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The roulette wheel spun; Vila was already six thousand credits down. Fate again chose a number which was of no use to him.
Where are you when I need you, ORAC?
He remembered breaking the Big Wheel casino in Freedom City with ORAC's help. Good times.
ORAC. Avon had hidden ORAC. Betrayer! Only Avon knew where ORAC was and no one knew where Avon was. Traitor! There were rumors that Avon was hiding on one of the border planets, or had bought one of the border planets with the hundreds of millions of credits Servalan had paid him to betray the rebel summit conference, and the Scorpio crew. You betray me! Betrayed us! Others said he was working with the Federation to rebuild a new secret Central Control base. There was also one rumor which had him in Federation custody undergoing torture, though there was no explanation why. That one didn't make any sense.
Vila had a pounding headache now.
Wherever you are Avon I hope you're suffering ten times more than I am, a hundred times.
Oh my head! I need a drink.
Vila got up from his "lucky" streak at the tables and went in search of a cure for his headache.
The thief maintained an apartment under the alias of Gan Lason in Commerce City. Like Freedom City and Space City, it was wide-open neutral territory where anything goes; and in the case of CC, anything could be bought or sold. To a master thief like Vila It was the perfect place to dispose of any item without the encumbrance of restrictions or Federation red tape. Beneath the veneer of corporate legitimacy perfectly legal businesses could pursue less than savoury practices with impunity.
Vila sat at the casino bar nursing his third drink; it was almost empty. The pounding in his head had finally dulled to a quiet roar. The faint nautical theme of the bar meant that various depictions of dead fish were staring at him mockingly.
"Give my friend another of the same," a man in a black jacket and dark grey pants instructed the bartender, and slipped into the seat next to Vila. "And give me a scotch, neat."
Vila turned his head towards his benefactor, raising his glass and almost choked when he saw who it was. Argus. It was the ring-leader with the military bearing from the little escapade on Biliar Prime; the one which netted recorder crystals, instead of good old-fashioned loot. That had been over two standard weeks ago.
In civilian clothes, Argus looked out-of-place. One always got the impression that something was missing, which was not surprising since he had spent most of his life in a Federation military uniform but that was definitely not all he was. There was a duality to his nature which made him a difficult person to pin down; a faint polish to his manner, which he could never hide, marked him as an alpha grade. He possessed both a deceptive strength and a simple directness. When he was still, he was very still; when he moved, it was with a subtle power; when he struck, it was with surprising speed. Argus was no one's fool; this was the man who now sat beside Vila.
The bartender laid another glass in front of the thief.
"I'm not available, I'm on vacation," he told his benefactor and raised his glass. "Cheers".
"I have another job for your special talents," Argus told him.
"My doctor says the climate here is better for my health, I always listen to my doctor," Vila replied.
Recognizing that flattery would not work this time, Argus changed tactics. He did not like this part, but he rarely dwelt on things which had to be. As an ex-military leader, he always did what needed to be done.
"And does your doctor know that you are not the simple thief you pretend to be? That your name is really Vila Restal, and you are a wanted Federation fugitive who ran with Blake and the Scorpio rebels?"
'Shhhhh, " Vila almost ducked under the bar, "not so loud."
He looked around nervously, searching for a direction to run. Even in neutral territory where everything goes, it was not healthy to be known as someone who has a Federation price on his head.
Enemies you can trust, they will always betray you. Friends you can never trust. Avon had once said that to Blake, with that familiar cynical smile as he said the last line, reflecting his low opinion of the human race in general.
Avon the Betrayer! Vila's headache had returned.
You never know who you can trust, isn't that right, Avon.
Charles Tarvin was a senior member of the Central Security Bureau. He was smiling as he read a report on Biliar; all was going according to plan. The data crystals were the perfect trap. The moment the rebels decoded the information and released it into their system an ASP, an advanced security program which was a smart computer virus, would be able to track their every move along the information network. It was a technologically brilliant tool virtually undetectable, except by the best computer specialists; even they would be hard-pressed to find it unless they knew what to look for.
The President will be pleased.
He had watched recordings from the hidden cameras of the break-in of the Biliaran Prime Minister's safe. It was bait the rebels could not refuse. Little did they know the depth and level at which the Biliaran Prime Minister was willing to cooperate with the Federation. The burglary was well-planned and executed flawlessly. The Central Bureau had asked the Biliaran Minister not to inform his own security forces. They wanted to allow the rebels to "earn" their "prize."
Tarvin admired Vila Restal's skill in bypassing the defenses. The thief raised burglary to artistic levels. Central Security had been aware of his every movement ever since they had "allowed" him to escape after implanting him with false memories under President Servalan's orders. A passive tracker implanted in his back helped them track him at will, and did not show up on scans unless activated.
One of Vila's companions was a person of interest to Central Security. Drel Argus, the ringleader of the little burglary band. Federation records showed that he had achieved the equivalent of Space Commander rank in Landforce Command, the elite commando group of the assault forces. He had quit his commission shortly before he could be court-martialed for refusing to obey a direct order. His men had helped him escape and he had disappeared from the sensors of Central Security for over five years. Until now.
Prisoner A5428 was suspended from the ceiling. His back was a bloody mess from the lashes against his back from an old-fashioned whip. "How much longer do you think you can hold out?" his torturer asked during a break in the pain being inflicted. Electronic whips caused the same amount of pain but left no marks. The interrogator preferred the traditional way; there was something most satisfying in seeing blood.
"Why are you in a hurry?" the prisoner asked in a strained voice. He cried out involuntarily as the whip bit into his flesh again. At some point he passed out and they revived him with a splash of water. Blood and water dripping down his back had pooled at the prisoner's feet.
"Tell us what we want to know and this can end," the interrogator told him. It was always the same demand over and over.
"And deprive me of your company?" the prisoner said in a toneless cynical voice. The questioner nodded at his partner to continue. Physical pain would not break this one but it did serve to break him down. There was nothing quite like the psychological effects of incapacitation and helplessness on a person used to being in control.
For the para-investigators, someone who would not break was a challenge to their professional pride. They noticed that there was something different with the prisoner recently. For months he had remained silent except for cries of pain; but in the last few weeks he had started responding with flippant remarks, which completely ignored their demands and questions just as he did in the beginning. There was also something else different; something they didn't understand. They were perplexed.
If Servalan had had the time to personally track his sessions, she would have known immediately. No one knew him better than her; if they had they would have recognized the dangerous turn.
Conversely no one knew Servalan better than Avon; if they had the Biliaran Prime Minister would have been watching his back. No one had the upper-hand with Servalan and anyone who tried to negotiate from a position of strength should not expect a long life. Bain Dam' Fernes did not know that his time would have been better spent in putting his affairs in order.
Ready and waiting in the wings with eager anticipation was his friend and Vice Premier Yven Robet; a man much more easily flattered. Unbeknownst to the Prime Minister, one of the Federation President's secret meetings had been with his old friend.