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Cup Fever

By Susannah Shepherd
Page 1 of 4

'How's your ankle now, Blake?' Cally asked as she stepped on to the flight deck in her surface clothes.

'Oh, it'll be fine by tomorrow,' he said from the sofa, where he sat with one foot in Jenna's lap while she played the regenerator over it.

'I could have told you that the cargo bay was an unsuitable place for an impromptu game of football, even if your favourite team has just made it into the Galactic Cup finals,' Avon said. He picked up two gun belts, one for himself and one for Cally.

'Sorry, Blake,' Gan said guiltily. 'I didn't mean to tackle you so hard.'

'Stop apologising,' Blake said. 'It was a perfectly legal tackle, I just fell awkwardly.'

'And I'm sorry too, Gan,' Jenna said, 'for hacking you in the shins like that.'

Avon gave Cally a long-suffering look as he handed her the gun belt, and she smiled back at him.

//Why are human males so obsessed by these ball games?// Cally telepathed to Avon.

'You're asking the wrong human male,' he replied, causing some puzzled looks from the others.

//But I heard you laugh when Vila did that clever thing with his feet, kicked the ball past Blake and between the tunics, then pulled his shirt off and did his little dance...//

Avon gave Cally a much colder look, which earned an even larger smile from her. Avon turned to the others.

'Well, let's get down there. Although, Blake, I must say that it seems like a pointless exercise to me. I don't see why we owe Avalon any favours, and her organisation is probably riddled with collaborators and spies.'

'Quite possibly,' Blake replied, all reasonable and even-voiced. 'But it would help if we had some idea who they were.'

'And we're going to find that in a deserted base?'

'I don't know... She thought the abandonment was strange, and I agree with her. There was no hint of infiltration, but most of them left in a hurry and were picked up in a Federation security sweep while trying to leave the planet. We don't know what happened to the others, except that they're not at the base there's no life signs for miles.'

'Well now, there wouldn't be, if the Federation had found and killed them all,' Avon sneered.

'The survivors would have managed to get some sort of warning to Avalon if that was the case.'

'Then perhaps the survivors just saw the writing on the wall and decided they'd had enough of rebellion.'

Blake gave Avon a stubborn-mouthed look. 'Or perhaps there's something we need to know about down there.'

Avon held Blake's stare for a moment and then stiffened his shoulders. 'All right. Let's get on with it. Cally, Gan, you're ready?' Both nodded. 'Vila '

'Ouch,' Vila said. 'D'you know, I think I've twisted my ankle, too? Ow.'

'I don't care, so long as it gets you to the teleport section.'

'Just the teleport section? Oh, look at that. It's feeling better already.'

#  #  #

Avon, Cally and Gan materialised some distance from the rebel base, in an area of dense fragrant pine forest.

'Nice planet,' Gan commented.

'If you like trees,' Avon replied, looking suspiciously around him. There was too much cover; you could hide a whole Federation battalion in here.

They made their way cautiously towards the abandoned base. Even though they knew its general location, they had difficulty finding it the building had been constructed inside a natural hillock and covered over with forest floor debris. It took them nearly as long to find and open the door.

The building consisted of several rooms, all dim and musty but slightly pine-scented. There were communal living areas and facilities, two bunk-rooms and one smaller bedroom, and a communication centre. There was an unmistakeable air of abandonment about the whole base; the place looked lived-in, so it had not been a planned orderly evacuation, but neither had things been dropped in panic where they lay. There were no bodies, to everyone's unvoiced relief.

Avon went straight to the communications centre and looked at the computers. 'There's only enough power left in the cells to run these for a little while. I'll download everything to data-cube and we can decrypt it on the Liberator.'

Cally and Gan started to explore the rest of the base while he worked, but they found little of significance. Avon came through to find them, clutching the data-cube.

'Gan, take this back up, and Cally and I will work through the rest of the base while Blake analyses the data.'

Gan nodded and spoke into his bracelet. 'Vila, bring me up when you're ready.' He disappeared in a flash of light.

Avon turned to Cally. 'Did you find anything?'

'No. About the only thing out of place is that the medical supplies have been stripped almost bare. But that might just mean they were due for a supply run.'

'All right then. Let's search the office, there's a lot of hard copy in there.'

They hadn't worked for long, sorting paper and flimsies into piles, before Avon's teleport bracelet chimed.

'Avon, it's Blake here. Look, we've found out why they abandoned the place.'

Avon didn't like the tone of Blake's voice. 'Why?' he asked suspiciously.

'According to the logs, they were struck by a virulent infection. It killed one third of the personnel in a week.'


'Yes, I'm sorry. Look, I know this might sound callous, but I want you and Cally to stay down there for the time being. We've got everyone who's been exposed in quarantine up here, and Zen's searching the databases for more information.'

Cally nodded and spoke into her own bracelet. 'Of course, Blake, we understand.'

'We'll be back in touch as soon as we know anything else. Take care.'

Cally looked at Avon once Blake had signed off. 'They disposed of the bodies. That will cut the risk of infection.'

He didn't reply to her comment. 'Keep looking through these papers. We may as well do something while we wait.'

#  #  #

The next time the bracelets chimed, it was Jenna's voice.

'What do you want first, the good news or the bad?'

'Good,' Cally said quickly, before Avon could say something scathing.

'We've identified the illness. It's a very nasty virus, but Gan's tested completely clear, and if you've been exposed you'll be showing symptoms by now.' Jenna gave a sudden, unexpected giggle. 'Avon, how flexible are you?'

'Very,' Avon said dryly. 'I'd be dead if I wasn't adaptable.'

'No, I meant physically. The first signs are painless red rings or nodules along the spine and down around the, um, genital region. Front and back. You'll have to check each other, I'm afraid, unless there's a hall of mirrors down there.'

Avon was silent for a moment. 'Thank you for the bad news,' he said.

'Oh, that's not the bad news. There's pursuit ships heading our way. We're going to be pulling out of teleport range until we've lost them.'

'What if we are infected, Jenna?' Cally asked.

'Then I'll take the risk of coming back for a hit-and-run pickup we should have a treatment synthesised soon. But if you're not ill, I'd rather not risk the ship. Look, we've got to go. Call back if either of you are infected, and we'll get the isolation protocols ready.'

Cally looked at Avon and shrugged. 'Sounds straightforward.'

'Yes,' Avon said, his voice carefully neutral.

'It's a bit cold in here to be taking our clothes off,' Cally said. 'If we're going to have to stay for a while, we should find the heating.'

'Risky,' Avon argued. 'We don't want to show up on anyone's heat sensors, and in any case most of the fuel cells in the place are near depleted.'

'Just one room?' Cally suggested. 'What about the smallest one, the bedroom?'

It was, Avon had to admit, a sensible idea. The base was cold, and there was little point in making an awkward situation even more uncomfortable. 'All right.'

The tiny bedroom turned out to be as well lit as any of the rooms, and it had a small portable heater in it with a reasonable charge left in the fuel cell. Cally turned it on, and the room was warm within a couple of minutes.

Avon knew what they had to do, but he was still rather startled when Cally sat down on the coverlet of the bed to pull off her boots, then began to strip. She did it without any sign of self-consciousness, and he found himself watching openly as she peeled off her outer layers and then wriggled out of her tight trousers. Her plain, utilitarian underwear came off just as readily.

He pretended not to notice that her small pert breasts had not yet reacted to the warming room and that her generous nipples were still rosy and erect. He also pretended not to notice how tall and lean she was, all lithe and flat-stomached and long-thighed. No, he definitely hadn't noticed that.

Cally turned around then, so that he could inspect her bare back. He had to sweep her hair away from the nape of her neck to check the top of her spine, and her curls tangled around his fingers. They were soft, very soft, and he had to take in a deep breath before he could lift up his other hand to trace the line of her backbone.

Her spine was so knobbly that he had to check slowly, working his way down methodically and checking that each bony lump was as it should be. She was starting to warm up, and her skin felt just as soft and lovely against her fingertips as her hair had. Avon concentrated even harder on the complicated details of the skeleton beneath the skin.

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Susannah Shepherd

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