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The Burnweed Incident

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“Avon, would you please stop scratching?” Cally asked with a sigh. “You're only scraping off the salve before it has a chance to work.” She grabbed an arm and pulled it towards her, slapping another handful of odd-colored gel on an angry red patch.

“And how long will it be until it has any effect?” Avon was glaring at her, the gel, Vila trying to medicate his other side, and everyone else in the room. “You started applying this... odious mixture forty minutes ago, and my skin still feels like every insect on that benighted planet has burrowed into it.”

“That shows that it is working,” Gan said from the cabinets. “We had this type of burnweed where I grew up. If you don't treat it, it feels like your skin is getting ripped off and the rest of you set on fire after the first hour.”

“You speak from experience, I suppose,” Avon snapped. He yanked his arm away from Cally just in time to grab the small towel preserving the last vestige of any modesty for the computer expert before it slipped entirely.

“Oh yes. I was five, and didn't know what it was when I pulled it out of the field. My hand swelled up like a balloon, and it itched for over a month after it was treated. My father lectured me for weeks about how important it is to know what you're touching, and to get treated for burnweed right away.”

Avon turned pale under his full-body rash. “You can't seriously expect me to believe that this rash can get worse .”

“It can, and even more, according to Zen,” Blake rattled the pages he'd carried into the surgical unit. “I had him print it for you, in case you wanted to read up on it. Quite a nasty little plant, apparently.”

“A nasty little plant that grows in great big fields that careless, clumsy leaders push people into!”

Blake looked suitably abashed at that. “I am sorry, Avon. I just wanted to keep you from getting shot. I didn't know about the burnweed, I promise.”

“That's a very small comfort, Blake. Next time, let me get shot. Or shoot me yourself. It would be preferable.” Avon's free hand had started scratching again. Blake's eyes followed it with a puzzled look on his face.

Avon's glare intensified. “What?” he demanded.

“Purple,” was all Blake could stammer at first.

“What?”

Blake tore his eyes away. “Cally, why is Avon turning bright purple?”

“WHAT?!?” Avon looked down at his stomach. It was indeed turning an eye-watering shade of purple. So were his arms, his legs... he looked back up, a dangerous glitter in his eyes. “Vila...” he snarled.

“It was the only strong topical medication they had!” Vila protested. “It's not my fault this planet has a skin-coloring fad right now!”

“You couldn't steal something else?! Anything else?”

“It was purple or yellow. Everything else was sold out.”

Avon closed his eyes, an expression of pure mental pain on his face. “And you were planning to tell me when?

“After I'd locked myself in my quarters, preferably.”

“I'm surprised you didn't do that the moment you got back on board.”

“Welll....”

“Cally said if he didn't help out and turn his hands purple along with hers, she'd demonstrate exactly what the Auronar do to thieves back home,” Gan said with a smile. He handed Avon a glass of something green.

Avon took it, and transferred his now interested gaze back to Cally. “How wonderfully vicious. But I'm curious. What, exactly, do you do to thieves on Auron?”

Cally twisted open a new container. “We lecture them about civic duty, mostly. Occasionally we have repeat offenders, and we make them pick up litter in the city.”

“WHAT?!” Vila dropped his container. There was an explosive, quickly muffled snort of laughter from Blake. Gan's grin got wider. “You mean I did all this, even turning my hands purple,” he yelled, lifting his rapidly brightening hands in the air, “for no good reason?!”

“You at least can wear gloves,” Avon snapped. He'd forgotten how much he itched for almost a full minute while angry at Vila, and now it seemed to have doubled in response to that lack of attention. He also wanted to scratch some very private portions of his anatomy now, and a room full of people watching him was the last thing he needed. Thank God Jenna was monitoring the flight deck! “Can I go soon? I can do most of this myself, you know. And would prefer to.”

“It's important to get all of the rashes covered quickly, before second-stage inflammation can start,” Cally responded. “Once it has a chance to set, you can take care of any reapplication yourself.”

“You should be cured in about four days,” Gan said. “It'll itch for awhile after that, but it won't be so agonizing as it is right now.”

“Good. And when can I expect to stop looking like a confectionery?”

Gan picked up one of the empties and squinted at the label. “Ummm...three weeks.”

Avon dropped the glass. Vila, who had been waiting, caught it neatly. “That's perfectly good soma you almost dumped all over the floor,” he scolded.

“Three weeks? You dyed me purple for three weeks?!”

“And ourselves too!” Vila protested. “Don't forget that!”

Avon took a breath. Released it. “Fine. Now that we're done with Blake's wretched colony uprising, I at least don't have to to be humiliated in front of hundreds of people. I expect it will take you at least that long to get us involved in a new ill-considered cause,” he sniped at the man in the doorway.

“Ah. Actually, Avon, I do need you sooner. We're heading to Varos, you see. There's a rebel faction that's desperate to get into a secure Federation computer system, and I promised...”

“...My help.”

“Yes. It's important Avon...”

“When is it not?” Avon sighed, and took the gel container from Cally. “All right, Blake. But on one condition only.”

Blake relaxed a little. Won it again. “And that is?”

Everyone agreed that Avon's aim had been magnificent. Also that purple wasn't really Blake's color, but that a rebel leader with a neon purple face and hair was extremely memorable...