"Are you going to tell us the truth now?" Tarkson asked. His voice sounded hollow in the bare cell. Avon had been helped to a sitting position on the bed, the professor was seated on a chair next to him and Argus and Jenna were seated off to the side.
"I don't know what you mean."
"The truth about what happened on Gauda Prime, or have you conveniently forgotten again."
Avon stared at him impassively. Tarkson did not budge, it was clear he did not believed the pretense any longer.
"Are you going to try to beat it out of me if I don't?" his tone was clearly a challenge.
"I will," Argus threatened, moving forward. Jenna restrained him and Tarkson held up a hand to wave him back.
Avon smiled. So predictable.
Avon appreciated the depth and complexity of the simulation being used against him. Either Servalan trusted all of the people involved in the simulation, which was highly unlikely, or they were all slated for an untimely demise soon after she got what she wanted.
Jenna asked, "Avon, we need to know what happened. What is happening to Vila, you recognize it as well as I do. The Federation has done something to his mind, like they did with Blake's. Tell us what happened."
"Well now, all you had to do was ask."
He began, his voice barely went beyond a monotone, emphasizing a point without emotion and only with the controlled modulation of his voice. His face was expressionless. Jenna remembered this Avon well, the Avon she never trusted.
"The rebel alliance needed a new figurehead after Zukor betrayed us at the Xenon summit conference. I had asked ORAC to locate Blake, it found him working as a bounty hunter on Gauda Prime. We went there looking for Blake but the moment we entered orbit, we were attacked and the Scorpio crash landed on the planet. It was clear we had fallen into a trap. Vila, Dayna, Soolin and I teleported out. Tarrant crashed with the ship but was later rescued by Blake. The rest of us followed a flyer to an underground silo where we met up with Tarrant. Tarrant told us that Blake had betrayed us." Avon stopped, he had a faraway look. "I killed Blake."
"You expect us to believe that Blake betrayed you and that is why you killed him?" Argus asked incredulously, he had enough.
"You're lying." Jenna accused Avon, she knew it was a lie, that was not why Blake was on Gauda Prime.
"Yes, there was a lie but it is not mine. Blake had been playing a dangerous game on Gauda Prime. He was recruiting rebel fighters and testing them by pretending to be working with the Federation. That is what he did with Tarrant that was why Tarrant believed he had betrayed us."
At this explanation, Jenna had a sinking feeling. She and Deva had warned Blake time and again that what he was doing was dangerous, that he was taking unnecessary risks by insisting on personally testing each potential recruit. Against her better instincts, she was beginning to entertain a disturbing thought.
"Didn't you ask him to explain?" Jenna asked.
"I asked but I didn't give him enough time to explain. By the time we found out the truth, it was too late, Blake was dead. Federation soldiers arrived and killed the crew. I was hit by a pulse rifle blast, but Servalan's personal troops came in and killed the Federation troops. I lost consciousness. I've been enjoying Federation hospitality ever since." There it was, the information that would seal the fates of everyone in the room.
"What did they want with you?"
The key word was out. There was no going back.
"Jenna, don't tell me you believe any of this." Argus still did not believe Avon, and he had not liked what he was starting to hear in Jenna's voice. All of his instincts were telling him that there was something else going on. The ex-Federation commander did not like being manipulated and he recognized that Avon was much too clever.
"Let's discuss this outside," he told them all.
They filed out and closed the door behind them, leaving Avon locked in.
Jenna turned to Argus. "Argus, I have more reason to hate him than any of you, more reason not to trust him but something is wrong. You saw how Vila acted during the session. I"ve seen it before, that happened to Blake years ago. What Professor Tarkson said makes sense. And unfortunately, Avon was right, Blake took too many unnecessary risks, the game he played to test loyalties, it was much too dangerous. I warned him many times and we have all seen what the Federation did to Avon, the torture, we've seen the marks on him and we know what they tried to do to his mind."
"Are you saying that you believe him now, that you trust him?" It was clear to Argus that her opinions about Avon were in the process of changing.
"I don't trust him, I never have but I think we need to take a look at this seriously. We don't want to make a mistake. What do you think Professor?"
"You're asking me for an assessment?"
"It is very clear that something happened at Gauda Prime which someone does not want revealed. As a result, false memories were implanted into Vila and memory-blocks placed to prevent him from remembering the truth. The same thing was not done with Avon because there was vital information they wanted which they did not want to risk losing. They doubtless never thought that he would ever escape, and probably planned to kill him once they obtained the information they wanted. It is my assessment that Avon's account of events is most likely the true one."
"Then he did not betray Blake?" Jenna asked.
"I do not believe so but he did kill him."
"Argus?" Jenna looked at the rebel leader.
"I do not believe it, he is highly intelligent and it is not beyond him to manipulate the situation but I do think something is going on." Argus's interaction with Avon the past few weeks had left him the impression of an extremely dangerous man. His instincts told him that the man could never be trusted. His military training told him that you do not give a dangerous enemy the chance to gain the upper hand.
"What about Vila? Someone has obviously tampered with his mind to make us believe something which may not be true."
"That still remains to be proven."
"What are we going to do?"
"Our primary goal still remains the same."
"You're right, we need to get ORAC. Argus, if Avon is telling the truth, it will be hard to convince everyone else. The stories of Avon's betrayal are widespread throughout all the systems, they are too entrenched."
"If it is true but regardless he still did kill Blake."
She nodded. Yes, he did kill Blake. How could I have forgotten that so soon. Avon, that is a mistake you can never undo.
"Let's see if he remembers where ORAC is." Argus unlocked the door.
As they re-entered the cell, Avon had not changed position. He knew they would return; he had been waiting. There was one question they still had to ask.
He could see the varying degrees of belief quite clearly in the way they looked at him. Jenna was conflicted but was leaning towards believing him, Argus clearly did not, and Tarkson, Avon could not tell. Something about the professor made him uneasy.
"Where is ORAC, Avon?" It was Jenna who asked the question.
"Do you believe me?"
"You know me well enough to know that I do not trust you."
"That is not what I asked."
"Where is ORAC?" Argus stepped in, he had no intention of allowing Avon to control the situation and deflect them from their task.
Avon looked at the senior rebel leader.
"Do I take it that your belief is predicated on my giving you ORAC?"
They did not answer him.
"I know that you intend to have me executed once you get what you want.
"Who told you that?" Jenna was shocked that someone would have leaked that information to Avon.
You are far too clever. Argus thought.
"It was not hard to deduce. You could hardly do anything else."
"Tell us where ORAC is," Argus told Avon. This time it was not a question, it was a demand.
Avon stared at Argus and enunciating every word very deliberately, "I don't remember." Argus moved forward swiftly and without warning punched him in the jaw. None of them had a chance to react to stop him.
"Argus!" Jenna cried out.
Dispassionately Avon wiped the blood flowing down from a cut lip with the back of his hand.
Again predictable. His response had been carefully calculated to provoke this kind of reaction.
"Do you think you can do a better job of torturing me than the Federation?" Avon asked. "Don't pit yourself against me Argus, you won't win."
"Avon," Jenna called his attention. Avon turned his head towards her. "Part of me does believe you but as you've said, I"ve never trusted you. For your own sake help me to believe you."
Avon did not answer her, he was waiting. To be effective, the next progression had to originate from them; he had already said as much as he was going to.
"I'm tired of this, Jenna," Argus said impatiently. "We all know that he knows, he's just refusing to tell us. We need to employ more effective means." Argus had enough of the patient approach, especially when his instincts were telling him that they were all being manipulated.
He grabbed Avon, pulled him off the bed and shoved him into a chair. He removed the manacles and connected Avon's hands behind him to the chair. "Get the pain rod that was picked up from the Detention Centre."
"Argus are you sure this is the right thing to do?" Jenna tried to dissuade him.
"He's been manipulating us Jenna. How many times have you warned me that he's dangerous?" Ealen came in with the rod and handed it to Argus.
"This looks familiar." Avon remarked to no one in particular.
"Yes, and if you don't tell us where ORAC is, you will feel how familiar." Argus told him angrily.
"For once, I"d like to see some creativity but I don't suppose that's a requirement for your position."
Argus turned the rod to maximum and applied it to Avon's body. Avon screamed and arched against the chair as the pain passed through his body, it was so unexpectedly intense that he could barely breathe. He could feel his mind slowly lose consciousness when the rod was removed.
Avon did not relish the risk he was taking, it was a calculated gamble. He hoped that he had not overestimated Professor Tarkson's intelligence else he was in for a long period of discomfort.
"You cannot conveniently forget Avon, not anymore." Argus touched him with the activated rod again. Using the top pain setting from the beginning indicated his inexperience with torture.
"It was hardly convenient," Avon managed a strangled reply after Argus lifted the instrument.
"Hold it Argus," said Professor Tarkson, putting his hand on Argus's arm to stop him. He addressed Avon when Argus complied.
"You said that you do not remember."
Avon looked at the professor dispassionately and did not reply.
"You did not say that you don't know."
Again Avon only responded by staring at him.
"And you said that it was not convenient that you did not remember."
"Correct." Avon finally broke his silence, Tarkson was not going to disappoint him.
"It was deliberate?"
Sometimes talking to Avon is like trying to talk to ORAC Jenna thought.
"I don't understand," Argus told the professor. "What is this?" Argus had never had much time for psych specialists and Tarkson was getting on his nerves. He didn't realize it but he shared the same opinion about the good professor as Avon did. There was something about this man he could not quite pin down, something hidden.
"It's called active forgetting, an advanced mental technique in which the subject deliberately forgets specific information to the point that he can no longer access the information consciously himself. I think Avon may have used this method in order to prevent the Federation from getting the information they wanted. I have been wondering about this. The Federation is too good at the arts of persuasion. With the drugs and techniques at their disposal, to hold out as long as he has without giving them what they want is not possible." He turned to Avon and asked,"Am I correct?"
Again Avon did not answer.
Argus shook his head. "This is too convenient."
The professor stressed, "It's the only thing which explains how he was able to survive so long under their best specialists without breaking."
Argus was clearly unconvinced.
"Servalan was obsessed with finding ORAC," Avon began to explain. They all turned their heads towards him. "She put the Centre's best specialists on the task. As you said, they are masters at the arts of persuasion. They worked on me until my heart gave out then they would bring me around, fill me with drugs and begin again. The first couple of months, they killed me so many times, I lost count but the worst was what they called the mind-torture and the psych-torture cycles. From Blake and Vila, you are familiar with some of the methods, but these were much more advanced. After awhile, I could barely distinguish between reality and the hypnotic visions they were forcing into me."
I still may not be able to Avon thought.
"The professor is correct, I knew I could not hold out indefinitely. So I tried to forget the information they wanted. After awhile, I found that I could no longer remember."
Avon fell silent, waiting for their reaction. What he told them was completely plausible, it also had the advantage of being partially true.
"Is this really possible?" Jenna asked the professor.
"I have never seen it personally but I have heard rumours of such techniques being used by deep-cover agents in the Federation but usually these kinds of techniques require advanced mental training by those experienced in the field."
"So it's not possible for someone not trained," Argus insisted on being the voice of reason.
"I didn't quite say that, I said usually. I have examined Avon extensively over the past month. His mind is unusually strong, as established by his ability to resist the methods the Federation used on him. A lesser mind would have shut down long ago. It is just possible that he was able to achieve such a state out of sheer desperation. The disorientation and alienation tactics they used may have facilitated something they did not expect."
"You are saying that the information is no longer accessible?" Jenna asked.
"From what I know about this topic, it is likely that he left himself a trigger so that he could access the information when it was safe to do so. For Federation agents, this is most likely a command code or phrase, known only to their handlers. But in this case, I do not believe that it would be a conscious trigger, that would have also left the information vulnerable."
"Then what would it be? And how do we find out if this is true?"
"That I don't know, I do not have enough data. To find out if it is true, we will need to break through Vila's conditioning so that he can either verify or refute Avon's story" He turned to Avon and asked. "Is there a trigger?"
"Yes but as you said, it is not a conscious one. It is related to having access to a computer and communications network."
"You're not seriously expecting us to give you access to the Federation CompComm network?" Argus asked. Avon had nerve and was playing them for fools.
"You have a way to contact ORAC?" Jenna asked as it dawned on her what Avon had been saying.
Avon ignored Argus and answered Jenna,"Indirectly, I left instructions for ORAC to monitor all Federation communications traffic it had access to without the cipher unit."
"You can give us the instructions and we can have Tess contact ORAC." Jenna suggested.
"You can but it would be no use to you, ORAC cannot tell you where it is. There is no locator on it; only I know where ORAC is."
"Very convenient." Argus remarked skeptically. Too convenient.
"If you want ORAC, I need access to the communications network. Understand this Argus, you do not trust me and I do not trust you. I will not tell you how to contact ORAC; you can subject me to whatever torture your limited imagination can come up with but do this and you will never get ORAC."
Dr. Albarey's wristcomm started beeping. "Sorry, just a reminder."
They watched as the doctor removed a small case from an inside pocket and removed the electronic injector. He set the dosage and applied the applicator end to Avon's neck.
As the drugs made their way through his system, Avon closed his eyes. The drugs used to keep him physically weakened always produced a few minutes of dizziness and disorientation.
"What are you afraid of Argus?" he asked without opening his eyes. His voice sounded strained, he was trying to concentrate but the initial effects of the drugs had not worn off yet, "You are going to get what the Federation has been trying for a year to extract from me without success. You can have your own people monitor everything I do."
At that point he opened his eyes and focused on the rebel leader. He smiled, "And you can still have me executed afterwards as you had originally planned." He closed his eyes again. Avon recognized early on that Argus was the one he had to contend with, the others were pawns.
"Argus, he's right, we are already taking every precaution to prevent him from doing anything against us and even though this is a risk, we can lessen it by having Tess monitor everything he does. It is worth the risk if we can get ORAC."
"ORAC is really worth it?"
"Yes, it is."
Argus hesitated, he knew Avon was not a man who would do anything unless it was advantageous to himself. If the analyst knew that they were going to kill him it did not make sense that he would freely give them ORAC; but here he was doing just that and he had not even attempted to use it as a bargaining chip.
"Why are you doing this?" Argus asked him. "What do you have to gain?"
"Servalan must be prevented from getting ORAC; I cannot stop her myself."
"So this is for mutual convenience."
"But if you could get away with ORAC, you would not hesitate to take the opportunity."
Jenna said, "If you betray us, I will personally kill you."
"I wouldn't expect anything less."
Avon was playing two games at once; the closer one was this simulation, the other more dangerous one was the match with Sester, and perhaps Servalan. He had to put himself into a winning position in both games in order to succeed. In order for him to have any chance in the game that mattered, they had to make the mistake of allowing him access to a real network. It would depend on how greedy they were and how confident.
Greed and pride. They were human weaknesses which had never failed his expectations else he should have been long dead.
"And if she doesn't, I will" Argus warned him. "Doctor, I want you to double the dosage."
"If I do that, he won't even be able to stand," Alberay replied.
"Alright, not double but enough to ensure he has no opportunity to escape."
The doctor nodded. He readjusted the dosage and injected more of the drug into Avon's neck.