It was a beautiful day for sailing. Warm sun, clear air, light breeze. And Wes's sailboat was big enough to be comfortable and small enough to be cozy.
"Tell me about yourself, Leah."
"Oh, no. You first. You've already had the advantage of me."
"Very well... but if I have to talk, you'll have to take the tiller. Here, slide over," he said, putting her hand on the tiller and deftly changing places with her. "Just keep us steady on this course. Don't let the sail luff."
"If you veer off our present course, the wind will spill out of the sail and it will go slack. Then we'd stop."
"Oh," Cally said, concentrating hard on not moving the tiller.
"Now then. I'm thirty-one years old-- that's standard years, mind you-- I'm six feet two inches tall, a general practitioner with a specialty in family dynamics. I have a small house which I will point out as we sail by... I sail. I sing in the shower. I'm an uncle twice... and I've recently met the most enchanting woman-- "
Cally turned quickly to look at him and inadvertently jerked the tiller.
"-- who," he said, lightly touching her hand on the tiller to correct their course, "if she can relax, will soon learn to enjoy sailing. Mind your course, Captain Leah."
* * * * *
After breakfast, Avon tucked his teleport bracelet into his tunic, called a flitter and went into town. He didn't care if the entire Federation fleet had arrived at Barram during the night: he couldn't stand the inactivity and the not knowing about Liberator. Besides, he was just going to the public library.
The family had library access from the home comm station, but the library would have multiple integrated access facilities which would make the searching faster. And, at the library, he could do his research without anyone looking over his shoulder.
From the library terminals he began systematically calling up all the information available on Barram's Communication Network, the Federation Communication Network and the system which linked the two. The library was very obliging, providing complete schematics and even unclassified overviews of the interaction of both Communications Systems with Barram's Security System. And, by knowing the right questions, he even got answers he was sure Security didn't know were available.
* * * * *
Tarrant and Dayna were sitting forward on the flight deck, letting Zen monitor all the instrumentation.
"I don't like this at all," Dayna said, staring at the viewscreen, eyes burning from lack of sleep.
"Neither do I," said Tarrant, rubbing a hand across his face. There were dark circles under his eyes.
"This can't be coincidence."
"I agree," he said, stretching out his legs and leaning his head back. "They know where we are."
"Yes, how? That's the question. We've obviously stumbled into the middle of something."
"But we can still outrun them, can't we?"
"We should be able to... once we know which way to run," he said sitting up. "Zen, give me a visual plot, our current position at center, of the last known positions and trajectories of all the Federation vessels we have encountered in the last thirty-six hours." Zen obediently presented the visual on the main viewscreen. Tarrant sighed heavily; he was having a hard time thinking. "Where in hell is Vila with that pick-me-up?"
"I'll go see-- "
"No, stay a moment. Look," he said, nodding at the visual. "You see what's happened?"
After a moment, she did. "Yes, I do. The first encounter was an accident-- "
"The second also, probably-- "
"Because we were making a wide circle back into them-- "
"And after that, they had an idea of where to look."
"And now they've got us triangulated."
"Talk about bad luck..."
Dayna looked at the visual again, considering. "Fortunately, there still seems to be a way out," she observed. "And we're fast enough to be well out of their ranges before they can redeploy."
"Yes. Unless-- " Tarrant paused, looking quite grim. "Zen, plot the course which will take us most quickly out of detection range of all those Federation vessels and execute."
"Course plotted. Execution confirmed."
"I'll go see what happened to that pick-me-up," said Dayna.
"I'd rather have a soft bed," he said, settling back again and closing his eyes.
"So would I," she said, getting up and stretching.
"Ah, well," Tarrant sighed, "all in due course, all in due course-- "
Dayna laughed and turned to leave, but Tarrant caught her wrist. "I'd be happy to share it with you, you know," he said quietly.
Still smiling she looked down at him. He smiled back and her look became more speculative, but she didn't answer. After a moment he laughed and Dayna laughed, too. Then he lightly kissed her hand and let her go, saying, "Do you suppose Avon and Cally are enjoying their holiday?"
"You mean you hope they're having as much fun as we are."
"Me, too. I'll be right back."
* * * * *
"You were right. I do love sailing. It's so peaceful out here on the water..." Cally was feeling very relaxed and happy. Wes had taken the tiller again, but had promised to let her sail them all the way home. Sailing was really quite simple when one got the hang of it. At least Wes made it seem simple. She stretched and the teleport bracelet clanked loudly against the gunwale.
"What's that bracelet you're wearing?" he asked.
"It's nothing really. Just a... reminder."
"Of good times?"
"No. Not really..."
"Then why do you wear it? You're not punishing yourself?"
"No," she said. Laughing, she took it off and put it in the picnic basket. "It's just to remind me of where I... belong now."
"And where is that?"
"Nowhere in particular."
"You need to remind yourself that you belong nowhere in particular? That doesn't sound very comforting."
Cally gave a rueful grin. "It does sound awful put like that. But it isn't that bad."
"Tell me? I'd really like to know."
"Well..." she began, plumbing the depths of her feelings, glad to find that the hurt seemed to be buried deep enough now to talk about it without tears threatening. "It's just that I don't have a home anymore. There was a plague and my planet and my family are all gone now."
"I'm sorry, Leah. How long ago did it happen?"
"Not very. It still hurts."
"And where do you live now?"
"Nowhere. I have a few friends I stay with. And I have... my work..."
"But no place to call home. Not even Garth where your friends are?"
For a moment Cally wondered why Wes thought Garth could be her home. Then she remembered and felt guilty for having to deceive him. "Not Garth."
"You must get very lonely."
"Perhaps you should consider staying here on Barram. It's a very nice planet. You've already made friends here. There's plenty of work. And you'd be very welcome."
"I almost wish I could."
"Think about it a while longer." Wes smiled at her, then said, "Now it's time to head back. Before the wind drops off. Take the tiller, captain."
Cally found herself smiling back at Wes. And somehow the hurt and the worry didn't seem so immediate. She slipped easily into place and took the tiller from him.
"Now, Captain Leah, bring us about."
Cally bit her lip as she considered her duties. First she looked dead abeam and picked out her landmark for the new heading, then she looked to the sail and the main sheet to be sure they were clear. With a glance at Wes she shouted, "Ready to come about!"
"Ready about. Aye-aye, captain!" He he answered watching her, trusting her judgement.
"Hard alee!" Cally shouted, and she pushed the tiller over smartly, just as Wes had taught her, ducking under the boom, letting the wind do all the hard work. She began to grin when the sail filled smoothly and new heading was established.
"Well done, Captain Leah!" Wes laughed, settling in beside her.
Cally laughed, too, pleased with herself and with Wes and glad that she had decided to come sailing. If only she could tell him her real name...
* * * * *
By late afternoon Avon had acquired a thorough enough understanding of all the communications systems to begin to work out an approach for tapping into them. Now all he needed was access to a fully operative communication station (the library terminals linked only within the library unless one had a personal security clearance on file) and he'd be able to make use of the information. With any luck, Marian's comm station would do the trick. He left the library and walked for a while. When his mind felt clear he found a flitter pad, called a flitter and sat down to wait.
"Captain Rafe's cousin Galen, isn't it?" Krager asked.
"Yes," Avon acknowledged calmly, not caring to quibble. "Lieutenants... Krager and Elston, if I remember."
"That's a good memory you have for names, Galen," Krager observed sitting down on the bench next to Avon. Elston remained standing. "Enjoying your stay?"
"It's been very interesting..."
Krager took a slim case out of his inside breast pocket, flipped it open. He silently proffered the contents.
"No, thank you," said Avon, not knowing what the slender cylinders were. As he watched Krager selected a cylinder and put the case away. Next he grasped the ends of the cylinder and twisted them in opposite directions, making the cylinder crackle, put one end of the cylinder in his mouth and inhaled deeply. "Tell me, gentlemen, those desperate criminals-- "
"From Liberator," Krager said.
"Yes. Did you find any of them left behind?"
"We thought we had, ah... spotted one of them, but it seems we were... mistaken."
"Still... I shouldn't, ah... care to be with them myself," Krager continued, looking off into the distance, inhaling of the cylinder. "Never a moment's peace... being chased all over the galaxy..."
"The lot of desperate criminals everywhere."
Krager nodded, grinning.
That was clear enough and Avon smiled himself. "Are you on leave now?"
"Really? Extensive damage?"
"No. Not extensive, no. Tedious, I should say." Krager inhaled deeply. "We'll be here a while yet, I'm afraid."
"That's too bad." The flitter arrived then and Avon took his leave. "Good day, gentlemen."
* * * * *