Points of IntersectionBy Joanna Thomas
Page 2 of 7
"I expect you're wondering how I came to be on the 'Lodestar'," Vila said, with as much brightness as he could muster, placing the two cups on the table and sitting down opposite Avon.
Their earlier conversation had been interrupted, somewhat fortuitously in Vila's opinion, by the dinner bell. They had taken their seats among the other prisoners who were already passing the metal spoons and plastic meal trays along the tables.
"Oi, I've no spoon here," called a prisoner at the end nearest the four guards. "Sir," he added nonchalantly, catching their expressions.
"You forgot your new guest," another prisoner shouted, to much laughter. Dozens of pairs of eyes turned towards Avon, who sat with his eyes fixed on the table. The guards looked at each other in confusion and accusation, then at the nod of the senior officer one of them fetched another spoon. The prisoners tore the plastic covers from their meals, carefully pocketing the foil corner tabs before beginning to eat hungrily.
"Hang on to that, mate," said the man next to Avon, pointing to the tab on the table in front of him. "It's our currency on here. Although no doubt your pal will delight in fleecing you too, like he does the rest of us," he added, jerking a thumb towards Vila.
Avon had said nothing during the meal, eating steadily. Even when Vila produced the missing spoon from up his sleeve and flourished it triumphantly behind the backs of the guards he had shown no reaction. The others laughed.
"Up to your usual tricks, eh, Vila?" one prisoner said.
"What are you going to do with that - dig your way out?" joked another.
During the meal Vila had opportunity to examine Avon more closely. There was no doubt that he was leaner, the prison tunic hanging loosely on his bent shoulders, his face pale and drawn with dark shadows around his eyes. Above one eyebrow the telltale ridge of an inadequately treated scar gave the impression of a permanent frown. But it was the sight of Avon's left hand which shocked and sickened Vila. He had noticed it almost as soon as they had sat down at the table. The fingers were stiffly held, bent at distorted angles, the knuckles depressed and deeply scarred. Avon did not use it throughout the meal, resting it on the edge of the table.
Now the tables had been cleared and the prisoners had dispersed.
Vila tried again. "I said, I expect you're wondering how I came to be on the 'Lodestar'." He pushed one of the cups across the table towards Avon. The dark eyes met his.
"Go ahead, tell me."
"Well, I guess you could say I was lucky. Back on Gauda Prime when all that shooting started I got down pretty damned quick, I can tell you, and then I think I passed out. The Federation guards took me to their ship for questioning then -"
"The others?" interrupted Avon.
"Dead." Vila waited with dread for further questions but none came. "Anyway, after a couple of hours, once I'd told them everything I knew, they told me I was being sent to Nexos, that I'd be given a new identity. I got the distinct impression that they wanted me out of the way. So, they took me there by transporter, gave me new papers and five thousand credits and said goodbye. What they didn't tell me was that Nexos was a miserable dump, and that I was going to be followed everywhere I went. After a couple of weeks or so I'd had enough. I met a trader in a spaceport bar who was heading to Feyron, gave my tail the slip, and got myself out of Nexos unnoticed."
Vila swigged a mouthful of water from his cup under Avon's steady gaze.
"Feyron was much better - there's wealth there, from the mining days, so there's plenty of opportunity for private enterprise for someone with my talents. Just as well, as I was strapped for cash and -"
"What happened to the five thousand credits?"
Vila looked morose, and tried to avoid Avon's gaze. "I drank most of it on Nexos."
"Go on," prompted Avon at last.
"I was doing pretty well for myself with a nice regular income and good prospects. Then I made the mistake of straying onto someone else's patch and they tipped off the Federation guards. I was arrested, tried, and got three years." He shrugged resignedly. "It could happen to anyone."
Avon swilled the water thoughtfully around the bottom of his cup. "Were you arrested and tried under your new identity?"
"Of course. There'd have been a real hoo-ha otherwise, I expect. Things were just beginning to get uncomfortable for the Federation on Feyron so they clearly hadn't bothered to check the central records too carefully."
"Just another petty thief," mused Avon. Vila opened his mouth to protest, but Avon spoke first, his eyes narrowing. "The other prisoners called you Vila at dinner."
"That's right. Vila Tregus." He returned Avon's condescending look with interest. "I insisted. It's a common enough name! Anything else just wouldn't be me."
"So you're confident that the Federation did not know who you really are when they put you on this ship?"
Avon looked sceptical. "Then either our meeting like this is a remarkable coincidence, or you are absolutely mistaken." His expression hardened. "I never could believe in coincidences." He returned his attention to the water in his cup. Vila found it hard to keep his eyes from Avon's disfigured hand.
"What happened to you?" he asked after a long silence.
"What?" Avon looked at him blankly, his thoughts clearly elsewhere.
"What happened to you? On Gauda Prime?" Vila persisted. Avon slowly drained the contents of his cup and placed it on the table, before beginning to speak.
"I was shot, just sufficient to put me out of action, but not before I managed to kill three of the guards. When I came round I was in the medical unit of a Federation ship. The doctors patched me up, but didn't go to too much trouble over it. Then I was handed back to the guards for questioning. There was nothing subtle about their methods."
Avon studied his hand thoughtfully, before continuing.
"After three days or so, Servalan turned up-"
"Servalan! What was she doing there?" asked Vila.
"She wanted to do a deal. She wanted Orac."
"I refused. She handed me over to the Security interrogation team which she had brought with her. They worked on me for about three weeks, I would guess, then one day it suddenly stopped."
"You told them what they wanted."
"No!" Avon's face contorted with anger. "I told them nothing useful."
"They'd found Orac?"
Avon examined Vila speculatively before replying. "I think they found Orac early on. They wanted to know how to override the disabler I'd introduced. I didn't tell them. No, I expect they stopped because they felt they were wasting their time. By that stage I was passing out frequently. And, from what you tell me, perhaps they had other business elsewhere. In any case, they must have taken me to Drax at that point, although I have no recollection of the journey. I was held there in solitary confinement."
Avon's attention was drawn by the rising volume of an argument between prisoners at a nearby table. Vila waited for him to continue, but when Avon looked back at him once more from hooded eyes, realisation dawned.
Avon nodded. "That's it."
"You've been in solitary confinement for almost two years?"
Again, Avon nodded.
"Bloody hell." Vila whistled through his teeth. "But where do you think they're taking you now - and why?"
Avon's mouth curled at the corner.
"For once, your guess is probably as good as mine."
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