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A Stitch in Time

By Sheila Paulson
Page 1 of 7

A STITCH IN TIME

[Blake's Seven & Beauty And The Beast]

Sheila Paulson

Avon looked around the dark tunnel and frowned in confusion. A moment before, he had been in the dome laboratory of Dr Chandar, prepared to investigate his research, accompanied by a complaining Vila Restal. Now he was here, and he had no idea where 'here' was. Taking a firm grip on his clipgun, he raised his bracelet to his lips and activated it. "Soolin, bring me up," he ordered, only to receive a burst of static in reply. A second attempt produce only more static, forcing him to conclude that the bracelet was either damaged or jammed. He couldn't use it to escape, at least not yet. Maybe he was too far beneath the surface for the bracelet to work. He'd have to climb higher, maybe returning to the sub-basements of the dome. It wouldn't do to be trapped here on Earth by the Federation, not when the Federation were actively seeking him. If Servalan were on Earth now, she would be delighted to discover that his mission had gone wrong.

He glanced around the dim cavern, lit by faint light that trickled through several cracks in the walls. Maybe he wasn't as far down as he'd thought; perhaps this was directly beneath Chandar's lab; maybe he had fallen through a trapdoor and been stunned. A slight confusion might inevitably follow something like that, though he had no memory of falling. Besides, coward though he was, Vila would have located him by now. There were few places Vila couldn't manage to open if he were scared enough, and being stranded in a mad scientist's lab on Earth in one of the domed cities was not the kind of place Vila would wish to remain alone. He would even view Avon's dubious companionship as better than that.

"Vila?" Avon called softly. If there were enemies here, it would never do to alert them by shouting for Vila. If the thief were nearby, he would hear Avon, and if he wasn't, then no one else would hear him.

The mission had been a risky one from the beginning, one that none of the others had liked, and one on which they had come only under protest. Orac had picked up a report on a Federation scientist named Chandar who was developing a device which could selectively alter time. Avon had been skeptical of the success of such a machine, but Chandar had displayed records which seemed to prove he had altered something--a Federation officer with detailed records, who had been a member of a certain academy class, was offered for confirmation; no one in the class could remember him or his family, though Chandar had photos and computer records, which had been shielded in his lab and which had not vanished or altered when his tampering was completed. The man in question was now believed to have died in his teens in a flyer accident before he could enter the academy, but the pictures and reports--and fingerprints, and other means of identification matched him perfectly. Scepticism ran high among the authorities who had studied his reports, but Commissioner Sleer had proclaimed herself interested in them. Avon, who was inclined to be skeptical, knowing how easily computers could be used to falsify such information, could not risk the remote possibility that the old man's process worked. How easy would it be, if it did work, for Servalan to selectively erase any one of them? Avon did not take kindly to the thought of being erased.

So they came to Earth and he and Vila had teleported down to the city. It had proven so easy to gain admittance to the deserted lab that Avon was doubly suspicious, but once Vila had managed the doors, Avon went to work at the computer and began to download files to Orac for processing. The program was not, as he had expected, a time machine, for transporting people to and fro into history and the future, but it could be adapted so. What it did was provide a window into any given time, focusing on a selected individual or place. Then that person could be manipulated, killed, elevated into position. There was a backup system which led to a different screen on his panel, one which referred to a 'Gate'. Vila was alarmed, suggesting an opening into another time, but Avon had scoffed at the idea. Surely not even Vila could expect to enter another time through a glass-fronted screen thirty centimeters square.

"Then why call it a gate?" Vila demanded, "And if it isn't a way into the past or future, why is it set up for dates?"

"It would be a monitoring tool only, Vila," Avon had snapped impatiently. "It's set so far back in time there would be little effect on anyone living today. You would alter the times by setting these controls--no, you fool, don't touch them!"

Vila jerked his hand back as if it had been stung, "I wasn't going to touch them," he argued. "Only turn on the screen. That couldn't hurt, could it?"

"I would prefer to avoid that risk."

But Vila's meddling must have activated something because all at once, the screen glowed and an image appeared, a dimly lit passageway or cavern, in which nothing was clearly visible. After a few moments' scrutiny, Avon realized it could not harm them and he returned to his work with Orac.

"Avon?"

"Now what, Vila?" Avon snarled impatiently.

"I don't want to make trouble, but have you looked at that plate you're standing on? It's glowing."

Avon glanced down at his feet involuntarily and started to step to one side.

His memory resolved itself. The panel must have been some kind of teleport platform. Was this the dark tunnel that had been visible on the screen? Was there a way out? If Chandar was of an unforgiving nature, he might decide to send meddlers into a place from which they could not escape. Doubtful of Vila's ability to reverse the process, Avon made himself wait on the off chance that the bungling thief could retrieve him, but after twenty minutes, nothing happened. An alarm might have gone off, summoning the Federation. Vila might be a prisoner now, or, more likely, he might have fled in a panic. Avon's only chance out of this mess would be Orac, who had been recording the entire process. It would be wise to stay in this vicinity if not the exact spot, so that Orac could locate him and retrieve him.

There was, of course, the possibility that the others would cut their losses and run. Avon frowned. He might do that himself. He had no faith in the others' good nature. If it had been Blake, now, well, Blake would have done everything possible to retrieve him, but then Blake had always been a fool. He had even trusted Avon.

A scuffling in the tunnel behind him alerted him to impending danger and he tightened his grip on his weapon and ducked into the shelter of a stalactite that cast even darker shadows in the already dimly lit passage and waited. If it was Federation....

But it wasn't Federation after all. Instead, it was a young man with light hair and tatterdemalion attire, accompanied by an alien of an unfamiliar race. Aliens on Earth were rare, the Federation being markedly human chauvinistic, and even on Liberator, Avon had seldom encountered aliens. This one, though far hairier than mainbreed humans, was not so alien as the Andromedans, for instance, or Blake's Zil. Avon had to hide a smile at the thought of Vila's reaction to the sudden appearance of a hairy alien, something he had always feared.

He thought himself well concealed, but the alien must need less light to see by than the human youth, for he came to an abrupt stop and put out an arm to stop his companion. "Someone is here," he remarked in accented but fluent Terran.

"Where?" his companion demanded. "Who...."

"I have you covered," Avon announced coldly, his gun at ready. "Don't try anything or I'll be forced to fire."

The human took an involuntary step backward, but the alien showed no trace of fear. "Your weapon is not necessary," he explained kindly. "No one will harm you here. If you are on the run, we will permit you to go your way. If you need refuge, that might be possible, too."

"And if I choose not to believe you?" Avon demanded skeptically. "You're only trying to disarm me."

The alien moved so quickly that Avon had no time to fire, sweeping the gun from his hand effortlessly. Avon jerked back a second too late. Passing the clipgun to the young man, the alien stared at Avon but made no threatening moves. Avon held the gaze coldly, wondering at its eyes and their similarity to human eyes, their expression reminiscent of Blake at his best, recalling the times when he had genuinely seemed to care for his crew as much as he did for his blasted rabble. Avon resented the reminder. He preferred not to remember Blake at all.

"Never saw a gun like this," the boy burst out in astonishment. "Take it apart?"

"No, we shall lock it away," the alien replied. "We want no guns here."

"But it's different," his companion protested, grinning, and offered, "Make you another?"

The alien chuckled softly, giving him an affectionate pat on the shoulder. "One is too many."

Avon had been biding his time and now, while the alien and his friend squabbled over the clipgun, he took his chance and fled. The light was bad and he thought he could elude them. Pushing free of them, he raced down the tunnel, hearing their cries of protest behind him. "Not that way!" the alien shouted, thudding along behind him at an amazing clip.

"Dangerous," called the young man. "You'll fall!"

Avon hesitated. He didn't believe them, but they must live down here and maybe they knew the hazards of the place. Whoever they were, they didn't look Federation. For all he knew, they were more of Blake's rabble, though they had seemed remarkably uninterested in the clipgun, at least the alien had. More likely this was a hiding place, a way to avoid the Federation entirely. The youth had the feel of a Delta grade about him. He'd probably fled a labor gang and sought refuge below the domes. Perhaps there was a whole colony of fugitives down here.

But before he could decide if they were telling the truth, the tunnel proved their words in the worst possible way, by collapsing beneath him and pitching him forward into darkness.

He didn't fall very far, but it was far enough to make the landing painful. He felt his ankle give beneath him, pitching him forward. His head collided with something and, with a burst of stars before his eyes, he lost all interest in the proceedings.

Vaguely, and with a confused and blurred sensation of pain, he felt a hairy hand touch the side of his face and knew the alien had come down after him. "Help me lift him," the deep voice instructed, and a scrambling sound announced the arrival of his ally.

"Can you hear me?" the alien asked, resting his hand on Avon's shoulder.

Avon made a faint, confused sound of pain.

"We are going to move you out of here," he was told. "We will not hurt you, but it will be painful to move you. You have many bruises and a sprained ankle, and I fear you have a concussion. But we promise you that we will not turn you over to the authorities without hearing your side of the story first. I know you do not yet believe that, but it is true."

"Always keeps his word," the human added reassuringly. "Trust him."

"I trust no one," Avon hissed, and passed out.

*****


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