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Ask Me No Questions

By Marian Mendez
Page 1 of 3

"Be quiet, Vila. I'm trying to think." Avon paced in the narrow cell. He should have known that the first mission Blake entrusted to him would go wrong. He could still see Blake's earnest face, explaining how simple it would be - 'Silas is nothing but wheat fields and farmers. They're so non-aggressive they haven't a single Federation trooper assigned to them. Everyone but Orac has forgotten that the grain disease now being used to starve an entire sector into submission was originally developed there.' Avon had argued that Orac also said the computer holding the records was so old that Avon would have to spend hours modifying it before Orac could link to extract the information. Blake thought that was perfect, it would give him time to visit the capitol 'city' to arrange for shipments of grain for the afflicted worlds (paying with gems from the treasure room!) while his computer expert and thief gathered the data. And, so as not to frighten the peaceloving locals, Blake had not allowed them to carry weapons.

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.


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