August 27, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Thirteen

Skylar woke early in the morning and dressed in the clean clothing he found neatly folded and stacked on a chair by the door. Unwilling to make noise, he left his gear strewn around the room, knowing he could put it away after others were awake. The hunting party was to break up today and he must find time to speak with Jenna.

Heading downstairs, he hoped she would already be awake, but considered it unlikely because of their late arrival the night before. He was both pleased and surprised to see her waiting for him on the living room couch.

"Good morning." Her voice was cheerful. "It's about time you came downstairs."

"How long have you been waiting?" he asked.

Jenna's musical giggle filled the room. "Less than a minute."

Skylar's quick laugh answered hers as she continued, a more serious look on her face. "I suppose you want a planning session?"

Skylar nodded.

Jenna rose to her feet. "We should be undisturbed out on the porch, and there's a nice view, too."

Skylar watched as she walked across the room in front of him. Although her limp was less noticeable, it was still there.

He followed her out into the cool morning air, fresh from yesterday's rain. A gentle breeze was blowing, giving a slight chill to the day. Jenna shivered and pulled her light jacket closer around her.

"How's your leg this morning?" Skylar asked.

They sat down on the hanging swing before she answered him. Her hand involuntarily moved to the healing wound; she rubbed it absently. "Much better. I slept well, thanks to those tablets. What were they?"

Skylar shrugged. "Standard stock aboard the Aubria. I never asked what was in them. Does Glen know you're…not local?"

She shook her head. "Not as far as I know. At least, they’ve never said anything to that effect. The people here don't readily think of off-worlders when the pieces won't fit exactly right. Any lapses I've shown, they attribute to head injuries from the accident; they explain things to me and we go on."

“Glen rises early,” Jenna continued, “so tell me about your missing scout. I still can’t see how his trail could have led to one of our expeditions.”

“I was sent because an advance scout, who was supposed to be operating under radio silence, activated his distress beacon for a very short period of time, then totally vanished. I combed his living quarters for clues, but there were no signs of forced entry or preparations to leave. His logs were missing, but his calendar showed he was to have gone on this hunting trip.

“I was hoping if I took his place on the trip, I’d find some clue to where he’d gone…or at least why. I wondered if he’d been investigating anyone in the group. Do you have any ideas?”

"Hmmmm," Jenna mused. “I doubt it was the local government. The timing just isn’t right for that.

“This group hunts together every year and I’d swear they were as normal as anyone else I’ve met here. Mike had invited a friend of his, someone named Randy, but you called and cancelled him and put yourself in…so this Randy is probably your advance scout.”

“‘Randy’ would be a good alias for him,” Skylar said, “as it’s fairly close to his actual name—Rantek.”

"Rantek!" Jenna exclaimed, her brown eyes growing wide. "Rantek—from Varin?"

Skylar shook his head briefly. "I don't know where he's from. My briefing only covered his mission here."

Jenna's question came quickly, her words clipped. "Is there a likeness in the apartment of a small girl holding a large stuffed gureet? Bright red?"

Skylar searched his memory. "Yes, I think so. Do you know of him, or where he might be now?"

Jenna's eyes seemed to grow larger and she shook her head lightly in the negative. "I know him, but I had no idea he was here. We were friends at the academy. The likeness is of his daughter Sabrielle; he never goes anywhere for long without it. Since the destruction of the Jalonto base, it’s all he has of her."

The tone of her voice grew serious. “Skylar, it's got to be Klodfons. Nothing else would induce him to yell for help. He's not someone who panics easily.”

"Jenna, could you find that base again?" His blue eyes were intent upon hers.

Jenna shook her head. "I was really out of things at that point in time. I’d bet Glen could take us to where he found me, though, and it can't be too far from there as I wasn't in any shape for a cross-country hike. It'll be easy enough to find if you've got an energy scanner." She looked at him hopefully.

Skylar nodded and smiled at her obvious relief. "There's one in Rantek's living quarters. I'm staying there while I look for him."

They sat in silence for some time before any other words were spoken.

"Well," Skylar eventually said, "at least we know where to begin looking. Now if we can just get back to where Glen found you, we'll know if we're right."

"Right about what?" Glen's voice was stern; his face wore a disapproving look as he stepped around the corner of the house.

Neither Skylar nor Jenna answered him right away .

Glen continued, irritation on his face. "Skylar, you’ve been hounding Jenna since you arrived and now you want to probe into her past. Leave her alone."

His stance alone spoke silently of immovable force and Skylar knew something must be said to him to set him at ease, but was unsure of where and how to begin. His mind raced. He must protect their off-world identities if at all possible. He wished he knew how much of their conversation Glen had overheard. He stood, looking squarely at Glen.

"Jenna looks very much like a friend I grew up with, who disappeared about five years ago while flying. We thought if we could go back to where you found her, we might be able to find some wreckage and determine if she's the girl I knew. My friend Xavier misses his niece very much."

Skylar knew those few words would place his actions of the last few days into an entirely different perspective. Glen gave first Skylar, then Jenna a long measuring look.

Excitement rising in his voice, Glen turned to Jenna, "D'you think he may be right? Does the name Xavier mean anything to you? Ring any bells? Sound familiar at all?" He waited for her answers, his eyes never leaving hers.

Jenna shrugged, even as she looked hopeful. "It sounds vaguely familiar, somehow, but I'm not sure. If we find my...his friend’s wrecked plane," she corrected, “and meet this Xavier Skylar is talking about, it might trigger something in my memory which will help me find my family. The way I see it," she said carefully, "I've got nothing to lose and maybe everything to gain. Will you help us…take us to where you found me? Please?" She looked at Glen appealingly, her eyes anxious.

Glen nodded. "You can always come back here if he’s wrong. You know Hannah and I love you like our own, Jenna. You'll always have a place here, whether or not you ever find your real family."

His voice became gruff with emotion as he added, “I’ve always hoped you would be able to find your past, and that it would be a good one.” His big hand rested lightly on her shoulder and Jenna covered it momentarily with her much smaller hand before they ended the contact.

Turning to Skylar, he said, "I believe I owe you an apology. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions.” His hand outstretched to shake Skylar’s, his smile looked slightly guilty. Skylar took his hand, their grips firm and friendly, and nodded his acceptance.

“I'd be happy to take you out to where I found Jenna, but it's quite a distance away and I won’t be free until Tuesday morning. Will that work for you?"

"Tuesday will be fine," He heard himself say. He wanted to be gone immediately, now that he had another lead, but couldn’t think of any plausible reasons to hurry Glen up.

Plans were quickly laid as to the place and time to meet and they quietly joined the others in the dining room.

After breakfast, the party left for their homes in the city. For the most part, they seemed glad to be getting back to their everyday routines, but Skylar knew for him it would feel like time was stretched out. Tuesday seemed a long way off.