You Look Marvelous

Leah Rosenthal & Annie Wortham

Praxi III slowly revolved below the Liberator, showing as a great orb of blue, with tiny spots of brown and green to break the monotony. Blake studied it on the screen of the Liberator's flight deck, his hand on his chin.

"Ninety-eight percent water world," he murmured, echoing one of Orac's analytical comments of a half-hour before.

"Perhaps we can go to the beach," Cally said wryly, from her station behind Blake. "We're well within Federation home territory, Blake. Just why are we orbiting this waterball?"

"A good question," Avon spoke up from the lounge below the computer consoles. "Praxi is little known for anything except vacation beach resorts, some cultural establishments, and a museum of history."

Blake turned from the screen, his hands now behind his back. "I thought a decadent world like this one would interest a man like you, Avon."

"It certainly interests me," Vila piped up from the corridor, where he'd just emerged. "Just imagine… mile upon mile of deserted beaches, tropical sun… blue sky… a broad, endless ocean…."

"I hardly think Blake has brought the Liberator here for rest and recreation for his crew," Avon said acidly.

"Of course not," Blake agreed affably. "Although I think you and Vila will be pleased to know that you two will be the ones teleporting down."

Avon sat up, suspicion instantly in his eyes. "For what purpose?"

"For the most crass, demeaning pursuit you can possibly imagine in the cause of rebellion. Financing."

"What does he mean?" Vila asked apprehensively.

"He means he wants us to steal something to fund his cause," Avon said sourly. "Of course, the word 'piracy' doesn't apply in a noble purpose, does it, Blake?"

"Only if you prefer it as a motivation," ''Blake said. "At any rate, the Museum of History on Praxi should be a relatively minor challenge for your skills."

"Just what exactly are we going to steal?" Vila beat Avon to the question.

"Twelve perfect Weber opalines."

There was a pause on the flight deck of the Liberator as the crew absorbed this information.

Avon was the first to speak. "The crown jewels of Fisiri aren't on Praxi. They're under extremely heavy Federation security on Earth."

Blake lifted his eyes to smile at the computer tech. "Orac says otherwise. Like Star One—" Blake's smile turned slightly rueful, "—the Federation is seeking to make everyone believe they actually are on Earth, to decoy any foolhardy thieves."

"That certainly wouldn't be us," Vila said jokingly.

"The security for the Museum is mostly in its location," Blake continued. "The entire complex is underground, on one of the islands below. I believe they utilized one of the extinct volcanic cavities and lined it with alloy mined from the surrounding islands."

"Fascinating," Vila said morosely. "How are we supposed to get in?"

Blake turned his attention to the thief. "It won't be as if you're breaking into a military installation," he said. "The security is there, but compared to what you've faced before, it will be minimal. Beside which, they aren't expecting rebels to attend cultural landmarks or receptions." He turned to Orac, who was sitting on a nearby table near the lounge. "Orac, give us the layout of the Museum."

*I was not constructed to function as an atlas,* huffed the clear box.

"Orac…," Blake warned.

*Oh, very well.*

A black and white display appeared on the screen, detailing the famous museum in cross-section.

Avon studied it passively from the lounge area. "There is only one entrance," he said quietly. "Even with minimal security, it would be suicide, Blake. The shielding around the outer structure would make teleport impossible."

"Ah, but there is another way into the museum…one that even the staff and security don't know about." Blake stepped up to the screen and pointed to a small section in the lower reaches of the diagram. "Right here." He withdrew his hand to face them again. "Rebel forces on Alpha Antares, Draco II and the Mauritoid Mining Belt all need funds to arm and obtain the necessary equipment to continue and advance their activities. The situation has become critical. Those gems can be divided up and sold without being identified. Their only function here on Praxi is as a reminder of Federation victory over Fisiri…."

"Which is now a dead planet," Cally said softly from her console station.

"All of which leaves us with one question," Avon said. "Why should I involve myself in obtaining these stones, Blake? I hardly consider the Mauritoid Mining belt and the welfare of Draco II as a pressing motivation." His tone was typically acid.

Blake raised an eyebrow. "I can't think of any reason," he confessed. "Unless the fact that the gems are valued at exactly five million credits counts for anything."

A slow smile spread over Avon's pale features. "Clever, Blake. A chance to pull Federation tails over my previous…venture?"

"That's one way of looking at it. Of course, if time and proximity permits, I wouldn't demand that you hand over anything else that should happen to catch your eye inside the museum. I'm only interested in the Weber opalines. As long as you understand that they are your primary goal." Blake's smile was as icy as Avon's

"And the secret passage to the surface?"

"I'll give you the exact location and directions. Also the placement of the security controls…or where they were supposed to be located last."

"Supposed to be…?" Vila asked uncertainly.

"Our information contact was a curator who left the museum four years ago."

"Oh, fine," Vila said, worried. "Let's hope they haven't redecorated."

"Why does he have to come along?" Avon murmured sourly.

Blake allowed himself another tired smile as he climbed toward the corridor. "Technically," he pronounced, "I'm a political subversive, Jenna is a smuggler and Cally is a fugitive." He turned back to Avon and Vila. "You two, however, are thieves." He did not remain to see the tight-lipped rage that this factual pronouncement brought to the computer technician—and embezzler's—lips.

"Down and safe," Avon snapped into his teleport bracelet, peering around at the gentle surroundings they had appeared in.

Vila sniffed the tropical air appreciatively. "Pity we can't stick around a bit for some R&R," he said morosely.

Avon glared at the surrounding ocean where it showed through the palm trees, turning to confirm his perception that they stretched infinitely to the horizon. "Praxi is only a stone's throw from Earth," he commented. "Would you like it if the Federation found you building sand castles on the beach?"

"I might prefer it to getting blasted out of space," Vila huffed. "If you've got to go, you might as well be comfortable beforehand."

"Funny you should mention going," Avon prodded him. "We have exactly four hours to get Blake's gems and get out of here, or else he'll leave us here to build all the sand castles we like. Get moving."

"Blake wouldn't leave us behind," Vila muttered, trudging through the trees toward a manmade path beyond. "You, maybe," he said, even more quietly to himself. "What a grand Federation Conmander you'd make, you sadist." The last was prudently whispered to himself.

The Museum Isle proved to be every bit a resort, mostly occupied by the wealthier, more decadent element of the Federation's citizens. Every building but a few were luxury Inns, every vehicle was either recreational or high on status and low on efficiency. Avon stayed close beside Vila. He was starting to make moaning sounds every time a resident passed by on the street wearing valuable jewelry. Avon didn't want them to be picked up prematurely for a petty felony. There didn't appear to be any Federation troops in evidence…but there were several local planetary police about, dressed in tropically light colors. The decadent variation of uniform amused Avon, but he knew a policeman in khaki was still a policeman and his gun was just as deadly.

The entrance to the Museum arched over their heads as Vila and Avon waited on line for admission. A smiling staff member took their credits and looked the two of them up and down, noting their less-than-tropical clothing.

"Are you here for the reception?" she asked, holding up a hand.

Avon glanced momentarily at Vila before favoring her with a smile. "Yes, as a matter of fact, we are."

"I thought so, in those clothes. You'll find your quarters down five levels, in the south corridor. The ball room is on the same floor."

"Thank you," Avon said, hustling Vila quickly inside and heading for the elaborate lift gaping straight ahead. They were surrounded by tourists, so neither spoke until they were deposited at the fifth level and the others disappeared into the distance.

Vila peered around at the towering, darkly-lit hallways, gigantic portraits framed on every wall and tall statues staring gloomily down at them. "Gives me the creeps," he murmured to Avon. "What's this business about a reception?"

"Possibly a stroke of good luck," Avon said, starting down the long corridor quickly, in the direction indicated by the admissions girl. "If there's a function going on in the museum itself, there's likely to be less suspicion associated with the presence of wandering strangers," he said.

"How close are we to that secret exit?" Vila hurried to keep up.

"Two levels above. Do you know how to orient yourself from the lifts?"

"Certainly… I studied the layout, same as you. I have more experience at this sort of thing, you know," Vila said huffily.

"I have no doubt of that," Avon replied.

They were entering a narrow corridor that featured numerous, numbered doors and elaborate furnishings. Some passing dignitaries and wealthy-looking citizens were strolling past. Avon waited until one of them locked his room and left, then he hustled Vila toward the door. "Open it."

"Why?" Vila wanted to know. "We're not here to rob a bunch of dandies."

"Open it, you idiot. We obviously can't remove the gems until the museum closes, which should be in precisely twenty minutes. The reception is after-hours. Unless I miss my guess, we will have to pass through the grand ballroom to get to the area where the gems are stored and the computer security complex."

"Then they must be setting up! We can't get through without being noticed."

"Not until the event is in full swing," Avon amended. "Until then, I think it prudent to stay out of sight. With all these bigwigs in attendance, there's a passing chance one of them would know us on sight."

Vila gulped and nodded, turning to unlock the door behind him. It took less than a moment, and the two disappeared inside.

Supreme Commander Servalan was bored. She had initially found the relaxed decadence of Praxi a welcome change from the intense duties of Command Headquarters in space. It had been refreshing to reacquaint herself with the luxuries she worked so hard to preserve. But the lack of real political intrigue, the distance from the hottest areas of military and power manipulation, had left her feeling homesick in short order, and she was looking forward to returning to space. This final function at the Museum of History would be her last indulgence before she took up the reins of power again. She had an off hope that something interesting would capture her attention—perhaps a casual dalliance with one of the more malleable males in this crowd of important people. Society and its trappings, after all, was also a form of warfare.

The evening wore on without anything significant happening. Once more, Servalan scanned the crowd, still marginally hopeful of a familiar or interesting face to fix her attention on.

She got more than she bargained for. At first she thought it was sheer illusion or imagination that made her think that she was seeing Vila Restal mingling in the crowd, throwing broad smiles at the pretty women, tilting his head gravely at the men…and sometimes, brushing past them with an action that was suspiciously like that of a pickpocket's. But…what would the sniveling little thief of Blake's motley pack be doing on a world like this, so close to Earth, mingling with a crowd of swells at a museum function? She was about to dismiss the whole thing as a case of remarkable similarity and mistaken identity—and possibly overwork, on her part—when she spotted a grave, handsome man following at a discreet distance behind Restal. There was absolutely no doubt as to who this man was, particularly in such close proximity to Restal. She paused, eyeing them across the room as they made slow but perceptible progress toward the rear. What were they up to?

She didn't intend to find out the hard way. She also didn't intend to let them slip through her fingers. There was only one way out of the museum. She excused herself to the babbling old fool who had made a pretense of speaking to her for the past few minutes and quickly left the ballroom, heading for her quarters.

"Can you open the lock?" Avon kept his eyes—and weapon—trained on the entryway to the closed gem exhibit. The sound of the reception in the ballroom nearby drifted around them.

Vila looked it over with a professional eye. "Nothing to it…but you'll have to take care of the alarm security system," he reminded Avon.

"I'll take care of my job. You worry about yours. We haven't much time left. I'm going to short out the system and head directly to the cavern exit. I'll wait there until exactly a half hour from now. Then I'm leaving, with or without you. Any later than that, and we risk missing Blake's deadline for teleporting us out."

"All right, all right," Vila complained, rather affronted. "I know the way. Just take out those computers." He removed some tools from his boot sole. "I know my business."

"And precious little else," Avon muttered, heading away into the shadows.

"Snooty Alpha," Vila murmured after him. "Thinks he knows everything."

"Supreme Conmander, we can have troops at the main entrance in less than half an hour," the voice came over Servalan's communicator. She was in her quarters at the museum, bent over the small controls in anxious concentration.

"I want as many as you can spare here in twenty minutes flat. Commander," she told the officer, who was stationed in a ship in high orbit over Praxi. "And you are to start scanning for Liberator immediately…if Avon and Restal are down here, the rest of them can't be far away. Bring me their heads, Commander Dirin."

She shut off the controls before he had a chance to protest. Rising, she hurried back toward the ballroom, determined to keep an eye on the errant rebels and prevent losing track of their activities.

Vila stood at the doorway of the gem exhibit only for a moment, staring in awe at the fabulous stones on display. Unfortunately, most of them were in individually secured display casings, and although he knew he could open most of them with little or no trouble, he simply didn't have the time to do much more than get the Weber opalines. Slipping rapidly through the exhibit, he quickly located the desired case. Inside, twelve sullen, yellow-white stones stood on end, spotlighted by a high-beam source. As Vila watched, the light shut off.

Good old Avon, he smiled to himself. What a team they could have made, between Avon's genius and Vila's sleight-of-hand. The two of them could be fabulously wealthy.

Vila quickly ran a check down the side of the case and then unscrambled the locking mechanism. He swung the case up delicately and set it aside, then checked under each of the stones for sensitivity wiring. It was there, but Avon had deactivated the system…he hoped. Swallowing, he started to snatch up the opalines and stuff them into his pocket. He checked the time when he was done and noted that he had exactly two minutes leeway to finish up before he had to be on his way. With an almost frantic lunge, he unlocked another case nearby and snatched out a gorgeous necklace encrusted with pure red and white halonites. Worth a fortune…but unless he hurried, he'd possess it for a very short time. He replaced the cases without relocking them and headed back through the door, peeking out to make sure no one was outside. Then he headed back toward the crowded ballroom, his heart beating rapidly.

Avon had already returned halfway through the reception ballroom when a crawling sensation on the back of his neck told him something was amiss. He studied the crowd from hooded eyes but saw no one watching him. He was turning to resume his progress toward the entryway when he realized Servalan was standing directly in front of him, blocking his way.

"Why as I live and breathe," she smiled warmly at the frozen rebel. "Kerr Avon. I never knew the life of a hunted renegade allowed you the niceties of social life." She held up her drink to toast him at close range.

Avon recovered his own aplomb quickly. "I never knew the life of a dictator allowed for dull receptions on resort worlds," he countered with a cold smile.

"Might I satisfy my curiosity as to what you are doing here?" she returned his smile.

"Is this a new form of interrogation…over cocktails?" Avon said levelly.

"What a charming idea. It sounds less messy, too. Whatever Blake is after this time will cost him dearly. You and the thief will never leave here. I've alerted security. Why don't you surrender in a civilized fashion?"

Avon bowed slightly to her and edged around her, continuing his progress toward the door. "With all due respect for my rude manners'" he said, "When I see a civilized individual, I'll consider the option." With that, he disappeared into the crowd.

Servalan coldly eyed the direction he'd gone for a moment before resuming her smile and sipping at her drink.

Vila was halfway down the corridor toward the lift that would take him downward to where he was supposed to rendezvous with Avon. He froze in mortal terror as he heard the measured tramp of military boots coming from the direction he was headed for. He spun and ran back the way he had come, barely avoiding coming into view of the approaching troops, and slid into an alcove behind a statue to hide as they passed They had their weapons drawn. The mission was going sour, somehow, he thought…and he was going to get captured or shot in short order. A fine sweat had broken out on his features and he looked around for an alternative escape route.

There was no way to return to the surface; the front entrance was probably heavily guarded, and the guards that had just passed were headed in that general direction Another pair of guards passed, this time obviously searching for someone. They paused as they met a third Federation trooper who sported higher rank markings.

"See anything yet?" the newcomer demanded.

"No one who wasn't invited to the function," the trooper on the left replied.

"We are looking for two men, right? Avon and Restal, one wearing black and the other one in tan and brown."

"Right. Your orders are to stun, but these two are extremely dangerous. If the Commander gets Blake and his crew, I doubt if Servalan will mind very much if you shoot to kill these two."

Vila gulped, checked his chronometer, and edged away into the corridor, back down toward the guest's quarters. He heard some of the troops returning in his direction and he frantically tried some of the doors. He didn't have time to work the locks….mercifully, one was open. He slid inside and shut the door as quickly as he could, his heart beating like a trip-hammer against his ribcage. The boots passed by in the hallway outside without slowing down. He slumped and wiped a sleeve across his forehead. How was he going to get out of here and down in the lift to the cavern exit? They would recognize him instantly out there.

He peered around the corner of his chosen bolt-hole frantically. Something about the array of clothing hanging in the closet looked vaguely familiar. He lunged at the closet and dug through the contents, looking for something—anything—like a cape or hood to conceal his appearance. He found nothing other than the elegant outfits of a woman of good taste and style.

Vila Restal swallowed, looked over his shoulder at the assortment of makeup on the nearby dresser, and shrugged. "Survival before dignity," he murmured, and snatched at the dresses in the closet.

The two troopers paused to eye the woman hurrying down the corridor in their direction. She seemed to be rummaging in her purse for something.

"Excuse me, ma 'am," one of the troopers winked at his partner. "You haven't seen either of these two men wandering about this way, have you?" The soldier held up a photo for the perusal of the woman.

She shyly looked up, batting her eyes at the tall troopers, and appeared to scrutinize the picture. "Oh my," she whined. "They look like dangerous characters…."

"They are, ma 'am," the other trooper rasped. "Dangerous terrorists."

"Well I hope you catch them quickly," the woman fretted, cringing so that her broad-brimmed hat dipped demurely to hide her features. "I'd hate to meet them in a dark alley." She put a hand to her gorgeous pink and red necklace.

"Don't worry. They'll never get out of here without our knowing about it," the first trooper assured her. "Sorry for disturbing you, ma'am."

The woman murmured a nicety and minced down the corridor toward a lift.

The second trooper watched her go over his shoulder. "These Alpha birds aren't much to look at, are they?" he rasped to his partner.

"Oh, I don't know," the first trooper said. "Can't tell much under that fancy outfit, but I think she's got a nice bum."

Vila gasped with relief as the lift doors finally closed and bore him downward toward the lowest museum level. The high heels were murder….it had been all he could do to keep his balance in them. Almost worse yet was the brassiere that was cutting into his sides. He wanted desperately to shift it, but he was afraid the gems stuffed inside would fall out. When the door opened onto the darkened service level, he gathered himself and ran as quickly as he dared toward the rendezvous point. He passed rooms filled with huge machinery—presumably for heating or cooling the museum, or running the power plants. He didn't care; he just wanted to get out as quickly as possible. Rounding a final corner, he threw open a small door and plunged into a dark room.

"Avon?" he gasped, trying to catch his breath.

"Over here, you fool…you 're late. What in creation took you so long?" a voice snarled nearby.

"There were guards everywhere, Avon…and they're looking for us! Servalan is here!"

"I know," the grim voice said. "Let's get out of here as quickly as possible." Avon activated a lamp and started to run his fingers over a featureless-looking wall nearby. In a couple of moments, a panel of the metal wall slid inward and Avon disappeared inside. Vila followed the bobbing lamp as it hurried up ahead, cursing the high heels that were now threatening to turn his ankles at every step.

"I don't like caves," Vila moaned, doing his best to keep up. "They're full of slimy, crawling things with too many legs."

"Would you rather stay behind?" snapped Avon, descending into the darkness ahead.

"No, thank you. Ooof! You might've warned me about that overhang. Slow down a bit, will you? It's dark…." Vila's foot sank into something soft and slippery, and he didn't dare to stop or look down to see what it was. He pulled himself free and forged ahead.

The cavern tunnel narrowed and widened, but was otherwise consistently downward in direction. "Are you sure this is the right way?" Vila asked nervously.

"Yes," hissed Avon. "Blake's diagram of it indicates that it descends for a good while and then rises to the surface. Will you stop cowering back there and hurry u….?" Avon's voice trailed off. In the half-turn he had made with his lamp to check Vila's progress, he had gotten his first sight of the thief since the rendezvous. He stopped dead and stared.

Vila had to give the computer expert credit. His face showed absolutely no reaction for a full three seconds before it started to writhe uncontrollably. Then, for the first time in Vila's memory, Kerr Avon doubled over and started to laugh. The sound echoed loudly around them in the tunnel.

Vila's face turned red. "Well, it got me past the guards," he huffed, tossing the hat over his shoulder defiantly.

"Charming…," gasped Avon, leaning against a wall and trying to regain some control. "You're a vision of beauty. I can only…only imagine what Ser… what Servalan will think when she… she… discovers her outfit is missing…." Avon gurgled off into incoherent laughter.

Vila wasn't sure he liked being the object of this rare display. "Avon, we'll miss the Liberator pick-up. We've got to hurry!" he protested. "You can joke about my get-up when we're safe."

"Who taught you to put on makeup in such a becoming manner?" Avon gasped, resuming his progress down the passageway.

Vila's jaw was tight. "I carried off the scam," he insisted. "I daresay that's more than you'll ever do."

The light ahead suddenly stopped. The sound of running water that had dogged them for the past few minutes had suddenly become a loud echo nearby. Avon held up the light, to reveal that the passageway had widened out into a large underground lake. Distantly, they could see the corridor resume on the far "shore" in an upwardly direction. An underground stream was emptying into the lake somewhere in the dark.

The humor had disappeared from Avon's face. "We must have taken a wrong turn," he murmured, staring at the water.

"No we haven't," Vila snorted, gesturing. "The diagram said there would be a long stretch down, then the cavern went upward." He kicked off his high-heeled pumps and waded into the water cautiously. He was a good way in before he realized that Avon hadn't followed him.

Turning, he saw Avon standing on the bank, still staring at the turbulent water. "What's the matter?"

"There's got to be another way out." Avon asserted, checking around.

"What…?" Vila cried, wading back toward him.

"We passed other passageways. One of them must have been the way out."

"Avon, we followed the exact directions Blake showed us. It's just up ahead…what's the matter with you?"

Avon raised his chin slightly, and in the light of the lamp Vila could have sworn that he saw the whites showing around the computer expert's eyes. He mumbled something that Vila missed in the slosh of the water. "What did you say?"

Avon repeated the mumble, and Vila missed it again. He waded out of the water. "What?"

"I said, I can't swim!" Kerr Avon gritted out through clenched teeth. He glared at the thief challengingly.

It was Vila Restal's turn to laugh. "You're joking!" he grinned evilly. "Why, are you allergic to water or something? Any Delta-class child knows how to splash about in the water…."

"I am not a fan of water sports," Avon said coldly, his voice clipped. "Even under the best of circumstances." He took a step backward away from the lake.

"Oh, don't be afraid, Avon…I'll help you across. Come on…" Vila reached out to haul him toward the water. "I'm very good at it. I won't let you drown, I promise!" he was obviously taking full delight in this opportunity to pique his tormentor.

Avon jerked away, unmistakable fear on his face now. "I'm going around."

"Be reasonable!" Vila protested. "We only have a few more minutes until Blake gives up on us, Avon!" His voice had become more serious. "This is our only chance! We don't have time to find another way, even if there is one!"

Avon turned his gaze from the expanse of water to fix his glare on Vila. "This wasn't on the diagram."

"It's a water world," shrugged Vila. "It's bound to have its wet spots. I suppose it rained outside or something, and there's been some runoff." He took the lamp from Avon's hand and held it aloft. "The stream is starting to run harder…it will fill up the whole cavern soon, and then we'll be trapped! We've got to hurry. Come on," Vila made another grab at Avon's arm and almost had to drag him down toward the water's edge. With a little more tugging, he got him into the water. Vila set out for the far bank, keeping a firm hold on Avon's arm.

When the bottom suddenly dropped out from under his feet., he treaded water and turned back to Avon. "It's deep over here," he warned. "We'll have to swim for it." He struck out, hauling at Avon.

In a moment's time he suddenly felt himself being pulled under. He turned in the water and grabbed at the sinking body nearby, struggling back toward the surface. As his head broke water, Avon spat miserably and gasped with a strangled sound.

"You bloody idiot!" Vila shouted, unwrapping Avon's stranglehold on his neck. "You're supposed to hold your breath before you go under!" Vila abstractly wondered if he was going to get across before Avon drowned them both. Grabbing his burden by the neck under one arm and stroking forward with the other, he set out again across the lake. The current was starting to grow stronger as they neared the center. Doubtless something nearby was draining the lake into another chamber. Vila shuddered at the possibility that the suction might draw them under. Great…that was all he needed. Avon was still struggling in near panic against the sensation of floating and it was all Vila could do to progress forward. I'd laugh about this, he thought, if the joke wasn't on me.

It seemed an eternity before his knees suddenly scraped bottom and he hauled himself and Avon against the far bank. They both weakly struggled up, spitting water in near exhaustion.

"Remind me not to take you to the beach," Vila muttered, wringing out his hem.

"Shut up," spat Avon, looking waterlogged and more angry than Vila could ever remember.

He barely cared, at this point. Struggling to his feet, he unhooked the lamp from his belt and switched it up higher, grateful that the device was constructed to work in anything from the vacuum of space to a full force hurricane.

They trudged upward, toward the surface.

"There they are," Cally cried from the teleport console, where she and Blake had been anxiously monitoring for the overdue pair. "They've just made the surface!"

"Teleport," Blake said tensely, one hand clenched into a hopeful fist. He had nearly given up hope.

The teleport chamber started its characteristic hum and hiss, and two shimmering forms started to appear on the platform.

"Get ready to break orbit, standard by ten. We've got pursuit ships closing on our positions," Blake spoke to Jenna on the communicator.

"Standard by ten," confirmed Jenna from the flight deck.

Avon and Vila materialized.

Cally stared, her jaw dropping.

Blake stared.

His computer expert was dripping wet, water still puddling underneath him as his ruined leather outfit drooped lopsidedly. His hair was plastered and stringy, and Kerr Avon's expression would probably drop a Federation Commander at nine paces. He looked like a drowned cat. Gathering what little dignity he had left, he stalked off the platform and headed for his quarters, his boots making a soft squelch-squelch sound. He did not make it out in time, however, to miss hearing Roj Blake bellow with uncontrollable laughter. If Avon had looked the worse for wear, Vila Restal was indescribable. He appeared to be wearing the remains of an elegant, drape-like evening gown, the smeared remains of makeup, and a lovely, gem encrusted necklace.

"D-did y-you get the gems…?" Blake gasped, struggling for control.

In answer, Vila jumped up and down a few times and the contents of his dress front fell out, clattering to the platform, along with the stuffing.

Cally's shoulders were starting to shake now.

"Very good work, Vila," Blake gasped, regaining his breath. "And may I say, you look lovely tonight."

Vila gathered himself up and wobbled toward the corridor. "Just get me a date who can swim next time!" he muttered.

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Ashton Press/Ann Wortham

Leah Rosenthal

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