Cally repositioned the pillow for maximum support as Avon lay tiredly back on the inclined bed in the observation room. He said, “I can’t remember anything.”
Cally poured a glass of water for him from the pitcher beside the bed. Even though he didn’t show it, she could sense Avon’s frustration. What he needed was a diversion, something to occupy his mind. “Avon, when we were back on the ship, after one of your dreams, you woke up and asked me to remember something.”
Avon’s brows lifted in question, “Did I? I don’t recall.”
“Yes, you asked me to remember the name Jack. You said that it was one of the boys and that they had done something to you that hurt.”
Avon crossed his arms over his chest as he contemplated this. “Did I say anything else?”
“No. I’d almost forgotten it. I meant to bring it up but you didn’t seem to remember it later. Avon, do you know anyone named Jack?”
“None in my conscious memory.”
A voice came from the other bed, “There’s nothing in your files about a Jack either.”
Avon shot an unfriendly look at his unwelcome neighbour.
Sester grinned at him, “Yes, I know. I should mind my own business. Just doing that now.” He rolled so that his back faced them.
Avon asked, “How long does he have to be here?”
“I heard that,” mumbled Sester.
Cally handed Avon the glass of water. “Until the doctors feel that the drugs are no longer affecting his mind.”
Avon’s lips pulled back in a snarl as he looked over at Sester. “When will that be?”
“It’s hard to say.”
Avon said dryly, “They must have other rooms they can put him in. I believe there’s a storage closet just down the corridor.”
With his back still facing them, Sester said, “If you want to get rid of me...”
Avon had a death’s head grin, “There are more permanent ways. Unfortunately the majority of them would be illegal on Tellar.”
Sester finally rolled to face them. “Lucky me.”
Avon said with a grim smile, “You won’t always be on Tellar.”
Sester flashed him a grin. “You can’t get rid of me that easily, Avon.”
“But I can always try.”
Sester asked, “Cally, you said that Avon was able to retain some memories about his dreams for a few seconds after they end?”
Cally regarded him warily, wondering what he was up to. “That’s right.”
“It might be useful to have a recording device of some kind or have someone ask Avon questions about what he remembers before he forgets.”
Even though she hated to admit it, it sounded like a good idea. “That might be useful. What do you think, Avon?”
Avon asked, “Can you arrange it with the Tellarans?”
“I will speak to them now.” Cally went to talk to one of the observers at the other end of the room.
Sester sighed. He wanted to offer to help further but he doubted if they would accept it. He rolled around again and tried to get some rest.
“What do you get out of this?” asked Avon.
Sester sighed again and said without turning around, “Nothing that you would want to understand, Avon.”
“You will not gain an advantage from helping me.”
Young Charles didn't know what to believe anymore. Sester could feel his confusion and fear as the boy turned on the shower overhead and cold water splashed over his body.
He shivered but clenched his teeth as he quickly washed himself. There was nothing warm in this place. He'd better get used to it.
Sester smiled to himself. This was the beginning of his love of luxury and creature comforts. He could remember hating the austere conditions they were forced to endure at first. For a young Alpha child, it was a rude awakening. Things got much better later, but not until after the first year. And only if they learned what they were supposed to learn.
For as long as Charles could remember, his parent had always wanted more. For themselves and for him. They felt very keenly their lack of position in Alpha society.
They were all born to lead, not to be led. But not everyone can lead. It made Alpha society a cutthroat one, with each interaction a jostling for power and position.
His parents had always told him that you had to take whatever advantage you could get. No one will give it to you; they will only try to take it away from you.
Being put into this special program was a dream come true. But now, it was all in danger.
What danger? Sester wondered what had happened. He didn't remember this. There was never any danger. He had excelled at the Academy.
Young Charles stepped out of the shower stall and quickly towelled himself dry. He picked up the neatly folded pants, shook them out and began pulling them on.
Despite what he said, he was inclined to believe that the Federation was what Kerr said it was.
Kerr? Sester reacted in shock at the familiar name.
Charles was highly intelligent and observant as a child. He had always been suspicious about some of the things his parents told him about the Federation. There were too many inconsistencies in the way things worked around him.
Sester was only half-paying attention to his young self ever since the mention of the familiar name. He didn't remember anyone named Kerr at the Academy. There was a blinding stab of pain in his head. Sester could barely manage a thought of laughter amidst a groan. Well, that serves as a verification of sorts.
So I knew someone named Kerr but someone doesn't want me to remember him. Kerr is not a common name. It would be a great, and not very funny, coincidence if it were Avon. Could it be? Pain seemed to split his head.
Charles fell to the ground. It felt as if he'd been hit by a hard object. He put his hand to the back of his head, something felt warm and sticky to the touch. His hand was wet with blood. He felt ill.
A rush of feet surrounded him. He looked up as the bully said, "Get him up!"
Hands grabbed his arms and pulled him to his feet. Sester could feel his young self's anger as he saw the face of the bully. He had been so absorbed in his thoughts that he hadn't heard them come up behind him. The other boys in the shower hall left quickly. There would be no unwilling witnesses or accidental victims. Or anyone to help him.
Sester started with shock at the face of the bully. He recognized this boy. It was the…
Oomph. Young Charles bent over in pain as the bully punched him in the stomach. The bully said with a cruel sneer, "Someone told me that you've been saying things about me behind my back."
Charles gasped out, "Well, if that someone said that you had a brain the size of a pea and an ego the size of…"
The bully punched him in the face. Charles could feel blood escaping from his nose. Even though Charles knew that he should be afraid and not say things to make the situation worse, he refused to be cowed by an ignorant bully. He smiled impudently. "It's good to know I was right."
The bully knocked him hard against the side of the head. Charles felt dizzy. The young bully said, "I think it's time to teach you a lesson."
"I wouldn’t recommend it," an ice-cold voice sent chills down the spines of the boys. Even the bully hesitated in mid-punch.
They all turned to stare at the intruder.
Charles gasped out, "Kerr!"
Sester's breath caught in his throat as he saw the face of the figure coming towards him.
Avon? Pain exploded in Sester's head. The memory began to fade away from him. He brought his mind to bear; he refused to let go of this memory.
The pain increased. Sester could hear himself groaning. Avon! He could not let go of this memory.
The young Avon walked into the shower room. There was no fear in his dark eyes, only an icy warning. Each word he spoke was like a sharpened edge. "Leave…him...alone."
Sester cried out in pain. It felt as if something was trying to rip the memories from his mind. "No!" He was straining to breathe. Must…not… let go of this memory. It was no good. There were only fragments now. Young Avon kneeling down beside him, reassuring him. Avon helping him up. Himself joking.
The pain was unbearable. Sester groaned and cried out, "Avon!"
They had been friends and Avon had saved him.
The face of the young Avon blended into the cold, angry older one who hated him.
Images of Avon rushed towards him accusingly: Avon lying on the ground, bleeding and biting back a moan as the interrogators continued beating him; Avon screaming as drugs raced through his body like a burning fire; Avon hanging limp in exhaustion as blood dripped down from the angry red marks on his body and Avon huddled small in the dark of the isolation cell, shivering and longing for death. All because of him.
"No!" Sester felt sick. Avon was his friend. He had tortured his friend. "I'm sorry, Avon! I'm..."
Sester screamed in agony. His final thought before his mind mercifully descended into darkness was one last angry and horrified, Did they know?!