Cally lay on a soft, plush skin of an animal, slain for its aesthetic value as an inanimate object rather than as a living creature. She would have been horrified at this cruel devaluation of life if she had been conscious enough to appreciate the Thaarn's choice of bedding. It was meant for her comfort, a gesture of his regard for her. He did not understand her at all.
Cally watched in captive fascination and horror as Argus ran through the halls with only a towel wrapped around his naked body. He ran with the beauty of an animal that was perfectly formed for motion. Smooth, powerful and deadly. Grace and poetry was in his every step as he padded along on silent feet. It looked as if he could run forever or leap buildings - at least low ones - without much effort.
The look on his face and the curl of the lips revealing the teeth, in not quite a smile, sent shivers up and down her spine. It was the joy of a predator engaged in the hunt.
Do you see, Cally?
I see what you've done to him, she said angrily.
I have done nothing except reveal what was inside him. He is a human animal. Someone who was born to kill. He enjoys it.
Her head shook in anguished denial of the man who seemed to have turned into a beast before her eyes. No, you’re wrong.
Why do you deny what is before your eyes, Cally? Must you see him kill in order to believe?
You’ve done this! It’s your fault he’s like this.
She had the impression of the Thaarn shaking his head. You know I'm right, Cally. He was created by his masters to be the perfect killing machine. It is time to show you the others.
I want to see, Avon, she insisted.
Suddenly, she was in one of many currently empty corridors, looking down on a man feeling his way along the walls. He asked, "Is anyone there?"
* Avon! *
The Thaarn's voice reminded her. He cannot hear you.
Let me speak to him.
You can only watch.
Avon's footsteps slowed as his face tensed in concentration. Cally recognized this look only too well, he was reaching out with his mind, trying to contact her.
Why can't I hear him? she asked as she strained her mental perceptions to its limits but was met with empty silence. It was frustrating having him so close but be unable to reach him in any way. Even if only to tell him that he was not alone; that he had not been abandoned.
For the same reason he cannot hear you.
Cally watched helplessly as Avon continued on his way, not knowing that she was close enough to be touched.
Was the Thaarn able to block their psi communications? Then how was he able to communicate with her? Was he able to block specific people?
Or…he had said that she wouldn't able to reach anyone while she was here. It could mean that… I’m not longer on the ship.
There was no response to confirm or deny her idea.
Cally challenged, How can I learn to trust you if you will not tell me the truth? Am I no longer on the Justice?
The Thaarn replied, That's correct. You're on my ship.
Then someone should be able to see it.
No one can see it if I do not wish them to, said the Thaarn.
Then you must have an anti-detector screen, said Cally, thinking along the lines of the technology that Avon developed.
The Thaarn scorned, Nothing so primitive. Do you truly think that any human mind could compare with mine? Avon is nothing in relation to me.
You…Cally remembered their last encounter. …cannot tolerate anyone or anything that has a superior intellect to yours.
The Thaarn roared with laughter. You consider a puny human, my equal?
I defeated you the last time.
The laughter cut off abruptly. I defeated myself when I trusted you before you were ready. You are a woman with spirit. That is why you are fit to be my queen.
The Thaarn said arrogantly, A blind man whose mind has been damaged? He is a shadow of the man he was when he was last in my power.
Many people have underestimated Avon to their peril. He was able to work out how your technology operated and how to defeat it. He would have beaten you even if I had not been able to destroy your energy isolators.
The Thaarn scoffed, I highly doubt it. I have something else to show you now. More of your crewmates.
He will be dealt with in time. For now I have made certain that he will remain lost.
What do you mean? asked Cally suspiciously.
A blind man relies on memory to find his location. I have adjusted the mental picture in his mind. He will go around in circles, never able to find the place he is looking for. But don't worry. He is perfectly safe. There was a maniacal chuckle. As long as he does not run into the creature that is now free.
You can't… Cally said furiously.
Her words had not finished when she found herself staring down at the unconscious bodies of Jenna and Kirsten.
Where am I now? This was the corridor where the guest quarters were located. Her eyes narrowed as she saw the markings on the door panel. Sester. What are these two doing here together?
She understood why Kirsten would be here. It was a matter she and Reya had discussed several times with increasing concern. Neither one of them wanted to see the young woman hurt.
Jenna… Cally's anger still burned with anger towards her. I thought you had better taste, Sester. She might not like or trust the treacherous psychostrategist but at least his choice in women had never been in question. Until now.
Jenna stirred and looked around her in confusion. (Cally knew how she felt.) Her face twisted in displeasure when she spotted Kirsten and she roughly pushed the young woman away from her. Her hands felt her own face, perhaps looking for injuries. She had a look of horror as she shifted back, as from some nameless horror.
There was a groan as Kirsten woke up, a look of uncertainty on her face. "Did we have a fight?"
"Did we?" Jenna was seemed like a woman who did not understand why she was suddenly old before her time and found herself lying on the ground, out in the middle of the corridor.
The two women stood up as they eyed each other warily.
These two had a fight outside Sester's cabin? Cally couldn't believe it. They were fighting over him?
Jenna eyes became determined as she reached out a hand, of hope or of fear, Cally couldn't tell.
"No!" Kirsten tried to stop her. "He's mine!"
"No, he's mine!" Jenna body blocked her.
Kirsten had received fight training for her Challenges and Jenna was no novice to the art of taking care of herself. They squared off, bodies held low, circling each other for an advantage. The fight began in earnest as they exchanged blows, blocks and tried to take the opponent down.
Cally said, I've had enough. Take me somewhere else.
Human beings are such pitiful creatures. Violent for the most petty of reasons. They are both fighting for the attentions of the man inside. Would you like to know why?
It still makes them better than you. You're not just violent and self-seeking, you would kill in order to make yourself ruler of the universe.
The most excellent of reasons!
You're insane. Jenna and Kirsten might be fighting now, but at least tomorrow they will still be alive.
The Thaarn said coldly, And what of Jenna?
Cally said abruptly, What of her?
I can feel your anger, Cally. You cannot hide it from me. This woman, Jenna has a burdened soul. What you see here is only the result of one of her fears. That of growing old before her time. But what would she do for her other fears? The one that caused her to hurt Avon. That is why you cannot bring yourself to pardon her.
Cally was infuriated. That's none of your business.
Unexpectedly, she was somewhere else. The gym.
Reya. The woman had just regained consciousness and was looking around her trying to understand why she was on the ground. Her eyes closed for a moment and when she opened them, Cally saw something strange in them. It was almost like a fire was burning deep within her.
Reya staggered to her feet and went out, oblivious to anything other than the need that was inside her.
What are you doing to her? Cally demanded.
This woman has a great love, doesn't she?
Leave her alone!
Did you know that she also has a great fear? One that she hides from all of you? One that will drive her to betray the one person she would never betray? I have brought that darkness to the surface so that you can see her for what she is.
Cally could not sit by and let the Thaarn destroy her friends. Stop it! Leave her alone! I will…talk about what you want! Just stop this!
I will not do that. You promised me that we would rule the universe together. The last time we met. But you tricked me for the sake of your friends. Now I will tear them down before your eyes and you will no longer have a reason to leave me. Watch what this woman called Reya will do.
On the soft furs that cushioned her body, Cally thrashed about in helpless anguish as Sester ran into Reya. She witnessed the result of what the Thaarn had done in bringing their hidden desires and fears to the surface. The two were shortly in each other's arms, almost ripping the clothes from the other's bodies in their need to fulfil their hunger for each other. Soon they were naked and rolling on the ground, so wrapped up in desire that a bomb could have gone on beside them and they would not have noticed.
Fortunately the Thaarn, whether out of some obscure sense of modesty, sensitivity or bad timing, brought her away before the two lovers consummated their passion.
For the next while, Cally was transported around the ship to witness the crew being driven by their deepest fears and being overwhelmed by them. It was not a pretty sight. The soldiers in the gym were engaged in multiple altercations and blood was close to being shed.
The Thaarn finally brought her back to Avon.
Avon had stopped moving and was feeling the corner edge of a corridor. His jaw was tense and he struck the corner in frustration. Stress lined his face and he had an expressionless look, not his normal impassive one, but one of exhaustion. He was standing stock still but she knew his mind must be racing as he tried to reason his way out of this situation.
The Thaarn had said that he would make Avon go around in circles. How long has he been running you ragged, Avon? Her heart went out to him but there was little she could do.
Even though she couldn't sense him, she knew that Avon wasn't just feeling frustration. There would be anger, helplessness and growing fear. All pushed down, of course, by the rational side of himself. Just out of the range of conscious thought but affecting his judgement and his frustration level. She had witnessed him take that aggravation out on hapless pieces of equipment before when he was particularly stymied.
Avon rubbed his thumb along his palm, unconsciously kneading it as he applied his dwindling mental energy to the problem.
The Thaarn's voice said, The creature approaches.
Cally's heart began to pound harder. Don't…
Don't worry. I will divert it. I have something else planned for Avon.
Avon cocked his head, as if he were trying to listen. He shook his head slightly when he heard nothing. Rounding the corner, he continued feeling his way along.
Cally tried to appeal to any shred of compassion the Thaarn possessed. Avon's exhausted. The Shade must be wearing off. He will be feeling its effects soon. Please, let me help him.
Unfortunately, the Thaarn had none. But he is the most important person in this little drama I have arranged. When Avon has been pushed to the breaking point, when he feels his own helplessness most keenly and when fear eats away everything except the most basic instinct for survival, do you think he will chose you or himself?
You bastard! You don't know Avon.
The question is, do you? You may not have access to his mind but I do. I can sense the hidden darkness inside him. The inherent selfishness of the survivor. To him it would be a rational choice. But now you must sleep.