Early DaysBy Marian Mendez
Page 1 of 6
The voice was harsh, and hands at her shoulders pressed down. Her reflexes took over. She kicked up, got her assailant in the groin, and flung the convulsing man over her shoulders to land with stunning force on the hard ground. She whirled, grabbed a handful of dark hair and pulled his head back, her other hand having already drawn her boot-knife to put at his throat. He gurgled, coughed, and tried to speak.
/Silent! / she ordered. /You will die now, Federation scum. / Despite her words, she hesitated, disliking the necessity of slaughtering a man like a food animal without giving him a chance to fight for his life. She had done it before, and would do so again, but it was always distasteful. She glanced around. They were alone in a wild, rocky defile like so many others she'd used for her stalking grounds. No one would ever find him, unless they followed the predatory birds to his corpse.
"Call..." the man said, then coughed as her grip tightened, pressing him against the edge of the knife, the sharp edge just parting his skin. A thin stream of blood coated the bright metal.
/ I said, be silent./ Cally's mind raced. This man knew her name. She could not kill him before she found out how he had known her. She eased the knife away. /I will let you live a little longer,/ she told him, her telepathic voice fierce / How you die is up to you. Answer my questions, and I will make it quick and painless. Otherwise- I have learned much from your interrogators./ She frisked him, coming up with a hand-gun and a small roll of some sort of tools. She pocketed the gun and tossed the tools to one side, out of his reach, and glanced around. There was a Federation laser-rifle leaning up against the rocks rimming the small sheltered area they both occupied. She released the man, backed up and took possession of the rifle. A quick check assured her it was charged and fully functional.
The man had rolled onto his stomach and gotten to his knees, gasping for breath. She examined him. He was not as young as she had expected. Generally, the older guards were not stupid enough to come within arm's length of her. She had earned a reputation among them, and they were wary of her.
"Cally," he said, looking at her with surprise as well as anger.
Why should the man be surprised? She lifted the gun in threat. /I did not ask you a question. Are you eager to die? Or simply too stupid to understand me? / He positively glared at that, but did not reply. /Good. You are not a total idiot. I had begun to wonder. The Federation usually trains its men better. Who are you?/
"Don't you know me?" The astonishment in his voice sounded real; more, he felt astonished.
/You flatter yourself./
"My name is Avon. I'm not Federation, " the man said. He rubbed at his neck, then looked down at his bloodied fingers. "Blake sent us both down on this mission. You've been injured. It must have given you amnesia."
/A very pretty story. I have never heard of you, or this Blake. I do not believe you are a rebel./ Her head did hurt, but the man had knocked her unconscious. He must have hoped to bring her in alive for interrogation, which meant they did not know she was the last rebel on the planet and it was pointless for them to interrogate her. All she could tell them was how much she hated them, which was hardly a secret.
"I don't believe I am either," the man said, sounding quite cynical. He lifted one hand. "But here we are. This is a teleport bracelet, and a communicator. Only Blake's crew have them." He emphasized the name Blake, as if he resented the man.
/ Give it to me./ She was angry at herself for having overlooked the bracelet.
He unclasped the bracelet, slowly, reluctantly, and tossed it to the sandy ground at her feet. "You're wearing one. If I'm not telling the truth, then how would we both have the same bracelets?"
Cally did not look down, but shifted part of her awareness to her wrists. There was something weighing down one arm. She ran the fingers of the other hand lightly over the object. Smooth, round, with buttons similar to the ones on the bracelet the man had thrown to her. /Perhaps you put it on me whilst I was unconscious./
She shrugged. /A trick. To make me doubt myself, and trust you./
"Well, now, it doesn't seem to be working." He sighed. "Your name is Cally. You are from the planet Auron. You met Blake on Saurian Major and..."
/This is Saurian Major!/
"No." He shook his head. "This is the planet Visnoli, whose only claim to fame is the Federation experimental base, and the device they are supposed to have invented there." He scowled. "Blake believed it. You believed it. And I am stuck here with a homicidal alien who does not even have the courtesy to speak out loud. You are giving me a headache," he complained.
/I do not speak to the men I kill./
"Make an exception in my case. Bad enough to be murdered by my 'ally', without adding a migraine to it."
She cocked her head to one side, considering. "Very well," she said. "I have no taste for unnecessary cruelty."
"Ah. You are a rebel. A warrior. You don't enjoy killing, but you do it when it is necessary."
"That is true." She had not expected such insight from the enemy.
He shrugged. "Before you give me too much credit, let me say I am only repeating what you told me. Back on Visnoli base, when you would not kill an unconscious Federation trooper. This was before you were injured and I was irrational enough to carry you to safety. I am justly repaid for my good deed by your kindness and trust."
"Tell me about this Blake." Cally still did not believe him, but she could not fathom the reason the Federation would create such an elaborate story just for her. Of course, it could all be this man's spur of the moment invention. He looked reasonably intelligent, and had already bought himself several minutes of life with his clever tongue.
"Blake is a rebel. He is, in point of fact, the rebel's rebel. He was very popular back on Earth. Until he was inevitably caught and mind-wiped and set to lead the other sheep back into the fold."
Cally frowned. "If he is your leader, why do you speak of him as if you hated him?"
"He has a ship. Correction, he has one-third ownership in a ship that three of us discovered together. Jenna would deny him nothing and, in his arrogance, he assumes that his cause gives him to right to command me, and my share of the ship. Liberator is as much mine as his, yet I am treated like a common deckhand. Fix the computers, Avon, trot down to this miserable planet and check out this impossible weapon, Avon. Oh, and then blow it up, because I'm too saintly to use it. The man is noble, and good, and self-sacrificing, which is all very well for him, but I find it tiresome that he doesn't mind in the least sacrificing me at the same time."
Cally shook her head. "I do not understand. If you are not a rebel, why do you not leave him?"
Avon puffed his cheeks and blew, making an exasperated noise. "Because he has the ship. We are all criminals. Except you and poor, innocent, framed, Blake. Liberator is worth a fortune, and more, she is the only thing standing between each of us and death - or a life- sentence on a penal planet, which would be worse. If I had left Blake, the chances were very good I would be picked up and tortured for information about his plans. Tortured to death, because I could not tell them anything, no matter what they did to me. The man trusts no one and tells no one anything."
"Does he know how you feel?" Despite herself, Cally was having doubts. The emotions coming from Avon were too sincere, the frustration and anger too honest, to be part of any story.
"I have made no secret of it. He doesn't care. He knows he has me under his thumb." Avon's fists clenched. "I can't fly the ship by myself, and our pilot loves him. We also have a dim-witted giant who believes all the suns revolve around Blake, and a cowardly crook who'd never back me in a takeover."
"Blake should put you off the ship," Cally said, firmly, before she realized that she had spoken as if she believed him.
Avon looked up and laughed. "Oh, but he has. Have you not noticed that we are alone?" His hands swept, indicating the surroundings. "Alone on this paradise. I've called the ship. There is no answer. It isn't there. The only surprising part is that he left you along with me. But then, it did lull my suspicions and he can easily acquire followers." He sat, rubbing his hands together, staring blindly into the distance.
Cally was still, considering what he had said. After a long moment, she picked up the bracelet he had tossed her, and put it on her other arm, then she stood. "Get up."
"Why? Can't you kill me while I'm sitting? Or do you believe me?" He glanced at her. "Not that it matters much. We will both die here. There is nothing remotely civilized on Visnoli besides the Federation base. You may have sufficient survival skills to live off lizards and mud-holes, but I do not, even if I cared to try."
"Get up," Cally repeated, aiming the rifle at him.
Avon pushed himself to his feet, wearily. "All right, I'm up. Now what?"
"Pick up your tools. You are a computer technician?" she asked.
"Yes, but there aren't any computers in the immediate vicinity, in case you hadn't noticed." He made no move to pick up the tool roll she had earlier tossed into the sand.
"You said this Blake had sent the two of us on a mission. What were we to do?"
"I was to erase the plans for the Visnoli weapon from their computers. And then you were to erase the Visnoli base from the landscape with the explosives you carry."
Cally nodded. "That seems straight-forward enough. Take me to the base."
"Weren't you listening? Blake has abandoned us." Avon's voice rose. "We are going to die here."
Cally nodded again. "Yes. But I see no reason to die alone. If there is a Federation base I will kill as many of them as I can before I die."
Avon's eyes rolled. "That's insane," he hissed. "I'll have no part of it." He turned, but the gun followed him. He stopped again.
"You must. I do not know where this base is. Besides, unless you can show me the base as proof that I am not still on Saurian Major, I will kill you now."
"If I show you the base, will that satisfy you?"
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