Sixteen days later, the Justice was in stationary orbit over Athol. Avon's anti-detector screen was functioning perfectly.
Argus, Jenna and Cally were in the teleport room, making preparations to go down to the planet. Argus checked the pulse gun which was hidden inside his jacket and the one holstered at his waist, Jenna and Cally were already wearing theirs.
Argus stepped onto the teleport platform.
"Stay awake Vila," Argus told the thief. "Put me down." Argus was going down first to ensure everything was safe and provide cover for the other two.
Vila activated the teleport. Once the rebel leader disappeared from the teleport pad, Jenna entered the next set of coordinates into the panel.
"Down and safe," Argus reported over the ship's comm. "Give me five minutes."
As they waited, Cally asked, "Are you sure of this man, Jenna?"
"Yes, Olean Rane was Feltar's chamberlain; he was also his lieutenant when Feltar was forging his empire, he trusted him even more than his own sons. Rane has a fondness for me since I foiled an assassination attempt on the overlord while I was there."
"And this place where we're going to meet him?"
"It's an inn that he likes to frequent. Not many people know he goes there, it's run by a close personal friend of his."
"If not many people know, how is it that you do?" Cally asked curiously.
"You don't need to know that," Jenna's tone did not invite further inquiry along that line.
Jenna sat down on the steps as they waited. Cally rechecked her gun.
"Feltar was a good man," Jenna told her. "I respected him a great deal. He was the only one who could keep the other warlords in line. He had a reputation for being ruthless but he was an honorable man."
"What about his sons?" Cally asked.
"The sons," her face took on a pensive look, "the sons are another matter. They are ruthless too. They're smart and capable, especially the youngest son, but they're without honor."
"A dangerous combination."
"All clear," Argus finally reported over the ship's comm system.
Jenna and Cally crossed over to the platform.
"Put us down Vila and don't forget to stay awake."
"Everyone's always telling me to stay awake," Vila grumbled as he activated the outbound controls. Once the two disappeared he went back to the flight deck.
"Zen, follow the pre-set course and park us behind the moon."
"Course programmed and confirmed. State speed."
Vila crossed over to the command assembly area and sat down. He poured himself a drink from a bottle he had placed there earlier.
"They said stay awake; no one said anything about not drinking." He settled in for a long wait. The next communication was not due for four hours.
It was the night cycle on this side of Athol Prime, Jenna and Cally entered the busy inn and sat at a corner table. A nearby artificial fireplace cast long shadows along the walls, a staircase led up to the second floor where the inn's guest rooms were situated. A darkened doorway behind the bar led to the back of the inn.
"Ale," Jenna ordered from the barmaid who came over to serve them.
"Just water," Cally said. The server looked at her strangely then walked away muttering under her breath.
"We're trying to blend in," Jenna told the woman, "you can't blend in with water."
"Aurons don't take well to alcohol."
"At least order something to eat."
"Alright, if you feel it is necessary"
When the barmaid returned with their drinks, Cally asked, "What do you have in terms of food items?"
"At this hour, all you get is stew."
"That's fine. We will have two portions of stew."
The server walked away, she was muttering to herself again. "Offworlders."
"Do I look like an alien?" Cally asked, puzzled by the woman's attitude.
Jenna laughed. "Look like an alien? No. You just act differently. I didn't see Argus outside."
"He wouldn't be any good if we did see him. Do you see your contact?"
"Not yet but he's here somewhere."
"How do you know that?"
"I don't see the owner, she's usually behind the bar."
They had finished their stew and the barmaid was in the process of clearing the table when a woman appeared from the dark doorway behind the bar. She was a beautiful full-bodied woman with shrewd eyes, several patrons greeted her as she took up a position behind the bar.
She was obviously a popular character, they called her Lelea. The woman noticed Jenna right away and nodded in recognition.
Jenna told Cally, "It won't be long now."
After a few minutes, Lelea motioned them to go through the darkened doorway.
They got up and followed her directions, proceeding through the doorway and down a long dimly lit corridor. At the end was a closed door, Jenna pressed the intercom buzzer.
"Come in," a reply came from inside the room.
The door slid open and they stepped into the dimly lit room.
"Don't they believe in lights here?" Jenna asked the occupant of the room.
"I've been expecting you," the man had his back to them. He was watching a bank of monitors; Jenna noticed that one of them was trained on the table they had just vacated in the inn, another showed the corridor outside the door they had entered from. A hand blaster lay on top of the bank of monitors within easy reach of the man who had just greeted them.
They were standing in a living room area, a closed door led to what was probably the bedroom. The décor had a simple but distinctly feminine touch and indicated that its owner was a person who loved connections to the past. It was in stark contrast to the security monitors and control panels which the man was seated at.
The man turned around, Cally noticed that he was of average height and had a lean build. There was nothing else average about him, he moved with the fluidity of the mountain cats which populated the wilds of Auron. There was an air of strength about him. His hair had streaks of grey and he had a thin scar which ran along the left side of his jaw. His eyes were intelligent and penetrating; his face was normally hard, but seeing Jenna, it softened. He smiled.
"How are you doing old soldier?" Jenna asked him fondly.
"Good, considering the circumstances"
"This is Cally, she's a friend. I trust her," Jenna indicated her companion.
"You're welcome here Cally."
"This is Olean Rane," Jenna introduced him; "He's a stubborn old soldier and a lifelong womanizer."
"And those are my good points," Rane said jokingly.
"I'm sorry to hear about Feltar," Jenna told him, "I was shocked."
He nodded. "I suppose you're here for news?"
"Yes and I'm here to deliver news."
"Well make yourselves comfortable then," He gestured them towards a set of couches. "I have whiskey around here somewhere and some water."
For the next hour, he told them about the situation in Sector Ten and the Athol Territories in particular.
"No one really knows what happened on Gaverin Three and Tysis. There appears to be a total communications blackout except along the secure Federation channels, which we don't have access to. No one understands how they fell so quickly."
"We may have an explanation for that." Jenna told him about their suspicions regarding the new virus.
"Then the Pylene-50 antidote is useless."
"I'm afraid so. But that hasn't been confirmed. That is our next step when we leave here." Jenna hesitated then asked, "What happened to Feltar?"
"He was murdered in his bedroom right after the evening meal. The bedrooms are the only areas which do not have security cameras. He was stabbed in the chest by a thin laser dagger, an assassin's weapon. Feltar was normally too careful to allow anyone close enough to him to strike with a blade unless he trusted them. The investigators concluded that he knew his attacker and the killer was familiar with the security setup in the building."
"And his sons are suspected?"
"What do you think?"
"Things have been deteriorating for a long time between the boys. There are rumours of problems concerning a woman. Feltar was very angry. Unfortunately, I was out along the border trying to sort out some problems there. I hurried right back, but it was too late. I've been trying to find out the truth but unfortunately that is not the priority now."
It's too bad Avon isn't here; he would probably have been able to figure out what really happened. Cally was thinking of the time she and Avon were on the ship Destiny. There had been a murder and a mystery onboard when Blake agreed to help the Destiny colonists. Cally had never seen Avon so interested in people before, even if they were incidental to the solving of the puzzle.
"You think civil war is inevitable then?" Jenna asked Rane.
"It's too late to stop it now. Believe me, I've tried. They've caused a split among the armies and it looks like they're trying to do that with the rest of the warlords but so far, they've left me alone. I've been able to keep things running, but it's only a matter of time. Whichever of them wins, will take over Feltar's position."
"Do you think any of his sons are capable of killing him?"
"I watched them grow up, I can't believe that anyone of them would have murdered him. I knew that they were ambitious and that there would be trouble eventually, but as long as the old man was alive, they would never have done anything. They loved and respected him too much."
"How many people knew that?" Cally asked. So far she had remained silent, listening intently, not interfering in the conversation between the two friends. "How many people knew that Feltar was the only one keeping them from their ambitions?"
"You mean," Rane started then stopped.
"It is too convenient for anyone wanting to bring about civil war," Cally told them her thoughts.
Kam, Ellis and Borel. Over the next six standard weeks, the crew of the Justice got to know the sons of Feltar Reve very well. Kam, the oldest of the sons, had the backing of some of the most respected and powerful families in the Athol Territories. Ellis, the middle son, was the shrewdest and the most devious, he had the backing of some of the most powerful warlords in the sector. Borel, the youngest, was a brilliant military strategist who had served with distinction in the Athol Border Defense Force and had their full backing.
The Justice crew was reconvening in the command conference area on the flight deck to discuss the results of their actions, Olean Rane had joined them. They discussed the rapid progression of events which were leading towards chaos and the ineffectiveness of their own plans.
After two hours Vila had had enough, "All of this political intrigue gives me a headache. I'd almost rather deal with ORAC."
"You're not the only one Vila," Argus sympathized. He was a military man, more used to strategic maneuvers than plots and conspiracies. "Does that mean you're volunteering to take the next shift with ORAC?" he asked jokingly, knowing full well the thief's answer.
"I said almost."
They were all frustrated. It seemed that civil war was inevitable. They had watched helplessly as all of the planets in the sector allied themselves with whichever son they felt offered them the most advantages and had the greatest chance of winning. Appeals to each son by Rane and Jenna had produced little result other than an unwelcome one. The Justice crew had become a focal point of political intrigue as each side tried to influence them to their side. They concluded that it was better staying out of it.
Rane got up, "I have to get back. Thank you for doing what you could."
"Unfortunately, it wasn't enough," Jenna said with disappointment on her face.
"The die was cast along time ago, Jenna. I tried to warn Fel, but you knew him, he thought the competition would bring out the best in them. Unfortunately it brought out the worst."
"But at least they respect you enough that they would not try to take control by force."
"Yes, they would rather kill each other and destabilize the entire Sector, but they will leave the organization of government alone," he said sarcastically.
"If the situation does blow up," Argus addressed Rane as they entered the teleport room, "you are welcome to join us."
Jenna refrained from saying that using ‘if' was being optimistic.
"I am honored by your offer Argus but I can't leave Athol," Rane replied. "I owe it to Feltar and our people to try to salvage what I can when that happens. I will try to keep Athol out of the hands of the Federation."
Argus nodded, he understood loyalty.
"But you could to do something for me," Rane added, "you need to find out what really happened on Gaverin Three and Tysis. If the Federation is using a new virus in place of Pylene-50, you need to find the antidote. Otherwise no matter what I do, we will fall to them in the end."
"You have my word," Argus answered.
Jenna handed Rane a teleport bracelet and clipped one to her own wrist. They both stepped onto the platform.
"Send us down, Cally."
They reappeared back in Rane's rooms at the Athol Palace, where he had been transported from hours earlier.
"We will find the antidote," Jenna promised him as he handed her back the teleport bracelet. "Don't get yourself killed old soldier. You're not young anymore you know. And you still owe me." She hugged him.
"You're never going to let me forget that are you?" Rane said affectionately.
"No. I'm not."
"And you take care of yourself too. Otherwise you won't be able to collect."
Jenna smiled as she pressed her wristcomm, "Cally take me up."