7.1

In retrospect, it really was amazing how long they had left him alone in the medical unit. Of course, that man, Blake, probably assumed that I'd be out. It was lucky that he put the tranquilliser pad on my chest; it didn't stick very well to chest hair.

Avon hadn't found any betzulderine and had had little luck with the medical computer in deriving its elements or finding an equivalent. Betzulderine was used for seizures; it was the more important drug. The migraine medication, devulran, he had; enough for two weeks if he rationed the pills. Of course, without the betzulderine, he'd probably use up the devulran at a faster pace than normal. Damn these people. If they're holding me to swap prisoners, they'll have to get the medication.

More importantly, the medical computer seemed not to have any linkages to external communications devices. He had poured through its most basic code looking for peripheral connections or network attachments. It had some linkage to a ship's computer and he was convinced that there must be a way to use the ship's computer to access the communication channels. I suppose they grabbed me without much thought to my expertise or they'd never leave me alone with a computer. That's it, Avon, you're not appreciated for your impressive intellect. In this case you're a just a pawn in their game with Servalan. She'll be furious and terribly worried. Serves her right after the last day or two. Of course, I can think that if I get home in one piece with a minimum of pain or suffering. I won't be so smug if this pawn is expendable. Six embryos; she'll claim credit for infallible foresight.

He jerked his head up as the door opened and the woman who had cared for him earlier entered. Cally, wasn't it? She saw him at the computer and immediately halted. Their eyes met and Avon saw that Cally clearly knew his capabilities with computer access. She moved to the commlink.

"Zen, effective immediately, you will not take any orders from Avon until advised by myself or Blake. Ensure that he is blocked from accessing communications channels via any computer linkage. Blake, I think you should come down here."

Avon nodded. She was very thorough. He'd have to work a bit harder to get around these measures. I'm surprised that this Zen person didn't know that I was a stranger. Why would he — or she — take orders from me anyway? Is it a secret that I'm down here?

Cally picked the tranquilliser pad from the wall and directed a baleful look at Avon.

"That was careless. It is easy to forget that you're working against us. Have you made any progress in whatever you're trying to do?"

How strange, she doesn't seem the least bit angry. Actually I haven't been mistreated at all. I suppose there are worse captors than these.

"Not much, no," he replied honestly. "I've enough of the migraine medication, devulran, to last for a bit so that's not my main concern. I didn't find any betzulderine, nor have I had any luck finding an equivalent or its constituent elements to create an equivalent."

Cally looked thoughtful and walked over to peer over his shoulder.

"Betzulderine is the medication that you take for seizures?"

Avon nodded.

"How often do these seizures occur?"

"The point of the medication is to prevent them from occurring. As I take it regularly, they do not normally occur."

"Don't worry, Avon." She smiled and rested a hand on his forearm. "We'll have Orac find out how to synthesise this drug. You won't go without."

He was about to snatch his arm away, annoyed that this stranger had taken such liberties, but winced as he felt a twinge. Migraine coming on? Funny, he had been feeling fine until this very moment.

"The odd thing is that I can't find any physiological problem that would cause seizures. All of the brain scans come back normal."

Avon blinked. Why on earth were they running these tests? That's a rather expensive way to avoid dealing with my medication needs. He lifted his head again as the door opened and that Blake person entered. I wonder if these are the only two I'll see. I suppose it makes sense for me not to see too many faces. Then again, if they're known resistors, it's not likely I'll identify anyone not already known to Central Security.

"You're with the resistance aren't you?"

Blake grinned. "So you have heard of us?"

"Not either of you by name, but it's logical to assume that you are in opposition to the Federation. What is it that you expect to achieve with my capture? Am I to be traded for one of your people?"

Blake's smiled faded and he sat heavily on one of the medical beds.

"As we said to you earlier, we hope that you'll regain your memory and realise that you are also a part of the resistance. You were captured, interrogated, and conditioned to believe a number of untruths."

Avon's eyebrows rose and he bit his lip in amusement. "Really? That is a fanciful plan. Are you saying that you'll brainwash me to become part of the resistance? That certainly would be a slap in the face to Servalan, wouldn't it?"

"Avon, you're not married to Servalan." Blake sighed. "I'd like to show you to your quarters. Then I'll tell you everything I know about the last three years of Kerr Avon's life. After that, I will give you access to Orac," he held his hand up at Cally's alarm, "limited access so that you cannot communicate with anyone. You will be able to research yourself, Servalan, matter transmission, and more importantly what has been happening in the last three years."

"Using what I suppose is your computer. How on earth can I believe any information you provide?"

"Orac is more than a computer, as you'll see. He can access every tarial cell based computer in the galaxy."

Avon blinked as the twinge of a headache returned. That concept was so familiar, yet so elusive. Hadn't he discussed it with Servalan? Yet another technological advance that existed only in concept, to his knowledge, yet existed in reality upon this ship. He rejected the pattern that immediately presented itself.

"Blake, before you go, I'd like to go over some things with Avon. Avon, as the brain scans show no reason for the seizures, can you enlighten me to their cause?"

He nodded, still distracted about the Orac concept. "It was an injury. Just after the war, the resistance destroyed our residence." He smiled wryly. "I suppose I should say the previous Presidential Palace. During the attack, I was injured fairly seriously. The only lasting effect was some neurological damage from a head injury."

Blake swore loudly and jolted Avon from his reverie. He noticed to his surprise that Blake was pacing, and seemed furious.

"Damn her! If there's any neurological damage it's due to the interrogation and she has the temerity to blame the resistance!"

Avon shifted uncomfortably. "Look, I don't tend toward gallantry, but I would appreciate if you'd constrain your invective."

"Avon, you were not injured in an attack on the Presidential Palace! You commanded Liberator during the War! You held back the alien invasion until the Federation ships arrived! Damn her to perdition!"

"Apparently I've quite a reputation to assume."

"Blake," Cally interrupted as the big man was about to begin another outburst, "let me just finish and then you can yell all you want. Avon, you were recently hospitalised. Was that related to the earlier injuries?"

He nodded. "Yes, I was having severe headaches. It progressed to the point where it could no longer be ignored and surgery was necessary. It is critical that I take the betzulderine regularly to prevent that from recurring.

"All right. If you'll leave one of the pills that you have, I'll see if I can synthesise more. I'll research the betzulderine and learn how to synthesise it."

He smiled at her with sincerity. She had been very kind and deserved his thanks. "I'm grateful to you for all you've done, Cally."

Blake sighed heavily behind him and Avon rose somewhat hesitantly and followed the larger man from the room. At least I'll get a look around the ship. Perhaps I'll learn something I can use.


7.2

Orac was all that Blake had promised and more. The perplex box of lights was every Christmas present Avon had ever dreamed all rolled into one. And more. He would be content to stay aboard this ship just to work with Orac. Of course, with all Blake had told him, this was where he belonged anyway.

As Blake spoke, Avon listened carefully to the details of someone else's life. Some were familiar; he experienced immediate flashbacks, and in certain cases could remember sounds, smells, and textures to an amazing degree. Other aspects were familiar in a detached way, almost as if he had seen it happen to another man. Enough was familiar to be completely disconcerting and he gradually dropped his combative attitude, growing more and more quiet.

In session after session, Blake's story remained consistent, each time unearthing a response. But how do I know that this is not some type of conditioning? How do I know that he is not implanting these memories?

"Have you considered, Blake, that I might have been better off where I was?"

Blake seemed dumbfounded. Apparently he had not considered that point at all.

"Avon, how could you possibly mean that? Your life, your memories were suppressed. You were a prisoner of the Federation, subjected to torture and brainwashing. I rescued you, gave you your freedom, gave you your life back."

"Hmm. According to you my life is a disaster. I am a convicted criminal for a failed bank fraud. The woman I loved was a Federation agent who betrayed me, and I'm a wanted man with a fairly short life expectancy. I've spent the last three years risking my life in one disaster after another among a group of people who barely get along. Do correct me if I've erred, Blake."

Blake cleared his throat warily.

"On the other hand, you 'rescued' me from a stimulating career, an electrifying marriage, and a life of relative ease. Do you see my dilemma?"

"Avon," Blake sighed, "you do understand that wasn't real, don't you. Servalan used you, pretended to be your mate to control you. The entire thing was a Federation construct. Once they were done using you, it's quite likely that you would have been killed."

"You are insisting that my life, as I now know it, is not real. You are telling me that my wife is pretending, and I'm supposed to accept that despite my own experiences with her. While you've presented what I concede is some rather unsettling material, please understand that I'm not ready to trust that anything you say is true. What is your interest in returning me to this life of a hunted animal?"

"My interest?" Blake's voice boomed inside the relatively small cabin. Well, relatively small compared to the personal quarters of the Presidential Palace. Of course, if what Blake was telling him was true, Avon could now understand his cloudy memories of their previous home.

"I rescued you from an oppressive government that would have used you up and then discarded you. You're my friend, your life is important to me. I, we, all of us took incredible risks to get you out of there in one piece and you're complaining?"

"What do you gain from this, Blake?"

"Avon." Blake leaned forward, his voice and face pained. "I know this isn't easy. Lord knows, I know that better than anyone. They took away your memories and built you a completely different life for their purposes. Understand that it wasn't done for you. The Federation, and Servalan, took you from your life to use you. They used you to begin constructing a teleport system. They would have used you to duplicate Orac and bring about some of theLiberator's technology. They didn't ask you, they just took."

Avon moved about the cabin, unable to remain still.

"And your resistance, you won't use me for the same reasons?"

"Not without your consent, Avon. You were with me because you chose to stay."

"All right, I've heard what you had to say. Please leave me. I've a migraine coming on."

"Just one more thing, Avon. I don't want to alarm you, but you can't go back. If you returned now, you wouldn't be trusted, you might be killed. You belong with us. You could choose to leave once you have your memories back, but you could never go back to what you thought was your life."

He gave Blake barely a glance as the other man left, but that glance saw a tired, worried man. They've used no force and they've been relatively gentle and concerned. My God, is there some possibility that what they are telling me is the truth?

Avon sat down in front of the desk, still twitching from anxiety. "All right, Orac. Let's see what you can tell me about Kerr Avon and Victoria Servalan."


7.3

Damn it's difficult coming off a mission and taking watch without a rest between. Blake nearly stumbled up the stairs leading from the flight deck. He caught himself before he fell and tensely waited for laughter. All was quiet. A quick glance over his right shoulder showed Dayna engaged in whatever was on her monitor. Ah, my image remains intact. He took the rest of the stairs more slowly.

Something to eat and then straight to bed. Best not to eat too heavily. He traced the twisting pattern of passageways on automatic pilot his mind absorbed in a review of Avon's situation. Blake's head was rapidly approaching the floor before his tired mind processed that he had tripped over some rather large unmoving object. Arms automatically protected his head, and he twisted, landing on his side.

The impact was jarring, his left hip absorbing most of the shock and would wear the bruises as proof. Stunned momentarily, he irritably turned to see what item had been carelessly left in the corridor. Inconsiderate, thoughtless bastards. Haven't a thought for anyone, no care for the safety of others. I'll be sure to raise this at our next group meeting and heaven help the person who left this in the corridor.

Avon. He had tripped over Avon, who lay in a heap as if he had collapsed without warning. Irritation gave way to alarm as he crawled over and touched the other man. He's warm and breathing, breathing doesn't sound good though. Pulse racing, unconscious. Blake rolled Avon onto his back and tilted his head back.

"Avon! Avon, what happened? Can you hear me?"

Leaning against the wall, Blake pulled himself up and stumbled to the nearest commlink.

"Cally, I need you in the surgical unit, now!"

Anxiety lent energy and adrenaline. He lifted Avon almost easily, draping him over one shoulder and moved as quickly as possible to the medical unit. He arrived only seconds before Cally and gently placed Avon on one of the medical bunks.

"What hap…"

"I don't know, he was this way when I found him."

Blake stood back as Cally began running diagnostic scans. Dayna called through the commlink for status; he had none to give yet. Finally Cally looked up at him, her eyes as puzzled as his own swirling emotions.

"Massive shock, but don't ask me why. There's no sign of trauma or illness. I'll treat for shock and keep him here. Once he's regained consciousness, perhaps he can tell us what happened."

"When I left him he mentioned an oncoming migraine. Could it be a seizure? Something related to the neurological problem he cited?"

Cally leaned against an empty medical bed, frowning.

"Blake, none of the brain scans we've run show any neurological problems. I've done research and had Orac do research on the medication he uses for seizures, betzulderine. I can't find any trace of it. That other medication he has, what he uses for the migraines, he called it devulran. There is no record of that drug either."

Blake gnawed at his finger, pacing about the medical unit.

"What's the possibility that they are new drugs recently developed by the Federation?"

Cally shook her head. "Orac can't find any information on them, Blake. I am analysing the tablet of devulran that Avon gave me. I don't know what they've been giving him, but the drugs are not named what he's been told."

Blake exhaled in frustration. "Why would they tell him the truth about the drugs he takes? He's swallowed every other lie they fed him; this is just another. Do you know that he told me that he would have been better if we had left him there?"

Cally's face was a study in disbelief. "He likes being married to Servalan?"

Blake glanced at her quickly. "Cally, he's been conditioned." He moved up behind her and rubbed her arms, aware of her desolation. "They've played with his mind in horrible ways. How can he know what he likes or wants? How can he separate what they've implanted from his true nature?"

"Blake, did you ever think that way? Did you ever think you might have been better off had you never known you were conditioned?"

"No," he answered thoughtfully, "but there wasn't quite as much of a contrast. The major difference was my awareness. For Avon, as he's pointed out, he's gone from the lap of luxury where he was working on a stimulating project to being a wanted man, hunted all over the galaxy. I can understand why at some level, he might want to believe what they've conditioned him to believe."

"In that case, do you think he'll ever come back? What if he rejects what you've told him? What will we do then?"

"That is a very good question."


7.4

"Welcome back, sleepyhead," Cally said gently. "How do you feel?"

Avon didn't respond. He stared straight ahead, his expression looked lost and confused. His hair was lank, and spilled over his forehead. Between his boyish fringe and his pyjamas, Avon looked far too young to have such haunted eyes.

Cally waved her hand in front of his face. He blinked his eyes in response, but did not turn to look at her nor react in any other way. His eyes seem all right, perhaps his brain isn't responding to the stimulus.

"All right, Avon, I want you to stay there just where you are. I'm going to run some tests."

Cally smiled grimly. He wasn't likely to move. He had been unconscious for more than four days and he now lay motionless, unresponsive. Could it be a withdrawal from the drugs? What were their long-term implications?

She finished the tests just after Blake bounded through the door of the medical unit, exuding energy, even if it was an edgy, nervous energy.

"I got your message, Cally. Avon! You're awake!"

Cally bit her lip at the sheer pleasure in Blake's voice.

"Blake, he's unresponsive. I don't know if he hears you or not."

His face crumpled and his eyes lost the brightness they had worn for less than a minute. Blake needs Avon back too. I can see how much he's missed him. How much he still misses him.

"What is it?"

"I don't know. I called for you when he woke. He hasn't responded to my voice or to visual stimulation. There does not appear to be any physiological cause. My guesses would include a reaction to the drugs or to the conditioning itself."

Blake sat on the medical bed across from Avon's, staring at the other man. "So what do we do?"

Cally sat next to him on the bed. "I know all of you defer to me, but I'm not a doctor. I'd just be guessing. I have no experience in dealing with this. I called for you in the hopes that you could reach him."

"Those drugs…"

She nodded and exhaled in muted anger. "Yes, interrogator drugs. My guess is they had him take them to support his conditioning. He hasn't had that betzulderine in at least five days, the devulran in four. When I analysed the devulran tablet, I found out that it was anthecerine. I suppose they lied about the name in the event he knew the real purpose. Anthecerine builds up and is stored by the body; it takes ten to fourteen days to be completely eliminated. I don't know what the betzulderine really was, so there's no way to predict how long it will stay in his system."

"All right," Blake said slowly, with consideration. "So what are you saying?"

Cally sighed. "I'd just be guessing. If it is a reaction to the drugs, it's possible that it will clear up within a fortnight. If it's a reaction to the conditioning itself, I don't know how to help him."

"You think I can reach him?" It wasn't a question so much as a request for confirmation. She nodded.

"I'll try Cally. Can we move him to his cabin? Surround him with personal belongings, the little he has?"

"I think Orac might help too." She laughed, breaking into a true grin. "I think he pets Orac when we're not looking."

Blake's smile didn't reach his worried eyes, and she reached over and grabbed his hand supportively.

"Blake, Avon's self is his mind. This may well be a psychic shock for him, learning that the Federation tampered with his mind. That's where I thought you could help."

"Hmm."

Blake seemed absorbed. Cally guessed that he was dwelling on his own experiences with Federation mind tampering.

"What's the news? How is Servalan reacting? After all, we did steal her mate, the father of her child, and the technology genius who was going to change the Federation!" She deliberately kept her voice light, trying to draw Blake from his brooding.

"Nothing out of the norm, well, she's spitting mad of course. I doubt that her personal interest was well known. Demarr's checking into the issue of a child. So far no word."

Cally shook her head and looked away.


7.5

Avon heard the voices at a distance. There were no questions now, nor did anyone seem to speak to him directly. He wasn't aware of any drugs, but dimly he felt the pinch of the drip and acknowledged that they were possible, actually probable. Another phase of interrogation I suppose. I wonder what the objective is now. So many pictures, remembrances, smells, tastes. Scenes flashed before him, one after another. Servalan, Anna, Tynus, Blake, Mayer, Rik, Cally, Anna again but she wasn't Anna anymore. Which were real and which imagined?

Perhaps I'm dead. Why else could I look back on my life and see two paths diverging? There's the path with Anna, and Tynus, and the bank fraud. That path leads to my destruction, conviction, The London, Blake, and Liberator. Yet, there's that other path. Anna introduced me to Servalan, and I was drawn to her, drawn from Anna's frailty to V's strength. That path leads to success and achievement, marriage, brilliant career breakthroughs, all that I ever wanted.

Which was real? Which decision made the difference? Did I go to one party and meet one person who led me in one direction rather than the other? Both paths are, yet I cannot have lived both lives. Which one is my real life? Did I choose, and did I know what I chose?

Blake tells me he has gaps in his memory, parts of his life that he cannot remember. I have two lives; I just do not know which is my real life. Think Avon! Go back to childhood, to when I was a young man. What was my life before that fork I see? Was I the happy, successful man who would one day head the Aquitar Project? Was I the bitter cynical man who turned to crime and stumbled into the resistance movement by chance? Damn, I was both. Go back further then.

He drifted, attempting to close out the voices. He heard Blake's voice. Funny, I don't remember Blake being a part of the interrogation session. Well, they had an Anna look-a-like, perhaps they have someone who sounds like Blake. Servalan is relentless; she'll use my weaknesses against me and Christ knows my feelings for both are an invitation for pain.

How can she be relentless if she is my wife? Don't be a fool! She wavers on the verge of madness. Remember how dangerous she can be, even to those she loves? Would she have her mate interrogated? Possibly, but she would control the interrogation, wouldn't she? Why would she have me interrogated? She'd do it if she wanted something from me, but if we were together she wouldn't need interrogation to get it. I suppose that's the answer, Avon.

Really, it shouldn't be such a surprise that I chose the route to self-destruction. It's really much more in character than the road to success. Oh God, I'm Kerr Avon the convicted criminal, a terrorist, part of the Resistance. I'm near the head of the wanted list since Blake, damn him, dropped from sight. This is my life. This disaster is my life. I tasted success, happiness, security and it was only an illusion. It was everything I wanted and it was a Federation drug-induced fantasy.

She's good. She gave me exactly what I wanted; I give her credit for that. Had Blake not rescued me, I would have stayed. I think she wanted that as much as I did.


FINIS