The Wolf UnleashedBy Alicia Ann Fox
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|Vila Restal, who had recently recovered memories of his life before the Delta-grade thief persona, blithely checked over the flight systems of the planet hopper Scorpio, which he had acquired creatively the previous week. He hummed to himself as his eyes scanned the scrolling reports; his booted feet were propped on the console. On his stomach rested the stack of credits that had been his reward for the corpses of Dayna Mellanby, Del Tarrant, and Soolin. Unfortunately the body of Kerr Avon had been lost over Malodaar, but Restal scarcely cared. He'd been amply repaid for that particular killing with his memory, and besides, there was always more money somewhere.
End report, the screen flashed greenly. "May I do anything else for you, Master?" asked the ship's computer, Slave.
"You can shut up," Vila said with glee, "until I tell you to speak, you sniveling hunk of junk. A sheep in a canister, that's what you are."
"I most humbly beg your pardon, Master." The cylinder rotated obsequiously.
"Just can it!" Vila replied, laughing uproariously at his own humor and throwing credits in a shower of paper. After a prolonged interval he quieted, picked up a knife that had formerly belonged to Dayna, and began to clean under his fingernails. Thoughtfully he pressed buttons with his heel and watched lists of nearby planetary systems scroll by again.
"Dum dee dee deedee dum," he sang under his breath. Donder... Catania... Arazi... Gauda Prime... Puchini... "Hmmnn." He reread the synopses on Arazi and Gauda Prime. The former offered gambling galore, but G.P. sounded much tougher. "Wild and woolly and treacherous. Just the place for me."
Because he had disposed of Orac in a fit of pique, Restal was forced to land Scorpio on the surface of Gauda Prime, after substantial bribes had changed hands. "I like a planet with proper defenses," he said as he strapped on a pair of clip guns. "You'll keep the ship safe for me, Slave. Confirm."
"I could get to like this. It's only what I deserve."
"Of course, Master."
Vila patted his guns. "We're off to see-- " He interrupted himself. "One of the things about that thief that annoyed me the most was he didn't know any good songs." "We're off to see the wizard...," he warbled as he exited.
Gauda Prime was very green. Most of the green was forest; twenty percent was, or had been, farmland, such as the field of overgrown beans which surrounded Scorpio.
Vila walked along jauntily. Concealed in his loose clothing were his real weapons: two garrotes, a handmade cutting wire, and a glass-impregnated wooden knife. He hummed a little spacefaring ditty as he crossed the field and entered the forest, his eyes wide and innocent, his mouth marred by a smug twist at the corner.
Voices. Vila stepped casually behind a tree and became silent; he knew nothing of woodcraft, but at silence he was expert.
There were two men, both clad in many layers of rough grimy clothing that Vila could smell from his hiding place. Fastidiously he wrinkled his nose but did not move.
One man walked behind the other, holding a rifle, ignoring his prisoner's importunities. Deliberately Vila relaxed his muscles as the strangers passed within yards of him, intending to ignore them and be on his way, but as they came nearer he stiffened involuntarily.
The walk. Few could disguise their walk, and Vila Restal's memory was very good indeed. The man with the rifle, dirty and, as Vila noted, scarred, was Roj Blake.
The twist at the corner of his mouth became a crooked grin. The two men passed him, unaware; he stepped out of his hiding place and said, "Fancy meeting you here."
Blake whirled; his prisoner ran, but Vila cut the fleeing figure down with his clipgun.
"What have you done?!" Blake exclaimed, his voice rising as it always did in surprised fury.
Vila shrugged. "He was getting away. You wanted to keep him, didn't you?" He gestured to the body with his gun.
"But, you... Vila! What are you doing here? I would never have thought-- " Blake turned, nudged the corpse with his toe, turned back. His rifle was safely pointed at the ground. He looked darkly angered, but at the same time bewildered.
"I've changed," Restal said blandly.
"Got himself killed. His own fault really. He went after the wrong person."
"Dead?" A half-turn of his body for a moment; then he stared directly at Vila, his scarred eye accentuating his stricken expression. "Avon's dead. I didn't believe the Federation report."
"So it goes." Vila shrugged.
Blake eyed him narrowly. "So why are you here?"
"I actually wasn't looking for you," Restal began. "Being at loose ends, I decided to seek a planet worthy of my talents."
"You seem to have found a niche, Blake."
"Don't-- I don't go by that name here."
"Really?" Vila's tone was polite disinterest. "How is the bounty business? There's been a recent boom, I've heard." Vila smiled.
The barrel of Blake's rifle rose fractionally. "Did anyone come with you?"
"Why, no. I work alone." Vila aimed his clipgun at Blake in an eyeblink. "That way I needn't share the fun." Still smiling, he shot.
Blake wasn't there.
From a bed of leaves Roj Blake fired until his rifle was empty and his attacker no longer even twitched. He pushed himself to his knees, stood, and walked away. He dared not look back.
Blake had changed, too.
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