"Cally, are you alright?" Ture asked with alarm.
Jenna, Cally and Ture were going back to the checkpoint closest to the coordinates for the life capsules. They were waiting for Cally's young thief friend, Palty to bring someone who could guide them out of the city.
Cally had suddenly stopped. Her eyes were closed in concentration. She appeared to be listening.
"Cally?" Jenna also asked with concern. "What's wrong?"
"I'm not sure," said Cally. There was uncertainty in her tone. "I think its Avon."
"Do you know where he is?" asked Jenna.
"No. He's….distressed," said Cally. "I don't know how else to describe it."
"Is he in danger? Is he hurt?" asked Ture. The thought that he might be able to meet someone he had always wanted to meet, filled him with excitement and anticipation. But the idea that Avon might be hurt was worrying.
Cally didn't know how to tell them what she felt when she could read Avon. She was never aware enough to know the specifics; but she knew that most of the time now he was just barely hanging on.
That deep sense of damage, which she had felt from Avon after the first rescue, had never gone away. In fact it had become much worse after they rescued him the second time.
Cally felt responsible. She knew that he had endured a lot for her. He had never told her what or how or why; he would never do that, but she knew.
"Well, we still have to find them. Do you at least have a direction?" asked Jenna.
"No. But he must be near or I would not be able to sense him," said Cally.
"They might be blocked by the checkpoints like we are," said Ture.
"You're probably right," said Jenna. "Then they must be trying to find a way into the city."
"Assuming they haven't already," said Cally.
"Or that they haven't been caught," added Ture. This was even more worrying.
"He wouldn't be caught. He's too good at staying alive," said Jenna coldly. "But it would be ironic if they find a way in, just as we find a way out."
Cally wasn't sure why, but she was certain that it was not danger or physical pain that Avon was experiencing.
* What is happening, Avon? Where are you? * Cally tried to project her thoughts to him but she knew that with his mind preoccupied, it was doubtful he would be able to hear her.
Several hours later Avon and Vila were making their way along an underground water drainage tunnel into the city. Vila had boasted that he always knew at least half a dozen unofficial ways into any city. Avon wished that he had found one that was not quite so fragrant.
It was almost pitch dark in the tunnels. Avon leaned heavily on a makeshift cane as he walked along beside Vila. He was tired and his knee was in pain as the drugs began wearing off.
"Come on. You've got to move faster than that, Avon. We should be near the end," said Vila encouragingly. Avon had been moving slower and slower as they progressed.
Vila's cheerful encouragements were starting to irritate Avon. He would normally have responded with a biting comment about the uselessness of inane chatter; but after what had just occurred between them earlier, it seemed inappropriate. He had to say something though.
"Silence would be more useful," said Avon.
"Oh. Right. Are you sure?" asked Vila. Actually helping Avon was not the only reason Vila was keeping up the chatter. Dark tunnels made him nervous.
"I'm sure," Avon said firmly as he tried to keep his footing. The tunnels were slippery in places and he needed to concentrate. Vila's prattle was distracting.
"You're a hard man to help sometimes. Well, most times," said Vila.
"You're not helping," Avon pointed out again.
"Alright. Alright. You don't have to tell me twice."
"I just did."
"Or three times."
Avon glared at him. Vila fell silent but there was a hint of a grin on his face.
There were loud noises ahead of them. They looked at each other in alarm. There weren't that many possibilities for there to be loud noises in the water drainage tunnels.
"Why are you doing this, Servalan?" asked Argus. He was tired and in pain. His exertions during the battle and punishment he had taken during the struggle with the invaders, made everything much more difficult.
Meeting the challenge of the woman on the screen required him to be at his best. Unfortunately, he didn't feel at his best at the moment. Far from it in fact.
Argus slowly got up and tried to stretch. Every movement hurt; but in a way the pain was a welcome distraction. It helped keep him awake.
Since appearing on the vidscreen, Servalan had kept him constantly talking. Even when it was not her on the screen, it was one of her people. From his interactions with them, he suspected that they were psychostrategists.
Psychostrategists. I'm really starting to hate them.
Unfortunately, the nature of the communications was such that he could not ignore them.
He had tried making a quick trip down to the med unit several times, to get something to help; but that had triggered alarms by Zen. Servalan had her ship fire several warning shots when he no longer appeared on the screen or tried to cut off the vid feed. Further damage to the ship would have interfered with critical repairs, if not add to them. Argus couldn't risk it.
He hadn't even attempted to bluff Servalan by threatening to destroy the ship. They both knew he was not prepared to do that. At least, not yet.
It was a strange race between the autorepair units and whatever agenda Servalan had in mind. Argus could not believe that she would allow the ship to become fully functional before making a move. But as long as she made no attempts to board or capture the ship, he had to play her game; at least until he knew what she was really after.
The Justice was still their best chance of escaping their present situation. It was an advantage Argus was not willing to give up yet.
The self-destruct connections were still primed and ready. It would only require two quick connections to deny her the ship; if that finally did prove to be what she wanted. That much control he did have and there was nothing Servalan could do about it.
"I didn't realize how decorative you were," said Servalan eyeing him appraisingly. "The pictures on your service records do not do you justice."
Argus sighed. Servalan avoided direct questions when it did not suit her purposes; and she had an annoying habit of being irritating in return. She had no intention of telling him what she wanted yet.
It was worth a try. Argus slowly sat down again. His arm was held protectively across his ribs.
"Forget it. You're not my type, Servalan. Unprincipled sociopaths have no attraction for me."
Insulting you really is an exercise in futility, isn't it, thought Argus.
"And what is your type, Commander?" she asked.
You're trying very hard to irritate me. Why are you doing this? Are you just trying to wear me down? Push me to make a mistake? Or something even more devious?
Servalan didn't seem the sort who would engage in idle banter; unless it suited her purposes or she felt she was going to gain an advantage.
"Why does that concern you? Or have you finally run out of things to talk about?" Argus challenged her with a question in return. "Or," he leaned forward slightly, "are you interested in making me an offer?"
"Would an offer interest you?" There was a cold eagerness in her voice; it was a strange combination.
"Depends on the offer."
"I don't suppose power or wealth would interest you?"
"What do you think?"
"I think we should stop wasting each other's time," said Servalan. "Name your price."
"That was a mistake," said Argus flatly.
"It was meant to be. You never had any intention of accepting an offer from me."
Argus smiled cynically. "As I said, you're not my type, no matter what the price."
"You are getting better at this," remarked Servalan with an amusement that made Argus feel cold.
"So we continue to waste each other's time playing games?" asked Argus.
"I never waste time, Commander. My games always have a purpose."
Yes. You are a devious snake. Argus didn't have a choice but to continue playing, for now.
As Argus waited for Servalan's next move, he wondered how Reya and the others were doing. He wondered if Reya had gotten over her anger at what he had done yet.
As much as he would like to, he knew he could not afford to contact the others. It would give away too much to Servalan. In the meantime he had to fight this dangerous enemy alone.
Avon and Vila were lying very still in a cramped drainage connector as a Federation patrol came through the tunnels. Light from hand torches played across damp surfaces and were reflected in menacing shapes along the walls.
It was a standard Federation patrol; there were no civilians in this group. They were the familiar ruthless enforcers of Federation interests; professional and faceless. This group moved with purpose and efficiency.
After they left, Vila helped Avon down. Though helpful was not quite the word Avon would have used, since he ended up falling and twisting his already pained knee. He stifled a groan. The patrol was no longer visible, but that didn't mean that they wouldn't be able to hear them. In the tunnels, sounds tended to echo and magnify.
"Sorry," whispered Vila as he helped Avon up. Avon grimaced as he placed weight on the even more injured knee.
Wonderful, thought Avon. There was more pain, he would be moving even slower, and he was also wet now.
Vila said, "I was only trying to…"
"Yes, I know. You were only trying to help. Though I think in your case, less help would actually be more help. Shall we go?"
Vila handed him the makeshift cane. They made their way carefully, listening for more patrols.
Avon was concerned, though he didn’t share his concerns with Vila. The Federation sending patrols into these tunnels was not a good sign. It meant that they were on high alert.
Cally, Jenna and Ture had been discussing their plans after they had watched a Federation patrol being sent through the water drainage system Palty's contact was going to lead them through.
Gayner, the contact was reluctant to lead them into the tunnels after seeing the patrol.
He said, "It's too dangerous now. I've never known the Security people to send patrols into the tunnels before."
Cally said, "We have to risk it. Avon and the others are in even more danger now."
Jenna had mixed feelings about risking her life to save Avon but Reya had become a friend and she wasn't about to abandon a friend.
"Cally's right," said Jenna. "We'll have to risk it."
"I agree. We have to save Avon and the others," said Ture.
"I'm sorry but no amount of credits is going to make me go into tunnels crawling with Federation troops," said Gayner. "I'm not about to risk my neck."
"You have to," said Jenna. "You're the only one who knows the tunnels. We'll protect you."
"With what?" asked Gayner. "You only have one working weapon between you."
"Our friends may die or get captured if you don't help us. You know what the Federation is capable of," said Jenna.
"Yes, I do know. That's why nothing you can say will make me go. I'm not stupid. And if you're smart, you won't go either."
"If we give up out of fear, then the Federation wins," said Cally.
"Yes, well I'd rather be a coward and alive, than dead anytime," said Gayner. "You're on your own." He turned to go.
Jenna moved to block him. "You can't go." Jenna was the one holding the handgun, though she made no threatening moves with it.
To say that things were not going well was an understatement.
At that moment a voice said, "What do we have here?"
They all turned towards the entrance of the tunnel, and the source of a very familiar voice.
"Avon! Vila!" exclaimed Cally as she walked quickly towards them. Jenna and Ture followed her.
Avon held up his hand as he saw that Cally was about to help him or hug him. "I'm fine, Cally."
"You're a sight for sore eyes," said Vila.
Cally hugged him instead but quickly let him go. There was a big grin on Vila's face. There was no expression on Avon's face but he seemed to lean on his cane a bit more.
She sniffed at the odour emanating from them. "I think you can both use some cleaning."
"Well, we can thank Vila for that," said Avon.
"You're just annoyed that Cally hugged me," remarked Vila.
Avon stared at him with a complete lack of expression or reaction.
As Jenna and Ture reached them Avon asked, "Were we interrupting something?"
Jenna ignored him and asked, "Where are the others?"
"I'm afraid someone else got to them before we could," replied Avon.
"Really? I thought you came down together. How is it that you got away?" said Jenna cynically.
Avon stared at her for a moment but did not react to the suspicion in her tone. He was used to people suspecting him but something in Jenna's manner instantly put him on his guard.
Vila interrupted, "That's true, Jenna. When we got to the other life capsules, there were people there already. We couldn't see the commander or Sester."
"You don't need to explain, Vila," said Avon.
"But I do. Jenna thinks that…." Vila said.
Avon looked directly at Jenna, "Yes, you do think that."
"Are you going to tell me that I'm wrong?" asked Jenna cynically.
"Well, it doesn't really matter what I say now. Does it, Jenna?"
"Avon, that's not true. Tell him, Jenna," said Cally. She was hoping that it really wasn't.
Jenna was one person Cally was rarely able to sense except when emotions were strong. There was a blank wall when she tried to get an impression of what the other woman was feeling now.
Ture was looking very uncomfortable. He had edged back to give the four crewmates some space. The last thing he wanted was to be in the line of fire. For him this was much worse than being in an actual battle.
"I don't understand. What are we talking about?" asked Vila in a confused tone. He was suspecting that Avon and Jenna were talking about something more than the life capsules now.
"You don't need to understand, Vila," said Avon. He looked at Jenna and said, "No one else needs to understand. But I suggest that we go somewhere safer first before we continue this discussion."
"That's what it's always about with you, isn't it Avon? Your personal safety?" The bitterness in Jenna's voice was like poison.
Avon smiled cynically at her attitude, "Of course. Is there anything else?"