Allren was tired of the Justice crew always saying, "Avon could have done it." For a man none of them trusted, they certainly had a high opinion of him. At least the ship was back to one hundred percent now and they could drop Ture and him off. Ture and Allren were tech mercenaries Argus had commissioned to help break into the Advanced Medical Research facility on Tingash in the Singoa system; a mission which had gone horribly wrong.
They had fallen into a Federation trap shortly after entering orbit. Surrounded by eight Federation assault vessels, they had barely escaped with their lives. If it hadn't been for Avon's new sopron mirror projector, they would not have escaped at all. As it was, the ship had been badly damaged and they had been hounded from sector to sector ever since, never being able to stay in one place long enough for full repairs or to recharge the energy banks. The Federation was nothing if not ruthlessly persistent.
The tactical skill of Argus, with ORAC's assistance and Jenna's flying skill had gotten them out of one difficult situation after another but without Avon's sopron projector, even with their skills, it would have been impossible to survive.
Now it had broken down.
Fortunately, after seven weeks, the pressure had relieved somewhat; they hadn't run into any Federation ships for almost five standard days. The autorepair had finally been able to complete repairs. They were currently in Sector Eight on the outer rim hiding inside an asteroid belt while the energy banks recharged.
Allren had made an attempt at repairing the sopron projector but to no avail, other than the burnt out circuits which he was able to replace, there was also technology he was totally unfamiliar with. It had an organic feel to it which was completely alien to him. He had made an effort at fixing it but without understanding what made it work, he was afraid he had made it worse.
Allren came down the steps onto the flight deck; Jenna and Vila were at their control stations. It was Argus's rest cycle. Cally was not in evidence and neither was his mercenary friend Ture; they were probably together again. These days the two of them seemed to go off together a lot. Allren sighed, he was glad that Ture had found some female companionship. The computer analyst had always been anti-social at best, except with his other hacker friends, Allren had been the exception; they had both served together in the same tech group of the Federation Assault Forces and had deserted together.
"Anything interesting happen while I was asleep?" he asked.
"Nothing on the scanners," Jenna told him.
"I beat Jenna ," Vila replied. He was referring to the game of three-dimensional Marsian checkers they had been playing hours earlier.
"You cheated," Jenna said acidly.
"It's not called cheating, it's called skill," Vila said.
They had all wanted some boredom after almost two months of being on the run, now they were getting their wish.
"I am very disappointed Admiral, I gave you the resources of an entire Task Group and you still cannot manage to destroy one ship?" Servalan was not pleased.
"We were unprepared for the new defensive capability at their disposal, Madame President. With it, they are virtually impossible to pinpoint with any accuracy." Admiral Bender had never understood why it was necessary for an entire Task Group to be assigned to destroy a single ship, especially when the Federation resources were already stretched thin. Space Command's fleet was only at forty percent of it's original strength since the alien invasion at Star One. He still did not understand.
"That sounds suspiciously like an excuse Bender, and you also appear to have completely lost track of them."
"It's true that we haven't been able to find them, but we are making patterned patrol sweeps. We should be able to pick up their trail again."
With a functional anti-detector screen, after a week, the ship could be anywhere by now. This man was a fool, the Federation President had no time for fools.
"I cannot stand incompetence Bender. Report back to Federation Space Command."
Servalan terminated the connection before the man could reply, she buzzed her assistant.
"Yes Madame President."
"Get Admiral Ves of Federation Space Command on the comm for me."
"Yes, Ma'am. Psychostrategist Sester is waiting to see you."
"Alright, send him in."
Sester strode confidently into the Presidential office and seated himself opposite her. Psychostrategists tended to have an air of easy superiority which would have been extremely annoying if their reputations weren't so well-deserved.
"Good morning Madame President. You don't look happy this morning."
"And you are looking much too cheerful."
"With good reason, things are going according to plan. Our friend is working out even better than we expected."
"How is he doing?"
"Given the circumstances he is in, if he were capable of normal emotion, he should be suffering from depression; anyone else would have tried to kill themselves by now, and we're not even allowing him that option. The stress is starting to manifest itself physically though, which brings me to why I'm here. You can't keep working him like this, without any adequate rest between the work sessions. He needs at least one day of real rest occasionally, I'd like to give him that."
It had been four months since Servalan had punished Avon by working him until he collapsed. Without being given enough time to fully recover from his ordeal, he had been returned to his normal work cycle of long days, with only four hours of rest in between.
In his last few visits, Sester had noticed Avon becoming increasingly listless. The analyst displayed the same caustic wit, but it was missing that dangerous edge. It was clear he was only responding because he did not have a choice; he was beginning to behave more like the tool they were using him as.
"Very well," she trusted Sester's assessments,"but he must be kept contained. Do not make the mistake of giving him any latitude, Sester."
"Madame President, a psychostrategist like me would never make that mistake. I respect his capabilities far too much for that."
"I will have to clear some time in my schedule to make a visit," she told him. With her Presidential duties taking up the majority of her time, she had not visited Avon in over a month.
"More fun and games?" he asked.
"It is dangerous to presume Sester."
He smiled, "Of course. I'd also like to talk about this new project you're going to put him on."
Avon sat at the table in the large room which served as his laboratory. His manacled hands were resting on the surface of the table, in full view of the guards and his technical minders. He was waiting for his next assignment.
The technical minders were Federation military tech specialists who were supposed to keep an eye on his work. He discovered early on that they were nowhere near his level of either intelligence or expertise, and could be misdirected.
The pressure in his head was building, they had activated the mind trigger before he had been taken out of his cell, as they normally did. Unfortunately the group they were waiting for were late in arriving. Avon rubbed his left wrist restlessly.
The trigger was an implanted control which when used, activated the conditioning which forced a state of heightened mental activity. Once activated, the pressure in his head would build exponentially unless he applied his mind to a task set by Servalan or the psychostrategist, or until it was turned off using the complimentary trigger which had been implanted. There was no way to fight it. His mind was not even consciously aware when the triggers were being applied. By now the conditioning was so deeply ingrained that only the voices of his two enemies were required to activate the triggers, and unless the condition was turned off, his mind would work until he collapsed. This was something he had been forced to experience when he had angered Servalan four months ago.
To take his mind off the increasing strain in his head, he began reviewing his plans. He knew he was playing a long and dangerous game and he would have to pay a painful price; but to beat Servalan and Sester there was no other choice.
He had already taken the initial steps during the visits from Sester, it had not been difficult. With the schedule they were forcing him to work, he was already constantly exhausted both in mind and body. He was testing Sester's response, and to what extent Servalan trusted the psychostrategist. He knew Sester would be suspicious, and Servalan definitely would be, but they were playing this game on many levels, and his two opponents did not know which ones were the important ones for him.
He grimaced as a stab of pain originated from his back, with the constant stress they were putting him under; it was starting to become a major problem.
In addition, his body was covered with a mass of bruises from the constant abuse by the guards; they would never let him forget that he had killed one of their own. Because the injuries were not ones inflicted by the interrogators, they were left untreated, which the guards knew very well. They were very good at inflicting pain which did not leave a visible mark, and injuries which were not serious enough that a medtech would be forced to report it to be actioned.
A group of four entered the room, three men and a woman. The guards pushed in several anti-grav carts full of equipment behind them.
Avon recognized one of them, an older tanned man who walked stiffly, and whose eyes had a perpetual squint, which always made it look like he was deep in thought. It was Professor Ekron, he had been here before, his area of specialty was advanced propulsion theory. The professor tended to be the typical absent-minded academic; but he also had the added faults of a superior attitude towards anyone who could not catch up to his mental speed and jealousy towards those who could.
The first time Ekron had worked with Avon, he had not liked being ordered to seek the help of someone who was clearly a criminal; but he had come to grudgingly respect the analyst's mind and abilities, especially since the prisoner did not appear to be any threat to him and only served to advance his career.
The other three from the research group looked at the prisoner with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion. Normally Avon worked alone but occasionally others were brought in who were essential to the project he was assigned to. They were all given specific instructions before being allowed into the facility, and were sworn to secrecy. None of the project teams ever knew his identity and they were all warned against trying to find out anything about him. There was to be no interaction on a personal level at all.
Ekron made introductions.
"This is Professor Tyler, her fields are advanced energy phase physics and time distort theory." The woman nodded at the introduction; she looked at the prisoner warily. There was nothing remarkable about her face, but her eyes were sharp; it was clear that she had assessed the situation and was sceptical at the benefits of being here.
Brena Tyler was a well respected scientist, the project they would all be working on was a result of her landmark work in the application of phase physics to the highly classified field of time distort theory. The reason why they were all here was because they had reached an impasse in their research. There were some major design flaws in the application of the theories which had caused some unfortunate, and spectacularly large accidents. The scale of the accidents themselves had pointed to great potential in the basic design concepts, but Tyler and the two engineers had been at an impasse for over two years, and had only been able to make limited progress.
After his success at using the prisoner in his own project, Professor Ekron had suggested to his superiors that the analyst would be invaluable in helping Professor Tyler's research team. Of course, the fact that his name would also be attached to a project which was both lucrative and of high importance to the Federation, was also a factor in his suggestion.
Both professors wore the standard white lab coats.
"These two are Senior Engineers Delan and York. Their area of expertise is advanced flight engine design." These two wore the dark blue coveralls marking them as Federation ship engineers. Between them Delan and York knew the details of every flight engine in the Federation's fleet.
York was a tall, willowy man; an engineer by trade but was really a frustrated scientist at heart. He had a natural ability to bridge the gap between theory and practical design. He had a gentle manner which did not characterize the typical Federation military engineer, and did not like to offend anyone.
Delan was a broad-shouldered man who despite the handicap of having two delta graded parents, had risen quickly through the ranks in Federation military and had shown early aptitude in the area of flight engineering design. His practical knowledge surpassed that of his fellow engineer. He was a man who knew how to get what he wanted and had little respect for those who didn't.
The prisoner ignored the introductions and did not even look at the engineers. "What can I do for you this time?" he asked Ekron.
"I want to thank you for your help with the analysis for the teleron chamber. It solved the problem nicely."
The nameless prisoner looked at him indifferently, he wished the man would get on with the problem; the pressure in his head was inescapable, the effort to contain it was starting to become difficult.
If he had spared Ekron a thought, he would have identified the professor as a greedy, insincere, ambitious, and unprincipled opportunist; and if he had a choice, he would have hated being used by a man he normally would have had disdain for; as he had disdain for all human beings in general.
"Get on with it," he said tonelessly.
"And what do we call you?" Delan asked; the engineer had not liked being ignored.
The prisoner looked at him expressionlessly, he had no interest in responding and even if he had, he was not allowed to initiate or respond to personal questions.
Ekron stepped in, "That's not important Delan. Why don't you and York unpack the equipment." He turned to the prisoner, "I have a much more complex problem for you this time."
The engineers, with the assistance of the guards, began unpacking the equipment in one corner of the huge lab.
The two scientists began explaining their task and the difficulties they had encountered. They showed him their notes and the results of the experiments they had conducted so far. Professor Tyler also gave the analyst a briefing on her theories and her fields of expertise.
As they were giving their presentation, Avon was making his own personal mental notes along with the written ones; he was only allowed to use an old-style graphite writing stylus and paper. So far, they had not trusted him with anything resembling a computer.
More complex is an understatement. This may be the opportunity I was looking for, thought the analyst.
From what he was hearing, Avon knew that the development and building of the new phase-time distort engine they were proposing would require extensive complex analysis and simulations, which could only be done in any reasonable period of time with a computer. Without it, the chance of something going horrendously wrong was more an inevitability than a possibility.
He would do his absolute best within the limitations they had given him. Sester and Servalan would know soon enough that the task they had set him to was impossible without the resources of a computer, if they didn't already. How he handled it would determine what opportunities would be open to him later on.
"What you're asking is not possible."
The phase-TD engine group had brought in Harlin, a top computer analyst to help with the projections; he was the third one in the past two weeks. Without being allowed a computer in the lab, they had to rely on the nameless prisoner giving instructions to a computer analyst, who went away to program the model simulations and returned with the results. So far none of the other two had been up to the demands of what was required, Harlin was their last hope.
The researchers were getting frustrated. The only one who did not seem fazed was the prisoner, but of course his face was always expressionless; he never seemed to react to anything. Professor Tyler had found it disconcerting at first; it was almost like working with a computer rather than a human being. The scientists and the engineers were observing as the prisoner talked to Harlin.
"You've spent three days at it and all you come back with is ‘It's not possible?'" the prisoner asked with a clear but dispassionate sarcasm, "What about the formulae I gave you?"
"I couldn't fit it into the design of the simulation."
The man was a talented computer analyst, but clearly not on the prisoner's level.
"Show me what you did."
For the next two hours, the prisoner pored over Harlin's datapad and built a detailed calculation model of what had been done. He walked the computer analyst through the problems in the models he had created and what had been required.
"Why did you not compensate for the drift effect?" the prisoner pointed out several places which were in error,"Here and here. You should have used the new set of formulae I gave you here the moment the energy equalization curve expanded beyond the normal range, remember time distort theory reacts completely differently with phase physics. You've missed three whole layers of calculations here, four if the flow energy has a blow-back effect at this point. You're model of the flow controller is not dynamic enough for the energies at that stage. In this simulation it should be showing a phase implosion at this point. If we had built it according to these numbers, we would all be dead in a satisfyingly large explosion."
Over the past two weeks, as the prisoner tested each computer analyst, Professor Ekron and Tyler had been impressed with the prisoner's grasp of the subject matter. Even though he had only been given a abbreviated briefing of the theories and research they were going to be using, it was clear that he had an instinctive grasp of the problems involved and the wider implications.
Tyler was curious about this nameless prisoner and found it increasingly difficult to not treat him as a human being. At first it was his intelligence which fascinated her, a brilliance which she had reluctantly admitted, surpassed her own; Tyler herself was ranked as a genius in her own field. Even though he never interacted with any of them on a personal level, there was still a lot she could tell about him from his work, and from the ways he chose to not respond, in his interactions with the researchers, and in particular with the guards and tech minders. The prisoner appeared to totally ignore the fact that they were using him and was completely focused on the work.
This man was a prisoner but at the same time he was not; there was something about him which refused to be imprisoned. Even though the Centre personnel were cruel and had full control over him, he treated them as if they were nothing, barely concealing his contempt. Tyler wished that she and her team could interact with him on a personal basis; she did not feel comfortable using him like a tool.
She had learned to be careful when making requests of him or asking him questions when it became clear that the minders were intent on forcing obedience even if the request proved unreasonable. There was always an atmosphere of tension and threat between the minders and guards, and the prisoner.
"Look, I'm a computer analyst, not a physicist, or an engineer. How am I supposed to build this model without specific details?" asked Harlin angrily. He had not liked having all of his mistakes pointed out to him in such detail, and definitely not before an audience.
"Yes, I'd like to know that too," remarked Delan, not trying too hard, not to be heard, as he watched the interaction between the prisoner and the computer analyst. The engineer had never lost his hostility towards the prisoner and seemed determined to get the man to react.
As always, the prisoner ignored him and continued addressing Harlin,"For normal pedantic, beta-level analysis, the importance is in the details but for something like this, a model has to be built dynamically starting with a framework only. You have to shape it as it develops and reacts."
"What you're asking is impossible, no one can do that."
Ekron and Tyler did not voice it, but neither one of them understood what the prisoner was saying either.
"Obviously not you," the nameless prisoner sighed. This computer analyst was their last hope. He addressed the scientists,"I'm going to have to do it manually and I'm going to need help from all of you."
"Now that really is impossible, even if we all help you," Professor Tyler told him. Though she did not understand the type of analytical skill he was using, she could appreciate the enormity of the task they had set him. "Do you know the amount of time it would take you to do it manually?" she asked him.
"I don't have a choice," he replied. Without another word, he cleared the table and began building the model using paper and stylus. He already knew that it was impossible, that was what he was counting on.