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Who is your Favourite Guest Rebel?

Avalon - (Project Avalon)
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Hunda - (Traitor)
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A Time for Every Matter by Anniew - PART ONE

A TIME FOR EVERY MATTER

by
Anniew

PART ONE

WINTER
Winter comes early to Gauda Prima. The thin sun barely penetrates the dense canopy of fir trees and the shadows it throws are cold. At least it's not snowing yet. Vila, huddled miserably in the dank corner of the derelict hut that serves for their shelter, remembers similar days on Terminal and misses the skills that Dayna and Tarrant had with twigs. Just that in Tarrant's case, if he's honest, only his skill with twigs, not much else - bullying oaf. Bullying dead oaf, he recalls with a twinge of shame. He still can't bring himself to accept that Dayna - beautiful, bubbly Dayna - is dead, too.

Avon is doing what he can with the pathetic little flame he has managed to coax from dead leaves, brushwood and a laser probe. He's not exactly an outdoors man, and it's amusing to watch his struggles. Vila's surprised to find him doing anything practical. But as Avon's fond of claiming, an intelligent man can adapt. He'll have to adapt a hell of a lot more if they're not going to freeze.

"Is there any booze?" Vila really wants a drink. Something to fortify him against the biting wind and the realisation that they are unlikely to survive the week unless they get very, very lucky.

Soolin just stares at him blankly. She is still favouring her leg, her hair is lank and dirty and her face has the sharp, pinched, tightness of someone who may be either catatonic or on the edge of homicidal rage, but she answers in her trademark unemotional tone, "If you want booze, Vila, scavenge it for it yourself. I came close enough to getting caught finding this lot."

This lot comprises a knife, some stale bread, two rancid blankets and a plastic container filled with scummy-looking water. In the absence of booze, this is what he will have to drink tonight.

Avon sits down abruptly, his face white, the rough cloth wound across his chest and left shoulder showing a tiny patch of bright red blood. Soolin is immediately by his side, laying him down gently. Vila realises that Avon must be too tired and light-headed to make his usual protest, because he obeys silently. The little flame he has coaxed from the twigs is flaring fitfully and Soolin transfers her attention from him to feed it. It hovers for a moment between life and death, and then decides to blaze bravely. Satisfied, she rises, stalks purposely towards Vila, snatches the blanket he has taken from the pile, ignoring his indignant "Hey!" and drapes it quite tenderly over Avon. Strange; he'd thought their affair - one night stand - whatever it was - had been off the menu since they lost all that gold and Avon had begun to make Dorian look sane. Obviously, his last stand against the might of the Federation has put him back in her favour. Vila's own amazing performance in decking Arlen (traitorous bitch, he adds whenever he thinks about her) seems to have gone unrewarded.

"Here." Soolin hands him a hunk of bread and the one gun they had managed to take with them when they crawled from the tracking gallery, in that brief twenty minutes when the lights fused and the surviving troopers milled helplessly about in darkness, afraid to shoot in case they killed one of their own.

"Orac's doing," Avon explained, once Soolin had dragged him out and hidden with him and Vila, deep in this dense forest bordering Blake's base. Of course the gun she gives him - their only gun - is the large, ungainly one that Avon inexplicably took from the rack outside the gallery before he went in. The one he fired at least six times, and is now low on ammo. Typical.

"I want you on watch," she tells Vila brusquely. "I need to rest. Don't fall asleep, if you want to wake up."

He knows that she means it. She will only keep him alive as long as he is useful, so he'll make sure he stays alert. Not that it's likely there will be any immediate trouble, not until someone finds the wreck of the Scorpio, or identifies Tarrant or Dayna and then thinks to look for them. And things are pretty confused down there at present, what with Orac scrambling the computer records and Avon getting a rare moment of luck when his first shot after killing Blake took down Servalan.

Vila watches Soolin go to Avon, kneel down by his sleeping form and then tuck her body against his, neatly and with familiar ease, so that they lie side by side sharing body warmth. Wriggling around until his back is against the hut door, he wraps the remaining blanket around his shoulders, rests the gun in his lap and pats his pocket nervously, reassured that his personal insurance against starvation is still there.

The sun disappears behind thick ropes of cloud and a grey bitter rain begins to saturate the area.

We're survivors, Vila reminds himself hopefully, as he settles down to watch until nightfall. Well, we'd better be.


SPRING
Straw bales may be a bit scratchy, but they are quite comfortable - heaps better than the sleep compartments on Scorpio. Thank the gods for straw - something Vila never imagined he'd hear himself say. He arranges the last bale in an approximation of a couch and is straightening his aching back when he catches sight of something moving. A small creature stares inquisitively at him. Its bright eyes and assessing look remind him of the way Cally would tilt her head to gauge his mood as he tried to impress on her his need for soma. Ah, Cally.

The creature wrinkles its nose, testing the air. Fascinated, Vila lowers himself smoothly on to the bale to observe it, taking care not to frighten it away. He hopes Soolin doesn't see it. She's deadly with the slingshot Avon made her, and she likes her meat. He has to admit he's learned to like it too, now vegetable protein is unavailable and Avon is, unexpectedly, quite a mean hand with a stew (daube he calls it, but to Vila it's stew) but this little one is only a baby. Soolin would grimace at the description in that stony-faced way of hers, but this creature is too cute for him to feel comfortable eating it.

Although he wouldn't have put money on it, they've survived here for four months. Survived better than he'd expected, too. It hasn't been too difficult for him; he's a Delta, used to slumming, although this is slumming outdoors.

"We can deal with the cold, can't we, little fella?" he says aloud, tossing it a piece of stale flat bread. Vila shrugs himself deeper inside the furry tunic he liberated from a bounty hunter who had failed to survive a meeting with Soolin. And who had luckily provided them with two more guns and a hunting knife.

"Nearly as warm as your fur, this tunic - and the same sort of colour. But don't worry, it's not a relative," he reassures the creature, brushing crumbs from his hands. "We don't like the rain though, do we? And storms are bloody terrifying! Even Avon's afraid of them, and he's the most dangerous animal you're likely to meet in these woods."

There's nothing big and mean enough to kill them outright here; no large predators or poisonous reptiles, except maybe the human kind. "And Avon's detectors should warn us of them, so we won't need to worry," he tells the little mammal, who doesn't seem particularly interested.

Avon spends hours inventing gadgets from the relays Soolin found in an abandoned flyer. It was too wrecked for anything but spares, though he wouldn't put it past Avon to put it back together one day, probably with vines and resin. Soolin, of course, is native to the place and used to the conditions, but Avon makes a better woodsman that he expected and hasn't protested too much at having to wear the mis-matched clothes that Ma has provided. Irritatingly, his beard and floppy hair suit him - which is more than Vila can say for his own face-fuzz. "Avon's the pretty one," he tells his tiny friend, "but I'm the better thief." It isn't listening; it's too busy scratching and licking down its ruffled fur.

But it's true, he thinks. I'm not just a thief, I'm a great thief and a charming one. It's thanks to him they have upgraded from a derelict hut to this dry - well, dryish - barn. Outside earth toilet too, and exclusive use of a small pond (exclusive if he doesn't count the frogs) but in late March it's still cold here, so they wash sparingly - and quickly.

The old dear who owns the farm - Ma, Vila calls her - is as mad as Bayban, but without his urge to maim. She's a magpie for shiny things and once he'd given her one of the crystals he'd picked up on Homeworld and kept hidden about his person ever since, she had been happy to let them move into her barn.

The place is very run down and Soolin thinks it probably came under threat when miners occupied the area. They can't have found anything worth extracting or they'd have murdered Ma and seized the farm. She has bats in her brain now, probably from living on her own. And she's getting battier. Seems to think she knows them, friendly ghosts from her past, but her speech is so fragmented it's hard to tell. When it's very cold, she lets them into her sitting room - but no further. Avon once got too near her bedroom door and she went absolutely berserk, screaming that he'd bring back the green slugs.

"Perhaps she's had past experiences with snarky, dark haired men," he speculates idly to Furry Cally-Creature, "and the slugs were a metaphor." But it's not interested and wanders off into rough grass, looking for more food and better company.

On his own again, Vila realises he's lonely. He's not been easy with Avon since Malodar - daren't trust him - and while he likes Soolin, he was always much closer to Cally and Dayna. He wishes they were here. He likes living at Ma's and between the absence of booze and the need to hew, fetch and steal, he is actually fitter than he's been for years. But the scars from the losses they've suffered are not fading.

Who knows whether Avon has any regrets? Vila can't tell what goes on in that clever head. Avon is suffering, though; a nagging pain from his busted shoulder which set crooked as it healed. One side is now permanently higher than the other, spoiling his graceful silhouette. He'll never look elegant again, but he doesn't seem too bothered. Did Avon ever really care about how he looked? Once Vila would have said he was impossibly vain, but even Avon's most outrageous leather and boots ensembles were designed for practicality as well as show, with hidden compartments for tools and titanium studs.

Titanium studs! Perhaps they'll sell these once it's safe; maybe buy themselves a passage to somewhere warmer and more civilised, with booze and women and gambling. But at the moment the chance that the Federation is still stomping over this planet with its big boots, or that the rebels have taken charge, poses too great a risk. If they're caught, either side is bound to ask: “How come your leader shot our leader?” And any answer they could make would lead inevitably to a torture session and execution. I'd rather avoid that, thanks. Even for booze.

A noise from outside brings him nervously to his feet, but when he looks there's no-one about. A glance at the clock shows that it's getting late. It still makes him chuckle that they have a clock powered by fruit. Only Avon could come up with something like that. Anyway, he'd better get down to the pond and fetch some water. They'll need that for the washing up, and Soolin will soon be back from checking her traps and won't be pleased if she finds him shirking.

Poor Soolin, she's no longer the perfect ice maiden of the Scorpio days. Returning to the planet where her family was slaughtered has marked her. Her slight plumpness has gone, leaving her gaunt, her face is tense and wary, and she's hacked off her lovely blonde hair. She rarely smiles now - not that she often did before, but he remembers fondly how she and Dayna would sometimes giggle like naughty teenagers. Nowadays you'd almost describe her as grim, if it weren't for the moments of affection, even tenderness, she shares with Avon. She'll rest her head on his knee after a particularly demanding day, and he'll not only allow it but will even touch the knuckles of his hand to her face in a reassuring sort of way. Age of miracles, eh? Hasn't made her any less homicidal, though. Or Avon less snarky.

"Mind you," he shares with the wobbly reflection gazing up at him from the pond, "Avon owes her some sort of affection." Without her nursing, Avon could easily have died from the blaster wound Servalan gave him, just before his bullet ricocheted off a wall and blew off half her face. And although Avon disputes it - "Explain to me exactly how dropping to the floor and curling into a frightened ball helped to save my life, Vila?" - if he hadn't stolen the kit from a med truck, Soolin's nursing, however devoted, may not have been enough to save him. Vila couldn't believe it when they opened up the bag and found enough broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat an army - well, a sizeable platoon at any rate.

It was if the Universe was determined to keep Avon alive.

They don't talk about what happened to Blake. Ironic, he reflects sourly, that it was Blake's recruits surprising Servalan and her troops from the rear that gave his murderer the chance to escape. Vila still struggles to understand why that meeting went so wrong; why Avon exchanged his gun for a lethal piece of weaponry before he entered the gallery, as if he always intended to shoot Blake. But the one time he'd asked about it, the shutters came down so quickly and Avon glared at him so murderously, that Vila shut up, backed off and never had the courage to bring the subject up again.

Now, he guesses, they're marking time; healing. Sooner or later, Avon will awaken from his torpor and begin planning. Vila's not sure if he's glad or sorry about that. There's a lot to be said for being able to sleep at night without the feeling that there's a Tarzian Warg Strangler camped outside your door, waiting to pounce as soon as the sun comes up. But sometimes he misses wine, women and good cheer. Somewhere, he supposes, Orac, the little rat, is buzzing away, collecting information – probably, acting on Avon's instructions. He will probably have something up his sleeve he's not yet ready to divulge. Hopefully something to make them rich and invincible.

Meanwhile, there's the promise of some real sunshine at last, an intriguing smell of daube and Ma's reedy voice calling him to come and eat. He picks up his bucket of water and makes for the house. For the moment, this will have to be enough.


SUMMER
Avon's call is sharp, demanding. Vila enters the house, puzzled and alarmed about what might be going on. He has not anticipated what he finds there and skids to a sudden, confused stop. Soolin is crying. He'd never, ever, thought he'd see her weep, but a curtain of tears slides down her cheeks while her hands grip the back of the chair in which Ma's body lies crumpled. Dead. The strength of Soolin's reaction shocks him; it's crazy. He's sad to see Ma so small and shrunken, her bird-like energy stilled, but he has been expecting it. She's been immersed in her own fantasy world for the last two months, barely speaking, forgetting to eat, drink or wash - so her death seems more merciful than tragic. Something other than this has to be triggering Soolin's grief.

He's just wondering what on earth to do when Avon, looking uncharacteristically out of his depth, steps forward and tentatively places a hand on Soolin's shoulder and she swings round to him, desperately flinging herself against him. It's almost funny to see the resignation, embarrassment and sympathy mixed into one wry expression on Avon's face, as he reluctantly holds her.

Observing this moment of strange intimacy feels uncomfortable, an intrusion that such prickly, guarded people might resent, so Vila turns his attention to Ma. She still feels slightly warm and he concludes she must have got up in the night, disturbed by a dream or some noise and made her way to her favourite chair. Dying as the rising sun warmed her face, he thinks. The image softens the knowledge that she was alone when her life ended.

Soolin's sobbing is quietening and he hears Avon's voice murmuring softly, probably making an attempt at consolation, or biting her head off with his icy logic - you can never tell how he's going to react to emotion. So to give them privacy, Vila stoops over the body, picks it up and carries it to the bedroom door.

Outside, he hesitates slightly. It's the room they've never been allowed to enter, but it's the only place to lay Ma, so he turns with his light burden and presents an elbow to the door, pushing against it. To his surprise, it barely moves. He manoeuvres awkwardly until his hip touches it and he tries again, pushing harder until he feels it open grudgingly. Then he steps quickly through to avoid the backswing as the door shuts behind him.

The room is dark and he has to wait to allow his eyes to adjust before he moves forward, but gradually it reveals its contents to his disbelieving gaze. What in the name of Zen? He lays Ma on the bed, respectfully and carefully straightening her limbs, before he allows himself to raise his eyes. And then he takes in the banks of monitors and control panels, dust-covered, yet recognisably sophisticated and somehow alien, installed against three of the walls. The last thing anyone would have expected to find here, given the rural simplicity of Ma's life style and the dilapidated state of the rest of the farm.

Overwhelmed, Vila sinks into a nearby chair.

What on Earth's going on? He feels like he did when he first set foot on the Liberator and took in its alien design and mysterious technology. The wheel has come full circle and once again he's stepping into unchartered territory. We won't need to stay here, he realises, not with this lot to play with - if it still works, that is. It's a thought that both elates and depresses him.

"Avon?" Vila pokes his head cautiously round the bedroom door. He must look like that nervous Cally-creature, but it pays to be careful in the presence of big predators like Avon, even if you do offer them a useful service: pulling thorns out of a paw, picking lice from their fur, sounding an early alarm. His mind is babbling, he knows. Always does when he's nervous.

Avon is sitting in Ma's plexichair, thoughtfully twirling something which reflects the light trickling in through the grimy window into a small glowing spot. No sign of Soolin.

"It was her mother's," Avon remarks without preamble, without even looking up. He's examining a pretty enamelled locket. He seems mesmerised by the tiny thing, he's staring at it so intently. "Ma was wearing it when she died. Yes, her mother's - or so she thinks," he continues, his voice measured, assessing the odds. "Of course, after such a long time, it's difficult to tell. She was only eight when her family was killed."

"Oh." Vila can't think what else to say. It's appalling what man does to his fellow men. "Did she... uhh, Avon - it wasn't here was it? Where it happened? She... Soolin didn't live here, did she?"

Avon glances up then, his expression as inscrutable as ever, but with that look in his eyes which could just be a trick of the light or genuine, deeply felt hurt.

"I don't know. Nor does she. It wasn't her home, but she's thought for some time that it felt familiar. Soolin remembers one of the killers taking her to a farmstead on the other side of the planet, but she was only there for a short time. She thinks the man who owned it was involved in the slave trade - the farm was just a front." Avon's voice is clipped, nothing to suggest great interest. Factual. "She was sold as a maid slave shortly after that, expected to serve her master. I expect your fertile imagination can supply the rest of the story; it's common enough. She could have been here, I suppose."

Nothing in Avon's voice but an involuntary clenching of the hand holding the locket suggests he is not as unmoved as his tone suggests. Vila feels breathless, punched in the gut. Decisively, Avon stands up.

"It's time, Vila," he continues. "We can't stay here. Not now. I need to get my hands on Orac and then we'll move on. I've sent Soolin to pack what we'll need. Go and help her."

"Time? Time for what?" Vila's flustered. Alarmed. It's too soon. He hasn't even shown Avon what's hidden in the bedroom. Protest raises the pitch of his voice. "And move on where? Don't I get a say? We haven't even buried..." he squeaks, gesturing towards the bedroom door.

"Just do it, Vila! Soolin is hardly going to agree to our wasting time burying someone she thinks was involved in her parents' murder, is she? As to where, I need Orac if I'm to decide that. If it makes you feel any better, I intend to set charges before we leave. Give ourselves a margin to disappear and then blow them. The blast will cremate Ma's remains and destroy all traces of our presence."

"Oh no, Avon! You can't do that. Not blow it all up..." Stupidly, he thinks of the little creature.

"Why not? What neurotic little worry is troubling you now? Or is this just one of your absurd Delta superstitions? Have to say the proper words over her body or her ghost will haunt the rest of your days... something like that?"

Superstition! An image of his furry little friend, eyes fixed in a rictus of terror as his world explodes, flashes into Vila's mind. It isn't superstition to care about people, Avon. To have feelings. I'm not a calculating machine like you. Vila wants so much to punch him, right in his smart, cynical mouth, and for a second he contemplates keeping his own tight shut. Serve him right! Let him leave, never guessing the fabulous prize hidden behind that closed door. Payback for Malodar and all the other times Vila's been threatened, sneered at, used. It is good to contemplate, but he just can't do it. He knows he can't. The discovery is too important. He has to acknowledge it; they have to use it. His own safety may depend on it.

"Avon," he says urgently, so urgently that the other hears the seriousness in his voice. "Avon, you have to look in here first..."

He moves to the door and pushes it open, holding it until, with a weary sigh, Avon steps forward to stand by his side. And stiffens, like a hunting dog pointing a kill.

"Well, now," Avon says in a wondering voice. "Well, well, well."

***

They've postponed their departure. Even Soolin sees the sense in it. Avon has to find out as much as he can about the consoles and modules and if he can't get them to work, he can at least salvage bits they can re-use or adapt. Any information he discovers could prove a bargaining tool in negotiations with the rebels, if they decide to go down that route. If Avon decides, Vila amends more realistically. Of course they could just sell some of the stuff and retire on the profits, though where they would be safe is open to question.

So while they wait, they've made themselves comfortable in the house. Vila hasn't felt so much at home since he was a boy in the Domes. They've even found a change of clothes each and now look less like space tramps. Avon seems more himself, since he's been able to clad himself in his usual black. Amazingly, they've found a stash of packet food as well, so they no longer need to decimate the local wild life. Still no booze, though. And that's not the only downside.

Now they have activated the pumps and have water on tap and heat when they need it, less of their day is spent on the simple tasks of survival. Vila has more time on his hands and is often quite bored. And when Vila gets bored, his over-active imagination kicks in and he starts to worry. He's been particularly anxious since Avon revealed just who had installed the technology at Ma's.

Travis, he thinks with disgust. Travis, who was supposed to have died at Star One. Why couldn't he stay dead? Is every madman they think they've dealt with going to rise up from the dark and haunt them? Vila knows he's being irrational. There's no reason to believe that Travis is still alive, no reason to feel so afraid, even if the Andromedans did crawl all over this house, slimy green nightmares installing components, rigging wires. They were beaten off by the Liberator, sent scuttling back to their galaxy, licking their wounds. They and Travis are long gone. But Vila still worries. Is it possible they might have left a few behind?

"Soolin," he asks plaintively, "Ma wasn't... couldn't have been... she wasn't an Andromedan was she?"

"No, Vila." He hates it when she addresses him in that exaggeratedly patient tone, as if he's a idiot. Which he's not. He's got the test results to prove it. "They turn back to their original forms when they die, don't they?" she reminds him. "Ma wasn't an alien. Just a Federation victim, like the rest of us."

"Unless she was an improved version. That could have happened, couldn't it? I mean, I know those papers in the safe say she was Maryatts's wife and a slave, but why couldn't the Andromedans have taken her over when they got here? Taken her over, and then improved the energy transfer so they could retain her form for longer. Then when she died..."

"When she died," Avon comes out from the bedroom, his arms full of wires and circuits which he deposits with a sigh of relief on the table they eat from. Vila can't identify them and worries they might all turn to green jelly if he touches them. Avon is rubbing his bad shoulder, wincing painfully as he tries to flex it. It's been troubling him more than usual these past two days. "When she died, Vila," Avon continues in his most tight, exasperated voice, "a knowledge of elementary biology dictates that loss of control would be instant and her form would revert instantly, too. That is, if she was an alien - which clearly, she was not."

"Unless they installed a dead man's switch," Vila argues, playing his trump card. Soolin, who has moved towards Avon, stops abruptly and he glimpses a disconcerted look on Avon's face. It's not often he gets those two on the run, so he presses home his advantage. "You know, a switch that puts on the brakes after you die. You see, Soolin, you and Avon are not taking into account the fact that the Andromedans know that we know they revert back to being green and slimy when we kill them. So it makes sense that they would create something to stop us knowing that they were aliens by stopping that happening - so that if they died, they would know that we wouldn't know that they were. Aliens, I mean, not dead."

Vila stops for breath, noticing that Soolin has the dazed expression of someone who has just realised she could unknowingly be in the middle of an alien invasion, or perhaps is just confused. Avon seems amused, in a pained sort of way.

"The plain man's guide to alien biology," he observes caustically. "How exactly would that be achieved, this dead man's switch? When you can tell me that, I'll worry about it. Now, please shelve this neurotic concern and accept that all that's left of the Andromedans is this system they created. A sophisticated and potentially dangerous system, I admit, but one which is now defunct. Travis seems to have deactivated it thoroughly before he left, and as long as you don't turn it on before I've worked out how to disable the booby traps he inevitably installed in it, we will be perfectly safe."

"Yes, yes, maybe. But Avon, it still doesn't explain how he met up with Andromedans and why they built a base here."

"Vila... I'm tired and I hurt. Can we move on from this? It's obvious that Travis made contact with the Andromedans sometime during his search for Lurgen. His connection with Gauda Prime is Elaran Maryatt. Yes, I do mean Ma. Travis must have tracked her here through his link with her husband - we know it was Marryat's skills as a surgeon that saved his life. He decided this was a safe place to meet with the aliens and plan the destruction of the Federation. The rest you know." Avon takes a sip of water before he continues and then gestures towards the bedroom. "That equipment must have been designed to help him communicate with them. As to why Ma was sold into slavery here, and why Travis went to the trouble of tracking her down, that we may never know, but I can assure you that as I killed Travis personally and you were there when we defeated the Andromedans, neither can possibly pose a threat to our safety."

Avon sinks back into the chair, clearly in pain. How bad is his shoulder? Villa wonders. It would be ironic if the one man who can use this technology to make them rich, or to bring the Federation to its knees, was unable to do so because he was incapacitated. Soolin, impassive but worried, brings Avon a handful of pills and he swallows them at once, closing his eyes while he waits for the pain relief to kick in.

Silence crawls around the room. Vila considers what Avon's said. He could be right. Maybe Avon reminded Ma of Travis, and that's why she went on about green slugs. Soolin looks tensely at Avon, who still has his eyes shut, and then starts untangling some of the wires on the table, methodically rolling them into coils and stacking them neatly. No wonder she and Avon get on. Both obsessed with control. And tidiness.

Vila paces nervously. He's not clear why he feels like this, when their prospects have improved so much. Probably because he fears they'll be back to the derring-do days any time now, and he's not sure he's cut out for them. Come on, you chose to stay, he reminds himself bracingly. Knew you'd be bored stiff with Kerril. You need excitement. Challenges. Ah yes, but that was before Malodar. Before Avon killed Blake. Vila's afraid he'll see that bruised, battered, mad stranger-Avon emerge again if they throw themselves back into the fight.

As if he's read his thoughts, Avon opens his eyes and speaks surprisingly gently. "We'll be alright, you know - eventually. We just need to retrieve Orac and then we can take our next step."

"We're safe now, Avon! Why do we have to take a next step? Why can't we just stay here? It's not a bad life. Better than anything we've had for the last five years."

Soolin joins in, reasonable and calm. "Safe for now, Vila, but sooner or later one side or the other will penetrate this far into the forest . They'll piece together who we are. How forgiving do you think they will be, especially when they find out what we are sitting on?"

She's probably right, but it annoys him that she includes him in the responsibility for the fiasco with Blake, so he lashes out at her. "And what am I supposed to have done that needs forgiving? You and Avon are the killers." His apprehension sharpens hidden resentments and forces them into words. "I don't throw people out of airlocks or shoot unarmed men. It's Avon who does that, and they'll be after him, not me. I don't have any idea what happened. I'm never told what you plan... Why should they bother with me?"

Impatiently, Avon interrupts his complaints, spelling it out. "If they find us here before we're ready, they'll suspect we were in league with Travis. Like it or not, Vila, you're linked to us and our fate. No one's going to believe you weren't part of..." His voice falters for a second, but then picks up strongly, "Nobody will believe you know nothing. At least, not until they've tortured you for several painful days and you're too broken to be of further use. We cannot stay. We cannot run. Winning is our only safety. We need Orac to win, and Soolin and I need your help to retrieve Orac."

Oh gods, it's come then. Avon wants to return to the silo. He wants to return to that hellish hole in the ground - for what? For a little rat, which Vila half-fears may have been betraying them ever since they got it. Why can't they form a plan without its input? The advice it's given has never been that successful in the past. Vila tries a last appeal to Avon's well-developed instincts for self-preservation.

"What use am I going to be to you? I'll panic, you know I will. Remember the London? I'll panic like that, and get us all killed. I've a very low threshold when it comes to panicking. Hardly a threshold at all, actually. If you want to throw away your lives, just do it. Leave me here. Or better still, stay here too. Come on, Avon, you know I'm talking sense! You don't need to be a hero, and you really don't need Orac.”

"Ah, but I do." Avon sounds exhausted. He looks ill and worn. "I really do, Vila. I need Orac if we're to get out of this mess and win Blake's revolution for him. And I need you to get me Orac. I locked it into the fusion chamber on the base and I need you to work out how to open the door so I can get it back.”

Professional interest kicks in before Vila can stop it. "Those chambers have triple A systems, don't they? The old ones. Tricky things to manage without getting our heads blown off."

"You mean you can't do it?"

Oh he's a sly one Avon. Knows just how to tempt me. "Of course I can do it, piece of cake to a master like me. But that doesn't mean... hang on... hang on a minute... What do you mean, 'win Blake's revolution'? When did you ever care about winning that?"

Avon's face seems to fold with pain, and for a moment Vila could swear there are tears in his eyes. And then Avon looks directly at him, and gives him him the only reason, apart from professional pride, that would ever tempt him to agree to take part in an operation this insane and risky.

"Since I shot him, Vila," he says.

CONTINUED IN PART TWO


***

Illustration by Lurena

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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