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A Choice Cut of Fool

By Kathy Hintze
Page 1 of 5

"Let us know when you're ready to leave," Tarrant said to Vila.

Avon gave him a short nod, then activated his teleport bracelet. "Bring us up, Orac."

"What makes you think he will come back?" Cally asked Avon. She had waited for Tarrant and Dayna to leave to save the young pilot from saying something he'd soon regret.

Avon paused, wondering at her question. With Cally, such things were not always mere words. Her alien capabilities could ofttimes pick up things better left unsaid. "Vila is a survivor," he advised. "On that planet he found, he would have to work. He does not like to work." He sat down behind the teleport, certain that Vila would be calling in at any time.

"You're forgetting Kerril, Avon. He seemed quite fond of her."

"Vila is fond of any female," Avon snorted with a faint smile.

"True," Cally agreed. "But I sensed he felt something more for this woman."

"Was it enough to convince him to stay with her?" Avon asked, suddenly watching her intensely.

"I am not sure. What I felt could have been mere concern for her, but...."

"But you're not sure," Avon returned, relaxing a bit. If Cally wasn't sure, then it might not mean anything. He stood up and decided to go to the flight deck and see how much more he could harass Tarrant. The damned young idiot might well have led then all into a trap, and he was not about to let him off with one mere hand-slapping.

When Avon arrived there, Dayna broke off what she was saying. He hadn't caught all of it, but it was evident she was quite upset with Tarrant. Surely she didn't care for Vila as well.

"Am I interrupting something?" Avon enquired in a solicitous tone.

"No," Tarrant spat, his eyes snapping at Dayna. "Has Vila come up yet?"

My, my, what did I miss? Avon wondered to himself. "No, not yet. Worried, Tarrant?"

"Aren't you, Avon? After all, without your precious thief, you're out of luck if Blake should be in a Federation security cell."

"Tarrant!" Dayna half-rose in her chair, but the icy look Avon gave Tarrant set her right back down.

"I don't need any of you, Tarrant. Nor do I need Blake."

"Then why all this running about every time Orac picks up some mention of him?"

"That is my concern. Yours is to pilot this vessel. A skill anyone can master. Dayna, I'm sure, could manage with Zen's assistance."

"Fine. Let her, then. I'm sick and tired of all of you." He stomped off the flight deck.

Avon gazed after him, mildly surprised. "Tarrant must be suffering from an extreme attack of conscience," he surmised.

"Avon, why do you do that?"

"Dayna, do not try my patience with empty questions."

"Oh, you're as thick-headed as Tarrant," she exclaimed and headed out the opposite corridor Tarrant had taken.

"I do wish I had come in at the beginning of whatever that was about," he mused to himself. He activated the ship's intercom and punched up the teleport station. "Anything yet, Cally?"

"Nothing, Avon. Do you think he's all right?"

"I shouldn't want to bring him up if he's, uh, involved with other things, Cally. We'll give him another few minutes, then inform him we're leaving. He'll be ready then, I assure you."

Avon closed down the intercom and sat at his station, his fingers drumming a soundless beat on the console. A voice at the back of his brain kept telling him, perhaps Vila will not come back. After all, what was there here for him? Safely? Hardly, if what had nearly happened was any proof. Vila would have to be a fool to believe that. And he is not that. Avon unconsciously nodded. He knew full well that Vila was neither the fool he played nor as drunk as he often appeared. He had kept a careful eye on the ship's liquor cabinet as well as forbidding Zen from making any inordinate amounts of the mixture Vila liked so well, soma.

What then was there to keep him? Loyalty? Hardly. Vila's loyalty lay with the winner, and Avon could scarcely blame him for it. In the Delta Domes, or for that matter anywhere in the Federation, it was always the wiser of the two.

The intercom chimed. "Avon?"

"What is it, Cally?"

"Vila's called for teleport. He sounds in trouble."

"Bring him up, Cally. Now!" He headed for the teleport on the run.

#

Dayna was headed back for the flight deck when she spied Avon. "What's the matter, Avon?" Avon said nothing, just sped on by. "Damn, something must have happened to Vila," she mumbled under her breath and headed after him.

Tarrant heard the commotion and poked his head out his cabin just as Dayna went by. "What's...."

"Don't know. Come on."

Tarrant joined in the rush. When he and Dayna arrived, Vila was leaning against the teleport console, breathing heavily and shaking with fear.

"I told him not to do it," Vila muttered. "Stupid man, very stupid man. Brought the complex down on top of himself."

"Did Kerril make it all right?" Cally asked gently.

"Must have done," Vila replied. He took a deep breath to steady himself. It had been too close a thing down there. "The barrier came back up. Norl and Kerril had to have crossed onto the planet to do that. At least, I hope so."

"I'm sure she's all right, Vila," Dayna said in comfort.

"Hope so."

"I'm sure she's safe."

Vila lifted his head and looked at Avon. Something was in the other man's eyes, relief that he had come back? Well, what else could he have done, given the circumstances? Still, there had been time. He could have jumped through the opening and maybe made it to Homeworld. Their world, his and Kerril's. Maybe they would name it Vilaworld after him. Maybe. He sighed. So many maybes which now would never be.

"Vila, I'm sorry."

Tarrant's words shattered his image of Kerril laughing and holding out her arms for rim. "That makes it all worthwhile, doesn't it?" Vila mumbled.

"We're still out the crystals," someone grumbled. Who, Vila wasn't sure. He took out the handful he had collected on the planet and plopped them on the console.

Avon collected them, his eyes still resting on Vila. "I'm impressed," he said with no hint of mockery in his voice and left.

"Hmmm," Vila mumbled back.

"I'm glad you stayed," Cally told him, giving him a quick hug.

Vila's melancholy lifted slightly and he managed to smile. "Glad somebody's happy."

"So is Avon."

"Who cares what Avon thinks," Vila sighed. "Who cares what I think? Who cares about anything!" He left for his cabin.

Cally looked after him and shook her head. She had been right. Vila had felt something for Kerril, and now she was lost to him.

#

Avon felt eyes staring at him and turned about. Vila Restal was standing in the doorway, eyes partially glazed, no doubt by the rather large and half-consumed glass of soma in his hand.

"Well?" Avon inquired.

"Just wondered what you were doin'," Vila replied in a slurry voice.

"I thought this was your watch period." Avon stood up and stretched. He had been working at the installation of the crystals for nearly six hours.

"Dayna told me to go away so I went." Vila giggled suddenly and sat straight down on the floor.

He's never been this drunk before, Avon realized. "Vila, what are you doing?"

"Doing? Nothing. Same as I'm always doing when I'm not opening things or getting shot at or being used as bait or...."

"I get the picture," Avon interrupted with a frown. Surely what had happened on Keezarn had not brought this about. No, surely it couldn't be that.

"So there you are," Cally's voice announced from the corridor. A minute later and she peered at Avon. "Has he been pestering you, Avon?" she asked, helping Vila to his feet. At the same time, she sent Avon a telepathic message. Dayna called me. Vila was acting very strange when she came to the flight deck. That's why she relieved him.

Avon blinked in acknowledgement and then stared intently at Vila. Something was definitely not right. "No, he just arrived."

"Come on, Vila. Let's get you to your cabin." Cally put an arm around his waist to help support him.

The thief giggled again, then went very solemn. "Don't do anything but cause trouble, do I, Cally? Don't deserve any cabin. Don't deserve anything!" He burst into tears.

Cally didn't know what to make of that. A glance at Avon told her he didn't either. "Hush now. You're tired, that's all. Things will look better after you've slept."

"Nothing look better. Maybe Tarrant was right. No one cares what happens to me. No one." He ventured a teary-eyed look at Cally. "'cept maybe you, Cally." The tears began again.

"Let's get him to his cabin," Avon advised.

#


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