Cally checked in on Avon in the medical unit after the singing session. She found him engrossed with a computer that he had insisted be installed in the medical unit. He was so preoccupied that he didn't notice Cally until she was right next to him.
He raised a startled head and automatically lifted up an arm as if to ward off an attack but relaxed when he saw her. "Cally. I didn't see you come in."
It was an old defensive habit that he hadn't been able to break. Sometimes he woke up that way when he was startled, almost as if he expected to be murdered in his sleep. Cally wondered what kind of life he had led that would make him like this. She imagined that it had been a very nervous one.
She wanted to tell him that he didn't have to be nervous anymore, he didn't have to be afraid for his life, not with her. He loved and trusted her, more than anyone else he had ever known. He had told her that, and she believed him. But old habits die hard; habits that had kept him alive when no one else cared. It would take time.
"You were busy." Out of habit, Cally checked the life monitors by his bed. "I see that you had them install the computer."
"I'm analyzing the schematics for the cleaning appliance."
Cally continued assessing the readings and said absently, "Spot."
"Yes…the cleaning appliance." Avon said decisively as he swung the computer away from him and with just the barest twitch of a smile at the corner of his lips, leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest.
Cally looked over at him curiously, aware of a light mischievous impression from their mental connection. "It has a name, Avon."
"It's a machine, Cally."
She was prepared to defend all named computers everywhere and pointed out, "Zen and ORAC have names."
"They are also machines, albeit sophisticated ones. They have designations that are acronyms indicating their function. Would you like to know what the acronyms stand for?"
"Then it's a name with a meaning, like all names."
"I have never understood why people insist on associating living characteristics with inanimate objects."
"It helps us to understand them and feel more comfortable interacting with them." From the monitor chart, Cally saw that the specialists had determined that Avon would be able to start rehabilitation therapy tomorrow.
"A schematic and instruction manual would serve the same purpose and be infinitely more useful."
Cally finished her reading of the monitors. "ORAC and Zen are members of the crew."
"They are useful instruments used by the crew. There is a difference."
"We consider them part of the crew."
"You do.” Avon said in his most impassive voice.
“Avon, after interacting with ORAC, can you seriously say that he isn’t alive? He has his own personality. He wants to survive. He’s too curious for his own good, or ours.”
“ORAC was programmed with an interface that simulates Ensor’s personality. It was programmed to protect itself. It was programmed to gather information. That does not make it alive."
"Then he’s a virtual life form."
"There is no such thing unless you wish to debate the definition of life." Avon's eyes seemed to twinkle with bemused interest.
Cally was curious about something. “Avon, when is ORAC going to be fixed?”
Avon gave her a light grin at her desire to change the topic. “When we stumble across the parts for it. Unfortunately Professor Ensor didn’t see fit to use components that we could buy, borrow or steal.”
“Then how do you plan to find them?”
“Now, that’s an interesting question.”
"Avon, were you bored with what you were doing?”
“What makes you ask that?”
Cally sighed. “I only came in to see how you were and to thank you for directing us to the harmonics room."
"Was it adequate for your purposes?"
"Yes, it was perfect. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Thank you." She bent down and kissed him lightly. A startled Avon put his arms around her and drew her down further so that she was sitting on the edge of his bed. Cally’s intention of a light expression of gratitude become something more intense. All other thoughts seemed to have been forgotten, any boredom vanished. The curative properties of a kiss were not to be dismissed.
Cally drew back after awhile and asked, "Did you know?"
"Can you be specific?"
"About the effect the crystals would have on my mind?"
"Ah." Avon let go of her and studied her face, as if he was trying to gauge her reaction.
Cally asked, "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I suspected. I wasn't certain. I knew the crystals would react to the music on a senses level. It was meant as a surprise."
Avon had taken the idea from Vila's surprise gift for Corinne. It had seemed a good idea. It was obviously something that Vila thought Corinne would like. Avon had considered building a personal cleaning appliance for Cally but decided that imitation was for less creative minds than his own was. "I had hoped that it would help you."
"You mean with the singing?"
"Of course," he said just a little too quickly.
Cally looked at him but he did not meet her eyes. There was a hint of something in her awareness of Avon but it passed too quickly for her to be sure. “The crystals are living.”
“Yes. A semblance of life. How did your mind perceive it?”
Cally’s eyes seemed to focus on something distance as she recalled the memory of the room and sense impressions. “It’s…hard to describe. It’s living but not living at the same time.”
Avon was watching her with keen attention. “Did you recognize the impressions?”
Cally eyes levelled back on him. “It reminded me of the shadow creature.”
“Interesting. Nothing else?”
Cally saw that he had something specific in mind. Her mind went back to all the alien life forms they had encountered. She thought wryly that far too many of them seemed to have an interest in the psi abilities of her mind. But there was another… “The Sopron rock?”
Cally’s brow knitted. “I’m not sure. When my mind touched the Sopron, it only reflected back a mind similar to my own.”
“That is similar to what the crystals do. Except that embedded within them is a reflection of the ship. It was because of my research into the nature of the technology of the Liberator that I discovered the abilities of the Sopron.”
“That’s why you were so interested in it?”
“You know, Avon, you surprised me. It wasn’t until then that I realized that you weren’t really interested in wealth.”
“That’s preposterous. Of course I am.”
“But not as an object of greed.”
Avon hesitated before he answered. “No. Wealth represents safety. Once I had the Liberator, the pursuit of wealth was no longer relevant.”
“But Tarrant and Vila wanted to hijack the Kairopan.”
“For Tarrant it was an object of greed.”
Cally cocked her head in surprise. “And for Vila?”
Avon’s lips curled into a smile. “Yes. But for him it is also a challenge.”
“Vila enjoys a challenge?”
“Of course. Doesn’t everyone? That is why you put up with me, isn’t it? Because of the challenge?”
“I often ask myself that.”
“Have you come to any conclusions?” Avon asked with a light teasing tone.
“Speaking of challenges, have you talked to the others about your dreams?”
Avon’s eyes widened at the sudden change in topic. Cally was one of the few people who was able to catch him off-guard. “No.”
“It might be a good idea.”
“There’s no need. We have all listened to the recordings. Further discussions will not reveal anymore than we already know.”
Cally wondered if it was a basic difference between men and women that one had a tendency to discuss everything and the other hardly at all. Or was it a characteristic peculiar to the men on the Justice. “It’s not just about knowledge, Avon.”
Avon had a suspicion that he knew where this conversation was headed. “It should be.”
“Doesn’t it change the nature of the relationship between the four of you?”
“Knowing the past does not change the circumstances of the present.”
“It has for some of them.”
Avon stared at her. Cally stared back unflinchingly.
Avon asked, “You want me to ask which ones?”
“I think you already know which ones. It might be a good opportunity for you to work on improving your relationship and communication skills.”
There was an automatic reluctance in Avon’s eyes but he said, “I will consider it.”
Reya and Argus were in their cabin getting ready for the day.
Reya was adjusting her sleeves and checking herself in the mirror. "Argus, I have a concern about our plans for Chandar."
Argus tightened his belt and fastened it. "What kind of concerns?"
"It's a good plan but…"
"But?" He turned to face her.
"I think we can do better."
"You didn't mention this before."
"I know. I wasn't sure how you would take it."
Argus looked at her speculatively. "You know that I respect your ideas, Reya. What's really going on?"
Reya's eyes searched his, trying to determine how receptive he would be. "How are you getting along with Sester these days?"
Argus stiffened. "I see."
Reya found herself becoming tense. "Now you know why I didn't say anything before. I had hoped that after what happened with the dreams, you would see each other differently. I know he does."
Argus bristled. "What is that supposed to mean? Did he talk to you?"
Reya placed her hand on his muscular chest; she could feel the hardness he adopted whenever his nemesis was mentioned. "Doesn't the fact that you were childhood friends mean anything to you? They all tried to save you."
"I know that." Reya could feel the increased tension in his body before he turned away.
"That means Sester too. Argus, you should talk to him."
There was a reluctant look on Argus's face but Reya saw something else. There was a struggle in his eyes. He was a good man; he knew what was right even though he didn't want to do it.
Argus said, "I don't feel like talking to him. You know what I think about him. I might say something…opposite… "
"Yes, I know. If you could resolve it by fighting him instead of speaking to him, you would be knocking down his door right now. Can you at least try? You know he's not going anywhere now. He's committed to us, to what we're doing. It might be good if you could at least get along. He might be a valuable resource even if you don't want to renew your friendship."
Argus said unenthusiastically, "I'll try."
"Argus, have the four of you talked about what happened with the dreams?"
"No." He wondered what was causing Reya to bring up all of this serious talk. It was so much simpler just living together, working, playing…this talking about things, things that made him feel uncomfortable, made him feel…very uncomfortable. He knew that she wanted to talk sometimes and he didn't mind it. Sometimes. But couldn't she give him some advance notice?
Because…we don't want to. Argus doubted if that would be an answer that would satisfy her, but it was the truth. "It's not necessary. If it was, we would have talked about it."
Reya took a deep breath and let out a long sigh. "Men."
Argus gave her a sliver of a smile. "I am that."
"That was not meant as a compliment."
"Are you ready?" Argus headed towards the door and Reya followed him out.
There was another topic that Reya had been trying to broach with him, the revelation that the Federation had been responsible for turning him into a killer against his will. He had been very resistant to talking about it, brushing it off as something that could not be changed. But that was a deeper issue.
Reya wondered if it would be a good idea to encourage the men to talk together. As they parted for their separate duties, Reya realized with irritation that she hadn't been able to communicate what her concern was with the plan.
The three women met for breakfast. It was a little more crowded this time in the dining hall but it seemed that their regular table by the corner was still available for them. Corinne brought over a bowl of vanilla ice cream along with a big thick waffle lightly dripping in syrup and a cup of milk tea.
Cally raised her eyebrows. "You must like ice cream."
"Oh yes, it's wonderful. We don't have anything like this on Chandar. The Tellarans have something similar but…it's not quite. I like this version the best." She dug in and scooped out a generous spoonful. "Don't you like ice cream?"
"I prefer it as a dessert," said Cally as she scraped off some of the icing on her slice of coffee-tasting cake. She was trying a new item from the ship's menu and hadn't realized there would be so much of the sweet topping.
"I'm not much into sweet things," said Reya. "Except chocolate. Almost anything with chocolate will do for me."
"Oooh." Corinne's eyes lit up. "I love chocolate."
Cally said with speculative amusement, "Don't tell me, Vila has been playing tour guide through the ship's dispensers?"
"How did you know?"
"He would be the best one. There are things he's tried that I haven't dared yet."
Reya nursed a cup of coffee as they talked.
Three soldiers walked by on their way out. They acknowledged the women.
Reya said with amusement, "They call you 'Doc' now?"
Cally shrugged. "Yes. I'm not sure when they started."
"It's fitting since you've treated most of them."
“I still have a long way to go in my studies.”
“It’s the actions which count. That’s what matters to them,” said Reya. She took another drink of her coffee and then put it down on the table. “Can I ask you something, Cally?”
“Has Avon talked to the others about the dreams they had?”
Reya asked, “Corinne?”
“I don’t think Vila has.”
Reya sighed. “Argus said that it wasn’t necessary.”
Cally replied, “That’s Avon’s position.”
Corinne was puzzled, “Why won’t they talk about it?”
Cally and Reya replied simultaneously, “They’re men.”
“Why would that make a difference?” Corinne still didn’t understand. The only men she knew much about were her father and her brother. She knew that her mother and father had lengthy discussions about many things. Corinne had assumed that it was normal.
Cally explained, “Men don’t feel comfortable talking about personal issues. When given a choice, they would avoid it.”
“My father talks about many things with my mother.”
Cally said, “My guess would be that it is your mother who initiates the conversations.”
Reya added, “And your father reluctantly agrees to talk.”
From the mission briefings by Marlena, Reya and Cally knew many of the conditions of women on Chandar. Women were mainly kept at home. There were times when they were allowed to go outside to visit other women, but the occasions were not often and it always had to be in the accompaniment of a man. The isolation was part of the control.
Reya was curious about this young woman. She seemed confident and intelligent but given the place she grew up, it was surprising. “Corinne, I know that you led a sheltered life on Chandar. Did you find it lonely?”
There was sadness in Corinne’s eyes. “Yes. It was very. I always wished that I had a sister to talk to. My brother talked to me but he wasn’t home that much after he grew older. He was able to go out and do things. He would tell me about it…but it made me wish that I could go out with him. I miss him.”
Reya said, “I’m sorry we weren’t able to find out who killed him.”
Cally said speculatively, “It had to be part of the alien plot.”
“Yes…” Reya studied the dark surface of her coffee. “Maybe this time we can find out. If we have time.”
“I would like that,” said Corinne.
Cally asked another question. “You seem very strong and self-assured for someone who was isolated and grew up in the atmosphere of Chandar.”
“My parents helped me a lot. Especially my mother. She’s very strong and she taught me to be too. We talked about everything. She taught me all the things that they teach children on Tellar. How to deal with things like anger and fear. She said that not everywhere was like Chandar.”
Cally said, “Not everywhere.”
Reya said cynically, “Just enough places. What else was it like for you? Were your parents and your brother the only people you talked to?”
“There was the staff at the house but they didn’t talk to me much, not until much later. My parents were very careful in case I talked to the wrong people. They didn’t want anyone to find out that I wasn’t like the other women on Chandar.”
Cally said, “It must have been nerve-wracking.”
“I mainly kept to myself. Where I lived was in a separated part of the residence. It was big. My father set up an exercise area and a lab for my mother. And there was a large beautiful garden. I wasn’t able to go out much but my parents made sure that I had access to all kinds of information. I could read and explore anything that I wanted to.”
Cally asked, “On the computer?”
“Yes. I would look up information on all kinds of places and imagine myself there. And there were many interactive programs I could talk to.”
“That’s not the same as talking to people.”
“No. That’s true. When I was older, my parents would let me have access to the outside networks. I could talk to lots of people then but I had to be careful to pretend that I was a man. I was careful not to say too much. Sometimes I would play online games but they usually all involved killing of some kind. I didn’t like those very much. I liked the building and puzzle games.” Corinne felt relaxed and comfortable sharing about her life on Chandar. She liked talking to Cally and Reya. They were like the sisters she always wished she had. She found it very easy to talk with them.
Corinne had a thought. “I have an idea.”
Reya asked, “What’s the idea?”
“I thought that since we’re having such a good time talking to each other…maybe Vila, Avon, Argus and Sester could do it too.”
Cally said, “That’s what we’re hoping will happen eventually.”
“But why not now?”
Reya and Cally saw that Corinne was excited about something. Reya asked, “How do you mean?”
“I know you said that if given a choice, they would avoid talking about it.”
Cally said cautiously, “Yes…we shouldn’t force them.”
Reya warned, “It would only backfire if we try to force it.”
“I wasn’t thinking about forcing them...” Corinne thought for a bit.
Reya said jokingly, “Well, apart from putting them all in the same room and throwing away the key until they resolve it, I doubt if they’ll do it willingly.”
Cally remarked, “And maybe not even then.”
“The same room…hmm,” Corinne said thoughtfully.
A look passed between Cally and Reya. This youngster had many ideas and far too little experience. Reya asked warily, “What are you thinking?”
“Well…what if we put them in the same room and not throw away the key? And not tell them anything. Just put them together in a non-threatening situation. Like…eating breakfast?”
Cally said sceptically, “You mean put them together and expect them to talk? About something significant?”
“It doesn’t have to be something important,” said Corinne. “It can be about anything. They have to get used to talking and relating to each other before they’ll be comfortable talking about more serious things.”
Reya asked, “Did you read that from a training text?”
“No. But it makes sense, doesn’t it?”
Cally said, “Logically, yes. However, as Avon would say, human beings are not logical creatures. And that applies particularly to men. They will act on instinct and that instinct means that they will not talk to each other about anything personal.”
Corinne looked disappointed. “I thought…it might work. It was a very important thing they found out about each other. Wouldn’t they need to talk about it?”
Reya said, “There’s a difference between need and want. Argus knows that he needs to talk about it. He just doesn’t want to.”
“Avon as well, though he refuses to admit it, even to himself.”
Corinne looked thoughtful again, “So they all must have this need. Have they been alone together since the dreams happened?”
Reya said, “No.”
Cally remarked, “I think they’ve been avoiding it.”
Corinne asked, “Why?”
It was Cally’s turn to look thoughtful, “I’m not sure.”
Reya was pondering this as well. “Do you think…they’re afraid to face each other?”
Corinne grasped on this idea. “Could it be that they know that once they’re together, they will have to talk about it?”
Reya said to Corinne, “You want to try, don’t you?”
Corinne said, “The worse they could do is not talk about it.”
Reya turned to Cally, “What do you think?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think that not talking about the issue is the worse they can do to each other.”
‘Then we shouldn’t do it,” said Reya.
“On the other hand…we know they have a need to talk. There is a slim chance that that need might push the issue. Avon and Argus couldn’t have any worse a relationship with Sester than they had before, barring throwing him off the ship. I doubt if they would do that now.”
Reya said, “So that part of it has changed.”
“Yes. It might be worth a try,” said Cally.
“And we should be there just in case things get too out of hand. Now we just need to arrange to get them together.”
Over the next few days, as Avon became stronger and was allowed a few hours of freedom from the medical unit, he began to repair the damage done to the cleaning appliance. He steadfastly refused to call it Spot. Cally insisted that one of the military engineers help him.
The rest of the ship was still busy preparing for their Chandar mission while Argus and the leaders talked over strategy.
Sester and Vila sat companionably together over breakfast. At this hour, there was hardly anyone else here. Most people had already eaten and were about their business.
Argus appeared at the entrance and hesitated as he saw Sester. His lips had an odd quiver, as he seemed to be deciding whether a frown or sneer would be appropriate, especially in the light of their newly revealed childhood memories; though he was obstinately sceptical of Sester's part in them. Reya had called it being unreasonably stubborn.
Argus decided against an unpleasant expression and just favoured him with a glare before a nod of greeting to Vila. Vila smiled and said, "Morning."
Argus walked briskly past them towards the food dispensers and quickly punched up his regular breakfast. Picking a table that was as far from Sester as possible without exiting the room, he sat down with his back towards Sester and proceeded to eat as if it was a race.
Sester picked up his mug of coffee and sipped it unhurriedly as he regarded Argus's very loud back. He remarked casually, "I'm sure it's not personal, Vila."
Vila paused in mid-toast, "Eh? What's not personal?" It was hard not to miss the message of the back and he was sure that Sester was up to some light mischief.
"I’m sure that all signs of hostility are being directed towards me. I notice that he gave you a nice smile."
"That was a smile?" Vila asked curiously. He hadn't noticed one.
"I believe that in the morning, and before his first jolt of coffee, what you witnessed was the equivalent of a very warm greeting."
"Oh. I suppose but I thought…"
"Ah…you thought that something might have changed after what happened?"
"Well, yeah." Vila bit into his piece of toast and chewed thoughtfully, wondering what the roguish psychostrategist was up to.
"Oh, something has. Hasn't it, Jack?"
Argus whirled around with a mug in his hand; both he and the coffee appeared to be steaming. On the other hand, maybe it was just an illusion of the hot liquid. He said with a tightly controlled voice that punctuated each word, "Do not call me that."
Sester grinned. "Alright."
Argus's eyes were cold. "Or I'll call you Chuck."
"My name was never Chuck," protested Sester. "It was Charles."
A half, not entirely friendly or unfriendly smile appeared on Argus's lips, "That can easily be fixed."
At that opportune moment, Avon appeared in the doorway, and like Argus, he also paused when he saw the occupants. He entered warily and asked, "What are all of you doing here?" This was the first morning that Cally had let him have a normal breakfast in the dining area rather than on a tray delivered to him in the medical unit. The last thing he wanted was for unwanted company on his first foray.
Vila said, "Morning, Avon. We're all having breakfast."
Avon's eyes narrowed and he said dryly. "Someday you might manage to tell me something less obvious, but I wouldn't hold my breath."
Vila said, "I was just trying to be friendly."
Avon said, "Some people manage to be friendly and relevant. You might try it sometime.”
Vila complained, "Well, that's the last time I try to be nice."
Avon stared at him impassively, and then a grin touched his lips. "I doubt it."
Vila's eyes narrowed, "I don't believe it. Did you just pull my leg, Avon?"
"Why would I do something that distasteful?"
Sester's eyes widened and then he started laughing.
Vila turned to his breakfast partner, "What's so funny?"
Avon and Argus looked at Sester with distinctly irritated frowns. Argus said, "You know, Avon, are you sure it was really necessary to remove the tracer bracelet? It did have other uses."
Sester held his formerly bracelet-adorned wrist against his chest protectively and tried to stop laughing. "Oh, no you don't."
Avon said with a tone that invited no further nonsense, "Answer Vila's question."
Sester suppressed a chuckle. "Why are you all having breakfast at this hour? Don’t you all normally eat at different times? Three guesses if you really need them."
Avon, Argus and Vila all looked at each other.
Sester punctuated the names. "Exactly."
Argus looked at him, "Did they really have to include you?"
Sester grinned impishly, "This is my normal meal time."
Vila said, "He is one of the four." He had his own grin. "Even if hardly anyone likes him."
Sester said, "Thank you all for the vote of confidence. I feel very welcome now."
Argus tilted his head slightly towards Avon and said in a mock-whisper. "I wasn't trying to make him feel welcome. Did I do something wrong?"
Avon said in a deadpan tone, "Surprisingly enough…no." He asked, "Why would they do this?"
"It's obvious," said Vila.
Argus sighed and tried not to glare at the pleasantly grinning Sester. He picked up his tray and reluctantly joined the two men.
Avon watched this action with a perplexed knit of his brow. He asked Vila caustically, "Do you plan to enlighten me? Or have you picked up his unsavoury habits?" Sester grinned.
Vila said, "Come on, Avon. Don't you get it? We're friends. Friends eat together sometimes. We share things and learn to get along."
Avon had a dubious look on his face. He finally came away from the door and went to the dispensers to order up some breakfast.
Sester said, "Reya, Cally and Corinne want us to spend time together so we can work out the new dynamics."
Vila asked, "Didn't I just say that?"
Argus expelled an irritated breath. "This sounds very familiar. Reya is always trying to get me to work on my relationship." He tried not to snarl as he aimed his next words at Sester. "With him."
There was an irritated frown on Avon's face as he waited for his food. "Cally as well."
Argus turned to him with surprise and suspicion, "Cally wants you to work on your relationship with him too?"
"No." Avon paused and almost seemed embarrassed but the look passed so quickly that no one could swear to seeing it. "With everyone."
Sester said with a highly amused face, "You know gentlemen, I'm sure that working on your relationship with me, includes not using the term, 'him' with such regularity and vigour. Did they also include some directives about communication skills?"
Avon and Argus stared at him as they both wondered worriedly if Cally and Reya had been speaking to Sester.
Avon asked suspiciously, "What do you know about that?"
If Sester looked any more amused, he would start to come off as superior, or at the very least, extremely smug. "Relationships and communication." He raised one hand and then the other as if he was holding one word in each hand. "They do have a correlation."
Avon asked abrasively as he came over with his tray of food and sat down. "Is that meant to be funny?"
Sester said, "I do believe that humour is an aspect of communication. We've all been doing quite admirably, though I'm not sure this is what Cally, Reya or Corinne had in mind."
Argus asked, "Avon, do you have that bracelet handy?"
"It's not far."
Sester said pleasantly and without a bit of concern, “It would be a fascinating exercise in communication to try to explain that move to Reya, don’t you think?”
Argus’s voice almost sounded like a disgruntled growl, “He was always this annoying, wasn’t he?”
Sester grinned, “Only to you, Jack.”
The growl sounded annoyed. “I told you not to call me that, Chuck.”
Sester laughed. “Alright.”
With raised eyebrows, Avon asked, “Chuck?”
Argus said, “You should try it.”
Sester said, “It’s not as much of a threat as you think it is.”
Avon said with comprehension, “Just enough of one?”
Sester raised his hands in mock-surrender. “Alright. Alright. What are we going to do?”
Argus asked, “About what?”
“About this fascinating coincidence arranged by the women of this ship. They want us to talk to each other.”
Avon remarked factually, “We are.”
Vila said, “We’re not really. You’re just sniping at each other. It’s more like…fighting than talking.”
Avon and Argus looked at each other. Argus asked perplexed, “That’s a form of communication, isn’t it?”
Vila asked, “But would you talk that way to the Commander?”
Argus remembered his early contentious relationship with Reya. His face turned slightly red, “Well…we did at the very beginning.”
Vila’s ears pricked up with interest, “You did? That’s hard to believe, considering…”
Argus said quickly, “I don’t do that now.”
Sester smirked. “You wouldn’t dare.”
Argus said with warning. “Watch it.”
A female voice said from the open doorway, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”
Argus winced before he slowly stood up and turned around to see Reya leaning against the doorway and Cally and Corinne standing next to her.
The other three men also looked with alarm at their previously unnoticed audience. For some reason, they hurriedly stood up as well.
Avon’s eyes narrowed in suspicion, “Cally, what are the three of you doing here?”
“Can we join the four of you for breakfast?”
Cally heard Avon’s mental voice asking, * Cally, are you going to answer my question? *
Cally sighed and looked at her two companions. “We were hoping that putting the four of you together would promote dialogue.”
Sester smiled pleasantly at the three beautiful women. There was a roguish glint in his eyes as he asked, “Any dialogue in particular?”
All three women stared at him. For some reason that made him cough uncomfortably. “Of course. What else could it be?”
Avon asked, “Our supposition was correct then?”
Argus growled, “No one likes when you do that.”
Sester grinned at him.
Cally said, “We were hoping that putting the four of you together might encourage you to talk about what happened in the dreams.”
Avon remarked flatly, “One does not necessarily lead to the other.”
“Or ever if they had their way,” said Vila.
Avon favoured him with a glare. “I didn’t see you helping matters.”
“Well, I would have if someone had listened to me.”
Avon stared at him. He said, “Perhaps…”
Sester added, “Or me.”
Avon glared at the source of the interruption.
Argus said to Sester in a cynical tone, “You just ruined it.”
Sester glanced at the three women. Then his control over his temper seemed to slip. With rising anger, he said to Argus, “I’m tired of you treating me as if I’m the enemy all the time. I was. I AM NOT NOW! We were friends once. I tried to save your miserable life.” His voice became bitter, “Not that it means anything to you.” The bitterness gave way to guilt. “I know I’ve done some things since then that…many things that I regret. I’m very sorry for what I did to Avon. I’m sorry about what happened with Reya. Neither one of us meant to hurt you. We thought you were dead and we didn’t have a choice. I’ve done my best to make it up to you. To both of you. I don’t know what else you want from me.” The pleasant and casual rogue had completely disappeared from his face and was replaced by guilt and weariness.
They all stared at him in shock and then everyone’s eyes turned slowly to Argus.
Argus felt as if the collar around his neck was suddenly several sizes too small. The last place he wanted to be was here. “Do we have to talk about this now?”
A quiet voice said, “Yes, you do, Jack.” With astonished expressions, everyone turned to look at Avon.
Argus had a rebellious look on his face.
Avon said, “You know you have to. You cannot lead effectively until you resolve this.”
There was stubborn rebelliousness in Argus's eyes but there was also a fierce struggle going on inside of him. He had an intense dislike and mistrust of Sester, but another side of him knew that Avon was right. Reya had been trying to say this to him for days. Argus wished that these decisions didn’t have to be so hard. It was much easier planning complex battle strategies than to do this. He knew what he had to do.
With reluctant resignation, Argus nodded. He turned to face the still angry Sester. “You’re right. It’s unfair of me to continue to treat you like this. Not entirely unfair but...not all the time. I’m not sure if I can ever forget what you did but we were once friends. That...does mean something. Part of what happened…was because of what they did to us. That is something I will not forget. If you’re willing to work with us against our enemies, then...I would welcome your help.” Argus offered his hand.
Sester looked down at the gesture. “This is not friendship.”
“No.” Argus waited with extended hand.
“Will it ever be possible again?”
“That depends on you.”
“I suppose I deserve that. Alright.” Sester grasped the offer and they shook hands. They were no longer enemies, but they were not friends yet either. Neither one of them knew what they were but for now, it didn’t matter. It was a first step.