Wanted Man
By Leia Fee

“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 taxiing?”

“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 Four.”

“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 decisions.”

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 and left.

“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 anything further.

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, “I’m sorry.”

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?”

“Going on?”

“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 gutter. 

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.  So?” 

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 now. 

“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 thief.”

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 job.” 

His curiosity thoroughly aroused, Vila said, “I’m listening.”

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 in.”

“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 security.”

“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.”

How much?”  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 do it.”

“Good.  And 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.”

Vila nodded.

“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’ll manage.”

“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.”

Vila woke so late the next morning that ‘morning’ was very close to being the wrong term for it.  As usual he met Josie and Niall in a small back street canteen and patiently endured the amiable jibes about his timekeeping.  He chatted idly about nothing in particular for an hour or so, then made his excuses and left.  He needed time to come up with a safe way in and out of the government building and for that he needed time alone to think.  He regretted leaving Josie and Niall out of the loop, they’d worked well together before and he’d have enjoyed the company as well as the extra help.  He knew his employer was right though.  It was risky enough without bringing more people in.

He’d examined the plans thoroughly the night before and now he headed for the Alpha sector to have a look round in person.  He waved his ID at two guard stations before he reached the building and wasn’t checked either time.  People were well used to ignoring the service grades.  They were just there.  Like machines, people paid little attention to them unless they wanted something from them.

Vila stood outside the large, plain building, pretending to examine a work order.  He could see four armed, uniformed security guards at the door and at least two plainclothes trying to look inconspicuous, sitting on a bench outside.  Shoving the printout in a pocket he strode up to the main entrance.

“T’ fix th’ heating?” he mumbled at the nearest guard.

“You what?”  The guard stared down at him with the usual contempt the higher grades reserved for Deltas

“’M here to fix the heating?”  Vila repeated, speaking more slowly.  He rummaged in his pocket and pulled out the printout.  “Gotta work order here see?  ID too.”  Vila shoved the crumpled printout into the guard’s hand, along with a dog-eared ID card in the name of Til Denson.

The guard unfolded the paper with distaste, gave it a cursory glance, compared the name with the ID card and looked from Vila to the faded photograph and back again before waving him through.

“Ta.”  Vila gave the guard a lopsided grin and headed into the building noting the omnipresent security cameras, laser trip beams and security guards. 

This was not somewhere you could sneak into.  No doubt the security would be just as high at night.  Probably more so.  This would have to be a daytime job.  Well why not today then?  Vila shrugged to himself.  Now’s a good a time as any.  He headed to the lift to the upper floor on which the office he sought was housed, flashing the work order and ID at another guard on the way.  In the corridor outside the office he checked around for security while pretending to examine a heating grille on the wall.  One camera.  He was out of sight of it at the moment but it was pointed straight at the door so it would need to be taken out of action before he could even attempt to open it. 

Confident now that he could pull off the theft, Vila headed back to the ground floor and towards the entrance, complaining loudly about supervisors and inadequate information about the job at hand.  “Need t’go get s’more tools,” he informed one of the guards on the door.  “Never know what’s goin’ on.  Do such’n’such a job they say, but d’they tell me what it is?  Course not.”  He continued loudly in his grumbling until he was out of the building.

Half an hour later he returned carrying his toolkit in a large plastic box.  He hauled it into the building, making rather more complaint than necessary about the weight of it.  He stopped next to the guard and began fumbling for his pass.  Impatiently the guard waved him through.  “Yes, yes, I remember you.” 

Vila hauled his kit into the lift and was soon in the corridor facing the office.  He opened his toolbox and took out a few tools, which he stuffed into a pocket.  Then, dropping to his belly, he wriggled along the floor to stand up, flat against the wall, underneath the camera and out of its line of sight.  With quick movements he had the circuitry exposed and the camera paralysed.  It would now relay a static picture to the monitoring station, allowing Vila to work unseen.  This done, he ran back along the corridor and shifted his kit to the door.  A palmprint lock, simple enough, but with the extra complication of a trigger circuit which would send a warning as soon as the door was opened.  It took him a few minutes to set up a bypass circuit that would feed the monitors a constant signal, reassuring them that the door was still firmly closed.  A few minutes after that, he had the door itself open.  He ran a scanner up and down in front of the opening, revealing several laser trip beams.  He disabled the bottom few and crawled underneath the rest. 

A quick check around the room revealed the safe, concealed behind a wall mural but easily identifiable to a trained eye.  Vila headed straight for it and ran his scanner over it.  Electronic locking combination and a touch sensitive panel that would sound an alarm if the correct combination was not entered within a minute of the panel being activated.  Vila stood a moment in thought.  Can I get the combination in one minute?  No chance.  Can I disable the alarm in one minute?  Maybe.  The alarm then.  Here we go.  Vila selected a small probe and had the panel open in a heartbeat.  His eyes flickered over the circuitry as his mind counted down the seconds.  The alarm, the alarm which one’s the alarm?  At least ten seconds gone.  He ran his probe over the circuit, seeking the voltage and current levels that would indicate a signal-line to the alarm.  Thirty seconds.  Found it.  He measured the signal and pulled out another small device that he quickly calibrated to produce a matching signal.  Must be almost out of time now.  There.  Done.  Will it work?  Vila waited silently for the last few seconds to elapse.  Need to get out of here quick if it doesn’t.  His eyes flashed to the window.  Fire escape.  There’ll be guards though.  The window at the end of the corridor maybe?  They’ll be heading for this room, they’ll expect me to be here.  Vila paused a moment longer but there were no sirens, no running feet.  He sighed in relief and got to work on the combination.

Ten minutes later the lock surrendered its secrets.  Vila tapped in the combination and the door swung open.  As promised, the safe was a goldmine.  Vila guessed there must be at least a million credits in notes as well as a fair quantity of precious metals and gemstones.  Vila wasted no time in gawking and instead swiftly packed the contents into a hidden compartment in his deliberately oversized toolbox.  At the very back of the safe was a stack of data recordings.  Vila riffled through them, seeking out the one he’d been instructed to find.  Finally he located the tape.  It bore a nondescript, unhelpful label, C53254RB, which Vila barely glanced at.  He shoved that in his case too, then shut the safe.  He carefully removed the evidence of his tampering, reasoning that the longer it took them to discover the theft, the longer he’d have to get clear.  He relocked the safe and left the room, re-enabling the trip beams and locking the door behind him.  He put his case down next to the lift then returned, reactivated the camera, and crept back to the lift keeping out of its view. 

As the lift descended he slumped against the wall, breathing heavily.  Almost out, almost out.

He strode confidently out of the lift doors and waved to the guard, “All done.”  The guard looked at him then away again with a bored expression.

Vila walked out the main entrance and rounded the corner onto a quiet street.  I’ve done it I’ve done it!  Still he kept quiet and walked calmly back to the Delta sector.  He took a roundabout route home, being careful to make sure he wasn’t followed.  Only when he got inside the flat did he let out a yell of triumph.  He flopped down on his couch and poured himself a stiff drink, both to celebrate and to steady his nerves.  When he was calmer, he set about hiding the credit notes in the flat.  The precious metals and the gemstones he left in his case; he knew of several potential buyers.  He picked up the recording thoughtfully.  Wonder what’s on here that so important.  He’d never know if I watched it.  No, Vila told himself firmly.  Never get mixed up in politics.  It’s bad for the health.  Just drop it off and forget you ever saw it or him and the sooner the better.  Vila finished stashing the currency and picked up the recording.  He popped it into one of the many concealed pockets about his person and headed out of the flat.

It took him some time to find the address but eventually he stood at the door.  He pressed the button to request entry but with no response.  Come on, come on, I don’t want to stand here all day.  He hammered loudly on the door, which gently swung open.  Vila jumped back guiltily but on examination nothing appeared to be broken.  The door must have been ajar already.  Vila suddenly felt apprehensive.  “Um, hello?” he called through the doorway.  “Anyone home?”  He nudged the door with his foot and it swung open the rest of the way.  Vila peered inside.  There was no sign of anyone.  Vila hesitated in the doorway.  Should I just leave it?  It doesn’t seem like a good idea.  Why was the door open?  Where is he?  Something’s wrong.  Suddenly there was the slightest sound from inside.  Some instinct, long trained by years of living as a thief, made Vila leap backwards, made him turn to run. 

There was a curse from inside.  “Grab him!”

Vila fled down the corridor as a shot took a chunk out of the wall.  There were two guards at the end of the corridor but he flung himself between them with such momentum that they stumbled and couldn’t hold him.  He dived round the nearest corner and heard shots from behind him as he dashed down an alley behind the building.  He had frequently fled the law in the Delta sector and knew he could easily evade them if he could make it make there.  Here though, he was a long way from his usual haunts and didn’t know the layout of the area well enough to have an escape route in mind.  He was running blind and desperate and it was only minutes before a shot grazed his leg and sent him sprawling to the ground.


“You were captured?”  Blake asked.

Vila nodded.  “Morval must have told them I’d be coming to find him.  He wouldn’t have had a choice, once they caught him.  They were waiting for me.”  He was quiet for a long time, and when he spoke again his voice trembled, although he was struggling to control it.  “They… interrogated me.  They thought I was one of his rebels.  They didn’t believe me when I told them he’d just asked me to do that one job.”  He fell silent, taking a moment to compose himself and force the memories out of his thoughts.  He’d had a lot of practice at that.  He took a deep breath before continuing.  “I don’t suppose it mattered whether they believed me or not.  I was for the high-jump either way ‘cause I already had a criminal record a couple of spacials long and they knew the conditioning didn’t work.”

“That’s when you were sentenced to Cygnus Alpha,” Blake surmised.

Vila nodded.  “Look I don’t want to talk about it, okay?  Just leave it alone will you?  Please?”

Blake nodded but his thoughts were clearly still on it as he rose to leave.


That night Vila found himself unable to sleep.  After lying awake for several hours he gave up and abandoned his bed.  Restlessly he wandered about his rooms, fiddling with a puzzle, rearranging his book-tapes.  He made himself a hot drink, but drank only half of it before putting it down and pacing the room again.  Another hour passed.  He was tired, his eyes gritty with exhaustion but his mind kept returning to the job he’d done for Morval, to his arrest, and what had followed.  It had been a long time since he’d thought about it.  As a rule he refused to dwell on the past.  Nothing could be changed and rehashing old memories only hurt.  Tonight though they plagued him and would not be subdued. 

Josie.  Niall.  So many memories.  Over a decade’s worth.  His mind wandered to the holding cells where they’d first met.  They’d all been so young then.  So scared.  They’d watched out for each other then, and later, back in the domes.  Between the three of them, there was nowhere they couldn’t break into, nothing they couldn’t steal.  They’d lived well, always one step ahead of the Federation authorities.  Until the one that went wrong.  He didn’t know, nor want to, which of them had slipped up, triggered an alarm.  He remembered running, blaster fire.  Remembering falling, screaming at Josie and Niall to run, to leave him.  He remembered the Federation ‘Rehabilitation Centre’  and then came the not-memories, the gaps.  The dark, confused days after his release, when the conditioning was faltering and he’d struggled to remember who and what he was.  They’d been there then, though he could only dimly remember it.  Snatches of memory – Niall, holding him tightly, safely, as he thrashed and screamed in remembered pain – Josie stroking his head as he whimpered and cried in fear and confusion.  He had thought he was going insane.  They’d stayed through it all, and in time he’d remembered himself and the three of them were again the most successful thieves in the dome.  Until he’d taken Morval’s job and tried to do it alone.  The last time he’d seen them had been such a fleeting visit, casual, no way to have known it would be the last.  If he’d told them… Would anything have changed?  Surely he’d owed them at least an explanation.  He could have given them that.  Given them a chance to flee the consequences of being associated with rebel activity.  Warned them what he was going to do.

Finally he resorted to his usual solution to sleepless night and pulled a shot of soma from a cupboard by his bed.  No doubt the others would disapprove of such misuse of ship’s medical supplies but he was used to that by now.  He needed to sleep.


“Who else was involved?”
I don’t understand.  They must already have Morval, why question me?
The interrogator sounds bored.  He’s only talking quietly, it’s easy to ignore.  His hand’s on the switches though, can’t ignore that, can only scream.
A pause.  Rest.  Can’t talk and scream at the same time you see.
“Who else was involved?  Who else?”
No one.  Hard to talk, did I say that aloud?  No one else.  Just me.
“I don’t believe you.  The job was too complex for one person to do alone.”
“Tell me the name of the rebels involved.”
No rebels.  No one.  No.
“I think you’re lying to me.”
No.  His hand, back on the switches.  Don’t.  Please.
He waits a long time.  Watching. 
Time passes.
It stops.
“Who else?”
Harder now to talk, even a whisper hurts.  But not as much as the switches.  A whisper then.  No one.  No one else involved. No one knew.
“You’re hiding something from me.  Or someone.  Tell me.”
No.  Shouldn’t have said that, it’s not what I meant.  Hard to think straight.  Drugs?
Told no one else.  Please, no one.  Not even…no, shut up. 
No.  Why did I say that?  No one.
“You were going to give me names.  Tell me now.”
No, please, not them, weren’t involved, just me.  They didn’t.
“Their names.”
Switch, switch.
No, please, my friends, not them, not their fault, please.
“Your associates will be picked up for questioning anyway, you know.  Give me the names.  We can rule them out.  You want to help them don’t you?”
Sounds reasonable.  No, mustn’t tell.  Can’t tell, can’t give them Josie and Niall.  Can’t.
“Thank you.”
What?  He’s not talking to me anymore, I can still hear him though.
“We have a confession and an implication of two other suspects.”
No.  I didn’t say anything, I wouldn’t. 
I did.
A sting against my arm and I feel sleepy.  Have to stay awake.  I need to know what’s happening, I…


Vila woke gasping and struggling.  He fought silently in the dark to untangle himself from the sweat-soaked sheets but only succeeded in rolling off the bed onto the floor with a crash.  In the fall he sent a glass of water tumbling off his bedside table.  The shock of cold water down his side brought him fully awake and he sat up, shuddering.


Jenna found she rather enjoyed the night watch.  Sitting quietly, with the lights set at half power.  Listening to the quiet hum of the ships systems.  There was a particular note every good pilot recognised, the satisfying tone of a fine spacecraft in perfect working order.  She sipped her coffee – real coffee - there were some advantages to operating outside the Federation, and access to the black market food supplies was one of them.  A noise from the doorway startled her and she spun round, somehow managing to avoid splashing coffee over the console in the process.

“Vila!  You gave me such a fright!”

“Sorry.”  His voice was oddly subdued and Jenna peered across the flightdeck.

“Zen, lights to full,” she ordered.

Vila flinched at the sudden glare and Jenna had to blink a few times as her eyes adjusted.

“Vila, are you all right?  You look terrible.”

‘Like death warmed over’ had been a favourite expression of Jenna’s mother, and it certainly summed up Vila’s current appearance.  His skin was pale and shone with sweat.  He leaned heavily against the doorframe and was shivering violently, presumably from cold, as he wore only thin nightclothes, which were plastered to his skin, damp with sweat.  Jenna moved from the pilot’s position and hurried across the flight deck.  She looped one arm around Vila’s shoulders and guided him to the central couch.

“Here, sit down.”  She rummaged in the emergency compartment under one of the seats and pulled out a thermal blanket which she draped around his shoulders and tucked across his lap.

“Are you ill?  Should I wake Cally?”  She put a hand to his forehead and was relieved to find no undue heat.

Vila shook his head.  “I’m okay.  Just a rough night.  Needed to stretch my legs.”

“Bad dreams?” Jenna asked looking at him thoughtfully and abruptly remembering exactly when the last time was she’d seen him look so bad.


It had been three days with no sign of another prisoner and Jenna was heartily bored.  She got up to pace the length of the transit cell and stopped midway when the cell door opened briefly and a body was dumped through it.  Jenna waited until the guards withdrew then went and turned the unconscious form over.  As she did so the man gave a horrible shriek.  “No!  Leave me alone!”  The voice dropped to a whimper. “Please?”

“It’s all right.  Relax.”  Jenna raised her hands placatingly.  “I’m not going to hurt you.  I’m Jenna.  What’s your name?”

He looked at her suspiciously before replying, quietly, “Vila.”

After a moment he clambered to his feet and stumbled over to one of the low beds where, after a few moments of uncomfortable fidgeting, he settled himself on his back.

That night Vila had screamed in his sleep for hours, in spite of her best efforts to wake him.  Eventually he’d woken himself up, sobbing like a child as he wrapped the sweat-soaked bedsheets around himself.  She’d tried to talk to him, to offer some comfort but he’d seemed almost delirious, babbling and rambling on and she was never sure if he’d even known she was there.

The following day he had seemed quite calm, even chirpy and Jenna found herself unable to tell whether he had truly forgotten the past 24 hours or was simply choosing to ignore them.


Vila nodded miserably.  “Woke me up.  Didn’t want to go back to sleep.”

“You want to talk about it?”  Jenna offered.  “I’ve got coffee.”

Vila shook his head.  “I ought to go back to bed.  I don’t know why I came up here.”

He stood to leave, Jenna watched him for a moment then said quietly, “Vila, it wasn’t your fault, about Josie and Niall.”

Vila spun round so fast he almost fell, and the stricken look on his face made Jenna instantly regret her well-intentioned words.

“How do you know about that? I never told, I never.”

“That first night in the transit cells,” Jenna explained, “you were in pretty bad shape.”

“Oh.”  Vila flopped back onto the couch, sounding resigned.  “I don’t remember.  What did I say?”

“That the interrogator kept asking you for names, wanting to know who else was involved.  That you tried not to tell them about Josie and Niall, you tried to explain that they weren’t involved.”

“They didn’t believe me.”  Vila sighed heavily, and rested his head against the back of the couch, closing his eyes.  Jenna watched him for a few moments and was surprised to realise he’d actually fallen asleep.  Shaking her head she returned to the pilot’s position and poured herself another cup of coffee.


Vila and Morval continued to avoid each other for the next few days and the tension on the ship grated increasingly on everyone’s nerves.  Eventually Blake lost patience and ordered them both to the rest room, determined to sort out whatever problem there was.

“Vila was right,” Morval said eventually, sighing and dropping into the nearest seat.  “It is my fault he’s here.  My fault you are too, I suppose.”

Blake looked startled.  “Me?”

Morval sighed heavily.  “If it had worked none of us would be here now.”

“I don’t understand,” Blake said.  “What did Vila steal?  What was on the tape?”

Morval looked surprised and turned to look at Vila.  “You never looked at it?  Or you never told him?”

Blake turned to look at Vila as well.

“I never looked at it.  I meant it when I told you I didn’t want to get involved in political stuff.”

Morval still looked surprised as he spoke to Blake, “I was sure you must know.  When I realised that Vila was with you I was sure that he must have told you.  That he’d watched the tape and that was why he’d joined up with you.  Blake, it was the central security record of your conditioning.”

Blake gaped at him. 

Vila went pale.  “You sent me chasing after a central security file?  I might have been killed!  I would never have tried it if I’d known that!  No wonder they thought I was in with the rebellion, no other idiot would have tried to steal that recording if they’d known what it was!”

“I’m sorry you had to get caught too, Vila.  But none of my people had the skills to steal that recording.  We’d planned to broadcast it, show people what had really happened.  We were ready to move against the Federation.” 

Morval turned to Blake.  Ravella had managed to contact you, and was sure we could persuade you to come round to our side again.”  He sighed and shook his head, “We came so close.”

“What happened to the recording?” Blake asked.

Vila shrugged, “I chucked it when I was running.  No way was I going to get caught with that on me.”

“So you don’t know what happened to it?”

Vila shook his head.

“They’d have found it,” Morval said.  “There’s not so very many places to lose something in those domes.”

Blake looked resigned.  “I expect you’re right.”  Abruptly he adopted a brisk air of business.  “All right then.  No use brooding about it.  Let’s get going.  Tana Four is waiting.”

Morval nodded. 

Vila stared at them both, amazed that they could dismiss the past so easily, but then didn’t he do the same?  Refusing to think about the past was not the same as actually putting it behind you he realised.  Even so, he knew he was going to spend a long time wondering what might have happened if he’d run just a bit faster, been just a bit more cautious.

He sighed and gave a wry smile, one more ‘might have been.’

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