With both of them here, he knew that something very unpleasant was coming. It was no longer simply a matter of answering or deflecting questions.
When she came into his field of vision, Avon saw that she was holding a pain rod.
He began laughing. For anyone else it would have been an extremely inappropriate response to the situation he was in, to him, it was highly amusing.
"What's so funny?" she asked. She was clearly annoyed.
They may have him outnumbered, and they may have all the advantages, but he was going to get in a first strike.
"Just what kind of relationship do the two of you have?" Avon asked with a tone which made her angry.
That brought about swift punishment, as he had expected. She set the pain rod to its maximum setting and applied it to his body. His screamed and his body arched like a bow pulled tight, the cuffs securing his hands to the back of the chair cut into his wrists. Using the highest setting like this without first acclimatizing the subject using the lower settings, brought a great shock to the system and tended to make the sufferer pass out quickly, especially one in a weakened condition. Servalan stopped before it reached that point.
When the rod was lifted, Avon was breathing heavily, trying to regain his bearings.
"Do you feel like laughing now?"
He smiled. Servalan moved forward with the rod again.
"No." The smile disappeared, but there was still faint amusement in his eyes.
She was about to apply the rod again when Sester stopped her with his voice.
She arrested her movement and turned towards the psychostrategist.
"He knows something is going to happen. He's trying to gain some measure of control by provoking us."
She turned towards their bound victim. "Do you enjoy the game Avon?" She brought the rod close to his chest, close enough that a deep breath would cause it to touch him. He pressed himself further into the chair but she followed his movement.
"Only against a worthy opponent," was his reply.
As he spoke, she brought the rod even closer. He was breathing very shallowly now, trying to avoid it.
"And do you think you're a worthy opponent for us?"
He looked at her coldly. She had brought the rod so close that he could no longer breathe and in order to answer her, he had to take a breath. It was a contest of wills, which he knew he would lose, but not yet. His eyes gave her nothing; every act of defiance was a refusal of their power over him. It was a gesture only but for him it was very important.
"You're allowing him control again," Sester told her, making an adjustment to the implant control.
A sudden tearing pain from Avon's knee made him scream and arch in pain, which caused his body to contact the rod. He howled in agony as the maximum setting on the rod ripped through his body again even as the pain from the implant continued. His mind could barely handle fighting both sources of intense pain at once.
After two minutes of pain, Sester turned off the implant control. "I think he's had enough, any longer and his mind will go into shock."
Servalan lifted the rod and also turned hers off. The analyst slumped forward, his breathing was laboured.
"I haven't had enough," she said, "and that's what's important isn't it Avon?" She turned his head towards her, his eyes were not focusing.
"I don't think his mind is back yet," the strategist told her. "You can't play with him too much if you want him to be able to do what you want."
"You're right," she acknowledged.
Sester had appreciated Avon's first strike; it had been a clean blow. He recognized that it had not been aimed at him and it had annoyed Servalan to no end.
He smiled inwardly; it had not affected him in the least. He knew exactly what kind of relationship he had with the Federation President.
Servalan picked up a glass of water which was on the table and threw its contents into the analyst's face.
The splash of water revived him. Avon raised his head and regarded them both; his expression was carefully neutral as the water dripped down his face.
They were like two predators playing with a helpless prey. He refused to be helpless but he knew that it was more a state of mind than a reality for him.
They had still not revealed what they wanted from him.
"You never answered my question," Servalan told him. "Do you think you're a match for us?"
"Before you did this to me, more than a match, otherwise you would never have gone to such great lengths, and you are still going to great lengths," his look pointedly at her. "But it's no longer a fair match, is it?" This challenge was addressed at Sester.
Sester laughed. "Very good Avon."
"I'm tired of this game. Why don't you tell me what you want and I can tell you whether you need to torture me to get it."
"You always try to take the fun out of things," complained Servalan jokingly, "but I think I'll torture you afterwards, just for fun."
Avon looked at her coldly. "You still haven't answered my question."
Sester nodded to Servalan, one after the other they activated their instruments of pain. First the implant control then several seconds later, the touch with the pain rod.
"Two minutes again?" Servalan asked her partner.
"That should be enough."
"We're going to need more water," she noted clinically as the analyst struggled and moaned in agony.
"We could always call a medtech back in, they're waiting just outside."
The sounds of suffering suddenly stopped, Sester immediately went over to check the prisoner.
"He's passed out and his heart is erratic. We should get a medtech back in here."
"No. We just need the equipment; I can manage whatever he needs."
"You have many unexpected talents, Madame President."
"I am very well versed in all aspects of torture."
"Why I am not surprised. Are you still using maximum?"
"Even he may not be able to handle having two sources of intense of pain for long."
"If he can take the Shredder, he can endure this; but it would be inconvenient if he keeps passing out."
"You have to be careful; even with the rest you gave him, which was unexpected, by the way, he's still been through a lot in the isolation cells and hasn't recovered yet.
"Everyone wants to take the fun away today," she grinned. "Very well. I will bring the setting down to seven, that way he can still answer questions." She reached forward and ran her fingers through the unconscious prisoner's hair. "He still doesn't know what's been going on."
"Not yet. He's poured everything he has left into fighting the wrong thing and building his hope on something he doesn't think we know about. When we reveal the truth to him it will be a devastating blow, he will finally realize that he has nothing. It will present an impossible situation for him; don't wait too long before you present him with the compromise."
"Poor Avon. I will be careful."
Avon's reaction to the two of them and his ability to fight them had told Sester that his psych-mapping had been correct, the analyst still had hope. He had given them one secret but it was not the only secret he was hiding from them.
Sester's strategy had anticipated that this was a strong possibility and rather than waste more time forcing the information from the analyst, they were going to close the door of possibilities. The whole purpose of the past month had been building to this last step. The whole exercise had been about control and the destruction of all hope. Avon never knew that his struggles to protect his secrets had been for nothing.
"I want to put some bio-sensors on him as well, they will monitor his condition and it will be very useful in gauging his involuntary reactions," he told her.
"Good idea, go get the equipment."
As Sester went to obtain the required kit from the medtech outside, Servalan opened up Avon's grey coveralls. She gently touched the fresh cuts she had made the previous night, they were healing nicely.
"Did you do that?" Sester asked as he handed her the kit. He was also carrying a large pitcher of water which he placed on the table. The strategist always admired her creativity in devising new ways to torture the analyst.
"That's none of your business," she said as she opened up the med-kit and started arranging various items on the table beside them.
You're very sensitive about what you do with him, Sester noted.
Servalan put several bio-sensor patches on the analyst's chest and one to his temple. She took out the portable life-monitor, turned it on and placed it on the table next to Sester, facing away from the prisoner. The monitor indicated Avon's stress level, his heart was beating fast.
She took out a bio-injector, chose a heart-stabilization mixture and injected it into his neck. The heart monitor slowed to a steady beat, Sester turned the sound off but kept the visual displays on.
"Wake him up," Servalan directed the psychostrategist, indicating the pitcher of water.
Sester filled the glass and poured the contents on the analyst's head. Avon shook his head as the water poured down.
"What did I tell you about control Avon?" Sester asked him.
"You don't have any?" he replied tonelessly. Sester reached for the implant control.
Avon added, "She does."
Sester laughed and looked over at Servalan. He nodded to her; they both made an adjustment and then applied pain again. The analyst moaned and pulled against his chains, his wrists were already bleeding. They gave him a moment to adjust to the new pain level.
"You gave us the ASP and you destroyed it," said Sester, "but I do not believe that was the only one. You dismissed it too easily for that to be the only one."
Avon moaned in pain. He could barely concentrate on what the strategist was saying.
"Pay attention Avon. Look at me."
The prisoner focused his eyes on the strategist, it took a great effort.
"Do you know what I'm saying?"
"Yes." The effort to speak seemed to cause him additional pain, he bit back another groan.
"Every time you defy us, this is going to happen. Do you understand?"
Sester nodded to Servalan, in response she removed the pain rod and turned it off.
Sester did not turn the implant off.
"I want you to apologize to the President for your lack of manners," Sester told him.
There was a quick flash of anger which was replaced by a strained blankness. Avon turned around to look at her. "I'm sorry if I offended you Madame President."
"Why so formal Avon?" Servalan asked him. She touched his face.
"What do you want Servalan?" he asked.
Her fingers traced his lips; she smiled reflectively as she ignoring his question. Her fingers trailed down his throat, to his chest until she rested against the healing cuts. Without warning she scratched deeply with her long fingernails along his side, leaving deep furrows of blood and opening up one of the cuts again. He gasped in pain.
"Sester is right; you are too much of a distraction."
"Then kill me."
"Oh no, not that, never that; you still have too many things to atone for."
"I thought I was too useful."
"You're going to be here a long time."
He looked at her coldly.
Even though there was only one source of pain now, well two including the deep scratches she just inflicted on him, the level of pain seemed to be increasing and the longer the pain was left, the more it drained him. He suspected it was another aspect of the implant.
"Enough fun for now, let's get down to business." She nodded to Sester.
"Avon." The analyst turned his face towards the psychostrategist. "As I said before, we do not believe that you only created one ASP, it's not in your character to be so careless that you would not make a back-up. It would be tedious to have to subject you to the isolation chamber again until you gave up everything, so I have a better solution. As you have proven with the Federation Banking's security system, you are just as adept at creating an unbreakable security system as you are at breaking into them. So that is what you will do, to protect the techno-virus research station, you will create a system which is completely secure from both physical and virtual assault and remember, we have extensive records of the ASP you trapped for us so we will know if the system you create is secure from this kind of incursion."
As they presented their requirements, Avon's stomach twisted. It had been logical that they suspected he had made alternate plans, the psychostrategist's profile would have told him that. He realized that it was a mad hope that they would believe that he did not have the time or ability to make more than one arrangement. Between the two of them, they knew him very well but they still did not know about ORAC, they did not know that even without the activation key, it could still be accessed using the transmitter he had built. They did not know he had access to it while aboard the Justice.
Servalan added, "And Avon, I want you to build a security system that even ORAC cannot penetrate."
Avon kept his face carefully neutral but it felt like someone had just stabbed him through the heart.
Servalan and Sester looked at each other as the stress and heart readings on the life monitor took a big jump upwards.
"We know why you're afraid of the two hours of isolation in the President's office. It's because of this." Sester pointed towards Servalan. She was holding up ORAC's activation key. There was still no reaction on his face, but as Avon saw the key, he felt as if the ground had just dropped out from under him. They had known all along and now he realized, too late, that he had given up the wrong thing. His enemies had guessed about ORAC, they had not known about the ASP.
Sester continued, "You keep telling us that you did not break the agreements and we believe you, but that does not mean that you did not tell the crew where ORAC's key is. That was your other plan, wasn't it? ORAC falls outside your agreements with the President, just as the ASP does. You must have found a way to inform ORAC once the crew retrieves the key. I do not know why they have not tried yet but you must have been restricted by the agreement."
"Avon," Servalan addressed him. "You will create this new security system and you will make it impervious to ORAC's manipulation and any form of attack or infiltration by it in case the crew ever does manage to retrieve the key. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Servalan continued, "We know that the crew of the Justice, yes, we know what they have named the ship now, from your last nightmare in the isolation chamber and I completely agree, it is a highly inappropriate name. We know that they will continue to try to find the antidote. They have to in order to rebuild their little rebellion. You will also make the research station secure from them."
This must have been what they were after all along.
They had outmanoeuvred him; all of his struggles, all of the efforts which had left him completely drained had all been for nothing. He had been played from beginning to end, it had all been a setup; the questions, the use of the torture and nightmares to get him to reveal his secrets and the charade with the destruction of the ASP; he had never stood a chance against these two.
Even if they did not know the real truth, it no longer mattered. By asking him to do this, they were asking him to prevent ORAC, and the remaining ASP from finding the very antidote he had asked them to find. With this they had gone from making him fight himself, to making him fight the others for them.
With the time in the isolation chamber, he knew he no longer had anything left to fight his two deadliest foes; he had allowed them to push him to the breaking point and he had helped them. It had been another mistake on his part.
He felt like a wounded animal; trapped and bleeding in the corner, no longer able to fight while they continued to taunt and torture him. If he was a man who gave expression to emotions, he would have screamed.
"Are we going to have to force you to do this?" Sester asked him.
The analyst did not answer; they saw the tension in his body. The monitors revealed a great internal struggle going on, the stress readings had spiked again.
After a few moments of this Sester demanded, "Avon, give me an answer."
Still the analyst did not respond.
"Come now Avon," Servalan addressed him. "You are a reasonable man."
"Well, actually what we are asking him to do is to extinguish all hope, which is not reasonable," Sester remarked to her. He addressed Avon, "But of course the only choice you have left, is whether you will do this in pain or not. You know that don't you Avon?"
"Look at me Avon," Servalan demanded. Her captive reluctantly raised his head to meet her eyes, she was clearly enjoying herself. But there was something else in her eyes, pity. Her sadistic enjoyment he could take, but not this. He looked away again but she took hold of his chin and forced him to face her; even in this, he no longer had a choice.
"Have you finally reached your wall?" she asked as she looked down into his eyes and caressed his face.
Her words brought up a memory of another conversation; the day when insurrectionists, and Anna, had attempted a coup and taken over Residence One, including the Federation President. They had beaten Servalan up and then chained her to a wall in the cellar when Avon arrived, looking for information. Information he had been willing to free her for in order to obtain.
Avon had grabbed the chained President by the throat and asked, "Have you finally lost your nerve? Have you murdered your way to the wall of an underground room?"
"It's an old wall, Avon, it waits. I hope you don't die before you reach it," she had replied.
The memory faded, leaving only her pitying eyes before him. It was a wall of pain and failure; a wall where everything was taken away, leaving one chained and without hope. He had freed her then as he had promised; he should have killed her.
"Is that it Avon?" Servalan asked. "Did you survive to face your wall?"
"I saved your life that day," he said.
"And in return I gave you Bartholomew. It‘s not my fault that the Federation's top undercover agent turned out to be Anna."
"Don't make me do this," he begged her.
"You still don't understand Avon; there is no other choice for you. If I have to, I will put you back in the isolation cells and keep you there until you agree to do this."
"No." The word came out as a strangled whisper. He could not fight them anymore, not in that room, and neither could he do what they asked. The impossibility of his situation was overwhelming him.
The stress level had reached the highest point on the monitor, any higher and it would be off the scale. He was on the verge of collapse. His mind was struggling with two opposing forces he could not reconcile.
Sester nodded to Servalan, now came the compromise.
"There is one thing I can grant you," she told him, "the life of the Justice crew. If they try to break into the research station or try to obtain a sample of the virus, or try to retrieve ORAC's key, I will stop them but I will not kill them. I do not guarantee that I will not injure them, we do have to protect ourselves, but I will not have them killed. If they are successful in any of these though, I will kill them instantly. Whether this happens or not, depends on how good your security system is in preventing this. In a way, you are building this security system to protect them, as much as the virus."
Something deep inside him was dying.
Servalan had given him a choice which was not really a choice for him, just like all the other choices she had given him. That was something Blake had understood about Avon and had used repeatedly; as long as he gave the analyst at least the semblance of a choice, Avon would do what was required.
The Justice crew. He should just let them all die, and then he would be free. Nothing to hold him; just as he had almost done with Vila years ago in the autoshuttle. The decision had been simple then, Vila's life or his, and he had chosen his own. If he had not stumbled on a different solution, Vila would be dead.
Servalan's hand touched Avon's bared chest. She was a deadly spider playing with her prey and he was caught in her web. He shuddered.
This was a sacrifice greater than the one he had made for Cally; then he still had hope that he would be able to escape. With this one, they were asking him to extinguish that hope; his life would continue to be a living nightmare, but it would now become one that he would never be able to free from.
You're not the sacrificial type. Servalan hold told him once.
I'm not. But why can't I do this? Why can't I let them die?
He no longer wanted to live but he couldn't let them die. For them to live, he couldn't die. His mind was at war.
Avon, for what it is worth, I have always trusted you, from the very beginning. Those had been Blake's final words to him before the battle at Star One began; an obvious attempt at manipulation but also a terrible truth.
In the end it was that expression of trust which had destroyed Blake, destroyed both of them. Blake was free now, the analyst envied him.
Avon was responsible for Blake's death, just as he was responsible for the deaths of all of the Scorpio crew as they fell to the Federation troops surrounding them; and had almost been responsible for Cally's death.
He always ended up killing the people who believed in him and for some reason, he could not do that anymore. Even though the crew had every reason to hate and kill him now, he could not let them die, not if he could do anything to prevent it. It was all Blake's fault.
Avon had given up almost everything, and his own life, which he had always valued above all else, had become a burden to him. He wanted death but even this had been taken from him.
The only thing he had left was what Servalan offered him.
He was dead but the crew would live, that was his only choice.
He realized what was dying, it was hope.
With those two words he surrendered hope; and he hated himself.
Servalan and Sester had been watching Avon carefully and were observing the reactions on the life monitors. It had been fascinating watching him struggle.
"How does it feel to have all hope taken away?" she asked the analyst.
"Don't you know?" he asked bitterly.
"Fortunately I had you to rescue me then," she told him.
"I should have killed you."
"But you're a man of your word."
He was too tired and too defeated to even hate her. The pain in his knee had become unbearable, just like all of the other things in his life.
"I'm tired. Can I work without the pain, for a few hours?"
Servalan and Sester looked at each other. They both respected this man and between the two of them, they had just crushed him. It really had not been a fair contest. She nodded at Sester, and then said to the prisoner, "I can be magnanimous in victory."
The psychostrategist turned off the constant pain activator on the implant control.
Servalan released the analyst from the chair. With water from the pitcher, she cleansed the blood from his wrists where the bracelets had cut into him, and the scratches she had given him and applied an antiseptic cream. Her gentleness caused him even greater pain than any torture she had inflicted. She put a healing patch to reseal the opened wound, zipped up his coveralls and re-applied the restraints in front; the bio-sensor pads had been left on him. Throughout the whole process, he did not look at her even though her actions caused more pain; he no longer looked at either one of them.
"Get to work," she ordered him.
THE END *****