The pain had finally ended. The people holding him down had left. Avon was curled in a ball on the hard floor; shivering from pain, cold and exhaustion. He was still blind.
His mind was beginning to recover from the shock of the torture.
Did I imagine those months on the ship? Or have I been here all along? Have I already lost my mind? Are they leaving me in here until there is nothing left?
Avon struggled to bring sense out of what he was remembering.
What is the last thing I remember? Avon's logical mind tried to assert control over his situation. A thin thread of memory. His mind tried to reach for it; but it slipped further away.
You must reach that memory.
Somehow Avon knew that if he could not reach the truth in that memory; his mind would be trapped forever.
Panic started rise. No. Must maintain control. Must relax. Cannot let it control me. He clenched his fists and concentrated; concentrated past the pain, past the nausea and exhaustion; he grabbed onto it when it threatened to slip away.
It felt like he had been doing for hours. He had no idea how long had passed.
Avon was so focused that he did not realize that he had broken past the barrier of concentration; the barrier he had been struggling against for over a month. He still couldn't prevent the panic or fear from rising but with his returned concentration and control over his conscious mind, he now had other options. His unconscious mind reached out for a memory.
Slap. "Avon!" Someone shouted his name and shook him.
Again another strike. "Avon!" The memory was so real; he could almost feel the pain.
Enough Argus. I'm fine now, Avon remembered himself saying.
You promised to not hit me so hard the next time, thought Avon wryly. But you always did.
With a start, Avon realized the panic and fear had lessened. The shock of the remembered pain had helped push it away. It was not gone; but it was now manageable.
I am not fine yet, he thought. But for the first time he thought with confidence, But I will be.
Avon heard the cell door open again and people walking in. They were going to torture him again.
I need to solve this problem too. I need to understand why this is happening.
Argus was naked and paralyzed. He was strapped to a slanted board which was almost perpendicular. He was positioned in front of a large window, watching Avon being tortured.
Avon's screams echoed in the chamber below. Argus wanted to scream too but he couldn't make a sound; and could not close his eyes to the horrifying scene before him.
Argus did not remember how he got there or how long he had been there. He had woken up to Avon's screams. The last thing he remembered was being with Reya. His memories were vague. He could recall that he had been with Reya last; but he couldn't remember any details. Argus could not remember anything before that.
He realized the screaming had stopped. Avon had passed out again. The hooded men in the cell were tending to him; trying to bring him around again.
How many times are you going to do that to him? thought Argus. He had lost count. Please stop! He's already had enough.
Argus was angry. He tried to move again; tried to free himself. I need to do something to stop them! But it was no use. The paralytic they had used on him prevented any movement.
No one had spoken to him. No one had looked in on him. The only people he saw, apart from Avon, were the hooded figures below him in the chamber.
"Do you want to stop it?" a man's voice behind him asked. For a moment Argus thought he had imagined it.
The man repeated the question, "Do you want to stop it? You can speak now. I have released your vocal chords."
"Yes, of course I want to stop it," Argus told the man. He tried to move but everything else was still paralyzed. It must be a paralyzing field. One that is finely controlled. He didn't know of any world in the Federation which had that kind of technology. "What do you want in return?"'
The voice laughed. "You are very direct Drel Argus."
"You know who I am. Tell me who you are," demanded Argus.
"Do you think it is information you can use?" the voice asked.
"All information is useful," replied Argus.
"That sounds like something Avon would say."
"Who are you? How do you know so much about us?" asked Argus.
"You can call me the Investigator," said the voice.
"That is not a name."
"It is mine," replied the Investigator.
"Very well Investigator. What are you here investigating? Why have you done all of this? What are you after?" asked Argus.
"Why do you think I am here?"
"Don't answer my question with another question. This is not a game."
Below in the chamber, Avon was screaming in pain again.
"Stop the torture," demanded Argus.
"I don't think I will. I have not gotten what I wanted yet," said the Investigator. "I will turn off the sound though." There was silence again.
"There that's better," said the Investigator.
Argus realized that it was a game for the Investigator. Throughout their conversation the Investigator had stayed behind him; deliberately staying outside of his line of vision. I wonder why that is, thought Argus.
The Investigator said, "If it were Avon here, he would be playing the game. And perhaps he might even win and I would let you all go."
"I am not Avon."
"No, you're not. You are the leader. A man tortured by his own past. You refuse to let people get close to you because you're afraid they will care. And you can't stand that they will care for someone you hate. That's why you tried to push her away isn't it?"
"Stop it!" said Argus. "I am going to be very disappointed if this is all you're after."
The voice laughed again. "Oh no, Argus. I am after much more than that. I have been watching all of you for some time. You interested me. So I set a little puzzle for you to solve."
"The sphere?" asked Argus.
"What is it? Your ship?"
"It is nothing. It was just part of the puzzle. After I am done. It will be nothing again."
"So you did all of this, destroyed all of those ships, killed all of those people, just to get us here?"
"No. My intention was never the killing. But I had set the condition that if the sphere was attacked, it would defend itself."
"So this was just an elaborate game to you complete with made up rules?" asked Argus angrily.
"There must always be rules."
"But those rules are not real. You just made them up. Those people were real and you killed them."
"You do not understand. The rules are set so that I will not abuse my power. Else I can do anything I want. Your limited human mind cannot even come close to comprehending what I am capable of."
"You are right. I do not understand. I doubt if I will ever understand someone who could kill just to meet the conditions of some arbitrary game."
"It may have been better having Avon here instead and having you down in the chamber."
"You're probably right. But you have me here for a reason. Just as you have Avon down there for a reason."
The Investigator laughed again. "You are right."
"Stop trying to bait me and tell me what I need to do to end all of this."
"My investigation is almost at an end. There is one final thing you must do and one final act I must perform. Then I can move onto the next galaxy."
"You will never come back?"
"I had a list of curiosities I had to satisfy about the human race. You and your crew have satisfied all of them except one."
"What is that one?" Argus asked.
"Let us make the choice very clear," said the Investigator. The sounds of screaming returned.
"One of you will die today in the chamber below. It will either be you or Avon. The choice is yours which one of you it will be. To make things even more interesting. My tasks will be complete regardless of what your decision is. I will leave. Whoever survives will be returned to your ship and you will be free to go."
Argus looked down into the chamber.
This used to be an easy decision for me. Why isn't it now?
He knew why. It was because of Reya. Even though he had made the decision to let her go; it was enough for him that she was out there somewhere. And if she ever needed him, he would be there for her.
I can't be there for her, if I'm dead.
Argus took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He had made his decision.
"You don't know me very well if you think this would be a difficult choice for me," said Argus.
"You've made your decision then?" the Investigator asked.
"Yes. Let Avon go."
"What about Reya?"
You knew all along what the real choice was, thought Argus.
"She knows that I would never sacrifice someone else to save my own life."
"That is your final decision?"
"Get on with it."
"Very good," said the Investigator. It sounded very pleased with itself. "Not one of you has disappointed me."
"Then you will go?" asked Argus.
"I keep my word," the Investigator replied.
"Are you changing your mind?"
"No. Can you let me speak to Reya first?"
I have so many things to say to you, Reya. Not the least of which is "I'm sorry" for being such a fool.
"One last time?"
"You humans are so melodramatic."
"Are you going to let me?"
"Well, I could hardly let you speak one last time when you have so many more times in between."
"I don't understand."
The Investigator chuckled. "I'm letting all of you go."
"So this was all just another game. Another amusement for you."
"None of this has been for amusement Argus. Though it has been amusing to me."
"So that's it? You're letting us go? And you will leave, never to return again?"
"Then what are you waiting for?"
The Investigator laughed again. "I told you that there is one final thing I must do."
"Then do it and get out of our galaxy!"
"Be careful of the aliens."
"That's it? We already know that."
"I have been observing them during my investigations of humanity. Be very careful of them."
"Do you plan on giving me any details?"
"I cannot. But I can tell you that you and your crew will be crucial in the coming conflict. That is why I am returning all of them to you. Farewell Argus."
In a split second, Argus, Avon and Reya appeared back onboard the Justice; on the flight deck. Cally, Vila and Jenna almost had a collective heart attack when they suddenly appeared.
Argus and Reya were fully clothed again; though they seemed to have lost their environmental suits. Avon collapsed. The sphere had completely disappeared. There was no trace of it or any sign that it had ever been there.
"What just happened?" asked Vila.
That was something they all wanted to know.