Other than a general mind-set, the morning cycle of the ship was no different, from a technical standpoint, from any other cycle. There was no brightening of the lights; no visible difference other than a human one. People stirred, woke up and spilled into the previously deserted corridors.
This morning was unlike most mornings onboard the Justice
though. Everyone was already up and about. There was excitement and nervousness.
Vila was finding that cramped spaces didn't really agree with him. It was giving him an unpleasant feeling. He shifted and tried to get comfortable. He and Ture were currently in a crawl space in one of Pleasure City's maintenance shafts. This passageway allowed Ture access to several key computer channels. He had patched in and was attempting to gain access. Vila had opened the lock which let them open the panel they needed, but now he felt useless.
"Watch it, Vila," said Ture as he was pushed painfully against a protruding energy regulator. "You keep doing that and I'll have to start over again."
"Sorry. Aren't you done yet?" asked Vila.
"This isn't like playing a vid-game. If I make a mistake, they'll be onto us. Then we might as well forget about the rest of the operation."
"Well, then don't make any mistakes," said Vila nervously.
"I don't plan to. But you're not making it any easier moving around like that."
"I'll stop moving. Keep going." Vila hugged his knees and tried to take up less space so that Ture could continue without any further interruptions. The computer tech was working on a handheld unit which was attached to several optical leads in the wall. He was attempting to access the security and building control computers in order to override the system.
Avon and Cally arrived on the flight deck where Argus and Reya were already receiving reports from the Pleasure City personnel. Argus, Reya and Cally were already armed and kitted up. Phase rifles lay on a table off to the side.
"Remind them to stay within the safe zones until we give the all clear," Argus said to Serella and a bald headed man on the vid screen.
"Will do. Team six, out," the bald man acknowledged.
Avon asked, "Things are proceeding to schedule?"
"So far. They're actually a little ahead at the moment. I've already sent Vila and Ture down. Phase one just completed. Everything is still quiet," said Argus.
"Well, let's hope it stays that way until we're ready," said Avon.
"You're such an optimist, Avon," said Argus.
"Argus, we're getting a signal from Vila," interrupted Reya, who had been watching the panel in front of her and receiving communications from the various groups. "He reports that he and Ture are ready."
Avon crossed over to his station. "We're receiving the feed from the planet. The signal is strong." He input commands into his panel and then looked at the main viewer as the footage from the various security monitors was routed to the main view screen.
"Well done," said Argus. "That should give us an advantage. Reya, signal the five strike teams to get into position for phase two. It's time for us to go down. Avon, the flight deck is yours."
Avon took over the station where Reya had been monitoring the various teams.
After Argus, Reya and Cally left for the planet, Avon instructed, "Zen, open a direct communications channel to Director Kern on Pleasure City. Scrambled signal."
"Confirmed." Kern appeared on the screen.
"How did everything go?" asked Avon.
"It took a little longer than we expected. Some of the programmers got a little carried away with the matrix of responses. But they completed it in time."
"We don't need subtlety, just functionality," said Avon.
Kern shrugged his shoulders. "You know these programmers."
"Yes. Just as long as they also understand the urgency."
"Don't worry. They do. They know what's on the line."
"Alright. Wait for my signal. Avon, out."
Avon ran over the plan in his mind. It was his responsibility to coordinate things from the Justice. There was one thing which bothered him though; one weakness in the whole plan which could cause it to fail. It all depended on how convincing the Pleasure City people could make this scenario. They were exceedingly good at it; it was their job after all, but this was for much higher stakes than simply satisfying customers.
I must find a way to override this weakness.
Vila found himself shivering even though it wasn't cold. He looked over at his companion. Ture was absorbed by the active footage from the security monitors which appeared on his flex-screen.
The confined space was suffocating. Vila felt something wet on his cheek, he touched his face. "I have to get out of here," said Vila, struggling to get to the wall panel he had opened earlier to allow them to gain access.
Ture grabbed his hand. "You can't. There are people coming this way." He pointed to one of the monitor outputs on the screen. Vila sat back down.
"What's wrong with you?" Ture asked.
"It's a long story. I don't want to talk about it," said Vila. He hugged his knees again.
Ture gave him a strange look and then returned his attention to the screen in front of him.
Argus looked around at the assorted group; this was one of five gathered in tactically advantageous locations around the enormous main hall. The Pleasure City personnel were not his idea of an effective strike force or even a good defensive one, but they were highly motivated. This was their home they were defending, not just a place of employment. What they lacked in weapons and training, they made up for in resolve and purpose. They would fight to the last person, Argus was certain, but he hoped it would never come to that. All they needed was some help, which was what the team was here to provide.
He thumbed his teleport bracelet, "Avon, we're ready down here. Start phase two."
Avon's voice responded, ""Acknowledged. Stand by."
Argus checked his phase rifle while he waited for Avon's response. There were rustles of movement from people around him as they all nervously checked their own. It was a strange sight seeing these people in their colourful costumes, carrying weapons and looking serious.
Without warning, the room was suddenly filled with people. They looked like more Pleasure City personnel. Even though they had been expecting it, everyone still looked shocked. The two groups eyed each other. Someone from catering division waved his hand across one of the new people, his hand passed right through them. Everyone laughed nervously as several more did the same.
"Hey this one looks familiar," said someone from host division as he walked around one of the holograms.
"Isn't that your ex-girlfriend?" replied someone from the other side of the room.
"Haha. Very funny."
Argus thumbed his comm, "They look good, Avon. Onto phase three."
Avon contacted Vila, "Vila, are you awake?" There was a long pause. "Vila, this is Avon. Respond," he repeated.
"I'm here," responded Vila in a tight voice.
Avon wondered if there was interference in the signal which made his voice sound strange. "We're ready for phase three. Tell Ture to shut everything down."
"Vila, are you awake?" When Avon's voice came over Vila's teleport bracelet, for some reason, Vila heard something else. Vila. Vila. Vila, are you here? I need your help. It was Avon's voice. Sickly persuasive. Sounding like Avon but not one he had ever heard before. It sent shivers down his spine. Bastard! Vila had a sudden violent impulse; his hand tightened in a fist. That action triggered a flash of memory; his fist impacting Avon's face and the look of fear and sadness on the other man's eyes. This can't be real. Avon is never afraid.
Ture asked with concern, "Vila, are you alright?"
Vila stared at Ture and then at his own fist. He was in shock.
Avon's voice sounded again, "Vila, this is Avon. Respond."
Vila hit the comm button hard, he tried to force his voice to sound normal, "I'm here."
"We're ready for phase three. Tell Ture to shut everything down," Avon's voice instructed.
Upon hearing the instructions, Ture began inputting commands into his handheld unit. This should shut and lock all the doors in the complex, except the ones they needed open.
Vila's hand went to his head, he had a headache. What's wrong with me? He had never punched Avon before. Where is this memory from? Is it a memory? It seemed so real, he could almost feel his fist hitting Avon. He had a disturbing feeling that it hadn’t stopped with the first one. His head was really starting to pound.
Avon watched the multiple views from the various monitor footage being broadcast by Ture. He smiled a predatory smile. The troops were on the move. They were in fast surface transports headed towards the massive main Pleasure City complex.
Sevisia didn't waste any time.
He contacted Argus, "They're coming. Two groups approaching from sectors two and three."
"Thanks, Avon. We'll be ready."
Avon was about to sign off when he added, "Good luck."
"To us all, Avon."
It had been a long and exhausting day for the Federation President. She was about to retire for the night when her aide, Corry buzzed her on the vidscreen.
"This had better be good," she said warningly into the monitor.
"There's an urgent report coming in from your agent in Pleasure City. You asked to be informed, Madame President."
"Oh very well. Route it to my vidscreen," she said irritably. I hope he hasn't gotten himself killed already, thought Servalan. That would be inconvenient.
She read through the report quickly. This was Argus's first assignment for her. She needed to find out what he was capable of.
"What is he doing?!" she said angrily. "I did not authorize this!"
Argus said, "All units, positions." Both real and holographic groups moved into their pre-assigned places. He tapped his ear comm, "All units report in once in position." Each of the human units began responding their readiness.
Argus almost smiled. He knew that Sevisia must be very angry if he sent his troops out this quickly. All of Sevisia's men were currently locked in whichever rooms they had been in when Ture shut everything down. He could almost imagine Sevisia being livid when he found out that he was trapped in his own quarters. The City comm had been kept open long enough that Sevisia could contact his troops to come. Ture would have closed that too now. Argus knew they wouldn't be trapped indefinitely; but hopefully long enough to keep them out of the action until the troops were dealt with.
Once the last one reported in, he went over to where Cally was stationed by the window. She led one of the attack groups. "Anything?"
"It should be soon."
Argus looked up above him. He knew that Reya was up there somewhere with her special unit of sharp shooters. It was their responsibility to make sure that none of the enemy discovered that over half the units were holographic projections. Anyone who did was to be dealt with immediately before they could warn the others. Argus knew it was only a matter of time before the truth came out but hopefully by then, the enemy strength would have been reduced enough for them to handle without the holograms.
"Of course!" said Avon. He had been intermittently mulling over the problem he had identified earlier and had come upon a solution.
He said, "Zen, open a comm channel to Director Kern."
The moment Kern appeared on the viewer, he asked worriedly, "Did something go wrong? I wasn't expecting another communication until later."
"Nothing like that. So far, everything is going according to schedule. I have something different for your people to tackle." Avon began outlining what he wanted.
After Avon was finished, Kern said, "I should have thought of that myself. It's too late for the ones already out there. But we should be able to do something."
"The timing is crucial. And they have to blend in without raising any suspicions," said Avon.
"It's going to take time to establish them."
"I’m aware of that."
"We'll get started right away."
"Good. Let me know when you're ready. Avon, out."
"Argus, I see them now. They should be here in less than one minute," reported Cally over the comm.
"Alright, Cally. All teams hold until you get the signal. We need them all inside the building."