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Fallen Star

By Marian Mendez
Page 1 of 8

"Star One is gone," Jenna said quietly, her tone more out of consideration for others than concealment. It wasn't a secret, after all. If Blake wasn't stuck in his hospital bed, he could have heard the gossip directly. "Federation officers weren't as careful as they might have been during the battle. That slipped out on an open frequency. Of course, no one knows exactly what Star One is, but it sounded important and mysterious, so they're all talking about it."

Jevron's hospital wasn't a patch on Liberator's med-unit, but she'd been glad to get Blake to it. His wound had opened up during the rough life-pod ride and he'd been in bad shape. Fortunately, she'd slaved her pod to his, and landed nearby. She'd broken several nails clawing open the warped hatch of his pod, then found a friendly hunter willing to ferry them to what passed for civilization. Blake was stabilized now and she had gone out to gather information. "The Andromedan fleet has been destroyed. The rumor is most of the Federation fleet went with it. They aren't sure whether they're happy about that or not. There's talk about self-rule, but they've no idea where to start forming a government."

Blake stared blankly ahead, as if he didn't believe his fight was over, that he'd won.

"Will you at least nod once in a while?" Jenna said, impatiently.

"Sorry, Jenna," Blake said, finally looking at her. He sighed and ran his right hand through his hair. His left was immobilized in a sling against his chest to keep him from aggravating his shoulder wound. "I just can't take it all in yet. Is it over? Is it really, finally done?"

Jenna shook her head. "I don't know, Roj." She caught his hand. "I hope so, for your sake."

Blake gave her a tired smile. "I don't know what I would have done without you." He squeezed her hand. Then he looked down at their linked hands and frowned, noticing something missing. "Our bracelets? Where are they?"

"It's all right. I've got them, safe."

Blake nodded. "All right, you keep watch, then." His head lolled. "They've given me something. I'm not very lucid, I'm afraid."

"Sleep. I'll be back later." Jenna stayed until Blake was relaxed and breathing evenly in the deep rhythms of sleep. Then she left, intending to find a secluded corner in which to attempt to signal Liberator. She'd tried before, but gotten no response. The ship might still be repairing itself. She refused to think that it had been destroyed. No, she just had to be patient.

"Renounce! Renounce! No, never! The Federation is evil. I will destroy it! I will!"

Jenna heard Blake's yells the instant she entered the ward. "Oh, no." The old dream had come back. Even though Orac had erased his programming, sometimes when he was very tired and discouraged, the nightmare returned. Why should it happen now, though? This was the closest he'd come to victory. She didn't quite break into a run.

Nearing his bed, she paused. She was too late. There were several orderlies gathered around Blake's bed, deferring to a hard-faced man in a blood-stained Federation officer's uniform. He appeared fit, so the blood probably belonged to one of his men. Just what she needed, a conscientious officer, visiting his injured crew. A lucky conscientious officer, who had stumbled over the galaxy's most wanted rebel. She ducked behind a screen, glancing at the occupant of the shielded bed. A corpse. She grimaced, but stayed put. The hospital was jammed with wounded Federation troopers, mostly life-capsule escapees, like herself and Blake. Her hands clenched, uselessly- helplessly. Their guns were outside, hidden in the shrubbery surrounding the hospital flier park. If she was very lucky, she might be able to get to them in time to rescue Blake. And then she'd be on the run, without a ship, with a wounded man. Well, it wasn't much worse than their usual situation.

She peeked out once more to reassure herself that they weren't planning to move Blake immediately. And both teleport communicators chimed. Loudly. She fumbled for the bracelets hidden in her blouse, but stopped when the screen was knocked over, and the Federation officer pulled her out by the arm.

"You're with him, aren't you?"

"Who?" Jenna said innocently.

The man smiled. "I keep up on the reward notices. You're Jenna Stannis. He's Roj Blake. And you're both worth a lot of credits."

"More if we're alive," Jenna said, eyes drawn to the sidearm aimed at her heart. He hadn't given up his weapon.

"And the ship is worth more than both of you." He motioned toward Blake. "They'll come for him, won't they?"

"I wouldn't bet on it," Jenna replied, moving as directed. Blake had stopped shouting, and appeared to be waking naturally. The bracelets' continued chiming probably had something to do with that. "Avon couldn't care less about either of us. He's probably quite happy to have Liberator to himself."

"Well, we'll just try it and see." He grabbed her arm and twisted it up behind her back.

Jenna bit back a scream as the iron grip crushed down.

"Blake!"

The military cadence in that shout brought Blake awake. He was drugged, and his pupils were dilated black. He tried to sit up, but the orderlies on either side pushed him flat. "If you don't want to see this pretty lady hurt, you'll contact your ship, and tell them to come here."

"What?" Blake was confused, and angry. He surged against the orderlies, then lay flat, panting. "Who are you?"

"Space-Major Luft. A loyal Federation officer," the man replied. He tore the front of Jenna's blouse open, and snatched the bracelets she had tucked inside. He threw one bracelet at Blake, who simply stared at it. "No tricks." He ground the muzzle of his gun against the side of Jenna's neck. "Or I'll collect on her body."

Blake picked up the bracelet, staring into the man's face all the while. "What do you want me to say?"

"Tell them you're injured and you want them to pick you up."

Blake rubbed his thumb against the cool metal of the bracelet. "Liberator was damaged. We had to abandon ship. There may not be anyone on board to teleport us up."

"Then who's signalling you?"

"Automatics."

"Then the automatics can teleport you up." Luft caught up Jenna's arm and twisted it viciously. "Don't take me for a fool. There must be some way for the ship to pick you up. You would never have left without making sure of that."

Blake sighed. "Avon had the remote teleport control with him."

"Avon, and not you?" The disbelief was blatant. "You're the leader."

"It's a computer device. Avon's our computer expert."

"Avon." The space-major thought a moment, then smiled. "I'd like to collect on him, too. All right. This is what you say. Tell your automatics to pick you up after the others. Be very careful. If I don't like what I hear, I'll cut my losses."

Blake took a breath, then hit the communicator button, silencing the chiming. "Zen. This is Blake. Are repairs underway?"

Zen answered, with a typical computer's unemotional tone. "Confirmed."

"I am on Jevron. In no immediate danger. Give the others priority on recall before you come for me."

"Confirmed."

Blake added, "It's rather a mess down here, with refugees from the war. Tell Avon..."

The officer snatched the bracelet, snapping off the communicator. "I think you were about to say something we might both regret."

Jenna paced. Ten steps up, turn, ten steps back.

"You're getting me dizzy," Blake said, mildly.

"This is a neutral planet, you said. We were lucky to land here, you said." Jenna whirled. "It doesn't look very neutral to me."

Blake rubbed his hand over his face, tiredly. "We aren't on a Federation ship, or in prison."

"No, just locked up in hospital, waiting for extradition."

"Look on the bright side, Jenna. At least they've given us a private room."

"Private." Jenna glanced at the monitor in the corner. She could easily visualize that vulture of a Federation officer hunched over a screen, watching them. Watching her and laughing at her frustration. She went over to Blake and sat on the edge of his bed. She whispered, "We've got to get out of here."

Blake glanced up at the monitor. He shrugged. "How? I'm too weak to move," he said, although his eyes told her he was lying. "Never mind. It will all be over soon." He patted her hand.

"What do you mean?" she said, raising her voice. Blake was scheming, but what was he scheming?

"I'm sorry, but I had to do it. I couldn't let the Federation take us. Not alive."

"What!"

"There was a code. I never told you. Zen is bringing Liberator here all right. With orders to use the Neutron Blasters on Jevron, centering the attack on the teleport bracelet coordinates. It should be quick and relatively painless."

"You can't be serious." Actually, he could. Jenna's throat went dry. Blake was capable of almost anything when it came to fighting the Federation.

"I was never more so. It's a shame about the hospital, but then, there are a lot of Federation troopers here. We'll have companions for our deaths."

Jenna whirled and went to the door, pounding on it with her fists. "HELP!" she shouted. "He's gone mad. He's going to get us all killed! Let me out of here." She hoped she'd read Blake's signals right and was following his lead.

The door opened. Their captor was there, looking pale and shaken. He held the gun on Jenna. "Stop it, Blake! Or she dies."

Blake laughed. "The whole point is we all die. And you can't stop it. Destroy the bracelets and Zen will simply bombard the entire planet. He's a very reliable computer, and thorough."

"You'd see the whole planet destroyed? Hundreds of thousands of people killed?"

"I've done worse." Blake gave Luft an even, calm stare. "I destroyed Star One. Do you know how many will die because of that? Nothing matters except the destruction of the Federation." His eyes glowed. "A martyr to the Cause will only help the Rebellion."

"Not if they know what you've done. This has been recorded. I'll transmit it to the whole sector. Everyone will know Roj Blake is nothing more than a common mass murderer. Who will follow your Cause then?"

Blake frowned. "No one will believe you."

"They will with Jevron's smoking ruin as evidence." The officer held a teleport bracelet out to Blake. "Cancel your order."

Blake took the bracelet. "There's only one way," he said, slowly, as if reluctantly surrendering. "I'll have to be off-planet in order to convince Zen I've escaped. Otherwise it will assume I've been coerced into countermanding the attack." He crossed his arms, and smiled, as the man hesitated, obviously wondering if this was a bare-faced bluff. "No hurry," Blake said genially.


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