Unlike his first time as a prisoner here, he was acutely aware of the passage of time. There were time instruments in the secure underground facility which had been connected to the Federation Special Detention Centre via a new underground tunnel. It had been specially adapted to house his laboratory. His days were long, normally sixteen to twenty hours and he was never allowed more than four hours sleep. If he tried to sleep beyond the allowed number of hours, the guards would come to "encourage" him to stay awake. Their help usually left him collapsed and bleeding on the floor of his cell.
The mind trigger was applied whenever he worked, it prevented him from resting for more than a few minutes at a time in the lab, and even though it was no longer required, he was still in restraints. It did not hamper his ability to work; they were just a reminder of their control. The conditioning was now deeply ingrained.
Avon looked up at the harsh lights, at least they had given him that. He had requested that the lights be turned back up to their normal harshness; without them, the waking nightmares came. He hoped the medtech came soon, these days he could not sleep without the sedatives. Whatever they had done to his mind was still causing horrifying nightmares when he slept. There was something in the sedatives which also helped prevent the nightmares.
The door to his cell slid open, it was Sester. The psychostrategist walked over to the platform and sat down on the chair next to it.
"What do you want?" the analyst asked tonelessly.
"How are you doing today, Avon?"
"You didn't come here to inquire after my health."
"True. I was tired of talking to people who don't think."
"Is that meant to be funny?"
"You of all people must know how frustrating it is when everyone around you is a delta-grade idiot."
Sester smiled. His reasons were exactly as he had told Avon. He was bored and he needed conversation which was intellectually challenging; verbal sparring with Avon always refreshed him.
"And what will you do if I ignore you, use the mind trigger?"
"I deserved that," Sester acknowledged the accusation, and added,"but I will."
Avon stared at him, waiting.
"Your profile said that you love doing research, being able to solve puzzles is almost an obsession; this is what you are being given. Why don't you make the best of what you have?"
"Is there anything in that profile which suggests that I enjoy intellectual slavery?"
The door slid open again, it was the medtech with the sedative injection.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Didn't know you were in here sir."
"I will call you when I'm done," Sester told the man, waving him away in dismissal.
"Yes sir," the medtech acknowledged and left.
Avon sighed wearily, "You're not going to let me sleep until you're satisfied are you?"
"What do you want from me?"
"I told you, I want to talk to someone who's closer to my level."
"In other words you're bored."
"Something like that."
"So my service includes keeping you entertained?"
"Don't think of it that way."
"There's another way to look at it?"
"You have a point."
After two hours, Sester finally left him alone. The medtech came in and gave Avon the sedative mixture. The analyst lay staring at the ceiling as the drug took effect. He needed to rest, they would come for him in another two hours. The time the psychostrategist took up was never taken into account in his rest periods.
Several days later it was Servalan's turn to pay him a visit. He was sitting opposite her in one of the interrogation rooms, they were alone and Avon was restrained to the chair. The security cameras had been turned off. He had just finished another exhausting day at the laboratory but instead of bringing him back to his cell to sleep, they had brought him here.
"Don't tell me you're bored too," Avon asked her. "Ran out of planets to destroy, people to subjugate?"
"Now Avon, you know I never tire of that."
"What do you want Servalan?"
"I just wanted to see how you were."
"You mean you wanted to gloat."
"Well, that too. You have been doing good work Avon."
"You look tired."
"Do I?" he asked sarcastically.
"Are we going to have a civil conversation, Avon?"
"It's too late for that."
"Why do you insist on making it difficult for yourself?"
"Stop playing games Servalan and get on with the torture."
"You know, I have thought of something much better for you. It's time to work Avon." She pressed a button to signal to the guards to come back in. "Bring him back to the lab."
The guards removed the prisoner from the chair, reapplied the restraints and led him out.
"Have fun Avon," Servalan called after him.
"What is Avon doing back in the lab? He's already had twenty hours," Sester asked Servalan as he entered the security control booth. The two were observing from the security observation room adjacent to the laboratory.
"It's a little experiment."
"He defied you again, didn't he? What is it about him that makes you want to see him suffer?"
She ignored his question. "I want him worked until he collapses, then inform me. Do not release the mind trigger until I get back."
"Very well, Madame President."
Avon put the probe down and flexed his fingers, they were stiff and beginning to shake from exhaustion. He was leaning over an open panel to a power generator. There were shooting pains from his back; unrelieved stress and overuse tended to aggravate it. He stretched to ease the soreness and then sat down, leaning back he closed his eyes. He knew he only had five or six minutes before the conditioning would force him to get back to work.
It had been forty-two hours since Servalan had instructed the guards to return him to the laboratory. They were making him fight himself again and this time it was the endurance of his own mind and body which they were using. He knew it was only a matter of time before he collapsed.
He got up before the pressure in his head became unbearable, picked up the probe and returned to his experiments. They were making him work on redesigning a new power cell interface. He found that reorganizing the circuits and building a new phase converter had increased the output efficiency fifty fold.
What he did not tell them was that he already had another idea for the new converter which would increase it a hundred fold. This he did not include in his notes nor did he give any indication to the fools who had been assigned to monitor his work. Servalan could make him work, and her sadistic little games could push him until he collapsed, but he had no intention of giving her everything.
One hour after Avon collapsed from exhaustion, Servalan arrived back at the Centre. She had just finished a weekly status meeting with the top admirals from Space Command.
"He's in the med-wing," Sester informed her as she arrived with her personal guards. "Since you won't let me turn off the trigger until you got here, he's had to be secured in the med wing. The doctor has also been using a neural restorative to prevent his brain from burning out. You're playing a risky game if you want his mind intact and usable."
"That is what the Centre's doctors are here for. They know the price for failure if he becomes useless before I allow him to die."
They headed towards the infirmary.
The doctor finished his report to Servalan. He added, "Including the original twenty, he lasted a total of seventy-one hours. Considering that he is never allowed enough time to adequately rest, it's quite amazing he was able to carry on that long."
"That's Avon and that is exactly why he has been kept weakened," she told the man.
They crossed over to where Avon lay strapped to a bio-bed. His face was pale and strained. His breathing was shallow and he moved restlessly.
"Three zero four two coefficient factor," he moaned weakly as his mind tried to think against the exhaustion.
"What's he doing?" Servalan asked.
"His mind is still trying to work," the doctor replied, "with the conditioning, it has no choice. But he's so weak; he can't concentrate enough to prevent the pressure from building. If this continues, even the drugs won't help, his mind will burn out. We thought we were going to have to sedate him."
"Alright. Give him the neural restorative and a stimulant and then you may go."
"But I should be here to monitor in case something happens."
"Nothing will. Now leave us."
The doctor thought about voicing his objections but thought better of it. He looked at the suffering man on the bed; it was not healthy to oppose the Federation President. The doctor did as requested and left.
Servalan took a cloth, wet it in a basin nearby and applied it to Avon's forehead. He was burning up; at the cool touch, he opened his eyes.
"Have you had enough?" she asked him.
"Does it matter?" Speaking took a great effort.
"For you, yes."
The analyst's face was blank, but she could see the anger in his eyes.
He finally whispered, "I've had enough."
She wiped his face with the cloth gently. "It's time to rest Avon." His brain let go and allowed him to sleep.
Sester said, "Each time you force him to capitulate he will hate you even more."
"I am counting on it."
Sester understood her strategy. It was essential that Avon keep fighting them, it was an important factor in his brilliance. "You're playing a dangerous game with him. If he had even the remotest chance, he would destroy you."
"It is a game we are both very good at playing. Avon values his own life above all else, and he is an opportunist. He will do whatever is needed to survive. Normally, his freedom is almost as important to him as his life, but we have maneuvered him into giving that up; the only thing he has left is his life."
"You would have made an excellent psychostrategist."
"Being President is imminently more profitable and provides much greater scope."
"So it does. Avon would also have made a brilliant one."
"He would have, but he prefers machines and computers over people."
"One day you will succeed in breaking his spirit."
"By then, I will already have everything I want from him, and he will no longer be of any use to me, though I might keep him around for amusement."
"Give him the stimulant," Servalan instructed the medtech.
The man did so and then stepped back out of the way. Two Centre guards were standing nearby.
"Wake up Avon," Servalan said.
The shattered analyst was sleeping with his body faced towards the wall. He had been returned to his cell three hours ago from his grueling ordeal.
When there was no movement from the prisoner, one of the guards hit him in the back with the butt of his rifle. Avon moaned in pain and stirred but did not get up. The guard hit him again.
"Sit up Avon," Servalan commanded him.
He rolled slowly towards her and held up his hands as the guard prepared to strike him again. The other guard took hold of his hands and pulled him forward. Unresisting, Avon sat up. The guard removed one of the restraints and re-attached it behind the prisoner's back.
"Leave us now."
The medtech and the two guards left the cell. The door slid closed leaving the prisoner and his enemy alone. The security cameras were always turned off when Servalan was visiting the prisoner.
Avon leaned tiredly back against the wall and waited. He noted that she was wearing an unaccustomed wristcomm.
Servalan observed the prisoner as he waited, he was her familiar enemy, the fatigue on his face was the only sign of weakness. His look was one of studied indifference, there was no hint of the hatred she knew he felt for her. He may have been weakened, but the control was still there, even after all of the torture, the conditioning, and the continual wearing down, Avon was still Avon.
Servalan got up from her seat and stood beside him, she touched his face gently caressing his cheek, he did not react. Without warning she grasped his hair and pulled his head back, he gasped in pain. Avon glared at her as she held his head, she smiled, bent down and kissed him. He struggled but she held him fast; between them there was always equal parts hatred, great respect for each others abilities and a deep but contained passion, all of which was evident by the time she released him.
She let him go and stepped back, he looked angrily at her.
"Nothing to say?" she asked.
"What is there to say?"
She smiled and sat down.
"Are we going to have a civil conversation now?"
He continued glaring at her.
"Now don't be angry Avon."
"It would be tiresome to have to put you through another seventy-one hours."
"Do you want to be forced to fight yourself again?"
Avon looked away and replied, "No."
"What happened to you, Avon?"
"It is a shame that we could never be partners. Those qualities which make you exceptional also make you far too dangerous. If you were anything less, I would have nothing to do with you."
"The irony doesn't escape me."
"I must admit when that second Liberator showed up, I was shocked. Despite the astronomical odds against it, you somehow managed to end up with both ORAC and a new Liberator. No one else could have managed it but somehow you did," her voice was full of admiration.
"You were all set to disappear with both of them weren't you? Your own private sanctuary, without the burden of all those people with their annoying ambitions."
He laughed, "Of course."
She always enjoyed his laughter, that wryness when caught in his true intentions.
"Unfortunately it didn't turn out that way," Avon closed his eyes, exhaustion was overtaking him. He had still not recovered from being forced to work until he collapsed.
"Don't fall asleep Avon."
He opened his eyes wearily and looked at her.
"If you want to continue using me, I need rest," he told her.
"Talk to me and I may let you rest." She knew that he had reached the limits of his endurance but she was not to be denied.
Avon waited, he knew that she could activate the mind trigger at any time and then he would no longer have a choice.
"I am curious, how did you manage to find another Liberator?" she asked.
"You're not seriously expecting me to answer that," he replied, more as a statement than a question.
"No harm in trying," she smiled. Like Sester, she also enjoyed the verbal interaction with Avon.
"You know that your crew thinks you are dead."
"I guessed as much when you blew up the warehouse, and they're not my crew."
"That's right, they're Argus's crew."
"Don't try to bait me with them Servalan, it won't work."
"You do not have much respect for people like Argus do you?"
"He's an idealist," he said with disdain.
Avon stared at her coldly, not responding. Where Blake was concerned, he would not humour her.
Servalan nodded in acquiescence. Since she had used Blake as a weapon to break him, this one thing she would give him.
"Argus is a soldier, a former Federation Land Commander in fact; a brilliant one. He never lost a battle and his men loved him."
"Yes we agree he is annoying, now is there a point in telling me this useless information?"
"I just thought you might find it interesting to know that he made a serious mistake recently. He tried to destroy one of our advanced research stations and walked right into a trap. Almost lost the ship you went to such great lengths to procure. It is severely damaged, but they used a new technology to replicate the Liberator on our scanners and got away. I imagine that is your doing, you had time to develop a new technology?"
"He's a fool."
"You are not denying the new technology?"
"You don't need confirmation from me on something you already know."
"I don't suppose you would care to tell us what that new technology is?"
"Stop wasting your time Servalan."
Her voice began to take on a threatening tone, "You agreed to do whatever we asked as long as we stayed away from the Liberator or ORAC."
"You don't have to remind me."
"You are saying that the technology was something you developed while on the Liberator?"
"Yes at Kairos."
"I see," she was not pleased. She had not forgotten the Kairos incident and how Avon had tricked her, "You know that eventually I will get everything I want from you."
"But not today."
"Not today," she agreed.
She kept him talking for another hour.
At the end, she got up and said, "I will let them know that you are to be given another four hours sleep."
"Do you need the sedatives?"
"Yes." He could barely keep awake as it was, but he needed the drugs to help prevent the nightmares.
She pressed the wristcomm she was wearing, "Open the cell door and reactivate the monitors."
"Yes Madame President."
The door slid open immediately, her personal guards were waiting just outside. The medtech came in to give him his injection and left.
"Good night Avon." She exited the cell.
As the door slid closed again, Avon realized that his hands were still cuffed behind him. He sighed and with difficulty, lay down.
It was really a shame that he and Servalan had always been on opposite sides. The way she had manipulated him over the past half year was masterful. She was as much a genius at that as he was with computers and machines. They both had the same lack of morality but where his focus was on personal survival and independence, hers was in the acquisition of power. As a result, they would always be enemies.
As sleep took him, he knew she was right, with both Servalan and Sester working together against him, he was outnumbered and outmatched. Eventually he would give her everything she wanted; they controlled him, it was only a matter of time, but he could not let that happen.
They may have manipulated him into giving up his freedom, but he still had his life; and the mind that they had taken such great pains to obtain and control, was a double-edged sword. To beat them would be extremely difficult, but that was what he specialized in; that was why he was so valuable and also why he was so dangerous.
*** THE END ***