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By Marian Mendez
Page 3 of 3

The medic was brisk and bored. He restricted his remarks to the essential- 'strip', 'shower', 'sit', 'turn your head this way', 'hold still', and finally, 'done'- this last said to the guards who had accompanied Blake to the infirmary. He turned his back and was washing his hands when the guards tossed a plain, clean jumpsuit at Blake.

Blake dropped it, and leaned heavily against the examination table while he groped awkwardly for it. With a gauze patch over one eye, it was understandable that he would be clumsy.

It was so understandable that neither of the guards noticed when his fumbling hands covered a scalpel on the examination table. It was a small blade, not half the length of the one that had slashed across his face when an earlier interrogator had a fit of temper. Long enough, though. Cally had taught him how to kill with less. He would turn it on himself rather than chance breaking and giving them the Liberator. But that was a last resort. He needed to escape and stop Jenna before she could betray the rest of his friends. Stop her any way he could. He slipped the scalpel into the sleeve of the jumpsuit, flat against his wrist. There would be a chance somewhere along the line either to escape or to strike back. This wasn't Space Command Headquarters, after all, just a sub- station on a unimportant world far from the heart of the empire.

He kept his head down and shuffled as the guards escorted him to a clean cell and tossed a food concentrates packet onto the 'bunk' before they locked the door and left. It was your basic one- man holding cell, a type all too familiar to Blake. Security camera set above any possible reach, toilet and stopper-less sink. He went to the sink, and stuck his head under the constant rusty trickle, drinking like a desert animal arriving at an oasis. After several minutes, he returned to the bunk, and tore open the packet of concentrates. Then he paused. It wouldn't be very wise to fill his stomach with suppressants. The water couldn't be helped, and he doubted they were sophisticated enough to dose the plumbing to the cells, anyway. But prepackaged Federation prisoner rations? They probably were drugged as part of standard procedure.

He started to set the packet down when it occurred to him that they were watching and would either force him to eat or simply inject him with drugs if he didn't take the easy way out. He shrugged and broke off a chunk of the food, placing it in his mouth. At least he hoped it looked like that from the camera's angle. Actually, he used the sleight of hand Vila had taught him to slip the food up his sleeve- not the one with the knife. He continued the pantomime until he'd disposed of the major portion of the packet, then he went to the sink for another long drink, and managed to wash the stuff down the drain.

Then he returned to the bunk, and sat, hands limp in his lap, head hanging, the picture of resignation. His heart was filled with rage; he wanted to scream and protest the cruelty of fate and of the Federation. He also wanted to weep for Jenna and lost opportunities for love. He would have, but Avon had taught him patience, shown him by example how to hide emotions. How not to give the Federation the satisfaction of seeing him suffer.

Blake thought about all the things he'd learned from the crew of the Liberator. And all he'd tried to teach them - loyalty, and dedication, and responsibility for one's fellow man. It seemed Avon had learned. A faint smile tugged at Blake's mouth. His cold, cynical devil's advocate was actively fighting for Blake's cause of his own free will. Hard to believe, and yet, somehow, very easy to believe. Blake missed them all. They were the closest thing to family he had left and it tore at his gut that he could not return to them. Even before Star One he knew they would have to part. He had led them as far as he could. Either they sought him out to willingly join him, or they went their own ways forever.

He clung to one thought. Avon was still fighting. Sooner or later, he would realize how much better they fought together and he would come to join Blake. There was a link between them, a connection that he felt even now. There must be, or why would he be thinking about Avon while he sat in a cell, aching all over, betrayed by the woman who loved him?

He had no idea how long he sat, feeling his sense of betrayal grow. When the door opened, he was still musing and didn't even notice. Not until a guard nudged him in the side, digging a gun into Blake. "Move."

"What?" Blake's startlement made his dazed response natural.

"Get up." The guards dragged Blake to his feet and tossed him through the open cell door into the corridor. He staggered to the wall, and waited for them to grab him again and hustle him along the way.

The guards gripped him with bruising force at first, but as he plodded along dully, their hands slackened. The sense of unreality that had begun when his depth perception went was strengthened as he let his head hang down, his overlong hair obscuring a fair portion of his one-eyed vision. About all he could see was a scuffed floor and the booted legs of other Federation guards. Too many. He flexed his arm against the reassuring hardness of the scalpel. Patience. There will be an opportunity. It will happen. It must. He felt his scalp tighten and the muscles on his back gather in near spasmodic ripples, an atavistic response as the predator in him bristled its fur and waited its chance to slip the civilized leash he'd always kept it on. Blake's wolf was eager. Beaten and starved and betrayed, it wanted to kill. It needed to kill. It was all he could do to stop himself from screaming and slashing out right now.

The light changed subtly. They must be nearing the outside. Jevron's sunlight was less intense than Earth's, a paler, bluer hue that tinged people's skins with the suggestion of corpse flesh. After a while you stopped noticing, but in the Federation-owned building the artificial light had been designed to duplicate that of Earth, bringing the difference to his attention again. The tightness between his shoulders was painful now, as he sensed his captors' attention wavering. The moment was coming. Soon. Soon. A few seconds more.

There was a sudden increase in the blue light, accompanied by laughter, as two people came into the building. Blake's head came up. And in one still, steel-bright moment he would remember for the rest of his life, he saw Jenna, head thrown back and laughing. Laughing gaily as she walked on the arm of a handsome Federation officer, two grinning, bluish corpses, mocking him and his misery.

Predator time-sense is different. Difficult to describe. Everything happens at once, and yet every separate action is noted, and draws a response which the primitive beast judges appropriate. It does not consider the future, or the past, or anything outside the immediate necessities of survival. Blake's beast had been chained too long. Not even a saint could have held it back.

And yet.

Blake tried.

He pulled the scalpel free and stabbed the nearest guard, using his hand to guide and support the slender blade as it tore in through the soft underbelly, beneath the ribcage and into the heart. He left the scalpel in place, as he yanked his hand back. It kept the blood flow down as he ripped the gun from the dead man, who had not even known he was attacked until it was over. He pivoted on one foot and shot the other guard, who was turning - it seemed to Blake - in slow-motion.

Blake's gun continued its smooth arc, blasting the officer beside Jenna. The man had not time to wipe the smile off his face before the charge hit.

Jenna stared at Blake as her escort landed at her feet. The after-effect of two blasts in close-quarters made Blake's ears ring. "Why, Jenna? Why?" he asked, begging with his whole heart and soul for her to give him some reason to let her live. Any reason.

"The ship, Blake..."

"The ship," Blake said softly. As the interrogator had said. Jenna's eyes widened and she drew the small gun at her side.

"Blake!" she shouted, and shot.

"Jenna!" he cried, and shot.

Jenna fell. And so did the Federation guard who had been coming up behind Blake. Blake turned his head, and saw the body of the man who would have killed him if not for Jenna, and knew he'd been wrong.

He dropped the gun and went to Jenna, kneeling on the floor beside her. She was lying on her side, eyes still wide and startled, gasping. Perhaps because of his lack of depth perception he had not killed her outright. "I'll get you to a doctor, Jenna. Hold on." He tried to pick her up, but she cried out in such agony that he gave it up and settled her as comfortably as possible on the floor. "They have a medic here. I'll go get him."

"No." Jenna's voice was weak, but clear. "The ship." She tugged at a small pouch attached to her belt. "Dock number, codes, clearance, launch, all. Take the ship." She pressed Blake's hand to the pouch, only relaxing when he took it. She smiled at him. "Flight programmed. Take you to Avalon."

"You planned this?" Blake asked. He wanted to shake her for what she had done to the two of them. "My God, Jenna. Why? Did you want your freedom so badly?"

She shook her head faintly. "No. Wanted yours. Leave Jevron. Be Roj Blake." She drew a long, rattling breath. "Wish you had loved me."

Blake had to lean forward, his ear almost against her lips to hear the last few words and the very final sigh that followed. "I did, Jenna," he said softly. " I wish I had told you."

He stroked her hair, then picked up the pouch and rose, looking down at Jenna. She had closed her eyes as he held her, and smiled. And died like that. She looked as if she were asleep, waiting for her prince to awaken her with a kiss. "Only he waited too long. I'm sorry, Jenna." Coming back to himself, he realized he was still standing in the Federation stronghold on Jevron. There had been no alarms, no sounds of running feet or shouts of dismay, but those would follow. He had to get to the spaceport, to the ship Jenna had gotten for him. If he let himself be captured, her sacrifice would be in vain. But first- he couldn't go out in public like this, jumpsuit spattered with the blood of the guard he'd knifed. The smell of the blood nauseated him. He felt as though it was Jenna's blood on his hands. He wiped his hands and arms relatively clean, then took the tunic from her escort, pulling it on over his own clothes.

It was only afterward, when he had somehow gotten to the spaceport and taken off, without pursuit, that he realized Jenna must have arranged the lack of alarms too. Maybe Vila had taught her a few things along the way.

Blake stared out into space. The eternal black void usually made him think of the countless billions who suffered under the Federation. Now he could only see one face, smiling. Happy that he was back among the stars.

Jenna had loved him, and not betrayed him. He had been - as Cally said, so long ago - only mistaken.

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