Part 3: Talon - Chapter 21

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'When Helots die,' Reed intoned, 'it is their final freedom. For some it is all the freedom they ever know. But out loyal friends, Barro and Ione, Enru and Challis...for them freedom was tasted for a brief while before their deaths, as they served the greater cause.'

He talked on, moving away from the tribute to the fallen soldiers of the Talon to more practical matters. The ship they had escaped in was called The Peace of Resistance, which, as a pun, wasn't at all funny given the circumstances. Campillo had used it mainly to gallivant around the solar system. It wasn't as luxurious as some space yachts, but modern and practical enough to be a tribute to Campillo's ill-gotten wealth.

Reed had known of the ship's existence for some time and had planned its use as an escape route should the need arise. Whether his benefactor had been aware of this intention wasn't revealed. How he had obtained the access codes was also something he didn't disclose.

While the man talked, Maddy checked that Geranium was all right. The girl snuffled quietly, tears drying on her face. Maddy had seen Sarti take the bullets intended for her mistress, and had tried to say a few words of comfort. But Geranium didn't seem to be listening.

Both of them were confined to seats against the bulkhead of the main cabin. The craft wasn't large—few spaceships ever were—but it could perhaps contain six people with some degree of comfort. There was even a separate main sleeping cabin, which Reed had secured for himself, and a bathroom that didn't intrude on anything else. A separate navigation cubicle allowed another place of privacy for those seeking such a thing.

Not that she or Geranium were permitted that.

Marshall broke out some provisions and prepared four meals. The aroma of hot food quickly permeated the cabin and Maddy realised it had been ages since she'd eaten.

Reed floated through the cabin and hovered before the two women, gazing at them for a long time.

'It would be interesting,' he said eventually, 'to have your opinion about the recent events.'

'What do you want to know?' Maddy felt Geranium stir beside her, as if drawing back from the presence of this man.

'I know many things. It isn't the first time I've had to retire from operations. A former terrorist like yourself—well, you might have much to gain from advising the police of our whereabouts. Did you?' His eyes bored into hers. Like all Helots, he had prominent ridges above his eyes, which normally made it look as if he were permanently frowning. But his eyes were so bright they stood out sharply, penetrating her mind.

'No.'

The gaze rested on her for a moment longer. 'All right. I believe you.' He stared at Geranium, who kept her head down, unable to look him in the eye. 'As I suspected, the fault lies with this one, this precious daughter of the Elite, poking around in the affairs of my business partner.' He sneered and reached out to touch her. Geranium flinched, turning her head aside. His hand rested on her cheek.

'Leave her alone,' Maddy gritted between clenched teeth.

He seemed not to have heard. 'I've met many high-born nobles in my time. Some I was able to work with. Some I hate.' He snorted through his nose. 'Noble! Her kind considers itself above others because they own shares in the great and glorious Syndicate.' He took his hand away and rubbed his fingers together as if wiping dirt from them. 'Her stupid father refused to pay!'

Geranium snapped her head back to look at him directly for the first time.

'He refused to pay for his own daughter. But he would pay for slaves! So the police raided my headquarters. They suspected where we were of course, and they suspected the slave market of having connections with us, but left us alone until we transgressed what they considered appropriate behaviour. And now we are on the run once more.'

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