UA7: New Hope

Chapter 38: Itinerant Echoes

"David, there is an incoming video transmission coded as private directed to you. Would you like for me to accept the call?" Mycien asked professionally.

"Who's the sender?" Korrigon asked absently.

"There is no sender indicated." Mycien responded, a bit hesitantly.

"Can you tell where it's from?" Korrigon asked cautiously as he looked up from his display screen.

"The transmission is from a ship that is approaching the New Hope colony. The transponder indicates that it is Arcturan in origin, however Federation intel suggests that such Arcturan frequencies are being used illegally, of late." Mycien said with concern.

"Yeah. That don't sound right. No one's supposed to know that I'm here." Korrigon said thoughtfully.

"The message is repeating, asking for you by name. They seem quite insistent." Mycien said frankly.

"It sounds like they already know that I'm here. I guess I won't know who it is unless I answer it. Is there any way you can fix it so they can't trace where I am?" Korrigon asked cautiously.

"Yes, of course. The signal will be transmitted from central control." Mycien said confidently.

"Okay. Go ahead. Connect me." Korrigon said anxiously.

* * * * *

"Korrigon? It's about time!"

"Garath! I had no idea who it was that was looking for me. How are you?" Korrigon asked with relief.

"What the fuck are you doing out here at the ass end of the universe?" Garath asked with exasperation.

"Starting over. I got caught on a Federation ship and Estie left me for dead. After that, I decided that I wanted something better." Korrigon said frankly.

"So, you're on the straight and narrow now? No black market or underground?" Garath asked cautiously.

"Nope. One hundred percent legit. I've opened an inn and restaurant and I'm even branching out into catering. I'm making a pretty good go of it. If you don't have to rush off, you could stop in for a few days and get some planet-side R&R." Korrigon said with a smile.

"If I were to stay at your inn, would I be able to enjoy the company of a lovely young lady for a short time... for a reasonable amount of compensation?" Garath asked slowly.

"Sorry, Gar. No whores. My business is honestly just that of an innkeeper." Korrigon said with an apologetic smile.

"Nah. No use for me to stop, then. I got a bed and food on my ship." Garath said frankly.

"Well, keep me in mind if you ever just need to stop for some quiet time. This is a nice place. No one will mess with you." Korrigon said seriously.

"Yeah. I can't see me doin that, but I'll remember." Garath promised, then seemed to remember something and continued, "I almost forgot why I came all the way out here. I got me a passenger who promised that you'd pay me a thousand Federation credits if I'd bring him here."

"If it's Dobby, I'll pay you a thousand credits to space him." Korrigon said harshly.

"Ah, there's the Korrigon I remember." Garath said with a grin.

"Who's your passenger, Gar?" Korrigon asked impatiently.

Garath motioned to someone off screen, then a young face popped into view. "Dad? Is that you?"

"Hart? What the hell are you doing on Garath's ship?" Korrigon asked in panic.

"After Mom ditched you, I waited for a chance to get away. When she stopped at Regulus and was really busy with some trading or something, I sneaked out. I figured that in a place that busy that I'd be able to find one of your friends sooner or later, so I watched the whorehouses until Uncle Gar finally showed up." Hart said happily.

"Your mom must be worried sick about you." Korrigon said quietly.

"I didn't plan on waiting for her to get tired of me and get rid of me like she did you." Hart said frankly.

"What do you say, Kor? Do we have a deal?" Garath interrupted.

"What? Oh, yeah. A thousand credits. Just tell me what account and I'll transfer it to you." Korrigon said absently as his mind raced.

"I hate to do this to you, Kor, but you know how it is." Garath said regretfully.

"Don't worry about it. Friendship is friendship and business is business. Never let one interfere with the other." Korrigan assured him.

"Maybe I will stop in for a while. I think I could use a break." Garath said with relief.

"I'll send you a list of my room rates along with the payment." Korrigon said with a grin.

Garath laughed, then seemed to notice something on his console.

"I've just been notified by New Hope control that I've entered their space. They're requesting Federation authorization." Garath said seriously.

"Let me see what I can do about that. Give me a minute." Korrigon said seriously, then muted the comm.

"Mycien, is there any way Garath can bring his ship into orbit without getting the Federation involved?" Korrigon asked hopefully.

"My sensors indicate that the unaffiliated trade vessel approaching the New Hope colony poses no threat. No Federation authorization will be required." Mycien said informatively.

"Thanks, Mycien. I owe you one." Korrigon said with a smile, then unmuted the comm before saying, "You've been cleared. If you want to pull into orbit, you can transport down. Or, if you want to land, we have a fairly decent spaceport."

"This little planet jumper of mine doesn't have a transporter... no place to put one." Garath finished with a shrug.

"You don't have to worry about that. If your ship can hold a parking orbit on its own, the planetary transporters can bring you down. I just wanted to know what you preferred." Korrigon said seriously.

"Yeah. If you can arrange that, it'd be better. Taking off and landing burns a hell of a lot of fuel." Garath said frankly.

"The central AI is called Mycien. When you approach the planet, just let him know when your ship's orbit is stabilized and he'll beam you down."

"What about my money?" Garath asked cautiously.

"You'll have it as soon as I have a place to send it."

* * * * *

"David. Garath's ship has entered orbit. I would anticipate the request for transport is imminent." Mycien said carefully.

"Okay. Do me a favor. Once Garath and Hart have transported down, would you please not use audio around them?" Korrigon asked hopefully.

"Would you like for me to enact privacy protocols?" Mycien asked cautiously.

"No. You can listen if you want. Just don't let Garath and Hart know that you're monitoring what they're doing while they're here until I give you the go ahead. It might spook them." Korrigon said frankly.

"Should I need to inform you of any developments, I will use other methods to gain your attention." Mycien said seriously.

"Thanks. That'll help a lot." Korrigon said with relief.

"I have just been contacted by Garath. He is ready to transport. Would you like for me to bring him here?" Mycien asked curiously.

"Yes. Thank you, Mycien." Korrigon said sincerely.

* * * * *

"DAD!" Hart said as he ran to his father and hugged him.

"Hart, I'm so glad to see you." Korrigon said softly as he held his son firmly.

"This made the whole trip worth it." Garath said with a grin.

"I thought the thousand credits made the whole trip worth it." Korrigon said with a smile at his friend.

"That, too." Garath chuckled.

"You missed my birthday! I'm thirteen now! I'm a real teenager!" Hart told his father as he continued to hug him.

"I wish I could have been there, wait... no... strike that. I wish you could have been here. I'm sorry I missed it."

"Can I stay here with you? Please? I know that Mom would never let me, but maybe, if we don't tell her..." Hart asked his father hopefully.

"I can't make any promises until I check on a few things, but I'll try to fix it so that you can stay here." Korrigon quietly told his son.

"So, who do I have to blow to get some food in this joint?" Garath asked in a mock aggravated tone.

"That would be me." Korrigon said with a chuckle, then added, "But since my son is present, I think we'll just work it out the old fashioned way. The restaurant is right out here." Korrigon said as he maneuvered Hart, at his side, through his office door.

* * * * *

"How'd you find me, Gar?" Korrigon asked as he settled in at a table in the dining room with Garath and Hart.

"I just got a friend of mine to query the Federation database for the whereabouts of David Korrigon. Took about two minutes." Garath said simply.

"I shouldn't have kept my real name." Korrigon said anxiously.

"Don't worry. I won't tell anyone." Garath said honestly.

"I'm not worried about that. But if you could find me so easily, then Estie will be able to find me, too." Korrigon said grimly.

"I thought she left you for dead. I'm betting she don't want to find you." Garath said simply.

"That's true. She wouldn't cross the street to find me, but she'd cross the galaxy for Hart." Korrigon said with a glance at his son.

"Fuck. I don't know what to tell you. Once the Federation's got your ID, you're pretty much tagged." Garath said frankly.

"Yeah. And I wasn't really worried about that... until now." Korrigon said honestly.

"Do you not want me here?" Hart asked his father cautiously.

"No. It's not anything like that. I'm just worried about what your mother's going to do. She's going to find some way to make everything my fault. She'll end up taking you away from me and probably finish it with some spectacular revenge. Remember her motto, don't go for the kill, go for the pain." Korrigon said as he was half thinking aloud.

"Would it be better if I left?" Hart asked cautiously.

"No. Of course not. I want you to be here. I'm just not sure what I should do next." Korrigon said anxiously.

A waiter stopped at Korrigon's side and quietly said, "Mr. Korrigon, you have a private call in your office."

"Thank you, Mack." Korrigon said as he stood, then turned back to Garath and Hart and said, "I need to take this in my office. You guys go ahead and order anything you'd like. It's on me."

* * * * *

"Okay, I'm ready to receive the transmission." Korrigon said once he was alone in his office.

"I sent Mack to get you so that I could inform you that I've blocked inquiries, as to your whereabouts, in the Federation central computer. However, an inquiry was logged two days ago that could very well have been originated by your estranged wife." Mycien said gravely.

"I need some time to think about what to do." Korrigon said absently.

"If you wouldn't mind me suggesting, perhaps Hart might enjoy spending some time with others of his own age. I happen to know that Benny, JonJon and Lehman are at loose ends this afternoon." Mycien said slowly.

"Yes. If they wouldn't mind, I think it would help me a lot. And Hart's never really had a chance to be around other kids, so it might be good for him, too." Korrigon said thoughtfully.

"David. I won't let her take your son from you." Mycien said firmly.

"You don't know Estelle. She'll find a way." Korrigon said darkly.

"Lehman, Benny, Hailey and JonJon are on their way. Once Hart is being otherwise occupied, perhaps we could discuss contingencies with Mr. Garath. I gather from your discourse that he might be willing to help."

"For a price." Korrigon added with a chuckle.

"To protect your son, any price is negligible." Mycien said simply.

"Why do you care so much about Hart?" Korrigon asked curiously.

"Simply for the fact that you are my friend."

* * * * *

Knowing that it would only take a minute or two for the boys to arrive, Korrigon waited by the check-in desk.

"Mycien said that if we came over here that we could do something to help you." Benny said frankly when he walked in the front door.

Korrigon smiled at the blunt honesty of the boy, then said, "My son has come to visit and I have some things that I need to do. Mycien suggested that Hart might enjoy being around some kids his own age."

"Sure. Except that, we don't really have anything to do, either." Benny said frankly.

"Getting to know Hart might be interesting." Korrigon suggested weakly.

"I know what!" Lehman said suddenly.

"What what?" Benny asked in confusion.

"What we can do! Where's Hart?" Lehman asked quickly as he looked around.

"He's in the dining room." Korrigon said cautiously, then looked at Benny with question.

Benny shrugged, then followed Lehman, who had hurried away.

* * * * *

"Hart, these guys are Benny, JonJon, and Lehman. And this young lady is Hailey." Korrigon said with a smile at his son.

"Yeah. So?" Hart said in confusion.

"They live here, in this colony. I thought you might like to get out and get to know some people." Korrigon said frankly.

"You don't want me around." Hart said darkly.

Korrigon looked his son in the eyes and carefully said, "Your mom is going to come after you. I need some time to see what I can do to prevent her from taking you away. I want you around so much that I'm willing to fight for you, but to do that, I need a little time to plan. Please, Hart, go with the boys and let me see what I can do."

"Okay." Hart reluctantly agreed, then quietly asked, "She's really crazy, isn't she?"

"Yes. When she obsesses about something, she'll go to the ends of the universe and risk everything to get what she wants. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that right this minute, it's very likely that what she wants is you." Korrigon told his son frankly.

"I'll go." Hart said quietly.

Korrigon leaned down and gave his son a quick hug, then turned to the assembled group and said, "Why don't all of you come back here for dinner, later? My treat."

"Yeah! I love your food!" Hailey said excitedly.

Korrigon smiled at her, then coaxed Hart to walk toward the others.

* * * * *

"What did you come up with for us to do, Lehman?" Benny asked as they walked out of the New Hope Inn.

"Probably the best, most fun thing in the universe." Lehman said with a grin.

"Sex?" Hart asked cautiously.

"No! It's a video. I bought it on the Yorktown when we were on our way to this colony. It's the funniest thing I've ever seen. You're going to love it!" Lehman said as he led the way to the nearest transportal station.

"I don't really watch videos too much. They're a waste of time." Hart said cautiously.

"Well, we don't watch them that much, either. That's kind of what New Hope is all about. We go out and work and 'do' things instead of doing the whole technology thing. But every now and then, it's fun to do something different. I think Lehman's right... and, if it's the one I'm thinking of, it's a really funny movie." Benny finished with a smile.

"Lehman Byrne." Lehman said as he approached the control panel at the transit center, then selected his destination from his personal preferences menu.

"This place doesn't look super high tech, but it really is, isn't it?" Hart asked as he looked around.

"The people who built this colony were technologically advanced, but most of the people who live here are from another colony that were farmers and builders that didn't want to depend on technology. So here, people farm and build, but when we need to do something that has to do with a computer, we've got some of the best technological resources that there are." JonJon explained.

"Come on." Lehman said as he stepped into the transportal alcove.

"It's just a transporter. Don't worry." Hailey whispered.

Hart smiled at her, then stood straight in his 'transport position'.

* * * * *

"Sorry about that, Gar, but I didn't want for Hart to overhear some of the things that we're going to be considering." Korrigon said frankly.

"Yeah. I get that." Garath said with an understanding nod.

"Have you ordered, yet?" Korrigon asked as he noticed the empty table.

"No one's been by to take my order... I was thinking of talking to the manager about that." Garath said with a grin.

"Tell me what you want and I'll get it for you." Korrigon chuckled.

"Don't you even have menus? What kind of a backwater dump are you running here, Kor?" Garath asked playfully.

"Having to constantly reprint menus was a waste of resources and most people who come in here already know what they want." Korrigon said frankly, then looked upward and asked, "Mycien, would you project a visual display of the menu for my friend, Garath?"

"As you like, Mr. Korrigon." Mycien said efficiently.

A holographic display of various food items appeared on the table, then Mycien said, "Mr. Garath, welcome to the New Hope Inn, my name is Mycien. If you have any questions about the food selections, I will be happy to answer them for you. I will take your order whenever you're ready."

"Whoa! You have your own AI?" Garath asked in amazement.

"No. Mycien is the AI for the entire colony. When I started this place, he volunteered to help me out with my business." Korrigon said with a smile at his friend's amazed state.

After a long silent moment, Garath quietly said, "I don't know what most of this is. Do you have anything that's like... meat and potatoes?"

"There's no meat, I'm afraid. The colony's still waiting on their first supply ship from Earth and we need the little bit of livestock that we have for breeding. But if you want to try the lunch special, we've done our best to make a satisfying meal." Korrigon explained.

"Yeah. Whatever." Garath said in resignation.

"Mycien, would you order the lunch special for two?" Korrigon asked courteously.

"Yes. Your order will be out shortly. Would you care for something to drink?" Mycien asked helpfully.

"Two root ales." Korrigon said with a smile at Garath.

"I will inform Sherry. Your drinks will be out in a moment." Mycien said professionally.

"You've got a hell of a setup here, Kor. Seeing this, I might even think about settling down." Garath said as he looked around.

"Bullshit. You'd go crazy inside a week. But whenever you need to stop for a little bit to catch your breath, you've got a place here where you can lay low and you know that I've got your back." Korrigon said frankly.

"Yeah." Garath agreed, then looked up when mugs of beer were placed in front of them.

"Thanks." Garath said quickly, then watched with interest as Mack left the table.

"From what I understand, Mack and his boyfriend, Tyzo, sometimes invite 'special guest stars' to join them." Korrigon said nonchalantly.

"Sounds like my kind of deal." Garath said as he dragged his attention back to the table, then added, "No commitment, no payment. It's the best of both worlds."

"I'm not saying that they're interested in you. I was just mentioning it so that if you're interested in them, you'd know that it's not outside the realm of possibility." Korrigon said frankly.

Garath took a drink of his root ale and his eyes went wide with surprise.

"No liquor laws at New Hope. The root ale is about seventy to eighty proof." Korrigon said with a smile.

"This is what every beer should grow up to be!" Garath said happily.

Korrigon smiled at his friend's enjoyment, then his expression started to darken.

"I know. We can't put it off. We've got to talk about it." Garath said in resignation when he noticed.

Korrigon nodded his agreement.

* * * * *

"This is my house." Lehman said proudly as they walked up to the front door.

To Hart, the design seemed a bit odd, but it didn't seem special otherwise. At least, it was no reason to make a big deal.

Noticing that Hart wasn't impressed, Benny quietly explained, "Lehman means that he owns this house. It belongs to him."

"You have your own house?" Hart asked in surprise as he looked around in wonder.

"Three, actually." Lehman said with an ear to ear grin.

"You don't act rich." Hart said absently as he continued to stare.

"I'm not, really. We just had a lot more houses than people when we got here, so they gave everyone extra houses instead of having a whole bunch of houses sitting around, being abandoned, with no one taking care of them." Lehman explained.

"But I've never even lived in a house before, and you've got three." Hart said frankly.

"Where have you lived?" Hailey asked curiously.

Hart looked at the slightly younger girl, as if he hadn't noticed her before, then said, "We've always lived on ships."

"I don't think I'd like that." Lehman said thoughtfully.

"It's the only way I've ever lived, so I don't know any other way." Hart said honestly.

Lehman led the way into the central room, then through one of the accordion doors into the living room.

"Everyone, have a seat and I'll put the video on." Lehman said happily.

"I need to use your bathroom." Hailey said timidly.

"We'll wait." Lehman told her simply.

Hart noticed Hailey's smitten gaze directed at Lehman before she left the room.

"Thanks for doing this. I feel weird doing stuff with people I never met before, but I appreciate it." Hart said shyly.

"It wasn't too long ago when we all first met, so we know how it feels. And doing stuff together is the best way to get to know each other." Lehman said happily.

"That reminds me, have you heard from Vincent lately?" Benny asked curiously.

"Not since Christmas. As far as I know, he's still on that Vulcan ship." Lehman said frankly.

At Hart's look of confusion, Benny explained, "Vincent is Lehman's twin. Ask Lehman about him sometime, he'll be happy to tell you all about him."

"Yeah." Hart said distractedly, then quietly asked, "What are your names, again?"

"I'm Lehman Byrne. This is my older brother, JonJon and that's Benny Summers. His sister is Hailey." Lehman said slowly.

"I'm Hart Korrigon. I don't think I said it before, but it's nice to meet all of you." Hart said timidly.

"I know things are weird, right now, but we'll make sure that everything's okay." Benny assured him.

"You didn't start, did you?" Hailey asked as she hurried back into the room.

"I told you we'd wait." Lehman said warmly, then inserted the data chip with the video into the player.

Everyone went silent as the opening of 'Chicken Run' filled the video screen.

* * * * *

"I don't know what the hell this is, but it sure is good." Garath said frankly.

"To be honest, I don't know either. But I've got an excellent chef who can take the oddest collection of ingredients and make the most amazing things out of it." Korrigon said proudly before taking another bite.

"Got that right." Garath happily agreed.

There was a long silence while the men were focused on their eating, which was finally broken by Korrigon grimly saying, "If we don't come up with something, this could get really ugly, really fast."

"Yeah. Estie ain't one to be messed with." Garath agreed.

"What do you believe she will do?" Mycien asked curiously.

"Is he listening all the time?" Garath asked as he looked upward.

"No. I can ask for privacy whenever I want, but Mycien knows about a lot of stuff that I don't. If we're going to have any hope of keeping Estie from taking Hart, we're going to need his help." Korrigon said frankly.

"But, what if we plan something that's... not quite legal?" Garath asked with another anxious look upward.

"Mycien is a sentient being. He makes his own choices and judgements. I trust him just as much as I'd trust anyone else." Korrigon said frankly.

"Which isn't much." Garath added with a laugh.

"Which isn't any more than I have to." Korrigon said with a nod.

"Right. So what are we going to do?" Garath asked seriously.

"I suppose the first thing would be to figure out where we stand 'legally'. As far as I know, Hart's existence hasn't ever been documented in any official records." Korrigon said thoughtfully.

"If I understand the situation correctly, since you have been documented as a citizen of the New Hope colony, which is a member of the Federation, all you would have to do is petition the governing council to recognize the citizenship of your biological child. If no other governmental entity can be shown to have a prior establishment of citizenship, the council would be compelled by their own bylaws to accept your petition." Mycien said carefully.

"What would we have to do to make that happen?" Korrigon asked cautiously.

"I would need a genetic sample from your son and your permission to proceed with the petition." Mycien said simply.

After a moment of thought, Korrigon began to slowly nod and finally said, "Yes. Go ahead and do it."

"I would prefer not to interrupt Hart while he is being entertained. If you wouldn't mind, I will request the genetic sample when the movie that he is watching is concluded." Mycien said carefully.

"Yeah. If he's having fun, leave him be." Korrigon said quietly.

"So, that takes care of Hart's legal status, but what are we going to do about your dearly beloved?" Garath finished with a teasing grin.

"Knowing Estie, she'll probably try the front door, first. She'll contact the council and say that Hart's run away or been abducted or something like that. While she's doing that, she'll gather as much intel as possible so that she can sneak in later and abduct him herself." Korrigon said thoughtfully.

"And she'll probably leave a little incendiary gift in his place, or something like that." Garath nodded.

"I believe that I could detect and counter any attempted abduction." Mycien said frankly.

"If Estie knows about you, she'll find a way to either take you offline or put you in a situation where you won't be able to react. Trust me, she's dealt with AIs before. She knows some tricks." Korrigon said honestly.

"Then, it would be best if she were unaware of my presence." Mycien said simply.

"Even so, Estie's got sensor blinds and other tech that she can use to get past your security. If you make the mistake of underestimating her, she'll make you regret it." Korrigon said firmly.

"If that is the case, could you perhaps tell me what type of ship, crew compliment and technology she has at her disposal? If I am to be prepared, I will need to know as much about her as possible." Mycien asked seriously.

"Yeah. Why don't you ask Sherry to draw another round of root ales, this could take a few minutes." Korrigon said gravely.

* * * * *

Hart was nearly convulsed with laughter by the end of the movie.

Lehman, Benny, JonJon and Hailey weren't far behind him. Although the movie was funny, to be sure, it was the experience of watching it as a group and feeding off each other's reactions that elevated the experience to a whole new level.

"That was... I've never seen..." Hart tried to say as he fought to catch his breath.

"Yeah. Me too." Lehman said as he wiped tears of laughter out of his eyes.

"I forgot how funny that was." Benny said, unable to keep the smile off his face.

"Pardon my interruption, but I need to make a request of Hart, when he has a moment." Mycien said cautiously.

"Who's that?" Hart asked as he looked around.

"That's Mycien. He's the AI that runs the colony. Don't worry, he's a good guy." Lehman said frankly.

Hart looked at Lehman uncertainly for a moment before asking, "What does he want from me?"

"Ask him. He's really okay. He won't bite. I promise." Lehman finished with a grin.

Hart looked toward the ceiling and cautiously asked, "What do you want?"

"Your father has determined that the best first step for us to take to protect you from the possibility of your mother trying to reclaim you is to establish your legal identity and your citizenship. To do that, I would require your permission to collect a genetic sample to confirm your biological relationship." Mycien said professionally.

"What do I have to do? Is it going to hurt?" Hart asked cautiously.

"All you need do is give your permission. There will be no pain." Mycien assured him.

"I guess so, if my dad thinks that's what I need to do." Hart said uncertainly.

"It is done. Remember that if you should need my help with anything at any time, all you need do is ask. My primary function is to be of assistance to the members of this colony." Mycien said frankly.

"Yeah. Okay." Hart said cautiously.

There was a long moment of silence before Hailey abruptly asked, "Can we go to have dinner at the Inn, now?"

"It's too early." Benny said automatically.

Hailey flashed a glare at her brother that promised swift and terrible revenge.

"If you guys can't think of anything better to do, I'd kinda like to go and check on Channing's fields. That will probably take us a little while, and it'll be time for dinner when we're finished." Benny said thoughtfully.

"Do I have to?" Hailey whined.

"Do you have a better idea?" Benny asked her seriously.

Hailey seemed to give the question serious thought before reluctantly shaking her head.

"Is that alright with you guys?" Benny asked Lehman, JonJon and Hart.

"Where are we going?" Hart asked cautiously.

"A guy named Channing has a couple plots of land, outside of town, where he's started a... I guess you'd call it a glurrah vineyard. Anyway, he's paying me to keep an eye on it. You know, just walk through it now and then to make sure that there's no nasty weeds or broken branches or stuff." Benny said frankly.

"Kind of like a security guard at a warehouse?" Hart asked curiously.

"Yeah. I guess so. I just have to check now and then to see that nothing bad's happened." Benny confirmed.

"It sounds fun. Do you want to?" Lehman asked Hart hopefully.

"I guess so." Hart said uncertainly.

"Come on. The sooner we get done, the sooner Hailey can shovel some food into that bottomless pit of hers." Benny said with a grin.

The glare that Hailey flashed her brother spoke of a level of revenge that would be so so horrible.

* * * * *

"David, I have completed Hart's genetic analysis and there may be a problem." Mycien said reluctantly.

"What's that? Is something wrong with him?" Korrigon asked with immediate concern.

"No. I'm sorry, David. I didn't mean to suggest that he might have a genetic defect. The problem is that, according to my analysis, Hart's degree of familial relation shows as being thirty-two generations removed from yours." Mycien said carefully.

"Could you put that in simpler terms for me?" Korrigon asked cautiously.

"Hart is not your biological progeny. He is not related to you to any measurable degree." Mycien said regretfully.

"Hart's not my son?" Korrigon asked in astonishment.

"No. The degree of separation is such that you are considered to be unrelated." Mycien said frankly.

After a long moment of thought, Korrigon quietly asked, "Have you told Hart about this, yet?"

"No. I have told no one." Mycien responded calmly.

"Okay. Don't. I want to make this a priority imperative, no matter what happens next, I don't want for Hart to find out that I'm not his father. He's already been through too much in his short life, this could destroy him." Korrigon said seriously.

"I understand that this knowledge could damage the core of his identity. I will do all that is in my power to prevent him finding out." Mycien said seriously.

"Good. Then, I suppose the next thing is to figure out how to make him 'legally' my son, even if he isn't 'genetically'." Korrigon said thoughtfully.

"I can proceed with the petition to the New Hope council of governors, as before. Without the genetic verification to substantiate your claim, other factors might be given more weight. However, there is still no compelling reason for the council to deny your petition." Mycien said carefully.

"Go ahead. Make the petition." Korrigon said firmly.

"What about Estie? What else can we do to prepare?" Garath asked cautiously.

"I have alerted the Soleen-Avalla to the possibility that a hostile force may attempt an attack, or possibly a covert extraction and strike. A ship has been dispatched to wait at a distance, just outside scanning range, in the event that they are needed." Mycien said seriously.

"I was kind of hoping to deal with this quietly, so no one else would be bothered by it." Korrigon said anxiously.

"Estie's not likely to make that possible." Garath said frankly.

"I understand your reluctance to bring others into this matter. However, I believe that it may be in the best interest of you and your son for certain key individuals to be aware of what may be about to occur so that they can have time to formulate a proper response." Mycien said carefully.

"I wonder how long it's going to be before they regret that they didn't ship me off with the outcasts?" Korrigon wondered aloud.

"What's that?" Garath asked with interest.

"While we were on a mercenary mission, I beamed onto a Federation starship and ended up getting captured. The Federation people offered to transport me back, but Estie told them to keep me. A while after that, there was this group of Okudai people who were being exiled from the Okuda system. I was invited to go with them." Korrigon said distantly.

"So, that's when you decided to make a change? You had the chance to leave with the outcasts or you could stay with the law-abiding people who you've worked against all your life?" Garath asked curiously.

"Yeah. I thought, that for once, maybe I could be one of the good guys." Korrigon said with a self deprecating smile.

"The members of the New Hope colony hold you in the highest regard and, in fact, look upon you as one of the pillars of their newly formed society." Mycien said firmly.

"Yeah. I just wonder how they'll look at me when Estie's done." Korrigon said darkly.

"I suppose that will depend on how you conduct yourself in the coming hours and days." Mycien said frankly.

Korrigon and Garath looked at each other in puzzlement.

"The people in charge understand and accept your past, David. I believe that none of them will hold any of that against you. If they judge you at all, it will be in regard to what you do here and now." Mycien said honestly.

"I hope this isn't a big mistake." Korrigon said in prelude, then reluctantly continued by asking, "Who do you think needs to know?"

* * * * *

"Are we done yet?" Hailey whined as they meandered through a dense grove of mature glurrah bushes.

"We're almost done with this one, then we have to go to the other tract." Benny said in a voice that broadcast that he was nearing the end of his patience.

"Dish nahsso bad." Hart attempted to say past a mouthful of glurrah.

Lehman and JonJon broke into laughter at the statement.

"Did you leave a blanket out here?" Hailey asked suddenly.

"What?" Benny asked at the strange question.

"Oh, look! It's somebody's doll!" Hailey said with delight as she crawled under the lower branches of one of the larger glurrah bushes.

"Why would someone bring a doll all the way out here?" Lehman asked as he looked around the area for any other left behind items.

"Benny!" Hailey yelped as she suddenly started backing out from under the bush.

"What is it?" Benny asked as he dropped to his knees to help his sister, in case she needed him.

"It's not a doll." Hailey said in a trembling voice and Benny noticed that she had gone visibly pale.

Benny immediately gathered his younger sister into his arms and held her.

The other boys watched for a moment as Benny comforted his sister.

Finally, Hart said, "I'll go."

"Be careful." Lehman cautioned.

Hart got onto his hands and knees and crawled under the bush to investigate what Hailey had found.

After a moment, Lehman quietly asked, "What do you see?"

"I don't know. It's some kind of little... bird... person, or something. But it's dressed in clothes and wrapped in a blanket." Hart said in puzzlement.

"Scoot over." Lehman said as he started to crawl in, beside Hart.

"I think it's dead." Hart whispered.

Lehman stopped at Hart's side for a moment, then began to back out as he said, "JonJon, run back to the transit center and call Nurse Willingham, have her come here. It's an Avalla child."

"Is it alive?" JonJon asked anxiously.

"I don't know. But it won't be much longer if we don't do something... after you call Nurse Willingham, go to the house and get our translator crystals and bring them back here. We might need them." Lehman said before crawling back under the bush.

JonJon stood and stared for a moment as the words sank in, then he took off running, as fast as he could, across the glurrah vineyard.

* * * * *

"Hello, Korrigon. Mycien said it was important that I come here. What can I do for you?" Cyril asked with concern.

"I'm not really sure what, if anything, you can do. But Mycien thought it would be best if I filled you in on what's happening with my son." Korrigon said gravely.

"You have a son?" Cyril asked with surprise.

"Yeah. His name is Hart. He ran away from his mother and hitched a ride here with an old friend of mine. Cyril, this is Garath." Korrigon said in a low voice.

"A pleasure to meet you, Garath." Cyril said formally, then turned his attention back to Korrigon.

"Yeah." Garath grunted.

"My wife... ex-wife... whatever. Her name is Estelle and she's probably on her way here to try and get our son from me." Korrigon said anxiously.

"Kor's too much of a gentleman to say it, but Estie's a psychotic bitch who'll do whatever it takes to get her own way." Garath said frankly.

"To put it mildly." Korrigon added regretfully.

"When do you expect her to arrive?" Cyril asked cautiously.

"There's no way to know. Mycien found a log entry from two days ago that might have been her, but since I don't know where she was when she accessed the Federation database for my whereabouts, there's really no way of knowing." Korrigon said frankly.

"Mycien, was there any indication from whence the database inquiry was made?" Cyril asked curiously.

"No. It was a blind inquiry from a remote server, I've since tried to trace the origin, but no such information exists." Mycien said seriously.

"Sounds like one of Dobby's hacks." Garath said thoughtfully.

"Yeah. And since there's no reason for anyone else to come looking for me, it's got to be them." Korrigon confirmed.

"Would you mind if I were to share this information with Torbjørn? I think it would really be best if he were aware of the potential difficulty." Cyril asked cautiously.

"Okay. But if you tell him, also let him know that I'm sorry. I never wanted any of this to happen. Since I've been here, I've done my best not to cause anyone any trouble." Korrigon said quietly.

"Everyone, not just the governing council, but also the citizens of New Hope, look upon you as one of the founders of this colony. You've provided a place where we can begin to form a sense of community. You've shown others how to take the meager resources that they have and use them to their fullest potential. You've not only given people jobs, but inspired them to be their best selves. I'm sure that the arrival of a vengeful ex-wife won't cause anyone to think less of you. In fact, I'm sure that a share of the colonists will be able to sympathize with your situation. More than a few people have had their share of less-than-amicable breakups." Cyril said honestly.

"I really hope you're right, Cyril. I like it here." Korrigon said quietly.

* * * * *

"What's an Avalla?" Hart asked cautiously.

"They're a species of people who live on a planet not far from here." Lehman said quickly, then continued, "Nurse Willingham's not going to be able to get in there. We need to get that kid out where she'll be able to examine it."

"It's all wrapped up in a blanket. Maybe we could just grab the edge of the blanket and pull it out." Hart suggested carefully.

"Move back." Lehman said as he scooted in closer.

Hart edged out of the way, then watched in amazement as Lehman's arms began to lengthen far beyond their natural length.

"How are you doing that?" Hart gasped.

"I'm a Chameloid." Lehman said with effort as he started dragging the blanket out from under the glurrah bush.

"A shape-shifter?" Hart asked with surprise.

"Yeah, except that I can't fully shift anymore. This is about all I can do. It's a long story." Lehman said as he released the edge of the blanket and brought his arms back to their normal appearance.

The Avalla child let out a slight chirp and shifted in its sleep.

"It's alive." Benny whispered to his sister.

"What should we do?" Hart asked anxiously.

"JonJon will be back with the nurse in a minute. Just wait." Lehman said quietly as he knelt at the child's side.

"I feel like we should be doing something." Hart whispered.

Lehman looked at Benny, comforting his sister, then at Hart, who was on the verge of exploding with frustration, and came to a decision.

"Hart, I need you to do a really big favor for me." Lehman said seriously.

"Sure. What?" Hart asked immediately.

"I'm about to do something that might be a little bit dangerous for me. I need for you to keep an eye on things until JonJon gets back with the nurse." Lehman said seriously.

"What are you going to do?" Hart asked in panic.

"I'm a touch telepath. I'm going to see if I can get some kind of idea of what's wrong with the child. I've never done this with an Avalla before, so I don't know what's going to happen. But if it knocks me out or something, just make sure that Nurse Willingham helps the child first." Lehman said seriously.

"Yeah. Okay. I promise." Hart said nervously.

Lehman scooted in a little closer, then put his hand on the side of the child's face.

Hart watched with concern as he noticed Lehman's eyes filling with tears.

"Are you okay?" Hart asked cautiously.

"Yeah. I'm fine. She's not, though." Lehman said as one of his tears fell. He took his hand from the side of her face and began gently petting her feathered head.

"What's wrong with her?" Hart asked quietly as he knelt at Lehman's side.

"She doesn't know. But she's been sick for a day or two, she doesn't know how long." Lehman whispered.

"Sorry. I got back as soon as I could." JonJon said as he ran to Lehman's side, the other side from Hart.

"It's okay. Did you get our translator crystals?" Lehman asked hopefully.

"Yes. Here." JonJon said as he offered a necklace to his brother.

"Let's see what we have here." Nurse Willingham said as she slowly knelt on the child's other side. She was an older woman, a little bit plump and not nearly as spry as she once had been.

As Nurse Willingham gently began to peel away the blanket, the child gave an anguished squawk.

"Don't hurt me!" A terrified child's voice said from Lehman and JonJon's pendants.

"Tell the child who I am and what I'm doing." Nurse Willingham said as she stopped all motion.

Lehman leaned closer, so the child could see him and quietly said, "This is Nurse Willingham. She just wants to see if you're hurt. She won't hurt you. She only wants to help you."

"I'm sick." The child chirped weakly.

"I know. Just let Nurse Willingham help you and I know that she'll make you all better." Lehman said softly.

When the chirping and clucking of his pendant stopped, the little Avalla girl turned her huge black eyes on Nurse Willingham and clucked, "You not hurt me?"

Nurse Willingham smiled past her tear-filled eyes and said, "No baby, I'd never do anything in the world to hurt you."

The little girl seemed to quiet at the soothing words, even though she didn't have a clue what they were.

Lehman had a sudden thought and took off his necklace before saying, "Nurse Willingham, if you wear this, you'll be able to talk to Cheh and she'll be able to answer you."

"Thank you, Lehman." Nurse Willingham said as she accepted the necklace and put it on.

"Her name is Cheh?" Hart asked cautiously.

"Yeah. I need to get to town. I have to talk to Mycien." Lehman said as he stood and dusted himself off.

"I can hear you through your translation crystals." Mycien said from the crystal around JonJon's neck.

"Great. Hang on just a minute." Lehman said quickly, then hurried to Benny's side and quietly said, "There's something I need to take care of in town. Will you help Nurse Willingham if she needs it?"

"What are you going to do?" Benny asked curiously.

"I'll tell you all about it later. Are you okay here?" Lehman asked to be sure.

"Yeah. We'll be fine." Benny assured him.

"JonJon, do you mind hanging around here, too? I don't know if they'll need a second translation crystal, but they might." Lehman asked curiously.

"Will you call me if you need me?" JonJon asked cautiously.

"Yeah. Mycien can call you on your crystal if I need anything at all." Lehman said with absolute confidence.

JonJon nodded that he accepted what Lehman was saying.

"Hart, would you like to go with me or stay here?" Lehman asked curiously.

After a moment of looking around, Hart quietly responded, "I'll go with you."

"Mycien, can you take me and Hart to my dad's office?" Lehman asked seriously.

"Your father is currently elsewhere, in a meeting. Would you like to go to his office to wait for him or would you prefer another destination?" Mycien asked cautiously.

"His office. There's some stuff I'd like to ask you about before I talk to him, anyway." Lehman said honestly.

"Ready for teleportal at your signal." Mycien said professionally.

Lehman glanced at Hart to find him standing straight in a classic 'transport position', then he said, "Teleport."

* * * * *

"So you believe your ex-wife's initial approach will be to try and secure your son diplomatically?" Cyril asked to confirm.

"Yeah. I think so. She usually likes to get the lay of the land before she takes any action. And while she's putting on her performance and gathering intel that way, the crew can be covertly scanning for any weaknesses in our security that they might be able to exploit." Korrigon said professionally.

"I believe that the most productive way to proceed might be to give her more than she expects at our initial meeting." Cyril said thoughtfully.

"What are you thinking of?" Garath asked curiously.

"Nothing solid, at the moment. But with the level of technology that we have at our disposal and the advantage of time to prepare, I believe that we might be able to use a combination of holographics, transporter technology and Mycien's ability to perform multiple highly technical operations simultaneously to engineer something of a... production, for your ex-wife's benefit." Cyril said slowly.

"I don't get what you're saying." Garath said honestly.

"Mycien, would you please project an opaque hologram of Mr. Korrigon in the fourth seat at this table?" Cyril asked casually.

"Of course, Cyril." Mycien said, then an exact replica of Korrigon was sitting in the chair beside him.

After a moment to get over the shock of looking at himself, Korrigon said, "I didn't know you could do that. But I still don't see how it helps us."

"I don't have a plan, as such. But I was thinking that using the tools we have, as well as some sleight of hand, that we might be able to convince your ex-wife that any attempt to act against us might not be worth her while." Cyril said thoughtfully, then absently said, "Mycien, would you simulate the destruction of the hologram in a moderately gruesome fashion?"

"As you like, Cyril." Mycien said simply, then the hologram of Korrigon burst into flames and began screaming out in agony.

Sherry, Mack and Tyzo ran into the dining room from the check-in desk in a panic and Chef Vera walked out of the kitchen with a meat cleaver in hand.

"I'm okay! We were just testing something out. Everything's fine!" Korrigon told his people.

It took a moment for the staff to accept what they were being told, but finally they slowly left the men to themselves.

"Good thing you didn't have any customers, right then." Garath chuckled.

"As I was saying, I don't have a plan, per say, but I believe that with diligent preparation, we can construct a scenario whereby your ex-wife will either be discouraged from making any attempt to abduct your son, or convince her that he is far beyond her reach." Cyril said carefully.

* * * * *

"What are we doing here?" Hart asked as he looked around the business office.

"It's about Cheh's family." Lehman said frankly, then looked upward and asked, "Mycien, did you know about the Avalla families that are still living here?"

There was an unusual silence before Mycien slowly responded, "When the Avalla were returned to Soleena, there were families that fled into the hill country and surrounding cavernous areas, to hide. Although I am aware of that historical fact, I was unaware of any of their descendants surviving today."

"If you can scan ships in orbit, why can't you scan the surface to find the Avalla families?" Lehman asked cautiously.

Again, there was a long silence before Mycien responded, "Lehman, these people were taken from their rightful homes and transplanted here against their will. I was programmed to care for them. It was my primary and overriding purpose. When the Soleen returned and relocated the residents of the Haventauk colony back to Soleena, there were those that fled in terror, certain that they would be taken to their deaths. Although that proved not to be the case, they made a choice which they believed would result in their families' survival. At that time, I also made a choice. Should any of them return to me, I would offer to help them with every resource at my disposal. However, if they chose not to return, I would allow them the dignity of self determination and not take any action to help or hinder them."

"So, what does that mean for Cheh?" Hart asked slowly.

"Cheh knew when she entered the glurrah vineyard that it was forbidden. But she was hungry and all that beautiful, ripe glurrah was right in front of her." Lehman said distantly.

"Not all of it was fully ripe. That's why she is ill." Mycien said frankly.

"How is she?" Lehman asked with concern.

"Severely dehydrated. Nurse Willingham has determined that she is too ill to be transported, so JonJon is carrying her to the edge of the field and I have dispatched a service vehicle to meet them." Mycien said quietly.

"What are we going to do about her family?" Lehman asked into the air.

"I will, of course, do as I am instructed. But if no instructions are forthcoming, I plan to take no action in regard to them. Enough has been done to them." Mycien said regretfully.

"But what about Cheh? Shouldn't she be with her family?" Hart asked cautiously.

"I have observed various nomadic Avalla families over the decades. Although I have no knowledge of Cheh's family specifically, considering where she was found, I believe that her people will have accepted that Cheh is lost to them. They will assume that she died from illness or exposure or been taken by the Soleen. And, if asked, I believe that given the choice, they would choose the former for her." Mycien said regretfully.

"That sucks!" Hart said frankly.

"Yeah. But I get what he's saying. For over a hundred years they've been living in fear. Even if it seems uncaring and wrong for them to give up on her, to them it's what they have to do to keep their family alive. They can't risk losing someone else." Lehman said thoughtfully.

"I guess." Hart said uncertainly.

"And I think I get why Mycien thinks that way, too. What was done to the Avalla was wrong. But no matter what he does, they're never going to trust him. And anything he does to help will just make them more afraid and make their lives that much worse. So, even if he doesn't like it, leaving them to live their own lives and raise their families on their own terms, is the kindest thing he can do for them." Lehman said slowly.

"Thank you, Lehman. I wasn't sure that I could successfully convey my reasoning for withholding from the Soleen that there were Avalla families that had evaded relocation." Mycien said quietly.

"Oh! Lehman. I'm sorry. I didn't know you were in here!" Cyril said as he walked into his office.

"Hi Dad. This is Hart, he's Korrigon's son." Lehman said as he walked to his father and gave him a firm hug.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Hart. I just came from a meeting with your father." Cyril said honestly.

"Does he know what he's going to do, yet?" Hart asked anxiously.

"We discussed some alternatives, but I don't believe that he's come to any decisions." Cyril said carefully.

"Dad. When we were out walking the fields with Benny, we found a little Avalla girl passed out under a glurrah bush." Lehman interjected before the conversation could veer in another direction.

"Did you get her help?" Cyril asked with immediate concern.

"Yeah. JonJon got Nurse Willingham. He's with her now." Lehman said seriously.

"Cheh, that is the girl's name, was taken to the central medical facility. Nurse Willingham believes that she will make a full recovery." Mycien said carefully.

"Where is her family? They must be worried sick." Cyril asked thoughtfully, not directing his question to anyone in particular.

Lehman looked upward, waiting for Mycien to explain.

"From what Mycien said, there are nomadic Avalla people living outside the city." Hart said quietly. When it was apparent that no one was going to pick up the narrative, he continued, "Cheh was hungry and went where she wasn't supposed to go, into the glurrah fields. Because of that, when she got sick, her family didn't go looking for her. They're afraid of Mycien and, because we don't look like them, they're probably afraid of us, too. That means that we're probably not going to be able to take her back to her family."

"Mycien, is that right?" Cyril asked as he looked upward.

"Yes. In all probability, the family will accept that she is lost to them." Mycien said frankly.

"Then, what should we do for her?" Cyril asked, again, to the room in general.

"Hailey Summers seems to have formed the idea that since she found Cheh, that she is somehow responsible for her. If I may suggest, perhaps we could allow Hailey and Benny to care for Cheh. In doing so, we could offer them our guidance and support, not just for the sake of Cheh, but for Hailey and Benny as well." Mycien said carefully.

"Yeah. Benny's really lost. I mean, he's been doing okay, but I think he's just about to the point where he needs someone else to take over for him. Being 'the dad' is too much for him, all day, every day." Lehman said thoughtfully.

"I've noticed that the responsibility has been weighing on him." Cyril reluctantly admitted.

"How is giving him another kid to care for going to help with that?" Hart asked cautiously.

"It tells him that we trust him." Lehman said simply, then added, "But it also gives us excuses to help him, so he doesn't feel like we're giving him charity."

After a moment, Mycien quietly said, "Cyril, you should know that I haven't informed the Soleen-Avalla elders to the presence of the Avalla nomads."

"Would you prefer that I not mention it to them?" Cyril asked curiously.

"Do what you believe is right. I just wanted you to be aware that they have not been informed." Mycien said seriously.

After a moment to consider, Cyril finally asked, "Am I correct in assuming that these Avalla Nomads are descendents of the Avalla people that were relocated over a century ago?"

"Yes. That is correct." Mycien said quietly.

"Then they have lived here for such a time that I feel they have a legitimate claim to be here. When I discuss this information with the other members of the governing council, I will present it in the context of them being the indigenous population. Should we make contact with the Avalla Nomads at some point, we will treat them with reverence and respect." Cyril said decisively.

"Thank you, Cyril. It may be many years before that day comes, but I will thank you in advance for choosing this course of action." Mycien said sincerely.

"I should get back to my dad." Hart said as he looked at Lehman anxiously.

"Let's go to the hospital first and see how Cheh is doing. That way we can get everyone else so we can go to dinner." Lehman suggested.

After a moment to consider, Hart nodded his acceptance.

* * * * *

"How's she doing?" Lehman asked as he walked into the treatment area on the main floor of the hospital.

When JonJon heard his brother's voice, he walked to Lehman and gave him a firm hug before saying, "She's asleep, right now. But Nurse Willingham says that she's going to be fine."

"Hart and I came over here to see if you guys are ready for dinner." Lehman said as he kept one arm around JonJon's side.

"I'm going to stay with Cheh. She's gonna be my little sister." Hailey said firmly, with a look that dared anyone to defy her.

"Hailey, Cheh needs her rest. Why don't you go have dinner with your brother? You can stop back by and see Cheh when you're done eating." Nurse Willingham suggested gently.

After a long frozen moment of thought, Hailey finally said, "Okay. I'll come back later. Besides, I'm hungry."

As Lehman and Hart were walking toward the door, Hailey ran up between them and excitedly said, "Back at the field, JonJon kissed Benny! It was gross!"

With matching looks of surprise, Lehman and Hart simultaneously turned toward the two blushing boys.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:

Now that was an interesting chapter.

First of all, it's nice to get a look at what's happening on the colony, and even nicer to see that Korrigon was able to reconnect with his son. That Ex wife of his is a real piece of work, and I certainly hope whoever takes on the task of thwarting her efforts succeeds with spectacular results against her.

In other news, perhaps someday, the Avalla Nomads will recognize the good intentions of the colonists to save the life of the young Avalla girl. It may take some considerable time, but it just might be a start.

I think a good lesson to take from this is that there are good and bad people from all species, races, or walks of life, and all we can ever hope is that we can help anyone, seemingly good or seemingly bad, to be the best they can possibly be.

I'm ready for more,

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher