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Defector

By Leia Fee
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Defector

Defector
By Leia Fee

“How much do you actually know about this Valejo anyway?  How do you know he won't sell us?” Avon demanded when Blake proposed visiting his latest contact with the resistance.

“He's a Federation defector.  He's been with the resistance for years.”

“Message coming in now from Arradi,” Vila announced.

“Put it on the main screen.”

Vila fiddled with a few controls and a smiling, fair-haired man appeared on the screen.

“Valejo to Liberator.  Are you receiving me?”

“We have you on screen,” Blake confirmed.  Suddenly there was the sound of a thud from behind him and he spun round to see Vila slumped on the floor.

“What are you playing at?” Blake demanded of the thief as he sat up.  Valejo looked on, startled.

Vila put his hand to his head.  “I don't know, I just felt dizzy all of a sudden.”

“Cally, can you help Vila to the medical unit?” Blake asked and turned back to Valejo.

“Sorry, it doesn't seem like we can go five minutes here without something going wrong.”

“Don't worry about it.  I hope your man is okay”

“He's probably just got a head cold knowing Vila,” Blake commented as Cally helped Vila off the flight deck.  He didn't seem aware of where he was and bumped into the door as they left the flight deck.  Cally caught his arm to guide him and called his name to try to get his attention but there was no comprehension on his face.

Rough hands dragged him from his hiding place.  He flailed at them with fists and feet and even bit at them but to no avail.  He heard the commander of the unit ordering them to hold onto him and to subdue him and the blow that followed knocked him out cold.

Cally held Vila's arm as he wobbled down the corridor.  He really didn't look well and Cally suspected it was more than just Vila's usual malingering this time.  When they reached the medical unit Vila perched on the edge of a bed while Cally set up the diagnostic equipment.  She was returning to his side when he suddenly put his hand to his head again.

“Cally, I think I'm going to…” he started, before slumping sideways onto the bed, out cold.

The cell was cold and the pallet he lay on uncomfortable, but he forced himself to remain motionless upon it, feigning sleep when the guards came for him.  They weren't convinced of course and he merely got a kick in the ribs for his trouble before being hauled to his feet and marched off.

He woke to Cally shaking his shoulder and calling, “Vila.  Vila, wake up.”

He sat up and blinked rapidly several times.  “What's wrong with me?”

“I don't know, Vila.  The scanners don't show anything.  It could just be stress, exhaustion.  It's been a long time since any of us got a break.”

Blake headed down to the medical unit as soon as he had arranged a rendezvous with Valejo.  “Is he all right?” he asked as soon as he entered the room.

Cally shrugged helplessly.  “I don't know.  Physically there's nothing wrong with him.”

“Well people don't spontaneously pass out for no reason.”

“I know that.  I can't explain it.”

“Is it likely to happen again?”

“I don't know.”

Blake sighed.  “We're supposed to meet with Valejo in two days time.  We were going to discuss the security arrangements on the Federation base they’ve been trying to infiltrate.  Is Vila going to be fit enough to go?”

“I can't see why not.  As I said there's nothing wrong that I can see.  The best I can suggest is that he gets some rest.”  

*

Two days later they arrived at Arradi.  Vila had not had another blackout and seemed fine so they teleported down to meet Valejo.

“Welcome to Arradi.  I am Valejo, the leader of the rebel unit here.”

Blake greeted him and shook his hand.  “Roj Blake.  This is Vila Restal.”

Vila just stood staring at him with a puzzled look on his face.  After a moment he shook his head and looked away.  Blake frowned at the thief’s apparent bad manners but Valejo just smiled indulgently.  “Feeling better?” he asked.  Vila didn't answer but Valejo continued, “I'm sure you've had a tiring trip.  I've had a meal prepared if you'd like to eat while we discuss things.”

Around a long table they sat to eat while the discussions went on.  Getting fresh supplies had always been a problem and it was wonderful to see the array of fruits and vegetables prepared for the meal.

“Where did you manage to get all this?” Vila asked with his mouth full.

“Well most of it we grow ourselves,” Valejo explained, “We have some land outside the city.  You have to remember this is primarily an isolated farming world.  Supply runs are expensive when you’re so far off the main space lanes.”

“Good place for a resistance cell though,” Blake commented.

“Indeed.  The Federation make regular patrols, I think they know there’s something going on here, but they’ve not caught us yet.  We have an established emergency plan for when the patrols do come around.  This base was an automated atmospheric sampling station and we can strip it of our stuff and be in hiding in under ten minutes.  Then to all intents and purposes that’s what it still appears to be.”  

“That doesn’t sounds very safe,” Vila said, frowning.

“It’s not ideal,” Valejo conceded.  “We’re working on an underground complex here which should be almost undetectable.  It’s not in the most habitable of conditions yet, but we can retreat down there to avoid the patrols.”

“Can you pass the sweetcorn?” Vila interupted, waving at Valejo.

The rebel leader smiled.  “It's nice to see someone appreciate my cooking.”

“You cooked this?”

“Oh yes, I enjoy it.”  Valejo passed the dish to Vila.  Vila took it off him and moved to put it on the table next to him.  There was a crash of breaking crockery as he missed, then a crash of falling furniture as he keeled over, tumbling off his chair and taking a small table with him.  He lay crumpled on the floor as Blake and Valejo leaned over him in concern.

He sat in the dark, shivering, sick and hungry.  There was a plate of food on the floor near the door but he couldn't bring himself to eat.  The nausea was winning over the hunger.  He wished he knew what drugs it was they were filling him with that were making him so sick and what good it was supposed to do.  They disoriented him somewhat but mostly they just made him sick.  He wondered how long you could live without eating or drinking.  He hoped it wasn't long.

When he woke he was sitting, propped up, sprawled half across Blake's lap.

“Vila?  Are you okay?”

“It was like before.  I just suddenly felt dizzy.”

“You passed out.”

“How long?”

“Only a few minutes.  Do you want to go back up to the ship?”

“I feel fine now.”

“Valejo was going to take us to meet the other resistance leaders here.  You feel up to coming?”

Vila shrugged.  “I feel fine.  We've got our bracelets if anything happens.”

“All right then.”

Blake stood up and gave Vila his hand to help him to his feet.  Valejo came over and clapped Vila on the shoulder.  “All right there?  You went down like a log.”

“I…”  Vila wobbled where he stood.  “Oh no.   I feel dizzy, I…”

Blake caught Vila's shoulders and lowered him to the floor as he passed out once again.

Everything hurt.  The guards either side of him had a hard time holding him upright.  He couldn't support any of his own weight and dangled between them as the third one beat him.  He was too exhausted now even to plead with them to stop.  The third guard caught hold of his chin and lifted his head to peer into his face to see if he was still conscious.  For a moment Vila stared full into the face of his tormentor and knew he would not forget that face as long as he lived.

Vila struggled to his feet as soon as he roused and launched himself at Valejo, taking him by surprise and knocking him off his feet.

“You!  You were at the correction centre where they took me!  You…you…”  He trailed off, unable to find adequate words to express himself.  He struck at Valejo's face with his fists, shouting incoherently.  For a moment both the Liberator crew and Valejo's people stood staring in shock, but then both sides stepped in to pull Vila and Valejo apart.  Blake hauled Vila away from Valejo, caught hold of his arms and held him while turning to confront Valejo who was standing shaken, being supported round the shoulders by one of his own people.

“Is this true?” he asked, his voice cold.

Vila renewed his struggle against Blake’s grip.  “I remember him!  He was there!”

“Is it true?” Blake repeated.

Reluctantly Valejo nodded.  “Probably.  I was stationed at a correction facility for the last few years I was with the Federation.  It's what finally made me decide to defect.  The things we did there…” He stopped and ran his hand over his face.  “I don't remember everyone I…  There were so many.  I didn't know I'd dealt with one of yours.  I swear.  I wasn't out to deceive you.”

“Dealt with?” Vila spat furiously.  “Dealt with!  Tortured you mean.”

Valejo dipped his head in acquiescence.  “I worked in the preliminaries department.  We prepared the prisoners for the conditioning process.  Our job was to break down their resistance so they would be receptive, susceptible to the mental tricks the conditioning department used to adjust their minds.  Some of them fought the drugs and we had to use more extreme methods.  I'm not proud of what I did, but it was a long time ago.  I never hid the fact I used to work for the Federation!”

Vila was close to hysterical with anger.  Blake was quite shocked at his vehemence; he'd never seen him so angry.

“Your drugs didn't work!  They just made me ill!  I know exactly what your 'extreme methods' consisted of!  I still dream about them!”

“Oh God.”  Valejo flopped into a chair looking pale.  “I do remember you.  We didn't have many people come through who reacted that badly to the drugs.  One was a Delta thief.  You.”  He shook his head, looking positively sick.  “I don't know what to say.  Sorry is inadequate.”

“Bloody right.” Vila snapped back.  “Let go of me, Blake.  I'm not going to hit him.  What's the point?”  Vila sighed heavily and dropped into a chair looking exhausted.  “I want to go back to the ship now.”

Blake nodded and activated his bracelet.  “Cally?  We're ready to come back now.”

There was no response and Blake frowned, pressed a few buttons and tried again.  “Cally?  Come in.  Hmm.  Vila, try yours.”

Vila tried with no more success. 

“They must have moved out of range.”

“Why would they do that?” Vila asked in alarm.

As he spoke a siren went off and one of Valejo's people ran in.  “We've got a problem.  Two Federation ships on their way in. They’re going for a landing.”

Valejo reacted instantly.  “All right.  Let’s go.”  He turned to the man who had brought the warning.  “Marcus, get the emergency plan underway.  Get everyone to the retreat.  Send out the signal to warn the outlaying bases.”

As Marcus hurried to follow these instructions, Valejo turned back to Blake.  “You'd better come with us.”

“We can’t trust him, Blake!”

“We don’t have a choice, Vila.  If we stay here we will certainly be captured.”

Vila still hung back, reluctant and distrustful.  Valejo grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the escape tunnels.  “You want another spell in a Federation prison?” he demanded.  “Move it!” 

“Come on, Vila.”  Blake caught his other arm and steered him along with the crowd of people entering the underground retreat. 

*

In the underground complex, where they had fled the Federation landing craft, Blake and Vila sat facing Valejo and a small group of his followers.

“Why don't you tell them what you did?” demanded Vila after a long silence.  “They should know what kind of man they're following.”

“We knew he worked for the Federation,” pointed out one of the rebels.

“Did you know what he did?  Did he tell you that?  Did he tell you what he did to the poor sods they brought in for conditioning?”  He turned back to Valejo.  “Tell me, when you were beating me, that smile on your face - was it just meant to frighten me or did you really enjoy your work that much?”

Valejo looked sick.  “I…” he started but Vila cut him off.  “You looked like you were enjoying yourself, maybe you were pleased that the drugs didn't work and you could get some hands-on experience.  Did you get a lot of job satisfaction from seeing me grovelling on the floor begging you just to kill me and let it be over?”

Valejo didn't answer.

“Tell me!  Did you?” Vila shouted.

“I wasn't the same person then that I am now,” Valejo protested.

“Did you enjoy hurting me?  It's a simple yes or no question!”

“Vila.”  Blake put his hand on the thief's shoulder.  “Leave it alone.”

“I won't.  I want to know!”

“Yes!” Valejo finally snapped angrily.  “Yes!  All right?  Is that what you want to hear?  I despised you and your kind.  Worthless criminals.  I was proud to be a part of clearing the street of your crime.  I liked hearing you scream, because you deserved it.  And I was very good at what I did!”

“Oh you certainly were.”

“How much have I told my people about what I did?  Nothing.  But what about you?  Hmm?  Have you shared all the gory details with your friends?  Have you told them what else I did to you?  Because I did more than just beat you senseless didn't I?  You know I got a commendation for the work I did on you.  They said my methods were very creative.”

Vila made a choking sound and went very pale.

“You don't like the cold do you, Vila?  Or the dark?  Small closed places...  Do you remember the crawlspace, Vila?  Do you still dream about that too?”

“That is enough!” Blake barked.

Abruptly the anger fled from Valejo's face and he dropped his face to his hands.  “Oh God I was so pleased with myself for what I did,” he whispered.  Abruptly he pulled himself together.  “Excuse me.  I have some checks to make.”  He stood and strode off across the cave. 

After a moment Vila stood and began pacing restlessly.  “So how long are we going to be stuck down here?”

“I don’t know,” Blake answered calmly.

“How can you just sit there?  Don’t you care about what he’s done?”

“It was a long time ago, Vila.”

“What they did to your head was a long time ago too.  Have you stopped hating them for that?  Have you forgiven them for the people they killed because of you?  What makes you right and me wrong?”

Blake sighed heavily and Vila felt a sudden pang of regret at dragging up Blake’s painful memories as well as his own.  He ceased his pacing and sat down again.

“Sorry,” he said quietly.  “I’m not really feeling myself y’know?”

“It’s all right, Vila.  I understand.”

“Yeah.  Well I’m sorry anyway.  I shouldn’t have said that.”

They sat in silence for long minutes then Blake spoke.  “I have thought about it you know.  I try not to blame the individuals involved.  Most of the people working for the Federation really believe they’re doing the right thing for the right reasons.  They’re not that different from us.  It’s hard to realise that a system which has looked after you your whole life, a system you’ve worked for and defended, could be corrupt.  There’s a lot of good people still working for the Federation, doing terrible things in the name of justice.  That’s why it’s important to support those who have seen the truth and turned away from the Federation they supported, because it’s them, not us, that the people still inside will believe.  They’ll only see us as terrorists, rebels, but when they see their colleagues, their friends, turning to us and supporting our cause, then they’ll start to think about what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Vila had listened to this in silence.  “Do you really believe that?  That people can change?”

“I have to believe it.  Otherwise what would be the point?”

Vila made a noncommittal sound and stood up again.

“Where are you going?”

“To find Valejo.”

“Don’t do anything stupid, Vila.”

Vila gave a little smile. “Who?  Me?” 

Vila found Valejo sitting with several of his followers.  They rose suspiciously to their feet as he came near.

“It’s all right.”  Vila raised his hands in a placating gesture.  “I only want to talk.”

Valejo looked at him for a moment.  “Leave us alone,” he finally asked the group.

“Thanks.”  Vila gestured at the rough benches set into the cavern wall.  “Can we sit down?”

Valejo nodded assent and sat.  After a moment Vila followed suit.

“Blake thinks I should forgive you,” Vila said flatly, unable to muster the energy for preliminary small talk.

“He said that?”  Valejo sounded mildy surprised.

“Well not exactly.  But it’s not usually difficult to tell what Blake’s thinking.  He’s straightforward, y’know?  Honest.”

“So I understand.”

“He likes to think the best of people.”  He gave a short bark of laughter.  “Even when there isn’t that much ‘best’ to find.  He thinks people are better than they are and somehow when people are around him they think they’re better too.  They try to be what he thinks they are.”

“Do you?”

Vila glanced at Valejo sharply, then sighed.  “Yeah, me too.  I’m not cut out to be a rebel.  Revolutionaries never live to hear the stories about them.  And I want to be one of the people who gets to live a long time and die a boring death in bed at an immense age.  I can’t see the world the way he does.  I’m not the hero type.  You were right about me.  I’m a petty criminal.  Worthless.”

“I was wrong.  You’ve survived things no one should have to survive and now you’re fighting so that one day no one will have to survive such things ever again.”

“No.  I don’t want to fight at all!  But I’ve got even less chance on my own.  Nowhere’s safe anymore.”

Valejo shook his head, “You could find a bolthole if you really wanted to.  You’re doing something worthwhile, Vila.  You’re closer to being a hero than I am.  I’ve just seen too much damage the Federation has done to not want to correct some of it.”

“Is that what I am to you?  Damaged goods?  Your charity case?”

“No.  Just the past I’ve tried to forget.  You’re not the only one who still dreams about those times you know.  When I realised who you were it was like one of my nightmares come to life.”

“Yeah, well I could say the same.”  Vila said, making a face halfway between a smile and a grimace.

“I’m sorry about what I said earlier.  I’d no call to yell at you.  Not like that.  It was myself I was angry with, not you.”

“Yes.”

“There seems little point in apologizing, no amount of ‘sorry’ could make up for what you went through.  But if it's worth anything,” Velajo said, “I am sorry for what happened to you and for my part in it.”

“You could have left us on the surface,” Vila responded.  “The man who tortured me would have.  You didn’t.  I believe you are sorry.  I’m just not sure if it makes any difference.”

Abruptly Vila turned and walked back to where Blake sat.  His thoughts were in turmoil and he was tired both physically and emotionally.

*

They couldn't guess how long they'd been in hiding.  There was still no response from the Liberator.  Most of the people sheltering in the cavern were asleep or dozing.  Only Blake and Valejo sat awake, watching over their people.

Vila slept uneasily, tossing and whimpering in his sleep.  Valejo watched him, his face bleak.

“I did that to him.  Me.  And now I've trapped you down here with us.”

“Vila's got plenty in his past to have nightmares about, Valejo.  I doubt it can all be laid at your feet.”

Valejo didn't seem to have heard.  “The blackouts he was having, they were flashbacks to when he was a prisoner.  Triggered by seeing me again.”

“It seems so.”

“I've never met any of the people I harmed when I was still with the Federation before.  There must be so many.  I don't know if I can live with that anymore.”

“There's nothing you can do for them now.  But you can help stop the Federation hurting more like them.”

“Maybe.  But it's not enough.”

“You do what you can.  Like all of us.  And like all of us you have things in your past you're not proud of.”

Valejo moved his gaze from Vila to Blake, a curious look in his eyes.

“When the Federation captured me,” Blake explained, “I gave away more or less everyone I knew in the resistance.  Probably they were all killed as a result, or brainwashed into mindless drones.  And after I betrayed them, I publicly denounced them.”

“But that wasn't your fault.  It was the Federation.  The conditioning.”

“I tell myself that.  Some days, I even believe it.”

“It was people like me who did that to you.  Why aren't you angry?”

“I don't blame you.”

“Vila does.”

“He'll get over it.  He's survived everything the Federation penal system could throw at him.  He'll survive this too.”

*

There was a rumbling sound from above and the cavern roof trembled.

“Listen.  The landing craft they're taking off.”

The noise had roused the sleepers and Valejo's people were standing and beginning to gather their belongings.  They had obviously performed this routine many times before. 

An hour after the Federation ships had left, Cally contacted Blake to tell him they were back on station and ready to pick them up.

“Stand by, Cally.” Blake looked across to where Vila and Valejo were talking.  “Give us a few minutes.”

  *

“I can’t forget what you did,” Vila was saying.

“I don’t expect you too.”

“But maybe people can change.  I’d like to believe that.” 

“So would I.”

Vila gave him a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes then turned and walked back to where Blake was waiting. 

“Ready to go?” Blake asked as he approached.

“Ready.”

“Cally, bring us up.”


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