After the end of Avon's next work session, he was brought to interrogation room two. In some ways this made him feel better, it was something he was familiar with; but when he entered the room and saw Servalan and Sester waiting for him, he no longer felt better. The last time the two of them were in the same room with him, they had crushed him.
The guards brought him to a chair on the opposite side of the table from them and secured him to it. Avon waited as his two foes watched him.
"What do you want from me?" Avon asked when it was clear they were still not going to say anything. His face was an impassive mask.
"You're a worthy opponent Avon but we're at the endgame," replied Sester.
"Really? I thought the game was over; you got what you wanted," said Avon.
"We still don't have you," said Servalan.
Anger began to build in the analyst, it was clear that they were after something but they hadn't finished playing their games. He was so tired of giving them everything. With both of them here, the memories of what they had done to him together were still too fresh.
Avon pulled at the restraints securing him to the back of the chair and looked at her. "It certainly feels like you have."
"We only have your mind and your body," said Servalan.
Yes, you know all about that don't you? He thought angrily. There were no thoughts of passion or gentleness now; there was only a cold anger. He had to hold onto that, it was the only way he could face both of them.
"You want my soul? I don't have one. Stop playing games Servalan and tell me what you want," Avon said, there was a faint anger in his voice and a tightness in his jaw.
Did those three days not make a difference between us? Servalan sighed.
Sester drew the analyst's attention, "Why are you doing this, Avon? You must know that you are nearing the end. How much longer do you think you will survive if you decide to keep playing this game?"
"Why don't you tell me? You have had this mapped out from the beginning, was there anything in your strategy which involved giving me a real choice?" It wasn't just a faint anger now; it was a faint hatred; even though his face still showed no emotion.
"So you know."
"About your progression of compromises? If I didn't know that by now, then your time would have been wasted on me."
"You think that now that you are aware, you can prevent it from happening?" Sester asked.
People trapped in a psych-strategy never knew that they were being manipulated until it was too late; and usually not even then. They had beaten Avon and forced him to build a security system which would keep him trapped forever; but they had to almost beat him to death before that had been possible.
The wider goal had always been to lead Avon into making increasingly more damaging compromises until in the end, there was no longer any point to keep denying them anything. Avon recognized this now. It was clear that he knew that what they did to him was not just because Servalan wanted to hurt him; although he had to also know that it was one of the reasons. There was a method to the cruelty and pain being inflicted on him.
You truly are a worthy opponent Avon thought Sester approvingly. It was always much more enjoyable beating an opponent who had the ability to do the kind of damage he knew Avon was capable of.
"The game is not over yet," replied Avon.
Sester smiled and continued, "Up until now, the goal was only to break you, but we have reached the point where we need to build beyond that. You need to be given a place where you can survive, but within a framework which is acceptable to us."
"Why bother? You only want me to live so that she can keep killing me." His tone was full of cynicism.
"Avon," Servalan called his attention. "I told you that I do regret what we had to do to you, but you left us no other choice. You wanted to escape and we could not allow that. If you cooperate now, we want to provide you a place where you can survive. The majority of the protocols will be suspended. Whether they will be used, will depend entirely on how well you cooperate. They will be used for punishment only, not to break you down."
"And if I do not cooperate?"
"Then there will be no mercy and you know exactly what we can do to you. But afterwards, if you choose to cooperate, then you can have the survival."
"So it is no longer an endgame, you are building me a cage." There was coldness in his voice.
Even though Avon had been a captive for almost three years, there had not been one day of those three years when he accepted his imprisonment. The only times he had stopped fighting them was when they had beaten him so badly that he couldn't fight. And now they wanted him to be a tame bird in a cage.
Avon addressed the psychostrategist. "You thought I would accept this? Your strategy told you this?" Avon asked contemptuously, the anger was very clear now in his voice, even if not on his face. He pulled against the cuffs securing him to the back of the chair.
Servalan turned her head and glanced briefly over at her partner.
I told you that he would become more difficult as he grew stronger, she thought, he's so full of anger, we can't manage him this way.
Sester noted her brief movement in his direction; he could guess what she was thinking. Be patient, Madame President, he thought. He was glad he had dissuaded her from bringing the implant control; he knew she would have used it by now. With her it was always about control. But you must admit he is back.
There were two reasons why Sester had insisted that the two of them face Avon together; one was to gauge the level of his recovery, the other was to test Servalan.
From Avon's reaction to the both of them, Sester knew that he had not recovered yet. But he was in a much better state than he was a week ago. The desire to fight was there now, if not the ability.
"Avon, we are not here to manipulate you. If we wanted to do that, we would have done this a week ago, when you were at your weakest," Sester pointed out to him.
"Yes, you have my best interests at heart," said Avon cynically.
"I know you don't believe us right now, but we do," said Sester. "You will notice that the new guidelines have already begun. We are allowing your body to heal. Your work hours have been reduced. The cycle of treatments have stopped, and the punishment protocols are only at level two. The pain in your knee has also been decreased."
"We are giving you a choice Avon," said Servalan.
"Your choices always tend to trap me more." Avon said with a cold cynicism.
"But this time will be different Avon," she told him.
Sester knew that this was a lie but he was not about to point that out at this moment.
"Really?" Avon said with great sarcasm. He was a wise man not to believe her.
The psychostrategist continued, "Avon, we have never allowed you a way to stop the torture, even when you did what we wanted, but that will change with these new guidelines. If you cooperate, then you will not be tortured. Later, if you continue to behave, we may allow you more freedom, but that will come much later. You will have to prove to us your level of cooperation first."
So this is a cage, thought Avon.
"If you do not accept these guidelines, then you only need to fight us; then everything will be returned to the way it was."
Avon's enemies had set up a situation where the only way he could refuse what they were doing, was to fight them and to choose the torture. He wanted to fight, his will demanded it; but he knew that at this moment, he could not manage anything other than anger. He would fight, and they would crush him; he didn't think he could bear that again, not against the two of them; at least not yet.
They had already put him in the cage and they wanted him to accept it; how he hated them both. But he would be patient and accept his cage, for now.
There was still something they did not know about what he was capable of. He had to gain their trust and with these new guidelines that had become a real possibility.
Servalan and Sester discussed Avon's reaction after the analyst was returned to his cell.
"He's not going to accept it easily," said Servalan to her partner.
"No, he won't. He wouldn't be Avon if he did; but he knows that he can't fight both of us."
"That's why you insisted I be here?"
"Part of it. The other was to assure him that both of us will abide by the guidelines."
Servalan's eyes narrowed as she regarded the psychostrategist. "This was to constrain me as much as it was to control him?" she asked in a dangerous tone.
"If you want this to work Servalan, he had to see that you also agree. He had to know that you were serious about giving him a way to survive in his prison; even though he may not accept it yet. We had to make him understand that he has that option now. Isn't that what you wanted?"
Sester saw the conflict in her eyes. He sighed. They were both very stubborn. He realized the guidelines would not work, not yet. Avon could not help fighting and Servalan could not help wanting to hurt him.
Sester was not worried about Avon, by starting the guidelines, they had already placed him in his cage. Everytime he left it, the conditions would be such that he would have to retreat to it again. The longer he stayed in it, the harder it would be for him to get out again.
The key was Servalan. Unless she was able to curb her impulses concerning Avon, it would always get worse for him. She couldn't help herself.
Sester realized he may need to do some manipulation in order for it to work. Given Servalan's character, there was only one way. It would be a dangerous game, for Avon. Sester hoped the analyst would be able to survive it. And he hoped that Servalan would never find out what he was about to do.