Avon lay on the floor of the interrogation room with his hands restrained behind him. The medtech was tending to him because he had started coughing blood again. It had been six hours of being beaten and it did not seem as if they were done with him yet.
The guards had come for him in the early morning after his normal routine. They had not told him where they were taking him. He had assumed that they were headed towards the lab as usual.
Avon groaned as the medtech fused one of his broken bones. It was a painful procedure. As the interrogators worked on him, Avon kept asking himself what he had done to make Servalan do this. He was still cooperating fully. There had been no other changes.
Could they have found out? he wondered. But that's not possible, not unless they knew what to look for. Sester might be able to guess; but if he had they would not just be doing this.
When the medtech was done, an interrogator uncuffed his hands. The zipper of his prison coveralls was pulled down and he was stripped down to the waist. Chains were lowered from the ceiling and attached to his wrists by metal cuffs. They pulled him up until his feet no longer touched the ground. His feet were secured by chains to a bolt which now protruding from the floor.
One of the interrogators brought out a burn wire. This was a thin strong wire with a handle on one end. When activated, it burned red hot. Servalan had used it on him before.
The interrogator applied the red hot wire to Avon's back. He cried out in pain as the wire burned into his flesh. It sizzled and there was a smell of burnt flesh. He groaned and tried to arch away from the continued pain but there was no escaping it. The wire was kept in contact with his body, continuing to sear his flesh. Avon's body twisted; desperately trying to relieve the pain but it was no use. When the wire was finally removed, it tore the skin; causing even more agonies. Avon cried out in pain again. The blood began to flow down his body. He knew he was in for a long night as the wire was applied repeatedly to different parts of his body.
Little did he know it was going to get even worse.
It had been weeks since he experienced this much pain. Not since the new guidelines instituted by the psychostrategist.
Has something changed? He knew that it could not be an effort to force information from him; especially since the interrogators were not even bothering to ask him any questions. The isolation cell was a much more effective method.
Servalan seemed to have been different lately. But with this, she appeared to be returning to form.
Was this all part of the illusion as I suspected? He wondered. At least this is not a mystery.
After they were finished with him, the unconscious Avon was brought to the medical wing. The medical personnel used the healing tank to stop the bleeding and tended to the burns. Everywhere his body contacted a surface there was considerable pain. Then they pumped him full of restoratives, replenished the lost blood and allowed him some rest to ready him for the following session.
The next one was the last and the worst. He was given a full session in the nerve induction unit. By the end, he was so weak that he was passing out constantly from the pain.
When the ordeal finally ended, they sent him back to the medical wing for more patching up before he was delivered to Servalan at Residence One. The guards who accompanied him did not understand why the unconscious man was being brought to the Federation President. He was so traumatized by the session in the Shredder that he was barely functional and could only manage the occasional whimper. But it was not their place to question the orders or whims of their superiors.
Jenna met with Olean Rane in his quarters at the Athol Palace. The chamberlain was looking tired and strained. Ellis Reve had become increasingly difficult. He seemed to want to provoke a direct confrontation. It took all of Rane's diplomatic skills to remain neutral.
"As much as I would like to move directly against Ellis, I can't," said Rane.
"You may not have much of a choice, old soldier," said Jenna. "Ellis seems determined to draw you out."
Rane sighed tiredly. He stretched tense and aching muscles. "Until that day comes. I will continue to try to protect our people," he told her, "I am getting very tired of this. They play their political games but they forget that it's the people who suffer. Sometimes I wonder what will happen when one of them finally does win. Will things finally settle down? Will things be better for our people?"
Jenna nodded her head in understanding. "When did you become more than just a soldier?" she asked. The ex-smuggler always had a great deal of respect for Rane and through this conflict, she had even more.
"Necessity. Nothing more," said Rane.
"Of Kam and Borel, who would make the best Overlord?" she asked.
"Of the three, Borel is the least interested; even though he is in this conflict. He's happiest being a soldier and defending the border. I think he's really only in this because his father believed in his potential," said Rane. "Kameron is ruthless but he is responsible and will not abuse his power. Ellis only wants power. Whichever way he can get it. He is ruthless too but has no mercy. The ideal situation would be if Kameron became Overlord and Borel helped him"
"Do you think they will work together?" Jenna asked.
"They may unite against Ellis. That might be enough for them to form an alliance. And Borel would probably defer to his brother if they win."
Jenna nodded thoughtfully. This tallied with her own assessment as well.
"Who is this woman, Galena that Kam is involved with?" asked Jenna.
"I don't know much about her, myself. She appeared on the scene after I left on a mission out to the border for Feltar. But it appears that Kam became very serious about her. And Ellis also developed an interest in her afterwards. I am not sure what happened but I know that Feltar became very angry and threatened them both. Then Feltar died and I had to come back. By then there were more pressing matters and it was not mentioned."
"Did you meet her?"
"No. But she must have been quite a woman. Kam fell for her in a matter of weeks. Some say that he changed a lot after he met her. Hopefully it was for the better."
"Well, no matter what kind of woman she is. We need to get her out from Ellis's control otherwise Kam will not move."
"He still insists on this condition?" Rane asked.
"Yes. He refuses to budge even though I told him we are trying. He will not risk her life."
"But he will risk Borel's and his sister's?"
And Argus's Jenna added to herself. She was still worried about the rebel leader after the message from Reya Reve that he had been injured and tortured.
"It does make me wonder what kind of woman she really is," said Jenna.
"How is Argus doing?" Rane asked. He knew that Jenna was very concerned about the rebel leader.
"I haven't had an update on his condition since Reya contacted me," Jenna replied. "But she said that the healers are able to treat him."
"She would have said something if his life was in danger," Rane reassured her.
"Hopefully he's fine," said Jenna. "We could have used his help. He's much better at these kinds of operations than I am."
"I will give whatever assistance I can," said Rane. "In the meantime, you should get some rest."
"Speak for yourself, old soldier," Jenna told him. "You look like you haven't slept in days. And when was the last time you shaved?"
"You're getting to be as bad as Lelea," complained Rane with a wry smile.
Psychostrategists Tace, Lambrin and Vorshell met with senior psychostrategist Sester aboard his personal observer craft. They were all sharing an excellent meal and a fine wine, from Servalan's private stock.
"Excellent hospitality as usual, Sester," said Tace.
"And what strategy got you this?" asked Lambrin, lifting the glass of the particularly fine wine. Lambrin had very discerning taste when it came to food and drink. He was a heavy set man who looked, unfortunately more like an old fashioned gangster than the refined psychostrategist that he was. He was also an old friend of Sester's.
"We probably don't want to know," said Vorshell. Of the three, he was the tallest, the youngest and the most cynical.
All three psychostrategists knew that Sester was under personal commission to the Federation President and reported to her directly; and he never revealed what he did for her that had been taking up most of his time the last few years.
"You're right," said Sester. For a moment, Sester thought about the analyst suffering back at the Special Detention Centre. He sighed. It served no useful purpose dwelling on it.
Sester refocused all their attention. "What has been going on here since your last report?" he asked them.
"You'll find this interesting," said Lambrin. He activated the monitor sitting on the table and brought up a starfield view. The focus zoomed in close to the Athol moon and clearly visible, very close to the surface, was a large ship.
"I've always appreciated your definition of interesting," said Sester. The ship was the Justice.
"Have any of our undercover agents found anything about the unknown force yet?" asked Sester.
"Still nothing," reported Tace.
"It is disturbing that there is such a complete lack of any information," said Lambrin. Lambrin was an old friend of Sester's. He had very good instincts about danger. "We should at least be able to map it by now. At least it's possible threads."
"Are the commando units still busy disrupting Ellis?" Sester asked.
"Yes, they are much happier now that they have something to do," Vorshell said. "They were getting bored sitting out by the edge of the system just waiting."
Sester said. "Alright, we will wait until they are done. But in the meantime, we can plot a new strategy and flush out this new force. And with the addition of the Justice, things get even more interesting. We may even be able to use them."
They all smiled.
Sester had a thought. "The man the commando unit captured, what was his name?"
"Kolter," replied Tace.
"Could it have been an alias?"
"I assumed it was," said Tace.
"Did we try to find out what his real name was?" asked Sester.
"No. We were more interested in who he was working for," Tace replied. "Why?"
"With the Justice here and with the abilities of the people who have been disrupting Ellis, I think I know who your prisoner was. Servalan will not like it that we let him go."
"Who is it," asked Vorshell.
"Drel Argus. He's has a high price on his head and is wanted for some information very valuable to Central Security and the Federation President."
"We can have him pulled in," said Lambrin. "He does have a tracer on him now."
"No leave him there for now. He is more useful where he is. And as you said, we can pull him in at any time. I will explain to the President."
Avon was shivering and barely conscious. His mind was still not back from wherever it retreated to when recovering from the after effects of the nerve induction unit. His arms were wrapped tightly around the Federation President as his head rested in the crook of her arm. His body was pressed tightly against hers. It was an involuntary reaction; seeking comfort and security after the trauma.
The guards had delivered him from the Special Detention Centre after the med unit had tended to his physical injuries after his session in the Shredder.
Servalan doubted if he even knew who he was holding onto. He would not have reacted well if he knew. She had been told that it would be at least another day before he was conscious enough to know who she was.
She stroked his head, trying to soothe him as he started whimpering in pain again and held her even tighter. Servalan knew that there were residual pain effects from the unit which only faded with time. When the bout ended, he was shaking badly again and was breathing heavily.
Servalan had never witnessed someone recovering from the effects of the nerve induction unit before; had never seen how helpless they were and how traumatized. And they had done this to Avon many times in the past few years.
Part of her wanted to stop hurting him; but not enough of her. As she held him, she felt safe. She realized that like this, she cared about him even though she could never trust him. There was a tenderness she could afford when he was controlled. But she also wanted an Avon who could fight her, whose brilliance delighted her, whose dangerous nature excited her and whose resistance gave her a challenge; a man who was her match.
It was tearing her apart that the dreams she had given up when she had taken power as a lover were as close as the man lying in her arms; but it was also the characteristics she valued in him which meant that it could never be. He was much too dangerous.
What are you doing to me, Avon? And what am I doing to you?