There are only so many places to hide on a small auto-shuttle. Avon saw the missing panel and halted. He didn’t look inside, but fired two blind shots into the narrow shaft. There was a brief, soft gasp, and Vila’s body tumbled down, almost into his arms. Avon didn’t hesitate but carried his companion across the tiny hold and dumped him into the airlock. If the shots hadn’t killed him instantly, Vila had died in Avon’s grasp. His body sprawled loosely onto the floor, which was the last Avon saw of his before the door slid shut. Avon whirled the locking handles and pressed on the control panel. There was a quiet thud as the airlock emptied. A few moments later the cycle was complete and Avon was hurrying up the ladder to the cockpit.
“Orac ! How much flight time left ?” he yelled, throwing himself into the seat.
“Two minutes, thirty seconds remaining.” Orac’s lights blinked steadily. If the computer had any opinions on Avon’s actions, it kept them to itself.
Avon pulled back the control levers, his face grimacing with concentration as he watched the flight readout. The numbers crept up with agonizing slowness, but at last the display flickered over to read 15. The shuttle leapt away from Malodaar’s bleak surface and set course for the Scorpio. Avon leaned back in his seat, relaxing at last. The seat beside him was empty and the cockpit was mercifully quiet. He started to plan what he would tell the others when he docked with the ship.
“There was nothing you could do ?” Tarrant asked.
The four survivors stood on Scorpio’s flight deck as the battered ship flew back to Xenon on automatics. Dayna had sat down suddenly in her chair, stunned by Avon’s news. Soolin was holding the back of Dayna’s chair, her face composed and her eyes suspicious. Tarrant was facing Avon, barely an arm’s length away. Avon looked down, his body sagging.
“Vila didn’t have the proper equipment,” he said quietly. “He knew he was taking a risk when he tried to disarm the bomb Egrorian fitted to the engines. Obviously he got it loose, but something must have gone wrong before he could get it to the airlock.”
“A bomb,” Dayna repeated, her dark eyes bright with tears.
“You could have helped,” Soolin accused Avon.
He met her cold stare briefly. “Vila was the expert on security and traps. He had a better chance than I did. There was no point in both of us being close enough to get killed if it did go wrong.”
“Vila died to save your life,” Tarrant spoke slowly. He looked older than he had a few hours before.
Avon nodded. “I would like to rest.” He turned his back on the others and headed for the cabins.
Soolin glared after him but didn’t speak until he was safely out of earshot. “I think he could have done more.”
“Then we might have lost both of them,” Tarrant answered. “Avon didn’t despise Vila as much as he pretended to, you know.”
“Oh ? Then why did Avon push him around so much ? Vila didn’t want to go to Malodaar, but Avon took him anyway.”
“Avon knew how far he could push Vila,” Tarrant told her. His face coloured slightly as he remembered a nasty argument at Kezaarn. “He didn’t force Vila to take an active role on Zerok, did he ?”
Soolin didn’t answer. After a moment she let out her feelings in a long sigh. “Well, we didn’t get the tachyon funnel, and we don’t have Vila any more. I can’t wait to see what we’re going to achieve next.” With that, she too stalked from the flight deck.
Tarrant moved across to Dayna and resting hand on her shoulder.
Dayna sniffed. “He was irritating more often than not, but…” she sighed.
“He was still one of us,” Tarrant agreed quietly.
He sat down next to her and they mourned together.
Avon fell asleep with surprising ease. No doubt the impact would sink in later, but for now all he felt was a sense of relief and satisfaction. He rolled over on his bunk, closed his eyes and drifted off. Some time later, a faint light woke him. Avon raised his head and slid one hand under the silver pillow to the gun there.
“Guilty conscience ?” asked a familiar voice.
Avon whipped the gun out and sat up in one move, even as he realized what was wrong. Vila had spoken, but Vila was dead. The dead man was standing near the locked door of Avon’s cabin, his arms folded and his head on one side in characteristic pose as he stared at his old companion. Avon noticed that he could see Vila, even thought the cabin was totally dark. What was more, he saw Vila wearing the soft brown jacket and trousers he had worn so often aboard Liberator.
“Is this my punishment ?” Avon asked, lowering the clipgun. “Am I mad or have you come back to haunt me ?”
Vila crossed the small room and settled himself on the edge of Avon’s bunk. He looked at Avon with a reproachful expression.
“How could you do it, Avon ? I can see the logic: no point in both of dying when one had a chance to survive.” Vila shrugged. “But how could you bring yourself to actually kill me in cold blood ? Did I ever really annoy you that much ? I trusted you, Avon.”
“You didn’t trust me to get the gold from Zerok,” Avon answered sharply. “A nice criminal enterprise and you wouldn’t support me.” The flare of temper gave him the courage to meet Vila’s gaze.
Vila glared back. “Just because I was right for once. It was nearly as much of a disaster as Terminal was.”
“So you like to keep reminding me,” Avon retorted. “Or did,” he added with some satisfaction. He prodded Vila experimentally. As he’d half-expected, his finger sank into Vila’s form with no resistance.
Vila watched with a disconcerted expression. “Don’t do that.” He shifted a little further away. “Did it really hurt so much to be in the wrong for once ? Or for me to be right ?” he asked plaintively.
Avon’s mood changed.
“I could have put up with being wrong but there was one thing I couldn’t stand. I warned you.” He looked straight at Vila. “I warned you never to say ‘I told you so’ again, but you did.”
Vila looked crestfallen. “The first proper chance I had in five years to say that to you. You really are a rotten loser, Avon,” he added with some venom.
“And the only thing worse than a rotten loser is a bad winner, “Avon replied. “Now let me get back to sleep.”
Vila stood up. “You killed me over four words ?”
“The four most irritating words in any language.” Avon insisted. “And you were warned.” A malicious smile suddenly spread across his face. “In fact, I told you so.”
Vila gave a snort of fury and vanished back to his own dimension in a huff of bad temper. Avon lay back on his bunk chuckling. He had, once and for all, had the last word.
DISCLAIMER: Blakes 7 and all associated characters and concepts are copyright to the BBC and Terry Nation, and are merely borrowed here, with no commercial intent. This story is my own work: do not copy, print or post anywhere, in any form, without my permission.