“Are you sure you want to do this, Vila?” Garett asked as his assistants readied Vila to go into the imaging chamber. “I’m not sure how well this will work. We’re still trying to understand all of the capabilities of this machine. I think I know how to do it but I can’t guarantee anything.”
“Now you tell me,” said Vila. He wriggled around nervously. Every instinct was telling him that he shouldn’t be doing this. Old, familiar fears nagged at him. He asked anxiously, “It’s not going to fry my brain, or anything. Is it? I definitely draw the line at cooking of any kind.”
“No. I’m fairly certain that the only thing that will happen is that it won’t work, and the memory blocks will remain in place,” said Garett reassuringly.
Somehow it wasn’t all that reassuring to Vila.
“You must remember not to fight what we’ll be doing. Just relax,” said Garett. He gestured to one of his assistants who flipped several switches. The imaging chamber lit up and Vila was wheeled in.
“That’s easy for you to say. You’re not the one entering the chamber.” Vila added in a mutter which he hoped no one else heard, “of death.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” asked Garett, one last time. The sound pick-up system was very good; they had all heard what Vila mumbled to himself.
“No. Yes. I mean, just get on with it before I change my mind,” said Vila with an uneasy determination. I have to do this. If Avon’s right and the fear is something the Federation did to me, then I can’t let them win. I’m going to do this for Avon. For both of us. Making a decision to fight the fear, did not mean that the fear would stop. Vila wished it did.
“Alright. I’m going to start the flow of drugs. I want you to relax. Just let us do the work.”
Argus and Reya entered the room and saw that Garett and his assistants were already working at the control panels. The figure in the chamber was bathed in various lights.
“You started without us,” Argus said to Garett.
“He was in a hurry,” replied Garett. “He wanted to get it over as soon as possible.”
At that moment, Avon came in, supported by Cally. Argus did a double take and then stared at figure in the chamber. “Who’s in there?”
“It’s Vila,” replied Garett. “I thought you knew. He said that you approved it.”
Argus made a sound like a low rumble. “No. I didn’t.”
“What’s going on? Who’s in the chamber?” asked Avon as he came to join them and saw that someone was already inside.
“It’s Vila,” said Argus with consternation.
“Did you tell him to do it?” asked Avon.
“No. He was already in the chamber when we got here,” replied Argus.
Vila. There was an unreadable depth in Avon’s eyes as he stared at figure in the chamber; he knew why Vila had done it. It made him ill at ease to know that someone would do this for him. He wasn’t used to a friendship where people actually did something for him, at an expense to themselves. He was aware that Vila didn’t want to go into the imaging chamber again; he recognized the fear and uneasiness. It was why he had never considered asking him.
Despite Vila’s acute aversion to danger or anything personally unpleasant, sometimes at the least expected moments, Vila did things that surprised Avon. At times, because of his fears, Vila was one of the bravest men he had ever met. Of course, he would never say that to Vila.
Cally put a chair down and looked at him expectantly. Avon stared at it and then at her. “I’m fine. I don’t need a chair.”
She said firmly, “Don’t blame me if you fall over later then.”
Avon gave her an annoyed look and sat down. * This is embarrassing, * he thought to her as she helped him.
* Not as embarrassing as falling down from exhaustion. * She projected to him unapologetically. * You couldn’t even get out of bed this morning without help. And you fell asleep when you were talking to Vila yesterday. He had to come and get me. *
There was a faint rebellious look on his face but he stayed seated. Avon glared at Argus, challenging the other man to say something.
There was a look of amusement and sympathy in Argus’s eyes, which Avon found far worse. His lips parted in a snarl.
Everyone turned to watch the screen as images began to appear. As the scenes played out, it was clear that they were seeing the first set of memories; the ones Vila remembered.
“I thought we were going to see what really happened?” remarked Argus.
“It makes sense that they would use most of the original memories and only alter the ones they needed to.” They all turned to look at Sester. He had snuck in again while everyone had been preoccupied with what they were watching.
“Yes. It would be the most effective way to do it,” agreed Avon. There was an unpleasant look on his face as he watched Sester come towards them. The psychostrategist was unphased by the various unfriendly stares he was getting from almost everyone in the room, but he stood off to the side, not joining the group of observers.
The scene now showed Avon and Vila going to Malodar for the first time to meet Egrorian.
[“There’s no gun in this one,” said Argus with surprise.
“Did you expect there to be?” asked Sester.]
The scenes continued playing out with the Scorpio crew discussing the results of the first meeting with Egrorian.
[“At least, these parts make sense,” said Cally. “I would never have believed that you would not do your own research; on someone so clearly suspicious.”
Avon didn’t express it but he was even more relieved than she was. So at least for that part of it, I was rational.]
They all continued watching a near-recreation of Vila’s previous memories.
[There was a faint smile on Avon’s lips as he watched the interaction between himself and Vila on the screen as they went back to Malodar the second time. The ease in communication in the shuttle was very similar to what they had in the medical unit yesterday.
Perhaps what we are doing now is not building something new, but reclaiming what could have been. Avon wondered what would have happened if he had not led them all to Gauda Prime. His stomach twisted in pain at the mention of the name. He grimaced and his hands gripped the arms of the chair. So many memories.
Avon? Cally looked down at him with concern.
His eyes caught her worried ones. Its fine, Cally. Just a stray memory. Nothing to worry about.
He could see that she didn’t quite believe him, but decided not to press the issue. There was a softening in his eyes, conveying a silent appreciation.
* You will tell me if something is wrong? * she asked.
* I'll try. * Avon thought to her. * It's not something I am used to doing. *
* Please try, Avon. *
There was a gentleness to her concern. She always seemed to know when to respect his need to make his own decisions, without pressure.
* Alright, Cally. * ]
As with the previous time, the observers seemed to lean forwards as the Avon and Vila on the screen came back to the shuttle the second time. They all nervously waited. The scene seemed to unfold in slow motion, but it was really no different in speed from the other ones.
They heard Vila’s voice ask, “So what was that we gave to Egrorian?”
Avon replied, “Orac mark two. Just a replica I made a few months back. Contingency planning, Vila, and the contingency arose.”
Vila’s voice said, “But the thing worked!”
Avon explained, “Well enough to fool Egrorian, anyway. It was fitted with a voice box and a relay station, so that the real Orac could run it.”
Vila’s voice said accusingly, “You could have got us killed! Why didn't you tell me?”
Avon said, “Well, I didn't want to make you nervous, Vila. I was nervous enough for the both of us.”
Vila’s voice said, “You make contingencies for everything, don’t you? Even things that might happen?”
Avon said with a smile, “Ah, but this one did. We know that Servalan is after ORAC.”
“And you,” said Vila’s voice.
Avon looked as if he had smelled something unpleasant and his lips curled in a snarl as he said, “Yes. Me. It wasn’t hard to deduce that she would keep trying until she got what she wanted. Egrorian was an obvious trap. I was rather disappointed. She used to be much more devious.”
“Well, don’t count her out,” said Vila’s voice.
“Just how many of these contingencies have you made?” asked Vila guardedly. “And haven’t told us about.”
Avon smiled and turned towards him. He was about to reply when ORAC informed them, “The escape velocity of this vehicle is now confirmed at Mach fifteen. And unattainable.”
Avon asked in alarm, “What do you mean, 'unattainable'?”
ORAC said, “Mach fifteen is unattainable on the present flight configuration.”
Avon asked, “Explain unattainable.”
ORAC said irritably, “I would think that the definition of the word would be obvious to someone of your intellect.”
Avon said equal annoyance, “You know what I mean! Answer the question! Why aren’t we able to achieve mach fifteen?” Avon’s hands could be seen to work on the flight panel.
[“He’s checking the status of the ship,” said Argus. “That didn’t happen in the other two memories.”]
Avon’s hands stopped working and he said, “There’s nothing wrong with the ship. All systems check out normally.”
ORAC said with irritation, “Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the ship.”
They could all see that Avon was getting angry. “Then you know what is keeping us from achieving escape velocity?”
ORAC said smugly, “Of course, I do.”
Avon was getting increasingly frustrated. “If this ship goes down, I will make sure your parts are scattered into a million useless pieces before I let Servalan get her hands on you. Now tell us, you electronic piece of space debris!”
ORAC told them, “While you were in the bio dome, a mechanized autoloader gained unauthorized access to the ship and placed a speck of neutron material onboard.”
“Oh, ORAC. You idiot!” exclaimed Vila. “Why didn’t you tell us before?”
ORAC said, “You didn’t ask.”
“Tell us where to find this speck. And no more nonsense! I am not in the mood for it!” said Avon.
“It will not do you any good even if I told you. There is no possible way for you to move it. The speck in question weighs the equivalent of three tonnes,” responded ORAC.
Avon looked as if he was ready to dismantle ORAC right then and there. The anger turned to determination as he said, “Vila. We need to divert all power to the engines. Quickly, get those panels open. We’ll have to do it manually.”
For the next minute, they could see Vila’s hands open up panels and working furiously away. Then they sat back down.
Vila’s voice said, “This had better work.”
Avon said, “Have you cleared the governors?”
The scene tilted down and Vila’s voice said, “I think so. Try it now.”
Avon said, “Switching to manual. Maximum power on all drives.”
The screen seemed to shake as the shuttle reached maximum power; straining to break free of the pull of the planet.
Avon said, “What's the position now, Orac?”
ORAC responded, “Escape velocity still unattainable. Elapsed flight time: nine minutes. Remaining flight time: twelve minutes.”
Vila’s voice was panicked as he said “Twelve minutes?”
Avon said “Fuel!”
[At the side of the screen they could see his hands flick several switches as he dumped the excess fuel.
Everyone in the medical unit was tense, caught up in the action before them.]
Vila’s said, “It's no good. We're not going to get out of this one. Egrorian set us up. Avon, we're going to die.”
[They could all see the screen focus on Avon’s face. There was no hint of giving up. He was still determined. His brow was furled in concentration as he desperately sought for a solution.]
He said to Vila, “It's gravity that is holding us, right? We haven't enough engine power to lift us free. We must lighten the load somehow. We'll have to strip this shuttle down to its frame. Come on!
[They could see Avon’s hands pull Vila up.]
Vila’s voice said, “Where do we start?”
Avon said, “You start in the cargo hold, I'll start up here. We have to jettison every last nut and bolt. NOW, VILA!”
[The screen followed them to the cargo bay as Avon and Vila began throwing items into the airlock and jettisoning them.]
Avon was pushing in the tachyon funnel when Vila said, “Do you have to get rid of that?”
Avon said, “What use is it to us now? Stand back!”
[They could see Avon close the door and presses some controls.]
Vila’s voice said, “Now what? There's nothing left to throw out!”
Avon said urgently, “Let's check with Orac. Come on!”
[The screen followed Avon as he ran back to the flight deck.]
Avon said, “What's the position now, Orac?”
ORAC replied, “Remaining flight time: five minutes and forty seconds.”
Avon asked, “How much more weight must we lose before we can achieve escape velocity?”
ORAC responded, “Seventy kilos, Avon.”
“Only seventy kilos... Vila, strip off the insulation material in the cargo hold. [The screen turned towards the door as Vila went to follow Avon’s instructions.]
Avon’s voice called out, “Vila!” [Avon takes a small trolley and hands it to him.]
Vila said complainingly, “But that's plastic. It weighs nothing.”
“Get rid of it anyway!” The stress on his face was evident. He was a man who would not go down easily.
Vila’s voice said, “A kilo and a half if we're lucky.”
Avon said, “Do it! We've got five minutes.”
As the screen turned towards the door again Vila paused as he heard Avon say, “Tarrant. No time to explain. Egrorian tricked us. We can’t make escape velocity. Bring the Scorpio into close orbit. We’re getting rid of everything we can to lighten the ship. We’re going to try to reach escape velocity but if we can’t I’m going to try to land the shuttle. You’ll have to come down to get us.”
The door closed and they all saw Vila running to the cargo hold to strip off the insulation and dump it. When he returned to the flight deck, Avon said to him urgently, “Strap yourself in. I’m going to try to land the shuttle.”
They could see the screen pan down and Vila’s hands open up a panel. He took out two very familiar objects. Vila held up the objects as his voice said, “Avon.”
Avon looked over and grabbed one of them with surprise, “Teleport bracelets! Where did you get those?”
They heard Vila say, “Egrorian said no weapons. He didn’t say, no teleport bracelets.”
“Contingencies, Vila?” asked Avon. The corners of his lips lifted in a stressed smile.
“Well, I can have them occasionally too.”
Avon’s face resumed its strained look as he said faced forward and began to steer the shuttle for a landing, “Unfortunately, we can’t use them while the shuttle is at full speed. It’s too risky. We’d slip out of the beam and be vaporized. Trying to land is still the best option.”
“Assuming we don’t crash. The atmosphere is poison down there.”
“I remember. But it’s safer landing at low speed and closer to the ground than at full speed from orbit. Keep your eyes out for a good landing spot.”
“You mean one that won’t get us killed?”
After several minutes of fruitless searching, ORAC reported, “Remaining flight time: two minutes and thirty seconds.”
Avon said angrily, “I know. I know! Dammit, there must be a safe place to land!”
“I don’t see one,” said Vila’s voice. “Avon, we’re going to die.” The screen focused on Avon’s side profile.
“Stop saying that! We’re not going to die!”
They saw Avon looked down at the control panel. Avon said, “We’re at mach six. If we bring the speed down far enough….” Avon hit the comm switch. “Tarrant. There’s no safe place to land. We’re going to have to risk the teleport.”
They could hear Tarrant’s voice over the comm channel, “There’s no way to get first line coordinates for a teleport and you’re moving too fast.”
“We have two teleport bracelets here. Lock onto the signal. I’m going to reduce the speed down as much as I can. Try to match us. It’s time to see how good a pilot you really are,” said Avon.
They could hear Tarrant say, “It’s still risky.”
“Do it Tarrant!” shouted Avon.
Tarrant’s voice responded, “Alright. It’s your neck.”
Avon could be seen operating the shuttle flight controls as he desperately tried to reduce their speed. They could see Vila hand him a teleport bracelet.
Vila’s voice said, “You know, Avon. If we get out of this, I’m the one who saved the day with the teleport bracelets.” There was a click as Vila snapped on his own bracelet.
“Yes. You did. You’re never going to let me forget it, are you?”
“Not if humanly possible. Avon. If we don’t get out of this…”
“We are! Now shut up and let me concentrate.”
The rescue proceeded without incident while the medical unit group watched. Avon and Vila appeared back on the ship. As they all gathered on the flight deck of the Scorpio, Vila told the others what happened.
Vila’s voice said, “If I hadn’t made contingency plans by sneaking the teleport bracelets onboard, we’d never have made it. Isn’t that right, Avon?”
Avon stared at the screen. An amused smile curled his lips and touched his eyes as he said, “Well, Vila. I know I’m always safe, with you.”