"Just what did you put in this, Vila? Ground glass?"
"Just the usual spices. Why? Tastes all right to me."
"Well, my throat feels as if it's been scoured by acid. If this is one of your jokes, you'll live to regret it." Avon took a drink of water and grimaced in pain.
Dayna and Tarrant put down their cutlery and looked at their curries suspiciously. Only Cally continued to eat.
"Oh now look, nothing but the best veges, spices and cream in that."
"All the same, Vila." Tarrant got up.
Dayna did too. "I wasn't that hungry anyway."
Vila looked at Cally.
"There is nothing wrong with it as far as I can tell," Cally said, continuing to shovel it in, pausing only to pull Dayna's plate a little closer.
"I'll put the rest in the fridge for us then," Vila said. "A good emergency snack for us." He sighed. At least someone appreciated his cooking.
Vila appeared on the flight deck the next morning with less than his usual bounce. "You couldn't let me have some adrenaline and soma, could you, Cally? My throat's a bit scratchy and it might soothe it."
"Got up in the night to get some ice-cream for it, but Avon must've scoffed the lot, and I know there was some caramel there yesterday. And some maple and walnut." Vila looked resentful. "Hope those walnuts hurt on the way down."
"Not you too, Vila."
"Me too what?"
"Tarrant and Dayna have sore throats as well."
"Yeah, if you did put something in that curry, Delta-boy," Dayna growled, "I'll pin your ears to the top of your head."
"Oh come on, I'd hardly do it to myself, would I?"
"Not deliberately, no." Tarrant looked thoughtful. "Perhaps Cally got your plate."
"Stop it, the lot of you," Cally said, exasperated. "You were all down on Sardos and you must have caught something there."
"You mean a bug!" Vila looked alarmed. "I hate bugs."
"I don't suppose they're that keen on you," Dayna said.
Vila ignored her. "What is it?" he asked anxiously. "Casarus swamp fever? Fosforon plague?"
"I have consulted the medical computer. You all seem to have the symptoms of the common cold."
"The what?" Avon came in.
Vila, relieved, took one look at him and grinned with delight. "Fancy you getting something common, Avon!"
Avon attempted to look supercilious but the effect was spoiled by his swollen red nose.
"There was no one with a cold down there, Cally," Tarrant said. "How did we catch it?"
"Apparently people are infectious before they show symptoms. You must have all come into very close contact with someone."
"Oh." Vila looked guilty, then elaborately casual.
"Ah." Tarrant pretended to be fascinated by his monitor.
Avon narrowed his eyes at them both, then picked on the closest one. "Vila. Explaid."
"Um, well, you know how I found Servalan all tied up?"
"Vila! You didn't!" Dayna was appalled.
"No, of course I didn't! I didn't do anything! I just untied her, well, couldn't leave her there like that, could I, place was full of psychopaths—"
"—and she was very grateful—"
"Oh, come on, I mean Servalan, well, she scares me."
"And who doesn't?"
"Now, look. I'd rather kiss a snake." Vila looked embarrassed. "Thing is, she kissed me. Grabbed me and threw me on the ground and planted a good one."
"I did put up a struggle." Vila was beginning to enjoy himself now that he had everyone's attention, a rare enough occurrence. "Which she might have misinterpreted as passion. She liked it a lot more than I did, honestly, it's hard to get into the spirit of the thing when you're terrified. Must've been good though 'cause she came back for another one. In fact she might've gone a bit further if she hadn't realised what was poking into her really was my gun."
"Ah," said Avon. "I did fide it puzzlig that she spared your life, worthless as it is."
"Saved it three times, actually," Vila said proudly.
Just as well they didn't know about the e-mails he and Servalan had been exchanging for over a year. Or what she'd said. Why, Vila. Just as innocent and cheeky in the flesh. I should enjoy corrupting you. It gave him the willies just thinking about it, all that fright and delight at the same time.
"What about Tarrant?" he said, to take the heat off himself. "She could have killed him too, but she didn't."
"Yes," Avon said, as silkily as he could manage, which wasn't much. "What about Tarrad?"
Tarrant looked sulky, then flashed a dazzling smile at them. "What did you expect? Of course we kissed."
"Tarrant!" Dayna leaped up and scowled at him ferociously.
"She was looking for her pilots in the compound, and when she saw me, she said it was an opportunity she couldn't afford to pass up." Tarrant leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, and grinned smugly at them all.
Best they didn't know what she'd said. This is hello from your uncle Dev. Just passing it on in my own special way, dear boy. They wouldn't like to know about his family connections, the only reason he thought he was still alive. Well, one of them anyway—that was one hell of a kiss, and it mightn't have stopped there if there hadn't been so many people milling around.
Tarrant and Vila looked at each other speculatively.
"You two make me sick." Dayna turned her back and stalked off the flight deck.
Avon was livid with fury. He had assumed that Servalan's interest in him on Sarran had been an indication of her refined taste, but an idiot thief and a toothy flyboy? He vowed that the next time he saw Servalan he would leave her in no doubt of what she was missing.
"Still doesn't explain how Avon got a cold, and before us too," Vila said.
"Yes, what did you do, Avon?" Tarrant leaned on his console, his chin on his hand.
Dayna paused on her way out. "Avon ate an apple."
Vila screwed up his face. "Is that some sort of euphemism I'm not getting?"
"Certaidly dot! It was a golded delicious," Avon said with dignity.
Cally shook her head disapprovingly. "You obviously didn't wash it first. Hygiene is most important, especially on outlying planets. Really, Avon."
A muffled explosion almost made Vila drop his adrenaline and soma. "What was that?"
"Zed! Scadders!" Avon snapped.
Zen remained silent.
"Log rage scadders!"
"I don't think he understands." Vila, still clutching his glass, made for the weapons station. "Zen, force wall up and scan for hostile ships."
Vila drained his glass with one hand as he powered up the neutron blasters with the other.
"Sorry," Dayna said, coming in. "That was me. I sneezed."
"I'm amazed you didn't blow your brains out your nose then," Vila said, impressed. "Loudest one I ever heard."
"I dropped a grenade I was working on." Dayna threw herself onto the couch. "I feel terrible. Has Orac come up with a cure yet?"
"If he has," Avon said, "we'll bake a fortude. There is doe cure."
"Avon is right, but we can treat the symptoms," Cally said, bringing in a tray of vials and syringes. "This will make you feel much better, but you will have to get plenty of rest and drink lots of liquids."
Vila brightened. There could be compensations.
"Avon, you first." Cally worked her way around the flight deck, injecting each crewmember in turn. "This should fix your sore throats, allow you to breathe freely, and stop you sneezing or coughing. It will not cure the cold though. You should try to relax and allow your bodies to deal with it. I recommend Auron meditation exer—"
Avon made a strangled sound.
Cally sighed. "Oh, Avon. You did not look ridiculous in that position. Blake and Jenna found them quite beneficial and—"
Avon pitched forward, landing flat on his face.
"What d'you call that one then?" Vila said. "The prone prat?" The grin disappeared from his face when Avon failed to respond. "Uh, Cally? I think I'd rather have the cold..."
Cally pushed him aside and knelt by Avon, feeling for his pulse. "He has anaphylactic shock. He must be allergic to something in the medication. Quick, help me get him to the medical unit."
Vila put one of Avon's arms across his shoulder while Cally took the other. "He'll be all right, won't he?" he asked anxiously.
"Don't worry, Vila. Of course he will be."
"Worry? I'm not worried."
"No, Vila. No more than he would be about you."
"What's that supposed to mean? Shouldn't we go a bit faster? Are you sure he'll be all right?"
"He will be soon." Cally kicked the door to the medical unit open. "Help me get him onto the bed. That's right."
"He looks a funny colour. Bit like that yoghurt I forgot about for a month."
Cally quickly prepared a syringe and pulled Avon's sleeve up.
"What's that stuff?"
"Without the soma? Doesn't seem right, somehow."
"There. That should do it."
"He looks a bit pinker now," Vila said hopefully. "He really is going to be all right, isn't he, Cally?" He leaned over and peered at Avon, so closely their noses almost touched.
Avon's eyes flickered open and he flinched so violently he almost fell off the bed. "What the hell are you doig, Vila? The sight of your face loobig over bide is hardly codducive to recovery. And just what are you griddig at?"
"Poor Avon," Vila said, leaning back on the couch. "And poor Avon's nose. Just look at it."
Avon was sitting at a table in the far corner with an inflamed dripping nose, his latest gadget, his tools, the Sopron, a large box of tissues, and an even larger pile of used ones. He sneezed extravagantly.
"Gesundheit!" Tarrant said.
"Nothing worse than a tight gesund," said Vila, pouring them another drink.
Tarrant laughed and lifted his glass to Vila. "I never thought I'd ever see you drinking water."
"Nothing wrong with it, especially with a bit of carbon dioxide in it to give it some fizz. Best drink there is for thirst. Relaxing or having fun though, that's another matter."
"Talking of relaxing, surely those Auron exercises aren't that bad."
"Dunno really. I was banned for laughing at them all. I mean, you should've seen it. Avon with his head on the floor and his bum up in the air, and Blake grabbing at his ankles from behind."
"Avon's?" Tarrant looked startled.
"Nah, his own. Jenna looked all right though. Lying on her front with her, um, front sticking out in front. She got annoyed with me too, dunno why. Cally—" Vila got into the lotus position, "—Cally was like this."
Tarrant raised his eyebrows. "What a flexible little chap you are. Perhaps that explains it."
"Servalan. I can quite see why two attractive people should be unable to resist a good opportunity, but that doesn't explain you."
Vila looked hurt. "I have my own charm. I'm witty and very cuddly. And anyway," he grinned smugly and raised two fingers, "that's how many kisses I got. One more than you."
Tarrant smiled brilliantly back. "She only needed the one from me."
"Oh, shut up you two," Avon said. He sank his head in his hands. His only consolation was that the Sopron had a worse cold than he did.
There was a distant explosion, closely followed by a second one.
"I didn't think Dayna was sneezing any more," Vila said.
"She isn't," Tarrant said. "After what happened with Servalan, she made up some targets that look like us."
"She using cheat-seeking missiles in your case?"
Tarrant looked uncomfortable. "There was never anything between us but friendship."
"Just your clothes and an explosive tooth on Ultraworld from what I heard."
"I shall recobbedd to Dayda that there is doe substitute for live targets," Avon said, gingerly dabbing at his swollen and tender nose. "Id fact at this poid I would be happy to assist her."
"Ah, there you are, Avon," Cally said, entering. "I have consulted Orac for natural remedies and made some up." She held up a small jar. "This is a decongestant containing eucalyptus. Come with me so that I can apply it."
"Apply it?" Avon said suspiciously.
"Yes, rub it onto your chest. The heat generated will help your lungs, and the fumes should clear your airways."
"Fubes?" Avon looked appalled.
"Don't worry, Avon," Vila said brightly. "You can't smell anything anyway."
Cally sighed "Come now, Avon. It should help."
"Certaidly dot." Avon drew himself up, offended, the effect spoiled by the drip on the end of his nose. He snuffled miserably.
"You're a snivelling coward, Avon," Vila said gleefully. "Cally can rub my chest anytime with whatever she likes." Both Avon and Cally glared at him, and he put on a mournful look. "And she should. I've got a weak chest you know. It needs to be looked after. I'm prone to bronchitis."
Cally frowned and went over to him. "Are you having difficulty breathing?" she demanded.
"No," Vila admitted.
"He will sood," Avon said, glowering.
Cally, taking a closer look at Vila, softened. "Why, Vila. You are taking my advice after all. In a relaxing and healthy position and drinking water. Well done. Avon, you should follow Vila's good example."
Avon gritted his teeth and decided that being treated like a child by Cally was preferable to the infuriatingly smug look on Vila's face. He tried to gather a few shreds of dignity. "Zed. Codfirb course seved zero dide."
Zen remained obdurately dark. Vila spread his arms along the back of the couch, put his feet up on the table, and said languidly, "Course seven zero nine, Zen, there's a good fellow."
Avon glowered and followed Cally out sulkily.
Vila looked a little guilty. "Zen?"
Zen's lights flickered.
"Avon's nose is stuffed, in more ways than one come to think of it, so he can't say some consonants. All his Ns are Ds and his Ms are Bs. If you know that, can you understand what he says?"
Zen's lights sped up in thought, then he said, "Confirmed."
Tarrant looked at Vila in surprise. "That was kind."
"Well," Vila wriggled, embarrassed. "Felt a bit sorry for him." A mischievous look crossed his face. "However...Zen, I think Avon would feel a lot better if you responded to him in the same way."
Avon peered at his glass. "What is this disgustig liquid? It resebbles a biological waste product."
"Here," Vila objected, putting his drink down on the mess room table, "I was enjoying that."
Cally frowned at Avon. "It is hot lemon and honey. It has natural vitamin C and anti-oxidants, and is very good for you. And don't put the others off, Avon, especially Vila who is being most co-operative."
Vila smirked at Avon, who narrowed his swollen eyes—not that that was much effort—and said, "Vila is skatig od thid ice ad Vila doze it."
"Leave Vila alone." Cally compressed her lips in exasperation, reminded of her stint looking after children in the crèche on Auron. Unlike her sister Zelda, she had not been cut out for it. Rebellion had been an easier option. "Drink your lemon and honey, all of you, while I serve up the soup."
"Soup!" Tarrant rubbed his hands together with pleasure. "A three-course meal. Excellent."
"My mum always said 'feed a cold and starve a fever'," Vila said.
"Feed a dolt ad starve a thiever?" Avon asked. "She bust have foud that codradictory advice id your case."
Vila looked offended. "My mum was very fond of me."
"I suppose there had to be someone by the law of averages," Dayna said.
Vila glared. "She wasn't the only one either. Remember how I caught this cold?"
"Oh, I do." Dayna toyed with her knife, and Vila nervously shifted his chair further away.
"Here we are," Cally said, putting a steaming plate down in front of Avon. "Chicken soup."
Dayna grinned. "I shot that on Axtos 5!" She looked sideways at Vila. "Chickens make good sitting targets."
Avon glared at Cally. "Are you seriously suggestig that consubig boiled up bits of dead bird will help?"
"Yes," Cally said patiently. "Drink it up. It will strengthen your immune system and may help clear your sinuses."
"The size of that snout," Vila said, "you'd need a whole pterodactyl."
"Shut up, you fool."
Vila looked alarmed. "It's spread to his brain. Even his synapses are clogged up. He can't get out a decent insult."
Avon ignored him and stirred the soup distastefully. "Admit it Cally. It's a placebo."
"No, Avon," Vila said innocently. "You take it orally." He moved smartly out of range.
Cally served Tarrant and Dayna and fetched the last two plates. "Get back to the table, Vila. Avon, eat your soup. Dayna, stop playing with your cutlery. Take that look off your face, Tarrant." She stopped, horrified that she was slipping into old patterns of behaviour. But really, they were all like children. "Here you are, Vila. Don't worry, it is tofu like mine. And if you eat it all up, Avon, you can have some ice-cream."
"Ah, Avon." Cally consulted the plastisheet she was carrying. "Orac has found some more natural remedies for me to try. I would like to give you a mustard compress."
"Thed you deed to fide a bore fulfillig hobby," Avon said. "Doe."
"What, not even if it's finest Dijon mustard from Outer Gaul?" Vila asked.
There was a brief gleam of appreciation in Avon's eyes. "That frob Idder Gaul is superior."
"I sit corrected." Vila grinned from the couch.
"Information. Forward sensors indicate a meteor storm on predicted flight path."
Avon looked up. "Thed plot a course aroud it. Bearing wud dide seved."
Avon went pale. "Zed's caught it too!"
"He can't. He's a computer," Dayna said.
"It is partly orgadic." Concerned, Avon started towards Zen with a probe, looking worried, but halted at a snigger from Vila. He looked at Vila suspiciously.
"Thought it might be company for you," Vila said. "Make you feel more at home."
"Vila—" Avon advanced on him.
"Oh now look, at least he understands you now." Vila never expected thanks, but the surprise on Avon's face followed by a flash of warmth was enough; he smiled back.
"Come along, Avon," Cally said. "If you do not want a mustard compress, how about a back rub with some alcohol." In response to Vila's reaction, she added, "It is rubbing alcohol, Vila, not the sort you drink."
"Who cares about that? Wouldn't mind the back rub no matter what you use." Vila looked at her appealingly. "I'm not well, you know."
Cally's lips twitched. "No, none of you are, but at least your symptoms are under control, Vila."
"I'm thirsty and tired and weak," Vila complained, and added quickly, "Well, more than usual anyway." He slumped and looked woebegone. "Oh, go on, Cally. I need a bit of looking after."
"Avon needs it more, Vila. Come, Avon."
Rolling his eyes, Avon followed her.
"Well, how about a eucalyptus chest rub?"
"An alcohol back massage?"
"Perhaps a little of that delicious chicken soup you make so well?"
"You are on cooking duty tonight. You can make it if you want it."
"A lemon and honey drink, then? Provided of course that it's good Ataro honey."
"Avon, for the last time, you are well now. No."