Here is a birthday fic for you, vilakins. This was supposed to be the last chapter of the Mysteries and Discoveries story but I had decided to postpone it because I wanted to put it in a later story. I thought it might make a nice gift for you now.
Title: A Gift for Vila
The others hung back as Vila approached the ramshackle wooden structure. His legs felt shaky and at any moment, he expected everything to collapse upon itself and he would find that it was nothing more than a wishful fantasy. Vila almost had to pinch himself. The last few days had been like an unreal vision, culminating in this fateful walk up a dusty, dirt-baked path to see the woman he thought only existed in his dreams.
Vila reached the solid wooden doorway, the final barrier that would tell him whether his hopes and dreams would be realized or dashed against the cruel rocks of reality. Vila lifted a trembling hand and rapped hesitantly. It barely made a sound. He knocked harder. The door opened instantly, revealing an impossibly tall and large-chested woman in a long roughly textured brown and grey dress.
The woman's suspicious eyes seemed to take his measure in a single glance. "What'd you want, Federation?"
"Federation?" Vila was offended. "I'm not Federation."
The woman was distinctly unfriendly. "Yeah? Could've fooled me." The way the woman blocked the doorway, she was an even more formidable barrier than the door had been. "No one dresses that fine on this planet 'cept the Federation lackeys that run this place."
"You don't like the Federation?"
The woman snorted and her head tilted to address someone behind her. "Petra, you've got to come…there's someone doing a real good imitation of the village idiot here."
Vila asked with perplexity, "If I were working with the Federation, shouldn't you be more careful about what you say?"
The woman asked without a shred of respect, "Why?"
"Well…I mean…aren't you afraid of what I might do? If I were Federation, that is."
"You must be new Federation, or did they think that they really did need a village idiot here?" The woman looked behind Vila and noticed the others. "Brought reinforcements, did you? Couldn't handle a few unarmed women on your own?"
"I'm not here to harm you. We're just looking for someone."
"Really?" The woman looked down with acid eyes to his gun belt and pointed. "What'd you call that? Decoration?"
A softer voice could be heard from inside the room, "Sigrid, I need you."
Vila's heart skipped a beat. The voice sounded familiar but it had been such a long time since it had been real that he wasn't sure.
Sigrid shouted her answer behind her, "I'm coming, Janice. Just have to kick out these Federation first."
Vila whispered the name in fearful hope, "Janice Restal?"
The large woman looked at him with curiosity and suspicion, "You know her? Of course you do, everyone does."
"She's…she's…" Vila could barely say the word. The dream was within reach but he was afraid to reach out and touch it.
A flat voice said from behind Vila's right shoulder, "She's his mother. His name is Vila Restal, when he admits it."
Avon had come up behind him.
Sigrid was about to snort incredulously but the look in Avon's eyes made her think twice. Instead, she turned to address the woman behind her, "Janice, you won't believe it but someone here thinks he's your son. D'you have any pills for the mentally disturbed? Says his name is Vila."
They heard a loud clang as something hit the floor. There was a dashing of feet and then a shock of grey hair appeared just beyond Sigrid's shoulder. The soft voice said with disbelieving excitement, "Let me see him!"
Sigrid lay questioning eyes on Vila again, "Are you sure? He doesn't look like much and I don't like the looks of this other one." Sigrid was watching Avon warily but she didn't budge from the door.
The soft voice asked, "What other one? Please move, Sigrid. Let me see him. I have to know."
The large woman turned her body.
Vila's mouth dropped open in shock. Janice Restal had the same reaction. Even though her hair was all grey and there were lines of age on her face, in Vila's eyes, she was just the same as he remembered her. Janice's grey eyes twinkled with joy even as they welled over with tears of happiness.
Choked voices identified each other. "Vila!" "Mum!"
Soon they were hugging each other. Sigrid had an astonished look on her face.
The rest of the crew approached quietly, not wanting to intrude on this special moment. There were smiles of joy on their faces and some eyes were moist. Even the harsh lines on Avon’s face didn’t seem as hard, but it was difficult to tell. His eyes did seem a bit bewildered by this display of emotion.
In between sobs of joy, Vila's mother said, "I thought…you'd never come. They said… they'd told you that I was dead."
Vila was sniffling as he held her. "The cruel…they wiped my memory. Told me you'd died in an accident. Mum, they took everything. Even memories of my friends."
"Your friends?" Vila's mother pulled back to look at him. Her tear-stained face was full of wonder. She seemed to want to commit every centimetre of him to memory, in case he was a dream that might fade away any minute.
"Yes. I…never told you. I met some of the Alpha kids when you brought me to the Academy. I know you told me to keep out of the Alpha areas…”
Vila looked embarrassed as he remembered her admonishment to stay out of trouble. “We became good friends and we met up again later. They're here too." Vila turned around and his hand gestured in the direction of the crew.
Vila's mother's mouth dropped open again. "No. It couldn't be."
Sester stepped forward, "Yes, it's us, Nurse Restal. It's Charles." He indicated the others. "Kerr. And Jack." Argus came forward to stand with Avon and Sester.
Vila's mother seemed to be in an emotional hugging mood. No would have guessed it possible but with arms outstretched she encompassed all three of them. "Oh, my boys. I was so worried about the three of you."
The three men looked embarrassed but there was happiness in their eyes.
Sester said, "You don't need to worry about us anymore, Nurse. We're all together again, including your son, and we're free of the Federation. Well, somewhat."
Janice let go of them and stepped back to take a good look. They all stood self-consciously, like the little boys she had known once.
"You've grown up good and strong," she said as if she was their proud mother.
Argus said uncomfortably, "I don't know about good. But strong, yes."
"You've got to tell me everything. Stay for supper."
Vila put his arm around her shoulders, "Mum, I'm here to take you away."
"Take me away?" It seemed like a strange, not entirely welcome concept.
"Yes, I’m here to rescue you, mum."
Vila's mother said, "But I don't need rescuing."
Argus asked perplexed, "Isn't this a penal colony?"
"Come in and I'll explain it to you all."
They followed her inside.
There was much to share over an odd-tasting but pleasant and filling meal. The four men briefly told Nurse Restal the direction their lives had taken while she described her own life in the penal colony. Her face lit up with happiness when Vila introduced her to Corinne and she embraced her like a long lost daughter. She was excited to meet Cally and Reya as well. When they told her about their recent adventures on Tellar and Chandar, she was fascinated.
"The Tellarans sound like very special people," Janice said thoughtfully.
Vila said, "They are, mum. I learned a great deal from them. They helped me see some things I never saw before. They've…changed me."
Sigrid, the large woman who had blocked Vila's way before, seemed to know quite a bit about the history of the colony. She was the one who explained the situation. "We've an agreement of sorts here. After Star One was destroyed and alien war, everything was in chaos. The supply transports stopped coming. The Federation types sent for help, but everyone was just trying to survive those days and there wasn't much of a Federation left in the Outer Colonies. There was no one to help. The supplies ran out. We were starving. This planet doesn't support much that can feed us. We ran out of medicine. People started dying. So we all started working together to find a way to survive, the Federation types and us. We're luckier than most penal colonies. The reason the Federation put up a colony here in the first place was for the Cotali crystals. It was in our best interests to work together with the Federation types here to make ourselves valuable again. So we find the crystals and work the mines, the admin and security types leave us alone and fend off some of the more aggressive wildlife around here, and they keep the Federation off our backs. Things have gotten better the last few years. We've even got fresh medical supplies in the last run."
Vila's mother said, "We've sorely needed those. I was reduced to cloth bandages that we had to boil. There's not much in the way of useful plants here."
Cally said, "Why don't we go over your medical needs later? The Justice has more advanced equipment and supplies than the Federation."
Janice’s eyes lit up. "That would be greatly appreciated."
Vila stood up, "Hang on a minute. My mother is not staying here!"
"Sit down dear."
Vila sat back down hesitantly. "Mum, can't we talk about this? I can finally give you the life you deserve. I've got a fortune now. Even earned it legally. I can give you anything you want."
Vila's mother said, "That's very nice dear and it is greatly appreciated. But this is what I want, Vila. When I was at the Academy, I felt helpless. I wanted to help the boys but there was little I could do."
Avon's impassive voice surprised them all. "You did more for us than you give yourself credit for, Nurse Restal. You tried to help us and…you raised a good son."
"Please, call me Janice."
Argus shook his head, "We couldn’t do that. It…" He felt it was wrong but he didn't know how to express it.
Sester said, "It wouldn't feel right. You will always be Nurse Restal to us. You helped us when we most needed help and you were kind to us."
"It was the least I could do." Janice turned to face her son, "Vila, I need you to understand. When I got here, the colony's sole doctor had died and the one they sent as a replacement had crashed in a shuttle accident. They needed me here. Over the years, I've been able to save many people, both prisoners and Federation people alike. They kept me on as a nurse, even after they sent more replacements."
Sigrid said with grateful eyes, "She's been a great blessing to us and is highly respected on both sides. Most of us owe our lives to your mother, Vila."
Janice said, "I am needed here, son. Just as you are needed out there." She ran her fingers affectionately through his hair. "I'm glad that the Tellarans have changed you, my son. I was worried when you became involved with the rebels. All that violence and killing…that is not the person I raised you to be even though it was a good cause. Do you remember?"
Vila nodded sadly, "I remember. You always warned me of the way of violence. I never really understood before, not until I saw all those people dead and dying on the ships. Before…it hadn't seemed real when I used the neutron blasters. It was more like the old vid-games. But now I know."
Janice said, "Be a good influence, Vila." She turned to them all. The seven of them together. She couldn't have been prouder of them if they had been her own children. In a way, she felt as if the boys were. She had taken care of them when their heads hurt and when they were sick. She had tried to watch over them the best that she could whenever they came to the infirmary.
"Somehow, I knew that the Federation could not keep you boys down for long. The three of you are special, that is why they had great interest in you."
Avon said, "Not just the three of us."
Argus put his strong hand on Vila's shoulder, "Avon's right, it’s the four of us."
Vila said, "No. It's the seven of us. If there's one thing I learned on Tellar. It's that women need to play an integral part if we are to avoid the mistakes of the past."
They all stared at him.
Janice smiled and hugged her son. "I am very proud of you, Vila."
Vila didn't know what to say. All he could do was cling to her and wish that this moment would never end. "I will come and visit often."
Janice let go of him and touched his face in affection. "I would like that."
Argus said, "We will make sure of it, Nurse Restal."
Janice's eyes swept over the others. "I am proud of you all. In a way, you also feel like my children."
Avon surprised them all again by saying formally, "I would be honoured."
Janice studied Avon's wooden face. There was dark emotion in his eyes. "Did you ever find out what happened to your parents?"
Avon stiffened. "No."
Vila said encouragingly, "Don't worry, we'll find them, Avon. You found my mother, it's the least we can do."
Avon said flatly, "There's no need."
Janice reached out and touched his arm. "Avon."
"It's pointless. My parents are dead. They are dead to me." Avon's voice ended harshly. Cally could feel his sudden tension.
Janice looked sadly at him and then her eyes met her son's. Vila nodded. He said, "It's alright, Avon. We won't push it."
Janice said, "I would be honoured to be your mother, Avon."
Avon stared at her a moment, and then he nodded.
Vila asked teasingly, "Does that mean we're brothers?"
Avon said, "I'm the older brother. That means that…"
Vila said quickly, "You take care of me."
Janice sighed at the two bickering boys. "It means that you both take care of each other."
Ever the leader, Argus said seriously, "We will all do that."
All of a sudden, Vila wanted to hug them all, his mother and the men and women who had become his family. He knew that he was giddy with happiness, but it felt good. He felt as if he was on top of the universe and they could do anything. There were still many dangers out there but they would face it together. It was a great day.