Category: Angst, Drama, Humour
Warnings for torture
11th Story of Perceptions
Sequel to A Difference of Visions
Introduction: More machinations.
Note: This is for you, reapermum ;)
"Information. Incoming communications."
Argus looked up from his control panel. "Who is it from, Zen?"
"Undetermined. There is a single message tag."
"What is it?"
Zen responded, "Jenna."
The main viewer showed a man sporting the kind of jacket that most free traders wore, a hard leather-like look borrowed from vid-adventures of rogue space captains, but the material marked him as a successful one. "If you're looking for the Raven, I can guarantee you're looking in the wrong place."
Argus recognized a fellow leader of men. It took more than just a title. "Who are you? And why should I take you seriously?"
"I know who you are."
There was a tough edge in Argus's voice. "That doesn't tell me why I shouldn't end this communication now."
"I know who you're looking for. Both of them. You realize why I can't give more details?"
The man had provided just enough information to show that he had to be listened to. But this was an open channel. The man didn't want to say too much. "How do I know this isn't a trick?"
"You don't. But you could always track down where you think the Raven is. But I can tell you that the registries and identifying beacons have been switched. The 'captain' of the…I believe it's an organic produce vessel, isn't even aware of it. It would be a waste of your time but by all means…it's your time. But then, this opportunity I'm offering you will be passed."
Argus turned his head slightly and caught Cally's eyes with his.
Cally projected to him, This man can't be trusted. He is concealing a great deal.
But I believe we can trust him in this. He seems confident he can gain something from this exchange.
Argus's eyes were hard. "What is your offer?"
"I'm a businessman."
"What do you want?" Argus asked, trying not to sound disgusted that the man was selling the life of his friend for monetary gain.
"Let's say…eight million?"
Argus scowled. "Very well. Where and when?"
"I am sending you the coordinates."
Argus looked down at his panel. "That's not a lot of time."
Atton warned, "Then you'd better hurry. The exchange has to occur before a certain time."
"Well, let's say that the 'merchandise' won't be available after that and there's nothing I can do about it. Make it quick."
Atton signed off.
"Zen, set coordinates. Speed standard by twelve."
Vila rushed onto the flight deck, nearly stumbling down the steps and causing everyone to stare at him. "Argus, the Commander wants to see you!" He was panting from all the running.
"Is she alright?" Argus asked with instant concern.
"She's…" Vila wasn't sure he wanted to say. "Uh…she's awake."
Argus said, "And?"
"You'd better see her."
"We're in the middle of something important. We may have a lead on Avon."
Vila's eyes shot open. "We do? Where is he?"
"That's where we’re going now. Someone sent us a message. We don't have much time."
Cally said, "We have time. We won't be there for…" She turned to the interface. "Zen, how long to reach the coordinates at current speed?"
"Ten hours and eight minutes."
Argus said, "Let me know if anything develops. The flight deck is yours." He raced out, taking the steps in a single leap.
Cally asked curiously, "Vila, is there something I should know?"
The medtech injected another concentrated dose of Shade into Avon's body. Avon's face became slack and he moaned, half in pleasure and half in pain, as the drugs, which hadn't worn off from the last dose, continued to overwhelm his mind.
Breen watched with a scowl on his face and his arms crossed impatiently over his chest. "This takes all the fun out of it."
The other two specialists were enjoying the respite, drinking some coffee spiked with something stronger. One of them, a man with a misshapen nose, said, "Why don't you sit down and have some of this?" He offered the extra cup to Breen.
"I'd rather be doing something. This is boring and she's undoing days of careful work," said a disgruntled Breen as he took the cup and drained it. "Amateurs. They should leave us to do our job. She's giving him time to recover."
They kept their voices low out of habit when not working on Avon. They knew their employer might be listening.
"Well, that's her problem then. As long as we're paid. I don't care."
Breen refilled his cup from the container on the table. "Don't you have any pride in your work?"
"Not a lot, no."
The medtech said, "From what I understand of Shade. It's nasty stuff. And this is a poison derivative. If it's pain and suffering you want, with the amount she's flooded into his system, it won't take long."
"Yeah, but it's the drug doing it. Not me."
The medtech looked over at the moaning Avon. "You're making this far too personal."
Breen favoured him with a glare. "That's none of your business."
"Doesn't it worry you?"
Breen asked, "What about it?"
The medtech glanced over at the exit panel and his voice lowered to a whisper. He leaned forward. "Do you think she'll let us go after we're done?"
The broken-nose interrogator asked in alarm, "Why shouldn't she?"
The medtech looked at Breen, "I know you don't care. You just want a piece of him." He nodded his head in Avon's direction. "Something makes me nervous about this whole thing."
Breen scoffed. "I've worked with rebels before. After Star One blew up and everything was in a mess."
Broken-nose said, "I remember. Some of the rebels took several of the Security buildings. A couple of you started working with them."
Breen sneered, "They're no different than the Federation. Bunch of hypocrites. They didn't mind using our skills to do the same thing to their enemies. Bloodthirsty, vengeful lot. But this is a simple business arrangement. We do our jobs, she pays us. We don’t know enough to give her away once she drops us off."
The medtech said, "Well, you may trust her…I don't. Plus, unlike you, I'm in it for the money. I'm…on extended vacation leave at the moment. I'd like to be able to get back to my old life. With a half million in extra credits safely tucked away for my retirement."
Breen said, "Don't worry; I plan to get out of this alive too." He looked over at Avon. "Shrinker may have been my friend but he's not worth my life. I've done enough damage. Even if he were rescued now, well…there isn't supposed to be a cure for Shade poisoning, is there?"
The medtech said, "Like I said, it's nasty stuff. As ends go, you couldn't do worse than that."
"Well, that's it then. I get my revenge. I don't have to stick around to watch it. What do you propose?"
The medtech brought out a palm-sized device from his medical kit. "I thought we could get even richer."
Argus stepped into the recovery room softly. Reya appeared to be sleeping but her eyes opened and she levelled a glare at him. She said, "What did you do to Sester?"
Argus nearly took a step back at the tone in her voice. "I…locked him up."
"You locked him up and chained him."
The contained anger in her voice made hm blanch. He swallowed hard. "He posed a danger to the ship. He refused to tell me how he got his information about Jenna."
"We know that he has other loyalties. And he's a psychostrategist. They keep secrets."
"Then you understand," said Argus, his jaw had a stubborn set to it. "You can't expect me to trust him."
Reya sighed. "Do you trust that he would harm Avon, or me?"
Argus's eyes lowered and he shuffled his feet uncharacteristically. With reluctance, he admitted, "No."
"I know you're worried and you're angry because you weren't able protect us."
Argus's fists clenched in anguish. "I…should have been able to."
"It wasn’t your fault. We don’t blame you. You can't always protect us, Argus."
He touched the side of her bed. "I…wish I could."
"I know. Go and release Sester and let him help. Stop taking out your frustrations on him."
"We don't need him. We have a lead. Someone contacted us and offered to exchange Avon for money. Cally believes they're telling the truth."
"I thought I felt the ship going to full speed." She put her hand on his arm. "You still have to let Sester out. And I want you to apologize to him."
"I…" Argus would have preferred being burned alive rather than apologize to the insufferable man. But for Reya… "Alright. I will."
"Now," said Reya in an uncompromising tone.
Argus said wryly, "Yes, Commander."
Sester was trying everything in his power to resist Kirsten's considerable charms. If Vila didn't come back soon, the opportunity for embarrassment was very high. He grimaced and crossed his legs tightly. "Kirsten, can we talk later?"
"Is it your wrist?" asked Kirsten, her eyes looking at the dark bruises there.
Sester said through clenched teeth. "No…it's…not that."
"Then what is it?" she asked with increasing concern.
"Can you…go…find Vila? Tell him…to hurry?" She was sitting at the edge of his bed…far too close for comfort.
"Isn't there anything I can do?" she asked disappointed.
"No!" Sester took a sharp hissed breath. "I'm sorry. There's nothing…get Vila." His voice was rising. "Please?" The idea of explaining his needs to Kirsten and having her take care of him personally…a fertile part of his anatomy leapt in response at that idea. Sester hissed again and ground his teeth. He'd almost lost it. "Please, Kirsten."
"Alright." She leaned over and brushed her lips across his, kissing him lightly.
An outraged masculine voice asked loudly, "What do you think you're doing?!"
Sester groaned as Kirsten stood up quickly. "Commander…I…was going to get Vila." She ran out without explaining further.
Argus glared at Sester. "What did you think you were doing?"
Sester's lips always seemed to be perpetually crinkled in the hint of an amused smile around Argus. "Can I help it if women find me irresistible?"
A low warning growl formed at the back of Argus's throat but didn't escape. "Leave Kirsten alone. Haven't you caused enough trouble?"
"For you? Never. Besides, what Kirsten does with me is her business, not yours."
"She's a member of my crew."
Sester chuckled. "Another person to protect? Don't you already have enough to do?"
"You should try it sometime," said Argus.
Sester stared at him. "Why are you here? To beat me up? Again?"
Argus glared at him at the reminder. He took the key out of his pocket and released his nemesis.
Sester rubbed his freed wrist, a mischievous smile playing on his lips. "Reya found out, didn't she?"
Argus scowled at him. "I'm…" He hated doing this. His final word came out as a partial growl. "…sorry."
Sester chuckled with amusement. "Thank Reya for me. Now, do you want my help or not?"
"I don’t need it." Argus turned on his heels and headed for the door.
Argus stopped and turned back. "How did you know something happened?"
Sester shook his head. "Will you never learn? I suppose not. It's obvious something has or you should be asking for my help."
Argus tried to find fault with what Sester was saying. The arrogance. The superior tone. "Someone contacted us and offered to exchange Avon for money."
Sester's mind was working quickly. "And?"
"What do you mean?"
"What was the other condition?"
Argus scowled. "He said the exchange has to occur before a specified time or it would be too late."
"Ah…I thought so. You know why, don't you?"
Argus looked at him blankly.
Sester sighed. "Do I have to do all the work? Don't answer that. Jenna must be working to a schedule. Most likely she's trying to make a rendezvous. We have to get there before that time."
Argus said, "Why should we care? Unless they have a whole armada, this ship can handle anything."
"Not against the other rebel leaders."
"I was going to tell you that before you rudely locked me up in here. Jenna has called a full meeting of all the rebel leaders. I suspect that you'll be receiving an invitation soon, once she's sure she has Avon secured. She knows you would never attack your own side."
Argus took a deep and aggravated breath. "She's right."
"I'm not the only one who knows you well."
"Do you think…the offer is genuine?"
Sester studied him curiously. "Are you asking for my help? I thought you didn't trust me?"
"I d…" Argus stopped. The others were right. He needed this man's help. In a few words Sester showed that he knew far more about the situation than any of them. "I need your help to find Avon. I was wrong before. I…should never have locked you up."
Sester suppressed a grin and held up his right hand that wore the tracer bracelet. "Do you plan to take this off too?"
Argus reluctantly took the other key out of his pocket and removed the bracelet.
The door slid open and Vila rushed in with the bedpan in his hands. "Oh…I wasn’t sure if you needed this anymore."
Sester coughed. Argus looked at the object in incomprehension and then he stared at Sester. Sester looked embarrassed.
Argus said, "I…should have thought of that."
Sester said, "Now, if you will both get out of here. Now?"