"What happened?" Vila asked, his voice had raised a pitch. He was starting to panic. "What did you do?" he accused Argus who had just come onto the flight deck.
"What are you talking about Vila?" asked Argus calmly.
"Why are all the liquor dispensers not working now?"
"You think I had something to do with it?" asked Argus. He realized that Vila's paranoia over the liquor dispensers had a lot to do with him. Argus was the one who had ORAC enact protocol seventeen, which locked all the liquor dispenser codes so that Vila couldn't get access to any liquor before he went down on a mission. Vila, in his desperation at being denied alcohol, had dismantled all of the dispensers, except one, trying to get around the computer codes.
"Well?" Vila challenged.
"I didn't have anything to do with it this time," the rebel leader replied.
"Then who did?"
They all looked at each other, they shrugged and shook their heads.
"You can drink coffee like the rest of us," said Jenna.
"Tea is very calming," Cally offered.
"Tea?" asked Vila incredulously, he clearly thought this was an alien idea.
"You could ask ORAC how to fix the dispensers," added Argus.
Everyone was being very helpful today.
"ORAC?" sputtered Vila, making it sound as if this idea was the worse one so far.
The others fell silent and looked at him. They all seemed to have run out of helpful suggestions. Argus was looking very serious. Jenna and Cally…
"Wait a minute," said Vila. He had a suspicious feeling.
The three conspirators burst out laughing.
"Oh I see, I'm the comic relief now, am I?"
"Actually, all of the liquor dispensers are now working," said Cally, recovering from her fit of laughter.
"Yes, Argus fixed them," said Jenna. "He asked ORAC for instructions and it took him eight tries."
"Five," interjected Argus. "It's not as easy as ORAC made it out to be."
"But he finally got them fixed," continued Jenna.
"Well, alright then," said Vila. "It's time for a celebration."
Fixing the liquor dispensers had been Cally's idea. Playing the trick on Vila, had been Argus'. It was the first time in weeks they had done something together which did not bring any associations with the mine disaster. Since the blow-up at C-812, when their manipulation of the situation had inadvertently resulted in the miners blowing themselves and their mine up, in order to deny the Federation access to a new energy crystal, tempers onboard had been short and what conversation there had been, was brief and only added to the depressing atmosphere. It had gotten so bad that for several days, they had all stopped talking to each other.
But now things were less strained, which was good since the ship would be crossing into a war zone in one week's time. They needed to be ready.
Sester and Servalan were enjoying a drink in her private office at Residence One and were discussing the latest compromise they had forced from Avon. It had been two weeks since their combined effort had crushed their captive.
"How is he doing?" Servalan asked.
"He's being very compliant and subdued, and he's suffering from deep depression but he's working," said the psychostrategist. "I've had to use the mind trigger on him to force him to respond with his usual sarcasm, but it's very hard for him. I've had to turn down the pain from the knee implant but he still can barely seem to handle it. The interrogators tell me that it is a by-product of the depression."
"Have we finally broken him?"
"No, I don't believe so. He just doesn't know how to fight us anymore. What we did to him, it destroyed his confidence. The way he's acting now, it's as if he's in a state of shock. That's actually why I'm here, he's going to need help if he's to recover from this."
"What do you mean?"
"When you first brought me in, you asked me to build a strategy to break him, but I think we've reached the point where we need to go beyond that. Right now, if we break him any further, without allowing him time to recover, the Avon that you know, will not survive. We need to build him a place where he will want to live; and I don't think he wants to at the moment."
"Has he tried to kill himself?" Servalan asked, the concern was evident in her voice.
"No, but I believe that the only reason he doesn't, is because of the agreements. He's been tortured and abused for three years. There's not been a moment when he's been allowed to relax or have any kind of stability. He has to have daily injections into his back to prevent it from seizing up due to the stress tensions. And now we've taken away any hope that he will ever be free. It's not possible to continually do what we've been doing to him, and still expect him to function; but we're forcing him to anyways. It's only by sheer force of will that he is still able to do what we ask of him."
"You had a big part in what has happened to him. Are you saying it was a mistake?"
"No, that had to be done in order to prevent him from escaping. We had to find out what he did the two days he was gone. Unfortunately for him, his will was too strong, and there was no other way to do it. But now we've achieved it, and he's working. It's time to rethink how he is to be treated."
"You're right," said Servalan. Avon's strength of will had always attracted her. His ability to survive never ceased to amaze her and it had always been a great game trying to get the upper hand with him. She had never considered how much it was really killing him.
"After what has been done to him the past three years, it's going to be difficult to convince him that we want to help him," she remarked.
"And it's going to be even harder because this help is meant to help him accept his prison. Right now, he's completely cut himself off. We need to bring him back to a semblance of himself in order to be able to help him. "
"Very well, send him to me after he's finished with the security system."
"What are you going to do?" Sester asked suspiciously.
"Trust me. Leave him with me for a few days."
"A few days? You really need to tell me what you're going to do."
"You don't like not knowing, do you?"
Sester was annoyed. "A psych-mapping becomes much less effective if you add pieces I am not aware of."
"I will give you a briefing when I'm done with him," she told the strategist without revealing any additional information. Servalan was amused, she enjoyed getting a rise out of Sester. Psychostrategists were much too confident in themselves.
"How is his work on the new security system progressing?" she asked, changing the topic.
"He's being very slow; he doesn't really want to do this, even though he knows he has no choice. I've had some of your security specialists look over his preliminary designs today, they were very interested. They say that several of the measures are revolutionary and can't wait to see the final design when it is finished. They want to incorporate parts of it into some of the other high-level security complexes."
"He's really doing it then."
"It appears so," he told her.
"Do we need to put pressure on him to speed up his progress?"
"Not right now. We've already gained a major victory, I would like to give him time to recover from what we did to him. Servalan, you really need to tell me what you're going to do with him," Sester stressed.
A psychostrategist was only ever defeated by the lack of complete information. Other than the obvious, Sester never knew what happened when Avon was brought to Servalan at Residence One. That was the one factor that always remained a question mark in his psych-mappings.
Servalan smiled and revealed nothing.
"So when do we cross into the war zone?" asked Vila from his neutron blaster control station. The journey from C-812 had been quiet and uneventful, which was perfect for the crew. They were now all poised for action. Vila had become increasingly nervous as they neared Sector Ten.
"We've been in it for the past half hour Vila," Jenna told him.
Vila was taken aback, he hadn't expected this answer.
"Why didn't anyone tell me?" he asked her.
"There wasn't really anything interesting to tell you," she replied. "What were you expecting?"
"Well, it's a warzone isn't it?" he could afford to sound disappointed now that nothing was happening. "There should be some warships, a couple of explosions, you know, all the usual war zone things."
Of course, the only war zone Vila had personal experience with, was the alien invasion at Star One. He remembered there were lots of warships and explosions then.
"There's a reason I picked this as the entrance point to the Sector," Argus told him. "Rane told us that this isn't an active part of the warzone at the moment so it's the safest place to enter into Athol space."
"Why you didn't tell me? You let me worry…I mean be poised for action…when you knew nothing was going to happen?" Vila asked.
"Actually I did," Argus told him. "During the briefing yesterday."
"Oh that," said Vila, embarrassed. He hadn't paid that much attention during the meeting.
Argus smiled inwardly, he knew that Vila had not been paying attention during the meeting, just as he knew that this was the source of Vila's stress for the past few hours. He had deliberately chosen not relieve the little thief's mind and the others had followed suit. They needed a Vila who was a bit more reliable than he was currently, but Argus knew it would take a long time to get him to that point.
"That's impressive flying Jenna," said Olean Rane. He was appearing on the main vidscreen on the flight deck of the Justice. "You managed to make it all the way here without encountering a single patrol?"
"Having an anti-detector screen helps," she told him.
"I could do with a few of those," Rane said. "Do you think Avon can fit us with some?"
"He's not here," Jenna told him. The tone in her voice was harsh.
Rane looked puzzled. The last time they had talked, Rane had lent twenty of the Athol Elite Guard to the Justice crew in order to rescue Avon from the hands of the Federation.
"It appears you have a lot to tell me," said Rane. "I'm sending you the coordinates. Let's talk when you get here. Rane out."
An hour later, the crew were gathered in the teleport room. Jenna, Cally and Argus were standing on the teleport pad, ready to go down to the coordinates which Olean Rane had given them. Vila was sitting at the teleport control panel.
"Send us down Vila. We'll report in at the same time tomorrow," Argus told Vila.
Vila's hand poised over the teleport controls. He hesitated.
"What's wrong Vila?" asked Cally.
"You aren't going to have ORAC lock all the liquor dispenser codes again are you?" Vila asked Argus suspiciously.
"I told you that I wouldn't," Argus replied, "and I always keep my word. Now send us down."
"Alright, but if you lock them, I'm not bringing you back up again. Cally and Jenna maybe but you could rot down there."
Argus grinned, "Now Vila."
Vila pressed the control and the three shimmered out of view.
After the three disappeared, Vila went back to the flight deck.
"Zen, I want a course to the Athol moon."
"Course plotted. State speed."
"Speed standard by six."
Vila immediately went to the eating area and tried out one of the alcohol dispensers. He breathed a sigh of relief as the welcome green liquid poured into his glass.
He took a drink from the glass.
"Hmm," he said, puzzled. He took another drink.
Doesn't quite taste the same, he thought to himself. He went to check all of the other liquor dispensers in turn. Each yielded the same result. He was getting a suspicious feeling again. Vila filled a decanter and went back up to the flight deck to consult ORAC.
Vila turned on the transmitter. "ORAC, command code gamma two delta three six four."
"Yes, what is it?" asked ORAC with an annoyed tone. "Must you always take up my time with frivolous requests?"
"This is not frivolous ORAC, this is very important. Something is wrong with the liquor dispensers. It doesn't taste the same."
"That is because protocol eighteen is now effect."
"Yes, the alcohol content of the liquid, currently obtainable from the alcohol dispensers, is .1 percent."
"Oh I'm going to KILL him!", said Vila. "I told you that I wouldn't, Vila! I always keep my word, Vila! Now send us down, Vila! Well he doesn't know who he's messing with, right ORAC?"
"It is obvious that he does," the computer told him.
"Oh shut up, ORAC," said Vila irritably. "Well, I keep my word too. If he thinks, I'm going to teleport him back up, he's going to get a big surprise."
"There is a message to be relayed to you as part of protocol eighteen," said ORAC. "Argus says to tell you that Zen has coded orders to make the rendezvous over Athol Prime tomorrow and to remind you that only he and Jenna can fly the ship on manual."
"Of all the two-timing, underhanded, despicable…we'll see about that," said Vila angrily.