Avon locked the door. It was time to do what he needed to do.
Sester said, “I don’t think this is a good idea, Avon.” Avon had come to get him from his room.
“You owe me, Sester,” said Avon with a snarl.
“Argus is going to kill me if he finds out I helped you do this. And Cally will probably provide the knife. A very dull one. Or maybe they’ll take turns,” said Sester.
“That’s your problem,” said Avon coldly. “Sit down.” He was hard and unyielding as he pointed to the imaging control station.
Sester sighed and sat down reluctantly. Guilt was a powerful tool to use against anyone; which was why psychostrategists always viewed human beings as puppets. It dispensed with all of the inherent weaknesses of being human.
“I've set the imaging program to run automatically but you'll have to start the process manually. I have also set a coded lock on the program so that no one will be able to terminate it or go into the chamber once it starts.”
He began showing Sester the controls. When he was done, Avon said, “Don’t try to tamper with it. It might kill me.”
“It might kill you anyway,” said Sester. “These drugs you’re using. They’re set at too high a level. I’ve never seen this concentration used, even at the Detention Centre. And these fear drugs…”
“It’s only temporary and I’m willing to take that risk,” said Avon. “It’s the only way to bring my mind to the state that I need it to be in.”
“This is that important to you?” asked Sester.
Avon stared at him before responding. “I’m not here to answer your questions. Now strap me in.”
Images began appearing on the screen; they were the original memories of what happened on Malodar and in the shuttle. The scenes unfolded as before. Sester watched in uneasy fascination. He understood why Avon wanted to do this. But he was taking an enormous personal risk. What Avon was about to do would touch on the some of his most horrific nightmares.
What if you find what you fear the most, Avon? Then the nightmares will never end.
Sester looked down at the control panel monitors which showed Avon's life readings. He frowned, some of the numbers were dangerously high and the scenario hadn't even reached the most critical part yet. This isn't good.
The flex screen showed the shuttle again. It was the second trip down to Malodar.
Vila was carrying a tray of food back to the imaging chamber. He had found a nice Athol girl in the kitchens who had fed him a delicious meat pie and some excellent cider. He decided that Avon could use some food too.
The door to the room was closed, but this was not unusual. He pushed it open with his elbow. It didn't budge. Odd. Vila applied his shoulder to it. The door remained closed. Must be locked. Vila had never known the medical unit door to be locked before. Avon must have done it. What's he doing in there? "Avon let me in. It's Vila."
Sester heard Vila's voice. He thought ironically, Of all the people to come now, of course, it had to be Vila. Sester went to let Vila in. He knew that Avon would have strongly objected to his actions but Vila was a master thief, it wouldn't have taken him long to unlock the door. At least this way, he would retain a measure of control.
When the door opened, and Vila saw Sester, there was an instant look of suspicion on the thief's face.
"Come in," said Sester. He checked that there was no one else in the corridor and closed the door and locked it again.
"What are you doing here? Where's Avon?" Vila asked warily.
"Avon needed to do something. He didn't want anyone disturbing him," said Sester as he went back to the control panel and sat down again. He checked the life readings.
Vila nearly dropped the food tray when he saw what was playing out on the flex screen and saw Avon in the imaging chamber.
"Why's that on? What did you do to Avon?" he asked angrily. He put the tray down on a nearby table.
Sester looked up and caught Vila's eyes, "I told you, this was Avon's idea. He wanted to do this. It was important to him."
Vila wavered. He didn't trust Sester. "Why did he ask you? Why didn't he get someone he trusts?"
Sester smiled wryly, "Because he could only trust an enemy to do this."
"If you've hurt Avon…" the anger and threat in Vila's voice was clear.
Sester was puzzled. The files on Vila portrayed him as someone who was not capable of this strength of character. He was a person who avoided confrontations. You must care about Avon to confront me like this.
He said, "Threatening me will not achieve anything. Avon has locked this program. No one can get into the chamber until it's finished. For now, the only thing you can do is watch."
They both glanced at the screen, it showed the shuttle again and the second trip back from the planet. Sester looked at Vila again and said, "My guess is that part of the reason he's doing this, is for you."
"Me?" asked Vila in surprise.
"Yes. I hope, for his sake that this is worth it. He's taking a great risk."
"What do you mean?" asked Vila.
Sester didn't answer and only looked at the screen. The crucial point had been reached. "Just watch the screen, Vila."
Avon shook his head, trying to clear it. He found it hard to concentrate. His heart was racing.
ORAC responded, "Remaining flight time: five minutes and forty seconds."
Five minutes, forty seconds. Think. Why is it so hard to think? His head seemed to be pounding in time with his heart. The fear was so strong, he could almost taste it.
He asked, "How much more weight must we lose before we can achieve escape velocity?"
ORAC replied, "Seventy kilos, Avon."
He had a flash of déjà vu. Can't think about that now. The situation was desperate. They had to lighten the shuttle in order to achieve escape velocity. The shuttle's landing thrusters had been sabotaged. The Scorpio was too far away to be of any use. The only way to survive was to break orbit.
Avon said, "Only seventy kilos... Vila, strip off the insulation material in the cargo hold."
Vila raced to follow his orders. Something nudged at his consciousness. "Vila!" Avon opened up a panel. He hesitated as he saw the gun he had hidden there earlier. His mind struggled. There was a thought about the gun. No. There's no time. He took the small plastic trolley that was next to it and handed it to Vila.
Vila took it but said, "But that's plastic. It weighs nothing."
"Get rid of it anyway!"
Vila said, "A kilo and a half if we're lucky."
Vila's complaints when he was desperately trying think of ways to save them both were starting to grate on his nerves. "Do it! We've got five minutes."
Vila ran off with the trolley.
Avon said frantically, "Not enough! Not nearly enough!" There must be a solution! There must be a way! He didn't want to die. "Dammitt, what weighs seventy kilos?"
ORAC responded in a matter-of-fact voice, "Vila weighs seventy-three kilos, Avon."
Coldness. Seventy-three kilos. It was so simple. Why didn't he think of it before? I don't have to die. Just a number. A weight to be discarded. "Vila."
Vila and Sester watched with captive fascination as they saw Avon's hand take the gun out of the panel.
Sester shook his head sadly. There was a look of horror on Vila's face. He gripped the table that he had placed the food tray on.
They saw Avon's other hand grab ORAC. This was a new element.
"What's he doing?" asked Vila with fearful and tentative hope.
"I don’t know."
They heard ORAC ask, "What are you doing, Avon?"
Avon's cold voice said, "What I should have done along time ago."
They were almost holding their breaths as they saw the cockpit door slide open and the screen image move past it. The screen moved slowly and silently along the corridor. There was a moment of awkwardness as Avon holstered the gun and juggled ORAC while descending the ladder to the cargo deck. At the bottom, he seemed to hold onto the ladder while his head rested on one of the rungs. They could hear him breathing heavily.
There was a warning sound; Sester glanced down at the panel. The heart rate had reached the danger zone. He grimaced. The scenario hadn't finished yet. There wasn’t anything they could do. The end was near though.
Have to keep going. Avon straightened up and let go of the ladder. He drew his gun again and kept going. Each step was difficult. I can't do this. I have to!
Avon reached the airlock door. It slid open to his touch on the panel. For a moment he stared into the darkness of the interior. His heart was pounding so hard that it felt as if it would break free from his chest. He was almost paralyzed by fear. No! Avon stepped through. He placed ORAC on the ground and turned to close the door. With his gun, he shot out the door panel control. He threw the gun aside.
ORAC said frantically, "Avon! You cannot do this! This is madness! You must survive! You must sacrifice Vila! It is the only logical solution!"
"Logic, ORAC? I told you before that you'll have to do better, if you expect me to kill Vila. Did you think that reducing Vila to a number would be better? He is not just a weight to be discarded!" he said angrily. "Is that all your brilliant programming could come up with? You never understood me any more than the rest." No. That's not true. Sometimes he thought that Cally had understood. But it was too late now, she was dead and it had been his fault. Everything was too late and his last act would be something that no one would understand. He laughed; it was a sound choked by fear, determination and a touch of madness. Avon found it ironic that his last conversation would be with a computer. "No more last words, ORAC?" There was no response.
Avon brought his hand up and slowly reached towards the airlock control. For a moment he paused and then he smiled and pressed it.
In the control room, several of the monitors were beeping loudly in warning and then there was silence. Sester looked in shock at the flat readings and then at the chamber. "His heart stopped!"
"What?" exclaimed Vila. "Get him out of there!"
Sester flipped a switch. "It's no good. The program is still running. It still has the door locked."
"But it's over!" Vila came over and looked at the control panel. The only thing he could understand were the life monitor readings. They indicated that Avon was dead.
"I'm going to try to unlock it!" Vila ran to the imaging chamber and examined the lock.
Sester said, "I'll go get help." He rushed off to find aid.
Vila was about to open the lock control when he heard a click. He tried the chamber's access panel. It slid open. Vila rushed inside, yanked off the drug lines and pulled Avon free from the chamber.
"Dammit, Avon. Don't do this!" He shook Avon's shoulder. Vila felt helpless; he didn't know what else to do. Medical aid was not one of his skills; he wished it was.
"Hang on! Sester's getting help." He lifted Avon's head and held him. "Whatever happened to, not having to prove that you care? You didn't have to do this! We would have believed you. I believe you!"
Healer Garett and his assistants rushed in with Sester in tow. They came over immediately.
Vila lifted his head; there was a look of stunned shock on his face; as if he couldn't believe what was happening. "Can you do something for him? He can't die." There was a plea in his voice; he couldn't accept that Avon would die because of this.
"We'll take care of him," said Garett. "Let go of him, Vila. Let us do our jobs. It's not too late."
Vila put Avon's head down gently and stepped aside. The Healer and his team began working on Avon with a resuscitation machine. Garett asked, "How long ago did his heart stop?"
Sester replied, "Just over two minutes."
"Good. No brain damage yet."
Cally, Argus and Reya rushed in. Cally had sensed Avon's emotions but had accepted them as part of his intense discussions with Vila; but she had become increasingly concerned. They were already on their way back when Avon's heart stopped. Cally had almost collapsed on the pathway; not understanding what was happening but knowing that something was very wrong. They ran the rest of the way back.
A distressed Cally asked, "What happened? How is he?"
Sester replied, "They're working on him now. His heart stopped."
She turned to Vila and asked again, "What happened? The two of you were talking."
Vila couldn't meet her eyes. "We finished. I went to get something to eat. When I came back, the door was locked. Then it opened and I found him here," Vila's head indicated Sester. "Avon was already in the chamber."
"What was Avon doing there?" she asked in shock.
The medical team were still working on Avon. They had opened up his shirt and placed something over his chest.
"Why was Avon in the imaging chamber? And what are you doing here?" Argus asked Sester angrily. "Did you do this?" He moved threateningly towards the psychostrategist.
"Avon asked me to," replied Sester. "He knew none of you would agree."
"And he knew you would?" Argus's voice had dropped in tone. There was coldness in his face.
"What exactly did Avon do?" asked Reya.
"He wanted to find out something," said Sester. "The only way he could do it was to relive what happened in the shuttle. But this time he programmed a scenario that left himself no options."
Cally's face turned pale. She said in a quiet voice that was full of sadness and understanding, "He needed to know if he would kill Vila." Cally's eyes closed and her head bowed. She shook her head. "Why didn't you tell me, Avon?"
"Because you would have stopped him," said Sester.
Cally opened her eyes and looked at him angrily. "You should not have let him do this."
"I had to," said Sester.
Argus said, "No. You didn't." His voice seemed to get colder with every word.
"You still don't understand. But Cally does, don’t you?" asked Sester.
They all looked at her. Cally was afraid that she did understand. She told them, "Avon would never have had any peace until he knew. We were all happy before, but I knew that he wasn't. Something was bothering him but I didn't know it was this."
"He did it for me," said Vila in a quiet voice. He was about to say something more but their attentions were turned to the life monitors as they began registering again.
Garett came over. "He's fine now. Still very weak but we were able to get to him in time. Before there was any permanent damage."
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
"Can I see him now?" asked Cally.
"Just you," replied Garett. "He's still unconscious. We're trying to flush the drugs out of his system right now."
After Cally went to be with Avon, Garett asked, "Now will someone tell me what on Athol is going on? Who fed him the drugs? Didn't anyone know that level would be dangerous?"
Sester repeated what he already told the others.