"Explain," demanded Argus. The man obviously expected that Sester would know what he was talking about, without having to give any details himself. Sester didn't have to guess though, he had been expecting this. One of the reasons, he had been keeping to himself was to force Argus to come to him.
"I'm just keeping my promise," Sester replied. "No need to thank me," he added with a grin calculated to irritate.
"I never had any intention of thanking you," snarled Argus. "You were supposed to find out information to help Avon and Vila. I never asked for the imaging chambers."
"I assumed that the primary purpose was to help Avon and Vila. This will be of more use than information from a source you would not trust. This way, you can discover the truth for yourself."
Argus looked at him rebelliously, trying to find any fault with what Sester had just said, but he couldn't. Sester was right. Any information which came from Servalan or the psychostrategist had to be regarded with a high degree of scepticism; just out of self-defence.
Sester continued while Argus glared at him, "Along with the imaging chambers, I am also having several drugs delivered. Your people were very precipitous in having most of them discontinued. Didn't you read all of the files I gave you? It's no wonder he's been having problems."
Argus said accusingly, "If it wasn't for you and Servalan, he wouldn't be having any problems."
"Dwelling on the past will not help Avon now," said Sester.
Argus really wanted to find fault with what Sester was saying. He had been spoiling for a fight since finding out that the psychostrategist was here. Argus let out a forceful breath; he knew that Reya would not be happy if she found out that he had pounded Sester. But for some reason, Sester's very presence set him on edge. Something told him that this man was up to no good. His danger sense was always in overdrive when Sester was around. "What are you doing here?" he asked instead.
"I'm here to see how Avon is doing. And talk to Garett and Cally before the imaging chambers arrive tomorrow." Sester had also been trying to avoid Argus and Reya, but he was not about to tell him that.
"Come with me," said Argus abruptly. He turned on his heels and went back into the medical unit, without waiting to see if Sester was following.
In the medical unit, Cally, as usual, was by Avon's side. The healer's assistants had set up a bed for her next to him so that she could rest more comfortably. She was talking softly to Garett as Argus and Sester came in. Avon seemed to be sleeping a little easier now, though he still moaned occasionally.
"What is he doing here?" asked Cally in an unfriendly voice.
"He says he wants to talk to you and the Healer about the machines coming tomorrow," said Argus.
She addressed Sester, "It's about time. What did Servalan do to Avon?" Her voice was like sharpened steel. Argus had never heard this quality in her voice before. He had not thought she was capable of it.
Sester almost winced; he replied, "Honestly, Cally. I don't know. It's not something Sevalan will tell me. But the imaging machines should be able to help."
"How?" she asked with naked suspicion.
He explained to them the capabilities of the imaging chambers and said, "They're normally used to implant memories but they also are able to read them; and project them so that they are visible. You should be able to see where in his memories he is and to influence them to some extent. Help guide him if he begins being overwhelmed."
"These are dangerous machines," said Argus, not liking what he was hearing. "If they're able to do what you say, then nothing is safe from the Federation interrogators. If they can access anyone's memories, then they can obtain everything."
"Technically, yes. But in reality, they can only access event-level memories that reside at the near-conscious level. Information such as scientific formulae and detailed technical information are too complex for the machines to pick up. They can also be blocked to some extent, by a mind that is strong and disciplined. That is why the machines are usually only used to implant memories, not extract them. I suggest using it on Vila first. That way you can familiarize yourself with the machine's capabilities."
Argus said, "Vila's not going to like that."
"If he wants to break through his own memory blocks, then this is the only controlled way to help facilitate it."
Vila was still under observation in one of the smaller rooms. He was immediately against what was being proposed.
"No way! There's no way you're going to hook me up to some Federation mind bending machine," said Vila. "Look what it did to Avon."
Argus sighed; he knew this was going to be difficult. "But this is may be the only way you will be able to find out what really happened. Do you want to go through the rest of your life being afraid of small, dark places?"
"I've had that fear all my life. A few more decades won't make much of a difference. I'll just stay away from small, dark places," said Vila.
"And what about Avon? This memory concerns both of you. Don't you want to resolve it? For both your sakes?"
Vila looked down and fell silent while Argus gave him time to think. The child in Vila feared the small, dark places; the adult in him had a much greater fear.
After awhile, Vila said in a quiet voice, "Truth is I'm afraid. I'm not sure if I want to find out. It may be better for all of us if we don't."
"Do you have so little faith in Avon?" Argus asked. Unlike his gut-feelings about Sester, Argus had the opposite instinct about Avon.
"I don't know. I used to have faith in him. Sort of. We could always depend on him to save us. And then this happened. And everything changed. I'd like to believe that it was different. But…" Vila fell silent. There was anguish and uncertainly on his face; and an ever-present fear.
Argus said in wry understanding, "He doesn't make it easy, does he?"
"He never makes anything easy," said Vila.
"Avon would want to know," said Argus.
"He always wants to know everything," said Vila.
"What if it didn't happen the way you remembered, Vila? What if it was all a lie perpetrated by Servalan? Remember that she tried to make you believe that Avon had betrayed all of you at Gauda Prime."
Vila lifted his head. There was part hope, part fear and part uncertainty in his eyes. "That's right. She did. Could it be possible? Maybe what happened was something good? She wouldn’t want us to remember that." His face began to take on an angry expression. "If she did, then she tried to take everything away from him."
Argus felt uncomfortable. He still had to deal with this woman, he couldn't kill her yet. He said adamantly, "If that's what happened, then we'll deal with her. She won't get away with it. I won't let her get away with it."
Cally, Argus, Reya and Sester watched with curiosity as the equipment was turned on, Vila was readied and a large flex screen was placed into a better position for viewing. The imaging chamber had been placed in a large room adjacent to the medical unit.
"Wouldn't it be better if we did this tomorrow?" asked Vila as the technicians strapped him to a bio-bed.
"It's already tomorrow," said Argus dryly. "You've been saying that since yesterday."
"Don't be nervous, Vila. Sester assures me that this is not a painful process," said Cally.
The technicians slid Vila into place in the chamber. As his head passed the enclosing unit and he could no longer see the others, he said nervously, "And you believe him?"
"It won't hurt," reassured Sester. He added, "At least, not physically."
Cally looked sharply at him. He shrugged, "It depends on the memories he will be accessing. We can assume that they will be difficult ones for him. Otherwise you wouldn't need the imaging chamber."
Healer Garett switched on the comm mike used to communicate with Vila in the imaging chamber, said, "Just relax, Vila."
They could all hear Vila's response on an audio speaker, "That's easy for you to say. Did I say that I don't like enclosed, dark places?"
Garett replied, "It's not dark. It should be well-illuminated in there."
"Oh. Yes. Uh, can we hurry up with this? Or maybe not do this at all?" They could hear his increasing nervousness.
"Remember why you're doing this, Vila," said Cally.
There was no reply to this from inside the chamber.
"Vila? Are you alright?" asked Cally.
"I wouldn't be here if I were," said Vila. "Avon and I wouldn't have to do this if everything was alright. Cally?"
There was a pause. "Nothing. Just do it quick will you?"
Argus said to Garett, "You heard him."
Garett signalled his technicians. The control panel lights changed colours as the healer's assistants began to enter in a sequence of codes. "Start the drug flow." He had a running commentary to explain what he was doing. "The drugs will encourage his mind to enter the first stage of unconsciousness. That state between waking and sleeping."
Using the comm, Garett said, "Now, Vila. We're going to start on something simple. Just so that we can all get used to the operation of the chamber. I want you to close your eyes and remember what you had for breakfast this morning."
They could all hear a sleepy voice reply, "Didn't have breakfast. Couldn't eat."
"Alright, Vila. I want you to remember what you did after you woke up this morning."
"Right," was the dreamy response.
On the large screen, there was darkness and then images began to focus to that of Vila's observation room. The view concentrated on the attendant sleeping in a chair. They could all hear light snoring coming from him. The view shifted towards the door.
"Why can't we see him?" asked Argus.
Garett looked up from the monitors and replied. "You are. Or rather, you're seeing out of Vila's eyes. You're seeing what he was looking at this morning when he woke up." They could observe Vila's hand push open the door. The image was moved along the corridor until it reached the entrance of the medical unit.
Garett and the technicians were excitedly working away at the control panel, matching the readings on their monitors with what they were all seeing on the screen.
Vila's hand pushed open the door a fraction until they could all see inside. Avon was lying on a bed and Cally sat beside him, holding his hand and looking worried. The image had stopped moving.
"He was watching Avon this morning?" Cally asked astonished. "I didn't even notice. I should have sensed it."
"You've been preoccupied lately," said Sester.
Cally gave him a look that said that she preferred if he kept any comments to himself. Sester took the unfriendliness in his stride. He knew that he had to get used to it; it was hardly likely to stop regardless of what he did to help.
"Alright. That's enough," said Garett. Using the comm, Garett instructed, "That's good, Vila. Just rest for a bit." The image on the screen faded.
He turned to Sester, "This is an excellent machine. The degree of monitoring allowable is quite impressive."
"Yes. Central Security has access to the most advanced technology," said Sester.
"No one has this technology," said Garett. "Not that I'm aware of. It's much more sophisticated than the mind-mapping machines. And I thought those were already top-line."
"For everyone else perhaps. But not where CS is concerned," replied Sester.
Argus wondered what else CS had, that no one else had access to.
Garett spoke into the comm again, "Now, Vila. I want you to remember the shaft on Pleasure City. The small and dark space you were in with Ture."
They could all see several readouts begin to spike upwards immediately. The image on the screen cleared. It was still dark, but they could make out that Vila was in a cramped and enclosed space. To one side they caught a partial glimpse of a body, a hand and a leg bent in an uncomfortable position. They could hear a voice, "Watch it, Vila." The screen image panned right and they could see Ture pushed painfully against a protruding energy regulator. He grimaced. "You keep doing that and I'll have to start over again."
Garett told Vila, "That's good, Vila. What are you feeling?"
Vila replied, "Scared. Trapped. There's something coming…" They could see the fear and stress levels increase on the monitors and heard his voice rising in alarm.
Garett reassured him while he signalled to the technicians, "It's alright, Vila. There's nothing to be afraid of."
Garett turned to the others and explained, "We're going to give him a drug which will counteract the chemicals in his body which stimulate a fear reaction. That way he can be encouraged to continue without the fear causing him to panic and lose control."
The Healer spoke into the comm mike again, "Now, Vila. I want you to follow those feelings and impressions back to when you had them the strongest; and I want you remember a period just before those feelings began."
"I'm scared," said Vila reluctantly. His voice was like a little child's now.
Garett told the technicians "Increase the suppressant." He reassured Vila, "It's going to be alright, Vila. Just keep listening to my voice. I won't let anything happen to you."
"Alright." Vila's voice was thin and sounded like a frightened child.
Instantly the image changed. They could see the face of a young man in bright location. It looked like the deck of a ship.
"That's Tarrant!" exclaimed Cally. The image panned around to reveal other faces.
"Do you remember this?" asked Argus.
Cally studied the moving images on the screen. "No. I don't know where this is. And I don't recognize the woman. This must have happened after they thought I was killed."
[They all watched as Avon and Vila made their first trip down to Malodar to see Egrorian. Argus looked puzzled as Avon revealed that he had stowed a weapon onboard the shuttle.
The events continued to unfold. Avon and Vila came back onboard the Scorpio. Vila was telling the others about their meeting with Egrorian. The medical unit group all watched with amusement. Some of Vila's recollection of events and his explanation to the Scorpio crew afterwards were very funny.
One of the technicians caught Garett's attention. They could all see that some of the readings were changing. They all paid even more careful attention to what they were seeing.]
On the screen, Avon and Tarrant entered the flight deck.
Avon said, "Orac is loaded, Vila, and we're ready to go."
The dark complexioned woman, Cally had identified as Dayna said, "Oh, Avon, is it really worth losing Orac for this new weapon?"
"It's not about the weapon," said Avon.
The woman whom they still did not know the name of asked, "I don't understand. Then why are we even here? Unless there's something you're not telling us." There was suspicion in the woman's eyes.
Avon replied, "After Egrorian contacted us and specifically asked to meet me, I had ORAC do a little digging in the Central Security records. It made for some very interesting reading. After Egrorian vanished, they started finding the bodies. He was obsessed with power from his earliest days. He was at the center of a conspiracy to take over the Federation. There is also something very interesting about his assistant, Pinder. He was a mathematical prodigy. He was eighteen when he disappeared with Egrorian ... ten years ago. That should make him twenty-eight." He said that piece of information and then looked expectantly at Vila.
They could hear Vila's voice exclaim in shock, "But the man we saw…"
Avon's lips parted in the semblance of a smile. "He didn't look a day under seventy. Interesting, isn't it? Not quite the simple scientists they profess to be."
Vila's voice said, "Then what are we doing? Let's get out of here, Avon. Before he turns us all into old men too." The image panned to show Avon's face. "Or even older men."
Avon replied, "I don't see that we have a lot of choice. If we say no deal, Egrorian can destroy this ship faster than you can snap your fingers. And if there is any chance that this weapon is real, do you want to leave it in the hands of someone like Ergrorian?"
The unidentified woman said, "And how do you guarantee he won't dstroy us anyway once you've delivered Orac?"
Avon replied, "Oh, we know he will. It's very clear from his reputation that he can't be trusted."
Dayna said, "Then its suicide to go down there. And he won't let you bring any guns."
"What are you up to, Avon?" asked Tarrant guardedly. "It's not like you to take this kind of risk without making some plans first. Care to tell us what they are?"
Avon said, "Just stay alert and keep in close orbit."
The view now shifted. Vila and Avon were seated next to each other in what appeared to be a shuttle.
Avon told Vila, "Somehow, some way, he is going to double-cross us."
Vila's voice replied, "Then let's not give him the chance."
"What's in your mind?"
Vila's voice said, "Hit first. We carry Orac in, then jump them. We break their necks, grab the tachyon funnel, and out." The view on the screen shifted to a side view of Avon.
Avon said, "He will have thought of that. We touch that thing before it's disconnected; it is liable to blow up in our faces."
Vila said, "Do you have any better ideas?"
Avon faced forward again and said, "Not at the moment."
Vila said, "Then start thinking. We touchdown in four minutes."
Avon looked at Vila briefly and got up. The image tracked him as he crossed over in front of the flight control station. He thought out loud, "The last time we landed, we came in on the ancillary pad. The main pad is on the other side of the dome."
Vila's voice said, "So? Nearly all these survival stations were designed with two pads."
Avon continued speaking, "But the main pad is more convenient. Especially when handling cargo."
Vila's voice asked, "What are you getting at?" They saw the view shift upwards as Vila stood and walked over to Avon.
Avon said, "I'm just wondering if the main pad is already occupied. That could account for the fact that we were directed to the ancillary."
Vila's voice replied, "Well, if it is, you won't see much. These things kick up far too much dust." They could no longer see Avon as they were both standing side-by-side now. Suddenly the view panned right to reveal Avon's side profile. Vila's voice said, "You're thinking of Servalan again.
There was a grim look on Avon's face as he said, "SHE is never far from my thoughts."
[As the scene shifted again to Egrorian's base, Argus asked with a puzzled tone, "I thought that Avon and Vila didn't get along. They sound like they're working well together. This must be one of the memories implanted by Servalan."
"But why would she implant that?" asked Cally. "What purpose would that serve if she wanted to make Vila hate Avon?"
They continued watching as Avon and Vila obtained the tachyon funnel and returned to the shuttle.]
They could hear Vila's voice say, as he faced the front screen of the shuttle, "Mach six and rising. Dammit, Avon, we've done it, we've done it!"
They heard Avon said in a pleased tone, "Yes, I really think we have!"
Vila's voice said, "I'd have given odds Egrorian'd try to pull something! What's the escape velocity of this thing?"
Avon replied, "I don't know. Why don't you ask Orac?"
The view suddenly shifted left as Vila looked at Avon. "Eh"
Avon could be seen reaching down beside him and opening a panel, revealing Orac.
[The observers in the medical unit gasped in amazement. Argus muttered, "Very sneaky, Avon. As always."]
Vila's voice asked, "So what was that we gave to Egrorian?"
Avon replied, "Orac mark two. Just a replica I made a few months back. Contingency planning, Vila, and the contingency arose."
Vila's voice said, "But the thing worked!"
Avon said, "Well enough to fool Egrorian, anyway. It was fitted with a voice box and a relay station, so that the real Orac could run it."
Vila's voice said, "You could have got us killed! Why didn't you tell me?"
Avon responded, "Well, I didn't want to make you nervous, Vila. I was nervous enough for the both of us."
[A different voice spoke up. Argus and Cally both recognized it.]
ORAC said, "The escape velocity of this vehicle is now confirmed at Mach fifteen." The scene lowered as both Avon and Vila went back to their flight seats. ORAC spoke again. "And unattainable."
The screen shifted to a view of ORAC.
Avon asked in a voice that was taught with tension, "What do you mean, 'Unattainable?'"
ORAC responded, "Mach fifteen is unattainable on the present flight configuration."
[The scene seemed to jump again to a different time; but they were still in the shuttle. Vila appeared to be staring straight ahead at the shuttle screen. The screen seemed to be shaking, indicating that the shuttle was straining.]
They heard Avon's voice, "What's the position now, Orac?"
ORAC responded, "Escape velocity still unattainable. Elapsed flight time: nine minutes. Remaining flight time: twelve minutes."
Vila's voice said in alarm, "Twelve minutes?"
Avon said, "Fuel!" At the corner of the screen they could see Avon's hands flick some switches.
[Argus remarked, "He's dumping the excess fuel to lighten the shuttle."]
The saw Avon again as Vila's voice said, "It's no good. We're not going to get out of this one. Egrorian set us up."
Avon asked angrily, his lips were tight, "Yes, but how? HOW did he do it?"
Avon and Vila were facing each other now as Vila said with fearful realization, "Avon, we're going to die."
ORAC told them, "Remaining flight time: ten minutes."
Vila's voice said, "And another five minutes before we hit. How do you spend your last fifteen minutes?"
Avon said in a voice behind Vila, "Working. Working like we have never worked before, Vila."
Vila turned to look at Avon and asked in a confused tone, "Eh?"
Avon voice was tight with stress and determination, "It's gravity that is holding us, right? We haven't enough engine power to lift us free. We must lighten the load somehow. We'll have to strip this shuttle down to its frame." Avon's hand grabbed Vila by the arm and pulled him up. He said, "Come on!"
Vila asked as he stood to face him, "Where do we start?"
Avon said, "You start in the cargo hold, I'll start up here. We have to jettison every last nut and bolt. NOW, VILA!"
They could see the screen move faster as Vila ran to follow Avon's instructions. For the next few minutes, they saw Vila down in the cargo hold, grabbing random objects, throwing them into the airlock and jettisoning them.
Vila rushed back to the flight deck of the shuttle in time to hear Avon ask, ""What's the position now, Orac?"
ORAC responded, "Remaining flight time: five minutes and forty seconds."
Avon asked, "How much more weight must we lose before we can achieve escape velocity?"
ORAC replied, "Seventy kilos, Avon."
They could see the tension in Avon's face as he said, "Only seventy kilos... Vila, strip off the insulation material in the cargo hold." The screen shifted as Vila turned to exit again. They heard Avon's voice shouting, ""Vila!" Avon handed a small cart to Vila, who took it.
Vila whined, "But that's plastic. It weighs nothing."
Avon said, "Get rid of it anyway."
Vila said, "A kilo and a half if we're lucky."
Avon said in the hard and determined voice of a man who refused to give up, "Do it! We've got five minutes." The screen turned as Vila headed towards the door again. They could hear Avon's voice behind him, "Not enough! Not nearly enough! Dammit, what weighs seventy kilos?"
[They all saw the door opening and Vila stepping past it.]
Just as the door closed, they could all hear ORAC saying, "Vila weighs seventy-three kilos, Avon." For a moment the screen seemed to pause. Then they saw it move quickly, and Vila's hands rung-over-rung as he descended the ladder to the cargo area. They all watched in shock as Vila dropped the object Avon had given him, and then he hid.
["Avon tried to kill Vila to save his own life?" asked Argus in shock.
Cally said, "That can't be. That must be Servalan's doing. That must be what she tried to implant into Vila to make him hate Avon."
They all watched in horrified fascination as Vila curled up in the shaft. Avon's stressed and determined voice could be heard calling out to Vila.]
"Vila. Where are you? I know how they did it. I found what they hid onboard. They must have used an automatic loader. But it's too large for me to move. I need your help. Vila. WHERE ARE YOU?"
After a few moments, a panel slid open and light flooded into the crawlspace where Vila was hiding.
Avon's cold voice said, "Come out, Vila. And keep your hands where I can see them."
They could all see that Vila was not moving.
"Don't make me come after you," Avon's voice was icy and menacing.
They all saw the screen move slowly towards the opening. As Vila left the crawlspace, they could see Avon standing there with a gun in his hand.
"Avon. Can't we talk about this?" Vila pleaded desperately. "You said that you found something. We could move it together!"
"I lied," said Avon. There was no expression on his face, only an unreadable darkness in his eyes.
[That darkness sent a chill down the spines of everyone in the medical unit. It didn’t seem human.]
"There is only one chance for survival. And I'm going to take it. Move towards the airlock, Vila," Avon gestured with his gun.
They could hear the fear in Vila's voice as he backed away slowly, "Why should I? You're only going to kill me."
"Yes. But do you want to die a quick death? Or do you want to be alive when I activate the airlock? The choice is yours." Avon's lips had tightened in determination.
They could see the viewscreen image start to move slowly as Vila backed away into the airlock. Avon stood in the doorway, his gun pointed at Vila. "Don't move, Vila. It will be easier for you, if you don't."
["I can't watch this anymore," said Cally, turning away. Argus put his arm around her to comfort her.]
They could see the whole scene shake abruptly. The viewscreen moved to reflect Vila's confusion. Avon looked around perplexed, and then his eyes widened and he said, "ORAC must have landed the shuttle!"