Servalan's mood was light as they conversed.
This is a different side of you. No one else could have this effect on you, Sester noted.
"So it went well?" he asked more as a courtesy.
He was pleased, his psych-strategy for Avon was progressing as planned.
"Did you ever have any doubts?"
He smiled. "His hatred for you must be even stronger than ever."
"I don't know who he hates more now, me or himself."
"Professor Tarkson was right about the progression of the compromises."
"Don't be modest. You're the one orchestrating the progressions."
"Psychostrategists are never modest about our own genius, Madame President but we do give credit where credit is due."
"This set of progressions was very good." There was a hint of a smile on her lips as she said this.
Sester reflected that she looked radiant in her white robe, as beautiful as the most beautiful flowers in the garden. She was a striking woman; a woman of uncommon character and power; a high-end alpha like himself, and like Avon.
"I thought you would enjoy it."
"But be careful Sester, I will not become a pawn in your psych-strategy."
"That was the farthest thing from my mind, Madame President."
And how will our game end Servalan? Relationships between alphas were often complex games, and as enjoyably compelling as they were dangerous.
"Apart from wanting him to know that this is meant to be a punishment," and giving me great satisfaction, she reflected, "what is the purpose of the pain?"
Psychostrategists were not used to having to explain themselves, but with the President of the Federated Worlds, and because she was Servalan, he would make an exception.
"There is a two-fold purpose, one is to advance the degree of compromise he is willing to make, the other is to expand the scope of the conditioning. We want to make pleasing you this way an integral part of it."
"Which is why I agreed to do this in the first place."
"He was filled with conditioning drugs before he was delivered to you but the actual conditioning, he has been doing to himself, and he doesn't even realize it."
"How is that possible?"
"It's quite fascinating. One aspect of conditioning is about opening up pathways in the brain and setting precedence of behaviours. In order to do what you wanted, Avon had to find a way to bypass his own natural hatred and barriers and access that part of himself which enabled him to react physically to you. Adding pain to the mix not only meant that he had to overcome his hatred, but he had to put pleasing you and reacting to you physically, above his own imperative to fight the pain."
Sester added to himself, In order to do that he was forced to access that passion you both appear have for each other; that was the only way to overcome his hatred and that was the part which he must have hated the most; it was the most insidious part of the conditioning.
"Very well. I will leave it to your discretion. You are very devious Sester."
Are you referring to my strategy for Avon? Or for you? I was right about your obsession with each other, otherwise this progression would never have worked.
"Are you trying to flirt with me now Madame President?"
"You may call me Servalan when we're alone."
"Servalan." He said, nodding in acknowledgement of the privilege being extended.
Threat and privilege. All in the same conversation. You are a dangerous woman. Dangerous women were never boring.
"I think I prefer calling you Madame President."
"Are you refusing a direct order?" she smiled.
He smiled in return, "Well, if you put it that way."
Life would be much less interesting without you and Avon.
Avon was returned to his normal schedule of work and torture. When he reached the edge again, when the treatments threatened to compromise his work, he would be brought to her again at Residence One for punishment; but he continued to refuse to tell them what they wanted.
The Justice crew were frustrated. All attempts at trying to convince the miners that selling their 'dust' to the Federation was not a good idea had failed, and had only resulted in Vila and Argus being banned from ever going down to the mining facility again.
They were all sitting in the conference area on the flight deck again, discussing their failed strategies.
"Maybe we're just not cut out for this," said the thief.
"What do you mean Vila?" asked Cally.
"I mean, we didn't have any success fixing the Athol problem either. Look where they are at now, in a nice little civil war. There's nothing we can do to convince these miners to part with the millions the Federation is promising them."
Vila could definitely empathize with them. He wouldn't want to part with millions either.
"Assuming the Federation lets them keep it," said Jenna. She was looking thoughtful. "What if the Federation doesn't?"
"We don't know that," said Argus, "but I wouldn't be surprised."
"I mean, what if we 'convince' them that the Federation is going to double-cross them? And that they're going to take it by force?"
"The miners don't react well to intimidation," said Argus, remembering what Vila had said.
"How do you feel about a little deception and intimidation?" asked Jenna.
"He's very stubborn," Sester remarked to Servalan as they watched Avon working in the lab on the monitor in her office at the Terran Presidential headquarters.
"Yes, he is," she agreed.
"I know you're enjoying yourself but you've got to stop accelerating the treatments so that he can be brought to you earlier. If you destroy his spirit he will be of no use to you."
"I know, but he is very good."
"Yes, he is exceptional at everything he puts his mind to, that's why he's so valuable. Of course, it's your choice."
"Do I detect a note of jealousy?"
"Psychostrategists are too detached for such things as jealousy. It's merely an observation."
Besides I don't think I would survive the kind of attention he gets from you, he thought.
"I will think about it," she told him. Servalan had never allowed her pleasures to interfere with the acquisition of power. Sester was right, playing with Avon had become a distraction, she had to regain her focus. "You're still insisting on the two hours of isolation in my office. Do you still think it's necessary?"
"To do what you what him to do? No. You've had that control over him since he made the compromise when he came back."
"Then it must have to do with extracting the information we want from him. Have you learned anything useful?"
"Yes. It was clear from the reaction of the Argus crew that something happened when Avon was onboard. Other than at the beginning, they have made no attempts at trying to find him at all. Either Avon was telling the truth, and they believed that he had accepted a better offer and wanted to be rid of them, or there is a much deeper plot involved."
"Of course, we expected the latter."
"It has been two months and there has been no connection between the activities of the crew and Avon. That alone would point to his telling us the truth, except for one thing, that is his reaction to being isolated in your office. It is clear that there is something he is desperate for us not to know and it is causing a very specific set of nightmares. I suspect that it is these nightmares which forced him to make this latest compromise, and which is making him so compliant now. Fortunately for us, he cannot control the nightmares but he has developed some control over his reactions to them."
"I did not think that was possible, the criminotherapists assured me that he does not have that kind of control."
"Technically he shouldn't, but he's Avon, he pushes the boundaries of what is possible. It's quite impressive. That is why we cannot determine what is triggering the nightmares or what it is he is trying to hide from us, but with each session, I am getting more pieces of the puzzle. No matter how good he is, in the end, he will not be able to prevent me from finding out what he is trying to conceal."
"And if you're wrong? And we're just torturing him for nothing?"
"You don't believe that; and psychostrategists are rarely wrong if we're given all the information we require to do our jobs. Besides, you love torturing him."
She smiled. "That I do. You have everything you need to know."
I highly doubt that, it's not in your nature to give out information unless you have to.
"Do you think that you can force him to tell us?"
"No. That's not why we're doing this. The plan is to keep him off-balance and continue to break down his barriers so that the nightmares will intensify until they reach the stage where they will betray him. It's a delicate balance, we don't want to push him so hard that he becomes useless to you."
"I don't know about that, he has many other uses but you're right, for now his genius is much more valuable to me, I will ease up on the pressure."
"Is that what they call it these days?"
"I do believe you're jealous."
Jenna's plan had worked beautifully, with ORAC's help. The miners were currently embroiled in a major conflict with the Federation negotiators, who were increasingly perplexed. They did not understand how things could have gone so wrong in such a short period of time when up until now, everything had seemed to be progressing smoothly. Nothing they could do or say seemed to be able to convince the miners' of their sincerity.
The Justice crew had been watching from the sidelines with great amusement as Jenna's strategy of sowing mistrust and discord caused great headaches for the Federation negotiating team. After Argus and Vila had been banned from the facility, the crew had moved the ship off to a safe distance away from the asteroid, and were currently hiding behind another large asteroid nearby. They were ready in case, a little more 'encouragement' of the situation was required.
The Federation President was not pleased. Communiques from the Terran Administration had indicated her severe disapproval. She was close to authorizing a team from the Cooperation Project, to 'help' out at the mining facility.
Forty hours and there was no indication that his minders were going to allow him to rest. The work hours had been increasing steadily. Each work session usually ended with a visit to one of the interrogation rooms. The frequency meant that the normal four hours of rest he was allowed was only enough to recover from the torture. They were progressively wearing him down and when his resistance was at it's weakest, he would be brought to her. By now he recognized the cycles, this was the fifth one. They had intensified the treatments in the last two cycles so that he was worn down faster.
Even though he hated it, being used to satisfy her desires was not what he dreaded the most. It was the two hours before that which he feared; when he was secured to a chair in Servalan's private office and left in isolation and darkness while the nightmares preyed on his mind, nightmares which threatened to reveal the secret he was so desperate to keep from them. He did not know the purpose of the isolation, whether they thought they needed it to ensure his compliance to her demands, or whether it was part of Sester's plan to find out what he did in the hours onboard the Justice. Regardless, it was serving an unwelcome purpose. When she came to release him, it was a relief.
Avon began entering the calculations for a new simulation. It was an interesting problem. They were using his expertise in setting up new security protocols for the Federated Banking System in order to prevent a new type of hacker. It was ironic that he was using his skills to make secure the system he first attracted Central Security's attention breaking into. Servalan must have found it amusing.
The level of difficulty of the tasks he was assigned would have defeated anyone with a lesser ability. He suspected that she was giving him all the projects which had been deemed impossible, or which had reached dead ends, or ones like the phase-TD engine which were progressing too slowly; just as he had been assigned to the Matter Transmission project many years ago before he became a fugitive. These were the kinds of challenges he excelled at and if he had been given a choice, he would have enjoyed them.
But for him now, the work was only a refuge from torture and abuse. As long as he didn't stop long enough for the conditioning to make it uncomfortable, and as long as he was making progress, they generally left him alone until the cycle required that the treatments intensify.
The only pain he experienced when he was working was from the half-healed injuries, the stress-tensions from his back, and most of all from the wrecked knee which they still left it unhealed.
The cruelty of the guards and the minders was also stepped up as he became progressively weaker and could no longer follow their orders quickly enough or his work began to suffer due to the treatments. If he was a person who cared about things like kindness or cruelty it would have worn him down further, which was their purpose in doing it, but it only served to tell him how far into the cycle of treatments he was and when he could expect a visit from Sester. From his own current physical and mental condition, he knew it would be soon. He was already starting to lose concentration, it did not help that he had not been fed in three days.
He was tired. Tired of being forced to fight when he had no chance of winning; tired of the torture, the abuse, and the mindless cruelty; tired of the constant pain and exhaustion; tired of never having time for himself; tired of being used to further other peoples' interests; tired of being used to provide amusement; tired of being used by her.
He shook his head, it must be the depression talking again.
"Why have you stopped?" one of his minders asked.
Avon started, one of the symptoms that he was nearing the end was his mind wandering.
"I was just thinking."
"It better have been about the work."
"Of course, what else would it have been about."
"I don't believe you."
"I don't care what you believe."
"I would if I were you, or it could be very painful for you."
"This is getting tedious. You're going to send me to the interrogators regardless of what I do, so let's not pretend."
"Get up," the minder said angrily.
Avon got up slowly, trying not to aggravate his knee.
Provoking the guards and the minders was one of the few things left he could control. Even though he knew he would pay for it, he needed to do it. For a man who had always been in control, to have that control taken away, was demoralizing.
Are you trying to get them to kill you? That would have been Cally's question if she had been there.
At least, she's still safe. That much was also in his control and when his enemies finally allowed him to die, she would never know what he had done for her, that was the way he wanted it.
Had he known that Servalan's purpose was to capture him in order to use his mind to further her own goals, he would never have made the agreement to save her life. It was too late now, the agreement was made; and as Servalan had known, he was a man of his word.
Avon stood unsteadily, holding onto the desk for support. The minder removed the chair he had been sitting on.
"That should help you to stop thinking about something else. Now get back to work."
Well that was creative. With difficulty, he did as instructed.