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Blood, Threats and Fears

By Nicola Mody
Page 1 of 5

"Information. Federation pursuit ships have been detected."

“Standard by seven, Zen,” Blake ordered.

"Confirmed."

“Three hundred spacials and closing,” Cally said calmly, intent on her screen.

“Force wall, Avon!”

“Activated.”

“Two plasma bolts launched,” Vila called, and winced as they flared past. “Missed!” he whooped, and blew a raspberry.

“Evasive action, Jenna.”

Vila peeled himself off the wall, and said vaguely, “Uh, some more glowy hurty things coming at us.”

“How many, Vila?” Blake snapped.

“Um...don’t know.” Vila blinked, puzzled, at his screen. “I’ve forgotten how to count.”

“You moronic little thief!” Avon threw himself at Vila, who raised his blistered hands in self-defence.

Blistered hands?

“Aaaaaugh!” Vila sat up in bed, shaking. Even in the half-light he kept on in his room when he slept, he could see his hands were quite smooth and clear. All the same, he jumped out of bed, turned the light on full, and checked himself all over. “Oh, marvellous,” he said, collapsing back onto the bed. “Fosforon plague again.”

It had been more than two weeks since that terrifying last transmission from Dr Bellfriar, but Vila didn’t think he’d ever forget the chill that went down his spine when Bellfriar realised he could no longer read. He had made a weak joke to convince himself he wasn’t frightened. But he had been, so much so that he’d made Cally check him twice for infection, and had had nightmares ever since. It was the usual story: somehow the intense fear had dredged up all the old and new terrors of his life to trot out every night for the next couple of weeks. Vila checked the time. He’d had three hours sleep. Things were improving.

He yawned and climbed back into bed.

 

Vila stared at the bloody knife with horror, as the priest slid to the floor.

“Don’t just stand there, Vila. Run!” Blake said urgently.

But the priest’s cowl had slipped off, and Vila could see it was a woman, her blonde hair spilling onto the floor, darkening in the pool of blood there. He knew her. It was his mother...his mother, lying in all that blood...

Vila sat bolt upright again, his eyes wide open with horror. “Oh, no,” he said, sliding his legs over the edge of the bed. “No no no.” He sat there for a few minutes, waiting for his heart to slow down, then staggered into the bathroom. He splashed his face with cold water, towelled it dry, and said to his pale, tired-looking reflection, “Right. That’s it. Time to get up.”

He got dressed and wandered along to the rest room, still yawning, to make himself a coffee. He considered adding a slug of soma, but decided it would be a bit much to handle in his condition. Instead, he made a second cup of coffee, and carried both to the flight deck. He’d forgotten to check who was on watch, but he thought it might be Blake or Cally. That was good: either one of them would let him stay and chat. Jenna usually ignored him till he went away, but Avon was sometimes amusing to annoy.

It was Blake. He looked up when Vila came in, and said, “You don’t look the best. Nightmares again?”

“Yeah. Coffee?” Vila handed a cup to Blake, and took his own over to the couch, where he sprawled bonelessly. “Only had two bad ones this time. It’s getting better.”

Blake was the only one who knew. They had both been through the Federation’s mind adjustment programs, they had both suffered the bad dreams and ‘nerve stress’ that followed, although Blake had only remembered his own experiences after breaking his conditioning. He looked at Vila with sympathy and concern.

“You really ought to see Cally. Perhaps she can help.”

“Nah. Bad enough they all know about the nerve thing. Though I suppose it’s better than them thinking I’m a hypochondriac every time I get stressed. If they knew about this, they might want to dump me.”

“Don’t be silly, Vila. You’re far too valuable. No-one would dump you.”

“Wouldn’t put it past Avon,” Vila said darkly.

Blake smiled. “He’d miss you. No-one else gives him a decent game of chess.” He became serious. “Still, you can’t go on like this. You need your sleep.”

“I’ll catch up on my watch,” Vila grinned, then added hastily, “That was a joke, Blake!”

***

Vila shivered, huddled on the ground with his arms wrapped around him.

“Freeze in silence, he said. All right for Avon, he hasn’t got a weak chest. Stay alert, he said. Oh, right, that’s a doddle with so much oxygen to breathe. Exbar hasn’t got much atmosphere, get it?...Waits for a laugh, not a sausage. Oh, well. Stay alert and call in to the Liberator every ten minutes he said. Well, that’s an easy one with hypo-bloody-thermia coming on. Shoot Blake’s poor old uncle if you have to, he said. Sod that for a lark, I don’t do that sort of thing, Avon...” Vila’s head dropped to his chest. “No, no, stay awake, you idiot thief...” Vila widened his eyes in a vain attempt to wake himself up, but they were so heavy. Perhaps just a short nap. He might feel warmer if he lay down. He’d been through a lot lately, what with the nightmares and that nerve-wracking battle with pursuit ships. People would understand. Blake had when he’d found him asleep on watch when that message came in. “Good old Blake.” He blinked owlishly at his watch. Five minutes until he had to call Jenna. “Good old Jenna.” He must be growing on her; she’d actually smiled at him as he teleported. “Just a little snooze first...”

He was fast asleep when Jenna’s voice sounded from his bracelet. “Vila. Vila, come in please. Vila.”

He stirred, and mumbled softly.

“Vila.”

He woke up, feeling disoriented and a bit guilty. An old man was standing there, looking down at him.

“Chilly, isn’t it?” Vila said inanely.

Oh, no. Avon was going to be right pissed off.

***

“Bring us up, Cally,” Jenna said.

Cally leaned forward and moved the teleport controls, watching as the rest of the crew materialised. Avon was clutching his arm, obviously hurt. As they stepped forward from the teleport bay, Vila moved towards him.

“Avon, I’m sorry—”

“Get out of my sight.” Avon pushed him aside with his good arm.

Vila looked at him, a picture of abject misery, then ducked his head and stumbled off.

Cally stared after him, puzzled. She had caught a faint trace of his usual stress reaction while he was on the planet—the painful nerve condition he called ‘pins and needles’—and, twice, what she assumed was the stomach cramps he occasionally got under prolonged stress. But there was something else...Never mind, she could worry about Vila later. There were more urgent matters.

“Avon, let me look at that arm,” she said. “Oh, that’s not too bad, but we had better attend to it straight away.”

“Jenna, prepare to break orbit,” Blake said, following Cally and Avon out.

“Two of you are hardly necessary,” Avon said, acidly. Blake smiled slightly and said nothing.

“What is the matter with Vila?” Cally asked as they walked.

“More to the point, what is not the matter with him,” Avon snapped.

“Oh come, Avon,” Blake said mildly. “My uncle told me that Vila stood up very well to Travis.”

“Obviously not well enough.”

“Well, no, but apparently he did his best, even saying at one point that Travis might as well kill him.”

“A pity he didn’t. Nothing excuses his appalling behaviour after that.”

“What did he do?” Cally asked.

“He begged Travis to let him out in an disgusting display of utter cowardice. He even offered to fly the Liberator for him.”

Cally frowned. “That doesn’t sound like Vila.” They went into the medical unit. “Sit down, Avon. Roll up your sleeve and let me look.” Cally swabbed the wound down. “I’d have thought he would have been trying to pick the lock.” She picked up the antiseptic spray and the regenerator.

“He didn’t even look at it,” Blake said thoughtfully. “Though we were tied up at the time. Still, you’re right, it wasn’t like Vila at all. He didn’t even try to get his hands free. And he wasn’t even talking rationally before that.”

Avon raised an eyebrow. “Have you ever heard Vila talk rationally?”

“All the same, he wasn’t himself.”

Cally finished running the regenerator over Avon’s arm. “There. That should be quite all right now, but I’d advise you to stay here and rest for a while.”

Avon shrugged his jacket on. “I should prefer to do so in my cabin.”

“I’ll get Jenna to take us out of here,” Blake said, following Avon through the door.

As Cally tidied up, she wondered about Vila and thought that perhaps she ought to check on him. She closed the medical unit up and went along to his cabin and knocked on the door. There was no response. She flicked the communicator on beside the door.

“Vila? Are you there, Vila?”

“No. Go away,” came the muffled answer.

“Vila?...Vila, are you all right?”

There was no answer.

“Blake’s uncle said you were very brave with Travis.”

“Could’ve killed you.” She could barely hear Vila’s reply. “You and Jenna.”

Cally wasn’t sure what to say to that. It was, after all, quite true. “Well, we’re all still alive,” she said finally. “That is what counts.” She waited a while. “Are you going to come out?” Obviously not. “Will you let me in, then?...Vila?”

Finally, she sighed and turned the communicator off.

 


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