Let There Be LightBy Nicola Mody
Page 2 of 4
“Information. Detectors indicate a meteor storm directly ahead.”
“Measurements, Zen?” Blake chewed a knuckle.
“Scale eleven, intensity six.”
“Wide area but not that bad,” Blake said. “We’ll go straight through it.”
“It is not very deep,” Cally said, looking at her screen.
“Good, it won’t drain the force wall much, then.”
“I’ll just have to avoid the biggest rocks,” Jenna said, her eyes lighting up. “This’ll be fun. Here we go.”
Avon grabbed Orac as it slid across the table and Vila gripped his console, his wide eyes glued to the main display. “Hey!” he protested, “you’re just—”
“Oh, a nice big one!”
“—aiming at them—“
“—for the practice!”
Jenna whooped, then sat back looking happier than she had for days. “We’re through.”
“Well done, Jenna,” Blake said.
“You did that on purpose,” Vila said, aggrieved. “Does flying in a straight line bore you?”
“About as much as using a key bores you,” Jenna grinned.
“And me just thinking about getting my appetite back.”
“Information,” Zen said. “Fire detected.”
“Where?” Blake came to his feet.
“In Vila Restal’s cabin.”
His nausea forgotten, Vila yelped, leaped up and ran, reaching his cabin just ahead of the others. His candles had been thrown about the cabin. Most were unlit, and the rest were guttering harmlessly, but one had landed on his red parka, one sleeve of which was well alight. Vila grabbed it, threw it to the floor, and jumped up and down on it until it smouldered.
As did Blake. “Candles on a spaceship? Damn it all, Vila, just what were you thinking?”
“Now that’s unusually accurate.” Avon leaned against the doorway, arms folded, looking highly amused.
Blake sighed. “Pick those things up, Vila, and give them to me. And put them out first.”
Mournfully, Vila gathered the candles and held them out.
“Is that all?”
“You don’t have any more?”
Vila shook his head miserably.
That evening, Vila lined up nine small bottles stolen from the medical unit in the sturdy frame he had created for them with metal off-cuts and wire. He carefully poured some cooking oil into each, and inserted wicks made of cord from the clothes room. He lit the middle ‘lamp’, then the leftmost three. Pity about the candles. Never mind—a lot more authentic, oil, wasn’t it? He rested his chin in his hands and remembered.
“I don’t get it, Vila. Why did you want to do such a stupid thing?” Jenna asked. “It’s just an old story. What’s it got to do with you?”
Vila shrugged as he sat down.
“Surely you don’t believe in that religious claptrap, Vila,” Blake said. “An interest in history is one thing, but to enact ancient rituals...”
“Perhaps he’s superstitious.” Avon said, giving Vila a snide look. “If he doesn’t do the right thing, he’ll have bad luck the next year. An understandable belief in one not evolved sufficiently to walk erect.”
“Shut up, Avon.” Vila snapped. “It’s none of those things.” He stared at his screen with pretended interest. No, it was warmth and love and affection and hope and fun and belonging and he couldn’t begin to explain that.
Almost as if she heard him, Cally’s eyes unfocussed and she said softly, “Family, friends, connections.”
Vila looked up at her sharply, and she smiled sympathetically. “Sort of,” he muttered, wishing he hadn’t started the whole thing.
“We celebrate our kinship on Auron once a year, in a week of feasting and celebrations. It would have been about four months ago.” Her eyes looked into Vila’s as if she understood.
“You must miss that,” he said.
“I do. But you are all my kin now.”
“Oh spare me the sentiment,” Avon put down his probe. “On top of radiation sick—”
“We have a Green Festival in midwinter,” Gan said suddenly. “It’s a time for family too.”
Vila grinned at him gratefully. “What’s it like, Gan?”
“Ah, now...” Gan leaned back with his hands behind his head. “Well, it’s green of course.” He shot an almost mischievous glance at Avon. “We decorate our houses with conifer branches and red berries, and have blazing fires to warm us, and eat...ah, we eat till we can’t anymore. Meat, vegetables, spiced cake, dried fruit and nuts...”
Avon turned his attention to him, as Vila suspected Gan had intended. “Oh, this is too perfect. Absolutely classic. Greenery to seduce the growing season back, fire to represent the sun—”
Vila rolled his eyes. Couldn’t just be for warmth, could it, oh no.
“—and the preserved harvest from the previous season, fruit and nuts and so forth. Tell me, Gan,” Avon purred, “does it speed the return of summer?”
“No,” Gan said mildly, “but it makes us feel damned good.”
“There, you see?” Vila said.
Three pairs of cool Alpha eyes made it obvious they didn’t.
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