Avon was in a drug-induced sleep. The people in the exam room gathered around him. The monitors above his head showed a man whose body was struggling. Erratic readings made the graphs jump and the various indicator lights beat out irregular rhythms. Slowly, as the medical personnel worked, the life signs became more stable.
Cally had been called down from the ship. She was not happy that she had not been included in something this significant but for now, she had more pressing concerns.
She asked, "How is he, Dr. Kendric?"
The woman responded, "We should not do this again until after we fix some of his physical problems. The stress has put a severe strain on his entire system."
Cally's worried face kept turning towards Avon even as she talked, "What is your recommendation?"
"The first thing we would like to do is to fix the damage to his heart. As you know, that is one of his weakest areas. A great deal of injury has been done to his heart muscle cells. It compounds all of his other problems."
Cally said, "I had considered a transplant."
"That will not be necessary. We have developed a technique that involves far less stress for the body and has greater success." Dr. Kendric directed one of her colleagues to answer, he was a grey-haired man named Speyer.
Dr. Speyer looked down at Avon and lightly touched his arm. "We have made great strides in the area of stem cell differentiation. The process involves taking healthy, undamaged cells from Avon's heart and coaxing them into dividing and forming new cells to replace the damaged ones."
Cally looked down thoughtfully in the area of Avon's chest. "That avoids having to use anti-rejection drugs?"
"Yes. It is completely natural. We will be using Avon's own body to heal itself. In the end, he should have a perfectly healthy heart. In fact it should be stronger as the replacement cells will be new."
Cally said, "Even with current methods of treatment, a person with a severely damaged heart has a shorter life expectancy. It sounds as if your method will avoid this?"
Speyer replied, "Yes. Barring other factors, Avon should be able to live a normal life span with the repaired heart."
Argus asked, "How long will this treatment take and when can you start?"
Dr. Speyer looked up at his colleagues. Several of them nodded to him. "If there are no objections, we can start right away. Depending on the level of damage we find, the process itself will take approximately three days. We will do it in stages. The recovery time should be no more than a week as the heart readjusts."
Cally asked, "Can you give me a few moments with Avon?"
Dr. Kendric responded, "Yes, of course, you need to discuss this with him."
Everyone cleared out of the room.
With everyone gone, the examination room was silent except for faint noises of the machines and Avon’s reassuringly regular breaths.
Cally gave Avon a mild stimulant. As she waited for him to regain consciousness, she placed her hand on his head and brushed his dishevelled hair. It was damp from the strain of the last few hours.
Avon stirred and opened his eyes. In a hoarse voice, he said, “You’re here.”
“You know then?”
Cally put her hand on his chest, feeling his warmth and the beat of a heart that was severely strained. It was like a vulnerable creature fluttering beneath her fingers. “Yes, some of it. Why didn’t you tell me?”
Avon said, “There were too many unanswered questions and too few details.”
“You wanted to know more before you told me?”
“Yes, I would have told you then.”
Cally said, “Avon, I don’t mind the uncertainties. I do mind not being able to share something significant with you. I would like being involved in the process of solving the mystery.”
“With my life as the mystery?”
“You are a mystery to many people.”
“Including you?” asked Avon as the corner of his lips curled in amusement.
Cally shared his light grin and rubbed his chest gently. “Perhaps less of a mystery to me.”
Avon watched her carefully as he said, “Did they tell you that Argus, Sester and I may have known each other as children?”
“They did mention it.” She had a sceptical look on her face. “Sester?”
Avon scowled. “Yes. It appears that I called him Charles. Did they also tell you that we may all have been friends?”
“All of you? Argus only mentioned that you and he were.”
A corner of Avon’s mouth turned up in a sarcastic smile, “Of course he would.”
“How do you feel about it?”
“It’s a fact that changes nothing.”
Cally refrained from sighing. " Do you want me to challenge you on that?"
Avon glanced at her. She stared back at him; there was no indication of backing down. Avon sighed and said, "It changes some things but not the relevant things."
Cally rubbed his chest again. "I suppose that's something. Avon, the Tellarans have a proposal for repairing your heart." She explained the Tellaran procedure to him.
When she was done, Avon asked, "That would avoid the necessity for a transplant?"
"Yes. It is a better alternative to current medical procedures. What do you think, Avon?"
"When can they begin?"
Vila picked up his cup and took a sip of the hot liquid. Steam from the surface of the tea rose up like fog obscuring Sester's face before he put the cup back down again. The psychostrategist was deep in thought, his fingers absently tracing the edge of the table in front of him. Pleasant chattering from people enjoying each other's company, drifted over to where they sat on the patio of Vila's favourite café.
Vila thought that Sester just wanted company and an opportunity to stretch his legs; a chance to get away from the medical facility. From his uncharacteristic silence, it was clear that there must be another reason.
Vila's fingers hovered indecisively between a two pastries as he asked casually, "Is something bothering you?"
Sester's glanced up from his study of the table edge. He stared at Vila for a moment as if he was contemplating a difficult question. "There was actually."
"What is it?" Deciding that he didn't want another pastry, Vila waited.
"I don't want you to undergo the regression therapy."
Vila sat up. "Why?"
Sester rubbed his fingers along the table edge again as he said, "There are some things that are best left unknown."
Vila said, "That's for me to decide, isn't it?"
"It's not you that I'm concerned about."
Vila's brow raised in anxious query. "You're worried about Avon?"
Sester's smile was ironic. "It may be hard for you to believe, but this is about Argus."
"Argus?" Vila sat back in disbelief. "Did I hear that right?"
"I said you wouldn’t believe me."
"Well, it's not that I don't believe you…but…I don't believe you."
Sester chuckled. "That's alright, I don't believe me either. But I'm serious."
Vila said in bewilderment, "I don't understand."
"I've already used the pretext that we should not risk someone else's mind with the regression therapy. He's agreed not to attempt it."
Sester smiled with sarcastic amusement. "He's Argus. Of course it worked. He is bound by his duty."
Vila asked accusingly, "You manipulated him?"
"It wasn't that difficult." The smile slowly faded from Sester's face as he continued playing with the edge of the table. "He's a good man." There was no hint of amusement or sarcasm this time. "It makes him very vulnerable to someone like me."
A gradual look of realization appeared on Vila's face. "You like him, don't you?"
"I wouldn't put it quite like that."
"But you do. Then why…" Vila's forehead creased in confusion. "…do you treat him the way you do?"
"It would confuse him if I didn't."
"I don't get the two of you."
Sester smiled, "Neither does he. I'm serious, Vila."
"What don't you want him to know?"
Sester knew that he could get Vila's cooperation without any further information. It wouldn't be that difficult for him. His fingers paused in its tracing of the table edge. "When Argus was a child, he didn't want to kill anyone. He was terrified that they would be able to turn him into a killer."
Vila's mouth dropped open. "I thought…" There was horror and shock in his eyes. Argus was very good at what he did. Whether as a tactical commander or on a very personal level, he was a superb killing machine. He seemed a natural at it.
"I know. He must never find out."
Vila's face was full of sympathy. "I don't know what I'd do if I found out someone had done that to me. It would…make me sick."
"That's why he must never find out. He's already haunted by too many things."
"You really were friends, weren't you?"
There was tightness in Sester's throat as he picked up his hot cup of tea. "We used to be." He drained the hot liquid, nearly scalding himself but barely noticing. His eyes fixed on Vila's as he put the cup down. His voice was scratchy but had a sudden hardness to it. "We need him to be the way he is now, if we are to succeed against the Andromedans and the Federation."
Vila had a displeased look as he realized what the psychostrategist was saying. "You want us to use him?"
Sester's voice contained an anger that was directed inwards. "We all have to, Vila. The Federation made him into the kind of weapon that we need."
Vila was increasingly unhappy with what he was hearing from this man that he was starting to trust and call a friend. "You're a cold-blooded…"
"You're right. I'm exactly as the Federation made me; the kind of weapon that we all need as well."
Shock about Sester’s evaluation of himself dissipated Vila's growing anger. "You don't have to be."
Sester's fingers began its tracing again. "It's too late."
Vila sat forward in his seat. "No, it's not."
Sester sighed. "Vila, you know I'm right. Sometimes we can do the right thing. We can afford the comfort of doing things the Tellaran way. But sometimes we cannot afford to, even when we know it's wrong. The three of us were made for those times."
Vila had a troubled expression on his face. "I don't know…"
"That is why you can't do without us."
"It's wrong not to tell him."
"And what will happen to him if you do?"
"He'll…" Vila's expression became even more troubled.
"You will feel slightly better about doing the right thing at the cost of losing a valuable weapon that humanity will need to survive."
Vila was torn. No matter how much he wanted to tell himself that Sester was wrong, he was afraid. What if he was right? But did that give them the right to do this? Vila wished he were not stuck with having to think about this. He was not ready to make this kind of decision. "It doesn't have to be him."
"So you would feel better if we could use someone else? Would you trust anyone else with his abilities?"
"Why do I feel like you're manipulating me?"
The look on Vila's face told Sester that the other man was finally seeing him clearly. "Because you know I’m right and you don't want to admit it." There was a queasy feeling in his stomach. "I'm sorry, Vila."
Vila asked disbelievingly, "You're thinking of doing this to Argus and you want to apologize to me?"
"You think that I don't feel guilty for what I'm proposing to do to him?"
Vila's voice was full of accusation. "You're a psychostrategist, are you supposed to care? Don’t you see everyone as puppets?"
Sester gave a half-choked laugh. "If it makes you feel any better, I'm sure he'll kill me if he ever finds out."
"No, he won't. He'll want to, but he won't. He's not like you."
There was a grimace in Sester's eyes. "Then tell him."
Vila stared at him for a long while and then a different expression came over him. He said in a slow, quiet voice. "No. I'm going to wait for you to do it."
Sester laughed. "And why do you think I'll do that?"
"Because, even with all the things you've just said to me, you're his friend."