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Recognition by Saba
“I’m staying,” Blake said softly. Jenna’s head whipped round. His face was white but it had that mulish set that they all knew so well.
“Damn!” The implications of what he’d said hit her like another shock. The wound Travis had inflicted on him may have been treated, but he was still far from right and obviously a weakened Blake on a crippled, famous ship would be an easy target.
Jenna had come from the flight deck to break the news to him that they had decided they must leave the Liberator. She was numb, having struggled with the Andromedan fleet for… who knows how long? The action had become a nightmare that had left time standing still, fighting off salvo after salvo, ship after ship, conserving the energy for the force wall and manoeuvring so as to minimise the impact on the Liberator. They’d always known it would be a losing battle, but had fought it none the less. Blake had asked them to do it and Avon had promised him. Even without that promise, there was no question that it was something they had to do. It had nevertheless stretched fear beyond fear. And it came on top of seeing Blake – her beloved leader, as Avon had once sarcastically called him – return from Star One in a condition that had frightened her more than she cared to let on. She thought she was beyond feeling anything more, but not so.
Another explosion rocked the ship. The three of them staggered and reached for support.
“But Blake…” Cally began.
“Blake, this is madness…” Jenna expostulated. They both broke off, and into the silence, Blake said slowly, “I’m grateful for your concern, but I’m staying. Now, if you want to get away to those life capsules, I suggest that you do it now, while you still can.”
Cally stepped towards him. Take care, Blake, she telepathed.
“I will,” he said gently; he touched her arm. “Go on, be quick.”
She ducked under a fallen girder. “Come on Jenna,” she called.
Jenna looked down, then up at Blake. “I’m staying too,” she said. It was difficult to tell whether Blake was surprised, grateful or simply overwhelmed by the events of the past 48 hours.
“Wait for me here,” said Jenna. “There are things I need to get.” He still didn’t react. “Blake?”
He sighed, “Yes, I’ll wait here.” Jenna looked at him earnestly, turned and ran off down the corridor after Cally.
She caught up with her. Both were coughing, their eyes smarting. “Orac?” asked Jenna.
“Avon’s taking Orac. Jenna, I don’t think it will be possible to remain on the ship.”
“I know that. But Blake… you know the condition he’s in...” she ran out of words. “I’m going with him,” she said simply.
“I understand. Good luck, Jenna.”
A smile and a hug, and Cally was gone. Jenna was running across the ship, ticking off in her mind the things she needed. Do you understand, Cally? Do I understand? Her old instincts took over. It was now two and a half years since her life as a free trader had come to an abrupt end, but it was still automatic to gather the things she’d need to stay hidden and to survive. Money and clothes, they were in her cabin; there were certain bits of electronic gadgetry – most of it of Avon’s design – that she wanted to take; then there were other things too. It had to be worth a try at getting them. She very much doubted the ship would stay viable for long, in spite of Blake’s stubborn optimism.
She got back to him as quickly as she could. He’d kept his word – he was where she had left him. The air was getting worse though and the unusual engine noise and vibration, the stench of fire and distant rumblings told their own story.
Zen’s voice announced over the speakers the need to close down life support circuits and the necessity of making evacuation a priority. Blake didn’t move. He was really worrying her now. She crouched down and touched his hands. They were burning hot – so was his face. Zen announced that life support systems would be shut down.
“Blake,” she said quietly but firmly, “Blake we have to go now. Come on.” She tried to pull him up; gently at first, then tugging with all her might, but he wouldn’t move. A fresh wave of panic swept through her. “Blake!” she shouted. She’d no idea what damage it might do – if any – but she reached out for the usual adrenaline and soma, poured him a large amount of it and made him drink it. She finished it off herself.
Staggering, pulling, cajoling, Jenna somehow got Blake to a life capsule. There was no possibility she could go with him - it had crossed her mind, but it was much too small. But once launched, who knows where he could end up? She wished she could think straight, but though panic gave her frenetic energy, her mind just wouldn’t work. One thing at a time, she told herself. She wouldn’t risk it. She thrust the homing device in with him and turned it on. “Listen Blake, don’t launch this unless you really have to. I’m going to see what options we have left. I need to check the flight deck and the teleport. Don’t get out of here until I’m back – the life support is turned off on the ship, so you must wait here.” He grunted some sort of response. Who knows how much Blake was aware of? She’d got him there – the life support in the capsule would keep him safe enough for now. Was it just shock or was there more to it? – She really didn’t know.
The flight deck was of course deserted when Jenna returned. It was full of smoke and smelling acrid. But for the light in her hand, it would have been all but impossible to see – even Zen’s lights were dark. She kept breathing deep draughts of oxygen from the kit she’d picked up in the medical unit. Her initial idea of trying to get Zen to bring the teleport back on line was clearly hopeless. Loath to use the escape pods, picking up on a nearby ship was another option. There were plenty around after all, but would anything be suitable? She reached for her hand operated scanner. If only Orac were still on board, it would have been so much simpler – teleport, tracking… But Orac wasn’t there any more. Jenna suspected she was wasting time. There might be so little of it left. She fought back the panic that yet again spiralled round her.
Jenna saw various ships in relatively close proximity. Two years ago, she knew the properties and in particular auto repair and speeds of all the Federation ships and most of the others. Now she was rusty. She was looking for something that was drifting, but self-repairable. Of course, there was always the possibility of putting out a false distress call and allowing Liberator to be boarded so she could steal the boarding ship. That however left the Liberator vulnerable and it seemed somehow disloyal to the others – and to the ship that had become her home. And to their leader…
The dark, empty flight deck with its charred walls had become a place she no longer knew. She looked down and saw that her hands were burnt – strange, she hadn’t felt anything. Her flight console looked relatively undamaged, though. Presumably the ship was repairable. A flashing light on her console – this was what she’d been looking for. Jenna scanned for as much data as she could – a type IV Federation battle cruiser – crew of three, drifting and now only slightly damaged.
Jenna crossed her fingers, flipped on the emergency boosters and switched to manual. If it went wrong, the type IV would spin and be destroyed. The risk to the Liberator was real, but minor compared with what it had already sustained. She knew how to fly Liberator with greater precision than any other ship she’d handled and backed herself, even in these circumstances, to dock the type IV. This wouldn’t involve the main flight computers, as other systems would cut in, and a cursory check on these suggested, to her intense relief, they were relatively undamaged.
Ten minutes later and it was done. She suspected that the status of the Liberator was deteriorating. The controls had seemed to become slower, more sluggish, trying to jerk in and out. Maybe the ship wouldn’t make it after all. She could only trust that it would.
“Zen, emergency override. This message is to be accessed only by Avon, Cally, Vila or Orac. Blake is uninjured by the battle but is clearly very sick. We’re leaving Liberator by a type IV cruiser, to look for medical assistance – probably a hospital ship. My injuries,” looking at her hands, “are minor and superficial. I plan to head in the direction of…” she checked the location, “Epheron. Confirm please… Zen, confirm.”
+Con… Con...+ Zen’s lights flashed a feeble response.
“I just hope he got enough of that to follow us,” she thought. With a pang, Jenna ran her hand over her flight console, turned, and looked back no more.
Blake was where she’d left him, but heaven knows what was wrong with him. “Blake. We have to leave. The ship’s life support systems are all turned off. We have to go...”
“Just what do you have in mind?” he asked deliberately, his voice low.
She said slowly, “I’ve docked a ship. It’s not far away. I’m going to fly you to a hospital ship. Then we’ll come back. Blake, you must do this.” Somehow, he got to his feet, Jenna in an agony of impatience and concern. “Come on, you have to help me Blake. You’re too heavy.” Leaning heavily on Jenna’s shoulders, they limped to the type IV. She dropped him down against a seat, closed the doors and prepared to fly.
The ship shouldn’t have been too difficult to handle under normal conditions, but it was much smaller than Jenna had become accustomed to. The rudimentary controls were obvious, but she needed to make certain manual compensations until the main flight computers became fully functional again. Not being certain which of the many finer control options was which, nor how to best balance the ship in its slightly damaged state, flying at speed was taking all her concentration. Then there was Blake. She wanted to give him more attention, but knew she had to settle for flying him to professional treatment. It was what he needed most. Images of the stricken Liberator came unbidden to mind, odd comments from the battle, Vila’s pleas they should leave, Avon, always inscrutable, his focus never wavering, barking commands, Cally’s insistence that they needed rest…
The craft was dark and it oppressed her. There had been one crew member left on board. He was dead. She had made sure of that. She was pretty certain there was no one else. After all, two life pods had been launched and the ship carried a crew of three. She glanced back at Blake, what was the matter with him? At one point, she’d heard his voice, “Where am I?” he’d asked, predictably.
“How are you feeling? I’m flying you to a hospital ship.”
“Where are the others? What about Liberator?”
Torn, she’d left the controls for a moment and tried to make him more comfortable, but flying the ship had quickly demanded all her concentration again.
“Blake, I’m sorry. I can’t talk and fly at the same time right now. Try to rest. We can talk later.”
She glanced back at him. His eyes were shut again, his skin pallid. Jenna bit her lip and flew on. Come on, where was the auto pilot?
Finally, her hands throbbing and smarting through the gloves she wore, Jenna was able to switch on to automatic. She’d set a course to planet Epheron, where there was a hospital ship within a reasonably close flight time. And now, at last, she could turn her attention elsewhere. She sat back in her chair for a moment and closed her eyes. She was also very, very tired. She tried the Liberator once again, but there was still nothing.
“Blake, can you hear me?” she asked softly. “Are you in pain, where does it hurt?” Nothing. He was still very hot – more so than before. What about the old injury Travis had inflicted? “Old?” she asked herself, as she went to check it out, no it must have been only a couple of days ago, if that. It felt like another world away.
His shoulder looked horrible – there was clearly something very wrong with the wound that should have been healing. Her hands, smarting as they were, had been reasonably steady as she flew the ship, but they were clumsy and fumbling now. Cally had always dealt with the medical side of things; it wasn’t her area at all; or so she told herself. Keeping her breathing as steady as she could, she reached again for the Liberator’s medical kit and did what she could.
Blake was to tell her afterwards that the journey was but a blur to him, he could remember very little of it. But to Jenna it was an ordeal that went on and on and on. There became either too much time to think, or not enough. Sometimes, the ship demanded all her concentration and more, to fly and to compensate for the damage they were carrying. Other times – and these were the worst - there was nothing to do, save to look helplessly at Blake and try not to think. The ship was still very dark, and this didn’t help matters either. All non-essential power was diverted to auto-repair. The flight consoles were functional – there was none of the grace and elegance of the Liberator. Jenna had been able to check that they were in fact alone. The crew member on board was clearly dead – occasionally her thoughts wandered to him, lying in the shadows, but he was the least of her worries. There was no one else on board. She’d been caught out once before, but there was no Blake to save her this time. Blake. Round and round her thoughts kept wandering, all to no good. She needed to shake herself out of it, and she knew it.
Jenna landed on Epheron, having first called ahead to notify that she was bringing in an injured passenger and to request assistance. A couple of orderlies had duly turned up; looking young and harassed, they’d efficiently taken Blake over to the hospital ship, where Jenna now waited with him.
There were an awful lot of people around. All presumably casualties from the war. Jenna noticed, uncomfortably, that most were dressed in Federation uniforms. This was only to be expected, she reflected, but still she hadn’t foreseen it.
A young doctor appeared and introduced himself as Sharran. He looked at Blake and quickly called a couple of colleagues over and they spoke in low voices. One turned and introduced himself to Jenna, “Cator. We need to take your friend to one of our treatment areas – we can’t deal with him here. I’ll let you know when we’ve finished.”
“I’d prefer to stay with him.”
“I don’t think that would be wise,” his face a professional mask. Then he looked at her thoughtfully. “It’s irregular, but come along if you want to.” They walked swiftly, Jenna noticing the busyness and apparent confusion.
“We’ve been terribly busy for over a day now, casualties of war and such forth,” Cator said to her. “I presume you were involved?”
“Only on the edge,” Jenna said lightly. “We were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“A long way out weren’t you?”
“We were trading. We don’t often come this far out, but it’s part of our patch.”
“I see.” He nodded towards Blake. “Who’s your friend?”
“His name’s Tarrant,” she said. “He’s a friend of my brother’s.”
“Well, somebody didn’t like him very much. That’s a gunshot wound in his shoulder, and it’s been roughed up a bit.”
“How is he?”
“Oh, I’ll see what I can do. Don’t worry,” he winked at her, “I expect your friend Tarrant will be alright.”
He had been watching her. She looked utterly fatigued, yet there was an air of defiance about her. He was curious and he wasn’t inclined to believe her story about her 'friend'. There were rumours around, suggesting that Blake had been involved in the battle for Star One and from what he remembered, this man bore a resemblance. He intended to check the computers later – after all, there was no need to hurry – the man was in no position to go anywhere. And in the meantime, saving his patient now became a matter of some personal importance to him.
In due course, Cator released Sharran, who came over to where Jenna was standing. “Are you wearing gloves for any reason?”
Jenna smiled at him. “My hands got burned.”
“Sit down, let’s take a look.” He peeled off her gloves and looked at her raw hands and fingers. “They did rather, didn’t they? You’ve been treating them yourself, I see.”
“I did my best.”
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Unlike his shrewd associate, Sharran seemed a kindly soul, about to set another battle victim at her ease.
“I’m really not sure. Our ship was damaged and there was fire on board. I must have held onto something very hot at some point, but I wasn’t even aware of it at the time.”
“It can happen,” he said reassuringly. “Others here have told the same story.”
He thought for a minute, “Did I hear that you flew here?”
Now Sharran looked at her earnestly. “That must have hurt a bit. He must mean a lot to you, this friend of your brother.”
“Yes. He does.”
Sharran dropped his voice, so they could not be overheard. “If you need help, call me… Alright?”
Jenna looked bemused. “I reckon I could put a name to you – and your friend,” he said quietly and waited a moment or two. “All done,” he said in a louder voice. “Anything else?”
Jenna hesitated, “No, thank you.” Then she got up and walked slowly to the window, astonished they’d been recognised so easily. She tried Liberator again speaking softly into her bracelet, but there was still no reply.
Some time later, she felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Cator. “Your friend will be alright now. Let him sleep.”
“Thank you.” She kept looking out of the window. The red sand and dust was everywhere. She was taking in the dunes. It was a barren and forlorn landscape. A strange, uninhabited place to bring a hospital ship.
“I forget how you said your hands were damaged.”
Jenna reflected that he was quick, and observant. “I don’t think I did. My life capsule malfunctioned,” she lied.
“I see. And your friend?”
“We both landed together. We were lucky.”
“You were, weren’t you?” He abruptly changed the subject. “You may stay here for a while, if you wish. If you need anything, just give a shout.”
“By the way,” he added, apparently as an afterthought, “that was a very unusual wound – how did he get it?”
Jenna deeply mistrusted this man who asked so many questions for no good reason. Wary, she turned to face him. “I wasn’t there.”
“Don’t you have any idea who he was involved with?”
“And no curiosity?”
“Curiosity is not necessarily a healthy thing.”
“No, but sometimes it can be very useful. If I told you that Star One was destroyed and the President missing, presumed dead, would that interest your friend, do you think?”
More haughty than ever, Jenna looked him in the eye. “No. Why should it?”
“I just wondered,” said Cator. “It might make a considerable difference to the trading climate around here.”
“I think that difference has been made already.”
“It’s been suggested, too, that Blake and his crew were involved in the battle. We’ve had pilots here who’ve described a ship very like Blake’s Liberator. The word is that the crew escaped in life capsules.”
“Just what are you saying?”
“There is a high price on Blake’s head, you know. An awful lot of money. You could go anywhere with wealth like that.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Think about it,” said Cator, his tone lower and persuasive. “He need never know. And you’d be perfectly safe. It can’t have been much of a life for you.” His eyes lingered.
“Cator, you’re needed in Assessments,” a young nurse called, bustling through.
“I strongly advise you to think it over,” he said as he left.
Jenna was in no doubt at all now that they had to get out quickly. Had Cator been certain, he’d have acted decisively, but it could take him only moments to find out. She anticipated he would turn Blake in once he had that assurance and she was under no illusion that he’d hand her over too – sooner or later.
She went to find Sharran, who was busy with a patient but finished quickly and came straight to her. “What is it?”
“You offered to help me. Will you do that?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Cator wants to turn Blake in. You’d have thought,” she said bitterly, “he might have had other priorities at a time like this. Could you send this message for me?”
“Yes, I’ll do that.” Then he thought for a moment, “Where’s your ship?”
“In the desert, about 10 minutes walk away.”
He looked surprised.
“I told your flight control that the docking mechanism was broken. It seemed safer out of reach.”
“It may well be,” Sharran replied. “Look, I’ll wake up Blake. He’ll be very groggy, but we can walk him to your ship. It’ll be more discreet than bringing in anyone else to help… You can trust me Jenna, I’ve got good reason to help you.”
Sharran bent over Blake. “He’ll be very disorientated when he wakes up. Keep him quiet.”
Blake’s eyelids flickered. They watched his slowly returning consciousness. Then he awoke, took in the yellowed, utilitarian surroundings and the treatment area and struggled hard to get up. Jenna put her hand against his good shoulder and held him down. His dark, burning eyes met her cool, grey ones. Jenna of all people knew Blake’s tortured nightmares. “It’s alright Blake,” she held his eyes until the fire left them and he lay limply.
“Listen, we need to get away from here. We’re not going far.” He nodded.
“I’ll help you up,” said Sharran.
Blake walked meekly with Sharran, grunting with the effort. Jenna kept a look out, fingering her concealed weapon. They took a lift down through the lower levels of the ship and to the planet’s surface. No one gave them a second glance.
“This won’t tire him too much?” Jenna asked anxiously.
“So long as we take it very steadily and he rests when we get there, he’ll be alright.”
“Why are you helping us like this?”
“The Federation murdered my girlfriend’s family. They were deported to Zeigler 5. I’m sure you two of all people know what that means.”
Blake had told her about his family – that was where his brother and sister had “emigrated”, and been murdered on arrival. She glanced at him, but his face registered nothing. “And your girlfriend, what happened to her?”
“She betrayed them.”
What could she possibly say? “I’m sorry.”
They reached the ship in silence. “I’ll help you in with him.” There was a couch at the back of the main flight area, and they laid Blake there again rather than in the crew’s quarters. Jenna saw Sharran off the ship.
“I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Give him these,” Sharran pressed two discs into her hand. Put them on his arm. He’ll sleep for a long time, but there should be no ill effects from now. He’s very well strapped up.”
There were sudden flashes of light, then two loud bangs, one after another, sand erupted at her feet and Sharran fell down beside her. Jenna wheeled round and shot their assailant. It was Cator and he was alone.
Putting away her weapon, she bent down to Sharran. He was dead. When would all this killing stop? Sharran had been a kind man, killed not for politics, but for greed. His life had been blighted by politics – the politics Blake was fighting against. She was too tired and drained to work it out. “Be at peace,” she said to him.
She turned and ran up into the ship, sealed the doors and prepared for flight, her attention had already moved on. This ship could virtually fly itself on automatic. The craft would track its inward route, so only a few changes were needed. She entered a course into the navigation computers, switched on the auto alarm that would indicate if input was needed from her and went and sat by Blake.
“We’ll lift off very soon,” she told him, putting the patch on his arm. “It may be a little bumpy at first, but it will soon pass.”
He looked very drowsy, and she saw with pleasure, quite relaxed. He reached for her hand. “It hurts, Jenna,” he told her.
“I know it does. You’ll sleep soon. We shouldn’t have woken you up, but we needed to come back here.” She was speaking softly to him, allowing the rhythm of her words to wash over him. “You’ll be better again soon, Blake, you’ll see, just sleep now.” He was smiling slightly. His hold on her hand relaxed. Jenna blinked and blinked and dashed something away from her eye. She turned away, this was all wrong. She didn’t cry. The hand holding hers tightened again. Then his breathing became deeper and slower and Jenna sat on, watching him, a long time after he was asleep.
“Suppose you tell me all about it now? I want to know what’s happened, Jenna. Everything.”
Blake and Jenna were sitting overlooking the plains on a planet called Chailon. The ship was secure nearby, and having bartered with the natives, they had brought fresh food with them. Blake had asked her before, but Jenna had fobbed him off, told him there was so much to tell, she’d tell him when he was stronger. But it couldn’t be avoided now, and she knew it.
She tucked up her knees and hugged them. It was so difficult to know where to start. Truth be told, she really did not want to relive it again and Blake was giving her no choice. But she couldn’t really feel angry with him, not this time.
“Jenna?” he asked kindly. Her reluctance was obvious to Blake, but he had to know what had happened to his ship and his crew and could settle for nothing less. He put his arm around her shoulders and she flinched. Blake looked startled.
“It’s not you,” she said wearily. “My back got hurt. Just here, behind my shoulders. It’s still quite painful.”
“But I thought we went to a hospital ship?”
“Well, why didn’t you ask them to look at it?”
“Because…” She could only think of the truth. “Oh, because I didn’t want to leave you. You were unconscious, Blake, and an easy target,” she added lamely.
He looked at her strangely.
“Where exactly does it hurt you?” She showed him.
“Do you want me to look at it now?”
“No. It’ll wait.”
Blake carefully put his arm round her again. “Jenna, I have to know everything that’s happened to my ship and my crew.”
She nodded. “I know. What can you remember?”
“Leaving you all on the flight deck just before the start of the battle. I returned to the medical unit… I remember odd things off and on, but it’s disjointed. From what I gathered, you stayed in the thick of it for some time, Jenna.”
“Did the force wall hold?”
“For a long time it did.”
“We did them a lot of damage. In fact it was a long time before any of them made it through the gap in the defence field. But when they did, they started to hit us and do real damage… But we couldn’t leave, Blake.” She stared into the distance, back on the flight deck again. “The Federation ships had arrived – more were coming all the time. But there were so many Andromedans. They just kept coming at us.” Her voice dropped, Blake’s arm around her tightened. “We took so much. But then the ship sustained real damage. It became impossible to go on. Then the structural damage started – one of the corridors collapsed. That’s when we finally decided to leave. Cally and I came to get you – but you wouldn’t go.”
“Yes, I remember that. What about Avon and Vila?”
“They left in escape pods. Cally did too. She knew we wouldn’t be able to stay, Blake.”
“Avon took Orac.”
“Hmm. And you’ve not heard from any of them since?”
“No, there’s been nothing and I’ve tried repeatedly to contact them… We had to leave the Liberator, Blake, we had no choice.”
“I know that.” She glanced at his face and met his eye. He meant it. Which meant he’d accepted it.
“I don’t know if you were aware that the life support was turned off?”
“Zen shut everything down to boost the repair circuits. I couldn’t use the teleport, it was damaged. But I could fly on manual – just. I used some of Avon’s gadgets – in fact I brought some of them with me. With them I was able to track a drifting ship and dock it.”
“But I thought the ship’s life support was turned off.”
“Oxygen from the medical unit and a torch, Blake.”
He frowned. “Go on.”
“The crew had abandoned it – except for one, and he was dead. It’s alright, I checked. There are no others.”
“Yes, quite sure.”
“And you docked her with Liberator?”
“Yes. Then I went and found you and took you to the ship.” Took, well that glossed over rather a lot, Jenna felt, as she remembered stumbling under Blake’s weight, through the smoky, airless corridors of the Liberator, dodging around the devastation.
Blake said nothing.
“There was a hospital ship on Epheron and I flew you to that.”
“Nothing to tell me about the journey?”
“What do you want Blake? It was a damaged and difficult ship to fly. You were unconscious most of the time. I called Liberator regularly, but there was no response. It took a long time for the auto nav to repair, but when it did I could switch it on and worry about you. I hadn’t a clue what was wrong with you and at times feared for your life. All right? Enough? Oh, and my hands were burned on the Liberator so doing anything at all hurt like hell.”
Blake was silent for a long time, looking into the middle distance, his face inscrutable. She didn’t realise he was simply letting her work it out.
Jenna suddenly exploded, “Why are you making me re-live this, Blake? I accept you’ve got a right to know what happened to the others, but the rest is mine and you’ve got no right to make me go through it again. Once was enough. It was more than enough. So stop making me talk about this just so you can prove something to yourself. You just take and take and take with no thought for what it costs anyone else. If you even notice, that is. Well, you might be driven, but I’m not.”
She sat forward, away from him, her breathing coming very fast, her thoughts black and jangled and confused. The tempest grew worse, her teeth started chattering and she found she was shaking. Through the pounding maelstrom in her head, she felt more alone than ever before. Water was pressed into her hand and then she felt his hand on her back. Why then had she just risked everything to rescue this man? Was it just to leave him here? And what had made her attack him, when all he’d done was show concern? Blindly, she reached back and grasped his other hand – the one that was still strapped tightly to his chest, and clung on to it while the storm subsided. When she dared, she turned to look into his face. In spite of his illness, she noticed, it had kept its strength and he was looking at her with concern, but she thought, with sadness, too.
“I’m sorry Blake. I don’t know where that came from.”
“From being very tired and very frightened for far too long, I expect. But...” he hesitated, “you might just have a point.”
She was completely surprised, and looked it, a question in her face.
She searched his face, and whatever she saw there reassured her.
Presently, she continued, “I landed on Epheron and got you to a hospital ship. I got orderlies to come and fetch you. A surgeon there saved your life. You’d been injured again in the site of Travis’s wound. We were all thrown around the flight deck – presumably the same thing happened to you?”
“With one arm pinioned, I couldn’t save myself.”
“I thought it must have been something like that.”
“They said too that you were suffering from shock and asked if you’d experienced any sort of trauma after you were shot,” she said wryly.
“Well, the trauma was real enough.”
“And it did all that damage.”
She couldn’t help looking at his face – she knew he always hated talking about his injuries and always played them down. He was watching her with a mixture of self mockery and concern in his eyes which made her heart turn over.
“What about your injuries?” he asked.
“They sorted my hands while they were looking at you.”
“But not your back?”
“It’s just bruised, I think – I was thrown back against the edge of my seat when the force wall failed… Blake, there’s money on your head. It occurred to me that you would be a very valuable prize to acquire. With no Liberator to escape to, you were a sitting target if anyone should find out who you were… I couldn’t take the chance.” Lightly, “I just wanted to keep an eye on you.”
Blake wasn’t fooled. She hadn’t for one minute expected him to be.
“There’s one thing more. The surgeon who treated you – Cator – he recognised you and tried to bribe me to hand you over. There was another doctor there – Sharran his name was – the Federation had done terrible things to his people - and he helped us to escape.”
“Where are they now?”
“They’re both dead. Cator shot Sharran - for helping us, I presume. I shot Cator.”
“I see. Did they contact anyone?”
“I don’t know. I left a false trail behind to be on the safe side. I sent a message on their computer to say I was en route for Morphennial with superficial injuries. If anyone picked it up, they’ll be looking for us in the wrong place.”
“But what if the Liberator should pick it up?”
“I’ve tried to contact her constantly, but there’s been no reply. While you were sleeping, I retraced our steps as near as I dared to where I left her, scanning for her, but there’s nothing. She was badly damaged, Blake. I don’t even know if she survived.”
“You took a hell of a lot of risks for me, Jenna” Blake said violently.
There was no reply to that. She had, and she knew she had. What was so remarkable was that Blake was seeing it. He’d taken all risks for granted for so long now.
“While I was sleeping back on the ship, I had a dream, Jenna. I was in an ante chamber to a meeting room, you were there, and Travis. There were others, too. We were standing in the room, and there was a sudden, overwhelming pain in my head and I fell to the floor. You started tugging and tugging at my wrist to put on a teleport bracelet, but for some reason it was imperative that I mustn’t let you do it. Was that just a dream or was I remembering something? Did that happen, Jenna?”
“Was Travis in a position to shoot us?”
“It was confused, but yes, we were outnumbered and he would have shot us.”
“So why didn’t we teleport?”
“Because neither of us had bracelets on.”
“You mean you’d taken yours off.”
“That’s the occasion I accused you all of standing around in the teleport area?”
“You didn’t seem to know anything that had happened.”
“No, I haven’t remembered until now. Perhaps the drugged sleep has re-awoken the memory,” he added with a hint of irony. “...Then there was that time on Earth and you came down and took Servalan hostage. Jenna?”
She couldn’t look at him. She shut her eyes and nodded. He said no more, and in the end she pulled back and looked at him quizzically.
He was looking at her through half closed eyes, a smile playing around his mouth. She raised an eyebrow.
“I was wondering whether you’re glad you rescued me or sorry you didn’t leave me behind.”
“Don’t even joke about it, Blake,” but then she smiled too.
“Alright, here’s another question then. You said there were things you wanted to take – just what did you bring?” he asked, genuinely curious, and sounding slightly amused.
“Clothes, medical kit, food, money & valuables – believe me, I took a lot of it.”
“Oh, I can believe you!”
“Lights, homing device...”
“You left one with me, if I remember.”
“Yes, I didn’t want to lose you if I had to eject you. There was a chance I’d find you with that.” She caught a fleeting expression. “Well, you were in no state to look after yourself. I’d have done the same for the others.”
“Go on, what else did you collect?”
“Oh, odds and ends. I can’t remember. You’ll see. I bought clothes for you too, oh, and I did bring towels.”
“Yes.” Defensively, “Well, you need to wash.”
“Hmm.” Blake suddenly exploded with laughter.
“What is it?”
“Well, in the middle of all that, in the heat of battle, you’re thinking about how to wash!” he roared. “I see you brought your make up with you as well.” He was still chuckling quietly to himself. Jenna looked up at him, then across the dusty plain and smiled broadly. It was so long since she’d heard him laugh. The silence between them was comfortable, the sting gone. She suspected even that he’d been right to make her tell her story – it had been cathartic.
A wind was blowing, gently but occasionally in little gusts, sometimes warm, sometimes cool. Resting against his shoulder, she idly watched the trees bend to it, leaves dancing. “It’s good to feel the wind again.”
“Yes, and no hairy savages around either. I remember the first time I felt the wind – it was quite alarming for a dome dweller.”
“When was that?”
“Before they caught me. I was invited to attend a meeting outside the dome. The fresh air and water were strange enough, but nobody had warned me about the wind. I thought the world was going to end.”
“But it didn’t.”
“No, it didn’t.”
This story was originally published on Horizon's website in 2009