Bethany shifted, reluctant to open her eyes. She was dry, pleasantly cool instead of cold, and the surface under her was soft and springy, not lumpy with rocks. She stretched, finding her limbs stiff, but not as though they'd been working too hard, more like they hadn't moved in some time.
It should have been a nice way to wake up, but the differences made her nervous. Her eyes snapped open and she lay tense, staring at four walls and a bed.
A bed . . . Martin . . . he was awake and she must have fallen asleep on his infirmary bed. Rubbing her gritty eyes, she sat up, wrinkling her nose at the foul cotton feel of her mouth.
"Good. You're awake. Julie and Thelma are making something special for lunch. Thelma raped . . . no . . . raided her greenhouse," Willie said, peeking through the door. Easing his way inside, he smiled shyly. "They wanted to give Martin a proper welcome. And you." His smile faded a little. "Martin says you saved him, but he won't say from what."
"He did the saving," Bethany croaked. She grimaced at the sound of her own voice. "Good grief, how long was I asleep?"
"About ten hours. Would you like me to get you a drink of water?"
Smiling at the helpful Visitor, Bethany shook her head. "No, thank you. But if you could hang on while I use the facilities, I would appreciate it if you could show me where to get one."
"Of course." He waited with his customary patience while she freshened herself, then led her to a large room set up as a haphazard dining hall. A dozen or so people were gathered there; Mike and Martin were seated at a small, battered picnic table near the door. Her greeting wasn't as enthusiastic as it could have been, since Ham Tyler was there too, his aggressive face as unfriendly as ever.
Martin waved her over. Willie pushed her gently in their direction. "I'll bring your water."
"Thanks. You're the best."
Martin made room for her and she slid in next to him, smiling shyly at Mike and offering Tyler a cautious nod. Tyler grunted. Mike rolled his eyes. "Ignore him. Sounds like we're in for a treat, you woke up just in time."
"So I heard. Maybe I should help."
"Julie has all the ambulatory wounded helping. Sit and relax," Mike said cheerfully. "I was going to invite Phillip, but . . ."
Bethany jumped at the silent glare Martin threw. "Whoa. I missed something. I know I heard you say the name before, but who's Phillip?"
"Another damned talking gator," Tyler answered.
"My brother," Martin growled.
"Your brother? But what's wrong with that?"
"His twin brother. Maybe you can talk some sense into him." Mike shook his head in disgust. "He won't let me tell his twin brother he's alive."
"Why?" Bethany asked, turning wide eyes on her companion.
"He's as much the leader's lapdog as Diana," Martin snorted. "I don't like Tyler and I never will, but he's right, you trust too easy, even now."
"He's my friend and we owe him more than we'll ever be able to repay," Mike said gently, but with a hint of irritation.
"I can't imagine what his motives are, but don't trust him."
Mike watched his friend leave and even Ham Tyler's eyebrows rose. "Sibling rivalry?" he suggested.
"I have no idea."
Bethany watched Martin go, his shoulders stiff. There was a lot of hurt hidden within that rough voice. Rising, she followed him from the mess hall, catching him halfway back to the infirmary. "Martin, wait. He's just trying to . . ."
"You too?" he snapped. "All my brother cares about is the "honor of the race" and living up to the family's expectations. If he's insinuating himself in with the Resistance, then he's under orders or using Mike to try and climb the ranks a little higher."
Crossing her arms, Bethany shook her head. "I think your friends are smarter than that. Didn't it ever occur to you that your brother could change?"
She snorted, losing patience with his surly tone. "Don't be an idiot. I lost a brother, and I would give almost anything to get him back. Your brother doesn't have to stay lost. Don't cut yourself off."
His scowl slipped a little "I'm sorry. I didn't . . ."
The lights went out for an instant. They were back on before Bethany could jump, but red lights set every few feet along the wall were flashing. Martin's hand twitched near his hip as if going for a weapon; sprinting back to the mess hall, he met Mike leading the pack o the way out, and the wounded man Julie had first been treating coming from the other way. "Message from Phillip," he gasped. "They found the fugitives and are on their way now!"
"Oh god, the kids," Julie moaned.
"They're trying to draw us out," Mike said. "Trying to find our headquarters. We'll take the Rodeo route and hit them from that way."
"Let's go already, Gooder," Ham urged. "The munchkins are dug in good, but the Visitors'll get to 'em eventually."
"You in?" Mike asked Martin with a grin.
"You have an extra blaster?" Martin returned. He glanced at Bethany. "Have you ever used a gun?"
"Target practice," she admitted."
"Stay here," he ordered. "Help Thelma get the wounded fed." He glared at Tyler's sneer. "Problem, Tyler?"
Bethany watched the noisy, bickering group leave. Thelma slid an arm though hers, squeezing tight. "That happens a lot," she said. "I'd go too, but I'm on infirmary detail. Come on, you still need something to eat."
"I'm not hungry."
Thelma's mild face was suddenly stern. "One of they rules of war is taking care of yourself so you can take care of your friends when they need it. Come on, let's eat, then you can help me pack up so it's all still fresh when they get back."
Her heart was slamming so hard it hurt. "But aren't you worried?"
"Of course. It's not so bad when I'm with them, but when my husband and my friends go and I have to wait and see who comes back, it tears me up." Taking Bethany's hand, she tugged, leading her into the mess hall. "But focusing only on that doesn't do us any good. The best thing for us is doing what we can to help, and that does not include allowing you to faint from hunger."
"You don't look old enough for that kind of wisdom."
"I've learned a lot since Willie showed me humans aren't the vicious animals we were taught."
"Yes we are," Bethany whispered.
Thelma stared at her wide-eyed until she shook herself. "Sorry, you're right. Let's get everyone fed. Suddenly I'm starved."
It felt good to have a blaster at his hip again. He'd spent most of his life with a gun attached, and he felt more complete that way. Julie would tell him it wasn't healthy, and she'd probably be right. At one time he'd substituted a camera and that felt even better, but there wasn't much opportunity for that here. Besides, except for the one destroyed by fire on the night he'd "died," his cameras were probably buried in what was left of his apartment.
"Hey. Wake up," Tyler snapped next to him.
"Sorry." Martin blinked himself back into the now.
"A fighter just went over," Julie whispered. "They're going to get there first."
"They'll hold out for a while," Mike reassured her. "We've got them dug in good."
"But they won't hold out forever," Tyler urged. "Let's go."
"So eager, Ham. Half of them are Fifth Columnists," Mike answered with a smirk, leading them on through a well-hidden tunnel constructed mostly of fallen buildings.
"Half of 'em are kids, too. Green kids are still kids."
Martin glanced at Mike, a smart retort ready to emerge. He kept his jaw welded shut; this was not the time.
They walked an hour before they heard laser blasts. Tyler edged towards a half-open door and Mike flanked him, blaster ready. "We're pretty well hidden here. They won't see us coming. Go!" Tyler barked.
Swarming from the side entrance of a derelict movie theatre, the Resistance waited until they were fully in sight of the battle before howling and opening fire on the red-uniformed soldiers.
Martin charged with the rest, his blaster aimed and ready. The soldiers didn't notice them at first, being too focused on the heavy door they were trying to blast through while evading the fugitives' defensive fire. When they realized they were being fired on from the side as well, half turned to return fire. Martin found himself staring into a dark-haired woman's eyes. The first thing he registered was how young she was, they all were, and how ragged they seemed. The fleet was running thin until another ship made its way from the home world. His finger squeezed on the trigger and she snarled at him, raising her own blaster. Suddenly it was a different face in front of him, a beautiful, coldly triumphant face staring at him over the barrel of his own pistol. His heart gave a queer twisting thud and he froze, his eyes locked with the dark ones.
He was faster; she flinched, waiting for his shot. When it didn't come, she first looked surprised, then a vicious smile spread over her face and she lifted her blaster higher, aiming between his eyes.
Martin tried to force himself to move, but he was utterly paralyzed. It wasn't just fear, it was a mix of emotion—grief, rage, horror—that was too much to process at once. His muscles refused to move.
He heard a rough curse behind him and wondered why Tyler was talking through molasses. The brightness of a laser filled his vision, than a hard shove sent him tumbling, all in slow motion. The heat sizzled past his head and another blast caught the girl in the throat. She flew back and lay still. Martin felt sick.
"If you're planning on a suicide, be my guest, I'd love to see one less of you, but now isn't the time!" Tyler bawled in his ear.
Surging to his feet, Martin forced his shaky legs to follow Tyler into the thick of battle, but he still couldn't raise his blaster.
Mike grunted and went down, his right shoulder smoking. Two shock troopers converged and Martin's brain snapped, his senses speeding to real time and the paralysis falling away. His first shot took out the closer trooper's knee, his second copied Ham's throat shot. Both fell, one howling and clutching his leg, the other laying still.
Suddenly the shooting stopped. The attacking Visitors were dead or too wounded to continue and two Resistance fighters were on the ground. Mike was picking himself up, holding his shoulder. The brown-haired woman would not rise again.
"Poor Constance," Julie whispered. "She was so new."
"She knew what she was getting into," Tyler said gruffly. "Let's get the fugitives out of here before the Dragon Lady sends more of her precious troops." He grinned. "If this keeps up, we'll win just by sheer numbers of fighters."
"Fighters? They were kids," Martin said, shuddering.
"She grows them up quick," Tyler grunted, but he didn't have quite his usual sarcastic edge.
Martin couldn't reply under the man's scathing glance.