Sester emerged from the narrow shower stall in the rear compartment. Rubbing his damp head with a towel, he re-entered the cockpit area, used his elbow to nudge the button that would start the coffee and sat down in the pilot's chair. It wouldn't be long now, the blasted meteor storm was long passed and he had finally reached the outskirts of the Athol Territories. A border patrol had already registered his presence.
It was time to go back to work. Sester hoped that the delay caused by the storm would not make him too late. He had to make sure that Avon was safe.
While Avon continued working on the antidote and the doctors and chemists set up Shade production as a temporary measure, Jenna helped Argus and the others destroy the Shade organization on Athol. Sometimes it was almost like old times. It was a quasi-trust born of common goals, even if not the same motivations. Jenna missed the easy camaraderie and regretted that her actions might destroy their friendships forever.
Under Avon's orders, she had been able to make several visits to the lab. Jenna didn't know why he would make such a foolish error. It wasn't like the mistrusting traitor to allow his enemies that close without killing them. Maybe he thought it was safer having his enemies where he could keep an eye on them. Jenna didn't care why, she had already set her trap. All she had to do was spring it at the right time.
Cally went down to visit Avon before going on a major mission to destroy the bulk of the Shade organization. One of Jenna's contacts had stumbled on their new base of operations. An industrial building at the outskirts of a main city. Infiltration units in quick drop ships would land on top of them before they had a chance to escape.
There was a sombre atmosphere in the lab. All of the specialists walked around in a daze of exhaustion and frustration. Cally was afraid to ask the question she already knew the answer to, the look on Avon's face said it all. He was haggard, his collar open and his hair had a dishevelled look. Not his normal fastidious self. It was similar to the look he had when he came back from the Detention Centre.
His movements were hurried and feverish, almost as if he was running out of time. Cally knew that from the state of Rane's health, it was not far from the truth.
She wanted to put her arms around him in support but refrained. Avon avoided public displays of something he considered none of anyone else's business. Although….there was that time in the medical unit...
Cally said in her best professional voice, "Avon, when I come back, you're going to get some sleep. Even if I have to tie you down in order to give you a sedative."
He looked up, an expression of preoccupation turning to surprise at her sudden appearance next to him. Avon stared blankly at her for a moment before a mischievous smile tugged at the corner of his lips. "Now, that might be interesting."
Cally said in mock-seriousness, "I'm not kidding."
"I certainly hope not." A sharp pain in his back caused him to grimace slightly as he tried to keep the reaction from Cally.
Unfortunately, Cally had other senses to rely on. She immediately put experienced hands on his back and pressed lightly. Avon arched his back and grunted in pain.
"We're going to have to do something about that too." Cally explored his back lightly. She sighed as she found more areas of soreness. "One of these days, you're going to tell me when you're in pain before I discover it for myself."
"I was preoccupied."
She took an injector out of her pouch, adjusted it for a pain blocker and muscle relaxant mixture and applied it to his neck. Avon's eyes closed as the pain slowly eased.
Cally asked, "Are you any closer to an antidote?"
Avon looked up at her, his eyes troubled. "Not yet." Across their mental connection, Cally could feel the strong frustration that barely showed on his face. "It's unlike any virus or poison that currently exists on any Federation database."
Avon had also risked contacting some old academic acquaintances and friends in the hopes that they were doing some advanced research in this area, but to no avail. "This is advanced genetics research. Highly customized."
Cally looked over to the darkened room where Rane was spending his last hours. Without an antidote, he would most likely not survive the night."You have no ideas?"
Avon stared blankly at her but didn't answer. He hated to admit failure. It was something that he took very personally, but this virus seemed to be beyond his abilities and those of the gathered Tellaran doctors and Atholian specialists. "Perhaps you're right. I need some rest."
Avon grimaced as he tried to stand up. Despite his protests, Cally put her arms around his shoulders and help him to one of the cots that had been set up so that the researchers could rest. "Your subconscious mind needs time to process the information."
"Yes." Avon lay back slowly on the cot and watched as Cally prepared the sedative mixture. He said, "Two hours should be enough."
Cally had something to say about that but decided not to. She gave him the injection. "I have to go now. We're about to dismantle a major part of the Shade organization."
Avon's eyes had almost closed but he reached out and grabbed her hand before she left. "Be careful, Cally."
Cally touched his face gently. "You're still worried about me when I go on missions?"
There was no reaction on Avon's face but he said, "I know that you're more than capable. Consider it…"
Cally smiled softly. "An act of irrational sentiment?"
Avon frowned at the word. "It's a natural caution."
"It can be many things. Get some rest, Avon."
After Cally left, Avon lay with his eyes closed as a familiar state of relaxation came over him. It was taking longer for the sedatives to take effect. The dosage would most likely have to be increased.
Avon let out breath of frustration. He was looking forward to the day when he wouldn't have to rely on drugs to maintain his body and mind.
There was a tickle of memory at the back of his mind. Something important that someone had said. Avon struggled to stay awake. The drugs.
I have never encountered this level of sophistication. These have been tailored to your specific body chemistry.
Garett. Avon sat up and fumbled for the injector. He needed a strong dose of stimulants to counteract the effects of the sedatives.
Genetically adapted to work with my body chemistry? Is it similar technology? Why didn't I think of this before?
Avon already knew the answer. He normally avoided thinking about his dependence on the drugs. It was something he had to do and nothing more. To think about it consciously reminded him that Servalan and the Federation still had control of that part of his life.
There was no access to the Central Security computers. They were on a separate network, not tied to the main system. Not to mention, there would be no time to break the encryption even if he managed to gain access.
The Tellarans might have been able to suggest this as a possible area for research but the ones that were on the ship were surgeons. Their specialties did not deal in this area.
Avon quickly injected himself. There was no knowing where Garett was, the Healer was hard at work on the Shade epidemic. Several major cities had been severely hit with the Shade addiction.
I don't need Garett. We have the synthesis machine that Sester obtained from Servalan. We should be able to use that.
Avon quickly got up and had to grab onto a nearby table as a wave of dizziness came over him. The sedatives had not worn off yet. He took several deep breaths and moved slowly towards the researchers. "I have an idea."
Jenna strapped on her holster and adjusted it over her hip. She was part of Cally's team and would enter the factory from the back entrance.
She knew that the Auron woman had just returned from a visit to the Shade lab. Cally had not looked happy when she came back and there could only be one reason for that.
As Jenna checked the charge on her weapon, she asked casually, "Is he any closer to an antidote?"
"I'm sorry, Jenna. They're still trying but…"
Jenna said with sarcastic bitterness, "Our genius failed us again?"
Cally said angrily, "Stop it, Jenna! Avon is trying the best that he can. He hasn't slept for days. He barely has time to eat. He is trying to save Rane."
"You make him sound like quite the hero, but he doesn't fool me."
Cally slammed her gun back into its holster. "You never understood Avon and you refuse to give him a chance."
"He never gave Blake a chance when he shot him."
"And I'm supposed to believe that?" Jenna laughed.
"I don't care what you believe! Once we're finished here, I never want you to come near Avon again."
"What are you going to do? Punch me again?" Jenna put her hand to her face in memory of what happened on Papos. Cally packed quite a punch.
Cally said, "Don’t tempt me." She walked out of the room to talk over last minute details with Argus.
Jenna went to a secluded corner and surreptitiously raised a small comm unit to her lips. She whispered into it, "Atton, condition green." Her lips pulled back in a cruel smile.
Reya watched as Argus looked over the diagram of the factory. He asked distractedly, "Are you sure you don't want to come with us?"
"You know I would love to, but something bothers me about this whole business."
He turned to look at her. "You mean this operation?"
"Not just this operation, all of it."
"You still don't trust Jenna?"
"Do you?" she asked, knowing that he hated that they were on opposite sides.
Argus sighed. "I suppose not. But she's coming on this operation with us. And Cally will keep an eye on her."
"I still don't like it. There are too many coincidences. Jenna knows far more than she should about this Shade organization."
"She was on Athol before. She has contacts in the underground. I don't see anything strange about that."
"It must be my suspicious nature but I don't think so. I think Avon is in severe danger as long as Jenna is around."
Argus turned off the diagram. "Alright."
Reya put her hand on his firm shoulder. "I know you don't want to think it of Jenna but she might be involved with the Shade organization."
"You're right. I don't want to believe it. I…can't." Argus was afraid of what Reya was suggesting. Because she might be right. "But we can't take any chances. You go to the labs and protect Avon. We'll take care of things here."
When Reya arrived at the labs, it was a hive of activity. The scientists were huddled in groups or rushing around performing tests. Snatches of conversations heard as she made her way to Avon's table were things she didn't understand. Such as reverse transcriptase inhibitors or inhibiting the manufacture of viral proteins. There seemed to be strongly felt debates between various groups. Amidst it all, she could hear Avon's rational voice. He appeared to be asking questions and directing the efforts of various groups.
Avon said, "We do not have time to run tests on both areas. We will have to concentrate our efforts on the most likely one."
A balding chemist with a long nose said, "But what if we test the wrong one?"
Avon directed an impassive gaze at him. "And what if Rane dies while we debate the merits of both options?"
One of the Tellarans said, "Avon's right, we don't have time. This isn't just a research project; a man's life is at stake."
The chemist grumbled but conceded the point.
Avon said, "Since we are all agreed, I suggest that we concentrate on inhibiting the manufacture of viral proteins."
The Tellaran said, "But that's just a temporary solution."
"I'm aware of that but it is also the quickest solution. For the short term, we need to prevent the fatal effects of the poison. Once we do that, we will have time to develop a more permanent solution. In the meantime, the synthesis machine can be adapted for our use. Once we have the temporary antidote, we will use the first dose on Rane."
One of the female doctors, asked, "You mean without testing it first? What if it doesn’t work or it makes it even worse? We can't take the risk."
Avon said in a coldly logical voice, "We don't have the time to go through normal testing procedures, Rane will not survive the time it would take to verify that it works. This is his only chance."
Everyone reluctantly agreed that there was no other option.
As Avon directed the others to begin work with the synthesis machines, Reya approached him. "It sounds like you've found a solution?"
"That remains to be seen."
"Always a cautious man."
"You're a cautious woman otherwise you wouldn't be here."
Reya nodded. "I've increased the security."
"So I…" Avon stopped, a puzzled look on his face and then his eyes glazed over and he started falling.
"Avon!" Reya yelled as she grabbed for him and at the same time drew her weapon. Her limbs felt heavy but she managed to stop him from falling, but it was no use, she could feel herself losing consciousness. She tried to call out a warning but her speech was slurred. Despite her best efforts, they both crashed to the ground.
The last thing she was aware of before the darkness overtook her was the sounds of thuds all around as the researchers and the soldiers fell, then the rush of booted feet. Reya tried to raise her gun, she wasn't sure if she got a shot off but there was the flash of a weapon. Before she passed out, she realized that Jenna must have arranged this trap before she gave them the information about the labs.