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The Thousandth Man

By Helen Parkinson
Page 2 of 15

The mutoids had marched the shocked and appalled Blake out when Servalan's intercom sounded again.  "Yes?"

"Madame President, your personal flyer is here."

"Already?"

"Yes, Madame.  You wanted to check the arrangements for the reception personally."

"Very well. Tell the pilot we want flight plans for tomorrow."

"But Madame..."

"Tomorrow."  She cut the connection.  Normally she would have been furious with Leese for taking such liberties, but not today.  Not when she had Avon and Blake in her grasp, to play with as she willed.  Blake would tell her all she wanted to know; his personality profile proved he would not allow Avon to be hurt for his sake.  Then later, when the rebels here on Earth were dealt with, she would use Blake to work on Avon.  Servalan considered a moment longer, the re-opened the communications channel.

"Madame President?"  The response was immediate and contrite.  Leese was aware he had overstepped the accepted boundary.

"Has Shrinker been given his orders with respect to the prisoner Avon?"

'Yes, Madame."

"Very well."  She cut the connection.  "Let it begin."  Shrinker was very good at his job.  Avon would suffer if Blake did not talk, but Servalan had no doubt Blake would surrender.  He would suffer a great deal for his cause, but he would not watch Avon suffer.  All the psych reports confirmed that, and when she was finished with the rebels here, Avon and Blake would give her the Liberator.  She had failed with Avon on Sarran, something for which he would pay dearly, and soon, but she had the measure of his price now.

***

Blake sat on the ledge that pretended it was a bed, head in hands, his mind racing in circles.  He could not tell Servalan what the rebels were doing - so many people would die if he did so - but he couldn't watch someone else hurting for his beliefs.  If Avon believed it too, it might not have been so bad.  Avon, he knew, would suffer for what he believed in, for people he knew, but for strangers?  Avon never had any time for the nameless rabble.  Blake had to choose.  The lives of a number of rebels, people he didn't really know, had never met for the most part, against the suffering of a man he called his friend.  He knew which way his heart wanted to jump.  The thought of watching Avon hurt actually made him feel physically sick, but to talk was to condemn Avon to death, an idea with no more appeal.  There was no good on either side: hope only one way.  Abruptly, that made up Blake's mind.  He would keep silent, not simply to protect the people he did not know, but who believed as he did, but because he would not condemn Avon to death and because he still believed that 'where there's life there's hope.'  He would not give Servalan the information she wanted; he would allow Avon to suffer in the hope a chance for escape would come.  He would take the chance for life, however small it was and whatever the cost.  Avon would understand the reasoning, and if he did not, it as still better that Avon should live, even hating him, than that he should die.

Blake jumped as the door to his cell opened and a man walked in.

"Get up," the guard ordered.  Blake obeyed, considering for a moment jumping his visitor.  However he could see other guards outside the cell, and then Servalan walked in.

"Have you decided to cooperate?" she asked.

"Go to hell," he replied.

Servalan smiled.  It was as she expected.  Blake didn't really believe she would do as she promised.  "Oh, Blake, you have no idea, do you?  It is Avon you have condemned to hell."  She turned away abruptly.  Again Blake considered acting.  He knew he didn't have a hope of succeeding, that getting himself killed was probably the best result he could expect, but if he were dead, they could not use him to hurt Avon.  Then she was gone, the moment passed.  A guard pushed him in the back.

"Move," he barked. Blake shuffled forward, still looking for a way out and finding none.  A door opened in front of him and he was pushed inside.  The room was bare save for a chair set with restraint straps facing a blank viewscreen.  An observation room, Blake realised.  He was forced into the chair and the restraints were applied.  Trapped now, able to do nothing to help either himself or Avon, haunted by thoughts of what was to come, plagued by doubts about his decision, by the fact he might have misjudged Servalan, that she could be capable of worse things than he believed, Blake waited.

The interrogator was speaking a he came to stand in front of Blake.  "All you have to do is answer my questions.  Simply indicate you are ready to speak and this will stop.  Otherwise it continues as long as he lives."

"You won't kill him," Blake stated with a certainty he wished he felt.

"You think not?"

Blake opened his mouth to reply; when the screen in front of him came to life, he closed it with a snap.  This wasn't a viewscreen, he realised.  He wasn't even going to be able to console himself with the fact that he was divorced from the action.  It was simply a glass wall and he was looking directly into the interrogation room.  There would be no camera tricks here, no doubting it was real.  He was to see it all, as it happened.

A stocky, darkly bearded man was checking some equipment in the other room.  He glanced their way briefly.  "Are you ready?" he asked.  The man with Blake activated the wall communicator.

"Yes," he said.  He glanced at Blake, who shook his head.  "Blake is being uncooperative."

"Good.  I hate to waste my time," the other replied.  He moved to the door and spoke briefly to one of the guards.  The man left, returning moments later with Avon.

Blake couldn't help but react to Avon's arrival.  The other was flanked by guards, not to watch him but apparently to see he stayed on his feet.  He was dressed in a dirty prison coverall, the twin of Blake's, barefoot, unshaven and most unlike the fastidious man Blake remembered from the Liberator.  His hands were bound behind his back and he ought to have been a picture of defeat, but as he came into the room he straightened and looked around, carefully appraising the contents, occupants and even the mirrored glass that covered one wall.  In that cold stare directed just for a moment directly at him, Blake saw the man he knew.  A chill crept along his spine as Avon's eyes appeared to meet his in cold disdain, but Avon showed no sign of recognition, no sign hat he had seen anything at all.  Blake realised that from Avon's side the glass was probably a mirror.

Avon recognised the mirrored wall for what it was.  Someone would be watching all of this, unseen.  That someone would, he assumed, be Servalan.  She would enjoy this after Sarran and that debacle on the Liberator, of that there was no doubt in Avon's mind.  Suddenly he felt quite sick.  A black clad man stepped into his field of view, and Avon looked at him.

"I hear you haven't been cooperating," the man asked him softly.

Avon hesitated for a moment, watching the mirror.  He didn't like providing entertainment.  Still, he had chosen this hand; now he had to play it.  "What's the matter?" he asked bitterly.  "Did I bleed on the wrong bit of floor?"

Blake's stomach cramped at Avon's question.  He didn't hear the interrogator's reply, but Avon's quiet "Don't let me detain you," was pure spite.  Avon hadn't surrendered anything yet, Blake realised.  He watched as Avon studied the dark man for a moment, straining to hear what was said.

"You wouldn't be Shrinker, by any chance?" Avon asked.

"You've heard of me," Shrinker said, waving Avon's guards to take him towards the waiting chair.  Blake, watching Avon's face, was puzzled to see something like relief flash in his eyes at the other's confirmation of his name.

"I was waiting for you," Avon said.  He couldn't help the relief that was surging through his veins, though he knew it was most inappropriate.  He couldn't signal the Liberator now.  Even if his hands had been free, he couldn't call the others down into the middle of this.  He was almost finished, however, and with an end in sight perhaps the present would be just a little more bearable.  He glanced backwards to look at Shrinker's face.  The expression was hungry.  "Then again," he muttered, "perhaps not."

"That says more for your nerves than your brains," Shrinker replied.

Avon turned properly.  "You think so?" he asked, reflecting that Shrinker could very well be right.  One of the guards unfastened the restraints from Avon's wrists and pushed him towards the chair.  Avon went along with it.  At the last minute, Shrinker spoke.

"Wait."  He glanced up to where he knew Blake was watching.  "Soften him up a bit," he suggested to the guard.  The guard was surprised.  In his opinion the prisoner was softened up quite enough.  However, as his company commander would say, 'orders is orders.'  He glanced across at his partner and shrugged.

Avon was aware enough to react to Shrinker's orders, but there was little he could do to resist or evade the guard's blows.  One grabbed him from behind while the other punched.  They avoided his face, going instead for his chest and abdomen.  When he was finally released, Avon dropped to his knees, but that didn't stop them.

Blake's companion moved closer to him as the beating began.  "How can you let this go on?" he asked Blake softly.  "This man is your friend.  How can you let them do this to him?  One word from you and it will stop," the voice went on, softly persuasive, and Blake couldn't shut it out, just as he couldn't shut out the events in the other room.  He gripped the arms of the chair, fingernails digging into the uncompromising metal, sickened and afraid, but he didn't look away.

Finally Shrinker called a halt.  He looked at the shivering heap on the floor, then across at the monitor.  The light still shone red - Blake still wasn't talking.  "Get him up," he ordered.  The guards pulled Avon to his feet, but he couldn't stand.  As soon as they let him go, he collapsed, hitting the floor hard, and was sick.  Ever fastidious, Shrinker stepped rapidly away from the mess.  "Strip him to his waist," he said, and glanced again at the monitor.  "I need a little flesh to work with.  And get him in the chair."  He turned then to the instrument tray, standing for a long moment regarding the laser probe that lay there.  He liked to use that, but Servalan wanted Avon recoverable, at least for the moment.  Reluctantly, Shrinker picked up a neural sensor rod and turned to face his subject. 


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