“Do you remember this man, Avon?” Servalan was holding up a small holo-cube which projected a picture of a man. A fat, balding unpleasant-looking man with the look of madness in his eyes. Avon’s lips curled in distaste, he recognized him alright.
“Egrorian. You used him to try to trap me.”
“Yes. And it almost worked,” said Servalan.
“You tried to kill me,” said Avon dispassionately, as if it was an everyday occurrence; which of course, it had been for those months before Gauda Prime. Servalan’s obsession with using and killing him, matched his own hatred for and obsession with killing her.
“I never tried to kill you, Avon. That was never my intent.”
Avon was about to demand what her intentions were, because from his perspective, she had done a very good job of trying to kill him when she said, “But you did try to kill Vila.”
Avon couldn’t believe his ears. “What are you talking about? I never tried to kill Vila. What reason would I have to do that?”
“But you did, Avon.”
“You’re being delusional again. You really should get that examined by a professional.”
Servalan smiled. “No delusions. I told you that I have the power to make anything happen. When I am finished with you, you will know that you tried to kill Vila.”
“You’re dreaming Servalan.”
“You think so? Vila already believes it.”
“No. That’s not possible. We may despise each other, but Vila knows he’s safe with me.”
“You’re the one dreaming if you continue to hang onto that delusion, Avon. I told you that I would make Vila hate you. It was actually much easier than we thought. You have a very flawed way in relating with people. I find it endearing. You have a complete inability to express that you care about someone. Even after all the things you’ve done for Vila, he still doesn’t know if you did it because you care or for some obscure reason which only benefits you. I think he actually wanted to believe it. But you don’t make it easy for anyone, do you? In a way, you did this to yourself.”
“Don’t try to psychoanalyze me, Servalan. You’re…”
“I’m not very good at it?” she asked, interrupting him. “I believe you’ve said that before. But we’ve both proven that is not true. I am very good at analyzing you. Vila is almost ready but we’re going to need your help in completing his conditioning.”
“I will never help you.”
“You don’t have to do anything. All you have to do is stand. Get up, Avon. If you don’t, you know that it will be even worse for you. Do you really want to test how cruel I can be?”
Avon got up slowly off the sleep platform; every movement brought fresh agonies. There was an unpleasant scowl on his face. He stood swaying on unsteady feet.
Servalan smiled and went over to the door. She used her wrist comm and said, ”Bring him in.”
The door slid open. Vila.
“Hello, Avon,” said Vila cheerfully as he stepped into the cell. Two familiar interrogators and a criminotherapist came in behind him and stood off to the side, watching.
“Vila.” Avon never thought he would be as glad to see anyone but he kept his face neutral. Servalan was much too interested in their interaction. She was watching them intently from the doorway.
“You look terrible,” said Vila.
“You still haven’t lost your knack for stating the obvious,” said Avon. The ease at which they had slipped back into their old behaviour patterns was comforting.
“And you still haven’t lost your gift for being a murdering bastard!” Vila suddenly crossed the distance between them, grabbed Avon by the collar and slammed him against the cell wall. “How does it feel to be helpless, Avon?”
Vila! No! Avon realized with shock that Servalan was not lying. The look in Vila’s eyes told him, there was a deep hatred there. Vila slapped him across the face.
Vila was about to strike him again but Avon intercepted his hand. He leaned forward and whispered, trying to break through the other man’s hatred; without letting Servalan or her underlings know what he was trying to do. “Vila. Remember. You’re always safe with me.”
“Safe? I used to think so.” Vila yanked his hand away from Avon and punched him in the stomach. “But I was a fool, wasn’t I? We were all fools to trust you.” Avon doubled over in pain and started wheezing. Vila pulled him up to face him again. “I want you to know what it feels like to be helpless, Avon. Really helpless.” Vila hit him again. “Hiding in a shaft knowing your friend was trying to kill you!” Vila continued hitting him, knocking Avon’s hand away when he tried to protect himself.
The fury of Vila’s hatred shocked Avon, even though he had been expecting this, even though Servalan had warned him. He had not wanted to believe it; had not understood the full impact of what it meant to have Vila hate him. His mind knew that it was a lie; that this was something Servalan had done. But seeing the deep loathing in Vila’s eyes; it was as if Avon had found and lost a friend again.
The knowledge that Vila and the others were dead had brought an empty irony to a life he no longer valued. The knowledge that Vila hated his very presence, ripped open emotions he thought he no longer had. It was shattering to feel again. Even more devastating because Servalan had been right, he had helped make this possible.
Avon was barely standing now. If Vila had not been holding onto him, he would have fallen. Through a haze of pain, Avon remembered a saying Cally had once told him; it was an Auron curse. May you die alone and with no one to mourn your passing.
Cally. She was another one of the greatest regrets of his life. Too many regrets.
“Why don’t you say something, Avon?” said Vila sarcastically as he punched Avon in the face again, trying to get a reaction from him.
Blood streamed down like tears from a cut that had opened up on Avon’s cheek. This was worse than what the interrogators did. Looking into the eyes of someone he had considered a friend, and seeing nothing reflected back but hatred, affected him in a way that no amount of torture and drugs had been able to. He fought the sense of growing anguish as Vila continued to strike him relentlessly, not caring that Avon could barely breathe now.
Servalan finally spoke, “Enough, Vila.”
Vila smiled and kneed Avon in the groin before letting him go. Avon gasped in agony and crumpled to the ground.
Servalan said, “You may go, Vila. You’ve done a very good job. Did you enjoy that?”
“Yes. When can I do it again?” There was a look of triumph on his face as he looked down on the man who was moaning and gasping on the ground.
“Soon. Vila. But we have to let Avon recover for now. Trust me; it will be more fun when he’s had some rest. You should go get some rest too.”
“Alright,” said Vila with disappointment on his face as the interrogators led him out.
Servalan knelt down after Vila and the others left. Avon was still breathing in painful gasps. She put her hand on his head and stroked his hair. “Breathe, Avon. Just relax and breathe. The med-techs will be coming soon,” she tried to comfort him.
He tried to brush her hand away but she grabbed and held onto his hand. “You should have believed me. Everyone can be made to betray you in the end,” she told him. “You of all people should know that.
When Avon’s breathing was less pained, he looked up at her and said angrily, “You did this to him.”
“No. Avon. You did this. You tried to kill him. Don’t you remember?”
“No!” Avon grabbed for her throat. Servalan twisted the wrist of the hand she was still holding. Avon cried out in pain and reached for his wrist instead. She let go of him. Avon held his sore wrist and glared at her. “You will never make me believe that I tried to kill Vila.”
“We shall see,” said Servalan. At that moment, the door slid open and several med-techs and guards entered.
Sester returned to his observer craft. He sat for a few moments while he formulated a strategy. He had no intention of endangering his life or his career, but if he could help Avon, he would. Sester setup the communications channel to contact Servalan. After the usual complications that long range communications required, he finally got through.
“Madame President. I have good news.”
"Oh?" she asked casually. Servalan's manner may not have conveyed any sense of interest but Sester knew that was not the case. It never was where Avon was concerned.
“Yes. Your faith in me was not misplaced."
“You’ve placed yourself onboard the ship?” she asked.
"In a manner of speaking."
She studied him speculatively from across the distance of space. “And you made contact to tell me the price of that success?”
The corners of Sester's mouth lifted in amusement. “You know, Madame President, psychostrategists are the ones who are supposed to make leaps of logic. We are not the ones who are supposed to be transparent. Either that, or I must be slipping.”
“I understand becoming personally involved tends to have that effect on a psychostregist,” she said smoothly. "This is why it is avoided at all costs."
It was Sester's turn to study her image on the screen. So you are not hiding the reason why you insisted on sending me as the liaison. Sester was very aware of this weakness he had given himself; but he was certain that with his own abilities, he would always be able to compensate when he needed to. For the moment it was an enjoyable diversion. He hadn't had one like this in a long time.
“Then you must know that my usefulness is impaired under these circumstances,” he told her, continuing the game.
“It depends on your definition of useful,” she said with her distinctively superior tone.
“You mean your definition of useful,” countered Sester. Servalan was not using any subtlety here.
“Isn’t that the only definition which counts?”
Well, now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, it’s time to get what I want, thought Sester.
Sester wondered when she had found out about his relationship with Reya. He recognized that pushing him was too simple a motivation for the Federation President. Her plans were always much more devious. He wondered what her interest in Argus was and what that had to do with Avon. Sester knew that for the Federation President, all roads eventually led to Avon. She was obsessed with him.
Time to deal with the main agenda. He knew he had to approach this very carefully. What he was after would help Avon a great deal but he doubted if Servalan would agree at first. Not unless he helped her to see that Avon needed it. “You know why Avon is here,” he began.
“You indicated that in your last report. He’s been having difficulties.” When Servalan spoke about Avon, her face always became less cold and slightly more animated. If you looked closely, she did a good impression of a concerned snake.
“Yes. His memory blocks have started to break down. All of them. He is barely functional at the moment. They're afraid that he will either go mad or slip into a coma he will never come out of.”
“The fools. Did they stop all of the drugs?”
“Most of them. They obviously didn’t know how dangerous that would be for him.”
Servalan shook her head in annoyance. “Even after the files you provided to them?”
“I don’t think they understood the full implications. They only have a field medic onboard, not a psych specialist.”
“They should have looked for one.” Servalan wondered if she should have also made sure the crew had the right specialists onboard. Obviously having a bodyguard was not enough. Argus should know better. Must I do everything myself? Perhaps it's time for another lesson.
Sester said, “It's not a simple matter of looking for one, Madame President. It's a matter of not knowing who they can trust. After finding out that Professor Tarkson was working for you, they couldn't afford to trust anyone.”
"I hope you're not suggesting that this is my fault?" said Servalan. Her eyes were hard.
"It's not something you could have avoided. It's the price of success," said Sester. "Avon respects your ability to trap him. He refuses to make it easier for you. They were fortunate to have found the healer in the Athol Territories. He seems to have some skill in this area."
"But?" she asked, knowing that Sester had more to tell her.
"You know what they did to him at the Detention Centre. What you had done to him. The things I am not privy to. Even Garett will not be able to help stave off the inevitable descent into madness. He needs help. He requires certain equipment which no one has access to except those who have a very special mandate in the Federation."
"What equipment are you referring to?" For a moment, Servalan thought that Sester was going to ask for access to the files which were being kept from him. Sester's news troubled her deeply. She knew all of the things which had been done to Avon; things even she had been horrified by. She had even tried to fix some of the damage which had been done. But the knowledge that all of the memory blocks were breaking down made her afraid for Avon. More than anyone else, she knew what things Avon had been made to forget.
Cally sat worriedly by Avon’s bed. He was moving restlessly in sleep, his brow was damp with sweat. Several machines surrounded his head, taking readings of the activity going on in his mind. Occasionally he cried out in pain. At the moment he was curled up on the bed, his arms crossed protectively across his chest. Occasionally he would shake his head from side to side.
She had been trying to reach him with her psi abilities, trying to break through to where his mind was trapped but had been unsuccessful. She did not understand the things she was sensing from him. There was no longer that deep sense of loneliness anymore but there was a growing emotional pain and it was getting worse. She had never felt emotions from him this strongly before except when he was angry or afraid. There had been one other time, but she didn’t want to think about that.
Garett was deep in conversation with Argus when they entered the medical unit. They both came over to where Avon lay.
Cally got up and faced them, saying, “I don’t understand why you won’t let me give him the drugs. They are supposed to prevent this sort of thing from happening. He’s so deeply into the nightmares now that he can’t wake up. And I haven't been able to reach him.”
“The drugs won’t do him any good,” Garett told her.
“They always have before,” said Cally.
“You don’t understand, Cally. These are not nightmares he’s experiencing.”
“Then what are they?”
Garett gestured to one of the technicians who were monitoring the readings from the various machines. The man turned one of the monitors around to face them. Garett pointed at one of the wave patterns. “You see these readings? They’re not indicative of dream activity. He’s actually accessing memories which were previously blocked off before. He’s reliving the past.”
Cally absorbed this information. “You mean the memory blocks? They’re starting to break down?”
“Yes. A significant number of them. That is why he’s been having the collapses. There are too many for his mind to handle. It shuts down in order to protect itself, otherwise he would go mad.”
“Then that’s even more reason to try to bring him out of it now,” said Cally.
Garett shook his head. “This time it’s different. His mind seems to be only accessing one specific set of memories. As long as it stays that way, then he won’t be overwhelmed.”
“But he’s in trouble, I can sense it,” said Cally. As she was speaking to them, Avon’s mind was a constant presence at the edge of her consciousness. She could feel how tired he was; not just physically tired.
“Yes. I suspect that memories he is experiencing now were traumatic for him,” said Garett.
“You were explaining why the blocks are starting to break down,” said Argus, continuing the conversation they were having as they entered the medical unit.
“Yes. As I was saying before, a healthy human mind actually maintains the blocks. That is the way they were designed to work. As long as the mind is functioning properly, the blocks are maintained.”
“But Avon’s mind isn’t.” There was an unreadable expression on Argus's face as he said this.
At that moment, Avon cried out in agony again. They all looked down at him; each one experiencing their own helplessness in the face of someone else's pain. Cally bent down and touched Avon’s head, trying to project comfort and reassurance to him; hoping that on some level, he would be aware that she was there for him.
After Avon seemed to settle down again, Garett said, “Avon's mind hasn't been healthy in a long time.”
Cally asked, “But I don’t understand. His mind must have started to break down while he was at the Detention Centre. And he’s been back with us for months. Why didn’t he experience these problems before?”
Garett looked at her sadly. “My guess is that he did, long before he was rescued. I took a look again at the list of drugs which were found in his system when you rescued him. They must have known what they were doing to his mind. Some of the drugs they gave him helped him to maintain the blocks.”
“And after he came back?” Argus asked.
“Well, that’s because of Avon. His control and strength of mind is unusually strong. He’s been able to hold it back until now. Was there a period when he was not receiving the current drugs you’ve been giving him?”
Cally reacted, “Yes. When we were trapped on Papos. We didn’t have access to them.”
Garett nodded. “Yes, that’s what I thought. They're not as good as the other ones but they would have helped. When Avon was without them for an extended period of time, the blocks began deteriorating. You must start him on those other drugs again along with these ones. But he will still have a problem. Some of the blocks have deteriorated to the point that no amount of drugs will help.”
“You said that something is different now?” asked Argus.
“Yes. His mind is now focused on one set of memories. It was most likely triggered by what happened with Vila.”
“How is Vila?” asked Argus.
“I’ve been able to talk with him. He still seems confused by what happened. He’s not able to remember specific details. I was going to talk with him again later.”
“I’d like to be there with you,” said Argus.
“Fine. The special machines will be arriving in a few days. They should be able to help,” said Garett.
“Which machines are these?” asked Argus.
Garett had a confused look on his face. “You don’t know? I thought you asked for them.”
“No. I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Argus was just as confused about what Garett was referring to.
“The special imaging chambers,” said Garett. “The ones used by the Federation criminotherapists.”
“I still don’t know what you’re talking about. Why would I ask for them? They’re highly classified. No one has access to them outside of Central Security.”
Garett gave him a puzzled look, “The psychostrategist, Sester. He said that you wanted them so he arranged for them to be transported here.”
“Sester?” asked Cally with surprise. “You asked him for help?” She turned to Argus.
Argus had a thoughtful look on his face. “I did. But I didn’t realize he was going to do this. How will these machines help?” he asked Garett.
“In order to deal with these memories, Avon will have to process each one of them. The best way is to do what he is doing now. Deal with each one separately. There is no way to control or monitor them, but I believe that the imaging machines might be able to help facilitate that.”