Reya leaned Argus up against the bulkhead.
They were finally back onboard the Justice. She set to work opening up one of the access hatches to the maintenance channels.
"You're not serious?" asked Sester. "You want us to crawl around in the maintenance ducts?"
"Yes. Unless you would prefer fighting through several dozen enemy soldiers between here and the flight deck," said Reya dryly.
"Not particularly," said Sester.
"Do psychostrategists not crawl?" asked Argus.
"I would think you would be used to it by now, working for Servalan," said Avon. Avon was also not relishing this foray into the bowels of the ship.
Sester fixed them both with an icy glare.
The access hatch opening prevented any further discussion about the advantages or disadvantages of working for the Federation President.
Their progress through the maintenance tunnels was agonizingly slow. Half-way to their destination, Avon and Argus were only moving forward through sheer willpower.
"Let's stop for a bit," said Reya.
Each man was glad of the rest, though they would never have admitted it. None of them could hide that they were all sweating and breathing heavily.
"I know why Argus is having problems. I know why I'm having problems. What's your excuse," Avon asked Sester.
"Physical exertion is not required of a psychostrategist," said Sester.
"Well, you're working for Servalan now. I suggest you learn to run."
"You really do hate her don't you," said Sester.
"She has given me more than enough cause. As have you."
Sester sighed. None of these conversations ever ended in anything different.
Reya came back after scouting ahead, "We should keep moving."
By the time they reached the access hatch closest to the flight deck, Argus and Avon almost had to be dragged the rest of the way by Reya and Sester.
Reya had already hidden an equipment satchel here. She opened it up and started pulling items out.
"Take these." She handed each of them a portable breathing mask unit. "It's for the sonovapour."
She also handed phase pistols to Argus and Avon.
"Rest for a bit. I'm going to check the flight deck. I'll be back," said Reya.
She checked the corridor, slid the access panel open, and headed towards the flight deck. Argus closed the hatch after her.
As they waited, Sester remarked, "She almost doesn’t need you."
"She doesn't need anyone. Sometimes I wonder why she puts up with me," said Argus.
"Don't worry, I'm sure you do have some uses," Avon reassured Argus.
"You think so?" Argus asked. He never understood why Reya loved him when most of the time, he hated himself.
Avon and Sester looked towards each other. Their attempt at humour at Argus's expense had backfired.
Reya came back and opened the access hatch. She helped Argus out, followed by Avon and Sester. The men were better after the brief rest.
"There are ten on the flight deck right now," said Reya.
"We need to take them all out quickly," said Argus as they all checked their weapons. "Four, four and two. Avon, can you handle the two? It has to be quick and precise. We can't risk damaging the ship's systems."
"Alright, let's go." They all headed towards the flight deck.
Avon and Argus were standing to one side of the entrance to the flight deck; while Reya and Sester were watching from the other side. Argus used hand signals to indicate to Reya and Avon which of the enemy soldiers they were responsible for taking down.
Reya and Avon nodded in understanding. Their weapons were held in readiness.
Argus held up one hand. With his fingers he began counting down from five.
Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
The three rushed down onto the flight deck; Reya followed by Argus and then Avon. They began firing immediately.
Avon took his first target down with ease. As the man began to fall, Avon was frozen. In his mind, the enemy soldier had taken on Blake's face.
Argus instantly sensed that something was wrong and took down Avon's other target as well. All ten soldiers now lay dead. It had taken less than fifteen seconds.
"Avon!" Argus called out to his companion.
Avon was still frozen. His hand was tightened around the pistol so hard that it was cutting off circulation. There was look of blank shock on his face.
"Has he handled a weapon since he came back from the Detention Centre?" asked Sester as he came down the flight deck steps. He had seen Avon's reaction and realized what was wrong.
"Argus, I'm going back to the tunnel. I'm going to stand as one of the guards," said Reya. "We must make sure that everything still looks normal until you're ready. Send Sester for me when you're ready to release the tunnel."
Argus nodded. Reya rushed out.
"He hasn't handled any weapons," Argus replied to Sester.
Sester approached Avon carefully.
"Be careful," said Argus as he approached on Avon's other side.
"Avon," Sester said softly. "Let go of the pistol." He slowly reached for the gun.
"Here. Let me do it," said Argus. He carefully took hold of the barrel of the pistol with one hand and Avon's wrist with the other.
"Avon, it's alright. You can let go," said Argus. He pushed the barrel towards Avon and angled it upwards. The strange pressure caused Avon to look down at the pistol. His grip began to relax.
"Look at me, Avon," said Argus.
There was a look of shocked confusion on Avon's face, "I shot Blake."
"Avon. That was many years ago. You have to come back to the present. We need you," said Argus.
Avon's face relaxed and became his normal unemotional self again.
"That's hard to believe," said Avon. "You needing anyone."
"I said we. Not me," said Argus.
"Should I tell Commander Reve that you said you don't need her?"
"I did not say that. Don't you dare tell her that! Now give me the gun."
Avon let go of the pistol. "I didn't know that was going to happen."
"None of us did," said Argus. "Will it affect your ability with our main task? We can't continue if you can't continue."
Sester interjected, "This is partially my fault. I had anticipated that this might happen. I wasn't sure if Avon had handled any weapons since his escape. From your manner, I thought he had."
He addressed Avon, "I do not believe it will affect what you have to do later. That only requires your computational and analytical skills."
Sester asked Argus, "You are having Commander Reve handle the weapons control?"
"Yes," said Argus.
"Then it should be fine," said Sester.
"Anything else you haven't told me?" asked Avon coldly.
"Yes, I would like to know that as well," said Argus. His normally low baritone voice had lowered in pitch. This was never a good sign.
Sester refused to be intimidated. "Nothing else."
"We will have a long discussion about this later," said Argus.
"Stop trying to protect me, Argus," said Avon coldly. "I can handle this myself."
"I'm sure you can," said Argus.
"Gentlemen, let us ensure there is a later before you decide to take me apart," said Sester.
Survival necessitated that they agree for now. The tension eased.
"Alright, masks," said Argus. When they had all put them on, Argus instructed, "Zen, this is Argus. On my orders, release the sonovapour throughout the entire ship."
"Drel Argus. Voiceprint confirmed. Orders acknowledged."
"Five minutes should do it. Then have the ship's filtration units clear the vapours."
"Release the sonovapour."
"Confirmed. Sonovapour gases released."
After the gas had been cleared Argus instructed, "Zen, bring the close and medium range sensors online. Report any ships in the vicinity."
"Confirmed. There is currently one ship docked with the Justice. Six ships are within one thousand spatials of this ship."
"I thought there were only five ships?" said Argus. This was not good news.
"That was correct. Two have arrived in the last three hours," reported Zen.
"That shortens our odds considerably," said Avon. "And assuming that more don't arrive."
"Yes. It makes what we have to do much harder. Let's check everything else before assessing how this impacts us. Avon, systems check," said Argus.
Avon nodded in acknowledgement of the request and went over to the Zen visual interface.
"Zen, this is Avon."
"Kerr Avon, voiceprint identification confirmed."
"Give me a status check on all essential ships systems. Begin."
Zen began droning out the information requested.
When Zen had finished the report, Avon came over to where Argus was discussing some details of the psych-strategy with Sester.
"We have another problem."
"It appears the enemy technicians may have made errors in the repair of the weapons systems."
"Are they operational?"
"I was about to go take a look at them."
Zen interrupted, "Information, Jenna Stannis is currently in communication with this control unit."
"Jenna. That's good. Patch her through," said Argus.
"Wait," said Avon urgently.
"Belay that order Zen," said Argus. "What is it Avon?"
"When I was back on Papos, I also tried to communicate with the ship. I suspect that was how they were able to locate me. They must be monitoring any carrier wave which is being directed to the Justice. And does not match their own."
"Then Jenna and the others are putting themselves in danger by trying to communicate with the ship?"
"Zen," said Argus. "Communicate to Jenna that…"
Zen interrupted, "Information."
Ignoring Zen Argus continued, "Communicate to her that she must cease transmission immediately."
Zen repeated, "Information."
"What is it Zen?" asked Avon.
"The communication signal from Jenna Stannis is utilizing multiple relay channels. It emulates communication traffic being used by the ship which is docked with the Justice."
"That's clever," said Avon. He wondered how Jenna and the others managed that. "It should be safe enough to contact them."
Argus told Zen, "Zen patch Jenna's communication to the main speakers."
"Confirmed. Communications linked."
"Jenna, this is Argus."
"Argus! It's good to hear your voice." They could hear indistinct sounds of excitement coming from the speakers.
"It's good to hear yours too. Are you and Vila alright?" Argus asked.
"Yes, generally. Cally is here too. And Ture and Allren."
Avon reacted with surprise but his voice, as always was neutral, "Cally, is she alright?"
"Yes, Avon. I'm fine." Cally's voice came over the speakers.
"I hoped that the soldiers wouldn'tt get you as well," said Avon.
"They didn't. I found the comm unit you left behind. We're using it now," said Cally.
"Let's leave the news until later," said Argus. "We have more pressing concerns at the moment. Are you all in a safe position? The teleport isn't yet operational yet. We can't bring you up."
"Yes, we're fine for now, Argus. Our teleport bracelets aren't working either," Jenna said. "That's why we were trying to contact Zen."
"We'll come down and get you. But you'll have to wait. We have some business to take care of up here first."
"Does this have to do with the invaders?" asked Jenna.
"Yes. Sester has a strategy which we hope will stop their invasion plans, at least for now."
"Hope?" asked Sester behind him.
"The psychostrategist?" asked Jenna.
"Yes, he's up here too," said Argus.
"Good luck. We will wait for your signal," said Jenna.
"Luck and hope?" said Sester.
"I take it psychostrategists don't believe in the concepts?" asked Avon.
"I'm surprised that you would," said Sester.
"Normally, I don't. But with Blake, usually those were the only things he did operate on."
"It must have been frustrating for you," said Sester.
"Constantly. But luck does have its uses. Especially when there is nothing else," said Avon.
"Gentlemen, let's focus on the strategy for now," said Argus.
"I'll go check on the weapons," said Avon. He headed towards the flight deck steps.
Avon paused and turned towards Argus again.
"Drugs," said Argus.
Avon nodded and headed for the steps leading from the flight deck.
"Get some for me too," Argus called after him.
Avon smiled and exited.
Avon came back onto the flight deck, holding a bio-injector.
"What's the status of the weapons systems?" asked Argus.
"It's not good," said Avon as he applied the injector to Argus's neck. "They dismantled the entire system and tried rebuilding it by interfacing their own technology. It was only partially successful. We have eight, maybe nine shots with the neutron blasters before they experience a meltdown."
"You're right, it's not good. Especially not with more ships out there," said Argus. "We have a decision then. We can continue with the strategy or run until we can get the weapons fixed."
"That's going to take time we do not have," said Avon. "And parts we also do not have."
"Or we can just run," said Sester. "But they would likely move up their invasion plans."
There was silence as they each contemplated the options.
Argus made a decision. He asked Avon, "How are our odds compared to the ones you faced at Star One?"
"The same," replied Avon.
"What if we were destroyed but not before we showed them what their real odds were? Would that still stop them?" Argus asked Sester.
Both Argus and Avon looked at the psychostrategist expectantly.
Sester realized that this was finally his moment of truth. It was time to decide what he would be willing to die for.
If he told them that it would not work, then there would be no point in sacrificing themselves. They would survive. Humanity would still be in danger. It was no different from where they were currently.
But now they had a chance to stop it before it began. One chance.
Is this what it feels like when your life hangs in the balance? When the survival of an entire people depends on your decision? When you are asked to risk your life for those you have never met. People are barely more than puppets to me. Should their lives matter to me?
His decision seemed to take along time but in reality it was only a few seconds.
Sester made his decision.
"It should still be effective," said Sester.
"Then what are we waiting for?" asked Argus. "Avon?"
Avon hesitated and then he smiled. "Nothing at all."