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By Jean Graham
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Vila materialized in mid coughing-fit, vigorously dusting down his soiled tunic. "Well, that's the last check I plan to make," he said, and sneezed mightily. "I'm allergic to moldy caverns." He sniffled and trudged toward the teleport console. "Any word from Avon?"

Cally's baleful look worried him little. Had something gone wrong? "The homing signal shut off a few moments ago," the Auron replied. Dayna and Tarrant have only just gone down."

"Oh. Well it means he's alive, anyway. Unless they found the transmitter and... No, never mind. Avon'll survive. Avon always survives, that's what Avon's good at."

"Yes." She sighed the word, her gaze far away, on some other planet somewhere. Auron, perhaps. What used to be Auron...

"What's the matter with you then?" he asked as gently as he could. "Things are going right for once, it looks like."

He poured a glass of soma from the pitcher he'd left on the console at his departure and toasted her with the drink. "We should be celebrating."

The dark eyes turned on him then, angry and reproachful. "Do humans always celebrate an act of revenge?"

Taken aback, Vila set the drink aside. "We do if it works," he said honestly. "I mean, why else have wars?"

"Senseless," she murmured, shaking her head. "It's all so senseless."

Vila couldn't tell if she referred to wars or to Avon's going after Shrinker. Either way, he supposed, it wouldn't make much sense to a pacifist crowd like the Aurons. "It's not that hard to understand, really," he said. "It's payback, is all. Wouldn't you... well, wouldn't you like to see Servalan pay for... for... you know?"

Cally got up and paced away from the teleport controls, her back to him. "It would not bring Auron back."

"Well no. That's not the point."

"What is the point, Vila?"

He had to think on that a moment. "You've never been here, to Earth," he said at last. "You don't know what it's like down there. Domes and armed patrols and class ghettos. So many laws and rules, it chokes you. Only the rules don't apply to the rats at the top of the maze, filth like Shrinker. His kind's bred to enjoy hurting people, or making them..." His voice broke and he let the thought go, rushing on before Cally could notice. "Their kind don't ever have to pay -- unless we make them do it."


"Or justice. Depends on your point of view, doesn't it?"

She turned, and those sad eyes bore into him again. "Is that all you want, all of you? Simple, self-serving revenge? Is that what Blake would have wanted?"

"I dunno. Even Blake had a hard time figuring out what Blake wanted half the time. Anyway, I don't see what you're on about. Avon's getting Shrinker is nothing to do with you, you told him that from the start."

"Why do you help him then, Vila? It is nothing to do with you, either. Yet you have willingly set up a cold-blooded murder down there."

The thief drew himself up, indignant for a instant at her accusation. Then he let the moment pass, reached for and took a long swallow of the soma. "Maybe it is," he admitted, dead serious for one of the few times in his life. "Maybe it's necessary sometimes. For people like Shrinker..."

"Necessary? To have blood on your hands? I don't understand you, Vila. You of all people--"

"Wait a minute. You're the one left home to be a freedom fighter, aren't you?" She started, surprised at his reprimanding tone, but he hurried on. "Where'd you miss the speech about killing being necessary sometimes? Blake gave it often enough."

"It is not quite the same thing. This is not a war."

"Says you. Convince Avon of that."

"I have tried."

"You're an amateur, Cally." The soma pumped uncharacteristic courage into Vila's voice. "A few skirmishes on Saurian Major, that's all the combat you ever saw. Against Federation troops still wet behind the ears, though they still managed to whip your Saurians cold, didn't they? Maybe one run-in with Travis didn't show you enough of their 'interrogation' tactics." He spat the last two words out like a mouthful of spoiled food. "I can tell you all about that, first hand, if you like. So could Blake. And Avon. Monsters like Shrinker don't deserve a clean death." He drained the glass, slapped it angrily down on the console and poured another. "It's too damn good for them, if you ask me."

The rebuke in Cally's eyes was suddenly tempered with something Vila liked even less: pity. "They must have hurt you a great deal," she said.

He stared over the glass at her, trying hard to make his expression as stern and reproachful as Avon's when someone asked a personal question. "Shrinker's getting what he deserves," he said. "That's all that matters."


"If you like." But obviously she didn't.

The teleport speaker crackled to life with the sound of a distant explosion, and Dayna's voice said, "Now everyone's showing up! Get a move on!"

Cally hurried back to the console as Tarrant's voice, with another concussion in the background, said, "Ready?" and Dayna shouted, "Go!"

Four huddled figures shimmered into being on the teleport pad. Vila ignored the plump, terrified man in Federation black and marched straight at Avon, proffering the soma glass. "You look terrible," he said.

"So I've been told."

"I thought you might need this."

"Thanks." Avon accepted the drink and drained it.

Cally had come to examine their captive. "So this is Shrinker. He doesn't look like much."

Tarrant snorted. "That depends on what you paid to get him."

Avon handed the soma glass back to Vila. "He cost me enough."

"Was it worth it?" Cally frowned at Avon's disheveled appearance.

"I'll let you know."

Shrinker began burbling like a frightened child, while Tarrant and Dayna bullied him to the wall of the teleport bay and ordered him to stand there. Cally cast Vila an aggrieved look, but he paid it no heed. She'd never understand, that was all. They had to do this. It was right. Avon was right.

"Is everything ready?" the latter asked, and Vila nodded affirmation.

"Just as you said. I set it all up myself..."

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Jean Graham

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