"Fellow citizens of Tellar! Children young and old! Welcome to a unique magical experience!" Sienna (the elderly shopkeeper)'s voice boomed across the crowded open square. She wore a shimmering pink blouse over dark, wine-red pants.
The bright lights seemed to cause the crowd to glimmer as rays picked out shiny materials. The air was electric with anticipation and excitement. The colourfully dressed gathering fell silent as she made the introductions.
Avon, Cally, Argus and Reya were sitting in the front row along with most of the soldiers. Alyce and Marlena, along with some of the members of the Council were seated near them.
Sienna said, "I have the pleasure to present to you two wonderful visitors to our world. We already know their names, we know who they are and doubtless, we've all heard of their amazing exploits. It is the honour of Tellar to have them here with us. They want to give us a gift of a performance, the likes of which we have never witnessed before. I present to you Vila the Magnificent and Corinne the Beautiful in an Evening of Magic."
Most of the lights of the square turned off, leaving only the ones on the stage. There were whispers of anticipation when the stage suddenly burst into flame. Everyone gasped in shock and several people stood up and moved forward in alarm. The flames abruptly disappeared and in their places stood Vila and Corinne in a spotlight, their arms raised in greeting and welcome smiles on their faces.
The crowd roared with delight and everyone stood up and cheered. Vila and Corinne bowed their appreciation. Behind them, on a large vid-screen, the stage was magnified so that those further back could see them.
Vila and Corinne stepped forwards and stood a distance away from each other. Vila said, “What is magic? And what is reality? This evening we will try to challenge the way you see what’s in front of your eyes. Consider this object.” He brought out the small flat disk that he used for keeping his fingers nimble and held it up so the audience could see it. The disk seemed very large on the screen behind them.
“A simple flat disk. Not very exciting.” He turned it around so that the audience could see all sides of it. Opening up his hands, he showed that he was not holding anything other than the disk. With small, deft movements he began running it back and forth across his knuckles.
“Of course, the magic isn’t here. It’s there…” With that, Vila threw the disk towards Corinne. The object almost seemed to be moving in slow motion as it flipped end on end through the air, the stage lights catching it at various angles. The audience watched it intently until Corinne caught it and closed her hand over it. She held up her closed fist.
Vila asked, “Or is it?” At that, Corinne opened up her closed fist. There was nothing in it.
The audience took in a breath of surprise.
Vila held up his own closed fist. “Could it still be here?” He opened up his palm and revealed the elusive disk.
There were smiles of puzzlement and wonder all around.
As Vila did more tricks onstage, Avon, who was sitting between Cally and Argus, also had a smile on his face, but not one of wonderment. He kept up a running commentary to Cally as each act was performed, * Simple slight of hand and an optical illusion using... *
After awhile Cally said with irritation, * Avon, I would like to enjoy the performance. *
He asked, * You’re not? *
* Not your part of it. *
Avon angled his head towards her, * Don’t you want to know how the illusions are achieved? *
* Yes, I do. But not like this. The way you’re doing it, takes all the fun out of it. Sometimes, people like a mystery because it is a mystery. They want to wonder. And they like to find their own solutions. *
* I like mysteries as well. * He couldn’t believe Cally would say that after their experience together solving the murder on the Ortega.
* Yes, but you only like them as problems for your mind to solve. It’s an intellectual exercise for you. *
* What else is there? *
Cally turned her head to look at him. Avon’s eyes were earnest on an otherwise impassive face. * Avon, you promised Vila that you would try to enjoy the performance. *
Avon said, * I am enjoying it. *
* You’re not enjoying the performance. You’re enjoying the anticipation of winning the bet and showing Vila that he was wrong. Is that showing support to Vila? *
Avon grimaced and looked towards the stage. * You’re right. *
Sester sat at the far right edge of the crowd away from the others. He did not want them to see him and he wanted to keep well away from the prying eyes of Cambrin.
The Tellarans were an enthusiastic and curious people. There was very little artifice in their characters, unlike for him. Sester had a self-mocking smile on his lips. There was not one thing about him that was not carefully controlled and calculated, even when he was not acting. He could barely remember a time when he acted naturally and without measured deliberation.
There were many more things he could observe about the Tellarans and their society, but that was not the reason why he was here. The objects of his attentions were on the stage. He had come because of Vila.
Vila currently had Corinne lying on her back and floating in midair, seemingly with no visible support. Sester could see people in the audience straining to look for anything to indicate how she was being held up.
Vila and Corinne seemed to be enjoying themselves. At the beginning of the show, it was clear that Vila had been nervous. His movements were jerky and hesitant and his eyes didn’t seem to know where to look. When the introductory flames had died down, Sester could see the telltale signs of anxiousness in the smile that was just a little too wide.
With the continued enthusiasm and appreciation of the audience, Vila had settled down. With each successful trick performed, he had become more confident. Now Vila was thoroughly enjoying himself, all thoughts of nervousness forgotten. He had established a close rapport with the audience. They hung on his every word and watched his movements with fascination. He clearly delighted in their reactions.
Sester guessed that not even his greatest achievements as a thief made Vila as happy as he was now.
You’re a thief because that was what you thought you had to make yourself in order to survive. In order to be someone of value. Sester smiled. You were really born to give people pleasure. To fill them with wonder and laughter.
On the stage, Vila held out two thinly bladed panels and held them aloft. “Who would like to come up and test that the edges are sharp?” All of the lights of the square turned on so that he could see the audience clearer. His eyes swept the crowd. Vila’s eyes widened. At the edge of the crowd, on the right, he recognized familiar watchful eyes. Somehow, he wasn’t surprised that Sester was there. He gave him a brief smile and then continued on to pick a volunteer.
As the woman came up and carefully touched the edges of the panels, Vila was almost regretful. This was the last act of his performance but he wanted this moment to continue. He was on a stage with his beloved magic tricks and a sea of people who appreciated him. All of his friends were here to support him. His beautiful Corinne was with him. They had delighted the audience, not only with their magic but also with their sense of humour.
If heaven was real and not just an ancient fantasy, then he imagined that it would be something like this. A place where dreams did come true.
The woman volunteer completed her test by slicing a big thick-skinned fruit with the edges of one of the panels.
In the audience, Avon tried hard to appreciate the show. At first, he found it difficult. His mind only seemed interested in dissecting the performance into its component parts.
After awhile, his restless mind began to look around him at the audience. They were all enjoying Vila’s performance. It was hardly surprising since he doubted if any of them knew how the illusions worked.
Nevertheless, there was one curious thing. He knew that the Athol engineers had helped Vila build some of the illusions. They could hardly find any mystery in what they were watching but they were all acting with as much enjoyment and wonder as the audience. Avon was prepared to dismiss it as pretence. They must be pretending to enjoy it in order to support Vila and Corinne.
But were they? Did they see something that he couldn’t? It bothered him.
Avon looked on the stage again. Vila was doing the woman in a box trick. Not much mystery there for him. He knew it was all done using reflective surfaces, a nimble assistant and blades that were sharp but bent easily. Avon decided to take his attentions off what he knew and focused on Vila.
Vila moved with a confidence that he had not observed before. He was relaxed and enjoying himself. His humour was easy and sharp and interacted well with Corinne’s. Everyone laughed with them. Avon rubbed the wrist that was still bothering him.
Vila seemed connected with his audience. Breaths of amazement and smiles greeted his every movement. Vila was enjoying the performance as much as the audience was. They were very responsive to each other.
This was the kind of ‘magic’ Avon did not understand. It was one he was not capable of.
These people loved Vila. He doubted if they would see him the same way. His value was in his brain and what he could do. It had never been in presenting himself as someone to be liked. Avon doubted if he could ever be likeable.
Avon watched the rest of the performance by studying Vila's ability to entertain. He was surprised to find himself caught up in the show; caught up in the illusion and not the facts behind it. Vila made it easy, his infectious joy and his clear love of the illusion helped Avon to see the 'magic' of what he was doing.
An ironic smile touched Avon’s lips. Vila won his bet after all.
“Corinne, are you ready?” Vila asked with a flourish.
“I am,” she said with exaggerated nervousness. “I suppose. Are you sure this isn’t going to hurt?” She was currently in the tall black box with the holes for her head, hand and foot.
Vila said confidently, “I’m sixty percent sure.”
Corinne’s face in the hole turned towards him. “What was that?”
Vila went up to the box. “Seventy-five percent?”
Corinne looked anxious. “How many times have you done this before?”
“You mean including this time?” Vila asked innocently.
“I don’t think I want to know,” said Corinne. “Alright. Let’s do this before I suggest that we switch places.” She thought for a moment as Vila placed a sharp-edged blade at one of the slits in the box. Before he pushed it in, Corinne asked, “Is that an option?”
Vila paused in what he was doing and asked, “Is what an option?”
“Switching places?” she asked hopefully.
“I think it’s a little late now. Maybe we can discuss it for next time?”
Corinne sighed resignedly. “If there is a next time. Assuming you don’t slice me in half and can’t put me back together again that is.”
Vila asked with a slightly affronted tone as he slid the blade in, “Would I do that to you?”
Corinne grimaced and looked down. “I think you just did.”
Vila looked down as if in surprise at the blade that now separated the lower third of the box from the rest of it. “Oh. Sorry about that. It must have slipped.”
Corinne could roll her eyes with the best of them. “That’s what they all say.”
“Do you want me to pull it back out?”
Corinne looked hard at him. Either there was a slight twinkle in her eyes or she was finding it hard to keep a straight face at their banter. Vila wasn’t sure he wanted to know the exact reason.
Corinne sighed and said, “No. Just be careful with the next one.”
“Alright.” Vila slowly slid the other blade in. This one seemed a lot harder and he had to push to get it all the way through.
When he was finished, Vila slowly turned the box around to show the audience that it was a self-contained unit. Corinne waved her hand and foot at everyone as he did this.
As he turned her facing front again, Vila asked, “How are you feeling in there?”
“You mean apart from being split into three? I’m doing just great,” said Corinne.
“Are you sure?” Vila asked with concern.
“I could scream a bit if you want,” offered Corinne helpfully.
“No…that’s alright.” Vila detached several clips that held the sections of the box together. He got ready. “Now…”
Corinne asked, “Can I have some water?”
“It’s getting hot in here,” said Corinne.
Vila’s eyebrows raised in query. “Are you sure you can drink something?” He tapped the box.
Corinne looked down and seemed to remember that she was supposed to be cut in three. “Oh. I suppose it would be sort of difficult.”
“Wet would be more like it,” remarked Vila.
“Then can you make it fast?”
Vila smiled, “Your wish is my command.” He unexpectedly pushed the sections of the box so that they swung away from each other.
The audience gasped. It looked as if Vila really had separated Corinne into three parts.
By the end of the performance, the audience was cheering and on their feet. As the pair gave their final bows, Corinne put her arms around Vila and kissed him. Not an affectionate peck on the cheek, a full kiss that left him breathless.
“You’re wonderful!” she told him as she let him go.
Vila was stunned and for a moment, he forgot where he was. “You were too.” He reached towards her.
The crowd roared with approval causing Vila to turn a deep shade of pink. He put one arm around Corinne’s waist and waved to the crowd with the other. “Thank you everyone. I hope you liked the show.”
That caused the audience to cheer again to show how much they loved it.
Vila wondered how much redder he could turn. “Thank you for giving us the chance to show our appreciation for your hospitality. We’ve had great fun entertaining you as well.”
As the curtain closed for the last time, Corinne whispered in Vila’s ear, “Do you want me to tell you what my mother explained to me?”
Vila tried to swallow but his throat seemed to have trouble cooperating.
Later that night, in Vila’s cabin, the two magical performers were sharing another kiss. Vila asked, “Are you sure you’re ready for this, Corinne?”
“I am. But…I am a bit nervous. I’ve…never done this before.” She seemed shy and nervous under the soft lights that had been turned low. Vila held her gently, trying to make this as non-threatening an experience as he could. He imagined that on Chandar, willing female partners weren’t required for what they were about to do. Vila wouldn’t be surprised if Corinne was scared but she didn’t seem it. Just a bit tense.
Vila said, “We don’t have to do this now.”
Corinne had a soft appreciative smile on her face. “I know we don’t have to. But I’d like to. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do with you since that day on the flight deck.”
Vila asked with shocked remembrance. “On the flight deck? You mean, when you kissed me the first time?”
“Yes. When I asked you whether you liked me. I'd been having the impression you wanted to do that.”
"I thought I'd give you the chance but you seemed so nervous. I didn't want to scare you."
"You didn't want to scare me?" Vila wondered how he could have missed all the signals. He wondered if this was how Avon felt most of the times with people, or even Argus for that matter.
Corinne said, "Then afterwards, when you didn't do anything. I wasn't sure if you liked me that way or if you just liked me a little."
"Oh. I do like you…uh…that way. I definitely do. I just didn't want to scare you because… you know."
"Oh, you mean because I'm not experienced?"
"Well, yeah, I suppose you'd call it that." Vila was turning red with embarrassment. He remembered his flippant remark to Avon once about... He didn't really want to think about what he'd been thinking then. It was too embarrassing.
"I know all about it. My mother is a physician after all and she taught me."
"But Corinne, it's not like that."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it's not so…um…not quite that…I suppose it's…"
"I don't understand."
"It's not like a biology lesson."
"Oh. You mean it's not just about putting…"
Vila put his fingers to her lips. He didn't want to die of embarrassment. "Corinne, what exactly did your mother tell you?"
Corinne looked earnestly into his eyes and then a chuckle escape her lips. "She said that you seemed very easy to tease."
"What? Are you telling me that…"
"I'm just putting you on. Yes."
"Oh, you're terrible." He hugged her.
Corinne grinned, "I could be."
With their bodies held close, Vila found that all of the vid-romances might not all be wrong. Not that he'd ever admit to watching any, of course. At least not on a regular basis. Or maybe he'd only confess to glancing at a few, just for a few seconds, as he was flipping channels to watch something more appropriate.
As they talked and held each other, whenever Corinne laughed, he could feel the vibrations in her body; the joy of being together magnified by the touch of their bodies.
Vila touched her chin and tilted her head up. For the first time, he initiated the kiss. It was something that was uniquely them; tender, full of life, lightly teasing and then finally with a charged sensuality that immediately made them pull back and look into each other's eyes.
They were both ready.