"This is Commander Reya Reve. She will be accompanying us to quadrant eight."
They were all on the flight deck of the Justice. Argus was making the introductions.
"This is Avon," Argus indicated the analyst at his operations station.
"Argus tells me you are the resident genius?" Reya said.
Avon inclined his head. He did not feel like giving any other response.
Reya wondered if having ORAC made the man feel redundant. Argus had told her a little about what had happened to Avon. She knew it was important not notice if the man reacted in pain or was having difficulties. After having nursed Argus after he had been tortured, she understood what was required.
You hated that so much, thought Reya. She had to suppress a smile at the memory of the rebel leader's extreme reaction to being nursed.
"This is Jenna. Our pilot," Argus continued with the introductions.
"We've met," said Reya.
"That's true," said Jenna. "You contacted us when Argus was injured." When Argus had been injured on a mission to an agricultural planet, it was Reya who had informed them.
Jenna had been studying the woman since she came onto the flight deck with Argus. During the communication when Reya had told her about Argus's injuries, the woman had seemed cold and almost mechanical in her speech; very formal. In person though, there was a big difference.
Jenna recognized the characteristic energy of the Reve's; though it was not as strong in the female commander. As she had come down the steps with Argus, Jenna noticed that the woman was tall, but not as tall as the rebel leader. She wore a military uniform and moved with strength and confidence. She was not beautiful; but neither was she plain. The woman had an interesting face.
When they first appeared at the top of the flight deck steps, it almost seemed as if they were a couple. But as Jenna observed them interacting, they were both professional and competent; there was nothing personal between them. From experience, Jenna knew that Argus would never allow anything personal to interfere when he was focused on a mission.
It must be because you are both military that I got that impression that you were connected, thought Jenna. Your common experience as soldiers must give you an instant bond. She noticed that they almost seemed to communicate in a short-hand when discussing anything military. And you worked together for a couple of months. She wondered if they had become friends; although it was hard to tell from the way they were acting.
"This is Cally. Our resident medic. And a good fighter in her own right," Argus continued with his introductions.
"That is an interesting combination," remarked Reya.
"It is useful," replied Cally.
"No doubt. A very useful set of skills," agreed the commander.
"And this is Vila. He operates the neutron blaster controls. And he is our structural access engineer."
Ah, the thief, thought Reya. "We do not have any of those in our military forces. Only explosives engineers."
Vila was looking confused. He had no idea what a structural access engineer was, though it sounded like an impressive title.
"Welcome aboard commander," said Vila smiling.
"That means you're a thief," Avon said helpfully from the other side of the flight deck.
The annoyed look and scowl on Vila's face indicated that the help was not appreciated. It did not help that the others also appeared amused.
Vila added irritably, "And contrary to what anyone says, I am not the comic relief on this ship."
"That's true, you're more like a mild annoyance," remarked Avon dryly.
Reya looked at Argus questioningly. He gave a shrug which clearly communicated. Civilians.
Being a military commander, Reya was not used to this kind of joking atmosphere on a flight deck. She was very serious when on duty; as she had observed Argus to be during their time working together.
It must have been quite an adjustment for you. Working with these civilians, she thought.
"I would like to extend my brother's thanks, and that of our people for your help with this potential threat," said Reya.
"We are glad to help," expressed Cally.
"Yes, I don't mind helping with a potential threat; as long as it stays potential," muttered Vila.
"Are you nervous already Vila? We're not even underway yet," Jenna asked.
As Avon listened to this exchange, he found that he had missed this interaction. But at the same time a part of him was also feeling very uncomfortable. The irrational fear and panic were surfacing again. He was not used to being with so many people at the same time.
He had been able to fight it off so far because he knew these people; the comfort of the familiar faces had helped. But with the addition of a stranger, the fear and panic was starting to rise to the point he could no longer ignore it.
When he was at the Federation Special Detention Centre, when there were this many people; it never signified anything good. Avon tried to force down the increasing feelings of fear.
He could see those sessions in his mind. Whenever he was brought into one of the interrogation rooms and there were a large number of people, it usually meant that they had something particularly nasty planned for him. Avon shivered. It usually involved lots of dying for him.
The drugs are supposed to prevent this from happening. They are supposed to stop the memories. Avon was breathing heavily with the strain of trying to push down the panic. I can't live like this.
Cally said sharply, "Avon, are you alright?" There was great concern in her voice. They all turned to Avon in alarm.
The analyst's face had become pale. He could no longer keep the strain of his internal struggle from showing on his face. His hands gripped his operations console tightly; as if he needed to hold onto something.
"I'm not feeling well," said Avon. He was glad that he had been able to keep his voice even and unemotional. "I am going back to my cabin to rest."
Cold. Unemotional. Cold. Unemotional. Nothing affects me. Avon tried to remind himself how he was supposed to act. It was not working; the illogical emotions were taking over. He had no control.
"That's a good idea," said Argus. The rebel leader's voice was also even. No one else trusted themselves to speak.
Avon left his operations station and slowly made his way to the exit. In all of their eyes, he seemed to be moving even slower than normal and his limp seemed even more pronounced.
Avon hated the implant in his knee which made faster movement impossible. The pain seemed even worse than normal. He tried to continue moving.
Just need to leave the flight deck. That should stop it. He focused all of his energies into achieving this simple task. Avon wondered when the earliest possible time he could speak to Argus was. He was glad for the man's cool attitude towards him. It had made an almost impossible situation bearable.
Once Avon had left the flight deck, Argus nodded silently to Vila. Vila left his console and followed Avon out.
"Discreetly, Vila," Argus instructed the thief.
"Right," replied Vila as he exited the flight deck. The look on the thief's face reflected great worry.
They were all worried about Avon.
Avon thought that the illogical feelings of fear and panic would disappear once he left the flight deck. He was wrong.
As he made his way along, those feelings kept increasing. By the time he got to the corridor where the living quarters were, he could barely force himself to go on.
Avon stopped. He reached out towards a wall and closed his eyes, trying to wait for the nausea to pass. He was panting now.
I'll just rest for awhile. He told himself as he slid down the wall. The others are still on the flight deck. Avon drew his knees up and rested his forehead on his arms. He often did this back in his cell at the Detention Centre; after a bad session with the interrogators and they still wouldn't let him lie down to rest.
This is worse than being at the Detention Centre, thought Avon. At least there, I have a logical reason for these feelings. It's not just my mind which is breaking down.
"I want you to arrange a meeting with Avon," said Servalan.
The Federation President was meeting with psychostrategist Sester, in her private office at Residence One. This was the first time since he was released that she had called him here.
"He might not appreciate that," said Sester.
"It is not a matter of appreciating. There are things to discuss and coordinate with him regarding this alien situation," said Servalan.
"It may be better if you meet with the commander, Argus instead," suggested Sester.
"And it might be better for you; if you arrange the meeting with Avon instead," said Servalan coldly.
Sester was not to be dissuaded by barely veiled threats.
"Madame President, if you insist on threatening me in order to get what you want; then you might as well put me back in the cell. Or better yet, kill me. I cannot remain useful to you and give in everytime you threaten me. Psychostrategists do not work that way."
"You are very certain that I will not kill you for saying that."
"No. You know that this is what makes me more valuable to you than your other pawns."
Servalan studied the psychostrategist carefully. There was no fear in the man's eyes; but neither was there defiance. It was the look of a psychostrategist, secure in his own logic.
"You walk a fine line."
"Isn't that what makes life interesting?"
"I thought that you would not appreciate interesting as much anymore."
"That was true. For awhile. Your lessons were very effective."
You finally are more useful now, thought Servalan. And more dangerous. Very well. Continue walking this fine line Sester. Don't fall off it.
"Very well. Explain to me why you do not want to arrange this meeting with Avon."
"Avon," Vila called the analyst's name as he bent down and gently pushed on the man's shoulder. The thief had been following Avon at a discreet distance, as instructed by Argus. When he saw the analyst collapsed against the wall; he had been unsure what to do. The others were too far away for him to call for help.
Can't leave him out in the corridor, thought Vila. He decided to help the analyst back to his cabin. Even if you try to deny it. You need help Avon.
He called the analyst's name again and pushed on his shoulder when there was no response.
Avon raised his head. Vila was shocked to see tears running down the analyst's face; but this was not as disturbing as the look of fear and hopelessness in his eyes.
He's going to yell at me now. He hates anyone seeing him like this, thought Vila.
"Vila," Avon's voice was strained. He almost choked out the thief's name when he saw who it was. Avon suddenly grabbed his arm. "Please kill me. I can't live like this anymore."
Vila found that his own eyes were starting to get wet. Avon never asked help from anyone; and especially not from him.
Until now, Vila had never considered it possible that Avon could act like a human being. He had always considered him more like a machine; not affected by anything. Even after the Anna Grant incident, Avon had acted as if nothing had happened. Vila realized how wrong he had been.
The thief had often seen the effects of incarceration among his mates; though it was called rehabilitation, not prison. Delta grades tended to end up on the wrong side of rehab efforts more often than other grades.
Vila knew friends who had spent long periods of imprisonment in the rehab facilities. They never came out the same again. All of them had a hard time readjusting to civilian life. Some of them never did.
Vila could not imagine what Avon must have gone through. It was too terrible to contemplate; Vila did not like to dwell on things which were too terrible to contemplate. But he realized now that Avon must be feeling the after effects of what they had done to him; and that it had to be much worse for him than it had been for Vila's friends. None of them had been tortured or abused in the way Avon had obviously been.
He put his hand over Avon's and knelt down next to him. "It's alright Avon. We'll help you." He put his arms around the analyst's shoulders and tried to help him to rise. Avon did not help. Vila tried to remember what he had done to try to help his friends readjust to life on the outside.
"Don't give up, Avon. We all need you," Vila told him; thinking that it would encourage the analyst to feel needed. He still couldn't get Avon to stand up.
"No. No one needs me like this," said Avon. "No one wants me like this. The person you want doesn't exist anymore, Vila. I don't exist anymore." There was such despair in his voice that Vila almost started crying too.
Vila realized he couldn't lift Avon by himself; not unless Avon wanted to get up.
I wish Cally were here, thought Vila. She'd know what to do. Or even Argus. At least he would be able to help carry him.
Vila decided to go get help. Avon wasn't going anywhere.
Must give clear instructions, thought Vila. That was another thing he did remember. His friends often needed to be told what to do at first; else they felt lost and start to panic when faced with the need to make a decision. Some of them would sit or stand for hours, not moving because no one had told them what to do. They had to be treated like little children because they had lost the ability to control their own lives.
Vila couldn't imagine Avon being like that; the analyst had always been so controlled and independent.
What did they do to you? Vila was becoming angry. He could not accept that the Federation had tried to destroy the Avon he remembered. They can't have destroyed you, Avon. Not you. After all that we've been through, it can't end like this. I'm not going to let it!
Vila also remembered how terrified his friends had been of life on the outside; how every little unfamiliar thing would set them off in a panic. Some of them adjusted by drowning themselves in drugs, alcohol, sex or other extreme or addictive behaviours; some became angry and bitter, lashing out at everyone; some isolated themselves completely and some even tried to end their own lives. The only ones who were able to readjust were those who had lots of support from family and friends. But even then, they were never able to return to who they were before.
Vila realized that Avon needed him. You're going to hate that, thought Vila. But I'm not going to let you down.
"Avon, stay here. I'll be right back," said Vila.
Argus and Cally came rushing back with Vila. Even Commander Reve came to help. But when they got to the corridor where Avon had been, the analyst was gone.
"Check his cabin," instructed Argus. Vila checked but there was no sign of Avon. "Let's spread out and search the ship. In his condition, he couldn't have gotten far. Commander Reve can help me since she's not familiar with the ship."
They all went in search of Avon.
"Argus," said Reya as she followed the rebel leader. "What will you do when you find him?"
"I don't know yet," replied Argus.
"Since we haven't left Zirgon yet, I'd like to make a suggestion," said Reya.
"I think Healer Garett may be able to help you with Avon," said Reya. "He has a lot of experience dealing with people suffering from severe trauma."
Argus nodded as they checked one of the shuttle bays. "That's a good idea."
He stopped and turned to face Reya. "Thank you," he told her.
"Back there. On the flight deck."
Neither of them had discussed beforehand how they should act when facing the Justice crew. They had naturally fallen into a professional relationship.
"I would never undermine your authority or your reputation," said Reya. "You know that."
"It's going to be hard having you this close," he told her. "We should stay out of each other's cabins."
Reya nodded. She was finding it difficult just talking on this level with him; she was becoming very aware of his presence next to her. "We should avoid talking about anything not related to the mission," she suggested.
Argus nodded. "Agreed." He was also having the same problems.
It's going to be difficult to stop thinking about it though, she thought. She had an irrational desire to see him without his shirt and jacket; to feel his bare chest with her fingers.
"Was your brother always this much of a troublemaker?" asked Argus.
"We both used to be."
"What do you mean, used to be?" teased Argus.
Even this brief exchange was making it more difficult for Reya. The desire to feel his muscled body against hers was becoming hard to ignore. "I thought we had gotten the sex out of our system already."
"We certainly tried," said Argus; he could not stop himself from smiling. After Borel had announced that Reya was to accompany them on the mission to quadrant eight, Argus and Reya had spent another passionate and sleepless night together in her quarters.
Argus had a strong desire to crush her body to his and cover her mouth with his own.
"Stop it." Reya deliberately took two steps back from him. They both took a deep breath and used their normal discipline to regained control over the situation.
I knew I loved you for a reason, thought Argus. Well, one of many reasons.
"You're right. We should concentrate on the search," he said. His voice had returned to its neutral professional tone. They had more important things to do.
"Lead the way, Commander," said Reya.