Jenna was on Captain Atton's ship, arranging some special details, including appropriating the main cargo hold for her own use and the arrival of four unfriendly-looking individuals.
Atton watched all this activity with measuring eyes and waylaid her as she exited the, now locked, cargo hold. "You're taking over my ship."
Jenna said, "Just the cargo hold."
"I don't suppose it'll do any good asking what you plan to transport in there?"
"You can ask."
Atton gave a short bark of laughter. "But that doesn't mean you'll answer?"
They were two old smugglers, they both knew the rules but Atton looked as if he was going to make an exception. "I agreed to give you transport back to Earth Sector. I don’t think I agreed to have you taking over my ship."
"Just the cargo hold."
"That's part of my ship."
"With the credits I'm giving you, I should own a significant portion of this ship."
"She's not for sale." Atton's voice lowered, "And neither am I."
Jenna was not amused. "I wouldn't be interested, even if you were."
Atton laughed and placed his hand on his chest. "Now, that hurts."
"Are we finished with this delightful conversation? I have some hair to wash."
Atton took a suggestive step towards her. "I think I should come in with you."
Jenna's lips twisted in a snarl. "I wouldn't recommend it."
"Oh, I think you should recommend it." Atton did not back off. "Or shall we discuss your real name, here in the corridor?"
Jenna refused to be intimidated. She said in an icy voice, "We both know that Jen Blade was never my real name."
"People with false names, usually have them for a reason. I think it's time I knew that reason."
"I'm paying you enough that you don't need to know."
Atton took a step back. "Not quite enough."
Jenna's eyes narrowed. "Are you asking for more money?"
"I may be a money-grubbing, ruthless opportunist, but I will not risk my crew. And something tells me that I will be doing just that. Until you tell me what the score is, this ship is not going anywhere and you'll have to find yourself some other transport." He said sarcastically, "Maybe you can buy yourself a ship?"
Jenna scowled in irritation. Why did Atton have to develop a conscience now? Or was this just a play for more money? There was only one way to find out. She opened the door to her cabin. "You're right. This discussion is better in my cabin."
Atton grinned as he entered.
As the door slid closed, Jenna had already decided to tell him part of the truth. She knew Atton would continue to be a problem until he thought he knew what was going on. In a frank voice, she said, "I ran into an old enemy here."
Atton's brows raised, "Oh?"
"He…killed someone that I loved."
"This is a personal vendetta then?" Atton asked as he thought about the implications of what Jenna was saying.
"I knew there was something driving you."
"Well, now you know. Are we fine?"
"You plan to take your revenge on him?"
"What do you think?"
"Oh, I think you have something very nasty planned for him judging by the four gentlemen, and I use that term loosely, that you brought onboard."
She said coldly, "Just be glad that I'm not going to use them on you."
Atton chuckled. "Remind me never to get on your bad side. Alright, I will transport you to Earth Sector and I won't ask any more questions."
"After you agree to six times the normal rate. Remember I am a money-grubbing, ruthless opportunist."
"And the extra would be going into your pocket, I presume?"
Argus was not happy at the discussion he was having with General Reve in the lab. "We are not drug dealers."
Borel said, "You wouldn't be dealing drugs, you would be supplying them."
Avon asked sceptically, "Is there a difference?"
Reya was the one who had broached the subject. "Yes, we're doing it to save lives, not make a profit."
Argus was still not convinced. "I thought we came to help you stop the spread of Shade."
Borel looked at his sister. "Yes, we are doing that but…for those who already have the addiction…"
Avon's eyes brightened with comprehension. "They need the drug to stay alive."
Reya said, "Yes. Without it, they'll die. Not as fast as Rane, but that is what will happen."
Avon never liked drugs like Shade and Shadow. He always thought it was foolish for anyone to take them. He would never touch the stuff, it impaired mental function. No temporary chemical high was worth that for him. "The only permanent solution is to find a cure for Shade."
Reya nodded. "Yes, but for the time being…"
"We become drug dealers."
Argus frowned. "I still don't like it but it looks like we don't have a choice."
Avon pointed out, "The Shade organization will consider this an attack on their business."
Argus said, "Well, considering we're doing our best to destroy them, that would be the least of their problems."
Avon said, "By cutting into their source of income, we would be backing them into a corner."
Reya asked, "You're thinking that they might fight back even harder?"
"I would. They might not stop with Rane."
Argus looked at him sharply. "You think they might try to poison more people?"
"I wouldn't be surprised."
Reya asked, "Avon, is there a way to detect the poison?"
"That's one of the first things I established but it hasn't been tested yet."
Reya said, "We need it, Avon. Without a way to test for it, no one is safe."
"Give me until tomorrow."
The only way for Sester to wrestle his disobedient mind back into control was to think about his master. At least that was his hope. He ran over the conversation they had right before he left.
The Guildmaster had a stern look on his face. Sester sighed at the memory. His master always seemed to have that face with him. Probably because he always seemed to be in trouble of some kind. He couldn't help it; he couldn't be like the others, no matter how hard he tried. At least he was able to achieve things that they couldn't. His master seemed to like that. As long as he was useful, he would be accepted.
Venner asked, "Is there a question you want to ask me?"
Sester kept a neutral but slightly amused face. This was a significant question and he had not expected it. With other people, it would be a technique to trick them into revealing what they were thinking. But with him, Sester knew that his master expected him to know what he was referring to and it was a special privilege he was extending to him. His master knew something was bothering him.
"Did you know, sir?"
Venner leaned back in his chair, steepled his fingers and studied him. "Would it make a difference?"
This was a loaded question. Where did his loyalties lie? Sester knew it was hard to keep the truth from his master, the man knew him too well. Partial truths were a different matter. He bowed his head. "Not in my loyalties, master."
"Where would it make a difference?"
Venner's unusual directness set off mental alarms in Sester's head. He knew his master's ruthlessness when it came to Guild affairs. If the Guildmaster thought that Sester would betray them, there would be no mercy. The punishment chamber had been a warning as well as a test.
There was one question Sester needed the answer to before he could reply to his master's question. Venner had already identified this. Sester asked, "Did you know about Avon?"
Venner laced his fingers together, the slightest of smiles touching his lips. "Yes and no."
It was a riddle, not an evasion. The master had known something, but was it the knowledge that Servalan was going to use him to break Avon or did he know about Sester's childhood friendship with him?
Even without looking up, Sester could feel the Guildmaster's keen interest. It was like having a hot spotlight shining on him, the kind that could penetrate and seek out his deepest secrets.
The master was saying that he knew one but not the other. But which one did he know?
Would it make a difference? As a psychostrategist, it wasn't supposed to. Everyone else was supposed to be a puppet to them. They weren't meant to have ties to the uninitiated, except superficial ones.
The master knew that he wasn't like the others. It would make a difference to him even though it shouldn't. Sester realized something, the master had not known both facts. He did not know about Sester's past and deliberately send him to torture his childhood friend. His master had known one but not the other.
It still left the troubling idea that Venner might have known about his past, had known that his friends had been ripped from his mind. He might have even been responsible for it, but that was within the Guildmaster's prerogative. One did not join the Guild without some sacrifices. Sester had made that choice and he had to accept the conditions that came with it.
Sester bowed his head again. "Thank you, sir."
"It took you long enough," said Venner lightly.
The master rarely gave answers, and certainly not ones that would explain his actions. For some reason, he wanted Sester to know that he had not deliberately hurt him. It was a thought that filled Sester with hopeful warmth and at the same time, its unexpected nature made him uneasy. This trip back to the Guild was proving to be a strange one. Of course, Venner was the master at keeping him off-balance.
It was obvious that Venner knew both now. That was why they were having this discussion.
The Guildmaster said, "Now let's deal with something less serious."
Sester grinned. He knew what that meant. "You know me, sir."
Venner sighed in shook his head in mock exaggeration. "One of these days, they're all going to come knocking at your door."
Sester reacted in mock horror. "I certainly hope not, sir."
"You like this balancing act, don't you? With the women?"
"I like the challenge."
Venner said with an amused smile, "Even better than chess?"
Sester smiled. "Much better." He felt nothing but a detached satisfaction when he won at chess. It was little more than an intellectual exercise, except when it was with a worthy opponent, and there were few of those. With women, it was a game but not one he had to win or lose, they could both win and that gave him pleasure. They were a delight as well as a challenge.
"Very well but don't forget yourself. Play but do not allow it to become serious. Don't forget that they're puppets."
"I will not forget my loyalties, sir."