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"What about these, then?" Vila asked.

"Far too gaudy."

"But they're quite muted, really. Almost pastel. And I like the leafy shapes."

"No," Soolin said firmly. "We're going mostly monochrome with just a very small touch of colour."

"You spent too long on Xenon base," Vila grumbled. "All that grey and white."


Vila sighed and strolled further down the aisle, curtains to the right of him, curtains to the left. Odd things, really. No one had them back in the domes on Earth, not unless they were the very highest Alpha grades, in more ways than one, with actual windows. Soolin however had grown up in a farmhouse which must have had curtains, but Vila wasn't at all sure that had made her an expert. He was willing to bet they'd been cheerful and colourful, but not keen to ask and make her remember. "All right, how about these? Really pale grey with circles you can only see if you look side-on, could be moons, really, and--" Vila ended triumphantly, "tiny thin little silver lines!"

"Oh. Perfect! Well spotted."

"Ha ha."

"Pun unintended, I assure you."

"But appreciated all the same."

They moved on to the next department. "And the carpet? Pale grey too, to match?" Not a colour Vila would have gone for if allowed his own choices; it'd show everything dropped on it.

"Too much the same. An off-white, I think." Soolin said thoughtfully.

"Like this?"

"Too cream. Something cooler... ah, this one would work."

Vila looked at the label. "'Glacier'. Icy enough for you?"

"I think so." Soolin made a note. "And some occasional furniture for the living room." She headed out of the carpet department.

"Occasional? You mean just occasionally sat on? Or scattered randomly around?"


"What colour?" Vila glanced admiringly at a peacock-blue armchair.

"Mostly white, some black."

"Fancy that." Vila privately thought of how Avon's outfits had been the opposite that last year, grey split into its components. "With some really bright throw cushions?" he asked hopefully.

"No cushions. We're going for elegant simplicity, remember."

"Oh, all right. With maybe a touch of orange. Or yellow. Yellow is nice and cheerful."

"Red. Just red. You know that."

Vila's eye was caught by a vase in a rich, almost glowing scarlet. "So how about that?"

"I did want one really good colour accent in that room. It would do."

There were three little staccato knocks on the door. "Commissioner Sleer?" came through the small speaker.

Servalan, reclining on her new white leather couch, sighed. "What is it?"

The door opened to reveal one of her more decorative aides, hovering tentatively. "There is a vid call for you."

"Who is it? If it's that dreadful Rontane, you can inform him that I am not at home." The last thing she wanted was to be recognised by anyone whose disappearance might be investigated more thoroughly than usual, and the President's secretary would be annoyingly missed.

"No, commissioner."

"Whoever it is, I do not wish to be disturbed." Servalan leaned back on the elegant but comfortable sofa. The redecoration of her private apartments had been really very successful: a subtle and flattering backdrop that complemented and brought out her own style beautifully. The blonde girl had been very good; she would use Solva Décor Solutions again.

"An old friend, he said."

"I do not have any 'old friends'."

"He said that he hoped you would remember him from Sardos."

Servalan frowned and sat up. Vila? Tarrant perhaps? What could either of them have to say to her? She hesitated, curiosity nibbling. "Oh, very well. Put him through."

As the door closed quietly, a section of previously unmarked wall slid aside to reveal a vid screen.

"Vila," Servalan said flatly.

"Hello, Servalan." The fool smiled nervously. "Look, since you saved my life back there on Sardos, I thought I'd give you a chance. Even if it was only because I let you go, I mean, I couldn't let anything like that happen to anyone, even you."

Servalan had preferred to forget that particular incident. "A chance at what, Vila?" she asked icily. "And don't waffle."

"A second chance."

"At what? Do be specific. Black gold, Vila? Feldon crystals? Another tachyon funnel perhaps?"

"Oh now, that's cruel. No, nothing like that. A chance to turn your life around. A new leaf and all that."

"Don't waste my time." Servalan lifted her hand to end the call.

"No, wait--"

The wall slid back to cover the screen, and Servalan leaned back again into the welcoming leather. Idiot. Such a pity they'd all escaped the incompetent Arlen's trap, but how was one to know that Blake had a rebel force in reserve?

Then the wall slid open again and the screen lit up. "All right, Servalan. How about a third chance?"

Servalan stared, outraged, at the screen. "How did you do that?"

"It was surprisingly easy." Another face appeared beside Vila's, that of the fashionable young woman from Solva Décor Solutions. Sue something. "We simply provided a few additional features. At no extra cost."

"So, as I was saying, how about shutting down the Pylene-50 programme and--"

Servalan strode to the door and attempted to open it.

"Sorry," said Vila. "I did all the security for Soolin."

"Guards! This is Commissioner Sleer!"

"Intercom's off," said Vila.

"And we sound-proofed the room," Soolin said. "For your peace and pleasure, of course."

Servalan ran to the curtains to pull them aside, and leaped back with a cry of pain.

"Those little silvery stripes?" said Vila. "Electrified. And anyway, the glass is bullet-proof."

She still might be able to attract attention through the windows; Servalan steeled herself and grasped the curtain pull. She hung there, juddering and keening, unable to release her hand, then the current cut off and she fell to the floor, gasping for breath.

"Sorry. I did warn you," Vila lifted his hands from the control in front of him. "And just so you know, the current's back on."

Servalan pushed herself up on one hand (the one that could still open). "What do you want? Money? Gold?"

"None of that. Just what I said, stop the pacification programme, start being a good commissioner. It'd be a novel experience but you might get used to it."

No one, especially a thieving coward like Vila, would tell her what to do. "No."

"That did sound final, Vila," Soolin said. "Go on."

Vila sighed. "All right." His finger hovered uncertainly over the controls, and Soolin pressed her own finger down firmly over his.

There was a faint hissing in the beautiful and quiet room; Servalan twisted, trying to see where it was coming from.

"Concealed lighting," Soolin smiled smugly, like Krantor's white cat.

"You-- you're gassing me?" Servalan pulled herself to her feet with the help of a black leather chair.

"Just Pylene-50," said Vila.

"No. NO!"

"Won't hurt."

Servalan swayed, briefly dizzy.

"You'd better sit down."

That was a good idea. Servalan sank into the embrace of the nice black chair.

"Now, first of all we want the whole Pylene-50 programme stopped. And then the antidote put into production and distributed."


"Of course," Soolin said, "it was a failure anyway. Pacified populations are not conducive to robust planetary economies."

"No, they're not."

"That's what you'll tell everyone."

"Yes, I will."

"And it's even true," Vila said, his hands moving.

Servalan heard the lock on the door snick back, but there was no reason to leave. It was so nice and comfortable here.

"Off you go, then. You know, to give the orders."

"Yes, of course." Servalan stood and walked serenely to the door.

"When you've done that, we'll be back with some more for you to do," Vila said. "See you soon, Commissioner Sleer."

Servalan looked back at Vila. Such a lovely, friendly face. He and that nice Soolin were smiling at her which made her feel good. She smiled back.