There was a shout of pain and anguish.
Vila's eyes snapped open. For a moment, he was disoriented as visions of childhood were replaced by the warm green ceiling of the examination room. There was another shout of pain and rushed activity.
Vila bolted upright and looked around in alarm. Avon's bed was surrounded by medical personnel. His head was tossing from side-to-side, as if he was trying to escape from some phantom menace but was unable to. Moans of pain escaped his lips. There was a look of anger on his face and sweat formed beads on his forehead.
Cally was by his side. Her eyes were closed in worried concentration as she held onto Avon's hand. Vila imagined that she was trying to reach him with her mind but from the expression on her face, not succeeding.
Someone administered an injection and Avon slowly settled down. Frantic movements became sluggish ones until the only motion remaining was the rapid rise and fall of his chest. The specialists carried on quiet discussions with Cally while she nodded and responded. Vila strained his ears but couldn't hear what they were saying.
A voice came from the other side of his bed. "Vila."
Vila turned to face the speaker. For a few brief seconds, he and Sester stared at one other through the eyes of a fast fading childhood. There was a hesitant, almost shy atmosphere between them.
Vila said with a faint grin, "Snob."
Sester chuckled, "You remember?"
"Yeah." Vila put a hand to his head and groaned complainingly. "My head hurts."
"Yes, mine too. We've broken through the mental blocks, but they're still active. They’re trying to prevent our conscious minds from accessing the information. How much do you remember?"
Vila's face scrunched in concentration, trying to grasp at memories that did not want to cooperate. He groaned as more pain tried to block his efforts and both hands held his sore head. "I can’t..." He refused to give up, this was too important. "I remember meeting all of you…and the escape…and Jack…" Vila's eyes opened at the recall of the name and realization who it was. "…they were waiting for us…outside the door…we didn't have a chance. We were caught."
"I was too.” Sester frowned at the unpleasant memory. “They knew from the beginning."
"Yeah…Jack wouldn’t…" Vila and Sester's eyes widened as they realized someone was being very quiet. They both turned to look to the bed next to Avon's bed. Argus was curled up like a ball, with his back facing them.
As one, Vila and Sester slid off their beds and skirting the busy medical personnel, went to check on Argus.
As they neared, they could see that the curled figure was shivering. His arms were wrapped protectively around himself. Faint noises could be heard when they were finally next to his bed. They were almost like whimpers; the sounds of a small, wounded and frightened animal.
A look passed between Vila and Sester. Vila said with concern, "He’s still in a dream."
Sester grimaced in sympathy. "Vila, what do you remember after they caught you?"
"I…ahhh…" Pain pierced Vila's head and his eyes shut tight as his hands gripped his head. "Don't…remember much. After we were caught…the next thing I remember was a large hall with other kids….I was being graded…didn’t remember any of you…"
"You're lucky. I don't remember much after I was taken either. Only memories of being delivered to the Guild. I don't think Avon and Argus are that fortunate. They appear to remember what happened."
Sester got the attention of one of the medical specialists. "You might want to take a look at Argus too."
Sester and Vila stepped back as the doctors examined the shivering man. There were instant looks of concern as some of them began working on him as well.
Vila asked with anguish, "How could they do that to us? We were just kids!"
"It's the Federation. They can do anything they wish."
With an accusing tone, Vila said, "And you work for them."
Sester turned to Vila. "Not anymore. Vila, I'm sorry about your mother."
The mention of his mother sent Vila into a spiral of sadness as they watched one of the doctors gave Argus an injection. "They told me that she died. We were…in an accident and I was the only one who survived." There was a stricken look in Vila's eyes.
Sester felt guilty. If it weren't for them, neither Vila nor his mother would have… "Your mother was brave."
"You saw her?"
"Yes. After the fight, I was in the infirmary. She was the nurse on duty. We…had a chance to talk a bit. She was worried about you."
A faint bittersweet smile of memory appeared on Vila's face. "She was always like that. Never thought I could take care of myself."
"I'm very sorry, Vila. We should never have…It was my fault." Sester's shoulders sagged.
"How'd you figure that?"
The words came reluctantly. "If…I didn't ask your mother to help us that first time…to see Avon…They were watching her, Vila." His head hung. He couldn't look at Vila without seeing the face of his young friend and the image of his mother being dragged off by the guards. "That's how they found out about you seeing Avon…they knew what we were planning. All…because of me." Sester felt as if his body was weighed down by a heavy burden. He felt Vila put a hand on his shoulder.
"It wasn't your fault; you were doing it for…” Uncertainly, Vila tried out the name from his childhood memories. “…Kerr.” The name produced more pain in his head, but also a feeling of something that was lost long ago, but was now found. It felt good. “My mother wouldn’t have regretted helping you. I know, she always did what she could to help people. And don’t feel bad about me. It was my choice to help."
"Don't beat yourself up. Don't blame yourself for what the Federation did. We were all in it together."
"I can't help it. If…"
A hoarse voice said, "Vila's right."
They were both surprised to see Argus facing them. His face was tired and strained as he sat up and rubbed the back of his neck. "You shouldn't blame yourself." The doctors had finished with him and were helping Avon again.
Sester said wryly, "I would've thought that you would be the first person to hold me responsible. You were right, I should never have used Vila's mother."
Argus opened his mouth to say something but seemed to change his mind. "We were all trying to do the right thing. We were in it together."
Sester was surprised by Argus’s attitude towards him. It was not his regular antagonism; there were no recriminations. Had the re-experiencing of their childhood memories changed something between them? "Jack?"
The response was a reflexive, "Don't call me that."
Sester’s irrational hope was replaced with an instant sarcasm that was directed at himself. "None of this changes anything, does it?"
Argus looked over at him, his eyes measuring what he saw there. He wondered what difference the reclamation of their memories and the recovery of childhood relationships would make. Could it erase all the things that were wrong between them? Did he want it to? "It does, but not everything."
Sester could guess what things those were. He knew he was lucky to get that concession. "What do you remember?"
Argus tried to recall the fast-fading memories. “All of you. You were trying to help me to escape...but they were waiting for us. I couldn't fight all of them. Then…” Argus gave an involuntary shiver and his hand went to his head. “I was…in something…it surrounded me. Couldn’t move…I…” Mercifully, the memories faded, leaving him vague feelings of fear and being trapped. "...can't remember."
Sester said, “Perhaps that’s a good thing. It appears that the Tellaran’s coordination efforts worked. They were able to match our experiences of the memories. We should listen to the recordings to get a better idea of what happened. I’m able to retain some of mine but not all and it seems that you’re losing yours. But the important question is, what are we going to do with this information?"
Argus fixed him with demanding eyes and asked, "Whose side are you on?"
That question seemed to sting as Sester's eyes grimaced. "I'm finished with the Federation." His eyes glanced at the now-resting Avon. "Kerr said it, we're in this together. What we could not finish then, we will finish now. We will make them pay for what they did to us."
Vila's confident voice joined Sester's, "Yes, we're in this together."
In each of their minds came unbidden images of the day they had joined hands together in friendship. Argus nodded and moved decisively off the bed. Unfortunately, he almost ended up flat on his face as his legs refused to hold him up. Sester and Vila grabbed him as the doctors from Avon's side rushed over to help.
Between the four of them, they tried to put a difficult and protesting Argus back onto the bed, which was not very easy. He insisted that he didn't need any help. It was hard to physically move someone who looked like he could lift any one of them with one hand.
Sester shook his head and stepped back. He remarked with dry sarcasm, “They could examine you on the floor. I’m sure the doctors wouldn’t mind, they’re only trying to help you after all.”
Argus glared at him but stopped resisting their efforts. When they finally got him back onto the bed and the doctors were examining him, he asked, "What's wrong with m…?
Argus's words trailed off as he stared at the door. Reya came in and hurried towards him, concern wrinkling her face. Argus flushed with embarrassment and wondered why it was that every time he fell flat on his face, she was there to witness it. "Reya."
She stood by his side and asked in a light teasing manner, "Are you giving the doctors trouble again?"
Argus said with wry resignation, "I seem to do that even without meaning to."
She touched his face affectionately. "You have a rare gift."
"One of many." He grinned and then he took her hand in his and his face turned serious. "I have a lot of things to tell you. I'd like you to hear the recordings."
Vila said, "If you don't mind, I'd like Corinne to as well."
Sester said, "Vila, why don't you ask him?"
Argus sat up, despite still being examined. "Ask me what?"
It was Vila's turn to look uncomfortable. He flashed a look at Sester, wishing the other man hadn't taken it upon himself to push the issue. "Well, I wasn't going to…yet."
Argus said, "Vila, I don't bite."
Sester remarked jokingly, "Biting would be the least of your worries."
Argus glowered at him, just a little.
Argus said encouragingly, "Vila, you might as well tell me. I promise that I won't bite and anything else I feel like doing…" He looked pointedly at Sester. "…I will do to him."
Sester grinned impishly at him.
"Well…" Vila plucked up his courage and said, "…I'd like Corinne to join the crew."
Argus looked suitably grave as he considered this request.
The rest came out in a nervous jumble as Vila tried to list all of Corinne`s abilities. "She can do a lot of things. She can fight and handle weapons. And she's had some medical training. She can help Cally and…"
Argus said, "It's alright, Vila. You don't have to say anymore."
"Wait, there's a lot more…"
"I don't need to hear anymore. I'm surprised at you, Vila."
Vila's heart sank, "But you're not giving her a chance…that's…"
Argus's lips lifted in a grin. "I'm surprised that it's taken you this long to ask."
"In many ways, we have already accepted Corinne as part of the crew. We were only waiting for you to ask formally."
Argus said with a warm smile, “Once the crew is together, and not falling down, we will make a formal offer to Corinne to join us.”
One of the doctors examining Argus said, "Your legs should be fine in a little while. It’s only a temporary loss of control that was triggered by the memories you were experiencing prior to waking up. Your mind was confused."
Argus tried to remember what memories would have triggered this but there was instant pain in his head. His jaw tightened.
The doctor said, "Don't try to remember yet. You're still weak from this session."
Argus said with frustration, "They're not having the same problems."
"No. Only you and Avon. As part of your sessions, you both experienced memories of the treatments you received after you were caught."
The pain grew with his continued efforts. He put his hand to his head.
Reya said gently but firmly, "Argus, it's not the time. You're tired and as the doctor has said, your mind is confused."
He looked up at her worried face. "Alright." He let go of his attempt and the pain instantly eased. "It's very annoying."
"I know. You will beat this but not right now. Give it time."
Argus sighed with resignation and nodded.
Sester had refrained from making any comments about Argus`s confused mind or his stubbornness, even though he was sorely tempted to. He asked, "What's our course of action?"
Another voice joined them, "We need to find Vila's mother."
"Avon!" They all turned as one towards him. Cally was adjusting his bed to a comfortable sitting position.
Argus agreed. "You're right, we need to find her. We owe her a great debt and she’s Vila’s mother, he needs to find her."
Vila said, "I don’t know what to say...except…thank you. It means a lot to me."
Avon turned impassive eyes towards Vila. He knew that he could give one of his typical reasons, such as they needed more information about the Academy. But something had changed. He knew the Kerr that he had been would not have said such a thing, not even in jest. Avon inclined his head in silent acknowledgement.
Argus said, "Your mother is important to us, Vila. Once we are done here and finished with what we need to do with the Chandarans, we will find your mother."
There was a tone of resolve in Sester’s voice, "We won't rest until we find her."