Psychostrategist Tace was reporting to senior psychostrategist Sester via vidscreen. Tace was one of three strategists assigned to the situation in Sector Ten. He was currently manipulating Ellis Reve; helping him to gain control over the sector. Tace was a gray-haired man with an arched nose reminiscent of a long dead empire.
"You are sure?" asked Sester. Ellis Reve had become much more powerful than they were helping him to be. This was not in Federation interests. Putting him in power but limiting that power to what they gave him was supposed to keep him in line.
"I have done three castings," he told Sester. "Regardless of how I arrange the pieces, there appears to be an unaccounted for factor. Something powerful."
"And you have no indication what that is?"
"None of the undercover agents with him report anything unusual. There is also something else. Ellis has reported that one of his infiltration groups has disappeared."
Sester's mind instantly grasped the implications. "That points to another unaccounted for factor?"
"Does this jeopardize the President's timeline?"
"Not as yet. But we may need to step in to make sure we can control Ellis Reve afterwards."
"You were thinking of the new virus?"
"It is not very subtle, I know. The indications are that this new factor is very powerful. And if we do not find out what it is soon, we may have no choice."
"Find another solution," Sester told him.
Psychostrategists rarely reverted to things which were not subtle. To do so would almost be an admission of defeat.
"Very well. I am just giving you warning that we may need to. Tace out."
Sester did not need to tell the man to keep him informed. Psychostrategists never needed to say the obvious to each other. Sester made a note to arrange a meeting with the Federation President when she returned from her trip.
The psychostrategist's mind went to Avon. The use of the techno-virus against Avon had been very subtle. It had been a complex mind-game from the very beginning.
It still was.
Sester turned on the vidscreen and adjusted it to the feed from Avon's cell. The analyst was sleeping. He was facing the wall and he was in a semi-curled position.
I should be sleeping too, thought Sester.
He knew that the increased hours of free time were driving the analyst crazy. Sester had calculated it very carefully. A mind like Avon's could not stand having nothing to do; could not stand the total lack of stimulation. Even without it turned on, the conditioning would have increased this to an unbearable need. Sester had deliberately not sought out the analyst for conversations and he had asked Servalan to do the same. The Centre personnel tasked to work on Avon had all been carefully briefed. There was to be absolutely no deviation from his routine.
As long as you play this game, you will play it for me, thought Sester.
It was a good thing that the Federation President was off-planet now on a visit to the outer worlds. He doubted if she could have resisted not having Avon brought to her for so long.
Since Avon had not made the mistake Sester had been hoping he would make, the psychostrategist was taking the opposite approach.
Withdrawal will be good for both of you.
Sester knew that it would not decrease their needs, only intensify them. He smiled and turned off the vidscreen.
When did you finish those two bottles, Vila? No matter how many times he asked himself that, Vila couldn't remember. He could remember starting on the bottles but he could not remember finishing them.
Typical, said the Avon-voice. The voice was back. Vila was relieved. In the quiet and solitude of the empty flight deck, even a voice in his head had become welcome.
"What do you mean?" asked Vila.
"You mean that I don't remember?"
"I don't get it." I thought you were supposed to sound like Avon, not ORAC, thought Vila.
You accused me of being a machine once, or is that something you have also forgotten, said the Avon-voice.
"I wasn't talking to you."
Well, it is difficult to determine that. Since I am only the voice in your head.
It's too bad I can't dump you out the airlock, thought Vila.
"That time I was talking to you," said Vila.
You wish me to leave again?
"No." Vila blurted out. "I want you to explain to my why you said it was typical."
You have always had an infinite capacity for self-delusion, the Avon-voice explained cynically.
"This is not helping, Avon."
You do not remember finishing the alcohol.
You do not remember finishing the alcohol.
"You said that already."
You do not remember…you do not remember…you do not remember… The voice began echoing in his head.
Stop what? The Avon-voice asked.
"That echo." The echo continued.
I am not the cause of the echo.
"What do you mean you're not? It's your voice!" accused Vila.
It is your head, the Avon-voice said reasonably.
"Shut up, Avon," Vila said angrily.
The Avon-voice went away again. The echo remained.
The next time Alain sent Cally up with a tray for the tenth floor, there were two servings on the tray.
He must have a guest, thought Cally.
There was no guest when she arrived on the tenth floor. Just Kam and the ever-present guard.
The guest must be coming later.
Cally put the tray on the cleared area on the desk and headed towards the couches as she normally did.
"Have you had lunch?" Kam asked her.
Cally turned around. Except to thank her for the tray, Kam had never spoken to her before.
"I get my rest period after I return your tray," Cally told him.
"Pull up a chair," he told her.
Something is finally happening, thought Cally.
There was already a chair to the side of the desk. Cally picked it up and set it near the desk.
"Please, sit down," he said to her. He was always polite with her.
Cally sat. She looked at the man who she had been observing for the past week. He looked tired and there was always an air of tension about him. There were dark circles under his eyes. She had been noticing the increasing anger and frustration emanating from him as the week had progressed. There was also something which she had missed at first, there was a deep sense of being alone. She got the distinct impression that he felt something was missing but there was no indication what that was.
The vidscreen calls had become fewer and fewer and he seemed to be endlessly planning.
Futilely planning, thought Cally. That was also an impression she was getting.
"This is for you," he told her as he took items from the tray and placed them in front of her.
"I don't know if I should," Cally told him nervously.
"Are you afraid of me, Cally?" he asked.
"I don't know," she replied, surprised by his question.
He gave a brief smile. "You are a cautious woman. And a good actor."
"I don’t know what you mean, sir. I am not an actor," Cally said carefully.
"You want people to think that you're like one of the girls downstairs, but you're not. You are much more intelligent than any of them. But you pretend not to be."
Cally almost breathed a sigh of relief but refrained from doing so.
"Sometimes, it is not advantageous to be a woman with intelligence," she said simply.
Cally had been noticing that, as she worked down in the bar. The culture of the bar was not one which respected women. Idolizing their physical attributes was not the same as respect. She hoped that this was not an indication of Athol society in general.
"You sound so much like her too," Kam said reflectively. Even though he was looking at her, Cally got the impression that he was seeing someone else.
He must be referring to the woman who disappeared, she thought.
"Nothing. Share a meal with me, Cally."
As they ate and talked, Cally got a better sense of the man.
Her first impressions of him were verified. He was polite and highly intelligent. There was a bright energy to him which came across in passion about whatever topic he was discussing.
After they had finished eating, Cally asked, "Now that we have shared a meal, will you tell me your name?"
The man looked startled. "I had forgotten," he said, "I haven't told you my name yet."
"You might not want to know."
"Are you a dangerous man?" she asked.
"It depends on who you talk to," he said wryly. "My name is Kameron Reve."
"You're…," Cally reacted suitably shocked.
"Yes, I am the Overlord's son."
"I didn't know. I'm sorry." Cally looked like she wanted to run. She hoped that this was the correct response.
"I told you that you might not want to know."
"What do you want from me, sir?" she replied, still reacting with nervousness and a tinge of fear.
Kam sighed. "Nothing. You may go, Cally."
Cally hastily put the various items back on the tray. Picking up the tray she turned to go.
"Would you share a meal with me again tomorrow?" Kam asked her.
Cally looked at him. She wasn't sure but there seemed to be a lessening of the frustration and anger emanating from him.
"If you want me to."
"But what do you want, Cally?"
She decided a little directness at this point would not be amiss.
"Tell me why first and I will give you my answer."
He smiled. It is much better when you do not hide your intelligence, he thought.
"Share a meal with me tomorrow and I will tell you."
Cally hesitated and then nodded. "Alright."
"Tomorrow then, Cally."