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By Jackie
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'Vila weighs seventy three kilos...' Orac said, and Vila finally understood what "feeling one's blood run cold" meant.

Vila was slightly amazed that even Avon could panic. Then a possible solution came to mind. Rather than fleeing and hiding, as was his immediate reaction, Vila went a couple of paces forward, almost losing his balance as the shuttle bucked.

'Orac - can you land this thing?' he asked. It was somehow the computer's fault.

'If I must.'

Avon's face showed a mixture of relief and anger at himself at not thinking of the possibility. 'Then do so!'

Vila dropped to the floor, indicated to Avon to do likewise. Too late, as the shuttle dropped sharply and they were both thrown against equipment. Vila swore when he had caught his breath again - why did he always encounter the piece of equipment that would do most damage to himself? Then they hit the ground with a thump that sent Avon - obviously temporarily stunned - crashing into Vila.

'Orac - get them on Scorpio to bring a couple of teleport bracelets down!'

No response: Orac had been damaged as well, and Avon was still unresponsive.

'Well,' Vila muttered, 'while there's life there's hope - of something worse.'

He considered what to do next.

The shuttle - now resting firmly on the ground - had obviously been tampered with "somehow" with the intention of killing the two of them in a crash. Why had "whoever it was" - admit it, probably Servalan - arranged this sabotage?

To get Orac and the tachyon funnel of course - and to eliminate Avon and himself. At a guess the air supply would be untampered with - dead was supposedly dead. Hopefully Tarrant would have been monitoring the shuttle, and would rescue them soon - and the air supply would not run out.

He would have to hide Orac then in case Servalan got to the shuttle first. Orac was returned to its earlier hidey-hole. Avon groaned and stirred. 'I'm alive... Tarrant'll have to teach Orac how to be a better pilot... Where's Orac?' He sat up, and did not protest when Vila gave him a hand.

'Feeling the same as you do now, so recovering in the dark.' Vila indicated the cupboard. 'Come on - we are going to hide from Servalan and Tarrant.'

'Vila - your brains're more addled than usual.' Vila ignored the remark - from experience he knew exactly how Avon felt. 'Why hide from Tarrant?'

'Egrorian and Servalan think we're dead, and we don't know Tarrant'll get here first.'

'Yes...' Avon acknowledged, and gingerly touched his bruising.

'Now you know how I feel when not handled gently...'

'Must I?'

'For now. Servalan's probably dealt with Egrorian - and he wouldn't pose much of a threat if he is alive.'

'Nor Pindar. What did they do to the shuttle? And how?'

'Something reversible - Malodaar's not a place to walk home on, and I don't see any of the three of them wishing to go round this place in spacesuits.'

Avon tried to laugh. 'Sometimes,' he said, 'you almost talk sense.'

'There's a hold - we might just fit in if we're careful - and don't sneeze.'

'I suggest you don't try any of your supposed jokes,' Avon managed, and then extracted the gun from his pocket. For a moment Vila panicked. 'You take this - I can't use it at the moment.'

Vila pocketed the weapon, hoped it would not be necessary to do anything. 'Servalan probably knows she's got a fake Orac by now.'

'But she doesn't know where the real one is either - here or on the Scorpio.'

They managed it, despite the unevenness of the floor. There was a dim light in the hold, just enough to see. Vila swore quietly, at both Servalan and Tarrant.

'I'm not sure,' Avon managed, 'whether I wish to know what some of those phrases mean. And don't bother enlightening me later either...' He leant against the wall, looking slightly queasy.

There was quiet for a while and then the sound of someone moving.

Vila tried hard not to panic - he would have only one chance. It had been a long time since he was in a situation like this - for which he was truly grateful.

It would be either one of the Scorpio crew, or Servalan - who would not trust any minion of hers with what was here.

Servalan would have to use transport to get here, and there had been no sound of a ship linking up....

The footsteps stopped, and Vila made an educated guess and pushed the door open hard.

'My nose!' Tarrant squawked.

'Sorry,' Vila replied - not entirely truthfully. He glanced at Avon who gave a faint smirk. Vila knew he would not be berated for his "stupidity" on this occasion. 'I thought you might be Servalan.'

'What's happened to Avon?' Tarrant asked with some concern, as Vila helped Avon to his feet.

'I'll survive the teleport.'

'Soolin - teleport now... What were you two doing in there?'

'Hiding from the unpleasant inhabitants of this planet who might wish to investigate, and do something nasty to us,' Vila said truthfully, rather than the reply he wished to give.

'What have you two being doing to Avon?' Soolin asked moments later. 'And what have you been doing now Tarrant?'

'The shuttle had a slight argument with the ground,' Vila said. 'And Tarrant had an argument with a door. It might make you look more distinguished damaging it,' Vila said. The blood on Tarrant's face spoiled the effect of the glare.

Tarrant was rubbing his nose - Vila suspected his ego was the more bruised. Revenge could be sweet. 'Next time you'll know not to stand in front of a door.'

'Where's Orac?' Soolin asked.

'Down on the shuttle,' Vila replied. 'Can you help me retrieve it?'

'Orac's not that big,' Tarrant muttered.

'As I don't have eyes in the back of my head and someone just tried to kill us...'

'OK Vila. Tarrant - look after Avon,' Soolin said. 'Let's go down Vila.' Then they were on the shuttle.

'I suggest,' Vila said, 'we don't provide a reception party - just get the hell out of here.' He was already undoing the cupboard door to extract Orac.

'Why was Tarrant standing in front of a door?' Soolin asked with amusement.

'We were hiding in the hold and he was trying to find us and chose to stop in front of the door.'

Soolin laughed. 'I must remember that trick for another occasion.' Only a trace of sarcasm: her career choice and his had some points in common.

There was the sound of another ship docking. No need to guess who - Servalan.

'What do we do?' Vila asked. Then he decided. 'You hide in the hold with Orac and cover me.'

'Scorpio's crowded enough without a prisoner,' Soolin whispered, but hid herself as directed, while Vila covered his teleport bracelet with his sleeve.

Servalan appeared a few seconds later.

'Hello Vila.'

'Hello - Servalan.' Here there was no need to disguise who she was, and Vila would have to hope that she would not interpret his nervousness in the wrong way. 'Yes, I survived. People like me always do.'

'What happened?'

Vila knew he would have to improvise somewhat. He had got himself out of enough difficult situations like this in the past - he tried to convince himself that this was no different. 'First tell me what you did,' he asked, playing for time And, as Avon said, most knowledge was useful.

'A piece of neutron star material - put on the shuttle by a robot. That cube over there, in fact.'

Vila could just see it out of his peripheral vision.

'We chucked a lot of stuff out to reach orbit. What remains of the tachyon funnel's somewhere out there,' Vila made a vague wave, '... and quite a few other things.'

'Not Orac you fool!?'

'Orac is only a machine,' Vila replied. 'Then I suggested that we try and land the ship,' he said hastily - tell enough of the truth and the authorities would believe the lies, or choose to misinterpret the information as they saw fit. 'T

he ship was going rather erratically,' true, 'and Avon got knocked out,' true, 'and I did what I could to land.'

'You stupid fool... Do you know what Avon and I could do together...' Servalan yelled, and Vila moved a couple of paces away.

Vila had thought Avon was indulging in some fantasy, when he said that Servalan desired him, but it was now clear that he had been speaking the truth.

Vila dodged reflexively out of the way when Servalan lunged at him... and saw her collapse on the floor.

'Thanks Soolin.'

'No problem. If you ever want to act as my front man...'

'Thanks, but no thanks. I know what I am good at.'

Soolin checked Servalan. 'Unconscious. What do you intend doing?'

Vila's teleport bracelet indicated an incoming message. 'What are you doing now Vila?' Avon asked.

'I have a suggestion my friend.' Vila was going to have his own back for Avon's momentary lapse, however understandable. Besides, he had had the same idea, briefly.

'It had better be good...'

Vila would give Avon credit for his self-control: he was obviously suffering from his recent battering, but came down regardless.

'And what about your plan can you not manage?' Avon asked.

'I thought you would want to poke around the computers on Servalan's ship and back on the base - in case you found anything interesting. I know the limit of my skills and knowledge in that respect.' The two of them had long ago come to an

understanding as to what areas of computing each would handle.

'As you wish. And when you land the ship be a bit gentler.'

'Of course. Besides it is Servalan's own ship, not some rackety old shuttle.'

Servalan, recovering on Egrorian's base, glared at the trio, and tried to say something through the gag.

'Keep quiet Servalan - I've got a terrible headache, and you are responsible. Vila assures me you ought to be able to release yourself - and it appears that communications with the rest of the galaxy are possible - if you know what you ar

e doing. Otherwise, you will have to await some passing ships willing to rescue you.' Avon smiled. 'You may wish to consider what to do next - the authorities now know that Commissioner Sleer is a false identity.' He had explained to Vila

that this would be one way of distracting the Federation authorities by having them investigate all sorts of interesting byways. 'I hope we don't meet again.'

'Come on Avon,' Vila said. 'I've had enough of this base.'

Then they were back on the Scorpio.

Avon, Vila decided, had to be feeling considerably the worse for wear to go without protest to the ship's small med unit and have his injuries checked. Nothing that rest and painkillers would not cure. Orac's damage proved to be equally minor, though it claimed it had to do essential checks anyway.

'What is this concoction?' Avon asked when Vila handed it to him.

'Something to cure a hangover - or at least make you sleep until it's over.'

Avon tasted it, made a face.

'I'm surprised it doesn't work by making you avoid getting drunk in the first place.'

'While you are recovering we go back to Xenon by the same back routes that we came, and keep out of any trouble,' Vila said. 'Using my definition of taking extreme care.'

'I think that definition is acceptable.'

'I am as interested in my own safety as you are. And why should I work more than I have to?'

'Don't go and upset Zukan and the others while I recover...' Avon said as he dozed off. 'And now that we are going back, we can't have a holiday - not yet.'

'I didn't say anything about a holiday,' Vila muttered to himself. 'Not that I'd object though. Besides we'd need someone to look after things while we did so, or you'd drag us back before we'd had a moment's peace.'

'Would Blake do?' Avon asked groggily.

'Yes... Avon, what do you mean by that?' Too late - Avon was asleep.

'The sooner you give me some sort of an answer, Orac, the sooner you can go back to contemplating the universe,' Vila said, alone on the flight deck..

'Very well,' Orac replied, its resistance worn down by the endless questioning. 'I have located Blake.'

'And why hasn't Avon told us?' Not that Vila couldn't guess. 'Apart from being wary after the last time. And wanting to get the conference out of the way without everybody trying to do two things at once.' And Vila could understand why Avon would want to present Blake with what he had arranged, all by himself.

'If you know the answer, why ask the question?'

'I am telling you the answers I know, so you can tell me the ones I don't.'

Orac glowed to itself. 'That is reasonable. Can I now go back to my studies?'

'Yes - apart from your usual monitoring while on the flight deck.'

Vila sat at his position and relaxed with a drink.

Without Servalan to thwart them, and with Blake... somewhere, things might start working out now.

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