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A Good Team

By Nicola Mody
Page 3 of 5

When they brought Vila back, unconscious and very pale but still handcuffed, Gan looked at him pityingly. Strangely, he looked different from this angle. The round, childlike face was, in profile, chiselled, almost handsome. Gan did not think there was much point in trying get through to him, but he was a man of his word.

He waited until the orderlies left, then called softly, “Vila.”

Vila sighed and moved his head slightly.

“Vila, it’s Gan.”

Vila opened his eyes. “Gan?” He smiled weakly. “Gan. Owe you one.”

“How the hell did you manage that?”

“Funny wiring I suppose. Oh, I hurt all over...” Vila closed his eyes. “Thanks, mate.”

Gan found himself smiling despite everything.

---

“Look,” Vila said, “warn me if they come back, will you? I’ll have to put on my stunned mullet act again. Not that it’s fooled them for long before.”

He had revived enough to feel like talking again, and had begun to regale Gan with stories of his thieving exploits. Gan had deflected his questions about Zephron—he did not want to think about his life there with Lubov yet—but Vila did not seem to mind; in fact he obviously relished an appreciative audience. He had already been interrupted once by the dark-haired nurse, and had given her what he called the ‘O’—he had lain still, his eyes shut and his mouth lolling open while she checked him cursorily and contemptuously.

“Next time,” he confided to Gan, “I’ll try the ‘Q’.”

“The ‘Q’?”

“Tongue hanging out of the corner of my mouth. If I wasn’t so dry, I’d put in the finishing touch and dribble too.”

Gan chuckled. Damn it, Lubov would have enjoyed meeting Vila.

“Now, where was I? Oh, right, telling you how I got caught. Well, there I was, looking at this lock, and it didn’t look right, I had a funny feeling about it. Now your psycho-physio lock has quite a current running through it, I’ve melted more than one probe in the past, but no problem, they’ve got insulated handles. No, it was when I went to press the switch to intercept the computer response. Must have had a fault—either a loose wire or a static build-up and it all discharged through me. Shot me back against the wall. I’d have been all right if I hadn’t knocked myself out on the safe-deposit boxes. Know what, I was tempted to sue the manufacturers. I tried to tell them in court—”

“Someone coming!”

Vila immediately went dull-eyed and slack-jawed. The doctor and a man dressed in Federation black approached.

“I’m worried about him,” Gan told the doctor, putting on a concerned look. “He was all right this morning, but I think there’s something wrong with him now.”

“Hmm.” The doctor took Vila’s jaw and turned his head so that Vila looked up at him. “Hello, Restal. I’m Doctor Denning.”

Vila blinked slowly. “Uh...hello.”

“How are we today?”

“Don’t know how you are. But me, I’m sore all over. Why does it hurt?”

Denning gave Vila a suspicious look. “You’re in pain because you were very bad. You’ll be good now, won’t you?”

“I am good. Was I bad?”

“You were a thief.”

“Oh. That’s naughty...isn’t it?”

“Yes it is.” Denning moved round the bed, and suddenly leant forward and pinched Vila hard on the arm.

Ow! Don’t do that, you bastard! That hurts!” Vila rolled his eyes, then squeezed them shut in mortification.

“Yes, I thought so.” Denning stepped back and looked at the other man. “Captain?”

“So, Restal, that makes five times we’ve tried to cure you,” the officer said, consulting a data pad.

Vila shrugged and grinned. “Yep—Vila five, Federation nil!”

“You’ll laugh on the other side of your face when you hear where you’re going.”

“Oh?”

“Cygnus Alpha.”

What? Hey, you can’t do that!” Vila tried to pull himself up into a sitting position using the rails he was cuffed to, failed and fell weakly back. “That’s for violent offenders, I’m just a harmless thief. Don’t go away, listen to me, you’ve made a mistake...” He stopped and looked at Gan, wide-eyed with horror. “Cygnus bloody Alpha!”

“What about it?”

“No-one comes back from there. It’s a one-way trip. That’s if they get there at all. Some people say they don’t. And with the types they send there, I’m dead. Dead,” Vila repeated mournfully. “I’m far too young and talented to die...”

“That’s where I’m going.”

Vila looked at Gan with dawning hope. “Really? You are? Hey, we could be a team then, look out for each other.”

“Perhaps it won’t be that bad.”

“Oh, yes, it will. Look, I’ve just had my nerves fried. Know what that does to you? It takes a couple of years to get over that. Any bad stress and you feel like you’ve got red-hot pins and needles shoved into every nerve ending. And as for my pain threshold, well I don’t think I’ve got one right now. How long d’you think it’ll take them to work out how easily they can hurt me? I can just see them, big ugly bruisers, and I mean that literally.”

“Vila. I’m not sure I can help you that much.”

“Why not? I’d look after you too. I can tell you who to watch out for, who to trust. I can always tell. Look, I don’t suppose you think it’s that bad getting knocked around a bit, a big strong guy like you, but violence and me, they just don’t mix. It might be worse—it might be like the JD Wards all over again.”

“All right, Vila. It’s a deal. We’ll look after each other, just like you said. But I really will need you to tell me who’s a threat. You see, I’m in here because they gave me a limiter.”

“A limiter? Gan, what’s that?”

“A thing they put in my head to stop me killing.” Gan saw the expression on Vila’s face change from puzzlement to pity. “But we’ll be all right together, as long as no-one finds out.” And it might even be true. For the first time in days, he felt the beginnings of optimism.

---

Three days later, two guards came in, dumped their clothes unceremoniously on the floor, and undid Vila’s cuffs. “Right, up you get, you two. You’re off to the holding cells.”

Vila got out of bed and stood shivering in his short hospital gown, rubbing his wrists resentfully. “Well, turn around then,” he said, “I’m shy.”

“What have you got that we haven’t, then?” one of the guards jeered.

“Apart from charm, wit and good looks? Let’s see, taste—”

“Just get on with it, scum.”

Gan dressed with quick efficiency, and watched, amused, as Vila contorted himself so as to show as little skin as possible, and finally stood fully clothed in several rumpled layers, ineffectually trying to smooth out the wrinkles. He licked his fingers and carefully brought his hair forward over his forehead, then made sure that the two brooches on his jerkin were straight and perfectly parallel. He looked up and grinned a bit sheepishly at Gan.

“Look like gold, but they’re only plastic,” he said with a wink. “Still, there’s a lockpick in each,” he added in a confidential whisper.

“Right. Move it, you two,” the first guard snapped, and they both fell in behind Gan and Vila.

---

Outside the holding cells, one of the guards grabbed Vila by the arm and pulled him towards the armed troopers stationed against the wall facing the bars. “See these men, Restal? You break out and you’ll be dead before you hit the floor.”

“Oh,” Vila said in a very small voice, then visibly pulled himself together. “All for me? I am flattered. You shouldn’t have, really.” He twisted out of the guard’s grip and sauntered along the line. “Stand up straight then, look sharp. I’m the reason they’re paying you.” Vila called himself a coward, but that, Gan thought, was courage of a sort.

“Why you...” One of the troopers took a swing at Vila, but he dodged the blow and ducked behind Gan. Gan raised his chin and looked impassively at Vila’s assailant, who stepped back and fingered his weapon nervously.

“There you go,” Vila chattered happily as they were pushed into the holding cell. “A deterrent’s all that’s needed. Just lean on them a little, give them a hard look or two, maybe toss a couple of them around. A guy your size, who’s going to risk annoying you?” He looked around curiously. “Time to meet and greet, I think.”

Gan leant against the wall in the far corner and watched, amused, as Vila worked his way round the floor, smiling, chatting, side-stepping some of the prisoners with a quick nervous look, stopping for a longer talk with others. He slipped back to Gan after a while, and leant back beside him.

“Couple of guys you’ll have to watch closely, some who’d be mean if riled up but I’ll stay clear of them. See that big guy over there? Put him in his place and the others shouldn’t bother you. There’s a few it might be worth our while to get to know. See that girl over there? That’s Jenna Stannis. Says she’s a free-trader. A smuggler, that’s what she is. Odd that, she’s pretty high-grade I’d say, probably an Alpha. Tough, but I’d trust her.”

Gan nodded.

“Not sure she trusts me though,” Vila added ruefully. “I think she thought I was making a pass. Got the wrong person, there. She could probably break both me arms with one of hers tied behind her.” He shrugged, and slid down the wall to sit on the floor, legs stretched out in front of him. Gan lowered himself to crouch beside him. “That poor kid over there though, he’s called Nova. First time nicked and they’re sending him to CA. D’you think we could include him in our team?”

“Well, Vila, you’re the expert here. You’re the one who says you can read people.”

“Yeah, well, he’s all right. Bit scared, but to be honest, next to me he’s a rock. The more people we have looking out for each other the better. That’s one thing I learned first time I got sent away. Don’t worry though, the limiter thing stays just between us two.”

“Good. Did you happen to find out how long we’re here for?”

“Till we refuel. Tomorrow, probably.” Vila drew his legs up against his stomach. “Bet they don’t bother feeding us either.”

---

Several hours later, they brought in an unconscious man and dumped him on a bed. Vila looked up with interest, and immediately noticed the watch on the man’s wrist.

“Nice watch. Time to establish my credentials I think,” he said to Gan, and began to make his way over to the bench.

A visitor began screaming in protest as she was dragged away from the bars by the guards. Vila stopped, disconcerted. He remembered his mother having to be removed forcibly when he was sent to CF1, and it was not a memory he particularly wanted. He blinked a few times, then remembered what he was doing. Good, Jenna was standing near the new prisoner. He made sure from the corner of his eyes that she was looking in his direction before he crouched down beside the man and skilfully removed his watch. Just in case Jenna had not noticed, he began to reach for a wallet. He had miscalculated. It was not Jenna who objected, but the victim himself; he opened his eyes and pushed Vila away.

“Easy! Take it easy! I hate personal violence, especially when I'm the person!” he objected.

“Who are you?”

Well, he seemed a nice guy. What the hell. He held out his hand and said, “I'm Vila Restal.”

---


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