“Well?” Argus leaned over Avon’s shoulder, looking down into the Sopron Projector, its insides lit up by a flex light clamped to the side. Sharp-Eyes’s black nose poked into the unit, almost brushing the back of Avon’s hand. “Did you find anything?”
Avon gritted his teeth, his lips thinning in annoyance. The man never seemed to realize he preferred to be alone when he was working. Or at the very least, the company must be silent, unobtrusive and moderately helpful.
The wolf sneezed, blowing out warm, moist air as he turned to the side, away from Avon.
Avon straightened up, stretching a tight back. The request was somewhat reasonable and quickly dispensed with if he answered it now.
Gourimpest. His stomach twisted in discomfort at the name. “It’s a neutral planet, which may mean anything. They’re one of the oldest colonies, along with Helotrix and Vanagar, and gained their independence around the same time.”
Argus perched himself on the back ledge of the couch. “The Federation hasn’t tried to annex them?”
“It’s only a matter of time.” He had no doubts about it considering the rate at which the Federation was expanding. At least before the Star One disaster, the Federation had left most of the independent outer colonies alone.
Argus snapped his fingers. “That must be why they’re looking into an alliance with us.”
“Presumably. There are rich deuterinium deposits on the planet and wealthy corporate interests. I imagine they want to keep their assets for themselves.”
“So this is all about money.” His lungs deflated in a sigh of disappointment.
Did Avalon know this, or if she did, would she care?
Rich allies would help the alliance a great deal. He knew quite a few rebel leaders who would sleep with the devil if it would advance the rebellion, something he had always been vehemently against. Sometimes, though he kept it to himself, he wondered if they were that much different from the people they were fighting against.
Avon’s head cocked, a cynical smile on his face. “It appears wealth is the only reality, even for the rebel alliance.”
“I’m not sure I like it. We’re not in this to help the wealthy people keep their assets.”
“You’re an idealist.” Avon said drily, faint disapproval in his otherwise flat voice. It ranked closely with ‘hero’ on his vocabulary of undesirable qualities.
“And you’re a snob.”
“Are we arguing class distinctions?”
The wolf regarded them both attentively, his ears flicking occasionally is if he were thinking seriously about what they were saying. Avon wondered idly what the creature made of their discussions. Wolves had a distinct and ordered hierarchy, a class structure. It was accepted as natural and necessary to the survival of the pack.
Argus rubbed his neck, the bands of muscle tight and knotted. “No...But I’d like more than a few people to benefit from what we’re doing.”
Leaning forward, the energy of concern and annoyance making him seem eager, Avon asked, "Argus, what are you planning? What exactly have you got in mind?"
The idealistic wheels were turning; he could almost hear them with his hypersensitive ears. The madness that seemed to inflict all rebel leaders. Avon had hoped to cure Argus of some of his impetuosity and instil some reason and discipline. There had been glimmers of promise. The man did listen, and more importantly, he acted on Avon's suggestions and concerns.
His brow crinkled in thought. "I don't know yet. We don't know the full situation on Gourimpest."
"How observant of you." Avon leaned back, his body relaxing slightly.
"I don't think Avalon would ally with people who are as bad as the Federation."
He had worked with her a couple of times. The woman was as hard as reinforced armour plating, but she seemed decent enough, and she was a good leader, persuasive, no punches pulled.
But then…she nearly had Avon executed in order to appease the alliance's misguided need for revenge. He rubbed his neck again; the knots had some new friends. Politics wasn’t for him even though he was supposed to lead them all. He suspected no one else wanted to do it, or was crazy or stupid enough.
Avon said, "Loyalty based on sentiment is as bad as truth based on the whims of a madman."
Argus glanced at him, mystified. "But…that doesn't make any sense."
Chuckling softly, Argus asked, "Anything else I should know about Gourimpest?”
“There are...indications that underground slavery may be practiced there.”
“What?” His brow furrowed deeply.
“What signs?” He stared at the star field rushing towards them. Somewhere in centre of that maze of dotted lights, was their destination. “I hadn’t heard that.”
“Few have.” He was not about to tell Argus that he had a personal reason for knowing this particular piece of information.
“I still haven’t been able to contact Avalon. No one knows where she is other than she’s on one of the Outer Rim planets.”
“Not very helpful.”
“No...” The word was drawn out as he rubbed the back of his neck again. “If these people are into slavery, I definitely don’t want to deal with them.”
“You’re going to explain this to Avalon?” The scepticism was more in the attitude than the tone.
“You think she already knows and doesn’t care?”
Avon’s eyes narrowed and took on the look he normally assumed when faced with the irrationality of others. “Don’t you?”
“You’re a cynic.”
“I’m a realist and you’re letting sentiment interfere with your decision-making.”
“It’s not interfering, it’s being human.”
“All the more reason not to act.”
There was a faint smile on Argus’s face as he looked at his friend. Avon was his voice of reason, a bitingly and unrelentingly logical voice. He could always count on him to see the bigger picture, to find all the relevant details and to calculate the odds, but sometimes, you needed more than just logic.
“I know what you’re thinking.”
Argus smiled. Emotions were an unwelcome irritant for Avon, something he could never scrub clean of, which made it doubly grating. “We have enough to do without getting into a political debate about expediencies.”
There was a pregnant pause. “A political debate will be the least of your problems.”
"I know,” Argus sighed tiredly. It was one thing he tried to avoid in the rebel circles, the endless debate about what was necessary, as opposed to what was right. He hadn’t thought there was much to debate about until he had unwittingly wandered into one when he had first joined the rebellion. What a mistake that had been. "Let's play it by ear for now. Until we know for certain."
After retiring to his lab for some peace and quiet, Avon worked contentedly with the wolf by his side when Cally's soft voice interrupted his concentration.
"Avon, you must rest."
He heard the light brushing of her soft-soled shoes on the metal surface as she came in. "Must I?" His jaw set in deliberate stubbornness.
"Aren't you tired?"
"Tiredness is a state of mind," he said dismissively, bending down, reaching into the Sopron Projector that was blinking with life, red, blue and yellow lights in a regular pattern.
"Avon, you don't believe that."
There was a determined tone in her voice that made him exhale lightly, caught between aggravation at the interference and reluctant appreciation for her concern. "I will be finished soon."
"You always say that."
Hearing the dissatisfaction in her voice, Avon put the circuit tester down.
Sharp-Eyes cocked his head, his ears flicking, and his amber eyes intense as he watched them interacting. * Your mate is concerned for you. She is a good mate. *
Avon sighed, more inside his head than externally. "You're right. I am a little tired."
Her arms crossed over her chest. "I thought you said 'tiredness is a state of mind'?"
"Ah, well, even states of mind can have some basis in fact." He got up, moving towards the sound of her voice, and put his arms around her waist. "As I said, I am a little tired." He leaned forward and kissed her.
Jenna and Kirsten, sparring with pugil sticks, circled each other, feet light as cats on the prowl.
"You weren't kidding about the laps," said Jenna, tentatively testing her opponent with a half-hearted lunge.
Kirsten parried, whacking the offending stick to the side. "It's all your fault." She followed with her own lunge in a quick riposte.
"I didn't know she was going to make us all do laps," said Jenna, stepping back swiftly in defense.
"A little late for apologies," Kirsten grumbled. She planted her foot, swinging the stick overhead and slashing forward, intent on ramming through Jenna's guard, three strikes in quick succession.
Jenna easily parried each one as they hit against her padded stick with loud smacks. She silently thanked Lt. Dain and their practice sessions together. They were obviously making a difference, even against her younger opponent.
"Don't mind her," said Corinne, cheering both of them on from the side lines, her own padded stick lying across her knees as she sat on a bench. "She's just upset because she and Sester had plans tonight." She winked at Kirsten, who returned a scowl.
Jenna eyed Kirsten, a condescending curl to her lips. "There's no accounting for taste."
Kirsten glared at her. "At least I have taste."
With that, Jenna bent at the knees, whirled in a tight circle and swept Kirsten's feet from under her. The young woman flew backwards and landed with a heavy, satisfying thump on the padded floor. Jenna smirked. "You were saying?"
"What's going on over there?" Reya's authoritative voice interrupted them. She sat up from the weight bench, looking over in their direction.
Kirsten glared up at Jenna as the other woman extended a hand to help her up. "Nothing," said Kirsten, ignoring the hand and pushing up to stand.
Jenna smiled. "Absolutely nothing."
"You're not bad for an old woman," said Kirsten, a calculating look in her eyes.
"Sticks and stones," smirked Jenna. "Besides, who was just swept off her feet? I don't believe it was the old woman."
Corinne chuckled. "She's got you there, Kirsten. Of course, you'd rather Sester do the sweeping."
Kirsten glared at both of them.
"How could she?" said Jenna. "She's probably got him chained up somewhere."
"I don’t understand that." Corinne's lips pursed in puzzlement. "Isn't that what you do to someone who's bad?"
"Oh, he's very bad," said Kirsten, a wink in her eyes.
"I don't get it."
Jenna shook her head. "You wouldn't want to know."
"Do you think it's something Vila might like?"
Jenna coughed, covering up a snort of laughter. "On the other hand…"