"This is monstrous. I will not aid you in doing this," said Cally once she was let in and saw what they were doing.
"We have to Cally. If we stop now, Avon is going to go mad and die. Do you want that?" Argus asked her.
"I cannot believe you decided to do this."
Argus sighed. "We didn't have a choice. Avon preferred this rather than continue living with the conditioning hanging over his head."
"What kind of conditioning is worth this?"
Argus realized that he had to give her more information in order to obtain her cooperation. He crossed over to a data terminal and recalled the coded file regarding the conditioning.
"Here, read this," he told her, indicating the screen.
Cally sat down and read the file.
What she read made her ill. "They did this to him?"
"I can see why he would have wanted to risk the reversal rather than continue the way things are. I will help you."
"Do you know the drugs ORAC is referring to?"
"Yes, they are weakening drugs which they used on him at the Detention Centre. They interfere with the body's ability to produce adrenaline, depress the seratonin level and various other effects."
"Do we have them here?"
"Not the same ones, no. The medical stores do have similar ones which are not as harmful but will produce the same effects."
"Can you get them?"
"We will have to monitor his condition carefully once we give him the drugs. They will make it harder for him to fight the pain."
"We don’t have a choice, Cally."
She went to get the drugs.
Avon screamed again.
Right before Cally administered the weakening drugs, Argus used the comm to speak to Avon.
"Avon, I know you can't answer me right now so just listen. We are going to inject you with the same kind of weakening drugs they gave you at the Detention Centre. ORAC says that this will accelerate the process of reversing the conditioning. Do not be alarmed when you start feeling them take effect."
He nodded to Cally.
"Captain Mayner, anything to report on the scanners?" asked Commander Reya Reve as she entered the command deck of a fast pursuit ship.
"Nothing to report, Commander Reve. Same as before."
Her unit had been in quadrant eight for two days and absolutely nothing had happened. No sign of unusual activity. Nothing.
"Either the prior reports were wrong, or whoever it is, is aware of our presence and is concealing themselves," said Reya.
Mayner nodded in agreement. "What do we do now Commander?"
Reya brought up the reports on the terminal screen. They described a large sphere, the size of ten heavy battlecruisers. Not something which should be able to hide easily. But it does, thought Reya. That would be a useful capability.
The sphere appeared in random places and no one had been able to track its path. A couple of ships which encountered it had been destroyed but several civilian and transport ships had been left unscathed. So far, it had not yet ventured from quadrant eight. Interesting, it only appears to attack armed ships.
"Bring up the quadrant map," said Reya.
A holographic star map appeared.
"I want to see the coordinates where the sightings were reported. Indicate them according to time increments," Reya instructed.
A dozen red spots began appearing on the map.
They all studied it. The spots seemed to be all over the quadrant map. There was no logical grouping or specific path. Following it by time increments also did not help; there did not appear to be a pattern. First a small asteroid in one end of the map, then another asteroid in the middle of the map, and another towards the top of the map. Then the three moons above a dead planet. In total about a dozen sightings.
"That's odd," mused Reya. She wondered why the data analysts had not spotted it.
"Sir?" said Mayner. He knew his commander had instincts which he did not understand. She appeared to be able to see things the rest of them didn't.
"It's almost as if it was conducting an investigation," she said.
"I don't understand."
"Take a look at where it has been spotted. Asteroids, moons, small planets. There are several large planets in this quadrant but there have been no sightings there. Either it is avoiding them, or it is looking for something."
"But why is it all over the quadrant?"
"I don't know. Yet. I want to see how many other astral bodies fit in the general category of what it appears to be looking for. Show them on the map."
Several dozen green points appeared on the map.
Captain Mayner guessed what she had in mind. "Assuming you are correct Commander, that's too many to track," he said.
"True. So let us see if we can narrow it down. Since it appears to be avoiding signs of civilization, let's remove all the ones within sensor range of a populated body," directed Reya.
Two dozen green points were left on the map.
"That's better, but still too many," said Reya. She studied the red points and their time increments again.
"It's random," she remarked.
"Yes, Commander. There doesn't appear to be a pattern," Mayner said.
"It's very deliberately random," she said again but this time with a confidence which confused Mayner.
Mayner looked at her with a puzzled expression. It was obvious she saw something, but he couldn't figure out what.
"We need to get back to Zirgon," she told him. "We need access to the long range comm array and we're going to need help." Zirgon was Borel's base.
Mayner continued to have a puzzled look. For some reason, there was also a slight smile on her face now.
Servalan observed the man who sat across from her desk at the Presidential Palace. He looked tired and there was a subdued air to him. He wore his normal clothing but he did not seem to be comfortable in them.
"Welcome back," Servalan greeted him.
"Madame President," Sester replied.
"You didn't think you would be back here, did you?" she asked.
"On the contrary, there was an even chance that I would either be here or dead."
"Or at the Detention Centre?"
"Not at the Detention Centre, at least not for long. As you have pointed out, I am not Avon."
The Federation President smiled. My tamed psychostrategist. She wondered how long it would take for the attitude to return.
"I did come very close to having you killed," she told him.
"I thought as much. But you had made the decision not to; long before the little charade in the cell."
Servalan smiled. She had almost forgotten how perceptive the psychostrategist could be. We are going to need that perceptiveness. For now.
"You thought you could talk your way out of it," she said. As you always do.
"That was my plan, yes," he admitted.
"Which was the greater shock that they shot you? Or that they ignored you before they shot you?" she asked.
You really are determined to make this a lesson, aren't you? he thought. He did not answer and only stared at her impassively.
She continued when it was clear he was not going to respond.
"And afterwards, did you like the waiting? I thought that was a nice touch. Not knowing if the interrogators were coming for you. Then realizing that you weren't important enough to be tortured. Which is worse for you, do you think? Being isolated and left to not die or being tortured to death. I think for you, it would be the former."
"Enough, Servalan," he told her in a cold voice.
"Madame President," she corrected him.
"Madame President." The psychostrategist nodded his acceptance of her correction. He realized how far he had fallen. "Your point has been made."
She smiled. There was no smile in her eyes. "Has it? You are only alive now because you are useful to me and to the Federation."
"I am aware of that." That is the only reason anyone survives your attention, thought Sester. Even Avon.
"Remember to remain useful," she warned him.
"But if you try my patience again, even your usefulness will not protect you."
"Yes, Madame President," he acknowledged. He realized he would most likely be watched carefully from now on.
Avon was exhausted but he was able to hold off the pain for longer periods of time now. His mind was regaining control.
The pressure was beginning to build again. He desperately struggled to hold it back; he did not want the pain.
"How long has it been this time ORAC?" asked Argus.
"Nineteen minutes and two seconds," replied the computer unit. "This is an improvement of twenty three point nine percent."
They could all see that the brain intensity was slowly and inexorably increasing again. It was approaching nine hours since they had started. Avon screamed as the disruptor beams penetrated his brain again.
Argus was suffering from a bad headache. The screaming did not help but he refused to take a pain blocker until this was finished.
"How much longer ORAC?" asked Cally. She had been observing with a cold detachment. It was the only way she could carry on. Avon needed her to remain objective.
It was difficult; given her telepathic ability, Cally was aware of Avon on a level which made it much harder for her. She could not hear his thoughts, but at the edge of her awareness, she could feel his pain and struggle; his exhaustion and strength of will.
ORAC replied, "The brain pattern is showing a marked realignment in the relevant areas. At the present rate, the process should take an additional one hour, twelve minutes and forty-two seconds."
"ORAC, I would like to inject a mild stimulant and something to replenish his fluids and energy level," Cally told it. "Avon's readings indicate that he is close to physical collapse. Would that affect the process?"
"That is acceptable," said the computer unit after a few seconds.
Cally picked up an injector and crossed over to where Avon lay. His eyes were closed in strain; he was struggling for control again. He was drenched in sweat and was breathing heavily. His face was tired and pale. She gave him the various injections and then held one of his hands in hers.
* Keep fighting Avon * she projected to him. * You are doing well *