Vila had snuck into Avon's lab to use his computers. Well, he didn’t actually break in, since the door was never locked, unless Avon was doing something he didn't want anyone to know. But everyone knew that the lab was Avon's private sanctum. You only entered on sufferance, unless you were Cally. And woe to anyone caught there when Avon wasn't.
It wasn't as if Avon had said so, but everyone knew it wasn't a good idea. Unless…it was the only place that a certain female Commander might not think of looking for you. Vila knew he was in trouble after the little stunt with the action figure. It wasn't as if he had been looking for trouble.
Why did these things have to happen to him? He had meant well. The action figure was patterned after one of his favourite Delta vid heroines after all. But now on second, third and fourth-thought, he realized it had been a very, very bad idea. What was he thinking? He should be past thinking of Vila's Royal Mounties. Vila's overly active imagination wondered how Corinne would look in a red fur uniform… Noooo. Mustn't think that. Bad brain. He was going to have to give his wayward mind a real sitting down. First priorities and…some other things. Which he really shouldn't be thinking of. Though he wasn't sure Corinne would mind some of it. It's not as if she knew…Noooo.
I need a cold shower. Bad, Vila.
Vila made a few notations on the program he was using. The Chandarans had lent a Hero Generator program to him. He had used it to create the image for the Reya action figurine. He'd uploaded it to Avon's computer, and he hoped that he could remove all traces of it after he was done. How hard could it be?
He was having fun with the program. It had all kinds of options and was very easy to use. All he had to do was load an image (the details of which he'd obtained from Zen's medical computers, when Cally wasn't looking) and the Generator made a computer model of it.
"What are you doing?" A cold, disturbingly familiar voice asked from behind him. A shiver ran up Vila's spine. Avon. He quickly, and uselessly, blanked the monitor view to a menu screen, hoping against all reason that Avon hadn't seen enough to realize what he was doing. If Avon had…then he'd have to try to bluff his way out of it.
Bluffing worked best when you acted as if nothing was wrong. Vila continued entering commands at the terminal and muttered distractedly, "Working."
Vila could imagine Avon's eyes narrow into suspicious slits as he said sceptically, "Working? That's unlikely. What are you really doing?"
Keep bluffing, Vila. Try to look smart and industrious. Avon respects that. He turned to look at Avon, "Well, if you must know. I'm trying to think ahead."
Vila tried not to quake in his boots as Avon pulled up a chair, sat down, crossed his arms over his chest and stared at him impassively. Avon said, "That's even less likely. Would you like to try a third time?"
Avon had special security built into his computers that informed him if anyone had accessed them without his knowledge. Of course, he wasn't about to let anyone know that. That was why he was here, even though he had been working on something on the flight deck.
Acting intelligent and hard working was obviously not convincing Avon. He'd have to try something else. Vila eyed him carefully, "How about, I'm trying to keep my head attached to my body?"
Avon's eyes looked down at Vila's body and then his head. For some reason, Vila felt as if he was considering him as two separate parts. Avon asked, "Why?"
"I like my head; it goes with the rest of me."
Avon said dryly, "Then why doesn't all of you go? Such as back to where you were before you entered my lab."
"Well, this is the quietest place on the ship at the moment…"
Vila reflected that if stares could push people out of rooms, it would be Avon's. Avon said, "Not anymore."
When you have nothing else to say…most people didn't say anything. Vila was of the opposite opinion. "Oh, come on, Avon. If I lose my head, who would let you win at chess?"
Avon immediately refuted something he clearly though was a fantasy, "You're delusional. You do not…"
Vila fired his next words quickly, "I nearly beat you the last time, remember?"
Avon, the man who did not like to lose, corrected him, "It was a draw. The last time I checked, that's not the same as winning."
Vila suppressed a smile. "But for you, it’s the same as losing."
Avon scowled at him. Vila asked, "Well?"
Avon considered this, "Losing your head might improve your level of play." He paused as if he was contemplating how much. "But then…I wouldn't be able to see the look on your face when I win."
Vila grinned. "So you're going to help me?"
Avon's eyes narrowed as he realized this had been a ploy. He pointed out, "I don't believe I agreed to help you."
Vila's voice took on a slightly whining but sincere plea, "I need your help, Avon. I can't do this on my own."
Avon remarked, "That's highly probable."
Vila tried not to lay it on too thickly. Getting Avon to help him in order to distract him from being angry at having his space invaded was a tricky business. It was a good thing Vila was used to acting helpless and in need of people much stronger and smarter than he was. It was a very useful survival skill he'd learned. "I mean, you know I made a mess of it with the Commander. I don't know what I was thinking with the action figure. It seemed like a good idea at the time."
Avon said with mild, almost-clinical, sarcasm, "All of your ideas seem like good ones at the time. Until you do them."
"You see why I need your help? You're the smartest person I know…"
Avon said with a voice as dry as sand on a desert planet, "While that will always be true, flattery will get you nowhere."
Vila realized he'd misjudged his Delta-needs-help act. There was only one thing to do, he grinned slyly, "You saw through that, did you?
Avon ignored the obvious question and leaned closer to read what was on the monitor. "What are you doing with my computer?"
Vila turned back to his program, "Uh…it's the Hero Generator."
Avon's lips curl into a snarl at the hearing of that word.
Vila said, "It's a program I got from the Chandarans. I loaded it to your computer. I hope you don't mind."
Avon glared hard at the back of Vila's head. He minded very much, but unfortunately, the back of Vila's head couldn't see this.
Vila kept talking and facing the screen, seemingly totally oblivious that Avon's eyes are trying to stare holes into the back of his head for this blatant intrusion on his property. Vila continued talking, "They use it to design their action figures. I used it to design the one for the Commander. I'm trying to fix it so she won't kill me. And…I'm doing one of Argus. I thought she might like one." Vila ran through several menu items and retrieved a file. A heroic, muscular figure appeared on the screen. "You see? This is Argus."
Avon stopped staring holes at the back of Vila's head and looked at the monitor. He stared at the figure blankly.
Vila turned to gauge his reaction. "What do you think?"
Avon said flatly, "You made him Captain Space Cadet."
Vila's eyes widened in surprise. "You've watched the Delta kid-vids?"
Avon said, "Don't be ridiculous. I ran across…the name…accidentally. Typical lower grade entertainment. It makes no sense. Even the name is ludicrous. A captain would not be a cadet. That should be obvious."
Avon was touching on something dear to Vila's heart, the colourful heroes of his childhood days; splashed large across vid-screens, saving the Earth from disasters every week. And getting the girl. That was always his favourite part. "But that's not the point, Avon. It's the idea of a space cadet. But he's also a captain."
The way Avon stared at him, it made Vila want to feel if he'd suddenly grown an extra head. Avon commented, "He's naked."
"No, he's not. He's wearing armour. But…part of it is…" Vila coughed. "…see-through."
"That's a completely irrelevant feature."
"Well…it's…uh…it just looked better this way. And I gave him a jetpack. I thought he might like one."
Avon said, "He'll love it."
Vila grinned, "Do…you think the Commander will like it?"
Avon eyed him speculatively, "You were thinking ahead."
Vila asked innocently, "Was I?"
The corners of Avon's lips threaten to rise and make his face seem less grim. "She might even forgive you."
"You really think so?" Vila fervently hoped so or all this work and his bravery in invading Avon's sanctuary would be wasted.
"Did you manage to 'retrieve' the doll before she got too close a look at it?"
Vila said confidently, "Of course. I can steal anything if I set my mind to it."
Avon said, "Anyone can steal. The skill is in not getting caught."
Vila said without thinking, "Like you were?"
For a brief second, there was a gleam of something in Avon's eyes that Vila had not intended and then it disappeared and Avon glared at him.
Vila realized what it was and was mortified that he had been so thoughtless. He had dredged up memories of the failed bank fraud, and most importantly of Anna. Avon had not talked to about the information that Sester had revealed about Anna. Vila said apologetically, "I'm sorry, Avon. I wasn't thinking."
Avon's dark eyes continued staring at him for a moment and then he turned his attention back to the monitor where Captain Space Cadet was still holding court. "Where are the other ones?"
Vila tried to sound as if he had no idea what Avon was referring to. "You mean the new one of the Commander?"
Avon's eyes narrowed and his voice was icy with warning, "Where are the other ones?"
Vila blanched, "Alright." He activated the file retrieval menu and the screen changed, this time it was Cally.
He was almost afraid to look at Avon's reaction. For a second, he could almost swear that Avon's eyes softened, just a bit, and then he became unreadable again. Avon said flatly, "Next."
Vila hesitated. "Now, Avon…about this next one. It's just a rough idea…"
Avon said in a voice like steel, "Now."
Vila pressed a button. The screen changed again.
Avon exclaimed in a not too pleased voice, "That's you."
"Is it?" Vila moved his head closer as if he needed his eyes checked. "Oh, I suppose it is."
Avon's growled, "Vila…" And then he stopped and peered closer at the screen. "It's not you."
"Sure it's me."
"That is not you. That's your head on Argus's body."
Vila covered the telltale body with his hand. "No it's not."
"Yes, it is. Even someone with low intelligence and limited eyesight can see that."
"Well, how would you know what Argus's body looks like anyway? Is there something I should know, Avon?"
Avon's eyes narrowed. "Anyone who exercises should know."
"Well, I exercise."
Avon said in a completely disbelieving voice, "Really?"
"I mean, I could." He wasn't about to tell Avon that the Commander had to chase him all around the ship just to get him to do the minimum. For some reason, she considered it necessary for good physical health.
Avon jabbed a finger at the screen, "What…is that?"
"It’s a cat."
Avon said incredulously, "It has wings."
"I've always wanted a cat and…I thought it might be interesting to have one with wings."
"It's not real," said Avon.
"Well, how do we know there isn't one out there? Maybe the next galaxy?"
"Yes…why don't you ask the Andromedans?"
"Why don’t I…well, maybe I will. When you finally get around to beating them that is."
Avon looked sharply at him and then inexplicably, he smiled. "Alright. Let's fix your 'action figure'."
"What's wrong with it?"
"You mean apart from the fact that it's a gross misrepresentation of reality?" He ordered, "Move." Vila got up and they switched chairs. Avon explored the program menus and options and quickly got a feel of it. He took the bare Vila template and began 'fixing' it.
Vila watched with nervous interest and then he began to protest, "But...but that makes me look like a clown!"
Avon continued working and asked absently, "Is there a problem? You wanted accuracy. Or was I mistaken?"
Vila grumbled, "But I am not a clown!"
"That's a matter of opinion."
"Shove over, Avon. You're not helping."
Avon asked reasonably, "Did I say I was helping?" He did not get up from his chair and apart from physically removing him from it, which Vila wouldn't dare do in a million years, Avon still controlled the Hero program.
As Avon picked the next menu item, Vila continued watching. "Wait a minute…what's a bustier?"
Avon didn't answer but he did pick a choice item from the new menu.
Vila said, "You're not putting that on me!"
"Watch me." The bustier went on the Vila-hero, giving it, in Avon's opinion, some much needed 'support'.
Vila's growl was a pale imitation of the low bear-one of Argus. "That's NOT funny."
"I think it is." Avon smirked. He was having a great deal of fun. Avon removed a few offending items and Vila-hero became a little less clownish.
Vila said, "That's better."
"But much less entertaining. Alright what colours do you want?"
Vila pointed out several that he liked.
Avon mused, "That's…an interesting choice of colours."
Vila asked immediately, "What's wrong with them?"
There was no expression on Avon's face. "It's just…interesting."
Vila sounded worried, "What do you mean 'interesting'?"
"Just a general comment."
"What's wrong with them?"
"Nothing." Avon 'coloured' the Vila-hero with the chosen colours.
Vila looked suspiciously at the newly coloured figure, wondering what was wrong with it. He couldn't see anything. "Avon, can I have some armour?"
"But, I think I'd look better with some armour."
Avon pointed out, "You're a thief. Thieves don't wear armour."
"Everyone knows that."
Vila had another idea. "How about a long flowing cape?"
Avon glanced at him, "Why do you need a cape?"
"I've always fancied one. It makes me look…more heroic."
"Capes and sliding doors don't mix. Unless you would like your motto to be, 'But My Cape Got Stuck', I'm sure that would be very 'heroic' once you explain it."
Vila spied something on the menu. "Ooo. An invisibility cloak. How about one of those? A cloak's not as long as a cape. It wouldn't get in the way of anything. Can I have one of those?"
If Avon were the kind who rolled his eyes at such logic, he would be doing that about now. Instead, he said in a flat voice, "You already have one."
Vila peered closer trying to spot it. "Where? I don't see it."
"It's invisible." There was a trace of a smirk on Avon`s lips.
"You're finished." Avon saved the new Vila-hero.
"But that doesn't look very…heroic. It's…"
"But…it's supposed to be an action hero. It's not supposed to look like me. It's supposed to be…"
"Your head on Argus's body?"
"Well, I suppose that was a little too…"
"Beyond the realms of believability?"
"But…but…" Vila couldn't wait until Avon left so he could 'fix' Avon's version of him.
Avon had a serious look on his face. "You don't need anything else to be..."
Avon stared at him. "I didn't say that."
Vila gave him an exaggerated wink. "I know."
Avon in return, gave him an irritated glare and then his eyes became hard. "You've been stalling."
Vila said with a nervous little laugh, "You noticed?"
Avon said with certainty, "I noticed."
"It worked for awhile."
"Is there a reason you don't want to show this to me? Other than the obvious?"
"Well you know how you hate heroes? I mean, you said that…"
"I suppose I should show it to you…" Vila reached trembling fingers towards the terminal. He lightly touched a control. The screen changed again and this time it was a figure all dressed in black, like a midnight warrior. There was a golden creature, like a small dragon, on his right shoulder.
Avon stared at it without expression or any kind of response. Vila was wondering if this was a very good sign, or a warning that he should start running. He asked anxiously, "Do…you like it? I think the dragon shoots out fire but I'm not a hundred percent sure."
Avon turned impassive eyes to him. "It's adequate."
Vila grinned. "You like it."
"I didn't say that."
Vila said knowingly, "I know, Avon."
With annoyance, Avon stood up and said curtly, "I'm leaving. I have more important tasks. Erase the program when you're done."
"Oh, hang on. I forgot to show you the new one I did for the Commander." Vila quickly retrieved the image.
Avon looked at it. "She might decide to let you keep your head but I wouldn't bet on anything else."
"Well, that's a start."
Avon headed for the door. Right before he left, Vila said, "Avon."
Avon turned back to look at him.
Vila said, "I…had fun. It was almost like old times."
Avon gave him one final stare. "I want a copy of the Cally one."
Avon was about to exit but he turned around again. "And mine."
"Right." Vila smiled. "And I'll fix mine."
"You don’t need to, I never erased it. The original file is still there. Just remove the new one." With that, Avon left. As the door to the lab slid closed, Avon paused. A brief smile touched his face and then he headed off to his next task.