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Cheap at Any Price

By Nicola Mody
Page 1 of 13

Vila Restal strode determinedly down the corridor, stopped outside the last door, and gave it a sharp knock. It was time to take a stand at last. There was nothing left for him here now. He squared his shoulders and knocked again, more loudly.

“What?” came Avon’s impatient voice.

Vila opened the door and went in.

Avon looked up from his desk, his eyes cold and distant, empty even of the cruel mockery he had shown back there over Malodar. “What do you want?”

“I want to leave.”

“Oh?” Avon said dangerously, rising.

“That’s right,” Vila said firmly. “Drop me off on the nearest civilised planet. Onus 2 would be fine.”

Avon began to walk towards him.

Vila swallowed, his courage beginning to desert him, and backed up against the wall. “Look, I’m good at hiding, they’d never find me, hid for years on Earth, I don’t know anything anyway...” he babbled, “and anywhere’s better than here,” he finished in a sudden spurt of anger.

“You’re deserting me?” Avon purred.

“Oh, no...not really...” That would count as betrayal, wouldn’t it? He knew about Avon and betrayal. “Early retirement?”

“So young?” Avon put a hand against the wall, between Vila and the door.

“Career change then.” Vila said, edging away.

Avon put his other hand on the wall, boxing Vila in, and leaned towards him.

Vila closed his eyes, feeling faint. “Oh now look, you don’t need me. Better off without me really, I only annoy you all...” No, it wasn’t meant to be like this. He was going to stand up for himself for once. He straightened up and looked Avon in the eyes, trying not to quail. “There’s not much point any more, is there? I can’t trust you. You’ve made that quite clear.”

“Well, now.” Avon stood back.

Encouraged, Vila went on, “It’s like you said—I’m not safe with you. And neither is anyone else.”

Avon hit him so hard, his head cracked against the wall and he fell to the floor, where he cowered, his arms over his face. Avon stooped and lifted him by the front of his tunic, and hit him again. Dazed, Vila went limp. Avon was drawing his fist back for a third blow when a look of contempt crossed his face and he shoved the thief through the doorway. “Get out before I do something I might regret.”

Vila fell on the floor outside, the tears beginning to come. They sneered at him for being a coward, but the alternative was no better. Story of his life. He wiped his hands over his face, wincing at the pain. Snuffling, he climbed to his feet, and staggered along to his room, one hand against the wall. He stopped at the door. There was nothing for him in there either, that bare room with its neatly-made bed covered in a grey blanket. Contrary to what the others thought, he did not keep any drink in there. There was wine in the crew room, where he liked to sit with the others, because even being laughed at or ignored was better than being alone in this oppressive, depressing place. But he couldn’t bear to let them see him now, not like this.

He headed for the cellar. He was going to get drunk. Not pleasantly relaxed, sipping at a glass or two as he usually did. Really drunk. Dead drunk.


Dayna Mellanby was working in her weapons lab, assembling some limpet mines. Tomorrow, she decided, she would take some of the larger ones outside and blow a wall or two out of that old power station. Perhaps that would make her feel better. She sighed. Yet another failure in a long string of them, and she wouldn’t mind betting that bitch Servalan had been behind that latest debacle.

“Dayna, have you seen Vila?”

She turned to see Soolin in the doorway. “No, not for hours, not since we landed.”

“Look, I’m worried about him. I checked his room and he’s not there.”

“So?” Dayna shrugged and carefully closed the mine she was working on and began to screw it together. “He’ll turn up.” She looked up and grinned. “Worse luck.”

“It’s no joke, Dayna, this is serious. Don’t you realise what happened back there? They had to strip that shuttle of everything they could lay their hands on to make orbit.”


Soolin came around Dayna’s bench, and leaned over it, facing her. “Avon said he couldn’t find Vila. And Vila said he was glad.”

“Yeah, that lazy little—” Dayna stopped in the act of reaching for another casing, her eyes widening. “No. Avon wouldn’t!”

“Oh, wouldn’t he? What about Dr Plaxton? And you’ve said often enough yourself that Vila’s deadweight.”

“I didn’t mean it like that.” Dayna remembered how Vila had sat silently, his face closed and sullen, all the way back. That hadn’t been at all like him, now she thought about it. If what Soolin said was true, that was a really nasty crack Avon had made to him about being safe with him. “Where’ve you looked?”

“The crew room, the kitchen, his room, all the usual places.”

“Well, have you checked the cellar?”

Soolin shook her head, puzzled. “Why would he be there? All right, we go on about his drinking, but you know he doesn’t actually have that much. And I’ve never seen him drunk.”

“I have,” Dayna said. “Only once. When we first got here. You weren’t here, well not around anyway. It was after—” she hesitated.

“After Dorian was killed?” Soolin asked coolly.

“Yeah, that’s right.” Dayna was relieved she hadn’t put her foot in it. “Vila was pretty upset about Cally. He’d already been into the wine from when he got there, and he just went on drinking all evening. When he started crying, Avon kicked him out. Tarrant and I found him passed out in the corridor and had to put him to bed.”

Soolin pursed her lips. “All right, I’ll check the cellar. You’d better come with me, just in case.”

Starting to feel worried despite herself, Dayna followed Soolin down to the room Dorian had used to store his wine. She had often thought it was odd it was called a cellar, considering the whole base was underground and therefore one giant one, but she supposed it was some sort of tradition, one of the many she had never learned. The door was open and the light was on.

“Vila?” Soolin called. There was no answer. She peered behind the now sparsely-populated wine-racks. “Dayna, over here!”

Vila was curled up in a dark, dusty corner, empty bottles lying beside him. Soolin shook him gently, but got no response. She put her hand to his neck, and looked up, relieved.

“He’s alive, but he looks pretty bad. We’ve got to get him to the recovery room. Quick, help me with him.”

Dayna crouched and put one of Vila’s arms across her shoulder while Soolin took the other, and they lifted him between them, where he hung limply, head hanging. He was not heavy, but it was no easy job getting him through the base, with his feet dragging on the floor.

“Avon’ll be furious if he finds out,” Dayna said. “He was bloody unimpressed last time.”

“I should imagine that’s the least of Vila’s worries.”

In the recovery room, they stopped, breathless, and laid him out on one of the beds. Soolin connected the sensors and checked the readouts. “He’s in a coma, but at least he’s still breathing. But only just.” While Soolin set up an IV drip of a sugar and vitamin solution, Dayna stared at Vila’s face. There was a dark bruise on his jaw and spreading across his cheek.

“Soolin? Look at this. He must have fallen.”

“On his jaw? Hardly.” Soolin frowned, checking the injury. “Nothing’s broken, but it’s a bad bruise.” She ran a regenerator over it, then sat down beside the bed, her face softening into concern. “You poor thing,” she said, so quietly Dayna almost didn’t hear her. She shook her head. “His breathing’s very shallow. I’d better stay with him just in case.”

“I will too for a while,” Dayna said, drawing up another chair. She met Soolin’s eyes and looked away. “Poor bastard. I never had much time for him.”

“None of you seem to,” Soolin said dryly.

Dayna felt both defensive and guilty. “Well, Avon insulted him from the moment Tarrant and I were on the Liberator, and we didn’t need his skills at all then, so I couldn’t see the point of having him around.” She shrugged. “But he’s not as bad as I thought.”

No, Vila had been so uncharacteristically decisive when Zen was dying and had surprised her several times since, most of all when Justin died. Back on Scorpio afterwards, Dayna had sobbed helplessly, ignored by everyone but Vila who had silently put his arms around her and held her gently until she stopped at last and looked at him, ashamed not just of her own weakness, but of her treatment of him. He had just smiled shyly, looked away and murmured, “Know what it’s like, don’t I?”

“Dayna?” Soolin interrupted her thoughts. “We’re going to have to look out for him.”

“What d’you mean?”

“From now on, one of us should always be with him.”

“To protect him from himself, you mean?” Dayna frowned in puzzlement.

“Yes, that and Avon.”

Dayna bit her lip. “All right.”


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Nicola Mody

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