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Sleer and Back Again

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Long ago, when the United Independent Systems were young, there lived a Delta who had dug himself into a nasty hole. Not a dirty, wet hole filled with worms and unnameable smells, but a metaphorical one. He had spent so long pretending to be harmless, useless, gormless that people had believed it all so thoroughly that even he felt utterly worthless, and right after the whole Gauda Prime thing that Blake and Avon had set up between them and not bothered to let him in on, he left.

He had gone off to live a new life where he could be someone else and now he was a very well-respected and wealthy Delta—and what is a Delta, you ask? It was the name people on Earth gave to those who did all the work, though our particular one had prided himself on doing as little as possible. I don't suppose he was still a Delta now he lived on the planet Stryli, in the pleasant little town of Cooby where he had a security consultancy business, but the stories told about him usually refer to him as "the little Delta". Although actually he wasn't little at all; that was another part of the hole he had dug himself into, back when he was a rebel.

Nowadays he stood his whole 5 foot 10 inches, but on this day, a bright and sunny Cooby morning, he was sitting outside his dugout home, enjoying the sun and the green drink with a jaunty little paper umbrella in his hand. Why yes, Vila Restal, for that was his name, lived in a hole in a hill. Once again, not a nasty damp one, but a spacious and rather elegant one of several rooms dug out of the limestone, all pale walls which set off the various objets d'art Vila had acquired (sometimes legitimately) rather nicely. Everyone in Cooby lived in holes, though they preferred to call them dugouts, and they were very comfortable indeed, being 24 Celsius all year round, summer or winter.

And while Vila sat there, sipping his drink in the morning sun, he saw someone coming up the path towards his house. The person wore a white shirt with wide sleeves, a brown quilted waistcoat, green trousers, and large boots.

Vila narrowed his eyes. "That looks like... oh no!" He leaped up and backed towards his bright blue wooden door but he was too late.

"Hello, Vila."

"Blake." Vila put his hand on the door handle. "Good morning."

"That sounds remarkably formal."

"Well, it is one, isn't it? I mean, it was. Look, sorry, but I'm happy here and I'd like to stay that way."

"You're not even interested in what I have to say?"

"No thanks. Whatever it is, I don't want to know."

"That doesn't sound like you, Vila. Oh, I know you talked that way but you used to be bored when there wasn't any excitement. Admit it, you liked the adrenaline, and not just what you drank from a glass."

"I've got quite enough excitement these days. Playing chess with mates, quizzes down the pub of an evening, deciding what I'm going to do each day without anyone yelling at me and giving me orders."

"You're not bored?"

"Not one bit."

"You're not the Vila I remember. Not the one who joined the rebellion without a second thought."

"Cygnus Alpha was hardly a tempting alternative."

"You could have left several times."

"We didn't often go to places I wanted to stay," Vila said, somewhat evasively, because the truth was that he had liked the rest of the crew. Even if they hadn't felt the same about him.

Blake looked at Vila sidelong with his one good eye. "Not even one last adventure?"

"Nope. No adventures, thanks very much. I've had enough of those." Vila put his hand on the doorknob. "Good morning, Blake."

"Ah. I suspect that's goodbye rather than a comment on the weather." Blake nodded. "Good morning to you too." And he walked away.

Vila watched him go with an enormous sense of relief and a tiny, almost undetectable, regret.

 

Vila was just sitting down to a very nice meal of fish almondine, scalloped potatoes, and green peas when there was a knock on the door. He sighed and got up.

"Look, Blake, I said I don't want—" Vila stopped. It wasn't Blake, it was Jenna standing there, smiling warmly. "Um."

"Hello, Vila. It's been a long time." Jenna walked right in past him, shrugged off her leather jacket, and hung it on one of the hooks in the hall.

"Not that long, only a couple of years." Vila followed her into his dining room.

"Mmmm, something smells good!"

"Oh, right. Sit down and I'll get some for you too."

"You're a good host, Vila." Jenna started on the bread roll Vila had been going to have with his meal. "Where's everyone else?"

"Eh?" Vila put a full plate in front of her and another plate of rolls in the centre of the table. "What d'you mean."

"Never mind," said Jenna, "This food is too good to share." She savoured her mouthful. "You're a surprisingly good cook."

"I'm a good heater-upper." And suspecting there would be more guests along soon, Vila got stuck in too. Adventures, or turning them down, were best on a full stomach.

And sure enough, when they'd finished and Vila was brewing some coffee, there was another knock on the door. Vila was only slightly surprised this time to see Dayna and Tarrant standing there, arm-in-arm.

"Hello, Vila," said Dayna.

"Something smells good," said Tarrant, and Vila was dazzled by two wide, white smiles.

"Come on in," he said with a grand sweep of his arm. "It's coffee. And I've got some seed cake and jam roly-poly to go with it."

He had just served the coffee and cake and pie when there was another knock. Vila rolled his eyes and went to the door. "Come in, Soolin," he said and smiled at her because he was a friendly soul and he really was pleased to see them all again. "There's plenty to go round." He poked his head out the door and yelled, "Come on, the rest of you! No point in arriving in dribs and drabs, get it over with!"

Then he went and got the port and brandy out because he suspected he'd need some fortifying before too long.

When the last knock came, it was Blake and Avon (no surprise at all by now) and someone Vila had never seen in his life. A large someone with dark beard, eyes, and general demeanour.

"Good evening, Vila," said Blake (somewhat pointedly, Vila thought). "This is Taresh of Badaghan. Taresh, this is Vila Restal."

Taresh looked down his hooked nose. "This is your thief? He doesn't look like much."

"Oh, there's a lot more to him than you'd think."

"There would have to be," said Avon, who was consequently given the smallest glass of port.

Blake pulled out the chair at the head of Vila's table for Taresh, which Vila thought rather a cheek; he retreated sulkily to his armchair by the window, armed with the largest glass of all and a plate of roly-poly.

Taresh looked around at the paintings on the pale walls and the jade figurines in the dug-out alcoves and raised his eyebrows. "Hmm. Perhaps you're right," he growled to Blake.

"I know my people." Blake cleared his throat. "Now to business. Taresh here is the rightful king of the Kedawa Systems which were taken over by the Federation in his grandparents' day."

"Since when," said Avon, "has our glorious leader been in the business of shoring up hereditary monarchies?"

"Since the establishment of the United Independent Systems," Blake snapped.

"And it doesn’t matter to you what sort of governments rule said systems?"

"At this point, no."

Avon sat back. "Just so we're clear. Do continue."

"Right," Blake said, gritting his teeth. "The Kedawa royal palace is situated on Badaghan under Mount Jalanag and is currently being used by the local governor and her staff."

"Going for a coup, then?" asked Vila. "Don't see what you'd want me for when you need a bloody great army."

"If we hold the Kashvimani, we will have our army," Taresh said haughtily. "All of Kedawa will rise and destroy the Federation invaders."

"The cash-a-what?"

"Translated from the old tongue, it is named the Brightenstone."

"What's that when it's at home, then?"

"It is the royal jewel, the stone of power."

"Oh yes?" Vila sensed thin ice. "And where is it?"

"In the royal palace." said Blake. "Which has been taken over by the governor."

"I know evasion when I hear it, Blake." Avon narrowed his eyes. "Tell us the rest."

"It's Commissioner Sleer."

"Oh, no!" said Vila, shaking his head. "No no no no no."

Taresh smiled thinly. "Surely not a problem for the best thief in the galaxy. Or so I've been told."

"You might as well ask me to steal it from a dragon's lair! And I've met a dragon; Servalan's much worse!" Vila emptied his glass and hurriedly refilled it from the decanter on the table. "Look, why not just make a good copy? Who would know?"

"Everyone," Taresh growled. "The Brightenstone gives off an otherworldly glow. And it's not called the stone of power for nothing. It was with it that my family conquered the Kedawa systems centuries ago."

"You won't be going alone, Vila," Blake said reassuringly.

"What, all of you are coming too?"

"Two pilots," Jenna said. "Me and the backup." She flashed a grin at Tarrant who looked discomforted.

"Bodyguard here," said Soolin.

"I'm the assassin." Dayna bared her teeth.

"And I," said Avon, "provide the ship and the teleport I salvaged from Scorpio."

"Yeah? What's in it for any of you, especially you, Avon?" Vila asked. "Just along for the ride? After some profit? Scientific spirit of enquiry?"

"They will do for a start."

"Hmmph."

"Oh, come on, Vila," Tarrant said heartily. "It'll be fun! Just like the old days."

"Yeah, that's what worries me."


Vila regarded the planet below with considerable misgiving. "Looks nice with all that ocean, I'll grant you that, nice to see a place that doesn't need a severe dose of terraforming. Pity about Servalan being there though. Puts me right off."

"She isn't the only drawback," Avon said. "Badaghan was one of the first planets the Pylene 50 was used on."

Vila shuddered. "Can't imagine anything worse than losing my mind."

Avon opened his mouth to make the obvious retort, then looked thoughtful and said, "Neither can I, Vila. But it's not your mind that goes, it's your volition."

Vila gave him a mistrustful look, the distinct lack of Avonic snark causing considerable misgivings about how dangerous this adventure was going to be.

"Your knowledge, skills, and memories would still be available to you, but you would have no free will."

Vila turned to Blake for reassurance. "Look, how likely am I to survive this?"

"I can't promise you'll come back, you know that. Just be careful, Vila."

"I'm always careful," Vila said sadly, wishing he'd never got out of his cosy bed that sunny morning.

"Then let's get on with it." Avon handed Vila a teleport bracelet. "Do you have all the tools you need?"

"State of the art." Vila patted his pockets. "No more big red chilly bins needed these days." Even if he'd often packed a drink or two in the old one along with sandwiches in case he got peckish.

"Here, take this too." Dayna held out a tiny silver cylinder.

"What's that?"

"My latest design, very compact. I call it the Stinger."

"Thanks." Vila slid it gingerly into a pocket. "I don't suppose there's a stun setting."

Dayna and Soolin exchanged long-suffering looks. "It's just as well we're coming with you," Soolin said, taking him firmly by the arm.


They appeared in a dank alley ending in a steel door. "Here we are," said Dayna. "Workers' entrance. Just right for a Delta." She grinned at Vila.

"Independent contractor, thank-you-very-much," Vila said indignantly.

Soolin checked her watch. "Any minute now. Ah, here they come."

They flattened themselves against a wall as the door creaked open and blank-faced workers dressed in grey-brown trooped out. Pylene-pacified workers; Vila averted his eyes, feeling ill, and Taresh growled low in his throat.

"They don't even see us," said Soolin. "Useful."

Dayna shook her head. "They do. They just don't care."

"Still useful. Here comes the new shift. Get ready to follow them in." Soolin grabbed Vila's arm.

"Won't they realise we're not meant to be here?" he asked.

"Doubt it," Dayna said briefly. "Not this lot."

"The trick," said Soolin, "is to act as if we have every right to be here." She raised her eyebrows at Taresh. "Coming?"

"This is my city; these are my people. I wish to see both." He glared at Vila. "You will not return to the ship without the Brightenstone."

Vila's eyes widened. "Blake won't leave me here."

"We'll do our best, Taresh," Dayna said.

And Soolin added, "And Vila is the best. If he can't get it, no one can."

Taresh growled again as he turned and left.

 

Inside, the workers were moving off quietly in different directions, all without a word. Vila shivered, feeling colder than he ought to. He noticed that they all had armbands on their drab uniforms, and the colours matched the doors they went through. A security measure, or to help the poor things know which way to go? "This way," he said, setting off after a small group heading for a thick metal door outlined in gold. He rolled his eyes when he saw them placing their hands on a pad to the side of the door. "Oh, wonderful."

"Can't you do that sort, Vila?" Dayna asked, a hint of her old scorn audible.

"One of my favourite kinds," Vila lied, getting out his tools. He'd have to set the system to match their palm prints to names of people with access, and that meant there was always the chance of one of those names being flagged for being there at an unusual time. The best he could do was to tell the computer to select identities of people not already inside. He closed the panel he'd opened, and pressed his palm to the sensor. The door slid open, and Vila stepped through, holding his breath. "All clear," he said with relief, then, "Oh, no!"

"What have you done, Vila?"

"Not my fault!" Vila pointed accusingly at the flashing red lights on the walls to either side. "Weapons sensors. Thanks very much, Dayna!" he said resentfully, pulling the Stinger out of his pocket and raising his hand to throw it back through the door.

"Wait! You hold on to that." Soolin removed her own Stinger, another more conventional gun, and a knife from one boot. "Give me yours too, Dayna. I can take Vila's once we're through and they'll think there's only one intruder." She trotted down the corridor to a narrow ventilation grill, quickly opened it, and pushed the weapons in. "We can get them on the way out."

"We'll have to be really quick now," Vila said as they hurried past a slow-moving pacified worker towards the old royal apartments, now the commissioner's quarters. "This place'll be full of troopers any minute now." He slid to a stop at another gold-rimmed security door, this one with a faded crown painted on it. "Hang on." He watched the worker approach. "I've got an idea."

The man stopped when he saw them and stood still, waiting for an order.

"Give me your jacket," Vila said, looking over his head, unwilling to meet the dull eyes. "Everyone'll just ignore me if I'm wearing this," he explained to Soolin and Dayna as he slipped it on over his own. "It's like back in the domes; people just don't see the maintenance staff." He lifted an arm. "And I'm betting the gold ring on his sleeve means he's cleared for working in here. Am I right?" He asked the worker.

"Yes, sir."

"What's your job?"

"Cleaner."

"All right, put your hand on the pad there and wait here till I get back."

"Yes, sir." The man complied and the door slid open.

"Here we go." Vila stepped through followed by Dayna. He let out his breath when there were no flashing lights this time.

Soolin raised Vila's Stinger in ironic salute.

"Hey, aren't you meant to be my bodyguard?"

"I'll make a much better one laying a false trail. Besides, that was a good idea with the jacket. I think I'll find an outfit of my own."

"This is where we split too, Vila. You've got a jewel to find and," Dayna flashed a predatory grin, "I've got other game."

 

It wasn't hard finding the strong room going by the directions Taresh had given, from his grandmother's memories of the place. No one, not even the guards, had given Vila a first glance, let alone a second, on his way there; the gold ring made him invisible. Something to be said for Pylene 50, then? No. Really, there wasn't.

There was no Brightenstone though. Nothing at all with an otherworldly glow, or any sort of glow at all if you didn't count the ceiling lights. Maybe Servalan kept it on display, Vila thought. He pulled a face and quickly filled his jacket pockets with pieces of jewellery hanging by a mirror, and left, re-locking the door behind him.

The stone was a sign of royalty; maybe she liked to impress the locals with it. Vila headed for the audience chamber. This was a large room hung with ancient tapestries showing dark-skinned people who looked like Taresh hunting in woods and deserts. Dayna, Vila thought, would like it. There was no Brightenstone here either; if it had been, it would be on show.

Vila sighed, shoulders slumped, and knew it would have to be in Servalan's private chambers if it was here at all. The first room off the entrance hall was a large dining room, and the one opposite was a sitting room, one wall lit with a strange glow that made his eyes feel slightly out of focus. Aha - there it was, sitting on a shelf in solitary splendour! Apart from the strange light, it was quite a pleasant room if you liked white walls, white furniture, white Brightenstone, with the only colour provided by a red orchid in a white vase. As he stood on a sofa to prise the Brightenstone from its mounting, Vila wondered what Servalan did here. He couldn't imagine her relaxing with a bookpad or anything so... human. Perhaps she just sat opposite the stone and quietly gloated.

The Brightenstone was bright which was, of course, hardly a surprise. Vila explored the pockets of the worker's jacket and found a soft cloth to wrap it in, then carefully put it in an inside pocket of his own. He checked but there was no tell-tale glow.

It was time to get out of here and find the others. But as he was heading down the hall, a door opened behind him. Heart pounding, Vila flattened himself against the wall and looked at the floor as Servalan swept by, barely noticing him.

But then she stopped at the door, and Vila hastily pulled another cloth from his borrowed jacket and started polishing a large vase on a stand beside him. She turned, a mocking smile on her face. "One thing about you... creatures. You can't tell a lie. So, how do I look?" She twirled, her black feathered dress swirling out.

Vila panicked briefly. What was she expecting? "Beautiful, commissioner," he said tonelessly. Did the pacified even have an aesthetic sense? "You look very beautiful."

"Of course I do. My most honest critics." She tilted her head, touching a scarlet-nailed finger to her scarlet lips. "One cannot expect such absolute truth from others. Do you like the dress... whatever your name is?"

"It's very nice." Though to be frank, black didn't suit her.

"Just 'nice'?" Servalan's brows drew together. "Not 'beautiful'?"

She was toying with the poor cleaner she thought he was. Did she still expect honesty, or craven flattery? "White might be nicer," Vila ventured.

"White?" Her eyes narrowed. "You've never seen me in white; no one here has. You don't have an imagination so why would you—" Suddenly she smiled, even more widely than before. "Why, Vila. How very sweet of you to have such concern for my appearance." She advanced on him as Vila shrank back. "I've rather missed you and your friends. You made life so very interesting. Unfortunately for you, yours seems to be coming to an end."

"What about when I saved you and cut you loose on Sardos?" Vila babbled.

"I was extremely grateful, dear boy, but I did repay you by saving your life just afterwards, if you recall. More than once, because I could have shot you after I stopped that trooper killing you, you know."

"No reason to break a habit, is there?"

"And just what are you doing here? No, wait, let me guess. What do you have in your pockets, Vila? You do look rather more bulky than I remember."

"Um, a polishing cloth?"

"Oh, I doubt that's all." Servalan slipped a hand into a slit in her gown and produced a tiny, jewelled gun from a thigh holster. She gently stroked the muzzle against his cheek. "What has he got in his pockets, I wonder?" she whispered, then suddenly shouted, "Guard!"

The door swung open and a helmeted trooper came in, gun drawn. Vila closed his eyes in a vain attempt to shut out reality and wished he still had his Stinger.

"Search him," Servalan snapped. "Empty all his pockets."

"I don't think so," the guard said, and with a rush of relief so strong that Vila's knees almost gave way, he recognised Soolin's voice.

"Oh, dear. Another one of you?" Servalan shook her head in mock sadness. "I suggest you drop that gun or I'll blow a large hole in Vila's oh-so-innocent face."

Soolin hesitated, then obeyed.

What was going to happen now? Vila wondered, strangely detached. Soolin was fast; if Servalan shot him first, she had a good chance of grabbing her gun and shooting before Servalan could get a second shot off. If she shot Soolin first, would he have time to grab that huge vase and bean her with it?

Servalan turned her gun towards Soolin, obviously regarding her as the greater threat, and Vila made a lunge for the vase; Servalan squawked and dropped her gun, and Vila froze, the vase in his hands, as she staggered and brought her hands up to her throat.

"Hello, Servalan," Dayna said softly. "Turn your head to the right—slowly and carefully now, no sudden moves—so you can see me. That's right. I'd like you to see who's going to kill you."

Servalan made a strange, harsh noise and her hands fluttered helplessly. There was nothing she could do with a garrotte round her neck, Vila thought dispassionately. The girls had taught him how to throw an attacker from behind over his head, but if Servalan tried that, she'd strangle herself. For some reason, that made the cold calmness disappear, and he swayed, suddenly feeling ill.

"Put the vase down, Vila," said Soolin. "I suspect it's quite valuable."

"It was clever, having a weapons detector," Dayna was saying in a strange, soft voice. "Pity it doesn't pick up non-metallic monomolecular filaments like this. The old weapons do have their advantages, wouldn't you say?"

Servalan's face was going puce and her eyes were bulging; really sickened now, Vila turned and ran for the door, pushing past Soolin. He kept his back turned and a hand clapped to his mouth, even after there was a thud from inside.

"Purple," Dayna said with satisfaction as she joined them, "really isn't her colour. But I knew that back when I first met her."

"I'd rather not have any more details," Vila said faintly. "If you don't mind."

"Let's go," Soolin holstered her gun. "We have to be out from under the mountain before we can teleport."

"I need to give the cleaner's jacket back too," Vila said.


"I got it!" Vila held up the Brightenstone in triumph.

"And I got Servalan!" Dayna crowed, then stopped at the serious look on the Blake's face. "What's wrong?"

"It's Taresh," Blake said. "A couple of troopers were shooting at the so-called pacified and he intervened in their defence. Shot for his trouble, of course."

"Is he all right?" Vila asked.

"He's alive, but not for long. There's nothing more we can do for him."

"Can I see him? To give him this?"

 

"Here you are." Vila held the Brightenstone so Taresh could see it, then gently put it in his hand and curled the limp fingers around it.

"Blake was right," Taresh murmured through bluish lips. "More to you than there seems."

"Um, thanks," Vila said awkwardly, wondering what else he could say to a dying man, then added "your majesty." He stole quietly out, saddened, because at heart he was a kindly soul.


Vila found Avon sitting at a galley table covered in instruments, assorted tools, Orac blinking away, and the Brightenstone glowing in a vice. It reminded Vila of the old days on the Liberator when Avon used to work on the flight deck, he always suspected because Avon was more gregarious than he liked to let on.

Vila slid into the chair opposite. "Found out anything? Like why looking at it make me feel like my eyes are going all googly?"

"Very articulate. And yes."

Vila waited, then sighed. "All right, what?"

"Remember the Feldon crystals?"

"Not likely to forget." One of the adventures that had gone wrong and soured Vila on the whole idea of having more. "I never understood how they'd even work. I mean, unlimited energy? Surely that's breaking the rules of physics."

"And you know them all, of course."

Vila pulled a face. "All right, is this thing like those?"

"Somewhat. Although this has such a powerful connection, it leaks. That's what you can see."

"Eh?" Vila pushed his chair back. "Leaks what?"

"Light. Light from another universe."

"Oh. Ah! So that's where all the energy comes from."

Avon smiled slightly. "Enlightenment."

"Oh, ha ha." Vila couldn't help but grin back in appreciation of the pun. "Is it dangerous?"

"Not in this state. The monarchs of the Kedawa systems don't seem to have suffered any ill effects unless you count those caused by absolute power."

Vila eyed the Brightenstone with suspicion. "Yeah. And they'd've had that too, with that thing in their hands."

"The original king certainly used it to conquer the systems, but then appears to have deactivated it, presumably to stop it being used against him."

There was something in Avon's face. A certain smugness at his own brilliance, but something else. Then Vila recognised it as the same look he'd seen on Freedom City. Greed. "And you know how to activate it again, don't you."

Avon leaned back in his chair. "A simple application of the right level and wavelength of energy," he said casually.

"And it would take out planets?" Vila remembered with a chill of foreboding the footage of Feldon-crystal destruction.

"It could. But we'd have Orac to control it."

"We? You and Blake, you mean?"

Avon suddenly bent forward, eyes glittering. "We could defeat the Federation."

"And rule the galaxy?"

"Oh, I think I'd leave that to Blake."

"And afterwards? What if it got into the wrong hands later? No one should have that kind of power." Vila stood up.

"Come, now. You could have a planet of your own."

Vila stopped at the door, and said lightly without turning. "With a picked female royal guard?"

"If that's what you want." Avon said absently.


"Where the hell is Vila?" Avon demanded. "He's the one who wanted to see this."

"It's worth the detour. It's pretty." Dayna stood by the observation window, staring out at the glory that was a ringed gas giant.

"Pretty isn't the word I'd use," Soolin said. "It's magnificent."

"So glad you're enjoying it. If he doesn't turn up soon, we'll break orbit."

"There's no real hurry, Avon," Blake said lazily from the couch where he was sprawled, arms spread along the back. "Or are you so eager to experiment on the Brightenstone?"

"It's not exactly something I can do on board ship."

"Taking us in closer," Jenna said over the comms. "Lovely, isn't it?"

Avon had to admit that the sight was a stunning one. He stood, hands behind his back, looking out at the swirling storms and the slanted silvery rings casting delicate shadows below as the ship passed between the planet and its sun.

A few minutes passed in silence as they orbited the ever-changing planet, watching the marbled desert colours of the day side and flashes from the roiling storms of the night.

Then Vila hurried in. "Sorry I'm late!"

"And so you should be. As requested." Avon gestured at the view.

"It's beautiful. Absolutely beautiful." Vila looked at Avon with a smile of pure happiness. "Thank you."


Avon stared into the empty box where the Brightenstone should have been nestling, then closed his eyes in understanding. "Vila," he said softly. Then: "VILA!"

"Yes?" Vila managed to look both innocent and ready to make a run for it.

"You're the only one who could have got through the locks. Where is it?"

"Somewhere no one can get it."

"Where?" Avon advanced on Vila and grabbed him by the arm.

"Ow, that hurts!"

"What did you do with it, Vila?"

"Um, remember that gas giant?"

Avon had a brief flare of hope. "It's part of the rings, I take it?"

"Nah, you and Orac'd be able to find it, with the weird energy that thing puts out." Vila tried to pull loose. "I wanted to put it where no one could get it. I thought about a sun but who knows what it'd do to it, or vice versa."

"Vila," Avon said warningly.

"So I fired it at that planet when Jenna was taking us in closer," Vila gabbled, "decaying orbit and all that. It'll be under layers of gas now; pressures too high for anyone to get it back."

Avon let him go, stunned, and Vila stumbled back, rubbing his arm.

"Is it safe there?" Blake asked sharply.

"Better than in a sun, I'd think." Vila slid his eyes to Avon for confirmation.

"Yes. Yes, it is." Avon sank into a flight chair. "You... you idiot!"

"I'd do it again!"

"Yes, I know you would." Avon looked up. "And do you know, I'm not sure I can say you were wrong."

Blake shook his head. "I should be very angry, Vila, but I have to say that I suddenly find myself relieved.. Ah well, we'll find another way that holds less temptation for misuse."


And as you know, they did. Blake and Avon went on to forge a powerful alliance, our own United Independent Systems, that stood against the Federation until its oppressed people arose and brought it down. Blake is an enduring hero, along with his technical wizard Avon and all those who worked beside them, especially Dayna Servalan-Slayer.

And what about our little (or not so little) Delta? He went back to his homey hole in Cooby where he could once again sit outside, his back against his sun-warmed wall, enjoying the morning (and only slightly missing having adventures), and entertain his friends in the pub with stories of galactic travels and revolutionary derring-do.

Even now, so long afterwards, while Vila is remembered for being one of Blake's rebels and his Thief, there are many who say that the very best thing he ever did was burying the Brightenstone.