Vila Restal stirred muzzily, only half awake and feeling rather uncertain of his surroundings. That wasn't uncommon, of late—Avon kept them on the move constantly, and the planets, the people—everything—had long ago blurred into one long unbearable nightmare. Yet, he kept on and he stayed with Avon, in spite of everything. He wasn't sure anymore if it was because he still felt some form of twisted loyalty for the computer tech or if it was, more likely, because he just didn't care anymore. The last vestiges of caring had been drained out of Vila Restal on the frontier planet of Gauda Prime.
Roj Blake's death at Kerr Avon's hands had murdered part of Vila, too. A part of him had died with the rebel leader and he was afraid that it was the part of himself that had still held a small measure of hope for the future—the part that had continued to believe that Avon would soon "get better" and everything would be as it once had been. The part that had believed that Blake could come back to them and restore their "legend."
Once away from the Federation, Tarrant, Soolin and Vila had had to cope with the fact that Avon was never going to recover from the insanity that had held him inexorably within its grip since Terminal...and even earlier. Blake's death had only intensified matters to the point that it was impossible to tell what Avon would do next. He'd never been more unpredictable.
His name still meant something among the various rebel factions, though, so Tarrant deferred to Avon, allowing him to continue to think he was in charge. They all followed Avon while following Tarrant these days.
Vila would never admit it, of course. He had always followed Avon, even in the days of Blake, and he wasn't about to change his loyalties at this late date. Certainly not in favor of Tarrant, who had never made any secret of what he thought of Vila.
Sometimes, like now, when he had been drinking far too much, Vila found himself desperately wishing that Cally were there—just to talk to. Anybody to talk to, who would regard him as more than subhuman, as more than excess baggage to be tolerated and nothing more. God, he missed Avon; the burned out remnant of his friend was like a slap in the face every time he had to look at him. And Dayna—the only blessing of Gauda Prime had been that Vila had managed to break Arlen's neck after she killed Dayna. Too late to help his shipmate, but one death avenged, at least. Small satisfaction, Vila thought morosely.
It occurred to him to wonder how long he'd been unconscious this time, but the thought lasted only a moment. It hardly mattered; the others got along perfectly well without him. He uncurled himself a little bit, wincing at sore muscles, too long in one position. He must have slept a long time; the floor was hard and cold. He'd grown used to that, too.
He blinked his eyes open at the sound of voices raised in anger, already cringing into a corner instinctively as he recognized them as Tarrant's and Avon's. Avon was in one of his more lucid moods, sounding cold and precise and very much in control of the situation. If Vila didn't know better, he would think it was the old Avon returned, although a trifle harder and colder than even that Avon had been. Avon had always been ready to smile in the old days. When he smiled now, it was a sign of madness.
Tarrant was very obviously losing his temper from the sound of things. A bad mistake. Losing your temper was never any way to deal with Avon; even Vila had always known that. But, then, he'd never really lost his temper with Avon except that one time...after Avon tried to kill him over Malodaar.
He considered trying to pretend he was still asleep as Avon and Tarrant stormed into the room he had claimed as a convenient "cabin" in lieu of anything better. It was nothing more than an empty cargo hold; the ship they'd stolen this time offered little in the way of amenities and even less in the way of space.
Tarrant kicked at him as he stalked past, so Vila knew it was useless to carry on with his pretense. He stared up at the two arguing men, quietly hoping they would move on up to the flight deck and leave him in peace. He was ready for another drink or two...
"This is too much, Avon!" Tarrant yelled, stepping up against the smaller man, attempting to menace him with his superior height. It was an useless exercise with Avon, who barely paid attention to the pilot at the best of times. "You've gone too far this time. You had no right to do it!" Every muscle in Tarrant's body was tensed, his fists clenched in fury.
"I felt the risk was justified," Avon returned calmly, apparently completely unaffected by Tarrant's belligerence. "Soolin was expendable."
Vila felt his blood run cold. Soolin was expendable...oh, please, not Soolin now...not Soolin, too... His thoughts became jumbled and frightened.
"You didn't even warn her," Tarrant's voice almost broke and Vila could see an incredible play of emotions flitting across the curly-haired pilot's face. "You didn't even let her know what might happen—and you knew, you coldhearted bastard!"
"Well, of course I knew. She would not have gone if I had told her there was a possibility of betrayal." Avon smiled and Vila choked back a moan, trying to press himself closer into the dark shadows of the corner. "What difference does it make? We got the supplies we needed."
"At the expense of Soolin...we've got to go back for her, Avon." Tarrant set his jaw with determination.
"No." Avon turned to leave, heading purposefully toward the flight deck. "She is probably dead; we can't risk going back to the planet."
Tarrant followed on Avon's heels, his voice still raised in protest.
Vila staggered to his feet, using the wall to pull himself up and leaning back against it a moment for support. Then, slowly, knowing he was going to regret it, he stumbled after the other two men. His head was spinning, every sense reeling and time seemed to have slowed to a crawl. He practically fell onto the small ship's flight deck where Avon and Tarrant were still facing off.
Or rather, Tarrant was continuing to argue while Avon ignored him. Avon was talking to Orac.
Tarrant finally got tired of it, as Vila had known he would. The pilot had never been noted for his patience, and he'd certainly never known when to back down, especially where Avon was concerned. Tarrant's normally good-natured features twisted into a savage snarl and he pulled Avon around to face him. "I will not desert her. We are going back."
Avon's face remained expressionless. "Orac controls the ship," he said simply, as if that settled it. In a way, it did. He shrugged off the taller man's hand and turned away again, back to Orac.
"Trying to get us all killed won't bring Blake back," Tarrant sneered, and Vila groaned, cursing the pilot for a fool. Why couldn't Tarrant ever learn there was a limit to how far people could be pushed?
Vila knew what was coming, knew it long before Tarrant even realized the possibility. He held his breath and tried to steady his shaking nerves.
Avon spun around, his movement slow and yet almost feline in quality. He had produced a handgun from somewhere beneath his jacket and he brought it up to point it squarely at Tarrant's heaving chest. Tarrant was about to be very, very dead, and no one present doubted the inevitability of it, least of all Vila. If Avon could kill Blake, if Avon could attempt to kill him, then Tarrant didn't stand a chance. For one long interminable second, time stopped.
Then, Tarrant's features went slack with disbelief as the shot rang out...and Avon crumpled soundlessly to the floor.
Vila didn't move until Tarrant had turned to face him. His gun was still aimed at Avon's chest, his hand shaking almost uncontrollably as he stared at the sprawled form of his friend. Avon's eyes were fastened on his, a curious half-smile still curling his lips. In that last moment, he had known who his executioner was to be. He would have understood, Vila thought, feeling detached and numb.
"Vila," Tarrant rasped, having to stop and clear his throat several times. He was trembling, too. "I—"
"Don't you dare thank me," Vila growled hoarsely, interrupting him with a sharp movement of the hand holding the gun. "He was my friend...once. He wanted to die a long time ago only we made him keep on and on. I didn't even do it for you, Tarrant. I did it for him."
Tarrant's face flushed but he simply nodded, biting at his lips. His shoulders slumped as if he was carrying a heavy burden and he dropped to his knees at Avon's side. "Help me with him," he said quietly. "Then we'll go back to pick up Soolin."
Vila set his gun aside and went to assist Tarrant. Later, he promised himself. Later, he'd pretend to get drunk so he could finally cry for the loss of an old friend.