"No," Avon shook his head and then closed his eyes, it did not help. The nightmares were there whether his eyes were open or closed, he could not stop them. He was exhausted, both physically and mentally; he could feel his mind slowly slipping towards madness.
It had been half a day since the interrogators had last worked on him. He wanted them to come back, at least when he was being beaten, the ghosts stayed away. He shivered in the coldness of the cellar.
"He's ready for the next stage," the psychostrategist told Servalan, they were seated in an anteroom just off her private office. He had been monitoring Avon's treatments carefully since they captured him; that had been twenty-eight standard days ago.
"We will start putting some of the conditioning in place, the drugs have been very effective."
"Are you sure they will not damage his mind?"
"Yes, as long as we stop now. If we allow it to go on any longer, he will go mad. Norphel-54 makes his mind race so that he can't stop. Keeps him mentally exhausted but constantly needing to exercise his mind. The neural restorative drug prevents his brain from burning out. It's a natural extension of his personality, but magnified to the point where it becomes destructive. Even when the drugs are removed, his mind is already being conditioned to work at a heightened pace. The psych drugs keep him disoriented and unable to focus, another drug makes it impossible for him to sleep. Each time we bring him to this point again, the conditioning will continue to deepen until the point where he will literally work himself to death because he cannot stop. That's where we step in, we will become his control. When the triggers have been implanted we will be able to turn this state on and off at will."
"He lasted much longer than Tarkson thought he would," Servalan remarked.
"Yes, he is exceptional, otherwise he wouldn't be here." They both greatly respected the mind of the man they were so cold-bloodedly planning to control.
"He knows what is happening to him?"
"At this point, his mind is barely hanging on. When he starts to recover, he will most likely begin to suspect; but he knows he can't stop it. He must hate you."
"We're both used to that."
"Avon," a woman called out his name. Avon did not respond.
Avon felt the guards releasing him from the chains, he opened his eyes wearily.
It was Servalan, trying to be helpful again.
"It's time for you to rest Avon."
A medtech knelt down beside him and injected something into his neck. Avon felt his mind relaxing; exhaustion took him. He closed his eyes.
"He should be able to sleep now." The medtech told her.
"You know where to take him?" she asked the guards.
"Yes Madame President."
She watched as they lifted the analyst to his feet and carried him out.
The cellar had done its job. She looked around, other than the fresh stains of blood, it was exactly as she remembered it. This place also held unpleasant memories for her; she turned her back to it and left.
Back in her private office, Servalan reflected on Avon, the look in his eyes. She recognized it; it was the same look he had after he killed Anna, after his lover's betrayal had just ripped out the heart no one suspected he had.
Servalan had looked into the eyes of men being tortured to death before, but his were the eyes of someone whose soul was in torment.
"You really think I care?" he had asked her that day as she pointed Anna's gun at him while he crouched beside his dead lover's body. At that point, the man who cared for no one other than himself did not care about anything anymore and they had brought him to that point again.
Argus, Jenna, Vila and Cally were seated in the command assembly area on the flight deck of the Justice, they were listening to ORAC's report on news from Sector Ten, the sector where Jenna had spent a year undercover working to unite the independent warlords there.
Argus and Jenna had returned from their fact-finding mission on Earth and they were trying to plan their next course of action.
"Federation Freedom News Channel reports that Gaverin Three and Tysis have joined the empire in the last three weeks. Federation officials state that they received petitions of membership from both worlds. The Athol Territories are moving towards civil war since the assassination of the overlord. His three sons are accusing each other of the death of their father. Their respective troops are currently massing for battle. Other independent warlords in the region are being sought for support."
"Alright ORAC, those are the news reports from official public Federation news channels. What about the other, unofficial channels?" Argus asked.
"Am I to assume that your reference to ‘other unofficial channels' refer to the coded ones which I am unable to access due to the lack of a cipher machine? A deficiency which I believe I have mentioned on numerous occasions?"
They were all acutely aware of the loss of Avon's ability to successfully remove a cipher machine and adapt it in order gain access to Federation coded communications traffic.
"How about the Federation Central computers then?"
"You are not seriously asking me to break into the entire Federation Central Computer Complex. There are currently one thousand two hundred and eighty three separate linked systems within the Federation Central computer complex. The majority of which are protected by various levels of security protocols. Please be precise as to your requirements and stop making ridiculous demands."
"Which one would be the fastest for you to gain access to and would provide the information we require regarding the real situation in Sector Ten?"
The lights in ORAC's unit indicated it was operating.
"The peripheral computers of Federation Border Systems Command network are the most accessible within a reasonable period of time."
"Define reasonable period of time."
"Within two standard days."
"That's not my definition of reasonable, ORAC."
"It is my definition of reasonable given that the information you are requesting is classified and by only accessing the peripheral computer systems I will have to do some extensive extrapolation to obtain the information you requested. If you insist on occupying my time with additional pointless questions and requests, it will take three days."
"Alright, alright, get to work ORAC. Get the information requested and we'll stop bothering you."
Argus turned the transmitter off.
"Whew. ORAC is definitely being difficult."
Vila was grinning at him.
"Alright who wants to take the next turn with ORAC?"
"Not me," Jenna replied, a little too quickly.
"You're the commander," was Cally's reply.
"Don't look at me," Vila would not stop grinning, "I already told you what to do with it. Avon was always the best one to deal with ORAC. I think it only tolerated the rest of us because of him. I mean Avon was very computer-like himself."
"Thanks. It's great to know you're all behind me," Argus told them with a sigh.
Jenna turned serious, "This is terrible news, I spent a year in Sector Ten; Blake had me broker an alliance between the warlords. They were all agreed and we had even started building a rebel base on Athol Prime. We have to find out what happened. The overlord, Feltar Reve was an honourable man, the other warlords respected him. His sons were all highly ambitious but they loved the old man, I do not believe any of them would have assassinated him and it now sounds like they are pulling the entire Sector into their civil war."
"Since ORAC is busy, Jenna, is there a secure way you can find out if any of your contacts in Sector Ten are still responding?"
"I did set up some emergency contact protocols but we have to go to Sector Ten. They are personal contact protocols."
"With Avon's anti-detector screen, entering the Sector should be easy enough. We should also map out some exit contingencies."
"There's something else I don't get," Jenna said.
"Gaverin Three and Tysis, they would never have joined the Federation, at least not willingly."
"That's just Federation propaganda," said Cally. "We don't know the real story."
"I know the warlords of those two planets. They would never have given up without a fight and they had some of the best fighters outside of Feltar's forces. I cannot believe they fell so quickly, they were already given the antidote to the pacification drug."
"What about that virus you had me steal information about on Biliar?" Vila asked.
"Of course! Vila, you're a genius!" Argus exclaimed. He had almost forgotten, Biliar had seemed like such a long time ago and he avoided thinking about the aborted Singoa mission to the Advanced Federation Medical Research Centre which had ended up in his own capture.
"I am?" Vila reacted in surprise at the unaccustomed phrase being used to describe him. "Of course I am," he said under his breath.
"That should be our next priority after finding out what is happening in Sector Ten,"
"From cross-referencing troop reports, resource allocations and various civilian uncoded sources, I have put together a picture of the events which have transpired in Sector Ten over the past two standard months. The accuracy is within a tolerance of seven point two five" ORAC started its report.
They were all seated in the command assembly area again.
Argus had reluctantly turned on ORAC's transmitter.
"Federation Assault Groups Two and Fifteen landed on Gaverin Three and Groups Six and Seven on Tysis. This was fifty three standard days ago. There were reports of minor skirmishes but there were no major military actions on either planet. Within two standard weeks, both planets sent petitions of sub-membership to the Federation High Council."
"That's impossible" Jenna exclaimed.
ORAC continued, "The overlord of the Athol Republic, Feltar Reve was found dead in the bedroom of his private residence. He had suffered several severe stab wounds to the chest. There were no security cameras in the bedchamber. Consequently, it was concluded that the warlord was killed by someone who knew him and who knew that there was no security camera presence in the bedroom. All of Feltar Reve's sons either had no alibis covering the period of his killing or had suspicious alibis."
"Very convenient," remarked Cally.
"Thank you ORAC. Continue to gather as much information you can regarding this. I especially want to know how the Federation forces were able to subdue Gaverin and Tysis so quickly," Argus instructed.
"That will require accessing more secured systems, this will take time."
"I understand that but we need the information. Go ahead."
Argus turned the transmitter off.
"If what you are saying about the virus is true and they have used it on Gaverin Three and Tysis, and then it will not be safe for us to go there," Cally told Argus. "We don't have the antidote. There may not even be an antidote."
"There's got to be one. Someone's got to have one," said Vila. He was not liking this talk of a virus that they did not have an antidote for. "I'm volunteering my services to steal it, once you've found out where it is that is."
"Volunteering? Are you turning over a new leaf Vila? I've never heard you volunteering for anything before," Jenna teased him.
"I mean let's get the antidote first before we go gallivanting off to any infected planets."
"Why didn't they use the virus on all the planets in the sector?" Cally wondered.
"Gaverin Three and Tysis were probably test planets for the new virus. The Federation likes to use live subjects whenever possible," Argus told them. As a former commander in the Federation Elite forces, he had seen too many examples of Federation's callousness.
"Even with the virus, they still need the Federation's military forces to complete the takeover of the planets. The Assault forces are stretched to the limit. Federation military has not yet regained their original strength from the alien incursion at Star One. It will still take many years to build troop and ship strength back up, that's why they are depending on strategies like the pacification programs and political intrigue. The security forces are back up to full strength though, they had to do that in order to keep order over the territories they still control."
"We have to hit them hard now before they are able to build back up." Jenna had learned a lot about rebel tactics while fighting alongside Blake.
"Yes we need to," Argus agreed. "Since the political intrigue strategy is being used on Athol, it is safe to assume that the pacification drug is not being used there and they are relying on the civil war to weaken the warlord armies there and wreck enough havoc that the civilian populations would welcome Federation assistance. We'll make contact on Athol."