I sit in bars so often now, I feel like Vila. I wondered why he needed to drink and cursed him for his weakness. Now I understand. I long for alcohol, in order to blot out the world. To keep my memories under control. Sometimes, they surface, and it's then they think I am mad. Perhaps I am. Who can tell? Certainly not me. Not any more.
By Val Westall
Looking up, I can see my reflection in the mirror above the bar. It's somewhat grimy, like the surroundings. My image is blurred and stained. Dark curls, plastered to my forehead with sweat. Face streaked with dirt, a scar running the length of my face. Like Blake. Sometimes, when I study myself, I think that I resemble Blake. Or will, with age. Perhaps that's one reason why Avon was content to let me stay. After all, as he often reminded me, pilots can always be replaced.
Not that I'm a pilot now, not any more. My hands shake when they hit the controls and I see the trees of Gauda Prime pointing up at me, trying to grab the underside of the ship. Reaching and dragging Scorpio down to the earth. Jansen says that you only need one bad crash to make you lose your nerve. That was one bad crash, all right, and no mistake. That's where it all went wrong, on Gauda Prime.
Even now, after all these years, I still wake up with a start. Thinking I am back there. That's when the nightmares begin; every morning, without fail. I can feel the soft thud as Dayna connected with me. It was so important not to let her crash against the steps. I kept thinking that I had to lower her down gently, otherwise she would hurt her head. Quite absurd, as she was dead even as she collapsed against me.
We all died, except for me and, of course, Avon. He always seemed to survive, whether he wanted to or not. We had been through so much together and I thought, even then, that we would come through it. Now, though, I am sure that the others are dead. I saw their bodies. She saw to that. Saw them, touched them, felt them. Buried them, with my own hands.
Servalan watched on that bright, sunny morning, with a clean, crisp wind. It was no day for death. Avon watched too, his face cold and impassive. Even when I buried Blake, he managed to remain in control, although he clenched his fists as the earth hit. It was only at the last, when I tipped Vila into the ground, that he crumbled slightly and turned away. I have had many regrets concerning Vila; although, for me, it was Dayna that was the hardest to cover with the hard earth of Gauda Prime.
My hand is shaking slightly. I bang the filthy glass on the bar and the barman tips another splash of dark green liquid into it. I am not even sure what I am drinking, or where I am. I got over such delicacies as wondering what I am eating or drinking during my two years on Fedras Beta.
Fedras was the closest the inhabitants of the planet could come to the word 'Federation'. The closest they had time to coming to, before the troops killed them all and decided it was the perfect place for a prison planet. A prison planet, after all my jibes at Avon about his sentence to Cygnus Alpha. It was an irony we would both appreciate.
I pick up the glass again and sip the liquid tentatively. It burns the back of my throat. The sensation jolts me and the noise in the bar recedes to a low murmur. I am flung back in time to that fateful day. Standing in front of Servalan, still in my torn clothes. Attempting to maintain some dignity in my stance. I was suddenly aware of blood, dried and stained on my hands, and placed them behind my back. She laughed then. A musical, malicious sound, which echoed around the tiny office she had commandeered.
"Once a Federation man, always a Federation man," she had giggled. The noise sounded ridiculous.
"Do you always flirt with your prisoners?" I'd retorted.
Quite a clever retort, I'd thought to myself, as it seemed to stop her laughing.
"But, Tarrant," she had smiled, standing and running her fingers down my cheek, "you aren't my prisoner!"
"What am I then?"
"Oh," she had sighed. "Prisoners have to be reported, filed and given a trial. It would all be such a nuisance. Especially as I would lose Avon, and Orac, when I find it. And they will both be so useful to me."
I thought of Virn then. Of Avon's smile and Dayna's anger. Avon knew what it was to take this woman. The feel of her mouth and the soft curves of her body. And I realised that it was Avon that had mattered all along. I was not likely to be useful to her, so she had to get rid of me.
"Why not just kill me?" I had demanded.
"Oh, this will be much more fun..."
And this time, I couldn't think of anything to say.
"Think of it this way," Servalan had offered. "If I took you back to Earth as a rebel, you would be executed, along with Avon. I am offering you both another chance."
And, she had. Two years on Fedras Beta under an assumed name, as a petty criminal. When I arrived, I learnt that the average length a prisoner survived was a little under two years. As Avon would say, you had to learn to appreciate the lady's humour.
Before I left, Servalan had furnished me with one last thing. A thick, padded jumpsuit, complete with hood. She had tied the hood herself; my hands bound tight behind my back.
"You will need this," she had said, with a cruel smile of delicious anticipation. "Where you're going."
To be honest, I am surprised that they give prisoners as long as two years expected life span. It was a brutal, violent place. It rained almost constantly; heavy drops of acidic liquid, which burnt if you got caught in a downpour. Which I frequently did, as there was little cover. The hood, which Servalan had fastened herself, did go some way to helping protect me. I suppose I should feel some gratitude.
I fought for every mouthful of food and every hour of snatched sleep. And I wondered where Avon was and whether he was having a better or worse time than me.
Vila told me a little about Cygnus Alpha; which at least had managed to evolve a community of sorts. Fedras Beta held only male criminals, each tagged to show how long they had to suffer that vile place. A metal tag, stapled to the arm, which burnt bright red when you finished your sentence. The tags were impossible to remove; but that, of course, was no deterrent to men facing twenty years or more. I found many a corpse on my lonely travels, their arms ripped from the sockets.
It was, though, impossible to cheat the Federation guards. They lived in underground bunkers, closely guarding their shelter and food supplies. Also, guarding the only source of fresh, clean water on the whole planet. The only drinkable liquid I ever found was contained in cactus-like plants, called 'branus'. I ate the hard flesh of the plant and drank the pale, lemon-flavoured juice it contained. It was virtually the only edible thing on the planet. Prisoners were under-nourished, dehydrated, desperate and dangerous. Washing was, of course, out of the question; unless an acid bath appealed.
There were no buildings on Fedras Beta and no effort made to live together by the prisoners. Instead, I dug beneath rocks, in order to make some kind of protectable shelter, underground. Huddled in the freezing cold, in cramped spaces. In discomfort and filth which I could never have previously imagined. Existing in dug-outs, which I changed frequently to avoid being attacked by other prisoners. Especially when my two years were almost up and I waited desperately for the Federation troopers to collect me.
I wonder why I am thinking of that place. It gives me worse tremors than Gauda Prime, if that's possible. Perhaps because I faced it alone. That's an admission that it would have been hard to make once, but not any more. I've changed, but it's too late now for it to matter.
The green drink has made my mouth feel numb. Putting the glass back on the bar, I stand to leave. Sitting here is solving nothing. I might as well be miserable and earning a living at the same time. So, I lift myself off the stool and arrive, somewhat shakily, standing. My image waves hazily at me from across the bar. Slim body, somehow turned thin. Grotesque jutting of cheekbones, where Servalan had once run manicured fingers down smooth flesh.
Crossing the room, I stare down at the scuffed tips of my boots, avoiding eye contact with the assorted inhabitants of the bar. Any action can be the excuse for a fight here. So, I watch my brown boots make their way across the stained, wooden floor. The door swings open and I head through the maze of small streets to Jansen's office.
The streets are bustling. Here, on Zuskar, far from Federation influence, a wide variety of planets trade and do business in peace. Vila would have adored the gambling dens and bars that populate the area around the docking bays. Funny how my thoughts keep turning back to Vila. Would he have been pleased to know that, at the last, he would be the one that brought tears to Avon's eyes?
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