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Unforgiven by Andrew Williams

Andrew Williams

Vila Restal was still running. It had been almost two years since he had escaped the horrors of Federation hospitality at the hands of their interrogators on Gauda Prime. Since that time he had not been able to stop moving, at last able to heed his own advice.

"...maybe we should start running now! I always thought your idea of having a combat base was crazy."
"Vila, I won't run."

It was strange how he had been able to hide in the domes, scuttling into darkened corners, slipping through the cracks in the system. But now, in the infinity of space, it seemed impossible to escape the reach of the Federation. Everywhere he was pursued and hounded, the hot breath and ugly muzzle of the all-seeing State seeking him out.

"We know what we've got planned. Running away is what we've got planned."
"A strategic withdrawal is what we've got planned."
"There's a difference?"
"Oh, yes. A strategic withdrawal is running away - but with dignity."
"So lay in a course and let's get the dignified hell out of here!"

But even when it seemed they were finally seeing sense, finally listening to him, it was obvious that they weren't really.

"That isn't the plan anymore, though, is it Avon?
"I think we can do better."
"Does that mean safer?"
"In the end, winning is the only safety."
"It doesn't mean safer. I didn't think it would."

He knew that the Federation wouldn't give up. They wanted Orac. After the massacre on Gauda Prime, Servalan had finally possessed Orac - briefly - until Vila had relieved her of it. After a few days with only Orac for company, Vila was sure he'd done Servalan a favour. Orac's idea of conversation, not to mention companionship, was not exactly scintillating.

Later, Vila destroyed Orac. It wasn't as pleasant as he had often imagined it would be. He'd left the mangled innards somewhere obvious, an offering to appease them, a message. I haven't got it any more, leave me alone. Of course, the Federation wouldn't believe that if he told them; they would just torture him until they killed him. And even if they knew there was no Orac to recover, the Federation never let an enemy live, no matter how harmless. Survival meant movement; continuous, unstopping movement. I've just discovered the secret of perpetual motion, he thought, running through the jungle. It's called fear.

Travelling with forged visas, Vila had been able to make the cross-connection to Polemos. He had managed to gather his courage and abandon ship in a life capsule in mid-voyage. Before escaping, he'd rigged the controls so that a few other capsules were ejected at random intervals; made it look like some kind of systems malfunction firing off a brace of capsules. The crew probably wouldn't miss him for several hours, by which stage they wouldn't know when he'd left.

The capsule had downed on a world known as Jelsa. With a bit of fiddling, Vila had managed to disable the automatic beacon. Perhaps that would help them find him - the only capsule not to signal for help. But they wouldn't try tracking the capsule until later, when the passenger line realised someone was missing. If the beacon was allowed to operate, he would have had the local rescue crews converging on his location within minutes of his landing.

Vila had ripped the survival kit from the capsule, taken his bearings, and slipped away from the charred vegetation as quickly and quietly as possible. As always, the only company he had was the voices in his head; the conversations he replayed or invented.

He had been moving as quickly as the dense vegetation would allow, only managing a fast walk most of the time. He wanted to run; to get away, and to warm up. Even though the lustrous foliage steamed, there was little warmth in the sunlight that valiantly struggled through the thick layers of waxy canopy overhead.

Swinging the small bag down from his shoulder, Vila squatted on his haunches. He was about to lean against a broad tree trunk, when the sight of evil-looking insects scurrying busily along the trunk made him think twice. He plopped the bag down in front of himself, then pulled the release tag.

The bag unsealed itself, and Vila rummaged through it. The survival kit from the capsule sat on top of everything, so he undid it, stripped the wrapper from a food bar, and began chewing heartily. You have to chew heartily, he thought, they're as hard as rock.

Slipping another bar into his pocket for later, he glanced at the small manual that came with the survival kit. Useless. Closing the kit, Vila sorted through his bag. The only warm thing he had was the big black jacket. Vila looked at it with sad eyes, wondering what had possessed him to bring it. The lining still smelled like... Ah, this will keep me warm! Pulling out the bottle, Vila gulped down a big slug of soma.

A burning aftertaste trailed down his throat to the ball of fire in his stomach. Stopping the bottle, Vila rolled the jacket around it for protection again, refusing to allow himself to dwell on its previous owner. Later, when the bottle was empty, he would need the anger to keep him warm. Feeling a little better, he closed the bag, slipping his arms through the loops as he stood. Still feeling uncomfortably cool, he decided to run a bit.

This is working well, thought Vila, ten minutes later. Not. Plants conspired to grab his legs as he hurtled through them. Branches scratched his face and caught at his bag. His clothing seemed to have taken up burr-collecting as a hobby, and had managed to acquire an amazing and assorted range in almost no time. It looks clearer up ahead, he thought, vaulting a giant bush.

Unfortunately it looked clearer because the bush fronted a gorge. Since plants didn't grow in mid air, there was no vegetation visible until the land resumed on the other side, some metres distant. If he had not been distracted by panic and the surprise of his immediate situation, Vila may have recalled a similar predicament on Terminal.

The gorge was only about four metres deep, and Vila did not have a chance to yell much before he had landed on a man, knocking him to the ground. Vila pushed himself up on his hands and knees. Nothing appeared broken, and now he was being warmed in the sun. It was very pleasant, but for the fact he had used a vicious looking primitive to break his fall. A shadow fell across Vila and he looked up to see why it had got darker. Four similarly-dressed natives were standing in front of him.

"Terrific," muttered Vila weakly.

A fifth man stepped up to them. His coverings were more ornate than the others; perhaps he was more important. "You speak Terran!" said the native.

Vila stood shakily to his feet. "I speak the languages of many different planets - but all in Terran." Vila was relieved to see that rather than keeping an eye on him, the burly natives remained stationed around the fallen man. He shuffled back a bit, brushing the thick orange dust from his clothes; a move that served only to smear it about.

The important man gestured at the prone form. "You have done a good thing by us," he said. "You have caught Umbuto, the murderer. Now the Fathers of the Ten Villages will be able to confront him with his crimes. What is your name?"

Vila hesitated, unsure whether to reveal his name to the man. They seemed an innocent people, remote from the galaxy at large, but appearances could be deceiving. And how well would they stand up to the terrifying machinations of an Interrogation squad when the Federation search teams came through? In fact, why would they even try to protect him, an unknown who had affected their lives for a scant few moments?

"Laster," he said. "My name is Laster."

The man peered at Vila momentarily, as though he perceived an untruth. Then he said, "My name is Athanta. It means 'Winter Gift-Bearer'. What does 'Laster' mean?"

To Vila it was obvious, even more obvious than the fact it was a simplistic anagram of his surname. There was a note of sadness in his voice when he answered. "It means that I am the last."

The man scrutinised him again. "Come, Laster," he said. "Come to our village. It is a tradition at Norpole that we allow heroes to name our water channels. The stream gives life, and it is an honour to be allowed to name a giver of life."

"I cannot," returned Vila. He wondered whether they would force him to go with them. Seeing the man's brow cloud, the small thief attempted to forestall trouble by continuing, "If you tell me what water courses there are, I will name one for you."

The man mulled this over, then nodded. "There is a river, a well, and a dam, all currently cursed with anonymity. The dam is great, and would bring much prestige to the House of Laster if you so named it. The river, too, is a powerful torrent in the hotter months, flooding our crop fields with rich silt. The well is not so great, being a small artesian bore in one of the lesser villages."

Vila smiled. "Then the choice is easy."

Vila stood on the hilltop, and waved one last time to the small crowd of villagers. The sun would be setting soon, and already there was a chill in the air. He slipped into the studded leather jacket, smiling to himself as he thought of the water channel he had named. Meegat may have waited many years for her 'Lord Avon', but it was Vila who had found forgiveness for a friend when he named the Well Now.


All original fan fiction hosted on Horizon is copyright to the individual authors. No attempt is being made to supersede any copyright held by the estate of Terry Nation, the BBC, B7 Media, Big Finish or any other licensees or holders of copyright on Blake's 7 material.


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