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By Alice C. Aldridge
Page 1 of 25

Apprentice Captain Jason Stannis charged up the emergency stairwell, his long legs taking the stairs three at a time.  Reaching the fifth floor in half the time it would have taken the lift to answer his impatient buzz, he hurried toward the Travis/Stannis office, one of the more modestly outfitted spaces in the main Clan complex.  He was bursting with excitement and couldn't wait to share his good news.

Pausing at the doorway to straighten his tunic and smooth down his flyaway blonde hair, he couldn't help listening at the door for a moment before he charged inside.  Though he hadn't totally outgrown his youthful impulsive streak, both his genetic parents had attempted to instill a degree of caution in him that neither of them practiced in their own adventurous lifestyle.

Judging by the deep basso rumblings, the Travis/Stannis fleet's senior engineer Akema D' Scotu was present.  Even though none of their ships were currently being repaired or refitted, Jason knew better than to interrupt this kind of consultation.

Listening cautiously at the door (though he'd deny he was actually eavesdropping), Jason was more than a little surprised at the subject of their discussion.

"Have you heard anything from Glynis this last month?"  Travis's voice was irritated but not overly concerned.

"No sir, Fleet Cap'n, sir."

"Wasn't she at the Thunder Priest's sacrificial ceremony?"

"That was for warriors only, she wouldn't have been welcome.  Besides, she doesn't hold much with the old ways.  Believes more in her own wits and the swiftness of her paws."

"Sensible female," Travis muttered.  "Still, we owe her a fair amount of Phrath's back wages, plus a loyalty stipend for the time he served aboard Stannis/Travis ships."

"I told her, captain.  But she didn't want any part of that 'blood money'."

Travis's non-cyberfist smashed on the desk in frustration, "We're not trying to buy her off, dammit.  Can't you get that across to her, Engineer?  Those are his wages rightfully earned, with the usual death benefit, for her to use however she sees fit.  It's enough for her to live comfortably here on Sanctuary . . . or set herself up as a bloody queen almost anywhere else."

"Like I said, sir.  It isn't money she wants, but blood rights."

"Then to blazes with her, I don't have time for some foolish female's vendetta."

"I think you should least take the time to speak to her . . . and hear her out. After all, Phrath died on a mission with you."

Travis struggled to bite back his retort that the Kyrenian had pushed his way onto that mission, against Travis's wishes and his better judgment.  No matter what the reason for the Kyrenian's presence, he'd died under Travis's command and that made the gunner's death his responsibility.

"All right, all right.  Set up a meeting time and place that suits her so she can say her peace."

"At your command, Captain Travis, sir."

Jason cringed at the excess politeness, indicating Akema was well and truly pissed off and judging by his father's lack of reaction, he didn't care.  Unsure whether or not he should tiptoe out of the office and then come in again, banging the door and making other loud noises, Jason froze as Akema stormed out of the office like a flesh-and-blood hurricane, brushing past him with little more than a grunt of acknowledgment.  Considering the number of times that the engineer had put up with his surly teen attitude, Jason gave him as courteous a greeting as he could, then turned his attention to his father, Fleet Captain Colin Travis, co-founder of the Travis/Stannis sept, of which Jason was currently the sole heir.

Jason stared at Travis somberly, noting the new lines carved beside his mouth and the occasionally tentative way that he reached for objects on his desk.  Even though it had been over nine months since the Chiron operation, Travis was still recovering from his own rescue mission.  He'd bolted from the medical center after less than a week's recovery, against medical advice. As a result the regaining of his normal strength and stamina had been considerably delayed, leaving him irritable and frustrated.  Struggling to keep a firm grip on her own temper, Jenna had tried to help him as much as he would allow her.  However, this time of year, with their fleet's annual inventory and budget summaries due, was especially trying for both of them.  So much so that Jenna had actually welcomed the early morning summons to her grandmother's suite just to escape the growing tension in their office.  Travis had not been amused.

Doing his best to take some of the load off his Fleet Captain's shoulders, Jason was overseeing the repairs on the Subterranean Exploration Vehicle, Loge.  The STEV and its battered transport ship, Midgard, which had also been part of the Chiron rescue operation, were left in a stable orbit over the Enclave's homeworld Sanctuary by ace pilot Del Tarrant.  No one was exactly sure why Travis had ordered that extensive repair and refitting of the Loge, but such a potentially unprofitable venture had left many of the other trading houses to wonder if he had lost what little sanity he had left.

So far his obsession with the Loge had not bankrupted the newly founded sept, thanks to the financial support from the family of former Fleet Warden and ex-Federation President Samore, who were apparently fulfilling obligations to Captain Travis.  But the repairs were almost finished and it was uncertain how a cutting edge planetary exploration vehicle would be of any use to a Free Trader sept.  They couldn't afford to keep it in spacedock once the repairs were finished, but they had no idea where they could store the oversized and overpowered subterranean craft indefinitely.

In addition to his supervisory duties, Jason had recently checked out the Starliner Archives, attempting to locate family or colleagues of Drs. Hertzog and Sinclair who might be willing to take charge of the craft and use it as it was designed, for subterranean exploration and mapping of marginal and underexplored planets.

Travis sat there bleary-eyed, his chin propped on his flesh-and-blood hand, listening to the flood of data that Jason was currently regurgitating, having buried his nose in the annual report of the Interstellar Congress of Geology and Geophysics for most of the morning.  He raised his hand to stop the spate of intellectual garbage.

"The impression that I'm getting, boy, is that Derek Sinclair was one of a kind, an explorer and discoverer, rather than some fusty scholar digging through antique geologic scans for minuscule trivia that they dump on some graduate student to produce a research paper to be read before next year's Congress."

Jason winced at his father's razor sharp insight, sighing as he agreed that he had wasted most of his morning on a wild goose chase.  He shrugged it off with a lame excuse, "Knowledge is a valuable commodity, Fleet Captain.  You never know when something I read today might come in useful."

Giving an impatient grunt of disbelief, Travis intended to dismiss the overly energetic apprentice captain and get back to work on the bloody, bedamned budget projections.

But Jason had other things on his mind this fine morning . . . and his sunny, silly grin was definitely unwelcome to Travis in his current state of mind.

"Well, get on with it," his father snarled.

"Get on with what?" Jason replied, somewhat startled.

"Whatever outrageous scheme that you've latched onto this time."

"No scheme, Fleet Captain.  But . . . on my way back from the Archives, I ran into Kayla Madison down at the marketplace.  She and her grandmother are here to have the surgery done to restore her vision."

Travis grunted a noncommittal acknowledgment, while his mind flashed back three years ago, when he'd gone with Blake to Zircaster/Auros, both of them hoping to make amends for their past transgressions against its citizens.  Blake attempting to undo the damage he'd done with the destruction of Star One and Travis seeking to come to terms with his own actions against its citizens when putting down a revolt.

Unknown to Blake, Travis had a second objective, attempting to locate family and friends from his homeworld Metis III who'd been relocated to Zircaster.  He'd found much more than he bargained for -- his family's grave, a sister who had survived, along with her young son.  He'd also encountered Naomi Reeves, the mother of his long-dead lover Marissa, and Kayla Madison, Naomi's granddaughter and Marissa's niece, who bore a startling resemblance to her deceased aunt, at least in his mind.

Jason had been drawn to the girl, much to Travis's dismay, fearing the boy was still haunted by the memories Cally had implanted to establish his identity.  That fear had proved groundless, though judging by his familiarity with her grandmother's condition, apparently Jason had been seeing the girl whenever his ship was in that sector.

Trying to maintain the pretext that his interest in Kayla was strictly business, Jason babbled on, "Ever since we took those color samples offworld three years ago, their dye and fabric industry has been flourishing, so they decided not to put off the procedure any longer.  I was . . . very glad to see Kayla again, though the two of us had a long talk when I visited her after what happened on La Terre."

"She and her grandmother were glad to find someone they knew . . . especially since the doctor accompanying them was still conferring with the surgeon who's going to restore Naomi's vision.  Oh, and they sent their regards to Captain McRae."

Travis leaned back in his chair, his mind aswirl with memories and emotions, then swallowed hard, trying to clear his dry throat.  "I hope you informed them that Captain McRae was on a trading mission halfway the other side of the Spiral Rim."

"No worries, Captain.  You won't have to dig out that old holo-imager." He gave an exasperated shake of his head.  "I understand the Zircaster massacre was the reason you went in with a cover identity, but why'd you use Dani's name?"

"That wasn't my doing, but Avon's," Travis grimaced.  "Orac had access to Dani's pilot credentials from when she was part of that infiltration mission into Servalan's base. Avon decided it was easier to tweak an existing document rather than create a whole new identity from scratch.  Hardly caring whether it complicated my life . . . or Dani's."

He rubbed his hands tiredly down his face, "So . . . how are Kayla and her grandmother doing?"

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