Raleigh said, “We can approach this like gentlemen. You can come up to my office, have a seat, and talk things over. There’s no need for violence.”

Metger nodded. He said, “Fine. But I keep my weapons, and your hostage.”

“Fine. But call off your goons on the street. They’ve made a mess of my front entrance.”

“Fair enough.”

The Marshal touched his neural implant under his ear and said, “This is Metger. Go home, I’m almost done up here.”

Raleigh flipped over to a shot of the building’s entrance in his mind’s eye and watched the janissaries disperse, a dozen black-armored men and women suddenly fading away into the surrounding streets.

Together the four men moved back to the elevators. Raleigh made a motion with his hand toward one of the open doors.

“After you.”

Metger said, “No. Tell me what floor, and I’ll meet you.”

“Okay, head to 120. See you there.”

Raleigh went into one of the other pods. Maxwell followed him, brows furrowed.

When the door closed and they started heading up, Maxwell said, “You sure it’s wise to let him go alone, Captain?”

Raleigh shrugged and said, “I don’t see the harm. We can track his location. He wants Jillian, and we’ve offered to talk about it.”

“You’re not going to give him Jillian.”

“No, of course not. But we have a dilemma, don’t we?”

“Yeah, we can’t kill him, can we? That would bring the entire Marshal’s Service down on us. Those guys don’t give up, either.”

“Nobody’s killing anybody. Lootie, help us figure out a legal solution or something.”

LuteNet’s voice came from the elevator’s ceiling. She said, “I am on it, Captain. However, the fact remains that Jillian Thrall has been declared legally incompetent by a judge on Clarion. Her next of kin is her father, and he has the right to her custody.”

“I guess her sister’s out of the question.”

“Indeed. Julia Thrall is currently undercover on Juventas. There is no way to have her accept guardianship at the moment without blowing her cover.”

The two men stared at one another as the elevator slowed, then the doors opened onto Raleigh’s personal floor.

“What are you going to do, Captain?”

“I’m thinking, I’m thinking.”

The other elevator dinged open and Metger came out with Sergio. Metger kept his gun, but pointed it down at the floor. He and Sergio swiveled their heads looking around.

The Marshal said, “This is . . . opulent.”

Before them an open and spacious room showed marble floors and columns with white gold accents, glass and recessed lighting supplementing the natural light filtering in through windows. On either side, old-fashioned floor to ceiling bookshelves stretched off into the distance, filled with ancient texts. In the middle of the room, various nautical artifacts stood on display, the light accenting their unique characteristics.

Niles approached a large wooden wheel, the closest artifact to the elevator. He touched it and gently turned it.

“Is that a ship’s wheel?” he said.

Raleigh said, “Actually, that came from the bridge of the Aquamarine. I had to fight our Quartermaster for it.”

He laughed at the shocked expression Niles gave him and added, “Not really. I did have to give her one of my shares, though, since she called dibs on it first.”

Raleigh headed down the center of the room between other stunning artifacts and said, “Come on, I’ll bring you to a more comfortable place to wait, and we’ll get this sorted out.”

Everyone followed the Captain as he headed toward a conference room. The door swished open and they found a huge table waiting for them, surrounded by black leather chairs. Metger sat down near the front, placing his gun on the table. Sergio followed suit, sitting near the Marshal.

Raleigh waved at the wall and the holoscreen came to life.

He said, “I’ll send my droid in here and he can fetch you anything you’d like to eat or drink. We’ve got brandy, wine, you name it. Feel free to have a cigar if you want, the ventilation system can handle it.”

“Tobacco is illegal in both systems,” Metger said.

Raleigh smiled and said, “Not on this planet.”

Both men comfortably settled, the Captain and First Officer left the room. Maxwell followed Raleigh to the elevators. When the doors closed, Raleigh waved his finger through the number 121.

He said, “Everybody’s waiting up in the cafeteria.”

The door opened, and they walked out. Several crewmembers were standing around, many of them armed. Raleigh had eyes only for Jillian. She sat at a table with Skylar on one side, and their new pilot, Dillon, on the other.

The elevators dinged once more and Granny rushed out carrying an exceptionally large blaster rifle, an unlit cigar clenched firmly in her teeth.

“Where’s the battle? I’m gonna shoot some sonsabitches!”

Raleigh lifted a hand and everyone quieted down. He raised his voice so they could hear, but he looked at Jillian when he spoke.

“The Marshal’s Service is here for Jillian. A judge on Clarion has declared her incompetent. Her father has requested the Marshals return her to his custody ASAP.”

Gasps went up throughout the room.

Jillian snarled. She said, “That is the most misogynistic thing I’ve ever . . .”

“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘patronizing,’” Skylar said.

Jillian scooted her chair back and walked over to a window, crossing her arms. Everyone could see the tips of her ears reddening as she fought to control her anger.

Dillon raised his hand and said, “I volunteer to take out the Marshal.”

Granny snorted. She said, “Get in line, boy.”

Raleigh said, “It’s not that easy. He has legal authority to be here, and the authority to do this. Our AI recognizes it. So if we kill him, we’re crossing the line. That would also bring the entire planet unwanted attention. The Marshal’s Service is legendary. They’re not something you want to be on the wrong side of, if you can help it.”

Skylar said, “Well, we can’t just give Jillian up!”

“No, of course not. But, I’m open to ideas.”

“What if he were to suffer an accident? I can port down there and make sure he has an . . . unfortunate incident occur.”

Raleigh shook his head. “The order on Clarion would still be in effect. The Marshal’s Service would just send another guy if this one turns up dead. Look, killing him is off the table, either accidentally or on purpose. It’s not going to solve the problem.”

“Maybe we could go kill the judge that gave this order,” Dillon muttered.

“We’re not going to do that,” Raleigh said. “Besides, it would take too much time to get to Clarion and hunt him or her down. And even then, the order is still standing. And the Tetrarch could find another judge if he had to.”

Granny placed the overly large rifle over her shoulder and removed her cigar.

She said, “Can’t you idiots see the obvious solution?”

Everyone in the room turned to look at her, including Jillian by the window.

Granny said, “Have her marry the Captain. Then he’s next of kin, even if she’s still considered incompetent by the courts.”


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