Argus was on his way to retire for the night when Vila went looking for him. Vila said, "Argus, I'm serious."
Argus took a deep breath and tried not to sound impatient. He wondered if it was really necessary for his crew to always find last minute things they had to tell him right before he was supposed to see Reya. He considered putting some reasonable hours on his 'open-door' policy.
Vila did seem serious about something and he was nervous. Argus wondered if something was else bothering Vila but he just wasn't sure how to bring it up.
In his most understanding voice, Argus said, "I know you are, Vila. And I understand your desire to pursue a more peaceful way. After what we witnessed today, it's natural. But you know our mission and our enemy. The Andromedans nearly destroyed humanity once. We can't give them a second chance. We can't afford it. Why do you think I've agreed to this temporary alliance with the Federation? I want peace, Vila. I really do. I have been killing people for as long as I can remember. Sometimes…"
This conversation had taken an unexpected turn for Argus. He had never expected to share this and definitely not out in the corridor. A deep familiar melancholy came over Argus; an old depression that was always beneath the surface but he hadn't thought about in a long time. It returned along with the faces that were always in his head; and with them the screams and cries that threatened to drive him mad.
"…sometimes I can still see the face of the first person I killed and there have been many, many more since. I can't get them out of my head. I want it to stop, Vila. I need to stop killing people. But I can't. Not until it's over. It's the greatest gift I have and my greatest curse."
Vila was shocked at the pain in the man's eyes as Argus told him how he felt. He had never seen Argus like this before. It seemed that today's patrol with the Tellarans had also affected him as well. Vila had always viewed Argus as a strong man; someone who was not troubled by anything, someone they could always depend on to protect them and someone whom they could all lean on. Their own super-soldier to fight against their enemies. Vila had never realized what it cost him. To see Argus like this, made him more human. "I never knew."
Argus coughed and looked embarrassed. "I've never told anyone before except Reya. I'm…not sure why I did now. Perhaps you're right. Seeing what the Tellarans were able to do today gave me hope. Sometimes when we fight, it's hard to see an end to it all. But today…"
Vila said, "It's good to know that somewhere, what we've been fighting for can become real?"
"Yes. It is real here."
Vila said wistfully, "It would be nice if everywhere was like this.”
"Yes, it would be. You know what Avon would say?"
"It's a hopeless dream?" Sometimes Vila thought that Avon must have lost everything a long time ago. Everything that was important to him. He seemed to be a man who had little hope about anything but sometimes Vila would catch a look in his eyes. In those deep penetrating eyes, always alive with thought, there would be something different. Then he would surprise everyone by taking a chance. Maybe it was just a desperate grasp because he wanted to believe, even though he couldn’t. Maybe that was why he stayed with Blake for as long as he did, risking his life for a hopeless dream.
Then later when he fought against the Federation without Blake, he'd said that it was the only security but they all knew. Fighting the Federation in the rust bucket they called a ship, with almost no weapons or shields to speak of, was suicide, it was not security. Vila said, "I think that Avon would love to see a dream come true. He just can't believe it's possible."
"I think you're right."
There was a look of earnestness on Vila's face as he asked, "Do you think it's possible?"
"The Tellarans think it is. They've staked their entire civilization on it."
"Yes, but what do you think?"
Argus knew what Vila wanted to hear but all he could give him was what he believed. "We can't afford the time it would take to do it their way. Not against the Andromedans."
Vila thought for a moment. "But against the Federation?"
"I'm not sure we're capable of it." This was always something that troubled Argus about the rebel movement. After decades of defiance, they had nothing to show for it other than a growing list of people who had died because of them.
"We're very good at killing and destroying. It's about all we are good at, other than fighting amongst each other. In the end, it's all been for nothing. All we have is motive. There is no overall plan or purpose. Everyone dies and we console ourselves that at least it was for a good cause. But looking at the people today, all those bleeding and dying people on both sides, it makes me wonder if it really is enough just to have a good cause. I want real change but I don't think we have anyone who can make it happen. I know I can't."
Vila was struck with an idea. "The Tellarans have their own psychostrategists."
Argus tightened his jaw at the sound of the word. He already knew where Vila was going with this. "Yes."
"Alyce said that they were the ones who helped change their society. And you know that they've been interested in Sester. I think…that they think that he is capable of doing what you want."
Argus took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I was afraid you were going to say that."
"He does want to help."
Despite his promise to be nicer to Sester, Argus still could not let go of his mistrust of the man. "He wants to help Avon. He feels guilty for what he did to him."
"Doesn't that mean anything?"
"Vila, he's not one of the Tellaran psychostrategists. He's a Federation one. They view us all as puppets. We can't trust him. Everything he does is a game."
"I think you're wrong. I don't think he sees us as puppets anymore. He's changed."
"I know you want to believe that."
"And I know you don't want to. You won't give him a chance."
"I've promised that I would."
"Yes, but not a real chance. You believe him about wanting to help Avon but you won't believe that he can change. If he could fight for us, we might be able to achieve the change you want."
"You're right, I can't believe that."
"What if I find a way to show you? Would you believe in him then?"
Argus was sceptical. He doubted if there was anything that could convince him. "What do you think you can find?"
"You let me worry about that. But if I do, will you give him a chance? This is important, Argus."
Argus studied Vila carefully. There was no sign of the clown in Vila’s manner, no light unobtrusiveness, only a man who believed in something. "Alright, Vila. If it’s important to you."
Vila had no idea how he was going to do what he had promised Argus. He didn’t know the full story behind the two men but he knew that it had something to do with the Commander. Vila knew that Sester was in love with her even though she loved Argus. It wasn’t a situation that a man could easily accept. Vila suspected that it was even more complicated than that.
What he needed was help. He went down to talk to Avon and found him taking an evening walk outside in the gardens. "Avon, do you remember that unconditional favour you owe me?"
Avon eyed him with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. "I remember. Have you decided on something?"
"I want you to help me find a way to convince Argus that Sester can change and work with us against the Federation."
Avon’s eyes narrowed even further. "I hope this isn’t your idea of a joke, Vila, because I'm not laughing."
“I’m serious.” Vila did look very serious.
“Are you're out of your mind?"
“I know it’s a lot to ask, Avon. And I wouldn’t if it weren’t important.”
They stopped by a bench and sat down. Avon leaned back tiredly. “Why is it important?”
Vila turned to face him. “Argus and I were talking. I suppose we were both affected by what the Tellarans were doing. He was saying that sometimes he felt that what he and the rebels were doing was useless. He doesn’t think that having the right motivations is a good enough reason to get people killed anymore. Not unless there is real change. He doesn’t think any of the rebels are capable of changing things. They only know how to kill and destroy.”
Avon looked off into the far distance. “And you think that Sester is capable of it.”
“I think we have a better chance with him than without him. I think that the Tellarans think so too. That’s why they’ve been so interested in him. The psychostrategists made it possible here. They helped change the Tellarans to what they are today. We need people like Sester. It was his plan that made it possible for us to win on Chandar. His strategy gave the Chandarans the chance to change their entire society. None of us could have done that. Even the Tellaran psychostrategists were surprised by what he was able to do. But he couldn’t have done it alone. We needed each other.”
“Avon, you know it’s not enough just to bring down the Federation. Society has to change otherwise things will always go back to the way they were. Blake never understood that. The Tellarans do. And Argus is beginning to too.”
“I like the Tellarans. They have a good thing here.”
Avon continued to look at the trees in the distance. They swayed gently in the wind. It was peaceful. “The Tellar Union is an intelligent society.”
Vila was surprised. “I thought you’d call them fools.”
“Tellaran society runs along rational principles. They have emotions but they use them intelligently. Their society does not run on the capricious whims of base human needs or desires.”
“Avon, do you believe Sester?”
If Vila had asked that several days ago, Avon would have immediately said no. However, he could not shake the voice of the man crying out in anguish and guilt. Nightmares stripped a person bare and exposed his deepest fears and emotions. Sester had preyed on his often enough. “I believe he feels guilty.”
“That’s not what I’m asking.”
“It’s the only answer I can give you if you want the truth.”
“Are you going to do it?”
Avon turned to look at him. “I promised I would but I can give no guarantees that it will work.”
“That’s all I ask.”
Avon pointed out, “This is a waste of an unconditional favour.”
“But I’m the one wasting it.”
“You may never have this opportunity again.”
“Avon, are you trying to talk me out of it? Because it’s not working.”
Avon smiled. “Very well.”
Sester leaned back, laced his fingers together and cushioned them behind his head.
Avon had been staring at him ever since Vila dropped him off earlier. Sester found this quite funny. “You and Vila had a good talk?”
Avon’s arms were crossed like barriers across his chest. “It’s none of your business.”
Sester smiled with amusement, “From the way you’ve been glaring at me for the past hour, I would say that it is very much my business.”
For Avon to fulfil his promise to Vila, he needed to understand Sester. He was not about to influence Argus unless he could determine what he could safely convince him of. “You indicated before that you have mind blocks?”
“Yes. The Tellarans found them.”
“And they have something to do with me?”
“You would know more about that than I do. I don’t remember the dream.”
“You still claim to not remember anything?”
Sester sighed at the familiar mistrust. “That’s right.”
“These blocks could not have been placed after I escaped.”
Sester sat up a bit and crossed his arms over his chest. “That’s obvious.”
“So they had to have been placed while we were at the Detention Centre.”
“You’re thinking that you may have revealed something under torture that Servalan doesn’t want us to remember?”
“It’s the only possibility I can think of.”
“There are other ones. I did help you to escape.”
Avon scoffed, “You can’t possibly be suggesting that we became friends.”
“Yes, I know. You don't need anyone, least of all me. But I risked my life and my career to help you. If you asked me, I couldn't tell you why. I don't understand it myself other than…I felt I had to. We may not have been friends but…”
Avon sat up and fixed him with an unforgiving glare. His voice was tight with anger. “You tortured me for over two years! You helped Servalan to condition me until I was little more than a slave. You nearly destroyed my mind. You did destroy my body. You’ve made me dependent on drugs that I will never be free of. Do you seriously think that we could become friends?!”
Sester’s head bowed. His voice was subdued. “You’re right. It was stupid of me to think that.”
The two men fell into an angry and anguished silence. Avon tried to bring his seething anger under control. Sester was afraid to look at him.
Avon finally asked, “What are the other possibilities?”
Sester hesitated before answering. “You won’t like it either.”
“I will decide that.”
“We’re assuming that the mind blocks were placed during our time at the Detention Centre. What if they were placed earlier?”
“You’re implying that we knew each other before the Detention Centre?”
“It’s a possibility.”
“An unlikely one. Our paths have never had occasion to cross.”
“Not that we remember,” said Sester.
Avon was sceptical, “We worked in completely different fields. If we met during my time on the Liberator or the Scorpio, the others would remember you.”
“Unless they were mind-blocked as well.”
“That would be assuming a level of control that would be highly disturbing.”
“Oh, I agree. But Cally told me once that Blake had prior conditioning that allowed him to be used later on. I found that very curious considering they had wiped his memory and he was supposed to be a model citizen. And it was not the Federation who triggered Blake. Didn’t you find that even more curious?”
Avon’s eyes flashed with anger. “You will not use Blake’s name again!”
Sester grimaced. Blake was still a sore subject between them. He had twisted Avon’s guilt over Blake in order to torture him. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“This conversation is finished.”
Charles was trying to concentrate on one of his assignments when the bully and his friends came into the common room. “I’m surprised he wasn’t kicked out weeks ago with all the other regressives.”
“They wouldn’t dare. He has connections.” Kerr was bent over his own data pad, working on a difficult algorithm.
“You’re right,” said a chagrined Charles.
“What connections?” Jack looked up from his boring statistics homework.
Charles lowered his voice and leaned in closer, “Don’t you know who he is?”
Jack shrugged his shoulders. “No.”
“His grandfather was the last Federation President.”
“Oh. That explains a lot,” said Jack. He grinned. “Now I wish I did push him harder.”
Kerr whispered, “You might get your chance, he’s coming this way.”
The two observers were puzzled as they looked from one sleeping man to the other. They had come over because Sester was experiencing another memory. Now it appeared that both of them were.
The sleeping Avon said, “They wouldn’t dare. He has connections.”
The sleeping man next to him said, “You’re right.”
The tall observer said, “This is odd. They almost seem to be talking to each other.”
Sester said, “Don’t you know who he is?”
There was a pause then Sester said, “His grandfather was the last Federation President.”
Avon said next, “You might get your chance, he’s coming this way.”
The female observer said, “It must be just a coincidence. They seem to be in control for the moment. The stress level is fairly constant.”
The tall observer replied, “Yes. The recorders are on. We’ll keep an eye on them for awhile.”
Sester’s whispered a low warning and he rolled restlessly, “Jack, don’t.”
Avon’s voice was also in a whisper, “Jack, don’t be a fool. It’s not worth it.”
Sester's voice was an emphatic whisper, "Jack, you don't have to do it for me. He hasn't touched me since that day. Kerr warned him off." Sester's voice became louder, "Kerr, stop him!"
Avon's voice was familiarly cold, "Jack, sit down."
The tall observer said, “This cannot be a coincidence.”