Argus shoved Sester into one of the life pods. "Stay here!" he shouted above the din.
"You mean stay out of your way? You only had to ask." A crash sent Argus flying into the pod, crushing him.
Sester gave a startled grunt, but it quickly turned into a smile as he held him. "It's going to be hard to stay out of your way if you do that."
A growl greeted that statement as Argus pushed himself off. "Don't move!" He slammed the lid closed, just to make sure. The two of them were going down in the same pod, it was the only way to keep his eyes on Sester.
With only four life pods, they had to double up. He did a quick rundown in his head. Avon was going down with Dain. Harley with Jenna. Baxter and Dyre. And he was going to keep an eye on Sester.
"Avon, how are the overrides going?"
Avon had an outer panel open on Sester's pod and was ripping out a few wires. "Almost finished here. One more left." Along with the reprogramming, an override control had to be disabled manually on each pod.
"You're going down with Dain!" Argus shouted into his ear.
"I've already sent him down with Baxter!"
"What?" Argus turned just in time to see Dain and Baxter squished into a life pod and Sgt. Harley and Dyre in another. They were both sliding into the ejection tubes and they were banging on the inside of the pods, trying to get them open. Avon had told them to get in; he didn’t tell them he was going to send them down right away.
Avon said, “I have to stay behind to work on the last pod. I'll go with Jenna!"
"Damn it, Avon! That wasn't the plan!" He wanted Dain to protect Avon while he watched Sester.
"It's too late! You can't stop it!" There was a sudden rush of air as the pods were ejected. Avon replaced the panel and feeling along the hull, moved to the last one.
“We’re going to have a long talk about this when this is finished!”
“Assuming we survive!” Avon slid out the panel on the last pod, felt for the right wires and worked quickly.
“Alright, I’ll get Jenna!” Hanging onto the hull, he went forward to the cockpit.
Avon paused for a moment, his head tilted in thought as a scene played in his mind, like the fragment of a video file.
From inside his life pod, Sester observed him.
The Scorpio, rumbling and shaking, the smell of smoke slowly filling the flight deck as each system failed. Grabbing onto whatever they could find. He'd sent Vila, Dayna and Soolin down first. Then he was going to come down with Tarrant and ORAC.
Avon picked up ORAC (In his mind's memory, he could almost feel the little rat-in- the-box in his hands.) and staggered towards the teleport. "Come on, Tarrant!"
"I can't." Tarrant's hands seemed glued to the flight controls as he tried to keep the ship level.
Avon imagined, much like Jenna's must be now.
"What?" he shouted in surprise and came back towards him.
"If I leave the controls for a second, she'll flip over and break up."
Avon remembered putting ORAC down, grabbing hold of the console in order to stay on his feet as he came around to stand behind Tarrant and looked over the wildly fluctuating panel readings.
The solution seemed simple enough. "Slave, take over the flight controls."
The Slave computer's obsequious voice said, "I am most humbly sorry, Master, but I can find no flight controls."
Tarrant said, "It dropped below his tolerance a couple of minutes ago. It's only a computer, Avon."
Avon found it ironic that someone else would recognize that fact at a time like this. Human beings had an irritating habit of assigning life to programmed intelligences.
Avon's mind continued racing, trying to find a solution and for a split second, he'd considered taking over the pilot controls himself and telling Tarrant to leave.
Tarrant said, "It takes talent to fly a dead ship. Look, there's nothing you can do. You're not a good enough pilot."
The message was clear but Avon was frozen, calculating, trying to find another solution.
How had Tarrant known he was considering piloting the ship and telling him to go? After their contentious relationship, with Tarrant constantly making snide, unprovoked comments about his character in front of the crew, why would Tarrant think…believe Avon would take over at the controls rather than running to save himself at his expense?
"I can see that."
Tarrant shouted, "So get the hell out of here, will you? There's no point in both of us dying."
It was so logical but it had taken Tarrant to spell out what he had not wanted to face, the truth about the situation. The ship was going down. There was nothing either one of them could do about it and Tarrant was the only one who could keep the ship stable enough for a final teleport.
Tarrant's rational offer, almost like a final blessing, enabled him to act.
Later, when he saw Tarrant again in the bounty hunters base, he was glad to see him alive again.
Avon let his hands drop from the control panel he had been working on, his ears straining forward to listen. Experience was telling him something about their current situation. Technically, it wasn't that different from the one many years ago.
“Jenna! Let’s go! The pods are ready!” shouted Argus as he came into the cockpit.
She was still struggling with the control stick, while trying to check various readings. “Two pods away! Heading to the planet! We still don’t have comms with the Justice.”
“Never mind that now! We have to get out before it's too late!”
Her eyes left the navigation screens for a moment, “I have to stay and keep the ship under control!”
He moved closer to her ear. “Let the auto control take over!”
Sounds crackled outside the hull and the ship rumbled beneath their feet.
She shook her head stubbornly. “No! A computer can’t cope with the dynamic variables! It has to be a human pilot!" Her whole body was shaking with the effort to keep everything from falling apart.
"Jenna!" He put a hand on her shoulder. "I’m not leaving you here!"
"You don't have a choice! None of you will get out alive if I don't keep the ship level!"
Through the screen the ground was coming up fast and more flashes of energy flared around them, sending Argus crashing into Jenna's flight seat again. "Jenna." His strong fingers squeezed her shoulder.
"Argus…please…find the antidote! Fix my mistakes!"
"You're not going to die, Jenna! I'm not going to let you! Try to keep the ship under control. I'll be right back!" He rushed off as Jenna realized what he was going to do and shouted after him, "No!"
"Avon! How are you doing on the last one?" Argus shouted as he re-entered the rear compartment.
"Almost done!" Avon shouted back. That much was true but if Argus had been paying attention, he would realize Avon's hands weren't doing anything to further it along.
"We have to hurry! You have to get in the pod! We don't have much time!"
Argus went over to Sester's life pod and stared hard through the glass at his nemesis. The look in the other man's eyes told him Sester knew what he was going to do. Sester only had time to mouth, "No!" As Argus slammed his hand down on the buttons to seal the craft and set the ejection sequence. Sester's hand came up to the window, sadness in his eyes as his pod began sliding down the tube.
The look caused Argus to turn away, confusion touching him.
One does not hate him?
He shook his head roughly. I don't like him.
That is not the same thing.
Sometimes he wished the Wolf in his head were a little less aware of how he was feeling.
Wolf, do you know what I'm going to do?
We're not giving up! We're going to fight this!
Inside his head, he felt the Wolf raise its head and let off a howl of challenge to the heavens.
Argus came up behind Avon. "Damn it, Avon! Aren't you finished yet?"
"What are you going to do?" Avon turned to face him; his sightless eyes were pools of dark mystery.
"I…" He didn't want to leave Avon alone but.... "Damn, I should have sent you down with Sester."
"You don't seem surprised."
"My surprise would be if you left."
That was the difference between them. With Argus, there was no question, no doubts about what he would do. It was not so simple with him. Conflicting desires and needs warred inside, at times paralyzing him, until he made the decision that was right for him.
Argus realized something. "You knew Jenna was going to stay?"
"It wasn't unexpected."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"You were busy."
Argus sighed heavily. "Alright, I don't have time to argue. Get in the pod, I'll send you down." He put a hand on Avon's arm to help him in.
Avon didn't move.
"Avon! For once, don't make this an argument! I need you to stay alive!"
Avon's head dipped once. "To find the antidote."
"No, damn it! Because you're my friend!" His eyes were fevered and his face flushed with the stress of their situation.
At this admission, Avon 'stared' at him. Argus looked down in embarrassment.
Avon finally said, "Do you really think you can manage this without me?"
Inside his life pod, Sester rubbed the clear partition and looked up. He saw his sleek, beautiful observer craft, her primary engines in flames, going further, and further away from him and plunging closer to the hard ground. It was working exactly as he strategized it would.
He braced himself, readying for the impact.