The Thought That Counts

Leah Rosenthal and Ann Wortham

Vila Restal strolled down the corridor toward the flight deck of the Liberator, hastily finishing the last of his breakfast. He was hungry and didn't like to be rushed at his meals, but he liked getting yelled at for being late to his watch even less. As he entered the deck area, however, it looked as if Blake and Avon were already preoccupied with yelling at each other. Typical. At least it let him off the hook, he reflected, as he quietly settled into his spot and watched from a safe distance, still munching on a half-eaten biscuit.

"If you're having trouble calibrating the oxygenating circuit bypass, Avon, you might spare me a lot of ongoing anxiety by admitting it."

The computer technician fixed Blake with a typically icy stare. "I'll admit to nothing of the kind. As it happens, I've improved the system in question since I first came aboard this ship. Minor progressive deterioration in the system has kept one step ahead, however, for the moment."

"The auxiliary airlocks lose effective function for a week, and you call it 'minor progressive deterioration'?" A smile quirked on Blake's lips, relieving his grave expression.

The grimace soured on Avon's face as he noticed Vila at his post for the first time and watched Vila gobbling down his biscuit guiltily. "I only call it that for the benefit of the laymen present," he purred. "For yourself, as something of an engineer. I'd call it pyromagnetic discharge in the interstices of the gamma, omega and VY758 foam panels beside the oxygenating circuit, combined with anterior Alvynian breakdown destab...destab…" A glazed expression had suddenly come over Avon's face as he made this astonishing verbal transition. He seemed to recover after a moment, to find the crew of the Liberator staring at him in open surprise and concern.

Shaking himself slightly, he returned his glare to Blake. "I haven't time for this nonsense," he declared acidly. "As you can see, it is the end of my watch, and I am fatigued, and if Vila were to assume his post a little more promptly.…" He turned to the thief in question, in time to see Vila pop the last of the biscuit into his mouth. Avon stopped dead, and a distinctly green cast came instantly to his features. With no other sound except a strangled moan in his throat, he made a mad dash for the corridor, apparently heading for his cabin.

Vila turned to stare at Blake, his eyes wide and worried. "That's the third time he's done that this week," he said.

Cally shared his puzzled expression. "Only the third time you've seen him do it, Vila. He's been doing that every day for a month."

"Don't you think an examination is in line?" Jenna suggested from her spot in the lounge area. "You know how he's allergic to everything except money. Maybe he's developed something."

"I don't know anything that would make him fall into babbling, like that," Blake said thoughtfully. "That's something new. You know our Avon, though...he'd rather bottle it all up until it either goes away or kills him."

"Just so long as he doesn't take the rest of us with him," Vila grumbled.

"I don't think that's likely," Blake smiled. "He professes to be too much of a loner to take us along for anything."

Cally finished setting out the midday meal and sat down at her own place. "Sorry about the leftovers," she joked. The meal was fresh, but the same menu that they had dined on the day before. She had an ongoing vow to herself to pick up some new meal programming in an otherwise military raid on the Federation sometime in the future.

Blake grinned and dug in to his vegetables and protein strips without comment or complaint. The rest of them followed suit, except Avon, who stared at his portion for a moment or two before gingerly picking up the fork. The rest of the crew surreptitiously watched him as he pushed the food around on his plate for a few seconds then sampled it. After he shrugged and started to eat, they turned their attention to other matters.

"You're sure there's nothing wrong with the machinery and such around my cabin, aren't you Blake?" Vila asked the rebel leader.

"I checked everything out yesterday," Blake explained placatingly. He reached for a pitcher. "There's nothing loose, nothing leaking, and nothing about to blow up." He grinned as he poured himself a glass of juice.

Vila looked only slightly soothed. I don't know, Blake. Are you sure? Those sounds...oh, well. Possibly my imagination."

"Maybe someone is picking your lock," Jenna quipped, eating a protein strip.

The irony of this brought a rueful grimace from Vila. "Amusing. I am surrounded by comedians." He dug into his own meal.

"Well, while you're all laughing, let's discuss that raid on Anaxar. I've determined that the Federation is definitely stepping up its function as an interrogation base, and I think a strike at this time would be decisive," said Blake.

"Don't you think they'll be on their guard after our last little foray at Westar...?" Jenna trailed off.

No one was thinking about the raid on Anaxar, at the moment. No one was thinking about it because Avon was leaning over the table, stabbing the protein strips off of Vila's plate and shoveling them onto his own. After taking the last one, he started to repeat the procedure with Blake's portion. Cally stared over the computer technician's oblivious head at Blake in alarm. Avon did not seem to notice the silence that had settled over the table. He resumed his seat wordlessly, and started eating the protein strips as if he was starving.

Vila broke the silence. "Well, I wasn't quite all that hungry, anyway..."

"Hush," Cally jabbed him in the side.

Avon seemed to slowly become aware that he was the subject of attention once again, and his frantic chewing slowed down to a stop. "What are you all staring at?" he snarled.

"Are you feeling all right?" Blake ventured, his expression neutral.

"Never better." Avon returned the stares around the table until they broke.

The meal resumed normally.

Blake blinked himself awake and look up at the chrono for the time. He grimaced. Intermittent insomnia was one curse of running a rebellion that he hadn't heard about. Pulling his big frame upright, he scratched his head and yawned. Might as well have a walk around as long as he was up. He dressed and stepped out of his cabin, tucking his hands into his belt. He strolled about the Liberator's corridors, relishing the quiet of the ship during this "night" shift. But he was pulled out of some deep contemplation by the distant but distinct sound of someone stirring. Cautiously, he followed the direction he thought the sound had originated from and found himself in the mess area. He peeked in.

Avon was sitting at the food preparation station, holding a piece of Dindari stalk. As Blake watched in stomach-churning horror, the computer tech casually sandwiched it between two pieces of Exbar root and took a bite.

Blake strolled in, feeling a bit queasy. "I've seen some pretty unusual taste combinations," he remarked to Avon, "but that one breaks new ground."

Avon looked not at all perturbed at either being discovered pursuing this unusual activity at this unusual hour, nor Blake's comment. "I awoke," he said with a philosophical tone, "and something in me cried out for this."

He took another bite to punctuate the sentence, and Blake could scarcely bear to watch. At this close range, he could smell the sweet odor of the Dindari having a war with the sour tang of the root. Yech. He had never pegged Avon for the exotic midnight gourmet type, and immediately attributed this new behavior to the already impressive list of recent bizarre goings-on.

He pulled up a chair at a discreet distance. "Your stomach will remind you of this tomorrow morning," he commented wryly.

Avon turned his stare into infinity toward Blake. "The only thing upsetting my digestion is Vila," he said absently.

"Avon..." Blake frowned.

"I believe as leader of this glorious rebellion, Blake, that you have more important concerns besides my personal gastrointestinal condition. For instance, your Anaxar raid is ob-obviously indica—indi—da-da-da-ga-da-da..." Avon trailed off once more, and again found Blake staring at him intently when his mind cleared.

"I think you may want to consider an examination," Blake said quietly.

"Don't be absurd," Avon sneered, putting down the remains of his odd sandwich. "There is nothing wrong with me, Blake."

"Are you going to sit there and tell me nothing is any different than usual?"

Avon stood quickly. "I'm quite capable of determining when a medical visit is called for." The familiar acid was back in his tone. "Good night, Blake."

Blake considered wishing him pleasant dreams as he left, but he somehow doubted that anyone who had consumed Dendari and Exbar root was going to have anything of the sort.

When Avon took his watch station the next morning, he didn't look any worse for the wear. He settled himself placidly in place and determined to be no different than his customary norm. Inwardly, he knew the crew was watching him, or rather that their attention was focused narrowly in his general direction, and he was superficially amused inside; however, he was worried. He was well aware of the erratic behavior that had started to seize him the past few weeks. In fact, the urge to break his normal behavior had started earlier than that, but it had only started to get out of his control recently. But he was reluctant to submit to a physical examination.

He was afraid there was nothing wrong with his body. He wondered what Blake and the rest of his motley crew would think if they knew about the hallucinations of floating in a dark sea, the dreams of being trapped he was having. He wondered how Blake would stare if he knew that his computer expert had looked at the simple computer circuitry of the troublesome oxygenator last week, and had suddenly drawn a total blank as to what he was looking at...he could not recall the name of a single component, the function of the smallest linkage, the capacity of the banks. It was as if he'd never seen a computer before in his life. When the episode had passed, he had found himself on the floor, staring at his fingers. The cold fear that he was going mad had replaced one of wonder, and he'd hurried back to his cabin. No, he didn't want anyone poking about his person. He was afraid of what they wouldn't find.

Avon returned his attention to his console and ran a check on the systems. Blake came in with Jenna a few minutes later, deep in conversation about Anaxar. Vila was bent over his own console, eyeing the screen intently. Avon ran a quick check on his own unit and confirmed his suspicions with amusement. The thief was tapping Zen's information banks for a lurid novel instead of monitoring systems as he should be. Avon opened his mouth to make a particularly appropriate, cutting comment...and watched in dull astonishment and dismay as his hand rose, almost of its own volition, and he tucked the fingers into his mouth.

Blake stared. Cally and Jenna stared. Vila heard the sudden silence, looked up from his screen and stared. Avon thought with a strange detachment that in some arcane manner, Orac and Zen were probably staring at him. He fought his own motor system to regain control and it took him a full minute to do so. When he did, Blake was already striding toward him with determination in his eye.

Avon knew what was coming.

"To the Medical Unit, Avon," Blake said softly.

"This is nothing of your concern."

"Isn't it?" the bigger man commented. "How can an examination possibly inconvenience you more than what's happening to you?"

"Nothing is happening to me, Blake," Avon hissed at him from close range. "I advise you to mind your own business."

"Considering the manpower I have at my disposal aboard this ship, Avon, this is my business." The hard edge on Blake's voice was rising to match Avon's.

"Oh, go let Cally have a poke at you, Avon," Vila prompted from his station. "Maybe she'll give you a soma reward if you're a good boy."

Avon didn't even bother to turn his head in Vila's direction to acknowledge the remark. "I do what I please, when I please."

"Why not think of it as a free medical benefit, compliments of the revolution," Blake tried. "If there's nothing to worry about, you can gloat over it to me all day."

"I already spend too much time humoring you, Blake...." Avon hesitated, his voice suddenly trailing off and his face suddenly turning grayish-green again. With a sudden movement, he rose and hurriedly started for the corridor in a repeat performance of the day before, heading for his cabin.

Vila hoped he would make it; judging by the expression on Avon's face it was unlikely. "He gives me the willies, sometimes," he commented. "How are you going to get him to take an exam?"

Blake rubbed his chin. "Somehow, I think he's at the turning point. By now, he'll have it done just to prove how wrong I am..." Blake grinned at Vila. "His favorite pastime."

It was some time later that day when Vila crossed paths with Avon again, and Vila inwardly flinched as he saw Avon coming in the corridor. To avoid an uncomfortable scene, Vila pretended to put his full attention on the portable sensor unit he was carrying as he passed.

He was about to think he'd gotten away with it when a hand closed around his forearm. "Let me see that," Avon said, holding his hand out for the unit.

"There's no need for that," Vila objected. "I'm only passing it along to Jenna, like Blake asked me to."

"I didn't ask for your itinerary, I want to see the unit."

"Why go to a lot of trouble for nothing?" Vila protested.

"Vila...," Avon warned, his hand tightening painfully on Vila's arm.

"OW! You're always bullying me, Avon. If you want this stupid piece of junk, there's no need to..." Vila's voice trailed off at the expression building on Avon's face.

The computer technician suddenly burst into tears and staggered backward. "I'm… I'm sorry..." he snarled at the astonished Vila, hunching slightly forward as he fought for control. He leaned against the wall, tears streaming down his face.

The sobbing brought Blake at a hurried pace down the corridor and he exchanged alarmed looks with Vila.

"Call Cally to Medical," Blake said quietly, stepping forward to grab Avon by the shoulders and steer him in that direction. "This has gone far enough."

Avon watched with dull disgust as the crew of the Liberator saw fit to meddle in the condition of his health. He would have mustered a comment to drive them all out of the Medical Unit if he wasn't afraid of what his system would decide to do next. So he lay quietly on the exam table, his expression hooded and grim.

Cally finished feeding the gathered readings into Orac. "Analysis?" she addressed the transparent unit.

"There is nothing physically wrong with Kerr Avon," Orac stated matter-of-factly.

The sinking sensation deepened and Avon knew Blake was watching him again.

"Is your morbid curiosity satisfied?" he said flatly.

"It might be something Orac doesn't know about," Blake reasoned.

"If it is, how can you expect to find a cure?" said the morose computer tech.

Cally sensed the fear Avon was inwardly projecting. "I can't help thinking that I've heard about these kinds of symptoms before," she frowned. "It just seems so familiar, and yet..."

"You are all going to excessively polite lengths to keep from saying what you think. I'm going insane."

Vila jumped into the uncomfortable silence that this pronouncement brought. "I think you just worry too much, Avon."

Jenna shook her head. "I've never heard of worry making someone crave strange food, become sick every morning and have wild mood swings."

"You're right," Vila pointed. "It almost sounds as if he's pregnant!"

In the collective glare his cheerful comment brought, no one noticed the dawning look of apprehension come over Cally's face. Uh-oh, she thought. Unobtrusively, she slipped out.

"Well, we'll work on the problem," Blake intervened, sensing a growing heat in the air between Avon and Vila. "For now, let's all resume our normal routine, shall we?"

They were all on the flight deck when Cally returned, her expression enigmatic. She strolled down to the lounge area and cleared her throat to get Blake's attention. "I've determined what's wrong with Avon," she announced quietly.

Blake looked up along with the rest of the crew. "Is it something best kept private?" he inquired.

"Eventually, it will be impossible to hide. It's already getting difficult for him. You'll be relieved to know, at least, that it's temporary."

"Well, what is it?" Vila sat up, all ears.

"You put me on to it, Vila," Cally, said. "Avon's expecting."

"Obviously, the insanity is contagious," Avon sneered from his station.

Blake ignored him. "What do you mean?"

"It is physiologically impossible," Orac piped up from a nearby pedestal.

Cally grinned suddenly. "No, no... Avon isn't actually pregnant—I am."

Blake shot to his feet. "How...?"

Avon was slowly rising himself.

"That's wonderful!" Vila chirped, joining her down by the lounge. "But if you're having the baby, why is poor Avon having the symptoms....?" his words trailed off as some of the answer to the question suddenly occurred to him. His grin grew to giant proportions as he watched the same answer come to each of them in turn, and they all turned to stare at Avon.

The stunned expression on Avon's face, Blake reflected, should be preserved for posterity. "That's not an unfair question, from a technical point of view," Blake addressed Cally.

"I suppose it's because I'm an Auron," Cally smiled. "I'm so used to shielding out other consciousness, I never suspected there was anything unusual. I shielded out the baby, too. But since it's genetically linked to Avon...and he's not an Auron, he can't block any of the symptoms or the baby's projections."

Vila noted with growing delight that Avon's face had gotten pink. "Marvelous!" he exclaimed, fairly dancing up to the computer tech. "You're going to be a daddy! You sly devil—"

Avon was making a massive effort to maintain a neutral expression, in spite of this onslaught.

"This is rather awkward," Blake commented, but he kept smiling. "But it does come as a relief to know you're not going mad, doesn't it?"

"I'm debating the point," Avon said quietly. "I presume that now that you are aware of your condition, Cally, you will be able to extend your shielding and spare me as well."

The Auron shook her head. "Oh, I'm sorry, Avon... I can only do that for myself. I suppose I'll have to put up with the physical discomforts myself...but you'll continue to experience everything."

The look of horror was starting to grow on Avon's face. "For how long?" his voice was strident.

"Oh, right up until labor," Cally said sweetly.

"Don't worry! Vila said brightly. I'll be there to hold your hand, Avon!" He slapped Avon on the shoulder.

This brought Avon's attention slowly around toward Vila, his face still frozen in stunned horror. "Labor?" he mouthed the word.

"Congratulations!" Vila pumped Avon's hand. He was clearly pushing his luck far beyond prudence, but his obvious evil joy at the turn of events was infecting the rest of them. "I'm going to be Uncle Vila! I like the sound of that...yes, I'll take my turn at babysitting and changing nappies."

"Vila...," Blake warned the oblivious thief. He didn't like the look that was starting to replace the horror on Avon's face.

"Do you think we can let out your leather outfits to make room for the baby?" Vila continued.

Cally recognized the awkwardness of the situation. "Vila, stop it. Nothing is going to physically happen to Avon. On the other hand. I'm afraid you're going to have to avoid any dangerous situations and brooding and think more cheerful thoughts, Avon...since the baby shares your link, all that grim feedback could affect him badly." She exchanged an apologetic look with Avon.

"We can't have that," Vila huffed. "I'll read you Mother Goose every night before beddie-bye, Avon."

"No...," Avon breathed, the enormity of what was happening settling in with full force. "This can't be happening to me..."

"I think it's charming!" Vila suddenly leaned over and pressed his ear to Avon's midsection in mock concern. "You hear me, Little Kerr? Uncle Vila will keep an eye on your welfare…." Vila barely dodged back in time to avoid Avon's downward blow. He stood a short distance away, hands on hips. "Well I don't know about the rest of you," he mocked, "but I look forward to hearing the sound of little feet on the Liberator."

"You may not live long enough to hear it," Avon snarled, his growing rage now focused entirely on Vila.

"Now, now, Avon...remember, cheerful thoughts!"

"I am thinking a very cheerful thought!" Avon started to advance on Vila. "I'm imagining wringing your neck."

Vila was affronted. "Say, I didn't get you into this situation, you know!" He looked at Cally, tilting his head thoughtfully. "So that explains all those strange noises I've been hearing at night...!" He was forced to bolt for cover as Avon seized the nearest blunt object and rushed him, determined to halt the stream of babble.

"Be reasonable!" Vila shouted as he was chased around the console. "You'll upset the baby!!"

"How many months of this will we have to endure?" Jenna looked up at Blake in exasperation.

The rebel leader watched the tableau in front of him for a moment or two more before he looked down at her, his eyes widening. "Good Lord, you have a point...what if Auron gestation lasts longer than nine months...?" he wondered.

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Ashton Press/Ann Wortham

Leah Rosenthal

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