When senior controller Dayto came out of the room with the bearded leader, Sester knew that the two men had come to an agreement. He did not need to see the lack of restraints on Dayto's wrists to know that. The thoughtful look on Dayto's face spoke volumes.
"Release his men," the bearded leader told the guards.
One by one, each of the detainees were released from their bonds. When the guards came to Sester and were about to release him, the psychostrategist was surprised. He doubted that he had been included in whatever agreement had been made.
The bearded man said, "No. Not him."
Sester did not react. He had not even raised his hands to be released; this had been what he was expecting. The guard moved onto the next person while the bearded leader approached.
Sester looked at him. The man was slightly taller than Sester, heavy of build and had a dark beard. He wore the same brown uniform as the others but his had a rank marking none of the others had.
The man smiled. No one in the corridor wanted that smile directed at them; there was nothing friendly in that smile.
"You are the psychostrategist, Sester?" the bearded leader asked.
"Yes." There was no point in denying it. It was clear they knew who he was from the moment they had captured him. He had been on their target list. Even if they did not, Dayto would probably have wasted not time in telling them.
"Is that of interest to you?" Sester asked.
"Yes. You are of great interest to us. We have never had one of your kind to work on before."
Sester did not like the sounds of that.
Maybe it is time to start asking for a hazard bonus for being a psychostrategist, thought Sester.
"Bring him," said the man. Without a further word to him, the bearded leader headed towards the building exit. A guard prodded Sester into motion with the tip of his rifle and the psychostrategist followed after him.
Jenna, Vila, Allren and Ture were watching the main Federation Security building from a building nearby. By now all was quiet again.
The takeover had been swift. There was not much to resist with when you had no functional weapons or technology.
Brown uniformed guards now replaced the black-clad Federation ones at all access points. Other than some concerned citizens watching carefully from a distance, the only people walking the streets wore brown uniforms.
"There are a lot of them," remarked Vila. "And we only have one gun."
"I would recommend using the gun sparingly," said Ture.
"It's our only weapon and you don't want us to use it?" asked Vila. He clearly did not think this was a good idea.
"These projectile weapons make a lot of noise. The moment we use it, they would know where we are. It also has a limited capacity. I have checked. There are only fifteen projectiles in this weapon. Once it is used up it would become useless unless we obtain more," Ture replied.
"Oh, I hadn't thought of that," said Vila.
"We still need to get access to communications equipment," said Jenna.
Allren said, "They appear to have setup the Security building as their main base. They must have comm equipment in there. We need to get in somehow."
"But how? That building is surrounded by their soldiers," said Vila. "It would be all of them against the four of us. Unless you plan to stroll up to them and ask if they have any spare communications equipment lying around."
"I have an idea," said Jenna. "When you and Argus went to the Federation Banking complex on Elarus get the crystal, you impersonated Federation soldiers."
"We had your computer ORAC dummy up some fake identities for us then," said Allren.
"We don't have to be that involved. Comm equipment is not something they need to keep in a vault somewhere. Once we get in, all we have to do is find it," said Jenna. "We can deal with whatever we find once we get inside."
"All we have to do…" muttered Vila. He was getting an uncomfortable feeling which came from having done something like this too many times in the past.
I thought I had finally gotten away from this life, thought Vila. I was happy being a master thief. Avon used to have bolt holes. Maybe I can ask ORAC to find me some.
"Now we just need to find some unwilling people to give us their uniforms," said Allren.
"At the moment they're only moving around in groups. We'll have to wait," said Jenna.
"We should set up shifts to watch the window while the rest of us get some rest," suggested Ture.
"I'll take the first one," said Allren.
The rest of them made themselves as comfortable as they could in the office they had "borrowed" the use of with Vila's help.
"I'm hungry," said Vila as he lay back on the hard floor.
Ture suddenly remembered that he was starving too. In the stress of their situation, he had almost forgotten.
"You're not the only one," said Jenna, as she too lay back to get some rest. The last time both of them had eaten had been on the Justice. That had seemed a long time ago.
"Do you suppose that Avon and Cally made it back to the ship, Jenna? Do you think they're looking for us?" asked Vila.
"I don't know. Even if they haven't, Argus would have noticed that something was wrong by now. He usually keeps an eye on unusual things like sudden loss of power over the whole city," replied Jenna.
"I always used to hated it when he insisted on setting up boring procedures. We never used to have any on the Liberator or the Scorpio."
"Yes, I remember. You used to fall asleep a lot whenever he did that. You have to remember, Vila. Argus is ex-military. He is used to things like procedure and discipline."
"I used to hate that too," said Vila.
"What? Procedure and discipline?"
"Yes. That. And the whole being ex-military thing."
"It sounds like you've changed your mind."
"I wouldn't go that far," said Vila. "But if it can get us out of this mess, then I might not fall asleep next time he tries to set up procedures."
"Admit it, you're starting to like him," said Jenna.
"I wouldn't go that far either. Jenna, I never asked you what happened after Star One. What did you and Blake do after you left the Liberator? How did you meet up with Argus?"
"It's a long story," said Jenna. There was sadness in her voice and something which made Vila say, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked."
"It was…hard," said Jenna. "I haven't…"
As always happened when something interesting was about to be revealed, at that moment, Allren said from the window, "Ture. Come over here."
Thinking that it might be something interesting, they all got up and went back over to the window.
They could see two men exiting the building, followed by a contingent of brown uniformed soldiers. The one in front was a tall, heavy set man with a beard. The one behind him was wearing restraints and was being prodded by one of the soldiers.
"Isn't that the psychostrategist we saw before?" asked Allren.
"Yes," agreed Ture.
"I wonder where they're taking him."
Ture shrugged. "Wherever it is, I don't think it's going to be good for him."
"It doesn't look like it, does it?"
All of a sudden Vila exclaimed, "Jenna!"
"What is it, Vila?"
"Isn't that the man we were following before? The one in front?"
Jenna looked more carefully at the man leading the procession.
"You're right," she agreed.
"But I thought he was dead? Didn't we see his body?"
"What's this?" asked Allren. Dead bodies walking around sounded intriguing. And troubling.
Jenna and Vila told the two tech mercenaries about their adventure and about following a bearded heavy-set man after discovering he had a gun.
"You think this is the same man?" asked Ture.
"It's either that or he's got an identical twin," said Jenna.
"He could be a clone," said Ture.
Vila like those ideas much better than the idea of animated corpses walking about.
"Maybe he wasn't really dead," said Allren.
"He wasn't breathing, there was no pulse and his body was cold. That adds up to dead in my computer," said Vila.
"We need to find out what is going on," said Ture.
"Agreed," said Jenna.
"I don't agree," said Vila. "I thought we were just going to get the communications equipment. Not go around playing detective. Don't we already have enough things to worry about?"
"We need to find out, Vila. There is something very strange going on here."
"Yes. But what's that got to do with us?"
"You're sounding like Avon," accused Jenna.
"And you're sounding like Blake," Vila retorted. Vila had always liked Blake, but that did not mean that he liked that Blake always insisted on dragging them into dangerous situations to help people they barely knew.
"You never change," said Jenna. "You never liked the danger, did you Vila."
"I've had enough of it to last a lifetime, Jenna. Several lifetimes," said Vila. "But no one ever listened to me."
Jenna never noticed how tired Vila sounded. And how sick. "I'm sorry it was like that for you."
"If they had listened to me, just once… I think that's why I started drinking. And why I kept asking Cally for soma. It started getting to me. Living in danger all the time and not wanting to."
"You thought that you were finally free of it all and then Argus came and got you," said Jenna.
"It was my own fault for not saying 'no'," said Vila.
"Well, he can be very persuasive. But it sounds like you're saying 'no' now," said Jenna.
"I guess I am."
"I'm sure Argus will let you off wherever you want. He knows you're a civilian and that he can't expect you to stay."
"Do you think he would?"
"Yes. I'll talk to him."
"Well, if you think he will, I'll help you find out what is going on here," said Vila.