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By Marian Mendez
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Blake sighed. Another dirty alley, another sordid exchange with the crime lords who ruled this slum. And all to obtain the barest necessities for his latest rebel group in return for whatever disgusting, immoral task they couldn't find a mercenary willing to perform. Sometimes he wondered if he was accomplishing anything at all. Oh, yes, he'd found sympathetic ears on Jevron, people who despised the Federation and what it had made of their world. But that was as far as he'd gotten. Rousing the people to fight was much harder than he had imagined. Particularly as the Federation seldom obliged with any blatant atrocities against the disheartened populace.

The Federation hold on Jevron was mostly economic. It seemed a more effective policy than outright militarism. For example, the space port and all the ships that docked there belonged to the Federation. Even the freighters that brought in the small, but steady, supply of off-world essentials and luxuries belonged to the Federation Civil Administration. Squat ugly ships, they resembled the London too much for Blake's peace of mind, recalling the months he'd spent aboard that cramped tin can. He sighed again, thinking of the companions he'd met on that ship, and since lost. What he wouldn't give for Avon's brilliant mind, Gan's calm strength, even Vila's unique skills. And Jenna... ah, Jenna was something else again. Not a fervent rebel like Cally, but devoted to him, if not his cause.

He shook himself. They were gone, as lost to him as if they were all as dead as poor Gan. He hoped they had all made it back to the ship. He trusted Avon to do his best to keep them safe, but beyond that... well, who could tell what Avon would do. He hadn't heard any rumours of the Federation suddenly unveiling new and startling space ship technology, so at least Avon hadn't sold out. Not that he ever really thought Avon would, but, well...

A shadowy figure appeared at the end of the alley, and Blake dragged himself back into the dreary present. Jevron's rebel movement might not be much in the galactic scheme of things, but they depended on him. "Liberator," came the identification signal. It was a woman's voice, although with an odd huskiness.

A woman. That was unusual. On this backwater world, the sexes seemed to have more clearly defined roles than on Earth, with the women mostly restricted to subordinate positions, regardless of ability. Rather a waste, but Blake hadn't the energy to fight two causes at once.

"Zen," he gave the reply, belatedly, wondering why the voice sounded familiar.

The woman moved closer, and slipped back the heavy gray cowl of her cape.

"What?" Blake started forward, but the woman held up her hand.

"Business first," she said in that husky voice that still held traces of the tones he'd come to know so well. "Breddan wants his junk." She jerked her chin back over her shoulder, indicating another figure standing further back. "He let me come to make the exchange, but not alone."

"Jenna." Blake stared. She had changed, subtly. She was still beautiful, but indefinably dulled.

"Blake," she answered him flatly. She held up a packet. "Address and keys to the warehouse where the 'equipment' is stored." She tossed the packet to his feet. "We can go there, if you want to check it out."

"I trust you," Blake said. He pulled a bulkier package out of his pocket and tossed it to her.

"Oh?" Jenna caught the package deftly, tore open a corner of the 'brick', and dipped a finger into the brown, crumbly paste revealed. She sniffed, then barely touched the tip of her tongue to the paste on her finger. She grimaced and shuddered. "Prime. Breddan will be pleased." She turned and handed the package to the hooded figure that had come up beside her, silent as a ghost. "I'm staying to talk over old times with Blake," she told him, her or it. "Take that to the boss."

The figure nodded and left as silently as it had come.

"Jenna?" Blake held out his arms, hesitantly. Jenna's hard veneer seemed to crack and she flew into the shelter of his arms.

"Roj. Oh, Roj." She didn't weep, but her entire body trembled. Abruptly, she lifted her head and stared into Blake's eyes. "Love me, Roj."

"What, here?" Blake answered, trying to make it a joke.

"Don't," Jenna said, harshly. "On Liberator, you wouldn't commit yourself to me, because you were afraid it would disrupt the crew. We're not on Liberator now."

"But I'm still fighting, Jenna," Blake replied, running a caressing hand over her hair. "The situation on Jevron..."

"What about it? So you're still leading a rebellion. Does that mean we can't have any life for ourselves? Are all your followers celibate, Roj? Or were you never interested in me, and only stringing me along because you needed a pilot?"

"Jenna." Blake hugged her tighter. "It isn't that. It was never like that. I don't dare get involved with you because I care too much. It would be so easy to love you. Too easy."

"Then do it." Jenna's eyes were huge and imploring. "I destroyed my bracelet, Roj. I could have rejoined the ship, but I heard that you were on Jevron and I came for you instead. It wasn't easy." She swallowed, and continued, touching her hand to a fading scar on her throat. "But I knew you wouldn't come back after what you said to Avon. I gave up the Liberator for you. If you know me at all, you know what that meant to me."

"Liberator is a wonderful ship."

"Liberator is freedom. And power, and respect, and safety, and it could have been home." Blake had never heard Jenna so passionate. "On this world, they won't even let me fly an inter-city shuttle. And I'm stuck here. I bribed a freighter captain with the last of the gems I took from Liberator in order to get here."

"I'm sorry. Sorry you had to suffer to get here, but I'm not sorry you are here. I need a friend, Jenna, someone I can trust."

"And that's all?"

"For now, that's all I can honestly offer."

"Sometimes a little dishonesty isn't such a bad thing."

"Now that you're here, I'll make finding a ship a priority."

"For us?"

Blake hated to crush the hope in Jenna's ruined voice, but it wasn't fair to her, or to the others who depended on his leadership. "For us to contact Avalon, and the other rebel groups in this sector. I was wrong to think that lightning raids from space would bring the Federation to its knees. What we must have is a concerted effort by all the Outer Worlds."

"Jevron? This flea-bitten dustball is going to attack the Federation?"

"No," Blake admitted. "But I'm learning how to create unrest and start a grass roots movement on a planet the Federation considers completely docile and harmless. That knowledge can be passed on to other worlds, other rebel leaders."

"So you're using Jevron, just like you used Liberator." Jenna pulled away from Blake. "I see. Well, that answers all my questions." She brushed a hand over her hair, and straightened her cape.

"Jenna?" Blake didn't care for the coldness in Jenna's lovely eyes, even though he'd deliberately alienated her. But it was better to alienate her now than to love her, and grow to hate her for the constraints their love would put on him and his fight. The lives and freedom of uncounted billions had to rate more highly than the happiness of two individuals.

Jenna turned back to him, briskly. "Oh, don't worry. I understand perfectly. You can contact me through the usual channels. Breddan doesn't exactly trust me, but he's come to respect my skills, and he finds me useful, too. I'm sure it will be advantageous for both of you if I stay where I am and act as go-between."

"I didn't mean to hurt you, Jenna."

"No, of course not. It's just that you can't love one woman. Not with the responsibility for all humanity on your shoulders." She held her head high. "But Blake, one thing..."


"When you get your ship I'll pilot it for you. Anywhere you like, and take a message to anyone you care to name. But after that, don't expect me to come back."

"I understand."

"I doubt it. I really do doubt it, Blake." Jenna flipped the cowl back over her head and strode off into the shadows without a glance back.


Blake didn't look up from the plans he was studying. "Jenna," he replied, "have you got the reports from..." He was interrupted by a data disk sailing through the air in front of his face. He snatched it before it could crash into the wall beside his desk. "Jenna," he growled, "do you know what that disk cost?"

"Enough to buy me a ship, I'll wager."

Blake looked up, drawn by the bitterness in her voice. He hadn't really seen Jenna in a while. Oh, she'd been there, coolly and efficiently providing assistance and support. It was exactly what he'd asked of her, so he couldn't complain, but he missed the camaraderie they'd shared aboard Liberator. Now he noticed how drawn and weary she'd become.

"I know you're discouraged, but be patient. it won't be long now."

"Patient?" Jenna's eyes narrowed. "Do you have any idea how long I've been trapped on this miserable world, running errands for you and Breddan? Six months, Blake. If I don't get back into space soon, I'll have lost my edge. A pilot's nothing without that."

"It couldn't be helped. I'm sorry, but..."

"That's all I ever hear from you." Jenna leaned over his desk, hands splayed to support her as she brushed aside papers and disks to stare into his face. "It isn't good enough, Blake. I think you haven't even looked for a ship. I think you never intend to find me a ship."

"That's not true. Just as soon as the situation stabilizes, getting a ship is the highest priority."

"This year, next year, sometime, never." Jenna pushed back from the desk, and gazed down at Blake, her eyes gone as blank and inscrutable as Avon's ever were. "You're afraid to let me go, aren't you? Afraid that without me you're nothing but Roj Blake, rebel leader- not a real man at all. I pity you, but I'm not going to be your prop anymore. I'll get my own ship, my own way." She turned, and glanced back over her shoulder. "You're rotting here. If you had any sense you'd get off Jevron, too, before it's too late. You could die here and be forgotten just as easily as the next man. And there won't even be anyone to cry over you." With that she left.

"You don't understand, Jenna," Blake said aloud to the empty room. "But you will. When the Federation falls, then you'll see that all our sacrifices were worth it."

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