Looks of shock were reflected on all their faces as Avon shot Argus and then pointed the Federation energy pistol in their direction. They were all in the teleporter room.
Avon's plan to get away from the crew was working. For the last forty hours, Avon had been planting seeds of doubt about his true motivations. Using ORAC, he had taken over the ship and directed it to the nearest Federation base. He had also used Zen to lock all of the crew in their cabins while they slept. Argus, who had been on his shift on the flight deck, Avon had taken by surprise at gunpoint; hence the rebel leader's anger. Unfortunately, Vila had managed to escape from his cabin and released his companions. They had all come looking for Avon and caught up with him when he was about to use ORAC to teleport him down to the planet below.
"No one moves and no one else will be hurt," Avon ordered them.
Ignoring him, Cally bent down to examine Argus who had been hit in the right shoulder, and had collapsed to the ground. It was a serious wound but nothing the ship's medical facilities could not handle if he was treated soon.
"What are you doing Avon?" Cally asked.
"What I should have done along time ago," Avon replied. "Stay where you are Jenna."
Jenna had been trying to surreptitiously flank him on his left side.
"He's hurt," Jenna said angrily. "We need to get him to the medical bay."
"He'll live," Avon said coldly. "All of you move over behind Cally. Except you Vila. You go to the teleport controls."
They all did as instructed.
"To think I actually risked my life to save your miserable hide," Vila said angrily.
"Have you forgotten the autoshuttle so soon Vila?"
"I won't make that mistake again," Vila replied vehemently.
"Avon, why are you doing this?" Cally asked. She did not understand. "You saved my life, I thought you had changed."
"It is always dangerous to presume anything."
"You've made a deal, haven't you," Argus accused, he struggled to get up.
"Stay down there. You're much safer where you are," Avon told him.
"I knew you couldn't be trusted." Argus fell back down, supported by Jenna. In truth, he doubted that he could stay up even if he was able to stand.
"It must be gratifying knowing that you were right," Avon said mockingly.
"Avon the Betrayer," Vila said softly, remembering the phrase the Federation criminotherapists had used to program his mind against Avon. "I never thought I would agree with the Federation about anything."
Avon looked at him icily.
"Avon, I need to know," Cally would not let it go. ** I need to know. ** She projected to him telepathically.
He looked at her dispassionately; there was no indication on his face that he had registered her telepathic communication.
"Argus is correct; I was offered a deal, one worthy of my abilities. I have never believed in any cause, other than my own. I refuse to continue risking my life for a fool's dream."
"Show me someone who believes in something, and I will show you a fool, isn't that right Avon," Vila said scornfully, reflecting what Avon said many years ago to Blake.
"I see no reason to change that opinion," Avon said coldly.
Jenna and Cally also remembered the incident, and the confrontation between Blake and Avon. On that day right before Star One, Avon had expressed his desire to be free of Blake. He had never believed in Blake's crusade and he had finally had enough of being continually dragged into and manipulated into face dangers which posed no benefit to himself.
"But you are free now, Avon," Cally remembered saying to him.
"I want to be free, of him," Avon had replied. In his voice there had been a cold resentment and a controlled anger which had been building for along time. The others may not have noticed, but Avon was very aware of Blake's manipulation of him. Avon played the odds, but Blake from the beginning, manipulated those odds because the rest of the crew followed him and by proxy, the Liberator and ORAC were his. He knew Avon wanted the ship and ORAC, and Blake knew that he needed Avon's abilities.
** Why are you doing this Avon?** Cally projected the question to him. There was still no indication he heard her; he was too focused to hear her.
She was aware of an undercurrent of weariness in him. There was much he was not saying, much he would never say to anyone. That hasn't changed, has it? she thought.
In the past forty hours, he had avoided her. As he stood there alone against all of them, she thought she knew why, she felt it clearly. He had been damaged deeply; he did not want anyone to know it.
You don't have to do it this way. We would let you go. She knew that he would never accept anyone's help.
"How much did she pay you to betray us?" Argus asked.
Avon looked at him sharply, there was no expression on his face. They all knew the ‘she' Argus was referring to.
"You're not worth enough, alive or dead."
Jenna started forward angrily and Avon waved her back down with the pistol. "I wouldn't."
He backed up to the teleport bracelet tray and snapped one on.
"I am following my own path from now on and I am going to be well compensated for it. I am leaving. Do not try to follow me. Do not try to find me."
This sounds eerily familiar thought Cally.
Avon continued pointing the energy pistol at them as he backed up onto the teleport pad. "If you do, I promise you will regret it. The teleport coordinates have been locked. You can try changing them Vila."
Vila looked guilty. Damn how did he know what I was thinking.
"But it would be a waste of time. Once I teleport down, the outbound controls will be cleared and locked so any attempts to follow me would also be pointless. I have directed ORAC to have Zen leave orbit the moment I have teleported down, you will regain control of the ship in three hours."
Without looking at him Avon directed, "Vila put me down."
"I know where I'd like to put you," mumbled Vila to himself as he operated the controls.
Avon had chosen a special location in a seedy commercial district. It was a cyber-café frequented by hackers who operated on the fringe, he had need of their resources. Vila would be surprised to know how many unsavoury places he knew the ins and outs of, places no alphas would ever be found in, places he had needed in the years he spent on the run from Federation Central Security.
He looked at the time indicator on his wristcomm, he had twelve hours left until the deadline.
He entered the dimly lit establishment, light from numerous monitors and holo-screens seemed to provide the only light. There was a steady noise level, anyone listening to the conversations would think they had entered an alien world and in a way they would have been right. Hackers were a law unto themselves, or so many of them liked to think. Avon despised them but had found them useful in the past. They were undisciplined and many had little more than the pretence of genius, as he had proven many times in the past when crashing one of their vaunted hacker duels. He had found it amusing and occasionally mildly challenging.
Avon approached the bar. A thin, bald man in a short-sleeved green shirt was madly manipulating a hand-interface behind the bar. As Avon neared, he recognized the patterns on the screen. It was a high-level dynamic computational puzzle, a simpler version of one he had used for the phase-TD engine research. The figure was wildly inverting itself, the bald man was clearly out of his depth. Nothing he did seemed to make any difference to the object on the screen and he was getting frustrated.
Amateur thought Avon. Emotions have no place in the world of patterns and calculations.
Avon picked up a connected hand-interface and input several calculations and coordinates, the figure immediately slowed down and stopped. There was a pause, then it expanded and became a perfect multi-dimensional shape.
The man stared first at screen and then at Avon, he was clearly dumbfounded. There was a look of awe.
"We've been trying to beat that DCP for three weeks!" he waved his hand, indicating the others in the room. "How did you do that?"
"I can put it back."
"No! Don't do that, I've got to study this. The rest of them are going to be blown away. The name's Cracer by the way, I run this establishment."
The man waited, he clearly expected an answering name.
I don't have time for this. "I need a terminal with a secure connection to the Federation CompComm network. One which can't be traced," Avon said in a low voice. It was a loaded request, any secure connection which couldn't be traced, would be by its nature, highly illegal. No self-respecting hacker haven would be without one.
The man made a quick survey of the room.
"I don't have any credits."
"There are no credits among friends. I would consider it an honour."
I would choose my friends more carefully thought Avon.
The owner led him to a locked room in the basement. It held a single terminal. From various devices hooked up to it, Avon could tell that it had been used to break into secure Federation networks. It was exactly what he had been looking for.
"This door can be secured from the inside," the man showed him the coded sequence to the door panel. "Join me for a drink when you're done."
The man had not asked what he needed the secure connection for, Avon did not tell him. He had still not told him his name, it was much safer for both of them if he didn't. Avon had noticed a back exit on their way down the corridor, this man would not be seeing him again.
Avon sat down at the terminal, slipped on the hand-interface and set to work.
There was just barely enough time to make some preparations, an additional safeguard. ORAC, no matter how powerful it was, was still hampered by the command control of the crew of the Justice. There was no way to estimate how long it would take the computer unit to find what he wanted and carry out his plan. He needed something else, an alternate fail-safe. He sent out a call to the ASP he had created to contact ORAC; some extensive programming would have to be added.
The Justice. More politics he thought contemptuously at the crew's choice of name for the new ship. Would he never be free of people with political agendas. All he ever wanted was to be able to live his own life in peace; all they ever wanted to do was use him. Now he was going to putting himself back into the hands of another of them, the most treacherous and dangerous one.
After his preparations were completed, he began searching for the Federation President's private communications channel. Once he found it, he set about bypassing the encryptions and security protocols. A face appeared on the screen, she appeared shocked.
"Avon! How did you get access to this channel? It's supposed to be a secure connection." She did not sound pleased, she had been in the middle of a vidscreen conference with Federation Border Zone Command when Avon had broken into her secure channel.
"I'm coming in, as per our agreement."
"Where are you?"
"On Rygellus in Sector Three, the Gilan system."
"Very well. Present yourself to Federation Security headquarters there. I will alert them that you're coming. Give them your prisoner identifier and nothing else."
He nodded and cut the connection. As a last step, he made a duplicate of the ASP and sent them both on their way. With the prototype already in place, this took almost no time at all for him. All he had to do was change the command codes for the second one. It was a strategic redundancy which would give him an additional safeguard. Before he left, he wiped all trace of his activities from the computer.
With the connection broken, the Federation Border Zone Command group reappeared on Servalan's vidscreen. Several technicians also seemed to be onscreen.
"I'm sorry gentlemen. There was a special communication, it was not a technical fault. Let's have a half hour break and we will resume at eleven hundred standard time."
As they signed off, she called her assistant.
"Corry, contact the Federation Security headquarters on Rygellus, the Gilan system in Sector Three. I want to speak to the area commander there and inform psychostrategist Sester to meet me after my meeting with Border Command."
"Yes, Madame President."
My dear Avon. You are coming back to me, that is good. But you've made me very angry and you won't like it when I'm not happy with you.
From Sector Three, Avon should be arriving in less than six hours. She smiled. Then the fun would begin. But no for you Avon.
"Tell your commander that prisoner A5428 is here."
The nameless Federation functionary behind the desk looked up on hearing the voice, he appeared startled. Immediately he depressed a button. They had been warned to expect this man but he hadn't thought it would be so soon.
"The commander is expecting you."
He looked curiously at the man while they waited. He was on the tall side and was dressed all in black, except for some silver pattern along the sleeves. There was a presence about him which was hard to pin down but made him difficult to ignore; an air of indifferent superiority which marked him as an alpha grade.
Damned alphas, they think they own the world; but you must have pissed off someone pretty high up that they would make you do this.
There was a rush of activity as a contingent of Federation black-uniformed guards in their anonymous head-gear came in and surrounded the prisoner. The man did not react as two of them grabbed his arms and secured his wrists with a set of restraints.
At that moment the commander arrived, the guards all snapped to attention.
"So you're the one all the fuss has been about?"
The prisoner looked at him absently, he appeared to be bored.
The commander was not pleased, he struck out and hit the prisoner in the stomach. The man doubled over but did not make a sound. The commander was a former boxing champion in the Federation military cage matches, he could still flatten most opponents with a single punch. He had held back this time, the orders were to leave the prisoner alone and to convey him at the fastest possible speed to Central Security at the Primary Spaceport in Sector One.