Avon was back on the examination bed, his head surrounded by instruments at a discreet distance, bathing him in soft rays. It was a safe place. It was an effect that was being encouraged by the machines. The Tellaran specialists had said that they were interfering with negative emotions.
Avon did not like an overabundance of unknowns. It made calculations next to impossible if you couldn't fill in at least some variables. When the unknowns involved his own life…
He liked being an enigma to other people. He actively encouraged it. It gave him a measure of control if no one could guess what he would do in any given situation.
He always knew. He had an internal logic, a personal code of conduct that he followed; an orderly, rational set of rules by which he lived his life. In a life that had been controlled by others, it was the only way he could wrestle a measure of control for himself.
When the enigma was himself, it meant that he was no longer in control. It produced a situation that was untenable for him.
Cally had been right. It did make a difference. He needed to know about the past that had been taken away from him.
The loss of control over his own life should be producing a host of negative emotions: fear, helplessness, feeling of being trapped, and all of it overlaid with an angry, defensive aggression. His normal coping mechanism.
Because of the Tellaran machines, he was feeling none of these now. It was as if he was only processing the fact of it with his logical mind. An acceptable state to be in considering what they were trying to do.
Dr. Kendric's voice spoke to him, "Avon. Are you ready?"
Avon's impassive voice said, "I'm ready."
"Using the machines, we are going to encourage your mind to go into a hypnotic state. Do you understand?"
"I understand," said Avon.
"If at any time, you wish to stop, you can tell us and we will stop. Is that acceptable?"
Kendric was being careful to give him as much control over the process as possible. In a situation where loss of control was the key subject, anything they could give him was greatly appreciated. "It is."
Avon had the impression that this last bit was being said as much to the specialists controlling the machines as to him. He waited with clinical curiosity, trying to retain an impression of his own current mental and emotional state and wondering at what point the hypnotic state would begin.
Dr. Kendric's voice spoke again. She had a calming manner and deliberateness in her speech. "Avon, how do you feel?"
They must be trying to establish a baseline. "I feel nothing."
There was a pause and then Dr. Kendric's voice asked, "Is it an absence of emotion? Or are you experiencing calm?"
Avon thought about this. "I feel calm. In control. I am experiencing no strong emotions."
"Good. Where are you right now, Avon?"
Another baseline question. "I'm in the medical examination room."
"Good. In a moment, I am going to ask you to go back into your past. Going steadily further back until we reach a point before any tampering was done to your mind."
"I understand." When will the hypnotic state begin?
"We will first try to access some memories that are real in order to obtain some comparison readings. When you begin going back with your mind, I want you to view the memories as if you were watching a vid-drama."
"You want me to observe but to remain detached?" This would be useful.
Kendric said, "Yes. Be aware of the emotions but as if they were happening to someone else. Can you do that?"
"Good. Avon, we will begin now. I want you to go back in your mind to yesterday."
Avon began thinking back.
Cally. And himself. Naked. On the bed. They were… He could feel vague feelings of arousal. He was not completely detached. The state was within his control. It felt…
"Avon, I want you to go back further."
No. He wanted to stay with the memory but his mind obediently followed the suggestion. The next memory was of…
Argus's voice saying, Avon, we should investigate this further. There's no knowing what the Federation did to you.
"Further back, Avon."
With a gasp, Avon recalled having this memory. Or was he remembering the actual event?
Dr. Kendric's voice was professional, "Avon, remember that this is only a memory. I want you to detach yourself from it. Where are you, Avon?"
He was aware that his heart had started beating faster. Keep it a memory. Remain detached. "I'm in my cabin. Asleep."
"What else is happening, Avon?"
"I'm having a nightmare…no…I think it's a memory." He strained to remember. It was hard. "I'm…a child…in the memory. I…can't…see anything. It's dark."
Avon was unaware of it but his voice was becoming different. It was still his voice but he sounded much younger.
Strong small hands were shaking his shoulders. "Kerr, wake up!"
Kendric's voice interrupted the feeling of the hands. "Avon, remember you are watching this memory. Tell me what's happening."
Yes. Detach. Must remember. His voice became normal again. Calm. Impassive. "I can hear a voice. A young boy. He knows my name. He calls me Kerr."
Kendric asked, "What is the boy doing, Avon?"
The memory was starting to elude him. "He's…shaking me. I must be asleep. Or unconscious."
Avon struggled to remember. The young boy's voice again. What did they do to him?
"Something…must have happened to me. He's asking…" The memory was gone. "I…can't remember." Avon was frustrated.
Kendric's calm, soothing voice told him, "It's alright, Avon. Let go of it. We can come back to it later."
"Yes," replied Avon as the frustration melted away.
"Where are you now, Avon?"
In the memory, his eyes opened. "I'm back in my cabin, I've just woken up. Cally is here."
"That's fine, Avon. Now I want you to make a large jump back. Nine years. Do you understand?"
Avon said, "Yes."
"I want you to find a happy memory."
She has no idea, thought Avon wryly as his mind rushed back, searching shadows of memories that seemed indistinct. Back. Trying to touch on a moment of happiness. Nothing. There was none. Further back.
There was one. A brief moment. "I've found one."
"Good, Avon. I want you to replay this memory."
"Vila and I were on the ship. The others had gone down to check out something. We were orbiting over Freedom City. There was a roulette wheel there. I was interested in knowing if ORAC could control the computers."
"You wished to beat the casino that way?" There was no recrimination in Kendric's voice. Only a curiosity.
"Yes. It was a test."
"Did it work?"
Avon smiled. "Yes. It was very satisfying." His smile became a frown as the memory continued. "Vila didn't want to stop. I told him just one more and then I was walking out."
Kendric's voice sounded curious. "You weren't interested in gaining more money? Even though you knew that you could easily obtain more with ORAC?"
"The money was important but it was a secondary priority. I had satisfied my curiosity."
"About ORAC's capabilities?"
Kendric said, "Go on."
Avon was aware of the rise of other emotions as the memories continued. He stayed detached. "Vila was invited for a drink by the casino manager, Krantor. Krantor…" Avon reminded himself to stay detached. "When Vila came back. He was drunk. And he had agreed to play a deadly game of chess for a prize of ten million credits."
"Deadly?" asked Kendric.
"If the player loses, he receives a fatal electric shock."
"Vila agreed to this?"
"I thought he was crazy. I told him he was out of his skull. Vila…appeared disoriented."
"Yes. He was drunken one second and then he was sober and afraid. He didn't remember what happened. I…realized something was wrong. He must have been drugged."
"Then what happened?"
"I was angry. They had tricked Vila. He didn't want to play anymore." For some reason, he kept remembering Vila's face. The fear. Helplessness.
"Then…Krantor said the money we had already won at the roulette table would be forfeit." Avon's voice became hard. "I knew then. They had set it all up. Drugging Vila. They wanted to kill him using the chess game. I…became angrier. They could not do that to Vila and get away with it. I would not let them. I told Vila to play."
Vila's face came into view again. The same one. The look on Vila's face. It was haunting him. Krantor drugged Vila. Tricked him. Tricked us. He couldn't get away with it. Avon registered anger again.
Kendric's voice was gentle but insistent, "But wasn't that dangerous for Vila? ORAC could control other computers. Vila's opponent was not a computer."
"That made it even easier. ORAC can trace a line through the pattern of infinity. No human being can beat ORAC. Besides, we had the teleport bracelets. With ORAC we could have teleported out of there at any time." Avon's voice became hard again. "I was not going to let them get away with doing that to Vila. Or to me."
Vila's face. The same one. The fear on his face had turned to accusation.
Avon looked around. He could see the crowd, the powder-faced Krantor in the silly wig, the chairs…it was as if he was back in the casino. He was standing by Vila's chair again as the thief looked at him with troubled eyes and said, I don't want to play.
A different Avon looked into those eyes. Vila doesn't want to do it. He's afraid.
It was easy to fool himself that Vila could have refused at anytime. But he knew it wouldn't have been the truth.
He had explained it to Cally once when Tarrant had forced Vila to go with him on a mission. Cally hadn’t understood. Vila always felt pressured. He never felt he had a choice with any of them. Cally had not understood but he had. Of all of them, Avon understood the pressures that someone could place on you that made you feel you had no choice except to do what they wanted, even against your will. That someone...
Avon's stomach twisted in pain. An involuntary groan escaped his lips.
Kendric's voice said immediately, "Avon, I want you to let go of this memory. We are finished for today. You can rest."
A sense of calm and relaxation came over Avon and his eyes closed.
Cally looked on anxiously as the technicians removed the machines from around Avon's head. Vila was staring at at him, his eyes in deep thought.
Cally asked, "Dr. Kendric, what happened?"
Kendric replied, "Avon was remembering an event from his past. It started out as something pleasant but it became something else. The readings from the monitors registered that he was trying to reprocess the memory. He wanted to relive it because something happened. That is why we didn't stop him. As long as he retained control, we wanted to give him the opportunity to resolve it on his own."
"But he experienced pain."
"Yes, something appeared to have gone wrong that is why I stopped it."
Cally turned to Vila, "Is that what you and Avon did when we were at Freedom City? You went down to the casino? I always suspected that the two of you had been up to something. I think we all did."
Vila looked embarrassed, "Well, I suppose we did." These regression therapy sessions were supposed to be private but Vila had snuck in because he was concerned about Avon. He suspected that Cally might have asked him to give Avon his privacy and leave but then Avon had started remembering about Freedom City.
Dr. Kendric asked, "So the memories Avon experienced, those are the same as yours?"
Vila said, "Yes. Except for the last bit. Avon never got hurt. We won and we grabbed the money and got out of there. No one got hurt."
Kendric tapped her fingers on the panel in front of her and said thoughtfully, "For that we're going to have to ask Avon. But this has been a useful session. Since this was a real memory, we now have a good baseline for comparisons."
Cally asked, "And what was the earlier memory? It seemed as if Avon was remembering something from his childhood."
Kendric said, "Yes and it appears that a dynamic block was at work to prevent him from remembering anything further."
Avon came towards them. There were beads of sweat on his forehead and he was moving slowly. He said, "Dr. Kendric."
"Avon, how are you feeling?" she asked with concern.
"Yes, even with the help of the machines, it can still be an emotionally exhausting experience. It depends on the memories and the ability of your body to handle the stress. It appears that the ones you accessed fall into this stressful category. I have a suggestion."
Avon asked, "What is the suggestion?"
"Our first attempt at regression therapy has achieved some positive results. I would like to continue but I think it would be better if you were physically stronger."
Cally asked, "What do you mean?"
Dr. Kendric said, "Our next sets of examinations were going to focus on your physical condition. We believe that there are many things we can do for you in this area. We would like to do this first before attempting the regression therapy again."
This was something Avon didn't have to think on too much. Any improvements in his physical condition would be welcome. It would make him feel less of a burden. "Agreed."
"Very well. We will have the tests set up for tomorrow morning."
Vila entered Avon's cabin apprehensively. Avon was leaning back against a pillow on his bunk, his eyes closed and his face strained. Cally had said that Avon wanted to see him.
Vila had been full of thoughts of that day down on Freedom City. It had started out so well. He and Avon had gotten along better than they had before. And then… He had never known what to think of how it had ended.
He looked around for a chair and pulled it up as silently as possible in case Avon was asleep. Vila sat watching him. He had never known what to think of Avon in those days. He seemed like such a bastard sometimes and then he would surprise you. Avon had a tendency to do that. Surprise you.
Sometimes they seemed to get along, without any snark or nastiness. Those times had been nice. He wished there had been more like that but both of them had been too caught up in surviving and protecting themselves.
"How long have you been here?"
Vila nearly fell out of his chair at the unexpected voice.
Avon's opened eyes stared at him. He had sat up while Vila was preoccupied.
Vila said, "Just a few minutes. I thought you were asleep."
"You could have woken me."
"Yeah, well, you could try staying awake if you wanted to talk to someone."
Avon leaned back tiredly. "I want to talk about what happened on Freedom City."
"I was thinking about that too." Vila sat forward in his seat a little.
Avon turned his head to look at him. "Let me say this."
Avon stared forward again as if his eyes could not meet Vila's when he was talking. "I enjoyed our time on Freedom City. We were a good team." He glanced at Vila for a moment. The other man was looking at him earnestly and didn't say anything.
Avon continued, "I enjoyed everything until the last part."
Vila muttered, "The chess game."
"Yes." Avon's jaw tightened briefly. "I should never have forced you to play when you clearly didn't want to. Even if I thought there was no chance of losing. I hate people not giving me a choice. I should have given you one." Avon turned his head towards Vila and stared at him for a moment. "I'm sorry."
Vila was nearly taken aback. "Well…I suppose…" He wanted to say that he accepted the apology. It made him feel better about what happened but there was still something he wanted to know. "Avon, why did you do it? Was it because of the money?"
"No. It was never about the money." Avon looked away from him again. "It was about my own pride. When I found out that Krantor had drugged you and set you up, I was angry. I knew he intended to kill you and take everything back. I couldn’t let him get away with doing that to you. Or to me." Vila's face at the chess match floated into his mind's eyes again. "I was doing it for you. Or so I convinced myself. I refused to lose. I couldn't let anyone get the best of me. Or someone…I cared about. It was wrong of me. Even if I had the right intentions."
Avon had a quick flash of thought. He wondered if his memories about Vila and Freedom City were a side effect of his experience with Cally last night and being able to feel her pain. Otherwise why would Vila's face keep bothering him during the memories? Why was he concerned about Vila's fear this time? He did...care about how he felt this time. It was still such an unnatural thing for him to admit. He'd always been a person who did practical things in order to care about people. He rarely took other's feelings seriously.
Avon looked at Vila. The other man was staring down at the surface of the bunk. He seemed deep in thought.
Vila looked up and met Avon's eyes. "Would you do it again?"
Avon's eyes didn't flinch. "No. I wouldn't."
Vila said, "Then, I forgive you." He studied the other man for a moment and then said, "We got Krantor back, didn't we? And we won." Vila grinned. "I liked doing that."
Avon looked at him in surprise.
Vila said, "If it hadn't been for you, we'd have both lost everything and Krantor would have gotten away with it."
"There's no possibly about it. He was out to get us, one way or the other. We couldn't let him get away with that, could we? Not us."
Avon was perplexed, it sounded as if Vila hadn't liked what he had done on Freedom City but now he did. "What are you trying to say, Vila?"
"I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I appreciated what you did. I just didn't like the way you did it." A sly look appeared in Vila's eyes. "You know Avon, we could go down to Freedom City again. Once you fix ORAC that is. We could wear disguises. Maybe dress as women. We'd be a lot more careful this time."
"You're not serious?" asked Avon incredulously. "What about Marlena?"
Vila was perplexed. "Marlena? What's she got to do with this?"
"I imagine she trusts you with her daughter," said Avon with dry amusement.
"Oh. You've noticed?"
"I think this entire Sector has noticed."
"Well, you've been so busy and there's been so much going on…" Vila had thought that Avon was too preoccupied with his own concerns to notice much of anything else. "I suppose she'd stop thinking I was a good influence on Corinne?"
Avon was about to say, "When did you start being one?" But he knew that wouldn’t have been the truth. He had noticed Vila with Corinne. He knew that Vila was being very careful with her. Instead he said, "Guess."
"You know, Avon. I'm not sure if I can get used to this side of you."
"What are you talking about?"
Vila smirked. "Avon the Guidance Counsellor."
Avon had an irritated look on his face.