Breakfast was served on the veranda.
Cally was fascinated by Georgie's pregnant condition and she was having a hard time not staring. On Auron, after the technicians combined the genes the babies grew to term in the Bio-Replication Plant and it was very seldom that a woman had an embryo implanted. But it was different for the rest of the universe, she knew. Only Auron used the Bio-Replication Plants; here it was considered the norm for women to carry their own embryos and it was-- fascinating. She really wanted to know what it felt like to carry an embryo, but she couldn't ask Georgie anything that personal yet. Instead she asked, "Georgie, will it be a boy or a girl?"
"I don't know."
"Don't know? How can you not know?"
"Well, I asked them not to tell me. I do have a feeling I know, but I want it to be a surprise."
"Oh. Well then, I won't ask you to show me the gene chart. But tell me, what talents have been selected? Which traits will predominate?"
"Talents and traits?"
"Yes," Cally said.
"Well, I don't know that, either, I'm afraid," said Georgie.
"No?" This was very puzzling. But surely she must know this: "Well then, what will the baby look like?"
"Oh! That's easy!" Georgie laughed, glad to be able to answer.
"Yes?" Cally asked eagerly.
"If it's a boy, he'll look like Rafe," she said, with a definite nod.
"And if it's girl," said Rafe, "she'll look like Georgie."
It had to be a joke-- but as she looked from one to the other she realized it wasn't; they really didn't know. But this is impossible, she thought, becoming perplexed. These are intelligent people; they couldn't be so irresponsible as to make a baby and not have the least idea of what it's genetic pattern would be. And no technician would have allowed the genes to combine randomly-- a random combination could produce anything-- "Why, it could be a girl and look like Rafe!" she blurted out.
After a stunned moment, Georgie, Rafe and Marian dissolved into helpless mirth, while, to Avon's delight, Cally, looked on in complete dismay.
Avon had spotted the flaw in Cally's thinking. "Cally, who do you look like?" he asked, deliberately diverting her, trying to prolong her confusion.
"Who do you look like? Your mother or your father?"
"I had eight biological parents and I look like, well, me. And Zelda. What's that got to do with anything?" She frowned at him and then turned her attention back to Georgie and Rafe.
Rafe was awed by her revelation. "Eight parents?"
"Yes. I know that's not usual, but they were selecting for optimums and needed a wide range-- "
"Do you mean to say that where you come from, all the preferred traits and talents are selected-- ?"
"Well, of course. How else?" Cally said, affronted by such ignorance. Then appealing to Georgie, she said, "Georgie, surely the technicians told you some-- "
Rafe cut her off with unholy glee. "I'm afraid there were no technicians present to attend to any of our preferences when we-- well..."
Suddenly Cally understood. Natural random combination of genes without-- "Oh!" Her face turned fiery red, and she felt her cheeks were burning as she fled, Avon's and Rafe's laughter following her.
"Men!" Georgie declared, glaring at both of them, before she went after Cally.
* * * * *
When Georgie and Cally returned Rafe and Marian had both finished breakfast and gone into the house to get ready to leave. Avon lingered at the table, perusing the local news on the hand-held reader. He didn't look up as Cally sat down across from him.
"You finish your breakfast, Cally," Georgie said, "I'll be right back." As she went by Avon she stopped and said, "The rule in this house is that everyone clears his own place and I do the table."
Avon glanced up and saw that she was frowning slightly at him as if expecting an argument. "Very well," he said.
At that she smiled. "All right then." Georgie went into the house and Avon went back to reading.
"She likes you, Avon," Cally said as she helped herself to the last muffin.
"I can't imagine," she said, drizzling a little honey on the muffin. "It was rotten of you not to give me a nudge. I was never so embarrassed in my whole life."
"But why?" he asked, looking up from the reader. "You're right. The random couplings of humankind are a bad gamble at best and we should be embarrassed by the results. Why, one has only to look at me for example: an embarrassment to all concerned. It must be a wonderful comfort to you knowing you were so well thought out." And he gave her a taunting smile.
"Oh, stop it. I'm serious. I felt a complete fool."
"No, not a fool, just a conceited, know-it-all Auronar," he said and went back to reading again.
"Thanks," she said, between bites of muffin. Then she grinned to herself and mentally shrugged off the feelings. Live and learn. As she finished the muffin her thoughts took another turn. "Avon, who do you look like?"
"My mother," he answered absently, continuing to read.
"Yes, though she was fairer... she was very beautiful," he said, still reading.
"Oh," she said, scrutinizing his face, wondering how much conceit there was in that remark. He would have to be aware of how good-looking he is--
"I'm told I have my father's eyes," he continued.
"Ah." Yes, she thought, beautiful dark eyes, finely molded mouth, and a gorgeous smile-- when he forgot himself enough to do it naturally... yes, very good-looking. But that high-bridged prow of a nose must have been hell to grow into-- I wonder... "And whose nose is that?"
"Mine own," he said, looking up from the reader at last.
"Well," said Cally slowly, "I see what you mean about gambling."
Avon set the reader down on the table. "Go splice a gene," he said, and, picking up his plate and utensils, he took them and himself off into the house.
Cally laughed softly to herself as she started clearing the table.
* * * * *
Rafe had just spoken to Devon and it seemed that Krager was indeed making inquiries. He was wondering what excuse he could use to call Pearson, when Pearson called him.
"What can I do for you?" Rafe asked, a little afraid of what the answer might be.
Rafe laughed in relief. "Are things that bad?"
"Take some leave."
"That was my first mistake. I may never have the courage to go on leave again."
"Eve warned you about being head of security."
"I know. I should have listened to him. The reason I called: yesterday afternoon I received an official request from McAran to run a full security check on all the male passengers on your last run."
"Oh? Why?" he asked cautiously, not letting his surprise show, hoping the inquiry didn't have anything to do with Krager.
"For cause. They had reason to believe that one of your passengers is wanted and attempting to make rendezvous with his cronies here."
"So that's what all yesterday's excitement was about," he said, feeling relieved. "We all thought-- "
"Liberator. Yes. They left orbit so fast we thought they must have picked someone up-- did you know they took the shuttle with them?" Pearson asked, laughing.
"I heard," Rafe said a little absently, trying to think.
"Well, I'm glad they're gone, shuttle and all. And I'll be even gladder when McAran is gone. I can't make it out. Why didn't he contact security from orbit to have us hold your passengers, instead of making nuisances of themselves?"
"That's the Jolly-Fly-Boys for you. About those security checks: who did you check on?"
"All the male passengers."
If this were Krager's idea he certainly would have specified-- or would he? "All twenty-six?" he asked, hoping he had misheard.
"Ah... well," Rafe said. "Did you discover anything?"
"I discovered that the ones I don't personally know-- Avram, Beecham, Beloq, Daniels, Davis, Jeffers, McKillip, Peters, Polacek, Senat..." Pearson paused and Rafe held his breath. "Doc's cousin... I've never met him, have I?"
"I don't think so-- first visit."
"Didn't think I had-- Tapply, Tyrell, Wolders, Yelton and Zimm all check out clear."
"They do? Ah..." Pearson must have fudged the check on Galen Senat because of the relationship to Doc. Rafe felt very lucky: the passport verification never would have stood close scrutiny. "Good, well... you've done all your security checks. What's the problem?"
"I don't know. Liberator didn't pick anyone up; everyone is accounted for. Do you have any idea of who McAran might be looking for? Did you notice anyone suspicious?"
"No one..." If McAran's men hadn't been looking for the crew of Liberator, then why had Krager--
"Good," Pearson said. "Then they'll just have to let it drop."
"Speaking of suspicious characters, though, Krager-- "
"Don't remind me."
"I didn't know Krager was with McAran."
"Then what the devil is he doing here?"
"Repairs, supposedly. He and Elston brought in a scout early yesterday morning."
Now, that was interesting. "When are they leaving, do you know?"
"I don't, but it can't be soon enough-- " Pearson looked off to one side and nodded acknowledging a visitor. "I have to go. Say hello to Georgie for me-- she must be due any day now."
"A few weeks. I'll tell her you-- "
"And tell Doc that if this job hasn't killed me, I'll be at her party with bells on. I need a good party."
Rafe laughed. "Doc throws a good party."
"I look forward to meeting her cousin."
"See you then."
Pearson nodded and cut the connection.
Rafe felt much better. Liberator wasn't in danger and "Cousin Galen's" identity was vouched for by Barram Security-- and that put paid to Krager's account.
He called cousin Galen to tell him the good news.
* * * * *
Rafe's call gave Avon even more to think about, so he took his thoughts out onto the terrace. He sat on the bench, elbows on knees, staring at the stones, watching his shadow as he thought.
"It's wonderful to feel weather again, isn't it?" Cally said sitting down on the bench next to him. She breathed deeply and leaned back closing her eyes, feeling the sun warm her.
"Rafe called. He says the Patrol wasn't looking for us, they were after someone on his passenger ship."
"Then we have nothing to worry about."
"Nothing but that communication interference and all the other inconsistencies; nothing but what these people hope to gain by helping us."
"Gain? It seems to me they're the ones with the most to lose."
"We aren't exactly invaluable. And can you tell me why Barram Security has cleared Galen Senat?"
At that Cally tipped her head forward and opened her eyes to look at him. The brightness of the sun shining on her eyelids kept her blinded her for a moment, but by the time she could see him she had an answer: "Probably because he's Marian's cousin. You've got to admit there must be some privileges and advantages attached to being related to one of the people this planet's named after."
"Or because they don't want to alert us."
"Avon, you are a prize."
"Maybe, but I haven't lasted this long by trusting anyone and everyone I meet."
"How do you know you wouldn't have? Have you ever tried it? I'm still alive."
"It isn't trust that has kept you alive," he said getting up. "And it won't keep this lot alive, either. Keep your bracelet with you. If your luck holds, Liberator will be back for us any time now."
* * * * *
Dayna walked onto the flight deck. Vila was lounging in the foredeck, drink in hand, and Tarrant was at the pilot station. They were both watching the viewscreen and when Dayna turned to look, she saw the stars spinning crazily and she nearly lost her balance. She looked away from the viewscreen quickly and asked, "What are you doing?"
"Playing Jolly-Fly-Boy," said Vila, still watching the stars spin.
"I thought you were going to get some rest," Tarrant said, ignoring Vila.
"So did I, but I was mistaken. Have you been having fun?"
"Yes," Tarrant said, grinning forthrightly.
"Good. When do we head back to Barram?"
"So that's it," Tarrant said, bringing Liberator back to a normal flight pattern. "You're missing Avon."
"Who?" she asked, laughing.
"If you ask me," said Vila, "we're not far enough away from Barram yet."
"I must say it is rather nice to have the ship to ourselves," said Tarrant.
"There's an understatement," said Vila, watching the spinning stars slow to a stop.
"Yes, it always seems a little more... peaceful without Avon," Dayna agreed. "If I wasn't worried about Cally-- "
"Yes... I suppose we'll have to go back for her. We're not really much further away than when you went off watch-- "
"What's that?" Vila asked suddenly.
"What's what?" Tarrant asked, looking at the viewscreen where Vila was looking.
"That," Vila said, "in the center. A nova?"
On the center of the screen there was a rapidly growing spot of light--
"Battle stations, everyone!" Tarrant said sharply, already taking evasive action. "I don't believe this-- "
"What is it?" Dayna asked, taking her station.
"Plasma bolt... fired from maximum range..."
"There's a Federation Pursuit ship out there then!"
"Why didn't Zen warn us?" asked Vila, indignantly, unable to move from his seat.
"Because computers, unlike people, do exactly what one tells them to! Move, Vila!" He moved.
The plasma bolt missed them-- or rather they missed it-- and Tarrant, flying on adrenalin and instinct, continued to push Liberator through a complex evasive pattern while simultaneously ordering Zen to rig for battle.
* * * * *
"The signal's gone, Commander."
"What? That didn't look like a hit-- Jeffers," Taggert said sharply into the comm, "did you hit them?"
"Negative, Commander-- "
Taggert flicked off the comm. "Then what happened to that blasted signal?" he asked of the air. "Farnum!"
* * * * *