Mistaken IdentitiesBy Nicola Mody
Page 1 of 3
Vila, who was slumped with his head propped up over his console while he had a quick nap, sat up, alarmed. "What is?"
"Something's pulling us off course." Jenna frowned. "The controls aren't responding, and we're accelerating."
Vila brought up the display from the forward sensors and squinted at it. "You mean that big black swirly thing?"
"Really, Vila." Avon sauntered over to look over his shoulder. "That exceeds even your usual idiocy. Considering the basic colour of space, and—"
Vila ignored him and looked at Jenna pleadingly. "I don't fancy the look of it. Why don't we go round it?"
Avon leaned forward so that his nose almost touched the screen, then straightened abruptly. "There is something there. Vila's right for once. Do it, Jenna."
Vila opened his mouth, then decided this was not the time.
Jenna punched at the controls, and swore softly. "All right, whatever you are," she said grimly, "I'll play your little game." She looked up. "Zen, remove the lock on the antimatter drive button."
"No!" Blake yelled from the flight-deck couch at the same time as Zen said, "Confirmed."
"You know what happened last time we used that," Blake said. "We almost overshot Cygnus Alpha."
"Blake, we can't get away, so we might as well get it over and done with as fast as possible." Jenna paused, then grinned exultantly. "Brace yourselves!"
Vila squeaked and shut his eyes, Avon moved back to his own position with undignified alacrity, Blake pointed a finger at Jenna to remonstrate with her, Cally braced herself, and Gan folded his arms impassively.
Jenna pressed the button.
Everyone was thrown back into their seats except for Blake, who was flung sideways into the couch, one arm and finger still raised. The Liberator stretched and distorted, seemingly groaning in pain (along with the crew), then everything appeared to reverse its colour and flow together. There was a wrenching moment of dislocation, then the flight-deck snapped into normality. There was a moment of stunned silence.
Jenna opened her eyes. "Ooh... I didn't much like that. I think I feel sick." She stared at the controls in front of her, puzzled. "What am I doing here?" She looked over at Vila and her eyes widened in horror. "Oh, no. I should be over there, and I am, but I'm not. I mean, I know where I am, and where I should be, but..."
"There you are—" Vila said with satisfaction, not knowing how much that remark further confused Jenna, "—that seemed to work." He became aware of Jenna's reproachful eyes on him, gasped, looked down at himself, then grabbed at his head, feeling his hair with growing horror.
"Regardless of its success," Blake winced as he brought his upraised arm down and disentangled himself from the couch, "that was an act of unparalleled and unmitigated stupidity."
Vila let his hands drop and glared. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"A good idea? Charging full-speed ahead at an unknown object in the erroneous assumption that the faster you are, the less likely something bad will happen?"
Vila's chin went up. "It worked, didn’t it? If you think you can do a better job, Blake, you take the controls."
"Shut up, Vila, what would you know about... and why are you calling me—" Blake suddenly caught sight of Avon, looked down at himself, back at Avon, then closed his eyes as if in pain. "Of course." He sat down, rather faster than he had intended. "I knew complete disaster would strike one day."
"Oh come now," Gan said. "It is not that bad. My people have a saying: where there is life, there is hope."
Cally nodded. "So do mine. Have you been to Zephron?" she said, gamely trying to ignore what was becoming frighteningly obvious. "Excuse me," she said, unsuccessfully trying to lower the pitch of her voice.
"Don't worry, Gan. You've got the same problem as me—tight trousers." Jenna had grasped the situation and was beginning to enjoy it. "It's not all bad, you know. At least we'll find out how the other half lives."
"So long as you can keep my hands where I can see them," Vila snapped.
Jenna looked hurt. "I wasn't doing anything with them."
Avon blinked around at them all. "It looks as though Vila's 'swirly thing' has somehow transferred our consciousness into each others' bodies." He gnawed at a knuckle, grimaced, and glared at it suspiciously, shrugged, and tentatively nibbled on a finger.
"Oh, well done," Blake sneered. "A lightning-fast deduction, but then you're operating with twice the synapses you're used to. I've heard of people who can't chew and think at the same time, but you're the first I've encountered who can't do one without the other. Oh, and do leave those alone. I want them back."
"Give it a rest, Avon," Avon growled. "You'd be better employed working out what happened and what to do about it."
Blake looked down his nose at Avon, then, when he thought a sufficiently dignified interval had elapsed, turned to the command controls and began calling up data.
"Right," said Avon, "Let's get this straight. Who's where?"
"I'm here," Jenna said brightly.
Blake looked up from his screen. "As that was singularly uninformative, I would infer that was Vila."
Jenna scowled. "And judging by the fact you've done nothing but insult people, you have to be Avon."
Avon sighed. "All right, let's have a roll-call. I am Blake—"
"I'm so glad you grasped that," Blake murmured.
"—and Avon is the good-looking man on the couch."
Avon grinned at him, and clapped his hands briskly. "Right, then. To continue. Vila?"
"Here in Jenna's clothes, and filling them out very nicely, I might add."
"You may not," Vila said coldly. "And, let me tell you, that's the only way you'll ever get into them."
"Here." Vila raised a hand. "Slumming it."
"And Gan and Cally?" Avon turned to look back at the remaining two.
"I am Cally," Gan said primly, folding his huge hands in his lap.
"And I'm Gan." Cally looked embarrassed. "Couldn't I have been Vila?"
"Now that question shows extraordinary stupidity on two levels." Blake sneered. "Quite apart from the unfortunate choice of location, you'd still be Gan wherever you were. I'd offer my condolences if I had any."
"All right, now we know where we are. That makes it much simpler." Avon looked around at them all. "We were swapped in pairs probably because of proximity. Avon and I have swapped bodies, as have Vila and Jenna, and Cally and Gan."
Cally wrinkled her forehead. "Do I have to call Vila Jenna, then?"
"Quite possibly, depending on how you meant that." Avon gnawed two fingers at once in desperation. "After all, if I order Jenna to break orbit, it doesn't matter much that the physical Vila does it."
"On the other hand," Jenna said with a grin, "wouldn't be much point in asking Gan to open a pickle jar. Cally's the muscle now."
Gan looked down at his hands in speculation, and caught sight of the vast expanse of chest revealed by his open-necked shirt. "Oh! Excuse me." Blushing, he clutched the edges together.
Vila looked thoughtfully at the sniggering Jenna. "Well, you must have been scared. I need a pee."
"Oh!" Jenna's eyes widened. "Do you?" She swallowed nervously. "Look, need a hand?"
"Certainly not." Vila tossed back a non-existent mane, looked briefly disconcerted, and stalked out.
"Be careful!" Jenna shouted after him. She turned to see everyone looking at her. "I'm all I've got," she said anxiously. "She mightn't look after me. I mean, it'd be like flying a hired spaceship, you don't treat it like your own, do you?"
Gan frowned, then looked unfocussed.
"Oh, spare me," Blake said. "I daresay he's about to be possessed, which wouldn't be hard considering how long the property's been vacant."
"That is unfair, Avon," Gan said severely. "I was merely ascertaining whether Gan's body had any physical needs to be attended to."
"I wouldn't worry," Cally said. "I've got a bladder like an elephant."
Blake shuddered with distaste. "Have you ever heard of the phrase 'need to know'?"
"Do stop squabbling, you lot." Avon strode down to stand before Zen, his hands on his hips. "Zen, what is our position?" Zen's fascia remained dark. "Zen!"
Blake sighed and inserted Orac's key. "Try it now," he said quietly.
Orac's lights flickered. "Data unavailable."
Blake smiled briefly. "Zen, you and Orac have changed places, or to be more accurate, you are physically where you were, but your consciousnesses—" he caught the amused look on Jenna's face and cleared his throat "—your defining programs have been exchanged. As Orac has the ability to access and override Zen, I would assume you have. Do so."
There was a pause while Orac's lights brightened and sped up, "Information. Current location is sector three, grid reference six five point eight three."
"Third sector!" Jenna looked alarmed. "You must be joking! That's almost next-door to Earth!"
"Take us out of here, Zen. Standard by twelve, for the nearest Federation border," Avon said crisply.
"Information. Energy reserves are almost completely drained and must be replenished."
"Damn!" Avon shoved most of his fist in his mouth, caught Blake glaring at him, and removed it. "How long to the nearest uninhabited system at the highest speed we can manage?"
"At standard by two, zero point four seven hours."
"All right, when we get there, put us in orbit around the planet closest to the sun."
Avon smiled with satisfaction. "That should give us a fast recharge, and I doubt most Federation ships can handle the heat for long, so it should provide some protection."
Vila came down the flight-deck steps, his face carefully expressionless as the rest of the crew turned to watch him curiously. He leaned over Jenna's chair. "Want to pilot this ship, or should an expert do it?"
"Eh? Oh, yes, of course." Jenna stood up.
"By the way, I'm impressed," Vila murmured as he slid into the pilot's chair.
"What? Oh!" Jenna turned pink and grinned with shy pride. "More to me than meets the eye, is there?"
"I always knew there was."
Vila smirked. "There had to be."
"Oh." Jenna's face fell as she worked it out. She slumped at the weapons console.
"Good," Avon nodded approvingly. "Everybody else to their proper positions. That includes you, Avon. And stay alert."
Blake gave him a haughty look and strolled to Avon's console. Gan and Cally looked at each other.
"I do not think we need to change our stations, Blake," Gan said, turning to Avon. "As I have been training Gan on both sets of controls and we are equally familiar with them, we shall be all right where we are." He poked at his board, then frowned. "Ah. Now I see why you have had some difficulty coping, Gan. Your fingers are so large, it is almost impossible to press just one button at once."
"No problems!" Jenna stood up and patted her breasts.
"Sorry, Jenna." Jenna looked abashed. "Force of habit. Just wanted my tools. 'Scuse me." She grabbed Vila and began to undo the top fastening on his tunic.
Vila slapped her hand away and jumped up. "How dare you—"
"Here, don't be like that! I was just going for a probe."
"Is that what you call it?"
"Oh, now look, it's only my chest, what are you worried about?" Jenna opened Vila's tunic, while he stood there stiffly, a look of barely suppressed outrage on his face. "There. See?" Jenna held up a small tool for Vila to look at, then handed it to Gan.
"Thank you, Vila," Gan said gravely.
"S'all right, me old mate. Um, I mean Cally."
Avon sighed. His crew was difficult enough to handle at the best of times, but this… He eyed his fingernails. They looked as if they'd never been bitten. He nibbled one experimentally.
"Is it just me, or is it hot in here?" Jenna looked morosely at the sun that almost filled the wall display.
"It's all in your mind, Vila," Blake said, "or at least what passes for one in your case." He was somewhat unnerved to find both Jenna and Vila glaring at him. "The Liberator's life support is quite equal to the task."
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