Avon waited in his cell. Instead of just dumping him on the sleep platform, the guards had deliberately propped him up into a sitting position before leaving. He hugged his knees, his head resting on his forearms; his body and mind were still suffering from shock, every fiber in his body remembered the pain of the last few hours.
For punishment, they had brought him to the nerve induction unit, commonly known as the Shredder. Treatment in the chamber involved direct stimulation of the entire central nervous system. It felt like each nerve fiber was being shredded slowly, hence the nickname. When the sensation was extended to the brain, the effect was devastating.
They had used it on him before, when they were first trying to extract ORAC's location from him. Most people unfortunate enough to be subjected to this particular form of torture were usually rendered incoherent for days after a full session, but it had proven ineffective in forcing information from him and only resulted in putting him out of commission for several days, until his mind recovered enough to be worked on again, so they had stopped using it on him.
It was a particularly nasty and effective form of punishment which rarely needed to be used more than once; and only on the hardest cases. At two hours, it was enough to make someone wish they were dead, the effects lingered long after the treatment ended. At this point, Avon doubted if four hours of sleep would actually bring him to a better point physically than before this latest round of torture.
Two hours. She must have found it hard not to laugh, knowing where she was sending me.
Before leaving the induction unit, he had been injected with a stimulant and now he waited his nerve endings still raw from the treatment.
"Avon." Her voice sounded in his cell from the audio-speakers.
"Go away Servalan," he told her without moving from his position. His voice came out in a hoarse whisper. His throat was sore, two hours of uncontrolled screaming tended to do that.
"How are you feeling?"
"Why don't you try two hours and find out for yourself."
"I am sorry it had to be this way, but you really did leave me no choice."
"It must be terrible not having a choice," he said, conveying a wealth of sarcasm in his tone.
"I am a woman of my word, you will get the four hours of sleep I promised, and I will make sure they feed you when you are working."
"You know I need more than four hours now."
"I know," she said gently.
"But you're not going to give it to me, are you?"
"Then go away and let me sleep. I will try not to collapse later, and spoil the work on your phase engine," he said with a tone of tired sarcasm.
"I will let you sleep in a few minutes but first, there are a few things we need to clarify. Lift your head Avon; I prefer seeing people's faces when I talk to them."
He raised his head slowly from his arms and leaned back against the wall. His face was pale and drawn.
He waited, the sense memory of the pain lingered; his whole body was tense.
"I know you Avon."
Do you really?
"Just as you know me. I know that you will keep your word even though we gave you no choice. It is the surprising thing about you; you' are a mass of contradictions. That's one of the things which I love about you; you're motivated by personal gain, you never allow conscience to stand in your way, and you wouldn't hesitate to remove anyone who threatened your life, but once you give your word, you will keep it."
"How principled of me."
"You specialize in getting around things and I know you're planning something."
"How do I find the time," he said sarcastically.
"I can't allow that."
"Of course you can't."
"This is why you are being, and will continue to be pushed beyond your limits. We will not allow you enough energy to do anything other than what we ask, and each time you test the boundaries, the punishment will escalate. I am telling you this so that there will be no misunderstandings between us. I respect you Avon, and I want you to respect my seriousness about this."
"You're never going to let me go are you?" he asked bitterly, surprising her. Servalan knew it was a by-product of the torture, and that it was not an indication that he had given up. Time in the nerve induction unit tended to cause an extreme depressed state afterwards.
"I will not lie to you. You are too valuable and too dangerous to ever be allowed to be free again."
"You can make things a little easier for yourself," she proposed.
"You haven't heard what I was about to say."
"You can't have ORAC or the Deep Space Vehicle or anything concerning them."
She smiled at the man on the monitor who could not see her but who knew her so well.
"Then all our cards are on the table."
"Hurray for us. Are we done then? Can I sleep now?"
"Good night Avon."
At that moment the door slid open, a medtech came in and checked him over, then he gave the prisoner a shot to negate the stimulant and his normal sedative mix.
Avon lay down and immediately fell asleep.
Before Servalan retired for the night herself, she sent a coded signal to the Senior Controller at the Special Detention Centre that the pressure on prisoner A5428 was to continue. She also authorized the controlled use of the nerve induction unit. Servalan knew that now that Avon had access to a computer, he had become an even more valuable resource, but it also made him much more dangerous.
The next morning the researchers arrived in a good mood, still cheerful from the success of the previous day, but the tone soon turned sombre when they saw the prisoner working on the computer. He looked even more terrible than normal.
They looked at each other in puzzlement as he ignored them and continued working. Tyler had shared with the others regarding the happenings during her aborted night visit to the lab.
They did not understand. He had obviously been mistreated again, even though he had helped them achieve a breakthrough success the previous day. They had expected him to be rewarded, not punished.
They noticed that he avoided talking to them, preferring to use the holoprojectors from the computer to respond to any technical questions they asked him.
Professor Tyler directed the team, "While the rest of the data is being entered, we'll start working on the flow controller."
The prisoner turned around slowly, he pointed to the table. A detailed holo-model of the flow controller appeared. They all noticed that there was a slight tremor in the analyst's hand as he pointed.
"You anticipated my next step and did a mock-up of the model already," Tyler said appreciatively.
The professor picked up the guiding pointer and they began studying the model from various angles. Once they were satisfied, the engineers began to build the model according to the holo-projection design.
The model was only half-way completed when York turned to the analyst, with a puzzled expression on his face. "You've reversed the order of the C4 and F11 circuits," he pointed out to him.
"Yes," the prisoner confirmed, his voice was a pained whisper; they now understood why he avoided speaking to them.
"C4 and F11 are complimentary circuits, but not completely. By reversing them, we create a circuit tension at that point. It will provide some useful information in the simulation. We need to know how phase energy reacts under pressure when mixed with time distort energies in that part of the flow; this is a low-risk test."
York continued asking questions of the analyst. The engineer was always curious, and the concept of using the circuits in this way was something which had not occurred to him before.
By six o'clock, they were almost done with creating the prototype; the prisoner looked like he was ready to collapse.
Professor Ekron took up a position at the computer terminal to enter in some more calculations while the analyst shifted over to work on the holo-model with Tyler. The two engineers were working on the physical prototype, noisily; they appeared to be having some problems getting one of the circuit boards to cooperate. Lots of colourful curses could be heard.
Avon looked up from the holo-model and caught Professor Tyler staring strangely at him again. This time she continued staring at him. "Is something wrong?" he asked her. She was about to respond when she noticed one of the minders looking over at them suspiciously.
"Nothing, I was just thinking about the containment field for the phase energy." Tyler told him, hoping it sounded convincing. "Didn't realize I was staring."
Tyler wanted to kick herself for nearly making a mistake; she was finding herself increasingly drawn to this man. The quickness of his mind, and his leaps of logic constantly left them frantically trying to keep up. There was great beauty in his logic; if one could describe cold equations and patterns in that way. Her partner, Professor Ekron was a jealous man by nature, but in the face of such genius, even he had to admit admiration and respect.
No wonder they have gone to such great lengths to keep you she thought as she continued working on the model; this time being careful not to draw anymore undue attention which would cause the analyst problems.
By the time the group was ready to test the new flow controller, it was already late into the night. The new design configuration performed beyond their expectations. Again it had been the prisoner's input which had made the difference between the good and the exceptional.
Vila yawned. He had his legs up on the couch in the command conference area of the Justice; it was his turn to monitor things on the flight deck. The screen was showing a spectacular light show caused by the energy discharges from the asteroid belt they were hiding in but after four days, Vila was no longer interested in the show. He poured himself another drink.
"Here's to you Avon, I hope things are more interesting where you are," Vila raised his glass in a toast, he was slightly tipsy.
Although, you're probably in hell he thought. It was odd that in a Federation where all traces of religion had been wiped out, there was still a concept of hell.
Jenna came down the steps onto the flight deck.
"Vila, anything interesting?" she asked him as she went to her flight station and began doing a system check.
"Lots of absolutely nothing."
"Don't let Argus catch you drinking while you're on duty."
"I know he's your friend Jenna, but I bought myself a delta grade to avoid military service, I'm not about to join anyone else's army."
"You haven't joined anyone's army Vila but we all need to be on our guard these days. We don't want to fall into the Federation's hands again, do you?"
"Don't remind me," Vila said with a shudder. "But whose fault is it that I'm getting chased all over the bloody galaxy again? I had a nice setup on Commerce City, some good old fashioned burglary and a bit of honest pick-pocketing. Life was good."
"You knew that it wasn't going to last Vila, it was only a matter of time before the Federation picked up your trail again, there's still a price on all our heads."
"Well I could enjoy it as long as I could, couldn't I? And if there's one thing I'm good at, that's running away. They wouldn't have found me and if they did, there's no prison cell can hold me, once I set my mind to it."
"Then why were you on the London?" she asked him. Jenna had first met Vila in the holding cells on Earth while they were waiting to be transported on the prison transport ship, the London. If it had not been for Blake's determination and leadership and Avon's skills, they would have all spent the rest of their days on a miserable penal planet.
"That's a low blow," said Vila.
"You're fate was set the moment you threw in your lot with Blake. You can't escape it Vila, none of us can."
"Well this fate, likes a drink now and then," said Vila, lifting his glass and taking another drink.
"Just be careful. Argus doesn't like it when someone endangers other people's lives. He's ex-Federation military and he tends to be very strict about duty."
"Well, who appointed him Blake?"
Argus had naturally assumed command on the Justice, there had been no discussion or any formal decision. They had all just accepted it; the only one who had any contentions with his leadership was Avon, although Avon tended to conflict with anyone who tried to assume leadership over him, but now Avon was gone.
"He's not trying to replace Blake, Vila," Jenna defended Argus. Working on and off with Argus's group over the past few years, Jenna had come to admire the man and his leadership capabilities. He had been able to handle the difficult ex-military rebel groups when no one else could. Everyone respected him; many people owed him their lives. Unfortunately, being a successful ex-military commander, he also tended to come across a lot more forcefully than some people would have found comfortable. His directness could be disconcerting, even Jenna had found that at times.
"You don't have to defend me Jenna," Argus told her. He had been listening at the stairs leading down to the flight deck. He had kept silent, not wanting to intrude on their conversation. "If you have a problem with my leadership Vila, talk to me," Argus said as he came down the steps and stood beside Jenna.
"I never said I had a problem with it," Vila said. He put down his glass of green alcohol. He never liked direct confrontations and despite his protests to Jenna, he knew that she was right.
"That's good to hear," Argus said. "Anything to report?" Argus was there for the next shift.
"Nothing to report. I'll go get some rest," Vila said, with an exaggerated yawn.
After Vila left the flight deck, Jenna said, "I think he's afraid of you."
Argus grinned. "That might not be a bad thing; you did say he can be somewhat unreliable."
"Argus, Vila's not one of your military-types, you have to be more careful with him. He's an invaluable resource. Good thieves are hard to find, even Avon recognized that."
"Avon? That's hard to believe, considering they always seemed to be insulting each other."
"Sounds like a lot of things were complicated on the Liberator."
"No more than on this ship."
Strange that we all talk about Avon as if he were still here. Argus reflected. He crossed over to ORAC's normal place on a table in the command area. Activating the transmitter which was sitting on top of the computer unit, he spoke the command code and then asked, "ORAC, do you have the information I requested on the Federation Banking System's security setup?
"What you requested is possible. I have only been able to obtain information on the first two levels of security protocols but for your purposes, it will be sufficient."
"Good, what do we need?"
"We're going to have to deal with how to manage the phase particle stream if the dimensional aspect of the time distort energies do cause a blow-back affect in the core," said Professor Ekron as he and his fellow professor were watching the prisoner make another adjustment to the calculation stream.
Dimensional phasing was one of the key theories Professor Tyler had developed which enabled the kind of engine they were building. The core was the most important component of the engine and the most complex.
Without warning, the holo-model of the core they were working on shifted to the side of the table and another strangely-gridded object appeared. The object was rotating slowly, actively changing shape and appeared to be making small phase jumps.
This is interesting, thought Tyler. It looked very familiar, and not familiar, at the same time.
The two professors watched with great interest as the prisoner began entering calculations and touching the new object with the guiding pointer, each touch caused the object to change shape and do a phase jump.
"Ahhh," exclaimed Tyler. "I recognize this; it's very similar to a comp-puzzle."
The analyst nodded and looked at her with interest. This kind of computational puzzle game was a favourite of computer analysis types, and particularly hackers. It was a game of philosophical probabilities. It was a useful way to introduce faults and explore their potential in providing solutions to complex problems; an aspect which facilitated the breaking of security systems.
"But there are aspects of it I'm completely unfamiliar with," she noted.
Using the guiding pointer, the prisoner began drawing links between the puzzle and the holo-model. He turned back to the computer terminal and began entering commands. The monitor display split into two interconnected panels of streaming calculations and data.
"I see, it's an extra-dimensional puzzle," Tyler said as she realized what it was. "The extra dimension represents the dimensional aspects of the time distort?"
Very quick, Avon thought; he nodded. He held her eyes briefly, it was the only indication he gave of his appreciation of her ability to recognize what he was doing.
"So we're going to shape the blow-back effect using the puzzle as the control?" she asked.
"Do you mind if I provide the dynamic variables while you control the stream?"
Tyler seated herself in front of the computer.
"Ready?" she asked.
For the next few hours, they played with the puzzle.
Tyler threw every variation of the blow-back error she could think of at the analyst and watched with fascination as he dynamically developed the calculation stream and the model to deal with each one. It was as close to a personal interaction any of them had with the prisoner up to that point. As the game progressed, Tyler realized she was enjoying herself greatly. Having a worthy opponent raised the level of one's own game.
After she fed in the final variant, Tyler said, "That was fun, but how does this help us?"
Without looking at her, the analyst broke the links between the model and the puzzle. He started inputting various calculations and coordinates, the puzzle reacted to each input. Gradually a coherent calculation model developed, the puzzle stopped phase jumping and became stationary, rotating and shifting slowly in four dimensions. The analyst then relinked it to the core model.
"Now feed in the variations," the analyst told her. He stepped back, away from the table and then looked at her expectantly.
For a moment, Tyler was confused, and then she did as directed. As she began feeding in each variation again, the confusion turned to awe as the new calculation model absorbed everything which was thrown at it, without interfering with the phase particle stream. Behind her, Professor Ekron, who had been silently watching the game with interest, gasped and exclaimed, "Amazing!"
Tyler looked at the analyst; he gave her a brief grin and nodded.
The phase-TD engine prototype was progressing quickly with the aid of the computer. They had achieved more in the six weeks with the computer than in the previous three months without it. Soon they would be able to start work on a full scale model.
Tyler and Ekron were directing the two engineers bent over the model while the prisoner tested a new adjustment to the data stream.
York was arguing with the two professors, which was something he rarely did, but when he felt strongly about something, there was no stopping him.
"Look professors, from the new model of the phase core…" York was still trying to get his point across when all of a sudden the tech minder stationed at the tandem terminal said harshly to the prisoner, "What are you doing?" At the challenge the prisoner immediately put his hands up and backed away from the computer he had been working on.
The four researchers immediately stopped working and looked over. Though the analyst's face was expressionless as usual, the researchers knew him well enough by now to see that he was annoyed.
"What was that last bit you input? I thought you had finished with that part already?" the tech minder at the tandem terminal said.
"I am trying a slightly different configuration."
"There's an entire new subroutine."
"How clever of you to notice, considering I put in that subroutine two hours ago and I'm just using it now." The prisoner spoke in a flat tone but his words clearly indicated his disdain towards the minder. "Even if I explain it to you, you wouldn't understand."
"I suggest you try, you know what will happen if you can't."
The prisoner looked at him coldly; he always had great contempt for ignorant bullies. These guardians of Federation interests had no idea that the new subroutine they had spotted had not been the only one. The analyst was already putting together pieces of a program, hidden within the phase engine design programming which would facilitate his eventual escape.
"When has that ever made a difference?" He knew he was in for a bad time, regardless of what he did now. This always happened at least once per session now and it always served as an excuse to send him to the Shredder after the work session.