"You sent for me, Commander?"
"Yes, Zack. What do you make of that?" A disabled alien craft, resembling nothing more than a giant watermelon hung outside C and C.
"Looks Vorlon to me, Commander."
"Thats what I thought. It underwent total shutdown after it jumped here. Two life signs aboard, apparently human. We were planning on tractoring it in - could you get a team down there to greet them? And tell Med Lab to stand by- I dont know if they lost life-support or not."
"Right away." Well it had been a quiet week so far
"Station Security: can we speak to you?"
Avon swore, stood up too quickly and banged his head on the console hed been trying to fix. "I suppose you want me to speak to them?"
Vila nodded: it was technically his ship but Avon was still theoretically in charge and far better equipped to deal with the authorities.
Avon stepped cautiously through the hatch. Unless Servelan had completely overhauled the uniform design while they had been stranded, these guys were not Federation. They hadnt tried to kill him so far either. The leader of the group stepped forward and shook his hand.
"Im Zack Allen, welcome to Babylon 5."
"Kerr Avon- we seem to be somewhat stranded here. Excuse me: Vila! You can stop hiding now."
Vila was even more confused than Avon and more than a little dubious about the medical checks these guys were talking about but if Avon was happy with the situation
"So what do you make of it, Stephen?" Ivanova had left C and C for Med Lab and was waiting to meet the new arrivals.
"Well, theyre fine physically, their stories match-"
"They failed every psych test I could throw at them. At least until the one who seems to be the leader got bored with it all."
"How does that compare with command staff averages?"
"About the same" you dont have to be mad to work here
"Anything else I should know?"
"The genetic analysis has come back in support of your theories based on jump gate logs. Theyre from Earth all right, just not our Earth." He reread the printout. "Id say the divergence started five or six millennia ago but from what theyve told me our histories were pretty much parallel until the late twentieth century."
"Right. Its about time I met them. Has someone put coffee on?"
Gods, that uniform fits her far too well. I wonder if she
"Hi, Im Vila. Nice set-up youve got here." Be polite to the nice Commander and maybe she will turn out to be friendly and not at all an insane megalomaniac. Stranger things have happened.
"Im Commander Susan Ivanova. Well just get your companion then go and debrief in my office. Where is he?"
The Med Tech looked awkwardly at the floor, "Hes over here but when I told him you wanted to see him he just gave me this blank look."
Oh bugger. "What did you say- exactly?" Vila wasnt wasting time being polite if there was a problem with Avon.
"That the Commander wanted to ask him some questions, I think."
"Where is he?" Fuck: hed thought today had been going quite well all things considered.
Avon didnt look up when he heard Vila. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Major flashback time. Vila grabbed Avon and hugged him. "Its ok, shes only wanting to help. They havent even heard of the Federation."
Avon snapped back to reality, "Did someone mention coffee?"
It was a bit of a cheat using Sheridans office but he was away and it was far more impressive, not to mention tidier than her own. She put her feet on the desk in her best Im an informal, friendly interviewer way to try and reassure them. She couldnt quite tell if they were sitting up close to each other on the sofa because they were a couple or because they didnt trust her. Pity either way: in the first instance because Lyta was always complaining about the poor quality of single men on the station and in the second because she really thought shed got her approachable expression down to a fine art.
She let them finish their coffees before beginning her explanation: "Look, guys, the good news is youre safe."
"And the bad news?"
"Where exactly did you get that ship?"
"Vila won it in a card game." Wasnt that how every stranded space-farer who was too upmarket to hitchhike got home?
"Well I was having a lucky day." Never look a gift horse in the mouth and all that.
"So you dont know anything about Vorlons?"
"The race who built your ship- or most of it anyway, there are a few non-factory add-ons by the look of it. The main components however are far more advanced than anything weve got. And "
"Break it to us"
"It appears to have some sort of reality drive. This isnt your Universe."
"I knew today seemed to be going too well."
"Youre welcome to stay here as long as you want. Weve got the slight matter of a couple of major wars to deal with but all the facilities are open as normal "
"Is there anyone on the station who could help with repairs?"
"Ill make enquiries but I suspect most of it will be down to you. How much experience do you have with alien technology?"
"Far too much. Vila, Ill finish assessing the systems. You obtain some hard currency and meet me back at the ship."
"Shall I assign you some quarters?"
"Why not? Some peace and quiet away from Vila may enhance my thought processes."
Vila had obtained a surprisingly high level of credit for a few precious stones. Avon suspected that this meant he had stolen them back to resell a couple of times but as Vila had also obtained details of a dry-cleaning/leather repair shop, three tailors and a sushi bar that delivered anywhere on the station Avon had decided to overlook the matter. Not that hed have minded in the ordinary course of events but he didnt want to draw the attention of Station Security more than was strictly necessary.
"Its seven oclock you know."
"Im not drunk yet."
"Go to the bar then if you must; Ill join you when Ive made some progress here."
Five hours continuous work and Avon had achieved exactly nothing.
"Need any help?"
He spun round; reaching instinctively for the gun which was currently residing with Vilas in Station Securitys holding facilities. Tomorrow he would have to speak to Vila about shutting the hatch securely.
"And you are?"
"Marcus Cole. Susan- Commander Ivanova seemed to think you might be having problems."
"You could say that."
"Well I know a bit about the technology the Minbari borrowed from the Vorlons and if that doesnt help theres a woman who knows a Vorlon- but shes not back until next week. How about you take a break now and I have a look at it with you in the morning?"
"Id prefer to stay here. The thought of what Tarrants doing with Orac-"
"-Can wait until tomorrow, surely. All work and no play "
"I just spent nearly three weeks with only Vila for company. Work was hardly a feature."
"So you and he ?"
"I really dont see the relevance of answering that. Ive got a lot of work to do."
"And youre tired and irritable: come to the bar, tell me what youve tried so far and Ill make appropriate comments."
Is everyone on this station determined to make a nuisance of themselves? I suppose he is trying to help.
"If it gets you off my ship. The very worst that can happen in a bar is that Vila decides to join us" well, there could be fights, arrests, explosions
Vila meanwhile had found not only the Zocalo but also the adjacent casino and Londo Molari, who was most intrigued by this new variety of humanity. Vilas winning streak was holding but he was being very careful to give the impression of being short of funds. Hence the more the Ambassador drank, the more drinks he bought for his new friend.
It was probably a good idea to quit while he was ahead, especially if they were likely to be stuck on the station for a while (Avons continued absence did not bode well for the probability of the ship being fixed by morning).
"Londo, my friend, I think I should really be getting back to my quarters."
"Already? But the night is still young. Unless of course you have someone waiting for you?"
"Well " Avon? Nah: hes got a computer to argue with.
"Let us find someone for you. How about a Centauri woman? The dancers here know a few tricks human women are yet to discover.
Ho hum. If he was forced to take a woman back then so be it. And if Avon ever actually showed up he was sure they could come to some sort of arrangement.
" So then I jumped over the table, grabbed GKar- hold on isnt that Vila?" Avon followed Marcus gaze. "He must have done well in the casino- Ive heard what she charges."
Typical. Ive been working hard trying to get the ship running so we can go home and Vila has been doing far too much fraternising with the locals.
"Hold on- you mean Vilas actually paying for sex? He has enough problems rationalising paying for food."
"I suspect someones paid for her: she doesnt normally stop working this early."
"Stealing someone elses evening entertainment sounds more like Vilas style."
"If its bothering you, you should go and talk to him "
Bothering me, why would it bother me? This is completely ridiculous; it must be the alcohol they serve round here. I should do something to take my mind off it. Marcus is cute even if he is another irrational idealist Maybe I should play for the sympathy vote.
"And there I was, thinking I could spend some time with him tonight." Big puppy dog eyes. "I dont suppose you "
"Thanks but no thanks."
Damn. Hurt but apologetic look.
"Sorry, I just thought- but if its not your thing "
"Ordinarily Id be interested but its just that theres someone in particular that Im holding out for."
Damn again. Heterosexuals I can just about cope with but totty with principles, whatever next? Tarrant thinking before he acts?
"Another beer then?"
"Good morning, Avon!"
"Is it? I hadnt particularly noticed." A thundering headache was reminding him why he normally avoided serious drinking sessions.
"Of course it is. Were safe, weve got plenty of money-"
"You got laid last night." Statement of fact. Not a question but not a recrimination either.
"Well, you know, Id won a fair bit at the casino, you were working-"
"-I was in the bar waiting for you. No matter- I think it highly unlikely that I can get anything done here the way my head feels this morning. Why dont you show me around the station?"
Shopping seemed to be doing wonders for Avons mood, even if carrying four bags of leather goods was doing little for Vilas aching arm muscles. Now thats pretty He had barely slipped the pendant into his pocket when someone grabbed him from behind.
One thing about carrying all the shopping: it left Avon both hands free to hit people.
He had the stranger pinned up against a wall by the neck in a split second.
"Whats your problem?" he hissed.
"Your friend- he stole something."
"Vila, put it back." Well if you used that tone of voice "And do you still have a problem with him?"
The stranger tried to shake his head; Avon relaxed his grip just enough to let the man speak.
"The Thieves Guild- they dont take kindly to non-members operating around here."
"Ok, people, break it up." Michael Garibaldi put on his suitably stern voice and expression but was, in fact, relishing seeing someone else giving the lowlife scum a well deserved beating for once.
"Certainly." Avon let go of the mans neck, did some subtle damage with his knee then turned to check on Vila.
And he fights dirty as well- youve got to admire the guy even if he is blatantly insane. "I dont care who started it: just dont let me catch you doing it again."
"Of course not. Vila, was there something you wanted to buy?" So we have a well-organised criminal element and a Security Chief who actually pays attention. Have to be very careful about obtaining funds in future. Maybe I could drop in on Commander Ivanova later and see if I can figure out her access codes while shes making coffee.
After three more days work Avon had got the ships coms system back on line which made ordering food easier. Three further days however and he was no closer to accessing the main drive. Marcus and Ivanova kept dropping by to be supportive but Vila seemed to be spending as much time watching cartoons and Rebo and Zooty reruns with Garibaldi as he was spending in the casino; which left little time for Avon. Vila didnt drink when he was hanging out with Garibaldi so that was one bonus and there had been no further run-ins with the Thieves Guild either. Avons two false credit accounts were providing enough funds for essentials (leather is obviously essential; as are shiny things, poker games and alcohol) so maybe Vila wasnt going to risk his new friendship with the Security Chief by forgetting to pay for items.
"You have an incoming message."
He slid out from under the console and activated the screen. It was Ivanova.
"Hi, Avon, just wanted to let you know that the Captains back tomorrow. His conference went well so how do you fancy meeting me for celebratory cocktails in an hour?"
"No problem. Ill finish up here and meet you at the Zocalo." He switched off the screen as Vila walked in. "You wanting cocktails as well?"
"Sorry Im having dinner with Marcus." That should confuse him.
Ivanova spent a lot longer in the shower than she normally would. She had the temperature set a lot lower too but still felt very school-girlish.
Relax, Susan, its only a man. A man who wears far too much black leather (like thats a bad thing?). Since when did you take notice of a man? Its just cocktails to celebrate the last shift for a while without the Captain for backup.
She broke out the very expensive perfume she had been saving for a special occasion and rifled through her wardrobe for something suitable to wear. What are you thinking of, Susan? Youve spent a weeks salary on clothes for tonight- why are you looking in there? She looked at her purchase again then made her mind up and dressed quickly so as to allow time for hair and make-up adjustments.
He was already at the bar when she arrived. Does he wear anything that isnt black leather? He gave her a very appreciative look as she walked in and was most attentive about pulling a barstool out for her and ordering the first round.
"Tell me Im imagining it." Vilas jaw had almost hit the floor when he and Marcus walked into the bar. Marcus had been a little surprised when Vila had arrived at his quarters and informed him they were eating out but that was nothing compared to this.
"Sorry, Im seeing it too. Our dear Commander has discovered a taste for leather."
"Has she been stitched into those trousers?"
"Dont give me images like that: people are watching."
"You get the beers in, Im staying well out of the way." This evening was not going to plan at all. Hed been giving Avon plenty of space to work on the ship without distractions but now it looked like hed overdone the avoidance routine. Thats what came of assuming you understood people.
Marcus returned from the bar, "Id love to say they arent having a good time but Id be lying."
"Why would I be?"
"Its fairly obvious theres something between you and Avon."
"Well we were stranded on an uninhabited planet together. It was bound to happen at some point." Marcus raised his eyebrows. "Repeatedly for two weeks, if you must know. Then we switched the communications beacon on and hitched a ride to somewhere with actual other people. I knew it couldnt last- it would have made life far too difficult on the Liberator."
"Avon and Tarrant are at each others throats enough as it is. If I was seen to side with Avon for personal reasons, Im not sure what the girls would do. Its just not worth the risk."
"But youre stuck here for now: Avons threatening to melt the computer down for scrap- not that its listening and Lyta still hasnt sent word of when shell be back."
"I know, maybe I should go over and say something."
"We could always take the manly option and start a fight."
"Against those two-"
"Not while Im here you dont" Garibaldi. "So whats so interesting over there? Oh!"
"You should really have a word with the Commander- those trousers could be a potential hazard- people not looking where theyre going; spilling other peoples drinks, who knows what could happen?"
"And Im sure there must be a rule against having more than one umbrella and two pieces of fruit in a cocktail."
"I need to speak to them both anyway. You two stay here. And behave."
Garibaldi walked over to the bar, "Avon. Commander." Avon removed Ivanovas hand from his thigh.
"Mr Garibaldi. We dont usually see you around here. Mineral water?"
"Thanks. I spoke to the Captain earlier and hes decided to hold a formal reception on Monday- were all invited."
"Including Vila?" Garibaldi nodded. What an excellent idea: give Vila unlimited access to free alcohol and the opportunity to offend several ambassadors at once. "Can we make our excuses?"
"Only if you can fix your ship and disappear before the Captain catches up with you."
"Today is Thursday if Im not mistaken? That explains everything. Have you told Vila about this event yet? Im sure he will heed a warning to behave much better coming from you."
"Ill see you tomorrow then." Garibaldi walked back across to Vila and Marcus.
"Well, whats happening over there?"
"Hard to say. But Im to tell you to behave yourself at the reception on Monday. I did tell you about it, didnt I? No? Well theres a reception on Monday and youve got to behave on pain of something you wont enjoy at all."
"Ok. Am I supposed to behave myself tonight as well? Because if I am I might as well leave now. No one going to suggest an alternative venue? Ok Im gone" And he was.
"You think we should have stopped him?"
"No: hes probably just gone to his quarters to sulk. That pair have some serious communication problems at times."
Back at the bar:
"So what am I to expect from this reception?"
"Oh the usual- some of the guests will drink too much; someone, possibly Londo, will start a fight; we may even have a declaration of war or two if were really lucky."
"I take it you wont be looking forward to it."
"Not really." Hes got really long eyelashes- I wonder if thats mascara. "In fact Id rather have sex with a Pakmara." Why did I have to mention sex?
"I dont think I encountered that species yet."
"You dont want to, trust me."
"And there is absolutely no way to avoid attending the reception?" Her hand was working its way up his leg again but he was yet to decide what to do about it.
"Short of death, no. And even that would be thought of as a poor excuse." Is he actually interested in me? Why do I care? "Of course it may not be as bad as we expect."
"No, it may be worse." He flashed a smile at her, "Im sure a bomb scare could be arranged "
"We have plenty of those already. Im dont suppose anyone would notice."
"If it cant be avoided, best not to dwell on it. Why dont we talk about something else?"
On to Part Two
Back to Adult Stuff
Back to HQ