Metger jumped easily across the gaping hole into the building, carrying the duffel bag with him. He landed in some kind of apartment. Fortunately for whoever lived there, the room was empty when Metger blew open the hole with his rocket launcher. He strolled over broken glass and furniture, black leather boots crunching debris, and palmed open the door to the corridor.

A man looked out from another doorway further down the hall. His eyes grew big when he saw Metger. The Marshal drew a pistol out of the bag and shot, just as the man jerked his head back and the door swished shut.


Metger quickly walked down to the doorway. He looked at the palm pad, now red, and aimed his gun at the doorway.

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!

The lock burst open, leaving a jagged black hole in the door. Metger’s fingerless gloves gripped the hole and he pushed the door open with powerful shoulders.

The man inside raised his hands and backed up.

“Hey man, take it easy . . .”

Metger aimed the gun at him and said, “Where is Jillian Thrall?”


Raleigh and Maxwell watched as Metger shot open the door on level 44 via the holoscreen in Raleigh’s office.

He said, “Who is that guy?”

Maxwell said, “Dunno. And who are those guys on the street?”

The holoscreen shifted over to a view outside Mule Tower’s front doors. A dozen men and women wearing black body armor were all shooting at the same spot on the front door, trying to blow it open.

Raleigh activated the neural implant below his ear and said, “Escobar, get a team together quickly and engage that party down on the street. Shoot to kill, but don’t pursue if they run away.”

He looked over at Maxwell and smiled. He said, “Let’s go give Big Man down there a visit, shall we?”

He stood up and palmed open an armory panel. The door slid back revealing racks of loaded guns and egg grenades.

Maxwell came over and took out a rifle.

Raleigh said, “Grab some spares. We might need them.”


Niles Sergio decided he was having a bad day. Most all his days had been bad, actually, ever since the Coral Reef diverted course to stop and check on Pegasi Station. There, the luxury liner was captured by pirates and towed by tandem drive to the planet Lute.

Niles watched as other passengers of note were allowed to go home as soon as their ransom money hit the pirates’ account on Petra Roe. The other really rich couple onboard, the Sanfords, went home almost immediately. He did not know what happened to the attractive Catarina Mulligan, but he had not seen her since the pirates took over.

As for himself, he was stranded. That had become increasingly obvious. The pirates knew he was worth billions. They had likely asked his family for millions. And his family had turned them down. Of that, Niles was certain. His stepmother would be content to save the money and let him stay on Lute perpetually.

Niles had never felt more helpless in all his life. All of his money, all the accounts he could normally tap to buy his way out of whatever trouble he happened to get himself into, were out of reach.

He had tried to reason with the old woman who called herself the Quartermaster. If he could just access one of his accounts, just one, the pirates were welcome to every credit he had.

The problem was, in order to access them he had to be in League territory. Such a transfer could only be made through the StarCen, the League’s AI. And the pirates were not about to let him back into League territory. He had tried convincing them otherwise.

If he could only take a ship over to Petra Roe, and from there go back to a League planet, he could make the transfer. The Quartermaster said no.

If he could go to Petra Roe, perhaps under armed escort by some of the pirates, he could arrange a transfer from there. The Quartermaster said no.

He offered to pay double whatever amount they were trying to extort from his family, if only they let him go. The Quartermaster said no.

So he was stuck in orbit around Lute, in his opulent stateroom. The people onboard dwindled down as time progressed, more and more of them finding passage back home or elsewhere.

Then one day the old woman showed up and told him the ship had been sold, and he would have to leave. She escorted him down to the surface, where he arrived in Port Ryan’s Administration Building. He tried saying something to the Custom’s official there, but the lady only laughed when Granny cracked a joke about prisoners being seen and not heard.

Then the local AI ported him over to Mule Tower. Granny gave him a room on Level 44 and said he had the run of the place. Food would be served on the top floor.

Over the following week he explored most of the levels. There were gyms, indoor pools, recreation areas. Most of the rooms were locked, and the second to top floor was inaccessible to him. The lobby on the ground floor was ornate, and empty. The doors to the outside were locked. The elevator would not go to the roof, either, so he could not jump off or try to hail a skycab up there.

In short, he was trapped in this building. He could not leave.

Today started like many others. After breakfast, he retreated to his room and immersed himself in neural entertainment. Then the explosion happened. He poked his head out the door to see what was going on, and he was captured by a tall lunatic with a terrible haircut.

“Where is Jillian Thrall?”

Niles sputtered, shocked, and amazed that someone was pointing a gun at him. Despite their boorish Neanderthal behavior, and refusal to listen to reason about letting him go, no pirate had ever pointed a gun at him before.

“I . . . I . . . who is that? Thrall? You mean Tetrarch Thrall? His daughter?”

The man moved the gun into Sergio’s face.

“Yes. Where is she?”

“I don’t know. I . . . they don’t tell me anything! I didn’t know a Thrall family member was being held here, too!”

“What do mean, ‘being held?’ Aren’t you a pirate?”

“No! I’m being held for ransom. My ship, the Coral Reef, was captured. All the passengers are . . . were ransomed.”

“The Coral Reef? That was weeks ago.”

“I know. Look, I’m Niles Sergio. My family runs Sergio Productions. If you’re here to rescue a Thrall family member, take me with you! I’m sure we can arrange some kind of reward.”

The big man scoffed at this statement, but he pulled the gun down out of Niles’s face.

“Come on. Maybe I can use you for leverage some other way.”


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