Jandrax 30

Anne lay beyond. She was dead. She was naked. She had been raped.

I dropped to my knees, tears streaming down my cheeks. Now I would have to wrap those two pitiful bodies and load them. Later I would prepare them for burial. I would dig the grave; I would throw the dirt upon them.

Major Bass’s hand was on my shoulder then and he drew me away from that haunted place. Some of his soldiers took the bodies away.

***

That night they struck the collar from my neck and the next morning Major Bass saw me in his office. I had not been there since the fifth day of my capture.

“I’m sending you offworld with the next supply ship.”

I was not surprised. “To a prison planet?”

He waved the notion aside. “Of course not. The Federation does not punish children for being their father’s sons. You will be sent to Aleph base for schooling.”

I said nothing, ready for a trap.

“You don’t believe me, do you?”

“What price is this favor? Are you trying to bribe me into betraying my father?”

He went to the map that covered one wall of his office and pointed directly to our home base. “Two weeks ago we raided here. Your father escaped with some of his men, but they are in entirely new territory now. There is nothing you could tell us of importance, even if you were willing to do so.”

“I am not.”

“I would hope that you are not. I respect loyalty.”

“Why then, damn you! Why have you punished me these last months if not to break my spirit – to get me to tell what I know.”

He took a long time answering. “When you came to me, my son had just been killed. Had you been an adult, I would probably have executed you. I, too, am not immune to revenge. But your youth made me think of my own son and what he might have become in your place. In memory of him I decided to see if there was a man worth salvaging under that fanatic’s shell. I was right; there was such a man. Had you been older, my tactics would not have worked.

“You have not been under punishment – I have been educating you.”

***

Jan never came to like Major Bass, nor did Bass ever come to like Jan, but their strange relationship persisted and they came to respect one another. When Bass rose to colonel, he supported Jan’s bid for Scout training. Had he not pulled strings, Jan’s background would have kept him out of Federation service. For that Jan owed him fully as much as for his harsh education on Hallam.

Why could he not marry Angi? Put simply – fear.

Fear for what the future held for them both. No one can fully gauge the depths of fanaticism who has not been a fanatic himself.

*****

I was never a fanatic, quite, but I had some of the certainty that a fanatic has. I grew up as a southern Southern Baptist, sure that the Bible was the pure and perfect word of God. If the Bible said it, it was so. If the Bible commanded something, that thing had to be done. No questions were allowed.

I lost my certainty, and I am glad to see it gone. That was as close to fanaticism as I ever want to come.

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