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After the Fire

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Of course I'll talk. Who do you think I am? If you're looking for taciturn heroes of the revolution, you're in the wrong cell. But I'll talk better if you put that away. Guns don't do anything good for my memory.

Oh, well, suit yourself. Just don't blame me if I forget anything.

Where do you want me to start?

If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not. You must have seen the security tape, and I know you've got some of the other witnesses. I don't think I'll be able to add much.

Thanks. I'll start with what happened after.

***

The medical unit in the Gauda Prime Federation base wasn't exactly state of the art or luxurious, but I suppose they haven't had much of a presence there for a while. Still, it was nicer than any of the many cells I've been in during my time. A lot better than here, if you don't mind my saying so. In fact, as prison experiences go, it was pretty comfortable, but it was lonely. I'm no good when I'm on my own. I've got an over-active imagination.

And I was bored nearly to tears. You see, I wasn't actually much hurt. I'd copped a bit of stray fire when I hit the deck, but I was already on the way down at that point. I know overwhelming odds when I see them, and when there's no cover it's either lie flat or get shot. But they kept me locked up alone in a room in the medical unit anyway. Orders, I suppose.

For days I had no idea if any of the rest of the crew were alive because, of course, they'd stood there like the idiots they always were, blazing away, and got themselves hit for real. And Avon...but like I said, you've seen the tape.

I tried asking the guards at the medical unit about the others, but someone had put the fear of God into the lot of them and they wouldn't say a word. I told myself that no news was good news, because if they were all dead there'd be no point in them not telling me. And I really didn't fancy the idea of being the star turn at the show trial. I've never wanted to have the spotlight.

I asked the doctor as well, and he was just as tight-lipped. I can't understand those Federation service doctors, I really can't. They're all bedside manner and, "Take this, we'll have you up and about in a couple of days." Half the time they're talking to people who are in the middle of being tortured to death. They're just patching them up so the interrogators can have another go at them.

I've seen people after interrogations, dozens of times. I get put in with them because I'm a sympathetic listener and the cells are always wired up. I've seen some sights, I can tell you. Broken bones and people going into shock from the internal bleeding and people who've had bits of their nervous system burned out. You can't imagine.

Or maybe you don't need to, hm?

Anyway, let's just say, time passed. I could've opened the lock, piece of cake, but the medical unit was crawling with guards. The size of the collective bounty on our heads, it wasn't surprising. Retirement homes with swimming pools, all round.

I'd been there for a while—call it a week but I'm not guaranteeing it and you probably know better than I do—when an alarm started ringing outside. From the sound of it, whatever it was that was happening was going on through pretty much the whole complex. There was a bit of running and shouting, then just the alarm.

I was sitting on the bed, building myself up to taking a look outside, when the door opened and she waltzed in with a single officer for company. Servalan, or rather, at that point, I was still thinking, 'Commissioner Sleer'.

I'd been expecting her, of course. She couldn't possibly not come to gloat after all the years she'd spent chasing us around the galaxy. But the real reason was that she couldn't let us go to trial. Not when we knew who she really was. So, she'd come to finish off any survivors.

Expecting her didn't make it any better. She parked the officer by the door and breezed up to the bed and said, "Hello, Vila," in that cheery voice.

I stood up, but I didn't say anything. When I'm scared, which is normally, I talk a blue streak. Oh, you've noticed? But even though I knew she was going to kill me, when she actually appeared I was more annoyed than anything else. It just made everything seem so bloody pointless; such a lot of wasted effort.

I did notice that she had a bruise starting to come up on her cheekbone, just there, which was interesting, and which almost gave me the urge to give her a matching one on the other side. But she had a gun, of course, she always does, and I wasn't that mad.

She was holding some other stuff, as well as the gun, but I didn't register what it was at that point.

"You're looking well, Vila," she went on, still super-friendly. "I hope they've been looking after you."

Then the sidekick said, "Get on with it. We don't have time to play games." Not the usual tone of voice Servalan's minions take, I'm sure you'll agree.

I did the biggest double take you can imagine; I must have looked like such a total idiot. It made Servalan smile, anyway.

I still can't believe I didn't recognise him straight away, except that, in my defence, he did look like death warmed over and served up cold. But once I got a proper look at him, let me tell you, Avon kitted out in full Federation officer uniform is a terrifying sight. It makes you realise what he could have been if he wasn't just that little bit too nice and just that little bit too honest. Don't tell him I said that, will you?

Anyway, Servalan put on a pouty little you're-spoiling-my-fun look, and dropped a Federation uniform on my bed.

I just stared at her and said, "What's this?" even though it was perfectly obvious what it was. My brain still didn't really believe I wasn't dead yet, so my mouth was doing its best to cope on its own.

"It's a rescue, Vila, what does it look like? We're going to get you out of here." She smiled even wider, like the psycho she is, and added, "Don't worry, I promise I won't look while you change."

I picked up the uniform, but I was still hesitating.

Avon was watching the corridor and he was twitchy as hell. It doesn't show much, but any of the crew could've told you. I could well understand it, but right then Avon, nervous and armed, wasn't something I wanted to be too near. Not that I hadn't been hoping he was alive, you understand. He fights for his life like a rat in a trap and, give the man his due, he fights just as hard for the rest of us. Under most circumstances.

But I kept seeing Blake, dying. I'd had much too long on my own in which to think about it. It's a funny thing, but I never see the first shot hitting him, only his face when it does, and then the second and third going in. It's not an image I'm ever going to forget.

The anger at Servalan had gone, by then, and I was properly frightened again. I wasn't a hundred percent sure I wanted to walk out of there with the man who'd done that to Blake. Still, what else was I going to do? Stay there and get executed?

So, I put the uniform on and Servalan handed me a gun, which must rate as one of my all time strangest experiences.

I'd felt sort of flattered that Avon had come for me first. When we got out onto the corridor, I realised that mine was just the first room he'd found. Still, it was a nice feeling while it lasted.

Stop?

Oh, just for now. Sure, if you want to. A drink would be nice, hm? Yes, water will do.

***

Where was I?

That's right. So, we went out into the corridor, alarms still shrilling away. Tarrant's room was next. Avon gave me the pick he'd opened my door with and...I think I'm going to have to digress a bit here, so you'll have a chance of understanding the rest properly.

The last night we spent on Xenon base, we slept in Scorpio, because we expected the Federation to come knocking any minute and the plan at that point was supposed to be run and keep on running. Pity we didn't stick to it, really. Now, I don't know if anyone's told you about Scorpio, but there was only one cabin and apart from that there were these poxy little bunks, all on the flight deck. I didn't find them too uncomfortable, but then I can sleep pretty much anywhere.

So, naturally, Avon took the cabin and the rest of us got the bunks. We'd spent days running around like mad things, salvaging everything we could from the base, so we all slept like the dead anyway. When I woke up in the morning, Soolin was just finishing fastening her jacket (talk about a missed opportunity) and Dayna was still snoring away. Dayna was like me; she could sleep on a rock if she was tired enough.

Anyway, Tarrant was nowhere to be seen, so I asked Soolin where he was. I was vaguely worried about him, because he'd seemed really cut up after Zeeona died. Soolin said he'd probably gone back into the base to get some breakfast, which was where she was going, and did I want any coffee? I think the twin shocks of the alliance collapsing and of losing the base made everyone just that little bit nicer in those last few days.

Soolin went off to look for coffee and I was pottering around the flight deck trying to sort out which bags of stuff belonged to me, when the door to Avon's cabin opened and who should be standing there but Avon and Tarrant.

So much for Zeeona, I thought.

Now, technically, yes, Tarrant could have got up before anyone else and gone into Avon's cabin for a quick chat about rebel strategy. But, oh my God, the body language.

They paused in the doorway, and Avon leaned in close and said something under his breath that made Tarrant grin like a maniac. Then Avon put his hand on Tarrant's back in sort of after-you gesture, except that he didn't take if off again until they'd walked half-way across the flight deck, perfectly in step. And all the while he kept glancing over at me, making sure I'd seen it. Then Avon veered off towards me and Tarrant headed for the airlock.

He could have made it more obvious, I suppose. For example, he could have stuck his tongue down Tarrant's throat right in front of me, but it would have taken something on that sort of scale to make a much bigger point.

Avon stopped next to me, looked down at Dayna, then back up at me. I just waited, not being able to think of any non-suicidal comments, and after a few seconds he produced one of his is-that-or-isn't-it-a-smile smiles. Totally false, all for effect. "Wake Dayna up. We're leaving in four hours." And off he went, after Tarrant.

He knew that I knew, and he knew that I'd tell the other two. So that was how he got everything about the new situation clear and understood without having to say a word to anyone. And he used to call Blake devious. I doubt Tarrant noticed any of it. He just looked happy, and slightly dazed. Lucky bastard.

What?

Oh, don't tell me you're going to get all uptight about this? Doesn't fit your preconceptions of what rebel heroes ought to be like? I thought you'd be pleased about that.

Well, tough. You wanted me to talk. If you don't like what I'm saying, just miss it out. Or write whatever sort of confession suits you and I'll sign it. If you don't want the truth, don't ask for it.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, lucky Tarrant. I'll admit I felt a twinge of envy on that flight deck, watching the two of them leave. Well, of course I did. Wouldn't you? You have met Avon, right? Oh, you don't? Really? Hey, if you say so. Let's just say you're probably in a minority.

Anyway, there's no need to get like that. Neither Scorpio nor Liberator was exactly a hotbed of immoral passion, at least most of the time. Nothing ever happened between me and Avon, to get that clear for a start. I'm not his type and I've also got a better sense of self-preservation than some I could mention. Candles and moths, fire and fingers, Avon and anyone he cares for, yes?

You have to remember that Avon doesn't exactly have an inspirational track record with regards to the people who've been really important to him.

There was Blake of course, the reason we're here. No, calm down, I'm not saying there was every anything between them either, not physically. But I usually have better things to do with my time that spy on the sex lives of the rest of the crew so I don't know for sure. I wouldn't bet good money on a 'yes', put it that way. But whatever you might think, Avon really felt a lot for him.

And there was the legendary Anna Grant.

No, you probably haven't, but the details aren't important anyway, not unless you want to build some elaborate psychological theory about trust and betrayal, and I expect you don't. It would be a waste of time, anyway. Things don't always happen for a good reason, or any real reason at all. Avon loved her, which is all that matters for now.

So, anyway, two people Avon thought a hell of a lot of. And by the time we'd got to the point of standing in that corridor on Gauda Prime, he'd shot both of them.

When I'd opened the lock on Tarrant's door, Avon said, "Watch the corridor," and Servalan stayed by the doorway. I trailed after Avon, because I wanted to see if Tarrant was all right and yes, I was a bit curious to see what would happen between them. And, more practically, I thought it might be a useful gauge of just how stable Avon actually was. I was half thinking about clearing out on my own.

You could tell just by looking at him that Tarrant was in a much worse state than me, or even than Avon. He'd been hurt before the shooting started, of course, when Scorpio crashed. He looked pale and a bit sweaty and there was an awful lot more medical equipment around than in my room.

Avon shook his shoulder, and then did it again a bit harder, and Tarrant opened his eyes. Straight away I saw that he had no clue who we were.

"Tarrant, it's me."

Tarrant blinked, purely a reflex, no-one home at all. Actually, from my experience, it looked more like the effect of drugs than anything physically wrong with him, which was good in a way. Although still very bad if we couldn't get him on his feet.

Servalan came over and started sorting through the paraphernalia on the table by the bed. Avon kept talking to Tarrant without getting any response, until Servalan pushed him aside. She had an injector, full of something blue. She was reaching down to Tarrant when Avon grabbed her.

She should have asked him first, of course, but asking isn't really in her nature, or explaining. I saw his knuckles go white as he gripped her wrist. It would've made me yelp, but she just smiled sweetly. Probably enjoyed it.

"Avon, I know what I'm doing."

And of course, she did. She must have drugged and tortured dozens of people, personally, even before you get onto her giving the orders to others. Sometimes you can almost forget that when you're talking to her.

So, Servalan injected the whatever-it-was and went back to the doorway. I sort of hovered. Avon was watching Tarrant like a hawk, biting his lip, and for a second I thought, God, he's going to cry. Needless to say, he didn't, it was just the way he looked: ashen and drawn, his eyes bruised with fatigue. I wondered what they'd been doing to him in that week while I was sitting on my hands in my room.

Tarrant started coming round a bit more, but not nearly fast enough and he still didn't really recognise either of us. His eyes kept closing, and Avon kept shaking him awake again. It must only have been a few minutes but it felt like it went on for hours, with the alarms still going off in the base outside. Avon was terribly calm, but now Servalan was getting as twitchy as Avon had been in my room.

Eventually she said, "Avon, we have to go."

"Wait."

Avon leaned down so that his mouth was about four inches from Tarrant's ear. Then, quietly but very, very distinctly he said, "Tarrant, please don't make me leave you here."

Tarrant's eyes flew open like Avon had stuck a pin in him and for the first time there was an expression there. I don't think I've ever seen anyone more purely terrified in my life, not even me. God only knows what it meant to him.

After a few seconds the fear started to clear and he said, "Avon?" And then, with a sort of sick relief, "You came back."

That was when I decided I didn't really need to see any more and I went off to give Servalan a hand watching the corridor. Sorry.

What? Well, you looked like you wanted to hear what happened next, that's all.

It took an age for Avon to get him dressed and Servalan got more and more impatient. She was pushing her luck with Avon, frankly, considering the way he looked, but he kept his temper. Come to think of it, I don't think she'd twigged just then that there was anything between Avon and Tarrant. I don't know how she missed it, except that she had a lot of other things on her mind. Good job, too, I expect.

By the time we got back into the corridor Tarrant was just barely standing up on his own and intermittently even making sense. He had a really nasty limp, and kept stumbling, but Avon had a pretty good hold on him. For some reason, I suddenly realised that the others had all been in exactly the same position I'd been in, not knowing who else was alive and who was dead.

Soolin's room was next and she was standing right near the door when I got in. I felt quite lucky not to get a punch, but she'd probably heard me tricking the lock—it sounds quite different to opening it properly. Anyway, she was expecting someone.

It takes a lot to shake Soolin, but I suppose the sight of the four of us would have surprised anyone. Servalan went into her 'this is an escape' spiel, and Avon helped Tarrant over to the bed and sat with him whilst Soolin changed. You don't get many lady troopers, so Servalan had brought a sort of mutoid disguise, which worked all right, as long as you didn't look too closely. It was a bit of a tight fit, if I remember correctly. I thought Soolin looked pretty good in it.

When she was ready, Soolin looked over the rest of us and said, "What about Dayna?" From her tone of voice she must have known the answer already, but she had to ask. Stupidly, I hadn't realised until that moment that Servalan didn't have another uniform with her. Soolin always spots that sort of thing.

Anyway, it was Avon who said it. "Dayna is dead."

Tarrant looked round at him and said, "Dead?" and then, "Dayna?" in a lost sort of voice. He was still pretty much out of it. We had to tell him again, later, two or three times.

I didn't say anything about it, because like I said I'd guessed when Soolin asked her question and anyway, I was building up a good healthy head of fear. We were still in the middle of the Gauda Prime Federation base, you have to remember, and while I wasn't sure where all the swarming guards had got to, I was pretty confident they'd be back. It was sad that Dayna was dead, but I didn't want to join her.

So I dropped the lock pick on the floor to get everyone's attention and said, "Let's go."

Well, that's pretty much the end of the beginning, so we could stop there for today, if you like.

Sure. I'm not going anywhere.

***

I'm fine, all things considered. Shall we just get started?

So, yes, after everyone was collected up, Servalan took us away through the base, and to some unused buildings near the landing area. The alarms were still wailing away and the only people we saw were at a distance. Our uniforms were plenty good enough for that.

The first thing that happened when we got there was a round of explanations, because there were some major bits of explaining required. Soolin asked the questions and I kept my head down. My experience with questions is that once you ask them people start expecting you to do something about the answers. Still, I paid attention because these were really good questions, like, why was Servalan sitting there in her best frock, all pally, instead of shooting at us as per normal?

The answer was obvious, and of course you know anyway. She'd been rumbled, her cover as Sleer was blown.

It had to happen in the end. Luckily for her (and for us) it happened when she was on Gauda Prime. As soon as she'd arrived she'd gone to see Tarrant and Avon, just for a friendly gloat you understand, to rub their noses in Avon's mess. I've always been happy to be one of the little people who don't come in for special attention.

And of course she wanted Orac from Avon. I suspect she offered him a deal of some kind, but if so the rest of us didn't get to hear about it. I did wonder if that had been when she'd acquired the bruise, but it turned out that was later, when she'd been getting the uniform for Avon.

Anyway, she'd had her fun with Avon and Tarrant, then a while later she'd gone over to the communications centre to get in touch with Space Command HQ and, pure coincidence, she'd overheard someone else putting a message through.

Sleer is Servalan, sending pictures.

If she'd got there that little bit earlier she could have stopped them sending it off and cleaned up any witnesses there before she dealt with us. It's not often luck runs our way, so I'm always extra grateful when it does.

Now, I don't think any of us ratted on her deliberately, although Servalan got pretty het up about wanting to know who had. Avon insisted it wasn't him, and I think Servalan believed him in the end, which is good enough for me. What I think happened was that Tarrant, drugged up to the eyes, saw her coming in and then started talking after she left, using her right name. He didn't remember doing it, but then he wouldn't.

Servalan has a lovely cool head in a crisis. It must be nice to think like that—or maybe not. She could have run, you see, but then she'd have been on a Federation ship with a Federation crew when the order to arrest her came through, and the personal devotion of the sort of people she surrounds herself with isn't worth spit.

So, there she was, stuck on Gauda Prime, which was lousy with rebels so she didn't dare leave the base. She needed a crew, we needed to get out, and suddenly we had something in common. Logical, if you think like Servalan.

She'd gone straight back to see Avon, to ask for his help, which must have been just wonderful for his ego. I bet he really made her beg. But by the time I saw them together they were playing at being best of friends.

Between them they'd persuaded the computer system that there was a risk of meltdown in the base reactor, and that was what had triggered the alarms. Servalan knew standard Federation evacuation procedures, which included leaving the prisoners, minimal security patrols and no return for so many hours whilst the reactor automatics tried to contain everything. There were ships on the landing area we could take. It was all very neat and Avon and Servalan certainly enjoyed explaining it to the rest of us.

Soolin asked a whole lot of questions, but I didn't bother. For Avon to believe that Servalan would see the rest of us safe, in exchange for helping her get away, well, he would have to be far more gullible than I know he is. Yet, strange as it sounds, it didn't actually worry me that the whole idea was insane. I knew he must have thought it through and come up with a solution to keep us safe. He didn't trust Servalan an inch and she trusted him even less.

It never occurred to me that maybe they'd both just run out of other options.

Avon caused trouble by insisting we should go after Orac. It's not that Orac isn't very useful, in its way. I think Avon's always put a bit more value on it than it deserves, but that's only reasonable. He really loves computers—it's his field and we all can get a little single-minded. I went back into a burning building once, to rescue a lucky lock pick I was very fond of.

No, really, I did. It used to be the stupidest thing I'd ever done in my life, back before I met Blake.

Anyway, the problem was that the Federation buildings we were in were absolutely miles from Blake's base, which was where Orac was hidden. By the time we could've got there, and back to the ship, the alarm would have been over and we'd have been well and truly back in the soup. It took us ages to persuade him to drop it.

After that we had to decide where to go. It didn't take us long to run through our list of destinations. You'd think, what with fighting the Federation for so long, we'd have managed to scrape together a few friends who could have forgiven Avon and taken us in, even given his monumental screw up at Gauda Prime. But it was always Blake who was the important one. After he'd left Liberator it continued to be 'Blake's ship' to most people. And even after we'd lost Liberator we were still 'Blake's crew'.

I suggested trying Albian, which is still independent, but I got shouted down. I could understand why, even though they have the most reason of anyone we've helped to be personally grateful to Avon. Without him they would have been crispy fried Albians. He'd been the one who'd disarmed the radiation bomb whilst Blake stood around, 4000 miles away, with a teleport bracelet on, being supportive.

But, to be honest, who would you rather be beholden to? Someone oozing charisma the way Blake did, or a sarcastic, superior bastard like Avon? It only needed one person to decide to turn us in to the Federation or the rebels and we'd be finished. And, of course, the Albians wouldn't be one bit pleased to see Servalan.

After we'd bickered and moaned and wasted time for a while, Tarrant suddenly said, "Gerin. It's not very far away, it's safe. No-one knows we know about it, except us."

It was an encouraging sign, because he'd been pretty quiet up until then and I was beginning to get worried. He was going to have to fly us out of there and I didn't want him doing it still stoned out of his senses.

Soolin, who pays attention to that sort of thing, said, "The mining base you checked out before?"

Avon nodded. "Yes. It's got supplies, and a medical unit."

"That was months ago. How do you know it's still safe?"

"Orac has been monitoring it. The Federation re-expansion isn't moving that way yet."

It's one of Avon's more attractive features—he always keeps half an eye on the best place to run to.

Okay, why not? It's as good a place to take a break as anywhere. Could I have some water, again? And maybe something in it, this time?

***

It took another couple of hours of sitting around before Tarrant was up to flying the ship. Avon spent the time coaxing files out of the base computer. Even without Orac, he got pretty much everything the Federation knew about the rebels on Gauda Prime, which was plenty. Your security was pretty lousy, you know that? But he didn't find what he was searching for, of course he didn't.

I didn't see the files myself, but I knew Blake would never work for the Federation, and Avon knew it too, but he had to look, anyway. He'd known the truth almost straight away. You've seen the tape.

Yes, I know I keep going on about it, but it's all on there, really. I don't know why you're even talking to me.

The files? He showed them to Tarrant at some point, I know that from something I heard later. If you didn't find them, he probably destroyed them.

There was a little hesitation as we got aboard Servalan's ship. I think Avon was wondering if we were all going to go with him, but of course he wouldn't ask.

Now, that is an interesting question. Do you mean why did he run, or why did we run with him? I'll answer the second one first.

Soolin and I had a bit of a chat about it, in fact, while Avon was busy with the computers. Sticking with Avon made us guilty by association. But it maybe wasn't too late to turn ourselves over to the friendliest rebels we could find and explain it hadn't been us who'd shot Blake, no matter how many holes there were in him.

Oh, sorry about that.

Anyway, Soolin knew Gauda Prime and she could have got us away, got us passage on ship out of there. Why didn't we? Well, part of it was that we weren't at all sure we'd be believed if we did run into any rebels. You have to remember, we didn't know about the tape, then.

And part of it was, yes, loyalty. Most of it, to be honest, for me anyway. It would have meant laying the whole blame squarely on Avon and Avon's a friend, even though it's bloody difficult to persuade him to behave like one sometimes. You know, the saying? Friends are people who let you help? Never mind.

You'll have to ask Soolin yourself if you want to know her reasons for staying with him. And there was never any question of what Tarrant would do, even if Avon had turned round and told us all to scarper without him.

As for Avon himself, I don't know. No, honestly, I don't. I could make a few things up if you like.

I think he ran because he knew the kind of loyalty Blake inspired and he knew that you lot would want blood. I think he ran because he couldn't believe what he'd done and didn't want to have to think about it. I think he ran because we usually ran, that's how we'd survived so long. I think he ran because he wanted to get Tarrant away, and Tarrant would've stayed with him through hell and high water. I think he ran because he felt guilty about getting the rest of us into such a mess and he thought he could get us out again. Pick whichever one you like, or make one up yourself. Or ask him yourself, why don't you?

The trip wasn't bad, except for one thing, and we stayed out of trouble. I don't think we saw a single ship on the way there.

We watched a lot of viscasts, at least at first. Avon had then on screen all the time, and we picked up the news pretty quickly. Servalan was all over everywhere. They were dead keen to get her, with dead being the operative word. It made a nice change.

The ship had a Federation decoder and the internal Federation messages were even better. She knows a lot of secrets, does Servalan, and everyone she knew something about was scrambling to cover up. She gave us a running commentary on who they were and what she knew about them—the interesting personal stuff, not the politics. Very funny, she was, and it helped take our minds off the rest.

The rest, the one bad thing, was the tape, of course. At first they still weren't showing the whole thing, just edited highlights. Then, finally, they showed it almost beginning to end. Avon sat through it the once and then walked out. Tarrant went after him and came back almost immediately, looking rather flushed. Clearly, words had been exchanged and he'd come out the loser. They must have made up later, but there was a tension, even after that, which lasted until after we'd made planet fall.

Gerin is a horrible place, if you don't like the cold, which I don't. At least the landing was smooth as silk, despite the endless storms the planet seems to manage. Tarrant was a superb pilot.

Do you want to hear something else about Avon and Tarrant? I only ask because during the first few days on Gerin I did a piece of eavesdropping that I was ashamed of even when I did it. But it might help you understand some things about the man you're all so keen to see lynched. I'd be grateful if you'd leave this bit out, if he sees this, but obviously I can't make you.

All right, here it is.

I was having a good hunt round the base, because it had been full of miners and there had to be a stock of booze somewhere. I was in one of the barracks rooms, searching personal storage lockers with locks hardly worth the bother of opening, when I heard Avon and Tarrant coming down the corridor. Now, I was supposed to be checking the security systems on the outer hatches, so I ducked down behind one of the lockers, just so they wouldn't see me when they walked past.

Only they didn't walk past. They came in and the footsteps stopped just inside the doorway. Then I heard Avon say, "That one," and then a creak as they sat down on one of the beds.

There was a long silence, so long that my curiosity got the better of me and I wriggled back behind the lockers so I could peer out the other end. They were sitting on the bed with their backs to me, a little way apart and very still.

Eventually, Tarrant said, "It seems like a long time ago, doesn't it, Avon?"

"Yes."

"Mind you, even Xenon base seems like a long time ago. At least the landing was easier, this time, without Slave messing it up. And the storms weren't so bad."

It was pretty clear that Tarrant was nervous, and that was why he was talking about nothing at all. Avon obviously felt the same way because he gave one of his irritated little shrugs and said, "What is it, Tarrant?"

(I'd wondered what they called each other in private. Now I knew.)

"I just wanted to say I was sorry."

"About what?"

"Gauda Prime. Blake."

"And that's why you wanted to come in here?"

"I didn't particularly want the others to overhear."

God, I felt like such a rat. Not enough to stop listening, though.

"So. You're sorry."

"Yes. I—"

Avon stood up, walked away. I thought he was walking out again so, when he turned back, I only just ducked out of sight in time.

"Tarrant, you don't have anything to be sorry about. You didn't do anything."

"I said—"

"It doesn't matter what you said, what matters is what you did, which was nothing. I did it."

Avon never balked at taking responsibility for his own mistakes. I remember him on Terminal saying, 'I let her take Liberator'. This must have hurt far more to admit, although he did love that ship.

I did notice, though, that this time he didn't actually say what he'd done, not in so many words.

"You saw the files, Tarrant. Blake—" And his voice broke slightly on the name and I almost made a noise too. Eavesdropping does that to me, really makes me feel the conversation.

He took a breath, started again. "Blake was playing a stupidly dangerous game, as usual. Any of the others, anyone at all, could have made the same mistake you did. You didn't know him. I did. I should have realised. I should have known..."

He made a sort of hiccuping noise and then there was another long silence. I just had to peep round the corner of the lockers. It was pretty dark in there, so it wasn't a big risk.

I honestly thought he might be crying. Of course, he was doing nothing of the sort; he was gazing off into the middle distance, holding the grief at bay with an effort that made him look really ill.

Tarrant had his hand out. "Come here."

No response.

"Avon, I need you."

It shocked the hell out me, hearing Tarrant say something like that, straight out. I thought for a minute it had shocked Avon too, but there was something going on that I didn't understand because Avon looked back down at Tarrant and managed something that ended up being so far from a real smile it was just horrible to see.

"Say it again."

Tarrant shook his head.

"Say it."

"No."

"Then I'm not coming over."

"Avon, you really are a..."

"Yes, I really am." And his voice cracked again, badly this time.

They were speaking in code; going through a formula which was so familiar that they could make the words mean anything they wanted them to. It surprised me, because I'd never had a hint of anything between them before that time on Scorpio, and yet there obviously must have been.

Tarrant gave an exaggerated sigh but when he spoke I could hear the...sympathy in his voice as clearly as if I'd been able to see his face. "All right, Avon. I need you."

Avon took his hand and they lay down on the bunk and, well, made love. No, I didn't watch. I listened. It wasn't anything you'd be interested in, just names and noises and, eventually, tears.

Then, when they were asleep, I crept out of the room and went off to pretend I'd never been anywhere near the place.

Well?

I thought you might have a comment or two to make, that's all. You weren't short of them before.

Is it? I hadn't really noticed. Tomorrow, again? We're nearly at the end, now, anyway.

***

They were quite enjoyable, those few weeks on Gerin. Since everything had gone so completely to pieces we had no urgent crises, no vital missions, no fight waiting. None of us had just relaxed and done nothing for years. Avon wasn't really capable of doing nothing at all, but he refitted the ship with parts from the base stores, improved the auto navigation systems, and for him that was relaxation.

I suppose I would have got bored eventually, but it would've taken a lot longer than the time we had. Avon, Tarrant and Soolin did a bit of planning for the future, I think, but the idea of leaving just seemed unreal; I didn't join in. I found the booze, and restocked my box of tricks from the stores, and even read a bit.

There's no need to look like that.

Servalan made herself useful, helping with Tarrant's treatments; his leg was still in a bit of a state. The Federation doctors on Gauda Prime hadn't done a bad job, but I suppose they thought that, since he was going to be executed anyway, he didn't need to be good as new. It took a while to get it right again, with the facilities available on Gerin.

Servalan makes a surprisingly good nurse. If you didn't think about how she came by her medical knowledge it was quite touching, especially since it meant whenever Tarrant was in the medical unit Avon tended to spend his time in there too, just hanging around, kind of enforced rest. Avon hadn't forgotten about Virn, you see.

She's not at all bad company, Servalan, when she isn't trying to kill you. She's very clever, obviously, and funny, and such a terrible flirt. I think it put her out, rather, the whole thing with Tarrant and Avon. Perhaps she was just a bit annoyed that they could sustain an interest in each other when she was around. Divide and conquer is her motto and she did start to try, probably out of habit rather than any real malicious intent.

But I think maybe Soolin had a word with her because it tailed off pretty quickly. I'd listen to Soolin if she warned me off. Or maybe just then Servalan was as tired of plotting and ambition as the rest of us were of fighting. It must be hard work, being that evil all the time.

Of course, speaking of Servalan, that was where we'd made our one really stupid mistake. We'd trusted her. Now we get to the part where you probably know more than I do, but I'll tell you how it appeared from our side.

Servalan was the one who'd told Avon about Dayna. Now, I think that, probably, she really believed Dayna was dead, but she would have had to say so in any case. We should have realised, but hindsight is such a wonderful thing.

Dayna was always the one who'd really wanted to kill Servalan, even more than Avon did right after Terminal. With Avon there was always that weird love-hate thing going on. They respected one another. With Dayna it was just hate.

Servalan must have known full well that if Avon thought Dayna was alive he'd have gone to look for her. And if he'd found her, Servalan would've lasted exactly as long as it took Dayna to get hold of a gun. Maybe less than that, because Dayna always was good with her hands. So, she said Dayna was dead and we all accepted it without question. How likely was it, really, that we'd all survived?

When Servalan said Dayna was dead, we all imagined she'd seen a body. But, and I'm guessing here, what had happened was that Dayna had gone down with the rest of us and the Federation had made a mistake and counted her as a corpse when she wasn't quite. When they took the rest of us away, Dayna got left behind for the clean-up crew. And then the rebels picked her up at some time soon afterwards. We knew the Federation didn't have Blake's body, because they would have made a big production out if it. So there'd been a rebel counterattack, maybe?

Well, it wasn't very difficult to work it out, bearing in mind what happened later.

So, instead of a nice safe haven which only the four—five—of us knew about, we were sitting ducks on Gerin, while someone who knew all about our plans and contingencies and bolt holes was running around loose. It was just lucky the Federation didn't get hold of her.

I'm going to guess again and say that you, maybe not you in person but you here, lied to her about what you were planning to do. I don't think Dayna would have sold Avon out if she'd known. Not telling, huh? Well, it's your interrogation. The question I would like an answer to, though, is why you took Dayna along with you.

Ah, now that makes sense. Like I said, she was always the one who had the real yen to kill Servalan. Me, I've never wanted anybody dead that much. But it makes me feel a little bit better, knowing she insisted on going.

I don't know how many other places you checked out before you got to Gerin. If you'd given us a few more days, we'd have been gone. Tarrant was healing up nicely; Avon had finished modifying the ship. Just a few more days.

If we'd had Orac, then it would have warned us about the ships landing. So maybe Avon was right about Orac after all. As it was, the first thing we knew was when the outer doors blew and your gang came crashing through.

We all heard the explosions, and we came piling out of our beds, convinced the Federation had found us. I saw Servalan come flying out of her room, which was right opposite mine, whilst the rest of us were still getting our acts together. She actually stopped for a second to smile at me, bright and beautiful, and then she was away down the corridor like a ferret out of a sack and I didn't see her again. She got to the ship, didn't she?

She always was smart. Smarter than us, anyway. I'm glad she made it, in a funny way, knowing what your lot would've done to her if they'd caught her.

I know, I'm stalling. But it's not something I really want to talk about, and I don't see why I should, since your people were there anyway. But no, I don't think I want a break. If I have to do it, I'll do it now.

To be honest, I'm as confused as anyone. I looked round the doorway, just as Servalan legged it. I saw Avon and Tarrant step out of their room, Soolin coming out of a door nearer to me, and then the rebel army appeared at the end of the corridor, only a few yards away from Avon, with Dayna near the front. Avon started to retreat towards Soolin, I suppose he had the same idea as Servalan about getting to the ship. And then...

I can't quite get the timing right in my head, but I think Dayna must have caught a glimpse of Servalan pulling her rabbit stunt, because she brought her gun up.

You can't expect to be able to wave guns in the direction of people like Avon and Soolin and not get hurt. It's instinct and reflexes with them, that's all. I think someone must have jostled Dayna because her shot missed Servalan by a mile and hit the wall about a foot from my head.

Yeah, lucky.

Avon's gun snapped up and Tarrant saw what was coming because he shouted something and jumped to push Dayna out of the line of fire, far too late. Bloody stupid space cadet.

And...Avon shot him.

He was already firing at Dayna, you see. Instinct and reflexes.

It was like a slow motion replay. I saw Tarrant falling, and heard him scream, and Avon screaming even louder, and Dayna standing there like a statue with her gun still pointing at us, and Soolin for once not knowing yet quite where to fire. It all stretched out, plenty of time to notice every detail, until Tarrant hit the floor, hard, and everything snapped back to normal.

Soolin must have made her mind up then, in what was just a second or two, really. I honestly didn't hear her gun go off but Dayna fell backwards, and it was almost like Gauda Prime all over again. It must have been Soolin who shot her because by that point Avon had already dropped his gun and started to move.

And then, before he could get to Tarrant, your lot of lovelies jumped him and dragged him away, still yelling his head off. Bastards. Bastards, the lot of you.

I'm sorry. No, I'm okay, really. But it wasn't fair. God, what a stupid thing to say after all the things I've seen, but it's how I feel. It wasn't fair. He didn't deserve it, none of them did. Gauda Prime and then that. Tarrant and Dayna didn't deserve to die, and Avon doesn't deserve—

What?

He's what?

***

You can put me down, now, really.

I'm sorry about that. I hope I didn't break it. Actually, no, I'm not sorry at all and I wish I punched better. You haven't told him, either, have you? No, of course not.

Bastards, the lot of you. That's it. No more answers. I want to see him, now.

***

They gave me the transcript, afterwards, and I don't really know why I've kept it. It reads quite well, I suppose, although I do tend to ramble a bit, don't I? They took their own names and questions out before they gave it to me. Funny, that.

Anyway, since I've got it, I thought I'd round it off a bit, just say how it all ended, and what happened after.

Tarrant was alive, but they hadn't said a word to Avon. All the way from Gerin, all the time afterwards while they debated what they were going to do with him, they let Avon think he'd killed him. They let him suffer. I still can't believe anyone could do that. They would have impressed Servalan.

Actually, I can believe it, and you could too, if you'd ever met Blake. Hypothetical you, whoever's reading this. Blake inspired people, made them really love him. He was, cheap as it sounds, unique. He must have been; he got me to fight for him, and Avon and the others. We weren't the best crew you could choose to start a revolution, but when we faced off on our own against the Andromedan fleet, we did it for Blake.

If they wanted to punish Avon for Gauda Prime, then I can't think of a nastier way they could have chosen to do it than not telling him about Tarrant. I think they'd been planning something nice and friendly, like an execution. But they let him go in the end.

I'd like to think it was my confession, or whatever you want to call it, that tipped the balance and maybe it played a part. But ultimately, I think it was Blake. Even dead, he still had a hold over people. They'd followed him, and believed in him, and Blake never would have let them string Avon up in cold blood, or anyone else for that matter. Probably not even Servalan.

Once the blood lust had died down, they couldn't bring themselves to do it. They told me what they'd decided before they told Avon. I was the only one who'd talked to them, you see. Soolin always was a hundred times braver than I was, and Tarrant hadn't been in any condition to speak to anyone at first.

And Avon...well, by the time they took me to see him, he looked like he hadn't eaten anything for days, or slept forever. He looked beaten, like he'd finally given up. He'd stopped fighting. I'd never imagined that I'd live to see it. But there are only so many shocks to the system anyone can take, even Avon.

I didn't bother trying to explain anything to him, I could see there was no point. I just told him to come along. The fact that he came without an argument, without saying a word in fact, worried me more than anything else did.

When we walked into the medical unit he stopped dead in front of me, so that I ran into him. I doubt very much that he noticed me. For a minute I thought he'd actually stopped breathing. Then he walked over to the bed, and sat down on the edge like he expected it to vanish when he put his weight on it.

"Hello, Tarrant."

From his voice, you'd never have guessed any of it, and I couldn't see his face.

Tarrant had been dozing, and when he opened his eyes and saw who it was he smiled up at Avon like a sunny morning, then started to frown. He had no idea what had been going on, of course. He'd been a very poorly space cadet for a while. Touch and go, or so they told me. I didn't pass that on to either of the parties concerned.

"Where've you been, Avon? You look terrible."

I suppose he hadn't seen a mirror lately. Anyway, after a moment he put his hand out, tentatively, and Avon took it and maybe only then started to believe it might be real. I saw Avon's shoulders tighten up and start to shake, and I shepherded everyone else out of the medical unit quick-smart and shut the door behind us. You can fill in the rest yourself. I was done eavesdropping.

After Gerin, there wasn't really a crew any more. We'd all been prepared to go on the run with Avon after Gauda Prime, but now we were back to having only half the galaxy trying to kill us, we couldn't see the point. It was over.

Soolin went off on her own. She'd always been the most independent anyway. I'd thought there might be trouble over Dayna, but the rebels accepted reflexes and accidents in the heat of battle. And, cynical me, poor Dayna wasn't a living legend, was she? Soolin stays in touch with the rebels, helps out from time to time. For a fee, of course, although I think we get a discount.

Yeah, 'we'. I stayed. I know, I know, after everything I've said over the years. I could give you some excuses. I stayed for Blake. I stayed for the revolution. I stayed for Dayna or Cally or Jenna or Gan. I stayed because deep down I actually enjoy it. I stayed because I've forgotten how not to fight. I stayed because I'm no good on my own. Like I told them before, you can pick any one, or more. How often do we really know why we do things, anyway?

Avon and Tarrant left as soon as Tarrant was up to travelling. There were still more than a few among the rebels who weren't happy with the idea of Avon 'getting away with it'. As if. Some things you can never leave behind. But it was better all round for him to go.

Tarrant got them a ship from somewhere, with Orac's help. Blake's people found Orac quite easily in the end, with Avon's directions, and Avon and Tarrant took Orac along with them. On the day they left, Avon didn't say much, but Tarrant sort of implied they might be back, eventually. It was funny, really, seeing Tarrant taking charge and Avon just going along with everything. Avon seemed happy enough about it though, or at least more nearly at peace. Tarrant just grinned a lot, glad to be away, and, once again, I envied them, just a bit.

I wish them both well, and I miss them, sometimes, and I do worry about them, mostly because that's just the way I am. They'll be safe enough—or at least as safe as any of us can ever be.