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Valentine's Day

By Susan Cutter
Page 2 of 4

They were all gathered together, but the meal had been almost silent. Jenna and Cally had tried several times to start conversations, and Vila had been happy to abet them, but each time the topic had somehow veered around to the rebellion, their plans, how something would be better after the Federation was gone and then some barbed remark from Avon would provoke Blake.... After a couple of rounds, it seemed everyone agreed even a glum silence was preferable.

Blake took a final swallow from his cup and wiped his hands. "Zen," he said, looking up and away from the others as they all did, as if they thought Zen were a housefly who habitually perched on the ceilings. "How much longer until Liberator is up to strength?" +At the past rate of progress, repairs will be complete in 6.75 hours. Full power regeneration will require a further sixteen hours.+

"In other words, 'get back to work'?" Avon stood up abruptly. "I apologize that there is only one of me here with the ability to fix what you broke."

Blake thumped his fist on the table. "I didn't mean any such thing, you egoist!" He stopped and drew a breath. "You've been working hard, I know. Too hard. You haven't had a decent rest these past two days." He dug up the strength to smile and make his tone playful, "Take a break for a few hours, Avon. The revolution can wait until you've had some sleep."

Avon hesitated, then shook his head. "I can survive being tired."

"But will we?" Cally said, and started as if she hadn't meant to say it aloud. "Sorry."

Avon just looked away.

"Cally's right," Jenna said. "But it's all of us. We're tired and moody and quarrelsome and...if we don't do something about it, we'll save the Federation the trouble and destroy ourselves." She reached over and laid her hand on top of Blake's. "We all need to take a break."

"Yes! Let's go on vacation!" Vila looked around eagerly, seeking support. "Where should we go? Some place with a beach, nice and warm so the women can wear tiny bathing suits. Or none. I won't mind," he added with a leer.

"We can't." Blake's voice was flat. "If we pause for long the Federation will have time to replace supplies and strengthen defenses, and all we've accomplished will be wasted."

"What can you spare us?" Avon drawled. "Would a single day be too much?"

Jenna ignored his tone. "Yes, Blake. Even a single day would help. One day free of thinking and worrying. One day to relax and have fun."

"A holiday," Gan said. "People always get cheered up by holidays."

"Right, what holiday shall we celebrate?" Vila was well aware that if you act as if something has already been decided, momentum can often carry the day. "Something that's lots of fun, with drinking and games and food and drinking...." "On Auron we have Friendship Day. You get together with people you like and mingle your thoughts of how much you admire them and what they mean to you." Cally was dreamy-eyed.

There was a brief silence. "It sounds sort of like Valentine's Day," Gan offered. The others looked at him blankly. "Oh, don't they have that holiday on Earth? I didn't realize it was invented on Zephon. What you do is give hersheys, well, that's little square wafers of chocolate, to those you love or just people who have done something nice for you in the past."

"I like chocolate," Vila said hopefully.

"Sometimes you get cards, or even little gifts. Maybe from a secret admirer," Gan continued. "It's nice to know someone is thinking of you."

"Secret admirers? Where?" Vila looked around. "Don't be shy, girls! Affection is welcome, love is a great gift - I know, let's have an orgy!"

Cally ignored him, a thoughtful expression on her face. "A surprise gift to show you appreciate that person. Something they like or want to show you understand them," Cally nodded. "Maybe something they need, even if they don't know it."

"That's it," Gan said. "Or sometimes you send a card to someone you need to apologize to. It's about friendship and love and good will and...that kind of thing."

"Well, I know what *I* need. Some time without danger or stress, just to relax and be a normal woman instead of a freedom fighter." Jenna stared into Blake's eyes. "Let's do it. Please, Blake."

_If your followers are going to head down a path anyway, better get out in front and lead before they leave you behind._ Blake smiled, "All right. Let's do it." Vila clapped his hands. "For the next twenty four hours no work, no revolution. It's .... ah...?" He looked at Gan for help.

"Valentine's Day." "Valentine's Day," Blake repeated. "Time to relax and enjoy friendships." "Oh, good," Avon drawled. "Now there's a challenge for me, finding a present that shows just how much I treasure all of you."

Gan shook his head. "You don't have to give presents to everyone. Or any presents at all. You could just do something nice. Even for just one person."

Blake smiled challengingly at Avon. "In your case, we'd settle for you simply being pleasant for one day."

Cally answered the soft knock at her door to find Vila holding out a small parcel. "This is for you," he said.

"Thank you, Vila," she said, and accepted the present. It was light in her hand, and soft. She unwound what turned out to a pretty scarf wrapped over and over about a tiny vial. Cally held the bottle up to look at it more closely. It was of clear glass, with a tiny cork, and it held perhaps an ounce of a very pale blue liquid. There was no label. "It's...?"

"Synchro. The best quality," he assured her. "It's not legal, well, nothing that's that much fun is, is it? But it's perfectly safe."

"Ah." Cally blinked. "I'm sorry, Vila, but I don't know what Synchro is."

Vila nodded. "Oh, right, it wouldn't be sold on Auron, that's for sure. No need for it. It's, well, an empathy drug, sort of. It lets you feel what people near you are feeling. Mainly you take it with your lover before you have sex....doubles the pleasure, see?"

"Oh." Cally wished she knew more about Valentine Day customs. Did accepting a present like this mean you'd agreed to have sex? Not that Vila wasn't cute sometimes.... "Does this mean we should...? Now?" She gestured vaguely towards the austerely narrow bed along the back wall.

"Huh? No! Er, yes! I mean..." Vila paused for a breath and started over. "I didn't mean it like that, though I'm happy to oblige, any time! All I thought was.... well, I know you're lonely because none of us can talk to you, mind to mind, I mean. Feeling what the people around you feel isn't the same, but it's sort of similar, right?"

Cally blinked again, this time to force back a sudden welling of tears. "Vila....."

Vila ducked his head, a little embarrassed. "It's not that much - I'm sorry I only had one dose left."

She leaned and kissed him. //Thank you!// she sent him while her lips were still occupied. She drew back. "It's a wonderfully kind gift. I shall treasure it."

"You're welcome." He started to leave, then paused and looked towards her bed, "Er, d'you want to?"

"No, Vila," she said, but unlike all the previous times she'd turned down his propositions, she had a tender smile on her face. "At least, not now."

He smiled back. "That's all right then," he said, and left with a jaunty bounce.

Cally continued to smile at the closed door. _I can't use it, of course. It wouldn't be ethical, eavesdropping when they can't do the same to me._

But Vila had realized what she missed, and cared, and done his best to help instead of being repelled or at best amused by her alien needs. For the first time since she'd left Auron she felt swaddled in the comfort of being known and accepted.

* * *

Avon looked down at the box he'd just filled, torn. It had been a silly, momentary impulse, why hadn't he ignored it? Yes, it had taken him just the ten minutes he'd expected to rough out the replication formula...but he hadn't planned to spend over two hours tweaking it before he could get exactly what he wanted. _Mental fatigue. I have got to get some sleep. What if this had been a crucial program?_

And even though he'd recycled the earlier failed versions, it was still a waste of Zen's abilities and energy, nearly criminal given its current scarcity. The corner of his mouth twitched. _But when has the illicit use of computer resources ever bothered me?_

On the other hand, looking foolish and sentimental always had. Just dispose of this evidence of his fatigue-induced weakness and try to get some rest. He slapped the cover on the box, and held it over the disposal chute...and then hesitated. The programming *was* done, and to his usual standard of perfection. What was the point of wasting that effort? He didn't have to give it away, he could simply keep it for himself.

Or not. Anonymous gifts. 'Secret Admirers.' Avon snorted. _Well, at least no one would ever suspect that it had come from *him*._

He hoped. _Better not to take the risk._ He reached towards the disposer, and again hesitated. _Still._

He shook his head in angry self-disgust at his indecisiveness. Blake was right, damn him. He *was* too tired to think straight.

"Zen," he said. "Expressed in base two, is thousand three hundred and forty sixth digit of pi zero or one?"

* * *

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Susan Cutter

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