Vila liked doing the supply runs to Onus 2. They were a chance to get away from the close confines of the Xenon base, even though someone else always went with him. In case he decided to bolt with Scorpio, he supposed. So it was either him or Tarrant as pilot, along with Dayna or Soolin as bodyguard--or warden, more like.
Which was why he was so surprised to see Tarrant in the food market. "Tarrant! How the hell did you get here?" And why, come to think of it?
"None of your business, and who the hell are you, come to that?"
"Now, look--" Vila paused. He'd never seen Tarrant in a bright yellow silk tunic over turquoise trousers tighter than Avon's old lobster ones. And his curly hair was a lot shorter too. "Sorry, my mistake. You must be another brother. Demosthenes or Declan or Desmond or something like that? Bit of a theme for you lot, isn't it?"
The man gave Vila a cold and distant look.
"My one's Del," Vila said helpfully. "And you?"
There was a long, haughty pause. "Derek. Actually."
"And you're a twin, right? You and our Tarrant?"
"All right, all right, no need to get offended. Always wanted a twin, myself."
Derek looked Vila up and down. "I can't imagine why."
"Oh yes, you sound just like him too. If you're not a twin, I'll be--" Vila paused and held up a finger. "I know! Triplets! You and Del and Deeta!"
Derek turned his back. "This conversation is over."
"Come on, Vila," Dayna called impatiently. "Stop mucking about!"
"Dayna!" Vila beckoned her over. "See that guy over there? I thought that was Tarrant at first."
"He's got shorter hair, you berk." Dayna wrinkled her nose. "And not much colour sense."
"Well, the thing is, I was right. He is a Tarrant." But Dayna was already on her way to the vegetable section.
"You'll never guess who I saw," Vila said, encountering Tarrant in the Xenon base living room.
"I'm not even going to try."
Tarrant, languidly sprawled the length of the sofa, shot his legs out straight and almost knocked over a pot plant. He sat up with elaborate casualness. "I would assume you mean my brother?"
"That's right." Vila sat down beside Tarrant and regarded him with interest. "And he's too like you not to be a twin."
"Well, he isn't."
"That's what he said." Vila grinned. "Doesn't mean he isn't a triplet though, does it?"
"He isn't that either, Vila." Tarrant stood up to go.
"Oh come on, you and him and Deeta are like peas on a plate. You can't tell me the Tarrant genes are that powerful, and you can't be clones or genetically manipulated because the Federation doesn't go in for that stuff."
"Vila," Tarrant said dangerously.
"Tarrant. You and I got dead drunk after Deeta, you know, after the duel, and you said then you regretted not seeing him for so long. Well, Derek didn't even ask after you."
Tarrant hadn't been so bad since Deeta had died, when he and Vila had spent a night drunkenly and recklessly rambling over all sorts of subjects unspoken before or since. "Look, you can talk about it or not. Up to you." Vila got up and went to the sideboard and poured red wine into two glasses. He held one out. "In either case, get yourself around that."
Tarrant took it and swigged it back in one go, raising Vila's eyebrows and expectations of the beans being spilled, and slumped back onto the sofa. Vila refilled his glass, and Tarrant sat, staring down into it.
"I always fancied having a twin, you know," Vila said tentatively.
"That doesn't surprise me." Tarrant smiled faintly. "So you could play tricks on other people, I suppose."
"There is that, but mainly because there'd be someone who understood me completely. Someone I'd never ever have to explain anything to, or need to."
"Ah." Tarrant nodded slowly. "And that might well apply to twins." They sat in silence for a while, then Tarrant held up his hand, fingers spread. "Five," he said. "There were five of us."
"Five! Y'mean quintuplets?"
"Correct. And what does that make you think of?" Tarrant asked bitterly.
"Um. Five times the fun?"
"A litter, Vila. A litter of puppies or kittens. Animals."
"Oh, come on."
"Oh, yes. It was a thing of shame, almost a scandal. My mother stopped going out to social functions because of the way people talked about her, and as for school..."
"They can be cruel at school," Vila said feelingly.
"They used to number us, the Tarrant Litter, some teachers anyway. Write numbers on our foreheads and call us by them till they wore off or washed off. And of course the other pupils jeered. I don't think they even thought of us as quite human, even when Deeta got his hair straightened and Derek cut his short and Devan went blonde and Deen bright red." Tarrant drank some wine. "So as soon as we all could, we went our separate ways and never wanted to see each other again. I went into Space Fleet and the others all left Earth one way or another. My parents did too, actually."
"Explains a lot."
"What exactly do you mean by that?"
"Well, you being able to desert without your family being sold into slavery. They were all away and safe."
"Except for uncle Dev." Tarrant gave an unnerving wolfish grin. "Though I daresay he greased his way out of it."
"You never missed them?"
Tarrant tossed the rest of his wine back and held out the glass for more. "Once, when I went up the steps of Fleet HQ on Mars, I thought I saw Derek and put my hand out to grab his. There were these bloody great mirror-glass doors, you see." Tarrant began to laugh, and Vila joined him.
"Y'know," Vila said some time later, "Derek's on Onus 2 right now, and he can't be hard to track down in clothes like that."
"He always was somewhat flam," Tarrant waved his glass vaguely, "flam, what's the word, buoyant."
"Go on, seize the carp!" said Vila. "Strike with a hot iron!"
"I might well do that!" Tarrant leaned forward with drunken earnestness. "Thanks, Vila."