Avon could see the ceiling. A corner of his mind that dealt with trivialities, an extremely small corner, casually identified it as the familiar light green one of the examination room. He felt relaxed and in control.
The machines again.
Avon lifted his head to look around. As he had expected, he was lying on the examination bed again; its surface moulded to fit the contours of his body. Just beyond, he could see the others watching him as if he was some curious exhibit. He exhaled an aggravated breath and lay back down again. The loss of his privacy was a constant irritation. The crew seemed to treat anything dealing with his condition as a group activity.
He knew what Cally would say. It was natural for them to do that since they all cared about him. They were all concerned. He couldn’t deny them the sentiment but he wished they would find a more useful way of expressing it; one that didn’t make him feel as if he were a lab animal.
Avon tried to block the irritation out of his mind and concentrate on understanding what had brought him back to this examination bed again.
The last thing he remembered was…pain. Avon winced slightly at the phantom sensation. He could feel it vaguely now, like a barely remembered itch.
Scattered memories came back to him.
Dr. Kendric had been saying something about four periods of tampering. Then something about the limitations of the machines they used. The effect was not reproducible outside of them. Then she said…
Each memory was becoming harder to retrieve. He could feel the start of a headache.
…something about…a greater incidence of tampering when I was a child.
He could feel his lungs expanding at the increase of stress of trying to remember something that seemed intent on eluding him.
Then Vila said something about… Blank. There was something… He couldn't remember anymore.
A memory block?
Avon focused his concentration and tried to push past the thickening veil. A hiss of pain escaped his lips as something seemed to pierce his mind. Avon's hand went to his head and he rubbed the side of his temple. It felt as if his head was in a restraining device and the clamp was slowly being tightened.
* Avon. Dr. Kendric wants you to stop trying to remember. *
Avon turned his head in Cally's direction. * Why? *
There was a short pause. * They’re saying that what you're trying to do is causing readings they've never encountered before. *
Dr. Kendric spoke to him. "Avon, there appear to be several dynamic memory blocks in place."
Kendric was standing beside Cally. Without having to shift his head, he said, "Explain."
The lights of the machines around Avon’s head turned off. Cally came over to help him up off the bed and into a chair while the others gathered around him in concern.
Kendric asked, "Are you familiar with the idea of post-hypnotic suggestion?"
Avon looked up at her. "I've heard of the concept. It's an altered sense of perception or a behavioral pattern that may be programmed into the person under hypnosis. They resemble conditioned reflexes. Are you saying that's what's happening to me?"
"It's the same idea but it was not done through hypnosis. It's a very sophisticated form of conditioning. Rather than putting blocks into place to prevent access to existing memories, these are dynamically built by your own mind when certain triggering stresses are present. They occur automatically and you're not aware of them on a conscious level. Pain results when you try to break through them, just as would occur with normal mind blocks."
Avon asked, “Can they be broken?”
“The Federation mental blocks are clever. Most are designed so that the healthy human mind will maintain them automatically. They utilize the mind’s ability to protect itself when presented with traumas that are too difficult for the conscious mind to handle.”
“You mean that it’s a type of amnesia?”
“In many ways, yes. I suspect that some of the memories would fall into this category naturally. Whoever did this to you was also able to induce this state for other things they did not want you to remember. However, they went even further in that they have conditioned your mind to activate this psychological defence mechanism for specific stressors. To prevent you from being able to retain ideas that would lead to the breaking of the memory blocks. But your mind has received damage and extraordinary stress, which is why you experience scatterings of these hidden memories now.”
“But not enough to know what happened.”
“But the memories are there?”
“Yes, otherwise you would not be able to remember the ones you do. Your subconscious has been trying to find its way back to them. I have already talked about the first two periods of tampering. The third one occurred approximately six years ago.”
Vila exclaimed, “Six years? But…that must have been around the time…”
Avon said in a subdued voice, “Terminal.”
Vila stared at him, “Yeah. Terminal. Servalan…”
The two men stared at each other, each one recalling the fateful events that led up to the destruction of the Liberator.
Dr. Kendric continued, “The incidents of tampering in that period occur intermittently over the space of approximately a year.”
That caused Avon, Vila and Cally to respond in shock.
Vila exclaimed, “A year?! How could that be? Servalan only had Avon for a few hours.”
Dr. Kendric responded, “I cannot explain what happened. I can only tell you that it did.”
Vila asked, “But wouldn’t I remember? I mean…a whole year!”
Argus pointed out, “Your memories about the shuttle were implanted by Servalan.”
Vila said, “I suppose…but that would mean…is anything I remember about that year real? Were we all captured by Servalan? What happened? How did we…”
Avon’s face seemed to have lost the ability to express any emotions. He was like a man who only wanted to be a machine; an object that could no longer feel the impact of what was happening to him. He said one word, “Terminal.”
Vila felt faint. “Nothing makes sense. How did we all end up where we did?” His eyes suddenly widened, “Avon! What if…”
The machine showed pain in his eyes but his voice was wooden, “Blake is dead, Vila. Nothing can change that. I…killed him.” There was a twist of pain in his stomach reminding him of the fact. He could barely suppress a grimace.
Argus said, “Yes. Nothing can change that. But, Avon what if what happened wasn’t what you remembered? What if…”
Avon’s voice became angry and he shouted, “No! I killed him. That is something I am sure of. I might not remember anything else but I know this.” He nearly got out of his seat but sat back down. He tried to use the breathing techniques to calm himself.
Argus and Vila decided not to press the issue further. They knew Avon was already too stressed. Anymore and they would have to put him back under the machines.
As Avon settled himself, Dr. Kendric continued, “The last period of tampering, you would be most familiar with.”
Avon said in a voice taut with remembered tensions. “Yes...you still haven’t answered my original question.”
“Can the blocks be removed?” She paused as she seemed to ponder something.
Avon wondered what she was trying to decide. So far, Dr. Kendric had been very open and forthright with him. He appreciated that. But had it come to the point where the good of the patient necessitated the telling of lies?
Kendric said slowly, “We can remove the barriers but there is a difficulty. The memories they have blocked off are tied with the ones that your mind could not handle. The removing of the memory blocks means that those memories would also be released to your conscious mind. There is no knowing what that would do to you. It may push your mind to employ even more drastic defence mechanisms or it may be overwhelmed to the point where...”
There was a sick feeling in Avon’s stomach. “I might lose my mind?”
“That is a possibility.”
This produced many worried faces.
Cally asked, “What if we don’t remove the blocks all at once? Would it work if they were broken one at a time?”
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that discretely. Most memories and their associated blocks tend to be linked together. If we pick the wrong block to remove, it might produce a cascading effect. That would almost guarantee a collapse of Avon’s mind. Since we don’t know what the original memories were, the possibility of removing the wrong block or releasing the wrong memories is very high.”
Cally asked, “I don’t understand, Doctor. Using the Federation’s mind mapping machines, Healer Garett was able to break through one of the blocked memories to find out what really happened.”
“You’re referring to the ones dealing with the events on the shuttle? From what you’ve described to me, the memories were specific ones, easy to isolate and the blocks associated with them had already begun to break down. Unfortunately, the current sets of memories extend from Avon’s childhood and are connected over a long period. They are deeply ingrained and despite the scattered fragments he’s been able to experience, the entire system of blocks is still very much in place.”
Avon could hear the frustration creeping into Cally’s voice as she asked, “Then there is no way to break through them now?”
Dr. Kendric said, “Not in the way you’re suggesting. Nevertheless, there are various treatments we can try, ones that we use for people who’ve experienced great trauma.”
Marlena, whom they hadn’t seen much of since arriving on Tellar, said, “I am undergoing some of those treatments now, to deal with the things that happened to me when I was first captured.”
Corinne put her arm around her mother’s shoulders and looked at her with concern. Except for the time she was with Vila, she had been spending the rest of her time with her mother while she was not undergoing therapy sessions.
Dr. Kendric said, “There is also an additional complication.”
Another one? thought Avon. What he was hearing was already more than enough.
Dr. Kendric said, “Not only were blocks placed to prevent memories from being accessed, new memories were also implanted to reinforce the conditioning you received.”
Avon asked, “Let me guess, these are also tied to the original memories?”
“Yes, if we’re not careful, you will end up with a mind that will never be able to distinguish the two. From your perspective, both sets of memories will be equally valid. This will cause a great deal of internal stress, which will affect your ability to perceive reality. You will never be able to trust your memories again.”
Avon said, “That would be madness.”
Argus asked, “What can be done doctor?”
“There are four ways open to you, Avon. All of which carry inherent risks or negative factors. The first way is the one I referred to before. Working to help the people in this Sector, we’ve had to develop various therapies for those who have experienced traumatic events. Yours is not the normal case we encounter, but I believe the therapies would still be of use.”
Cally asked, “What types of therapies?”
Another doctor with a moustache answered, “For Avon’s case, we will most likely start off with regression therapy. In order to circumvent the cascading effect of removing the wrong blocked memories, we will try to go back to a point before there was any tampering done and work forward from there. Dealing with the most recent set of blocks last. We believe that your psi connection to Avon will be of great help in this. Once we are able to resolve the first set of memories, you and Avon should be able to continue the therapies on your own.”
Cally said, “That sounds like it will take along time.”
The moustached doctor, a man named Dunn, said, “That is the drawback. How long it takes depends on how Avon responds to the treatments. However, it would be our recommended option. Our therapies not only deal with the trauma but also engage the patient in relearning ways to cope with the stress and implications of the memories that are uncovered.”
Avon asked, “What are the other options?
Dr. Kendric replied, “The second would be the least desirable but would also be effective.”
Avon could guess what this alternative was. “That’s out of the question.”
Dr. Kendric nodded. “Of course. I only mention it as a last resort.”
Avon’s eyes were hard. “Not even as that.” It was clear that he would prefer death to this last resort.
Vila wondered if he had missed something or if the others were as perplexed as he was. The first option sounded good to him. “What’s this last resort?”
A snarl twisted Avon’s lips and he spit out the name like a poison he was trying to remove. “Servalan.”
Vila had the same feeling, without the snarl. He said, “That would be worse than…well whatever the worst could be times ten.”
Argus had a flash of guilt and hoped no one was looking at him. Would he go to Servalan if nothing else worked? He had been contemplating it as a last resort but Avon had just indicated that he preferred death. Argus didn’t want to lose this man. He had come to consider him as a friend. He cared about him.
But did that give him the right to force this on Avon? Against his will? From the sounds of it, if nothing worked for Avon, the result would be madness. Argus knew that he could convince himself that Avon was too stubborn to know what was good for him. Did that give him the right to take the choice away from him? Would that make him no better than Servalan? Even if she could heal Avon, would Avon never recover from having to turn to her for help? Argus was wracked with indecision and guilt. He had already compromised himself. The agreement he made with Servalan to protect Avon was one he regretted every day. But he was trapped. He wished he wasn’t a man of his word but he had to honour the commitment he had made.
Dr. Kendric went on, “The next way would be to resolve them externally.”
Avon asked, “You mean, find out what really happened to me?”
“Yes. That may be a sufficient bridge to your original memories that your mind will be able to find a way to get past the blocks and eventually break them. But it’s a haphazard way of doing it. At the moment, your mind is like an activated time bomb with an unpredictable detonator. There is a possibility that a cascading effect might still occur if the wrong blocks are removed.”
Avon asked, “It’s a possibility. But there is also a possibility that it will work?”
“Yes. As I had indicated, it is an unpredictable way of doing it because there is no knowing what is out there to be discovered. That’s a factor you cannot control.”
Cally asked, “What’s the last option?”
Dr. Kendric paused again. “The last one is something we can do that the Federation has never been able to. We can remove the memories.”
Argus asked, “But isn’t that what the Federation already does by placing memory blocks?”
“No. They are forced to use blocks because they do not have the knowledge or ability to permanently remove the memories.”
This interested Avon. “But you can?”
“Yes. We do have that ability.”
It sounded too simple. Avon knew there had to be a catch. “Without affecting the functioning of my mind?”
“Yes. You will still remain you. There would be no negative impact on your mind’s ability to function or with any skills or information that you possess. The only impact would be the memories and the learned behaviours associated with those memories.”
Avon asked, “How long would this take?”
“The result will be permanent gaps in your memory. This would cause other types of stress. Therapy is still your best option, Avon.”
Avon repeated, “How long?”
Kendric looked towards another of her colleagues, a tanned man who seemed to like short capes. “Dr. Tees?”
The man thought aloud, “We’ll have to map out all the zones of memory and find the connected threads. That might take weeks because of the extent of tampering done to your mind and the number of instances of trauma. It has to be very detailed so that we will not damage anything else. Depending on the range and complexity of the memories, the surgery could take four to eight hours. Then you’ll need recovery time for your mind to stabilize to the new configurations. That will require therapy. I’d say four to six weeks as a conservative estimate. We will try to leave as many of your memories intact as we can but I’m afraid that almost all of the ones associated with the traumas will have to be removed as well. If we leave any strong connections behind, your mind might be able to find a way to rebuild the memories. Then you’d be back to where you started.”
Cally asked, “What does that mean, doctor?”
The tanned man looked around at all of them before replying, “I suspect that if we were to remove the memories of the years Avon spent under Servalan’s custody, he would most likely have to lose everything from the time he was captured up to his most recent memories.”
“Why?” Cally asked in shock.
“The relationships and experiences he has had since then are intricately tied together. The nature of how he relates with you, for example, has changed because of what happened to him. That would have to be removed along with the memories of the traumas. That would apply to his relationship with all of you.”
“No.” Avon’s voice was quiet and subdued. “That is not an option.”
Vila didn't think it was too bad an option. True they might have to go back to where they were before, but they could start over again. If they could do it this time, why couldn't they do it again?
He didn't even want to try to imagine the things Avon might want to forget. His own memories of what happened after Avon was rescued were more than enough for him. He remembered only too clearly the sight of Avon trying to kill himself when he came back. The shock of seeing the desperation and tears on the face of a man who he never thought could be defeated. And Avon’s agony when he struggled with the simple task of choosing his own clothing. “Avon, think about it.”
Vila was also thinking about other memories that might be useful to lose. Ones he wished he could forget as well. It would be an easy solution to many things.
Avon was being stressed again and he said forcefully, “No! That is not an option.” There was unexplained anguish in his eyes that he was trying to suppress. Cally put her hand on his shoulder and he looked up at her. He repeated in a softer but firm voice, “No.”
His eyes narrowed as he looked beyond her and saw Sester leaning against the wall near the doorway. The compassion in the man's eyes made him angry. There was no knowing how long he had been standing there.
What does he know?