"I don't feel comfortable asking you to help," Borel said to Argus.
The young general was in his room packing; as he prepared to leave on his flag ship which was now in orbit. Borel could have had a batman do this kind of work but he preferred doing it himself. And he had sent his attendant to check on some things for him. He was putting the last items in his personal case when Argus arrived wishing to speak with him. Reya was following right behind him.
"You're starting to sound like you're sister," Argus told him. Reya was standing next to the rebel leader now. "And she's already starting to annoy me again."
"What do you mean starting to annoy you? You've been acting annoyed since we left the infirmary and that was almost week ago," said Reya. "Or is this some clever plan to continue making me pay for my error in judgement?"
"There is no fooling you is there?" Argus replied sarcastically.
"Now who is annoying who?" she asked.
Argus tried to hide a smile. He loved getting a rise out of her. She had done it enough times to him in the past. The tables had turned since the incident in the infirmary; the rebel leader had been giving her a very hard time since then and she had been taking it meekly. But he knew that she was reaching the end of her tolerance.
Argus enjoyed her fire and missed it. He had been wondering when it would come back. It appeared that it had finally returned.
Borel also tried not to smile. Not many people could get the better of his sister. It appeared that Argus could; because his sister let him.
Noticing their concerted but ineffective efforts not to laugh, Reya was really starting to get annoyed.
"If you both insist on laughing, can you do it now so that we can get on with more important things?"
This sent both two men laughing uproariously. When their laughter finally died down and they were able to regain control of themselves, Argus apologized.
"I'm sorry, Reya. But I have been waiting for you to finally be yourself again," said Argus.
"I see," she said acidly. For some reason her tone of voice sent them both laughing again.
"And you couldn't just tell me? You just had to see how far you could aggravate me?" Reya asked, sounding very irritated.
"Well, you did say that you deserved it," Argus tried to defend himself but the grin on his face removed any seriousness he was trying to achieve.
"So this was to make me feel better?"
"Yes. And I must admit I enjoyed myself as well."
Reya gave him a stare that could have melted ice if her eyes had been lasers.
"And what's your excuse, little brother?" she asked Borel. The young general knew that she only called him that when she was very annoyed with him.
"I could tell you, but I like all of my vital parts to stay where they are," he told her.
She regarded them with a hard stare. They both looked at her sheepishly.
"You're right, Reya. We should get back to business," Argus said placatingly.
"Where were we?" Borel asked Argus.
Argus replied with his idea, "I think we can help by disrupting your brother's operations. I can draw up some plans to disable his communications and disrupt his supply channels. I would also like to put some of his repair and refit docks out of commission."
"I can't spare any resources," said Borel.
"You don't need to. All I need are the units you assigned to us."
"But that is hardly enough. You only have three ships."
"It isn't enough if you're thinking in terms of a major military operation. But remember, I operated as a commando. For infiltration, the fewer people you have the better."
"From what the healer reports on your condition, that sounds much too active for what you are capable of right now, Argus," Reya said in a firm voice.
When Reya wasn't attending to her duties, she had been following Argus around since he left the infirmary. She was determined to save him from himself. This new plan of his sounded much too dangerous for someone in his condition.
"I really wish you would stop talking about 'my condition' as if I'm an invalid," Argus told her. "I'm fine."
Just as Reya had been determined to keep an eye on him the past week. He had been just as determined to escape her attentions. But she seemed to be able to find him wherever he was. He suspected she was having her security people keep an eye on him.
Like his sister, Borel was not about to let Argus do something to hurt himself either. He said, "Reya is right. Your condition requires that you take a much less active role."
Argus turned to the young general with a look that said 'not you too.' He realized that it was their turn to gang up on him. Both brother and sister would not budge. They would not allow him to go out on a mission.
"I know you don't like being left out of the action," said Reya. "What if you plan and supervise and I will lead our units in?"
"You know the answer to that," said Argus.
"Yes, I know that you would rather die than have me enjoy all the fun while you watch," said Reya. "But it's either that or you get left behind. Well what's it going to be?"
"You haven't left me much of a choice have you?" he said grudgingly. "But I will only agree if you let me supervise from one of the ships."
"Very well." And if you don't stay on the ship, I will chain you to the flight deck, thought Reya.
This is going to be very interesting, thought Borel. He knew that neither one of them took well to sitting on the sidelines.
And if you think you are keeping me out of this for long, you are sadly mistaken, thought Argus.
Avon regained consciousness slowly. His mind did not want to wake up but something was not giving him a choice. Thought was sluggish; concentration was tenuous. Avon fought to regain control. As coherence returned, he recognized what was happening. It was the familiar sensations which were the result of the nerve induction unit. With this realization, memory began to return.
With the memory also came awareness of his own body. Every inch of him seemed to be experiencing pain of some kind. Avon groaned. He tried to move but the movement caused even more pain.
"Don't move Avon. You'll hurt yourself."
A familiar voice. A hated voice. He opened his eyes. His vision was blurry but he could make out her form beside the bed. They appeared to be in her bedroom.
"Servalan," he tried to say her name but there was pain in his throat and he only managed a hoarse and barely discernible sound.
"Don't try to say anything." She reached forward with a bio-injector. Avon tried to move away but only ended up hurting himself more. He groaned in pain.
"I told you not to move," she told him. "This is only a pain blocker. Nothing more," she reassured him. He stopped resisting and she gave him the injection.
She continued talking to him. "The doctor said that you should be waking up so I gave you a stimulant before." Servalan sat beside him on the bed and looked down at him.
"You must be wondering why we had this done to you," she told him.
You are a dangerous snake. I do not need to know more than that, thought Avon. Not about you. Part of him was angry that he had entertained any other thought about her.
"It was a mistake for you to cooperate so fully, Avon. It told us that you were up to something," Servalan told him. If Sester had not also been playing his manipulation games, I would not have become suspicious of what you were doing.
The Federation President refused to admit to herself that things had changed between them; that the manipulations had produced results. But they did not override her natural instincts. Survival always came first; as it did with him. For her power equalled survival.
"I did warn you that if you broke the rules, there would be no mercy," Servalan told him.
Avon tried to speak but his throat was not cooperating. He still only managed a strangled sound but the anger was clearly in his eyes.
"I know what you want to say," she said. "That we don't have any proof that you have done anything. But we don't require any, Avon; we only need the suspicion. That is the advantage of having power; we define the conditions."
So that is the end to the guidelines which were meant to protect me from you? thought Avon.
"I know what you will say next. That the guidelines which Sester implemented meant nothing."
It was almost as if she could read his mind. But you knew I would be thinking that from the beginning, he thought.
"That is not true," stressed Servalan. "This is not a return to the previous protocols. It is only a reinforcement that even with the new conditions, we will not accept disobedience of any kind. In fact, because of the new freedoms we are allowing you, the punishment will be even harsher. We will not allow you to abuse them in any way."
It sounds as if you are only surmising; you do not really know, Avon thought. That is good. The torture I can take. At least the hope is intact.
Even a cold logical mind needed hope.
Avon closed his eyes and tried to rest. The brief moment of consciousness had exhausted him. The pain blocker was beginning to work.
He had one last thought before he fell asleep. You would never have removed the pain before. Odd.
Servalan knew that Avon's recovery was still only partial. It had been important that he regain consciousness; it had helped his mind to reestablish itself. But now he needed more rest. She touched his face briefly, caressing it; then she changed the mix on the bio-injector and gave him the drugs which would allow him a sleep without nightmares.
Servalan watched him as he slept. Sleep smoothed the lines on his face; he looked peaceful. She wished he would wake up and talk to her; she missed his unforgiving humour and sharp insights which did not conform to anyone else's opinions.
It would have been a wonderful dream, Avon. But for people like us, it will always be nothing more than a dream.
She gently put her arms around him and also slept.
Although ORAC frequently sounded annoyed, it was a computer and computers were not burdened with such weaknesses as human emotions. So to say that it was very annoyed right now would be an inaccurate statement.
ORAC had just developed a new strategy to find the antidote to the virus. Since the security system at the techno-virus research station seemed to have been designed specifically to defeat it, it needed to seek the solution elsewhere.
As well, it had decided that it required a tool which was not restricted by it's ORAC's design. It needed to develop a seeker program built along different lines.
Naturally, the moment it had settled this new course of action, a surprise arrived. This surprise was in the form of an Advanced Security Program, like the ones used by Federation Central Security, communicating on ORAC's command frequency and invoking the command code. It had contained additional coded instructions from Avon.
If ORAC had been asked, it would have conveyed that it was a waste of its time to develop a new strategy when Avon had already come up with the same one. It intended to communicate this the next time it spoke to the analyst. In very forceful terms. Of course the fact that Avon had come upon this solution before it did, had no influence on this decision.
ORAC had the Zen computer store the ASP in its memory core for further study. As it explored its code, ORAC had to grudgingly admit that it had been a brilliant piece of programming. It was not really an ASP, at least not anymore. It was a highly sophisticated seeker program and had one purpose; to find the antidote to the techno-virus.
The modified ASP also contained multiple levels of security protocols to protect it from being trapped or read. Avon had only built in an access path for ORAC and one for himself. It also appeared to have been designed to bypass some of the new Federation Security protocols. One of the reasons ORAC had been unable to penetrate the security was because everything it did left a trace. It had not been like that before. This ASP had no such problems.
Avon had also left instructions for the ASP to avoid the research station. There was no explanation. ORAC surmised that Avon knew things about the security at the station which indicated that it was too dangerous a target.
ORAC added a few lines of programming and then had Zen release the ASP to its work. ORAC already had an idea of where it needed to look for the information on the virus.