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The Thousandth Man

By Helen Parkinson
Page 1 of 15

The door to the office opened and Blake was pushed inside by one of the guards.  He hit the desk hard and put out his hands to keep himself upright, grateful that, just this once, they hadn't seen fit to bind him.  Hitting the desk again would have hurt; the woman behind it didn't even flinch.  Blake pushed himself away from it, trying to cover his surprise at seeing Servalan sitting there.  He failed and knew it when the woman smiled.  Blake was certain now that he was about to die.  He'd been expecting it for two days, ever since they'd stopped questioning him, and now here it was.  Why else would the President of the Terran Federation come, all this way?  Prison visiting, even celebrity prison visiting, was not one of her duties.

"Blake, she greeted him pleasantly, setting his teeth on edge.  "You don't look at all well, do sit down."  She indicated a chair and the mutoid who guarded her, interpreting it as a command, pushed Blake down into it.  "I have something I wanted to show you," Servalan continued.

For a brief moment Blake was afraid.  Could she have discovered the plan?  He doubted it, but the idea was worrying all the same.  They were so very close to completion.  "You have nothing of interest to how me," he told her.  "Don't let's waste time.  Sign the warrant."  False bravado.  He knew it and suspected she did too.  But it was all he had left now; her guards and interrogators had long ago stripped him of his dignity.

"So impatient," she chided gently, smiling. She pressed her fingertips together and contemplated the blood red nails.  "I think," she mused without looking at him, "you will be interested in this."  She pressed a small button on the desk and the screen on the wall behind it came to life.

Blake recognised the scene at once.  A standard Federation interrogation cell.  A figure was strapped in the chair that occupied the centre of the screen.  A guard could be half seen in the background by the door and a white coated technician and black clad interrogator bent over a table.  As Blake watched, the interrogator moved away from the table, a needle in his hand, towards the figure in the chair.  This figure had his back to them, but Blake had the terrible feeling he knew the man.  To cover his fear, he turned to face Servalan.  She had turned to watch the screen.  Now, aware of his eyes upon her, she turned back to face Blake.

"I know what your interrogators do," Blake told her coldly.  "I've been there.  You cannot think to threaten me with that."  He smiled.  "Surely you must have realised that by now?"

"I am not threatening you, Blake," she replied.  He shivered at her emphasis on the word 'you'.  Could she have one of his people?  He couldn't see how; none of them would have been crazy enough to try a rescue and she had no way of knowing where they were.  He had told her people nothing. 

Servalan smiled at his discomfort.  She touched a second switch on her desk to open a channel to the room.  "Maunders?"  The interrogator stopped moving, looking away from his subject directly at the camera.  He came to attention as he recognised the voice.  "Turn the chair round.  I have someone with me who knows your... guest."

Blake couldn't take his eyes from the screen as Maunders obeyed Servalan's orders.  The chair spun to face the camera.  "Avon!" Blake whispered in horrified recognition of the brutalised figure now facing him.

Servalan, watching Blake's face, smiled at his reaction.  "You may continue," she told Maunders.

"Madame President," he acquiesced.  The man in the chair stirred. Perhaps at the sound of Servalan's voice, perhaps at her title, surprising Blake, who had thought him unconscious.  He opened his eyes to stare directly at the camera.  Blake couldn't help but react, pulling back slightly in the chair as Avon appeared to stare directly at him.

"I will tell you nothing, Servalan," Avon said, his voice a harsh parody of its normal tones.

"Oh, Avon," Servalan replied.  She had turned now to face the screen and seemed almost to caress the name.  It made Blake shiver.  "You underestimate my powers of persuasion."  She paused as if considering something.  "Your friends have abandoned you, you know, as Blake has.  They all seem to do that, don't they, Avon?"  She glanced at Blake briefly and for a moment he was afraid that she would tell Avon he was here.  Then her attention went back to the man on the screen.  "You have no chance of escape or rescue.  I am your only hope."

"Go to hell," Avon said unequivocally.  He closed his eyes then, sagging back against the chair as his strength failed him.  "Go to hell," he repeated softly.

"Do you have any special requests, Madame?" Maunders asked.

"Yes.  Keep him conscious a little longer.  I may be bringing a friend down to see him."  Avon's eyes opened at the word 'friend,' but Maunders turned the chair slightly so that Blake couldn't see his face properly, couldn't see what he was thinking.

Servalan cut the sound but not the picture as Blake found he couldn't take his eyes away from the screen.  Avon was now in profile as Maunders picked up the needle he had discarded and injected the contents into Avon's arm.  Blake noted, as he did this, numerous needle marks on Avon's arms he hadn't seen before.

"He is remarkably resistant to our standard drugs," Servalan told Blake conversationally.  "Like you in that respect.  My geneticists are working on the possibility that this drug resistance and your anti-social behaviour are somehow linked.  If this proves to be the case, we will be able to detect potential rebels in the newborn."

"So you can kill them?"  Blake asked, tearing his gaze from the scene on the viewscreen.

"Oh, no.  Nothing so crude," she told him.  "A little reprogramming will stop any rebellious tendencies.  It works so much better on children, you know.  Their minds are infinitely pliable."

Blake felt sick that she could contemplate allowing puppeteers loose on children, and that it would work.  If she was prepared to tell him this much, the scientists would have all the data.  They wouldn't dare offer this woman half a story.  He found his attention drawn back to the scene on the screen; even the sights it offered were preferable to the visions of mindwiped children his imagination had conjured up.  Maunders was bending over Avon talking rapidly; Avon's head moved from side to side, whether in denial or pain Blake could not tell.  Servalan too was watching the screen.

"It is a pity," she mused at last.  "We are going to have to try something a little more... old fashioned on Avon."  She smiled as Blake looked at her.  "Unless of course, you..."

"I what?" Blake asked.  "What do you want from him?"

"Details of the Liberator," Servalan replied.  "The teleport, the drive systems, even that little detector shield he appears to have constructed for you."

"The Liberator was an alien ship.  We never understood it ourselves."

"Come now, Blake, are you telling me that a first class engineer and Alpha elite computer specialist - his contemporaries say he's a genius, you know - couldn't work out at least some of the systems in over two years?"

"We were rather busy doing other things," Blake told her.  "I doubt very much Avon can give you any technical information, not that he'd admit it to you.  He says he's a genius, too."

"You have been away for some time now, Blake.  Since the invasion, I understand.  He might just have had the time to study while you were gone.  You cannot fault me for continuing to try to find out."  A light on the desk communications panel flashed and she depressed the switch.  "Yes?"

"Madame President."  The voice was Maunders.  Blake turned to look.  Maunders was standing close to the screen; in the background Avon could be seen, head down, slumped in the chair.  "The prisoner is still resisting," Maunders was saying.  "And Shrinker has reported in the building."

"Splendid."  Servalan smiled.  "Do nothing more for the moment.  Return Avon to his cell."

"Yes Madame."

Servalan looked at Blake,  "He has been here for five days," she told him, "and has told us nothing.  He wasn't even recognised at first."  She spoke softly, almost to herself, remembering when she had received the news of her very important prisoner.  It was only when an alert guard had recognised the prisoner that this matter had been brought to her attention.  Avon had been a prisoner for three days then, three days during which he hadn't even admitted his name.  "Like you, he believes help is on its way.  It is not.  He is alone, as you are alone.  The Liberator has gone.  He has, as you have, two choices.  Answer our questions now or later.  The only difference is the amount of pain you must suffer, the amount of damage your bodies sustain before you talk to us.  Shrinker is very good.  A specialist who enjoys his work."  She waved to the guards, who pulled Blake to his feet.  "I have, however, an added incentive to help persuade you to talk to me."

"You said it yourself, Servalan," Blake said.  "There is nothing you can offer me."

Servalan rose elegantly.  "A swift death?" she suggested.

"I talk and you have me shot?"  Blake shook his head.  "I understood that was the original offer.  The answer is still no."

"Oh, Blake."  She stepped out from behind the desk and came to stand directly in front of him, a small woman next to his height and bulk.  "You misunderstand.  A swift death for Avon if you talk."  Blake felt the blood drain from his face as the room darkened until all he could see were Servalan's eyes glowing yellow. She smiled and lifted a hand as if to touch his face.  "You understand, I see.  He is going to die either way.  You can choose the manner of that death.  By slow torture - and Shrinker is the best - or death by firing squad.  You see, I believe that he can't tell me about the Liberator, that he knows nothing of value, and that without him it will not be long before my space fleet captures or destroys it.  While you... I know you can give me useful information.  It is up to you."

"You can't,"  Blake protested, but he knew that she could.

"Do not be foolish, Blake, you spoil yourself.  I know the rebels are planning something.  I know you know all about it.  You will talk or you will watch while Avon is tortured.  Take him to his cell.  You may have a little time to consider your reply."


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