The officers looked around apprehensively. They knew that something was not right. Since Sevisia had ordered them to speed to the complex, they had lost all contact with him. All communications with the main facility seemed to have been cut off.
Suddenly all of the lights were extinguished, plunging them into darkness. As one, the soldiers lifted their weapons to face a still unseen foe. Bright searchlights abruptly turned on, blinding them all.
A loud masculine voice said, "Surrender now and we can all avoid bloodshed."
The officers all shouted at their men to fire. There was an eruption of sound, weapons and the cacophony of people shouting and screaming; it was deafening. Guns began firing from all directions. The enemy soldiers desperately tried to shield their eyes from the still-blinding lights while they shot back blindly and tried to find cover.
The battle was on.
Avon watched the unfolding battle on the planet below. The cavernous main hall was in chaos as each side tried to gain the advantage. Sevisia’s troops were well trained and ruthlessly efficient. What little cover they had was made the most of. When that wasn’t enough, they used the bodies of their fallen comrades.
The Pleasure City people, though not as well prepared, were acquitting themselves well. It helped that the holograms drew off most of the troops' fire and helped block off areas which their human counterparts were not able to cover.
Avon, keeping track of each team, intermittently gave instructions, warning of ambushes or danger points.
“Unit eighteen, watch the group on your left, they’re trying to outflank you.”
Avon was keeping an eye on Cally and her team. She was showing great skill and ability even though she had never led a team before; and definitely not one this large. Cally was able to keep her group slowly advancing forwards despite fierce opposition. There was great determination on her face. He was very proud of her. Avon wished he could be down there with her.
He wondered if this was what she was like on Saurian Major; the impassioned rebel who would fight until she was destroyed. He doubted it. This was a different Cally. Just as he was a different Avon. She had grown and kept the best parts of herself; she was no longer the blind fanatic she once was.
“Unit one, keep your heads down! You’re caught in a crossfire,” Avon gave a quick warning to one of the units. This one didn't seem to have much of a sense of self-preservation. Fools! They're making themselves easy targets. He had warned this group several times already. They didn't seem to learn.
Within a few moments, he saw enemy troops starting to fall around this group. He realized that Reya’s team must have added their support to get this unit out of trouble.
Reya and her squad were very effective. Any enemy troops who looked like they were beginning to suspect the true nature of some of their opponents or seemed as if they might find out, were quickly disposed of. She was so quick and accurate that she was scary at times.
Argus was a one man wrecking crew. He was coordinating two of the teams after one of them lost their leader. They were the ones facing the bulk of the enemy troops. Several times he almost single-handedly waded through the enemy lines, leaving destruction in his wake; wherever it looked as if any of their own people were in danger. Avon watched this man with fascination; he gave the impression of being almost indestructible. Argus didn’t even seem to hesitate.
Avon glanced at the other screens along the side and immediately activated the comm, “Argus, Sevisia and some of his people are out now. They’re headed your way.”
Argus’s voice came back, “Damn. That’s too soon. How are we doing from your end?”
Avon could see Argus on the screen, responding to him while peeking above an overturned metal cabinet.
Avon replied, “Their numbers are almost equal with ours now.”
Argus snapped off a shot and ducked down immediately as several were fired in his direction. “That’s what I guessed. Still not enough. Can you delay Sevisia’s people?”
“I’ll see what I can do. Watch out behind you!”
Argus whirled and instantly brought down two enemy soldiers who had been trying to sneak up on him, a third one fell also though he didn’t fire at this one. He looked up; it must have been one of the sharpshooters. Argus brought his hand up in a gesture of appreciation.
“Don’t get yourself killed.” Avon had noticed that some of the enemy soldiers seemed to be concentrating on Argus, trying to bring him down.
“I’ll try not to.”
“Some of them seem to be focused in on you,” warned Avon.
“Oh, good. Saves me going to them then,” said Argus.
Avon could see Argus smile in the screen. “So am I.”
“Are you supposed to be enjoying this?” asked Avon dryly.
“You wish you were down here, don’t you?” Argus seemed to almost be looking directly at him from the screen. There was a big grin on his face.
A shot just missed Argus’s head, causing him to duck.
“Stop playing and keep your head down! Pay attention to what you’re doing or I really am going to have to come down,” said Avon.
“Promises, promises. Just concentrate on keeping Sevisia’s people off our backs.”
“Alright. Avon, out.”
Avon contacted Vila. “Vila. It’s Avon.”
Avon noticed Vila's voice sounded fine this time. Must have been a bad signal before.
“Sevisia and some of his people have broken out. We need to delay them,” said Avon.
He could hear Ture’s voice replying, “We see them, Avon. They’re trying to get the others free. What do you suggest?”
Sevisia was so angry that he was turning red. No one had dared to do this to him before. He was determined that no one would live to again. They could hear lots of weapons fire coming from the direction of the main hall. He was anxious to get to the battle. Even though he was expecting that his troops could handle whatever the Pleasure City idiots could throw at them, he wanted to be there for the final kill. His pride demanded it.
“Stay here and get the others out,” he directed two of his crimos. “The rest of you come with me.”
A sudden surge of power came through the door controls, it knocked several of the crimos off their feet. They were out cold. As if that wasn’t enough, at that moment ear-piercing alarms began to sound. They all stopped and clamped hands over their ears, it was so loud that it hurt.
“Get those alarms off!” shouted Sevisia angrily; but the alarms were so loud that he might as well have mouthed the words. His face was scrunched up in pain. He whacked one of the crimos over the head and waved wildly at the alarms. The man was trying not to be sick but he knew better than to disobey. He attempted to find a way to turn the alarms off.
Then all the lights went out.
And none of the emergency lights came on.
Avon was speaking to Kern on the vidscreen again.
“Are they all in place?” asked Avon.
“They’re waiting for your signal. It was easier than I expected,” said Kern.
“Deception is simple when the enemy is focused on something else. Hopefully we won’t need them,” said Avon.
“When I give the signal, the others have to go in quickly.”
"Understood. We'll be ready, Avon."
An hour later, Sevisia and his group finally made it to the main arena. The crimo boss was more than just very angry; he had become coldly angry. This was never a good sign for anyone who knew him. He was determined to wipe out everyone who opposed him and he didn't care how.
“Somebody report!” he shouted loudly to make himself heard above the din of the battle. Several officers scrambled to obey.
Unfortunately by now, there was too many who realized that not all of the people they were fighting were real. It was inevitable. They couldn't have fooled them indefinitely. The shots fired now were more controlled. They no longer fired at every target. There was a concerted effort to identify the real opponents from the holograms. More of the Pleasure City personnel were falling. Reya and her team now concentrated on bringing down as many as they could but they had also come under heavy fire.
Argus was trying to coordinate two of the teams to attempt an offensive rush that would give them all some breathing room. Seeing that another unit was in trouble, he immediately rushed to the rescue. He was doing that more often now.
The rebel leader dove for cover as a battery of tracers raced towards him the moment he approached. It had been a trap. He fell heavily to the ground as a laser rifle sliced his upper arm; he quickly rolled out of range behind a low barrier.
Cally’s group was the only one still advancing but it was slow going.
Without warning, the enemy troops stopped firing. Sevisia’s voice could be heard shouting, “Cease fire! I demand to talk to your leader.”
Argus didn’t respond to the request. He suspected a trap, but he signaled his people to stop firing as well. As he waited for Sevisia's next more, Argus used a dressing from his kit to bind his bleeding arm.
Sevisia shouted again, “I’m going to stand up. I will be unarmed. You can have your people cover me. I will do the same.” He stood up slowly.
Argus tapped on his comm, “Reya, do you have him?”
Reya’s voice came over his earpiece. “I see him. He appears unarmed. I’ll cover you. Be careful.”
Argus put down his rifle and unbuckled the holster with his sidearm. He stood up and faced Sevisia.
“What do you want, Sevisia?” asked Argus. There was a professional coldness in his manner. His voice had dropped several tones.
“You know who I am?" asked Sevisia.
"You have an infamy that's hard to ignore."
Sevisia laughed. It was a disturbing sound which grated against the nerves. "You have me at a disadvantage. I don’t know your name.”
“You don’t need to know who I am. What game are you trying to play here?” asked Argus. His senses were on heightened alert. He could almost ‘feel’ several rifles pointed at him.
“I believe you’re the one trying to play games. You don’t belong here. Pleasure City is mine. I am the rightful owner."
"The people of Pleasure City do not recognize your ownership," said Argus. "And neither do I."
"I don't care what any of you recognize or not recognize. We already know most of your forces are holograms. How much longer do you think you can last against us?" Sevisia raised his voice, "Anyone who is willing to surrender their weapons now will have a place in the new Pleasure City."
No one moved.
Argus asked, "And those who don't?"
"They can either accept the new order or they can die. I have a very simple employment policy," Sevisia said with a wicked smile.
"No one here is interested in your generous offer. These people also have a very simple employment policy. You can step down willingly. Or they will help you step down. Either way. You and your people are leaving. For myself, I believe in the more permanent type of retirement."
Sevisia showed his teeth in an unpleasant smile. "I would guess that you’re a professional mercenary. Former Federation? What would you say if I made it worth your while to stop this foolishness and work for me? You can't enjoy your fee if you're dead.”
“I’m not interested, Sevisia. You will leave or I will make you leave. You don't belong here."
“I see. You’re one of those,” said Sevisia in disgust. “A misguided idealist. You’re not even getting paid are you? An idealist and a fool. I’m going to enjoy destroying you all.”
“You can try,” said Argus coldly.
The main viewer on the Justice had a split view. The main picture was the scene in the main hall and the confrontation between Argus and Sevisia. In a small box in the bottom right was Director Kern.
“Get ready, Kern,” said Avon.
“Just say the word, Avon.”
“Sacrifice them all,” instructed Avon.
“All of them!"
"Then die!" shouted Sevisia. He grabbed one of his own soldiers and thrust the man in front of him. The moment Sevisia shouted, Argus was already on the move, deliberately falling backwards and rolling away as Sevisia's shooters grazed his right thigh.
Reya's quick shot hit Sevisia in the left shoulder despite his hasty cover. She fired again but this time there was no longer a target as more of Sevisia's soldiers covered him. The whole hall erupted in sounds again as the battle resumed.
Argus was a blur of motion as he evaded the shooters and raced to cover. Reya covered him until he got to safety. As he paused behind what used to be a refreshment station, he was finally breathing heavily. There was no smile on his face. He recognized that Sevisia was partially right; things were much more dangerous now that the enemy knew the deception. He was still certain that they would win, but the cost would be higher now. Argus grimaced. His ears pricked up, something was different. He peered cautiously over the counter. The volume of battle sounds was decreasing, some people were looking around them in confusion.
Argus could hear it now. A dull thudding sound getting louder by the moment. He was very familiar with this sound.
Reinforcements? Argus groaned. They hadn't expected this. He thumbed his teleport bracelet. "Avon, why didn't you tell me reinforcements were coming?"
There was no response. What's going on? Why is he not answering?
"Avon!" Still no reply.
The reinforcements poured into the hall from almost every entrance. Familiar black uniformed troopers; menacing in their dark anonymity. Their marching cadence drowned out all other sounds.
Everyone backed off, both Sevisia's soldiers and the Pleasure City people. There seemed to be a never-ending stream of black figures until they surrounded the entire hall several deep, their standard issue rifles pointed at everyone. The battle had stopped. No one knew who was going to benefit from this new change in circumstance. Everyone had their weapons pointed nervously at each other; no longer sure who the enemy was.
One of the helmeted Federation officers, a commander from his rank markings, approached Argus. Argus stood his ground and faced him. The man removed his headgear and said, "Commander Argus. Avon sent us. We're here to help."
Argus reacted in surprise, "Avon contacted Servalan?"
Argus looked at him suspiciously.
"What is this nonsense?" said Sevisia as he stood up. "More of your holographic tricks? We saw through the other ones. Don't think that using Federation soldiers will scare us. A hologram is a hologram regardless of the uniform it's wearing."
One of Sevisia's soldiers stepped forward fearlessly. "These are nothing more than holograms. Like the other ones. See?" He raised his rifle to fire at one of the black-clad soldiers. Others around the room followed his example. It would be the last bold thing they did as the Federation troopers fired and killed those stupid enough to test their reality. The luckier ones fell to the ground as they were hit with the butt of Federation rifles. The rest of Sevisia's soldiers intelligently avoided any further movements that could be interpreted as hostile.
"You were saying?" asked Argus mockingly. "I believe the next move is yours."
Sevisia stared at him in hatred as he dropped his weapon and raised his hands. His men looked at him and then followed suit.
The Federation officer who had spoken to Argus before said sarcastically, "They say that crimos have a high intelligence quotient. For once they were right."
"It didn't do them any good," said Argus.
"They're still alive," replied the officer.
"I doubt they see that as a good thing under the circumstances."
"Well, you can't have everything," said the officer dryly.
Argus gave the officer an odd look.
"Your people deserve to take this refuse into custody. We'll cover you," said the officer.
Sevisia and his people were stripped of all weapons, rounded up and locked up in hastily converted holding cells. Several of the teams were assigned as a heavy guard. The injured from both sides were receiving medical attention. The activities in the aftermath of a battle were being taken care of.
"Thanks for your help," Argus said to the officer who had stayed by his side throughout the procedure.
"Now what does Servalan want in exchange for this help?" asked Argus guardedly. There was something strange about what just happened but he couldn't pinpoint what.
The officer stared at him and then he said in a different voice, "If SHE were behind this help, I imagine she would want everything."
"Avon?" asked Argus in shock. This was the last thing he expected. He looked carefully at the 'officer.'
"Since you insisted on getting yourself shot. Twice. I had to come down."
"You're Avon?" Argus still couldn't believe it. The man didn't look like Avon.
The man gave a disconcerting smile and extended his hand.
Argus hesitated and then grasped the man's hand, except there was nothing to grab onto. His hand passed right through the officer's.
"You're a hologram!"
"Of course, what did you expect?"
"But…I thought you said the molecular stabilizer technology is years from being ready?"
"It is. At least two years," Avon's voice said from the mouth of the Federation officer.
"Then at least some of the soldiers must not be holograms," surmised Argus.
"That would be the logical assumption. But you would be wrong."
"Then how?" Argus was mystified. He had seen the soldiers shoot down Sevisia's men.
"Very simple," said Avon.
"Do you plan to enlighten me?"
"The Federation soldier's didn't shoot anyone."
"But I saw them!"
"They were shooting other holograms."
"They were…" Argus's eyes widened in understanding. "How? How could they miss that some of their own men were holograms?"
"Kern and his men have been setting this up for hours. It's not that difficult in the heat of battle. One man falls, another one runs in to cover. No one asks any questions. It was quite simple. The holograms even reacted properly when shot down by one of your forces. We were worried at one point when you were shooting them down at an alarming rate. They could barely keep up."
Argus was still not satisfied. "But how could you control that only the holograms would be the ones who responded at the end?"
"We couldn't," Avon acknowledged.
"It was risky."
"It was a calculated risk. There was one thing we could control. Your significant other provided the support with her team."
"Reya. Of course. Her team brought down the ones who were real."
"I gave her the visual frequency to watch for. The sniper's vision goggles took care of the rest."
"Why didn't you tell me what you were going to do?" asked Argus.
"There wasn't time to find out how good your acting abilities were. I decided not to take the risk," said Avon.
"Alright. That was excellent work, Avon. Now, as you pointed out so astutely before. I've been shot twice. Everything is under control here. Tell Allren to get ready to teleport us back up before I do something embarrassing. Like passing out."
"I didn't think fainting was allowed in the military," said Avon dryly.
"Only on Mondays."
"It feels like Monday. I see you made yourself a Commander."
The Federation officer gave a wolfish grin and disappeared. All of the Federation soldiers vanished.