Home RunBy Joolz
Page 2 of 7
|After a quite enjoyable meal of fresh cooked, non-reconstituted food, the two retired to their room in a particularly seedy passage on a lower level. As they stepped inside Vila stopped and looked around. ‘Room’ was the right word. Singular, if you didn’t count the fresher behind the screen in one corner. There was one straight-back chair, one double bed, one shelf with odds and ends, nothing more.|
He turned to Avon. “What’s this, then? Is it my room or yours?”
“This is our room. Below my usual standards, and quite possibly below yours as well, but we will not be noticed here nor any questions asked. We are simply another couple willing to pay for privacy from the dormitories. Pretend that it’s a luxury suite.”
“But there’s only one bed!”
“If that is a problem for you, you can sleep on the floor or sit up all night in the chair. The choice is yours. I suggest you get some rest. We have a lot to do tomorrow. We will study the plans for the laboratory section where the Veet is housed and then inspect the area to observe security measures in person.”
“Walk in, just like that?”
“We are both part of the janitorial staff, if you had forgotten.”
Vila snorted bitterly. “That’s right, no one looks at a lowly Delta floor-sweeper. We’ll be invisible men.”
“That’s the idea. In this case we will take advantage of the Alpha and Beta prejudices that you are so fond of pointing out. Now leave me in peace.” Avon began to root around in his shoulder bag.
Vila wasn’t finished. “Orac already told us what the security measures are. We came prepared, remember? Why risk going there twice?”
“Vila, you do know that Orac is a machine, don’t you? A highly advanced machine, but it doesn’t know what it doesn’t know.” He winced at the odd phrasing. “The point is that I don’t want to risk my life by depending solely on the information that Orac has access to. A visual reconnaissance before the actual event is in order. “
Vila grumbled his agreement and spent several minutes inspecting the undersized accommodation they would call home for the next few days. His nose wrinkled in disgust.
He wasn’t tired at all. He always got energized before a job, but that wasn’t it. His sister was just a sub-car ride away and the only thing standing between them was Avon. If he didn’t take this chance, he may never have another one as long as he lived! He could be there and back in no time.
The Delta paced the small floor space gloomily while Avon sat on the bed reading a sheaf of print-outs. Eventually he came to a decision and turned toward the door.
Without looking up Avon asked, “Where are you going?”
Vila answered defensively, “Just for a little walk. To stretch my legs, that’s all. No harm in that.”
Avon responded absently, “No.”
“What do you mean, no? I can go for a walk if I like.”
The other man looked at him frostily. “You’re going to see your sister.”
“So what if I am? I’m going to see her, not be seen by her. I want to see her face, just to know if she’s all right.”
“Not this trip, Vila.”
“I am going,” Vila challenged and turned to the door.
Vila never saw Avon move, but suddenly the other man was in front of him, slamming him back against the wall just as Vila had taught him to do. One hand holding Vila in place, Avon growled, “I said that you’re not going and that’s final. I assure you that if forced to impose that decision by physical means I will do so.”
Vila had no doubt that Avon could restrain him, and probably in a most unpleasant manner, but his anger boiled over.
“You lump of heartless rime! It’s easy for you to say don’t go see my sister, my only family! Were probably born in a beaker, you were! You don’t understand.”
Avon’s icy visage faltered for a moment and he answered softly, “I have a brother.”
“Well, there you are! Don’t you want to see him?”
The other man stared past Vila’s shoulder vacantly. “It’s not the same. My brother wouldn’t be glad of a visit, unless he had the opportunity to report it and collect the reward. My brother despises me.”
The words and the emptiness in Avon’s face startled Vila, but he refused to be sidetracked. “But Gil isn’t like that. Why won’t you let me go?”
Avon’s gaze again pierced him. “Because I need you here and I need you to concentrate on this mission. Your sister would be an unnecessary distraction. I can’t allow that. She may not be there anyway. Did you ever think that she might have moved or been transferred?”
It still didn’t make sense to Vila, Avon didn’t need him Right That Minute. He was being even more unreasonable than usual. Then he had a sudden suspicion. “You know something, don’t you? When you were at the public terminal you looked her up.”
When Avon didn’t answer a great, cold fist began to squeeze Vila’s stomach. “Tell me! I’m not going to cooperate unless you do. I’d like to see you pull off this all-important mission without me.”
Avon glared at him for a moment, then his face softened. “Very well. I can see that you are already distracted. There is little to lose.”
Vila pleaded with his eyes.
“It seems that your sister is likely dead.”
Vila shook his head. “No.”
“It happened shortly after you joined the Liberator. She was arrested by the Federation and disappeared from sight.”
Vila felt dizzy. “Arrested? Because of me? But are you sure that she’s dead? She could be in a cell somewhere. We could rescue her!”
Avon’s hand was still on Vila’s chest, but now it was more comforting than restraining. “The resources available through the public terminal were inadequate to find anything more precise. Vila, you must know that if the Federation had her then she is probably dead. I promise, when this is over I will find out everything I can. If we can help your sister you can be sure that Blake will insist on doing so.”
Grief and anger welled up in Vila and he lashed out, pushing Avon away from him. “Why didn’t you tell me? My sister’s dead and you weren’t even going to tell me. What gives you the right?”
Avon watched him calmly. “I told you why. I need you to be focused on the matter at hand. My life could depend on it. I would have told you later. There’s nothing you can do about it now, and knowing will just cause you pain.”
Vila slumped against the wall. He could see Avon’s point but he still hurt. Avon grasped his arms and led him to the chair. Vila sat staring desolately at the floor trying to take in what he had learned. His mind didn’t seem to want to accept it. Gil, his sister, gone.
Avon observed him for a moment, then bent to speak. “Will you stay here, Vila? Will you promise?”
Vila nodded absently. His legs felt too weak to move anyway. Avon slipped out the door, leaving him alone. He could have been gone two minutes or two hours as far as Vila could tell, then Avon was in front of him again with a bottle and a glass.
“Here, drink this.”
Vila took the glass and swallowed. The fine liquor burned going down, bringing him back to awareness. He stared up at Avon in amazement.
“You’re letting me drink?”
A slight smile touched the corners of the tech’s mouth. “In this case I consider it medicinal. There’s nothing for you to do until tomorrow, anyway.”
Smiling weakly, Vila praised, “You’re a real mate!”
“Let’s not exaggerate, shall we.”
Vila took the bottle and refilled his glass. “Have one with me, will you?”
Avon considered, then agree, “Very well. One drink would do me no harm either.” He brought a glass, Vila filled it, and he sat on the edge of the bed.
As they sipped in silence Vila, needing the sound of human voices to steady him, rallied enough to speak. “I didn’t know you had a brother.”
The other man stiffened. “I don’t wish to discuss it.”
“But what I want to know is, if they picked up my sister after Cygnus Alpha, why didn’t they pick up your brother?”
“They did. They released him after four weeks.”
Avon’s blank mask, which didn’t hide nearly as much as he thought it did, was back in place. “Kiman probably cooperated. He would have told them everything he could about me and promised to help entrap me if the opportunity arose. The Federation would recognize a kindred spirit in him.”
Vila waited and Avon continued unbidden. “He is five years younger than I. Our parents used us against each other from the start; comparing us, spurring competition. The environment didn’t foster fraternal affection. It didn’t help that as hard as he tried, he could never best me. Kiman is quite intelligent; he has a fine mind. It was just that I always did a little bit better. That would be difficult under the best of circumstances, but in our case it generated implacable hatred on his part. My failed fraud will have delighted him no end.”
Vila thought about it, then suggested, “You don’t hate him?”
Avon sighed. “We were never close. We have nothing in common. But he is my little brother.” He grimaced. “It seems that familial attachment is genetically programmed whether we choose it or not. Would that I were immune.”
Vila sympathized. “I’m sorry. How did you know all this? Did you check on him from the public terminal as well?”
Avon straightened up and swallowed the rest of his drink. “No. I have monitored Kiman since we obtained Orac. Did it never occur to you to inquire about your sister?”
Shaking his head, Vila answered with surprise, “No, I can’t think why not. Will you help me ask Orac when we get back? He likes you better than he likes me.”
Avon grinned and forewent the usual pronoun correction. “Orac is a machine of great discernment and taste. Yes, I will help you. This Veet technology may be of use in extracting information from Federation computers as well.”
Vila nodded and poured another drink for Avon, who didn’t object. Deep in the bowels of the Dome city, with humanity scurrying all around them, the pair fell into a melancholy silence. At that moment past ties bound them both with regret.
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