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Five Days

By Sashet
The sound of screaming wasn't far away, a voice pleading for its life.

"No Please! Please don't! Nooo!

The scream was cut off and the oppressive silence was once more complete. A door slid shut and slow footsteps moved towards the last cell on the row.

The occupant of that cell shivered slightly as the scream faded and rolled from his huddled contemplation of the stark wall. He knew all to well that soon his door would slide open and his nightmare would begin again.

The cell was simple and functional but, over the past few days, it had come to represent a sanctuary from the horrors he had endured and would no doubt continue to endure until he either achieved his goal or finally and irrevocably died trying.

The man's face was drawn, the skin pale, tired dark rings under his eyes, eyes that despite his fear still burned with a core of steel determination. He had never been large but the lack of proper food during his incarceration meant that the shapeless prison overall he wore hung from his frame.

Considering he had been held at the mercy of the Federation for ...what seemed to him to have been forever ... his skin was unmarked, there were no visible bruises or cuts. It hadn't always been that way, in fact, it had rarely been that way; usually he was left cut and bleeding, tortured to the point of death. He didn't believe today would be any different.

The door slid almost silently open and in the doorway stood a man he had not seen before. He was heavy set, his Federation uniform crisp and his face set with the look of a man who knew what he wanted and how to get it. He wasn't sure how much more his body and mind could take and he hoped that finally this would be the man he came here to find.

He had never considered himself to be a brave man but the past few years had changed him, changed him so much that at times he wondered if he even knew himself any more. He still wouldn't say he was brave but now he was resolute and unwavering maybe even fanatical, something he had despised in the man who had dragged him into the life that he now led. He took a shallow breath and steeled himself for what he prayed would be the final chapter of this deadly game.

The heavy set man smiled as he crossed the small cell, his pace slow and deliberate his tone soft, almost a whisper.

"They tell me you haven't been cooperating."

"No? What's the matter - did I bleed on the wrong bit of floor?"

The captive's voice was weak, he was too weary to be defiant any more, besides which all defiance had ever got him was another beating or... worse. But not being defiant didn't mean he would give them an easy ride, he still had a spark of his old pride left, the little piece of him that his captors hadn't yet managed to tear from his battered soul.

The smile on the face of the man who now stood over him never faltered.

"Good. Good."

"I'm glad you're pleased."

"I hate to waste my time."

"Don't let me detain you."

"I'm a specialist you see."

"It's written all over you."

"I specialise in uncooperative prisoners."

"And you love a challenge."

Now it was his turn to smile slightly, if this was going to be nothing more than a war of words then he was sure he could win. He was, well he had been once a long time ago, an important Alpha Grade citizen and was more than a match for a Federation thug.

"It's good that we understand each other," his antagonist too was enjoying the verbal sparring. From what he had heard and seen of the interrogation of this man he would more than enjoy being the one who finally broke him.

The captive raised his hand to the back of his neck, as if massaging an unseen pain. If only he could rid himself of the other pains and memories as easily. He looked at the man in front of him and took a gamble.

"You're name wouldn't be Shrinker by any chance would it?"

"You've heard of me?" Shrinker knew his reputation as the Federation's top enforcer was widespread. He was proud to be the one man who had never failed to get the information requested of him. He also knew he was destined for greater things as the seemingly unstoppable expansion of the Federation continued.

"I knew if I held out you would show up eventually" he said as he pressed his neck hard with his fingertips as if working out a tense knot.

"That says more for your nerve than your brain."

"You think so?" He'd try false bravado, after all, what did he have to loose now? He had found the man he came here for and now he just had to hope that the others, his fellow renegades would keep their promise and save him before it was too late.

They'd told him from the start it was a crazy plan and that most likely he would end up dead, but he wasn't to be swayed. He HAD to do this, he had to know. Had Shrinker tortured and killed her to get at him?

Had his carelessness killed her?

He pulled his thoughts back from that certain spiral of self-destruction to the job at hand. He had found Shrinker and soon rescue would be at hand. Just a little longer...

Shrinker was gloating now, he knew something that his captive didn't know and he couldn't wait to tell him. But first a little threat, after all he had a reputation to uphold. He smiled a cold evil smile that didn't reach his eyes.

"Long before I've finished with you, you'll be begging for death."

His captive rubbed his neck again.

Now...

Shrinker knew the time was right to spring what he knew on his captive.

"Don't worry, it's sending alright."

"What are you talking about?"

"The implant in your neck."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"There's a homing device implanted in you neck."

"How did you know?"

He wasn't sure he kept the waver out of his voice. Maybe he had been naive to believe that he could have endured all the torture and horror without it being discovered. Maybe he had been naive to think that there wouldn't have been torture but there was no time for self-recrimination. There was only time to hope it still worked.

"We detected it as soon as we picked you up and we've been monitoring it ever since. It's been sending steadily for five days."

Five days? It had only been five days?

To the battered and almost broken man it felt like five lifetimes.

"Five days? Is that how long I've been here?"

A rush of thoughts, memories and emotions flooded into his mind as he recalled the last five long days.

******** It had been relatively easy to find the location of the Federation's supposedly secret interrogation centre. Easy for a man who was as adept with computers as he was and who had the available resources that he did. All too easy really but that thought never entered his head he didn't, couldn't allow anything to stop him.

He had been plagued with dreams, nightmares of her that left him shaking in the night, her name on his lips. He knew she was dead; she had to be... didn't she? He also knew that by rights he should have been dead too. It was only because of luck or fate or something he couldn't quite believe in that he wasn't.

But it should never have got that far.

They should never have been discovered, his plan was foolproof, every detail had been checked and double checked, there was no way they could fail. And yet fail they had and he had been shot and left bleeding in the street like a common criminal and she, well she was dead.

During his time in hiding, recovering from his wounds, he had had nothing but time to think and wonder how it all went wrong. Only the two of them knew all the aspects of the plan and only the two of them could make it work ... or make it fail.

He had done everything he had to, kept his part of the deal and he believed she had done her part too. Yet it had still failed.

How?

All his thoughts brought him back to the same conclusion.

Someone had betrayed them... but whom? Had he made a mistake, trusted the wrong person? He had only trusted her and she would never betray that trust.... She'd loved him and that was proof enough.

Somewhere in the plan he must have got careless, left a trace and they had found them. He knew they had been looking for them before he got shot and left for dead. As they didn't have him, they went after her. He lived.

She died.

It was his fault, he was to blame. There was no other explanation.

Now he needed closure, he needed answers but above all he needed revenge. The thought of getting his hands on those responsible was the stuff of his dreams and lately his waking hours too. It wouldn't bring her back but maybe it would ease his guilt.

They had planned a new life ...together... with enough money to keep them hidden from the prying eyes and ears of the omnipresent Federation for ever. They would have been happy together, he knew they would.

It had become an all consuming passion now to find the answers, to know once and for all. He used all his spare time to search through Federation records, looking for clues until he found it.

He was so tired he had almost missed it, the tiny reference to a man named Shrinker. Back then he was an enforcer with the Federation, a foot soldier in the ranks of the interrogation teams that roamed the galaxy rooting out dissenters and malcontents but he was an ambitious young man and kept himself up to date on the latest `important' prisoners. Those who, if he came across them, might help him to further his career within the Federation, the political prisoners were of special interest to him. He knew that they had been considered political, even though at the root of their crime was nothing more than greed and avarice.

Now Shrinker was the Federation's top interrogator a man who had never yet failed to get the information he needed. Shutting down the computer the man sat back rubbed his eyes and smiled.

If he could find Shrinker then he could find his answers.

One way or another.

For the first time that night his dreams were not haunted by her, her life and her death.

The best way to get to Shrinker was to allow himself to be captured and hope he could hold out long enough for him to appear. It wasn't a prospect he relished. He hadn't enjoyed the Federation `hospitality' in the prison on Earth or on the journey to Cygnus Alpha, but now he was a changed man. Now he had a reason to endure whatever he had to, to get to Shrinker.

His crew told him it was a crazy plan that he would most likely end up dead. They said the Federation would almost certainly torture him, maybe even kill him. He knew that and he knew that just as he would have given his life to save her back then, he would again if it meant getting the answer, if it meant they would be together again.

They told him he could put them all in danger if the Federation found out who he was. He wavered for a moment; did he have the right to risk their lives to ease his own conscience? Coldly he told himself that they all knew the risks of being with him and what he now, reluctantly, stood for and he wouldn't be swayed. They argued with him, they reasoned with him and they bullied him but to no avail, his mind was set. Eventually they agreed that if he was going to do this they would help him, do what they could to ensure his survival and be ready when he called.

Now, as he stood in the cool dimly lit computer room in the Federation's administration complex on a relatively unimportant world, a place he shouldn't have been, he wondered, just briefly, if he had done the right thing. Made the right choice. But he had had no choice, not since the day he lost her and not since the day he found out about Shrinker.

"Are you sure you want to go through with this?"

He looked at the small man, the thief who had become as close to a friend as he was ever likely to have and for just a moment he questioned himself, his sanity. After all he didn't have to do this, they could teleport back to the ship and carry on with their lives. Except if he didn't do this he didn't have a life.

The flash of self doubt and fear that had crossed his dark eyes was gone, replaced once more by the steel glint of determination.

"....After all the Federation aren't known for their hospitality... you could end up getting hurt or worse... I could end up getting caught along with you...are you really sure you know what you're doing? Could you hurry up please I don't like being here it makes me nervous."

He hadn't realised that his companion had carried on talking, babbling the way he always did when he was nervous or scared. Which was most of the time.

"Be quiet." He barked a little rougher than he intended to. He didn't need the distraction of the man's questions, questions that threatened to make him waver from his goal.

"Sorry for caring" the man snapped back petulantly.

Not one for giving into his emotions the leather clad figure changed the subject. He raised his wrist to his face and spoke into his communicator bracelet.

"Check the homing signal." He needed to be sure that the signal would send through the thick walls of the buildings. He couldn't afford for it not to, it was his lifeline and probably his last chance at getting out of wherever he ended up, alive and ideally with Shrinker.

"It's working fine." The disembodied voice of one of his crew.

"And now?" He reached to his neck and pressed hard, switching the device off.

"No signal now." The voice confirmed.

"Next time that happens it means it's finished so come and get me. 2 minutes remember?"

"We remember, don't worry we'll be here watching and waiting. Oh and by the way... be careful, we want you back..."

He didn't respond, sentiment breeds weakness and weakness was the one thing he couldn't afford.

He took off the bracelet and handed it to the thief.

"2 minutes. Don't be late. You'd better go before they find you here too" he told him smiling slightly at the obvious relief on the other man's face. It wasn't that he was a coward he just didn't like the thought of pain.

"I'll have everything in place by the time you get back" The thief told the man who had reluctantly accepted the mantle of leader of this group of wanted criminals. Then he raised his own bracelet to his lips and within seconds he was gone.

With a sigh of resignation the dark haired man sat himself down at a computer terminal and began to punch in a series of commands. Within no time at all he had gained access to the central computer files and begun a search. He knew that certain keywords would flag up his unauthorised access to the system and from then on it was a case of waiting, waiting for capture, waiting for interrogation but above all waiting for Shrinker.

To his surprise it took them longer to come for him than he expected, but when they came they came in numbers and treated him with the ruthlessness that Federation troopers were known for.

The doors flew open and half a dozen fully armed troopers spilled into the room, fanning out as they did so. For a moment they seemed surprised to find only one man in the room, sat casually at the computer as if he had every right to be there.

"Raise your hands where I can see them" the distorted voice of one of the troopers barked as four of them closed in on him, their fingers itching against the triggers of their weapons. The man complied raising his hands palms outwards, he couldn't see the point in resisting, not yet.

"Behind your neck," the trooper instructed "then stand up slowly and move away from the console."

Again the man did as he was told, his face was an impassive mask, hiding the fear he felt deep inside. Only a fool would not be afraid and he didn't recognise himself as a fool. He stepped away from the console and towards the troopers, stopping when they raised their guns.

"Who are you and what are you doing in a restricted area?"

Silence - who he was, was one question he COULD'NT answer. If they found that out then he would be lost. He was a wanted man and wanted by the most powerful person in the Federation, he couldn't afford to let himself fall into her hands.

The trooper stepped closer, the dim light only served to accentuate the menacing atmosphere he gave off. The hand on his weapon was steady and unwavering.

"I'll ask you again, who are you and what are you doing in here?"

Once more silence was his only answer. The dark haired man hadn't moved, his expression hadn't altered and nobody had even heard his slight intake of breath as he steeled himself for what was to come.

The trooper swung his gun in a short vicious arc into the unprotected midriff of the man in front of him, taking his breath away and causing him to double up in pain. Straightening up he was perversely pleased that he hadn't made any sound although the blow had hurt; he wondered how long it would be before he could no longer keep his silence, it had to be long enough and it had to start now. Calmly he placed his hands back behind his neck and fixed his gaze back on the trooper. His sarcastic streak wanted to make a comment but his common sense prevailed, there was no need to goad them, he was sure they would be violent enough towards him without his help.

"Get him out of my sight" the trooper barked, turning on his heel. Those under his command rushed to obey, securing the prisoner's hands behind him before marching him out of the computer suite to the start of his nightmare.

They took him to the local Federation garrison and threw him into a normal cell with normal criminals, thieves, murderers and rapists. Picking himself up off the floor where he had been thrown he looked at his surroundings. Scared men huddled in corners, men who ruled by fear and intimidation glared at him making their intentions known in a string of expletive laden and often crude comments. The cell was overcrowded and smelt of the underbelly of a society that wasn't as controlled as the Federation liked to believe. Brushing himself down, ignoring the comments and the threats, he forced his way through the cell until he was against a wall and stood his ground. He didn't really want to fight to keep his space or his dignity but he would. After a while the comments stopped and the tense atmosphere eased a little, but not enough for the new arrival to let down his guard, not even for a second. He tried his best to give off an air of menace but he knew that his appearance and his clothes marked him out as a man who wasn't used to prison life. He had to hope that this was not his final destination, Shrinker would never find him in here, in amongst the scum of society. If nothing changed soon he would have to force the issue, make them take him from this place and the thoughts of what he would have to do to accomplish that left him cold.

The cell was too small, too noisy and far too dangerous for anybody too snatch anything more than a few minutes rest. It was just the beginning of the Federation's tactics of wearing down its prisoners before they `confessed' to the error of their ways. The latest arrival to this overcrowded version of hell knew that. Despite his appearance he had been in prison before, he knew how to look out for himself and so he eyed the other occupants warily before squatting down in his tiny space and resting his head on his hands.

He tried not to dwell on his last experience of prison life, on the beatings, the interrogations and finally the `show trial' that saw him deported to a penal colony. He should have ended his days in that colony but instead he threw in his lot with a group of freedom fighters and lived.

He hadn't meant to stay with them, they were just his way off the planet but... well times and people change. He ended up staying and he ended up surviving, survival was the one thing he was good at and he knew that soon he would need to be again.

The sounds of cursing and then fighting drew his thoughts back to the present and stopped any chance of rest. Two of the occupants of the cell were trying to brawl in the confined space, hurling curses and punches with equal venom, the fight was urged on by the cheers and shouts from the other inmates. This was none of his business and he wanted no part of it so he kept his own counsel and put his head back down. The fight carried on until a contingent of Federation troopers arrived and waded in with electric stun batons and a little too much enthusiasm. By the time they were finished, not only the two antagonists lay unconscious and bleeding but several of the `innocent' watchers too.

At the back of the cell the dark haired man had watched with an air of casual detachment as the troopers went about their job. He didn't want the others in there to see him betray his real feelings as he watched the trooper's brutality, knowing that eventually he would have to face the same. He pushed down the lump of fear that gnawed in his empty belly and tried to maintain his composure, tried to ignore the little voice inside him that told him that maybe this wasn't the best idea he'd ever had.

When he pictured her at the hands of the Federation, at the hands of Shrinker, he knew that a bad idea or not there was no turning back.

Despite his fear and the noise he must have dozed off because sometime later he was awakened by the pain of a Federation issue boot in his side.

"On your feet."

As he rose to his feet easing the kinks from his muscles he saw the looks on the faces of those he was leaving behind and heard their mumbled comments. He chose to ignore them both as the trooper, watched by his more heavily armed companions, cuffed his hands in front of him and led him from the cell.

Their journey was brief and conducted in silence, which suited the prisoner fine. He didn't need the additional punishment that not answering the trooper's questions would undoubtedly bring. He had already decided that complete silence was his best defence, better than a tangled web of deceit that might catch him out. He would refuse to answer any questions until he met up with Shrinker and then... well then it wouldn't matter.

Their destination was the office of the garrison commander a short, grey haired man whose face betrayed the boredom of being stuck in charge of a backwoods planet. A look of mild curiosity crossed his features as he gazed at the stranger before him. He was out of place and obviously didn't belong in a backwoods prison on a dead end world. The reason for him being here intrigued the commander, it was a puzzle and he hated puzzles.

"Why were you in the computer suite?"

The well dressed and obviously well educated stranger stayed silent, just tilting his head slightly as if to say `you work it out'. His silence didn't faze the commander; he'd seen it all before. He'd seen prisoners who never said a word and those who never stopped talking, he'd seen bravado and stupidity - in fact until today he thought he'd seen every type of criminal the planet had to offer.

"I'll only ask you once more. Why were you in the computer suite?"

Silence.

The garrison commander rose wearily from his chair and walked towards his latest prisoner. He hated those who thought they were above answering questions most of all, they weren't above anything. They were criminals and criminals were the lowest of the low no matter what their crime.

"Silence won't help you. I can tell you are an educated man but are you a brave man? I can make you talk if I have to. Do I have to make you talk?"

"You can try." It wasn't a challenge, just a statement of fact and it earned its speaker his first but certainly not his last encounter with a trooper's stun baton. The pain in the small of his back was fierce, intense even through the leather of his tunic. He felt as if his skin was on fire as the electricity pulsed through him. He arched his back slightly, trying to pull away from the hot tip of the stun baton just emitting a low hiss as the only sign of his discomfort. "But you'll have to do better than that."

The garrison commander had spent too many years in the field to be impressed or swayed by his prisoner's words. He had a job to do, he had to find out who this man was and what information he had gained from the computers. Then he could turn him over to the Justice Department and move on.

"Don't worry I will." Not a boast or even a threat more like a promise of things to come. The sound of an incoming communication took him back to his desk. Glancing down he saw the communication came from the Federation Security Central Command. "Take him to the interrogation centre and wait for me there." He glanced up briefly to see his unresisting captive being led away. He really hated puzzles. Turning his attention to the incoming communication his puzzle got more complex.

In the interrogation centre the prisoner was left alone in a small windowless cell, with nothing but a sleeping platform and the watchful eye of a security camera for company. He hadn't been mistreated, beaten, abused verbally or physically and he wondered why. The Federation wasn't known for their humane treatment of any of its citizens who strayed from the prescribed pattern of what passed as life and he couldn't see why he should be an exception. He knew it wouldn't last, it couldn't last. He still had to get off this planet, get himself noticed, get himself to Shrinker and that would most likely only be achieved by violence, either to him or by him. He lay on the sleeping platform absently fingering the cold steel around his wrists and working on a plan to achieve his goal.

He hadn't been there long when the door slid open and the garrison commander stepped inside. Swinging himself up into a sitting position he could see the heavily armed troopers in the hallway outside. `So', he thought to himself `this is where it starts'.

"I've just had a message from Central Command, it seems your little excursion into our computer files has got their interest. You're to be sent to... well let's just say you would have been better off if you'd talked to me." He waited for the reaction, expecting to see fear on his prisoner's face, expecting to hear him pleading to stay, begging to talk. All he got was a raised eyebrow and a faint ironic smile as his prisoner got to his feet. A puzzle indeed.

The ship that took him to the secret interrogation complex was standard enough. Each prisoner was secured to their seat by strong metal bands on their wrists, ankles and chest. They were watched over by surveillance cameras backed up by armed guards. He had been on this kind of ship before but this time he hoped there would be nobody to sway him from his mission. No crazy fanatical political activist hell bent on bringing down the Federation and changing his life forever. He shook his head and smiled slightly at the memories, he had a lot to both thank that man for and to hate him for. If he hadn't got mixed up with him and his messianic quest for justice then he would never have had access to the resources that had allowed him to find Shrinker. This was one time he had to thank the man and he hoped that his death hadn't been in vain and that his own death wouldn't follow. Who would take up the cause then?

This time his journey was uneventful. The prisoners were subdued and even he felt tired and lethargic. Since his last journey on a prison ship the Federation had begun dispersing low levels of chemical suppressants in the air circulation system. It kept the prisoners docile and prevented another unpleasant uprising. The drugs made his mind cloudy and he fought in vain to keep a clear head by reciting computer codes and picturing schematic drawings in his head. He needed his mind clear but try as he might he couldn't seem to concentrate properly. He was glad when the journey ended and they were marched off the ship in shackles, under armed guard and taken to the complex.

Soon after his arrival at the complex he was separated from the others from his ship and taken down a long well-lit corridor. There had been no words, no orders, no instructions, he had just been pushed that way by his guards and had fallen into step between them. His head was clearing slowly as the effects of the suppressants wore off and he wondered where he was being taken and why he was alone.

The corridor was lined with doors, behind which, although he yet didn't know it, were cells, one of which would soon become his refuge. Occasional sounds of screams echoed off the walls seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Despite his resolve not to show any fear he shuddered slightly at the sounds, the reality of his situation being driven home with every scream and every footstep. The corridor terminated in a bank of doors, before long he would know what horrors awaited him behind each and every one.

Today though he was shoved through the door on the furthest right, his guards did not accompany him. The room was small and empty, brightly lit with a faint smell that reminded him of a hospital. Yet more doors lead off this room and on his stumbling arrival one of them had opened and several burly men had appeared. They wore the white clothing that universally designated medical personnel although they looked more like thugs than doctors. A smaller man made his way through the crowd, wiping his rimless spectacles on his tunic; his air of authority was obvious.

"Strip him and search him, they won't want any surprises later."

Quickly and efficiently the team of `medics' swung into action. They released him from his shackles and stood back. One of them spoke.

"You heard the Doctor, strip."

"No." Defiance laced his voice and he stood his ground.

He stood his ground until the first blow rocked him, knocking the wind from him and the second blow, to the back of his legs, sent him to his knees. The `medics' had obviously done this before and without the need for further instructions they were on him. They held him, beat him when they needed to and with careful and practised efficiency stripped him and then searched him.

Thoroughly.

He was left naked, sore and bleeding.

He was also embarrassed and humiliated at the treatment; he wasn't used to anybody seeing him like this. Of course the Doctor and his team knew the value of such treatment especially on prisoners like this one. They dragged him to his feet and manhandled him through one of the doors into a room that was the polar opposite of the one they had just been in. This one was large and filled with an array of equipment some of which he'd seen before and some of which he had no idea as to its purpose. He was forced to lie on a metal examination table, the steel cold against his naked flesh, and strapped in place by his ankles and wrists. He swallowed deeply and closed his eyes as they brought out a tray of instruments and continued their searching examination of him. He didn't want to watch, it would serve no purpose but to weaken his resolve to know what was coming next.

Some things didn't hurt, some things made him want to scream with the pain and cry with the humiliation. He did neither, squeezing his eyes tighter shut to push back the tears and blocking his screams with the force of his will. If this was just a search he didn't want to dwell on what the future held for him.

He didn't have time to dwell at all as the pain of another excruciating examination of his most private areas overwhelmed him, his mind shut down and he passed out.

The examination over the `medics' took him to his cell and the Doctor poured over the results. What he saw made for interesting reading. The prisoner had recently undergone surgery and had a homing device implanted in his neck. It was a good job to; the device was small but powerful and was sending a steady signal. He was obviously in contact with somebody on the outside, finding out who or why was not in the Doctor's remit but he was sure that before the contact was made they would have their answers.

The first thing he noticed when he regained consciousness was the cold. He was cold through to his bones and had been shivering when he woke. The second thing he noticed was the reason why he was cold; he was still naked and lying on the floor of yet another standard Federation cell. Sighing he pushed himself to his feet and began to pace the small cell his arms wrapped around him to try and warm himself up. He was stiff from the cold and had a few bruises and grazes from the hands of the `medics', certain parts of his anatomy ached and burned but he pushed the thoughts of what they might have done to him when he was unconscious to the back of his mind. He had to focus, he had to prepare and he had to be ready for whatever they did to him for as long as it took to get to Shrinker. He had to hold out for her sake, so that her death could be avenged and his nightmares laid to rest.

He was sat on the sleeping platform, his knees drawn up in front of him, his arms wrapped around them. It was both an attempt to keep warm against the pervading chill of the cell and also a protection against his nakedness. The baleful glow of the security camera light told him he was never alone. The door slid open and his nightmare began in earnest.

The guards who came for him were dressed in paramilitary style black uniforms and shiny boots. Their uniforms bore no Federation or rank insignia and they didn't wear helmets. They had expressionless faces and big hands. Hands that dragged him to his feet, forced his hands behind him and encased his wrists in steel again then marched him down the corridor. This time it was the door on the left and this time his guards came with him.

The room was empty apart from a single chair in front of a mirrored wall. He knew the mirror was two way and that whoever was conducting the interrogation would be watching him from the other side. As usual the room was under the constant surveillance of cameras. Nothing would be missed; anything he said could be taken and manipulated to be used against him. Yet another reason why he needed to keep his silence.

The guards pushed him into the chair and withdrew to the back of the room, where they stood at a relaxed parade rest waiting and hoping they would be needed. They were men who loved nothing more than inflicting pain on others and over the years had developed an array of interesting and inventive ways of doing just that.

The naked man tried to look relaxed as he sat in the chair although in reality his heart was thumping in his chest and his hands were clammy with sweat. The little voice was back telling him that this was crazy and that he was crazy and that the best outcome would be life in prison and the worst would be his death. He knew the little voice was right but he knew his conviction was stronger, the belief that when the time came so would his crew was stronger and so he sat back as best as he could with his hands bound behind him and waited.

"Who are you and what were you doing accessing classified computer files?" A disembodied voice came from unseen speakers shaking him from his thoughts.

"Just looking" he said flippantly. Surprisingly the comment earned him no rebuke.

"Who are you and what were you doing accessing classified computer files?" The voice hadn't changed in tone, almost as if it were a recording. This time he gave them no answer.

Behind the two way glass the man asking the questions turned to his companion. They had all seen this type of behaviour a thousand times before; they had seen sarcasm, wit and silence used to deflect from answering the questions. Later they had also seen begging and pleading to answer those questions. They smiled a knowing smile and, as one of them asked the question again, the other was relaying his instructions via earpieces to the guards inside the room. Again the question got no answer and as they looked out at the man in front of them he appeared diffident even bored, but they knew it was a front.

It was always a front.

"Ah, the silent treatment."

"He's an Alpha and you know how vain they are. I'll wager a weeks pay that as soon as we threaten his appearance his tongue will start wagging and he'll tell us everything before the day is out."

"Before the day is out?"

"Yea."

"Deal" the man who asked the questions looked back at their prisoner. He noticed that, despite the man's casual attitude, he had a look of determination in his eyes, like he had something to prove either to himself or to someone else. He wasn't so sure he would talk, not today.

"I will ask you once more, who are you...."

"Save it" the prisoner interrupted his question. "I have nothing to say." That was all the incentive the interrogators needed to loose the guards on him.

He felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle just before the chair he was on was tipped up and pulled from beneath him dumping him on the floor. Without the help of his hands to break his fall he landed heavily and winded himself. Before he had a chance to get his breath, a hand in his hair dragged him painfully to his knees and held him there.

They would start with a simple beating.

A fist flew smashing into his face, sending his head spinning to one side despite the fist in his hair. Blood splattered from his split lip and he felt hair being ripped from his head as it spun in the tight grip. He had hardly turned back to face his antagonist when the next blow landed, this time straight on pushing him back against the man behind him and watering his eyes with the pain. The slightest gasp was all the sound he made as blow after blow started to reign down on him. The shots threw his head one way and the other, tearing out more hair, splattering more of his blood on the floor and on the hands of his antagonist.

The first time he broke his silence was when a vicious blow broke his nose. That had really hurt and was too much pain to just push away without a sound. The second time was when his attacker deliberately targeted his broken nose again, landing a solid punch right on the point of the break. He let a little used expletive spill from his lips as he fought to get air in through the damaged tissue.

At the sound of his curse the hand in his hair released him and he fell to the ground, gasping. Maybe that was what they wanted, to hear him make a sound before they stopped. No, it couldn't be that simple, could it? He wanted to get back to his feet to show them... what?.... his bravery, his stupidity... but with his hands still bound behind him he couldn't and so he just lay there and waited.

The wait was short, just as long as it took for his antagonists to change places and drag him to his feet. This time it was his body that took the brunt of the beating Fists and feet flew into his unprotected flesh with a calculated viciousness that would have left him cowering on the floor but for the strong hands that held him firm. The pain washed over him in waves that coincided with his struggles for breath, he never seemed to have enough time to catch his breath before another blow took it from him.

Soon his whole body hurt, bruises forming where punches and kicks landed in the same spot over and over, blood from his broken nose was joined by blood from multiple grazes and cuts where thin skin had torn under the relentless assault. When they finally let him fall back to the floor, he was a mess, a wasted spent bloodied shadow of himself. He hadn't made a sound this time, hadn't cried out when the boot landed in his groin or smashed into his ribs, somehow he had kept his pain inside him, he didn't know how but he had. As he lay on the floor gasping, wheezing for precious air he knew he had to be stronger than this if he was to survive long enough to meet Shrinker because right now he wanted to tell them everything and this was only the beginning.

He'd never said he was brave!

He tried to conjure up her image to help him and when he saw her in his mind, she was in his place, battered and beaten and that image was his strength and his courage.

The two guards pulled him once more to his feet and sat him back in front of the mirror. He could see himself in the glass, bloodied and bruised but not broken.... Not yet. At one time he would have been horrified if anybody had so much as threatened to touch him, let alone actually laying a hand on him. His appearance had been part of who he was, but he wasn't the same man anymore. He had been in enough scrapes, and fights, and battles in the past few years to no longer be a man who cared that much about the way he looked; it was all about survival and staying one step ahead of those who wanted you dead.

He knew that his interrogators didn't know who he was, otherwise he wouldn't be here, he'd be on his way to Earth and the centre of the Federation's power. He knew they thought his appearance still mattered to him and that now he would be begging to tell them everything just to stop them.

They knew nothing about him at all.

He spat blood onto the floor and stared defiantly back through the two way glass.

"Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." His voice was stronger than he expected, only the slightest edge of pain giving away the agonies that rippled through him.

Behind the glass the two interrogators exchanged curious glances; this wasn't what they had expected. They were surprised at the prisoner's resolute attitude, it wasn't typical of the other Alpha prisoners they had come across, but of course they didn't know that this prisoner was different. They didn't know he was a man on a mission; a mission that he hoped would give him revenge against the man who killed his lover and who by those actions had condemned him to a life of guilt.

They weren't worried though, they had a whole arsenal of tools and methods at their disposal, methods that usually never failed to get results. They knew their time was limited, within a few days Shrinker would be back and he would expect answers, they intended to have those answers.

They WOULD have those answers.

Another whispered instruction and the guards swung into action again.

This time it was a laser probe held against his back, high up between his shoulder blades. His sweat slicked skin conducted the charge through him as he arched backwards in the chair, grunting at the pain as his skin blistered beneath the probe. A faint smell of burning flesh filled the air, turning his stomach. `Damn' he thought, gritting his teeth as the probe was moved and another unmarked piece of skin fell to its white hot point, `that hurts!. Can't make any noise, can't tell them anything. 'Got to hold on...got to'.

The probe was lifted and with it the searing agony dropped a notch to a steady underlying throb.

"Ready to talk now?"

Digging into his already shaken mind he found a dark place and pushed the pain into it. Now was not the time for pain or for weakness, now was the time to test his resolve, to see how much he really wanted Shrinker. Holding on and holding out was the only way. No matter the cost.... No matter the cost.

"No."

The twin points of burning fire on his back and his chest as the guards simultaneously ground their laser probes into his skin was the cost. The searing pain of not just the burning flesh but the ripples of fire that he was sure he could feel running through every muscle were the cost. The sound of an agonised groan spilling from his bruised and bloodied lips was the cost.

That cry hurt him more than the physical pain. He had vowed to be strong, to be silent, to be...as brave as he could be. She had never broken and nor could he.

The points of pain changed again, the side of his neck, just behind his ear and his groin now flared with a surge of white-hot agony. His last thoughts before the pain pushed him into the dark, welcoming arms of unconsciousness were of her, silently enduring, silently waiting for him to come back and finally silently dying because he didn't.

They didn't bother to take him back to his cell, instead they pushed him from the chair, kicked him where he fell and left him sprawled on the floor of the interrogation room.

They wouldn't leave him long, that wasn't their way. Their way was to grind people down by a continuous barrage of pain and humiliation until they got their answers or...

Nobody questioned the death of a prisoner, they just weren't worth the effort. But there was a long way to go before this prisoner would be allowed the comfort of death, especially if Shrinker got his hands on him.

In the control room the two interrogators watched the tape of their earlier unsuccessful attempts to get the man to talk. Where had they gone wrong? Normally, long before now, a prisoner like this man would have been begging to tell them everything they wanted to know. This man had said nothing and endured in almost silence. He had been defiant when he had spoken, taunting in his attitude and his manner. He was indeed a very singular man, either he found a perverse joy in pain or he knew something that he thought would save him.

"I guess you owe me a week's pay!" The question master said only half jokingly to his companion.

"Maybe."

"You said he'd talk by the end of the day and look at him now. He's not going to be talking for the next couple of hours at least. I think that means I win!"

"Judging by what we've just seen we could both loose if we don't get the answers we need before Shrinker gets back. This could be our last weeks pay!"

They both turned and stared through the glass at the unconscious man. They weren't going to loose their jobs over some damn Alpha prisoner, whose crime seemed only to have been looking at classified documents on the Federation's main computer. He hadn't stolen anything or hurt anybody and yet Central Command wanted answers. Maybe they thought he was political, or in league with the dissident factions who sought to overthrow the natural order the Federation imposed on its citizens.

They didn't really understand why this seemingly unremarkable man had landed on their doorstep, but they knew that everybody has a breaking point and this man would be no exception. They still had time to find it and to find their answers.

"What about the homing device? Could he be holding out for a rescue?"

"Why would he let it get this far? Why didn't he get rescued earlier?"

"Maybe it's set for a certain time and they won't try to rescue him until then. Maybe he needs time to do whatever he needs to, find out the information he needs. I don't know."

"It could be a trap. A way to bring troops into the complex and mount an attack."

"But that would be crazy. It would take a huge number of troops to take over this place and long before they got here we could take them out."

"Maybe just a small force, a sort of hit and run attack. Disable us and get out, it's a favourite tactic with rebel groups."

"He doesn't look much like a rebel."

"Better to be safe than sorry though. I'll talk to the commander and tell him to be extra vigilant, until we know what's really going on."

"I think it's time we asked our `friend' out there what the hell is going on."

His return to consciousness was swift and brutal. He didn't feel the scrape of the needle that punctured his arm but he did feel the powerful surge of the drug in his veins. It filled him with a multitude of swirling, conflicting emotions and memories that pushed through the layers of unconsciousness and dragged him awake with a cry of anguish and very nearly her name on his lips.

He was aching and sore, his muscles stiff from the earlier beating. His face and body were smeared with his now dried blood and marked with subtle hues of colour as bruises started forming. His throat was dry and sore and his head felt thick and sluggish, both of which were side effects from the drug they had used to rouse him. All-in-all he felt awful and, as he was reluctantly dragged back to his feet, the knowledge that he would soon feel a lot worse did nothing to quell his unease or to repress the fear that once again gnawed in his guts.

"We'll start with something simple" the disembodied voice once more filled the room.

"Just your level then" he wasn't even sure he knew why he had said that but he was fairly sure that the blow that followed his comment broke a rib and stopped him from making any more flippant remarks. In fact for several long moments it stopped him from doing anything more than huddle where he had fallen, gasping for breath and fighting back the nausea.

He was pulled back to his feet again.

Held firm in an unforgiving grip that crushed and bruised his arms. Questioned by a nameless faceless voice, over and over again.

"Who are you?"

"Why were you on Valon?"

Tell us your name."

"Who do you work for?"

"What is your name?"

"What information did you hope to obtain from the computer?"

"Who do you work for?"

He greeted every question with stoic silence; sometimes he tilted his head slightly and let the faintest hint of a smile cross his face. He never uttered a single sound not even when the initial blows from fists and feet were replaced with blows from a stun baton and finally with the arcing crackle of electricity as they turned the baton against his sweat dampened skin.

The questions were an endless repetitive barrage in the background but he hardly heard them as he focused his attention and his fading energy at keeping quiet, at keeping the pain at bay, at not giving them what his mind and body told him he should.

Another surge of electricity against his chest, just above his heart and he could no longer hold back the sound of pain as it spilled from his lips. The agony had been so intense, so concentrated that he was sure that his heart had stopped, just for a moment. The whole of his insides felt like burning, molten liquid and he heaved and gasped for breath, panic setting in as his heart stuttered again, the delicate balance of its rhythm blown apart by the surging power of the charge in his body.

He knew if they kept this up they would kill him. He knew his body couldn't stand the punishment. He knew he couldn't die, not yet, not before....

Another charge thrust against his pale skin and he couldn't think anymore, he couldn't feel anymore, he couldn't force another breath past his swollen lips.

He began to die.

They let him fall to the floor and watched as his body twitched and convulsed under their still endless onslaught. They watched as he retched and heaved as his body fought for another breath. They watched his face contort with pain as he fought with everything he had not to cry out. They watched as finally the pain became too much to bear, the tears filled his eyes, he moaned once low and long and then he died.

There was no panic in the room when their helpless victim finally lay still and silent but there was also no satisfaction in what they had done. They had tortured him to death and learnt nothing, except that he was more stubborn, or maybe more foolish, than he looked.

In the control room one of the interrogators reached for the communicator and summoned the Doctor. This wasn't the first time they had `killed' a prisoner nor did they suspect would it be the last and because of that everybody knew what to do.

The Doctor arrived and set to work. Quickly and efficiently he checked his patient and then without further delay he pulled a syringe from his pocket and administered a dose of Epinephrine directly into the prisoner's heart muscles. There were other more advanced and less risky methods of reviving patients but the Doctor had a soft spot for this pre atomic method, it gave him a rare chance to practice skills the war, technology and the insistence of the Federation for success had made all but obsolete. He waited a minute and then picked up the stun baton, it wasn't the perfect instrument but it would do. Turning the charge low he used it to shock his prisoners heart again, this time with the aid of the Epinephrine his heart kicked back into a shallow but regular rhythm. The Doctor blew out a breath; it always pleased him when the procedure worked, not least because it ensured he kept his job and his life. He stood up and turned to the glass window.

"He needs rest, proper rest, at least 6 hours or...."

"Thank you Doctor, we know what we're doing." There was an unmistakable edge to the disembodied voice now. In the control room the interrogators glared back at the Doctor, irritated at being told their jobs. They were good, the best interrogators in the complex, almost as good as Shrinker some said and they knew what they needed.

They needed a name. They needed answers. They needed reasons.

They watched as the Doctor turned, glanced back at the man on the floor, stared directly at them through the glass and left. They had a feeling it wouldn't be the last time they needed him, especially if the interrogation continued in the same way, if this strange, silent man continued to defy them.

They instructed the guards to release the prisoner from his restraints and take him back to his cell. They had work to do, watching and reviewing what had transpired already and planning what they were going to do next to get the result they wanted.

His return to consciousness was long and painful. From the dark depths of peace the pain started to gnaw at him. He'd thought he was dead. He'd felt like he was dead.

He was sure that he could remember his heart stopping, his breath failing him, his life ebbing away until....

Until he was dead.

But now he could feel pain again and he was sure that if he was dead it wouldn't hurt like this. He could hear the gentle whistle of air through his broken nose as he breathed.

Dead men don't breath and he was definitely breathing, therefore he couldn't be dead.

A simple fact.

A fact that his body reinforced with a sudden hacking cough as he finally surfaced from the depths of oblivion.

For several long moments he coughed and retched, bile and blood staining the floor of his cell, as his body and his mind gradually accepted the inevitable.

He had been dead.

Now he was alive again.

Alive to face more horror, more pain and torture, more questions.

Alive to face Shrinker.

The thought of Shrinker and what he had done to her once more steeled his resolve and he finally opened his eyes and faced his reality. Eventually he had gained enough strength to haul himself off the floor and onto the sleeping platform where, despite the endless streaming light from the enclosed ceiling panels and the almost unnoticeable hum of the ubiquitous security camera, he finally fell back into an exhausted sleep.

His dreams were vivid and painful, a mixture of reality and conjecture. Events he knew had happened mixed with events he could only imagine forming a long and endless nightmare. A nightmare in which she waited for him and then, when he didn't come, she tortured him to find out why. A nightmare in which when he found Shrinker he found himself, he had killed her just a sure as they had killed him, only for her there had been no second chance.

All he had was his pain, the emotional pain of loosing her and now the physical pain of trying to find ...something that would ease his conscience, maybe if he was unlucky the next time, something that would mean they would once again be together.

Forever.

He lay staring at the grey featureless ceiling, thinking about her and about Shrinker when the unmistakable hum of the door opening heralded the return of his waking nightmare.

They took him back to the same room and questioned him again. The same questions with the same answer...silence, not even a flippant or sarcastic comment this time. They beat him just as they had done before, made him bleed even more and broke more of his bones, until he lay barely alive on the floor.

As the guards dragged him from the room to the other end of the row of doors and the Doctor, they were surprised at his resilience but they were sure it couldn't last much longer, nobody could.

The prisoner barely had the strength to lift his blood stained head as the guards dragged him across the room where so long ago he had suffered the indignation of being stripped and searched. He strained through eyes half shut with blood and bruising to see that they were taking him to a glass fronted pod set into the far wall of the larger room. They had similar pods on his ship, they were for tissue regeneration. The thought of his ship made him think for a moment about his crew, about those who followed him, followed his... no never his... who followed the cause of another.

Were they still waiting for him?

Would they keep their word?

No more time for thought as he was placed non-too gently in the pod and the restraints that would hold him during the procedure were put in place. The Doctor appeared in his restricted line of vision, checking his injuries with a small, hand- held medical probe and then adjusting the settings on the pod. Back once more in his blurred vision the Doctor bent low.

"You should have told them what they wanted to know."

"Never" he whispered as defiant as the pain would let him be.

"This machine will repair your body and then..." the Doctor didn't need to finish. Then, then they would start again. They were going to heal him so they could start again, start with his newly healed body and break it. The thought made him shudder despite the restraints that held him.

"Your body will be as good as new" the Doctor was still talking but now a touch of sadness tinged his words, "but your mind, well sometimes the mind doesn't heal as well as the body."

Staring at the Doctor's eyes hidden behind the glare of his spectacles the prisoner wondered what he meant until the sudden shock of intense pain took away his ability to think at all. As the pod sealed shut over him he heard the Doctor's final words.

"Oh by the way, the procedure itself is quite painful."

The Doctor hadn't exaggerated, the captive held tightly within the pod didn't know which was worse, the pain that had caused his injuries or the pain that was healing them. He hadn't been able to fight the first but he would try and fight the second. He tried to fight the fire in his body by using his mind, by thinking of things he knew well, by trying to occupy his mind so that the pain would have nowhere to go. For a while it worked and then a spike of white hot agony seemed to spear itself right into his brain and, despite his vow, he screamed with the pain. Locked inside the tight confines of the pod nobody could hear his screams as the machine repaired his body but raped his mind.

He didn't remember falling into unconsciousness but when he woke with a start back in his cell there had to be no other explanation. For several long moments he lay there letting his mind reach out to his body and relishing the fact that this time he didn't hurt, he could breathe without pain, and his body was whole again. After a while he sat up and took stock, his nose, ribs and fingers all of which had been broken were no longer misshapen and unusable, no blood came from his eyes, ears or lips when he touched them. It seemed that, true to the Doctor's word, his body was back to its original state, still a little sore but once more unbroken, unbloodied and able to face the torturers hands again.

He noticed food and water near the door of his cell and greedily devoured both, only just holding back the nausea when he had finished. He knew he should have been more careful but he also knew that if they came for him before he had finished, they wouldn't wait for him, he might not get another chance.

As he sat, waiting for them to return, wondering what they had in store for him this time he thought about what the Doctor had said, about his mind, about how maybe it wouldn't be the same. That thought was almost worse for him that the thought of what they could do to his body, his mind was his best weapon, his keenest ally, the one thing that had kept him, and his crew, ahead of the spectre of death. If he didn't have his mind then, well then he was sure he wouldn't survive, he wouldn't get to Shrinker and above all he wouldn't get his peace.

But how would he know? How would he know if his mind was still his?

He started with something simple, thinking about his ship, well it wasn't HIS ship it was his predecessor's ship, he had just inherited it along with the reluctant mantle of leader, but he could picture it clearly. He could imagine himself walking through its long elegant corridors; he knew what was behind every door. He knew exactly how the computers worked, how the engines worked how the defences worked. He moved onto his crew, he pictured them all in turn, he knew their names and their stories, why they were with him, why they would follow him maybe ultimately to their deaths.

He knew who he was, where he came from and how he had ended up in this life he now led. He remembered his plan to undermine the Federation banking system and how it had nearly, so very nearly worked.

There seemed to be nothing wrong with his memories.

He tried something harder, he thought about her.

Just for a fleeting moment he couldn't picture her, couldn't see her in his mind and he panicked. Without her he wouldn't have the strength to go through with this, without her he wouldn't have a reason to go through with this. He tried again and he found her, in his mind he found her.

She was as beautiful and perfect as the last time he had seen her, he could hear her words, telling him to be careful and that she would wait for him. He hadn't been careful enough. She hadn't waited long enough. He had let her down and she had died.

He thumped the sleeping platform in an uncharacteristic display of emotion. There was nothing wrong with his memories, even the ones he'd rather forget. This time it seemed that his mind had survived, but would it again? Would his mind and his body be strong enough to wait for Shrinker?

Another memory... more than a memory... an accusation.... Her brother had told him that she had been tortured for a week and held on for him but he had never come... now he would be strong enough.

For her and for himself.

He chose not to notice that his feelings for her were not as strong as they should have been, as they once had been.

When the door opened this time he greeted his antagonists on his feet with his head held high. He smiled inwardly at their look of confusion as he offered his hands to be restrained and then fell into step between them as they marched down the corridor to the interrogation room.

He knew, he thought, his mind was still intact and that would help him through. He resolve was once more as hard as steel and his courage buoyed by what he had already been through, what he had already survived.

The guards sat him once more in front of the two way mirror and retreated to their usual place at the back of the room, waiting and hoping to get another chance to hurt the strange silent prisoner, waiting for the chance to break his silence. But today was to be different, not wholly different but for the man who stared belligerently at the mirrored glass in front of him, different enough to make him never want to go through that day again.

The questions started, the same as before, the same as always.

"Who are you?"

"Why were you on Valon?"

Tell us your name."

"Who do you work for?"

"What is your name?"

"What information did you hope to obtain from the computer?"

"Who do you work for?"

His answer was silence as he looked around the room, boredom and indifference on his face. He was getting better at pushing down the fear that still ate away at his insides, the fear not of the pain itself but of what it might ultimately force him to do or say.

He wondered why his insolent attitude had not yet earned him the usual beating, was this just their way of getting him off balance, of getting him to lower his defences? The thought that this was probably just a trick, a means to an end made him wary. They would have to do better than this if they hoped to catch him out.

The questions droned on and on like an endless broken recording. He wondered if maybe they were just going to question him to death... the thought made him smile.

Then the questions abruptly changed tack.

"Are you associated with any rebel organisation who might be seeking to undermine the authority of the Federation?"

He couldn't keep the look of surprise off his face.

Did this mean they knew who he was?

He had to be careful now... more careful than before. He hoped they would take his look of surprise not as an admission of guilt but as amazement that they could consider such a thing.

Silence now would only serve to condemn him and so he put his impassive mask back in place and stared directly at the glass in front of him.

"Do I look like a rebel, like a... psychopath?" He glanced at his two guards as if to emphasise his point. They bristled where they stood but did nothing more.

"Rebels and dissidents don't always look and act like you expect."

"And you think I look and act like one?" He put as much contempt into his voice as he could manage hoping to hide the tremor of fear that lived within him. The fear that they knew who he was and why he was there.

They couldn't he told himself. The real rebels, and again he didn't count himself in their number despite what his crew and his lifestyle might say otherwise, had destroyed most of the Federation's records, wiped out the lives of thousands of citizens, rebels and dissidents held by the Federation's central computers. He had to believe he was in those records that hadn't survived.

"I don't know.... Do you?"

When he heard the door to the interrogation room open he wanted to look round and see who had entered the room. He couldn't though, just in case his fears were founded and they knew who he was. Then it would be his nemesis, the woman who wanted his life almost as badly as she wanted power. She had the one and wouldn't rest until she had the other...him.

He used the mirror to show him if his fears were well founded, and he breathed an inward sigh of relief when he saw that it was only the Doctor. So far... well so far he had survived.

The Doctor approached him signalling the guards as he crossed the room. They held him firm in the chair as the Doctor pulled out a hypo-syringe from his pocket and quickly applied it directly to the artery pulsing strongly in his captive's neck. The prisoner squirmed against the application of the syringe but it was a futile effort as the drugs in his bloodstream quickly began to take effect.

Within a few minutes he was finding it hard to breathe and he couldn't seem to concentrate on anything. His head was filled with random thoughts and memories, words and pictures that had no association with each other. The guards released their grip on him as the drug pushed him deeper and deeper into a state of unwelcome and dangerous confusion. He couldn't resist them physically as they once again burnt him with laser probes and beat him with sturdy batons until he fell to the floor.

He lay on the floor as the drug and the pain combined to try and rip his memories from him. He could hear a voice above him, distant yet clear, asking him questions, promising him relief if he would just tell them who he was.

"Who are you?" She had asked him that once, was she asking him again? He didn't know! It could have been her but there was something about her that he should have known but now he couldn't remember. The swirling jumble of pictures in his head refused to coalesce into anything solid, anything tangible, anything he could firmly believe in. It had to be her.... Didn't it?

"Why, don't you know who I am?" His voice was slurred and, to his own ears it didn't sound like him at all. Just out of his reach along with the missing memory of her was a missing memory about now, about why he was here and about what he had to do.

"Tell me again. Who are you?"

"Who do you want me to be?" He wondered why he had said that, why he hadn't just told the voice who he was. He could tell her, he trusted her; she was the only person he did trust. It would have been alright to tell her his name, wouldn't it?

Buried deep inside his subconscious a voice was screaming at him, telling him to be careful, telling him not to say anything but it didn't make sense. Why couldn't he say anything?

His memories were fragmented like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, all there but in no order, his life then, his life now, her, his crew, Shrinker. They were all there in a disjointed orgy of confusion and pain, all demanding his attention, all trying to tell him something. As he lay on the floor, bound and bleeding the pain in his mind grew and grew and underpinning it all were the questions.

"Who are you?

"Why are you here?"

"What did you hope to achieve?"

"Are you alone?"

Am I alone? Right now he felt more alone than he had ever done. He had a memory of people, who shared his life, but they weren't here and somehow he knew they weren't coming, not until he did something. What did he have to do to bring them? He was alone and he was scared, really scared.

"Alone?" He whispered "Yes I'm alone." His voice was broken with an emotion he couldn't explain. He wasn't a man who gave away his emotions or his feelings, they made him ....uncomfortable. Even with her he had held back, never truly saying what he felt. She knew though and that was good enough for him.

She knew he loved her, she had to have known, otherwise how ....why would she have let them torture and kill her just to save him?

He grabbed at his head with his bound hands as if he could make the pain stop, make all the memories fall back into the neat order he was used to. His mind was his salvation and now he felt like he was loosing that and with it his hope.

Above him the Doctor and the interrogators communicated in low voices. The interrogators wanted more; they sensed their prisoner was near to breaking, near to telling them if not everything then at least who he was. The Doctor was reluctant to give more drugs to the helpless beaten victim at his feet; he didn't want to kill him...again. He had administered a larger than normal dose initially in a grudging response to the interrogators insistence that they needed results. Another dose, another dose would almost certainly kill a normal man but this prisoner had proved himself to be far from normal. Already he had survived being killed and revived as well as a session in the tissue regenerator, both events that would be the certain irreversible death of many.

"If I do as you ask it might kill him again and this time I might not be able to save him" the Doctor argued.

"He'll tell us what we want to know before that happens, he's close now. Give him the drug and let's get this over with."

"You do realise that if it doesn't kill him it might fry his brain so much that he won't know who he is and then you won't get your answers no matter how.... hard you try."

"We have no choice" the voice sounded weary, almost apologetic, before it hardened "Now give him the drug or do I have to remind you that your position in this facility is only for life." The threat was obvious and crude but it worked. Although there were days when the Doctor didn't really enjoy his work it afforded him an enviable lifestyle. A lifestyle he was accustomed to, a lifestyle he had no intention of loosing.

He knelt beside the prisoner, who still held his head in his hands, squeezing against his temples as if he could somehow make the horror inside his mind stop. He rolled him onto his back and gently prised his hands free. The eyes that stared up at him were blank, dulled with pain, the lashes damp from tears that had formed but never been shed.

The prisoner was mumbling quietly and although the Doctor listened carefully he couldn't make out enough to make any sense of what he heard.

Without platitudes, excuses or apologies the Doctor adjusted the level of drug in the hypo-syringe and injected it into the prisoner's neck. Sighing he stood and stared accusingly through the glass.

"It's done. I'll be in my office when you need me again." He glanced back at the man at his feet, watching as his face contorted in a fresh rictus of agony and his mouth fell open in a silent scream. Walking away he whispered in a voice only he could hear "And you will need me again."

For the helpless man, bound and beaten, the sudden surge of the drugs into his body was almost more than he could bear. It had been bad enough before, his memories and his life jumbled and confused but now it was worse. As the tendrils of white hot agony flared across the synapses of his brain he felt as if the last of his sanity was being destroyed. The images of his life scrolled across the underside of his closed eyes as clearly as if he was watching a vid-screen, he saw all the people who had touched his life and made him the man he was... or maybe the man he used to be. He could no longer hold back the unshed tears the Doctor had seen and as they squeezed from beneath his scrunched closed eyes he whispered;

"I'm sorry."

His captors heard his mumbled words and sprung on them. It was the first real sign that their prisoner might be breaking.

"Why are you sorry?"

The question shook their captive, he didn't know, he wasn't sure.

Why was he sorry?

What he was sorry for?

He didn't have an answer and the more he thought about the question the more his head pounded and the more his reality seemed to slip from his grasp. He didn't even know who he said it to, was it to his memories, his captors or even to himself. He had always believed that he had done the best he could. Sometimes it hadn't been good enough, but it was all he had... his words and his actions.

His honour.

Despite not getting an answer the interrogators pressed their weak lead.

"Have you failed to do what you came here to do, is that why you're sorry?"

What had he come to do? Why did his reason desert him now, when he felt like he needed it most? He was here to do something important....but what?

"What did you come here for?"

"I don't know...can't remember." His words were slurred and almost incoherent like the thoughts that gave rise to them.

"Tell me your name and then I can help you. Who are you?"

That question again.

Who are you?

Why was she asking him now?

She knew who he was...didn't she?

It was her... wasn't it...he could tell her.

A blinding surge of agony blew through his shattered mind pushing all thoughts of her, of what he was doing here from his mind, replacing them with an overwhelming pain. He opened his mouth to speak his name, to speak her name but all that came out was the groan of a man fighting to maintain his hold on reality, trying to stop the feeling that somehow, something wasn't quite right from overwhelming him.

"A..." It was her name, his name it was a cry of agony. It was all the sound he could make as once again the never ending pain in his head took his reason and smashed it against the bleak rocks of despair before plunging him into the endless dark depths of unconsciousness.

Awake again, with a blinding rush of sensations he neither wanted nor could handle.

In pain again, his body still aching and bleeding from the beatings, his mind still aching and spinning with the effort of remembering. He could remember...everything.

Everything that had been done to him, both here and in his life before this place. His mind was still his, still intact and undamaged...well maybe not totally undamaged but enough for him to know and remember. Even the things he didn't want to...why he didn't know or care.

He was awake and alive and now, for the first time, he wished he wasn't.

He couldn't take any more; he didn't want to take any more.

He was tired and he hurt, he just wanted an end to it.

He couldn't believe he had thought he could do what he came here to do. That he could ever hope to be brave and strong... and crazy enough to survive.

He wasn't a fool.

He wasn't brave

He hadn't thought he was crazy!

As he lay in his cell battered, bloodied, his body broken, his mind shattered, his breaking point almost reached, he knew he couldn't go on. He couldn't hold on for Shrinker. His Will was fading, his cause seemed lost. His faith in his own abilities had been destroyed, agonisingly eaten away with every fist or foot or worse that he had endured.

He had been looking for something to believe in and when he found it, it had made him dangerous and irrational.

It had led him to a reality that he didn't expect, full of pain and unanswered questions, not least those he asked himself.

The realisation that his trust in himself had been misplaced was hard to bear. He thought he knew himself better but he had discovered that relying on trust was dangerous.

Painful, stupid and ultimately dangerous.

Behind his closed eyes her face floated in and out of focus, and no matter how hard he tried he couldn't make her go away.

He opened his eyes to the harsh glare of his cell, stared at the light until his eyes ached but when he closed them again she was still there.

Why was she the only thing he could see, the only thing he could concentrate on? Maybe because she had been the only person he had ever truly trusted...with everything he had.

He may have misplaced his trust in himself but his trust in her, he believed, was justified, solid, unwavering.

He had loved her.... he still did....he thought he always would and that was why she plagued him now. That and the fact he had, through his own stupidity, got her killed.

Her face drifted through his thoughts again, except now once more it was battered and bloody, scarred with angry red marks that he knew came from the favourite tools of the interrogators. Without thinking he traced the same red scars on his face and body as if by his touch he could bring them closer together.

A voice taunted him, taunted his memories of her. It wasn't her voice... it was that of her brother, a man who had sworn to kill him and yet had let him live. Now he wished he hadn't because then he wouldn't be where he was now, lost and alone, in pain and pushed right to the limit of his ability to cope.

The voice told him that she had been tortured for over a week... so long! He had no idea how long he had been incarcerated, time meant nothing to him, it was unimportant. Staying alive was important, waiting for Shrinker was important and beyond that there was nothing.

He couldn't believe, maybe didn't want to believe, that she had been subjected to the same horrors, the same nightmares and the same pain that he had been. How could she have been?

If he could have turned back the clock and taken her place then, given his life to save her, he would have done, he still would. But it was too late...he was too late. She had survived for a week, told them nothing and died for them. She had died for him.

Now his thoughts of giving up, of telling them what they wanted to hear just to save his own skin sickened him. How could he be so weak? How could he think that she meant so little to him that he would fail to do the one thing left that he could for her?

Find the man who killed her and ....exact his...her...their revenge.

He searched his mind for an answer and everywhere he looked there she was. Sometimes she was unmarked, her face creased with a smile just as it had been the last time he saw her, a laugh on her lips.

Sometimes she was bruised and bloody her face crumpled in agony, tears spilling from her eyes, a scream on her lips.

Carefully he rolled from where he lay until his back obscured the view of the camera and as his vision of her finally began to fade he gave in to the powerful emotion that filled him and let his tears fall.

Her cried for her, for what he had done to her.

He cried for them, for what they had lost, for all the things they never did.

He cried for himself, for his weakness, for his failings, for his one and only love.

In his mind he touched her face one last time, kissed her lips. In his cell he whispered quietly, so very, very quietly.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I'll find him for you and then I'll kill him for you. After that..."

He didn't know what came after that. Would he be satisfied with killing Shrinker or would it leave more questions than it answered? He didn't know and, just now in the cold bright cell, he didn't have the energy to care. He had to save his strength to endure whatever he had to for as long as it took. Once he found Shrinker the answers would take care of themselves.

His weakness faded with his vision of her and now they were both gone and he was once more alone. Except now he knew he wasn't alone, he had never been alone, she had always been with him, inside him. Although he hadn't realised it before the thoughts of her had kept him strong. Now he knew that there was nothing they could do to him that would stop him from achieving his goal. Nothing except killing him....again and he knew that even death didn't have to mean the end.

He took a deep breath and wiped the last of his tears away with his hand. He was once more ready to face the interrogators, the thugs, the questions. He wasn't brave but he would survive. He had to.

Emotionally drained and physically wrecked he fell into a deep and surprisingly restful sleep. There were no dreams to fill his mind, no nightmares to wake him screaming, nothing but the healing rest of a body pushed to the brink.

He was only just awake as the door to his cell hissed open and the small room was once more filled with the oppressive, menacing bulk of the two men who had from that very first day taken pleasure in his pain, taken pleasure in inflicting his pain. Groggily he rose to his feet shaking off the last cobwebs of sleep as they bound his red raw wrists behind him and began the short journey to the interrogation room.

The routine had never varied, he knew it so well. He knew every step of the way and the screams and sounds of torture that occasionally filled the air no longer bothered him. How long ago it seemed when the sound of a scream made his blood run cold.

The questions were the same, as was his silence. The pain was the same, fists and feet, laser probes and stun batons. Nothing new or original. His interrogators had thought they had broken him with physical and mental pain, with death and with drugs. They had so nearly succeeded too...now as once again he fell bleeding to the floor, silent and still defiant they knew they had lost. This man would never break, not for them, maybe not even for Shrinker. Whatever had happened to their prisoner after he had passed out had brought them back a changed man. That shouldn't have happened.

He should have broken by now, he should have fallen to his knees and begged them to stop, begged them to let him speak, to tell them everything. Instead he had come back before them stronger, more defiant. That shouldn't have happened.

They looked out at the figures before them; the two enforcers had pulled the prisoner to his feet and now had him suspended by his wrists, his feet swinging free of the floor. They were beating him using long slender flexible whips that not only gashed his skin but also crackled with electricity, discharging their power with a harsh snap at the end of every blow.

His body twisted and writhed under the onslaught of the whips, blood flicked from his body splattering the pristine clothing of his torturers. He kept silent, biting his lip against the pain, just the slightest gasp escaping him when the tip of the whip sliced low across his naked backside.

His two antagonists circled him, never speaking, the gleam of sadistic pleasure in their eyes before unleashing another furious barrage of lashes from the electric whips, this time leaving no part of his body unmarked.

He threw his head back, his eyes tightly closed, he didn't want or need to see them to feel what they were doing to him. He forced his mind to think of her and pushed the pain down deep inside him, to a place where he could control it, and not let it control him. It wasn't easy, even with her help, to hold back the cries as his body swung freely between each fresh moment of agony.

As another stripe laid claim to his groin he felt the first welcoming pull of unconsciousness at the edges of his mind, but it never came. The blows stopped and he was left hanging there, the silence of the room only broken by his laboured breathing.

Behind the glass his two interrogators had turned at the sound of somebody entering the room. On seeing who it was they made to stand up.

"Don't get up gentlemen." Shrinker's voice was deceptively calm as he stared through the mirror at the scene unfolding before him. "I believe you have a problem?"

The two men cast hurried glances in the other's direction. They were in trouble, they had been unable to break a man who should have posed them no problem, and now they had to explain themselves to Shrinker. If they were lucky he wouldn't kill them where they sat.

"No Sir, not a problem as such, more like..."

"More like what?" He roared. "Call off your thugs, take him away and patch him up." He snatched the vid-disc that held the recording of the past five days from the console. "When you have done that report to me in my office and you'd better have a damn good reason why `he'", Shrinker nodded in the direction of the prisoner who now hung limply in his bonds, breathing heavily, "hasn't told you anything".

Without waiting for an answer or an explanation Shrinker turned and stormed from the room. He didn't like being dragged away from his work with the elite prisoners in the Federation's `care' to deal with an insignificant computer hacker. He had already decided he would make them all pay for this, he just hadn't decided how.

The prisoner didn't know or care why the beating had stopped he was just relieved that it had. He knew his ordeal wasn't yet over even through the pain of the tissue regenerator and the long painful return to consciousness, he knew it would never be over until he got Shrinker.

Shocked from his reverie by the gloating sound of Shrinker's voice, he looked once more on the face of the man who had cost him everything. Now he had him the last five days felt like they had gone on forever and yet it was no time at all, just like her, he had survived, but unlike for her, for him help and salvation from this hell, was on its way.

*******

"You're friends aren't coming."

"Oh they are. They must!"

"An attack on this place would be suicide anyway. Is there anyone who thinks that you're worth dying for?"

Was there? Did anybody care if he lived or died? Maybe those he shared his life on the run with cared for him but he doubted it, he wasn't a man who gave his emotions or his trust easily.

Those they were on the run from certainly didn't care, all they wanted was to see him dead.

Him and those who now followed him. It seemed like nobody cared. But she had cared, she had told him she loved him and he had believed her. She had cared for him and he had cared for her.

Now she was dead. Now he was dead, at least inside he was dead. Now even he didn't care.

"Not anymore. Not since Anna."

There he'd said it, spoken her name, something he hadn't done for a long time apart from in his dreams. He was surprised how steady his voice was, how calm he felt inside, he thought he would have crumbled at the thought of her, at the sound of her name. He had never loved anyone like he had loved her and he never would.

Ever.

"Anna?"

"Dead. Anna is dead."

The stark reality of what he knew to be true. The words were almost enough to undo him, to do to him what five days at the hands of the best Federation torturers had failed to do.

To make him give up

Almost enough....

But, despite the fact he knew she was dead he still needed to know, still needed an answer to the question that plagued his nightmares.

Did his actions send her to her death; did he betray her trust and send her here, to be tortured and killed?

Shrinker had moved closer now, reached into a pocket on his uniform and produced a laser probe.

No more Mr Nice Guy.

No more verbal sparring.

It was time for Shrinker... the Federation's top interrogator to get to work, to find out who this man was and what he wanted, what he knew.

"Do you know what this is?"

"It's a laser probe." His voice was a flat monotone; he'd seen laser probes before. In fact he'd seen and felt them before as they burnt into his skin and stole his breath away. Remembering the pain, he dug down inside himself once more and found that he had just a little strength left. It would have to be enough.

"It's a laser probe and we are tired of waiting for your friends to come to us, so we have decided to go to them. You're going to tell me who they are and where they are."

Damn!

The prisoner knew his time was running out.

He hoped those he had entrusted his life to were on their way because he knew that Shrinker meant business and that this time there would be nothing to save him from death except giving him what he wanted, and even that might not be enough. He had to hang on just a little longer. Stall him just a little longer.

Come on ..... hurry up.

You said you'd be watching and waiting.

Hurry, please.

"I can't. Please. I can't...."

Shrinker was in full flow now, his eyes gleaming with anticipation.

"I'm going to start by burning out your eyes."

"Please..." A plaintive plea as Shrinker moved closer he was menacingly waving the laser probe in his hand.

"And you're going to start by telling me your name. Now that's not too difficult now is it? Who are you?"

The captive heard a faint yet familiar sound somewhere in the corridor beyond his cell.

They were here.

He was safe...

"Avon. My name is Avon."

Shrinker stopped briefly - he knew that name. But why did he know that name? Wasn't there something about that name that was important, important to the people he worked for?

Important to President Servalan?

He repeated the name as if it would help him remember.

"Avon?"

Now it was Avon's turn to surprise him.

"And you misunderstand about the homing device. My friends won't come while it's sending but now I've switched it off...."

A strong male voice came from behind Shrinker, inside the impenetrable fortress of his cell.

"And we're here."

He had done it!

He had survived the best and the worst the Federation had thrown at him and he had got Shrinker.

Shrinker... the final piece of the puzzle, the man who could tell him about her.... about Anna.

Had he known the eventual consequences of his actions and the ultimate price he would pay for Shrinker's information he would wish he had died back during those five long days.


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