Vila had become increasingly thoughtful as Marlena told them how Tellarian society worked. Afterwards he stayed to talk to Avon, at least that was the idea, but he hadn’t said anything yet. Avon also seemed deep in thought as he sat leaning back on the bed, his arms crossed over his chest.
Avon remarked, “Don’t you have a shift to attend to?”
Vila seemed startled at the question as he looked up from staring at the edge of Avon’s bed. “Oh. Yes.”
Vila was actually late for his shift right now but he hovered between rushing off and wanting to talk. “Avon, do you think it’s real? Do you think a society like that really exists?”
There was no expression on Avon’s face, which wasn’t surprising, just an impassive, “Marlena appears to think so.”
“But what do you think?”
Avon asked, “Why does it matter?”
Cally, who was readying some items for Avon’s daily physical rehabilitation session, projected into his mind, * Avon, talk to him. *
He tilted his head towards her. * Why is this important? *
* It appears to be important to Vila. He knows that he’s going to be late but he still wishes to talk. And he is not asking me, he is asking you. *
Avon glanced at her and then at Vila. There was an intent and serious look on Vila’s face.
He asked, * Why me? *
She sent him a light wave of encouragement. * Perhaps it’s because you’re his friend and he respects what you think. *
Avon thought to her, * You’re patronizing me. *
Cally asked, * Are you still in a bad mood this morning? *
* Are you going to give me a lecture on the mechanics of friendship? *
Cally sent him a note of gentle concern. * What’s really bothering you? *
* Nothing is ‘bothering’ me. *
* Are you not happy about what we talked about yesterday? I didn’t mean to push you that hard. *
This time Avon stared at her.
When he didn’t say anything, Cally said, * That’s it, isn’t it? You don’t like being pushed. Even when it’s me. *
Avon didn’t understand why but he had stab of panic; he grabbed her hand and said, “No.” Even though she was right that it had been bothering him, Avon had not wanted to admit it. He had been struggling between his own need for independence and privacy and the awareness that their relationship needed him to open up to her. She was important to him; she deserved someone better than he was. But since she insisted on forming these bonds with him against all reason, he wanted to give her as much as he was capable of.
Vila had been waiting for Avon’s response but had recognized when he was ‘talking’ with Cally. At Avon’s actions, he said with disappointment, “You’re busy. With something more important. I’ll…I have to be on the flight deck now anyway.” He turned to go.
Avon grabbed Vila’s wrist. The panic increased as he hung onto both of them. Vila was a friend. They had fought for this relationship in the face of what Servalan had wanted to turn them into. Vila was a friend of choice, not of necessity or circumstance. There was an opportunity here, Vila had sought him out. He couldn't lose this, he could not fail.
Avon's mind struggled with opposing forces. Most of his life had been spent pushing people away, making sure they could never hurt him. It was the way he dealt with people; the way he faced difficult human interactions. It was a way that was comfortable and familiar. He did it without thinking about it.
But he had made a decision. He had chosen what was important to him. He had made a commitment, a promise to himself, for them.
He could feel the struggle. Strong, overwhelming emotions breaking through, making it impossible for him to think.
Where was his emotional control? Where was the ability to push down those feelings that overrode rational thought? He couldn’t even think about that, all he could do was hang onto hands that belonged to people he did not want to lose. This was the only thought that was clear enough to make him act. He held onto them, his hands gripping tighter, unaware he was causing pain.
It happened so fast that it took Cally by surprise. Avon’s eyes were no longer focused and his breathing had quickened in stress.
She shook him by the shoulder. “Avon! Look at me! Avon!” There was no response.
Vila tried to loosen Avon’s hand from his wrist. He was sure it was starting to cut off circulation.“ Avon, let go of me! Cally, what’s wrong with him?”
Cally quickly reached across to the table beside the bed and opened a drawer. She took out one of the bio-injectors and applied it to Avon’s neck. Avon slumped forward into her waiting arms, his grip on them loosened and let go. Cally carefully lowered him back onto the bed.
Rubbing his sore wrist, Vila asked worriedly, “What happened to him?”
“It was too much for his mind to handle.” She checked Avon’s vital signs on the monitor.
“But I just asked him what he thought about what Marlena said.”
“It wasn’t that.”
“I could tell the two of you were talking but I didn’t want to say anything.”
“Yes, it was partially that. There were other things. He cannot be pushed on too many things that can cause a strong emotional response. Not at the same time. Normally he’s able to control it but he can’t anymore, not all the time. He’s not used to it and they overwhelm him, like it did just now. We were talking about something yesterday and it was still bothering him this morning. Earlier Marlena said something that touched a little too deeply. Then I challenged him just now and you tried to reach him on a personal level. It was too much emotion for him to be able to handle at once. He couldn’t control it or push it down.”
Vila put his hand on Avon’s arm in sympathy. Something he would not dare to do if Avon was awake; for fear of being glared at. “He does care about us, doesn’t he?”
“How did you conclude that?”
“Well, he wouldn’t have a strong emotional response if he didn’t, would he?”
A brief smile appeared on Cally’s worried face. “You’re right.”
“Will he ever be…” Vila paused and thought for a moment. “I was going to say ‘himself’ but I’m not sure if we want that. I mean, like you said, he used to be able to push down his emotions and control them. Then they wouldn’t bother him and he could think. But it wasn’t really a good thing, was it? Not that I want him like this; this would be horrible. He needs his mind and we do too. Couldn’t we find something…in the middle?”
Cally rested a hand on Avon’s chest, feeling it rise and fall in a calmer rhythm. “Yes, it would be best for everyone and for him.” She looked at Vila. “But it has to be something he wants. I will not force him and neither will you.”
“I wasn’t thinking of that. But it would be nice. I like this Avon. I mean not when he’s like this. I don’t want that. But this one…”
“Is more human?”
Vila knew that he should be on the flight deck now but he couldn’t leave yet. “That isn’t it. I suppose I used to say that. I didn’t mean it. I mean, I did but not really if you know what I mean. He’s always had it in him but he never showed it much.”
“It would be nice.”
Vila said, “I’d settle for just a little more. You probably don’t have to worry. You’re like Anna for him, he’d do anything for you.”
“Not just for me. Avon knows that he can’t afford not to anymore but old behaviour patterns are hard to break. The part of him that found it necessary to close himself off is still there. You can help him, Vila. We all can. Show him that it is worth it. Make it a less threatening thing for him. I failed. I pushed him harder than I should have and backed him into corner. I should never have done that. If it was just yesterday, it may have been alright but coupled with everything else this morning…I shouldn’t have kept pushing him.”
“Don’t blame yourself, Cally. You just want the best for him.”
“Yes. But just because I think its best doesn’t give me the right to push him into it. I don’t want our relationship to be like that.”
“He’s lucky to have you.”
“I feel the same way about him.”
Vila grinned, “Well, you’re biased, aren’t you?”
“You know what Avon would say.”
“It’s not rational?”
They both smiled.
Vila finally made it to the flight deck and the long-suffering sergeant. The man didn’t say anything, just nodded to Vila’s apology and offer to take the man’s next shift.
Vila began his shift like all of this other ones, boring status reports on all the ship’s systems. Something Argus always insisted on. He got Zen started on it as he plopped himself down on the couch and made himself comfortable for more boredom.
After Zen finished and Vila congratulated no one in general for helping him to stay awake, his mind wandered. He reflected on everything that had happened the last twenty-four hours. There were a lot of serious things to think about. Most of them fairly pleasant.
A feminine voice disturbed his reveries. "Can I come in?"
Vila knew who it was the moment she spoke. He stood up and waved Corinne over, like a gentleman inviting a woman for a dance. He said with a friendly smile, "You can come in any time."
Corinne asked as she hesitated before sitting down, "Am I disturbing you?"
"You always disturb me. But in a good way." He gestured to a seat that was close to his, but not too close. He didn't want to scare her. "Is there something I can do for you?"
Corinne had light hazel eyes and they were staring right at him. She asked with earnestness, "Do you like me?"
Vila fell off the couch. "I…what?" There was a stunned look on his face.
Corinne immediately tried to help him up. Her face was full of worry and concern as Vila moved like he suddenly had two left feet and arms that didn't fit on right. It was sort of embarrassing for someone who prided himself on his dexterity. And this was someone whom he wanted very much to impress.
When Vila finally regained his seating, Corinne asked, "Did I say something wrong? I didn't mean to. If you don't like me, it's alright, you can tell me."
Vila stammered out, "It's not that I don't like you. I do but…I mean there are no buts about it. I do like you. You just surprised me is all. I wasn't expecting it."
"I wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do. Mother said that it's always best to be straight-forward." She sat down beside him.
Vila was nervous, he wondered if the next words out of her mouth would be a proposal of engagement or if they were just going to jump right into the bonding. They hadn't even been on a date yet. Or kissed. Or anything else. They'd just had ice cream yesterday. His voice was higher in pitch with his next question. "You…asked your mother?"
"No. Do you think I should have? I don't know much about these things. My mother tells me sometimes about her home world. It sounds wonderful. I've always wondered what it would be like to have a world where there isn't so much hate." There was wistful longing in her voice .
Vila had an irresistible impulse to hug her and tell her that not all places were like Chandar, but he discovered to his own surprise, that he resisted the hugging part. With the way she was, she probably wouldn't mind but Vila found that he minded for her. She was someone who was very inexperienced about the ways of men and women. He wanted to take things slowly. He said, "There are many places that aren't like Chandar. Not to say that they don't have hate, but they have much less. And there's your mother's world. It…sounds like a wonderful place."
Corinne's head tilted a bit as she studied his barest reaction. "Don't you think that there is such a place?"
"I'd like to believe it. But, to be honest, I find it hard to. It sounds too good to be true."
Corinne said, "I'd like to too but growing up here, sometimes it's hard to believe. Vila, do you think it's possible to have a planet full of people who live peacefully with each other?"
It was something Vila had wanted to discuss with Avon. He wasn't sure why he wanted to now. Knowing the cynical Avon, he probably wouldn't believe it, even if he saw it.
You're a man who has been hurt too much to be able to believe.
Marlena had said that to Avon this morning and he had not reacted very well to it. Vila wondered if there was something to it.
He said to Corinne, "I'd like to believe your mother."
"So would I."
He asked, "Does your mother know that you don't believe her?"
"Yes, we have discussed it. It's not that I don't believe her. I know she would never lie to me."
Avon's sentence the previous night echoed in Vila's mind. " But you don't believe in humanity."
"I know it sounds cynical." From the look on her face, she felt that this was a bad thing.
"You're just being realistic."
"Mother said not to worry about it. It may be hard to see the good in people sometimes but if I keep looking and don't give up, I will find it eventually. That's why I'm glad you're here. And your friends. I don't have to look very hard with you."
Vila felt uncomfortable. "I'm not the best person in the world, Corinne."
"I know. I'm not idealizing you, if that's what you're worried about. I'm being honest. With many of the people on Chandar, it's hard to see the good sometimes, but not with you. Maybe you don't see the good in yourself, I wish you did. You're a very nice person."
"Maybe compared to the people here."
"Not just because of that. One day I hope you'll see it too. Why don't you kiss me?"
"Eh?" Vila wasn't sure what he had heard. There was a confused look on his face.
Corinne leaned towards him. "Isn't this what you've wanted?"
"Yes, but…" The rest of his words were lost as their lips touched and he kissed her.