The Harmony Room - the name, dubbed by Corinne, for the music room - was festively decked out for the female version of the bachelor party. No party hats were in sight although there was a whiff of alcohol if you really sniffed hard, or were a wolf.
Red and blue streamers hung across the glowing crystals, two hearts lovingly entwined. No one could miss the symbolism, unless you were Avon, and only because he was blind. Or maybe not, depending on your point of view; Avon's idea of romance being a highly contested issue.
The crystals added to the atmosphere, reflecting the joy in the room with exquisite sounds coaxed by a device Corinne had obtained from Avon. The melodic laughter of bells and light fingers lovingly stroked across stringed instruments, transporting the hearer to a world that did not have a word for war or violence. Obviously from a different dimension, or Corinne's very active and 'highly improbable' (Avon's words when he heard what she wanted) imagination.
A cornucopia of mouth-watering delights tickled their nostrils with whiffs of fresh strawberries (well, the sim version of it at least), the heady smells of chocolate promising to carry them to heights of sensual pleasures and, of course, ice cream. In the shape of bunnies. Corinne had discovered them in one of Vila's Delta vids. A cartoon about bugs, bunnies or it could have been about carrots. Obviously a nature vid.
"You did all this?" Reya had been apprehensive about this party. Despite the afternoon teas and music sessions with the other women of the ship, not to mention the sparring practices, she was still highly uncomfortable with 'girly' things. She didn’t want to tell them the idea made her skin crawl and she'd rather get it over with as quickly as possible. And check on the men. She'd heard some strange rumours.
"Everyone pitched in." Corinne beamed with enthusiasm.
The door slid open and Jenna appeared at the threshold and stood nervously, like a vampire who needed to be invited in order to enter.
"Everyone?" asked Reya as she spotted her.
Cally glared at the intruder. "Who invited you?"
A fleck of vulnerability flashed briefly in Jenna's eyes before she reassumed a hard, bitter edge and a snarl that she must have learned from being around Avon too long. "Obviously not you." Her tone was harsh.
Corinne's eyes passed anxiously between the two antagonists but a determined smile of peace and welcome brightened her face. Her voice was light and airy, like an innocent completely oblivious to the idea of conflict. "I did. I hope it's alright. I thought it might be a good idea to get all the women of the ship together. There aren’t that many of us and this is a bachelor party for women."
"You're right," said Reya. "Come in and join us. You're welcome here. Isn't she, Cally?"
"You can welcome her." There was continued hostility in Cally's eyes.
Kirsten eyed her fellow Chandaran curiously. Sester had suggested she not underestimate Corinne. There was an innocence about her that Kirsten had never known, but there was also unexpected steel under her soft, almost child-like, exterior.
"Well, don't be so enthusiastic." Jenna came in, a sarcastic smile seemed plastered to her lips.
Reya could be the cold water to anyone's desire to cause trouble. "I will welcome you for the sake of peace on this ship, Jenna. But you could very easily be unwelcome." Her glare had the effect of pinning Jenna to the wall and watching her squirm. "I will never forget what you did to Rane or my people but I believe your contrition is genuine. If I didn't, you would not be on this ship. We will be civil to each other and smile and try to work together but cross me or harm anyone on this ship and I will show you what true pain is. Do we understand each other?"
Jenna swallowed hard under the woman's glare. There was a good reason why no one on the ship crossed Reya. "I understand."
Reya forced a pleasant smile. "Good." Her voice assumed a light quality she didn't feel. "Now ladies, you were going to give me--a makeover?" A grimace joined the smile.
Corinne pushed over a cart full of, to Reya, medieval instruments of torture. "You'll love it!"
"Corinne is almost sure you will," said Kirsten, trying to quash a smile at the animal-caught-in-the-crosshairs look on Reya's face.
The militaristic woman tried to look enthusiastic but it was hard as they led her to a chair. Having been in the military most of her life and growing up with a trio of extremely masculine brothers, normal female rituals were alien to her.
Reya sat down hesitantly, wondering if metal clamps were about to shoot out from some hidden recess and restrain her to the chair. Or if she could run now before they did irreparable damage to her image. "This isn't going to hurt, is it?"
She eyed the cart suspiciously as Corinne slid out several trays bursting with objects with suspiciously 'feminine' colours. Reya refrained from pointing out she had always objected to the arbitrary assigning of 'male' and 'female' colours; herself preferring numerous shades of blue.
Cally, deciding she was going to pretend Jenna was invisible, had an amused smile on her lips. "You're a soldier, I'm sure you've had worse."
"I'm not sure about that." There were various shades of lipstick and flat-ended face applicators, and some implements that made her wonder if this was entirely legal. She closed her eyes staunchly, not wanting to witness the upcoming atrocities.
Corinne's brightly melodic voice said, "We can't work with your eyes closed."
Sighing, Reya opened them a sliver and then fully. "Alright, what am I supposed to do now?"
Kirsten said, "Enjoy it?"
Reya shot her a disgruntled look. Kirsten had obviously been hanging around Sester far too much.
Cally placed a supportive hand on her shoulder. "Relax, Reya. This is your party. We won't hurt you. I guarantee that Argus will like it."
"Do you think so?" she asked, suddenly shy.
"I guarantee it."
Cally squeezed a dollop of cream onto her hands, and began to knead Reya's knotted neck muscles. "I'll give you a massage while the others do your face."
Reya wriggled her shoulders and took a deep breath in. She exhaled slowly, her eyes half lidded in enjoyment. "That feels good. Did you learn that on Pleasure City?"
"Some of it." She applied her elbow to the area between her shoulder blades. "The rest I learned for Avon. He…has a lot of aches and pains."
"That still hasn't improved?"
"The progress is slow."
"He must be frustrated."
"He doesn't like…" Cally paused. "We're here to talk about you." With the flat of her hand, she stroked the length of her back from bottom to top, with a firm upwards motion. "How is Argus dealing with having the Wolf in his head?"
"He's frustrated too. But I think he likes the Wolf. They're very much alike."
Corinne asked, "What colour would you like for your face, Reya?"
Reya sighed. "Why don't you pick one, Corinne?"
"You want Corinne to pick a colour?" asked Kirsten in an exaggerated incredulous tone.
"Hey!" objected Corinne.
"Do what you think is best, just don't make it permanent." Reya hoped she wasn't making a mistake.
The two young woman began pulling out various items and placing them on the table. Reya tried to concentrate on the relaxing massage and blocked out whatever they were doing to her face.
After watching them apply various creams and facial masks, Jenna glanced at Cally. She tried to remember what it was like to speak without anger, resentment or bitterness. "Some of these have different scents."
They all stared at her, including Cally.
Corinne said, "Oh, yes! I forgot that." She picked out a bright red lipstick and placed it to her nose. "This one smells like strawberries. Do you want one of these?"
"No," said Jenna. "I meant for Cally."
Cally's cold voice was like a void between them. "I don't need anything from you."
"I was thinking Avon might find it interesting."
"You don't know anything about Avon."
Jenna nodded. "I know I'm the reason why he's blind. I'm only trying to help, Cally. You can reject me but at least listen to what I have to say."
The rejection was at the tip of Cally's lips but she said, "I'm listening."
"Avon can't see but I bet his sense of smell has improved."
"He might not be able to see your face but he can smell you." Jenna ran her fingers along the trays. "Some of these scents are very sophisticated." She picked out a lip stick, opened up the case and offered it to Cally. "This one gives the impression of a summer's day at the seaside."
Cally hesitated but sniffed shallowly. Bright summer. The warm sun beating down on cool skin. Waves gently lapping on the shore. She took a deeper sniff. "You're right."
"You can use it for Avon."
"Produce a picture for him using smells?"
"That's the idea."
She was reluctant to admit it, but it was a good idea. "I'll…consider it."
"That's all I ask."
“Is there a computer scented one?” Kirsten looked up from applying a face mask.
“That’s not funny,” said Cally. “Avon can be romantic if he wants to be.”
“Really?” asked Reya. “Of course, Argus’s idea of romance is a night on the firing range, complete with candles and two fully charged rifles.”
“Avon gave me a rose once. Of course, it was only an illusion and it was in the nature of a scientific experiment.”
“He gave you a scientific experiment?” Reya’s brows rose. “That’s romantic? I think I like the rifles and candles better.”
“It was a twinned rose from Auron. Something very rare. It symbolizes joined souls.”
“That is romantic.”
“I told you. He can be if he wants to.”
When the makeover contingent was done, they stood back to admire their handiwork.
"Well?" Reya asked impatiently.
Corinne's eyes were wide. "You're…beautiful. I mean you were beautiful before but you're gorgeous now."
Reya's eyes narrowed. "I want a mirror."
Kirsten chuckled. "Are you sure?" She reached into a lower drawer and pulled out a flat reflective screen. "You might faint."
Reya winced. "That bad?"
"Don't listen to her," said Cally. "Corinne's right. You're stunning."
Kirsten handed the mirror to Reya with a smile. "Yes, don't listen to me."
"Argus will be the envy of every man on this ship," said Jenna. "He's going to have to beat them off with a stick."
Reya slowly rotated the mirror up to her face and…nearly dropped it in shock. "Who is this?" She stared at the vision of beauty that stared back at her; the angular cheekbones, the red inviting lips, and the hard eyes that had been softened to a mystery.
Cally put her hand on her shoulder. "That's you."
"But…that's not me. That's someone else." She turned the mirror to different angles, trying to understand this new face.
"It is you. You're beautiful. You always have been. The colours only highlight your best features. But they're all your own."
"I…didn't know I could look like this."
Corinne asked, "Do you like it?"
Reya looked around at the faces in the room. These were her friends. They were here to share the joys and sorrows together. "Yes, I do, Corinne. Thank you. All of you. Now, do I smell chocolate cake and strawberries?"
After the party and as Cally walked Reya back to her cabin, they ran into a staggering Argus singing and howling, carried between Lt. Dain, who was somewhat tipsy and Vila, who could barely keep upright and seemed to be permanently cross-eyed.
All three men ground to a halt and their eyes blinked wildly when they saw them.
"Arroo who is thish lovely…Baxter?" asked Argus.
"It's me, Reya." She felt very self-conscious under the admiring stares of the men.
"Arrrreaya?" He rubbed blurry eyes.
Vila said, "Can't be. She's…pink."
Cally looked at each of their unfocused eyes. "You're all drunk."
Argus, Vila and Dain beamed at her.
Vila said, "I hopsh sho. Wouldn't want…feel like thish and notsh bees drunk."
Argus and Dain both nodded and shook their heads in emphatic agreement.
"You’re boootiful." Argus reached for Reya but managed to miss her by several feet as Dain grabbed him before he fell over.
"Dain, find a cot and have Argus sleep in your room tonight."
"But…” Argus's face fell. “You're boootiful."
"It's a custom,” said Cally. “The pair to be bonded does not sleep together the night before,"
"Silly custom." Argus pouted as the Wolf sneezed.
“What’s that on your head?” Reya stared at the crushed fedora.
“S’hat.” Argus shifted it to an even jauntier angle and held his head up proudly. “Wolf likes it.”
“He does, does he?”
“Avon wantsss holo of it.” He nodded and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “He’s shecret agents.”
“He’s a what? Never mind. Wait here.” Reya disappeared into her cabin and came back out with a pillow and a blanket. “Here take these.”
Argus clutched them to his chest like treasures. “Reya lovsh me.”
“Yes, I do. Very much.”
Argus lifted his head and howled.
“Now be a good Wolf and go to sleep in Lt. Dain’s room. Come back in the morning to get dressed. Alright?”
A big smile brightened his face. “Yesh, Reya.”