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The Outbreak

By Alicia Ann Fox
Page 1 of 1

The London was four days out from Luna, and speeding up. Jenna Stannis could hear the sound of the engines changing and knew that there was now no going back. Not ever. She turned away from the one tiny viewscreen in the prisoner's section and came face-to-face with Sub-Commander Raiker. He smiled unpleasantly. Jenna wished she still had her own well-worn blaster weighting her hip.

"Still here, Stannis? What a pity."

"I like it here."

"I'm sure you enjoy the company, too." Raiker ran his hand up her arm, smiled, and walked away.

Jenna felt like spitting. She stalked back to the dining area, where the gregarious thief with whom she'd shared a cell on Earth, Vila Restal, was doing card tricks for Nova, and Olag Gan, an off-worlder. Jenna wondered why Gan had been brought to Earth for trial. And surely Nova was too young to be condemned to life on a prison planet.

Roj Blake sat with his back to the bulkhead and stared at nothing, gnawing absently at his finger. Jenna liked Blake, for some quality she sensed rather than saw; perhaps purity described it. She was dead sure he had never been a child molester. Rumor had it he was the Blake, the Freedom Party Blake. That she could believe. "Hello."

"Jenna!" Blake smiled.

"Blake." She sat next to him. He was watching a prisoner across the room, a man Jenna had noticed before. Quietly she asked, "Why are you watching him?"

"He intrigues me. I don't think he's said a word to anyone since we've been on board."

Jenna shook her head. "I don't think so, either. Not very friendly."

"No-one has spoken to him. No--Vila did. I don't know what they said."

"He answered?"

"Yes. I'd forgotten." Blake stared thoughtfully.

"Did I hear my name?"

Jenna jumped. "Don't sneak up like that, Vila."

"I only eavesdrop if I hear my name. Well, most of the time. What did you want, Blake? Deck of cards?"

"I saw you talk to him," Blake indicated with his eyes. "Do you know him?"

Vila shrugged. "Know of him. He's a programmer, writes security software. Among other things."

Jenna looked to him enquiringly.

"I'm a professional thief. I keep up on who's in the trade. Why do you ask?"

"Curiosity."

"Don't get too curious, or he'll bite your curiosity off," Vila advised. "He's a bit tough, that one. Like you, Jenna."

"He's alone," Blake said.

"So is everyone else," Jenna replied. Blake didn't appear to be listening to her.

"Tell me, Vila, what he's reading. Can you find out?"

The thief sat down, stretched out his legs, fiddled with his cards. "I confess I'm a snoop. I want to know, too."

"This whole ship is full of desperate cases, Blake. You don't have to look out for every one of them."

Blake said shortly, "I know we're all desperate cases. That's why none of us should be alone."

"He won't appreciate all this concern," Vila said. "Of course, if you made friends with him, he could be very useful later on." Meaningfully Vila tapped his finger on the table. "Trust me, you want him on your side. Should any difficulties arise, I mean."

Jenna said, "You're taking this very seriously, Vila. What do you know that we don't?"

Obviously pleased to have a willing audience, he sat up straighter. "Blake--I can tell by looking at you--you've got plans, haven't you?"

Blake nodded, slowly.

"I said he designed security systems. Handy skill, wouldn't you say? And he knows a lot about computers in general."

Suddenly Jenna smiled appreciatively. "He has something there, Blake." Then she bit her lip. "Do you really think there's a chance?" She looked at him, wanting to believe it.

"If we imagine there's a chance, we can create one," Blake said intently. He looked across the room, to the man absorbed in reading the same note over and over again, ignoring everything else. "What's his name? Vila, could you introduce us? Make it look accidental?"

Vila stood, clapped one hand to his heart. "You wound me. Of course." When Blake and Jenna rose also he said, for their ears alone, "His name's Avon. I hope you can handle him, Blake. He won't want to trust us."

"I thought you were going to take care of that," Jenna whispered to Vila.

"Not me. I know when I'm overmatched."

Blake's faraway eyes narrowed; Jenna suddenly wasn't sure that she knew him at all. "Go on, Vila. I can handle him."

the end


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