Early DaysBy Marian Mendez
Page 2 of 6
"It will prove that part of your story is true, but even if I were to
believe every word you have said, I would still carry out this mission. You
have admitted that you are a common criminal, and know nothing of rebellion.
I will tell you this; I have not given my loyalty to a single person, but to
the cause of freedom. If I am suffering from amnesia and have been abandoned
by my commander that does not affect my loyalty or my duty. Even if your
Liberator is a fantasy, freedom is not. If there is a base you will
come with me and do your share." Her eyes were flinty, unyielding. "I will
attempt to protect you as best I can. It may be that there will be a ship you
may use to escape. After you have completed your work."|
" I take it you will not be leaving with me."
"You would not wish to share a ship with a rebel," she said, calmly. "You would either kill me or force me to kill you. It is entirely possible we would kill each other. I have sworn to die fighting the Federation; this place seems as good as any to me. If you help me, I will do all I can to see that you live."
"You are quite mad."
"No. I am quite sane. I simply believe in something greater than myself. I do not expect you to understand."
"No, of course not. You just expect me to die for your cause."
"Would you rather die out here, of exposure, of dehydration, of starvation, of the thousand ways a world like this will kill a man? Few of them are swift, and most of them are very painful. And there is no dignity or purpose in any of them."
"How poetic. You offer me a dignified, purposeful death. What a wonderful opportunity." Avon dusted off the seat of his pants, and bent over to pick up his tools. "I must remember to thank you and Blake later, when I meet you both in Hell. I'm sure he won't be long behind us."
"I am glad that you have the belief in an afterlife to sustain you," Cally remarked, with her best 'innocent' look. "I do not think I will be in this Hell of yours, however. My people join the Soul of Auron when our bodies are no more."
"Fascinating," Avon said, sourly. "Still, I'll think I'll get a message through to you." He started trudging through the sand.
Cally looked over the rock- and- sand- strewn slope. It was a Federation base, but it was not the communications center on Saurian Major, nor any of the smaller outlying facilities. That much of Avon's story was true. "Do you have any suggestions?"
Avon gave her a disbelieving look. "One. Let's get away from here and live a little longer."
"That is not an option."
"You walking in there like that isn't an option, either."
Cally looked at herself. She was wearing a plain worker's jumpsuit. Avon had on a Federation officer's uniform. It was a bit the worse for wear, but he still looked passably official. "Perhaps I can accompany you as your prisoner."
"Holding a gun on me? I'm sure that will be very convincing."
Cally opened the laser- rifle's breech and extracted the power-unit. She put it in one of the jumpsuit's many pockets, then handed him the rifle, after showing him that she still had a small gun in another handy pocket.
"Your trust in me is overwhelming."
"I should like to trust you, Avon." She gazed into his eyes. "I believe that you would like to trust me, as well. I am sorry that we will not have the opportunity." She touched his arm, briefly. "I sense that you are not entirely as black as you paint yourself."
"Perhaps you are looking through rose-colored glasses. Most rebel optimists do, I've found."
"We are most likely going to die this day. Would honesty hurt so much?"
"Would it help?" Avon got up. "All right. This is the best plan I can come up with. It may actually get us inside the building before they start shooting. When we left, after I 'borrowed' the rifle from one of the guards who had no further use for it, I used one of your bombs as a distraction. It worked better than I could have hoped; in the confusion no one saw us. It will also have made it impossible for them to tell just how many guards we killed. You killed, for the most part. I will pretend to be one of them, a trooper Onar, returning in triumph with the rebel saboteur. Once in, we'll have to play it by ear."
"How do you know the man's name?"
"Ego. His. He wrote home, and included vistapes of himself slaughtering the local fauna." Avon grinned. "And in case you were wondering, yes, tampering with the Federation mails is a felony." He stooped, gathered a handful of dusty soil and patted it over his face, grimacing in disgust, then picked at the scabbed-over cut on his neck until it began to bleed again. He smeared blood around his face, working it into the dirt to mask his features in gore. "There. Now, the heroic trooper staggers home with his captive." He lifted the gun and grimaced fiercely.
Cally raised her hands, and began walking toward the building below. He shoved the gun into her back, making her stumble. "You are very good at that," she muttered.
"Thank you." He raised his voice. "Help! I've caught the saboteur!" He kept yelling and shoving her viciously as they went. Cally rather thought he was enjoying himself.
Troopers rushed out of the building when they neared. "Do you need a medic?" their leader asked, apparently staring at Avon's face. Cally stiffened, prepared to attack if the man grew suspicious. She could not see his expression, as all the troopers were wearing their helmets, and the mental atmosphere was so thick with anger and fear that she could tell nothing from her other senses.
Avon waved the man aside. "It's nothing." He grabbed Cally's arm. "She marked me some. Won't be able to send any pictures home to my girl for a while," he said, scowling. "And just when I had the biggest catch of all."
"Onar? You look like hell, I wouldn't have recognized you."
"Just let me get a little of my own back," Avon said. "Let me lock her up, and give me a little time to make her sorry."
The trooper's helmet moved, as he eyed Cally. "She's dangerous."
"Not without her friends. I followed them. There were a dozen of them, at least. This one was the bomb expert. She's nothing in a fight." He shook her, and Cally concentrated on looking helpless.
"She's a skinny little thing, all right." The man kept moving his head, looking nervously about. "A dozen more, you say?"
"At least. I think they followed us to get her back, but I didn't give them a chance."
"Fan out, men," the trooper yelled. He patted Avon on the shoulder. "You get her locked up, and then see the medics. I bet you get a medal for this, Onar."
"I'd rather a raise in pay."
The trooper laughed, and trotted out with the rest of the men, leaving Avon and Cally to enter the building unescorted.
"That man did not follow official procedure," Cally commented quietly, once they were inside. People in laboratory coats were running around looking confused, and paid little attention to a wounded trooper and his scruffy prisoner.
"Did you expect Space Command spit-and-polish? This is the unwashed backside of the Federation." He pulled her around yet another corner, past a pile of rubble where green-faced workers were uncovering bits of bodies. No one looked up as they went past.
They followed color-coded arrows to the computer room with no interruption. The room was deserted, although clipboards and scattered notes proved that people had been working there recently. The door shut behind them with a cold finality. "Watch the door," Avon said, as he leaned his useless rifle against a console, sat down and began tapping commands into the computer.
"Yes." Cally leaned against an alcove formed by auxiliary computers, took out her small gun and extended all her senses. For several minutes there was nothing to be heard bar the click-clack of Avon's fingers racing over the keyboard.
"Ah," he muttered, "there you are."
Cally turned her head slightly, getting Avon in her peripheral vision. He stopped, hands raised, then slammed them down with a disgusted sound. He shut off the computer and stood up. "Let's get out of here."
"That was quick. You have already erased the information?"
"No." Avon bared his teeth; she wouldn't call that expression a smile. "Let the Federation have it."
He whirled on her, and she brought up the gun instinctively. He held his hands out, spreading them to show his defenselessness, and she lowered it again.
"It is a fraud. The administrator is either mad, or his subordinates are trying to get rid of him." Avon paused. "Or both. Once you strip away the cosmetic frills and hyperbole, the 'Visnoli device' is a duplication of an earlier experiment, which only functioned in theory."
"Are you certain?"
"Absolutely. Any time and effort the Federation puts into this research will be a total waste. Much like our mission here."
"You could be lying," Cally pointed out, "Maybe you really are trooper Onar."
"Yes, and maybe we'll stand around arguing until they come to arrest us." He turned toward the door. "Unless you plan to shoot me in the back, I am going."
"The base does have a small space vessel. It's listed in the computer as being in good order and ready for use. I have held up my end of our bargain, now I am going to attempt to find that ship."
"Wait." Cally pulled out the laser-rifle power-unit and tossed it to him. "You'll have a better chance with that."
Avon retrieved the rifle, snapped the power-unit into place, and aimed the gun at her. She didn't flinch. "Thank you. Aren't you the least bit concerned that I may turn it on you?"
Cally shook her head. "All I have to lose is my life. But if I am right, I will have gained a friend."
Avon lifted a eyebrow. "An ally. Temporarily." He turned his back on her. "Until I find the ship." There was a question in his voice.
She answered it. "I will not attempt to take the ship for myself. I gave my word you could go alone. I will remain here."
"A good rebel to the end."
"Yes. I can only be what I am, Avon. As you can only be what you are."
Avon glanced back at her, and she smiled. He frowned.
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