Argus was still in the circular room; battling rounds of enemy soldiers. He had lost count of how many or how long he had been at it.
At last, some real opponents.
This latest group actually challenged his skill but he was nearing exhaustion. It still took four of them but they were finally getting past his guard. Bruises were starting to appear on his body. He was glistening with sweat.
He didn't know if this group was that much better or whether it was just from the exhaustion. He suspected it was the latter. Another punch was directed at his back, which he was not able to avoid in time. Argus fell to his knees. His four opponents were on him immediately, grabbing his arms. It became a wrestling match which he no longer had the endurance to win. They finally pinned him down; then two of them held him while the other two pummelled his body with their fists. He grunted with the impact of each strike.
"Enough." The booming voice echoed in the room again. Argus had not heard it since before these challenge rounds began. His opponents immediately stopped and let Argus go.
Argus pushed himself and slowly got up. He stared at his opponents in defiance.
"All of you may go." The voice boomed. The soldiers exited the room.
When the last one had left and the door panel slid closed, the voice said, "You did well."
"Your people didn't," Argus told the voice.
"Still such spirit," said the voice in admiration.
"What do you hope to achieve by this?" Argus asked.
The voice ignored his question and asked one instead, "Are you ready to tell me where Kerr Avon is?"
"It will take more than just a little exercise, to get me to tell you anything, other than my name," said Argus.
"We shall see. You have provided us with much information today. Thank you."
Argus was puzzled. He had not said anything other than admitting who he was.
The voice boomed, "You may rest now and replenish your energy. A bio-tech will be sent in later to tend to any injuries you may have before your next challenge. Of course, if you tell us the information we requested on Kerr Avon, we will send one in now."
"Save yourself the trouble. I don't need any help," replied Argus.
"You are still refusing to answer the question?" the voice asked.
"No. I am not refusing. I have no interest in answering your question."
"We are going to talk about this again after your next challenge."
"It's going to be a very one-sided conversation."
"We are patient." The voice fell silent and did not speak again. Two guards came in to give him some food and water. Afterwards, he lay on the ground and tried to get some rest. Without the exertion it was starting to get cold again.
Now that he had time to think, there were several things Argus filed away in his mind.
The enemy fighters he had faced, even the last group, were limited by a lack of imagination. They did not seem to have the ability to improvise in any situation they had not been trained to handle.
For Argus, fighting was an art. Not for these soldiers. It was more like a science to them; their movements were precise and recognizable. Argus's movements were dynamic and unpredictable; and only recognizable in their results.
He was graceful and acrobatic. They were mechanical and accurate.
Another thing he noticed, not one of the soldiers had the muscular development that he had.
That must be why the green uniformed one is so interested in mine. That still did not make Argus feel any less uncomfortable.
One other thing Argus noted; by the time each circle challenge ended, the enemy soldiers were very frustrated and some were even afraid. When the last group finally got him down and they were beating him, he could see the enjoyment in their faces; and the satisfaction in the faces of those in the remaining circle.
These are not fighters. They are thugs.
Argus had realized after the second circle, that it was a test of some kind. They wanted to know what he was capable of; and perhaps learn how he fought. He began making adjustments to what he was doing, only using the bare minimum in order to defeat them. It wasn't difficult; they were very predictable once he learned their movements.
Argus hoped that he had learned a lot more about them than they did about him. He rolled over onto his side and tried to sleep.
Hurry Reya. They want to learn about us. We can't let them. For some reason, his instinct told him that this was important.
After what seemed like only a few minutes, the door slid open. Argus instantly awoke and got up. A man was pushed in and the door was closed again. Argus recognized this man.
"You're Sester, the psychostrategist who helped Avon?" he asked.
"Yes. You're Argus." Sester identified.
"What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing," said Sester.
"How did you get here? Do you know who they are?"
"I did not know that you were on Papos. Does that mean that your ship is here?"
"We are not going to get very far by not answering each others questions," remarked Argus.
Sester smiled. He was still feeling dizzy and was finding that standing made him nauseous. In the shuttle, they had kept him in a rear compartment. He had not been able to see anything of where they were going. When they arrived, he was brought to another medical centre and subjected to a series of even more comprehensive tests before bringing him here. It had left him feeling shaky and he had difficulty in maintaining his balance.
"You don't mind if I sit down," said Sester. Even before Argus replied, Sester dropped heavily down on the ground.
Argus was glad of the opportunity to sit. He was still tired.
"It would be more useful if we trust each other; at least enough to share what we know of our current situation. Since our hosts seem to be interested in both of us," Sester said.
Argus nodded. His instincts told him that he could trust Sester to this extent.
Sester proceeded to tell Argus what little he knew. Argus did the same.
"It's an invasion of some kind then. Most likely of the entire planet. They used an EMP wave to give themselves an advantage," summarized Argus.
"It appears so. From what I saw in the medical facility on the planet, they appear to be testing people. Although we're the only two they seem to have brought on board their ship," said Sester.
"There may be others we haven't seen."
"It may be. But something tells me, that we are the only two."
"Your psychostrategist's instinct?"
"Yes. And you tell me they are looking for Avon?"
"Yes. That was the first question they asked me."
"What does your psychostrategist skill tell you about that?"
"They are identifying people who possess exceptional abilities and trying to find out as much about us as they can. But they do seem to have an unusual interest in Avon."
"At least they don't seem to want to dissect us to find out," said Argus.
"Well, not for the moment, anyways," said Sester. He suddenly dropped his voice to a whisper, "You say that they fed you after the challenges?"
Argus said in the same whisper, "Yes."
Sester said, "I want to try something. Next time they do that, let's attack the guards. Once they put the tray down. We will attack them together."
Argus thought it was a not a bright idea for a psychostrategist.
Or maybe the scrambled your brain when they were testing you.
Seeing Argus's reaction, Sester said, "Trust me."
The way the psychostrategist had emphasized "trust me", made Argus agree.
You're up to something, thought Argus.
"Alright," he replied.
They continued the rest of their conversation in a normal tone.
Cally had been watching Avon turn restlessly in his sleep as she lay next to him. One of the disadvantages of telling their host that they were a couple, meant that the man felt that they only needed a single bed.
When they had first entered the room and saw the bed, Avon had joked to Cally that her honour was safe because he was too tired to do anything. Then he lay down and promptly fell asleep.
It had not taken long for the nightmares to come.
Because she had always been able to "sense" Avon, Cally felt that she was experiencing the nightmares with him. She did not know the details but she could feel his fear, his guilt, his constant sense of being used and betrayed, his horror and outrage and great inner torment as well as physical pain. There were so many feelings from him that they flooded her in a jumble. Even though she only felt them as if through a thick filter, it was already enough to prevent her from sleeping. She could not imagine what it was like for him.
At times Avon called out Anna's name, at times Blake's, and a host of others she did not know. And once he had called out her name.
Avon woke up in a start. He was shaking and his body was drenched in sweat; he felt exhausted. It had been so long since he had experienced the nightmares that they all seemed to have flooded him at once. He had a blinding headache.
Avon turned his head and saw that Cally was watching him. There was great concern on her face.
"I'm sorry," she told him.
"Why? There is nothing you can do. Both of us knew this was going to happen."
"No. It's not that. I know that you do not like having people see you like this. You cannot stand their concern."
Avon sighed. "Do not apologize Cally. The problem is mine, not yours." He sat up slowly, grimacing at the pain this caused his knee.
"You're not going to try to get more sleep?" Cally asked as she also sat up.
"What's the point? Did anything happen while I was trying to sleep?" he asked.
"There was some commotion earlier on. There was much weapons fire. I saw some people running and soldiers chasing them. I could not make out any details. I think one of them was wounded. I don't think the soldiers found them. I saw them searching after the noise ended," Cally told him.
"There was bound to be some resistance," said Avon. As she was talking, Avon noticed how tired she looked.
"You look tired Cally. Did the speakers outside keep you awake?"
The loud message to the citizens of Papos was still blaring outside.
Cally could not tell Avon that it was his nightmares which had kept her from sleeping. He already had enough to bear. She hadn't even noticed the speakers.
"Why do they keep repeating the same message? Surely they must recognize that everyone knows there is a curfew now," said Cally.
"It is designed to wear down resistance. You should try and get more rest Cally. Do not worry about me. I'm not going anywhere. You will not have my nightmares to keep you awake this time."
"You're a terrible liar."
"It's one of my faults," she told him. She gave him a brief smile.
"I'll try not to hold it against you," he said. There was a hint of a smile on his face. He got up off the bed with Cally's help and crossed over to a small desk.
"What are you going to do?" Cally asked him.
"I am going to think of a way to communicate with the ship which does not involve getting us killed first."
"That will be useful. You will wake me up if something happens?"