Furtling Through SpaceBy Willa Shakespeare
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He paused, just short of the main entrance to the flight deck, hearing two voices engaged in conversation where he had expected the quiet, subliminal hum of Liberator's control room. By now, Avon was well acquainted with the ingratiating tones of Vila wheedling a favor. //It would be a pity to interrupt. He's putting his heart and soul into this performance. Perhaps I'll return later.// The computer expert turned aside, but Vila's next words piqued his curiosity and halted his retreat.
"Aw, Cally, 'tisn't as if you don't enjoy it. You were willin' enough when Blake and Jenna asked you. I bet you wouldn't give Gan an argument, either," Vila complained.
"Gan, I trust," Cally replied. "And Blake and Jenna didn't want what you're asking for, it was simply an honest favor to a friend. I doubt that you have an honest bone in your entire body. Besides, have you considered Avon's reaction if he learns of this?"
"Why should he find out? It's really no business of his, now, is it? And speaking of friends, Cally, I'm friendly, you know I am. I like you, really I do. And this wouldn't take you long, you're a talented girl, why you could have made a handsome living at it, if you'd taken it up professionally."
Avon thought the Auron's voice showed signs of weakening resolve. Probably Vila had turned those soulful brown eyes on her. Avon felt a surge of jealousy. //Absurd. I've no hold on anyone on this ship. Too dangerous to get involved.// He focused his attention outward again, back to the conversation on the flight deck.
"Oh, all right, Vila," Cally said, giving in wearily, "but it will be fully clothed, mind you."
"Well," Vila paused, then agreed, "that's all right, so long as I get to choose the pose. When can we get started?"
"As soon as Avon comes to relieve me. He's due in an hour. Now, would you like to discuss the details?"
Avon decided that there was a limit to even his amorality and listening to a Delta instruct an alien in perversity was it. He went back to his quarters to await the official time to take over Cally's watch. //So that she and Vila will be free to carry on. I wonder why Cally was only concerned about my reaction. She hasn't any idea of my true feelings, has she? No, it's not possible. I've been too careful, no one could know.// Avon worried despite his logical reassurances to himself. //I might have to leave the ship, if she knows and I am not prepared to do so. Not yet, at any rate.//
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"Cally." Avon came onto the flight deck after heralding his approach by louder than usual footsteps. He had no desire to surprise the two lovebirds, in the event that Vila's limited patience had run out and they were proceeding ahead of schedule. He needn't have bothered. Vila was still there, but he was sitting alone on the u-shaped couch sipping from a tall glass while Cally was dutifully attending to the communications console. "Any problems?" Avon asked, leaning close to check her reaction to his deliberately sultry voice.
"No, Avon, it's been quiet." Cally straightened and looked at Avon. She seemed ready to add something more when Vila spoke.
"I've been keeping Cally company. But you don't want any company, do you, Avon?" The thief rose to his feet and drained his glass, holding it out to Avon in a mocking salute.
"Yes," Avon replied, "you're quite right. I don't want company." Sourly, he watched Vila and Cally leave together.
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//You spend altogether too much time thinking about them.// Avon tried to discipline his thoughts, but found himself drawn back to the subject time and again. //I would not have thought Cally the type to indulge in cheap gratification without emotional involvement. Vila, on the other hand... a true child of nature is Vila.// Since the revelatory conversation a week earlier, Avon had observed the two closely. They confused him. Unlike his admittedly limited experience with lovers, they displayed neither the all-consuming passion nor the bitter spats that he associated with the situation. //I suppose it's an acquired ability to separate sex from love. They appear able to satisfy their physical hungers without descending to the maudlin levels I recall all too well. Fortunate for them.//
Vila was uneasy. Avon was staring at him again. //He's been at this for days. If sourpuss isn't glaring at me, then he's watching Cally. Makes me nervous as all hell. He hasn't even bothered to argue with Blake lately. Feels like he's boring holes in the back of me head.//
Feeling a need to relax, Vila wished he dared to reach into his tunic and extract his latest toy. He liked to keep his most valued possessions next to his skin. After all, he knew how easy it was to lose things. He sighed. Wouldn't do at all, to be caught playing on the flight deck- Blake wouldn't appreciate it and Avon... Avon definitely wouldn't understand. //We're due for a break soon. Blake can't keep up his 'Let's play like we're under attack and this computer simulation is really out to get us' game much longer. Not if he doesn't want his pet computer expert blowing a fuse. When Avon's this quiet, you know he's simmering.//
Blake read the same message in the increasingly curt responses he was getting from Avon, and, to a lesser extent, from Jenna. "All right. I think we've done enough for one day. Well done, everyone. I'll take the rest of the watch."
As usual, Vila fled at the first opportunity with Gan and Cally not too far behind him. Jenna stayed, angling for a private chat with Blake. Avon didn't move once he'd shut down his console. He was staring with the blank expression that Blake had come to associate with trouble. Who knew what was going on behind those dark eyes when they went opaque? "Avon," Blake asked, "are you going to stay?"
"What?" Avon blinked and suddenly noticed that he was alone on the flight deck with a concerned Blake and an annoyed Jenna - either of which could be very dangerous to him. He mentally replayed the recent conversation. "No, I don't think Jenna would appreciate that," he replied snidely.
"Avon," Blake's gentle query held Avon in place as surely as chains would have, "is there something you'd like to discuss with me? Some problem, perhaps?"
Avon smiled, and Blake backed away, reading no mirth in the bared teeth. "You'd be the last person I'd tell my troubles, Blake. That is, if I had any." He turned on his heel and removed himself from the flight deck with unhurried alacrity.
Blake shook his head. "What do you make of that, Jenna?"
"I'd call it a retreat in good order."
"Something's bothering him," Blake said, still gazing after Avon's departed back.
"Something's always bothering him, Blake. Or hadn't you noticed?"
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"Really, Vila, if I had known that you were going to destroy it..." Cally was offended, her voice sharp and carrying further than she realized.
Once again Avon was the unintended recipient of Cally's and Vila's confidences. He had been passing the Rest Room on the way to his own cabin when he heard them. //It is demeaning and undignified to spy on others - but it is also demeaning and undignified to fantasize about others, which hasn't prevented me from doing that, either.// He settled into place against the corridor wall within easy listening distance.
"It's only a little hole, Cally," Vila protested. "And it's mine, you gave it to me, so what's it matter to you?"
"I'll not do it again, Vila. Avon was right about you, you don't know how to appreciate the finer things in life." Cally stalked out of the Rest Room, so distracted that she failed to notice the dark shadow lounging against the corridor a few feet behind her.
"All that fuss over a little hole. Mind, it would never have done to let Cally know why I'd done it." Vila's muttering had dropped, both in volume and pitch.
//No need to whine now your audience is gone, hmm? I'll have to remember that.// Avon entered the Rest Room. The thief was slouched comfortably at the table, elbows sharing the surface with a half-full glass uncharacteristically beyond easy reach. He was holding a sheet of paper which he immediately rolled up and shoved into his tunic. "What have you there, Vila?" Avon asked.
"Nothin', Avon. It's nothin'."
In the brief interval between Avon's entrance and the disappearance of the paper, the Alpha had noticed that the paper did indeed bear a small, irregular hole. //Curiouser and curiouser.// "What have you been up to, Vila?" he purred, using the velvet soft voice that he knew always rattled the thief. //Shake him enough and he may yet drop a kernel of truth. Maybe.//
"I wasn't doin' anything, Avon. Just, you know, a bit of harmless furtling. A hobby, just to kinda' take me mind off of things, you see." Vila's defensive outburst dwindled to resignation. "Now you're gonna say that I haven't got a mind to take off of anything, aren't you?"
"Well, now, Vila, I don't deny it is a severe temptation, but no, I wasn't going to say that," Avon's voice remained mellow. "I am, however, curious." He gestured at Vila's tunic and the hidden paper. "Would you mind?"
"Yes, I bloody well would." Vila got up. Remarkably, the Delta was turning ruddy. Avon would have been willing to bet that the man had lost the ability to blush, if he'd ever possessed it. He would have lost the wager. Vila's cheeks were scarlet and the stain spread even as he spoke. "This isn't a prison ship an' a man's entitled to a little privacy. You like to keep your secrets I've noticed. Well, this is mine, all mine."
"Cally made it for you," Avon said. "So it isn't exactly a secret, now is it?" This was becoming interesting. //Vila has a backbone, after all.// Generally, the Delta accepted bullying as his lot in life and conceded rather than participate in a confrontation.
"Cally hasn't been talking to you, has she?" Vila was frightened for an instant and Avon's sudden shark-like grin did nothing to ease his tension. "No, she hasn't," he said, with false bravado, "because she wouldn't even if she could, which she can't, because she doesn't..." he trailed off, offended by Avon's all too apparent amusement at his nervous ramblings. "I'm going to my cabin, Avon. I've just remembered something I forgot to do." He scuttled out of the Rest Room, leaving a bemused computer expert in his wake.
//Well, that was a refreshing change of pace from Blake's depressing crusade. Our Delta's a man of mystery. Good, I'd enjoy a puzzle without life or death consequences. It's been a long time since I played a game for the fun of it. Of course, I don't mind a little cheating.// Avon smiled.
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