"Ellis will be pleased," said one of the voices. This was a high female voice.
"I expect to be well compensated," said another voice. This one was male and had a deep resonating bass quality.
Ellis again, thought Jenna. He must have a deathwish to still want to do this after Rane warned him off.
"I didn't think that Delik would do it," remarked the feminine voice.
Delik. That was Jenna's contact. I really must get more reliable contacts.
"Well, if you're going to carry on with the governer's wife and be indiscreet enough to have some rather embarrasing holos taken, you're just asking for trouble. He just never thought that trouble would be me."
The man and woman laughed.
Delik. You should have known better, thought the ex-smuggler.
"Where have you put them Cretis?"
"I've put them in the food cellar, sir. They're chained to the wall."
This third voice was polite and diffident.
"Make sure they don't escape. They represent millions of credits. Have you placed a guard?"
"A guard sir? I didn't think that was necessary, they're secured by heavy chains and they are women."
Jenna smiled. They've never met women like us.
The deep bass voice continued, "You idiot! Get one of the gardeners in here to guard the door to the food cellar."
"I'm a butler sir, I am not used to criminal activity." The polite voice sounded offended.
A gardener? Just who kidnapped us? Thought Jenna. She looked at Cally who was listening intently to the conversation on the other side of the door. She had a puzzled look as well.
"They sound like amateurs," whispered Jenna. "I think we can handle them."
At that moment the door began to open. Instantly, Cally grabbed the hand opening the door and yanked the person forward. Reacting on instinct, Jenna hit the man on the back of the head with the rolling pin. Even as the man fell to the ground, Jenna and Cally rushed inside. As they entered and before anyone inside could register what was happening, Jenna had struck another man by the door with her heavy weapon. He also fell crashing to the ground. At the same time, Cally had taken two of the hard fruits from her pocket and threw them in rapid succession. It was all over in the matter of seconds. A man was groaning on the ground, holding a bleeding forehead where one of the fruits had struck him. The owner of the female voice was holding her shoulder and trying to check on the man.
"Not bad," noted Jenna as she searched the men and woman for weapons and looked for something to tie them up.
Cally did not comment on her own brilliant aim and went about checking the various injuries they had just inflicted.
"Myler, wake up," the woman told the injured man.
The man moaned and rubbed his head where the fruit had hit him.
"Myler? Myler Reve?", asked Jenna. This was Ellis Reve's uncle and the Overlord Reve's ambitious and cowardly brother. The Reve clan was never lacking in overly ambitious people.
"Yes, he is," said the woman with a haughty air, "and if you know what's good for you, you'll leave now before we call the authorities."
"And how would you explain that you kidnapped two women and chained them in your cellar?" asked Jenna.
"You're…" the woman blurted out.
"Yes, we're the women from the cellar."
"Myler! Do something!"
"What do you propose that I do, my dear?" the man asked. He was still rubbing his sore head.
"They're women! With fruit! Don't just lie there! Disarm them or something!" the woman demanded.
"I was wondering what hit me," the man said. He looked at Cally and Jenna, and then at his two men lying unconscious on the floor. The women looked like they were capable of anything. "Sometimes women with fruit and a rolling pin are even more dangerous," he told the woman.
Smart man, thought Cally.
In Myler Reve's study, after the various people had been tied up, Jenna began questioning the man and woman. Cally was applying first aid to the still unconscious butler who had been hit very hard by Jenna's rolling pin and suffered a severe concussion.
"I thought Feltar had warned you to stay out of playing politics," said Jenna.
"That was when he was alive," countered Myler Reve.
"So you think, that now he's dead, you can take advantage of the situation?" Jenna asked.
"And you thought that kidnapping me was the easiest way to do it?"
"Obviously I was mistaken."
Jenna saw that the man was regretting this mistake. She almost laughed but didn't, being defeated by two women who were using nothing but a rolling pin and some fruit would not have put her in a good mood either.
"You know that Rane has already warned Ellis that I'm off limits in this little game between the brothers?"
"Rane?" Myler Reve's voice had raised in alarm. The Overlord had asked Rane to curb his brother's overly ambitiious activities. Rane had been very effective.
"No. Ellis didn't mention it." It was clear Myler realized that he had made a very serious mistake and that his nephew had been less than informative.
Jenna had never met Myler Reve before, but she had learned a lot about him from Olean Rane. She knew the man was infinitely reasonable when it came to his personal survival.
"This is what you're going to do," directed Jenna. "You and your wife will retire from this little foray into politics and you will disappear. You will not tell Ellis any of this. Believe me, he would not be very impressed with you if you did; and you know Ellis does not like people who disappoint him. In return, I will not tell Rane. I do not want to see you or your wife in these Territories again."
As she expected, Myler saw the value in her offer immediately. It was not healthy to have both Rane and Ellis not happy with him. "That's a fair deal."
"And I want what you have on Delik."
It's time to make Ellis feel nervous, thought Jenna, I'm tired of waking up in cellars.
Delik was a very useful man.
Argus was tied to a tree. The soldiers were making camp and appeared to be in no hurry. Some were putting up tents while others were readying the afternoon meal. Sentries had been posted at strategic points. A group of them had left earlier in the day on some unspecified task and had not returned. Argus counted ten men left; he was always very aware of things like that.
Being tied to a tree is not quite what I had in mind, Argus thought.
The ropes securing him to the tree were uncomfortably tight as he tested their strength. There was no play in the rope and with armed soldiers all around, there was no opportunity to slip away even if he could manage to free himself.
Argus waited and listened.
When the meal was ready, a young soldier and an older one with a beard came to untie him and gave him a share of the food the others were eating. Neither one of them spoke to him and they ignored his questions. After he was done, they allowed him time to take care of other personal activities, then tied him back up and went to eat their own meal.
As Argus listened to the conversations nearby, it became clear that these were not Borel's men. They were wearing uniforms of one of Borel's units though and they appeared to be waiting for further orders.
Infiltrators, thought Argus. That must be why Borel is having so much trouble with some of his units. Have to get away from here and let him know. Have to get that ring back.
After the evening meal was finished and things were cleared away, the soldiers did what soldiers often do for fun and relaxation, they had contests which pitted their skills against each other. Today's contest appeared to be knife-fighting.
The two which Argus recognized as the ones who brought him a meal were standing in the centre, knives drawn and trying to draw first blood. The others were arranged around them in a loose circle cheering them on and giving advice.
The younger one clearly had little experience. It was not really a fair fight.
"Not that way," said one of the onlookers. He was the oldest of the soldiers and was the sergeant of the group. He got up, took the knife from the younger man and proceeded to show him the proper techniques.
Argus shook his head, trying not to laugh. It was clear that none of them had any real knife-fighting experience. In an age when laser pistols and rifles were the norm, old-fashioned knife-fighting seemed to be a lost art. Argus's commando groups were among the few exceptions among the Federation troops; they specialized in killing silently. A knife was simple, effective and very quiet.
"You find something funny?" asked one of the onlookers, a corporal who had sandy-coloured hair had noticed Argus's attempt to suppress his laughter.
"Funny? No. Sad? Yes," Argus replied.
"This one thinks he can do better," the sandy-haired man said loudly so that all of his companions could hear. He clearly meant to make trouble.
You don't know what trouble is, thought Argus.
The sergeant came over and looked down at Argus, obviously trying to intimidate. "You think you can do better Earther?"
Argus didn't ask how the man knew he was from Earth. This was not a good sign.
"Not when I'm tied to this tree, I can't," Argus replied. The challenge was clear.
"Untie him," the sergeant couldn't pass up that challenge, as Argus had expected.
"Do you think that's a good idea sergeant?" asked the sandy-haired corporal. "Wouldn't it be better just to beat him up?"
"I'll tell you if it's a good idea soldier. Besides what can he do. If he makes a break for it, we'll make sure he never walks again, right?" the sergeant tapped his holster.
The others laughed.
The young soldier bent down and untied the ropes.
Argus got up slowly and painfully as blood flowed back into the areas the tight ropes had almost cut off circulation to. He stretched and tried to move his arms and legs. When he felt ready, he looked confidently and expectantly at the sergeant.
Without hesitation, the sergeant directed the young soldier, "Give him your knife."
Another mistake, thought Argus.
The young man hesitated then extended the knife, hilt first, to Argus.
The rebel leader studied the knife briefly, getting the feel of it. He balanced it on his forefinger, finding the exact centre of balance of the blade, then he began to spin it, flat along his finger. He flipped it on its end a few times and rotated it in a concentric circle with the blade tip at the centre, familiarizing himself with it. When he was ready, he held it loosely. Not bad. A bit weighted forward for my liking.
"That's very entertaining," said the sandy-haired corporal, "Can you do any other tricks?" The other men laughed.
Do you want to see how fast I can wipe that smile off your face? Thought Argus.
"Try to attack me," Argus directed the bearded man still holding the knife. The man looked at the sergeant, who nodded.
The man lunged forward with his blade and stopped suddenly. Argus's blade had appeared magically at his throat. The man had barely raised his arm to strike.
All of the faces were no longer smiling. All of them could swear they had not seen Argus move. A couple of jaws had dropped. Several were so shocked that their hands had gone to their holsters.
Neat trick, huh? Thought Argus as he slowly removed the blade from the man's throat.
"Do you want to see it again?" he asked challengingly.
A couple of them were going to say that hadn't seen it the first time but none of them did. They didn't want to look weak in front of this man who was supposed to be their prisoner and who a few moments ago had been tied to a tree.
The sandy-haired corporal was not happy and stepped forward, his own knife drawn. "Try it on someone who actually has some experience," he challenged.
The corporal was much more cautious. He circled Argus, looking for an opening. They all watched carefully this time, looking at the rebel leader's shoulder, arm and hand.
After a few moments of no action other than circling, Argus sighed, the man was being too cautious. An experienced fighter would have taken his measure by now. Good fighters were quick and knew exactly what they were doing. Argus decided to move things along and deliberately left an opening. The corporal immediately saw it and lunged forward with a slashing blow.
Well, at least you're not completely useless, thought Argus, you did see the opening.
Argus did not bother to move out of the way of the man's strike, he only bent his body inwards a few inches; the man's slash completely missed him. As the corporal's knife cleared Argus's body, he found that Argus's blade had again magically appeared at his throat and his knife hand was now trapped by Argus's other hand.
Again, even though they had all watched carefully, none of them saw how he did it. Argus had barely seemed to move.
His actions were relaxed, lightning fast and there was no wasted motion. There was no hesitation or preparation to strike. Thought was action. When he moved, his body was completely silent. They had watched all the areas which normally telegraphed movement and there had been none.
Argus slowly removed his blade from the corporal's throat and seemingly, absent-mindedly, flipped the blade to his other hand, so that it faced towards himself and moved his hand in a straight line backwards behind him. Argus turned around and looked behind him. The tip of his blade now rested lightly against the stomach of a short-bearded man who had been attempting to strike him from the rear.
"Good reflexes," Argus said to the man who had just barely stopped himself from being impaled on the rebel leader's knife.
"Never attack someone from behind if the sun is behind you," Argus admonished the man, his tone clearly conveying how he felt about people stupid enough to do that; and people who tried to stab other people in the back in general.
"Sorry about that one," said the old sergeant placatingly, his tone also clearly indicating his disdain for back-stabbers, "No honour among the young anymore. Join me for a drink."
As Argus and the soldiers sat talking into the night, sharing drinks and an easy cameraderie and humour only soldiers understood, Argus was reminded of his commando group days; not that this group was like them but they were soldiers and Argus understood that. He missed those days with his men.
"Where did you pick up those tricks with the knife?" Tain asked. Tain was the name of the old sergeant.
"A misspent youth," Argus lied smoothly. He wasn't about to reveal to them that he was a former Federation commando.
The old sergeant was a man Argus was coming to respect. The man was a dinosour among this group, still clinging to ideals such as honour. Argus was beginning to understand that this was an outdated idea in Ellis' army. The young one, Maxle was very young; Argus didn't remember ever being that young. Maxle clearly looked up to Tain, and Tain treated him as a protege. The others were hardened soldiers, very much like the Federation troops Argus had spent most of his life around.
They all had questions for Argus regarding his knife skills.
"Would you mind teaching us a few?" asked Tain.
"As long as you don't tie me to the tree again," Argus told him.
"Do you agree not to escape?"
"You know I can't promise that."
"Fair enough. How about we just handcuff you and place a guard?"
"That's fine." Argus wasn't about to tell them they had just made another error.
That night as Argus lay down to sleep, his hands handcuffed behind him and a guard nearby, Argus dreamt of an old friend.
Argus sat at the bar in the West Europ Dome, nursing a drink. He felt strange in civilian clothing, and even stranger surrounded by people not wearing uniforms. A man came in. Argus waved him over.
"Didn't think you would make it," Argus told the man.
"They keep us busy at Space Command," replied the black-haired man as he ordered a drink from the bartender. He carried himself like Argus, a career military man. "I understand congratulations are in order, Commander Argus."
Argus raised his glass in acknowledgement. He had just received confirmation about his promotion several days ago.
"And you, Commander Travis." They both laughed. Travis had just received his promotion a month ago.
"Didn't we say that the last one to make commander, gets to buy all the drinks?" Travis asked.
"You only beat me by a couple of weeks Travis," said Argus. The two men were always good-naturedly competitive.
"I still outrank you."
"Only for a few more days."
The two men had met at command school, only two of a handful of alphas amongst a sea of beta grades.
"Command school seems like so long ago," said Argus.
"Those betas soon learned that alphas are not to be messed with."
"Yes," said Argus with a smile, remembering all the betas who had learned painful lessons at his and Travis' hands.
It was not common for alphas to follow the route of the fighting grades. They usually ended up in the staff grades and rarely associated with the rank and file. As a result, alphas were a common target for bullying at the command school for the fighting grades. Everyone liked to take an alpha down a peg or two.
The two men caught up on the past half year. Being in different commands, they didn't often have a chance to meet. Many hours later, a very drunk military commander and soon-to-be commander were mellow and in an introspective mood.
"What do you suppose civilians talk about?" asked Travis.
"They probably ask each other about their families or significant others or something like that," replied Argus. He thought he sounded very wise.
"Well no wonder we're not civilians then," said Travis with perfect logic for a drunken man, "we don't have any of those."
They both toasted each other, drained their glasses and ordered another round.
"Though," said Travis, "you almost did once."
"If you bring up her name, I'm going to have to kill you Travis," warned a drunken Argus.
"Oops, sorry," the drunken Travis said, "I forgot that you were sensitive about her."
"I really am going to have to kill you," Argus said seriously, then they both burst out laughing.
"Alright, alright," said Travis.
"How about your significant other?" asked Argus.
Travis looked confused. "My what?"
"Roj Blake. Are you still obsessed about catching him?" asked Argus.
"Oh him. It won't be long."
"Sounds like you have a plan already."
"Yes, this time we're going to get him," said Travis.
Argus woke up; he still remembered the dream. That was the last time he remembered Travis smiling. Everything had changed after that. The rebel leader wondered what had prompted his subconscious to bring up this memory.