“You’re going to rescue her, aren’t you,” Tremus complained in my ear.
“She’s the mother of my first-born child. What else can I do?” We’d had this discussion several times before. Despite his support, Tremus still wanted to talk me out of it.
“She knows you’re coming.”
“I know she knows I’m coming. What’s more, she knows I know. It doesn’t change anything.”
“They know you’re coming too. They’ll be waiting for us.” Tremus’ use of the word “us” was indicative of the loyalty he afforded me. He may not always agree with me, but we’d saved each other’s lives enough times that it was no longer a question. I would do the same, if it came down to it.
“That, Tremus, is what makes this little soiree interesting. If they didn’t know we were coming, what would be the sport of it?”
“An armed post in a fortified city. 10,000 police, 2000 crack stormtroops, and little old us are going to waltz right in there and whisk that little vixen away right out from under their noses.” Tremus’ arm swept in the general direction of the fortress.
I gazed down from our perch on the mountainside. The sun was setting behind the mountain we were on, casting us in shadow. The towers of the city sparkled with the reflection of the setting sun, with the glow of the fortress starting to make itself felt in the gathering darkness. I gazed casually, one foot up on the rock ledge, relaxed after the harrowing journey here. He had a point.
Getting to this god-forsaken planet was a story in itself, and we had to “borrow” a federal attack craft to complete the trip. Tonight was the calm before the storm and I enjoyed the quiet, the chance to relax the nerves and let my mind rest before tomorrow’s engagement played out. The planning was done, sentries were on station, equipment checked, double-checked, triple-checked. Time for reflecting, time for contemplating. I gazed at the beautiful view before me and pondered on the mysteries of life, like how such a beautiful setting could contain some of the vilest and wickedest military boneheads this side of Gaenemede.
I didn’t really want to be there, truth be told. It was a risky adventure and one I could well do without. But Jana was the mother of my oldest daughter, and I was duty bound to pull her out of this mess. It wasn’t the first time I rescued her, and I was willing to bet it wouldn’t be the last. If I looked closely in my soul, I would probably find that a part of me liked the idea of another adventure with impossible odds.
I’d been with Jana long before my wife, and many times I thought we’d be together forever. But I was headstrong and independent and perhaps a bit too stubborn as a young man, and Jana was too. We made a great team as privateers, but would it have been a great marriage? I’ll never know. She disappeared one night on the docks of St. Albliss on the Isle of Drack in the Andromeda system. I later learned she had a chance to recover a treasure and decided to keep this one for herself. It didn’t take long for me to find out where she went, but I decided to let her have her head and not follow for a bit. Let her get it out of her system. I figured we’d meet up sooner or later, but as it turned out it was quite a while later.
Neither of us knew when she left that she was carrying Deila. When I got serious about looking for her, Jana disappeared completely and I couldn’t find her, despite the extent of my contacts. It took a long time to get over her. I didn’t find out about Deila for a long time, after I fell in love with and married my late wife, Leila.
Leila knew about Jana, of course, but we didn’t find out about Deila until we’d had two of our own. Leila, to my everlasting amazement and adoration, was philosphical and said that any child of mine deserved her love and respect, and she treated Deila that way – although perhaps more as a favorite niece instead of a daughter. I’d lost Leila three years before to a rare disease – after all the battles, after all the narrow escapes, who could imagine my wife succumbing to an illness that ate her insides out? Maybe the reason I was looking forward to rescuing Jana was just plain loneliness.
I remember when I first found out about Deila. Jana had gotten in a pretty serious bind and needed help and sent word asking for help. I was out on mission and, after my astonishment wore off, was awfully tempted to let her rot in prison until she could come up with her own bail or her own crew rescued her. Leila was more understanding and suggested that I could be more of a gentleman and handle the situation appropriately, as after all, there had once been something between us.
Others will tell the story different, but I reluctantly agreed. If you hear Tremus tell it, I cursed and swore for three days and only after smashing half the pins in the training room grudgingly agreed to negotiate with her captors. While in the middle of negotiations, she persuaded her captors to send me to her. She was in chains in a cell that would have done the Middle Ages proud. I commented that she struck a most fetching pose and perhaps she should promise some favors to a helpful guard, knowing that no guard would be tempted by her scraggly appearance, what with her long auburn hair knotted and tangled, welts and sores on her alabaster skin, her once proud breasts now sagging from malnutrition.
That was when she whispered to me in a most intense voice: “I would think you would be more kind to the mother of your first-born daughter.”
At that moment, I swear the universe stood still. Even the crickets and toads stopped for a moment and it seemed that storm clouds covered the two suns. One always hears stories of one’s life flashing before one’s eyes, or the maelstrom of emotions that resemble a hurricane. Not for me. It was as if the entire universe froze and ceased to exist, while I sat and let this monumental thought coalesce into some sort of sense.
“What?” I had always been one for a witty repartee.
“I would think you would be more kind to the mother of your first-born daughter.”
“What? When? Where? How?” I stammered. “Wait, the how I can figure. When? Where? Why the hell didn’t you tell me before?”
“I knew, my dear Robert, that our paths were different and we would never be content together. We’re cut from the same cloth, we each have the devil in our veins. You would never be happy with me as wife, and I would never be happy as a wife. You were mad when I left and went tearing off around the universe, slipping blockades and daring cruisers and in general making a legend of yourself. The only way I was able to hide from you was by following you.”
“Yes, but why didn’t you tell me later?”
“You fell in love with Leila and I didn’t want to ruin anything. I wanted you to be happy. I had Deila and you had nothing until Leila and I didn’t want to interfere with that. I wanted you to have love and a family – and a life that I could never give you.”
We talked for a while longer, and then I went away and thought. I slept and ate little. Two days later, I strongly suggested to her captors that they release her and I would not charge them for my troubles. Tremus was amazed that I dared suggest such an arrangement, even more amazed when they accepted. Okay, there was a small fine we agreed to. Perhaps the fire in my eyes and a legend to my name helped, methinks.
I met Deila, surprised to discover that she knew about me and loved the legend I was and hoped I really was the father she dreamed of. I fell in love with her immediately and did everything in my power to live up to her expectations. Unfortunately for me, this included rescuing Jana on occasion. Sometimes I think Jana took on risks that were too high, knowing I would come to her aide. It was a link to the past and a life we had shared together. I think she enjoyed making me rescue her – perhaps in some small way pretending that we had never been apart, for brief moments in time sharing something personal and not letting me forget her. Oh, I would never forget, even if I had moved on.
My wife, God love her, understood what Jana was doing and would smile at me and suggest that I just be quiet and go rescue her.
I mellowed as I grew older, with legions and planets in support of me and alliances forged with a couple of federations. Jana, on the other hand, maintained her independent nature and would partake a hazardous caper just for the sheer thrill of it – that and a few million credits or so.
Tremus snapped me out of my reverie. “If I had a daughter the likes of Deila, I suppose I would be here too.”
With one last sweep of the terrain before us, I regained my professional composure. “Right, then. Let’s get buttoned down before night falls.”
* * *
The rescue would be a challenge. They knew we would be coming – there wasn’t a military mind in the cosmos that couldn’t figure that one out. I often wondered if perhaps one of my enemies would capture Jana just to get to me. We had a small force on the mountainside, and of course several connections inside. We were not relying on those for other than information, and perhaps a lucky break if events turned against us. The boundaries of the game were set—I wondered what the odds were in Spartas on my success?
As my right hand man Tremus operated independently from me. Knowing each other so well, we would be in touch by radio only when necessary, and then using clicks and beeps in a code that only we knew, keeping all transmissions to a minimum. Besides the standard special force commandos with me, I had three electronics experts adept at entering electronically secured compounds and manipulating the central computer system. This had many advantages, the first of which was gaining access to the compound. The second advantage was an integral part of our plan: to make the central control system report that we were somewhere else in the compound and then in the city. The third advantage was our (unknown to our enemy) ability to disable security systems and gain access to where Jana was staying, being careful not to walk into the traps that we knew would be there. Their advantage was they knew what the traps were and that we’d be coming. We were running blind, but we controlled the time. The risks were high.
The challenge of this rescue appealed to me; the odds did not. It would be risky, one of the riskiest I’d done. I was no longer as young as I used to be. I hoped I was smarter. The fortress was not the strongest in the Quanta system, but it was damn close. A full-scale assault would be too difficult, thus one needed stealth – a lot of stealth. Sort of like trying to get a blood sample without the patient knowing his arm is getting pricked. We’d done these before, but not on such short notice.
There was one secret advantage I did have. After the last rescue, a small locator disc was surgically implanted in Jana in a place that would escape detection. It was not a transmitter, more like an electronic reflector. When the correct frequency touched it, it bounced back the signal. With the right equipment we could determine with pinpoint accuracy precisely where she was. We had the right equipment.
To our knowledge, they didn’t know we had this capability. Two advantages for us, one big advantage for them. Of course, they could have other defenses we knew nothing about. A skilled man could get rich on those odds in Spartus—the bookie.
* * *
We went in just before the shift change, around 3:00am. It remains true to this day that the human body is at its lowest in the middle of the night, and we needed advantages. We were able to alter the signals from the video cameras to make it appear as if the entryways and passageways were empty. Unlike in the movies, we strolled quickly but quietly down the hallways. Sneaking down a hallway if the cameras worked wouldn’t make us invisible, so why bother?
In short order we were outside the security area. It was too easy – which strongly suggested a trap. The computer system and building system access had been too simple, a sure sign of lax security, which didn’t correlate to holding someone like Jana.
A last scan for location told us that, as expected, Jana was in a maximum security section, one of two. Time for diversionary tactics. A signal was sent, and alarms were raised in the city. Using this brief distraction, we were able to “shift” the computer’s attention and reprogram the security area to allow access without reporting our access. To those paying attention, it would appear that everything was normal where Jana was.
I walked in to Jana’s cell. This time, at least, her appearance was catching. Her auburn hair was decidely longer and combed attractively. Her figure was full again, and I felt a twinge of jealousy as I suspected she had no shortage of suitors. As usual, strong emotions welled up inside me as I saw her lovely face again. How many times had we faced danger together? How many times had we relied on each other’s talents and wits to best an adversary? How many times had we made mad, passionate love afterwards? I must confess that I was glad Deila was the only child she had. Deep inside, I’d hoped it was because no one touched her heart the way I had.
To be sure, I had loved Leila with all my heart. But Jana still caused butterflies in my stomach—and other places as well.
“Jana, we’ve got to stop meeting like this. I’m getting too damn old to keep playing hero. Why don’t you just call invite me over for dinner if you want to see me so bad?”
“You’re late, Robert.” She swung down off the bed and strode out of the cell. “I had you figured for 30 minutes ago. I lost my bet with Deethus on what time you would get in here.”
Same old Jana. Still playing the odds, still figuring the angles, still insouciant as hell. And as usual, pretty close to right. “And what time did you bet that we would be out of here?”
“Oh, I didn’t bet on that one. What I did bet on was how you would effect my escape. Where do they think you are now? In the Brado quandrant of the city?”
My reluctant smile was all the answer she needed, as I inclined my head. Same old Jana, confident, brash, impudent, beautiful, and dangerous. “We’re doing an alpha-2 with a twist, “ I told her. “You’re taking lead. I’m handling the peripherals with Tremus.”
Alpha-2 was a decoy tactic. In our alpha maneuver, we feinted in one direction while planning to go in another. Sort of like a weak side rush in football. In an alpha-2, we feinted in one direction, a small group went in another direction creating havoc and chaos, while the main team watched the defenses and chose the best route. Like a running back picking his holes in the offensive line. In this circumstance, Tremus and I would act as the decoy. We would pretend to be attempting to gain entry to the building while the feint went into another part of the compound and raised holy hell. Once the alarm sounded, the main group would act like the fortress troops and appear to be on the defensive against Tremus and I attempting to gain entrance while actually slipping outside.
After that, well, we’d make it up as we went. I told Jana to stay with the main force and gave her a uniform and helmet to disguise her figure and hair. We would take separate paths to the rendezvous point. Jana knew how to run the maneuver—she and I perfected it some 25 years ago.
Jana replied, “What, don’t trust yourself with me?” and dashed off.
“Oh, shit, Tremus, she’s doing again.” This was not the time—not now.
“Let her pull it off on her own.”
“And what happens when she fails? We all know she can’t do it on her own, and she’s doing it to make me go with her. You know what she’s going to do needs at leats two. I don’t want to play the hero; I’m getting too old for this sort of thing.” It seems that statement was becoming a habit.
“She knows you’ll follow. The two of you are better than you and I, if only because she’ll take risks you or I wouldn’t dare. She may be a long time out of your life, but she still likes to make sure you pay attention to her. And the gods forbid if you don’t make the rendezvous. You’ll be spending the next month flitting around this solar system dodging his majesty’s finest.” Tremus knew the score better that I cared to admit.
Normally I would lay odds with him on our making the rendezvous. But I knew he was right. Jana was a conniving woman and very adept at getting her way. Emotions were pulling me in many directions. I had loved two women, been betrothed to one. There used to be times when I was afraid I might still be in love with Jana, even after Leila had our children. But as time went on, I came to realize that while I still loved Jana, Leila was my princess and I loved her with all my heart and soul. Why I was thinking those thoughts at that time and place, I’ll never know. I had to think clearly to stay alive, and I was having a hard time doing that.
Jana was my temptress, a part of my past as well as a part of my future. It seemed ordained in the stars, with a push from Jana’s hand. And occasionally other parts of her anatomy making bold suggestion.
I signaled to Tremus to commence the alpha-2 and ran off after Jana.
* * *
Tremus was right. Jana knew exactly how to play the odds and chuckled heartily when I said we weren’t going to make the rendezvous. I wasn’t surprised when we happened to come across a two person flivver hidden in the warehouse district, which also happened to have two g-suits that also happened to fit you know who. She indicated for me to fly the flivver, a craft I was familiar with. I’d made one or two mods to the type in the past.
“I still believe I can out-fly you with one of these, but I don’t know the escape contingencies and the counter-measures you have in place. Since you know the options, you handle flying and navigation and I’ll handle weapons and electronic interference.”
Jana laughed that hearty laugh of hers. It came from her soul and always made her breasts sway so delectably. And she had a habit of shaking that long red hair of hers, which she somehow had managed to untie in our escape. She’s really pulling out the stops on this one, I thought. In the past, she’d stopped making any direct passes once Leila came into my life. This time I wasn’t so sure.
Our departure was as expected. Hair-raising, knife-edge performance, dangerously close. But we knew the drill and made great video for our foe’s debriefings and the evening news. Jana suggested a couple of maneuvers I never thought of at critical times that saved our hides and I had to admit she might just be the better pilot. She seemed so in control of the whole situation, instead of me, that I was beginning to wonder what she was really up to.
Despite departing the planet with only a few dents and dings, we missed the rendezvous. After reviewing options, we altered our route and I deep-spaced a message to Tremus about the new plan. We spent two days in the flivver free-falling using gravity to save fuel, cat-napping as we went, dodging through the asteroid field to become invisible. Instead of hiding on Asteron 4, we flew to another system, and from there hopped a black freighter to Heldon, and from there a sportster to Ephilon 3, Jana’s home.
When we landed at Ephilon 3, Deila was there to meet us. This was also a surprise, as when I left she had been staying in an apartment 3 blocks from my flat. Needless to say, meeting Deila was something of a shock, even after the evasiveness of Jana’s answers to my inquiries. I was beginning to think that there was a grand scheme behind all of this. Too many pieces were coincident, too many events that were out of the ordinary, even for Jana.
“What is all of this about, Jana?” I was getting slightly perturbed. “This is more devious than usual, even for you.”
“No questions, Robert. Or at least no answers, not now, so you might as well stop asking. First, a meal, then I shall tell you a story.” The serious look in her eye gave me a bad feeling in my chest. Her mood brightened. “Look, almost like a family. Deila, our daughter, and two old lovers reunited.” She gave me a rather sensual hug and planted a wet kiss on my cheek. Deila smiled. She knew her mother well, and me almost as, and I think she secretly wished that Jana and I were together, despite the years and the miles.
The meal was truly fit for a king. The three of us laughed and told stories for long hours, delighting Deila with some of our exploits of long ago, when we were both young and foolish and certain the universe was ours to conquer. The night grew long, the conversation started to lag, and Deila excused herself and went off to bed.
“Well, Jana, this is a good time for me to say good-night as well. I’ll show myself to my room and bid you adieu until the morning.”
“Wait. Come with me, Robert, I have something I wish to show you.” She looked different, almost motherly, with a strange glow that I was unaccustomed to seeing in her eyes.
“Jana, I—look, I don’t know if this is a good—“
“Shush, Robert, it is not what you think it is. It is most certainly not what you think it is.”
She led me by the hand up the stairs. The circumstances certainly seemed like she was seducing me, although there was something not quite right with the mood. I didn’t know what she was going to try, and I wasn’t sure how to prevent what I was half afraid and half hoping might occur. It seemed that she was casting some sort of spell over me, one that I was once again powerless to prevent.
She opened a door and led me into a nursery. Laughing, I said, “Jana, this is one unique way of seducing me. Dinner. A family evening together. And now a nursery. Offering me what you were never willing to offer me before. Dirty tricks, I’d say. And two points to you for creativity.”
“No, Robert, I’m not here to slip you into my bed. Lord knows I would love to, and cherish it forever, and maybe we will, but there’s something else I need to show you.”
She opened the second door, and in the faintly lit room I could see a crib. “I’d like you to meet Trevor, Robert.” There was a faint moistness on her cheek. I decided it would be most indelicate of me to indicate this to her.
“Jana, look. I must admit that I’ve always been proud, almost fiendishly so, of being the only man to father a child of yours. But if you had another lover, and I know you have, and he gave you a child, certainly I would—I am—I mean, a bit saddened, a bit heartbroken, but it is your right. I—“
She interrupted me. “No, Robert, no one else has fathered a child of mine.”
“Then whose child is this? Deila’s?
“This is my child, Robert.” My head was starting to spin. Nothing was making sense. “How can you have a child by yourself?”
“It’s also yours, silly.” She gave me that look that women give men when they think we’re just too dumb.
“What? How? Was I drunk? Unconscious? Did you cast a hex on me?” My head was racing. I didn’t remember any tryst with Jana since she left me so many years ago. This was getting too complicated and way too confusing.
“No, Robert, I took no advantage of you. Two years ago I decided to have another child. I have missed you and wanted to create another part of you to share the rest of my days with. I know this was and is selfish of me, but you will understand.”
“You remember, long ago, we had frozen my eggs and your sperm when we were galavanting through the cosmos?”
“But that was destroyed in a fire.” I was searching through my memories, trying to recall any possibility. There was something that just didn’t make sense here.
“Yes, Robert, it was. And that camp was on an ice moon, and after the fire everything froze. When I ran off from you and discovered I was pregnant, I went back and searched through the ruins. Among other things, my eggs and your sperm were not destroyed. They remained frozen in the ice. I put them into storage. I don’t know, something about me, I guess the woman in me would not completely let you go.”
I was stunned, but I was coming up for air.
“Three years ago I learned that I had a tumor. The doctors told me that I had about 10-15 years to live. I decided then to have another child, another Robert, to give me happiness. What I could not give you, Robert, I suddenly wanted and needed most desperately.”
“But you had Leila and were very happy with her. Then she became ill and I didn’t want to just rush in after like some scavenging hyena. I couldn’t just waltz in and say I wanted to share a home with you. I’d already started the process, and after several long nights, I decided to continue. With the genetic engineering, I could ensure it would be a boy. Like you. See, he has your eyes.”
Jana was crying. I had never seen her cry before. When her parents were killed, when we lost everything we’d built in the Munjani raid, when I found out about Deila, she never cried. She was crying now.
And she was right. Trevor had my eyes. He stopped sucking on his thumb and looked into my eyes, and I swear it was like looking into my own soul. I was stunned. I had no idea of how to handle this situation. I sat down on the chair. Hard. The chair broke and I fell on the floor. Jana didn’t bat an eye. Falling on the floor did not seem out of place at the time.
“Jana. Why don’t you just take me out and shoot me. I could handle that better than this, I fear.”
“There’s more.” Jana looked at me with deep melancholy eyes. My heart missed a couple of beats, only I never noticed. My stomach fell to somewhere out beyond Vendus. The room no longer existed, just those deep green eyes, awash in tears. Her trembling lips as she somehow stuttered the words: “I’m dying.”
I have no idea how long the universe spun around me. It seemed like ages. When I became aware of my surroundings, Jana was half asleep against me, half crying. I realized she was afraid of her death. Jana, who dared half the universe and asked for no quarter from anyone. Jana, who loved me with all her heart and soul so many years ago. Jana, who was a part of me as was Deila, as was Leila, was terrified.
My hands found her hair and gently caressed her. “Jana, I’m so sorry.”
She turned and looked up at me. Slowly her eyes came into focus. “The tumor has grown beyond expectations. I only have six months to a year left. Forgive me for deceiving you like this, my one and only love. But I wanted you to come to me as the man you were and still are to the woman I was, and always want to be in your heart. I did not want you flying to be with your dying girlfriend from many years ago, like some hopeless invalid. I wanted one last adventure with you, something for both of us to remember. Forever.”
Slowly reality was beginning to focus. It was very hard for me to deal with Jana’s mortality. If I had thought about it, I guess I would have thought she’d live forever, cheating death at every turn, commanding her realm like the queen she really was, with fortunes to be won and kingdoms to be built.
Jana looked up at me, tears filling her eyes and streaming down her face. “Will you take care of Trevor for me?” I had forgotten about Trevor. My son. The reality of this brought another wave of dizziness and I lost track again of where I was.
* * *
Deila and Trevor and I cremated Jana on the third moon of Vendus, where she was born. Her ashes we scattered across three systems, her spirit to fly in that wild beyond where she was truly at home.
Deila had a lot of her mother in her and took over her mother’s enterprises. I must confess that I was relieved when she married, and I had a lump in my throat when we christered her daughter, my granddaughter, as Janine but somehow was always called Jana.
Every now and then, while cruising through space, or sitting on the fantail of a yacht, I would see a meteor pass by with a flaming red tail and think of Jana. I would smile and a small tear would appear in my eye. If Deila was around, she would hold my hand and smile, both of us thinking the same thought and trying hard not to cry.
Trevor, now there was a son that a man could be proud of. He had his mother’s moxie and my eyes, and as I tried to age gracefully, through his life I lived again. But Trevor was his own man and built his own life, one separate from mine, separate from Jana’s. He heard the stories and often smiled about them, but they happened before his time and in some ways, were disconnected from him. He became a hero in his own right and it was many years before I learned of all of his adventures. But Trevor is another story for another day.
His mother would have been proud. In my heart of hearts, I always felt she was.
©1998, 2007-2012 Curt Larson