Skylar silently rolled from his hammock and pulled on his boots and a jacket. He located his pack by touch and opened it. He quickly found the small datapad and clipped it to his belt, strapped a compass to his wrist, stowed a glowstick in a shirt pocket, then lifted the energy scanner from the pack, tucking it securely under his arm before leaving his shelter.
As quietly as possible, Skylar left the area of their camp, noting the direction on his compass by the light of the moon. If the Klodfons were going to send out any ships for supplies—or any other reason—it would have to be late at night, or they would have been noticed by the locals long before now. Even without ships, the base would have its peak activity during the late hours for the same reasons. Therefore, he intended to spend much of the night looking for Klodfon energy in what should be empty desert.
Though the scanner would give off a bit of light, it shouldn’t be enough to disturb the others’ sleep, however, its humming noise, would probably be loud enough to wake them in the desert’s thick silence. It wouldn’t be bad if Jenna noticed, but Skylar was not eager to disturb Glen. His questions would be impossible to answer and still keep their identities hidden.
Skylar walked a straight path into the desert until he felt he was far enough away from their camp to remain undetected. Sitting on top of a small, sandy mound near a large sweet-smelling bush, he powered up the scanner, arranged the settings to his liking, and wrapped his jacket more warmly around him as he settled in to watch.
“Find anything?” The voice was soft, almost inaudible, but in the stillness of the desert it was as startling as a shout.
Skylar was instantly on his feet, laser drawn and pointed at the source of the voice.
There was a low chuckle. “You’re fast, Captain.”
“Jenna?” His voice was pitched as quietly as hers had been, a trick learned at the Academy. Whispers carried much further than you wanted, especially at night.
“Well?” She stepped from behind the bush as Skylar reholstered his weapon.
“Well what?” he asked, looking around to see if Glen were anywhere nearby and finding him thankfully absent.
“Have you found anything yet?”
“How did you know I was out here?”
“Followed you from camp.” She peeked at the screen of the scanner.
“I didn’t think I made enough noise to wake anyone up.”
“You didn’t. I was awake.” She hunched each shoulder in turn, then rolled her neck a little before becoming still once again.
Skylar watched her for a moment before he spoke. “Nerves?”
She bit her lip and nodded. “I’ll be okay, I promise.”
He hesitated a long moment, weighing whether to speak or not, then deciding it needed to be said. “You’ve had a rough time, being captured, then not being able to talk to anyone about it for such a long time after. I wouldn’t blame you if you choose not to go. Normally…”
“Normally”, she interrupted, keeping her voice low, yet speaking with strength, “a captured Cavalier gets all sorts of counseling before they’re allowed back on duty, and even then, it’s a long time before they’re put in a situation where they might be captured again. And you’re worried because I haven’t had counseling, and I’m going back into the same base. And you’re worried that I might freeze up on you when you need me most. Does that about cover it?”
Skylar watched her eyes glitter in the moonlight, saw the stiff, aggressive set to her jaw. He nodded, quiet for a long moment before he answered her. “I won’t ask you to go, but I won’t deny I could use your help.”
“I’ll be fine. I promised you that.”
Skylar nodded again. “So, do you have any idea which way the base is? I could get more scanner range if I could narrow the direction.”
"Desert looks like desert to me," she said, shaking her head, "but this is where Glen picked me up, so we can't be too distant. I wasn’t in any shape to walk far, and I didn’t have water, either."
Skylar knelt next to the scanner; “I’ll try in all directions then, one at a time. You may as well go back and go to sleep, Jenna. You'll need all you can get."
“I hate to leave you by yourself.”
“I’ll be fine. I slept most of the way here.”
Jenna nodded silently, hesitated a moment more, then left him and headed back to camp.
Forever passed, then passed again as he waited and watched the small screen. Then in the distance to the right of him, Skylar heard the rumble of thunder. When they'd gone to bed there had not been a cloud in the sky, and thunderstorms usually didn't develop at night. That was the sound of the massive hangar doors opening.
Skylar glanced at his timepiece and hunched back over his scanner, trying to coax more range out of it.
Within seconds he had the first raiders on the screen. He got a position fix on them, quickly punched a button to freeze the display, and shut off the scanning signal—hopefully quickly enough that the Klodfons didn’t catch him looking at them. He unclipped the datapad from his belt, entered the information from the scanner, and added the time he’d heard the doors open. The data pad made quick work of the necessary calculations, and gave him an approximate location for the Klodfon base. He powered down the scanner unit and returned to camp. After putting away his equipment, he went around to the back of Jenna’s tent and scratched lightly on the fabric.
She answered at once, but with a sleepy note that told him she’d been able to at least doze. “So did you find anything?”
“I got a possible location. I want to leave before dawn so Glen stays here.”
“He’ll track us,” Jenna said.
“I thought he might, so we’ll need a good head start.” He smiled into the darkness, but there was little humor in it.
Jenna mumbled an acknowledgment and returned to sleep.
Skylar returned to his shelter and pulled off his boots. He updated his log, trying not to let his voice show his satisfaction at finding the base so easily. Now if the rest of the mission could go this well, both he and Jenna would be home soon. ‘Ha!’ whispered a small voice at the back of his mind. ‘Since when did anything involving Klodfons go easily?’ Skylar firmly ignored the voice and slept for what remained of the night.