Avon wasn't sure whether he should continue to be amused. The soldiers had loaded him onto the shuttle and brought him aboard a ship. At least he assumed it was a ship; he had been kept in the rear compartment which did not have a scenic view, so it was hard to know for certain.
Once on the ship, he had been brought to a medical facility. They were now in the process of healing his knee. The implant they had discovered during their examinations caused great interest. They asked him all kinds of questions about it; which he did not answer. He had no interest in telling his captors anything useful; at least not until he knew more about them.
Some of the things they found seemed to puzzle and concern them. He suspected they had found residual traces of the various drugs he normally took.
Avon's refusal to tell them anything did not result in reprisals of any kind. They just accepted it and continued with their examinations.
They answered none of his questions but they were always polite and respectful. Avon found that he was constantly being stared at, either by the green uniformed men who attended to him or the other-colour uniformed soldiers. He was feeling as uncomfortable as he did on the Justice, when the crew kept looking at him surreptitiously to see if he was about to collapse. This group was not staring at him for the same reason; of that he was certain.
There was no question that he was a prisoner though. He was carefully guarded and was always restrained in some way.
Their attitude did not make any sense.
After the physical exams and the healing of his knee, the brain scans began.
"Where are you going, Jenna?" Ture asked Jenna in a soft voice, trying not to wake Allren. He was applying cold compresses to his friend's forehead. The fever had not broken; they were all worried.
Ture had barely gotten more than a few hours sleep since his friend had been shot. Guilt caused him to stay by Allren's side; refusing offers of help from Jenna and even the injured Vila. If Ture had been able to trade places with his injured friend, he would have.
Vila snored softly in a nearby bed.
"I'm going to find some help for Allren," said Jenna. "He's going to die if he doesn't get some medical attention soon."
"How do you plan to do that?" asked Ture. "Nothing's changed. We still can't use a medical facility. We can't risk having to answer questions we would prefer to leave unanswered."
"I'm going to see if I can find some underground help," said Jenna.
"You mean one of those criminal doctors who are not allowed to practice?"
"Yes," replied Jenna.
"There's usually a reason they're no longer allowed to practice anymore," pointed out Ture.
"We don't have many options," said Jenna. "It's better than nothing."
Ture was about to say that "better than nothing" was not really a high enough recommendation for him; but he couldn't think of any better course of action.
"There aren't enough of us to come after you this time," warned Ture. "I'm not leaving Allren."
Jenna nodded. "I understand. I don't want anyone to follow me."
Cally had found the modified comm unit which Avon had hidden in the drawer. With the tool as a pointer, it had not been difficult. All she needed now was to find someone to attach the stronger power unit to the device. She decided to find Palty again. The young man had proven useful again in acquiring the second power unit. She was certain he would know someone who could help her; and would not ask too many questions.
Cally headed out towards the main commercial avenue which was the young thief's normal haunt.
Avon was feeling increasingly dizzy from what they were doing to him. The scans were not painful, but they left him disoriented and nauseous.
It was definitely not amusing anymore.
The green uniformed scientists had actually apologized to him. The side affect he was feeling was the result of the difference in their physiologies. The scanners were designed for their own people, not humans. They assured him that there was no permanent damage being done.
How comforting, Avon thought sarcastically.
The scans seemed to produce more looks of puzzlement and concern. Avon wondered if the damage to his mind actually showed up on their instruments. They appeared to possess a higher level of technology than the Federation.
A group of brown uniformed soldiers entered the medical facility.
"He's wanted," said one of them.
The scientists immediately unstrapped Avon from the examination table. The soldiers put a set of restraints on him and then helped him down.
Avon nearly fell as he put weight on his right knee; and found to his dismay that it was still painful.
"I thought you fixed it," said Avon to one of the scientists.
Some of them actually looked embarrassed. "Yes, we did," replied the scientist Avon had directed the question to. "We fixed the damage done by the overload of the circuits."
"You returned it to the way it was before the circuits overloaded?" Avon asked, as he realized what they had done.
"Yes. Those were our orders."
No wonder they were so interested in the implant, thought Avon. Someone else had found the presence of the device in his knee to be useful.
Another thing to thank Servalan for. When we finally meet again, thought Avon. He already had a long list of things to "thank" her for.
This time, I will not make the same mistake, Servalan.
The blue uniformed leader stood up as Avon limped slowly into the room, helped by two guards.
"Kerr Avon, it is a pleasure to finally meet you," the man said to him. "Please sit."
The man indicated the seat in front of the desk. The guards helped Avon into the chair.
"Leave us," the leader told the guards.
The man looked at Avon intently as the guards left.
"I have been looking forward to this meeting for a long time. You have become a legend among my people," the leader told Avon when they were finally alone. "You are held in great regard."
"You have a strange way of showing it," said Avon. "Unless it is your custom to bind people you respect. And subject them to complete examinations and brain scans."
"My people told me about the unfortunate side-effects of the mind mappers. I can only add my apologies," the leader told him.
"Are you going to apologize for these too?" Avon asked sarcastically as he indicated his cuffed hands.
The man smiled. "I had forgotten that you are supposed to be sarcastic."
"You seem to know a lot about me," said Avon.
"We have been studying you for many years. Ever since you held back the fleet at Star One."
"You're the aliens from Star One?" asked Avon in shock. This was not welcome news. If they were, then they might be after some revenge.
"I am surprised at you, Avon. Did I say we were?"
"You haven't said you weren't."
The man smiled again. "True. I didn't."
"You're not going to tell me?"
"No. For our purposes, you do not need to know," the man told him.
"You could not have known I was coming here. It was not a planned destination," said Avon.
"That is true. It has been very difficult to track you. At times, we thought you were dead. Which would have been very disappointing. Recently, we obtained news that you were on a new ship. You can imagine our surprise when we found that ship orbiting Papos. It was the perfect opportunity for us. I believe you Terrans call it serendipity."
"For you, perhaps," said Avon. "When you did not find me onboard, you guessed that I would try to contact the ship? That is how you found me?"
"Yes. We knew that if anyone could find a way given the obstacles, you would. How did you know we had boarded your ship?"
"I didn't," said Avon. "Not for certain."
The leader smiled. "It is good to find people who do not disappoint. I imagine with your intelligence, that you often find people very disappointing?"
"Constantly," said Avon. "What did you do with the crew?"
"We only found Drel Argus onboard. The others appear to have gone down to the planet."
"What have you done with Argus?" Avon asked. He wondered if Commander Reve would have gone down to Papos without Argus. Avon doubted it.
Those two are obsessed with one another. And Argus would not have left the ship unmanned. That may mean that these aliens do not know Commander Reve was onboard. If there had been time, she probably would have hidden so that she could rescue Argus later.
"He is fine. For the time being. He is currently undergoing testing. As will you. We regret the necessity of having to hurt you. But do not mistake our respect for weakness. We will do whatever it takes to achieve our goals."
What are these goals? They cannot simply be after a small trading centre like Papos. I need more information.
"You are not going to ask what those goals are?" the leader asked when Avon remained silent.
"You will only tell me that I do not need to know. I don't like wasting my time," said Avon.
The leader smiled again. "It has been good to find out that the person we respect is worthy of that respect."
"I would prefer less respect and more information," said Avon.
"I know you would."
"And I know that you are afraid," said Avon. "Afraid what I would do with that information. That is why you will not tell me. You need me, not to know."
The leader was no longer smiling.
The guards came back in and led Avon out.
Argus and Sester were asleep when the door slid open. Argus instantly awoke and turned towards the door. He stifled a groan at the pain his quick movements caused.
I must remember not to do that, he told himself. He pushed himself slowly up to a sitting position.
A contingent of guards brought a familiar person in. It was Avon.
They did find you after all, thought Argus. No wonder they stopped asking me about you.
By now Sester had also awoken and had sat up as well.
The guards helped Avon to sit on the ground before exiting.
The three men stared at each other.
"You look…" began Avon as he addressed Argus.
"Don't say it," said Argus with a scowl. He did not need Avon to tell him that he looked terrible.
Avon smiled. He turned to Sester, "I was not expecting you here."
"Neither was I," replied Sester.
"I thought that Servalan would have killed you by now," said Avon.
"You know we are both too valuable for her to kill," replied Sester.
"Yes, and too dangerous for her not to kill," remarked Avon in a dry tone. "Now that the preamble is over, can either one of you tell me what is going on?"
Sester's voice dropped to a whisper. "They cannot hear us if we keep our voices low enough. But we should keep up a normal conversation as well."
"It appears to be an invasion," whispered Argus.
"At least a prelude to one," said Avon.
"They are testing the probabilities for success," said Sester. "They are being very thorough. They will not invade unless they know that the odds are in their favour."
"That explains the testing," said Argus.
"There is a major fault in their assumptions," said Avon.
"Yes. They think that they can defeat us if they understand us," said Sester. "But from their testing of you, Argus, they have not been able to. Even when the odds are in their favour and they have been able to study your movements."
"From what I have seen, their science and technology are much more advanced than ours," said Avon.
"Have they started testing you yet?" said Sester.
"Just medical ones. They appear to have been looking for me. Because of what I did at Star One. They want to know how I was able to hold back the invasion fleet," said Avon.
"That explains why they kept asking me about you. Are these the same aliens from Star One?" Argus asked with interest.
"That's uncertain," said Avon. "Their leader was less than informative when I talked to him."
"This leader, was he wearing a blue uniform? And he has a tendency to smile a lot?" asked Sester.
"Yes. The smile is irritating."
"It must be the same man who talked to me," said Sester. "In fact, he sounds like the same man who talks to you sometimes after the challenges, Argus."
"Wonderful. Maybe you can point him out to me when we finally get out of here," said Argus.
"Watching them fight you has been very informative," said Sester.
"I'm glad you find it both entertaining and educational," said Argus sarcastically.
Sester's psychostrategist mind was busy building a logical construct from the information they possessed.
He said, "They know they can beat us technologically. But from what happened at Star One, they know it is not enough. Those hours, when Avon used a single ship to hold out against an entire invasion fleet; they do not understand how it was possible. Just as they do not understand how it is possible that you can hold out against so many of their own fighters."
"It's not that difficult," said Argus. "They are good fighters. Especially the latest batch. But it takes much more than experience and skill to be an exceptional fighter. None of them seem to be capable of that."
"It is that lack they are trying to understand," said Sester.
"They haven't been able to so far," said Argus.
"That must worry them. From what I've observed, they don't like it when they don't understand something," said Avon. "They have a need to understand."
"Yes. It is the reason why they are afraid of you, Avon," said Sester. "And to a lesser degree you, Argus. That is why you have had to suffer at the end of each session. They do not understand why they cannot beat you. That fear makes them dangerous and cruel. "
"You are saying that is what Avon has to look forward to when they start testing him?" asked Argus. He was very concerned.
"I can take care of myself," said Avon coldly. He hated that his own weaknesses would become a problem again.
"How long ago did the drugs wear off?" asked Sester. He too was concerned about Avon. Sester knew even better than Argus, what had been done to Avon at the Detention Centre.
Avon turned to him sharply. He had not expected the question. The progressive loss of control over his own mind put him at a great disadvantage when dealing with Sester.
"Long enough," said Avon.
"How are the nightmares and the control of the memories?" Sester asked.
"I can manage," replied Avon flatly. He refused to concede anything.
"Survival has always been your one of your strong points, hasn't it?"
"You should know that," said Avon dryly.
Sester nodded. "They may not treat you the same. They appear to have a great deal of respect for you."
"Their leader made it very clear that their respect does not interfere with getting what they want," said Avon.
The door to the cell slid open again.
All three men wondered if another person was about to be added to their little group.
A group of challengers came in, along with several guards.
Argus sighed and got up.