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Grand Illusions

By Alicia Ann Fox
Page 1 of 1

In the middle watch of the time period they had arbitrarily designated as "day," the flight deck of Liberator was filled with busy silence. Busy except for him, amended Blake, who was stationed at the flight controls while Jenna was off.

Avon tinkered, typically, doing inexplicable things with unlikely-looking tools and still managing to look as if he was accomplishing something. Gan patiently tested the power pack energy levels of the guns kept on the flight deck. Vila had been cajoled into helping Cally with some necessary recalibrations of the long-distance scanners.

Gan slotted the last gun into its holder and said to Blake, "I'm going to check out the armory by the teleport." Blake remembered that they'd stumbled across that armory quite by accident some months previously. It's taken us nearly a year to get even a basic plan of the ship made, he thought, amazed. Sometimes I forget how big it is, and how alien.

Blake's mind began to wander, and he visualized a tiny speck--that's me--floating in space, gazing at Liberator's hull. The image made him momentarily dizzy. He ran one hand over his face and checked the automatics again. All was well. 1300 hours and all's well.

Avon had put down his tools and was now attempting to tie together two writhing cables that were attempting to strangle him. One cable was red and the other orange-striped.

Blake blinked and shook his head. He couldn't quite see what Avon was doing from here, but there weren't any garishly colored cables anywhere. I must be wanting an afternoon nap. Avon was, in fact, singing to his console--No, wait--yes, he was. I wonder why he doesn't do that more often? Singing seems very efficient. Zen began to sing, too, in a husky contralto that had nothing whatsoever to do with his speaking voice.

"Blake!"

Oh look, Vila is shrinking.

"Blake!"

"Vila, why are you shrinking?" There, that's a reasonable question.

"Blake, I think you'd better sit down."

"Whatever for?" Vila had apparently reached his smallest point and was now growing to normal size again. "Maybe you should try singing a little. That might help."

Blake opened his eyes slowly. He was sitting on the flight couch with Vila, Cally, and Avon grouped around him. Vila and Avon each had a tight grip on one of his arms. "What's going on?" he asked, confused.

Cally was studying him carefully. "Vila spoke to you, and you asked him why he was shrinking."

"I what?" Blake's voice cracked.

"You had a dazed kind of look on your face," Vila added. "You told me I should try singing and it would stop."

"I did?"

"Yes, you did," said Avon. He slowly released his grip. "You don't remember?"

Blake concentrated. "I remember. . .feeling dizzy. As if I'd been driving a flitter for hours without a break."

"Perhaps you should rest," Cally suggested, trying at the same time to sense if anything more dangerous than lack of sleep was affecting Blake.

"No, I think a cup of coffee will do just as well. There's only another hour or so to this watch, isn't there?"

"It's 1328," Avon said, after glancing at his digital chronometer.

"Right then, I'll have some coffee. Anyone else?"

Vila elected to go with him, probably to escape recalibration for a while. The coffee break left Blake pleasantly stimulated, and he spent the rest of his watch without incident.

Third watch passed, stretching inexorably into late evening. Vila spent an hour or so teaching Cally to make what he called "stir fry" using an assortment of vegetables that had been stored in a stasis field since their trip to Lindor. The seasonings he had bought himself, from bazaars and shops on the dozen or so worlds Liberator had visited.

Cally sniffed appreciatively at the lumpy brownish roots which the thief was grinding up into powder. "It smells hot," she commented. "Clean and stinging."

"It's ginger," said Vila. "Hard to grow anywhere except on Earth, and it isn't so common even there any more. I got this on Kivin's World, a whole bag of it." He went out and came back with another ingredient.

"I'll grind the garlic," Cally offered. She took the cloves from him and set to work. "This is going to be delicious."

Vila grinned, pleased. "Didn't I always say I had more skills than two?" He rummaged in a wall cabinet, through various jars and bottles and pouches, and came out with a transparent bag filled with short reddish fibers. "Saffron," he said, dropping a largish pinch on the edge of the cutting surface before replacing the pouch in the cabinet. "Have a sniff."

Cally obediently sniffed. "Flowers?"

"The pistils of the crocus." He smelled the saffron himself as Cally returned to the garlic. "It turns things yellow when it's cooked." Humming to himself, he pulled out a large frying pan. He was enjoying himself immensely. All he needed to do now was find someone to help the cooks eat their preparation.

Almost as if a result of his thought, Jenna and Blake entered the galley. "It smells wonderful in here," Jenna commented.

"If you'll wait a bit, you can have some," said Vila. "I'm teaching Cally to make Restal's Supreme Stir Fry." Cally chuckled behind him. "It'll be ready in twenty minutes, so out of my galley! Go sit down out there." He waved towards the table in the adjoining room.

Jenna smiled and dragged Blake out. "Too many cooks, Vila?"

"Yeah."

Once seated, Blake gazed abstractedly at the grayish bulkheads of what they had designated the dining area and chewed on his thumb-knuckle. Jenna said nothing, assuming that Blake was absorbed in plans to attack the Federation. In truth, he was not.

I'd never noticed what amazing colors the lights make on the walls. The blurry colors formed gradually into pinpoints of light, like stars, then suddenly dwarfed him with their intensity, overwhelming him; yet he was dumbstruck and unable to close his eyes from their brightness. He was floating in the immensity of space....

In the galley, the vegetable which Vila had just sliced up in the processor reassembled itself and began to dance around the edge of the frying pan. Cally's eyes went wide with astonishment, but Vila didn't appear to notice. The saffron was sprouting into immense flowers, filling the galley with their sweet scent. No, the flowers weren't immense, she was very small, and now so close to the ground that she was dizzy....

"No!" Vila shrieked. Cally found herself seated on the deck, Vila holding one of her wrists with unexpected power. "What the hell did you think you were doing, trying to stick your hand in the frying pan?! This is meant to be meatless, you know!"

Dazedly Cally stared at him. His eyes were spinning around and around and around. "Oh, I feel very sick," she gasped, and clutched at him tightly for stability. "Something is just not right--"

"Damned right," said Vila. He reached up a shaking hand and flicked off the heat source.

"Damned right," confirmed Jenna's voice from the doorway. "Blake is flipping out. How long has this been going on?"

"Going on?" Vila asked.

"The hallucinations."

"Halluc--what? Blake said he felt a little sleepy in middle watch, and he was acting a bit strange but--"

"He's hallucinating, and Cally probably is, too."

"I feel horrible," said Cally in a weak voice.

"Space fatigue, I bet," said Jenna calmly into Vila's confusion. "Something about the eyes gives it away."

Light dawned. "Oh. . .I've heard of that."

"Surprised no-one's had it before now. Wake up Gan and Avon and help me get these two to the medical unit."

The medical computer confirmed Jenna's snap diagnosis. Blake was exhibiting the classic symptoms: a feeling of being a mote in space, and hallucinations. Cally had a milder case which she had, interestingly, "caught" from Blake. While cooking, her mind had been abstracted enough to be telepathically more open to the strong projections of Blake's hallucinations. The computer recommended two doses of the standard space fatigue drug and a day of rest.

"So simple," Blake said from his chair in the medical unit, shaking his head slowly. "I've heard about space fatigue, of course, everyone has, but I didn't expect it to be quite like this."

"I certainly didn't expect it," Cally commented with a wry look.

"You're lucky Vila saw you before you hurt yourself," Jenna said. "And that I was watching Blake." She straightened from peering over Avon's shoulder at the diagnostic screen. "I'm so used to space the thought of anyone having space fatigue hadn't occurred to me."

"None of us would have been able to recognize it," confirmed Gan. "Is there any risk of the rest of us coming down with this?"

"Not according to Zen," said Avon. "However, it recommends a checkup for all of us."

"And I think we should cruise near a system or two with planets," added Blake. "Perhaps we can find a place for a bit of shore leave."

"A good idea," Jenna said. She paused on her way out, turned around and added, "Just think, Blake. You're turning into spacers."

"Wonderful," Avon muttered. "Now we're space rabble."

"Great adventure with the rebellion, hah," agreed Vila.

the end


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