Mining planet C-812 was really a large asteroid, roughly the size of a small moon. It was part of an asteroid belt consisting of thousands of large and small asteroids spread over a large sector of space. C-812 was originally an established mine which had been running down after eight years of rich silver crystal deposits when a serendipitous event occurred. The miners called it the 'Happy Event'.
"It's just sounds strange to me," said Vila. "Whenever they talk about the 'Happy Event', it sounds like they're expecting a baby. And there's a big party going on down there, celebrating this 'Event'."
Argus had ORAC initiate contact with the miners, posing as potential buyers for a rich corporate client. Vila had insisted on going down as the head buyer.
"You may know all about guns and seventy two ways to kill someone with your little finger but you know nothing about jewels or valuable crystals," was his insistence. "You should send me down."
"It's only forty nine ways," said Argus without even a hint of a smile, "but you do have a point."
So Vila, dressing the part of a rich corporate buyer, which he enjoyed immensely, had gone down to meet the miners, with Argus as his assistant, which he also enjoyed immensely. Vila had to keep reminding Argus that he was there to help, and not to look intimidating. These miners were a tough and stubborn lot who did not react well to intimidation.
The crew was now gathered in the conference area of the flight deck, discussing what Vila and Argus had found out on their first foray down to the mining facility.
"Unfortunately we haven't found out anything about why the Federation is so interested in this mine. It can't be for the silver crystal deposits, although Vila says they are valuable," said Argus.
"That's putting it mildly," said Vila. He took a shiny silver crystal out of his pocket and held it up for them all to see. He proceeded to give them a lecture on the market value of silver crystals.
"But what does it do?" asked Cally.
"Do?" Vila was confused. "It's valuable and you can sell it for lots of credits."
"What is it's purpose?" she pressed.
"Actually, I'm not sure," Vila replied. "It's valuable, that's all I need to know. I don't care what people actually do with it."
"Vila, where did you get that crystal," asked Argus suspiciously.
"I borrowed it," said Vila with an innocent face.
"And when you're done with it, you do plan to give it back, right?"
"Only if they ask."
"Do they know you've borrowed it?"
"So if they don't know you borrowed it, then they won't ask you for it back, and you're not going to give it back to them?"
"I must be growing on you, you followed my logic," remarked Vila.
Argus scowled at him.
"Vila, can you see anything different about this crystal?" Jenna asked, trying to change the topic.
Vila held the crystal up to the light, and began examining it from all angles. He looked like he knew what he was doing. "It doesn't look different from any other silver crystal I've ever seen."
"Give it to ORAC to examine," said Cally. She was about to say that Avon had often used ORAC to examine the various objects they had encountered in their journeys but thought better of it. The less Avon's name was mentioned, the better, for now.
"The object is at it appears. It is a silver crystalline structure. It exhibits no unusual properties not associated with a normal silver crystal," ORAC reported.
"You see? I was right," said Vila, feeling vindicated.
"However," continued ORAC, "the sample appears to have been contaminated. There seems to be a film of powder fused into part of the crystal which does exert remarkable properties. These characteristics do not conform to any known substance I am currently aware of."
Vila lifted the crystal to the light again, trying to identify the powder ORAC was speaking about. They all leaned in to take a closer look.
"What remarkable properties are you referring to ORAC?" Argus asked.
"It appears to be able to absorb and magnify wave energy in the visual spectrum, to a degree which no current substance is capable of. You would be experiencing this effect as heat. This magnification increases exponentially as more wave energy is absorbed."
"I thought it felt warm," said Vila, "but I thought that was just because it was in my pocket. Although now that you're speaking of it, it is starting to get hot. Ow!"
Vila dropped the crystal to the ground. They all saw that part of the crystal seemed to be glowing and was getting brighter by the second.
Vila held out his hand and looked at it, they could all see a burn mark on his hand where it had touched the crystal. Cally immediately went to get the flight decks' emergency med kit and began treating the burn.
"ORAC! The crystal just burnt Vila. Is there a way to stop the heat from building?" Argus asked. "I assume it's going to keep building until it explodes?"
"Yes your assumption is correct. The crystal absorbs wave energy in the visual spectrum," instructed ORAC.
"Yes, I understand that, but how do we stop the heat from building?" Argus asked again.
"It is clear you do not understand, otherwise you would have followed my instructions," said ORAC.
"Instructions? ORAC, I'm not a physicist, explain it to me," said Argus.
"Put something on it."
Argus looked confused, but he took off his jacket and threw it over the crystal.
"I've done that ORAC. Now what?"
"The crisis has been averted," replied ORAC.
Argus asked, "ORAC, how does putting my jacket over the crystal solve the problem?"
"There is no longer any wave energy in the visual spectrum, under your jacket."
"ORAC means there is no light under your jacket Argus," explained Cally as she realized what ORAC had been trying to communicate. She was applying a dermal regenerator to Vila's burn.
"Wave energy in the visual spectrum," mused Jenna. "That means light?"
"I'm getting a headache," said Argus.
"Can I drop the headache out of the airlock now?" asked Vila helpfully.
"I might help you," Argus told him.
"This must be what the Federation is after," said Cally. "A substance like this could have all kinds of possibilities for the production of energy, and for weapons research."
"And I bet that the 'Happy Event' the miners are talking about, involved a spectacular explosion of some kind," said Jenna.
Loud explosions, Argus did understand.
"We have to stop the Federation from getting this," he told them.
"That's going to be difficult. I got the impression that they're somewhat happy that the Federation is going to make them rich beyond their wildest dreams," Vila informed them. I wish someone would offer to make me rich beyond my wildest dreams, thought the thief.
Avon sat in his cell, leaning back against the wall with his eyes closed, trying to rest. There were stabs of pain from his ruined right knee. The healing tanks had not been enough to heal it; a surgeon was required and they were not allowing that. It had been a calculated injury. He couldn't even straighten it out properly, which made sleeping and resting uncomfortable.
He knew his day was not finished yet, not when the guards put him in a seated position before they left. Exhaustion was a constant companion again, as was pain.
"Avon." His game-playing nemesis entered the cell.
"Don't you ever sleep?" Avon asked, not bothering to open his eyes.
"I worry about you."
"You think I'm going to escape again?"
"No. I need to know how much more you can take."
"Haven't you got it mapped out already?" There was a sharp cynical edge in his voice; he knew that it was Sester who was orchestrating his pain.
You're not ready for her yet, she'll be disappointed Sester thought. "There are some things even I cannot plan, you're not exactly the most cooperative person."
"Sorry to spoil your plans," Avon said. "I'll try not to do better." His tone was flat and indicated nothing at all.
Sester smiled pleasantly. "Don't worry, we'll get there."
Avon's days passed in an increasing haze of pain and exhaustion, long days in the lab and regular sessions of torture directed by the psychostrategist taxed him to the limit. Gone were the days where he had the energy to plan anything, he was left with just enough to do what they wanted and nothing more, Sester made sure of that.
His body was a mass of bruises again but this time instead of being inflicted at the whim of the guards, they were caused intentionally by the Centre interrogators and deliberately left untreated. The worst was the constant pain from his knee which was punctuated by periodic stabbing pains. Any movement tended to aggravate it; long periods of inactivity also aggravated it.
The forced conversation sessions with Sester were draining. The verbal battles with a strong and dangerous opponent while he continually got weaker, was becoming increasingly more difficult.
The strain and exhaustion was beginning to affect his performance in the lab.
"Avon." The psychostrategist seemed to be making regular visits to his cell now.
There was no response, the analyst was not just leaning against the wall, he was more collapsed against it with his eyes closed. He had just come back from another torture session. In this one, his arms were secured to his sides and he had been hung upside down and partially lowered into a pool of water. Only being partially submerged meant that as long as he had the strength, he could keep his head out of the water long enough to take a breath; but as he weakened, no matter how much he struggled, he could no longer remove his head from the water, and he drowned. Then they would put him on the ground, revive him, and allow him a few minutes of rest before stringing him back up again. They varied the depths at which they lowered him into the water to increase or decrease the difficulty. If he refused to play their game and choose to just drown, they would lift him out before he lost consciousness and beat him with rods as he hung upside down.
It was a much crueller method than the standard drowning techniques used in other Detention Centres. It was an assault on his will to live. With a bio-sensor keeping track of his blood-oxygen levels, there was never any risk of brain damage.
Avon remembered telling Dayna once that he was not particularly fond of water sports. At this moment, he positively hated them. The only thing he wanted now was the oblivion of a drug-induced sleep.
"You're work is beginning to suffer, you know she won't like that."
Still no response.
"It's time to work Avon." You're finally ready.
This was the second session in a row that the psychostrategist had to employ the implanted mind trigger to force the analyst to talk. In the previous session, the prisoner had answered in monosyllables until he was compelled to do better. Now it appeared that Avon had given up talking altogether.
The prisoner opened his eyes wearily and looked at Sester. He was very aware of the use of the trigger even though he could not hear it. He waited, beyond his control his mind began to race, he tried to focus his thoughts through the pain and exhaustion.
"You're going to have to talk to me sometime, you have no choice now."
Sester noted the increase in breath-rate and knew the conditioning was forcing the analyst to concentrate.
"You're going to have to do better Avon."
"Don't you have anything better to do?"
"You're a full time project."
"Is that what I am; it hardly seems worth your effort now." He took a deep breath, trying to clear his mind. "What kind of game are you playing now?"
"You underestimate yourself Avon. I play many games."
"And one of them involves avoiding my questions."
"You should know that game."
They looked at each other. The challenge was clear but Avon barely had enough to keep going under the pressure of the conditioning, he had nothing left with which to face a contest with Sester.
Avon looked away and closed his eyes again. "We all play games."
"She wants to see you tonight."
"Can't she sleep either or hasn't she finished playing her games?"
Sester did not answer him. "I will give you a couple of hours of sleep before you see her."
Sester released the mind trigger, "It's time to rest Avon."
The pressure eased as Avon's mind let him go. Servalan wanting to see him was never a good thing.
"Give him two hours then wake him up," Sester told the medtech who was waiting just outside the cell door.
"Is he going back to the lab?"
"No. He has an appointment tonight. Guards will come to pick him up."