Something GoodBy Victoria Martin
Page 2 of 3
"I'm Orac, since you ask. Do you have any other foolish questions?"
"Well, actually, yes - since you ask. Avon mentioned that he was going away - where's he off to?
"To visit Baroness Servalan, the Federation's Ambassador to this sector."
"And how long will he be gone for?"
"The last time he went to visit the Baroness he stayed for three months."
Three months, thought Blake, I could really turn this ship around in three months, teach that crew of his how to work together as a proper team. Perhaps my tutor was right, and engineering isn't my thing after all.
At that moment the Captain walked in and Blake jumped guiltily, but pulled himself together to say sufficiently "Oh, hello Avon, I was, er, just getting to know Orac here."
"Hm." Avon merely grunted in reply. "Is Jenna back yet?"
"Jenna? Back? Has she been away? I didn't hear the shuttle."
"Oh for heaven's sake, Blake, you've been on this ship for several hours. Do you mean to tell me you haven't found out about the teleport yet? Jenna will have been down on Aldus Major canoodling with Rolf Travis, she always does when we're in orbit here."
"Oh, is that what she's up to? And you don't mind?"
"Why should I? I don't know what she sees in that one-armed bandit myself, but presumably he can get his leg over as well as the next man. He's harmless enough, just a messenger boy at the Federation Embassy."
Even if Avon didn't seem to mind, Blake couldn't really approve of this sort of behaviour. After all, the Federation were their enemies and it didn't seem right to allow "canoodling" with their employees, however harmless they might be. It was definitely time to take things in hand.
He had drawn up a list of activities that he felt would improve discipline, boost morale and increase their sense of team spirit. First on the list was a jolly good sing-song; luckily he'd brought his guitar along. The very next day he called all the crew together, eager to get cracking on his project. He plucked a few strings and then started to tune it, humming the scale to himself: "Do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti do".
"Bloody stupid song, if you ask me," said Vila. "No proper tune, and it doesn't mean anything."
"You have to put in words," said Blake, "I know a few good songs from when I was in the Space Scouts. How about this one? - "Oh, this is number one and my story's just begun, roll me over lay me down and do it again, roll me over in the clover, roll me over lay me down and do it again"."
There was a doubtful silence, finally broken by Cally, who said curiously "Do what again?"
Faced with the prospect of expanding Cally's vocabulary, which seemed exotic enough already, Blake chickened out and said hastily, "Oh, nothing, it's just a song, that's all. Look, it's got actions to it, shall I show you? We all stand in a line to sing it and then number one kicks number two out, and so on."
In the end it turned out to be tremendous fun. The crew really got into it - Blake felt proudly that they had probably done more bonding since his arrival than in their entire time together up to that point. Dayna and Gan in particular found it all hysterically funny and roared out their verses with an enthusiasm that more than compensated for their total lack of ability to carry a tune.
"This is great!" said Blake, wiping the sweat from his brow. "Hey, I tell you what, why don't we enter the All-Sector Ships" Crews Song Contest? It would be a fantastic team-building experience.'
"I don't know," said Jenna dubiously, "I don't think Avon would like it much."
The others nodded solemnly, and Blake felt a sudden flash of annoyance at Avon for managing to throw cold water on his splendid idea without even being present.
"I don't care what Avon says," he said stubbornly, "Let's do it anyway. If he's going to be off for months visiting this Baroness Servalan, he need never know. I'll send the entry form off tonight. Come on, let's give it another bash. Tarrant, you start off this time, and Soolin, perhaps you could try and harmonise with him a bit?"
They were halfway through the sixth verse, and Blake's fingers were beginning to ache from strumming, when he suddenly realised the crew had fallen silent and were staring with a kind of horrified fascination at the doorway. He turned round. Avon was standing there, and in spite of the lack of expression on his face it was evident that he was furious. Next to him was an extraordinarily beautiful woman in a magnificent hat. Her dark eyes seemed to take up half her face and, unlike Avon's, they were laughing at the little scene before them.
"This is Baroness Servalan," said Avon in repressive tones. "She has come here for a private discussion with me. Baroness, this is my crew, and our new Human Resources Manager, Blake. I apologise for the flight deck being in such disarray, it's doubtless part of some scheme for developing employees" potential."
"Oh, Avon darling, you should learn to relax a little," said the Baroness with a delightful laugh, and slid an immaculately manicured hand around his waist. "Why didn't you tell me you had such a charming crew? I always think singing is such fun. What's your name, dear? Vila? Come and sit next to me on the couch, Vila. What lovely brown eyes you have, just like your captain's."
"There has been no singing on this ship since - since I found out about Anna," said Avon, reluctant to give up his bad mood. "I see no reason to change that policy now."
"Sweetheart, what you need is a little cheering up," said Servalan, looking up at him through foot-long lashes. "I'll tell you what, why don't you all come to my party next week at the Federation Embassy? It'll be such fun." The crew burst into delighted chatter and cries of "Oh please, Avon, can we go?" until the Baroness swept off the couch, took Avon by the arm and said "I suppose business must come before pleasure. Let's go to your cabin, where we can be quite private."
"Who's Anna?" said Blake to Orac.
"You don't want to know. When cold, arrogant bastards turn out to be hiding a secret tragedy, it's best not to get involved. Believe me, nothing good will come of it."
Luckily the Embassy ball did not coincide with the Song Contest. In spite of Avon's evident lack of consent, Blake had sent the entry form off and the programme arrived the night of the party. The contest was the next day and he hoped that too much gallivanting the night before wouldn't be bad for their voices. In the event, though, they didn't have much chance to gallivant. Servalan might have invited Blake and the crew to her party along with their Captain, but they certainly weren't guests of honour. In fact, they found themselves spending most of the evening in the grounds alongside the other NCOs and flunkeys, whilst Avon mingled with prominent Sector officials and Federation high-ups. The ball was designed to celebrate the peaceful friendship and mutual cooperation that existed between the Federation and Sector Six, a message reinforced by the slogans displayed on enormous vidscreens around the walls. Blake noticed Avon eyeing them distastefully and felt a little stab of guilt that he hadn't yet sent any reports on the Captain's political activities back to his tutor. Presumably the close relationship between Avon and the Federation Ambassador was exactly the sort of thing he was supposed to be monitoring.
For all that he had access to the impressive array of food and drink heaped up on tables around the edges of the ballroom, the rigid expression on Avon's face suggested he wasn't enjoying himself much, but the others were still jealous. They thought the dancing would have been fun. To cheer them up, Blake dug out the Song Contest programme and showed them their names in print. "I've brought along my guitar," he added, "I thought we might do a little private performance for the Baroness's guests, but somehow I don't think we'll be called on after all." At that moment the band struck up a new tune, something much faster and more energetic than before.
"What's that?" asked Tarrant, "I don't recognise it".
"Oh, that's a shoestamper," said Blake, "It's a traditional Sector Six folk dance. Look, I'll show you. First you slap your thighs three times - one, two, three - that's it - now clap once - then I strike your left cheek with my right hand and you do the same - good, now we turn round - link elbows - and now you roll over my - OOF!" Tarrant was heavier than he looked and the two of them went sprawling on the floor with Blake underneath.
"Never mind," he gasped, when he had got his breath back, and was adding consolingly "I daresay you need Lederhosen to do it properly," when a mildly sarcastic voice interrupted him. "May I have this dance?"
It was Avon, still immaculate in evening dress, his eyes twinkling with suppressed laughter. Typical, Blake thought, he can never resist a chance to show he can do everything better than everyone else. "Well, if you insist," he said.
Folk dances are more complex than the casual observer might think. At some time in his life Avon must have had dancing lessons, for he never missed a beat, his feet stamping furiously in time to the rhythm, while his white-gloved hands flashed back and forth, clapping against each other, slapping against Blake's and occasionally reaching across for a feather light tap on Blake's cheek, a tap that sometimes seemed to linger just a shade longer than the music warranted. Blake found he was breathing heavily - he must be less fit than he thought - and then the music ended and he was standing up close to Avon, his hand still pressed against his cheek.
"Shall we take a walk?" said Avon smoothly, "The grounds are particularly beautiful in the moonlight." And so they were, especially down by the lake, where the glow from the sky was reflected softly from the water. When Blake felt Avon's lips brush against his, he thought no-one could possibly to be happier. "What have I done to deserve you?" he murmered. "Somewhere in my youth or childhood I must have done something good."
Avon reached up to flick his nose with affectionate condescension. "Life doesn't work like that," he said, "Now shut up and kiss me."
Up on the balcony, Travis turned to Servalan. "So that's the way the wind's blowing," he said. "Looks to me like you've been wasting your time."
"The fool!" growled the Baroness. "I would have made him ruler of half the galaxy. But since he won't come freely, I see no reason to delay the takeover. Get the President of this benighted little sector into my office and I'll deliver the ultimatum."
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