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Thugs threw Avon against the wall again, knocking the breath out of him. They turned him around and held him against it as they punched him with their fists.
Even though these rebels wore assorted civilian clothing, there was no mistaking the marks of Federation military on them, they could not fool him. This group was good at inflicting pain, but not as efficient as the interrogators of the Special Detention Centre. He could feel one of his ribs crack, it was easy to do considering his ribs were always in various stages of healing. There did not appear to be a medtech nearby.
This group was emotional, out of control and thus easily triggered.
Instead of using hypnovisions, you're trying to fool me with fake rebels?
They released him; he crumpled to the floor and lay coughing and bleeding.
"Tell us what we want to know!" one of them demanded.
"Did they run out of the intelligent thugs?" he asked.
For some reason that made them angrier, they took turns kicking him.
The ones administering the beating were just thugs. There was no subtlety, no plan of attack; their only goal seemed to be to beat him into submission, this was something which the Centre interrogators had realized early on would never work on him. Were they trying to fool him by pretending not to know this?
He was barely conscious when he heard other voices shouting.
'Stop, that's an order!"
'Stop. What do you think you are doing?"
One of the voices sounded like Jenna's. Another was from a man he had identified as Argus. He seemed to be the leader of the group.
A man in civilian clothes bent down and checked him. Medtech; there is always one.
"Get out of here! Now! I'll deal with all of you later, " Argus commanded the amateur torturers, they all filed out.
"You were supposed to guard the door and not let anyone in here, " Jenna was berating the man who was standing guard by the door. " Go. And send Vila in."
"How is he doctor?" asked Argus.
"Any more like this and you won't need me anymore." His meaning was very clear.
Terrible torturers, good acting. Guess they couldn't find ones that could do both.
They lifted Avon back onto the bed and secured him to it again. He moaned, every movement brought fresh pain.
"Do the best you can doctor."
Jenna and Argus moved off to the corner to allow him Dr. Alberay to work.
"This cannot happen again, " Jenna said angrily.
"I agree, " Argus told her. "I'll contact the 624 Ameras Group to take over here the moment it's safe. We'll take turns watching him until they get here; you, me, Vila, Tess, and Doctor Alberay."
A bunch of incompetents. Servalan was angry, increasingly angry. The next person had better have good news.
A glitch in the scheduling computer of the busy East Euro Space Port had resulted in at least two dozen freight and civilian transports being released without special security sweeps being conducted over the last standard week. It had been gradual and intermittent, else it would have been spotted earlier. There were now numerous reports of the rebels they were after, being spotted in several adjacent sectors. With Federation security sweeps producing no results on Earth, the likelihood was that they had already escaped off world.
Could it be Avon breaking into the Federation computers? But that was not possible. Avon would not be in good enough shape to do this, not this soon.
Damn. The thoughts that the rebels may have this capability was troubling. She had ordered Central Security to investigate thoroughly and kill anyone they found.
As if that was not bad enough, she had just received word from Tarvin of Central Security that the tracer implanted in Vila had malfunctioned. They would not be able to track the rebels that way either.
The vidcomm buzzed. It was her aide, Corry.
"What is it?" Servalan asked menacingly.
Her aide was used to her moods and was not phased. 'Science Commander Latham from Department Four of Medical Research for you Madame President, " he informed her.
"Patch him through."
A man dressed in a regular white lab coat with stripes on the collar indicating his rank, appeared on the screen.
"Madame President. I have wonderful news."
That's fortunate for you.
Latham was an annoyingly naïve scientist who had the enthusiasm of a school boy. If he had not been brilliant in his field and attracted Servalan's attention early on in his career he would never have survived in the Federation ranks. Only Servalan's patronage and protection prevented less competent but more ruthless underlings from climbing over him. He had been placed in charge of the research for the new techno-virus.
"That's nice Science Commander. I am very busy now, what is your news?" No need to encourage him.
"I am sending a coded burst report directly to your terminal. We've had fantastic results with the new item, it exceeds all expectations."
"How programmable is it?"
"That is the current focus of our research but it is more than ready as a substitute for P-50 now."
This was excellent news.
"Good, I am pleased. You have done well Latham." The scientist blushed at the compliment, "Commissioner Bavis of the Cooperation Project will be in touch with you to coordinate deployment."
"Yes, Madame President."
Servalan ended the communication, she knew the perfect place to use it, the troublesome Sector Ten. With the Terra Nostra cutting off the head and the techno-virus taking care of the body, another sector would be embraced into the Federation empire soon.
After ordering her aide to get in touch with Commissioner Bavis, she read the burst report from Latham. A smile lit up her face as she started planning the use of her new bio-weapon.
Avon returned to consciousness but did not open his eyes. The ever present pain was still there but there were also new sensations. He was still tired, but more rested than he had been in almost a year. The drugs were almost gone from his system; for the first time he could concentrate without struggling. In some ways this was more disturbing; he had to analyze this new development.
It was much easier to allow him to recover physically and work on him mentally and psychologically using the hypno-visions and drugs. The drugs had to disorient him enough to make the visions work. By keeping him drugged at all times, they had been able to manipulate and control his reality to a certain extent but in clearing his system of drugs, they could not confuse his mind enough to make the visions real, particularly with a mind as strong as his was. This was why they had always kept varying levels of drugs in his system.
They had the ability to force simulated memories into his mind and implant emotions; but they could not simulate a mind constantly questioning or calculating, nor could they override a natural tendency towards paranoia. And forcing emotions into someone as normally emotionally cold as he was did not work as well as it did on others. In addition, the drugs made it difficult for the kind of concentration it required to be himself, which was why he had been able to resist the illusions for so long.
They appeared to be trying the opposite strategy now. His mind was clear and he was analyzing.
Physically he was still a mess and very weak. He guessed that they had not been using the healing tanks. It made sense that they would allow him to recover mentally but not physically. It was too dangerous to allow both, at least until they were sure he believed their simulation.
This was a new game; Sester was obviously confident he could beat him on an intellectual level. They would simulate reality by using a controlled reality. In order to beat him, Sester would have to risk a level of authenticity which would be dangerous. Avon smiled, it was a dangerous gamble for them. They wanted to fool him into leading them to ORAC; and he needed them in order to get to ORAC so he could escape, without giving them access to it.
There was one other possible scenario; that they had already succeeded in conditioning him. If that was true, then they had won and he was just going through the motions but would they go to this much trouble if they had? He did have one failsafe, he would have to be very careful. Would they risk allowing him access to the real ORAC or would they use a fake? The failsafe would reveal the truth.
Avon decided to continue his charade of mental confusion. That would frustrate Sester; the strategist would have no choice except to violate or abandon the scenario in order to change the condition Avon had set. In the meantime, it gave Avon time to test the level of reality they were risking. If he was satisfied it was enough for his purposes, then he would start leading them.
This is going to be an interesting game.
Avon opened his eyes and looked around. He was in an underground location. The bed he was lying on had a wooden frame. Quaint. His hands were manacled to posts on either side of the bed. He sighed. He missed freedom of movement.
His clothes had been changed at some point, instead of prison grey coveralls, he was wearing a loose brown shirt and black pants. He could still feel the cuts that the lashes had left on his back from the final torture session before this scenario began. His right shoulder was painfully tender. Shifting his left hand, he winced, the restraints were too tight and his wrists had never been allow to heal. Breathing was painful, but that was nothing new; torturers universally seemed to like breaking ribs. He knew that the internal injuries were still serious and would take even longer to heal than his external ones.
He turned his head to look around, next to the bed seated in a chair sat Vila. The thief was leaning back, asleep. At least they got that right, it was useless having Vila guard anything. Real or otherwise.
The real Vila was dead. He had seen him fall as a Federation pulse rifle blast hit him in the back. Avon shook his head at the memory, the movement triggered a fit of coughing.
"Avon. You're awake."
"Observant as usual Vila."
"How are you feeling?"
"Do you want some water?"
There was a jug of water on a table next to the bed; Vila filled a glass. Avon found that he was too weak to move on his own, as he suspected; every movement was painful. In the end they settled for Vila holding his head up so he could take a sip from the glass.
The effort of even that simple movement exhausted him. He closed his eyes and rested.
Without opening his eyes, Avon replied, "Do I look like I'm resting?"
"Yes. Oh right, sorry."
Vila sat back on the chair. He was confused and his head was starting to hurt again.
Interacting with Avon, they had back slipped into their familiar adversarial banter. It was as if the past year had not occurred. Betrayer!
Well it did and he's going to answer some questions next time. Vila was resolved.
Avon was also resolved, this was the first time there was a glimmer of a chance that he might regain his freedom.