It felt as if he were inching his way towards consciousness, clawing through a thick soupy fog that resisted his every effort.
His head felt strange, light, it would float away if it weren't attached to his neck, which was a nonsensical notion, but the only one his disoriented brain could manage.
Drifting. Unable to grab onto a solid thought.
Reaching upwards towards dim rays of awareness.
Then the pain hit. Avon clenched his teeth, biting back a groan. It was a stone nugget of agony in the middle of his head, trying to force its way out through the brainy grey matter. He clamped down hard, tensing his jaw, refusing to give his jailors the benefit of knowing they were causing him pain. They would not control everything. He would not let them; he could not let Servalan…
Panic gripped his heart, a vice clamping tightly.
His eyes opened a sliver
It was the nightmare room, the sensory deprivation chamber. The tyranny of silence ruled here, each sound strangled into submission by the dampeners.
He knew the pain would come soon. It always did. And the screams that only existed in his mind.
He was a disembodied presence, unable to feel his muscles tensing to fight the agony.
Did he exist if there was no one to hear him scream? At times in this room, he was no longer sure, until the madness descended, a welcome insanity.
But…there was some sensation, the feel of metal biting into his wrists.
An inconsistency that meant…
Cally's face floated before his darkness-clouded vision.
The strong jaw, the penetrating eyes…
Memories came to him, fuzzy moving images…
A low scratchy growl shattered the quiet, followed by, "What the…," and a clanking pull of chains. "Avon!"
The present flowed back in a tide of remembrance and for a moment, he was flooded with an overwhelming sense of relief.
I am not in the Detention Centre. He repeated it several times, solidifying the fact of it in his mind.
A harsh rush of air brushed over his body, a sheet of arctic coldness making him shudder. "My clothes…"
There was another clanking of chains. "Yes. They took our clothes," said Argus's voice.
Not all of them. Avon could feel something lower down…straps.
His lips curled, exposing white teeth. It was the familiar feel of leather.
Around his groin.
"What am I wearing?" His voice was harsh, tight anger rising.
"I believe they call it a thong," said Sester.
Avon's lips twisted in a half-grimace. This man's voice was an annoying itch he wanted to exorcise one day. He could even hear the smirk.
"You're wearing a leather one, if that helps," said Sester, his voice a light froth of amusement.
"It doesn't." If he weren't chained to the wall, he would reach out and wipe the smile he knew must be on the other man's face.
He must contact Cally. Avon concentrated, focussing, sending his thoughts out.
* Cally. * Did she know he was missing? Did anyone? He thought harder, and hopefully louder. * Cally. * There was no response, no whisper of her voice in the distance. She must be preoccupied.
The other possibility was disturbing and far more likely. Their captors could have a screen against psi activity. This meant they had been planning this for a long time.
More clanking of chains, hard grunts and sharp exhales told him Argus was trying to free himself. Avon pulled, flexing his wrists to twist in the cuff and trying different angles.
"Damn!" said Argus, "It's bolted tight and there's not enough give in the cuffs. How are you doing?"
"The same." Sester's words finally registered through the urgency of the situation.
He was wearing a leather one. What were the others wearing?
It was a split second random thought, not worthy of his attention as he focused on their predicament. "There was gas in the room."
"Sonovapour?" asked Argus, he gave one last hard tug.
"Most likely." There was something else. "The wolf?"
"Not here, I'm afraid," said Sester, who had been watching both men's attempts with mild interest.
"Where is here?" Avon angled his head to listen past the voices. There was only the flow of air causing a slight rattle in a vent. A loose slat in a grating. Perhaps large enough to crawl through if they could get free.
Their voices echoed and there was a hollow quality.
They had to get away, but he also wanted to find out who had taken them and why.
After they escaped.
"Looks like a cave. But there are metal walls on two sides. One has a door. The other…has a vent."
There was another clank of the chain. "If only we had Vila," said Argus. "He'd probably be able to get us out of these."
"And crawl through the vent," said Avon.
"If only we could. It's small. Maybe half the size of a man."
This information was met with a blank expression.
"Have you been working out?" said their once and present irritant.
Avon's eyes narrowed. What nonsense was the man up to now?
"I always work out," growled Argus.
That brought a quick, involuntary flash of a buff Argus wearing a tight leather thong.
Avon shook his head, rattling the chains, and took a deep breath, feeling the oxygen expand his lungs to bursting. He must still be under the affects of the aphrodisiac. Had their captors given them another dose?
At least his body was not reacting in an embarrassing fashion.
"It's very suggestive, don't you think?" Sester's conversational tone made both men face him.
"I don't like this," said Argus.
"I don't think it's our likes that matter here."
The door creaked open, hinges protesting as flakes of rust twisted in the joints. The three men turned sharply in its direction.
Avon heard a woman's voice, a cultured nasal sound that grated on the ears, and the click-click of stiletto heels. "He's right, it's not."
His back stiffened. The woman had been listening, and most likely observing them. Hidden surveillance equipment. Argus was too efficient to have missed something obvious.
"Who are you? Why have you kidnapped us?" demanded Avon, his voice flat, in control - the illusion of control.
The clicks approached. An odour of expensive perfume wafted close, an overpowering mixture of orchids and a hint of vanilla, and something more exotic he couldn't place.
It smelled of wealth, the kind that liked to flaunt their riches with gaudy displays.
Avon hissed and he flinched as a finger touched his exposed flesh, drawing a slow line of warmth down his bare chest.
"Leave him alone!" Chains rattled violently as Argus tried to free himself.
The finger travelled down, lingering at the top edge of the leather thong, lightly ringing it.
There was the sound of scraping, protesting metal. "Leave Avon alone!"
"Watch out!" said an unidentified male voice.
The woman removed her hand abruptly with a sharp intake of breath. She took a step back as a rush of boots came into the room. Energy buzzes crackled and Argus roared with anger.
More energy buzzes, long, prolonged ones as Argus yelled in pain. "Leave…him…alone!"
"Stop!" Avon's voice rose above the din.
"That's enough." The new voice was oily and with the authority of a hooked blade, the kind of man who would sell all of his relatives for the right price. "We don't want to damage the merchandise. Find a stronger set of restraints." A set of boots ran out and Argus's heaving gasps filled the room.
Merchandise. Avon's lips curled in a snarl of distaste. Slavers.
"Well, what do you think?" asked the oily voiced man.
"I want both of them."
"At the negotiated price?"
The click-clicks came close to Avon again. A few steps away. "Of course."
He could 'feel' her eyes travelling the length of his exposed body. His jaw tensed again, but he would have no other reaction.
"And me?" a melodic, pleasant voiced Sester asked. The tone was bubbling with amusement.
The woman turned her head in his direction. "You're the psychostrategist?"
"I could be your psychostrategist."
"What makes you think I need one?"
"Everyone needs one."
"I guarantee you will get back your investment, with interest."
"And if you don't?"
"Well…" There was the clink of chains. "I'm sure you can think of other uses for me."
"You're very sure of yourself." The woman’s voice was near Sester’s now. They must be very close.
“I’m a psychostrategist.” There was just a hint of danger in his voice, enough to make him interesting. Avon was loathed to admit it, but it was a masterful performance.
A light tinkling of chains signalled something else happening. A pregnant silence. Rapt attention from the other occupants of the room.
“You’re not a bad kisser either,” said the woman, a slight huskiness making her sound less nasal.
“You’ll find there are many things I’m not bad at.” More of the smirking voice that made Avon want to smack Sester, but at least the woman’s attention had been diverted. He could still ‘feel’ her phantom fingers touching him and suppressed a shiver.
“Very well, I will take him too.”
“I will throw him in for free since you’re such a good customer.”
“Free?” asked an outraged Sester.
Few things in life are, thought Avon. And definitely not when the price tag attached was Sester.
Boots came back in and he heard the snapping of cuffs.
"They will still have to be put up for auction, but it's a mere formality. No one will be able to pay your price," said the oily man, his voice moving away towards the exit.
"I will not be denied this time," said the woman. Their voices trailed off as they left the room, and the booted men with them.
I will not be denied this time.
Avon's stomach twisted, he knew who this woman was. A dry, desert blast of memory choked his throat. She was the client who had bid against Servalan on Domo, the unknown figure behind a buying agent. Natratof.
"You're a fool."
"I know…I had to do something. I couldn't let them…"
There was an abrupt, "Thank you."
"It didn't do any good though. We're still stuck here."
"You diverted their attention," said Sester. "I wouldn't have chosen that way, but it was effective."
Avon scowled in irritation. Their natural antagonism was about to descend into another pointless argument.
"And what the hell did you think you were doing kissing that…woman!" said Argus.
"You fight your way, I fight mine."
Argus snarled, "It didn’t look like you were fighting too hard."
"Enough!" said Avon.
"I had to make sure they didn't separate us. You're going to need my help." Sester's voice was so reasonable, it was even more irritating.
"Don't you mean, you're going to need our help?" said Avon.
"I have a feeling we're going to need each other before this is finished."
Avon stumbled and felt Argus's strong hands help him stay on his feet. Chains tugged at him, pulling him forward. His hands and legs were shackled, chains attaching him to Sester in front and Argus behind.
It was one time he was glad he couldn't see the eager faces. He could hear their voices though, the whispered excitement trapping them in a spectacle of human misery.
He held his head high, his back refusing to bow to their will.
The chains dropped, clattering to the floor. There was a struggle of flesh against flesh as Argus was yanked back.
Someone pushed Avon forward, an iron hand clamped to his shoulder.
The oily man began his sales pitch. "Now I know he looks soft, and he talks soft, too."
Avon's lips pulled back, baring his teeth. He was going to do to this man what he had done to Benos.
A hand stroked his arm and squeezed his biceps, but other ones held him still as he tried to pull back.
"But you can tell the ladies he's strong enough to work all day and still have plenty of energy left over for any little chores you might have for him in the evenings."
Laughter erupted in the hall, bouncing off the walls in lecherous amusement.
Did these people all read from the same script?
A low growl formed in Avon's chest, one the man could feel through the fingers that now stroked his chest, his fingers following the faint scars. "There are many possibilities for this one. Now, what am I bid?"
"Four thousand vems." Natratof's nasal voice graced the proceedings.
There was shocked silence.
"That's outrageous!" said a man whose accent was so heavy, some were still trying to figure out what he said. His tone was clear enough.
"If you don't have the vems, then shut up," said Natratof.
An icy, superior voice made them all stare up at the upper deck, everyone straining to see past the glaring lights. "Eight thousand vems."
Avon started. "Servalan."