"Finally," said Avon, exiting the interview booth with the twisted lips of a man who had been forced to swallow something distasteful. Accusing eyes glared. "Ten minutes."
Being a junior officer on parade in front of a tough taskmaster was preferable to facing Avon's wrath. Argus sighed. "You were right. I was wrong."
Argus cleared his throat as they all looked at him. He took a deep breath and in a surprisingly rich baritone, sang, "You…light up my life…"
Eyes widened and there were amused smiles, and at least one smirk.
"You give me hope…To carry on…You light up my days…" This was no hesitant, whispered apology, though there was reddening around the ears and a face flushing pink.
The cold voice interrupted. "Enough."
A drawn breath was let out in a sigh. His eyes had never left Avon; there was no fear, only trust and acceptance. "Thanks."
"It was your idea." The hard face did not soften; there was only blankness.
"What do you want to do now?"
There was a long 'stare' from Avon and the lowered eyes from Argus. What they had they both been thinking? It was obvious the drug was still having residual effects and the faster they left this planet the better.
"We'll get this over with as soon as possible," said Argus."I mean…I will. Why don't you go back to the ship? It's what you wanted."
"I will decide what I want."
Argus nodded. "Of course."
"Avon," said Cally. Her presence was a feather touch along the walls of his conscious mind, comforting, non-threatening warmth. "I know you don't like water sports, but there some fine beaches on this planet and we could all use some rest. You are quite pale. It would do you good to get some fresh air."
"The ship's filtration systems remove any impurities."
"That's not what I mean and you know it."
The idea of rest and powdery beaches brought a wide smile to Vila's lips. "A beach? With sand and water and…"
"Beautiful girls in skimpy bikinis?" asked Jenna, a snide expression on her face.
"Well…now that you mention it…I mean, there are?"
Corinne nudged him in the side, causing him to grin impishly and say, "Of course, I won't be looking at any of them."
"Really," said Avon.
"Just one. Maybe two." He yelped as Corinne poked him.
She said firmly, "Just one. And it had better be me."
The group waited for Argus to finalize the historic agreement, which fortunately didn't take long. Avon spent the time researching the best private beaches on the planet.
Soon the group was shedding their clothes and donning sunny beachwear.
A reluctant Avon, coaxed by Cally, emerged from the change rooms in a pair of black briefs that accentuated his pale, lightly scarred body. On someone else, it might have produced a sickly impression; a denizen of the night, unable to bear the sunshine, but it only accentuated the duality of his beauty.
Cally's breath caught.
"Is there something wrong?" asked Avon.
"Nothing at all." She took him by the arm, leading him forward, their toes sinking into the powdery white sand.
Her whisper-thin sarong in pastel green fluttered lightly in the soft breeze, brushing teasingly against Avon's legs. They sank down on a large beach towel. Cally closed her eyes, placing fingers to her temple.
Avon drew in a long slow breath. Inside his mind, a joint image formed and he embellished on what she was sending him, drawing on memory, morphing the details.
A flowered-patterned bikini accentuated Cally's pleasing curves. The brilliant sun glinting off clear blue waves made her eyes sparkle. The strong line of her jaw – in the mental vision, he reached out to touch it and startled real fingers felt the soft smoothness of her skin.
“Your abilities are growing,” said Cally, snaking an arm around his waist, gently rubbing the tender spots along his back.
Her lips parted as he drew featherlike fingers across them, feeling the warm breath brushing his fingertips. Each touch, each sensation produced a current of living energy joining them.
Much farther down the beach, Vila emerged from his change hut, adorned in an open shirt of bright pink, green and orange flowers. A matching pair of swim shorts completed the outfit, obviously not an item from the STUDS collection.
Corinne, in a hot pink bikini, was a blinding vision as she shook out a beach towel, smoothing it on the sand. She greeted him with a bright smile. “You look handsome.”
“And you’re a sight for sore eyes.” He grinned appreciatively at her.
“You up for a swim?”
Corinne was already halfway to the water. He ran after her, his bare feet sliding on the sand.
Argus and Reya were well ahead of them, their toned bodies slicing through the water in unified precision, barely causing a splash.
The other two were nowhere in sight but there were sounds coming from another of the change huts, ones better left unexplored.
“I know you don’t like water sports,” said Cally, lifting the lid of the picnic hamper, “But would you like some food?”
“An acceptable alternative.” He lay back on the beach towel, the rays of the sun penetrating his body, relaxing tight muscles. A scent drifted close as he listened to her removing items from the container. “Chocolate.” Strong hints of it. A rich smell, almost like coffee in its aroma.
“Taste this.” She brought something to his lips; it was light, delicate. He opened his mouth. Flakes of chocolate melted in his mouth, coating it with bitter sweetness.
Cally placed some in her own mouth, her eyes closing as she savoured the velvety texture and projected the sensations to Avon, enhancing his taste experience. The chocolate produced a slight rising of the pulse, a tingle that went straight to the pleasure centres of her brain. Avon gasped at the sensation, something he had never felt before.
“This is...very interesting,” he said.
A teasing smile greeted his reaction. “It's just the beginning.”
Like smoothly gliding sea creatures, Argus and Reya raced each other to a red buoy that was a bare speck on the horizon.
"That's just…unnatural," said Vila, shielding his eyes even though he was sporting a pair of aviator glasses. A splash of cool water fell across his back.
Corinne grinned as he turned around. "What's unnatural?"
"They are." He indicated the pair with his head. "I'm here for some sun and fun. Not exercise."
"I think exercise is fun for them." She splashed him with more water. "How about some water volleyball?"
"Does that involve drinks with little umbrellas?"
"Not unless you want to lose."
While investigating all possible delights of a Black Forest Cake, Cally leaned close and projected sharply. * Avon, don't move. *
He froze. * What is it? *
There was a prickling at the back of her neck and her psi senses reached out. She smiled warmly, a forced expression of unconcern. * We're being watched. *
His breathing quickened and his mind raced, wishing again that he had his eyes. * Where? *
Raising her head a little, she glanced over Avon's right shoulder. * Just behind you. *
* Warn the others. *
There was a movement in the shadows behind a gnarled tree. She craned her neck, her eyes straining, but not trying to be too obvious. * I don't think they're hostile, but they are definitely interested in us. *
* Regardless. We are exposed here. * He reached into the picnic hamper, feeling for something he could use as a weapon. Soft sandwiches gave way to questing fingers until he touched something hard, round and with a stem. An apple a day…can keep many things away, he hoped. He grabbed a few and had no place to stuff them.
Meanwhile Argus and Reya were blurs of motion through the water, sharks headed to shore. Vila and Corinne picked up their towels, holding them nervously in front, as they approached. "I don't see anything," said Vila.
"Don't look. You'll spook them," said Cally.
"That would be a good thing, wouldn't it?"
Holding the apples tightly in ready hands, Avon 'stared' at him as Cally and Corinne gathered up the picnic supplies and closed up the hamper. "We don't know their intentions."
They were all standing now, trying to look normal, which was hard because 'normal' on the best of days was usually not within their grasp.
"Is that an apple?" asked Vila.
"They look like apples."
"And you look…"
Argus strode over quickly, droplets of water, like perfectly formed crystals sliding down his smoothly muscular form. "Reya and I are going to flush them out. Make your way towards those buildings. Watch Avon."
Keeping her hand on Avon's elbow, Cally guided him forward. It took all their self-control to move slowly, not looking back. Again, Avon cursed his disabilities. He handed an apple to Cally. "In case."
"Avon's worried you'll get hungry," said Vila with a nervous smile.
Corinne's eyes widened in alarm as she snuck a glance back. "Run!"
Argus and Reya were racing down the beach away from them, a horde at their backs and flashes of light indicating it was no longer a picnic.
Hesitating, Cally slowed. "They're leading them away from us."
"Shouldn't we go after them," asked Corinne.
"You heard Argus," said Vila, "he said to make it to the buildings."
A crew-cut man in a leather jacket and aviator glasses stepped out from one of the buildings. A customer of the STUDS collection no doubt. He took a staggered step back, staring at them and then towards the flashing horde. "You can hide in here, quickly!" The man opened the door wide.
"We don't know this man," said Avon.
"Yeah, but it's a building, come on!" Vila rushed in, dragging Corinne behind him.
"This is a mistake."
The door led to a long, brightly lit corridor and the man had a warm friendly smile. It opened to a cavernous room packed full of people. A roar of excited voices greeted them and a huge, glittering banner hanging from the ceiling, reading…
"Oh my god…" Vila paled. "It's a fan convention!"
Avon woke up with a start, jerking up. A cold sweat lathered his brow.
"What's wrong?" Cally sat up in alarm.
"It must have been terrible." She felt his head, relieved he was not feverish.
His breathing slowed and he turned to face her. "Not all of it." He remembered something delicious. "Do you like Black Forest Cake?"