The crew of the Liberator sat on the comfy couches in the well of the bridge, engaged in the circus Blake liked to call “a staff meeting.” Blake and Avon were front-and-center, squared off in fierce battle—just verbally, of course. Vila was keeping well out of the brawl. Blake had announced his particularly clever, or so he thought, plan to infiltrate Servalan’s Space Command Headquarters, and Avon was rebutting by informing him just how clever he thought the plan was. Not to mention how clever he thought Blake was.
Vila leaned back on the couch, curing a headache with a small glass of medicinal adrenalin and soma, listening with great enjoyment to the sweet music of Cally’s voice as she quietly threatened to dismember both men if they didn’t calm down.
Cally would persist in trying to talk sense to those two idiots, but even she had her limits. Ha! Blake, all naïve self-rightousness, nattering on about some papers in a safe in some admiral’s office. He really seems to think one person, undercover, will have a better chance of success than a full-frontal assault! And Jenna’s agreeing with him; no surprise there. It’s not like Blake’s ever going to send her to certain death. I wonder how he’s going to get Avon to go. I bet Blake will somehow make it a point of honour and guilt Avon into the mission. I can’t wait to see Avon in a Federation uniform, it's going to be hilarious....
On that pleasant thought, Vila very nearly chuckled into his drink. It was then that he became aware of four pairs of eyes on him, staring as if they were waiting for him to say something, to protest against some outrage....
* * * * *
A short time later, an unhappy Vila Restal found himself standing alone in Admiral “Old Astronomical Homicide” Walsh’s office in Space Command Headquarters, teleported there during a fast fly-by in full Federation cannon-fodder/space trooper uniform. Cracking the safe in the admiral’s office was no problem once he’d removed the face-obscuring “bee-keeper” helmet, and he grabbed up the orders of execution condemning a large portion of the rebel network to arrest, torture, and death, slipping them in his Federation uniform jacket pocket. As an afterthought, Vila also pocketed a letter of recommendation suggesting rewards for the informants who’d turned in the rebels. He then settled down to wait for his teleport-pickup, dropping comfortably into what was obviously the admiral’s favorite chair. Unbelievable! One of Blake’s plans, and it had come off without a hitch!
A noise at the door had Vila grabbing for his helmet. Instead of putting it on and coming to attention like any Federation trooper might, a stab of panic made him run for the door behind the admiral’s desk, which opened up to an opulent bathroom.
Cursing himself because he should have known better than to trust a Roj Blake plan of action, Vila cowered behind a clothes-hamper, shrinking down into an even smaller ball of terror as he heard the admiral telling someone he was just going to take a relaxing shower... then extending an invitation to join him! Someone with a much higher voice than the admiral giggled in assent.
“Now that’s disgusting; a man that old with a girl that young, and him a respected member of the military, too,” raced through Vila’s gadfly mind as he crawled through a door that lead to a storage closet, his helmet dragging along behind him by its strap like a turtle on a leash. Fortunately, Old Astronomical Homicide’s attention was focused on his guest, and the guest was too busy to notice a thing.
The storage closet was more of a small utility room and had a disused side door, Vila picking its lock easily. He clapped his helmet over his face and adjusted the strap, then stepped through the door, finding himself in a long, well-lit corridor crowded with busy military personnel.
Vila tried to comfort himself with the fact that, as one of several dozen faceless troopers, he was as good as invisible. Unfortunately, there was a little voice screaming in his head that he was as good as dead.
He glanced at his wrist chronometer. His ride home was a mere ten minutes away. He could waste hours of valuable time on the Liberator flight deck; surely he would have no trouble frittering away a mere ten minutes unnoticed and unchallenged. All he had to do was keep walking as if he belonged, keeping away from any top secret corridors that might be on the base, most especially avoiding being asked for his non-existent papers. A snap!
He was undoubtedly doomed.
Vila wanted desperately to slink down the hall, to peer surreptitiously around corners, to scurry from one hiding place to another, as was his nature. It was only that he wore a Lieutenant’s uniform and that slinking, peering and scurrying was unmilitary behavior frowned upon by high command keeping his stride firm and his back straight as he marched down the hallway to who knew where.
He was busy trying to look dignified and military that when a voice spoke from down the corridor, a voice he knew from countless holocasts and a couple of nerve-shattering personal experiences. Supreme Commander Servalan, surrounded by a half-dozen hangers-on, moved lightly down the hallway like a model on a runway. Her various toadies and aides cackled at some small and elegant verbal jest she’d just made. She looked more delicate than he remembered but he supposed that was because she wasn’t waving a gun around menacingly, like the last time he’d seen her.
Despite this softening of her aspect, Vila had no wish to make the lady’s re-acquaintance. He made a discreet right turn into a short hallway, found a door, and quickly jimmied open the simple lock. Apparently it was true that there was no lock he couldn’t crack if he was scared enough, and he was certainly scared enough.
Vila found himself in an elegant Federation suite of offices. Pulling off his helmet, he peered ‘round and listened intently. When he was quite sure he was alone, he turned and used a laser-probe to melt the door lock. Now, even if they detected his presence, it would still be some minutes before they could rally and get the door open.
Thus secured, Vila took a moment to investigate his surroundings. Pearly white walls reached up to a glowing white ceiling made of sound-absorbing material. He took a step and almost tripped in the heavy, pure-white shag carpeting that seemed to clutch at his rubber boots with a hungry tenacity. Minimalist though it was, there was an oppressive sexuality, a kinkiness to the place. “Not like you could give a party here, with all this white stuff,” he spoke aloud to nobody in particular. The pristine carpet had never had a glass of wine spilled on it.
He went to the desk—a bare, sleek, costly thing of ergonomic beauty—and sat down in the chair. It was not nearly as comfortable as the admiral’s chair had been. Vila looked at his chronometer. Five minutes: now, what bit of mayhem could he commit without explosives and only five minutes?
The top drawer was boring. It was full of blank tape beads for short messages, and the larger, white plastic biscuits that were designed to hold longer reports, also blanked. There were some elegant ebony pens, a letter opener for opening official paper-based missives without fear of receiving a papercut, and a weird metal flower that he couldn’t figure out the function of. Vila read the automatic-ink rubber stamps he found, “Top Secret”, “Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate”, and “By All Means, DO Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate”. Vila blinked in surprise at that last one. It didn’t bear thinking what it might be stamped on.
The contents of the second drawer were more interesting. It held erasers formed in the shapes of animals and spaceships. He recognized a Federation Thunderbird 007 in red rubber and a sub-light interplanetary hopper in blue, but beyond the tiny rubber cow (which he recognized from the cow logo on the Dome’s Dairy Milk carton,) he had no idea what kind of animals the others were.
He put the whole batch in one of his pockets and investigated the next drawer down.
Bizarrely, the third drawer revealed a half-dozen clown noses in various colours, some obviously fake-looking handlebar moustaches, and a pair of comedy “choppers”, also known as “chattering teeth” that clacked when wound up. There was also a fake plastic rose attached to a long flexible tube with a bulb attached to the end. He had no idea what that was for, but instantly recognized what lay beneath it: a yoyo! He hadn’t been very good with the yoyo he’d stolen as a child, but this looked like a much higher-quality toy and he was loads more dexterous now; who knew how good he could get with a bit of practice?
The yo-yo went into one of his pockets with the other treasures and he tried unsuccessfully to smooth over the lumps they made in his uniform.
It was in the bottom drawer that he hit paydirt! A bottle of brandy; real brandy from Earth in one hand, and a bottle of 80 proof vodka from the planet Atlay in the other, he sat back with a satisfied smile on his face...
...and found himself on a teleport disk on the Liberator. Vila immediately fell on his ass, but the bruise was worth it. Not a drop spilled.
* * * * *
Later that day, Servalan, a slim, bare arm looped companionably through the arm of Old Astronomical Homicide, otherwise known as Admiral Walsh, sauntered towards her office. She was luring him there with the promise of a snifter of brandy, real brandy from Earth, and hoped to worm some information about the disposition of the President on her latest budgetary proposals. Usually she’d have just bribed or threatened the information out of him; but he was too famous and honourable and dignified for that, damn him.
They were both trailed by their bodyguards and, to Servalan’s annoyance, by the admiral’s aide, a giggling scatterbrain of a girl who couldn’t open her mouth without making Servalan want to push her out the nearest airlock. She’d heard rumours about the admiral and his aide... but no, the elderly codger would never, ever have been able to... well, if he could, it would have raised Servalan’s opinion of him ten-fold.
They arrived at her office. Servalan palmed the lock... and nothing happened. She palmed it again. Still nothing.
“My dear, won’t you fetch someone from Maintenance for the Supreme Commander,” said the admiral to his aide, who ran off instead of using the wall communicator the way anyone with a brain would have. “Fear not, my dearest Supreme Commander, we’ll have you back in your little nest in a thrice.”
Damn the man’s cheek. Servalan smiled, all charm, and waited for the arrival of Supreme Command Headquarters’ janitor. Annoyed, her eye was suddenly caught by the sight of her bodyguard standing at attention, a shade too tall and a shade too still against the wall. It was as if he was trying to remain unnoticed. Servalan was immediately suspicious.
“Lieutenant,” she said sharply, and he stood, if anything, more perfectly at attention. “Lieutenant, do me the courtesy of removing your helmet.”
He hesitated for the barest moment, then bowed to the inevitable and pulled off his “bee-keeper” helmet. It was just as she suspected. His pale, white face and wide eyes contrasted beautifully with the red wax lips he wore. Horsey wax teeth protruded from between the faintly obscene lips. Old Astronomical Homicide began to laugh.
“Oh, what tricks these youngsters get up to! I remember when I was a raw recruit, these many years ago; we used to wear the most disgraceful clown noses under our helmets on a dare! In fact, I had a pig snout that I’d got in a joke shop on Zondor, before the pacification program; beautiful thing with fake plastic hairs and everything, looked positively realistic. Got caught once, too! Dreadful blot on my record until I had it expunged years later.”
Servalan ignored his nattering and slowly extended one slim, white arm, palm up. “Give them to me,” was all she said.
* * * * *
Blake stood on the upper deck of the Liberator, having instructed Orac to issue warnings to the various rebel undergrounds that their covers had been blown, and just who it was who’d blown their covers. Vila relaxed on one of the comfy couches in the well of the flight deck, his “choppers” chattering away in his hand. Avon and Cally sat across from him, watching the teeth chatter with disgust (on Avon’s part) and fascination (Cally.)
“What exactly is the significance of this artifact?” Cally asked.
Avon answered for him. “They are so that Vila can still flap his jaws even when he is at rest.”
Vila ignored him. “They’re a joke, Cally! You know; it’s funny!”
She stared at them harder, as if trying to discern the hidden humour. Ah, well, he thought to himself; he’d practice some more with the yo-yo, then show her. She’d be impressed with that. He wondered if there were yo-yos on Auron.
“Oh, Avon; another thing I picked up in that office....”
“What? You stole a whoopee cushion?”
“What is a ‘whoopee cushion’, Avon?”
“Never mind, Cally. So, Vila, what obnoxious item did you steal? I saw the liquor, if that’s what you meant.”
“No. See this?” he indicated the rose on his lapel. “It’s a real flower; I bet it was grown on Earth.”
“Any fool can see that’s fake!”
“No, it isn’t! You can even smell the perfume.”
Avon leaned closer to get a better look at the flower, oblivious to the bulb full of water in Vila’s hand and the long, thin tube that ran down the inside of his sleeve, connecting bloom to bulb.
Vila had figured out what the plastic flower was for.