Absence of InformationBy Victoria Martin
Page 1 of 8
Dayna was aware of the pain in her head before she was even aware of being conscious. It started off as a whisper, somewhere out on the edges of the blackness, but as the blackness behind her eyes became redness and she realised that she had eyes, had eyelids, and that the redness was light shining through those eyelids, the whisper grew to a roar that threatened to blot out everything else. Maybe if she turned her head that would silence it. No! No, that had been a serious mistake. She wondered if she was going to throw up. She hoped not; if just turning her head made the roar that loud, she couldn't bear to think what throwing up might do to it. Maybe if she lay still and closed her eyes - oh, they were alreSady closed. It must be a very bright light out there, to shine so redly through her closed eyes - and now she could hear voices, just beyond the roar. Except that the roar wasn't actually noise, not the sort of noise that comes in through the ears, so if she concentrated, she could hear the voices properly. They were men's voices, uncaringly loud.
"Which one is he, then?"
"I dunno, he must be in here somewhere. There, in the corner, the one in black"
Feet tramped heavily across the floor, passing close by Dayna's head, then one of the men grunted "Bastard!" and there was the sound of a boot colliding with something soft.
"Wasting your time, he's out like a light."
"Oh great, have we got to drag him all the way to the shuttle, then? Here, you take that arm over your shoulder and I'll take this one. Ready? And heave! I hope he wakes up before Splitz leaves, I owe him one."
"I wouldn't worry, he'll get more than that where he's going." The voice was malicious, full of violence, and as the sound of feet started up once again, slower and heavier now, Dayna finally found her perceptions linking up to make a coherent thought.
Ignoring the roar, she struggled to her feet. The blood pounded wildly in her ears and nausea gripped her, but she managed to mutter "No!" and stumble forward. By the door the troopers paused and turned their heads towards her. "Don't you worry about him, girlie," one of them said, "He ain't worth it." They stepped through and the door clanged behind them. "No!" Dayna shouted, "No! No!" and then she had somehow reached the door and was banging her fists against it, screaming more wildly than the blood pounding through her head, louder than the terrible roar in her ears, "Avon! Avon! No! Nooooooo!"
"There's no point," a voice said quietly, when she finally collapsed at the foot of the door, her breath coming in great tearing sobs. It was a very quiet voice, but she heard it in spite of the noises of her own body, her gasping breath, her racing blood and the roar. She heard it because it was inexpressibly familiar.
He was sitting against the far wall. No, sitting was too active a word. He was propped against the far wall, not even quite upright. Now that the door had shut again the cell was dingy, but there was light enough to see that his face was unnaturally pale, except where it was dark with blood and bruises, and his arm was dangling in his lap at a sickening angle.
"You're alive! Oh, Tarrant!" She half ran, half crawled across the room and slumped down next to him. "The others?"
"No." His breathing was ragged and painful; he looked as if he would have liked to sound comforting but lacked the energy even to try. "I think they're dead. I saw them go down. If they were alive, they'd have been dumped in here with the rest of us."
Dayna shifted her attention away from him long enough to take in her surroundings. There were about a dozen people in the room, some lying on the floor, some sitting against the wall. Several of them were injured, although none of them, as far as she could make out, as badly as Tarrant. He was right, it seemed to be some sort of holding cell for the survivors. With an effort of will she stamped on the thought of Soolin and Vila. They were beyond help.
"Avon! We have to do something!"
"We can't. It was always him they wanted, Dayna. Not us. They'll have him halfway to earth by now."
"May he rot there."
It was a man who had spoken, a thin fairish man with a worried face at odds with his venemous tone.
"Deva -," began Tarrant, but Dayna interrupted.
"Halfway to earth in ten minutes? Don't exaggerate, Tarrant. Halfway to the shuttle maybe. There's still time to stop them!"
"Oh come on, you know me. You've even seen one of these babies before." For a moment Dayna fished inside her mouth, as if she had bitten the inside of her cheek and was anxious to assess the extent of the damage, then her fingers re-emerged with a small white chip gleaming between her forefinger and thumb. "Tooth bomb!" She grinned triumphantly and scrambled to her feet, headache forgotten in the rush of adrenaline. "Who else is coming?"
Everyone, it seemed. Galvanised by this display of enthusiasm, the little band of rebels was also struggling up, casting occasional questioning glances at Deva, who strode over to her.
"What's your plan, exactly?"
"Simple. I blow the door off, then when the guards turn up to see what's happened we grab their weapons and make for that shuttle they mentioned. Do you know where that'll be?"
Deva nodded. "There's a clearing not far from here. I heard something coming over an hour or two ago, and that's the only landing spot within walking distance." He saw her expression and added "Look, you can trust me. The Federation have wiped us out, this is my last chance to do any damage, and anyway, if anyone is going to torture your friend Avon to death, I want it to be me. Okay?"
"Okay. Stand clear of the door, please..."
In that confined space, the explosion was hugely impressive. A few of the rebels clutched their ears complainingly, whilst the more enterprising scuttled through the gap behind Dayna and Deva. The guards really should have been better prepared, but they were tired after the exigencies of the day - carrying out a massacre takes less physical energy than tidying up afterwards, but it knocks you out emotionally, especially if it isn't entirely one-sided. Dayna had jumped the first one before he even reached the wreck of the door and the rest were mown down in a spray of laser beams from what had been his gun.
Deva stared at the wreckage in astonishment. "That should never have worked - let that be a lesson to you all, never be at home to Captain Complacency."
"It's just a saying. Never mind. The exit is this way - you lot, get yourselves armed and follow me."
It didn't take long for the sorry remainder of Blake's rebel force to strip the troopers of all the weaponry they could find, but it was long enough for Tarrant to ease himself to his feet and totter after Dayna, still clutching his smashed arm.
"I'm coming with you."
"Tarrant, you're not up to it."
"Can't stay here, though, can I?"
He had a point. The base would be in uproar in a few minutes and he wouldn't stand a chance on his own. Dayna made a virtue of necessity.
"All right, try and stick close to me. If we tie that arm up, do you think you can carry a gun?"
She and Deva wasted a few precious minutes ripping the undershirt from one of the dead troopers to make a sling of sorts. The actual tying up was the worst, and Tarrant nearly passed out in the process, but once it was done he was able to wave a gun about with his free hand in an almost convincing fashion, and the little band of desperadoes set off at a shambling run through the base. Their strategy was simple - shoot anything that moves - and it worked surprisingly well, although attrition had reduced their numbers to about half by the time they had fought their way through the exit. Out in the open, where they could move freely, Dayna and Deva broke into a desperate run, with the last of Blake's rebels some way behind them and Tarrant painfully bringing up the rear. Dayna could have gone faster, but Deva could hardly keep up the pace as it was and they were some way off the clearing when they heard the roar of engines and ground to a despairing halt. The shuttle passed over their heads, the roar changed to a whine and it was gone.
The frustration was almost unbearable. Dayna let out a howl of fury and sank to her knees. "Shit," said Deva expressively, then clutched at her arm. "Can you hear something?"
"They're catching up with us!"
"Perhaps we can still make it to the clearing. There's a chance our ship will still be there - it's the only landing place around here."
They broke into a run again and stumbled into the clearing well ahead of the others. Yes, the ship was still there! Filled with renewed energy, Dayna raced ahead, taking out the three astonished guards who were playing cards by the entry hatch, doubtless with Captain Complacency as the dummy. Deva was close behind and within seconds he had keyed in the entry code, when the sound of gunfire behind made them spin round. Tarrant was standing at the edge of the clearing, facing into the forest, brandishing his gun with his good hand. There was no sign of the other rebels.
"Tarrant! Come on!"
His voice was faint, so very faint, but she could just hear it. "No chance ... get out of here...", then he raised the gun and fired a volley into the trees. An answering salvo blasted him clean off his feet and slammed him into the ground halfway to the ship, blood spattering the scorched grass in every direction.
"Tarrant!" Dayna screamed, uselessly, but Deva was hustling her inside, preparing the ship for take-off with frantic haste. Part of her was vaguely aware of what he was doing, but she couldn't seem to spare it any attention. Compared with the viscast in her head, endlessly running the same view of Tarrant exploding in blood, of Tarrant's body smashing into the ground, none of what was going on around her seemed remotely important. Vila was gone, Soolin was gone, Avon was gone, and now Tarrant was gone. In one hammer blow she had lost everyone she cared for, for the second time in her life. Oh, she had felt anguish when her father and Lauren were killed, she had felt grief, but she had also felt excitement at the prospect of leaving Sarran, at the brave new world she was about to enter. This time she felt no hope for the future, just a bottomless despair.
The computer was saying something: "Locked on to target."
Dayna raised her head and stared at the screen. Instead of the usual starfield, there was a frozen image of the GP base, blackened and burning.
"You blew it up!" she said, realisation dawning.
"It doesn't make me feel a whole lot better," Deva said grimly, "but at least it should play merry hell with their records. If we're really lucky, the Federation won't even realise we're missing."
"We've got a ship," Dayna said wonderingly, "We've got away from GP - Deva, we can go after Avon, we haven't lost him after all!"
Deva shook his head. "There's no point," he said heavily. "I'm sorry. We can't catch them in this rustbucket, and even if we could find out where they're holding him, he'll be dead within a week. Blake used to talk about him," - for a moment, his voice shook, and in the midst of her loss Dayna recovered enough awareness to recall that Deva, too, had just lost friends. "The Federation know what he's worth. Or will he cooperate?" His voice was suddenly sharp, accusing.
"No!" Dayna shook her head energetically. "He wouldn't do that - he can't trust them and they can't trust him.They'd be too scared he'd double-cross them. And he knows that."
"Well then." Deva's voice was infinitely sad, and Dayna felt a rush of respect for him - here was a man whose leader had been killed, whose friends had been destroyed, and he still found it in himself to feel pity for someone else. But she was in no state to think about anyone else for long. The awfulness of her own situation pressed in on her again, and the tears ran helplessly down her cheeks.
"Here," Deva said awkwardly, and passed her a tissue. "I'm really sorry."
"Where - where are we going?"
"I don't really know. Where would you like to go? The galaxy is our oyster." He caught her puzzled look and apologised again - really, it was a most irritating habit - "It's just a saying, it means we can do whatever we want. I can drop you off with one of the other resistance groups, if you like. Did Avon ever tell you about Avalon, or Kasabi?"
"No." Dayna had crumpled the tissue into a small wet ball and now looked around drearily for somewhere to dispose of it. "I - I don't think I want to go to any resistance groups. I don't think I could bear to start all over again. I don't know what to do." She started to cry, as children do, loud, shameless sobs that filled the whole flight deck. Deva clearly found it dreadfully embarrassing. He sat down next to her and in a paroxysm of awkwardness pressed her head against his shoulder. "Look, I've got a sister on Alderon, it's a neutral planet in the outer worlds, mostly agricultural. I grew up there - it's really beautiful. I go back occasionally, when I need a break. Why don't you come with me there for a bit? Anya will take us in, she's used to putting me up without much warning, and it'll give you time to think about what you want to do next."
At the time, Dayna couldn't even answer, but a few hours later she wandered back onto the flight deck, with a swollen face and red eyes, and said "Deva - about Alderon? Thank you, I'd really like to come."
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