"CITIZENS OF PAPOS, THE CURFEW IS LIFTED. WE WILL BEGIN TO RESTORE POWER TO YOUR CITY. DISTRIBUTION CENTRES HAVE BEEN SET UP IN THE MEANTIME FOR ESSENTIAL ITEMS. REGISTRATION BY ALL CITIZENS WILL BE REQUIRED. OBEY ANY ORDERS GIVEN TO YOU BY THE SOLDIERS. ANY DISOBEDIENCE WILL BE PUNISHED."
This new message was now repeated throughout the city.
Cally was watching from the window as people began nervously leaving their homes.
"You were right," Cally said to Avon. "Something has changed."
"It was a logical assumption," said Avon.
"At least they care if people starve or not."
"That is not why they are doing it."
"You don't think they care if people starve or not?"
"Oh they do care. Just not for the reasons you think. Even the most passive person will think of resisting if the choice is to resist or starve. They are removing that incentive and at the same time they are establishing the next level of controls."
"You may be right," said Cally.
"Of course I'm right."
Avon could feel a flood of memories threatening to overwhelm his mind again. So far he had been able to hold them off but with the lack of adequate rest, it was becoming increasingly more difficult.
Cally instantly realized something was not right. "What's wrong Avon?"
Avon could hear her question but he could not do anything about it. She seemed far away. Reality was slipping away from him, replaced by memory. He desperately tried to reach her but he couldn't tell what was real or not anymore. The vision in his mind became his reality.
Feelings of hunger and thirst. Exhaustion. Pain. Loneliness. Being forced to eat something which turned his stomach because he didn't have a choice. It was either that or starve. Or being beaten. He was so tired. Everything had become a struggle. They wanted control over everything. They wouldn't even leave him this.
Cally could feel that Avon was being overwhelmed. On impulse, she reached out and took his left hand in hers. She tried to project a thought into his mind, "Avon they are only memories. They are not real."
The shock of the intrusion into his solitude brought Avon back to the present.
Unfortunately, they were real. Avon wondered if he would ever be free of what had been done to him. He looked up at Cally. There was a look of concern on her face again. For some reason, at this moment, it was not as bad when it came from her. Perhaps because in this set of memories, the loneliness was so unbearable.
"Thank you, Cally." He squeezed her hand briefly and let it go.
"You said earlier that we need a thief?" Cally asked, changing the topic and giving his mind something else to focus on. She was glad that he seemed to accept her concern and help, even if it was only briefly, but she could sense that it was all he would take from her at present.
"Yes. I wish we had Vila here," he told her. "Don't tell him that," he added.
At that moment, Vila wished that he was anywhere but on Papos.
I knew it was a mistake. Why do I always make this mistake? Why does no one ever listen to me?
His arm hurt a lot where he had been shot. For some reason, he couldn't feel his fingers. Vila was miserable. There was not even soma or alcohol to alleviate the pain or his sorrows.
Vila was certain he would never be able to use his arm or his hand again. His days as a master of anything would be over. The one thing he was good at, the one thing even Avon respected him for, was gone.
Jenna won't need to convince Argus to let me go. He won't want me anymore. No one will want me anymore.
Vila was feeling very depressed.
In a bed at the far end of the room, the tech engineer, Allren lay faced down. He was moaning weakly. His clothes were soaked with blood.
"He's burning up," said Jenna.
They all knew Allren needed immediate medical attention. The projectile had to be removed from his back; but they couldn't bring him to a medical facility. The invaders controlled all of those now.
"He didn't want to come," Ture muttered miserably. "It's all my fault. If I didn't go first, he would have stayed and he wouldn't be dying now."
Jenna had never seen the computer analyst in such distress before. He was normally laid back and unemotional. Nothing rattled him.
I did this, Jenna thought. It was all my fault. If I hadn't insisted on taking such a stupid risk they wouldn't have come after me. They refused to abandon me and I led them straight into danger. They warned me and I didn't listen. They are better friends than I deserve. I let them down.
She felt disgusted with herself. I was never like this before. I always used to be on the other side, warning people against taking stupid risks. What is wrong with me?
Jenna knew what was wrong. It was something she had avoided facing for along time; something which she was still not ready to face. The guilt which was eating her up inside, was now getting other people killed.
Maybe it's not Vila who should leave the ship, it's me.
Restin, the man Cally had found to help them, proved to be a generous host. Not only did he have his youngest son vacate his room for them, he also provided food from the supply he had gathered for his own family. Despite his insistence that he had no appetite, Cally had persuaded Avon to eat in order to maintain his energy level. They were eating a plain meal of nutriwafers and supplement drinks while discussing their next move.
"What is your plan?" Cally asked Avon.
"Most of the soldiers use a personal comm device."
"Yes. But they are of limited range," said Cally. "How does that help us?"
"It is limited because it is designed that way. It is missing a couple of key components which will boost its range. We have a substitute for the main one," said Avon, holding up a beautiful blue crystal; the one which Avon had negotiated such a good price for. Their shopping trip seemed like ages ago.
"Once the invaders begin interacting with the populace, it should not be too difficult for an enterprising thief to relieve one of them of a comm device."
"What about the other components you require?" asked Cally.
"I can adapt the remaining ones," replied Avon.
"Leave the finding of the thief to me," Cally told him.
"Your special abilities are proving quite useful."
"I am out of practice."
"Be careful Cally. When you go out there. Not all thieves are as harmless as Vila."
"I thought you said Vila was useless? Not harmless," Cally said jokingly, recalling something Avon had said to her on their first meeting.
"Vila is multi-talented," said Avon with a trace of a smile.
Reya looked at herself critically in the mirrored wall of the clothing storage room. She sighed.
Argus had better not laugh, she thought. Or he can rescue himself.
In her hours of observing the enemy, Reya had noticed something interesting, there was a lack of any females.
It didn't mean there were none. Just not ones she had observed. Reya was not about to take the risk. She had decided to take on the persona of a male. The clothing stores on the Justice proved very helpful. Not only did it provided a vast array of clothing to meet any mood or inclination (she was afraid to ask what kind of mood would possess people to wear some of them), it also contained all manner of interesting appearance aids.
At the moment, Reya's normally short to medium-length hair was cut to the same military length which all of the enemy soldiers seemed to have. With the use of various facial enhancement devices, she had also made her face more masculine. She looked more like her younger brother now.
As Reya stared at her own distorted image, it shocked her. Seeing herself as a man, brought up unpleasant memories; memories of a lifetime spent futilely trying to win her father's love, by trying to be more like her brothers.
Would it have made a difference, father? Was it really that I wasn't born a male which bothered you? Or did you just reject me?
Reya turned away from the mirror; she couldn't look at the lie anymore. She was never one to dwell on the past and she had more important things to do; like saving someone who did love her unconditionally, despite all of the mistakes she was sure she had made. Thoughts of Argus helped her refocus her mind and drive away the melancholy.
Now, time to relieve an unlucky volunteer of their uniform.
Reya had decided to impersonate one of the red uniformed soldiers. The enemy techs and engineers had the freedom to roam the entire ship. They were largely ignored as long as they appeared to be busy doing something tech-like and carried tools. She guessed that it would not be that different on the enemy ship.
She had already identified several possibilities which would fit her purposes; techs who tended to work more isolated than the others, because of the system they had been assigned to; and whose body size was near hers.
Reya watched from the maintenance tunnel until her selected target was alone.
I wonder what this one did to get this prime assignment, thought Reya sarcastically.
The poor enemy tech had been assigned to study the waste disposal units.
Waste disposal units? thought Reya. This enemy has very strange priorities.
She wondered if it was a result of their rigid thoroughness. They often seemed to do things which seemed very unnecessary.
Reya quietly slid the covering panel aside and exited the tunnel. She came up silently behind the enemy technician. Even if he had not already been so absorbed in taking readings from the panels in front of him, he would not have heard her. She was quick and efficient; with a strike to the base of the skull. It was almost as beautiful to watch her in action as it was to watch Argus.
Within seconds, the man had been knocked cold, dragged to a nearby supply room and stripped of his uniform.
Cally watched the flow and ebb of the activity around her. She was aware of it on several levels. There was a great deal of fear and uncertainty; as well as anger and confusion. This time she was searching for a very different set of qualities than the ones which had pointed her to Restin.
Avon had been right. Some of the enemy soldiers were now interacting with the populace. Their presence was meant to be a reminder and a control.
Cally was looking for the people who preyed on others in times of chaos. It did not take long. Everywhere she looked, she seemed to find them. It was very depressing.
Sometimes Cally found it hard to find the good in people anymore. She had been through too much, to not develop a realistic attitude. Sometimes it was hard to fight the kind of cynical attitude which Avon had adopted towards people. But she was still determined to look for the good and the bad.
Cally's attentions were drawn to a young man who was casually walking along the avenue. He seemed to be very clumsy, constantly bumping into people and walking on. What made her interested was that he had also accidentally bumped into a couple of the enemy soldiers. He was very audacious despite the severe reaction from them; but he had an ingenious smile and an easy apologetic attitude which kept him out of trouble. Cally smiled, she had found her helper.
Cally made her way towards him; coming up behind him. The next time he was about to "accidently" bump into someone, she quickly reached out, grabbed his hand and applied a wrist lock. The training sessions with Reya Reve were proving very useful. Her actions had been so quick that the young man's intended victim walked on without noticing.
"Ow. You're breaking my arm. Let go of me," the young man protested, not too loudly for fear of drawing attention. He tried to pull away. Unfortunately this caused himself greater pain. "Ow!"
"I am about to break your wrist, not your arm," corrected Cally as she quickly steered him into a secluded alcove. "I would stop struggling or it will break."
The young man stopped resisting. He had no desire to have a broken wrist.
"What do you want from me?" he asked sulkingly.
"How much have you stolen today?" asked Cally.
"I don't know what you're talking about," said the young man defiantly.
"Do you want me to search you?" she asked.
He looked her over. "You don't look like a Sec."
"A Sec?" asked Cally puzzled.
"You know, one of those Federationn Security people. A Sec."
"I see. You are correct. I am not one of those. I have a proposition for you. One which may be very lucrative for you if have the courage. What is your name?"
"People call me Palty."
Cally let go of his wrist. "Palty, how would you like to earn one hundred credits by obtaining something for me, from one of the enemy soldiers?"
"I have all kinds of stuff from them. Look," Palty reached into his pockets and started pulling things out..
"You realize that what you are doing is dangerous?"
"What are you? My mother? Besides I'm the best. I could steal something from you even if you're looking right at it."
Cally refrained from saying that she didn't believe him.
"I want one of their comm units," Cally told him.
"Oh. I don't have one of those." He looked at her slyly. "I want two hundred credits."
Cally smiled. "Done."