Let There Be LightBy Nicola Mody
Page 1 of 4
Vila stumbled onto the flight deck. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, falling into his seat.
“It’s all right, Vila,” Blake said, almost kindly.
Encouraged, Vila considered saying he didn’t feel at all well, but decided against it. He tried to ignore his headache and the churning nausea in his stomach, and sank his head in his hands.
“Have you taken your medication, Vila?” Cally asked, concerned.
“And eaten something?”
“Yeah.” A few mouthfuls of the lentil soup she had made for him, enough so that the decontaminant drugs didn’t hit an empty stomach.
“You’ll be back to normal in a week or so,” Blake said heartily.
Avon roused himself. “Somewhat debatable in his case.”
Vila didn’t bother to respond. He sighed and looked around at the other three with radiation sickness. Jenna, tired and dispirited, wilted at her station, Gan had his head back and his eyes closed, and though Avon looked much the same as usual, he was very pale and had dark rings under his eyes. The two healthy crewmembers weren’t much better. Blake looked worried, chewing away at a knuckle, and if he didn’t know better, Vila would think Cally was ill too. She said she couldn’t pick up thoughts, only send them, but maybe she got the edges of feelings. Wouldn’t be much fun, that, what with everyone ill or anxious about that new computer Orac’s prediction. Or both.
“What we need,” Vila said, “is something to cheer us up.”
“Leaving us, are you?” Avon said sourly. “That might do it.”
“Could be a good idea, given the neighbourhood’s scheduled for demolition.”
“Then may I suggest Zephron. You’d raise the average IQ of both the ship and the planet.”
“That’s an old one. Can’t the noble Lord Avon do any better than that?”
“Oh, shut up, the pair of you,” Jenna snapped. “Or you’ll both be walking the gangplank.”
“An old free-trader expression, Vila,” Blake said. “Meaning out the airlock.”
Gan stirred, grimacing. “You lot couldn’t keep it down a bit, could you? It hurts my head.” He closed his eyes again. “And there was no reason to insult my home planet.”
“And you’ve only just worked that out? I’m not surprised your head hurts.”
“Avon!” Cally frowned disapprovingly. “That does not help.”
“And what would, pray tell?”
“Something to take our minds off how we feel,” Vila said.
Jenna put her chin on her hand. “Like what?”
“Well, back on Earth, there’s the Festival of Light about now. Starts tonight, twelve days of it.”
Cally looked interested. “What is that, Vila? It sounds lovely.”
“Apart from a Delta excuse to get drunk?” Avon laughed. “It can be observed in almost all primitive cultures in mid-winter. It’s an ignorant and superstitious attempt to propitiate the gods and bring back the sun and the warmth.”
Vila glared. “Shows how much you know. It’s history. Blake, you’d like that, it’s even about freedom.”
“Mm?” Blake looked up from the star charts he was perusing on the flight couch display. “Ah, the Light Festival, yes, an amalgam of at least two ancient religious celebrations. The only reason it’s permitted in the Delta levels is because it’s almost completely secular these days and keeps them happy enough.”
“An opiate for the masses,” Avon sneered.
“If an opiate makes you feel good, what’s wrong with that?” Vila demanded. All the same, he decided to let it go. He didn’t want that lot laughing at him. Well, not any more than usual.
That evening, Vila carefully lined up nine candles in a casserole dish on the desk in his cabin and lit the middle one with a laser probe. Lucky he’d had the forethought to nick some of Meegat’s candles while he’d been down on that planet, getting himself slowly cooked.
“Blessings to you, king of the universe,” he said as he lit the leftmost candle from the first. “And bless us all, every one.” The second bit made more sense than the first. Humans—and hairy aliens for that matter—surely needed a spot of luck more than the creator of the whole shebang did. Not that he was going to let anyone know he had a sneaking belief in said being. Something must have set off the big bang after all, but it was a lot harder to believe anything that powerful had any interest in one little thief. Probably for the best really, considering one of those commandments thingies he’d read a while back.
He stared dreamily into the two little flames, and smiled, remembering happy times with his mother.
“Would anyone like some lunch?” Cally asked. Only Blake looked interested. Jenna swallowed, Gan closed his eyes, and Vila clapped his hand over his mouth.
“Don’t let us stop you,” Avon said. “But consume it elsewhere, would you?”
“Perhaps some meditation would help.”
Avon gave Cally a withering look. “Oh, yes, contorting ourselves into ridiculous positions will of course improve our digestions.”
Jenna ran her hands through her hair and sighed. “So tell us about this festival of yours, Vila. Omitting all mention of...”
“Food?” Vila nodded queasily. “Well, it’s all about light, see.”
Avon raised his eyebrows. “You astound me.”
Vila pulled a face at him. “First we light candles for eight days, one each day. Then we have lights everywhere for the last four days. That makes twelve days, see?”
“Why?” Jenna asked.
Vila looked disconcerted. “Dunno.” He brightened. “I do know about the first eight though. You’ll like this, Blake, it’s all about rebels and freedom. See, thousands of years ago, the land was ruled by an evil empire which made all the people worship their gods instead of the one who made everything. Some of them went along with it—”
“As you undoubtedly would, Vila,” Avon said.
Vila looked sly. “Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I’d just pretend I did.”
Avon smiled one of his rare dazzling smiles.
Vila blinked. “Um, anyway, others wouldn’t give in, and this guy Jude McAbie had a brave heart, and he and his four brothers chucked the invaders out.”
“Judas Maccabee,” Avon drawled. “And he did have an army behind him, unlike some rebels I could mention who think five assorted criminals and an alien with an open mind will suffice.”
“I note you included yourself in that,” Blake said mildly. “Go on, Vila.”
Vila hesitated, staring at Avon, then dropped his eyes to Orac beside him. “You looked it up,” he accused.
“I like to be informed, a concept unknown to you, Vila. But do go on. It’s most ... entertaining.”
“Well, the temple had to be rededicated after all those foreign gods being in it, so the priests cleaned it and relit the eternal flame—“
“Which was hardly eternal if it had gone out.”
“Oh, very clever, Avon. Well, they only had enough oil for a day, but it burned for eight.”
“Hardly the miracle you suppose. Someone probably found some more oil and topped it up.”
Vila turned to Blake. “It isn’t just the oil, it’s more than that. It’s about the good guys winning, and being free.”
Blake did not look as impressed as Vila had expected. “Free to pursue one set of superstitions over another?”
“You don’t believe in all that, do you, Vila?” Jenna asked.
“Look, what does it matter if it’s true or not?” Vila shrugged. “It’s fun, that’s all.”
Avon smiled knowingly.
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