First Catch Your TorturerBy Helen Parkinson
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As soon as the teleport released them Avon unclipped his bracelet and gave it
"Are you sure?" she asked, unwilling to leave him alone, and with no way of escape, here of all places.
"Yes," he replied shortly. "Now go, but stay alert. I don't know how long this will take, but once I signal I'd rather you weren't too long responding."
"We will be ready, Avon," she assured him. Frightened by the bleakness in his eyes, she reached out to touch his arm. Avon moved abruptly from her, turning his back.
"Go, Dayna, before you are seen." Her hand dropped away from him then. For a long moment she stared at his back, then she raised her bracelet and looked away.
"Vila, bring me up." She lifted her head to look at Avon, suddenly afraid she would not see him again. "Take care," she whispered and was gone.
Avon turned when the sound of the teleport died. He stared at the spot where Dayna had been standing, but it was not Dayna he saw. His expression would have surprised the crew of Liberator as a voice echoed in his memory. A gentle voice, loving and concerned. 'Take care, my love,' the last she had ever said to him, 'Take care.' Soundlessly his mouth formed a single word, a name, and the pain in his eyes gave way to anger.
"I have to do it," he whispered. "I made a promise." Avon turned abruptly to the door of he small storeroom, banishing the voices from his mind with difficulty. 'Concentrate,' he thought, 'concentrate.'
Dayna removed her bracelet and put it in the rack. She held Avon's for a moment, then replaced it. Vila, at the controls, watched her with a frown between his eyes.
"All right?" he asked her, concerned for Avon. Vila knew how hard it had been for the other man to ask for their help, not only because it required he talk about his closely guarded past, but because Avon had been afraid they would refuse him. He didn't need much from them, just transport, or so he said. The truth was he needed to trust them. He needed to know they would stay in orbit, would wait for him and would come to get him out when he called. That was what had taken the most effort, Vila knew. Not explaining that he had a past. No, he could cover his love for Anna with words about hate and destroying the evils of the Federation. Avon could even lie to himself with words like that, but he couldn't lie about trusting them. Vila had seen what it had cost Avon to admit, not with words but with his plan, that he trusted them and he had watched the others of this crew rise to accept that trust without even realizing that was what they were doing. He'd seen Blake do it a number of times, present them with the impossible and expect them to get on with it, and they had. By the act of assuming they would be loyal he had made them loyal. Vila wondered as he had listened to Avon explaining his plan if the other man was even aware of the similarity, of the fact he had learned the manipulative skills he had accused Blake of so often, and was now using them himself.
Dayna looked at Vila for a moment. "He hasn't been right since this thing began," she replied. "But he's no worse." She looked round the room. "Where's Cally?" she asked. "Her conscience got the better of her again?"
Cally had surprised them all, most especially Vila when she had refused Avon's plan. She had listened with all of them to Avon's description of what had happened to Anna. He hadn't offered many details but then, they hadn't really needed those, had they? Vila had seen the compassion for Anna in Cally's eyes and he knew she cared for Avon, so when she had said she would not help, he had been stunned. Avon had been shocked too and it had shown, shown first in hurt, which he covered rapidly, and then in anger which he showed them all. Still Cally had resisted, taking a moralist's stand in a situation where they could see no clear moral viewpoint. Cally alone had refused to help and tried to stop him, but Avon had been determined, so Cally watched, uninvolved.
"Gone to her cabin," Vila replied. "She still wants no part of this. I wish I knew why." Dayna shook her head. She did not understand Cally either. The man Avon was looking for was evil and Dayna believed Avon was right to want to stop him. Surely, she reasoned, this was just another way of striking at the Federation, following Blake's dreams, and wasn't that what Cally wanted?
Avon stepped out into the corridor. It was deserted, just as a corridor in a Federation maximum security building ought to be. The smell of the recycled air, the look of the grey walls and the feel of tiles beneath his feet brought memories tearing back.
It had happened so long ago, but the pain was as intense now as it had been then. Avon took a deep breath and started walking. As he moved he couldn't help but wonder about what had happened on Earth. The Federation was still in control; Orac's information was that little had changed with the destruction of Star One. The resistance had been growing; it should have taken control and yet it had not. The war had caused disruption, even riots, yet the old guard still ruled. He couldn't help but wonder why.
Avon thrust the thought aside as he turned into a more well-used corridor. He had to concentrate now and who knew for how long? He could not afford to let his attention wander, especially not in the direction of rebels and failed revolutionaries. Bad enough that Anna's face swam unbidden before his eye, smiling at him, loving him, trusting him. He could see her clearly now, hear her voice. Perhaps Cally is right, he mused, perhaps I should not have come, should have left the dead to lie in peace. But Anna did not. Anna cried out for revenge. She entered his thoughts when least expected, and least wanted, coloring his words and actions with her fate. Only when his promise was kept would she be still. Only then would he be free. To end his own pain Avon knew all he had to do was find Shrinker.
Shrinker. The name sent a chill through him. Find Shrinker and avenge Anna. That was all he had to do to keep his promise, and Avon never broke his word. Just one act, no more immoral than destroying Federation bases, or killing Federation troops. So why had Cally denied him? Why had she of all of them refused him? Avon did not understand. He remembered her face as he had told his story. It had been her eyes and hers alone he could meet as he asked for their help, because she was the one he was most certain would not let him down, would not deny him her trust. He had expected her to understand his need for revenge and she had not. That had been a shock and the pain it caused a surprise, but Avon swallowed the pain in anger and ignored her. Because she would not help, he turned away; because she would not help him, he would not need her.
Avon saw the security camera and smiled slightly. It was very obvious; so too was the sensor beam that cut across his path. He paused a moment, he needed luck now. If he was to get to Shrinker he needed more luck than he'd ever had before, and he had never been a lucky man.
Avon took a deep breath and stepped forward to break the beam. The alarm would be sounding now. Not far away a group of troopers would be leaping to their feet, grabbing for helmets and guns. Avon shuddered slightly. Then, back straight, he walked into the camera's field of view, trying hard to look like a wandering Alpha tech, or at worst an incompetent saboteur. They had to take him for a fool. If he was recognised, it was not just his life on the line. Avon kept moving though his spine tingled in anticipation of a laser shot. Federation troops were not subtle but he was relying on their commander's curiosity. Relying on the fact that they would want to know how he had managed to penetrate so far into a security complex, and would not kill him out of hand. Relying on a need for information to keep him alive. It was a risk, but in his opinion an acceptable one. He was also relying on their not using drugs on him. Drugs were, mostly, reliable but they were not that popular with Federation elite; they took all the fun out of finding things out. Torture was still the way most interrogators liked to work; it was cheap, effective and fun. If no one cared about the prisoner, I he wasn't wanted for trial or reprogramming, interrogators liked to keep their hand in. As long as they did not know who he was, Avon was certain, he would not be drugged. Anyway from all he'd heard of Shrinker, drugs were not something he liked at all. He by far preferred inflicting pain. He was a man who wanted to enjoy his work.
The appearance of the guards was sudden, almost unexpected. They surrounded Avon in seconds, their weapons raised. He froze, then slowly raised his arms. Avon stood silently in the centre of the group, turning to look from masked face to masked face, looking for their commander. Unable to se their faces, he could not gauge their mood.
"Glad to see you've got some sense," the commander said, moving towards him. He pulled Avon's arms down and fastened them behind his back. A second man checked him for weapons, producing a small gun and a knife. Avon tested the restraints. Federation handcuffs. It was a long time since he had felt the bite of these.
"How did you get in here?" the commander demanded.
Avon did not reply. He simply stared, silently, past the guard's head. The trooper struck him a stinging blow across the face. Avon staggered, finding keeping his balance difficult with his hands bound.
"How did you get here?" the guard repeated. Still Avon did not speak. The mark of the blow was burning his cheek and he tasted blood where he had bitten his own lip. The black gloved hand lashed out again. Tensed for a second slap, Avon doubled over when the blow turned into a punch. "Are you alone?"
Slowly Avon straightened. Defiantly he looked at the guard but still he did not speak. Avon dearly wished he could see the other's face, to see what he was thinking. To misjudge this man now could well turn out to be fatal. The guard raised his gloved hand once again. Avon tensed.
"Why waste the effort, Carl?" a second trooper asked. "Security will have him talking in an hour."
"I enjoy it," Carl replied, hitting Avon again, knocking him into the wall. "Are you going to answer me?" Avon leaned against the wall, trying to breathe. Still he did not reply. The arm went back.
"Carl, send the squad to search, let's get back to the game," the second man said, moving until he was almost between Avon and the other. Carl lowered his arm slowly, then, as Avon relaxed, backhanded him. Surprised and hurt, Avon hit the floor.
"You'll be sorry," the commander spat at him. "When security's finished with you there won't be enough left to bury." He turned away. "Bring him," he ordered.
The trooper who had stopped the beating grabbed Avon by the elbow and jerked him to his feet. He pushed Avon roughly forward until he was surrounded by the guards and marched him on.
Avon allowed himself to relax slightly. It was all going according to plan. Well, he amended as a misjudged step jarred his bruises, almost according to plan. It would not be too long now.
Cally sat in her cabin, her thoughts with Avon. She had not wanted him to do this. She had tried every argument and had got nowhere. Now she was afraid, desperately afraid. She knew Avon saw her refusal to help him as a betrayal, but she could not help the way she felt. Nor could she really explain. She had followed Blake when she knew destroying Star One would cause millions of deaths. Now Avon asked for her help to kill just one man, an evil man, a man who had himself killed hundreds, and she turned away. How could Avon see it as anything but betrayal? Cally was afraid of what Avon would find when he went back. Avon believed he was expunging the past, exorcising a ghost, but Cally knew it could not be that way. She had watched as the past became more and more overwhelming. She saw the pain in Avon's eyes increase, but she could do nothing. Her rejection of Avon's plan, her refusal to help, though she knew what such a request had cost, put a barrier between them. Now she could not take it down and he would not. She had tried one last time just before he left. Avon had refused to listen to her and now he was gone. Why could she not rid herself of the belief it was forever?
Cally shivered and coldness abruptly overwhelmed her. She called Vila. "Have you heard from Avon?" she asked him.
"No. Why, is something wrong?"
"I think he has been caught," Cally replied. "Oh. Right. Good, I suppose," Vila replied, clearly unsure how to respond. "It's all going according to plan, then." He paused a moment. "Cally, can you come up down here for a while? I'll go to the cave and set it up."
"Are you certain you should do this, Vila?" "I promised him," Vila replied and cut the connection.
Cally arrived just as Vila had decided she wasn't going to bother. She looked very pale and he leaped to his feet. "Are you all right, Cally? Shall I go and get Dayna?"
Cally shook her head and sat slowly on the couch. "I am fine, Vila," she said, finding a gentle smile for the concerned man. It seemed to work, as Vila went back to collecting the things Avon had asked him to set up in he cave. "Vila?" she asked, watching him. "Are you sure we should do this?"
Vila stopped and turned to look at her. "What is wrong, Cally?" he asked finally. "Why won't you help Avon?" He walked over to her. "You said this was murder, but Shrinker is a murderer, so that makes it an execution, really."
"Does it, Vila? Who appointed us judge, jury and executioner?" she snapped. Vila stepped back, shocked by the venom in her question.
"You let Blake be all those things. He set himself up as the judge of what was right for the entire galaxy and you followed him. Avon only makes those sort of decisions for himself. Why do you have to hurt him like this?"
Cally's eyes dropped to consider her hands. "I am afraid," she said very quietly.
"Afraid, why? I mean I know it's not exactly one of Avon's best ideas, letting himself get caught by the Federation, but he has got that transmitter, hasn't he?" Vila paused a moment. "He can ask to come up any time he wants and we'd know if he... if anything happened to him."
"I know that, but I fear for him." She looked ready to explain, then Tarrant arrived. "Ready to go down yet, Vila?" he asked, completely oblivious to the atmosphere in the room.
"Yes," Vila replied. He knew Cally would say no more while Tarrant was there. "Cally is going to operate the teleport for me."
"I thought you might decide not to go," Tarrant continued. "After all, the teleport is the only way in or out, you know."
"I do know that," Vila said, stepping into the chamber. "I'm going. I promised Avon." Tarrant shrugged, then smiled and moved to operate the teleport, as ally seemed locked in some sort of daydream. Cally jumped as his hand moved into her field of view, then looked past him to Vila.
"Be careful," she advised as he winked out of existence.
The days passed for Avon in a haze of pain and waiting. He lost track of the passage of time and could only judge the days by the regular arrival of some interrogator or other, and the start of some new round of pain and questions. Days passed in a bare room with a shelf for a bed and a door which led to questions and torment. He had to admit the interrogators were nothing if not inventive and persistent. Days passed in which he forgot who he was because he must never tell them, but he never forgot why he was there. Days passed and he forgot there was anything other than black uniforms and pain, and the need to find one man.
Days passed as Avon lay on a shelf for a bed, dressed in a scruffy prison suit, barefoot and unshaven, and waited. He was so very tired, and he hurt, but still he waited. Waited through humiliation, agony, threats and simple sleep deprivation, waited for just one man.
On Liberator, four people also waited, with varying degrees of patience and apprehension. Orac monitored the security computers, but no mention of Avon's name appeared. They didn't know whether to be relieved or more worried by this. All of the four knew of the Federation's methods with uncooperative prisoners, and twice they debated going in. But the sensor implant still carried its promise of continued life, so they held back. While Avon still lived they would follow his plan.
Vila practically lived in the teleport section. Orac could do the job, but a man was quicker, and Cally, who wanted none of this, waited with him.
Avon heard a noise, a scream, not unusual in this place. He tried to shut it out, tied not to hear it, but it was impossible to be unaware. Not long ago it had been him screaming in pain, finally unable to resist, but he had not told his name. How much longer he could go on he did not know. There were more screams, more pain. It surrounded him, invaded him, the pain and cries becoming a part of him as if there had never been anything else, and never would be and still he would not surrender his name.
Avon rolled on the shelf that masqueraded as a bed. He was tired beyond exhaustion and hurt beyond reason but he heard a noise and turned to face it. Footsteps were coming his way. No more, he pleaded silently, his prayer echoed in another man's screams. The footsteps stopped and the door began to rise. Avon sat up slowly, leaning on his elbows. A man walked into the cell, stopped and looked at Avon.
"They tell me you haven't been cooperating."
"No? What's the matter? Did I bleed on the wrong bit of floor?" Avon asked. He hid his fear from the stranger but he could not hide it from himself.
"Good, good," the man said. He sounded pleased as if he was looking forward to something.
"I'm glad you are pleased." Avon's reply was sarcastic, but a ghost of what it used to be. He was very tired.
"I hate to waste my time," the other continued. Avon's hopes lifted a little.
"Don't let me detain you."
"I'm a specialist, you see." It was as if Avon hadn't spoken.
"It's written all over you."
"I specialize in uncooperative prisoners."
"And you love a challenge." The man came closer. 'Shrinker', a voice in Avon's head said softly.
"It's good that we understand each other."
"You name wouldn't be Shrinker, by any chance, would it?" Avon asked.
"You've heard of me," Shrinker replied, the pride of an artist who has his work admired by his next subject. Avon was almost too exhausted to feel anything, but it was over at last.
"I knew if I held out you would show up eventually."
"That says more for your nerve than your brain," Shrinker advised him.
"You think so?" Avon replied, lowering his hand from his neck. It was over, and yet it had only just begun. He hurt and he was tired. Soon, Anna, you can rest, he thought softly to himself. Yet there was no feeling of pleasure, no anticipation. He had waited too long, endured too much. All that was left was raw pain. Avon didn't want to go on, but he had no choice.
Avon looked up at Shrinker's face and saw a death's head. "I was waiting for you," he said softly. "I thought you'd never show up."
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