Sester got up from his chair and stretched, he was feeling a bit claustrophobic in the isolation control booth. He had been here for almost twelve days, except for periodic four hour breaks. It had been an intense twelve days and he felt intensely tired. There was a cot next to the control terminal for when he needed sleep but it was uncomfortable and tended to give him back pains.
I don't know how you do it Avon, living with exhaustion but of course you don't have a choice do you?
He sat down and turned his attention again to the man on the monitor. The prisoner was lying curled on the ground, shivering and moaning. Sester turned the speaker to the cell on, the pressure had to be maintained. The prisoner could not be allowed to recover.
The man did not answer, he seemed oblivious to everything except the pain.
Sester had worked on the prisoner almost continuously in the past twelve days, occasionally spelled by the crimino-technicians when he needed rest. The prisoner was only allowed enough rest to keep him sane, and even then just barely.
Sester pressed the pain activator again, the prisoner gave a hoarse scream. After one minute of the pain the activator was turned off.
"Talk to me Avon."
"Yes," the voice was a hardly discernible whisper. He sounded like he was responding to something.
Another nightmare? Sester was perplexed, he hadn't asked a question.
"What are you saying yes to Avon?"
"What you wanted," the prisoner replied.
"And what do I want?"
"You want to know the plans I put in place."
Ahhh. It had finally happened. The psychostrategist sat back, shocked. He knew that this was coming soon but not quite at that moment.
He turned up the setting on the implant control and depressed the pain activator again.
The prisoner screamed in anguish, "No!"
Now to the next stage Sester thought.
A clever man will always find a solution and Avon was a genius who specialized in solving the unsolvable. For days Sester had been hounding him with these questions; "What happened in those forty hours? What plans did you put in place to save yourself?" Sester's insistent questions had been looped in a low, barely heard whisper over the speaker in the cell, forcing the prisoner's mind to concentrate on what they wanted.
But now that Avon was willing to give them what they wanted, they were not going to take it. It was going to be ripped from him in the form of the nightmares. It was the only way to ensure that he was not tricking them.
That had always been part of the plan but because he had not been told, the prisoner had poured his energies into fighting the demands. Now that he had surrendered, it was natural that he expected a release from the suffering and nightmares, but he was wrong. Their goal was to crush all hope and even the hope that with capitulation came an end to the torment.
Sester turned the activator off, his face was grim, he had never been so directly involved in causing the kind of suffering he had been inflicting on the helpless prisoner. As a psychostrategist, he studied profiles and he strategized; and he played games. It was always other people who carried out the plans. Getting his hands dirty had never been within the purview of his job as a psychostrategist.
He had to admit that he had found the challenge enjoyable and the game stimulating. But as he had suspected, the outcome was not something he took pleasure in.
Very few people could survive the crushing of all hope and with what they were going to make Avon do with this compromise, the final compromise was much closer. They had to be very careful with this one, they had to allow him time to recover, give him time to rebuild who he was.
For the next two hours Sester continued to inflict pain.
As the pain continued, the prisoner did not say another word; he would not plead. Avon had accepted that he had no control. It was clear Sester would do to him whatever he wanted even though he had already surrendered.
Ever since they took away his last resort it had been a desperate struggle. He recognized when it was Sester monitoring him, the psychostrategist seemed to be able to get inside his head. He knew exactly how to keep him off-balance, to prevent him from regaining any sense of control. Sester had been working on him almost continually for days now. Avon did not know how many but he knew he could not take anymore; what little control he had in influencing his own reactions to the nightmares, was virtually gone. He was barely hanging on, so finally he had decided to give in.
When he surrendered, he had hated doing it but it was a necessity. His opponents had to think they won. His jaw tightened at the thought of having displayed such weakness; he had already suffered enough humiliations. This was going to be one more item in the long list he would hold Servalan and Sester responsible for when he killed them.
Giving up the fail-safe meant giving up the man who helped him but he had not given it a second thought, it was a matter of survival. Besides the man knew nothing and Avon had left no electronic traces, he had been careful about that. The man had been a fool to trust him so easily.
The analyst had a flash of anger before the pain came again, driving out all thought.
He had not expected the torture to continue after he had given in. With dismay he realized that he had been outmanoeuvred. He hoped that he had just enough control left to give up only this one thing.
The café owner looked at him expectantly. The dim light of the monitors reflected off the man's bald head.
"I don't have time for this Cracer. I need a terminal with a secure connection to the Federation CompComm network. One which can't be traced," Avon said.
The man looked around the room nervously and then said, "Follow me." Avon followed him down the stairs, and through a dimly-lit hallway.
"I don't have any credits," he told the man.
"There are no credits among friends. I would consider it an honour."
" I would choose my friends more carefully. You don't even know who I am."
The owner led him to a locked back room. It held a single terminal with some very illegal devices hooked to it. It was exactly what he had been looking for.
The man had not asked what he needed the secure connection for. Avon did not tell him. He had still not told him his name. It was much safer for both of them if he didn't. Avon had noticed a back exit on their way down the corridor. This man would not be seeing him again.
Avon sat down at the terminal, slipped on the hand-interface and set to work. He shivered as he worked. It was cold in the room.
"Twelve hours left on the deadline. Just barely enough time to make some preparations ." He sent out a call to the ASP. Some extensive programming would have to be added. There was not much time.
"The Justice," he said contemptuously at the choice of name. "More politics." Would he never be free of people with political agendas. All he ever wanted was to be able to live his own life in peace. All they ever wanted to do was use him. And now he was going to put himself back into the hands of the most treacherous and dangerous of them.
After his preparations were completed, he began searching for Servalan's private communications channel. After he found what he was looking for, he set to work breaking the security encryption and the protocols. A face appeared on the screen. She looked shocked.
"Servalan." The tone in his voice was as cold as he felt.
"Avon! How did you get access to this channel? It's supposed to be a secure connection." She did not sound pleased.
"I'm coming in. As per our agreement."
"Where are you?"
"On Rygellus in Sector Three, the Gilan system."
"Very well. Present yourself to Federation Security headquarters there. I will alert them that you're coming. Give them your prisoner identifier. And nothing else."
He nodded and cut the connection. He wiped all trace of his activities from the computer before he left. "I can't let them know about this."
His vision exploded into pain, he could not stop screaming.
"That's it," Sester told the c-tech even as he activated the implant control, "we got it. I want a data crystal of this last session." He would study it at his leisure.
The man handed him the crystal when he was done.
"You may leave now." The technician left.
Sester muted the volume from the cell to block out the screaming and used the secure channel he had been given.
"Yes sir?" The Federation President's personal aide appeared on the vidcomm screen.
"Is she available?"
"She left instructions to patch you right through whenever you called."
The aide's face disappeared. A few minutes later Servalan's face appeared. She was wearing a red negligee and a shimmering white robe and appeared to be in her bedroom. She looked like she had just gotten up. He looked at the time indicator on his wrist. It was the early hours of the morning. He hadn't realized. With his irregular hours of the past weeks, it had been hard to tell what time it was. He must have woken her up. Well at least he had good news.
"Sorry to wake you Madame President but I have good news."
"Almost, I thought you might like to watch this last part."
"Thank you," Servalan smiled. "You took thirty one days, not four weeks."
"Well there's always a margin of error with these things, and besides it's Avon, he's allowed a margin of error."
She laughed. "You looked tired."
"You should see the other guy. I'd better get on with it, I don't want him to pass out from the pain."
"You mean you left the implant activator on while we were talking? Poor Avon. Very well, give him his regular four hours when you're done and then send him to me."
"He's going to need more than that, even with the stims he won't be much use to you unless he gets more rest."
"Very well, give him six."
"You're a cruel woman."
She smiled and closed the connection.
You never allow others to close the connection on you, do you? thought Sester.
He did not think it was wise to send Avon to her, not in the state he was currently in, after thirty one days of almost continual torture and nightmares; and especially with only six hours sleep, but the Federation President was not to be denied.
Sester picked up the small implant control and a bio-injector and headed towards the isolation cells.
Sester paused before opening the cell door and turned the pain activator off on the implant control; he did not like sounds of loud screaming in small confined spaces. He input the access code and the door slid open.
When the strategist entered the cell, he heard a different sound, not screaming. It was a sound he had never heard from the analyst before, sobbing.
The sound shocked him. Avon's stubbornness had forced them to employ extreme measures on him; it may have been too much. Sester had not wanted the prisoner to be this broken. He hoped that Avon had not been pushed too far.
Where is that cold logical mind which doesn't feel anything? It must have been hard to realize that your own mind betrayed you after you fought so long and so hard to prevent it.
Sester waited until the sobbing subsided then he bent down and pressed a bio-injector to the analyst's neck, injecting a mild stim. "It's not time to rest yet Avon."
He helped the man up to a sitting position against the wall. The analyst's head hung in exhaustion and defeat, he did not look up.
"Who is Cracer, Avon?" Sester asked the prisoner, his voice was hard.
There was no response.
"Do I have to remind you again?" he asked.
The analyst still did not look up. "No," he replied. His voice was weak and there was no emotion in his tone, even less emotion than normal if that was possible.
"Answer the question, I will not ask it again."
"He's the owner of a cyber-café on Rygellus in the Gilan system. He's a system hacker."
"Why did you go see him?"
"I needed his resources. To contact Servalan."
You're still trying to avoid the real question thought Sester.
"Do you really want me to drag this from you?" he asked warningly. "You know that you've already lost. All I have to do is give you one more day in here and I will know everything. I'm trying to spare you more pain; answer the question."
He could see Avon's body tense.
"I used his resources to create a version of an ASP."
"Like the one's Central Security uses as electronic spies?"
"Yes, a much more sophisticated version."
"What is the purpose of this ASP?"
"To find an antidote to the virus. Once it does, it will communicate this to the Justice crew."
"And they will come and rescue you. Is that what they're waiting for?"
"They don't know anything about the ASP."
"You expect me to believe that?"
"I told you that I did not break the agreement."
"How is this not breaking the agreement?"
"The agreement was that I would not tell anyone or contact anyone. The ASP is not an anyone, it's a thing."
Sester laughed and nodded appreciatively. "Truth is in the definition. That's very good. Few people can surprise me Avon, and you consistently manage to do that, but she's not going to appreciate it as much as I do."
He studied Avon as they talked, the analyst never lifted his head during their whole conversation, his shoulders were slumped. There did not appear to be any fight left in him. There was no familiar verbal sparring and he answered everything asked, factually and without emotion.
"Look at me Avon."
The prisoner lifted his head. For a brief second, Sester saw something in his eyes, a flash which quickly disappeared.
Sester suppressed a smile, it had been anger and hatred.
You couldn't hide that Avon. Perhaps it will be useful to have her work on you after this.
"Can it be destroyed easily?" he asked him.
"I built in a self-destruct code in case of discovery."
"And you did not tell any of this to anyone?"
"That's good. We will speak more about this later but she wants to see you and I have to give you some rest before that."
There was no reaction from the analyst. Sester changed the mixture of drugs on the bio-injector and applied it to the prisoner's neck. He exited the cell, he could finally get a decent night's sleep himself; the review of the data crystal could wait.
With difficulty, due to his hands restrained behind him, Avon curled up on the ground again as the sedative began to take effect, he had cut it fine. He had allowed himself to be pushed until he could take no more. The sobbing had been an involuntary reaction, but made it all the more convincing. He had not done that since the first two months after Gauda Prime when, in Servalan's impatience, he had been tortured so severely that he lost count of the number of times his heart had stopped.
He had never been a convincing liar, not like Blake.
At the thought of Blake, he experienced a sharp stab of pain. Guilt. Would he never be able to think about Blake without that reaction?
One thing Avon had always been, was secretive. From Servalan and Sester's perspective, he had given them what they wanted, they did not need to know that he had made two provisions to save himself.
This latest round of tortures made him realize that he was nearing the end of his resistance. If it were not for the one remaining hope, he would have lost already.