MistakenBy Marian Mendez
Page 2 of 3
A week later, Blake was once more sitting at his desk. This time he was
ignoring the pieces of the revolutionary jigsaw he'd been trying to assemble,
thinking about Jenna instead. She hadn't come back. She'd been seen several
times at the spaceport, apparently trying to bargain with the crews for
passage. He hated to think what she must be offering, but apparently it
wasn't enough to make breaking Federation regulations worthwhile. If she was
that desperate, he had to find a way to let her go - more than that - to get
her a ship of her own. It was the least he owed her. |
And it should be possible. Although the Federation nominally owned the Civil Administration freighters, in actual practice many of them were operated by independent captains who paid licensing and leasing fees in return for a share of the profits. He'd found captains willing to sign over their contracts for a quick profit. The problem was that the money would have to come from the revolution's coffers. Another thing he'd lost when he left Liberator was the treasure room.
While the Jevron cadre had welcomed him with open arms they'd kept the purse-strings closed. He would have to convince the purchasing committee that buying Jenna a ship would somehow repay them. Getting information to Avalon didn't impress them. Not unless there was something they could count on Avalon doing for them in return.
"Yes?" Blake temporarily gave up on Jenna's problem. "What is it?"
"Message from your lady."
Blake frowned. He'd never been able to convince the locals not to refer to Jenna that way. It made her even more bitter to hear them acknowledge what he couldn't. "Give it to me," he said, brusquely, dismissing the messenger. The message was a folded sheet of pale lavender paper, scented with Jenna's perfume and sealed with a blot of magenta wax imprinted with the shape of her signet ring. Like a love note. Jenna always sent her private messages in this archaic fashion. She said that Avon had once told her nothing ever input on a computer was ever entirely gone. Paper could be burnt.
He felt slightly queasy, wondering just how bad the news was. He steeled himself, and chipped off the wax, unfolding the note.
Blake , he read, I've found a ship, but I need your help. The captain needs a good pilot for some shady deals. He'd be glad to have the Liberator's pilot, but he doesn't believe it was me. He's seen you on the vid-casts, so if you'll come and vouch for me, he'll take me on.
We'll be waiting for you at the blue warehouse on Magno and Second. Come alone, or he'll run.
Not exactly a love note. Blake rose wearily, feeling suddenly very old and alone. He should get back-up, have someone at least follow him to the meeting place. Rule one of the rebel's survival manual : trust no one. He shook his head. No. Not Jenna. Besides, he didn't want any witnesses, any smug knowing looks as he said farewell to the woman who should have been his.
The meeting place was a seedy warehouse with broken windows and drab little arthropods scuttling through the dust leaving hieroglyphic signs as they went. It smelled, as all Jevron's warehouses seemed to, of mold, and banned drugs, and volatile chemicals that should have been stored in a controlled environment. Everything was slipshod here. No one really cared about anything. He was finding it hard to care himself. Maybe Jenna was right, and Jevron was sucking the life out of him. Maybe he should ask this captain if he had a place on his crew for a slightly rusty engineer.
The loading dock was open, the corroded panel that should have sealed it shoved up half way. It was stuck there, he discovered by putting a hand to the panel. He peered inside. Light filtered reluctantly through the broken windows high up in the featureless walls. Standing in one rectangle of dim, gray light were two figures. "Jenna?" he called, and stepped inside.
He stood for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. Then he sensed someone near him and turned, but not fast enough, as something very heavy came down on him. The darkness was shot through with flashes of red lightning, bright as the pain that lanced through his skull. Vaguely he felt the floor rise up and strike his knees, then the darkness and silence were complete.
"No," Blake said again. He'd said it so many times that it came out automatically - although not too clearly as his mouth was swollen, bruised and full of blood. The Federation guards weren't too imaginative. Or maybe duty on Jevron made them slipshod too. They hadn't used any machines or drugs on him: only the simplest of tools: fists, feet, a little knife work to break up the monotony.
"Come now, admit it. You're Blake. We all know that. You're famous. You wouldn't be here on Jevron if you didn't have big plans, bigger than any little local uprising. Where's the Liberator? When's your ship coming to get you?"
"Never," Blake said. He glared at the interrogator as best he could. He could see nothing through the blood masking the left half of his face and his eye burned on that side. He didn't think they'd actually cut the eye itself, but he'd had no chance to check. He'd been strapped in this chair ever since he regained consciousness, long enough for thirst and hunger to be part of his torture. Long enough for the indignity of being forced to foul his clothes to add to the humilations they heaped on him. And far too long a time to think about Jenna during the intervals when he could think at all. This was one of those intervals- a break where his interrogator hammered at him with words instead of brute force. "The ship is gone. Destroyed by the Andromedans," he replied, without any hope of being believed.
"Do you take me for a fool?" the interrogator shrieked and lunged forward to grab Blake's hair with such force that it brought involuntary tears to his eyes. "It has been seen! It is still out there, still harassing our forces, still... What are you grinning at?"
"Avon. It's Avon. I knew I could trust him." Blake smiled, despite the pain. "I can rely on my people. And that's why we'll defeat you, no matter what you do to me."
The interrogator laughed. "You think so? All your friends are so loyal, aren't they?" He leaned forward to whisper into Blake's ear. "Who do you think turned you in? Your loyal friend, your loving woman. Jenna Stannis."
Blake wouldn't give the man the satisfaction of knowing how hard that hit. It had been Jenna's handwriting on that note, Jenna's paper and her seal. They must have caught her first, and forced her to betray him.
The grip tightened on his hair, as the man guessed what Blake was thinking. "Oh, now you're feeling sorry for her. Thinking the poor little lady must have broken under terrible torture. Hah. She came to us. Do you hear me? She came to us! She marched right up and told us she could give us Roj Blake on a platter. Well, no, that's not exactly true. Your Jenna is nobody's fool. She offered to sell you, for a late model pursuit ship. We accepted."
"No," Blake said. "Jenna wouldn't- she couldn't even if she wanted to. There's a price on her head, too."
"There was." The man shrugged. "It's been reported that Liberator has a new pilot. Once Jenna left the ship, she wasn't worth paying a bounty on. After all, she is only a pilot. And when she pointed out that she might still get Liberator for us- well, a pursuit ship seemed a small price to pay."
"No, Jenna, no." Blake closed his eyes. It fit too well, he had to believe it. This hurt worse than anything they'd done to his body.
"She seemed to feel you had it coming to you. Don't feel bad, Blake. I've had it happen to me. A beautiful woman, she just naturally feels her man owes her things, and if you can't provide them, she'll turn to someone who can."
The interrogator released Blake's hair, but tears continued to leak out from under the closed lids. The man patted Blake on the shoulder. "When it comes right down to it, we're all out for ourselves. Why should you suffer for Avon? He's got your ship, and what have you got? Your life, that's all, Blake. Why should you have to die? You're not much of a threat on your own. We can afford to let you live.You certainly haven't done much on Jevron."
"What do you want?" Blake asked, flatly, without defiance.
"I want the Liberator. Intact. And her crew alive. I can't guarantee they'll stay that way, but if they cooperate..."
A knock on the interrogation room door interrupted the man. "Damn. Just when we were starting to get somewhere." He went to the door, and took a sealed message disk from one of a pair of guards. He broke the seal, read it, and grew visibly annoyed. He returned to Blake and began unfastening the straps that held him upright in the chair. "You're being transferred," he said. "The guards will get you to the medic, clean you up, get you something to eat and drink."
Blake wondered at this unexpected kindness. The guard made a protesting noise, but the interrogator overruled him. "Look, if they think he's so easy to break, they can start from scratch, the way I did." He looked down on Blake, who was just beginning to move his cramped limbs, wincing at the fresh pain. "Give in, Blake. It's easier all around. Look out for yourself. Everyone else does."
Blake shook his head, but he couldn't shake the image of Jenna, sitting at her ease in a Federation office somewhere, casually penning the note that brought him into this hell. He wished she'd shot him, and turned his corpse in for the reward. That would have been more than enough to buy her a ship. Only maybe it wouldn't be enough revenge for her. She'd loved him, given everything up for him, and he turned her down. He shouldn't be surprised that she hated him. He could even have forgiven her for betraying him, but not the others, not Cally and Avon and Vila. How could she do that to them? How could he have been so mistaken in his judgment? He had trusted her.
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