Friday, October 23, 2015

The Fugitive Pair - Chapter 39

My third novel, Scout's Duty, is out in ebook form! In celebration, the first two books in the Scout series--Scout's Honor and Scout's Oath--are on sale for 99 cents each.
< Chapter 38                                                                                                       Chapter 40 >
A crowded elevator carries our heroes and the rest of the psychics toward the docking bay on level three.

“Telepaths,” Michelle called, “are you scanning our destination so we’ll know what’s waiting for us?”

The split second of silence following my wife’s question told me these psychics hadn’t grasped the idea of freedom yet. That’s understandable, considering their upbringing, but very frustrating for Michelle and me. In our short time working with Psi Corps trained psychics, we only got the two extremes—they milled around like sheep when initiative was needed or went completely off the rails when milling around was the right choice. So far, the rail-jumpers were all pyrokinetics, but that could change at any moment. Besides, we still had one more pyro with us.

Several long seconds of studied silence passed while the telepaths looked ahead. Unlike the mass-transit elevator, our current car rose more sedately. Even so, we were passing level four before anyone spoke.

“Level three has its own private security force,” one of the psychics said. “They’re on high alert because of the decompression alarms and reports of blaster fire on lower levels.”

“That’s not unexpected,” I said. “Okay, this is my area of expertise so let me do all the talking. Michelle and Mark, you’re both with me.”

“If you’re doing the talking, what should I do?” Mark asked.

“See if you can make the guards receptive to my words,” I responded. “Have you ever tried using your ability without talking?”

Mark blushed furiously. “Um, a few times.”

Michelle arched one eyebrow. “How far did you get with those girls?”

“Why do you think I only tried it on girls?” Mark asked defensively. Michelle’s snort spoke volumes and Mark continued in a subdued voice, “Some of them kissed me, but I swear I didn’t try anything else!”

“When this is over, you and I are going to have a little talk about girls and boundaries,” Michelle said.

“Yes, ma’am,” Mark muttered.

“Good.” Michelle turned to me. “What about me, babe? Should I be ready to shoot if it comes to that?”

“Yes, but only if you can strike an alluring pose at the same time,” I said. This time, Michelle arched both eyebrows, so I added, “With Mark projecting peace and brotherly love on one side and you looking…available…on the other side, maybe the guards won’t look at me very closely.”

The elevator slowed as it approached level three and I suddenly had one last thought. “Did anyone get the name of the guard in charge?”

As the doors slid open, a woman called, “Hoskins.”

Beyond the elevator, half-a-dozen beefy men in impeccably tailored suits regarded the elevator with interest. One of them stepped forward and said, “I’m Hoskins. How may I be of assistance?”

Linking arms with Michelle and placing a friendly hand on Mark’s shoulder, I led the three of us out of the elevator. “My assistant was just reminding me of your name, Mr. Hoskins. I’m rather terrible with names, even though I’m the one who asked the man who was in charge when we left for your name. I’m embarrassed to say I can’t even remember his name now.”

“You must mean Mr. Roman,” Hoskins said.

The man’s face and posture gave away nothing of what he was thinking, but I wasn’t limited to visual clues. I read Hoskins’ emotions and those of his companion guards.  I picked up deception from Hoskins and wariness from the other guards. They were good men, well-trained and well aware that unexpected alarms caused confusion and created opportunities criminals exploited.

I looked past the guards at the door into the level three docking bay. “No, it wasn’t Roman. Let me think…”

The same woman said, “The man’s name was Wilson.”

“Ah, so it was!” I cried, smiling broadly at Hoskins. “Thank you, Elise.”

“It’s Linda,” the woman replied.

I waved a hand over my shoulder, dismissing the complaint. “I asked Wilson for your name, Hoskins, in the hopes we could avoid all this tedious checking in when we returned. What with all of this walking around and then this decompression alarm, I am absolutely exhausted.”

“No doubt, sir,” Hoskins said, his tone polite but his posture and emotions were far from matching that tone. “You do realize station rules require all civilians to report to the nearest air-tight shelter?”

“Surely rules like that don’t apply to me,” I insisted.

“I’m afraid they do, sir. It’s for your own safety.”

Doing my best to channel a male version of Jayna, I asked, “But why must I tolerate a cramped—not to mention public—shelter when I have a lovely, comfortable spaceship right here?”

Hoskins offered a brief smile, raised a data pad, and asked, “What ship would that be, sir? And might I trouble you for your name? You do remember your own name, don’t you sir?”

At that moment, the door behind the guards flew open and a uniformed man barreled through. The man wore the uniform of a private spaceship and captain’s bars on his collar. Brushing past the surprised guards, the man stopped before me and snapped off a salute. “There you are, Mr. Malik! We’ve been quite worried about you, sir! Mr. Calley and your uncle sent me to escort you back to the Southern Star.”

I beamed at Hoskins. “There you are, my good man. The ship is the Southern Star.”
Hoskins frowned, certain something was amiss but unable to identify the problem. He checked his data pad, tapped an icon, then looked at me. “Your name is listed as a guest of the Southern Star. Please excuse me for delaying you.”

“There’s nothing to excuse, Mr. Hoskins! Would that all people pursued their duties with such diligence as you.” Waving to the ship’s officer, I said, “Lead on.”

The captain turned on one heel and led us past the guards and into the docking bay. The richly appointed docking bay was empty, with the exception of more guards and emergency personnel. No doubt all of the other wealthy folk were already comfortably safe in their own ships.

I smiled and walked beside the captain until no one outside of our group could overhear me. Even then, I kept my voice low when I asked, “This Mr. Calley—he wouldn’t happen to have a son named Robert, would he?”

“Indeed he would, sir,” the captain replied. “Young Mr. Calley is quite anxious to talk with you once we’re all safely on board.”

“What on earth is Rob Calley doing here?” Michelle asked. “It should be mid-semester at school and Rob always took his studies seriously.”

Cassie caught up with us and asked, “This Robert—does he have red hair?”

I turned a surprised look on the girl. “Yes, he does. Have you seen him?”

She nodded. “Zav made me take a nap when we were waiting in the security office. I saw a red-haired guy standing in this docking bay—only I didn’t know it was a docking bay or even that it was on this station. That’s why I didn’t tell anyone about it. Anyway, the guy with red hair was standing in here and looking real worried about something.”

Michelle and I exchanged glances and both shrugged. She said, “We’ll know more in a minute.”

A minute later, the captain showed Michelle and me into a sitting room on board the Southern Star. Zav and the kids stayed with us while everyone else went with the captain. Inside the room, Rob was pacing back and forth like a caged animal. Uncle Gunther and Mr. Calley were seated and sipping brandy.

When we entered, Rob rushed across the room to us. I thought he was going to hug us or something, which struck me as a little weird. Rob and I were good friends, but we weren’t demonstrative about it. Instead, he stopped short and looked a little embarrassed.

“I’m glad you’re all safe!” Then he turned to Cassie and smiled. “And I’m especially glad to finally meet you, Cassandra!”

What is going on with Rob? Find out in Chapter 40, coming Monday!