The first thing Metger discovered Sergio proved useful for included palming open the elevators.

Both men filed in while the Marshal casually kept his gun aimed at Sergio’s middle.

“Where might she be?” Metger said. “I don’t have all day to look for her.”

“I don’t know. I didn’t even know the Tetrarch’s daughter was here.”

Metger sighed and swiped his finger through a random number floating on the panel.

He said, “Let’s try Floor 63.”

The door slid shut and the capsule went up.


“Intruder is on the move. Taking elevator to Level 63.”

“How’s he getting the elevator to work?” Raleigh said. But the alarm system’s voice did not respond back.

“Maybe’s he’s got a hostage. We really need LuteNet to decide for us who gets access to places,” Maxwell said.

“It’s bad enough she controls every aspect of the ship. I like the idea of autonomy in the building, at least somewhat.”

“How’s that working out right now, Cap?”

Raleigh frowned at Maxwell in response.

He said, “Can we beat this guy down to 63?”

“We can try.”

Both men filed into the elevator pod waiting for them. The door closed and it headed down.


The bell chimed and Metger popped his head out the elevator door, looking both ways. He cautiously stepped out into the corridor. Doorways stretched off in both directions, all palm panels glowing red.

He glared back at Niles who awkwardly walked out of the elevator with him.

Metger said, “What is this place? What are all these rooms? Who needs all this space?”

“I dunno, man. I’m just a hostage being held for ransom. Nobody tells me anything.”

Another elevator dinged and two men jumped out with guns. They saw Metger and started firing. He returned fire. A hail of energy bolts sailed down the hallway in both directions.

Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!

Metger held his ground, having reached the hall first. The men jumped back into the elevator, out of his line of fire.

Metger motioned to one of the doors.

“Open that.”

Niles dutifully placed his palm on the panel, casting a nervous glance back toward the elevators, and the door slid open. Metger backed his way through the door, keeping his gun aimed down the hall.

When the door slid shut he relaxed a bit and turned around to look at the room.

Niles said, “Uh, Mr. Marshal Metger, sir . . . I think we’re trapped.”

Metger found himself in a small room lined with shelves filled with boxes.

They heard someone knock at the door.

Out in the hall, Raleigh said, “You, uh, want to come out of the storage closet?”

Metger shouted, “Bring me Jillian Thrall, and nobody will get hurt!”

Raleigh exchanged a glance with Maxwell. Both men furrowed their brows.

Raleigh said, “Can I ask why? What do you want her for?”

“I’m with the Marshal’s Service, tasked with retrieving Ms. Thrall and returning her home.”

Out in the hallway, Maxwell’s eyes grew big. He whispered, “The Marshal’s Service?”

Raleigh yelled back, “The Marshal’s Service has no authority here. We don’t recognize your organization!”

Metger said, “The Marshal’s Service is recognized by both systems, and all their affiliates. Last I checked, LuteNet was affiliated with PLAIR. Ask her and see what she says!”

Raleigh glanced up at the ceiling and said, “Is that right, Lootie?”

“Indeed, Captain. Under wartime operating guidelines, I am bound to respect the authority of the Marshal’s Service and the organization’s prior agreements with PLAIR.”

“What is the deal with him fetching away Jillian? How does he have authorization for that?”

“I am conferring with PLAIR, who is attempting to obtain information from StarCen. Please give her a moment, as both systems are very busy right now.”

Metger yelled through the door again. He said, “Well? Checked with your local AI yet?”

“She’s working on it! Give us a moment!”

LuteNet said, “PLAIR indicates that Jillian Thrall’s father has had her declared incompetent.”

“What?” Raleigh could not keep the shock out of his voice.

“A court on Clarion has so decreed, bestowing him full rights of guardianship. Under that authority, he has requested the Marshals’ assistance in returning her to his custody.”

“That’s bogus, Lootie! He’s the Tetrarch for the Clarion quadrant, the supreme ruler. What judge is not going to rule in his favor? If he asks a judge to have his daughter declared incompetent, of course the judge is going to say she’s incompetent.”

“Be that as it may, he is on sound legal footing to bring her back, by force if necessary.”

Metger shouted through the door again.

“Come on! You’ve had time to check my credentials!”

“I’ve checked them!” Raleigh shouted back.

“Well? Can we come out and talk this over?”

“You can come out if you feel like getting shot. I’m not letting you take her anywhere, I don’t give a rip what some judge on Clarion said!”

“That’s unfortunate. You know I have one of your hostages in here with me. Be a shame if something were to happen to him!”

Maxwell and Raleigh exchanged a glance again. Maxwell yelled into the door this time.

“Who do you got?”

“Niles Sergio!”

Both men burst out laughing. Metger frowned at this, listening through the door.

Maxwell said, “We don’t care about him. Feel free to shoot him if you want!”

Metger turned to frown at Niles. He held up his hands and said, “I’m worth a lot of money! Sergio Productions is loaded. My stepmother is holding up the ransom.”

Metger snorted and turned back to the door.

He shouted, “I’m coming out! Don’t shoot, I’m under full authority of the Marshal’s Service!”

He motioned for Niles to come closer. The door slid open and he pushed Niles out, aiming his blaster at the other man’s back.


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