So far, Vila had managed to get into almost every room on the Liberator; not that most of them were that interesting. The majority were empty, some had unrecognisable things stored in them which he was unwilling to experiment with, and some were full of functioning equipment which he preferred to leave alone in the hopes it would continue to do so.
This room, however, was a challenge. Just when he thought he was almost through, the configuration of the lock would change. Must be those nanobots Zen had.
"C'mon, Zen, what're you hiding? You know I'm no danger. Or is it something that'd hurt me?"
"Information: vacuum is not advised for your continued existence." Zen's voice sounded all around him. "However your assistance and discretion may be required, Vila Restal."
Vila was consumed with curiosity. "All right."
"Atmosphere being added."
There was a rushing noise from the other side of the door, then a distinct click. Hesitantly, Vila pushed the door open, and stood there, gaping.
In the middle of the hexagonal room hung a tiny Liberator, seemingly held there by beams of pulsing light. At first, Vila thought it was a holographic representation of the ship, but it was oddly rounded and its stubby prongs reminded him of the tiny triangular tails of newborn kittens.
Avon had said that Zen was partly organic.
Vila found his voice. "A baby Liberator!" He stepped forward, entranced. "You pregnant, Zen?"
"That is an acceptable analogy."
"Can I ...." Vila reached his hand out. "May I touch it?"
Vila half-expected it to be warm, but the little ship was as cool and metallic as a model. However, when he gently ran a finger over it, it shivered and moved slightly, and Zen hummed. "Did you like that?" Vila asked the baby ship, and it pressed against his hand.
"The sensation is pleasant, for both entities," said Zen.
Vila knew he was grinning foolishly. "I'm going to call you Libby," he whispered to the little ship. Then he remembered what Zen had said. "What sort of help d'you want, Zen?"
"This place is right at the centre of the Liberator, where it is safest. When the time comes, the new entity must be guided to an airlock."
"To be born!"
"Confirmed." Zen paused. "Information..."
Vila had the feeling Zen was embarrassed. "What? Go on, you can tell me."
"A certain fuel is... desired."
"Eh? What sort?"
There was another pause. "Plutonium 241."
"Zen, that stuff is dirty! What d'you need it for?"
"It is not needed."
"Ahhh." Vila, getting it, laughed. "You want junk food, like pickles and ice cream! Don't worry, mate, humans get like that too. My mum went for cheese and curry, but her best friend ate all the foam out of her soft furnishings, couldn't help herself. She said she wouldn't mind because it didn't upset her stomach, but her couch went all lumpy. Mind you," he added thoughtfully, "plutonium isn't that comfy to be around either."
Zen was silent, but Vila thought it was rather a wistful silence. "Oh, all right," he said. "I'll see what I can do."
Vila visited Libby every day, enchanted with the whole idea of a baby ship, and Zen didn't seem to mind; in fact quite the reverse, although Vila wasn't sure how he could tell.
As for the plutonium Zen craved. it wasn't easy getting Blake to attack a Federation nuclear research facility, but the rumour, casually imparted, that Servalan was considering creating an army of radiation-resistant shock-troops at one of them worked well, as did some well-acted reluctance to go on the mission. Once down there under Blake's irritated orders, it was easy enough to slip away and lift--well, stagger under the weight of--a lead canister of the stuff.
"What the hell have you got there, Vila?" asked Avon when they materialised back on the Liberator.
"Dunno yet. But it must be valuable to be in this thing."
"It's a radioactive isotope, you fool." Avon moved away with distaste. "Do feel free to open it, but make sure you're far from the rest of us."
"And after all the trouble I went to, too." Vila looked appropriately mournful. "I'll get rid of it."
He ended up rolling the thing down to the stardrive room. "Um Zen? I'm not that keen on opening this."
"It is not necessary. It will be... consumed... as is."
"Right. Well, enjoy your little treat." Vila got out with alacrity and just after he locked the blast doors, he heard what sounded very like a sigh of ecstasy.
Vila sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes. "Whassamatter?"
"It is time."
"Oh! Right! Typical, innit," said Vila, pulling on trousers and tunic. "Always get born in the middle of the night, babies."
Down in what he thought of as the womb room, the little ship, now almost as big as Vila, hovered at the intersection of the light beams.
"Um, what do I do?"
"Guide the entity out." Zen's voice was soft, almost gentle. "It is not good for it to be alone after the connection is broken."
Vila stepped forward, his hand out to caress Libby. The light beams snapped off, and what he thought of as her bottom glowed gently violet as she turned towards him, nudging up against him. "Come on, little one," he said fondly.
He walked through the corridors with the ship beside him, his hand resting on top of her main section. Soon the little creature--vessel?--would be very much alone; he kept up a barrage of reassuring babble, not even sure that she could hear him. "You'll be all right. Never know your luck in a big galaxy, that's what my mum always said. Besides, you're a DSV. Deep space vehicle, that means, so where you're going is where you’re meant to be. Like me here. I probably wasn't that keen on being born, but then I'd never have found out about light and colour and cheese and vinders and the pleasure of picking a good lock... And here we are." Impulsively, he put his arms around the ship and kissed her. "Goodbye, Libby. I'll always remember you. Don't forget me, will you."
At the airlock, he stood with his face pressed against the glass as the outer door opened and Libby rushed out, dwindling to a tiny glowing mote in the vastness of space. Before she disappeared against the stars, she paused briefly and turned towards him--to say goodbye to him, or to her parent? He blinked, trying to clear his suddenly blurred vision. "Closest I'll come to being a dad, but I'll settle for uncle."