"I could have told you that," she said to him. "They've gone to a great deal of trouble to control him and to keep him a secret. I suspect that they intend to place mind blocks on all of us once the final tests for the engine are complete."
"They've said that?" he asked.
"No, but that's the impression I'm getting."
"Then we have to get him out before that. How are your plans progressing?"
"I think we've successfully given the impression of great frustration. I've already suggested that we send the results of the tests back to the prisoner for analysis but they will realize soon that it won't be very helpful without him actually being onsite."
"Bren, you have missed your true calling," said Shel.
"You were a good teacher."
He reached across and took her right hand in his, she did not pull away.
"Bren, other than guilt, is there another reason why you're risking your life and your career to do this?" he asked, surprising her. "You realize that if this goes wrong, your life will be over. You will probably end up with your memory wiped. I doubt if they'll kill you though, you're too valuable for that."
"That's a great comfort," she told him, pulling her hand away from him.
"Then why are you doing this?"
"I'm not sure." The professor was confused; as with Sheldon, she found it difficult to sort out her own feelings towards the prisoner. Had she fallen for this brilliant nameless man? What made it even more confusing were her unresolved feelings for Sheldon. When he was near, it was hard for her to think objectively.
Shel looked at her; there was a hint of faint amusement on his face.
You never did understand your own heart Bren. You still don't.
He left her instructions. "Let me know the moment they arrange to bring him onsite. Use the burst transmitter and the code I gave you. We're only going to get one shot at this so we have to be ready. I will make preparations and arrange for a group of more able-bodied types to help us."
Since boarding Ellis Reve's ship, Jenna and Cally had been well treated, although they were constantly kept under heavy guard. They were separated and confined in comfortable adjoining cabins on board.
After two days of no apparent activity, Jenna approached the guards stationed outside her door and demanded, "I want to see Ellis."
Several hours later, the ex-smuggler was brought to what appeared to be an operations room adjacent to the flight deck. Ellis was standing beside a large table, poring over a tactical star-map projected over the table and consulting with a man she could not identify but appeared to be someone Ellis respected. She recognized the faintly gridded holo-map; it was the area of Sector Ten containing the Athol Territories.
"The prisoner, sir," one of her guards reported as they stopped in front of the table. The Overlord's middle son did not seem to have heard him and only continued with what he was doing.
"What is the idea of having me kidnapped and then ignoring me?" asked Jenna. She did not like being ignored.
Ellis looked up at her; he appeared startled to see her.
Ellis Reve was short, stocky and a dangerously ruthless man. He always gave the impression that he had something more important to do, today was no different. Of the three brothers, he was the most devious and the most likely to resort to unexpected and underhanded tricks.
He told her distractedly, "I'm sorry Jenna, as you can see, I've been busy."
"Why did you have me kidnapped and then just lock me up and ignore me? You could at least have the decency to tell me what you want from me," she told him with a calm, steady voice which at the same time conveyed her anger.
"You're right, it was very rude of me to have you brought here and not tell you why," he told her, "but it's not really about you. It's about Rane."
"Rane?" Olean Rane was the dead Overlord's chamberlain and currently held what was left of the Athol government together while the sons battled for control. He was also a close friend of Jenna's. "You're a fool Ellis, Rane would never give you control of the government just because of me."
"I think you underestimate your value Jenna," he said to her. "That's a charming quality in a woman," he added, knowing it would make her even angrier. "I don't plan to ask him that though. There are more interesting possibilities now that I have you here. Possibilities my dear brothers would never have thought of."
Ellis possessed a degree of devious that confounded most people.
"Do you plan to tell me these possibilities?"
"No. Unlike most people who have the advantage, I do not have a burning desire to tell people how clever I am. Now be a good prisoner and go back to your cabin." He looked back at the holo-map.
"What about Cally? You don't need her, let her go," Jenna told him, ignoring the guards who were motioning her to move.
Ellis looked back at her again. "Oh yes, I had forgotten about your friend. Unfortunately, she gets to stay too, as a guarantee against your good behaviour. Was there anything else?" He was starting to get impatient at be interrupted in the middle of an important planning session.
"I'd like to see her," Jenna told him. "I got her into this; she deserves to know what is happening."
Jenna could see that he was weighing the dangers of allowing the two of them together. "Very well," he told her. Ellis instructed the guards accompanying her, "Put them together in one of the larger cabins."
"Thank you," she told him as the guards gestured for her to move.
After the guards had installed them in the new larger cabin, Jenna told Cally about her conversation with Ellis.
"He will not tell you what his plans are?" Cally asked.
"No, but knowing him, he has thought out everything very carefully. He must have good reason to believe that holding me will give him an advantage. I wish we had someone like Avon or Tess here."
"Why is that?" asked Cally, surprised at the sudden change in topic.
"They left us with a computer here that is linked to the ship's general internal network but it has all kinds of controls on it to prevent us from accessing the ship's systems. Avon or Tess could probably have broken through those."
"Then we'll just have to find our own way," Cally told her.
Argus was getting worried. This time it was the rebel leader who had gone down to the pre-arranged secondary rendezvous point and still Jenna and Cally had not made contact. Scouting the wooded area near the remote inn, which had been the rendezvous point, had yielded nothing. The two women had left no indication that they had ever been there. He waited another hour then called Vila on the wristcomm, "Vila teleport."
As he shimmered back onto the ship, Vila immediately remarked, "You didn't find them, did you? I'm getting a bad feeling about this."
"I am too Vila. Has ORAC found out anything?"
"It keeps saying it's busy and not to bother it," Vila told him.
"Don't let ORAC boss you around Vila," Argus told him. Of course, he ignored the fact that he only had slightly more luck with ORAC than the thief did.
"Do you think I like being pushed around by an overgrown calculator?" asked Vila indignantly.
"What's a calculator?" asked the rebel leader.
Vila had heard Avon use the term once when he was particularly frustrated with the recalcitrant computer.
"Actually, I have no idea," said the thief.
Explosions rocked the ship while Jenna and Cally were going over their plans to escape. Immediately alarms began sounding. A second, stronger set of explosions sent them both crashing to the ground.
"What was that?" exclaimed Jenna as she stood up, rubbing her arm where it had hit the table.
"Sounds like explosives of some kind," replied Cally.
They heard another loud bang and felt the ship shift; they appeared to have been hit by something big.
"We're nowhere near Sector Ten, we can't be in the war zone yet," Jenna told her companion.
The alarms sounded and the speaker system came on and announced, "All personnel to assigned defence stations, we are being boarded."
"Boarded!" both women exclaimed in shock.
The speaker came on again, "Repeat, all personnel to assigned defence stations; we are being boarded. Ready all combat weapons."
"This confusion may be a useful distraction. Let's see if our plan works," Cally went over to the door. "Jenna, they're gone," said the Auron in surprise when she found that the guards normally stationed at their door had disappeared. "They must have gone to their defensive stations."
"Well that doesn't help us." They needed the guards in order to open the door.
Argus took another trip down to Gelentrix, this time to find the Rat, an intermediary Jenna had said she was going to use in order to find some contacts.
The Rat was a middle-aged, sloop-shouldered man with hygiene a real rat would have been ashamed of. Jenna had told the rebel leader that the Rat was an unprincipled coward, but he supposedly knew everyone worth knowing in the smuggler world and had personal contacts with the most of the major ones. He was always dependable when it came to his business, but his reliability on everything else was open to interpretation. Jenna had warned Argus to be very wary of the Rat.
“Who were you looking for again?” the Rat asked. He had a distracted and nervous look. The way his nose moved, reminded Argus a lot of a real rat. They were in the back room of the Rat’s small odds and ends shop.
“Jenna Stannis,” Argus said again. “She would have contacted you about a month ago, looking for a smuggler named Lantro.”
He’s stalling, thought Argus, he’s either trying to figure out what to do or he’s waiting for something to happen. Both of which are not good for me.
In either case, that meant that he had to act quickly.
There is nothing subtle about this rat, let’s see what a more forceful approach will accomplish.
Argus’ actions were so deceptively smooth and quick that, the Rat barely had time to register that the sharp end of a stileto was now pressed against his throat. He could feel that the tip had just barely punctured the skin. The man’s speed and control were so shocking that the Rat was instantly terrified.
“Stannis, I remember now,” the Rat said quickly and in a shaky voice, trying to placate this dangerous man with a knife to his throat. He was very careful not to move. “She was here. She wanted me to hook her up with Lantro.”
"You’re not telling me anything I haven’t already told you,” said Argus warningly, pressing the blade just a touch harder against the man’s throat. A dot of red appeared at the tip. His voice had a dangerous low tone and the calmness of a man who was intimately acquainted with both sides of death.
“Ok, ok…Lantro gave me a contact location and I passed it to her. That’s the last time I saw her. She’s probably with him now.”
“There’s something else you’re not telling me,” Argus warned. His sense of danger was working overtime as well as his impression that this man was hiding something.
“I swear that’s all I know. I’m only a go-between; I’m not involved in anything beyond arranging for meets.”
“You may not be involved, but I’ll bet that doesn’t mean that you don’t know.” The rebel leader pressed the edge of the blade in a little further, causing a thin line of blood to drip down the man’s throat.
“Alright, alright, before Jenna came to see me, Lantro was already looking for her. He had asked me to locate her two months ago; he never told me why. You can imagine my shock when she walked into my shop after I had expended so much energy and resources trying to find her. After that, all I had to do was contact Lantro and arrange for the meet. Honestly, I don’t know anything else. I don’t even know if she went to the meet.”
Argus removed the stiletto from the man’s throat. The Rat rubbed the spot where the blade punctured him. He appeared to be ill when he removed his hand and saw the blood which he had just wiped off.
He must be one of those who are afraid of seeing blood, thought Argus. He said quickly, trying to draw the man’s attention to something else before he fainted, ”I want to commission you to arrange a meet with Lantro. I will pay your normal fee.”
At the sound of a business opportunity, the Rat was instantly focussed on Argus’ commission. They made the arrangements quickly.
“I don’t mind if you warn Lantro that I’m looking for Jenna,” said Argus from the doorway as he prepared to leave. He already knew that the Rat would do that the moment he left, and he wanted the man to know that he knew. With that he exited.
Jenna and Cally were pacing the cabin in frustration. They had not heard sounds of explosions or pulse rifle fire in at least ten minutes.
The door to the cabin slid open, the two women turned as one towards the entrance.
“Hello Jenna, do you need a lift?” asked a grinning Olean Rane. He was dressed in dark fatigues and carrying a heavy pulse pistol.
“Rane!” Jenna exclaimed. With the grin on his face, she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to slap him or hug him. “I assume that you are the one responsible for all the excitement?” she asked him before settling on giving him a brief but warm hug.
“Thought you might like a little help,” he told her. “Not that you need it of course.” He turned to her companion,“Hello Cally, I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner.”
“There is no need to apologize, you are a welcome sight.”
“How did you know we were here?” asked Jenna.
“The boys tend to forget that I was also the head of Feltar’s secret service,” he told her. ”The service remained loyal to me after the boys decided to fight it out to become the next Overlord. The Service has been keeping track of their activities since this all began. I also have Feltar’s personal Guard unit and the division he tasked to me to do special tasks for him. I had to use all of them to rescue you. So that should make us even.”
“More than even,” she told him.
“We’d better leave now, but we need to make one more trip, to the flight deck,” he told her.
Ellis Reve was livid. He looked angrily at his father’s former special Guards who were now holding him prisoner on his own flag ship.
Rane, Jenna and Cally entered the flight deck. This did not improve the man’s mood and he scowled at them. “What is the idea of attacking me Rane? I thought you had agreed to stay neutral?”
Rane addressed the would-be overlord,”That was before you tried to use my friends as pressure on me. I’m surprised at you Ellis, you should know me well enough to know that I do not respond well to threats against people who are important to me.” The hardness in his face and the tone in his voice made it very clear that this was no veiled threat.
He continued,”I am not here to kill you or to stop you. Once we leave, you are free to do whatever plotting you were doing before to defeat your brothers, but you will not touch Jenna or Cally again. They are off-limits in your civil war. If you try anything like this again, I will hunt you down personally and kill you, and I will make sure you never assume leadership over the Territories. You know me well enough to know that is a certainty, not just a threat. Do you understand or am I being too subtle for you?”
This was not the Rane who was Jenna’s friend, he was the coldblooded soldier whom the Overlord of the Athol Territories had depended on to do his dirty work in order to keep the other warlords in line.
“Understood.” Ellis inclined his head but they could tell he was still angry. “Now get off my ship!”
“You’re going to have trouble with that one,” Cally told the chamberlain as they sat on the flight deck of Rane’s ship. It was a fast cruiser which was part of the fleet of the former Overlord’s Guard unit. The Guard had some of the most advanced ships and weapons in the Athol Territories.
“I know, don’t worry about me Cally. I’m already gathering resources who are willing to work with me to protect the Territories. I haven’t been able to stop the civil war, but with my own people, we’ve been able to curb some of the excesses.”
“You’re worried,” stated Jenna. Even though Rane was still his confident self, Jenna could tell that something was bothering him.
“You always knew me well.”
“Is it Ellis?”
“I’m not sure. The last couple of months, we’ve been trying to do what we can to keep things running and prevent the war from escalating out of control but it seems that for every action we take, something else comes up. It’s almost like there is some other force at work but everytime I think I’m close to finding out…nothing.”
“I’d like to offer my help,” Jenna told him.
“I don’t want to drag you into our civil war Jenna. It’s not your fight. And you don’t owe me anything.”
“You need someone good at devious plots, I’m offering. Don’t be so stubborn.”
“You never could take no for an answer, could you?”
They both laughed. “It will be good to be fighting together again,” he told her.
“I would also like to offer my aid, although I am not good at devious plots,” Cally told Rane.
“You are also welcome, Cally,” Rane told her.
“I’d like to send a message to Argus on the Justice,” Jenna told Rane.
“We were on our way to a rendezvous with that smuggler friend of yours, Lantro,” said Argus to Jenna, who was currently appearing on the large viewscreen on the flight deck of the Justice.
“We’re currently on our way to Sector Ten,” Jenna told him.
“Sector Ten?” asked a startled Argus,”but the rendezvous was supposed to be at Englar.”
“I’m confused,” said Vila, who was standing behind Argus’ shoulder.
The look on the rebel leader’s face also reflected Vila’s confusion.
“Sorry, I should have specified, Cally and I are on our way with Rane to Sector Ten,” explained Jenna. “We’ve agreed to help him with some problems he is having out there.”
“Olean Rane? You mean you’ve gotten Lantro to help out in Sector Ten rather than arranging to disrupt the trade lanes as you had originally planned?”
“No. No. He is still going to disrupt the trade lanes, but he’s going to do that on his own. Meanwhile Cally and I were rescued by Rane, so we’re on our way with him to Athol. It’s a long story,” Jenna told them. She turned her head to look at someone behind her, she appeared to be listening. Turning her head back to face them, she said, ”Rane said that we can meet you halfway, he will send you the coordinates.”
Argus was about to make a comment about communication, and ask why the two women had needed rescuing and how Olean Rane fit into the picture, but thought it would be better explained when they met up again. “Alright, in the meantime, I will cancel the arranged meeting with Lantro.”
“Information, coordinates have been received from Olean Rane,” the Zen computer informed the crew.
“Zen, have the navigation computers plot the fastest course to the coordinates specified which will not cross into Sector One space, speed standard by six,” instructed Argus.
“Coordinates and speed confirmed,” Zen acknowledged.
“We’ll meet you at the new rendezvous coordinates,” Argus told Jenna,”Justice out.”
Sheldon, Professor Tyler and the T-Man were meeting with a group of hard-looking types, whose common characteristic seemed to be several days growth of beard. They wore clothing more commonly associated with the labour grades. The meeting place Sheldon had set up was the residence of one of the group which was in delta graded neighbourhood in the Pacifica Dome. None of those present were delta grades but they found it a useful place to hide. There were many disaffected labour grades sympathetic to the rebel cause here and the delta neighbourhoods tended to be close-knit. They instantly spotted any strangers in their midst and would be able to warn them.
Brena Tyler was speaking to the group,”They’re transporting him to the site in three days time. Additional security measures are being arranged.”
“Do you know the route they’re taking?” asked Sheldon.
“No, they only informed us when he was due to arrive.”
“Can you draw a detailed map of the testing facility and particularly the surrounding area?” asked one of the hard-looking men in a wrinkled labour-grade jumpsuit.
“That I can do,” she replied.
“Good, then probably the best time to hit would be just as they are arriving but before they come into the protection of the security measures at the facility.”
“Agreed,” said Sheldon. “Brena, you better get back to the testing facility. We don’t want anyone to get suspicious.”
After meeting up at the arranged rendezvous point, Argus, Jenna, Cally, Vila and Olean Rane convened aboard the Justice.
“So that’s what happened,” said Argus, as Jenna finished telling them about the events which transpired after she and Cally had been dropped off at Gelentrix, and their subsequent encouter with Lantro and Ellis.
“Yes, and we’ve agreed to help Rane because there appears to be something suspicious going on there, and I thought we might be able to lend a hand. How did your plans go.”
“Ture’s friends should be starting to give Central Security a few headaches by now,” Argus replied. “We’d like to give you a hand out in Sector Ten as well,” Argus told Rane,”don’t we Vila?”
“Yes, there’s nothing I’d rather do than go into a war zone when I have nothing else to do,” replied Vila.
“I promise not to get you killed,” said Argus.
“Oh no you don’t, you’re not making that promise again,” said Vila.
“Vila says, he’d love to help you,” Argus told them.
“I know I’m going to regret ths but, yes I’d love to help you,” said Vila. “And no more locking of the alcohol dispensers,” he told Argus.
“We’ll discuss that.”
Cally, Jenna and Rane were perplexed at the exchange between the rebel leader and the thief.
“Information, ” spoke Zen.
“Yes, what is it Zen?” asked Argus.
“The ORAC unit requests that the command transmitter be turned on,” Zen informed them.
“ORAC wants to talk to you?” Jenna asked puzzled. There seemed to be one strange occurance after another.
“That is correct,” replied a tired sounding Zen.
Argus turned the transmitter on. ORAC was still tuned to him as he had not released the command code from the last time he spoke to ORAC.
“ORAC, you wish to talk to me,” Argus asked the unit.
“This unit does not have possess human emotions, thus there is no wish to tell you anything.”
“Stop being difficult ORAC, Zen said that you requested that the command transmitter be turned on.”
“Correct. I have information to relay.”
“The information is from me.”
“But I thought you said that you have no wish to tell us anything? Oh never mind,” Argus knew that if they got into a battle over words, they would be there for hours,”What is this information?”
“I received information from Avon that he is being held by the Federation. He requested that I generate a plan to rescue him.”
“How can that be!?”
They all shouted out at once.
Argus told ORAC,”Avon is dead. How can he be communicating with you?”
“Obviously, he is not dead.”
“Then you were wrong about him being dead and we’ve been running all over the galaxy while he was being held by the Federation?”
“I was not wrong.” ORAC refuted, it managed to sound offended. “If you recall, at the time I said that It is highly unlikely that Avon survived and that evidence suggests that he died. Obviously we did not possess all the facts.”
“How do we know that it is really Avon?”
“The message contained the command code and frequency.”
The crew looked at each other, they all had the same thought.
Avon is alive.