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By Ros Williams
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"There has to be," Avon said softly, "a reason for cruelty. You understand that, don't you?"


"I am not violent by nature," Avon continued, his voice silky with threat. He smiled as he saw the fear in the other man's eyes. "But there are times--unfortunately--when violence is necessary. I'm in a hurry, you see, I can't wait while you ponder the infinite. I need answers and I need them...." He paused, "Now," he breathed.

Watching them, Vila trembled. Avon at his worst, and most savage... Avon, needing information and needing it in a hurry. It was not amusing, not at all. He hoped the man would speak quickly. And if he did not, what then? Vila trembled again.

"Vila," Avon said and Vila jerked in fright. "Come here."

"I'd rather not..."

"You know how important this is," Avon said, almost gently, but Vila was not deceived. There was no gentleness in Avon, not now; perhaps never would be again. Had he ever been gentle? Yes, sometimes... when quiet, unsentimental sympathy was needed. Now it was Avon who needed that sympathy himself, and there was no one to give it but Vila: If Avon would listen? Slowly, Vila went to Avon's side.

"Now," Avon said coolly to his captive, "I am going to kill you. Clearly you want to die, so I'll grant your wish. I'll find someone else to question. They won't all be as brave--or should I say as foolhardy--as you."

"Foolhardy?" The Federation officer was trembling too, Vila could see. "I don't..."

"It's foolhardy to die for nothing," Avon said. "Isn't it time you questioned your training? Why die when a few simple answers can free you?" He glanced at Vila and grinned nastily. "That one wouldn't keep his mouth shut, not if you paid him," he sneered. "Why do you think you're better than him?"

"How would I know?" the guard muttered, relaxing slightly. So far, the threats had come to nothing. Like as not, they had no intention of killing him. "Look here," he said, "let me go and I'll put in a good word for you. They'll understand you're desperate to get away. Maybe they'll overlook this."

Avon stared at the officer for a moment and then laughed. "You won't have a chance to put In any good words for anybody," he said. "They won't kill us because we're useful to them. But you...?"

Silence again while the officer digested the implication.

"Sleer," Avon continued, "is never forgiving. Haven't you learned that yet? Vila--shoot him."

"Me?" Vila squeaked. "No, I couldn't... really, Avon."

"If we are to get out of here," Avon said, "he won't be the only one. You're holding the gun, so do it."

Sick at heart, Vila lifted the gun and aimed it.

"Ignore him," the officer said. "Save me and I might get you out of here. Listen to me."

Hesitating, Vila looked at Avon. "He might mean it," he said. "He might be able to help."

"Think, Vila," Avon said. "Which of us would you trust. Which of us do you know?"

Vila shivered, thinking of Malodaar. "Once," he said bitterly, "you tried to kill me."

"Betrayal," Avon said, "is not always what it seems. Kill him--or give me the gun."

"I can't do either," Vila said. "I can't kill him while he's lying there helpless... and I need the gun. I'm the one who seized it, Avon, not you, and I want to get out of here. If I give it to you, you might leave me. You might betray me again."

Typically, Avon did not argue. "Then I shall do it with the knife," he said. "It's an unpleasant kind of death. Would you prefer to make it merciful for him?" He looked down at the officer again. "Believe me," he said, "one way or another--you are going to die, unless you talk now. Where is Sleer?"

"You won't be able to get at her," the officer said flatly. "She's guarded well. You--of all people--should know that."

Avon slid his finger along the blunt side of his knife. "Killing does not amuse me," he said, "but we'd best get on with it... Or perhaps you'd like to beg my cowardly friend here to do it after all? He might listen to you."

"He doesn't want to listen to either of you," Vila said. "Why don't you leave him there, Avon. He can't stop us now and we can find Sleer for ourselves."

"Can we?" Avon bent over the guard and laid the knife on his neck.

"Your last chance," he said. "Do you imagine I don't mean it?"

Their eyes locked and to his surprise the officer saw compassion in Avon's gaze. It was the last thing he had expected, and singularly disorientating. "You killed Blake," he said. "Perhaps you do mean it after all."

"Thieves fall out," Avon countered, "but you are no thief. This is war--between you and me. Gently, he slid the point of the knife across the officer's neck. "Now," he repeated. "Now--or die. I mean it. Tell him, Vila."

"He means it," Vila said. "It's his greatest virtue--reliability. I conjecture you've got about... about three seconds."


"What's your name?" Vila asked the officer as they walked along a dingy, deserted corridor.

"Does it matter?"

"Sure... Names are important. Friendly.... Something like that."

The officer sailed faintly. "Tiercel," he said. "Though with us, friendliness doesn't come into it."

"It could," Vila remarked, "if you'd really meant it when you talked about helping me. But I suppose you didn't. Federation officers don't help rebels, even unwilling, bullied rebels like me who didn't want to get into it in the first place. I didn't go willingly, you know. I was dragged along." He glanced at Avon warily. "We both were," he said. "Mind you--that's no excuse for killing Blake."

"Vila," Avon said, "you talk too much. Tell us, Tiercel, why's this place nearly deserted? Where are Sleer's legions?"

"I'm surprised you haven't worked that out yet," Tiercel replied. "You're bait--for Blake's followers, such as are still free. The problem is that Sleer doesn't know how many are free--you see."

"I might have known it," Vila said. "This has all been too easy. Are you part of the bait, Tiercel -- laid out for us to fall on?"

"Obviously. I vas ordered to let you take me--but I didn't anticipate the threats."

"That shows how little you know Avon," Vila said. "He threatens everyone. He likes doing it. He threatens me."

"Only when you act like a fool," Avon said. "As you are doing now. Where are we really going, Tiercel? I presume Sleer is no longer here?"

"Correct," Tiercel affirmed. "She left with Blake's body the day after you were taken... This place is Blake's base. You can't have seen all of it. It's extensive, quite well equipped..."

"And a death trap," Avon said. "That much I now understand. A death trap for Blake, and now a death trap for me and any of his followers fool enough to try and get at me. Tell me, Tiercel, do you imagine they will come to save me or to execute me?"

Tiercel laughed shortly. "What do you think?"


"It's another of Sleer's games," Avon said. "How will she explain it, I wonder, to her superiors, if I escape?"

"Need she?" Vila demanded. "She seems to be able to do as she likes, even now."

"'Even now'?" Tiercel said. "What do you mean by that?"

"She's another of those people I know well," Vila said, "like Avon." He looked at Avon. "You could tell him," he said. "You could tell him about Sleer."

"And give her cause to kill him?" Avon shook his head. "Better he doesn't know--wouldn't you say, Vila?"

"I suppose so."

Tiercel frowned. So there was something--strange--about Sleer. He had often thought it, wondering at her power, her assurance, her... inability to be a normal security officer. Sleer was a fine leader, no doubt about it, but that was the difference: A leader, not a lieutenant. What was it about her that made him try so often, to remember... to remember...? It seemed these rebels knew. Could he persuade them to tell him? Or was it better, as Avon had implied, that he did not find out?

"What are we going to do?" Vila was saying now. "Surely we aren't going to sit and wait for Blake's vengeful friends?"

"You could discover a way out of here," Avon responded evenly. "Furthermore, you have the gun. You can kill anyone who gets in your way."

"And you can't?" Vila grinned meanly. "It makes a change, doesn't it--me, having the upper hand." With the gun in his hand, he felt brave. He tried not to wonder how he might feel If Avon seized It from him. But there, Avon was not one to bear a grudge. Avon would not kill useful Vila, no matter how he insulted him. He felt pleased with himself too, self-satisfied. It had been clever of him to get the gun from Tiercel. Or had it? Perhaps Tiercel had meant him to seize it? Come to that, perhaps Tiercel preferred him to have it and not Avon. Of course Tiercel hadn't known about the knife. Where had Avon found it?

"The upper hand? And you couldn't even kill a Federation officer when I told you?" Avon's lips twisted with contempt. "You might as well give him back the gun for all the use it is to you."

His pleasure in what had seemed an achievement dashed, Vila clutched at the gun more tightly. It was all he had to save him from death. He supposed he'd have to use it, to force himself to kill. It wouldn't be the first time, but it was so much harder now, after all the disasters that had beset him since Malodaar. He found he was trembling again. "One thing you can be sure of, he said defiantly. "I won't give it to you."


"If they know we're here, why don't they come and get us?" Vila demanded as he looked warily out of one of the base's few windows.

"They must be wary," Avon responded. "They might realize it's a trap."

"I wish you wouldn't keep saying that," Vila muttered unhappily. Avon seemed, he felt, to take a perverse pleasure in harping on the matter.

"Why not? It's an excellent idea. It's what I'd do, myself, in Sleer's place, set up some devious trap or other..."

"They're so alike," Vila told Tiercel. "Two nasty, devious... Well, that's an old story. Sleer's abandoned him at last--to the jackals."

"I wonder what Blake would think," Avon said, "of you calling his beloved troops 'jackals'?"

"They are if they want to kill me!' Vila snapped. "I didn't kill Blake."

"Indeed you did not," Avon agreed. "You would not have had the guts."

"I didn't feel the need!" Vila flashed edgily. "I still don't know why you did. How did Blake betray us, Avon?"

"His set-up was linked to the Federation," Avon said. "I didn't know that--until I found him. He was building up an army for freedom--or whatever he'd call the kind of misery he intended to wish on us all--but the links had to be there as his cover."

"So you realised that he might bring Sleer to us, is that it?"

"Orac told me," Avon said, "just before we came into the base. Sleer was on to him, was on her way even as we landed."

"That means you knew we could be caught!" Vila exclaimed. "Yet you let us all go on."

"What else could we do?" Avon asked him bleakly. "Our ship was destroyed. We had nowhere else to go."

"What did killing Blake achieve? He could have fought with us--against Sleer."

"No," Avon said. "I could not be sure of him--there wasn't time. She was right behind us, and I banked on taking control before she came, holding her off until we found Blake's ships. It could have worked."

"But you had to see Blake before we ran, is that it? You had to revel in one last confrontation. But for that we could have escaped."

"We might have escaped," Avon said, "Only 'might'. There are no certainties, Vila, and where Blake is concerned there are... no excuses either."

It was, Vila supposed, the nearest Avon had ever come to a proper explanation about anything. He felt easier in his mind, understanding.

But it didn't explain everything. "Malodaar," he commenced hopefully. "Avon, you said 'Betrayal is not always as it seems'. What did you mean?"

"Did I say that? I'd quite forgotten," Avon responded carelessly. "Now, I understand from Tiercel's information that Blake's ships are in that direction..." He pointed out of the window. "All we have to do is hope Sleer hasn't destroyed them."

"You don't care about me at all, do you?" Vila shouted frustratedly. "You bring us here even though Sleer's almost walking on our heels. You kill the one person who might have helped us--and whatever your reasons, you could have killed him later if you had to. We're in this mess because of you, and the others are dead--poor Dayna, Soolin, even Tarrant. If you can tell me about Blake, you can tell me about Malodaar."

Avon sighed. "If it worries you so much... perhaps later. When we've escaped, if ever we do. Now stop whining and help me get us out of here."


"The ships," Tiercel said, "were certainly there--but as you can see, they aren't now. No, Sleer didn't destroy them: Why should she when all craft are useful? She'll find a use for them."

"So that's just one thing you didn't bother to tell us. I begin to regret allowing you to live," Avon remarked tartly.

"But you'd find it harder to kill me now," Tiercel said. "Firstly, your colleague isn't at all sure he wants you to kill me as he's still hoping I might be able to protect him from Sleer. And secondly you'd have to overpower me again. I'm not tied up and at your mercy now and I'd fight--believe me. I don't have to follow orders and surrender, this time. And if you throw the knife in the hope it'll do your will at a distance, you might fail and then I'd have it. Worse, your colleague might not allow you the chance to get it back. He might feel he's better off--with me." He looked at Vila slyly. "Think about Malodaar, whatever that is," he said. "It seems to worry you a good deal. Perhaps it should worry you even more."

"Perhaps you're right," Vila agreed gloomily. "I don't know what to do."

"When did you ever?" Avon countered. "He's only trying to ensure that we don't kill him when he's no more use, Vila. You can't blame him. It was hardly kind of Sleer, leaving him with us."

"But it was kind of her, leaving you to us," someone else said from behind Vila. "We know it's a trap, Kerr Avon, but we don't care. We're out to avenge Blake's death--at all costs."

"It's never worth doing anything at all costs," Avon responded, "unless there's something in it for you."

"Your death?"

"A poor reward," Avon said. "I could think of better things to do."


"No," Vila said, "you can't kill him. Not Avon, of all people. Avon's strong. Avon's indestructible. Moreover--I need him."

Karel Silver spread his hands placatingly. "I sympathise with your feelings. You've been through so much with him, all these years. There must be a bond... But we needed Blake, Vila, not just as a leader and friend but as a figurehead. Sleer's coup might never have happened if Arlen had not discovered that Avon might be coming to Gauda Prime."

"She couldn't have known," Vila said, "because Blake didn't know."

"But he believed in Avon, you see," Karel said. "He was sure Avon would come, and he calculated when it might be--when Avon had been beaten into the ground, near enough, by Sleer, and had no other way to save himself."

"Avon could have gone away--left it all and escaped out of the Federation's boundary..."

"But he didn't. He could have done that long ago, but he fought on. Perhaps it wasn't because he believed in the cause but because of some personal vendetta against Sleer, but the fact remains that he became the figurehead Blake had once been. It was inevitable that he'd come to Blake eventually. But none of us--ever--imagined that he'd come only to kill Blake. So he has to die also, to recompense us for our loss." He turned to Avon. "You're very silent," he said. "Don't you have some excuse, some final speech?"

"What's the point?" Avon queried. "You'll kill me anyway."

"That's true. The trial's been held and this is the execution."

"So," Avon said, "I've only one last request. Not a speech, merely a few comments." He looked at Tiercel. You've wondered about Sleer," he said. "Her true name is Servalan. You'll know something, I think, about Servalan."

Tiercel's eyes widened. "Can you prove that?"

"Our... new companions here, can, I'm sure. Ask them. But promise me one thing--that you'll tell..." he smiled, "...everyone."

Tiercel nodded, "Why yes," he said, "I will if I survive long enough."

"Cheat," Avon said. "It's the only way you could ever catch her out." He turned away towards Vila. "Malodaar," he said.

"Yes," Vila responded breathlessly. At last, perhaps he's understand. At last Avon would tell him the truth. Vila never doubted that it would be the truth.

"No time now," Avon said. "Executions don't wait for long speeches."

"How right," Karel hissed. "Time's up, traitor."

"You see?" Avon queried, still looking at Vila. Then he turned to Karel, "Get on with it. Servalan or you, what's the difference? She's ensured that I die, one way or another."

Vila stared after him, tears of grief suddenly in his throat, burning, choking. "Avon," he croaked desperately, "it doesn't matter--Malodaar. They shouldn't kill you. It isn't fair."

"Nothing ever is," Avon retorted over his shoulder. "You see, you should have given me the gun..."

The gun! Vila still had it in his pocket. He wrenched it out, backed away from them all. "Yes," he said, "the gun, and I've got it. Release him, Karel."

"Very good," Avon commented, coming close to Vila. "What are you going to do next?"

"Kill them," Vila muttered. I should have done it before."

"Fine," Avon said coolly. "Karel or Blake... what's the difference?"

Vila shivered. "I want to survive," he said, as he pulled the trigger.

"Yes," Avon said, "and so do I. Now do you understand about Malodaar?

"Oh yes--it was just as I thought. You or me. Survival."

"If you'd had the gun after Malodaar...?"

"I'd never have..." Vila hesitated.

"With the gun in your hand, and me facing you--me, Vila?"

Slowly, Vila held out the gun he'd just used to mow down Karel and his companion. "I've killed enough today," he said. "I'm no better than you, Avon; Blake, and now Blake's friends..."

"Keep it," Avon said. "Soon you'll have one more chance--to kill Servalan. And when she comes, remember she's using us to take the rest of Blake's group. We'll have to kill them too."

"Death," Vila said, "That's all it's ever been, in the name of liberation for all. Was there ever any purpose to it, Avon?"

Avon sighed. "Did there ever had to be any purpose? Wasn't it enough that we've been there, done those things?"

"It's not the life I'd have chosen," Vila said sadly. "Hardly anything has ever been as I'd have chosen."

"The secret," Avon said, "is to convince yourself that it was what you'd have chosen. Blake did that, so he became dangerous."

Silence again. Vila looked at Avon whose face was as blank and cold as ever, and then at Tiercel. "What are you going to do?" he asked. "Will you denounce Servalan?"

"If I can," Tiercel responded. "I make no promises, in case I can't keep them."

"Ensure that she keeps me alive and I'll do it for you," Avon said. "That most certainly is a promise."

So it still goes on, Vila thought, the battle between those two. Meantime, here they were, trapped between Servalan and Blake's followers, such as might be left of them. "What are we going to do now?" he demanded.

"Ah," Avon replied, "you have the gun. Why don't you think of something?"

He doesn't mean that, Vila thought. He never waits for me to do things.

"We could commit suicide by running outside," Avon continued helpfully. "Or we can wait here and see what happens. Which do you prefer?"

So much for choice, Vila thought wryly. "Er..."

Tiercel watched them bickering and suppressed a grin. Servalan or rebels, what indeed was the difference? The Federation--what the Federation should be, with decent leaders and some honesty, did not need either of them. These two were finished, no doubt about it unless they could find some last minute way to escape, but perhaps they had achieved something, after all. "Perhaps it wasn't all for nothing," he said. Perhaps the leadership will change."

Avon and Vila eyed one another thoughtfully. The words had a familiar ring, somehow. "So it starts, perhaps, all over again," Avon murmured, then tensed as footsteps sounded nearby, and the familiar figure of Servalan came towards them. "Your turn, Tiercel," he said. "I think, somehow, that mine is--completed."

"My dear Avon," Servalan breathed, drifting to his side, "whatever do you mean?"

Gazing into her eyes, Avon knew Tiercel's fate already. "He's a known deviant," she said softly. "Why do you imagine I used him? Why should I waste one of my loyal officers on rebel games?"

Avon watched as Tiercel was lead away and then shrugged. "Ah well," he said, "it was worth a try."

Vila still had the gun. They had not searched him yet. There was, Avon supposed, still time, still a slight chance. Could they escape?

How could he know? As usual, he would just have to wait and see.

the end

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