Prime Minister Miros Furlough rubbed his double chin, his lips pursed. “This is very serious,” he said, “I cannot understand how it could have happened.”
“Don’t you?” The acid tone of Avon’s cynicism made Colonel Strevins look sharply at him, her eyes calm and assessing. The creases of her forest green uniform were crisp and straight, and her hair curled in a tight bun.
“You are our guests,” she said, “we are honour-bound to keep you safe.”
“It was not an accusation,” said Argus, his voice warm and commanding voice a low and soothing rumble. Tension was a thief scouting out the perimeter, ready to march right in and take up residence, but he was determined to keep it out. ”But we would like this incident investigated.”
“Under your supervision, of course,” said Strevins, her eyes hard, full of the wariness of experience, but they were not unfriendly.
“Yes.” He nodded. “Commander Reve is my Chief of Security. She may be of assistance.”
Reya stepped forward. Her Atholian military uniform of royal blue was mercilessly immaculate and her lines were as precise as those of her counterpart. “It seems apparent we were drugged.”
The two women faced each other with an imperceptible acknowledging angling of their heads.
“I don’t disagree,” said Colonel Strevins. “I look forward to working with you.”
“As do I.”
Prime Minister Furlough came forward with open arms and a broad smile. “Excellent! This will be the first joint venture between Gourimpest and the Rebel Alliance.”
He might have wrapped them in a jovial bear-hut but a cool luck from the women made him keep his distance. “There will be a festival tomorrow to commemorate this historic agreement.”
“A festival,” said Avon, as if a team of wild horses couldn’t drag him to another meeting with the hoards of Gourimpestians dying to see the heroes of the rebellion and The Hero of Star One.
“Didn’t they know I was at Star One too?” said Vila, wondering why he always seemed to be invisible. Of course, he had to admit, it had its advantages, ones he often encouraged. No one expected him to do anything if they didn’t notice him and you lived a lot longer.
“You?” asked Avon, with a faint, mocking tone in his voice. There was a slight quiver at the corner of his lips.
“What’s wrong with me?”
“Would you like a list?” said Avon with such dryness in his voice it sucked all moisture from the room.
“I can be a hero if want.”
“It has nothing to do with all the sickening attention?”
“Of course not,” said Vila. “Well maybe, just a little.”
“Of course,” said Avon before a smile touched his lips.
“Of course...” Sester came in with Kirsten beside him. “Avon would rather die than be called any flavour of hero.”
With the deft fingers of a magician, Avon replaced the light mood with a chilly one as he directed a sightless glare in his direction. “What are you doing here?”
Sester grinned, an affable, unconcerned expression. “I was invited.”
“Not by me.”
“Then I’m lucky at least one person on the ship finds me...”
“Useful?” said Avon, with an aggressive, half-smile.
“Oh, I’m definitely that.”
“I invited him,” said Kirsten.
Avon, who had lifted the use of a flat voice to the heights of artistic expression, said, “Let me guess, you heard about the enhancement drug.”
“We don’t need encouragement,” said Kirsten.
“You do seem to need better taste in men,” said Jenna.
Kirsten glared at her. “At least I have one.”
Argus strode over from speaking to the Prime Minster. “Avon, I’ve convinced them a festival isn’t necessary. They weren’t happy about it but they agreed if you gave an interview.”
“You consider this an improvement?” Avon asked, his voice dripping little icicles of acid.
“Well...” There was a pained frown on Argus’s face. “It will only be five minutes.”
After a long few seconds of ‘staring’ at him, Avon said, “It won’t be five minutes,”
“Sure it will. I’ll time it.”
“And what will you do if it goes over?”
The official reporter was a diminutive woman named Vuela Horesta, with mahogany-brown hair that flared fan-like at the shoulders. Her blunt fingers clutched a datapad that had Avon’s face prominently embossed on its black surface. A prime item from the STUDS collection.
She greeted him like a long-lost friend. “Professor Avon, it is such a pleasure to finally meet you in person.”
Avon grunted under his breath, a deep frown on his face, as Cally, who sat next to him, lightly touched his arm.
“And this must be Cally, the Auronar, the envy of legions of women and quite a few men,” said Vuela. Her face was flushed and eyes gleamed brightly at the sound of Avon’s voice.
‘The Auronar’ smiled tightly as she telegraphed to Avon, * I’ll kill her. *
A slight curve of amusement greeted this statement as he angled his head towards her. * Do you have a weapon handy? *
The bright lights made Cally squint as she squeezed his arm lightly, sending him a bubble of a mental smile. * Perhaps later. *
The reporter licked already wet lips and asked, “Professor Avon, what is your opinion of...”
Watching outside the clear interview booth, Vila said, “Professor Avon?”
“It makes sense,” said Argus, watching intently. “Didn’t you say Avon was the second in computers in the Federation? You don’t get to be like that without a degree or two. He must be famous in his field.”
“Yeah,” said a disgruntled Vila. “He never said anything.” The idea Avon had ‘titles’ to his name...
“He wouldn’t. I don’t think Avon recognizes titles,” said Argus. “Not even for himself.”
“I always knew he was crazy.” Why couldn’t someone use every advantage he could get? It wasn’t a waste, it was a crime. This universe didn’t hand things to you on a plate. At least, not people like him.
“He would rather people recognize him for his intellect rather than titles given by others,” said Argus.
Vuela asked, “What do most people call you?”
Avon was already tired of this interview and they had barely started. “Avon, but I respond to genius.”
“Do you have any nicknames?” His non-blinking ‘stare’ made her wet her lips again.
“Some call me a cold-hearted bastard. I don't disagree.”
* Oh, Avon. * projected Cally.
“My, my...” The reporter smiled widely as Cally stole a glance at the morose Avon, glad he couldn’t see the delighted expression. Disturbing visions of banners with ‘Avon, Our Bastard Hero’, emblazoned boldly, made her wince. “What is your religion?”
“Is this a trick question?”
The reporter smile with relish at his attitude as she tapped her datapad, advancing to the next question “What is your current occupation?
His voice became a reporter-repulsing half-growl, “A few misguided individuals dare to call me a rebel. Before I decided to work for myself, I was a scientist in the field of computers and analytical reasoning.”
Cally decided he needed a little more help. “He was the foremost expert in the Federation in Computers.”
“What is your educational level?”
* This is pointless drivel, * he projected to Cally in the same deeply growly voice that sounded like a cross between a wolf and bear. “I studied at the Federation's Advanced Scientific Institute.”
Cally added, “Avon holds half a dozen doctorates in various disciplines including Computers and Computational Sciences.”
The reporter beamed at them both, her straight white teeth perfect for the vid-cameras. “Do you have any chronic physical conditions?”
“None that is any of your business,” he said with icy stiffness.
“Of course,” the woman bowed apologetically. “A noble hero such as yourself (there was a loud snort from Avon, which Cally covered with a cough) would have suffered numerous injuries.”
* Try to be patient, Avon. Remember what we are trying to achieve. *
* Humiliating me is considered a goal? *
“What do you look like?”
“Use your eyes.”
The woman smiled warmly. “Some of our audience is listening to the audio broadcast.”
“Then they can buy a picture like everyone else.” He counted down the seconds to the five minutes Argus had promised.
The woman tapped down on her datapad, hoping to find a question Avon might not object to answering.
The lack of response caused Cally to say, “Avon has a distinguished nose, dark brown eyes that draw you in, strong cheekbones, and a cultured voice. He has dark brown hair and fair skin. His fingers are sensitive and flexible, just right for tinkering with all kinds of new technology. Height-wise, he's on the tall side, about 6 feet, and he has a medium build."
“What is your speech like?”
Avon wished fervently he hadn’t agreed to this travesty of justice. “I would think that was obvious since I’ve been speaking for the last half hour.”
“It’s only been three minutes.”
“It feels longer.”
Cally sighed, realizing this interview would have to be a joint venture. “Avon has a cultured voice, usually without inflection, except sarcasm, as if he were delivering a dull scientific report. But he makes up for it in the energy of his voice and expressive eyes. He has a low tone, but not bass, unless he's angry, then it rises.”
* Don’t encourage them, * grumbled Avon, turning in her direction.
* Someone has to. *
The reporter stared intently at them, probably wishing she could read minds. She entered a few notes on her datapad as one of the vid camera-persons moved to get a better angle of the two bent close in silent communication.
“How do you dress?” asked reporter Vuela.
“Is this the kind of drivel your readers are interested in?” asked Avon.
* Avon, you promised to do this. *
Avon sighed. “I have a partiality to leather jackets with studs. My predominant colour preference is black. Red leather pants and a black t-neck is an acceptable combination.”
The vid cameras lovingly panned the full length of his ‘acceptable combination.’
“What do you wear when you go to sleep?”
Avon's glare made the woman feel as if she had asked an illicit question.
Cally said, “Avon considers it a highly personal question.”
She sent him the impression of a smirk. * But you look particularly good without anything. *
“Cally!” said Avon, before he realized she hadn’t verbalized it. A slight flush coloured his cheeks.
The reporter looked at him with a high degree of curiosity, perhaps wondering if there was any way to acquire telepathy. “In your opinion, what is your best feature?”
“My intelligence and my instinct for self-preservation.”
Cally rolled her eyes.
“Where do you live?”
“Currently on a ship, called the Justice. It's an advanced alien vessel. Don't ask how we 'acquired' it; I would have to kill you.
Cally sighed. “He won't, not really.”
“What is your family like?”
“What is your favourite food or meal?”
For some reason, these innocuous questions felt like even more of an invasion of his privacy than the overt ones. There was another growled answer. “Anything that meets my daily nutritional requirements.”
“What annoys you the most?”
“Pointless interviews with nosy reporters.”
The woman chuckled and tucked in an errant lock of hair. “What was your childhood like?”
“Can you elaborate?”
“Any criminal record? Oh…strike that question.”
Avon glowered at her.
“What is your work ethic?”
Cally said, “Avon is very industrious, almost to the point of obsession. He is always exploring new technologies or trying to improve them. He feels that anything worth doing must be done right and he throws all of his energy into it, to the point he ignores his own physical needs.”
Avon glared at her.
* It's true. *
“Are you in a relationship? Describe it.”
Avon would have got up to leave if Cally didn’t touch his arm again.
She said, “He is currently in a relationship, but he would not like to elaborate.”
The woman glanced at Cally, a quick smile on her lips before asking Avon the next question. “Are you human, animal, or other?”
“What motivates you the most?”
“The need to survive and not be used by others.” It was past time he brought this intolerable interlude to a close.
“Anything else you want to say about yourself?”
“Not particularly. Is this over?”
The woman gave him a tense but broad smile. She was the first person to interview this intensely private man, and his answers, though less than informative, were not a disappointment. Avon kept his image intact and her viewers would be more than satisfied. “Thank you for the interview.”