Winning is the Only Safety (1) First Death

(written in 1995)

Author's Note:
This is revised from the original version which appeared on the HLFIC-L mailing list. This version first appeared in Southern Seven #10, and in Refractions #1.

My hope with this Highlander/Blake's 7 crossover is that it is clear enough that the Highlander folks don't need to have seen Blake's 7, and the Blake's 7 folks don't need to have seen Highlander, and that neither side is bored by the explanation required by the other.

This contains spoilers for the last episode of Blake's 7, and ignores the events in the last two seasons of Highlander, because it was written before they aired.

Thanks to the author of Treklander, John F. Moore, for showing it could be done...

The sweet sickly smell filled his nose, his mouth, his lungs. He breathed in the stench of death. He tried to move, but there was a heavy something on top of him; to open his eyes but they were caked shut with... something. With blood? Was he buried alive?

He shoved in sudden desperation at the thing above him, and it moved slowly away. He rubbed at his eyes and blinked. Cold and dark. Night and stars. An edge. A pit. A pit full of corpses.

Buried alive. Buried alive. He nearly had been. They had taken him for a corpse and tossed him in an open grave along with the others, and only the lateness of the hour and the incompleteness of the task had stopped them finishing the job - and finishing him.

His hair stood on end. He sat up. His guts heaved and he added vomit to the smells of excrement and blood around him. He stood up on wobbly legs, and clawed his way out of the pit, away from the slaughterhouse smell. The open grave had been dug by the edge of the trees, as far from the base as possible and still be in the open. Not that there was much open. The base was deliberately buried in the middle of one of the vast pine plantations that covered this part of the planet. Two things were uppermost in his mind; first, to get away; second, to get out of these filthy clothes and wash from the skin out. Then, maybe then, he could afford to think about what happened. But for now, he would walk, crawl if need be. But not go back, not for any reason.

Miles away, the thief whimpered as the flyer wobbled again. He looked at his face in the dim reflection of the window. His light brown hair was thinning. Look what being on the run for years would do to you. His face was open and friendly, as well as nondescript, suiting his profession to a tee. He'd told Kerril that "a thief isn't what I am, it's who I am". Maybe he should have stayed with her.

"Curse you Avon," he said to himself. "I never thought I'd live to say 'I told you so', but I told you so!"

He had stolen the flyer even though he didn't know how to fly it - not as well as the others would have. The controls were fairly simple, but either he had stolen a defective model, or he had the controls adjusted wrongly.

"Use Blake as a figurehead for the rebellion, eh? Just drop in on an old friend, eh? Zukan's dead, just go to the next one on the list. And we dropped into this hole in the ground, and never came out. Federation agents infiltrated - it was a trap, the whole thing turned into a trap, and Blake was the bait. And he didn't even know it."

But a wobble in the flight was better than being caught by bounty-hunters in the woods. He gave off as much body-heat as the next man, and he hadn't forgotten what Avon said about the bounty-hunters' heat detectors. Avon. And the others. Not to mention Blake. They were dead.

"Why did you have to kill him, Avon? Oh, I know, you thought he'd betrayed you. But it was that agent! Oh, you stupid idiot!"

He was trying not to cry, running on adrenaline and fear. When it all started going wrong he'd hit the floor and played dead - too much shooting going on for any of those troopers to wonder if any of the bodies wasn't a corpse. Cowardice was his defence, as well as one of his faults. He'd made himself scarce before the clean-up squad had come to sort out the bodies. It was getting dark, they might not have finished before nightfall.

"Why does this always happen to me? I was only ever along for the ride. What kind of choice did I have? Open this door, Vila. Crack this lock, Vila. Go and get shot at, Vila. Shut up, Vila."

No point hanging around - just pick up Orac and leave. Avon wasn't going to be needing the computer any longer. He'd apologised to Avon's corpse when he'd taken the activator key from his pocket - Avon always carried Orac's key with him, even when he'd hidden the computer itself. After he'd stolen the flyer, he'd tried to turn the computer on, but it hadn't seemed to be working. Broken. Maybe he could sell the parts for scrap. Or find someone who could fix it. But first he had to get off this planet. He didn't know where he was running to - he was just running.

He was concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. He was still filthy. The black leather didn't show the stains, but it was stiffening from the blood. The studs on the jacket gleamed dully in the bright moonlight, as he crossed a small clearing. He had not found even a stream to wash in. The figure upon which the moon shone was tallish, and would have scrubbed up into an elegant, handsome man. Short dark hair, an aristocratic nose, and dark brown eyes that had seen too much. His almost forty years felt like a hundred.

He didn't want to think, but his mind droned a dismal tune to the rhythm of his footsteps. It went: They're dead. They're dead. They're all dead. Then it did a little variation on the theme. It was a trap. You know it was a trap. They're dead. They're dead. They're all dead. They're dead. They're dead. They're all dead. You should be dead too. It had been what he was expecting, and his last ironic grimace had been at the thought that he too would be a companion for Blake's death, an atonement to make up for his mistake in shooting the wrong betrayer. That their deaths would be linked after all. He shouldn't have survived. What Fate had laughed and spared him? They're dead. They're dead. They're all dead.

It was almost a relief when he heard the aircar. Doubtless a bounty-hunter who tracked him by his body-heat. He leaned against a tree to wait. What was the point in running? They were all dead. He had nothing. No ship, no Orac - not even its key, for someone had taken it from his pocket - no rescue party waiting in the wings.

The last time he'd had nothing was on the London, being transported to Cygnus Alpha, penal colony of no return. He'd been a different man then. His computer fraud failed, Anna dead by torture (or so he thought then) he still meant to fall on his feet whatever the circumstances; and survive. What had he said to Blake? "An intelligent man can adapt." And Blake had set off on his mad scheme which failed, but Blake in his usual bumbling way had stumbled into good fortune and they'd made off with the Liberator, the fastest ship in the galaxy, and Blake fought his crusade - until the Andromedan War. Then Blake vanished, a chimera that had eluded him.

Oh he'd adapted all right. Adapted from a cracker to a leader of the revolution. Kerr Avon, wanted rebel. Ha! All idealists were fools. His reasons were purely practical - the Federation wouldn't leave him alone. His association with Blake had made him a political criminal, and he'd never be safe, and never be free, as long as they ruled. But he couldn't adapt to betrayal. The last time he'd felt like dying... that cold cellar with Servalan's gun caressing his neck, and Anna's body at his feet - Anna who he killed with his own hands, Anna who he would have laid down his life for, Anna who hadn't died under torture, Anna who had betrayed him.

The flyer had landed not too far away. The carpet of pine needles muffled the sound of footsteps but the bounty hunter found him soon enough. His gun was drawn, and he pointed it straight at the computer technician's heart.

"What have we here?"

Avon said nothing.

"Had a fight with the missus, eh?" The man laughed at his own joke. He was dressed in brown leather, armed like a bandit, and a knife was sheathed in one boot. The man came closer, relaxing a little when he saw that Avon wasn't armed, and raising an eyebrow when he saw the state Avon was in. "Quiet one, huh? Did she tear out your tongue too?"

Avon just stared at him. His heart turned over.

"Or maybe she tore out your heart?" the man tut-tutted.

That was too much. Avon straightened, and dived for the bounty hunter's legs, knocking him down. The man's first shot went wild, but he held on to the gun. Avon pulled out the knife from the boot, and stabbed him in the side, just as the man brought his gun to bear, and shot him, point blank. Apart from the pain, all Avon felt was relief.

Vila managed to get the flyer to the spaceport in one piece. He had managed to turn on the autopilot and investigate the interior. His two greatest finds were a map, and a secret compartment containing papers and valuables. It had been no great challenge for his talented thievish fingers. The papers included identification for one Del Green. Well, Del Green wasn't going to miss them - Del Green was probably dead. And so would he be if he didn't get off this armpit of a planet. Dead or worse.

But spaceport bars never close, and money can open many doors. Surely there would be someone here willing to take him off planet, no questions asked.

------------ end of part 1 -------------