Ask Me No QuestionsBy Marian Mendez
Getting to the computer was easy.The locks on the unguarded building where the computer and other antiquated equipment had been abandoned were so old that corrosion held them shut. Modifying the computer went quicker than Avon had anticipated. So quickly in fact, that Avon didn't mind when Vila paused on their way out to disassemble the outer door lock for his collection.
That is, he hadn't minded until they were caught flat-footed by a dozen Federation guards who assumed they were on their way in to pilfer supplies. Orac hadn't bothered to mention that little, dull Silas was used, unofficially, by the troops in this sector for rest and recuperation. The guards were quick to take their chronometers and teleport bracelet 'jewelry' as compensation for interrupting their holiday.The only good part about the whole mess was that capture of a pair of petty thieves wasn't worth notifying Space Command headquarters. Gambling that news of Blake's crew hadn't reached Silas, Avon had given his true name and seen it entered in the booking record, on a computer that Orac could read. With luck, no one would get around to them until after Fearless Leader realized they were overdue and asked Orac about them. He tried to concentrate on what else he could do, but Vila's stream of nervous complaints interfered. "I said, 'Shut up'.".
The other thief shivered. "I can't help it. I talk when I get nervous, Avon. It's all very well for you. You don't even talk to your friends. But me- I can't stand the sight of blood- And needles, Avon. Just the thought of them makes my stomach go all funny. I know I'll tell them everything. "
Avon scowled at Vila, coming close and speaking softly, "You will not say one word, you drunken excuse for a pickpocket. We can still escape, when he notices we don't call in. Provided you don't do something stupid in the meantime." He returned to his examination of the cell. Four bare walls and a horizontal slab for a 'bed', a pipe dripping rusty water, a plastic cup and a very large bucket whose purpose was obvious. And a door, bolted from the outside. Vila had looked at it in disgust. It was so primitive none of his sophisticated tools would touch it. Now, he pulled away from Avon, sullenly.
"It wasn't my fault. I didn't do anything wrong. What did I do to deserve this? "
Avon glanced back at Vila, "How long a list do you want?"
Both men glared, then went silent, too worried to argue.Avon hadn't long to enjoy the quiet. Vila's sharp ears caught the sounds of boots on stone first, and he slunk behind Avon. They both faced the door, apprehensive.
A guard unlocked the door and flung it open to crash against the wall. Vila jumped. More guards entered, grabbed the prisoners and slammed them against the wall.
" I really need a drink," Vila said softly.
The guard holding him back-handed him. "Shut up!"
Another man entered. He was short, and round and totally bald, pink as a baby. Except for his eyes and his expensively tailored, black uniform, he could have been any ordinary citizen. But his eyes- oh, his eyes. Colder than Avon ever managed on his worst day. "Now, now, is that any way to talk to our guests?" The soft voice made Vila's hair stand on end. He hated it when the interrogators started out like that. The ones who really enjoyed their work were always so happy to have someone new to torture. "You'd like a drink, Vila?" The interrogator canted his head to one side, like a cat eyeing a crippled bird. "Your friend called you a drunk."
Avon glanced upward and discovered the hidden monitors in the pitted ceiling as the man continued, " I've been looking for an alcoholic. I've something new to try."
"No, no, it was a joke, that's all it was," Vila protested. Something new! "Never touch the stuff." He squirmed and something clinked in his pocket.
Smiling, the interrogator patted Vila down, locating a flask, which gurgled as he uncapped it. He sniffed with approval. "Of course not." He turned to the guards. "Bring him. I'll have the other one later." He ran his tongue over his lips and smiled. "And here I thought this was going to be a dull holiday."
Avon tensed as Vila was dragged out, yelling and clutching at the walls. Why did the fool have to look at him that way? As if he could do something to help. All he could do was shout, "Don't talk, Vila. Don't..." before the guard holding him casually punched him in the face. They shoved him back and locked the door, but he could still hear Vila's terrified wails diminishing in the distance until they were finally cut off by the harsh slam of a heavy door.
"All right, Vila," the interrogator said, smiling as he laid out his instruments on a steel tray. "Now, how shall we do this? The hard way or the easy way?"
"Oh, easy, definitely easy," Vila answered, unable to look away from the sharp metal points and the bright glitter of hypodermics. "Ask anyone, they'll tell you I'm easy as they come."
"In that case, who's he?"
Vila looked confused and frightened. It came naturally. Being chained to a wall always did unnerve him. Probably why the interrogators always did it. "I don't know who you mean. You've got us. Avon and me. There isn't anyone else."
"Not the answer I was looking for." The man selected a bottle of liquid and carefully filled a hypodermic with its contents. "I want the man Avon mentioned. Give me his name and tell me where I can find him, and I won't bother with you anymore."
"Yes, you will," Vila said. He flinched back from the needle, mouth dry, heart pounding. "You'd do it anyway. I'm not turning in my friend."
"We'll see." The interrogator injected Vila deftly. "You needn't worry, Vila." He patted the thief on the head. "This won't hurt a bit. But it's supposed to be very effective on alcoholics. I'm grateful to you, really, for the chance to try it."
Vila's arm grew warm, then his chest, then the rest of his body. It wasn't unpleasant, exactly. He slumped as his muscles relaxed, leaning against the wall for support.
"That was fast," the bald man commented, noting the time. "You feel good, now, don't you, Vila?"
The thief smiled and nodded.
"Talk to me. Tell me what I want to know and you'll keep feeling good," the man's voice rushed over Vila, oily and falsely sweet, like medicine.
Vila frowned. Not supposed to talk. Avon said so.
"Tell me!" Vila's continued silence was unexpected. According to the literature, an alcoholic's metabolism reacted perfectly with this drug, making them eager to talk.
Vila shook his head stubbornly, pressing his lips together. He felt good, but he clung to the one thought. Avon said not to talk. The drug had blotted out his fear and his reason. It also made him amenable to orders. But Avon's order had come first.
"You'll scream, then. I'll get a sound out of you one way or another." The man put a razor-sharp probe to Vila's chest, flicking at the closures on the thief's pied coat.
Vila was muzzy about most things, but he was quite sure he didn't want that probe any closer to his tender skin. He cast about awkwardly within his muddled brain for a way to obey both masters. Ah, he had it, the perfect solution. He tipped his head back, took a deep breath, and let loose. "Pleeeeease, release me, let me go..."
The interrogator's hand jerked, grazing Vila's neck. He dropped the probe, startled. Vila shut his eyes and really got into it, "For Iiiiiii don't love you anymore. Pleeeeeease release me and let me - love again." He opened his eyes and grinned, not noticing the trickle of blood down his neck.
"Damn." The bald man shook his head and went back to study the literature on the drug. On page six in a reduced size type under the heading Contra-indications he found: Not for use on level one alcohol-reliant, non-definite dependents. Has been shown clinically to cause monomania and total pain-transmission blockage in those subjects. "Oh, well," he said, mildly, shrugging. "No harm done. You'll sober up by tomorrow and I can try something else." He called the guards and ordered them to deposit Vila back in the holding cell and bring him Avon.
"Shut up!" The guard sounded annoyed more than angry. Vila kept on making the horrible, wavering, irregularly pitched noise. Avon wondered what torture he had undergone.
They shoved Vila into the cell, right into Avon's arms. Vila was pleased to see Avon and wanted to tell him so, but he still wasn't allowed to talk, was he?
"I like the sprite in you," he sang, clutching Avon. He put his head close to the other man and continued, "I like the funny things you do- dee dum, dee dum- You're such a kick to have aroooounnnd. I like the sprite in you."
The guards had to peel Vila off Avon. As he was forced along the hallway, Avon was torn between laughter and fear. What if they gave him whatever drug had turned Vila into a serenading fool? And worse, what if Blake rescued them and heard Avon?
Avon stood tall, trying to maintain his dignity. He'd already decided that testing the chains was futile. He was quite securely bound, arms and legs spread taut, at the interrogator's non-existent mercy.
"Hmm." The interrogator studied Avon. "You're thinking you can take anything a soft little man like me can do, aren't you? I warn you, I'm much more dangerous than I look." He toyed with a bloody probe while he spoke.
Avon looked at the man coolly. "And are you more subtle than you look?" He nodded toward the probe. "Rather crude, don't you think?"
"Well, actually, I do prefer chemical persuasion." When Avon paled at this, the bald man smiled. "I see we're agreed then." He rummaged through the bottles on the tray, peering at the labels and shuffling them about. "No, not this. Now, this is very good, but not for you. Ah, here we are, one of my old favorites." Whistling cheerfully, he gave Avon the shot and stood close, waiting for a reaction.
Avon groaned. He hadn't meant to, but the sudden attack on his system surprised him. He swallowed, trying to keep himself under control. Cold sweat broke out all over his body and he gulped convulsively. He lurched, clinging to the chains desperately as the floor seemed to shift. He released another small, choked off cry of distress, then shut his eyes and turned his head aside.
"My, my, that was quick. It usually takes longer. But then, I can see you must be a very sensitive fellow. Not like your friend." He pulled at Avon's hair viciously, forcing him to raise his head. "Come on, be a good boy. Open up."
Fighting the pain, Avon slitted his eyes. They glittered maliciously. He opened his mouth.
When they dragged Avon back to the cell, he was too miserable to take satisfaction in having vomited all over the torturer's glossy black uniform. The tech had been too sick to care as he was beaten for his impudence. The interrogator gave up when he discovered Avon wasn't even listening to him. Besides, he wanted to bathe and change into another uniform. He left orders for the two thieves to be left alone until the next day while he thought up an appropriate punishment. Something along the lines of boiling in oil- or perhaps he could have a rack constructed? Modern methods just didn't seem effective with these two. And he really wanted to hear them scream. Especially the second one.
It was Vila's turn to catch a falling body as Avon was flung into the cell. Worried by the tech's pallor and uncoordinated gait, he tried to examine the other man. "I'll be all right," Avon said. He started to shake Vila off, but nearly fell. "A simple drug reaction. Had it before. It'll pass. Just get me to the cot."
Vila smiled, relieved. "Oh, the bedbugs and the roaches were having a game of ball- the score was four to nothing, the roaches were ahead- then the bedbugs hit the ball and knocked me out of bed," he sang merrily as he lowered Avon to the unpadded surface.
Avon groaned. "Vila, must you?"
Vila nodded. "I'd like to teach the world to sing- in perfect harmoneee- I'd like to buy the world a drink and keep it company. That's the song I'd sing. I'd like to take you in my arms and cover you with looove. Grow apple trees and honey bees and snow-white turtle-doves. That's the way it should be. What you're hoping to find. It's the reeeall thing."
"I can't take much more, Vila," Avon warned, covering his face with both hands. "You're making me sick."
Hurt, Vila replied, "Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, guess I'll go eat worms- Big, fat, juicy ones, little tiny skinny ones- gosh, how they do squirm. Bite their heads off, suck their juices out, throw their skins awaaaay. Nobody loves me, everybody hates me. Guess I'll go eat worms - to-day."
That was the limit. Avon leaned over the side of the bunk, head pounding with the effort and the change in position and retched up his guts. At least Vila's reflexes still functioned. He got the bucket under in time. The sounds of Avon's illness couldn't quite drown out Vila, who apparently was free-associating like mad, "Sam, Sam, the lavatory man, chief engineer of the public can, he passes out the paper and he passes out the towels ..."
When Avon recovered from the latest bout, Vila cocked his head toward the rusty water pipe and raised his brows questioning. " Bring me a little water, Zulie?" Even after Avon shook his head (which made him so dizzy, he vowed never to do that again), Vila continued the song, "Bring me a little water naooow, Bring it in a bucket, Zulie, every little once in a while. She brought me coffee, she brought me tea, she brought me ever' damn thing but the jail house key."
"Vila," Avon said hoarsely. "Can you," he looked toward the ceiling, remembering the monitors and mentally rephrased his question, "can you 'express your talents'." He glanced significantly at the door.
Vila shook his head. He'd seen the outside of the door when they first were thrown in. Now, if he had a fish hook and thirty kilo test line he'd be in business. But he hated to turn Avon down flat. "Baby, Baby I'm your sweet pet, your own personal, private marionette. Take my heart and take my soul, giving you complete control. If you want to see me do my thing, baby, pull my string."
With heartfelt sincerity, Avon said, "I wish I were back on the ship."
"I want to be- under the sea, in an Octopus's garden in the shade. Just you and me, under the sea, in an Octopus's garden, in the shade."
Avon groaned again. Blake! I'll get you for this!
Vila felt sorry for Avon. He was sick and worried, too, poor fellow. Vila knew everything was just fine. The universe was a wonderful place, and even Federation guards weren't such bad guys. After all, they'd left him with Avon to cheer up his mate. It didn't seem to be working, though. It might be easier if he could talk instead of sing all the time, but Avon hadn't given him permission. He wasn't quite sure why Avon hadn't wanted him to talk, but there must have been a good reason. Avon never did anything without a good reason.
It was hard to tell without his chronometer but he thought they must be overdue for call in by now. He nudged Avon who was lying very still hoping to avoid more motion-induced nausea.
Avon flinched. "No."
Vila nudged him again and Avon sighed. "All right, what do you intend to sing now? A lullaby?"
"You've got a friend. Winter, spring, summer and fall- all you got to do is call. You just call out my name and you know where ever I am I'll come runnin', runnin' back home to you. To see you again. You've got a friend. "
"I suppose that was meant to be comforting. Unfortunately, I can't call anyone but you. And I could do very well without your company."
Vila tried again. "Any minute now and ever after, I will hear the sound of his sweet laughter- Any minute now, that Bloke will show up. Any minute now- or I will throw up."
"You would phrase it that way." Avon swallowed again. In a moment, he nodded. "I certainly hope you're right."
Blake looked up as Cally entered the flight deck. "Right, Jenna." He nodded, approving the course she'd set. Once they were finished on Silas, he didn't want to waste time getting to their next mission. Cally looked preoccupied, so he asked, "Is there something wrong? Have Avon and Vila called in?" He had returned to the ship early. The Silasians were efficient at their own business, and had arranged the shipments with far less than the usual red tape. Avon and Vila still had an hour left of the time allocated for their mission. Of course, he had counted on Avon finishing sooner than planned.
"No. But," the Auron said, "I can sense..."
"It is foolish, I know. I can not receive thoughts from a non-Auron. But Vila- his feelings are unusually strong. I am getting- impressions- from him." She seemed puzzled. "He is not in pain, but he is very confused- and...Blake, I keep seeing images of bottles of beer? On a wall?"
"What! If Avon let Vila get drunk and spoil such a simple mission..." Blake grumbled. He hit the intercom. "Gan, will you call Avon? See if he needs any help."
"Blake," Gan's voice came back in a few moments, worried. "I couldn't get an answer."
"Teleport them, Gan," Blake snapped, already on his way to the teleport chamber.
Gan was alone and upset when Blake arrived. He moved the switches once more while Blake watched, but no one appeared on the platform. "I don't think I did anything wrong."
"You didn't. It's no good, Gan," Blake said sharply. "Either they took off the bracelets..."
"Or something has happened to them," Cally said. She had followed Blake silently, stopping off to retrieve a pair of guns. She strapped hers on and handed the other to Blake. "We shall have to go down and find them." She headed for the teleport bracelet rack.
"Not blindly, Cally. Wait a moment while I consult Orac." He slipped the activating key on the computer. "Orac, where are Avon and Vila?"
"Really, it is not my function..."
"Orac, they may be in trouble," Cally said. "Now be a good computer and answer Blake."
"Oh, very well." The computer buzzed for a moment, then said, "They are being held in custody on a charge of attempted petty theft. Anticipating your further demands, I have fed the coordinates of the holding cell to which they were assigned directly into the teleport. Now, if you will kindly..."
"And thank you, Orac." Blake pulled the key. "Petty theft?" Despite the situation, he grinned. "They'll never live it down. Gan, tell Jenna to be prepared for a fast exit. Just in case."
Blake and Cally arrived, crouched for battle, guns drawn. They materialized in a dimly lit, rank-smelling, stone walled cell.
"...eventeen bottles ..." Vila trailed off as they appeared. He beamed and tugged at Avon's arm, pulling the tech's hands away from his ears.
"Vila..." Avon glared, then stopped. He looked at the rescue party and growled, "About time. Get us out of here. Vila, don't!" he snapped, as the other opened his mouth. "Don't ask, Blake, just get us out of here."
Gan was glad to see his fellow crew back. Vila looked all right, but Avon arrived lying down and made no move to get up. "Jenna, they're back," he announced over the intercom.
From the flight deck came her reply, "Fast exit, Blake?"
Blake looked at Avon who shook his head, then went sheet-white. Avon said, "No, Jenna. I don't think there'll be any pursuit." He still made no move to get up.
"Are you hurt?" Blake asked, concerned. When Avon said, 'No,' Blake offered a hand, but Avon refused to take it. Avon frowned, hating to have to admit to weakness. "I was drugged. My balance is shot. And head movement is definitely out of the question."
"Nausea?" Cally asked briskly, kneeling by Avon to check that he had no other injuries he wasn't mentioning.
"Yes," he admitted. "It is rather inconvenient." He closed his eyes against another wave of vertigo.
"Gan, take Avon to the medical unit," Cally directed. "Try not to move his head."
Avon would have preferred to crawl before being carried like a child. Except that he didn't dare move on his own. His stomach muscles were as stiff and sore from spasms as if he'd been beaten by club-wielding primitives. There hadn't been anything left to come up for hours, and he was willing to do almost anything to avoid another attack of dry heaves. Even be embarrassed in front of Blake.
While Gan picked up Avon, Cally turned her attention to Vila. She noted the thin line of dried blood on his neck with alarm. "Vila, you are injured." It was only a scratch, but for Vila not to make a fuss over any wound was so unnatural that it worried her. "Are you hurt elsewhere?"
Vila smiled at Cally and sang, "Bullet in my shoulder!" loud enough to make the woman blink and back up. "Blood! Runnin' down my vest. Twenny inna posse," he got louder, deepening his voice, "An they're neva gonna let me rest! Til I became a wanted man, I neva even carried a gun! Now- they hunt me lak a mountain cat. And I'm always, allllways, allllllways- on the run!"
There was shocked silence for a moment. Avon wished he could turn his head enough to see the look on Blake's face. He muttered, "Aren't you sorry you asked?"
"Just lie still, Avon." Cally hooked him up to an intravenous drip while he lay, stiff with annoyance, on a med-unit bed. "It will take time to counteract the reaction. Your inner ears are inflamed which affects your balance and worsens the nausea." She patted him on the shoulder. "There will be no permanent damage, but it must be corrected slowly. Too much of the counteragent would also make you ill. I will have to monitor your progress."
"For how long?" Avon stared at Vila in a distinctly unfriendly fashion. Cally had given him an antidote that worked immediately and the thief was free to leave whenever he chose. So he chose to stay, purely to irk Avon.
"No more than two hours, I should think. But you will have to remain still." She set restraints to immobilize both his arms, then prudently took herself out of his range of sight.
Blake was relieved. When he'd seen Avon lying on that cot, ash-white and shaking, he'd thought the man was dying. "No harm done, then. You and Vila are both all right and Orac has the records we need. He says he can cure the diseased wheat. I'm going to the flight deck to transmit the information to the affected planets so they can get started." He grinned and left before Avon could come up with a suitably withering remark.
Frustrated, Avon turned his annoyance on Vila. "No harm done? Hours of listening to you mangling the most inane collection of nonsensical doggerel disguised as songs? Even without the drug, I would have been nauseated."
Vila shrugged. "It wasn't my fault. It's not as if I got drunk by meself." A wicked grin spread across his face. He leaned closer to Avon. "Cally put those restraints on kind of tight, didn't she? Good idea, wouldn't want you to forget and pull anything loose. Or damage anything. Or anybody. " Vila drew a deep breath.
"Don't you dare," Avon said, sensing what was coming. He clenched his fists uselessly.
"One last little bit of doggerel, Avon. 'Oh,the liquor was spilled on the barroom floor and the bar was closed for the night - when a little mouse crawled from a hole in the wall by the shadows of the pale moonlight. He lapped up the liquor on the barroom floor and back on his haunches he sat. And all night long you could hear him roar- 'Bring on the god-damn cat!'
'Then a black cat came from under the bar and gobbled up the little white mouse. And the moral to this story is: Don't never take a drink on the house'."
Author's note: I invented none of the songs, although I may have mis-remembered the lyrics. They came from TV ads, episodes of It Takes a Thief & Wild Wild West, YMCA day camp, my grandmother (after a wedding reception with a fair amount of celebrating), An English play 'Billy Liar', a Frankie Laine record, bits heard over the radio and an old folk songs guitar book.
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