Orac had been in a huff, having had its researches interrupted yet again by a request from Blake. Having had his own researches frequently interrupted in a similar manner, Avon felt inclined to sympathise. Not that a machine needed sympathy of course, but it was pleasant to be able to grouch to something that at least had the intelligence to understand him.
"What Blake needs," Avon declared, "is someone equally stubborn and fanatic to distract him."
"You being neither?" Vila ducked his head in and ducked out just as quickly before retaliation had a chance to reach him.
"I am not a fanatic rebel," Avon pointed out in tones of sweet reason, just in case Vila had remained to eavesdrop.
"You require a fanatic rebel of equal stubbornness to Blake who will disagree with him," Orac declared in a tone of suspicious smugness.
Avon smiled in amusement. "Oh, at least one. Two or three would be even better."
He'd never actually expected Orac to be able to do it...
He'd been minding his own business minding the teleport. Well, all right, he'd been doing some important research while Blake was briefly off the ship. If he could just figure out exactly how the teleport operated, he'd be able to make a fortune from it.
"Bring me up, Avon."
He sighed in irritation and reached for the controls only to see the levers move independently.
"I am carrying out your request. A simple manipulation of the space-time continuum utilising the principles of morphic resonance."
"Wha-" The question remained unfinished as four men materialised in the teleport bay. Avon stared at them. Though their ages and styles of clothing were all wildly different, they were all, undeniably, Blake. On the end stood an upright man of around Blake's age, but with a dark beard framing his face. He wore a clean, white shirt under his long black jacket and a gold chain went from one of the jacket's buttonholes to a pocket. Next to him stood Roj Blake in his familiar baggy-sleeved shirt, and beyond Blake stood a slightly older man. The brown curls of his hair were flecked with grey and there was a weariness about him. His clothing was rough and practical: a knitted jumper and a thorn-proof jacket of dark green. He looked as though he hadn't shaved in weeks. The man on the other end was the oldest by far. The trademark curly hair was white and he too had the beginnings of a beard. He was dressed in a loose, white, belted tunic with a leather waistcoat which failed to conceal the fact that he'd put on a lot of weight.
"Ahem." If a computer could be said to clear its throat, then Orac did so. "Allow me to introduce, from left to right, the Reverend Mervin Griffiths, Roj Blake, Owen Edwards and Blaze."
"The work of Satan!"
"What's going on, Orac?"
"It's a trick of the Knights!"
Blaze pointed a finger, there was an abrupt flash of heat and all of Orac's lights went out.
Avon looked from Blaze to the gently flowing stream of plastic and metal that had once been Orac's innards. "Gentlemen," he said slowly - somehow the situation was beyond swearing - "I think you just ruined your chances of getting home."
It really was delightful. Griffiths and Edwards were arguing in Welsh, while Blaze was trying yet again to explain the right of kings to Blake. Blake, who was probably as far from being a monarchist as it was possible to be, had been holding his ground quite well until the other two pitched in.
"The king is anointed by God," Griffiths exclaimed. "To rise against a monarch is to go against God's law."
Edwards nodded. "Only by a king can the people be properly united. A king will draw them together and give leadership to fight against oppression."
Blake was struggling valiantly. "But surely a king is a source of oppression.
"Not," Blaze said emphatically, "if he is the true king. Only false kings oppress."
Avon put his feet up and relaxed. As far as he had it worked out, true kings were recognised either by their ancestry, or the ability to pull swords out of stones. Both were in short supply around here, but that didn't seem to be stopping anyone. He really ought to go and do some investigation into the mechanics of the main drive, but the show was too tempting. In another half hour or so, they'd work their way around to religion and then the sparks would really start flying. Blake's atheism didn't sit well with the others at all, especially the preacher.
In fact, it was hard to find anything the four of them did agree on, except that oppression should be fought. Of course, they differed as to how it should be fought. Griffiths seemed to believe in gaining representation in the government and talked a lot about something called trade unions. Blaze was all for more direct methods, though he had a touching belief in the power of magic (which annoyed Avon immensely because whenever he succeeded in proving that magic was impossible, Blaze would promptly demonstrate the opposite. There had to be a technological trick to it, but so far Avon had been unable to spot the technology). Edwards was the most military minded of the lot, but he wanted to build up support on the ground, not carry out hit and run raids in space.
Within ten days of the newcomers' arrival he'd solved the mystery of how the auto-repair system functioned and was well on the way to understanding the nature of the main drive. Bliss. The rest of the crew seemed to be enjoying themselves too. Gan had got religion. He and the Reverend Griffiths had taken to singing hymns in the rest room with surprisingly harmonious results. Jenna's skirt length flipped up and down like a yo-yo as she tried to pursue all four at once. A tricky task as Blaze was definitely a leg man while Griffiths considered anything that showed a woman's ankle to be indecent. Cally was having a field day discussing guerilla tactics with Edwards who appeared to have spent half his life fighting some group called the Knights of God, and Vila had found a drinking companion in Blaze who was trying to top Vila's tall tales of dome life with stories about Merlin and battles against the forces of evil.
Music surrounded Avon as he relaxed in his cabin. Nobody had bothered him for weeks now. The four rebels were still at it hammer and tongs. The latest twist was that Blake was trying to learn Welsh as whenever the other three got really passionate about something, they'd drop into the language automatically, leaving Blake feeling rather left out. It ought to take at least six months for Blake to learn Welsh, Avon reflected happily. In fact there was only the tiniest remaining niggle to mar the pure perfection of his existence: if the four of them ever did agree on anything, they'd be unstoppable.