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Early Days

By Marian Mendez
Page 3 of 6

The confusion in the corridors was dying down. Debris had been cleared away, body parts stacked as neatly as possible considering their non-standardized shapes, and idle workers paused to look at them. An officer stopped Avon who was marching Cally along with the rifle at her back. "Where are you going?"

"Putting the prisoner in a cell, sir," he replied.

"Security is that way," the man said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

"I must have gotten turned around," Avon answered, tugging Cally in the indicated direction.

"Wait!" the man barked. "Who are you?"

"Trooper Onar," Avon answered. "I've just..."

The officer's head dipped, and Cally followed the imaginary line of sight of his blank helmet. He was staring at a corpse which ended at the waist. The corpse had dark hair and eyes, and fair skin, but there all resemblance to Avon was lost. The features were twisted by death, but still recognizable to anyone who had known him. She felt the surge of emotion and fired, just as the officer lifted his gun. Dying, his hand clenched, loosing a wild shot. The workers screamed and fled even as Avon sagged against her, pulling her off-balance.

She pushed him off, and crouched, swiftly scanning the area, while sending a few shots after the workers to keep them running. Then she looked at Avon. He was grimacing and holding onto his right thigh with both hands, blood welling up between his fingers. "How is it?" she asked, kneeling to retrieve his fallen rifle.

"This has not been my day," was his reply. "Help me up."

Cally got under his right shoulder and steadied him. Leaning on her and the wall he managed to get to his feet. He slipped, put weight on the injured leg, and went white. "Perhaps you had better take the ship. I don't think I'll make it."

"Lean on me. I am stronger than I look."

"This is stupid," Avon said, but he accepted her support and they began walking together. "We will both die."

"That is no reason to surrender."

Fortunately, Visnoli base was small and they found the hangar before anyone found them. Hangar wasn't exactly the word. That implies more than one ship. This was more along the lines of a very large room, occupied by one very small ship. Cally looked at it doubtfully. "This is it?"

"That is it." Avon pointed to the far wall. "That controls the roof mechanism."

Obediently, Cally propped him up against the doorway, giving him the rifle as a crutch. She found the control, a simple on-off switch, and depressed it. The roof separated in the center and slowly ground open with considerable sound effects. She ran back to Avon and helped him to the ship. "Hurry. They will have heard." She palmed the ship's lock open, took back the rifle, and turned. "Good luck, Avon."

"Don't."

"What?" She looked back, puzzled. He was standing in the lock, hand held out to her.

"Don't go. Come with me."

Cally eyed the ship again. "It is very small."

"It's not that small. Besides, I need someone to take care of my leg."

"That is true." Cally considered. She could die here and accomplish nothing more than the deaths of a few more guards, or she could accompany Avon and possibly live long enough to really hurt the Federation. "Very well. I hope you do not regret this later." She joined him in the ship. It did have two seats in the cramped control area. But not much else.

Take-off was unpleasant, a noisy, bone-rattling experience. Cally had ridden in many space-heaps in the course of her rebel career, but none of them had been this small. As soon as they broke orbit, she unstrapped herself and headed for the rear compartment. "I will find the aid kit."

"Optimist," Avon muttered. "Hurry. I'm not much of a pilot."

"Neither am I," Cally said, returning almost immediately with a small white box.

"Marvelous." Avon stretched out his leg across the other seat, wincing. "In that case, you'd better work quickly, before I pass out."

Cally pulled out her knife and slit his trousers in one long slash. "Good. It is not too deep." She spread a large medicated pad over the expanse of burned flesh and pressed down firmly. He jumped, cursing. "Stay still."

"Easy for you to say," he gritted out, then clenched his teeth as she pressed another pad on top of the first. "Ah! Tell me, do you moonlight as an interrogator?"

"Only during the off-season," Cally replied, studying the wound. Blood was no longer seeping under the edges of the bandage. She secured the pads and lifted her hands from his leg. "Would you like a pain-killer?"

"No. Someone has to fly this beast."

"Where are we going?" Cally asked. She slipped back into the seat next to him, parted her hair, and placed a medicated pad over her own neglected injury. Her head still hurt when she was done, but perhaps she could stave off infection. She was lucky that Aurons had thick skulls or she'd be nursing more than a headache.

"Nowhere in particular. I hadn't gotten a chance to survey the neighborhood before Blake assigned us this pleasure jaunt. I have the communicator set to relay all messages to us. It's not difficult to distinguish between Federation and neutral communications."

"And if there isn't a neutral planet or ship within our range?"

Avon shut his eyes, wearily. "Then you had better look in that aid kit for something painless and quick." His head lolled back against the seat.

"Avon?" There was no reply. Cally checked that the communicator was still open, and that the ship was heading out into open space, then she followed his example. If they were to die while they slept, then they would die. If not, at least they would be rested for whatever would come.

She dreamed. Confusing, twisted images of Avon and the guards. Guns blasting, explosions, blood, screams and death. Always death. She saw the faces of her comrades from Saurian Major. Bloated, staring blindly at the sky that had betrayed them by raining inescapable Federation death. It was an old, familiardream. Even while she dreamt she knew it was a dream, irrevocably done and past, yet she still ran from corpse to corpse, and wept over them, and buried them, and swore over the massed graves that she would give them companions for their deaths.

"Wake up." Someone was shaking her shoulders.

Cally opened her eyes. For an instant she caught a glimpse of concern in Avon's eyes, but it was so quickly masked that she wondered if she had imagined it. "Sorry," she said. "Did I disturb you?"

"Oh, no, I'm used to people striking me across the face and screaming 'die, murderer, die'." He rubbed at a reddened patch on one cheek.

"I am not surprised," Cally teased gently. She was beginning to enjoy his warped sense of humor. "You do tend to bring out the worst in others."

"My first form instructors said much the same thing," he admitted, a slight smile flicking across his face. He shifted, and the smile faded. "If I had known it would lead to people shooting me, I would have mended my manners."

"I doubt it."

"You may be right." Avon ran his hand over his face, and sighed. "I intercepted several messages while you were sleeping. All Federation. Mostly from Visnoli base. Coded, of course, but you don't need to be a genius to deduce the contents."

"No. Why don't you try to sleep while I monitor the messages?" Cally was concerned. He had lost a lot of blood, and looked even paler now than he had before she treated his leg.

He shook his head. "I find sleep elusive at best; under the current circumstances- " he said, shrugging, " impossible."

Cally picked up the aid kit. "I can make you sleep." She held up a single-dose pressure injector. "If you allow me."

Avon looked at the injector, then at her face. "Do it." He rolled up his sleeve, and sat, impassive, as she injected him.

"Thank you. I am honored by your trust," she said, as she put away the empty vial.

"Don't be. Trust had nothing to do with it." He sighed, and settled back into the seat, eyes shutting. "I have locked the ship's course, and communications. You can't betray me."

"I could have poisoned you."

Avon opened his eyes. "Considering the odds of reaching a neutral world in this limited range ship, even if I don't die of blood-loss, that might be a mercy. And it would be very unpleasant for you to share this ship with a corpse. You could space me, but then you would lose a great deal of oxygen when you vented the air-lock. More than I would use while I slept. I noticed you noticing the atmosphere gauges. It was a simple enough equation."

"Always logical?"

"It is the only thing one can count on. Humans are too..." His eyes shut, and his mouth fell open slightly.

"Humans are too human. Yes, that is very true."

Sitting, staring into unchanging space speckled with unwinking stars, Cally felt herself falling into a near-trance state and shook herself. While she couldn't do much, she could at least see that they were not recaptured. She had found a drug which would kill painlessly in sufficient dosage and prepared two injectors. Avon had already expressed his wish to die before capture, so there would be no need to wake him first.

On the other hand, there was no hurry. There was still the remote possibility of a neutral ship passing within visual range. If they had been transmitting a distress call, the odds would be greatly improved, but that wasn't possible with Avon's lock on the communications.

She blinked. Had something changed? She brought the viewscreen's magnification up to maximum. Yes. There was a white speck, growing larger, without apparent movement, which meant it was headed directly toward them. There were no asteroids or meteoroids in their path; she had watched Avon make certain of that before he locked the ship's course. It was a ship, that was the only thing it could be. Her hand hovered over the two injectors.

A loud chiming beep startled her. She ran her gaze over the instrument panel, but found nothing amiss. The noise came again, and she realized it was coming from the bracelets she still wore. Avon had said they were communications devices. And something else. She was tired and her head still ached; she couldn't remember what their other function was. She put one bracelet back on Avon's wrist, wondering why it mattered, but somehow it felt like the right thing to do.


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