Sester smiled lazily as his ship cleared the opening of the cargo hold. It was strange, returning to the Justice almost felt like coming home. He was looking forward to seeing the people on the ship though the majority of them still regarded him with suspicion. Even Argus would be a welcome sight. He missed their antagonism and the opportunities to needle him.
It wasn't the best of circumstances but he was here to help. No matter how they felt about him, it was something they could appreciate, though he did expect some difficulties. It was only natural given his mysterious departure and oddly timed return. But he trusted his own persuasive abilities.
Untangling himself from the snugly fitting flight seat, he stretched stiff arms high above his head, the tips of his fingers brushing against the ceiling. Every joint seemed to crack with complaint at the long periods of physical inactivity he had to endure. It was unfortunate that dream activity didn't count.
Sester entered the rear compartment and activated the door controls. Anticipation quickened his pulse, after two weeks being inside his well-appointed but cramped observer craft, he was looking forward to the sensation of 'space'.
Solid metal ground against each other as the catches rotated and the hatch was unlocked. The door slid open with a swish as air rushed out and the smells of the cargo hold filtered in, a welcome odour, as cargo holds went. Before he could take a step outside, a bulky mass darkened the doorway and a hand snatched his collar, pulling him up until he stood unsteadily on tiptoe.
A low, throaty growl rumbled in Argus's chest. "What did you do?"
Sester grabbed at the hand lifting him up, uselessly trying to extricate himself. Argus had a deadly serious look on his face and Sester could feel the heat of anger radiating from his body.
There was no point in speculating if anything was wrong, there clearly was. He said lightly, "I’m glad to see you too. Now can you let me down? I'm here to help."
Another growl came from Argus's throat. It was a sound that formed deep within and escaped from him like a wild animal pouncing on its enemy. A primal sound that seized the hearts of those who heard it.
Sester regarded him curiously, wondering…
Argus let go of him and Sester rocked back on his heels, his hands automatically straightening his dishevelled collar. Sester said, "That's better."
Argus spoke in a controlled tone, each word punctuated with the force of his rumbling voice. "Jenna…took…Avon."
"I know. That's why I'm here." Sester glanced around and saw that they were alone and Argus was still blocking his way.
Argus's eyes narrowed, "You knew? How did you know?"
Sester sighed at the man's predictability. It was good to be back. He would have to handle this carefully before Argus decided to shove him back into his ship and flush him out of the cargo bay. Unfortunately, he couldn't tell him everything.
"You did put out a public broadcast. Not very subtle."
Argus glared at him.
Sester suppressed a grin. "But I already knew before I heard it. There were rumours that something strange was going on in the Athol Territories." Sester was not about to tell Argus that his master was the one who gave him this information. "I knew you were headed here. Plus, you have a tendency of looking for trouble and finding it, so I came to help. Not with the finding trouble part…I was hoping to get here in time to stop Jenna, but I was delayed."
Argus's eyes flashed warningly. "You knew what she was planning before you came?"
"Information is the lifeblood of my profession."
There was another warning growl.
Sester sighed. "Argus, we don’t have time to play twenty questions. We have to find Avon before it's too late. I have information…"
Argus knew that Sester was hiding something. His instincts told him that there were deeply hidden secrets that Sester was trying to keep from him. Anger welled up from the place that he was trying to keep under control.
He grabbed Sester by the collar again and this time slammed him hard against the side of the ship. "No secrets. Tell me what I need to know."
All Argus could think of was Reya and Avon. Hurt and in trouble. Sester's knowing, superior face with that insufferable grin. Trying to keep secrets from him. The rage of the animal inside him, the one that needed to protect those he loved, spilled over into his conscious mind, making it hard for Argus to see anything except danger and the smugly smiling face before him.
"Ow!" Sester's head felt like something had been jarred loose by the force of Argus's push. He could feel a lump forming where the bulkhead had connected with the back of his head. "This is not helping." He looked into the other man's eyes and saw the wildness. Something was seriously wrong. Speaking in a calm, warm voice, he said, "Argus, tell me what happened."
Argus's throat tightened. "Reya was shot."
The news hit Sester with the force of a hurricane. His mouth opened in shock. He wished that it was another of his wild dreams but his imagination would never betray him like this. Not with Reya.
Guilt ate at him. If he hadn't been slowed down by the storm… Maybe he should have risked going through it. But his life was always more important than the risk. The logic. Damn the logic! If he had gone through, if he had taken the chance…
Sester said in a stricken voice, "It's my fault. If I hadn't been thinking of myself…"
Argus's eyes darkened and a snarl twisted his lips. He roared, "I KNEW IT! I knew that you were behind it." In his eyes, suddenly every dastardly deed was all Sester's fault. It fit perfectly. It explained why he had suddenly left the ship and why he was here now, just at the right time. It couldn't be a coincidence.
Sester instantly realized what he was thinking. "Wait a minute! I didn't mean it that way!"
Argus twisted Sester's collar, making him choke. "You just admitted that you were behind it."
"I…didn't…" His voice was almost a squeak. "Let…me…explain. Please."
Argus loosened his grip a bit and Sester wheezed as he tried to breathe. "I would never hurt Reya! Argus!" He wished he could knock some sense into this man's head. "Even if you don't trust me about anything else, you know that!"
There was a struggle in Argus's mind as he tried to deny what Sester was saying. But he couldn't. He let go of the man and slammed his fist into the bulkhead beside Sester's head. "Tell me that you weren't responsible for Reya getting hurt."
Sester winced at the force of the blow that could easily have given him more than just a bruise. He could see the anguish in the other man's eyes and the helplessness. His voice remained warm and calm. "I am not responsible. I didn't know until you told me just now. I wish I had been able to come earlier, I might have been able to stop her from getting hurt."
"It doesn't matter."
"Yes, it does. How can I trust you if you don't tell me the truth?"
"It's the nature of being a psychostrategist. There are some…secrets that I can't reveal. Besides, I doubt if you would understand it."
Argus spat out in anger, "Psychostrategist trickery!"
"I'm not tricking you, Argus. I'm being sincere."
"You don't know the meaning of the word."
Sester felt a brief stab of pain at this accusation. Sometimes he wondered about that himself. He was a chameleon, a man who was what everyone needed him to be. "But you do."
He realized that this was why he had been drawn to Avon and Argus in the first place. There was a raw truth about them that he craved but had never been able to achieve. He was too mercurial. His irreverence, a mask, because he never took anything seriously, not even himself. His beliefs were borrowed. His sincerity a necessity to do his job.
But in this past year, he had wanted to believe in something, in someone. Maybe that was why he had become obsessed with Reya, why he had risked his life for Avon and why he kept annoying Argus, seeing how far he could push the man, because he needed the proof of someone he could believe in.
Sester wanted to laugh at the thought. This was a truth he would never be able to tell him. It was something Argus would never believe. Sester said, "I know your instinct is telling you that I'm being sincere, but you refuse to believe it. You're stubborn and your love for Reya and Avon are blinding you, just like Jenna is being blinded."
The rage was like a swirling ocean inside Argus, one he could barely contain. Sester was right. His instincts did tell him that the psychostrategist was speaking the truth. He knew that Sester wouldn't hurt Reya or Avon. But could he take the chance that the man didn't have other, more important agendas? The man was a psychostrategist after all. No one ever knew what their agendas were. Only that they must have one and it wasn't like anyone else's. Did he trust this man enough that he could allow him his secrets? Argus hated secrecy. He had enough of it in the military. Covert ops where he had to kill without question, without ever knowing why.
He reached behind him and before Sester knew what was happening, Argus had brought his hand around and clamped a restraint on Sester's right wrist. "I don't trust you. I can't. Not with all the secrets."
Sester didn't resist as Argus grabbed his left arm and put the other end of the restraint on him. As Argus dragged him away from his ship, Sester said, "Don't do this."
"I don't have a choice. If you were me, would you trust you?"
Sester sighed and followed. He twisted his wrists in the cuffs as Argus pulled him along. They weren't tight but neither did they give any opportunity for escape.
"What are you going to do to me? Airlock? Firing squad? Some bad cooking?"
"I haven't decided."
"You don't plan to drag me around the ship with you, do you? I'm not sure I like being a pet."
Argus whirled around and glared at him. "I was thinking of locking you up in your cabin. But if you don't shut up, I might think of something worse."
"With your imagination? Do you want some help?"
Sester grinned. "Seriously, Argus, you need me to find where Jenna is taking Avon."
"I don't need someone I can't trust. I cannot risk the crew."
"I thought we had reached an understanding before."
"That was before you disappeared without telling us where you were going. And now you have information about Jenna, that none of us know and you won't tell us how you came by it. And you still work for Servalan."
"I don't have a choice about that."
"I think you do."
"You don't understand."
"Then explain it to me." He challenged, "Tell me that you don't have hidden agendas."
A lie came readily to Sester's lips. It would be so simple. As easy as breathing to him. "I can't…tell you that."
"Then we have nothing more to say."
They arrived at Sester's cabin. As Argus proceeded to chain his left wrist to the bunk, Sester made himself comfortable, stretching his legs out. "Don't I get to change first?"
Argus stared at him.
Sester sighed again, "I guess not." He pulled on the chain. "Well, you know where to find me if you run out of ideas. But don't leave it too late. Though..." Sester had an idea that Argus was not going to like. "Never mind."
As a final precaution, Argus reached into his pocket and drew out a bracelet.
Sester eyed the familiar object and held out his other wrist. "I didn't know you cared."
Argus snapped it on and growled, "I do."
Sester looked at him in astonishment. "You…do?"
"Who said I did?" asked Argus.
"No, I didn't."
"I just heard you."
"There's something wrong with your ears. I never said that." Argus stood back, well away from the bed. "Don't go anywhere."
"They all say that," said Sester with a grin.
Argus glared at him for a moment, clearly no longer in the mood for any more verbal games, and said, "I mean it."
After Argus left, Sester lay back, undid the clasps on his jacket, wriggled himself into a comfortable position on the bed and closed his eyes. There was no hope of releasing himself from the restraints. They were tight, biting into his wrist with cold efficiency. Besides, he was neither a thief nor a covert operative. Psychostrategists weren't required to get out of sticky situations; they usually put other people into them.
He sat up restlessly and yanked on the chain in frustration. He might not be able to do anything about it, but that didn't mean that he accepted it. His only hope of freeing himself would be if someone else came in and helped him, or if he persuaded them to help.
Sester wondered where Kirsten was. Was she still on the ship or had they dropped her off somewhere? He doubted it somehow. He and Kirsten had some unfinished business together and she was not the kind of woman who would let go of something, or someone, once she set her mind to it.
A wry smile touched his lips. After some of the colourful dreams he had been having about her and Reya, being chained to the bed might not be a good idea. Or rather, it would be a very good idea, but not a useful one for his current predicament.
It didn't take his mind long to return to Reya. How was she? Typical of Argus to tell him that she had been shot but provide no details. Damn the man. Was she fine? Was she close to death? Was she going to make a full recovery? How many times had she been shot?
He doubted if Argus would let him see her but it was cruel not to tell him how she was.
And Avon. How long ago had he been taken? Did they have any clues?
Sester was certain he knew what Jenna was going to do with Avon and where she was taking him. Not the exact location but generally. He also knew why she was taking him there. She had an agenda, a task she felt she had to perform for Blake.
He wasn't too concerned just yet. Not to say that he didn't feel horrible at what he knew was happening to Avon now, but without his help, any chance that they might stop Jenna before she reached her destination, was slim to none. He would try to get free but he was afraid that he would have to concentrate his efforts elsewhere. The bigger picture.
The crew would find out where Jenna was taking Avon eventually. They had to. Jenna would have to tell them. She respected Argus too much not to. And he was too valuable to the rebel (mis) alliance that they would never run the risk of excluding him, even though this would be very difficult for all of them.
There was one chance to change the mind of someone as obsessed as Jenna's was. It would be a risk. She was currently too volatile to be able to be predicted to a comfortable degree of accuracy. It was their only opportunity barring storming in and rescuing Avon. The dangers of doing that were just as grave, but in a different way.
He needed to convince the others to let him try it. Their cooperation and expertise was required for this to work.
Cally's face was pale. She felt weak and unsteady. Across the unknown distances of space, Avon's pain reached her. She was able to shut most of it out, but even with his weakened mind, she could not shut it out entirely. At times, the pain was so great that it felt as if it was happening to her. It was a horrible nightmare, being aware of what they were doing to him but not knowing the full details and not being able to help him.
Corinne sat beside her, face anxious and always attentive and gentle. After they all realized that Cally could feel Avon's pain, Argus had tasked Corinne to watch over her.
Cally had refused to leave the flight deck. She sat with headphones on, scanning the comm channels, attempting to catch any hint of Jenna's presence.
Argus came back to the flight deck and headed straight for his station. "Vila, I think you're right."
Vila twisted around and asked, "I am?"
"Yes, you are. We need to find someone who knows how Jenna's mind works."
"Oh, you mean find a smuggler? But we don't know any, do we?"
"I'm not talking about a smuggler."
Cally took her headphones off as she glanced over at the flight deck steps. There was a puzzled expression on her face. "Where is he?"
Argus didn't turn around to look at her. "He's in his cabin."
Vila asked, "What's he doing there? I thought he said he could help?"
Argus said curtly, "He's in his cabin." He purposely didn't look at either one of them. "He's on his bed."
Vila was mystified. "He's sleeping? But…"
Cally's eyes narrowed. "He's not sleeping, is he?"
Argus turned and faced her, defiance in his eyes. "No."
Vila groaned. "You did it again, didn't you? You've locked him up?"
Cally said, "He said that he could help."
"We don't need his help."
They all stared at him. Vila asked, "But if he knows something…"
"That's the problem," said Argus. There was a hard expression on his face. "He knows too much."
Cally said with comprehension, "You don't trust his motivations?"
"Do you?" Argus challenged.
"I trust him less that you do. But not where Avon is concerned."
Vila said, "I trust him."
"Can you say for certain that you know who he's working for? Or where his loyalties lie?"
"Well…I'm with Cally. I don't think he'd hurt Avon. He already risked his life to help him."
Argus said firmly, "I am not going to take that chance. As long as he's keeping secrets from us, I am not going to trust him."
Cally said, "Avon's life is at stake."
"I know." Argus took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. "I don't think we're desperate enough to go to Sester for help. Not yet. We still have one other option."
Cally asked, "Which option?"
"There is one person who knows Jenna. She worked with him before we got here."
Cally's eyes brightened and then they narrowed. "Olean Rane?"
"Yes. I know what you're going to say, Cally, but we don't have a choice."
"I don't agree with this. He was close to death and now he's only starting to recover. We cannot ask this of him."
Argus said, "He will want to do this."
"That's not the point."
Argus said in a tone that would not be denied. "We are going to do this."
"You've already made up your mind?"
"Yes, but if his life is in any danger, I will stop."
"You've already made up your mind."
"If this doesn't work, I will go to Sester personally. Zen, set a course back to Athol Prime."