Reya stretched as best she could in the cramped maintenance tunnels of the Justice
. She was watching red uniformed engineers working on fixing the damaged components of the weapons and shield systems. They were thorough, methodical, careful and...
Much too slow. Have these people never heard of deadlines? thought Reya wryly.
They did not seem to be able to understand the alien nature of the ship's technology. It confused them, even after a day of working on it.
The enemy engineers had been able to follow ORAC's printed instructions easily enough; so the engines, the computer and the life-support systems were now operational. They were able to fix everything, which they were familiar with, very quickly. But when it came to the alien technology, they were at a complete loss.
Reya was getting very impatient with them.
I need to rescue Argus and we have to save the crew. But it's no good if these engineers can't fix enough of the ship.
The red uniformed computer techs had not been able to get around Zen's security protocols either. Whenever they tried to interface their own computer units into Zen, their systems got scrambled. Reya suspected that either the technologies were too incompatible, or it was an aspect of Zen's security protocols; perhaps something which Avon had instituted.
The vulnerability of the computer systems was something Reya had been concerned about but it seemed that Zen was capable of protecting itself, at least against these invaders. It was one less worry for her.
Reya had already found the sonovapor canisters she would need and hidden them in the clothing storage room; the one area in the ship the invaders had no interest in.
Now I just have to get over to the other ship and find Argus.
It was time for the next stage of her plan.
The bio-tech which the booming voice had promised Argus, proved to be the same willowy man, in the green uniform, who had attended to him in the Justice medical bay. The one who had taken an inordinate interest in his body.
The bio-tech had entered with two guards; who remained by the door, hands ready on their rifles.
Argus groaned when he saw who it was.
"What's wrong?" asked Sester. The two men had been trying to rest.
"I've seen this one before," said Argus with distaste.
"Who is he?"
There was no more time for answers or questions as the bio-tech reached them and instructed Argus to lie down so that he could be examined. Sester was told to stand to the side.
"Your body is strong. It stood up well to the stress," the bio-tech told Argus as he began examining him.
Stress? That's an interesting word for it, thought Argus.
The man was feeling the extent of the bruising. He seemed to be taking much too long for such a simple task. A look towards the guards by the door told Argus that something even more unpleasant was in store for him if he resisted.
The watching Sester now understood why Argus had such a negative reaction to this man.
"There does not appear to be any internal injury," said the bio-tech.
Argus tried to ignore him. Unlike the rest of the invaders, the man examining him seemed to be the talkative type, keeping up a constant stream of chatter during the examination.
I prefer being tied up and beaten, thought Argus.
"Does it take much maintenance to keep up this mass?" the man asked. The examination now extended to the muscles which did not have any bruising. The way the man touched him reminded Argus too much of the way Reya touched him.
I am NOT your type, Argus thought angrily. It took all of his self-control to not put his hands around the man's throat.
Sester could see that Argus was becoming increasingly angry. The bio-tech seemed too pre-occupied to notice.
The bio-tech did not seem insulted or concerned that Argus did not respond or pay any attention to his attempts at conversation. When he finally finished his "examination", the bio-tech applied a hand wand over the bruises. The instrument exuded a warmth which seemed to penetrate directly into the muscles.
"I cannot give you any medication for the pain, but I can do something about the bruises," the man told him. "This should reduce the swelling."
Argus did feel less sore after the man was finished.
When the bio-tech was done, the next set of challengers entered the room. Sester was now directed to sit against the wall, watched over by a guard.
Argus recognized the men who now stood surrounding him. These were the ones who had beaten him the previous day. The experience of beating Argus had seemed to give this group more confidence.
I guess we will find out if it was just the exhaustion yesterday or not, thought Argus.
It did not take long to find out which; as the challengers found to their dismay.
Sester found the contest fascinating. It was very enjoyable watching Argus in action. The man had an ease about him which made the fighting look easy; even though Sester knew it was not.
It is like a chess game for you. Each movement is calculated to minimize effort and maximize effect and at the same time sets up position for the next move, which you have already anticipated.
After Argus dispatched this group, there were a few minutes of breather before the next group came in. He sat down and rested.
"That was quite impressive," said Sester.
"I'm glad you're enjoying it," said Argus dryly.
"Have you ever played chess?"
"Avon told me about your obsession with chess," said Argus.
"Did he? Why would he do that?" asked Sester.
"He told me many things about you," replied Argus.
"All negative, I'm sure," Sester said wryly. "I do not blame him. It was never personal."
"Yes, I'm sure that's what you tell yourself at night," accused Argus.
"I do not need to justify myself to you," said Sester coldly.
"And how about to Avon?"
"That is between the two of us."
The next group of challengers came in. As expected, this group was slightly better than the last one. Argus had no problems with this group either.
This is interesting, thought Sester. You are not just anticipating movement. You are actually guiding your opponent's movements. It would be a shame if you do not play chess. And it must be very interesting between you and Avon when you are together.
As Argus rested between rounds Sester said, "I can see why they are interested in you. You see the fight very differently than they do. You actually see beyond the fight."
"I'm not your type either," said Argus coldly. He was very tired of people who seemed to be interested in him. He was very tired of the constant feeling that he was being put on display.
Sester laughed. "You misunderstand my intentions."
"I'm tired of people having intentions towards me," Argus said.
"I can see that. It must have been uncomfortable having the bio-tech working on you."
"I'd rather not talk about it," said Argus.
"They haven't done anything with you yet," said Argus, trying to change the subject.
"Other than the brain scans and medical exams. They appear to be waiting for something," Sester told him.
"I don't think that's good for you."
"You may be right. But I do not worry unless I know there is something to worry about."
"You don't think being captured is a good enough reason to worry?"
"I only worry when there are no options left; not when I do not know what the options are."
Argus laughed. "Is this what a psychostrategist sounds like?" he asked.
"You've never met one before?" asked Sester.
"Neither have they."
The next round of challengers came in and kept Argus busy. By the final round of challenges, when they had worn Argus out again, Sester had learned a great deal about their captors; including their level of cruelty.
Watching them beat Argus when he could no longer fight them, brought up unpleasant memories of what had been done to Avon back at the Special Detention Centre. Sester had avoided those sessions when he could. Watching them do it to Argus, made him ill.
Argus did not cry out once, which made them hit him even harder. The only thing they did not do was hit his head. They must have been under orders not to.
This time the booming voice waited longer before telling them to stop.
Sester was not surprised by Argus's abilities or defiance. Argus would not have been there if there had not been something exceptional about him the invaders wanted to test. The psychostrategist found the looks on the soldier's faces even more interesting. As the contests progressed there was a growing mixture of anger, frustration and fear; from all of them.
The voice ordered the soldiers and the guard watching Sester, to leave the room. Argus continued to stand in defiance.
"Are we going to have a one-sided conversation this time?" asked the voice.
"What do you think?" asked Argus.
"You must know that we will find him eventually."
"It will not be with my help."
"Why must you make it more difficult on yourself?"
Argus laughed cynically, "You are not going to tell me that all of this will stop if I tell you?"
"No. You are correct. It will not stop. But I do control the level of injury they are allowed to inflict on you."
"Do your worst. I will not tell you anything."
The voice did not speak further.
Argus sat down slowly, grimacing at the pain.
Sester said, "I think I should start worrying. About you."
"I'm fine," said Argus. He did not tell Sester that he expected Reya to rescue him. Argus was certain they were being monitored; and he did not trust the psychostrategist enough to tell him.
"You have a different definition of fine than I do," said Sester.
"I am fine as long as I can stand and fight."
"They're still interested in Avon." Sester dropped his voice to a whisper, "Do you think you can manage what we discussed earlier?"
Argus replied, also in a whisper, "You still want to do this? You realize we don't stand a chance."
"Yes. I have a reason, which I will tell you later. Follow my lead. Can you do that?"
"Lead on. I'm sure there is at least one area that isn't bruised yet."
When Cally woke up, the sun was streaming through the window. All was quiet. If she closed her eyes and did not get up, she could almost pretend that it was a morning full of promise for the day. It was a long time since she had one of those.
When did I get so pessimistic? she wondered. I never used to be like this. Since the genocide of her people, Cally had found her own outlook slowly changing. She used to have the optimism of youth and the outlook of the Auronar. But she had lost too much and experienced more than most Auronar did in a lifetime.
Cally turned her head to look around the room. Avon was sitting in the same position she had left him the night before. She did not need her own special perceptions to know that he was under great stress; she saw it in the way he sat, the way his shoulders were slumped in weariness.
As she watched him work, Cally wondered why she had always been drawn to him; why she had always understood him.
Avon wore a hard shell of cynicism, like a shield, rarely allowing anyone to get close. His fierce independence was a defiance against a life of being used and manipulated by others. He held onto facts and logic, the two things which had never betrayed him.
You never hid what you were, did you? You chose your own path and you didn't care if others thought less of you for it.
Though Cally often disagreed with him, she had always respected his honesty.
You lived most of your life only seeing people in shades of darkness. It must have been a very lonely life.
"Did you try to get any rest, Avon?" she asked him.
At her voice, Avon turned around. He had almost forgotten that there was someone else in the room.
"No," he told her.
"It is quiet now," she remarked.
"Yes. The messages stopped broadcasting a little while ago. I suspect something is about to change."
"Any idea what?"
"It is difficult to speculate with limited information. But if we assume that the goal of the invaders, is to invade and not to destroy, then they must restore some of the infrastructure of the city. Without it, the city will slowly die. The communications capabilities will most likely continue to be disabled. That is the easiest way to contain large scale resistance."
"That still does not help us then."
"It does if the soldiers have to start interacting with the citizens of the city. So far they have only followed rigid military procedures."
"All human beings are fallible?" Cally asked sardonically. She knew it was always his position.
Cally was aware of something else from him.
"You have already thought of a way to contact the ship?"
"Yes. We will need a thief."