All the Gin Joints

by Executrix


First Mate's log

Vila Restal here, making my regularly scheduled log entry. Dunno why we have a log, not bloody likely we'll forget getting shot up and blasted with plasma bolts -- no, scratch that, poor old Blake's got a history of forgetting worse than that.

But still and all, it's not like we're in the sodding Space Command and we have to send briefings to our commanding officer, and it's not like we work for a business and we're somebody's direct reports. I mean, we're really a pirate ship, aren't we? Whoever heard of buccaneer bureaucrats?

But I suppose once we've been here a bit longer and Blake isn't so caught up in playing with his new train set, we can stop the carry-on with these bloody log entries. I mean, there was the time Blake wanted us all to wear the same sorts of clothes to build esprit de corps. Which spluttered out pretty fast. Take more than that to breathe life into this corps.

Oh, speaking of carry-ons, this might be more to do with a gossip column than a log, if there's a difference, but I don't see how I could leave it out. Or maybe I should, we'll probably still be chewing over it ages from now.

Anyway, what was I saying? Yeah. I was just coming off watch, but the monitor screen for the rear central plasma bolt launcher was flickering a bit. Just a bit, you'd hardly notice, and it was only, say, every ten minutes or so. Avon was just coming on watch, so I stuck around to ask him about it, waste of breath really, he had his head stuck into a hand calculator -- well not stuck into, you know, arsing about with some set of coordinates. The Rough Guide to Boltholes maybe.

Blake and Jenna weren't around, they got a message from a fella from Albian named Cauder, the big potato out there, one of his rebels was in schtuck. He was off two planets over, trying to work up a bit of interest in combining forces, but the other lot of rebels weren't having any of it.

Sure, they hated the Federation as much as the next insurrectionary, but they weren't throwing in with any bleeding Albians, ta very much. Not that I've got all the badges and annuals from the Federation Fan Club myself, but at least it keeps morons like them from slaughtering each other for stupid reasons. What's a bloke going to do, decide he's awfully sorry he was born on this chunk of rock instead of that one and spend the rest of his life making up for the mistake?

So the bloke had a wasted trip, and on top of that, he'd pranged his capsule on the way down. They wouldn't give him the sweat off their balls, much less a lend of a shuttlecraft. They wouldn't even give him a lift home 'cos they wouldn't mess up their precious shuttlecraft with Albian dirt (inside or outside).

Which gave him three choices: jump off a bridge, apply for Landed Immigrant status, or call home for help. Cleverly enough he took the last one, and Cauder passed the call along. Lately Blake seems to think he's the Intergalactic St John's Ambulance Corps, so we've been picking up everything except the clap.

When Blake and Jenna brought him back, they strolled in from the teleport bay, Blake talking sixteen to the dozen, he must be followed by a raft of three-legged donkeys everywhere he goes.

'And you're the armourer?' Blake asked.

'Not quite. I maintain the rifle and pistol ranges and do weaponry training.'

'Were you in the military?' A nice tactful way of asking if the chap was a deserter.

'Ra-ther not! I picked it up here and there. There's not much you can do with a Liberal Arts degree, after all.'

'Where were you?'

'University of the Federation, Terran Campus. Not yesterday, of course. Finished up about ten years ago.'

'That's a coincidence,' said Blake enthusiastically. 'I was at FEA around that time...' Well I bloody wasn't, so don't expect me to whip out a long stripy scarf and start singing the college song.

'It's a very large campus,' Cauder's man said dismissively. He wore one of those daft shirts of theirs, snot-green with a flap-over front -- what's that supposed to be, the universal symbol for 'we can't get it up'? He was nothing much to look at, ordinary height-ish, fairish hair grown long so he could brush it over the thin bits, a silly moustache. You'd remark his eyes, though: gorgeous deep blue like bluebells.

'This is Zen our main computer -- we also have navigation and battle computers -- and our computer expert,' Blake said as they got all the way onto the flight deck. 'And this is Vila, our...uh, our weaponry officer.'

He was sort of facing me, so he shook my hand.

'Posh computer,' he said over his shoulder to Avon's back. (They were facing away from each other, so they didn't see each other until they heard each others' voices and, well, sort of jumped up and shuddered until they landed back down.)

'Did you set all this up?' the other fellow asked, just politely, the way you do, but when he heard he practically swallowed his teeth.

'No, it came along with the ship,' Avon started to say, then his voice got a bit odd -- he'd already started talking and couldn't stop in time, like something that suddenly notices you've cut off its head. 'I've tweaked it a bit though.'

Avon had a surprisingly human and complicated expression on his face, in fact I felt sorry for him for it -- he looked at this chap hungrily, but sad, or maybe guilty.

'King 'ell, Guillam, I'd have bet money that you'd be long dead,' Avon said.

'I rather expected that you'd be one of the ones to do for me, KM,' he said.

'Did our political disagreements reach that level? I think not.'

'Political disagreements?' Blake asked, fascinated. And you could tell he was wondering about that 'KM' business too.

'I did him a favour once,' Avon said, turning towards Blake so his back was mostly to the other fellow. 'He didn't appreciate it either.'

'Bastard,' Cauder's chap said, it was almost a sob. He pulled Avon's shoulder around so he was facing him again. At first I thought he was going to hit him, that's pretty often what happens when you're practically standing on the feet of someone you've just insulted. Less here than you'd think, perhaps it's all the Alphas, they've got other ways of dealing with things. But I didn't have any doubt that Avon could sort him out.

What he, what they, did instead, really surprised me. The other bloke put his hand on Avon's shoulder and kissed him. I waited for the fireworks, well I suppose they happened but not the kind I thought. And it was Avon as much as the other fellow, I don't call putting your hand behind someone's head to pull it in closer much of an evasive move. I hung around a bit for the educational value, first time I ever saw two blokes devouring each others' faces like that.

Well, as I say, I was surprised. Never thought that about Avon. He always looked all right to me.


Guillam Dezjerdin's journal

It was a large enough campus that, in the two terms until I finished my degree, I hardly ever saw KM after I sent him packing. And I certainly wouldn't claim to have spent the intervening decade looking for him, or to have done without a sex life or any other kind of life. But that doesn't mean that I didn't regret the way things happened and didn't miss him and long for him. I just never expected to see him again, that's all.

If I'd stayed on Earth instead of going home when I finished my degree, I suppose I would have heard about the whole business. I might have gone around to see his family -- Jean always liked me, I had high tea there more often than was probably good for my digestion, she was the worst cook in the world. Jean put tinned pineapple in places Nature never intended it to go. It made her feel creative. Some hope I would have had introducing KM to my parents.

But I didn't stay on Earth, and KM told me, as smug as I remembered, that it was another bit of luck for me that I hadn't been there when it all happened, they went around gathering up everyone associated with him.

What I remember about KM is- His hair always smelled wonderful, like nutmeg. Only washed it every five minutes didn't he. He must have switched formulations, now it smells like pine needles and musk. I wouldn't expect him to wear his hair as long as it was then. Even I thought it was ridiculous.

He's still nearly as clumsy as ever. I can remember him walking around with his hands behind his back so he wouldn't knock anything over, so it's a surprise that he's quite a good shot. I'd expect him to learn, of course, put in a situation where he was a target, but the results were a lot better than I'd have predicted.

We couldn't face talking to each other just at first, and as for the inevitable, KM always liked prolonging his pleasures. So we went down to the firing range ('Isn't this manly?' he said; he used to be snarky and camp and pretty, and now he's grown into being beautiful). I'm glad that his groupings weren't as good as mine, it's my profession, after all. He's the only shooter I know who does better against moving targets, and best of all in initiative exercises. I suppose that ordinary targets bore him. Snap-shooting from fourth position plié -- well, it looks cute, but as a habit it may get him into trouble.

Perhaps clumsy isn't quite the right word. He could manage well enough when he had his hand stuck up a chassis or...

I don't think he really remembers he has a body, unless he's building something fascinating with it or he's behind a hard-on or a plate of chips. Albeit I've seen him get through a plate of chips at an Olympic 100-metre pace and spend five minutes kissing the palm of one of my hands, so he does know the difference.

After a while, no passion was spent. However, a good deal of ammunition was. We went back to KM's cabin, his cold hand in mine. As soon as the door closed behind us, I found myself going back to our old pattern: I kicked my shoes off, he left his on, so I wouldn't be taller.

His mouth opened beneath mine and, just as ever, it was like kissing an anemone. Even more tenderness than before, which I chose to interpret as regret and apology. He had a decade of new tricks to show me, one by one. But then, the problem was never any lack of technique.

The phantom of the tastes of the past: nutmeg and curry and the metallic note of tinned pineapple. And the taste of the present: ashes. You can't go back, ever, and a poignant and irresistible mistake is still a mistake.

He touched the gold ring around my neck, which hung from a thin chain. First a point of interrogation, then a caress. 'Robert'll understand, when I tell him,' I said.

'Of course,' KM told me. 'Anyone who lives in a haunted house, is grateful when the ghost is laid.'


Blake, in various unguarded moments

On the flight deck! And a military man too. What sort of idea of discipline is that? And with one of mine? A member of my crew?

Avon turned up in my cabin about when Jenna was taking Dezjerdin back in one of our shuttles. (No, we haven't got four of them, but we did find a spare one day -- it's amazing what turns up on a ship this size.)

'I wonder who else has a rebel background and hasn't mentioned it,' I said. 'Jenna knowing Avalon. You and this fellow of Cauder's, whoever he is.'

'Guillam was -- important to me.' It was one of Avon's hesitations that's like a dream, where you get so close to something but there's no explanation there at all, it just vanishes or shifts over to something else.

'It was something of a revelation,' I said.

'I've never troubled to conceal who I am.'

'No, not that you like men, where you grew up. Vila asked what kind of a mansion it was and Dezjerdin said that it was a semi-detached in an executive estate and Jenna fell about laughing and Vila just goggled at him. Cally didn't know what they were on about, well really I suppose your friend didn't either, being from Albian.'

'He spent enough time on Earth.' Avon went and leaned against the wall of my cabin near the door. He looked uncomfortable, whether from the situation or because he'd been caught out on the details of his CV. I was sad that I enjoyed his discomfort -- what sort of way is that to feel?

'I'm sorry,' he said, in a very unregretful tone. 'It was impolite, flaunting an outside attachment when none of you happens to have one at the moment. You must have been envious.'

'Jealous,' is what popped out before I could close my mouth.

And this time I was sorry to be so happy to astonish him.

'Nialla, Martha, Ghislaine...' he said. 'Nothing about men.'

I started to be angry but really couldn't. Everyone on the ship has discovered 'Ask Zen for the Dossier' as a parlour game to enliven a long night watch.

'And you?' I said. 'I'm astonished you ever managed to take one degree, let alone two, 'cos I don't see how you had time to do any work.'

'I have excellent powers of concentration,' he said. I was looking at where he used to be, now he was sitting next to me. On my bed. One of his hands disappeared into mine.

'Are you going away with him -- off to join him?' I asked, trying to keep my voice level. 'Now that you're back together? I'm sure Cauder can use a computer man, although I'm not sure how I'll be able to replace you.'

'We're not "back together",' he said, with a bracing scorn that did my heart good. 'It wasn't any good because he loves Lieutenant Commander Robert Halevi -- I think it's a bit absurd that Cauder sets up all those ranks, don't you? -- and because I love you.'

'You never!' I said.

'For all the good it does anyone,' he said. He used his free hand to settle my head down on his shoulder, then to stroke my hair, and his hand tightened in mine. It was a bit like going to the Tri-D, facing the same way and holding hands. And of course like the Tri-D it didn't stop there. The hand that wasn't in my hair any more stroked my neck, just the fingertips, and it tickled and it burned and his thumb was splayed out, almost touching my lips.

Well, who died and put him in charge of this? So I turned sharply, and when he knew what I was going to do he said, 'Oh, yes' and his eyes closed. I kissed him hard, and he kissed me back softly, wide-apart flicks of his tongue against mine, the only thing that seemed purposeful as his body melted into me.

'Let's lie down,' I said, before my torso turned into a corkscrew. He positioned his body scrupulously, side by side with me, no one on top. One of my legs was thrown across his body, but one of his legs was between mine, oh God, I didn't know anyone had prehensile thighs.

Like the Tri-D again. Coming off fully dressed, just from the heat and the excitement and the novelty. Novelty, yes you could say that. When the wave after sweet wave started to rock me, I groaned, 'No...' because I wanted to wait, wanted to explore the implications, wanted to haul him in after me, not to be alone there. But just at first I didn't get a chance to do anything else, because I was so relaxed that I dropped asleep. For an orgasm, it had a lot in common with being hit on the head with a cinder block set on stun.

'It's about ten minutes later,' Kerr said. He had put the time to good use: we were underneath the covers, our clothes were off, and I'd been cleaned up a bit with the wet facecloth that was folded (folded!) on the shelf inside the headboard. When he saw me blink awake, he gave a start, stopped doing what he was doing (caressing my face), and sat back on his elbows.

'Start again?' he suggested. 'Take it from the top?'

Da capo al fine


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