Very funny, Krager," Pearson said. Control was not amused by having been blind-sided by a Patrol Scout and Security was never amused by Krager. The Scout had obeyed the letter of the law by identifying itself openly, but their covert approach, coming in fast and dangerously low, smelled more of harassment than of the claimed instrumentation problems and had raised hackles.
"Pearson, I do believe you're getting old. You're losing all sense of fun."
"Krager, Elston, can't you find some other place to play?"
"There's no place like home."
"Krager, if you ever show your face on this planet as a private citizen, I will personally see to it that you are prosecuted for every infraction to the full extent of the law. Understood? All right. Weapons check." Security inspected the weapons locker and secured it, made a check of the ship for any other weapons concealed, but found nothing-- not that they had expected to. Krager and Elston had already stowed their side-arms in the locker. "Clear," Pearson reported via wrist-com. "You know the rules. No weapons; nothing Customs hasn't cleared. If you are caught with arms or with goods for which you have no authorization, you are in violation of the law and you may be shot on sight. Do you understand?"
"Understood," Krager and Elston answered in unison. An old routine.
"Customs is waiting. Get your passes and get out of my sight."
Pearson's breakfast sat like a ball of molten lead in his stomach. The sun was barely up and if this was the way it started-- he knew he should have stayed in bed today. The only thing worse than never getting leave was coming back from it. Why couldn't all these people have shown up last week and been gone by now?
* * * * *
Krager and Elston went through Customs, were duly issued passes for themselves and their gear; then they went out the upper level to the concourse, around through the shipping area and back into the docking bays, their passes clearing them at each electronic checkpoint. Once back at the Scout, they changed out of uniform and into nondescript coveralls. After spending a few minutes surrounding the scout with repair scaffolding and a few artistically draped tarps, they retrieved their innocuous-looking box and carried it across the loading area to a position from which they could observe the shuttle in bay eight. Satisfied that the scout was sufficiently concealed and unidentifiable from bay eight, Elston then produced cribbage board and cards and they made themselves comfortable.
And hour later Elston looked up at the shuttle and Krager, following his gaze, saw a tall, fair man and a pretty, young black woman come out of the shuttle. They took a hand trolley from the loading floor and wheeled it into the shuttle. Ten minutes later they reemerged, trolley loaded with diagnostic equipment which they were obviously returning to the repair facility.
"Come on," the woman said, "we've got three hours. Let's get this stuff returned quickly and then I'll treat you to a last breakfast on Barram."
"You're on," the man said.
When the man and woman were out of sight, Krager said, "You were right." Then they casually packed up the cribbage game, and took the innocuous-looking box over to bay eight.
"Go ahead," Krager said to Elston. And Elston proceeded to open the hatch of the shuttle, quickly and deftly as any cracksman, while Krager kept watch. Once the hatch was open Elston calmly carried the box inside, stowed and secured it beside the other legitimate cargo, then returned to calmly shut the hatch and resecure it. When he was done he nodded to Krager.
"Let's get changed and have some breakfast ourselves," Krager said. "We've got time enough for that."
* * * * *
"Vila, Look! Isn't it lovely?" Cally asked, dragging him towards the shop window.
"Very nice," Vila observed, ogling a pretty passerby.
"No, Vila, the dress!"
"The dress," Cally repeated, determined to have an opinion. "Isn't it lovely?"
Vila turned his attention to the mannequin in the window and saw that it was wearing a very alluring cream-colored silk dress.
"Well?" Cally demanded.
Vila considered. The length was just right to show good legs to advantage and the bodice was low enough to be very interesting and-- mentally he put Cally into the dress--
"Very nice," he said, grinning appreciatively. "Why don't you buy it?"
"Buy it! Where would I wear it?"
"Anywhere you like. I wouldn't mind."
"I'm sure," she laughed. "And it's just the thing to wear on reconnaissance!"
Vila considered. "Night manoeuvres, I'd say. Definitely night manoeuvres. And if I were you, I'd be prepared for hand-to-hand combat and eventual surrender," he said, grinning at her.
"Vila!" She exclaimed, grinning back and giving him a playful slap on the arm. It was a very sexy dress. "At least if I met Servalan I wouldn't feel underdressed."
"Servalan always overdresses."
"And look! Sandals. They're so pretty," she said, sighing. "Oh, Vila, I haven't worn anything but boots for so long I probably couldn't walk in them."
"You'd manage-- Look!"
"The girl of my dreams."
"There," he said indicating the inside of the shop. "Isn't she beautiful?"
Looking inside Cally could see a very pretty little woman with a halo of blond curls and bright blue eyes standing behind a counter, talking animatedly to the clerk.
"Very pretty," she said, amused by Vila's flight of fancy.
"And just my size, too. Perfect!" As he watched, the woman concluded her business. "Oh! Here she comes! Cally, go away! Pretend you don't know me!" he said, giving her a shove in the opposite direction as he dashed over to take up a position near the door.
Cally moved away a few steps and pretended to take up window-shopping again while watching Vila out of the corner of her eye. In a moment the woman reached the door and Vila went into action. Fixing his gaze on the sky he strode forward and bumped into her from behind just after she cleared the doorway.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, and dropped her package.
"Oh, I'm terribly sorry," Vila said, looking down at her face and smiling inanely.
"It's quite all right," she said, smiling back, not at all put out by being jostled. "Would you-- ?" she asked, glancing downwards, indicating the package.
"Oh. Of course." As he bent to retrieve the package, Vila got a shock: the woman was hugely pregnant. "Oh!" He grabbed the package and straightened up, completely flustered. "I am terribly sorry," he said again, feeling like a fool.
"No harm done," she said, smiling. Then she took the package from him, saying, "Thank you," and walked away.
As he stared after his dream girl, Cally came up beside him and, laughing, asked, "Aren't you going to go after her?"
"What's the point?" he asked with a sigh.
"Well, you always said you wanted a family."
"Yes, but not all at once. And not quite so many. That looked like quints."
"Poor Vila. Come on."
"No. I think I need a drink. I'll meet you back at the shuttle."
"Don't be late," she admonished, "or you'll get left." Shaking her head, she watched him go. Vila would never change.
Cally turned back to the window. The dress was beautiful. And she had a debit chit that would surely cover the cost-- but buying the dress would be... impractical. Servalan could wear such things on board ship-- or wherever she chose, but practical Cally would only look foolish...
At a dance she wouldn't feel out of place. Hair done up with flowers, just a little makeup on her face, gold sandals, and the lovely dress swirling so elegantly as she danced...
It was a wonderful picture. What would the others say if they saw her? Vila was very clear about his feelings and he'd leer and pay outrageous compliments; Tarrant would appreciate it and behave most gallantly, bless him. But, what about Avon? He'd probably glower and say something cutting, but-- if that entity had been wearing that dress, who would have distracted whom? She wondered, but she couldn't quite imagine Avon distracted-- Cally laughed at herself, then, giving the silk dress one last wistful look, she moved on, thinking of dances and home and Zel...
* * * * *
Elston cocked his head to one side, listening, and Krager, about to discard, paused watching him. After a moment he heard the sound too. "Coming in low and fast, someone is," he said, unconcerned, making his discard.
But Elston continued to listen, ignoring the cards, and Krager watched him uneasily. The sound grew louder and the pitch changed and when Elston finally looked at Krager, Krager said, "Bloody hell," and they made a bee-line for the scout.
* * * * *
It began as just a vague feeling of uneasiness. Cally was sauntering along, window-shopping, admiring all the pretty, impractical wares that had no place in her life. It made her feel sad, and, as she walked along, the uneasiness and sadness grew into a feeling of loneliness, and that feeling soon became so profound that she felt as if she were the only person in the whole universe, and it frightened her.
Suppressing the panic she felt, she made herself think. She knew she mustn't draw attention to herself. Everything will be fine, she thought. I'm wearing the teleport bracelet and I can contact Liberator. She made herself continue walking, looking for cover, and when she found an alleyway, she casually turned down it. Concealing herself in a doorway, she called the ship.
"This is an emergency; bring me up," she said into the bracelet. Nothing. She tried again. Static this time. What was wrong? "Someone answer me! Bring me up!" No answer. Calm down, she told herself. Don't make a scene. Just get back to the shuttle and wait for Vila. She walked out of the alleyway and turned towards the spaceport complex. Her heart was racing and she was having trouble breathing, but she could see the fountain on the main concourse now, it wasn't far, she could maintain control.
* * * * *
Avon was just entering the spaceport complex when he noticed the arrival of a Federation Patrol. His first thought was to call Liberator and flay Tarrant for not having warned him-- how in hell could Tarrant have missed detecting the arrival of a Federation Patrol? Something must be very wrong. Finding a quiet spot from which he could observe the Patrol, he called Liberator. And got no answer. Well, isn't this interesting, he thought. And he began to observe the Patrol's movements most carefully.
There were ten of them and they seemed to be looking for someone. They were being casual about it, but they were definitely looking for someone-- or something someone had. As he watched, they stopped a man who looked vaguely like Tarrant; and one of the Patrol searched the man, checking both wrists first. They know we're here, Avon thought, and they know enough to look for the bracelets, but, he concluded, they don't know which of us they're looking for.
He tried to raise Liberator once more, but hearing only static, he slipped the useless bracelet off and put it inside his tunic. The imperative now was to find Vila and Cally before they stumbled into the Patrol.
He spotted Cally first, just as she entered the complex. The Patrol was opposite. Two men had been stationed at the boarding entrance and the other eight were spreading out in either direction. Keeping an eye out for Vila, he unhurriedly went to intercept Cally, expecting her to notice the Patrol any moment. But she didn't; she was walking straight towards the boarding entrance and her bracelet was clearly visible.
He couldn't call out her name, nor did he want to draw undue attention-- people were always meeting in spaceports. He hurried up to Cally and put his arms around her giving her a little hug, saying quietly, "Act natural, the Patrol is watching," then, his left arm still around her shielding her right side from view, turned and walked her back the way she'd come.
He knew immediately that there was something wrong. She was reacting oddly just staring at his face, not speaking. Her breathing was too quick and too shallow, and he could feel her heart pounding. Keeping up the charade he spoke quietly to her, saying, "Just hang on until we get out of their sight," and steered her out of the stream of people into a deserted waiting area.
When he let go of her she nearly collapsed onto the floor, but he caught her and sat her in a chair. She didn't look well. "Cally, what happened? Cally?" Getting no response he grabbed her by the shoulders and looked at her hard. "What's wrong?" he asked, giving her a shake. "Do you know what's happened?" She looked terrified and she was staring at him as if she couldn't hear him. Why did everything happen at once? "Listen, Cally. We haven't got time for this. There's a Federation Patrol looking for us and we've got to find Vila." He shook her again more violently, but to no effect; she just kept staring at him. "I've got to find Vila. You stay here. Keep out of sight. I'll be back soon." He took off her bracelet and dropped it down the front of her tunic. "Stay here." And then he went to find Vila.
* * * * *
"Look, Doc," Georgie said drawing her mother's attention to the drama being played out in the waiting area across the way. A very angry looking man was shaking a very frightened looking woman. They watched as he left off shaking her, took something off her right wrist and put it down the neck of her tunic, then he hurried off. "What do you make of that?"
"I don't know. Let's find out," she said, starting towards the woman.
Cally had been barely maintaining control when Avon found her and she had continued to maintain it only because he was familiar and real to her. When he moved off, her feeling of isolation escalated and, when he disappeared from view, she was so overwhelmed by hopeless despair that she gave in to the hysteria. She was convulsed by heaving sobs when Doc reached her.
Handing her medical bag to Georgie and giving her a nod, she perched on the edge of a chair next to the woman and spoke to her while Georgie opened the bag and found the diagnostic reader. "My name is Marian and I'm a doctor. I'm here to help you." She touched the woman's shoulder. "Can you understand me?" The woman seemed to focus on her for a moment, seemed to try to control herself, but-- "Don't be afraid; I'm here."
Taking the reader she said, "Georgie, go to the infirmary and get Wes." Marian was sure of her diagnosis before she placed the reader against the woman's neck. As soon as she saw the green light that indicated her patient's metabolic profile had been analyzed, she said, "I'm giving you a tranquilizer," and allowed it to release the dose. "You're going to sleep for a while. Don't be afraid," she said again. Within moments the young woman was slumped unconscious against Marian. "Well, my dear," she said, "I wonder what sort of interesting story you'll have to tell."
Within a few moments Georgie, who could move very quickly for someone eight months pregnant, came back with Wes and a gurney to bear Cally off to the infirmary.
* * * * *
Avon watched the Patrol from the upper level. A stream of passengers began to emerge onto the upper level, behind the Patrol. The boys were working their way around each side of the terminal in pairs, keeping a sharp eye out, stopping one or two people to look hard at them and check wrists; they weren't threatening, but they were causing a stir and gathering some dark looks. Glancing down into the lower level Avon was just in time to see Vila sauntering through the lower level boarding entrance on his way back to the shuttle. How had he gotten past them? Leave it to Vila to remain totally unconscious of any threat or danger. At least I know where he is, Avon thought.
Sharp voices made him look up again. Barram Security had arrived on the scene and were registering their objections to the Patrol's presence and behavior. It was a welcome diversion. Now to collect Cally and get to the shuttle and back to Liberator. He only hoped the Patrol hadn't thought to leave a guard in the docking area-- no matter: that could be dealt with.
But Cally was nowhere to be seen. Avon made as much of a sweep as he could, even checking the ladies' lounges as unobtrusively as he could, keeping out of the way of the Patrol and Security, but there was no trace of her. She couldn't have been picked up by them; they were all accounted for. Where the devil had she gotten off to? He had only been gone a few minutes. Could she possibly have recovered enough to try to make her way back to the shuttle? The only way to find out was to go look.
Avon went back out the main entrance and then around to the cargo area. He proceeded cautiously, but didn't spot any Patrol and, since there was very little in the way of outbound security, soon he was back at the shuttle. No one was about. The outer hatch door was open. And the shuttle didn't have an outside video scan so he could be sure they hadn't seen him arrive. Now the question was, who's on board? The fact that he didn't have any weapon other than the small stunner in his boot, rankled, and, not knowing what awaited on the other side of the hatch he didn't dare open it. He didn't dare use the verbal code on the intercom, either, because anyone inside could get the drop on him while he waited for an answer.
He chose a place of concealment from which he could observe the hatch: an eight-foot-high stack of pallets opposite the shuttle. From up top of it he could get the drop on anyone who came out, and he also had the option of retreating through the bay behind it with the stack for cover. He checked to make sure the outer hatch door was securely latched open, then he flicked on the intercom and said, "Vila, I need you. Come out at once-- at once, Vila." Then Avon ducked outside very quickly and climbed into position.
After a minute the inner hatch opened and Vila came wandering out as unconcerned as ever, looking about for Avon. Avon leapt down from his place of concealment landing directly behind Vila making him jump about a foot.
Seeing who it was Vila became indignant. "Is that what this is all about? Scaring the daylights out of me? Very funny."
"Vila, where's Cally? Is she on board?"
"No. Don't worry she should be back soon."
"I'm not so sure of that. I met her just a few minutes ago on the upper level and-- Vila, the Patrol is here-- "
"The Patrol. And they're looking for us. We've got to find Cally and get out of here."
"That's easy: teleport up!" said Vila hitting the com button on his bracelet. "Tarrant! Dayna! Bring us up!"
"Tarrant? Dayna?" Vila looked his question at Avon, knowing he wouldn't like the answer.
"They're not working. We can't contact Liberator. The only way back is on the shuttle." If Liberator is still there, he thought grimly.
"Well, let's go!" shouted Vila, running for the hatch.
Avon wasn't far behind. It had suddenly occurred to him that the shuttle's com link might be able to tell him whether Liberator was still in orbit. All communications couldn't be on the blink: a passenger ship had come in while he was on the upper level watching the Patrol. Whatever the problems were, they were directly linked to Liberator.
But there was no problem contacting Liberator from the shuttle. "Where in hell have you all been? We've been trying to raise you for the last half hour-- the Patrol is here-- "
"We know," Avon informed him. Tarrant seemed genuinely rattled, but just to be sure Avon added the code phrase: "Were you asleep?"
"Wh-- ?" Then Tarrant remembered. "Yes," he replied, giving the 'all clear' response, then he stopped because giving any other response of one word or more, even 'Yes, yes,' would have been an indication of trouble.
"I thought so."
"What do you mean you know?" Tarrant asked, ignoring the dig and picking up where he'd left off. "How do you know? That Patrol Scout just went by us twenty minutes ago and is now entering close orbit over Barram!"
"Patrol Scout nothing, there's an entire troop down here! And it arrived twenty minutes ago looking for us!"
"We had no warning-- but that doesn't matter. What does matter is getting out of here before more of them arrive. I don't want to spend the rest of my life under siege in Barram's neutral zone-- if they've still got one."
"Neither do I." Avon was thinking furiously now. The Patrol knew Liberator was here. If the first Patrol ship could slip in without being spotted, why couldn't the Scout? They must have meant the Scout to be spotted. Why? "What's wrong with the teleport?"
"All those frequencies are jammed and the source is in or near the spaceport. You'll have to use the shuttle to rejoin us-- and I suggest you leave immediately. We'll come in close to intercept you."
Avon pursued his thoughts again. If the Patrol had gone to all the trouble of jamming the teleport frequencies-- and how had they managed that, by the way?-- they must have suspected-- if not known-- that some of the crew were planetside. The fact that Liberator did not leave orbit after spotting the Scout must confirm their suspicions, therefore, he concluded, they will continue to search for us until they are convinced we're away-- and if they've got a pursuit ship in the area, we don't have much time to get away. And there isn't any time to find Cally. Well, we'll just have to leave her for now.
"We're leaving immediately. Pick us up once we're out of the local traffic. And be prepared to bring us inside."
"And it can't be too soon for me," Vila said, making himself secure for flight. Anxious as he was to be gone from Barram, his conscience was waving a small red flag: "Avon... er, what about Cally?"
"Once we're away they'll stop looking for her," Avon said, preoccupied with pre-flight checks. "Control, this is shuttle eight requesting immediate flight clearance on automatic."
"Oh... but what if they've already got her?"
"I don't think they do. She wasn't well, but she-- "
"Shuttle eight, you are clear. Automatic will commence at your ready signal."
"What do you mean she wasn't well? Was she hurt? Ill?"
"I don't know. She was ill. I couldn't find her when I went back to look. She's probably hiding. There's nothing we can do about that now. We'll just have to come back for her later."
"She could be dead by then."
"We could all be dead if we don't get out of here."
"But you can't just leave her here if she's ill. What if she needs help? It's not right."
Where have I heard all this before? Avon thought, exasperated. Cally. Vila sounds just like Cally-- they're all beginning to sound just like Cally... Like Blake.
"You can stay and look for her if you like, Vila."
"What-- ? Me?" Vila's voice had gone up a couple of octaves and the panic-stricken look on his face was comical.
Avon laughed at Vila's discomfiture. If that wasn't just like Vila, more afraid for his own skin than for anyone else's. Cally would've stayed for him-- she probably couldn't be blasted off the planet if any one of them--
He could see the look she'd be giving him now: fierce and self-righteous-- challenging. And Avon started to grin. He'd be damned if he'd let her have the last word.
"Vila, when you get to Liberator you will tell Tarrant to leave us-- "
"Yes. Tell Tarrant to leave us. Once Liberator leaves orbit the Patrol will think we're all on board and I can look for Cally in peace. You will return for us when you've put the Patrol off the scent. Got it?"
"Off the scent. Right."
"Shuttle eight, we have your signal. We are initiating automatic systems. Please secure. Acknowledge."
"Vila, remember: tell Tarrant to get Liberator the hell out of here. Don't even wait to unload the shuttle: take it with you. Just get away fast. Cally and I will be safe as long as they think we're on board, too. So keep quiet until you're back on Liberator!" And with that he was off, throwing the outer hatch shut behind him.
As Avon watched the shuttle trundling off to the launch area, gathering speed, he wondered uneasily whether he was making a very big mistake.