Under the table, Largo's leg slowly and discretely nudged the green case towards Jenna, until she could feel it bump her leg. They were speaking in low voices. Just visible enough that others would know they were conversing but not loud enough for anyone to overhear them unless they were standing at the table.
Jenna asked, "That's it? Just one case?"
Largo had ordered a black coffee but had left it untouched on the table. It was obviously only meant as a prop so that the waiting staff would leave them alone. "Yes. Just the one. For now."
Jenna's paranoia scanner was blipping loudly. "It must be very valuable for the amount of money you're paying me to transport it."
"I thought that you transported everything, no questions asked?"
Jenna's coffee had grown cold, just like the feeling she was getting inside. Largo's pale face and shrewd eyes were not giving her any confidence that this was a cargo she wanted to transport. "You thought wrong. If I risk my life, I want to know what I'm risking it for."
"We are paying you this much money so that you won't ask any questions."
"In my experience, money of that kind is usually too expensive."
"What if we offer you even more money? Say…fifty percent more?" Largo asked.
The man's persistence was making Jenna very leery. "It's too expensive at any price."
Largo's eyes seemed to be measuring her and then he leaned forward and his voice became a conspiratorial whisper. "Very well. The case contains four flasks of pure concentrated Shadow."
Jenna's whispered voice was like a sliver of ice. "Shadow?"
She cut him off abruptly. "I know what it is." It was time to leave. "My services are no longer available." Jenna got up to leave.
"I'm disappointed in you."
"The feeling's mutual." Jenna left the café without a glance back. She had to get a better class of customer. She might be a smuggler but she would never stoop so low as to have anything to do with Shadow.
Jenna woke with the memory still haunting her and a feeling of anger. She refused to have these memories; she wanted the other ones, the ones that didn't make her question herself even more.
Vila looked back at the reluctant Argus. "Come on, they're expecting you." The 'they' in question were a group of Chandaran women on a break between training sessions. "It won't be that bad."
Argus was dragging his feet but he was still moving forward. He grumbled, "Maybe not for you. Remind me why I've suddenly lost my mind and agreed to do this?"
Vila grinned facetiously, "Because you're a wonderful human being?"
Argus stopped and began backing up the way he came. "I refuse to become a spectacle. I'm…going back to the flight deck."
Vila said, "But they'll be disappointed. They really wanted to see you."
"Give them a picture."
"They can't ask a picture questions."
Argus grimaced, "I doubt if asking questions was their reason for seeing me. If they want more, give them a holopic. That should have the required…depth."
Vila said, "You know, you're being very unreasonable. And you're jumping to conclusions about the women."
Vila nearly leaped when Sester stuck his head around the corner and said, "And that surprises you?"
A dark scowl clouded Argus's face at the sight of the man who was not supposed to be his enemy anymore, but still felt like one. Especially at times like this. He growled, "This is none of your business, Sester."
Sester grinned pleasantly. "I suppose I should be grateful that you're using my name and not something more descriptive."
The corridor was feeling much too crowded now that the psychostrategist was here. Argus said with a displeased frown, "What are you doing here?"
Sester replied nonchalantly, "This is a corridor. I am doing what people normally do in corridors, passing through."
Argus said aggressively, "Then why don't you do that."
"Oh, I plan to, after we have a talk about your unreasonableness."
Argus countered, "How about we have a talk about how annoying you are instead?"
Sester said, "Vila doesn't think I'm annoying, do you, Vila?"
Vila held up both hands in self-defence, "I'm not getting in the middle of this. I don't like the sight of blood. And in situations like this, it usually ends up being mine."
Sester grinned, "Smart man." He turned to his rival. "Well, unreasonable one?"
Sester said, "This is deteriorating rapidly. I thought you agreed that we would work together?" His voice unexpectedly took on a quality calculated to grate on raw nerves. "Or was that a lie that you wanted Reya to hear?"
Fire seemed to flare in Argus's eyes. His lips pulled back, almost like an animal that was ready to pounce and his hands clenched in ready fists. He seemed to be growing larger.
Vila put his hand on Sester's arm and asked with apprehension, "What are you doing? Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
Sester had a grim, superior smile on his face. "I know what I'm doing, Vila. He's not going to hurt me."
Vila looked at the angry man and said, "I wouldn't be so sure about that. He might not kill you but I wouldn't place any bets on a little non-fatal maiming."
Cally, who had been inside with the waiting women, came out to find out why she was suddenly feeling some very intense emotions from the other side of the door. She took one look at the near-battle atmosphere and asked acidly, "What's going on? The women are waiting for you. We don't have time for this silly male posturing. Are you trying to destroy everything that we're trying to accomplish with the women?"
Argus's anger immediately turned to shame. He said repentantly, "I'm sorry, Cally. You're right. This isn't the right time for this."
Sester said with formal politeness, "My apologies, Cally. It was my fault."
Cally was not satisfied with their attempts at placating her. She was angry that they would be playing these kinds of games when they were supposed to be helping the women. "Yes. It was both your faults. When will the two of you deal with your problems with each other and move on? Or do I have to do it for you?" She felt like a mother faced with two constantly bickering siblings. "You…" She looked Argus squarely in the eyes. "…feel jealous and threatened because of what happened between Sester and Reya. You don't think that you're good enough for her even though she has repeatedly told you that you are. You're afraid because you think that Sester has the ability to make her happier than you ever could. But at the same time it makes you angry at him."
Cally turned her laser sharp attention to Sester, "And you care about Reya but you know that she will never love anyone but Argus. That hurts more than you would ever admit to anyone, even yourself because you want someone to love you the way that she loves him. That's why you keep baiting him, because you want him to hurt for having something that you don't and you want to prove that you're better than he is. You want him to lose control because then you might have a chance with Reya even though you know it's impossible."
The corridor was deathly quiet. Both men felt as if they had just been stripped naked.
Vila felt embarrassed. It was like being a voyeur to something that should be very private. He wished he could sneak away but was afraid that it would draw attention to him.
Cally was still angry. "Have I missed anything?"
Both men had lowered their eyes under her onslaught. These were truths that neither one of them had wanted to deal with.
Argus finally said in a subdued voice, "It's not that easy, Cally."
Sester lifted his head and scrutinized her face. "Even if you are right…"
Cally's eyes were like daggers of ice and her voice dared him to deny what she was saying. "If?"
Sester was a master of manipulation; he was not easily intimidated by the psychological tools that he often used on others. "This doesn't change anything."
Cally said strongly, "Truth changes everything."
Sester smiled with practiced sarcasm, "Only if it is a truth that you can accept."
Cally had her own sarcasm to match his. "You are supposed to be one of the best psychostrategists that the Federation has ever produced. I think it's time to use that skill on yourself."
For flicker of a moment - one so brief that Argus and Vila wondered if they had imagined it - there was a pained vulnerability in Sester's eyes and then a disturbingly chilled smile spread across his face, causing an involuntary shiver to touch Cally's spine. Sester said in a voice devoid of emotion, "In the Federation, a psychostrategist's skill is only used to do one thing, Cally."
His cold eyes held hers for a moment longer and then he turned his back on them and walked away.
Cally did not have to wonder. The barest sliver of pain that had escaped from him was something she could not deny. She had recognized this before in Avon. It was an emotional pain so sharp that it took the breath away.
Cally suddenly realized that Sester had applied his skills to himself and the answers he found were ones he was refusing to accept. It was what was making him act so irrationally. He had lost his objectivity. An irrational man with a psychostrategist's tools; it made him very dangerous. She would have to pay closer attention to him.
They all stood frozen, watching Sester until he had turned the corner and was no longer visible. Argus's voice held a quiet tension, "I…didn't know it was like that for him. I…"
Cally had not said any of this for Sester's sake; it was to help Argus. She knew that this man needed to resolve something that had been eating away at him for a long time. "That day in the cargo hold, it was Sester who recommended that you tell the women how you felt about Reya."
"He did?" Argus asked with surprise. It was something he would never have guessed of his rival in a million years. Argus was now aware of the other man's pain and it was something he could not dismiss. No matter what his agenda might have been, Sester had put aside his own feelings in order to help the women. It had cost Sester a great deal personally that day. Argus hated the implications of that pain, but Cally was right. It wasn't just Sester who had lost his objectivity.
For the first time, Argus recognized the cynical boy that Sester had been. The one who constantly ridiculed him and had given him a hard time, but also one who had risked the life he had always dreamed of in order to help a friend. "I have only been thinking of myself." His clear, honest eyes met Cally's. "Your truth does change something. For me. Thank you. I know what to do now."
Cally touched his arm. "You're a good man."
Argus looked down the empty corridor. "I don't know about that. I try to be. Sester can be too but he always had a problem with deciding what he wanted to be."
Cally shook her head wryly. "Perhaps I need truth of my own but for now, I cannot see it."
"Or you don't want to see it."
Cally said, "Perhaps. Are you ready to go inside now? The women are waiting."
Argus had nearly forgotten their purpose in being here. He sighed resignedly. "I suppose so."