"Mercenaries are an unpredictable group socially, but they are strictly loyal to whoever pays them well. It's professional ethics," Argus told her. The WED group had used this pair before on other missions requiring computer or technical expertise. This was before Tess, and later Sato, had joined the rebel group.
"They're excellent fighters too."
Two men appeared at the door to the side entrance. Jenna could tell their experience level by the way they seemed to instantly assess the room the moment they entered. One was wearing a dark brown jacket which he was trying to brush the dust off. The other was in dark blue jacket which had numerous pockets. Both wore the black calf length leather boots favoured by mercenaries, and side-arms. Nothing could disguise the mark of ex-Federation military on them.
"Oh I see, more of your ex-military buddies."
"Yes, there are quite a few of us around, unfortunately what skills we do possess don't seem to belong in higher social circles."
"You make that sound like a bad thing."
Argus laughed, "We make good troublemakers." He nodded to the men as they came over and joined them.
"Beers?" he asked them.
"I'm thirsty," the blue jacketed one said. His companion nodded, "I need to get this dust out of my throat."
After they had been served and Argus had made introductions, they got down to business.
The brown-jacketed man was Ture Enges, the computer expert whose specialty was breaking into computer systems; the other, Tam Allren was the engineer. They both came with high prices and fortunately, like the Liberator, the storeroom of the Justice had enough wealth that hiring them was not a problem. Allren appeared to be the spokesman for the two.
"It's been along time Argus. Thought you had forgotten us. What's the job?" Allren asked.
"We're breaking into Department Four of the Federation's Advanced Medical Research Facility in the Singoa system."
"Mutoids," Ture said with disgust. He had distaste for the bio-mechanoids since one of them had discovered him trying to help one of his buddies who was in the punishment cells and had reported him. Department Four was the centre which had developed the mutoids, and was the "birthplace" of all mutoids.
"That's a high security complex, not to mention all the mutoids," Allren noted.
"It's just an A-level facility."
"Just an A-level," Allren remarked sarcastically, "Another party then. You don't ever seem to come to us for anything lower than an A-level. I don't know whether we should be flattered, or run. How many people do you have?"
"Including the two of you, six."
"You're kidding. I had heard that your group had been destroyed back on Earth but you know how rumours are. So it's true."
"Yes" Argus nodded, "but if you come back to our ship, I'll show you why we only need six. Have I ever steered you wrong?"
"No, you haven't but there's always a first time," Allren did not trust easily.
"Make your decision after we show you what we have and what we have in mind."
Allren looked at his companion for confirmation. Ture nodded.
By the time they loaded Avon on Command Vessel One for Gauda Prime, he was in bad shape. Four weeks of constant torture, nightmares and manipulation using the implanted triggers left him on the edge of complete exhaustion and in constant physical pain. They now kept the lights in his cell low all the time, the ghosts liked the darkness, they tormented him whenever he was left alone.
Avon knew what was coming next. Ever since they had started subjecting him to the nightmare scenarios, he knew that Gauda Prime would be the final destination and now that the Terminal scenario was complete, he knew the final nightmare was coming. It filled him with dread when they had removed him from his cell and loaded him on the ship. Servalan and Sester were both on board along with a contingent of Centre interrogators, his treatments continued unabated.
The knowledge that they were heading towards Gauda Prime meant that his mind was now focusing the nightmares on Blake and the events which had transpired there. He couldn't stop it, he knew he was already nearing the breaking point.
With dismay he also made another discovery. Although he was not aware of the triggers, there was no question when they were activated. They left them on until his mind was on the verge of tearing itself apart, only then would it be turned off. At first he tried to apply his mind to solving puzzles but soon found that it did no good, the conditioning was such that the release only worked when applied by Sester or Servalan or when he was concentrating on a problem in their presence. Now he realized the purpose of Sester's visits to his cell, each time he agreed to play the games, he was deepening his own conditioning. How he hated them both.
Allren and Ture were suitably impressed with the Justice and the teleporter. The technician was particularly inquisitive about a technology which seemed so advanced and alien. Argus made it clear from the beginning that the ship's technology was off-limits.
"Alright. We're agreed then as to price and terms of contract," Allren said.
"Full payment at the successful completion of the job. The partial payment has already been deposited into your accounts," Argus said, completing the formal agreement.
"Fine. When do we start?"
"Immediately. We will start gathering what we need."
Servalan was making a visit to the border planet in her capacity as President of the Federation. Gauda Prime had made a formal application over a year ago to be returned to normal legal status. It had been made an Open Planet in order for the mining corporations to be able to legally exploit what had been an agricultural world. Suspension of the penal code made it easy to remove any opposition. Those who had become wealthy as a result, wanted Gauda Prime to be returned to normal status, hence the application. The condition required of them was that they put their house in order; eighteen months later, it had been achieved to the Federation's satisfaction.
In the guise of Commissioner Sleer, Servalan had been the original arbiter sent to Gauda Prime and now she was returning as President to grant them legal status. The last time she had left the planet with a secret prize, Avon. This time, she was bringing him back.
Servalan and Sester were meeting in her Presidential cabin onboard the ship, they were watching Avon over the vidscreen and discussing their plans.
"You were right," Sester told her, "in his mind the Gauda Prime scenario has already begun. It should not take long once we're on the planet."
"You and Tarkson will have to be careful. I want him broken but not so much that he becomes useless to me," Servalan reminded him. Professor Tarkson was also onboard for this crucial final stage.
"The professor assures me that it all hinges on the options Avon is presented with. The compromises we give him must be an acceptable and unavoidable alternative from his point of view, just like on Terrus with the Auron girl. It may take a long time and it will have to be done in stages, but Tarkson says that once he accepts the first compromise, the path will be set, eventually you should be able to get everything you want from him. By the last one, he will be completely broken but still remain useful to you. It will be quite an achievement."
The Justice crew and their additional two passengers were gathered in the command conference area, going over their plans for the raid on Tingash. It had taken three weeks to gather all the information and equipment they needed but now they were ready.
Jenna rubbed her neck, she was tired. They had been at it for three straight hours without a break. Argus was extremely serious when it came down to mission planning and preparations, it was part of why he had been so successful as a military commander.
"That's good. Everyone is clear on what they're supposed to do?"
They all nodded.
"We've gone over it so many times, I can do it in my sleep now," Vila complained. He hadn't had a drink since they started planning and he was very thirsty.
"That's the idea Vila," said Argus.
Jenna had been impressed with the two mercenaries technical skills and decided to ask, "I don't suppose either of you knows how to remove and adapt a cipher unit?"
"No one knows that, outside of Federation technical cipher specialists," Allren replied. "It's a highly classified skill."
"I wonder how it is that Avon knew," Cally mused.
Ture, who rarely added to conversations, spun around from the calibration of his equipment and ask, "Avon? You mean Kerr Avon?"
"Yes, did you know him?" she asked.
"No, not personally but I do know of him. He has a legendary status in the most exclusive hacker circles, though he never associated with us. There were rumours that he had joined Blake's group and had gone rebel. It totally surprised the rest of us. He is known to never trust anyone and has little use for human beings. He almost destabilized the whole Federation Banking System."
"If he was that good. Why was he caught?" Argus asked. He was still very wary when it came to Avon.
"Believe me it wasn't his skills that got him caught. They would never have known what hit them until it was far too late. It was a brilliant scheme, pure genius, we still talk about it. It was the human element which betrayed him."
"Great, more people who think Avon is a legend," Vila muttered to himself. He was remembering Meegat, the woman on the planet Cephlon who thought Avon was the great Deliverer prophesied by her people. Vila and Gan had thought she must have been insane.
Ture continued, "Sometimes he would just show up at one of our hacker duels, blow everyone away with his skill and leave without talking to anyone. I wish I had been able to witness one of those."
Allren looked puzzled, "Blake was rumoured to have a ship like this one, but it was called the Liberator. I thought he was dead."
"He is," Cally told him, "and so is Avon."
"Avon is dead?" the technician reacted in shock. "Are you sure? He's always been elusive and there are always lots of rumours surrounding him. There are even rumours that he betrayed the rebel alliance and is working with the Federation, but obviously that can't be true, otherwise you'd be trying to kill him, right?"
"He gave his life to save mine," Cally said, her voice trailed off. The memory was still painful.
"That doesn't sound like Avon at all," the man said.
"No it wasn't like him at all." Cally only partially agreed with him, apart from Blake, she was the only member of the former Liberator crew who knew the conflicted soul of Avon.
"If you had mentioned you knew Avon, we wouldn't have given you such a hard time," Ture told Argus. "We are glad to join you on this mission."
"Avon, why?" a bloodied Blake asked him as he fell, grabbing him by the arm. Avon tried to pull away but the dying man's grip held him fast, he could not get away. As he tried to pry the man's hands from him, his hands were getting increasingly bloodier. "No!" he struggled to release himself from Blake, from his own guilt. For a man to whom guilt was foreign, this was horrifying. The blood dripped from his hands, hands which gripped the rifle with which he had used to kill Blake.
Avon, for what it's worth, I have always trusted you the ghost said.
Avon screamed, "No!"
A blow brought him awake. He was wrestling with the guards who had entered his cell while he was dreaming. He continued to struggle like a man possessed. They struck him again. His arms and hands were held fast until he stopped struggling, it did not take long in his weakened state. They injected him with a mild sedative and dragged him from the cell.
The unconscious man was brought to the same underground bunker where he had been captured the first time. Sester watched as the guards chained the analyst to the outside railing of a short flight of steps leading down into the control room and left. From this spot, Avon would not be able to avoid seeing the place where he killed Blake.
Sester stood looking down at Avon, the man's wrists were attached to opposite sides of the railing so that he could not move. With a leg broken in one of the torture sessions onboard the ship, it limited his movements considerably. His position was designed so that he would not be able to hurt himself or to rest comfortably.
The control room was bare except for the computer consoles. The lights had been dimmed. Hidden holoprojectors, audio-amplifiers and monitors were placed at strategic locations.
"I hope for your sake that she will let you go eventually," he told the unconscious man, "but I doubt it."
He took a bio-injector from his pocket and applied it to Avon's neck. The drugs were a mixture of a mild stimulant and a heavy dose of the disorientation drugs used during mind-torture sessions. As Avon began to return to consciousness, Sester activated the trigger, "It's time to work Avon." He silently went up the stairs and exited the control room.
Avon opened his eyes and took in his surroundings. He immediately knew where he was, his confused mind tried to concentrate. For a man who did not feel emotion, this was the closest to fear as he had ever come. He struggled against his bonds and winced in the pain from his broken leg, it was useless. Exhausted from the effort, he leaned back against the stairs. He could barely think but he tried, he made a desperate effort to focus a mind that was already slipping away from his control.
A familiar anguished voice echoed in the empty room. The ghost had come.
Servalan, Sester and Professor Tarkson watched with fascination as Avon struggled futilely. They were seated in the security observation room of the complex which had been adapted for their purposes and were watching the monitors showing Avon in the control room.
Holoprojectors were recreating the scene of Blake's death before the horrified man. The scene had been reconstructed from the original security footage. It was being projected from Avon's point of view, as if the events were happening to him again.
"It's quite remarkable. He already knows he has lost but still he is going to fight," Tarkson remarked.
"He wouldn't be Avon if he didn't," Servalan responded.
"You're right of course."
Over the next few days, they took turns in the observation room as Avon's mind fought against itself.