“So now we are a taxi service are we, Blake?” Avon
asked, the coolness in his tone not quite masking his irritation.
Vila, who had been half dozing during the start of the
argument, now stretched in his chair and looked at Blake.
“Eh? Who are we
“A rebel called Morval.
He was captured by the Federation a few years ago.
A message came in that he had escaped and needed transport off planet.
I agreed to help get him safely off Telnos and to the rebel base at Tana
“And you agreed this without consulting the rest of
us,” Avon said.
“It will take four days at most. Did you have something particularly urgent you wanted to do
instead?” Blake asked in his most carefully patient and reasonable voice.
“That isn’t really the point, is it?”
“No, Avon, the point seems to be that you question every
decision I make.”
“Maybe I just question your right to be making the
Blake sighed tiredly.
“If you have any concrete reason why we shouldn’t help Morval reach
the rebels then let’s hear it. Otherwise,
get back up to the flight deck and tell Jenna to set a course for Telnos.”
Avon stood staring a Blake for a moment longer then turned
“Four days is going to be four days too long if Avon
stays in that mood,” Vila muttered under his breath.
The pick up at Telnos went smoothly and Blake and Morval
reappeared in the teleport section within minutes of Blake teleporting to the
surface to meet Morval. Cally
smiled a greeting as they stepped forward.
Blake turned to Morval to introduce him and found him staring at Vila, a
strange look on his face. Blake
looked back at Vila who had gone suddenly pale.
“Restal,” Morval began but didn’t get a chance to say
Vila leapt from the teleport controls, almost falling in
his haste, and all but ran from the room. Morval
made an aborted move to follow him and whispered almost too quietly to hear,
The two men had avoided each other ever since and neither
had volunteered any explanation. Vila
had been unusually jumpy, even for him, and Blake was becoming worried.
He finally decided to raise the subject and sought out Vila who was
napping in the rest room. He awoke with a start when Blake sat down beside him.
“What’s going on, Vila?”
“You’ve been jumping at shadows ever since Morval came
aboard, and every time you come into a room, he makes an excuse to leave it.
You clearly know each other. So
what’s going on?”
Vila sighed. “All
right,” he admitted, “I do know him. It’s
because of him I’m here.”
Vila polished off his last drink of the evening as the
barman began bellowing at the remaining customers to shift themselves so he
could close. Laughing, Vila
staggered giddily after Josie and Niall. The
streets outside were crowded with homeward-bound drinkers and, even drunk as
they were, Vila and his friends managed to lighten them of a handful of credits
and the occasional piece of jewellery. Light-hearted
rivalry prevailed as they counted up their gains while the streets cleared of
people. Vila crowed as it became
clear that he’d made the best profit of the evening.
Josie gave him a gentle shove. “Show
off,” she teased.
Vila gave a sweeping bow and nearly tipped himself into a
Niall grabbed the back of his tunic to keep him upright.
“You,” he announced, “Are drunk.”
Vila drew himself up straight. “Thank
you very much. You’re quite
right. I am drunk.
Niall laughed and clapped Vila on the shoulder.
“Well done you. Sure you can get home okay?”
Vila nodded indignantly.
“Course I can! Find my way
blindfolded. What d’you think I
am? Some Alpha that can’t tie his
shoe laces without one of us to help him?”
Niall laughed. “See
you tomorrow then. If any of us can
stand upright that is!” Niall and
Josie headed away down a side street and Vila continued towards his small flat.
It was dark now, the minutes allotted for people to get
home between kicking-out time and curfew already spent. Still he knew the way so well that, as he had told his
friends, he could have found his way blindfolded.
Confidently, he made his way through the narrow passages between the
girders and pillars that formed the underpinning of the dome.
In the areas allocated to the higher grades such fittings were hidden
behind smooth, clean decor but down here no one bothered with such details.
Most of the residents would have felt uncomfortable in the harsh light
and sharp lines of the upper sectors anyway.
The unadorned structure was symbolic of their essential role in society,
or so preached those loyal citizens who dutifully accepted their allotted rank.
For Vila and those like him who preferred to make an easier living
through their wits and light fingers, the alcoves and tunnels, alleyways and
crawlspaces provided an ideal environment for them to practise their illegal
lifestyle in relative safety. None of this was on Vila’s mind though, as he wandered
slowly home, humming a fragment of an old drinking song to himself.
Abruptly he was interrupted by a sudden sound from behind him.
He spun round to see who was there, and yelled in protest as hands
grabbed him and he felt a sharp sting at his neck.
He peered through the dark at his assailant as his vision grew blurry and
he crumpled to the floor.
He woke with a pounding headache. He sat up, holding his head and looked round.
He was in a small room that looked as though it doubled as both office
and bedroom for its owner. The only other person present was a tall, dark skinned man
holding a small gun.
“Sorry about your head.
The sedative is still wearing off and I gave you an alcohol suppressant.
I needed to talk to you with your mind clear.”
“What’s going on?”
Vila laid a bit more confusion and fear into his voice than he actually
felt. Mostly he was curious and he
doubted his assailant would have gone to this much trouble just to shoot him
“I have a job for you.”
“A job? I
don’t understand.” Vila put on
his best baffled expression. He
was, after all, a simple Delta with no idea why he’d been grabbed in the
middle of the night. There was no
reason to assume this man knew of his particular vocation and Vila had no
intention of volunteering the information.
“Don’t play games.
I know who you are, Vila Restal, and I know you are a rather accomplished
Vila thought about denying it but the confident expression
on the man’s face deterred him. “All
right then. You want something
stolen. What makes you think I’m
interested? I don’t make a habit
of working for hire.”
“I think you’ll want to make an exception for this
His curiosity thoroughly aroused, Vila said, “I’m
The man smiled. “Good.
I’ll come straight to the point then.
In the Alpha sector there is a government office building.
In that building is a safe. It
contains a rather large amount of currency as well as the item I am interested
“Now hang on just a minute!” Vila interrupted. “A
government building? No way.
That’s not just a trip to a prison colony if I’m caught.
I’m more likely to get shot on sight!
Or sent to a readjustment centre.”
“If you get caught that is. I have every confidence in your ability to get through their
“Oh do you? Well
that’s nice to hear.” The thief
didn’t bother to hide the sarcasm in his voice.
“Sorry, no amount of currency is worth ending up in a Federation
brainwashing clinic.” Again, he added to himself.
Once was more than enough.
“Over a million credits.”
Vila yelped. “What’s
that kind of money doing in a government office safe?”
“It’s used for bribes, black-market deals, similar
unpleasantness. You’d be doing us
a favour by relieving them of it.”
Vila looked at the man suspiciously.
“And all you want is this one item?”
“A data recording. You
can keep anything else you can carry out of there.”
“This is political stuff isn’t it?”
The man didn’t answer.
Vila sighed. “I’ve
always made it a rule never to get mixed up in political stuff.” He paused. “But
a million credits…” He hesitated a moment longer.
“All right. I’ll
one more thing, you’re not to tell anyone else about this. The more people know, the more risky it is.
For them as well as us.”
“Here’s a plan of the building’s location and floor
plans of the interior. The location
of the safe is marked in green. Known
security checkpoints, locks and alarm sensors are marked in red.
That may not be all of them.”
“I don’t doubt it.
Once you have the recording bring it here.” He handed Vila a slip of paper with an address scribbled on
it. “I’ll be waiting.”