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Fallen Star

By Marian Mendez
Page 2 of 8

Luft cursed, shoved Jenna in Blake's direction and stamped out of the room. Jenna caught herself before she crashed into the edge of Blake's bed. "Well, that was fun," she said, sourly, rubbing at her new bruises.

Blake just smiled, leaving Jenna to wonder along with their captor.

She sat down on the edge of the bed. "My mother wanted me to go into the family business, but I knew better. Space, adventure, action. That's what I wanted."

"And you got it." Blake's face crinkled into a grin. "What was the family business?"

"Footwear. Just think, I could be making a fortune, selling trooper's boots to the Federation by the ton."

"Money isn't everything."

"Tell Avon that."

Blake lay back and shut his eyes. "Call me when our playmate returns, will you, Jenna?"


Jenna had half dozed off herself by the time Luft returned, accompanied by several guards. The guards weren't particularly impressive. One limped, the second had a large bandage across half his face and singed patches in his hair, while the third held himself very stiffly, with one arm tight against his ribcage where strapping showed through the rents in his tunic.

"GET UP!" the officer shouted again.

"He's in a bad mood," Jenna warned Blake, taking his arm to help him up.

"Who isn't?" Blake said, sourly. The guards prodded him into silence.

Judging by the route they took, in dead silence, down the back corridors, and out a fire escape, it was apparent this wasn't a sanctioned prisoner transfer. There was a civilian ground transport waiting with the engine running and a very nervous looking young trooper behind the control panel. He was battered, too, with a huge, livid bruise running around the right side of his face, continuing down past the collar of his uniform.

Blake and Jenna were shoved into the passenger compartment, followed by Luft and two of the guards. It was so cramped that the third guard had to join the driver in the front. The passenger windows were opaqued, leaving the occupants nothing to do but stare at one another. Blake was impassive, and the guards were jumpy. It was not a pleasant ride for Jenna with a guard squeezed next to her, his body heat making her feel ill. It didn't help that her torn blouse kept gaping open. Bad enough to be a prisoner, without encouraging thoughts of rape. She was glad that the guards were all injured and that she wasn't alone. Blake's solid frame pressed against her on the other side was all that kept her from panicking.

It wasn't a long journey, but the oppressive atmosphere made it interminable. Jenna was relieved when the vehicle signaled arrival at its destination by coming to a lurching stop just before the engine noise shut off. Luft leaned forward. "You will get out of the vehicle, and go where my men take you. If you make any disturbance, they have orders to shoot, and shoot to kill. Don't think the higher reward for a live prisoner will earn you any mercy."

"I wouldn't dream of it," Blake said, his tone netting him a backhanded swipe across the face. He said, "Mercy? You don't know the meaning of the word." Luft's hand came up again, but halted at Blake's look of calm expectation.

"I know one thing, Blake. You are my prisoner, and I can do anything I want with you. Or her." The man's eyes flicked to Jenna, then back to Blake.

"But that won't get you Liberator, will it?" Blake said, pleasantly. "I wonder if Zen has arrived. We can shield from detectors, you know. She could be in orbit, warming up the Neutron Blasters even as we speak."

Luft showed his teeth, in an almost Avon show of frustrated temper. Even at that tense moment, Jenna couldn't help thinking that Blake did it deliberately ; made people lose their tempers over petty issues, so they'd lose sight of the main point. Or did he? Avon accused Blake of being manipulative, but she hadn't agreed. Blake just couldn't see anything else or anyone else until his fight against the Federation was over. If only they hadn't landed on Jevron. She could have had Blake, if only... No. If they had landed on a friendly planet, he would have been off to Earth in a shot to lead the masses, first to fling himself against the battlements. And what would Blake do once it was over? Would he have any time in his life for the smuggler who had flown his ship for him, and fought battles for him? Or would it be : 'Thanks, old girl, don't call me, I'll call you?' Mentally, she shook herself. This was crazy. They were probably going to die in the very near future. She had to keep her mind on the present. Blake was her only ally, her only hope of survival. Mooning over him like a lovesick schoolchild was likely to get them both killed.

"Get out." The space-major had his temper under control, but it was a near thing. He flung the door open and shoved Jenna out into the waiting arms of the guard who'd ridden with the driver. She stiffened as his hands slipped into the neck opening of her blouse. He only had time for a quick grope before Blake, the officer and the other two guards joined them. She flushed, but kept quiet, observing her surroundings. They were at a spaceport. She'd known that before they stopped. She could feel it in her bones, the vibrations of ships landing and launching. So the officer had decided not to call Blake's bluff. If it was a bluff.

If Blake had hoped to escape during the transfer to the ship, his hopes were futile. They were herded over to a Federation pursuit ship whose scorched and disfigured hull identified it as a survivor of the Andromedan war. Jenna eyed the craft with some misgivings. Some of the damaged areas were altogether too close to flight control circuitry. Not to mention the blackened pit where a plasma bolt generator used to be. Nasty, the radiation backlash you'd get when one of them blew. She doubted they'd had the time to decontaminate the ship, not with the dockyard crammed with the Federation's once finest along with the usual rim-runner's ships and local short-haulers. This was not going to be a pleasant cruise. Just thinking about the long-range effects of the radiation made her stomach curdle.

They stopped on the ramp while Luft argued with one of the workers, out of earshot, but not out of sight. The worker looked exhausted, jumpsuit splotched with the multi-colored life-fluids of a starship. Rather like a surgeon after a long, difficult operation. From the way the man waved, and pointed, he wasn't happy about the condition of the ship. That made at least two of them. Luft was adamant, and after throwing his hands up in the air, the worker walked away.

"I have a very bad feeling about this," Jenna whispered to Blake as they were hustled up the ramp.

Takeoff was as bad as Jenna expected. Maybe worse. She almost felt pity for the pilot; the same young man who'd driven them to the spaceport. He had developed a nervous twitch, and sweat beaded on his bruised face as he darted glances at the indicators, and made adjustments to things which ought to be self-regulating. She had never been inside a pursuit ship before. The flight deck was cramped, especially compared to Liberator's. She shuddered to think what might pass for prisoner's quarters. Probably a cubicle perched on top of the waste reclamation machinery. Well, she'd find out soon enough. They had reached open space. Time for Blake to call home.

Apparently, Luft agreed with her, for he thrust a teleport bracelet at Blake."Call your ship."

Blake accepted the bracelet. "Liberator. This is Blake. I have escaped. Abort attack on Jevron. Repeat, do not attack Jevron. Confirm."

"Confirmed." Zen's transmission seemed clearer, as if the ship was closer.

"What is the status of the crew?" Luft narrowed his eyes in suspicion, but he allowed Blake's question. After all, he was also interested in the answer.

"Contact has been made with Roj Blake, Kerr Avon, Vila Restal and Cally. Vila Restal is injured, and requires priority pickup. Kerr Avon states that he is in no immediate danger. Cally is on a neutral vessel, en route to the planet Chenga. Roj Blake..."

"Yes, I know what I'm doing, thank you, Zen." Blake paused, hand over the communicator button, giving the officer a bland stare. "Anything you'd like me to add?"

Luft shook his head. "No." He took the bracelet back, held it in his hand for a moment, then dropped it on the deck and stamped on it. Blake's instinctive surge forward was halted by the raised sidearm of the singed guard. "I'm not taking any chances with you, Blake." He took out the second bracelet, dangled it for a second, then treated it as he had the first one. "You've evaded justice long enough. Someone else will have the pleasure of disposing of your ship."

"And collecting the reward?" Blake looked at the Federation troopers who were hovering around the flight deck. Having barely survived a war and then been recruited on a unofficial operation, their attitude to their superior was less subservient than usual. Doubtless they'd been promised a share in the reward. "Pity you didn't ask your men their opinion before you cheated them out of several million credits. It's a poor officer who doesn't take care of his men."

Blake had overstepped the bounds. Jenna wasn't sure how, but something snapped within Luft and his gun came up, muzzle slashing across Blake's face. Blake screamed, a hoarse, guttural sound, and clutched at his face. Jenna rushed forward to help him. Blood poured out between Blake's fingers and he cried, "My eye, my eye, you've blinded me!" He fell to his knees, pulling Jenna down with him, his bloodied hands fouling her blouse.

Luft moved forward, shocked by the suddenness and the blood. He leaned forward, gun dropped awkwardly at his side, as if he was ashamed of his impulsive act. "Let me see." For an instant Luft was between his prisoners and the nearest guard. Blake snatched Luft's gun, turning it and firing the instant his finger touched the trigger.

Luft collapsed, his corpse shielding Blake and Jenna for just long enough. The gun whined in Blake's hand, targeting the pilot and the other trooper. When Blake rose to unsteady feet, he and Jenna were the only living things on the flight deck. "Take the controls," he said harshly, "There's at least two more of them."

"You'll need help." Jenna took the sidearm from the dead pilot and turned, only to find that Blake had already left. It was unnerving how silently he could move. She started after him, but habit made her look at the controls, and training made her stay. If Luft had intended to go anywhere in this ship, he was a madman. Probably he meant to return to Jevron immediately, and wait until he could arrange proper transport for his prize. That wasn't an option for them. Who knew how many Federation troopers had seen Blake?

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