When the two guards came with a meal for the prisoners, Argus and Sester were ready. The plan was for Argus to grab the tray and throw it at the guard who remained at a distance, covering the one with the tray. This would give Argus time to cross the space and disable the guard before he had time to react. In the meantime Sester would take care of the guard who had been carrying the tray.
As the guards approached, Sester saw that Argus had already positioned himself to move quickly. He also noticed that, just as when he was fighting, the rebel leader's body was completely relaxed.
The psychostrategist knew that Argus was very aware of him; that he was ready to act the moment Sester gave him the signal. The guard bent down to put the tray on the ground. Sester saw the question in Argus's eyes.
Sester held his attention and deliberately made no indication for action. Even though Argus's body was completely still, Sester felt as if he was holding back a powerful tide.
The tray touched the ground.
Sester did not need to hear the next question either; he could see it in his partner's eyes.
What are you doing? We are losing the opportunity.
Sester continued to hold the other man's eyes with his and made no signal for action.
The two guards left.
The two men were still staring at each other.
"Well, that was interesting," said Argus. "Do you plan to do this often?"
Sester smiled. His voice dropped to a whisper. "I had to find out for certain."
Argus also lowered his voice. "You wanted to know if they could really hear us or not?"
"Yes, I needed proof."
Argus nodded. "You have your proof. In future, if you wish my cooperation, you will tell me what is going on."
Sester smiled again, "Of course."
Argus looked at the psychostrategist with suspicion. His instinct told him that Sester had been after more than this.
"Do not manipulate me again," he warned Sester.
"I give you my word," said Sester.
"The only thing you have achieved is that I do not trust you," said Argus.
"Did you before?" asked Sester.
"Only as far as we were useful to each other."
"Then nothing has changed there."
Argus realized that Sester was right.
"But you have a better idea where my strengths lie," said Sester. "And we have established that we can work well together despite these handicaps."
Argus was not sure he liked this man; but Sester's assessment was correct.
The ease with which Sester did this also told him something else.
"You are a dangerous man," said Argus.
Sester smiled again and did not say anything.
"You wanted me to know that?" asked Argus. "You must know I cannot be intimidated."
"True. But now we can build an informed partnership. A trust that is based on knowing what each other is capable of. That is the only way both of us will survive this experience," Sester told him.
"I thought you were not concerned, until you knew what your options were," said Argus.
"I am building those options."
The door slid open and two guards entered. Argus sighed and got up. He was glad he hadn't eaten anything yet.
"Not you. Him," one of the guards indicated Sester. "Come with us."
"Save me some food," Sester said to Argus, as he followed the guards out.
Now we find out what the other options are, thought Sester.
Cally put the communication unit on the table in front of Avon.
"Thank you, Cally. Was it difficult? How is the situation outside?" asked Avon as he picked it up and immediately began examining it.
"As you had predicted. The enemy soldiers are starting to interact with the populace. It was not difficult finding people who prey on others during the chaos. They seem to find the misery of those around them as the perfect business opportunity. I was able to locate a suitable thief."
"That sounds suspiciously like a cynical attitude Cally," he told her even as he picked up a tool and opened up the panel on the device.
"Being realistic is not the same as being cynical," she responded.
Cally had been unpleasantly surprised by Avon's remark. After her earlier thoughts, that she had so far avoided developing a cynical attitude, it was quite a shock to hear that comment from him.
Avon gave her a brief smile and returned to his work. For him being realistic and being cynical were the same. He knew it was not for her.
"This is more advanced technology," remarked Avon as he began making the necessary connections with his improvised equipment. "But it is not alien. More a natural progression from our own current level of knowledge. It should not take long."
Cally sat down at the table and watched him work. It almost felt like old times.
"Do you really think I have become cynical?" Cally asked him.
Avon looked up at her. It did not take special perception to recognize her melancholy. He put his tools down.
"You are the least cynical person that I know Cally. Do not allow my jaded sensibilities bother you."
"Sometimes I can feel myself changing and I do not know if it is for the better."
"Change is a part of being alive. You will never be in danger of becoming like me, if that is what is worrying you. You actually have a heart."
"And you are saying that you do not?"
"That is what most people believe," he said with a dry smile as he picked up his tools again.
"You're a fraud Avon."
"I will add that to my long list of faults," he said, as the final connection was made. The unit lit up.
"Will it work?" asked Cally. She leaned forward excitedly.
"Let's find out." Avon adjusted the frequency and depressed the comm button.
"Argus, this is Avon. Are you receiving us?" There was no response.
He repeated. "This is Avon and Cally. We are ready for teleport. Are you receiving us?"
When there was still no response, he readjusted the frequency and tried several more times.
"Perhaps the device requires more power," suggested Cally.
"Perhaps." Avon also had another thought but he suppressed it quickly; he wasn't sure if she was able to pick up his thoughts sometimes but he didn't want to take the chance.
"I think it's time to find another thief," said Cally. "I'll go and obtain another power source. Do you require anything else?" she asked.
"No. Be careful."
"I will," said Cally as she set off to look for the additional equipment.
Avon knew the device worked. He knew it was not insufficient power which prevented communication.
Argus would have been trying to find them since losing contact the first day. Of that, Avon was certain. He also knew that Argus would have had ORAC keep an active monitor on the comm channels and for any locator signals. If he had been able to.
This lack of response could have many reasons. None of which was good.
The man who sat across Sester was different from the others. The dark blue uniform was the least of these differences. The man possessed a self-assurance and easy superiority Sester recognized. This was the enemy's equivalent of an alpha class.
"My people have been treating you well?" the man asked. The voice was friendly and open but his manner made it clear that he expected obedience.
There were some people who were born leaders; there was no question this man was one of those. The bruised man Sester had exchanged wits with back in the circular cell was another.
"If this is your definition of well, perhaps you should look for a higher standard," replied Sester.
The man smiled. He was looking forward to this conversation.
"I should qualify my question. I meant have they been treating you well as a prisoner?"
"Better than some of your other prisoners," replied Sester.
The man smiled even more and said, "I have been looking forward to meeting you."
"And so have I," said Sester. "Your people were waiting for you, weren't they? That is why they did not do anything after the initial tests. They do not have the initiative to proceed without further orders. From you."
"I am glad we are not going to be wasting our time," the man told him.
"My time is never wasted," said Sester. "It is obvious you knew who I was before I arrived on Papos. Do you plan to tell me who you are?"
"You do not need to know."
As the conversation progressed, Sester had a feeling of déjà vu. This kind of verbal battle was something he had participated in for three years; except that this time he was the prisoner, not Avon.
When they were finished, the man said, "You do not know what a pleasure it is to be able to speak with someone who is not predictable."
"That is not the reason why you had brought me here."
The man smiled again.
Sester was becoming very tired of this man's smile.
The blue uniformed leader said, "If you mean, why you were captured? You are correct. But as to the reason I had you brought to me, it was purely for my own amusement."
This is very much like what I did to Avon, thought Sester. There was no way that this man knew what had been done to Avon. Very few people outside of the Special Detention Centre knew that.
Sester was certain that there was another purpose.
The enemy leader said, "As enjoyable as this has been. I cannot take up anymore of your time. I am afraid you have other business." The man called the guards back in. "Bring him to the lab," he told them.
The guards pulled Sester to his feet.
"A word of advice. Cooperation will be much less painful," the leader told Sester as he was being led out by the guards.
Avon was tired.
The normal remedy was to sleep; but for him, sleeping brought horrifying nightmares and even more tiredness. Staying awake was not a better option either. As he became more tired and his concentration slipped, memories intruded into his consciousness and interfered with his ability to distinguish reality from memory. The memories were never pleasant; some were as bad as the nightmares.
I need Cally, thought Avon. Using her telepathic ability, she had been able to bring him back to reality before. Without the drugs, she was the only one who could help him keep the horrors away. He hoped she would return soon.
Avon needed to think. The discovery that Argus was not able to answer the comm signal required some new planning; but he was too tired to think.
Maybe I will just rest my eyes for a bit, thought Avon. He leaned back in the chair, crossed his arms across his chest and closed his eyes.
There was a commotion outside. Avon opened his eyes and listened. There was a rush of sound approaching. Avon hastily put the modified comm unit in a drawer behind him. Brown uniformed soldiers burst in through the door and surrounded him. Avon calmly put the tool he had been holding down on the table, the tip pointed towards the drawer, and lifted his hands in surrender.