There were sounds of delight from Vila's cabin. Corinne laughing and saying, "That was wonderful! Can you show me more?"
Vila could be heard saying, "Are you sure you can handle it? It's just your first time and I wouldn't want to tire you out. It is late and if your father found you here, he'd probably draw and quarter me."
Corinne's voice was puzzled. "Draw and quarter?"
Vila explained, "It's an old Earth thing. They take a…well…they do this…you really don't want to know."
Corinne's voice was still puzzled. "But I don’t think my father would mind this."
Vila said, "I don't know a lot about your father. He might think I'm corrupting you."
Corinne sounded very innocent. "What we're doing isn't wrong, is it? I don't think my parents would mind. We're just having fun."
"It's not what we're doing that they might object to. Here, you'd better take it off. We can do it again tomorrow if you like."
"Oh yes, very much." There was a brief pause.
Inside Vila's cabin, Corinne had just hugged him. Vila felt awkward. He wasn't sure if it was a good idea to hug her back. They were in his cabin. It might not be a good idea yet. He was not ready to introduce her to the things that were at the top of his list of favourite things to do. She was different from Kerril. It didn't seem appropriate somehow and he didn't want to make a mistake with someone he was really starting to like.
He suspected that Corinne's inexperience extended to a lot of areas that covered the interactions between men and women.
The other cause was because he was still wearing the virtual imaging gear that he had gotten from the Pleasure City folks. Corinne had already taken hers off and was holding it in her hands while hugging him.
"Oh, that's uncomfortable," said Corinne as she let go of him. She touched one of the many round disks that served as image projectors. "Why don't you take this off and I can give you a proper hug?"
Vila said apprehensively, "I'd rather leave it on, thanks. Besides it's late. You'd better go before your father or mother come looking for you." The imaging gear served as a protection from his own intentions as much as Corinne's.
Corinne was a very determined young woman. “It’s alright. They’re probably asleep by now and besides, they trust you.”
Vila said, “And I’d like to keep it that way, if you don’t mind. If I keep you up to all hours who knows what they might do to me. I’m surprised your father hasn’t come knocking on my door demanding what I’ve done with you.” He was thinking that Corinne could get him into a lot of trouble if he wasn’t careful. She was very affectionate.
Corinne put the imaging gear on the table next to the half finished plate of biscuits. “Oh, he wouldn’t do that. At least, I don’t think so. I am an adult.”
“Yes, but you haven’t been out much and your father seems very protective of you.”
Corinne frowned in recognition of this fact. "I guess that's true."
Vila said, "We'd better get some sleep."
Corinne's smile was warm. "Thank you for showing me where you come from. Those images were so real, I felt like I was really walking on a street on your planet. I'd love to visit it one day."
“It’s Federation. But it’s my piece of it so it’s not too bad.” Vila realized that compared to Chandar, it probably did look like a much better place. At least women could walk around freely, or as freely as anyone could in the Federation. "I'd love to show it to you some day."
"That would be wonderful but you're right, I am a bit tired."
Vila looked concerned. "Sorry about that. The sensory outputs are a bit strong. I've been meaning to have Avon look at it but he's been too busy."
"Good night, Vila."
"Good night, Corinne."
Argus and Sester stared at each other as Reya looked between the two of them. It was another one of those awkward and unpleasant moments when they were both united in purpose. A situation that neither of them liked.
Sester said, "Reya…"
Before he could get past her name, Reya said, "You can save your breath. Both of you. I'm going to do this."
Argus decided that Sester's lame attempt needed his help. "But Reya, you can't even get out of bed without help."
Reya's jaw was set and determined. "Not right now, I can't. But in a few days and with a nice strong dose of adrenaline, I will be able to."
Sester said, "Yes. You can stand but that doesn't mean that you can fight."
Reya was prepared to answer all questions. "But I don't need to fight a battle, or even a match. I just need to expose the aliens."
Argus said, "But we don't even know who they are."
Reya smiled. "That's where the two of you come in. You can find out for me."
Argus and Sester stared at each other. Argus asked, "You want me to work with him?"
Sester grinned, "You make that sound like such a pleasant prospect. I'm flattered."
Argus glared at him.
The next morning, accompanied by Cally, Avon returned to the medical unit. She insisted on a full series of life scans before pronouncing him well enough to be let out for a few hours, under supervision.
Avon was not exactly in the best of humours this morning. Despite what they had shared the previous night, having his freedom curtailed, no matter how good the reason, was exasperating to a man who craved independence. It did not help his mood to find Sester propped up on his bio-bed, eating breakfast.
Avon asked irritably, "What are you doing here?"
Sester gave him an easy smile. "I'm having breakfast."
"I can see that. Even a blind man can see that."
Sester had an amused attitude this morning. "Really? Then the parameters under which we define a blind man need to be revised."
Avon was definitely not amused. The ready antagonism he had for this man shaped his lips into a snarl. He surmised, "Someone must have kicked you out of the other bed."
Sester grinned. "He is obvious, isn't he?"
Avon said in warning, "Leave him alone."
The truth was that the Sester had decided to give Reya and Argus some time alone, or at least relatively alone, this morning. Sester's grin widened. "Cally's cure must have worked last night. You're back to your old lovable self."
Avon said in a tone that could give icicles chills, "Leave. This is my bed."
Sester said pleasantly, "Of course." Balancing the food tray carefully, he slid off the bed. Sester stood off to the side, watching the proceedings while munching the rest of his toast. Avon climbed onto the bed and Cally directed him to lie down.
Avon glared at his unwanted audience. "Don't you have something better to do?"
Avon said brusquely, "Multi-task."
Sester grinned, "Alright. I can take the hint."
Cally said to him, "Don't go too far. You're next."
After Sester moved off, Avon said grumpily, "I do not require supervision."
Cally put her hand on his arm gently and with her mind sent him a sense of understanding. She knew that being weak and dependent on others was very hard for him. And the lack of freedom might remind him of the Detention Centre. "Avon, I promise, if your health will not be compromised, you can leave the medical unit today. But can you to promise me that you will be careful? Let me know the moment you feel something is wrong?"
After all of the things that had happened to him, it was much harder for Avon to keep his distance from people he cared about. In the past he had tried to limit his caring to actions alone. Objective actions applied when they were needed, didn't require displays of emotion; they did not demand that he learn to get along with people. There were no feelings or relationships to maintain. He cared and he didn't care, no one else knew the difference.
It had been much easier that way.
He was a different man now. The loneliness hurt and seeing people he cared about in pain, hurt even more. Cally loved him and she was very worried. He could not ignore that.
They both knew that the condition of his mind, even with the drugs, was precarious at best. Despite his denials, logically, he knew that he needed help. It was hard for him to admit that, but he couldn't ignore facts. It didn't make it any easier for him but the look on Cally's face made him feel guilty that he was making it harder for her as well. His love for her balanced with his need for independence and freedom.
Avon grimaced; for some reason sometimes love felt like pain for him. He reached up and caressed her cheek lightly. "I promise." His voice carried an unaccustomed hint of warmth along with the sincerity of a man to whom promises are things to be kept.
Cally mused that that warmth was becoming increasingly more familiar. It was something she hoped that Avon would chose to keep when they finally got the help he needed.