The crew was gathered in the command conference area on the bridge discussing Argus's plan to infiltrate Federation Banking in order to set up one of the distractions.
"Challenges that come attached to Federation AA level buildings aren't that appealing to me," replied Vila. "I thought the whole idea is to set up distractions, not get ourselves killed. In my reckoning breaking into the Federation Banking system definitely qualifies in the 'getting ourselves killed' category."
"Avon was able to do it," said Argus.
"Well, if you haven't noticed, Avon isn't here," Vila said.
"Vila!" Jenna exclaimed.
"Sorry Cally, I didn't mean to bring it up," Vila turned to Cally in apology.
"It's alright, Vila," Cally told the rebel leader. "Argus, you must have some reason to believe that we can do this."
"Yes, ORAC has come up with a way to bypass the first two levels of security of the Federation Banking System and I've been in contact with Ture to recruit some of his hacker friends to help with the distraction part."
"What is the purpose of only bypassing the first two levels of security?" asked Jenna. "The Federation Banking System must have multiple redundant systems. It doesn't seem to be worth the effort, we still wouldn't be able to do anything."
"The idea is not to break into the system, but to provide distractions," explained Argus.
"I still don't understand," Jenna said.
"Breaking into the first two levels doesn't take as much effort or time as breaking into the system far enough to affect financial transactions. It is not serious enough that they would overhaul their entire system in order to protect against it, at least not yet; but it is just annoying enough that they will try to track it down and stop it. Ture's hacker contacts will begin to break into these two security levels at staggered times and from different access points throughout the Federated Worlds. After awhile it will seem like a conspiracy; that should attract the attention of Central Security eventually and keep them busy."
"That's very twisted," Vila told Argus. "I didn't think you were capable of that, I must remember to watch my back."
"Actually it wasn't my idea," said Argus. "As you said, I am unfamiliar with that level of deviousness; one of my many faults. We have our two tech mercenary friends to thank for this idea. They are going to use some of Avon's original tactics when he first broke into the Federation Banking System."
That's fitting thought Cally. In a way, it will be like having him with us.
"Alright, let's get back to the part where we try not getting me killed," Vila reminded them.
"Unfortunately, the method ORAC has devised involves gaining access to the LC crystal which is used to code financial records and transactions. From the time you broke into Q-base on Fosforon with Avon, we know that the Federation always has two TP crystals onsite, in case one malfunctions. They do something similar with the LC crystals."
Vila said, "Last time we had one of Avon's friends helping us. Well, actually, not helping us since he ended up trying to kill us, which is exactly what one of Avon's friends would do, but…where was I. Oh yes, the point is, we had inside help then, even if the help did try to shoot us."
"You must be growing on me Vila, I actually followed that logic," said Argus.
"Stop trying to flatter me and tell me how you're going to not get me killed," Vila said.
"I take it you're going to help then," asked Argus.
"Well, within reason," Vila replied, "and as long as that reason doesn't involve getting me killed."
"The crystal will be kept in the sensitive stores storage area, which will be guarded by Federation Security personnel. I can do a passable imitation of a security officer," Argus said. "All we need to do is obtain the correct uniforms and have ORAC issue fake orders to have me, Allren and Ture sent as replacements to the facility. Once we get in and are able to arrange for two of us to be on guard at the same time at the sensitive stores area, then you can teleport in with the equipment. Allren and Ture can handle the computer overrides to the system and take care of the security cameras. Do you think you can handle the lock Vila; do the same thing you did on Biliar, break in and leave no trace that it has been broken into?"
"It's tricky, it's no double-locking, laser-secured wall safe anymore, they have a top of the line Ventnor, and it's a high-security computer-coded access lock. It's virtually impossible to get into."
"Vila, I do believe your colours are showing. How is it that you know exactly what kind of lock they have at the Federation Banking facility? Could it be that you've considered breaking into there before?" Jenna asked him.
"Purely as an educational exercise; your area is smuggling, mine is locks. I know everything about them and how to break into them, including the highest-level ones. I could never figure out a way to get pass the computer security though but if our mercenary friends can get through the computer-coded part and you can get me safely into the facility, then I can break into the lock."
"Then we have a plan," Argus said.
"I don't believe I'm saying this, but once the fake orders have been arranged, I need some time with ORAC. I have to find out if they have upgraded the version of the lock and get a blue-print of it if they have."
"Argus," Jenna spoke up, "if this operation doesn't need me or Cally, then I have an idea for another distraction. ORAC can handle the teleport for you. Can you drop us off at Gelentrix? There are friends from my old smuggler days I want to contact, they owe me some favours. I want them to repay a 'favour' of another kind to the Amagons."
"That's the group that tried to sell you and the Liberator crew to the Federation?"
"One and the same."
"Alright. Let's set up some rendezvous protocols then."
"I never thought I would be back in a Federation uniform again," said Tam Allren to his tech friend Ture as he adjusted the regulation black trooper's helmet which provided a menacing anonymity to all of the Federation's military forces.
"Well, at least you're a sergeant," said Ture, he was pulling at the leather cross strap which ran diagonally from his right shoulder and across his chest to his belt.
Allren smiled, he knew his friend could not see his expression inside the helmet.
They were all in the teleport room of the Justice, preparing to go down to the Federation Banking complex on Elarus. Vila was entering the teleport coordinates, as ORAC sat on the panel next to him.
"Are you two ready?" asked Argus as he snapped on a teleport bracelet. He was wearing an officer's uniform; the insignia identified him as a captain in the Federation security forces.
"Ready," replied Allren. The two techs mercenaries stepped onto the teleport platform, Argus joined them.
"Vila, keep alert. We don't know how long it will take to set up the right conditions, but you need to be ready when you receive the burst signal," reminded Argus. "ORAC, you will maintain active monitoring for the signal."
"Of course," replied the computer indignantly. "I am not a fallible human who needs to be given instructions twice."
"Alright ORAC; command code is released," Argus told the computer. "It's all yours Vila, have fun."
"Thanks loads," said Vila.
"I wonder if Avon ever considered reprogramming ORAC," Ture told Allren. "Make it more user-friendly."
Argus smiled at this comment and said, "Put us down Vila."
Several hours later, Argus was in the office of the Security Commander. Allren and Ture had already reported in and had been assigned to one of the security teams at the complex.
"Captain Serle Carver reporting for duty sir." Argus stood at attention before the security commander. The rebel leader tried to remember to act like a subordinate officer; it was harder than he thought it would be. After having been a Land Commander for over six years and a major rebel leader for the past four, the habit of command was hard to break.
"It says here that you served with Sixth Legion," said Security Commander Foren.
"That's right sir." The Fifth, Sixth and Ninth Legions had been virtually been wiped out in the Intergalactic War with the Andromedans. Most of Sixth Legion survivors had been re-assigned to other units.
"You're lucky that you weren't part of Fifth Legion, Captain."
"I don't understand sir."
"They were arrogant, undisciplined and practiced a cruelty only surpassed by the Death Squads; they were a disgrace to Space Command," Foren told him. The Security Commander also had a personal dislike, bordering on hatred for the Colonel Astrid of Fifth Legion but he did not attribute this to his extreme dislike for anyone from the former legion.
"You don't agree?"
"It's not my place to agree or disagree sir." Argus had always had a great disagreement with those in Space Command who always followed orders without conscience but that attitude would not be useful now.
"That's right, it's not your place, but I do not allow such disruptive behaviour under my command, is that understood?"
"Very clear sir." Argus already knew he was not going to like this commander but he needed the man's goodwill in order to have influence over the duty roster.
"Report to the duty officer after you get settled in and welcome to the Complex, Captain."
"Thank you sir."
Avon sat in his cell waiting for the medtech. That appeared to be his routine now: working, waiting, torture and being used to entertain Servalan and Sester; although Sester had not been around for over a month. There wasn't much challenge now for the psychostrategist since the analyst seemed to be doing what they wanted.
The analyst's chest hurt, he was aware that his heart was becoming increasingly strained. He had been regularly subjected to the Shredder over the past month. The tech minders didn't hesitate using it whenever they felt he was doing something they didn't understand, which appeared to be often. They used it like a new toy they were not yet tired of. He was not a man who gave into emotion but it was becoming progressively more difficult to fight the depression which always followed the sessions in the nerve induction chamber. Because of this, he was barely able to keep up the level of his work, but he had to. For there to be a chance later, he had to.
Cally regained consciousness first. Shaking off the effects of the knock-out gas, she tried to make out details in the dim light which originated from a narrow window behind her. She noticed Jenna beside her; they were both chained side-by-side by the wrists to a wall. The chain was long enough for them to be seated with their arms hanging above them, someone had thoughtfully leaned them against the wall. Cally pulled hard on the chains but they were secured to metal hoops firmly affixed to the wall.
She looked around in the dim light, they appeared to be in some kind of storage room containing non-descript metal boxes piled high against the side wall, out of her reach. There did not appear to be any camera monitors visible, but that did not mean that there were no hidden ones. In the middle of the far wall was a sliding door with a panel lock; it was the only access into the storage room.
"Jenna," Cally called, trying to wake her still-sleeping companion.
"Where are we?" the woman asked groggily.
"I was just about to ask you that," Cally told her. "Is this part of your plan to contact your smuggler friends?"
They had both been dropped off on Gelentrix and had made initial contact with a go-between who directed them to a pawn shop in the Old District. That was the last thing both of them remembered.
"They do tend to be very paranoid, but not this paranoid."
"I suppose we're lucky that they aren't the shoot first, and ask questions later kind."
"Yes, but this is a bit awkward," Jenna said testing the chains by pulling on them.
"I already tried that."
Jenna stopped. "How long have you been awake?"
"Just a few minutes before you woke up."
"Have you heard anything to indicate who has us or where we are?"
"Nothing. Do you think the go-between betrayed us Jenna?"
"I don't know. I've used him before to arrange contacts and even though he's a slimy unprincipled snake, he would never risk antagonizing customers, especially not repeat ones; though if someone offered him a high enough price, he would probably do anything."
"He sounds like an unsavoury character," Cally remarked.
"Welcome to the smugglers' world," said Jenna. "I was part of that world for many years before I joined Blake."
"You don't seem like that," Cally told the ex-smuggler.
"You don't know much about me then," Jenna told her. For some reason on board the Liberator, the two women had never developed that close a relationship. Jenna had to admit that part of it was her fault. Telepathy made her nervous and even though Cally had told them that the ability only worked between Aurons, Jenna had preferred to keep her distance.
Now they were both trapped here together, chained to a wall, their mutual futures a question mark.
"What do you suppose they want with us," Cally asked Jenna.
They were talking in the dark. It was night outside and there was no longer any light coming in from the slitted window above them. There was still no indication of who was holding them prisoner. Repeated shouts from the two women had resulted in no response at all. They realized the only thing they could do was wait until their captors showed themselves.
"That would depend on who is holding us," replied Jenna.
"I assume they want us alive otherwise we would be dead already," said Cally.
"Let's hope they want us alive enough that someone will at least come and feed us eventually. I'm sorry that I dragged you into this."
"We still don't know what 'this' is," Cally responded. "On Auron we have a saying, 'There is hope in uncertainty'."
"Either you don't have any pessimists on Auron, or you all live very sheltered lives."
At the lack of response from her companion, Jenna asked, "What's wrong Cally?"
"They're all dead." Cally's voice was barely audible.
"What?!" Jenna was shocked.
"Servalan released a virus which wiped out everyone on my planet."
"I'm really sorry Cally, I didn't know. How is it that there was nothing about this on the news channels?"
"With all the chaos after Star One, the destruction of one neutral planet to 'natural causes' wasn't considered very newsworthy," Cally said bitterly.
"But surely news must have gotten out."
"Servalan had it all planned from the beginning. Auron was completely cut off but we didn't know it at the time. All calls for help were intercepted by the Federation and they came to offer help, as only the Federation can, although at the time we didn't know it was them."
"How did you find out then?"
"We were on our way to Earth but I had a telepathic communication from my twin that Auron was in trouble."
"You have a twin?"
"Several, but not anymore," she said sadly.
"There is another saying, 'As long as there is one Auron alive, the enemy should run.'"
"That doesn't sound like an Auron saying," said Jenna.
"It's a saying from this Auron," Cally said with an uncharacteristic harshness in her tone.
At the end of the next day, as Cally and Jenna were trying to sleep in their uncomfortable positions, the door slid open and bright lights flooded the storage room. They both blinked as their eyes tried to adjust to the light.
Three men entered the cell.
"Lantro," exclaimed Jenna. "I was looking for you."
"Hello Jenna, the Rat told me." Lantro Nim was a ruthless old smuggler and a long-time acquaintance of Jenna's. He wore a green outfit consisting of dark baggy pants and a dark green short jacket over a light green shirt. At his waist was holstered a heavy pistol. He had greying hair and a deceptively kindly face which belonged more on a pleasant uncle than the ruthless smuggler that he was. Around his neck was a chain holding a single charm of a small bird.
Behind him were what appeared to be twins clad in dark grey jumpsuits with black trim, each was holding similar heavy pistols, pointed at the two women. For a moment both women thought they were experiencing double vision.
"And this is your idea of hospitality?" Jenna asked.
"Sorry about this Jenna, but it's just business," said Lantro. "It's not personal."
"I'll try to remember that next time I not-so-personally shoot you," Jenna told him.
"Is this the contact we came to meet?" Cally asked Jenna.
"Unfortunately, yes," Jenna told her.
"The commission was only to deliver you," Lantro told Jenna. "Unfortunately, your friend was at the wrong place and at the wrong time."
"Whose commission?" Jenna asked.
"You'll find out when we reach our destination," replied Lantro.
"If you only want me, then let my friend go," said Jenna.
"No Jenna," said Cally. "We're in this together."
"I'm afraid it's not up to either one of you," said Lantro. "The only options were either to kill her, or deliver you both and let the utiliser decide what to do with her. I can't run the risk that your friend would make trouble. Because it's you, I decided to leave her alive."
"How generous," Jenna remarked.
"I have my moments," Lantro said, not phased by her sarcasm.
Lantro nodded to the smuggler guards behind him.
The twins approached the two women, one snapped a collar around Cally's neck, the other snapped a set of tight bracelets around Jenna's wrists; and then the women were released from the chains. Both women thought to resist but having their arms chained in the position they had been in for almost two days, they barely had feeling in their arms anymore. Each of the smugglers also clamped a set of restraints on them, securing them with their hands in front.
"You may be familiar with the detonation collars Jenna, but not the new detonation wrist bracelets."
Both women remembered very well the detonation collars used by the Amagons who had taken over the Liberator. The devices had explosives embedded into the collar and an explosion could be set off either manually using a control unit, or if anyone tried to remove the collar. They had been lucky to have Vila with them then. He had been able to deactivate and remove the collars. Unfortunately, Vila was off with Argus and the two mercenaries.
"Don't tell me you're afraid of two women," asked Jenna mockingly.
"Afraid? No, but I do respect your ability to make trouble Jenna," said Lantro. "I have the detonation control here." Lantro indicated the unit he was wearing on his wrist. "Each of the guards also has a control unit. If either of you try to escape or cause trouble, the devices will explode. Cally will die and you will live, although you will be missing a few vital parts. The utiliser only said to deliver you alive; the condition will be up to you."
The guards helped the two women to their feet.
"Let's try to make this pleasant, we have a long journey ahead of us," said Lantro.
Several hours later, the Jenna, Cally, Lantro and a crew of smugglers were aboard an old converted space cruiser, headed to some destination still unknown to the two women.