"What do you hope to accomplish by this?" Sester asked senior controller Dayto. One of the guards was securing the psychostrategist's wrists with a set of restraints.
Dayto ignored his question.
"Put him in one of the cells in the isolation block," Dayto instructed the guards. "Make sure no one sees him or speaks to him."
"Yes, sir," responded one of the guards. They pulled Sester to his feet and propelled him towards the door.
"You are planning a coup," said Sester. He had said this as statement, not a question. His voice was still calm and measured; it was as if he had not just been taken prisoner.
"Wait," said Dayto.
The guards stopped pushing Sester.
"What do you know?" asked Dayto.
Sester turned to face the man. "You haven't answered any of my questions, why should I answer yours?" he asked in a challenging tone.
Dayto nodded to the guards. One of them struck the butt of his rifle into Sester's stomach, causing him to double over in pain.
"Answer my question," demanded Dayto when Sester had straightened himself up.
The psychostrategist's face had not changed expression, other than for a tightening of the jaw, indicating the pain. Sester knew that if he refused again, Dayto would only have the guard hit him again. The psychostrategist was not a coward to pain, but he would prefer avoiding it if he could.
"I only know what you put in your reports," said Sester. "What else could I know? You have effectively kept all useful information from me."
Make of that what you will, thought Sester. Let's see to what level you can figure it out.
Sester was in his element. He was not concerned; at least not yet. The blow to the stomach had already told him a lot about this man.
"What does the Federation know? Why did they send you here?" asked Dayto.
"You have already been told why I am here."
"The timing is too convenient for that to be the real reason," said Dayto. "Tell me the real reason why you are here or we will use more persuasive methods."
You substitute aggression for useful questions. I am disappointed. Though I shouldn't be surprised, thought Sester. There are too many like you. Sester had many cutting remarks for this man and his "persuasive methods" but he did not have a deathwish and pain really did not appeal to him if he had other options.
He thought wryly, I suppose not everyone can be like Avon or Servalan. Sester always missed his two playmates when he had not had any intellectual challengers in awhile.
It was obvious that Dayto was not going to believe him unless he fed his paranoia. Sester decided to ignore the demand and show this man what real intelligence can do.
"Let's not waste our time beating me up," said Sester. "We both know you will only believe what you expect to hear. So let us spare me lots of pain by agreeing with your paranoia and tell me what you want from me. I assume you want something, else you would have killed me already."
"You're too smart for your own good," replied Dayto.
"Yes, that's a common criticism," said Sester. It's something I don't hope to get over soon, he thought with amusement.
The relaxed, confident, and now amused, look on the psychostrategist's face made Dayto want to hit him. But he didn't, at least not yet. Sester had been right, Dayto did want something from him.
To say that the Free Trader was a busy establishment would have been an understatement. It was so crowded that Jenna and Vila had to sit perched on ridiculously high stools at the bar. Vila said that he had 'heard' that this was one of the best microbrewery's in town and had insisted on checking it out. Although how Vila had managed to 'hear' it was beyond Jenna understanding because it was the first time either one of them had visited Papos.
"Tell me why we're here again?" asked Jenna, who was not enjoying her own choice of brew. It had a nutty quality which was not to her taste. She was trying not to fall off her stool whenever someone bumped into her.
"Ouch! Watch it!" exclaimed Vila as another patron bumped into him and knocked some of the beer from his foaming mug. He would have given the offending patron a dirty look if the man had bothered to slow down and look at him; but the man kept going as if nothing had happened.
Does everyone on this planet have to carry something hard under their clothes, thought Vila with anger as he rubbed his sore arm. He was sure he had multiple bruises now on various parts of his body. It must be a law or something.
Vila was determined to find out what everyone was carrying under their clothes, which was causing him so much discomfort. The next time someone accidentally bumped into him again, which he was sure would not take that long, he would take a "closer look."
"I don't think much of the manners of the people here," said Jenna as she used a napkin to mop up the beer which was dripping from the counter onto her lap. She was becoming increasingly annoyed at the lack of common courtesy. "Apologizing also seems to be in short supply on this planet," she commented. "And they have inferior quality napkins too," she remarked at the inadequate job the napkin was doing on the spilled beer.
"Corry, has psychostrategist Sester reported in?" Servalan asked her assistant.
The good looking young man, who was appearing on her vidcomm replied, "No, Madame President."
"He has missed his regular communication," said Servalan.
"Yes, Madame President."
"Has he left any messages for me?"
"No, Madame President."
"Is his observer craft still on Papos?
"Yes, Madame President."
"Don't do that Corry, it annoys me."
Corry smiled, "Sorry Madame President. I will try to find out where he is." The assistant was not there for purely decorative purposes. He had been the Federation President's able personal assistant since she resumed power and was very good at his job.
"Be careful how you do it. If he has run into trouble, we do not want to alert the wrong people. If he is trying to leave us, we don’t want to alert him," Servalan directed him.
"You still don't trust him?" the assistant asked.
Servalan smiled, "Oh I trust him. Because he knows I don't trust him."
"I don't follow Ma'am."
"As long as he thinks I don't trust him, he knows that he will always be watched. And he is never certain to what extent I can control his life."
"He must hate you then." Corry knew the Federation President was never concerned about people hating her. She was only concerned if they didn't.
Servalan smiled. "He would, if he didn't enjoy the game."
"So this may be a game then?"
"Find out which it is."
"Yes, Madame President. I will check with Federation Security on Papos."
"Not on Papos," said Servalan.
"You think they can't be trusted?" the assistant asked.
"It is always wise to err on the side of caution Corry," she told him.
"Of course, Madame President. I will check with Central Security to see if they have any agents stationed near Papos."
"That will do," agreed Servalan. "There must be a backlog of reports Sester has not picked up."
"That's true, where would you like me to send them?"
"Send them to me."
"Very well Madame President."
Servalan switched off the vidcomm and sighed. There were quite a few high security reports which Sester was responsible for keeping track of. She would have to add them to the long list she had to monitor each day.
The life of the Federation President did not allow many opportunities for rest.
At the thought of rest, and her lack of it, Servalan's mind went to Avon. She wondered how he was doing and how far he had recovered. Servalan found that she missed those times they spent together in her bedroom. Beyond the passion, there was also an ease in relating with him which she did not find with anyone else. She missed his dry wit and unforgiving insights. And though others would find it hypocritical, she missed caring for him when he was so physically broken that he was barely alive.
Servalan sighed again and brought up the next report in her long list of reports.
"This is an inferior product," said Avon as he examined a supposedly clear blue crystal. He was shopping.
Avon and Cally had finished obtaining all of the items on her medical supplies list when they discovered the electronics and computer market. Since the sopron projector was still out of operation, due to the lack of parts, Avon had decided to check out what the market had in terms of supplies.
"I assure you, we only sell the best merchandise here," said the bald-headed shopkeeper.
"Either you do not know your own merchandise or you have made a serious error in judging in my abilities. Did you really think that I cannot recognize that this is no more than a sub-grade diffusing crystal?"
"My apologies," said the shopkeeper placatingly, realizing that the man standing before him was more than one of those customers who liked to believe they knew what they were talking about. The shopkeeper felt naked under Avon's cold scrutiny. He reached under the counter and brought out a beautiful shining blue crystal. Even Cally, who would not know a diffusing crystal from a reversing crystal, knew that this was definitely not an inferior product.
"I only show the good merchandise to people who know what to do with it," said the bald man.
Avon held the crystal up to the light and examined it from various angles.
"How much?" he asked.
"For you, as you are such a discerning customer. Five thousand credits."
"You obviously equate discerning customer with a delta grade fool," said Avon in a very cold and derisive voice. He put the crystal down on the counter and turned to go.
"Wait, wait! I have a better price. Four thousand credits."
The man sputtered with incredulity, "That's impossible!"
"Just as impossible as getting a reasonable price out of you it seems," said Avon. His voice never lost that cold and scornful edge.
Cally recognized this tone. It was one Avon used a lot with Blake; when Blake insisted on doing something unwise in Avon's calculations. It was sarcasm as art; or in Avon's case sarcasm as a science. It was very effective on the shopkeeper. The man was no Blake. Not even a half-Blake.
"I can offer it to you for three thousand credits."
"Since your abilities are in question. I would be taking a chance buying anything from you," said Avon. Of course, the only one doing the questioning was Avon himself. But the way Avon said it, it gave the impression that the shopkeeper was in danger of being under public censure. The poor man found himself on the defensive and with a desperate need to vindicate himself in the eyes of this discerning customer.
"I can give it to you for two thousand. I can't possibly do it for less. I am barely making the overhead on that price," said the man. "That way you can take it and use it and know that my products are sound. All I ask is that you tell others that my stock is good."
"Done," said Avon before the man had a chance to think about what just happened. Avon also picked up several other items; all at ridiculously low prices because once begun, the shopkeeper could not stop. The man was very glad when they left the shop.
"Remind me not to try to sell anything to you," remarked Cally to Avon as they left the shop; with the superb diffusing crystal safely in his pocket and several boxes of various circuits and components.
"All of this shopping has made me famished," she told him. "Since we are here already, I feel like some natural food which does not come from a dispenser."
Avon did not think there was anything wrong with food which came from a dispenser. He normally was never one to be overly concerned about food except as a nuisance requirement for his physical health. But after the disgusting gruel which had been fed to him for three years at the Detention Centre, he had come to appreciate any food which was not gruel.
Avon also saw that it was something Cally wanted. Cally rarely made any demands on him, not even on the Liberator; and definitely not personal ones. Avon appreciated her independence; and her lack of nuisance value. He did not mind doing this for her.
"If you feel it is necessary," said Avon.
Vila had ordered another beer and was in the processed of enjoying it when yet another person bumped into him. This time Vila, master thief and deft pick-pocket, 'picked' the man's pocket.
Like all of the other people who had ignored him and kept going, this man also did not notice himself bumping into Vila; nor did he notice his jacket being relieved of a rather hard object. Vila quickly stuffed it in an inner pocket of his jacket without looking at it.
After the man passed beyond his sight, Vila discreetly looked at the item he had 'lifted'. He immediately hid it again when he saw what it was.
"Jenna," whispered Vila.
"Why are you whispering?" asked Jenna.
"I know what all those people who've been bumping into me are hiding," Vila said as he opened his jacket slightly to reveal the object to her.
Jenna was about to say that she was not aware that anyone was hiding anything, but the sight of the object stopped her.
"That's an old-style projectile weapon," exclaimed Jenna in a surprised whisper. "Where did you get that from?" Vila used his jacket to cover up the gun again.
"I 'borrowed' it from the last person who bumped into me. I've noticed most of the people who have been bumping into me are carrying a hard object under their jackets. I'm pretty sure they're all the same thing." He patted the bulge in his jacket where the gun was.
"You mean you picked someone's pocket? What if they find out it's missing?" In Jenna's experience, people who are relieved of their weapons without their knowledge, do not usually take it well.
"They'll never know it was me and besides they bump into so many people here, how would they even know where to look," pointed out Vila. "This is making me nervous. Jenna, why are so many of them carrying these?"
"Your guess is as good as mine," replied Jenna.
This was a mystery. Vila did not like mysteries which had weapons which could not only maim and kill, but could leave nasty bits of unpleasant things in a person. He had a real aversion to projectile weapons, especially after Gauda Prime. Actually Vila had an aversion to all weapons on principle.
"It might be a good idea to follow one of them," said Jenna.
Vila thought it was a terrible idea. He wanted to teleport back to the ship immediately and have more capable people follow up on this mystery with Jenna. Anyone who was not him that is.
"I would like to get to the bottom of this mystery," said Jenna.
Vila was going to ask when she started acting like Avon but stopped himself in time. He knew that Jenna still had a problem with Avon.
"Shouldn't we contact Argus first and tell him what we've found?" Vila said instead. "I've never been keen on mysteries."
Or hazards. And potentially hazardous mysteries are definitely out, thought Vila.
"And tell him what? That you picked someone's pocket and relieved them of an old museum piece? I like to verify there is real danger before we raise any alarms."
Vila's internal alarms had been sounding loudly since finding the gun but he knew that Jenna would not accept that as confirmation.
I know we're going to regret this, thought Vila.