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In the Nick of Time

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When the rebels counterattacked and found Avon standing over Blake, they assumed he'd been defending him. But then they talked to Deva, and after that, Tarrant and Soolin. And Vila, but Vila wouldn't say anything.

He'd wanted to, and not just because Avon had tried to kill him in that shuttle; Avon ought to pay for shooting Blake (and Vila's hope along with him) and even that poor woman who'd put the alarm out. But then he remembered the old Avon, and how they'd understood each other behind all the insults, and how Avon's eyes had sometimes lit up with a quiet enjoyment at one of Vila's jokes, and he found that he couldn't be part of killing a friend, even if Avon had stopped being one months ago.

So he silently watched them take Avon away, then he turned and went outside.

It was quiet out there, cold, bleak, and grey, just the way Vila felt. He sat down on a log and hugged himself, rocking slightly. He didn't know what to do now or where to go, but there was a numb pleasure in that, like the feeling when something stopped hurting.

He wasn't sure how long he'd been sitting there, staring glumly at the ground--long enough to get very cold--when he heard the strangest sound. Like... like an elephant with a weak chest. You couldn't ignore something like that, even when you felt that nothing mattered any more, so Vila looked up in time to see a blue box solidify from translucence. Eh? He hadn't known you could teleport something that big. There was a sign on it, reading 'POLICE BOX'. What was that, a mobile nick? Vila sighed and his shoulders slumped. Typical: survive that last nightmare of a year only to get arrested. He sat there dully resigned; prison would probably be an improvement on his recent life, and a lot safer too.

He watched as the door opened and a man stepped out.

He didn't look like a policeman at all. He had a long, humorous face, a mop of curly hair, a brown coat, and a ridiculously long scarf. He looked around, his face full of boundless curiosity, then he saw Vila. "Hello, there!" he said brightly. "Why, it's Goudy! What are you doing here? Or more to the point, now?"

Goody? Vila remembered asking Blake where all the good guys were, and his answer. You could be looking at them. "I'm not sure I believe in that any more. Goodies and baddies."

"Oh, dear, how sad." The man waved a hand vaguely. "Not quite what I meant though. Don't mind me; I just thought you looked liked someone I knew once." He sat down beside Vila. "You seem a bit down in the mouth. What happened?"

Vila didn't know where to start. "Too much," he said finally.

"Ah." The man looked as if he understood. He shrugged and fished around in his coat pocket, extracting a tattered paper bag. "Would you like a jelly baby?"

Vila recoiled. "They're not really, are they?"

He laughed, showing more teeth than Tarrant. "Do I look like I'd eat babies? No, don't answer that." He threw three up in the air and caught them in his mouth. "Mmmm. You really should try one."

Vila shook his head. His mum had given him a chocolate kitten once and he'd refused to eat it, keeping it till it went all mottled and pale with age. "Who're you?"

"I'm the Doctor."

Vila moved slightly away from him on the log and gave him a wary look. "I haven't had very warming experiences with doctors. They keep trying to readjust me."

"Oh?" The Doctor rummaged in his bag. "Ah!" He withdrew a bright red jelly baby. "Cherry!" He popped in it his mouth and chewed. "Late Federation?"

Vila stared at him.

"Here." He felt in a couple of pockets and produced a half-full packet of biscuits. "If you don't fancy a jelly baby, how about a chocolate digestive?"

"Oh, thanks!" Vila took it.

"I'm right, aren't I? And you are...?"

It had been a long time since someone had looked at Vila as if he mattered. Kezarn to be exact. This fellow had friendly, bright brown eyes, and before Vila had thought better of it, he said, "Vila. Vila Restal."

"Oh," said the Doctor. "Not the one who was with that revolutionary chap? Rich Blake?"


"Ah, yes. Still alive by any chance?"

"Not for much longer. Avon shot him," Vila said bitterly. "And they're about to do the same to him."

"Goodness gracious, we can't have that!" The Doctor jumped up. "Where is he? Come on!" He grabbed Vila's arm and pulled him to his feet.

"Where's who?"

"Avon, of course! Hurry up, lad, I don't have time to waste." The Doctor muttered to himself as they ran through the underground base. "Now you'd think that would be the one thing I did have, but there you are..."

"He's in there with Blake." Vila stopped and pointed, unwilling to go closer. He wanted to remember Blake the way he'd been, not this strangely altered man who hadn't even looked at him. And as for Avon...

The Doctor pulled him into the room.

Blake lay on a bed, pale, waxy, and unmoving, tended by a surgeon and Deva. Avon stood against the wall, his face expressionless as he stared straight ahead. He was handcuffed, with an armed guard either side. Deva looked up, annoyed. " Who the hell are you?" he demanded.

"He's a doctor," said Vila, sliding behind the Doctor and trying not to look at Blake or Avon.

"Well, he's not going to do much good. Whatever it was he did," the surgeon shot a venomous look at Avon, "it turned Blake's guts to..." she shrugged, helplessly.

"Jelly?" asked the Doctor with interest.

"How did you know?"

"A logical deduction. Here, have a jelly baby."

She gave the proffered bag a brief, repelled look and waved it away. "What on earth are you talking about?"

"Nothing earthly at all, dear lady." The Doctor bent over Blake, his long nose almost touching Blake's. "Ah, yes. Not long for this universe, poor creature."

"Creature?" Deva looked outraged.

"Yes, yes, an Andromedan. Did you really think that was Blake?" He shook his head. "Oh, dear, missed the warning signs, did you? They don't last forever in another form, you know. They begin to lose containment." He turned abruptly to Vila. "Is he bigger than you remember?"

Vila stared at Blake. "Um, yes. Sort of bloated."

"Exactly. And since they duplicate the original--pity the process kills it--they can't help but take over some of the thought patterns in the copied brains. The two identities merge. Poor creature," the Doctor said again. "It probably no longer quite knew who it was."

Avon had stepped forward, his eyes glittering, but he said nothing.

"How long since the Andromedan invasion?" The Doctor raised his eyebrows at Vila.

"More than two years. You mean..." Vila screwed his face up. "Blake died right back then?"

"Not long afterwards, I'd say."

Vila thought about this. "So... it wasn't him." It wasn't Blake who had completely ignored him; that was something. "No wonder we couldn't find him."

"The Andromedan was probably isolated from its fellows, trying to pass as human, and as time went on and the sense of self blurred and it had to adapt, it tried to become Blake."

Avon spoke at last. "Not very well."

"No. It would have been a poor, distorted copy. It wouldn't have achieved much compared to the real one."

Deva bit his lip. "He said he was biding his time."

"Hmph. I suppose only those who knew the real Blake would have guessed."

Avon said nothing, but his face looked as if it were turned to stone.

"You knew, didn't you?" the Doctor said softly. "You could tell it wasn't Blake." One eyelid lowered very slightly.

"Yes." It was barely more than a whisper.

"Yes." The Doctor nodded. "I'd suggest you let him go," he said conversationally to the guards, then turned to the surgeon. "And you should turn off the life support and put that poor creature out of its misery."

She stared at him.

"Come, come, you can't prolong its life for much longer anyway. Way make it suffer?"

She shrugged and switched the machine off.

At first nothing happened, then 'Blake' deflated slightly, spreading on the table until, with a load squelch, his skin parted and dissolved. Green jelly oozed from the confines of his clothes, and his face slowly flattened out and sank into a puddle.

Vila jumped back as a gob splattered onto the floor. He didn't care what those jelly babies tasted like, he was damned if he'd eat one now.

"If you want a successful rebel leader, look to Avon here." The Doctor clapped his hands together. "That's it. I'll be off, then." He left, his coat swirling coat scarf flapping behind him.

Vila stood still for a few moments, thinking, than ran after him. "Wait! Wait for me!"

He caught up with the Doctor outside. He was standing there beside his blue box as if he were waiting for something.

"You said 'late Federation," Vila said breathlessly, "and that you ought to have enough time."

"Yes?" The Doctor smiled slightly.

"And that Avon was a successful rebel. Well, he isn't, at least not yet." Vila paused for breath. "But you know, don't you? And you knew what Blake was. You're from the future."

"Very perspicacious, but not exactly." The Doctor's smile widened to show an unnerving number of large teeth, "I'm a Time Lord."


"A lord of time." He spread his hands and looked rather less dangerous than he had a moment ago. "This is the TARDIS. It stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space." He leant forward conspiratorially. "I was actually on my way to Lanagree, lovely place with a three-kilometre-wide tropical waterfall so high it starts as ice, but the TARDIS stopped here. It knows." He tapped the side of his nose. "They're alive you see, and they can sense disturbances in the timeline."

"Is that why you call yourself the Doctor? You fix that sort of thing?"

The Doctor bowed and opened the door of the TARDIS.

Vila peered in. "It's--"

"Bigger than one expects, yes."

"I was going to say big enough for two."

"Ye-es." The Doctor's eyes twinkled. "It is."

"No chance of me going with you, is there?"

"I already explained that the TARDIS can take you to some very dangerous places and times."

"Well, yes, story of my life, but you have a getaway box. I can always leave if I find somewhere nice, and besides," Vila grinned, "it's the closest I'll come to living forever."

"I have heard enough," Avon said from behind Vila, "to know that this man is a time traveller." He stepped forward, his face filled with yearning. "And he can send me back to change... certain things."

Vila wondered if it was Anna or Blake he was thinking about.

"No." The Doctor pursed his lips and shook his head. "Do you know what happens if you play with your own timeline like that? It opens rifts in space and time and," he lowered his voice to a rumble, "you don't want to know what comes in through the tears."

Vila shivered, and Avon went still.

"You have to live with your own choices." The Doctor's voice was cold.

Avon hunched his shoulders. "Are you sure you want to go with him, Vila?"

Vila nodded.


Vila thought of all the reasons he could give: that he wanted be part of something bigger than himself; to matter; to belong; to have someone to talk to who might occasionally listen, but in the end, he just said what he'd said about Blake. "I like him."

"Ah." Avon turned his back to walk away, but he paused. "Good luck, Vila."

Vila was unable to speak for a moment. "You too," he said, and turned and walked into the TARDIS.

"I have to say, this is the most comfortable nick I've been in."

The Doctor smiled and poured the tea.

"I've been thinking." Vila waited for the expected insult, then sighed happily and put his feet up on the console. "Avon wins, doesn't he? I mean, you said 'late Federation', so it must fall soon."

"Don't put those there, Vila. And nothing lasts."

Vila took the offered cup and saucer as he put his feet down. "If you know about Avon, maybe you know what happens to me."

The Doctor gave Vila a penetrating look. "Do you really want to know?"

"Um... maybe not."

"Besides, how could I?" The Doctor's mood lightened mercurially. "After all, it hasn't happened yet. Another digestive?"

"Don't mind if I do." Vila dunked it in his tea.

"Ah, a man of taste, even if you don't like my jelly babies."

"They might be Andromedan-flavoured!"

The Doctor laughed and gave Vila a sidelong look. He'd known as soon as he'd met him that he would be his latest companion. There were so many stories of the famous thief spread across three millennia, Vila Restal was assumed to be a legend, and the association of his name with that of Blake considered a fanciful embellishment.

"After we've been to Lanagree," he said, "I might introduce you to an old friend of mine. I think you'd like Robin."