Just when the prisoner thought that he could not take the boredom anymore, his cell door opened. It was the middle of the day, as far as he could tell. This was a break in the routine.
A woman in white walked in. Behind her just outside the door, he could see two black hooded guards before the cell door closed again. For some reason, the sight of them made him shiver.
The prisoner had been sitting on the metal sleep platform, leaning against the wall. But when he saw the woman, he slid forward and sat up straight. He waited for her to speak.
The woman took her time; she wasn’t in a hurry. The control was in her hands.
"You look terrible," she finally said to him.
"Thank you," he replied impassively.
She smiled; he still liked playing games.
"How have you enjoyed this game so far?"
"Is that what this has been?" he said sarcastically.
"You must know that it is always a game," she answered.
"And this time you control the board," he said.
"That doesn't sound like much fun."
"Not for one of us. Why am I still alive?"
"I told you that I do not kill people who are useful to me."
"I also remember you said, only if you could control them. Do you think you can control me? Or do you plan to use me, like you did Avon?"
"That might be amusing."
"As amusing as pretending to have me shot?"
She laughed. "I did enjoy that. The look on your face after you told them to wait; and they completely ignored you."
"Stun rifles." His hand went to his chest where the stun charges had hit him. He had been sore for days afterwards. "That was a nice touch, leaving me on the ground afterwards."
"I thought so."
"How long have I been here?"
"What happens now?"
"I haven't decided yet."
He looked at her suspiciously. "So this is just a social visit or did you have something else planned?"
"You don’t seem to be enjoying the game anymore. Avon would have."
"I'm not Avon."
Servalan smiled. "No, you're not. That's why I am going to let you out."
He reacted in surprise.
"You shouldn't be surprised. You know that you are too useful for me to kill right now. Especially with the upcoming crisis. We need every advantage we can get."
"So you are taking a chance that you can control me?"
"I don’t understand." There is still something you haven't told me.
"You may be as intelligent as Avon, but you are not as dangerous as he is."
"And how did you decide that?"
"You are afraid. And you cannot stand losing everything."
For the first time since his imprisonment, Sester laughed.
Vila came down the steps onto the flight deck. He was carrying a full decanter and two glasses.
Argus was sprawled out on one of the couches in the conference area, his feet up on the table, his fingers were laced together behind his head; he was staring at the ceiling. There was a faint smile on his lips and his eyes were focused on something far away.
Vila had never seen Argus in such a relaxed state on the flight deck during a work cycle before. Argus was always focused and very professional when he was on duty.
Argus had been very different since coming back. He had avoided them all. Vila had been waiting for him to get back; in order to confront him about the games with the liquor dispensers but it had not seemed the time. Argus barely ate and he didn't seem to be sleeping. Vila was very concerned. Not that he wasn't concerned about Avon; but Avon had Cally looking after him.
During the anti-detector screen testing, Argus had appeared to be his old self. They had all breathed a sigh of relief. But afterwards, the melancholy, the isolation and lack of apetite had returned. And today, there had been an urgent message for Argus's eyes only.
In Vila's eyes, that kind of communication could not bode anything good. He had decided to come with a peace offering and a reviver. He had not known what to expect when he reached the flight deck. A relaxed and vaguely smiling Argus was definitely not it.
"Good news?" Vila asked as he approached Argus.
Argus turned his head around to see who had entered. "Of a sort."
"I thought you might need a reviver."
"I'm on duty, Vila."
Why did I bother, thought Vila, turning to go.
"Wait." Argus had not missed the significance of the gesture. And he was feeling at peace with the world right now.
"I could use a drink. I suppose I can have one," said Argus.
"Don't do it on my account," said Vila, coming back and setting the decanter and the glasses on the table. He filled the two glasses and handed one to Argus.
"Well, are you going to talk about it?" asked Vila after a few minutes of drinking in silence.
"About what?" asked Argus.
"Why you've been moping around like you've lost your best friend?"
Argus looked over at the thief. I haven't mentioned anything.
"I'd rather not discuss it, Vila," Argus answered.
"Is there anything you would like to talk about?" asked Vila.
"I'd like to just drink, if you don't mind," replied Argus.
Actually, Vila was somewhat relieved. He had never been good at having discussions about personal things; but drinking he could do.
Avon buzzed at Argus's door; it was the rebel leader's sleep cycle again.
The door slid open.
"What do you want, Avon?" Argus asked when he saw who it was.
"I wish to discuss the file," replied Avon.
"The rest of the crew is either busy or asleep."
Argus was about to say, "Including me." But he realized that this was going to be difficult enough for the analyst. Avon had deliberately picked this time in order to avoid the other members of the crew.
"Come in," said Argus.
"I have consulted ORAC," said Avon.
I have too. Argus had also consulted ORAC, much to the annoyance of the computer. It did not like to repeat the same information.
"It appears it is the only feasible way to break the conditioning," said Avon.
"It carries a great risk."
"I am aware of that."
"Do you think you're strong enough now?"
"There is no point in waiting."
"You want to do it tonight?!" exclaimed Argus when he realized why Avon was there at this hour.
"As I said, there is no point in waiting. The crew will be preoccupied for at least seven or eight hours. No one is scheduled to use the medical unit during that period. I have already set up the relevant equipment and I have ORAC."
Argus could see that Avon was determined.
"Alright, give me a few minutes and I will meet you in the medical bay."
Avon checked the life-sensors on the bio-bed and tested the restraints. He was determined to be free of the conditioning tonight. For two years he had been helpless to anyone who held the triggers to the conditioning. At first it was Servalan and Sester. Then it was the Centre personnel who had activated the phrases which could turn his mind on and off at will.
He had hated every minute of those two years; hated the helplessness as his mind was forced to work for Servalan. Avon wanted his mind to be his own again. Even risking madness in order to break the conditioning was better than knowing that Servalan could use it against him at any time.
As he continued checking the remainder of the equipment, Avon's mind ran over the last few lines in the file from Sester.
"I have only provided the trigger to activate the conditioning, not the one to turn it off. There is an important reason for this. Using the ending trigger only serves to reinforce the conditioning. You will be too tempted to use it. That is why, once the process to break the conditioning begins, you must not stop until it is completed."
You do like to manipulate the pieces, don't you Sester, thought Avon. He wondered if the psychostrategist had survived his defiance of Servalan. Avon would not have thought the strategist would have been the one to help him escape.
Avon did not relish doing this. The process which the files had recommended as the only option; was to use conditioning to break the conditioning. Because of the nature of the conditioning which had been programmed into him, the usual therapies would not work and would only end up killing him. Using the original drugs also would not work; not in a reversing process. The only way was to force the mind to find a way to fight it.
The building pressure in the brain could be relieved in two ways; one was for the mind to find a way to control it; the other was to apply a disruptor wave to certain areas of the brain, unfortunately this resulted in alot of pain.
Argus entered the medical bay. "Are you ready?" he asked.
"In a minute." Avon went to the door panel and using a tool taken from his pocket, disconnected various wires.
"What are you doing?"
"Disabling the door. Just in case the process takes longer than expected."
"You're afraid Vila might break in."
"Yes, he has many bad habits."
Argus looked at equipment which Avon had set up. He slid ORAC's key into the computer's slot.
"ORAC, are you connected to the input relays yet?"
"I am ready."
Odd, thought Argus. You normally have more attitude than that. If I didn't know any better, I would think you were also concerned about this.
Once Avon disabled the door, he went to the bio-bed and climbed up onto it. Argus activated the invisible restrictor bands, restraining him across the legs, hip, chest and wrists. He put an sealed headset over the analyst's ears and then rotated a head array into place.
Argus went to sit at the control panel and switched on the relays.
"ORAC, begin monitoring of Avon's brain pattern."
"I am already monitoring."
"You have control of the conditioning array?"
Argus activated the comm connected to Avon's headphones.
"Do you hear me Avon?"
"You're sure about this?"
"Get on with it."
Argus brought up the coded audio file from Sester's files. He executed the file.
"It's time to work, Avon." It was Sester's voice.
So simple and so deadly, thought Argus. This was the first time he had heard the file. On the monitor screens, there were various maps of Avon's brain. He could see that the trigger phrase had an immediate effect. Brain waves were increasing in intensity. More areas of the brain were being activated. Respiration and heart rate were increasing.
Three minutes. Four. Five.
On the bio-bed, he could see that Avon was starting to move restlessly against the restraints.
Six. Come on ORAC.
"What are you waiting for ORAC?"
"It is not optimum time yet."
Seven. All of a sudden, the array of machines surrounding Avon's head turned on, sending several laser beams towards the analyst's head. Avon groaned in pain as the beams penetrated his brain. Voices were now being piped in through the headset.
"How long ORAC?" Argus asked.
When the beams were released Argus noticed that the brain waves were no longer as intense. Somehow the beams which had penetrated Avon's brain had relieved some of the pressure.
"What is being put through the headphones ORAC?"
"Activate the blue switch on your panel."
Argus did so. Over the comm, came, "Concentrate. You must relax the pressure. Then pain will not be required." The voices droned on. Argus turned the switch off.
Argus could see that despite the admonition to relax the pressure, the brain intensity was beginning to grow again. When it reached the point determined by ORAC, the beams were applied again and the pressure was relieved.
It was a horrifying process to watch.
The methods used by the Detention Centre were probably even worse, thought Argus. Though he couldn't imagine anything worse than this as Avon groaned in pain again.
Argus hoped it would not take long.