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The teleport twanged and Vila Restal shimmered into existence, with Gan
steady behind him. "Bloody hell, that was worse than I expected," he
groaned, staggering out of the bay. "Those people are maniacs, Blake.
"What did they do to you?" Cally asked with a look of concern.
Vila hugged himself and shivered. "They talked ," he whispered. "Gan and me had our blasters pointed at them the whole time but they didn't even seem to notice, except for this one bloke who asked whether the guns made us more secure. The rest of them just kept going on about how they understood and how they only wanted to help and how we'd feel much better if we sat down in a nice comfy chair and relaxed and let it all out. I nearly did, too. Force of habit, I suppose. I was halfway towards sticking my blaster back in its holster when Gan told you to bring us up."
Blake glanced across at Gan, raising a quizzical eyebrow. "Was it really that bad?" he asked.
Gan shrugged. "They're pretty persuasive, Blake. All those kind, caring faces and gentle, even voices. It gets to you in the end. Luckily, I haven't been exposed to that sort of thing as much as Vila, so I realised we'd better escape before they talked us right around."
"And Avon?" Blake prompted.
"Yeah, he's there, all right," Vila confirmed. "We got that much out of them, at any rate. The chief headshrinker told us straight off. “The same antisocial pattern of behaviour as your friend,” he said when I pulled out my blaster. Not that Avon'd thank the bloke for calling him a friend of mine but at least we know we're on the right track."
Blake caressed his jaw thoughtfully for a few seconds and then gave a decisive nod. "Time for a change of plan, then. Wait here, will you, Cally? I'll be back in a minute."
As he hurried off down the corridor, Cally turned luminous brown eyes on Vila. "I don't understand," she said plaintively. "Those people did nothing to you. Why are you so upset?"
Vila spread his hands wide. "Listen, I can cope with thugs in full body armour trying to kill me. I don't like it but - oh well, they're just doing their job. The headshrinkers, though, they're true believers, which is a whole lot more dangerous." He thought for a moment and added, "Mind you, it never really takes on me. I had my head adjusted three times before they packed me off to Cygnus Alpha, except somehow it wouldn't stay adjusted. But I can't help getting edgy, all the same, whenever anyone says, “We're only doing this for your own good”."
"He's got a point there," Gan agreed. "The headshrinkers made me edgy and I haven't ever been adjusted, because they gave me a limiter instead. Still, there's no need to worry about Avon, Cally. He's an Alpha, so he's used to that fancy way of talking. Besides, he's good at arguing back - look at the way he and Blake keep going at each other. He'll be all right. Won't he?"
"I'm sure he will," Cally said, a little too quickly. Then her eyes flicked across to the doorway as Vila let out a strangled squawk. Blake was standing there, hands on hips, in the uniform of a Federation officer.
"You shouldn't creep up on people, not when you're dressed like that," he said reproachfully. "Gave me a nasty turn, you did. My nerves aren't the best, after what I've just been through."
Blake laughed and strode into the teleport bay. "Put me down somewhere in the city, Cally," he ordered. "If I'm to play the part properly, I'd better arrive at the rehabilitation centre by shuttle, rather than materialising in the grounds."
Cally adjusted the teleport co-ordinates and reached for the levers. The last thing Blake heard before he disappeared was Vila, saying in a confiding voice, "Y'know, Cally, I could really use a dose of soma right now ..."
Dr Wexler's office was a friendly, welcoming place. Soft, pastel-coloured chairs, pastel sunlight seeping through the window screens, pastel flowers at the corner of the big desk on which the doctor leaned, fingertips pressed together to frame his friendly, welcoming smile.
"I'm sorry to miss the chance of working with Kerr Avon," he murmured. "An interesting case and I feel we were starting to make some progress. Rehabilitation is always better than punishment, Commander Coleridge, especially for such a gifted subject who could contribute so much to the Federation. I know that Supreme Commander Servalan hoped - but then, the man was an associate of that rebel Blake, which presumably explains why she's decided to make an example of him. Ah, here he is."
The door opened. Blake swung round and saw two burly guards - no, nurses - crowd in, flanking a third man. The precaution seemed unnecessary. In his loose grey coveralls Avon looked small and quenched and ordinary, an unexpected reminder of their first meeting on the London. He had thought Avon plain then, until the other man glanced up at him and Blake had seen those eyes: that mouth. (And had fallen hopelessly in love, although he was only prepared to admit it once every few months, when drunk or sleepless.)
"Well, Kerr," Dr Wexler was saying with practised warmth, "so you're leaving us. That's a shame but I hope you'll go on thinking about the issues that emerged in our discussions. You have a fine mind. I'm sure you can continue to work on your conflictual relationship to authority, even without my assistance."
Avon's shoulders angled in the arrested half-shrug that he used to dismiss anything he did not wish to hear. Blake almost smiled at the familiar sight but, just in time, he turned the smile on the doctor instead. "Thank you, Dr Wexler," he said. "You've done a good job. It sounds as though prisoner Avon should be more tractable now. I'll pass on your advice about rehabilitation to the Supreme Commander and perhaps the prisoner can be returned here after his trial."
Dr Wexler's eyes lit up and he rubbed dry palms together with a whispering sound. "Excellent," he breathed. "We'd like that, wouldn't we, Kerr?"
Blake tensed, hand shifting to the hilt of his blaster. "We" and "Kerr" were both taboo words, although Dr Wexler didn't appear to have realised this. He waited for the inevitable reaction but Avon just stared straight through the doctor, who flushed slightly.
"Resistant," he muttered, as if he were making notes. "Very fascinating. All that intelligence ... and absolutely no ability to apply it to any useful social purpose. You're a challenge, Kerr. I look forward to seeing you again."
"The feeling is not mutual," Avon replied, so formally that it took Dr Wexler a few seconds to register the insult. He clicked his tongue in tolerant disapproval and rose to usher them out.
Blake's shuttle unit was waiting at the front gates. As they stepped into the perspex box and settled themselves on the padded seat, Dr Wexler shot a last greedy look at Avon. "Au revoir, Kerr," he said, almost flirtatiously, and then the shuttle slid off smoothly down its antigrav track.
The minute the doctor's gaunt figure dwindled into the distance, Avon leapt up and started pacing around the box. Blake swung his feet onto the bench, to give him more room, and watched indulgently. Another of Avon's sudden mood changes, from the sullen nonentity of the doctor's office to a caged panther. His eyes were bright now: with rage, Blake suspected. Two slashes of red branded his cheek bones and he moved with barely controlled menace.
While Blake studied him, Avon prowled in a wider circle that brought him up against the wall. His lips twitched in a snarl; his hand lifted and clenched and slammed into the perspex, so hard that Blake winced in sympathy. For a split second Avon stared down at his bruised fist, lips parted, eyes blank with surprise, and then his elbow jerked back and his hand rose again. Blake let out an inarticulate yell of protest and hurtled across the shuttle to grab Avon's wrist.
They strained against each other, breathing fast. Then Avon forced his arm down, broke the hold and whirled round. "Stop it," Blake commanded, staring into wildcat eyes. "I'm on your side, Avon. I'm not the enemy."
The eyes hazed and became human again. "Thank you for the reminder," Avon said courteously. "You collude so well that I had almost forgotten. That was a very convincing performance, Commander Coleridge."
"It was meant to be," Blake said mildly, returning to the bench. "After Vila and Gan failed to rescue you, I thought we ought to try the indirect approach. One of my father's friends - my godfather, in fact - was a Federation psychiatrist, so I know how to talk to the breed."
Avon tipped back his head and laughed, a harsh grating sound edged with hysteria. "You sent Vila down there? I imagine he enjoyed the experience as much as I."
"He did seem rather shaken," Blake admitted. "More than I would've predicted. But then, so do you."
"And for the same reason," Avon said, beginning to prowl again.
Blake contemplated that for a while, thumb rubbing thoughtfully at his lower lip. Eventually he lifted his head and said, "All right, I can see why Vila wouldn't love the headshrinkers, as he calls them. As a Delta, he's seen the down side of their profession. But you're an Alpha, Avon. One bout with the interrogators after you were caught for embezzling isn't enough to send you this far off balance."
"No," Avon agreed and kept pacing.
Blake sighed. "You're not going to tell me anything, are you? Very well then, I'll have to work it out for myself. You were captured on our last raid but you're physically unharmed. You spent three days in a rather luxurious private rehabilitation centre before Orac was able to locate you. And yet, even though I would've said you'd had a lucky break, you're so disturbed that for once you can't hide it. Why, Avon? Is it something to do with Dr Wexler? Had you met him before?"
Avon halted abruptly, slouched against the perspex wall and applauded. "Oh, very good," he mocked. "A little more practice and you might almost approximate logical deduction. You are halfway there, Blake. I was not previously acquainted with Dr Wexler but I know his type well."
"How?" Blake asked and Avon gave him a glittering smile.
"Deltas who misbehave are sent to state institutions. Alphas who misbehave are sent to - ah, luxurious private rehabilitation centres where they receive incessant attention from devoted professionals."
"You, Avon?" Blake said, startled. "What did you - no, I'm sorry. It's none of my business."
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