Nico (vilakins) wrote,

Fic: Rebels and Rats

This is my story for the Blake's 7 crackathon. It's pretty obvious which prompt I went for. 5,614 words set in season 2, perfectly gen if a little cracked.

Rebels and Rats

"The difficulty," said Blake, "is getting in and out without being detected."

"No problem," Vila said airily. "The lock's a doddle. I'll just make it think someone authorised went through."

"And what will you do about the security cameras that record everyone?" Avon asked with interest.

"Disable 'em."

"And even if they don't record you doing so, you'll still let everyone know someone very unauthorised has been there."

Vila looked abashed. "Well, there is that. Can't have everything, can you?"

"Then it would rather defeat the point of adjusting the Mark Twelve part specifications if they know."

Vila looked relieved. "Mission's off, then."

Blake frowned at the building plans Orac had found for them, chewing a knuckle. "A pity you can't get in through an air duct or something."

"It seems they thought of that," Avon said silkily. "I rather think Vila is right, surprising as it may seem. The ventilation system is the only way to the computer, and nothing bigger than a rat would fit."

"Perhaps we could set the teleport to shrink you." Jenna smirked. "You're already halfway there."

Avon and Vila gave each other a brief and horrified look.

"All right, what's that about?" Blake demanded.


"The looks on your faces, Vila. You're the picture of innocence--"

"I am!"

"--and Avon has gone completely expressionless." Blake put his hands on his hips. "Can the teleport shrink you?"

"Absolutely not," Avon said with conviction.

"Then..." Blake hesitated, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"Then what can?" Jenna asked sweetly.

Vila looked at the ceiling and Avon at the middle distance.

"Aha! Since you're not saying anything, you know the answer!"

"Another example of Blakean logic, I take it?"

"Come on, Avon. Give."

A peculiar expression stole over Avon's face. "Well, now."

Recognising scientific curiosity when he saw it, Vila cried, "Avon, no!"

"Have you heard of the theory of molecular reduction?"

Blake looked baffled.

"In other words, Blake, a stabilised atomic implosion."

"I know it works, but I still don't see how those three words could possibly go together without arguing," said Vila.

"And just how do you know it works?" Blake asked with interest.

"Um." Vila looked shifty.


"We got Orac to shrink himself."

"And why?" Blake noticed that both Avon and Vila were staring straight ahead as if avoiding each other's eyes.

"We were bored," said Vila.

"It was an experiment," said Avon.

"Just a bit of harmless fun," said Vila.

"All knowledge is useful," said Avon.

Blake suddenly realised what they reminded him of--how they'd looked when he got back from Freedom City. "Why did you keep it a secret?"

"Thought you might be annoyed," said Vila.

"After all, the reduction might have rendered Orac unusable," said Avon.

"Not that that would have been much of a change," Vila muttered.

"Then I assume it didn't," Blake said briskly.

"Not in the least. There was no impairment of function."

"I see." Blake strode over to Orac and inserted its key. "Orac. Would a human be able to function reduced in size as you were?"

"I see no reason why not."

"I do!" said Vila, alarmed. "You'd be all compressed. Maybe your--" he hesitated, knowing that voicing his fears about his brain being too small to work properly would be laying himself open to some biting comments, "--insides won't work all squashed up."

Avon looked impatient. "They'd all still be there. You won't even lose a molecule. There will just be less space inside each of your atoms, that's all."

"Oh, no you don't. I don't like the sound of that personal pronoun." Vila folded his arms. "No one's shrinking me till I know it's safe. I'm not going to be a guinea pig!"

"Oh, you won't have to be that small," Jenna said maliciously.

"Don't worry, Vila." Avon smiled thinly. "I shall test it first."

"But what if it's not safe!"

"In that case Orac will reverse the process."

"What degree of reduction would you require?" asked Orac.

Avon looked at Blake, who held his hand about 18 inches off the floor. "A quarter of our current size. How long could you maintain that?"

"Approximately four hours and twelve minutes."

"Our size?" Vila asked resentfully.

Avon ignored him. "Very well, Orac. Reduce me and restore me immediately to my correct size should there be any problem."

He promptly disappeared, his clothes crumpling into a heap over his still-standing boots.

"Where'd he go?" Vila demanded.

There was an outraged and agonised shriek as something moved frantically in the clothes, and the boots slowly toppled over. The studded leather heaved and writhed until Avon's head emerged, his hair tousled and his face red. "Not just me, Orac! My clothes as well, you electronic moron!"

Vila, realising just what would have happened to a reduced Avon wearing boots almost as tall as he was now, winced and drew a sharp and sympathetic breath in through his teeth. Jenna giggled helplessly.

"I would hope, Jenna, that your mirth is caused by the pitch of my voice and not my... brief predicament."

Jenna doubled over with laughter.

"Sounds like you're on helium," said Vila.

"Of course it does. My vocal cords are much shorter than they were. Now, turn around while Orac shrinks my clothes so that I can put them back on."

"You heard the man, Jenna," Blake said.

Avon glared. "I meant all of you." Untrustingly, he dragged his clothes behind the flight-deck couch. "Now, Orac." The boots, still in possible view, promptly shrank. After about half a minute, Avon emerged clothed from cover, picked them up, and clambered onto the couch to pull them on. "Apart from that mishap--"

"Bit of an understatement, that," said Vila.

"--the process seems perfectly safe." Avon leaned back, forgetting how far away the back of the couch was, and fell flat, bouncing slightly.

"Thanks, but I think I'll wait for a few more minutes. You quite comfy there?" said Vila with concern. "See, people can live for several minutes without oxygen, so I'll see how it goes with you first."

Avon sat up. "Sometimes, Vila, you show signs of vestigial intelligence."

Jenna leaned over. "Awww, don't you look adorable!"

"No, I do not. I may be small but I'm still the same person."

Jenna grinned. "I did say 'look', you know." She reached out, grabbed Avon under the arms, and tried to lift him, letting him go with a surprised look.

Avon tried to look down his nose at her while looking up. "My mass is unchanged, of course. Weren't you listening?"

"He's just a lot denser," said Vila, leaning on the back of the couch.

"Only in the physical sense," Avon said with dignity. "My brain is quite unaffected by the compression."

Cally came down the flight-deck steps. "What are you two looking at?" Her mouth dropped open. "What happened to Avon?"

"I washed him at too high a temperature," said Vila.

Deadpan, Jenna added, "And I put him in the drier, forgetting he was drip-dry only."

"Was it the teleport?"

"No," said Avon. "Molecular reduction. It is a trial run for a mission Vila and I are going on."

"Oh." Cally put her head on one side. "You look so..."

"Small but perfectly formed?"

"No, that's not quite it, although you are."

Avon sighed and closed his eyes. "Go on then. Say it."

"Cute. I think that is the word." Cally reached out a finger that looked as if it would intersect with Avon's chin.

"If you dare coochy-coo me, Cally, you will live to regret it."

Cally stepped back.

"You could try picking him up," Jenna suggested casually.

Cally frowned. "But would he not still be the same weight?"

Avon smiled at the annoyed look on Jenna's face. "And as the experiment seems to be entirely successful, Orac can now restore me to my proper size."

"No, wait!" Vila clutched at Avon's arm. "You'd better make sure Orac does your clothes as well."

"Why, I didn't realise you were so concerned for my wellbeing, Vila."

"Nah." Vila grinned. "Just squeamish."


"All right," said Blake, surveying Avon and Vila standing ready in the teleport bay beside the red tool box. "Are you sure you have everything you need?"

Avon nodded.

"Then you're ready to be shrunk?"

"Yes," said Vila. "No. Not my lockpicks." He removed the soft suede pouch from his pocket and put it on the floor.

Avon raised his eyebrows. "Good thinking. I am impressed."

"I'm not as stupid as you think."

"I should hope not. Very well, Orac. You may reduce Vila and me, our clothes, and the toolbox and its contents."

Orac produced a long-suffering sigh. "The first and second experiments were interesting, but now that I have seen and noted the results, this is merely labour on my part."

"Just get on with it."

There was a clatter as two teleport bracelets fell to the floor.

"Oh dear," said Cally, looming over Avon and Vila. "What do we do? Put them round your waists?"

"No. Orac," Avon said with barely controlled patience. "Both bracelets as well."

"You did not specify."

Avon bared his teeth. "Do it."

"They would work just as well at that size," Orac said sullenly, but complied.

Avon clipped his bracelet on and watched as Vila did so, then took his time fitting his lockpicks diagonally into the toolbox. "Ready, Vila?" he asked.

"No," said Vila mournfully, "but what difference does that ever make?"

"Teleport, Cally."


They looked up at the air intake several body lengths above them. "Like scaling a castle wall," said Vila, remembering when Blake and Cally had done that. He picked up the grappling hook and swung it experimentally. "Why do I have to do this anyway?"

"You're always claiming what a good shot you are."

"And I am! With neutron blasters and darts the normal size and weight. You get used to the feel of things, but it's all different now. Too big, and too light for its size. And what if it lands on my head?"

Avon had no desire to acknowledge that Vila had a good point, but prudently moved back out of range. "You'll have to be careful, then."

It took three goes till the hook held, then Vila went unwillingly up the rope and secured himself as he unscrewed the grating while muttering resentfully to himself. When he had it open and Avon had joined him, he edged to one side. "After you."

"Really?" Avon smiled, or more accurately, showed his teeth. "You would prefer to take the rear where you can't see what might be coming up behind?"

Vila glared and climbed in. "You don't really think there are things in here, do you?" he said nervously.

"Well, we are." Avon pulled the rope up and put the grating loosely back in place. Now he had thought of the possibility though, he rather regretted that he had.

"It's not that bad," Vila said, sounding as if he was trying to convince himself. "You can almost stand upright in this bit. Wouldn't walking be a lot quicker?"

"I'd suggest you didn't with your weight concentrated into smaller footprints."

Vila imagined falling through the ducting and sat down abruptly. "I'm really not happy about this."

"You're not still claustrophobic?"

"You don't get over that like a cold, you know." Vila opened the toolbox and took out the two low-friction pads. "And I can't help but think about what would happen if we suddenly went back to our proper sizes. We wouldn't fit!" He lay face-down on his pad, the toolbox beside him.

"Orac is aware that if that happens, the explosive device I installed in it will be triggered." Avon, on his own pad, gave himself an experimental pull with his hands and nodded in satisfaction.

"Oh yes? And who by?"


"Oh, right. That'd be a great comfort." Vila switched on his headlamp. "Let's go. Sooner we get this over, the better."

"I could not agree more."

"Under other circumstances I'd probably be stunned and delighted."

"But in this case you're merely the former. As usual."

"Oh, very funny," said Vila, nonetheless reassured by the insult.

Troopers LoGiacco and Rehu turned and retraced their bored and leisurely steps on their regular patrol. They saw little point in it. No one had ever got in and if they did, they'd be recorded by the cameras mounted on every wall. There were times when they almost wished someone would have a go, just to relieve the tedium.

"Wait." LoGiacco grabbed Rehu's arm. "What was that?"

(Above them in the air duct, Vila did much the same to Avon.)

"I can't hear anything."

LoGiacco paused, her head on one side, then shrugged. "Must've been rats."

(Vila, frozen in a half-crouch, relaxed slightly as he heard the steps continue below them. He was about to lie back down and move on too when he glimpsed something in the gloom. He turned to look, and two red eyes were reflected back at him in the light of his headlamp. A rat, and a huge one! It shrieked defiance as it rushed forward, and Vila shrieked back in fear, leaping to his feet.)

"Told you," said LoGiacco. "Rats."

Rehu shuddered. "I bloody hate rats."

(Vila lashed out with his toolbox, driving the rat back and slamming the corner of the box into the side of the duct.

"Stop it, you idiot!" Avon whispered urgently. "I thought you kept them as pets in prison."

"Not that size, I didn't!"

"Think again.")

"Big ones," LoGiacco stared up at the dent, impressed.

"That does it." Rehu draw his gun.

"You can't do that!" LoGiacco threw a worried glance at the camera. "They'll know it was us!"

"I don't care! I really, really hate rats." Rehu fired upwards. "It's their little naked segmented tails."

(A hole was blasted in the duct between the rat and Vila. The rat squealed in fear and fled one way while Vila and Avon, prudently stood to present smaller targets, took up their mats and walked--or rather, pounded off in the other direction.)

"I think you missed," said LoGiacco. "But they must be massive. Did you hear the sound of those paws? And look, more dents!"

Rehu reholstered his gun. "Tell you what. I'm going to demand they get pest control in or I'm asking for a transfer. I hate rats."

"I noticed."

"Especially bloody great mutant ones."

"Slow down!" Avon grabbed Vila and pulled him to a halt. "And lie down! Do you want to leave a trail of dents?"

Vila grumbled to himself as he spread his mat and himself. "Next time I'll bring snowshoes."

"It isn't that far anyway." Avon looked at his map. "Third left, then down."

"Oh yes? And have you figured out how to do that without showing up on camera?"

"Haven't you noticed that each one pans to cover a wider area? We lower ourselves by rope at the right time and we'll be fine."

"We'll have to be fast! And I don't like to think about what'll happen if we overdo that," said Vila. "I mean, imagine the impact we'd make with the same weight as ever in a quarter the area."

Avon wondered whether or not to tell Vila, and decided to go ahead. "Not a quarter. Didn't you wonder at how easy it was to make dents while upright? The length and width of your feet have been reduced by a quarter, but their area hasn't."

"Oh." Vila's eyes widened. "A sixteenth then?"


"Oh, wonderful. We could drive ourselves in like nails if we fall."

"Prettily put, and possibly accurate."

"I want to go home," Vila muttered to himself as he pulled himself along. "And I don't mean the Liberator either."

"We're in luck," said Avon a few minutes later. "There's ducting leading down to floor level in the computer room so we'll use that. In the meantime," he pulled himself over to a ceiling grating, "we can have a look at the room layout." He put a finger to his mouth. "Softly. They're using a lot of ventilation in here and it's noisy enough to cover us, but be careful all the same."

Vila peered over. "Going by the wall vents, there should be one behind the computer. That makes it easy."

"Easy," said Avon, "would be if they were using a computer with tarial cells which Orac could get at." He was silent for a moment. "And that," he said reverently, "is a Kapone air-cooled supercomputer."

Vila was unimpressed. "And the nerds to go with it."

"Geeks," said Avon with dignity, "is the accepted term."

There were three of them below, surrounded by the litter of the sort of things development techs ate: empty crisp packets, cartons that once contained Aldebaran bars, and pizza boxes, some containing old and curling segments of pizza.

"Does it matter? We can't do anything with them there."

"Don't worry. I timed this carefully. They might be working late, but it's almost dinner and they'll leave then. Believe me."

"You think? Even though they've eaten all that stuff?"

"That would be the detritus of several days' snacks," Avon said knowledgeably.

Vila gave him a sidelong glance. He'd always wondered how to reconcile Avon's appreciation of fine cuisine with some of the stuff he'd seen him eating. It must be something to do with the profession, like keeping his hands in good condition was part of his. "What's the collective noun anyway? An awkwardness of geeks?"

Avon glared. "An intelligence, of course."

Vila grinned.

"OK, watch this one." Dev Tech Mandel entered a string of figures. "I'm going to take the Mark Twelve through a slingshot manoeuvre round a gas giant. Through the edge of the atmosphere. Want to guess what'll happen?"

"It'll bounce off the atmosphere if it's going fast enough." Jiang used her feet to roll her chair closer. "Skip like a stone on a pond."

"Or burn up," said Rabotsi, moving a couple of crisp packets out of the way to make room for his elbows. "Depends on the speed and angle."

"Here's my approach path."

Jiang and Rabotsi leaned forward. (Above them, all Avon and Vila could see of the screen was its light reflected on their faces.)

"Slew off into the planet's rings," said Jiang.

"Crash and burn. But not in that order," said Rabotsi.

There was a long silence.

Mandel sat back. "How cool is that?"

"Wow," said Rabotsi. "That is spectacular."

"Do it again," said Jiang. "But put on more speed."

Mandel gave them a slow grin. "I've got a better idea. How about we run it close to a black hole?"

(Vila was amused to see Avon almost force his nose through the grating in his attempt to see.)

"Coooooool!" said Jiang.

"Best. Thing. Ever," said Rabotsi.

Jiang tilted her head. "But shouldn't it, like, fall forever?"

Mandel (and Avon) smiled. "Only from the point of view of an outside observer. We followed it down. At a very slowed-down rate, I should tell you."

There was a brief siren hoot.

"Dinner." Rabotsi eyed the screen, torn, but got up. "It's Tuesday: steak and chips."

"Or fish cakes, yum-yum." Jiang shoved herself off hard, rolling her chair to the door with enough spin to be facing it when she stood up.

"And apple crumble." Mandel paused. "Hang on, I'd better get rid of this in case someone sees what we've been doing to their Mark Twelve. Backup and eject," he said to the Kapone, picked up the data crystal, tossed it up once, caught it, and put it on a side unit beside a carton of Aldebaran bars.

("Right, let's go," said Avon.)

They emerged from a vent behind the computer, then, as they had planned, ran out and climbed drawer handles to the desk the monitor sat on and the side unit respectively, then hid as the camera swung back: Avon behind the monitor and Vila... where was Vila?


The data-crystal safe opened a crack. "Here."

"That was quick."

"You'd be amazed how quick I am when I'm scared."

"I hope you were careful. That door may be alarmed."

"It was, and it wasn't alone." Vila opened the door of the cupboard beside the unit he was on, and swung it out to hide him from the camera. "All right, what now? Want me to throw the crystals to you?"


Avon had confidence in Vila's aim, but not in his ability to catch. Bad memories of being forced to play sport at school and the mocking laughter this had caused in his fellow students still occasionally haunted him. Even Vila calling him 'Fingers' as a compliment back when he had manoeuvred that ship full of frozen psychopaths into the Liberator's cargo bay had taken him aback and later brought on a disturbing dream of school, even though the word hadn't been preceded by the usual 'butter'.

"Wait." He propped the lid of a pizza box upright against another he stood on its edge at right-angles, the latter also providing a shield from the camera which he could crouch behind. "You may miss."

Vila looked offended. "No, I wouldn't!"

"And one of us, preferably you, would have to descend to floor level and retrieve it. This gives you a larger target, and the lid is there if you overshoot. All right, send over the drive component specs. One by one."

Vila checked the labels and carefully tossed each crystal into the box. From his vantage point he could see Avon inserting each one and reaching out with a pen from behind his box to make changes via the keyboard. After a very short time, this palled. Vila sighed and looked around for something to occupy him while he waited. That box of Aldebaran bars might do the trick. He grabbed it by a corner and dragged it over surprisingly easily. Sitting there, obscured by the open cupboard door, he pulled out a bar the size of his lower arm and began to unwrap it.

"I wouldn't," said Avon without looking up.

"Why not?"

"Its molecules haven't been reduced and will be expanded when you're restored to your correct size if they're inside you. I'm not sure what would happen then. Of course if you wish to do the experiment..."

Vila looked regretfully at the exposed end of the cherry-and-caramel-filled chocolate bar. "All right, you've convinced me. I just thought that if it was nibbled at, then if they noticed anything was moved they'd think it was rats."

Avon smiled slightly, "Did you indeed."

"It happens to be a good idea," said Vila defensively. "I could still take bits off with a spoon," ha added and made a quick foray to drag a coffee cup over. Because he forgot it would weigh as much as the coffee cups he was used to despite its apparent size, he did in fact drag it over in the wrong sense, only just leaping out of the way to avoid the coffee dregs.

"Idiot." Avon stopped what he was doing to frown at Vila. "I hope you haven't left any distinctly unratlike footprints."

Vila glared back. He wouldn't mind betting Avon would've made the same mistake and had a good explanation for it. How would he have put it? Vila considered this and took a deep breath. "It is somewhat difficult to go against a lifetime of associating mass with relative size, and to expect me to do so is unfair."

Avon was so startled he dropped his pen and had to grab it before it rolled over the edge.

Vila's chin went up. "Surprised at my choice of words?"

"No, surprised that your usual facade of stupidity is slipping," Avon muttered, but not loudly enough for Vila to hear.

Vila grinned at managing to disconcert Avon and began to dig off bits of chocolate bar with the coffee spoon, then fire them around the room.

"Careful!" Avon brushed one piece off the keyboard.

"I bet there's plenty more in there. Crisps and fizzy drink and suchlike." Vila put his chin in his hands. "You almost finished there?"


"Look, the prototypes won't blow up and kill the test pilots, will they?"

"And why would you care? You've killed a good number with the neutron blasters."

"That's different! They were shooting at me!"

"Actually, the drive will seize up, and it will be extremely difficult to diagnose the reasons."

"Those nerds--"


"--geeks won't get into trouble, will they?"

"Hardly. They're not the designers. They don't make any real decisions, just carry out orders," said Avon with considerable bitterness. He ejected the last crystal and put it back in the pizza box.

"Want to throw them back?"

"No," said Avon evasively. "I have a better idea. I'll put the whole box on the floor and slide it over."

"I don't see how that's better."

"It's quicker than throwing them over one by one, and probably safer."

Vila, reflecting on how Avon ran with his arms flailing around, and the number of times he'd managed to fall over while doing so, nodded. "Yeah, probably is."

While the camera was facing away, Avon dropped the box to the floor, climbed down, slid it across, handed it up to Vila, and ducked out of sight behind the desk. When it was safe, he emerged again. "Give me that crystal beside you."

Vila paused in his task of returning the parts specification crystals to the safe under cover of the open cupboard door. "What, the one they've been using?"

"Yes. I want to see those simulations."

"But we're finished! We need to get out of here!" Vila objected, locking the safe.

"Aren't you the slightest bit interested?"

"Yes, but I'm a lot more interested in getting away with all my bits, little as they happen to be right now!"

Avon ignored him and held out his hand for the crystal. Vila sighed and handed it down to him, then sat, chin in hands, and watched glumly as Avon climbed back up and inserted it. He remained unimpressed as the spaceship on screen cut a blaze across the upper atmosphere and left at such an increased speed that its course was altered to take it into the planet's rings where it was transformed into a spectacular fireball.

Avon however sat back on his heels and raised his eyebrows. "It makes a good case for accurately calculating a projected course."

"Um, Avon?" Vila stood up.


"Someone's coming. Must be those techs."

Avon ejected the crystal and in his hurry, fumbled and dropped it. It rolled away, fetching up against one of the pizza boxes. Avon picked it up and hesitated.

"Quick, throw it!" Vila said urgently.

Avon did. It hit the wall well above Vila, rebounded at an angle, ricocheted off the open cupboard door, and shot straight into the rubbish bin with a clank.

"Avon, you--"

"Not one word, Vila!" Avon dropped to the floor and made for cover behind the computer.

"He shoots, he scores," muttered Vila, doing the same.

They huddled there together as the door opened and the techs came in.

"Forget the Mark Twelve," Jiang was saying. "I want to know how a planet could have a stable orbit round three suns like in that book The Savage Splendour of the Suns."

"Interesting," said Mandel. "Were they about the same mass?"

"No, a red giant, a white dwarf, and a standard yellow."

Mandel pulled a face. "Not very likely, is it?"

"Tell you what," said Rabotsi, slumping into his chair. "Set up three suns of equal mass and if the computer can find a stable orbit, start tweaking."

"Sounds like a plan." Mandel stood at the side unit, looking puzzled. "Where's the data crystal? I put it right here."

Jiang came over. "Ewww, look!" She held up an Aldebaran bar between a fastidious finger and thumb. "Something's been eating this."

"Must be one of those giant rats those troopers reported."

Mandel frowned. "Yeah, maybe it knocked the crystal off."

("You know, they're not going to believe a rat put it in the bin," said Vila.

"I am quite aware of that.")

"It must've rolled away." Jiang started looking around the floor, bent over to see into the corners.

("One of us had better go and get it."

"And whom do you suggest?"

"Me, actually," Vila said gloomily. "I'm faster.")

Mandel went over to the far side of the room to start his own search, while Rabotsi put his feet on the desk and watched with benign interest.

"Now!" said Avon as the camera swung away.

Vila rushed out, grabbed the crystal from the bin, and dashed back, dropping it under the side unit.

"Hey!" Jiang straightened. "Didja see that?"


"An elf!"

"Can't be," Mandel said seriously. "House elves only live with wizarding families. This is a muggle base."

"Not that sort of elf!"

"There is it," Rabotsi pointed.

"What, the elf?"

"The data crystal."

"But I looked there!" Mandel picked it up.

"Aha! See, it must've had it all along," Jiang said triumphantly.

"Pull the other one."

"No, really, I know what I saw. A little man, same shape as a human one, but small."

Mandel sniggered. "Hunched over and wearing a tea towel, perchance?"

"No! Not that sort of elf, I told you. The sort with proper clothes and pointed ears."

Rabotsi grinned. "It's Vulcans with the pointed ears."

Mandel looked interested. "Did it, then? Have Vulcan ears? Greenish skin?"

"I only caught a glimpse. I didn't notice."

"What did you see, then?"

"It was brown." Jiang wrinkled her forehead in concentration. "Brown hair and wearing brown, something soft like velvet or suede."

"Or rat fur," said Rabotsi.

"You have to admit, Jiang, that the simplest explanation is the most likely," said Mandel. "It was a rat."

("And he's right," said Avon, crawling into the duct.

"Oh, ha ha.")

"It was a lot bigger than a rat!"

"Or it was an alien, of course," said Mandel.

("I have occasionally considered that hypothesis." Avon took hold of the rope and began walking himself up the duct. "Despite the lack of hairiness."

I'll get you for that, thought Vila as he followed Avon.)

"Stop! Get back, Vila!"

"What is it?"

"See the light?"

"The one at the end of the tunnel so to speak? What is it?"

"They've dismantled the section you dented."

"Both of us, actually."

"Be that as it may. Back out of sight and let me look at the map."

"Can we get out another way? And quickly? I mean, what if they put poison gas through here?"

"Vila. Think about it."

"They're not likely to poison the base?"


"And any dead rats would stink it out."

"There. You can do it if you try."

"All right, all right, can we get back outside from here?"

"We can if we transfer to another duct at the kitchen."

"Oh, wonderful. They'll still be clearing up from dinner! Huge cooks with frying pans'll be after us!"

"The ducts both come out in the store room. If we're lucky--"


"--we will have it to ourselves."

Surprisingly, they did.

Vila unscrewed the grating and slithered out onto the topmost shelf on that wall. "Easy! All we have to do is run across to the other side."

"Carefully. It may not hold us." Avon hesitated. "How much do you weigh?"

"A very svelte 73 kilos!"

Avon looked slightly annoyed. "Very well. You go first." He watched Vila pick his way gingerly around the items on the shelf. "And do take your time, why don't you."

"I am! You told me to be careful. And there aren't any cameras in here."

"Not that careful. Hurry up."

Vila rolled his eyes and muttered to himself. "Be careful, hurry up--make up your mind, Avon." He navigated around a sack of flour and began unscrewing the duct grating. "Bet he's taking it out on me just because he weighs more."

"What was that?"

"Nothing." Vila hoisted himself into the duct. "All right, you can come across now."

Avon began his journey, faster than Vila now that the shelf had proved to be safe.

"Look out!"

"What?" Avon wobbled, one foot in the air.

"Don't stand on anything! You're too heavy."

Avon glared as he clambered over three tins of golden syrup. "Keep your personal remarks to yourself."

"I meant--" Vila smirked as Avon's right foot penetrated and disappeared into a tub of butter with a satisfying (to Vila) squelch. "I meant we both are, for our height. Remember?"

"Shut up, Vila." Avon tried to extricate his foot, but his boot was firmly caught in the lid.

"You'll have to take it off."

Avon stopped and looked at Vila.

"The lid, I meant, not the foot."

"Yes, Vila. I did manage to work that out." Avon sat down on a tin, separated the lid from the tub, and held the tub down with both hands. He lifted his foot, now covered with butter, with a very satisfying (to Vila) sucking noise.

"That boot'll be nicely conditioned."

Avon gritted his teeth as he pushed the lid down and off his foot, getting a considerable amount of butter on his hands and clothes. He looked at his hands, then sharply at Vila. "Do, Not. Say it."

"Y'know, you could try to dilute it with milk," Vila said thoughtfully. "It'd still be a bit greasy but you could use some flour to soak that up."

Avon frowned as he examined the idea for flaws.

"And then you'd have batter-fingers!" Vila ended triumphantly.

"Shut up, Vila!"

"You've still got a problem."

"Yes. You."

"No, I'm being serious this time. You'll need traction to pull yourself along on your mat."


"And I've got an idea." Vila held up a jar.

"Welcome back," said Cally, seated behind the teleport controls with Orac.

"More to the point," Blake said, "how did the sabotage go?"

Avon, hands behind his back, looked coolly superior. "As planned, of course."

Blake nodded. "Good." He leaned over the comms. "Jenna, get us underway."

"Orac," said Avon. "You may restore everything that was reduced back to its correct size."

Vila squeezed his eyes shut, then opened one cautiously to find it was its usual height above the floor. He let out his breath with relief.

Avon examined his hands curiously. He had hoped that any foreign matter on them and his clothing might have dropped off, but it seemed to have either expanded to a thinner film or remained in clumps.

"Avon?" Cally tilted her head. "What have you got on your boot?"

"Butter," Avon said briefly. He winced as a lump previously wedged in the top slid inside and began to melt down his leg.

"What's that?" Blake asked sharply. "Butter?"

Cally looked puzzled. "And that's what is on your hands too?"

Avon, who was wiping his palms on the sides of his trousers, froze. Blake's mouth twitched.

Blake, captain of his school's first fifteen rugby team.

Avon flashed Vila a look.

Detecting a rare hint of vulnerability, Vila shrugged. "Oh no, he just got into a bit of a jam." He gave Avon a slight wink.

Avon held his hands out, showing the traces of red on the backs. "It solved a sticky problem," he said, and smiled very slightly.

Prompt: Honey, I shrunk the rebels! The crew are miniaturised. (Well, two of them were.)

Also posted on Dreamwidth, with comment count unavailable comments.
Tags: ficathon stories
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