When I headed off for Scorpio 3 3/4, I was just hoping to have a good time, although the way conventions have been going lately, even that expectation was unusual. Still the money-grubbing instincts that have hit many of the DW cons - making the very idea of running one for fun nearly impossible - have not yet affected the B7 folks. Pray heaven they never will.
I was particularly looking forward to the appearance of that superb team of Thomas, Darrow and Keating. While each and every one of the B7 guests has the tendency to turn an appearance into a happening straight out of a Marx brothers movie, I was positive those three - together again for the first time - would make my trying to capture the event on film a bit like trying to eat Jello with a fork at a steamy Fourth of July picnic.
Not that I was complaining, mind you, but the next few days were sure to be interesting. Just how interesting never crossed my mind.
Opening Ceremonies got the con off to a running start. Someone gave Paul a teddy bear - dressed in black leather - and the rest of the panel decided to get upset because they hadn't been given one too. Jacqueline Pearce instigated the insanity with an exquisitely detailed fifteen minute dissertation on what Servalan would have done with such an exotically garbed cuddly toy.
If Gareth Thomas could have been restrained from putting in his two cents' worth the panel would have been shorter, but nearly so enjoyable. By the time he and Jacqueline were through, Paul had collapsed in hysterics across the table (waving his bear at appropriate moments) Sheelagh Wells was laughing uncontrollably with tears running down her face, and Michael Keating was torn between taking notes and keeping score. From that point things degenerated beautifully.
Although the panel's hijinks had certainly gotten the con off to a rousing start, they'd also caused the session to run late. By the time the guests had finished and the room cleared, the hotel restaurant, as well as room service, was closed up tighter than a plague planet. (What would you expect from a brand new hotel? At least the restaurant was open occasionally!) Still, the con committee, unlike others I have known and not loved, was determined to feed their guests. A fast-food-run picnic was set for the con suite in an hour and, much to my surprise, I was invited to partake of the goodies.
The invitation came because some of the guests were inordinately curious to see the photos I'd taken at the last DW monstercon. As has been reported previously in this column, that was the one where the Doctors' water-fight turned into a cream-pie fight with Jacqueline and Paul caught in the middle. They "enjoyed" that position until the Con organiser, dressed in an immaculate three-piece suit, came dashing into the room. As one the entire group snatched up the remaining pies and let fly at the suit. Their aim proved to be deliciously accurate!
That's why I was on my way to the con suite a little after the hour, photo albums clutched in hand. Imagine the jolt I got when I spotted Paul Darrow, back pressed against the wall, a cluster of female fans swooning at his feet. Now, that's enough to rattle any actor - let alone a Brit - but considering the fact he'd taken time to change into one of Avon's black leather masterpieces, I couldn't see why he should've been so puzzled at the girls' reaction. "Dense" is definitely not a term you use to describe Darrow.
While he looked wildly impressive and very, very Avonish, a rescue was most certainly in order. Luckily, his personal gofer/guest escort, Heather Nachman, chose that moment to come around the far corner and we acted simultaneously.
Gently grabbing Paul by the arms, we quickly propelled him past his admirers along the hall to the safety of the con suite. Heather took that opportunity to quietly scold him, a liberty he took surprisingly well. For my part, I was much too busy admiring his outfit to worry about his unusual meekness. Heavens! The BBC costume was certainly complete - right down to the gun - and it fit him like the proverbial glove.
Opening the door to the con suite, we found the rest of the guests lounging around on comfy sofas or, in Michael's case, curled up in a nest of pillows on the floor next to the food table. All were helping themselves to one of two very large buckets of fried chicken.
"Paul!" Gareth sang out jovially from across the room. "Have a piece of chicken while it's still hot." He paused and took in the costume. "Where'n the hell did you get that - and why are you wearing it now? And what are you doing with that gun?"
Considering the third member of our party had taken one look at Jacqueline and had instantly dropped into a crouch with his all-too-real-seeming gun pointed at her head, I thought Gareth's reaction was fairly restrained. I'd also taken a closer look at the man we'd brought into the room and was beginning to feel slightly uneasy.
"Put that thing away," Gareth mumbled around another bite of chicken. "Get over here and sit down."
"Always giving orders, aren't you, Blake?" our cohort snarled. The gun didn't disappear, neither did he sit down.
"Blake? Have you gone mad?"
Glancing around him, I noticed that Heather was having the same kind of reaction that I was.
"Gareth," she choked, her voice rising, "I don't think this is Paul."
Wiping his mouth with a paper napkin, Gareth regarded us curiously. "Don't be ridiculous. I know Paul and there's no one could look that much like him."
"They'd have quite a time at one of these conventions if they did!" quipped Michael, lounging at our feet.
"Look at him." Heather insisted, "He's taller than Paul."
Gareth rolled his eyes and shrugged, levered himself off the sofa and sauntered over to us, calmly ignoring the drawn gun. On the way he picked up another chicken leg.
As he approached, the man facing him slowly straightened until Gareth could see that their height nearly matched. Halting, Gareth exchanged a quick glance with Michael.
"And he's not wearing boots," Michael noted with a frown, setting his glasses more firmly on his nose.
"I don't think Paul would have cut his hair since we finished the panel," Jacqueline mused, studying the stranger judiciously.
"Certainly not as badly as that!"
The gun abruptly swung round to point directly at Michael. "Look, don't wave that thing at me, mate, I'm eating supper and it'll ruin my appetite."
"Are you Paul?" Gareth asked, ignoring the by-play.
"Are you Blake?" the stranger snapped.
"I am not Blake!" Gareth snapped back. "Well, I was Blake, but then I stopped being Blake and then I got Blake 'killed off.'"
"Indeed." The stranger blinked twice. "I, on the other hand, am not 'Paul,' have never been 'Paul' and have no intentions of being 'killed off.'"
"OK," Gareth shrugged amiably. "And I suppose you'll be telling us that the gun is real, too?"
"Can you doubt it?"
A dazzling smile shone out of a forest of whiskers. "I can doubt anything."
The stranger raised the gun. "Back up and hold that - thing - you're eating in the air."
With a quizzical expression, Gareth took a few steps back and held up the chicken leg. The stranger lowered the gun, made some adjustments on the handle and fired. There was a flash of light and Gareth was left holding a bit of charred bone.
"You're not Paul!"
For a split-second the entire room came to a dead stop, then everyone started scrambling. All, that is, except Michael, who was trapped at our feet. Even Heather and I tried to run, but an abrupt movement of the man's gun hand froze us in our tracks.
"My name is Kerr Avon," the stranger declared icily, never taking his eyes from Gareth's face.
"I think we're in trouble," Michael whispered, looking as though he'd like to find a trap door beneath his feet.
"Um - maybe not." The words were Sheelagh's and sounded a bit uncertain.
"That's easy for you to say," Jacqueline replied, he calm ruffled for once. "You didn't play a villain in the series."
"No, wait," Sheelagh urged. "Look at his costume."
We all looked, including Avon.
"That's second season, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Cherry confirmed, peering around a nearby chair. "It sure is."
"So, in the second series he hadn't quite gone 'round the twist, had he?"
There was a general murmur of agreement.
"Therefore we should be able to reason with him!"
"I am always open to reason," Avon retorted, gun in hand.
"The," Sheelagh suggested, deliberately using an eminently calm, matter-of-fact tone, "Why don't you put that gun away and we can all try and figure out what happened. Why you're here and Paul isn't."
"Now, I do like that idea," Michael nodded vigorously. "Avon, put down that gun, Gareth, put down that chicken leg and let's all sit down and talk about this like sensible people."
Avon studied him for a moment. "You're certainly not Vila."
After a nerve-stretching silence, the stranger reluctantly re holstered his gun. Gareth let out a long breath and carefully moved towards the wastebasket which was located uncomfortably close to a black, leather-clad leg. One hand resting lightly on his gun, Avon frowned as Gareth disposed of the charred chicken remains .
The burly English actor grinned at him suddenly. "More than occasionally, my wife makes a great deal of sense." Turning his back on the three of us, he settled himself next to Sheelagh who promptly grabbed his hand in hers.
"She certainly does - and it's about time somebody did. Look, darling," Jacqueline swallowed and bravely patted a place on the sofa next to her, "why don't you sit down, have a drink and a piece of chicken and relax?"
"Jackie, my dear," Michael pointed out, "if we accept the fact that he is really Avon, I don't think he's going to sit next to you just yet."
"Why ever not? As Sheelagh said, he's still a reasonable man and I'm sure he realises by now we're not the characters we played. You do, don't you?" she looked up at him, one brow raised.
"I am certainly ready to acknowledge I am in a totally insane situation."
"Well," she sighed, "that's a start. Come on over here and sit while we introduce ourselves. I won't bite - hard -." Patting the couch, she gave him one of Servalan's most inviting smiles.
With an expression Daniel might have worn walking into the lion's den, Avon crossed to the couch and sat down gingerly, right hand still hovering round his gun.
"That's good," she purred encouragingly, settling back. "Now, would you like a drink?"
"I could use another one," Gareth said. There was a sudden clamour of "me toos," and the con staff sprang to life. Getting drinks to guests was a customary con activity and one they could handle under any circumstances.
One staff member, however, had a problem. Everyone else knew what 'their' guest was drinking, but Heather, who had suddenly - to her discomfort - become Avon's gofer, wasn't so fortunate. Still, a guest was a guest, so she squared her shoulders and marched over to stand in front of him.
"OK, Avon, what do you want to drink?"
"You're the ones who grabbed me in the hall." He glared at her balefully.
"That's right - that's my job."
"Grabbing strange men in the hall? That must provide some interesting moments."
"Don't get nasty with me. I'm your gofer - or I was Paul's - so I guess I'm yours now."
"And just what do you do as my - gofer?"
"See that you eat on time, get to places on time, 'go for' drinks when you need them, 'go for' anything else that you want, and get you out of sticky situations." She grinned suddenly. "Just like I did a little while ago."
In the process of raising his glass, Michael cast a startled glance at Avon - and the outfit - he was wearing. With something akin to awe, he blurted, "Was he standing around in the hall dressed like that?"
"He certainly was."
A hearty laugh boomed out. "Then she probably saved you from a fate worse than death," Gareth chuckled, a grin threatening to split his face. "Now be a good lad and tell Heather what you want to drink."
"What do you have to drink?" Avon unbent enough to bestow a smile upon her. One of the con committee moaned softly.
Nonplussed, Heather took a breath. "Wine, vodka, gin, whiskey, scotch," she ticked each item off on her fingers, finishing with, "wine coolers, beer and soft drinks. We don't have any soma and adrenaline or vitamin -" (VEE ta min! the guests corrected her in chorus) " - er, yes, solution. So, do you want something, sweet, sour or tart?"
"Considering that I was - apparently - facing a fate worse than death, I'll have something tart."
The usual fannish reaction to a bad, albeit spontaneous, pun greeted his remark and before we remembered who we were dealing with, the room erupted into Bronx cheers, groans, and a smattering of applause.
Avon looked surprised, then thoughtful, then abruptly relaxed and leaned back, taking his hand off the gun. Heather sighed in relief.
"Very good," said Gareth quietly. "Get him a vodka tonic with a twist of lemon, Heather."
Before she could move, Avon held up a restraining hand. "And what are you drinking?"
"The same. Without the lemon."
"Never satisfied unless you are giving orders, are you?" he jibbed but without real anger. "Very well, with a - twist? - of lemon."
Heather went to the bar, poured a hefty amount of vodka and a smaller amount of tonic into a glass, added some lemon and handed it to her guest. I noticed Avon was watching very carefully but the community bottles apparently assured him we weren't trying to drug or poison him. Accepting the drink with a curt nod, he turned to Jacqueline. "I believe you said something earlier about introductions?"
"But of course," she smiled, leisurely sipping from her glass of white wine. "I'm Jacqueline Pearce. I played Servalan.
"But of course," he mimicked, raising his glass in a salute. "I should have recognised you anywhere." He took a cautious sip of his drink. "Say, that's quite good," he remarked to Gareth. "Tame compared to what we have on the LIBERATOR, but good."
"Glad you like it," the other murmured. "Finish up that one and have another - I think you'll need it."
"And if you're not Blake -?"
"Gareth Thomas. My wife Sheelagh," he answered, slipping an arm around Sheelagh's shoulders.
"And I'm Michael Keating - I was Vila." Michael had moved so that he now sat tailor-fashion on the floor across from Avon and Jacqueline.
"Yes, you do seen somewhat familiar."
"Well, I should certainly hope so," came the indignant reply. "I'm often very familiar. Familiar Michael, they call me."
Avon regarded him coolly.
"Michael, do shut up," Jacqueline ordered companionably.
"Now," Avon continued, "perhaps someone will be kind enough to explain where I am and what this" - he waved a hand - "is."
Gareth glanced at the committee members skulking around the edges of the room. "I think that's the kind of question a fan is best answering -"
A rapid tattoo on the hall door interrupted whatever he was going to say, and Nancy sprang to open the door.
"Pizza's here!" Crystal yelled, charging into the room, three extra large pizza boxes balanced on her outstretched arms. As she started to put them next to the chicken, she spotted Avon - in all his glory.
"Oh, my God," she breathed, her eyes widening.
"I'm beginning to like wherever 'here' is," Avon remarked to the room at large.
"crystal, my dear," Jacqueline, the perfect lady, was trying to keep things civilised, "have you met Avon?"
"Avon? - no, Paul."
"Avon!" chorused the room urgently. "Trust us!"
"This is a-a joke," she faltered, "isn't it?" Heads shook an emphatic 'no.' "Avon?" she repeated in a tiny voice.
"Avon," he said with finality and bared his teeth at her wolfishly.
"Oh, NO!" she yelped, promptly dropping the pizzas.
Fortunately all three fell straight down, thud, thud -- THUD! Unable to move, she goggled at him, horrified.
Avon took it fairly calmly for a minute, then muttered, "on the other hand --"and took a hearty swallow from his glass.
Cherry came to the rescue. "Take it easy, Crystal." She led the dazed and confused committee member to a chair in the far corner of the room. "Sit here," she soothed, "breathe slowly, and be quiet. We're trying to get things straightened out. Really."
Meanwhile, Michael moved to check on the forgotten pizzas. Opening the box on top, he exclaimed, "Good! It's not hurt at all. Want some?" he asked, offering Avon a hearty cheese-strung, oil- slicked piece loaded with mushrooms and anchovies.
Avon looked at the mess with undisguised horror. "You're going to eat that?"
"Maybe you'd rather have a piece of chicken?" Gareth inquired solicitously. He leaned forward to offer the chicken bucket.
Avon took another stiff drink from his glass. "Chicken?" he asked doubtfully.
"That's -- meat?"
Gareth nodded again, his lips twitching.
"From a real animal?"
"From a real chicken," Gareth corrected, straight faced.
Cautiously, Avon reached into he bucket and pulled out a leg. He looked at it and swiftly polished off the rest of his drink.
"Refill?" Heather murmured, appearing at his side.
"Definitely." He handed her the glass. "How do you eat it?"
"You hold it in your hand and eat the meat off 'round the bone," Gareth demonstrated, finishing another leg.
Raising a sceptical eyebrow, Avon took a small bite. He chewed and swallowed as carefully as anyone having dinner with the Borgias. His expression changed. "That's rather good," he said in amazement.
"Have some more, just throw the bones in there." Michael pushed a wastebasket closer and Avon quickly tucked the chicken bucket in between himself and Jacqueline, dipping in for another piece. Satisfied, Michael turned to survey the rest of the room. "Aren't the rest of you lot going to eat?"
Moving in nervously, the committee members rescued the other two pizza boxes, quickly dividing up the pieces between themselves. I couldn't help but observe, as I snagged a couple of slices for myself, that nothing keeps a true fan away from food.
Jacqueline and Avon finished off the chicken while the rest of us, guest and fans alike, devoured the pizzas and chatted quietly. Avon said very little but followed every scrap of conversation with a concentration just slightly short of ferocious. I realised, with a shock, that he'd be able to recite everything back verbatim if necessary later on. And that on top of the fact that Heather refilled his glass twice more while we ate!
When everyone was through and the mess and sticky fingers were cleaned up, a rather uneasy hush fell over the room. For the life of us, we couldn't help but stare expectantly at the latest addition to the con.
At that moment, Cherry's cat, frustrated after being ignored by the third person in a row, suddenly launched itself straight into Avon's lap.
"What the hell!"
Fortunately Avon's gun hand was occupied with a drink, or we'd have had fried cat.
"Dirk!" Cherry wailed, the colour draining from her face. "Don't hurt him, please! I'll get him off."
Avon swept her a searching glance. All his earlier geniality had fled in the face of what he must have considered a new attack. As terrified as Cherry was, (rightfully, I thought), she began to sidle towards the sofa but halted abruptly when he held up his hand.
"This is -- a pet?"
Scarcely daring to breathe, she nodded. "It's my cat," she whispered.
At that very moment, the object of their discussion butted his head against Avon's chest. Caught off guard, Avon froze. The cat, annoyed his message wasn't getting through, twisted around and tried again, rubbing his head against Avon's upraised hand. Avon's bewilderment would have been laughable if the situation hadn't been quite so desperate.
At last our newest guest unclenched his fist, cautiously extending his fingers to allow the cat to sniff them. There must have been some chicken aroma lingering because a pink tongue suddenly emerged and the cat began to lick delicately at Avon's fingertips. Avon's features shifted subtly at the contact, but he made no effort to pull away.
Abruptly abandoning the fingers as being unproductive, Dirk circled around three times before arranging himself comfortably in what he apparently considered a convenient lap. He brought his head up, butted the nearby hand before starting to purr. No doubt about it, the cat really wanted to be petted and wasn't about to take "no" for an answer.
With a look as near to helpless as I've ever seen on his face, Avon awkwardly obliged. Dirk promptly closed his eyes and the purring switched into overdrive.
Glancing from the delighted feline to Cherry's stunned face, Avon suddenly demanded, "It is alive? It is not an automaton?"
"He is very much alive." she gulped, "and I'd like him to stay that way."
"His name is Dirk."
"Dirk," Avon repeated thoughtfully, absently stroking the cat. He must have been a quick learner because Dirk gave a satisfied little cat smile and began to mix - claws and all - against a leather-clad leg.
The whole room sucked in its breath - and held it.
With a muttered curse, Avon jerked his hand away but Dirk merely regarded him with contentment, blinked and promptly dozed off.
Frustrated in mid-blow by such trust, Avon regarded the cat for some moments before clearing his throat. Resuming his stroking of the sleeping feline, he faced us challengingly. "I see no reason to disturb him. He's quite safe where he is."
The room let out its collective breath.
Without waiting for a reply, he turned to Gareth. "Do you realise that food like that would have cost at least a million credits on my Earth?" he demanded. "And been illegal as well?" He shook himself slightly. "I think it's time to discuss what has happened and for you to tell me what this 'gathering' really is."
"Cherry?" Gareth was most casual about passing the buck.
Nervously clearing her throat, while casting worried glances at her beloved cat, Cherry began. Over the next half-hour, she detailed something of the history of Blakes 7 -- the first two years of the series, that is. It wasn't easy. After all, she had to think on her feet and edit as she went, but she did a terrific job. It was even coherent! She also touched on the SCORPIO conventions, but only lightly, partly because Avon never took his eyes off her for an instant. Frankly, it's a wonder she was able to explain anything. Would you like to have Avon staring at you as though you were some kid of specimen he wasn't sure he wanted to keep?
"So, you're Avon -- from the series," she concluded, at last, mumbling, "for all our sins," under her breath.
If Avon heard her, he chose to ignore it. "You're all saying you know me as a character in a vid- cast?" he said, after pausing to mull over her words.
"And you're the actors and actresses who appeared in it?" His eyes swept the guests questioningly.
"Actually, I'm not," Sheelagh demurred. "I did make-up on the series."
"Makeup?" He shuddered. "Did I wear makeup?"
"Paul did when he played you."
He took a moment to digest that. "I should like to see this -- series."
"No problem," Cherry remarked, brightly. " "The video room's running 24 hours a day this year."
"Great," Heather groused, sotto voce, "Let him watch 'Blake'."
"The question is," Gareth inserted soberly, claiming Avon's attention before he could follow up on that intriguing statement, "where's Paul and how do we get him back?"
"Not only that, we need to determine how the switch - if there was one - happened to begin with."
Before anyone could answer, Jacqueline said quietly, "I think there is someone you gentlemen are forgetting."
"Who?" Gareth and Avon said simultaneously.
"Oh my God!" Sheelagh's hand went to her mouth.
The rest of us stared at her, stricken.
Avon looked blank. "And who is this Janet creature?"
"Paul's wife," Michael whispered. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. "Janet. My God, how could I have forgotten her?"
"A bloody awful lot has happened fairly rapidly, old son," Gareth muttered, running a hand through his hair. "If it's any comfort, I'm just as guilty. Thank you, Jackie, for reminding us."
"Don't thank me, what are you going to tell her?"
"I don't know." For once, Michael sounded truly rattled. "For God's sake, Gareth, how will we ever explain --" his voice trailed off as he stared at the stranger in our midst.
"I'm not omniscient," Avon stated flatly, strangely defensive. "I don't know how I came to be in such a disastrous situation."
Heather turned to me. "You're a writer," she demanded. "How could this have happened?"
"We don't need a writer," Avon sneered, "we need a scientist."
Nettled, I snapped, "I agree. However, there aren't any spare ones running around the hotel so I guess we'll just have to make do. Besides, we ought to be able to come up with some kind of an idea."
He stared at me. "Such as?"
It was amazing how intimidating a single phrase could be. I took a long, deep breath. "Well, to start with -- were you teleporting when the switch took place?"
"And was there some kind of magnetic disturbance, ion storm, or some kind of atmospheric aberration going on at the same time?"
"A, B, C, or all of the above?" Dammit, he could have helped a little.
"A," he replied curtly, holding out his glass for another drink. Heather, drat her, obliged.
Now it was my turn to bare my teeth wolfishly.
"Then the switch must have been caused by some fluke in the LIBERATOR's teleport system, triggered by the magnetic field. Paul certainly wasn't close to any kind of equipment that could have done it." Everyone nodded -- including Avon. That was flattering. "Question: were you leaving or returning to the LIBERATOR when it happened?"
Several people gasped when they realised what I was really asking. If Paul had teleported -- unarmed -- into an honest-to-God adventure he couldn't have lasted long. We might already have lost him. Permanently.
Avon took his time but finally answered, "Returning."
Heaving a sigh of relief, I grinned. "Then we can assume Paul's safe and the others are aware of the problem."
"I can agree with the first statement, but why would Blake have realised a change took place? It took you a while to figure it out."
Sheelagh laughed. "Considering your crew would have been expecting you, 'clad in black leather and armed to the teeth,' and they wound up with Paul dressed in sports clothes and clutching a teddy bear -- a little stuffed cuddly toy," she explained quickly, seeing Avon's frown, "I think they'd figure out there'd been a change!"
Avon nodded and then stopped and stared at her. "Why was I -- he -- clutching a 'teddy bear'?"
"It's a long story," she mumbled guiltily.
Avon leaned back, took a long sip from his glass and stared at her expectantly.
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Last updated on 14th of June 1997.