A man in prison gray lay on a metal sleep platform in a cell. He was curled against the cold and his back was to the cell door. His hands wore shackles and he shifted restlessly in his sleep.
The man had been there several weeks. Other than the few short minutes each morning when he was allowed to visit the cleaning facilities, he was never allowed out of his cell. Meals were delivered through a slot in the door; not that he ate much of it. The gruel tended to make him ill. As a result he was getting progressively weaker and the uniform was starting to hang loosely on his thinning form.
"My dear sister, you are starting to drive me crazy," said General Borel Reve.
His sister, Reya was pacing restlessly. They were both alone in his office onboard his flag ship. Normally his sister was a very still person. She rarely paced but for some reason, she did that constantly now.
Not for some reason. For a specific reason, thought the young general.
She didn't pace as people normally paced; she paced at speed, as if by walking faster, she could speed up time.
"Can you stop pacing? You're making me dizzy. Or at least slow down?" he asked her.
Reya stopped abruptly and stared at her brother.
"What did you say?" she asked. Her mind had been elsewhere.
From the distracted look which had been on her face, Borel doubted if she had been thinking about anything operational. She had just finished reporting on the success of her current mission and they had been chatting briefly.
These days when she wasn't focused on a mission, she seemed distracted and out of sorts. It was normally hard to tell what she was thinking or feeling; but when her guard was down, when she did not think anyone was observing her, Borel saw the sadness reflected in her eyes. He wished she would talk about it but he knew she never would, not even with him. Borel sighed.
"I need you to go out to the outer border in quadrant eight. We're getting reports of some unusual activity there. I need you to take one of your special units and find out what is going on there." The special unit was one of the hand-picked units Reya and Argus had led when the rebel leader was still working with them. There were now five units and each had been expanded; they had proven very useful. Reya had trained them well.
With this charge, his sister's demeanor instantly changed. She was alert and focused now.
"ORAC, they're starting to make me nervous," Vila told the computer unit. "What do you think they're plotting?"
ORAC was at its customary position, on a table by the command conference area on the flight deck of the Justice. It was Vila's shift on the flight deck and they were both alone.
As usual, ORAC had no idea what Vila was talking about.
"Please specify who you are referring to," it said irritably. Or at least it sounded irritated.
"Avon and Argus of course," said Vila as if it should have been obvious. Since the day when Vila, Jenna and Cally had scoured the entire ship looking for Argus, only to find him in Avon's cabin, the two men had been spending a lot of time together. They appeared to be planning something. Something which they were not sharing with the rest of the crew.
I really hate alphas, thought Vila. He didn't actually hate the two men but he did not like feeling left out.
At that moment both Jenna and Cally arrived on the flight deck. They each went to their normal stations.
"Where's Argus?" asked Jenna.
"How should I know? Have you asked Avon?" Vila said irritably.
"What's wrong with you?" asked Jenna.
"Argus asked us to come to the flight deck," said Cally.
"Well, I haven't seen him," said Vila.
Avon and Argus arrived; or rather Argus arrived first and Avon followed slowly behind him. These days, they all tried not to notice Avon's slow and painful movements. He was much better physically, but his limp was still very pronounced. And he continued to refuse to allow Cally to examine it.
"Excellent, you're all here," said Argus.
"You did ask us here," pointed out Jenna. She was also not happy that Argus seemed to be working with Avon and excluding the rest of them. She had known Argus the longest and they had worked together many times in the past. Like Vila, Jenna did not like feeling left out.
"Avon and I have been working on a project together," said Argus.
"We haven't noticed," said Vila sarcastically under his breath.
"We're ready to give it a test today," Argus continued.
"Are you going to tell us what it is?" asked Jenna.
"We thought it might be more interesting showing you," said Argus.
"Avon," Argus nodded to the analyst.
"Zen, bring up the anti-detector shield," Avon instructed the ship's computer.
"Activate the short and medium range sensors. Three-sixty orbital sweep."
"Jenna, I want you to follow this course and speed," Argus plotted a course on the navigation screen on using his co-pilot's terminal.
Jenna began manipulating the controls on her flight console as she studied the course plotted by Argus.
"But that takes us into the heart of Federation space. Those are heavily trafficked areas. We'll be spotted, even with our anti-detector screen," Jenna said with alarm in her voice.
"What?" Vila said from his neutron blaster station. There was alarm in his voice as well. "If this project is a new way to commit suicide, then you don't need to show us, we'll take your word for it," said Vila.
"Have I ever steered you wrong Jenna?" asked Argus.
"No," replied Jenna. There was still doubt on her face but she began to follow Argus's instructions.
"This is a mistake," said Vila.
"That's surprising. Coming from you," said Avon. There was no mistaking the sarcasm in his voice.
"I wasn't talking to you," said Vila irritably.
Cally had not said a word. She had been studying Avon since he entered the room. First she had been trying to assess the level of his health, especially since he limp still did not appear to be getting any better and he was still in pain. But as Argus had announced his seemingly suicidal plan, she had noticed that Avon did not appear concerned at all.
This is odd, thought Cally. Usually when Blake suggested some crazy scheme, Avon was the first and most vocal of his opponents. She decided to trust Argus and Avon.
"Zen, put the battle and navigation computers online," instructed Argus.
"Battle and navigation computers online," reported Zen.
"Have the navigation computers track all ships within our current sensor range."
"And have the battle computers begin active plotting of tactical escape paths," said Argus.
"This is not giving me a warm feeling," said Vila.
"Yes," agreed Jenna. "We would all feel better if we knew what the two of you are planning."
"It is merely a precaution," said Argus.
"I like precautions," said Vila. "But can we have these precautions somewhere we don't have to be cautious about?"
"There is nothing to be concerned about, Vila," Avon assured Vila.
"That makes me feel much better," said Vila sarcastically; not feeling better in the least.
"Zen put up the forward visuals on the main viewscreen."
The main viewscreen showed a moving starfield, indicating the movement of their ship through space.
"Sensors register numerous ships along our current flight path," reported Zen.
"Argus," said Jenna.
"Do not deviate from the plotted course, Jenna," instructed Argus.
"This is crazy," said Jenna.
By now, Vila had also noticed Avon's complete lack of concern. He looked at the two men suspiciously. "The two of you are up to something," said Vila. "I don't think I like this."
They all ignored his comment as they all focused their attention on the main viewscreen. The Federation ships were all around them now. Some of them were getting dangerously close to visual scanner range. None of them appeared to have spotted the Justice yet.
"They're going to see us!" said Vila. He had moved beyond nervous and was working his way to being terrified.
"Zen, are we in the visual scanner range of any of the ships currently within sensor range?" asked Avon.
There was a short pause and then Zen reported, "Battle computers report the Justice has been in visual scanner range of three Federation pursuit ships and two transport barges for the past forty-three seconds."
"What?" exclaimed Jenna. "Why haven't they spotted us?"
Argus said to Avon, "You did it."
"Naturally," remarked Avon.
"Now will someone please tell us what is going on?" said Jenna. Or I am going to start doing some major bodily damage to someone, thought Jenna.
Argus was grinning now and Avon had a slightly amused look on his face; that really irritated her.
"I have made an improvement on the anti-detector screen," said Avon. "We are now invisible to short range visual scanners."
Jenna, Vila and Cally had the appropriate look of stunned surprise on their faces.
"That's brilliant!" exclaimed Vila. All thoughts of irritation or danger were now gone.
"Well, I suppose that's an improvement on 'Avon's gadget works'," remarked Avon dryly.