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The Best Revenge

By Alice C. Aldridge
Page 2 of 39

Just after dawn, the Reina had grounded on the rainslick tarmac at the spaceport just outside Xanadu, which housed the central administrative complex for the Enclave. From the outside scanners, Travis could tell little about the city other than it seemed to be a large urban center with numerous high rise buildings and a sprawling transportation grid, crowded even at this early hour.

Jenna had logged in the Reina's ID code and her own clan and sept identification when they'd first entered Sanctuary's space. After they'd grounded, she had meticulously prepared for their initial meeting with her uncle, scheduled for midmorning. It was the nature of those preparations which had led to another long, emotion-charged wrangle.

He'd gestured in disgust at the severely cut, but richly tailored jumpsuit in the same deep midnight blue as the long traditional gown Jenna had donned early that morning. "I'm telling you, Jenna, this is a grave tactical error. You admitted that you have no current intelligence on your clan's attitude towards wayward family members. Until you know where you stand in the hierarchy and whether your uncle is going to welcome you with open arms or have you horse-whipped, this bondmate claim of yours needs to be put on hold."

"In what way?" Her expression had been stubborn but at least she was listening.

"Our bonding contract is legally documented in the Reina's log, which isn't public record at the moment. I'll play the role of `hired muscle' during this meeting with your uncle until you get a feeling for the present situation within the Enclave and your clan. Once you've scouted out the family politics, then you can decide the best time to make your claim." His advice had been calmly unemotional, but surprisingly Jenna had overreacted.

"The Enclave may be a hotbed of dynastic and mercenary maneuvering but they don't play the same bloodthirsty power games the Federation does. And I certainly don't intend to use you the way Servalan did!" she'd flared. "I'm not coming back on my knees, begging for their forgiveness. Those ships are rightfully mine and if I must have bondmate to claim them, then by heaven, he'll be the man I choose and not someone that they foist off on me for the clan's social or commercial advantage!"

"Don't be a fool, Stannis. You don't throw away a tactical advantage out of some misplaced sense of pride or honor. You know as well as I do the reason you chose me is for my weapons skills and my battle savvy. This is not some damned love match."

She'd stared at him for long moments, her jaw set and an angry, betrayed look in her eyes. "Maybe not, but I don't intend to treat you like some lethal combination of animal instinct and killer servomechanism. Not like Servalan. You deserve better than that." Her voice faded to a whisper that he barely heard, but it echoed in his head like a battle tocsin. "Much better."

He'd smashed his cybernetic fist onto navigation table that had stood between them hard enough to dent its durasteel surface. "Dammit, woman. This kind of harebrained bravado is likely to get us both killed!" Then he took a deep breath and gusted it out in resignation,"but if you're that determined to go in with your battle standard waving, I guess I can dress the part."

He'd glared at the suit with its military-style gold piping at collar and wrist, and the black star sapphire accents at the waist, cuffs and collar. "Even if I look like one of Servalan's rear echelon fancy boys!" he snarled before going off to change.

Later that morning, at the entrance to her uncle's office door, Jenna had gone through a preliminary DNA scan before they were admitted to the outer reception area. Once she had passed that initial screening, the security door slid open and they were met by a tall, grey-haired, austere looking individual who identified himself as Brendan Doyle, executive assistant to Mikhail Stannis, Jenna's uncle and the First Captain of the Stannis clan. He was accompanied by two hulking brutes Travis immediately identified as trained bodyguards by the cold-eyed stares that quickly located his concealed blasters and the combat drill hardened callouses on the sides of their hands.

He subtly shifted his position so he stood between Jenna and any potential threat and the hackles raised on the back of his neck as he stared at the pair, tense and poised for violence. Brendan forestalled the threatened eruption by raising a portable scanner instead of signaling the two bruisers to frisk them.

"You must forgive us if we ask you to leave your weapons in the outer office. There have been several unfortunate incidents due to trading disagreements and even an assassination attempt by a hired killer from the Federation." The man's soft voice was a stark contrast to his granite-hard eyes.

Jenna gave an indifferent shrug and surrendered her usual assortment of cached hardware without protest. While Travis did the same with more reluctantly, he was not surprised when the scanner registered his cybernetic arm as a lethal device although this replacement did not have the laser weaponry of his original. There was a brief sotto voce discussion about removing or disabling the bionics of his arm, any attempt at which Travis intended to resist vigorously. Finally with a whiplike glare that flayed both of them to the bone, Brendan nodded his reluctant approval. "Leave it. I'll remain in the conference room and if he becomes a problem, I'll deal with it."

Despite the frail appearance of the older man, Travis felt the skin prickle on his neck and the backs of his arms at the deadly menace conveyed with that single quiet statement. Trying to swallow back her own nervousness, Jenna had paid little attention to the menacing byplay going on around her. After smoothing her dress, she raised her chin proudly and strode into her uncle's inner office when the electronic signal opened the door. Travis followed on her heels flanked by Brendan and one of the bodyguards.

At first glance the room revealed a great deal about Jenna's clan and the man who headed it. They were wealthy, powerful, and did not care who knew it, but the office was efficient and businesslike, not merely a showplace. Even the genuine artworks and statuary that decorated the enormous space instead of the usual 3D holograms did not detract from its workmanlike air. The furniture was oversized, antique, real wood instead of the starkly utilitarian synthaforms more commonly used. But it seemed appropriate to the rugged, raw power radiating from the physical bear of a man who turned to greet them.

Earlier Jenna had sketched out the bare bones of her uncle's background, how he'd been a cargomaster instead of following one of the piloting or engineering specialties like most clan heads. His brawny shoulders and barrel chest indicated he'd done his share of lifting and loading of the cargo bales and crates that were the lifeblood of free trade throughout the Outer Worlds. Yet despite his physically imposing stature, he had a canny sharp intelligence as well, carefully honed by the years of encyclopedic cataloging of the imports, exports and environments of hundreds of worlds. Knowledge that was essential to assure a profitable cargo run with minimum risk to ship and crew.

She'd been wistfully sentimental about how he'd been her favorite uncle when she was younger; carrying her on his broad shoulders and roughhousing with her like a big shaggy bear in more carefree times. Before the Federation's brutal murder of his brother left him First Captain of a clan whose profits were rapidly eroding. Before the Federation began its campaign against the Enclave, labeling them pirates and smugglers then illegally boarding their ships and seizing their cargos as contraband on the flimsiest of excuses.

At that time he was forced to take stringent measures to assure the clan's survival against Federation encroachment. Measures that had led to Jenna's ultimate break with him. She had only been a junior pilot apprentice when her parents were murdered but she attempted to claim her father's ships anyway. When Mikhail demanded to know why she wanted them, naive as she was, Jenna told him of her plans to avenge her parents by raiding along the Federation's borders. Mikhail had had other ideas. His strategy would assure the clan's survival as a family and business entity, but it required Jenna's presence on Sanctuary, not risking her neck in foolhardy raids against the Federation.

"He planned to marry me off the eldest son of the Niachros clan. Their fleet of trading ships was second only to ours until the Federation's crackdown brought them to verge of bankruptcy, just like us." She'd grinned sourly. " Mikhail decided that a merger of fleets, trade routes and bloodlines would be the best course of action. . . for everyone concerned. Except I wasn't willing to be bartered off to Stephan Niachros like so much yard goods. So I left." She shrugged, trying to feign indifference though Travis had heard the hurt betrayal in her voice. "The clan obviously prospered despite my defection. I guess we'll find out if Mikhail has a forgiving nature or not."

As the two of them confronted that massive figure with eyes as cold as nitrogen glaciers on Scandia, Travis had a sneaking suspicion that the man before him had the forgiving nature of a shark. It did not bode well for the meeting. Despite the set of her jaw, he could tell that Jenna was hard-pressed to maintain her composure. The stolid expression that her uncle turned in her direction had no welcome in it and the hard raking glare he gave Travis was openly hostile.

"So you've come home." His deep basso voice seemed to rumble up from the soles of his boots.

"Yes," Jenna answered tightly. "I've come home to claim my father's ships...and rejoin the clan."

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Alice C. Aldridge

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