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Change of Direction

By Mjo
"Blake, we must teleport now!" shouted Avon, raising his arm to speak into the bracelet

"No!" said Blake, grabbing Avon's arm, "we're nearly there, and we must get those plans"

"You may have suicidal tendencies, I do not. We do not have time" Avon said, violently shrugging off Blake's hand

At that moment three Federation troops came round the corner and opened fire

Blake ducted. Avon wasn't so lucky as one shot caught his right arm and he fell backwards, over a box, his teleport bracelet flying off his wrist in one quick motion

"Avon!" Blake screamed, starting to move. Another shot rang out keeping him pinned down. Reluctantly he raised his arm. "Vila, teleport now!" Blake shimmered out.

Avon remained motionless, unconscious.

Once the troops realised no one was shooting, they cautiously approached. One bent down and prodded Avon with his foot. "He's out cold"

"Bring him"

They dragged Avon from the room, still unconscious.

Avon cautiously opened his eyes. He was in a darkened room. He could just make out the shape of a table at the far side. There also appeared to be some computer monitoring equipment, blinking away in the corner.

Suddenly the room lit up. Avon winced

"Good, you're awake" said a familiar voice

"Servalan"

"How nice of you to remember me" she said

"You're not easy to forget.. unfortunately"

"Why, thank you Avon"

He glared at her.

He went to sit up and found he couldn't move.

"I don't think these restraints are necessary" she said to a white-coated man sitting at the table. "Remove them"

"Yes Supreme Commander"

Avon looked at Servalan suspiciously. He lay there for a moment, then sat up quickly. His head spun and fell back down onto the couch.

"What have you done"

"What makes you think I've done anything"

"Don't play games with me Servalan"

"As a matter of fact I haven't done anything....yet" she said, touching his face "You were concussed, and wounded. We have fixed you up, made you comfortable, but you're still weak"

"You won't try to escape, will you?" she said moving away "You see, if these.." indicating to two mutoids who had just entered the room "see even the slightest movement, they will kill you, and that would be such a waste"

Avon couldn't tell how much time had passed. He had lifted his arm slightly, once, but had quickly lowered it as the mutoids fingers tightened on the weapon. Now he just lay on the couch, looking up at the ceiling, wondering how the hell he had got himself into this mess. Of course there was only one reason, Blake and his damned crusade. If he ever got out of here, he vowed, he was leaving, taking his share of the Liberator strongroom and setting himself up on some nice, quiet, Federation free planet.

The door opened

"I trust you're feeling better"

He did not give Servalan the satisfaction of a reply

"You can get up now Avon"

He didn't move

"Get up"

Still no movement

"Very well" Servalan sighed "Give him a tranquilliser" she said.

"No" he said, getting up from the couch. Whatever they were going to do to him, he wanted to be awake. Drugged, he would have no chance.

He walked resolutely towards Servalan; the two mutoids followed, as they left the room.

He had expected to be taken to an interrogation chamber. What he had not expected was a luxurious, decorated room, complete with the finest wines, a tray of real food, that must have cost thousands of credits. He stood and gaped, momentarily caught off guard.

"I will not be bribed"

"Of course not Avon"

"I will not give you Blake, Liberator, Orac or anything else"

"We shall see"

He spun round about to say something, then stopped. He would play this by ear. As long as he could keep Servalan talking he might have a chance, find a way out. He shrugged, walked into the room and sat down on a lavishly upholstered chair

"Wine?" Servalan offered "It's not drugged" she said, pouring a glass. She took a sip, then offered the same glass to Avon

He looked at it briefly, then took it

"Very good" he said, appreciatively

"It is refreshing to meet someone who appreciates the finer things. One gets so terribly bored with the unsophisticated military types that one has to associate with"

"What do you want Servalan?"

"We'll talk later" passing him a tray of delicacies. "You must be hungry. Pick one or two for me to eat, then you can choose." He shrugged, pointed to four of the items on the plate and watched carefully as she ate them.

"These really are delicious" she said "You really must try them"

He waited for several minutes watching her carefully.

"Really Avon.. anyone would think you didn't trust me" she purred

He laughed, then took some of the food.

She was right, it was probably the best he had tasted, certainly since before the London They sat silently for a while, eating and drinking, though Avon was careful not to over indulge with the wine. He wanted to keep his senses

"Why did you join Blake?"

"Why not" Avon replied

"You can't really believe that you will have any chance of overthrowing the Federation"

"He thinks so"

"And you? What do you think Avon?"

"I think" he said, carefully turning the glass around in his hand "that he's a fool" he said, looking straight into Servalan's face

"But you won't betray him"

"No"

"You could have all this" she said, waving her arms around the room, "and more"

"It's tempting, I'll admit that.. but"

"But?"

"The price is too high"

"What, Blake?"

"No, not Blake" he gave a wry smile "Survival, or to be more precise, the failure to survive"

She looked at him.

"I might live in luxury for a year, maybe several, but eventually the Federation would kill me"

"I would protect you" she said moving towards him

"You would probably be the one to order my death"

"As I can do now"

"As you can do now" he said, raising his glass in salute

"So you can die now, or you can die in several years time, surely you have a preference"

"Of course. But the end is the same"

"So you would choose to die now"

"I would prefer not to die at all"

At that moment a light flashed on a button near the door. Servalan got to her feet and went to an intercom.

"You wanted to be notified when they arrived"

"Yes, thank you. You know what to do"

The two mutoids entered the room

"This conversation is academic really" Servalan said, turning towards Avon. "You see.. you're already dead, or dying anyway"

Avon shot to his feet, he looked at the food and drink

"No" Servalan said softly "Not that. I wanted your last meal to be perfect. I believe that's traditional"

Avon swayed "How .." he faltered

Servalan looked at him with intense sorrow on her face. She moved towards him, reached up, and kissed him on the lips. He didn't back away, neither did he respond.

"I'm sorry Avon" she said, "truly I am. I can't even promise you a quick death"

Avon steadied himself, pushed her away

"How long" he snapped "How long do I have"

"That depends on the metabolism of the individual. 48 hours, maybe longer. Some have lasted up to 5 days"

"Poison?"

"You underestimate me Avon. Nothing that simple" "You're friends have arrived. You're about to be rescued"

"Rescue a dead man" he said flatly

"Ah, but you're not dead yet. You see you're still going to give me the Liberator"

"What possible incentive could I have now for doing that" he said sarcastically

"None whatsoever, but that's immaterial. Blake is on his way here, and he is going to find you. He will also be finding the means of his own destruction. That's rather fitting don't you think"

"You see, I've been investing in germ warfare, and you're the germ" Avon lunged at her. He was restrained by the mutoids.

"My scientists have developed a new strain of Thazapolin"

Avon looked at her, appalled, "No.. " he croaked

"Ah I see you've heard of it. As you are aware, the vaccine for the original Thazapolin makes it completely useless as a weapon. Therefore my scientists have come up with a new version. It's quite remarkable really. Apart from the initial dizziness, at first there are absolutely no symptoms at all. A person would not be aware that anything was wrong. The carrier isn't even infectious for the first six hours. That's how I've been able to make these last moments so enjoyable for you Avon"

He spat at her

"And I thought you were such a civilised man" she said, wiping her face. "That was also quite pointless. There's still another 18 minutes. Then anyone who comes within two meters of you will be dead.. eventually"

"There is no vaccine, no cure, even the finest minds would take years to develop one. It would have been folly to develop something that could easily be outwitted"

A guard moved towards Avon with a tranquilliser. He struggled, but couldn't prevent the injection, and slumped to the floor.

Servalan bent down and stroked his hair. Then got up and walked out.

"Blake, any sign of him?"

"Not yet, stand by"

Blake and Vila had teleported down outside the compound. They kept low, and in the shadows. Two Federation guards were quickly despatched. Vila moved towards the wire mesh.

"I don't like this" he said pointing to the monitors, high up "They've probably spotted us already"

"If they had, we would be dead by now"

"That's very reassuring"

"I told you, ORAC is disrupting the sensors. We'll be in and out before they realise what's happening"

"That's what you said last time and look what happened"

"I know, Vila" Blake sighed, "That's why we're here" He wasn't going to loose someone else. "Hurry up"

"This is delicate work, one slip and we'll be fried"

"There" said Vila at last "That should do it"

Blake couldn't see any difference "You sure its OK"

"I'm a professional, of course it's all right"

"Then move"

"Er.. You first"

Blake glanced at Vila, then cautiously put his hand on the mesh. Nothing happened. "I knew it would be OK" Vila said grinning.

Blake pushed open the gate and cautiously moved forward

The base was remarkably quiet. He had expected heightened security, but there didn't seem to be any additions since the last time they had visited. That was odd. Perhaps it was a trap after all. Jenna had tried to persuade him to abandon Avon, but he had to be sure. Avon might be dead, but until he saw the body he wouldn't leave.

"Jenna"

"Yes Blake"

"Has there been any sign of unusual activity? Has Orac reported anything?"

"Why? Trouble?"

"No, that's the point, I was expecting more opposition"

"I'll bring you up"

"No"

Suddenly there was shooting. An alarm went off.

"I think we've found the opposition"

"We're getting out. Right?" wailed Vila

"No. I'm not leaving Avon again"

Someone shouted "There he is. Get him"

They saw a figure dart swiftly between two cabins, then fall suddenly as another shot was fired.

"OK, got him"

"Hope he's in one piece"

"He's only stunned. I know the orders"

The alarm died.

Blake and Vila looked at one another "Avon?" "possibly" "There's only one way to find out" said Blake

They moved forward, shadowing the guards.

The guards disappeared down a corridor.

The rebels heard feet being dragged and a door open and close.

Vila cautiously peered round the corner, just in time to see the back of the two guards departing. They no longer had the prisoner.

In an office the other side of the base, Servalan was watching the monitor. She saw the two guards drag a slumped figure along the corridor. They stopped by a door, opened it, and pushed the man inside. The screen shifted to show the inside of the room as the man entered. Against the far wall another figure lay on the bed, the newcomer ignored him. Instead moving quickly to a panel in the side wall, he pressed a few buttons and disappeared though a hidden exit.

They must have put him in there" said Vila

"Then go and open it"

"It might not be Avon" at the look Blake gave him Vila continued quickly "but then again it might" and moved towards the door. "Avon" Vila whispered. As he worked "Avon"

Avon stirred. He was muttering to himself, dazed, disorientated. The last thing he remembered was.. it had to be a nightmare. He turned on his side, facing the wall, fists clenching and unclenching

"Avon" a voice from a distance.. a familiar voice. Trust Vila to be in my nightmare he thought. He heard the door open

"Go away Vila" he said

"If that's all the thanks I get for rescuing you, I'll leave you here"

"I don't want you in my nightmare, go away"

Another voice. "Avon, can you walk?"

Avon opened an eye

"Avon" the voice was still there, closer this time. It wasn't a nightmare.

He turned over. Vila was standing in the doorway, looking round anxiously

Blake was coming towards him

"STOP" Avon yelled, sitting up and pushing himself as far back against the wall as he could manage

Blake stopped, startled. He looked back at Vila, expecting the shout to bring the whole of the Federation down on them

Blake heard Avon's voice "There won't be anyone. It's a trap Blake. Get out"

Blake moved forward

"NO! Stay where you are. Any closer and you're dead" "Please" Avon added

That got Blake's attention.

"Avon?"

"It's too late for me Blake. Just go"

"Hurry up" said Vila, "I can hear something"

"Quickly" said Avon, "they must have realised their plan didn't work. Must have miscalculated the effect of the virus on the tranquilliser"

"Virus?"

"I'm dying Blake. Servalan. She expected me to take you with me. At least that's one consolation" he said bitterly, "she failed. Now go"

"We're not going without you" Blake said quietly

"Don't be an idiot. There's nothing you can do"

"Blake!" yelled Vila as he fired at something in the corridor

"Quickly" said Blake tossing a bracelet to Avon "put that on" Avon dropped it on the couch

Blake dropped his on the floor

"Idiot" said Avon

"I'll put it back on when you put on yours" Blake said

Avon glared, then snapped on the bracelet

"And what do you intend doing when we get on board?"

"I'll think of something"

"Jenna. Teleport Avon directly to the Isolation unit then bring us up"

Avon was sitting in the isolation chamber, spearing a piece of protein that passed as food. Suddenly he doubled over in agony as pain seared across his chest. So it has started. He knew what to expect.

"Blake" Avon hit the intercom

"Be there in a moment"

"NOW"

Blake rushed to the unit

Avon was leaning against the wall, sweat pouring off him. Suddenly he collapsed into convulsions"

"Cally! Get suited up, hurry"

"Damn" Blake said almost to himself. He had known what to expect, but it had been over 12 hours since the pickup and he was beginning to hope that Avon had been wrong. Of course they had done all the tests, and Orac had confirmed the diagnosis, but the symptoms should have manifested themselves over 8 hours ago.

Cally came rushing through, kitted out in an environment suit. It was clumsy to work with but gave the necessary protection

She went through the intervening sterilisation cubical and into the isolation unit. She pressed a combined tranquilliser and painkiller into Avon's arm. He relaxed slightly, but didn't blackout. Tranquillisers would have diminishing effect the longer the disease progressed

"Cally" Avon grabbed her arm "Help me" he said

"Of course we'll help you"

He shook his head

"That's not what I mean. Help me to die" he said

"No Avon, we'll find a cure. Orac's working on it"

"It won't be in time" he said exasperated.

"The spasms started later than predicted so maybe the next stage will also be late" she said "You should rest"

She had a point he thought. He had seen the synopsis of the disease that Orac had culled from the Federation database. After the initial period of calm, came the spasms, intense pain that wracked the body, with increasing severity. These should have started about 12 hours after the initial contact. After 20 hours came the third phase, slow internal haemorrhage, as bit by bit the body disintegrated, as if eaten alive from within. In the original Thazapolin this lasted for another 12 hours before the body completely failed and the patient died. However the new version was designed to prolong the agony as long as possible. According to the research files, in one experiment a patient had survived as long as 5 days before expiring. If this wasn't enough, there was also the creeping paralysis that could start at any time from 15 hours onwards. Which meant that not only did the patient live in agony, he also could do nothing to help himself. Finally there was the rash and blistering that appeared on the torso, arms and legs in the latter stages.

Cally helped Avon to the couch.

"Cally, I don't intend going through stage 3. As soon as it starts, finish it" She did not look at him

"I have the right to choose how I die!"

"And we have the right not to loose you" she snapped

"Do you also have the right to prolong suffering" he said gently

Cally looked at him, tears in her eyes

"No" she whispered

"Good. Then that's settled. There's a rather fine bottle of cognac in my room. Ask Vila to bring it to me. He knows where it is"

Cally passed on the request.

Vila hovered outside the door of Avon's cabin. He had been in there many times. Avon's had been one of the first rooms he had unofficially entered in the first days after leaving the London. Of course Avon had known what he had done. He had warned him that once could be considered practice on alien equipment, twice .. well he didn't have to elaborate on what would happen if Vila had broken into his private quarters a second time. Yet that was exactly what he was about to do now.

The door clicked open. Vila walked in. It was as if Avon was about to return to it any moment. There were some unfinished scribblings on some paper near a printout. A jacket neatly placed on the bed. Vila moved to a locked cupboard, and took only two seconds to open it. He reached in and took out the bottle. As he withdrew, his sleeve caught on something, as he jerked it free, his grip on the bottle loosened and it crashed down on the desk, spilling its contents. Vila looked down at it with incredulity, tried mopping it up, then sat down and cried. He cried as he had never done before.

Cally was in the medical unit. The intercom buzzed "Where's Vila" said an impatient Avon.

"I told him, Avon. I'll check"

"Vila, did you find the bottle?" No answer

"Vila"

I'd better go and see what's happened, she thought

Even before Cally reached Avon's door she could feel the emotion. There had been a lot of emotion on the ship since Avon's return, she had had to increase her shielding to compensate, but this was total despair.

She hurried on.

Avon's door was open, "Vila, what's wrong?"

He looked up at her, tears streaking down his face. She moved forward and put her arm round him. He shook uncontrollably

"I I didn't m m mean t to" he stuttered and then burst out which another wailing sob

"Mean to what?" she said, then noticed the soggy desk

"It'll be alright Vila. It'll be all right"

"Blake, come to Avon's cabin a moment please"

"I'm working on some figures that Orac's just produced"

"Is it important?"

"Well, we won't be able to do anything with them until Orac comes up with something else, so I suppose I can spare a few moments"

As Blake entered Avon's cabin, Cally left Vila, and took Blake to one side.

"He's inconsolable. It seems he accidentally spilt the bottle that Avon wanted"

"What does he think Avon will do to him?" "Vila, come on, there's nothing you can do about it. We'll find Avon something else to drink"

Vila looked up at Blake

"Avon doesn't want anything else" he said hysterically, "he wants that" he said pointing to the remains of the cognac. "It'll probably be the last chance he'll get, and now I've ruined it"

Blake ran his fingers through his hair. "We'll find a cure Vila, I promise you. Avon is going to be all right"

"I don't believe you" Vila shouted, the burst into another spate of sobbing

Cally put her arms round Vila again

*Do something* she telepathed Blake.

"Maybe I can find another bottle" said Blake, though not with any conviction. "Wait here"

Blake knew he didn't have anything as sophisticated as Cognac. Perhaps Jenna? He went to the flight deck

"How is he?" asked Jenna

"Stable for now. I don't suppose you have any Cognac?"

"What type?"

"You mean you have?" surprised "Good, where?" "Of course in your cabin" he muttered to himself.

"Blake, what do you need Cognac for?"

"Vila dropped Avon's bottle and he's very upset about it. I said I'd find some more"

"So you want to give Avon my Cognac?"

"It's the least we can give a dying man" he snapped, then slumped in the chair.

"Sorry" said Jenna, "That bad, eh?"

"I won't give up Jenna. Dammit. Avon's not going to die"

"Wait here. I'll get the Cognac"

She reappeared a short time later with four bottles

"These must be worth a fortune" said Blake

"That one is" she said, pointing to a squat bottle with a faded brown label.

Blake pushed the intercom "Cally, What type of cognac did Avon have?"

"Vila" Cally said quietly "What type of Cognac did Avon have?"

Vila shrugged, "what does it matter now"

"This is the bottle, isn't it?"

Vila nodded

"Blake it says 'Cognac Frapin', there's a date on the back 134

"God's where did he get that?" said Jenna

"I take it you don't have it" Blake said

"I doubt if there are more than half a dozen bottles of that left in the entire universe" she said. "and Vila dropped it" she said disgustedly

"Apparently"

"Here" she said handing him a bottle, "It's a 158, not a 134, but it'll probably do."

"Thank you Jenna" he said pecking her on the cheek, and rushed off.

One of these days, thought Jenna, you'll give me more that just a peck on the cheek. She sighed, looked at her reduced stock of bottles, and turned her attention back to the console.

Blake found the situation in Avon's cabin much as he had left it, Vila's sobs having quietened only slightly.

"Here" said Blake, handing a bottle to Cally. He didn't trust Vila not to drop another one, the state he was in.

"It's not quite the same as Avon's, but Jenna says its good enough"

"Vila, come on let's take Avon his drink" she said gently, "He'll be wondering where we've got to"

He didn't move. She passed the bottle back to Blake, and took Vila's arm

"Come on" she said "It's all right now; let's go and see Avon"

He stood up slowly, "You really think it'll be all right?"

"Yes" both Cally and Blake said simultaneously

*I hope*

Back in the medical centre, Cally looked at Avon on the monitor. He was lying on the couch, obviously fighting to control the pain that engulfed him. The spasm subsided, then almost immediately another one started up again. Avon screamed. Even with the volume turned down, it made her shudder. But there was nothing she could do. No amount of painkillers or tranquillisers would have any effect now.

"We'll go in in a minute" she said to Vila, as brightly as she could. She was glad that Vila had been too busy putting on his environment suit to notice the monitor.

She suited up. Blake was already in his.

She glanced back at the screen. Avon appeared to be more settled now.

They walked into the glass fronted sterilisation chamber. Avon noticed their approach, and swung his feet over the couch. He carefully got to his feet, staggered slightly, moved forward a couple of steps, grabbed the back of the chair, then manoeuvred himself into the seat.

"About time" he said, as they entered the unit

Vila started to back out. Cally shoved him forward

Blake put the bottle down on the table

Avon looked at it, then back at Blake, with a questioning look.

"There was an accident" Blake said, in a tone that dared Avon to say anything

Avon picked up the bottle and studied it. Cally noticed a slight tremor in his hand. She went to take the bottle, but stopped when Avon glared at her.

He glanced quickly at Vila, noticing the tear-stained eyes, then back at the bottle. "It'll do" he said. Then poured himself a glass.

"I'm going to enjoy this" he said, relaxing back in the chair. "I would have offered to share it with you, but that's not practicable given the circumstances"

He closed his eyes, relishing the taste of the drink.

No one spoke for a moment.

"Where did you get this?" he said, raising the glass

"Jenna" said Blake

"A woman of discerning taste" he said

"I'm not sure if she was going to drink it or sell it" chuckled Blake

"No, I wasn't sure either" said Avon. "But as the saying goes, you can't take it with you"

There was another morbid silence.

"Orac's still working on a solution" said Blake

"The sooner everyone accepts that I'm dying the better" Avon said, then gasped, clenching the glass, as another spasm wracked his body. "What I object to" he said between gritted teeth "is dying in such damned agony". He collapsed off the chair, curling up into the foetal position, still clutching the glass, which fortunately had already been drained.

The door they had come into opened, and Cally turned to see Vila rushing out.

She glanced down at Avon, who was slowing uncurling, the rushed after Vila.

She stopped him, just before he was about to open the door into the medical lab. She pulled him back

"Vila, you idiot you haven't been through the decontamination cycle. Do you want to get us all killed"

Vila looked down at his suit, as if in a daze

"I'm sorry" he stammered "I just can't stand to see him like that. I was going to get something .. to end it once and for all" he finished

"Vila!"

"Orac's not going to find a cure is he... .and Avon's in there suffering. You can't let him go on like that. You can't" Vila started sobbing again

Cally shook him

"Listen Vila, there's still a chance. A small one I'll admit, but still a chance. And as long as there is a chance, Avon will remain alive. Is that understood."

"Is that understood" she said, shaking him

"Yes, yes" said Vila "but when there's no hope?"

"Then we'll deal with that when it happens. Avon won't suffer any longer than necessary. I promise you that Vila"

"Now I'm going back to check on Avon. Are you sure you can manage the decontamination sequence by yourself?"

Vila nodded

"Good"

Cally returned to the Isolation unit, where Blake was carrying Avon back onto the couch.

"He can't move his legs" said Blake.

"I could have crawled" said Avon

"and I suppose you could have hoisted yourself up here as well" Blake said laying Avon down

"I would have managed"

"Is there anything you want?"

"You know what I want"

"stage 3 hasn't started yet" said Cally

"No. But hopefully it won't be much longer"

Blake looked from Avon to Cally and back again

"I feel I'm missing something here"

"Cally has deigned to put me out of my misery as soon as stage 3 begins"

"No!" Blake said, whirling round to face Cally. "I won't permit it"

"You won't permit it!" said Avon incredulously. "You have been trying to manipulate my life ever since we came on this ship. Now you want to manipulate my death as well. Well it's my death, and I'll damn well choose when it will happen!"

"You're in no position to choose anything" yelled Blake. Then stopped as he realised what he'd said "Avon.. I'm sorry"

"Get out" Avon said, reaching out to push Blake. He toppled over and nearly fell off the couch. Blake caught him just in time. Avon struggled, trying to push him away, but Blake's strength prevailed. Avon was being manoeuvred back down onto the couch, when he was wracked by another wave of spasms. Screaming, eyes wild he clung desperately to Blake. When it was over he pushed himself away and flopped back onto the covers. He looked directly into Blake's eyes. "Don't come in here again Blake"

"Avon.. I.."

"You're worse than Servalan. Servalan couldn't give me quick death, it wasn't in her nature. I can hate her, but I can't despise her. I despise you Blake. You're a hypocrite. You preach about the rights of man, freedom of choice, yet you deny me MY right to choose"

Avon turned his head away,

"Avon.."

No answer

Blake walked away. He turned once before he left. Cally has holding down a shuddering Avon, as yet another round of pain engulfed him, making sure he didn't fall from the couch.

He could just make out Cally's voice "I'll put up the sides of the couch, Avon, so you don't fall off when I go.

Two hours later, when Cally next returned, Avon couldn' t move his right arm.

The intercom had been adjusted so that there was a permanently open direct link to the medical unit, enabling Avon to call whenever he needed anything. He hadn't called.

"Cally, at the rate this is progressing, I won't be able to feed myself soon. It's probable that I won't even be able to swallow"

"We're already preparing an intravenous nutrient system, just in case"

"Dammit, I refuse to be a vegetable"

Cally laughed "You don't look like a vegetable Avon, what kind were you thinking off, potato, urgan root?"

"I sometimes forget you're not human" Avon grinned

That was the first smile Cally had seen for a long time

It quickly faded

"Vegetable, as in vegetative state. It means complete incapacitation A person who is unable to do anything for themselves"

"I can't wait for stage 3 Cally. I want to die now. While I've still got some dignity left. Not when I'm immobile, laid out for everyone to pity. I want to do it by my own hand, while I've still got the use of it, which won't be much longer."

"I can't Avon"

"Please Cally"

"Everything that's happened so far is reversible. Once Orac finds a cure"

"THERE IS NO CURE. You're as bad as Blake...Just go away Cally"

"All right. I'll be back later"

When she had gone, Avon looked around the room. Not much time, he thought, his left arm was beginning to feel numb. He clenched his fist experimentally. Yes, he could still clasp something if he had to. He dragged himself up onto the barrier at the side of the couch. He tried to reach down to see if he could find the mechanism that would lower it. It was difficult. His fingers didn't have the sensitivity that they used to have. At last he found it, and with a click, the side of the couch dropped. He hauled himself over the edge, dropping none to gently only the floor. He hoped that Cally wasn't watching the monitor at that moment. He paused. If she came in he would simply say the mechanism had failed and he had fallen. But nothing happened, so he dragged himself slowly, agonisingly, across the floor. It wasn't a large expanse, but it seemed to him to go on forever. When he reached his destination he stopped, ready for the harder task of hauling himself up onto the chair. Before he could begin, another surge of pain engulfed him. No more, please, no more. When it had subsided, he tested his hand again. No change, good. He grabbed the base of the chair. His hand slipped "Damn" he said then tried again. This time he caught hold, and pulled with all his remaining strength. I'm not going to make it he thought. Yes I am dammit. I will not be dictated to. He dragged himself up, so that his upper body was leaning over the seat of the chair. Now just a moment longer, one more effort. He pulled himself further on to the chair, now all he had to do was turn over without falling off. That was harder than it seemed, but he managed it. There, straight in front of him, was his goal. The glass. Cally had poured him some cognac whenever he had asked, but had always insisted on remaining with him while he ate or drank, afraid the spasms might cause him to choke to death. If they had, he though bitterly, I wouldn't have to go to all this trouble. Avon reached forward. It was just out of reach. He tried again. No use, then he thought, what the hell, I've nothing to loose, and threw as much weight as he could behind the movement of his arm as he grabbed for the glass. He toppled forward, falling on the floor, but he had managed to grab the glass before his descent.

He lay there, exhausted, clutching the glass. He felt the fingers beginning to numb, and in a panic threw the glass against the metal base of the chair. It shattered into fragments. He was running out of time. He put his hand out towards the largest piece.

"Avon! You've fallen. I'll get Cally"

"No! Vila" he said to the suited figure who had rushed into the room. "I need your help"

"Do you want a drink Avon? Is that what you want?"

"Yes Vila, I think I do want a drink"

Vila took the bottle from the table. "I can't seem to find the glass" he said

"No, I had an accident" Avon said with a curious smile

Vila looked down. Gave Avon a thoughtful look, then, replacing the bottle, bent down to start to pick up the glistening pieces. Avon grabbed his arm. "Leave them" he said "Cally can clear it up later"

Vila hesitated. He looked at the glass, then back at Avon.

"It's what I want" said Avon

"I know" whispered Vila

He went to kneel down.

"Vila, you idiot, don't kneel on the glass, you might cut the environment suit"

"Oh, right" he said jumping to his feet

He walked round to the other side of Avon.

Avon was attempting to push himself up, and failing.

"You'll have to help me. The other hand has almost gone. I think if you rolled me over it would be the easiest" he said

Vila grabbed Avon by the shoulders, and pulled Avon towards him, turning him onto his back.

"That's better, now where's that drink I was promised"

"I'll get it" he said Vila took the bottle from the table. He put it down on the floor, raised Avon's head slightly with one hand then picked up the bottle with the other and lifted it to Avon's lips

"Thank you" Avon said when he had finished

"You know me, helpful Vila, always at hand when you need a pickmeup"

"Yes. We've had some good times haven't we, despite sainted Blake"

"Yes, we have. Remember that time...."

"No time Vila, not now"

"I'll come back later if you want" Vila said in a panic "I can bring another bottle"

"No, Vila, you keep it. You can also have the few bottles that are left in my cabin. There aren't many, but what's there is quite exquisite".

"I don't want them, Avon. You might need them later"

"Vila...." but whatever Avon was about to say was cut off by another terrible cry of pain. Avon's head tossed violently from side to side.

"Its all right Avon, you won't suffer any more, I promise Avon. I promise, I promise" it was five minutes before the convulsions stopped. Vila was still kneeling, holding Avon as tightly as he could, when Avon came round.

"Vila..?"

"I'm here Avon"

"Can't do it" He said, "wasted", looking at the glass

"What? "said Vila puzzled "I don't know what you mean"

"Paralysed.. completely paralysed, neck down, can't hold anything"

"Lie down" said Vila

"Can't do anything else" he said with an almost hysterical laugh.

"Wait here" Vila said getting to his feet

"Do you expect me to have run way by the time you get back" Avon replied sarcastically

Vila rushed out of the room. Decontamination seemed to take twice as long as normal, but when it was over, Vila almost ran into the medical unit.

He opened the top storage unit and rifled through the contents, Then a terrible thought struck him. If the tranquillisers were ineffective, perhaps other drugs were too. Damn. What now. Nothing for it

The intercom buzzed as he was going out the door.

"Vila is everything all right? You were supposed to check in ten minutes ago"

"No change Blake. I'm still monitoring"

"You haven't been at the medicinal soma have you"

"No, Blake. Not this time" snapped Vila

"Sorry, I know you wouldn't do anything to jeopardise Avon's recovery"

"Orac found something?" Vila said, his heart racing

"No, nothing yet. Cally should relieve you in a few minutes"

The com went dead.

A few minutes then. He'd have to be quick

Vila ran down the corridor, ducked out of sight when he saw Jenna, then continued when she'd gone, moving swiftly towards the spare weapons rack. He picked up a gun, and darted back to the medical unit. He quickly donned the environment suit and entered the isolation chamber.

Avon was where he had left him.

He didn't stir, not even his head moved.

Vila walked round so he was in Avon's line of vision.

"Cally will be here in a minute"

Avon's lips moved. Vila bent down trying to make out the words.

"I don't understand"

"b" "b"

"b.. you mean Blake?"

Avon blinked

"Blake"

Avon blinked again

"f..or."

"for.. Force?.. Forget?

Avon screwed his eyes in frustration

"g.. gi"

"For gi,?" "Forgiven!" said Vila

"Blake's forgiven. You forgive Blake"

Avon blinked. He stared at Vila, expectantly

"You always could say a lot with your eyes" said Vila, chattering nervously as he adjusted the gun.

"I'll miss you, you know"

Blink

"So will the others, even Jenna"

Blink Blink.

"She really will you know"

Vila raised the gun, shaking.

The eyes stared back at him, contemptuously.

"It's all right Avon I won't mess this up" he said as he steadied his grip

The eyes gleamed

Blink

Vila fired

He sat there for what seemed like hours, staring at Avon's, body, but it must have been only a few minutes.

"Vila! What have you done" Cally rushed in

"What he wanted" he answered without taking his eyes off of Avon

Cally bent down, and tested for a pulse. None.

"Perhaps it was for the best" she said

"It doesn't feel like it"

Vila stood up. "He left a message for Blake. I'd better go and give it to him"

"He'll take it hard"

"So he damn well should" Vila blazed "First Gan, now Avon. The only friends I had in the universe and they're gone. For what? Nothing!" Avon may have forgiven him, Vila certainly wasn't about to.

"It wasn't for nothing Vila"

"Oh yes, I forgot, The famous Crusade. What good did it do Gan or Avon? If they had been left on Cygnus Alpha, at least they would have been alive. Avon would have had some scam going, or he would be redesigning their communications equipment so that a passing ship would take him off". Vila grinned "Avon's a survivor" "Or at least he was, until he met Blake" he said angrily

"Blake cares about us all" Cally said

"Well I don't want him caring for me. Its dangerous"

He walked back into the decontamination centre, and then, once the cycle was finished, he headed straight for the flight deck.

Blake was sitting down, talking to ORAC

"There must be something"

"I repeat there is not. It is a waste of my valuable time searching for what is not there. I have extracted all the information currently available from both Federation and Non-Federation computers on the Thazapolin virus. Of course it is possible that additional data might be added at some future date. I will therefore continue to monitor all systems for such information. Now I am engaged in a particularly complex piece research and do not wish to be interrupted again."

Cally's voice sounded over the com link.

"Blake, Vila's on his way to the flight deck. Don't be too hard on him. He's distraught... Avon's dead"

"What? Avon can't be dead. The disease.."

"Avon is dead" said Vila, strolling onto the flight deck. "Dead, like Gan. Avon forgave you though. I don't know if Gan did, but he was such a gentle sole, he probably did; even in his dying breath, he probably believed in you. You're a very believable character you know. Should bottle it, make a fortune, what would you call it? The faith of Blake. A quick conversion, promise of a better life ahead, just one catch, a sacrifice is required at the alter of Saint Blake. Do you know that's what Avon called you 'Saint Blake', some of the last words he said to me as a matter of fact. Of course I don't think he meant it as a compliment, but then you never know, after all he did forgive you. Last words they were. Blake forgiven, only they weren't really words, couldn't speak at the end you see. Took a lot of working out, only managed a few letters you see, and blinking. He could still blink. Do you know his eyes gleamed when I shot him."

Blake startled

"Oh didn't Cally tell you? I shot him, looked him straight in the eyes and pulled the trigger. He wanted to kill himself you see, found him on the floor, broken glass, but couldn't manage it, paralysed, neck down, then most of his face by the time I'd managed to do it. Except the eyes of course. Avon, I said, you always could say a lot with your eyes. Never say anything else now will he, because he's dead. I killed him. No that's not right. I pulled the trigger, but you killed him, just like you killed Gan. I'm going to my quarters now. Might pop into Avon's on the way. He bequeathed me his bottles you see, least I can do is drink to his memory, after all that's all I've got isn't it."

He started to leave then turned round as if as an afterthought "I'll be leaving soon. A few things to sort out, then you can put me down. Somewhere nice and quiet, well not too quiet, if it's too quiet there won't be anything worth stealing. And that's what I do, steal, not fight wars. Avon was a crook as well, but then you turned him into something else; why did you do that Blake?"

"Vila.."

But Vila was already walking away from him.

Blake moved to follow, but Jenna put a hand on his arm. "Leave him Blake"

"But I have to go after him, explain"

"It won't help him" she said

"But it might help me"

"I know, but best to leave him alone for a while" she said "with his memories" she added almost as a whisper. Vila's words had disturbed her more than she had realised. She looked at Blake, who was standing, staring at where Vila had stood. Why did she stay with Blake she thought, well, he has his charms, but Vila's right, his impetuousness and single mindedness was likely to get them all killed. And what could they do any way now, they were down to four, three if Vila left, and Orac of course, that useless piece of junk, correction, valuable useless piece of junk. She considered, maybe it was time to pull out. But what about the Liberator? At the rate things were going, there wouldn't be anyone left on the Liberator to worry about soon. She looked again at Blake, who still hadn't moved. She would bide her time and see happened.

Cally came up on the flight deck

"We'll have to do something about Avon. What are the customs of your people? We would have to adapt them of course, as the body may still be contagious"

"Blake" Cally said, moving beside him. He looked at her blankly. She touched his arm. His eyes seemed to focus. "Cally.. Avon's dead"

"Yes Blake, I'm sorry" She glanced at Jenna, who shook her head slowly.

"Why don't you go and lie down, you haven't had much sleep lately. We can manage"

He looked at her but didn't say anything. He nodded his head then slowly walked off. "Avon's dead" they could just hear him say as he left.

"He's taken it badly" said Jenna. "I thought it was bad enough after Gan died, but that was nothing compared to this"

"He'll recover"

"You think so? You didn't hear what Vila said"

"Vila was angry, upset"

"No it was more than that, Vila was, well he was unlike I'd ever seen him. If he had shouted, or arrived in a drunken stupor, or even been the frightened wretch he can be at times, I could have understood, but there was an odd sense of calm about him. He said he was leaving, and I think he meant it"

"That wasn't all he said"

"No he blames Blake for Avon's death, and for Gan's"

"I know" said Cally solemnly

Vila was in his room

"Here's to you" he said raising another glass "You remember the time we broke into that safe on Lancel 5 while Blake was busy with those data cubes. Still got that ruby you know. Then there was the Belanian job. You must remember that one. Not one of your most successful exploits, but I'll never forget the look on your face when that women burst round the corner and asked you if you'd seen her pet Concaba. Never did find out what that was; probably big and hairy and horrible"

He put the empty glass down, lifted the bottle, turned it upside down, shook it rigorously, and sighed as the last few drops of the purple liquid emerged and dripped into the glass. He would have to get another one. That meant going back to Avon's cabin. He'd brought four bottles back last time.

He staggered to the door, and then out into the corridor. It was only a short distance to Avon's quarters. He moved carefully, slowly, until he reached the door. It was already open.

He stopped dead, there was a shadow inside. The shadow moved. Vila roared and charged forward, hands lunging for Blake.

"How dare you" he screamed

"Vila" Blake gasped, clawing at the vice like grip around his neck

Then there were shouts, and the grip loosened as a pair of hands dragged Vila away.

"You have no right to be in here, no right", Vila screamed at him "no right" the scream turned into a sob and he sunk to the floor.

"Its all right, I'm going" said Blake, passing a startled Jenna on the way out "Look after him"

The next day, Cally was on the flight deck, when Blake came in, looking drawn "Where's Jenna?" he said

"Looking in on Vila, she'll be here in a moment"

"How is he?" Blake said when Jenna arrived

"Sleeping it off. He'll be OK"

"We really need to sort out Avon's funeral" said Cally

"You'd better ask Vila when he comes round" said Blake, "maybe he has some ideas. I don't think Vila would appreciate it if I got involved"

"Avon forgave you Blake. I think he would have appreciated it"

Two days later, Vila was again in Avon's room. At his suggestion, Avon's body was to be sealed, then placed in a life capsule along with some personal items. Vila vaguely remembered reading about some ancient earth ceremony where the body had been cast adrift, then burnt. Avon would probably have considered it foolish sentimentality, but somehow Vila felt it would be a fitting tribute. The neutron blasters would be more than adequate substitute for the fire. Yes, he intended to give Avon quite a send off.

He looked around the room, wondering what should go into the capsule.

Its funny, now he thought about it, he didn't know what Avon considered to be his treasured possessions.

There was a real leather bound book on a shelf 'Abridged Shakespeare' Vila picked it up. The binding was beautiful. It seemed a shame to destroy it. He put it to one side.

A holographic picture hung on the wall. The image seemed to change from different angles, a bizarre pattern of squares and circles, turning into an image of man on a magnificent horse. Vila took it down. He looked on the desk, picked up a laser probe, and put it down next to the picture.

He turned his attention to the storage units. Clothes in one and just the usual collection of assorted papers, data cubes, electronic components, and everyday accessories in the others. He was about to close the door of the last unit, when he noticed something pushed flat against the back, barely visibly. He leant in and pulled it out. The flat surface opened to reveal a holographic image of a woman. 'with all my love, all my heart, Anna' Vila stared at it for a long time then carefully put it with the two items he had collected. He looked round the room one last time, picked up the chosen objects, was about to walk out the door, when he turned and retrieved the book, adding it to the collection.

The others were waiting for him when he arrived. Avon's body, encased in a chemically sealed shroud, had already been placed in the life capsule. Cally had asked Vila if he wanted to attend during preparations, but he had declined. Now Vila moved forward. He carefully placed the book, probe and pictures in the capsule, paused for a moment "Good by Avon" then moved away.

He nodded briefly to Cally and she sealed the door. They made their way back to the flight deck. Vila pressed the button that launched the capsule into the beyond. They stared at the screen as it gradually drifted away. "Neutron blasters cleared for firing. Firing blasters" Vila said. The capsule exploded. Vila watched until the last glow disappeared, then turned and walked off the deck. Blake and Cally continued to stare at the screen, Jenna started fiddling with some controls.

"No more" said Blake. "I won't be responsible for any more deaths"

"You weren't responsible for Avon's death" Cally said quietly, "Nobody forced him to go down with you"

"I didn't put a gun to his head, no, but I forced him nonetheless. He did what he always did, argued against what I wanted to do, then came along anyway. How many times did he actually refuse to do what I asked? It was a game to me, how to manoeuvre Avon into doing exactly what I intended. I usually won, but at what cost Cally?" he said, eyes moist. "What did the revolution actually gain from Avon's death?. Precisely nothing. In fact it lost a great deal, probably the finest mind we're likely to see for a long time"

"I now have the data that you requested" a voice piped up

"What data, Orac" puzzled Blake

"The data on the on the Thazapolin virus"

Blake laughed, an hysterical laugh. "You have the data. Now you have the data!"

"It wouldn't have mattered Blake" Cally said anxiously, "It's been too long, Avon would have been dead by now, even without Vila's intervention, or at least in the final stages, beyond all hope of regeneration"

But Blake wasn't listening, He had picked up Orac and hurtled it across the room.

"Blake!" yelled Jenna, as she saw 100 million credits worth of computer hit the wall. The box fell, its lights flickered then died, except for two small flashing pearls in one corner.

"You idiot Blake"

Blake looked at the box, then down at his hands, stunned.

"Sorry Jenna" he bent down to look at it. "Orac" he said, no sound, except for a faint buzzing "Orac?"

"It's alright, Av..." He faltered. "But he won't will he, he's dead. Avon won't be able to fix anything anymore"

"What are we going to do?" he said looking at Jenna and Cally, like a lost child

"Find someone who can help" said Cally.

"But its not just Orac is it? There's Zen, teleport, and a hundred and one other things on this ship that none of us know as much about as Avon did. How can we survive without him?"

"I can survive" said Jenna, vehemently. "I'm setting a course for the planet Mastian. If either of you want to be dropped off anywhere let me know."

"Jenna, " Blake started to say

"Blake, I know how to handle this ship, you don't. You can stay with me if you wish or you can be dropped off on a planet of your choice. The same goes for you Cally. I already know Vila's decision"

"What are you intending to do at Mastian?"

"There's a freighter terminal there, ships half a million tons of bullion a month. I intend to liberate some of it"

"For the revolution" Blake said tentatively

"For me Blake. The revolution's over. I'm returning to what I know best, Free Trading"

"Bullion hoist is theft not smuggling"

"Gold can be exchanged Blake" she said, making adjustments to the console, then looking up "Well are you in, or out?"

Blake didn't reply, he just stared at her, then walked off the deck.

"Well, I guess that's his answer. What about you Cally?"

"I wish to continue to fight the Federation. If Blake chooses to do the same, I will go with him"

*and look after him, Jenna*

Five days later, Liberator was in orbit around Kazilign, an independent planet sympathetic to the rebels. Blake and Cally were standing on the Teleport platform.

"I think that's everything, Jenna. You won't need to come back for anything else will you?" he said, looking at Cally

"I've already taken the rest of my belongings down" she replied

"So, I suppose this is it then" said Blake

"Vila" Jenna said into the intercom "Blake and Cally are about to leave"

There was no answer. Jenna shrugged

"Take care of yourself Jenna" said Blake

"I always do"

*Don't worry about us Jenna*

"Cally. Wait!" said Vila, scuttling round the corner

"I want you to have this" he said, handing her a small box

"What is it?" she said, eyeing the box curiously

"Well, there's only one way to find out" he grinned

She lifted the lid. Inside was small broach set with a brilliant red, perfectly formed ruby

"It's beautiful"

"It's not from the strongroom" he said hastily, looking at Jenna, "Avon and me just found it lying around one day, er when we were out"

"I see" Cally laughed

"Well people do get careless, loose all sorts of things these days. Anyway I think Avon would have liked you to have it"

"Thank you" she said, hugging him "I'll treasure it always." She slowly released him and stepped back into position.

Blake was standing looking at Vila, a pained expression on his face.

"I can't forgive you Blake, I'm sorry, I can't" Vial spluttered, "But for what its worth I don't hate you anymore either"

"I guess that'll have to do" Blake said and held out his hand. Vila stood, looking at it for a while, then moved forward and shook it. They stared at each other for a moment, both with the same unspoken thought. I wish it could have been different.

Vila moved away to stand beside Jenna

"Ready?" Jenna asked

"Ready" said Cally and Blake simultaneously, and Jenna teleported them from the Liberator for the last time.

She turned to Vila

"Where now?"

Vila pulled a bottle seemingly from out of no where, and sat down, "Well now, I've been thinking about that", he said producing two glasses. "In your line of work you'd probably come across all sorts of devices that would need the attention of a highly skilled technician like me.. In other words" he said, looking at her over a glass "you could probably use a good thief."

"I thought you wanted to lead a quiet life!"

"Quieter, yes" he grinned "but I'd get bored stuck in one place too long, out of the habit, anyway that gold shipment you mentioned sounded interesting."

"One thing though" he continued before she could say anything "I want to take most of my share of the strongroom now, and invest it in a few nice safe places... for my retirement"

Jenna looked at Vila thoughtfully. We all underestimated you, didn't we. Yes Vila, I do believe you could be useful to have around.

"All right" she said, taking a sip from her glass.

"Oh I forgot to mention one other thing" he said mischievously

Jenna eyed him suspiciously

"If you suddenly start becoming heroic, trying to save the underprivileged, don't expect me to stick around. The underprivileged don't want to be saved" "I should know" he added morosely, "I've been one of them all my life"

Jenna held her head back and roared with laughter. "Vila" she said "you're priceless"

Epilogue

Late one night, Vila strolled along the corridor of the Liberator, bottle in hand. Jenna was on the flight deck, checking the docking arrangements for their next cargo. It was going to be a busy day tomorrow. Life was comparatively good. Jenna left him relatively alone unless he was needed, usually for some operation that required his delicacy of touch. He occasionally manned the flight deck, but since Jenna had hired three additional crew, he wasn't needed there as much as he had been, not that he minded; the new weapons tech had amazingly long legs, he grinned. The ship could still out run and out fight most things in space. Jenna tried to keep out of the main Federation areas wherever possible. She still had a sneaking suspicion that Servalan might pop up one day demanding the Liberator. Well, she'd have a fight on her hands if she did. But there hadn't been any trouble for months now.

Cally sometimes contacted them. Blake had gone into semi retirement. He was more of a figurehead now, rather than an active fighter. Stress, Cally had said. Well, he'd never been right since Avon's death. They never did get Orac working properly.

Vila paused outside Avon's door. He still called it Avon's door, even though it was just an empty room now. Jenna had wanted to move some equipment in there, or use it as a guestroom, but Vila had objected. She hadn't argued the point, after all there was plenty of other space on the Liberator

So it had remained empty

Vila opened the door and walked in. He still did this sometimes, though not as often as he used to. He paused, imagining it as it once was. The picture on the wall, the book, terminal, with Avon huddled over some intricate piece of circuitry.

Vila held the bottle out, then brought it back to his mouth and took a quick gulp

"Avon" he said "maybe we did just win after all"

In his imagination, Avon turned round and smiled


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