After Jenna sent word that she had found the location of the lab, Avon and Cally immediately had a discussion about this news.
Avon said matter-of-factly, "You're not going down, of course."
Cally placed her hand gently on his chest. She knew that he cared for her but he still found it difficult to express it in anything other than concrete actions or in ways that other people would find normal. This desire to protect her, even though his rational mind knew that she was fine, was an indication of something much deeper. "Avon, you don't have to be afraid."
She felt him tense beneath her fingers. "It's not a matter of fear."
"I'm perfectly fine. You know the Tellaran doctors would never release me for duty if I weren't. Don't you trust their medical abilities?"
"This mission does not require your participation."
"But I'm not going down for the mission, Avon. I'm going down for you. You need me to read Jenna."
"That's not necessary. We already know Jenna wants to kill me. There's nothing more you could discover with your limited telepathic ability with humans."
She looked up into his deep, brooding eyes. It was hard to know what he was thinking most of the time but she could sense what he was feeling. It was what she had noticed very early on with Avon. When he answered a question, it was rarely simple. You had to dig underneath the meaning to understand that he was truly saying. He seemed to have a pathological need to hide when he was doing something good by not directly answering a question. But the answer itself was very revealing.
He did not want her to go down but he would not admit why. Did she want him to? He had already expressed how he felt about her. For Avon, when he had committed himself, it was a fact. He didn't consider it necessary to continue proving it with meaningless words or gestures. At least, that was how he saw them. This was such a strange way of relating with people that she wondered how he had learned it. Or was it an indication of a psychological condition?
Cally closed her eyes and brushed her mind gently along his protective walls. She could feel the automatic tension as his normal protective instinct made him to pull away but at the same time, his love for her caused him to stop himself and consciously lower his walls so she could come closer. His breath caught as she slipped past his barriers and their consciousnesses mingled. It was a great breakthrough. Normally it would take a long time for Avon to get to this point.
Touching like this made it harder for him to hide himself behind words that had little meaning but he was allowing it to happen.
Cally projected to him, * Avon, I know you wish to protect me. And I know why. * The palm of her hand was still on his chest, each beat of his heart seemed to be mirrored by hers.
He said lightly, * Then it's unnecessary for me to say it. *
She sent him a gentle wave of affection. * It would still be nice to hear it occasionally. * Even with her eyes closed, she had the impression that he was studying her, trying to understand their interaction.
* I've never understood this need to hear something that you already know. *
* I know. * Cally let out a soft sigh. She was certain of his feelings for her and she trusted that if she were important enough to him, then he would make the effort. But she wanted him to make the decision for himself. * It's not necessary, Avon. I know how you feel about me. That's enough. *
She felt gentle fingers touch her cheek. * Yet it was important enough for you to mention it. *
It was fascinating feeling the working of his mind as he applied his intelligence to an area that was unfamiliar to him. She was important to him, and for that reason, he was trying to understand what this would require from him. Even if it seemed counter intuitive to his own rationale. But as he had often said to her, an intelligent man could adapt. She could feel his mind reach a decision. He asked, * Would once a week be enough? *
Cally was puzzled. * Once a week? *
* The verification, * there was a momentary pause, as if he were an alien who was still trying to become comfortable with something foreign, * that I love you. *
Cally hugged him. * Avon. You don't need to do that. *
Avon had an inexplicable feeling of wellbeing in her spontaneous display of affection but he was perplexed. * You said… *
* The effect isn't the same if it becomes a logical exercise. *
Avon argued, * The sentiment is still genuine but this way, it becomes a regular occurrence. Wouldn't that be preferable to unreliable spontaneity? *
Cally couldn’t believe she was having this conversation but with Avon as her partner, it was something that she had come to expect. She could almost envision him setting up a regularly scheduled calendar item. The idea of a pop-up notification an hour before the event nearly made her giggle.
If he was trying to adapt, then so could she. * I suppose, I could get used to it. *
She could sense his mind working hard again. * Spontaneity would be harder to schedule. *
Cally opened her eyes and looked up at him. His eyes twinkled with light humour even as he kept a straight face. She said, * I'm sure if anyone can manage it, it would be you. *
He became serious again. * I won't stop you if you wish to come down. I know you want to keep an eye on Jenna. *
They had finally come back to the original topic. * Thank you, Avon. *
Avon bent his head to kiss her but hesitated and said. * You were right earlier. There was an element of fear. * He wondered if it would ever become easier to share himself with someone else. * When you were injured and I loss mental connection to you, it was…disturbing. * His eyes were earnest and steady on hers. * You have become an integral part of my life, Cally. I never want to find out what it would be like to be without you, but I never want my fear to become a prison for you. I would never deny you, your freedom. *
A gentle smile touched Cally's lips. * You are all that I hoped you were. *
* Your expectations couldn't have been very high. *
* I have always believed in you, Avon. *
* Then you must have known something that I didn't. *
* I knew you. * Cally pulled his head down into a kiss.
Jenna had rehearsed this meeting a dozen times in her mind. Under normal circumstances, seeing her old crewmate should have been a happy occasion. There were few enough of them left from the old days. (She carefully avoided thinking about Blake.)
She had tried becoming like the cold-blooded Avon, all thought and self and no feeling. It would have been poetic, right up until the point when she… Jenna pushed the thoughts far from her as her most hated enemy (correction 'temporary partner') approached with Cally by his side.
Jenna was happy to see her old friend. "It's good to see you again, Cally."
"Let's dispense with the pleasantries that neither one of us feels." There was no welcome on Cally's face, only guarded suspicion.
The lack of friendliness made her wonder if being with Avon was having a bad influence on Cally or whether her relationship with him had blinded her to what he really was. Jenna instantly pushed the thought from her. It was going to be harder than she thought. With regret, Jenna said, "Alright."
To avoid any further conflict and to keep everyone on track, Argus asked, "You have a lead for us?"
Jenna turned her attentions back to business. "My contacts have found the location of the lab where they produce the drug."
Borel activated a map screen. "Where is this lab?"
Jenna touched the screen, scrolling through to find the right quadrant. She pointed to a building, "It's here."
Reya said, "That's a commercial district. A lot of civilian traffic." She touched the building to bring up a schematic. "It appears to be a night club."
Jenna nodded. "It's more than that. I've been there before. It's a place that never closes. The lab is underneath the club. The only accesses are these two lifts." She pointed them out.
Avon found himself watching Cally surreptitiously. He knew that she was fully recovered from her injuries but he couldn't help himself.
Argus rotated the schematic. "We're going to have to blend in or we'll lose the element of surprise the moment we enter the building."
Avon said, "There must be an emergency or maintenance tunnel."
"Well, don't look at me." Jenna had decided that she shouldn't know too much about the building.
Avon manipulated the diagram, studying it from various angles. "There is one. In the hall leading to the primary lift." He touched the screen to bring up a different view of the building. "For an organization of this type, we will most likely encounter considerable security measures. Perhaps comparable to a double A Federation building. You'll need Vila."
Argus said wryly, "I'm sure he'll be thrilled."
"I will need to go down as well."
Argus peered closer at the diagram as he began forming a plan. "You can go down after we've taken the lab."
"Then you might as well not bother. Vila can handle the locks but not the computerized security system."
"I was thinking of just blowing it up."
Avon said dryly, "Of course you were. That would be useful if you want to render the lab useless but not if we want to take the equipment and computer system intact."
Argus grinned. "I was kidding. I know we need the information."
There was a blank expression on Avon's face as he stared at him.
Argus said wryly, "I still don't like you going down."
Avon bristled, he didn't want pity or to be treated as someone who needed protection. But at the same time, his earlier 'talk' with Cally was giving him a different perspective. It had given him a deeper appreciation for - he couldn't believe that he was thinking this - the sentiment behind the action. Argus had a certain regard for him that had its roots in their childhood friendship.
Argus said, "We can't afford to risk you. You're our only hope for finding the antidote."
Either Argus was being sincere or he was trying to give him respect in front of the others. He couldn't fault the man's intentions either way. "Then you'll have to find a solution because you need me to disable the computer security."
Avon looked uncomfortable as he pulled distractedly at the vest that covered the majority of his upper torso. He said with a strong sarcastic tone, "You've forgotten the helmet."
Argus's solution to keeping his friend and resident genius safe was to have him wear armour. "I had thought of that but I thought it might be too…" He was trying not to laugh at the sullen look on Avon's face. "…well, I thought it might be overdoing it a bit."
Avon glared at him, clearly thinking that it was completely unnecessary. He said acidly, "I'm not the one who consistently gets himself shot. Or blown up."
Argus winced and glanced quickly at Reya who was speaking to Lt. Dain by the doorway. He hoped that she hadn't heard or she might have something colourful to say and make him wear the armour.
He had worn armour before. You couldn't avoid it in the military. It was the difference between living and dying or at least minimal injury versus permanent disability. The rebels didn't use armour. Most couldn't afford the ones needed against Federation weaponry.
Not to mention, it would be embarrassing to be the only one to wear it. Sort of how Avon was feeling right now. Argus wished he didn't have to do this to him but he had no choice.
Argus said unrepentantly, "You asked me to find a solution. You didn't say to find one that you'd like."
Avon stared daggers at him.
Argus knew that Avon would make him pay for this somewhere down the line but that couldn't be helped. "Alright, let's go."
The operation was a complete success except for the escape of the majority of the lab techs. A fierce firefight with the enforcers had resulted in multiple injuries. Afterwards as the soldiers mopped up and cleared the rest of the building, Argus and the others inspected their new lab.
Avon was helping one of the engineers to defuse an explosive device that had been left to destroy the lab but which for some reason, had not been used. He brought over a component with trailing leads. "Argus, look at this."
Argus accepted it. "This looks like part of the arming device."
"There's something wrong with it?" Argus looked at him expectantly.
"Take a look at the leads here." Avon pointed a probe into the component.
Argus peered in closely. "It's been severed. I’m assuming you did that? Or one of the engineers?"
Avon said flatly, "We didn't."
Argus started and stared closer at the wires. "You mean it was a dud?"
Argus's eyes widened, "You mean someone sabotaged it?"
"That's my guess. Although determining why someone would do it opens up some interesting speculations."
"Yes…" He looked up at Avon. "Do you think…someone wanted us to find the lab intact?"
Avon said, "Or there is a third party with an ulterior motive."
Argus's voice lowered, "You mean an alien motive? But why would they want to help us?"
"Perhaps there's something here they want us to find."
Argus hated all this intrigue. "I don't know…there is such a thing as being too paranoid."
Avon said cynically, "Then you want to proceed on the assumption that they're not involved?"
"I didn't say that." Now that Avon brought it up, they couldn't ignore the possibility. "Is there a way for you to find out?"
"Not without a thorough examination of the computer system."
"You mean on top of finding the antidote?"
"That will be my first target of analysis."
"Yes…wouldn’t want to find an antidote that's worse than the poison. I'll ask Reya to question the ones we captured. She's good at that."
Avon was already making plans. "I will need all of the engineers and the Tellaran medical specialists onboard."
Argus was also making his own plans. "That shouldn't be a problem. I'll set up the first security detail and…" He glanced at Avon. "…I'd like you to keep that on until we make sure that everything's secure."
Avon gave him an irritated scowl.