"You just had to get the new program, didn't you?" complained Tam Allren to his taciturn friend Ture Enges; while Federation security personnel searched them both.
"Be quiet!" ordered the one searching Allren; emphasizing his sentence with a light jab to the kidney area.
Allren made a grunting sound as he moved involuntarily away from the source of the pain. Like his friend and the dozen or so people lined up, Allren was facing a blank grey wall, with his hands flat against its surface and legs spread in the normal search position. They were all about to be transported to a Federation Security building.
You're the one who got us into this Ture; so of course I'm the one who gets hit.
Allren was thinking that his friend was being much too quiet. When the guard searching him had moved off, Allren deliberately stamped hard on his friend's boot.
"What are you doing?" exclaimed Ture as he lifted his sore foot.
The guard immediately came back and struck hard against Ture's kidney with the butt of his carbine. "I said be quiet!" Ture's knees nearly buckled at the pain. He gave Allren a dirty look after the guard left. Allren was suddenly very interested in the wall in front of him.
Allren and Ture were tech mercenaries and former tech specialists in the Federation Advance Strike Forces. They were now occasionally commissioned by various rebel alliance groups when advanced computer skills were required; including Argus's former W.E.D. group.
They were currently one of about a dozen buyers being "detained" due to a raid by Federation security on an "underground" computer supplier.
What really irritated Allren was that they weren't even there to get some dangerous new hacking device or infiltration software tool.
Blake and the Space Princess. This is embarrassing. It's not even a title like Space Lane Mega-death or Avon Ultra-Hacker.
Ture had insisted on getting the new Blake holo-game; which of course only "underground" suppliers dared to sell. It had not helped Allren's temper that the security personnel had all laughed when they found the offending game crystal in his pocket. Allren had grabbed it out of his friend's hand and shoved it in his own pocket earlier; in order to push Ture towards the exit counter. Ture had kept looking at more crystals and had refused to leave.
You are so dead when we get out of here, thought Allren.
Once the security prisoner transports arrived, they were all herded on and strapped in. This was not the first time that Allren and Ture had been in this kind of situation.
And probably not the last, sighed Allren. Although it's usually not for such an embarrassing reason.
The security in this moderate trading post in this quiet sector of space was best described as random. This was why Allren and Ture had picked Papos as a place for some down time. They had been here for over two weeks and had gotten into a comfortable routine with the life of the trading post.
Well it's not comfortable anymore, thought Allren.
After the transport arrived at the security building, they were all recorded and had their relevant details gathered. Then they were herded in single file towards the interrogation rooms.
Allren was not worried, even though he and Ture were deserters from the Federation Forces. Ture always kept their records clean by hacking into Central Security and the Federation Records Bureau computers regularly and adding or deleting details. The records actually made for amusing reading sometimes.
Ture made a mental note to erase these records when they were released.
"Everyone turn and face the wall," ordered a guard suddenly. A party of people were approaching from the far end of the corridor they were walking along. "And keep quiet!"
All of the prisoners obeyed. Allren tried to sneak a glimpse at what all the fuss was about but this only got him another rap against his kidneys. Allren groaned this time. A nice painful bruise was developing there. He did manage to catch a snatch of the conversation as the group passed.
"You have the records ready for me?" asked a calm, cultured, and slightly superior voice.
"Yes psychostrategist Sester. I have arranged a private office for you so that you can study them at your leisure," said one of the officials.
"You are very efficient," said the Sester voice.
"This may be a small trading post in a barren sector of space but…" Allren could not longer hear the rest as the party moved off beyond hearing range.
"Get moving," the guard ordered them.
As the prisoners moved off again, Allren wondered what a psychostrategist would be doing in such a far away outpost. The computer engineer had a bad feeling. Psychostrategists made him nervous. Some people said that they were so accurate in predicting individual human behaviour that they had to have the ability to read minds.
Allren fervently hoped that the psychostrategist had been too preoccupied to read his and Allren's minds. You would find too many interesting things there. I think it's time to leave this planet. It's getting much too hot for us here.
"How is your health today?" Cally asked Avon. Avon had been recuperating in the medical bay for the last three days; ever since the incident with the sphere and the Investigator. He was still very weak.
How did I ever manage at the Detention Centre? thought Avon. He was angry at his own weakness and slowness in recovering. What he did not know was that he had never managed at the Detention Centre. Everything there had been strictly regulated by the interrogators. Physically he had passed the point of collapse a long time ago. That was why he was always carefully monitored by the medical personnel. They had only kept him going with a battery of drugs. Unfortunately the drugs had also slowly destabilized his body's own natural ability to recover. That had never been a concern of the interrogators.
Not knowing this, Cally had been trying to wean him off this set of drugs and restabilize his body chemistry and retrain his body's ability to heal. She knew it would be a very slow process. What she did not know was that it was the worse thing she could have done for him. If his body was capable of it, it would have responded to her treatment. The only thing it did achieve was leave him feeling weak and ill most of the time; it did not improve his disposition.
For once, ORAC was not of much help. The only ones who had the kind of knowledge required to help Avon were the Federation specialists at the Detention Centre. It was not information which was committed to files of any kind; such methods were not officially sanctioned by the Federation. Any such records would have proven embarrassing if discovered accidentally or intentionally.
Because of this, after the Investigator had Avon tortured, his body was not strong enough to recover on its own. Cally hated the necessity but she realized that she might have to return the drugs to their original levels. At least until he had healed enough that they could start over again. She decided to give it one more day before she did that.
"I am fine Cally," said Avon. He really tried to sound impassively fine.
You are not fine, thought Cally. Her medical instruments told her that; but it was a game they were used to playing now. She knew he hated being there; hated having to be taken care of. He always insisted that he was fine enough to go back to his own cabin and she always put her foot down and refused to allow him to.
Avon could have left anytime he wanted to. He was not being restrained anymore. But he knew that even the act of getting out of bed would result in an embarrassing collapse and the need to be helped back into bed. So they played their little game and he was properly indignant at having to submit to being taken care of.
For Avon, his physical condition was an irritation to be ignored or overcome. He was in a much better frame of mind since the experience in the mock isolation cell. He could think again without the difficulty and massive effort which had drained him before. To a man like Avon, it was an extremely important breakthrough. He was finally starting to feel like himself again; not the pitiful creature he had been since being rescued from the Detention Centre.
Cally had noticed this in their recent conversations.
After their normal exchange, and Avon had reluctantly conceded to humour her wishes, Cally asked, "Avon, do you know a psychostrategist named Sester?"
"Yes, why do you ask?" asked Avon. His curiosity was piqued.
"I know him too."
Avon was definitely interested now. He could not think of a circumstance in which the two of them could have met. Avon also realized that he had never asked Cally what happened on Terminal, after he had left her, thinking she was dead. He wasn't sure why he hadn't. It is not as if I have had anything pressing to do.
Argus had still not allotted him a full role in the routine of the ship yet. They were all afraid that he could not handle it yet.
Avon knew that he was expected to say something personal to resolve any awkwardness between himself and Cally. He remembered that on the Liberator, Cally was one of the few people who understood him. She appreciated his abilities and respected his honesty even if she did not agree with his lack of morality.
In the final year before they all thought she was lost, both of them had gone through some shattering personal experiences. Cally lost her people; Avon lost Anna. In terms of quantity, hers was the greater loss but in terms of soul-destroying experiences, they had shared a kinship.
Avon reflected what an amusing idea a soul was; and even more amusing to think that he had one. He had not known he had one until it had hurt.
"Cally, before you continue, I have something to say."
"What is it Avon?"
"That day on Terminal, I thought you were dead. Otherwise, I would never have left you there."
"I know," said Cally. That actually sounds like an apology, she thought.
She was surprised that he wanted to talk about what happened at Terminal. She had never known him to want to talk about anything personal; even after Anna died. It was as if personal considerations did not exist for him; not even his own. Anything which was not subject to the cold, logical analysis had no importance to him.
But you were never heartless, thought Cally. Which was something the others never understood about you. Except perhaps Blake. You just never found it necessary to prove it with sentimental displays. I always respected that about you.
Avon almost laughed at her response. Of course you knew. You always thought I was capable of more humanity than I am.
"I just wanted you to know that. That is all," said Avon.
At that moment Vila entered the medical bay.
"Cally, I need more of your magic pills," said Vila jokingly. When he realized that she was busy with Avon, he said, "I'm sorry. Thought you were finished already. I can come back."
Cally was alarmed by the strain and paleness of Vila's face. Clutching his stomach in pain was also not a good sign.
Vila was suffering from severe indigestion after consuming an unhealthy amount of a new dessert he had discovered. He had been methodically going through the vast array of consumables available in the Justice's food dispensers. Vila had discovered it possessed a much wider menu than the Liberator's.
"It's alright, Vila. We're done," said Cally. For now.
Cally attended to her new patient.