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Still Life

By Firerose
Page 1 of 1

He let himself into the unfamiliar cabin after his shift. Cally hadn't even bothered to leave it unlocked for him, guessed he liked his little challenges. She'd asked him to look after things while she was accompanying Tarrant planetside, you know, water the plants, talk to the moon disc, that kind of thing. She'd only be gone a couple of days, but she said the moon disc pined. And she couldn't ask Avon, now could she? He laughed aloud at the mere idea of Avon babbling sweet nothings at anything, let alone an alien cactus. But for all that, Cally had said old misery-guts himself had adapted one of the cabin reading lamps to match the light frequencies with those on Zonda.

      Well, the plants were easy enough, but what did you say to an alien cactus, after all? It wasn't as if they had a lot in common. It did look a bit peaky, perhaps, a bit grey and shrivelled round the rim, almost cowering away on the far side of its tray under the silly little parasol affair that Cally'd constructed for it. 'What am I going to do with you, then?' he said experimentally, then looked round to check no-one could overhear him. On second thoughts he switched the cabin's link with Zen into sleep mode.

      'Missing her, are you?' he said, gently, and was rewarded when the thing seemed to vibrate slightly, almost as if it were shaking itself, stretching. A few grains of the precious Zondarian sand trickled off its top surface to fall back into the tray. He leaned over to get a better look -- yes, the deep glossy wine-red of the centre had faded a bit towards the edges. 'You need to perk up, you know, she'll be back soon,' he said. Producing a stream of inane babble was a bigger challenge than he'd thought it would be. He tapped the top lightly with a cautious fingertip. It didn't feel, well, cold and slimy like he'd expected. He touched it again, no, it was warm, rubbery in texture, giving slightly under the pressure of his fingers. Almost inviting. Reminded him for some reason of the pet ferret he'd had back in the dome. Fred, that was his name. Fred the Ferret. Bloody good pickpocket, that ferret.

      He stroked it in circles around the little circular indent in the middle, bit like tickling Fred's ears. 'You like that, don't you?' he said. 'Yes, easy baby ... it'll all be all right.' Definite vibration now, and he could just catch its whispering chattering, like bacon frying a long way away, over the hum of the ship's aircon. It was warm here, with the light bathing his arm. Peaceful. He rolled his sleeve up and the thing started to grind its painstaking way towards him, apparently missing his hand. He felt an absurd joy at the sight. 'You like me, don't you baby. Somebody on this ship likes me.' The warmth in his arm spread to his belly, like the afterglow of a good whiskey, and a dreamy calm spread out through him, relaxing his tired muscles, tiny shivers running down the back of his neck, the chattering on the edge of his hearing like a lullaby.

      'Vila!' He jerked his hand away. 'What are you doing in Cally's cabin, and why did you turn off Zen's interface?'

      'Nothing, Avon, just ... just watering her plants... you know she asked me to water her plants while she's away...'

      He turned back to the moon disc, gave it a final pat. 'Don't worry, I'll be back...'

      END


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