Avon was conducting a logical search pattern to look for the other two capsules. Given the angle of trajectory when his capsule veered off, he judged that they could not be that far away. Of course, given the absurdities of life, it will probably be in the last place I look.
He hoped that for the sake of his knee, they were a lot closer. The pain level had increased the last little while. It was harder to fight when he was tired. Unfortunately he was close to exhaustion. There had not been time enough for a break between fighting the invaders and the arrival of the Federation strike force. Not to mention, he had not recovered from the testing the invaders had done on him.
Avon had been avoiding using the drugs. There were already drugs he could not live without; he didn't want to add to the list.
There was still no indication that the Justice
had been destroyed. He doubted that this was a good sign.What are you doing Argus?
There were sounds of commotion up ahead. Shouts and then laser rifle sounds, several in quick succession. Laser rifles always sounded as if they were ripping the air. In the relative quiet of the wooded area, it was ominous and deadly.
"Stay away from him. STAY AWAY!” A female voice was shouting. There was a sense of urgency.
Avon recognized this voice. It was Reya Reve. His first instinct was to run in the direction of her voice, but her tone stopped him.
The "him" must be Sester. They must both be in trouble. And she must be hoping that I'm nearby. She is trying to warn me to keep away. Judging by the sounds, they must be just up ahead.
The sounds stopped. Avon continued listening. There were no additional sounds.
They must have done something to her. There must be considerable danger. Or she would not have risked herself like this.
Avon looked around for a place to conceal himself until he decided what to do next.
I promised Argus I would take care of you. I have to find out what is happening. There are two immediate dangers. One is that I might stumble on whatever is happening by accident and get caught as well. With the warning, that's not going to happen now. The other is that whoever has them was searching for the life capsules. This means they must also be searching for mine.
"Avon, over here!" A hushed voice called out from behind him. Avon wondered how many familiar voices he was destined to hear today as he whirled around to face the speaker...who was nowhere to be seen.
"Here." The voice whispered again. This time Avon could see Vila hiding in a thick underbrush. His head was sticking out.
"What are you doing here?" asked Avon. This was too much of a coincidence.
"Looking for you," replied Vila as he stood up. "You've got ORAC!" Vila exclaimed as he saw what Avon was carrying.
"You have not lost your talent for stating the obvious," said Avon dryly. "What happened to your arm?" he asked in return as he noticed the sling.
"Oh this. It was nothing. Just a scratch. Had a disagreement with an unfriendly projectile weapon." said Vila.
"Still playing the fool?" asked Avon. He had been about to say "you're still a fool" but Vila had been kind to him, helping him work through some of the problems caused by being a prisoner at the Federation Special Detention Centre. Vila did not deserve to be called a fool.
Vila grinned and said, "What else is there?" We might survive this after all. Now that Avon's here.
Despite the incident at Malador, for some reason, Vila still felt safer with Avon than he did with most people.
"Well, those make two things you're good at then," said Avon sarcastically.
Avon held up a hand for silence. They both listened carefully. People were approaching.
"Move over," whispered Avon as he joined Vila in his hiding place. Vila moved the brush to cover them. They listened and waited. It didn't take long.
Three men carrying weapons came into view. One in a black Federation uniform and two others. It was clear they were searching for something. A man in a brown jacket walked up very close to where Avon and Vila were hidden. They didn't dare move, or even breathe. The man was so close that they could reach out and touch him.
After a few moments of fruitless searching the man in the black uniform said, "Let's keep searching."
All three men moved off.
Once they were out of sight Vila said, "I thought we had it there."
Avon stood up and readjusted ORAC across his back.
"Where are you going?" asked Vila nervously. He was still in the underbrush and had not moved.
"I'm going to look for the other two capsules," said Avon.
"Do you really think that's a good idea? What if they come back? What if there are more people looking for us?"
"I don't think so. They've already searched this area. Any additional groups would be searching other areas."
"I don't know. Still sounds risky to me."
"Everything sounds risky to you. Besides I made a promise."
"Avon! Not again," Vila groaned. "Your promises are going to get us killed one of these days."
"I take it you're going to help then."
"I didn't say that," said Vila guardedly.
Avon shoved the equipment satchel at Vila. "Good then you can carry this."
Grumbling Vila took the satchel. "Who did you make this wonderful promise to?"
Vila didn't think that Avon would make this kind of promise to anyone except Blake.
"Argus." Avon led the way.
"Argus?" said Vila in a shocked voice as he trailed after him.
"But I thought you didn't like him," said Vila.
"I don't," said Avon.
"Then why are we doing this?"
"He stayed on the ship."
"I don't get it. What's so special about staying on the ship? Anyone could do that. I could do that."
Avon stopped and turned towards Vila.
"No you couldn't. Argus stayed onboard to set off the autodestruct manually."
Vila's jaw dropped. There was a shocked expression on his face.
"Why?!" asked Vila. He could not understand why anyone would willingly choose to do that. Unless he were crazy. Or suicidal. Whatever he thought of Argus, the man did not strike him as crazy. Suicidal he wasn't sure about. Vila remembered Argus standing between him and danger several times. The man still confused him. He still wasn't sure what he thought of him.
Avon continued walking again as he explained.
"We were surrounded by Federation ships."
"What!?" asked Vila; even more shocked. "How did they get here? Were they the ones who chased off the invaders?"
"No. They came after the invaders left."
"I don't get it. What happened to the invaders? Why did they leave? And what's the Federation doing here?"
Avon stumbled and groaned in pain.
"Avon! Are you alright?" Vila asked in alarm.
Avon reached out a hand towards a tree and was leaning heavily against it. His right leg was slightly raised to avoid putting any stress on it. He bowed his head; struggling with the pain and exhaustion. It was starting to catch up with him.
"The satchel. There's a bio-injector in it. Give it to me," said Avon. His voice was strained.
Vila quickly opened it up and handed the injector to Avon. Avon turned to lean his back against the tree. His face looked as strained as his voice. He was sweating. Avon made an adjustment to the injector and applied it to his neck. There was a hissing sound. He made another adjustment and repeated the procedure. Avon closed his eyes and rested as the drugs began to work.
"Your knee isn't any better is it? Why don't you let Cally take a look at it?" asked Vila. He knew that Avon had been refusing to let Cally examine it.
"It's none of your concern."
"I'm not carrying you," said Vila.
"I don't expect you to."
Avon opened his eyes and tested his weight on the weak knee. He grimaced but was able to stand on it.
"Let's keep going," said Avon as he led the way again.
"Are you sure you don't want me to carry you? Maybe you should get some rest. Maybe…" said Vila. He was still very concerned.
"Shut up Vila."
"Well, if you collapse, don't say I didn't warn you. And I am not carrying you," said Vila.
Cally, Jenna and Ture were still watching the pitched battle, from a closer distance this time.
"There seem to be two factions involved," said Cally.
"One of them includes Federation Security troops," remarked Jenna.
"Federation Security with civilians helping?" said Ture. "Doesn't seem likely."
"The other faction must be some kind of resistance group," said Jenna. Cally and Ture nodded in agreement.
"They must be taking advantage of the chaos in order to gain control," said Cally.
"We have to help them," said Jenna.
Something is missing, thought Cally. She realized she missed Avon and Vila. She missed someone raising objections even though she agreed with Jenna.
"Yes. We should help them," said Cally.
Ture nodded in agreement.
They were about to discuss how they were going to do this helping when Federation troop transports began descending from the sky.
As Argus was talking to Servalan, he was tempted to make the connections that would explode the ship. Talking to this woman tested his patience and self control. It was almost as bad as being pawed by the biotech when he was on the invader's ship.
She was toying with him. There was no question of that. Argus was sure she was after something.
From what Avon says, you probably have everything carefully planned. I'll have to be careful.
As long as they were still talking, there was a chance. Argus had no desire to explode the ship unless he had to. As long as she made no attempts to gain the ship, he would continue to talk; continue to play her game.
He was trying to buy time.
As Servalan was talking, Argus said, "Excuse me." He muted the comm connection before Servalan could react.
"Zen, estimated time for autorepair to restore main ship's systems, including the teleport?"
"Ninety-two hours, six minutes and fourteen seconds. Secondary assessment of damage currently in progress."
Just under four days. Can I stall for four days?
"Keep me informed of repair efforts. Route the information to my terminal."
"Continue having the battle computers monitor all Federation vessels within scanner range. I want to know immediately if there is any action towards this ship."
Argus turned the comm back on.
Madame President did not look pleased.
"Please continue," said Argus.
"I do not appreciate rudeness," said Servalan angrily. "You will not cut this connection again while I am talking."
Argus was starting to get a headache along with all of the other pain he was experiencing. He had been exhausted even before the escape. His body had never been given time to recover from his experience on the alien ship. Argus wondered if he could risk a quick trip down to the medical bay.
"You're not my only priority, Servalan."
"I suggest that you review your priorities then, Commander."
Argus refrained from smiling. Servalan had stopped using his former rank except when she was very annoyed or trying to make a point.
Can't let you have all the fun. Two can play this game. If you think you're going to wear me out and force me to make a mistake, you'll be very disappointed Madame President.
Argus's Federation commando training included learning to function under conditions of complete exhaustion.
I must remember to thank the Federation for that, thought Argus ironically.
"I'll take it under advisement," said Argus with undisguised sarcasm.
Servalan's eyes narrowed. "I would advise that you not make the mistake of taking my directives lightly."
"Oh, I don't. I assure you. But don't take me for a fool, Servalan. This game you are playing is not just yours anymore."
Servalan smiled. Argus found it disconcerting that a smile which could light up the screen could also be so cold.
Good. I prefer playing with someone who shows some intelligence, thought Servalan. Not as good as playing with Avon, of course.
Her men were already on the planet, coordinating with Federation Security Forces there. The hunt for Avon had begun.
Avon and Vila finally reached the small clearing where the other two life capsules had landed. They watched from a discreet distance.
"I don't see them," whispered Vila. "Do you think…"
"I don't think they're dead. At least not one of them," said Avon with certainty. "The capsules appear intact. If they survived, they must have been transported somewhere else."
Avon wondered if Sester had survived the journey down.
"There's nothing else we can do. We should go back to the hideout," said Vila.
"Not yet. This position is secure enough. We're going to wait and find out as much as we can about this group."
"I knew you were going to think of something else," grumbled Vila.