The flight deck was peaceful for once. Early evening, and most of the crew were gathered there, but there was no squabbling. Simply the sound of pieces clicking against a game board as Gan and Vila matched wits, with the occasional not very snide comment from Avon and Jenna. Cally, nominally on watch, was watching her console.
It couldn’t last, of course. The first sign of trouble was Jenna knocking against the board as she squirmed on the couch.
“Jenna!” Gan said reproachfully, before gaping with surprise. As well he might. Jenna’s blouse, never that wonderful at hiding her charms, had given up on the job altogether and was now gracefully sliding off her shoulders. She shrieked, and clutched at the remains, much to the disappointment of her audience. It only availed her a few extra seconds of cover before the material dissolved away in her hands.
“Nice bra,” Vila said diplomatically – by his standards, at least.
“Vila, if this is your idea of a joke…” It was clear that it was not a joke that Jenna found funny.
“Nothing to do with me.” Vila hastily stood up, and moved out of reach. “Try Avon, maybe he’s found a new function in the autorepair system.”
Avon looked admiringly at Jenna before answering. “I have no idea what the cause is. Unfortunately.” His gaze drifted a little lower. “Is it a matching set?”
Jenna tipped her drink over him.
Avon spluttered and stood up, shaking his head to try and clear the sticky liquid from his hair and face. Vila complained loudly from behind the couch, “Hey, it’s your own fault, don’t try to share it with the rest of us.” His complaint went unheeded. Avon tried flicking the last of the drink from his arms. Then he started squirming.
“This itches! What on earth were you drinking?”
Jenna looked surprised, then smiled smugly, and stared at Avon. A few seconds later, Avon’s tunic started coming apart at the seams. Avon grabbed at himself to try and hold it together, then opted for pulling it off in disgust. A somewhat easier decision for him, as he was wearing a shirt underneath. Black, contrasting nicely with the red leather trousers.
Jenna made a great show of looking at his chest. “It’s nice to see what you keep under that leather tunic, Avon.” Her gaze drifted lower. “Is it a matching set?”
Avon actually blushed. Not as red as the remains of his leather suit, more a fetching shade of pink. He strode over to stand in front of Zen. turning his back on the others, and not coincidentally, removing his crotch from view. “Zen, what the hell is going on?”
“Nice arse,” Jenna commented softly. Avon’s fists could be seen to clench, very slightly, just as Zen answered.
“Don’t play dumb machine at me, you spend too much time trying to persuade us that you’re sentient for it to be convincing. What happened to our clothing?”
“Standard clothing life has been exceeded.”
“The design life of standard ship’s clothing is one year. Worn out materials will be recycled.”
“But they’re not worn out!” Jenna said.
“Design life is one year.”
“Computer logic, “Avon commented.
“Programmer logic,” Vila shot back. Avon turned around to glare at him, just in time to see the lower half of Jenna’s outfit start to dissolve. His eyes widened.
“I know!” She scrabbled at her trousers, then gave up. “At least the underwear’s new.”
Vila looked disappointed, then said, “Always have clean underwear on in case you’re in an accident, my mum used to say. Where are you going, Avon?”
Avon stopped sidling in the direction of the corridor. “To the wardrobe room, to find something that has been out of its packet less than a year.”
“Hang on,” Vila said, “we haven’t been on the ship a year! Why’s your clothing falling apart, if you put it on new? You did put it on new, didn’t you?”
Avon glared at him. “Of course I did. The one year lifespan refers to the year used by the builders of this ship.”
“Who were not Terran,” Cally added. “They would have used their own year, as the Auronar do.”
“So you, Jenna and Blake,” Vila said calculatingly, “all put on ship’s clothing when you first took over this ship…”
He was interrupted by a bellow from the corridor.
“Avon, Jenna!” Blake strode onto the flight deck, wearing nothing but a towel. “There’s a problem with the… ah, I see you’ve already found out. I wish Zen had seen fit to warn us of this before…” he gestured at himself. “Well, I’d prefer not to come out of the shower and find a heap of dust where I’d left my clothing.”
“Interference in crew activities is forbidden,” Avon mimicked sourly. “One of these days I’m going to find time to overhaul that damn machine’s programming. It’s time it decided whether it’s a person or a computer.” Then he looked horrified, and clutched at his crotch.
“Not a matching set after all,” Jenna said brightly. “In fact, not even a set. I prefer to wear something underneath, myself, I find that leather can chafe. But then men are built a little differently.” She giggled. So did Cally.
“That’s interesting, Avon,” Blake said, “you blush all over.” He looked pointedly in the direction of one part of Avon’s anatomy that was still hidden from view. “At least, the bits we can see.”
Avon cupped his hands even closer around the relevant bit, and started sidling towards the corridor again. He had only taken two crab-like steps when the shirt dissolved. Another step saw the last items of red leather vanish. Unfortunately for Avon, he wasn’t expecting the sudden disappearance of an inch of heel. Torn between protecting what little remained of his dignity, and flailing his arms for balance, he tumbled to the floor.
Blake won the race to Avon’s side. “Are you hurt, Avon?” He started patting down Avon’s arms. “Nothing broken?”
“Only my pride.” Avon, after one attempt to fend Blake off, had given up trying to protect his…dignity…, and had settled for sprawling on the floor. “Let me get my breath back, and then I’ll check myself over.”
“No, I think you ought to be checked for bruising. You did take quite a hard fall.” Blake did not mention which bit of Avon had hit the deck first and hardest, nor that it was a bit that Avon could not inspect himself without the aid of a mirror. He simply scooped Avon up in his arms, ignoring the protests. “Don’t wriggle, I don’t want to drop you.”
“Put me down!” Avon yelled. Then more quietly, “I am perfectly capable of walking to the medical unit.”
“Who said anything about the medical unit?” Blake carried his armful towards the corridor. He hadn’t quite got there before the towel, not that securely fastened in the first place, started to slip. Of course, a man with both arms occupied can’t very well stop to adjust his towel, so the rest of the crew had the privilege of seeing that the rebel was a fine, upstanding Federation citizen after all.
There was silence on the flight deck for a few seconds, before Vila said, “I wonder if there’s a one-year warranty on the condoms?”
First published in the zine Forbidden Star 3