Cally checked Allren's wound again. It looked much better. With the projectile removed and the medication to fight the infection, he was finally stabilizing. His breathing was much less labored now.
"How is he doing?" asked a concerned Ture.
"He is out of danger. He should make a full recovery eventually," replied Cally.
"Why hasn't he woken up? It's been two days since you removed the projectile," said Allren.
"You must be patient," said Cally. "Give him time. You should get some rest yourself. I'll watch over him."
Ture touched her arm, "Thank you, Cally."
"You're a good friend to him," said Cally.
"No. I'm not. If it weren't for me, he wouldn't have gotten shot," said Ture.
"He made his own decision to follow you," said Cally. "I don't think he would hold you responsible."
"That's what makes it even worse. He came because he was my friend. We always faced dangers together. Even though he knew it was a mistake, he would not let me face my mistake alone. It was my mistake. He should not have to pay for my mistakes."
This whole planet has been a mistake, thought Ture. I let him down the moment we set down on it. I wouldn't blame him if he doesn't want to be partners anymore.
Jenna was lying on a blanket on the floor nearby, trying to sleep, and not succeeding very well. Guilt was never a good sleeping aid. She could hear Cally and Ture's conversation. The more she heard, the worse she felt. She wondered if she would ever be able to sleep again.
Reya returned to the security control booth to check on Argus. He was facing another set of challengers. His two companions were watching from the sidelines; under guard. All three men looked in rough shape.
Everything is ready Argus. I am just waiting for them to finish the repairs.
She wished she could project her thoughts to him. It had been hard not to react emotionally to what they were doing to him. But she knew that Argus needed her to be strong and to stay objective.
Don't die on me, Argus. I don't know what I would do without you.
She had not realized how much a part of her he had become; not until she was in danger of losing him.
The invader technicians and engineers had been making methodical studies of the Justice's systems. Many things still seemed to confound them, but they were finally making headway in the repairs.
It should take another two days, thought Reya. Though with this group, I should be more conservative in my estimates.
She knew Argus could not wait much longer than that. Reya could see it in the way he carried himself. He was reaching the end of his physical endurance.
It made her ill to watch them beating him. Reya could almost feel the impact of each strike. She did not know why he appeared to be limiting himself. They had sparred before and she knew that his skills were better than this.
You must have a good reason, thought Reya.
Even within the limits, he was still a superb fighter. She loved watching him in action. Sometimes she could tell the outcome just from his first few moves. She knew he was able to read his opponents very easily and was able to choreograph the outcome. She could also tell that his opponents had no idea what he was doing.
It is not right; allowing these people to beat you like this, thought Reya. I will not allow them to get away with it.
Reya's plans for vengeance were already in place.
Everything is ready for you Argus.
Reya wondered what the invaders wanted with Avon and the other one. They did not seem to be subjected to the same treatment which Argus was getting. She knew that they were taken away periodically; though she had not been able to discover where.
Reya wished she could hear what they were talking about. She was certain that they must be planning something. She hoped that by the time the repairs were ready, the three men would still be able to move on their own.
Reya was surprised that none of the security people in the monitoring booth had asked about her constant presence. They all seemed to be preoccupied in watching the screen which showed Argus's cell. Whenever there was any action in the cell, they watched with fascination. Reya had also discovered that the red techs were considered almost an invisible presence. She doubted if the security personnel even registered that the red uniform technician who was constantly in and out of their booth, was the same one.
It facilitated her movements tremendously.
Avon and Sester talked softly to avoid the monitors; as Argus slept. They were all exhausted from being tested but Argus had been deteriorating at an alarming rate.
"You know what they are doing to him?" Sester asked Avon.
"Yes. They are testing how far they can push him. Just as they are doing with all of us," said Avon.
"Yes. But for him, once they push past his limit, and he shows that he can no longer adapt to the increasing level of difficulty, they're going to beat him to death."
"You can see that already?" asked Avon.
"I am never wrong. The last few beatings have become progressively worse. You must have noticed."
Avon nodded, "They are stacking the odds so that he will lose."
"They need him to lose," said Sester. "You see their reaction when they get him down. The relief on their faces. With us, it is a much more personal challenge. Only their leaders and the scientists get to see our tests. With him, it is a strike on their soldiers as a whole. More of them have seen him and all of them must know by now what has been happening. He is a much more visible threat. That is why they must bring him down."
"At this rate, he's not going to be able to last much longer," said Avon.
"Have you been able to build a profile on our hosts yet?" asked Avon.
"A limited one. They are doing all of this because they do not understand our abilities. The flash of inspiration, the intuition, the leaps in logic, the ability to instantly adapt and learn; it worries them. I suspect that the advancement of their civilization has been a steady progression; not marked by the periodic leaps human civilization has seen. That is why they are trying so hard to understand us. What you did at Star One scares them. Everything they know, tells them that what you achieved was impossible. With Argus and myself, anyone with similar abilities would have served their purposes; we were just unlucky enough to be the ones they had access to. But they have been looking specifically for you."
"They seem to have been very lucky so far," said Avon.
Argus rolled onto his side and groaned. The two men looked at him, when Argus was awake, he rarely acknowledged the pain.
"I would never have thought modesty to be a characteristic of being a psychostrategist," said Avon cynically.
Sester ignored his comment and continued, "There is one other thing they do not appear to have; that instinct for danger which focuses the mind and can make some people even more dangerous. That is why they are so harsh with him and are so fascinated by you."
"And you?" Avon asked.
"That is one ability I do not possess. What they are interested in with me, is the gift of the psychostrategist. The ability to accurately predict behaviour within the chaos which is humanity."
"And what is your ability to predict the behaviour of a people which follows a steady progression?"
"Child's play, given enough information." Sester smiled as he realized Avon understood what he was driving towards. "You would have made an excellent psychostrategist, Avon."
"I could never stand the humanity," said Avon. "Could you devise a strategy to get us out of this?"
"Not just out of this," whispered Argus, as he joined the conversation. He rolled towards them, grimacing at the pain.
"You should get more sleep," Avon told him.
"They're coming again soon. And I can't sleep with both of you talking," said Argus as he gritted his teeth and sat up. He said to Sester, "You said that we worry them. The three of us. Can you strategize something we can do, which will make them reconsider any further plans to invade our galaxy?"
Avon and Sester looked at each other.
"Well? Is it possible?" Argus asked again.
"You mean, show them why it would be unwise for them to invade humanity, even with a technological advantage?" asked Sester.
"Make their odds unacceptable," mused Avon. "That may be achievable in the short term. But it will not stop them indefinitely."
"We don't need long term. We just need long enough for humanity to equalize the disparity in technology."
Avon nodded. "If Sester is correct about their limitations, once our level of technology nears theirs, they must fear that they will no longer be a match for us. That must be why they are starting to move now."
"Agreed," said Sester. "I can build a strategy. But I will need to gather more information about them in order to build an effective one." Sester asked Avon, "Have you seen their leader recently?"
"Not in the last few sessions," said Avon.
"I haven't seen him since the first time," said Sester.
"The bio-tech that tends to you seems eager to talk," Avon said to Argus.
Argus snarled, "Don't remind me. Every time he touches me, I want to break both his arms."
Sester said, "Avon is right. The bio-tech is the only one who seems to want to talk about something, other than what they are after."
Avon asked Argus, "How much more of the challenge can you take?"
Sester added, "We need you to hold out. The bio-tech may be our only source of information."
"Yes, I heard you earlier," said Argus. "You think they will kill me once I fail the challenge."
"You were supposed to be asleep," said Avon.
"And you could have been quieter," said Argus. "Don't worry about me. As long as I can keep standing, I think I'll be alright."
"Do you think you can start talking to the bio-tech?" asked Sester.
"You mean start being friendly to him," asked Argus. There was a strong note of distaste in his voice.
"We would settle for being less hostile," said Avon.
"Yes. We need to establish a relationship with him. Get him talking," said Sester.
"What I have to do for humanity," said Argus. "I would rather be beaten to death."
"Your choice is one or the other," said Avon.
"Thanks for making that clear," said Argus dryly. "I think I'm going to have to go on a long vacation with Reya after this."
"Then you had better make this good," said Avon.
"And no wise cracks from either one of you about this, or I'm not doing it," said Argus.
Both the analyst and the psychostrategist suppressed smiles and nodded.
"All of this will be academic if we can't get out of here," said Avon.
"Don't worry about that," said Argus.
"You have a plan?" asked Sester.
"Reya will rescue us."
"You seem very certain of that. Certain enough to not make alternate plans?" asked Avon.
"Only a fool would not make alternate plans, even with a certainty. But as for being certain of Reya, yes I am very certain of her," said Argus.
"Who is Reya? I have no knowledge of this person," said Sester.
Argus replied, "Commander Reya Reve. She is from the Athol Territories in Sector Ten. She was onboard to help us with a problem. I asked her to hide when we were boarded; so that she could rescue me later."
"But your ship must be full of enemy soldiers by now. How do you expect her to help? She has most likely been captured already," said Sester as he assessed this new information.
"You said that the enemy feared the three of us because of our exceptional abilities? If they knew her, she would also have been included with us," said Argus.
"I hardly think you are objective enough to make that assessment," said Avon.
"Who is she to you?" Sester asked Argus. He had been listening to this exchange with great interest.
"She is a friend," said Argus.
"I'm sure she would be very interested to hear that description," said Avon with amusement.