"Borel is becoming a real threat again," said Olean Rane. "Thanks to Argus. I don't know what he's done but he seems to have been very effective."
"The rebel alliance was very fortunate when he joined us," said Jenna. "Especially after we lost Blake."
Jenna and Rane were discussing strategy and Cally's progress with Kameron Reve. They were in Rane's office in the Athol Palace.
"Are Kam's forces still not doing anything?" Jenna asked.
"Still no action from them. I don't expect that to last for long. My security people report that several of the Families are threatening to pull out. They'll most likely join Ellis," said Rane.
"If they do that, then it won't matter about Borel. He won't stand a chance. He'll be hopelessly outnumbered," said Jenna in a concerned voice.
"How is Cally doing? Has she been able to find out anything?" asked Rane.
"Not yet. But she is very well situated now. Kam is starting to trust her."
"Hopefully she'll be able to find out something useful before it's too late. We need Borel to hold out until then. Would Argus risk the Justice in order to help us?"
"I will discuss it with him on our next communication."
Borel sighed. Argus and his sister were heading off-planet again. They were following a lead.
The young general had hoped that locking them in a room together, would help them resolve their differences; and force them to face the truth about each other. Instead they had called a truce. There had been no resolution; only a mutual cessation of hostilities.
He was wise enough to realize that he couldn't force them any more. They had to resolve this on their own.
Both of you are too proud for your own good. And too strong-willed.
He sighed again and turned his attention to his next military strategy. The forces currently waiting at the embarkation zones were ready to be deployed.
"You have a very inflated opinion of yourself, don't you?" remarked Reya. Her voice was sarcastic and hard.
"Are you done now?" Argus's voice was equally sarcastic.
Since the blow-up in Borel's office and the subsequent truce, they had been supremely polite to each other. It had been getting on both their nerves. They really did not know what to do with each other when their relationship was not adversarial.
This return to the insults and verbal battling was more familiar.
"You are not going down there alone," Reya told him.
"I don't need an escort."
They were both in Argus's cabin aboard their command cruiser. Arguing on the flight deck in front of the crew was something they avoided.
"Doing this only proves to me that you're stupid, not courageous."
"Is that why you think I'm doing this? Because of what you said?" His voice had turned cold. Argus was refering to the accusation she made during their blow-up; that he was not willing to take risks and thus showed a lack of courage.
Oh no, thought Reya. How did we end up at this?
The hurtful words they had said to each other that day were still a barrier between them. It made it easy for a simple argument to deteriorate into a pitched battle. Being abnormally polite to each other had prevented this so far.
"I think we need to stop before we say more things we will both regret," she told him.
"Don't patronize me." His voice was still cold.
Reya realized that she had gone too far that day when she brought up Zircaster. It had been very unfair of her. For some reason, he brought out the worst in her when they were confronting each other. She had to be careful of that; she did not want to make things worse.
Even though she had been the one who said the words which had made things impossible between them; Reya found that she couldn't apologize to him. She had never apologized to anyone before. And she knew that he would only see it as more patronizing.
"If we continue this, it will only end badly; for both of us. I am willing to back down. I will not insist that you bring a unit down with you. But would you let me accompany you?" Her voice had lost its hard edge. She was trying.
Argus looked at her with suspicion. This attitude from her was something unfamiliar. But he was not an unreasonable man. If she was willing to make a concession, so was he.
"Do you think that's a good idea? The two of us?" he asked.
"I will behave myself, if you will," she offered. "Argus, we have to learn to work together again eventually. Borel needs us. No one else can do what we do."
"You're right," he conceded. He smiled wryly, "We're good aren't we?"
"No one could accuse us of being modest about our abilities." She also gave him a self-mocking smile.
They looked into each others' eyes; each was looking for something. It was the first time they had done this since the big fight which had almost torn them apart.
"You don't hate me?" she asked; not seeing what she had been afraid of.
"I could never do that," said Argus; seeing a glimpse of something he had not noticed before.
Argus and Reya took a shuttle down to Abalar, one of four agricultural planets in quadrant two. They were following a lead which had indicated that Ellis was planning to interrupt one of Borel's major food supplies.
They landed the shuttle in a clearing. Reya took out a perimeter sensor from her satchel and took readings. Argus set his directional locator to coordinates their contact had given them.
"Anything?" Argus asked Reya.
"You see, there was nothing to worry about. Ellis is not interested in this planet. Alabar is the lesser of the four. That's probably why our source picked here to meet. It makes sense that Ellis would disrupt the major producers. There is not much point in him bothering with Alabar.
"I still don't like it," Reya told him.
"When did you become overly cautious? Isn't that what you accused me of?"
Reya looked at him. She was not going to be baited. "Are we ready to go?"
They both moved swiftly through the forest.
'It's up ahead," Argus pointed out as they neared the location of the meeting. They slowed down to a walk. Their senses were sharp; taking in the surroundings and watching for any signs of danger. A man up ahead waved in their direction. Argus waved back.
"Argus," Reya whispered to her partner as they walked towards the man. Her voice held a warning.
"Yes, I can feel it too," he whispered back. They were being watched. Almost as one, they discreetly loosened the catches on their holsters. "It's too late, they've seen us already. We'll have to go ahead."
The man they were meeting wore the brown and tan tunic, dark brown trousers and muddy boots common among the farmers on Alabar. He had an open and friendly face and a jovial manner.
"You're Kolter?" asked the man.
Argus had been using that as a codename. The only ones who knew him as Argus, were Borel and Reya.
"Yes." Argus spoke up. "You're Peck?"
"That's me." The man smiled and extended his hand. Argus shook the man's hand.
Without warning, the man tightened his grip so that Argus could not let go. Argus acted on instinct and followed the man's motion, pushing his hand forward and pressed against the man's chest, causing him to fall back. Argus grabbed the man's other hand; which had been prepared to stab him with a needle.
He didn't need to give a warning. His partner already had her phase pistol out and was sweeping the area.
Argus gave a quick twist and the man stabbed himself with the needle. Before the man fell to the ground, the rebel leader had his pistol out as well.
At that moment, the woods became a hive of activity as numerous soldiers came out from various hiding places, weapons already drawn.
Argus and Reya took cover and started firing.
"Are you going to say, I told you so?" asked Argus as he brought down a man who had been trying to sneak around behind them.
"I'll save it for later," Reya told him.
"I count fifteen."
"And five dead," said Reya. "Make that six." As she brought down another one. "They probably have our shuttle."
"Most likely. This was a well-laid trap. They didn't even show up on your perimeter sensors." Argus had a suspicion.
"Well, what do you propose we do?" Reya asked.
"Do you want to insult me first?" asked Argus. He shot a heavy branch overhead, causing it to crash down and knock out one of their well-hidden opponents.
"Why?" Reya asked distractedly as another man fell to her marksmanship.
"So you can get it out of the way before I make my suggestion."
"We're a little busy now. I think the insults can wait until later."
Some sense caused them both to roll quickly and fired behind. A group had suddenly appeared behind them. Four of them instantly went down from their shots. Argus faced forward again as Reya continued to cover their backs.
"That makes an additional ten. With four dead," Argus noted. "The others are keeping their heads down."
"This is going to take forever," said Reya. "All they have to do is wear down our charges. Unless we attack them first."
"You're kidding, right? Maybe I should insult you," said Argus.
"Yes, I'm kidding. Well, what's your bright idea?" she asked.
"We set up a distraction and run. Lie low until we can make plans."
"You have an idea for a distraction?"
"You're not going to make any comments about my suggesting of running?" he asked.
"Well, we don't have much of a choice at the moment. And I don't like committing suicide."
"Alright. Set your pistol to wide spread and change the energy frequency for heat."
"You want to set some fires?"
"Yes. We should be able to create sufficient smoke with these trees and the ground brush to cover our escape. If we can direct the fire we should be able to block most of them from following us right away. And if we're really lucky it might even be able to obliterate some of our tracks. We just have to make sure we're not overcome by the smoke."
Reya nodded. They both set their phase pistols.
Argus's plan worked perfectly. They both escaped the trap laid for them. Unfortunately they didn't get away unscathed. Argus was shot in the right shoulder as he covered their retreat.