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Conscience of the Queen

By Marian Mendez
Page 4 of 8


The thief looked up from his shivering huddle in the corner of the cold, plain silvery gray, steel box farthest from the door. It was only a few paces away. This was probably the least luxurious of the accommodations the Federation had ever given him. It had a monitor, sealed behind unbreakable plastic in the ceiling far above his head, it had a door, it had an air vent with eighteen holes--each the diameter of his smallest finger--welded to a plate too small to fit his arm through even if he could chew through the molecular bonds, and it had a door consisting of a single, unmarked sheet of metal that fit flush into the wall. That was it. It didn't even have a bucket for sanitary purposes. He had tried to ignore the threatening hiss as the door opened, hoping they were at the wrong door. Who'd want him, anyway? He had concentrated on being invisible--one of his best skills--but at the sound of that silky, seductive voice, his hands flew down to his groin. Never let it be said that he suffered from an excess of modesty, but when Federation guards and Servalan stand over your naked body, covering your vulnerabilities is an automatic reflex. "Hullo, um, Sleer."

Sleer smiled at him, appreciating Vila's quick wit. While the name 'Servalan' must have been on the tip of his tongue, he had caught it quite deftly. He knew the penalty for those who revealed her identity. Of course, it wouldn't have mattered in front of her programmed trooper, but it was still a good move. "There's a clever thief. How would you like to be released from your cell?"

Vila stared at her, his mouth open. She could almost hear the gears turning as he processed the information.

Sleer displayed Orac's key. "Avon has already given me Orac, so there's no need for you to suffer any unpleasantness. Unless, of course, you insist."

"Oh, no; I don't insist."

At her gesture, the guard tossed Vila's own clothes to him. Vila didn't move, still trying to puzzle out Servalan's motives.

"When you're dressed, you'll be escorted to my cabin. We'll talk, Vila."

"Um, Sleer?"

"Yes?" She paused at the entrance to the cell.

"Are you feeling all right? You didn't, you know, get a bump on the head or something recently? Avon does that a lot, and I don't think it's done him any good."

She laughed.

* * * * * * *

"Now, Vila; you see, it's very simple."

Vila scratched his head. He sat in a comfortable chair in Servalan's suite with the only guard in sight discreetly distant, standing by the door, with his weapon at parade rest. This was not your usual interrogation. Usually there are lots of shouting, short-tempered interrogators, sharp needles, nasty electric shocks, and one or two simple-minded, ex-interrogatees wandering around with a mop and bucket to clean up after you and give you the general idea of your likely future all at once. The Federation is nothing if not direct. They'd never escorted him to a lounge chair covered with real silk brocade, and played soft, classical music while he checked out the red crystal 'tree' growing in a tub of what looked like pulverized sapphires. "Sure. Simple. You want us to help you take over the Federation. Sounds good to me. Only I can't see what you need me for. You've got Avon, haven't you?"

"Ah, trying to worm information about your compatriots. Really, it isn't necessary, Vila. I want to be your friend. And I can be a very powerful friend. Unlike others you've relied on, I won't leave you with `I'm sorry, I've failed you.'" Her stomach turned at her last words. She could almost feel how it would be to fail someone who'd relied on you, trusted you. Strange--no one had trusted her in a very long time.

"No, I don't guess you would." Vila squirmed, then blurted out, "Well, then; how are the others? Not that I care about Tarrant, or Avon, much," he added.

"Check for yourself." Sleer waved Vila to her security console. "The monitors will show you."

Cautiously, Vila approached the console. When nothing bit him, he leaned in closer. The crew of the ill-fated Scorpio were in cells similar to the one he'd been cramped up in for hours. They were all wearing their own clothes, except for Avon, who was in restraints in a much larger cell that had soft-looking quilted, rubbery stuff covering all the surfaces. None of them appeared to have been harmed. "How come Avon gets special treatment?"

"As you said, Vila; all the abuse he's taken recently--well, let's just say, Avon needs looking after."

"I always said that." Vila returned to his seat. "So we're all alive at the moment. What do I have to do to keep it that way?"

"Not much. Just help me convince the others that I've changed." She moved closer, and Vila cringed. "Oh, Vila, you behave as if I'd cleared the Neutron Blasters for firing." She wondered where that odd phrase came from. "I mean, as if I were about to order your execution. You know I wouldn't do that. I've had a soft spot for you for a long time, Vila. That's why I came to you first."

Vila stared at her, bewildered. "Tarrant, maybe; and Avon, possibly. But me, I'm just a Delta nothing, the kind you wipe your feet on every day."

"Not any longer. It has come to my attention that the Earth grading system is archaic, and inaccurate. Wealthy Alphas get their moron children onto the Supreme Council while intelligent Deltas like yourself never get an opportunity to rise above poverty."

"And I'm supposed to believe you care about the poor, down-trodden masses?" Vila was growing bolder.

"I care about the Federation. Ultimately, I want what is best for the Federation. Do you think I wish to rule over a dirty, squabbling collection of starving planets?" Her voice rose as she grew angry.

"No, no; of course not," Vila placated, hands raised placatingly. "I'll do whatever you like, but don't get mad at me if the others don't agree."

"We'll see Soolin next, I think," Sleer said, accepting his capitulation.

* * * * * * *

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Marian Mendez

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