Chapter Two: Entanglements
"You have been away from Delvia for a long time Zhaan." Ta'al said, shaking his head sadly, "Conditions at home are bad. Our leaders have become almost as repressive as the Peacekeepers. Anyone who voices a dissenting opinion is in danger of arrest or banishment. There is a small resistance movement, but there is little hope of overthrowing the government any time soon."
Zhaan sat silently for several microts, trying to absorb all that Ta'al had told her over the past arn. How could things have changed so much? My murder of Bitaal didn't stop what he planned, it only delayed it. Kahalen, help me understand why this has happened.
Zhaan opened her eyes and brushed away the tears that had overflowed as she had contemplated Delvia in the hands of the Peacekeepers. She was startled to see Ta'al kneeling before her, concern evident in his eyes. He took her hand gently and held it to his cheek. "I did not mean to upset you Zhaan. You know I would not do that."
She smiled her understanding and when she had control of her voice, said, "You know, Ta'al, you still haven't told me why you are in the Uncharteds."
Sadness swept across Ta'al's face and she instantly regretted pushing him again. He sensed her discomfort and smiled reassuringly before beginning. "I am not avoiding your question my dear; it is merely painful to recall." He paused, inhaling deeply as if gathering the courage to continue. "As I said, there is a fledgling resistance movement at home. I was a part of that." He stood and began to pace slowly around the courtyard. "We sought the overthrow of the Peacekeeper backed leadership through whatever means were necessary. You taught me that. We were making inroads. They weren't much, but every step we took gained us more recruits.
"One of those recruits was Malees. She was so young, so beautiful." He smiled, "She reminded me of you, actually. We grew very close. I felt that perhaps I had finally found someone to replace you in my heart." He placed a finger against her lips as she started to protest, then shook his head before continuing, "I'm sorry Zhaan. I don't mean to make you uncomfortable, but surely you must know how I have always felt about you."
She nodded without a word. Then why did you leave me?
He continued, "As our numbers grew, so did our boldness. Foolishly, we planned an attack on Peacekeeper headquarters, believing ourselves invincible because our cause was just." He paused again, his eyes closed as if watching it all unfold before him again. "We were no match for the Peacekeepers and their weaponry. We were slaughtered. It was as if someone had given them a detailed account of our plans. They anticipated every move we made and defeated us with brutal efficiency.
"In the end ... only a handful of us remained. The resistance had effectively been destroyed. That was when I discovered that someone had, indeed, given the Peacekeepers our plans. It was Malees. She had been sent to gain our confidence - my confidence - in order to bring us down. It seems we were making more of an impact than we realized." Bitterness made his voice hard, cold. "But her betrayal did not stop with the attack plans. She had given the Peacekeepers the names and locations of every member of the resistance she had met. One by one we were disappearing. Her final betrayal was to arrange that my arrest would be last so that I would suffer the pain of seeing all of my friends and colleagues being arrested and executed or imprisoned.
"When I learned of her deceit, I arranged for those who had not yet been arrested to disappear. For the most part, they were given new identities and moved to new locations on Delvia from where they could continue the work. But many were smuggled off-world. And then, I did what I had to do. I saw to it that she would never betray another."
As he spoke, she could feel his pain. The turmoil within his soul. It was so much like her own. He was struggling with the same demons she had faced after she had murdered Bitaal. Unable to stop herself, she walked the few steps to stand beside him. She placed her hand on his shoulder. He turned and looked down into her eyes. What she saw there frightened her for it reflected her own inner turmoil.
"I am here now," he added, an emptiness in his voice that echoed that of his soul, "because of that act. As soon as I knew she was dead, I arranged to be smuggled off-world. I have been running ever since. This is the longest I have stayed on any planet because it is so much like home to me." He paused as he looked around the courtyard, "I hope that the day will come when I am able to return to Delvia, but I fear that it is yet many cycles away."
Gavyk followed the two Delvians from the market to Ta'al's home on the hill outside of the city. Once they had entered, there was little he could do short of kicking in the door, which he was tempted to do, so he decided to return to his office and do some checking into the identity of the mysterious woman. What he found in the archives both shocked and excited him.
Gavyk was elated. At last a way to redeem myself, get off this waste hole and back to the fleet.
John stood alone in Command. He stared down at the navigation console, but didn't really see it. His mind was too busy wandering to pay much attention to what was in front of him.
I don't like this. I don't know what it is, but I have a bad feeling about this. I know I keep saying that, but damnit, something just isn't right! Maybe it's me that's not right. I haven't slept worth a crap since the others broke me out of Scorpy's hellhole. The nightmares just won't stop.
When am I gonna shake this feeling? I thought when the others got back I'd feel better, but I don't. If anything, I'm more pissed than before. Aeryn never should have let Zhaan stay down there alone. It's too dangerous. Dangerous for Zhaan. Dangerous for us.
"Hey." Aeryn said softly as she came to stand beside him.
"Hey." He replied. They'd played this game many times before. Usually he was the instigator, but not today.
She looked at him sideways and repeated, "Hey."
"I don't wanna talk Aeryn." He replied, staring straight ahead.
"You need to. It's clear something's not right."
His anger flared. "Damn straight! We should be putting as much distance between us and this planet as possible." He spat out. "But no! You give Zhaan permission to chase after some guy!" He turned to leave Command, but she grabbed his arm and spun him around to face her.
"I did not give her permission to chase some guy, as you put it. She needed some time to catch up with an old friend and I didn't think any of you would have a problem with that! Especially not you, Mr. "Let's All Be Friends." We've ALL been through a tough time during the past monen and if Zhaan can have a little time to enjoy herself, then she should have it!"
He stared at her, stunned. She was right. But he wasn't about to admit it. Not yet. Angrily, he pulled his arm free and stalked from Command. He could tell from the sound of her footsteps in the corridor that she was following him. He spun around and glared at her, shouting angrily, "Get away from me Aeryn! Just let it go!"
She stopped abruptly. He'd never spoken to her like that; especially not with so much anger in his eyes. As soon as he saw the hurt in her eyes, he knew he'd pushed her too far, but it was too late. He couldn't take back the words. And right now, he didn't want to. He turned on his heels and hurried down the corridor. He wasn't sure where he was going; he was just going somewhere. Anywhere.
"Well done Lieutenant Gavyk." Admiral Kyppe congratulated him. "We will send a Command Carrier to Rykynn immediately. While you await its arrival, take the Delvians into custody."
"Understood sir. May I ask, sir when to expect the Carrier?"
"The closest Carrier is less than two solar days from Rykynn. You can expect reinforcements at that time."
"Very good sir. Gavyk out."
Gavyk sat back. He was stunned. When he'd contacted First Command with his report, he never dreamed he would draw the attention of Admiral Kyppe. He realized this was his big break. If he were successful with this mission, he would move up in Peacekeeper ranks. But he was also aware that if he failed, he would be stuck on this planet or worse for the remainder of his career - if he still had a career.
He stood, straightened his uniform and checked his weaponry. He was a Peacekeeper and he had been given a mission to arrest the Delvian fugitives and he would not fail.
Zhaan tenderly laid her hand on Ta'al's cheek. She could see all of the pain, the doubt, the self-recrimination reflected in his eyes. "Ta'al," she began, then hesitated, her own feelings a jumble as she looked into his eyes. "Ta'al, my love. I am so very sorry you had to endure such pain."
He raised his hand to her cheek as well and she felt the spark of energy shoot between them. "I have missed you Zhaan. If all that I have been through has brought me back to you, it has been worth it."
Uncertainty gripped her and she pulled back, breaking the link they had made. She turned her back to him and closed her eyes, trying to refocus her thoughts, her emotions. He still cares for me. And I still care for him. But can I join with him without losing myself? I want to give myself to him, but I'm afraid. We were so close before and still he left me. Can I trust him to not hurt me again?
She turned to face Ta'al once again. And as she looked into his eyes; eyes that burned brightly with desire, she made her decision.
She hadn't expected to find him here. For the past two arns she had searched all of his usual hiding places, but it had never occurred to her to check her own training area. When he needed to cool down, he usually did it in other ways; less violent ways. But today, he was taking all of his anger and frustration out on her punching dummy. She understood all too well the release that this form of activity provided, but it was so uncharacteristic for John that she was concerned.
Taking a deep breath to fortify herself, she stepped into the converted cargo bay. If he had seen her enter, he didn't acknowledge it, continuing his assault on the heavily padded target. As she watched him, she was impressed. His form was good and the strength with which he pounded the bag was greater than she thought he possessed. Then she realized that much of his strength came from the anger he was letting out.
His blows began to come a little more slowly and with less intensity after several microts so she walked a little farther into the room. She stood facing him, the bag between them. They had stood in the opposite positions not that long ago. Before the Gammak base. Before Scorpius. Before the Aurora Chair. As he continued his assault, she leaned into the bag, bracing it as he had done for her.
"How long have you been at this?" She finally asked.
Does it matter?" He replied caustically, pausing in his assault on the bag.
"It does to me." She answered as she stepped around the apparatus and intercepted a well-aimed jab. It caught her squarely in the jaw and she dropped to the mat, stunned.
As his fist connected and he heard the sickening sound of flesh against flesh, his heart skipped a beat. When she fell, a dam burst inside him and he dropped to his knees beside her. "My God, Aeryn. I am so sorry." He gasped, breathing hard from the exertion and pent up emotion. "Are you okay?"
With incredible speed, she grabbed him under the arm and flipped him so he landed squarely on his back. She spun around so that she straddled his chest with her legs and pressed his shoulders to the ground with her hands. "Lucky shot." She grinned at him, looking down into his bright blue eyes.
"I know." He grinned back sheepishly. "You can let me up now."
"Are you going to tell me what's bothering you?" She pressed, raising one hand to massage her jaw where the punch had landed.
"I wish I could Aeryn. Believe me, I would if I could." He sounded spent, old.
Zhaan and Ta'al lay entwined in each other's arms, physically spent, yet energized. Zhaan turned her head to look up at Ta'al and smiled. She had, indeed, missed him. "I'm sorry I could give you no more Ta'al."
"When you are ready to do so, I will be here. I will not lose you again my love."
"That may be beyond our control." She replied, sadly. "My friends will be worried about me. They will not want to stay here much longer. And with the Peacekeepers tracking us, I cannot blame them."
Gavyk and his patrol fanned out around Ta'al's home. Every potential escape route was covered. The Delvians would not elude capture, of that he was certain.
He signaled for the officers nearest the entrance to move forward. They raised their pulse rifles and fired, blowing the heavy wooden door from its hinges. With lightening speed and precision, they moved into the house, searching room by room for the fugitives. As Gavyk and the commandos burst into the courtyard, he was stunned to see two very nude Delvians wrapped in each other's arms. This was definitely not what he had expected to find.
He lowered his weapon, leveling it at their heads. Swallowing his discomfort quickly, he barked out, "On your knees. Hands on your heads."