Argus lay down slowly. Every movement was painful. He had just finished another bout of challenges and they had beaten him again at the end. Argus shifted his body carefully, trying to find a less painful position; there didn't seem to be one. Argus sighed and settled for not moving. No matter how much it hurt, he had to get some rest.
The challengers he was facing now were much more difficult. For the first time, he had faced the same group three times.
Even though this last group was the best so far in terms of skill and physical ability, they were still hampered by a lack of imagination and adaptability. They did not have the boldness to take calculated risks; they only acted when they were certain of the outcome.
From the beginning, Argus had put self-imposed limits on himself in order to prevent the enemy from knowing what he was really capable of.
Unfortunately for the enemy, their own limits were real weaknesses, not self-imposed ones; else Argus would never have been able to survive against so many of them, for so long.
I don't ever want to spar again after this, thought Argus. When I finally get out of here. Except maybe with Reya. He already had enough to last a lifetime.
Sester had not returned from where he had been taken yet. Argus wondered what the enemy intended for the psychostrategist. If his own treatment was any indication, it could not be anything good.
To take his mind off the pain, Argus thought of Reya and what they would do after all of this was over.
Maybe we can find a nice secluded beach on a quiet planet. By a beautiful lake. We can swim together and enjoy the sunsets.
Argus realized that he didn't know whether Reya knew how to swim or not.
That doesn't matter. There are many things we can do on a beach besides swim. He smiled. Thinking of her always made him feel better.
He wondered how far she had gotten in her plans to rescue him. Argus knew the difficulty of her task but he had faith in her. He would just have to be patient and wait.
You know how good I am at that Reya, he thought wryly.
There was something which bothered him with the last challenge. Something had changed. The booming voice which spoke to him at the end had not asked him about Avon. He hoped it was not because they had already found him.
Reya had been watching Argus for the past hour. She had gained access to the security control booth which monitored the rebel leader's cell. As she had suspected, wearing a red uniform, carrying a satchel of tools and acting as if she had something to fix had given her access to most areas of the ship. She had not yet attempted any guarded areas yet.
Reya had not been able to find Argus yet, but a briefly opened door had revealed this control booth. When she entered the booth, one of the screens had shown Argus's last series of challengers; and the beating which had been administered at the end.
The initial sight of Argus had relieved one worry; he was still alive. But as she realized what they were doing to him, she had to fight the desire to force the booth observers to tell her where he was; so she could rescue him immediately.
I cannot afford to be angry right now, thought Reya as she fought the rising anger. The Justice's repairs had not yet reached a level which would allow them to survive when they regained control of the ship.
I have to be patient. Why are they doing this to you?
When the beating ended and the soldiers left, Reya watched as Argus lay down to rest. She could almost feel his pain; she wanted to be there with him, to hold him and comfort him. What she could see of his body, was a mass of bruises.
We will go away somewhere after this is all over and I will help you forget the pain.
This was as bad as the day when Argus had been tortured on the agricultural planet. Then, the only thing she had been able to do to strike back at his torturers, was to kill the guard.
I will make these people pay for what they are doing to you, thought Reya.
She knew the perfect revenge. I'm going to need some equipment.
Reya exited the control booth.
Sester was tired. He was nearing exhaustion. The metal bands which strapped him to the chair were uncomfortable and did not allow for anything other than shallow breaths. Various instruments surrounded his head, each one projecting a beam which seemed to penetrate into his brain. Sester was not aware of any technology like this in the Federation.
There was a holographic projection directly in front of him. It was a puzzle to be overcome. He could move the pieces just by concentrating on them. There were a myriad of solutions but with each passing moment more pieces disappeared; with the possibility of destroying whatever solution he was building and forcing him to find another one before it was too late.
He was trying to focus on building a solution to the current puzzle but fatigue was making it increasingly difficult to maintain his concentration. Whenever he failed, he was subjected to greater levels of pain. That made the fatigue worse and increased his chances of failure on the next puzzle. It was a vicious cycle.
These puzzles tested one aspect of his mental ability and skill; with each one progressively more difficult. With the pain and fatigue, they were also testing his strength of mind and willpower. This was very similar to what they were doing to Argus but on a mental level.
What made it even harder were the constant brain scans which were done while he was performing the tasks. These were very similar to the scans they had done on him before; the ones which made him dizzy and nauseous.
Sester knew that he could have refused the tests but that would only have resulted in pain; and most likely they would have found more damaging ways to test him.
As the blue uniformed leader had suggested, Sester chose to cooperate. But he cooperated on his own terms. Sester made the same adjustments which Argus had made. He deliberately limited himself to certain levels of thinking and analyzing. The green uniformed scientists, who worked on him, would be able to discover enough information about him to satisfy their experiments; but they would never find out what he was truly capable of.
By the time they finished with him and subjected him to a final battery of brain scans, Sester was so exhausted that the guards had to lift him from the chair.
He wondered if this was how Avon felt after they had forced him to work the long hours in the lab under the constant pressure of the conditioning.
Avon was amused. Even for him, this was a strange reaction to being taken prisoner by the brown uniformed soldiers.
The soldiers actually seemed afraid of him; which seemed odd considering he could barely move on his own. Even though he offered no resistance and there were a dozen soldiers crowding the room, they had restrained his hands behind him. Discovering that he couldn't walk because of his knee injury seemed to confuse them until their unit leader came in and directed them to find something to carry him on.
They all seemed to know who he was. There were even more soldiers outside when they finally carried him out to a waiting shuttle; which Avon thought was a bit excessive.
"Kerr Avon." They all whispered his name as he passed.
His name was spoken with a mixture of fear and awe. While it was flattering, there was no question he was a prisoner.
Who are these people? And what do they want with me?
When Cally returned to Restin's residence, she found the entire family distraught and Avon gone.
"I'm sorry, Cally. There was nothing we could do. They broke down the door and just took him," Restin told her.
"Did they hurt you or your family?"
"No. They weren't interested in us at all. They didn't even speak to us. They went straight to the bedroom."
Cally could see that Restin was very upset and could feel that he felt partially responsible; because he had not been able to do anything to help Avon.
"It was not your fault," Cally reassured him. "There was nothing you could have done. Do you know where they took him?"
"They had a shuttle waiting outside," replied Restin.
This was very unwelcome news. If they had taken Avon off-planet, it made following him almost impossible. Other than the invaders, none of the citizens had access to working transport of any kind yet.
"Cally, who is he?" asked Restin.
"Why do you ask?" asked Cally.
"The soldiers who took him, they knew who he was. They knew his name. I think they've been looking for him."
This was even more unwelcome news. It appeared that the enemy soldiers had deliberately targeted Avon.
"Did Avon say anything before they took him?" asked Cally.
"There wasn't time. It was so fast," replied Restin.
Cally thought, Where did they take you Avon? What do they want with you?
Cally was very worried. She had been watching Avon slowly lose control of his mind. In this state, he was very vulnerable. If he did not get help soon, she did not know what would happen.
She wondered if the soldiers had taken the comm unit.
Argus was still trying to rest when the door slid open and two guards half dragged Sester through the opening. They brought the psychostrategist to the centre of the room, next to Argus, and dropped their burden on the ground. Without even looking at Argus, the guards left.
Sester lay where the guards had dropped him. He was too tired to move. Both men were too exhausted or too sore to make any effort to get up or even look at each other.
"What did they do to you?" Argus asked in a whisper. He had noticed how pale and tired the psychostrategist had looked when the guards dragged him in.
The two men carried on two conversations; one for the benefit of whoever was monitoring them, the more interesting one was in a whisper only they could hear.
"I feel like I've been through a wringer," whispered Sester.
"That makes two of us. What did they have you do?" Argus asked.
"They had me solve puzzles. They want to find out how I think," replied Sester.
"Did they succeed?"
"Only as far as they have succeeded with you," said Sester.
Argus smiled. "Let's hope they never realize it."
Sester nodded. "Agreed."
"Did you notice anything about the route they took you on?" asked Argus. He was trying to gather information for their eventual escape.
Sester gave Argus a detailed description of the route he had been taken; including the security control booth he had spotted nearby when a red uniformed tech had exited the room. "Now let me get some rest before I pass out."