The festivities started with drinks, or more correctly, alcohol and lots of it.
"Is this necessary?" Lt. Dain dangled the tri-cornered, multi-coloured headgear by one corner and well away from his head.
"It's an old Earth custom," Vila said with a straight face.
Avon came towards them, his hand resting on Argus's shoulder. "It's more likely a Vila-intends-to-humiliate-us-all-while-taking-damaging-holos-for-later-usage."
"It's nothing like that." Vila exclaimed, pressing a hand over his heart in a gesture of sincerity, which might have worked if he wasn't trying to suppress a smirk and none too successfully. Dain eyed him suspiciously.
"Here's yours, Avon." Vila extended a black, grey-banded hat - reminiscent of an old-style fedora - and touched the back of Avon's hand with it.
"I'm not wearing anything you're giving me." Avon squeezed Argus's shoulder. "Wolf, to the couch."
"Arrrr." Wolf led the way to the centre of the room, expertly avoiding the crowded space.
"And put on the hat."
"Rrr?" They sat down together.
"It's a human custom."
The creature blew out an exhale. "Silly custom."
Wolf took the hat and jammed it on its head at a jaunty angle.
Vila framed Argus's head between angled fingers and eyed him critically, "That's not half bad. Dashing. Like a secret agent."
Avon made a sound suspiciously close to a snort.
"You should've taken the hat, Avon. Cally might have liked a shot of you in it."
A familiar half-mocking - but saved by its silky quality - voice noted, "Why would Cally want a picture when she has the real thing?"
Avon bristled as his head turned slowly in the direction of the voice. "Vila, I assume you've prepared headgear for all of your guests?" His tone was pregnant with meaning.
"Oh, yeah." He rummaged through his party box and pulled out a droopy star-pointed hat with little bells that jingled. "This is yours." There was a slight apologetic look in his eyes as he handed it to Sester.
Sester accepted the jester hat with a gracious smile. "How appropriate." With careful deliberation, he positioned it on his head, turning the points as if there was a specific angle he was trying to achieve. A broad, infectious and warm smile completed the ensemble. "What do you think?"
Vila's mouth dropped open in awe. "I…that actually looks…" His forehead crinkled in amazement. "It looks good on you. I…don't know how but…"
"What did you give him?" Avon asked, a frown casting a shadow across his face.
"It's a jester's hat."
"A fool's hat?"
"Yeah but…" Vila glanced at Sester.
"What Vila is trying to say…," there was a superior smile on Sester's face that made Wolf snarl, "…is that you can look good in anything, if you know how."
Wolf bared its teeth and rose from the seat like a tide of aggression. Avon put his hand on his arm. “Argus."
Argus shook his head, as if he were trying to shake the water from his hair. “Are you going to keep doing that?”
“When I find it useful.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” He sighed and pulled the hat from his head, looking at it dubiously. “Why am I wearing this?”
Avon said with a blank face, “I understand it’s an Earth custom.”
“It’s a...what? I’ve never heard of this.” He wrung the hat in his hands, crushing the brim.
“The Wolf likes it.”
Argus stuck the half-mashed fedora back on his head, in the same jaunty angle as before. “I suppose I’m lucky it wanted to put something on and not take anything off.”
“It was busy.”
“You don’t remember?”
Argus hemmed. “I was bored. I tuned out.”
“That explains it.”
“The snoring sounds. Wolf said it didn’t make them.”
Argus rolled his eyes ceiling-wards. “You’re making that up.”
The barest of smirks curled Avon’s lips.
“Alright, Vila, let's get this over with.” Argus snagged two drinks from Vila’s tray, one sparkling blue and one light green. “What are the other Earth customs I’ve never heard of?”
He held the drinks up to the light. Light gleamed through them, streams of silver swirled invitingly and the heady smell of alcohol filled his sensitive nostrils. Wolf sneezed. “What's in this?"
"A little of this, a little of that."
Argus eyed him warily.
Sester took the glass that no one else had dared pick, a deep red liquid, like blood, that swallowed the light, its silver streams slithering menacingly throughout. "I don't think he trusts you, Vila." With a challenging smile, and jester's bells tinkling - which jangled on Argus's (and the Wolf's) nerves - , he drained the cup.
Avon stuck his hand out. "Wolf. He's baiting you."
The words came out in a low growl. "I'm not the Wolf."
"Then stop growling."
Argus brought the blue drink to his lips.
"Wait!" Vila stuck out his hand to stop him but it was too late. Argus quaffed it in two gulps. His eyes went as wide as saucers and he gasped like a man drowning as the liquid burned its way down his throat and raced straight to his head. "W-what is this?"
"I was going to say take it slow."
Avon's voice was like a sliver of ice on naked skin. "What is it?"
Vila winced. "A&S and Denecran brandy."
"Are you insane?" exclaimed Avon, his head turned in the direction of the still drowning man.
Argus straightened up, his eyes slightly glassy. "Everything looks--blue. Is that normal?"
"Is that normal?" Avon's eyes narrowed. "Vila. This is your mess." He turned towards Sester with a snarl. "And yours."
There was an impish smile on Sester's lips as he raised his hands defensively. "I didn't make him do anything. He did the drinking."
Argus's words were slurred. "Reya likes blue. Did you know that?" He looked wistfully into the empty glass.
Avon's voice was firm, like an adult teaching a child. "You've had enough."
The Wolf's soft amber eyes regarded Avon affectionately. "Rrrr?"
"You'd better take over for now."
The Wolf leaned forward and licked Avon on the nose.
Avon pushed him off the couch. The startled Wolf, its reflexes dulled, yelped as it hit the floor.
Argus stared up at Avon. "Why did you do that?"
"You…" Avon wiped his hand across his wet nose.
Sester chuckled. "You licked him."
"I didn't." Argus pushed himself up.
"The Wolf did," said Sester.
Argus looked at the uncooperative off-white ceiling again and shook his head.
Wolf! Didn't I say not to lick people with my tongue?
You're drunk. He looked around at the blue-tinted world. The whole ship seemed to be swaying. "I'm…drunk."
Vila grabbed his arm. "You'd better sit down."
There was a commotion by the door as two soldiers wheeled in a towering cake.
Argus asked, "What's this?"
"Have you never been to a bachelor party before?"
Argus stared at the person-sized cake; its layered edges rimmed with elaborate pink and blue swirls, a work of art in icing. "Who did you…?" His mind boggled at the idea that Vila could have persuaded one of the women on the ship to do what was traditional at a bachelor party.
"Just sit back and enjoy it," said Vila as he plopped himself on the couch beside them. All the men took seats in puzzled anticipation as the music began. It was a seductive, enticing melody, tickling their ears, promising delights to come. The melody built to a quick crescendo and lights turned off one by one. Mouths were wet in anticipation. In near darkness, a single bright spotlight hit the cake, making its white surface glare, and from its top…burst a beautiful Corinne with a big smile and arms upraised.
All mouths dropped open.
Sester's cocked his head in amusement. "She's beautiful but…isn't something missing? Or rather not missing?"
Avon's ears strained. "What's going on?"
Argus coughed. "It's Corinne. She's very nice."
Sester said, "And fully dressed."
"Ah. Then I haven't missed anything."
The soldiers, led by Lt. Dain, all stood up and began clapping in appreciation as the two who pushed the cake in, helped Corinne to descend from the cake.
Vila said, "I wasn't about to let her dance around naked."
Argus nodded. "I would hope not. That was very nice, Corinne."
"I hope that was alright," said Corinne.
"It was fine. Did you make the cake?"
"I have to go now. I have my own party to go to." She gave Argus a hug. "Have fun." She rushed off.
Argus said, "That was very nice, Vila."
Vila held up both hands. "Wait! Wait! We're not done."
Through the open door, two more soldiers wheeled in another huge cake.
"What's this?" Avon was annoyed that he couldn't see.
"It's another cake, Avon."
The music started again, but this time there was no waiting. A beautiful, longhaired and scantily clad woman erupted from the top of the cake and began dancing sensuously.
Mouths dropped open again. And then there was a loud collective gasp.
It was young Baxter, the nude model from the gym.
The room erupted in laughter.