Clarion’s Call 25


How could it go so wrong? 

That thought kept storming through Julia’s mind as she made her way to the spaceport. 

First, she took the stairs from her apartment down to the basement. There were no monitors inside the building, unlike some more expensive properties. However, there were plenty out on the street. One in particular recorded who entered and exited her building through the main door. 

Fortunately for Julia, the basement had a doorway leading into the storm sewer. It had been placed there for maintenance crews. There was a monitor there, too, but she knew it was disabled. Yorkton’s Capital City Police Force had 11,652 monitors scattered throughout the city. Of those, 4,671 were malfunctioning or otherwise disabled. That one, she knew, had been broken for months. She also knew there was little incentive to replace monitors in low crime or low traffic areas. 

Such was the knowledge she gained by being married to a cop. She laughed when he told her about the committees he had to serve on. Whoever heard of cops serving on committees? But such was the power sharing arrangement in the police force. Few decisions were made without committees comprised of officers on the force as well as upper management. 

Biff was on the Monitors Committee, and he took his work home. And everything the Monitors Committee knew about the monitors in Yorkton, Julia knew. 

So, she walked past the disabled monitor and through the storm drain tunnel for three blocks. 

One more monitor at a manhole cover exiting into an alley between two buildings had been destroyed by a masked thug months ago. It was not on the list of priority replacements, either. 

The manhole cover cracked open an inch and Julia scanned the alley carefully. Finding it empty, she gently moved it aside and extracted herself from the hole before replacing the cover. 

Dusting off her blouse, she walked out to the street and down to the nearest skybus stop.

Unlike Lute, which was small enough that Customs and the Port of Entry could be handled through the Administration Building, Juventas required its own spaceport. Julia used tokens to travel there, privately grateful for the anonymity. 

Tokens were tolerated by the city because everyone was subject to facial and discreet iris scans upon boarding the bus. But Julia’s new face, tied to a separate identity in StarCen’s records, did not set off any alarms. 

Halfway to the spaceport, she noticed the public holovision in the bus showing her old face. Her head rotated in a high-definition image with words underneath saying, “Alert! If you see this woman, contact CCPF immediately!” 

That face, she thought, had been a construct, just as her current one. The technology was so advanced, few knew it even existed. A touch of the amulet gave her a new identity. The hacking into StarCen’s database to line up records with the faces meant she had at least a dozen identities she could use. One touch of the amulet and her face would change, down to the molecular structure. Even her fingerprints and irises changed. 

Her DNA did not change, and that was the whole setup’s kryptonite. If someone obtained her saliva, or a hair sample, they could trace it back to Julia Thrall no matter what face she presented to the world at the time. 

Fortunately, she knew that StarCen had some safeguards in place falling under the special considerations for Tetrarch family members. For instance, right now if someone examined her DNA on Juventas, it would show in the records as belonging to Andi Jones. 

Still, it would not do to have her DNA found at a crime scene, if it could be avoided. StarCen was smart enough to tie whatever was found to the Andi Jones identity. But if someone were to ever get suspicious and start pulling records from different sites at different times and somehow get past StarCen’s safeguards . . . well, that could be very bad indeed. 

The risk did offer a certain thrill, and each time she changed identities she had to admit to herself that the adrenaline rush was . . . pleasant.

Was she addicted to danger? An adrenaline junkie? 

If she were honest with herself, the answer would be yes. However, navel-gazing bored her, so she sidestepped the question.

The skybus landed and she exited with the other passengers at the spaceport. She walked through the security line, subjecting her bag and person to the scanners. 

Inside, she gazed at the hologram sign showing departures and chose a spaceship. The Coral Reef was scheduled to depart within a few hours, and had plenty of room. By the number of empty berths available, Julia guessed she was a Mammoth-class ship. 

Julia got in line at a booth without many people. She tugged at her earlobe, nervously. Within minutes she faced the booth’s android, a very human-looking female, completely realistic from the waist up. Without glancing down, Julia guessed the bot had no legs, and was a permanent fixture at this booth. She would sit here and smile, answering questions and selling tickets non-stop, all day and night.

Julia said, “I’d like to book passage on the Coral Reef to Epsilon Prime, please.” 

The bot smiled at her and a scanning ray quickly checked her biomarkers. 

“Very well, Ms. Mulligan. Would you prefer a first class or second class cabin? I’m afraid third class has several indentured servants, and is unavailable at this time. But, there’s lots of room in the other two available.” 

“First class, please.” Julia reached into her duffel bag and pulled out the appropriate amount in credit tokens. 

The bot smiled and took her money. She said, “The next port up to the Coral Reef is in twelve minutes, from Disembarkation Zone 15. If you’d like to make your way over there, you will find it down the corridor to your right.” 

The bot helpfully pointed in the right direction before saying, “My I help the next person in line, please?”

Julia nodded and walked down to Disembarkation Zone 15.

Half an hour later, she was settled in a cabin in orbit above Juventas. 

Later that evening, fully loaded with all passengers aboard, the Coral Reef popped out of existence and began its journey toward Epsilon Prime. Julia pulled out a wrinkle-free evening gown and a pair of black high heels. She changed and left her room, searching for something to eat.

Clarion’s Call 24

Admiral Cooper strode down the opulent hallway of the Juventas Administration Building, followed by a phalanx of senior officers. He stood five foot ten, or 178 centimeters, with dark hair featuring wings of silver above the ears. He was 55 standard years old. 

The silver in his hair did not appear until the war started, and most of the press in the League only had holograms taken from before. They were standard issue images from the Navy, publicly available for the news. When someone met him who only knew about him through the media, they often expressed surprise at how much older he looked from his pictures. 

He aged faster because he took each loss personally. And Cooper had lost more ships, sailors, Marines, officers, and bots than he ever cared to remember. Despite the constant positive spin in the news, the war was not going well. Yes, they had bled the Republic considerably. But the Republic had given at least as much as she had taken. 

Now he fretted as he walked down the corridor, followed by his staff. This move by Thrall to take over Lopez’s quadrant concerned him. He and his people were playing the enforcer role, and he did not like it.

It was widely known in the Admiralty that Maria Lopez was no fan of the war. Heck, he thought, who was a fan of the war? But Lopez had always been the most vocal in her pronouncements against it. 

Thrall, of course, considered her talk merely foolish at best. Now, evidently, he considered it treasonous. Cooper had feared this outcome two months ago when Thrall ordered him to bring the Sixth Fleet to Juventas and maintain his Marines in orbit. 

Cooper feared the outcome, but he prepared for it. The men and women and bots under his command were kept in a state of preparation, despite days and weeks of nothing happening. 

And now this, the order he had hoped would never come: Take over Juventas. 

In private moments with his Captains and Marine General Santos he confided that each time the General Assembly met, he worried Lopez might take it too far. Sure enough, that idiot must have said something stupid in the last meeting. No sooner had it concluded than Thrall gave the order to take over Juventas and arrest her for treason. 

His people were ready. The Marines in particular had no problems in grabbing control of the planet. They received almost no resistance. After all, everybody was on the same side here. The people in this quadrant were coming under new leadership, that’s all. 

Of course, he was that new leadership. In effect, he was the newest Tetrarch, although nothing was officially announced. 

In reality, although this was not something he had shared with General Santos or anyone on his command staff, Cooper felt he was just an extension of Thrall’s will. He would not be doing anything Thrall did not tell him to do. Thrall controlled the Navy, after all, and Cooper was an Admiral who reported to Thrall. Chain of command. Thrall now essentially controlled half the primary planets in the League.

That rubbed Cooper the wrong way, if he stopped to think about it. But Thrall was his boss. If he did not toe the line, so to speak, Thrall would simply have him replaced with a different Admiral. One who would do what Thrall wanted. And there were plenty in the pipeline below Cooper who would be happy for the chance to rise in rank and gain favor with the Tetrarch.

So for now, he thought to himself, to use a sports metaphor . . . if Cooper wanted to play in the game, he had to keep quiet and follow the coach’s orders. 

All of these thoughts raced through his mind as they approached the private elevator at last. A Commander stood waiting, clearly anxious. Cooper racked his brain trying to remember the officer’s name. Barton? 

The man saluted when the party arrived at the elevator. 

“Commander Barton, sir. I’m afraid the elevator cannot accommodate everybody, Admiral.” 

“No problem,” Cooper said. “Take me down. Everyone else can wait here.” 

The officers all nodded and the tightly clustered group spread out a bit. Cooper followed Barton into the elevator as he waved at the controls. The door closed and they started going down. 

“It’s a completely separate system down here, sir. StarCen has no control whatsoever. Our technical engineers were able to poke around, though.” 

“Very good. Do we have any holos or audio from what happened?” 

Barton shook his head. He said, “I’m sorry, sir. The bunker had no recording apparatus of any kind. All we have are what StarCen captured out in the hall. We can see Lopez and her aide go in this elevator. Some minutes later, the aide comes out, alone.” 

The door opened, and the smell of blood assaulted the Admiral’s nose. 

MPs stood in place, one next to each body. They stared ahead, stoically. A man and a woman in blue uniforms with “NCIS” in holographic letters on their breasts walked up. 

The man appeared to be about 30. He had dark brown hair cut short, military style. He said, “Admiral, I’m Judd Stallings. This is my partner, Patricia Marr-Zhou. We’re in charge of the investigation at the moment.” 

“What do you have for me, Stallings?”

By tradition, Cooper knew, members of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service were civilians. Thus, they would not be saluting him. They were usually former Naval officers or noncoms, though, and were intimately familiar with how the Navy operates. But it would not do for an Investigator to be in the Naval hierarchy and arrest a superior officer. Thus, all NCIS agents were civilians. Nominally, at least, no one was outside their arresting authority. Not even Admirals.

Stallings said, “We have a holorecord of the Tetrarch and her aide entering the elevator after a conversation with Terry Arthur. A few minutes later, the aide leaves. An hour passes before the next person comes in, one of the guards’ supervisors. He finds the bodies and immediately sounds the alarm.” 

“DNA? Fibers? Fingerprints?”

“Just of those four individuals in this room, Admiral.” 

“So. Have you picked up the aide for questioning?”

“There’s an APB out on her as we speak,” Zhou said. “Local SWAT is about to take her apartment.” 

She, like her partner, looked to be in her early 30s. She was of Chinese descent, with dark hair and brown skin. 

“But there’s our first problem,” she said.

Cooper raised a questioning eyebrow and waited for the pair to continue. 

Stallings said, “StarCen can’t find her. We doubt she’s in the apartment.” 

Cooper raised his other eyebrow. He said, “What do you mean, ‘Can’t find her?’ Is she dead?”

“Not that we can tell, sir,” Zhou said. “It’s like she never existed. StarCen can’t even tell us where she’s been or anything about her background or . . . anything.” 

“Somebody had to have known something,” Cooper said. “You don’t get to be in the Tetrarch’s inner circle without anyone noticing.” 

Stallings said, “We’re doing some old-fashioned footwork, sir. It seems she was married to a cop on the Capital City Police Force, a guy named Biffender Jones. We are interrogating him now.” 

“Good. Well, find her. Although, I have to say, it looks like she may have done us a huge favor. The briefing said something about a nuclear control center down here.” 

Zhou nodded. She said, “That’s right. Lopez had access to a command structure outside of StarCen’s control. Our techies noticed the last coordinators for their land-based silos had missiles aimed toward Yorkton.” 

Cooper shook his head in amazement, and locked eyes with Barton, who stared back with an equally amazed look on his face.

“Well,” Cooper said, “after you find this Jones woman and arrest her, I’d like to shake her hand.”

Clarion’s Call 23

Julia entered her Yorkton flat. She had avoided taking the skybus and walked all the way home. Fortunately, it had not been far. About halfway there, she remembered the monitors and wondered if taking the bus might have been better after all, even with mass transit security measures. But so far, no alarms had sounded and her presence on the street had been ignored. 

When she reached her building she took the stairs, and finally reached the door to her flat. She palmed it and the door swished open. 

“Hey, babe.” 

Biff looked up from the stove where he fussed over one frying pan with bacon and another with scrambled eggs. Both pans rested on an energy pad supplying heat. 

She said, “Hi,” and kissed him. 

“Oh, smelly. What’d you do, walk home?”

“Yes. And up the stairs. Maybe I’ll get in as good a shape as you.” 

“Hey, long as the weather holds out, you can do that.” 

Biff was buff, she thought, and not for the first time. 

She almost spit out her drink the first time she met him. She had not been in Yorkton very long, perhaps two weeks, when someone in the Tetrarch’s office convinced her to go out with a group after work and hit the local pubs. 

Biff had a bad boy vibe that appealed to her. And he was a body builder. When he walked up to her in the pub, he looked like a thick-necked slab of flowing muscles with ripped abs, outstanding pecs, and well-defined shoulders and arms. The tight fitting shirt he wore showed everything.

“Hi, I’m Biff Jones.” 

After she stopped laughing, she said, “Of course you are.” 

The name fit him perfectly. 

Biffender Holloway Jones had some endearing qualities. He was not the most intellectual of men, but as a cop on the Capital City Police Force he had proven to be extremely useful for Julia. She made up her mind to get as close to him as possible. Their civil union ceremony occurred seven months ago. Being married to a cop afforded her access to all sorts of useful intelligence. 

He said, “So, what’s going on at the Admin Building, Andi? News alerts said something about a bunch of Space Marines landing. Is that why you had to walk home?”

“Yeah, something like that. Evidently the Tetrarchy deposed Lopez today.” 

He turned off the stove and whipped around in surprise. 

“What? When did this happen?”

“Just a little while ago. Yeah, that’s why the Marines are here. Thrall is taking over this quadrant. Admiral Cooper is to be his puppet.” 

Biff moved the bacon and eggs to a plate, grabbed a fork and headed for the sofa. 

He said, “That’s bad. I know you don’t care for Thrall.” 

“It’s terrible.” 

She stopped herself from saying more. She wanted to say that Lopez was willing to nuke everybody in the city, including him, to hang onto power. She wanted to say that even though she was no fan of her father, she found herself actually helping him in order to save innocent lives. She wanted to say that no matter what she wanted, her father always seemed to get his way. 

She felt incredibly frustrated, but there was no way she could ever share any of this with Biff. He didn’t even know who she really was. 

He said, “Looks like it’s going to be a long night.” 

Biff sighed, in between wolfing down the bacon and eggs. He watched brief snippets of the news on the holovision, as one Marine transport after another landed on rooftops across the city, spilling out troops and military robots. 

When he finished eating, he walked over to a chair and retrieved his police jacket and blaster belt. He strapped them on. 

“I’d better go in early. I’m sure we’ll be swamped tonight.” 

Julia smiled and nodded. At first she was not happy when it came time for him to cycle over to a night shift. Cops rotated every so often, he explained. She got over it quickly, though. Having Biff gone at night proved to be very convenient. Tonight would be no exception. 

He bent down and kissed her. When they broke apart she looked in his eyes and reached up to touch his cheek. 

“I want you to know that whatever happens, I always loved you.” 

He chuckled. “Now, what’s that supposed to mean? It’s just a change in government. Tetrarchs come and Tetrarchs go. It probably won’t affect us much. Other than you probably losing your job, of course. But I’m sure you’ll find something else. They always need good people in Administration. And you’re one of the best, babe.” 

He stopped at the door and looked back one more time. 

He said, “I’ll see you in the morning.” 

She nodded and watched as the door swished shut behind him. 

Out loud she said, “That’s not what I meant.” 

She walked into the flat’s bedroom and reached under the mattress frame. She pressed a hidden button and a floorboard slid back. Reaching inside the hidden compartment, she pulled out a duffel bag. She closed the compartment and crawled out from under the bed. 

Julia changed clothes quickly, choosing casual tights, a loose blouse, and comfortable shoes. Very carefully, she pulled a necklace with a shiny amulet out of the duffel bag and placed it over her neck. 

She pressed the button, and her face shimmered. When it stabilized, she looked completely different. Her nose and cheekbones were altered, along with the color of her eyes, which turned hazel. Her hair changed to auburn. Overall she had a completely different look. 

Satisfied with everything, she palmed the door to the apartment and left. 

Back in the living room, the holovision stayed on. A picture of her old face appeared, with the word, “Wanted,” underneath.

Clarion’s Call 22

Some 200 kilometers away from the planet, in the middle of Clarion’s solar system, a spare Wu Drive floated, rotating slowly. 

Suddenly, a cube of seawater appeared with two figures wearing space suits in the middle.

The water sloughed off them in slow motion, instantly separating into globules floating lazily through space. 

Then the figures disappeared. 

A moment later, a smaller amount of water mixed with silt appeared, this time encapsulating a sensor the size of a soup can. A second later, the sensor disappeared. 

Then the Wu Drive disappeared. 

In the disembarkation zone aboard the Ultima Mule, the two figures in spacesuits appeared, three centimeters off the floor. Their feet thumped down to the deck as the last of the water fell, succumbing to the ship’s gravity field. 

Decontamination rays swept them, killing off microorganisms. 

When the rays stopped, Raleigh reached up to his neck and pressed a latch. His suit relaxed and pulled away from the helmet. He took it off and looked at Jillian with a smile. 

She followed the procedure and took her own helmet off. The suit relaxed and her hair came loose. Freed from the suit, she shook her head and it rippled in all its glory. 

Her heart stopped when she caught Raleigh’s eye. 

“You came for me.” 

“I couldn’t leave a crewmember behind.” 

“StarCen said you were dead. I had to pretend that I was glad, but it tore me up inside.” 

“As far as she knows, we are dead. We wanted to keep it that way. I was a little worried you wouldn’t recognize me.” 

“When you gave me an order, I knew it had to be you. I didn’t know how it could be you, since you were dead. But . . . nobody gives orders to the Tetrarch’s daughter. Except my Captain.” 

She took a step forward. The suit seemed to sense her will, and slid down her body into a sort of puddle at her feet. His suit reacted likewise, sliding off him. 

The moment seemed perfect. She wrapped her arms around him and they kissed. Her lips parted to let his tongue in, and their bodies pressed together in a passionate embrace.

Back on the bridge, Granny cackled and put an unlit cigar in her mouth. The holovision showed the disembarkation deck in perfect clarity.

“Okay, Lootie. Who wins for first kiss?” 

“That would be Mr. Escobar, Quartermaster Wilcox. The date and time he chose is closest.” 

“That son of a gun. Okay. When we get back to where you have us officially alive again, deposit the winnings in his account.” 

“Will do, Quartermaster.” 

Maxwell grinned and said, “How much is he going to get?”

Granny said, “Hey, Lootie. How much did Escobar win?”

“He will receive 42,100 credits. As per the arrangements, you will receive 4,600 credits in your role as pool organizer.” 

Granny glared at the ceiling. The AI did not have to mention that last part. 

Maxwell said, “Hold it. You mean you get something for setting up the bets?” 

She spread her hands wide and said, “The house always wins, Max. You should know that.” 

He chuckled and rolled his eyes. 

“You’re always full of surprises, Granny.” 

They returned their attention to the couple in the disembarkation zone, still passionately embraced. Jillian lifted a leg and wrapped it around Raleigh’s.

“You know,” Granny said, “I used to be quite the kisser back in the day, too.” 

“Was that before you started chewing on those stink sticks?” 

Her face dropped and she turned to stare at Maxwell. 

Without taking the cigar out she said, “Watch it, fella. You may be the biggest on this ship, but I can still whup ya.” 

He chuckled and raised his hands in defeat. 

Max said, “I wouldn’t doubt it, Granny. I wouldn’t doubt it.”

-+-

Raleigh walked into the mess hall holding Jillian’s hand. The entire crew stood up and applauded. 

Jillian smiled, clearly embarrassed but with happiness on her face.  

Raleigh raised a hand for silence, and eventually everyone sat back down. 

Pak spoke up before he got a chance to say anything. 

“Where to now, Captain? Back home?” 

Raleigh shook his head. He said, “Everybody thinks we’re dead. I say that gives us an opportunity. Maybe we can wreak a little vengeance and make some profit while we’re at it.” 

Everybody leaned forward, anticipation quickly filling the air. 

Raleigh said, “Lootie, do you still have any drones at Pegasi?”

“Yes, I do, Captain. Three survived.” 

“Do any of those have eyes on the station at the moment?”

“Yes, Captain.” 

The mess hall’s holovision blinked and showed Pegasi Station at a distance. An Eagle-class warship slowly orbited around her.

“Crew, the Excelsior is still undergoing repairs at Pegasi. They are not expecting us. I say, we give them a visit.” 

A cheer went up in the mess hall as the Ultima Mule popped out of existence from its orbit around CSNP908.

 

Clarion’s Call 21

Jillian pulled the spacesuit up and around herself. It was made from some kind of intelligent fabric that quickly conformed to her body. 

Raleigh handed her a helmet, and they ran into their first problem. He shoved as much of her hair into the back of the helmet as he could, but it would not all fit. 

So much hair! He pushed and shoved, and still it would not all fit. Finally he resorted to shoving it down the back of the suit, which adjusted and made room for it. Then he pulled the helmet over her head, and the suit quickly wrapped itself around the helmet’s base. 

They were ready to go. 

He stuck his head out the bedroom door into the hallway, cautiously. All the bodies were still there, all the dust and debris from blaster fire and grenade explosions remained undisturbed. He walked out into the hall and motioned for her to follow. 

They made it to the stairs without incident, then to the gym, passing the last body along the way. Outside, they stepped over busted robot parts. Raleigh led them to the beach. He walked into the surf and looked back at her. She stood there, staring at him from behind the opaque visor. 

His voice clicked out over the suit’s speaker again. 

“Come on, we’ve got to get out of range of the teleportation dampers.” 

She nodded, or tried to under the helmet. She followed him out into the water. 

Soon they were in over their heads and they both dog-paddled to gain more distance from shore. 

At last Raleigh stopped and treaded water. She stopped too and looked at him again. Only their helmets were above the surface. She swung her arms back and forth to make herself turn around and she looked back at the mansion one last time. 

Then they disappeared, along with all the water around them. The sea closed in on the void immediately. 

In the courtyard on the other side of the house, the holographic circle appeared in the air and four armed Marines popped into existence, guns drawn. They quickly exited the circle and split up, making a perimeter sweep around the house. 

Behind them, four more Marines popped into the circle. As soon as they left the perimeter, another four popped in. 

By this time the perimeter sweep was finished and the initial four prepared to enter the house. 

The first one breached the blown door and swept the room. He focused on the body lying near the inner door. 

“Bioscan indicates subject is dead.” 

“Copy that.” 

The other three followed, sweeping the room with their guns. Carefully, the first two made their way through the inner door and toward the stairs. 

Back at the circle outside, Tetrarch Thrall and Lieutenant Commander Elven popped into place. 

One of the Marines stood waiting for them in full body armor. 

“It’s not safe yet, sir. We’re sweeping the house as we speak.” 

A corner of Thrall’s mouth came down, but he nodded in acceptance. He stood outside the circle with his arms crossed, waiting. Elven stood beside him. 

The team inside made it up the grand stairway and found the bodies in the second floor hallway. 

“Good grief!” one of them said, gazing down at the blaster marks and blown apart walls. 

“Did . . . did she do all do this?” 

“They had a firefight with the guard bots here.” 

“Okay. Yeah, that makes sense.” 

At the far end of the hall, one of the assailants groaned as he returned to consciousness. 

The Marines froze and aimed their guns at him. 

“Hands where I can see them! Hands up!” 

Behind the visor covering his face, Jeter became fully conscious. In his field of vision he could see three members of his team lying in the hallway. Mentally, he pulled up the vitals screen for everybody. Underneath his own graph, he saw four flat lines. 

Failure. 

“Don’t move! Don’t move!” 

The Marines approached with their guns, stepping over debris. 

SSI will never survive the fallout from this, Jeter thought. 

He smirked behind his visor. Good thing no one will ever never know for sure it was an SSI black op, he thought.

Mentally, he flipped a switch. 

The special nanobots inside his bloodstream ignited. An SSI scientist had read about a strange phenomenon called “spontaneous combustion,” where an unexplained flash fire would quickly consume someone, leaving behind only a pile of ashes. Intrigued, he rigged up some nanobots that could replicate the phenomenon. 

Jeter and the other four agents burst into bright white flames. 

The Marines yelled in surprise and jumped back. The one in the rear almost fell down the staircase before catching himself in time. 

Outside, the hovercraft started up, floating on a cushion of air and energy. It made an autonomous U-turn and headed back out over the water. With all the attention on the indoors, nobody watched it speed out to the lagoon’s entrance and head toward the open sea. 

Several kilometers away, above deep water, it self-destructed and the pieces sank to the bottom. They were not unrecoverable, but doing so would be costly and time-consuming as well as pointless. Nothing on the craft was directly traceable to SSI.

Clarion’s Call 20

Tetrarch Maria Lopez stormed out of the conference room in Yorkton, capital city for the planet Juventas. She was followed closely by her personal assistant. Both women wore stylish business outfits, with skirts to their shins in the current fashion on Juventas. Her aide sported an abundance of thick dark hair that would surely have stretched down below the waist had the woman not worn it up in an elaborate headdress. This too was currently stylish.

As they marched out of the door into an elegant wide hallway, the guards who had been maintaining their position at the conference room door stepped in line behind them. They were joined by one more person. Terry Arthur, a high-ranking politician stepped into place beside Lopez.

A man of medium height at five foot nine or 175 centimeters, with thick brown hair and crow’s feet around his eyes, Arthur was a seasoned political creature. Lopez ignored him and began snapping orders. 

She turned to her aide and said, “Andi, I need status updates on everything, ASAP. Do not trust StarCen on this. If she’s aligned with Thrall, we’re in serious trouble.” 

Arthur said, “Maria, what’s going on? Aligned with Thrall? What do you mean?”

Lopez glanced irritably at Arthur, but she relented. No one knew what had just transpired in her meeting besides her aide. 

Andi glanced at a screen in her mind’s eye. She said, “Ma’am, we’re seeing multiple transports leaving the Navy ships in orbit. It appears most are heading here to Yorkton.”

Lopez bit off a swear word. She said, “He doesn’t waste any time, does he?”

“Maria, what’s going on?” Arthur said.

Lopez stopped suddenly, bringing the entire procession to a halt. 

“That bastard Julian Thrall has decided I committed treason just because I suggested we sue for peace with the Republic! So he’s sending down the Marines aboard the ships in orbit above us to take over. Now get out of my way, Terry. I’m going down into the command bunker.” 

She resumed marching down the hall until reaching the elevators. Arthur followed, consternation creasing his face. But, he remained silent. 

When the party reached the elevators, the doors for one on the end swished open. Lopez and Andi entered. Lopez extended a hand and pushed back on Arthur’s chest. 

“Stay up here, Terry.” 

“What? Now see here. I am the Leader of the District Chamber. I realize you are the Tetrarch, but I represent the entire district! I need to be in that bunker with you.” 

“This is not a matter of representation, Terry. This is a matter of maintaining command and control of this planet, and all the planets in our district. There are not enough supplies down there for more people than necessary. Stay up here and do what you can for our people.” 

Arthur’s eyes narrowed, but he stopped trying to force his way in. Warily, he noted the two guards were in a position to physically pull him from the elevator. He relented. 

“Why does she get to go, then?”

He nodded toward Andi, glaring daggers at the young woman.

“Because I need my assistant, Terry.” 

The door swished shut, blocking out his glaring face. The elevator dropped quickly, heading far below the building’s basement. 

Lopez glanced over at Andi. The young woman seemed calm at the turn of events, and was not freaking out like others might. Andi had proven herself quite capable. She was truly indispensable, Lopez thought. 

Lopez said, “Men.” 

Andi cracked a smile. She tugged at an earlobe, nervously, her only sign of agitation.

The pod slowed precipitously and the door opened. Lopez walked out into a room with Andi following. In the air, holographic letters spelled out, “Emergency Command Bunker.”

Two men glanced up from a large holomonitor and control console at one end of the room. The women watched as the first Naval transports landed on the building above. Wide doors opened and Marines marched out, accompanied by dozens of bots. Officers teleported in from the ships above, quickly directing the troops into formation. 

One of the men spoke up as the women approached. 

He said, “We can’t stop them, ma’am. They’ve got troops on the ground at all strategic locations on the planet. Most of them are in this city. StarCen is fully cooperating with the Navy on this. All of our requests to her are being ignored.”

“How about the nukes?” Lopez said. “Do we still have control over our weapons?”

“Our terrestrial silos are controlled from here. You alone have the ‘keys’ for those.” 

“Good. Program them to take out this city.” 

Andi gasped. She said, “You can’t be serious, ma’am.” 

“I am absolutely serious. I will not stand by and let this incursion on my authority go unchallenged.” 

“But . . . but . . . you’re going to nuke your own people!” 

“Our people, Andi. Our people. And I am well aware of that. But we have a lot more people than they have Marines. We will rebuild from this. I can always blame it on Thrall anyway. I’ll tell them he set off the nukes.”

She turned to address the two men. 

“Is this compound still cut off from StarCen?”

“Yes, ma’am. She has no control here. We are on a separate subsystem.” 

“Very good. Re-aim the missiles and prepare for launch.” 

The two men nodded and got to work at the console. Andi watched as they furiously programmed coordinates by hand. 

“If I had known this was going to happen,” Lopez said, “I’d have set up a simple nuclear bomb in every major city connected to the neural net. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about having to retreat to a bunker like this. That’s something to think about for the future, in case he tries something like this again.” 

Andi’s jaw dropped as her head whipped around to face the older woman. 

One of the men turned to them. He said, “It’s ready, ma’am.” 

“Good. Begin the—”

Her words were cut off. The men looked over and jumped up out of their seats in surprise. 

Andi had retrieved a long metal pin from her hair. Her elaborate headdress hung down, half disassembled and falling down her back. The pin stuck through Tetrarch Lopez’s neck, at an angle. It looked long enough to pierce up into her skull. 

Andi pulled it out and Lopez collapsed. She locked eyes with the first man. 

Absently he reached down for his waist and a blaster. For a second he forgot that firearms were not allowed in the bunker. When his hand came up empty, he charged Andi, bending down low and aiming for her middle. 

She stepped aside at the last minute and expertly thrust the pin through his eye. He went down screaming, but she pulled the pin out and jumped, bringing a heel down on his throat. A sickening Crack! sounded as his neck broke.

The other man watched in horror. They locked eyes. He gulped. 

But he had a job to do, and protecting this compound was part of the job. He moved forward warily in a fighting crouch, his arms raised. 

“Come on, Andi. We don’t have to do this.” 

Andi approached him rapidly, then dodged his blows as he swung at her. She pivoted on her hips, bringing up a leg in a powerful hit to his stomach that knocked him backwards. 

His hands flew down to his middle and he lost his breath. In a flash she was on him with the pin, stabbing at his eyes and throat. He went down in a bloody heap. 

She paused then and wiped off her pin on his shirt. Absently, she reached up to her hair and stuck it back in. Fixing things would take time and a mirror, she thought. 

She looked down at the last man she had killed and said, “My mother’s name was Andi.” 

Heading back to the elevator she walked inside and waved her hand through the hologram button for the ground floor. 

As the elevator ascended back into StarCen-controlled portions of the building she said, “My name is Julia Thrall.”

Clarion’s Call 19

Elven sat behind Thrall in the middle of a room that seemed about three times larger than necessary. 

In Stockton, the capital city of Clarion, the heart of government for a quarter of Star League clustered together in one location. 

The Star League was comprised of 16 primary planets, the most powerful concentration of people and technology in the galaxy. Or, so League school children were taught. Citizens of the Planetary Republic did not consider Star League superior in many ways, other than her Navy. And even that had taken quite the hit from repeated successful attacks by the Republic. 

Elven sighed, partly out of boredom and partly out of frustration. As the Tetrarch’s Naval attaché, she was expected to sit in on important meetings like this. That did not mean she had to like it, though. 

Around the table sat six additional men and women, or rather holograms of themselves sat at the table. These were the other Tetrarchs along with their aides. 

Absently, Elven sifted through her elementary school government facts. The 16 planets were controlled by four Tetrarchs, who comprised the ruling body of Star League, the Tetrarchy. 

Along the wall, in Ancient Latin, words had been etched spelling out the Tetrarchy’s motto: Regnorum instar singulae et in regna contribuuntur. “Each is the equivalent of a kingdom, and also part of one.” 

What students were not taught, Elven decided, was that the Tetrarchs fought amongst themselves. A lot.

Each one felt like they could do a better job if only they controlled the entire League. 

Right now, Tetrarch Lopez vocally expressed her low opinion of Thrall’s abilities. The hologram perfectly representing Maria Lopez scowled across the table as she pointed an angry finger at him. 

“I agreed to cede authority of the Navy to you, Tetrarch Thrall, because you assured me, all of us, that you could handle the Republic. That was three years ago. May I remind everyone at this table that we are still fighting the Republic in a war that is seemingly without end? How much longer is this expected to go on? How many more ships are we going to lose like the Expedient before enough is enough?”

Thrall’s green eyes frosted and he spread his hands wide. 

In a much calmer voice than Lopez’s he said, “StarCen is always studying the enemy and learning from our mistakes as well as our victories. We hope to be highly successful in future battles thanks to our newest weapon, which worked quite well in the engagement in which Expedient went down. May I remind the Assembly that two enemy ships were taken in that engagement for the one we lost. We still hold an overall numerical edge on our opponent. With the latest tactics and weapons, we hope to increase our advantages, to the point of ultimate victory.” 

“Oh, spare me your reassuring words, Thrall.” 

Lopez stared angrily at him. Elven thought she could hear the proverbial pin drop in the silence that followed. She noticed Thrall’s nostrils flaring. Otherwise, he maintained his cold stare at the other Tetrarch’s hologram. 

Lopez crossed her arms and sat back in the chair. 

She said, “If we cannot bring this war to a speedy conclusion, I suggest we sue for terms of peace.” 

Billings and Gai, the other two Tetrarchs present via hologram, turned to Thrall. They were good politicians, Elven thought. Neither betrayed any emotion in their faces, despite the stunning nature of the statement.

Thrall actually smiled at Lopez. A cold and calculating smile, but a smile nonetheless.

He said, “Tetrarch Lopez, since you are unable to continue governing in times of war, Admiral Cooper is with the Sixth Fleet in orbit around Juventas. I am certain he will be able to take over your responsibilities since you are no longer able to lead.” 

This statement did elicit reactions. Lopez gasped. Gao’s jaw dropped while Billings’s eyes seemed to grow wide as old-fashioned silver dollars. 

Lopez sputtered. She said, “How dare you?”

Thrall said, “How dare you, Tetrarch? You have treasonously brokered the idea of surrendering to our enemy, here with ample witnesses. I am offering you an easy way out. Concede now and Admiral Cooper will take over.” 

Lopez’s face screwed up in anger. She said, “StarCen, end this connection!” 

Her hologram and that of her aide’s winked out, leaving two chairs empty at the table. 

All eyes turned toward Thrall. He sighed and a corner of his lips moved up. 

“She’s probably hunkering down as we speak.” 

He touched the implant under his right ear and said, “Admiral, instigate Operation Overthrow.” 

Across the neural net, Cooper’s deep baritone voice sounded in Thrall’s ear. 

“Yes, sir!” 

Before the group had a chance to react further to these events, StarCen’s voice sounded above the table. 

“Tetrarch Thrall, your home is currently under attack by unknown forces. All guard bots assigned to the house are destroyed. I will be sending in a relief force at once.” 

Thrall stood, scooting his chair back. He turned and glared at Elven sitting behind him. 

She gulped. What did I have to do with anything? she thought. 

He turned and walked toward the door, giving the Assembly neither another look nor thought. 

Elven followed, quickly jogging after him.

Clarion’s Call 18

The explosions were over in seconds. Raleigh thought he heard at least ten, but he did not count them.

“What’s going on, Lootie?”

“It would appear all exterior guard bots have been disabled. Stealth drones disguised as local birds managed to evade StarCen’s sensors and came close enough to explode near the bots.” 

“Huh. Did you do that?”

“No, Captain.” 

“Then who did?”

“It might have to do with the men approaching in the hovercraft behind you.” 

Raleigh made some motions with his hands so he could turn in the water and look in the other direction. 

The lagoon near Thrall Manor, he knew, had an underwater net to keep out sharks and other native sea creatures dangerous to frolicking humans. It also served as a protection against boats. 

No one could port into Thrall Manor without StarCen. The anti-teleportation measures inside the house were an added safety measure. Driving in via a ground vehicle would be difficult. No doubt this was a no-fly zone, too. And boats could not enter the lagoon.

Evidently, a hovercraft was one mode of transportation nobody thought of when designing the manor’s defenses. Raleigh watched it skim over the top of the net guarding the lagoon’s entrance and head straight toward the house. 

He tried to will himself lower in the water, but no one onboard noticed him. They were focused on the robot parts scattered around the beach, and passed Raleigh by several meters. 

“Who are they, Lootie?”

“I am unable to take bio readings, Captain. Their visors are preventing facial and iris scans. I do not have sufficient resources for additional readings.”

The men exited the hovercraft and ran to an exterior door. One of them shot the door with a blaster then kicked it open. The men streamed inside.

“Doesn’t matter. They’re probably after the same thing we are.” 

“Indeed, Captain. They are engaged with interior guard bots now. I am sensing Jillian Thrall has moved into a safe room on the second floor.”

“Got it, thanks.” 

Raleigh dog-paddled for shore, straining within the suit to quickly move forward in the water. 

-+-

On the bridge of the Ultima Mule, currently in orbit around a small chunk of rock known as CSNP908, Granny, Maxwell, and Skylar watched the feed from Raleigh’s visor while standing on the ship’s bridge. 

Skylar clenched her fists. She said, “He should have let me go.”

Maxwell shook his head. He said, “The minute you blinked away somewhere, StarCen would know you are alive. And by extension, the rest of us. Cap’n wants to keep that fact a secret for a while longer.” 

“Besides,” Granny said with a smile, “knights like to rescue princesses on their own.” 

-+-

Rally ran to the blown door and he entered what appeared to be a gym with workout equipment and free weights. He held out the blaster and scanned the room but saw no signs of life.

He heard the sounds of combat from a hallway connecting the room to the rest of the house.

Thoopah! Thoop! Thoop! 

One of the five men staggered back into the gym. He was dressed in black with blaster-proof armor covering his chest like the others. One arm hung loosely by his side, charred and smoking. Blood dripped to the floor. 

He stumbled into the gym and seemed to be heading outside. Probably going back to the hovercraft, Raleigh thought. 

He stopped suddenly, staring at Raleigh. Before he could move Raleigh aimed for his head and fired. 

Thoop!

The blast knocked him backward. Electronics in the man’s helmet sizzled and sparked. 

Raleigh kept the gun aimed at him and approached carefully. He pushed the man’s pistol away with his foot and looked down at the cracked visor. Blood seeped out. 

LuteNet said, “He is dead, Captain. Your close range shot took him out.” 

Raleigh nodded to himself and approached the doorway cautiously. The fighting had moved upstairs, from what he could hear. Walking down the hall he came across the remains of two more guard bots. He recognized the Star League Marines logo on their chest plates, a stylized ‘E’ for Epsilon.

He hurried past the signs of battle and approached a grand staircase leading to the second floor. Blaster fire continued and he could see red streaks littering the air above. 

KABLOOM! 

The explosion snuffed out the gunfire. 

“What’s going on up there, Lootie?”

“The assailants have taken out the last of the guard bots with hand grenades, Captain. They are now facing the safe room door.”

Raleigh cautiously hurried up the stairs. At the top of the landing, he poked his helmeted head around the corner. 

Four men ran out of a bedroom into the hall and took cover, hunching down and putting arms over their ears. 

WABLUMPF!

“They have breached the safe room door, Captain.” 

Raleigh nodded and retrieved an egg grenade. He pushed the plunger down on top, waited a couple seconds, then lobbed it down the hall just as the men were about to enter the room.

KABLOOM!

The force of the explosion knocked all four down. Raleigh heard Jillian scream. 

He advanced down the hall, quickly but carefully. His gun waved over the down men, but nobody moved. 

He came to the bedroom door. He poked his helmet past the door jam. 

Thoop! Thoop!

He pulled back quickly. 

“Jillian! Don’t shoot!” 

She screamed something incoherent. 

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!

LootNet said, “The electronics in the suit are distorting your voice, Captain. Nor can she see your face behind the visor. She does not recognize you.”

“Well, that’s a bit of a problem.” 

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!

Raleigh looked at the charred hole in the wall opposite the door. 

“They’re gonna need one of those repair companies.” 

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!

“Can you tell how many shots she has left on that charge, Lootie?” 

“Ten to twelve, Captain.” 

“Jillian!” 

He waved an arm around the door jamb. 

Thoop! Thoop! 

He snatched his arm back quickly. 

“Dang, that was close. Who taught her how to shoot?”

“Skylar Hawkens.”

“That figures.” 

“Captain, she is readjusting her aim. I suggest you move.” 

Raleigh ducked down and backed up just as Jillian started shooting through the wall into the hallway. 

When she stopped, Raleigh was almost back to the stairs. Several new holes were in the wall. 

“How many has she got left, Lootie?”

“Three.” 

One of the black-clad men on the floor nearby groaned. Raleigh walked over and picked up his arm with two hands. He dragged the man back toward the doorway, tossing the body the last meter so that it landed in a clump in the doorway. 

Thoop! Thoop! Thoopah!

Click! Click!

“She is out, Captain.” 

Raleigh nodded to himself and quickly pulled the sack off his back. He turned the corner and walked into Jillian’s room. Smoke wafted through the air. Furniture had blown back from the explosion at the armored door, and the carpet near there still smoldered. Inside the safe room, facing the door to the hall, Jillian held the empty blaster straight out with a look of anger mixed with horror on her face. 

Raleigh tossed the sack toward her and it landed on the floor near her feet. 

“Jillian, put the spacesuit on. That’s an order.”

Clarion’s Call 17

In the Clarion solar system, some 200 kilometers from the planet, a spare tandem Wu Drive popped into existence. 

It floated freely, a giant rectangle the size of an Old Earth elephant, with a slightly thicker base around the bottom. Someone had bungee-corded a portable power supply to one side, which fed into the unit via wires snaking underneath. 

For a moment, the Wu Drive floated alone in the vacuum of space, reflecting faint starlight and the distant sun. 

A sensor unit popped into existence two meters away. Unlike the Wu Drive, the sensor was the size and shape of a soup can. It tumbled slowly next to the larger unit for precisely one second before porting away again. 

-+-

This morning, as on so many others in the previous months, Elven put the last of the weights up and headed for her shower. Thrall headed toward his. 

Before they left the gym, he said, “I’ll need you to accompany me to Stockton today. I’ll be addressing the Joint Assembly at noon regarding our current progress in the war.” 

Elven nodded. She knew about the Joint Assembly meeting. She had been uncertain as to whether he wanted her to stay here and look after Jillian or not. Evidently, he was unconcerned about her. 

She decided to ask anyway. 

“Will your daughter be joining us?”

His nostrils flared slightly. She expected some negative feedback from the question, though, and did not take it personally. But, she did wish to know one way or the other.

“Jillian will stay here. StarCen is under orders not to port her away, and she is 18 kilometers from your pub. I think she’ll be fine until we return.” 

Elven’s ears reddened. How did he know about the pub? She and Steele had limited themselves to two drinks last night. Did he know about that too? 

Furiously, she racked her mind about what she had shared with her former classmate. Nothing classified, and nothing embarrassing. Well, except she did share with Steele her personal opinion that the Tetrarch was an attractive older man, if a bit distant and somewhat aloof most of the time. 

She made a mental note to herself not to talk about him in public again. Maybe not in private, either . . . 

He left to go to his room, and she headed for her quarters to shower and change into her uniform.

-+-

The sensor popped into existence five meters from shore, about 80 centimeters above the water. It plunked down into the green-blue lagoon and sunk to the shallow bottom. 

The height it appeared would not be bad under normal circumstances, but LuteNet had estimated the sensor would land half a meter above the placid surface. She made a note of the discrepancy in her first calculation and quickly took local readings from the scanner to help coordinate her logistics. 

-+-

Elven appeared in Thrall’s office and waited patiently. She stood at ease, hands behind her back. Somewhere, she had heard he liked to see officers standing at ease. Privately she wondered why. Could it be the stance accentuated the officers’ chests? 

Quickly she dismissed the thought. Such ideas were unprofessional, she decided. 

The door opened, and he walked in wearing a new dark suit imported from Italia, complete with a red tie. He stopped to pick up a vidsheet at his desk and headed for the door leading to the courtyard. 

“Do we at least need to let your daughter know that we’re leaving?”

He stopped at the question and looked at his Naval attaché for a moment, as if trying to decide what her sudden interest in Jillian might be about. 

Finally dismissing both questions, hers and his unspoken one, he said, “She’s probably still asleep. I’ll discuss her little adventure when I get home tonight.” 

Elven followed the Tetrarch out the door and toward the holographic circle hovering past the three-meter mark from the house.

They stood in the center of the circle, turning to face back in the direction they’d come. 

StarCen’s high-pitched voice said, “Prepare for teleportation.” 

Thrall and Elven popped out of sight. 

-+-

About 200 kilometers away, a man in a spacesuit popped in beside the Wu Drive. He free-floated for precisely one second, then he popped away again. 

He reappeared one half meter above the lagoon, facing Thrall Manor, and immediately splashed down into the water. 

He floated quickly to the surface, his helmeted head poking up out of the water. He remained floating in place, buoyant, while he looked around to get his bearings. 

A guard bot heard the splash. It walked around the corner of the house and approached the beach, scanning the water. 

Raleigh realized he was holding his breath. He forced himself to relax. The only thing visible from shore was the top half of his space helmet, an oblong head cover with a smooth shaded visor. 

With any luck, he thought, the bot would not be able to discern a threat from a motionless half-dome floating several meters away. 

But the bot’s head stopped swiveling, and its eyes seemed to be resting right on him. 

Raleigh held his breath again and moved his hand to the blaster strapped to his side. He found himself wondering if the gun would shoot underwater. 

A seagull flew into view. It dipped down, heading straight toward the guard bot. 

The round red eyes shifted from Raleigh to the bird at the last minute, just as it dove for the robot’s face. 

Boom!

Raleigh jerked in surprise as the bird exploded, taking them both out. The now headless guard bot collapsed to the ground. 

Raleigh heard more explosions and watched as seagulls flew in around the house, each one exploding near a different bot.

Clarion’s Call 16

Martin Evans looked like a bureaucrat to Jeter. He was even shorter than the stocky agent. Thin, mid-40s, a strip of hair down the middle of his balding head, and a perpetual scowl on his face completed the look of a desk slave, one who rarely saw the light of day. 

Jeter sat in the head of SSI’s Clarion office in Stockton, staring impassively at his nominal boss. This man was in charge of Jeter at least while he remained on this planet or one of the other three in this part of the League. 

What irked Jeter more than anything was this number-crunching, data monitoring bean counter got to call all the shots while men and women of action put their lives on the line out there for the League. 

Jeter hated kiss-ups, and refused to kowtow to the brass back at HQ. Evans looked like he had not seen the sun in a year or more. Jeter would be never be intimidated by the likes of this little man, no matter how much sway he held here in his Stockton office. 

Out there, where people put their lives on the line for the League, those people earned Jeter’s respect. Some considered spies dishonorable, but not Jeter. They were doing something. But this pipsqueak? Jeter would bite his tongue while in the office, but his respect for Evans, a man who would never be able to infiltrate a pirate company on Lute, could not be any lower. 

“So,” Evans said. “You lost our asset.” 

Jeter shifted his legs in the seat, uneasily. 

He said, “I assisted Raquel Kirkland and supplied her with every necessary consideration for the elimination of the target, Director Evans. With one hour to debarkation, I placed her in position so she could make her move. I have not seen nor heard from her since.” 

Evans nodded, and rubbed his eyes. Jeter thought the little man looked very tired.

Evans said, “The Petra Roe Ambassador on Lute is one of ours. He reported that the Tetrarch’s daughter willingly consorted with the enemy. In his words, she refused to accompany him back to Clarion by way of Petra Roe, and informed him of her desire to join the piratical company she came in with.” 

Jeter nodded and said, “I can attest she followed through with her comments to the Ambassador. A short while later she was elected into the company, and then accompanied us on our trip to Pegasi.”

Evans stood suddenly and walked two steps to the window wall. He gazed out at the city below, with its aerial and ground traffic. 

It was not a real window, Jeter knew. The SSI Building had no windows. This was merely a holoscreen hooked up to a live feed. It looked like a real window, though. The fidelity was incredibly lifelike. And expensive. 

That thought led Jeter to wonder how much Evans made in a year. The little booger is probably skimming off funds from at least two dozen operations, Jeter decided.

Evans interrupted Jeter’s thoughts. He said, “The Navy, of course, worked contrary to our purposes. They were tasked with saving Jillian Thrall, if at all possible. Apparently, the Tetrarch cannot fathom the thought of his own daughter committing treason. So, he ordered the Navy boys and girls on a rescue mission.” 

Jeter said, “It worked, too. Pretty brilliant. I did not see that honey trap coming. It’s too bad they lost a destroyer in the process.” 

Evans snorted. He said, “How many lives could have been saved had you simply taken her out when you had the chance?” 

Jeter rolled his eyes. He thought, the nerve of this guy.

“Director, I had zero opportunities to eliminate her before or during the voyage to Pegasi. She was kept under watch the entire time. I was only able to secure the asset after the Marines showed up. Then the Navy was intent on saving Jillian Thrall, and kept her secured in an area I had no authorization for. I infiltrated the pirates, not the Navy. 

“I convinced, or at I least I thought I convinced, the asset that she should follow our directive and fulfill the objective. She was much better suited for the task at that point in time, because she could get into places I could not. Unfortunately, once I sent her on her way, she . . . disappeared.”  

Evans turned from the holoscreen window and sighed.

He said, “You know that I have no love for the Tetrarch.”

Jeter nodded. Everybody knew Evans and Thrall hated each other.  

Evans said, “But I have not taken the decision to eliminate his daughter lightly. Treasonous actions call for an appropriate response. And the penalty is death, regardless of what family one belongs to. Members of the ruling class are not immune from justice.”

Evans sat back down at his desk and hunched forward in his chair. Jeter shifted uncomfortably again as the little man’s beady eyes bore into his own. The intensity of the Director’s stare made Jeter gulp. Thoughts of how little outside action this bureaucrat saw fled from his mind under the glare of those intense eyes.

“My directive,” Evans said, “stands.”