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The next day Avon was introduced formally to Tess. She acquainted him with the hand-held computer and the bio-interface head unit. The interface was a new technology no more than three standard years old.
Tess and Avon were seated in reclinable chairs in the workshop area, his two guards were posted by the door.
"Here put this on," Tess handed Avon a bio-interface head unit. She was already wearing one.
She plugged her unit into the computer.
"Now when I plug yours in, expect a few moments of disorientation but just relax and allow your mind to adjust to it. We'll just try a few simple exercises today until you get used to it, with some practice you should be able to bring things into order."
Not everyone could use the bio-interface technology and beyond the Federation military no one currently possessed one. Being the daughter of an influential board member of one of the most powerful arms cartels, Tess had gained herself access to this classified toy.
Only a highly disciplined and controlled mind was capable of using this technology, which was why Tess was the only one of the group to use this interface method. It gave it's user unprecedented access to the computer network. If Argus had understood the technology, he would never have allowed Tess to introduce it to him. Tess had heard a lot about Avon's abilities and was curious to see if his mind would be able to handle it. She was confident that she could monitor and control Avon's access.
A flood of impulses filled his mind in a jumble but very shortly he found his awareness had expanded considerably. He was aware of the coherent flow of data along the network the computer unit was plugged into. It was incredible. He was also aware of constraints, imposed by the computer unit he was attached to. It had limited capabilities and also deliberate controls; these must have been put in by Tess.
He became aware of something else, something was next to him. As he focused his attention, he realized it was the rebel computer expert. Somehow their mental selves had an identity in the system. She was attached to him, he could quite clearly see the links. It was fascinating.
"What do you see?" she asked him.
"Flows and junctions, a network" he replied.
"That's good." Tess was excited, she had not expected his answer.
She led him on a virtual tour, acquainting him with the various items they had access to along this network.
They would have to find a secure means to contact ORAC without alerting the Federation Security forces. Tess and Avon explored the networks together, investigating various avenues.
Tess reported Avon's progress to Argus and Jenna.
"His mind is incredible, he was able to order it the first time out. I'm not aware of anyone who's been able to do that yet. It usually takes days of gradual acclimatization to be able to recognize anything more than static. He can already see the network and the data flows and he was able to move along them without being shown how, which is just amazing. Only a quarter of those who can use the bio-interface can achieve mobility along the networks and most have limited range when crossing networks but not him." Tess was bursting with enthusiasm, she had found a fellow adept.
Jenna and Argus looked at each other, Tess's enthusiasm with all things technical was usually a source of amusement for them. It was ironic that she was becoming fascinated with Avon, who was really more a cold, calculating machine than a human being. Jenna had never understood it herself but women seemed to be fascinated with Avon.
They could not allow this attachment from Tess. She was the best computer expert among all the rebel groups, they had been fortunate when she joined them. Only she had a chance to monitor someone like Avon.
"Tess contain your enthusiasm, remember he is a dangerous man and cannot be trusted, " Argus reminded her. "You have to be on your guard at all times, do not allow him to get beyond you." He had always been protective of Tess and she treated him like an older brother. Anyone who hurt her, answered to him.
"Don't worry Argus, I know the stakes. When have I ever let you down?"
"Never, I know. I just wanted you to be careful. You have probably never met someone with a mind like his."
"Stop worrying big brother, I am probably more aware of that now than anyone of you."
"I am going to give you the rod we took from the Detention Centre. If at any time you feel that he is getting beyond your control, use it. Don't hesitate, we cannot afford to allow him to get beyond our control. Let us know right away."
"Do you really feel that's necessary? I have placed control links and restrictions on his access. He cannot go anywhere in the system without me being right beside him and he cannot initiate any action without my permission, he can only observe. He also tires easily. Access takes an enormous amount of concentration and mental energy, with the drugs, you have made sure he cannot sustain it for very long."
Argus sighed, this little sister was sometimes a little too smart for her own good. He trusted her but he worried about her good-naturedness sometimes. She had not seen as much of the worlds as he had and she definitely had never met someone as dangerous as Avon, he would have to keep an eye on the two of them.
Avon was resting in his cell after another computer session with Tess. He had not felt this level of tiredness since his days at the SDC when they always kept him on the verge of complete exhaustion, but that was not was he was thinking about. If he was a man who allowed himself to feel any kind of emotion, he would have been elated, things were progressing much more quickly than he had expected. They had made the fatal flaw.
Being plugged into the computer network via the bio-interface had been a revelation. He had always appreciated the purity and truth of computers; the deceit was always in the human element. With the bio-interface, he was able to 'see' the truth. His awareness of the limited systems Tess had given him access to had shown him that the Federation was willing to risk a great deal in order to gain to ORAC.
Avon realized that Sester must have some reason to be confident that allowing him this kind of access would not endanger Servalan's goal. Avon knew he would have to be careful and vigilant, they must be able to watch him on a level he was not yet conscious of. It was possible that their confidence lay solely in the fact that the Federation controlled Gauda Prime and any access on his part, as long as they did not allow him direct contact with ORAC would be useless because he could not physically retrieve it himself.
Tess was a weak point he could exploit. He had been aware of her joy as they travelled the network together, she had the enthusiasm of the typical tech-head. He could tell from her reaction that she was surprised at how easily he had adapted to the technology. She had an alpha-grade mind but she was human, and thus fallible and vulnerable. He would test her abilities in the next few sessions, he had to find out how far her awareness extended into the system. The restrictions he could not do anything about for now, nor the drugs.
This access to the computer network was another game, on a very different level, a level he was a master at.
Vila had been wrong on the prison ship London, when he told Blake that Avon was the number two man with computers in all the Federated Worlds and that the number one man was the one who caught him. Avon was unequaled in all the Federated Worlds. As he had told Blake then, the only reason he was caught was because of the human element, he had made the mistake of relying on other people.
The exercise with Tess, searching for a safe way for communication, was a useful pretext. In reality, he had always known the best way to contact ORAC, he was taking the opportunity to test the new technology. It was a powerful tool, for him.
Sester was more than pleased as he read Professor Tarkson's report, Avon was performing as expected. The psychostrategist, with Servalan's authorization, had coordinated with the Federation's Electronics Surveillance Division to put their entire monitoring system into the highest alert level. The passive monitors were being retuned.
Sester had great respect for Avon's abilities in this arena. He had access to Avon's early aptitude tests and it was no accident that the analyst was ranked in the top ten percentile of the alpha grades; most psychostrategists were in this category and so was Servalan.
There was something in the report which caused Sester to be concerned; it was Avon's account of the events at Gauda Prime. Sester knew he was in danger if Servalan ever found out he knew what really happened there. Anyone who had access to Avon's account was in danger.
Servalan had worked outside Federation law in what she did on Gauda Prime, she had had Federation troops deliberately killed in order to gain access to Avon. There were other things still hidden from him but Sester had no doubt that it was equally dangerous knowledge. Even though she had ultimate authority as President, Servalan still had to appear to work within the Federation's rule of law.
It was fortunate, or rather deliberate, that he had first access to Tarkson's reports. He would do some judicious editing before passing on the report to Servalan and Tarvin of Central Security. But he knew that it was only a matter of time before they found out. One could never escape Federation Security, as Avon had discovered. Sester knew his days of service to the Empire were numbered, he was going to make sure he was the one doing the numbering. He may have to use his escape plan earlier than expected.
ORAC had noted the Federation's Electronics Surveillance Division's increased alert level, it had been watching for it. The Surveillance computers would save it a lot of work.
The rebels had not been able to undo Vila's conditioning yet. Professor Tarkson had not been able to free up the time it would require for the intense therapy needed. Everyone had been instructed not to mention anything which would serve as a trigger.
"I feel fine, " Vila had protested when Dr Alberay insisted on keeping him under observation for several more days, "nothing that several drinks can't fix."
To keep him away from Avon, Argus decided to task Vila to accompany the unit that was being sent to their primary safe house. The goal was to retrieve various items and to assess the security alert level within the dome. The rebels were making provisions to leave Earth.
"Consider it like a holiday, Vila. You're just there to observe, " Jenna suggested.
"My holidays don't usually come with guns and people who can snap you in two with their bare hands."
"Give them a chance Vila, they may grow on you, " she teased him. She knew he would not enjoy the mission. The ex-Federation military groups did not have much of a sense of humour but they would be able to keep him out of trouble.
Avon and Tess were hooked up to the computer network again, she had been bringing him into increasingly more complex systems. Yesterday, they had broken into a secure one for the first time. She had shown him the security system, the overrides and protocols. It was a simplistic one.
What she did not know was that Avon had been getting progressively ahead of her. He was aware of the security system and knew the mechanisms for overriding it even before she had pointed it out to him. He discovered that even though she had control links on him which prevented him from freeing himself from her presence, he could expand his electronic awareness beyond her perceptions, thus he could see junctions and potential hazards before she could and plan paths accordingly. The paths she chose were limited by how far her perceptions were. In comparing them, he could judge how far he had expanded beyond her. His awareness was expanding each time he entered the system, hers seemed to be static.
He was also able to see in a level of detail she did not, as a result, he recognized the passive monitors and was able to surreptitiously steer her around them without tripping them.
But he still could only observe, the limitations preventing any direct action by him were still in place. As his perception of the system increased, something at the edge of his awareness caught his attention, it always remained so much at the periphery that it had to be intentional. It was an electronic spy and had to be Federation.
So is how they are monitoring me. His awareness had not alerted it and he did not let Tess know that he was aware of it. In fact, he doubted she was aware of it herself. The Federation watched their own as much as they watched others.
"You've had access to the computer system for three days, have you found a way to communicate with ORAC without alerting Federation Security?" Argus asked. Avon had been waiting for this question. Argus and Jenna were in his cell after his latest computer session with Tess. She had just reported on their progress and was standing behind them by the door. Avon was seated on the bed, leaning against the wall.
Avon was tired, it showed on his face. His expanding ability in the system was offset by his increasing exhaustion after the sessions. He would have to do something about that soon, the increased ability was useless if he could not act on the system.
"Yes, " he replied to Argus's question.
Argus had not expected this answer right away, he had been expecting more resistance.
"Are you going to tell us how?" Argus asked. Let's see what game you're playing.
"We will use the public message box systems. Those are some of the channels ORAC will be monitoring, ORAC's command code will be included in the message."
"But the Federation will probably be monitoring those channels, " Tess told him.
"Yes, this is why we are going to blanket all available systems with messages. The Federation is already on the alert for traffic of this sort, we are not going to disappoint them. In fact, we are going to give them so many that they will not be able to distinguish the real one from all the others and we will make the messages untraceable to a single source."
"Yes, we can handle that, " Tess told them, "but won't they know when ORAC only responds to one?"
"By using this tactic, ORAC will know to respond to all of them, in the same way. Only I will know which one is real."
"I would like to meet this ORAC."
"What is the code?" Argus was as direct as ever. He had not liked the way Avon said 'only I will know'. He's concealing something; there's something else he's not telling us.
"No, " Avon responded, looking directly at the rebel leader.
"Tell us what the code is, " the warning in his voice was clear.
Avon looked away and closed his eyes, "Do you insist on doing this again? I am tired. Either get to what you're good at or leave so I can rest."
"Avon there is no need to do this, " Jenna told him.
"Do you think that giving you the code will increase or lessen my chances for survival?" He knew there was only one possible answer.
Jenna did not reply, she knew the answer too.
"Alright, if you lead us to ORAC, we will convince the others to let you live. Argus?"
The rebel leader thought for a few moments and then nodded. He did not add that Avon would be a prisoner for the rest of his life even if allowed to live. That knowledge could wait until after they got their hands on ORAC.