As Marlena, Brent and Corinne came back to the meeting, all conversation stopped. There were friendly faces from those who had been part of Brent’s former Presidential staff. They were all aware of Brent’s unusual relationships with his bond-mate and his daughter.
The Champions and other government officials were, not exactly unfriendly, but more ill at ease. None of them had seen this kind of relationship before. Despite their desire to change their society and the conditions for women, all of their instincts and feelings told them that this kind of interaction was unnatural.
This was something Reya and her team were well aware of. They had been well briefed by Marlena and the Tellaran psychostrategists. Everyone knew the daunting task that lay before them. To truly change this society, it had to be done from the inside out.
The Tellarans were not interested in change that was obtained by force. That would inevitably result in much suffering, if not death, for people on both sides of the conflict. Their goal was to avoid as much violence as possible and to find a more permanent solution. Compliance obtained by force, had to be maintained by force, unless you got rid of everyone who opposed you, one way or another or disabled them somehow and removed their ability to provide opposition. But then, it would become oppression of a different sort. The Tellarans were not interested in removing one form of oppression by replacing it with another.
The Tellaran teams had come to Chandar preparing to stay for the long-term. None of them expected quick results. The members had all committed their lives to helping the Chandarans.
As Brent, Marlena and Corinne rejoined the meeting, Brent asked, “Did we miss anything?”
Reya responded, “President Trist has been informing me of the political situation here on Chandar.”
Brent said in jest, “Always a fascinating topic on Chandar; battles, challenges, all manner of death and mayhem. And those are just the council meetings.”
Reya said, “You must have been very busy.”
Brent grinned, “You have no idea.”
Trist wanted to return to more serious matters. “Champion Reya, you were mentioning something earlier? About your earning of the Champion title?”
“In a way.” Reya turned her head slightly in Cally’s direction, indicating that she wanted the Auronar woman to pay particular attention to the atmosphere in the room for the next part.
* I’m watching, * Cally reassured her.
Reya continued, “It’s not my earning of the title that I’m interested in but the concept in your society of the earning of privilege.”
There were stirrings of curiosity among the Chandarans.
A guard rushed into the room and whispered something in Trist’s ears. The interim President said, “If you’ll excuse me. Just a minor issue but an urgent one. I will be back in half an hour. Please make yourselves comfortable. I will instruct that refreshments be brought in.”
As they waited for Trist to return, the others talked quietly amongst themselves. Marlena and Corinne reacquainted themselves with Brent’s people.
Reya took Cally aside and said, “Sorry there wasn’t time to tell you about the change in plans. I realized something when I was talking to President Trist.”
A uniformed attendant came by with a tray of beverages. Reya asked, “Do you have water?” The man indicated a clear blue glass. Reya picked it up and nodded her thanks. Cally also took a cup of water.
Cally asked, “What did you realize?”
"Do you remember the idea that Sester had originally?"
Cally was peering into her coloured glass. It was hard to tell if it was water or not. "You mean when we were here the last time and you were involved in the challenges?"
Reya said, "Yes. Sester said something in one of the briefings. He said to remember that respect is earned through challenge on Chandar. It's a key concept in this society."
Cally frowned and took a small testing taste of the liquid, "A very masculine concept. The idea of valuing someone according their ability to dominate or beat an opponent."
Reya took a drink from her own cup. "Yes. But I was thinking, we've proven that the concept itself is beyond gender."
Cally said, "That was a very special case and only involved you. You made an indelible impression on them. And unless you plan to find a few more women who can do the same thing…"
Reya gave her a slight conspiratorially smile, "Would you like to volunteer?"
"Tell me you're joking."
"Don't worry, I am. But…I know you could do it. You're a tough woman, Cally."
"I feel more like a nurse these days. Not very tough."
Reya hadn’t realized that Cally felt this way. It was hard to tell from her voice if she was feeling frustrated. "Does it…bother you to have to take care of Avon all the time?"
Cally didn't know where these feelings were coming from. "It's not that. I would spend the rest of my days taking care of Avon, if he needed me to. Gladly. But…I started out as a rebel. I wanted to right wrongs. To make the galaxy a better place. I was frustrated with the pacifism of my own people. I had to fight for what I thought was right. But then Star One happened…and the thought of killing all those innocent people…just because we thought it was better for them…it finally opened my eyes to what a horrible thing I was contemplating and how compromised my ideals had become. Until then I had never questioned if what we had been doing was right. It made me ill to think of the ramifications. Later when Avon decided to get away from it all, to stay out of everyone's way and live peacefully, I was glad. For a while. But then I became restless again. I had spent many years pursuing a single goal, fighting the Federation. I wasn't used to the life Avon had chosen. To me it seemed aimless. I did not give him an easy time about it but…now I realize he was just trying to live in peace."
Reya said, "And now you're restless again?"
Cally was trying to sort out the different emotions that were vying for her attention. "I…don't know. Maybe part of me will always be a warrior, wanting to fight. But…another part of me doesn't. I never meant to be a fanatic. I'm afraid…"
"You're afraid that you might become one again?" Reya touched her arm in empathy. "You and Avon are well matched."
"Yes. We've always been that."
"No. I don't mean it like that." Reya's brows knitted as she tried to explain what she was thinking. "You said that Avon wanted to live a life of peace when he was given a choice."
"Yes. I think that was all Avon ever wanted."
Reya had never tried to understand the complexities that made up Avon before. "Avon prefers a life of peace for himself. He will not go out of his way to look for people to help but…he will fight when he can be convinced there is a need, or if other people believe there is a need. You’re the opposite. You’re a warrior at heart. You have a need to act when you know that wrongs are being done. You will seek out people to help but now you’re bothered by the violence.”
Cally could recall the tiredness she felt in the weeks after Star One. She could almost feel it again. After Avon had rescued her, there had been a feeling of depression; a weariness of soul, mind and body.
When an Auronar is surrounded by the mental cries and agonies of the dying, even if they are only vague impressions of alien species or humans, it is a disturbing experience. Normally she didn't feel it but when it was on such a scale, it was like the dying of her own people. It wasn't until then that the mental realization she had on the Liberator became real to her on a level that was horrifying. It had made her question herself, Blake, everything. And the answers she had come up with had made her very uncomfortable.
It had made her want to go home and see her people again. To seek reconciliation from those who had banished her, because life had proven too short for too many people, and she had nearly been one of them. Cally shivered inside at the thought of almost becoming nothing more than spare body parts. She wondered how many people had suffered the same fate but hadn’t been as lucky to have an Avon to save her. “I suppose that’s true.”
“And for a time after Star One, you sought respite in the peace that Avon provided."
"I didn’t realize it at the time. But I needed it. We all did. There was too much death and the thought that we were nearly responsible for a lot of it...it was too much to face."
Reya wondered at that statement. Why did Cally feel this way? Why did she think that they were nearly responsible? Responsible for what? Didn’t the Liberator crew help save the galaxy from the alien invasion?
"That is why I said that you are well matched. You complement each other, you challenge each other and you give each other rest. That is what you've been doing for Avon, in the same way he did for you after Star One. He gives you his desire for peace and you give him your desire to help others. He is coldly rational and denies his emotions. You once allowed yourself to be ruled by your emotions and instincts, enough to blind you into becoming a fanatic. In themselves, neither are healthy ways to live but you influence each other. You are good for one another."
What Reya was saying sounded oddly familiar but Cally's mind was too preoccupied to think on it. Her head was filled with the memories of her relationship with Avon, and the motivations of her own heart. "You've given me much to think on. I'm not sure what I want to be now. I want to be more active again but I'm not certain to what degree.” She smiled wryly, “I’m not sure I want the kind of tough reputation you have."
Reya nearly chuckled. "Do you think I do? I have enough problems with the men on the ship. Now I have the potential of having a whole planet full of problems."
Cally tried to suppress a smile of amusement. "We'll have to give you a team of soldiers to fend them off. I understand that Vila was suggesting the idea of action figures."
Reya shuddered in mock-horror. "Don't remind me. Vila had better be joking. If I see a hint of one…I'll know where to look."
Cally's eyes carried light humour. "You do perpetuate the image, even if you don't mean to."
Reya sighed. "Well, at least it is going to prove useful with the Chandarans. It seems to be the only thing they recognize. Which brings us back to my idea."
Cally looked apologetic, "We got sidetracked."
"We both did."
Cally had been bothered by something. It finally hit her what it was. “You sound like Sester. When I was on the prison planet, he pretended to help me. I was depressed. I missed Avon. I was confused about how I felt. He tried to help me understand. Some of the things you said…sound like what he would say.”
Reya cleared her throat with awkwardness. “It’s because I’ve been talking to him. Just a bit. I was consulting him about the various scenarios possible on Chandar and what to look for. He’s very talkative and he analyzes everything…including relationships. I suppose I’ve picked up some of it from him.”
Cally’s eyes narrowed, “You mean he talks about my relationship with Avon?”
Reya was looking very uncomfortable. “Just in passing sometimes. I don’t ask him to.”
“He analyzes you and Argus too, doesn’t he?”
Reya’s eyes looked down at the ground. “I’ve told him to stop it.”
“You have to be careful of him, Reya. You know how easily he can get you into trouble.”
“I know. Don’t worry. I would never let him do anything that would hurt Argus.”
Cally thought, It’s never knowingly with Sester. That’s why he’s so dangerous. She would have to keep an eye on Reya.
Reya said, “We should discuss the change in plan before the President returns. We need to coordinate our communication.”
Cally nodded. In a low voice, Reya quickly sketched out what her idea was and they discussed how to proceed.
Back on the flight deck, the four men were puzzled.
Avon remarked, “This is another deviation from the plan.”
Argus had a thoughtful look on his face. He mused, “Yes…”
What was Reya trying to do? Originally, their plan had been to help the Tellarans set up on Chandar so that they could begin their long-term mission. Reya was to do some visible public relations work. She had been prepared to meet with some of the more serious opposition and perhaps face down a few more challenges. That way the Chandarans would have more of an opportunity to test how real her original tests had been and there would be no question that a woman was more than capable of beating any number of them.
Reya’s face was to become the new image of women on Chandar. She had not liked that part of the plan one bit. Reya had no desire to be immortalized in song, posters, plays or action figures, despite how hero-worship worked on Chandar.
Avon found her attitude a reasonable one. He still couldn’t stand heroes.
Sester said jokingly from where he was sitting, “She really hated the idea of becoming an action figure. Unfortunately, she won’t be able to avoid it, even if she does it this way.”
Vila asked him, “Do you know what she’s doing?”
Avon said dryly, “Can’t you tell from the smug look on his face?”
Sester grinned. “She’s following one of my suggestions.”
Argus tried not to growl at the idea that Reya would be following anything that Sester said. Through gritted teeth, he tried to ask in a professional manner, “Which suggestion?”
“Reya recognizes what I realized at the beginning when I first analyzed this society. The concepts of challenge and respect are deeply ingrained on Chandar.”
Avon’s head cocked in interest. “As deeply ingrained as their views of women?”
Sester said, “That is what informed my original strategy. In order to overcome a deep-seated prejudice, you need something just as strong and even more important to overcome it. It had to be done very carefully or it would have seemed to be an attack. That was why Reya had to return and show that she was there to save them and to submit herself to their will.”
Avon was a man who had choices taken away from him most of his life. He understood the significance of Reya’s actions, even if he wouldn’t have chosen to do it himself. “She risked her life in order to give them the power to decide?”
“That’s right.” Sester was reminded why he was fascinated by Reya and why he was drawn to her. “She risked her life in order to show them that she was there to serve their interests. She wanted them to know a woman like her was not a threat to their society.”
Argus had to concede that Sester did seem to know what he was doing. “What is she doing now?”
They could all see Cally and Reya talking together. They couldn’t hear their lowered voices but the two women seemed to be working well and were having a serious discussion.
Sester turned his head to look at Argus speculatively. “You don’t object?”
Argus had no doubts about Reya, only Sester. “If Reya’s thinks this is the best course of action, then it is.”
“Regardless of whom the idea comes from?”
Argus could feel a growl coming on. Sester was really asking to be trounced but Argus exercised a great deal of discipline and controlled himself. “Yes.”
Sester smiled pleasantly.
That made Argus growl, but a sound that rumbled low in his throat and only he could hear. He was sure that Sester did it because he knew it would annoy him.
Sester said, “Well, we’ll find out if my speculations are right about Reya’s intentions. She’s about to tell them.”
They all turned to the screen again.
President Trist returned and the meeting resumed. “Champion Reya, please continue.”
Reya’s eyes swept the room slowly as she spoke. Her voice was one of reason. “I know that all of you in this room are open to listening, otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. For that, we are all grateful. You must know where I stand with the regards to the status of women in your society, but I am not here to judge.”
As she began to share about herself and why she was there, her voice became tinged with passion. “It may shock you to know that I’m a soldier, as many of you are or were. My job is not to tell people what to believe, my role is to fight and to defend. And to lead others into battle, usually at another’s orders. But I am under no one’s orders today, other than that of my own conscience. I am here because I believe in something. I believe in the people of Chandar, both men and women.”
Trist said, “Those are powerful words, Champion Reya. You said that you are not here to judge and that you believe in us. But what do these words mean? What do you want to do?”
Reya turned slightly to her Auron partner.
Cally nodded imperceptibly, * They’re ready. *
As Argus was in a habit of doing, Reya took in a deep breath first and let it out. “I would like to issue a challenge.”
There were stirrings amongst the Chandarans. They had all witnessed Reya in action. Some wanted to test her for themselves while others seemed nervous.
Trist asked with sharp attention, “What kind of challenge?”
Cally continued feeding Reya her impressions. * That got their attention. *
“I want to show that your own women, if given a chance, can surprise you. My request is for you to volunteer one hundred of your women. We will take them in hand and train them for one month. We will teach them the skills that you recognize for a challenge. At the end of the month, you can test them. Of course, in all fairness, they cannot be pitted against your most able fighters. One month is a limited time frame and your women have not had much in the way of education.”
Former President Brent said, “This is an interesting idea.”
Dannon said, “Yes, but who can we test them against that would be fair but meaningful?”
Cally said, “I would suggest your first year military recruits.”
This was something that Cally and Reya had discussed.
Trist said, “That’s impossible. Even against first year recruits, the women would never stand a chance. The recruits are young and strong men. Even after only a year of training, they’re good fighters. How could any woman beat them after only one month of training?”
Reya said, “Then it would only be more convincing when the women win.”
Trist said in warning, “And what happens if they lose?” The look on his face spoke volumes. He was very certain that this was a bad idea.
Reya said with assurance, “They won’t.”
Cally projected to her, * They’re not sure about this. They have severe doubts this will work. *
Trist asked, “You have that much faith in people you’ve never seen before? Knowing full well what you have to work with?”
There were no doubts in Reya’s eyes. She exuded confidence. “Yes. Is this an acceptable challenge?”
Trist’s burdened eyes were heavy with thought. He asked, “What do you think, Pre…I mean, Brent?”
Brent nodded slowly as he considered it, “It’s a risk. If they lose…”
Reya again repeated firmly, “They won’t.”
Brent asked his bond-mate, “Marlena?”
Marlena had been thinking as well. “Will we be able to choose which women?”
Trist said, “Of course. You would want young, able-bodied women. You can choose which ones.”
Marlena said, “Then this is a chance we cannot pass up.”
* That was a good suggestion. It will make things easier. Marlena has convinced Brent. He trusts her and she trusts you. *
Reya nodded imperceptibly in acknowledgement.
Brent said, “Very well. We should start broadcasting this over all the vid-networks and give it a proper build-up.”
Reya said, “One of the Tellaran teams can help you with that.” This was one of the psychostrategist teams. “In the mean time, I will make myself available for questions, appearances, or challenges from your people.”
Cally said, “We wish to build an image of women that is both capable and beneficial to Chandar society. People who are non-threatening but at the same time, should not be taken lightly.”
After Reya had finished explaining what she wanted to do, Avon asked with cool scepticism, “She can’t seriously believe that will work?”
Argus was already thinking about what was needed to put the plan into place and what he and the others needed to do to help. He said absently, “Reya believes it will work and we’re going to help her.”
Sester said, “Given the nature of the Chandarans, and as long as it is done properly, I believe it has a chance of giving a greater percentage of success.”
Avon asked, “How much greater?”
Sester pulled out a personal data pad from his pocket and retrieved his own projection analysis. “On estimate, forty to eighty-five percent of our original goals at fifty percent chance of success.”
“As opposed to?”
“Our original plan would give fifty to sixty percent of our goals but over a much longer period of time and seventy percent of success.”
Argus was conversant with this kind of strategic analysis. Military commanders played with percentages of success, usually along with acceptable losses. “So we’re trading a greater chance of success with achieving a more optimal result?”
Sester said, “We’re not trading. Since this is a non-lethal strategy, there is a fallback position. If Reya’s plan fails, we can still go back to the original plan.”
Though Avon was not familiar with what Sester was doing, he was acquainted with the implications of these kinds of analysis. “What is the negative impact on the original plan if hers fails?”
A brief smile flickered across Sester’s face. Avon had an amazing ability to apply his mental prowess to fields he was unfamiliar with and to make sense of them. This was the Avon that had first made him take notice at the Detention Centre.
Sester replied, "Five percent of variance in original goals and success probability but the time required would almost double."
Vila didn't know what the three men were talking about with their numbers and statistics. He was no mathematician or a strategist but there were some things he did understand. "You mean what we want will never be a hundred percent possible?"
Sester turned to him. "Nothing is completely reproducible under different conditions."
Vila asked, "You mean because they both have different histories and cultures?"
"That's a reasonable supposition. But in this case, I am talking about the lack of a catastrophic catalyst."
Avon had conducted some extensive reading about Tellaran science and technology, and also surprisingly enough, about Tellaran society. A culture based on the rational application of sentiment had seemed to be an oxymoron he was determined to uncover. "You are referring to the war that nearly resulted in the extinction of the Tellaran people?"
"Yes. That was the catalyst that forced them to make a decision."
Avon asked, "Live or die?"
Sester was aware of fragmentary emotions surfacing from his past. This discussion and the interaction with these three men reminded him of something.
"Yes. Disasters tend to distil life down to its basic foundations. There is nothing more fundamental than the choice between life and death."
Avon's voice tightened and was touched with bitter cynicism, he almost sounded angry. "Then it should have become what it has always been for humanity. A society like Tellar should not exist. It's not possible."
Sester regarded him curiously. "And yet it does exist."
Argus was looking down at his flight panel but his eyes were not focused on it. In many ways, he believed the same as Avon did. He had seen too much of human corruption and cruelty to be naïve to the base nature of human beings. But in his heart, he had been fighting for the hope that something different could be possible. He looked up and asked, "Why are they possible?"
Sester looked at him curiously. There was none of Argus's normal antagonism. It was as if…
Sester recognized the emotions that were surfacing from the past. These were his friends, the best and the brightest in their own ways. It was one of the factors that had first drawn them to each other, the recognition of excellence and intelligence.
Sester said, "The disaster was the catalyst that made them take a hard, objective look at their society. But it was not enough. Like the Chandarans, they had a strong history of violence and war. But the reason why they attract you, Avon is because they also had another side, they had a strong culture of science and rational thought. There was also a third factor. Because of their destructive wars, many of the Tellaran men were killed. There was an abnormally large percentage of women. And unlike the Chandarans, their women were not slaves."
Avon's mind was busy processing this information. He had read something of this on Tellar but he hadn't finished his research. "You are saying that the women changed their society?"
"Yes and no."
Avon scowled at him.
Sester grinned and said in apology. "Honesty, Avon. I don't mean to do it. But it is an accurate description."
Avon said, "Find another way of saying it."
"When the Tellarans realized that they were facing extinction, they gathered together to find a rational solution. The women and the remaining men. Women tend to have a different perspective than men. They are more naturally cooperative and less violent. That is not to say that all women are or that men are not, but that is the tendency. Unfortunately, in many societies, it is the masculine traits of dominance, violence and competition, which rules. And these are the ones which expand and conquer and become very successful, in the way that success is measured in our era."
Argus asked, "You mean that the Tellarans decided that it was these traits that were destroying their society?"
Sester started. He had not expected Argus to make that leap of understanding, especially not a man who was very much an Alpha male to whom dominance and competition were second nature. Not to mention Argus was a lifetime soldier. "Not entirely." Before anyone could make a comment he said, "It was the application of these traits without the balancing ones of peace, cooperation, and mutual respect that they determined to be the greatest problems."
Avon said, "They decided to change their society along these lines? Using the psychostrategists to re-engineer their culture and civilization?"
"Yes and they did it on a fundamental level. They re-educated themselves and deliberately placed peace, cooperation and mutual respect higher in priority than the others. They had determined that without this, their world would destroy itself within two generations."
Vila said, “It must have helped that there were way more women than men.”
“Yes, it was a unique situation.”
Argus said, “So…the Tellarans are trying to make that possible here? Without a catastrophic event? And with the women being in a lesser position?”
Vila’s mind was picking things up quickly. “But they had their disaster already, didn’t they? When the Commander showed them the aliens? It must have been a big shock. I mean, they were nearly able to take over here. And they used their prejudices to do it. That would’ve been a big kick in their pride.”
Sester said, “That is part of our strategy. To show that the Chandaran policy towards their women has become a weakness that can be exploited by others and that enhancing the conditions of their women will be beneficial to their society.”
Argus said, “Then our plans need to be expanded to include Reya’s ideas. Avon, what do you think?”
Avon was running through all the new information in his mind, “If Sester is right about the percentages and the Commander has determined that the situation on the planet is favourable, then we should do it.”
Argus was already making plans. “Alright, Reya will probably ask to divert several of the teams for training. She sounded as if she already knows the type of training she wants for the women. Sester, will the women respond well to being trained by the soldiers? Or…” He stopped and stared at Sester.
Vila said suddenly and with exaggerated effect, “I don’t believe it. Are the three of you agreeing?”
There was an instant denial from the others.
“Of course not.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
Vila had a grin on his face, “Just wanted to make sure. Wouldn’t want to give anyone the wrong impression, would we?”
Argus abruptly turned towards Sester and stared intently at him. He asked suddenly, “What do you believe?”
For a moment, Sester was taken aback by the force in Argus’s voice and then a smile curled his lips. He could guess what Argus was referring to. It amused and delighted him that Argus was thinking on this level, in an area that was not within his normal expertise. Sester was reminded of the intelligence that had made Jack one of them. He decided that it wasn't time to make it easy for him. “I believe in a great many things. Which one are you referring to in particular?”
Argus’s sudden interjection had caused Avon to look at him. Then he said to Sester, “You’ve made a detailed analysis of Tellaran society and you understand it.”
Sester said, “Ah. You want to know if I believe in what you’re doing?”
Argus said, “You don’t believe.”
Sester eyed him with interest. “You’re right, I don’t. But I believe in the three of you. I believe in Reya and Cally. I don’t have enough information on Corinne to decide if I believe in her yet. Isn’t that enough?”
Argus challenged him, “Is it?”
“Are you going to require that I do?”
Argus stared at him as he tried to understand more about this slippery man. “No.”
Vila added, “But it would be nice.”
Sester gave him a friendly smile. “It would also be far less interesting.” While Sester believed in the concept of what the Tellarans had achieved, he didn't believe in it in general. He had his own reasons for this, but he doubted if the others would understand or agree with them.
Argus had a near-snarl on his face. “Is that all that’s important to you? Playing games?”
“That’s what I do. You should know that by now.” He leaned forward. “But I believe in you, Argus. Doesn’t that mean something?”
Avon felt a chord of familiarity. He asked, “You’ve made a personal commitment to us? Just as we did when we were children?”
Sester suddenly felt embarrassed. “Something like that.”
Avon said, “Then it’s enough for me. Assuming that this is what it is and barring other factors.” His eyes queried Vila’s response.
Vila said, “Well, you know me.”
Avon said dryly, “Unfortunately, we do." There was just a sliver of a smile, quickly hidden, as he turned to ask, "Argus?”
Argus was staring at Sester intently.
Avon asked, “Is it enough for you?”
Argus said to Sester, “I never liked you much even back then, did I?”
Sester grinned impishly, a flash of the boy he had once been. “You’ve always been a lot of fun, J…”
“Don’t you dare.” There was a low growl in Argus’s throat.
Sester chuckled. “Alright,” he said amiably.
Argus took a quick breath and exhaled it forcefully. “It’s enough for me. Now can we get back to the mission before I change what’s left of my mind?”