If a pin dropped, it would have been heard in the next room. That tended to happen if the room was empty or if a revelation of staggering proportions had just been announced.
The room was not empty. Avon and Sester had been left alone to talk after hearing the recordings that had been made of their night dreams.
If a scientist had just been told that the laws of physics no longer applied then he would have sounded like Avon, highly sceptical and wondering if the speaker had wandered into the wrong asylum. "That's impossible." He began pacing the room as Sester watched him.
Sester said, "The recordings sound convincing. We were reliving the same memory. The doctors said that it might have been triggered because of our 'conversation' earlier. Our minds were focused on each other plus both our minds have been trying to find their ways past the mind blocks. In a way, we are helping each other. Your subconscious mind must have identified the same memory and matched it to mine. Avon, we must have known each other when we were children. I called you Kerr."
Avon stopped abruptly in front of him. He stood so close that Sester could feel the heat of the anger that would consumed him. Avon said, "You will not call me that. We did not know each other as children." He started pacing again.
Sester didn't know what to make of what they had heard. The idea that they had known each other a long time ago was a fantastic one. He had no recollection at all. "You don't want to believe it because it sounded as if we were…"
Avon rounded on him. His voice was colder than the deep of space. "We were NOT friends."
"Then how do you explain the recordings?"
"There must be another explanation." Avon's mind was desperately trying to find one; any rationalization other than the one that was most obvious.
Sester was in two minds. Part of him was as desperate to find proof of this childhood connection as Avon was trying to deny it. The other part of him dreaded the implications. Which one was worse?
Sester asked, "Avon, do you know someone named Jack?"
Avon hesitated. "I don't remember one but…" He would prefer not to give any credence to what they had just heard but he remembered what Cally had said. It was a clue from his hidden past. "…once, after I woke up from a memory, I asked Cally to remember the name Jack. I said that he was one of the boys and that they had tried to hurt me."
Sester tried to fit this information with what they had heard on the recordings. He wished that they could remember what happened rather than relying on imperfect fragments.
He rubbed his temple absently. The old nagging pain was bothering him again. His mind ignored it and tried to push its way to the memories that refused to be known. "The recordings only showed our side of a particular incident. It sounds as if Jack was also our friend and he was trying to protect me. The people you said who hurt you, may have been the ones who hurt me. Or it may have been someone else."
Avon had his hands clasped behind his back as he evaluated what Sester said. "The logic sounds plausible. Assuming the memories are connected."
"You still don’t want to believe that we could have known each other as children?"
Avon's eyes were dark and seemed to penetrate to where guilt and fear could not hide. When Avon looked at him, it hurt. Avon challenged him, "Do you?"
Sester wanted to tear his eyes away, to look anywhere except into those accusing ones; but he couldn't. He thought that this information might make things better. But he was fooling himself. He should have known. The knowledge that they may have been friends only made it worse.
The pain was so sharp that he could hardly breathe. The guilt was like a living creature that was eating him alive.
His words were full of self-recrimination. "I’m sorry, Avon."
Avon's lips formed a cruel snarl as his hands grabbed Sester by the collar. For some reason the anger he felt when he looked at this man had grown to the point where it threatened to choke him. The knowledge that they may have known each other made it even worse. He pushed Sester against a cabinet.
He wanted this man to hurt as much as he had been hurt. He needed to see him broken. Avon twisted the material like a constricting band around the other man's throat. Sester grimaced and he could scarcely breathe but he did not resist nor did his eyes look away.
In a harsh menacing voice, Avon asked, "How does it feel to know that you tortured a friend?"
Sester gasped, "I…" Something was obscuring his vision. He didn't know if it was from the lack of oxygen or if there was a film of something covering his eyes. "I…didn't know. I would never have…"
Avon asked angrily, "How many other people have you tortured?"
Sester tried to shake his head, "No. I've never…before. You…were the first. I never get involved in…"
"No. You only order it to be done." Avon shoved him harder against the unyielding surface of the cabinet. "Did you enjoy it? Did it make you feel powerful? Was it satisfying? Tell me!"
Each word slashed through Sester like a tearing blade, leaving deep wounds. He was like a blinded man who had suddenly had his blindfold taken away, only to see his own ugly reflection staring back at him.
The stricken man said, "No, Avon! It was never like that! You were…all puppets. It was…a game. I never saw…" Sester's eyes widened and his mouth dropped opened as the horror of what he was saying struck him.
A psychostrategist never got involved in the lives of those they destroyed. They were above it all, viewing others as little more than objects in a game. Puppets to be manipulated to an end. It made them superior. It allowed them to reduce inhumanity to moves on a chessboard. His superiors had made a mistake when they sent him to work on Avon. There was a reason psychostrategists did not get involved.
Sester felt nauseous; it was as if his own body was repulsed by what he had done. All of the people he had destroyed. The lives he had pushed to the edge until they snapped. The worlds he had manipulated to meet other people's agendas. The people who felt trapped wherever they turned but never knew why.
And the friend he had almost tortured to death. Sester began vomiting.
Avon let go and quickly backed away, missing most of it. Sester slid down the wall as his legs refused to support him. He felt weak and ashamed. "Avon?" In that single hoarse word was a hopeless plea. Silence was his answer. He looked up at the man who was staring at him with unreadable eyes. "Tell me that I wasn't always like this." His voice was that of a lost child.
Avon had a flash of memory. A blond boy with a friendly smile and intelligent eyes. A proud Alpha child who overcame his own fears and ambitions to help a friend. Pain lanced through his head. His eyes shut tight as he grasped his head and groaned but for once, the image did not fade away.
He knew who the boy was now. He may not remember anything else but no one could take him away again.
"Avon!" Sester's concerned voice reached through Avon's pain. Avon could feel a hand on his shoulder.
"I'll get the doctors."
Avon opened his eyes and grabbed Sester's arm. "No." The eyes of the child and those of the man in front of him were the same. How had he not connected that before? "Charles."
Sester's voice held a hesitant hope. "Kerr?"
Avon let go of him. "No. I haven't been Kerr in a long time. That name is dead." He walked away from Sester and looked out of the window.
Sester poured a glass of water from the pitcher beside the bed and cleared the bitter taste of guilt from his mouth. He studied the glass for a moment before he put it down. If only the real guilt could be so easily washed away. What he wouldn't give to be able to wipe everything clean and start over again. To be again the child he had been.
Being a psychostrategist had been beyond his greatest dreams. It had made him one of the rare elite. Someone that others feared and respected. Now it only made him hate himself.
He followed after Avon and stood beside him, staring outside at a world that seemed far away. "I suppose Charles is dead too. Can we never go back?"
The window was like a barrier between the two men and the bright sun outside. They were lost in separate streams of thoughts. Neither one gave them peace.
Sester hazarded a glance at the man beside him. He dared not hope that the knowledge of their childhood would wipe out any wrongs of the present. Nothing could do that.
He doubted if friendship could ever be possible again between them. He wasn`t sure he could accept it even if Avon would give it to him. All he could hope was that Avon would not always hate him. And perhaps they could work together.
Avon was filled with conflicting thoughts and feelings. The identification of the boy was pulling up feelings without context. Charles had been his friend. Even though he remembered no other details about him, he was certain of this.
There was one other thing that he felt sure of, even though he could not remember why. He, Charles and Jack had risked their lives for each other in the place of their dreams. Just as Sester had in order to help him to escape from Servalan.
Someone had played with their lives and had ripped them apart. They had separated friends and made them forget each other.
Avon wasn`t sure if he was capable of forgiving this man for what he had done to him. But they could not let other people get away with what they had done to them. Friendship may not be possible again but perhaps they could work together.
Sester asked, "Who do you suppose Jack is?"
"We need to find him. I will not let them win." Avon glanced at the man beside him. "Your hair used to be blond."
Sester touched his ginger-coloured hair. "Yes. They asked me to change it before they sent me to Servalan. I'd heard of her…whims. I didn't think anything of it then but…" His mind made a leap and his voice rose in anger, "They knew when they sent me to you. Someone must have known." He felt sick again.
Sester turned to face the man who was still staring out of the window. "I know that our past doesn't undo what I did to you, Avon. I will have to carry that for the rest of my life along with all the lives I had a hand in destroying. But someone tried to turn one friend against the other. They must have had a sick thrill to know what I was doing to you."
Avon said with disgust, "Servalan."
Sester had considered the idea but an instinct told him that there was something else going on. "She is certainly capable of it but something tells me that it's something even more complex than Servalan."
Avon said, "I do not trust instinct. I do trust in Servalan's twisted deviousness and treachery. She watched me being tortured. She enjoyed it."
"I know." Sester felt another twist of guilt. He knew that Servalan had extensive records of Avon's suffering, recorded on trays of vid-crystals. He knew that she still watched them in her twisted obsession and need. "But I still think that something else is going on. Call it a psychostrategist's instinct."
As Avon continued listening and looking outside the window, Vila's voice intruded into his thoughts. Avon, do you believe Sester?
For some reason Vila believed in Sester. Avon doubted if Vila could give him a valid reason if he was pressed to explain why. Vila was a creature of instinct. At times he was as perceptive about people as Avon was perceptive about machines.
Avon was uneasy that he had an impression of trust without context. It felt too much like instinct. Or worse yet, it was acting on irrational feelings without any proof. These feelings or impressions did have basis in past experience, but the memories were hidden behind veils that someone had drawn across his past.
Could he trust Sester? Perhaps not the man that he had thought him to be, but he had once trusted Charles. The boy and the man were merging into one. The boy of the past with the sins of the present. He could see it in Sester's eyes every time he looked at him now.
As he continued looking out the window at the brilliant sun, Avon could almost feel the warmth of its rays on his face, "Work with us against the Federation."
"I can't go back now. Not after finding out what they did to us."
Avon finally turned to look at him. "But will you work with us?"
Sester could barely bring himself to answer. This wasn't friendship, but it was more than he had hoped was possible. "I will follow you. Until your battles are over."
For the first time that he could remember, Avon extended his hand to another human being. The former friends shook hands like two strangers greeting each other for the first time.