"That's one of the reasons why I went tech," said Allren.
"I thought you said it was to impress the girls," said Ture jokingly.
"Well, that too," said Allren. There was a bit of truth in it. Allren's girlfriend at the time had dumped him because she had wanted someone with better prospects.
At that moment an officer rounded the corner, the two straightened themselves and tried to look dutifully guard-like.
"Well what do we have here?"
They both recognized Argus's voice from beneath the all-encompassing Federation soldier's helmet.
"You know, next time you have one of these jobs for us, I think I'm going to insist that you at least make me a lieutenant," Allren told Argus.
"What do you mean next time," said Ture. He really hated being in a Federation uniform again, even if it wasn't for real.
Argus grinned underneath his helmet. "Nod and try to look professional for the security cameras."
"Don't push it 'Captain Carver'," said Allren.
As Argus was talking to them, posture-wise, he appeared to be giving them orders. He didn't tell them that they should consider themselves lucky that they were only standing guard duty, and weren't required to listen to the Security Commander's speeches daily. For some reason, Foren appeared to have taken a liking to the new Captain and called him to his office at the end of each day for a drink and to discuss his frustrated ambitions at being frequently passed over for promotions. Argus would have preferred being tortured by the Federation interrogators again, but at least it had put him in a position to influence the duty roster.
"I've arranged to have you both tasked to guard the sensitive stores vault where the crystal is held, on your next duty cycle. Have you had an opportunity to study the security setup?" asked Argus.
"Yeah, it shouldn't be a problem to loop the cameras, even without the tools Villa is bringing. But Ture won't be able to bypass the computer security protocols, until he gets his kit," said Allren. "We'll do the setup first and then you can have Vila come down with the kits the next day."
"Alright. Try not getting yourself into trouble before then."
When Argus returned to his room in the officer's quarters, he sent a short burst signal to tell Vila to get ready in five days time.
"Why do you suppose he did it?" Vila asked ORAC. He was drunk and sprawled on a couch in the command conference centre, addressing ORAC which for some reason was sitting on the ground. Vila had his feet propped up on the computer's clear case.
"Who is the 'he' you are referring to? And what is the 'it'?" asked ORAC impatiently.
After two weeks of drinking and boredom, Vila still did not understand why Avon did what he did when he went to rescue Cally on Terrus. Vila could not get it out of his head. He could not resolve the Avon who had almost sacrificed Vila in order to save himself, with the one who saved Cally at the cost of his own life.
Even when you're dead, you still give me a headache Avon. Vila took another swig of the bottle he was drinking from.
"I am receiving a burst signal from Argus," ORAC reported.
"What does it say?"
"Message says to be ready in five days; it also contains teleport coordinates and a time sequence. I have also been instructed to enact protocol seventeen."
"What in the galaxy is protocol seventeen?" asked Vila. "And why does it need to be enacted?"
"I am to activate the coded security locks on all of the alcohol dispensers." These were computer coded sequences controlling the dispensers and not actual locks which Vila could open. The only one who could have broken or bypassed the locks was Avon.
"Who does he think he is? How am I supposed to get ready now?" Vila was angry.
"I do not understand the question. How does activating the security locks on the alcohol dispensers interfere with operational readiness?" asked ORAC.
"Wait a minute; I am the command code source now, right?" Vila's eyes brightened, he had an idea.
"Then I the command code source, command you to remove the security code locks on all of the alcohol dispensers," Vila said confidently.
"I cannot do that without the required authorization code."
"What authorization code?" asked Vila indignantly.
"Argus has put an authorization code on the release of the security locks for the alcohol dispensers." ORAC informed him.
"But I'm the command source," Vila protested vehemently.
"The command source still requires the authorization code to release the locks."
"That's just not fair," said Vila.
ORAC remained silent. Vila thought he was seeing things but the moving lights which were part of the ORAC unit seemed to convey smugness.
"ORAC, I've decided not to go down to Elarus, not unless you release the locks."
ORAC did not respond it had no interest in the petty interactions between humans.
"Avon." It was Servalan again over the audio-speakers.
Avon was lying on his back in his cell, staring at the ceiling. He was waiting for his injections again but these days he was so exhausted that he usually fell asleep before the medtech arrived.
"I know you're not asleep yet, I can see you on my monitor."
He looked up at the security camera trained directly on the sleep platform.
"What do you want Servalan? Couldn't you sleep without torturing me first?"
"Now be nice Avon. I just wanted to congratulate you on the success of the phase-TD engine. I understand you have a working model now."
"Thank you," he said, without the least bit of sincerely, "Can I sleep now?"
"That's all you ever seem to say to me these days."
He sighed tiredly. "What do you want to talk about?" She was never going to leave him alone until she was satisfied.
He's never asked that before thought Servalan. Avon never initiated conversation in these sessions; his participation had always been involuntary.
For an hour she kept him talking.
"I should let you sleep now, you have an excellent mind Avon, and with the work you are doing for me, you are helping me forge a massive personal financial empire."
"How very lucrative for you," he said flatly.
"I am a student of history, I know that all things eventually come to an end, even I must accept the inevitable."
"Surely not. What is this then? Planning for retirement?"
"I may have to accept the inevitable but no one said that the inevitable couldn't come with some perks. I am Servalan after all."
"Of course," he said chuckling.
She smiled as well; it was good to see him in a lighter mood, no matter how brief. Servalan had been concerned, she had been afraid that the use of the induction chamber was wearing the analyst down more than she had planned. One of the purposes of forcing him to converse with her tonight had been to assess the degree of depression.
"Are you done gloating now? Can I get some rest?"
"Yes you may rest now."
She sent the signal to the Centre that the medtech could give him the sedatives. "Good night Avon."
Servalan was thoughtful as she turned off the vidscreen. She was in her bedroom in Residence One preparing to retire for the evening. Picking up a brush, she began brushing her hair.
Sester would be returning from Sector Ten in a couple of weeks. Things had worked out very well there, the warlord territories were currently embroiled in a nice little civil war; well not exactly little but she wasn't about to let it get any bigger. The Federation's plans were progressing right on schedule; there was nothing to stop it now. She had recalled the psychostrategist because she needed someone to keep an eye on Avon.
It was clear the tech minders were not capable of handling the asset. In their zealousness and lack of understanding of what he was doing, they had abused the use of the nerve induction machine. They were punishing him for the brilliance he needed to exercise in order to meet her requirement of him.
So far the harsh treatment did appear to have affected his work, he was carrying on despite what they were doing to him; but he was still human, eventually it would. Tonight had been an indication, he had been more resigned tonight than she would have liked. A depressed Avon tended not to be as much fun, for some reason, that was important to her.
The abuse had to stop but not until Sester returned and had an opportunity to assess the situation.
Lantro's kindly face was in keeping with his pleasant manner when he had the two women join him for the evening meal each day aboard the smuggler's cruiser. This by no means meant that he could be persuaded from his commission of delivering them to the utiliser who had hired him. He made that very clear from the outset; any questions or discussions regarding the commission or releasing them were forbidden topics. As long as Jenna and Cally respected his rules, he was an impeccable host.
Other than commands from the guards, no one spoke to them except Lantro and he was too careful to reveal anything to them which would give them any information as to the identity of the utiliser or their final destination; but he was a knowledgeable man who could hold conversations on a myriad of topics. Even though he had a pleasant manner, the two women were aware that there was always a hard edge just beneath the surface, and at times Cally could sense a great emptiness. When he spoke of the Federation, that hardness became hatred.
When they conversed, at times it was easy to pretend that they were not prisoners and he was their jailor.
The two women were kept in a large comfortable cabin aboard the ship. Other than two beds, a table, two chairs and a vidscreen entertainment unit, it was totally devoid of furniture. In the adjacent alcove to their cabin-prison were shower and toilet facilities. There were security cameras inside the cabin and the single door provided a transparent view into the cabin from the corridor side. They soon found out there was no opportunity to escape.
The two women were fed three times a day, with their evening meal shared with Lantro. Whenever they left the cabin, they were always accompanied by three guards, each of whom had control units to the detonator devices the women wore. Their guards were hard smuggler-types, who expected instant obedience to any command.
When their meals were delivered, the women were expected to immediately stand against the far wall, their hands in plain view. Any deviance from these instructions would mean that they would not be fed.
The women's days were passed in pleasant and increasingly frustrating boredom. Cally started a program of daily exercises to keep up her strength and endurance, as well as regular hours for meditation. Jenna spent her days exploring the entertainment unit provided.
"If something doesn't happen soon," said Jenna to no one in particular, "I'm going to go crazy." After leading an active life of a rebel for many years, she was more used to action than sitting around waiting for something to happen. The entertainment unit was starting to bore her and Cally's constant energetic activity was becoming annoying.
Cally was doing her daily exercise routine, which currently involved some kind of stretching which looked painful to Jenna.
"We have to be patient, our time will come," said Cally. "We have to keep ourselves sharp so that we will be ready."
"More of 'There is hope in uncertainty'?" asked Jenna sarcastically.
"It is applicable in this case, and we don't have anything else at the moment."
"I don't know if you're being overly optimistic or overly pessimistic," said Jenna, "or if you're just trying to be funny."
"Just being an alien," said Cally.
Jenna laughed, "Alright. Well, while you were keeping yourself sharp, I had an idea."
"Something to help us escape?"
Jenna told the woman her plans.
The research group had been noticing the steadily deteriorating condition of the analyst with concern. They noticed that whenever they returned to the lab in the morning, the prisoner seemed to be in worse shape than when they left him the previous night. His hands were shaking constantly now and he was no longer able to work on the prototype himself; he had to rely entirely on the engineers.
The analyst was in such bad shape that he no longer had the ability to sustain the concentration he required for more than an hour at a time; this gave his minders even more of an excuse to abuse him. They constantly denied him food and rest as punishment, and they often took him out of the room now for beatings. The researchers had tried to protect him at first but their efforts only seemed to make it worse so they had stopped.
"Have you worked out the new numbers for the transformer for the large-scale model?" Tyler asked as she put in an entry into her datapad. She looked up at the analyst for a visual response, he rarely spoke now.
The look on his face alarmed her, he had turned deathly pale. His eyes were staring ahead, not seeing, his hands gripped the arms of the chair.
"Are you alright?" she asked worriedly.
Professor Ekron and the two engineers, who had been running tests with the engine model nearby, stopped what they were doing and looked in their direction.
The analyst did not answer her, the minders came towards him. Suddenly he bent over and gripped his chest.
"What are you playing at?" one of his minders asked. The prisoner moaned in pain; they could all hear his laboured breathing. When the minder pushed the prisoner back into the chair, the strain on the man's face was evident and his eyes no longer appeared to be focussing. "Call a med immediately," the minder told one of the guards.
"What happened doctor?" asked Servalan.
Doctor Goren was reporting to the Federation President on the condition of the patient, from a vidcomm in his office at the Special Detention Centre. He was a senior medical specialist, a man gifted in keeping prisoners alive and suffering. After the error the previous doctor had made in not keeping a closer eye on Avon's physical conditon, when the guards were abusing him without permission, Goren had been tasked to take over the prisoner's care.
"He suffered cardiac arrest," he replied. "No one has ever had even half as many sessions in the nerve induction unit as he has."
Usually because they die or go insane he thought to himself.
He continued, "You're not allowing him time in the healing tanks Madame President. What we can do for him without it is not enough for what he requires. He's never given adequate rest, even without the use of the chamber, and he's receiving regular abuse from the guards. I will not take responsibility if he dies. I cannot even hazard to guess what effect using the Shredder this way has had on his mind."
"But you have the technology to bring him back."
"Yes, but there is still a point where the damage becomes too great for even our advanced medical facilities. Prisoners do still die here."
"I need him to finish his work on the engine," she told him.
"He won't be able to unless you change the conditions under which he's working," he replied.
"Very well, give him the medical treatment required to get him back into the lab as soon as possible."
"You're only authorizing the bare minimum?"
Does that mean that he's expendable after this? Is that why you don't want me to waste my time healing him properly?
"And the rest he requires?" he asked her.
"You have him sedated?"
"He's unconscious, but we gave him his regular regimen of drugs."
"Give him four hours in addition to the time in the healing tank."
"But Madame President," the doctor protested.
"Four hours, then I want him back in the lab." She cut the connection before he could add anything to his protest.
After shutting off the connection, Servalan buzzed her personal assistant.
"Corry, have you heard anything from psychostrategist Sester?"
"He reports that he's a day out, Madame President."
'Very good, tell him to report directly to the SDC. I want his assessment of the prisoner's condition as soon as possible."
"Yes Madame President."
Argus sat in his office at the Banking Complex waiting for the officer from the newest batch of replacements to report in. "Captain Carver" was now second-in-command to Security Commander Foren at the Banking Complex. Argus was very good and had known exactly how to manipulate the unwitting commander. It wasn't difficult. The man was full of resentments and frustrated ambitions and he recognized in the "captain" an intelligent and capable officer who had a sympathetic ear. Somehow Argus had also given the man the impression that his family had influence, the Commander liked influence.
"Commander Argus," a black-clad lieutenant who had come in with the latest batch of replacements exclaimed as he reported to Argus.
Argus was shocked but nothing showed on his face, "The name is Captain Carver, Lieutenant."
Argus's mind was working quickly, thinking of possible tactical ways to deal with this situation. He had not expected anyone to recognize him. The commando groups he had served with were covert operations units who did not have many dealings with regular Federation military or security forces.
The reporting officer took his helmet off. "I was Corporal Klesson sir, when I served with you fourteen years ago in your commando group, when you were still a lieutenant."
"Klesson! Of course I remember," said Argus. Deryal Klesson was a perpetually youthful-looking man who was always mistaken for a young recruit, which annoyed him to no end. He had been an exceptional commando who had served as a corporal in Argus's troop. Unfortunately the man had suffered serious injuries in one operation which prevented him from continuing with the commando units and had been re-assigned. This was years before Argus had become a Land Commander.
This did not improve the situation; Klesson was an unknown quantity who definitely knew who Argus was. The rebel leader proceeded carefully. He tried to remember what he could of this man.
What he needed was someone who was much better at plots and conspiracies. Unfortunately, Jenna was with Cally somewhere on Gelentrix.
"What are you doing impersonating a Captain here, sir?"
I should have told myself to stay out of trouble, thought Argus. Vila was due to arrive tomorrow.