Argus's voice sounded over the ship's internal comm system, "Avon, I need you up here now!"
"Can't this wait? I'm a little busy down here," answered Avon as he continued fixing the medical apparatus he was working on.
Sester was mortally wounded when a panel exploded near him during their space battle with the invaders. He needed this equipment to be functioning. Since the autorepair units were concentrating on the major ship's systems, medical had a lower priority.
"Well, we're all about to get a lot busier very soon," said Argus.
The tone in Argus's voice made Avon say, "I'll be right there."
Avon wondered if the invaders had changed their minds about leaving. This would not be good. Currently the Justice was almost completely helpless.
He put down the apparatus he was working on and turned to Reya, "I'll be back as soon as possible."
"If you aren't you might not need to anymore," said Reya.
"Is it that bad?" said Avon.
"He's dying. I've got him heavily sedated. If he wasn't he'd be in terrible pain right now. Internal bleeding is not the most painless death," said Reya.
"I won't let him die," he told her. "He still has a lot to answer for."
Avon was glad of the adrenaline and painkillers Reya had suggested he take as he made his way slowly towards the flight deck. Walking faster did not appear to be an option for him anymore. He was almost certain that the alien scientists had deliberately set the knee implant to a higher disability level than he had before.
"Zen, scan the surface. I want a clear, unpopulated area near the fixed coordinates where Jenna communicated from earlier," said Argus.
"Confirmed. Initiating scan."
Avon arrived on the flight deck and came down the steps.
"What's happening?" he asked.
"Federation pursuit ships," said Argus. "A strike force. Twenty ships. They'll be here in just over an hour."
Avon grimaced. "I prefer spacing my impossible deeds out over several days." He went over to his operations console.
"Yes, that was my reaction too," said Argus.
Zen reported, "Scan complete. Three target areas matching specifications have been identified."
"Show them on a gridded survey map on the main viewer," said Argus.
"Confirmed." The main viewscreen changed to show a topographical map. Three locations were indicated by red dots.
"Zen, show the location of the fixed coordinates."
"Confirmed." An additional spot in blue appeared.
"You're thinking of abandoning ship in the life capsules?" asked Avon.
"Something like that. Unless you have a better idea."
"We can't give them the Justice."
"I don’t intend to."
"What do you plan to do?" asked Avon suspiciously.
"Zen, program the life capsules for the following coordinates." Using his panel, he indicated a wooded area just outside the city of Papos.
"I asked, what do you intend to do?" Avon repeated.
"Avon. Take ORAC down with you. Bring any equipment you need in the life capsules," said Argus.
"You haven't answered my question."
Argus looked at Avon. "The autodestruct function was one of the systems damaged. The ship will have to be exploded manually."
"I see. You plan a heroic gesture. Going down with the ship?" said Avon cynically.
"Not unless I have to. Can you give me a better alternative?"
Avon thought for a few moments and then said, "I could try to rig up a remote detonator."
"You don't have time," said Argus. "The longer you stand here, the less time you have of getting down to the planet safely. Get ORAC and get out of here, Avon."
"Do I have a choice?" asked Avon.
"None of us have a choice, Avon. The others need you down there. They need your technical expertise to give them a chance."
"And you don't think they need you?"
"We are both giving them a chance. Now go," said Argus.
"We never established who gives the orders on this ship," said Avon.
Argus sighed. "Look at it this way, Avon. I am simplifying our debate on who gives the orders."
"I would prefer having a debate."
"You always do. Now get out of here."
"This isn't over," said Avon.
"Let's hope not."
They stared at each other for a moment and then Avon nodded and went over to retrieve ORAC. As Avon was about to go up the steps leaving the flight deck, Argus said, "Avon. Don't forget the drugs."
Avon nodded and left.
"Zen, route the instructions on manual self-destruct to my terminal."
Avon entered the medical bay with an empty equipment satchel.
"How is he doing?" he asked Reya as he began gathering up medical supplies and equipment and putting them in the satchel.
"Is that a serious question?" asked Reya.
"I guess not. Can he be moved?"
"That's not a good idea unless you want him to die sooner," said Reya.
"Well, we'll have to risk it. I'll get one of the anti-grav carts."
"Avon. What's going on?"
Avon hesitated; he had forgotten that Reya had not been told yet. He wondered what was going on in Argus's mind that he had not told her what he was planning.
He must not know how to tell you. Or he is afraid to.
"You might want to talk to him first," said Avon.
"There is a Federation strike force arriving in just over an hour. We need to get into the life capsules."
"That's not all though, is it? Otherwise he would have told me himself," said Reya.
There is only one reason I know why he would avoid telling me, thought Reya.
"I will help you get Sester into the life capsule first," said Reya.
"Zen, how long before the pursuit ships are in visual scanner range," asked Argus.
"Thirty-eight minutes. Forty seconds."
He activated the ship's internal comm, "Avon, you have thirty-minutes."
Avon answered over the speaker, "Acknowledged."
"When did you plan to tell me?"
Argus turned and faced the flight deck steps. Reya was standing on the top step.
This was a moment he had been dreading.
As she came down the steps, he noticed that she looked like herself again. The appearance aids which had made her look masculine had been removed.
"Sester is ready to be sent down. Avon is gathering the rest of the equipment he needs," she told him.
"Good," said Argus.
"I'm staying with you," said Reya. Her tone indicated that she was not taking "no" for an answer.
Argus bowed his head. "You can't," he said.
"Don't do this to me, Argus. Don't push me away again."
At this Argus lifted his head and looked into her eyes.
"I'm not. I need you to go down with the others. They will need someone like you."
"What they need is you. They don't even know me."
"No," said Argus. There was anguish in his voice. "Please, Reya. Don't make this harder than it already is."
"Why must you always do this? Haven't you punished yourself enough already?"
"That is not why I'm doing this. After all that has happened, we all need a chance. I am trying to give us a chance."
"Then let me stay with you."
"They have a better chance if one of us is with them. And I couldn't live if I lost you."
"And you think I could live if I lost you?" she said.
Argus sighed. "I guess I'm a coward." He gathered her in his arms. "Stay with me then."
He kissed her. She was warm and wonderful and she was the best thing that ever happened to him.
You cannot die.
"I love you," he told her. She fell limp in his arms. He had pressed a pressure point at the back of her neck which caused unconsciousness.
"I'm sorry." He held her for a few moments more; then he lifted her up and carried her off the flight deck.
Avon didn't say anything when Argus carried Reya's limp form to the life capsule corridor and strapped her into one of the capsules. Argus activated the auto-controls on the capsule and sealed it.
Avon had been expecting something like this from Argus.
"Are you ready?" asked Argus.
"She's going to be very angry with you when she wakes up," Avon said.
"We're used to that," said Argus as he helped Avon into his capsule. "Take care of her, Avon."
"I think it might be safer with you then," said Avon.
Argus pressed the life capsule controls.
Just as the capsule closed Avon said, "Don't worry about her."
Argus nodded and activated the three capsule controls. He watched as they moved into the launch positions and were ejected from the launch tubes.
He went back to the flight deck to prepare for the arrival of the strike group.
"Jenna, this is Argus. Come in." Argus was on the flight deck and had a panel open against the wall. He was making some connections.
An answering reply came over the ship's comm system. It was a masculine voice.
"Argus, this is Allren. Jenna and the others went out to check something."
Damn. Can`t help it now. They`re already on their way down.
"Tell them Avon, Reya and Sester are coming down in life capsules. I will have Zen relay the coordinates to you. Do you know when Jenna and the others will be back?"
"Not sure Argus. What's wrong up there? Why are you sending them down in life capsules? Did something happen to the ship?"
"I don't have much time to explain. The others will tell you when they get there. Argus, out."
The connection closed before Allren had time to ask why Argus did not mention himself coming down in the life capsules as well. He put down the comm unit and went to look out the window. He hoped the others would return soon. Allren hoped that things were not as bad as they appeared.
This day is just getting better and better. First it seems not all the aliens left and now everyone is abandoning ship? What else can go wrong?