by Harriet Bazley.
...In the confusion as the gate closes, they evade Bayban the Berserker and escape from the underground complex together. Vila teleports back to the Liberator alone in an attempt to persuade Avon to take Kerril, now marooned on the surface of the deserted planet, on board the ship...
The teleport area of the Liberator could feel decidedly cramped at times, particularly when the other four members of the crew were all crowded between the console and the teleport bay, gazing at you incredulously. In fact, Vila admitted to himself, miserably, Avon alone was quite capable of making the flight deck itself close in on you, without any aid from the others, when he chose to deploy that particular scathing Alpha-to-Grade-4-Ignorant glare. For a moment he wished he'd just quietly mislaid his bracelet and stayed down there on the surface with Kerril while the Liberator sailed away without them. They could have been farmers; lived out peaceful lives in the wholesome fresh air -
What, live like Norl's people in shacks and rags? his mind jeered back at him. With Bayban running around down there out for your blood? Kerril didn't manage to lose him for good, you know, when she got you out of that space terminal place - just shook him off our tail for a few hours if we're lucky. Come on, Vila, anything has to be better than a life like that. Even facing down Avon. Kerril's counting on you, remember? He clung to the sheer proud novelty of that thought and somehow found the courage to meet Avon's eyes.
"You told her what?" Avon demanded dangerously.
"I told her she could come with us," Vila repeated. "Actually, I told her we were short of crew and you'd be glad to have her, but I can see that was wrong for a start." And he still couldn't see why that should be such a stupid idea - Kerril was a crack shot and she'd been in and out of spaceships all her life...
Tarrant glared at him. "Look, Vila, we've just been risking our lives fighting off Bayban the Berserker and his merry men all on your account - now you want to bring back one of them onto the ship?"
All on his account? That was rich, coming from Tarrant. "Who put me down on the planet to start off with?" Vila flared up suddenly. "Who arranged to trade me in for a box of crystals with a bomb in it? Whose idea was this whole Bayban business in the first place? Come to think of it, Tarrant, if it weren't for you I'd never even have met Kerril, so this is all your fault, and the least you can do is keep quiet while I talk to Avon!"
Tarrant stared at him as if Vila had suddenly turned and bitten him, and even Avon looked taken aback. For a moment, Vila sensed victory within his grasp -
"Look, I said I was sorry -" Tarrant began.
"I agree with Vila," Cally put in unexpectedly. Her eyes met Vila's briefly, and he read compassion there. "You have caused enough trouble today, Tarrant -"
"Don't the rest of us get any say in this?" Dayna interrupted. "We'll all have to -"
"If you have all quite finished," Avon said softly, his eyes cold. The soft click as he laid down his teleport bracelet was quite audible in the silence that followed.
"Vila, Tarrant has a point. Given that Bayban is about as trustworthy as a thirst-crazed Tarsian tree-devil, what makes you so certain we can rely on Kerril?"
Vila glanced from Avon to Tarrant and back, sweating. "I don't know what Bayban's been doing and I don't know who Tarrant's been fighting, but whatever it was, Kerril wasn't involved. She's been with me for hours, and she hasn't been shooting anyone - except, well -" He faltered. "- she did shoot one of Bayban's lot, but that doesn't count, does it -"
"So she shoots people on her own side," Avon observed, smiling. "Do carry on, Vila."
Vila's hands were clenched and he found himself looking round from one face to another as if he were in a trap. Dayna - impatient; Tarrant - furious; Avon - smiling slightly; Cally - frowning. Everything was going wrong. A wave of panic rose in the back of his throat, and he gritted his teeth against it, drawing on reserves of courage he'd never known he had. Whatever happened, he wasn't going to let himself be separated from Kerril. He fixed his eyes on Cally, drawing a deep breath.
"I told Kerril she'd be welcome. All right, you can make a liar out of me if you want, I'm used to it, I don't care. But the gate's closed and everyone's gone, she's alone down there and Bayban's still on the loose somewhere. I promised her she could stay with me and I'm not leaving her on this hell-hole of a planet. You can trust her because I say so, and if that's not enough for you, Avon -" his eyes were still clinging to Cally's - "you can just put me down there with her, and go off, and abandon both of us, and I hope you rot in hell!" He glanced up at Avon at last, still trembling with the force of his outburst.
"Hardly an original sentiment." Avon was no longer smiling.
Cally made a movement of protest, and Vila saw her gaze dwell on Avon for a moment.
"Since when has that ever been a good reason for anything?" Avon snapped, swinging round to glare at her.
Cally drew an angry breath, then paused, glancing round at Vila.
"Oh, don't mind us!" Tarrant was flushed and furious. He'd always resented Cally's quiet influence over Avon. "Go on. Let's all hear it."
Avon shot an icy look at him, and turned, touching Cally's arm. "Come on, Cally."
Vila watched the two of them leave. He was twisting the teleport bracelet nervously on his arm. Cally could do a lot of impossible things, but he wasn't sure that getting Avon to change his mind counted among them...
//I believe you, Vila. It will be all right.//
"It's Avon you've got to convince, not me," he muttered. His lively imagination was painting him pictures of Bayban stalking an impatient, careless Kerril, a laughing Bayban dragging the laser cannon and aiming it from hilltop to hilltop, Kerril wandering back into the base and being ambushed by a vengeful Bayban. "Hurry up, Cally!"
Tarrant and Dayna both glared at him.
Avon paused, and leaned back against the side of the corridor. "Well, Cally?"
//He loves her,// Cally repeated. //He means it, Avon.// She had never seen Vila so much in earnest about anything. She was fond of him, but she had long since given up hope that Vila would ever amount to more than an irresponsible amusing scapegrace, like the story her own people had on Auron of the boy who had decided never to grow up. The hours he had spent on Keezarn seemed to have brought out a side to Vila that none of them - least of all, she suspected, Vila himself - had ever known existed.
Avon was looking at her coldly. "To my certain knowledge, Vila has fallen in love three times already this year. He does so with boring predictability on every rest planet. As far as he is concerned it appears to be an unavoidable reaction to a certain level of alcohol intake."
"Vila is not drunk," Cally pointed out patiently. Avon, who was one of the sharpest observers she had ever known, could be almost wilfully blind at times.
"Unusual but not unprecedented," Avon agreed. "He has, however, been subjected to extreme stress and fear, even by his standards. Apparently the side-effects are similar. I see no reason to suppose that the duration is likely to be any different.
"In any case," he forestalled her, "under the circumstances Vila's judgement is about as impartial as the evidence at a Federation court-martial. I have no intention of taking aboard this... this bounty-hunter... on the basis of thirty seconds' acquaintance and Vila's recommendation."
"Then you will lose Vila." Oh Avon, can you really not see that Vila has changed?
Avon looked more closely at her. "Vila is always full of wild talk."
"Have you ever known him ask to be sent into danger, Avon? Even in jest? He believes the woman to be in danger, and he still wishes to go to her. He knows the planet to be deserted and infertile, but he may choose to take his chances for survival there rather than desert her.
"Don't make Tarrant's mistake, Avon. Be careful not to push Vila too far."
Avon used a sharp movement of his shoulders to push himself upright, and took a step towards her. "What makes you think I would ever agree to leave Vila behind?"
Cally smiled, deliberately refusing to be intimidated. "If you refuse to accept Kerril, I shall teleport Vila back down onto the surface myself."
"You - would - dare -"
For a moment Cally was truly afraid. "Vila deserves a chance," she said steadily, her hands poised to defend herself. "I will fight you if I must." I think I could take you, Avon. It would not be easy, but I am prepared to try...
He must have read that determination in her eyes, for he let his hands fall. "For Vila?" He frowned, shaking his head slightly. "For Vila?"
"I imagine not many people have ever seen beneath the jokes and the clever fingers and loved the real Vila," Cally told him. "Perhaps one or two. Perhaps none, ever.
"I believe that for the first time in his life Vila has found something he cares for more than himself. For some people, that is easy. For some, it is very hard."
She took a deep breath, remembering something that Blake had told her, once long ago when she had flared out against Avon's vicious tongue and casual cruelty. "Don't ever let him guess that you know," Blake had warned her, looking slightly guilty. "I'm not sure he'd ever forgive either of us..." But Avon, of all people, had no right to do this to Vila.
"Do you remember Anna Grant, Avon?"
Avon's fingers bit into her arm; his eyes, after that first moment of blank shock, were bitter with a comprehension and knowledge of betrayal that tore at her. "If you dare to use Anna's name against me -" he began in a deadly monotone.
"Take Kerril on board. Judge her for yourself." Cally held him off, sickness churning in her belly. "Avon, I beg you to remember and understand and give them a chance!" She broke his hold sharply, her eyes pleading with him: for Anna's sake, at least give Kerril a hearing before you condemn her...
Avon stepped back, his face resuming its usual cold mask. "Very well. A chance," he said at last, gesturing her to precede him back to the teleport.
She could not bear the new wariness in his glance.
//Avon, I would never try to take the Liberator from you. I swear it.//
He glanced at her again. "Sometimes you remind me of Blake," he said tightly, and strode on.
Tarrant blocked the way, arms folded, as Cally paused on the threshold of the teleport area. "Listen. Avon -"
"Enough." Avon pushed past them both almost absently, and knocked Dayna's hand aside as she caught at his arm.
"Don't we get any say in this at all?" she demanded, scowling.
"No," Avon said coldly. "Now listen. Vila deserves better of us than this deserted planet. Therefore the woman comes with us, for the moment." He held up a hand to quell the uproar. "If Vila comes to his senses before we reach the next populated planet, we shall leave her there. If, on the other hand, Vila insists, they can leave together. You are, of course, all equally free to leave at any time."
"Present circumstances excepted, of course," Tarrant put in.
"Can't we go into all this later?" Vila was practically dancing on the spot. "I said I'd only be a minute, and Bayban's still down there -"
"Shut up, Vila. Dayna, give him a second bracelet and put him down. We've wasted enough time. Tarrant -" Avon's gaze seemed to pluck Tarrant reluctantly forward from the doorway - "I'll need you to help me in fitting those new crystals."
"Ready, Vila?" Dayna slid behind the controls as Vila, looking as if he were completely unable to believe what was happening, backed into the teleport's active zone with one bracelet around his wrist and a second one clutched in his other hand. He smiled back weakly at Cally.
"Just what did you say to Avon, anyway?" Tarrant asked her with a suspicious look, his eyes going from Cally's pale face to Avon's as Dayna operated the teleport.
//That is none of your business, Tarrant,// Cally broadcast pointedly for them all to hear, and thought she caught a moment of gratitude on Avon's face.
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Last updated on 05th of November 2000.