Jenna stirred as dreams of the past filled her sleeping mind.
Trebular. It was your regular agricultural planet out on the frontier. Not the kind of place that Jenna had imagined retiring to. Dull, placid, and stolid people with little imagination and not much in terms of creature comforts. Not her kind of place at all. She kept looking for civilization but it seemed that the colonists that originally populated this place had valued old, traditional and very dead values.
"Back to nature" and "One with nature" were odd catch phrases that only told her that it was going to be very dull here. It would be a chore to prevent herself from dying of boredom.
No. I'm not retiring here, she reminded herself. This was just a temporary rest station while they decided what to do next. At least that was what she kept telling herself.
She stared around the one-roomed prefab structure that had little nooks for bedroom, kitchen, living room and storage room, all separated by a flimsy curtain-like material. Not even real solid walls. They were lucky to have indoor sanitation facilities.
Jenna's lips curled in distaste. Even in her worst days after her mother had lost all of their money, it was much better than this. The only equivalent she could think of was the time after she had been caught and sentenced to Cygnus Alpha.
She supposed that anything would be better than that fate but this came a close second. Jenna really hoped that Blake would snap out of whatever mood he was in presently and they'd find some real civilization. Jenna hadn't come this far in order to go backwards.
Maybe she should recommend the idea that Avon had suggested. Blake should go back to Earth and unite all the rebel groups.
If only Blake would let her contact Avon to pick them up. No matter what she said about Avon, the man did keep his promises. He would already have them back on Earth by now, probably at standard by twelve. Just to get rid of Blake faster.
He had minced no words when he blew up at Blake that last day before everything went to hell. She had never heard such venom in his voice before. But she had also never heard such concern in his tone before either after Blake had been shot by Travis. The man did confuse her.
Blake came in and brushed the dust from his clothes. "It's dry out there." He ran his fingers through his curly hair to remove more dust.
Jenna poured a glass of water from the temperamental reclamation unit, rapping it on its side when it sputtered halfway through. "This thing needs fixing again." She muttered under her breath, "Like everything else around here."
Blake kissed her on the cheek as he accepted the glass. "Thank you, Jenna." He gulped the contents down thirstily and wiped his volumous sleeve across his mouth. "I'll take a look at it but my engineering skills are rusty and I was never very good at it. I was following the management track back then."
"Why is that not surprising?" Jenna took the empty glass and filled it again.
Blake accepted the glass and rolled it slowly in both hands. "That's why I always left the technical jobs to Avon."
"Yes…our technical genius." Her voice was dripping with sarcasm.
Blake asked with amusement, "You never did like him, did you, Jenna?"
“Let’s not talk about Avon.”
“Alright, what do you want to talk about?” Blake put the glass down and went to get some tools to fix the reclamation unit.
“I want to know when we’re getting off this dust ball excuse of a planet and back to civilization.” Jenna picked up a nearby cloth and threw it over the glass. Dust got everywhere on this miserable planet.
“You don’t like it here?” Blake bent down and removed the side panel of the unit. He put his thumb to his lips as he contemplated where to start.
Jenna noticed that Blake had lost many of the nervous habits that he used to have on the Liberator. They only resurfaced when something was giving him stress.
“I’ve only told you five times that I hate it here. This would make it six. Not that I’m keeping count.”
Blake poked a tool into the machine and was rewarded with a spark that caused him to pull back with a yelp.
Jenna said, “Maybe we should get a repair technician instead. You can manage him.”
“You have very little faith in me, Jenna.”
“Only in your repair skills. Let me see that hand.”
“It’s nothing. Just a spark.”
“Let me be the judge of that.”
Blake stood up while Jenna got the tissue regenerator. She applied it to the red mark on the back of his hand.
Several weeks later, they were still on the miserable dust planet. Blake came in with a large grey packet in his hands and threw it on the table with a heavy thud.
Jenna was trying her own hands at fixing the reclamation unit. It had broken down entirely and there were no free repair technicians, not to mention they all had very expensive rates these days. Again, Jenna wished they’d nipped into the treasure room of the Liberator before they left.
Jenna looked up and asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s a food packet. They’re handing them out.”
Jenna stood up and wiped her hands on a cloth. At the corner of the package was a familiar Federation seal. She asked curiously, “They broke into the Federation storage facilities?”
Blake’s throat was tight with tension, “They were handing them out.”
“You mean the Federation was?”
Blake’s eyes flashed dangerously. “Yes.”
Knowing Blake’s mind, Jenna asked, “You think it’s a plot?”
Blake said angrily, “Of course it is. They’re desperate to retain their power. They would do anything, including buying support with these. They’re taking advantage of the situation.”
Jenna was beginning to find that Blake wasn’t a very practical man. He said a lot but when it came to the everyday details of living, he tended to be blind. She was the one who had taken care of most of their daily requirements. However, if they didn’t get the reclamation unit fixed soon, they would run out of water.
Jenna opened up the box and examined the packed contents. She began pulling items out and arranging them on the table, organizing them by type. Nutri-bars and wafers. That caused her tongue to curl in distaste as she remembered the prisoner food on the London. Vitamin packs. Protein squares.
Blake asked sharply, “What are you doing?”
“Putting them away.”
Blake took the tin away from her hands. “We’re not using these. They're probably full of suppressants.”
Jenna looked at the tin warily. "At least, don't throw it away."
Blake said firmly, "We're not using these, Jenna, even if we have to starve. I would rather die first."
Jenna sighed. “That's exactly what we might end up doing, Blake. If you bothered to pay attention, we’re running out of everything. Soon we won’t even have water. Then things are going to get very interesting.”
Blake said, "Then we're agreed. We’re not taking anything from them, Jenna. We’ve come too far to let them win.”
“I don’t call starving to death winning,” Jenna said in a disgruntled voice. She had not said that she agreed. Blake just assumed as he always did. It usually took too much energy to argue with him when he was like this. He would never take no for an answer.
Jenna didn't like the idea of starving to death just to make a point.
Blake said, “I’ve contacted a few people. We’re going to blow up the storage facilities.”
Jenna asked with shock, “Are you crazy? People are starving and you want to blow up our only source of food?”
Blake said, “This is an agricultural planet, Jenna. They can grow their own. We have to force them to stop relying on the Federation. I thought that blowing up Star One was enough and people would rebel. But they need a little encouragement.”
“So you’re going to force them to rebel or starve?”
“There’s no other way.”
Jenna was trying to hold her temper. “Do you know why people are starving here?”
“They don’t have the Federation to give them orders anymore once Star One was destroyed. They don’t know how to think independently. Avon was right; I should have gone back to Earth to unite the alliance. People need leadership. I’m going to start it here.”
Jenna shook her head. “You still don’t get it. People aren’t growing anything because it’s impossible to do it without water.”
Blake said, “That’s ridiculous.” He tapped the side of the reclamation unit. “We have water…at least once we get this fixed.”
“And why do you think we have to use these? Because it hasn’t rained on this planet since Star One was destroyed. The weather satellite control systems stopped working. The reclamation units are only enough for drinking water. They need a lot more for planting.”
Blake rubbed the back of his suddenly tense neck. “Why didn’t they say something?”
“Did you bother asking? I hope you didn’t tell everyone that you had planned to blow up Star One before. I don’t think it would go over very well right now, do you?”
Blake’s voice became stubborn. “I was right, Jenna. We had to destroy Star One. It was the only way to break the Federation’s power. We were only missing a few details. We can fix those and then everything will work out. You’ll see. First, we have to stop the Federation from taking advantage of the situation. We have to stop people from turning to them.”
"Blake, as hard as it is for you to accept, people prefer living under the Federation rather than dying free or seeing their children die."
Blake said contemptuously, "Federation slaves! They'd rather sell their souls for a full belly."
Jenna sighed. "They can't eat freedom, Blake."
"You can't live without freedom!" This was Blake the passionate crusader again.
"You can't. But they can."
"I can't rest until they're all free, Jenna. I can't."
Even if they want to be free or not? Or kill them all trying? Jenna thought but dare not say these words. It would sound like a betrayal in Blake's presence. His belief was firm. He accepted no other.
Jenna recognized this voice from Blake. It was an echo from the past. It was the magnet that had first drawn her on the London. It was the inspired and fervent voice of the dreamer.
There was a hard set in Blake’s jaw and resolve in his eyes. Nothing was going to stop him when he was like this.
At least it meant they were finally going to leave this depressing planet.
Jenna jerked awake from her restless dreams.
Sester smiled ingenuously at the regal figure on his view screen. The Federation President was a beautiful woman, especially when she was dangerous and devious; a combination that she managed better than anyone else.
Servalan said, “You’re a ruthless man, Sester and your deviousness almost rivals mine.”
Sester put his hand over his heart, “I would never presume, Madame President. No one could be as…creative as you are.”
“Then what do I need you for?” Servalan asked coolly.
Sester smiled. “Why don’t you tell me?” They both knew that if she didn’t find him extremely useful, she would have returned him to the Guild long ago.
Sester leaned against the wall as he peered surreptitiously around the corridor at the group of women coming out of a training room. He was a bit nervous, though he wasn’t sure why. There was no reason to be. He had just finished meeting with the most dangerous woman in the Federated Worlds. A barely educated woman could hardly be a challenge for him.
Then how did she manage to completely unnerve him every time they ‘ran’ into each other. He was starting to get some very paranoid feelings. What was her agenda? Assuming she had one.
Was it purely a physical attraction? He had to admit that he was somewhat attracted to her. Sester was determined to regain control in any future encounters. He was the psychostrategist after all. His life was devoted to controlling others. No one controlled him and didn’t live to regret it. Except for the Guildmaster.
“Do you want to try it again?”
Sester nearly jumped as Kirsten appeared in front of him and peered questioningly into his eyes. He asked startled, “How did you get here?” How did she manage to sneak up on him? From the front?
“Is that a philosophical question? Because asking me how I got from the classroom to here would be silly, wouldn’t it?”
“I…never mind.” It was not starting out well if he planned to regain control. “I wanted to apologize about before.” Now why did he say that? Sester wanted to kick himself.
Kirsten tilted her head to study him with interest. Why did she always seem amused when looking at him? He was starting to get annoyed.
Kirsten said, “It’s alright. I’m used to people misjudging me but…I thought you would be different.” She sounded sad and disappointed.
“I’m sorry.” Why did he just apologize again? He had no idea. It was getting aggravating.
There was a shy, pleased smile on her face. “You can be nice. Sometimes. When you’re not thinking about it.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You’re the psychostrategist.”
“You’re playing with me,” he said accusingly.
“Are you having fun yet?” She suddenly stepped closer, causing him to back up against the wall. “Or is it only fun when you’re in control and making all the rules?”
Reya came over to see what was going on. “Is there something wrong here?”
Kirsten stepped back with a smile, “Nothing at all, Reya. I was just asking Sester about strategy.”
Sester cleared his throat. “Yes. She was asking me about strategy.” He asked Kirsten, “Is that all you wanted to know?”
Kirsten said, “That’s it for now. I know where to find you if I want something else.” There was a twinkle in her eyes. “Thank you.”
Sester tried not to grind his teeth in frustration. He regained control of himself and said with a tight pleasant smile, “You’re welcome.”
As he watched Kirsten leave, Sester could almost feel Reya’s eyes boring into him. He said, “I know what you’re thinking, Reya.”
“And what am I thinking?”
There was no way he was going to tell Reya that Kirsten was the one toying with him. How could he live it down? The edges of his lips inched up in a grin. “You always think the worst of me.”
“Just most of the time?” he asked with light sarcasm.
“Don’t play with these women, Sester. I don’t want them getting hurt.”
“I would never hurt a woman, Reya.”
“Kirsten is an intelligent woman.”
“No woman will ever replace you…”
Reya snapped, “Don’t play with me either.”
Sester grinned roguishly as his humour returned. “I need something to distract me.”
“Find something else. I mean it, Sester. If you hurt one of these women…”
“You’re going to hurt me? That might be worth it.”
There was a frosty warning in Reya’s voice, “Sester…”
Sester held up his hands in surrender. This would have worked better if there weren’t a big smile on his face. “Alright. Alright.”
Then he realized that Kirsten had once again walked away from him without giving him a chance to say what he needed to say. He rebelled at the thought that he needed to enlist her cooperation.
Sester sat in his cabin again. He needed time to prepare himself after the lastest encounter with Kirsten.
Do not get irritated. Remain in control, Sester repeated to himself. Deep breathing exercises and focussing of his mind. Going back to the beginning, when he had first learned the cold, iron discipline that characterized the psychostrategist.
He had concluded that the breaking down of his mind blocks and the concentrated dose of the mind drugs, not to mention the shock of recent discoveries about his past, were serving to disrupt his normal mental and psychological control. It must be similar to what was happening to Avon. But in his own case, it was a temporary condition.
I’m not going to let her get to me again. He closed resolute eyes and composed himself. Taking a deep breath that reach deeply to the lower reaches of his lungs, he held the air and counted slowly until he reached ten and let it out slowly again. He opened his eyes. His mind was calm and he felt nothing. He was ready.
Sester stood up and purposefully went to the door. He paused before activating the door panel, a light smile playing across his face. Even if Kirsten were outside the door again, she was not going to catch him by surprise. Not this time. No more accidental bumping of heads.
His hand pressed the button and the door slid open to an empty corridor. Sester grinned and stepped outside. This was a good beginning.
“I thought you might be coming to see me so I decided to save you the time.” Sester jumped and his heart skipped several beats when he heard Kirsten’s voice beside him.
Sester’s jaw clenched in anger as his heart settled back to a regular, but elevated rhythm. He turned to his right. Kirsten was leaning back against the wall beside his door.
Kirsten asked with concern, “Did I startle you?”
He growled with exasperation, “Stop doing that!”
“Do you plan to be this grouchy every time I visit you? Don’t you think it might be better to do this after you tell me what you need me to do? Or we're going to have to try this again.”
Sester said in exasperation, "How do you know I need you for anything?"
Kirsten stared at him with a faintly amused expression on her face. "Are you saying that all of your previous attempts at meeting me...were purely on a social level? That's interesting."
Sester was speechless.