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By Zelda
Page 2 of 5

Inga sat down. My father will be getting worried. No, don't say that, don't say anything. She looked around. The room was wonderfully warm compared to the air outside, and lit up with electric lights, and full of electric sounds. The overall ambience filled her with an odd nostalgia for her childhood. There had been so much food then, at least there had been for her.

"Where's he?" the driver asked the man with the knife.

"Up top."

"Did you tell him we were here?" the driver asked.

The knife man looked down, concentrated on pushing a cuticle back with the point of his blade. "He'll figure it out."

"No hurry," the passenger said. "I think we deserve a break. She didn't want to come, you know. I think she may still be plotting to get away."

"Well if she tries, we'll just have to cut her hamstrings," the knife man said, cheerfully, and came near and looked down at her clenched in the chair, and never let off picking at his nails. "Do you know what those are, Inga? Do you want me to show you?"

"He's a gifted surgeon," the passenger said to her, to all of them, and laughed. "Take off your boots and he'll show you."

"Take off your trousers," the knife man said.

She didn't move. The passenger grabbed her arm and pulled her up out of the chair, and the driver came forward and yanked her trousers down, the drawstring tight as it was pulled over her hips, pulled down around her knees. Then the passenger shoved her down onto the chair again.

I saw a light in the sky, she thought. Distanced herself from the helpless fear here. He said not to go down to the river, but I did.

The knife man leaned in close to her. "So shy," he said. "Are you a virgin, Inga?"

She didn't answer.

"I think she is," the driver said. "I think she needs corrective surgery."

The knife man moved around behind her, and bent over her shoulder, and drew the knife blade slowly, lightly, up her thigh, from her knee to the hem of her knitted underwear. Blood welled up evenly all along the line, red beads the size of poppyseeds. She made a terrified sound. The driver grinned.

"Spread your legs," the knife man murmured in her ear. She didn't. She clamped them together even tighter.

The driver stepped forward and grabbed her knees, and wrenched them apart.

Then the passenger cleared his throat in such a way that the knife man jerked away, and his blade disappeared, and the driver quickly stepped back from her, and she pressed her knees together again. "Pull them up," someone hissed, and someone else did.

A door on the far side of the room slid open, and a man stepped out of the elevator there, and turned and walked over to where the crowd had gathered.

She stared up at him as he moved into focus. "Ah, Inga, you're here, good," he said, acknowledging her with a quick nod. And she stared. He was dressed all in black like the others, and his costume, like theirs, could be some sort of Federation uniform. She wasn't sure, she hadn't seen them since she was a child, and even when she was a child her eyesight had not been all that good, things were just blurs at any distance. And her parents had done their very best to avoid close encounters with anyone wearing a uniform. Coincidentally or not, she had survived, at least this long. She had outlived most of the children born here.

She became aware that she was staring, and tried not to. She made herself look at his insignia, not his face. That wasn't polite, her mother had taught her it wasn't polite. Though he was pretty enough despite the patch, and he looked down at her in a way that suggested her response would not make much of an impact, one way or the other, on his self-esteem.

Who are you? No, that wouldn't be polite either.

"Why don't we all go up to the room at the top," the man in the uniform said. "Have something to eat. Inga, are you hungry?"

She nodded.

"My name is Travis, by the way," he said to her, as he ushered her into the elevator. His voice was soft, quiet, calm. "I don't imagine any of these ones would ever refer to me by my right name behind my back." The others laughed as they crowded in, pushed her back against the wall, pushed up against her.

The room at the top, which was actually second from the top, according to the elevator lights, was a windowless storage area. Half of it was empty, the stock presumably having been too expensive to leave behind, but what wealth they had left was unbelievable, to Inga's eyes at least. Shelves full of stacks of silver packages. Worth much more to her than gold.

The leader--Travis, Travis--took one of the many packages from one of the many shelves and brought it over to the folding table someone had unfolded in the middle of the empty side of the room, while the other three sat down on the folding chairs set up all around it. The knife man smiled and sliced the package open, and crooked his finger at her.

She came to the table and sat down with them, and she dug into the slab of--she squinted at the package--amino-enriched yeast concentrate, even knowing that it was meant to be watered down a lot, knowing that this much of it would probably make her sick. She crumbled it into her mouth, licked the salty satisfying residue from her fingers. With the knife man staring. But she was unable, in that ecstatic moment, to be afraid. Forced herself to drink half a glass of water before she ate any more.

"They overstocked this place," Travis said to her, leaning over and picking a little corner off the big bar of yeast, rolling it into a ball between his fingers. "The amount of food here is ridiculous. Thought they'd be here longer, I suppose. And there's more in the living quarters. Food, medical supplies, we could all spend our lives here, and a hundred other people could as well, and here it is all going to waste." He flicked the little ball of food from his fingers, onto the floor somewhere, casually.

She stared at him, stunned, still savouring the flavour of the food on her tongue. She would have been sure this must all be a dream, if her dreams had ever been half so grand in scale.

"I can do so much for you, and you just have to do one little thing for me."

"What?" she asked.

"Bait a trap," he said.

"What do you mean?"

He moved away from the table. "Come here," he said to her. "Stand here." She obeyed. "Molok, you have the camera ready?" The driver nodded, grinned.

"Look pathetic," Travis said. "You seem to be very good at that." The driver laughed.

Travis cleared his throat, composed himself. "Record," he said to the driver, who pressed the proper button obediently.

"Blake," Travis said to the camera. Whatever came immediately after, she didn't manage to take it in.

"Here she is," Travis said, and Molok pointed the camera at her. "Her name is Inga, if you remember." Yes, he apparently did mean that Blake, her cousin, her Blake. Although she hadn't really been in much doubt about that.

"Blake, this is not a trick," Travis said. She could see that he'd rehearsed the speech. "Like yourself, I am now a fugitive from the Federation."

Yet he still wears the uniform. And the insignia. In front of the camera, while he says he's against them.

"Blake, the girl is safe if you come to Exbar within twenty-five time units."

The girl is safe. And this is not a trick. It didn't reassure her, all in all.

"If you do not come, the girl, regretfully, dies," he said to the camera. Paused a moment for dramatic emphasis. "Stop record," he said to the cameraman. Then he turned to the other two. "Take it up, send it out, do it exactly as I told you. Don't fuck around, the security cameras are on, you know." He leaned back and watched them elbow each other aside in their headlong rush for the elevator. "Idiots," he hissed. It should have been a comedy routine.

The elevator door slid shut. Travis smiled wide, and the other man smiled back, even wider. "Now all we have to do is wait," Travis said.

Inga felt sick to her overfull stomach. Molok shoved her toward the table, and indicated that it would be best that she sit.

"They'd better do it right or they'll be next on the block," Travis muttered.

"They must be just shitting themselves," Molok said with a grin.

"Are you saying you knew they were on?" Travis asked him, and the grin disappeared. Replaced by a rather tense silence.

After what seemed like a very long while, Molok pulled a deck of cards out of his pocket and dropped it on the table, some sort of conciliatory gesture. They were wrapped in plastic like everything else here, and she saw that they were backed with the arrowhead symbol of the Federation, in silver and gold and glossy black.

Travis shook his head, but he smiled, you could see that all had been forgiven. "I'm going to get some sleep," he said to Molok. "Go down. Keep watch. And tell Garrett to come in."

Molok stood up and stretched and began to move toward the elevator door. "And the others?" he asked, over his shoulder.

Travis shrugged. "Sort it out amongst yourselves." Molok grinned again, and stepped into the elevator.

After the door had closed, Travis opened the panel beside it and pushed one of the buttons there. "It's locked from the inside now," he said, with his back to her. "They can't get in." Came back to the table, sat down again, stretched out his legs, and folded his arms, and fixed his gaze on nothing.

Blake. A name from the days of electricity, and food, and the sound of the mining equipment always grinding deeper into the valley walls.

Inga looked down and saw that she had picked the plastic wrapper off the deck of cards Molok had left.

Travis picked them up and started fiddling with them, shuffling, fanning, fidgeting. That comforted her somewhat, for no good reason.

She looked him in the eye. Cool pinprick pupil, disengaged. "I haven't seen Roj Blake since--I haven't seen him in years. Many, many years," she said.

"I know," Travis said. "He told us--" Turning a card over and over in his hand, and the sentence caught momentarily on the back side of it, all that gold and silver pride and power. Then he flipped the face toward himself again. "He told *them* all about you. Your parents. Your planet. What, where, when. He devoted a great deal of thought to you, Inga." He looked up at her as he shuffled the cards. "I must say, having met you, I still have no idea why."

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