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Absolution

By Kathy Hintze
Page 1 of 8

Trap! Vila's mind screamed as he came round the tree and saw the Federation troops.

Lured by promises of information by the local underground on a top secret project, Blake and his crew had come to Danmyon. The message had been brief, too brief for Avon, who had argued against the idea, as had Vila. But when had anyone listened to Vila?

Avon, Cally, and Blake were meeting with the informer right now. Bored, Vila had wandered away from the rendezvous point and nearly blundered into the approaching troops. He had to warn them and hurried back the way he'd come, raising his wrist communicator as he ran.

"Gan! Gan! Teleport us up quick."

"Vila, what's wrong?" Gan was used to hearing Vila calling for help when there was no need, but the urgency in Vila's voice this time sounded real.

"It's a trap. Federation troops are closing in. Bring us up quick."

Blake and the others came into view then and Vila opened his mouth to yell when something whisked through the might air and struck him in the back. Vila screamed, stumbled forward a couple of steps, and fell to the ground. Cally saw him and started forward, but the teleport field caught the rebels and they shimmered from sight. Vila, however, did not join his companions. His teleport bracelet had been broken by his fall.

#

A shadow crossed Vila's still form and cursed, then looked up. "You failed us, Narr." The speaker was a tall, muscular, blond man who looked to be in his thirties when, in reality, he was nearing his forty-third birthday.

Narr backed away from him in fear. "It wasn't my fault, Jared," he pleaded. "If I had tried to stop Restal from leaving, the others might have suspected something."

"No excuses. You know the Code. Failure is death." Jared nodded and from the dark a flash streaked toward Narr, striking him in the chest. The man cried out once, then crumbled to the ground.

"You must be slipping in your old age, Major," said a voice from the darkness.

Jared turned around. "What do you mean, Micah?"

A lean, dark-haired man emerged from the shadows. "I mean this one's still alive." He nudged Vila with the side of his boot and Vila groaned. "But he won't be for long." Micah reached for the knife intending to finish the job, but the officer stopped him.

"No, leave it." The major thought for a moment. "Take him back to the base. He might be able to provide us with some information."

Micah looked at him and shrugged. "Well, you're in charge."

"That's right, Lieutenant," dared reminded him. "I am." As the junior officer turned to follow his instructions, he added, "Treat him gently, Micah. He can't tell us anything dead, can he?"

The lieutenant glanced at Vila, then gestured to four troopers who lifted Vila carefully from the ground and headed away into the night.

#

The instant Blake and the others materialized, he thundered, "Gan, what the hell's going on?"

Gan was confused. "Vila said it was a trap. To bring you up immediately." He looked at the trio. "Where is he?"

Blake turned around, surprise and worry appearing on his face as he noted Vila's absence.

"Dead would be my guess," replied Avon, calmly stripping off his teleport bracelet and placing it in the rack.

"Gan, do you have them?" Jenna's voice came over the intercom. "Are they all right?"

"Yes to both questions," Gan answered slowly. "But Vila isn't with them."

#

The pilot noted the concern in the big man's voice without much surprise; after all, Gan and Vila were close friends. Then she heard voices coming from the corridor leading to the flight deck and turned around to see who it was.

"Vila is dead," Avon announced, coming down the steps, followed closely by Blake and Cally.

"We don't know that, Avon," Blake said firmly.

"No, we don't," Gan agreed.

"Blake," Cally spoke up. "Just before we teleported up, I saw Vila. I heard him cry out."

+Information. Forward scanners have detected the presence of six Federation ships entering this quadrant .+

"Vila is dead," Avon repeated. "And we will be joining him if we don't get out of here."

A hand rested lightly on Blake's shoulder and Cally gazed into the rebel leader's eyes. "Vila saved us, Blake. He died so we might escape. We must not waste his gift."

"Blake?" Jenna looked at him.

Reluctantly, he nodded. "Take us out of orbit, Jenna."

"Zen, break orbit. Speed standard by seven."

+Confirmed.+

#

Vila struggled through a haze of pain toward consciousness. Somehow, despite the agony in his back, he was alive. And there were voices close by. He listened, trying to make sense of them, wondering if Blake, Cally, and Avon had been caught or if they had escaped in time. Wondering, too, if they had escaped, would they come back for him? Or did they think him dead? He almost wished he were, the pain was so bad.

"Why not remove it?" a voice asked. A soft feminine voice. Vila wondered what its owner looked like; surely someone with such a pleasing tone couldn't be ugly.

"I cannot, Roxane. You know the Code. The blade may not be removed until the target is dead," a deep, masculine voice answered.

"Hang the Code, Jared," Roxane snapped. "All it takes is a simple jerk."

"Be very careful what you say, woman. The Code is what keeps our unit strong. It separates us from the rabble and makes us the Federation's Elite."

"More like the Supreme Commander's private assassins," the woman retorted, then relented. "All right. He's your prisoner. What do you propose to do with him?"

"Bait a trap, I think. If a fox wants its prey badly enough, it will come back."

Bait a trap, Vila thought. The others must have escaped then. Relief ran through him.

There was movement, then Roxane replied, "You and your antique cliches."

Vila heard footsteps retreat from him, then a door swish open and shut. He decided to risk opening his eyes. He was lying flat on his stomach on a solid surface, his arms crossed, supporting his head comfortably. He turned his head slightly to look around and nearly cried out as the movement sent fire coursing down his back.

"Best not to move, friend." The voice belonged to the man sitting in a chair beside him. Jared, the woman had called him. He was not as young as Vila had thought. A long, narrow scar ran from his right temple to the jawbone. Souvenir of a knife fight from the look of it.

"Who...who are you?" Vila murmured.

"I am Major Jared of the Saluccian Elite. And you are one Vila Restal. A master thief, I'm told." There was no admiration in his voice, he was merely stating a fact.

The word "Saluccian," however, told Vila everything. That was the agony in his back. That was why he had heard him speak of the Code. And it also told him he was in all likelihood dead.

Vila's face must have betrayed something as Jared smiled. "You've heard of us, I see."

"Not directly, no." Vila licked his lips wishing for something to drink, even if it had to be water.

The major stood up and moved across the cell to a small table. He filled a glass from a pitcher, inserted a hollow tube into it, then brought it back to Vila.

"Sip slowly and don't move if you can help it," Jared instructed, holding the tube to Vila's lips.

Vila did as he was told. The water was cold. He drank as much as he could, then shook his head slightly. Jared removed it.

Vila looked up at his captor. "Why bother with me?" he asked. "I'm just a thief and unless I'm mistaken, a dead one at that."

Jared's eyes narrowed at Vila's assessment of his situation, and the gesture reminded him suddenly of someone else. The major's scrutiny was interrupted as Micah entered the cell.

"The Supreme Commander has arrived," the lieutenant announced. He smiled, adding, "Since you were busy with the prisoner, I took the liberty of informing her of Blake's escape."

Jared's jaw twitched slightly. "Would you mind escorting the Supreme Commander here?"

"There is no need," a velvet voice purred and Vila caught sight of a shapely thigh as Servalan, dressed in a long white gown, glided into the room. "Ah, Major, at least you caught something. Not exactly what I asked for, but something."

Jared looked at Micah and jerked his head. The glance and gesture said "out" and Micah obeyed, closing the cell door behind him.

Servalan moved up beside Vila and sighed. "Poor Vila. Does it hurt, I wonder?" She touched the hilt of the knife gently and he gasped and closed his eyes.

"Supreme Commander," Jared interrupted, drawing her attention away from Vila. "Punishment has been exacted upon the man responsible for the mission's failure. Furthermore, it is my belief that..."

"Oh, Avon, stop it. I'm not one of your sniveling junior officers."

Jared's dark eyes flashed dangerously. "No, Madame, you are not. And my name is Jared."

"But it is also Avon," she reminded him.

"After what my brother did," he retorted, "the only name I have left now is Jared."

"Is that why you joined the Saluccia?" Servalan inquired. "To hide your shame?"

His face reddened. "My reasons are well known, Supreme Commander."

She smiled sweetly. "So they are. Please accept my apology." Servalan turned her attention back to Vila, who had only a tenuous hold on consciousness. "How long can he last like that?"

It was Jared's turn to smile. "Long enough, I believe. As I started to explain, I am certain that Blake will try to rescue him. So certain that I have already taken the liberty of sending a message to Space Command Headquarters advising of Restal's capture and requesting that Space Commander Travis take personal charge of his interrogation."

"Travis," she murmured. "Yes, that would draw Blake."

"That is my hope," Jared stated.

The Supreme Commander glided over and gazed up into Jared's eyes. "Then I shall retire to my ship to await Blake's arrival."

#


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