A Case of Deja VuBy Sheila Paulson
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|When I decided to go to Gauda Prime to look for Blake, it was a decision that took a lot of thought and one I
wasn't sure of even after we started. There were so many stories and legends about Blake by then that a careful
man had to weigh them out to see if it would be to our advantage to link up with him or not. He was reported to
be a bit of a fanatic, but Jessa says I have no imagination, so it's hard to say. I know what's right and go by that as
often as I can, and she and the others don't have any complaints so far.
I've known what the Federation is for a long time. I had some encounters with them, considered my life ruined by them twice and had once been their prisoner for half a year before they decided they didn't want me and traded me off in a prisoner exchange. Later we learned the exchange was meant to be one way. The Federation officer would be freed by the rebels and I'd be held, but that's how I met Jessa. She popped up beside me at the exchange point with a wide range stun gun and shot everyone but me. "Well, come on," she said impatiently in her gruff voice. "Do you need a bloody invitation to escape? I'm hardly likely to carry you."
Jessa's a little bit of a thing, barely bigger than a child, and no one ever accused me of being a small man, so I grinned and followed her. She took me to the Voice of Liberty, her ship, and introduced me to her crewmates, most of them as tough and war weary as she was. Sorl Banda was captain then, a hard and bitter man who had watched helplessly while the Federation killed his two sons for being resistors. It had turned Sorl into one, and no one I ever saw was more determined to overthrow the Federation than be was.
When Sorl died half a year after the Andromedan war, killed by one of the aliens who had gone to ground on a frontier world, Jessa insisted I take his place. I'm no leader, but with Sorl gone, they needed someone with plain common sense, and I've got that all right.
Besides Jessa, there are the Garik brothers, Rod and Ren, alike as twins though there's a year between them. Rod was blond and Ren's hair was red, so we could tell them apart. We couldn't otherwise because they played up the resemblance and shared opinions like one person instead of two. Sometimes I wondered if they were telepathic, at least with each other, but they couldn't send like Aurons. Ren was the more hotheaded of the two and he had only to offer a crazy idea for Rod to declare it was the best plan since the invention of the stardrive, and we'd be off again.
If not for Jessa and Col, we might have come a cropper after Sorl died, but Col was one of the smartest men I'd ever met, though he didn't flaunt it. He often sat quietly listening to Rod and Ren trying to outshout each other while Jessa coolly put them in their place with a well chosen criticism. She had a sarcastic tongue and she picked on the Gariks as if she were their older sister. With me, she was a little different, annoyed when I'd sit back and let her sarcasm wash over me unoffended. I'd heard worse than the brand she dished out.
We were all a little in love with Jessa, which was maybe surprising since she was so sharp tongued and she wasn't particularly beautiful. A few years older than me, she had been in space since her teens and she had learned to be wary when we left the safety of our ship. She laughed at the 'twins' when they tried to flirt with her, telling them she was old enough to be their mother, which wasn't quite true. Her heart belonged to Col, though, and he wasn't interested. Not that he didn't care for her--or the rest of us; he did. He proved it often enough, going along with our ill-conceived plans, always there when needed. But he wouldn't risk getting close to Jessa. we never learned much of Col's background except that he was a superb weapons' tech with a gift for machinery. He could work on ship repairs with Ren, who was a decent engineer, and would back Rod on the computers though it wasn't his field. He was there for us and favored none, and I thought that best, though I felt for Jessa sometimes.
When I started thinking about offering Blake our services, it was Col who most opposed the plan. He'd heard a nasty rumor that Blake had been captured and programmed after the Andromedan War, thought we couldn't prove it. "They say Blake's different," Col argued. "You know what I mean. They say he doesn't care for anything anymore."
"I can't believe that," I disagreed. "That was never Blake's way."
"Blake's way has been to pursue his cause with utter single mindedness," Col insisted. "He doesn't care who gets hurt along the way."
"Oh, Col, really," burst out Jessa with rare impatience when talking to him. "Look who you're talking to."
I used to know Blake, you see. I fought the Federation at his side before I was captured, and I knew the man, but none of the others did. Recent reports about Blake made me uncomfortable. Maybe Col was right. Maybe he had been conditioned. It had been done to him before--this time might be easier. But we'd never know unless we went, and the five of us with one small ship couldn't do much good. We had some rebel contacts but Blake was the legend. I wanted to go as much as Jessa and the Gariks did.
Col must have seen that, for he gave in. "I think you're wrong," he told me. "I think you all are. You hear the name Blake and go into a trance. He's just one man. Part of his reputation's due to the Liberator and part to Kerr Avon's computer gifts." Col grimaced. "I think Blake's a dangerous fanatic, but that's my opinion. If the rest of you want to go, I'll come along. All I ask is that we don't make a final decision before talking to Blake. Well?" He cocked an eyebrow at each of us in turn.
"You're right," Jessa agreed. She agrees with Col a lot, so none of us were surprised.
"Blake will convince you. You'll see," countered Ren.
"Blake will show you he's just what we need," added Rod. His hair was the same white blond as Col's must have been when he was younger: Col's was mostly grey now. But Rod's and Ren's faces were round and eager, and Col's was long and bony with prominent cheekbones and aristocratic nose. He was the only Alpha among us, though Jessa's father was supposed to have been one. Her mother was a Beta grade technician who had worked on the Federation teleportation project a long time ago. Col said he'd worked on it too before leaving to live on one of the Outer Worlds. He never said why.
"All right, we'll go," I decided. "But carefully. Jess, see if you can turn up any rebel codes that we might use to contact Blake."
"But you know him. You can call in and tell him you're back."
"It was a long time ago I knew him, Jessa."
"He won't have forgotten you."
"No, but he won't expect me either. Let's not commit ourselves too early."
So we went to Gauda Prime. The news we picked up along the way wasn't good. I was beginning to think we should turn round before we arrived. GP had been wild and free, with the criminal element going their own way--maybe Blake thought he'd be safer from the Federation there--but now there was an attempt to restore the Rule of Law and bounty hunters were everywhere. The last thing any of us wanted was to meet a bounty hunter, but it might give us cover because we could pretend to be bounty hunters ourselves.
I didn't like the idea. No one who looked at Rod and Ren would believe it of them. Col and Jessa could probably pull it off; they'd been around long enough to have acquired an edge. Col looked neither innocent nor naive, but Col was not the world's greatest actor either. An Alpha bounty hunter, now there was something.
When I hesitated, Ren cried, "But Blake might be in danger."
"Maybe it's a scheme to get him," Rod agreed with his brother. "Maybe we can rescue him."
After that, nothing could have kept the boys from Gauda Prime, and Jessa agreed with them. She could be reckless, the way she'd been when she first rescued me. Col grimaced in a way that always reminded me of Avon and nodded. "I won't swim against the tide. All right. We'll go."
As we neared the planet, we almost came under attack and I was all for pulling out and leaving Blake to his own devices until things calmed down. But we were ignored. Small fish, maybe. We managed a landing not far from Blake's base. I was afraid someone would come to investigate us: Federation, Blake's patrols, bounty hunters. We armed ourselves with our stun weapons and waited but nothing happened. A couple of flyers went into the base, and Jessa reported a troop ship coming down beyond it, further away than we were.
"An ambush." Col sounded unsurprised. "I knew this was a bad idea."
"We have to warn Blake!" cried Ren.
"I've been trying," Jessa said, looking up from the comm board. "I can't reach anyone."
I had to make a hard decision then because it looked like trouble if not an out-and-out trap, but Blake needed warning. Maybe his communications were down. If we went now, we could get in and out again before the troops arrived but only if we hurried and were very lucky. I announced my decision and the brothers broke into smiles. Jessa nodded, satisfied, as if she'd read me right. Col grimaced, but he came, the way he always does.
"Will he be glad to see you?" Jessa asked, falling into step as we went through the forest.
"Surprised, more likely. He thinks I'm dead."
"Why didn't you ever tell him you weren't?"
I thought it over. I wasn't sure why I'd never contacted Blake.
While I was considering, Col joined us. "He abandoned you, didn't he? I should think that's why."
"Would you come back for a dead man, Col ?" I asked. "Blake thought I was dead . My limiter malfunctioned and depressed my life signs. I would have looked dead unless he checked very closely. He didn't have time. The place was about to come down around his head, and he had the others to think about."
"But he left you for Servalan," Jessa protested. We didn't talk much about such things, but she must have guessed I wouldn't mind now. "Weren't you angry?"
"Yes, at first, until the doctor let it slip I'd looked dead. Servalan thought me dead when she found me: one of the mutoids discovered I was still alive." I shrugged. "They put me back together. I think Servalan meant to use me to capture Blake, but then Blake left the Liberator and was hard to find. Servalan must not have thought Avon would risk himself for me."
"Wouldn't he though?" asked Rod, overhearing us. "He was one of Blake's people, wasn't he?" His look all but accused me of blasphemy.
"Yes, but Avon wasn't the type for heroic rescues. He might have rescued me himself if he didn't take the time to think it out beforehand, but he wouldn't have risked the ship and the rest of them without a lot of guarantees. Avon was hard to understand, but Vila and I talked about him sometimes. Vila did understand him, I think, but he didn't let Avon guess. Avon and I weren't close. He had a brilliant mind, very quick, and I'm a plodder, always was. One step at a time, that's me."
"You get us where we want to go," said Jessa. "Why didn't Avon and Blake get together after the Galactic War?"
"I wish I knew. Avon wanted the Liberator. He talked of leaving Blake on Earth after we destroyed Central Control. Blake would then united the rebels there and coordinate rebel activity and Avon would keep the ship."
"But Central Control wasn't on Earth, " said Ren. "And they say Avon destroyed the Liberator in his eagerness to find Blake again."
"'They' say a lot of things," Col reminded him deprecatingly. "I can't quite see him rushing off to find Blake. Avon wasn't that sentimental--from what you've told us."
It was true. Avon wasn't sentimental. "He was never as hard as he wanted people to think," I decided, surprised at the sudden realization. "I don't know about now, how he's changed, but once he said he'd never understood why it was necessary to become irrational to prove you cared or why it was necessary to prove it at all." I smiled. "Meaning he never proved it. We had to take him on faith. He came down and rescued us on Horizon when he could have taken the Liberator and run. He didn't have to free us either. He'd almost convinced himself we were dead." I peered through the thinning trees. "We're coming up on the base. Keep it quiet now."
No one challenged us. I found that suspicious and I don't have a suspicious nature. But a hidden rebel base should try to stay hidden and this was wide open. We went though the hangars where flyers were parked and if we triggered an alarm, it was a silent one. But we heard an alarm after leaving the hangar. I don't think we triggered it: it was already going. Maybe they'd spotted the troop ship after all.
As we went on, the alarm stopped, though red lights kept flashing. We checked our weapons and went on nervously. Then we came to a control center and stopped in the doorway to a horrible sight. Avon stood there, weapon raised, his face ghastly, and on the floor between his feet was Blake's body, covered with blood. Troopers were all round Avon--where had they come from? A smile spread across his face as he prepared to fire. I knew the minute he did, he'd be a dead man, so I started firing first.
Col had designed our wide angle stun guns, very useful when you're one against a lot, and though the range is much shorter than a standard weapon's, this room was no trouble. Using a stun gun didn't affect my limiter either, as long as 'stun' was the weapon's only setting. Give me a multi-function gun and I'd freeze and the pain would come back.
Avon would have to be stunned too, but I thought he'd prefer it to dying. When I fired, Ren and Rod did too, and everyone crumpled. Jessa was behind us, but she could see enough to bite off any questions, and Col stood like a statue. He wasn't above being shocked.
When everyone but us was flat on the floor, I gestured my people into the room. "We don't have much time. The rest of those troopers are on their way. Grab everybody still alive who's not in Federation uniforms and let's get out of here."
I went to Blake, sure he was dead, but he wasn't; he was still breathing raggedly. He looked dreadful, but when I tore his shirt open, I saw he was wearing body armor. If he'd not been hit at such close range, it might have held up, but it had been enough to save him, though he looked a mess. Most of the blood was superficial, though the armor had ruptured and torn up the skin of his belly. If he lived, he'd have bad scars there.
I saw Col checking Avon, who had fallen beside Blake and lay with his head pillowed on Blake's shoulder. Col's face was as white as Avon's and his hand gripped Avon's wrist to check his pulse. "He's just stunned," I reminded Col. "Check the others."
"This one's alive," Ren called out, and I saw it was Vila. "Stunned and a little shocky, but he'll make it."
"So's this woman," Jessa reported. I had no idea who she was. She was blond and younger than Jenna.
"Can you bring her?" I asked. Being the biggest, I'd have to carry Blake, and I'd let Col manage Avon.
"I think so. She's not hurt."
"I've got another," Rod reported. He'd been circling the room and now he stopped beside a young man who looked like he'd been worked over before being stunned. Like Blake, his hair was curly. He was another stranger.
"Is that all?" We were running out of time.
No one else had survived, so each of us took one of Blake's people. Jessa was overloaded, but it's not her way to complain, and Ren and Rod would die before admitting any weakness. Col had Avon slung over his shoulder, but I couldn't do that with Blake because of his wound. It was one of those times when being bigger than most people comes in handy.
We got into cover among the trees before any more troops arrived, though I doubted we missed them by much. The 'twins' led the way with Vila and the other man, and I made Jessa stay in front of me so she wouldn't fall behind unnoticed. When we reached the ship, she was spent and left the blond woman just inside the airlock while the rest of us carried the men to the medical unit. I wanted a good look at Blake since his was the most serious injury. We gave the battered young man the other med table and Ren went back for the blond girl.
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