Sester entered the control booth in one of the conditioning rooms. The specialist medtech at the panel turned to him and reported, "It's been twenty-two hours, sir."
"He's still fighting it?"
"Just barely now, it won't be long."
On the other side of the control booth, hooked up to a conditioning unit was Avon. Overwhelming signals were being driven into his brain. This was his third session in the Criminotherapy Unit at the Special Detention Centre. He had been brought here after his session in the cellar of Residence One and after his time in the building where his brother had been killed.
Avon did not remember either of his previous visits to this place. Each time he was heavily sedated when brought to the Criminotherapy Unit for treatment, then they would wake him up to the full effects of the active conditioning unit. Afterwards a mind block would be placed so that he would not remember what had been done or that he had been at the Centre.
He had woken to the overpowering voices of Servalan and Sester blasting in his ears, repeating the same phrases over and over; along with the conditioning and disorientation drugs and the visual stimuli, the effect was like being battered, except that it was being done to his mind. Most people in his state would have succumbed to the shock by now but after a few minutes of disorientation, Avon fought and was continuing to fight.
"No!" Avon shouted in anguish, his voice was hoarse and barely above a whisper now. He struggled weakly against his bonds but it was no use, the voices were merciless. His mind raced.
Sester reminded the technician, "Keep monitoring his brain patterns carefully. I don't want him to burn out."
Along with the conditioning drugs, Avon was being fed a controlled stream of the same drug they had been pumping him full of to induce heightened mental activity, but at a much milder dosage. Alternating it with a mind relaxant when applying the trigger for him to rest, they were implanting the controls.
At twenty-two hours Avon should no longer have enough strength left to fight but they were patient. No matter how strong the mind, everyone succumbed eventually; there was no choice. It was like being physically beaten non-stop by overwhelming forces. At first you fight, but sooner or later, even if you still have fight left in you, you are too beaten up to resist the blows.
"Once he stops fighting, give him another eight hours in the unit then apply the mind block. Sedate him for four hours to give him some sleep, and then give him a low dose of the Norphel-54, and a low-dose stimulant. Have the guards take him to the cell that has been prepared for him in sub-level three, then inform me."
It was almost time for Sester to make his appearance and like Servalan, he would also be helpful. Between alphas, things were always cold-bloodedly polite, even when they were ripping each other's throats out.
Avon gained consciousness slowly, he had a headache. With a shock he recognized his all too familiar surroundings, a Federation detention cell. It may have been the same one which was his home for almost a year, it was hard to tell, Federation detention cells everywhere looked the same.
He was lying on a hard sleep platform. The harsh lights overhead aggravated the pain in his head. Avon rolled his body to face the wall in an effort to avoid the light. He groaned, his body hurt from too many torture sessions. He moved his hands to cover his eyes, they were manacled but at least they were not bound behind him. He knew it was not a humanitarian gesture, his tormentors never did anything without a reason.
Avon was confused, his restless mind tried to fathom the mystery, trying to distract himself from the ghosts he knew would eventually come. By now, even in the brightness of the cell, if left too long alone, the waking nightmares would begin. Each scenario they had subjected him to had added to them.
There had been no questions; tortured, drugged, isolated, forced to relive nightmare after nightmare and they hadn't asked him a single question or coerced him to do a single thing. If they had, there would be something to fight against, something for him to focus his defiance, to plan against; but it was just one relentless assault after another for no apparent reason.
They had gone to a lot of trouble to set up the scenarios, but he realized that they were not doing anything more than his own mind had already been doing to him. What they were doing was intensifying it to the point that it was driving him into madness. He was very aware that he was losing control of his own mind and he could find no reason for all of this effort other than Servalan's sadistic desire to break him for her own enjoyment.
So it's come down to this.
The cell door slid open.
Avon gritted his teeth against the pain as he shifted his body to face the door. A familiar face, Sester. He had not seen the psychostrategist since the time on Gauda Prime when Avon and the rebels had escaped from a Federation trap after retrieving ORAC.
He tried to lift himself to a seated position but the pain and his general physical weakness made it impossible. Sester helped him up.
The psychostrategist sat down on the chair which had been brought in by one of the guards.
Avon leaned back against the wall, looked up impassively at the man and waited. Sester was always polite, even when having him tortured.
"It's good to see you again, Avon."
"You got me into a lot of trouble with the President by escaping the trap on Gauda Prime."
"Really? You surprise me."
"I enjoyed the game."
"With Servalan? That must be almost as fun as being tortured."
"What do you want Sester?" Avon asked.
"Nothing as yet."
That's what she said.
Avon knew there was something they wanted and he knew that he was not going to like what they planned for him, but it was not finished yet.
"Do you enjoy doing this?" the analyst asked.
Avon's question shocked him, it was personal. Sester knew what was really being asked. He thought carefully before answering, he had too much respect for this man to lie to him but at the same time he had to keep the goal in mind.
Avon waited, a slightly amused look on his face.
"I enjoy the game," Sester replied, repeating his prior sentence.
"You didn't answer my question."
Avon stared at the psychostrategist. "Do what you came here to do."
Sester sighed and spoke the trigger phrase, "It's time to work Avon." Avon did not react, his conscious mind did not register the implanted phrase.
Avon was tired, his head was still throbbing, he rubbed his left hand restlessly.
"Did you come for a reason or is this just a social visit?"
Sester was silently making notes of Avon's physical symptoms as he continued their conversation; the increased restlessness, the nervous habit of rubbing his hands and wrist, the increased expenditure of energy despite the fatigue and the increased rate of breathing.
The conditioning was progressing as planned, the psychostrategist's goal this time was not to test its limits but to introduce the release.
"You've been cooped up so long, I thought you might like a diversion."
"Unless you prefer the empty cell."
Avon hesitated. The longer he could keep the ghosts at bay the better.
"Is that a threat or a choice?"
"Depends on your point of view."
Avon nodded in acknowledgement, "I have nothing better to do."
The two men played Sester's favorite game, speed chess. Five games. Five draws.
Much better than the chess computers. Sester thought to himself.
During the play, Sester filed more symptoms away. The analyst was at ease when applying his mind to the challenge. The brilliance was intact and the confidence in his own ability; the restlessness disappeared, the increased energy and breathing rate was maintained.
It was by design that the psychostrategist was involved at this stage. The release would not just be the application of the mind, but the exercising of the mind on a problem with a high degree of difficulty and in particular, a task assigned by the psychostrategist.
The conditioning was working better than expected, but Sester knew that they were still along way from achieving the final goal. Playing games was one thing, giving in to Servalan's demands was another.
Three nightmare scenarios had been completed, two more were planned. The final one would be the worst. By then the progression of the conditioning would be such that the compromise presented would be acceptable.
Sester's psych-strategy had worked. With Servalan and Professor Tarkson's input, and Cally's unwitting aid, each scenario had taken less time to bring the analyst to the brink of madness. With a brain forced to work almost non-stop, the analyst was highly aware of the unraveling of his own mind.
It must be horrifying being forced to experience your mind slipping into madness and knowing you can do nothing about it. Especially a mind as normally controlled as yours.
After the last game, Sester got up from the chair and said, "I have to go. I have some other work to do."
He gathered up the chess set and signaled to the security observer for the cell door to be opened.
"I enjoyed the challenge," he said as he left the cell. The mind trigger was still active, it was deliberate on his part. Since the conditioning was progressing better than expected, Sester had decided to jump to the next step, introducing the withdrawal.
The cell door slid closed behind him.
Do you enjoy doing this? He could hear Avon's question again.
Sester's reply had been the truth. The complex challenge of breaking a man like him was the kind of game worthy of his skill as a psychostrategist; but he had not answered the real question, he did not enjoy watching this man slowly being destroyed. Unlike Servalan, he had no desire to crush him or to gain the kind of control that she wanted over him.
Psychostrategists controlled within the framework of the game. They manipulated and they strategized, but once the goal had been achieved, the game ends; but for Avon, it would never end, not until Servalan allowed him to die.
Sester sighed, he had his commission. To a psychostrategist, people were nothing more than puppets, pieces in a game.
As he departed the secure cell block, the man he left behind was slowly being driven mad as his mind raced with nowhere to go. The analyst would have to be watched carefully over the next few hours. The guards needed to be put on alert, in case Avon tried to hurt himself as his mind slowly tore itself apart.
For the next three weeks, they manipulated the analyst by varying the application of the triggers; Avon was unaware of the control being asserted. Coupled with the ghosts which continually haunted him, he began to doubt his own sanity. The only relief was in the periodic physical torture sessions and Sester's visits. The games and conversations with the psychostrategist gave him a welcomed diversion and unknown to Avon, served to advance the conditioning.
They no longer required the drugs but they occasionally had to sedate him in order to help him get enough rest.