Spider Noone

by Nicola Mody

Challenge:Multi-Fandom Lyric Wheel 2005
Fandom:Blake's 7

Sorelle 3 was at a trade route junction, but it was a rough, down-at-heel place. Jul Daker passed a beggar at the entrance to the sign-on hall and tossed the old woman enough for a couple of days' food because she had a little more dignity than most. He felt obscurely guilty though. He knew it wasn't enough, but then it never was.

He shoved his hands in his pockets - the better to keep his money in them - and looked at the board. It had skills along the top and names down the left-hand side so it was easy to see who could do what. He ran his eyes over the intersections. "Get someone good," the crew had said. He didn't hold out much hope - not here - but Sorelle was safer than richer, more policed planets. At least for ships like the Give It A Go and her crew.

This fellow Noone looked good though. Almost too good. Experienced in both technical and weapons, and a backup pilot too? Daker turned to the collection of assorted has-beens, heavies, and hopefuls waiting on the benches at the side. "Spider Noone?"

A sandy-haired man got up and shuffled over, his sad brown eyes not quite meeting Daker's.

"Lemme see your card." Daker took it. Noone, Vila AKA Spider. Electronics, mechanics, ship maintenance, neutron blasters, plasma cannon, pilot experience on Wanderer class, various freighters, and something called a DSV. He raised his eyebrows. "You can do all this?"

"Yeah." Noone spoke dully, but his sheer lack of defensiveness was convincing.

Defeat and hopelessness, however, hung around him like an extra set of clothes. Daker had seen too many people like that, broken by life. He'd keep looking. "I'll think about it."

"Right." Noone wasn't fooled. His shoulders slumped fractionally more as he went back to his seat.


Vila knew someone would take him on eventually, if only till their next stop, and he'd be another step further away from Gauda Prime. Soon as he found a place that suited him, then he'd dig in and stay. He sighed and put his crew card back in his pocket. It was funny really that when he'd bought it, he hadn't been able to let one of his names go. He didn't really want to think about why, when the last thing he ever wanted to hear again was "Vila, do this," "Vila, do that," and "Shut up, Vila." He was Spider now, the nickname he'd adopted back when he was not much more than twenty. He'd read it in a book and liked it; thought it'd give him a bit of dash. Hah. Fat chance.

There was a shrill cry and he looked up.

"Give it back!" the old woman beside the door shouted. She grabbed the arm of a hulking great brute who shook her off, laughing. "That's my money!"

"Not any more, granny."

Something cracked inside Vila. It was as if all his long-suppressed resentment at the abuse and injustice he'd suffered all through his life boiled over. He leaped to his feet. "Stop that!" He seemed to move through a pounding red mist as he strode over, furious and invulnerable. What had been acceptable when directed at him wasn't when someone else was on the receiving end. "You give her money back."

"Who's gonna make me?" The man grinned down at him.

His rage ebbed as Vila realised just how much bigger his opponent was. He stepped back, swallowed, and straightened his shoulders.


Oh, hell. He was dead. But enough really was enough. A sudden image of Arlen flashed before him, but he couldn't use the move Gan taught him that had worked so well on her; this guy towered over him. Vila punched the bastard in the stomach as hard as he could.

"Oof!" The man's eyes widened in surprise, then he hauled his fist back.

The blow lifted Vila right off his feet. He hit the floor hard and lay there, half-stunned. Above the ringing in his head, he could hear the guy laughing as he walked away, and the woman crying softly. Oh, wonderful. About as successful as everything else he'd ever done.


Jul Daker had seen the whole thing. That fellow standing up to someone twice his size was one of the bravest things he'd seen in a while. He walked over and held out his hand. "You all right?"

"Um, I think so." Noone pushed himself up into a sitting position and pulled out his wallet. "Here, give her this." He pulled a fat wad of notes from it and held it out to Daker.

"What, all of that?" Daker stared disbelievingly at the money in his hand. It was far too much and, what's more, it looked like everything Noone had.

Noone shrugged. "Why not? Easy come, easy go."

Daker handed it to the woman. "Here you go, lady. Take it and get out while you can." He put his hands on his hips, ostentatiously near his handgun, hoping that would deter any other thugs from following her. His sheer bulk probably helped.

"Bless you, sir." Tears ran down the old beggar's face.

"Not me, him." Daker jerked his head at Noone.

"Then bless both of you." The old woman scuttled out.

Yeah, thought Vila, I'll believe that when I see it.

"Right." Daker held out his hand again and pulled Noone to his feet. "You're hired."

"Really?" Noone's eyes met his briefly, alight with hope, then slid away, dulling. "Look, if it doesn't work out, you can drop me off at your next stop."

"Fair enough. It's a deal."


"This is Spider Noone."

A woman almost as tall as Daker crossed the Give It A Go's flight deck to kiss him on the cheek.

He slipped his arm round her waist. "And this is Kristin Roigard, accounts, weapons, and security."

Roigard smiled perfunctorily at Vila, then turned back to Daker, her light brown ponytail swinging. "I hope he's good."

"We'll find out, won't we? And that's Marama Ranginui over there, Spider. She's our pilot."

"G'day." Ranginui gave Vila a grin and took her feet off her console. "We ready to slip the surly bonds and all that?"

"Not yet. I'd like Spider to check out the weapons console first. Here you go." He handed Vila a tool box and nodded towards one of the stations. "The locals did a repair job on it but I'm not certain it's up to scratch."

Or that I am, Vila thought, dropping his battered duffle bag on the floor. He knelt down and gave the tools a quick inspection. They were good ones, if no longer new. He removed the front panel, and crawled forward, checking the circuitry with a small, bright light.

He felt more confident in here. He knew he was good at this despite his allergy to work, and that was more than he could say for his social skills. What might have worked in a friendly and loud Delta pub back on Earth never had on the Liberator. Or after. Funny really, how he'd stubbornly clung to his behaviour long after it was obvious it went down like a meteor in a black hole. Pride? Not wanting to give up who he was? Well, he had now.

Course, it hadn't been that bad at first. He'd been a bit out of his depth but he thought he'd been doing all right. When he'd gone back over it all though, lying there in that hospital, he realised he'd been wrong. What had seemed to be liking on Blake's part was probably just people management skills; what he'd thought was warmth in Avon's eyes was only amusement and even that had gone long ago. And Gan, well, all right, Gan had liked him, but Gan had liked everyone, even Avon.

Vila found a shoddy weld and corrected it, trying not to think about the girls, but that was like that old joke about not thinking about a purple crocodile: once you had, you couldn't stop yourself. About the best he'd done there was that drunken act, and, even worse, the humiliating clowning over Malodar which he blushed to even think about. Cheap laughs really weren't worth it.

There was a hair-line crack in that readout connection. Easy to miss, but easy to fix too.

Yeah, he should have realised at that point - and the even worse one afterwards in that shuttle - that it was long past time to leave, but somehow his gumption had evaporated along with his pride. Like a frog in hot water. He'd read about that once, that a frog would jump straight out if it was too hot, but if you put one in cool water and gradually heated it, the change was too slow for the frog to realise before it cooked. As he almost had.

Well, no more. Once burned, twice shy, as his mum had said when he reached out to the pretty blue flower on the gas element. Don't touch and you won't get burned. Don't look at anyone and you won't see the contempt. Don't say too much and they won't realise just how worthless you are. Don't let them get to know you. They won't like you.

"How you going in there?"

Ranginui's voice sounded so close that Vila jumped and hit his head. "All right. I think I'm finished."

"Found anything?" Daker asked.

"A few dodgy connections I fixed." Vila backed out and began reattaching the front panel.

Roigard jobbed experimentally at the controls. "Hey, look at that! That plasma level light hasn't worked for two years." She smiled approval at Vila, who kept his head down as he restowed the tools.

"Good." Daker clapped his hands. "Then let's hit the black stuff."


"Here's your cabin," Ranginui said.

Vila threw his bag onto the bed. It looked comfortable enough and better than most places he'd been in since... since he got away, even if it was a bit bare. He pretended to search his meagre possessions (none of them paid for) so he wouldn't have to look at her friendly brown face. "What happened to that console anyway?"

"Battle damage."

Oh, wonderful, here we go again. "I thought this was a freighter."

"It is." Ranginui leaned against the doorway. "We were delivering a perfectly legal consignment to a planet that the Federation decided to take over. There was a blockade."

Oh, joy. One of my favourite pastimes, being shot at. "So, um, that's what happened to, uh..."

"The guy you're replacing? Nah. That was Soren, Kristin's bro. He fell for someone and went flat-foot on us."

Well, that was something. Vila tried to suppress the sudden image of Kerril. Just another person who wouldn't have liked him if she'd known him.

"So, where're you from, then?"

And she hadn't at first, either. "Here and there. Mostly there."

Ranginui laughed and waited for more, but Vila kept rummaging in his bag. "If there's nothing else, I'll leave you to it, then."

Vila didn't look up till she'd closed the door, then he put his few things away, undressed, and got into bed. He curled up, his back to the wall, and pulled the covers over his head.

They seemed nice people. They were nice people, and somehow that made it harder. It taunted him with something outside his grasp. It was as if they lived on the other side of a force wall, or a river so deep he couldn't cross. He ached with longing for something he couldn't name, like a starving man deprived of the milk and honey on the other side.


They were two days out from Sorelle, and the new crewmember was living up to the skills listed on his card.

"Doesn't say much though, does he?" Marama tipped her chair back and hooked a leg over a corner of the rec room table. "He should be called Mouse, not Spider."

"He did a good job on that console, and our coffee machine's never worked so well." Jul sipped his espresso appreciatively. "And you didn't see him take on someone twice as big for some old beggar he'd never met. Think I know what it is, though. I've seen enough like him since the Big One, people who've been through too much. Battle fatigue."

Kristin frowned. "I hope not. He's meant to help me on weapons if we hit any trouble." She shrugged. "Anyway, it's just till Tarl; we can drop him there." She pursed her lips in thought. "He reminds me of a guy Soren and I met once who did twenty years in the mines. He's broken."

"Nah." Marama shook her head, glossy black hair falling in her eyes. "He's still got some spirit left in him. Look at him when he doesn't think anyone's watching. He smiles if someone makes a joke, and sometimes he looks like he wants to say something. Soon as you catch his eye though or ask him something personal, he... I dunno, closes off. Reminds me of a dog my auntie had. He just turned up on her farm one day and you could tell he'd been kicked around a bit. He'd wag his tail, but at the same time he was waiting for the kick. He wanted to be friends but - " She stopped as Spider came in.

"Just getting a drink," Spider mumbled into the uncomfortable silence.

"Hey," said Marama brightly. "There's four of us again and I've got the flight deck readouts routed to my datapad. So let's have a game." She leaned over and hooked two packs of cards out of a recess in the wall. "How about 'Up and Down the River'?"

She saw Spider's eyes light up briefly before he turned away with his drink. "Um, thanks, but I'll just sit over there and watch," he mumbled.

"Hang on, you two," Jul said quietly. "I'll have a word with him."


Jul sat down beside Spider, who was nursing his drink on the couch against the wall. "Not your real name, is it: Noone?"

Spider almost spilled his drink and his startled eyes met Jul's for an instant. "What d'you mean?"

"Well, you've spelled it wrong for a start. It's really meant to be two words, isn't it?"

Spider looked at the floor but Jul could see a faint rueful smile. "Yeah. Name and nature."

"That's a terrible thing to say about yourself. Look, mate, I don't know who did what to you, but you know what the best revenge is?"

"Eaten cold?" Spider shook his head. "I don't go in for revenge. It just escalates."

"That isn't what I was going to say." Jul put a hand on Spider's shoulder, and kept it there despite his wince. "The answer's living well. Whatever happened to you, you shouldn't let it ruin the rest of your life. That way, they've won."

Spider blinked, then turned to look at him properly.

"Don't want to let them, do you? Or d'you want to punish yourself?"

He could see the impact of the thought. "No, at least, I - I don't think..."

"Good. Then let's have a friendly game." Jul stood up. "What d'you say?"


"So, what's it to be?" Kristin drained her mug. "Poker?"

"Don't worry, Spider, we don't go in for the strip sort." Marama grinned. "Not till you've been here a while, anyway."

Vila tried to think of something to say that wouldn't invite an insult. Get in first, that was the trick. "If you did, I think you'll want to let me win."

Marama laughed.

Encouraged, Vila said, "People have been known to pay me not to take my clothes off." He looked at his hands, confused by the amusement in her face. Careful; don't mistake it for anything else, Vila.

"So, poker? 'White Dwarf'?" Marama put her head on one side. "You looked like you fancied 'Up and Down the River' before"

Vila nodded.

"So you know it? Crazy game but we don't care. We only play for fun, not money."

They'd called it lots of things back on Earth and CF1, when Vila was a boy: Oh Hell; Hell 'n' Dammit; Event Horizon; and this one. It might be a while before he played Galactic Monopoly or chess again, but this was something from when he was young and hopeful and all things were still possible. He smiled.

"All right, we start at ten each, down to one and up again, no trumps, ten points plus your bid if you make it, negative scoring on over- and under-bids, okay?"


In the middle of the night, on her way back to her cabin after her watch, Marama paused outside Spider's door. She could hear something: a snuffling noise. Was he crying? She knocked. "Spider? Are you all right?"

The noise stopped.

"Spider?" There was no answer. "Look, if you want to talk about it... well, I'd listen," she ended lamely. She waited for a response, then shrugged and went on to her cabin.


Vila listened to her go. She was only being kind, and that made it somehow worse. The tears started again and he had no idea why, especially when no one had been anything but friendly. What was wrong with him? He hadn't cried for years, not since he was a boy. Well, all right, if you didn't count green vampire sand, but that had to be special circumstances.

It wasn't till a long time later that he looked back and realised he'd been mourning something he hadn't known he'd lost.


A day out from Tarl, two ships appeared on the sensors and Kristin pressed the action stations button. Spider, who had been napping in his seat, jumped and almost fell out of it.

"Pirates?" Jul asked.

"Looks like it," Marama said. "Usual manoeuvre: they're splitting to go either side."

Alarmed, Spider said, "What'd they want with us? We've only got grain."

"Aye, but that gets a good price on the Federation worlds still recovering from the Big One." Jul decided to keep an eye on him in case he had to leap in and take over.

"Can we outrun them?" Spider looked hopeful.

"No, we're not that fast and they know it." Kristin grinned. "But we carry big sticks. I'll take the starboard guns, you take port."

"Right." Spider ran his hands over his control panel. "Ready."

"Wait for it," Marama said. "Firing at their flanks won't do any good. That lot'll be heavily armoured. We cut speed - last thing they expect - turn, roll, then get them up the - "

"Exhaust, so to speak!"

"They've opened a channel." Kristin put it on ship-wide and leaned forward. "Hello, unknown ships. This is the Give It A Go."

"Stand by to be boarded and you won't get hurt."

"No thanks."

The forward starfield display described a wild arc, then rotated. First Kristin, then Spider fired.

"They're shooting back." said Kristin.

"Oh, wonderful. I've missed this." Spider's face was intent on his display. "Hah! And so did those pirates!" His fingers danced lightly over his controls. "Gotcha!"

"Move, Marama!" A bolt flashed by as Kristin fired in turn. "Got him." She looked at Jul. "Both drives disabled." She grinned and slapped Spider on the back. "One each."

"Well done, both of you." Jul saw the triumphant look on Spider's face falter. "Cease fire and resume course. Their friends'll pick them up." He looked thoughtfully at Spider powering his weapons down. Definitely not battle fatigue, and this guy was good. "Were you trained in Space Fleet, Spider?"

"Certainly not!" Spider looked shocked.

"You've been in action though. The Big One?"

"Yeah. The... DSV was in the eleventh sector when the Andromedans invaded." Spider sat up straighter. "I was on weapons." He squared his shoulders proudly. "And we held the line."

"Aye. You all did." Jul was silent for a few moments. "Look, I don't know your real name or where you come from, but I do know you have ethics, you don't like the Federation any more than we do, and you're a damned good crewmember. What I'm saying is, I'd like you to stay on with us."

Spider stared at him, then nodded. "All right."

"Before you make up your mind, I'd best tell you a bit more. We don't just carry grain and foodstuffs, you know. Not that those pirates knew that."

Spider raised his eyebrows. "Free traders?"

"No, not us. Everything in our hold is legal. It's what is in the concealed compartments that isn't." Jul sat back in his seat. "Kristin comes from Bornholm, which the Federation took over for intensive mining. I'm from Morphenniel which was under the Federation till climate control failed and half of us starved. Marama here - "

"I left home because I always wanted to be a pilot, but we've been to places like Helotrix and Zondor. I'd do anything to stop them drugging everyone on Ataro like that, 'cause that's what it'd take."

"You're rebels?" Spider didn't seem overly taken aback.

"Not quite. More part of their supply line. We carry guns and materiel to people who need them." Jul paused. "You can still say no."

"No." Spider shook his head. "I mean, I won't; say no, that is. Um, that means yes."


Vila wasn't sure why he'd said yes, only that it was an easy decision. Because I like them and I've nowhere else to go? Or because they like me? Always a bit of a novelty, that. Jul's "well done" had brought up unwanted images though: first a smiling Blake, then the scarred, unshaven, world-weary face Vila wished he could forget. He wasn't sure he could ever trust anyone that much again, but it was better than being alone.


"This run's an arms delivery to a space rendezvous, but I'm not happy about it," Jul said. "Avalon set it up so it should be fine, but we're meant to be meeting Jenna Stannis. And the word out is that she's dead - "

Vila almost choked on his coffee. "Sorry. Went down the wrong way."

" - so I'd rather not risk it."

"But some of those arms are going to Bornholm!" Kristin said indignantly. "We have to!"

"Sorry, it's too dangerous."

"Could still be Jenna, you know. There're advantages in being dead." Everyone turned to look at Vila. He took a deep breath. "Look, make the rendezvous, but don't do anything till we know it's her. I could tell you."

Jul raised his eyebrows. "You know Stannis?"

"Yes, once." Oh, what the hell. "See, I'm not really Spider Noone - "

"I did figure that out."

" - I'm Vila." He swallowed and closed his eyes briefly. "Vila Restal."

There was a long silence. Then: "You're Restal? Mate, you're a bloody hero!" Jul slapped Vila on the back.

"Vila Restal!" Marama jumped up, beaming. "No wonder you're so good at everything - you're one of Blake's original seven!"

"And a hot-shot too. Damn, but you really did hold the line in the Big One." Kristin reached across from her position to punch his arm.

"Eh? Me?" Vila was stunned. Did they have the right Vila Restal? "Er, look, if you think it's a bit dangerous to have me on board, you can drop me off somewhere and I'll change my name and disappear."

"You must be joking!" Jul clasped Vila's shoulder. "We wanted you before we knew who you were; why'd we let you go now, Restal?"

Vila blinked. "Oh. Well, I'd rather just be Spider, if it's all the same to you."


Spider had gone back to what seemed to be his natural bouncy self once the others had stopped asking questions he didn't want to answer, but the closer they'd got to the rendezvous, the quieter he'd become.

Jul looked at him, concerned. "Ready?"

Spider just nodded.

"Right." Jul marched through the open airlock door onto Stannis's ship, flanked by Kristin, with Spider behind them. "Jenna Stannis, I presume? If you are, then you'll know my friend." He stepped aside.

"Vila!" Jenna's face lit up.

"Hello Jenna. Everyone says you're dead."

Jenna's smile disappeared at Spider's expressionless response. "Blake thought it was useful for us both. And come to that, I heard the same about you."

"That's right. Far as I'm concerned, Vila Restal is dead. After all," Spider said bitterly, "I miss him about as much as you probably do." He turned around and walked back through the connecting tunnel to the Give It A Go.

Jenna's mouth fell open. "What happened to him?"

Kristin put her gun away and folded her arms. "We were going to ask you that."

"I don't know." Jenna shook her head. "He was always pretty cheerful, a bit of a joker. I didn't think anything much could bother him. Look, I was never close, but I didn't dislike him."

Jul nodded. "Fair enough." He shrugged. "Right, let's get down to business."


Vila got a bottle from the locked cabinet in the rec room, opened it and took a long swig. He slumped down on the couch. He thought he'd come to an acceptance of himself in the months since he'd joined the crew, but seeing Jenna again had brought back all his insecurity. She'd been friendly enough in the holding cells when he'd been the best of a bad lot, but on the Liberator she'd barely spoken to him. He tilted the bottle to take another drink.

"Oh no, you don't." Marama grabbed the bottle and put in on the table. She sat down beside him. "All right, give. What'd she do to you?"

"Nothing. Just reminded me of who I am."

"So? Who you are is a clever, funny, and very nice person. I don't care whether you're called Spider or Vila, or what your Federation grade is, if that's what's worrying you. I like you a lot. We all do." She put her arm across Vila's shoulders and spoke more softly. "And you know what? I think I'll call you Vila from now on, just so you know you don't have to pretend to be someone else." She grinned and gave him a quick squeeze.

Vila stared into her eyes for a moment, then smiled back. "I think I might like that."


After the deal was done, Jenna came across to the Give It A Go to see her old crewmate. "Can I talk to you?"

"Course." Vila patted the couch beside him.

He looked more like the man she remembered. She sat down. "What happened, Vila?"

"You mean how come I'm not really dead? I played sicker than I was, and one night I pulled my drips out and used the metal needles to pick my way out of the hospital. I suppose the staff didn't want to admit to losing me, so they said I died of my wounds."

That wasn't what Jenna had been asking, but she could tell from the way Vila looked away and spoke so matter-of-factly that it had been worse than he was letting on. She put her hand on his arm. "I'm sorry. Is it true..." She hesitated. "Is it true what the Federation say? That Avon shot Blake?"

Vila sighed. "You don't know what that last year was like. We seemed to fail at everything we tried, and everyone we had anything to do with betrayed us." He shrugged. "Blake was just one more."


"Looked that way to me, too." Vila suddenly turned to look at her, his face filled with longing. "He didn't, did he? Betray us too?"

"Of course not!"

Vila screwed up his face in pain. "Should make it better, knowing that, but it doesn't."

"Blake had a hard time of it after the war." Jenna's nails bit into her palms. "We both did. But he was trying to build up another group of convicts and troublemakers like us. He was waiting for you and Avon and Cally. Vila, no matter how it looked, how could Avon do that?"

"Huh! Easy. He almost spaced me not long before."

Jenna was shocked. "I thought you two were friends!"

"So did I an' all." Vila looked down at his hands. "But if he ever was, he stopped after Cally died. I think he hated me for being there when she wasn't."

Jenna sat still. She hadn't known about Cally; her name hadn't been in the casualty list. "Oh, Vila." She shook her head. "And that bastard. Not that anyone really believes the stories. You know, Blake used to say the rebellion needed a martyr, and he was right. His death has lit a fire they'll have a hell of a time putting out. If they can." She got up and moved to stand in front of Vila. "We're the last ones left, Vila. Look, there's a place for you on my ship if you want it. And, let me tell you, I don't make that offer lightly."

Vila looked up at her with surprise, then smiled. "Thank you. I know that and I really appreciate it too. But you know what? I think I've finally found somewhere I belong."

The end

Written for the 2005 Multi-Fandom Lyric Wheel, using one of Izhilzha's requests, "The River of Dreams". I'm not sure whether she knows Blake's 7, but this story was the one the song suggested to me.

The River Of Dreams

Billy Joel

      In the middle of the night
      I go walking in my sleep,
      from the mountains of faith
      To the river so deep.
      I must be looking for something,
      something sacred I lost,
      but the river is wide
      and it's too hard to cross.
      And even through I know the river is wide,
      I walk down every evening and stand on the shore.
      I try to cross to the opposite side
      So I can finally find what I've been looking for.
      In the middle of the night
      I go walking in my sleep,
      through the valley of fear
      to a river so deep.
      I'm a searcher for something,
      taken out of my soul,
      something I'd never lose
      something somebody stole.
      I don't know why I go walking at night,
      but now I'm tired and I don't wanna walk anymore.
      Hope it doesn't take the rest of my life
      until I find what it is I've been looking for.
      In the middle of the night
      I go walking in my sleep,
      through the jungle of doubt
      to the river so deep.
      I know I'm searching for something,
      something so undefined,
      that it can only be seen
      by the eyes of the blind
      in the middle of the night.
      I'm not sure about a life after this.
      God knows I've never been a spiritual man.
      Baptized by the fire, I wade into the river
      that is running to the promised land.
      In the middle of the night
      I go walking in my sleep,
      though the desert of truth
      to the river so deep.
      We all end in the ocean,
      we all start in the streams,
      we're all carried along
      by the river of dreams
      in the middle of the night.