Argus asked nervously, “Are you sure you have everything?”
Reya picked up the Tellaran stun pistol from the table, feeling its well-moulded grip and balancing it in her hand. She checked the charge. Full. As expected.
She said patiently, “Yes, Argus. I’m sure I have everything.”
“If you don’t…I could get it for you,” he offered eagerly. He eyed the stun gun and wished that she would bring down something more substantial. Reya had insisted that all the ground teams only be armed with non-lethal Tellaran weapons. She had been very insistent about it.
“That’s alright. I do have everything.” Reya slid the pistol into the holster and buckled it on, out of habit adjusting it for fast drawing.
Argus’s face fell. He really was hoping for something to do. This waiting was killing him and Reya hadn’t even left yet. “You’re sure?”
Reya put her hand on his shoulder reassuringly, feeling his restless tension. She knew that he hated not being part of the action. “I’m very sure.”
Argus tried to express as much confidence in her as he could. “It’s not that I’m nervous about you going down, I know you’re very capable.”
“That’s good to know.”
“It’s just that…after what happened the last time…” He still felt the pain of seeing her battered body and the helpless frustration of not being able to get to her in time while the Chandarans had been trying to kill her. How was he going to communicate that he wanted to go down with her, without also giving the impression that he didn’t think she could take care of herself? His thoughts were all jumbled up, which made him even more incoherent. “…I thought…I could provide backup with you. Rather than from up here. I could … stand behind you. I wouldn’t get in the way. You could give me orders.”
Reya sighed, “No, Argus. We agreed that wouldn’t work as well. We are trying to show the Chandarans that women can capably and naturally lead. You’re too much of a Terran Alpha. You have a dominating personality, that’s why Avon and Sester aren’t going down either.”
Argus pointed out, “Vila's going down.”
“That’s because he's not like the three of you. He can behave himself. Well…” Reya grinned. "In some things." Reya brushed her fingers lightly along his cheek. “You know it's better this way.”
Argus said reluctantly, “I know. It’s just that…I want to…” He decided that saying anything further might not be a good idea.
Reya said with affectionate understanding, “You want to be with me and you want to protect me.”
“Yes…I mean, no. I mean, I know you don’t need me to protect you. I just…”
Reya brushed her fingers through his hair. “You love me, that’s why you want to protect me. I know that it has nothing to do with you thinking that I’m not capable.”
Argus breathed a sigh of relief, “Why is it that you always find the right words to say?”
“I wish that were true.”
Argus took her hand and kissed her palm gently, sending a shiver that seemed to radiate through Reya's body.
Reluctantly, Reya pulled her hand from his. "I'd better go."
Argus sighed. “Be careful and…go and give them some.”
“That’s not the idea.”
Argus grinned. “I know. I’d like to see it though.”
“You mean, again?” she asked teasingly.
They both smiled.
The teleport room was filling with people. If Argus hadn't put his foot down, it would have been standing room only.
Everyone wanted to be here at this moment. It wasn't that they all had to be there, the rest would not be required until later, but this was the start of a mission that would decide the fate of an entire planet. Reya, Cally, Corinne and Marlena were going to meet with the new President of Chandar and to coordinate with Marlena's bond-mate, former President Brent.
Vila found it funny that Argus was hanging around Reya but trying to sound very professional about it. And Avon was sitting at the teleport console, but his eyes kept sliding across to rest on Cally every so often, for no reason at all, as if he needed visual proof that she hadn't gone anywhere yet.
Sester always seemed to like hanging around near doorways, leaning against the wall and with a perpetually bemused look on his face. Vila could tell that he was watching everything, taking in the atmosphere of the room and had probably noticed the same things long before he had.
The three Alphas were supposed to watch things up here and provide backup. Vila had smirked when he first heard and wondered if they should leave someone to watch them.
Alphas…put more than one in the same room and you had an instant war. He'd seen it often enough before, hadn't he? Front row seats most times. It was entertaining unless you were stupid enough to get in the middle. Vila found it was much more enjoyable when the blood being spilt wasn't his own. He preferred heckling from the sidelines.
Alphas dominated everything in sight. That was just the way they were. Vila liked to think of it as a character flaw. Going around lording it over all the lower grades was one thing. No one seemed to have put much thought into how that would work out when you had more than one of them in the same place. Or three? Saying sparks would fly would be the understatement to end all understatements.
Vila hoped that the uneasy truce over breakfast would be enough to keep the three Alphas from doing any permanent damage to each other. He wondered if his part of the land mission could be finished more quickly. Vila was looking forward to working with Corinne and and Cally but he might be more useful watching things up here.
All chattering ceased and everyone seemed to stand to attention as the four women stepped onto the teleport platform.
Vila caught Corinne's eyes. They had said their good wishes back in their cabin but Vila wanted to add another one. He gave her an encouraging smile, one that said that he wished he was going with her. Corinne grinned and nodded.
Cally and Avon also caught each other's eyes briefly. What they needed to say, had already been said between them. Cally knew that Avon didn't feel any further words were needed.
Argus was now standing by the teleport console. "Good luck." He said to Avon, "Send them down." Within seconds, the familiar teleport energies surrounded the group and then they were gone.
While everyone else went off to prepare and wait for Reya's instructions, Argus, Avon and Sester convened on the flight deck. The two military engineers had set up other monitoring equipment and screens and were busy under Avon's direction. Vila had tagged along since his team wasn't needed yet. Besides, he wanted to see how the three men were going to handle being support.
Argus uselessly checked over his flight panel readings even though they weren't going anywhere. He asked impatiently, "Avon, is it ready?"
Avon was busy at Cally's communications station. "Two minutes."
"They're already down there."
Avon looked up briefly and favoured him with a sarcastic look. "I was there when you sent them down unless you've forgotten."
"I know. I'll…stop bothering you."
Sester was sitting on one of the couches observing them both. "He's nervous."
Argus glared at him. "I am not."
Sester had a playful glint in his eyes. "Why do you assume I'm talking about you?"
Avon looked up again and this time gave Sester a humourless look. "He knows you're not foolish enough to make that kind of remark to me."
Argus frowned. "Wait just a minute you two."
Avon turned the same humourless look in his direction. "Do you want me to complete the connections or would you prefer continuing this pointless conversation?"
Sester said in jest, "Well, if you could manage both…"
Avon cut him off, "I wasn't speaking to you."
Argus added, "Yes, no one was speaking…" As he looked at Sester, Argus's lips curled in a snarl of frustration. "Never mind." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Alright, let's get on with it."
Another thing that Argus found extremely irritating was that Sester's role would be important in this endeavour. But Argus was a professional, his responsibilities always came first.
Vila, who was at his old neutron blaster control muttered, "That's amazing."
Avon glared at him, "What are you doing here?"
Vila was flustered. He didn't have a good reason to be here. "I was…"
Sester said with amusement, "He's being nosy. About us."
"I was not! I was…" Vila suddenly felt vastly outnumbered.
Argus asked with steely eyes. "Yes? I would like to know what you're doing at the neutron blaster controls when we don't plan to blast anyone."
Vila tried to sound as innocent and industrious as he knew how."Uh…running diagnostics?"
Avon's eyes narrowed at this implausible explanation. He said to Sester. "You're right. He is being nosy."
Vila protested, "I can run diagnostics."
Avon remarked without a trace of humour, "Willingly?"
"Hey, I resent that!"
"They're just jealous, Vila," said Sester as he stood up and got himself a glass of water from a tray on a nearby table.
Avon remarked, "Hardly."
Sester explained, "They're jealous that you're going to be part of the action while they're stuck up here being support." He sat back down again.
Vila pointed out, "You're stuck up here too."
"Psychostrategists are used to having other people do the dirty work."
Avon said dryly, "What a fascinating statement." He turned to Argus, "Perhaps other people would find it even more fascinating?"
Argus smiled. "Yes…such as the four women currently down on the planet?"
"At the very least."
Sester grinned as if he was enjoying himself immensely. "Vila, are you sufficiently amused?"
Avon and Argus turned their attentions to Vila again.
Argus asked, "Why does he get to go down?"
Cally had tried to explain it to Avon but he had not been entirely convinced. He had only agreed because he had trusted her judgement and because his own role with the computers was crucial during this mission. "He's not an Alpha."
Argus remembered Reya's words. "Reya said that he can behave himself."
Avon said sardonically, "Obviously, she doesn't know him well enough."
Vila said, "Or…she definitely knows the three of you."
Avon, Argus and Sester stared at him.
Several readings changed on Avon's monitor screens. He looked down at them. "The connections have been made. Zen, put them onscreen."
Reya and her team teleported down to the Chandaran President's meeting chamber. There was immediate reaction at the composition of her group, whispered voices of surprise and uncertainty amongst the gathered reception committee of Champions and government officials.
The Elder Champion Trist, inclined his head formally and said, “Champion Reya. It is good to see you again." Next to him were the former President, Brent and the man who had been part of Reya's first challenge, Champion Dannon.
Reya followed his custom. "President Trist."
Trist had always been a man who seemed burdened by responsibilities, he seemed even more so now. "I am only the interim leader until the situation has stabilized."
Brent stepped forward. "We still haven't been able to convince him that he is the President until then."
Trist corrected, "A temporary one."
Brent grinned, "You see?" His eyes opened wider when he saw his bond-mate and his daughter behind Reya. His face held soft joy as he said, "Marlena. Corinne."
Marlena's eyes connected with his as both women stepped forward to either side of Reya. The two bond-mates were well aware that any other display might shock the already astonished Chandarans.
Marlena said warmly, "It is good to see you again."
Corinne had a big smile on her face but she knew that now was not the time. "I'm glad to see you too, father."
Reya said, "We all have much to discuss but you should have time to speak to your family first."
On the ship, the four men were watching the pirated security video feed of the meeting chamber that Avon had obtained access to.
Avon asked incredulously, "They're going to discuss family matters?"
Argus was assessing what he was observing. "Reya must feel it's important."
Avon said, "I don't see the relevance."
Argus tried to understand what Reya was doing. "Maybe she wants to talk to Trist first. He is President now."
Vila said, "Maybe she's just trying to be nice? She knows how important they are to each other."
Sester said from his comfortable seat by the couches, "What Vila is trying to say is that Reya is taking this opportunity to show the Chandarans how an equal and loving dynamic works between a man and a woman."
Avon said, "That wasn't in the plan."
Argus said wryly, "It appears that the plan has changed somewhat."
Brent, Marlena and Corinne were speaking softly in a quiet corner. Though no one could hear what they were saying, it was clear how they felt about each other and there was no hiding that there was no subservience in their relationship.
The Chandaran Champions and government officials were talking to Reya but there was no mistaking their inordinate attention in the three in the corner. Reya was very aware of their interest. As she continued asking Trist about the situation on the planet, she turned her head slightly in Cally's direction, caught her eyes briefly and looked quickly in Marlena's direction.
Cally projected into her mind, * You want to know how the Chandarans are reacting to Marlena and Brent? *
Reya nodded her head slightly.
Cally's role was to keep an eye on the mental and emotional atmosphere of the room. There were many strong emotions at work in the meeting chamber. * There is a mixture. Some positive. Most unsure. Curiosity. *
Reya discreetly put one hand behind her and tightened her fist.
* There are one or two negative reactions but nothing extreme. They all feel uncomfortable, but that is mainly because this is something alien to them. The group gathered here appears to be open. *
Reya nodded her head imperceptibly again as Trist continued talking and Marlena and her family became the unconscious focus for the people in the room. After Trist finished telling her of the current political situation, Reya said, "That's a good start."
Interim-President Trist said, "We are hoping for much more, Champion Reya."
Reya asked with light resignation, “You’re going to continue calling me that while I’m here, aren’t you?”
Trist, ever the stickler for following custom said, “You are a Champion of Chandar. It is only your due. We’ve tended to be lax on Champion titles but I think in your case, we must insist. We must remind people who you are.”
Reya didn't like it but she knew that if they were to do what they were here to do, this was one of the annoyances she would have to bear. “If you feel it's necessary."
Trist said, "It is. I was surprised that Argus didn't come down with you."
"It was felt that I was the best person to deal with the situation on Chandar."
Trist paused to take this information in. "I don't know if I can ever feel entirely comfortable with the idea of a woman being in charge."
Reya nodded her understanding. " It's against everything you've ever known."
"It's against everything I've ever felt. It…will be hard to change."
Reya said encouragingly, "But you have already. You took a great step in accepting me as Champion."
"That was different. You earned the title."
Reya seized on this. "That is what we would like to discuss once Brent and Marlena join us."
Cally projected to Reya, * Trist is very interested in what you said. *
Reya nodded imperceptibly again.
The four men were observing the viewscreen intently on the Justice.
Argus said, "Reya has Trist's attention already."
Avon agreed, "It appears so."
Argus turned to Sester and asked, "What is your assessment so far?"
"The conditions are optimal. It appears Brent and Trist have gathered a good group to work with. Reya's idea was a good one. She is making them think."
Avon asked, "You are saying that the move to have Brent and Marlena deal with personal matters was not an attempt to be 'nice' but was meant to help facilitate our plans?"
Sester turned to him with amusement, "Yes and no."
Before Avon could say anything scathing about evasive answers, Sester said, "Reya was trying to accomplish two things. One you would recognize and appreciate. The other…you would only appreciate if Cally was involved."
Avon scowled at him.
Argus had kept his attentions on the screen. "Brent and Marlena are coming back."
They all turned to watch the unfolding events in the meeting chamber.