"This rain is impossible!" Georgie exclaimed, trying to turn the umbrella to maximize its protection for them both. "Here, you're taller, give me the packages and you take the umbrella."
"I like the rain," Cally said, juggling the umbrella and the packages between them while trying to keep Georgie dry. "Any weather is welcome to me. I don't even mind being wet."
"It's a good thing," Georgie said, noticing that Cally was getting very wet. "Come on. There's a teashop across the street. Let's get something warm to drink and dry off a bit. Then we can call a flitter."
* * * * *
"Why can't we just run?" Vila asked.
"We can," Tarrant said, exasperated. "We can run like hell-- go as far and as fast as Liberator can possibly go, but we can't do it forever-- even Liberator has limitations."
"But there's no way they could keep up-- "
"Who says they have to? Maybe-- maybe they have got some sort of tracking network set up and we've fallen into it... I don't know. All I know is we haven't been able to lose them and that means we're going to have to engage them."
"Tarrant,is it really necessary?" Dayna asked quietly.
Tarrant sighed. "At least it will cut down the number of ships pursuing us."
"Or cut down on the number of ships being pursued," said Vila.
"Thank you for that vote of confidence. Now, get to your station and shut up!"
"Tarrant..." Dayna said, "if we engage we'll be draining our power."
"We drain it by running, too, so?"
"Well, yes, but running we don't need shields or fire power and if we engage them and we can't take out at least two of those ships, well, we're going to have to run like hell anyway-- how far and how fast can Liberator run at maximum?"
"About a parsec in slightly less than two hours. A bit farther if we run to exhaustion."
"Us or the ship?" she asked with a grin.
"So," he said staring at her. "You want to run, too."
"I think we should give it one last try. There's got to be a direction we haven't tried, a way out. Even if they have set up a tracking grid."
Tarrant was tired of running. An engagement with the enemy would be more satisfying, but... he felt... unlucky. The drugs were all very well for a short time, but that time had passed.
"We need rest," she said watching him. "Time to plan."
She was right. He never felt his sharpest on the drugs. And it might buy them some time.
* * * * *
Liberator seemed barely to move and Taggert watched and waited patiently for what would happen next. The pursuit was going well. Outside of that first exchange, there had been no excitement. Liberator had been kept constantly on the run, and by now the crew, if not the ship, must be nearing exhaustion. Soon they would begin to make mistakes. "And there they go," Taggert laughed.
"I thought for a moment they were going to turn and fight," Doctor Farnum said, wiping cold perspiration from his brow.
"They should have. By the time they get where they're going they'll be exhausted and we'll be waiting for them." Taggert flicked the com switch. "Jeffers, get on their tail and stay there-- but not too close: we've finally got them running at maximum and I want them to stay that way-- but I don't want them putting their shields up. Keep Tass informed."
* * * * *
"What's it like?" Georgie asked over tea.
"On Lib-- the ship, you mean?"
"Well! Hard work, danger, low pay and boredom, too," said Georgie, ticking off the points on her fingers.
"What?" Cally asked, laughing, surprised by Georgie's summation. "Where did you hear that?"
"Galen, of course. It's probably lonely and frightening as well, isn't it?"
"Yes. What else did he tell you?"
Georgie looked about to see whether anyone could be listening. There were only four other people in the shop and no one within ear shot, but she leaned forward and whispered, "That he's a convicted criminal-- bank fraud, with violence."
"That's true, you know," Cally said, amused.
"Oh, yes, but I think there must have been-- extenuating circumstances?"
"You could say that, I suppose."
"Oh?" Georgie cocked an inquiring eyebrow, but Cally didn't elucidate. "Very well," Georgie conceded, "I'll ask him myself. He said your only crime was Idealism."
"Did he, now..."
"How long have you been-- ?"
"With Bl-- them? Years. Years too long."
"What made you join him?"
"I was stranded and I didn't have much choice."
"You didn't set out to join him?"
"No. I didn't know anything about him. And they were a motley, rag-tag lot."
"To a man-- woman. Technically, I was convicted, too. I was exiled from Auron for becoming politically involved. Auron was neutral."
"Idealism was your crime then. Can you ever go home?"
"Never? Things change."
"Auron isn't-- it doesn't-- " Cally didn't want to explain it again, but Georgie didn't know how much it hurt and talking about it would get easier if she did it more often. "They're all dead, now. There was a plague-- "
"Yes." Cally leaned towards Georgie and whispered, "Servalan-- the Federation introduced a plague-- "
"What!" Georgie squeaked in surprise. Then, lowering her voice, "Introduced a plague? On an inhabited, neutral planet?"
"Yes. It was a trap. For us."
"For you? For-- all of you?"
"They knew I-- they knew we'd try to help."
"Oh, Ca-- Leah! Was there no cure?"
"Yes, but it was too little and too late."
"And no one survived?"
"Very few. Auron no longer exists."
Cally just shook her head.
"I'm so sorry."
"Me too. But it's in the past." Cally was surprised to find she didn't feel like crying. Maybe it had something to do with being in a public place.
"The Federation! I can't believe it."
"But, it's true."
"I wonder if Rafe or Doc has heard about this-- " Georgie began, then seeing Cally's stony expression, she realized what had been left out of the story. "Don't blame yourself. If not to capture your ship, they'd have done it for some other reason."
"I know. That's what A-- Galen says, too."
"Then he's a good friend. You listen to him."
"You listen to him. He's a pompous, overbearing-- "
"Man!" Georgie grinned. "I know. But he's your friend."
"Look. The rain has let up. Let's call a flitter and go home."
* * * * *
Liberator had been hurtling through space at top speed on a direct course for nowhere for forty-five minutes and Dayna was keeping watch alone on the flight deck. Her mind was wandering when, suddenly, she felt the whole ship shudder.
"What was that?" Dayna asked, jumping to her feet, looking to the viewscreen. "Zen, what was that?"
"The ship has collided with a piece of debris."
"Zen, has there been any damage?"
"Zen, why didn't we avoid the debris?"
"The mass of the debris was too slight to detect and avoid at the present velocity."
"Too slight-- " Once again the ship shuddered slightly and this time sparks seemed to erupt on the viewscreen.
"More debris, Zen?"
"Are the shields holding?"
Dayna went quickly to her station to look at the instruments and was surprised to discover an extensive field of debris directly ahead. She looked at the viewscreen again and now she could see a faint haze in the center. As she watched a few more sparks appeared and faded.
"Attention... Warning... Ordered course and speed can no longer be safely maintained... If no countermand is given flight systems will shut down in three minutes... Attention... Warning... Ordered course-- "
"Zen, countermand! Maintain speed and revise course as necessary."
"Complying... Course revised."
* * * * *
"They've changed course and slowed, Commander."
"Evasive or are they holding steady?"
"Abrupt change, but too early to tell, sir..."
* * * * *
"What's going on?" asked Tarrant, going quickly to his station.
"Course change. Debris ahead. We can't fly through it at this speed."
"Damn it. Our best course lies directly through that field of debris..." He scanned the instruments, thinking. The debris might not be completely avoidable, but-- "Dayna, put up all our battle shielding, set for maximum protection. Zen, manual control."
"What are you doing?"
"I'm going to fly us as close to that debris and I can. That course was calculated to put the greatest distance between us and out last known pursuers, so I'm going to stick as close as possible to it. I'll compensate for the shields by dropping speed a bit, then once we're past the field, we can drop the shields and resume maximum speed. With any luck, we won't have lost any ground."
* * * * *
"Keep a sharp watch on them-- "
"Sir! The signal is gone."
"Damn it! Analysis! Evasive?"
"Difficult to say, sir, the signal-- "
"Farnum! Where the devil is Farnum? Get Farnum up here! Now!" Taggert punched up the simulation and began playing with the figures. Liberator's last known position wasn't much help if their present course and speed were unknown-- damn it! Why did they have to run into a hostile now? There were two headings that would take them out of range. Tass and Jeffers could never cover in time--
"Sir, it's space junk."
"Space junk, sir. I-- I believe the reason for the change was space junk. It's plotted location-- "
"I see." It was true. Was it possible, was it just barely possible, that Liberator would go around that field of junk and resume course?
Taggert started thinking about the nature of luck.
* * * * *
Pearson stared at the list on the screen, wondering. First it was McAran, and now Krager, wanting to see the security reports on Rafe's passengers. He couldn't figure out who they were after. There weren't any holes in any of the reports... all the passport numbers were valid, all the vital statistics matched... everyone was accounted for...
And yet, it was just possible that one of those people was not who he seemed to be-- Pearson looked up. "Yes, Aileen?"
"After you threw Krager out, he sent off a request, priority and scrambled, to Federation Central Security."
"He didn't happen to tell you what it was about, I suppose?"
"No," she said. "But, if you like, I can offer a guess."
"I would guess he's setting up to run point-for-point on someone."
Pearson was stumped by her guess. There was no logical basis for such a conclusion based on available information; therefore, she had a piece of information that he didn't. "What do you know that I don't?"
Aileen grinned. "As they were leaving I overheard him say to Elston that they had to buy a camera. Krager is no tourist and Elston isn't photogenic, so... what could Central Security send him that he'd need a camera for?"
"You're probably right. Let me know when he gets an answer, will you?"
Well, every passenger had been validated, verified and vouched for. No cause for suspicion, no cause for further investigation. Barram Security had done it's duty. If there were a known Federation criminal loose on Barram, let Krager dig him out.
Pearson signed off and went to lunch.
Lunch didn't sit very well.
* * * * *
"There, you see? They go perfectly," Georgie said, sitting down in the chair, watching Cally.
Cally walked a few steps to test the feel and the balance of the new shoes, before going over to look at herself the mirror. "You're right," she said.
Georgie watched her for a few moments. "Cally, what will you do if your ship doesn't return?"
"I don't know," she said, critically observing her reflection in the mirror, turning this way and that, "keep looking for Blake, rejoin the fight somehow."
"Is that what you want to do?"
"I don't know-- " Cally stopped and turned to look at Georgie. "That's a lie. I do know, Georgie. I want to quit. I don't ever want to go back!"
"But, you're trying to help. Trying to do some good."
"Georgie, it's worse than you can imagine out there. You have to watch friends and innocent people die-- and sometimes you are the cause of death... and most of the time you're completely powerless to-- no matter what we try to do, it always seems to turn out badly. It's as if our good intentions are worse than anything the Federation can do. And with Blake gone, there isn't much point. None of us is a leader, none of us has a plan. We don't know what we're doing anymore. Oh, Georgie-- I'm so tired of it all!" And she felt the tears in her eyes.
"Oh, Cally, don't cry. I'm sorry," she said, contritely, starting to get up out of the chair, but falling back into it with an audible "Ooof."
The look of surprised indignation on Georgie's face made Cally laugh. "You've got to remember to stay out of comfortable chairs," she said, hoisting Georgie to her feet.
"Until my friend here arrives, anyway. Then I shall sit when and where I please!"
* * * * *
Georgie lay on the bed listening to the rain. She had wanted to take a nap, but she couldn't stop thinking about Cally and Auron and the Federation and for the first time in her life she didn't feel safe. She wrapped her arms protectively around the child in her belly and waited for Rafe to come home...
* * * * *
Rafe listened to Georgie tell Cally's story while he changed his clothes. He expressed all the proper feelings, but somehow she felt he wasn't as concerned as she was and she found that both comforting and disturbing. As she watched him gather up his dirty clothes she asked, "Rafe... how safe are we? How safe is Barram?"
"Safe enough," he said putting his uniform in the cleaner.
"But... what would happen to us if the Federation revoked our charter?"
"Things wouldn't change much."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure." He put his boots in the closet, picked up his house shoes and shut the door.
"But... what happened... to Auron."
"It's not the same, Georgie," he said coming over to the bed and sitting down next to her. "You don't need to worry."
"But I have to worry. We both have someone else to worry for now."
"I haven't forgotten," he said, smiling and putting a hand on her belly. "Our friend here is the reason I know everything is going to be fine."
"But, Rafe," she said quietly, "you know that's not the way it works."
"I know. But I hope everything will be fine for our children-- I hope everything will be better for them. I believe it will be better," he said, stroking her cheek. "And I'll do everything I can to ensure that they-- and their mother-- will be safe and that they will never have to worry or fear anyone or anything."
"Oh, we will keep them safe, won't we?"
"Yes. And we'll keep the future shining bright for them. I promise." Rafe kissed her to seal the promise. "Now stop worrying and let's go make some dinner. I'm famished."
* * * * *