Winning Is The Only Safety: Hide and Seek
by Kathryn Andersen
OPENING of Winning Is The Only Safety: Hide and Seek
The first thing I felt was the cold. Right to my marrow -- cold. They say you aren't supposed to remember, but they say a lot of things. I felt cold, and I didn't want to remember why. It was all a blur, and I knew I didn't want to face whatever was going to be there when I woke up properly. It's always sure to be worse than you think. And I was right, wasn't I? Because the first voice I heard after I'd woken and slept and woken and ignored the med-techs and slept was -- her.
"Hello, Vila," she said, bending her so elegant head to look down on me. Not that she didn't always look down on me, when she looked at me at all. Not that I ever wanted her to look at me. Like being looked at by some mythical animal that freezes you with one look. And then eats you up later.
"S-S-Servalan," I stuttered.
The ex-President of the Terran Federation gazed down at me, as I lay on the cot, dressed in shapeless white warmers. "Ah, the effects of cryo-freezing aren't pleasant, I know," she said, "but you must know how dangerous you are, Vila. Those gallant citizens who brought you in considered that it was the safest method of transport." She smiled, her patented false smile. "But I'm so glad to see you arrived in one piece." She laid one taloned finger on my cheek. "It cost me a little more, but I'm sure you'll make it worthwhile, won't you Vila? Or I might get a little upset at wasting the bonus I paid for you alive. And that wouldn't do at all."
Of course I babbled. I always babble when I'm terrified. "What do you want me for? I'm no use to you really, I don't know anything, I was only just along for the ride..."
"You're the only one left, Vila," she said. "Why they left you with the Scorpio I don't know..."
"But they didn't," I protested. "Scorpio crashed. Plastered over GP. We got away by teleport."
"Ah," she said. "But you're still the only one left. The only one who knows where Orac is. It wasn't with you on Freedom City, so you must have hidden it somewhere. Where's Orac, Vila?"
Me, tell her where Orac is? "Avon would kill me," I answered.
"What, you've taken to talking with ghosts?" Servalan inquired. "Avon is dead and buried on Gauda Prime."
"Wouldn't stay buried, not Avon," I blurted.
She laughed at me. "Poor little Vila, afraid of ghosts." She leaned forward and breathed on me. Her breath smelled of mint. "You should be afraid of the living."
"I am, I am," I squeaked, and didn't realize what an idiot I'd been until her sharp reply.
"Are you saying that Avon is alive?"
Ooops. Avon was supposed to be dead, that's what they all thought. Well, Avon had died on GP, actually. He just didn't stay dead. "Um, no, I didn't say that..." I stuttered.
Servalan smiled. "Why, I do believe you're lying to me, Vila. So Avon is alive, after all..."
"Avon's going to kill me," I muttered. Unless Servalan did first. Which seemed much more likely. Avon didn't even know where I was. Mind you, I didn't know where I was. Last thing I remembered was going to pick up a package for Avon, and then it was lights-out time.
She touched one finger to my chin. I shivered. "Where is he, Vila?" she asked.
I shut my mouth and shook my head.
"You don't want me to bring my interrogators in here, do you Vila?" she said softly. One soft word from her is more terrifying than the yells of any crack-troop sergeant yelling for his men to make the enemies' guts into shoelaces. I never wanted to join the military, too much shouting, besides, it got you killed. Thieving was much safer -- until I got stuck with Blake, that is. "They can be very creative with pain," she continued.
"I have a very low pain threshold," I protested.
"Then tell me where Avon and Orac are, and you won't get hurt," she said reasonably.
So I told her. "He's on Pharos," I said. Because surely Avon wouldn't still be there. Surely he'd have moved on as soon as he realized I was missing? How long had I been in cryo? Long enough, surely?
And that was the best that I could hope for. Because even I wasn't fool enough to expect that Avon would try to rescue me. I wasn't worth rescuing. Just a fool and a drunk...
...drunk far too much, I knew it. But what else was there to do, really? I suppose I could have stolen the antique swords in Ryan's collection, there in his exercise room, but I'd just have to put them back. It was Ryan's ship, nowhere to go. I had had a chat to Orac, when Avon wasn't there, and I was thinking about what that plastic box had said.
"D'ya wan' th' good news or th' bad news, Vila?" I said to myself. "Is there any good news? I'm alive, I s'pose that's good news. I haven' been captured -- yet. Only a matter of time, though. Two million credits! I'm worth more than Bayban..." I trailed off, thinking of the time when I had met that most unpleasant outlaw. "Sell your own mother... I'd sell meself if I could figure out how..." I wrinkled my brow, puzzling. "Betcha Avon could figure out... He wouldn' need to figure out -- he could jus' sell me. No price on his head any more. They think he's dead." I giggled inanely. "They're all dead. No prices on their heads. No point in paying for a dead man..."
I giggled again, and took another swig from my bottle. "Y'know, if they knew he wasn' dead, they'd put the price back on." A thought percolated into my pickled brain. "I know he's not dead. If they caught me, they'd find out he wasn't dead. So he can't let them catch me."
I grinned foolishly, until I was abruptly sobered by a sudden chilling thought. Of course I couldn't talk if I was dead. I shook my suddenly-pounding head. "Nooo," I whimpered. But the thought wouldn't go away. Ever since the overloaded shuttle over Malodar, I had known that Avon wouldn't hesitate to kill me if Avon's own survival was at stake. And I was the last person alive, apart from Orac, who knew that Kerr Avon was alive and kicking. If I was dead, the last tie to Avon's old life would be gone, and Avon would be free to start over completely. Need me? Avon would never need me. He didn't need anyone. He didn't want to need anyone.
I remembered the look on Avon's face, there on Gauda Prime, when Avon had thought he was in Hell. It was not the face of a sane man. Avon would never want to commit suicide, not the Avon I knew. And if Avon wasn't the Avon I knew -- completely unpredictable men could do anything, anything. The only thought in my head was that if Avon didn't know there wasn't a price on his head any more, then Avon wouldn't have any reason to kill me. But if he did know, then he would kill me to shut me up, so that they wouldn't know he was alive.
Following this tortuous logic, I staggered back to Avon's cabin.
"Orac", I declared as soon as I had re-activated the computer, "don't tell Avon about the price on his head."
"Avon no longer has a price on his head," the computer stated.
"Yep," I hiccupped. "That's what I don't want you to tell him."
"I cannot comply with this request," Orac demurred.
"Whyever not?" I demanded.
"I have previous instructions not to obey any of your requests when you are inebriated," explained the computer.
"Inbrated? Wha's tha'?"
"I'm not drunk -- I can still stand up!" I protested.
"I cannot follow your instructions," Orac reiterated.
"Fat lot of good you are!" I grumbled, and took out Orac's activator key. Then I looked at it. Orac couldn't tell Avon if Avon couldn't ask Orac, could he? And Avon couldn't ask Orac if Avon didn't have the key. And Avon didn't have the key now, it was right here. I had picked Avon's pocket earlier, just so I could have my little talk. I was going to put the key back, but now...
"Have to find somewhere to hide it..." I muttered, and tiptoed into the corridor -- right into Avon.
"Thank you, Vila," he said sarcastically, snatching the key out of my hand. "I was looking for that."
I just stood there with my mouth open, and Avon went into his room...