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Trading Dreams

By Betty Ragan
Page 2 of 2

When we got to Gauda Prime, they were waiting for us.

Three pursuits ships came out of seeming nowhere the instant we settled into orbit, zeroing in as if they'd known exactly where we would be. No sooner were they in weapons range than they started broadcasting: "Surrender your ship and prepare to be boarded. Surrender your ship and prepare to be boarded."

Dacey swore loudly. "What do we--?" He broke off suddenly, his mouth dropping open in surprise. I turned to look.

Blake and the kid, Zane, were emerging through the flight deck door. Behind them, brandishing a Federation-issue gun, came Farr.

"Farr," I said accusingly. A stupid, insipid thing to say -- it probably wasn't even his real name -- but very few of us are genuinely creative in those kinds of circumstances.

He gave me a leer that, even if he weren't the traitorous bastard that he was, would have made me want to kick his face in. "Jenna Stannis," he said.

"So much for my attempt to remain anonymous," I answered, as I calculated the odds of being able to take him out before he could get a shot off. They weren't good.

He glanced back and forth between me and Blake, his weapon never wavering. "I must say, this was a remarkable stroke of luck. Capturing the infamous Blake is accomplishment enough, but to be able to deliver you into the bargain... My superiors will be very pleased."

Dacey suddenly stepped forward, approaching Farr with a menacing stride. I'm not sure why he did it: whether he saw some signal from Blake, whether he recognized Blake's name and reacted without thinking, or whether he was just being Dacey. Stupid, impulsive, unwaveringly loyal Dacey. "Now, listen here--" he said.

"No," said Farr, and fired.

Things happened very quickly. Dacey made a move to dodge, didn't quite make it, and went down clutching his arm. Blake, taking advantage of the distraction, pulled a small gun from somewhere in the folds of his baggy shirt and shot Farr. The traitor fell instantly, his weapon clattering to the floor beside him. Blake shot him again. And again. And again. There was a look in his eyes I wasn't sure I'd ever seen before, and I spared a moment to hope -- vainly, as it happened -- that I'd never see it again.

Then I went to Dacey and helped him to his feet. His arm was smoking faintly. The energy discharge had probably cauterized it, but I've had those kind of wounds. They hurt like hell.

He staggered over to his console, glanced at the display, and gave me a grim look. "They're targeting us. If we're going to do something, we need to do it now."

"I'm open to suggestions," I said. "We've got nowhere to run." The pursuit ships had us surrounded on three sides, giving them a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree field of fire. We might have had a slim chance of escaping immediate destruction if we headed out, away from the planet, but they were faster and more maneuverable than us. We'd never get far before they caught us.

Blake came up behind us, peering at the displays. "Not quite nowhere," he said quietly. "What about down? If we can make it onto the planet, we'd stand a good chance of being able to lose them on foot."

I shook my head. "If I were going to take her down fast enough to have a hope of avoiding their fire, the result wouldn't be a landing. It would be a crash."

"Would it be a crash we could walk away from?"

I thought about it. "I don't know, Blake. I'd say... Fifty-fifty?"

Zane spoke for the first time since he'd entered the flight deck, his voice shaking a little, like the scared kid he was. "If we don't do it, we're dead."

"Or captured," said Blake quietly. We exchanged a look, a mutual wordless agreement. Better to be dead.

"Dacey?" I said, not looking at him.

"What the hell," he replied. "This trip was getting boring, anyway." I knew there were reasons I liked having him for a partner.

"All right," I said. "Strap in, and hold on."

And I crashed my beautiful ship.

**

I don't remember much of the descent. Bits and flashes, mostly. I remember taking a glancing hit from their plasma fire. I remember the feeling of the ship trying to shake itself to pieces under me. I remember noise. Lots and lots of noise. I don't remember blacking out.

When I regained consciousness, the first thing I noticed was the quiet. I suppose it was only comparative quiet: there was the sound of flames crackling, of gasses venting, an occasional crash as some piece of Starstrider detached and plummeted to the ground. But the horrible, end-of-the-world noise I'd thought would never end was gone.

The second thing I noticed was Zane's cold, glassy eyes staring into my face. It looked like he'd fallen forward onto a short-circuiting console and been electrocuted. It wasn't a pretty sight, and I had to close my own eyes for a moment before I felt composed enough to try moving. Miraculously, nothing seemed to be broken, though everything seemed to be battered.

"Dacey? Blake?"

"I'm here." Blake hove into view as I levered myself up, pushing aside a fragment of the pilot's chair that had fallen on top of me. Blood was pouring down his face from a gash that looked like it might have taken out his eye. He face was too swollen and blood-drenched to be able to tell for sure. "Dacey's dead," he said. "It looks like part of the ceiling fell on him."

I closed my eyes again for a moment. I should feel something, but all I felt was numb. "We have to get out of here," I said, but Blake didn't seem to hear. He was staring at Zane as if he'd never seen a dead body before. Or as if maybe he'd just seen one too many. I put my hand on his arm. "Come on, Blake!"

It took three tries before I got him to move.

**

The woods were good for hiding in, tangled and dense. We laid down a few false trails, confusing potential pursuers as much as possible. Fortunately, pursuit ships are built for space battles; their crews have neither the equipment nor the training for hunting fugitives on planets, and there shouldn't be any Federation ground forces, not on an Open world. Figuring we stood a reasonable chance of staying hidden and safe, we took refuge in a cave to tend our wounds. Blake's facial injury wasn't quite as bad as I'd first thought, but it seemed likely to me he'd still lose the eye. My own wounds were minor, physically.

It was a long while before either of us said anything that wasn't directly related to the business of survival. But eventually, sitting there at the mouth of the cave as he watched the falling dusk, Blake looked at me and said, "He was my friend."

"And Dacey was mine." But I could tell from the look in his unbandaged eye that he hadn't meant Zane.

"You can't trust anyone, can you, Jenna?"

His voice was bleak with despair, and part of me wanted to say something comforting. I didn't, though. Maybe because it was a lesson I'd thought he ought to have learned by now. Maybe because part of me wanted to punish him for what he'd cost me.

As if he'd read that unworthy thought, he rubbed wearily at his forehead and said, "I'm sorry. You lost your ship, your partner. And it was my fault."

It wasn't. No matter how easy it would have been to blame him, it wasn't. I'd been na´ve to think I could go back to being what I was. As long as the Federation still existed, as long as I was still Jenna Stannis, I was never going to be safe, never going to be free. Never going to be out of it.

"I should have known he was Federation," he continued. "I should have been able to tell." He looked back over the darkening forest, in the direction were the Starstrider, and Dacey, lay dead.

I shrugged, though I'm not sure he saw me in the gloom. That's the thing about dreams. They can change on you without warning, turn into something other than what you thought they were. And sooner or later you always have to wake up. I suppose that's a lesson we all have to learn, too. Some of us have to learn it more than once.

"Tell me," I said eventually. "Are you still planning to set up that rebel base?"

He looked away for a long time before he said, "Yes."


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