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A signal alarm went off. "It wasn't me, " was Vila Restal's automatic response. He had been working on a tricky double-locking, laser-secured wall safe when they heard the sirens.
"Give me a lock, any lock, and I'll have it cracked before Bozo here can count to ten, " he had boasted to them. Villa, you've done it now.
His companions, the ring-leader with a military bearing and a smart-looking blond young woman carrying a satchel, looked towards a tall, thin man posted by the door. They had broken into the Prime Minister's office on Biliar Prime in Sector Four. The safe had been hidden behind the portrait of the first Biliaran Prime Minister, a distinguished looking character who looked a lot like the current head of state; not the most original hiding place for a safe.
Vila only knew that the leader's name was Argus. He wasn't even sure if it was a last name or a first name, or whether it was his real name at all. One thing he did know, that military-bearing was not a fake, nor was his leadership ability. Some people were leaders by training, others were natural-born leaders; Argus definitely fell into the latter category.
"It's still clear, " the look-out told them.
They all wore the two-tone brown and black dress uniforms of the Biliaran House Guard and carried modified hand blasters, ones which made no noise. Vila had refused to carry one when they offered it to him. "I don't like weapons. They have a nasty tendency to go off."
The overcomm system announced, "Attention. All guards to assigned stations. The Federation President is approaching the landing terminal."
Whew, the alarm wasn't his fault.
Wait a minute. The Federation President? That means Servalan!
He had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"Keep going, " Argus urged him. "We don't have much time. We have to get out before they discover we've been here."
"You're telling me. You didn't tell me Servalan was coming, " Vila said accusingly.
"Would you have come if we had told you?" the ring-leader asked.
"Not in a million years, " the thief replied. I'd be running the other way, very fast.
The sinking feeling in his stomach was telling him that he had joined another bunch with a political agenda and not just plain greed as their motivation. The only thing that ever got anyone was lots of dying. He was very allergic to dying; he had had enough of that onboard the Liberator with Blake's crew. It was a good thing this bunch only knew him by his alias, Gan Lason.
I need a drink. That strong green alcohol on the Liberator. He never found out what it was exactly but what he wouldn't give to have a glass of it now, mixed with some of that good soma.
The leader told him, "Then the sooner you get it open the sooner we can all leave."
"Alright, alright you don't have to tell me twice." Vila turned to the wall safe again. Fear always sharpened his senses and he had it open in short order. The ring-leader pulled him out of the way and began rifling through the safe; pulling out various items and handing selected ones to his blond partner who was ready with a recorder device pulled from her satchel.
The items he removed from the safe were recorder crystals. No valuable stones, no gold; they were after recorder crystals.
I should have known, thought Vila.
If Argus hadn't been so persuasive Vila would never have joined them on this dangerous little venture. The ring-leader had told him just enough to whet his greed, and flattered him just enough to overcome his natural aversion to putting himself in harm's way; though Vila preferred to think of it more as his sixth sense.
Vila did not have much fondness for alpha grades and Argus was clearly one. In the thief's experience, they were either much too serious, like Blake. Or too infernally clever, like Avon. Avon! They all seemed to like treating him as the hired help except when they needed his expertise.
Vila, you fool, he berated himself. Avon would have had the perfect response to the situation they were in; Vila didn't know what it would be but Avon would have had one. Now why did he have that thought? Avon was dead to him.
Traitor! Betrayer! Avon had killed Blake; Vila had witnessed it with his own eyes.
People said that Avon had sold out his own crew to the Federation in return for great riches. If it hadn't been for that incident on the autoshuttle, when Avon had almost thrown him out of the airlock in order to save himself, Vila wouldn't have believed it as easily, until then he had always felt safe with Avon. Avon always survived, that's why Vila had followed him despite his open lack of respect for the thief. Even earlier when Blake's crusading dreams constantly led them into danger, they had always depended on Avon even though they didn't trust him. Cally had been right when she said that they could not afford to lose him.
"How many more?" Argus asked his blond partner, looking at the chronometer on his wrist unit.
"Almost done," she replied, "this is the last one."
The arrival of the President meant that all of the security forces were concentrated on the pomp and ceremony of receiving her; this was what this particular band of so-called burglars was counting on.
They had expertly avoided all the patrols and guards. Vila realized the band must have had an inside contact. Yes, a band of thieves with a military (Vila didn't like that one bit), or ex-military (he didn't know which was worse) leader and who had an inside contact to a secure government building.
Vila you must be losing your natural caution. Next to go will be your natural charm.
Servalan detested pomp and ceremony unless it served her purposes. This was her first official visit to Biliar Prime. The Biliarans had enthusiastically joined the Federation six months ago; of course the fact that the other two planets in the system had fallen to Federation forces helped in convincing them. So they were being rewarded by a visit from the President and Supreme Empress.
That was the official reason.
The other real reason was top-secret. The Biliarans had a potential alternative to Pylene-50, the pacification drug. With the rebels possibly having an antidote and the ability to mass produce it, this new virus could put the Federation's re-expansion back on track. It was new technology, a techno-virus hybrid. Servalan was here to visit the research facilities and observe a demonstration first-hand.
"Madame President, we are most honoured by your presence, " the Prime Minister of Biliar greeted her formally. Bain Dam' Fernes was a balding man who wore a dark green official robe fringed with silver and had a glowing, panther-shaped crest crouched on his right shoulder. Those easily flattered were easily manipulated and Dam' Fernes was not one of those. He recognized the danger his people were in when Biliar Two and Outer Biliar fell to the Federation and had made a political move to position his planet into a position of security and influence; hence the official petition to join the Federation and the unofficial offer of new technology which could aid their new masters in consolidating their position. Servalan wanted that technology.
I should have known better thought Vila, still berating himself as he waited for the blond girl to finish with the data crystals. He should have been warned when the group, specifically Argus, approached him wanting someone with special skills who could break into a secure residence with a tricky double-locking laser lock and do it without leaving a trace. To do a break and enter job was easy despite the technical complications, that was his specialty. To do so without leaving any evidence they had been there, that took art. He had been flattered mercilessly and the prize had been tempting.
He should have known better.
Everything went according to plan. In the confusion of the Federation President's arrival the little band escaped without notice.
Vila boarded a civilian luxury liner with a group of off-world tourists returning home. He promptly took up residence in one of the many bars aboard and proceeded to make up for lost time. The job had gone smoothly but being on the same planet as Servalan was too close a call; being in the same solar system was too close. He took another large swig of his drink.
I wonder what was on those data crystals. He shook his head. No Vila, not a good idea. Remember what curiosity did to the cat. Time for more healthy pursuits like drinking.
"Get up!" A black-shirted thug kicked Avon in the side as he lay on the ground in another one of the interrogation rooms. This one was completely devoid of furniture. The walls were grey; there was only ever one colour in the whole facility, shades of depressing grey.
Oomph Despite the doctor's recommendation rest had not been on the schedule for this prisoner. The past week had been particularly brutal. Exhaustion always facilitated the mind-torture cycle; a regimen of drugs and mind destabilization techniques had left him barely able to distinguish between reality and the ever disturbing nightmares. He was barely hanging on when they switched tactics; a mistake for them but fortunate for him. The psych treatments were the ones which brought him closest to the breaking point.
Right now they were in the process of a simple beating; he preferred those. Pain was honest and helped bring him back to a semblance of reality. One of the thugs grabbed his left arm and yanked him up. Ahhh. That shoulder had already been struck repeatedly. One of their favourite techniques was to hit the same spot over and over again so it became more vulnerable.
They propped him up against the wall; even with the support he could barely stay standing. In rapid succession each of his tormentors struck with their batons until he fell to his knees, his body bent over in pain. His hands were always bound behind him in the interrogation rooms, unless he was strapped down, so he couldn't even raise them to protect himself. There were more strikes against his shoulder.
The same one of course.
He laughed that superior laugh that always infuriated them. At this point, they always beat him into unconsciousness.
These beta grades were relentlessly efficient but lacked imagination; a few more times and he would be back in the med unit.
When they finally finished with him, and the med unit had patched him up, they returned him to his cell. Avon lay on his side facing the wall. The over bright lights above, along with the periodic screams and occasional begging from other prisoners, made it difficult to sleep.
Something had changed in him with Servalan's visit. Since that day on Gauda Prime when he had killed Blake, he no longer cared about anything anymore, not even himself; a dangerous place for him. The visit from his old enemy had renewed his desire to fight.
Thank you Servalan.
His desire to die after the events at Gauda Prime, had been as strong as the day when he found out about Anna's treachery. He had done his best to provoke his captors into killing him, but they were under strict orders not. They had tortured him mercilessly trying to extract ORAC's location for Servalan.
Part of him had welcomed the pain then; he was not a man of emotion but the death of Blake at his hands, had sent his mind over the edge. His desire for death warred with his stubborn refusal to give Servalan what she wanted. If he had given her ORAC, given her everything, he would become her slave. Or more likely she would have killed him. He rebelled at the thought of dying knowing she had won. The only thing as strong as his survival instinct was his aversion to being used and manipulated.
If they had offered him a deal he would have accepted it long ago even though he hated the Federation; then he would disappear so they would never be able to find him again. But with Servalan as President, that was out of the question. Any deal with the Federation would mean a deal with her; he would be safer in a pit of angry swamp adders.
He could not give them ORAC either, with or without Servalan. That technology would mean he would not be safe anywhere, no matter how many billions of credits he had.
So he was trapped.
And now with his reputation destroyed - not that he ever cared about a reputation - if he ever managed to obtain his freedom no place would be safe for him. Everyone would be hunting him; for revenge, for bounty, for fame, or for the great Federation. Servalan had made sure of that.
Well, I'm alone again, at last.
His laughter filled the cell, interspersed with gasps of pain from his injuries.
There was constant active surveillance on all the cells in this the most exclusive of the Federation interrogation centres and especially on this special prisoner. Almost all of the inmates were political prisoners, traitors, idealists, or people who needed to be persuaded to part quickly with information vital to the Federation. As a result the place had heavy security and anyone attacking it would be committing suicide. The staff were all specialists, the best in the arts of persuasion and control.
There was a maximum of fifty prisoners in this facility at any one time. Shrinker had been one of their top para-investigators before he disappeared. His disappearance had been linked to this prisoner, so this one received special attention. The security observer watching the prisoner heard the laughter from the cell. In this place everyone broke eventually and no one ever left unless they were dead or broken.
This man was different from the other prisoners usually brought to this facility, and not just because the President had a special interest in him. Most prisoners unfortunate enough to be sent here were strong-willed, intelligent and driven. A large majority were alpha grades but even so this one was exceptional; his torturers were the best in the Centre.
In the first two months after his capture, in a clandestine off-site location, they had worked on him in secrecy on behalf of Servalan. She was not yet President of the Federated Worlds then. The prisoner's sharp wit goaded his tormenters into even more brutality than they were already using on him, to obtain the information Servalan desired. From the first day he seemed to be inviting abuse and death. They had tried some highly dangerous experimental drugs on him, and even with the best medical care he had come close to dying several times, something they had been ordered not to allow to happen.
But then Servalan had assumed the Presidency and it seemed no longer as urgent for her to obtain information from him. At that point he became an official resident of the Federation Special Detention Centre; a resident whose identity was known only to the special team who were assigned to work on him. That had been six months ago. No prisoner had ever been here for so long without either giving them what they wanted or dying in the process, or becoming insane.
By the time we are finished with you there will be very little left, thought the security observer as the sound of laughter continued to come over the speakers.