Zachary Fox looked up when Lt. Sheela McIntyre entered the GRS5
office and headed directly towards Gooseman's desk. It was
unusual for Commander Walsh's first adjutant to roam around BETA.
She exchanged some very urgent words with the ST.
wristcom is lying on the desk in his office. I can't hide his
absence from duty much longer. Eventually somebody who's allowed
to disturb conferences will come and then..." She let her
words trail off.
you expect from me?" Gooseman asked, frowning.
thought that if anyone could find him and keep silent about it,
it would be you."
long's he been gone?"
left shortly after he went on duty today and didn't come
Gooseman glanced at
the wall chrono. "That would be about five hours." He
frowned again. "Keep it secret. I'll do my
reined in Triton in front of the pale yellow house where he had
lived for almost two years and dismounted. The cybersteed seemed
to sense that he wasn't in the mood for talking, for it had kept
silent since they left the mountain. Hope Mrs. Santiago has
already arrived for her cleaning tour, he thought as he
pressed the buzzer. "It's Shane Gooseman," he said into
the receiver. "Mrs. Santiago, I need"
confirmed. Clearance granted.= The door slid open in front of
My clearance is still
valid? Astonished, he entered the house. The commander had
refused to have a visual display built in. Communication with the
house AI was strictly verbal. "CINC,
where's Mrs. Santiago?"
Santiago hasn't arrived yet.=
Commander Walsh been here after he left this morning for
he still here?"
left three hours ago.=
information was available from CINC. The AI wasn't programmed to
watch the interior. Warily, Gooseman went deeper into the house,
One of the
photographs in the living room was missing. After a moment he
discovered it on the table next to a glass of brandy. Only one or
two sips could have been drunk out of it. As if someone had
taken it off the wall, looked at it for a while and refused to
hang it back. It was one of the portraits. He looked at it
thoughtfully, noticing the contrast between her long, pale blond
hair and the huge tree behind her crowned with the dark, full
leafage of midsummer. Whoever this is, she's a beautiful
woman. His gaze wandered to the other photos on the wall.
Most of them were taken at that place...
grew more and more uneasy: this wasn't his place, he wasn't
supposed to be there, and he was searching through the life of a
man he didn't know at all. But the man he knew had to be found
soon and brought back. And Walsh could order him not to do
exactly that. Shane got a strong feeling that this was clearly
beyond his skills.
outside again, sealed the house carefully, and remounted for his
ride back to the mountain. If he guessed right, he would need an
official permission from Zach for the rest of his search.
leaves whispered under the hooves of a halted steed at the end of
the trees. Leather squeaked as the rider dismounted. He couldn't
hear the steps that had to follow.
didn't turn. "How did you find me?"
heard Shane stopping in his tracks for a moment. "I
remembered the photographs in your house, Sir." The ST
crossed the last meters between them. "Most of them were
taken at the same place, and there aren't many reservoirs around
Phoenix old enough for trees that big."
snorted. "You're a damned good tracker."
were my teacher." The boy took a seat at the other end of
the moss-covered trunk. "Nice place."
mother had a feeling for places. That was one of those things no
one expected from a woman like her.
It's as if I know it."
been here once. On the last day of an unwounded world when you
were still within your mother.
know that thoughts sometimes need places. Or at least
difference is, if I do that the Fifth Fleet will hunt for me; if
you do it, it's only me who comes looking." After a moment
of lasting silence: "Hell, I wish Niko were here. She's much
better with these shrink things than I am."
wouldn't have come half as far with me as you already have,
knew that the boy didn't understand, but there were too many
things he wasn't willing to tell. With a sigh the commander got
up and straightened. "Mission accomplished, Gooseman. I'll
return to base and I won't come back here."
He nodded at
Triton under the trees at the edge of the surrounding park
forest. "'Cause the brass know the place now."
glider includes the GPS
functions, too, Sir. So your position here's already been
sadly. "No way, boy." He pointed with his head at some
bushes some distance away. "Army doesn't come with a GPS."
The dark grey horse raised its ears at its name and pulled off
some more grass. "But now... it won't be the same with them
able to find me here."
seemed to think about that a moment and then pulled a tiny,
gold-plated chip out of his shirt pocket. "I don't think
they can, Sir."
recognized it immediately: A cybersteed transmitter. "How
long have you been doing this? Disabling your steed's transmitter
after leaving the base?"
hate to be controlled, Sir." Gooseman grinned slightly and
walked over to the grey mare. "No transmitter, no control
signal, no GPS recording." He brought Walsh's horse over to
him. "Sir, Lieutenant McIntyre can't hide your absence from
duty much longer."
know." Walsh took Army's reins and remounted. "Time for
reality again." He spurred the mare into a trot away from
Triton joined the
horse on the way back through the forest. "Why did you
over at the ST riding at his side and made a decision. "Today
would have been my silver wedding anniversary." He turned
his horse and looked back at the dark green water surrounded by
early autumn-colored trees. "Leana loved this
woman in the photographs in your house, right?" Goose asked
when the commander forced his horse to a faster trot on the way
back to the base.
A harsh note in Walsh's voice indicated clearly that he didn't
want to go on with this topic. Your mother, boy.
wedding anni... Then you're going to do this next year,
"Not while I'm
on duty," Walsh snapped.
I hate to hunt people I know."
can't do anything about your bounty hunter duty, boy. I wish I
dismounted near an unmanned emergency entrance of Beta Mountain.
From here a tunnel below the lake ran to the base.
you slip in without being noticed, Sir? Lieutenant McIntyre is
keeping you in conference right now."
bitter grin flashed across Walsh's mouth. "There are no
codes at this base I don't know. I'm going to work you get
Army back to the Hays estate."
Goose looked uncomfortably around and rummaged in his pockets.
"My permission is limited to the Park range."
were pretty sure to find me there." Walsh took the severely
crumpled paper from him. "How much did you tell Captain
"The Captain and
I have kind of a deal regarding this permission thing the Board
insists on. I don't cause trouble outside and he doesn't ask for
too many details." He grinned. "Works pretty
Looks like I made
a good choice for your commanding officer. Walsh got a pen
out of his pocket, scribbled something below Fox's note, signed
it and handed it back. "That does it. If you should meet
Lady Prime Senator Hays at the estate," he put the pen back
into his pocket and turned for the security locks keyboard, "tell
her both old horses are safely back in their
worry, Gooseman. She'll understand." The lock clicked shut