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Xenogamy (expurgated version)

By Alicia Ann Fox
Page 3 of 7

"So now we're back to playing with the phase-induction," Harry said.

"That means my crews have to work around the clock," B'Elanna Torres, the chief engineer, said. She was the senior officer at their table in the galley. She looked at Avon intently again, then away.

He wished she would get it over with, and ask how he'd managed with the computers, but she never quite made it to that point. Torture by frustration, he thought wryly.

"Hey, Harry," said the pilot, poking the younger man in the arm. "Which one of the Delaney sisters are you taking out tomorrow night?" Tom Paris, with his faintly disreputable air, reminded Avon somewhat of Vila.

"Neither," Harry said. "I'll be reconfiguring--"

"And reconfiguring, and reconfiguring," Torres said, her tone irritable. Her almost aggressive conversational style was the first thing Avon had noticed about her, but it seemed to be habit, not necessarily indicative of her real mood. He wondered about Klingons, and how much she was like her mother's species. Torres continued, "I don't think we're going to get anywhere with this, Harry. You're sure you don't remember anything, Avon?"

Again. He put down his cup of tea and looked at her directly. "I told Janeway there was nothing to see, except possibly a forcefield after I fell, and I'm doubtful of my own mental state at that point."

"Let the guy alone. You people need a break," Paris said. "Take a few hours on the holodeck."

Holodeck. Avon had the general idea of it from Harry's orientation lecture; what a tool it would make, for simulations and such. He poked at the remains of unidentifiable vegetables on his plate. The three Voyager crewmembers had eaten meat. Barbaric.

"No time," Torres said. "We're having a brainstorming session in Engineering later."

"A wild and wacky theories meeting, you mean?" Paris commented.

"Have you asked Neelix?" Avon said. "He had creative ideas in your sabotage case."

"Neelix?" Torres repeated, as if astounded. Then her attention sharpened. "How do you know about the sabotage?"

Finally. Why was she pretending she didn't know? He could feel Harry's intense gaze, as well. Paris was watching him more casually, more dangerously. "Was that the test, to see what I would read?" he asked. "That's more clever than I'd expected."

Torres was staring at him. "What are you talking about, Avon?"

"You needn't toy with me. The console in my quarters. It was rigged, correct? Altered so I could access what seemed to be secure data? You wanted to see what I would do."

Harry shook his head. "It wasn't altered. I just switched it on so you could use it, before I left. You saw me. You seemed interested in the Doc, so the Captain said to let you read up."

Unlikely, Avon thought. He was disappointed that Harry was not being more creative.

"How did you get into Tuvok's files?" Torres asked.

"You didn't fool me," Avon said. "I know what secure data looks like. You should have put another security level in, just for show." Uncomfortable silence stretched his nerves; he said, "Well? Get it over with."

"B'Elanna, it doesn't matter how," Paris said. "He was in Tuvok's files, and he's obviously paranoid as hell."

Harry said slowly, "You thought we wanted you to break into our computers. But why?"

Torres threw Harry a disgusted look. "This isn't the Romulan Empire," she snarled. "We weren't testing you, Avon. You're supposed to be our guest and you'd damned well better start behaving like one."

Paris said, "Talk fast, Avon."

If they were lying, it was such convoluted deception he would never be able to untangle it, so he was forced to take them at their word. Incredulity made him grin for a moment. Solid holograms, entire computer-generated holographic worlds, meshed with computer security he could have mastered before he'd even seen Zen. Well, almost. "That was it?" he asked. "Those were your computers? That was real?" At Torres's nod, he added, "I see I won't lack for employment, here."

"You're going to have to show me what you did," she said, darkly.

"Great," he said. "Any time." His fortune was made.

#

Torres, Tuvok, and Janeway congregated in Avon's quarters. Avon was tired, but he explained to Janeway again, patiently, how he had accessed their system. It wasn't his methods she needed him to clarify so much as his vocabulary, and her eyes burned with excitement when she began to catch on, a scientist beneath her command veneer.

"You're extremely talented," Janeway said. Avon mentally preened. It pleased him to have that fact recognized. "But I can't understand why you thought this was a lower-level system, when you were even able to detect the involuntary downloads we experienced recently."

Avon was a little embarrassed about not having thought that through. "Every system in the Federation has been tailored to keep me out. Me, specifically. This was so easy, comparatively--"

"I see," Janeway said, smiling.

Torres hovered at his shoulder, less belligerent than he had expected her to be. She was the chief engineer, after all, and he'd intruded on her area. But she seemed to have lost her annoyance in curiosity, becoming a mirror of Janeway. She would be a good person to ask about holography; he would find it pleasant to have a technical discussion, after so long with no one available even close to his level.

Tuvok listened, apparently content to let Janeway ask the questions. Avon couldn't tell what he was thinking about all this, about anything, in fact; useful in a security officer. He was startled when Tuvok spoke.

"How did you know to create a new persona to penetrate beyond the file listings?"

"Instinct." It was the truth, and something he could not teach. His edge.

The Vulcan inclined his head to Avon. "Captain?" Tuvok asked.

"We'll be returning to the bridge," Janeway said. "Thank you, Avon, that was most informative. I'd like to put you to work later on, if I may."

"Of course," Avon replied, relieved to be on familiar ground. He'd apparently won her over, with less effort than he had thought he would require, but decided against discussing terms just now. He would wait until his position was more secure.

"I have a few questions for him, Captain," Torres said.

Janeway gave permission with a small wave of her hand. "If Avon doesn't object. Take a break from changing the laws of physics, B'Elanna, and talk to him on the holodeck or somewhere, that's an order."

"Sir," Torres said, as the others departed. She turned to Avon. "You don't mind?"

"If I can see the holodeck."

She sighed explosively. "The Captain will know if I go back to work. So much for the brainstorming session. Come on." She grabbed his upper arm, startling him for a moment, and headed for the door.

"That must be nice," Avon said, in her wake. In the corridor he unobtrusively freed himself, forcing her to slow her pace.

"What?" Torres stopped and looked at him.

"Having someone tell you to stop working."

"Hello, Lieutenant," Commander Chakotay said, stopping before he passed them by. "Hello, Avon."

Avon nodded to him; Torres didn't return the greeting. "What's the best holodeck program to satisfy the Captain I've relaxed in forty-five minutes or less?"

"Won't work, B'Elanna," Chakotay said, and smiled a wicked smile. "You were scheduled for the whole evening off."

"Harry--"

"Harry is having a break, too. I would recommend my number three, for starters. Best relaxation program in the galaxy. Now snap to it, Lieutenant." He walked off briskly.

Torres snorted. "He means his hot spring program." Then she smiled at him, lifting an eyebrow. "Do you want to try it?"

She was flirting with him. He could handle that. It looked like this evening would be more entertaining than he had thought.

#

The evening played out much as Avon had expected. They must be desperate on this ship, he thought, to seduce a passing stranger. But he'd enjoyed himself. He liked B'Elanna. He liked her intelligence. He expressed an interest in seeing the Engineering section.

"I can't show my face there tonight," B'Elanna said. "Unless there's a crisis."

"That could be arranged," Avon murmured, though in fact he was too tired to do anything of the sort.

"Don't even think it," she said firmly. "We have to leave the holodeck pretty soon, and I think we need to clean up first."

"Must we?" he asked, automatically.

B'Elanna sat up. "Yes. Your hair is sticking everywhere." She ruffled it; he reached up and pulled her hand down. "Bath?"

"What kind?" he asked, suspiciously.

"No tricks," she promised. "Computer, engage Janeway 3a."

Avon looked around as he stood up. The tub was big enough for three, pale yellowish marble, plain copper fixtures. Hologrammatic sunlight streamed in from the windowed ceiling. He blinked at the brightness. "What happens after we leave the holodeck?"

"You look like you could use some rest." B'Elanna was picking out towels, green this time. There was no sign of the white ones. "I could stay with you, if you want." She looked over at him, for a brief moment appearing unsure.

This, he had not expected. Until a moment ago, he had not thought that far ahead. This kind of decision meant that he had not temporarily strayed but had stumbled on the bolthole he'd so often dreamed of...never expecting it to become reality. Nothing was that easy. Was it?

How to explain.... "I haven't been sleeping well."

"I've seen nightmares." She waited.

Avon climbed into the tub. "All right, then," he said.

#


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