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Chapter One

Bullets spat up dust all around him. Cobal's disembodied hand slapped the ground where it flopped at the end of the chain which had, till a few moments before, bound the two prisoners to one another.

What the hell had he been thinking? You couldn't escape from the Reliance. His own history should have told him that. Still, anything was better than dying with the rest of those spineless zombies. Death was all that waited back at the prison work camp. Better to die out here; better to die fighting for freedom than to give the Reliance the satisfaction of working him to death. Better to cause them some trouble, even if only for a few moments.

Poor Cobal, all he had wanted to do was his time.

He was an idiot! Just like all the rest of them. Like the people from David's village who had worked blindly for the Reliance. They didn't understand that there should be more to life than the few meager crumbs the Reliance tossed them. No one had listened to his father, and he had been a fool to think they would listen to him.

He looked at the sword in his hand. He had stolen it from the guard, and used it to sever Cobal's hand from his body when Cobal died. The blade dripped with a mixture of Cobal's and the guard's blood. He wouldn't think about it; he would just run. He would escape for all of those who wouldn't. He would escape for his father who hadn't, or he would die trying.


David continued to run long after he had lost them. He ran till he couldn't feel his legs anymore. He ran till he could hardly breathe. He ran till the stitch in his side was unbearable. He ran until he ran into something, and then he fell on his ass.

Stunned, he stared at the pair of boots straddling his calves. He knew the style all too well. The black leather boots with the big brass buckles that went up almost to the knee. It was the style worn by those Reliance soldiers lucky enough to be in the Elite Forces. But the tattered black jeans which were tucked into the boots didn't look anything like what an Elite would wear. There was a low-slung holster, and in it was the biggest, ugliest plasma blaster he had ever seen. A weapon which, like the boots, wouldn't be issued to anyone but an Elite. Where the thick black weapons belt should have been, a thick chain was wrapped around and around her waist and torso. Underneath the chain she wore what was left of a black T-shirt.

Her skin was very tan, her hair was white, and she had possibly the bluest eyes he had ever seen.

Her hair was cut in a Reliance Elite style. A little ragged, but still medium length, still well within regulation standard. She was tall, well over six feet tall, yet hardly the mountain she had appeared at first.

David couldn't decide whether she was an Elite or someone who had rolled one. Then she smiled an all-too-familiar smile: the "cat-that-caught-the-canary" smile that Reliance officers were famous for.

He raised his sword hand, only to realize it was now empty. He hadn't even realized he'd dropped his weapon. Damn it. All this for nothing. His muscles bunched to spring away, even as his brain acknowledged the futility of the gesture.

Her right hand moved towards her holster, and he froze. No phony baloney trial this time; she was just going to blow him away. David closed his eyes tight and waited. When nothing happened, he opened one eye carefully and saw an outstretched hand, no gun. He darted a quick look at her face. She was smiling broadly at him

"I have a camp not far from here. Food, clothing, shelter." Clearly she was not a person who wasted words.

He didn't take her offered hand, so she withdrew it, along with her smile.

"Fine, be that way. But while I don't need you, you most certainly need me."

David got shakily to his feet wishing he had taken her help when she had offered it. He dusted himself off, delaying the moment when he would have to meet those blue, blue eyes.

"What makes you think I need your help?"

She laughed. "We are sixty miles from the nearest town. You are wearing nothing but a prison tattoo on your head and what's left of your prison uniform. Like I said, I have food, clothing, and shelter. Not to mention that my camp is next to a stream where you could wash off that foul stench." She smiled again. "But, if you'd rather spend the night hungry and dirty in the cold forest with the bears, that's up to you." She turned and started to walk away.

"How do I know that you're not Reliance?" he asked, still suspicious.

She didn't justify his question with an answer.

"At this point, does it really matter?" she asked looking over her shoulder briefly at him.

David laughed shakily, and shook his head.

"I suppose not. Lead the way," he said, waving his hand in as flamboyant a gesture as his condition allowed.

She obliged, confidently striding away as if on her way to a fire.

He had difficulty keeping up. David got the impression that she only had just the one speed. By the time he reached the mouth of the cave where he assumed her camp was, she was just stepping out with a bar of soap and a towel. Without a word, David took them and stumbled to the stream that ran in front of the cave.

By the time he returned, skin raw with scrubbing and blue with cold, the fire just inside the cave mouth was all he could see. When his brain thawed out enough to think again, he was huddled over the fire, towel wrapped around his waist, clutching his grumbling stomach with his arms.

As his eyes adjusted to the light, he stared stupidly at the crates stacked all around and inside the cave. Like a child excited about his birthday gifts, David greedily opened and looked into box after box. The woman walked over to him and pressed a bowl of soup into his hands without saying a word about him rummaging through her things. She motioned to a folding stool sitting close to the fire, and he sat down. His hunger took over immediately, and he ate three bowls of the soup before he even tried to talk.

"Thank you."

She shrugged and nodded.

"Where did you get all this,"—he motioned around with his hand—"stuff?"

She looked at him with all the tolerance of the wise for the very stupid, and replied broadly. "Why, the Reliance gave it to me, of course. They always give supplies to subversives who want to overthrow their power base." She slapped her forehead in obvious disgust, then asked, "Where do you think I got it?"

David shrugged.

"I stole it, dumbass!"

"Well, that's obvious, but how?" David was feeling defensive. In his town, being one of the few people who read, he was considered quite smart. He wasn't used to being talked to like he was an idiot. Except of course by Reliance personnel.

"I hijack shipments. I used to be Elite, so I know how they operate their shipping routes. It's really not very hard to do. Here on Earth they don't expect it. They aren't ready for it, and well . . . it's easy, that's all." She was obviously trying to be patient, and she just wasn't very good at it.

"My name's David. David Grant," he said, holding out his hand.

After a moment she took it, and they shook.

"RJ," she announced calmly.

David's jaw dropped. After a moment, he closed his mouth, and looked around. Well, that certainly explained the supplies.

"You're RJ? Where are your followers? How many of you are there?" he asked eagerly.

She laughed, and held out her hands as if to ward off his excitement. "Hold on a minute, farm boy. There are no followers. There's just me. A lone ex-Elite, doing my best to confound the system."

"But you're only one person!" He seemed to have a positive knack for stating the obvious.

"Yes, well, I was the last time I looked," RJ said dryly. She got up from her campstool and went to one of the crates. She came back with clothes for him, a first-class soldier's uniform.

He made a face, and she smiled.

"Beggars can't be choosers," she reminded him.

He turned his back to her and dressed. There were a million questions he wanted to ask, but right now his body was the enemy. Struggling with his fly, he turned, "Is there somewhere I can sleep? I'm exhausted."

"I'll get you a cot." She dug around till she found one and a blanket, too.

It was the warmest, the cleanest, and the fullest he had been in weeks. David had barely lain down before he was asleep.


RJ watched the sleeping man in the light of dawn. She liked the way he looked. He was dark, well tanned, with black eyes and hair. He was tall and well built, and his features were strong. In short, he was the kind of man that made stupid women shit all over themselves. Yeah, she liked the way he looked; she liked it a lot.

"R.J.—What does that stand for?"

Her focus shifted immediately to his face. His eyes were open. She'd been caught off guard, staring, confident that he was sleeping. How long had he been awake? Had he noticed her looking at him?

"Huh?" she responded intelligently.

"What's RJ stand for?" David asked again, stretching.

Her eyes were drawn back to watch the play of his starved muscles. "It's not important." She almost spat the words as she got up and walked over to the fire, where she tried her best to look busy.

"Roxanne Jones," he suggested, his voice still thick with sleep.

"That's close enough," she said on a final note.

David sat up and let out a groan. All that running was taking its toll. He hurt everywhere. RJ stuck something in his hands. A bowl of oatmeal. Now, he had never been too keen on oatmeal, but after that gray shit they fed him in prison, oatmeal seemed mighty fine. He ate till he was stuffed, then he started with his questions.

"What do you plan to do with all these supplies?"

"Keep them." She poured herself a cup of coffee. "Why were you sent to prison?" she countered.

David grimaced. Vagueness and questions. Well, you could take the girl out of the Reliance, but . . . Still, it was a fair question.

"I tried to raise supporters to fight the Reliance, but everyone is either too scared, too stupid, or both," he said bitterly. "Someone, or maybe all of them, turned me in. Probably all of them. Self preservation."

"I'm not afraid of the Reliance," RJ stated quietly.

"No, I suppose not. But believe me, most are." David paused, then plunged on. "Not to make light of what you've done, but no one believes you're real. They believe you're a story the Reliance made up to flush out people like myself. Ask yourself what good all this is," he gestured at the crates, "if you don't have people to use them."

"I don't pretend to have all the answers, Mr. Grant."

"Just David," he said.

She smiled, shook her head and went on. "I'm a soldier. All I know how to do is fight. I don't know how to win a people's love or loyalty. I can give orders, but that won't work on rebels very well. All I know about people is that if you strike them correctly, with sufficient force, here, here, here, or here,"—she pointed to his head, heart, solar plexus, and throat—"they will probably die. I'm not too overly good with people, and I don't think anyone would want to follow someone who thinks life is so cheap. I could lead an army, but I can't lead people. My wisdom is in this blaster, my poetry in this chain. Killing I know."

David looked into the fire thoughtfully then he looked at RJ. "What if we formed an alliance? Worked together?"

"To do what? You said yourself, the people are too scared, or too stupid . . ."

"Attacking the Reliance on deserted stretches of road is all well and good, but it's not very visible. If the people could see something, witness it with their own eyes . . . if they could see that one person really can make a difference . . . I almost had them convinced. If I'd had proof that you were real, I think that would have made the difference. You're a legend, RJ. Everyone is talking about you. The Reliance hates you, but the people love you, and they secretly hope that you really exist. But you're not very visible. They can't see you."

"Like I said, I'm not very good with people. I do OK with my own kind, but right now I'm number one on the hit list with the army, so I can't very well get in and infiltrate. I'd have to be really stupid to do something visible, and I'm not stupid. Crazy, maybe. Stupid, no . . ."

"Not to be egotistical, but I am good with people. I think I have a way with words. If we could do something visual, make the Reliance see just how unhappy we are . . ."

RJ interrupted him with her laughter. "The Reliance doesn't give a shit if their work units, or even their soldiers, for that matter, are unhappy. They have what they want, and they aren't going to give us what we want because it would mean that they would have less."

"Then we'll get an army and fight them. It's got to be worth a try," David paused. "So what do you say? We could give it a shot. You and me against the Reliance." There was a lilt in his voice, and a fanatical gleam in his eyes. He held his hand out to her.

RJ stared for a second at his outstretched hand. "Ah, what the hell." She took his hand and shook it. "I don't know what we'll do, but we might as well do it together." She retrieved her hand, walked over and rummaged through a box of K-rations. "Ah! Here we go!" She pulled out two small glass bottles.

"A toast," she said, tossing one to David. They pulled off the tops and clinked the containers together solemnly.

"To the New Alliance," she offered.

David nodded approvingly. "To the New Alliance."



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