"I indicated that already."
"Do you mean that the information is encoded or protected by security protocols you can't break?"
"If I meant that, I would have said it." ORAC always managed to sound annoyed.
"But I thought you could access all computers, given time?"
"Which ones can you not access?"
"I would have thought that would be obvious."
"I will not answer questions you already know the answer to. It is a waste of my time."
Argus knew by now that even with command code access, ORAC could still be very obstinate. ORAC seemed almost human at times, an ill-tempered, arrogant human.
"Do you at least know if the virus was used on Gaverin Three and Tysis?"
"No. A communications blackout still remains in effect except for triple A Federation security channels, which are impossible to break without a cipher unit, as I have indicated before. From the computer systems I have been able to access, there is information that a new Project Cooperation went into effect on both Gaverin Three and Tysis two weeks before Federation Assault groups landed. There are no other details."
"Project Cooperation," Jenna repeated. She had finished checking the ship's flight controls and had come up behind Argus. "Coming from the Federation, that sounds distinctly ominous."
"So we know that something happened, but not what, and we have no idea if it involves the techno-virus; and even if it was the virus, we still know nothing about it," Argus was on the verge of following Vila's suggestion of dropping ORAC out the airlock. "You've been a great help, ORAC."
Without a question or command given, ORAC remained silent. It did not respond to personal observations. Argus turned off the transmitter.
"What does that leave us with?" Jenna asked.
"What kind of computer can ORAC not access?" Cally asked. She had also finished her own tasks.
"Avon would have known," Vila said as he also joined them near the computer unit.
"Tess probably would have too," Argus remarked. "Wait a moment. Tess. When we were breaking into the Federation Medical Research centre on Tingash, Tess said that she needed hard access in order to gain entry into the computers inside the Level Five Security Labs."
"Of course," Jenna realized what Argus was saying, "because the computers inside the lab were not connected to the main information network. That's why ORAC cannot find any information on the techno-virus. All of the information must be kept on closed systems not attached to the Federation Central Computer Network."
"We need to find a computer expert and a computer engineer," Argus was already planning.
"Ones crazy enough to join us," Vila added.
"And we need to go back to Tingash" Argus told them.
This time they had ORAC, the Justice and the teleport. But they still needed a computer specialist and a technician in order to access the discreet systems inside the Level Five Security labs. They knew that unlike Avon, most computer analysts had little to no knowledge of the hardware make-up of a computer. This was why they had needed the expertise of both Tess and Sato in the rebel group, and now they were both gone.
The next nightmare scenario involved the events at Terminal. With the other scenarios they had brought Avon back to the original locations, they had not needed to bring him back to the artificial planet. The original proceedings at Terminal had been orchestrated by Servalan, she was intimately involved in the setting up of this scenario.
"Have I said lately that you have a wonderfully sadistic imagination, Madame President?" Sester asked Servalan. He was speaking to her using the vidcomm in his quarters at the Detention Centre as he reported Avon's progress in the Terminal simulation.
"You have got to stop saying that Sester, I would think that you meant it."
Sester grinned at her. He enjoyed interacting with this woman, it carried a thrill not unlike playing with a deadly snake.
"Your level of detail, the general flair, I was highly impressed," he continued.
"Coming from a psychostrategist, that's high praise indeed. Now stop flirting with me and let's get to business."
"This time it only took seven days to bring him to the same point. He's barely holding on at the moment; I doubt he can distinguish between when he is awake or asleep anymore. I'll give him another hour and then have him brought to the conditioning unit. He will be ready for you in five days."
"My aide will know how to contact me."
"Very good Madame President."
The next stage was very important. Servalan wanted to be involved in this one; the Federation President did not like being deprived of her amusements.
Servalan turned off the vidscreen. She was sitting behind a large desk in her official Presidential offices. She leaned back and reflected on all the things which were going well, which appeared to be almost everything at this point. The WED rebel group had been neutralized. The only glitch was the inability of the Interrogation Division to extract the names of the high-level Federation military personnel who had been helping the rebels.
The new techno-virus had turned out to be more than an adequate substitute for Pylene-50, the test results from Sector Ten were very encouraging. As well, a team of psychostrategists working with Central Security, and with help from one of the best assassins from the Terra Nostra had effectively destabilized the entire region. Once the dust settled, the Federation would be able to sweep in to remove whatever resistance was left, with judicious application of the techno-virus. The civilian population would probably welcome them by then.
Having Avon at her mercy was an added bonus. Once he was broken, she would use him to forge a personal private empire. As President she had great power, but she was still bound by the rule of law. Even if she broke it regularly, at least publicly she could not appear to.
"Corry," Servalan called her assistant on the voicecomm. The handsome young man appeared on her vidscreen.
"Yes Madame President?"
"Do I have any meetings this afternoon?"
"Just one at five o'clock with Commissioner Loker of the Cooperation Project."
"Find Controller Tarvin and have him report to my office at two o'clock."
Servalan wanted to lay a trap for some old acquaintances.
Avon was dragged into a large room by two guards. As the hours had passed in his cell, the pressure in his head had grown until it had been unbearable. It had been happening with greater frequency, he had not been able to sit still. His mind had raced, his heart pounded and he had finally started banging his head against the wall to relieve the pressure. It felt like his brain was being squeezed in a refuse compactor. At that point the guards had entered, it was almost as if they had been waiting. They grabbed him and brought him to the large room.
Servalan and Sester were waiting for him, they were seated behind a large metal table in the centre of the room. The guards hauled him to the chair which was opposite them and shoved him into it. They placed his manacled hands on the table.
In the cell he had almost become manic, it felt as if his head was about to explode but couldn't. Sitting opposite his enemy he struggled not to show any weakness, he stared at them in defiance.
Servalan and Sester watched him silently, Avon was flushed and sweating, his face was strained but emotionless. As they continued to wait, his breathing rate continued to increase. His jaw tightened.
"They say you tried to hurt yourself," Servalan said finally.
There was nothing he could say. He found concentrating on her words helped a bit.
What are you up to now Servalan? What are you going to do?
"People would think that you didn't like our hospitality. My apologies if the service here is lacking. I am nothing if not helpful, let me make up for it." She nodded to a guard. The guard unholstered his side-arm and placed it on the table in front of Avon.
Avon stared at the gun on the table, he knew what was meant by the gesture. It was a way out, the same chance he had offered to Shrinker years ago. In his condition, Avon posed no threat to the Federation President, especially not with two armed guards hovering nearby.
Unconsciously he reached for the gun, but then stopped as his mind asserted itself. He could not; if he did Cally would die, he could not let that happen. They knew he wouldn't, else they would not have risked giving him access to the gun in the first place. It was not a test, it was another game and it was a reminder.
Slowly and deliberately he withdrew his hand. He stared coldly at Servalan, "Have you had enough fun yet?"
"It takes a lot to satisfy me Avon."
Again they waited in silence while the pressure continued to build. He wanted to scream, he needed to do something, anything to relieve the pressure. He pushed on the table and attempted to stand up, the guard positioned behind his chair held him down.
Something had been done to him, he was sure of it. They were there to witness their handiwork.
Had they already conditioned him? Was he going to give them what they wanted after all? And what was that? Had he already lost? His mind raced trying to solve this puzzle. The pain and the pressure lessened as he concentrated on the problem, the mystery of what Servalan and Sester were trying to accomplish.
With a shock the horrible truth became clear.
"The focus was me all along, wasn't it?" he whispered in shocked realization. They had not been after the DSV or ORAC. Servalan had been telling the truth all along, they had wanted him, or more accurately, his mind.
He looked at the blaster which still lay on the table, but it was far too late; he had already made the agreement to keep himself under her control. He realized now that he had made a dreadful mistake that day in the warehouse, he had been willing to give up Cally in order to deny Servalan the Deep Space Vehicle and ORAC but he had drawn the line at giving up her life for his own freedom. That had been a mistake. It was not his life they were after; it was the ability to use his brain. There never was any chance, he should have used the grenade.
Servalan smiled, this was the moment she had been waiting for.
"You understand now don't you, Avon? I never lied to you."
He stared at her impassively and stopped concentrating. The nature of what they had done to him was also becoming clear. The inescapable pressure increased again. Either he would let the stress build until his mind exploded or he became insane, both of which would prevent Servalan from ever using him, or they would apply the trigger to relieve the pressure and he would find out to what extent he had already been programmed. His hope was for the first.
They waited in silence. It had been two hours since they applied the trigger to activate his mind, by now the pressure was excruciating. His fists clenched, he continued glaring at her in defiance.
"I think it's a draw," Sester told Servalan.
Professor Tarkson's profile on Avon had suggested that the defiance was an integral part of his brilliance. His ability to solve any puzzle and get around any problem involved a refusal to give in; it was also an important factor in his survival instinct. This defiance was important to his usefulness but also made him extremely dangerous, he would always have to be controlled.
Servalan got up and crossed over to Avon's side of the table. She ran her fingers through his hair. "What am I going to do with you?"
He did not respond either to her question or her touch.
She sighed, "It's time to rest, Avon." Again his mind did not register the implanted trigger phrase but gradually his brain began to relax. He leaned back against the chair, spent. His assumption had been correct, triggers had been implanted. He did not remember it being done, they must have placed a block on his memory. The nightmares were a part of the treatment, they weakened and disoriented him enough so that the conditioning specialist's could shape his mind. His own mind was being used against him.
There was a weakness in what they had done, and he had just exploited it; they still could not force him to do anything, at least not yet but he was under no illusions that they had more planned for him.
Sester and Servalan were discussing what had just happened. Avon had been returned to his cell to rest.
"So, did you have enough fun?" Sester asked, echoing Avon's question.
"Be careful Sester."
"I always am Madame President, but then life wouldn't be as interesting," he suppressed a grin.
"He must already know what is coming next after the Terminal scenario."
"He probably knew that before Terminal, by now the anticipation will make it even worse."
"Let's use that. Even though we want his defiance, he needs to be punished for it. Let us hold off on the final scenario, give him time to digest the truth of his situation, keep him wondering when it will happen. From the state of his mind, he will most likely start the scenario himself in his own mind. Let's begin the interrogation cycles again."
"You really are good."
"You're trying to flirt again."
"I can't seem to help myself. Once it is completed, he will be broken enough that we can control him with the compromise."
"Don't celebrate too early Sester, Avon has always defied expectations."
"The Gauda Prime scenario will destroy him."
"It's meant to."
"You really are cruel."