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Tingash was a large, barely hospitable planet in the Singoa system in the heart of Zone Seven. Electrical storms, ice storms, sandstorms and windstorms were regular seasonal occurrences. Only the most desperate or suicidal colonist would have chosen this harsh environment as a possible home.
For Department Four of Federation Medical Research, also known as the Advanced Technogenics Division, it was a useful laboratory to test its creations. This was known as the birthplace of the mutoids, where they were first created and where all mutoids are "born". As a result, everything was functional and ugly. It was also the secret location where the new techno-virus from Biliar was being tested and enhanced.
Jenna was in a "decommissioned" Federation cruiser, The Carver, orbiting the planet. It was parked over a satellite "blind spot". Tess had hacked into one of the orbiting surveillance satellites and encouraged it to overlook a certain area; two teams of three each had then descended in a fast scout shuttle. There had been no communication from the teams since they left the ship, they would maintain silence protocol until after the operation had been completed or if they ran into trouble.
The rebel cruiser was a former Federation space cruiser which had been severely damaged during the alien invasion at Star One. The crew had abandoned ship and space pirates had 'salvaged" it. Consequently when some of the pirates had joined the rebellion they had offered the use of the ship.
"I don't have a good feeling about this." Jenna recalled Vila's parting warning just as he entered the shuttle. She smiled. Vila always had feelings of discomfort when any degree of danger was involved but she had learned from Blake that in order to beat the ruthlessness of the Federation you had to take chances. She was maintaining an increased vigilance though.
Tess's Unit Two easily gained access to one of the terminals in the archive area, a dusty corridor in the sub-basement. The walls were grey, the doors were grey, even things which were not grey, seemed grey.
One thing this band of rebels was good at was infiltration; several members had been former Federation assault troops. They entered cautiously but there was no one in the Discontinued Research Archive room. One of the group stayed guard by the door in case someone wanted night time reading.
"This is an old terminal, belongs in a museum," remarked Sato, one of Tess's companions as he examined one of the computer alcoves. He was the electrical engineer of the group and was responsible for tapping their hand computer unit into the research center's information and control system.
"As long as it has access to the main computer system I don't care if it still uses a mouse," Tess replied.
"Not that bad, maybe one generation above," her companion joked as he opened up a panel in the alcove. He studied the circuits then took the computer hand-unit, some laser cables and tools from various pockets in his vest. "This'll just take a few minutes."
They were ahead of schedule but all of them knew that the less time spent in a Federation building the safer they would be. After a few minutes the unit lit up as it registered the Department Four computer systems.
Tess had put on the head-unit which was an uplink bio-interface and plugged it into the activated hand-unit, immediately she was connected to the computer systems. For a moment she was disoriented as information flooded her mind in a jumble but she was soon able to bring order out of the chaos.
"Alright, I'm in." She gave a running commentary as she went on. "Let's see what we have access to from here. DSA archives. Routing to Central Archives. Central Archives Registry. Hmmm some interesting items here but not what we're looking for. Ah, this is interesting. What do you know, someone left a backdoor. Ok we're into Central Research Registry."
She routed some information directly to the hand-unit and fell silent as she worked on the data.
"Got several possibilities." Focusing back on the uplink, she started checking them out, softly, trying to leave no electronic prints; she had a delicate touch.
"Found it." Her voice rose slightly in excitement. "Project Cooperation, wonderful. Level 5 security access required that was to be expected. This will take a little while." She began tapping on the hand-unit as she set to work.
The other infiltration group was waiting in a dark supply room for the signal from Unit Two; this was Vila's group, Argus was the unit leader. Vila was not good at waiting in Federation supply cupboards in the dark. He gripped his tool bag tighter.
"If I knew we were going to be waiting this long, I would have brought refreshments."
Civilians thought Argus. "Do not break silence protocol," the rebel leader whispered to Vila.
In addition to Argus, Vila's other companion was Flayson, who was also unmistakably ex-Federation military. Neither seemed to have a sense of humor; Vila did not trust people who had no sense of humour. If Argus and Flayson had known that the embedded tracer in Vila's back had been on since planet fall and had stayed on, they would have had even less of a sense of humor.
Charles Sester had been observing prisoner A5428's interrogation sessions for more than a standard week. When President Servalan had first ordered him to report to the Federation Special Detention Centre, he had been insulted. He considered the specialists there to be brutish thugs who had the subtlety of extinct Earth elephants and to be asked to be associated with such activity was beneath him as a psychostrategist. Watching the man's reactions while being physically and mentally tortured had made the psychostrategist change his mind. Sester considered few his intellectual equal and meeting a worthy opponent was even rarer; this man would be such a challenge.
Kerr Avon. Top percentile among the alpha-grades. Computer engineer and multi-disciplined analyst. Educated at the elite Federation Military Science and Engineering Academy. Used by the Federation in various capacities including cipher technology and the matter transmission project. Specialized in unsolvable problems.
The ginger-haired Sester studied the report on Avon's background in his guest quarters at the SDC. Reading between the lines added interesting insights.
Brilliant and totally without scruples. Independent spirit. Emotionally cold. Passion for research. Did not suffer fools.
They must have been wary of you from the start. These Federation types do not like or trust intelligence they cannot control.
Sester understood that very well.
In the Federation world, where every careless word can land you in trouble with the Security Forces, you must have been in trouble often. An independence like yours would not have stood that for long.
Sester needed more information, thumbing the vidcomm, he asked for the Center's Senior Controller.
Later that day Avon was strapped to a chair in one of the psych interrogation rooms. His head was surrounded by various instruments projecting images into his mind. A drug injector had been inserted into his right arm.
"Let's play a game of chess Avon" said Vila.
"Only if you're not tired of losing." Avon was tired. He should go back to his quarters and get some rest but instead he found himself sitting down and arranging the pieces. They were in the Liberator's control room, seated in the central meeting area.
As they played Avon realized something was not right, this was not Vila. Vila had never played on this level before. There was another game being played and it was not chess.
"No!" Avon voiced his anguished denial of the scene before him. His mind struggled against the vision.
"He's breaking through it," the technician reported.
"Increase the dosage by .3," ordered the interrogator, "and reinforce the image."
Sester was in an adjacent chair, connected to the holo-vision via a headset. The computer was projecting Vila but he was the one providing the chess moves.
One could take the measure of a man by how he played the game. The chess was the psychostrategist's idea; doing it this way as part of the psych-torture cycle, had not. He had voiced strong objections to using this method. Avon was too intelligent to be fooled.
Avon moaned as the increased level of drugs coursed through his veins. His breathing rate increased, as if he was in a fight.
"It's your move Avon."
Avon looked down at the board trying to focus.
"Avon are you ok?"
"Yes." He reached forward and moved a piece.
Several more moves; he was having trouble concentrating. Why was that? He reached forward for the next move and dropped his hand.
"You're not Vila," he accused the image sitting across the board from him. "You're not real."
"No I'm not Vila. But I am real." The voice was not Vila's.
Sester had decided that the truth at this point would be more useful.
"Stop! What are you doing?" the interrogator asked Sester. The questioner was angry at the disruption of the carefully controlled scenario. He nodded to the technician who entered the sequence to change the drug mixture.
Avon screamed. His body felt as if it were being burned alive and did not stop until he passed out. The medtech tended to him and brought him back. But the moment he regained consciousness it was to more screaming. They drugs continued to flow into him even after he fainted. After the third time, they changed the mixture back to the hallucinogenics.
"This will never work against a man like this." Sester was disgusted. He knew that the Centre's specialists were not pleased by his presence. They considered it an indictment on their abilities that an outsider had been brought in. The lines had been drawn.
But Sester did not need their cooperation; he only needed them not to interfere. There was only one way to do that quickly, Sester turned his back on them and walked out of the room.
Back in his temporary quarters at the Special Detention Centre Sester contacted Servalan.
"You have made progress?"
"Not quite. Your people here do not appear to understand that I am to have free reign in interrogating the prisoner."
"They are specialists, Sester. They are very good at what they do."
"Against other people perhaps, but not for this one. The only way to beat him is to really beat him. None of your specialist thugs have anything close to the intellect to do that."
Servalan had known this which was why she had brought Sester in.
"And you are willing to stake your intelligence on that?" she asked.
"Of course," he replied fully understanding her implications. "I am a psychostrategist after all. You wouldn't have brought me in otherwise."
"Very well, I will send your authorization to the Senior Controller. You will have whatever you require."
"Thank you Madame President, a pleasure as always." This woman had a genius of another sort entirely and was extremely dangerous; Sester appreciated that.