"It's hard to tell," she told them, "we're never allowed to communicate with him except about the project."
"Bren, I'm surprised at you," said Sheldon. He never judged her but she could tell that he was disappointed.
"You don't have to tell me. I know it was wrong to use him like that, but none of us had a choice," she told him. "I never knew how important my project was to the Federation until this happened. I do take responsibility for it though, that’s why I'm here. I want to help him but I don't know how."
"It's outrageous that they could do this to anyone," said the bar owner, looking very outraged. Professor Tyler did not know his name, but she knew now that everyone called him the T-Man or the T-Maker, depending on how they felt about him.
"You always warned me about the Federation, Shel, and I never really listened," said Tyler.
"It was always more like a game to you Bren," said Sheldon,"but that was a product of your upbringing."
She bristled at that, Sheldon was always brutally honest. Being brought up in an alpha graded household had always seemed like a disadvantage when relating with him.
"Why did you want to know how long he's been a prisoner? Will that help?" she asked.
"No. It's just my curiousity. I would like to know who the Federation President would go to so much trouble to keep like this," Sheldon told her. "And from what you say, he is a true genius. There can't be many of those around."
You're just being modest, thought Tyler. That was one of the things she had always loved about him.
"From the way he was able to adapt the comp-puz into four dimensions and use it in the way you described reminds me of someone," he told her. "but there are rumours that he is dead now. Though there are always all kinds of rumours about him."
"Who?" she asked.
"I won't say anything just yet," he told her, "it's safer that way. Central Security is everywhere now after the alien invasion and Star One got blown up. They're paranoid about any kind of reference to something which can prove a threat to security. The moment we mention his name, all kinds of flags will go up."
The T-Man nodded knowingly.
"I'll check with a few friends discreetly," Shel said. "And I'll get in contact with a couple of people who can help us."
"I'll do some checking too," said the bar owner.
"In the meantime, don't do anything different," Sheldon told her. "And let's not meet here again. I'll give you a burst transmitter. The next time we meet, I will send you the details and instructions on the meet. Unfortunately it may take awhile; I'm involved in a major operation right now. We're going to give the Federation Banking System a few headaches."
This sounds like old times, thought Tyler, I don't know if that's a good thing.
"Just like old times?" he asked her.
"Except we're a lot older now, and the stakes are much higher," she told him. He still had the same enthusiasm she remembered from their old days together. In a few short hours, she remembered why she had loved him, and had let him go.
"Yes I must admit, it was a bit like a game to me too, in the old days," Sheldon admitted to her. "Then I got caught."
She nodded, Tyler had never asked him about those days.
The bar owner left them alone as the two reminisced.
"How is the engine progressing?" the Federation President asked. The head tech minder was giving her the weekly project progress report and the prisoner's status.
"All the tests with the scaled model were completed earlier this week. "They are in the process of building the full scale model now," he reported. "He's working quickly, there have been no major incidents with the prisoner this week."
"No major incidents?" she asked.
"Just the usual," he told her. "He doesn't like being controlled and sometimes tries to be difficult, but you've directed that we not punish him for that, for the time being." He stressed the 'for the time being' part.
"He must be doing better," she reflected. "I imagine that he's becoming more difficult the more he recovers?"
"You guessed correctly Madame President."
No one knows him better than I do, she thought, but this means that he feels well enough to start making trouble. A well Avon, means a dangerous one.
"I imagine that doesn't sit well with the Centre personnel?"
"No Ma'am, it doesn't."
"Very well, you may begin the punishment protocols again, but only up to level two. I want it carefully monitored and it must not interfere with his work." She knew that any level one punishments would only serve to annoy the analyst and would not be an effective deterrent.
"Yes, Madame President."
The President saw that the man was looking happier than he had any right to be.
"I will not be happy if I hear of any abuse of the protocols Krelis," she warned him.
"Yes Ma'am, you have my reassurance on that score."
"Have the weakening drugs returned to normal strength and do not let him know that the protocols have been reinstated. Let him find out the next time he becomes difficult," she told him.
"Of course, Madame President," said Krelis. This woman knew a lot about control.
"I will send the directive to the Centre regarding the change in the protocols."
"Thank you Madame President, that will make our jobs easier," the minder told her.
"Now I want to know what the plans are for the testing of the full scale model."
The smuggler guards were removing the detonator restraints and collar from Jenna and Cally while Lantro watched.
Jenna looked at Lantro quizzically.
Guessing what she was thinking, the smuggler leader informed the two women, "The utiliser never paid to make it easier for him."
She nodded in appreciation.
"Let's go," he led the way out of the cell as the guards followed with their prisoners.
The party boarded the landing shuttle and headed down to the planet. Being strapped into seats in the rear compartment, facing the back of the shuttle, Cally and Jenna still could not tell where they were going.
"This is Lantro, calling the utiliser. Confirming rendezvous at coordinates received on last communication. Confirmation code overlord zero zero one."
A few seconds later, there was a reply, "Confirmed from utiliser, no change in coordinates, reply code overlord one zero zero. Utiliser out."
Overlord? Jenna was starting to get an idea who would want to kidnap her.
The guards unstrapped the women from their seats and motioned them to move, even as the shuttle door opened.
"Keep them out of sight until I tell you to bring them down," Lantro directed the guards. They nodded. The smuggler leader walked down the shuttle steps, followed by the twin smuggler guards and disappeared from their view.
"You have them?"
In the shuttle, they could all hear the voices from the outside, though they could not catch every word. From the sound of the voice, Jenna knew that her guess had been correct. Then we have a chance. We won't be killed, at least not right away.
"Yes, you have the payment?" Lantro asked. They could hear the sound of footsteps and then an object hitting the ground. Other footsteps followed.
"Satisfactory?" asked the utiliser.
"Satisfactory," replied Lantro. In a louder voice, he commanded, "Bring them out." The guards gestured for the two women to go down the steps.
They were brought to position just behind Lantro.
Jenna said calmly, "Ellis."
"Jenna." It was the middle son of the dead Overlord, Feltar Reve, of the Athol Territories; the territory out in Sector Ten which was currently embroiled in a damaging civil war. Ellis Reve was the most devious of the Overlord's three sons.
"Sorry for the rude invitation but I didn't think you would come if I just asked," he told her.
"And you would be right," she told him coldly. Of the Overlord's three ambitious sons, she would have preferred to deal with the oldest son, Kam or the youngest, Borel.
Ellis smiled and nodded his head to the contingent of guards behind him.
"Good luck," Lantro said softly to them, as Ellis's guards approached the smugglers and took charge of the prisoners.
So this is about political pressure, she thought. Things must not be going well; else he would not be resorting to this.
"They weren't down there," Vila told Argus.
Vila had just returned from his trip to Gelentrix to meet Jenna and Cally at the pre-arranged rendezvous point.
"I waited a whole hour," he stressed.
Argus was no longer wearing the sling but his right shoulder was still tender, mainly due to the fact that he had tried to push the rehab exercises and ended up setting back his own recovery.
Vila had been unusually accommodating and responsible since Argus had taken the shot meant for the thief.
If I had known that this was all it took, I would have gotten myself shot earlier and not messed around with the dispenser codes, thought Argus.
There was currently only one working alcohol dispenser, since Vila had dismantled the other ones, trying to get past the dispenser codes.
Of course, Argus didn't point out that if he hadn't dragged the thief into the mission in the first place, his life would not have been in danger.
"Zen, send a message to Jenna using the pre-arranged transmission frequency," Argus addressed the ship's computer interface. "Tell her that we waited at the rendezvous and are now proceeding to the secondary rendezvous point. We will contact them in five days time, as agreed, from the time this message is sent. Give her the timestamp of sending."
"Confirmed. Message has been sent," said the tired-sounding computer voice.
Argus crossed over to ORAC and activated the transmitter Avon had built to communicate with the computer unit in lieu of the activation key which Servalan had confiscated.
"ORAC, command code gamma two delta three six four."
"Yes, what is it?" ORAC said impatiently.
"Do a broad sweep of accessible communication channels on Gelentrix, I want to know if there is any unusual activity which may indicate that Jenna and Cally are in trouble."
"Very well," the computer acknowledged. For some reason, ORAC always managed to sound as if any task given it by the crew was taking it away from its own more important tasks.
Well, to be fair, at the moment ORAC was involved in a very important task. Several hours ago, before the Justice had arrived above Gelentrix, It had received the communication from the ASP which Avon had sent. It was in the process of following Avon's instructions and was trying to arrange conditions which would result in rescuing the analyst, again, and doing it without informing the crew directly. ORAC did not know why Avon would give this illogical directive but it did as ordered.
The work on the full-scale model was finally complete and all the tests run successfully. Ignoring the minders, the researchers had thanked the analyst as they took their final leave. Technically they would not be meeting again. The final tests for the full-scale model would be done at a remote testing area, near Pacifica Dome. Of course, that was not the researchers plan, but they were careful not to give any indication that they expected to see the analyst again.
Avon lay on the ground in one of the interrogation rooms with his hands bound behind him. He was coughing painfully and spitting out blood, even as the interrogators pulled him back up. Two of them held him on either side, while a third, wearing hardened gloves, struck him repeatedly in the back with his fist, each blow making it harder for him to breathe.
They were not alone. Off to the side, seated on a comfortable chair sat the Federation President. Behind her was the attendant medtech.
By the time he thought that they certainly broken his back, the torturers released him and he crumpled to the ground again. These physical pain specialists were very good; there had been no damage to his spine, only numerous painful bruises and broken bones, and painful but reversible internal damage. Throughout the beating, he fought to remain silent; refusing to show weakness before his enemy, but it was difficult, he was sure the last couple of strikes had broken another rib. His breathing was in short agonized gasps as he lay on the cold, hard floor of the interrogation room.
In the last few weeks of the phase engine project, Avon had found out that the punishment protocols had changed and that he was feeling much weaker. Instead of ignoring his acts of insolence and rebellion, they had started punishing him again; but they had not brought him to the interrogation rooms, until now. The weakness meant that they had also changed the dosage on the drugs he was injected with daily.
The moment the project had finished and the researchers had packed up everything and left, the guards had immediately brought him to this interrogation room, where Servalan had been waiting for him. She had not said a single word and only nodded to the interrogators to begin. That was four hours ago. She had watched and directed the actions of the interrogators, but she did not speak to him.
"Enough," she said finally as Avon lay on the ground again coughing and bleeding.
The interrogators let go of the prisoner and stepped back, they had been about to lift him to his feet again for another bout.
"Thank you gentlemen, you may leave," she told them.
As the interrogators left, the medtech bent down and checked the prisoner.
The medtech reported. "He should be able to talk."
"Alright, help him sit up and you may go as well," Servalan told him. "Turn the security monitors off," she directed the security observers in the control booth. She did not say another word until the red operation lights on each camera went out.
The medtech pulled Avon carefully up and propped him against the wall before he also left.
Avon coughed again, spitting out blood. When the coughing stopped, he leaned back painfully against the wall. He winced from the bruises on his back. The analyst looked at Servalan and waited. She had still not said a word to him.
"Was watching them beat me not satisfying enough, or haven't you decided yet?" he asked, his voice full of cynicism. He was trying not to move too much as he spoke.
"You brought this on yourself Avon. It has been building up for a long time," she finally spoke to him. "You know that your minders and the guards do not like being provoked, and I had not allowed them to punish you while were recovering. They were getting very frustrated."
"So you are here to ensure employee satisfaction? That hardly sounds like you."
Servalan laughed at his phrasing.
"I have missed you," she told him. "The timing was just unfortunate. My visit would have been a lot more pleasant for you if you had not angered your minders."
"Your idea of pleasant usually means less pain, not no pain. And you were just trying to be helpful when you were directing the interrogators earlier?"
Avon coughed again. The pain from his ribs was sharp.
"The real reason I am here is because I want to show my appreciation for your work on the phase-TD engine. Sester has been nagging me to give you at least one day of real rest. Once the med unit has tended to your wounds, you will be given that. I will direct the security observers to leave you alone for the day and that you are to be given the drugs which prevent the nightmares."
She didn't tell him that the psychostrategist had made the request to give the analyst some rest, months ago, long before Avon's heart had almost collapsed from the use of the Shredder.
"Why are you doing this?" he asked her suspiciously.
"You have done the Federation an immeasurable service in the success of the phase engine and my personal financial empire will benefit greatly."
The knowledge of that was worse than the torture he had undergone in the past four hours; and now she was giving him time to contemplate it.
At the Special Detention Centre, Avon had never been allowed to relax. Every minute of his time was monitored and controlled and any sign of relaxation would signal a beating by the guards or removal to an interrogation room.
Even a simple act like enjoying a cup of water was not allowed. Whenever he was fed, he had to eat and drink quickly and without any reaction. At first, it had been hard not to react to the foul-tasting gruel which was the only source of solid food they allowed him but being beaten for gruel had not seemed worth the fight. And they always forced him to eat it after beating him anyways. He learned to block out the taste.
After a few hours of ‘real’ rest in the empty cell, Avon was going crazy with boredom. Having all of this free time was strange and made him feel increasingly restless. Memories of the last few years kept surfacing, beyond his control. It was not the familiar nightmares which haunted him, these were different, they were real memories of things which had happened to him and things which had been done to him.
He realized that this was most likely a by-product of the regular use of the conditioning which forced his mind to think.
The analyst tried to keep his mind occupied; he began thinking about how ORAC was going to manage rescuing him and what he could do to facilitate its plans. He also wondered what Professor Tyler had been up to during the game with the comp-puz. It was clear that the woman had a hidden agenda, but that had been weeks ago, the researchers were now gone, and there had been no action indicating what that agenda was.
After half a day of this, he could not stand the isolation anymore or the memories which seemed to surface beyond his control, he asked the guards to return him to the lab.