Argus was trying not to think of Reya lying on a surgery bed in the medical unit while the doctors worked to save her life. Her injuries were bad but they weren't fatal. That was what they reassured him and that was what he kept telling himself but it didn't seem to do any good. His mind kept coming back to her, his mind's eyes seeing her covered in blood. All he could see was red. Or Avon covered in blood.
He felt like a split soul. One needing to be with Reya, watching over her, a failed guardian who would never leave her side again. The other, a man who had to find a friend, someone whom he had a connection to from the moment they had met as children. He wished he were two people, then he would be able to take care of the two pressures without them tearing him apart inside, making him feel guilty when he was thinking about one and not the other.
The doctors told him that they would take care of Reya and he had to trust them, there was no other choice. He only knew how to kill and destroy; he did not have the gift of life.
He had to concentrate on finding Avon.
There was a sense of urgency on the flight deck but no one was moving, their attentions were fixed on Cally as her eyes closed in concentration. She raised a hand to her temple. Avon's presence was at the edge of her perceptions as always, only brought close by a conscious effort, a faint living energy. But it was different this time, it wasn't just faint, it was weak, barely registered by her psi senses. A shudder of fear passed through her at the implications of that realization. Avon was injured at the very least, perhaps even worse.
She reached out with her mind, trying to 'touch' the faint presence of the man who had become an important part of her life.
Jenna stared at Avon's inert form as he hung suspended from the ceiling, chains spreading his arms out like an offering ready to be sacrificed. His head bowed forward, limp against his bare chest. Scars marked his body, still-healing wounds that never seemed to go away, fitting for a man that Jenna believed was as ugly on the inside as the wounds that marred his body.
He was unconscious and would remain that way until she was satisfied that Cally would not be able to trace his location with her psi abilities. She had noticed the close relationship the two of them had developed and was not about to take any chances.
Jenna grabbed a fistful of Avon's hair and pulled his head up to face her. He almost seemed harmless in this state, his expression peaceful; the strain of living melted away to reveal a younger, more vulnerable self. She let go and his head dropped down. This was not the Avon she wanted to see. She wanted the other one, the man she could hate without any reservations; the self-protective, arrogant man who would betray his friends.
She knew the specialists she had arranged to work on the traitor were impatient to start. They also had a score to settle with Avon but they would all have to wait.
Avon moaned and his head moved weakly from side to side.
In the medical bay, Cally hissed through clenched teeth, her head shaking in anguish as she said, "It's no good." This was her third attempt to contact Avon and each one had produced the same frustrating and troubling result. "I can't reach him. Every time I try, there is pain."
A low menacing growl escaped Argus's throat. "They've done something to him."
There was fear on Vila's face and his voice was strained. "What do you think they did to him?" His vivid imagination was conjuring up dreadful images of machines attached to Avon's head, stabbing his brain with hot knives every time Cally tried to contact him. It was something straight from a horror vid.
Cally said angrily, "They must be detecting the special communication waves that enable thought transference."
That triggered a memory for Vila. "Doesn't ORAC use those waves?"
Cally replied, "Yes. Avon set a small disruption bomb so that ORAC would blow up if anyone tried to tamper with it using those communication waves."
"Do you think…Avon will blow up?" Why was it that all he could think of was the worst?
Cally said, "Don't be silly! Of course, he won't. Jenna won't kill him yet."
Vila's voice was reaching a familiar whining quality that he hadn't used in a long while. "But how do we know that? Doesn't Jenna want him dead?"
Argus picked up a cup of water and proceeded to squeeze the life out of it, its metallic edges, which were supposed to be able to handle falls and accidents of normal usage, buckled inwards, sending liquid spilling from its sides. "She doesn't." His voice was low and dangerous. "Not yet, or she would have had him killed in the lab. She took him for a reason."
Vila said, "I'm not sure I like the sounds of that either."
Cally rubbed the back of her neck, just at the base of the skull, unconsciously trying to ease the pain that Avon must have felt as she tried to contact him. "Neither do I."
Vila looked at her worriedly. "If Jenna wants revenge on Avon, do you think…she'll hurt him first?"
"Of course she will," snarled Argus as he stood up violently, his chair shoved back by the force. "It's what she wanted all along."
His body was bursting with energy that he could barely contain, like the times he had been in the military, when there was a wild animal animal inside him with a need to wreck havoc on his enemies. His fists clenched tight, crushing the rest of the cup until it was a shapeless mass of twisted metal, water spurting out and spilling to the ground. He was controlled but ready. All he needed now was the target.
Cally stood up as well. "She isn't satisfied with just killing him."
Her eyes met Argus's, their separate pains connecting them in common understanding. Argus said, "No, she isn't."
Because there was nothing else to do and it felt strange to be the only one left sitting, Vila stood up too. "You mean she's going to…" He didn't want to say the word, 'torture'; somehow, it would make it seem even worse than it already was. "…hurt him until she's satisfied?"
Cally's voice became faint, "Or until he dies."
Vila said, "But that's…" There was horror on his face.
Corinne had been staying in the background, listening to the others talking. She knew that the situation was desperate but some of the conversation was beyond her. Argus, Cally and Vila had experiences that tied them together, histories that gave them a common frame of reference. She hoped that she would feel the same oneness with them one day but in the meantime, she shared their concerns and fears. It was the only thing she could do to support them for now.
Argus said with iron resolve, "We have to find Avon. If Cally can't locate him with her psi abilities, then we'll have to find another way, even if we have to search every ship in this quadrant!"
Jenna's eyes flashed with anger when she heard that Atton's people had shot Reya as she lay helpless and unconscious on the ground. "You shot her?"
Captain Atton stood his ground, he was not about to let anyone intimidate him on his own ship. His voice was full of menace. "No one hurts a member of my crew and gets away with it. She shot Edina."
Jenna grimaced in consternation. It wasn't meant to happen like this. No one was supposed to get hurt. "But the gas should have knocked everyone out. How could she shoot anyone?"
"Why don't you ask her that, next time you see her?" said Atton. "Assuming she's still alive."
"You killed her?!" Jenna felt sick. It was not supposed to happen like this.
"I don't see how she could survive. I shot her at point blank range. Two shots."
"You idiot!" Jenna wanted to hit him. "She was a friend of mine!"
Atton refused to back down. A sarcastic sneer curled the corner of his lips. "You have a funny way of being friends, Jen…" There was an aggressive smile on his face as he nearly said, Jenna, in full hearing of his crew. "If my information was correct, and I don't see why not, the woman was one of the ruling family of Athol. You've been drugging her people with a deadly narcotic and helping a criminal organization gain power on her world."
Jenna said cynically, "So have you."
"Yes…but I'm not her friend, am I? And this man you took, the one you want revenge on, could he also be a friend of hers?"
Atton's words hit home. She looked down at her hands, they suddenly felt wet, as if she was the one who had shot Reya and they were stained with her blood. Having Avon as her enemy was exacting a great price.
But she couldn't stop, she wasn’t doing it for herself, she was doing it for Blake. Her voice turned cold. "That's none of your business."
"You're right, it's not but don't presume to tell me that I can't defend my crew. If you want to blame anyone, blame yourself for not making sure that the gas would work on everyone."
The navigator, Prex, interrupted them. "Captain, we're being hailed."
Atton rushed over to his station. "Who is it?"
"Some kind of patrol. They're all over the place. They're demanding to board us."
A look passed between Atton and Jenna.
Zen announced, "Information. There is an incoming message from General Reve's headquarters."
Argus turned to the viewer. "Onscreen, Zen."
The vidscreen changed to the image of a man with greying hair and a white medical uniform. It was definitely not the young General. "Commander Argus."
Argus grimaced in annoyance, which immediately turned to sadness as he realized who must have told the man to call him commander. "Dr. Pike."
It must be about Rane, thought Argus guiltily. With everything that had happened, he had almost forgotten the dying chamberlain. He didn't know if he wanted to hear more bad news.
The anxious doctor asked, "Have you found Professor Avon yet?"
Argus was startled for a moment, he wasn't sure he could ever get used to Avon being called professor. It would probably annoy Avon to no end if he started calling him that. Argus hoped that he would have the chance. "We're still looking."
Pike said, "I just…" It was strange, but the man seemed to be overwhelmed with emotion. "I just wanted to tell you that the antidote worked."
The entire flight deck crew sat up in astonishment and leaned towards the screen. Argus asked cautiously, "What antidote?"
It was Pike's turn to be surprised. "Weren't you told?"
Argus gritted his teeth. "No." He wondered if it was the habit of academics to be so absentminded or preoccupied that they stopped living in the real world where people needed to be told things, or have obscure facts explained in simple terms.
"Oh." This seemed to boggle Pike for a few seconds. "The gas must have confused me. I thought you'd been told already."
Argus tried to be patient but his voice was dry, "I would have remembered."
"Well…Avon found the key to producing an antidote for the poison before the gas hit. We've been able to generate it but..."
Argus really wished the man would tell them the most important piece of information first. "Does that mean that Rane is alright?" More importantly, was he still alive?
"Oh." Pike blinked. "He's fine now."
Cally said, "That's wonderful!"
Vila had a smile on his face. With all of the bad news they'd been buried under, any breath of good news was very welcome. "Wait 'til the commander hears…I mean, when she's…" He looked nervously over to Argus. He didn't want to be another crushed metal cup.
Argus said, "She's going to be fine. We'll tell her."
Despite the news, Pike didn't seem too happy. "It's not a permanent solution. He still has the addiction but…he's not going to die."
Argus nodded. "It's still good news. Take care of the most important danger first and you'll have time to work on the secondary one."
Pike blinked again. "That was Avon's reasoning."
"It's sound tactics."
Pike said, "I hope you find him."
Argus said fiercely, "We will find him."
Sester stood away from his flight seat, hands held away from his sides, trying to present himself as a harmless, smiling civilian. The three uniformed and fully armed men currently crowding the cockpit of his ship were no products of his recently active dream mind. They were very real and being extremely efficient and demanding, searching every inch of his ship and asking all kinds of questions.
He heard the name, Avon, mentioned by the officer.
I'm too late. It's already happened, he thought with consternation. Jenna has already taken him. It had been a real possibility with the delay with the meteor storm but he had hoped that the odds were with him.
Sester's mind instantly changed tracks. He had been studying Jenna's file very carefully and calling in some of the Guild's numerous connections. Not to mention, his status as Servalan's psychostrategist, official or otherwise, gave him access to certain resources that very few people had.
It wasn't just the pleasant, at times mildly disturbing dreams that had occupied his time the last week; he had been very busy gaining a complete understanding of a situation he knew could have explosive repercussions. The rebel (mis)alliance was a ragtag group of disorganized misfits that were even more political than the Federation they were trying to bring down. They'd never been much of a threat, more of a nuisance and a danger, which wasn't quite the same thing. But only a psychostrategist would appreciate the true difference.
The only ones who had ever been a real threat had been Mellenby and his alliance that had taken three weeks to quell, Le Grand and his cronies (that one had shocked the Guild and some heads had almost rolled over it) and surprisingly, Avon.
For a man who didn't have the charisma to inspire legions, Avon had come very close to forming the kind of alliance that the other rebel leaders had never been able to achieve. Of course, the Guild made it a habit to follow Avon's activities. He was too dangerous a man not to keep track of.
Sester had never been personally involved in that side of the Guild. He wasn't used for the mundane tasks of following individual threads, but he did find it amazing that Avon never suspected that someone had been plotting against him during the setup of the warlord conference.
The Guildmaster was very concerned about the developing situation with Jenna and Avon and wanted Sester to take care of it. The man had an aggravating tendency to think that he could handle whole armies all by himself. Not that he couldn't of course, but sometimes he wished Venner would send him on some mundane tasks, just for variety.
The humourless customs officer (were there any other kind?) said, "You're clean."
Sester said with a serious face, "I try to use the shower unit at least once a week."
The man stared at him, as if he was wondering if he could take Sester in for being an idiot, but instead he said, "Don't go anywhere. All ships are currently under lock down. You will hold at the coordinates that we will send to your navigation computer."
"What do you mean lockdown? I have business that can't wait."
The man was not only humourless, he was unbendable. "That's none of my concern, sir. I have my orders. If you don't comply, your engines will be disabled until the lockdown is lifted."
"But this is outrageous."
"Take it up with the authorities."
Sester sighed, "Let me guess, take it up with them after the lockdown?"
For the first time there was a glimmer of humour on the officer's face, "You could always ignore my advice and try to take it up with them now. But then I'd have to arrest you and you'll be spending the rest of the lockdown in custody. Plus there will be a sizable fine."
Sester had no more time for the small mindedness of customs officials. People with such small scopes bored him to no end. There was an important situation that he had to prevent from blowing up into a large, uncontrollable and inevitably disastrous one. That was the Guildmaster's greatest fear and Sester could not let him down.
His manner changed. He was no longer the light-hearted rogue but a man of authority who could not be denied. Even his tone was different, though he was still speaking politely and his voice had not raised or lowered in the way others would when they were trying to intimidate or command. "I need to speak to your commanding officer." He did not explain further, he didn't need to. The look in his eyes sent a shiver down the man's spine.
Sester refrained from smiling at the look of fear on the man's face, he could almost imagine the man's unimaginative life flashing before his eyes as he gulped and said, "At once, sir. I didn't realize…" Sester could see that the man had just realized that he still had no idea who he really was, other than the name on the ship's registry. But the instinct of a man who wanted to continue having a promising career and not be sent doing inspections on garbage trawlers, told him that he had better do as Sester asked. "I'll do it right away, sir."