"Have we gotten all we need from her?" asked Servalan. She was speaking to Sester on the vidcomm from her official Presidential office at the Terran Government Complex on Earth. He was the psychostrategist whom she had tasked to work on Avon before he was freed by the West Europe Dome rebels.
"Yes, Madame President. Once Professor Tarkson identified the triggers, it was quite simple; she is vulnerable with respect to our friend. Tarkson is proving quite useful, it's a good thing you didn't have him killed when the rebels were neutralized."
Professor Tarkson was a respected leader in the area of psycho-drug therapy and had been a mentor to Dr. Alberay, one of the rebels of the WED group. He had been contacted by Alberay to help in diagnosing what the Federation had done to Avon's mind. Avon had been inadvertently freed when the rebels raided the Federation Special Detention Centre in order to rescue their captured leader, Argus. Unknown to them, Tarkson had already been identified as a security risk and had been coerced into cooperating with Central Security.
"I find it wasteful to kill people who are useful to me," Servalan told the psychostrategist.
"I will remember that," said Sester, the look on his face indicated that he didn't quite believe her.
"And can be controlled," she added.
"Of course." That piece of honesty caused the corners of Sester's mouth to lift in a slight grin.
"She actually believed you were one of the prisoners?" Servalan asked.
"Yes. I can lie quite convincingly when I want to."
"I will remember that," she told him, using his same words. "Avon is a cold-hearted computer whose first priority is always to himself. What makes you think that he will do this?"
"You already know he will, otherwise your ploy on Terminal with the fake Blake would never have worked, and he would have never been taken in by Anna Grant."
She nodded thoughtfully in agreement. "This is not foolproof. It will only get him to come but it will not guarantee he will stay. He is very good at escaping and he will come prepared Sester. Do not underestimate him, people who do that tend to fail miserably."
"He does have a highly tuned survival instinct, doesn't he?"
"Yes he has an annoying tendency to escape impossible situations designed to kill him."
It was a mutual admiration society for the man they were planning to destroy.
Sester noticed her quickly suppressed smile. Fondness? Amusement? Thoughts of Avon's impending defeat at her hands? One could never tell with the Federation President.
"There is one way to make him stay voluntarily; well somewhat voluntarily."
"The techno-virus, the one mentioned in the Central Security reports on the Argus group. How far has the research progressed on it?"
"You want to use it on Avon?"
"No that way it wouldn't work; he will know soon enough that you have no intention of allowing him to die. He would use it as a tool against us."
"Then what," she started asking but stopped as it dawned on her what the psychostrategist had in mind. "Oh that's very good Sester."
"Yes, he will come for the game, thinking he has a chance to win."
"He won't realize until it's too late that he really is here to trade his freedom for her life. Yes, he might just do that. That's brilliant Sester."
"That's what you pay me for isn't it? It's a good thing you didn't kill her when you found her on Terminal."
And a good thing I didn't kill you after you lost Avon on Gauda Prime. You already knew too much but you're also very good at getting out of things, aren't you?
"I will send orders to Department Four of Medical Research. Science Commander Lathan will be coordinating with you. Are the other preparations ready?"
"Yes, everything is ready. And may I say you have a wonderfully sadistic imagination Madame President."
"You do realize that even if he stays, he will never give you what you want. Even with the techno-virus, your control would not extend that far."
"That is why the information from our little friend will be so useful. All we need is to capture him again, the rest will come and this time he will never be able to escape again."
If you thought this past year in the Special Detention Centre was difficult Avon what Servalan has planned for you now is infinitely worse.
"Initiate contact then Sester, let the game begin."
"Very good Madame President."
Servalan punched up the reports from Project Cooperation on her terminal and got back to the business of destabilizing the warlord controlled system of Sector Ten.
There was an icy silence on the flight deck of the Deep Space Vehicle. Argus was used to having men follow his orders without question; Avon never took anyone's orders. Even with Blake he could only be persuaded to follow if he saw a benefit for himself. The moment he felt that he was being manipulated, forced, or if he was not being given a choice he could become extremely difficult; it contributed to Blake's many headaches. The only reason Avon ever backed down in a direct confrontation with Blake, was because he was biding his time until he got the Liberator and ORAC for himself.
Another source of tension was Avon's continued refusal to release ORAC's command code. Without the sentient computer's activation key, the only way to access it was through the transmitter Avon had built. The only one who could contact ORAC this way was the person who used the command code. And once the command code was activated, ORAC would only respond to the person who triggered the code until it was released. That was Avon; at least that was what he told them.
Life with Avon onboard is never boring. Vila thought as he came down the stairs leading onto the flight deck and noticed the strained atmosphere. Avon was working at the computer console in front of the Zen visual interface; he had his back to the rest of the room.
That's a big "DO NOT DISTURB" sign if I ever saw one thought Vila.
Argus was following Jenna's instructions as he learned to pilot the DSV on manual; he was pointedly not looking in Avon's direction.
Vila sighed and went to his familiar station at neutron blaster control.
If anyone asked me, I'd say Avon can have the headache of speaking to that arrogant, piece of junk. But of course, no one ever asks me.
Zen spoke "Information. Hull sensors register that the Liberator is being scanned by detector beams. A fleet of ships is approaching and has changed course toward this system."
Argus instructed, "Zen put them on the screen."
The view screen showed a star field and five ships in close formation. Avon moved over to his operations station. He addressed the computer, "Zen. Identify."
Zen: "Available data classifies them as standard Federation pursuit ships."
Jenna remarked, "That was quick. They didn't waste anytime coming after us."
Argus addressed the ship's computer again, "Zen, have the navigation computers plot an evasive course to take us away from them. Maximum speed."
Zen: "Course and speed confirmed." Being only standard pursuit ships, they were soon left behind.
"Running away?" Avon asked coldly. "I didn't think you had it in you."
"When I fight it is on my terms, not someone else's. I have never lost." The challenge was clear.
The chill in the air suddenly became frigid.
Vila noticed that both men's voices had lowered in tone; it produced a much more menacing effect. They both meant business.
Jenna stepped between the two men and said, "What is this? Duel at dawn? We just escaped from five Federation pursuit ships. Don't you think that there are more important things to do here than cutting each other's throats? If not then we should just give up, here and now. Is that what you want? "She looked pointedly at Argus. Until now Jenna had avoided getting involved in the two men's increasing antagonism. She knew that they had to resolve it themselves, but this was too much for her.
Argus broke his stare and turned to Jenna, "You're right Jenna." He turned towards Avon again, "Avon, Jenna said that you had developed an anti-detector shield on the Liberator, one which made the ship invisible to Federation long and medium-range sensors?"
There was no apology between the two men; it was only a temporary cessation of hostilities.
Avon replied, "Yes." Both men acted as if they had not just seconds ago, been escalating to a major confrontation.
"Let's make that our first priority."
"Make a list of any parts that we don't have. We'll get whatever you need."
"Yes. Vila can help. We haven't checked the parts inventory in the ship's stores yet."
"When did I volunteer to be inventory clerk on this ship?" Vila was indignant at being drafted to do what definitely sounded like tedious work. Typical of an alpha-type to delegate the drudgery to the other grades.
"Make yourself useful for once Vila." Avon headed for the ship's parts storeroom.
Vila grumbled as he followed the analyst out.
Central Security's detention centres were full to bursting after the coordinated strike against the Earth rebel alliance based in the West Europe Dome, this was Argus's group. The information gathered by the Advanced Security Program virus before Avon destroyed it, along with Professor Tarkson's collusion and the use of Vila's passive tracer, before it malfunctioned, had enabled the security services to identify the majority of the earth-based alliance's members. Including Prake's team and the 624 team who had fallen during the ambush on Gauda Prime, the group was now effectively destroyed. Those fortunate enough to escape the dragnet were smart enough to stay deeply hidden.
The only information Interrogation Division had not been able to obtain were the names of those in the command ranks of Federation military who were also part of the alliance. The interrogators were confident they would be able to obtain the information soon.
"That is excellent news Controller Tarvin," Servalan indicated her approval. "The malfunction of Vila's tracer did not prove that much of a loss then."
"No Madame President. We had already gained enough information using his tracer to identify the key members of the WED group and to plant the ASP. It is unfortunate that the SDC lost Argus but several captured members of the group have already broken. It's only a matter of time before we have a full list of their contacts in Federation military."
"I want that list Tarvin."
"It will not be long Madame President; we have increased the discreet monitoring of Federation military communication channels. And we have sent some of our best deep cover agents in as officers and other ranks."
"I want Othello sent in," Servalan told him, Othello was the new Bartholomew. Bartholomew had been the codename for Central Security's best undercover agent. She had also been Sula, the one-time insurrectionist who had almost achieved a coup at Residence One; and she was also Anna Grant, Avon's one-time lover and betrayer whom he had killed.