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Rest Cure

By Alice C. Aldridge
Page 2 of 12

The hydrofoil that ferried them through the Palomino Islands out to the resort island of Alegria was crowded with students on holiday, vacationing families, even a weathered old sea dog who eked out a marginal existence on the outer islands by out-of-season fishing and peddling bogus treasure maps to gullible mainlanders.

Although Travis's brace had been removed before they left the city, he still walked with a distinct limp. That hobbled gait, along with his black patch, drew the scruffy beach bum to latch on to him in attempted camaraderie of one-time soldiers. Shrugging off the boozy-breathed invitation to share a bottle and commiserate over old battles, Travis joined Jenna in the small alfresco dining area on the after deck.

She was seated at a table with a group of colorfully garbed students, whose lively chatter and outbursts of laughter vied with the raucous squawks of the seabirds wheeling in the wake of their ship. Travis grunted a barely civil acknowledgment of their friendly greetings before dropping heavily into an offered chair.

Jenna cut her eyes at him in exasperation, "I hope you aren't going to be this surly the whole two weeks."

He leaned back in the chair, trying to ease the cramping muscle in his calf and gave her a halfhearted grimace. "There . . . I smiled. Are you happy now?"

"Well, I've seen more sincere ones on Sindari slavers, just before they slapped on the neck collar. . . but I suppose it will do." She gazed at him, somewhat concerned. "Is that leg still bothering you? When we dock do you want to stop by the medcenter before we go out to the villa?"

"No!" he retorted, straightening out of his half-slouched posture. "I've had enough of doctors poking and prodding at me, while making dire predictions. All I need is a good night's sleep and a chance to get some proper exercise."

Jenna nodded in sympathy, while Travis leaned back, studying their tablemates. The girls with their ribbon-woven braids and neon bright beachwear flirting outrageously with boys sporting coxcombs and Maori style bodypaint. Despite his earlier disgruntled air, he slowly relaxed, enjoying their youthful banter and barely comprehensible jargon like exotic birdsong. Until they brought out their music cubes and began broadcasting cacophonous harmonies that threatened to drive innocent bystanders insane, as well as deafening them. The seabirds veered off with loud screeches and taking a hint from their retreat, Travis and Jenna hurriedly withdrew to the opposite side of the ship.

Suddenly, Jenna gripped his arm and pointed to a table at the far end of the deck, half-hidden in the late-afternoon shadows. "Look, over by the railing. Do you see that slight, sandy-haired fellow doing the card tricks?"

Travis glanced over to where she gestured, spotting a wiry figure almost hidden by several other passengers as he shuffled and flashed a deck of cards. He squinted against the setting sun, not really able to see the man's face, but hazarded a guess, based on the sleight of hand display.

"You think it's Restal? What would he be doing here?"

"I don't know," Jenna answered thoughtfully. "Blake and the Liberator are supposedly on on a mission to one of the rimworlds beyond Destiny. I can't imagine Vila staying behind, unless Avon's here too. Of course, he does have that contract with my uncle and could be on some kind of fact-finding mission. Or he might be on vacation himself."

"Maybe so," Travis muttered to himself, though he couldn't imagine Kerr Avon being interested in the sort of excursion they'd been sent on, unless there was some kind of profit in it. When he glanced over to the railing again, the card trickster had disappeared.

Shortly after that, the students disembarked, leaving a peaceful, grateful silence behind them. Only a handful of passengers remained for the last leg of the journey to Alegria. The glare of the setting sun sent them forward, to the bow of the ship, watching as it cut through the amethyst colored twilight toward the lights of Land's End, twinkling before them like a cluster of fallen stars.

The late evening breeze cooled their faces as a meteor arced across the heavens, plunging into the darkness ahead of them. Another soon followed and then another until it seemed the whole sea was alight with their burning descent. They stared enthralled by the fiery phenomenon until the scruffy sailor Travis had avoided earlier sauntered over.

"Ishtar's Tears," he cackled, pointing upwards. "Summer meteor showers. Puts on a real fireworks display this time o' year. So many of `em, they actually interfere with orbiting communications and guidance systems."

Fortunately, after that brief garrulous outburst, the old man drifted away, leaving Travis and Jenna alone in the star-spattered darkness.

It was long past midnight when the ferry docked at Land's End. Bleary-eyed and half-asleep, Jenna started down the gangway until Travis stopped her.

"Wait. There's someone down there. Let me check things out."

"It's probably the caretaker, with transportation to the villa." Jenna tried to stifle a yawn.

"Maybe," Travis countered, "and it also might be trouble. Stay here until I find out for sure."

The damp chill had stiffened his leg, but he tried to hide his limp as he moved warily toward the man who stood at the foot of the gangway beside their bags. There was a small disrupter concealed in his vest pocket, but he did not reach for it even when the half-hidden figure stepped out of the shadows, holding out his hand, "I'm Rafe SanMarco, part-time caretaker and full-time beach bum. You must be Jenna's bondmate. Stannis sent a message that the two of you were overdue for some downtime."

Travis stared at the proffered hand suspiciously.

"You got any identification so I know you're who you say you are? "

SanMarco's dark seamed face creased in a weary smile, "Stannis warned me you were a suspicious bastard. I don't carry a standard ID . . . but I think she can assure you of my bona fides."

Travis cursed under his breath, hearing Jenna right behind him despite his warning.

"Rafe. . .?" Jenna questioned uncertainly. "Is it really you? But I heard The Duchess of Alba was lost on the Luxor run nearly fifteen years ago."

"It's a long story, chica, better told over a couple of cold brews. Maybe tomorrow afternoon? Right now you and your man look like you could use some serious rack time." He keyed a pocket antigrav field that herded their bags over to a waiting groundcar.

Travis glanced at Jenna sidelong, waiting for her decision on whether their escort was legitimate.

"I apprenticed on Alba for six months before my parents . . . before I left the Enclave. Rafe was the senior watch officer responsible for my evaluation. I guess I know him as well as I know any Enclave officer."

Travis did not respond verbally, only reached into his pocket to reengage the safety on his disrupter, still watching SanMarco carefully during the drive to the beach house.

Jenna was sound asleep, her head sagging heavily on his shoulder by the time they arrived at the estate. Despite his cramped and stiffened muscles, Travis curtly declined San Marco's offer to carry her into the house. After placing Jenna on the bed, he returned to the entry to listen to the caretaker's brief rundown on the villa's amenities and security system.

"Why the hell do we need a security system if this island's so safe?" he demanded.

"Lot of rats in underbrush, this keeps them out of the house-for the most part. Good night, Travis," SanMarco's dark eyes gleamed in amusement. "I'll stop by late tomorrow afternoon and see if the two of you need anything."

Numbed by exhaustion, very deliberately Travis activated the security system before staggering back to the master bedroom, where he'd deposited Jenna earlier. She was half-awake and fumbling with their bags, attempting to unpack, as he stared at her in disbelief.

"Go. To. Bed." he ordered, sitting down to pry off his boots, then letting his clothes drop where they fell.

Jenna nodded and peeled off her clothes before dropping onto the oversized bed. Travis fell beside her a few moments later, staving off oblivion only long enough to mumble "Lights. . . offff" before diving into his pillow.

"Vila!"

The wiry thief cringed. Although somewhat mellowed by the fact Blake and the Liberator were no longer self-destructively engaged in pursuit of freedom for the galaxy, Avon's acid-etched drawl could still flay him to the bone. Especially when things were not going according to plan.

"They didn't see me, I swear. They were met at the docks by a hired groundcar and driven out of town toward the southern end of the island," Vila babbled nervously.

Avon brooded for a moment, "Stannis may have been telling the truth after all, but it seems exceedingly odd that the two of them should turn up on the same boat, heading for the same island where he sends us to investigate."

"Maybe it's just a coincidence." Vila ambled over to the room's drinks dispenser, studying its exotic bill of fare.

Avon turned his attention back to his adjustments on Orac, before remarking darkly, "I don't believe in coincidences, Vila, especially where First Captain Stannis is concerned. Jenna and her bloody-handed consort must be here for a reason. Either as bait or surveillance. Whatever his motives, I don't intend to be second-guessed. "

After finishing a final adjustment with his laser probe, Avon questioned the irascible computer. "Now, are you able to decode those transmissions you picked up earlier?"

*Such trivial actions are totally beneath my vast capabilities. Besides, they were not Federation ciphers.*

"Surely with the backlogged transmissions Stannis relayed, you have enough material to begin decrypting those signals." Avon propped his elbow on the computer's casing.

*The code is simplistic and the messages little more than a repetitive call and respond password, along with a series of landing coordinates.* The machine sniffed indignantly.

"Well then, give us the coordinates," Avon demanded acerbically. "We'll relay them to Stannis and our little sojourn in this rustic backwater retreat will be over."

*I am unable to comply.*

Vila could almost swear the nasty little machine sounded smug.

"And pray tell, why not?" Avon's voice assumed its dark menacing edge at Orac's recalcitrance.

*I know they are landing coordinates by the format in which they are transmitted, but the specific location remains garbled by this area's current electromagnetic disturbances.*

"Then use your directional beams to locate the site where the transmission originates." Avon ordered. "That should at least give Stannis a general idea of where his troublemakers are located."

*Vector analysis remains inconclusive.* Orac reported stiffly. *The transmission site is surrounded by geologic phenomena which scramble any attempt to identify its coordinates.*

Avon slammed Orac's key into the slot in exasperation, turning his attention to Vila who was sprawled bonelessly on the room's plush divan, contemplating a precarious tower of brightly colored fruit adorning the drink he'd just ordered.

"I wanted a drink, not fruit salad," he protested.

"Dispose of that," Avon commanded. "It seems Orac won't be much use as I hoped. I want you to circulate among the villagers and gather some information."

"But it's after midnight," the little thief protested. "They roll up the sidewalks at nine o'clock sharp in this burg."

"Then get started first thing in the morning." Avon responded in a chill tone. "And make sure you stay out of sight if you spot Travis or Jenna. I don't know why they're here . . . but it can't be to our benefit."


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