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Three Times Daily

By Julia Stamford
Page 1 of 12

Avon stood looking at the street that Orac had directed him to. It didn't look that disreputable. Still, a trawl through the local gossip had suggested that if you wanted pharmaceuticals that the Federation didn't think the rank and file should have access to, this was the place to come. There was a risk involved in trying to buy samples of the drugs commonly used by the Federation's interrogators, but it was a small one. Many could be put to recreational use, which ensured a thriving black market. He thought of what would have been done to Anna, with or without those drugs, and considered the risk well worth running.

      The pharmacy had the usual array of self-diagnosis and treatment equipment, but he wouldn't get very far with those, unless it was to the nearest holding cell. The dispensers were undoubtedly programmed to report any untoward requests to the authorities, and his would certainly be considered untoward. No, there should be a human around to deal with the more difficult problems, and there was an obvious place to look - one of the areas artfully arranged so as to be screened from the view of the surveillance cameras.

      He soon found a counter, along with a sign saying "Back in 5 minutes". Shrugging, he went to amuse himself in the meantime by seeing what the place had to offer to legitimate customers. Some of the gadgetry might be new since the last time he'd poked around in a place like this.

      His attention was caught by the sound of a familiar voice asking for assistance. Not wanting an audience for his own purchase, he considered quietly ducking out of the shop, but settled for wandering behind a conveniently tall display stand for a spot of discreet eavesdropping. If it blocked the camera's view of the people he could hear, it would block their view of him. He didn't normally invade the privacy of the other crew members, but curiosity had gotten the better of him. What could Jenna want with a pharmacist with a reputation for supplying "exotic" requests if given the right price?

      "And how may I serve Madam?" the pharmacist asked smoothly.

      Avon wasn't surprised by the obsequious behaviour, given the man's likely customer base. What did surprise him was Jenna's reply.

      "I have a rather delicate problem."

      "Oh, discretion is assured, Madam. You need have no fears that the problem will travel any further than these walls."

      It's not for myself, you see. It's a friend."

      "Ah, well, it so often is with our clientele..." The nudge, nudge, wink, wink tone couldn't have been bettered by Vila. It seemed just as effective in annoying Jenna, judging by her sharp tone when she replied,

      "A male friend". There was more than a touch of ice there. "Although it does affect me."

      A faint expression of salacious interest came into Avon's eyes, but he showed no other visible reaction. He could well guess who the male friend was.

      The pharmacist obviously didn't need it spelt out any more clearly.

      "Oh, I seeee. One of those problems. Well, it can be quite easily remedied, but for the best treatment, I shall need a little more detail about the exact nature of the problem. Obviously, stress-induced is a different matter to some physical difficulty, and different again to a certain... reluctance?"

       Frustration getting to you, Jenna? Please don't tell the man that Blake can't perform owing to the stress of trying run a rebellion without getting us all killed in the process. At least, those of us he hasn't already killed.

      "A combination, I think," Jenna replied calmly. "We have been under a great deal of stress recently, and he can't be persuaded to rest properly. He's won't spare any energy on anything he regards as frivolous, and that includes other people. I'm sure if he could only relax a little and drop his barriers, the problem could be overcome."

      The pharmacist evidently agreed. "Hmm. From your description, I would think he needs a muscle relaxant and perhaps a sedative to combat the tension associated with stress, combined with something to make certain that an erection is physically possible. I have the ingredients for a very suitable formulation in stock. It ensures that there will be arousal, regardless of other distractions - very useful where fear of failure is itself causing the failure." He paused, but must have had some non-verbal response from Jenna, encouraging him to go on. "However, I'm afraid that its means of achieving this tends to make users susceptible to suggestion by a partner - they often raise little objection to anything at the time. Would this be a problem?"

      Avon raised a quizzical eyebrow, wondering if it would be. The drug sounded remarkably like one of the items he was after himself, only with the "recreational" aspects emphasised.

      Jenna certainly seemed to think it no problem. "I think that would be very suitable. How is it administered?"

      "It is simply a tasteless powder added to food or drink, useful for someone who doesn't like taking medication. It will take an hour or two to have effect, perhaps longer if taken with food. The dosage must be matched to bodyweight, however. It is not dangerous, but too little, and you may not get the desired effect; too much and you will have someone who is too relaxed, if you understand my meaning."

      "I'm not sure I do. Will he be incapable if I get it wrong?"

      Trust Jenna to spot the potential problem. The pharmacist was quick to reassure her, probably worried about losing a customer.

      "No, your partner will still be erect and it will be possible to have intercourse. It's just that it can be rather frustrating if his only response to anything you do is to simply lie back with a glazed smile. Unless you are in the business of taking incriminating photographs for blackmail purposes, you might as well go further down the street and spend your money in the shop supplying mechanical devices."

      That confirmed Avon's suspicions. At least one component of this drug was probably on his own shopping list. The watching camera might not have noticed, but anyone who knew him well would have seen that he was not impressed.

      "No, that is not what I intended. I just want him to put his worries aside for an evening and enjoy himself." Avon couldn't see the accompanying look of disgust, but he could well imagine it - it had been directed at Vila and himself often enough. The pharmacist however was evidently no more put out by it than he had been.

      "In that case, I can certainly help. The necessary materials are kept in the secure area - we must protect the less well-educated section of the population from accidental access to potentially dangerous medications. If you would come with me, we can discuss the necessary details and I will prepare the exact formulation required."

      The conversation went out of Avon's earshot, leaving him to absorb what he'd just heard. He was both fascinated and appalled by the discussion. The drug Jenna had been offered certainly did have perfectly legitimate medical uses. There had been one or two occasions when he himself would have liked a guarantee that he could perform regardless of the circumstances. It also had great potential for abuse, and the pharmacist had insinuated such uses in such a way that he could easily claim that he had been condemning those uses.

      That left Avon with a dilemma. The conversation had been so ambiguous that he wouldn't even have known the intended recipient if it were not obvious to all on board Liberator that Jenna regarded everyone else as merely a stopgap for Blake. It certainly wasn't clear what she intended to do with her "tasteless powder", as he had no idea what the relationship between Blake and Jenna was behind closed doors. Most likely, Jenna was simply looking for something to perk Blake up, perhaps even at Blake's request, and it was none of his business what they got up to in private. Not even if Blake was unaware of what was going on, but would have no objections afterwards.

      There was however, the possibility that Jenna had tried unsuccessfully to seduce Blake, then had resorted to this method - and that Blake would object strenuously when he realised what had been done to him.

      That was not a pleasant prospect. Life on board Liberator could be difficult enough without the emotional fallout certain to be generated if the latter was the case. On the other hand, Blake would quite rightly resent any interference in his sex life, and attempting to warn him about Jenna's shopping expedition could certainly be viewed as interference. It might also lead to questions about his own purpose in visiting that particular shop, questions that he didn't want to answer. He had no intention of explaining his own interest in such materials.

      He considered the immediate prospect of something unpleasant happening to him if he was still here when Jenna re-emerged, and decided life would be simpler if he thought about the problem in a more relaxed atmosphere. Vila had wanted him to go gambling at one of the local casinos - perhaps he should go and brighten Vila's day, and forget about deciding whether and what to say to Blake. He could always finish his own shopping later.



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