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Mistaken Identities

By Nicola Mody
That's odd."

Vila, who was slumped with his head propped up over his console while he had a quick nap, sat up, alarmed. "What is?"

"Something's pulling us off course." Jenna frowned. "The controls aren't responding, and we're accelerating."

Vila brought up the display from the forward sensors and squinted at it. "You mean that big black swirly thing?"

"Really, Vila." Avon sauntered over to look over his shoulder. "That exceeds even your usual idiocy. Considering the basic colour of space, and—"

Vila ignored him and looked at Jenna pleadingly. "I don't fancy the look of it. Why don't we go round it?"

Avon leaned forward so that his nose almost touched the screen, then straightened abruptly. "There is something there. Vila's right for once. Do it, Jenna."

"I'm trying!"

Vila opened his mouth, then decided this was not the time.

Jenna punched at the controls, and swore softly. "All right, whatever you are," she said grimly, "I'll play your little game." She looked up. "Zen, remove the lock on the antimatter drive button."

"No!" Blake yelled from the flight-deck couch at the same time as Zen said, "Confirmed."

"You know what happened last time we used that," Blake said. "We almost overshot Cygnus Alpha."

"Blake, we can't get away, so we might as well get it over and done with as fast as possible." Jenna paused, then grinned exultantly. "Brace yourselves!"

Vila squeaked and shut his eyes, Avon moved back to his own position with undignified alacrity, Blake pointed a finger at Jenna to remonstrate with her, Cally braced herself, and Gan folded his arms impassively.

Jenna pressed the button.

Everyone was thrown back into their seats except for Blake, who was flung sideways into the couch, one arm and finger still raised. The Liberator stretched and distorted, seemingly groaning in pain (along with the crew), then everything appeared to reverse its colour and flow together. There was a wrenching moment of dislocation, then the flight-deck snapped into normality. There was a moment of stunned silence.

Jenna opened her eyes. "Ooh... I didn't much like that. I think I feel sick." She stared at the controls in front of her, puzzled. "What am I doing here?" She looked over at Vila and her eyes widened in horror. "Oh, no. I should be over there, and I am, but I'm not. I mean, I know where I am, and where I should be, but..."

"There you are—" Vila said with satisfaction, not knowing how much that remark further confused Jenna, "—that seemed to work." He became aware of Jenna's reproachful eyes on him, gasped, looked down at himself, then grabbed at his head, feeling his hair with growing horror.

"Regardless of its success," Blake winced as he brought his upraised arm down and disentangled himself from the couch, "that was an act of unparalleled and unmitigated stupidity."

Vila let his hands drop and glared. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

"A good idea? Charging full-speed ahead at an unknown object in the erroneous assumption that the faster you are, the less likely something bad will happen?"

Vila's chin went up. "It worked, didn’t it? If you think you can do a better job, Blake, you take the controls."

"Shut up, Vila, what would you know about... and why are you calling me—" Blake suddenly caught sight of Avon, looked down at himself, back at Avon, then closed his eyes as if in pain. "Of course." He sat down, rather faster than he had intended. "I knew complete disaster would strike one day."

"Oh come now," Gan said. "It is not that bad. My people have a saying: where there is life, there is hope."

Cally nodded. "So do mine. Have you been to Zephron?" she said, gamely trying to ignore what was becoming frighteningly obvious. "Excuse me," she said, unsuccessfully trying to lower the pitch of her voice.

"Don't worry, Gan. You've got the same problem as me—tight trousers." Jenna had grasped the situation and was beginning to enjoy it. "It's not all bad, you know. At least we'll find out how the other half lives."

"So long as you can keep my hands where I can see them," Vila snapped.

Jenna looked hurt. "I wasn't doing anything with them."

Avon blinked around at them all. "It looks as though Vila's 'swirly thing' has somehow transferred our consciousness into each others' bodies." He gnawed at a knuckle, grimaced, and glared at it suspiciously, shrugged, and tentatively nibbled on a finger.

"Oh, well done," Blake sneered. "A lightning-fast deduction, but then you're operating with twice the synapses you're used to. I've heard of people who can't chew and think at the same time, but you're the first I've encountered who can't do one without the other. Oh, and do leave those alone. I want them back."

"Give it a rest, Avon," Avon growled. "You'd be better employed working out what happened and what to do about it."

Blake looked down his nose at Avon, then, when he thought a sufficiently dignified interval had elapsed, turned to the command controls and began calling up data.

"Right," said Avon, "Let's get this straight. Who's where?"

"I'm here," Jenna said brightly.

Blake looked up from his screen. "As that was singularly uninformative, I would infer that was Vila."

Jenna scowled. "And judging by the fact you've done nothing but insult people, you have to be Avon."

Avon sighed. "All right, let's have a roll-call. I am Blake—"

"I'm so glad you grasped that," Blake murmured.

"—and Avon is the good-looking man on the couch."

Blake glowered.

Avon grinned at him, and clapped his hands briskly. "Right, then. To continue. Vila?"

"Here in Jenna's clothes, and filling them out very nicely, I might add."

"You may not," Vila said coldly. "And, let me tell you, that's the only way you'll ever get into them."

"Jenna?"

"Here." Vila raised a hand. "Slumming it."

"And Gan and Cally?" Avon turned to look back at the remaining two.

"I am Cally," Gan said primly, folding his huge hands in his lap.

"And I'm Gan." Cally looked embarrassed. "Couldn't I have been Vila?"

"Now that question shows extraordinary stupidity on two levels." Blake sneered. "Quite apart from the unfortunate choice of location, you'd still be Gan wherever you were. I'd offer my condolences if I had any."

"All right, now we know where we are. That makes it much simpler." Avon looked around at them all. "We were swapped in pairs probably because of proximity. Avon and I have swapped bodies, as have Vila and Jenna, and Cally and Gan."

Cally wrinkled her forehead. "Do I have to call Vila Jenna, then?"

"Quite possibly, depending on how you meant that." Avon gnawed two fingers at once in desperation. "After all, if I order Jenna to break orbit, it doesn't matter much that the physical Vila does it."

"On the other hand," Jenna said with a grin, "wouldn't be much point in asking Gan to open a pickle jar. Cally's the muscle now."

Gan looked down at his hands in speculation, and caught sight of the vast expanse of chest revealed by his open-necked shirt. "Oh! Excuse me." Blushing, he clutched the edges together.

Vila looked thoughtfully at the sniggering Jenna. "Well, you must have been scared. I need a pee."

"Oh!" Jenna's eyes widened. "Do you?" She swallowed nervously. "Look, need a hand?"

"Certainly not." Vila tossed back a non-existent mane, looked briefly disconcerted, and stalked out.

"Be careful!" Jenna shouted after him. She turned to see everyone looking at her. "I'm all I've got," she said anxiously. "She mightn't look after me. I mean, it'd be like flying a hired spaceship, you don't treat it like your own, do you?"

Gan frowned, then looked unfocussed.

"Oh, spare me," Blake said. "I daresay he's about to be possessed, which wouldn't be hard considering how long the property's been vacant."

"That is unfair, Avon," Gan said severely. "I was merely ascertaining whether Gan's body had any physical needs to be attended to."

"I wouldn't worry," Cally said. "I've got a bladder like an elephant."

Blake shuddered with distaste. "Have you ever heard of the phrase 'need to know'?"

"Do stop squabbling, you lot." Avon strode down to stand before Zen, his hands on his hips. "Zen, what is our position?" Zen's fascia remained dark. "Zen!"

Blake sighed and inserted Orac's key. "Try it now," he said quietly.

"Zen?"

Orac's lights flickered. "Data unavailable."

Blake smiled briefly. "Zen, you and Orac have changed places, or to be more accurate, you are physically where you were, but your consciousnesses—" he caught the amused look on Jenna's face and cleared his throat "—your defining programs have been exchanged. As Orac has the ability to access and override Zen, I would assume you have. Do so."

There was a pause while Orac's lights brightened and sped up, "Information. Current location is sector three, grid reference six five point eight three."

"Third sector!" Jenna looked alarmed. "You must be joking! That's almost next-door to Earth!"

"Take us out of here, Zen. Standard by twelve, for the nearest Federation border," Avon said crisply.

"Information. Energy reserves are almost completely drained and must be replenished."

"Damn!" Avon shoved most of his fist in his mouth, caught Blake glaring at him, and removed it. "How long to the nearest uninhabited system at the highest speed we can manage?"

"At standard by two, zero point four seven hours."

"All right, when we get there, put us in orbit around the planet closest to the sun."

"Confirmed."

Avon smiled with satisfaction. "That should give us a fast recharge, and I doubt most Federation ships can handle the heat for long, so it should provide some protection."

Vila came down the flight-deck steps, his face carefully expressionless as the rest of the crew turned to watch him curiously. He leaned over Jenna's chair. "Want to pilot this ship, or should an expert do it?"

"Eh? Oh, yes, of course." Jenna stood up.

"By the way, I'm impressed," Vila murmured as he slid into the pilot's chair.

"What? Oh!" Jenna turned pink and grinned with shy pride. "More to me than meets the eye, is there?"

"I always knew there was."

"You did?"

Vila smirked. "There had to be."

"Oh." Jenna's face fell as she worked it out. She slumped at the weapons console.

"Good," Avon nodded approvingly. "Everybody else to their proper positions. That includes you, Avon. And stay alert."

Blake gave him a haughty look and strolled to Avon's console. Gan and Cally looked at each other.

"I do not think we need to change our stations, Blake," Gan said, turning to Avon. "As I have been training Gan on both sets of controls and we are equally familiar with them, we shall be all right where we are." He poked at his board, then frowned. "Ah. Now I see why you have had some difficulty coping, Gan. Your fingers are so large, it is almost impossible to press just one button at once."

"No problems!" Jenna stood up and patted her breasts.

"Vila!"

"Sorry, Jenna." Jenna looked abashed. "Force of habit. Just wanted my tools. 'Scuse me." She grabbed Vila and began to undo the top fastening on his tunic.

Vila slapped her hand away and jumped up. "How dare you—"

"Here, don't be like that! I was just going for a probe."

"Is that what you call it?"

"Oh, now look, it's only my chest, what are you worried about?" Jenna opened Vila's tunic, while he stood there stiffly, a look of barely suppressed outrage on his face. "There. See?" Jenna held up a small tool for Vila to look at, then handed it to Gan.

"Thank you, Vila," Gan said gravely.

"S'all right, me old mate. Um, I mean Cally."

Avon sighed. His crew was difficult enough to handle at the best of times, but this… He eyed his fingernails. They looked as if they'd never been bitten. He nibbled one experimentally.

***

"Is it just me, or is it hot in here?" Jenna looked morosely at the sun that almost filled the wall display.

"It's all in your mind, Vila," Blake said, "or at least what passes for one in your case." He was somewhat unnerved to find both Jenna and Vila glaring at him. "The Liberator's life support is quite equal to the task."

Vila looked thoughtful. "He might really be hot. Vila's always felt the cold and I don't."

Jenna grinned. "That makes sense, I mean, I always thought you looked—"

"Stop while you're ahead, Vila."

Jenna put her head on one side. "And you know, from here I don't look bad, either. In fact, I think I'm rather cute." She sauntered over to Vila and ruffled his hair playfully.

Vila pulled his head away. "Don’t."

"Why not?"

"I don't care if it's your hair, I'm wearing it. Speaking of which," Vila looked sideways at Jenna. "I have to say, that outfit looks good on me. At least it would if you weren't slouching. Stand up straight and turn around." He smiled at Jenna's rear view. "Yes, nice fit if I say so myself."

Jenna put her hands on her hips and gave a little wriggle.

Vila sighed. "Put that back in its seat, Vila. It's wasted on me."

Jenna sat down, muttering to herself, "It's wasted on everyone around here except me."

"What was that, Vila?"

"Nothing," Jenna said hastily.

"Information," Orac said dolefully. "Three Federation pursuit ships detected."

"Can we take evasive action?" Avon demanded.

"Negative. Maximum speed at this time is standard by three."

"Two hundred spacials and getting closer," Gan said. "They've detected us."

"Of course they have," Jenna grumbled, hands hovering over the weapons controls. She looked up, eyes wide with worry. "Plasma bolt launched."

Avon stood, legs apart, hands on hips, and eyes on the display which now showed the approaching ships. "Return fire, Vila!"

Jenna zeroed in on the nearest ship, dropped the force-wall briefly and hit the flank neutron blasters. "Got him!" Her fingers flew over the controls. "Missed us!" She fired again. "Hah! But I didn’t, and what's more, I won't miss you either."

"The third one's getting away," Cally said.

"Out of range." Jenna leaned back in her seat, reaction setting in. "That was close. I think I need a drink."

"No, you don't," Vila said severely. "I want that body back in working order."

"Damn!" Avon paced the deck. "That ship will be back with more. Zen, Orac, whoever you are, take us out of here at standard by ten."

"Negative," Orac said. "The recent use of the force wall and neutron blasters has further depleted energy reserves. Maximum speed is standard by three."

"Very well—"

"No, Blake!" Blake got up and went down to stand in front of Avon, "We need to remain here to recharge as quickly as possible. What is more, we need full power reserves to engage the antimatter drive again, and to reverse what has happened to us, we shall have to retrace our route through that energy nexus exactly."

"You don't know that!"

Blake tried to raise just one eyebrow and failed, to his brief annoyance. "Orac?"

Zen's fascia lit up. "What is it now? These are most fascinating phenomena, both that of my translation to another location, and the behaviour of the crew. They require study. I haven't time for your petty—"

"Orac, am I correct?"

"You are," Zen said sulkily. "And now, I—"

"And the remaining recharge time?"

"That is not my area. Ask Zen."

"Information," Orac said obediently. "Time remaining until full power is restored is now six point four nine hours."

"And until then we're helpless." Avon resumed pacing.

"Not quite." Blake sat down on the couch and spread his arms along the top, smiling up at Avon, who stopped in front of him and looked at him.

"Oh?"

"We do have some advantages."

"Yes?"

"Six, to be precise."

Avon narrowed his eyes. "You have a plan?"

"Oh, yes." Blake looked smug.

"Are you going to let the rest of us in on it?"

"Well now. All you had to do was ask."

***

On the Federation heavy cruiser Vindictive, Supreme Commander Servalan smiled. The Liberator was just where it was reported to be; it was obviously in some sort of trouble. She feasted her eyes on its elegant lines. Whoever had built the ship soon to be hers had a sense of aesthetics sadly lacking at Space Fleet. "Hail them, Travis."

"This is Space Commander Travis calling the Liberator on open channel."

Blake's face appeared on the screen. "This is the Liberator. Put your employer on. I dislike dealing with flunkies."

Travis flushed angrily, but swung the screen towards Servalan.

"Hello, Servalan. I thought you'd turn up."

"Blake." Servalan's smile widened. "Having a little trouble?"

"Not at all."

"You soon will be."

"I think not."

Servalan dispensed with her smile. "You are obviously disabled or low on power. You will allow us to board, or we shall fire on you until your shields fail. Followed very quickly by your life support."

"Ah, but that cuts both ways, Servalan. Your ships are not built for these conditions; the Liberator is. You'll cook long before our shields go down."

Servalan briefly compressed her lips with annoyance at the failure of her bluff. Damn the man for knowing that. No matter. "Very well," she purred, "try this. The Fifth Legion has surrounded this star in a sphere 16 million spacials in radius. Do feel free to check."

Blake raised his eyebrows and turned to his motley crew, visible at their positions behind him. "Long range sensors, Gan." He looked down quickly at the controls beside him, then back at Servalan, faintly amused. "I'm flattered."

Unwilling to be outplayed, Servalan inclined her head gracefully. "It is only your due." Her voice hardened. "You're trapped. Allow us to board and take possession, and I may be lenient."

"On one condition."

"Name it."

"Let the crew go free."

"Done." Servalan bestowed her most charming and insincere smile on Blake, and was disconcerted to receive a very similar one in return.

"I shall want your word as a Federation officer." Blake narrowed his eyes. "In return, you may have me and the Liberator—once the others have been put down, alive and healthy, on a habitable and inhabited planet well outside the Federation's borders."

"Very well." Travis raised a hand in protest, and Servalan quelled him with a look. "The crew hardly matters, Travis," she said. "Not compared to that ship and the technology it contains. And Blake of course—" she turned back to the screen with a wide smile, "—to mindwipe and publicly parade as a good little citizen."

She was interested to note that although Blake seemed unmoved by her threats, Avon growled low in his throat and half-rose from his seat. So Avon cared about what happened to Blake. Now, that was an interesting little fact to store away in case it came in useful.

"Meet me at the docking bay, Blake, and have the crew waiting on the flight-deck." Servalan closed the channel and stood up. "Assemble a salvage crew, Travis. Oh, and put that arm on low power, would you? I should like live trophies."

***

Blake was waiting just inside the airlock, leaning nonchalantly against a bulkhead. "I'd welcome you, but that would be considerably less than the truth."

Servalan regarded him suspiciously. "Put your hands on your head."

Blake complied, almost mockingly.

"Where is the crew?"

"On the flight-deck, as you specified."

"Very well." Servalan swept her eyes over her people: Travis, the pilot Golder, gunner Rossi, and four troopers. "Keep an eye on him, all of you."

Travis gave her a glowering look, then decided it was merely a figure of speech.

"Lead on," Servalan said, waving a graceful hand at Blake.

"Before I do, a word to the wise. Do look after the crew. Orac and Zen are programmed to obey only their commands, and should they be hurt, killed, or put off the ship early, Zen's automatic defences will be activated. You do know about those from the reports submitted by the London, I assume?"

Servalan did. "And if your conditions are met?"

"Then I will turn the ship and computers over to your command as promised."

Once again she could see a flash of amusement in Blake's eyes as he turned to lead the way to the flight-deck. Frowning, she followed. She would have to be very careful.

 

The crew were sitting meekly at their positions.

"Stand up, all of you, hands on heads," Travis ordered. "And get down here where I can see you."

They did so, shuffling miserably with their eyes down.

"Wonderful. Takes me back to the London, this does," Jenna muttered, subsiding at a swift kick from Cally.

"Guards, cuff them and lock them away," Servalan said. "No, not that one." She pointed to Vila. "Vila is quite capable of escaping, and he will be useful here." She beckoned him over. "He will be much more amenable then the others in any case. Vila will show us around, won't you, Vila? Oh, dear. Cat got your tongue?"

Vila glared at her.

"I should hate to see you hurt, Vila."

Servalan patted his cheek, and Vila's eyes flashed with what looked like fury, but must have been fear, for he then cringed. "All right, all right, whatever you say. I'm fragile you know. I bruise easily."

"Oh, come on!" Jenna said indignantly. "I'm not that ba—"

Cally kicked her again.

"Take them away." Curiously, Servalan watched them leave, escorted by two armed troopers. Cally and Jenna seemed surprisingly graceless, and unlike most large men (despite the conventions of popular fiction) Gan looked oddly light on his feet. She shrugged and turned back to Vila. "Can you fly the ship?"

Vila said nothing, but Blake answered for him. "We all can. And despite what you may have heard about Vila, he's much cleverer than he would have people believe."

"I have read his file. Break orbit, Vila. And Golder, watch what he does."

"I can't." Vila stayed where he was, armed folded and a truculent expression on his face. "Our power is still too low."

Servalan narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously. "Show Golder the energy readings."

Vila shrugged, went to the central position, and displayed some data which satisfied Servalan's pilot, who nodded at her.

"Very well." Servalan sat down on the couch and crossed her legs gracefully. "You will execute some manoeuvres in the local area to demonstrate the controls."

Vila smiled. "My pleasure."

***

"Just like last time," Cally said. "Remember, Jenna?"

"I'm not Jenna," said Jenna, working a probe loose from a tunic pocket. "And for another thing, this time I'm going to be the first one free instead of the last. You know how much fun it was taking that damned Amagon collar off looking in a mirror? Just about went cross-eyed." She unlocked her handcuffs with a flourish. "Call that a restraint? They should be ashamed of themselves."

Avon smiled. "All right, Vila, we know you're a genius," he said mildly. "I'm next. And do be quick about it."

Jenna sighed. "Form an orderly queue."

***

"...and for an Immelman roll, this is what you do."

"Oh, very nice." Golder watched Vila's actions intently as the starfield shown on the wall display rotated.

"Now you try." Vila stood up and Golder took his place. "I'll just show Rossi how to target the neutron blasters during evasive manoeuvres." He quickly pointed out the basic controls to Servalan's gunner. "Would you like to pick a target? There's a legion of them. Do you have any ships you'd like decommissioned?"

Rossi laughed, then sobered at a look from Servalan.

"They're out of range anyway. Just fire at one of the moons." Vila stood back unobtrusively as Golder and Rossi put the Liberator through its paces, watched avidly by Travis.

***

"The door's unlocked." Jenna grinned and blew on her fingernails. "Three seconds flat. Bit better than half an hour, wouldn't you say?"

Avon laughed. "Just as well the real Avon isn't here to take umbrage."

"Not that he needs any; he's got plenty of it already." Jenna stood aside, and bowed ironically. "After you."

"You're too kind, Vila." Avon looked at the others. "Ready?"

Gan bent to pull a knife from Cally's boot. "Yes."

Avon swung the door open and he, Cally and Gan rushed out. Avon and Cally took the guard to the left of the door, Gan the one to the right. Gan's great fist floored the man, then he raised his knife for the kill and froze, his eyes rolling up. "Ow, my head!"

Cally pushed in front and smiled at the groggy trooper. "He has a limiter. I don't. I can do what I like and I'm looking forward to it," she said conversationally. The man hastily raised his hands in surrender.

"Vila, cuff them," Avon said.

Jenna poked her head cautiously round the door and emerged with the handcuffs. "All right, face each other," she said. "Hold hands nicely like good little troopers. There. Now don't fight over who wants to lead."

***

Vila had edged back behind Travis, who was still intent on the Liberator's controls. He moved slightly onto the balls of his feet, ready for action.

"Now!" yelled Avon.

Vila chopped Travis on the back of his neck, dropping him, whirled to kick Golder off his seat, ducked down and grabbed the gun taped under it, and came up with it aimed at Rossi, who was half out of his chair, reaching for his own gun. "I wouldn't," Vila said, jerking his head towards the entrance.

The rest of the crew stood there, handguns levelled at the boarding party, Jenna's a trifle unsteadily. Rossi sighed and raised his hands.

Servalan jumped up, white with fury. "How did they get out?"

"One of us has hidden talents," Avon said. "Drop your guns, all of you, and get down on the lower deck. Cally and Gan, cover them."

Servalan ignored the order and sat back down with as much dignity as she could muster, smoothing her white gown over her thighs. Blake sat down beside her and bestowed an icy smile on her.

"What about Travis?" Vila stirred the unconscious body with his foot.

"Disarm him." Blake said.

"But he doesn't have a gun."

Blake sighed. "Literally, Vila." When Vila just looked at him, he remembered that he did not possess his usual delicate touch. "Squeamish, are you? All right, Jenna, you do it."

Jenna approached nervously. "You sure he's out?"

"Like a light." Vila smirked as he reclaimed the pilot's seat.

"Wish he had an off-switch like one, just so I could make sure," Jenna grumbled, taking out her tools.

"And now," Avon touched his gun to Servalan's head and turned on the comms in front of her, "you will inform the Fifth Legion that we are about to leave as planned, and order them to clear a path for us, on the bearing shown on the board. Your own ship will accompany us as escort." He stepped back so that he was out of view. "When you've done that, order them to dock for an exchange of personnel."

Servalan looked at his levelled gun and that of Vila, pursed her lips, then obeyed.

Avon turned off the comms. "All right, break orbit. Nice and slow, standard by three."

As Vila started the Liberator slowly turning towards the break in the Federation cordon, Jenna stood up with Travis's arm held fastidiously out at arms-length. "What do I do with this thing?"

"Give it here," Blake said. Jenna brought it down to him and dropped it in his lap with a shudder. He immediately took out a laser probe of his own and began to poke at the relays. "Hmm. Interesting."

"Right." Avon clapped his hands. "Get our unwelcome visitors to the airlocks. As soon as they're on that cruiser, we leave."

Jenna slipped out, muttering something about collecting her waltzing Matildas.

Blake looked up from his investigation of the laseron weapon. "Your bleeding heart will be the death of us one day," he said coldly. "Why not just space them?"

"That is not my way," Avon said stiffly.

"No, you seem hell-bent on being the honourable vidshow hero who never shoots the enemy when he has the chance." Blake suddenly caught sight of Travis getting to his feet behind Vila, his one fist raised to punch him. He lifted Travis's arm and fired; Travis screamed and fell back, his face a mass of burns. "I on the other hand, am not."

"Oh, good shot," Avon said. "At least, I assume you were aiming for his head this time?"

"Yes, but the damned thing seems to on a low power-setting."

"'Armless, is it?" Jenna was back with two embarrassed-looking troopers in tow.

Blake gave her a withering look and removed the power pack. "It is now." He handed the weapon to Servalan. "Take that with you, and don't forget its owner. In polite society it's always good manners to clean up after yourself."

***

As soon she reached the Vindictive's bridge, Servalan screamed, "Fire! Destroy them!"

"They've gone, Supreme Commander. Time distort twenty at a guess."

"But they could only do... They tricked us!" Servalan sank into the command chair. She could have sworn she had the upper hand, but none of them had behaved quite the way the psychostrategist reports had predicted. It was most puzzling.

"I'll get Blake for this," Travis croaked through his ruined lips.

"So will I."

"No...he's mine."

Servalan winced. "Oh, do shut up, Travis. You sound most unattractive, as indeed you are. Someone take him to medical. And you—" she turned to the comms officer, "—put in a call to Chenga. He will need extensive skin grafts. Oh, and ask about an eye."

***

"You sure this is going to work?" Jenna said nervously. "I hate to think where I'll end up if it doesn't."

"I can't imagine why you're worried." Blake flashed a brilliant smile at her. "Anywhere would be better than where you started."

Jenna looked hurt. "Not to me it wouldn't. I mean, a change is as good as a holiday, but there's no place like home. I'm used to me."

"As are we all."

Jenna looked at him doubtfully, wondering how to take it. It probably meant they were all attached to their own bodies, if not literally at present, but then again, Blake had that warm look Avon sometimes got in his eyes. She smiled back at him.

"Orac assures us it will work," Blake said, more gently.

Avon looked up from his station. "Right. We're in position, Jenna. Do it."

Vila pressed the button.

***

"There's a message back from Chenga, Supreme Commander. They've got a special on complete face transplants this week. They said it's quicker than a face and neck skin graft, and they'll throw in new vocal cords at a discount."

"And the eye?"

"Almost doubles the price because of the demand, and they only sell them in pairs."

Servalan tapped her finger to her cheek. "I think not, then." As it was, it was hard getting her clothing expenses past the Space Fleet accountants. "Accept the face deal and see if they'll knock ten percent off for prompt payment. And charge it to my equipment running expenses account."

***

Everyone blinked, looked down at themselves, and heaved a collective sigh of relief. Except for one.

"Vila!" shouted Vila.

The crew tensed and stared at each other, speculatively. Which one was Vila?

"Vila!" Vila said happily, and flung his arms around himself. "I missed you, Vila. Oh, did you, Vila? I missed you too!"

Avon's lips twitched as he tried to hide a smile "I'm glad you're pleased. No one else would be."

Blake strode down to the lower level. "Zen, resume our previous course, standard by seven." He contemplated his fist and took a big satisfied bite of knuckle. Vila was right; it was good to be back. He looked at Avon, who was on the couch regarding his own fingernails with an affronted expression, and up at the rest of his crew. "Right, get to your correct places, everyone."

"Already am," Vila said. "Oh, see what you mean."

As he and Jenna passed each other, she said softly, "You're not all that bad, Vila."

"Oh?" Vila's face lit up. "Look, you think—"

"Don't push it." Jenna frowned and removed several tools from inside her tunic. "Yours, I believe?"

Vila took them and held them, feeling her warmth on them. He looked at her looking at Blake and sighed. Well, he wouldn't want to be wanted just for his body anyway.


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Nicola Mody

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