Jenna leaned on the railing with both arms and looked down at the working Shade lab. It was a hive of calm, antiseptic activity. The chemists provided by the criminal organization looked like normal, ordinary scientists. Not much in terms of facial expression or emotions and they always seemed to be studying you as if you were something under a micro-scanner. They appeared harmless enough, but the drug they produced was far from it.
Jenna avoided a grimace. Now that it was really happening, she was having misgivings. She was the one who had made the decision to become a producer and dealer in Shade. It would give her the men, material, and information needed for the rebellion and her revenge on Avon.
The lead chemist, a thin, hair-challenged and pale-looking individual approached her.
Jenna asked, “What is it, Finn?”
“The first batch is ready, ma'am. Do you want to try it?”
Jenna scowled. “I wouldn’t touch that stuff if you paid me.”
“Very smart. It’s nasty stuff,” said the man impassively.
Jenna turned and looked at the man. “If you know it’s nasty, then why are you involved in this business?”
For the first time, the man showed some emotion. There was wariness in his eyes. “Why are you?”
“I have…personal reasons.”
The man leaned on the railing next to her and looked down. “That makes two of us.”
Jenna smiled cynically as she turned to look down at the lab again. “I doubt if your personal reasons are the same as mine.”
“Does it matter? We’re both here.” Finn wrung his hands nervously.
Jenna glanced sharply at him. She kept her voice even, “You’re not working for them willingly?”
Finn straightened up and said stiffly, “Of course I am.”
Jenna realized that Finn thought that she was testing his loyalty. He must think that she would be reporting his answers back to the criminal organization.
Finn’s manner had become painfully formal. “What do you want done with the first batch?”
“Send it out for distribution. I will have the enforcers accompany the shipments. We don’t want any surprises.”
Finn said, “That doesn’t concern me. I will have my people package it up for transport.”
“Thank you. You're dismissed.”
Finn turned without a word and headed back to the Pit. His straight back was like a wall between them. Jenna knew she was winning no friends here, but maybe it was better that way. She didn’t feel like betraying another friend to the cause.
Guilt churned in her stomach as she remembered an old friend. Rane had looked terrible at their last meeting and now she was going to add to his problems. She kept telling herself that she had no regrets. Maybe one day, her feelings might catch up with her justifications. It had seemed so clear when Blake was around, so right. There had been no irritating naggings of doubt.
We must win, Jenna. It's the only excuse for fighting.
Now Blake was gone. All she had left of him were voices from the past. And they were not enough to still her misgivings. It made her feel even guiltier, as if she had let him down. Her life seemed to be plagued by guilt that would never go away.
She remembered herself asking that traitor and murderer, Avon, What would you know about guilt?
What do I know about guilt? Jenna asked herself. Bitter juices churned in her stomach, reminding her. More than I could ever forget.
Jenna rolled restlessly on her bed as her uneasy mind recalled a memory from her past.
“You weren't always so cold, Jenna”, said Jenna’s mother as she watched her daughter packing up.
Jenna closed the catch on her case with a snap of finality and said cynically, “That was before you lost all of our money, mother. Yours and mine.” She had a ship waiting and she was not planning to come back.
“Jenna, please don’t leave me. I’m sorry I borrowed your money without asking you.”
Jenna said icily, “Steal, mother. The word is steal.”
Her mother was a pitiful creature now. Not like the society woman she had once been; Alpha proud and cold as ice. She was almost whimpering, “But who will take care of me now that your father is dead? How will I live?”
“You should have thought of that before you spent all of our money.” Jenna picked up the case and headed for the door of their meagre flat. She hated it here. A cheap flat in one of the most run down beta grade buildings. How far they had fallen. Any further and they’d end up in one of the gamma grids. She was not about to put up with that. Jenna was young. She had brains and skill and she intended to use them. Jenna was intent on regaining her privileged way of life, no matter what.
Her mother hung onto her arm as the door slid open. “Jenna, please don’t leave.”
Jenna had resolved to harden her heart to her mother. The woman had betrayed her trust repeatedly and stolen from her. She had made them both poor. Jenna didn’t know why she had stayed as long as she did, knowing what kind of woman she was.
There was a pitiful plea in her mother’s voice and tears welled up in her eyes. Jenna refused to be moved. She had seen far too many tears from this woman, usually when she needed money. False tears to manipulate her with, until there was nothing left.
Jenna brushed her mother’s hand away from her arm and took a step past the door. She stopped and grimaced. No matter what else she was, this woman was her mother. There was still love there. Of a sort.
Jenna turned back to face her. “Don’t worry, mother. I’ll send money back. That’s what you’re concerned about, isn’t it?”
Her mother said, “It’s not only that. You’re my daughter."
“You mean, I’m your sole means of support.”
Jenna’s mother said sadly, “How did it get like this between us?”
“You should know that more than anyone. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and rebuild our fortune.”
Her mother said regretfully, “I’m…sorry it turned out this way, Jenna.”
“So am I.” Jenna left without looking back.
Jenna woke with a heavy heart and the lack of any sunlight streaming through the clear panes. She didn’t know why her mind kept dredging up these ancient memories of her mother. But at least it was better than the last memory she had of her.
A strong stab of guilt caused Jenna to hiss. It felt as if something had pierced her heart. Her mother may have betrayed her trust and lost all of their money, but Jenna was the one responsible for her mother’s death. Jenna’s head dropped to her hands in sorrow and remorse.
The day she had walked out on her mother, both of their courses had been set.