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Absent Friends

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The Liberator is a bloody big ship. It's great if you want to find a quiet corner to yourself and mope.

Not so great if you realize, a couple of hours later, that you were hoping somebody would notice you're off in a corner by yourself and ask what's wrong.

Vila returns to the main deck, using the emergency stairs instead of the lifts because he feels like trudging. Maybe he'll run into Cally, and she'll know what's wrong without even asking, and they'll have a nice adrenaline and soma together and maybe play vertical chess. That'll be good. That'll be an easy few hours.

Naturally, the first person he sees is Avon, coming out of the wardrobe room wearing a leather coat that's very tight and very very black. "Nice," Vila says. "All you need's the eyepatch."

"And all you need, Vila, is - "

"Sod off."

"Oh, dear, has Cally changed the locks on the medical cupboards again? I hear soma withdrawal is - "

"I mean it. Just sod off." If he really meant it, he'd walk away, but the rotten truth is that a row with Avon is better than nothing.

"Believe me, the thought of you selecting some more of those . . . garments is no inducement to stay. It's unpleasant enough seeing them on the flight deck." Avon crosses his arms and looks haughty. You'd think it came naturally to him, except he practices all the time. "And by the way, you can damn well tidy up."

"What?"

"You put Gan's things back in the wardrobe room. They're taking up space."

Vila almost asks why Avon assumes it was him. But who else would have done it? Not Blake, busy feeling guilty in public. Vila shrugs.

Without moving at all, Avon manages to sneer. "It's not as though he's going to need them."

For a second or two, Vila imagines punching him, or at least spitting on him. But he can't even muster up the anger. "You know, Gan once told me you weren't as bad as you tried to seem. But he was wrong."

On second thought, he doesn't feel like angling for Cally's ready sympathy. Maybe he'll just go and get some kip.

"Gan liked to see the best in people," Avon says, flatly, to his retreating back as he starts trudging away.

Vila turns. "Don't pretend you liked him. You always said he was stupid."

"He liked to see the best in people."

Avon thinks he's being clever, but it's true. It's the kind of thing you could put on a memorial banner, along with some photos and plasticloth flowers and the words to his favorite songs. If they were having a memorial, which it looks like they're not. Maybe alphas don't. Everyone on the Liberator's an alpha or an alien now, except Vila.

It's true, Gan trusted. Gan looked for the best. No wonder he's dead.

"He was my friend," Vila says. The rest of it--Who's your friend, Avon? Have you ever had one?--he just lets hang in the air like fumes.

He turns away from Avon, who's still standing there like a cold black tower, and heads for his room. Where he can be alone.