellarans are trying to remove the memory blocks and may be able to fix whatever damage was done to his mind. These drugs are a temporary measure to give them time to do that. Servalan never need know when Avon has recovered until you decide to tell her. Think about it, Argus. It gives you an advantage if she thinks that Avon is in worse condition than he is.”
“These are highly classified drugs. No one knows about them. We used the last samples on Avon. What if these synthesis machines produce ones that are designed to make his condition even worse? We won’t know until it’s too late. Servalan is capable of anything. And so are you.”
Sester said, “Alright. I will take the drugs first. Will that satisfy you? Then the Tellarans can study their effects on my mind. If they’re confident that they won’t harm Avon then you can give them to him.”
Argus asked suspiciously, “What effect would they have on a healthy mind?”
“I suppose we’ll find out.”
“Do you trust Servalan that much? Are you sure that she won’t try to do something to Avon without telling you?”
Sester stared at him. They both knew the answer. “That’s why I have to do this, don’t I?”