Avon sat in his cell, waiting for the medtech with his sedative injection. He tested his right shoulder tentatively, it was painful. He was trying to breathe shallowly to avoid the sharp pain from his ribs. The guards had beaten him again for responding too slowly to a command; these days they barely seemed to need an excuse. He leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to shut out the pain. This time they must have broken at least one rib. They were normally careful to not cause this level of injury, for fear of getting in trouble.
The cell door slid open, the analyst opened his eyes. It was the psychostrategist.
He knew from experience that Sester would not leave him alone until he was satisfied. "What do you want now?"
"How are you feeling Avon?"
"Do you really expect an answer this time?" he replied tonelessly.
"Just being polite."
"Try it on someone else."
"You really are more comfortable with machines and computers than you are with people, aren't you?"
"They don't have an agenda, and they don't use me to keep themselves amused."
"You hate this don't you?"
"Does it matter?"
Avon suddenly grimaced in pain, it was his ribs again.
"Are you alright?" Sester asked.
"Of course," the analyst replied, his face an impassive mask again.
"I find your relationship with President Servalan fascinating. You've been trying to kill each other for years, but neither of you ever succeed; it's quite the game."
"It's not a game," Avon said coldly. "and there's nothing to discuss, she's won." He closed his eyes and leaned tiredly back against the wall.
"You're not dead yet."
"I'm not?" he asked sarcastically.
"Avon, look at me." Sester ordered him sharply. Avon opened his eyes and stared at the psychostrategist.
"You realize that if Servalan believes she has broken you, she will have you killed."
"She thinks she already has."
"No she doesn't, not in the important areas; neither do I, and neither do you; otherwise you would already be dead."
Avon laughed ironically and then doubled over in pain. His guess had been correct; one of his ribs had been broken.
"You're not fine," Sester stated. He signalled for the security room observer to open the door. The door slid open in response, the medtech was waiting just outside. The psychostrategist ordered, "Sedate him."
Once Avon was unconscious, Sester directed the medtech to have him brought to the med-wing.
Once in the medical wing, they attendants removed the prisoner's coveralls and the doctor examined his patient. Sester was shocked; Avon's body was covered in a mass of bruises, some of them very recent.
"Why does he have so much bruising? No wonder he's in pain and avoids moving."
And that must be why he appears listless.
"I did not authorize any interrogation cycles," Sester said to the doctor. Sester knew that a certain amount of bruising was normal in a facility like this, but this amount of injury had to be authorized and supervised.
The doctor replied, "The guards have discretion if prisoners are being difficult."
"This is more than just the result of ‘being difficult'," Sester said angrily. "It looks like he's been heavily beaten, on a regular basis. Only the interrogators are allowed to inflict this level of damage. Why was this not reported to me?"
"I didn't know about this either," the doctor said defensively.
Sester turned on the medtech who had been administering Avon's injections, "You must have known."
"That's how things run here at the Centre sir," the medtech told him. "Prisoners receive treatment after interrogation cycles; for other things like punishment from the guards, unless there is severe injury, there is no protocol for treatment."
Sester knew that the medtech was only following the rules of the facility, and within those rules was ample room for abuse, but the man had no excuse. Centre personnel assigned to Avon were a select group who knew that there were special orders concerning him.
The psychostrategist addressed the doctor again, his voice was hard; and it produced uneasiness in those who heard it, "I want a complete examination and a detailed report sent to me."
"Yes, sir," replied the doctor, clearly intimidated.
To the medtech he said, "If the examination finds that there is any serious injury, and you did not report it for treatment, you will find yourself relegated to an E-grade, and stuck on a mining planet, digging ore for the rest of your life." His voice was like ice.
The medtech nodded silently. He knew that nothing he said at this point could make any difference. He could only hope that the report was favourable.
"Place him in the healing tank after you've finish your examination. Give him enough time in it to heal the majority of his injuries," he directed the doctor.
"Then return him to his cell and call me."
"You will be informed immediately sir."
Sester swept out of the room, he was still angry. A psychostrategist could only be hampered with the lack of information; this would have to be added to the list of factors in his strategy for Avon. Unknown factors made things unpredictable; no one could be allowed to interfere with Avon's treatments.
"Can't say it's been a pleasure this time Argus," Allren said as he and Ture prepared to leave, they were in the teleport room with Argus and Cally.
"Are you sure you don't want to join us?" Argus asked.
"You live much too dangerously for us. We're not rebels like you, Argus; we have no interest in politics. We just want to get paid."
"I've added a large bonus to your final payment."
"You're top grade. Let us know next time you need tech help."
Allren and Ture stepped onto the teleport pad, Cally joined them.
"Put us down," she requested.
Half an hour later, Cally returned to the ship with the two teleport bracelets, her face was pensive.
"I thought you might not be coming back."
"I had to."
"I could have sent Vila down for the bracelets."
"You don't understand."
"You don't think so?"
"No, you don't, I can't leave and I still have a debt to pay."
"We've had to use full power to slip those Federation patrols and it's drained our energy reserves again. We're down to two fully charged banks. If we run into another patrol now, we couldn't make more than standard and we'd barely be able to hold that," Jenna was giving Argus an assessment of their situation.
It had been several weeks after they had dropped the two tech mercenaries off. They had been trying to coordinate with various rebel units in different sectors who had been affiliated with them, only to find that they had all gone underground since the coordinated attack by Central Security which had taken out their West Europ Dome rebel alliance group. As a result, the Justice had run into Federation forces periodically in those weeks and all of their tempers were getting thin from the constant danger and stress.
"We need somewhere to lie low until our energy banks are recharged," Argus agreed.
"At the very least, without Avon's sopron mirror, we're much more vulnerable, and we have to be careful about using the anti-detector screen in case it goes out of commission too. Even if we could find someone to fix it, I remember last time on the Liberator, it was hard to find some of the parts it required."
"Our first priority is to find a safe place to hide." He turned towards Zen and asked, "Zen, show us the star grid of this sector and indicate the position of the Justice."
"Confirmed. The Justice is indicated by the blue icon."
The display screen activated and showed a faintly gridded map of the system with various marked objects. The Justice was a steady blue ship icon which glowed.
"Indicate possible safe locations in this sector which the Justice will be able to hide from Federation patrols and is accessible given the current condition of the ship."
Several red marks began appeared on the grid map.
"What's at grid reference B by 12. That appears to be the closest one and seems to cover the entire grid square," Jenna asked next.
"Location specified is a charged asteroid belt. Energy discharge is not sufficient to cause damage to the Justice. Scanner beam operation will be disrupted while inside the asteroid belt, only close-range visual scanners will be operational."
"That means that our long- and medium-range scanners will be blind while inside the asteroid belt as well?"
"But does that also mean that no one would be able to scan us while we were inside it?"
Jenna looked at Argus.
He nodded, "Looks as good a place as any." He crossed over to ORAC and turned on the transmitter.
"ORAC, have you been listening?"
"It would have been impossible not to, considering none of you were trying not to be heard." The computer unit sounded annoyed, which was nothing unusual.
"ORAC, do an extrapolation of the movement patterns of the Federation patrols we have encountered. I want the safest possible route which will take us to the asteroid belt at grid reference B by 12."
"Very well," ORAC said irritably. After several seconds it responded, "Route has been mapped."
"Transfer the coordinates to Zen."
"Coordinates have been relayed."
"Zen, follow the pre-programmed course transferred by ORAC, best possible speed which will not draw into our energy reserves. Keep the anti-detector screen on until we enter the asteroid belt."
"Course and speed confirmed."
Several hours later they were safely inside the asteroid belt. The energy discharge outside made for a spectacular coloured light show on their visual scanners.
"All I want to know is when they will give up," Vila said; the coloured light display reminded him of a drug-induced dream he had once.
"The Federation has always been very persistent when they want to destroy something," said Cally. She added, "They will not give up easily."
"This is all feeling disturbingly familiar, not to mention giving me a severe persecution complex," Vila complained. He had enough of the dangerous life with Blake and on the Scorpio to last a lifetime, several lifetimes.
"Cally is right, they will not give up," Argus agreed with her.
"Then what do we do? We can't keep running like this. Eventually, they will find us when our energy reserves are too low for us to run, which is just about now, and without the sopron projector, we are a easy target," Jenna remarked.
"We need to give them a distraction," Cally suggested.
"That's a good idea," Argus picked up on her suggestion. "Or better yet, multiple distractions."
"Everyone seems to forget that the last two months, every time we pop our heads up, we nearly get hit," Vila reminded them.
"That's the idea Vila. With more distractions, ours will no longer be the only heads."
"Oh, I see. Actually I don't see."
Jenna tried to explain, "It's like our last 3D checkers game Vila. You cheated outrageously and distracted me enough that I wasn't paying attention to your legitimate moves."
"I do not cheat outrageously," he said indignantly, "I cheat with style, but I get what you mean. It may be a very good idea but have you given any thought on how we're going to survive the setting up of these distractions?"
"We have to fight for survival anyways Vila," Jenna said, "Blake used to say ‘fighting to survive is not as useful as surviving to fight'."
"That is not the kind of answer I was looking for," he told her.
"Since we're stuck here for a few days while the energy banks recharge, we can start coming up with ideas on possible distractions," Argus told them.
"How is work on the new phase-TD engine progressing?" Servalan asked the senior technical minder who was giving her his weekly report on the prisoner's progress.
"There hasn't been much progress since the last report. Actually there hasn't been much to report since the first report."
"They started four weeks ago; there should have been some progress by now."
"He's done a lot of work with calculations and designs on paper, and they've started building models for the various components, but they don't appear to be making much progress in terms of solving the design problems."
"That engine is needed for the new Mark II Starburst class pursuit ships, Krelis."
"I understand Madame President."
"Do you think he's stalling?"
"Not as far as I can tell."
Servalan knew something which had never been communicated to the minders. Sester had told her the impossibility of the task Avon had been given. He had told her that in order to complete new phase-TD engine, Avon required a computer.
"You are authorized to push him harder."
"Yes Madame President."
"Is Sester back yet?"
Servalan had sent Sester out to Sector Ten to coordinate with the psychostrategy team there and assess the next stage of destabilization efforts in the warlord territories. Servalan had not been able to clear enough time to make a visit to the Special Detention Centre, but if things did not progress soon, she would have to make it a higher priority, especially since Sester was unavailable.
"Give instructions to the guards to begin the punishment protocols again, but I want it monitored carefully this time."
"Yes Madame President."
Servalan knew that Sester had stopped the abusive treatment by the guards, and she had agreed. That kind of treatment could only be authorized by Sester or herself, not low-level guards. It was a useful tool which, when meted out randomly at the sadistic whim of the guards, lost its effectiveness.
She knew that despite his overall lack of morality, Avon always keep his word, but that did not mean that he would not continually test the boundaries. She had been very serious about not giving him any latitude. Any game being played by the analyst would only result in pain for him. They wanted to know how much he was allowing himself to be pushed; and how he would respond when they forced him to do something which was clearly impossible, hence the directive to the minders to push Avon. They wanted to know what kind of game the analyst was playing.