Sounds of moaning began in the other room and then finally screams of agony. Vila’s face went pale. There was only one person who would be doing that in the other room. Vila's fear grew with each sound of pain.
The door opened. A tall man holding an energy dagger came in. The others nodded in acknowledgement. The man's name was Tance. He came towards Vila and instructed the other man, "Lift up his shirt." He turned on the energy dagger. The blade burned with an ugly red glow.
"Why? That thing goes through anything," the man twisting his arm complained.
"I like his shirt," said Tance.
"Now wait a minute. Let’s not be hasty," said Vila.
"That depends on you," said Tance.
"There’s no need for violence, is there?" said Vila.
"You should have thought of that before you tried to cheat Sevisia." The man behind Vila, twisted his arm further up.
"Ow! Stop that! I said there’s no need for violence. You look like reasonable … people. Well, I’m sure you could be if you wanted to be. I mean, if you tried it, you might not find it so bad."
There were more sounds of screaming. Vila was getting a sick feeling in his stomach. Sounds of pain always made him queasy, especially when it was a prelude to his own.
"We’re wasting time," said Tance as he readied to use the dagger. He was so tall that he towered over Vila. "The others are ahead of us. I have a bet to see who gets the information first."
"Then what are we waiting for?" said the man behind Vila. He reached around and yanked up Vila’s shirt. "Go ahead."
"Wait! Wait! What information?" asked Vila as he frantically tried to twist away from the approaching red blade.
"It’s no fun if he tells us now," complained the man behind him.
"Yes. But I have five thousand credits riding on this. I’ll cut you in," said Tance.
"Fifty-fifty," negotiated the other man. There were more sounds of screaming from the other room. Vila winced.
"Eighty-twenty. It’s my bet," countered Tance
"Make it seventy-thirty and we have a deal," said the other man.
"Done. Now tell us where the other man went and what device you used to cheat in the casino," the tall man ordered Vila.
They’re looking for Ture. That means he got away. He’s probably back on the ship. Vila wished he was that lucky.
"I was drunk. I have no idea where he went," said Vila.
The two men laughed.
"What’s so funny?" asked Vila.
"You were drunk alright. Happy juice works very quickly," said Tance.
"You drugged me?!" asked Vila.
"It looks like we’re not going to win that bet," said the man holding Vila. He sounded disappointed. "He doesn’t know anything. We got the bad end of the deal. The others probably have the information already. But at least, let’s have some fun." He twisted Vila’s arm further. Vila yelped in pain.
There was more screaming from the other room.
"We haven’t lost yet," said Tance as he listened to the new round of screaming. "I don’t give up that easily. I picked this one deliberately." He put the blade close to Vila’s face. Vila moved back. "He must be able to tell us possible places where the other one went. And he seems much weaker. He’ll break easily."
Vila said outraged, "I'm not helping you! I’m not the weaker one!"
The tall man laughed. "He’s got a little pride. Lets see how little." He dropped the blade down to Vila’s bared chest. Slowly he moved the blade forward until the tip almost touched flesh.
"Ow!" said Vila. The ugly red glow looked like it would be very painful.
The man smiled cruelly. "I haven’t touched you yet."
"I’m just practicing," said Vila. "I mean, it’s always good to practice. Want to get these things right."
"Yes, how much practice does it take to save your own skin? Do tell us," said the tall man. "There will only be one person who gets to leave alive. The other one gets to leave slowly. Can you guess which one that will be?"
Vila was terrified. He knew what that meant. The stories of what Sevisia did to people who crossed him were night time stories told to young deltas who didn’t behave. Horror stories. He didn’t want to be sent in little packages as an object lesson to unsuspecting people. Vila shivered.
"Not me?" he asked. His voice came out in a high pitch. His was sweating.
The Tance's lips turned up in an unpleasant sneer. "Smart man. You must’ve had lots of practice. Now tell me what I want to know. Enough information to find the other one and get the device you used." The man touched the tip of the blade to Vila's chest briefly. Vila jerked back in pain. "Alright! Alright!"
Fear always brought out the best in Vila; depending on how you looked at it. His personal survival instinct kicked into gear; his words came out in a jumble of fear and panic. "He must have gone back to the ship. You can use…" Vila hesitated just as he was about to tell them, he had a flash of another idea. "Use your comm system to contact my ship. It’s called the Justice. I can tell him to come back and bring the device."
Trance’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t trust Vila but he didn’t see any harm in doing what was suggested since they controlled the space port.
"Alright. You’d better not be playing any tricks. Else you’ll both get to leave slowly," he threatened.
Vila gulped and nodded. The tall man left the room for a few moments. The screaming stopped. When he came back in, he was carrying a portable comm unit. "What’s the frequency and location?" he asked Vila.
This one was tricky. Vila gave him a commonly used public frequency used by space travellers. The man looked at him strangely but set the unit and said , "No tricks. You know what will happen if I suspect anything."
"Yes. You get to live your childhood dream of artistic butchery. You must have made your parents very proud," said Vila cynically.
"It’s a family business," said Trance with a cold smile.
Vila shuddered. The man didn’t seem to be joking. This man was a crimo, or close to one. They killed people just for looking at them wrong, and usually in as painful a way as possible. It wasn’t surprising that Sevisia had these people working for him. He was their champion.
The man turned on the comm switch and looked expectantly at Vila.
"Justice. This is Vila calling the Justice. Come in Justice."
I hope this works, thought Vila.
Reya was drawing something on a data pad while she monitored things on the flight deck.
Zen spoke up, "Information. There is a communication being transmitted from the planet on a public transportation frequency. Voice print patterns confirm Vila Restal as the originator of the incoming message."
Public transportation frequency? Something must be wrong.
Reya instantly used the internal ship’s comm. "Argus. You have to get to the flight deck immediately. We’re receiving an incoming message from Vila. There may be something wrong."
Within a few seconds, Argus raced to the flight deck and almost flew down the steps. Before he had landed, he instructed, "Zen, is Vila still transmitting?"
Reya told him, "He's using a public transportation frequency."
Argus nodded in acknowledgement of the information.
Zen replied, "Confirmed. The message is currently being repeated."
Argus ordered, "Play it over the main speaker and I want an accurate fix on the transmission location."
Vila’s frustrated voice piped over the main speaker. "…on, someone wake up over there. This is Vila."
Ture arrived on the flight deck.
Argus asked, "Zen, do a voice print analysis. Is that Vila’s voice?"
"Voice pattern of Vila Restal confirmed," reported Zen.
"Alright open up the communication channel. Can you bounce it so it can’t be traced?"
"That is possible." There was a pause while Zen did as requested. "Communication channel opened."
"Vila, this is Argus. What’s going on over there? You spent all your credits already?"
There was a pause before Vila replied, "What took you so long?" He was trying to sound casual but only managed to sound like he was trying to sound casual.
"You know me. I was taking a nap."
"Lazy sod. I’m running out of credits. It's time to come to the rescue of poor old Vila. Everything here is painfully expensive. I need our little money maker. Can you get Ture to bring it down in our shuttle?"
"Our shuttle? Yes. Well. You know how it’s been acting up. I’ve been meaning to get it fixed. Since we were here, I thought I might do it now. Wouldn’t want it to crash in on you unexpectedly down there."
"Just great. When will that be?" asked Vila over the speaker.
"How soon’s soon?"
"You know me, Vila."
"Yes, I know you. You'll just go and take a nap again. Get up off your lazy arse and fix it already. It’s really painfully expensive down here. Vila, out."
Argus said, "Zen, did you get the location fix?"
"You can’t go down alone," said Reya. "You need back-up. I’m coming with you."
"I want to go with you," said Ture.
Argus looked at Reya and Ture. Both were seasoned fighters but he knew that Reya was by far the superior one.
"Reya, you’re with me. Ture, we need to find out what’s going on down there. I’ll need you to tap into their network once we get back. I don’t want to bother Avon for now. They don’t know who he is and he went down by teleport so there’s nothing connecting him to us. They should both be safe where they are. Work with Zen and find out as much about their networks as you can before we get back with Vila and Allren."
Argus turned to Zen, "Zen, record the following voiceprints." He looked at Reya and Ture.
"From now on you will obey their requests and commands," instructed Argus.
The computer replied, "Confirmed."
Cally watched Avon as he interacted with the scientists and engineers of Pleasure City. She had never seen him this comfortable and animated before. The delight on his face as he discovered something new and his excitement as he debated about some point reminded her a bit of the Avon on the Ortega, the ship carrying the neutrotope to the planet, Destiny. His voice became more dynamic and his face took on a boyish quality.
It didn't take long for the Pleasure City personnel to be impressed with Avon and begin to work with him to improve their own system. To Cally, they all seemed to be speaking a different language even though they were using Federation Standard.
You must have missed this, thought Cally. You never were the rebel, were you? It never suited you. This is the real you.
"Cally, look at this," said Avon excitedly, waving her over. He pointed at the inner workings of a piece of equipment he had opened.
"What am I looking at?" asked Cally as she looked at what he was pointing to. Though she had some technical knowledge, this area was not familiar to her. She wondered how it was that Avon could have expertise in so many different diverse fields.
"It's a multiple imaging photon-based molecular stabilizer," he told her. "The first of its kind. It was only a proposed theory when I was at the academy. They actually made it work."
"What does it do, Avon?"
Avon stared at her for a moment. It seemed clear to him but it was evident that she didn't understand.
"It makes solid holographic images possible. Here, I'll show you." He whispered some instructions to a technician sitting at a control panel next to him and then walked over to a padded area on the floor. "Come and stand over here," he told her.
When Cally was standing next to him, Avon nodded to the technician. Avon held out his right hand. Instantly a perfect red flower appeared in it. He handed it to her.
"Oh this is beautiful, Avon." It was a wonderful gesture. It was the Auron equivalent of a red rose, without the thorns of its Terran counterpart. Cally was touched.
Avon said, "It’s far from perfect. What do you feel when you touch it?"
Cally felt the flower. The physical sensation was the same all around, no matter which part she touched.
"I can feel an object, but the texture is strange," she told him.
"Yes. They’ve only been able to reproduce the tactile sensation. There is no differentiation of textures yet. The visual simulation is perfect. That is based on their current technology. The reproduction along the other senses is also far from complete so you will not be able to smell or taste it yet."
"It’s still a beautiful gesture. Thank you, Avon," said Cally.
"I thought you might appreciate the technology," said Avon.
"That’s not what I meant."
"You think that the flower has another significance?" asked Avon.
"I think you would rather die than admit that you are capable of such an illogical display of sentiment. But giving it a rational reason, such as showing me a fascinating piece of technology, makes it less disturbing."
Avon stared at her. She had an alarming ability to be able to cut through to the heart of things. Especially with him.
Cally knew that he had to have done some research into Auron flora and customs in order to reproduce the flower in her hand. It could not have been a coincidence.
"Why did you chose this object, Avon? A flower. And this particular flower. Are flowers of alien cultures also another specialty of yours?"
"No." Avon admitted reluctantly. "I thought you might like it." He looked at her nervously.
"I do. Very much. Thank you, Avon. You’re right. The technology is quite impressive," she said in a suitably serious and impressed tone.