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Rest Cure

By Alice C. Aldridge
Page 1 of 12

Brita's strangled oath jerked Jenna's attention from her checklist of the cargo they were currently stowing aboard the Alamo. Glancing up to see what had provoked the navtech's outburst, she felt an icy terror congeal in her chest.

The orderly, if hectic, loading process of a few moments before had suddenly dissolved into chaos as a guy cable snapped, sending a cargo net spinning out of control, threatening to plunge downward and crush the dockworkers and maintenance crew scurrying beneath. Crouched over the auxiliary controls on the catwalk just outside the Alamo's forward hold, Captain Travis frantically tried to damp the load's oscillations long enough for the workers below to get clear.

For a moment, it looked like he might succeed until an overcorrection on the backswing crashed the cargo into the narrow platform where he was standing, pitching him toward the tarmac fifty feet below.

"NOOO!"Jenna screamed.

Suddenly a lithe, gray furred figure hurdled forward and buried his claws in Travis's leather vest, momentarily halting that downward plunge. Momentum slammed the two against the side of the scaffolding with a bone cracking jar, but Phrath's claws only dug in deeper. His rear claws scrabbled frantically at the metal flooring as the wiry feline gunner tried to brace himself and pull his captain to safety, but he lacked the brute muscle power to drag Travis's limp body onto the catwalk.

For long seconds they hung there, like two lost souls dangling between heaven and earth, until Phrath regained his breath and squalled, "Akema . . . muscle-bound oaf! Help me . . .NOW!" His razor sharp claws were ripping through the vest and shirt as he tried for a better grip."Slipping . . . not much longer able to hold!"

From his station just inside the cargo hold, the burly engineer stared and a clammy sweat oozed down his smooth ebony scalp. Jenna watched in dismay as Akema froze at the edge of the scaffolding despite Phrath's increasingly vitriolic yowls.

"Don't just stand there! Help them!" she shrieked while the emergency klaxons wailed in the background. Even the port rescue squad's Rapid Response Team could not arrive in time to save her bondmate and his would-be rescuer.

She choked back another scream as Phrath's hold seemed to slip and Travis swung loose, secured by only one arm. Then the Kyrenian swiped fearlessly, with inhuman speed, hooking onto his captain's belt, through he was dangling from the scaffolding at an even more precarious angle.

Jenna grabbed Brita's arm, "Why doesn't Akema do something?"

"He's afraid of heights," Brita choked, her gaze never leaving the muscular engineer, shivering paralyzed at the edge of the unstable platform where his crewmate and captain swung helplessly. "Deathly afraid . . . "

"No!" Jenna grated, looking around urgently for something -- anything -- that might break their fall; cargo nets, bales of soft goods, anything other than the hard-sided storage bins that littered the loading bay.

Suddenly Brita clutched her shoulder, "He's going out . . . to get them!"

The two women watched, holding each other in anxiety, as Akema dropped to his knees and slowly crawled out on the shaky catwalk. Jenna bit her fist to stifle her outcry as the platform trembled like a sapling in a windstorm at the massive engineer's weight. Inching laboriously down the narrow walkway, he leaned forward and grabbed Phrath's waist to prevent the gunner from slipping any further and then slowly, the muscles in his broad shoulders rippled and swelled as he dragged the unconscious Travis back on to the platform.

But their combined weight was too much and the overstressed metal began to groan and buckle as it pulled away from the side of the ship. In a desperate scrambling rush, the two spacers half-dragged, half-threw their captain and themselves back inside the Alamo's hold, split-seconds before the scaffolding collapsed with a tortured metallic scream.



Forty-eight hours later in the luxurious anteroom of First Captain Stannis's office aerie, Jenna watched in relieved amusement while her bondmate surreptitiously scratched at the synthaskin covering the deep gouges scored across his shoulders and back.

"Didn't the medcenter use a tissue regenerator on them?"

"Yeah," Travis answered peevishly. "But the tech said there was some kind of mild inflammation in the wounds. Probably from Phrath using his claws to gut fish."

"Just be grateful he also used them to prevent you from repainting the docking bay a garish shade of blood red. Where is he anyway? I haven't seen either him or Akema around since they checked out of the medcenter."

"Probably on the second day of a three-day carouse," he remarked wryly.

"What about our strictly enforced curfew for the two days prior to a scheduled liftoff?" Jenna glanced at him sidelong, mildly disapproving.

He shifted uncomfortably, trying to ease the weight of the fiberglass brace encasing his leg from knee to ankle.

"What the hell, I figured he and Akema deserved some time off after risking their necks to save mine." Travis sobered. "When I came around in triage, Akema was gray, still shaking like a leaf . . . and Phrath's belly looked like it had been flayed from him being dragged across the scaffolding, trying to break my fall."

Jenna's brows drew down in commiseration, "Knowing how vain he is about that fur, I'm amazed he left his quarters, even with a three day pass."

Still massaging his knee, Travis snorted, "Shows how well you know our resident Kyrenian. Last I heard, he was making the rounds with Glynis, showing off his 'battle scars' and bragging how he saved my life -- single-handed. Wonder what Akema has to say about that?"

"I think he was just glad to get down with a whole skin. Brita told me that he's been petrified of heights ever since he nearly died in a climbing accident on the Galya Range. She still can't believe he was actually able to crawl out there and save the two of you."

"He's a brave man," Travis admitted slowly, " One of the bravest I've ever known. Both of them are, as a matter of fact."

Jenna gazed at him in surprise causing Travis to awkwardly shift his position then bite off a sulfurous epithet at the sharp jab it sent through his knee. Glaring down at the awkward and antiquated brace, which he'd been forced to wear because he wouldn't stay in bed long enough for a full regeneration of his broken tibia, he muttered, "Between the doctors trying to tie me to that damned bed and your uncle keeping us here, cooling our heels, we'll be lucky to make our scheduled delivery date!"

"Sarcar's overseeing the transfer of Alamo's cargo to the Valkyrie right now. She's a smaller, faster ship and should be able to beat the deadline."

Travis folded his arms across his chest and furrowed his brow, "I don't like taking Valkyrie through the Diego Drift. Her shields aren't as powerful as Alamo's and jetwash around the docks is that the ion storms are bad right now."

Jenna cocked her hands on her hips, "Then maybe you should have stayed in the hospital if you're going to second guess me all the way to Ganjiro and back."

Before Travis could reply, the door to Mikhail's office opened and her uncle gestured them brusquely inside. Much to her surprise, he was alone; not even his telepathic aide Brendan Doyle was present. After sorting through data flimsies for a moment, he turned his piercing gaze on them.

"The balance sheets you transmitted last week actually show a respectable profit margin for the past six months, despite your rocky beginnings with the clan and Enclave."

Jenna smiled ruefully to herself. Rocky? More like a bloody avalanche considering events of the past year; the terrorist attack during the Byzantia negotiations, Travis's kidnapping, and the Enclave's part in helping the Federation to clean out Servalan's raiders. It was a miracle they'd made any profitable runs at all. But she did not remind her uncle of that, knowing he would likely blame Travis's Federation background for those unsettling events.

"Of course, that was before this last mishap."

Travis glowered at the First Captain, his touchy pride reacting to the implied criticism that they were somehow to blame for the accident.

"The Dock Supervisor inspected the equipment last week and the cable was sound then," he growled. "So don't accuse us of carelessness and shoddy loading practices."

Stannis grimaced, "Accidents do happen. . . and I'm not blaming anyone for this one. In fact, according to the results of your lab tests, the timing was fortunate, for everyone's sake."

Jenna's eyes glittered hotly as she flung herself up from the chair. "You mean you have access to our medical records too? Don't we have any privacy at all? You're as bad as the Federation!"

Travis was somewhat discomfited by Stannis's admission, but he understood the necessity, knowing how an officer's physical status affected his combat readiness. He admonished Jenna, "Don't get so excited. This isn't a question of privacy, is it, Stannis? But overall pilot fitness?"

Mikhail nodded sourly, "For safety and security reasons, every pilot in the clan is examined semiannually to ascertain his mental and physical fitness to fly. Due to the uproar of the past year and a half, neither of you were on the exam roster . . . and it appears you both have suffered for it. Your reaction times are down, your overall concentration borderline, your stamina . . . . Well, I don't need to run down this whole list, but to put it bluntly-- you two are a danger to yourselves, your ships and your crew."

Travis glared down at his brace, recalling the surgeon's dire warnings of tissue depletion and failure of the bone matrix bonding when he'd signed himself out of the medical center. He'd brushed it aside as usual but had to admit he and Jenna had been under a lot of stress lately. Grabbing meals on the run and getting less than four hours sleep most nights, trying to meet shipping deadlines and keep Jenna's recently inherited fleet competitive with Free Traders who were much more experienced at the ins and outs of interstellar commerce.

Jenna stood behind him, resting her hand on his shoulders for support as apprehension colored her voice,

"Well, what are we supposed to do about it? We've got a cargo due in the Ganjiro system by the end of next week. Then there are repairs to oversee on the Alamo and when Dani returns with Balkis . . . "

"That's all been taken care of," the First Captain sais brusquely. "I told you before, `the clan takes care of its own.' Your ship will be repaired and the rest of your trading commitments handled by other clan pilots for the duration."

"What duration?" Jenna demanded in alarm.

"Your mandatory downtime. As of 0800, you and your bondmate were removed from the active roster and won't be reinstated for at least two weeks." Stannis turned his attention back to his data screen.

Despite his own doubts about their current mental and physical condition, Travis hitched himself irritably out of his chair, his leg propped before him.

"And what the hell are we supposed to do during this downtime, anyway? Twiddle our thumbs?"

Glancing up, the First Captain reached inside his desk and tossed a data crystal and keycard to Travis, who caught it one-handed. "The clan keeps a small villa on Alegria, the easternmost of the Palomino Islands. Quiet and secluded but there is a village, Land's End, if you get bored with one another's company . . . or tired of Jenna's cooking, since the facilities there don't include a food dispenser." He glared at them sternly. "Relax. Have some fun. That's an order."

As they turned to leave, Stannis warned Travis. "Alegria may be a resort but Land's End still has a small town mentality. They don't appreciate outsiders sticking their noses into things that don't concern them. So mind your own business. . .and stay out of trouble."






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