After long hours of fruitless searching, the men looking for the life capsules were clearing out. It was starting to get dark. Stumbling around in the dark when there were so many trees and other assorted natural obstacles did not seem wise even with their bright hand torches.
After the searchers left, Vila stood up from their concealed position in the thick underbrush. He stretched and yawned and said, "Well, that was a whole lot of nothing."
He never knew that trying to remain motionless for hours could be so tiring; even though he had fallen asleep a couple of times and had to be woken by Avon.
"Not exactly," said Avon as he slowly got up. Remaining motionless had caused additional problems for him. His knee was very stiff and painful.
"They didn't say where the commander or Sester were being held," said Vila. "Unless you heard something I didn't."
"Well, that wouldn't be difficult considering you were asleep half the time. But no, they didn't say anything about where they were being held."
I didn't miss anything by sleeping then, thought Vila, though he doubted Avon would appreciate that.
Vila waited expectantly. When it seemed that Avon wasn't going to say anything further he asked, "Well, are you going to tell me? Or do I have to guess?"
Avon explained, "This group is clearly working with Federation Security forces on this planet."
He pulled ORAC out from their hiding place. The soft shoulder case containing ORAC was starting to take on the colours of the forest.
Vila said, "But that doesn't make sense. There were civilians."
"That's true. So that also implies something else. The Security forces on this planet are not as they appear to be."
"I don't get it. If they're not Federation Security..." said Vila.
"They are. And they aren't," said Avon cryptically as he brushed off some of the debris from the case.
"Do you want to explain that? Because I'm getting a headache. And you're starting to sound like ORAC."
Avon gave Vila a wry smile. "Some of them are with Federation Security but they are also something else. It is that something else which makes this intriguing. They were looking for the life capsules but I don't think it was for the Federation."
"We still don't know where Sester and the commander are," pointed out Vila.
"No. But we know where to find some of this group now. The Federation Security building."
"I wish you hadn't said that," said Vila as Avon handed him the case.
"What do we have?" asked Senior Controller Dayto as he entered the infirmary flanked by several black-uniformed Federation Security soldiers. He walked briskly towards a bio-bed surrounded by medical equipment and a team of med-techs working on a patient.
"The search teams found all three of the capsules that came down. But one of the occupants escaped before we could get to it," reported the lieutenant as he tried to catch up. "One of them was critically injured when we opened the capsule so we brought him here."
Dayto looked down at the man on the bio-bed.
"It's an old friend," he said with a not very friendly smile. He asked the med-techs working on Sester, "When can I talk to him?"
The senior med-tech said, "It won't be for awhile. He was in very bad shape when he was brought in. I'm surprised he survived the ride down in the life capsule."
"Tell me the moment that he's able to talk," directed the controller.
"Yes, sir. But you also need to know that he's suffering from a severe concussion. At the moment we can only assess basic neurological damage. We won't be able to make a more accurate assessment until he wakes up."
Dayto was not pleased at this news. "I want him functional doctor."
Cally, Jenna and Ture were still discussing the arrival of the Federation troops when they came back to the residence they were using as a hideout.
"I'm glad you're back," said Allren in the way of greeting the moment they entered the room.
Cally immediately asked, "What's wrong?"
She hadn't sensed anything but she didn't need to. Allren looked worried.
"Where's Vila?" she asked as she realized the thief was missing.
"Didn't he come back?" asked Jenna.
"Yes, he did. But he went out looking for the others," replied Allren.
There were looks of general confusion.
"What others?" Ture asked his friend.
"Argus was trying to contact you, Jenna. He said that he was sending down some people in life capsules and wanted you to meet them."
Instead of confusion now, there were looks of shock on Jenna and Cally's face.
"Something must have gone wrong," said Cally.
"Did Argus say where they were landing?" asked Jenna.
"Yes, he sent coordinates."
"How long ago did he make contact?" asked Jenna.
"Just over four hours ago. When Vila came back, he decided to go looking for them."
"By himself? That doesn't sound like Vila," said Jenna.
"I think he was worried," said Allren.
"Now that sounds more like Vila," said Jenna.
"Vila must have been afraid that someone else might intercept them," said Cally.
In four hours anything could have happened. It was more than enough time for something to go wrong. They were all worried.
"If they didn't run into any problems, Vila should have brought them back by now," said Cally. "We should go look for them."
"Right," said Jenna. "Give me the coordinates," she told Allren.
Armed with coordinates and a great deal of trepidation, Jenna, Cally and Ture set out to look for the life capsules and Vila.
"Tell me who you are?" demanded the interrogator. He was playing with a pain rod as he questioned Reya. Her hands had been bound behind her to a chair. "Do you work for Central Security? Who are you in contact with?"
Reya saw the look of anticipation on the interrogator's face. This was a man who enjoyed his work.
She did not answer his questions; she was not going to make it easy for him. As a security officer in her brother's forces, Reya was very familiar with interrogation techniques; had employed them many times herself.
Part of her was observing the proceedings with a professional detachment. She had not made an assessment on how good this interrogator was. He hadn't done anything to lift him from the ordinary yet. It was too early.
This will be a uselessly painful exercise if these people are not taking care of Sester. I need to find that out soon.
Reya knew she had taken a risk in allowing these people to take both her and Sester. She had a choice. The dying man didn't.
Reya trusted that these people's interests would lead them to save his life. On her own, she would never have been able to find him the required help in time. If they had not been separated from Avon, one of them could have gone to find him help. In a way, they had been fortunate to have been captured.
Argus, I hope this works. For some reason, she still talked to Argus as if he were still alive. She could not shake the feeling that he still was.
I hope you're alive, dearest. It's odd. I've never called you that before but it seems right.
She wondered if they both came out of this alive, whether they would stop fighting all the time.
Reya almost smiled. I doubt it. It's one of the things we seem to be good at, she thought wryly.
The interrogator did not like his prisoner's lack of response. He did not like that she appeared to be watching him as a superior grading an underling. But the sudden softening in her eyes completely confused him. He did not like the feeling that he was not control of his own interrogation; did not like that his prisoner only appeared to be half paying attention to him.
Without warning, he struck her across the face with the rod.
Reya was shocked out of her reverie. Not bad. A strike for shock value.
She turned her head to face him. There was no expression on her face. No indication of pain, anger or fear. It was this last which bothered this man the most. In his position, he was used seeing fear in the faces of his victims. He expected it. He enjoyed it. It gave him a feeling of power and superiority. The interrogator was not feeling very superior at the moment.
He had not expected a reaction of nothing. This angered him. Who do you think you are?
He struck her again. This time blood trickled down from a cut which had opened up on her lip.
Again she turned to face him without any indication of a reaction. Another person entered the room. Whoever it was stayed out of her field of vision.
Another interrogator? Or someone with an interest in the interrogation?
The interrogator used the end of the rod and struck her in the stomach.
Ooof. Reya doubled over in pain. She had raised herself halfway when the interrogator struck again three times in quick succession. For a few moments she couldn't breathe.
Trying to keep me off balance. Or a little softening up, wondered Reya as she regained her breath. She was breathing in short, shallow gasps. If that is his goal then he'd better think of something else.
She lifted herself to face the interrogator again.
The last thing the interrogator was expecting was the continued lack of expression on her face; he was starting to get angry. He had been expecting some reaction; if not fear, at least anger or some kind of strain from the punishment being inflicted. But there was nothing. She just stared at him, as if she was studying him clinically.
He struck her across the face again with the rod. A cut opened up across her left cheek. Blood seeped down. The nature of his blows was starting to reflect his anger.
Reya thought, I thought Argus said Federation interrogators were better than this. This man is much too emotional. Too easily controlled by someone who knows what they're doing.
"You know, that's not really a club. It was designed to be used more effectively than the way you're using it now," said Reya in a dispassionate voice; as if she were assessing his efforts and finding it lacking.
The interrogator stared at her in surprise. Insolence he expected, this kind of cold, analytical reaction was something entirely outside of his experience as an interrogator. He angrily set the pain rod to maximum.
Before he reached forward to apply it to her body she said, "I was hoping for something with a little more thought. But I guess that's too much to hope for."
She didn't even bother looking at him. Even bound in the chair, her body language was very clear.
The man hesitated, this woman flustered him. He was not used to being confused by his victims.
"Leave us," a strong male voice directed. This order came from the other man who had entered the room; the one Reya still could not see.
"Yes, sir," said the interrogator immediately. He headed for the exit. There he paused and looked back at the woman secured to the chair. There was anger in his eyes.
Reya suppressed a smile. She didn't need the man to say anything, to know what he was thinking. He couldn't wait until the next time. She could imagine he was promising himself that next time it would be different.
He doesn't understand does he, Argus? He doesn't understand that the next time will be exactly the same.
There was silence after the interrogator left. Reya waited for the man in the room to say something else.
"You're not another psychostrategist, are you? You don't seem like one. More like a bodyguard. "
Senior Controller Dayto came around to face her.
Reya looked at him curiously. This one was not an interrogator like the other one. The man carried himself as one used to having his orders obeyed. He looked down at her for a moment, studying her face. She looked at him with the same lack of emotion she had used with the interrogator.
Dayto reached down and wiped the blood from her chin with his hand; then traced her chin lightly.
"Or are you something much more interesting and useful?" he asked.
Dayto had reviewed the report from the team which had carried out the search for the life capsules. He had found this woman's actions very interesting.