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A Matter of Trust

By Steve Lake
Page 3 of 4

They eventually found a stall near the back of the building that sold the compounds they needed, and Jenna made sure they bought plenty, just in case the disease was infectious. Gan stowed the package inside his coat and raised his bracelet to communicate with the ship, but Jenna stopped him.

"Not in here... we'll attract too much attention. Let's get outside."

Gan nodded, and they hurried towards the exit and out into the cold again. They moved round to the side of the building, out of sight from the rest of the street, and ducked behind the rubbish heaped outside it.

Jenna was about to raise her bracelet to call for teleport when a loud voice rang out:

"Don't move!"

They looked up sharply. Solmer stood in the street just outside the building, backed by three armed guards. He stepped forward, raising a weapon of his own. "So much as breath wrong, and I'll blow you apart! Stand up straight, both of you! Hands in the air!"

The pair exchanged a wary glance. They knew the teleport was quick, but at this range, the guards' wouldn't miss. All the Liberator would get would be a couple of corpses. Jenna nodded slightly to Gan and raised her arms; he followed suit.

Solmer nodded to one of the guards. "Get their weapons... search 'em both!"

The guard relieved them of their handguns and patted them down. He found the package of chemicals in Gan's coat and tossed them to Solmer, who weighed them in his hand.

"Drugs?"

Jenna shifted uneasily. "Not the sort you're thinking... they're harmless chemical compounds, we need them for some sick crew-mates."

Solmer smiled evilly. "Would that be Roj Blake, or one of your other terrorist friends?"

Jenna shook her head. "I don't know what you mean."

Solmer stepped in closer. "Yes you do..." He pulled a glossy sheet from inside his tunic. "Got this communiqué last week... from the office of the Supreme Commander herself." He paused. "Do you know, I think this is the first top priority signal this planet has ever received." He shook his head. "Anyway, it gives the details of about half a dozen criminals who affected a rather daring escape from a Federation penal colony, and who are now causing the Federation considerable irritation through some rather pointless acts of random sabotage. Very surprising!" He grinned. "But what surprises me the most, is that your name is on that list - Jenna Stannis, political agitator! Well, well..." he chuckled.

Jenna glared at him. "And I suppose you're aiming to collect the reward on our heads."

He nodded smugly. "Correct. Quite a reward it is too! Might even get me off this miserable rock..."

Jenna shot a look at Gan, then licked her lips and stepped forward. The guard opposite raised his weapon, but Solmer motioned him back, eyeing Jenna arrogantly.

"Why don't we... come to an arrangement?" she asked softly.

"Arrangement?" Solmer replied innocently. "Why Jenna, are you trying to bribe me?"

"We, er, had an arrangement in the past..." she murmured coyly.

"Oh yes..." the prefect purred. "I remember that well..."

"I thought you might," Jenna smiled. "I recall you found that arrangement... satisfactory."

He smiled. "I did..." His smile faded a little. "Though I got the impression you found it less so."

"When it comes to survival, Solmer, like and dislike doesn't enter into a choice like that." She shot another look at Gan. "I'll do whatever it takes to live - and be free." She smiled ruefully. "Besides, I'm surprised that worries you... a man in your position."

"You'd be surprised what worries me, my dear," he stated, and then shook his head. "No, I don't think that arrangement will suffice this time. This is worth a lot, lot more."

"Then how about we make another deal?" she said abruptly.

"You're hardly in a position to bargain, Jenna!" he laughed. "I hold all the cards..." He looked her up and down lasciviously. "And I can make whatever arrangements with you I see fit..."

"I can make things a lot easier for you..." She stepped closer still. Solmer regarded her warily, but didn't back away. His mistake. She was almost within striking range. Gan was close to the other guard too, and if they could keep the pair of them between them and the other guards long enough to get their weapons, they had a chance... a slim chance.

"How?"

"I can get you on the ship. You and your men. Capture it intact. Now, wouldn't that be worth something?"

"Betray your friends?" scoffed Solmer. "Come on..."

"Friends?" laughed Jenna. "Like you say, they're just a bunch of terrorists. I'm just along for the ride, Solmer. Politics never interested me, and I have to say," and she looked across at Gan, "I don't much like the company he keeps..."

Gan stepped forward warningly. "Jenna!" he snapped. The guard responded by poking him none-too gently in the ribs with his gun. Gan backed up slightly, but he was now closer still to the guard.

"And what do you want in return for this betrayal, Jenna?"

"What else?" she shrugged. "You let me go."

"Just like that?" he smiled.

Jenna grinned. "How about it?"

"Hmmm..." Solmer tapped his chin. "I don't know..." He looked at the package of chemicals in his hand. "Presuming some of your, er, associates, are ill, then they'll be needing this quite badly soon... and therefore, will be quite prepared to make a deal. According to my terms, of course."

"Of course," said Jenna dryly.

He stepped forward and stroked Jenna's cheek gently with one gloved hand. "Which means, I don't need to make a deal with you."

"I was afraid you'd reach that conclusion," she murmured, and suddenly stepped forward and swung her knee up into his groin, reaching up to grasp his shoulders and pull him towards her as she did so. The knee struck home powerfully and Solmer folded with an explosive gasp across her, sending them both staggering back, but in doing so, he shielded her from the two troopers behind him.

The other guard swung round instinctively, and Gan jumped forward and grappled with him, swinging him round as a shield as well. With a yell the big man ran forward, lifting the trooper off the ground like a doll, and flung him into his two comrades, who were gaping uncertainly at the scene that was unfolding. All three collapsed to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs.

Jenna pitched Solmer, practically paralysed with the agony of Jenna's blow aside, but their feet tangled and she fell to the floor. Gan rushed to her aid, stooping to help her up, just as one of the guards on the floor freed his weapon arm and fired a wild shot. The blast nicked Gan's shoulder, sending him tumbling backwards, and the guard struggled to his feet to get a better shot. Jenna saw what was happening, snatched Solmer's weapon up and fired. The guard flew backwards, smoke pouring from the front of his uniform. He was dead before he struck the ground. Jenna swung the weapon round to cover the other two struggling to get to their feet, who froze. She struggled to her feet, keeping the weapon trained on them. "Throw your weapons away!" she shouted. Meekly, they complied, tossing them down the street, and remained on their knees. Jenna risked a quick look behind her at her friend.

"Gan, are you all right?"

The big man rose shakily to his feet, clutching his wounded arm. "Just a nick," he growled. "I'll survive."

"Get the drugs, and then get Cally to teleport us up."

"Right." Gan snatched up the package and painfully raised his arm up to speak. "Cally, get us up!"

Solmer lay slumped on the floor, breathing in sharp ragged gasps. The pain was excruciating, but the prospect of Jenna escaping galvanised his resolve. First he had to get his gun back...

With a wild cry Solmer suddenly hurtled upwards, grappling for Jenna's gun. His fingers clutched at her wrists and they both tumbled backwards, struggling wildly.

Somehow dislodged by either the force of the blow or Solmer's groping fingers, Jenna's teleport bracelet snapped loose and clattered to the ground - a split second before Gan shimmered, and faded into thin air.

"No!" screamed Jenna. With a supreme effort she jammed a foot into her attackers' midriff and fell backwards, using the impetus to kick Solmer over her head to crash heavily into a pile of crates behind them, Jenna rolled over and started to crawl towards where the bracelet lay.

Too late. The other two guards jumped to their feet and started to run towards her. The bracelet was in between them and her, and the gap was too large. They'd have her before she had time to raise it to her lips. And Solmer had been able to tear the gun free from her grasp. Flight was the only option now.

She leapt up, turned and sprinted in the other direction. Behind her, Solmer was cursing and lashing about in the middle of the wreckage he was lying in. The guards came over to help but he furiously waved them back.

"Get her!" he screamed. "Get her!"

***


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