The triumph of the women was somewhat subdued after they found out that Cally had been severely injured. They all wanted to go visit her but had been told that she needed rest and quiet. After debriefings by Reya, Argus and Sester, they were all free to relax. The final Challenge would be in three days.
Sester was mildly amused that Kirsten seemed to be ignoring him after she came back. Not that she didn't speak to him. Her debriefing had been informative and completely devoid of personal comments. His attempts to congratulate her and to discuss her strategy with the flags had been politely accepted with a simple thank you and other monosyllabic answers. It was as if all that had gone on between them in the past, the games and innuendos, had happened to two other people.
She couldn't have seen him interacting with Reya. They'd stopped when the shuttle arrived. Though why that thought would trouble him…it wasn't as if they were intimately connected. It was all fun and games and nothing more.
It couldn't be more, could it? He was determined to remain faithful to his feelings for Reya. She was the only one…what was he thinking? Didn't he promise himself that he would get over her? Hadn't he subjected himself to his master's discipline for just that purpose? He had never meant to resolve it by transferring his feelings to someone else. And definitely not Kirsten.
Why was she was always surrounded by a group of chattering women? Why didn't she waylay him like she had done many times before? Every time he rounded a corner or opened his cabin door, he expected to run into her. It was driving him crazy that she wasn't doing what he expected.
Argus rushed back down to the military research facility with several of the Athol teams, hoping to catch the aliens before they were able to clear out and take any evidence with them. The building was virtually empty as they raced through the corridors. There was no need for secrecy, only speed. They burst into the room like a rush of wind, weapons held ready. Unfortunately, there was no one to shoot or capture. Only empty metal frames.
"Damn! How did they get out so quickly? Alright, make a thorough search of the entire facility. Be careful, they may have left traps."
Young Baxter pointed to a time display on one of the computers. "You mean like this one?" The numbers were counting down. Ten seconds. Nine…
Why wouldn’t the ringing stop? Vila cupped his hands over his ears even though he knew it wouldn't help. It was worth a try. Nothing else seemed to have worked and who could sleep with that noise anyway? Even if it was only in his head.
Avon had suggested something once many years ago, it was almost starting to look appealing. Almost. What if those annoying bells never stopped? He might go crazy. Amputation might be his only solution.
He would groan in complaint at the injustice of it all if his last attempt hadn't given him a headache on top of his current pains. Remind me never to be near a stun grenade again. Alive or dead.
His only cheery thought was that the aliens would be suffering the same headaches. And Argus had given them a double dose. Vila hoped their heads fell off.
Imagine trying to…actually, he had no idea what they were going to do to him and Corinne. Those metal frames that they'd attached them to had aliens-up-to-no-good written all over them. Vila shivered at the close call. What if they'd duplicated them or worse yet, carved them up for lunch? They were aliens; it'd be just the thing they might do.
He felt tingly all over. Was this normal? Of course, if being tied up by aliens was considered normal then he'd rather get off this ride now before he discovered what abnormal was. And being hit by a stun grenade or four was no picnic. Even if they did help save his life.
His mouth felt dry. What he wouldn't give for a nice cold mug of bitter ale. It would be just the thing to wash out the pasty taste in his mouth.
The bio-bed felt soft and comfortable after the hard metal frame the aliens had him strapped to. Though he doubted a restful sleep was what the aliens had in mind for him or Corinne. More a permanent one.
Corinne! He suddenly forgot his own moans and pains and his eyes flew open. Why did the ceiling look like it was moving? Ahhh. The light hurt his eyes. He closed them tightly. Well, at least he could see again. He didn't relish being blind and being able to hear bells in his head that no one else could. Why couldn't it have been something more appealing? Like nice violin? He could do with a few hours of soft violin music.
"Vila, I'm going to give you something for the pain." It was the soft voice of a woman he recognized as one of the Tellaran doctors.
Afraid of aggravating his headache, Vila whispered, "How about something for the bells?"
The woman said, "You're still suffering auditory hallucinations due to the pressure in your ears. The medication will reduce the swelling."
Something cold was slapped to the side of his neck and stuck there like a flat parasite. A medicine patch.
"You should feel better shortly. I gave you a stronger dose to help counteract the shock of your experience."
The bells were finally moving away to a different Sector of space and leaving him alone. The headache was becoming a distant memory. In fact, he was feeling pretty good. He even thought about opening his eyes.
"Vila, are you alright?"
Corinne's sweet voice was the music he most wanted to hear. Vila's eyes popped open. He grinned at the young woman who was sitting up on her own bio-bed and rubbing bleary eyes. Vila said expansively, "I'm just fine. How are you feeling?"
"Much better now. I was going to see how Cally was. Do you want to come?"
Vila's eyes widened as he suddenly remembered what else had happened when they tried to infiltrate the alien's meeting. Cally had been shot as she tried to get them out after they had been discovered. There had been a huge bleeding wound in the middle of her body the last time he saw her. How could he forget? Vila carefully slid off the bed. "I thought you'd never ask."
The doctors had repaired the damage and applied a deep tissue regenerator to close Cally's wound. Recovery would take some time but they reassured Avon that she was going to be fine.
He sat by her bed, his hand resting lightly on her chest. With each passing moment, her heart beat stronger. Unconsciously, his breathing matched the gentle rise and fall of her chest. The physical proof of her recovery should have filled him with relief but there was something that was still missing. The most important part of Cally, her mental presence, was still separated from him. Until he felt her mind touching his, he could not be at ease.
Avon eyes rested on her face, drinking in her presence. Once again, he wished that he had psi abilities. Then he would be able to reach out with his mind and bring her back as she had done for him numerous times.
His mental voice was gentle but urgent. * Cally. It's Avon. You're going to be fine. You're safe. The doctors have repaired the damage. *
There was no response. There had been none for twenty-six hours.
The doctors had said that he had to be patient. She was in a healing sleep and would return to consciousness when she was ready. It was an Auronar ability; she was not in a coma. It must have been what had saved her on Terminal when he thought she had been dead.
There had to be something that he could do. Some piece of technology he could dig up. Data banks he could scour. What can a practical man do when there were no practical actions left? Exhausting himself like this did not help Cally but he could not leave her.
* Avon? * Avon inhaled sharply as the faint touch of her presence reached him. It filled him with pleasure, as if someone had suddenly injected him with a drug that produced instant euphoria. All masks and walls dissolved under the onslaught of unspeakable joy. "Cally!"
At the elation in his voice, Cally opened her eyes. The expression on his face was one she had never seen before. The naked emotions she sensed from him filled her with happiness. There was no attempt to control or hide what he was feeling, no fear that his emotions were overriding his rational mind.
Cally could no longer feel the pain or discomfort of her wounds. All thoughts of aliens and narrow escapes were washed away by the look on Avon's face and the sense of him. He looked years younger and the guardedness and hard tension that always kept him hidden had disappeared.
She reached out and touched his face in wonder. Was this was the Avon he would have been if the Federation had not destroyed his life. She had no illusions that it would last forever. Soon the world would come crashing in on him and he would feel the need for the mask again.
For now, they would forget all the troubles and pains and enjoy the man who was not afraid of being human. Until he realized what he was doing. She refused to waste any second of this precious moment. "Kiss me."
"You're hurt." Avon didn't think this qualified as the kind of rest the doctors had intended.
"Then be gentle."
Avon didn't need further prompting as he bent down carefully and lightly embraced her. What he was aware of most was not the touch of her lips, but their minds joining as Cally's presence caressed and surrounded him.
Vila and Corinne reached the medical unit in time to see Avon and Cally kissing. They stopped at the doorway, not wanting to intrude.
Corinne had a soft smile on her face as Vila hugged her from behind and whispered, "She must be fine."
"She must be."
Vila and Corinne knew that they should leave the two to their privacy, but the gentle display of love and tender passion was so surprising that it was hard to tear themselves away. It was a special moment.
Vila said with wonder, "I didn't know he was capable of this. He seems so different."
Corinne leaned back against him. "He's happy. Maybe for the first time in his life. Sometimes...the way she talked about him...Cally always knew he was capable of this. She believed in him."
Vila remembered something. "Avon said something once. This was long before I met you. He said…" His brows knitted as he tried to recall Avon's words. "…that he never understood why it was necessary to become irrational in order to prove you cared, or why you had to prove it at all. I didn't understand what he was saying."
"Yes. I suppose having psi abilities helped. She knew what was inside him. She knew he cared when the rest of us thought he didn't."
They felt like voyeurs as Avon and Cally physically expressed their caring for one another. Even though Cally's injuries prevented more intimate contact between them, they seemed to find great pleasure in being with each other.
Vila's voice became a conspiratorial whisper. "This gives me an idea."
Corinne grinned. "Just one idea?"
"Would you like to know what my third most favourite thing to do is?"
"Does it involve ice cream?"
Vila held her closer and said suggestively. "It could."
There was a big smile on both their faces. Avon and Cally were not the only ones who could have fun.
Reya adjusted the sling over Argus's arm with a loud sigh.
Argus said, "At least I didn't get shot this time."
"Nearly getting blown up isn't that much better."
He tried to move his arm but only ended up grimacing. "Ow."
Reya put her hand on his elbow. "Didn't the doctor tell you not to move it?"
"I was…trying to test it."
He gave a disgruntled grumble. "I suppose I shouldn't move it." Argus reluctantly relented when she helped him lean back onto the bed.
Reya began undressing. "That's a good idea."
She hung her shirt and pants on the back of a chair with military precision. Her appearance took on a softer tone as she slipped on a light green nightgown.
Argus watched with appreciation, as if she was putting on a show for him. "It might be awkward."
"Hmm?" she asked as she slid into the bed beside him.
He indicated his immobilized shoulder.
"Don't commandos have a reputation of being able to make do with whatever they have?"
Argus suppressed a grin. "Is that a challenge?"