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Story 3

Liz Sawyer

Liz Sawyer is married, with several cats and no kids, retired Air Force, recently retired as a paralegal and resides in Northern California.

'Ti and Ian' story number two was published in Nebula Rift in April, 2014. Another 'Ti and Ian' story has just been accepted by Corner Bar Magazine. A couple of others were published years ago in a now-defunct magazine.

I was playing around with an idea for a novel (Doesn't every writer want to write a novel?), had the basic outlines of the two characters and realized I needed to know more, so I took an on-line intro to short stories course (That seemed easier than actually writing a novel.), and the first sentence wrote itself. Honest, that first sentence hasn't changed in -- way too long. The rest was harder, but the story is basically the one I wrote for that class -- expanded, edited, and revised numerous times, but still the same at the core.
The first chapter of the novel (Yes, I'm still working on the novel.) recently took first place in the "Writer's Billboard" First Chapter contest.)
-- Liz Sawyer

A deadly chance encounter with a highly talented agent of OSIA, the Outworld Security and Intelligence Agency, leads to a mutually-beneficial relationship, in Liz Sawyer's Change of Plans. Add a disgraced Terran Fleet Captain, a ruthless drug lord who runs the planet, and a telepathic flirtation, and you have an engaging off-world thriller.

 

 

 

Change of Plans

By Liz Sawyer

Ian stood in the shadows of the alley and watched two people die.

The first death came with a spin and kick that caught the chest, thrust the body against the building. As the figure slid down, a foot came up and the head snapped back. The killer whirled, and the person moving in from behind retreated.

Ian considered assisting, but which one? He glanced around, saw a second body on the pavement. Two down, but on whose side? He looked at the two still standing.

The killer stepped sideways, into and out of a shaft of light from the brightest of Tarnís two moons. A female. Her opponent followed. The knife in his hand glittered.

She moved warily, slightly crouched, empty hands open. They circled, feinted, drew back. She moved in, forced a retreat, took another step and slipped. Her right arm flailed and the knife slashed. But he lunged too far, and her left fist slammed against his temple. She followed him to the ground, grabbed his knife and buried it in his heart.

Ian watched her rise, right arm cradled to her chest. He was an empath and, despite tight shields, felt her pain. He instinctively stepped forward, and she pivoted to face him. He stopped, hands open at his side.

"That needs tending." The words were spoken before he knew he would say them.

"Iíll find...." Her shoulders sagged. "Oh, hellÖ." Her knees buckled.

Ian strode forward, hands grabbing her shoulders to keep her upright.

Both froze as a torrent of strength poured through his hands into her.

Ian barely had time to wonder what was happening before it stopped. He looked down, surprised to see the top of her head no higher than his chest. She had seemed much taller, but now he realized she couldnít be more than 5í4" to his 6í2".

She stepped away, head rising, eyes meeting his.

"Thanks. I can manage now."

Her voice was stronger, but Ian saw the darkness on her forearm.

"Still bleeding." He told himself not to get involved even as he pulled out the bandanna heíd stuffed into his jacket pocket earlier that evening for no reason other than it felt right. He frowned when he saw a faint tremor in his hand. Saw that her hand also shook slightly as she took the cloth and wrapped it around her arm. Blood loss, he told himself. Which didnít apply to him. So what the hell had happened? Damnit, he didnít need this! He had come to Tarn for information, not get involved in a private fight. Then he recalled the emotions his empathy had sensed earlier. Desperation, anger and fear had pulled him from the table inside Bluebeardís Bar down the back hall past the johnóhis excuse if anyone askedóto a door that opened onto the alley. Now those emotions were edged with pain.

"Címon," he ordered, silently calling himself an idiot.

***

It was a typical spaceport hotel room, small, and sparsely furnished. Still, it was clean, and even had its own bath. Ian checked the hot water temperature gauge in the bathroom, lowered it to 90◦F, and passed his hand in front of the faucetís infra-red sensor. As the stopper in the basin closed and water flowed, he removed a first-aid kit from the cabinet underneath. When the basin was half full, another hand pass stopped the water, and he stepped aside.

She increased the pain control as she unwrapped the bandanna, but couldnít stop the curses as her forearm entered the water. The words died to a mutter as she grabbed soap, used it, and the bandanna to clean the gash.

He walked into the bedroom, sat at the table, and began looking through the med-kit. Wondered if the two years since his face had been splashed in vids throughout the Orion Spur had been long enough to allow his return to anonymity. Heíd grown a mustache and closely shaven full beard, and had more gray at the temples of his black hair. Was it enough to erase the memory of the Terran Fleet Captain responsible for the rescue of nearly 200 women, and children about to massacred during the Daveriddean Revolt, then forced to retire in lieu of court-martial? He knew once she recognized him, sheíd realize why he was here, andóHis empathy sensed the change in her thoughts, the wondering if she had made a mistake. He wondered that himself.

She crossed to the table, slipped onto the chair opposite him, laid her forearm on the table, flipped open the towel wrapped around it.

The shallow slash ran from her elbow almost to her wrist.

Ian donned protective gloves, picked up a small tube, and squeezed antibiotic cream onto the oozing wound, then gently smoothed it in.

"Thought youíd already earned your merit badge in rescue." She kept her eyes on her arm, but a smile touched her mouth.

So much for being forgotten ran through his mind.

She flushed, and looked away, almost as if sheíd heard.

Suddenly uneasy, Ian applied binding tape, slid the covering bandage over it all, and peeled off the gloves.

"Should hold til you get to a Regen Center." The words were brusque as he repacked the kit and tossed the gloves into the wastebasket.

She touched the bandage, looked at him. "Thank you. Iíd better be going."

Ian leaned back in his chair, eyes locked with hers. The color reminded him of emeralds, but the contrast with her black hair didnít fit. His eyes narrowed. Were those freckles on her cheekbones?

She abruptly pushed her chair back and stood, then leaned against the table, face going white.

Ian cursed as he moved to grab her just as she fainted. He picked her up, carried her to the bed, and laid her on it. Then he removed her shoes, and drew a blanket up to her waist.

Tensed as his wristband vibrated with an incoming call.

Making sure the privacy mode was on, he stepped away from the bed. "Makanda."

"Gonna haffta put the meeting on hold." It was Tadsen, through whom heíd requested the meeting with Marov, the drug lord who ran Tarn. "Somethingís come up."

Ian knew. He recalled the efficient way sheíd killed two men, at least one of them armed. Add in Marovís being a notorious drug dealer who considered Tarn his personal fiefdom, and she had to be undercover Terran Security. Ian told himself the information Marov could give him was worth more than any goddamned Security agent. He pushed away the memory of her pain and desperation.

"Ö call you whenó"

"That something wouldnít happen to be female, about 5í4", black hair, green eyes, black tee shirt, jeans?" When Tadsen didnít answer, Ian added, "Three bodies in the alley behind Bluebeardís Bar."

Twenty minutes later Tadsen and another man arrived at Ianís room. He watched as Tadsen swaggered over to the bed, placed his laser pistol against the womanís neck. Watched her stir, then freeze as she woke up and understood.

"Roll onto your stomach," Tadsen ordered. "Do anything else, and moreín your armíll be hurtiní. Tie her up," he ordered the other man.

Ian heard a faint moan as her injured right arm was pulled behind her, tied tightly to her left, another as the man grabbed the same arm to pull her out of bed and onto her feet. He knew her closed eyes and clenched jaw were an attempt to control the pain he had felt before he increased his shields.

She turned her head, opened her eyes, and looked at Ian for a long moment before shifting her gaze to Tadsen. "My shoes?"

"Wonít need Ďem. Move!"

Tadsen shoved her forward, into Ian. Instinctively his hands raised, caught her shoulders. Strength again surged from him to her. She gave him a tiny smile, then shrugged off his hands, squared her shoulders and raised her chin just a bit.

"Iíd hoped those stories about your obsession were exaggerated." Her eyes locked with Ianís. "Did you get a good price?"

"Adequate."

"I shouldíve killed you, too."

Ian let one side of his mouth twitch. "Couldíve tried."

She eyed him a moment longer, turned, walked to the door, stopped, and looked over her shoulder. "Would one of you pretend to be a gentleman, and open the door?"

Ian admired the way she led them downstairs, through the lobby, and out to the street, where she stopped, standing by a skimmer as if waiting for a doorman.

Once inside, he sat opposite her, watched as she tried to get comfortable, finally leaning back and closing her eyes. The driver took them up to the airlanes, and, with the windows blacked out, Ian decided he might as well follow her example.

Instead, he found himself remembering her words.

Obsession? What did she know? She hadnít been part of the Fifth Terran Fleet sent to put down an insurrection led by a man named Thompson against the Daveriddean government. She hadnít seen what Thompson and his fanatics had done, the women and children they had massacred! She hadnít devised a plan to capture Thompson, a plan that wouldíve workedóif Thompson hadnít found out about it and set up his own ambush. Thirty-three Fleet pilots died in that ambush. He had been Wing Commander, had led those pilots into that ambush.

Terran Security had done nothing when he accused Fleet Admiral Marquez of assisting Thompson in his insurrection, informing him of the plan to capture him and helping him escape from the planet. Security had said he had no proof, focusing only on the feelings he had gotten through his empathy. They had cited the Telepathic Law, which prohibited accusations against anyone made solely on the basis of any extra-sensory ability. Security ignored the fact that only he and Marquez knew the details of the plan.

So heíd acted on his own, sabotaging the computer aboard Marquezís personal skimmer. The next trip the Admiral made had been his last: the skimmer entered hyperspace and didnít come out.

Ian had been very careful to leave no proof of his actions, but, again, Security didnít care. He was, however, given a choice. Because of his past record and his actions at Daveriddea, he was allowed to retire instead of being court-martialed for murder.

He then set out on what some called his obsession: to find Thompson, bring him to justice, and prove to Terran Security he had been right about Marquez. He had spent two years searching, following even the slightest hint of a trace, like the one that had brought him to Tarn. He had the money and the time, and to hell with her! She could get out of her own screw-up!

Ian tightened his mental shields against the faint touch of pain which tried to penetrate. He wasnít quite so successful with the guilt.

***

His ears popped as the skimmer dropped in altitude.

Ian opened his eyes and looked straight into hers.

A faint smile played over her mouth as she inclined her head the merest fraction.

Just like a Security agent, he told himself. Arrogant as hell.

Once they landed, Ian had time to see only a landing field behind a large house before they were inside the house, down a hall, and approaching a closed door.

"Wait here," Tadsen ordered his subordinate as he opened the door.

The man seated behind the desk raised his head as Tadsen pushed the woman in. Ian stayed back as Tadsen shoved her closer to the man who had to be Marov. The look he gave the woman as he rose from the chair was one Ian was very familiar withócontrolled murderous rage.

"One of the men you killed was my son."

"Your son was no man," she sneered.

Marovís jaw tightened as he walked around the desk, stopped just to her left.

"I want to know who helped you. I suggest you tell me now, and save yourself from the unpleasant side effects of some of my... merchandise."

She cocked her head to one side, smiled slightly. "Pretty sure of yourself."

"I can afford to be."

"Thatís what your son thought. Shouldíve taught him to use a knife better. Enjoyed taking him out. Sort of like... squishing a cockroach."

The rage nearly slipped. Ian watched as Marovís jaw clenched, then, after a long moment, loosened. He spoke in an almost normal tone.

"Iíve never questioned a Security agent before. Iíve heard you receive intense conditioning against drugs. I hope thatís true. My med tech is quite curious as to the effects of various combinations of drugs. Heís assured me none are immediately fatal, although heís not sure about the cumulative effects."

She just looked at him.

After a long moment, Marov turned, and walked back to his chair. "Take her to Barnes. He's expecting her."

Tadsen grabbed her armóthe right oneójerked her around, and began walking toward the doorway.

Ian turned slightly, watched them turn right and disappear. Saw that the bandage was dirty, and knew it wasnít dirt.

"Now, what do I do about you?" came in a much more pleasant voice.

Ian faced Marov, but said nothing. It might not have been wise to keep quiet, but heíd built a reputation on doing exactly that.

Marov sat, waving a hand towards the couch. "I ran a check when I initially received your request for a personal meeting, and you came up clean. But, because of the rather, ah, Ďconvenientí way you found her, Iíve ordered another. Iím sure you understand." Marov studied Ian a few moments. "I assume something connected to Thompson brought you here."

Settling onto the couch, Ian realized he had two years worth of variations on that statement. He also realized it was becoming irritating.

"An anonymous message said he was seen here a few weeks ago."

"Details?"

Ian shook his head. "Hoped youíd have some."

"If Iíd known, heíd have been arrested. I may sell drugs, but I do not murder women and children in cold blood. That man would not find Tarn a safe haven. If anybody here gave him one, they will answer to me."

Ian had insisted on a face-to-face meeting because he could sometimes sense the truth in a personís words if he was close enough, and it was important enough. He sensed it now. Marov didnít know anything about the message. But he would, Ian knew, before too much longer.

"It will be investigated," Marov added firmly. "In the meantime, Iíll have to request that you remain here."

Ian nodded, understanding it was not a request.

"Iíll show you to a room and have your belongings brought over. Weíll talk more tomorrow."

It was a mini-suite, with a bar dividing the room into sitting and bed areas. Ian eyed the bottle and glass placed on the bar, then went into the bathroom. There he found silk pajamas and bath accessories just as luxurious. The Jacuzzi-tub offered a way to get rid of the tension, make him too tired to care. He let the heat envelop him, relax his body. His mind, however....

Stop feeling so guilty. It was my choice to go with you. Donít ask me why; it just... felt right.

The half-exasperated, all-female thought in his mind caused Ian, for just a nanosecond, to lose his so-very-tightly-kept mental control.

Iím sorry. I thought you knew.

Knew what? Whatíre you talking about? Ian found himself thinking the words, instinctively knowing not to speak aloud. Then wondered how he was Ďspeakingí at all.

I thought you knew you were telepathic.

Teleó All Iíve gotís some empathy.

More than some. And telepathic with it, she assured him. Untrained, but your shields are impressive. And that transfer of strength. Not many can do that. It requires a high degree of empathy, which is why you came into the alley in the first place. You were picking up on the emotions I was too busy to control.

Empathy, hell, I wanted some fresh air.

So whyíd you use the back door?

It was closer to the john!

For the first time in his life, Ian felt a giggle. It tickled.

Look, could we continue this in a few minutes?

Whyóoh. I promise to close my eyes, she teased.

No.

Five minutes.

She was gone, or so Ian assumed, as something was suddenly missing from his mind. He dried off, donned pajamas, and made it as far as the bed before he had to sit down. The emotions under her words demanded his attention.

Regret, not so much over the killings, but over the necessity for them. Done in an attempt to avoid the exact situation she was in. That he had put her in. The image of the dirty bandage flashed into his mind. Pain being controlled, bleeding Ö.

Will you stop that? This thought was all exasperation. I knew the risks; itís my job. Just one question. Why?

She meant his handing her over to Marov. Instead of answering, Ian pushed himself off the bed, walked over to the bar, picked up the bottle and poured two fingers of the amber liquid into the glass. He crossed to the recliner and tried to make himself comfortable. I donít know. It was the reason that was uncomfortable. It just.... He recalled her words. Felt right.

Really? She recalled them as well, and a few seconds of silence followed. Not prescience, more intuition. I canít say Iím crazy about where it landed me, but Iím willing to trust it. For now.

Ian wasnít sure how to take her calm acceptance of the situation. Maybe I can get word to your partner.

Donít have one. Even if I did, wouldnít make any difference. Iím not leaving here without Marov.

Heís been running drugs for years. Whyís Security going after him now?

Tammus. Her thoughts hardened. We got an anonymous message that heís found a faster way to process the dust without blowing things up. Doubled his output last year. And Iím Oseeah, not Security, although this is a joint operation.

Ian understood. Just a sniff of pure tammus dust could kill, and the refined product was extremely addictive. The dust was also rare, as it was highly explosive prior to processing, and had to be handled very carefully during. If Marov had found a faster process, he had to be stopped. For that, Ian would help even Terran Security. Except, he wouldnít have to.

Oseeah was what Outworlders called OSIA, the Outworld Security and Intelligence Agency. The Treaty put it under the jurisdiction of Terran Security, but most Outworlders considered it an independent agency. Ian was most definitely an Outworlder.

What makes you think youíre leaving here at all?

I made several contingency plans. The thought was smug. A couple might still work, with some, you should pardon the expression, refining.

Ian sipped, savored the scotch, then asked, What happened?

His son had a rep. I used it. I didnít count on a very possessive ex-girlfriend. She surprised me, set off an alarm before I could stop her. I was on my way to a contact when they caught me. And no, I donít like killing. But if itís my life, or someone elseísÖ.

I wouldíve thought being telepathic wouldíve warned you.

Doesnít work that way. Telepaths canít just read someoneís mind by looking at a person. First you have to drop your shields, which also leaves you open to other, maybe not so friendly, telepaths. Not that there are any others here. Aside from the fact that Iím not sure any would work for him, Marovís not comfortable with any form of ESP. I knew you were telepathic when we got to your room and I lowered my shields. Add in the strength sharing and thereís no doubt.

So why didnít it work when you fainted?

Maybe because I was unconscious. You should know, itís your talent.

Itís never happened before.

Never? Her surprise surprised Ian.

No.

That is odd. For such a strong empath, but, no training and that control, still, couldíve been instinctÖ. Her thoughts were more musing than directed at Ian. There were a few moments of silence, then, Well, however it works, Iím just glad it did.

Maybe weíd better call this a night. You need your rest.

Right. Her thoughts changed, a touch of mischievousness appearing. Nameís Ti. Youíre right, I do have freckles. Iím a natural redhead. And I am not arrogant. Just very confident. íNight.

There was no feeling of missing something this time. Instead, he felt a sense of... peacefulness.

Ian swallowed the rest of the Scotch, along with the knowledge that he was going to help her, and, just maybe, help himself, as well.

***

When Ian woke the next morning, he discovered Marov had some very silent servants, as he found his belongings had been transferred from the hotel and neatly put away in his room. After breakfast, he used Marovís superbly appointed gym for an extended workout followed by a long swim in the rooftop pool. Then, exploring the rest of the house, Ian found the library. The wall-to-wall bookcases, filled with real books, surprised him, as he hadnít thought Marov one to indulge in such rarities. Finding an old favorite, Ian settled into a leather chair, and began reading.

It was much later when a sense of uneasiness made him look up just as Marov entered the room.

"Hate to disturb you, but I figured youíd want to know right away." Marov walked over, sat in the chair next to Ian. "My people canít find anyone who knows anything about that message you received, or Thompsonís being here."

"Disappointing, butÖ." Ian shrugged, having felt the truth in Marovís words. But he still felt the uneasiness. "Not the first false tip, wonít be the last." He closed the book. "Iíll get my things, head back to my ship."

"Whatís your hurry? That message came from somewhere. Let me dig some more."

"I appreciate the offer, but why waste your time?"

"I donít like people using me, and thatís what whoever sent that message did." Marov flashed him a cold smile. "Give me a few days, I might find something."

Ian realized it wasnít uneasiness he sensed, but nervousness, and for a man like Marov to be nervous.... "In return for what?"

Marov held Ianís gaze for several seconds. "How long do you think sheíll hold out?"

"Depends." Ian felt his casual answer irritate Marov. "I donít know anything more than rumors about Security training. Itís tough, and itís thorough. Figures that conditioning against drugs, or at least training on how to counter their effects, would be part of it. She looked tough, and determined. Could be a few days, could be forever."

"Barnes says a couple days without food will make the drugs work that much faster."

Now he had it. Marov needed to know Tiís contact. Which made no sense, because Marov could take all the time he wanted to find out. Unless he couldnít. He needed the information now and Ian wondered why.

"Sheís stubborn. Iíd say three, four days at least."

"What about two?"

"Maybe. If she were drugged to the max. Thing is, the max is different for everyone. Barnes saying itíll work doesnít mean squat. Whoís he used for practice? Wasnít someone like her. Heíll have to start small, work up, otherwise sheíll OD. Iím a history buff. Twentieth century." He paused, watched impatience dance over Marovís face at the non sequitur. "Wonder if anyone todayís heard of sodium pentothal? Used to be called truth serum. It isnít, no drug is, but itís closer than most. If you ask the right questions."

Marov smiled. "I have some associates arriving tomorrow night. I would like answers by then."

There was the reason for Marovís nervousness. Those associates were probably not very happy about Securityís penetration so deep inside the operation. Marov had better have some very good answers.

"Depends on how fast your lab can produce the stuff, and how resistant she is."

"She might respond to you. You did rescue her."

"And turned her over to you. I donít think sheíd find my voice one to confide in."

"But she might." Marov leaned forward. "Weakened, drugged Ö"

Ian shrugged. "Maybe. Best shot would be after her resistance is already lowered."

"So, say sheís on bread and water and then we addÖ."

Ian returned to his room after lunch, having been wined, dined, and bought. He hoped a nap would get rid of the throbbing in his head, but lying down just made it worse.

So make it stop. Exasperation colored Tiís mental words.

Easy for you to say.

I mean it, Ti told him. Use your mental energies.

What mental energies? He winced. The thought had hurt.

Sorry. I keep forgetting you arenít trained. Your mindís so easy to reach thatóI mean, it usually takes a lot of working together to reach such a level of rapportÖ.

Ian wondered about the uneasiness he sensed in her thoughts. So show me.

Itís not that simple. I can show you how, but it would take practice before you could do it. Or I can do it for you.

I donít thinkÖ.

I understand. So, whatíve you been up to? Besides overindulging.

First, howíre you doing?

Okay. A little hungry, but I expected to be. A day or two without food oughtta really lower my resistance. Soft sarcasm tinged the last sentence.

Two. Some of Marovís associates arrive tomorrow night. He wants answers by then. If he doesnít get them, Iíve agreed to act as a friendly voice to persuade you to talk. Ian stressed his words to be sure Ti understood. Can you hold out?

His associates. Her thoughts chilled. I suppose he just happened to mention that over cigars and brandy.

Not exactly. He told her about the message, Marovís lack of success, and the ensuing discussion.

After I confide in you, heíll kill both of us.

But not immediately. Which gives us a chance. How did you plan to take him? Ian felt her hesitation, knew he had to give her something. Hereís what I convinced him to do. He explained about the sodium pentothal.

Your faith in my resistance is touching.

Not faith. Confidence, he shot back.

The laughter pealed in his mind. Oh, I needed that. Teach me to watch my words. All right. Have to get him off-planet, since we canít arrest anyone without agreement from the local authorities and we wonít get that here. SoÖ. Ti explained.

Not bad. Simple, unexpected, forces him to react and he can only do so one way. Just one question. How are you going to get free to set it off? He had caught a glimpse in her mind of the dayís questioning. She had been strapped to a metal table.

One of my talents is a form of telekinesis. I can manipulate things if part of my body is touching them.

Youíll have to be alone.

Barnesíll take a break sometime.

When? Canít wait forever.

Your suggestion?

I can input the code, set it for a specific time. And send an alert to the ship youíve got standing by.

Your room could be bugged.

Unlikely. Not visually, anyway. With all the excitement last night, Marov wouldnítíve thought of it. Why do it today? He believes youíre the last person Iíd help.

Computer?

Probably. I can get around it.

Okay.

The immediate acceptance astounded him.

Why? So Security screwed you. Iím not Security. And I trust you. Tell you why after we get out of here. Besides, any codes I give you are for this op only. Howíd you know about the ship? The last was a sharp demand.

You just told me.

The silenced stretched, then, Youíre good.

I know.

Laughter again rang in his mind. This time, Ian smiled.

They worked on the plan for several more minutes, until the throbbing in his head became too intense.

Okay, Ian sighed. Get rid of the headache.

The feel of Tiís thoughts changed, deepened, focused. Get comfortable. Relax.

Ian realized he already was.

Thatís it. Smooth out your thoughts.

His thoughts stilled. He drifted, felt a sensation of green, and all the peacefulness that color brought. He felt himself becoming lost in a calmness he had never experienced. So relaxed, so quiet, so Ö.

Rest well, whispered in his mind.

He did, waking three hours later, refreshed and without a headache. Ian lay still a few more minutes, mentally reviewing what he planned, then thought about locking his door. No, he hadnít locked it last night, and doing so now would definitely raise suspicions.

Ian rose and went to the computer. It was one of the retro systems that had come into vogue the last few years, a 3-D touchscreen with the processing unit built in, holo-keyboard and, of course, no AI. Ian hadnít been surprised that a demand for a complete ban on AI technology had been opposed by very few. There was just something about a machine anticipating a request or answering a question before it was asked that made more than a few people nervous.

Besides, he had always preferred using his own hands and mind.

After confirming he could access only the local system, he flipped through various programs, pausing occasionally to read articles, then went to the game center. Just killing time. Or so it should appear to anyone monitoring the computer.

Two hours later, after losing yet another round of poker, Ian told himself if anyone was still monitoring him, he deserved to get caught. He hit several keys, apparently at random, actually a program he had devised several years earlier. If anyone was monitoring, it would appear as if the computer had been shut down. It took only thirty minutes to access Marovís house system, and input Tiís plan, with an addition of his own. Then he really turned off the computer.

***

Marov told Ian at supper that the sodium pentothal had been made, and the questioning begun. She was proving exceptionally resistant.

Ti hadnít contacted him by the time he was ready for bed.

Ian poured himself a drink, carried it to the recliner, then let it sit on the table next to the chair while he tried to get comfortable. Tried not to think about Tiís not being comfortable, what with little to eat, her arm untreated. What could he, an untrained telepath, do? Emotions he knew, had spent years blocking them until she slid around them. He closed his eyes, concentrated on her. Just relax, think of her face, those eyes, so Ö relax, remember that feeling of peacefulness, the Ö eyes Ö.

Ti?

Silence.

Focus on the face, the whole face, see it, see the way she looked when Ö the whole face, the feeling of her, the sense of her. There was a bond between them, use it to find her.

Ti. Ti!

Something. Maybe. More of a twitch thanóIdiot! That was probably all she was capable of, and he didnít know how to make it strongeróStrong. She needed strength, and that he could give her. Throw strength out, sheíll grab it! Ian firmly suppressed the thought that she might not be able to.

He took a few seconds to relax, to get it just right, then, Ti! accompanied the mental picture of throwing out a lifeline. A very long, very strong, line.

The pain nearly ruptured the link. He concentrated, sent more strength, felt it being sucked up as if by a vacuum. But it was not empty space on the other end, and he needed to hear her, needed to know she was all right. Which she wasnít, or she wouldnít need so much. The pull finally slowed.

Sorry, came through weakly. Didnít mean Ö to be so greedy.

Take all you need. The flow somehow increased.

Slow down, donít flood me! Really, thatís enough. Youíll exhaust yourself if youíre not careful, then whatíll you tell Marov?

Her thoughts did feel firmer, the pain a dim glow.

Besides, she added, I have to have something to start tomorrowís session with. Wouldnít do to look too healthy. Donít worry, I only gave enough to make him think the drugs are slowly overcoming my resistance. I can last.

Ian felt the control Ti was using on herself. He sent more strength, and she refused it.

No. Iím not a battery, I canít store energy. What youíve given means Iíll last an eight-hour session, give or take. Of course, you may have to carry me out of here.

Ian hastily raised his shields, but he wasnít fast enough, and his anger that Security hadnít arranged on-planet back-up, that Oseeah had let her walk into this alone, slipped through.

My idea. You know how Marov has this place sewn up. Three others tried. I was the only one to get as far as I did. He felt her yawn. Sorry, butósee you tomorrow.

***

The shuttle landed early the next evening.

Marov made introductions, then led the way to the medical section. The last in, Ianís height allowed him to see Ti lying on a table, wrists, and ankles immobilized by metal cuffs. As Marov and his associates walked to the head of the table and the technician standing there, Ian moved to the foot.

He saw that not only was the bandage dirtier, so were her tee shirt and jeans. The right sleeve had been ripped off the shirt. Drops of blood dotted her upper arm. They looked like the marks of syringes.

He doubted if any of Marovís associates were telepathic, given the manís dislike, but why chance it? He would keep the transfer of strength to a slow trickle and be as close to her as he could get. A touch would be pushing it, so he casually rested one hand on the table near her bare left foot, and recalled the prior sensations of the transfers, hoped that that would work because he still wasnít sure how he had done it before.

Tiís toes twitched.

So did Ianís mouth, as he wondered if she was ticklish. Then he concentrated on what the technician was telling Marov.

"Ö effective combination. Diluted tammus combined with pentothal. I used it earlier, got past most of her conditioning, but thatís all. She wonít talk, and Iíve increased the amount to where more could kill her."

Marov frowned, but before he could speak, Ian cleared his throat. When everyone looked at him, he jerked his head toward the far corner of the room, walked over to it. The others followed.

"How long since the last dose?" Ian, his voice low, asked the tech.

"íBout an hour."

"Sheís coming out of it?"

"A little. I can give her moreó" He broke off when Ian shook his head.

"Guess itís time to try your idea," Ian told Marov.

"Go ahead," Marov agreed.

Ian turned to the gurney, then back. "Whatís her name?" He looked at Marov. "We never were introduced."

"Maria," Marov told him.

Ian nodded. He grabbed a stool, and rolled it over to the gurney as the others joined him. Sitting down, he reached out, and touched Tiís shoulder.

She jerked, and tried to pull away.

"Maria." Ian leaned forward, his mouth near her ear. "Listen to me. Iíve only got a minute. Can you hear me?"

She moaned slightly.

Ian put urgency into his voice. "I can get you out of here, but where do I take you? Whoís your contact?"

"No," she groaned, shaking her head. "No, you Ö betrayed Ö"

"I didnít know who you were. Do you understand? I didnít know."

"Stupid," she whispered. "Shouldda Ö" She licked her lips. "Ö known better Ö hurt."

Ian could feel the truth of that last word. He wanted to give her more strength, but didnít know how to do that and talk at the same time. "Let me get you out of here, and you wonít."

Ti shook her head, again licked her lips. Ian looked at the tech, mouthed the word Ďwaterí, and had a cup in his hand almost instantly. He dipped a finger in the water, and gently rubbed the wetness across her lips. This time he dared a trickle of strength with it. He did both again, then asked, "Who, Maria? I canít do it alone."

"Shouldnít."

Ian ran a wet finger across her lips, strength flowing stronger this time.

"Always did Ö like blue eyes Ö beards too Ö"

For a moment Ian thought she was talking about him, then he understood. "Bluebeardís Bar? Your contactís there?"

"Um."

"Who, Maria? The bartender, one of the waitresses? Hurry, the techís coming back any minute." More water, and more strength, accompanied the words.

"Assistant Ö Tell him Ö okay Ö."

"Thatís all, just okay? Maria?"

But Ti did not respond.

Ian looked up at Marov. "I think thatís all youíll get."

"Itís all I need." Marov looked at the tech. "No more drugs. I want her fully aware when I kill her. Good work, Ian." He looked at his associates. "Come, gentlemen, dinnerís waiting."

Ian stood, and took a last look at Ti. He told himself that her face looked a little less pale, her breathing seemed a little more regular. Then he followed Marov out of the room.

While Marovís associates were being shown to their rooms, Ian went to his own, turned on the computer, and clicked on the time. Waited five seconds, clicked again, and closed out.

Then he joined Marov, and the others in the den for drinks, followed by dinner. Soup, salad, plates cleared, the main course served. Ian had no idea what he ate. He didnít dare touch his wristband to check the time, there were no clocks in the room, but surely enough time had passed. Ti couldnít hold out much longer, and it had toíve been at least an hour Ö.

The fire alarm went off.

The lights went out.

The emergency generator came on.

"What theó"

"The alarm systemís tied into the city?" Ian cut into Marovís surprise.

"Of course, butó"

"Theyíll respond. Have to. Canít risk even a spark getting to the tammus. That happens, a chain reaction starts, and half the cityís gone." Ian pushed back his chair, speaking as he rose. "Even if everyone keeps their mouths shut, the fewer strangers around, the better. Get to the shuttle, Iíll get Maria."

"What díyouó" Marov began.

"Getting airborneís your safest bet. You have to tell the shuttle pilot to prep for departure. He wonít take orders from me." Ian hoped that his taking charge, combined with the urgency of the fire alarm, would override any suspicions.

Marov nodded. "Do it."

He followed them to the back door, watched as they hurried to the shuttle parking area several hundred yards away, then went back inside the house. He used the manual override to take the elevator down two levels.

There werenít many personnel around at this time of night, and those who were, were rapidly departing. The alarm was still shrieking, and no one wanted to be anywhere near tammus dust and fire.

He found the room, stopped just inside the doorway. Ti had freed herself, was standing next to the table, gripping it like a lifeline. Ian sent strength as he crossed the room, felt her breathing steady. But she still leaned against the table.

Thanks seems so inadequate came faintly to his mind. "Told you," followed in a hoarse whisper a few seconds later, "you might have to carry me outta here. Even with this extra strength, I donít think I could fight a marshmallow."

Ian reached out, touched her shoulder, and the strength increased.

"How do you feel about rats?"

She nodded, straightened slightly. "Never did like vermin." Her voice was stronger, not quite as hoarse.

He couldnít help wondering if she would last through the rest of it. He knew the strength was helping, but there was no telling what might happen in the next few minutes. If they ran into something he couldnít handle aloneó

"My feet are freezing."

Her non sequitur caught Ian totally off-guard. He looked down, saw her still-bare feet, toes curling against the tile.

"Donít worry, theyíre tougher than they look."

Ian saw the smile on her face. He understood and let one side of his mouth twitch up.

"Oseeah." He turned and walked back to the door, muttering just loud enough to be heard. "Had to be Oseeah." He turned, glared at her.

They went upstairs together.

As they approached the back door, Tiís hand on Ianís arm stopped him.

"Someoneís coming up the walk. Guard, I think," she whispered. "Give me a minute, I can Ö distract him, let you Ö."

"Un-un." Ian heard the strain in her words. He didnít know what she intended, but knew it would be too much. "Just tell me when." He stepped to one side of the door, and waited.

Now.

Ian yanked the door open, stepped forward, his left fist shooting out, slamming into the surprised guardís face. He grabbed the manís rifle from suddenly relaxed fingers, flipped it, brought the butt end up against the manís head.

Ti had already dashed past, was crouched in the shrubbery at the end of the path, all senses alert for whoever might be waiting.

"Canít sense anyone between here, and the ship," she told Ian when he joined her.

Ian handed her a pistol. "Guard had two. Ready?"

"Have I got a choice?" She tucked the pistol into the waistband of her pants, drew her shirt over it.

"Always have a choice."

As they rose, Ian hesitated, but Ti had already put her arms behind her back. Ian grasped them, appeared to manhandle Ti up the shuttleís ramp, forcing Tadsen, standing guard at the top, to move inside. Ianís hand slammed down on the hatchís quick-release as he entered the shuttle, then he shoved Ti into a seat in the back before moving to the front.

"Iím flying," he stated.

The pilot looked at Marov, received a nod, and moved to the right-hand seat.

Ian scanned the control panel, and increased power to the engines. He moved so quickly, so decisively, that they were several miles up before anyone thought of protesting.

"Letís circleó" Marov began.

"Canít." Ianís hands were flying over the controls, a distraction as his left used the holo-board to activate his addition to Tiís plan. "Somethingís wrong with the altitude control. We canít go anywhere but up."

"What do you mean we canító"

Marov stopped as Ian swiveled the seat around, a laser pistol in his hand.

"I mean thereís been a change of plans."

He saw the pilot move his hand, caught Tadsenís movement from the corner of his eye. Too far apart to take them both. In that split second, he knew.

His shot took out the pilot.

Tiís took care of Tadsen.

Told you, she sent to Ian as he secured the prisoners. Just very confident.

Oseeah! he grumbled, knowing his own plans had also just changed. Shouldíve left you in that alley!

Ti caught the approval under the feigned exasperation. And missed all the fun?

 

The End

 

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