Maganos, Unified Federation Date 334.05.11
Acorna's office in the Dehoney facility onMaganos Moon Base was far too full forher comfort, and the meeting had beengoing on so long that she was developing an alluring fantasy about escaping the comfort of the basefor the freedom of a good planetside gallop anyplanet, anywhere, just so it offered her clean firmearth to run on and a horizon very far away. Theneed for earth and sky and open space was becoming almost an obsession for her as the meetingdragged on just as dreaming up all these newways to stop her and Calum from starting on theirmission to find her species' home world had becomean obsession for Pal.
She tried to compose herself, remembering that it was probably even worse for Calum. He considered finding her home world his first duty to her, even before his love for Mercy. The sooner Acorna could release Calum from that self-imposed quest, the sooner he and Mercy could marry. Acorna understood why some of her friends were reluctant to see the Acadecki depart. Gill and Judit were happily settled now, overseeing the care and education of the bondchildren still arriving to study and work at Maganos; and Rafik was presumably satisfied with his new career as assistant and heir apparent to his uncle Hafiz, the head of House Harakamian. But couldn't they see that Calum needed to complete his quest for her home planet and that she needed to find her own people before she could be content anywhere?
Pal continued inexorably to read on from the notepad in his hand. "Supplies and munitions are still not completed. But right now" and he looked directly atAcorna and then Calum, shaking his head sadly "the worst problem is that of reinstalling and testing the Acadecki's defense system. My people estimate it will take at least four weeks to be certain that the new defenses are accurately installed this time."
"Wait a bleeding minute!" Calum jumped to his feet. He and Acorna exchanged a glance that told her he felt sure this was yet another one of the many phony little delaying tactics thought up by Pal in collaboration with his sister Judit and Gill. Possibly even Delszaki Li had had a hand in this one; although the Acadecki had been supplied by Hafiz Harakamian, Mr. Li had offered to finance its refitting to make it the perfect vessel for this long-distance quest. Had that generous offer really been a sneaky way of seeing that Delszaki Li retained control over the ship and could drag out the refitting until they gave up the search?
Calum shot a second, almost accusing glance at Mr. 4 who was floating quietly in the chair which allowed him such mobility as his increasing paralysis permitted. Some people had made the mistakesometimes a fatal mistake of underestimating Delszaki Li because of his great age and the debilitating neurological disease which had all but paralyzed him. Not Calum! He was all too aware of the dear, penetrating mind encased in that ancient body. Delszaki Li was a force to be reckoned with benevolent, powerful, astute, and, Calum thought wryly, about as straightforward as a spiral staircase in an Escher print.
Calum knew that Mr. Li found it hard deep in the heart which Acorna's beauty charm, bravery, and intelligence had thawed to let her start out upon her search. He did make every appearance of helping to secure her ambition of finding her folk, but he was easily tempted into thinking up new ways to delay her actual departure. And Pal Kendoro, his personal assistant, was not limited by even the pretense of wanting to help Acorna on her quest! He considered himself in love with Acorna, could not or would not see why she couldn't settle down happily with him while remaining in ignorance about her own race, and absolutely did not want her going off alone for months, possibly years, with Calum. Neither of Pal's staters could convince him that Calum Baird had absolutely no interest in Acorna, apart from completing his self-imposed task of finding her species.
Cal might seem totally immersed in technologies, improvements, designs, star systems and analyses thereof, but he wasn't oblivious to Pal's obvious jealousy, and he did his best to defuse situations which fed that unreasonable attitude.Sometimes he wondered if it wouldn't be better to openly declare his love for Pal's youngest sister Mercy and his desire to marry her as soon as he had completed this mission though that would not be fair to Mercy; she should not be tied down while he went away on a quest of unknown duration.But right now, all Calum's good intentions of calm, rational behavior had gone out the nearest air vent as, once again, Pal seemed to be sabotaging the start of their voyage.
"If you think," Calum went on, his anger apparent in his acid tone of voice, "thats a lousy defense system," Acorna jumped in to support him, "so far beyond what was originally designed for that class of ship, I do not know."
"Is not sensible to send you so far without every possible consideration taken for your safe return," Mr. Li said.
"We have communications devices that can reach a habitable system soon enough to summon help if the long-range missiles, the mines, the war-heads, and the laser cannon do not dissuade a pirate," Calum went on.He was seething with resentment.Acorna's Quest
. Copyright © by Anne McCaffrey. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.