When Cally and Wes returned from sailing, Wes was persuaded to stay for dinner. No one noticed that cousin Galen was unusually quiet and preoccupied throughout the meal.
* * * * *
Cally and Wes were alone on the terrace, drinking brandy, watching the stars come out.
"Doesn't the evening smell wonderful?" Cally asked.
"Yes. Georgie's lavender. This is the time of year I enjoy most. The water's still warm from the summer and the weather is mild enough for sailing."
"Yes. It was wonderful. Thank you for today."
"You are quite welcome."
"The stars are so bright," she said looking up. "Can you sail at night?"
"Oh, yes. I will to get home tonight. Next time you'll come with me and we'll sail under the stars." Wes settled back, sipping his brandy, thinking about next time.
"I think I'd like that," Cally said, stealing a look at Wes's profile. Then she settled back, too, and watched the bright, twinkling stars, letting her mind wander in pleasant paths. "I watched a fleet of sun sailers once sailing between the stars... in the Gentian Cluster... they sail on solar flares. The ships themselves are tiny silver pods, but the sails-- the sails are magnificent-- huge-- miles square and made of gossamer. They glitter with all the colours of the rainbow, shimmering and undulating with the force of the flares-- they're like living beings, breathing and swimming between the stars. They're very beautiful."
"So are you," Wes breathed softly.
As she turned to look at him he leaned over and kissed her. Only their lips touched and without other interference it was an intense experience.
And Cally let herself enjoy it. "Thank you," she said, when he stopped. "It's been a long time since anyone did that."
"Really?" he asked, settling back once again. "Are all the men where you come from either blind or backwards?"
"I don't think so."
"Well, I can't imagine what's wrong with them," he said, shaking his head. "To let someone like you go unkissed-- ! It's almost criminal." He gave her a grin.
Wes watched her for a few moments, then said with a sigh, "I have to be going now, Leah."
"So soon?" The compliments, the kiss, and the brandy were all going to her head and she didn't want the evening to end.
"Sorry. Duty calls. But tomorrow you'll come to dinner with me, won't you?"
"Tomorrow?" Who knew where she'd be tomorrow? But she wanted to go with Wes. "Yes, please."
"Tomorrow then." And Wes kissed her again, but lightly this time. As before he left her quickly and went into the house alone to say his good-byes.
Cally stayed sitting where he left her, listening to the faint sound of his voice. A few minutes later she saw him go out through the kitchen door, across the veranda, and down the path to the lake with never a backward glance. She wondered why she was the only one he never said good-bye to.
"Enjoying your holiday, Leah?" Avon asked quietly from close behind her.
Cally jumped, spilling the last of her brandy into her lap. "Avon, stop sneaking up on me!"
"Don't you mean 'Galen, stop sneaking up on me?'" he asked, coming around to sit on the wall in front of her. "I did not sneak. It's merely that you were distracted."
His sarcastic tone was, as ever, annoying. "I was not distracted-- " she averred, brushing at the spilled brandy.
"Oh, that's right. I was forgetting. Compliments and kisses don't distract you, do they?"
"So," she said, meeting his eyes, angry now. "You were sneaking-- and watching, and eavesdropping, too. Let me make this very clear, Galen. What I do is no business of yours. Period."
"Of course not. And I couldn't care less how you amuse yourself with the natives."
"And stop doing that," she said, in a savage whisper, not wanting anyone in the house to overhear.
"Stop doing what?"
"Stop pretending we're somehow superior to everyone here. I like these people. And they've been very kind to us. So, just stop it!"
"You intend to go on seeing him then. And are you going to tell him all about yourself?"
"It's none of your business."
"I think it is."
"Well, I don't!" But she knew he was right and she could feel her face getting hot. Damn Avon. Why couldn't he just let her enjoy herself? It was just an innocent flirtation and they'd be back on Liberator all too soon. "Look," she said, trying to be reasonable, "it's only dinner. It's only a few days. It doesn't mean anything. He never has to know anything about me. To him I'm Leah Hilary of Garth, just visiting."
"I hope you can remember it."
"I'll remember," she said, coldly, getting to her feet. "And one more thing, Galen. While we're here, find someone else to spy on for your voyeuristic needs." With that she went into the house.
Avon watched her go. He was annoyed by her behavior. He had stayed behind to find her, to make sure she was safe, and she didn't care. She probably didn't care whether Liberator was ever coming back for her, either. She hadn't asked once whether there had been any word. He felt like a fool for ever having thought she might need or want rescue. From now on she could take care of herself-- and see how long that lasts! He heard a soft footfall on the steps and turned to find Marian materializing out of the darkness.
"Good evening," she said. "I hope I didn't startle you."
"Not at all. One gets to expect a lot of traffic here."
"Yes," she said, understanding him. "This never was a very private place. And I did overhear." Marian sat down on the bench. "The natives have sharp ears."
"I'm sorry for that," Avon said, meaning he was sorry she had sharp ears, but expecting she'd take it for a civil apology. "Now, if you'll excuse me..."
But Marian wasn't fooled and Avon could read it clearly in her expression, even in the dim light, as she met his gaze. And looking into her eyes, he found he couldn't turn away. "Just so," she said.
Avon hesitated before he sat back down on the wall and waited. He was sure he didn't want to hear whatever it was she wanted to say, but he knew that once she said it she'd let him go about his business.
"Detachment is not an appealing or attractive quality," she said. "Most people resent it." Marian paused, watching Avon. He only regarded her steadily, waiting for her to finish. "But I have a great respect for it. I have even tried to cultivate it in myself. It's a useful survival skill."
He'd overheard Cally say much the same thing once. Come to think of it, she'd been defending him and she'd been mad as fire, yelling at Tarrant and Dayna, "It may not be an endearing quality, but if it will keep us alive maybe we should all encourage it!" Involuntarily, he laughed. "No, not endearing."
"Exactly. But, however useful it may be, I have no patience with people who hide behind it." Marian drove her point home with a look. Like Pi. "I think you play chess." She waited for his nod. "Come into the house," she said, rising, "we'll have a game. And get to know each other better."
"Are you any good?" Avon asked, rising to accompany her.
"You tell me."
* * * * *
Georgie looked up from her book when Cally came in from the terrace. "Why, whatever is the matter?" she asked, bringing the rocking chair to a stop.
"Georgie, you should have heard him!" Cally exclaimed, coming over to sit at the end of the sofa nearest Georgie.
"No. Avon-- Galen."
"What did he say?"
"He was just awful, spying on me and Wes-- "
"Spying. Like a voyeur."
"Oh," Georgie giggled, "Wes kissed you."
"How did you know?"
"I'm a mind reader! Honestly, one would have to be blind and stupid not to know how Wes feels about you." Georgie rocked forward and asked, eyes twinkling, "Did you like it? Did you kiss him back?"
"Well? Don't you like Wes?"
"Yes, I like Wes. He's very nice, and-- drat him! I was not distracted. It was just a kiss. To hear him you'd think-- "
"What did Galen say, exactly?"
"He said-- he said he didn't care how I amused myself with-- he said-- Wes only asked me to dinner."
"Dinner? Is that all?"
"Yes, dinner. You'd think-- "
"He just doesn't know Wes and he's concerned for you-- "
Cally just stared at Georgie. She knew concern for her was the last thing on Avon's mind.
"Well," Georgie continued, oblivious of Avon's shortcoming, "you've got to admit your circumstances are unusual."
"But what I do is none of his business!"
"He's just being a friend."
"Friend! He's acting more like-- I don't know what."
"Well, you're right," Georgie said, decisively, changing tactics. "What you do is no one's business but your own."
"That's what I said." Cally sat back on the sofa and fumed quietly.
Georgie rocked and thought a bit, then she said, "But you know how friends are. Wes is my friend and I'm concerned for him. I don't want to see him hurt. If you like him, go out with him. Just please don't use him."
"Georgie!" Cally looked over at her in surprise. "I would never do such a thing!"
"I didn't think you would. But be careful. Wes-- "
"Oh, Georgie, don't you start! It's just an innocent flirtation. Wes and I both know that."
Georgie nodded, but looked skeptical.
"Well, it is. And I could be gone tomorrow-- "
"Does Wes know that?"
"No... but he's only just met me after all."
"Well... just you be careful," she said, wagging an admonitory finger and breaking into a smile.
"I will," Cally grinned. "Now, if I'm still here tomorrow, what should I wear?"
"Something pretty. It will be good for your morale. Yes, I know," she said, "come with me." And very awkwardly she began to get out of the rocker. Cally got up quickly to help, but Georgie said laughing, "No, please let me do it myself. This is the only comfortable chair I can get out of by myself these days."
Cally was discovering that not only was pregnancy a very interesting condition, but it had heretofore unimagined side effects.
* * * * *
Two more ships appeared ahead at the very edge of detection range.
"Are you sure we aren't running in circles?" Vila asked.
"I'm sure," said Tarrant sharply.
"How are they finding us?" Dayna asked.
"I don't know... but the way we've been moving... the distances... they couldn't be following us-- "
"Not unless they're following in front of us," said Vila. He said it with all the sarcasm he could muster, but Tarrant still managed to ignore it.
"And I can't believe they've established a tracking network-- or that it's capable of picking us out and identifying us at such long range."
"Why don't we leave Federation space for a while?" Dayna asked. "Why not find a place to sit and think?"
"I'm afraid we're rather too far inside their space at the moment... but... we're near to a couple of shipping lanes. Why don't we see if we can lose ourselves in the crowd? Zen, course change..."
* * * * *
"Choose," Marian said as she set the last man on the board.
White to his left, black to his right, Avon reached out, gave the board a quarter turn anti-clockwise and made the first move.
Marian countered his move and remarked, "After you and... Leah arrived the other day I decided to take a look at Barram's charter."
That was something Avon had meant to do at the library, but he had forgotten. "And what did you learn?" he asked, accepting her gambit by taking her pawn.
"I learned that Barram's charter requires," she said, also making the prescribed counter move, "that any abandoned criminals wanted by the Federation must be turned over to the Federation."
Avon looked at her intently, but he couldn't detect any hint of menace in her face or in her manner. "And if Barram does not?" he asked, taking another of her pawns.
"The charter will be revoked." Marian moved again, as expected.
"That's succinct enough." The information was interesting-- more interesting than the game-- and he made his next move wondering more about what Marian was going to do about her houseguests than about than about what was happening on the board.
"Very. Further, any persons harbouring, aiding, or abetting such criminals must also to be turned over to the Federation for trial." Marian removed one of Avon's pawns and reached for one of the long, slender cylinders which were standing in a jar on the table beside her chair.
"I told Rafe he should have minded his own business," Avon said, moving more boldly. He wasn't seriously alarmed by Marian's revelation-- by her own admission she had known about the laws since they arrived, but, once again he was puzzled by her motivations.
"It wasn't entirely his fault," she said, regarding the board, playing with the yellow-banded blue cylinder. "I could have put a stop to it."
Avon heard the crackle of the cylinder and looked up to see her completing the required ritual by putting one end of the cylinder in her mouth and inhaling deeply. Then she made her move and when she looked up at him she saw the question in his expression. "It's a mild stimulant, a 'stim,' in the uninspired vernacular," she answered, "of no redeeming value except that it will slightly increase heart rate and blood pressure for a short period. Effects are somewhat cumulative: two or more and you will be unable to sleep for a while," she said, removing the stim from her mouth and regarding it. "They are mildly physically addictive because of their effect and psychologically addictive because they make an excellent personal prop." She flourished the stim in her hand to illustrate. "Try one, if you like. They come in many flavors, but all mine are lemon."
Avon was not diverted. "What are you going to do about us?" he asked, not mincing matters.
"Do? Nothing," she said, plying the stim. "The Patrol left Barram today and I doubt anyone on Barram suspects you are not my cousin Galen. Rafe and Georgie and Wes have seen to that. And if I turned you in now, I'd only incriminate my entire family." She inhaled deeply, watching him with an expression of mild amusement. "It's your move."
He continued the game where he had left off, not paying much attention, wondering about Marian's motives.
"Don't make me sorry I didn't turn you in, cousin Galen," she said, a few moves later.
Avon looked down at the board and discovered that not only were his forces seriously depleted, but his queen was in danger. And with that discovery came the realization that he was wasting his time wondering about Marian: the only way to deal with an enemy was to stay alert. "I beg your pardon," he laughed, "it won't happen again." Avon studied the board as he said, "The Federation left today, but I ran into Krager and Elston late this afternoon."
"Did you so?" Marian frowned, thinking. "I have not met Elston, but Krager has been a chronic pestilence since the day he was born. I wonder what he's up to this time..."
"You know him?"
"Only too well. I delivered him."
"You missed your chance, then. Is he a danger?"
"Only if you are susceptible to boredom... or if he can identify you."
"I'll stay out of his way," he said making his move.
Marian nodded and said, "Good."
Avon didn't know which of his strategies she was commenting on, but from then on the game was interesting.
As were the next two. Even without the stims he would have had no trouble staying awake. Marian was very good.