"No!" Hiro stared at the next panel in shock. "That's not supposed to happen!"
"What isn't?" Ando looked over his shoulder at the comic book.
"Blake getting shot! He's the hero. He's the one who started the rebellion. And now his friend, the one he trusted and waited for... " Hiro shook his head, "... just killed him. That's wrong!"
"What are you reading?"
Hiro turned the comic so that the cover showed. "Blake's 7: final instalment." His round face looked mournful. "It's not supposed to end that way. And all because of a stupid misunderstanding."
"Ah." Ando looked at the picture of a rusted spaceship being fired on above a planet. "Just science fiction."
"No! Not fiction, it's the future!" Hiro tapped the cover. "Look: it's by Isaac Mendez and he draws the future!" He stood up, his chin raised and mouth set in determination. "I shall change it."
"You can't be serious!"
"Because we have a bomb to stop." Ando put his hands on Hiro's shoulders and tried to force him back into his seat. "Be sensible. Even if it is the future, changing our one will change it too."
"Oh. You could be right." Hiro started to turn away, then his face lit up again. "No, Isaac Mendez would not have drawn it if it was out of our hands. That is his talent, to show what we can change."
"You can't. It's too far away. Too far in space and time."
Hiro shook his head stubbornly. "He drew it, so it must be possible."
"No." Ando was just as determined. "How do you know this one isn't just fiction?"
"Because no one would write a hero who got gunned down by his friend. No one would write all the others falling too, even the funny one. It makes... all the rest of the story meaningless, so it must be real."
"Leave it. We have the cheerleader and New York to save first. You don't even speak English that well yet."
"Don't you see? The bomb and everything else here is too hard, too close, too frightening. This is far away and I don't know the people, not really. It's easier." He smiled a dazzlingly innocent smile. "I won't be long."
He squeezed his eyes shut and disappeared.
One second he wasn't there and the next he was: a man with a screwed-up face that cleared to an expression of round-eyed and -faced wonder. He compressed his lips together and executed a small, quick bow.
The only one who responded was Cally, who stood up behind her station and did the same.
"I am Hiro Nakamura. I am here to tell you—" He caught sight of the starfield displayed on Zen's screen. "Ooooh! Sitar Tureku!" he said obscurely. "Boldly go!" He held up his hand with this fingers divided oddly.
"You," said Avon, "appear instead to have boldly come. How did you teleport onto the flight deck, and without a bracelet?"
"Tereport, yes!" Hiro said eagerly. "Tereport and time turavel!"
Avon sighed. "Not another one of those wizards." He waved a hand languidly. "Tempus domus." *
Hiro stayed where he was. "Not wizard," he said earnestly. "Hero."
"Yes, I got that. You already introduced yourself."
"No, no, super hero." Hiro said without any trace of arrogance. "I have come to give you message from past, from science fiction comic book Burayku's 7. Save the bounty hunter, save the galaxy." He smiled, nodded, then screwed his features up into the centre of his round face and disappeared.
"Obscure to the point of meaninglessness," said Avon.
"Who'd want to save a bounty hunter?" asked Vila. "With all of us wanted in all the wrong ways?"
Jenna made a squealy noise Vila have never heard from her before, and hugged herself. "He was utterly adorable!"
"I was overcome—" said Cally.
Not again, thought Vila.
"—with a strange desire to hug him tightly."
Hey! That's the effect I was going for, thought Vila. He had to admit however that he had been in the presence of a master. He sighed. He needed a consoling drink.
"Well?" said Ando. "Did it work?"
"I don't know yet. I'll have to go further forward to check."
Ando frowned at the comic. "It hasn't changed."
"Of course not! It was drawn in the past and I haven't changed that. Wait..." Hiro grabbed it and scanned the last few pages again. "Warning them won't be enough. There's something else I have to do."
But it was too late. He had gone.
"I can't see Blake doing anything like that," said Vila. Not Blake. Not when hearing he was alive had made Vila realise he was capable of hope after all.
"My interpretation of the data leaves little room for error." Orac sounded smug, the plastic bastard.
"Hunting people for money? Not him."
Tarrant looked at Avon. "Avon?"
"Why ask me?"
"Because you and Vila know him," said Dayna. "We don't. Could he be a bounty hunter, do you think?"
"Does it matter?"
Vila sat up, eyes wide. "Avon! It does! Remember that man who just appeared on the flight deck and said we had to save the bounty hunter?"
"He was spouting cryptic nonsense."
"Until now! It makes sense now, though, doesn't it? If Blake is the bounty hunter. He said—"
"Save the bounty hunter, save the galaxy," Avon said at the same time. "Yes, I remember. However you are just making it fit the situation."
"No!" Vila shook his head, determinedly. " He told us so we would when we got to the right time. He must have come from the future!"
"In that case, he's more of a fool than he looked. Changing his past could erase his own existence."
"So you believe it too!"
"Believe what?" asked Tarrant.
Dayna looked form Vila to Avon. "Tell us what's going on."
Avon shrugged. "You two now know as much as we do."
"That we were warned to save the—"
Avon held up a finger. "That's enough, Vila."
"Not one more word."
All the same, Vila whispered it to himself. Save the bounty hunter, save the galaxy.
Blake heard someone moving in the trees, even above the crackling of his camp fire. He rose and moved silently to stand against a tree.
"Whoever you are, I'll share the food," he called out. "So long as you stop skulking about out there.". The noises repeated. "You're not exactly stealthy, are you," he said sardonically, "I've heard quieter troop transporters."
"You're looking in the wrong direction."
"I know. But at least you're out in the open now, aren't you."
A young woman with short dark hair emerged in to the clearing, her gun aimed at Blake. "If this is a trap, you won't live to see it sprung."
"Where did you get that gun?" It was standard Federation issue.
"I won it in a lottery. What do you care?"
"I don't, so long as it wasn't issued to you."
"It was," said someone else, someone neither of them had heard approaching. "She Federation officer."
The woman snarled and turned to face the young man who was incongruously, especially out here, wearing old-fashioned spectacles. "You lie!"
"No," he said serenely. "Is true. You Officer Arren and you have tracer."
She raised her gun to shoot, her face twisted in anger, but Blake was faster. He looked down at her body, and shook his head. "It's getting harder to tell these days. You'd better be right, lad."
"Yes. When you take her to your base, Federation troopers come too, kill everyone."
Blake narrowed his eyes. "And how do I know you're not Federation too?"
"I friend of rebels. You Burayku of famous Burayku's Seven!"
"How the hell d'you know that?"
"Avon, he come soon, and he want to believe you but everyone betray him and he think you set trap for him too."
"Trap?" Blake was shocked. "Why would I do that? I set all of this up for him and the others—"
"No! Not say that! Not to Avon! He think he set up!"
"Ah." Blake closed his eyes briefly. He bent to pick up Arlen's gun. "Trust... was always—" He stopped, puzzled. The man had disappeared, again without a sound. "—difficult for him. And he's not the only one."
"Uh, I don't wish to interrupt, Master—" Slave said in its usual apologetic and obsequious manner.
"Then kindly don't," said Orac.
"I wasn't talking to you."
"You were attempting to override a superior system. Be silent—"
"Oh, shut up, Orac," snapped Vila, fed up on behalf of all those considered inferior. "I've had it up to here with your bloody patterns through infinity and all your pussy-footing around instead of coming right out and telling us what we need to know. Spit it out, Slave."
Avon looked surprised, then covered it. "Consider that an order, Slave. What's wrong?"
"Nothing, master. At least not yet."
"You'd think," said Vila, "that computers wouldn't be programmed to beat around the bloody bush and—"
"I beg to advise you, Master, that we're approaching the planet Gauda Prime, and Scorpio will soon be under attack."
"And that's not something wrong?" demanded Vila.
"So? We're faster than anything else. Give me manual." Tarrant grinned exultantly. "Evasive manoeuvres and a fast entry into atmosphere should lose them."
Comms Tech Mee leaned over his monitor. "Her position hasn't changed for a few hours, sir. Must be asleep down there."
Space Commander Wallis tightened her lips in anger. "Very well. Stand down, troops." So much for the irritatingly superior little git with her third-person 'Arlen never fails' crap. "All right, Tech. Let me know when she starts moving again, or if she gives the signal."
Vila clung to his armrests as Scorpio shuddered through the thickening atmosphere. "Where are we going?"
"Anywhere flat," said Tarrant.
"We can't land where Blake is?"
"We don't know where he is."
"I bet Orac does."
Avon turned to look at Orac. "Do you?"
"Yes." Orac sounded sulky.
"Then be so kind," said Avon through clenched teeth, "as to tell us the coordinates."
Klyn frowned and punched a button on her comms board. "It's Klyn."
Deva's voice answered. "Yes?"
"We've been tracking a ship that ran the blockade."
"Did it get through?"
"There was a full squadron of gunships on its tail when it hit the atmosphere, but yes."
"What was it? Do you know?"
"A planet hopper from the scope reading. Could be Wanderer class. The thing is, it's heading right for us."
Blake came on, his voice excited. "It's them. Klyn? Let them through."
Avon stopped in front of the desk, a large gun he had picked up in the silo under his arm. "I've come to see the bounty hunter."
"He's expecting you." Klyn gave the gun a wary look, and pressed a button.
"Avon." The familiar voice came from behind him.
Avon whipped around. "Blake!" He took a step forward.
"He's a bounty hunter," Tarrant said warningly.
"Is that true?" Avon brought his gun up to point at Blake's stomach.
"Yes, but he doesn't understand."
"Neither do I."
"Save the galaxy," Vila whispered behind Avon.
Blake spread his hands. "I set this—" he stopped, remembering. "I've been waiting for you, all of you, to find me. Avon, I need you."
"As a bounty hunter?"
"It's one way to find an army as good as the bunch of criminals I started with."
Avon lowered the gun slightly. "You could have contacted us," he said bitterly.
Blake shook his head. "You wanted to leave. If you ever came here, I wanted it to be your choice."
Avon let the gun slip to point at the floor. "I'm here. As you see."
A few weeks later, as he pushed a gravsled of supplies through the corridor from the landing silo, Vila caught a glimpse of a face he knew. It was the man with the strange old-fashioned lenses in front of his eyes. "Hey! You're the one! You're the one who said we had to save the bounty hunter!" He tried to remember the name. "Hero?"
"Yes." The man bowed. "Hiro."
"How? How do we save him?"
"Is already done."
"Eh? What'd we save him from then?"
"A mistake. All right now." Hiro paused. "Yes? All right now?"
"Oh, yes. Except for being worked to the bone, bleeding wonderful."
Hiro beamed, screwed up his face, and disappeared.
"He teleported," Vila said later. "No light or flash or anything."
"Yes." Avon frowned in thought. "Obviously somewhat advanced from what we have. He also said the first time we met him that he travelled in time. He must be from the future."
Vila wrinkled his forehead. "But if he is, he just changed his past, so he won't be."
"Tell me again," said Blake, leaning forward intently, "what he said that first time when I wasn't on the flight deck."
"Save the bounty hunter, save the galaxy."
"Save the galaxy," Blake said softly. "He must know. He knows that we will win."
"A pity," said Avon, "that he didn't say 'Save the bounty hunter's followers."
"I did it!" Hiro flung his arms out and spun with joy.
"You saved the galaxy?"
"I don't know. I changed the ending anyway. It's open from now on. They're all still alive; they have a future."
"You didn't go further ahead to check?"
Hiro shook his head, his smile fading. "Maybe they will fail. I gave them a chance, that's all. It was the best I could do."
"So why are you so happy?"
"I changed one future, so I know I can change ours." Hiro picked up the comic book and closed it. Good luck, he thought.
The statues were three times larger than life there in the park among the green trees and bright flowers. "You looked a lot younger then," Silka said.
"We all were." Vila ruffled his daughter's hair.
Silka looked up at Blake, forever frozen in a stride forward into the future, his sleeves billowing and his chin lifted with heroic resolution. "The President." She put her head on one side. "The rest of you don't look as brave. You look as if you're going to laugh, daddy."
"I was! I mean, the thought of me as a statue?"
She lifted her finger to count. "There are ten. There weren't ten. Who's the one on the end?"
"What did he do?"
"He gave us hope."
Silka screwed her nose up. "Is that all?"
"You don't know how important it is till you don't have it." Vila took her hand as they walked away. "Never ever discount hope."