Jenna entered another dingy watering hole in a miserably poor mining colony. How could she stand working in places like this? This was the fifth colony she had visited in the past month. She was getting tired of all the dirt and people with increasingly more annoying personal hygiene habits, or lack-thereof. Despite their natural suspicion of strangers, finding talkative people wasn't difficult as long as the alcohol was free and there was a pretty woman to look at. It took no time to get one of the miners to talk to her; she was getting quite good at it. The problem was getting them to tell her what she needed to know; that was much harder.
“She hasn’t been here in ages,” said the stooped miner sitting opposite her. He was holding a metal caff-tube. He was intermittently applying it to his lips, inhaling air enriched with an unidentified substance which Jenna knew was most likely not legal on a more respectable planet, which this was not. "Turned her out, didn't we? Wasn't wanted anymore. S'not like it used to be. I mean she was alright. More than alright, if you know what I mean. Sort of like you,” he said with a half-sneer and half-suggestive curl of his lips. “That freedom and overthrowing stuff was fine before. We kinda liked it. Gave a man somethin’ to rail about on a cold evenin’. Got the blood stirring, if you know what I mean. And if it didn’t there was still her to look at. Full of fire, she was. But times are different now.”
Jenna was both shocked and not surprised. Shocked because it had been Avalon's life work to build up the mining colonies into rebel factions. She had worked with them for many years. But at the same time, Jenna knew what the miner was referring to.
Times are different now. How many times had she heard that in the past few years? It had almost become a mantra.
Jenna didn’t want to argue with the man. She had tried to do it too many times before to very little success. She wasn’t like Blake. It was hard to convince people that in the long run, freedom was more important than feeding your families. He had a way of blinding people to their own needs. Sometimes she had found it hard to see it too; she could only see the necessities. It was getting harder each day. Jenna sighed, she missed him. Things seemed clearer when he was around. But she had to carry on. She had an even more important priority now. Vengeance.
The miner kept talking as she tried to think. "T'wasn't about her. But words don't feed our families. Ideas can't keep a roof over our heads. We needed the money to come in again but everything was down with Star One destroyed. The credits weren't moving. We kept mining but what was the use? Used to hate the Federation, but the ones at the station here opened up the food stores and kept us going until things got back up again. I always thought they were greedy bastards to hoard all those resources. They kept saying it was for emergencies and I didn't believe them but they really came through for us. What's the good of bein' free if you watch your children die? T'was fine for her. Ideas were her children. But they aren't ours. Ours have faces. Can’t feed your family on words and ideas and that’s all she ever had. She never did have much sense. Told her that the day she can give us some real help, maybe we'll listen again. But ordinary folk can't 'ford nice sounding ideas anymore. And if you don't have anything else then stop wasting our time. Don't make trouble for us with the Federation. So she left."
Jenna was not liking the look the man was giving her. Not that she couldn’t handle herself; she was used to being around smugglers and they could be a tough lot. But this was the miner’s domain and she was a barely tolerated onlooker at best. If this man had any information at all about Avalon, she didn’t want to spoil the chance.
“Alright, you said that you chased her out. But do you know where she was headed?” asked Jenna, trying to sound pleasant.
“You a friend of hers? Or another rebel?” asked the man with a sly glance at her over another puff on his caff-tube; inexplicably showing signs of suspicion now.
Jenna remembered that Avalon had been betrayed once by her miner “friends” and Blake had to come and rescue her. What this miner was saying didn’t give her much confidence. The man was implying that the day of the rebel was over for him. He had much more practical concerns now, like surviving any way he knew how.
“Or does she owe you money?” said the man and then he began roaring with laughter. It was a strange hacking sound aggravated by years of abusing his lungs.
“What’s so funny?” asked Jenna with a puzzled expression on her face.
“Well, she doesn’t have any, does she? Never did. You'd never get it if she owed you . All that talk about overthrowing the Federation and not a credit to her name. Trying to build something out of nothing. She had guts, I give her that. Liked that about her.”
Jenna said, “I just want to know where she is. She’s a friend of mine. I haven’t heard from her in a long time. I’m worried about her.”
“If that’s all….” The man looked her over slowly. Jenna felt naked under his scrutiny. How could she stand it?
“Yes. Of course. Do you think I’m Federation?” she responded.
“Nah. You don’t look the type. You’re more like her,” said the man. “I ‘spose it’s alright to tell you." He seemed to decide on something. "She said she might go back to Earth."
“Earth?” Jenna exclaimed in surprise. She almost kicked herself, she had been wasting her time the past month when Avalon had been back on Earth. She wondered what Avalon was thinking now. She obviously had a course of action in mind, that was why she had gone back to Earth.
The miner said, “”Tis what she said. Somethin’ about trying to get something to help. Talked about competing for hearts or something. Didn’t understand that part.”
“How long ago?” said Jenna.
“’Been over a year now,” said the miner.
They probably all knew and didn’t bother to tell me, thought Jenna with annoyance.
“Thank you, very much,” said Jenna with gratitude which she didn’t really feel. She called over the bartender to order the miner another drink and sent him on his way.
Jenna sat thinking. Talking with the miner had depressed her.
The attitude of her talkative man was no longer a shock to her. It was typical, even when she was working with Blake. In the past, there was at least grumbling against the Federation powers. Oppressors, even ones who provided your livelihood, were viewed with cynicism; if not actively hated. They might not do anything about it, but at least there was disillusionment and a cheering on of people who flouted the system; just like they had cheered on Blake. But there was much less of that now.
None of the people she had encountered seemed willing to help anyone other than themselves. For people to whom daily living was problematic, freedom seemed like a luxury only someone else could afford. To someone who is barely making ends meet, pragmatism was a survival characteristic, not embracing ideals.
What had not helped the rebel cause was that the Federation had actually tried to help people survive what happened. Of course, it was in their own interests that the empire continue. But the only thing people recognized were those who held out their hands to them in their time of need and fed and clothed them. They remembered the Federation ships above their planets struggling bravely to defend them all against the alien invaders; the footage had been broadcast daily during the war wherever the signals were still able to be sent. They knew the cost the Federation forces had paid to save them all; the Federation had made sure they all knew.
The rebels never had those kinds of resources to help; they were hard-pressed themselves. Where the Federation could still muster a force together even after having eighty percent of its fleet destroyed, the rebels had barely survived. Everywhere, they were trying to rebuild. All they could do was preach freedom and tell people the time was right to throw off the oppressors when they were at their weakest; but when the tyrants are the ones who saved your lives, the messages fell on deaf ears.
Things were so different now.
Blake had found it very hard going after Star One, even with his ability to persuade. No one seemed interested in overthrowing the Federation except ambitious political tyrants like Servalan or unscrupulous criminals intent on taking advantage of the chaos and lack of order.
Like the miner, the ordinary people were only interested in survival and they embraced anyone who would help them do that. Blake had become little more than a faded performer in a past entertainment; someone they used to cheer. What he preached was no longer relevant to people who were struggling to survive and saw the Federation as the means to that survival. That was why he had ended up on an insignificant fourth-rate planet of criminals who were begging to be let back into the Federation; and as far away from the centre of the Federation's power as possible.
Argus's groups had been one of the lucky ones. He had the patronage of some wealthy people like Tess and the backing of some, still unknown to the rest of them, high-ranking members in the Federation military.
Jenna wished that the rebels had trillions of credits to hand out; to offer resources for people to rebuild. But the only thing they could offer was nothing that these people wanted. It was the age of those who had the power and money to take advantage of the chaos.
What are you doing back on Earth, Avalon? Jenna couldn’t think about that yet. Her priority was to try to get back to Earth herself. She was running out of credits. This foray through the mining colonies had used up what little resources she had left. She was already travelling the lowest rates now, little better than cargo. Travelling back to Earth was expensive from here.
Need to get some money. There was one thing she used to be good at. She was once a respectable smuggler in her day. Time to make an honest living, she thought to herself with a wry laugh.
There were sounds of shouting and a loud crash just outside of Argus and Reya's cabin.
Argus growled. He was very busy and this was NOT a good time. He lifted his head, his ears pricked up to listen.
"Don't stop," said Reya breathlessly as she held onto him. . They were both riding a wave of passion and he had suddenly slowed down.
"Did you hear that?" His ears were straining but there were no more sounds. He wondered if he had imagined it.
"Hear what?" said Reya, her hands were exploring his chest.
There was another shout and then the sound of running boots.
Reya groaned, "I heard that."
"What's going on out there?" Argus was fully stopped now and had turned to face the door.
“Sounds like a mini-war,” said Reya with annoyance as more feet rushed past and there were sounds of crashing against their door.
Argus kissed her briefly, got up and headed towards the door.
Reya frowned, "Uh, dear, I think you might want to put some pants on first.”
“Oh.” He grinned at her. “I suppose I should.” Argus grabbed the clothes which had been dropped on the ground and put them on.
Reya watched for a moment and then she got up and began to get dressed too.
Argus said, "You don’t have to get up. I'll take care of it."
“Well, there isn’t any point in my being here by myself,” said Reya. “And the faster we both take care of this, the faster we can get back to what we were doing.”
He grinned, “I love it when you’re serious.”
“Stop staring at me and hurry up.”
Argus took a step out of his cabin and was nearly knocked over by a soldier. He quickly had the man turned around and in an arm lock before the soldier could react. Another soldier was in the process of punching this one when a glare from Argus stopped him. The soldier snapped to attention.
“Ow. Who the…, oh sorry, sir,” the man Argus was holding, apologized and tried to snap to attention when he saw who it was. “Ow.” Coming to attention was almost impossible with the tight hold Argus had on him.
“What is going on here?” asked Argus in a controlled and low tone which made both men blanch. There was a hard look on his face.
“We were having a difference of opinion, sir,” said the soldier who was standing straight.
“Yes, a strong difference, sir,” said the soldier Argus was still holding. Argus let him go. The man stood beside his fighting companion and stood at attention as well, not even daring to wriggle his sore shoulder.
Reya came out of the room, took in the situation and stood to the side to watch.
Argus addressed Reya. "Is it a custom of Athol soldiers to settle their differences out in the corridor? While disturbing the sleep of superior officers?"
"Not when I left," said Reya. "It must be a new thing. I don’t think I like it. Do you think we should do something about it?" There was no emotion in their tones; they sounded as if they were only discussing a point of procedure.
“Yes. I was thinking that,” said Argus. They both sounded as if they were having a dispassionate discussion about procedure. Argus turned to the two men, “Do you think we need to do something about it?”
“Absolutely not, sirs. This will never happen again,” said the soldier whose shoulder was still in pain.
“Never, sir,” agreed the other one.
“I hope not. For your sakes,” said Argus. “Go to the flight deck and stand at attention. Do not move or talk to anyone until I get there. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone long.”
They both gave the Athol salute in acknowledgement and went to obey his orders.
“Lets go find the other trouble-makers,” said Argus.
"You didn't ask them what they were fighting about," remarked Reya.
There were sounds of more shouting down the next corridor. "I think I can guess," said Argus as he looked in the direction of the commotion.
"You think it's Galena?" asked Reya.
"I think you were right. Reya, can you go and find her and tell her to stay in her cabin? Stay on guard with her. I'll take care of the others."
"Alright, try not to break too many heads," she told him as he headed towards the noises.
"What about my head? There's just one of me and all of them,” said Argus in mock complaint.
"You're head is too hard to break," said Reya as she headed for Galena's cabin.
Argus smiled after her. A cabin door slid open, and Cally peeked out. When she saw who it was, she asked, “What’s the disturbance?”
“Sorry, did we wake you?” asked Argus.
“Well, normally the two of you don’t make that much noise,” said Cally.
Argus’s face started to turn red. “It wasn’t us,” he said quickly.
There were shouting sounds again. “I can hear that,” said Cally as she looked in the direction of the noise.
"We seem to be in the middle of a mini-war of sorts," replied Argus. “I suspect that everyone’s affected.”
“Except you and Reya,” said Cally.
“And you and Avon. I should go stop them,” said Argus as he went towards the sounds again.
“I’ll come with you,” Cally followed him.
"What about Avon?"
"He just got to sleep. I don't want to bother him, he's tired," said Cally as she followed.
For the next hour, Argus and Cally rounded up and sent all of the soldiers to the flight deck with various stages of injuries; some the soldiers inflicted on each other, some by Argus.
As the soldiers began arriving at the flight deck and lined themselves up in two lines to stand at attention, Vila became increasingly mystified. None of them would answer his questions. They just arrived, joined the lines and stood like statues, staring ahead without moving. Most of them had cuts, scrapes or bruises.
"Fine. Be that way," said Vila as he sat down in a huff. "I like talking to myself. Haven't had this much stimulating conversation in weeks."
Before he was interrupted, Vila had been pondering some very important questions; how to get Galena's attention and how to see her without everyone else around. He went back to his thoughts.
It had been lonely on the flight deck without Galena, or even Sester for company. At least having the psychostrategist there, helped him focus on something else. Vila had been spending the last few hours trying to think of ways to have some time alone with Galena, but not having much luck.
What would she like? A little romance? Some humour? Interesting conversation? Flowers?
Vila got up and began to pace. He wished that Sester wasn't so busy doing inventory, he really could have used some help. He was certain that the psychostrategist would be a great help in coming up with some devious plans.
There was something nagging Vila. It was unnatural wanting to do something as boring as inventory even if Sester was doing it for a woman. Vila had been too busy with Galena to even wonder if he should be telling anyone else this. All he could think of was the beautiful woman who had entered his life. Vila began speaking out loud to himself.
"But at least I have all of you to talk to." He waved his hands at the silent statues. There was no response, not even a movement. That didn't bother Vila though, he had a captive audience; it was nice to be able to talk to someone even if they didn't answer back. "What do you think? Do you think she'd like flowers?" “Or maybe some chocolate? I bet she'd like that." He leaned towards them, as if he was listening to a response only he could hear.
"Both? Maybe you're right. She's special. She deserves both. That's a great idea." Vila walked towards the couches and began pacing again. "The chocolate I can manage, I'm sure the food dispensers can come up with some good ones. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about the flowers though. But what's life without a little challenge? I'm sure Galena will appreciate it."
At the mention of Galena's name, eighteen pairs of eyes had begun following Vila's movements. Vila was still talking and pacing, absorbed in his own thoughts; not noticing that he was now the centre of attention.
“Course, I haven’t figured out how to get her alone yet. She always seems to have someone with her. Cramps a person’s style having company. Three’s a crowd, if you know what I mean. Maybe I need a distraction." He glanced over at the soldiers, looking for inspiration and noticed them all staring at him. "Is there something wrong?" asked Vila.