dimness of the dining alcove, and calm, despite her start of shock.
"Shall we proceed, Pilot?" he asked, expecting her to push past him and stride out into the port on her own. Which would clarify one thing or another.
But it appeared it was his hour for surprises.
"Why not?" Cantra said.
* * *
OUTSIDE, THE SHADOWS were lengthening into the leisurely local evening. Jela hung back a step, intending to let the other pilot make the first move.
"I don't see anything worth worrying about," she said easily, dawdling by his side—just two friends, finishing up a chat started inside over food and wine. "You?"
"Not immediately," he said with a smile for the joke she hadn't made. "Maybe we should move on, in case they're running late?"
"Good idea." She turned to the left and he went along, matching her long stride easily.
"Now I'll ask you," she said, without looking at him. "Was the Batcher having a little fun with us?"
It was an interesting question, all things considered, and Jela did consider it, alongside of a couple other facts and oddities, among them the lack of Pilot Muran—and the presence of Pilot Cantra, who might be an innocent civilian, or who might be something else.
"No reason to believe she was," he said slowly, not particularly liking the direction his thought was tending, but letting it have its head.
"Other question being," Cantra mused, and he approved the way she scanned the street as they walked along—eyes moving, checking high points, low, possible places of concealment. "Who's likely to be wanting to talk with you in a serious way? I can think of some couple who might want to have a cozy chat with me, but nothing that can't wait."
There shouldn't, he thought, be anyone wanting to talk to him in any serious way, excepting the absent Muran.
They'd set up the rendezvous carefully, that being how they did things. And they'd arranged for a back up, just in case the primary went bad. He'd checked the back up, and needed to do so again—now, in fact. All things considered.
He glanced at the woman beside him and found her watching him, green eyes—amused?
Not easy to scan at all, was Pilot Cantra. And it came to him that he'd better make sure of her, if he could.
"I'm after a bit of noise and maybe something else to drink," he said. "You?"
Slim eyebrows arched over those pretty green eyes, and he thought she might turn him down. But—
"Sounds good," she said easily.
"I know a place just a couple steps over there." He cocked his head to the left, and she moved a slim, ringless hand in the pilot's sign for lead on .
On the ground
PILOT JELA'S "PLACE," a bar-and-drinkery calling itself Pilot's Choice, was considerably more than a couple steps, situated as it was in the shadow of the port tower. Giving the pilot his due, it wasn't a pit, nor showing any 'jack spaces on offer. What it was, was full of pilots, loud voices, and something that might've been music—in fact, was music.
There was pair of bouncer-types checking ID at the door, which was a good thing by her way of thinking, 'cause it meant the local lowlifes weren't allowed in—just them with proper Port clearance or genuine pilot-class credentials.
Cantra showed her ship's key, and was gratified to see the hand motion from the sharp-eyed man requesting just a bit more . . . and so she flashed the flat-pic with numbers and such on it. He didn't bother to run-scan on it, though the machine was live—just gave her a half-salute and waved her into the dense noise and rowdy dance-and-brew scent.
Apparently Jela was in the same boat as far as looking legit on visual, which was a shame, 'cause all she saw was him slipping his card into a semi-public pocket, the woman on that side signing out with a respectful, "Thank you, Pilot!"—and still not a polite way to find out exactly what he was a pilot of. But some information you just didn't ask if it didn't come voluntary.
They pushed on,