A Berth on the LondonBy Judith Proctor
Page 2 of 4
"I don't think she prefers
anyone," Gan said reasonably. "So why not let her sleep in
"You've got it all set up, haven't you," Pasco yelled. "Keep her to yourself; don't let anyone else near her. Well you aren't going to have it as easy as that. I've got friends."
"Shut up!" shouted a voice from a bunk on the other side of the room. "Some of us want to sleep."
"All right, all right," Pasco muttered, and backed away, narrowly missing banging into one of the tables.
Gan waited. It was dark, but not too dark to see Pasco talking quietly to someone in another bunk. "Jenna?" he said softly.
"I hear you," she answered. "Don't worry, I'll be ready."
For a few minutes everything was quiet, apart from Pasco working his way around the bunks. Whatever his proposals, he didn't appear to be getting much support. Gan debated whether to try and muster some back up of his own, but that would mean leaving Jenna undefended. The whole manoeuvre could simply be designed to decoy him away. He waited.
When the move came, it was from several angles at once: four men, approaching from different directions. Gan swung down to the floor to meet them. A few moments later, Jenna joined him, her boots sounding loud upon the floor. The sight of boots worn with ill-fitting pajamas would have looked ludicrous on anyone else - Jenna managed to carry it off with complete self-confidence. "Will you be all right?" Gan asked her.
Jenna gave him a scathing look. "Did you think you were the only one interested in defending my virtue? I'm a Free Trader. I fight."
The opposition split into two groups without consultation. Gan eyed his opponents without moving. Then, as they came within reach, he lunged suddenly with a speed that seemed impossible for one his size. Ignoring the blows that hit him, he grabbed the two men by the head and rammed their skulls together. They collapsed glassy-eyed to the floor. He turned to Jenna, only to see that one of her men was down, clutching his genitals and moaning - the reason why she had put her boots on was instantly apparent. The remaining attacker, Pasco, had other problems. A curly haired man had attacked him from behind, and the two were now engaged in a hand to hand struggle. Gan clamped a hand on Pasco's shoulder as Blake hit him with a satisfying thump on the jaw.
Pasco staggered, clutching his jaw, then held his hands out wide in surrender. "Okay, okay, I won't touch her. I won't even come near her again."
Gan changed his grip to hold Pasco's right arm. "Jenna," he queried, "I could give him something to help his memory. A broken arm would heal before he got to Cygnus Alpha."
"I don't think that's necessary," Blake interrupted.
Gan waited for Jenna's response.
She looked at Pasco. His face had gone pale, and he seemed unable to speak.
"Not this time, Gan," Jenna said finally. "But if he ever comes back again - you hold him, and I'll break the arm."
Gan nodded, seeing no need for further words. He bent down and made a stirrup of his hands. Jenna's face broke into a smile at the gesture. "Good night, both of you. And thanks," she said. Then she placed her boot into Gan's hands and allowed him to boost her back up to her top bunk.
Gan hauled himself back into bed and lay back to think. He was dimly aware of his two victims regaining consciousness and making their way back to their own bunks as unobtrusively as possible. Most of his thoughts though were centered on the bunk above. Jenna was quite a woman. He tried to imagine the background she had come from, and failed. Dome born and bred, the world outside was largely a mystery beyond what was shown on the vid. There had been a time when he believed what was shown on the vid. There had been a time when he had believed everything. Before Marie died.
The big crane had failed, and without it they couldn't lift the heavy roof supports into place. Reconstruction work in the lower levels of the dome was rare, but corrosion had been eating at some of the supports and they needed replacing. Massive jacks supported the levels above. The crane, which had been brought in and assembled in situ, was essential for taking the weight of the new supports while they were manoeuvred into position. Bringing in another crane would take several days - the dome was not designed for easy movement of heavy equipment. So, the workers were given the afternoon off, after it had been made clear to them that they weren't to expect any pay for the time they weren't working.
Gan made his way home. The almost empty corridors and walkways seemed odd. Normally when he came home, they were crowded with all the workers leaving the same shift. He'd been trying to get a shift change for the last three months, ever since Marie had been assigned to an earlier one. They saw so little of each other these days; it would be a real bonus to have an extra afternoon with her.
He paused outside his door, fishing in a pocket for the magno-key. Their apartment was large by gamma standards: two decent sized rooms. Gan was proud of the fact that he'd done so well. Construction work was risky, men died every year, but it was well paid. He slipped the key into the lock and entered. Marie wasn't in the lounge. That was normally where he found her when he came home - she liked to watch the soaps on the vid. Gan watched them himself out of courtesy to Marie, but he found them shallow and uninvolving. He preferred to have friends around, either to talk or to play games. That was another thing that was different now. Gan was a slow and cautious player when it came to card games, it always took him a while to work out the odds. In days gone by, he'd enjoyed the games, but never won heavily. Now, it was as though everyone still knew the right answers, but hadn't the strength of will to back it up. If Gan played confidently, he nearly always won. It didn't matter what the game was either. Trading games, gambling games, strategy games; if he put up a bold front, the opposition simply caved in.
He walked over to the food processor, and punched in the code for coffee. Then, he heard a sound from the bedroom - Marie must have been having a nap. Coffee in hand, Gan opened the bedroom door. Then froze in shock. The man and the woman on the bed flung themselves apart. Gan took in the scene as though it was being played out in slow motion: the black uniform flung carelessly on the floor, the paragun on a chair beside the bed; Marie's clothes neatly folded on top of her bedside table; the aggression of the man; the lost expression on Marie's face.
The trance was shattered as the man laughed. "You aren't going to tell anyone about this," he said authoritatively.
"Like hell!" Gan retorted furiously.
The trooper reached out of the bed and grabbed his gun. "You aren't going to tell anyone," he repeated.
Marie held the sheet up to her chin, hiding her body from both of the men. "Olag," she said timidly, " we should do as he says."
"Why?" Gan demanded of her. "Why did you do this to me?"
Marie's face seemed blank, almost puzzled. "He wanted me to."
"Didn't you know it would hurt me? Didn't you care?" The hurt went deep. Deeper than he had believed possible. It wasn't just what she had done, but the fact that she didn't seem to care.
Something seemed to struggle in her face then, something that reminded him of the woman he had once known. Her eyes pleaded with him. "I didn't want to, Gan," she said softly.
Gan found that hard to believe. He turned to the man in fury. "Did you force her, or did she just fall over for you?"
The gun pointed clearly at Gan. The man smiled. "Let's say she didn't put up much resistance." He looked confident behind his weapon. "You're different, though. Pity for you. If you'd been a sheep like all the rest, I'd have let you live." The gun fired with no warning, flinging Gan back across the floor. Calmly and deliberately, the trooper turned to fire on Marie. "Sorry," he said, without much regret in his voice, "I can't stand an investigation. I guess you were both killed by burglars."
The shot wasn't loud, and Marie made no sound, other than a faint choking noise, as she fell back on the bed. Nevertheless, Gan heard it from within his black depths of pain, and responded. He reached for reserves of strength he hadn't known he possessed. With a roar that built deep in his chest and erupted from his mouth he flung himself at his enemy. Three seconds later, the still naked man lay dead by Gan's feet, his neck cleanly broken.
Gan stared down at him. He'd seen a man killed once before in an accident with a malfunctioning cargo loader, but this was different. He wasn't a killer, he tried to tell himself that, but the evidence lay incontrovertibly on the floor before him. Shaking slightly, he passed a hand over his face, and forced himself to look at Marie. Apart from a small brown mark between her breasts, there was nothing to show of violence. She looked almost peaceful.
Without any warning, Gan was sick. He threw up on the floor and started coughing. There was pain in his chest and throughout his body. He felt sick and dizzy. But before he passed out, there was something he had to do. Something. Gan forced his way over to the comm unit, leaning on the wall for support. It was a basic model, speech only, but that was all he needed. Concentrating carefully, he dialled the number for emergencies before passing out. Even at that stage, Gan still believed in the system.
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