Down and Out

Leah Rosenthal & Ann Wortham

A special reprint of the novellas "Down and Out" and "Hawkwind," both originally printed in B7 Complex. In this special edition, the novellas have been re-edited and rewritten to add approximately 10,000 words. Full color cover by Leah Rosenthal. Final word count approximately 71,000. 79 pages of reduced print.

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The time is immediately following Gauda Prime. Commissioner Sleer has taken her prize prisoners, Kerr Avon and Roj Blake on a fast ship back to the Federation, where she hopes to use her capture of them to regain lost political ground. A crash landing on a remote planet changes has the potential to change not only Sleer's plans, but the entire course of Federation history!

In the meantime, Jenna Stannis and the crew of the Hawkwind, have returned to Gauda Prime to find the rebel base in ruins and most of their friends and compatriots killed or fled. Only Vila Restal remains to tell the tale of what happened to Blake and the others...and he's determined that, one way or another, he's going to make certain that Kerr Avon is dead! US buyers may pay below. Please email for international rates.

Down and Out on Paper
Down and Out on CD
 

Some excerpts from the text can be found below.

From the beginning of the story...

Her arm was broken, yet she considered herself fortunate. Struggling to a sitting position in the buckled, smoke-filled corridor of the spacecraft, Commissioner Sleer's first coherent thought was gratitude toward whatever agent of Fate had allowed her to survive the crash at all. This did nothing to lessen the pain of the broken arm, nor the turn of her stomach at the sight of its unnatural angle. Her head hurt, but a careful examination with her uninjured hand through her short, dark hair revealed only a small bump with no evidence of bleeding. If her luck held, she didn't have a concussion or any internal injuries.

Still, she knew that her situation was grim and it threatened to become worse.

Rising unsteadily to her feet and cradling the injured limb, she fought her way up the crazy angle of the corridor toward the small flight deck. She didn't linger there for long. The remains of her Federation crew didn't require a close inspection in order to tell her that they were all dead. There was little left of them that was even recognizably human.

She found herself close to heaving as she hastily turned away, and she spent some moments leaning against the corridor wall, trying to forget the charnel-house sight and smell of the crushed flight deck.

She was fortunate again-that she hadn't been on the flight deck when the ship had impacted with the ground. Truly, Fate had been smiling on her.

Presently, she managed to regain her wits enough to examine her options. She found them limited. The ship was smashed beyond all hope of repair and her crew was annihilated. Maybe Fate was only playing a cruel trick on her, after all, leaving her abandoned on some god-forsaken planet to die.

But she'd never given up easily. Turning her gaze toward the rear of the small ship, still fighting for her breath, she stared that way for a long time before pushing back from the wall and stumbling downward in that direction.

The crash had warped the ship's bulkheads sufficiently to snap the door off the cell of the brig. Not that it mattered now, Sleer reflected harshly. The possibility of her prisoners having survived the crash was minute.

Then again, she had survived.

She slid past the opening, mindful of her arm. She was not surprised when the dim emergency lighting of the cell confirmed the irony of her situation.

Strapped securely down in this section of the ship, and drugged into unconsciousness for transport, Roj Blake had survived the crash without a scratch.

Even past the pain and despair, she found herself laughing.

It had been her own strategy to leave no flight plan, no course or record for either vengeful rebel sympathizers or jealous rivals to intercept. She hadn't wanted to allow them the opportunity to launch an attack. She had meant to capitalize on the dramatic impact she knew her trophies would bring: Roj Blake, run to ground at last, along with Avon, his former second-in-command and his piratical successor.

She would have been invincible then, when she presented her prisoners to the Federation Council. She was expecting to find herself made Supreme Commander all over again, and damn anyone who might dare to comment on her amazing resemblance to the former Supreme Commander Servalan. She would be beyond her enemies' reach by then.

In any case, what she had planned was no longer important. Survival from one moment to the next must now take top priority. She returned her gaze to Blake, and desperately searched for any alternative courses of action she could take, only to rediscover that there were none.

She'd just entered a hell of her own making, she realized with a cold finality...but then, both of them had been in hell before and escaped.

She studied Blake as he slumbered on, blissfully unaware of his incredible luck. He was a large man, six feet tall and broad in the shoulders and chest, with muscular arms and legs. His features were more rugged than she recalled from times past, but she knew he had been living on frontier worlds the last few years, away from the sterile environment of ships and Domes where he had been raised. Blake had never been a handsome man. His features were too rough and ill-defined, but he had always had a certain charisma about him. It was his eyes, she sometimes thought. They had a spark in them that drew a person in...even her. The scar marring the right side of his face and pulling one eyelid down might affect the impact of his eyes, she thought. She wondered how it would affect his looks once his eyes were open. Or perhaps his mouth. It had a quirk to it that seemed to indicate Blake knew something that no one else knew; that he had the answers to burning questions and he would be willing to share them...but only with his friends. He most definitely possessed a charm that hearkened back to his Welsh and Irish ancestors.

But she reminded herself it hadn't been his looks or his charm that rallied the masses to his ridiculous rebel cause. It had been his ability to inspire the rabble. In the end, merely the mention of his name had become a rallying call.

Sleer suspected that it was that propaganda value that had sent Avon scurrying to Gauda Prime to find Blake when his alliance with Zukan had fallen apart. She'd had the same thought herself, but from the opposite side of the argument. She wanted to stamp out Blake and his blasted name for once and for all.

Now, of course, everything had changed.

Now she needed Blake for an entirely different reason.

She was half his size or less. Tall for a woman, she was still dwarfed by Blake's much larger height and bulk...and she was as slender as ever, maybe even moreso than in her younger days.

Sleer was a master strategist but she knew with a cold certainty that the current situation called for brawn over brains.

What other choice did she have? It was best to just get on with it.

She cut off the sedative feed and released the restraints on Blake, then sat back uncomfortably to wait, gritting her teeth against the relentless pain in her arm.

From the second half...

The walls were an unrelieved gray. It was an odd thought to have, but under the circumstances, Vila Restal found it was the only thing that sprang immediately to mind. For the moment, that grayness was his whole universe, the color itself an escape from hell. And hell was all too close. He tried to concentrate on what the man before him was saying, but he couldn't quite focus on the meaning of the words. Everything was overlaid with grayness now, and that was fine. Better.

"Talk," the Federation interrogator demanded for what might easily be the hundredth time. His tone was bored. Vila did understand the command, at least, even though he couldn't react to it. The interrogator was examining his hand with a studied detachment, his dirty blond hair falling forward to partially obscure his features. Not that they were particularly noteworthy features. They too were lost in the grayness.

Vila nodded numbly, feeling nothing much more than the wetness on his face. Whether it was sweat or blood...perhaps even tears, he could not distinguish. His clothes were soaking wet, as well, but he didn't even want to think about that. At least the pain came and went now, only sharpening into focus completely at the precise moment one of his tormentors struck him.

The nameless interrogator smiled, his lips pulling back from his teeth grotesquely in sincere pleasure. The man obviously loved his work. A fist slammed into Vila's jaw, knocking his head sideways and nearly dislocating his jaw. This time he tried to snap away from the blow and his entire body tipped off the chair. He sprawled in an ungainly heap on the floor, moaning when his battered side made painful contact with cold concrete.

Floor's gray, too, his spinning thoughts informed him, even through the screaming pain.

"Talk and the pain will stop," the interrogator's cool voice spoke from somewhere above Vila.

"You'll only kill me," Vila mumbled into the pool of blood at his cheek. He blinked at this ungray sight with the one eye that wasn't already swollen shut. Mine? he wondered distractedly, feeling a strange detachment from the abuse of his body. Or was it some other poor fool's...? That was the essence of Vila, anyway, he supposed. Avon's fool.

"Yes," the interrogator agreed with Vila's spoken words. "A good assessment. We will kill you. But the pain will end. I'm a man of my word, you see."

A booted foot connected with one of Vila's ribs and he gasped as the breath was forced out of him. Pain lanced through his chest, so white hot that he danced on the edge of passing out. Not again, he swore, gritting his teeth in determination. His last awakening had been humiliating as well as brutal and he didn't want to give the guards an opportunity to repeat it.

"Well then?" the interrogator's relentless voice demanded.

What an ironic choice of phrase, Vila thought. One of Avon's favorites. Then again, maybe not so ironic, after all...wasn't Avon always among his tormentors? "Avon was always a man of his word," he whispered. He gave off a choked scream as two of the guards jerked him roughly back into the hard metal chair.

"I don't know what you want from me," he protested weakly, wincing. The last blow to his jaw made the words painful to speak. "I've told you all I know. Why are you doing this to me?"

"What else would you expect?" The interrogator got up and leaned down into Vila's face in a parody of intimacy. Vila cringed backwards. "Have you become used to your status as a wanted celebrity? Do you imagine it will afford you some kind of protection? Special treatment, perhaps? Let me enlighten you, Vila Restal. You're a terrorist in the minds of good Federation citizens. You are no hero; no great freedom fighter. You are reviled and feared," the man continued, hissing the words out with growing hate. He backhanded Vila himself from the close quarters. "Talk, damn you! You've already cost the Federation and her hard working citizens too much time and trouble."

Vila instinctively tried to cover his face with his hands. The guards only jerked his arms back down again.

"You have Orac; you have Avon; everyone else is dead," Vila rasped, having to stop for breath between almost every word. "What more is there?"

"Well that's what we're attempting to learn, isn't it?" The interrogator flashed a predatory grin.

"You're killing me!"

The smile widened. "Perhaps I enjoy my work, terrorist. The way you've probably enjoyed your own these past four years, slaughtering civilians and soldiers. Destroying any Federation property that you could not manage to steal. Thinking, perhaps, that your righteous cause justified every filthy act. Oh yes, I'm enjoying this. You've lasted a long time."

"How...how long have I been here?" Vila tried cautiously. Not because he cared, but because the man had ceased to hit him while he spoke to him. He didn't expect an answer.

The interrogator considered him a moment, his eyes narrowed. "Thirty-six hours. Most aren't so stubborn, I must admit."

Tears slid down Vila's face again as the endless futility of his situation overwhelmed him. "It's not stubbornness... I just don't know anything to tell you! Avon never told me anything important," he babbled. "There's nothing to say!"

The interrogator shook his head with mock disappointment. "Of course there is. And as long as you remain unwilling, we'll just have to start again from the top, all right?" He nodded at the guards again and they moved in on either side of their prisoner.

Vila whimpered in anticipated distress, trying to pull his legs up in order to present a lesser target. The movement only seemed to fuel the guards' anger. One of them pulled him out of the chair and shoved him viciously until Vila's back slammed painfully into the wall. The man held him there by the tattered remains of his gray tunic front while the other guard beat him with a hard, rhythmic fist.

Vila's head lolled sideways, his face scraping the wall with each blow. All of the times he could have let it end suddenly and he was only saving himself for this, he thought brokenly. The grayness of the wall started to envelope his inner world again, and he realized he was fading into it, in spite of his determination not to. One last escape, he promised himself.

He passed out.

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