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.
a Federation defector. He's been
with the resistance for years.”
coming in now from Arradi,” Vila announced.
it on the main screen.”
fiddled with a few controls and a smiling, fair-haired man appeared on the
to Liberator. Are you receiving
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.
are you playing at?” Blake demanded of the thief as he sat up.
Valejo looked on, startled.
put his hand to his head. “I
don't know, I just felt dizzy all of a sudden.”
can you help Vila to the medical unit?” Blake asked and turned back to Valejo.
it doesn't seem like we can go five minutes here without something going
worry about it. I hope your man is
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.
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.
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.
I think I'm going to…” he started, before slumping sideways onto the bed,
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.
woke to Cally shaking his shoulder and calling, “Vila.
Vila, wake up.”
sat up and blinked rapidly several times. “What's
wrong with me?”
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.”
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.
shrugged helplessly. “I don't
know. Physically there's nothing
wrong with him.”
people don't spontaneously pass out for no reason.”
know that. I can't explain it.”
it likely to happen again?”
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?”
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.”
days later they arrived at Arradi. Vila
had not had another blackout and seemed fine so they teleported down to meet
to Arradi. I am Valejo, the leader
of the rebel unit here.”
greeted him and shook his hand. “Roj
Blake. This is Vila Restal.”
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.”
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.
did you manage to get all this?” Vila asked with his mouth full.
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.”
place for a resistance cell though,” Blake commented.
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.”
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
“Can you pass the sweetcorn?” Vila interupted, waving at Valejo.
rebel leader smiled. “It's nice
to see someone appreciate my cooking.”
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.
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.
he woke he was sitting, propped up, sprawled half across Blake's lap.
Are you okay?”
was like before. I just suddenly
a few minutes. Do you want to go
back up to the ship?”
feel fine now.”
was going to take us to meet the other resistance leaders here.
You feel up to coming?”
shrugged. “I feel fine.
We've got our bracelets if anything happens.”
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.”
Vila wobbled where he stood. “Oh
no. I feel dizzy, I…”
caught Vila's shoulders and lowered him to the floor as he passed out once
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.
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 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
this true?” he asked, his voice cold.
renewed his struggle against Blake’s grip.
“I remember him! He was
it true?” Blake repeated.
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
with?” Vila spat furiously. “Dealt
with! Tortured you mean.”
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!”
was close to hysterical with anger. Blake
was quite shocked at his vehemence; he'd never seen him so angry.
drugs didn't work! They just made
me ill! I know exactly what your
'extreme methods' consisted of! I
still dream about them!”
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
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.”
nodded and activated his bracelet. “Cally?
We're ready to come back now.”
was no response and Blake frowned, pressed a few buttons and tried again.
“Cally? Come in.
Hmm. Vila, try yours.”
tried with no more success.
must have moved out of range.”
would they do that?” Vila asked in alarm.
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.”
Marcus hurried to follow these instructions, Valejo turned back to Blake.
“You'd better come with us.”
can’t trust him, Blake!”
don’t have a choice, Vila. If we
stay here we will certainly be captured.”
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.
on, Vila.” Blake caught his other
arm and steered him along with the crowd of people entering the underground
the underground complex, where they had fled the Federation landing craft, Blake
and Vila sat facing Valejo and a small group of his followers.
don't you tell them what you did?” demanded Vila after a long silence.
“They should know what kind of man they're following.”
knew he worked for the Federation,” pointed out one of the rebels.
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?”
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?”
me! Did you?” Vila shouted.
wasn't the same person then that I am now,” Valejo protested.
you enjoy hurting me? It's a simple
yes or no question!”
Blake put his hand on the thief's shoulder.
“Leave it alone.”
won't. I want to know!”
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!”
you certainly were.”
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.”
made a choking sound and went very pale.
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?”
is enough!” Blake barked.
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.
a moment Vila stood and began pacing restlessly.
“So how long are we going to be stuck down here?”
don’t know,” Blake answered calmly.
can you just sit there? Don’t you
care about what he’s done?”
was a long time ago, Vila.”
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?”
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.
he said quietly. “I’m not
really feeling myself y’know?”
all right, Vila. I understand.”
Well I’m sorry anyway. I
shouldn’t have said that.”
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.”
had listened to this in silence. “Do
you really believe that? That
people can change?”
have to believe it. Otherwise what
would be the point?”
made a noncommittal sound and stood up again.
are you going?”
do anything stupid, Vila.”
gave a little smile. “Who? Me?”
found Valejo sitting with several of his followers.
They rose suspiciously to their feet as he came near.
all right.” Vila raised his hands
in a placating gesture. “I only
want to talk.”
looked at him for a moment. “Leave
us alone,” he finally asked the group.
Vila gestured at the rough benches set into the cavern wall.
“Can we sit down?”
nodded assent and sat. After a
moment Vila followed suit.
thinks I should forgive you,” Vila said flatly, unable to muster the energy
for preliminary small talk.
said that?” Valejo sounded mildy
not exactly. But it’s not usually
difficult to tell what Blake’s thinking.
He’s straightforward, y’know? Honest.”
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.”
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.
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.”
I don’t want to fight at all! But
I’ve got even less chance on my own. Nowhere’s
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.”
that what I am to you? Damaged
goods? Your charity case?”
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
well I could say the same.” Vila
said, making a face halfway between a smile and a grimace.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Vila turned and walked back to where Blake sat. His thoughts were in turmoil and he was tired both physically
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.
slept uneasily, tossing and whimpering in his sleep.
Valejo watched him, his face bleak.
did that to him. Me. And now I've trapped you down here with us.”
got plenty in his past to have nightmares about, Valejo. I doubt it can all be laid at your feet.”
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.”
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.”
nothing you can do for them now. But
you can help stop the Federation hurting more like them.”
But it's not enough.”
do what you can. Like all of us.
And like all of us you have things in your past you're not proud of.”
moved his gaze from Vila to Blake, a curious look in his eyes.
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.”
that wasn't your fault. It was the
Federation. The conditioning.”
tell myself that. Some days, I even
was people like me who did that to you. Why
aren't you angry?”
don't blame you.”
get over it. He's survived
everything the Federation penal system could throw at him.
He'll survive this too.”
was a rumbling sound from above and the cavern roof trembled.
The landing craft they're taking off.”
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.
hour after the Federation ships had left, Cally contacted Blake to tell him they
were back on station and ready to pick them up.
by, Cally.” Blake looked across to where Vila and Valejo were talking.
“Give us a few minutes.”
can’t forget what you did,” Vila was saying.
don’t expect you too.”
maybe people can change. I’d like
to believe that.”
gave him a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes then turned and walked back
to where Blake was waiting.
to go?” Blake asked as he approached.
bring us up.”