"As I had calculated, the rebels have made contact with Professor Tarkson," Sester reported to Servalan on the vidscreen in Tarvin's office, he was at Central Security HQ on Earth.
Federation Security had begun to compile a list of this group of rebels from the recent burst report sent by the ASP computer virus. Dr Alberay had been on that list.
"You are sure we can trust him?"
"He knows what will happen to his family if he does not do what we ask and by now he will have first-hand evidence what can be done to those whom the Federation are not pleased with."
"He knows what he has to do?"
"Yes, he is one of the best in his field and with the additional information we have given him regarding the patient's treatments, he should have a good chance of achieving what you want."
"This is risky Sester, you had better be right. The rebels must not be allowed to gain the item." The warning in her voice was unmistakable.
"I understand Madame President. Using people from his past is the best way to break through. They will be able to convince him in a way no drugs or hypno-therapy would ever have been able to. We know that the item is still on the planet and the Federation controls the planet now. The rebels will have no chance to get to it before your security forces do."
"Make sure that they don't." She closed the vidlink from her end.
Time to double-check alternate plans. Sester trusted his own strategy, but when one worked for the Federation, and in particular Servalan, it was unwise not to have contingency arrangements; he did not want to be another Avon.
The greatest enemy to a psychostrategist was the lack of complete information. Sester knew he had not been given all the facts, he was sure of that now.
Though Servalan was angry at the breaches in security which had enabled the rebels to free Avon and rescue Argus, she recognized that it might prove to be more useful in the long run.
She knew Avon and she knew what had been done to him by the Centre's specialists. A man who did not trust, would now be paranoid to the point of psychosis. His first objective would be to escape; the rebels should be capable enough to prevent that with Tarkson's input. The analyst's normal overriding motivations for freedom, independence and security would be intensified to the extreme; the only way to ensure that was to get access to ORAC and in his condition, Avon would use the rebels but would make sure they never got it ORAC, he would be the Federation's greatest ally in that respect. She had not needed Sester's assessment to tell her that.
With that knowledge, the presence of the ASP virus, the "cooperation" of Professor Tarkson, and Federation control over Gauda Prime, they were still very much in control of the situation. The days of this rebel faction were numbered. They would be destroyed once Servalan acquired ORAC.
If only we could be partners and not deadly enemies Avon.
With a dangerous man like him working against her enemies, she could achieve anything but Servalan was never one for sentiment, Avon had to die after they got ORAC.
The only way to ensure his death was to kill him herself. In the past she had relied on others to do that, or had put him in impossible situations which would neutralize him forever, but he had always escaped. Each time, she had been angry, but also pleased. A world without Avon would be much less interesting but not this time; this time would be the final time.
The new Biliaran techno-virus was being readied for use on the first target planet in Sector Ten. A team of psychostrategists had drawn up a detailed strategy and a top Terra Nostra assassin had been dispatched to the warlord territories for a special task which would help destabilize the entire region.
It was hard to believe that three short months ago things had seemed to be spiraling into a black hole. Her plans were now coming to fruition.
Avon was able to walk without aid now, slowly and painfully. He was easily tired but he was mobile, it was a big step; he had not been able to do that in along time. Most of his external injuries and the breaks had healed. The internal ones were progressing much more slowly. The medtech had done little to speed the process; it was a wise move on their part.
They still kept him in restraints but the manacles were now attached in front. Most of his time was controlled or monitored but when he was allowed to rest, they left him alone. The chamber where they left him to rest appeared to be an old vault, it was secured from the outside. He had no doubt there was always at least one guard present on the other side of the door but at least he was left alone.
There were no monitoring devices inside the cell, that was the first thing he checked each time they left him to sleep. The locking mechanism on the door was an old-fashioned, non-electronic bolt on the other side, no scope for his talents.
He had been practicing some of the exercises Cally had taught him on the Liberator. Working through the pain, he was starting to regain strength and increased range of motion. He did not give any indication of that to his captors, from their viewpoint, his recovery was painfully slow.
He tired easily, it was clearly caused by the medication the medtech injected into him every day. His mind was clear though, that was his greatest asset, and would be their undoing. There was one troubling thing, the psych drugs had long gone from his system, but he was still suffering from intense nightmares.
'Jenna' and 'Vila' spent the most time with him. They were trying to establish the 'old' relationships, trying to push him towards the time when they could persuade him to lead them to ORAC, their tactics were obvious.
Avon had been observing, biding his time. He had deliberately not asked any questions which would make it apparent he could see through the simulation. It would have been easy, but it would not serve his purposes.
He had been careful to not show any interest in the computers or machines in the areas they gave him entry to. But in reality he was very aware. In particular he had noticed the computer hand-units some of the rebels carried; his next goal was to see one closer up. Even though he had expressed no interest, they were always careful not to allow him access to any piece of technology.
Human beings were fallible, that was the one irrefutable fact.
In particular he wanted access to the unit, the rebel he had identified as Tess, was in possession of. The other units could have been fakes to fool him when they finally trusted him enough to grant him access. But he had been surreptitiously watching Tess using her unit. From what he observed the odds were that her unit was real and had real access. Tess appeared to be the group's computer expert; some techs could not stand being cut off from the network, if that was true, it was the mistake he was looking for.
He would have to get to know her but he would not initiate anything, he could wait. ORAC was safe where it was.
When Blake and his crew were at the shadow planet Zondor, aliens had succeeded in controlling ORAC using transdimensional communication waves. Avon had put in special security measures to prevent it from ever happening again. In his study of ORAC at the time, he had also discovered something very useful, something which he had never felt the need to tell the others; he had discovered ORAC's command code and command frequency.
Every computer had a command code which, when activated, would cause it to only respond to the source. Despite Ensor's arrogance that ORAC was much more than a computer, he had still built in this contingency. But as added security, when accessed remotely, ORAC's command code could only be used on the special frequency.
On Gauda Prime, before he and the Scorpio group entered the underground silo, Avon had made emergency plans. When their ship had been attacked without warning the moment they entered planetary orbit, Avon had surmised they had arrived into a trap. Whether it was a trap for them or not had remained to be seen. He had hidden ORAC and used the command code to leave specific instructions in case they were captured. In a worse case scenario he had also made additional plans.
Avon had been living the worse case scenario. From this band of "rebels" he discovered that it had been eleven months since that fateful day on Gauda Prime. Eleven months of Federation generosity.
He was tired and he wanted it to be over, he wanted to be free.
Since he had activated the command code, ORAC would no longer respond to anyone else, except him. Even if someone accidently stumbled on ORAC, which was highly unlikely, it would be of no use to them. Even if they had the command code, control was locked on the first source to use it. That was him, until he released it.
To gain his freedom, he needed ORAC's help and in order to get that, he needed access to the real Federation computer and communications network.
There was one other item he was missing, ORAC's activator key; the small control box. Without it he could only access ORAC indirectly using the command frequency. Servalan had the key in her possession; she had taken it from him after he had been shot and taken on Gauda Prime. He would deal with that when the time came and he would deal with her.
Avon finished his exercises and sat back on the bed resting against the wall. The pain was bearable but because of the drugs, the exertion always left him exhausted. He closed his eyes.
He could hear the bolt to the door being pushed back. The door opened and Vila entered the cell.
"How would you like a walk on the roof today?" Vila asked.
"Do I have a choice?"
"You could rot in here, " Vila shrugged. He noted that Avon looked tired and strained. He must still be in pain.
"Well, since you make it sound so appealing."
Vila helped him up from the bed. Two rebel guards followed them as Avon made his way slowly. They stopped at the foot of the stairs going to the roof. Vila looked up the long, winding flight of stairs leading upwards and then at Avon who was leaning against the wall, breathing heavily, as if he had been running. He knew that the guards had no interest in helping Avon. They were only there to ensure he never had a chance to escape.
"Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."
"Really." The single word was said without emotion but he still managed to convey clear sarcasm. Avon could have told him it was not a good idea before they left his cell but he never volunteered information and definitely not when he had something to gain.
He was slowly getting a better layout of the building they were in as they began expanding the areas they allowed him access to.
"Let's go back to the hall, " Vila said.
Back in the eating area, Vila settled for bringing two chairs up one of the windows so they could look outside. The guards sat at a table nearby.
The thief and the analyst sat in silence looking out. The room was empty except for Vila, Avon and their escort. This side of the building overlooked what must have once been a courtyard. It was full of rubble from the surrounding ruined buildings.
"Do you remember Gauda Prime, Avon?"
This was a frequent question that Vila and Jenna asked him. Avon could not quite figure out why. The real Vila would know what happened.
Why do they keep asking me this? This was a mystery; was it an attempt at conditioning? He had to solve this.
Vila was shocked, he had not expected this answer. This was the first time Avon acknowledged remembering Gauda Prime. He wondered if he should go get Jenna or Argus but instead he asked, "Do you remember what happened?" Vila's headache was starting up again.
"Of course. Don't you?"
"Why did you kill Blake, Avon?" the question came out in a hurry, before Vila had a chance to think about the consequences.
I hope this is a good idea. Jenna and Argus are not going to be happy, I don't like angry people, especially when they're angry at me. Vila's head was pounding now. He felt strange, as if his mind wasn't attached to his body.
"You know why Vila, " Avon replied emotionlessly. He stared at the thief. The real Vila would know.
How much did Servalan's people know about what happened on Gauda Prime?
Avon could remember Servalan's boast the last time she tortured him.
Everyone knows what happened on Gauda Prime, my version. I was very creative. It wasn't much of a stretch to plant rumors that you were well paid for Blake's death and betraying the Scorpio crew.
Avon looked back towards the window and sighed.
"Is that why I have been receiving such generous hospitality?" he smiled sarcastically lifting his manacled hands.
In deciding to deal with the events at Gauda Prime, Avon had made his next move. He knew it was a calculated risk. Sester could not control when the key events were to occur but Avon could force the events to happen when he chose and with whom.
He had waited for the opportunity to be alone with Vila again. Of all the ones in the simulation who had direct communication with him, Vila was the most vulnerable. Their Vila was very much like the Vila he knew.
Vila was confused, when Avon had looked at him and said, "You know why." Vila had the distinct impression that there was a much deeper meaning being implied. Was he imagining it? His headache had returned full force, he really wished Jenna and Argus were there.
"Yes, you betrayed all of us Avon and you killed Blake." Vila was angry.
"Yes, I killed Blake." A flash of something crossed Avon's face, but it disappeared so quick that Vila couldn't quite make out what it was. Pain? Regret? Anger? Guilt? No it couldn't be guilt, guilt was alien to Avon.
"Why did you do it Avon?"
Avon decided it was time for a little more truth. How long will Servalan allow you to live if you knew the truth Sester?
"You know why Vila, " he repeated. As he continued his narration, the events on Gauda Prime replayed in his mind.
"Blake made a mistake. He played a dangerous game when he pretended to Tarrant that he had sold out to the Federation and was working for them. Because of that, Tarrant told me that Blake had sold us out. I killed Blake before he had a chance to explain. By the time we knew the truth, it was already too late."
He closed his eyes as he remembered firing the shots which killed Blake. He felt the pain of each blast, even though it was Blake who was shot. Strange. The madness had claimed him then.
"You should remember Vila, you were there."
Standing over Blake's body protectively, Avon had been prepared to die as he raised his rifle to fire at the Federation troops who had surrounded him; but it had all been a trap. He had already been struck by a pulse rifle bolt when Servalan's personal troops rushed in without warning and killed all of the Federation forces. As he lay dying, Avon remembered Servalan kneeling by him, demanding to know where ORAC was before he passed out. That had started an eleven month nightmare and it was not over yet.
"Stop!" Vila shouted at Avon. The thief held his head in his hands, the headache was now unbearable. The pain had increased exponentially as Avon spun his version of what happened at Gauda Prime. He grabbed Avon by the shoulder and threw him to the ground. "Lies! You betrayed us! You're a traitor! You tried to kill me! Throw me out of the airlock! Traitor!" He started kicking Avon who was still lying on the ground.
This was not the reaction I was expecting Avon thought. Other than raising his hands to protect his head, Avon did not offer any resistance.
The guards did not stop Vila, they were shocked. Vila was acting crazed, out of control as he kicked the defenseless prisoner. They were unsure as to what they should do, they knew Vila was one of the key people entrusted with handling Avon. Even though they were not as blood-thirsty as the other ex-military groups, 624 had no interest in helping Blake's murderer.
"Stop him!" Dr Alberay had burst into the room and commanded the guards. The noise had caught his attention and he had come to investigate. The guards grabbed Vila arms and tried to pull him away from Avon. The thief tried to punch them, flailing blindly, getting in a few good strikes. He kept shouting. "Traitor!" "Betrayer!" Even as he attacked the guards. He was like a man possessed, the guards could barely contain him, at that point, the doctor applied an anaesthetic patch.
"What happened?" Alberay asked the guards as he bent down to examine Avon. Multiple bruises and a fractured rib, more internal injuries; this would set back the patient's recovery by a couple of weeks at least.
"They were talking and then all of a sudden, Vila went berserk and started attacking him."
The doctor told one of the guards to inform Argus and Jenna. What puzzled him was Vila, the look in the thief's eyes before being tranquilized was that of someone who had lost control.
Dr. Alberay had been concerned about Vila's headaches. When Vila had first come to him complaining of headaches, he had not found a physical cause for them. There did not appear to be any internal or external source which could explain the pain. The doctor had attributed it to stress but no ordinary stressor would cause the out-of-character and out-of-control behavior which had just occurred, something was definitely wrong.