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By Marian Mendez
Page 2 of 18

Blake knew the layout of this class of ship. Blue 32 was easy enough to find. Outside the cells there were five guards, spaced closely enough to watch each other, but too far apart to be taken out together. He glanced at the number on the door, and unbuttoned the pocket on his shirt. This would be risky. He pulled out a folded paper, and held it out to the guard at door 34, grunting, "Change of orders". He let the paper slip just as the other reached for it. The man bent slightly, and Blake snapped his neck, and flung the corpse in one blindingly swift motion at the guard to his right, simultaneously leaping on the guard at his left. Another sickening crunching twist, and another body hurled, this time to the left. Before either downed man could rise, Blake had thrown his knife, burying it to the hilt between the eyes of the fifth guard. He disarmed the two living men, dropping their guns to the deck and picked them up by their necks, one in each hand. His anger and desperation had given him incredible strength. "Don't make any noise," he warned them and dropped them to the deck. "If you cooperate, I won't kill you." He took off his helmet. "I am Blake, back from the dead."

He didn't know if they were conscripted from the same planet as his first victim, but their reaction was sufficiently terrified to suit him. "Where is Kerr Avon?"

"Interrogation," one trooper answered, just beating out the other one.

Blake not only knew where that was, he knew the standard crew complement on this class ship and how many he'd likely encounter along the way. Too many for one man. But if he had allies... Avon's crew. They should be willing and able to help. Avon may not have had his heart in rebelling, but he had fancied survival. His crew would be competent. Probably not very friendly, after the fiasco at Gauda Prime, but they'd fight for their lives.

"Open the cells." He could see prisoners on the other sides of the observation ports of the nearby cells. He pointed at the empty one, presumably intended for Avon. "This one first."

There was no argument. He took the keys from the guard, roughly frisked them both, and confiscated another set of keys. "In." The guards entered, and he locked them in. "Don't make a sound. No one can protect you from my wrath if you disobey." He really didn't want to kill them. Not unless it was necessary.

He opened the next cell. It contained the blonde woman who had been with Avon. She backed up. "I'm Blake," he said.

"I don't think so. Blake is dead. Even if by some miracle he wasn't, he couldn't be walking around today."

Blake ran a hand through his hair, controlling his impatience with an effort. "I haven't time to argue. Do you want to get out of this cell, or not?"

"I want out." The blonde stepped forward, giving Blake a wide berth as she exited the cell.

Blake retrieved his knife, wiping the blade on the uniform of the man it had killed, then he put the man's body into the woman's empty cell. "Are you Soolin or Dayna?" he asked as he added the other two corpses, carrying them both at once. "I'd heard stories about Avon's crew, but I had no visuals."

"Soolin," the woman replied. She looked past Blake to the bodies. They had been big men, and Blake had hefted them with no apparent effort. "What are you?"

"A friend, despite the uniform," Blake replied. "Can you afford to be choosy?" He picked up the three guards' weapons and tossed one to her. He was pleased to see the easy way she plucked it out of the air and the familiarity with which she held it.

She aimed the gun at him, then lowered it. "No."

"Good. I need help." He unlocked the next cell, deliberately turning his back on Soolin as he did. "You must be Dayna Mellanby," he said as this cell produced another attractive young woman.

She narrowed her gaze. "Must I?" she said. She eased into a crouch and sidled around him. "I don't think I like you, Blake, or whoever you are."

"That's a pity." He handed her a gun, butt first. "Do you like the Federation?"

Dayna shook her head, and checked over the gun. "Not much," she said, rubbing at an ugly bruise spreading across one cheekbone. "But how do I know you aren't Federation? This could all be some sort of trick."

"Paranoia is an occupational hazard among rebels. Still, doesn't a trick seem a bit unnecessary to you? After all, you already were prisoners. What would I have to gain?"

"Our trust," Dayna said promptly.

Blake laughed. "Then I suppose I went about it the wrong way, as I haven't got it, have I?" He opened the third cell. This contained the young man who'd told Avon that Blake had betrayed them. "Tarrant," he said coldly. "Get up."

Tarrant shook his head and remained seated on the hard bench in his cell. He'd been beaten and battered, but his blue eyes still gleamed with defiance. "No. I don't take orders from you."

"You were wrong about me. I didn't betray Avon. I'm trying to save him. If you want to help, then you'll come with us."

"Us?" Tarrant asked, looking at Dayna and Soolin. They looked at each other, and at Blake, then Dayna said, "Well, we haven't any better offers."

Soolin added, "We can always kill him later."

"If you can," Blake added, good-naturedly. "Then again, it might be better if you stay here, Tarrant. I won't need a pilot until after I've taken over the ship."

"Think a lot of yourself, don't you?" Tarrant mumbled, as he worked his way up to a standing position. He went a little pale, but he stayed on his feet.

Blake eyed Tarrant, weighing the man's obvious weakness against his determination. It was a toss-up, but if Tarrant wanted to go down fighting, he certainly deserved the option. "Are you up to handling a gun?" He offered the last of the extra weapons he'd been carrying, and Tarrant took it, slinging the carry strap over one shoulder and letting the muzzle sag forward.

"I'll manage."

Blake opened the last door. "Vila? You can come out now."

Vila was curled up on the deck, as far away from the cell door as possible. "I don't want to," Vila moaned. "It hurts."

"What does, Vila?" Blake said, coming into the cell, and kneeling beside Vila. His voice gentled. There wasn't time for this, but he couldn't rush Vila. Vila was more resilient than anyone he knew, but he had his limits.

"Everything. You. Avon. Me. They're questioning Avon, but they'll start on me next. He'll tell them I know, and I don't. I don't!" Vila was hysterical; for once his babbling was no act. "I don't know anything. He's just like you, Blake, he never tells me anything. They'll kill him, and I'm next." Vila rocked back and forth, moaning in fear.

"Not if we save Avon. If we get him away before they're finished with him, they won't start on you."

"They won't?" Vila uncurled a little, still trembling. "You promise, Blake?"

"Yes." Blake rested his hand gently on Vila's shoulder. "You'll be safe with me."

Vila shuddered all over. "That's what I thought about Avon." Vila looked up at Blake. "He used to be my friend before he tried to kill me. He used to be your friend, too, before he killed you."

"Vila." Blake squeezed Vila's shoulder. "I'm not dead."

Vila looked skeptical, but at the same time as though he desperately wanted to believe. "Are you sure?"

"Quite sure. Come on, Vila, get kitted up. Give Vila a gun, Dayna." Blake had noticed her collecting the two he'd left on the deck.

Dayna looked at Vila. He was still trembling, but his eyes looked less wild. She shrugged. "All right, Vila. Just try to remember to aim away from us."

Vila snapped, "I know whose side I'm on. It's Avon who's confused about that." Vila took the gun with less reluctance than Blake expected. Times hadn't been easy for him either.

"Yes, well," Tarrant said, "we'll explain it to him when we rescue him."

"Do we have to?" Vila asked, plaintively.

"Yes, we do," Dayna informed him. She slung the remaining extra gun over her shoulder and darted to the end of the corridor to peer around the corner. "No one in sight. Let's go now."

"To interrogation?" Vila asked, wincing. He clutched tighter at his gun.

"We need Avon," Blake said.

"But do we need him that bad?" Vila muttered, almost sounding like himself.

"Yes, Vila." Blake was glad to have found Vila, but Avon was more important.

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Marian Mendez

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